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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Sunday, 3 July 2005

Topic: The Economy

The Buzz: Picking on France One More Time

Some topics never seem to die. And how strange the French are is one of them.

In a column in late April in the pages you would find an extended discussion of Thomas Friedman's new book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2005, ISBN: 0374292884) and its implications. The world economy is being "flattened" and the nature of who works on what, and for what wages, is radically changing. Any job can be done anywhere. We all have to work vastly harder, and here in the west, for far less, if there are jobs we can do at all, given what cheap high-speed communications has done to the workplace (which seems to be everywhere and nowhere now - even Bangladesh and all that).

The book states the obvious, but Friedman is still flogging his simple thesis - he's become kind of a one-trick pony - and Friday, July 1 in the New York Times he basically railed on the French and said that if they cannot turn themselves into career-driven hard-working Americans doing seventy-hour workweeks and forgoing all vacations, at least the could try to be more like the Irish. That would be in Follow the Leapin' Leprechaun, as he seems fond of cute titles.
There is a huge debate roiling in Europe today over which economic model to follow: the Franco-German shorter-workweek-six-weeks'-vacation-never-fire-anyone-but-high-unemployment social model or the less protected but more innovative, high-employment Anglo-Saxon model preferred by Britain, Ireland and Eastern Europe. It is obvious to me that the Irish-British model is the way of the future, and the only question is when Germany and France will face reality: either they become Ireland or they become museums. That is their real choice over the next few years - it's either the leprechaun way or the Louvre.
Say what? His contention is that the German and French political systems will experience massive shocks soon as both these nations are asked to work harder and embrace either more outsourcing, or more young Muslim and Eastern European immigrants, to remain competitive. He says the "French may want to take a few tips from the Celtic Tiger." Ireland, it seems, instituted new laws that make it easier to fire people, and without having to pay any severance. He likes that. Why? Because "the easier it is to fire people, the more willing companies are to hire people."

Is that so? That's what he says explains job growth there. And heck, it is hard to fire anyone in France. And if you do, you pay severance. How... stupid?

He does note Ireland invests a lot in education and such. But he likes the "brutal" offense they have mounted against worker privileges. And he says he'll bet on the offense. That's how France can become rich, like us. And like Ireland.

And France is so damned poor. We all know that. And Freidman is writing from Europe where is now on assignment, looking around. It seems he feels sorry for the unmotivated French folk.

Of course this generated a lot of reaction - which will help Freidman sell his new book no doubt.

Matthew Yglesias here -
The key trope of Tom Friedman's columns throughout his European vacation has been that France is poor, and we need to ask why France is so poor, and draw important policy conclusions from this. But is France poor?

In one sense, clearly, yes. If you look at per capita GDP around the world, you'll see that the USA is at $41,557 per person and France is only at $29,203. So something's gone badly wrong in France, right? Well, it's not so clear. Check out table one in "Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe" and you'll see that in the US we do 25.13 hours of work per week per working age (i.e. 15-64 year-old) person. The French only do 17.95 hours per working age person. Do a little division, and you'll see that the French are only working 71 percent as long as we are. In return, they're getting a per capita GDP that's 70 percent of ours. In other words, about what you'd expect.
No difference? It would seem for the work done, the results are the same.

But the kicker is in these figures Yglesias trots out - weeks worked per year:

US: 46.16
France: 40.54

And sixty-seven percent of Americans are working age, and only sixty-five percent of French people are.

What does that prove?
... France has fewer workers, working shorter weeks, and taking longer vacations - that is why they make less money. Per hour of output, France is generating much more value than America is. If your buddy made 50 percent more than you because he was working 50 percent longer and had four weeks less vacation than you did, it certainly wouldn't be obvious that your buddy had a better job than you do. Similarly, while it's clear that the French have less stuff than we do, they have more leisure time, and it's not obvious that our situation is better. Indeed, it's not clear what "better" would even mean in this context.

... it doesn't seem to be the case that France's preference for leisure over stuff is an unintended consequence of high levels of taxation designed to fund high levels of social services. Instead, it's the result of labor market conditions that were ? designed to have people work less. France could, were it so inclined, instead adopt rules designed to make people work more. Then they would have American-style quantities of stuff, plus French-style levels of public provision, but they would have less time off.

Personally, I have no desire to adopt the French set of social priorities. I like my stuff, and I like working hard. That said, I see no particular reason to condemn France's decision to adopt a different set of priorities. Working less and earning less seems like a perfectly defensible thing to do.

If they choose to do otherwise, great. If they don't, also great. Live and let live.

But whatever you think about this, it's a separate issue from the question of tax-and-spending levels, and it's totally not the case that France is some kind of impoverished basketcase. It's a nation of slackers.
Yep, slackers. (Note that if you go to the Yglesias he links to the source of all his data - so he's not making stuff up.)

