Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The Fall Of The House Of Eisner XVII: The Worst Movie Ever?

Disney's chief executive officer Michael Eisner has lavished his personal attention on The Alamo, which now stars Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton and Jason Patric and was directed by John Lee Hancock - although it was originally slated to be directed by Ron Howard and star Russell Crowe. According to the New York Times those changes were but a few of the results of Mr. Eisner's direct micro-management of the film. This movie is really Mr. Eisner's movie in many, many ways - often astounding ways, considering that Mr. Eisner is supposed to be running Disney - not fussing over and second-guessing a single movie as he did with The Alamo.

So it's not too surprising that when, as noted in the prior post in this series, Michael Eisner said the Disney movie studio group "is on fire," he specifically referred to The Alamo. "A lot is riding on the Alamo," said Paul Degarabedian, head of movie-tracking service Exhibitor Relations. "This is a movie that they have a lot invested in. They've really been pushing it on the marketing side." Eisner also said expected reviews for "Alamo" looked good.

Well, if the reviews for The Alamo are any indication of how Mr. Eisner and the Disney movie studio group are "on fire," it appears they have achieved that state by lighting their own farts: The Alamo has been awarded an almost unprecedented ZERO PERCENT positive reviews rating from "Rotten Tomatoes." Reviewers nationally are unanimous in proclaiming that this is one of the biggest stinkers ever made:

"Cartoonishly awful! Remember the Alamo but forget this movie."

"A few dollars lighter, a few hours closer to death, get a chance to glimpse your own mortality reflected in the dead, shark-eyed glare of another big-budget prestige picture."

And on and on. Every single review is a disastrous pan. Yet Mr. Eisner told investors that expected reviews for "Alamo" looked good. Is that a material fact to the Securities and Exchange Commission?

Mr. Eisner's personal achievement of a ZERO PER CENT rating for this movie is an accomplishment one really has to put in perspective. Other movies widely considered to be "The Worst Movie Ever Made" fare far better. For example, the notorious Plan Nine From Outer Space receives a 57% rating. And the classically awful no-budget Attack of the Killer Tomatoes garnered a full 33%! The biggest Hollywood financial disasters in history pale in comparision: Ishtar (19%), Heaven's Gate (44%), and even Gigli (7%) are all made to look like blow-out reviewer successes by The Alamo!

Yes, The Alamo gets a perfect ZERO! And with the production and distribution budgets involved here, Disney is looking down the barrel of a cool TWO HUNDRED MILLION DOLLAR WRITE OFF.

Faced with this kind of truly amazing performance, one can only gape in awe. Michael Eisner, you are truly an amazing man! This is not ordinary failure - this is failure in a Biblical scale, a failure that requires a kind of genius to accomplish. Ah, the perfect zero - the perfect circle! "What is eternal is circular and what is circular is eternal." - Aristotle.

Go with GOD!

And keep chanting your mantra: Reviews aren't box office gross! There is still a kind of hope.

UPDATE: Now cruising at 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Alamo denies Mr. Eisner his dubious niche in eternity even as his film pulls slightly ahead of Ishtar while mischevieously trailing Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. At least with that perfect zero Mr. Eisner would have been remembered - he could have been a contender. Sad. Sad. So briefly an immortal! There is no perfection so absoulute, that some impurity doth not pollute.


Although The Alamo has recovered a bit with the critics - and there have been a few genuinely "good" reviews - it is doing much worse with the public than one might have imagined:

"The Alamo" opened weakly with $9.2 million, tying for No. 3 with Cedric the Entertainer's comedy "Johnson Family Vacation," according to studio estimates Sunday. Other studios actually were tracking "Johnson Family Vacation" slightly ahead of "The Alamo," which could finish in fourth place when final numbers come out Monday. Making comparisons worse, "Johnson Family Vacation" put up the same numbers while playing in only half as many theaters as "The Alamo."

While Home On The Range may yet bring foreign revenue through performances and Hildago has grossed about a dreadful but not-historically-catestrophic $60 Million, the Wall Street Journal notes:

"The Alamo" ... is a clear loser that may struggle to take in even $25 million or $30 million in U.S. theaters at this pace. Its prospects overseas are thought to be dim, because the historical event it is based on is of little interest outside the U.S.

Nine million dollars and change is it? Worse than Johnson Family Vacation and Hildago? That's looking like a write-off of way, way north of $150 Million for a movie for which Michael Eisener held out special hopes. And although he said that he didn't want to "disappoint" with this movie - he did. A lot. Yes, indeed, quite the bit of explaining for Mr. Eisner to do at the board meeting.

Crisis? Crisis? Is Disney in crisis?

ANOTHER UPDATE: A broader understanding that The Alamo may represent, well, a kind of Alamo for Michael Eisner. Maybe even provoke a deal with Comcast.

[Thanks to astute reader BH for the link.]
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Garry Trudeau: The Mind Reels. The Stomach Churns.

Yet more evidence of the identity politics likely at the center of what is supposedly an international terrorism dispute - and of what may be a new and particularly revoltng tactic of some on the political left.

An earlier post regarding a New York Times article that dubbed Presidential advisors Karen Hughes and Condeleeza Rice "Valkyries" noted:

But where's the companion article about how comfortable this President is with smart, strong-willed people from racial minorities. Like Condi, again? Like Colin? Will the Times concoct a parallel racist pseudo-humorous descriptive term for them? The mind reels. The stomach churns.

That revolting possibility hasn't reached the New York Times just yet, but Garry Trudeau, who "writes" the strip Doonesbury has come up with his own revolting pseudo-humorous descriptive term for Ms. Rice that is both racist and sexist at the same time. Isn't he clever?

And the Washington Post is proud to publish it!

Squalid. Desperate. Disgusting.

