|Man Without Qualities|
Saturday, January 10, 2004
Breaking Rule Number One ... And Most Of The Others, Too(0) comments
Things are going worse and worse for Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman.
Now it's Maureen Dowd breaking his first rule of campaign coverage. In fact, her entire column seems to be nothing but her breakage of his rules.
Unlike the great majority of subordinates who complain that their boss does not listen to them enough, former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill is deeply upset that his boss - the President - listened to Mr. O'Neill too much:
"I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage [him] on. I was surprised it turned out me talking and the president just listening . . . It was mostly a monologue."
Poor Mr. O'Neill. The paucity of Presidential responses will presumably deprive this former subordinate of a supply of confidential comments to disclose in this book (Mr. O'Neill holds forth even on matters far outside of Treasury Department competence, such as national security), which suggests that Mr. Bush's instincts in dealing with his Secretary were sound. I wonder if Mr. O'Neill has considered the possibility that the response (or lack thereof) that he elicited from the President may have been particular to Mr. O'Neill, and not to better advisors. And maybe that particularity, in turn, had something to do with the fact that during his tenure Mr. O'Neill rapidly developed a reputation for providing mediocre counsel to the President and for engaging in public disagreement with the Administration's decisions and programs - to the point of possibly petulant disloyalty - and for making public statements that were both incorrect and disruptive of public markets, as the Financial Times points out:
During his tenure as Treasury secretary, Mr O'Neill almost immediately became well-known for speaking out frequently and frankly on a range of subjects including the dollar, the limited value of International Monetary Fund crisis lending and the problems with development aid. His comments frequently had an impact on financial markets, with one remark about the low likelihood of an IMF rescue package for Brazil causing a rapid fall in the Brazilian currency. The IMF subsequently announced a $30bn bail-out that succeeded in stabilising the Brazilian economy.
The President's relationships with other - more capable - aides do not seem to have the structure of his relationship with Mr. O'Neill, as is evident in this passage from a recent New York Times article on Condoleezza Rice:
Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, stood in front of Mr. Bush's desk in the Oval Office last summer and tried to coax the president into something he did not want to face.
She suggested, carefully, that the White House begin repairing the rupture with the allies over Iraq by reaching out to Germany, whose chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, had infuriated the president by campaigning for re-election on an antiwar platform. Mr. Bush, simply put, did not trust him.
"I can't do it with Schroder," Mr. Bush told Ms. Rice, according to a senior administration official who witnessed the exchange. Ms. Rice, who had not directly suggested that Mr. Bush meet with Mr. Schr?der, rushed to reassure. "No, no, no, we won't make you do it with Schroder," she said. But Mr. Bush seemed to know what Ms. Rice had in mind. "Wait a minute, you'll get me back with Schroder, I know what you're trying to do," the president said, the official recounted.
Soon enough, a meeting to begin defrosting relations was set up between Mr. Bush and Mr. Schroder at the session last September of the United Nations General Assembly. " `I knew that was going to happen,' " Mr. Bush laughingly told Ms. Rice after the meeting was scheduled, the senior administration official said. Ms. Rice gently bantered back, the official said, but then concluded, " `Now, look, it's the right time to do it.' "
One will have to read the book to be sure, but from the articles on it appearing so far it seems that Mr. O'Neill believes that rather than being widely suspected of being a disloyal, petulant, mediocre and vain advisor, it is better to publish and remove all doubt.
Can the reader imagine what the reaction of a man such as Mr. O'Neill is proving himself to be would be if one of his subordinates were to do to him what he is trying to do to the President? I can. And it's not a pretty picture.
Friday, January 09, 2004
Why is it so hard for the New York Times to grasp Supreme Court procedure? The paper, often in the form of the absurdly eccentric Linda Greenhouse, often purports to read portentous meaning into such banal - and quite meaningless - Court actions as its discretionary decisions not to hear a particular appeal.
But today is different. Today the Times presents an absurdly eccentric effort by David Stout to construe a Court decision to accept an appeal by Yaser Esam Hamdi as a slap at the Administration generally - and a personal slap at some of its key officers. Specifically, the Times reports:
The Supreme Court stepped squarely into a momentous debate over national security and personal liberty today by agreeing to consider the case of a man who has been held without charges by the United States military since he was captured in the fighting in Afghanistan.