Over at Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum chimes in -
Matt Yglesias points out today that although French GDP per capita is considerably lower than America's, it's mostly because they have "fewer workers, working shorter weeks, and taking longer vacations." Higher unemployment is also a factor, but basically Matt is right: the French have simply chosen to work less and have more leisure than Americans do.

I wonder how many Americans would make that choice if they could? I used to hang out with a bunch of Swiss guys (who eventually bought the company I worked for), and although the Swiss have a reputation for being pretty industrious, they basically thought we were insane for taking only two weeks of vacation a year.

I pretty much agreed with them - although more in theory than in practice. Like a lot of people, I never even used up my two weeks of vacation a year, and when I left the company I got a big check for unused vacation pay. And I was far from the worst. I had people working for me that I literally had to force out the door because they had accrued 300 hours of unused vacation time and would start losing it unless they took some time off.

Still, I wonder: If you had the option of taking an 8% pay cut in return for getting six weeks of vacation per year instead of two, would you do it? I'll bet a lot of people would.
Maybe so. But it's a question of values.

And the question comes up again and again, as in did in these pages last September in The Work Ethic: Is the route to sanity to do as little as possible in your job while saving yourself for your real life outside the workplace? There we note, or at least imply, that there are people who would go insane - they would lose their grasp of who they are at the core - if they had do define themselves by something other than the work they do and their career. And there are a few Americans who often think their jobs will drive them insane, because that's is not who there are - there's more to life, and to who they are. Yes, these are the cheese-eating surrender-monkeys who walk amongst us, even now.

Digby over at Hullabaloo, amused that Richard Perle, one of the key architects of this Iraq war and late of the Defense Policy Board that advises Rumsfeld, own a home in the south of France and can often be found there, adds Everyone Should Hate France -
Tom Friedman is right. France is a real hellhole. Ask anyone who spends any time there. Like Richard Perle, neocon France-hater.

I can't understand those fools who think that France has the best definition of the good life. Who would ever think that great food, great weather, great wine, interesting political conversation, great museums, great writers - long vacations, long meals, light religion, universal health care, laid back sexual attitudes, and beautiful countryside are worth giving up shopping for? They trade money for time to read, think, rest, talk and all those other useless wastes of time.

That's unacceptable. Nobody should go there. Especially workaholic Americans. Not that there's anything wrong with workaholism. I realize it's the highest state of Randian being. Especially if you are working a couple of low-paying, low-satisfaction jobs. God wants you to work hard and buy a lot of shit at Wal-Mart for Jesus. So don't go to France. They don't have anything good to buy.
Digby seems to be one of those cheese-eating surrender-monkeys who walk amongst us.

Ah, France may not have Wal-Mart, but they do have Monoprix - but really not the same thing.

By the way, if you go to Digby or Drum or Yglesias with these links shown you can read many hundreds of comments to each of their posts - as this topic really seems to get to many Americans. There's a whole lot of resentment out there. French dudes are getting long vacations and those who post comments are working seventy hours a week or more with none. Damned French! And for some comments in these pages on Richard Perle, see this, just one of a dozen or more times he has come up.

And on it goes, as in the International Herald Tribune (the Paris-based publication owned by the New York Times) Charles McGrath, the former editor of The New York Times Book Review, on Monday, July 4th gives us Letter from America: Now it's work and work, and grow with the grind, carrying things forward.

His take?
The citizens of France are once again taking a pasting on the op-ed pages. Their failing this time is not that they are cheese-eating surrender monkeys, as they were thought to be during the invasion of Iraq, but rather that they voted to reject the new European Union constitution. According to the pundits, this was the timid, shortsighted choice of a backward-looking people afraid to face the globalized future. But another way of looking at it is that the French were simply trying to hold on to their perks - their cradle-to-grave welfare state and, above all, their cherished 35-hour workweek.

What's so bad about that? There was a time when the 35-hour workweek was the envy of the world, and especially of Americans, who used to travel to France just so they could watch the French relax. Some people even moved to France, bought farmhouses, adjusted their own internal clocks and wrote admiring, best-selling books about the leisurely and sensual French lifestyle.

But no more. The future, we are told, belongs to the modern-day Stakhanovites, who, like the famous Stalinist-era coal miner, are eager to exceed their quotas: to the people in India, say, who according to Thomas L. Friedman are eager to work a 35-hour day, not a 35-hour week. Even the Japanese, once thought to be workaholics, are mere sluggards compared with people in Hong Kong, where 70 percent of the work force now puts in more than 50 hours a week. In Japan the percentage is just 63 percent, though the Japanese have started what may become the next big global trend by putting the elderly to work.
Now there's an idea!

