Man Without Qualities


Saturday, March 13, 2004


Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XI: Eight Months Of Campaign Debates!?

Senator John Kerry has spent exactly one day actually voting in the United States Senate this session. Essentially all of the remainder of his time has been spent campaigning, a virtual orgy of "politics as usual" at the expense of representing his constituency and doing his job. He also seems to think that it's just fine for other public officials generally to take as much tme off from their elected offices to campaign as suits their private fancies and ambitions - even the President:

John Kerry ... planned to challenge President Bush on Saturday to a "real discussion about America's future" in a monthly series of debates. ... Kerry challenged the Republican president to monthly debates on the "great issues" of the day, including the war on terrorism, the loss of U.S. jobs and the plight of Americans without health care.

But it is the clear obligation of the President of the United States to be spending essentially all of his time trying to actually deal with the "great issues" of the day - not debating them or preparing to debate them. The President is supposed to be actively thinking about, conferring with experts and proposing steps to address the loss of U.S. jobs and the plight of Americans without health care - not posturing in debates for eight months. The President is supposed to be actively leading the war on terrorism - not chatting about it on television with a Senator who can't be bothered to show up for Senate votes more than once a session. Right now, for example, Mr. Bush should be spending a lot of time speaking with Spanish President Aznar, not Senator Kerry - who, to judge from that Senate attendance record, seems to be one of those people we read about in articles on the calculation of the unemployment rate who have removed themselves from the job market.

Senator Kerry seems to have no shame. Proposing to distract the President from his office for eight months of campaign debates, he actually brings himself to intone: "2004 can't be just another year of politics as usual ... The challenges we face are just too grave and too great. We confront big issues -- as big as any in our history -- and they call for a new and historic commitment to a real and informed exchange of ideas."

Contrary to Senator Kerry's bizarre thinking, those big issues in fact call for elected officials to spend more time on the old and historic obligation to show up and do their jobs.

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Friday, March 12, 2004


They Got Rich Anyway

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
-Thomas Watson,
Chairman of IBM, 1943

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
-Bill Gates, 1981

But see. Could this be an example of Bill Gates coming to terms with a defining parameter of modern journalism:

One can either agree to be interviewed and then misquoted, or refuse to be interviewed and then misinterpreted. There is no third choice.

"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
-Popular Mechanics, 1949

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
- Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" --H.M. Warner, Warner
Brothers, 1927.



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Thursday, March 11, 2004


A Report From The Commedia dell'arte

How good is Peggy Noonan? She's good. Very good. More than very good - and at many aspects of writing, pulse-taking and the highest level strategy. She sees the big picture - and she's great with even the smallest telling details in communicating the message. In short, in matters national, political, and electoral, she is the very model of a modern Major-General!

So when her item in today's OpinionJournal assumes a rather technical, groping aspect and fails to lift the fog from the current campaign scene, one is left mostly with the conviction that such fog is very thick indeed, and that nobody can lift it at this point. Consider, for example, these two passages:

In only one week, a central and significant Bush charge against Kerry has hit its target and stuck. It's that he's a flip-flopper who'll vote this way and that with an eye only to short-term political gain. Kerry supporters, most famously in the New York Times, have been forced to spin this into the fantasy that Mr. Kerry has a special sense of nuance and subtlety--that he appreciates "shades of gray." Well, mist is a shade of gray, and so far a lot of voters think he's lost in it. Mr. Kerry can't escape 20 years of conflicting votes and statements. But he can try something that may subtly gives an impression of strength and conviction. ....

The common wisdom the past weekend was that the more people talked about the Bush ads and 9/11, the more the president would benefit. The repeated linking of Mr. Bush and 9/11 only underscores his history and leadership. The common wisdom this weekend will be that last week's common wisdom was wrong. Bush got no discernible bounce from the spots, though in the long term he may. It's too soon to say.


But if Mr. Bush's getting no discernible bounce in the polls last week is enough to cause Ms. Noonan to conclude that it's too soon to say whether the ads were effective, then why is that same lack of discernible bounce not sufficient to cause her to conclude that it is also too early to tell whether the central and significant Bush charge against Kerry has hit its target and stuck ..., that he's a flip-flopper who'll vote this way and that with an eye only to short-term political gain? After all, if this central and significant Bush charge against Kerry has hit its target and stuck, then wouldn't one expect the President to rise against the Senator in the polls? Of course, the President's current standing in the polls it isn't really clear - perhaps there was discernible bounce for Mr. Bush. But, even if there was bounce, how does one tell what caused it? Was it the ads that caused the bounce? Or was it the central, significant, well-targeted, sticky charge that did the bouncy deed?

