kf's Big Plamegate Scoop

A mostly political Weblog.
Nov. 29 2005 4:02 AM

kf's Big Plamegate Scoop

Pay attention this time, dammit!

Would former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm really "almost certainly be Treasury secretary in a McCain administration"?  12:03 A.M.

I think I buried a lede  in that earlier Joe Wilson/"dying for Israel" item ... 11:35 P.M.

Even if we were able to successfully train an Iraqi military and police force, the likely result, after all that, would be another military dictatorship. Experience around the world teaches us that military dictatorships arise when the military's institutional modernization gets ahead of political consolidation.

But if Odom's right, doesn't that mean we should take as long as possible to withdraw from Iraq, giving political institutions time to put down roots while we slowly build up the Iraqi military?  (I realize there are other considerations, such as the resentment-breeding effect of continued American presence. I'm just saying that this Odom argument doesn't support the early withdrawal he advocates. Even if a withdrawal starts soon, it doesn't have to end soon.) ... P.S.: Note that Odom, who's not afraid of strong language, doesn't say military dictatorship is certain. Just "likely." If it's only "likely," and we can make it less likely, maybe we should.  11:02 P.M.

Kim Jong-il Also Has Some Ideas for Making "Situation Room" Edgier! Even the North Koreans know how to respond to a critical CNN documentary with a cheap shot at the network's ratings:

"CNN is losing popularity as the days go by although it had high audience rating in the world in the past .... Much upset by this, CNN staged such poor farce to improve its image."

"Floundering tool Jonathan Klein thought tarnishing the democratic struggle of the Korean people would promote further his career and make up for failure of his overemotional pretty boy Anderson Cooper in the crucial 25-54 demographic."

OK, I made up that second graf. But not the first one. [Thanks to M.C.2:53 A.M.

Plame Simmers--The Antiliberalism of Fools: Finally, someone follows up on what kf thought was kf's Big Plamegate Scoop ** of 11/7/05: that the complaint Scooter Libby made to Tim Russert, in their crucial phone conversation of July 10, 2003, was the (to my mind wacky)charge that Chris Matthews or his cable show was somehow, in some sense, anti-Semitic. ... Maguire plausibly speculates that one reason Libby might have been so peculiarly enraged by Amb. Joseph Wilson's TV appearances*** is that Libby put Wilson into that same category. Remember, Matthews said to kf that

Catherine Martin, an aide in the vice president's office, once told him that "Scooter thinks anytime anybody uses the word 'neoconservative' it's anti-Semitic." [Emph added]

Maguire notes that if his speculation is right it makes Libby look more convictable of perjury but also more like a "lone gunman." ... Second thought: It not only makes Libby look more convictable of perjury. It makes him look more like someone who might just have been so enraged by Wilson that he'd do more or less what the left accuses him of having done--out Wilson's wife in an attempt to both discredit Wilson and punish him. Duh! It certainly provides an answer to the Why-Didn't-They-Just-Ignore-Wilson-He'd-Blow-Over question. I think I buried the lede. ...

** P.S.: I don't know why this explosive Watergate-level disclosure fell into an abyss of obscurity. Theories: a) I was too cautious and surrounded it with ass-covering caveats; b) I immediately buried it under a tedious 2,000-word post on reapportionment; c) the whole subject of anti-Semitism is so radioactive that nobody wants to talk about it. Serves me right for attempting journalism. What a pain! I'd forgotten. You have to call people up! Then you have to wait for them to call back. Then you have to talk to them. Then worry about libel. Then actually make another call to get the nonsensical B.S. pro-forma response from the big media company involved. I could have written four Chris Bangle items in the time it took. ... And all for what? ...You won't catch me making that mistake (reporting) again anytime soon. ...  P.P.S.: At least it's being discussed by someone who's now  bigger than Paul Krugman! (If you measure it over the right period.)

*** Backfill: What Wilson quote is most likely to have angered Libby? I'd nominate the following excerpt (again, via Maguire) from a discussion by Wilson at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center on June 14, 2003, about a month before Libby's call to Russert:

I think there are a number of issues at play; there's a number of competing agendas. One is the remaking of the map of the Middle East for Israeli security, and my fear is that when it becomes increasingly apparent that this was all done to make Sharon's life easier and that American soldiers are dying in order to make Sharon's life--enable Sharon to impose his terms upon the Palestinians that people will wonder why it is American boys and girls are dying for Israel and that will undercut a strategic relationship and a moral obligation that we've had towards Israel for 55 years. I think it's a terribly flawed strategy. [Emphasis added. Audio here at 13:33]

Of course, as Maguire points out, we don't know if Libby knew about this Wilson talk. [Don't you think that's anti-Semitic?--ed No. But a lot of people would.] 12:55 A.M.  link

David Ignatius provides an optimistic and plausible interpretation of the recent Cairo meeting of Iraq factions. ... But do we really think that the planned Iraqi 6,000 man "Desert Protection Force" -- "pitched to Sunni tribal leaders as a way to liberate Anbar [province] from the Americans"-- will really rid Anbar of terrorists? From a distance it smells a bit like the ill-fated Fallujah Brigade. ... 12:58 A.M.

Aaron Sorkin interviews Maureen Dowd, and Elizabeth Snead finds one of them charming. 12:44 A.M.

Withdrawal proponents keep steering me to General William Odom's article on NiemanWatchdog. It's conclusory and unconvincing--relying almost entirely on flat invocation of the Vietnam analogy and Scowcroftian cultural pessimism:

Imposing a liberal constitutional order in Iraq would be to accomplish something that has never been done before.** Of all the world's political cultures, an Arab-Muslim one may be the most resistant to such change ...."

