Bush is Pedro Martinez

Bush is Pedro Martinez

Bush is Pedro Martinez

A mostly political Weblog.
Nov. 15 2003 2:33 AM

kf Resists "Intervention"

Plus worthwhile education initiatives.

Paul Krugman's second objection to the Medicare bill now in Congress--that "premium support" will lead to "cherry picking" that undermines the traditional Medicare system--seems extremely powerful. But I don't understand his first objection:

[O]ne of the proposals being negotiated behind closed doors — misleadingly described as "cost containment" — would set a limit on Medicare's use of general revenue, and would require action seven years before projections say that limit will be breached. ...[snip]The effect would be to force the government to declare a Medicare crisis in 2010 or 2011.

You might say it's a good idea to face up to Medicare's problems early. But the legislation would allow only two responses: either an increase in the payroll tax (a regressive tax that bears more heavily on middle-class families than on the wealthy) or benefit cuts. Other possibilities, like increases in other taxes or other spending cuts, would be ruled out.

How can Congress in 2003 'rule out' possible responses by the Congress in 2010 or 2011? Is this a constitutional amendment? If not, the Congress in 2010 will do whatever the hell it wants. All it needs to do is append to its legislation a sentence saying "by the way, that bill we passed back in 2003 is hereby repealed." The provision as described by Krugman seems more "Washington make-believe," as Charles Peters would put it, than serious legislative threat. ... 3:38 A.M.


A fellow Democrat, saying he represented "some of our mutual friends" recently attempted an ideological "intervention" to get me to spend more time attacking Bush.  "[K]eeping liberals honest is fine and still worth your attention but it is so 1980s," he wrote.  I guess he's right. Take the teachers' unions. Neoliberals used to make a big fuss about the union work rules that prevented the firing of bad teachers and discouraged potential good teachers from even trying to teach at schools. That was such an '80s issue! But whatever happened to the teacher's unions? They used to be such a powerful interest group in the Democratic party! They just faded away, I guess, sort of like the contras. You hardly hear about them any more. ... [contradicts previous item?-ed. No. Think how much progress could be made without the unions.]..1:40 A.M.

Mickey's Assignment Desk: Test scores in California are going up. Test scores in New York are going up. Is it possible the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act, with its crude emphasis on testing and "standards," is actually, you know, working? ... Assigned to: Nicholas Lemann, Jacques Steinberg, Blaine Harden. ...Update: Nationally, the trend seems clearly to be in the right direction for math, less clearly for reading. ... You can get the official details for each state here.  ... Note: California had a program of testing 'n standards, begun under Gov. Pete Wilson, that predated No Child Left Behind. If that's why the state is now doing better than other states, it would seem to vindicate the underlying T&S approach, no? ... 1:28 A.M.

Friday, November 14, 2003 

Piling on: The NYT's Bernard Weinraub may have a glaring conflict of interest covering Hollywood business involving the studio his wife co-runs, but he's a professional journalist who can be trusted despite his conflicts. He'd never do anything like, say, crib a whole paragraph from blogger Luke Ford. ... Oh, wait!  ... One thing Slate's Jack Shafer, who uncovered  Weinraub's, er, sampling technique (which the NYT now confirms), didn't point out is that it was the best paragraph in Weinraub's piece. ... P.S.: Oh, well. At least Weinraub's recent profile of Motion Picture Association chief Jack Valenti--in which Weinraub said the studios "don't seem in any rush to push [Valenti] out the door" and quoted studio heads to the effect that "the job was Mr. Valenti's for as long as he wanted it"--has held up. Contrary to kf's insinuations, Valenti's not going anywhere. No, sirreee! ... Wait, what's this? ... P.P.S.: What does Weinraub's self-described "carelessness" consist of? Does he cut and paste, via computer, Ford's paragraph into his NYT copy and then plan to change just enough words to avoid a plagiarism rap? If so, is the "carelessness" changing only 11 or so words instead of, say, 25? Would changing 25 make it O.K.? If so, is this paste-'n-change technique one NYT reporters use frequently? ... P.P.P.S.: Will Weinraub survive, or is the job his for as long as he wants it? ... [Valenti link via Drudge]5:57 P.M.


Wednesday, November 12, 2003 

A baseball metaphor that scores! Early in the CNN "Rock the Vote" Democratic debate a week ago, the following interchange took place--

QUESTION: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: You're the manager of the Boston Red Sox.



QUESTION: It's game seven.

(UNKNOWN): That's one way to get Kerry out of the race.


QUESTION: It's game seven of the ALCS versus the New York Yankees. Your starting pitcher appears to be tiring.


You know it's best for the team to replace him, but the star asks to stay in. Do you make an executive decision and take him out? Or do you listen to your star and let him, the person who you hired in that role, and let him finish that job?


