The lucrative business move the NYT is missing.

The lucrative business move the NYT is missing.

The lucrative business move the NYT is missing.

A mostly political Weblog.
Sept. 19 2005 9:37 PM

The NYT's Premium Discontent

The paper misses its killer Web play.

Instapundit's Katrina Relief donation list. 

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.

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--unnecessarily expensive). 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.

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.

ABC News has word of the Al Qaeda threat against Los Angeles. ...  Drudge has word of the Al Qaeda threat against Los Angeles. ... Brady Westwater's L.A. Cowboy has word of the Al Qaeda threat against Los Angeles! ... But five hours after it hit the Reuters wire you won't find out about it on the home page of the bloated, slow-moving, dinosaur-like monopoly newspaper of ... Los Angeles.  ...Update: Finally listed on the LAT's little AP scroll box as of noon, according to Westwater. ... Stark contrast: Melbourne, Australia, also threatened in the same Al Qaeda tape, has a newspaper that at least knows a front page story when it sees one. Meanwhile (as of 6:05 P.M.) the LAT is still listing the Al Qaeda threat in its little "More News" box. ...  [Thanks to reader D.T.]

Update 9/12: The print edition of the Times has no mention of the Al Qaeda threat on the front page. Not even a teaser. A story about the videotape appears on page A-24. ... This is almost a full day after the threat became public. It's not a speed problem at that point. And it's obviously not a Web-specific problem. It's a pervasive lack of news judgment, almost as if the LAT's mid-level editors feared that doing anything readers might be too interested in would be a sign of unsophisticated tabloidish irresponsibility! ...To fix this fatally twittish mentality, it's not enough for incoming COO Dean Baquet to hire good editors. That's easy. The hard part is firing the boring bad editors, or at least stopping them from showing up for work. There seem to be several hundred of them. ... That means paper won't be helped by any incremental budget-cutting layoffs imposed by its Chicago owners. It needs massive twit-clearing layoffs! ... P.S.: The LAT wasn't the first to gin up a staff-written story after today's big local power outage either. That's a minor issue. We know they're slow! But if after a day's thought they keep front-paging dull stories they think we should read (e.g., "Community Bank [in N.O.] Depends on Clients Who Lost All") as opposed to equally worthy news we would be eager to read (e.g. Al Qaeda vows to blow our town up!) they're doomed. ...  11:45 A.M.


Obit writers are paying much too much attention to the actor who played "Gilligan" and too little attention to Maynard G. Krebs. Novelist Meghan Daum corrects the error, and makes some, yes, larger points (e.g., about beatniks vs. hippies vs. slackers). ... 11:45 A.M. 

Federalism, Fingered! Here's  our peculiar federalism problem in a nutshell  (from the NYT):

Interviews with officials in Washington and Louisiana show that as the situation grew worse, they were wrangling with questions of federal/state authority, weighing the realities of military logistics and perhaps talking past each other in the crisis.

To seize control of the mission, Mr. Bush would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows the president in times of unrest to command active-duty forces into the states to perform law enforcement duties. But decision makers in Washington felt certain that Governor Blanco would have resisted surrendering control of the military relief mission as Bush Administration officials believe would have been required to deploy active-duty combat forces before law and order had been re-established. While troops can conduct relief missions without the legal authority of the Insurrection Act, Pentagon and military officials say that no active-duty forces could have been sent into the chaos of New Orleans on Wednesday or Thursday without confronting law-and-order challenges. [Emphasis added]


In fact, the story notes, Blanco did resist surrendering control. But why should the president have to invoke the Insurrection Act to send troops to save American citizens who are dying of thirst? Active duty troops were ready to move out on Sunday, the day before the storm hit, according to an Army officer. But thanks in large part to federalist sensitivity, the order never came. ..

Sure, the Bushies are using the federalism issue, and Louisiana's potentially bruised feelings, as an excuse--especially when they talk about how "it would have been perceived" if Bush had seized control of the relief effort "from the female governor of another party." (It would have been perceived as such a power grab that ... people would have put their heads out their windows and cheered.) Maybe there are other, more permissive intepretations of the relevant laws. But why should the Bushies even have the federalist excuse? Why should there be any doubt that the President can take command of a relief effort within our own country? Other countries, I suspect, don't have this hangup. Nor does private industry. Again, does UPS need to meet a special legal standard in court before it can take control of one of its branch offices? ...