The justices agreed to hear the appeal of the captive, Yaser Esam Hamdi, who is believed to hold both American and Saudi citizenship and who is in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.
The Bush administration had urged the Supreme Court not to hear the Hamdi case, so the announcement today represented a sharp rebuff to the president, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other architects of administration policy.
To begin with, a vote of only four Justices by the Court is needed to accept an appeal - not a majority. Sometimes the Court indicates the vote, sometimes not. There is no indication in the Times article what the vote in this case might have been. How can a decision of a minority of the Court's Justices be construed as a slap at anyone? But even if every single Justice voted to hear this appeal - the Court's decision could still not properly be construed as a slap at anyone or anything.
Further, the Court almost never indicates which way it intends to decide a case at the time the case is accepted for review - and this decision is no exception. The Times article actually implies that because the Federal Government prevailed in the Circuit Court and requested that the Supreme Court not review the case, that the Court's decision to review the case is a slap at the Administration.
But no party in litigation who has prevailed at any stage in that litigation almost ever wants that winning decision reviewed on appeal. Do the Times and Mr. Stout think that the Justice Department has nothing better to do than to seek review of decisions with which they agree? What prevailing party in its right mind does such a thing? Does the Times appeal decisions it has won? Of course the Justice Department didn't want the decision reviewed by the Court - but that says nothing more than that the Justice Department prevailed at the Circuit Court level.
The Times seems to be confusing the circumstances of this case with another Court pattern: The Court generally (but by no means always) does grant review of cases which the Administration requests the Court to review. So if the Administration had requested the Court to review this case and the Court had refused, that would have been at least unusual - if not been particularly meaningful.
Worse, the Times makes the amazingly obtuse assertion that the mere grant of review represented a sharp rebuff to the president, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other architects of administration policy. There is not one shred of evidence in this case or in the Times article or in common Court practice or otherwise supporting the suggestion that the Court - or even the possible minority of Justices on the Court voting to review - intended any such personal rebuke to any of those individuals.
The United States Supreme Court generally grants review of a case if at least four Justices think there are important issues in it which merit Court attention. That's all that can be read into this decision at this point.
Of course, one might read meaning into the Times decision to run such an obvioulsy errant report.
UPDATE: The New York Times may be attempting some damage control. An entirely new article on this case by Linda Greenhouse, a new article that covers almost exactly the same ground and therefore should have been unnecessary, appears today - but with a completely different spin:
It is clearly too soon to say whether by accepting these cases the court was sending a signal about their ultimate resolution. Though the administration's critics were quick to read favorable tea leaves in the latest development, it is equally plausible to assume that justices across the ideological spectrum simply concluded that the cases raised issues of historic dimension meriting the court's consideration.
In this case Ms. Greenhouse is utterly correct. However, the true extent of the bizarre reasoning and gross error contained in the prior, Stout, article is not disclosed or admitted. Is this how the Times covers up?
Calling Mr. Okrent!
Mickey Is All Agog III(0) comments
The FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll taken over Jan. 7-8 has George W. Bush beating Howard Dean 54-33. That 21-point lead is very consistent with the CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll over Jan 2-5 that showed Bush leading Dean by 22 points. Nothing surprising there.
What is notable is that unlike some other polls the FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll also shows Bush trouncing Wesley Clark by twenty points, 52-32%.
If, as some media suggest, early Democratic caucus and primary voters have been moving towards Clark on the basis of his supposed "electability" relative to Dean, these poll results may have a significant effect on Clark's rise.
UPDATE: The Newsweek Poll taken over Jan. 8-9 has George W. Bush leading Howard Dean 51-43%, with the President leading Wesley Clark by 50-41%.
There may be other reasons to deem Wesley Clark "more electable" than Howard Dean, but it is hard to see that conclusion in current national polls.
Lead sentences of a front page article in the New York Times today:
Gen. Wesley K. Clark has begun to show a softer side. Gone are his navy blue suit, red tie and loafers, replaced by argyle sweaters, corduroys and duck boots.
