A mostly political weblog.

March 18 2010 3:51 PM

Kausfiles is out there. Somewhere.

When I took out papers to run for the U.S. Senate in California, I figured I would probably have to give up blogging for this magazine. I couldn't quite see what would be wrong with it, but it's just not something that's done at a respectable news organization like the Washington Post Company (which owns Slate ).  A few web commenters likewise assumed that a "lack of comfort" at Slate or Post Co. would kill the idea.
In the event, that's not how it turned out. My Slate editors were actually quite willing to keep me on to write what would in effect be the Diary of a Longshot. The hangup was me. In part the problem was legal, but mostly it was a purely practical calculation that made me decide to take the blog off Slate (though I reserve the right to come crawling back).
First, the legal hangups. There seem to be two big campaign finance issues surrounding a candidate blog on a magazine like Slate . One is whether by letting me use its valuable real estate, Slate would in effect be giving me an illegal in-kind campaign contribution.  Both my editors and I believe the answer should be "no," and that we would eventually prevail in court on First Amendment grounds if we were challenged. (Is it an illegal campaign contribution to let a candidate write an op-ed? To endorse a candidate in an editorial? That's all valuable publicity, worth many thousands of dollars. But it's speech. So is giving a candidate a blog.)
The second issue was whether if I was paid to blog it would be an illegal cash contribution from S late to me.  The relevant Federal Election Commission regulation, at 11 CFR 113.9 (g) (6) (iii) (A), requires that any compensation result "from bona fide employment that is genuinely independent of the candidacy." Would it be "independent" of the candidacy if I were blogging about the candidacy (even if I'd previously been blogging about other things)? Interesting case!** I can't afford an interesting case, even if the Washington Post Company can. In order to avoid that interesting case, I would always be blogging with an eye over my shoulder, worrying I might annoy the F.E.C. by, say, asking for money. Or votes.
But the main reason I concluded I had to take the blog "private" had nothing to do with these arcane legalities. It's simply this: I'm going to start a campaign web site, and the only reason anybody might go to it is if the blog is there. So I'm moving the blog there. 
You'll still be able to get to the blog by going to www.kausfiles.com . That URL will simply no longer take you to Slate . It will probably initially take you to an inexpensive blog page. Then, if all goes according to plan in the well-oiled machine that is the Kaus campaign, it will take you to an inexpensive state of the art political site that will both harbor the blog and, yes, harness the power of social media on behalf of intra-party dissent. [ Tap into Tea Party anger?--ed Maybe some of that too]
**--There's an argument that paying a blogger could open the door to corruption, the way "paying" House Speaker Jim Wright by buying copies of his book opened the door to corruption. But this ignores the modern reality that politics -- including official, partisan politics--is often a good way for the press to make money these days. A TV network or newspaper would be financially foolish not to hire Sarah Palin to write or talk about her activities, even if she were a declared candidate. Palin brings viewers, and advertisers, and dollars. Why shouldn't Fox pay Palin thousands if it's making money off her, as opposed to donating money to her? 

1:14 P.M.



March 2 2010 3:53 AM

Kf Caught in the Act

The rollout didn't go as my team of highly paid media consultants* had planned-- L.A. Weekly got it way before it was supposed to . Heads will roll around here. But I did go down to the local registrar's office Monday and take out nomination papers to run in the primary for U.S. Senator against Barbara Boxer. If I return them in timely fashion with enough signatures, I should be able to get on the June ballot. We'll see what happens.

This isn't the place to make an electioneering spiel--I don't want to be a test case of campaign finance law if I can help it. But the basic idea would be to argue, as a Democrat, against the party's dogma on several major issues (you can guess which ones). Likeminded Dem voters who assume they will vote for Sen. Boxer The Incumbent in the fall might value a mechanism that lets them register their dissent in the primary.


Next phase: Lowering expectations!

P.S: Several issues, including my role at Slate , are still to be resolved. But you will always be able to reach this blog at www.kausfiles.com . You can reach me at Mickey_Kaus@msn.com


*- - Note to  F.E.C.: Joke! ... 1:38 A.M.


Feb. 24 2010 6:36 PM

The Real Reason Cynical Dem Pols Should Vote for the Health Care Bill

Megan McArdle notes that

Progressives have been making the almost-plausible argument that the public is going to treat a vote for the House or Senate bill as a vote for final passage, so Democrats might as well go ahead and pass the thing. 


Or, to put it more cynically, Republican attack ads will blast Dems for their initial "yes" vote whether or not they vote "no"  the second time around . McCardle, while skeptical, call this the progressive's "best argument."