Odom also indulges in some suspiciously vague and optimistic talk about our ability to "knit together a large coalition, including the major states of Europe, Japan, South Korea, China and India to back a strategy for stabilizing the area"--without explaining how the South Koreans and Indians are going to succeed in stopping the Sunni insurgency if we have failed.

But you can't say Odom isn't candid:

There is no question the insurgents and other anti-American parties will take over the government once we leave. ...

The quicker a new dictator wins the political power in Iraq and imposes order, the sooner the country will stop producing well-experienced terrorists. [Emph. added]

P.S.: There's also one troubling sentence on what could turn out to be the fatal contradiction in the current Bush strategy of training an effective Iraqi military--if we're successful, it may just produce a coup down the road.

Experience around the world teaches us that military dictatorships arise when the military's institutional modernization gets ahead of political consolidation.

But experience around the world also teaches us that experience around the world is speeding up. "Political consolidation" that once took decades may now take years. At least that's a possibility Odom should confront, before he dismisses those who conclude, with  President Clinton, that "this enterprise could still work."

**--That would be why it's worth doing! 12:07 A.M.

I tend to blame Wagner Act unionism--especially productivity-sapping work rules--for GM's decline. It's hard to blame globalization--the usual suspect--since Honda, Toyota and Nissan all assemble cars in North America with (non-union) North American labor and they're all still beating GM. High materials costs? The Japanese transplants face those too. The health care explanation also seems bogus. GM has to pay for the health care of its employees whether they work or not, right? If the company could build a car and make a profit, which would help defray those costs, it would do it--whether those costs were $4 million or $4 billion. The problem is the company can't build a car and make a profit. Or enough of a profit. ... The only good argument I can see for pinning most of the blame on pure inept management is the Buick LaCrosse. According to the most recent Consumer Reports, the LaCrosse is an excellent car, achieving a level of reliability that approaches Acuras and Toyotas. But it's so dumpy-looking television ads dare show it only in shadow. Blame bad styling decisions, not Buick workers. (Except that, at $30,000, it's overpriced by $5,000, and the UAW and CAW have something to do with that.) ... P.S.: The UAW's peculiar problem is too much decentralization--even when its national leadership senses the need for concessions, its locals often have the power to resist. ... P.P.S.: Another blow to Detroit-- next generation Toyota Camry is handsome. ...

Update: Emailer J puts the central case against Wagner Act unionism more succinctly:

I have been representing private companies in their sale for 15 years.  Every time I have had to deal with a company that was unionized in an industry where the entire industry was not unionized (Steel wholesale, trucking and some manufacturing companies), [it] was nearly impossible to sell unionized companies.  And the reason was primarily the work rules.  The pay was similar for union and non-union in many cases.  It was just the hassle of negotiations every time you want to move a steel roller or go to different work hours or fire a drunk made these companies much less agile than non-union competitors.   

A business succeeds because of a hundreds if not thousands of decisions and tweaks and changes.  If each change requires a threshold of importance to make it worth going through the union gauntlet, many don't get bothered with. Eventually, the small things not done add up to a very large productivity difference.  Not to mention the big changes which are defeated or require payment to the union in terms of wages to get them to agree. [Emph. added]

Again, it's not a question of greedy unions or bad unions. The UAW has a reputation as a relatively smart, honest union. It's a question of the system of adversarial labor-management negotiation working as it is supposed to, but losing out to arrangements that may pay well but don't involve as much rigidifying hassle and transaction cost. ... 11:40 P.M.

They don't like you! They really don't like you! Warren Beatty and Rob Reiner aren't nearly as popular as their backers thought they were, according to the latest Field Poll. Beatty's rating is 40% unfavorable/27% favorable--among Democrats!  Yikes. .. Reiner is at least more popular than unpopular within his own party, but overall his unfavorables outweigh his favorables among independents (34/24) and overall (41/25). ... Prediction: The eye-opening poll will get little coverage in the LAT. Too interesting! If it does, the Times will give it the obvious interpretation--that California voters have soured on actors-turned-politicos. But maybe they've especially (and unexpectedly) soured on Hollywood liberals. ... P.S.: Light up, California! Reiner previously promoted a victorious state initiative that taxes cigarette sales to fund early childhood health and nutrition projects. He's now so addicted to the cigarette money that he's opposing an initiative to slap a further tax on cigarettes (to fund emergency rooms) because it might decrease cigarette sales  and threaten the funding for his pet programs. ... P.P.S.: Journalist William Bradley notes that the Field Poll was taken Oct. 25-30, before Beatty's last minute anti-Arnold campaign blitz. Still ... (And Beatty had already made some high-profile anti-Schwarzenegger speeches when the poll was taken.) ... 11:35 A.M. link

If you only want to read one Alito article, Jeffrey Rosen's TNR piece on what to look for in the confirmation hearings  is a good choice. Rosen wants a non-activist on the court--defined as someone who will err on the side of deferring to democratically-elected legislatures. He's troubled by a couple of federalism cases that "suggest [Alito] might be a conservative ... with an agenda to restrict congressional power." But he's not troubled by much else, including Alito's abortion decisions. Rosen thinks Senators can allay their concerns if Alito answers key questions "precisely and candidly, as Roberts did." I have three qualms:

1) Just because a lawyer or judge proceeds incrementally, case-by-case, making law from the "bottom up," doesn't mean he or she isn't an ideological activist (when compared with someone who speaks in sweeping principles). An ideologue might want to proceed case by case without ever committing to a grand principle because the latter course might foreclose using another principle to achieve a desired ideologically-driven result in a future case. Principles can be confining! Better to keep your options open. Ruth Bader Ginsburg established her reputation as a not-so-liberal when she questioned the "substantive due process" basis of Roe v. Wade. But it turned out that was because she thought another, broader principle down the road might provide a more powerful feminist weapon to use in striking down abortion restrictions. ...

