CNN's head-jolting shockfest!

A mostly political Weblog.
March 28 2005 4:04 AM

Head-Jolting Shockfest!

Plus--GM gives up?

Today's Quiz: When, in an NYT  story about CNN president Jonathan Klein's newest ratings-boosting strategy, his corporate superior says

"What I can assure you is Jon will be successful in this position, and he'll be in this position for many years to come."

it means:

1) Klein's newest strategy will fail.

2) Klein will be gone by August.

3) Both (1) and (2).

1:01 A.M.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Career advice for Mickey Rourke from Ben Affleck: Is the best expert to quote on the problems at GM and Ford really Helmut Panke, the research-driven ex-McKinsey consultant who has arguably been driving the BMW brand off a cliff? ... (See, e.g., this WSJ analysis [$]) ... 9:57 P.M.

Friday, March 25, 2005

GM Gives Up?  USAT on GM executive Bob Lutz's decision to cancel the company's new rear-drive mid-size car line:

But he pulled the plug on the North America models after determining the vehicles could not be engineered and assembled to sell at prices competitive with the popular Chrysler 300C, Ford Mustang and other models, without sacrificing quality and content.

Isn't this perilously close to saying he determined that GM could not compete in the industry it's in? If the company can't engineer and assemble cars at competitive prices what product is it going to sell? And if GM can't compete with Chrysler and Ford, what chance does it have against Toyota? ... Update: Lutz defends his decision on his blog, and it actually does him some good. Maybe Hugh Hewitt is right about businesses needing blogs. ... 11:25 A.M.

Head-jolting shockfest! It's a good thing CNN's Jonathan Klein got rid of Tucker Carlson so the network could finally  approach the news with the seriousness it deserves. [via Polipundit] 10:58 A.M.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Anti-tubist prof. Mark A.R. Kleiman, bizarrely, agrees with me about the wording in that ABC Schiavo Poll.  He argues the wording reflects reality ("persistent vegetative state") but not the case "as seen in the media."  I tend to think the media has, if anything, presented a mildly anti-tube version of events--but we agree fair polling question would not adopt one side's version of reality. It would present the issue as it is being presented (e.g., one side says "no consciousness," the other side says "we don't know for sure.")  The point is, in part, to figure out which reality those polled have bought into, no? ... . ... P.S: It's clear that a solid majority is anti-tubist. Too many different polls show it. But note that the CBS poll also shows a mild but unmistakable pro-tube trend on several questions since 1990. (Example: "If a patient is in a coma, should close family member be able to have a doctor remove the feeding tube and let the person die?" 1990 answer: 81% yes. 2005 answer: 73% yes.) This is consistent with the theory that baby-boomers will become more "anti-death" (on abortion, capital punishment, and end-of-life issues) as they a) see their parents pass away and b) approach death themselves. ... A potentially major, underdiscussed counteravailing factor is the one cited by pollster Andrew Kohut  in his recent NYT op-ed:

One-third of the respondents to the ABC News poll reported that a friend or relative had died after life support was stopped. And more than half of these respondents were involved in the decision.

One way of putting it is that the end of life is so messy, and riddled with potentially guilt-inducing glitches, that nobody wants to be judgmental about it (as the pro-tube position requires). Another way of putting it is that the culture of end-of-life euthanasia--as practiced by humane, cost-conscious doctors and hospitals-- is so entrenched that too many people are implicated in it for it to change. If you say pulling a tube is wrong you seem to be accusing them of being complicit in murdering grandma! This is a possibility they don't want to consider, a moral burden they do not feel they deserve to bear. ... But if this factor were dominant wouldn't the trend in that CBS poll be going the other way? ... 6:07 P.M.