The Tartan, Carnegie Mellon's student paper, voluntarily shut down after publishing a racially charged cartoon in its April Fool spoof edition. The cartoonist lost his job, and the editor in chief is taking a leave of absence until fall. The offensive Doonesbury in the Washinton Post is both racially and sexually "charged" - and appears in a perfectly normal edition, not a "spoof." Shouldn't the Post shut down - at least for a few weeks? Then there's The Gateway, the Nebraska paper, which apologized for its April Fool edition titled The Ghettoway. Nebraska's chancellor, Nancy Belck, told The Gateway: "I find it (The Ghettoway) offensive and we will not tolerate it on this campus." Shouldn't the Post and Doonesbury be held to the standards analagous to those that apply to The Gateway?

And what of US Secretary of State Colin Powell? Surely he's in line for some of this demeaning treatment from the left after putting Senator Kennedy in his place.

Garry Trudeau is married to Jane Pauley, who appeared until recently on Dateline NBC. Lots of media connections there.

There's an interesting similarity between Mr. Trudeau's tactic here regarding Ms. Rice and those of Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman regarding Richard Clarke. Mr. Trudeau seeks to sanitize his own bigoted term for Ms. Rice by ascribing it to President Bush. Similarly, the New York Times has now published three columns by Herr Doktorprofessor in which he impugns Mr. Clarke's personal life as "weird" (while the Times runs an article describing Mr. Clarke as "single") while attempting to sanitize his own campaign by ascribing the impugning to the White House. And poor Wolf Blitzer gets caught in the cross fire! Of course, Herr Doktorprofessor has well established credentials as someone who tolerates the strategic use of bigotry - he famously rationalized the violently anti-Semitic remarks by Malaysia's prime minister Mahathir Mohamad as being symptoms of the failure of the Bush administration's foreign policy, and characterized those remarks as less awful than they were because they were intended by Mahathir Mohamad to be politically strategic.

Ah, that Herr Doktorprofessor! Always seeking to be on a leading edge. Since he can't be there in international trade economics, he'll stake out a position as ringleader in the Carnival of the Bigotries. Maybe Garry Trudeau can accompany Herr Doktorprofessor on those long flights to the economic conferences Mahathir Mohamad pays for - and the two of them can really yuck it up!
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Pods; Seeds

The Cucurbit family is comprised of a number of vine crops grown for their edible fruit. These include cucumber, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and summer and winter squash. All of those fruits carry the plant's seeds.

But orchids form the largest family of flowering plants - much larger than the Cucurbit family. There are over 30 000 orchid species globally.

Oddly, there is exactly one species of orchid with a seedpod from which people extract something they want to eat. But that one is a doosey.
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This Is A Lot Harder Than It Looks

You'll need to try more than once.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Not Equivalent

John Kerry - a nominal Catholic - recently weirdly referred to "Pope Pius XXIII" and suggested that the Catholic Church's position against abortion was on a par with its disfavor of capital punishment.

Well, Senator Kerry isn't right on either point. Not even close.

Senator Kerry has no obligation to be a member of any organized religion. But it is really very strange that someone raised in a sect, and who purports to still be a member of that sect, does not know the official positions of that sect on questions that come up all the time in the course of public life.

The Pius XXIII slip is weird enough. Up there with Howard Dean thinking "Job" is in the New Testament. And they both went to Yale!

But how the heck could John Kerry not know what the official Catholic positions on abortion and capital punishment are? His represents a largely Catholic state. Regardless of whether he intends to abide by Catholic positions, doesn't a competent politician have an obligation to know what they are? I'll bet Barney Frank knows those positions - not because he's Catholic (he's a gay jew), but because he knows what his job entails. Are Senator Kerry's responsible aides all that stupid and/or ignorant?

Strange. Passing strange. Perhaps there's more where these two came from. Perhaps Senator Kerry thinks that Easter is the day Jesus came out out of his tomb, saw his shadow, and decreed that there be six more weeks of winter.

Someone should ask him. It would be no stranger than a lot of his economic proposals.
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Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XXV: John Kerry's Support For That Gas Tax

One of the more annoying species of political commenter can be the type who purports to take a careful look at exactly what the candidates are saying, finds "distortions" and plays the voice of reason in a "plague on both your houses" huff. If real "distortions" are, in fact, located, such a commenter is valuable. But where the "distortions" are solely the consequence of the commenter's own spin, the effect is distinctly discordant and distracting.

Alan Murray, writing in the Wall Street Journal, hits several such sour notes:

The 2004 presidential campaign already has set records for abandoning civility. Last week, it seemed to be abandoning reality as well. The Bush-Cheney campaign spent the week attacking John Kerry's 50-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax. It ran grainy black-and-white television advertisements in battleground states ridiculing the idea as "wacky." ...

Problem is that Sen. Kerry hasn't proposed, never voted for and doesn't support a 50-cent gas tax. ....

The origins of the attack are a Boston Globe article, written a decade ago, about a report by the nonpartisan "Concord Coalition" which left Sen. Kerry off its "honor roll" for deficit reduction. An enterprising reporter by the name of Jill Zuckman, now at the Chicago Tribune, cornered Sen. Kerry in the U.S. Capitol to get his response. He was irritated at being left off the list and said the Concord Coalition's grading didn't accurately reflect "my $43 billion package of cuts or my support for a 50-cent increase in the gas tax." Neither Ms. Zuckman nor Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition, are aware of exactly when or where Sen. Kerry expressed his support for this tax increase. The strange episode might be seen as further evidence of Sen. Kerry's desire to be on all sides of every issue. But it's a huge stretch to suggest he currently supports a 50-cents-a-gallon tax.

But the only problem with Mr. Murray's critique is that the Bush-Cheney ads (at least the ones I've seen and what's on the website) don't suggest that Senator Kerry currently supports a 50-cents-a-gallon tax. What the ads and the website say is:

"He [Kerry] even supported raising taxes on gasoline 50-cents a gallon."