It's not their best argument. If support of health care reform really is damning, then there's every reason to think scaredycat Dem waverers could buy themselves some measure of protection by confessing error and changing their vote . Happens all the time in politics.

There's a much better argument. It's that passing health care reform offers Dems, in the not-so- long term, a chance to do more than avoid Republican attacks. It offers the chance to disprove them . For months, both GOP and Fox hosts have been talking about socialized medicine and death panels and vicious Medicare cuts and the government coming between you and your doctor, etc. If Democrats pass the bill and none of this happens, Republican opponents will be more than defeated. They'll be discredited. Not permanently, of course-- nobody's permanently discredited anymore. But discredited enough to give Dems some running room for a few election cycles. Retreating on health care, on the other hand, gives credence to the Republican claims . Indeed, for all practical purposes it lets them win the argument.

What do Democrats want to do--punt, or change the whole playing field to one where they have the advantage?

P.S.:  If there is a kernel of truth to GOP charges of "rationing" and even "death panels"--the argument being that that's where the Dem plan will lead-- all the more reason to enact the plan and demonstrate that it doesn't necessarily lead there. For example, I don't think Peter Orszag's precious cost-cutting Medicare Advisory Board will ration care--I doubt it will even succeed in cutting costs,* precisely because the public won't stand for being denied potentially useful treatments. There's only one way to prove it. 

Of course, some of the ill-effects predicted by health care reform opponents wouldn't show up for many, many years--a slowdown in medical innovation, for example. But if you are a cynical Dem pol, is that a bug, or a feature?

P.P.S.: OK, you say. If Dems pass reform and the sky doesn't fall, that might help them in the semi-near term. But how would it help  them this November , when many will be facing what looks like an impressive wave of popular discontent? One answer is to look at the public's response to the "stimulus" bill. It was unreasonable to expect last year's package of spending to have an immediate effect on the unemployment rate. But when the unemployment rate didn't fall, did voters say "Well, let's give it another year and see"? Or did they start to think the stimulus was a flop? Answer: flop. Similarly, if health reform passes and nothing much changes, they will very quickly start to suspect that the GOP predictions of doom were bogus. Other issues will rise into the foreground. This tendency to jump to conclusions can only be enhanced, you'd think, by the increased ability of voters to process new information with greater and greater rapidty .

I'm not saying Dems won't be punished in the fall. I'm saying the protection they get in the fall from passing the bill (and not having the sky fall) is roughly equivalent to the protection they get from bailing and admitting error. And they'll be buying themselfs a huge advantage in the next election, and the one after that, when the sky continues to not fall--and maybe even when some of the benefits of the plan become apparent (though "benefits" are not really required to disprove Republican predictions, only the absence of disaster).

P.P.P.S.--Can't Blame It On the Filibuster Now: Note that the barrier to health care reform does not appear to be the Senate , with its undemocratic filibuster rules. The problem is the ultra-democratic House , where (thanks largely to the bill's lack of popularity ) Dems may just not have the votes .

Update: Alert reader P disagrees, worrying that any hint of rationing, denial of coverage or government red tape, long before reform kicks in 

...will be forever BLAMED on healthcare reform the day it passes. Imagine if someone is rejected for coverage or sees some bad outcome in the healthcare system. What's to stop the GOP from parading that person in front of the cameras and claiming, "This person is being screwed by Obamacare!" even though no such thing happened? They could find some tenuous connection between more government regulation and some bad outcome, and they could run with it, and they would blame Obama.

My larger point is this: Once Obama and Democrats pass healthcare reform, they essential own the entire healthcare system and all of it's outcomes. If someone's doctor is too slow, "Damn you Obama!" If a hospital bill is high, "Damn you Obama!"

I'm not sure how much of this sort of thing could happen before November. ... In the long run, of course, Democrats should more or less own the consequences of their legislation. As Washington pays more and more of the bill, you'd expect a continual political tussle between patients demanding treatment and the government trying to protect its treasury. That doesn't bother me--I expect the patients to win, and win more easily than they win against insurance companies. But all the fighting might still be a negative, for Dems, because more of the agitation will be directed at government institutions they created (instead of at private insurers). Medicare manages to keep this sort of thing under control, however (albeit at great expense). And it's not what conservative opponents of the Dem reforms are predicting--which is tyranny, bureaucracy and bankruptcy.

The more credible short term threats, suggested by Ramesh Ponnuru , are premium increases. But would Anthem-like rate hikes before November play into Republicans' hands, or Obama's? ....


