Schwarzenegger's best shot.

Schwarzenegger's best shot.

Schwarzenegger's best shot.

A mostly political Weblog.
July 4 2003 8:15 PM

Spin of Omission

Plus: When Hillary flunked.

The headline in today's NYT reads, ominously:

Ashcroft Aide Under New Scrutiny

It turns out the piece is a source-greasing puffer about Justice department inspector general Glenn A. Fine, and the "scrutiny" is all the attention he's getting for writing a bold report critical of the department's treatment of 9/11 detainees. ... I'm often reminded that it's unfair to blame NYT reporters for the headlines on their pieces. They don't write them. But that begs the question: Who are the amateurishly biased hacks who do? ... In this case, they pushed the "slime Bush appointee" button when they were supposed to push the "boost anti-Bush whistleblower" button! ... P.S.: I'm writing this at 2:23 A.M. Bet they've changed the hed by the time you read it. After all, what's the point of a source-greaser that slanders the source instead of greasing him? ... Update: Wrong. It's still there. ...


Poor Andrew: There's a lot of talk in the press about how Andrew Cuomo's split with his wife Kerry Kennedy Cuomo will end his political career. Why doesn't it help him? Two weeks ago he had the image of a) a political thug who b) inexplicably blew his big run for office. The Kerry mess both humanizes him--making him look like a loving dad to boot--and gives him a ready-made excuse for his disastrous campaign (i.e., he was rattled by his marriage woes). If he were a stock, I'd buy. ... 1:17 A.M.

Friday, July 4, 2003 

More from the kausfiles Continuous Newsteam. ... If you believe the LAT poll, the current drive to recall Gray Davis is clearly Arnold Schwarzenegger's best and perhaps only chance to become governor of California. Why? a) 53 percent of registered voters are "not inclined" to vote for him. In a head-to-head matchup against a Democrat, that number would normally be fatal. In a recall "replacement" election, where there might be no Democratic opponent and where you can win with only 25 percent or so of the vote, it might not be. b) Schwarzenegger needs as short a campaign as possible to prevent all the Democrats' potential dirt on him from sinking in with the electorate. Not only would a recall election campaign be short, it would also dilute the dirt--the Democrats would have to worry about tarring all the Republican replacement candidates, not just Schwarzenegger. ... Is there enough time, even in a rushed, chaotic recall campaign, to effectively trash Schwarzenegger? The Feiler Faster Thesissaysyes! ... Otherwise, Schwarzenegger could be Governor of California by Halloween. ... 4:48 P.M.

"It's hard to put a positive spin on this report," says an economist quoted in Daniel Altman's NYT lead story on the June unemployment stats. Actually, it's not that hard. Here goes. ...

The numbers aren't good, but

a) You have to read Altman's story very carefully to realize that, in one of the two Labor department surveys, total employment rose by 251,000 (sorry, make that "only 251,000").  The problem seems to be that many more people (more than 600,000) entered the work force to look for work, meaning the unemployment rate for those looking for work rose. Call the new job-seekers "encouraged workers."  Bush gets routinely (and fairly) bashed by the left when a favorable unemployment rate ignores the "discouraged workers" who leave the work force; shouldn't he get a commensurate break when the unemployment rate rises mainly because workers have been encouraged to reenter the job market? (As Altman reports, in the Labor department's other survey, the payroll survey, the total number of jobs did fall by 30,000--no "only" this time. Altman himself suggests one possible positive explanation: the payroll survey lags and is reporting job losses from earlier this year.)

b) The unemployment rate for blacks rose steeply because blacks didn't leave the labor force despite the poor job market. In contrast with previous slowdowns, Altman notes (paraphrasing one of his experts) "blacks who lose their jobs seem less likely to drop out of the labor force and more likely to look for new ones." That's a good thing! It means black attachment to the labor force is growing. You want to bet that a lot of the new, less-easily-discouraged job-seekers are single mothers who, now that welfare is being reformed, see their future as workers?