Tapped's Matthew Yglesias is all over that Social Security trustees' report looking for signs of 1) spinning and fiddling, 2) excessive pessimism, and 3) unexplained changes in assumptions. He's found them all, I think. Start here and scroll up. ... 12:45 A.M.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Shame of ABC: I hadn't realized that the surprising ABC poll about the Schiavo case--showing overwhelming anti-tube sentiment--was so badly worded and biased. (For one thing, it deceptively tells pollees that Terri Schiavo is on "life support."  * For another, it leads with the flat assertion that "Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible."**)   Michelle Malkin and "Captain Ed" Morrissey  are onto the ABC poll. ... MalkinMorrissey and Powerline also raise doubts about that clumsy Republican talking points memo that ABC's Linda Douglass first trumpeted.  I'm not so sure that you'd expect a letterhead on such a hastily-drawn memo, or even the correct bill title. It's not like it's a blog or something formal! It's less clear that the memo was written by anyone in the GOP leadership as opposed to a pro-life lobbying group, as Malkin points out. Yet unless you listened very carefully to Douglass' slyly worded report you got the distinct impression that it was a Republican leadership document. (ABC's own web site headlined the story "GOP Talking Points on Terri Schiavo ") [Update:Powerline confirms  epistemological fishiness of the memo as a "GOP" doc.] ... Anyway, why should it be news--obscuring the actual merits of the case--that politics is involved in federal legislation? The civil rights movement was a political constituency too. ...  ABC's performance during this whole story --starting with its sneering Friday coverage--has been pretty much a disgrace. ... 

*Update--Many readers have pointed out that a feeding tube is defined as "life support" by at least one medical authority. But using the word at the start of a poll of laypersons conjures up far more elaborate support systems--e.g. heart and lung machines. If not "false"--as this post originally characterized it--the phrase is highly misleading. (I disagree with MP on this. The question is not whether the phrase is technically defensible, but whether it's reasonably calculated to produce an accurate poll of what people think. It's no defense to say, as ABC's Gary Langer does, that the language was taken from the very court decision that is the point of controversy. A court, even in its outline of "facts," is going to use language that buttresses its conclusion.)

**--Dr. Krauthammer, who winds up calling Congress' action a "travesty," nevertheless disagrees with the ABC poll's flat assertion on the issue of consciousness:

The husband has not allowed a lot of medical testing in the past few years. I have tried to find out what her neurological condition actually is. But the evidence is sketchy, old and conflicting. The Florida court found that most of her cerebral cortex is gone. But "most" does not mean all. There may be some cortex functioning. The severely retarded or brain-damaged can have some consciousness.

P.S.: I'm not saying a non-slanted poll would somehow reveal majority support for the pro-tube position. As MP notes, other surveys suggest widespread anti-tube sentiment. But, as far as I can see, no other poll has as large an anti-tube majority (63%) as ABC's. ... Update: Still true!CBS has now  released another poll with a large anti-tube majority. The crucial question (#14) is prefaced with a run-up of hypotheticals locking respondents in to the concept of Michael Schiavo's spousal authority--but CBS's anti-tube majority (61%) still isn't as big as ABC's number. (Question #14 was only asked of a "partial sample." A second "partial sample" was asked a question ABC didn't ask about what should happen now: "Should the tube be reinserted ...?" That produced a larger (66%) anti-tube majority, perhaps because some people feel that the tube, once out, should stay out. For example, they might believe reinsertion could be painful. ... If you find CBS' sample-splitting confusing, you are not alone.)  11:32 A.M.

External Relations and Outreach! Who said gossip is inconsequential? Here's Topic A at the World Bank. ... 1:14 A.M.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I tend to think the following, from an NRO  interview with Prof. Robert George, is the beginning of wisdom on the Schiavo case:

NRO: As you know, there's some question about what Terri Schiavo's wishes were or would be now. How much should turn on this question?

George: It is the wrong question. It is pointless to ask whether Terri Schiavo had somehow formed a conditional intention to have herself starved to death if eventually she found herself in a brain-damaged condition. ...[snip]

Even if we were to credit Michael Schiavo's account of his conversation with Terri before her injury — which I am not inclined to do — it is a mistake to assume that people can make decisions in advance about whether to have themselves starved to death if they eventually find themselves disabled. That's why living wills have proven to be so often unreliable. One does not know how one will actually feel, or how one will feel about one's life and the prospect of death, or whether one will retain a desire to live despite a mental or physical disability, when one is not actually in that condition and when one is envisaging it from the perspective of more or less robust health.

