Daniel Weintraub--blogger of the Bee-- makes a good case that Andrew Sullivan has falsely accused Hillary Clinton of being a "waffler" and "prevaricator" when what she's really guilty of is taking a position different from that of Andrew Sullivan. (She's against gay marriage and for civil unions--that might be wrong, but it's a clear position.) ... P.S.: Weintraub also has some smart items about the recall of California governor Gray Davis. For example, he corrects Robert Novak on what happens if Davis quits before the recall balloting. ... 1:50 P.M.
A few months ago, I heard that a drug called memantine might help Alzheimer's patients. Then a friend whose father has Alzheimer's told me her father was actually on the drug, which she'd obtained from Europe with the permission of a U.S. doctor. I immediately told another friend whose father has the disease. Then, last week, Gina Kolata of the New York Times reported on the popularity of memantine, which--according to one study publicized in a reputable medical journal--seems to slightly slow the progress of the disease. My second friend soon emailed:
I have taken my father to three doctors in CT to try to get a memantine prescription in the last month. none of them had ever heard of it. so when -- three days after talking to a yale neurologist who had never heard of it -- I read about it in the NYT that everyone in america is taking it, I went ballistic.
Thanks in part to the Internet, in part to better journalism, sick people are finding out about potential cures very quickly--in this case long before even seemingly qualified front-line doctors. Instead of whining about drug "hype" and "false hopes" (and overcrowded waiting rooms) whenever desperate patients turn out to want a new drug, leaders of our medical establishment might try to come up with some sort of drug-alert system that kept members of their profession at least as well-informed as average readers of the New York Times! ... It's the 21st century. Info moves fast. Deal with it! ... I'm not even talking here about delays in getting promising new drugs approved. In this case, practicing doctors hadn't even gotten the word that a promising new drug existed, approved or unapproved, despite its widespread use. ... P.S.: I've thought for years that practicing M.D.s, however conscientious and well-educated, tend to be the most boring people around. They're lawyers who don't read the papers! But I always figured they at least read the New England Journal of Medicine. ... 1:17 A.M.
Sunday, June 22, 2003
Hillary Clinton's book "scanned" sales of 438,701 in its first week according to Nielsen Bookscan data cited on Drudge. That's a lot of books. On the other hand, Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg told the N.Y. Times on June 11 that "after initially printing a million copies the publisher has ordered an additional 300,000." In other words, S&S says it has printed at least 1,300,000 copies, yet it's sold 439,000 (that Nielsen's counted). Since this is probably a book whose sales will decline fairly sharply after the initial burst--S&S claimed 200,000 sales the first day, and obviously didn't sustain that pace for the week--then isn't Simon & Schuster at risk of having a gigantic number of unsold books on its hands? Like, hundreds of thousands? ... That is, if you actually believe S&S's claim about the number printed. ... Oh well. They can always sell them at Home Depot as bricks for constructing ecologically sound houses. If hay bales work, why not Hillary bales? I would think they have excellent insulating properties. 10:56 P.M.
Friday, June 20, 2003
I've always found myself agreeing with Robert Kuttner on health care. (Believe me, if I could disagree, I would.) Plus, he writes clearly on the topic. Here Kuttner backs up Edward Kennedy's conclusion that the Senate Finance Committee bill is a good camel's nose under the tent. Certainly a $40 billion-a-year subsidy seems like plenty for a "down payment." (The food stamp program, for example, costs $26 billion.)... If you read only one op-ed piece on prescription drug benefits all week, this would be a good one! ... 2:39 P.M.
Thursday, June 19, 2003
Grover Norquist's so confident about the secret GOP strategy to achieve a flat (single-rate) income tax that he's boasted about it on the op-ed page of WaPo. A big advantage of the single-rate tax for conservatives, Norquist argues, is that it will "unite all taxpayers."
When taxpayers are divided into different tax brackets, they can be mugged one at a time through the "divide, isolate and tax" strategy that Clinton pursued when he promised to tax "just the top 2 percent" of earners.
David Broder accepts this theory. It's left to The New Republic's anonymous blogger (Noam Scheiber, I suspect) to point out that the theory makes little sense. Suppose we had a flat tax. Unless it was written into the Constitution, what's to prevent a Clinton-like Democrat from coming along and proposing to raise taxes on just the top 2 percent? This "divide, isolate and tax" strategy would presumably be just as appealing to the bottom 98 percent as it was when the tax structure was progressive....
