Shouting 'Cross the Potomac

barstool philosopher,
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but never a Monday morning quarterback

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Saturday, March 02, 2002

Charge of The Press Brigade

Tony Adragna
I took a little license with Tennyson's masterpiece
Half a blog, half a blog,
Half a blog onward,
All in the valley of Blogs
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Press Brigade!
Charge for the blogs!' he said:
Into the valley of Blogs
Rode the six hundred...
I reworked the whole poem [actually, I just changed some critical verbiage] - see it at From Left Field

War and Peace
Will Vehrs
Ho, hum, another "peace plan" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This one, too, will find its way into the dustbin of history.

Al Qaeda and Taliban pockets? Let's call in air strikes on them. And let's try not to take prisoners, either, since the Europeans don't seem to like the way we treat them.

You can safely ignore the print pundits, today, Tony. I'm gearing up for tomorrow already. My prediction of tomorrow's Punditwatch headline: Debating Whether to Debate Foreign Policy.

There Is No Media Cabal!
Tony Adragna
If there is, they're sure lousy at agreeing on a plan of action.

Today's top story is a toss up between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Taliban Trouble (WT picks both on their website).

The Saudi Plan is doomed! It calls for recognition and normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states,, but as I see it the plan doesn't address the problem facing Israel on the ground. Israel isn't at war with any Arab states - it's at war with militant extremist groups. Certainly states provide support to those groups, but I don't see that support going away after Israel concedes the territory in question. Even Egypt, which has been at peace with Israel for more than twenty years, can't bring itself to stop its Jew bashing. And let's not forget from where OBL and his leutenants came -- Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- which begs the question: How can the Arab nations issue a guarantee to Israel if they can't control their own extremists?

WT and LAT take different tack on the Taliban story. WT reports on the regrouping of Taliban and al Qaeda in eastern Afghanistan
"We are seeing pockets of al Qaeda and pockets of Taliban," Gen. Rosa told reporters at the Pentagon. "There's hundreds of folks, and we don't know the makeup, but they're certainly not friendly."

As many as 4,000 to 5,000 foreign fighters are in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials and Afghan sources, and they are gathering near what became a major battleground shortly after U.S.-backed Afghan forces succeeded in ousting the Taliban militia from power in early December.
That's right folks - this is why we need to keep after al Qaeda til they're vanquished. It's like crabgrass: if you don't get it all, it springs right back up as if you never did anything. The LAT story gives a clue on where the Taliban forces are coming from. In a story titled "Vengeance Is Taking Its Toll in Wake of Taliban", the LAT said:
Since December, Pushtuns have been fleeing their villages across the north, long the bastion of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. They began showing up by the thousands in faraway refugee camps on the southeastern border with Pakistan throughout January and February, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Anybody wanna lay odds that alot of those "refugees" aren't making it to the refugee camp, but meeting up with their old comrades instead? I'm not condoning what appears to be vigilantism mixed with ethnic cleansing, but I'm also no naif - some of these refugees are not innocents.

My pick for non-story of the day is WP reportage on the "shadow government." They led with it yesterday, and reprised it today. No big news, folks - they're at the same undisclosed location where Mr. Cheney has been spending much of his time. Neither the press nor Congress ought be surprised or upset - a highschool social studies class coulda figured this one out.

What are the pundits saying today, Will?

QP For Saturday
For your Saturday pleasure, QP offers Above the Fold and Blog Watch II, both PM and AM editions. There's also the new Punditwatch daily edition.

Also, as is customary on Saturday, QP links you to the Ipse Dixit caption contest that is usually dominated by members of The Refuge. This week, unfortunately, QP was shut out of the winner's circle on the suggestive jockey/young lady picture, but a new and potentially dangerous competitor made his debut: Dan Dickinson, quipmaster extraordinaire.