Ms. Noonan makes some excellent strategic points: Don't make the country mad at John Kerry, make them laugh at John Kerry.

John Kerry is hilarious. He is a self-parody as complete as one is likely to find on a political stage anywhere. Pompous. Gloomy. Without personal insight or intentional humor. Mean. Self-important. Inconsistent. In short, he is a perfect addition to the Commedia dell'arte - the kind of character that has amused millions for hundreds of years! And there are signs the public already senses his true character. How else could the President have secured such traction against Mr. Kerry with a pale witicism about the Senator having been on both sides of so many issues? The humor here is not in the President's comment, the humor is in Senator Kerry's inflated caricature of himself - humor released by the comment like the pricking of a toy balloon.

Ms. Noonan also notes: President Bush needs his team to be alive and awake and hold its own hearings on issues that are important to Republicans on the ground.

She is referring to GOP senators and congressmen, but the urgency lies even more with the President's own campaign strategists. In that regard Ms. Noonan's imprecation reads like a platitude with a disturbing and recent application. Yes, she is correct to observe that with tens of thousands of relatives of 9/11 victims, there have to be some who are Democrats or dislike Bush. But a campaign team that was sufficiently alive and awake would have been fully prepared to answer the Democratic "cynical exploitation" charges with prepared, tested retorts and a large number of 9-11 survivors (including some from the Pentagon) who approved of the President's ads and condemned the Democratic dissenters. Those things came eventually, but well out of the most appropriate news cycle. They should have been prepared in advance.

Mr. Bush has supposedly vowed not to repeat his father's mistakes. His father's worst campaign mistake in 1992 was probably not demanding that he and his campaign be sufficiently alive and awake in anticipating what Bill Clinton's people (who were very alive and awake - indeed, in an odd way, full of passionate intensity) might do to him and in responding to what the Clintonistas actually had done to him. That kind of thing - unlike national economic matters - is completely within the President's control. It was therefore disturbing, to say the least, to see that particular error of the father repeated at this stage by the son. That shouldn't be allowed to happen again.

As Ms. Noonan concludes: Guys: wake up. There's a battle outside. Or, as Nick Lappos put it: If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn't plan it properly.

UPDATE: President Bush campaign will reportedly release the first negative ads against John Kerry today. One hopes that the President's campaign staff has spent a good deal of quality time and effort (1) reminding themselves that the mainstream media and Senator Kerry will be hostile to the ads, (2) determining ahead of time what form the hostility may take, and (3) preparing retorts to the hostility. So far, the AP reports:

Meeting with congressional Democrats on Capitol Hill, Kerry dismissed the ads, saying they "have nothing to do with health care for Americans, nothing to do with jobs for Americans, nothing to do with education for our kids, nothing to do with cleaner air or cleaner water, nothing to do with making America safer in this world. They can't talk about those things because George Bush doesn't have a record to run on, he has a record to run away from, and that's what they're trying to do."

It should not be hard to reply to that fatuous response. Indeed, the response should be easily assembled from what already in the pre-release bag.
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Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose X: The Henchman Brother?

John Kerry has employed tortured logic to construe Republican criticisms of his post-Vietnam record as attacks on his Vietnam military record. Of course, the Senator's facts supporting his accusations have been more than a bit weak: Asked for examples of Bush attacking his service in Vietnam, Kerry cited published reports that the campaign plans to question his outspoken opposition to the war after he returned. But John Kerry has made it clear that he will confront each such attack: "No one is going to question my commitment to the defense of our nation."

Now the Senator's actual combat brother, PCF-44 Gunner's Mate Stephen M. Gardner, has been found by a TIME reporter and has denounced Sen. Kerry's actual Vietnam military record and his commitment to the defense of our nation, both in pointed terms:

"[I]f John Kerry gets to be president of these United States, it'll be a sorry day in this world for us. We can't stand another Democrat like that in there again. We'll get our asses in such a sling this time; we won't be able to get out of it. And the bottom line to it is, I don't care how much John Kerry's changed after he moved off my boat, his initial patterns of behavior when I met him and served under him was somebody who ran from the enemy, rather than engaged it."

Mr. Gardner thinks Mr. Kerry did a poor job when he was entrusted with Mr. Gardner's life while in Vietnam service - just as John Kerry felt about the job done by the people entrusted with John Kerry's life while he was in Vietnam service. John Kerry made a big deal out of demanding an explanation from those people when he got back from Vietnam, and has continued to make a big deal of it ever since. So doesn't Senator Kerry owe Mr. Gardner a specific, personal response? After all, here is someone offering up exactly the Vietnam-and-post-Vietnam combination of accusations that Mr. Kerry has attributed to the Administration. Doesn't Mr. Gardner's Vietnam military record entitle him to a specific, personal response? By a specific, personal response I mean one that addresses the specific facts of the combat situations raised by Mr. Gardner and Senator Kerry's actions and decisions regarding those facts - not just a statement of blank disagreement with Mr. Gardner.