The Bush ad does not say that Kerry now supports such a tax, or voted for or personally proposed a bill that would have imposed such a tax. The ad is in fact part of the famous series arguing that Senator Kerry has been a flip-flopper through his career - who, on many topics, once supported that which he now denounces - not that he has been consistently in favor of new gas taxes or anything else for that matter. It is highly relevant to many voters that Senator Kerry once supported such a very large gas tax increase. Mr. Murray probably knows all that - but finds it convenient to ignore it for purposes of this article.

That Senator Kerry once supported such a gas tax (even if he doesn't now) is relevant - just as it is relevant that the in 1986 Mr. Cheney supported higher oil import taxes (which would likely have led to gas price rises) to promote reduced dependency on foreign oil - when he represented a Congressional district that depended on oil revenues. Mr. Cheney's tariff would have been imposed only on foreign oil, - where the tax Senator Kerry supported was to be imposed on all gas consumption. It's for the voter to decide which one (if either) is significant to the voter's decision. But reducing dependency on foreign oil has many supporters. Indeed, the old Cheney position may be awkward for Senator Kerry, since it will raise the question whether the Senator now supports an increased tariff on foreign oil. Indeed the post below quotes the Economist magazine's criticism of the Senator's current energy program: He [Kerry] called for the impossible goal of energy independence for America. How does the Senator propose to accomplish that without a big foreign oil tax boost?

And it's not just the Bush campaign or an old Globe article that points a finger at Senator Kerry, again contrary to Mr. Murray's insinuation. The Globe recently editorialized (as noted by the Viking Pundit):

DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate John Kerry is stepping gingerly away from a proposal he floated several years ago to raise the federal gasoline tax by 50 cents. With average prices at the pump spiking at $1.73 per gallon and President Bush mocking the idea at campaign rallies, Kerry has been quick to note that he never voted for any such tax and upon reflection thinks it is a bad idea.

Neither Kerry nor his office even now denies the Globe story - or his support in 1994 for such a tax. And There have been reports that Kerry actually wrote to the Globe with this proposal. The Globe is still clearly sticking to its story, and the Journal owes its readers a bit more than Mr. Murray's off-hand dismissal.

And it's not just the Globe - as the Bush campaign site also notes these:

Kerry Position Unpopular. [Sen. John] Kerry said he proposed nearly $50 billion in cuts last year and backed a politically unpopular 50 cents per gallon gas tax. (Andrew Miga, "Criticism By Tsongas Irks Ted K, Kerry"; Boston Herald, 3/2/94)

Gas Tax Measure Introduced By Sen. Chuck Robb (D-VA). Robb's 1993 legislation would have imposed an "additional tax on motor fuels"; by a "50-cent increase over the next 5 calendar years," which is accomplished by 10 cents a gallon in each calendar year. The bill had no co-sponsors and never made it to a floor vote. (S. 1068, Introduced 5/28/93)

Kerry isn't to my understanding saying that he never supported the Robb bill. We're not necessarilly talking votes or formal proposals here. Indeed, Senator Kerry's 1994 admission to his "support for a 50-cent increase in the gas tax" in that comment to the Boston Globe seems to have been a reference to the Robb bill. If it wasn't a reference to the Robb bill - where is the Kerry explanation?

Here's the Herald article (if the Herald objects, I'll take it down):

HEADLINE: Criticism by Tsongas irks Ted K, Kerry



WASHINGTON - Ex-presidential hopeful Paul E. Tsongas struck a raw nerve with Massachusetts' two senators, ranking them among the three biggest spenders in the state's congressional delegation.

Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) spokeswoman assailed the ratings by The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan budget watchdog group co-chaired by Tsongas, as badly flawed and misleading.

'(Kerry) was disappointed that Tsongas would engage in this type of sick political gamesmanship,' said Kerry aide Alex Marks. 'It's gamesmanship that plays into the silliest politics in the Senate.'

Tsongas' gave his Senate successor, Kerry, and ex-colleague Edward M. Kennedy flunking grades of 29 percent and 22 percent, respectively, for their 1993 votes on several deficit-cutting bills.

'When those numbers came out, my heart was in my throat,' said Tsongas, noting that only Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Springfield), with 19 percent, ranked lower in the delegation. 'But clearly, Congress has to do better.'

Freshmen Reps. Martin Meehan (D-Lowell) and Peter Blute (R-Shrewsbury) tied for the top ranking with 89 percent each. Kerry was stung by his poor grade from Tsongas, an ally. He won Tsongas' Senate seat in 1984, and supported Tsongas' 1992 White House run.

Kerry said he proposed nearly $ 50 billion in cuts last year and backed a politically unpopular 50 cents per gallon gas tax. Kennedy also protested, arguing that the survey's budget votes - including a 4.3-cent gas tax, block grants, Social Security tax increases - were arbitrary and misleading.

LOAD-DATE: March 08, 1995
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From The Joint Economic Committee

1. Recent Economic Developments – A Surge in Job Growth


Payroll employment increased by 308,000 jobs in March. The unemployment rate edged up to 5.7%.

The final estimate of 4th quarter GDP kept growth at a robust 4.1% annual rate. Blue Chip forecasts are for GDP to grow 4.7% in 2004, the highest in 20 years.

Corporate profits grew at a 7.2% annual pace in the 4th quarter. Growth in profits has been very strong in the past three quarters.


Payroll growth in March was the fastest in nearly 4 years.

The current unemployment rate of 5.7% is lower than the average unemployment rate during the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s.

Over the past 7 months, payrolls have added 759,000 jobs.

New claims for unemployment insurance are at their lowest level in 3 years.

2. A Primer on Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

It's an intersting read.
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Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XXIV: Hello? Hello? Searching For John Kerry's Economic Policy

The Economist magazine has looked at John Kerry's economic policy, especially his corporate tax/jobs preservation proposal, and asked: Is there a there, there?