Of course McGrath runs the numbers too - 71 percent of Japanese men between the ages of 60 and 64 still work, compared with 57 percent of American men the same age. In France, on the other hand, by the time they reach 60, only 17 percent of Frenchmen, fewer than one in five, are still working.

What's up what that?
The rest are presumably sitting in the café, fretting over the Turks, Bulgarians and Romanians, who, if they were admitted to the European Union, would come flooding over the French border and work day and night for next to nothing.

How could the futurologists be so wrong? George Jetson, we should recall - the person many of us cartoon-watchers assumed we would someday become - worked a three-hour day, standard in the interplanetary era. Back in 1970, Alvin Toffler predicted that by 2000 we would have so much free time that we wouldn't know how to spend it.
Well, that didn't work out, and McGrath concedes economic globalization obviously has a great deal to do with the change. Yeah, the world got flat.

But you might want to read his history of work hours down through the ages. As in this -
The notion of a regular workweek was a late-18th-century invention, a product of the vastly speeded-up pace of the Industrial Revolution, which instead of liberating workers, virtually enslaved them, dooming entire families to numbing stretches in what Blake called the "dark, Satanic mills." The Mills and Factories Act, passed in England in 1833 to curb the worst labor abuses of the time, limited children 9 and older to 48 hours of work a week and teenagers to 69 hours. Adults worked even longer, and they did so in part simply because they could.
The rat-race is nothing new.

And when we get grumpy about it we can rant about the French, as usual.


For the academically minded, Brad DeLong, that economics professor at UC Berkeley finds this in Dissertation Abstracts -
Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote (2005), "Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe: Why So Different?" (Cambridge: Harvard University).

Abstract: Americans average 25.1 working hours per person in working age per week, but the Germans average 18.6 hours. The average American works 46.2 weeks per year, while the French average 40 weeks per year. Why do western Europeans work so much less than Americans? Recent work argues that these differences result from higher European tax rates, but the vast empirical labor supply literature suggests that tax rates can explain only a small amount of the differences in hours between the U.S. and Europe. Another popular view is that these differences are explained by long-standing European "culture," but Europeans worked more than Americans as late as the 1960s.

In this paper, we argue that European labor market regulations, advocated by unions in declining European industries who argued "work less, work all" explain the bulk of the difference between the U.S. and Europe. These policies do not seem to have increased employment, but they may have had a more society-wide influence on leisure patterns because of a social multiplier where the returns to leisure increase as more people are taking longer vacations.
There you go. Someone suggested "work less, work all" and the fools adopted the suggestion, and people got free time and long vacations. We didn't go that way.


A number of commentators also point to this post from Germany - The Gloriously Relaxed European Work Ethic - by one Andrew Hammel in a blog called German Joys. Hammel seems to be an expatriate American living there, and it also seems the name of his blog is not ironic.

He responds to Kevin Drum's comment (above) - "If you had the option of taking an eight percent pay cut in return for getting six weeks of vacation per year instead of two, would you do it? I'll bet a lot of people would."

Hammel points out the problem -
As I'm sure my dear fellow-countryman Drum realizes, the vast majority of Americans don't have this choice. We educated professionals have a lot of freedom to structure our time how we wish. But how many American Wal-Mart employees could go to their boss and say: "Jeez, I'd like to spend more time with my kids. Can I take all of August off and give up the wage?" The answer is: "Sure, in some other job. I'll give you a friendly incentive to find one in two words: you're fired!"

No, my friend, you'll need to move to another country, one like Germany, to overcome your workaholism.
It seems this guy was never a real workaholic American, though he claims he once worked for four years in American without ever taking a substantial vacation. Well, as most employers here might say, that's a start.

But he moved to Europe, and fell in with habits there. And he has some advice for fellow Americans who consider moving to Europe:
Don't brag to other people about how hard you work. If you go up to someone in Europe and say "I work 10 hours a day, six days a week, 51 weeks a year. Look how much I achieve!" you'll get the same reaction you would in America if you said "I wash my hands exactly 169 times a day. Look how clean they are! Look! Look!!!"
Ah yes, there is a gap in what is understood to be of real worth in this world. Obsessive work. Obsessive cleanliness. Whatever.