Is the Senator going to accuse Mr. Gardner of being a Republican "henchman" or one of Mr. Bush's "surrogates" - as the Senator has accused his Senate colleague, Saxby Chambliss? Just what does Senator Kerry have to say to Mr. Gardner? The Senator has certainly been implying that only such "henchmen" and "surrogates" would dare to question exactly the things Mr. Gardner is questioning. So why doesn't the Senator come right out and say Mr. Gardner is one of them?

MORE:

The Boston Globe reports:

As Gardner recalls it, he was in the "tub" above the pilot house with the twin machine guns, and Kerry was in command, when the Navy swift boat came upon a sampan in the darkness. Gardner flashed a searchlight and ordered the craft to stop. Then, he said, he saw a figure rise up over the gunwale with a semiautomatic weapon. Spotting tracers in the sky and fearing an attack, Gardner said, he laced the sampan with bullets, and other crew members fired as well. Gardner recalls a man in the sampan falling overboard, presumably dead.

After the shooting had stopped and Kerry had ordered a cease-fire, Gardner said, the crew found a woman in the sampan who was alive. There was also the boy, dead in the bottom of the boat. Gardner said there is no way to know which crewmate fired the shots that killed the boy, but he said Kerry was in the pilot house and did not fire. Kerry was livid when he emerged, Gardner said.

"Kerry threatened me with a court-martial, screaming at the top of his lungs: `What the hell do you think you're doing? I ought to have you court-martialed,' " Gardner recalled.


Senator Kerry has given a rather different - and more generalized - account of what seem to be the same events, which is also recounted by the Globe article:

"It is one of those terrible things, and I'll never forget, ever, the sight of that child. But there was nothing that anybody could have done about it. It was the only instance of that happening. It angered me," Kerry added. "But look, the Viet Cong used women and children. Who knows if they had -- under the rice -- a satchel [containing an explosive], and if we had come along beside them they had thrown the satchel in [our] boat. . . . So it was a terrible thing, but I've never thought we were somehow at fault or guilty. There wasn't anybody in that area that didn't know you don't move at night, that you don't go out in a sampan on the rivers, and there's a curfew."

Having placed his pride in his military record at the center of his political career, doesn't the Senator now have an obligation to address Mr. Gardner's version of the facts more specifically? Doesn't the Senator have that obligation both to Mr. Gardner and to the voters who he has asked to focus on his military record in making him President of the United States?

Read the whole Globe article.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose IX: Deja Vu All Over Again

Remember just a few weeks ago when the Democrats showed that they weren't interested in nominating that possibly crazy, venom-spouting guy from New England? I thought I remembered that too. But it seems I was wrong. The Democrats seem to have made Howard Dean their presumptive candidate after all. There's simply no other way to explain this report about the presumtive Democratic candidate's recent speech, where he spoke of the Administration (or "his Republican opponents") this way:

"Oh yeah, don't worry, man," the senator from Massachusetts responded. "We're going to keep pounding, let me tell you. We're just beginning to fight here. "These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen," Kerry added. "It's scary."

Well, something here is sure scary - but Senator Kerry hasn't quite put his finger on "it." Let the media now reheat the old Howard Dean stories and ask: Is Senator Kerry nuts? Just like Howard Dean?

One of Howard Dean's most powerful labor supporters, Gerald W. McEntee, said on Thursday that he had decided that Dr. Dean was "nuts" ... "I have to vent," Mr. McEntee, the often blunt leader of the nation's largest public service union, said in a leisurely interview in his office here. "I think he's nuts." Mr. McEntee, who flirted with endorsing John Kerry and Gen. Wesley K. Clark before settling on Dr. Dean, said his union was probably going to sit it out for a while. "At this point, there's no way we're going to endorse anybody," he said. "I think we need a rest. Maybe in an asylum."

Mr. McEntee will likely be thankful that he took that rest after hearing John Kerry carry on this way.

And the looniness in his campaign machine doesn't stop with Mr. Kerry:

When asked for examples of crooked behavior by the GOP, [Kerry spokesman David Wade] cited doctored photos circulating on the Internet that depict Kerry sitting next to Jane Fonda at antiwar rallies during the Vietnam War and as a young Navy officer shooting a prisoner of war.