Silly them. Of course there isn't! Will Brad DeLong again willfully violate the Economist copyright by reproducing this entire article the way he does with articles that suit his political spin? I can hardly wait ... except someone will have to tell me, since I hardly ever look at the DeLong site. There is a consumption limit for junk food of the mind in the aggregate ... and DeLong has been edged out by those Buffy the Vampire Slayer re-runs. Here are some particularly nasty bits from the Economist, and it's not pretty:

In his opening efforts at developing an economic policy, John Kerry is all fiddle and not much thrust ... On March 26th, Mr Kerry delivered what he hoped would be seen as the most definitive economic speech of his candidacy thus far, the chief part of which is a “plan” to create 10m jobs during his first term. [MWQ Note: As OpinionJournal points out, that's more new jobs than the 8.5 million unemployed people in this country. But I digress.] A few days later, he moved on to energy policy. More utterances on the economy are expected over the next few weeks. How is Mr Kerry's vision, such as it is, stacking up? ....

America's corporate tax system is certainly ripe for attention. America not only taxes its companies at a relatively high rate, it also, unlike other countries, taxes them on their worldwide operations. This puts American firms at a disadvantage overseas compared with lower-taxed competitors. So in order to help them, Congress over the years has legislated to allow American companies to put off paying taxes on overseas profits until these are actually brought home. Thus, a big pool of money—more than $600 billion, some say—sits abroad.

Mr Kerry proposes to bring that money home, by offering a one-year moratorium (another Republican idea) during which companies that repatriate profits pay only a 10% tax on money that is reinvested at home. Thereafter, tax on profits overseas must be paid immediately. The scheme, it is reckoned, will raise an extra $12 billion a year. The money will be spent lowering the overall corporate tax rate, as well as providing a tax credit to companies that take on new workers in industries, both in manufacturing and services, that are losing jobs to outsourcing.

This is the nub of Mr Kerry's vision ... But is it really clever for the economy as a whole? [T]he Kerry plan looks dangerously complicated and dirigiste... By offering tax credits at home to selected industries, he is asking bureaucrats to judge which industries to back. Even if you think this is a good thing, it will be fiendishly difficult to administer. How on earth can you measure, in the general fog of job creation and destruction, which industries are seeing jobs outsourced? And how do you discriminate between an overseas subsidiary producing for local consumption (which is still eligible for tax deferrals under the Kerry plan) and one producing for export (which is not)? ...

His utterances this week on high oil prices—hastily wrapped up as a “policy”—had the same sort of opportunism about them. He promised somehow to put pressure on oil-exporting nations to increase output. He called for the impossible goal of energy independence for America. And he criticised Mr Bush for continuing to add to the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, even though such purchases have only a marginal impact on oil prices.

Admittedly, that can scarcely be worse than the White House's energy policy, which consists mainly of blaming the Democrats for blocking a pork-laden energy bill. Yet absent, still, from Mr Kerry's economic thinking is any sense of an overarching, unifying theme.

No, no, no! Doesn't the Economist understand? Senator Kerry's thinking isn't dangerously complicated and dirigiste! No: This is all nuance!


But it gets even worse for Senator Kerry's economic peregrinations. In another article (will Professor DeLong be tempted to copy?) the Economist really seems to be determined to get something off its institutional chest:

The Democratic candidate's proposal is slick, but unwise .... Mr Kerry wants to eliminate a “tax break” that allows American firms to avoid American tax on foreign earnings that are not brought home. Yet this “tax break” is not quite the example of corporate welfare that Mr Kerry claims. ... America's deferred taxes on foreign earnings have been an attempt to bring America's corporate-tax code closer to those of other countries.

Mr Kerry's real concern ... [is] to slow the loss of American jobs to cheaper countries.... But such tinkering with the tax code is the wrong way to go about it. Mr Kerry's plan does little to make America more attractive to investment and new jobs at a time when many countries are slashing corporate-tax rates to much lower levels. It will make America's hideously complex tax code more so. Much worse, it tries to hamper trade through a change in the tax law. This is anything but “tax reform.” ....

His tax plan ... amounts to protectionism by other means. For it is aimed squarely at discouraging manufacturing abroad by American companies. But it is a bizarre type of trade barrier, because it hits only imports from American firms abroad. A Japanese-owned factory in Malaysia, for example, exporting semiconductors to America but paying only local taxes, would be at a great advantage against a similar American-owned plant, which would be subject to America's higher tax rate. Mr Kerry thinks he is encouraging bosses to keep jobs at home. Instead, he may just prod American consumers to buy even more from foreign companies.

Mr Kerry says he wants to level the tax rate between American firms' manufacturing in America and their manufacturing in foreign countries. But genuine tax reform would level the playing field by bringing all corporate taxes down radically, rather than slapping what is in effect a big new tax rise on American firms' foreign operations. The timing of Mr Kerry's plan is especially bad. ....

For sheer political cleverness, Mr Kerry's plan deserves full marks. ... But that should not distract from the truth about his proposal: it is unwise, likely to be counterproductive and seems to be meant mostly to mislead voters.

Nasty, nasty, nasty. Megan? Megan? Is that you? .... Hello?
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The Fall Of The House Of Eisner XVI: Still A Few Bugs In The System

Michael Eisner is telling investors that everything is okey-dokey and hunky-dorey at the Walt Disney Company!

Too bad some other sourpusses just refuse to get into the new "happy, HAPPY! HAPPY - DAMN YOU!" mood.

Like the Los Angeles Times and others who are suggesting that Disney's current animated barnyard dropping - Home On The Range - may require a $100 Million write-off. It's still just a little early to count out international returns, but Home On The Range has a more narrowly focused American sense to it than, say, The Emperor's New Goove - an earlier Disney animated mess that recovered to some extent in its international distribution. Production costs for Home On The Range were reportedly in the $100 Million range.

Then there is The Ladykillers, a Tom Hanks/Coen Brothers abortion with probably no significant international potential whose production and distribution budgets have not been disclosed to my knowledge, and has been described as "low budget." But those budgets must have been way, way over the ridiculous $23 Million it has grossed to date (unless Tom Hanks has taken a vow of poverty). Maybe another circa $100 Million write off? Tom Hanks - who dominates this film - reportedly admitted on television that he had not seen the original version on which this movie is based. Is it possible to imagine a higher level of unprofessional sloppiness?

