Liberalism without unions.

Liberalism without unions.

Liberalism without unions.

A mostly political Weblog.
Sept. 25 2005 4:00 AM

Pinch's Perverse Populism

TimesSelect levels the playing field!

Instapundit's Katrina/Rita Relief donation list. 

What if they launched New Coke and the cans wouldn't open?  TimesSelect may be a bad development even for those who don't have to pay $49.95 because they already subscribe to the NYT print edition. I'm getting lots of complaints from paid Times subscribers along these lines:

[O]nce you do register, a laborious process, there's no log in to get the columns. And you can't register twice. So I'm shut out. ...You'd think, after months and months of planning, they'd at least satisfy their readers who went through the proper channels. ...

It's not reading my cookie right! ...

As a Times home subscriber, I get free access to Times Select, right? Well yes, but it took me a couple of 15 minute headscratching sessions to figure out how. First, you have to validate your subscription by entering your account number (which I don't know) or the credit card you're having billed for the subscription, which I did.  Then, you are still in trouble if you're already a registered reader of the regular free Times online—because you have to harmonize that registration with whatever you put in for the Times Select—the latter sign up isn't geared to start the process with the information from the former.


True Times loyalists will no doubt happily sacrifice actually reading parts of the Times in order to save it. (Just pretend those writers have been laid off! ) Or they can go here. ...

Update--Free Krugman, or at least Free Old Krugman! The visible hand of TimesSelect has apparently shut down maintenance of the highly useful library of Paul Krugman columns at the UnOfficial Paul Krugman Archive, and Krugman doesn't seem too happy about it ("Yuk."). ... That means TimesSelect is an even worse deal for the Times op-ed columnists than I'd realized. Not only does it sharply lower their immediate readership and make it difficult for even loyal, paying print subscribers to read them online (see above), it prevents them from maintaining the standard free Web archive of their published work that nearly every other respected freelance pundit can create (see, e.g. Malcolm Gladwell's archive). Times columnists are so privileged they must be made second class citizens in the blogosphere! There's some populism for you. ... Haven't the poor NYT pundits been punished enough? I don't see why the Times can't let Krugman (or a designated acolyte) maintain an archive that posts his columns 30 days or 60 days or 90 days after the Times (exclusively) publishes t hem. Would that really be such a revenue drain? ... 11:40 P.M. link

Tomorrow's CW Today: Roberts was too good!  If the Bushies have been choreographing the Supreme Court nomination fight, they've blown it--at least if the goal was to move the Court to the right. Why? It's not that John Roberts wasn't charming and bulletproof enough to sail through the Senate despite his conservatism. It's that Roberts was so charming and bulletproof that he's the one conservative nominee who could have sailed through as a replacement for the swing-vote O'Connor. Instead, the White House has wasted him as the replacement for another conservative, William Rehnquist--and now they face a fight over the swing seat replacement. ... It would have been better, for the right, if Rehnquist had retired first. Replacing him wouldn't have been such a charged proposition--after all, it would just be swapping a conservative for a conservative. Any old strict constructionist would do. Then, when O'Connor retired, the Bushies could have hauled out their unstoppable secret weapon--Roberts. ... P.S.: Also, now whoever Bush nominates for the key seat will suffer in comparison with Roberts. ... ["[Y]ou underestimate the bench strength of the [right]"--Reader B. from D.C. Entirely possible! This is CW, remember. It will be change soon.] 1:43 P.M. link


We Want the Overnights!

Q.: Does the NYT have the subscriber totals for the triumphant first days of TimesSelect, its new pay-for-columnists feature?

A: Of course it does.


Q.: If those numbers were any good, wouldn't the NYT be telling us about them?

A: Of course it would!

Q: Have you seen them telling us about any numbers?

A.: Not yet.


P.S.: Remember, according to E&P'sSteve Outing, the NYT's Martin Nisenholtz is

looking for significant numbers. The goal won't be met with TimesSelect subscription numbers in the tens of thousands, Nisenholtz says; it needs to be in the hundreds of thousands in the early years, and even more over the long term. [Emph. added]

Q: Does Nisenholtz know now whether he'll meet this goal, or will only time tell?