(The article is accompanied by a photograph of the General's stylish new sweater!)
Paul Krugman's New York Times column 12.26.03:
But will the coverage of the election reflect its seriousness? Toward that end, I hereby propose some rules for 2004 political reporting.
- Don't talk about clothes.
Why is the New York Times breaking - in fact, flouting, in the very first sentences of its article - Herr Doktorprofessor's first rule of campaign coverage? Could it be because Wesley Clark is using his clothes as part of his effort to win over women voter - and that's news? It sure seems that way, and the Man Without Qualities agrees with the Times reporter here, and not with Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman.
Political campaigning is about candidate communication - and it is common knowledge that people, including candidates, sometimes communicate significant messages with their clothes. Remember Bill Clinton's tie? If a candidate like Wesley Clark is trying to move a constituency with his clothes or his words, then the media should report on his clothes or his words.
Any rule to the contrary is just plain silly. It's pretty clear that the Times newsroom understands that, although Herr Doktorprofessor hasn't got a clue.
Bad economist, bad journalist.
UPDATE: If one were to try to think in the conspiratorial, mock-sophisticated fashion of Herr Doktorprofessor himself, one might be led to thoughts and sentences such as:
Word is circulating in knowledgeable circles that Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman favors a Clark candidacy. The more astute analysts believe that prior to scribing his December 26 column Herr Doktorprofessor received word of the General's plan to use the women-voters-through-clothing ploy left over from the Naomi Wolff era of the Al Gore campaign. Some people think that word reached Herr Doktorprofessor through murky and conspiratorial channels, although who actually thinks that is even murkier than the channels and conspiracies themselves. Herr Doktorprofessor is thought by such astute analysts to have formulated his "first rule" of campaign coverage in an effort to intimidate reporters and suppress coverage of the expected Clark move! If these astute analyst suspicions prove out, the resulting scandal could be worse for the Times than the Jayson Blair fiasco!
But we're not allowed to have that kind of fun here.
Thursday, January 08, 2004
I suppose it makes sense that once you become accustomed to accusing the other party of stealing elections it's only a matter of time before you end up accusing other people in your own party of the same offense.
Now the other candidates are accusing Dean of trying to steal Iowa. If Dean is not given the nomination you can just bet his supporters will claim it was stolen from him.
And then it's on to the general election!
Of course, it's all in what they choose to see.
It's odd the way in so many election cycles South Carolina gets so little attention until right after the New Hampshire primary, when the media suddenly stumble on the fact that South Carolina is hugely important.
South Carolina is especially important this time, because of its key significance to Wesley Clark and John Edwards. Edwards, most people seem to think, never grew that big, has shrunk a lot, and is shriveling fast all over. But his showing in South Carolina could make or break him entirely.
More importantly, a Wesley Clark strength is supposed to be his ability to garner Southern votes - in the manner of Bill Clinton. He's from the South and he has that military resume, which is supposed to play well in the South. (Personally, I believe Southerners are perfectly capable of distinguishing one kind of military resume from another, but that's not central to this post.) If Wesley Clark does relatively well in New Hampshire, where does he go then? South Carolina will become suddenly key - again. In South Carolina Wesley Clark should be doing very well indeed among Democrats.
Howard Dean, on the other hand, should not be playing well at all in South Carolina. Too Ivy League. Too flakey. No military. Too Northern.
But it isn't polling that way at the moment:
A 19 percentage-point increase in awareness and a 14 percentage-point increase in favorability over the past month have placed Howard Dean in front of what continues to be a competitive field of Democratic candidates in South Carolina according to a survey by the American Research Group. Dean leads in ballot preference with 16% and is followed by Wesley Clark at 12%, Al Sharpton at 12%, and John Edwards at 11%.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Roger L. Simon predicts that the Democrats will nominate Wesley Clark (link thanks to Instapundit).
I don't think that's far fetched at all. Yes, Dean is leading the Democratic pack nationally and in key states. But he still only commands almost everywhere support well short of fifty percent - and delegates to the Democratic convention who are chosen in primaries and caucuses will be allocated proportionately.