But no connection has been even suggested in any responsible quarter - never mind demonstrated - between that doctored John-Jane photo and the Bush campaign or any Republican organization or Fox News (which Mr. Wade also slimes). It is true that many people fell for the fake - regardless of political persuasion. Moreover, the fake photo is similar to the apparently real photo of John and Jane, although in the real photo they are sitting close to each other and not at the lectern. Mr. Kerry's aide thinks the fake photo libels the Senator - what does that say about the real one?

And while I have seen reference to a doctored photo circulating on the Internet that depicts young John Kerry shooting a prisoner of war, I have never actually seen it. I therefore rather doubt that it has achieved wide circulation, or that many fell for it - although I might be wrong. Of course, I can find no reference to any putative connection with any the Bush campaign or any Republican organization or Fox News.

Scary. Yes, "scary" is the word for it.

UPDATE: Reaction.

Kerry met with one-time rival Howard Dean to discuss an endorsement and what role the former Vermont governor might play in his campaign.

Maybe Dr. Dean is up for the roles of Kerry speechwriter and campaign cultural adviser? To judge from the Senators recent comments, those would seem to be perfect fits.



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Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose VIII: What's Wrong?

Viking Pundit asks a very pertinent and interesting question: Why are these polls so close? Or, perhaps more precisely, why is President Bush at least arguably faring weakly in recent polls and why is a candidate as weak as John Kerry doing so well in those polls? The question is especially intriguing because Kerry's economic policies are ludicrous. Dick Morris thinks the whole thing can be corrected with a few camapign ads forcefully making the point that Senator Kerry is a flip-flopper. But I'm not convinced.

There seems to be substantial underlying economic anxiety. That's a little strange. Unemployment is just 5.6% and the number of "discouraged workers" is not unusually high - and the economy is definitely improving. (Although Mr Zogby says his polls show 21 per cent of probable voters are afraid of losing their jobs in the next 12 months - which may just be a consequence of people's understanding lagging the general economic improvement.) But some aspects of the current economy that have been touted as positives, such as the housing boom, also have aspects that could be generating considerable anxiety. Here's a sampling from Southern California, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

First-time buyers — vital to the market's overall stability — made up just 30.6% of home purchasers in California last year, the lowest rate since the California Assn. of Realtors began tracking the data in 1981. First-time buyers provide the foundation for the rest of the market, because their purchases make it easier for existing homeowners to move up. .... Most economists predict that home prices in the region will continue to grow at a healthy rate for the foreseeable future. ....

Even as manufacturing and other industries have cut back in recent years, construction and other sectors tied to real estate, such as mortgage banking, lumberyards and home-improvement retailers, have added tens of thousands of jobs. Many consumers, meanwhile, have tapped their rising home equities for cash to support their hearty spending, adding further fuel to the economy in the Southland and elsewhere in the nation.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the current frenzied pace can't be sustained. Glenda Estrada, a 29-year-old schoolteacher in Downey, recently bought her first home... [for] $295,000 .... Estrada's monthly payment soaks up half her income. "It just feels almost unfair that housing is this expensive," she said. ....

Nationally, six out of 10 households can afford to buy a median-priced home, based on incomes and mortgage rates, according to the National Assn. of Realtors. But in Orange and San Diego counties, the affordability rate has dropped to fewer than two in 10. It is slightly higher in Los Angeles County. Affordability in all three counties is lower than in Silicon Valley. ... In January, the median resale price surpassed $500,000 in Orange County. For all of California, the minimum household income needed to afford a median-priced home was $94,020 in January, versus $39,090 for the nation, according to the California Assn. of Realtors.


Of course, for current home owners who have no desire to "trade up" - the higher the better. But for everyone else....?

The political consequences of such anxiety can be addressed - and Mr. Kerry certainly offers no proposal that would make things better. But one must first isolate the source of such anxieties in order to address them. And I'm not convinced that ads calling Mr. Kerry a "flip-flopper" is going to do the trick.

UPDATE: Of course, lots of people are asking about those polls right now - and some of them have interesting things to say.
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Rapid Economic Growth, But Slow Job Gains

From the JEC:

The economy continues to strengthen, but payroll employment continues to lag. Business activity in manufacturing and service industries remains very strong as profits and cash flow continue to improve, but the recent pace of job growth has been sluggish. Households continue to benefit from recent tax relief and healthy gains in housing and stock-market wealth. Inflation remains benign, helping keep interest rates at historic lows. Last year’s GDP growth averaged 4.3%, the strongest in four years and well above the average of 3.7% in the expansion of the 1990s. Forecasters expect sustained and robust growth, low inflation, and accelerating job gains.
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The Fall Of The House Of Eisner XIV: The Board Begins To Awaken?

