kf Essay Question: Rep. John Murtha is quoted in this week's Newsweek saying that if Bush II had invited him to the White House and let him air his views the way Bush I did, his high-profile call for rapid redeployment in Iraq could have been avoided.
"If they'd talked to me, it wouldn't have happened."
In 1995, Newt Gingrich publicly suggested he wouldn't have provoked a government shutdown if he hadn't been made to use the rear door of President Clinton's plane. Gingrich was widely denounced as a petty crybaby. How is what Murtha told Newsweek any different? Murtha says he thinks the nation is on a disastrous course in the Iraq War. Would he really not have spoken out if he'd been "talked to" and buttered up with access? (Murtha explicitly notes that Bush I didn't necessarily take the advice of his White House guests. He was just courteous enough to invite them and "listen to" them.")
Is Murtha a dissenter or just dissed? Discuss.
Update: Reader M. says I'm conflating "Gingrich's desire for status with Murtha's desire for input." But if the current President Bush had heard Murtha out, but then ignored him, would Murtha really have refrained from going public even though, in his view, " [t]he future of our country is at risk" and our soldiers are dying for a "flawed policy wrapped in illusion"? Refraining from dissent in order to maintain a possible future channel of "input" (an old Washington tradeoff) is different from getting bought off by mere trappings of status. But if the issue is war and peace it may not be a more moral choice. And the more the "input" in question involves ego-enhancing trappings (e.g. White House visits) and the charade of "access" rather than actual influence, the less moral it becomes, and the more it approaches the Gingrichian gold standard of pettiness. [I thought you were going to say, "in D.C., 'input' is status."--ed I was! But Murtha doesn't seem like the type who'd dine out on 'as I was telling the President' stories.] 3:19 A.M. link
A Golden Future at NYT? Ken Auletta's piece is a marker that New York publishing CW is entertaining the notion that NYT publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger may go. The Gay Talese quote ("You get a bad king every once in a while") helps. The stock chart is brutal, though not as brutal as the Boston Herald. Still, New York publishing CW thought that Clinton was a goner in 1998 and that Bush was a goner in 2004. It's like the Note on drugs! A cool-headed outsider perspective suggests that at least one more anti-Pinch tidbit or scandal will be required for the Class B shareholders to end their family nightmare. Or at least start a new chapter. ...[Conflict: Auletta's wife is my agent too!] 6:00 P.M.
Stenchblog Update: I still find mystery-stench stories disturbing, even when the stench is sweet. Someone (a mindermast!) could be trying out a delivery mechanism. That's why it's not all that reassuring when, as on Thursday, "nothing dangerous" is found in the air. ... 9:57 P.M.
Guilt-Trip, Incoming! I'm highly skeptical that a movie about gay cowhands, however good, will find a large mainstream audience. I'll go see it, but I don't want to go see it. (Why? Sexual orientation really is in the genes. Sorry.) When the film's national box office fails to live up to its hype and to the record attendance at a few early screenings, prepare to be subjected to a tedious round of guilt-tripping and chin-scratching by Frank Rich and every metropolitan daily entertainment writer who yearns to write about What the Movies Say About America Today. (Wild guess: They say we're still homophobic!) That will be harder to ignore than the movie. ... Maybe if we all go see it, Rich won't write about it! [He'll write about it-ed Good point.] 9:15 P.M.
How Stuff Works: Sculpting the news! The printed graphic sidebar to the LAT's front-page, most e-mailed piece on the Bugatti Veyron supercar features this technical tidbit:
Rigid but lightweight sculpted carbon-fiber body weighs 4,300 pounds, more than four times the weight of a Dodge Viper. [Emph. added]
Alert reader D notes that this is not only wrong but obviously, nonsensically wrong! Why design a high-tech lightweight car and make it four times as heavy as the competition? In a footnote, the Times sources its chart to How Stuff Works, where D found the following sentence:
Even though the body is sculpted in carbon fiber to minimize its mass, the car weighs in at about 4,300 pounds (1,950 kg). For comparison, a Dodge Viper weighs about 1,000 pounds (454 kg) less. [Emph. added]
That's more like it. ... Not hard to tell what happened here. The LAT can't even steal straight! ... Desperate attempt to find Larger Significance in this incident: Here's a question for MoveOn and everyone whining about the Times staff reductions: Is it more likely that this minor howler resulted from
a) corporate layoffs and staff cuts that have left the Times with too few editors to do a good job; or
b) a history of bloat and lassitude that have left the Times with too many non-good** editors who should be laid off?
