Kerry Withdrawal Contest

Kerry Withdrawal Contest

Kerry Withdrawal Contest

A mostly political Weblog.
Dec. 5 2003 3:30 AM

Kerry Withdrawal Contest

Help him drop out now and avoid humiliation.

Kerry Withdrawal Contest: In part for reasons described in the preceding item, Democratic Senator John Kerry, once proclaimed the frontrunner in the press, faces not just defeat but utter humiliation in the New Hampshire primary. Is he really going to soldier on to finish in the single digits and get clobbered by both Howard Dean and Wesley Clark, if not one or more other candidates? Shouldn't he save his pride (and possible national political future, if only as a VP candidate) by withdrawing from the race before this harsh popular verdict is rendered? ... But what can Kerry say that isn't even more humiliating than seeing it through? "I realize my wife Teresa needs me more than my country needs me"? That won't cut it. "I've decided to take time out to learn the Web so I can compete in future campaigns" and "I'm entering rehab at an undisclosed location to recover from my vicious  Ibogaine habit. I make no excuses" are too trendy. ... Let's harness the power of the Web and help Kerry adviser/speechwriter Robert Shrum with the dirty job that lies ahead for him. A copy of John Glenn: A Memoirto the reader who submits the best cover excuse that will let Sen. Kerry drop out of the presidential race before the voting actually starts while preserving his viability within the system. ... Void where prohibited....  My entry:

"Because Howard Dean chose not to abide by the campaign finance law's limits, it's now clear to me that in order to compete I would have to spend unconscionable amounts of my own money and jeapordize my family's and my children's future. This I will not do. I put my family before any personal ambition. I will dedicate the remainder of my Senate term to promoting a new, better campaign finance system to insure that no serious candidate is ever faced with this choice again."

OK, so Kerry's wife Teresa is fabulously wealthy and the family would be in fine economic shape whatever happens (especially since Teresa can't waste her own assets on his campaign). Come up with a better excuse, then. ... One more: How about the need to recover from a mysterious "motorcycle accident"? It worked for Dylan! ...  2:48 A.M.

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Dean, Clark, Hope for Sparks: The more I think about it, a turning point in the Democratic presidential campaign has to come with the first N.H. poll showing Clark ahead of Kerry and in second place--which could happen any day now. Clark's only  three points behind in one poll and only two in another. And Kerry's fading while Clark is rising. ... When the lines cross, several things will happen: 1) The main surviving rationale of Kerry's campaign--"I'm the electable alternative to Dean"--evaporates. It turns out there's a more electable alternative. Kerry's vote asymptotically approaches zero.  2) The #1 versus #2, Dean versus Clark match up will get lots of play in the press because Clark's strengths are Dean's weaknesses, yielding a story line that is simple and compelling: "Peacenik McGovern II versus Electable Military Man. Which will the Democrats Choose?" ... 3) Clark will get a lot of favorable treatment in this new round of coverage--in part because the press feels guilty about giving Dean (as The Note notes) a relatively easy time so far, in part because the press wants a close race. If Clark's ready with an appealing message when the spotlight turns to him, he could give Dean a scare and at least come close enough to winning to get a boost for the post-N.H. primaries. ... P.S.: I flew this scenario by a number of knowledgeable political reporters at a party I was just at, and none of them bought it. So it's not the CW! It's quirky and contrarian! I want big points if it pans out. ... Update:NY Post's Deborah Orin buys it, so it's not that quirky. ... TNR's   Noam Scheiber buys it too. ... [approaching CW?-ed Think you need Balz or Broder for that. Balz today just says it looks bad for Kerry, not that it's a Clark slingshot.] ... More: MinuteMan Maguire doubts there will be a Clark boom because, he says, key elements of the press don't like Clark. ... 2:21 A.M.

But she was sick!NYT correction of the week:

n obituary on this page yesterday erroneously reported the death of Katharine Sergava, a dancer and an actress who portrayed the dream-ballet version of Laurey, the heroine, in the original production of "Oklahoma!" Friends of hers reported the error yesterday.

2:05 A.M.

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The L.A. Times is still living in its anti-Schwarzeneggerian alternative universe. Here's the hopeful lede of a November 20 story by Gregg Jones (whose name seems to be on all the most egregiously blindered pieces) and Evan Halper:

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ambitious legislative agenda bumped into political reality on Wednesday as Senate Democrats thwarted a quick repeal of a law that would give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and Republicans raised concerns over his proposal to borrow up to $15 billion to address a projected budget gap.

In the Assembly, meanwhile, Schwarzenegger's finance director, Donna Arduin, abruptly walked out of a Budget Committee hearing as Democratic lawmakers began asking tough questions.

The repeal of the license law in fact passed the legislature on Dec. 1  and was signed yesterday. Seems pretty quick to me! Meanwhile, Jill Stewart gives the story behind Arduin's "abrupt" walk-out that the LAT omitted. ... If Jones is arguably the worst reporter on the Arnold beat, Stewart is emerging as the best. She gives good detail and seems perfectly willing to bash her natural allies and friends when called for. (In her latest column, she blames GOP legislators for setting an immature partisan tone and encouraging Democrats to retaliate.) ... 2:04 A.M.

I thought Lloyd Grove broke the Gwinny-pregnancy story. ... You still think you should have let him go, WaPo? ... 1:39 A.M.