But TNR's ill-chosen example--Social Security taxes--complicates the situation. Social Security taxes, after all, are close to flat taxes for most Americans. But the flat-rate Social Security payroll tax has also been a very hard one to make more progressive, Clinton-style. Proposals to fund the system by raising taxing only on the rich (as well as proposals to exempt the poor) typically face heavy sledding. Why? Because voters feel their flat payroll contributions are what entitle them to Social Security benefits. Tamper with this tax structure and Social Security becomes "welfare," the system's defenders will say. ... It's also very difficult, as a result, to cut Social Security benefits, even progressively (for example, by 'means-testing' that eliminates checks to the rich). ....
Which raises a question: In Norquist's flat-tax paradise, would it really be so easy to reduce the size of government, as Broder sensibly assumes Norquist wants to do? What if flat-taxpayers come to view big government as a bought-and-paid-for "entitlement," like Social-Security? "You can't cut my farm benefits--I paid for them with my 15 percent," etc. ... I don't think this would happen. Most of Social Security's "entitlement" appeal comes from the fiction that payroll taxes are invested and that benefits are simply the return on "my money." But at least part of it comes from the system's egalitarian aspect--everybody who works chips in at the same rate, so everybody feels less guilty about demanding "their" share. This is something Norquist might want to think about before he and his co-conspirators make too much progress with their brilliant scheme. Or is he perfectly happy with big government as long as it's funded with a flat tax? ... 4:02 P.M.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
New York Times stock dropped 6 percent today, "after the company warned that low advertising revenue would hurt its second-quarter earnings," according to CBS MarketWatch. Of course, the plunge had nothing, nothing to do with the Blair/Bragg/Raines/Boyd mess and the consequent damage to the Times's reputation (and doubts about its publisher's judgment). How do I know this? The Times corporate release doesn't mention these things! ... P.S.: But here's yet another theory on why Raines was booted--the Times board saw the advance ad revenue numbers and concluded Raines' editorship was starting to be bad for profitability. What advertiser wants its product associated with lies, scandal and turmoil? ... P.P.S.: For those wondering about the size of the Raines/Boyd parachutes, there is an intriguing line in the Times release blaming "increased benefit and compensation expenses." ...Backfill: Luskin had this item hours ago! ...
Bonus Wolff-Skipper: Michael Wolff writes another seemingly long, pretentious, incoherent "topic-killer" on Times publisher Pinch Sulzberger--until the very last paragraph, when it turns out Wolff has a point after all. And the point is ... that Pinch's "polymorphous" media business strategy--in which reporters are expected to write lots of stories that will work on TV, etc.--more or less demanded a Rainesian emphasis on marketable star "stylish writers" with their "stylish excesses," including Jayson Blair "and his clever scene-making." Not "necessarily his deceit," Wolff quickly adds--but, Wolff seems to say, it at least demanded a system that continually tempts writers to push the line of fact and fiction. ... My problem: Wolff seems to believe that not just pushing the line but crossing it some--"plasticity," he calls it, with creepy vagueness--is perfectly OK. ... Doesn't this worry his New York editors just a little? ... I also don't understand why Pinch's grand business strategy required not just Raines' emphasis on slick star storytelling, but also his self-righteous moralistic politics. ... Maybe if Wolff didn't leave his thesis until the last graf he'd have time to explore the obvious questions it raises! ... 5:13 P.M. Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Not one, not two, but three plugs in a NYT Arts-front-page "Critic's Notebook" for a semi-obscure band, Galactic, whose guitarist is Howell Raines' son! What I wouldn't have given for this item two weeks ago! ... P.S.: Actually, veteran kf reader P.M., who alerted me to the connection, says "I've seen these guys; they're pretty good!" ... Update: Another alert reader, H, e-mails to say
I work at a rather large record store ... in Austin, Texas and, though I know little about them, we sell large amounts of their cds to young college age kids and all their shows tend to sell out. Though they seem obscure to you and me ... they seem to have caught on nation wide with college kids who also seem to be into Ben Harper
So there. ... P.P.S.: Have I inadvertently complied with the ominously ludicrous proposed Council of Europe blogger "reply" rules? ...10:06 P.M.