Back in May of 2003 in the very first post in these pages the discussion was about a friend's concerns just before his first trip to Paris. He is a very conservative fellow, and the founder and CEO of a successful software firm out here. He's more aligned with the "work" obsession. He was afraid no one in Paris would show him what he called "the proper respect" he deserved, as an American (we saved their cowardly asses in two world wars), and as a successful businessman. As I said back then -
I've had more than a few years of lectures on how the French know absolutely nothing about business and even less about personal responsibility, on how there are really no successful French businesses except by accident, how the French don't know how to really work, how they don't take work and career and career advancement seriously. Those long lunches, four-week vacations and the thirty-five hour workweek amaze him. And there's usually a bit on how the socialized medical system over there is evil and destroys initiative and so on and so forth.
More than three years later there's an answer to that from this fellow in Germany - about how to get with the sense of what is important over there -
... enjoy your free time! Pay attention to the people you are with, and you'll notice that they do things with their free time. They spend lots of time with their friends and family, they pursue hobbies much more complex than catching up on all the episodes of Sex & the City, they visit museums, read complex books, drink a whole lot, go to parties, fairs, and circuses, and take lots of vacations. Imitate them. And then decide whether you'd really give that all up to make $5,000 more a year. If the answer is still "gimme the $5,000," move back to the U.S.
Well, my friend enjoyed himself, but came back. Everyone has his or her priorities.

He still calls the French losers and slackers. And I'm sure they would call him a fool who doesn't know how to live.

One makes one's choices.


For the last five years Pascal Riché has been Washington bureau chief of the French daily Libération. He was previously their economic and business editor in Paris and is the author of L'union monétaire de l'Europe, with Pr. Charles Wyplosz, and la Guerre de Sept ans, histoire secrète du franc fort 1989-1996 with Eric Aeschimann - and that earned the IFG Prize of the best economic book of the year.

And he has a web log - A 'heure Américaine - that explains America to the French (and yes, it is in French).

It seems he's about to go on vacation, as he explains here -
I'm leaving Washington tomorrow evening, for a five-week vacation across the Atlantic.

Did you just read "five-week vacation"?

Yes, you did.

And I'm talking about 100% real vacation. No middle-of-the-night work from my laptop. Zero contact with my employer.

In the French daily press, every journalist can enjoy at least ten weeks of vacation per year. How is that possible?
And he explains. Click on the link for that.

As for America and its workaholic nature?
Do the American people really want this situation? Do they really believe that overworking is a good way to achieve the highest "standard of living" in the world? Do they really think that GDP per capita is the best measure of well-being? I'm not sure. But it would be difficult to even get a debate over the question started in this country. The ethic of work seems too strong, too rooted in American culture to be publicly challenged. And the globalization of economy is not helping: Americans today feel that they have to work "35 hours per day" for remaining the leading country in the world.
Yeah, but what if we suddenly decided we don't want to be the leading country in the world and just want to live better?

No, that'd never happen.

Posted by Alan at 20:47 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 6 July 2005 17:56 PDT home

Topic: Announcements


The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, went on line just as the day began out here in Hollywood. This is Volume 3, Number 27 - for the week of July 3, 2005 - and is in magazine format, with multiple pages and photographs and an archive and all that sort of thing.

Big stories this weekend that called for commentary there? Of course, the president's speech on the Iraq war, covered in four items. And breaking news late in the week, a vacancy on the Supreme Court for the first time in eleven years, and folks are out for blood. And, as the weekend started, news that Bush's Brain (Karl Rove) may be in deep trouble. All these began as items here and have been revised and expanded.

Our exclusive Paris columns are in - Don Smith with wry photos from the streets of Paris, and Ric Erickson with events last week - what was Ron Howard filming at the Ritz and the Louvre? - and with Saturday evening photos.

Bob Patterson is back, as the World's Laziest Journalist explaining that wearing a tin hat isn't such a bad thing, as the Book Wrangler suggesting some new titles, and offering a film review.

Features? Some beach history, and the Gipper turns out to be the Greatest American, and some quotes for the Fourth of July holiday.

Local Photography? Only the most unusual - check out the dissolute pigeons and other oddities!

There's lots there. Here are direct links to the items.

Current Events _____________

Busted: Bush's Brain (Karl Rove) Suddenly Exposed
O'Connor Retires: The Game is Afoot
Press Issues: "Time" Folds and No More Blogs?

The Speech to Explain Everything _____________

Anticipation: Who Will Say What?
The Speech: Things Going Badly Calls for More of the Same
War and Pessimism: Failure Is an Option?
War and Optimism: The Uses of the Perception of Success

Just in from Paris _____________

Our Man in Paris: Is France Burning?
Left Bank Lens: Pas tout l'art à Paris est dans les musées

Bob Patterson _____________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride
Book Wrangler: New at the Local Library

Features _____________

On the Scene: Bob Patterson on The Aristocrats
Historical Note: Fourth of July 1905 at the Beach
The Greatest: Now We Know
Quotes for the week of July 3, 2005 - The Fourth of July

Photography _____________

Local Shots: The Expected, and the Unexpected in July (from flags to dissolute pigeons to classic architecture to surreal numbers)