2) Rosen buys into the highly suspect idea of "super-precedents," a transparently opportunistic attempt to insulate Roeby claiming it has "been accepted by different presidents, Congresses and courts over time." Kinsley effectively ridicules  the "super-precedent" idea here. My own crude view: Roe was one of the least convincing constitutional decisions I've ever read. It was crap in 1973 and three decades haven't made it less crap. The legislative regime imposed by Roe--regulation that varies by trimester, etc.--is perfectly reasonable, but it can and should be imposed by a legislature. It's not in the Constitution. As Kinsley notes,

if a policy really has become a deeply rooted national value, then the once-controversial Supreme Court ruling is superfluous, because democracy will protect such a value. The fear that motivates the Roe panic is that the rights at stake are not deeply rooted. Or not deeply enough.

3) Rosen contrasts Roberts' model testimony with Clarence Thomas'. Thomas, Rosen argues, went ahead and did on the bench what he said he wouldn't do, reinterpreting the Commerce Clause and writing natural-law theories into the Constitution. But what does that say of the ability of Senators to use pre-confirmation testimony as a guide to what a judge will do? Why is "specificity" such a good indicator if a judge, once on the bench, can just ignore his specific answers?  Nor was Roberts always so specific, even in the answers Rosen himself picks out:

Roberts, on the other hand, was much more specific in making clear that he thought the Court should strike down acts of Congress only on rare occasions. He quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's observation that striking down federal laws is the "gravest and most delicate duty that the Court performs." And he stressed that "the reason is obvious: All judges are acutely aware of the fact that millions and millions of people have voted for you, and not one has voted for any of us."

If Rosen thinks that those answers aren't "platitudes," or that they would stop Roberts from striking down any law he wants to strike down--well, Rosen's a cheaper date than I'd thought.

1:36 A.M. link

Kit on  Kurtz: She's too even-handed. ... The NYT's Seelye has me saying that CNN/WaPo fixture Howie Kurtz is an honest reporter, which I think he is. But even honest reporters can have strong subconscious motivations. I don't believe, as Seelye suggests, that applying the normal conflict-of-interest rules to Kurtz would be a merely prophylactic exercise. My view of Kurtz changed when he wrote what was in effect a perfect damage control story for CNN executive Eason Jordan  when Jordan was under fire for remarks he made at Davos--a point I tried to make to Seelye. (She actually gives Kurtz points for having "not spared the network" in the Jordan episode, which is what it may look like if you weren't following the controversy at the time.) ... In essence, CNN made Kurtz famous and now CNN has him by the balls.

P.S.:  Alert reader C.S. questions this Seelye graf--

He draws salaries from two of the most important media companies in the country: CNN, which is owned by Time Warner, and The Post, which is owned by The Washington Post Company. Such arrangements do not violate Post policy. In fact, The Post has quite liberal rules regarding extracurricular work by its reporters and editors. [Emph. added]

It's one thing for a reporter to do extracurricular work and get paid for it, C.S. notes. But most WaPo reporters who moonlight for, say, Vanity Fair, don't report on Vanity Fair as part of their regular beats. Is Seelye really right that it's not a violation of "Post policy" to draw a salary from a company you cover? Those are some liberal rules! New vistas of possible revenue opportunities crowd the imagination. No wonder reporters at the Post can afford to buy houses in the D.C. market. ... [You're writing about the Washington Post Company here. Don't you draw a salary from that very same company?--ed No I don't! ... Oh, wait. WaPo owns Slate, doesn't it? But--

1) Every reporter who's paid has a conflict with whatever institution pays him. That's unavoidable. Kurtz's problem is that he has a second, gratuitous conflict with the giant conglomerate the Post pays him to cover.

2) Kurtz's second conflict is especially huge. If the Post fired him, after all, he could get a job with another paper within an hour. The Post doesn't have much leverage (as their see-no-evil treatment of Kurtz suggests). But if CNN cancelled Kurtz's show, the other TV networks wouldn't exactly be falling over themselves to snap him up. Not even MSNBC! (Though Kurtz does have a career interest in keeping MSNBC's Rick Kaplan happy, too, just in case. That makes it worse.) CNN has leverage.

3) Hypocrisy Angle #1: I don't think all writers have to be free of all conflicts. Everybody has conflicts. Life creates conflicts. Conflicts can be good--they tend to come with inside info and perspective. As long as a conflict is disclosed, readers can usually make up their minds. But WaPo, like most MSM organizations, does pretend to prohibit conflicts in order to achieve neutrality and "objectivity." WaPo editor Len Downie famously doesn't even vote. After ostentatiously purging such petty conflicts it's hypocritical to then ignore Kurtz's elephantine conflict.  As reader C.S. argues,

It's one thing to say "We violate our policies in this unusual case, just as we violate our rules governing quotations when Woodward wants to 'reconstruct' White House conversations. But these are great reporters and they've earned waivers to our rules." It's another to say: "Nope, no issues here at all."

4)Hypocrisy Angle #2: Kurtz himself, as WaPo's media reporter, has made it his business to ding other journalists for conflicts far less significant than his own.

Update: Kurtz is discussed here, a video dialogue in which I talk rather too much about my deep dark personal beef with Kurtz.Not that there's anything wrong with it! ... Backfill: See also this post. ... 10:33 P.M. link

Everybody's For McCain: On NBC's Chris Matthews Show yesterday, David Brooks said conservatives had warmed to John McCain, and Matthews said he'd heard the same thing. ... Let's see. Conservatives are for McCain. Liberals like McCain. Centrists love McCain. Doesn't that mean McCain might, er, win? Who's going to vote against him?  In a general election, it seems like McCain would come close to being elected by acclamation! It will take all the genius of the American political system to make sure he isn't on the ballot. ... Update: The Cook/Riehle/Tarrance poll confirms the point--McCain's a winner among Democrats and independents. If he gets the Republicans ...  8:02 P.M.  link

On CNN, Tom Maguire looks perfectly normal. How bizarre. 6:26 P.M.