And, remember The Alamo! Yes, Michael Eisner said the Disney movie studio group "is on fire," with The Alamo a major source of the conflagration, as in this update:

Disney's top-grosser so far this year is ice hockey movie "Miracle" with a comparatively small $63 million in ticket sales, but it was made on a relatively low budget. Eisner said last week word-of-mouth and expected reviews for "Alamo" looked good. "I won't oversell it because I don't want to disappoint," he told investors on a conference call. Studio chief Dick Cook told Reuters at the "Alamo" premiere in San Antonio that "No one movie makes or breaks a studio ... that is crazy." But a poor performance by "Alamo" would put pressure on Eisner, Schwab SoundView analyst Jordan Rohan said in a research note. Moreover, poor performance could also nudge the board toward negotiating with Comcast Corp., the cable company eager to buy Disney, Rohan said.

So Mr. Eisner said expected reviews for "Alamo" looked good? How about this one ("Emotionally inert and poorly paced, The Alamo transforms one of Texas' best-known events into an uninvolving bore.") and this one?

Yep. Happy, happy, happy ... all the time!

Odd that there's little official talk of Kill Bill II as fuel for the Eisner fire. Could it have something to do with this line in the credits: Executive producers: Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein? Maybe a combination of that line and the fact that Disney should be - and may be - looking for a new CEO? And who could that be?


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Monday, April 05, 2004

On Oozing Expertise And Sincerity II: Maureen Dowd Will Be Sooooo Upset!

Yet more evidence that more people are waking up - or admitting - to the identity politics at the center of what is supposedly an international terrorism dispute, as the New York Times reports:

This will be a big week for Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, whose testimony on Thursday to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is expected to portray her boss as incisive, tough-minded and on top of the threat from Al Qaeda.

Last week was a big one for Karen P. Hughes, one of the president's closest advisers, who began a 16-city tour promoting a book that portrays her boss as incisive, tough-minded and, on top of it all, "enormously fun."

Together the two are the president's Valkyries, warrior women devoted to defending him. Mr. Bush may be on the wrong side of the gender gap; polls show that women do not support him in the same numbers as men; but no other president has had women in such powerful positions in the White House.

Mr. Bush's supporters say his dependence on Ms. Rice and Ms. Hughes shows that he is comfortable with strong-willed women, like his mother and wife, his two other Valkyries.

Another note: The reference to these advisors as "the president's Valkyries" is, of course, almost inconceivably bigoted, nasty and misleading. Was Sandy Berger President Clinton's "Hessian?" Further, there is no evidence that either of the Mrses. Bush has the kind of policy influence in this White House that Hillary Clinton wielded - so the "Valkyrie" moniker is even more bizarre applied to them. But that just shows how much the Times types feel threatened by women such as Ms. Rice and Ms. Hughes, and by this President's comfort in dealing with them at the highest level and taking their advice. It's sad, really, that the Times is reduced to that kind of bigoted pseudo-humor. But, as I have noted in prior posts, my suspicion is that the Times and the Dems leading the anti-Condi charge have be seeking to exploit an unwritten sexist subtext from the git-go. This is just a little written evidence of that.

But where's the companion article about how comfortable this President is with smart, strong-willed people from racial minorities. Like Condi, again? Like Colin? Will the Times concoct a parallel racist pseudo-humorous descriptive term for them? The mind reels. The stomach churns.

Yes, Big Mo will be soooooooo upset. But maybe she's too busy to notice - too busy scribbling her next column about how this whole kerfufflette (as OpinionJournal calls it) can be explained as a culture clash between Richard Clarke's weird personal life and the testosterone poisoned culture of the White House - especially Dick Cheney. Can't have a real Big Mo column without a swipe at the Vice President's testosterone.

Look, if you're a Democrat, the President "owns" the terrorism issue ,and you've just lost the domestic economic issue to the employment numbers, what the heck do you have to run on other than identity politics?

Sure, it's political cannibalism by the party that holds itself out as working for women and minorities. Sure, it's a desperate ploy. But for the Democrats these are desperate times, Mrs. Lovette!

UPDATE: She's no Valkyrie!
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Is It Really That Bad? II: Worse And Worse In das Vaterland

Yes, it really seems to be that bad. But at least Mark Steyn makes it fun to read about the ongoing self-immolation of a great - if often spectacularly stupid - people.

But Mr. Steyn is not the first to see the humor in the disastrous consequences of German collective Dummheit. One can understand the greater German experience this way:

"If stupidity did not resemble progress, talent, hope and improvement quite so perfectly, nobody would want to be stupid."
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Close Election? Really?

One of the major reasons the Democrats have been willing to accept the huge risks inherent in their fussing about the 9-11 Commission and terrorism matters generally is their supposed desperate need to reduce the President's high favorability ratings on this issue. In contrast, Kerry and Democrats generally have supposedly been pleased with their public standing on domestic economic issues, which usually dominate presidential elections. The delusionally Democratic Los Angeles Times, for example, read its own press releases in the form of construing one of its notoriously inaccurate polls to come up with this analysis:

It is no secret that a lack of job creation has emerged as a pivotal election issue. But a new Los Angeles Times Poll suggests that Americans' pocketbook concerns extend well beyond the labor market, and the public thinks that Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry would better look out for their financial futures than would President Bush.

The Times poll also finds that by a whopping margin of 19% voters think the country is "on the wrong track" - a sentiment generally (but not always) dominated by domestic economic considerations.

As a preliminary matter one should question whether such poll findings could possibly be correct. Even the Times poll finds that voters approve of the President's job performance by 7% - which creates quite a dissonance with the "on the wrong track" finding. There there is the President's small and growing lead in almost all polls (although not the Times poll).