A: I think he knows now if the response has been sufficient. It's not as if it's a question of luring advertisers over time. This isn't an advertising play. The issue is simply whether he'll draw enough paying subscribers. And I'd think this would almost certainly be the NYT's best week in terms of the sheer number of subscriptions. After all, they're giving it the full publicity rollout on the site. The hard-core NYT fans will presumably sign up right away. It's all downhill from here! If the first week's numbers don't look good enough ... maybe it's time to (assuming I've read the signs correctly) make Maureen happy! ... 11:23 P.M. link


Sorry, Paul: TimesSelect cracks down on papers that syndicate its op-ed columns. ... Well, they don't have to be snippy about it! ... Meanwhile, by plastering the NYT home page with little orange "you gotta pay" logos, the NYT makes it look as if much more of the site is behind the subscriber wall than actually is. So TimesSelect is hurting the readership even of Times writers who are still "free." ... Good vibes all around! ... P.S.: This sort of strongarm tactic worked so well for Pinch Sulzberger with the (now floundering) International Herald Tribune! ... P.P.S.--It's All About Diminished Reach: The NYT's front page list of the top 5 "most-emailed" articles includes no op-ed columnists, previously almost unheard of. Wonder why that's changed! ... Will Times Web chief Martin Nisenholtz make up the columnists' diminished book and lecture fees? ...

Update: The News & Observer page linked above in fact says

We do not have permission to reproduce this story on our website.

But if you click the "printer friendly" link you get the whole NYT column anyway, for free. After them, Nisenholtz! ... And: It looks as if they haven't had much luck getting that humiliating little promo video from Maureen Dowd. Instead they are using an old clip from CBS's "Early Show."  If the TimesSelect home page  were like the Kremlin Wall on May Day--and it is!--you would take Dowd's video absence as the sign of a deep internal rift. ... 11:31 A.M. link


In Defense of Good Policy: Matthew Yglesias charges that, by attacking the Davis-Bacon Act, I'm guilty of pursuing good policy. Instead, "progressive" Democrats should be pursuing not-so-good policies that nurture powerful pro-Democratic interests. A couple of points:

1) If constituency-based liberalism were a good way to win power then Walter Mondale would have served two terms and we would not be in a situation in which, as Yglesias notes, "Democrats hold zero percent of the political power in Washington." True, Mondale didn't have as good a chance to build a union-centered coalition as current Democrats do. He had a much better chance. According to the AFL-CIO, the proportion of the workforce that was unionized was almost twice as great in 1983 as it is two decades later.

2) It's no accident that unions have shrunk. The clumsy, legalistic mechanism of the Wagner Act--where seniority rules and firing incompetents requires elaborate negotiation--turns out to be a good way to fail to keep up in modern, technology-driven capitalism. President Clinton's Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, once famously said that "The jury is still out on whether the traditional union is necessary for the new workplace." But the jury has been coming back ever since. Look at automaking--where all the UAW firms with their elaborate work rules are in big trouble and all the non-UAW import firms are succeeding. Look at high-tech industries, where unions barely exist. The only reason unions are still a power to be reckoned with at all is their success in organizing government workers, and in using government to cut themselves favorable deals (like the Davis-Bacon Act's guarantee of union wages in government construction.) Everywhere outside of government, unions are a declining force; the union organizing campaigns trumpeted by the press each year inevitably fail to increase organized labor's share. Yglesias is the one hoping for a utopia. In the real world, if we want worker protections, unions are an increasingly  obsolete way of delivering them; it's generally better to guarantee worker safety through OSHA, for example, than unions (which now represent less than 8% of the private sector workforce).

3) To win elections, Democrats will have to appeal to non-union voters. Arguments that "Sure, laws like the Davis-Bacon Act waste billions of your taxpayer dollars but they should be maintained because they help our union friends!" are not likely to be political winners.

4) But the real problem with laws like Davis-Bacon isn't that they make a few government buildings, highways, and levees, etc., a bit more expensive. It's that--in combination with similar laws that apply to services, and with the civil service laws, and with misguided court decisions that impose special procedural obligations on government (e.g. before workers can be fired or public housing tenants evicted)--they make the private sector more efficient than government at virtually anything both of them do. The result is a pervasive public cynicism about government efficacy that has done more to undermine the case for government action than union lobbying can ever do to support it. (You want to apply Davis-Bacon-style union-wage requirements to health care? And we wonder why voters are leery of Democrats' national health insurance plans!)

5) "Historically," as Yglesias notes, unions have selflessly helped Democrats solve a number of national problems (Social Security, medical care for the elderly, civil rights, worker safety, unemployment insurance). Unfortunately, what's left are the national problems where this New Deal pairing didn't work because unions actively stand in the way of solutions. Two of these problems, in particular, are among our biggest: a) Unionized teachers stand in the way of the educational changes that might ameliorate our twin education crises (inner city disaster and suburban mediocrity). And b) unions stand in the way of the best solution to the welfare problem (and hence the NewOrleans-style underclass problem, and hence the persistent-poverty problem), namely public jobs programs. Unions have always disliked public jobs programs because public jobs workers threaten to perform work that municipal unions and construction unions now perform for far more money (thanks, in part, to the Davis-Bacon Act). In my ideal of liberal activism, we make sure everyone who wants a job has a job. Then we worry about making those jobs pay $40 an hour rather than $8 an hour.  Unions have always (quite rationally) preferred to increase their members' wages even if that means keeping unemployed workers on the dole. That's why FDR had to break a strike to keep the WPA going. Yglesias argues Democrats won't "be able to advance a sustained anti-poverty agenda" with weakened unions. I'd argue that they won't be able to do that without rolling a few unions.