**--Four layers of "experiencedTimes editors," according to the late David Shaw's famous anti-blogging article--which might as well have been subtitled "Invitation to a Layoff." 9:54 P.M.
One Way McCain Isn't Reagan: Peggy Noonan's Thursday piece on immigration seems like a fairly decisive break with Bush's (and McCain's, and the Wall Street Journal's) immigration policy. She notes, with particular disapproval, the condescending tone with which bien pensants of both parties discuss groups like the Minutemen:
There are people who want to return to the old ways and rescue some of the old attitudes. There are groups that seek to restore border integrity. But they are denigrated by many, even the president, who has called them vigilantes. The New Yorker this week carries a mildly snotty piece by a writer named Daniel Kurtz-Phelan in which he interviews members of a group of would-be Minutemen who seek to watch the borders with Mexico and Canada. They are "running freelance patrols"; they are xenophobic; they dismiss critics as "communists" and "child molesters."
How nice to be patronized by young men whose place is so secure they have two last names. How nice to be looked down on for caring.
As a Reaganite, Noonan must have recognized that elite condescension instantly, allergically. It's similar to the condescension 50s and 60s elites felt for fervent anti-Communists, and almost precisely the condescension those who bought into the Nixon-Moynihan-liberal welfare reform consensus of the 70s felt for those rustic, unsophisticated voters who actually wanted welfare recipients to work--as if you could do that!--rather than receive cleverly-designed guaranteed income payments. One of the great things about America is that this sort of condescension is almost always pure political poison in the long run (and usually in the short run). In the 70s, then-governor Reagan labelled Nixon's sophisticated guaranteed income plan a "megadole." The rest is history! We're still waiting for the politician to credibly take on the equivalent Bush-McCain-liberal pro-amnesty consensus--and its disdain for those rustic, unsophisticated voters who actually want resident illegals to return to their home countries and get in line before they're legalized. As if you could do that! ...
P.S.: Free-market elements of the right (i.e. Milton Friedman) were part of the elite guaranteed income consensus of the 1970s, just as Paul Gigot's WSJ editorial page is part of the elite pro-amnesty consensus of the 2000s. Friedman gave liberal journalists their "even" lede--as in "Even conservative economist Milton Friedman ..."--but that didn't save the consensus from devastating conservative assault. I suspect Gigot will be similarly effective. ... 7:57 P.M. link
The Tao of Brown-nosing: A central principle of business, maybe of life, is separating what might be called the "suck" from the "ask." That is, you want to butter up people who might do you favors in a time period as remote as possible from the time when you actually need the favor. It's not just that you shouldn't call only when you want something. Even when I've spent plenty of time being gratuitously complimentary to people, I've learned to never accidentally say something nice ("today's blog post was especially incisive ...") in the same email in which I ask them to do something for me. Simultaneous flattery actually hurts your cause. Better to just start schnorring.
This isn't a logical principle--you can be an odious Darwinian climber whether you follow the rule or not. Suck/ask separation simply enables more effective climbing. Why? I don't know. But something in the primitive human brain makes it more difficult to question the sincerity of flattery if there's no evident purpose to it at the time it's proffered. ...
Hollywood culture, which is all about pointlessly cultivating "relationships," long ago recognized this psychological reality. Which is why, when Barbra Streisand got a lot of publicity by cancelling her LAT subscription to protest the sacking of columnist Robert Scheer, my trackball was drawn Ouija-like to NEXIS, where, sure enough, a search of "byline (Scheer) and Barbra" produced a 1993 LAT interview of impressive sycophancy. Highlights (in addition to Scheer's softball questions):
Like the rabbinical student she played in "Yentl," which she also directed, Streisand is both enthusiastic and bookish in her fascination with issues, excitedly referring to one think-tank study or another. She claims no great expertise, but resents the notion that a women who has been successful in the world of entertainment is not entitled to speak out. ... [snip]
Few careers in Hollywood could match that of Streisand. With 57 gold and platinum albums and more than 60 million albums sold, she is the top-selling female artist in the world. Along the way, she became a producer and director, and won the 1968 Oscar for best actress in her debut film, "Funny Girl."
Streisand has endowed academic chairs covering women's studies at USC, cardiovascular research at UCLA and another at the Environmental Defense Fund. Her Streisand foundation grants around $1 million a year ...