Altman's near-panicky gloom-and-doom Times story seems to have convinced some of my e-mailers that the economy is "spiraling downward." It's not. The news still isn't good mainly because the lesson of the '90s is that it's not enough to have economic growth, and it's not enough to have rising employment or even falling unemployment. To get the good things that started to happen in the late '90s--decreased poverty, rising unskilled wages, dramatic strides into the middle and upper classes by blacks (who really do seem to be last-hired, first-fired, as the lefties have always said), a transformed urban culture, and a general shift of respect toward anyone who is willing to actually show up and do a job--you need a very tight labor market for an extended period of time. Democrats are right to hold that out as a standard for Bush to meet--and we're still a long ways away from it. ...  Eliminate the middleAltman: The Labor department's June employment report can be found  here. ...

P.S.: This is the second confusing, badly edited Bush-bashing story by Altman in 48 hours. Is he just overworked? Maybe the NYT needs more troops! ['Badly edited'? Ex. pls-ed. Is the "gap" Altman tries to explain in paragraph 10 the gap between those looking for work and those finding it, or the gap between the two Labor department surveys? Who the hell knows! Altman seems to be talking about both "gaps" at once.] .... 2:06 P.M.

Trade Story Needs Editor, Critics Say: What exactly is the complaint implicit in this prominent NYT piece, "Trade Pact With Pakistan Reflects Politics Not Economics, Critics Say"? That a) Bush is giving Pakistan too much because he's "putting political back-scratching [such as Pakistan's cooperation against terrorism] ahead of economic considerations"; b) Bush is giving Pakistan too little for fear of opposition in the Carolinas and India; c) Bush may be doing the right thing but it's for the wrong reasons--"political expediency rather than the familiar economic motivation;" d) Bush is doing the right thing for the right reasons but they aren't the reasons his trade officials said would be the reasons! ... It goes without saying that Bush must be screwing up--this is the NYT--but we loyal readers need to be told more clearly why he's screwing up, with criticisms that don't contradict each other! .... P.S.: I would tend to make criticism b) myself, though the Times' multiple cancelling-out complaints actually make it appear as if Bush is doing a pretty good job balancing all the various competing interests. ... But if quotas on textile imports (from Pakistan and elsewhere) are scheduled to disappear in 2005 anyway, why not get some bonus points from the struggling Pakistanis by relaxing them a few years early? These are people we don't want rooting for  the Taliban comeback. ... 3:21 A.M.

Thursday, July 3, 2003 


I can't understand why some people resent Kerry Kennedy Cuomo ... 8:32 P.M.

Judging from Daniel Weintraub's blog, things are going well for the Recall Davis forces. They're meeting their signature goals and forcing counties to count petitions continuously, meaning they have a shot at triggering a recall election this fall. (See Weintraub's handy "clip and save" item with various deadlines and scenarios.) ... But Weintraub's worthier effort is a column on the strenuous efforts by the California teachers' union to block NBA star Kevin Johnson  from starting a charter school to replace his alma mater, "low-performing" Sacramento High School in a largely minority neighborhood of the state capitol. ... Note to California Teachers Association: You can't buy bad publicity like that! ... [Weintraub's out there reporting day and night, while you just sit at home and link to him.--ed I love my job!] 5:59 P.M.

Why does House Majority Leader Tom DeLay want to redraw Texas' Congressional district lines, even though the new map will have exactly the same number (20) of Republican-leaning House districts? Quorum Report's Harvey Kronberg solves the mystery. ... 5:33 P.M.

Wednesday, July 2, 2003 


Secret Swap: President Bush has attempted to use his prescription drug benefit as the sweetener in a deal that would reform Medicare by enticing more beneficiaries into private managed-care plans. I'm not at all convinced of the virtues of private managed-care plans--do the cost-savings they achieve through genuine efficiencies outweigh the cost-savings they achieve by cherry-picking patients and screwing you out of care when you need it most? (For some of these doubts, see David Wessel's excellent WSJ front-pager.)  Hence, I've been wondering why someone doesn't try a better swap: Prescription drug benefits in exchange for means-testing? ...