Friday, March 01, 2002
Taking Up The Hammer
Tony Adragna
Will, you know I probably shoulda said something earlier about my disagreement with Krauthammer on his current piece. He says the following:
Being subordinate they can tolerate. Irrelevant they cannot. They may have been subordinate to the United States in the Cold War, but in that great twilight struggle, they manned the front lines, gamely fielding huge land armies against the Warsaw Pact. We provided the nuclear guarantee. They provided the boots on the ground. We were the dominant partner.
I don't disagree that the Europeans are redundant in this war. And I don't disagree that the Europeans are petulant. Where I diverge is on the notion that the people we're dealing with now were ever relevant. Look at who we're talking about here:
- The French: how many years did they refrain from NATO, only to return after the Cold War was over? Besides, there has always been a large Socialist streak in the French Republic.
- The Italians: Gimme a break, the Italians couldn't even depend on their own government. They're into the nth post-war government, and this one is just as nasty as the rest. Fascists on top of Socialists.
- The Germans: Yes, we could always rely on the Germans, but let's not forget left-wing anti-Americanism was extant in Germany during the Cold War, too.
- The UK: See my remarks on Germany
Those voices have always been irrelevant, so what's changed? I'll tell ya what - Maggie Thatcher left, that's what. That one powerful voice drowned out all the nattering nabobs, and the nabobs are in charge now.

Update: I also hafta take exception with the "boots on the ground" part. I reremeber something about the US basing a fairly large standing army of full time professional soldiers in Europe during the Cold War. Most of those countries we were defending relied - and still do - heavily on "National Service" types for the bulk of their troop strength. There's also the fact that the best air forces in theatre happened to be US Air Force and Naval Air Foce contingents. And don't get me started on sea power - 6th Fleet still has no real competition. Sure, we couldn't have taken on the Pact by ourselves, but Europe couldn't have done without us either - SIOP aside...

Hong Kong Harangue
Tony Adragna
Oh, Hong Kong, I remember you well!

My trips to Hong Kong took the form of a recurring six day liberty call while in transit to Sasebo after having spent a month (or two) in Chinhae, Korea ( there's a nice picture of USS Frank Cable AS40 doing what we used to do on USS Proteus AS19 when we would visit - alas, the "Old Pro" is no longer: it's a younger ship Navy. But, I digress...)

Us "old hands" (read: anybody who had been to Hong Kong previously, and fell in love - everybody else was a cherry) would do anything to get duty on the first day in port, after which we would have five days of unrestricted, shameless partayin'. It went like this:
Day One: Duty til 0800 the next day.
Day Two: 0630 Breakfast; 0730 muster the duty section; turnover to the oncomming section; 0800 hit the rack til' 1500; 1500 shower, shave and the other s; leave the ship in civies; 1530 on the Star Ferry headed toward Kowloon; 1630 ordering our second round at Ned Kelly's (yes, I love carousing with drunken Aussies, especially the RAN types, who I also enjoyed while in Perth and Freemantle, but that's another story); 2000 off to the first of many dance clubs to be visited that evening (Tony spends his time at the clubs bar chatting up the Irish bar wench for a free shot of John Jameson's with every pint of Guiness - it worked, too); 0300 to the Bull and Bear Pub for steak and chips, washed down with more Guiness; 0600 back to the ship for sleep.
Days Three thru Six: Repeat the steps in day two begining with arising at 1500
Those were the days, shipmates!

And don't forget the shopping. Everybody refers to NYC as the capitol of capitalism - day was when I woulda disagreed: my vote went to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong isn't a place that I would want to visit anymore. My neighbor still goes frequently, but that's because shopping is her opiate - she wouldn't notice the world blowing up around her if she were in the middle of a delightful purchase. Me, after listening to what Martin Lee has to say, I just couldn't sit at my favourite corner of Ned Kelly's pub without being depressed at what's happening to my grand old city. If things had gone the way that they were supposed to, then Martin Lee would be Hong Kong's Chief Executive. Instead, Hong Kong has ended up with a kow towing to Beijing shipping magnate who cares nothing 'bout democracy so long as he's got power and money.

But, what the hell happened to Chris Patten?( tanks fer da linkage Glenn) Time was when he was a hero of democracy, too.


Eat When You Can…
Tony Adragna
Did you learn that in the Infantry, Will? We didn’t worry about that in the Navy because we were always well fed. At least you had good dining company...

I know that Kelly was most likely being hyperbolic-for-effect, but I didn’t too much care for where his rounds were landing. Krauthammer, on the other hand, is somebody whom I can find no fault with right now. He mentioned his attitude with respect to Israel pre-9/11, and I note that my agreement also predates the war on terror. I might disagree with The Hammer on some peripheral matters, but at the core is that same sentiment that Anne expressed.

I can’t comment on Fleischer – I haven’t a clue what he said because I never listen to him (the mute button is such a wonderful thing to behold).

I still haven’t written my long overdue essay on “partitions”, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that classic example of where diplomatic solutions – especially those arranged by a third party – only work to resolve conflicts that are already resolved. Absent genuine agreement between parties you might be able to suppress open hostilities, but the conflict continues. If these parties could really get together and decide that they’ve had enough, then a brokered cease-fire might do some good. Until then, the proper strategy ought be to do everything militarily possible to vanquish the foe.