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The Name of the Democrats (hint--it's not "Democrats"): As Jeanne Cummings' outstanding, worth-digging-up 12/2 Wall Street Journal piece  makes clear, the new Democratic Party, for presidential purposes, isn't the Democratic Party. It's a just-formed group called America Votes, which plans to coordinate the various "independent" committees (many of the so-called "527" non-profits) that can still, after McCain-Feingold, gather unlimited "soft" donations and spend them on campaign ads and voter mobilization. ... If the old Democratic Party version of the Democratic Party was too beholden to liberal interest groups, the new America Votes version of the Democratic Party is liberal interest groups--"environmentalists, abortion-rights advocates, the NAACP, trial lawyers and others," reports Cummings. .. Some caveats: 1) It remains to be seen if such independent expenditures--which by law cannot be "coordinated" with a candidate's official campaign--will actually work. What if Howard Dean wants to move to the center and America Votes wants to bash Bush from the left? Campaigns work best if everyone is repeating the same "message," no? .... 2) If Dean is the candidate, he should have plenty of his own money, thanks to the Internet.  Maybe American Votes won't really take over the Democratic Party's function until the non-presidential year of 2006, when its "soft" fundraising could overwhelm than the actual hard-money fundraising of the individual candidates. .... 3) Unlike Dick Morris, I don't lament this latest development as "subverting the purpose" of the McCain-Feingold legislation. Everyone knew this would happen when McCain-Feingold was being debated. America Votes and its affiliates are simply exploiting the obvious and constitutionally necessary avenue of political expression McCain-Feingold left open. It's a free country. If people want to pool their money and run ads they should be able to pool their money and run ads. ... 4) If you're worried about curbing the influence of money and restoring the interest-group-taming role of the now-pathetically-passe party, isn't the solution to increase the sums actual, official, parties can raise and use in coordinated campaigns? Then, if big uncoordinated campaigns, like the ones run by America Votes, turn out to be counterproductive, a new campaign finance ecology may emerge, in which "soft money" isn't all that important and parties are important. ... (Or maybe there's nothing wrong with a more fluid polity in which Harold Ickes' "independent" group is powerful one year and Donna Brazile's group is powerful the next year and Al From is hot the year after that. "Big money" would talk in such a system, but maybe not for long.) ...

Update:Variety's Gabriel Snyder suggests that America Votes and its component groups haven't attained first-mover dominance just yet.

Andy Spahn, who advises David Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg on political affairs, said while many in Hollywood oppose Bush, these new organizations had not proven themselves yet. Complications for donors ``It's certainly more complicated for donors who understand giving to a presidential nominee or a national party committee,'' he said. ``It's one thing to give $100,000 to be in the room with Bill Clinton. It's another thing to give $100,000 to be in the room with a 527 committee.''

One solution to this marketing problem is pretty obvious: Get Bill Clinton to run the 527 committee!   In fact, Snyder buries his lede in Graf 6, noting

At a similar pitch session in New York, held at the home of billionaire financier George Soros, who has pledged $10 million to the effort, Clinton himself made an appearance, a source said. [Emph. added]

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That should send Clinton conspiracy-spotter Morris into hyperdrive. ...  12:25 A.M.

Wednesday, December 3, 2003 

Kerry as John Glenn, II: Polipundit suggests that with Howard Dean leading Kerry by a humiliating 42-12 in Zogby's latest poll, Dean must act quickly to build Kerry up, lest Kerry be overtaken by Gen. Clark, who might get some N.H. traction as the #2 candidate and then pose a real threat to Dean. ... Clark's already at 9 and rising ... It may already be too late! ... If Dean was really smart, of course, he might have gotten someone like bad-luck aide Chris Lehane to abruptly transfer from Kerry to Clark weeks ago. ... What's that you say?  ... 11:52 P.M.

If OBL is captured, one potential concern is that it would take the wind out of the sails of the war on terrorism. There is a large swath of the public that equates WOT = OBL and/or AQ. ...[snip] But of course, it's not really a out OBL. He's just a symptom, not the disease. So leaving OBL at large with limited operational capabilities, serves a purpose. It's not the political purpose that Bush critics might charge, but a tactical and practical purpose.

Along those lines, let's just assume we really actually know where OBL is -- the better we can track him, the better our intelligence on the rest of AQ's operations. [Emph. added]

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During the Cold War, the defense bureaucracy was accused of having an interest in keeping the Soviet threat alive, the better to justify its own budget. Here the U.S. may want to keep the Osama threat alive, but for much more legitimate reasons--namely that he's not the entire threat but the public (and opportunistic politicians) might treat him as such. ... 11:39 P.M.

How is the Hollywood Left like Heathers?N. Y. Daily News gossip Lloyd Grove went the extra mile  Tuesday to basically prove that prominent Hollywood liberal activist Laurie David didn't, in an email, call her anti-Republican gathering of last night a "Hate Bush" event. But what about what David apparently did call it: "A Mandatory Meeting to Change the Leadership in America in 2004"? Isn't that a bit revealing in itself? "Mandatory"? I know it's partly a joke, But it's also partly not a joke, demonstrating the ways in which the Hollywood Left is like the in-crowd at a big high school--uninformed, herd-like, needing direction from the coolest and most powerful girl in the class. What's David going to do to those who don't show? Make them sit at the geeks' table in the cafeteria? ... 1:57 A.M.

Bush's draconian bill deranging Medicare (or public health care for the elderly) is the most significant attack on the social compact since the New Deal. It will drop about one-quarter of workers from their coverage for prescription drugs; 6 million elderly will lose coverage; another 3.8 million will have it reduced or eliminated; the whole $400 billion program will be financed by regressive taxation in contrast to the current untaxed entitlement; ... [Emphasis added]

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What exactly does Sid mean by "the current untaxed entitlement"? Does he think the money that funds Medicare doesn't ultimately come from taxes? That it drops from the sky? He can't mean that--the president he champions balanced his budget, after all. But if that's not it, what is? He can't mean that the benefits themselves will now count as income subject to taxation, because they won't. (There's a bit of means-testing at the top, which might be considered a tax but is hardly regressive.) .... And surely the big problem with the $400 billion program isn't that it will be financed by "regressive taxation"--is the federal tax burden suddenly "regressive"?--but that much of it will not be financed by anything. ... N.B.: This is a column Blumenthal writes for both the British Guardian and Salon (hence the need to explain Medicare). I suspect a British editor who's imbibed too much Beveridge has hacked the paragraph into incoherence. ... P.S.: Blumenthal doesn't even touch on the real "attack" on Medicare in the bill, the private vs. public "premium support" demonstration projects. ... Note to Sid: If I've missed something, let me know! I'll update. ...1:28 A.M.