"Means testing" is policy shorthand for charging higher premiums (or providing fewer benefits) to richer beneficiaries. The cost-savings from means-testing, unlike those from private managed care, are both certain and massive. Medicare is a $250 billion-a-year program. Suppose you just eliminated the subsidy for the top third of beneficiaries ...? A crude calculation produces huge numbers.

Perversely, means-testing, while eminently progressive, violates liberal Democratic dogma, which holds that the upper middle class will bail out of any program that doesn't give them benefits equal to those available to the poor. This dogma may still hold for Social Security pensions (where affluent citizens can remember all the payroll taxes they've forked over)-- but it may be crumbling for Medicare. According to a related  WSJ report, the Senate prescription drug bill actually does contain a bit of means-testing, now rechristened "affluence testing." Specifically, it charges "upper income beneficiaries higher premiums for physician visits." ...

Isn't this another potential camel's nose? Once the equal-benefits-for-the-rich rule has been decisively cracked, the political logic of "progressivity" might take over, with benefits for the affluent being slashed more and more to pay for ever-more-expensive care for everyone else. And the logic would be appealing, as long as the vast majority of upper-income citizens stayed in the Medicare system. If they left, we'd lose more in social equality (i.e., everybody in the same waiting rooms) than we'd gain in solvency. ... Note that the point at which the affluent would actually leave Medicare may or may not be the same point at which they rebel politically. I suspect the latter would come sooner. ...


Update: It turns out there is a means-testing provision in the House bill too--the cap on out-of-pocket payments for catastrophic health expenses varies with income, from $3,500 for those with income of less than $60,000, up to $12,380 for people with incomes of more than $200,000. ... 4:00 P.M.

Did you know that Hillary Clinton failed the D.C. Bar exam? I didn't. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette''s Bill Simmons noted this quote from her just-released book:

I had taken both the Arkansas and the Washington, D.C., bar exams during the summer, but my heart was pulling me toward Arkansas. When I learned that I had passed in Arkansas but failed in D.C., I thought that maybe my test scores were telling me something.

Maybe they were! ... More: Why is Hillary telling us about this now, when her previous media strategy was to project a (largely bogus) image of brilliance and perfect competence in all areas?... Theory 1) The Perfection Spin worked when she was introducing herself to the voters as one of America's "Top 100 Lawyers." Admitting to having failed the D.C. bar might have added some unwanted perspective back then. But now it helps her to appear modest and human. Theory 2) It was going to come out at some point. Better to get it out now, safely encased in your own spin, than to have it come out later, like Bush's DUI conviction (not that it's as big a deal as a DUI conviction). ... The two theories don't really conflict, of course. But I always thought that Hillary's desire to project perfection reflected both unnecessary caution--fear of any blemish--and an unattractive egomania that came to the surface most famously when she denied credit to her ghostwriter, Barbara Feinman, on the book It Takes A Village. If Hillary's smart enough to switch to a Humanizing Spin regimen, she's smarter--and less egomaniacal--than I thought. Naturally, I favor Theory 2. ... It's also possible that running on her own and serving in office, as opposed to serving vicariously through her husband, has made her less cautious, more willing to take hits she now knows won't sink her. .... 3:22 P.M.

Monday, June 30, 2003 

Bee-blogger Daniel Weintraub on why California is closer to meeting the July 1 budget deadline than many reports--such as Rene Sanchez' grim WaPo account--suggest. ... 10:28 A.M.

Fareed Zakaria has quickly apologized for his Scalia mistake (see below) ... I hate it when they do that. ... 10:22 A.M.