The ultimate practical problem for Disney's Board of Directors posed by Michael Eisner's continued presence is that life is too short.

As noted here in prior posts, the Board's appointment of Mr. Eisner cat's paw George Mitchell as "Chairman" is fraught with fiduciary problems for the individual Board members - who really should have better lawyers and should be speaking to them more. Mr. Mitchell knows nothing of business - and he essentially admits that. He also pretty much says he doesn't want to know anything about business or make business decisions:

Mr. Mitchell, 70, a former United States senator who has little business experience, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he had no desire to play the corporate strategist, as many chairmen do. Instead, he sees his main job as negotiating among factions of unhappy investors, other board members and Michael D. Eisner.

That's just not what a chairman of a public company does - certainly not the Chairman of a public company in alleged turn-around mode and facing a quasi-hostile takeover effort. Is Disney planning to disclose in its next SEC filing that its Chairman has no desire to play the corporate strategist? That seems to be a pretty material fact for an investor or potential investor.

If Mr. Mitchell's concept of his the duties of the Chairman as expressed in the above passage is consistent with the Board's thinking, then the Board has at least arguably de facto failed to appoint any Chairman for Disney - and certainly failed to appoint the Chairman the company needs now, or even commence a search for one. And what, exactly, is the supposed difference in Mr. Mitchell's description of his new Chairmanship duties and the ones he was already exercising as "Presiding Director?" Failure to appoint an appropriate Chairman seems a likely breach of the Board's fiduciary duties to the shareholders. A Disney admission in its Exchange Act filings that its Chairman is not intending to play the corporate strategist would be all but a confession of malfeasance in the Board's own hand.

On the other hand, if the Board defines the duties of the Chairman more broadly than Mr. Mitchell has, then Mr. Mitchell can't be the Chairman - because Mr. Mitchell knows nothing of business - and he essentially admits that.

Maybe that's why the Disney Board is now going through the almost unbelievable hi-jinks of attempting post-hoc to define the office to which they have already appointed Mr. Mitchell, as another New York Times article reports:

Now the board and Disney executives are grappling with how the duties of chairman and chief executive will be divided, something they plan to address next month. George J. Mitchell, the former senator who was named chairman, has already said that he plans to resign in less than two years when he turns 72.

Ah, yes. To be a Board member explaining to a chancery court how one voted to remove one Chairman and appoint another during multiple on-going corporate crises without having any clear idea of what the new Chairman's duties would be. Is life to short for this?

And Messrs. Gold and Disney are not unaware of the possibilities the Board's apparent negligence is creating, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

The men also are considering lawsuits that would either seek to pry information from the board about its decision-making, or accuse it of breaching its fiduciary duty by failing to take stronger action. The bigger weapon at the dissidents' disposal is a campaign to replace directors. Normally, they would have to wait until the next annual meeting to launch a proxy fight, but they have weighed whether to move more quickly with a "consent solicitation," a proxy-like maneuver that would seek to replace directors sooner.

At least recent events have established that the Board does not have to contend with the possibility of Michael Eisner wanting to leave Disney. He obviously wants to stay. It's not as if the Board had actually appointed a Chairman who is intending to assume any of Mr. Eisner's meaningful powers. So what to make of this bizarre report of current Disney events, also reported by the Times in connection with the ongoing re-negotiation of Mr. Eisner's contract:

Mr. Eisner's contract, which was reached in 2000, provided that he could quit if he was not retained as chairman through Sept. 30, 2006, when his contract expires. As a result, the board had to renegotiate Mr. Eisner's contract so that he would stay, something he wanted anyway, the two people said.

Let's see. The Board is afraid Mr. Eisner might leave after 43% of the shareholders told him to go. And to counter that fear the Board is presumably granting Mr. Eisner various concessions in his contract re-negotiation at a time when no sane person thinks that Mr. Eisner would leave as Disney's CEO without a good push from the Board. Are the Board members out of their minds? Don't they remember that Delaware courts are already setting them up for possibly huge and non-reimbursable fiduciary duty liability for their failure to take a businesslike approach to Michael Ovitz's severance?

There are signs that the Board members may be chatting to their own lawyers after all. Consider this remarkable passage from the Times article:

One person who has talked to Disney's board members said, given the overwhelming outcry from shareholders, it was unlikely that the board would extend [Mr. Eisner's] contract beyond 2006. This person said that some directors were wondering whether Mr. Eisner should announce his retirement this year so a formal search for a successor could begin. ... Directors expect that the pressure from dissidents, including former board members Roy E. Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney, and his financial adviser, Stanley P. Gold, who have vowed to oust Mr. Eisner, will not relent. "The board is not going to sacrifice itself for Michael," said the person who has talked to Disney's directors.