Tuesday, December 2, 2003 

Hillary's convenient semi-neocon critique: Senator Clinton has  fleshed out her criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. She attacks the "artificial deadline" of a June 30 transfer of power as unrealistic, dictated by President Bush's "political calendar." She would increase the number of American troops, invite help from allies, and assume the transition to sovereignty will take longer. It seems "hard to imagine" that by "next summer, Iraq will be sovereign," she told reporters. "We have to be prepared for a much longer run to accomplish our goals than we've been discussing."  Bush's deadline risks "raising false expectations."

This is a serious critique. It may even be right, although there are obvious counterarguments (e.g. the deadline is there not just to give Bush a pre-election accomplishment--he wouldn't need to broadcast the deadline in advance if that was the purpose--but to reassure potentially resentful Iraqis, and Americans, that we are indeed going to end our occupation fairly soon. And it's not a deadline for American troop withdrawal. We'd be staying on as "guests").

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But does Hillary really mean her critique?

There are two possibilities:

1) She's being sincere and principled. She voted for the war, and now wants to see it through. She's worried, along with many conservatives, that President Bush is going to Iraqify the war and prematurely retreat, a strategy that didn't work very well in Vietnam. Since she's sincere and principled, we can now expect her to criticize equally sharply any of the Democratic presidential candidates who plays on resentment of long troop deployments and reserve callups, or who calls for a rapid withdrawal. After all, she wants to deploy even more troops and reserves and stay longer. If Iraq's a "quagmire," she'd wade in (with allies) and drain it.

2) She's positioning. Her criticism gives her a way to blast Bush--"[C]learly what we're doing now is not an effective strategy"--while not seeming too soft or McGovern-like. Her left-wing acolytes will hear only the Bush-bashing, not the plans for escalation and a longer occupation, while her right-wing enemies won't have substantive grounds for attacking her in any upcoming campaign. If Iraq turns into a disaster, she can always say Bush went about it all wrong. If Iraq stabilizes, she can say it was in part because Bush belatedly heeded her warnings. It works for her!

The jury is out, but I tend to favor #2. ... Again, imagine that Bush had set no artificial deadline, had stuck to his plan to write a constitution before Iraqi elections, and had said "they'll be ready for sovereignty when they're ready." Do you think Hillary would have saluted and fallen into line? Or do you think she might have sniped about the adminstration's sloth, plodding inflexibility, and unwillingness to cede control? Why, after all, would Bush have "political" reasons for wanting to complete the handover by next June? In large part to blunt criticism from Democrats--including, just possibly, from Senator Clinton. ... 4:08 P.M.

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Howard Dean has passed another milestone-his campaign is now successful enough to be endangered by  his own advisers boasting in the press about how they helped shape his message:

[Trippi, McMahon & Squier] counseled Dean early on to emphasize his opposition to the Iraq war--a somewhat risky position given that most polls showed strong support for Bush. Instead, it helped Dean tap into growing antiwar sentiment, particularly on the left, a wave he is still riding.

"We told him he could run like Dick Gephardt or he could run like a maverick," McMahon said. "He could run like John Kerry, or he could run like someone different. But it couldn't be a mainstream campaign, because the mainstream space was already taken." [Emph. added]

McMahon is boosting himself here at the expense of reinforcing the suspicion that Dean's angry anti-war stance was not 100% authentic, but rather partly strategic and stage-managed--a suspicion nurtured earlier in this space. ... Coming up: The "consultants to the woodshed" milestone. ... 1:48 A.M.

Remember Arnold? William Bradley says Gov. Schwarzenegger has already made some mistakes, which is like Sidney Blumenthal saying Bill Clinton has made mistakes: He wouldn't say it if he didn't feel he had to!

Now Team Arnold has allowed the concept of deficit bonds, which everyone in this town except Tom McClintock already signed off on as necessary, to be redefined as "Schwarzenegger debt." At least with respect to more than 80 percent of the $15 billion Schwarzenegger is talking about now, what he is doing is reconfiguring the bonds and finding a way to make those constitutionally suspect instruments legitimate by having the voters approve them.

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In other words, most of the debt was already planned by the Democrats under Gov. Davis. A "three member panel of eminent financial figures" has been appointed to help turn the story around. "Throwing blue ribbon panels at problems may be for Schwarzenegger what throwing money at problems is for conventional Democrats," says Bradley. .... Meanwhile, Daniel Weintraub explains why it looks next to impossible for Schwarzenegger to cut the $14 billion he currently still has to cut if he wants to avoid tax increases. He's proposed the first round of $2 billion, and it already involves putting AIDS patients on a waiting list for drugs. ... But are these real cuts, or cuts designed to be so unpopular they force Democrats to increase the proposed bond issue--using the money to avoid the cuts? ... P.S.: Schwarzenegger, as predicted, is trying to pressure wavering legislators to support for his plan by going over their heads--which in practice means pressuring moderate Democrats. Weintraub sees a problem with this approach, suggesting Republicans might use pro-Schwarzenegger (e.g., pro-debt) votes against these Democrats at the next election. Could the GOPs really get away with that? ... 1:25 A.M.

