Judy's little misunderstanding.

Judy's little misunderstanding.

Judy's little misunderstanding.

A mostly political Weblog.
Oct. 2 2005 6:23 AM

The Aspens Sleep With the Fishes!

Was "Scooter" coaching?

Instapundit's Katrina/Rita Relief donation list.

Crossing Miller: Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake wonders who leaked the Libby/Miller correspondence to the New York Times (and maybe to Powerline too). 1) Judith Miller presumably wasn't behind the leak, since the documents tend to make her look bad for suddenly discovering the sincerity of Cheney aide "Scooter" Libby's waiver. (And if the NYT got them from their mutual attorneys against Miller's wishes, that might be unethical, as Hamsher notes.) 2)  OK, so they got them from Libby, right? But why would Libby want to gratuitously anger Miller on the very day she was giving testimony that might or might not cause his criminal indictment?* You'd think that would be the moment he'd want to suck up to her.** That leaves 3) one party who may have had access to the letters--at least one of which was addressed to him--and who seems to despise Miller. He also had an interest in riling her up against Libby right before she testified: Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. ... Just thinking out loud here! ...

*: The NYT apparently had the letters when it published the story it ran on Friday, September 30, just before Miller's testimony. The release of the letters themselves  is dated the next day.


**: Still inexplicable--even if Libby's camp didn't leak the letter--would be his lawyer, Joseph Tate's  contradiction of Miller's story in WaPo the day of her testimony. Wasn't that kind of against the interests of his client,at least if Miller knows anything that might potentially incriminate Libby? Or was it was more important for Libby to please prosecutor Fitzgerald--by a) making Miller look bad and b) arguing that Libby had expeditiously provided waivers to Miller? Tate's public debate with Miller's lawyers is certainly the clearest evidence I can see at the moment that Libby really isn't worried about Miller's testimony. ... [If pleasing Fitzgerald was Tate's motivation, why couldn't he also have leaked the letters to please Fitzgerald?--ed. It's possible. But the letter leak seems piling on in a way designed to maximize the annoy-Judy factor. ... Tate might also have blurted out his "surprise" to WaPo simply because it was, you know, the truth. Leaking a letter, however, is a calculated act.] 1:29 A.M.

kf's Early Paranoia Detection System: Hmm. Rabbit Fever--a bacteria that "can be used as a weapon if made into an aerosol that could be inhaled"--is found on the Mall during last weekend's antiwar protest. Meanwhile, a mysterious, only semi-explained stench crops up in Los Angeles and then in Washington, D.C..  Does it sometimes feel as if someone (perhaps our own government) is testing something in our big cities? Just asking! 10:44 P.M. link

The Aspens Sleep With the Fishes: Is it just me or is this sentence in Cheney aide  Lewis "Scooter" Libby's letter to reporter Judith Miller regarding the Plame-leak case just a little too suggestive of how she might want to testify:

Because, as I am sure will not be news to you, the public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me, or knew about her before our call.


(The suggestion, of course, would be that this is how Miller might also testify--e.g. no discussion of "Plame's name or identity"--unless she wants to stand out from the pack as someone who contradicts Libby's defense.) ... P.S.: Libby's letter ends, somewhat mysteriously, with this sentence:

Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.

And you know what happens to the aspens that sever their deep connections and fail to turn with all the others, don't you, my little pretty? ... P.P.S.: Again, am I crazy or does Libby's letter leave open the possibility that Libby did name Plame to a reporter--only to a reporter who "knew about her before [the] call"? ...  Q: If Libby tries to blow someone's cover but the cover's already been blown, does that get him off the hook legally? Just askin'. Hypothetically. ... 2:03 A.M. link


Q: Is Howie Kurtz this dumb? Criticizing a characterization of the press as "Republican-hating," WaPo/CNN's media critic argues:

Third, isn't McCain a Republican, and doesn't he get terrific press?

A: No he's not that dumb. He knows McCain gets terrific press in large part because he's a Republican who snipes at Republicans. Kurtz is 1) positioning disingenuously; and 2) a hack with a column to finish! ... Also 3) he had two reasons, and you always need three. ...[Thanks to C.R.4:22 P.M.

Busted: The L.A. Times is caught  telling would-be subscribers that it will become "less liberal." ... Plus--Smell the Fear! The LAT seems to be placing huge house ads to suck up to Harvey Weinstein! ("The Los Angeles Times Motion Picture Advertising Team Congratulates the Weinstein Company on their new endeavor.") ... Luckily, the paper's not desperate or anything. ...  3:55 P.M.