Am I saying that Streisand came to Scheer's defense because Scheer, who long ago cast aside pointless populist inhibitions about befriending celebrities, defended her and sucked up over a decade earlier? No. ... I mean, yes! ... Or rather, who knows? That's the beauty of Suck/Ask Separation. ... (And in this case Scheer almost certainly didn't even have to ask.) ... 5:18 P.M. link
They laughed when blogger Sam Jaffe suggested, back on May 10, that GM would be sold to Toyota. They're not laughing anymore, I tell you! At least as long as Mr. Kerkorian** is around. ... I still don't understand why Toyota would want to buy into GM's UAW tsuris, especially since a purchase might give the union an opening to organize Toyota's current, non-union North American operations. ... [via Autoblog]
**--misspelling corrected. At least I didn't say "Kevorkian"--though he may be needed soon. 1:10 P.M.
David Smith, who's still doggingFannie Mae--the taxpayer-subsidized gravy train for Democratic pols (until Jim Johnson and Frank Raines went and spoiled it for everyone)-- interprets WaPo's recent ingenuous treatment of the agency. ... P.S.: It's admirable that WaPo appends a "full list of blogs" linking to its article. But why isn't Smith's blog included? 11:14 A.M.
Just Askin':Shouldn't Ayatollah Sistani be Time Magazine's Man of the Year? If we have any hope of achieving our goals in Iraq, it is thanks to him, no? ... Is antiwar sentiment in the Democratic primaries going to be so great that maybe Hillary would be well-advised to run for president as an independent? ... 3:32 A.M. link
Able Danger-- back on the front page (of the Sacramento Bee). ... Gen. Shelton. head of Joint Chiefs, remembers setting up the data-mining program, and remembers being briefed, but "doesn't recall hearing or seeing Atta's name" before 9/11. ... 11:37 P.M.
He can be certain that 2008 will be a year with a wide open primary on both the Republican and Democratic sides in which neither a sitting president nor vice president will be running, a rare event in presidential politics that lowers the bar of entry for all candidates. He can have a high degree of confidence that if he waits until 2012, he will face the historically impossible task of unseating the incumbent president of his own party, or the historically difficult task of unseating the incumbent president of the opposition party. The 2016 race would probably be his final chance. [Emph added]
Huh? I understand that those who wait for their opportunity in American politics tend to find they've missed it (see, e.g. Hillary Rodham Clinton). I understand the Senate is a poor place to demonstrate executive skills. But Obama will be 55 years old in 2016! He'll only be 59 in 2020. He can get out of the Senate. ...
Update--Hello, Argument! Zengerle zings me for not addressing Lizza's argument, which is based on the alleged "law of American politics is that candidates have only 14 years to become president" because, since Theodore Roosevelt no candidate except LBJ has (to quote Jonathan Rauch) "been elected president who took more than 14 years to climb from his first major elective office to election as either president or vice president." Obama's 14 years would expire in 2018.
a) Arguments based on historic patterns (and I've made them myself) are usually unconvincing. They assume history will repeat itself. Like the "chartist" approach to investing, they're right until they're wrong. But at least the chartists are charting a big data set. With presidential elections, any patterns are based on a very small set of examples. (There are only 16 elected presidents since TR, for example.)
b) Even the 14 year pattern isn't as clear as Lizza and Rauch say it is. Kennedy pushes the boundary--he was elected to Congress in 1946, won the presidency in 1960. Lizza gives FDR's gestation period as four years, but FDR was the Democrats' vice-presidential nominee in 1920, twelve years before he was elected president. Nixon took 21 years to reach the White House after his first election to Congress in 1947. (Yes, Nixon was elected Vice President in 1952. But if the problem is that national politicians grow stale and record-bound, why should their "expiration date" be put on permanent hold just because they're elected to the vice-presidency? Shouldn't national office and national exposure make them staler quicker?)
c) Lizza's chartist panic is at war with the common-sense view that before he runs for President, maybe Obama should have accomplished something, or at least demonstrated the ability to wield executive power effectively. The doomed John Edwards is a cautionary example of what happens to a talented politician whose ambition gets conspicuously ahead of his achievements.
d) Kennedy seems the president closest to Obama in terms of lack of experience. But even he had been effectively reelected to national office four times (reelected twice to Congress, then elected to two terms in the Senate) before he ran for the top job. That's four times more than Obama.
e) Kennedy showed that even a politician with little experience could demonstrate, in the campaign itself, enough competence to get elected. Maybe Obama could do that too. But that hardly means he "must run for president in 2008." [Ital added].