Note to hapless LAT publisher Jeffrey Johnson: Instead of reviving Robert Scheer's dormant career by firing him, or having your telemarketers boast that you've extirpated liberal Michael Kinsley's insidious influence, why not pay attention to the bias on the pages people actually read--like the embarrassing deception in the second paragraph of Friday's front-page, two-column-headline lead story, which seemingly proclaimed that "no Democrat was a firmer ally" of Bush's war against Saddam than Rep. John Murtha, when in fact Murtha had been a critic of the current Iraq war in 2002, before it started? Funny how those propagandistic mistakes in the news pages never get made in a pro-Bush direction, isn't it? ... P.S.: Your editorial page is now run by Andres Martinez, Kinsley's handpicked recruit. Doesn't the mean Kinsley continues to exert his evil influence right under your nose? I think it does!...P.P.S.: Kinsley wrote a great abortion column yesterday. It wasn't a liberal column; it was an anti-liberal column. Too bad it ran in the Washington Post and not your paper. (Are you really clueless enough to think that Kinsley was pushing the LAT to the left? Have you ever heard the expression, "neoliberal"?) ... P.P.P.S.: That Murtha error smells like an editor's mistake to me. That's why your absurd anti-Kinsley spiel won't convince anybody. The L.A. Times' peculiar bias--a chloroform-like combination of liberalism and lifelessness--runs deep in the paper's DNA, in layers and layers of editorial middle-bureaucracy. Short of laying off 80% of the staff, you will not root it out in our lifetimes. Conservative readers know this. ... 2:50 P.M.

Murtha Commands the Dawn? Someone who works for Ralph Nader once described to me a brilliant technique of his: When he heard a rumor that the government was about to do something, he immediately called a press conference and demanded that it be done. Is that what Rep. Murtha has now done?  Just askin'. ...

P.S.: Nader's press conferences would arguably have had the effect of delaying the government's impending action, because who wants to seem to be taking orders from Nader? Murtha's move may have the same effect, for a slightly different reason: Murtha has now established exactly the worst context for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. By making his (understandable) teary concern about the injuries to our soldiers his central motivation, he makes it seem, if we pull out now, that the Sunni/Zarqawi strategy has worked--that we've been run out of Iraq because we couldn't tolerate the casualties the insurgents were inflicting. That will encourage Al Qaeda operatives around the globe. Isn't it a lot better if we start to withdraw, after a successful Iraqi election, while plausibly claiming that we've done our job? That's why Hastert's stunt yesterday to put down Murtha's proposal was amply justified. It makes it easier to withdraw if it doesn't seem to be a response to Murtha's cry of pain. ... 2:06 P.M.

Bob Fete: Here are three non-print Woodward discussions in which I was involved over the past two days, in descending order of weediness (and ascending order of estimated overall coherence) on my part: bloggingheads.tv, Hugh Hewitt  (transcript), Slate's political  podcast. ... 1:15 A.M.

House of Murtha? A couple of points about Rep. John Murtha's speech calling-- according to the NYT--for the "immediate withdrawal of American troops" from Iraq:

a) The press is pretending to be surprised by Murtha's views ("An Unlikely Lonesome Dove" ... "a fierce hawk") even though he's been a known, public Iraq War skeptic since at least a year and a half ago. NBC News, even more ludicrously, pretended to be surprised by professional GOP apostate Sen. Chuck Hagel's apostasy. ... Update: Most egregious was the LAT's Maura Reynolds who, in order to set up the "jolt" of Murtha's speech, wrote

And when President Bush decided to wage war on Saddam Hussein, perhaps no Democrat was a firmer ally.

Assuming Reynolds means the current President Bush and the current war (and shouldn't she have said if she didn't?) this is correction-worthy garbage. Murtha questioned the war in 2002, before it began.

b) I'm ready to be convinced that U.S. troops are doing more harm than good in Iraq, but Murtha's speech is not convincing. He doesn't even try very hard. He seems primarily concerned with the health of our soldiers ("[t]hey don't deserve to continue to suffer. They're the targets") and the military sector as a whole, which is fine. But there are also the Iraqis to worry about, not to mention the larger cause of democracy in the region. Murtha concludes: "We have become a catalyst for the violence."  But increasingly we also seem to be the only thing standing in the way of wholesale violence against the Sunnis. (Does some portion of the Sunni leadership now secretly want us to stay?) ... Backfill: In Murtha's press conference he's forced into a more substantial defense, but he's still not close to convincing on the more-harm-than-good issue.

c) It's not clear Murtha's actually for a "withdrawal" of American troops.  He speaks of "redeployment" calls for a "quick reaction force in the region" and "an over-the-horizon presence of Marines"--in Kuwait, he suggests. Murtha says he'd use it against threats like "a terrorist camp that may affect our national security or the security in the region." Well, they have those in Iraq! They're staffed by some of the same people who are planting bombs in Baghdad.  If Murtha would attack them, and those in them, then we'll still be fighting a war in Iraq, no?

P.S.--Tomorrow's CW Today: Sullivan is surely right that the Bushies are over-obsessed with rebutting the retrospective, defamatory,** Hillary-excusing "Bush lied" meme  rather than shoring up the voters' prospective confidence of eventual success in Iraq:

What we need now is a very clear indication that our effort to train the Iraqi military is progressing, that the troops are well-equipped and cared for and that the political process isn't degenerating into sectarianism.

The Dems have done the war effort the most damage by making their criticism personal, goading Bush and, especially,  Cheney into defending themselves instead of defending in detail our continued presence in Iraq. But whose fault is that, ultimately? ...