Judy's Little Misunderstanding:  From today's NYT--

Other people involved in the case have said Ms. Miller did not understand that the waiver had been freely given ...

That has to be disingenuous. You mean she was sitting in jail all because she never bothered to inquire and find out that the waiver that would free her was genuine? ... P.S.: See also Arianna's broader skepticism and Maguire's speculation. ... Umansky  wonders why Miller waited "until late August" to try to clarify the waiver. ... Update: In the last sentence of this post, Maguire may have stumbled onto the key factor--a change in the lawyers the NYT was listening to, away from Floyd Abrams and his flamboyant interventions! That's a big part of the story the NYT isn't telling. Maybe, as Maguire suggests, Bill Keller is saving it for "TimesSelect." ... 1:39 A.M. link

Should we start collecting donations for a Tribune Co. Relief Fund? ... [From reader J.K.] 1:11 A.M.


Hurricane Parties: It's getting a bit confusing, what with the press revisionism and all. Let me make sure I've got the competing party lines down correctly--

Liberal position: Racist neglect caused poor New Orleans residents to suffer from the unspeakable things that only a racist would assume actually happened!

Conservative position: A fatherless underclass culture caused poor New Orleans residents to do the unspeakable things the anti-Bush MSM falsely reported they did!

11:14 A.M.


Army Times reports  [$] the Army now plans to recruit high school dropouts for the first time in years. (See also this shorter free article.) A GED will still be required, but the Army will now help you earn it. Recruits will still need to pass the Army's basic "vocational aptitude" test. This could be a way to incrementally tap previously untapped pools of kids who didn't finish high school but now have the motivation to get their degree. Or it could be a sign of measured desperation, seeking to shore up lagging recruitment by enrolling people who may be talented but aren't organized enough to complete high school. ... GED recipients (as opposed to actual high school graduates) will still be limited to 10% of new soldiers--but they're apparently only 6.5% now. ... Update:Armchair Generalist says  "What a slippery slope." ... 2:59 P.M. link

Bob Odom, Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner(Make sure sound is on.) The Beatles influence seems obvious, given the unconventional chord changes, while the lyric's repetition takes on an incantatory, drone-like quality evocative of the Velvet Underground and Roky Erickson, among others. Fans of "I Walked With A Zombie" will not want to miss. Big finish! 2:25 P.M.

Blink Justice: Here is Harriet Miers' bio ... and here's Michael McConnell's. Assume they're both fine people. If you had to make a snap decision, which one should be on the United States Supreme Court? ...  Analogy: Cheryl Mills did an excellent job loyally defending Bill Clinton. But if Clinton had nominated her to the Court, don't you think there would have been an outcry? ... [You just like McConnell because he wrote a piece in 2000 trashing Bush v. Gore--ed. Shhh. That article showed guts. Clearly-written too. We were hoping the Bushies had forgotten it.] 1:27 A.M.


Hardy Perennial Zero-Sum Reminder: Writing of Tom DeLay, Slate's John Dickerson explains (according to his subhed)

Why neither side wants the House majority leader gone.

That may be true, but--just a reminder!--one of these sides is making a mistake. Control of Congress is a zero-sum game. DeLay's staying can't help both sides get a majority. It's mathematically impossible. Either he helps the Dems by being a Gingrich-like villain, in which case he hurts the GOPs. Or it's the other way around. ... 10:51 P.M. link

Before he "sold out" by getting into rock and roll Bob Dylan the folk singer was heavily into Woody Guthrie. But before he was into Woody Guthrie he was into ... rock and roll! I once heard Samuel Popkin, the political science professor, describing how at his summer camp young Bobby Zimmerman would clear the room with his loud renditions of Johnny B. Goode.  You could ask him! (Popkin, I mean) ... P.S.: The excellent PBS Dylan documentary last night convinced me he was neither the voice of his generation nor all that influential--more of a sui generis artist. If he hadn't done what he did nobody else would have. Chuck Berry, on the other hand, was influential--he diverted a mighty river of popular music. But if Chuck Berry hadn't done what he did arguably somebody else would have, soon enough. ... I'm having a hard time coming up with artists or writers who were a) non-inevitable like Dylan andb) influential like Berry. ... Pushkin, maybe, or so I've been told. Nominations accepted. ... Update: Freud (reader T.M)--fair enough; The Beatles--I'd say insufficiently influential, but Colby Cosh makes a strong case. ...  10:19 P.M.


