kf's ignorant longshot Oscar pick.

kf's ignorant longshot Oscar pick.

kf's ignorant longshot Oscar pick.

A mostly political Weblog.
March 5 2006 5:19 AM

kf's Loony Oscar Longshot

Plus--New York Times in ruins!

Oscar Bump Builds into Heartland Tsunami! Brokeback Mountain  out of top 10 on Academy Awards weekend. 11:45 A.M.

Paul Krugman's column of 2/27  [$] argues that what's happening is not

that the 20 percent or so of American workers who have the skills to take advantage of new technology and globalization are pulling away from the 80 percent who don't have these skills.


Rather, Krugman says, a tiny, tiny minority (he talks about the top one percent or the top hundredth of a percent) is getting extremely rich--which he declares, in a double-hedged sentence:

may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. [Emph. added]

That's indeed an anti-CW position, as Krugman notes--the established consensus being the "80-20" skills-centric view of rising economic inequality. It's also a highly convenient position for Krugman, since it lets him claim that somehow, through unspecified changes in "power relations," we can stop this tiny minority of "oligarchs" from continuing to get rich.

But just because it's convenient doesn't mean it's wrong! And just because the very rich got very richer during the Clinton years--not just in the Bush and Reagan years--doesn't make it wrong either. But here are some initial, top-of-head questions:

1. What if the top tenth of a percent didn't exist? Wouldn't it look, in the rest of society, as if the relatively skilled two or three deciles at the top were pulling away from everyone else--in other words, the 80/20 consensus would be true? Krugman seems to be saying that the top 20% didn't really get that much richer at all. He cites a study showing that between 1972 and 2001 "the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent."  But I bet if you looked at overall wealth--including stock and real estate investments, 401 (k)s, etc.--you'd discover the top 20% doing a lot better than that, and a lot better than the bottom 80%.

2. Why do we care about income inequality? Because we care about social equailty, I've argued. We're Americans--we don't mind people getting rich. We do mind richer people lording it over less rich people, or even thinking they're better than less rich people.  And if that's what you care about, what happens to a tiny minority at the top--CEOs, baseball players, Bill Gates and Steve Rattner--may not matter as much as what happens in the vast affluence of the top 20%. There's a limit to how many people the top tenth of a percent can boss around, after all. But if the top 20% of Americans suddenly get enough relative wealth to wall themselves off from everyone else, or to start hiring maids and butlers and other servants (after decades when the number of houses with servants declined), that could in itself be a big and unwelcome shift in the tone of everyday life.

3. How exactly is Krugman going to stop the very rich from getting richer, anyway? Controlling CEO pay would be a start. It seems obvious that top corporate pay is out of control. But there's Charles Murray's argument to contend with: "[W]hen a percentage point of market share is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the people who can help you get that extra percentage point will command very large salaries."

Controlling CEO pay is only a start, anyway. Inequality is increasing, after all, even within the broad, non-CEO ranks of people with college degrees, or law degrees--because within the post-graduate professions, the superstars with more uncredentializable talent are pulling ahead at the expense of the pack. That's certainly what's happened in journalism--look at what Tom Friedman makes. How do you stop the stars from making lots of money in a mass society when people want to hear the stars?  (As Krugman argued, in another context: "You may think I was overpaid, but the market--not Enron--set those pay rates.") .

And lots of people get rich out of sheer luck--they're the Mark Cubans and Maria Cantwells who find themselves holding the right asset at the right time. Can you stop such people from getting lucky without throwing a big monkey wrench into the free market? I doubt it. Nor is it clear we actually want a society in which luck isn't rewarded, but talent is. That would mean that any remaining inequalities were deserved--something that would be arguably much worse for social equality.


Maybe Krugman's addressed these issues in venues I haven't visited. If so, please let me know. For now, I'm sticking with the conclusion Krugman himself seemed to reach in the early editions of his book The Age of Diminished Expectations--that there isn't much we can do, in practice, to stop either the top 20% or the top 1% from getting richer if that's the direction in which the underlying economy's moving. The better strategy, I still think, is to focus on preventing this money inequality from translating into social inequality. 1:07 A.M. link

On Beyond Yeti: Did they say computers (enabling the cheap generation of new designs) and globalization were changing the auto industry? Here's the Tata Cliffrider, Inovo Lirica, Mazel Identity, Koenigsegg CCX, Loremo LS, and of course the Castagna Imperial Landaulet--all your old, familiar favorites--on one page. ... It's still not quite as easy to start a new car line as to start a blog--but it seems to be getting close. ... 7:12 P.M.