Then there are the "superdelegates" - who are not chosen in primaries or caucuses. In fact, they've already been chosen. And they are not bound to any candidate. Although more of them now favor Dr. Dean than any other candidate, he is still favored by far less than a majority - and his relatively favor could change at any time.
All of which means there is a very good chance that neither Howard Dean nor anyone else will carry a majority into the Boston Convention in July. And there is a very good chance that nobody will obtain the nomination on the first delegate vote.
And, after that, it's all brokering.
So why not Clark?
Mickey Is All Agog ... II
A prior post suggested that reliance on that Time/CNN poll showing Bush only defeating Dean by 51-46 percent was dicey at best. That poll was ludicrously taken over the period Dec. 30-Jan 1 - and reportedly had other likely methodological problems.
A new poll is now out for CNN/USA Today/Gallup - this one taken over Jan 2-5. It shows President Bush leading a generic Democrat 56-40 percent - a sixteen percent lead very consistent with pre-Christmas polls. The President leads Dr. Dean by an even wider 59-37 percent (that's a twenty-two percent lead for those with the ability of a Lanny Davis to allow personal political bias to obscure objective realities).
Maybe all those post-New Year personal hangovers reminded poll respondents of what the national hangover would be like following a Dean Presidency?
UPDATE: As one savvy e-mailer has pointed out, perhaps the most striking and important aspects of this new poll are the responses to Question 14 of the survey:
In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?
In the Jan 2-5 period, 55% of poll respondents replied that they are "satisified" and 43% say they are "dissatisfied." In the prior Dec 11-14, 2003 poll only 50% said they were "satisfied" and 48% said they were "dissatisfied.
It has long been a virtual axiom that an incumbent president is unstoppable if that "satisfied" number exceeds 50%.
It seems to me that what has got to be absolutely terrifying to the Dems right now is that these poll numbers are coming out this early - and at a time when people are starting to think seriously about the 2004 election and when it looks like both the economy and foreign matters are both on the uptick.
One could get too cocky, but barring some huge surprise (who can say what the political effect of a commandeered airliner crashing into the Capitol in August would be?), a lot more people should be seeing the country as being on the "right track" as hiring picks up and the middle east simmers down. Worse for the Dems, the current poll numbers don't really reflect things like the Afghan constitution, the Libya developments, the Syrian overtures and many more positive developments that have already happened or are almost hard-wired to happen. My guess is that by the time November rolls around anyone who has been campaigning on the message that the Iraq and/or Afghan wars have not moved the world much closer to peace and American security is going to look completely ridiculous. And if the economy is performing, class-warfare arguments don't get much traction. So what do the Dems use regardless of which candidate they make the nominee?
I think that's why people like Lanny Davis and many of the liberal TV talking heads (and the polling Zogby!) are rather desparate to see the pre-Christmas poll numbers as a mere "post-Saddam-capture bounce." But I don't think it is a "bounce." If anything, failure to capture Saddam was a continuing drag that is now permanently gone (I use "permanent" here to mean "persisting until election day"). The Afghan constitution and Libya developments are also likely permanent - and should have a growing effect on public sentiment in favor of the President. It would take a lot to knock the economy off between now and November, so the effect from that quarter is also likely permanent and growing.
If I'm more or less right, all that's got to be causing the Dems yet another anxiety because every day that goes by is another day in which Bin Laden might be captured. My guess is that failure to capture bin Laden is also a continuing drag on the "right direction" poll numbers - one that has been rather successfully overcome by the Administration. Nevertheless, if that drag were removed the effect should also be permanent.
For the same reasons there appears to be a lot of hopeful gloomwatching by the liberal media in stories about the ongoing decline of the dollar. People who were warning about possiblly hideous deflation a few months ago are now warning that the fall of the dollar may trigger inflation. But so far, the main effect domestically has been an increase in the likelihood that more manufacturing jobs will be created in the US. It must be very frustrating for the Dems right now.
Of course, 10 months is an eternity in politics. Howard Dean, for example, probably feels like 10 weeks is an eternity right now.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
... kicking and screaming.
Read all about it.
Brendan Miniter today opines that Howard Dean may be trying to outright lie his way into the White House.