90's Greed was better than 80's greed! In Sunday's N.Y. Post, Rich Lowry correctly notes that the sharply rising income share of the 400 richest Americans--implicitly lamented in David Cay Johnston's latest NYT piece--occurred on Bill Clinton's watch. Why didn't Democrats denounce the Clinton years as a "Decade of Greed," Lowry asks? The answer, of course, is because then they might have to admit that the rich are getting rich due to powerful market forces the Democrats are basically powerless to stop. ... Yet all income inequallity is not alike, even if it looks that way in the decile charts. Specifically, while Lowry notes that both the Reagan Boom and the Clinton Boom featured "easy money fading into criminality," he conspicuously fails to argue that the Clinton Boom repeated the Reagan era's "unseemly celebration of wealth." That's because, I think, he knows the argument doesn't resonate. ... Assignment Desk: Someone should defend the Clinton Boom, precisely on the grounds that '90s income inequality was relatively benign compared with '80s income inequality. Specifically, it was less corrosive of social equality. The basic argument: Most of the tech geeks and stock traders of the 90s couldn't possibly have thought they were better than the non-rich--they had so obviously lucked out into a windfall. Silicon Valley millionaires had nice houses, but they ate at taco stands with Hispanic day laborers, etc. ... Secondary argument: In the Clinton boom, unlike in the Reagan boom, incomes at the bottom also rose quite quickly. ... Cautionary note: This one's been on the kf story list for a long time. I have a vague feeling it's already been done. ... Also, it might be wrong! Maybe Silicon Valley was a hotbed of money-based social snobbery. That's why it's only an assignment. We decide. You report. ... Assigned to: Michael Lewis, John Heilemann, Kara Swisher. ...

Update: Chris Nolan, long-time Silicon Valley columnist, e-mails:

You got this all wrong, Mickey. These guys don't think they lucked out -- they never did -- they think they deserved their money because, finally, the world had caught on to just how smart, how clever, how cool they all really were. They think they richly deserved all the cash they made and still have. They ate at Taco stands (actually, I think you're thinking about Kara's piece on Jerry Yang's favorite noodle joint) because they don't give a damn about power lunching as it's practiced in Washington, Hollywood and New York. They still don't. But talk to them about their wine cellars (Yang is a known connoisseur) Silicon Valley's isn't about equality -- it's about smart middle and upper middle-class Geeks getting even for all the slights they think they've suffered. They were already better than everyone else because they were smart, the money just proved it.

I suppose everybody with high SAT scores secretly thinks they're better, and the Silicon Valley boom was a step toward meritocratic Confucianism, in which those with high education status and those with high income status were suddenly the same people. Given the inegalitarian possibilities inherent in that combination, it seems to me Silicon Valley culture is relatively benign. But Nolan knows the place better than I do. ... Further study called for. ... P.S.: How people behave when they interact in public--and whether they interact in public--seems as important than how they feel inside. Disdaining "power-lunching" for noodle joints is a good start! ... 1:49 A.M.

Scalia, slandered! I just watched ABC's This Week, and heard the estimable Fareed Zakaria--discussing the Supreme Court's sodomy decision--say that Justice Scalia conceded that his logic would allow states to ban interracial sex:

Scalia ... is honest enough to admit that yes, he would like it to be all right and constitutional for states in America to say inter-racial sex is in fact banned and criminal.

I haven't yet read the opinions in the case, but I don't believe Scalia would say what Zakaria says he said. Wouldn't the Fourteenth Amendment prevent states from banning miscegenation, privacy right or no privacy right? Let's go to the slip opinion! ... It's printing out as I type this. ... And the truth is ...

Zakaria's wrong. Scalia explicitly says he'd apply tougher (and, in practice, fatal) standards to anti-miscegenation laws because of their "racially-discriminatory purpose." He favorably cites Loving v. Virginia, the aptly-named 1967 case in which the Court in fact declared those laws unconstitutional:

In Loving, however, we correctly applied heightened scrutiny, rather than the usual rational-basis review, because the Virginia statute was "designed to maintain White Supremacy." Id., at 6, 11. A racially discriminatory purpose is always sufficient to subject a law to strict scrutiny, even a facially neutral law that makes no mention of race. [Emph added.]