KERRY: That's a great question.


KERRY: Wilmington, thank you very much for the question. I thought it was tough running for president of the United States. Now he wants to make me manager of the Red Sox.


KERRY: Let me tell you something. You know why I will be a great president of the United States? Because I've been a long suffering Red Sox fan. I know adversity.


Like most of you here, I was throwing things at the television set, screaming at Grady Little, 'Get him out of there. Get him out of there.'

And regrettably he didn't. Now we have another round. But that's our role in life. You have to understand. If you come from Boston, you come from Massachusetts, you love the Red Sox, your role in life is to put up with it.

And I'll tell you what. Every single one of us ought to celebrate the Marlins beating the Yankees.


And the reason it's extra special is that's the first legitimate victory out of Florida since 2000.

Kerry obviously saw the question as another young person's boxers-or-briefs query, a chance to demonstrate his famed unassuming warmth and down-to-earth humanity. Am I crazy, or was the question actually--obviously, in retrospect--a teaser intended to set up a profound metaphor for the entire 2004 presidential campaign, one that might if vigorously pursued lead the Democrats to actual victory instead of cathartic venting?

To most voters, after all (as opposed to most Democratic primary voters), Bush has not on the whole done a terrible job, nor is he a bad man. He responded effectively to 9/11, including using innovative strategies to wage a necessary battle in Afghanistan. He passed two major pieces in his domestic platform (education reform and a big tax cut). He responded to a recession with a lot of stimulus, even if you think the tax cuts were inefficient or inequitable. In short, he pitched well enough in the early innings.

But now, with at least a temporary victory in sight, it's beginning to look in Iraq as if he's getting in a jam. Specifically, we seem to need foreign assistance to finish the job of rebuilding after Saddam, but we can't get it because Bush has alienated our potential allies (in part by waging the war without their approval). And his administration in general is looking a little tired (without Karen Hughes, for example, or much to say on domestic policy apart from jarring Medicare and Social Security changes that are probably either infeasible or unpopular).

You get the idea. In 2004, Bush will want to stay in the game and finish the job. He's Pedro Martinez. The voters have to decide whether to keep him, or thank him for several well-pitched innings and bring in a reliever. They're Grady Little.

Little stuck with Martinez, with the well-known result. Voters, Democrats can say, shouldn't make that mistake. A fresh president would not only bring new energy to the task of stabilizing Iraq, he'd bring new powers as well. Specifically, he'd be able to wipe the slate clean, to go to our potential allies and say, "You know that Bush fellow who talked so much about going it alone? He's gone. It's a new day, and we're ready to cooperate." It almost doesn't matter whether this pitch would be sincere or not; flushing problems out the door with a departing CEO is a standard executive ploy, even if the incoming CEO would have done exactly the same thing. It often works.

But I'm getting my metaphors all garbled, as I feared. The beauty of the Martinez Metaphor is that it doesn't require convincing voters that they made a mistake by electing Bush in 2000. (Well, most of them didn't elect him, but at any rate it avoids the need to convince voters that the election of 2000 elevated the wrong candidate--a conclusion they instinctively and healthily resist.) They don't have to hate Bush to get rid of him, any more than Boston fans would have hated Martinez if he'd been pulled. They can applaud him for leaving the game with a lead--and by extension applaud themselves for their managerial skills.

Of course, Democrats will never adopt this mild, and therefore lethal, strategy (until it's too late) because they do hate Bush. They want him repudiated and chased from the field, and then they want to watch the replay. In fact, the primary campaign so far has been a contest to see who can get the most stoked up with an anger that most of the fans in the stands don't share. Howard Dean is ahead because he's stripped off his shirt, tied it around his head, jumped the railing and charged the mound. He'll be escorted from the ...

OK. I'll stop.

No I won't: In a melee during Game 3 of the league championship, Martinez roughly threw the elderly Yankee coach Don Zimmer to the ground. ... Medicare! Don't you see! Bush's market-based reforms would treat America's seniors the way Martinez treated Zimmer!

The "Rock the Vote" baseball question was a veritable Nabokovian magic-box of meaning, I tell you. Who cares whether CNN planted it? Too bad Kerry whiffed. ...

P.S.: Or is Jim Jordan Pedro Martinez? That's Howie Kurtz's typical, process-oriented, small bore take  for you. (Update: It's also now Kerry's schtick, according to The Note.) ...

P.P.S.: Reader C.K. says the question was a metaphor but Kerry is Pedro Martinez. "The questioner is asking Kerry, in an oblique way, whether he should quit the race and allow the party to consolidate its support around the new front-runner, Howard Dean." ... Hmm. Seems plausible. But Martinez is, you know. good. ...