My only concern, as it has always been, is that the Israelis need to be a bit more discriminating in who they target. It’s a good sign that the IDF didn’t just go in with bulldozers this time, and went the extra step in trying to give civilians more than adequate opportunity to get the hell outta Dodge.

Two Minute Drill
Will Vehrs
This tiresome feature returns with a blog news flash and tying a few loose ends.

Mini-Blogger Bash I just got back from lunch with Fritz Schranck, proprieter of the excellent Sneaking Suspicions blog. He was here in Richmond on business and made some time to meet me. Fritz is one of those people who writes in perfect pitch with his personality: he is thoughtful, witty, and empathetic. Just as his blog demonstrates, he has a wide breadth of interests and specialized knowledge that is fascinating to explore. I tried to get him to gossip about fellow bloggers, but he was unfailing respectful of all our colleagues. Hope you had a safe trip back, Fritz--it was a pleasure.

Tony's Loose End Tony, in our Pundit Talk of Wednesday, you defended President Carter against the humorous, but ultimately vicious attack Michael Kelly made on the former President for his criticism of Bush's "Axis of Evil." I admit to wincing while I laughed. Some labels in politics stick no matter what the nuance. Carter being feckless is one that he will probably never shake, no matter what the ultimate historical record. I would just say that this type of scathing commentary, with absolutely no middle ground, is popping up with increasing frequency from conservative leaning and liberal leaning columnists. At the very least writers should let go of the "killer rabbit" angle to every mention of Carter.

Joe's Loose End Joseph Britt, also in Pundit Talk, asked about my preferences in punditry. He enjoys "unpredictability" and I would agree. I respect the columnists who don't take cheap shots and at least respect the views they disagree with. William Safire is a wonderful contrarian. E. J. Dionne, Jr., while predictable, makes the best case for liberal Democrats. Robert Novak (the hardest working--3 columns a week) and Nicholas Kristof are the best reporters. I prefer Jim Hoagland over Tom Friedman on foreign affairs, but both do solid reporting. Maureen Dowd is the most inconsistent. George Will is not a contrarian, but I respect that he actively ventures into the territory of those one would think oppose his philosophy and writes fairly about them. I find Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, and Bob Herbert much too predictable. David Broder seems to have moved very strongly to the left recently and seems increasingly frustrated that his beat, government and politics, is not as important as it was pre-9/11. I believe another blogger made the same comment about Broder and I wish I could remember who so I could give credit.

Changes Coming, Fast and Furious
Will Vehrs
Now that you've posted Above the Fold and I've posted today's Punditwatch, we're in business with our new format. I'm optimistic that this will be an improvement for QP.

Isn't it interesting that the Washington Times broke that story on the Georgian diplomat? Sometimes even a so-called "conservative rag" will break a story that could paint a conservative Republican administration in a bad light. Realpolitik is often not pretty and this is a perfect example. (Nixon's latest transcripts are another.) I'm sure the parents of the victim will be outraged and find much support. If springing Makharadze was indeed the linchpin of the deal to put US troops in Georgia, only time will tell if it was a pact with the devil or a bold gamble.

I have always been rabidly pro-Israel. "Unilateralism" in the face of European tut-tutting is now gaining currency as a US policy; why shouldn't it work for Israel in an area where it is militarily superior? Wasn't it Anne Applebaum in Slate who wrote a while back that peace between implacable foes is only achieved when one essentially destroys the other? I agree with that formulation, but I question its durability for Israel. The Sharon government is rapidly losing support. What will the probably inevitable new government do?

What was the Ari Fleischer dust-up over Clinton's Middle East peace efforts really about? With mentions of a disinformation agency still in the air, I have to wonder if the whole thing was calculated and played out according to a "clever" script. I just can't figure out the audience.

I'll Defend Their Right to Fight To The Death...
Tony Adragna
So, we have begun, Will. As promised, I've reprised Above The Fold, and I promiss to be dilligent. Since reading the paper should be the first thing everybody does on a daily basis, I figured that the top stories would be a good place to start our daily discussions. Now, if I could only get all of the newsrooms to agree on the top stories...

Today I'll hafta go with the Israel story, which is the only one that appear above the fold in all three print additions that I'm able to look at (the Washington Times online doesn't publish an image of their front page).