P.S.: Ann Coulter says I should use the U.S. Postal Service, rather than UPS, as my example. Three responses: 1) USPS does manage to collect tax returns on April 15 and deliver lots of Christmas packages. Yes, there are lines. But if the Katrina relief effort had operated with the embarrassing inefficiency of the U.S. Postal Service--as opposed to the embarrassing inefficiency of the freeform federal/state/local legal seminar and negotiating session that actually took place--lots of people in New Orleans would still be alive today. 2) Does Coulter want to somehow privatize disaster relief? How does that work? Aren't there some things the government just has to do itself? The 82d Airborne, for example. Would a privatized relief agency be free to tell the governor of Louisiana to get lost in a way that President Bush can't? 3) Even if FEMA's work could be contracted out to Halliburton, that's no argument for putting unnecessary legalistic obstacles in the way of the government if we choose not to privatize. Yet that's what our federalism fetish does.

P.P.S.: Lets be clear about this--today, it's not me blaming federalism. It's "administration, Pentagon and Justice Department officials." What the Bushies themselves are fingering as the cause of the Katrina debacle is precisely the machinery of 'states rights' that so entrances conservatives (and that was revived dramatically by the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist). Will Bush follow through on the current White House line of thinking and denounce hyperbolic assertions of state prerogatives (such as those embedded in a narrow interpretation of the unfortunate commerce clause)? Will he nominate someone to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat who rejects the Rehnquist view?


When things screw up, these days, we hold the president and the federal government responsible. It follows that the president and the federal government should have the power to stop things from screwing up. ... 11:58 P.M. link

Judy Looking for an Out? Arianna unburies the lede in a Reuters story, supplements it with "a source with inside knowledge," and concludes that jailed NYT reporter Judy Miller is now negotiating to get a "proper release from her promise by her source.'" ... Why negotiate now? Because Floyd Abrams' disastrously self-righteous legal advice has been supplemented by some "very different" legal advice, says Arianna's source. ... Have Bill and Pinch learned the lesson of Posada  (i.e., 'Avoid Floyd, avoid the slammer'!)? ... P.S.: I'd also guess two other factors are at work: 1) Miller utterly failed to become a cause celebre in any signficant segment of the populace; and 2) Katrina closed off any possibility that she could break through onto the front pages anytime soon. ... Plus maybe the Times brass leaned on her ever so slightly! ... 11:18 P.M. link

Katrina Ate My Homework, II:  Any thoughts that maybe the teachers' union wasn't using Katrina to try to get out from under the accountability provisions of No Child Left Behind turn out to have been excessively charitable. Blogger Mike Antonucci got hold of another National Education Association post-Katrina letter--this one to Congress, accompanied by bullet points with some of the details too ... explicit to include in the more euphemistic "for show" letter the NEA printed on its web site. In particular, the NEA wants the administration to:

Suspend sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and in school districts accepting evacuated students.  Waive deadlines for highly qualified teachers and paraprofessionals in those states.  Deem displaced teachers who were highly qualified in their home states as highly qualified in the states to which they have evacuated. [Emphasis added]


In other words, no more accountability for lousy schools in three entire states and in any other district in the entire nation that accepts displaced students. Take some Katrina Kids, get out from under the NCLB!  Ineffective teachers in mediocre schools who fear losing their jobs can't say their union is not going to bat for them in Washington. ... 11:50 A.M.

NBC's Campbell Brown on actual, existing federalism:

Watching the power struggles play out between New Orleans officials and the state and federal government has been beyond frustrating. ... They let the bureaucracy get in the way of saving lives," said Brown, the anchor on NBC's weekend Today show, who grew up in Louisiana.

[via TVNewser] 1:34 A.M.


The Storm Ate My Homework: Eduwonk charges that the teachers' union (NEA) is using Katrina as an excuse for "suspending" the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind law in vast swaths of the South, including Texas. That was certainly the impression left by today's New York Times story. ... P.S.: The NEA president's actual letter the the secretary of education-- text here--seems more limited. Here are the key sentences:

Until these children, their teachers, districts and families gain their footing under these extremely difficult circumstances, I encourage you to implement the provisions in NCLB that deal with the impact of natural disasters on testing and AYP.

We would also ask that states such as Texas and others who are not physically affected by Hurricane Katrina, yet are receiving these children, be granted the same levels of flexibility and not be adversely affected or otherwise penalized for accepting these children and students into their school systems.

Maybe this means the NEA will ask that all of Texas be exempt from the law's "Annual Yearly Progress" (AYP) requirement--Eduwonk knows more than I do about what weasel words like "flexibility" mean. ... Update:kf hears there was a second NEA letter dealing with the touchy AYP issue--a letter the NEA has conspicuously not posted on their site. ... P.P.S.: If accepting even one Katrina refugee kid into your school district gets the whole district a free pass on meeting the NCLB's requirements, those are going to be some highly sought-after kids! ... 12:48 P.M. link


The U.S. should take Fidel Castro up on his post-Katrina offer to send over 1,586 doctors from Cuba. It could be a PR victory--how many do you think will go back?  12:58 A.M. link

Open Source Health Studies? Here's an idea that undoubtedly is not original, and may or may not be good.** You tell me:

A friend of mine, a non-doctor, was thinking about the surge of lung cancer among women who've never smoked. Was it maybe related to all the mammograms women now get? This might be a crazy suggestion. It might be a brilliant suggestion. But it should be an easily checkable suggestion. Just look at the women who got lots of mammograms and see if they have a higher incidence of lung cancer.