The board is not going to sacrifice itself for Michael? Including by submitting to endless civil litigation putting all of their personal assets at risk? My goodness! Well, in that case, what are friends for?

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Tuesday, March 09, 2004


Brother Says Kerry Is Not A Keeper

TIME reports:

PCF-44 Gunner’s Mate Stephen M. Gardner—in a long telephone interview from his home in Clover, South Carolina—has a starkly different memory. “Kerry was chickenshit,” he insists. “Whenever a firefight started he always pulled up stakes and got the hell out of Dodge.” .... Gardner is sickened by the idea of Kerry as president. “Anybody but Kerry,” he says. “I know what a disaster he’d be.” ....

“And you know I served with this guy, and the bottom line to it is; harsh as this may sound or as good as it sounds to any Democrat, out there, John Kerry is another ‘Slick Willy.’ He’s another Bill Clinton and that’s exactly what he is. And I’m telling you right now, that if John Kerry gets to be president of these United States, it’ll be a sorry day in this world for us. We can’t stand another Democrat like that in there again. We’ll get our asses in such a sling this time; we won’t be able to get out of it. And the bottom line to it is, I don’t care how much John Kerry’s changed after he moved off my boat, his initial patterns of behavior when I met him and served under him was somebody who ran from the enemy, rather than engaged it. If I’d had Rush’s 800 number, or known how to reach him, I would have called in.” ....

When describing Kerry he unloads choice adjectives, “opportunist” being his favorite. His most colorful phrase is claiming that all Kerry wanted to do was “save his lily-white ass.” Up until now he has kept his resentment mostly to himself. “I’ve told a few of my friends that he was an asshole,” Gardner says. “But I’m not looking to make news.”


Too bad it's just in TIME. Maybe Mr. Gardner will talk next to a reporter from a real news outlet.

UPDATE: Excellent Kausfiles comments on this one.
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Inarticulate Herr Doktorprofessor

We are often told - often by Herr Doktorprofessor himself - that he was chosen as a New York Times columnist because he could write. The cartoon chart that claims much of today's column provides little support for Herr Doktorprofessor's conclusions in that column, but exquisitely demonstrates the decline in the quality of his written product.

As has become usual for Herr Doktorprofessor, the "logic" of the column is itself a cartoon: He produces a chart showing that the Administration's jobs-growth hopes and predictions have been disappointed over the past three years, and then announces with a swish, voila: What you see in this chart is the signature of a corrupted policy process, in which political propaganda takes the place of professional analysis.

The correct story was reported by the Times on March 6:

With the slump in the job market nearing its third anniversary, economists said they were starting to wonder whether the relationship between economic growth and employment had changed in important ways. At no other point since World War II has the economy grown for such a long period without adding jobs at a healthy pace.

That the performance of the United States job market may have defied current models is also relevant in evaluating whether any other program would have done better than the one actually followed by the Administration. For example, while it has often been noted here that Herr Doktorprofessor is as lacking in actual affirmative recommendations for jobs growth as he has been prolific in his cat-calls over their apparent dearth, but he has generally expressed his opinion that the tax cuts should have been short-term and "focused" on those with less income. There are many good reasons contraindicating his proposals. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that his proposals (whatever they may be) must also be analyzed through the very same existing models that economists in the Administration and academia and on Wall Street have been using - and which have apparently been overpredicting jobs growth. If, as the Times suggests above the relationship between economic growth and employment had changed in important ways - then that changed relationship would have expressed itself if other approaches had been tried, even his, whatever it is, - and the same models would have been no more reliable than they have been.

If one were to invert Herr Doktorprofessor's chart, and relabel its vertical axis to correspond to some general measure of economic performance of the United States (or the world), the resulting plunging and erroneous tangents would correspond nicely to Herr Doktorprofessor's own repeated Jerimiads predicting economic doom, doom, DOOM I TELL YOU!!! On a certain level it would be appealing also to invert one of Herr Doktorprofessor's own sentences from today's column to describe his own record of predictions: Economic forecasting isn't an exact science, but alarmist negative thinking on this scale is unprecedented. But that would grant Herr Doktorprofessor a distinction he does not deserve because economic doomsaying has been the hallmark of so many of his fellow bad economists throughout history. (By the way, does the reader remember that Brad DeLong says that Herr Doktorprofessor recently refinanced his own mortgage on his prediction that we are now months into the grip of a three-year deflationary period? Yep. Did the math. Locked in his rate.)