From the reporting it looks very much like the Israelis have finally launched theri own "War on Terror." What am I saying? Haven't the Israelis been fighting these people for ages? Well, yeah, but there's something different happening. Up till now the methodology used against the Palestinians has been to engage in either retaliatory raids, or limited engagements targeted at specific groups. If I'm reading this correctly, it looks like the Israelis are now opting for the "Krauthammer Plan" - go in and clean 'em out; don't stop 'til you're done. I hope it works, because it's the only plan that has any chance of bringing security and peace to both Israel and Palestinians. You can't have peace with people who have vowed to fight to the death...

A story that should get more coverage is WTs second story - the one about the Georgian diplomat. For those who don't remember, Gueorgui Makharadze is the guy who, in 1997, was driving drunk in Dupont Circle when he hit a car being driven by a 16 year old girl from Kensington, Md. There was a big to do about whether he could be prosecuted, but Shevardnadze wisely cleared the way by revoking the guys diplomatic status. Now Makharadze is being allowed to leave after only serving 3 1/2 years.

Why should the story get more coverage? Because it comes on the heels of an agreement to let US troops operate in Georgia. Coincidence?

[This is Change # 2 - we're going to try to focus our daily discussions on the top stories and Will's daily Print pundit picks]

Change #1--Print Punditwatch
Will Vehrs
Punditwatch is my pride and joy. It's always a pleasure when you get to write about something you love, something you'd do even if you didn't write about it. That's Punditwatch for me.

The TV version of Punditwatch tries to be timely, usually within an hour of the last major show's telecast. That timeliness fits in well with the compressed "news cycle" of the blogosphere (Mickey Kaus, who's written about compressed news cycles, ought to update his theory to include the effect of blogs. Put that on your assignment desk, Mickey!) Print Punditwatch, covering a week of syndicated newspaper pundits on Wednesday morning, is a more reflective look at what the opinion makers have been saying. That doesn't fit so well with the blogosphere time continuum. By the time I review all the pundits, most of the provocative columns have been dissected by bloggers far and wide. I feel constrained about not joining the discussion until I've published, and Tony, ever the gentleman, avoids pundits for fear of incurring my anal-retentive wrath about poaching on my territory.

With that in mind, I'm going to begin making Print Punditwatch a more or less daily column, short and to the point. The implications of that, and the opportunities it will present Quasipundit, will be more fully explained by the big guy here, Tony Adragna. TV Punditwatch will continue as it has since its inception.

Later today, I will post today's Print Punditwatch over at Punditwatch. I will try to publish it early each day, right after Blog Watch II. Had I published yesterday, here's what it would have looked like:

Running With Rahm

Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal (requires subscription) analyzes former Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel's campaign for a House seat from Chicago. Hunt predicts an Emanuel victory in the Democratic primary, a view not shared by local reporters. Bill Safire looks at all the ex-Clintonites running for office and ends with one bit of self-serving bias:

Of Clinton alums running in primaries, I'm rooting for Emanuel. It's a solid Democratic seat anyway, and he was the one White House aide gutsy enough to return my calls.

Safire also reveals a Cuomo connection. Richard Cohen reviews Joe Klein's new book about Clinton, The Natural. Klein's assessment is sad and true. Like heavy duty math? George Will tells how to calculate if you're obese. Bob Novak warns of a "'liquidity'" crisis in the wake of "congressional hysteria and demagoguery" over Enron. Jim Hoagland turns to playwright Arthur Miller for the right metaphor to describe Jonas Savimbi: "Africa's Willie Loman."

For those interested in media bias conspiracies involving the pundits, Howard Kurtz reviews Washington Monthly Editor Paul Glastris' "Why Can't the Democrats Get Tough?" Kurtz also discusses The New Republics discovery of a leader in ethics reform: Robert Torricelli.

Best Bets: Safire and Kurtz; Cohen if you love Clinton.

Comments on this change and the new Print Punditwatch format are encouraged before I get intractably anal-retentive about it.

Thursday, February 28, 2002
One Improvement
Will Vehrs
One improvement QP will try to make is to have a foolproof way of getting copy from our excellent guest commentators. My email was dead today and I couldn't get Joseph Britt's morning response to Tony and myself in Pundit Talk. It's there now and worth a read. My apologies to Joe for getting his piece up so late and to our readers for leaving you to find cutting edge opinion elsewhere today ....