And here are those dissolute pigeons looking very Hollywood noir -

Posted by Alan at 18:22 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 3 July 2005 18:23 PDT home

Saturday, 2 July 2005

Topic: Breaking News

Busted: Friday Night Follies

As the friends of young Harry Potter would say, the news is of "He Who Cannot Be Named" - breaking late in the week, Friday night, after the news cycles closed -

From Editor and Publisher:
MSNBC Analyst Says Cooper Documents Reveal Karl Rove as Source in Plame Case
Published: July 01, 2005 11:30 PM ET
NEW YORK - Now that Time Inc. has turned over documents to federal court, presumably revealing who its reporter, Matt Cooper, identified as his source in the Valerie Plame/CIA case, speculation runs rampant on the name of that source, and what might happen to him or her. Tonight, on the syndicated McLaughlin Group political talk show, Lawrence O'Donnell, senior MSNBC political analyst, claimed to know that name - and it is, according to him, top White House mastermind Karl Rove.

Here is the transcript of O'Donnell's remarks:

"What we're going to go to now in the next stage, when Matt Cooper's e-mails, within Time Magazine, are handed over to the grand jury, the ultimate revelation, probably within the week of who his source is.

"And I know I'm going to get pulled into the grand jury for saying this but the source of... for Matt Cooper was Karl Rove, and that will be revealed in this document dump that Time Magazine's going to do with the grand jury."

Other panelists then joined in discussing whether, if true, this would suggest a perjury rap for Rove, if he told the grand jury he did not leak to Cooper. …
The business with Time Magazine keeping its reporter out of jail, and avoiding big fines, by releasing his confidential sources, and the New York Times going the other way, isn't just a media story now. (Quick summary here.) It seems something is up. Rove is, it seems, the fellow who exposed the name of a covert CIA agent, ended her career, and possibly shut down a number of intelligence gathering operations on loose nuclear weapons, in order to punish her husband for telling on Rove's boss, George Bush. Robert Novak is the one journalist who published the name.

This story is still alive? Last July 4 this came up in these pages in a discussion of Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" -
The other day, on the CNN show Crossfire, Robert Novak called Moore un-American. Simply un-American. Of course Novak is the man who gladly published the name of an undercover CIA agent (Valerie Plame) who had been working on our efforts to get nuclear stuff off the black market. He blew her cover to help punish her husband for exposing Bush and crew fibbing about Iraq trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. He sees no problem with that. Yeah, he knows a lot about a being a good American.
One year later Novak is still in the clear and still a star on CNN, while Miller and Cooper, who published nothing, face jail time.

What's up with that?

This is what’s up, as explained by Jeralyn Merritt at one of the legal blogs -
Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has stated in court pleadings that he already knows the identity of Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper's sources regarding the senior white house official who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to Robert Novak.

… So, why is it so necessary for them to provide the information?

As the Washington Post article suggests, the investigation has moved from one involving the identity of the White House official to one involving perjury - i.e., a cover-up. The source may have been questioned in front of the grand jury and lied.

Knowing the identity of the source is not enough for a perjury conviction. There must be two witnesses to the perjurious statement. Telephone records would not be enough, because they only provide the number dialed, not the identity of the person speaking. Matthew Cooper's and Judith Miller's e-mails and notes may provide that corroboration.
Ah, it's not the crime so much as the cover-up. This sounds familiar, kind of like the good old days of the early seventies.

Lawrence O'Donnell himself confirms here:

Rove Blew CIA Agent's Cover
I revealed in yesterday's taping of the McLaughlin Group that Time magazine's emails will reveal that Karl Rove was Matt Cooper's source. I have known this for months but didn't want to say it at a time that would risk me getting dragged into the grand jury.

McLaughlin is seen in some markets on Friday night, so some websites have picked it up, including Drudge, but I don't expect it to have much impact because McLaughlin is not considered a news show and it will be pre-empted in the big markets on Sunday because of tennis.

Since I revealed the big scoop, I have had it reconfirmed by yet another highly authoritative source. Too many people know this. It should break wide open this week. I know Newsweek is working on an 'It's Rove!' story and will probably break it tomorrow.
With Bush in Europe, the turmoil mounting over the Supreme Court nomination to come, selling the war not going well, the news on the ground dismal and recruiting figures in trouble, with dismantling Social Security seeming less and less likely - would Newsweek really kick Bush when he's down by running with a story that his chief advisor and life-long friend pulled an illegal dumb-ass revenge trick and then liked about it?