6) The best way to raise wages at the bottom, we've discovered, is not to increase union power. It's to run a hot economy with a tight labor market like the one we had in the late 90s--when unions continued to decline but low-wage workers and African-Americans made huge strides. (Low inflation helped achieve that prosperous economy and preserved those gains--unlike in the 70s, when still-powerful, oligopolistic unions were the mainspring of a wage-price spiral.) Yglesias says it's "absurd" to fight poverty without unions, but the most effective program to fight working poverty that we've discovered is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has little to do with unionism and will survive unionism's inevitable withering. So will minimum wage laws.

All these arguments were thoroughly hashed out in 1984, 1988 and 1992. Now we're having them again. It's as if Gary Hart and Bill Clinton (and Theodore Lowi) had never existed, as if  "constituency liberals" like Mondale and Harkin had been routinely winning the presidency while Carter/Clinton "policy liberals" were the rare Democrats who'd lost, as opposed to the only Democrats who'd won.


The main difference is that this time the Democrats' constituency "coalition" is in much worse shape--and there is a non-Democratic candidate (John McCain) who promises some national reform without the chazerai of congealed Yglesias-style "progressive" dogma. Strange that the response of "progressives" is to get more dogmatic. 1:28 A.M. link

LAT Desperation Update: After cancelling the L.A. Times, then cancelling again when I got a bill  showing an ongoing account (with only a "stop delivery adjustment"), I got a phone call from the Times this morning. ""Thank you," the Times rep said, "[We] want to welcome you back!"  It seems the Times was "in [my] neighborhood" and he was offering me a rate of $2.99 a week! I told him I'd cancelled. He said, "It's on hold right now." I said no, I'd cancelled it twice. He said "So you don't want the paper right now" and rang off. ... Something about that final "right now" tells me I'm going to be "welcomed back" again soon. ... Is the Times telling advertisers and shareholders that a lot of subscriptions are "on hold" when really they're cancelled? ... Attentionresisters of sleazy LAT death-spiral circ. tactics: Here's the California Attorney General's handy Web complaint form! It only took a minute to fill out. ... Update:As if battered by kf's near-avalanche of anecdotal doubt, Tribune Co. stock fell 2.1% today  (twice as much as the Dow). ... 9:06 A.M. link


Arianna Huffington points a finger at a new (to me) possible suspect in the Plame investigation. ... Actually two suspects: One well-known, one obscure. ... Huffington claims "two sources" and has been right before  regarding one of her suspects. ... P.S.:JustOneMinute's Tom Maguire should be on this any second now. ... Yep. ... Maguire offers several possible scenarios--his "Drunk With Power" scenario, which he calls "tin foil," seems just as plausible as his "Evil But Crafty" scenario. ... I'm rusty on this, but I don't understand why Judith Miller has to have been a link in the informational chain at all. Why couldn't one or another of Arianna's suspects have directly told various other key people (e.g. Novak, Libby, Rove)? ... 11:42 P.M. link

Mystery Pollster reviews the erratic Bush polls (most of which show Bush's approval falling before Katrina) and concludes:

if Katrina did not alter Americans overall rating of Bush, [it] certainly did collapse perceptions of Bush on one key dimension: Being a "strong and decisive leader." [Emphasis subtracted]

A dramatic graph is included. .. P.S.: Even the robots are abandoning Bush, at least today. ... [Isn't that exactly what the NYT was saying last week? Yet you sniped at them-ed. Good point. It still seems to me the news last week was that Bush's overall approval hadn't dropped as everyone expected--news the NYT rushed past in order to get to the "but he's still been hurt" phase of the analysis. But MP does basically confirm the NYT's overall picture.] ... 4:54 P.M. link


We've Redefined the Democratic Party and Rediscovered Our Core Value--The Davis-Bacon Act! Some emailers argue that Kevin Drum and Bruce Reed were merely pointing out that Bush has a political motive in suspending Davis-Bacon Act wage rules in the Katrina rebuilding effort. Sure. But it's cheap to condemn someone for having a political motive for doing X without assessing whether X is the right thing to do. JFK had a political motive for phoning Martin Luther King in jail! The ideal, if you are a politician, is to come up with a policy that's a) the right thing to do andb) causes huge political problems for your opponents. Welfare reform used to be such an issue for the GOPS. Now Bush is making an issue of various indefensible regulations that Democrats defend at the behest of public employee unions--the civil service rules that cost the Dems the 2002 election when Bush suspended them as part of the Homeland Security bill (prompting many Democrats to oppose it), and now Davis-Bacon's wage regs. The way to defuse this new Bush weapon is for the Dems to stop defending the indefensible regulations! Not to accuse Bush of playing "politics" or exploiting a "wedge issue." ("Politics" is how the general public interest in efficient government can be brought to bear against the special union interest in a government gravy train.)