Only healthy and civilized items today. We're going after the Chinese market. ... 7:40 P.M.

Tom Maguire has a good idea for a Krugman column that he would like to not read. ... 7:37 P.M.

WaPo blogger William Arkin gets all huffy about how "renegade" Able Danger operatives violated regulations and comingled "information on Americans" with information on foreigners in their massive data base--a civil liberties violation that seems rather subtle in retrospect. More important is the scenario Arkin sketches in which the Able Danger-ites might indeed have fingered Mohamed Atta before 9/11, basically by buying photos of people going in and out of mosques from private groups:

According to military sources familiar with the Able Danger legal side, the effort stepped over the line when LIWA contractors purchased photographic collections of people entering and exiting mosques in the United States and overseas. One source says that LIWA contractors dealt with a questionable source of photographs in California, either a white supremacy group or some other anti-Islamic organization.

"There are records of who goes where regarding visits to mosques," Shaffer told Government Security News. "That was the data that LIWA was buying off the Internet from information brokers." It was stuff no one else bothered to look at, says Shaffer.

LIWA purchased an open-source, six-month data run, Shaffer says, and analysts developed a set of eight data points common to 1993 World Trade Center bombers and associates. With advanced software, including facial recognition software able to track individuals from the collected photographs, Shaffer says contractors "made the link between [Mohammed] Atta and [Sheik Omar Abdel] Rahman, the first World Trade Center bomber."

One obvious question is whether "facial recognition software" was actually advanced enough back then to accomplish this. ...Update: Alert e-mailer Q--known to kf to be trustworthy--reports:

FWIW, face recognition software was fairly decent back in 2000.  It probably could have been helpful in a project like Able Danger, although I'm not sure *how* helpful.  By coincidence, I spent a few months in 2000 reviewing various facial recognition companies and their products for the company I was working for back at just about that time.

 7:34 P.M.

Blog panels--we should have more of them! We should have more of them, anyway, if they can all be reported by N. Ephron, who manages to make it all outsider-fresh. ... She has talent. Credit to the blogosphere for uncovering this witty writer! I hope we hear more from her. ... 7:10 P.M.


Someone found something nasty to say about NBA-great/steelmaker Dave Bing, who has joined a suburban businessman and the non-profit Skillman Foundation to spend $200 million on a planned string of 15 charter high schools in struggling Detroit:

A group named the Call 'Em Out Coalition gave Bing a "Sambo Sell-Out Award" at its annual dinner for partnering with a white businessman. The award was bestowed by Democratic City Council member Sharon McPhail. And the Detroit Federation of Teachers expressed its displeasure with Skillman by threatening to end its cooperation with the foundation on other city school projects.

[From The Weekly Standard, via Eduwonk.] The report of the attack on Bing comes at a time when Hurricane Katrina has raised profound issues of race, class and gender. 2:31 P.M.

Katrina Hype? On NBC? No! On NBC Nightly News last night, correspondent Lisa Myers reported on former FEMA director Michael Brown's testimony:

Under withering criticism from both parties, Brown offered no apologies and mostly blamed others for the debacle that cost hundreds of lives. [Emph. added]


Did government mismanagement really "cost hundreds of lives"? The total Katrina death toll for the whole Gulf region is currently about 1,100. Do we know that more than 200 of those people would have lived if the evacuation and rescue effort had been well-managed? I'm skeptical, and even more skeptical that NBC has actual evidence to back up that claim. ... P.S.: The NBC broadcast also featured Martin Savidge righteously denouncing hyped statistics and "inaccuracies" in post-Katrina coverage! ...

Update: Savidge declared:

We spent three days at the Convention Center reporting on the human suffering. We heard the terrible accounts of rape and murder, even the killing of children, but the only deaths we reported were the ones we actually saw. [Emph. added]

Hmm. Here's a 9/2 report  from NBC's Kerry Sanders:

Then there are those who were injured by the hurricane and its aftermath. I spoke to a man who was beaten up at the Superdome. His jaw was broken and he had a friend with him who had a concussion and was basically unconscious.

The man with the broken jaw said that he had another friend who was beaten to death at the Superdome. He said that they had no choice but to leave his body there.  