And who is this panelist on "The McLaughlin Group" making so much trouble for Bush right now, just up and naming "He Who Cannot Be Named" on national television? You could look it up. Lawrence O'Donnell is a good Irish-Catholic fellow from Boston who now lives out here in la-la land and is executive producer of "The West Wing" television show. He's done some screenplays. The "West Wing" episode he co-wrote on the death penalty won the 2000 Humanitas Prize for writing that "communicate(s) those values which most enrich the human person." A dilettante? From 1989 until 1992 he served as Senior Advisor to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He began his association with Moynihan as Director of Communications in the Senator's 1988 re-election campaign. He's the former Chief of Staff of the Senate Committee on Finance. Harvard, class of '76 - so he's not just a Hollywood guy. Odd.

Kevin Drum in his "Political Animal" column over at Washington Monthly isn't surprised -
... We all remember what Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, said two years ago: "At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words."

Based on this and other tidbits of information, Rove and 'Scooter' Libby have been the prime suspects for a while. What's more, the White House knows it. So if Newsweek does break this story on Sunday, what do you think their reaction will be? They've had plenty of time to prepare for this day, after all.

My guess would be: furious counterattack. Karl did nothing wrong. Everybody knew about Plame already. Wilson is on a witch-hunt. Patrick Fitzgerald is out of control. Liberals are just trying to get even for Clinton. Etc.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

But perhaps Newsweek, after be so roundly scolded by the White House over the Koran business, and sort of retracting and apologizing (see May 22, 2005 - Newsweek, Suckered, Sucks the Air Out of the Room), will not run with this. Who needs the trouble? The White House may have taken care of them already.

Posted by Alan at 12:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 1 July 2005

Topic: The Law

O'Connor Retires: The Game is Afoot

As Holmes says to Watson in A Scandal in Bohemia - "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

So Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court and a sometimes a key swing vote on issues like abortion and the death penalty, said Friday that she is retiring after twenty-four years on the bench. This is the first court vacancy in eleven years, and of course there's also the possibility that Justice John Paul Stevens, 85, might consider stepping down. And Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, has cancer. This first vacancy could change things, as could the others to come, and all over the place there is speculation on who will be nominated to fill this first opening. Who will Bush choose?

Will it be a hard-line conservative promising to overturn Roe v Wade and end all this affirmative action nonsense? Will it be some overtly evangelical Christian who will promise to rule from what is in the Bible and not in the Constitution, and bring back those Ten Commandments displays? Will it be Bush's Texas friend, Attorney General Alberto "It's Really Not Torture if You Look at it This Way" Gonzales? Or will it be someone only moderately conservative as a consensus choice, to stop all this national fussing and fighting?

Who knows? Bush says he will announce a nominee for the seat in "a timely manner" - but he's off to Denmark for the G8 summit and will make his announcement no sooner than the Friday he returns. That would by July 8.

What will he do and why will he do it, whatever it is? Stick with what Holmes says to Watson. There's no data here.

Still the Associated Press reports -
… Conservative and liberal groups immediately began phoning, e-mailing and contacting supporters to mobilize support for the upcoming Senate confirmation battle.

People for the American Way, a liberal group, set up a war room in downtown Washington for the Supreme Court battle. It has already sent out thousands of e-mails and is setting up phone banks to build support for Senate Democrats.

The liberal political action group MoveOn said it already has a TV ad urging senators to "protect our rights" against a rightwing nominee.

For its part, the conservative group Progress for America has launched Internet ads mocking Senate Democrats.
And so it begins.

For up-to-date news of the legal sort on this matter check out what the blogging constitutional lawyers (good name for a rock group) are saying at Scotus Blog and How Appealing, and on the left, the lawyers at Talk Left (and note here they endorse Edward C. Prado for the vacancy).

What's up? Reverend Flip Benham, Director of Operation Save America, here says O'Conner was pretty much a terrorist and we need someone new - "Although we applaud her decision to step down and care for her ailing husband, her 'swing-vote' status on the Supreme Court over the issues of abortion and homosexual rights wrought more havoc upon our nation than our foreign enemies ever have."

Yeah. Whatever.

James Dobson of Focus on the Family has issued a press release - saying we need another Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia, as Bush promised us that.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean issued his competing press release - Bush should do what Reagan did, have "the courage to stand up to the right wing extremists in his party by choosing a moderate, thoughtful jurist."

So there's lots of advice floating around.

Progress Now is worried and released this:
As you read this, James Dobson and the conservative social warriors are marshalling their forces and raising the money to sustain their fight. They've waited over thirty years since Roe v. Wade for this opportunity, and they are determined to see President Bush pack the Supreme Court.

We know that President Bush will nominate a radical right judge. We know that Republican Senate leadership will push for confirmation. And we know this will likely come down to a vote on invoking the "nuclear option" to circumvent the confirmation process.

We cannot allow James Dobson to drown out our voices. We need your involvement and support to apply constant pressure and help moderate senators like Ken Salazar stand against the tyranny of the right.
And the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty feels about the same.