Monday, December 1, 2003 

Attention, Roger Ailes! From today's "Hardball" interview with Howard Dean:


CHRIS MATTHEWS (host) : Who should try Osama bin Laden if we catch him? We or the World Court?

DEAN: I don't think it makes a lot of difference. I'm happy...

MATTHEWS: But who would you like to, if you were president of the United States, would you insist on us trying him, since he was involved in blowing up the World Trade Center, or would you let The Hague do it?

DEAN: You know, the truth is it doesn't make a lot of difference to me as long as he is brought to justice. I think that's the critical part of that.

MATTHEWS: How about Saddam Hussein? Should we try him in criminal and execute him...

DEAN: Again, we are allowing the Bosnian war criminals to be tried at The International Court in The Hague. That suits me fine. As long as they're brought to justice and tried, and so far we haven't had to have that discussion because the president has not been able to find either one of them. [Emphasis added.]

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Hugh Hewitt notes that an international court of any sort would almost certainly not be empowered to impose the death penalty--see e.g. this story on the possibility of Iraqi war crimes executions--and thinks Dean's words could come back to haunt him. I tend to think the legitimate gaffe potential here is limited by the reality that we don't really want bin Laden tried anywhere, which would only give him a global media platform. We probably want him killed upon capture. (Barring that, I suspect the Bush administration would just as soon hold him secretly if possible.)  ... It's not as if Dean said he'd parole him! But Hewitt claims bin Laden would only get 30 years if tried in the International Criminal Court. ... Backfill: Month's ago, Newsweek's Isikoff and Hosenball  half-predicted a 9-11 conspiracy show trial  (before a U.S. military tribunal, not an international court) of captured Al Qaeda bigshots. But would that really work for bin Laden himself? P.S.: Why do I think that if we have to give bin Laden a trial upon capture, we might choose not to capture him at all, but rather leave him at large (and relatively underpublicized) while we try to roll up his organization. ...   9:29 P.M.

Sistani, Si! Judging from David Warren's latest column, it looks as if President Bush has been taking Amir Taheri's advice. ...Update: Well, maybe not. ... 8:15 P.M.

Actor/director Rob Reiner's attempt to pull a Schwarzenneger--a $ 4.5 billion initiative that would funnel money to schools in ways the California Teacher's Association approves--is too much even for the L.A. Times, and not simply because the LAT is allergic to initiatives. "Whether schools improve or not, the money would keep going to the same programs," argues the Times. Reiner actually calls this an effort to "remake the educational system." ... 8:11 P.M.

Sunday, November 30, 2003 

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Whose PR Stunt? From Reuters--

Dan Feldman, a National Security Council director under former President Bill Clinton, called the trip a "great PR stunt ... yet another in a long line of photo ops that don't say anything concrete about improving security and what our long-term plans are." [Emph. added]

How was Bush's trip just a "great PR stunt" (using Iraq "as his stage") and Hillary Clinton's trip not just a less-great PR stunt using Iraq as her stage? Both politicians met with Iraqis as well as American troops. Both discussed substance. The difference is that Bush has a central role in the actual decision-making structure while Hillary's trip was a classic self-promotional effort by one of 100 senators. ... And, pace Howard Owens, there was something unseemly about Clinton's inability to refrain from sniping at Bush until she returned home. It's not that she violated the hoary bit of etiquette that says a U.S. politician should never criticize a U.S. president on foreign soil. I've never completely understood that rule. If Hillary had gone to Iraq and flat-out blasted Bush, that would have been fine by me. The problem is she smarmily wanted to have it both ways, pretending her trip was in part a morale-building visit to the troops ("I wanted to come to Iraq to let the troops know about the great job they're doing") while she griped about the mission the troops were on. Here's a home state paper account:

The morale of the troops, she said, "is very high," but she said the military personnel with whom she spoke in meetings and during "two turkey dinners" wanted to know "how the people at home feel about what we are doing."

" "Americans are wholeheartedly proud of what you are doing,' " Clinton said she replied, " "but there are many questions at home about the (Bush) administration's policies.' "

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Bet that fired them right up! ... [Links via Lucianne  and Instapundit]

Update:  Howard Owens  and Bill Herbert  take issue with the above  post, largely on the grounds that a) what Hillary said was accurate--there are "many questions" at home and b) "military people aren't too fragile to be given straight talk" or to hear Hillary's criticisms of current U.S. policies. All true, but that's not the point.  Even if military people are quite strong enough to hear antiwar criticism, surely at some point that criticism, however frankly expressed, can't be portrayed as morale building. If you went to Iraq and told the troops, say, that they were doing the bidding of Halliburton and imposing alien Western values in a way calculated to increase terrorism directed at Americans, that might be admirable "straight talk" but would be hard to honestly portray as letting "the troops know about the great job they're doing."

That's not the anti-Bush criticism Hillary made, of course. But what she did say struck me as neither as supportive nor as honest as it should have been. It would be one thing to tell the troops, "We're all proud of you, though there are many questions at home about whether we are withdrawing too fast or too slow, or becoming bogged down." It's another to say there are "many questions about the administration'spolicies." The first is the perspective of a citizen. The second is the perspective of a Democratic partisan. The first says that we're all in this together and we're all worried and we can disagree on how to do it and this is how I would improve things. The second says "this isn't America's policy, it's Bush's policy." It implies that whenever a policy comes in for criticism from voters, Hillary--who voted for the war, after all--will disavow any connection to it. This search for partisan advantage carried over into Hillary's other criticisms of Bush. Here, in particular, is a news report with Clinton comments Bill Herbert says  are "constructive":

As she has on each leg of her three-day trip, Clinton questioned the White House battle plan for restoring order and stability to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's going to take more time than has been allotted for the process to take hold," said Clinton, referring to the July deadline by which Bush aims to transfer power back to the struggling Iraqis.