Separately, a line of argument is developing (Lanny Davis was hawking it on the O'Reilly Factor, for example) that Howard Dean's positions aren't really all that left-wing, and Dean will in any event move to the "Clintonian center" if he is elected. This is a remarkable argument that deserves more play. It implies:
(1) Dean has been fundamentally lying when he savagely criticizes (and distinguishes himself from) the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party and argues that the party needs to be restructured.
(2) People like Lanny Davis are hoping that Dean is lying that way, and counting on it.
(3) Ralph Nader was either (a) wrong, when he said that most of Dean's positions look "eerily similar" to Nader's, or (b) isn't really left-wing, either. Who knew Nader was a centrist?
Monday, January 05, 2004
Mickey Is All Agog ...(0) comments
... over that Time/CNN poll showing Bush only defeating Dean by 51-46 percent and over the construction placed on the poll by TNR. O-my-Gosh! TNR says that the country is more polarized than ever!
It's worth noting that the Time/CNN poll was conducted Dec. 30-Jan 1. That is, the Time/CNN poll was taken over New Year's and New Year's Eve. Is there a period of time for which it is more difficult to control for prospective poll respondents' behavior? I can't think of any such period. Who was home to answer this poll? (Not us! We were at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs if any of the Time/CNN polsters tried to call. A very nice place for New Year's, by the way.) Who in his right mind would bother to answer a political pollster calling on, say, New Year's Eve? And who was sober enough so that the answers made any sense? ("Who am I VOTING for? Why I'm voting for HOWARD DEAN!... HA HA ... HA! That's who I'm voting for! HAPPY NEW YEAR! WHOOPEE!")
President Bush had a 20 percentage point lead (55% to 35%) over Howard Dean in the latest CBS News poll - which was taken Dec. 22-23. The ABC News/Washington Post Poll of Dec. 18-21 showed Bush leading Dean by 18 percent.
Is it possible that Bush's post-Saddam-capture "bounce" abated so much in favor of Dean between the pre-Christmas week and New Year's? Possible, but highly unlikely.
It's perfectly reasonable and intelligent for Kausfiles to draw attention to this poll - the results are certainly intriguing. And TNR and anyone else who cares to can spill their ink and ingrams as they see fit. But personally I'd advise waiting for a major poll that is not taken over a huge, traditionally inebriated, out-of-the-house holiday before using what is likely one stray poll as a base from which to launch some hi-falutin analysis of how and why the country is becoming "more polarized."
Steve Milloy updates:
“The best-kept secret in this field is that [prions such as those postulated to cause mad cow disease] in any form have never shown infectivity,” said the head of Yale University’s surgery department to the United Press International’s Steve Mitchell. ....
It’s the same sort of shallow thinking that explains why the 150 [mad cow disease] deaths are usually attributed to consumption of infected beef. There is, in fact, no evidence that the 150 victims of [mad cow disease] even ate infected beef, but it is assumed they did because no other explanation has been developed for how they could have contracted [mad cow disease].
Over on The Bleat, Lileks or somebody (Gnat? The geek boards?) is, well, bleating, about the coming Spider Man -2 movie:
Hes named Doctor Octopus for a reasen ok? Because he has eight arms??? How can he be Doc OCK when he only has SIX arms! This movie will suck so bad Luca$ will want to do the third oen and have Spidey fight JarJAr or no maybe ewoxs or something.
"Legs?" "Arms?" I simply will not abide somebody having some kind of frigging epistomogical crisis over Spiderman 2 (or "Spider-Man 2" or "Spider-Man II" or "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" or whatever). Heck, four of them (whatever they are) aren't even biological.
For God's sakes, he has EIGHT.
Two human arms. Four robot "arms/legs." Two human legs. That makes EIGHT. Count them yourself. Do spiders have eight "arms" and two "legs?" Ridiculous.
This is going to be a great movie. I can just sense it. And I was a DC fan.