People for the American Way are worried: "A Scalia-Thomas majority would not only reverse more than seven decades of Supreme Court legal precedents, but could also return us to a situation America faced in the first third of the 20th Century, when progressive legislation, like child labor laws, was adopted by Congress and signed by the President, but repeatedly rejected on constitutional grounds by the Supreme Court. A shift of one or two votes would reverse Roe v. Wade's guarantee of reproductive freedom and the right to privacy...". Actually their list of worries is detailed - Privacy Rights, Civil Rights and Discrimination, Church-State Separation, Environmental Protection, Workers' Rights and Consumer Protection, and Campaign Finance Reform

Of course Move-On has started running its advertisement - "The almost $280,000 ad by will air on CNN in ME, NE, SC and VA, and on CNN and FOX in NY and DC as part of MoveOn PAC's grassroots mobilization to empower Americans and persuade the Senate to protect our basic rights by rejecting an extremist nominee." You'll see it somewhere.

This is just like a presidential campaign, except no citizens get to vote. There's a lot of money floating around.

Predictions? From Brad Plummer there's this that lots of folks are pointing to -
Some lunatic winger will get nominated - maybe even Janice Rogers Brown - the Democrats in the Senate will say, "Oh hell no" and launch a filibuster. So the battle will rage on for a while, Bush's "base" will get riled up and motivated to send in lots and lots of money, conservative judicial activists will blast their opponents with fairly superior firepower, and bobbing heads in the media will start carping on those "obstructionist" Democrats (bonus carping here if the nominee is a woman, minority, and/or Catholic).

Finally Bush will give a very somber speech about withdrawing his nominee, announce that he's very disappointed in the Senate, toss in a few bonus 9/11 references, and nominate some slightly-less-lunatic ultraconservative instead. The new nominee gets treated as the "compromise" candidate, is lauded far and wide as a moderate, and finally gets confirmed after pressure on the Senate Dems to "act like grown-ups" by television pundits who can afford to get their abortions abroad and will have no problem with a Supreme Court hostile to labor and environmental protections.

One would hope not, of course, but is there anyone who finds this scenario wildly implausible?
Digby at Hullabaloo does and says this -
... let me ask you, when has Bush ever done a strategic retreat on anything? Homeland security is the only thing I can think of and I think that stemmed from a belated realization that they really would like to have some fat patronage jobs and a new entrenched "security" bureaucracy that tilted Republican by nature and temperament. It wasn't a plan.

Here is how this White House views itself: President Bush subscribes to the momentum theory of politics: that success breeds success, and political capital accrues to the one who spends political capital.

... Being willing to stage a retreat - particularly on something about which the base is rabid and out of control - at a time when his popularity is sliding precipitously is not believable to me. I think they are desperate to show strength and get a big win that makes the Dems look weak. That is their theory of governance. The more you win the more people love you.

In their minds it's the public perception of losing on Bolton, social security, Schiavo and Iraq that is causing their problems, not Bolton, social security, Schiavo or Iraq themselves. I think they want a big fight and they expect a big win. And they want that win to "create political capital" with which to consolidate their majority.
And Jeffrey Dubner seconds the thought - "... this president will not allow himself to appear to be defeated on something so important. He certainly won't set himself up for failure, as Brad predicts, even if such a failure is deemed to be a PR victory that results in an ultra-conservative justice anyway. Just not, as his father might say, gonna do it."

Is this all just idle chatter?

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

Or is there a train wreck coming, where more anger and self-righteousness is generated than we've yet seen? Probably.

But we won't know for sure until July 8 or so.

Posted by Alan at 16:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 1 July 2005 20:35 PDT home

Thursday, 30 June 2005

Topic: The Media

Web Notes: No More Blogs?

The business with Time magazine keeping its reporter out of jail, and avoiding big fines, by releasing his confidential sources, and the New York Times going the other way, isn't the only media story out there. (Quick summary here.) Is it important that the press be able to gather inside information from people who don't want their names revealed? Isn't what is said by the government or a large corporation good enough for us all? Why do we think we have a right to know what's really going on, and have a free press? Don't we trust our leaders? You get the idea. Yes, it is a bit more complicated than that. But if you have some "whistle-blower" kind of information, or think you know something others should know, don't tell anyone from Time - as soon as they get a court request from those in power, to find out who is saying all these bad things, they'll give you up. You're toast. Keep to yourself - or tell Judy Miller from the New York Times when she gets out of jail.

This is big stuff.

Little stuff, however, is still important.

For example, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is proposing to bring blogs and other forms of Internet political advocacy under the umbrella of the federal campaign-finance and spending laws. The agency held a hearing into the proposal Tuesday, June 28.