A Democrat who is serious about using the state for the public good, as opposed to protecting the AFL-CIO, will realize that Davis-Bacon creates a huge hidden impediment to effective government action (if it involves building anything)--and will affirmativelywelcome any initiative that undermines the Act. A Democrat who is worried more about union support will do what Drum and Reed do. Update: And what John Edwards, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton have all now done, according to the 9/20 Note.

But isn't there a problem with new labor market entrants driving down wages (the problem Davis Bacon was designed to combat)? Sure. The answer is to limit immigration and pass a minimum wage law that applies across the board, not just to the jobs performed by entrenched construction unions. Now that you mention it, here'sa possible grand bargain for actual New Democrats to propose to the GOPs: We'll abandon Davis-Bacon if you agree to raise the minimum wage. That would help low-wage workers across the board while making it possible for government to do more, more efficiently. It would call the Bush/Rove bluff: Do they really want to end Davis-Bacon, or have they become addicted to having an issue that drives normally sane Democrats to fits of disingenuous rationalization?

P.S.: Taranto notes that Josh Marshall has  completely gone off the deep end trying to make an issue of defending Davis-Bacon. But I don't think Marshall is worried about placating the unions--at least he used to be very wary of the influence of Dem special interests, especially the ones funding Bob Kuttner! I think he's trapped by his dependence on Web hits, meaning that he has to keep ginning up crusades that will keep his readers, who don't share his New Dem complications, coming back. [Do you mean Marshall consciously champions causes he doesn't agree with?--ed No. The lesson of evolutionary psychology is that the workings of self-interest are more subtle and subconscious, causing us to genuinely find persuasive arguments that just happen to also pay the rent.] 4:24 P.M. link


Not Ready for TimesSelect? Alert kf emailer G.L. neatly summarizes the NYT's dilemma:

"Do we read the times op-ed page and argue with it because it's that good, or because we know that the NYT website gets 29 million readers a month (which few free sites do) and we want to comment on ideas that "most people are reading"?

I think it's the latter. If they make people pay, that could change!

For example: like reading a lefty-liberal-economist? Can't pay for Krugman? Try ... Brad De Long!

P.S.:  So what's next, Ms. Dowd? Will you be touring to support your new video? They've made all the NYT columnists make little videos describing "the issues that shape [their] perspective." What humiliation will they think of next? As of this writing, there's only one conspicuous holdout. ... Update: Yesterday's "TimesSelect" op-ed columns are already available for free. ... 12:16 A.M. link


More than halfway (18 minutes) and a whole lot 'o storytellin' into the increasingly self-parodic Katrina-obsessed NBC Nightly News before they get around to the "extraordinary turning point" in the North Korea nuke talks. Pathetic and bathetic! ... 7:01 P.M. link

kf Looks for Heretics: Slate blogger and Clinton-administration hero Bruce Reed writes:

After 9/11, the Bush White House rushed to restore politics as usual by making patriotism a partisan advantage in the midterm election. This time, Republicans were quick to point fingers at Democratic leaders in New Orleans and Louisiana. The administration has already used the crisis to advance the conservative wish list on Davis-Bacon and is reportedly considering turning the Gulf region into a laboratory for school vouchers and other right-wing hobby horses. [Emph. added]

Isn't abolishing the notorious Davis-Bacon Act on Reed's wish list too? This obscure law, which essentially requires that all government construction projects pay "prevailing"--i.e. union--wages, offers the ur-case of a policy that benefits a powerful Democratic special interest (the Building & Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO) while undermining the general interest in affirmative government the Democratic party is supposed to be pursuing (by making virtually everything the government does--including building low-cost housing--more expensive than the equivalent private sector activity). Eliminating Davis-Bacon's regulations would a) remove one of the right's major, valid complaints against government action; b) cut the size of the Federal Register roughly in half; and c) allow the sort of lower-wage WPA-style public works jobs program that might actually help thousands of poor, unskilled workers in the Gulf states as opposed to a relative few better-paid unionists. ...