"I don't think we should be setting artificial timelines as this is a very challenging undertaking and we need to work with our Iraqi counterparts and make sure that the steps that are being taken are going to work," added Clinton, who is due back in Washington today. [Emphasis added.]

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It seems to me this is not constructive. It's almost entirely a partisan cheap shot. "Artificial timelines" can be very useful, both in forcing action and making it clear that something --i.e., the transfer of sovereignty--will happen. I think Hillary knows this. The Bush administration is clearly struggling with the need for a quick transition, on the one hand, and the need for "the process to take hold" on the other. I think Hillary knows this too. If the process hasn't taken hold by next June, the Bushies may let the deadline slip--and Hillary knows that. But in the meantime, denouncing the "artificial" quality of the timeline is a nice, safe criticism for Hillary to make, along with all her other safe third-order process-criticisms of the war.  If Bush hadn't set out a timeline, don't you think Hillary would be criticizing him for that--'We have no clear plan for restoring Iraq, no timeline. We are just muddling ahead,' etc? Hillary's criticism isn't a real criticism or an honest criticism, it's a strategic, partisan criticism, and it's the sort of un-straight talk she should drop when she's talking to the troops in a war zone.

I should add that until Hillary's Iraq trip, I--like many Democrats surveying the current presidential candidates--had been feeling strange new respect for her. Now I remember why I used to loathe her. ...

Update:Atrios notes  Hillary is a member of the Armed Services Committee. Good point, but I don't see where that changes the picture much. She's still not making Iraq policy and negotiating with the Governing Council etc..  Bush is, and did some of this on his trip. Hillary's visit was still at least as much a PR platform as his was. And her negative comments were still partisan in a way that contradicted her pretensions to morale-boosting. ...

More: Dick Morris thinks  the right thing for Clinton to do was "go to Iraq, say nothing but supportive things to the troops, make a point of avoiding criticism of Bush--and then unloose a salvo on arriving home." And the troops wouldn't hear that? I sympathize with Morris' critique, but tend to think geography is less important these days. The troops are never "out of earshot." The problem was the inauthentic nature of Hillary's criticism, not that she made it over there instead of over here. [Morris is competing for your anti-Hillary ecological niche, so you trash him--ed. Think he has that niche sewn up] ...  12:53 A.M.

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Saturday, November 29, 2003 

Is Vivienne Walt in the  "Chronicle Foreign Service"  (as identified in the S.F. Chronicle) or is she a "Globe Correspondent" (as identified in the Boston Globe)? Who cares! She's written up a highly informative interview with a Jordanian engineering student who crossed into Iraq to kill Americans. Highlights: 1) He didn't need Al Qaeda to get him to come; 2) U.S. tactics are having some effect; 3) There's apparently a guerrilla training camp "in a desolate desert area" near a Sunni city  outside Baghdad. ... 12:28 A.M.

Friday, November 28, 2003 

Times v. Times: Are rents going down or up?

"Apartment Glut Forces Owners to Cut Rents in Much of U.S. ... While rents have continued to rise in many big cities on the coasts, including New York and Los Angeles, they are falling in more than 80 percent of metropolitan areas across the country."

-- NYT, David Leonhardt, November 29, 2003

"Poor Workers Finding Modest Housing Unaffordable, Study Says... With the rise in housing costs outpacing that of wages, there is no state where a low-income worker can reasonably afford a modest one- or two-bedroom rental unit, according to a study issued today by the National Low Income Housing Coalition .... "When low-income families are paying so much of their income on housing, they are left to skimp on other necessities like food, medicine, clothes and time spent with children," said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition."

-- NYT, Lynette Clemetson, September 9, 2003

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Which Times story is accurate? I don't know. But I note that the earlier story a) relies ultimately on HUD "fair market rent" figures that are used to set the levels of housing vouchers--providing a strong disincentive to downward adjustment, since downward adjustment means a cut in checks; b) the HUD survey normally uses the 40th percentile of rents for its "fair market rent," but in 39 metropolitan areas, where HUD wants to provide larger vouchers to "promote residential choice, help families move closer to areas for job growth, and deconcentrate poverty," it uses the 50th percentile. This seemingly creates a huge fudge factor; c) the HUD survey does not include new units ("less than two years old") even though new units, according to the second Times story, are a major reason for falling rents; and d) the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which used the HUD survey to produce its "study,"  is an advocacy organization whose motto is

"Dedicated solely to ending America's affordable housing crisis."

What's the chance such an organization will discover the housing "crisis" is disappearing? ... What's the chance its suspect survey won't get written up in the NYT next year? ... [Who tipped you to the earlier Times piece?-ed The Times! They provide a handy link to their contradictory prior coverage at the bottom of Leonhardt's piece. Shouldn't they make some attempt to reconcile the two reports?] .. Note to e-mailing readers: The stories cannot be reconciled by the suggestion that rents are not rising but wages are falling, so "poor workers" still can't find affordable housing. Forget about wages for a second--the NLIHC study Clemetson discusses flatly cites "sharply rising housing costs," including a 2.9% rise for "rent of primary residences" from 2002-2003. It's hard to see how this can be reconciled with falling rents in "more than 80 percent of metropolitan areas." I think somebody's got it wrong. ... Update:Armed Liberal also thinks the stories can be reconciled, and he knows something about housing. He sees high-income renters getting a break and low-wage renters getting squeezed:

So in the submarkets appealing to high-wage workers, they are abandoning rentals for ownership (probably a good thing). In the submarkets available to low-wage workers, they are increasingly crunched between flat incomes and rising rents.