Update: It depends on what the meaning of "practicable" is--  Juan Cole emphasizes that Murtha's resolution only called for troops to be "redeployed at the earliest practicable date," and notes that "practicable" would "involve considerations such as not having Iraq collapse altogether." *** But that cuts both ways, draining the resolution of much of its substantive effect, no? Indeed, the administration could plausibly claim it was already following Murtha's policy.

**--but not implausible  ... 

***--Maybe it depends on what the meaning of "altogether" is. 10:54 P.M. link

I've become skeptical of fundraising appeals, but the Pakistan earthquake does seem to be getting much less attention than it deserves (in comparison  with the tsunami, for example). Here is a link to donate to Oxfam's Southeast Asia Quake Emergency Appeal [via Juan Cole)]. Here is a recent  LAT story in which Oxfam is shown playing a constructive role. ... 10:13 P.M.

Krugman--hitless since Sept. 19: They said Paul Krugman's declining Web visibility after the imposition of TimesSelect--as measured by BlogPulse--was just a short term trend. They were wrong. According to this graph, Krugman hasn't had a widely-cited column since the Sept. 19 launch. ...Update: He's now less talked about than certain obsessive lone bloggers we could name! [Via JOM ] ...  Shutout for the "special voices": And there are currently no--zero, goose eggs--TimesSelect articles on the NYT's "Most E-Mailed" list.  ... [Our focus groups can't get enough TimesSelect items. Don't you have more?--ed. There's the rumor that the NYT has given non-subscribers a way to get around its pay-for-punditry wall by downloading free podcasts of the TimesSelect columns here.**... And the poor get podcasts! ... (I'm not a podperson and haven't tried it myself.) ...

**--For columnists other than Thomas Friedman, you might try substituting other names (such as "Dowd") for "Friedman" in that url. Who knows? ...

Backfill: The idea for this item may well have been planted by an 11/7 Independent Sources analysis, which I'd filed away under "wait and see" before having the same idea as if it were new a week later (also known as "Libbying") ... 3:25 P.M. link

A Black, not Brown, Revolt: A Martin Walker scener puts it more bluntly than Olivier Roy:

The sullen faces that gaze on the handiwork of the local rioters and sneer at the vans of the riot police are black rather than brown: Africans from Mali and Martinique rather than Arabs from Algeria and Morocco.

Dressed in expensive sneakers and track suits with designer logos, with the white wires of iPod headphones snaking from their ears, they look neither poor nor much intimidated by the police patrols that now dominate their quarter. The young blacks refuse to talk to white reporters, turning silently away ... [snip]

One of the striking features of the two weeks of rage that swept France is that so many of the rioters are black rather than Arab, though North Africans from Algeria and Morocco and Tunisia make up more than two-thirds of the estimated 6 million immigrants, their families included, in France.

Another important element is that in places where the rioters were 'beurs,' as the French Arabs call themselves, Islam and religion seemed to play only a minor role. ... [snip]

Local Islamic leaders who tried to calm the young mobs have been routinely ignored, as have the fatwas issued by the leading Imams saying rioting and attacks on innocent people are against Islam. [Emph. added]

This is, of course, encouraging.  It suggests Europe is farther away from a general, penetrating Christian/Muslim or European/Arab split than, say, Mark Steyn would have it. ... 2:50 P.M. link

Somewhere (where did he go, anyway?) Tucker Carlson is smiling: Visionary CNN chief Jon Klein's anointment of Anderson Cooper ("[h]e has broken through the clutter with his candor, his humanity and his emotional connection to the most pressing stories of our time") is showing results. Crappy results! ... Luckily, Klein hasn't led with his lip so knives aren't drawn for him! ... 3:44 P.M.

Taking Clintonism to the next level!The old Clintonism: One Clinton succeeds in making both sides think he agrees with them. The new Clintonism: One Clinton pitches to one side while the other assuages the other side.  Example: Hillary carefully maintains her appeal to pro-war voters  while her husband denounces the war that she voted for as "a big mistake." ... A two-person straddle was needed because Hillary isn't gifted enough a talker to practice the old single-player Clintonism by herself. [Didn't they use this technique before--Bill said he was for "ending welfare as we know it" while liberals were allowed to hope that Marian Wright Edelman's friend Hillary would stop him?--ed True. But you didn't have Bill saying we should reform welfare while Hillary was out in public saying that would be a "big mistake." ... Prediction: The new trick won't work. Hillary will come under added pressure because of her husband's remarks. ... The question is not just "Who has Hillary's ear?" It's whether Hillary's ear or Bill's ear is the ear to have. ... Take it away, Bruce Reed! ... Bruce? ... 1:55 P.M. link

This is the crucial point: Every aspect about managing occupied Iraq could have turned out better with more time. There would be more chance to line up Arabic-speaking or Islamic allies; more time to get adequate U.S. troops on the scene; more chance to think about protecting the power system, the hospitals, and other aspects of the public infrastructure; more time in general to ask "what if..."

He could be right! But I had thought the advice of many neighboring "Arabic-speaking and Islamic" countries--worried about volatile popular anti-U.S sentiment--was, in effect, "If you're going to do it, get it over with quickly." ... 2:32 A.M.

"They even tried to stick Curveball on me": Arianna Huffington has wasabi with Chalabi. It's a useful, non-fluffy report,, even if the Iraqi Deputy P.M.'s sweater "can only be described as Cosby-esque." ... 11:55 A.M. 

Christopher Byron argues that GM's possible bankruptcy stems, not from the "ceaseless, decades-long squabbling" between the UAW and management, but specifically from the Delphi spinoff "cooked up for GM by the folks at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch in 1999." That's because Delphi's unfunded pension liability may now be re-foisted back onto GM. ... But if Delphi had never been spun off by GM, wouldn't its unfunded pension liability, having never been foisted off at all, be bankrupting GM anyway? The Delphi shuffle seems merely a surface distraction, a veil over the underlying pension problem. But maybe I'm missing something ... 2:21 A.M.