Did the press miss the most damning aspect of the Katrina video, namely: How could anything serious (e.g. "Louisiana can't handle this. Get that f-----g governor to let us take over") get done at a videotaped meeting? When does the real meeting take place? If administration officials were wasting time on for-show pep-rallies, no wonder they dropped the ball. ... P.S.:  Assuming you needed to have some sort of conference with officials in far-flung states, is there no way to conduct a secure videoconference or teleconference--e.g. one that can't be taped and leaked to the press? ... 12:46 P.M.


A.P.'s Mapesy Moment: The Associated Press finally acknowledges the difference between a levee "overrun" and a "breach" in an embarrassing "clarification"--embarrassing because of a) the hype with which A.P. surrounded its video; b) the elementary nature of the screw-up. ... As Drudge notes, the A.P. issued its statement after dinner on Friday like an indicted pol! ...  Update:Wizbang notes A.P. also  violated its own policy against using euphemisms  like "clarification" instead of "correction." ... P.S.: How much of the A.P. drive to over-sell its video was driven by a powerful business impulse--to become something of a first mover, or at least a presence, in the Internet-video news business? At transition points, like the one we're now in, having a big scandalous story can do a lot to put you on the map. (See. e.g., Drudge, Lewinsky.) ... P.P.S.: I'm no Pinch Sulzberger-like media visionary, but until last week's Katrina hype I was impressed with AP's video news--it seemed as if they had the potential to put the network newscasts out of business, positioning themselves as the unfiltered, tell-it-straight Web alternative. ... (The three broadcast nets could all just put the evening news on the Web every night, right? But then they might erode their regular viewer base. A.P. would seem to have no similar constraint.) .... 5:59 P.M.

Dept. of Damning Videos: I have a weakness for this kind of cartoon. ... 1:34 P.M.

Topping Out: A good deal of the gleeful Froomkinian outrage in the press and Democratic party over that pre-Katrina video seems to be based on what is at best is a semantic misunderstanding. After Katrina, Bush said "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." In the video, Patterico points out, Bush is warned by hurricane expert Max Mayfield that there's a chance the "levees will be topped." Topping is different than breaching, no? When a levee's "topped," or "overtopped," some water sloshes over it and into the city. Then the storm passes and that's it. When a levee's "breached," there's a hole in the levee and Lake Pontchartrain pours in the gap and keeps pouring in until the city is completely flooded. What Bush said after the storm seems quite consistent with what Mayfield told him before the storm--i.e., he thought the levees might be topped by the storm surge but not that they'd be breached, with the catastrophe that resulted. ... P.S.: Is the despised, self-parodying MSM intentionally glossing over this important difference in order to exaggerate the anti-Bush shock value of the video? I don't know--but I do know that the actual "topped" quote was hard to find in print, lending some of the stories an eerie, undocumented quality. Do reporters not print the quote because then they couldn't justify the charge that Bush lied about the "breach"? You make the call. I'm too paranoid at this point. ... P.P.S.: Shouldn't Bush's press operation, rather than Powerline and Patterico, be forcefully pointing all this out? ...


Update: Several readers note that "topping" is not as benign as I make it sound, since water flowing over the top of a levee can erode it and lead to a "breach" (though it's not clear that this is what happened in the New Orleans breaches that did occur). But "topping" and "breaching" are still two different things. ... Update: NOLA denizen Harry Shearer  (citing this article) says some levees breached after overtopping and some breached without overtopping. ... 5:14 P.M. link

Excitable Times in Ruins! Did the New York Times really run a story last week headlined:

More Clashes Shake Iraq; Political Talks Are in Ruins

"Ruins"? Wow. That is embarrassing. ... The hed was repeated in the story's lede, which said that "political negotiations over a new government" were "in ruins." Funny thing, though--in today's NYT, negotiations seem to be going on again. Those Iraqi "ruins" get picked up pretty quickly. ... P.S.: I'm not saying Bill Keller's** headline and lede writers were amping up the Iraq hysteria in order to manufacture another Tet. Maybe they just have no judgment or perspective. It's bleeding obvious that when a Sunni delegation announces it is "suspending talks" in reaction to some awful sectarian attacks, that doesn't mean talks won't be un-suspended after a decent interval. ... In this case it  took 48 hours. ... [Thanks to Mudville Gazette for pointing out the NYT howler.]


**--Keller's been in the editor's job long enough to be held responsible for the continuation of this chronic NYT story-tweaking problem. ... 1:27 A.M. link

Sorry, Shafer: "Bhagwan" Charlie Peters' plot to take over the world by seeding important publications with former editors of the Washington Monthly is back on track! 5:09 P.M.