E.J. Dionne claims the administration's tax cuts are preventing desirable spending increases on homeland security and military housing. Doesn't that mean the tax cuts really are holding down spending? I thought the big Democratic argument against the tax cuts was that they weren't holding down spending, and the result was deficits as far as they eye can see. ... It can be one, or it can be the other, but it can't be both at the same time, right? ... Articles like Dionne's are actually mildly heartening because they suggest that, by holding down expenditure creep, even the latest Bush tax cuts will give Democrats--when they get back into power--more room to add necessary health care spending without eating up too great a share of GDP. ... Alas, as Thomas Maguire argues, the rejected spending increase was probably just a stunt by Rep. David Obey to score "points" by suggesting a "no-tax-cut-for-even-more-spending" trade. It's not clear any real potential spending was deterred. And at least one of the GOP bills in question actually does provide for substantial increases in security spending, although not in all areas. So even Dionne--and Paul Krugman, who also got a column out of Obey's stunt--don't convince me that the second round of Bush tax cuts was a good idea. ... 9:14 P.M.
Backfill: Give investment banker and Pinch-pal Steven Rattner points for admitting, in his otherwise disingenuous, party-line "fairness" attack on the Republican tax cut, that
We shouldn't dismiss all tax cuts simply because they benefit the wealthy. Double taxation of dividends is a source of economic inefficiency, and eliminating it would be a laudable goal.
He buries this endorsement in the "armpit" of the piece, however. ... Why is Rattner's piece "otherwise disingenous?" He complains that "[I]ncome inequality in the United States is now .. at a record level." But he also admits that it's "natural economic forces" -- technology, greater demand for skilled workers--that are "driving us toward more inequality." So what is he going to do about it? What Rattner knows, but doesn't admit, is that no conceivable array of Democratic initiatives--not more progressive taxes, not a large training program--will negate the "natural economic forces" at work. The numbers don't add up (and the payoff for training programs is far in the future). But Rattner still pretends that "public investments" and whatever grabbag of "antipoverty programs" has been slighted by the Bush administration will cure the problem he identifies. ... P.S.: That understates Rattner's disingenuousness, because he actually abjures redistribution--"we should not legislate or redistribute our way to income equality." Huh? Iif income inequality is so bad that it should be the talismanic standard against which all tax bills are judged--if it's unfair, if it leads to "social tensions and economic inefficiences"--then why not legislate and redistribute against it? Maybe because the legislation and redistribution won't work. Last time I checked, it would take above-Sweden levels of taxation to come even close to countering the inequality boom of the last few decades. Without redistributive taxation, there's no hope at all. ... So Rattner is left with this platform: "We have a horrible inequality problem. We're very unhappy about it. There's nothing we can really do about it but we can pretend to try, and at least we shouldn't make it worse." ... And Democrats wonder why they don't have an appealing core ideological pitch. ... P.P.S.: I'm probably overanalyzing here: The best interpretation of Rattner's piece is really "I want to be Treasury Secretary in the next Democratic administration." ... P.P.P.S: Give up, Steve! The Democrats are happy to take your money, but you won't get the job. You talk to the press too much! ... P.P.P.P.S.: What would I do about economic inequality? Learn to live with it by taking steps to insure that it doesn't translate into social inequality. My book tries to make sense of this strategy. [Good plug. Alterman would be proud--ed. He's 124,077 places ahead of me in the BN rankings. Still more vicious inequality.] ... 11:46 A.M.
Monday, June 16, 2003
In my experience, it's indeed the mouse that does the damage. I don't go near 'em. ...9:14 P.M.