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That's plausible enough. But a) There's no evidence in Leonhardt's story that the trend he's talking about is restricted to the high-end submarket. In fact, the rents he cites--$750, $727, $1000--don't seem all that high-end. Leonhardt also gives figures showing that "[b]etween late 2001 and this summer, the average rent per square foot fell 4.8 percent across the country." That seemingly market-wide judgment doesn't sit easily with the NLIHC's market-wide judgment about generally rising rents. b) If rents fall at the upper end of the market, won't that tempt some slightly lower-income workers to move up into nicer places, and still lower-income families to take their place? Eventually, this "chain of moves" should reduce demand and lower rents at the bottom end of the market too, no? ...I still think one of the two Times pieces is wrong. But if Armed Liberal's account reflects what is actually happening, it's exactly the sort of reconciliation the Times should have offered. ... I also note that Armed Liberal lives in L.A., one of the exceptions to the declining-rent trend, according to Leonhardt.  ... 0:15 P.M.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Last year, the New York Times rudely muscled the Washington Post out of co-ownership of the International Herald Tribune, amid much talk of a global Times brand. Now the Times is losing $10 million a year on the IHT, reports Sridhar Pappu. That's so great! ... Update: John Ellis  called it at the time, noting publisher Pinch Sulzberger's explanation of why he grabbed the IHT--'We are jumping into this to understand a marketplace that we don't understand the way we should.'" Someone named Howell Raines seems to have been involved as well. ... 1:40 A.M.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003 

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Ontological  status restored: An e-mailer points out to me that the word "nonentities" in the following sentence from Alex Beam's article--quoting Paul Krugman--is in single quotes:

''the `nonentities' who go after me include Taranto at Wall Street Journal Online -- he was the main source for the claim that I was in Mahathir's pay -- Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, etc.''

That means Krugman was probably reacting to the use of the word by Beam, and arguing that it wasn't just "nonentities" who comprise the mysterious "they" he thinks are persecuting him. My misreading. But Krugman does tend to adopt the public pose of someone who doesn't have time to read the blogs that criticize him--pointedly reminding readers that he only learns of blog critiques from others who tip him off (e.g., see here  and here). ...10:52 A.M.

No "No"? Senators Lieberman and Kerry managed not to vote on the Medicare drug bill. How convenient! ... P.S.: Isn't that why Kerry wasn't in Iowa for the debate on Monday--so he could vote? Participating in the debate via TV hookup from D.C., Kerry vigorously attacked the bill as  a "special interest giveaway" and "a way of pushing seniors off of Medicare into HMOS."  He said, "I'm opposed to this." But not opposed enough, apparently, to risk having a "you-voted-against-the-drug-benefit" ad against him in his upcoming Senate reelection race. ... According to L.A. comedian Beth Lapides, the essential movie-industry equation is "Absence of Yes + Time = No." Why do I suspect that Kerry and Lieberman are working the obverse formula: "Absence of No + Time = Yes"--that in a few years, if the drug benefit proves popular, their denunciation and abstention will somehow be spun as supportive. ... More evidence for the theory that Democratic opposition to this bill was 60% posturing. ... And is there a better summary of Kerry's character flaw? [Yes, there is. He threw someone else's medal over the wall to protest the Vietnam War.--ed. I knew that!] I expected more of Lieberman, though. And wouldn't a "yes" vote have been smart for him, separating him from the rest of the field? ... At least Edwards had the guts to denounce the bill and then actually vote "no." ... Backfill: The Dean campaign is already all over this one. (Is that so smart? Kerry's a pushover for Dean at this point. They can take him out whenever they want to! It seems as if the more serious threat to Dean would come if Kerry fades so quickly that a) beating him in N.H. doesn't look like a big deal and b) someone like Edwards gets to move up and mount a more credible anti-Dean challenge. ... In 1984 terms, Kerry is John Glenn; Edwards is at least a potential Gary Hart. ... Memo to Dean manager Joe Trippi: Time to start building Kerry up!) ... 3:44 P.M.

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Dearest P: I love that cute term you have for me and other bloggers. What is it again? Oh yes. "Nonentities." ... N.B.: Alex Beam says you'll soon get "a visit from Mr. P, as in Pulitzer." I agree. But I think you are in the process of permanently scaring away Mr. N. ... [Link via Luskin ] Update:The Economist, in a very civil critique of Krugman, argues Mr. N is still hanging around. [Link via Kirchner ] Correction: See above. ... 11:43 A.M.

Animatronic Kerry figure lurches out of control, stuck in Mindless Pander mode! Senator Kerry was insistent in pressing one question on Howard Dean in yesterday's debate: "Do you intend to slow the rate of growth in Medicare ...?"  He asked it again and again. And he wouldn't be satisfied until he got an answer!

KERRY: ...And I'd like to know if he still intends to reduce the rate of growth in Medicare as one of the ways in which he's going to balance the budget. ...

KERRY: But you still haven't answered my question. ...

KERRY: But you still haven't answered my question. ...

BROKAW: Congressman?

KERRY: No, the question is will you slow the rate of growth? Do you intend to slow the rate of growth in Medicare because you said you were going to do that? ...

KERRY: Are you going to slow the rate of growth, Governor, yes or no?

DEAN: We're going to do what we have to do to make sure that Medicare lasts.

KERRY: Are you going to slow the rate of growth, Governor? [Emph. added]

Has Kerry lost his mind? Why shouldn't Dean want to slow the rate of growth in Medicare if it can be done without lowering the quality of health care? Aren't exploding projected Medicare costs a potential problem that needs addressing? Is it an inherently good thing if Medicare costs expand at an ever faster rate? Elsewhere in the same debate, Kerry attacked the pending Medicare prescription drug bill because

They've taken away the ability to import cheaper drugs from Canada. They've taken away the ability of Medicare to actually negotiate bulk purchases for states, which would lower prices.