That's the Superdome, not the Convention Center. Still ... [Thanks to T.M. ] 12:47 P.M.

Let the Victims Speak, Part II:  kf reader S.D. complains that TimeSelect--and with it Web access to columnists such as Paul Krugman--is unavailable to those too poor to have credit cards. S.D. wrote:

I don't have a credit card.  I want to subscribe to times select.   

An email from the NYT informed him:

Since we only sell digital products our system is set up to only accept credit card purchases online.  We do not accept personal checks.  We are investigating other options but currently we only accept payment by credit card (or by a debit card carrying the Mastercard  or Visa logo).


News of the NYT policy comes at a time when Hurricane Katrina has raised profound issues of race, class, and gender. 2:25 A.M.

Technorati is the new Dowdster: The top seven searches on Technorati  are all searches for blocked-off New York Times columns. Why? Locked-out readers are looking for bootleg copies ... and finding them, mostly. ... P.S.: Does the NYT have an exit strategy? If they pull the plug on TimesSelect, do they have to give all the sucke ... I mean, customers who signed up their $49.95 back? ...  11:58 A.M.


"English bypassed in L.A.: Many Immigrants say Korean or Spanish is more useful" The L.A. Daily News' story is a lot less scary than its headline--it merely offers anecdotal evidence of 1) a Peruvian who learns Korean because he runs a store in Koreatown; and 2) a Korean who teaches Spanish and says dramatic things like:

"In California, Spanish is more important than English .... I haven't found any inconvenience because I don't speak English. ... I don't need to speak English. If you can speak Spanish, you can drive, employers can have clients, you can order in restaurants, you can do anything."

No actual statistics are offered. ... Still, it's worth worrying about a) the possible collapse of a common language and b) the possible Quebec-like Mexification of Southern California. I have no confidence that the L.A. Times will cover these concerns; the Daily News' mild alarmismis better than nothing. ... 11:08 P.M.

Sen. Hillary Clinton comes out against the creation of an amorphous, pomposity-saturated "International Freedom Center" at Ground Zero. Smart move--it buys her non-liberal points at very little cost. Also the right move. The I.F.C.  will either be unfairly politicized--e.g., giving the 9/11 tragedy a particular human-rightsy twist--or it will be pablum. Either way, it's unnecessary.  10:37 P.M


David Ignatius confirms that the U.S. military agrees to a surprising degree with at least one tenet of the anti-war movement: continued American military occupation in some sense makes winning the war less easy.

The commanders who are running the war don't talk about transforming Iraq into an American-style democracy or of imposing U.S. values. They understand that Iraqis dislike American occupation, and for that reason they want fewer American troops in Iraq, not more. ... They don't want permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. Indeed, they believe such a high-visibility American presence will only make it harder to stabilize the country.

As Ignatius notes, in terms of what we should do now, as opposed to whether the war was the right thing to launch in the first place, there is vastly less practical difference between the "pro-war" and non-fringe "anti-war" positions  than either side's rhetoric would lead you to believe (and vastly less than the equivalent difference during Vietnam). ... See also this sensible column. ... 10:03 P.M.

Let the victims speak! From a kf reader in Philadelphia, on the now inaccessible NYT Web op-ed page:

I have enjoyed getting my daily "fix" of this page.  I miss Maureen Dowd's columns the most.


Sad, so sad! 4:15 P.M.

WaPo's Fletcher and Balz  write about the possibility that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will be named by President Bush to fill the O'Connor seat:

But conservative groups have expressed opposition to Gonzales on ideological grounds, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) publicly recommended that Bush not appoint Gonzales. ... Gonzales, perhaps more than any other prospective nominee, would split Senate Democrats, and Democratic strategists privately say that he could win confirmation without a bloody fight. [Emph. added]

Hmmm. The opposition to Gonzales among conservatives I know is not ideological. It is personal and almost visceral. They think he is a mediocrity and a whiny, gutless careerist! Also a classic overpromoted affirmative action hire. It seems entirely possible that a Gonzales nomination would become the cathartic vehicle for conservatives to vent all their frustrations with Bush (over spending, Katrina, and even Iraq). At some point, Democrats might sense the chance to deal the President a defeat. ...  If Bush loses the right, the left, and Arlen Specter, how, exactly, does Gonzales win easy confirmation? ... 4:03 P.M. link


Escape from TimesSelect: The NYT's Tom Friedman, in an exceptionally blowhardish appearance on Meet the Press,  laments the effect of massive U.S. borrowing from China:

I think we have--we are now in a position where China has-- they're heading for $1 trillion, OK, of our--in reserves that they're going to be holding, basically. And the leverage that is going to give China over the United States in the coming years, God knows where-- how that's going to play out.