P.P.P.S.: Reader M.D. says Gephardt is Pedro Martinez. ... Well, I guess we could say there's a little bit of Pedro Martinez in all of us now, couldn't we? 11:12 P.M.

Der Schwarzenplan Shapes Up: Beeblogger Daniel Weintraub seems to have figured out what's going to happen with the California budget. ... Schwarzenegger will not be able to balance the budget and rescind the car tax increase this year. Instead, there will be a huge ($20 billion) bond issue, most of it a rollover of bonds the previous administration issued with shaky legal foundation, but some ($4 billion or so) of it paying for the rollback of the car tax. Very Bushian--note to Paul Krugman: there's an easy column--though the tax reductions being financed by debt do not especially benefit the rich. ... Schwarzenegger apparently still holds out hope of balancing the budget without tax increases in future years, through spending cuts and caps. Weintraub:

I think the critics at this point are wrong to assume that Schwarzenegger will not push for serious budget cuts, that he simply wants to borrow his way out of the problem. I expect him to put some very tough cuts on the table, perhaps as soon as his first or second day in office. In the end, the Democrats will be the ones pushing for more borrowing, as a way to close the gap with minimum pain.


That begs the question of whether Schwarzenegger's team has done the work of figuring out where budget savings can most painlessly be achieved, or whether the "tough cuts" are merely bargaining chips intended to scare Democrats and impress Republicans. ...   This L.A. Times story is also useful, describing how conservative groups have made their peace with taking on debt in exchange for spending restraint from here on out. ... P.S.:  I don't understand why the entire car tax increase (about $125 for the average car) has to be rescinded. Suppose you rescind half the increase. Then the drivers are happy and the tax-cutters are happy! And Californians don't have to repay as much debt tomorrow to fund an ordinary operating deficit today, which as Weintraub notes is not exactly a page from the traditional state good government handbook (even when it has a countercyclical Keynesian effect--not necessarily the case here). ... P.P.S.: Even the inability to square the circle this year doesn't prove outgoing governor Gray Davis right. For example, there would be about $2.2 billion less to finance if in 1999 Davis had stopped an ill-designed backroom deal to increase state government employee pensions (on the assumption that the boom market of the '90s would go on forever). ... Update: William Bradley has a more wide-ranging review of the Schwarzenegger transition so far. Biggest surprise: Integrated pest management! ... While A.S. appointed a Pete Wilsonite as his chief of staff, and his administration is less bipartisan than initially advertised, it's worth remembering that he could easily sack all the Wilsonites in a few months and replace them with Shriverians. In the long run, the Wilson people need him more than he needs them. 5:52 P.M.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Thomas (MinuteMan) Maguire weighs in with a late-breaking Krugman "Gotcha" entry, and it's a good one:

There is very little evidence in the data for a strong recovery ready to break out. As far as I can make out, Mr. Greenspan's optimism is entirely based on models predicting that tax cuts and low interest rates will get the economy moving.-- "Dropping the Bonds," July 25, 2003.


The key, again, is the date--three months ago, just as ... well, something was getting the economy moving. It's worth reading the whole column, which is impressively and vindictively wrong, blaming Alan Greenspan's belief in a recovery on his own need to save his legacy, which Krugman says is "in tatters."

For his own self-esteem, he has to believe that things will somehow turn out all right. Thus his sudden, destructive outbreak of optimism.

Change "right" to "wrong" and "optimism" to "pessimism" and you have a near-perfect self-analysis.

On the other hand, several readers have pointed out that the "Honorable Mention" Gotcha entry, below--about tax cuts being "pro-cyclical"--isn't necessarily as embarrassing as I thought it was. Krugman may have been talking about tax cuts in general, repeating the hoary conventional claim that they typically don't take effect until the recession they are meant to cure is already over. I had assumed that when he mentioned "the experience of the U.S." he was referring to the recent Bush tax cuts, but the Scotsman article in which he is quoted does not report him mentioning Bush. True, the Bush tax cuts are the most conspicuous example of tax cuts designed to "give an opportunity to the economy," and--however effective or ineffective they've been--they have hardly been "pro-cyclical" (i.e. they didn't miss the slowdown). Still, if the judges had the power to rearrange the awards after the fact--and they do!--they would give the "Honorable Mention" to Maguire's entry instead of the Scotsman quote. ...


P.S.: I recommend MinuteMan's entire Nov. 6 entry, including the very civil debate in his "Comments" section, which features Krugman ally Brad DeLong. ... 10:46 P.M.