Kf's Out-of-the-Know Longshot Oscar Pick: Best picture--Good Night and Good Luck. ... Why? Not because it's a great film--jeez, it's barely substantial enough to be called a full-length film at all. The reason is interest-group politics. The easiest way to get an Academy membership is by acting. Consequently, there are more actors in the Academy than directors, etc. They're the biggest voting bloc. They tend to support fellow actors who fulfill the dream of directing, as George Clooney did in Good Night (and as Kevin Costner did in Dances With Wolves--which then bizarrely won Best Picture!). ... This year, you've got a five-way race with five weak entries. (Not just in box office terms--they're all flawed films.) In theory, a film could win with only 21% of the vote. Clooney's interest-group actor base is probably close to 20%! ... P.S.: In practice, Brokeback will probably get way over 21% and win. I just want credit if it doesn't. ... P.P.S.: Maybe this is already the accepted Contrarian Wisdom on all the Oscar sites that I haven't been reading. ... P.P.P.S.: It's not completely uninformed. ...

Update:1) Several readers email with more examples of actors winning "Best Picture" for films they directed, including at least two mediocrities (marked with **): 2004 Million Dollar Baby** (Clint Eastwood); 1995 Braveheart (Mel Gibson); 1992 Unforgiven ** (Clint Eastwood); 1982 Gandhi (Richard Attenborough); 1980 Ordinary People (Robert Redford), which beat Scorsese's Raging Bull. ... I'm not even counting Ron Howard's win in 2001 for A Beautiful Mind;

2)  Reader G. notes, however, that the actors' constituency--in the form of the Screen Actors Guild--has already suggested where its votes will go:

[T]the logical recipient of that actor boost looks to be Crash, not Good Night, and Good Luck. Go back to this year's SAG Awards ... Good Night didn't get a single award. And neither did Brokeback. In their "ensemble" category, which is basically SAG's stand-in for a best picture category, four of the Oscar best pic nominees were also nominated. ... And despite Clooney's pedigree, they went for Crash. In fact, it was Crash's win at SAG which elevated it into the spoiler spot for Brokeback.

He adds: "[W]iith odds running 1/4 for Brokeback, betting against it could be a pretty lucrative wager right now." ... Compared to me, G is an insider, so I would defer to him. But there's one other scenario: Clooney's directing role means his movie will take a chunk of the actors' vote, splitting it with Crash and allowing Brokeback to sneak in after all. ... 4:30 P.M. link

Hill Poll Shock? In New Hampshire. (Though, remember, they know Edwards in New Hampshire from the last go-round. Maybe he should be ahead at this point.) 2:19 P.M.

Stix Nix Prix Pix II: No bumping, please. We're reddish! I notice my hits have been down a bit this week--must be the lack of Brokeback coverage. The constant clamoring from readers who claim I've neglected this issue is finally getting to me, so here's Newsweek on the film's Breakout Into the Heartland!

An Oscar nod for Best Picture often means big box-office increases, but "Brokeback Mountain" hasn't gotten the kind of bump insiders expected. Unlike last year's "Million Dollar Baby," which saw an 88 percent increase between the noms and Oscar night, and "Chicago," which shot up 100 percent, the grosses for "Brokeback" have actually been declining every weekend. [Emph. added]

Newsweek's Sean Smith is actually a bit too downbeat about the film's B.O., saying "it'll now be lucky to touch $80 million." But it's at $75.8 now. It will get to $80 million. I stake my reputation on it! ... Will nobody defend this B+, over-hyped film except kf? ... [Thanks to M.C.1:02 P.M.

Dick Morris, outlining why Hillary isn't the sure-loser Republicans seem to think she is, seems almost Frank Rich-like in overestimating the political and cultural importance of Hollywood:

The cultural forces that Hillary's candidacy will unleash - from the media, from Hollywood and from the cultural icons who decree our lifestyles - will be far beyond those that normally line up behind a presidential candidate. A small foretaste emerged in ABC TV's show "Commander in Chief," in which Geena Davis plays a female president who masters the men and the crises that litter her path. What other presidential candidacy was foreshadowed by a prime-time, hour-long weekly television show?

Didn't "Commander in Chief," um, flop? Just asking! ... P.S.: Would it be completely impossible to just skip over the prescribed newsweekly covers on "Are We Ready for a Woman President?" Maybe Newsweek will be so eager to beat Time to that one they'll get it out of the way next month. (Maybe they've already done them. Seems like it!) ...  11:44 A.M.