How thin-skinned is Eric Alterman? Eric Alterman generously reprints an entire, tedious kf item before pompously demanding a "correction" because I said he was "hustling"--meaning promoting his book. I didn't mean he had especially used the Raines/Blair scandal to promote the book, although he was doing just that in the item to which I linked. I simply meant he was a hustler, motivated--on occasion, in part--by book-promotional concerns. He is!... Not that there's anything wrong with it! (That was the point.) ...True, Alterman plugs his book only five times on his current blog page, which shows admirable restraint.... He discusses the Raines resignation at some length twice (not once, as he now claims--correction please!) and promotes yet a third, longer--and very good-- Nation article he wrote on the subject. Yet he seems to feel he deserves a self-abnegation merit badge because he "refused to offer any soundbites to print reporters when requested to do so," and on a few days ignored the Raines/Blair story on his blog. Hey, I keep quiet too when my side is getting creamed as badly as Alterman's side was getting creamed in the Raines controversy! It's not a sign of humility. ... P.S.: Can this be the same publicity-shy naif who somehow managed to get a little early attention for his book by graciously declaring, in Esquire, that he wished Rush Limbaugh "would have gone deaf"? ... Update: Alterman says (via e-mail) that he "aopologized [for the remark] on the day the story broke." ... 5:51 P.M.
Did Souter Con O'Connor? Rick Hasen's highly-informed instant commentary explains why today's Beaumont decision by the Supreme Court will hearten supporters of McCain-Feingold's dubious "issue advocacy" ban, even though Beaumont involves long-regulated directcampaign contributions by advocacy corporations, and not the "independent expenditures" addressed by McCain-Feingold. ... One doubt: Is all the gratuitous pro-reform verbiage in the opinion significant, or did Souter's clerk just churn out a lot of copy? ... Second doubt: A key issue, the scope of the so-called "M.C.F.L exception"--does it protect from McCain-Feingold only tiny "bake sale" non-profit corporations or bigger, more powerful advocacy groups--apparently remains up in the air. ... Reminder: Even if McCain-Feingold is upheld in its entirety, and the "M.C.F.L. exception" is narrowed to near-nothingness, "advocacy" groups that want to spend money on political ads can always get around the new restrictions by simply not incorporating! ... P.S.: Hasen's post is much better than even this perfectly competent AP story. Advantage, blogosphere. ... Or as John Scalzi argues, in a widely-linked post, there are "enough people" like Hasen "in enough fields writing in blogs that you can look to the blog world as a resource to understanding the real world, not merely a place that is reacting to it." ... P.P.S.: Where's Volokh? It's been minutes since the decision came down. ... 1:55 P.M.
A boring headline on WaPo's "Lawyer's Column" discourages readers from learning about a possible hidden reason for Howell Raines' ouster at the NYT, namely fear that keeping him on could subject the paper to multimillion dollar libel exposure in the future. The key grafs:
[P]eople familiar with the situation said that close associates of the Sulzberger family in the days before the resignations approached media attorneys seeking advice. The attorneys warned of the exposure that the newspaper faced.
The counsel goes like this: Because Raines and Boyd waited for so long to fire Blair as more than 50 corrections piled up and after at least one editor warned that Blair had to go, some libel attorneys could have used those facts to build a case about reckless disregard for the truth at the Times. ...
Some media attorneys have speculated that if Raines and Boyd had remained in charge, that fact could have been used to devastating effect in litigation.
Gee, what possible litigation could media attorneys have been thinking of? Perhaps the names Steven J. Hatfill and Nicholas Kristof came to mind. ... Still, if this is the reason Raines was sacked, it would be highly disappointing. You can easily see how fear of libel exposure might (in another case!) lead to the dismissal of a good editor just because keeping him or her on after a scandal might look bad in court. So let's all pretend that Raines was fired because he was an arrogant GSWB. It's easy to do! ... P.S. Am I the only one who does in fact feel a palpable sense of relief reading the Times these days? It's still liberal--the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities gets its stories on the front page. But it's just a newspaper again. There's not the nerve-fraying sense of an instititution on edge, constantly pushing itself to the point of stridency and overkill--a social organism with a hyperactive, centralized nervous system and a manic zealot in charge. ... If I want that, I can read the NY Post! ... [Thanks to alert reader A.E.] 1:12 P.M.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
Ask yourself, 'Who benefits?' According to Zonitics.com, Pinch Sulzberger made $2.5 million last year, plus $3.9 million in stock options, for his highly effective efforts to reduce liberal media bias by leading the New York Times to ignominious disaster! Is Richard Scaife secretly funding him? If so, he's worth every penny. ... P.S.: Perhaps Pinch's friend Steve Rattner can do something about this conspicuous example of the "escalation of CEO pay packages." "Fairness" begins at home! ... 11:34 P.M.