The New York Times runs an article lamenting the inability of States to increase their spending as much as some politicians would like. The article is a typical piece of Times spin, and most of it is hardly worth the effort to read. But it is interesting as a specimen of a current liberal mind set. Consider these passages from the article:
Over the past three years, total spending at the state level rose, at most, by one-half percent, a marked change from the record of the previous 25 years, in which spending growth averaged 6.5 percent a year. .... In California, state general fund spending in the current fiscal year, which began July 1, is projected to fall to $73 billion from $78 billion the previous year. This week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will present a budget for the coming fiscal year that must address a projected shortfall of at least $14 billion. ... California has coped with its fiscal crisis with one-time budget gimmicks and deep cuts in spending on higher education, health care and numerous programs, from parks to the arts.
Even assuming these passages are factually correct, they are in some senses rather seriously misleading. Costs imposed by state regulation are for most purposes economically interchangeable with increased state spending. If one includes such regulatory costs, California's (for example) expenditures will probably continue to soar in 2004 - a year in which the Times focuses only on the decline in cash outlays. For example, in October Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill requiring many companies to provide health insurance for their employees or pay a fee into a state fund that will provide coverage for the workers. The costs have yet to be determined (or admitted), but very conservative estimates put the cost at $1,300 to $3,500 per employee annually, for each of the One Million employees covered. So what one might call "state regulatory expenditures" under this one law are very conservatively between $1.3 Billion and $3.5 Billion annually. That's quite a substantial de facto state expenditure increase for a state with that looming $14 Billion budget "shortfall" the Times laments. The theory seems to be that a direct state tax to pay for this program would cause the state to erupt and damage its economy, but if the same economic consequence is disguised and relabled as regulation those consequences can be avoided. So goes a major current liberal mindset: Word magic will set you free from economic realities and their political consequences. Unsurprisingly, an effort being made to repeal the law by referendum has already garnered over 600,000 signatures and is tied up in the courts.
This new health insurance law - which took effect January 1, along with about 900 other new laws passed by the state Legislature in 2003 - is by no means the only example of wildly escalating regulatory expenditures. One such new law was supposed to help control soaring workers compensation premiums, which are widely cited as the biggest burden to business in California. But that law is completely ineffectual - and the insurance companies have already indicated the law will result in essentially no reduction in premiums. Regulatory expenditures from the state- mandated workers compensation program will continue to rise dramatically unless something more is done.
In addition (but by no means in conclusion), on July 1 California will become the only state to provide paid family leave to workers for up to six weeks to care for an ill family member or a new child. The six weeks leave will be available every 12 months, regardless of a company's size. Employees payroll taxes for the state disability insurance program will rise by 0.08% or a maximum of $56 annually to pay for the program - such taxes are nominally assessed on employees, but like all such taxes are just another expense to the employer. Employers will be also be obligated to swallow the resulting lengthy worker absences. For all that, the payroll tax hike probably won't be enough to pay for the benefits and will lead to financial trouble for the disability insurance program - which is already overburdened and plagued by widespread fraud.
One could go on and on.
Do all these costs create more unemployment in California? Well, some indication of their combined effect can be gleaned from the fact that California's unemployment insurance trust fund has become so depleted that the state is seeking a $1.3-billion federal loan to prop it up.
I have noted in prior posts the anti-tax-cut crowd's complaint that the recent public income tax-cut discussion should never have focused on the laws effects on people who pay income taxes. Instead, that crowd (including, of course, Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman) insists that the public discussion of a law reducing income taxes must always be couched in terms of people who pay any federal taxes. To do anything else, they and Herr Doktorprofessor maintain, is a lie. The huge expenses imposed on the economy by regulation are economically equivalent to "hidden" taxes and expenditures. But the anti-tax-cut crowd never want those hidden costs and taxes included in tax cut debates. In fact, all efforts even to formulate "regulatory budgets" accounting for the costs imposed by regulation are savagely opposed by the anti-tax-cut crowd.
MORE: Thomas Sowell has lots more on California's ongoing regulatory immolation of its own economy.
OpinionJournal today posts an interesting essay from 1910 by Samuel McChord Crothers defending the value of politicians.
A few years later - immediately after Germany's defeat in World War I - Max Weber wrote his remarkable essay, Politics as a Vocation, making the same effort in what proved to be considerably more desparate circumstances.
Sunday, January 04, 2004
The political spotlight may be on the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, but Democrats in the labor stronghold of Michigan begin voting this week with plenty at stake for the nine candidates.