Congratulations to Franklin Foer, the new editor of TNR. ... Andrew Sullivan sucks up to everyone involved, even his old enemies, here. [Sucking up is just the Darwinian default position--ed. For bloggers it's more a suck/attack cycle.]... 2:43 P.M.

kf vs. the Angry Wright: On bh.tv I defend Ann Coulter, who accused my friend and colleague Bob Wright of having "affection for these terrorists." Maybe I handled it well, maybe I didn't! You make the call (but just skip over the three seconds where I stare Quayle-like at the camera). ... P.S.:In the "diavolg" about Coulter I declare that Bob's recent NYT op-ed (the one Coulter was discussing) makes "one very good point" but "went astray in a couple of places." I should say what I meant by this:

The very good point: That, contrary to some of the posturing around the cartoon debate, the Western mainstream press practices self-censorship to avoid offending ethnic and religious groups all the time, and that's a reasonable thing to do. 

The couple of places the piece goes astray in my opinion:

1) Wright clearly distingushes between self-censorship and censorship, but then glides over this distinction when he considers the anti-cartoon riots--even though it's at the heart of what's offensive about Muslims attacking the Danish government for something printed in a Danish newspaper. Wright says:

So why not take the model that has worked in America and apply it globally? Namely: Yes, you are legally free to publish just about anything, but if you publish things that gratuitously offend ethnic or religious groups, you will earn the scorn of enlightened people everywhere.

It's not at all clear, of course, that the rioters would accept the first part of this "model"--about being "legally free to publish just about anything." I certainly get the impression  that they want, not self-censorship, but censorship. And if they are actively offended by a failure to censor, then it's also not at all clear that their sensibilities can be respected in Western-style societies, no? Which brings up ...

2) Having established that Americans self-censor, Wright argues the conflict is merely about the subject of the taboos. (He makes this argument most explicitly on bhTV here). No big deal! We're just haggling over the terms, not the principle.  "We ask only that the offended group in turn respect the verdicts of other groups about what they find most offensive." But of course that's only possible with groups that find a fairly narrow range of things "most offensive." If there were a Ku Klux Klan-like religion or culture that found expressions of racial equality highly offensive, we would not respect this taboo in the name of social peace. If there were a Soviet-style religion that found criticism of Stalin or maybe Tom Cruise highly offensive, we would not respect their "verdict" either. They would have to be offended. At least one big issue with respect to Islam is whether what it finds  "most offensive"--the subject of a proposed taboo--is something narrow enough that it can be the subject of self-censorship without radically altering Western democracy. If it's just the depiction of the Prophet--well, fine, that seems narrow enough. I join Wright in criticizing the Danish newspaper editor. If what offends is the depiction of women as full equals of men--or the lack of actual censorship as opposed to self-censorship--that would be a problem. Accepting the need for self-censorship doesn't avoid this problem, although Wright gives the impression that it more or less solves the riddle of cultural coexistence.

1:04 A.M. link

Vicious Circle Alert: Oakland, California, suffering a spurt of violent crime, desperately needs more police officers. The city has money to hire them, the voters having approved a special tax. But nobody who's qualified wants to be a cop in Oakland, apparently--even with a salary of $89,000 after three years and retirement at 50. ... [Thanks to reader J.] 12:19 P.M.

It's Not Just Rassmussen: Two other polls have now confirmed the startlingly decisive anti-Dubai-deal sentiments uncovered by Rasmussen's robo poll.Mystery Pollster discounts the argument that CBS' poll is overweighted with Dems. If you adjust to lower the number of Dems, the result stays the same. ... The only bright spot I see for Bush is that a 54-32 majority of Republicans in the RT Strategies poll said we should "trust Bush" on the deal instead of having Congress "take special action"--wording that might have appealed to Republicans but further alienated Democrats. (Overall, the verdict was still 61/27 against Bush.) ... 11:52 A.M.

JPod, like MKau, fails to discern any Lloyd Cutleresque K-Street genius behind the engineered 45-day fallback delay in the ports deal. What, exactly, will it change? Maybe the Bush administration is counting on the Feiler Faster principle--the public will grow bored with the issue with unprecedented speed. They'll be ready for a new plot twist. 45 days is more than an eternity in politics now! Something new will come along. Etc.

That would probably be true if there wasn't a large political class--Democrats, and me-tooing GOPs, and the press--with a major interest in keeping the public alarmed and re-alarmed: 

The delay is perfectly timed to allow the Democrats to raise it all anew in a couple of months, and if necessary to go toe-to-toe with George W. Bush should he hold firm on his determination to veto any congressional attempt to block the port deal.

A couple of months from now is a couple of months closer to the election. They'll just ride a second wave, and unless polls shift dramatically, the president will remain all alone out there.

There will be no ports deal. The wise men are wrong.

3:07 A.M.