Message From The Editors
Adragna & Vehrs
On October 9, 2001 QuasiPundit was boldly launched into the ether-sphere. This project began when its founder took the challenge -- presented by a certain artificial life form sometimes known as “The Prof”, “Instantman”, “The Hyperblogger”, and various other appellations – to do the outrageously simple: Start you own blog.

QuasiPundit has changed considerably since then. What was once the voice of a single sometime-radical liberal waking up to the realities of a world gone not to the Donkeys or the Elephants, but to the dogs, has grown into and its incomparable PunditWatch; not so out there From Left Field; and the oft described as “very different” Shouting ‘Cross The Potomac. Of all the changes, the most fortuitous was the enlistment of Will Vehrs, without whom all this would still be “the voice of a single…”

And, let’s not forget the readers ( we love y’all), our fellow bloggers (for noticing us – we notice you too), and the media, especially the pundits (without whom we’d be starved for material).

But, we’re not done yet: we think we can do this better than we’ve been doing this so far. We’ll explain as we go, but we just want to forewarn of some impending changes.

Thanks for all of the support!

Wednesday, February 27, 2002
Pundits Miss Libations Scandal!
Will Vehrs
Joseph Britt has read today's Punditwatch and found the pundits wanting. Check out his first commentary in the Pundit Talk special.

Update: I've replied to Joe beneath his post--we'll just keep this threading down for today.
This Just In Joseph Britt unveils the Hunch-O-Meter in his second post!

Update 8:00 PM Tony just couldn't resist going after Will's Pundit of the Week [sorry, make that 9:00 PM]

You can find the original
Punditwatch here.
1:10 PM | permalink | "The Refuge"

Punditwatch Spawns Pundit Talk
Will Vehrs
The latest Print Punditwatch has been posted. Michael Kelly gets the coveted "Pundit of the Week" prize (how many pundits of the week can I award?), Tom Friedman gets a lot of exposure, is Krugman krumbling?, and fine dining in Russia are the big topics.

For a change of pace, this week's Punditwatch will be followed for the next two days or so by Pundit Talk, a discussion between Joseph Britt and myself on the issues raised by our friendly talking heads. I'll let everyone know as each new post is made. Tony, fresh from refereeing the Paul v. Jesus bout, may also join in the fun.

Too Much To Do!
Tony Adragna
Didn't get around to Blog Watching tonight - I was busy with the Paul v. Jesus dispute. I had to knock that essay out: strike while the iron is hot...

Tuesday, February 26, 2002
They Paid Him A Bonus, Yada Yada Yada,
And Now The Company's Bankrupt
Tony Adragna
Never was a fan of Jerry Seinfeld, but I always got a kick outta the other characters. My favourite episode shall ever be the "Soup Nazi" bit. I can't watch the new show tonight, though - it's JAG night.

I splurged this morning , Will! Bought myself a copy of WSJ and read those same two items that you cited. Here's what really toasts my oats: if some staff member (not an executive) had been responsible for substantially less losses under similar circumstances, that staff member woulda been fired for cause - no severance package, no forebearance of loans, etc. I speak from experience...

A couple of weeks ago I had questioned the dearth of inquiry into why the Wall Street analysts were still screaming "Buy Enron" after it had become clear to the rest of the world that Enron was defunct. So, I look at the front page of WSJ's C section (Money & Investing), and this is what I find:
Tomorrow, four prominent analysts will face questions by congressional investigators about whether their "buy" recommendations on Enron - which they maintained even as the Houston company hurtled toward bankruptcy-court protection las fall - were influenced by the amount of investment banking work their firms did for Enron
This is the other conflict of interest issue that sits right up there on the shelf beside the accounting/consulting conflict. But, unlike in the accounting/consulting conflict, the word on the street is that this conflict isn't going to be resolved:
Yet some specialists say such changes [disclosure] - as well as any potential changes that could stem from the Enron inquiry - won't be enough to stop the biggest conflicts if they don't completely cut the cord between analysts pay and investment-banking work. And that doesn't seem to currently be in the cards.(emphasis added)
How people get compensated seems to be a recurring theme in this whole series of plays...

Turning to an interesting conjunction of two areas of interest to me - religion and the Court - I read a very thoughtful opionion piece by a Georgetown University undergrad. Anne Thompson takes Justice Scalia to task for his reconciliation of support for the death penalty with Catholicism:
While Justice Scalia prefaced his response by saying that he had thought a lot about Catholicism and the death penalty, his remarks were riddled with misleading use of scripture, fallacious reasoning and a failure to address the central moral and spiritual issues at stake. Scalia began by citing a long history of the church's supporting the practice of capital punishment. "No authority that I know of denies the 2,000-year-old tradition of the church approving capital punishment," he said. "I don't see why there's been a change." Scalia traced the support for capital punishment all the way back to Saint Paul, who proclaimed, "But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain, for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil" (Romans 13). Last month Scalia told participants at a conference in Chicago that this passage provided clear support for the death penalty.