f) Underlying Lizza's claim is a real, disturbing truth, which is that "the kind of political star power Obama has doesn't last." The interesting question is whether the window of opportunity to cash in electorally is now shorter than ever thanks to the Feiler Faster Principle. (The FFP holds that Americans now process political information comfortably at record speed.) I'm not sure. The FFP surely says that Americans will get sick of Obama faster than they would have, say, 30 years ago. But it doesn't say Obama can't cycle back with a second or third Nixon-like Act. The rapid processing of trends might even make comebacks more likely--Faster Politics, Faster Resurrections. Even Jerry Brown is about to stage a Fourth Act, after getting bumped off in Act II (i.e., in his increasingly humiliating presidential losses). ... It's also possible that the window of opportunity is now smaller, that by the time a fresh, young national figure gets enough experience to be a plausible president, the revved-up political culture has had enough of him. That would be a problem for Sen. Obama, and for the nation. But it's not a problem that's going to be solved by an Obama run for president in 2008. (One solution: Candidates who get their executive experience off the national stage, in the private sector or the statehouses, before they burst into the national consciousness as senators or cabinet secretaries. Another, iffier solution: Modify the Constitution's stately four-year fixed-term presidency to bring it more into synch with post-Internet information cycles, allowing talents like Obama, once they get some experience, more than three shots at the top office every 15 years. In a three year presidency, for example, we wouldn't continually face the prospect we are currently facing--what to do with the final two years of the second term of a president who's worn out his welcome or otherwise lost momentum.)
More: See independent assaults on Lizza's chartism by Zengerle's reader "J.D." and by Kevin Drum, who says the historical record "suggest[s] that 2016, when Obama will have been in the public eye for 12 years, is closer to the sweet spot than it is to the upper end of his shelf life." ... Also: Alert reader C.S. questions Lizza's assumption that it's been all that "historically difficult" to unseat an "incumbent president of the opposition party." Tell it to Carter, G.H.W. Bush and LBJ. ... In fact, it wasn't long ago that Reagan was considered an exceptional figure because he'd actually gotten re-elected and served out his second four years. ...
Bonus Blog Video: I discussed Lizza's "Obama '08" argument today on bloggingheads.tv with Robert Wright, who has views of his own. ... 3:25 A.M. link
Pssst: Don't look now--Bush seems to be reviving among the robots. ... See also: RCP's pollpage, where he's 4 out of 4 above 40%, a less-bad trend noticed by Charlie Cook of National Journal in his e-mailed "Off to the Races" column and analyzed more fully by Mystery Pollster (who even commissions a special robot-highlighting graph). ... P.S.: It's "too soon to say with certainty." But not too soon to blog! ... Update:CBS/NYT poll confirms the robo-trend. Moral: The gap here between blog and MSM appears to be approximately 40 hours. If you don't blog it too soon, you won't blog it soon enough! ... Update 12/9: Live by robo, die by robo. ... But AP/Ipsos takes up the slack, reporting a small (from 37 to 42) Bush rebound. ... 10:46 P.M.
Murtha vs. Murtha: Rep. Murtha on the prospects of an Iraqi civil war:
[T]here's a civil war going. We're caught in between a civil war right now. Our troops are the targets of the civil war. They're the only people that could have unified the various factions in Iraq. And they're unified against us. --ABC's This Week, 12/4/05
[W]hy should I believe what the CIA says about what's happening in Iraq, that there's going to be a civil war? First of all, al Qaeda was wrong. It was wrong on the nuclear stuff. It was wrong on everything they have said over there. So why should I believe that there's going to be a civil war? -- same show, a few moments later.
Rep. Murtha on whether the Iraqis will throw us out:
[T]he military won a military victory. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. ...[snip] ... Now, it's got to be a political win. They have to win this politically. The Iraqis themselves. We'll stay there forever. The Iraqis are never going to say turn it over. We can't allow them to say when it's gonna turn it over.--This Week, 12/4/05
You're gonna see the Iraqis clamoring. Listen, anybody we support in Iraq loses the election. And so they're gonna be clamoring for us to get out. -- same show, a few moments later.
Sorry, this man seems confused. In his current state I wouldn't follow him either into battle or out of it. ...[Emphases added] P.S.: Reinforcing the suggestion that he's been pulling a Nader, Murtha also had nice things to say about President Bush. ("I like this guy. ...Well, he's coming around, because he's talking about redeployment. He's talking about pulling our troops out. And I can see by what he's saying that we're going to be out of there by the end of the year or very close to it.") I must have missed the subsequent wall-to-wall fish-out-of-water MSM coverage--you know, "Longtime Iraq War Critic Praises Bush Plans," that sort of thing. ... 6:17 P.M. link
A Dump Pinch movement? 12:59 P.M.