The column contains his now-customary plethora of solitaire errors and eccentricities. For example, his assertion that the administration['s] ... economic program ... has relied entirely on tax cuts can only be taken as a naked lie. The Administration's program, like it or not, has relied on (1) low short-term interest rates maintained by the Federal Reserve Board, (2) tax cuts and restructurings, and (3) increased federal spending. (There has also been some modest effort at regulatory relief.) The result has been a jolt to the economy as predicted by current models - but those models may have failed in their prediction of jobs creation.

UPDATE: The articulate Steve Antler has more.

FURTHER UPDATE: Arnold Kling ably sets out the details of Herr Doktorprofessor's inconsistencies.

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Monday, March 08, 2004


Jobs? Jobs? Jobs?

If the recovery is and remains "jobless," it is possible President George W. Bush might not be re-elected, as happened to his father in 1992. But it's worth noting that after that election, the revised 1992 employment numbers were better than had been thought. Payroll employment was initially reported to have risen only 423,000 during 1992, - but that number was later revised to 1,157,000. That made for an average of 96,417 per month during 1992 - in contrast to the average 35,250 per month thought to be the case while the campaign was being waged. It would be an irony for George W. Bush to succeed in avoiding all of his father's mistakes, but nevertheless failing to be re-elected because the Department of Labor statisticians had not failed to avoid the mistakes of their predecessors from 1992. Life is not always fair - but irony in politics always comes cheap.

The Man Without Qualities believes that it is rather likely that the economy is again creating more jobs (and more payroll jobs) than shown by the government's initial reports. That phenomenon occurred every year from 1992 through 2000 - with an upward revision averaging 609,000 per year. Downward revisions of 519,000 and 579,000 occurred for 2001 and 2002, respectively, with another upward revision of 203,000 for 2003.

My suspicion that official employment numbers are now understating employment - even payroll employment - follows from the recent drop in the applications for "continuous" unemployment benefits. In the week of December 27, 2003, there were 3,278,000 "continuous" claims, but during the week of February 21, 2004 "continuous" claims were down to 3,091,000. Changes in payroll employment are generally correlated with the inverse of the number of such claims (the correlation between payroll employment and initial unemployment claims isn't as good as the correlation between payroll employment and continuous unemployment claims).

The correlation between payroll employment and "continuous" unemployment claims should lead to annualized gains exceeding 1% - or 1.3 million jobs gains (averaging 108,000 per month). In contrast, the past three months have averaged 42,000 job gains per month.

In late 1992 the number of unemployment insurance applications declined - and payroll employment growth then rose to almost 2% from about 0. Of course, there is no guaranty that the same thing is happening now - indeed, the labor market of 2004 is full of surprises. For one thing, "continuous" benefit applications may be down because they have expired for soem workers.

But, then, the whole focus on "job creation" is somewhat problematic from a political (election) perspective. The unemployment rate is now only 5.6% - and it is the unemployment rate that historically has had the strongest correlation to election results, not "job creation." It appears correct that the unemployment rate would be higher but for "discouraged workers" - but that is always the case. The number of "discouraged workers" is not particularly high. In addition, many people have observed that higher mandated worker benefits may be discouraging payroll employment. But, if that effect is significant, it should also be true that higher mandated worker benefits may be discouraging reporting of payroll employment. Indeed, some countries with very high mandated benefits (Italy, for example) have correspondingly huge "undocumented" sectors - it would make some sense that increased government-imposed labor costs would expand the "undocumented" sector of the US labor market, too. One would expect "off the books" employment especially at smaller businesses - and USA TOday, for example, says that smaller businesses don't seem to be reporting as many hires as expected. Moreover, the same article goes on to explain somethng noted here in prior posts:

[T]he Labor Department may not be capturing a key source of post-recession job gains: newly self-employed workers who aren't counted in the agency's monthly surveys. The number of these tiny start-ups is growing, says Mark Zandi, of consultant Economy.com.

The labor market of 2004 - as perused in the comfort of the future - may hold more surprises for us than we dream of today.

But all that might - or might not - help Mr. Bush.