My friend has been trying to get a health reporter interested in the idea--a reporter who, in turn might get someone else with access to the data to run the numbers. But with modern computer and search technology, shouldn't there be a simpler way--an open database of longitudinal medical histories, searchable by anyone with a modem and a hunch. Get a sufficiently large cohort of people to record everything about their health--what diseases they get, what procedures they have done, what allergies they have, medicines they take, lifestyles, basic socio-economic info, etc. Get them to sign all the necessary waivers and put all this data online (giving them numbers, of course, instead of identifiable names). Once that's done--and I'm sure such private research databases exist--it shouldn't be hard to construct a Web page that lets a visitor to the site compare, say, the percent of women who've had more than 8 mammograms who get lung cancer with the percentage of women in the whole sample who get lung cancer.

Yes, such correlations are tricky. They don't imply causation. People who do X (which seems to be linked to bad outcome Y) may also tend to be people with unhealthy lifestyles, or poorer people, and those things--rather than X--could be the cause of the bad outcome. But that's why we have academics. A correlation is at least a start.

The advantage of such an "open" database is that it multiplies the number of hunches that can be at least given this initial test by several orders of magnitude. Most of the hunches will turn out to be bunk. But if 1 in 100 turns out to produce an interesting correlation, and 1 in 100 of those correlations turns out to withstand academic scrutiny, I bet the search for medical knowledge would be way ahead of the game.

Maybe such a site exists. I suspect not, probably because the databases involved are closely held. Are they kept private for the good of mankind, or because they provide universities with a sort of monopoly on inquiry--lucrative, if not financially, then in easy routes to tenure?

Still, academics shouldn't be threatened by an open search system--as noted, they wouldn't be out of a job, they'd just have an additional, different job, sorting through the most promising correlations discovered by amateurs.

That job might be like that of the inspector in the old Bob Newhart routine, who's assigned to examine the prose generated by an infinite number of monkeys at typewriters. (He checks in on one that has typed: "To be or not to be, that is the gezortenblatt.")  But I suspect the ratio of misses to hits would be more favorable than that. The Web can be a surprisingly efficient engine of truth--and, more important, it discovers truths that other institutions wouldn't. (See, for example, Elizabeth Liddle's contribution to thinking about exit-poll errors.) Many people would bring to their inquiries a knowledge of their own histories. Even if they didn't come up with any surprising connections, they might get some satisfaction from at least being able to ask a question and get an answer. Anyway, it seems worth a shot.

**--You could do a little bit of research yourself and find out if this is an original idea--ed Why? It just slows the process down. 12:42 A.M. link


All According to Plan? Here's a semi-conspiratorial theory about behind-the-scenes Bush-administration planning that I actually tend to believe: 1) The plan was always for Roberts to be nominated for the Chief Justice slot; 2) Rehnquist was persuaded to hold off on retiring and let O'Connor retire first; 3) The names of Janice Rogers Brown and others were floated in order to draw fire as being "too conservative"--making the ultimate Roberts nomination seem more reasonable and something Dems could live with. ... The evidence? When Rehnquist died unexpectedly, they did name Roberts awfully quickly, didn't they? Almost as if a preexisting plan were being pulled off a shelf! ...Why would they want Roberts to initially be seen as an O'Connor replacement rather than as a Rehnquist replacement?--ed Seen as a Rehnquist replacement he's not that exciting to conservatives--the Rehnquist/Roberts swap doesn't move the court perceptibly to the right. And it's only the prospect of filling the O'Connor swing-vote seat that terrifies liberals--thereby enabling the scary trial balloons and the ultimate we-can-live-with-him sigh-of-acceptance Democratic attitude toward Roberts. So what's the next step in the plan--i.e. for filling the O'Connor seat?-ed. Good question. Could be that the Right gets screwed, with Bush having given them the impression that he was willing to fill the moderate swing seat with a true conservative (Roberts), even though ultimately after the shell game is over all that has happened is that Rehnquist has been replaced by a younger version of himself. .. After all, if this has been planned, and if Bush wanted to move the court to the right, why wouldn't he save the appealing Roberts for the contentious O'Connor seat? Unless there's another, equally appealing conservative out there--but then why would they have gone through the whole Kabuki act (i.e. why not just save Roberts for when Rehnquist retired?). ... You have no other evidence for this at all, do you?--ed I'm not sayin' I do and I'm not sayin' I don't. ... 11:16 A.M. link

The Curse of Federalism, Part II: Bloggers Faces of G and Brad DeLong, as well as Instapundit, wrestle with the obvious issue any relief effort would face--even in a streamlined federal system with no gratuitous interemediate state  level of authority interposed between cities and Washington. That obvious issue is how does the national government anticipate that a city like New Orleans won't have its act together in a hurricane, so the feds can be ready with troops to take over policing and other duties more or less immediately?