Robert Scheer defends gerrymandering:

Because of "safe" or less contested races, legislators at least have the potential to pay attention to their constituents rather than to those who finance the hotly contested races. It is not true, as The Los Angeles Times editorialized, that under the current system, "extremists reign," but rather that responsible legislators can focus on constituent needs rather than waging costly electoral battles financed by lobbyists.

This proves my point about why the LAT should have kept Scheer: he's so wrong he forces you to think.

a) Suppose a state's districts were drawn so that each party was represented in the legislature by however many representatives its statewide support merited, but all those representatives were given safe seats. (This is roughly the pro-incumbent deal that states like California implemented.) Does the downside--legislators' freedom from fear of loss and resulting lack of immediate accountability--outweigh the upside--freedom from the distorting effects of having to campaign and raise funds? I tend to think yes, but admit it's a closer question than I'd thought. Otherwise why have elections? An approval plebiscite once every decade or so should be enough to validate the good work of "responsible legislators" in pursuit of "constituent needs." ...

b) Of course, in an all-safe-seat state, the makeup of the legislature won't reflect the popularity of the parties for long. If popular opinion shifts, one way or another, it won't be reflected in a change of legislators until dissatisfaction reaches the tsunami proportions necessary to actually unseat a "safe" incumbent. ...

c) Plus almost by definition, safe seats discourage battles for the center, and hence centrist candidates. That doesn't displease an anti-centrist like Scheer. But the 51% of the people at the center are by definition a majority! They deserve at least a few seats, no? (That's all they'd get in redistricting reform; most seats would remain "safe.") ...

d) The lobbyists are hardly out of power in the current system. Does Scheer think California legislators don't whore after campaign money? If you're a Democrat in a safely Democratic district, you still need lobbyists' help to win the primary election, if not the general. ** Or would Scheer get rid of primaries too? ...

Why not clean up elections to curtail lobbyists' influence instead of abandoning elections in favor of a North Korean-style system of party service to the people! [Dial that back a bit?-ed Sorry, got carried away. But you get the point. ... Update: If David Horowitz is right  a North Korea reference is more appropriate than I'd thought. ]

** More (and better): An 11/12 National Journal article notes that, contra Scheer, the power of each party's core interest groups (e.g., the NRA, the NEA) and their lobbyists is actually magnified when the contest is in the primary rather than the general election.

With only about two dozen competitive districts in the House, primary campaigns are the only time most voters are likely to see real competition. And primaries are precisely where powerful interest groups are likely to have the most sway, because they connect with the voters who are most likely to turn out. "It's the hard core that dominates" within each of the parties, said former Rep. Skaggs, D-Colo. "What this has done is siphon off the middle-of-the-roaders in either party, and that has made solving problems harder."

1:22 A.M.

The payoff for working out: Only 3.7 years? It almost doesn't seem worth it. I would have thought that figure would be much higher. ...Is this one of those cases where the news is the opposite of what the news says the news is? 12:28 A.M.

The One Sure Path to Victory (for Dems): Bob Krumm offers a sure-fire strategy for the Democrats to regain power. It's so obvious I hadn't realized its power until now. But it's a lock. The strategy is this: Win the war in Iraq.

After all, what would happen if we won? Or to put it more precisely, what would happen if we stabilized the situation enough to stop the steady combat losses of Americans and enable the Iraqi polity and economy to move forward? (If you think that's unlikely, then consider this a useful thought experiment.)

The answer is pretty obvious: Attention would quickly shift back to domestic issues. Since Bush has no remaining saleable domestic agenda to speak of--and hasn't, really, since the passage of his Medicare drug plan--Democrats would clearly have the advantage. (Even on the national security front, attention might rightly focus on delayed accountability for whatever went wrong in Iraq, without fear that such scrutiny would undermine morale. Again, advantage Democrats.)

Krumm points out that that it was Bush's father's victory in the first Gulf war that opened the path for Clinton's election in 1992. Contrast that success with what happened in 1968, when the public became disillusioned with Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War. They didn't turn to an antiwar Democrat. They turned to Richard Nixon and his "secret plan." Similarly, if Americans today sour on the Bush Iraq project, are they going to turn to Russ Feingold (even if he was right about the war) or John McCain who says he has a strategy to win?  My guess is McCain.

If that's right, then succeeding in Iraq, as quickly as possible, may not only be the surest route to the White House for the Democrats. It may also be the quickest. ...  If there is a way to win, Democrats have at least as big a partisan incentive to find it as Republicans do. ...[Via Instapundit] 11:10 P.M.

Shift_Glitch: What's happening at Nissan's Canton, Mississippi factory? The big news in the 2006 Consumer Reports New Car Preview--which features a large-sample reliability survey--is that the vehicles built at this plant have dreadful reliability records. Their repair histories are so bad CR has to use a broken bar to fit them on its chart! The Nissan Quest minivan has a reliability score of 133% worse than average. The Nissan Titan pickup is 101% worse than average. The Armada SUV is 151% worse than average. And the $50,000 Infiniti QX56 SUV scores 297% worse than average, a result so bad it might have been thought unattainable. ... Maybe the Mississippi factory's record will improve--CR documents the tendency of carmakers to work the bugs out of a new model over several years. Maybe it's just a question of weeding out bad local suppliers. But the amount of money Nissan is saving by moving its headquarters from California to Tennessee  can't possibly compensate for the hit it must be taking with angry customers. ... 10:39 P.M.