Those Krugman 'Gotcha' Results in Full: In a rare display of follow-through [we're still waiting for winner of 'Hit-Grabbing Haiku'--ed], the staff of kausfiles has reviewed the entries in the Krugman 'Gotcha' Contest and is prepared to announce the results. The goal, remember, was to review the writings of this once-sensible Princeton economist--whose anti-Bush animus and partisan cocooning have so distorted his judgment that he's become the thinking man's "Gloomy" Louis Uchitelle--and find the dire assessment that looks the most embarrassingly wrong in light of the recent strong economic data.

"It's a little early to be gloating yet," objects reader E.K. ("I think that the official rules call for two data points to connect before that happens," adds "Adam Smith.") Official answer: a) I make the rules around here, buddy; b) Employment, under the revised figures issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has been growing for three months. Would Krugman refrain from I-told-you-soing if jobs had gone down for the past three months? c) Besides, if we wait, the economy might turn sour and Krugman would be right again. Where's the fun in that?

Honorable mention:

"From the experience of the US, I would say the costs outweigh the benefits. You might think tax cuts give an opportunity to the economy, but they actually turn out to be pro-cyclical"-- interview in The Scotsman on October 29, 2003  [submitted by Mark Hessey]

You can argue that Bush's tax cuts didn't deliver much bang for the buck, but it's pretty hard to argue that they didn't help or were "pro-cyclical" (defined by The Scotsman as "boosting growth in an upturn rather than in a slump"). We've only just come out of what Krugman himself not-infrequently noted was a long stretch of tepid growth. The tax cuts seemed to hit at an opportune time in that slow period. True, there are out-year tax cuts still in the pipeline, but these are the cuts for the rich that Krugman has argued repeatedly are the least stimulative. ... Krugman might argue that he was talking only about tax-cutting by regional governments like that of Scotland (i.e., the equivalent of states)--though his statement, in context, appears to be more sweeping. And even applied to states, it seems wrong. California, for example, has been running a big deficit during the downturn, financed by bond sales. Wasn't that countercyclical just the way running a national deficit is countercyclical? (Update: The judges have had some second thoughts about this entry.)


"The big rise in the stock market is definitely telling us something. Bulls think it says the economy is about to take off. But I think it's a sign that America is still blowing bubbles — that a three-year bear market and the biggest corporate scandals in history haven't cured investors of irrational exuberance yet. . ... The new bull market isn't forecasting anything; it's just feeding on itself."-- "Still Blowing Bubbles," July 20, 2003 [submitted by Stephen Kirchner, Donald Luskin, and Dr. Manhattan ]

It doesn't look so irrational now, does it? ... Krugman argued, in particular, that the market rally was off-base because of "bad news, especially regarding employment. Payrolls are still contracting; since the U.S. economy has to create 80,000 jobs a month just to keep up with a growing working-age population ..."  We now know that about the exact time Krugman was writing this the employment picture was turning around. The economy has since generated a bit more than 100,000 jobs a month. But Krugman includes some skillful a---covering elsewhere in the column. He askes, for example, "Could the story I'm telling be wrong? Of course." Yep.


"Meanwhile consumer confidence is plunging, and almost two-thirds of voters rate the current state of the economy as 'poor.' Is there any relief in sight? No.

To be fair, there are some reasons for hope. ... But you don't have to be a doomsayer to feel that the negatives greatly outweigh the positives—that an economy that is already hurting badly is all too likely to get even worse. So what will the administration do about it? Nothing, of course."-- "No Relief in Sight," February 28, 2003  [submitted by Philip Babcock ]

"No relief in sight." That was four months before the big job turnaround. Time horizons get short when your intellectual marketing strategy is conspicuously dependent on disaster.

A ceremonial copy of Robert Reich's The Work of Nations goes to Mr. Babcock. [Why Reich?--ed. Trust me, there's nothing that would annoy Krugman more.] Thanks to all those who submitted entries. 3:20 A.M.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Every now and then auto enthusiasts, frustrated at having their path blocked by lumbering buses, toy with the contrarian idea that the roads would be more passable if only the buses weren't there--i.e. if there were no highway mass transit.  The idea seems to be that the delay caused by slow buses stopping and picking up passengers more than compensates for the number of potential drivers the buses take off the road. ... Here in Los Angeles, where there's a big bus strike, we are giving this idea a test--and it's a crock. The roads have never been worse, which is saying something. I will try to remember this the next time a belching bus cuts me off. ... [When were the L.A. roads ever passable?--ed During the '84 Olympics! Everyone stayed home. This is the Washington D.C. "Snow Emergency" Principle. If you live in the nation's capital and hear a bulletin on the radio warning that it is going to snow, there is only one responsible thing to do: Immediately get in your car and drive somewhere, anywhere. The roads will be empty, and it probably won't snow.] 2:12 P.M.