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Gee, if Medicare actually did negotiate bulk purchases and lowered prices, wouldn't that save the program money and threaten to ... slow the rate of growth in Medicare?

The man's desperate. And he was already relaunching his campaign every other day when he wasn't panicked. The next two months aren't going to be pretty! Something to live for. ... P.S.: Saletan is on the case too. See also his excellent month-old piece on how the Democratic attacks on Dean make him seem wildly appealing and centrist. ... P.P.S.: Minnesota DFL-er Greg Abbott  blogs tihe "Impending Kerry Death Spiral" and comes close to winning the Kerry Mystery Challenge, noting that Kerry's "red-meat for the party hacks ... approach to speech-making, going all the way back to the 'regime change' gaffe ... looks both impulsive and opportunistic." Right. Add 'reflecting an arrogant hope that this week's posturing and positioning will  do the trick because, well, they're only voters and you're John Kerry and you should be President' and you might have a winner. ... P.P.P.S.: This item was suggested by an email from a Slate colleague, except that his email was better-written. I should have just Weinraubbed it! ...  12:09 A.M.

Monday, November 24, 2003 

Whose Trojan Horse? Are Democrats really desperately fighting Bush's Medicare prescription drug bill tooth and nail? I know it seems as if they are, but the whole current debate has the air of deep Kabuki. ... Why aren't the Democrats thinking along these lines:

a) We'll oppose the bill now. That way when middle class seniors wake up a few years from now and realize the benefits to them are meager (or object to the means-testing) we can say 'We told you so' and resume our favorite role as their champions.

b) By screaming about the threat of privatization (even though the threat of privatization has been largely contained in the bill) we lay down a sheet of protective fire that should help preserve the traditional Medicare system for decades.

c) We will lose, and the bill will pass, but that's good too! Because, just between us, the bill is a long-term win for Democrats. It establishes the basic principle of a drug benefit, and we can make great hay campaigning to increase these benefits, and otherwise fiddling with the system, in the years ahead. If passing the bill helps Bush win the 2004 election--well, we weren't going to beat him in 2004 anyway. ...

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In short, I don't believe Sen. Kennedy is actually upset that the GOP  bill will pass. I think he's faking the outrage and smiling on the inside. ...Democrats are happy. Bush is happy. Even Tom DeLay seems happy. It's win-win! Washington Make-Believe works again. ... ["The only losers are ..."--ed. Oh yes, that sentence. The only losers are sincere small government conservatives and the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates. I thought "the only losers are the taxpayers of the future"--ed. I'm not going to say that. I'm for a drug benefit (and suspicious of privatization). Someone has to pay for it. Why not the taxpayers of the future?The WSJ's Alan Murray, in a perceptive subscription-only column pooh-poohing the GOP bill's alleged threat to Medicare, noted

As the baby boomers retire, Medicare and Social Security will either squeeze out most of the other functions of the federal government, or the size of the federal government will balloon, from roughly 20% of the economy today to 30% a few decades from now. [Emphasis added.]

From 20% to 30%. You got a problem with that? And that's the worst case? Suddenly it all seems so do-able! ... Matt Miller says there's a Two Percent Solution. Here's the Ten Percent Solution. You'd rather spend the money on what? DVDs? How about this: We try co-payments, means-testing and government purchasing power (sure-fire cost cutters) and private competition (iffy, given the possibility of cherry-picking and the potential horrors of profit-conscious HMOs denying treatments at the end of life) and once that's done we a) rely on unstoppable Senior Boomer Power to ensure adequacy of care from the remaining government bureaucracy, b) pay the bill, and c) worry about something else. But it must be more complicated than that!] ... 8:24 P.M.

Will George Bush be on the ballot in Illinois? Very probably--but it's trickier than you think! Why? The late--early September--GOP convention, which is in tune with the Feiler Faster Principle but not with Illinois law. ... 3:56 P.M.

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Sunday, November 23, 2003 

A prominent reporter for the New York Times plagiarizes, and it's not enough to make Howie Kurtz's "Media Notes" column. Oh, no! But let some poor music critic for the Denver Post take a few similar shortcuts, and Kurtz makes sure we learn about it  in his "Plagiarism Watch." ... Kurtz has an excuse--the Conspiracy of the Conflicted. He and the NYT's Bernard Weinraub have something in common, namely a glaring and seemingly crippling conflict of interest. (Kurtz writes about one of his employers, CNN; Weinraub writes about an industry in which his wife runs a major competitor.) ... But it's not just Kurtz who isn't picking up on Jack Shafer's Weinraub scoop. I don't quite understand why it's not getting more play--or any print play, outside of Cathy Seipp's UPI story. This is the New York Times, for chrissake, the nation's most important paper. ... Apparently the widespread attitude, as described to me by one Hollywood journalist, is something like, 'So Bernie got careless once, under a lot of deadline pressure.' But isn't that a little like saying you only robbed a bodega once, under economic pressure? Isn't there always 'deadline pressure'? Does every Times reporter get One Free Lift? Plagiarism's supposed to be theft, right? If it is theft, how can it be merely "careless" to cut and paste somebody else's graf into your story? (I would think that's something they teach you never to do, unless you're going to put it in quotes.)  If it isn't theft, I know several people who would like their careers back.  ... My working theory: Times-bashing Fatigue. Nobody can stomach another high-profile NYT scandal. ... The most troubling alternative theory: Plagiarism Fatigue--i.e. there have now been so many cases of this sort of theft that it's almost become accepted.  Doris Kearns Goodwin  survived, after all. Tell us something new! ... 11:22 P.M.