It's not that simple--you can imagine a certain amount of paranoia and hurt on New Orleans' part if every disaster were accompanied by a mobilization of the National Guard in anticipation of unchecked looting (especially if that mobilization were deemed unnecessary in the case of, say, the equivalent disaster in New York).


But it's not that difficult either. My answers are: a) Anyone who knew anything about New Orleans would know that they wouldn't get it together; b) At the myriad meetings that were held on the various emergency plans, high-powered federal officials might ask esoteric, expert questions like "When all these people get to the Superdome, what will they eat and drink? And how will they go to the bathroom?" c) The whole problem would be easier if we had a unitary, hierarchical government in which federal preemption wasn't seen as an invasion of state "sovereignty." When United Parcel Service thinks its Cincinnati division isn't ready to deliver Christmas packages, I imagine it sends a team to find out and takes over the Cincinnati division if it has significant worries. I'm sure there are hurt local feelings--feelings that would be stronger when it's an elected city government's authority that's being preempted. But the whole preeemption problem is immeasurably exaggerated by our unnecessary fears about uncomplicated federal power. We'd be better off if we were more like UPS; d) The federalist complication is clearly responsible for screwups like the following, described by Newsday, in which one "sovereign" layer of government worries if it's going to be reimbursed by the other layer:

One problem: 8,000 National Guard troops from Louisiana and Mississippi are on duty in Iraq. Pentagon officials insisted last week that didn't hinder disaster response, but acknowledged that the bureaucracy for replacing them with troops from nearby states is unwieldy.

At this point, questions about why the troops weren't there quicker seem to be an exercise in bureaucratic finger-pointing. Pentagon officials last week said questions should be directed to the state. But on the ground, local officials like New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin called on Washington for more troops.

The reason, Young said: State governors outside the hurricane zone wouldn't mobilize Guard troops in advance because they weren't sure they would be reimbursed by Washington. [Emph. added]

The whole process by which states have to ask other states for aid wouldn't exist if we didn't have states! [What would you have, again?--ed Local entities covering entire metropolitan areas--SMSAs. The national government. Nothing in between. If you wanted to divide the country into ten numbered sectors for administrative purposes, fine. But there wouldn't be ten extra governments. But what about our 'laboratories of democracy'?--ed Metropolitan areas are fine laboratories of democracy!] ... Con: Jim Tynen thinks unitary states do no better, and points to France. ... 3:16 A.M. link

That ABC/WaPo poll--showing the public not really blaming Bush for Katrina screw-ups--may not capture the ultimate verdict. Mystery Pollster notes a three-day SurveyUSA poll that looks much more ominous for Bush (though it isn't definitive either--it's still a holiday-weekend poll, and an automated one at that). ... 1:48 A.M.


Here's a decent LAT article on the city-specific racial tensions in New Orleans three months before Katrina hit. [Is it worth paying $3.95 for that article?--ed No. It's probably on the Web somewhere for free, though!] Sample:

In March, a jury found the city's first black district attorney guilty of discrimination for firing 42 white employees and replacing them with blacks. ...

Enmity and distrust have grown so deep that some white community activists trying to participate in a recent antiracism demonstration were ordered to leave by black activists.

The article also reports evidence that blacks are in fact price-gouged at area clubs. ... The question is are these a) New Orleans-specific tensions, or b) just the tensions you get in an extreme case of white and middle class flight to the suburbs, leaving behind a ghetto-poor core?  If any city's sui generis, New Orleans is, you'd think. But I still guess (b). ... Backfill: Joel Kotkin blames the city's dependence on tourism, which seems a factor between (a) and (b) since it's a trait N.O. shares with some other cities:

Tourism defines contemporary New Orleans' economy more than its still-large port, or its remaining industry, or its energy production. Although there is nothing wrong, per se, in being a tourist town, it is not an industry that attracts high-wage jobs; and tends to create a highly bifurcated social structure.


Update: Kotkin, racking up those "New America Foundation" bylines (he knows what Ted Halstead  lives for!) has a similar piece in the LAT, calling on New Orleans to shift to a more Houston-like economy. Part-time N.O. resident Harry Shearer is skeptical, and catches an embarrassing goof in Kotkin's pull-out quote. ... 1:19 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. 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]