 **--All the more reason why it was foolish for Obama to make a big deal of it. ...  4:27 P.M.


Obama Aides Grow More Confident! One of my favorite L.A. Times headlines was "Aides Grow More Confident in Davis's Chances," published in 2003 a few days before Gov. Gray Davis was crushed in a recall election (at a time when his aides can't possibly have been growing more confident). On Wednesday the Times ran a front page story headlined

Democrats on track to revive healthcare overhaul

Party lawmakers, energized by President Obama's blueprint and summit plans, are getting behind the strategy of passing the Senate's bill and using budget reconciliation to prevent a GOP filibuster.

I guess that hed writer is still on the job. ... More layoffs, please. ...

P.S.: According to LAT reporters Noam Levey and Janet Hook's eerily resonant lede graf, "Democratic lawmakers are increasingly confident that they can resurrect their sweeping overhaul legislation after weeks of uncertainty ..." [E.A.]  According to the WSJ , Rahm Emanuel advised Obama "that it wasn't feasible to pass a comprehensive bill and counseled a lesser version." I fear the Journal' s reporting is closer to the truth. The LAT just stops being a newspaper in situations like this. ...  12:11 P.M.


Feb. 22 2010 3:31 AM

Unions vs. Liberalism, Part XXIII

Obama's compromise health care plan is out, and "the impact on the politics will be tremendous," gushes WaPo 's health care cheerleader Ezra Klein. "The release of this plan marks the end of the Scott Brown election and the resumption of the health-care process." It enables the Democrats to "take back control of the media's narrative," just as they did when they waited out the Tea Parties last August, then "used the president's big speech to pivot to the release and subsequent passage of the Senate Finance Committee's bill." ...Remember the stunning success of the president's speech? It's right here on this graph --if you squint hard you can see the temporary pause in the seemingly ineluctable rise in public opposition to Obama's health care reform right around the beginning of September. It lasted a couple of weeks. Then opposition started rising again. Now it's over 50%, with support ten points lower. ... The Dems must have lost "control of the media's narrative"! 

Does Klein really believe this stuff? I don't know which answer would be more embarrassing. ... P.S.: It would be one thing if Klein was relaying the White House spin with an implausibly straight face, but relaying it as White House spin (saying, for example, 'Obama aides believe the plan will mark the end of the Scott Brown election, letting them take back control of the media's narrative'). Then he'd be Marc Ambinder. ...


Update--It's a Chait Accompli !  Megan McArdle provides a useful antidote to the premature anti-gloating of Klein's fellow JournoLister Jon Chait. ...See also Barone and Hennessy . ...  P.S.: Is the double-secret JournoList cocoon encouraging this misjudgment? Even reported Journolister Paul Krugman's  "guardedly optimistic."  I don't think he should be. ...   4:22 P.M.


Unions vs. Liberalism, Part XXIIII: If you are a liberal who believes in public education, do not let the teachers' unions do to your school system what the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has done to the L.A. Unified School District --make it so hard to fire a bad teacher that most school principals don't even try. According to an L.A. Weekly investigation, the school district itself seems to have given up :

In the past decade , LAUSD officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district's 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance — and only four were fired , during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each. Two of the three others were paid large settlements, and one was reinstated. The average cost of each battle is $500,000.

[W]e also discovered that 32 underperforming teachers were initially recommended for firing, but then secretly paid $50,000 by the district, on average, to leave without a fight. Moreover, 66 unnamed teachers are being continually recycled through a costly mentoring and retraining program but failing to improve, and another 400 anonymous teachers have been ordered to attend the retraining. [E.A.]

That's less than one attempted firing a year. Why? Mainly because firings--and the bad performance evaluations that precede them--are almost invariably contested by the union. Firings must go through an expensive and protracted hearing and appeals process: "Documents show only one instance in the past 10 years in which an LAUSD teacher accepted his firing and left without a fight or big payment." [E.A.]

The school district seems to be markedly less effective at weeding out screw-ups than even the City of Los Angeles, whose regular employees aren't exactly unprotected:

Despite civil-service protections, City Hall fires from its 48,000-plus workforce of garbage, parks, street-services, engineering, utilities and other employees more than 80 tenured workers annually.

P.S.: According to LA Weekly , the teacher retraining program that lets teachers with bad evaluations remain in the classroom even if they don't improve was "engineered" in 2000 by a state assemblyman named Antonio Villaraigosa, who is now L.A.'s mayor. .. 