But, more importantly, there is a much bigger problem coming for Senator Kerry and Democrats and other doomsayers generally. Despite the fondest hopes of the Times and other such organs that Americans' pocketbook concerns extend well beyond the labor market, and ... that Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry would [be] better, it is in fact the case that the domestic economy is generally becoming an issue "owned" by the the President - not John Kerry.

If so, such a shift would be a big change in much current conventional wisdom (expressed, for example, by Dick Morris) that this election is and will remain really about two big competing issues: (1) the economy, to the favor of Senator Kerry and (2) terrorism, to the favor of President Bush. Supposedly we were doomed to go through an election cycle in which those issues were assigned firmly to their respective candidates and their parties, and the big question would be: In November, which issue will dominate in the public mind? Terrorism? - in which case President Bush would be re-elected. Or the domestic economy? - in which case we would see a President Kerry.

One month of employment numbers do not an economic boom make - but 308,000 new jobs in March is significant. Also, I have pointed out in prior posts that the Department of Labor methodology is probably tending to systematically understate jobs creation. That has not changed, and if revisions to that 308,000 number are needed (which will almost certainly be the case), it is more likely that it will be an upward revision - as the January and February employment numbers were just revised upward.

That the recent employment numbers are not a fluke, will not be revised downward and, in fact, mark a distinct upward trend probably good for at least the seven month run-up to the election is also suggested by the new readings from the Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index:

The U.S. services sector grew well above expectations to hit a record high in March, a report showed on Monday, offering more evidence that the economy's recovery is gaining traction. The Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index surged to 65.8 in March, a 12th straight monthly increase, from 60.8 in February. Wall Street economists had forecast a rise to 61.5. A number above 50 indicates growth. .... Services include everything from restaurants and hotels to banks and airlines and accounts for about 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The survey's employment index rose in March to 53.9 from 52.7 in February. Growth in demand for new orders rose to 62.8 in March from 60.3 in February.

Of course there is no guaranty that the economy will continue to accelerate through October, but it's looking very likely. The traditional view has been that a good six months of good economic performance prior to election day will deeply penetrate the voters' minds. The remaining seven months should do nicely.

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Sunday, April 04, 2004

On Oozing Expertise And Sincerity

There is at last some tentative indication that some Republicans are waking up to the Carnival of the Bigotries some Democrats may be trying to make of the 9-11 Commission:

"The woman oozes expertise and sincerity," said former Republican National chairman Rich Bond. "I'm glad the White House came around to allow her to say publicly what she's already told the commission privately. The old adage is, 'Get it out, get it out, get it out.' If the Democrats want to slap around an African American woman, let them try."

Let them try indeed.

UPDATE: The New York Times is trying to make a case for just such a slap-around, and thinks that the Commission's likely finding that the September 11 disasters were "probably preventable" will be a big deal.

But I don't think it's going to play that way. To begin with, Richard Clarke testified before the Congress and Commission privately a while ago - and the Commission had a chance to ask Ms. Rice about her story and his. Assuming his testimony then is consistent with what he says now, where's the room for major new questions, at least from the Commission members who bothered to attend Ms. Rice's private session? Moreover, the Commission chairman has already stated in public that Ms. Rice was very forthcoming and helpful when she spoke in private - and that the Commission has no problems with what she said then. And if someone on the Commission does get nasty, Condi Rice is very smart and very good at slapping back in a very ordered and professional way that palys pretty well on camera from what I've seen.

We'll have to see what actually comes out at the hearing, but it's pretty old news that had the intelligence services been able to "connect dots" and share information that more might have been done. I don't think more of that kind of 20-20 hindsight second-guessing is going to mean much. But it also would likely focus more public attention on what legal restraints there were on the intelligence community - and what kind of legislator favors that kind of restraint. That won't be good news for most Democrats. And then there's the identity politics blow-back that Chairman Bond notes.

No, I don't think this is going to go the New York Times' way at all.
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Federal Intelligence Legislation As Suicide Pact

It has been famously and correctly said that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of much of the federal legislation governing the nation's intelligence gathering, especially beginning with the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The disasters of September 11 marked a great failure of intelligence, but that failure of intelligence was but a symptom of an underlying failure of national will and understanding whose loss was marked by the Senate Church committee shenanigans and the passage of the nearly insane FISA, which hugely burdened intelligence gathering and cooperation.

Two years ago a long series of posts here laid out my thoughts on these matters, and now Andrew McCarthy has many insightful things to say in his Commentary article, The Intelligence Mess: How It Happened, What to Do About It:

As with much else in our national life, the bacillus now grown to plague America?’s intelligence apparatus took root in the unrest of Vietnam and the upheaval of Watergate. ... For a generation of activists soon to take up positions of influence in politics, academia, and the media, the antiwar movement inculcated a lasting aversion not only to the exercise of American military power but to the agencies tasked with assessing threats to our national security, not to mention the real-world grunt work of intelligence.

Watergate deepened the aversion. ... Hot on the heels of these misdeeds, the CIA became enmeshed in other domestic spying scandals that were subjected to high-profile probes, first by a commission appointed by President Ford and, in 1976, by the celebrated Senate Select Committee chaired by Frank Church.

Perhaps the first consequence of this chain of events was a long-term decline in the authority of the executive branch of government. The decline stemmed from an illogic that often bedevils the aftermath of scandal: the tendency to confound the sins of a corrupt actor (in this case, Nixon) with a structural weakness in the system itself. In the mid-1970, the new operating premise was that, since robust presidential power was likely to be corrupted, it must therefore be scrutinized and shackled in every respect.

From this there followed a second consequence: a shift of national-security functions, prominently including intelligence-gathering, from the ambit of broad executive discretion to the area where executive action is regulated by Congress and the federal courts. Compared with the "intelligence failures" decried by journalists and politicians today, this shift engendered a continuing calamity.