Yet by presenting Saint Paul as the indisputable Biblical authority on capital punishment, Justice Scalia conveniently disregarded other passages from Scripture often cited as condemnations of the death penalty. Many Christians have cited the story in which Jesus stopped a perfectly lawful execution in the eighth chapter of John as evidence that the ultimate authority condemned capital punishment. In short, Scripture provides neither unequivocal support nor unequivocal condemnation of the death penalty. Scalia's pronouncement that the church has been supportive of the death penalty since Biblical times is gravely misleading.
Especially misleading since the current pontiff has made it perfectly clear that the church is in opposition to capital punishment. Anne calls attention to the fact that Scalia "dismissed the matter by citing the fact that Pope John Paul's condemnation of the death penalty issued in the Evangelium Vitae was not ex cathedra and therefore not official dogma of the Catholic Church." This surprises me, because I didn't think that Justice Scalia would make such a common error.

What error? Justice Scalia seems to have forgotten that in doctrinal matters the pope speaks as the ultimate teaching authority -- the magesterium -- and even if the teaching isn't ex cathedra, it is still to be given deference. I'm not trying to hold Justice Scalia to a different standard than what I apply to myself: I disagree with the church on many things, and voice my opposition - but I still defer.

I was especially taken aback by Justice Scalia's call for Catholic judges to resign if they oppose the death penalty. I don't know of a single statute that calls for mandatory imposition of the death penalty, so I don't see an impediment in a judges opposition to the death penalty. In order to be a good Catholic, however, you are required to abide all of the church's teaching. In other words - if Catholic judges can't abide the church's teaching, then they ought leave the church.

It doesn't surprise me, though, that Justice Scalia would look to St. Paul -- one of the "Framers" in this context.

On a related matter, I'm working on a "FLF" response to Kevin's comments on "Paul v. Jesus"...

Executive Greed
Will Vehrs
Tony, today's Wall Street Journal has an article in their "Marketplace" section that mirrors something we've talked about: exorbitant executive compensation. It's called "Does Rank Have Too Much Privilege?" and was written by Carol Hymowitz.

She discusses a voluntary giveback of salary by a PepsiCo executive as "notable at a time when top executives at many companies, including Enron, Lucent, Global Crossing, Kmart and WorldCom, have seemed intent on preserving their lush compensation even as their companies flounder and their employees lost jobs, severance, medical benefits and retirement savings."

The PepsiCo executive, Roger A. Enrico, is mystified. "I can understand when you've got a company doing extraordinarily well and beating its peers,and you feel some anxiety about retaining top people. But when a company is stumbling terribly, I don't understand cutting deals for people." Lawrence Tobias, a member of many company boards, notes that pay for performance is fairly easy to understand: "'If there is no performance, there is no pay.'"

In a companion article, "As Their Companies Crumbled, Some CEOs Got Big Money Payouts," by Joann Lublin, the excesses of executives are truly mind-boggling. John Legere of Global Crossing got a $3.5 million signing bonus, then a $10 million balance on a loan was forgiven. He also got a $2.75 million severence package. Employees lost severance when the company declared bankruptcy. Richard McGinn, fired from Lucent, got a severance of $5.5 million in stock, $7 million in restricted stock units, and an annual pension of $870,000. McGinn was at the helm when employees were barred from selling stock in their 401(k) plans as the share price plummeted 32% in one day.

Hymowitz thinks the tide may be turning and points to Charles Schwab cutting co-CEO salaries by 50%. The tide probably can't turn fast enough. The greedy have already made off with their loot, leaving a black eye on capitalism that does not bode well.

Blogs Imitate Life
Will Vehrs
Tony, today Tom Shales reviews Julia Louis-Dreyfus' new NBC sitcom, "Watching Ellie." After the "Blog Bra Wars" of the past two weeks, I was struck by this passage:

Peter Stormare, who played a terse and scary thug in the dark comedy "Fargo," also appears; he's Ingvar, a daffy immigrant building superintendent who dotes on Ellie and, in the pilot, spends a lot of time staring at her cleavage. But then viewers will be doing that, too, since the star keeps leaning forward to give the world a better look as she runs around her apartment in a slip and a robe.