Here's an explosive legal issue: If Congress passes a bill nixing the Dubai ports deal, and Bush vetoes it, and Congress overrides the veto by two-thirds vote, would Bush claim inherent executive authority under the Constitution to nevertheless disobey Congress' override and somehow enforce the deal? ... It won't come to that, of course. But it might be good to ask the question of Bush or someone in the administration anyway. ... Update: Alert reader W.K. emails:

The theory pushed by Bush's lawyers has always been that the president can't be regulated by Congress in his conduct of war and foreign affairs because of his "commander in chief" power under Art. II, section II of the Constitution.  But does the award of this contract fall securely into the president's traditional authority?  Doesn't it seem more securely within Congress's power to regulate commerce and to "repel invasions" ....

W.K. is probably right. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says Congress "shall have Power ... To regulate Commerce with Foreign Nations ..."That would seem to cover a law negating the Dubai deal. But I note that President Bush has claimed loosely defined, unrestrictable "constitutional authorities to conduct the Nation's foreign affairs," and "participate in international negotiations." Maybe Bush would agree that this language doesn't apply to port contracts. But that's another reason to ask the question! ...  12:57 P.M. link

Mystery Pollster outlines all the possible doubts about that Rasmussen shock poll, but ultimately admits it is so lopsided that "it is hard to imagine a complete reversal." ... He points out that Rasmussen asked those he was polling his general question about "trust on national security" before he mentioned the Dubai ports deal, making the result (showing more trust in Congressional Democrats than Bush) all the more dramatic. ... P.S.:  Sure "[m]any Americans are probably not following the issue closely." But I'm actually kind of impressed that 39% knew "that the operating rights are currently owned by a foreign firm," while only 15% erroneously believed "the operating rights are U.S. owned." That suggests Americans are surprisingly well-informed on the issue, no? ... 12:37 P.M.

... [W]e're hearing from guys like Ret. Gen. Tommy Franks and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace that UAE is "a friend" and "very, very solid partners" in the war on terror.

But of course the issue isn't whether the UAE is a friendly government. The issue is whether the UAE is a friendly government whose subsidiary organizations are more easily infiltrated--against the government's will, presumably--by people who might not be friendly than are other organizations that might manage U.S. ports. It's hard to believe the honest answer isn't "yes."  ... 10:21 A.M.

Veto+Override=Win/Win:  What if Congress eventually votes tokill the Dubai port deal, President Bush exercises his first-ever veto, and then Congress by a two-thirds vote overrides the veto? On the chat shows today, this veto-overrride scenario was treated ashumiliating for Bush--further weakening, low approval ratings, lame duck status, second-term blues, etc. But mightn't it instead be a logical Kabuki outcome for the GOP?  Congressional Republicans would get what they want--which is a chance to demonstrate their independence from the President. Voters would get what they want--which is not to worry about Dubai running American ports--and they'd be more inclined to return the incumbent Republican majority. Meanwhile, Bush would show friendly Arab governments a willingness to risk his prestige to go to bat for them. ('I tried. Too bad about those timid Congressional xenophobes.'). What about the humiliation of losing an override vote? Old news within days. Presidents survive veto overrides to govern effectively all the time. (Reagan was overridden nine times, Clinton twice.)  ... P.S.: What about Congressional Democrats? Wouldn't they get what they want too? By voting to override, after all, they'd get to look strong on homeland security, a post-9/11 Dem weak point. But control of Congress is a zero-sum game--there can't be an outcome that helps both parties. If the Democrats want to regain a Congressional majority in 2006, they need voters to be pissed off--and I'm assuming an override would instead placate the electorate by killing the Dubai deal. ... Dems would be be better served, it seems, by a veto that doesn't get overridden (or an anti-Dubai bill that doesn't pass in the first place, despite their support).  ... 12:39 A.M.

Dubai-bye:The momentary CW, as kf discerns it, is that Bush will probably salvage the Dubai ports deal after a delay--perhaps with some K-Street/Krauthammer fig leaf  amendments. That's what I thought too, until I saw the latest Rasmussen poll. Stunningly, the port controversy has, for the first time, given Democrats the edge on national security, previously the key to the GOP's election victories. The port deal is also disfavored by a margin of 64%-17%, about as decisive a verdict as you get these days. Yes, it's Rasmussen, and yes, it was taken at the ignorant height of the controversy. But RCP is appropriately un-skeptical:

There's no way Republicans in Congress - especially those up for reelection this November - are going to stand by and let this single deal (irrespective of the merits) erase a 10-20 point advantage over Democrats on national security. Ain't gonna happen.