Consider the case of a beautiful young woman — an actress or fashion model perhaps — who is severely burned in a fire. Prior to actually finding herself in such a condition, she might have supposed — and even said, if the subject had come up in a conversation — that she would rather be dead than live with her face grotesquely disfigured. But no one would be surprised if in the actual event she did not try to kill herself by starvation or some other means, and did not want to die.

Unlike Prof. George, I'm not sure these misgivings should preclude enforcing the living will of a person in dire Terri-Schiavo-like circumstances. But they should certainly preclude the routine, strained legal finding of conditional intent based on less-than-compelling evidence. That such evidence is most likely to come from parties--family members as well as spouses--who are most likely have ulterior motives for their suddenly precise recollection doesn't make the enterprise any more sound. ... P.S.:Where do you go to sign a living will saying you want them to leave the tube in? I somehow don't think such a document is as readily available in handy preprinted form as the other kind. Nor do I think it would get all that much respect from the courts. The economic pressures are all in favor of  pulling the plug. That's a crude Marxist interpretation of law-as-epiphenomenon. Doesn't mean it's wrong!  ... Update: One pro-tube will seems to be available here. ... P.P.S.: Give me Comity or Give me Death! Actually, Give Me Both! Dahlia Lithwick makes a strident appeal to "the rule of law" and federal-state "comity."  Would she feel the same way about the crucial need for comity if in, say, 1950 Congress had been outraged by the refusal of a Montgomery bus company to let Rosa Parks keep her seat? If you want to change the law, you gotta start somewhere. ... 4:56 P.M.

Monday, March 21, 2005

This 2003 item summarizes what I think about the Schiavo case. ... Opposition to the Florida court's ruling seems like a legitimate protest against what appears to be a disingenuous machinery of euthanasia lawyers are busy establishing under the guise of a "right to die" (a right Terry Schiavo can only be said to be exercising by an extremely suspect chain of reasoning). ... Our society is going to have to have this out at some point--why not now? And why isn't it a perfectly reasonable issue for the national legislature to address? ... P.S.: Emailer R.H. writes:

After the election, several Dems talked about extending some kind of olive branch to the religious right ...[snip] ... Isn't this a great opportunity for the Dems to make a symbolic gesture to pro-lifers that wouldn't hurt anybody except Terri Schiavo's creepy husband?  But instead, Dems are once again telling the right -- in a swing state, no less -- to shut up and obey the courts ....

3:08 A.M.

Essay Question: How is the American Prospect different from Armstrong Williams?New York Post'sRyan Sager is seemingly onto some significant conflicts of interest at TAP and NPR. ... If the New York Times took more than $100,000 from General Motors to produce a special issue on Regulation in the Auto Industry, wouldn't there be a stink? Why is it any different if you substitute "Carnegie Corporation" for "General Motors" and "campaign finance regulation" for "auto regulation"--and "American Prospect" for "New York Times"?  Perhaps TAP editor Bob Kuttner has an answer to Sager's charge. ...  P.S.: And I've always thought that NPR's acceptance of grants ostensiby to finance coverage of particular topics was highly compromising. ... P.P.S.: Sorry. I forgot--NPR doesn't care about money! It's public radio! ... Update: Sager has a bit more on the TAP mess here, including a Kuttner comment.  It seems the Carnegie issue was first of a series of "foundation sponsored" issues! Do they sell themselves to a different foundation every other month? ...  2:40 A.M.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

New BMW Slogan: "It Could Be Uglier!" There's something desperate about the automotive press' attempts to prevent the new BMW 3-series from being another, bigger, Chris Bangle-supervised styling failure. Even John Kerry never got this sort of on-message, across-the-board spin support from his media friends.  "3 series spared: Redesign shows mercy on everybody's favorite car," is Car and Driver's cover line. "It's a very strict design effort, with none of the flamboyant 'flame surfacing' of the Z4 and 5-series," writes the LAT's Dan Neil. "This is the most harmonious of recent BMWs," declares Automobile in a carefully constructed sentence. ... But it's still not ... how to put it ... attractive to men, sir! A duller version of Bangle's pretentious expressionism that has replaced the smooth functionalism of earlier 3-series BMWs--look at the multiple gothic creases in the new car's hood, for example. (Note to Dan Neil: that's "flame surfacin'"!) The effect is jangly and costive, all the way back to the dumb Gummi Bear taillights. It already looks old. ... You used to buy BMWs because they were good cars and beautiful too. Now the second factor has disappeared. This is Chris Bangle's achievement. The Kia Spectra  (which the BMW resembles) is a strict design effort too! ... Update: Toyota's Lexus brand has famously undistinguished styling, but Lexus' new 3-Series competitor is better-looking than its rival. Humiliating for BMW. ... 2:06 A.M.