Michael Oates Palmer displays some of the disgust ** currently felt on the left for Hillary Clinton:
If a Hillary supporter can point me to one decision or vote she's made in the last four years where she took a stand that went against her best political interests – I'll buy the first beer.
Of course, now if Hillary took a stand that went against her best political interests it would simply look as if she'd determined it was in her best political interests to take a stand that went against her best political interests. She can't win at this point. ... P.S.: Palmer gives fresh voice to the sort of revived liberal '50s mindset that's the opposite of the Howell Raines Fallacy. The Howell Raines Fallacy, remember, is the easy assumption that one's righteous views are shared by the great and good American People. The Michael Oates Palmer Fallacy is the assumption that one's righteous views--on gay rights, capital punishment, even the Iraq War--are not shared by the American people. HRF liberals are constantly calling in the American people as a cavalry (that never comes). MOPF liberals are constantly looking for politicians with the "courage" to stand up to the voters in the face of their boorish prejudice. (In this instance, Palmer lauds Mark Warner's grant of clemency to a convicted killer.) Almost by definition, the issues on which Democrats are least likely to win become the litmus tests of character. If the American people actually support something (like welfare reform) it immediately becomes suspect--"a little hateful shotglass of Dick Morris triangulation," in the memorable phrase Palmer uses to describe Bill Clinton's willingness to execute Ricky Ray Rector. It's not hard to see why Democrats with this attitude--the electorate's wrong, and what's needed is a politician willing to tell them where to stuff it--tend to remain in the minority.
**: For a sample of even stronger anti-Hillary sentiment on the left, see the comments on this Kos post. 12:50 P.M.
Redacted all absurdum: Remember the famous 8 redacted pages in Judge Tatel's concurring opinion in the Plame case, the pages that many observers, following Lawrence O'Donnell's lead, assumed contained top secret eye-only information on the grave national security consequences of CIA "operative" Plame's outing--the pages, indeed, that O'Donnell said constituted "the one very good reason Karl Rove might be indicted"? Well, never mind! Tom Maguire notices a buried lede in today's NYT story indicating that those 8 pages turn out to contain nothing like that. They seem to mainly disclose information about witnesses, etc. involved in Fitzgerald's perjury case--not a case about horrible damage done to our intelligence agents or their sources. The upshot may be that, despite Joseph Wilson's dramatics, his wife's outing didn't really cause such national security damage--something a few scandal-poopers have claimed all along. ... 3:50 P.M.
Who Killed Spring Hill?The clueless NYT is on the case: The NYT manages to produce a long, moving front-page story on the demise of Saturn's innovative (and successful) Spring Hill, Tennessee plant without once mentioning the UAW's complicity in its killing--specifically in the decision to produce the larger Saturn sedan at an old-style plant in Wilmington, Delaware rather than at Spring Hill. ... The Times pisses on Spring Hill's success, writing:
In truth, Saturns never consistently beat their Japanese rivals in surveys performed by J. D. Power or Consumer Reports, but Saturn's consumer-friendly image ... [snip] ... made it seem as though they did.
But to even match the Japanese at a time when no other Detroit car came close was a huge achievement. Why didn't GM build on that success? Because the Saturn workers' very competence threatened the continued existence of other, less competent parts of General Motors--and there were more people working there than at Spring Hill. ... I suppose this tension--between productive and unproductive divisions--exists at every large organization, but it's surely exacerbated by the presence of a powerful union, especially a powerful small-d democratic union. The UAW, you could argue, was legally obligated to represent the interests of the majority of its members--and the majority worked in the unproductive parts of GM that Spring Hill threatened. It didn't help that Spring Hill succeeded by getting rid of the elaborate work rules so prized by the UAW's more traditional locals. ... It is written: The Nostradamus-like "Chatterbox" predicted all this in a previous century. A small, colorful cult worshipping him has sprung up in Micronesia. ... 12:34 P.M.
Gregg Easterbrook's rule that All Economic News is Bad was effectively illustrated by yesterday's NYT front-pager, "Upbeat Signs Hold Cautions for the Future." The article notes several positive economic trends, including lower gas prices, but then warns darkly that
... as always with the United States economy, it is not quite that simple.
For every encouraging sign, there is an explanation. ...[snip] Gasoline prices - the national average is now $2.15, according to the Energy Information Administration - have fallen because higher prices held down demand and Gulf Coast supplies have been slowly restored. [Emph. added.]