I don't particularly like the way Scalia bases his distinction on the Court's interpretation of a statute's "purpose"--shouldn't making a racial distinction be enough, whatever its purpose?But Scalia clearly indicates that banning interracial sex would still be unconstitutional in his scheme, even if banning sodomy would be constitutionally OK--the opposite of what Zakaria says he says.

Zakaria owes  Scalia an apology, no?. ...

Update: Zakaria e-mails:

you're right. i slipped up. i meant to say that he would regard anti-masturbation laws as ok. i said anti-miscegenation. i would be grateful if you would post this reply. i do owe scalia an apology.

12:51 A.M.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Lost the case, won the vase! Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, the "Manhattan district attorney and reservist" who is a hero in this WaPo piece about missing Iraqi artifacts--he helped recover the "Uruk Vase"--wouldn't be the same Matthew Bogdanos who unsuccessfully prosecuted hip-hop star and entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs after a 1999 Manhattan nightclub shooting, would he? ... From this Court TV bio page it sure looks like it. ... Doesn't WaPo's Nora Boustany read the N.Y. Post? ...1:44 A.M.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

California's Katherine Harris? Is California's Democratic Secretary of State Kevin Shelley  fudging up the law to save Gray Davis from a recall? That's Bee blogger Daniel Weintraub's suspicion. First, Shelley's office wouldn't give a straight answer to the question of whether a Davis resignation would work to cancel the recall. (Weintraub wondered if Shelley wanted "to keep things vague so he can make it up as he goes along.")  Now Shelley's requiring signature-counting procedures that will "almost certainly delay the election until March." ... More Weintraub:

This is looking more like a mirror image of Florida every day. Instead of a Republican Secretary of State fighting to slow a recount and elect a Republican president, we have a Democratic Secretary of State acting to slow a signature count to prevent the recall of a Democratic governor.

And just like in Florida, this one might also wind up in the courts. Except for one problem: if the recall proponents sue, they might find themselves locked in a legal death struggle that could delay rather than quicken the pace of the count. So they may be trapped into accepting Shelley's edict.

I don't necessarily want a recall myself. But I do want a Secretary of State who plays it straight. ... P.S.: Who will be the first, as the recall procedure gets even more complex and perverse due to the Secretary's of State's rulings, to use the obvious "SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN" hed?  I certainly plan to at the first available opportunity. ...[You already stole Weintraub's 'Katherine Harris' hed. Good work-ed.8:10 P.M.

Kf on drugs: I'm confused!

1) I understand why, as Holman Jenkins Jr. argued in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, drug companies need to make big profits on successful drugs if they are going to finance the risky research to discover new drugs, which involves following a lot of false leads.

The occasional gusher provides investors a return on all the money thrown down dry holes.

I also understand why, if there's a drug benefit within a government-run Medicare system (what Democrats want), the government might use its massive buying power to demand low "dictated prices that don't cover" the costs of discovering those new and better drugs.

2) And I also understand why, as Robert Moffit of the Heritage Foundation argued in the New York Post yesterday, "new entitlements always wind up costing far, far more than initial estimates," and the Medicare drug entitlement is likely to be no exception. I understand why, under the alternative, partly-privatized program initially proposed by President Bush, in which you could choose from a variety of private health plans, "[m]arket pressures" would "control costs."

3) What I don't understand is how both these right-wing critiques of the Senate's prescription drug entitlement can be true at the same time. How does the partly-privatized plan give more money to drug companies (solving problem #1) while simultaneously being cheaper (solving problem #2)? I should think that, as a crude first approximation, controlling costs through "market pressures" would involve controlling the cost of drugs (substituting generics, bargaining down prices, making sure treatment is warranted, etc.)--which would mean less money for the drug companies to use to reward investors and fund risky research.

Either the drug companies get more money or they get less money, right? A system that sends them more money will be more expensive, no? Or is the miracle of the market even more miraculous than I thought? ... Pleafor toughlove: Straighten kausfiles out at ... 5:02 P.M



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]