Maybe Bush and Krauthammer (who agrees the "contract should have been stopped" for security reasons) should focus on how to "finesse" the effect the deal's inevitable demise will have on our relationship with friendly Arab nations like the UAE. ... Update: El Podito agrees. "The deal is dead." He suggests the White House can't afford to wait 45 days to find out for sure. ... Why not kill it today? It's a Friday. ... That would end the agony not just for the Republicans, but also for our relations with the Arabs. Better to take that diplomatic hit now (when there's plenty of distracting news) than have the controversy stay on boil for 45 more days of Arabic bad press and then have the UAE stiff-armed anyway in the end, no? ... But: Ledeen's finesse  of the deal seems better than Krauthammer's. ...  12:20 P.M. link

All in the Family: Director/actor Rob Reiner has managed to get California voters to fund (through a 50 cent cigarette tax increase) what is in effect a huge taxpayer-financed political media slush fund for him and his liberal causes--and his consultants. The (improving) L.A. Times put the scandal on the front page, and L.A. Weekly's Bill Bradley has been dogging Reiner. ... [But Reiner's doing it for the "kids."  And the criticism is "the price of being a public figure"--ed. Well allright then.] ... 11:19 P.M.

Anti-Anti-Backlash Lash Lash: Whiners Unite! How annoying is it to be guilt-tripped as a racist by President Bush and his administration's suspiciously well-coordinated, 35%-convincing pushback on the Dubai ports deal? "I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company," insinuated the President on Tuesday. "The only whiners left by next week will be the registered bigots," declares GOP organizer Grover Norquist. Hmmm. Wasn't it the left's traditional strategy--e.g.,when people raised doubts about the welfare system and its effect on work and family structure--to charge that legitimate worries were really disguised bigotry? It worked well for the Democrats, didn't it Grover? Voters love being called racists when they have legitimate concerns! Too bad Bush couldn't have made his accusation from the stage at Bob Jones University. ...

If you want to feel like whining, I recommend Daniel Engber's Explainer on what a port operator actually does:

It gets cargo containers off of ships and puts them onto trucks or trains. A port operator also provides other services to the shipping industry: It does the paperwork to get incoming shipments through customs and uses its computer system to help connect the goods with potential recipients. ...

Most operators invest in a computerized yard management system to help each trucker connect with his payload.  ... The port operator also handles personnel issues.

If we're afraid of bad guys sneaking something dangerous into the U.S., it sure seems like there are lots of opportunities for mischief if you can infiltrate the firm that does the paperwork and runs the computer system and handles the "personnel issues"! Is it comforting matter that "security" at American ports will still be "controlled by U.S. federal agencies led by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Control Agency ... ." Not if what you're worried about is a small cell of people looking for a way to get around the Coast Guard's security. Just having a port operator that is more easily approached by people who speak Arabic vastly increases the risk, at least the risk from Arab jihadists, no? That's why it was absurd for Condoleezza Rice to declare on Wednesday:

We have to maintain a principle that it doesn't matter where in the world one of these purchases is coming from.

Really? So it's perfectly all right if Iran, say, decides to go into the port operating business? Don't tell President Ahmadinejad. What about Palestine, with its Hamas-controlled government? A good business opportunity for them! Or North Korea? No need to worry about those half-dozen nukes--we have the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard handling security. Procedures are in place!

I'm sure the fuss about the Dubai contract is overstated. How could it not be? But that doesn't mean there aren't legitimate worries underlying it. The Bushies should address them instead of explaining, "Shut up, hicks." Fortunately, when Republicans try that ethnic guilt-trip trick (as Bush did with Harriet Miers, and continually tries to do on immigration) it's seldom effective. ...

P.S.: The normally sensible Jonah Goldberg, denouncing as "batty" the ports controversy, declares

"Few politicians--or commentators--seem to care about the facts. So here are a few ...

[T]he same Dubai company bought CSX's American port business in 2005, and nobody seemed to care then.

Goldberg has this wrong, I think. The Dubai company appears to have  bought CSX's international port operations (including China, Australia, Germany and Venezuela) not any American port business. Facts! But then, Goldberg's fighting  vicious American Know-Nothing bigotry, so maybe we should cut him some slack. ... Update: Goldberg corrects. ... 1:21 A.M. link

The New Road to Riches: Public radio! ...Minnesota Public Radio is resisting a state law requiring that it disclose salaries over $100,000 if it wants to keep getting state subsidies:

[State Rep. Marty] Seifert said MPR would rather skip the state money than list its salaries. MPR had received state money in the past, and Seifert said the $500,000 salary of MPR's chief executive officer William Kling was one of the motivations for his legislation. [Emph. added]

Keep those pledges coming. ... Randy Newman was so wrong. ...Note to Mr. Kling: No Enzos, please! That would be rubbing it in. ... [Thanks to alert reader J.] 11:22 A.M.