It's indeed deeply disturbing to learn that higher gas prices have held down demand, causing those prices to fall back to a level at which demand begins to rise again! It's almost as if some insidious law was at work--as prices rise, demand declines! As supply increases, prices fall! You can't win! ... P.S.: The price drop might be alarming if the decline in demand for gas reflected a general economic downturn. But that doesn't seem to be the case. What the NYT's Vikak Bajaj ominously describes is the market working exactly as it's supposed to, coupled with successful rebuilding efforts on the Gulf Coast. It appears to be "quite that simple." ... P.P.S.: Nor can I spot any "cautions for the future." .... P.P.P.S.: Bijaj further reported that
the Federal Reserve and businesses will have a big part in setting the economy's pace next year - the Fed through interest rates and companies by their hiring decisions. [Emph. added]
Yikes. Who knew? That's the sort of alarming macroeconomic information investors can use to make millions--and yet this wasn't even a TimesSelect article. They charge for Bob Herbert but they're giving away Bijaj's explosive contrarian insights for free! The hapless Pinch Sulzberger misses yet another revenue stream. ...
Update: Only a paranoid right-wing blogger would suggest that the NYT's editors are so eager to explain away any positive economic news because the healthy economy is the one remaining prop holding up Bush's presidency, and they can't believe his policies haven't produced another recession yet. Easterbrook's Bad News rule indicates that they'd have written exactly the same piece if a Democrat were in the White House. ... 1:20 A.M.
I don't understand why Hillary Clinton's finish-what-we-started statement on Iraq is the brilliantly nuanced "Recalibration from Lieberman's Hard-Line Camp to the Middle-of-the-Road Camp" that ABC's The Note thinks it is. The Note writes:
"I do not believe that we should allow this to be an open-ended commitment without limits or end. Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately," Clinton wrote in a letter to supporters yesterday. ... Her eagerness to signal that the commitment is not open-ended is new and Noteworthy even though she continues to reject an immediate pullout. [Emph. added]
Did Hillary previously favor an "open-ended commitment without limits or end"? Does even the Hard-Line Lieberman favor an "open-ended commitment without limits or end"? Here's what Lieberman wrote this week:
If all goes well, I believe we can have a much smaller American military presence there by the end of 2006 or in 2007, but it is also likely that our presence will need to be significant in Iraq or nearby for years to come.
Is that different from Hillary's position? I'd say no. Hillary surely contemplates a presence--at least a presence "nearby"-- for years to come. Nor is Lieberman suggesting a "commitment without limits or end." The two are certainly not in different "camps." ... Either a)the Note is treating as a major shift what is a meaningless rhetorical bone to the left--Hillary saying she's not for something (a "commitment without limits") that nobody is for; b)The Note wants us to value rhetoric and "tone" (i.e. BS) over substance; c)The Note has been talking to Chris Lehane again. Or someone like him!*
*--Someone so proud of their subtle little insidery P.R. moves that they have lost touch with the outside (i.e., voters') reality! ... 4:30 P.M.
Smoke is not a plan! Q.: If you're making a five point presentation, where do you hide your weakest point? ... Q: Why number four? ... General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner has outlined the five big product bets GM is making. Bets 1-3 seem plausible. But Bet 4--
4. GM can fix -- not kill -- its damaged brands.
looks like a lock to fail, notes Autoblog, given the seemingly weak product plans GM actually has for the beleaguered Buick and Pontiac divisions, which desperately need a good rear-drive sedan. ... Unless this is your idea of excitement. ... 2:32 A.M.
Twofer: Prestigious bull---t artist** Mike Davis declares in an email that he won't write for the Los Angeles Times op-ed page because the paper canned columnist Robert Scheer. I was against the Scheer sacking, but if the Times lost Mike Davis as well .... hmmm. It's looking like a better and better move all the time! ...
**--A 1999 LAT investigation of Davis' Ecology of Fear discovered him essentially making up the best details of his account of the 1993 Malibu fires. 2:01 A.M.
Brilliant visual Wonkette shot at Bush's "evolving" Iraq presentations. I'll be surprised if it doesn't get copied elsewhere (e.g. NBC Nightly News ... oh right, there's no Katrina angle. Sorry. Hardball then.) . . . 2:18 P.M.