Saturday, November 8, 2003

The management wishes to make it clear that recent media reports of sensational allegations regarding kausfiles are without a shred of substance. The incident that someone may or may not claim to have witnessed, which was not a boating accident, never took place, and in the event bore no resemblance to the lurid charge that the scandal-mongering newspapers are currently failing to publish. Though it would be deeply, deeply shocking if it were true--we're not talking about jaywalking here, oh no!--it is not true. It is false, baseless, risible, scurrilous and taken completely out of context. So just stop thinking about it, OK? Update: No, it's not that. Update: Much worse! Update: Getting colder ... 1:39 A.M.

Friday, November 7, 2003

Who leaked the leak of the leaked Democratic strategy memo? That's what I want to know! The answer seems to be veteran GOP disloyalist Chuck Hagel. Roll Call is on the case. Here's the link, but you need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing. ... 3:50 P.M.

Another Easy One for Daniel Okrent, Public Editor! Suppose a New York Times reporter were married to the owner of a major league baseball team. Would the Times let that reporter cover the Commissioner of Baseball? Or suppose a Times reporter were married to the head of a major drug company. Would that person get to cover the pharmaceutical industry's trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America? Married to the chairman of General Motors and covering the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers? It's a no-brainer--"appearance of conflict," prophylactic rule, open-and-shut.

So why is the spouse of Amy Pascal, who runs one of the biggest Hollywood studios (as one of three Vice-Chairmen of Sony Pictures) writing a New York Times profile of Jack Valenti, head of the movie studios' trade association and lobbying arm, the Motion Picture Association of America? It doesn't take much imagination to see the potential for conflict when Pascal's husband, Bernard Weinraub, covers his wife's business. Maybe Sony wants Valenti to retire, and a nice, positive profile would be an encouraging send off. (Weinraub's piece was titled "The Man Who Unites the Moguls, Looking Ahead.") Maybe Sony needs Valenti to embark on some initiative he's resisting, and a nice, positive profile would encourage that. Maybe Sony wants Valenti to worry about what might happen in Weinraub's profile if he doesn't favor Sony over another studio. Maybe Sony, as the victim of piracy, just wants to give Mr. Valenti a nice big national soapbox to talk about the grave threat to intellectual property without too many distracting counter-arguments.

I'm not saying Weinraub would write a bland, hack, just-shy-of-fawning piece on Valenti in order to please his wife. He did write a bland, hack, just-shy-of-fawning piece, but that's probably because it's the kind of piece he almost always writes these days.  By that, I'm not saying that he's a behind-the-curve embarrassment to the Times, snickered at by other reporters, who habitually either misses the story or gets it after everyone else is sick of talking about it. ...Oh, allright, that is what I'm saying.

It's bizarre that the Times would relax its conflict-of-interest rules to get more of this buzzless voice into the paper. The paper has apparently tried to keep up appearances in the past  by not letting Weinraub write about certain topics, but that regime has obviously broken down.

Note to Bill Keller, Adam Moss: Weinraub's piece contained puffy quotes about Valenti from two studio heads, in effect Valenti's bosses. (Weinraub didn't get a quote from his own wife.)

Despite Mr. Valenti's long goodbye, his clients--the studios--don't seem in any rush to push him out the door. Two executives who were major supporters of banning videotapes and DVD's--Barry M. Meyer, chairman and chief executive of Warner Brothers Entertainment, and Peter Chernin, chairman and chief operating officer of the News Corporation, which owns the Fox entertainment group--said the job was Mr. Valenti's for as long as he wanted it.

But here's what Weinraub was either too inhibited or uninformed to report: Valenti's bosses, the studio heads, are not happy with him. Why? Because he doesn't want to pursue a litigation strategy to combat the threat of piracy (maybe because he doesn't want to end his long Motion Picture Association career in an atmosphere of contention and controversy). But the studios are insisting on litigation. In private, they do not always treat Valenti kindly, or with the reverence with which he is treated by Washington politicians and hack reporters, or even with much respect at all. They do not treat him like the job is his for as long as he wants it.

I'm not even an entertainment reporter and I know this! I write about welfare! Weinraub's glaring conflict clearly isn't giving him any special insider sources that he's using to benefit the Times. Instead, he has misinformed his readers in exactly the way he would have misinformed his readers if the conflict were actually having an impact. Do you really need to prove causality here?

There will be complex and difficult ethical decisions down the road. This isn't one of them! 2:37 A.M.

I love Whack-A-Pol, especially the little arms when they come out of their holes. But it told me I should be voting for Carol Moseley Braun. ... 12:56 A.M.

Thursday, November 6, 2003

Yikes! Now that his political career has crashed, Robert Reich is starting to say interesting things  again. (Don't worry, not too interesting.) 11:58 P.M.