I know that's not your particular cup of tea, Tony, but after Natalija, et. al., it just goes to show that blogs mirror the larger society's interests.

By the way, Shales thinks Louis-Dreyfus is marvelous in the show. As one who has doubted that there could be life after "Seinfeld," I think I'm going to tune into the premiere tonight.

Monday, February 25, 2002
Claire Berlinski Can Be Our Book Club
Will Vehrs
Tony, Andrew Sullivan has a book club and Joshua Micah Marshall has a book corner, so maybe we need something similar. I'd recommend that we just run Claire Berlinksi book reviews.

Claire has reviewed two books about the CIA for The Weekly Standard: See No Evil The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism by Robert Baer and Cloak and Dollar A History of American Secret Intelligence by Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones. She deftly places the books in the context of current events and evaluates them fairly and honestly.

Baer's book is straight from the background of today's newspaper stories. Her summation:

...a risk-averse, bureaucratized CIA was unable to predict the events of September 11 because it did not have enough linguistically trained case officers in the field, refused to develop cadres of specialists to focus on particular countries or terrorist groups, and had no interest in any operation that could lead to a flap or embarrassment. Stories like Baer's are multiplying rapidly, and they are disturbingly alike. If Baer's book is even partially true, the CIA's management must be called to account.

Cloak and Dollar is more academically oriented, but serves as a useful companion to See No Evil:

Where Baer leaves off, intelligence historian Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones begins. "Cloak and Dollar" is an account of the history of American intelligence efforts from the 1790s to the present. From its inception, Jeffreys-Jones argues, when George Washington set aside a discretionary fund for covert operations, the U.S. intelligence community has excelled above all at one overarching psychological mission: convincing policymakers in Washington to expand its budgets and purview. "There has been," writes Jeffreys-Jones, "a long-standing conspiracy of spies, a great confidence trick designed to boost the fortunes of the spy rather than protect the security of the American people." And while the book is a history, recent events are clearly emblematic.

I read a lot more book reviews than I read books, but Claire has a flair for the form and it's obvious that she did extensive research for her novel about the CIA, Loose Lips. I hope she'll keep doing book reviews when she isn't writing her own books--and share them with us.

Weliving da Weekend!
Tony Adragna
Will, I hafta return to the Rumsfled-Russert face-off. You do know that they re-air those shows late at night? (after 9:00 PM, when I'm awake and you've just gone off to bed) I watched the segment - I think Russert got the better end of that exchange. It sounded an awfull lot to me like SecDef has got some renegades in his office, and he really was outta the loop on where this OSI was headed.

Is it possible that SecDef''s got some people in shop pursuing their own agendas? Sure - just go back to the begin: remember the stories about how some on his staff, including some military members, were unhappy with the way that he was dealing (or, refusing to deal) with them? I'm not saying that SecDef's wrong, but overlay this context on top of his claim that he wasn't "clear" on what was going on - I'm leaning toward the idea, advanced by Russert in the segment, that somebody leaked the story in order to put a lid on this box.

I'm trying to figure out how letting people defer taxes on defered income is "favourable treatment." Is that what Sen. Corzine said? Sure, you end up paying taxes on the disbursments at a lower rate if you wait til you reach a certain age, but that's only because you're earning less income when you retire [update: just in case that isn't clear - you make less money, you're in a lower tax bracket]. As to limitations - I don't see a legitimate interest in the government interfering in how much employees are allowed to contribute, but I do think something needs to be done about limiting a company's ability to use its own stock to prop up pension plans.

I'm not gonna beat up Mr. Bush on this enviro plan - you know where I stand on that. I will briefly return to Gigot's comments on campaign finance reform. Are any of my Democrat friends echoing Gigot? (I've been outta the VLWC loop for awhile - they don't trust me anymore) For mine own self-serving reasons I'd love to see Mr. Bush veto this bill (can I have my special citizenship award back now?). What I was really getting at is: does Mr. Bush think the bill is unconstitutional? If Mr. Bush, like you and me, have questions, then he's doing the right thing - let it pass, and let the Court resolve the dsipute which is obviously before us. If, however, he really believes that this isn't just bad law, but unconstitutional law, and he refuses to veto it because of the political ramifications, then I just want that point to be made part of the record - for whatever it's worth...