Form 180 Update--Special Tenterhooks Edition: From the Philly Inquirer:

The word in Washington is that Kerry will sign the form soon.

Preemptive spin: Kerry's military records, when fully opened, better show something at least mildly embarrassing! If they're completely innocuous, why couldn't Kerry have signed Form 180 a year ago and cleared up many of the rumors that helped sink his candidacy (and his party)? ... Kerry's belated action could raise as many questions as it answers! ... 12:17 P.M.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

For the Record: Here's how ABC's Peter Jennings, barely concealing his disdain, ended his evening newscast's coverage of the Schiavo case this evening:

The story for today and we suspect that it's for today only.

You think so? I don't. ... Update: Reader O. suggests Jennings was merely saying, in effect, "this is a fast-changing story." That might be plausible if Jennings' kiss-off hadn't followed a Jake Tapper piece asking "how serious was Congress really about trying to save this woman's life?" and quoting Norman Ornstein to the effect that it was all a stunt. ("If they really wanted to intervene and stop the removal of this feeding tube, they had the ability to do so.") ... Tapper's piece was preceded by an interview with an ABC correspondent in Florida who noted the small number of pro-tube protesters at the scene--and by Linda Douglass' piece mocking Republican talking points on the Schiavo case, which Jennings introduced by declaring, "After seven years, members of the House and of the Senate have decided this is urgent." ... Correction: I take it back. He didn't conceal his disdain. ... 7:20 P.M.

The Nep Missteps! National Review'sJonah Goldberg writes, in what's supposed to be the clincher paragraph of a recent column:

Clinton agreed to welfare reform — over the objections of most liberals, including his own wife — because the Republicans forced him to and he'd have lost the 1996 election if he didn't. That was the beginning and the ending of Bill Clinton's fact-finding.

This favorite right-wing interpretation of Clinton's role in welfare reform is the same as the left-wing's favorite interpretation. In both, an unprincipled Clinton was simply reading the polls and selling out when he signed a Republican reform law in 1996.  That's wrong (and lazy!).

1) Clinton had some experience with welfare reform in Arkansas;

2) His '92 campaign call to "end welfare as we know it" with a two-year time limit wasn't any more vague than, say, Bush's Social Security plan, and put the issue on the table way before it had to be put there;

3) Clinton clearly understood how changing welfare could help "break the culture of poverty and dependence" in the ghettos--those are his words from 1992;

4) Clinton's own two-years-and-out plan, when it was finally unveiled, was really a three-years-and-out plan--but it was still dramatically tougher than anything any president had proposed in decades;

5) After Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, Clinton aides Bruce Reed and Rahm Emmanuel clearly wanted to sign a welfare reform bill and worked toward that end--the trouble was getting the Republicans to decide they wanted reform too, as opposed to an "issue" they could take into the 1996 campaign;

6) Clinton was far more receptive than most others on his staff to the Republicans' basic approach of returning the AFDC welfare program as a "block grant" to the states--he was a former governor and didn't share the traditional Democratic distrust of state executives. The objectionable parts of the bill, in his view, had to do mainly with side issues: immigrants, Medicare, and aid for the aged. That's why Clinton called it "a decent welfare bill wrapped in a sack of sh-t."

7) Even though she's characteristically opaque on the subject, there's a lot of evidence that Hillary made the same decision her husband did--to sign the Republican "block grant" bill, wrapping and all. Goldberg might talk to Doug Besharov of the Amercan Enterprise Institute about the little chat Besharov had with Hillary during the crucial period in 1996. ...