P.P.S.: I know this item reads like it was written in 1984 (when Gary Hart made an issue of firing incompetent teachers in his campaign against Walter Mondale). That's because the situation in the unionized public schools has not improved markedly in 25 years. Believe me, I wish the neoliberalism of the late '70s weren't so relevant. ... The only hope in L.A. seems to be the non-trivial inroads made by independently-run charter schools. The union is staging a candlelight vigil tomorrow to try to stop their progress. ...  1:06 A.M.


Things that have recently taken on an eerie resonance ! CNN's Jeffrey Toobin, arguing in 2000 that when it comes to politicians , their sex life "tells you absolutely nothing about their performance" in office. ...  Alternate view: Man who lies about fidelity might also dissemble about other subjects .. ... 1:29 A.M.


Feb. 18 2010 3:02 PM

Unions Are Crippling Obama--Exhibit A

Unions vs. stimulation: The home "weatherization" jobs in the stimulus bill were subjected to Davis-Bacon wage regulations --a favorite of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department--under which federal Labor Department officials establish "prevailing wage" rates that must be paid. Why do unions like this system? Because the "prevailing wages" are determined in a way that guarantees they are usually more than the actual market wage, sometimes by large margins .  All that finagling takes a certain amount of bureaucracy, however--and time. ABC's Jonathan Karl

According to the GAO report, the Department of Labor spent most of last year trying to determine the prevailing wage is for weatherization work, a determination that had to be made for each of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States. [E.A.]


As a result, the Department of Energy apparently weatherized only 22,000 homes under the program. Another pre-existing program, which doesn't have to comply with Davis-Bacon, appears to have weatherized about 100,000 homes, if my math is right.

That's OK. It's not as if speed was important last year in terms of putting people to work . ... Oh wait, it was. [Insert now-embarrassing Obama quote here]

"If you allocate money to weatherize homes, the homeowner gets the benefit of lower energy bills. You right away put people back to work , many of whom in the construction industry and in the housing industry are out of work right now. They are immediately put to work doing something," [E.A.]

Instead, a year was wasted on  mindless, union-demanded bureaucratic attempts to disingenuously replicate the labor market. Did Obama not know this would happen when he allowed the stimulus to be Davis-Baconized, or did he not care? [Update-- Choice #3: He knows and cares, but is too weak to stand up to the unions.]

P.S.-- CAP to the Rescue! Luckily the Center for American Progress, sensing the public mood, has launched a " Doing What Works" project to "challenge the status quo" and make sure the government can "deliver maximum bang for the taxpayer’s buck," according to CAP's John Podesta and Reece Rushing. No doubt Podesta's Center will soon call for ending Davis-Bacon, which needlessly inflates the cost to taxpayers every time a progressive liberal government tries to build something.

P.P.S.: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, turns down stimulus money for a new water treatment plant , because Davis-Bacon rules would have added $2.3 million to its $17.3 million price tag. Accepting the "stimulus" money would have meant a net loss for the city. [ via NewsAlert 1:09 P.M.


MSM: Some stories we'd just rather not report. ... 1:25 P.M.


Entrenched Democrats for Safe Seats: Nancy Pelosi and various powerful California liberals (Howard Berman, Lynn Woolsey) try to overturn one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's few reforms --a citizen's commission that would draw district lines to eliminate gerrymandering , which in California has virtually guaranteed legislators of both parties safe seats. ... The "citizen's commission" idea is proving politically astute, since there is now a big, appealing constituency--the 30,000 Californians who have applied to sit on the commission--in favor of keeping the reform. ... P.S.: 70% of those applying to be on the commission  are white , though African-Americans are also over-represented. (Latinos are not.) ... Buried lede: When you apply, you have to disclose your race, apparently.  ... [ via Rough & Tumble ] 1:30 P.M.


Feb. 16 2010 3:35 AM

Does the UAW Even Want More Members?

Is This How Unions Die?

News that workers at the plant making batteries for the new Chevy Volt


provoked this wacky, largely uninformed thought:

Maybe the UAW doesn't really want the future Chevy workers to be unionized

Why? Because the UAW has basically cut a deal with GM that protects its


members in their

(plus benefits) jobs, but give new, future hires a much worse deal:

. If those new workers are UAW members, they will be able to lobby within the union (and, more significantly, vote) to equalize the pay of the old-timers and newcomers at some intermediate level-- say $22 an hour. Why would existing UAW members want that? Better to

keep the newbies out and exploit them for all they are worth in order to subsidize the cushy, unsustainable deal the UAW veterans enjoy

. ... It would almost be as if the existing UAW members had become the profit-seeking


of the company! ...