In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke an AFL strike over "prevailing wages" in order to save the actual WPA. (Was FDR a loyal Democrat by DailyKos standards?) In the 1970s, when neoliberalism meant something, opposition to Davis-Bacon was a litmus test of whether a politician understood the difference between interest-group liberalism and reform liberalism. The Washington Monthly, in particular, pushed for its elimination. (You can buy a critique by TWM-alum Gregg Easterbrook critique here.)  Now the Washington Monthly is  defending Davis Bacon  against Bush, and leading "New Democrat" Reed uses it for some opportunistic anti-GOP sniping. It's come to that! ... P.S.: The Monthly's Kevin Drum may actually believe Davis-Bacon is a pillar of justice, but Reed--who, if I remember, fought hard in the Clinton years to prevent Davis-Bacon regs from effectively squashing welfare-to-work public jobs programs--knows better. ... Who needs Reed's Democratic Leadership Council if its leaders are going to go to bat for this Old Democrat, special-interest, anti-government law? ... 5:47 P.M. link

Arianna buries the lede: If Karl Rove really is " in charge of the [Katrina] reconstruction effort," what's he doing at a Teddy Forstmann schmooze event in Aspen  in the first place? Never mind what he said. You'd think he'd have had more important duties this past weekend. 11:06 A.M. link

A new Gearbox is up. 10:44 A.M.


Premium Discontent at the NYT: "No one has argued that we shouldn't do this," says New York Times editorial page editor Gail Collins regarding TimesSelect, the plan under which non-subscribers will now have to pay $49.95/year to read NYT op-ed columnists. Hmmm. One wonders: Has Collins talked to Maureen Dowd? ....P.S.: I actually don't think the Times columnists--Dowd, and Krugman, anyway--will lose their audience the way LAT entertainment critics lost their audience when they were put behind a subscription wall. But that's in large part because Dowd's column, and others, will almost certainly be posted unofficially on various free websites. When the NYT's lawyers shut down one--Dowdster!--another will pop up. That may be why the NYT execs feel they have to also have the columnists do something extra for TimesSelect customers in addition to writing columns. John Tierney is going to run a book club. Thomas Friedman is going to answer his email!  Nicholas Kristof will come to your house and bake a cake. ... P.P.S.: It seems to me, though, that the NYT is missing an obvious, lucrative marketing angle. It would be a variant of the idea my college friend Mark had for a Reverse Record Store--you'd go and pay them $11.99 and they'd take your money and use it (along with the $11.99 payments of others) to bribe Paul McCartney to not make an album that year.  Similarly, imagine TimesDelete: for $19.95 a month, say, TimesDelete's premium subscribers could vote on one op-ed columnist to take an extended vacation. If more people picked Krugman rather than Brooks, Krugman would get his salary plus a bonus on the condition that he maintain a meaningful silence for several weeks. The race would be tight every month, I should imagine, with Republicans and Democrats trying to outvote each other. But you can't play if you don't pay! I'd say this is surefire, supplemental revenue stream would bring in way more than the puny $20 or $30 million dollars a year the Times might hope to make from TimesSelect, especially if the business model were extended to the news pages. Adam Nagourney--your ship has come in! ... 1:45 A.M. link

LAT D.S.W. #2--Attn. Tribune Co. Shareholders! Here's a report from the front lines of the death of print, or at least the death of your major West Coast asset (from kf reader S.)--

I've lived in a condo in Brentwood for ten years and the [copies of the L.A. Times] have always been dumped inside the security door. I remember in the early 90's--when at least half the building subscribed-- if you didnt leap out of bed by 6am and race down to the lobby, your paper would inevitably be stolen.... Fast forward to 2005: not only have the subscribers declined by 50% (daily and weekend) but the majority of delivered papers SIT THERE ALL DAY, gathering dust, unclaimed by the subscribers. Usually by 5pm, the doorman is tossing at least five copies in the dumpster.


LAT Death Spiral Watch #1--Attn. Bill Lockyer! I cancelled my Los Angeles Times subscription months ago. Today I discovered a bill for $22.85 from the Times in my mail. It reflected only a one month "stop delivery adjustment." I called the 800 number. They acknowledged that I'd cancelled the paper and owed them nothing, but said, "Yes, that bill went out." a) Is this a regular practice of the LAT? b) Is it a way of keeping cancelled subscribers on their books? c) Isn't it, you know, illegal? ... Update: What would Elliot Spitzer do with the Times? [Thanks to D.F.11:57 A.M. link

Calame vs. Krugman: It's taken NYT Paul Krugman only four months to alienate incoming Times ombudsman Byron Calame to such a degree that Calame is taking the argument public, having posted an item complaining that the NYT "Columnist Correction Policy Isn't Being Applied to Krugman." The previous ombudsman, Daniel Okrent, waited until the end of his tenure to do that. ... Krugman must be a joy to deal with! And he'll be in an even less prickly mood next week when he has to effectively  offer a supplemental-reading Web seminar on finance to TimesSelect subscribers! ... [Link via  Luskin ] 12:56 P.M.