In the constitutional license given to executive action, a gaping chasm exists between the realms of law enforcement and national security. In law enforcement, as former U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr explained in congressional testimony last October, government seeks to discipline an errant member of the body politic who has allegedly violated its rules. That member, who may be a citizen, an immigrant with lawful status, or even, in certain situations, an illegal alien, is vested with rights and protections under the U.S. Constitution. Courts are imposed as a bulwark against suspect executive action; presumptions exist in favor of privacy and innocence; and defendants and other subjects of investigation enjoy the assistance of counsel, whose basic job is to thwart government efforts to obtain information. The line drawn here is that it is preferable for the government to fail than for an innocent person to be wrongly convicted or otherwise deprived of his rights.

Not so the realm of national security, where government confronts a host of sovereign states and sub-national entities (particularly terrorist organizations) claiming the right to use force. Here the executive is not enforcing American law against a suspected criminal but exercising national-defense powers to protect against external threats. Foreign hostile operatives acting from without and within are not vested with rights under the American Constitution. The galvanizing national concern in this realm is to defeat the enemy, and as Barr puts it, "preserve the very foundation of all our civil liberties." The line drawn here is that government cannot be permitted to fail. ....

In line with this, the executive branch had wide latitude to gather intelligence against potential threats. True, the CIA?’s charter did not permit it to conduct domestic intelligence-gathering?—that task being left to the FBI?—but this affected only which arms of the executive branch could spy on our enemies in which venues. It did not, at least in theory, affect the substance of the information to be gathered.

But cataclysmic changes were ahead, and their harbinger was President Jimmy Carter?’s acquiescence in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Here, for the first time, Congress and the courts undertook to regulate the gathering of national intelligence, particularly by electronic eavesdropping, against agents of hostile foreign powers. ...

Of course, such wiretapping was already illegal, and the Nixon experience had amply demonstrated the political price to be paid for engaging in it. No matter. Henceforth, the executive branch would not be allowed to use whatever tactics it, as the branch with the most expertise and information, determined were necessary to protect the nation. Rather, it would be compelled to go to a federal FISA court newly created for the purpose, and, as with the procedure for criminal wiretaps, it would need to establish probable cause that the target was an agent of a foreign power. Electronic surveillance would be permitted only if the judges approved.

The impact on intelligence collection was serious. Previously, it would have been laughable to suggest that foreign enemy operatives had a right to conduct their perfidies in privacy?—the Fourth Amendment prohibits only "unreasonable" searches, and there is nothing unreasonable about searching or recording people who threaten national security. (The federal courts have often recognized that the Constitution is not a suicide pact.) Now, such operatives became the beneficiaries of precisely such protection. Placing so severe a roadblock in the way of a crucial investigative technique necessarily meant both that the technique would be used less frequently (thereby reducing the quantity and quality of valuable intelligence) and that investigative resources would have to be diverted from intelligence-collection to the rigors of compliance with judicial procedures (which are cumbersome).

This was only the start of the debacle. Courts and the organized defense bar soon began to ply the FISA statute with hypothetical governmental abuses. What if, they worried, a national-security wiretap yielded evidence of an ordinary crime?—not an unlikely event, given that terrorists tend to commit lots of ordinary crimes, including money laundering, identity fraud, etc. This was no problem under FISA as written: intelligence agents could simply pass the information to agents of the criminal law, who could then use the damning conversations in court. But what if such law-enforcement agents, for their part, were to try to use FISA as a pretext to investigate crimes for which they themselves lacked probable cause to secure a regular criminal wiretap?

In one sense, the suggestion was not out of line?—wiretap conversations are devastating evidence, and defense lawyers routinely strain to have them suppressed. But the notion was logically absurd. If a criminal investigator was going to act corruptly, it would be far easier for him to fabricate evidence showing probable cause for a regular wiretap (by pretending, for example, to have an anonymous source who had bought illegal drugs from the target) than to trump up a national-security angle necessitating an additional set of internal approvals. Nor was there any indication that such chicanery was actually afoot. But reality is rarely an obstacle for those who see life as an ongoing law-school seminar. Gradually, courts rewrote FISA, grafting onto it a so-called "primary purpose" test requiring the government to establish not only probable cause that it was targeting operatives of a foreign power but also that its real reason for seeking surveillance was counterintelligence, not criminal prosecution.

As one would expect, this created among many prosecutors a grave apprehension about "the appearance of impropriety"?—a hidebound concept governing lawyer ethics that is perfectly nonsensical in the life-and-death context of national security. Even as militant Islam began its terrorist war against the United States with the 1993 WTC bombing and the 1994-95 "Bojenka" plot to blow a dozen American airliners out of the sky over the Pacific, the Justice Department was worrying that agents and prosecutors might be perceived to be using intelligence-gathering authority to build criminal prosecutions. Often, the result was weeks or more of delay, during which identified terrorists who happened also to be committing quotidian crimes went unmonitored while the government dithered over whether to employ FISA or the criminal wiretap law. The insanity reached its apex in 1995 with the "primary purpose" guidelines drafted by the Clinton administration: henceforth, a firewall would be placed between criminal and national-security agents, generally barring them even from communicating with one another.

The damage from the firewall and the impediments to FISA has been incalculable. It took ten years to make the racketeering case against Sami al-Arian, the professor accused of helping run the murderous Palestinian Islamic Jihad from the campus of South Florida University, because the wealth of information collected by intelligence agents was withheld from their criminal counterparts. And that was a pittance compared with what happened in the waning weeks before the September 11 attacks. Zacarias Moussaoui, who had paid cash for pilot training (and was reported to authorities when his bizarre behavior?—including intense interest in how cabin and cockpit doors worked?—could no longer be ignored), was detained by the immigration service. Worried FBI intelligence agents were desperate to search his computer, but were turned down by supervisors who decided there was insufficient evidence to go to the FISA court. His al-Qaeda membership and numerous connections to the hijackers were not uncovered until after the attacks.