Could this be one model for the demise of other unions? "Grandfather" (and thereby buy off) the dwindling number of existing members, and finance this by squeezing the maximum from new hires while excluding them from the union (perhaps by hiring them through subcontractors). The union becomes just another quasi-shareholder representing a limited number of old-time members. Eventually, as those members retire and expire, the union ceases to exist. ...

1:16 A.M.


Mickey's Assignment Desk--The Gillette Cycle of Despair:  Here's an evergreen story idea I've wanted someone to nail down for decades: Why do Gillette's fancy razors seem to work so well when they are introduced, then gradually get worse and worse until a new, fancier razor is introduced? ... The most recent example: When I first bought a Gillette Fusion five- blade razor, I thought it was absurd (and absurdly expensive). But it was fantastic. Best shave ever, etc. And the blades lasted for months. ... A couple of years later, however--in an all-too-familiar development--I've noticed that the expensive replacement blades for this razor don't seem to cut as smoothly, and they seen to wear out much faster. Experienced Gillette customers intuitively know what this means: the company is about to introduce a newer, more complex, and even more expensive shaving system. ... And sure enough,  here it is , the Fusion ProGlide! ... Its blades will cost more than $4 apiece, according to the WSJ .  And I'm sure they will be fabulous--at least for the first year or so. Then, if my experience is a guide, ProGlide consumers may notice a puzzling dropoff. ... This cycle has held true with every Gillette product I've ever used, starting with the Techmatic in high school.

My sneaking, completely unproven suspicion, of course, is that the seeming improvement with each newer, fancier, priceier razor has little to do with all the various innovations Gillette advertises (e.g., two blades, three blades, five blades, a "snow plow guard" that prevents hydroplaning, etc.) and a whole lot to do with the quality of the steel that's used in the blades. The investigative mission, should you decide to accept it, would be to somehow prove that Gillette uses high-quality steel when it introduces a new razor, and then gradually lets the blade quality get degraded, saving the company money until it introduces the next innovative shaving system (the main innovation being that it uses the high quality steel again). ... This could all be misguided consumerist paranoia, of course! But if so, it's a paranoia that resonates widely, I've found. ...

P.S.: The equally paranoid corollary is that you should never turn down a promotional razor --e.g. the free-sample kind you get in the mail. They use the good steel in those, to hook you! They last forever, or until the day you go out and buy some replacement blades, whichever comes first.. ...   2:08 A.M.


Feb. 13 2010 3:43 PM

Are Tea-Partiers a "Special Interest"?

What do you want to bet this has something to do with the Swiss protecting


, the ACORN of the banking world? ...


Maybe it was a stretch to

that offering up Polanski for extradition to Los Angeles was also an attempt at pro-UBS bargaining. But

. Linkage hardly seems unlikely. ... [

1:42 P.M.


Glenn Reynolds' sensible account of the Tea Party movement notes that it is largely blogger-powered . My colleague Bob Wright would agree, but finds this technological development ominous . I dunno. Wright calls tea-partiers "Special Interest 3.0." But they look like people to me. Sure, they are not the majority--in that sense they are "special." But they are not "special" in that they seem to be representing their holistic interest as American citizens, not their partial identities as seniors, or union members, or veterans or employees of corporations. ...

Of course it would be easier to pass health care reform if all you had to do was cut a deal with labor unions and insurance companies and PhRMA--the o.g. lobbies of "Special Interest 1.0"--while ignoring the mass of individual voters. But you have to really contort yourself to think the replacement of narrow, economic interests with broader citizen interests is some sort of tragic turn of events. For decades good government types have been attempting to summon broad popular interests in order to defeat narrow economic interests. Now that it's happening they're having second thoughts (because they don't like the first result ). ...  Alternative theory: We got all the reforms we could get through old-fashioned interest group bargaining. The big reforms that have yet to be done are the ones that can't be accomplished that way. Empowering voters might ultimately be one way to achieve them. ... 

Anyway, in the "good old days" of elite corporatist dealmaking you still would probably have trouble passing a giant piece of legislation that was 10 points underwater in terms of popularity . We had democracy even in 1950. ...