2:14 A.M.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Has kf been conned? I can't tell if this is an early April Fool's joke. Please advise. ... P.S.: If it's not, the obvious point is that both versions in AP's example are filled with hack hype-cliches ("... tore through a funeral tent jammed with Shiite mourners ... splattering blood and body parts ... the attack ... came as ... "--that's the regular lede without "imagery" and "narrative devices"). Version A just has a cubic foot of hype while Version B has a cubic yard. ... Coming soon: The Extra Cost Von Drehle Faux-Dowd "Color" Lede With Special Sauce! ... The Bumiller Condescension Option ... The J. Apple Avuncular Alternative (choice of "old Kennedy hand" source or "veteran Democratic adviser"). ... The Full Gannon! ... Attention writers: Easy weekend humor column here for anyone who wants it!. ... M ... M... Maureen? ... [via Mediabistro] 1:08 P.M. link

Alex Beam notes that Prof. Harry G. Frankfurt, distinguished author of "On Bullshit," has a intriguing example of his subject matter. ... (For the video, see Clip #8) 12:47 A.M.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

MOMA/NPR update: I don't know who should own Egon Schiele's "Portrait of Wally" or whether that issue should be decided by U.S. or Austrian courts or whether the Museum of Modern Art is behaving well or badly in the case. But National Public Radio should be highly embarrassed that it apparently 'terminated' a reporter, David D'Arcy, for a story that, while clearly pitched against MOMA, was seemingly accurate and at least as fair as anything else you hear on NPR. NPR's ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, has now defended the network's pro-MOMA "clarification,"  while somehow skirting the D'Arcy removal, which is the crux of the controversy. That in turn prompted this lengthy and well-informed blowback  from Randol Schoenberg of the anti-MOMA side. ...

Dvorkin's piece isn't as bad as Schoenberg says. It's worse! Dvorkin writes:

The NPR report implied that the painting was part of MoMA's permanent collection ....

That's true, but according to NEXIS the only part of the report that implied this was host Melissa Block's intro. D'Arcy's report, as broadcast, made it completely clear that the painting was seized by the U.S. government after being loaned to MOMA by its putatitve Austrian owners. ... Did D'Arcy write Block's words? If not, why was he the one axed? ... P.S.: People I trust tell me NPR's behavior in this matter is beginning to stink. Shouldn't NPR President and CEO Kevin Klose (FY 2003 compensation: $377,999**) convene a staff meeting at which he brandishes a stuffed moose? ... Sorry, I mean shouldn't NPR President Kevin Klose defend his organization's position in public in his own words? ... P.P.S.: They pay Dvorkin $181,409**, as of FY 2003. Your pledge dollars at work! ...

**NPR's envy-producing compensation figures are given in the organization's Form 990, available here. Thanks to Petrelis. ... Conflict: I still do occasional "radio blog" commentaries for NPR's "Day to Day."  I think! ... 1:58 A.M.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The new shark-jump? Can we say a trendy topic has peaked when E.J. Dionne chairs a symposium on it at the Brookings Institution?  ... P.S.: They'll have "livebloggers" blogging from the actual event! ...  3:40 A.M.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Irridentonism: Am I crazy or is in steep decline? Where are the knowing items about mid-level editors in the Conde Nast cafeteria, I ask? You can get Nicole Richie gossip in Kansas. Gawker used to be an authentic whiff of hip New York. ... 12:33 P.M.

More anguished press criticism:

[T]he mainstream media, over the course of the last year, did a pretty good job of discerning. But there's a subculture and a sub-media that talks and keeps things going for entertainment purposes rather than for the flow of information. And that has a profound impact and undermines what we call the mainstream media of the country. And so the decision-making ability of the American electorate has been profoundly impacted as a consequence of that. The question is, what are we going to do about it? [Emph. added]

Get that man a tenured chair at the Annenberg School! It would solve a lot of problems for the nation, because the critic was of course John Kerry, blaming his defeat on the "sub-media." Or on the "corporatization of the media." Or on the demise of the Fairness Doctrine. On something! ... As P.J. O'Rourke comments:

Kerry is hilariously bad as a demagogue. A low subculture and its inferior sub-media are thwarting the will of the sacred mainstream? His small sparks of malice were blurred by vast, damp clouds of Kerry-fog--murky budget critiques, hazy pronouncements on Social Security and health care, foreign policy vaporings, leaden anecdotes, and an obscure protest that 45 percent of West Virginians lack sewer hook-ups ..... [Emph. added]

Do you want this for four more years, Subculture of the Submedia? Do you want it, Mainstream Media? If not, there is a quick and easy solution available: Form 180, the deus ex machina that can remove this increasingly pathetic figure from our national stage. ... P.S.: Kerry now has two main excuses: 1) The  evil sub-media! 2) The Osama tape. He's in denial. Can't he see it was his aides' fault? ... 12:14 P.M.