It finally looks as if the economy is recovering as opposed to spiraling into a Japan-style pit of deflation and permanent Bush-induced joblessness. That means the long-awaited Krugman Gotcha Contest can begin. A prize, to be announced, for the kf reader who comes up with the gloom-and-doom opinion from the fabled Princeton economist's recent writings that now looks the most embarrassingly wrong. ... You'd assume Donald Luskin would win this contest, but he might be so blindered by Krugmanoia and right-wing economic thinking that he overlooks a juicy nugget. ... It's a big paper trail! Everybody can win! Even Brad DeLong! ... Here's  a good place to start. ... Note: No truncated quotes, edited quotes, or out-of-context quotes that don't actually reflect what Krugman is saying. Leave that to him. ... Also: Things that seemed obviously wrong at the time Krugman wrote them don't qualify. The prize is for a statement that now looks highly embarrassing in light of recent economic news. ... Send entries to Mickey_Kaus@msn.com ... (I've made highly embarrassing economic predictions myself. Here's one. But I'm not in the "circle of Those Who Get Money Calls.") ... 3:02 P.M.

Michael O'Hanlon's op-ed--on the three mistakes the Democratic candidates make in their criticism of Bush's Iraq policy--offers a framework for sanity  in the current discussion. Too bad he published it in the Washington Times, where it risks being either overlooked or dismissed as more Dem-bashing. (Note to O'Hanlon: You mean Fred Hiatt at WaPo wouldn't publish this?) ... Snipe: O'Hanlon's second point --that if we had an international coalition of troops in Iraq, the insurgents would be attacking them all just as viciously--seems his weakest. If we had an international coalition of troops in Iraq, and the insurgents (including Al Qaeda guest-terrorists) attacked them viciously, that might a) be an instructive lesson to our coalition partners about the extent to which Islamic radicalism is not directed solely at Americans and b) stimulate them to contribute more money to the stabilization effort. Certainly it's an argument Democrats can make. ... 2:51 P.M.

Daniel Drezner makes the case that a certain recent political event was the "Feiler Faster Thesis on Steroids."   It's pretty breathtaking when you look at the time-line. ...12:53 A.M.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

More work for Daniel Okrent, more ammo for those "enemies of the Times:"  TimesWatch notes the bracing surpriseNew York Times readers (like Steve Earle  and his drummer!) might have had this morning, waking up from the paper's cocoonish, anti-Bush wishful-thinking coverage of the Kentucky and Mississippi governors' races. ... In the NYT's favor, one of the boosterish stories TimesWatch cites was written back in August, when even the conservatish  RealClearPolitics  (which ultimately  called both races with impressive accuracy) might have given Kentucky Democratic candidate Ben Chandler a chance. ... In Timeswatch's favor, they  criticized the NYT for the August story back in August.... P.S.: RealClearPolitcs, even more than today's NYT, warns against reading much of a pro-Bush message into yesterday's state results. But if the Democrats had won, what would the Times have said? ...  2:34 P.M.

Fresh from patching up his  dispute with Atrios--which led to his ill-considered "demand letter"--Donald Luskin gets renewed traction against his main target, Paul Krugman, with the latter's cheap-shot use of a distorted quote from Rep. George Nethercutt. ... Easy work for Daniel Okrent, Public Editor! ... 3:09 A.M.

Times' Big UC Admissions Piece As Uncertain as it is Predictable! John Rosenberg's Discriminations  disses an embarrassing front-page story  in, yes, the L.A. Times that "is virtually dripping with defense of the University of California's admissions policies." The Times' three-byline article makes a big deal of this finding:

Latinos with low SAT scores are admitted to the University of California at rates only slightly higher than whites and Asians, while blacks who score poorly are significantly less likely to get in, according to a Times analysis.

The LAT eventually admits in the jump, however, that this conclusion does not apply at the university's "two most competitive campuses"--UCLA and Berkeley:

UC Berkeley, the original focus of the admissions debate, admitted low-scoring blacks and Latinos at twice the rate of Asians and whites with similar scores.

UCLA was about a quarter more likely to admit low-scoring African Americans and Latinos than whites and Asians.

Rosenberg notes:

When critics of race preferences argue that high standards and thus [relatively] fewer minority admissions to Berkeley and UCLA are not discriminatory because minorities are able to attend other, less selective campuses of the University of California system, they are often called racist. Now the Los Angeles Times argues that, despite highly disproportionate admissions of low-scoring blacks and Hispanics over similarly low-scoring whites and Asians at Berkeley and UCLA, there is no discrimination because in the UC system as a whole low-scorers from all groups are accepted at about the same rate.

I actually don't understand the entire basis of the LAT story. Does it tell us anything important if one ethnic group with low scores is admitted at a higher rate than another group with low scores? Doesn't the rate depend on the number of low-SAT applicants, which could vary for all sorts of reasons.