Gotta go watchin now...

p.s.: I was back at 1025 Connecticut today - I shoulda snuck upstairs and snagged a copy from their ante-room. Guess I just break down and spend a dollar to buy a copy tomorrow...

p.p.s. I loved Fritz's kite flying adventure!

If Only the WSJ Was Free
Will Vehrs
Tony, lots of provocative stuff in this morning's Wall Street Journal, but the best of it is not available without a subscription.

The lead editorial attacks Senator Jon Corzine (D, NJ) for his proposed legislation limiting to 20% the amount of any one stock that can be held in a 401K. There are nice little digs at Corzine for having had most of his holdings in Goldman-Sachs stock, allowing him to afford $65 million to buy a Senate seat. Their real ire is directed at what they see as the logic behind the legislation: since 401Ks are "subsidized" by favorable tax treatment, the government has a right to regulate the holdings. "Whatever it [the government] generously decides not to tax is a subsidy."

The second editorial is on Bush's new strategy for dealing with global climate change. Their take: "Poor Mr. Bush; even when he meets the greens halfway they beat him up."

Finally, there is a llong etter to editor from Franklin D. Raines, Chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae. On February 20th the WSJ implicitly compared Fannie Mae's financial dealings to Enron. Raines writes, "Shame on you only fan fears with your glib, disingenuous, contorted, even irresponsible attempt to tar our company with the Enron brush." With that, he was just getting started! He closes,

We are well aware that you disapprove of our public mission to direct additional capital to the housing market. Rather than hide behind a fog of accusations about riskiness, why not come right out and debate whether we have too much invested in housing and ownership in America?

If the role of an editorial page is to get people thinking, I give the WSJ the highest marks.

Sunday, February 24, 2002
Thought I Could Slip Something Past You ...
Will Vehrs
Well, Tony, this is the last time I'll assume you had a waffle with cough syrup topping for breakfast ...

Good points all. Rumsfeld is flying high and has intimidated the press corps--he gets away with things no one else can. Russert fell into the trap of asking some questions in such a way that Rummy could pounce on him like a junior reporter at a Pentagon briefing. I don't know what the truth of the "disinformation" story is, but the Secretary did admit that someone might have leaked a half-baked idea that he had not approved. That's plausible. I suspect a lawyer somewhere is feeding the press info on all the legal wrangling on terrorism that impacts the Pentagon

Gigot is one of several conservatives suddenly asking the President to commit political hari-kari by vetoing the popular campaign finance reform bill. I should have mentioned that--glad you did. I think there's enough doubt as to what parts will be held unconstitutional that Bush doesn't want to have to make the case. I realize you want the President to be a profile in courage for all the right reasons, Tony, but how many of your Democratic friends want him to for self-serving reasons?

PunditWatch Watch...
Tony Adragna
Hey Will! - what's the BIG DEAL with SecDef's response to Russert? If this was the first time Sec. Rumsfeld played the "let me say this about that" tune, then I might find his tete a tete with Russert mildly amusing. At this point it's not funny anymore. In fact, I think it disserves Sec. Rumsfeld.

Take the "It's not clear to me that what you read is true" language. He should know what's happening in his department, so it should also be perfectly clear to him whether the story is or isn't true. Saying "it's not clear" is either a lie, or a very scary truth. He doesn't want to acknowledge that there's a disinformation campaign - fine, no problem, but there's a way to do that without sounding like an idiot, or implying that the rest of us are idiots.

I have no problem with the fact that we don't know where bin Laden is at - why can't he just say that without playing the silly game? Did Sec. Rumsfeld go where Gen. Myers went? - at least somebody knew the correct answer to the "where is Osama" question...

I gotta point out an obvious omission in your coverage of punditry on Campaign Finance Reform. My pick for "Quote of the Week" would be what Gigot said on whether or not Mr. Bush should sign the bill. I don't have the exact quote, but here's an accurate paraphrase: If Mr. Bush believes that the law is unconstitutional, then he is obligated [by his oath to protect and defend the constitution] to veto that law. I don't know how you read that, but as someone who has taken an oath not too dissimilar to the oath taken by the president, I read Gigot's words here as a very strong admonition. ...

TV Punditwatch is Up, If Blogspot is Working

Donald Rumsfeld, David Brooks, and old Punditwatch nemesis Pat Robertson take top honors in today's TV Punditwatch, available to those households where blogspot works at least intermittantly. Daniel Pearl is eulogized, Tim Russert exposed, and dating tips for your daughter are all on the pundit plate.