This all boils down to a simple issue. Expressing a political opinion in a magazine is the stuff of having a free press - the Weekly Standard can cheer our current neoconservative empire builders and the Nation can rail against them. No big deal. Newspapers can write editorials advocating what they will. Out here some newspapers even say Arnold Shwarzenegger is a joke as governor, a bumbling fool. Really. They all have what is called a "media exemption" from the federal campaign-finance and spending laws. Expression opinion is not political campaigning. Even Fox News has this exemption, although their preference as to who is elected to which office is always clear. The press can rant in all directions. It's what they do.

The Federal Election Commission is proposing that those of us who have daily political web logs (blogs), or weekly sites like Just Above Sunset, do not merit this exemption. What we write, whether or not we are paid for writing what we write by any campaign, is, under the proposed new rules, in fact, an "in kind" campaign contribution to the left or right, or whomever. (Disclosure: no one pays the editor or anyone who writes for Just Above Sunset or its daily web log anything to say what is said, or for any reason.)

This proposal is most curious. The idea is that if something appears on these sites that suggests, for example, the current administration might be a bit wrong-headed in attempting X, Y or Z - then that should be reported as an "in kind" contribution to some group or other - the Democratic Party or Move-On or whomever - with all the bookkeeping that might involve. And they would have to estimate its monetary value somehow – by the number of page hits? – and count that as a contribution. If I say George Bush is a cool guy, the same applies. The Republican Party or whomever would have to note that as an "in kind" contribution.

The general idea is that somehow we have to get campaign spending under control.

For a run-down of what was said at the hearings visit Tech News World for this where Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder of, asserts, "We have a democratic medium that allows anyone to have true freedom of the press. We have average citizens publishing their thoughts through research, through journalism, their activism and encouraging others to do the same."

Yeah, but does one get a "media exemption" to the FEC rules? Moulitsas is working with a lawyer who volunteered to help bloggers fight new government regulations - and he says he is prepared to lobby Congress himself if necessary. Note he is the treasurer of BlogPac, a political action committee formed last year by bloggers. Yes, this web writer is a member.

What about the guys on the right? Michael Krempasky, founder of - which is just what you think it is - called bloggers "citizen journalists" and said that like traditional media, they should get an exemption from campaign finance regulation. His question? "What goal would be served by protecting Rush Limbaugh's multimillion-dollar talk radio program, but not a self-published blogger with a fraction of the audience?"

Yes, Limbaugh has the "media exemption."

An editorial from one of the few outlets addressing the issue here -
… The proposed rules exempt Internet communications from these laws - except for paid political advertising. That's a huge, unacceptable exception because the entire contexts of overtly political blogs could be classified as political ads.

Moreover, the commission would decide whether a given blog should be included in the "media exemption" in the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. That exemption protects the traditional media from campaign-finance contribution and expenditure rules.

The notion that a government agency should get to decide which forms of communication are media and which are ads runs counter to the spirit of American free speech. We have never liked McCain-Feingold for that reason. Americans who are willing to do the work of civic engagement can make these distinctions.

The First Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution in an era of partisan printers, revolutionary committees and correspondence, and pamphleteers - long before the conventions of modern journalism came about. The blogosphere is part of that proud tradition. Even minimal regulation would stifle its growth, which is why bloggers should seek relief in court if the commission follows through on regulation.
Yeah, whatever. The commission really wants to decide who gets the exemption.

Whatever are we who write commentary going to do?

It seems we're going to do an end run.

We'll call ourselves magazines, not blogs!


See this from Talk Left, Thursday, June 30, 2005:
The Day the Bloggers Died

As of yesterday, blogs are dead.

Say hello to the Online Magazine Community. Others joining so far:

Crooks & Liars
Sadly, No!
Swing State Project
Law Dork
Dispassionate Liberalism
Chaos Digest
The Political Forecast

Talk Left is joining the community. We are now "the online magazine for liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news."
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, was really put off when I started Just Above Sunset more than two years ago and kept referring to it as "an online magazine." In March of 2004 when I switched to a new hosting service and changed the masthead to Just Above Sunset Magazine he was more than wary.

Now it seems I was prescient. I'm claiming a media exemption. Just Above Sunset is a magazine, really. And the daily web log isn't called a blog anywhere - As Seen from Just Above Sunset in the masthead only says "Notes on how thing seem to me from out here in Hollywood" - although to be safe I could change that to "A Daily Magazine from Hollywood." Hey, Time and Newsweek are online. Daily newspapers have online editions. Works for me.

But I don’t think that's going to wash with the Federal Election Commission.

I just wish someone on the left would pay me.

No, I don't. This is just fine.

And if some leftie organization has to count what I write as a campaign contribution, that's their problem, not mine.

Posted by Alan at 16:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 30 June 2005 16:25 PDT home

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