David Corn tries to explain to me why I shouldn't still think Saddam might have sent WMDs to Syria. ... P.S.: Corn also makes a good point--so obvious I completely missed it--about why, if Cheney and his "troubleshooter" Mary Matalin were being manipulative, they might have delayed getting out a statement on his hunting accident (and then chosen to put it out through a small Texas paper): So the news wouldn't get into Time and Newsweek, which both go to press on on Sundays. Duh! After Saturday evening, every hour counts in terms of whether those magazines can hold the presses to cram in a last-minute story. ... P.S.: In retrospect, of course, it might have been good for Cheney if the story had made that Sunday print run--then Time and Newsweek wouldn't have felt as much of a need to play catch up with Cheney cover stories this week. It would have been "last week's news"--and not just for newsweekly reporters. ... 12:59 P.M.

Does the mysterious "Dietrich" have a website yet? 12:51 P.M.

Robots, on the march! Mystery Pollster claims to have detected "a sleazy, unethical program of unusual scope." Robotic calls spread information and canvass thousands of voters under the guise of taking a "poll." ... I'm somewhat less outraged by the practice than MP--assuming the information being spread is accurate (which MP suggests may be the case with some of the calls). And if voters freely state their preferences to a machine without getting a promise of confidentiality, don't they know they might be talking to somebody's campaign? Why is conducting an anonymous poll so much worse than, say, writing an anonymous blog? ... In any case, it seems like a significant new technique. ... P.S.: If the robo-faux-polls make "real" polling more difficult and less accurate, is that such a bad thing? ... P.P.S.: It's not "sugging"--"selling under the guise"--either! Nobody's "selling" anything, as far as I can see. ... 2:49 A.M.

"Troubleshooter" Shoots Troubled Shooter: Cheney "troubleshooter" Mary Matalin really knows how to keep herself out of the story, huh? Anything to selflessly make her boss look good:

She also described a vice president, who, she said, was in no condition in the hours after the shooting to speak out himself. ... [snip]  "And I said, O.K., this guy is going to be worthless about getting me what I need to help him here,' " ...

No wonder President Bush likes her so much!  ... P.S.: If Cheney's initial draft of a "brief statement" was so "bad" that Matalin told them not to put it out, wasn't it her job to draft a better one? ... P.P.S.: Or was something else going on? (Imus to Matalin: "The point is that's insane to tell me and anybody else that it made sense for this friend of his ... to call the Corpus Christi paper.") ... Pure speculation: Cheney hates the regular White House MSM press corps so much he couldn't bring himself to give them this horribly embarrassing story. ... 1:09 A.M.

Free Speech minus ...

A few Western countries have stupid laws, erratically enforced, against denying the Holocaust ... -- M. Kinsley, Slate, two weeks ago.

Not that erratically, it turns out. Austrian prosecutors are asking to increase the three year sentence  meted out to (despicable, creepy, infamous etc.) British writer David Irving for violating a criminal statute that penalizes anyone who "denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse" the Holocaust in print "or other media." ... Denying the Holocaust may or may not be the same thing as merely depicting the Prophet, but jailing someone for denying the Holocaust seems like the same thing as jailing someone for depicting the Prophet. The New York Post, shamefully, ran the story of the sentencing under a  nyah-nyah headline of "Deny This!"   We'll see how the Post'scrack editorial writers reconcile this glee at Irving's imprisonment with their criticism of the administration ("Bushies betray free speech") for having failed to defend in stronger terms the "freedoms that Americans hold dear" in the case of the Danish cartoonists. ... The Anti-Defamation League, also shamefully, limits its criticism to "acknowledging that America's constitutional system bars prosecution for hate speech" before rushing to congratulate the Austrian court for having "sent an unmistakable and important message." I'm afraid it did. ... P.S.: See also Sullivan. ... 10:35 P.M. link

The Times' Sacred Rattner and his "Chinese Wall": Any mention of investment banker Steven Rattner in the New York Times has to be read with intense suspicion--he's a longtime friend and adviser to NYT publisher Pinch Sulzberger and gets featured in the Times with unfailing, gratuitous deference. Even if Sulzberger didn't want Rattner to be treated like a sacred cow he'd still be treated like a sacred cow by editors and reporters who aren't sure what Sulzberger wants. ...

So here was Rattner getting a nice little bit of launch publicity in the Sunday Business section for his new hedge fund. Nothing unusual there! (How do they get these scoops?) What I didn't understand was the part about the "Chinese Wall" Rattner has pledged to erect within his firm. I'm no expert--I barely understand what investment banking is, let alone what constitutes "due diligence,"  but here's what I think is going on (something that's explained only in the most abstract and unhelpful way by the NYT's Andrew Ross Sorkin):

Rattner's new hedge fund will specialize in the same industry sector--media and communications--in which Rattner's Quadrangle Group also runs a private equity fund. Now suppose, hypothetically, that the Quadrangle private equity fund is thinking of buying a part of media firm Knight-Ridder, currently on the block. In the course of its "due diligence" as a potential purchaser, Quadrangle gets to look at everything within the company--five years of financial reports, projections, special projects, etc. Let's speculate, again hypothetically, that the results aren't that promising--the billions of potential cost savings Quadrangle thought they would find aren't there. There's no fat to cut! The equity fund concludes buying Knight Ridder isn't a good deal.