Sources kf trusts swear that overspinner Chris Lehane is not the focus of evil in the modern world, not an agent of doom who brings defeat and disgrace to every candidate he works for (e.g., Al Gore, Gray Davis, John Kerry), but rather a bright and creative political pro! So I was on alert for a sign of Lehane's magical effect on the Clark campaign when I came across the following in a  USA Today interview with Clark:

For the same reason, [Clark] said, the United States should have participated in the International Criminal Court. The Bush administration has refused for fear that U.S. forces would be subject to politically motivated prosecution.

Clark said he hadn't seen the evidence of Saddam's war crimes, a comment that prompted adviser Chris Lehane to slip him a folded note. "You should make clear that Saddam is a bad guy," the note read. Clark glanced at the note but didn't return to the topic. [Emphasis added.]

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You can't learn how to do brilliant staff work like that! You have to be born with it.  ... But wait. It might initially seem as if Lehane a) couldn't even pass a note to his candidate discreetly and b) managed to make his candidate look like a moron. But now that I've revised my opinion of Lehane, I see this as the brilliant, creative political theater that it was, designed to make Clark look like a leader who is willing to reject the advice of excessively political aides. ... P.S.: Was Clark's disgraceful endorsement of the anti-flag-burning amendment a Lehane idea as well? Sure smells like it. ... 10:51 P.M.

Even the liberal Atrios has dissed the Krugman book cover. ... [link via Luskin ] 10:20 P.M.

Any weapon to hand for Andrew: Andrew Sullivan seems to feel the Massachusetts Supreme Court's Goodridge decision isn't antidemocratic--because two polls show the Massachusetts public supports the decision. Not very Burkean of Andrew to believe in government by poll, as opposed to government by elected representative. The Roe v. Wade majority thought it had some polls on its side too. Would Sullivan support, say, a decision holding that sick individuals have a constitutional right to receive advanced drugs at manufacturers' marginal cost if a poll showed that this decision was popular (as it probably would)? ... I think gay marriage is a perfectly reasonable institution. But the courts did not force Massachusetts to make a democratic decision on this matter. Massachusetts had made a democratic decision--it had decided to do nothing. The court is forcing the state's democracy to make a different decision, under the threat of having its action declared unconstitutional if its not the action the court likes. ... It's honest to defend this as a frank anti-majoritarian "rights" case. It's disingenuous to pretend the court has somehow enforcing a democratic will that actual, elected representatives have failed to discern. If gay marriage is so damn popular, why don't people like Sullivan do the easy thing and rally Massachusetts voters to get the law changed?  That strategy would avoid the toxic civic consequence of Roe, namely that the enraged and embittered losers (the pro-lifers) weren't forced to acknowledge that their views were not shared by most of their fellow citizens, while the smug winners weren't forced to attempt to convince anyone in particular. Both sides lost an incentive not to be shrill--shrillnes turns off middle-road voters and makes compromise more difficult, but who cared about that once voters and democratic compromises had been largely taken out of the equation? . ... Note: The initial version of this item suggested that in Vermont, gay civil unions had been instituted democratically. Not so, reader J.T. pointed out. The Vermont Supreme Court required the state legislature to create a same-sex marriage-like institution. ... 10:11 P.M.

Now she tells us: A great Jill Stewart column explains why ex-Governor Gray Davis, whom she generally loathes, "knew what he was doing in education," fought the teachers' unions and made the states' schools better--while Schwarzenegger education secretary Richard Riordan, whom Stewart likes (and whom the teachers' unions detest) might be a disaster. ... Stewart's famous for writing articles about incompetent principals in the L.A. schools and then naming the names of the dozens of specific people she thinks should be fired. Here she tells Riordan whom he should appoint and whom he should sack. Why doesn't he also appoint Stewart? ... 8:23 P.M.

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The last refuge: "I think it was intended to be ironic,"--Paul Krugman seemingly resorts to the Irony Defense when called by the NYT on his book's offensive British cover.  Most of the cover images were taken from anti-globalization protests at the 2002 World Economic Forum, which Krugman attended as a participant rather than a protester. Stephen Kirchner (who started the whole controversy from faraway Sydney) notes, "This is indeed ironic, but Krugman's claim that the irony was intentional beggars belief." Maybe Krugman was being ironic about it being ironic! I actually think that might be the case. ... Note: The Times says Cheney's wearing a "Hitler mustache" and Bush looks "Frankenstein-like" on the cover. I say it's a "Got Milk?" mustache and Bush is portrayed as a baseball (the stitches on his face being the seams). But there's a Hitler and Frankenstein subtext! ... Why is this a legitimate story? For the same reason it's often legitimate to hold reporters responsible for the headlines on their pieces even though they don't write the headlines. The headline writer is typically a copy editor who reads the piece quickly and tries to distill its essence--thus replicating what a average reader will do. If the headline gives a tendentious or slanted impression, often that's because the piece itself gives a tendentious or slanted impression to the average reader. Similarly, a presumably intelligent British publisher has read Krugman's book and distilled its essence as something like 'More Typical Militant Left-Wing Bush Hatred.' Maybe the publisher did that because Krugman doesn't write much these days that typical militant left-wing Bush haters would be bothered by--even when that requires concealing his actual, more nuanced views.  ... Someone judged his book by the cover--namely, the person who produced the cover--and it's a judgment that should embarrass Krugman. ... Update: Luskin notes that Krugman worries the cover is "undignified" and poor marketing when he should worry that it's noxious. ... 6:30 P.M.

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Links

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. 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. 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. 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--A hybrid vehicle. 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. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]