P.S.: Lots of intellectual effort now seems to be going into explaining Obama's (possible/likely/impending) health care failure as the inevitable product of larger historic and constitutional forces. There's something to this of course--the Framers went overboard in making it hard for the government to act, for example. But in this case there's a simpler explanation:  Barack Obama's job was to sell a health care reform plan to American voters. He failed . He didn't fail because 55% of Americans can never be convinced of anything. It happens all the time. He just failed. He tried to sell expanding coverage as a deficit reducer. Voters didn't believe him and worried that they would pay the bill in some unadvertised way (through Medicare reductions or future tax increases, mainly). That's not constitutional paralysis or Web-enabled mob rule. It's just bad salesmanship .

And if Obama thought he didn't have to succeed in convincing voters because he believed he was operating in a "Special Interest 2.0" world where all he had to do was get AARP, labor and the business lobbies on board--well, that's his failure too. .. 1:35 P.M.


If you've read Ann Bardach's books and articles on Cuba , you know that the enmity between Florida's Diaz-Balart's and Fidel Castro is more than ideological. It's a family feud.  (Castro's first wife was Mirta Diaz- Balart . He cheated.)  ... Here's an apparently effective, anti-Diaz-Balart TV ad  on the subject that may explain why Congressman Mario Diaz Balart has now apparently decided to run his brother's safer district . ... 2:23 P.M.


Feb. 11 2010 12:46 AM

kausfiles Struggles to Restore Its Brand!

'Please R.S.V.P. to Attend Our Summit. And F.Y.': If you were going to write an  invitation designed to make sure Republicans don't come to President Obama's 2/25 "bipartisan" health care summit at Blair House, it would be this one , no? .... Do Rahm Emanuel and Kathleen Sebelius want Republicans to attend? If so, you'd think they'd be less agressive and argumentative . Sample:

Now is the time to act on behalf of the millions of Americans and small businesses who are counting on meaningful health insurance reform. In the last year, there has been an extraordinary effort to craft effective legislation. There have been hundreds of hours of committee hearings and mark-ups in both the House of Representatives and Senate, with nearly all of those sessions televised on C-SPAN. The Senate spent over 160 hours on the Senate floor considering health insurance reform legislation and, for the first time in history, both the House of Representatives and Senate have approved comprehensive health reform legislation. This is the closest our Nation has been to resolving this issue in the nearly 100 years that it has been debated.
The Blair House meeting is the next step in this process.


Unsubtle subtext : We like our bill and the purpose of this meeting is to set things up so it can pass. ... But what if, as a Republican, you don't think we are "the closest ... to resolving this issue in ... nearly 100 years"? Maybe you don't think the bill will resolve the issue at all! (I disagree, but I'm not a Republican.) ... Even if Obama's only trying to appear bipartisan, his aides are doing a mighty poor job of conveying that impression. Did they hire Chris Lehane to draft it? ... 5:44 P.M.


And your body says, "This won't be cheap:"  NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman drawing lessons last night from ex-President Clinton's recent heart incident, which she called a "real 'listen to your body' moment":

And I think this is going to be true not only for the president, but for everyone out there who's [got] heart disease. Once you've been diagnosed with underlying heart disease, you get treatment, but the word cure is never something that's really been tossed around. So making sure the cholesterol and triglycerides are under control, the diet and exercise are rechecked. But also that intuitive button that if you don't feel well, if you're short on breath, and if you just have this brooding idea that something's wrong, that's when you pick up the phone, you call your doctor and then you go in promptly. [E.A.]

Seeing your doctor every time you have a brooding, "intuitive sense" that something's wrong? That's not going to bend the curve, is it? (It will in fact generate a lot of false alarm doctor's visits and tests that can then get classified as "waste" by the curve-benders, no?) ... 12:43 A.M.


Husband cheats on you? Sue the husband's aide. I mean, of course! Death by 1000 Papercuts is on it . ... I say we let Elizabeth Edwards sue Andrew Young for "alienation of affections"  when we let Warren Buffett sue both Edwardses** for obtaining campaign contributions  under massively false pretenses.  ...  P.S.: Since as part of her "alienation" lawsuit Elizabeth would have to prove she previously had a genuine marriage, I suppose it would be relevant whether John had had affairs with other women before Rielle Hunter. A much-neglected aspect of this case could be brought to light in pretrial discovery. ... P.P.S.: Why is everyone so down on Andrew Young? He's the John Dean of this case, no? ...

**--and all the other cover-upping aides, of course. ...  11:54 P.M.


Counterproductive overspinner Chris Lehane is going to work for an "independent" group working on behalf of former CA governer Jerry Brown , who's running for governor again and who might face former EBay CEO Meg Whitman. This is the best news Whitman's had after a  rough and tumble week . ... Lehane previously masterminded media strategy for President Al Gore, President Wesley Clark and President John Kerry. ... [ via New West Notes ] 10:16 P.M.