Under John Roberts' analysis, states rights are unprotected and  "everything is subject to regulation [by Congress] under the commerce power," writes Glenn Reynolds. ... Reynolds acts  like that's a bad thing! ... 1:47 A.M.

Growing Doubts: The New York Times has long used its polls as a sort of Hamburger Helper to extend whatever anti-Bush story line the paper has been pursuing. (If you had read only the Times poll stories from 2004 you'd have been amazed that Bush carried more than a handful of states.) Todd Purdum and Marjorie Connelly have a tougher time than expected this morning, though, because of one annoying feature of the most recent Times survey, as reported in their fourth paragraph:

The hurricane, alone, does not appear to have taken any significant toll on Mr. Bush's overall job approval rating, which remains stuck virtually where it has been since early summer. [Emph. added]


(Maybe that's why it ran inside!) ... Purdum and Connelly are forced to resort to heavy leveraging: "Taken together, the numbers suggest ... growing doubts" about Bush.

Bush has been hurt in most polls by his lack of timely Katrina leadership, as he should be. But wasn't the right lede for this poll story: "Damage to Bush Less Than Expected"? ...

P.S.: Come to think of it, the Times' failure to respond to the news in its own poll can be seen as an extension of the Howell Raines Populist Fallacy, which assumes that the great and good American people are always right (i.e. on the NYT's side). Here, Katrina should have taken a "significant toll" on Bush with the voters. But it didn't, according to this poll. The Times then has two choices: a) Make the voters look foolish (and out of step with the NYT); or b) downplay and dismiss that part of the poll.  For a Rainesian populist, that's really no choice at all--even though the great and good American people are often wrong. ... 10:24 P.M. link

Just a reminder #2: Habitat for Humanity is getting lots of attention, and donations, given the need for housing in the hurricane-damaged Gulf region. President Bush mentioned Habitat for Humanity in his televised address this evening. But Habitat for Humanity is a bit of a fraud. The people who move into Habitat homes don't actually own the homes the way we usually think of homeowners owning homes.  Habitat's affiliates typically retain a "right of first refusal" that limits the ability of the "homeowners" to sell their homes and realize their full value  (what some affiliates call reaping  "windfall profits"  ).That means Habitat's "homeowners" don't have the full traditional incentive to clean up their neighborhoods, increase property values, etc. They have more of a financial incentive than renters, presumably. But less than real homeowners. ... 9:27 P.M.


Just a reminder #1: Some accounts of Michael Kinsley's recent peregrination make it seem as if incoming LAT publisher Jeffrey Johnson picked Andres Martinez to take Kinsley's old job as part of Johnson's now-famous "clean break" with Kinsley. But Martinez was originally recruited from the NYT by Kinsley. He's Kinsley's guy. If you like Martinez, you like at least part of what Kinsley did at the LAT. ... 9:26 P.M.

The Tom Toms of CW Beat Faster, Faster: At first I wasn't sure that one effect of the post-Katrina "emo" broadcast news trend--unleashing Tim Russert to say what he really thinks, which turns out to be an even more overwrought and pompous version of the CW--was at all beneficial. But now I realize it's just another manifestation of the faster news cycle. After all, it used to be that Washington journalists had an advantage--they could go to cocktail parties and hear Russert himself spout the latest CW line in person a few days before he did it on national television. That gave them a head start in reacting against it and preparing the inevitable contrarian, anti-CW pieces. When you moved out of town, you lost a step or two. ... But now, increasingly, anyone with a TV can see Russert bloviate on the day's topic every night!  This evening, for example, he more or less declared that the remainder of the Bush presidency would be devoted to Katrina**--to rebuilding the Gulf and, of course, solving the problems of race and class in America! If you think this view is a typical CW echo-chamber overreaction--which it is--you can now blog that point immediately. What's left for poor John Tierney? The geographic advantage of Washingtonians has been sharply reduced and the democratization of public discourse dramatically advanced. ... The only problem is that Russert's borderline-hysterical banality is unwatchable except by those toughing it out in order to produce contrarian opinion pieces. ...

Second Thought: It's also likely, however, that in some sort of Heisenberg-like fashion the instantaneous dissemination of the CW to a mass audience also subtly perverts it. It's pretty clear that on NBC Nightly News Russert isn't delivering the pure Beltway CW, which is an elite, chattering class phenomenon. He's delivering a peculiar, pandering version of the CW, a conflation of the Washington hack's mood-swing-'o-the-week and what Russert thinks the viewers want to hear. Because the PanderCW doesn't move quite as fast as the Original Classic Formula Elite CW--the viewers don't change their views every week--it may not be that useful to pundits who always need something new to react against. ... Example: Within three months, the elite Beltway CW may well shift from "the rest of Bush's presidency is all about Katrina" to "Bush is bogged down paying so much attention to Katrina." But you probably won't hear Russert saying that on TV, because it wouldn't flatter his audience (e.g. it might imply that they had been overconcerned about Katrina before, or else that they lacked the necessary moral attention span).