Suppose, for example, that members of ethnic group A know that if they have low SAT scores they are unlikely to get in. Since the combination of SAT scores and G.P.A. normally required to ensure admission is published on the Web, those whose scores are low just won't bother to apply. That is in fact what happens, according to the Times itself. ("... UC officials said, students with low SAT scores who are unlikely to qualify don't tend to apply.")

Now suppose many members of ethnic group B know that they have a credible claim of having overcome race discrimination--and that this might get them in under the university's "comprehensive review" policy, in which overcoming hardship can outweigh low SAT scores. These group B students are likely to apply in very large numbers even if they have low SATs. As a result, their rate of acceptance may be no higher than those of the few low-SAT applicants from group A. But that rate doesn't tell us much about whether or not university officials are bending over too far to admit applicants from Group B.

In fact, although the Times doesn't discuss it, the paper's own data shows that low-SAT "underrepresented minorities" (primarily blacks and Latinos) do apply to UC in relatively great numbers--so many that, whatever the success rates, 65% of the students actually admitted to Berkeley and UCLA with low SATs are "underrepresented minorities." Even at Riverside, the least selective UC campus, 49% of low-SAT admissions are "underrepresented minorities." How does this show that, as the Times says, "UC admissions did not appear to be racially biased" or that the the "comprehensive review" program isn't a backdoor scheme of racial preferences? It doesn't.

It doesn't show the opposite either. Even Ward Connerlyite opponents of racial preferences--and I count myself as one--shouldn't be slaves to the SAT. If ignoring the SAT and admitting students who've overcome hardships, including racial discrimination, results in admitting worthier applicants, let's do it. On its face, the ethnic breakdown of low-SAT students admitted--30% of whom are white or Asian, after all--doesn't seem that troubling. But surely there is a way to measure whether these low-SAT students actually do wind up succeeding at the university (i.e., whether the judgment of the "comprehensive review" is better than the judgment of the SAT). Isn't that the study the L.A. Times should be putting on its front page? ...

Backfill: Patterico  and BoifromTroy  made many of these points two days ago. ... Ten days ago the Oakland Tribune's Maitre and Brand wrote a good, straightforward article  reporting the relevant statistic--namely, who is in the low-SAT group that's actually admitted--rather than the LAT's showy, mostly meaningless calculations. The Tribune revealed that while 30 percent of the low-SAT admittees are indeed "White or Asian," that category is mainly Asian. Only 7% (2002) or 6% (2001) of the overall low-SAT admissions are white. About 25% are Asian. Some 17-19% are black and 44-45% are Latino. ... 2:10 A.M.

It's this weak! Could ABC News executives really have thought making George Stephanopoulos host of This Week would attract young viewers to the show? Did they actually talk to any young viewers? Stephanopoulos is transparently an old person's idea of a young person--he's made his career in that role, as the bright young assistant to a succession of powerful men (Dick Gephardt, Father Timothy Healy, Bill Clinton). He instinctively oozes alert, polite deference. Such a nice young man! Actual young people I know tend to prefer a bit of talk-back. It's not surprising, then, that This Week most recently finished last in the 25-54 demographic, in fourth place behind even Fox's Sunday show. ...

High on the list of those to whom Stephanopoulos has been overly deferential are the ABC executives who've done their best to suppress, neutralize, or eliminate any remaining traces of his political passion and sharp, insider instincts. They've turned him into George Stepfordopoulos! It started when they urged him not to give his instant take on the speeches at the 2000 conventions. Viewers didn't want to be told what to think, the theory went. But why would you have George Stephanopoulos on the show except to hear his instant take? That's what he's good for. ...

Here's a small example--actually, a pretty big example--of the way This Week has been anesthetized. On Sunday, Stephanopoulos (and George Will) interviewed defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said the following about Iraq and the larger the war on terror:

RUMSFELD: ...  To the extent foreign terrorists come into the country and we have forces there and Iraqi forces and coalition forces and US forces and we're able to capture or kill them, that is a good thing. It is better than doing it there than in Baltimore or in Boise, Idaho. Our concern, however, is that what we need to do is to find ways to make sure we're winning the battle of ideas and that we, we, we reduce the number of terrorists that are being created in the world that are being taught to go out and murder and kill innocent men, women and children and cut off people's tongues and fingers. [Emphasis added]

Why isn't the appropriate response from a questioning host:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Isn't it a bit late to have this realization, Mr. Secretary? I mean, most of our actions since 9/11 seem to have been predicated precisely on the theory that we need to go out and kill the terrorists without worrying too much about the 'blowback' of world public opinion and whether that's creating more terrorists.