And the Moussaoui travesty itself pales in comparison to the story of Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, excruciatingly recounted in Slate by Stewart Baker, general counsel of the National Security Agency during the early Clinton administration. The pair, who had trained to pilot planes, lived in California. In August 2001, an astute FBI intelligence agent was trying to find them, and asked the criminal division for help. But FBI headquarters stepped in and insisted that the firewall not be breached: criminal agents were to stay out of the intelligence effort. A few weeks later, al-Midhar and al-Hazmi plunged Flight 77 into the Pentagon, their manifold ties to Mohammed Atta and the other hijackers kept safely under wraps.

Read the whole article. But be prepared to feel sick and distinctly insecure. The favored liberal approach of making scapegoats out of CIA and FBI agents who failed to "connect dots" seen clearly only in hindsight while celebrating sacred agency whistleblowers, would just make the problem hugely worse by obscuring the underlying structural and attitudinal problems. Those problems have been imposed on intelligence gathering and analysis since the 1970's - almost always by the very left wing activism that spawned John Kerry. As Mr. McCarthy points out, many people in the Congress, the courts, and the media still don't understand what went wrong. A lot remains to be changed. But it's not what many in the mainstream media and the political and academic establishments want to be changed. Quite the contrary. The Churches and Carters are still with us. They just have different names. And of those who are running for office most, but by no means all, are on the Democratic ticket.
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The Outsourcing Bogeyman ...

..., Dan Drezner's article in the current volume of Foreign Affairs, does a pretty good job of shaming the "outsourcing" demagogues now dominating the left and, especially, the Democrats (accompanied, to be fair, by a few opportunistic, disgraceful Republicans):

According to the election-year bluster of politicians and pundits, the outsourcing of American jobs to other countries has become a problem of epic proportion. Fortunately, this alarmism is misguided. Outsourcing actually brings far more benefits than costs, both now and in the long run. If its critics succeed in provoking a new wave of American protectionism, the consequences will be disastrous -- for the U.S. economy and for the American workers they claim to defend.

The article applies standard trade benefit theory to what seems to be a good collection of current data (although it would have been better had he avoided citing the questionable Alliance Capital report on global manufacturing job loss, especially with respect to China). It's appalling that the Democratic Party and many in the mainstream media have reached the point where this kind of argument is, for them, almost a voice in the wilderness. And Professor Drezner would do better by more clearly identifying the source of the problem. He does himself no favor by more or less equating Speaker Hasert's mild comment ("outsourcing can be a problem for American workers and the American economy") with the demagogue rantings of many Democrats (Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry accused the Bush administration of wanting "to export more of our jobs overseas," and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle quipped, "If this is the administration's position, I think they owe an apology to every worker in America."), apparently in a misguided effort to appear "fair." Can outsourcing create problems for American workers and the American economy? Of course it can - and does - and ever will! Even if the only effect of "outsourcing" on a particular individual or the economy as a whole is the need to adapt and change and grow (and the effects are often worse than that in individual cases), those are still problems. Solvable problems. Solving those very problems has always been what America is good at and what has made us rich. But one must face and accept a problem in order to solve it. Hasert is prudent, but the likes of Daschle and Kerry are dangerously disingenuous.

N. Gregory Mankiw, the head of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers recently correctly pointed out - and, as this article notes, without real dissent from any serious economist - that "outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade," which makes it "a good thing." The Outsourcing Bogeyman is indeed all about international trade. It is therefore of passing interest that the name "Paul Krugman" appears nowhere in the sources and references for The Outsourcing Bogeyman. That's not a sign that Professor Drezner is hostile to Paul Krugman's politics (Professor Drezner specifically thanks Brad DeLong for comments, although DeLong is at least as politically nutty as Herr Doktorprofessor). The absence of Paul Krugman's name in this Foreign Affairs article on the current hot topic in international trade exactly correlates to the absence of any real significance of Paul Krugman's central academic work to important real world questions of international trade economics. That central work includes the so-called "home market effect" that at one time was said by some to dominate classical "comparative advantage" or "endowment factor" considerations in the trade economics of so many goods and services. Indeed, while Professor Drezner's article references "comparative advantage" considerations several times and in important respects, he makes no reference to the "home market effect" at all. Does he err in this omission? If so, why didn't Herr Doktorprofessor's good buddy Brad DeLong point that out to him when he commented on earlier drafts of the article? The reader is invited to peruse the economic literature on "outsourcing" and confirm for herself that The Outsourcing Bogeyman is no fluke. Paul Krugman, who markets himself as mostly an international trade economist, is not mentioned very often in that literature.

It's true. As the saying goes: You can look it up.
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Knock, Knock

The usually fatuous TIME magazine does not disappoint when it asks:

What will Condoleezza Rice face when she appears this week, publicly and under oath, before the commission investigating 9/11?

That's really a mystery? Are the panelists expecting to ask questions materially different than the ones they asked her when she appeared in a private session with the Commission in February?

Here's a little question that TIME doesn't report asking:

How many Commissioners showed up for Ms. Rice's private session with the Commission in February?

There have been unconfirmed reports that as few as half of the Commissioners showed. But TIME doesn't seem interested in confirming or refuting those reports.

So maybe the big mystery TIME is alluding to takes the form:

What questions will the Commissioners who didn't bother to come to her February session ask of Condoleezza Rice when she appears this week?

The point of the TIME article seems mostly to put a shine on the record of Sandy Berger (a perennial TIME favorite) and to pass onto TIME readers choice bits of information such as the fact that TIME has obtained a Commission "staff report" noting that John McLaughlin, a career CIA officer and deputy to director George Tenet, told the Commission in private (!) that amid a major spike in terrorist-threat intelligence in the summer of 2001, he "felt a great tension especially in June and July 2001 between the new Administration's need to understand these [terrorist] issues and his sense that this was a matter of great urgency." There's a "tension" there?

UPDATE: As astute reader points out that Sandy Berger gave very little attention to al Qaida and similar forms of terrorism in the article he published in the November/December 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs: A Foreign Policy for the Global Age. But that's not what he's saying now.

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