My videoblogging colleague Bob Wright finds the tender underbelly of Charles Krauthammer's big torture article, namely that one of Krauthammer's big examples of permissible torture doesn't fit comfortably into either of his two seemingly narrow exceptions to a general torture ban. ... That said, I found Krauthammer's article heartening because it suggests there is less distance between his position and McCain's than I'd feared--especially if you are talking about McCain's real position ("You do what you have to do") as opposed to what most people think McCain's formal legal position is. 1:08 A.M.
[W]hen people wonder why Bob doesn't tell his editor Len Downie what he knows, I'm genuinely mystified. I mean, have you ever met Len Downie? But never mind that; think about this: Woodward spends most of his life reporting. He knows everything. What's more, he has no idea what it adds up to. How could he possibly keep anyone, much less his editor, in the loop? It would take hours and hours of debriefing every week, hours that would undoubtedly be better spent reporting on the after-the-fact thoughts of people in power who are trying to justify the mistakes they've made.
I still don't see the big Woodward scandal in the Plame affair. The best anti-Woodward argument I've heard is that he could have derailed the whole prosecution by revealing that he was first told about Valerie Plame's CIA status as if it were mere "gossip." Instead, he let a reporter go to jail!** In other words, to get a Woodward scandal you have to assume there isn't a Plame scandal. But it's not clear that there isn't a Plame scandal. True, her "outing" might merely have been a tangential part of a sincere-if-risky attempt by Bush hawks to discredit the allegations of Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, by pointing out to reporters how he got his assignment to investigate uranium purchases. But just because Administration Official #1 tells Bob Woodward about Plame's CIA role as mild offhand gossip (which Woodward keeps to himself) doesn't mean that an Official #2 didn't maybe tell another reporter the same facts as part of a malicious plan to punish Wilson and his wife. . ..
** Woodward's second big sin, after not informing Downie, is said to have been his temerity in publicly criticizing Fitzgerald's investigation without revealing his private knowledge (though he hinted at it). But obviously Woodward's comments sincerely reflected what he thought his private knowledge told him: that the Plame information was just gossip. If Woodward can't give an opinion in public that's informed by secrets he knows then Woodward can never give an opinion in public about anything we'd want to hear Woodward's opinion on. ... Maybe Woodward criticized Fitzgerald with extra force because he felt guilty that Miller was going to jail when he wasn't disclosing the little bit of information he knew that might have helped her (by supporting the idea that the whole business was a non-scandal). But that information wouldn't have proved it was a non-scandal, and it wouldn't have sprung Miller. In the event, the anti-Fitzgerald comments Woodward did make added to our knowledge. (If they'd been disinformation that would be a different story.) ...
Update: Emailer J.S. concedes it's normally OK for Woodward to comment on public issues even when his views are informed by secrets he knows--but J.S. argues Woodward shouldn't have commented in this case because he was "tangentially involved" in Fitzgerald's investigation in a possibly self-interested way viewers were unaware of. Specifically, I suppose, Woodward might have worried that he'd be subpoenaed (which early on meant possibly going to jail) and therefore have been trying to stop Fitzgerald before he got that far. That's not a gross, testicle-crushing conflict like Howie Kurtz's with CNN, but it was undisclosed. ... Yet a) Woodward knew he wasn't going to stop Fitzgerald. As a potential witness, he also had an incentive to suck up to him; b) If it wasn't obvious to the public that Woodward was trying to avoid subpoena in this case, it was obvious that Woodward in general could be subpoenaed in lots of cases like this one if prosecutors started pursuing them. That much of his self-interest was out in the open; c) Lots of reporters know things about Plamegate that Fitzgerald might want to know, yet they're still writing and opining about it; d) Reporters have hidden conflicts all the time, not all of which are visible to the public. Woodward might not want a story to become big if he didn't have secret information, and therefore couldn't get a book out of it! It's often difficult to figure out when a hidden conflict (you hate someone, you're worried that someone else will take your job, etc) should be disclosed. The one obvious half-solution is for reporters, when commenting in public, to stop pretending they are free of conflicts and put themselves more in the same category as politicians--namely witnesses who are assumed to be riven with potential conflicts. When Dick Cheney is interviewed on TV, viewers know he might be pursuing fifteen different hidden agendas. They don't know what all those agendas are. But they know they don't know; e) Woodward's in a tough spot, because if he doesn't comment (or issues some milquetoast remark) it will cause people to wonder why he's being so quiet, is he involved, etc. f) Woodward could certainly have gotten away with turning down "Larry King Live" a few times, but it would come at the non-trivial cost of suppressing his sincere views (and leaving his guilt about not coming forward, which seems to me a bigger probable factor in shaping Woodward's take on Fitzgerald than subpoena-fear, unassuaged). ... Still, J.S. has a point! 8:56 P.M. link
"Fat Surfacing": Is this Chris Bangle's latest visionary aesthetic breakthrough? The night is young! ... [via Autoblog ] 6:59 P.M.