**Exact quote: "The remaining three years of his presidency will be devoted to this, and he also has to deal with the problem of the racial divide ...."


Update 9/16: NBC's David Gregory has joined the new, free-stampeding CW, proclaiming on the "Nightly News" that Katrina has done nothing less than shift the focus of the Bush presidency from security to the "safety net." ... 7:29 P.M.

She's so ... S.C.:  What words would you use in the last sentence in this excerpt from today's Washington Post  site?

Slightly more than half of American teenagers, ages 15 to 19, have engaged in oral sex, with females and males reporting similar levels of experience, according to the most comprehensive national survey of sexual behaviors ever released by the federal government. ... The survey, according to those who work with young people, offers one more sign that young women are more [_______________] than they used to be.

WaPo's answer: "sexually confident." ... That's one way to put it! Other suggestions accepted. ...


P.S.: Because the surveys also show that at least as many teenage girls have intercourse and one night stands as boys, WaPo quotes a sex expert saying.

"This is a point of major social transition. ... The data are now coming out and roiling the idea that boys are the hunters and young girls are the prey."

I don't see how the data cited by the Post do that at all. They show that many girls are having sex. They might be the hunters. Or they might be the hunted and caught (and not so "confident" they've done the right thing). Who knows? A hunch: The work of millenia of evolution on the human brain hasn't been reversed in a decade or two. ...

P.S.: But are they means-tested sex vouchers? In the early '80s, Art Levine wrote a satire for Harper's calling in sober, think-tank terms for the creation of a sex stamps program similar to the food stamps program. First time, farce. Second, policy! ...


Update, 7:53 P.M.: The WaPo story, by Laura Sessions Stepp, has now been rewritten. The latest version  removes the "sexually confident" phrase. (Too late!) It also brings in a second sex expert to question the first one, and hints without saying it that when boys and girls report "similar levels of experience" that means the fellatio/cunnilingus ratio is equal. (If that's the claim, do you believe it?)  Stepp uses the words "fellatio" and "cunnilingus;" she's just too squeamish to be clear about the actual data. [Thanks to alert reader E.C.] 

Backfill: Here's a longer 2003 piece on "hooking up" by Stepp that seems to have shaped her spin on the most recent study. ...4:42 P.M. link

Klein on Cooper:

"He is the anchorperson of the future," Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN/U.S., said [of Anderson Cooper] in an interview. He is "an anti-anchorperson," he said, adding: "He's all human. He's not putting it on."-- New York Times

"I think other news executives are drooling over him," [Klein] says. "He brings a new dimension to the job, which is a concept of an anchor as a kind of missionary. It's a new model for thinking about what the anchorperson ought to be."-- New York magazine

"There is something weird about Jonathan Klein. Everything he says makes you hate him, and also hate anyone he is praising."--kf reader E.


4:28 A.M.

Don't Think Twice ... : Michael Kinsley ankles to WaPo after a) giving up his top Los Angeles Times opinion-editor duties in July and b) having an obviously unproductive discussion with incoming LAT publisher Jeffrey Johnson. I guess the Titanic's deck chairs didn't like being rearranged! ... P.S.: The hope Kinsley brought to Los Angeles wasn't that he'd improve the Times. It was that by improving the Times he'd help give L.A. the lively, East-coast style political culture it desperately needs--a culture the city's stolid monopoly newspaper has suffocated for decades. The idea that Kinsley could do this by leveraging the Times' unfindable and largely unread editorial pages was always a longshot. But to have any hope of success in a bloated GM-like institution filled with stuffy veteran editors who'd have to lose their current positions (but who have families and mortgages) Kinsley would need solid long-term backing--no, more like actual encouragement--from the top.  It's now obvious he didn't have this. Pulitzer-addled editor John Carroll vamoosed, for unspecified reasons, over the summer, and incoming publisher Johnson has now made it clear he heeds the voices of Timesenklatura. He's already gone native! ... The most promising strategy for revitalizing Southern California remains the Times' bankruptcy and disappearance. Johnson is off to a good start in that respect. Go craigslist! ... 9:29 P.M.  link


Kf hears: The Bush administration is considering a public jobs program for Katrina victims. ... Why only for Katrina victims? If the wage is set low enough--i.e. below the minimum private-sector wage--a public jobs program can be made available to all comers. ... 5:43 P.M.