Greg Packer, officially busted in the WSJ as possibly "the world's most successful "man on the street,".... Ann Coulter has ruined this man's career as the Norm Ornstein of Everything. ... The NYT's James Barron fumfaws defensively (he "would have liked to have told our readers this is something [Packer] does ...") ... Update: Here's the AP version, which includes Packer's secret to getting press: "Sometimes I just motion to them." Why didn't Gloria Allred think of that? [She did-ed.] ...The NYT actually credits Coulter, in a bizarrely meta manner. ...11:08 A.M.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
Thursday, June 12, 2003
William McGowan, author of Coloring the News, responds to Seth Mnookin's email (published below) charging that McGowan engaged in the "me-me-me, all or nothingism of interest groups" because "[n]o sooner had Blair resigned than Bill McGowan was sending out press releases and handing our flyers." [The following is an excerpt from McGowan's e-mail]:
[W]hen it comes to charges of opportunism, Mnookin seems to be projecting. Mnookin ... has been a fixture on television and radio from Day One of this story, hardly showing exemplary self-effacement. ...
In response to Mnookin's charge that "No sooner had Blair resigned than Bill McGowan was sending out press releases and handing out flyers." it should be
known that the Blair scandal has overlapped with the publication of the paperback edition of Coloring The News. Just as I did during the publicity for the hardcover edition last year, I have responded to news events through press releases and made myself available for media comment as news events have dictated.
Did I issue a press release on the day of the Times meeting? Yes, I did. Did I have a copy of said release and some other materials on hand to circulate to the media covering that story, including the researcher that Mnookin sent to grab "color" for him (shades of Rick Bragg)? Yes too. Did I do some rope line TV interviews that day and again on the day Raines resigned. Yes to this as well, at the request of TV producers who asked that I do so for visual effect.
As for the roots of the Blair scandal, they are indeed multicausal, though I believe a great deal of evidence suggests that diversity was one of the most important. Denying so would be akin to saying that race was not of central importance in the play Six Degrees of Separation---and would be something that any theater critic worth his or her salt would never say. ...[Emphasis added.]
I'm with McGowan on this: The whole "interest group" charge seems a cheap newsmag point (see discussion below). And so what if McGowan has a book to promote? He's hustling and Mnookin's hustling. Alterman's hustling too! (Only kf is too lazy to be guilty of this charge.) ... The non-cheap question is whether McGowan was right that the Blair scandal illustrates his thesis about diversity. Charging him with "all or nothingism" because he hands out a flyer making this point is a cute way of avoiding the consipicuous conclusion that he was largely right. ... P.S.: It's also slightly obnoxious when people who have regular access to the pages of Newsweek sneer at people who have to hand out leaflets on sidewalks. ... 5:31 P.M.
Who is Greg Packer, "apparently the entire media's designated 'man on the street' for all articles ever written," according to Ann Coulter? Coulter says that Packer has "appeared in news stories more than 100 times as a random member of the public," including three relatively recent NYT pieces. NEXIS backs her up. ... Does Greg Packer actually exist?... Is he related to Allan Smithee? ...Does he know Baird Jones? ...Will he soon turn up in Iraq talking to Col. Tim Madere? ... Truth by return e-mail: Packer does seem to exist. He's described here and here. But that begs the question of why the NYT would write about this semi-professional line-stander and quote machine as if he were a typical man on the street. You'd think he'd be notorious by now and "No More Greg Packer" signs would be posted next to the Metro desk.... Michael Cooper of the NYT did bust Packer when quoting him on New Year's Eve, 2001, but this week the NYT''s James Barron accepted him as an ordinary "fan of Hillary and Bill's" who wants Hillary "to change her mind about running for president." ... Packer also seems to be a fan of Rudolph Giuliani, Gene Simmons and Zora Andrich of "Joe Millionaire." In March, the Associated Press reported Packer's man-on-the-street views of the American military strike against Iraq. ... Note to Hollywood: Screenplay here! Or did Robert DeNiro already play Packer in a movie I missed?... 12:59 A.M.
Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required. NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare! Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog. Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog. B-Log--Blog of spirituality! Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]