That's how I feel about sex! The LAT's Patrick Goldstein attacks Oscar prediction blogging, then produces the Buried Weasel Graf of the Week:
Full disclosure: I write an Oscar prediction column too, but I do it once a year, not 47 times a week.
Goldstein adds, "without getting into the Academy Award prediction business full-time, I may be doing an Oscar podcast in the near future too." ... That's OK. Go ahead, do it full-time! As long as you let us know you'd really rather "wrestle with questions about what our movies say about America today." God help us. ... P.S.: Hollywood is an isolated subculture populated by quirky egomaniacs, and movies have long lead times. They are lousy barometers of "America today." Indeed, wrestling with "what movies say about America today" is usually just a disingenuous, intellectually flattering, week-in-reviewish way of writing about glamorous stars and directors and attracting lucrative movie ads. At least Oscar handicappers are open and straightforward about what they're doing. ... 5:55 P.M.
Launching 'MSM Basic': Aren't those who predict doom for the NYT's TimesSelect like those who predicted doom for cable television? After all, why would someone pay for a TV show when they could see TV shows for free on the regular broadcast channels? That's what some people must have thought when cable programming started. Were they wrong! Won't the same thing happen with pay-Websites?
There are several good answers to this question: For starters, news is more fungible than drama--any number of sites can tell you the Canadian government has fallen, and any one site isn't that much better at it than another. Plus the web is interactive--HBO's Sopranos doesn't depend for its visibility on being linked by free TV shows.
But let's accept and apply the cable TV model. What would it suggest for the Web? Not the New York Times' go-it-alone approach, in which each newspaper charges people to read its particular offerings. Most cable channels aren't sold individually, after all. They're sold as part of packages. If you get the basic cable package you get dozens of channels. If you get the premium package you get dozens more. The potential revenue raising equivalent, for newspapers, would come if they banded together in some sort of consortium (possibly even presenting themselves collectively as a cheaper rival to the NYT's premium offerings).Subscribe to this Basic MSM consortium for a modest annual fee and you'd get access to all the pages of dozens, maybe hundreds, of papers. True, the revenue would be divided many ways, but it would be something. ...
Wouldn't the remaining free Web sites flourish, giving each paper an incentive to stay out of this consortium and grab some of that traffic? Sure. But the consortium's goal wouldn't be to get all the eyeballs. (Cable channels don't get all the TV eyeballs either; many people only have "free" TVs.) The goal would simply be to charge a low enough fee and feature enough content so that the vast majority of Web users would feel like they had to pay the fee or else they'd be out of it, Internet wise--the same way most TV users now feel they have to at least subscribe to basic cable to be part of things. A $3/month fee, for example, would probably not stamp out rapid democratic discourse precisely because it would so low that readers could assume that everyone else was signing up, so they'd better sign up too.
That's a thought process that has yet to take hold for the narrow TimesSelect offerings, and may never take hold. Individual publication-by-publication fees discourage the "everyone's seeing it" assumption because individual publication prices will not only be higher, they'll vary--and that variation will be a pain to keep track of. As a result, nobody writing for or reading any individual pay-to-view publication will be sure that publication is popular enough to be presumptively "public" the way, say, CNN is "public" even though you have to pay to get it. If you can't make that assumption about New York's Times, you can't make it anywhere!
Result of the NYT publication-by-publication model: Inhibited writers, inhibited linkers, inhibited dialogue. And maybe inhibited revenue (both advertising and subscription revenue).
Result of the cable "consortium" model: Eager writers, eager linkers, robust dialogue. And maybe no less revenue (It depends on how many people sign up.)
Update: A "Basic MSM" consortium wouldn't have to suddenly put all its content behind a paid-subscription wall, NYT-style. The consortium could be launched simply as a site where Web surfers could go to register once on a form that would then get them past all the annoying registration pages at participating newspapers--avoiding the need to re-register at every dinky metropolitan daily (usually when you want to read just one story). People might be willing to pay a few bucks for that convenience. Then, if the numbers looked promising, this universal registration could be required. ... 2:25 A.M. link
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 Anti-liberalism 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
Instapundit's Katrina/Rita Relief donation list.
Bloggingheads--Bob Wright's videoblog project. Gearbox--Searching for the Semi-Orgasmic Lock-in. 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]