Hole in the oil spot: There's one thing I don't understand about the growing support for an "oil spot" strategy--which would have the U.S. military in Iraq "focus less on trying to secure the whole country and more on shoring up protection of major population centers." That might make great sense if all we were trying to do was pacify Iraq. But how does it make sense if there are terrorists running around the Iraqi hinterlands using them as a base from which they can attack lots of other countries, including possibly our own? Are we supposed to cede Zarqawi the territory outside the "major population centers"?  ... Backfill:Juan Cole has a broader critique of the "oil spot" approach. ... 9:58 P.M.

I want to read Joe Nocera's article on TimesSelect but it's on TimesSelect! ... Update: It's free here. Nocera's instinct--that even what we'd consider healthy Internet revenue streams aren't nearly enough to sustain newspaper reporting as currently practiced--seems right. ... For some reason he didn't pick up on the Pinch-isn't-up-to-the-job angle I suggested. ... 1:33 A.M.

Peter Drucker, R.I.P.: I once telephoned Peter Drucker, sometime in the early 90s, to try to pick his brain. Of all the experts and wonks I called when I was writing a magazine column, he's the only one who had the honesty to politely say (roughly) "I'm sorry, but why should I give my ideas to you?" I had no answer for that. I've respected him ever since. ... 8:36 P.M

Don't Tell Nikki Finke**: Bob Wright and I explore various paranoid riot and disaster scenarios at bloggingheads.tv. I'm not sure it's a 100% good plan for me to try to argue through a problem with a camera running. But that was the idea. ... P.S.: In an earlier episode, I experienced Scooter-style amnesia and thought I was hearing for the first time Dr. Weevil's idea  about computer-game redistricting. ...

**--Finke specializes in early, attention-getting, hysterically negative reviews of journalistic experiments. ... 7:51 P.M.

Three times a day: The Los Angeles Times has reshuffled its op-ed lineup, introducing a crop of talented and non-expensive young 'uns, including Jonah Goldberg, Meghan Daum and Rosa Brooks. Seems a good strategy to me. I disagree with pajamista** Marc Cooper, who argues the paper should have bought itself  "a couple of nationally-known powerhouses." Can't an institution with the size and market position of the LAT grow its own stars? ...  I would have kept Robert Scheer, though. He's an annoying egomaniac, certain of his own authority even when he's wackily wrong. I remember him assuring me, shortly after 9/11, that we would discover it was the work of a rogue European cell and not Osama bin Laden. He once attacked my parents. (That was in the course of reviewing my book.) If I could press a magic button and end his career I probably would. But the op-ed page is a good place to explore alternative universes--that's better than just "piling on," as Maureen Dowd recently described her role. And Scheer is a skilled polemicist who's right more often than a stopped clock. (Though it's close, as Jackie Mason would say.) ... P.S.: Of course, thanks to Mr. Berners-Lee, firing a columnist no longer means silencing him. You can't shut anyone up anymore, even people you'd want to. Scheer's new venture, TruthDig, seems a potentially more impactful use of his talents  than writing for an op-ed page that many LAT readers can't even find. (It's somewhere in the B-section, I think.) ... Scheer's column just moves to HuffPo. ...

The LAT also bounced Michael Ramirez, a sharp right-wing cartoonist who drove West Side libs up the wall. (And he's won a Pulitzer! I thought that was all Times readers were supposed to care about.) ...  Publisher Jeffrey Johnson, who controls the editorial page, is doing a good job of giving everyone the impression he was sent from Chicago by the Tribune Company to make the paper less controversial. All other things being equal, why would anyone want to write (or draw) for a boss who will get rid of you if you stir up any criticism?...

**--the Pajamas bloggers are never going to lose that name. They might as well go with it. 12:09 P.M. link

LAT buries the lede: From today's piece on Warren Beatty's possible political aspirations:

(Weeks ago, he rebuffed a request for an interview, insisting he'd talk to The Times only for a front-page story. He made no such demands Wednesday.) [Emph. added]

How clueless was that? Did he think the LAT was Vanity Fair (and that he was Heath Ledger)? ... P.S.: The Times piece actually isn't all that friendly to Beatty, punctuating the inevitable, tedious recounting of his political non-starts with this quote:

"I don't think he has the stomach for it," said Michael Levine, an L.A.-based public relations veteran. "I think he likes the pedestal of Beverly Hills, where he can mouth off and not get his fingernails dirty."

A more damaging jibe is Peggy Noonan's:

You really don't want it? Then get out of the way! Get off the stage, let someone else stand there. The Democrats of California need a leader, not a handsome fly buzzing 'round their heads. [Emph. added]

P.P.S.: The LAT piece's lead author, Carla Hall, was part of the Times team that (justifiably, and apparently accurately) reported on the Schwarzenegger groping incidents before California's 2003 recall election. Aren't they duty-bound to look into Beatty's personal history if he runs for office? I think they are! I'm not saying they'll find anything remotely comparable--it's hard to believe they would. Schwarzenegger has dramatically raised the bar in that area. But Beatty may not relish the scrutiny. ... 1:29 P.M.

Schwarzendebacle: Bill Bradley, the go-to guy for Schwarzenegger-insider reporting, blames strategist Mike Murphy for Tuesday's power-sapping defeat, but reports:

Schwarzenegger, according to sources in his own camp, has no real plan to correct his increasingly disastrous course. ...Multiple Arnold sources confirm that, just as there was never a specific plan for the misbegotten "Year of Reform," there is now no real plan for an Arnold move back to the bipartisan center, just a set of unformed intentions for "big thinking." [Emph. added]

[From L.A. Weekly] ... Forward lean: Maria to the rescue! ... 2:31 A.M.

Are you impressed that TimesSelect has attracted "approximately" 135,000 paying*** customers?** At $45 a head (halfway between the introductory price and the regular price) that's $6.1 million. Bigger than Arianna!  But if someone--say, Richard Mellon Scaife--had come along a year ago and offered the NYT $6.1 million to radically limit the reach of its (largely) liberal columnists, would the paper have taken the deal? ... P.S.: And is the future subscriber trajectory really up, up, up, as the Times' columnists fade as personalities on the Web and get replaced by other, freer popular writers? ...

**--Note that the figure of 135,000 isn't actually used in the press release, which refers to "approximately half" of 270,000. That was enough for other outlets to report that "about 135,000" TimesSelect customers are paying customers. ... I guess half of "approximately" is "about." ... It's almost certainly not "more than." ...

***--Update--Spacious Wiggle Room Discovered: Actually, as reader P points out, the press releasedoesn't even say that the "approximately half" figure represents paid customers. It only says they are "online-only subscribers." Does that include people who've been given free passes to the TimesSelect content? People who've said they are going to pay but haven't actually paid? Without additional numbers there is no way of knowing for sure. (The only detail given is that 90% of those who sign up for the free 14-day trial do eventually pay up. But how many "online-only subscribers" are 14-day trial subscribers?) ... 11:55 P.M.

Arianna's rich! (Her blog is worth $4,531,562.58, according to Technorati.) But that's before Cenk Uygur demands his cut. ... [She was rich before--ed But Andrew wasn't, and he's worth $2,041,376.64! Don't even ask about Nick Denton. Think what they could get for Fish Report--ed I know, I know.] Cold Water: Snarksmith's impressively-graphed calculations are more ... sober.  He has Sullivan, for example, in the $40,000/year category, based on BlogAds revenues. He emails: "Technorati's whole premise is based on the idea that AOL paid a reasonable amount for Weblogs.**  But AOL always pays too much for Internet properties." ...

**--Weblogs, Inc., Jason Calacanis' blog network, which went for a reported $25-40 million. ... 11:09 P.M. link

That Wedge Looks Like a Boomerang: Isn't there a bit of an obvious problem with the Democratic strategy, outlined by Howard Fineman, of tracing all the Bush administration's troubles to the evil Cheney in order to sow division in the White House? After all, Bush might want Cheney to step down in a few months anyway, simply to allow Bush the anointing of a successor. If the Democrats' "inside wedge" campaign works, and everything's blamed on Cheney, then if he goes a lot of Bush's troubles go with him, no? The classic scapegoat-lightning rod move--followed by a fresh start with Vice President Romney, Allen, or McCain. ... How does that help the Democrats? ... Just askin'! 7:03 P.M.

"Never before have they offered anything remotely as good as this": Howard from Oraculations claims the new LAT  Fish Report is brilliant. I wouldn't know. I want dish, not fish! ... 5:08 P.M.

Anti-gerrymandering reform lost in both California and Ohio. You might say it's time to take the fight to the courts--and there are valid constitutional arguments to be made, along Baker v. Carr lines, against partisan or pro-incumbent gerrymanders. But isn't it kind of difficult to argue that the courts need to intervene to make democracy fair after the voters, in a perfectly fair, non-gerrymandered state-wide election, have rejected the idea? This doesn't seem like a case of minority rights, where the majority's opinion shouldn't count. The vast majority of California voters are denied the chance to cast an effective ballot because they live in manipulated districts where the incumbent can't lose. They don't seem to care! Who are judges to tell them they should?

In this sense, the pro-reform movement is arguably worse-off than if the voters had never been asked. ... P.S.: I'm not suggesting the attempt to reform redistricting democratically--through referenda and legislation--should stop. I'm suggesting the opposite: The alternative route to reform, through the courts, is now more difficult than before, so reformers have no choice but to keep trying to convince voters. ... Update: John Rosenberg suggests that existing voting rights law would let the courts intervene. ... But he thinks existing voting rights law is wrong! ... 2:46 A.M.

TimesErase: Pursuing a Mercedes-like policy of continuous improvement, Nicholas Kristof has apparently rewritten the weaselly semi-correction he posted about the errors in his initial columns about Joseph Wilson, according to Tom Maguire of JustOneMinute:

Mr. Kristof's paragraphs on the question of whether Wilson told him that he had debunked forged documents, and whether Wilson could have done so, have been extensively re-written - the bits I excerpted and criticized have disappeared, so Mickey Kaus and I appear to be discussing a different entry from the one currently on offer.  Well, that is one way to stump the critics.

I hope Kristof kept the line where he said it's "possible" that what he reported was correct, but "that seems to me unlikely." That one was a keeper! And the ludicrous sentence about how criticizing Wilson was "distasteful" because he's just a "private citizen" ... P.S.: I bet Kristof wishes it were that easy to rewrite his Hatfill column! ... P.P.S.:  I'm not saying bloggers should never revise after hitting "publish." Maybe they shouldn't, but I rewrite sentences all the time--if an emailer makes a good objection or I just have second thoughts. But it does become Orwellian at some point--i.e. when you redo a column after you've been publicly attacked for some stupidity to make it look as if there was never any stupidity to attack. ... P.P.P.S.: Luckily, I have a printed-out hard copy of Kristof's original, presumably dumber,** version, which I will mail to anyone who wants it for only $49.95.! Call it TimesSelectClassic. ... You have to hand it to the NYT web management team--they keep discovering new revenue opportunities.

**--kf cannot verify that the old version is dumber, because according to Maguire Kristof has added additional dumbness in draft #2--lamenting that Valerie Plame's "career at CIA has been destroyed," though he'd called that claim "hyperbole" in a column two years ago. Removing all evidence of that earlier column will be more difficult, involving as it does a visit to every library in the world armed with scissors and Liquid Paper. ... 1:52 A.M.

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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. 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. Keller's 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. 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's Huffosphere--Now a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. 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. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. John Leo--If you've got political correctness, he's got a column ... [More tk]

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