This might be what Stephanopoulos really thinks, if he even bothers these days to form opinions he can then suppress. What Stephanopouolos actually did, in the event, was move down his pathetic checklist of niggling little ABC attempts to "make news" for the Monday papers:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what do we know about the flow that's actually coming into Iraq right now? You mentioned earlier that you don't see any evidence that Saddam Hussein is coordinating this. But do you see any evidence that the remnants of the Baathist regime are coordinating with this influx of foreign fighters?

Weak! ... ABC desperately needs somebody nobody would want to hire as their assistant. Joe Klein? ... Update: ABC notes that for the Nov. 2 show--the one with Rumsfeld--Stephanopoulos' broadcast placed second among younger viewers, behind only Meet the Press. For the entire season so far, however, Stephanopolous is running third among younger viewers, behind even the AARP-ready Bob Schieffer's Face the Nation. ... 12:40 A.M.

Monday, November 3, 2003

Update: Herb Caen, first blogger? Reader D.W. writes:

I loved Caen, but he couldn't be the proto Blogger. There were many three-dot guys like Caen in other big and small dailies around the country at the same time and before Caen, according to Caen himself.

The difference, I think, is Caen wrote a long column six days a week--i.e., he was practically doing it 24/7, just like a blogger. ... Caen's product looked like a blog. It mixed personal tidbits with gossip with serious politics, like a blog. It just came on paper. ... Sometimes it even had on-rushing velocity! ... 11:36 P.M.

The bad news for Rolls is good news for social equality: The November issue of Automobile reports that Rolls-Royce's imposing new $325,000 Phantom--it doesn't look like it's owned by the head of the German Bundesbank; it looks like it is the German Bundesbank--is "not doing as well as expected." This year, "Rolls will deliver only 500 units, half the minimum projected annual sales." Why? "[N]ot because there is not enough money around but because fewer people are willing to display their wealth." .... There's virtually no hope of stopping the rich from getting richer in a free-trading market-based society. But Rolls' slump suggests there is some chance of keeping the rich in their place. [Wishful thinking?--ed I am always looking for hopeful signs. Like Mark Z. Barabak!] ... P.S.: Come to think of it, I live on the affluent, car-obsessed West Side of Los Angeles, I spend a lot of time in Beverly Hills and Brentwood, and I have never seen a new Rolls Phantom on the street--or a $308,000 Mercedes Maybach  ultraluxury sedan, for that matter. Not one. The manufacturers must be losing a fortune, betting on the foolish ostentation of the rich. ... Update: It says here in this NEXIS clip, citing a Wall Street Journal article, that Mercedes expected to sell 1,000 Maybachs a year worldwide, but for the first seven months of this year built only 278. In North America, they sold 48. ... Call it the Maydebachle! ... Let's go to the gausfiles: Five years ago Automotive News reported Mercedes planned "at least 1,500 Maybachs per year. Said [director of car development Hermann] Gaus: 'Hopefully a little bit more.'" ... It's Ishcar! ... [Thanks to reader J.H.] ... Times-bashing angle: Weird how the New York Times runs  a whole feature on the Rolls and Maybach and doesn't bother to report that neither car is selling. The NYT's Keith Martin even repeats with a straight face Rolls' claim that it plans to sell 400 cars a year in the U.S. As of August, Rolls had sold 38. But maybe there will be a big year-end clearance. ... 2:39 A.M.

Democratic Aides Increasingly Confident: Mark Z. Barabak finds two (2) Michigan voters who have soured on Bush, as the LAT front page doesn't skip a beat  in applying to national politics the pro-Democratic wishful-thinking approach that caused so many Southland readers to be bracingly surprised at the result of the recent California recall election. ... The point isn't that there are no voters who have soured on Bush, or that souring on Bush isn't a real phenomenon. The point is that reporters and editors at papers like the Times (either one!) are exquisitely sensitive to any sign that Democrats might win, but don't cultivate equivalent sensitivity when it comes to discerning signs Republicans might win. (Who wants to read that?) The result, in recent years, is the Liberal Cocoon, in which Democratic partisans are kept happy and hopeful until they are slaughtered every other November. The Cocoon is clearly still alive and well at the LAT. If you were searching for a place where Bush might be doing relatively badly on the economic issue, wouldn't you send a reporter to industrial Michigan? ... P.S.: Again, it's not that the Democrats have no chance. (I'd say the campaign is now as uncertain as it is unpredictable, wouldn't you?) But they'd have more of a chance if over the years there were more stories by Democratic self-haters like WaPo's Thomas Edsall and fewer by keep-hope-alive hacks like Barabak. ... P.P.S.:  Did you realize that suburbanites "may be key in the 2004 election?" It seems they are "worried about Iraq and the economy." Who knew?... Bonus snipe: Face it. Would Barabak have gotten where he is without the "Z"? I don't think so! ... 2:20 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.]