And they say Hollywood is hooked on sequels: "Once Stigmatized, Food Stamps Find New Acceptance." The New York Times' Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff write ... wait, didn't the NYT run exactly this story a few months ago? . I think they did! On November 28, 2009. "Food Stamp Use Soars and Stigma Fades."  ... And people accuse Times editors of having an agenda. ...

I claim that what I said about the first version of this piece applies to the dub: "It's one thing to relax the stigma on welfare in times of epic economic decline. It's another if the stigma doesn't return with the possibility of employment." ... P.S.: [ Bad sign when bloggers start quoting themselves-ed True. But  what does it mean when a great daily newspaper starts obsessively making the same point over and over again, like a blogger ? It might simply mean the editors are on a crusade. But it might also mean that the stream of information now goes by so fast that even the New York Times isn't sure that any one front page article will actually get noticed . Times reporters and editors want to get noticed--so they write the same story over and over again, like a twitter poster who learns to repeat every tweet four times  because most people don't monitor their twitter streams around the clock. ... 10:14 P.M.


"Gore Group Targets Bayh, McCaskill, Lincoln To Build Support for Climate Legislation": I thought we'd agreed there were some tactics that  were f***ing re ..... re .....  what's the word I'm groping for? I know it begins with an "r" ... [ via alert TPM reader TP ] 10:42 P.M.


Feb. 8 2010 2:10 PM

How to Write A Piece On How to Save the President

GM workers assembling battery packs for the new "green" Chevy Volt will not be members of the UAW or any other union , according to  TTAC . ... This is in Michigan, not Mexico. . ... Does the czar know? ...  1:31 A.M.



 "[M]any of the nation's top news anchors and editors are sending emails back and forth (I have been sent three such emails in confidence) on what a spot-on piece Luce wrought ..."

Luce's piece seems incompletely convincing to me, as it follows a template familiar to connoisseurs of Save-the-President analyses from earlier administrations (e.g., Carter, Clinton). The rules are:

1) Blame the campaigners. The problem is the President relies for close advise on his closest advisers-- those who saw him through the campaign. For Carter it was the boys from Georgia--e.g. Hamilton Jordan. For Obama it's the Chicago interlopers: Axelrod, Gibbs, Jarrett, plus Rahm Emanuel. If only the circle were broadened! This reflexive Washington kvetch allows DC experts to think that the decisions would be better if only experts like them were consulted. Time to bring in a "Team B" consisting of [insert list of your friends here]. As if Chuck Hagel is going to save Obama.

2) Blame campaigning: "The Obama White House is geared for campaigning rather than governing," says Luce. This implies that the serious business of policy and governance is qualitatively different--and superior to--the grimy business of getting elected. ("To be successful, presidents need to separate the stream of advice they get on policy from the stream of advice they get on politics. That still isn't happening," says one of Obama's "close allies.") All the more reason for getting those campaign hacks out of there! And very flattering for DC policy types who would in theory take their places.

3) Blame process: If only the process were changed--the circle of advisers broadened, the "stream" of advice augmented, with cabinet officers and State department officials consulted--better results would pop out (no matter what the elected official in question actually believes in). This avoids messy arguments about substance and offers the prized Neutral Story Line --an MSM-safe narrative that seems to explain everything without taking ideological sides.

4) Never Blame the President. Goes without saying. What good would that do? ....

And of course,

5) Call David Gergen. ("[T]he lightbulb must want to change," he says of Obama.)

It can't be that the President made a mistake of substance precisely when he reached outside his inner circle to  policy types , buying his OMB chief Peter Orszag's circle-squaring argument the health care reform was deficit reduction. As Ryan Lizza noted at the time , Obama was "in effect betting his Presidency on Orszag’s thesis." It was a bad bet** and he seems to be losing it.

It can't be that this was a mistake Obama would have made if Kathleen Sebelius and Ken Salazar had been consulted--a mistake he would have made if Jim Fallows and Fareed Zakaria were installed in the West Wing, supervising a "stream of advice"designed by Peter Drucker and Norman Ornstein, with Emanuel and Axelrod exiled to 40 cars back in the motorcade. It can't be that Obama would have made this mistake because it's what he really thinks , which is why he kept on talking about it even as his health plan sank lower and lower in the polls.  (Some good campaign-oriented advisers might actually have helped at that point--they would have noticed that the President's vaunted salesmanship wasn't working. But probably not even that would have helped, since the problem was something they couldn't change: Obama.)