Now let's say that Quadrangle's hedge fund is "long" in Knight-Ridder stock. (Again, this is hypothetical, especially since the hedge fund isn't even established). The hedge fund is betting that private equity funds are going to buy Knight Ridder at a 20% premium above the current trading price. Of course, the hedge fund execs aren't supposed to be privy to Knight Ridder's books. But senior Quadrangle managers (e.g. Rattner) now know the meaning of every last detail of KR's business because of the diligent investigations of Quadrangle's private equity fund.  Are they really going to allow their hedge fund to make a "long" bet on Knight-Ridder stock if they know Knight Ridder isn't worth the money? Can any business like Knight-Ridder (or Time Warner) really trust the Quadrangle's private equity side not to share information with the hedge fund side?  More subtly, can they--with many millions at stake--trust that Rattner (also with many millions at stake) won't sigh, roll his eyes, or cough, or otherwise telegraph doubts when he (hypothetically!) hears his hedge fund guys explain why they think Knight-Ridder stock is a terrific buy and worth a whole lot of money? Yes, says Rattner! "[T]he two funds," Sorkin dutifully reports, are to be "separated by a so-called Chinese Wall. "

But wait. Rattner also tells Sorkin that the two sides will "share ideas about industry trends", and that he

hoped that investment managers who specialized in public market media companies would "offer a window into the other side of the house."

What kind of Chinese Wall is that? It lets "ideas" through but not ...er, what? (What if you see a "trend" that "there's no more fat to cut at big media firms"?) Isn't Rattner's promise of semi-porous purity the sort of claim of which the New York Times would ordinarily be a tad skeptical? (Substitute the name "Frist" or "Marvin Bush" for "Rattner" to see what I mean.)

Assignment Desk: This is clearly a job for one of the Times' excellent, fearless business columnists--say Floyd Norris or Joe Nocera. Nocera would be especially well-suited, since unlike Sorkin he's good at explaining things like hedge funds and conflicts of interest in language ordinary readers can understand. Is Pinch's workout buddy blowing smoke or not? If not, nail him to the wall! It's not as if Nocera has kids to put through college. ... Oh wait. [ Better not recommend any interns for jobs at the Times--ed  I knew there was a high-minded reason I don't have interns.]

P.S.: Of course, it's not clear that any media company really wants to get tough on Rattner. He might be buying up their stock one day. ... 1:19 A.M. link

Stix Nix Crix Pix: It's a post-nomination heartland breakout runaway red state frenzy! Brokeback Mountain'sdomestic box office take has ... "collapsed," according to Andrew Sullivan. ... But hey, "less so than the other [eggheady, leftish and New Yorkerish] Oscar contenders." ... [You only wrote this so you could use that hed--ed True. I should have used it earlier. But it could be better. Remember the French word for "prize" ... ] ... See also J. Leo. ... Update: It's not just me! BoxOffice Mojo'sBrandon Gray, writing for the LAT,   confirms the bumpless box office fizzle:

If you thought box office results were low for best picture contenders on the first weekend after nominations were announced, take a look at what happened in their second week basking in Oscar's glow.

As a group, this year's best picture nominees dropped an average of 43% last weekend from the previous weekend's already dismal results.

How bad does it look? Last year's best picture candidates — the least profitable group of nominees on record — fell just 17% in the same frame.

"Brokeback Mountain" fared the best among this year's crop, and it was down 33%. It's the only best picture nominee that rates more than a blip on the box office radar, with a $4 million weekend and a $66.5 million tally in 66 days.

"Capote" crumbled 45%, "Good Night, and Good Luck" slumped 43% and "Munich" sank 53% from already pitiful grosses the weekend before. ...

"Brokeback Mountain" ads, for instance, trumpet the picture's legion of awards and nominations, essentially telling filmgoers they must see the picture because it's important and revelatory.

The message that "Brokeback Mountain" happens to be a universally resonant love story is buried underneath all the trophies. The result? The picture seems to have lost momentum since receiving all those Academy Award nominations. [Emph. added]

Beating Capote doesn't mean you've moved the red states on gay rights! ... [Tks. to alert reader M.C.] 9:50 P.M.

To Drudge: The newsweeklies are the caboose on a story more often than they're  the locomotive, no? ...  12:18 A.M.


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]