Hmm. If you lend a trillion dollars to someone, does that give you leverage over them or them leverage over you? I'd always thought it was the latter, especially when the debtor is a sovereign nation. (Keynes: "Owe your banker 1000 [pounds] and you are at his mercy; owe him 1 million [pounds] and the position is reversed.") What's China going to do, repossess the United States? ... P.S.: Prison Break! The joint Meet appearance by three NYT columnists seemed like a marketing gimmick. (Next they're going to be given away to audience members on Oprah!) But it may also have been a desperate plea for attention on their part (now that they've been sent down the TimesSelect memory hole on the Web). ...  Update: T.M.  says they "staged a mass escape, huddling together and pleading for visibility." ... 4:26 A.M. link

Put the Moose on the Table: Conservativekf reader D.A. emails to say she has stopped "enjoying the failure of TimesSelect" and now worries that it is failing too quickly--that soon the NYT will pull the plug, restoring the reach and influence of the paper's predominantly liberal columnists. ... D.A. suggests that

Republicans and right-wingers should sign up now and pay for it, just so NYT management think it's a success and keep it going.


The conservatives could inspire themselves with the thought that they were in essence paying to erect a barrier between the NYT's would-be opinion-shapers and a public that might all-too-easily have its opinions shaped. ... Once the Times columnists' "status as megapundits" has slowly ebbed away,

[t]hen, and only then, Karl Rove can give the word and everyone will stop subscribing to TimesSelect.  It won't matter then if the embargo comes down, because people will have gotten along fine without their daily dose of the NYT's correct enlightened thinking.

P.S.: A few days ago I jokingly called for replacing TimesSelect with "TimesDelete," a service that would allow readers to pay to silence their least favorite columnists. D.A.'s email has made me realize how misdirected this proposal was. TimesSelect doesn't need to be replaced by TimesDelete. TimesSelect is TimesDelete! The Times has taken the columnists people are most willing to pay for and removed them from the public discourse on the Web. In fact, the paper has been quite diligent about suppressing them--contrary to my expectations, Times columns are not regularly turning up on pirate Web sites. Look at John Tabin's Never Pay Retail--the last six NYT columns apparently aren't available anywhere for free. They're gone!  Even Paul Krugman's archive of previously published columns may be wiped out. ... Why does China have to spend millions on new repressive opinion-blocking technologies and new complicated anti-speech rules  when it could just adopt TimesSelect across the board and accomplish the same thing more efficiently and with less controversy?... The NYT might even lease its proprietary TimesSelect technology to threatened dictatorships around the globe as a turnkey solution to their Internet dissent problems. Worried about subversive pro-democracy agitators? Just make them part of TimesSelect's premium content and they'll never be heard from again! ... It's yet another coveted supplemental revenue stream opened up by Pinch Sulzberger's Web pathfinders. ....

[Why is TimesSelect worth attacking? Don't Web publications have to learn to make money somehow? This is just cheap schadenfreude--ed  Not cheap schadenfreude. Civic schadenfreude! Here are three public-spirited reasons to revel in the NYT's suffering: 1) The NYT is characteristically arrogant in assuming that its opinion writers are well read because they're so much smarter and better than the hundreds of thousands of competing opinion writers on the Web, as opposed to because as NYT columnists they are what everyone thinks everyone else reads. It will be a blow for social equality if this near-Herrnsteinian assumption gets punctured;  2) The nation's most important paper, as noted frequently in this space, has become smug and self-confident in its biases under its current publisher, Mr. Sulzberger.He inherited his positon, but it's not impossible for him to lose it (there was talk of that during the Jayson Blair scandal). If he did, maybe the paper would become less smug and self-confident in its biases; 3) Public debate seems to work faster and better when opinion and argument is available freely and universally. Paid content won't kill democracy; it didn't before the Web. But the free content/advertising model for making money--at least when it comes to opinion journalism--is better for democracy.] ... 1:49 P.M. link


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


Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Keller's Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna's Huffosphere--Now a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. John Leo--If you've got political correctness, he's got a column ... [More tk]