POSTSCRIPT:

I neglected to mention that - as noted in a prior post - the employment component of the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index has been very high for several months - which is also consistent with hiring possibly being more substantial than the initial government reports indicate.
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The Passion Of The Critics

I still haven't seen The Passion Of The Christ - a rather nasty cold has caused me to put off movie-going for a bit. From the ticket sales reports, I seem to be one of only dozens. Of course, the matter is made all the more complicated by the fact that there are quite clearly two entirely different movies now playing in theaters, both movies with exactly the same name. There is simply no other way to explain reviews such as these:

Frank Rich: With its laborious build-up to its orgasmic spurtings of blood and other bodily fluids, Mr. Gibson's film is constructed like nothing so much as a porn movie, replete with slo-mo climaxes and pounding music for the money shots. Of all the "Passion" critics, no one has nailed its artistic vision more precisely than Christopher Hitchens, who on "Hardball" called it a homoerotic "exercise in lurid sadomasochism" for those who "like seeing handsome young men stripped and flayed alive over a long period of time." .... What concerns me ... are those with leadership positions in the secular world - including those in the media - who have given Mr. Gibson, "The Passion" and its most incendiary hucksters a free pass for behavior that is unambiguously contrived to vilify Jews. Start with the movie itself. There is no question that it rewrites history ...

Mark Steyn: So, when metropolitan columnists say Mel's movie makes you want to go Jew-bashing, they're really engaging in a bit of displaced Christian-bashing. Ever since September 11, 2001, there has been a lame trope beloved of the smart set: Yes, these Muslim fundamentalists may be pretty extreme, but let's not forget all our Christian fundamentalists - the "home-grown Talibans," as the New York Times' Frank Rich called them, in the course of demanding that John Ashcroft, the attorney general, round them up. Two years on, if this thesis is going to hold up, these Christians really need to get off their fundamentalist butts and start killing more people. Critics berating Mr. Gibson for lingering on the physical flaying of Jesus would be more persuasive if they weren't all too desperately flogging their own dead horse of fundamentalist moral equivalence.

I have to admit to a certain queasiness when my eyes pass over some of Mr. Rich's comments, such as: Start with the movie itself. There is no question that it rewrites history. Do self-consciously "liberal" and "tolerant" people in 21st Century America now go around reading elliptical passages from the Bible and booming forth in print that there is no question as to what the passages mean and what the characters described in the passages were up to? Isn't that the kind of thing that Mr. Rich has often written makes him distrust religious and Biblical fundamentalists? It's not that I am incapable of believing that Mr. Rich - or even Mary Gordon, who may have certain copyright issues to work out with Mr. Rich regarding their respective Times essays - has received a divine revelation removing all question for him as to the true meaning of this critical portion of his Holy Book. No, no, not at all.

And what's with Mr. Rich's blathering about homoerotic porn? Even if he's right - and, again, I haven't seen the movie, so I'm not voicing a personal opinion now - since when has Frank Rich or anyone at the Times had a problem with homoerotic porn? Why here? Why now? Is Mr. Rich seeking to assume a mantle of some kind of Defender Of The Faith? Strange. Passing strange.

UPDATE: Lucas Morel


But which movie to see? Decisions, decisions.
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What If They Gave An Election And Almost Nobody Came?

Well, in Russia one consequence would be that all of the candiates would lose - including Vladimir Putin, who is running for re-election to the Presidency of Russia without meaningful opposition. Jim Hoagland points out:

The former KGB agent's secretive style of governing has brought Kremlinology back to life in Washington and Moscow. Sifting a mysterious Cabinet reshuffle by Putin just days before the March 14 presidential ballot, some top Kremlin-watchers here and independent Russian analysts in Moscow conclude that Putin is running scared -- of his own shadow.

Putin's heavy-handed campaign is alienating some voters and putting many others to sleep. If turnout falls below 50 percent, the Constitution requires that the result be tossed out and a new vote held. Candidates on the March 14 ballot would be ineligible the next time around.


Of course, the Russian Constitution can be amended by a super-majority vote in Parliament. So, if Putin runs into this problem, the matter could become just another Parliamentary deal.

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Sunday, March 07, 2004


The Fall Of The House Of Eisner XIII: Fractious Board?

The New York Times reports:

George J. Mitchell ... sees his main job as negotiating among factions of unhappy investors, other board members and Michael D. Eisner.

Negotiating among other board members?

What the heck is this supposed to mean? All dissident directors have already been forced off the Board. Roy Disney? Gone. Stanley Gold? Gone. Andrea Van de Kamp? Gone.

The board does have a couple of new faces. And the inside word is that those new faces have brought at least some new perspectives - but there are no reports of a fractious board. This is, after all, a board that unanimously appointed Mr. Mitchell as Chairman within an hour of 24% of shareholders withholding their votes for his own reelection.

On a separate point: While it has been widely reported (including here) that 43% of Disney shareholders withheld a vote for Michael Eisner, it is also worth noting that a majority (53%) of the shareholders actually participating in the Disney shareholder meeting withheld a vote for Mr. Eisner (who, of course, ran unopposed).

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