Monday, March 14, 2005

No Pulitzer today: Both the LAT and the NYT cover the arrest of more than 100 Central American gang members, but Brady Westwater notes that the LAT, despite 4 bylines, misses the important understory--which is that the sweep appears to represent a breach in the idiotic local policy of offering sanctuary to known gang members who are known to be in this county illegally. (The NYT's Charlie LeDuff doesn't miss the story.) ... Westwater adds, in an email: "Makes you wonder what else does not get reported in a one newspaper town." ... 2:54 A.M.

How the Dems Can Play Against Type Cheap: The Center for American Progress' alternative tax reform plan would eliminate the employee's portion of the Social Security payroll tax, which is currently 6.2 percent of wages, according to John Podesta.  It would keep the employer's portion, also 6.2 percent. But wouldn't it be much, much smarter for Democrats, if they're going to partially replace the payroll tax, to do the obverse--eliminate the employer's portion and keep the employee's half of the payroll tax? Why? 1) Most economists think the employee winds up paying both halves of the tax anyway, so the benefit to employees would be the same either way. 2) But if employees kept paying their part of the tax they would be more likely to continue to believe, correctly, that they'd earned Social Security benefits with their contributions. Democrats should want workers to feel entitled to at least some traditional Social Security benefits. If you eliminate the employee share of the tax you eliminate that easy psychic buy-in. That's why the payroll tax is there, according to a famous too-good-to-check FDR quote. (Few workers read economic literature on tax incidence and it would be hard to convince them, once the employee's half was gone, that they were still effectively paying the employer's half.) 3) Cutting the employee's but not the employer's portion creates an appearance that the Democrats are following their old, hack instinct to go for anything that seems to screw employers and help workers. That's because Democrats would be following their old hack instinct to go for anything that seems to screw employers and help workers. Eliminating the employer half would let the Dems play against type by seeming to be willing to do something to help the businesses that create jobs. ... Again, the actual economic effect would be the same either way. We're talking rhetoric and symbolism here. But it's decidedly non-trivial symbolism. ... 11:39 P.M.

They say it like that's a bad thing, II: "Unverified drivel." Today's defensive anti-blog epithet. ... 10:23 A.M.

It's Not Nice to Scam Tim Russert! John Kerry promised to sign his Form 180 43 days ago. ... Not that anyone's counting. ... Oh wait. 2:21 A.M.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Do you care if Robert Iger takes over Disney? I don't! We shouldn't have to pretend this is a world-historic event just so we have an excuse to get the juicy gossip! There are plenty of more important, barely-covered stories-- here's one. It would make a better movie too. ... P.S.: It does matter who runs General Motors or Ford, because those are barely-competitive companies that without skillful leadership might simply collapse, sending much of an entire industry and thousands of jobs overseas (or else requiring another Chrysler-like bailout). Disney doesn't seem about to collapse, and if it does falter other U.S. media corporations will take up the slack and employ many of the same people Disney employed (or people just like them!). ... 11:35 P.M.