**--Luce's piece is eye-opening in its description of what was sacrificed in the push for health care reform:

Insiders attribute Mr Obama’s waning enthusiasm for the Arab-Israeli peace initiative to a desire to avoid antagonising sceptical lawmakers whose support was needed on healthcare. The steam went out of his Arab-Israeli push in mid-summer, just when the healthcare bill was running into serious difficulties.

So Orszag's thesis didn't just sink health care. It also destroyed hopes for peace in the Middle East. ... Only half joking.

Update: At least according to  The Hill , Obama believed the Orszagist alchemy wouldn't just reduce the deficit in the long-term, but also revive the economy in the shorter term:

One senior Democratic senator said Emanuel was initially reluctant to push healthcare reform so early in Obama’s first term, counseling instead for the president to focus on jobs and the economy

But the president decided healthcare had to pass when he had a strong political mandate and the party controlled large majorities in both chambers.

Obama was convinced overhauling the nation’s healthcare system would boost the struggling economy by curbing costs and reducing the long-term federal deficit, say Democratic sources. 

12:47 P.M.


Feb. 6 2010 3:22 AM

Our Whippersnappers Is Learning

Something is Killing the President's Approval Numbers (especially on Rasmussen ):   Is it his budget ? Or the failure to pass health care reform, his #1 priority, and the ensuing strategic flailing , which is creating the impression that he's ... well, a loser? Nice guy. Knows all the arguments. Can't get it done.  In other words, the numbers might vindicate the argument of health care reform supporters--that not passing the bill is extremely damaging to Obama and the Dems. What are they good for, anyway? ... 11:21 P.M.



First Time Farce, Second Tragedy: Fire Mickey Kaus talks about how

old new leftists ...see tension and perhaps hypocrisy in a political philosophy devoted to a just and equal society that is dependent on groups formed around fragmentation and selfishness for its electoral success.

Well put. ... You might even speculate that--after a few decades of pursuing a more ideal society through fragmented, selfish interest group/constituency politics--liberals would have accomplished what there is to be accomplished via that route, and that the remaining problems would be those raised or perpetuated by interest group/constituency politics itself . ... The one exception would seem to be health care reform, which really   should have been achieved in the last century. Yet now it appears to have foundered once again on the rocks of ....interest group/constituency politics. ... Hmm. I always wondered what "exception that proves the rule" means. ...   3:28 P.M.


There's been a lot about procedural impediments to moving forward on health-care reform: Can the Senate can pass a reconciliation bill before the House passes the Senate bill? Can Republicans delay reconciliation with amendments? Who should go first, House or Senate?

You all know I'm big on procedure. You've also noticed I'm not writing about this. I don't buy it. What Democrats can do is a lot less important than what they want to do. If 51 Democratic senators and 218 Democratic congresspeople are dead-serious about passing a bill, they can, and will, pass a bill.

Too bad most of the blogosphere's health care reform spirit squad didn't notice that the bill was failing the "id" test--and that this failure would be dispositive--until it was seemingly too late. ... 12:31 A.M.


Are there really 1,690 people in the federal Department of Transportation making $170,000 or more a year? ...

Update: An alert reader who once worked at the DOT emails--

If this is true, I sort of know why. ... The simple answer is that DOT is, first of all, a collection of agencies that existed in other forms and were simply gathered together when the Department was formed -- the FAA, and the Federal Highway Administration are the big ones, but there are also NHTSA, the Federal Transit Administration, and I think eight others.   All of these have their own administrators, chief counsels, press offices, and so on.  They each have all the bureaucratic facilities they's need if they were independent agencies.  (It was done this way probably to preserve Congressional committee jurisdiction over these functions .  This is a far more significant factor in Washington than is  generally recognized -- the topic of transportation is rationalized in the executive branch by putting all of those agencies together, but they are still left separate within the department so that Congressional oversight can be left unrationalized .  ...)  

Then, spread over all of these there is an enormous Office of the Secretary, with another full complement of policy, legal, and Congressional-relations functions.   The result is that there's a huge number of presidential appointments and high level executive functions, many more than if the separate agencies had been destroyed when the department was created.

Then, on top of that, a number of these agencies have enormous presences around the country. ...  Take a look at  http://www.dot.gov/DOTagencies.htm   , start clicking on its links, and you will get the picture.  In  the way that bureaucracies work, all of those local offices have people at the top.  The number of top level people mentioned in your blog does not surprise me.   [E.A.]

12:31 A.M.