CNN's new post-post-Crossfire policy: Forget storytellin'. Get steamed! Wonder why those CNN anchors are so emotional and angry all of a sudden? Are they actually emotional and angry--or are they being told to be emotional and angry? The buried lede in Michael Kinsley's column:

The TV news networks, which only a few months ago were piously suppressing emotional fireworks by their pundits, are now piously encouraging their news anchors to break out of the emotional straitjackets and express outrage. A Los Angeles Times colleague of mine, appearing on CNN last week to talk about Katrina, was told by a producer to "get angry."

Update 9/13: CBS's Public Eye blog tracked down the colleague Kinsley's talking about--LAT editorial writer Jon Healy, who backs up the charge. CNN denies it. NRO's Stephen Spruiell, bizarrely, believes CNN. What other transparent corporate PR/BS does Spruiell believe? Update: Spruiell claims he was joking and writes that CNN "seems to be" guilty. ... P.S.: Kinsley, having hosted Crossfire for several years, is familiar with CNN's culture. If he smells a network wide Jon Klein initiative ordering up more "anger"--I mean, "voice"--there's a good chance he's onto something. TVNewswer apparently hears the same thing. ...


2:22 A.M. [Drudge 9:42 A.M., TVNewser 11:24 A.M. Post hoc ergo post cop!] link

Coulter counters: Ann Coulter responds with a defense of federalism:

The point is: a lack of competition never, ever, ever increases efficiency. ...[snip] That's also why conservatives want to federalize as little as possible and why we opposed Bush's creation of another behemoth federal bureaucracy, "the Department of Homeland Security." When called to the task, Bush's mammoth federal bureaucracy operated the way mammoth federal bureaucracies always do – right down to the 8 hours of "sexual harassment" and "diversity" training before allowing firefighters to get to work rescuing people. Even the things that have to be done by the federal government — like operate a military — lead to massive inefficiencies, $400 hammers, and $300 ashtrays. Oh well. We can't protect ourselves from terrorist attack with local militias alone. That's not an argument for federalizing the emergency response team for every hurricane, tornado, avalanche, terrorist attack, wild fire, crime wave, volcano eruption, tidal wave, etc etc. across America. [Emph. added]

If conservatives think the New Orleans debacle is a demonstration of why we need to preserve local and state government prerogatives, they really do have a preternatural ability to stay on-message. If they can successfully use it as a demonstration of the need to preserve local and state government prerogatives while simultaneously heaping blame on the city of New Orleans and State of Louisiana--the actual local and state governments involved in this case--then Democrats should just give up: the right-wing message machine is unstoppable. ... P.S.:  Let's concede that lack of competition never ... increases efficiency." What's the "competition" for local government? Is there a competing State of Louisiana that I'm unaware of? Is government any less monopolistic at the state and local level? (Tell it to Clint Bolick!) We're only talking about monopolistic governments here--specifically about which level of monopolistic government should be told to handle the job. In this storm, at least, that level was manifestly not the local level.


[You defend the federal role while simultaneously heaping blame on FEMA--ed True. But FEMA can be fixed. Local governments will never have, say, large fleets of helicopters. (The equipment required to respond to disasters is actually similar to the equipment required to provide combat logistics--which Coulter concedes isn't available locally.) Plus, thanks to the way we draw municipal boundaries--allowing affluent commuters to flee while an impoverished central core develops by a process of adverse selection--many "cities" will simply be too socially disorganized to competently do even the things we might exepct cities to do. I'm all for local governments.** I just think the federal government should have the authority to instantly preempt whenever necessary, without the ridiculous three-level, multi-state negotiations we saw in Katrina. Someone needs to be in charge from the beginning, and that someone is the feds.]

**States are another matter. They're too big to foster a sense of local participation and too small to get the job done. But they're very efficient incubators of mindless, semi-mammoth bureaucracy--Fifty Little Washingtons, as Gregg Easterbrook put it. Why do we need them, again? 1:29 A.M.

I hear the original caption was going to be "They threw me out of the house when they read what I wrote about them on my blog." The version they ran is funnier! ... 12:56 A.M.

Malcolm Gladwell emails with a constructive clarification of his recent New Yorker health insurance article (which I criticized here):

I didn't mean at all to suggest that i was opposed to small amounts of cost sharing on health care--like $20 copays. they are probably harmless. my concern is with the kind of high-deductible plans that the RAND experiment told us were so dangerous and that are at the core of the Bush Administration's plans for Health Savings Accounts. When deductibles get into the $500 or $1000 range, i think they get problematic. A reader wrote me, by the way, with what seems like a very sensible suggestion. What if we classifie[d] medical treatments according to what we know about their cost effectiveness? So things that are very cost-effective have a zero co-pay (getting your moles checked) and things of dubious cost-effectiveness have a very high co-pay. [Emph. added]


12:04 A.M.


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. 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. 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. 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]