Feiler in the Land of Abraham: Here's an idea I'm reluctant to put forward because it's either wrong and oversimplified or else it's so obviously right it's not worth mentioning. But could the democratic momentum in the Middle East--if it persists--represent another outcropping of, yes, the Feiler Faster Thesis? The FFT, remember, doesn't say that information moves with breathtaking speed these days.  (Everyone knows that!) The FFT says that people are comfortable processing that information with what seems like breathtaking speed . It's not a demonstration of the FFT, in other words, if millions of people in Lebanon learn about the Ukrainian revolution and the Iraq vote within hours of those events. It is an example of the FFT if they then  suddenly realize that their existing government and social structures are fragile and obsolete and expeditiously act on that belief. ... To Be Sure #1: I'm not saying that that's what is happening. I'm just suggesting it as a possibility. ... But it certainly does seem like the Arab world is blowing through the dialectic of history with impressive speed. The shift from feudalism to capitalism used to take three centuries; now it takes a week and a half! ... OK, that's a wild exaggeration, but you get the point. ... To be sure #2: It's also possible that the shift won't happen, or that it's only happening because of the patient work of decades, etc.. ...The oversimplified, possible implication: The War in Iraq set two trains running. One was the increasing-anger-against-us and more-people-who-will-try-to-kill-us Terrorist Blowback train. The second was the bellicose idealists' Democracy Domino Effect train. It seemed last year as if the first train would pose a threat to the U.S. for decades before the second, rescuing train could catch up with it. Now it looks as if there's at least a chance the second train will catch up sooner than could have been reasonably hoped.  ... [Could you be more tentative and a__-covering?--ed I don't think so. But consider it done.] Obvious counterexamples: 1848, 1968, 1989--all years of rapid, pre-Internet, multi-nation change. ... 11:17 P.M.

The Washington Canard thinks he's spotted a trend at the WSJ--the end of "news analysis." He acts as if that's a bad thing. ... 6:19 P.M. 

Postrel's Estrich/Kinsley post has this reminder of how awful the pre-Trib-ownership LAT was:

I remember visiting Bob Berger, the op-ed editor, back in the early '90s. An old-style newspaperman, Bob didn't like the paper's demands that he demonstrate "diversity" on the op-ed pages. I especially remember his complaint that he not only had to find gay writers but gay writers who would mention that they were gay. No gay foreign policy experts need apply. [Emph. added]

I hope they were local gay writers who mentioned that they were gay. ... [via Insta.] 12:33 A.M.

This Isn't Argument, It's Mere News Analysis! In Saturday's NYT David Rosenbaum** tries to show that Bush's "private accounts" plan would inevitably threaten the survivor and disability benefits now available under Social Security-- even though Bush says his plan "is only addressed to the retirees, not to the disabled and survivors." 

Rosenbaum notes that some Social Security benefits would almost certainly be cut under the Bush plan (to help make up for the diversion of payroll taxes into private accounts).  But why couldn't those cuts be confined to Social Security retirement benefits, as the White House suggests? In a section pretentiously labeled "The Facts," Rosenbaum simply asserts:

"And it is difficult to imagine constructing a system that provided less benefits to retirees than to survivors and the disabled."

It is? ... Wait ... There! I've just imagined it! It looks like a life insurance system and a disability insurance system on top of a less generous retirement system! ... Rosenbaum's P.S.: Rosenbaum may have been thinking of a March 3 Times column by Alan Krueger. Krueger at least tries to make an argument:

If disability benefits were continued at their current level after retirement age, a different problem would arise: disability would be more lucrative than retirement for workers who had poor investment returns on their personal accounts. The disability program already has difficulty in making consistent judgments as to whether workers are disabled - in one study, one in six cases were judged differently by different state disability examiners - so many marginally disabled workers who applied would probably be allowed benefits. Older workers could flood into the disability program, weakening its already frail financial health. [Emph. added]

Now, there's an unpersuasive paragraph! Sure, if disability benefits were more lucrative than retirement benefits, people would try to get onto disability. Duh! You'd have to police the disability rolls carefully to prevent the non-disabled from sneaking on. But you have to do that with any disability program--including the current one, in which being disabled gets you Social Security benefits even though you're under 65. Deciding who's disabled is always a tough call. (In ancient Athens they convened juries to decide it, I read somewhere.) The job would get a bit harder under Social Security disability if more people tried to qualify. So? This seems like a second-order consideration, if that.

There are plenty of good reasons not to do private accounts. The threat to survivor and disability benefits doesn't appear to be one of them.

**: Rosenbaum's column is called "Off the Issue," but maybe they should call if "Off the Web." I can't find it on the Times Web site (perhaps because the Times' editors decided it stunk). ... If you can locate a link, please let me know. ... 12:27 A.M.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Mystery Pollster was skeptical of blogger triumphalism--until Gallup's poll  purporting to debunk blogger triumphalism, which seems to be  making him reconsider. ... MP notes that if 12% of Americans really read political blogs, as Gallup reports, that's not a small number. It's an astonishingly large number. (I would have guessed 3%.) ... 2:31 P.M.

They only have to get lucky once: Lindsay Lohan denies she groped Bruce Willis, thwarting the latest Al Qaeda plot to culturally destabilize  the West. ...3:23 A.M.

Look out. CNN's harnessed the star power of the charismatic ... Frank Sesno! 3:10 A.M.

Boomer Geezer Moochers? Nicole Gelinas makes the interesting argument that able-bodied 67-year olds who retire on Social Security--in an era when many people their age keep working-- might come to be see as welfare-like moocheseven though they'd been working and contributing payroll taxes all their lives:

Retirement for healthy seniors could be viewed as a lifestyle choice — one that working seniors, and younger workers, don't see the justification in funding.

Social Security has always been double-"work-tested"--that is 1) people who got it were seen as too old to be expected to work and 2) they'd worked and contributed payroll taxes when they were younger. But maybe Work Test #1 has now eroded--so many seniors are working that people in their late 60's aren't considered too old to work (just as, Gelinas notes, single moms are no longer not expected to work). AARP should worry about this. All those pictures in its magazine of vigorous seniors biking and hiking are coming back to bite them.

Gelinas says raising the program's retirement age "by a year or two won't shore up Social Security's deficits by much." I'm not so sure-- these actuaries say increasing it to 70 solves 60% of the funding problem. More important, Gelinas' own argument makes the case for raising the age whether or not it shores up the program's financial underpinning. Raising the retirement age--more precisely, the age at which you get full benefits--may be necessary to preserve the program's moral and political underpinning, the idea that those who get its benefits really are too old to work. ... [What about those in arduous jobs--coal mining, etc.--who are exhausted by age 65?-ed You could make special provisions for such "hardship" jobs--three years in a coal mine gets you one year off your retirement age, etc.?] ...

P.S.: See Will Saletan's recent article for a more detailed defense of raising the retirement age. ... Saletan's misleading, though, when he says "[w]e've ... means-tested benefits." We've partially taxed Social Security benefits, which you could call a mild back-door means test, but we haven't even begun to explore the potential savings from actually cutting benefits for the affluent. ... 2:10 A.M.

David Brooks and the Important Conversation: David Brooks at the Aspen Institute/Maxim * self-publicizing gasfest, as reported by Jarvis:

"I have never met an elected official who reads a blog... They're not in the conversation." He says he reads blogs. But he says that blogs are at a war among themselves and there is a different conversation -- the one that matters, is the implication -- among elected officials.

Well, sure. A discussion between Bill Kristol and Dick Cheney about whether to invade Syria is a more important "conversation" than a Captain Ed attack on CNN. But the people in the current Republican conversation, like the people in Sidney Blumenthal's Clintonian "conversation," aren't smart enough to think of all the ideas themselves. Ideas break in from the outside (private accounts, flat tax, gay marriage, welfare reform). Those ideas are as likely to come from the blogosphere as from David Brooks' column. ... When it comes to putting these larger ideas into practice, bloggers are already powerful political actors--the Trent Lott case showed that. Neither elite 'conversation' participants, nor most of the established press nor, frankly, the American people were especially exercised about Lott; bloggers were. ... The pending bankruptcy bill may or may not  turn out to be an even more spectacular demonstration of blogger power. ... As for whether elected politicians will read blogs--get serious! These are wary, self-interested people who pay elaborate attention to constituent mailmuch of which is written by obvious kooks and cranks. Bloggers look like the Bloomsbury Group in comparison. Of course elected officials will soon be reading blogs (even if they have an intern surf the web and summarize the entries for them). Powerline already knows some U.S. Senators  Brooks must not have met. ... Backfill: Lynne Cheney says, "I have a lot of blogs I read," and names names convincingly (she knows, for example, that RCP  isn't quite a blog). ...

*: We think we got that right. It's some Felix Dennis thing. ... 12:09 A.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. 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--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. 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. 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. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk