November 30, 2005 | 11:40 AM ET | Permalink

Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University, is author of "Transformation of War" (Free Press, 1991).  He is the only non-American author on the U.S. Army's required reading list for officers, but apparently he hates America (and therefore Israel).  How else to explain this piece in the Forward, entitled:  “Costly Withdrawal Is the Price To Be Paid for a Foolish War.”  It goes like this:

“Simply abandoning equipment or handing it over to the Iraqis, as was done in Vietnam, is simply not an option.  And even if it were, the new Iraqi army is by all accounts much weaker, less skilled, less cohesive and less loyal to its government than even the South Vietnamese army was.  For all intents and purposes, Washington might just as well hand over its weapons directly to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Clearly, then, the thing to do is to forget about face-saving and conduct a classic withdrawal.
...
A withdrawal probably will require several months and incur a sizable number of casualties.  As the pullout proceeds, Iraq almost certainly will sink into an all-out civil war from which it will take the country a long time to emerge — if, indeed, it can do so at all.  All this is inevitable and will take place whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice like it or not.

And hey, check out this kicker:

For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C. sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president's men.

On the one hand, given that we’re supporting torture, death squads creating terrorists, it’s kinda silly to get excited about the fact that we are subverting the notion of a “free press” in Iraq here.  On the other, well, you can’t believe a damn thing these people say about anything.

For me, the only serious question to be asked about any Bush speech about it Iraq is how long does it take to disprove its central claims.  In the case of tonight’s speech about how we are going to train our way out of this catastrophe, I’d say, “five seconds,” thanks to my buddy Jim Fallows, who, need I remind everyone, did the most thorough pre-war job of laying out the likelihood of postwar chaos and catastrophe, thereby demonstrating the potential value of long-form journalism to our democracy, as well as our political system’s imperviousness to evidence and reasoned argument, alas.

Speaking of Nick King and Cathy Young’s favorite buncha people, Salon proves its usefulness, even for non-sex related stories, with Michelle Goldberg’s un-Slatelike reporting done intelligently and with a clear edge.  This piece, “How the secular humanist grinch didn't steal Christmas,” is terrifically informative.  And here she reports on how many liberal Jews are getting tired of seeing their institutional leaders suck up to right-wing Christian poohbahs, just because they like Israel (at least until the apocalypse).  Read ‘em.

Dear potential-but-still-wavering-anti-Semites, especially those of you who don’t like what some of us are saying about Dobson, Mel Gibson, Jerry Falwell, et al:  It’s OK to hate these people, but we’re not all like this.  Even the ones from Long Island are not all like this.  Believe me, I know.  (And what kind of jerk lets Don Henley near his 13 year old daughter?)

Then again, you might be right about that imminent apocalypse thing.  The signs are all there. First they sign Andy.  Now this.

And my friend Jo Ann Mort writes on the Israel elections, here.

You think he means moi?  If so, we are honored...

I see from The Note today that,

Mrs. Lynne Cheney participates in a 7:00 pm ET interview with Archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein, as part of the "American Conversations" series launched by the National Archives to discuss American history and identity.

A weird thing happened at the Roosevelt Four Freedoms luncheon.  Allen Weinstein, who is Bush’s quite appropriate choice for Archivist of the United States, took some key documents out of the archives, including the original “Four Freedoms” speech, and gave them to the Clintons for their library.  Everyone applauded.  But where the hell does he get the right/authority to give Roosevelt documents to the Clintons?  Speaking of Mr. Weinstein, and his “appropriateness,” there’s this.

A friend writes:

On the theory that the enemy of the enemy is my friend and its inescapable corollary -- the enemy of the Yankees is the friend of all sentient creatures -- can I just throw the Mets a big huzzah for landing Billy Wagner in order to bring down the curtain on the, ah, explosive Braden Looper Era in the team's bullpen.  Not only do the NYM get a guy who isn't going to toss every good performance by the starters up into the flight patterns at LaGuardia -- Pedro must be throwing a parade somewhere over this -- but they get one of the truly unique players in the entire game.  Wagner looks as though he'd blow off the mound if his shortstop sneezed, yet he throws the ball about 800 miles an hour, and with extraordinary ferocity.  He's a show in and of himself, this guy.

Alter-appearances:  I’m doing a panel on Saturday at the Small Press Book Fair in the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen Building at 20 West 44th at 2:00.  On Thursday at 1:30, I’m giving a lecture on “The Bush War Against the Press” at the Brooklyn College library.  They’ve got a press release here.

Alter-reviews:

This is a bit of an indulgence, I’ll admit, but I imagine nobody much sees the reviews that are published by the totally excellent History Book Club and rather than let this review of the eleven-years in-the-making-and-just published-in- paperback-but-still-available-in-hardcover- When Presidents Lie by the estimable Sanford Levinson pass unnoticed into history, I’m reproducing it here.  (Sanford Levinson is W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr., Regents Chair in Law at the University of Texas.)

When Presidents Lie:

Contrary to what one might believe in this particular campaign season, the book is not about Presidents Clinton or Bush (though the last, short chapter does indeed discuss the current President). Instead, the heart of the book consists of four lengthy chapters examining particular episodes in the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt (the Yalta conference and treaty in February 1945, just ten weeks before Roosevelt's death); John F. Kennedy (the deal that resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962); Lyndon Johnson (the circumstances surrounding the Tonkin Gulf resolution that served as the legal and political predicate for escalating the Vietnam War in 1964 and thereafter); and, finally, Ronald Reagan (the Iran-Contra episode disclosed in 1986).

What joins all of these presidents and episodes together, Alterman demonstrates, is a pattern, if one wishes to be generous to these presidents, of a stunning lack of candor—or, if one is less generous, of outright lying. Consider FDR, about whom the New York Times' White House correspondent wrote, “Roosevelt's first instinct was always to lie…”  He was patently dishonest with the American people about what agreements he and Winston Churchill actually made with Stalin concerning the post-War settlement in Europe, especially with regard to Poland. As a result, Alterman argues, Americans blamed Stalin far more than was justified, at least in 1946, for “violating” the Yalta agreements. Harry Truman, who of course succeeded to the presidency shortly after Yalta, had been kept totally in the dark about Yalta; therefore, Truman knew only FDR's “public” statements, designed to reassure Polish-American voters, among others. “[W]ith respect to Poland and Eastern Europe, FDR's dishonesty was merely an act of political cowardice,” he writes, that had monumental political consequences, including the onset of the Cold War.

Similarly, Kennedy simply lied to the public as to whether part of the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis included an American agreement to withdraw its own missiles from Turkey relatively shortly thereafter. And, of course, the Administration had kept the American public totally ignorant of the many ways that the CIA and other parts of the government were trying to undermine (and even assassinate) Fidel Castro. Moreover, a Pentagon spokesman publicly articulated a “right to lie,” should leaders believe it necessary to do so.

The discussions of Roosevelt and Kennedy are fresher and more surprising than those of Johnson and Reagan, given the shelves of books written on the origins of the Vietnam War and on Iran-Contra (which is not to say that Alterman does not provide genuine illumination on them).

Alterman is widely regarded as a man of the left.  Yet most of the book focuses on two Democratic icons, FDR and JFK.  (LBJ, whose name was never once uttered at the recent Democratic Convention, seems consigned to oblivion by his party.)  No doubt Alterman is fated to receive sharp reviews from political partisans.  He has, though, made a real contribution not only to historical analysis, but also to reflecting on the overall consequences of living in a polity where most Americans no longer really expect their Presidents to be truthful even about matters of war and peace.
(Sanford Levinson)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Steve McGady
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Regarding Katie Couric's offer from CBS:  I don't think anybody's going to lose their job over this (unless she flops).  Ultimately when people have productive work to do, they have a job.  If I fire an employee to give myself a raise, I will have to pay more in overtime to pick up the slack.  When I am forced by circumstances to make decisions on what work needs to be done now, or how that work needs to be done, then my staffing level is in question.  As far as the anchors' income is concerned, do you really think anything would be different if Jennings died with a $10 million estate and ABC kept the other $40 million? 

Now, I am a two time college dropout, but I can't see bloggers as much more than a glorified op-ed forum.  The professional ethics of journalism are far from perfect, but reporters can be held accountable for their mistakes.  I only scratch the surface of the blogosphere, but what I see is a lot of references (links) to journalistic work, combined with a running editorial.  If you were to read this blog, for example, stopping to read the articles that you link to, you would have a show that sounds frighteningly like Rush, when the insults and garbage are cut out.  With no disrespect intended, if Dana Milbank says his sources tell him A, I would hold it in higher regard than if I read it in a blog, unless the blog cites Milbank's report.  You can be tricked by anybody pretending to be a reporter.  But I still think the conventional media is still the "go to" source for the news most people will look to for their news.

Name: Lester Nielsen
Hometown: New York City
Eric:
To answer your question regarding Katie Couric: If CBS gets Katie, they will have to fire 7 people, 3 in New York City; 1 in Washington D.C.; 2 in Philadelphia and 1 in Denver, Colorado.  No bureaus will close in 2006.  If the 2006 year end ratings (blended) do not improve a minimum of 12% with Katie at the helm then either the Albany bureau or the Indianapolis bureau will close in the early 2nd quarter of 2007 - probably mid-April.  I hope I've helped.

Name:  Ken Ward
Hometown:  Vineyard Haven, MA
Alt,
Concern about the pension dumping needs more play...It should be a crime for Directors and Officers of large Corps to allow themselves to be in such a poor financial position regarding other people's retirement funds.  Expecting all of us to bail out United Airlines or GM etc is over the top.  Too bad those reckless decision makers are getting big money to manage their companies into bankruptcy so "we" can take over their pension obligations.  Help!

Name: Donald Johnson
Comments:
Regarding the Seymour Hersh article, I was stunned by the claim in a Marine press release that Marine aircraft had dropped 500,000 tons of ordinance from the beginning of the war until November 2004.  And that number, if true, is presumably only a portion of what's been dropped.  During Vietnam the U.S. dropped about 7 million tons of bombs and around another 7 million tons of artillery shells, so we've got a way to go to match that.  But supposing the figure is correct, what does it say about our much vaunted careful targeting if we've dumped over 500,000 tons of ordnance on Iraq?  Doesn't it sound like there might be a significant potential for, um, "collateral damage"?  I don't care how carefully targeted a bomb might be--when you set off several hundred pounds of explosive in an urban area you've got a fair chance of killing some innocent bystanders.  There's no telling how much of that ordnance has been dropped in urban areas, but a tiny fraction would probably cause a lot of deaths.  Still, that said, I wonder if it's a misprint.  If it is accurate, the Lancet estimate of many tens of thousands killed by violence, the bulk by U.S. airpower, might well be correct.  And whatever the figure, the U.S. government should release it.  It's not exactly a military secret to the insurgents when we bomb them.  If the U.S. doesn't release the statistics, it might be because it has something to hide.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
Your exposition regarding corporate sponsorship of the Museum of Natural History's new Darwin exhibition misses the plain and simple logic explaining the apparent problem.  Namely, that many of these "know nothing anti-Darwinists" have money and are customers and investors of many of these cowardly corporations.  If a Creationist Museum near Cincinnatti (sic) can raise $7 million in presumably private donations from such people, why would a corporation slap its name on a politically-sensitive topic which would offend those people?  If you wish to call it capitalistic cowardice, so be it.  It is also called smart business.  You lament that some right-wingers believe that culture should be left entirely to the wisdom of the marketplace.  While the basis of this statement completely escapes me (particularly in light of the religious right that you claim dominates the Republican party and the morality police at the FCC), you appear to take the stance that corporations should actively sponsor, endorse and/or promote what (they believe) our culture should be (profits be damned).  Personally, I'd rather have corporations simply selling me inexpensive, quality products.  I'll get my values and beliefs elsewhere.

Name: David Fiderer
Hometown: New York
Eric in case you missed it, on today's Note, they designated the WSJ op-ed page "America's Finest Op-ed Page", which is like calling O.J. America's finest husband. 

The Note: Best in Note Membership Has Its Privileges By MARK HALPERIN, DAVID CHALIAN, TEDDY DAVIS, IMTIYAZ DELAWALA, EMILY O'DONNELL, and SARAH BAKER - - WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 NEWS SUMMARY As long-time readers know, the last Tuesday of every month is reserved for The Note's "Best of . . ." feature.  So, without further ado, your November 29, 2005 "Best of The Note" Awards (c).  Best Story Teeing up Wednesday's Para-Mega Bush Speech on Iraq: The Wall Street Journal's Dreazen, Jaffe, and McKinnon, whose must-read story also prominently raises the Notion of civil war in Iraq as potentially foreshadowed by sectarian militias.  Best Reasons to Read America's Finest Op-ed Page: The Wall Street Journal's editorial on Duke Cunningham; Joe Lieberman's Nicolle-Wallace-couldn't-write-it-better-herself op-ed on staying the course in Iraq; and Dick Armey's op-ed trashing the Republican Congress, complete with an anonymous swipe at Tom DeLay.

Eric replies: Seriously, I thought they were kidding...

November 29, 2005 | 11:29 AM ET | Permalink

Cowardice of the Capitalists

But first, this:

An Aug. 18 police operations report addressed to Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who has ties to the Badr militia, listed the names of 14 Sunni Arab men arrested during a predawn sweep in the Baghdad neighborhood of Iskaan.  Six weeks later, their bodies were discovered near the Iranian border, badly decomposed.  All of the corpses showed signs of torture, and each still wore handcuffs and had been shot three times in the back of the head, Baghdad morgue officials said.

Congratulations to all you liberal hawks on the birth of your new death squads.  Repeat after me:  “I’m sorry.”

Incredibly, the Museum of Natural History could not find a corporate sponsor for its big new Darwin exhibition, here, “because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution.”  Meanwhile “the Creationist Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio, which takes literally the Bible's account of creation, has recently raised $7 million in donations.”  And we have to read about it in a foreign newspaper.  Why is that?

The next time some right-winger tells you that culture should be left entirely to the wisdom of the marketplace, you might want to mention its collective cowardice in the face of know-nothing anti-Darwinists.  (I hear the exhibition is terrific, by the  way, and we’re going to go this weekend and buy a turtle; also to the slavery exhibition next door at the New York Historical Society.)

CBS wants to pay Katie Couric $15 million a year?  Peter Jennings died and left his family $50 million.  Isn’t greed at the top a part of the problem?  Why aren’t we talking about that?  Seriously, these mega-rich anchors and Sunday talk show hosts really don’t have much credibility with me when talking about investing in the quality of the news.  How many people will have to be fired at CBS if they get Katie?  How many bureaus will have to be closed?

Life in Bushworld:  I am criticized here for that awful crime of “trying to find nuance” in Soviet scholarship.   Here is the original.  (Looks pretty good, huh?  We note with pleasure that Heilbrunn seems to have disappeared of late, since being relieved by Mike Kinsley of his responsibilities to write misguidedly neoconnish foreign policy editorials for The LA Times.)

Quote of the Day: 

He’s a whoremonger.  A real whoremonger.  He loves the titty bars.  The only people he likes go to the titty bars with him.  Those are the only people he trusts.  He also goes out to Vegas all the time.  He goes to the high-end titty bars.  He’s always getting the private upstairs rooms, champagne, the works.

According to several sources close to (David) Smith, the principal owner of Sinclair has never been the paragon of personal virtue that his stations preach and his political allies champion.  Here.

Don’t forget Darfur dammit.  For goodness’ sakes, somewhere U.S. troops might have done the world some good and what does our government do?

Stephen Hayes:  “Guadalcanal will not fall."

Atrios waxes eloquent, here.

[I]t isn't blogs that destroyed the Gatekeepers.  It wasn't blogs that put Rush Limbaugh on as an election analyst.  It wasn't blogs that gave Bill O'Reilly the flagship show on a major cable news network.  It wasn't blogs that gave Michael Savage his own television show on a cable news network.  It wasn't blogs that put Ann Coulter on the cover of a major national news magazine.  It wasn't blogs that created all of the various and often fact free screaming heads shows.  It wasn't blogs that gave syndicated columns to numerous conservatives with little or no experience in journalism.  It wasn't blogs that devoted the summer of 2001 to Gary Condit (uh, ok, well, maybe Josh helped a bit) and the summer of 2005 to a missing girl in Aruba.  It wasn't blogs that invented the New York Post or Washington Times.  And, it wasn't blogs that were responsible for all of the errors that this wonderful organization tracks on a regular basis.

Gatekeeper media may be dead, but to a great degree they dug their own grave and dove right in.  Blogs didn't really get there until after the funeral.

Not Enough Major Bob?  He details his vision and his needs here.

Alterreviews

DVD roundup:

One of the historic performances of the 1970s has finally made it to DVD, and not a moment too soon.  Like Malcolm X and Che Guevara, Bob Marley has of late become in danger of becoming more a marketing symbol than the tremendously significant historical actor (and brilliant musician) he was.  This DVD, filmed on June 2, 1977 at London's Rainbow Theater, is what introduced many people, at least in this country, to Marley via the live album that captured it.  It comes with a two-disc set that includes the 1984 BBC documentary Caribbean Nights which features performance excerpts from "Slave Driver" from 1972, "Stir It Up" and "Rastaman Chant" from 1973, "Bad Card" from 1980, and others, but the concert itself is the gem.  If you don’t "get" Marley, you’ll get it here or not at all.

Speaking of the seventies, I like Loggins and Messina.  So sue me.  A few years ago, at “Country Music In the Rockies” in Crested Butte, Kenny Loggins gave one of the most spirited performances I’ve ever seen.  No, really.  Anyway, if you want to see (or hear) how the music has aged  —and yes, Winnie the Pooh still doesn’t know what to do— Rhino’s just released their reunion concert in Santa Monica on CD and DVD, here.

The Ross McElwee DVD Collection (Sherman's March / Time Indefinite / Six O'Clock News / Bright Leaves / Backyard / Charleen) (Five-Disc Collector's Edition)  — I’ve talked about McElwee’s weirdly wonderful films here before.  Now they’re collected in DVD Collection, including ones most of us have never seen before.  At a MOMA retrospective, someone said, “Ever the unreliable narrator, McElwee makes the grandest themes of human comedy his artistic province: love and death, chance and fate, memory and denial, the marvelous and the appalling."  I’ll buy that.  And I might buy this too.  The breakthrough was Sherman's March, one of the first high grossing documentaries ever, aptly described here as “an autobiographic quest for true romance: filmmaker Ross McElwee, camera in hand and eros on his mind after an old girlfriend deserts him, trains his lens with phallic resolve on every accessible woman he meets along the original route of General Sherman's Civil War March."  This package includes six films on 5 discs, and a couple of interviews, outtakes and follow-ups.  More here.

Sex and the City - The Complete Series (Collector's Giftset) — Well, the person in your life will appreciate the entire Sex in the City box—and whether it is worth the $200 or not.  It seems like a pretty easy call to me.  It’s very handsome and tasteful, particularly compared to Carrie’s awful wardrobe and Samantha’s potty mouth, and frankly, I’m amazed at how popular it’s expected to be.  Seems like some people need to get a life quick.  In any case, here’s the lowdown.  (I guess if you’ve forgotten the first season, you could relive them one at a time.)  It’s 19 discs plus a bonus disc with stuff like “Sex Essentials - a video jukebox for advice, quips and quotes on dating, sex, fashion, etc."  More here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Dave Van Grunsven
Hometown: Newberg, Oregon
Can you predict the date when the auto industry will foist the pension accounts on the American taxpayers?  This is a great game at parties that favor a political bent unsavory to the current administration but bears valued economic concern.  With the current state of matters at GM, Ford, and Chrysler, pension issues are at the forefront of matters. It has been disclosed that GMAC, the financial arm of GM, may be up for sale but I would surmize that this may be just a ruse to forestall the pension issue for a little while longer.  Needlesstosay, the Bush administartion has not been too kind to the American auto industry as it has been to the American energy industry.  But the matter of pensions does come up and that party question is in play since the decision by the Chicago judge in a related matter to the airline industry bears concern. When will the auto industry offload its pension accounts to the taxpayer? A good answer would be after the '06 elections and none too soon. In essence, we must wait an entire year before this matter resurfaces but issues regarding the performance of the auto makers is right in front of us now. Poor perfomance in sales with high gas prices is at the front of the line. How long can manufacterers wait before they realize that the SUV is done and had its day even though the suv and trucks in general are the most profitable aspect of sales? Thus, the pension problem that scuttles the preeminent and stalwart GM monicker " How GM goes, so goes the country". Trouble on the horizon just like the S&L mess!

Name: Michael Rapoport
Comments:
Eric:
The more interesting issue isn't whether Bush will pardon Libby; as you note, that's a pretty good bet.  The real question is, will he dare to do so before the 2008 election?  Two small but noteworthy things you may have missed in the Times over the weekend: The magazine prints a letter pointing out what's been pointed out on Altercation, that the anecdote referenced by Rob Reiner that Matt Bai couldn't find was in fact alluded to by George Packer in the Times Magazine itself (see Michele Babcock's letter).  And this correction on a John Tierney column (third correction).  This strikes me as the kind of error that Gail Collins, in announcing the op-ed pages' new correction policy a while back, referred to as "the medium-size dumb error - the kind of mistake that causes the author to beat his or her head against a desk and seriously consider switching to the growing field of air-conditioner repair."  And just one more note on your comments on "Masters of American Comics":  If you're looking for "thoughtful essays about the great comics of the past century" and for some reason you've never read this wonderful Jules Feiffer essay, don't deny yourself the pleasure any longer.  (Alas, the original hardcover version, which included lots of reprints of vintage comics alongside Feiffer's commentary, is out of print and hard to find.)

Name: Matt Ball
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Eric --
I spent five years as a DOE Global Change Fellow.  Obviously, the causes and cycles of hurricanes are complex -- there are no simple, one-line explanations.  But there is no scientific way to argue that warmer ocean surface temperatures have *no* impact on the number or strength of hurricanes, all other factors being equal.  The best the carbon industry and its scientists can do is obfuscate and try to confuse.

November 28, 2005 | 12:04 PM ET | Permalink

While we were away:  U.S. Constitution, still MIA

I did a blog on Friday, here , that got a little lost.  In the meantime, let’s take a moment and play catch-up on the long weekend.

1)    If Jose Padilla lives in a police state, then so do you.  According to Adam Liptak in the invaluable, but frequently infuriating, New York Times,

“When Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced last week that Jose Padilla would be transferred to the federal justice system from military detention, he said almost nothing about the standards the administration used in deciding whether to charge terrorism suspects like Mr. Padilla with crimes or to hold them in military facilities as enemy combatants.
...
The upshot of that approach, underscored by the decision in Mr. Padilla's case, is that no one outside the administration knows just how the determination is made whether to handle a terror suspect as an enemy combatant or as a common criminal, to hold him indefinitely without charges in a military facility or to charge him in court.  Indeed, citing the need to combat terrorism, the administration has argued, with varying degrees of success, that judges should have essentially no role in reviewing its decisions.  The change in Mr. Padilla's status, just days before the government's legal papers were due in his appeal to the Supreme Court, suggested to many legal observers that the administration wanted to keep the court out of the case.  "The position of the executive branch," said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University who has consulted with lawyers for several detainees, "is that it can be judge, jury and executioner."

Tell me, what is the relevance of the U.S. Constitution to such a process?  And if the Constitution has no relevance for Mr. Padilla, who is after all, a U.S. citizen, how can you be sure it will be there for you?  First they came for the gypsies…

2)     Perhaps the most depressing account of all during this past-weekend with regard to Mr. Bush and company is Sy Hersh’s New Yorker piece, here.  Quote of the Day: 

“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said.  “He doesn’t feel any pain.  Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’” 

The air war will kill even more innocent Iraqis than before, making us more hated, more a terrorist target and more insecure than we have been as a nation in our history.  Bush apparently believes he was sent by God, but I got a feeling his origins, if they be supernatural, lie elsewhere.

3)    Torture is Us.  According to David Luban, professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a visiting professor this year at Stanford University Law School:

Consider the cases of Abed Hamed Mowhoush and Manadel Jamadi.  Mowhoush, an Iraqi general in Saddam Hussein's army, was smothered to death in a sleeping bag by U.S. interrogators in western Iraq.  Jamadi, a suspected bombmaker, whose ice-packed body was photographed at Abu Ghraib, was seized and roughed up by Navy SEALS in Iraq, then turned over to the CIA for questioning.  At some point during this process, according to an account in the New Yorker magazine, someone broke his ribs; then he was hooded and underwent "Palestinian hanging" until he died.  The CIA operative implicated has still not been charged, two years after Jamadi's death.  And the SEAL leader was acquitted, exulting afterward that "what makes this country great is that there is a system in place and it works."

He got that right.  Shamefully, it is a system that permits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, smudges long-standing lines about what is and is not permitted in routine interrogations -- and then expresses hypocritical horror when soldiers and interrogators cross the blurry line into torture and murder.  Here.

4)    Nobody with a reputation left to risk wants to work for the guy: Here.

5)    Quote of the Day II:

"Bush's reputation in at least the academic community is about as low as you can imagine," said William A. Niskanen, who was a member of the council during President Ronald Reagan's first term and is now chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group.  "A lot of people would not be willing to give up a good tenured position for a position in the White House."

6)    "President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda."  Here.

7)    Hurricanes may be caused by global warming, maybe not , I dunno.  I do know, however, that liars, ideological extremists, and incompetents who run our government cannot be trusted to deal with this issue any more than any other requiring an honest brokering of evidence, costs and benefits.  “The nations of the world will meet in Montreal this week to start discussing the next step in combating the global warming problem, hoping to devise a successor to the Kyoto Protocol that was scorned by the Bush administration in 2001.  But the United States is saying it doesn't want to talk.”   Here.

8)    Right-wing Republicans call themselves “pro-family,” and complain about middle-class moms who chose to work outside the home.  Apparently, though, it’s not merely OK for mothers to work outside the home for poor women.  It’s necessary.  And the minimum they demand is 40 hours.  To hell with their families and their children...  Just look at this new welfare bill they are trying to sneak into the budget process. 

For states to avoid federal sanctions, most recipients would have to spend 40 hours a week in activities out of the house.
...
Moreover, the larger budget bill's cuts to food stamps and Medicaid could add still more financial pressure as welfare recipients transition to the ranks of the working poor.

Quote of the Day, III:

"What kind of bureaucracy is going to be set up to make sure you're out of the house 40 hours a week, and who's going to pay for the child care?" asked Helen Blank, director of public policy at the National Women's Law Center.  "It's punitive. It's crazy."

9)    Did He Jump or Was He Pushed?

[Col. Ted] Westhusing, 44, was no ordinary officer.  He was one of the Army's leading scholars of military ethics, a full professor at West Point who volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students.  He had a doctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was an extended meditation on the meaning of honor.
...
A few weeks before he died, Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company he oversaw had cheated the U.S. government and committed human rights violations.  Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns to superiors, who launched an investigation.

In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.

10)    Democrats wise up; Run war vets

Remember, according to Thursday’s WSJ: 

A majority of U.S. adults believe the Bush administration generally misleads the public on current issues, while fewer than a third of Americans believe the information provided by the administration is generally accurate, the latest Harris Interactive poll finds.

We have won the war for the American people, but they are powerless to stop this car before it truly rolls off the cliff .

Alter-reviews by Sal, T-Rex reissues and Elton John, “Peachtree Road,” deluxe.:

Rhino Records has just released a handful of T.Rex deluxe editions which are identical to the British versions that were released on the Edsel label a few years back.  These records are the post-"Electric Warrior" (the 1971 classic with "Bang A Gong" and "Jeepster") releases and for the most part, are weak and for Marc Bolan completists only, with the exception of "The Slider."

"The Slider" was the follow-up to "Electric Warrior" and in many ways is a far superior record.  A glam-rock staple, this record could easily match up song for song with Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust," Sparks' "Kimono My House," and Mott The Hoople's "All The Young Dudes." Chunky guitars, big Phil Spector-like choruses, and tons of British cool, "The Slider" is essential.

"The Slider," as well as the other two releases, "Dandy In The Underworld" and "Zinc Alloy" (two mostly unlistenable forays into disco-glam) contain a bonus disc of alternates, demos, and b-sides, which, maybe, you'll play once.  Nice packages, but "The Slider" is all you need.  Songlist here.

A new Elton John album 30 years past his prime, and 20 years since his last good one, is not exactly an event.  But, 2004's "Peachtree Road" was a fantastic return to form, criminally ignored by both fans and critics.  Reminiscent of earlier masterpieces such as "Tumbleweed Connection" and "Madman Across The Water," "Peachtree Road" is light on string-laden sappy production, and "Lion King-like" ballads, and gives us some solid songwriting, memorable hooks, and simple yet effective production.

Now, as labels are wont to do, the album has been expanded and rereleased, with 3 bonus tracks and a live DVD.  I can't say that the extra material makes much of a difference here.  The three bonus audio tracks are songs Elton had written for the British musical "Billy Elliott," and just don't belong in this package.  The DVD contains live footage of Elton performing 9 "Peachtree Road" tracks.  Seeing Elton perform these songs, as well as some seldom played classics, with a 200 piece orchestra and a choir at Radio City Music Hall was one of the most memorable concerts of the last 10 years.  THAT would have been a nice DVD.  But if you don't own "Peachtree Road," and you're a fan of Elton's brilliant work in the 70's, this new package is a great addition.  Here’s the songlist.

Sal
NYCD

Correspondence corner:

A friend writes:

[ Link]  I've read this story before.  Usually, it contains someone saying, "He was a nice young man and it looked like a great opportunity.  How was I to know there was no oceanfront property in the Ozarks?  Now I've lost everything."

November 26, 2005 | 11:52 PM ET | Permalink

Underestimating the awfulness of it all

This just in from the WSJ:

"A majority of U.S. adults believe the Bush administration generally misleads the public on current issues, while fewer than a third of Americans believe the information provided by the administration is generally accurate, the latest Harris Interactive poll finds."

You see it’s amazing that in my Wednesday rant about the Bush campaign to undermine the Constitution, it did not occur to me that one reason they were switching venues on Padilla was because they had tortured the people who gave them the evidence, here.

It’s amazing but true, that I keep underestimating the awfulness of these people, but I guess that’s because I have George Packer would call a "second-rate" mind…

How great a guy is Arlo Guthre? From the Times: "Arlo Guthrie's Long Ride"

Tomorrow night Arlo Guthrie will play his annual Thanksgiving weekend concert at Carnegie Hall. Nine days later he will embark on a musical journey on the Amtrak train City of New Orleans, playing 7 concerts in 13 days from Chicago to New Orleans to benefit small clubs there that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Guthrie had a hit with the Steve Goodman song "City of New Orleans" ("Good morning, America, how are you?"). The first show is at the Vic Theater in Chicago, with stops in Kankakee, Urbana, Effingham and Carbondale, Ill., and Memphis. The tour ends at Tipitina's on North Peters Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

(Should he be allowed to do this? After all, his father was a Communist?)

The Times Box set gift-giving guide is here.

Lazily, I’ve excerpted the parts with which I agree below. I’ll be doing more of this, as lazily as possible.

Weird Tales of the Ramones
Rhino/Warner. Three CD's, one DVD. $64.98
So let's give thanks that this new Ramones boxed set is eagerly and extravagantly silly. It's packaged like an oversize comic book, with the band's history told in vivid strips by two dozen cartoonists. (Yes, 3-D glasses are included. The DVD includes the 15-year-old hourlong documentary "Lifestyles of the Ramones," plus a handful of newer music videos; if ever there were a punk band whose songs deserve to be repackaged every few years (and can survive it), it was this one. KELEFA SANNEH

One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found
Rhino. Four CD's. $69.98
The biggest girl-group hits aren't on this collection; try Rhino's "Girl Group Greats" and "The Best of the Girl Groups" (Vols. 1 and 2), or greatest-hits albums by the Crystals, the Ronettes, the Shirelles and the Supremes. These four discs are filled with also-rans, and without the glow of oldies nostalgia, they're more revealing now than when they were recorded four decades ago.

The Band
A Musical History
The bulk of the set is the Band at its best, with one foot in history, the other in roadhouse. But the collection also reaches back to the group's days as the Hawks, when it made the Canadian rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins sound dangerous, and its breakthrough alliance with Bob Dylan, including combative live tracks from their much-booed 1966 tour and their 1974 reunion, including a DVD of concert and television performances - are richly, incurably rowdy.

Johnny Cash
The Legend
The musical selection on both editions is unassailable, although most of it has already been thoughtfully repackaged in recent years.

Ray Charles
The Complete Atlantic Recordings, 1952-1959
He soaked up regional ideas from every place he visited; he touched down regularly in jazz and transformed any song he chose, finding sorrow and redemption. Unreleased material includes Charles toying with songs on solo piano - it's all he needs - and a low-fi DVD of a 1960 Newport Jazz Festival set that moves from swing-band elegance to full-tilt, house-rocking soul. Rhino. Seven CD's, one DVD. $149.98. JON PARELES

Children of Nuggets
Original Artyfacts From the Second Psychedelic Era, 1976-1995
As on "Nuggets," the songs are terse and catchy, the equipment is vintage and distortion-happy, and the recording budgets sound minimal; girl trouble is still the perennial subject.

Try for the Sun
The Journey of Donovan
And the three CD's include a well-pruned selection of Donovan's music, focusing on his marvelous late-60's run; only five of the songs here were recorded after 1973. Donovan was once caricatured as a symbol of 60's self-absorption run amok, but decades later his best hits (the grand "Sunshine Superman") and not-quite-hits (the mischievous "Clara Clairvoyant") make a gentle but unsettling noise: a mellow, mesmerizing collision between acute self-consciousness and its opposite.

Bill Evans
The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961
Two great albums were picked from the recordings of these five sets during one single afternoon-into-evening at the Vanguard - "Sunday at the Village Vanguard" and "Waltz for Debby." But if you've heard those, you will understand why you might want whatever else there might be, and in the order they really unfolded, to replicate that day. Bill Evans's chords, nearly all fascinating and unmoored by the expected root notes, motored along in muted drift.

Heaven Must Have Sent You
The Holland/Dozier/Holland Story
Many of the songs here are familiar, some hugely so: anyone with even a passing interest in soul music has probably memorized chestnuts like Freda Payne's "Band of Gold" and the Supremes' "Stop! In the Name of Love." But these three discs spotlight not the singers but the songwriters. Part of the fun of this set is hearing that spirit echoed in recordings by such a wide variety of performers, from Dusty Springfield to Michael Jackson to the Band.

My Lives
Billy Joel
A new sweetness emerges with "My Lives," four CD's and a DVD of clips from a 1994 Frankfurt show. Starting with youthful forays into folk, British Invasion pop and jazz-rock, the set mingles demos with the hits they later became, candidly exposing clunky scrapped lyrics that accompanied budding melodicism. Even if some covers showcase Mr. Joel's taste rather than his talents (Brian Wilson works well; Bob Dylan not so much), "My Lives" is sequenced for listeners, not archivists. After Disc Four's vigorous live run through hits like "Goodnight Saigon" and "Movin' Out," you almost owe him a spin through the set's final classical numbers.

Progressions
100 Years of Jazz Guitar
Spanning a full century of recordings, this survey puts forth almost a century-long chronology of jazz guitar, and with it an appealingly skewed take on jazz history. Its principles are canonical, but anti-purist (a couple of Depression-era Hawaiian guitarists make the grade, as do Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana), and its process strictly egalitarian: each of the 78 guitarists included makes only one appearance, with a recording identified as somehow emblematic.

Talking Heads
Brick
As the songwriter David Byrne mellowed from quizzical, flinty outsider to jovial humanist, his band grew and shrank, the music darkened and lightened, and every phase - especially 1977-84 - yielded memorable songs. All eight Talking Heads studio albums are in this box, with outtakes that are often wilder than the cooler-headed, more deadpan versions chosen for posterity. The discs also include surround-sound DVD-audio remixes and rare video, for a body of work that makes arty younger bands sound timid, even without live material.

Whatever
The 90's Pop & Culture Box
This seven-CD collection prefers the music of that milieu - the "alternative rock" of the decade's first half - over the hip-hop, alt-country, electronica, rap-rock and teen-pop that also provided the soundtrack for the span from Nirvana to Y2K. Unfortunately, grunge dominates, with Tad, Mudhoney and Screaming Trees crowding out hip-hop beyond novelties like "O.P.P." and "They Want EFX."

In addition: SAL'S TOP 10 OF 2005

1. Bruce Springsteen- Devils & Dust
2. New Pornographers- Twin Cinemas
3. Wynton Marsalis- Live At The House Of Tribes
4. Bonnie Raitt- Souls Alike
5. Rolling Stones- A Bigger Bang
6. Susan Tedeschi- Hope & Desire
7. Bettye Lavette- I've Got My Own Hell To Raise
8. Nine Inch Nails- With Teeth
9. Kaiser Chiefs- Employment
10. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- Howl

Slacker Friday:

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq
Baghdad Holidays

From: Morgan Bateman
Sent: Sunday, November 20, 2005 7:03 PM
To: Bateman, Robert MAJ

Subject: Re: RE: homecoming
I have graciously made up a Christmas list for everyone but have chosen some specific things to ask each person for so i won't get multiples of one thing. : ) My number one item is an Apple iPod mini. The price for this item at walmart.com is $198.32. some other things that i thought you might like to get me were What's french for "ew'?, the taming of the dru, and got fang? these are the next three books in a series i am reading. they are availablt for $5.99 at borders.com.
Please contact me if you have any questions or comments or would like to request information on other gift requests. thank you for your cooperation.
Yours Truly,
Morgan Rachelle Bateman,
Your favorite daughter

------Response Message-----

From: Bob Bateman
Sent: Sunday, November 20, 2005 7:03 PM
To: Morgan Bateman
Subject: Re: Re: RE: homecoming
>>THIS IS AN AUTOMATED REPLY<<
Dear Ms. Morgan Rachelle Bateman:
Your e-mail message of 20 November 2005 was intercepted by our security screening software and identified as extortion and/or spam due to the ridiculous cost of the item which you requested from your father. Our software filters are set to remove automatically all messages which list amounts greater than $100, thus your intended recipient (Bateman, Robert MAJ" ) has not seen your message and cannot respond. Should you wish to try again, we recommend submitting an e-mail with any amount up to $99.99 for a single present listed as the primary element.
(Supplemental elements may exceed this, when taken in the aggregate.)
Thank you for your contribution to National Defense.
Sincerely,
Ima N. Otta-Fool
Customer Service
MNSTC-I, J6
Communications and Software
Baghdad, Iraq

Baghdad within Earshot:

NSTR
If you are interested in helping with that school supplies project mentioned last week you can write to Major Bob at Bateman_Maj@hotmail.com.
Robert Bateman, Major, Infantry
MNSTC-I, J5

Name: Alex Swingle
Hometown: New York City
Comments:
Eric, Regarding the Padilla situation, doesn't it seem like holding enemy combatants only seems to apply to people of er, color and a religion that isnt christian? 2 cases in point: 1)Pat Robertson, a few years ago, saying that a nuclear device should be put in the State Department. 2)William Krar, a man with ties to white-supremicist groups, pled guilty to posessing chemical weapons and other assorted weaponry and was sentenced to only 11 years of jail time. Story is here.
(Now do you think if Pat was a mullah at some local mosque he would have been thrown in Gitmo for this? How about if Krar's name was Muhammad and was of arab descent? Isnt amazing on how our government treats these individuals with kid gloves while the O'Reillys and Malkins of the world seem to ignore these stories like it was the avaian flu? The usual argument against this is that these individuals are the exception rather than the rule. Well the US World Report seems to disagree.
On 7/21 of this year, they published an article that, according to the Southern Policy Law Center, roughly 60 right-wing terrorist plots were uncovered and foiled in the US since 9/11. article here.

Eric, I get this sick feeling that people have this mentality that "as long as it's one of our own doing it, its okay" This phenomenon is like kryponite for the right-wing talking heads as well as our own government, and I really dont think its a stretch to see why. P.S. - Timothy McVeigh is still considered a folk hero to many, and does anyone think David Koresh and the Branch Davidians would have gotten the sympathy they did if they were a muslim fundamentalist sect?

Name: Murray Bodnaruk
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Comments:

Dear Eric I'm not willing to take your bet as to whether Incurious George will pardon Scooty Libby. If there is anything that the Boy King learned from his father, it was to pre-emptively pardon anyone who might have any dirt on you, regardless of whether or not they might use that information to save their own necks.

Just look at the pardon that Poppy gave to Cap Weinburger, et al, which effectively ended the Iran Contra investigation, which looked to closing in on Bush senior. The real question that needs to be addressed is whether any President should have an unfettered discretion to pardon any individual who committed, or may have committed an indictable offence. Under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution "The President... shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."

Impeachment is the only offence which can't be pardoned, which is why Nixon resigned before he was impeached, so that Ford could grant a pardon and prevent any further exposure of Republican dirty tricks and the very real spectacle of Richard Nixon being convicted at trial and languishing in prison, instead of being allowed to walk away and reinvent himself as an elder statesman. It seems to me that Democrats should start talking loudly about the immediate need for a constitutional amendment to limit the use of Presidential pardon power. Presidential pardons should not be used for individuals accused of taking part in corruption or conspiracy relating to political activities.

Presidential pardons should not be used to reward individuals such as Cap Weiberger and Scooter Libby, who took part in criminal conspiracies at the behest of the White House on the understanding that, if caught, they'd receive a pardon when the time was right. The Presidential pardon power in its current form is not acceptable in a democracy because it allows those in power to erase their crimes by pardoning those individuals who actually committed offences in service to those in power. In many cases, individuals such as Weinberger and Libby might have been motivated to testify against their superiors in exchange for a reduced sentence, if they were not eligible to receive a Presidential pardon. Curtailing or eliminating the Presidential pardon power would go be a positive step towards improving the ethical climate in Washington by making Presidents more accountable for the actions of their subordinates.

Name: Eric David
Hometown: Elizabeth, NJ
Comments:

John from Kinnelon, NJ is of course right. It is all about the oil, but as several correspondents have pointed out on this site, under Bush Co. it's not about U.S. access to the oil as much as it is about Big Oil's control of (and excessive profit from) this resource. How many hundreds of billions of dollars has this effort cost us already, with no end in sight?

I'm not a scientist or an accountant, but I imagine a Manhattan Project to develop alternative fuels would have cost far less, not to mention also preserving 2,000+ American (and tens of thousands more Iraqi) lives. Forget about petrochemical derivatives like plastics; Louisiana alone probably has enough oil to make those. The real oil glutton is motor fuel, with Hummers being only the most visibly obscene examples. Heaven help us if the Chinese figure out the solution before we do, which they will if we don't stop ignoring every problem we can't bomb.

November 23, 2005 | 12:59 PM ET | Permalink

You know, if the Bush administration says it can pick up an American citizen off the street, hold him incommunicado, refuse him the right to a trial and refuse to explain what the nature of his crime is, I think this pretty much makes the United States Constitution inoperative.  Sure, not many of us are likely to face the problems that Mr. Padilla faces, and for all I know he is a bad guy.  But our Constitutional protections are supposed to apply to bad guys as much as good guys.  What’s more these dishonest incompetent ideological extremists are almost always hiding something significant whenever they claim to be operating in our national security interests, and you’d have to be an idiot (or a White House reporter or a Fox News anchor) even to be able to pretend to believe them this time.  I’m sure when this is over we will find out they are just covering up their own incompetence and dishonesty.  But the lack of outcry over this naked police state tactic is one more example of how increasingly hollow are our claims to be an example to anyone of anything, save hypocrisy.  Read the sad story here.

And while we’re on the topic of their contempt for the Constitution, a thousand dollars says George W. Bush pardons I. Lewis Libby before leaving office, even money.  I mean this.  Any takers?  We can put the money in escrow and the winner promises to give $250 to UNICEF, here, for help for people with AIDS in Africa.  I’ll do it twice if I get two takers.  (Good post on the whole array of poverty/disease in Africa issues by Sam Rosenfeld here.  And thanks, on behalf of all of us, I hope, to Nick Kristof for heroic reporting like this even though we may find him unbearably annoying in other contexts.)

It was a sad day in Boston yesterday, as 34 people, minimum, here, accepted the Boston Globe’s buyout offer and the quality and importance of serious journalism took a beating from which it may never recover.  That is the way of world, these Times—a second buyout of New York Times staffers is coming soon too.  Newspapers must change or die, and right now, they look to be dying.  I wish I had a better idea and I hope it’s not too painful for those affected, and their families.

Not to be flip about so serious a topic, but I cannot help but smile when I see that the profession will at least henceforth be spared the efforts of that incompetent op-ed editor Nick King, who last year enabled the efforts of Jewish McCarthyite Globe columnist Cathy Young aimed at yours truly.  Good riddance to you, Nick.  Let’s hope Cathy is next. 

Alas, Jewish McCarthyism is going nowhere.  Take a look at this “Scrapbook” item from the Weekly Standard.  I don’t know Nir Rosen and have not seen much of his work, but based on what the Standard has printed here, their argument seems to be: We disagree with Mr. Rosen about the war, and even more with his description about the nature of the illegal settlers on the occupied territories of the West Bank.  But instead of making a case for our position we will simply assert that “No wonder Rosen has such great access to the Baathists and jihadists who make up the Iraqi insurgency.  He's on their side." 

One could just as easily assert that Messrs. Kristol and Barnes are “on their side,” since they so slavishly supported an invasion that the CIA, among others, predicted would vastly increase the level of terrorism aimed at the U.S. and create a threat like this one where there was none before.  Shame on everyone involved.

Someone keeps writing me to tell me I have to write a Nation column comparing/contrasting Bob Woodward and Sy Hersh.  Maybe I will.  In the meantime, I sorta did, for Salon, eight years ago, when Sy’s career was at a kind of low ebb, here.  The rest of the Alterman-on-Woodward oeuvre here, and I wrote a column about his much better one here. (And by the way Tapped guys, that first one is nearly two years earlier than Kuttner’s to say nothing of the Salon one, which is um, seven years before Kuttner’s.  But Hey Mikey… )

One more thing about Woodward.  The first time I ever noticed the name of the writer Charles Pierce was because of a brilliantly reported story in Esquire in which Woodward behaved (journalistically) quite badly.  I asked him about it and saved the e-mail:  I don’t think he’d mind.  Woodward had written what the great man called "one of the prime pieces of bogus journalism that promoted the 'waste, fraud, and abuse' meme that helped devastate the SSI program."  Pierce told me:

He wrote about a woman in the Social Security office in Harrisburg, who was riffling through files which she told Bob were rife with cases of SSI fraud.  Oddly enough, not a single example made Woodward's story.  (The woman turned out to be the office loon.  She left the job shortly thereafter to start a second career as an aroma-therapist in West Virginia, and, as Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.)

He got called on this twice before I got to him -- once by Jim Ledbetter in the Voice and then by the late Chris Georges in Forbes MediaCritic.  Woodward's weak-ass excuse was that he didn't want to "violate the privacy" of the people in the files -- so, of course, his alternative was to let a nutball smear the whole program.  (Ledbetter pointed out that he could have written about the cases blind, since he'd kept the biggest secret in journalism for 30 years.)

Anyway, so I finally get to do the story, and I phone-stalk him for a month and I call him back, and this was the first question he asked me:  'How long have you been in the business?'

Schadenfreude, thou art sweet.

Alter-review
I borrowed a car and drove to Trenton last night to see the final performance of Bruce’s solo tour.  I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I admired and enjoyed it.  I’ve not made any great efforts to see this tour because I was so disappointed with the performance I saw at the Meadowlands at its outset.  Bruce was stiff and formal, and even nasty to the crowd.  But now he’s loose and fun and, my god, even brought out his extended family and kids’ friends to sing “Santa Claus” on stage.  He played “Song for Orphans” something I am pretty sure No One has ever requested at a live performance and has not made an appearance in his repertoire in thirty-three or so years.  (He said he learned it listening to Springsteen radio on Sirius…)  He also debuted “Kid Called Zero” for its first live performance in more than three decades, and thrilled the crowd with “Thundercrack,” another staple of the David Sancious/Boom-Boom Carter/Mad Dog Vini Lopez, pre-BTR E Street Band.  Anyway, Bruce is so much looser these days than he was just a year ago, it’s transformative.  The idea that he would allow a radio station to play fans’ bootlegs would have been unthinkable before it happened.  I make no great claims for Springsteen the human being.  He seems pretty great for a rock star, but there’s really no way to know for sure, and I do think he charges his fans too much money for tickets given that he already has more money than anyone could spend in a dozen lifetimes.  But for Springsteen the artist, his growth and maturity, coupled with a willingness to take risks and reach beyond what comes easily to him yields results that are akin to, well, I really can't think of an appropriate analogy, but I find it immensely comforting to know (and feel) that it is there.  What American artist has a body of work that can even be compared to this, over a period of decades?  I don’t want to start an argument, but you can count ‘em on one and a half hands.

Anyway, let’s have a symposium on the “Born to Run” box set as well as its historical and cultural significance.  There’s a nice cover story on it in the current “Uncut,” which I was pleased to see, for both personal and journalistic reasons, offers credit at the end to It Ain't No Sin To Be Glad You're Alive.  It’d be nice if American magazines were as honest about their source material.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Fortune Elkins
Hometown:  Bklyn, NY
Dear Eric,
Re: Michael Rapoport's "something Charles Krauthammer got right."  Except he didn't.  Krauthammer completely mischaracterizes the religious beliefs of Sir Isaac Newton.  They were not traditional at all.  In fact, as has been known since at least the 1930s, a perusal of Newton's papers in Jerusalem show that he was anti-Trinitarian and possibly also doubted the divinity of Christ.  (See also here for scholarly papers on this.)  Some who read the Principia closely argue that the geometrical proof of the inverse square law may also hint that he held an unorthodox view of the position of Mary.  These ideas would have been considered heretical in England in Newton's lifetime and he could have been imprisoned for them.  Thus he took care to hide them.  As one who has had the pleasure of reading a large section of Newton's work itself, there's no doubt that he believed that the use of human reason in pursuit of a mathematically based, systematic explanation for natural events would however reveal laws so elegant and universal they would have to have had a divine authorship.  Newton writes plainly: "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being."  Principia, Book III.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Dear Eric,
Regarding Siva's excellent comments about the UN weapons inspectors, everyone should take the time to read the report Hans Blix filed with the Security Council on March 7, 2003.  He noted that his inspectors had "faced relatively few difficulties" in gaining access to the sites they wanted to inspect and that "at this juncture we are able to perform professional no-notice inspections all over Iraq and to increase aerial surveillance."  In other words, Saddam Hussein's resistance to inspections was eroding and the inspections were working.  Thirteen days later, the bombing of Baghdad began.

Name: John
Hometown: Kinnelon, NJ
Here's why we can't leave.  Never a real supporter of the War in Iraq, I have to support the President's overt efforts to get us more of a foothold in the region in preparation for the oil wars by citing it as "spreading freedom."  Frankly, who cares about Iraqi freedom - America is oil dependent and Iraq's in the middle of the Middle East.  Our suburban economy will virtually collapse without oil.  From plastic computers to gas for our Hummers, we are oil junkies.  I love hearing people say "it's not about the oil."  Sounds like an alcoholic's "I don't have a problem."  Sure, it's ALL about oil.  Using the DOE's own estimates, there are an estimated 1 trillion barrels in untapped oil reserves worldwide (and even that's a big guess).  At 84 million barrels per day of worldwide consumption, our life of luxury is limited to, say, 35 years.  Strange how THAT statistic never makes the State of the Union speeches.  We'll be feeling the crunch long before that though, probably as early as 10 years from now as China, India, and Russia consume more and more of the liquid gold and production starts to decline.  When that time comes, we'll be fighting a turf battle for oil.  Kuddos to Bush for making the necessary play to get into Iraq.  Really, we just didn't know if Saddam had WMDs or not and we couldn't risk him having the stuff when the oil wars start up.  Nothing like a madman in that critical region to foul up the works when we need a fix to stop the economic shakes we're sure to have.  Of course, you didn't hear any of that from Bush.  If you had, China and Russia would probably be invading Iran and Saudi Arabia to position themselves as well.  Talk about a real-world game of Risk!  The secrecy of Cheney's energy meetings is becoming clearer isn't it?  Maybe this Administration has a patriotic plan after all.  Just not the one they're feeding us.  Now, the fact that every President back to Carter has done nothing to curb our dependency (recall Carter's "The Moral Equivalent of War" speech), we are heading towards James Kunstler's "Long Emergency" with oil-addicted impaired vision.  Maybe we should look closer to home and invade Venezuela and spread "freedom" there, too.

Name:  Bonnie Resnick
Hometown:  Rockville, MD
Eric -
We were thrown out of Uzbekistan; we didn't leave out of conscience Re Andrew LaFollette's letter, Uzbekistan told us to leave:

U.S. Evicted From Air Base In Uzbekistan
By Robin Wright and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 30, 2005; A01
Uzbekistan formally evicted the United States yesterday from a military base that has served as a hub for combat and humanitarian missions to Afghanistan since shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pentagon and State Department officials said yesterday. In a highly unusual move, the notice of eviction from Karshi-Khanabad air base, known as K2, was delivered by a courier from the Uzbek Foreign Ministry to the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, said a senior U.S. administration official involved in Central Asia policy. The message did not give a reason. Uzbekistan will give the United States 180 days to move aircraft, personnel and equipment, U.S. officials said. If Uzbekistan follows through, as Washington expects, the United States will face several logistical problems for its operations in Afghanistan. Scores of flights have used K2 monthly. It has been a landing base to transfer humanitarian goods that then are taken by road into northern Afghanistan, particularly to Mazar-e Sharif -- with no alternative for a region difficult to reach in the winter. K2 is also a refueling base with a runway long enough for large military aircraft. The alternative is much costlier midair refueling. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld returned this week from Central Asia, where he won assurances from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that the United States can use their bases for operations in Afghanistan. U.S. forces use Tajikistan for emergency landings and occasional refueling, but it lacks good roads into Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan does not border Afghanistan. "We always think ahead. We'll be fine," Rumsfeld said Sunday when asked how the United States would cope with losing the base in Uzbekistan. In May, however, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman called access to the airfield "undeniably critical in supporting our combat operations" and humanitarian deliveries. The United States has paid $15 million to Uzbek authorities for use of the airfield since 2001, he said. Yesterday, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence T. Di Rita said that the U.S. military does not depend on one base in any part of the world. "We'll be able to conduct our operations as we need to, regardless of how this turns out. It's a diplomatic issue at the moment," Di Rita said. The eviction notice came four days before a senior State Department official was to arrive in Tashkent for talks with the government of President Islam Karimov. The relationship has been increasingly tense since bloody protests in the province of Andijan in May, the worst unrest since Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns was going to pressure Tashkent to allow an international investigation into the Andijan protests, which human rights groups and three U.S. senators who met with eyewitnesses said killed about 500 people. Burns was also going to warn the government, one of the most authoritarian in the Islamic world, to open up politically -- or risk the kind of upheavals witnessed recently in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, U.S. officials said. Karimov has balked at an international probe. As U.S. pressure mounted, he cut off U.S. night flights and some cargo flights, forcing Washington to move search-and-rescue operations and some cargo flights to Bagram air base in Afghanistan and Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. As relations soured, the Bush administration was preparing for a further cutoff, U.S. officials said. The United States was given the notice just hours after 439 Uzbek political refugees were flown out of neighboring Kyrgyzstan -- over Uzbek objections -- by the United Nations. The refugees fled after the May unrest, which Uzbek officials charged was the work of terrorists. The Bush administration had been pressuring Kyrgyzstan not to force the refugees to return to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has been widely viewed as an important test for the Bush administration -- and whether the anti-terrorism efforts or promotion of democracy takes priority. "We all knew basically that if we really wanted to keep access to the base, the way to do it was to shut up about democracy and turn a blind eye to the refugees," said the senior official, on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy. "We could have saved the base if we had wanted." After the latest setback in relations, the Bush administration is going to "wait for a cooling-off period," the administration official said. "We are assuming they mean it and want us out. We are now not sending someone to Uzbekistan." The next test will be whether to withhold as much as $22 million in aid to Uzbekistan if it does not comply with provisions on political and economic reforms it committed to undertake in a 2002 strategic partnership agreement with Washington. Last year, the administration withheld almost $11 million. U.S. officials expect the Uzbek government will again be ineligible for funds.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Name: Tamara Baker
Hometown: St. Paul, MN
"Pulling out" of Uzbekistan?  No, we were kicked out.  That's how pathetic Bush is -- he can't even get fifth-rate mass murderers to do his bidding any more.

Name: ?
Hometown: South Orange, NJ
No one can replace Bill Moyers (Ted Koppel is another story), but NOW with David Brancaccio still represents very high quality investigative journalism.  My family and I watch it without fail every Friday.  Last week's show, for example, addressed corrupt and inhumane business practices among the Halliburton contractors rebuilding after Katrina.  NOW is the only place on television (other than Frontline) where you can find that kind of detailed reporting.

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
"There is no one, and nothing (but Jon Stewart) left."  I might include Olbermann in there.  At which point, the two most reliable, fair, intelligent news sources on TV are a comedian and a sportscaster.  Jesus!  How has it come to that?!?

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: 
The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
Boy, this sure faded pretty quickly.  Before it  comes back to life, readers should be aware of the:

Ramifications of Eliminating the Mortgage Tax Deduction

What are the economic ramifications of the Mortgage deduction being eliminated?  How likely is it that such a significant tax change is actually enacted?

Ever since the President's tax reform policy suggested capping the mortgage deduction at significantly lower levels, I've been wondering what the economic ramifications of this would be. Especially now, coming at the tail end of a huge Real Estate cycle.

The entire issue may be moot -- at least for now -- given the present political situation.  Perhaps if President Bush were at full political strength, if he wasn't dealing with numerous crises and scandals and staff indictments and the fading support for the war in Iraq, while still smarting from the rejection of social security reform, and if his own polling numbers were not at an all time low in popularity -- if all that were not weighing against him, the chance of eliminating or greatly modifying the home mortgage deduction might be 15-25%.  Given his current predicament*, my expectations are that eliminating this extremely popular -- even beloved -- deduction are all but impossible.  (It's surprising the opposition has not made more hay over this).

The home mortgage deduction is so ingrained into the economic fiber of the country, that the potential consequences of altering this are ginormous.  The risk to overall economy, if this were to be even slightly mishandled, would be devastating.  As is, the impact would be very significant, given Real Estate's contribution to the economy.

This is especially true, given the factors which have been driving the Real Estate boom.

Recall that back in May of this year, we referenced Northern Trust's Asha Banglore, whose research showed that from 2001 to April 2005, 43.0% of private sector jobs were housing related.  In this week's Sunday Times, Daniel Gross further explored the correlation between Housing and Job creation (As the McMansions Go, So Goes Job Growth):

These data points are potentially worrisome, and not only for the legions of real estate brokers and Sheetrock layers toiling in offices and job sites across the country. In recent years, economists from Alan Greenspan on down have been discussing the way rising home prices and the growth of home-equity borrowing have fueled consumer spending, the piston that drives the country's economic engine. But in recent years, housing, real estate and the related industries have become a huge factor in another crucial economic area: employment growth.

After the brief and shallow recession of 2001, the resilient United States economy stubbornly failed to create payroll jobs at the rate of past recoveries. Economists and politicians blamed factors and trends like outsourcing, global trade, high benefit costs and productivity growth. But amid the gloom, the real estate sector shouldered the burden of job creation.
...
As a result of the boom, the economy is more concentrated on housing than ever before. "Residential investment as a share of gross domestic product is at the highest level in 50 years," said Jan Hatzius, senior economist at Goldman, Sachs."

When discussing these data points just 6 months ago, I found the pushback significant.  There has been less reluctance to acknowledge this issue more recently.  It's intriguing to see how these ideas have slowly come to be accepted by the mainstream.

An earlier NYT article looked at another aspect of the proposed Tax changes:  How they fall on people, based upon various economic classes:

Possibly the greatest NYT graphic ever.

Was there a nefarious ulterior motive in the way this was executed?  In an earlier piece by Dan Gross, (Tax 'em Till They Turn Red) the elimination of the Mortgage deduction -- or more accurately, capping it at a much lower level than the present ~$ million dollars -- is a way to offset tax revenue losses from eliminated the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

How much revenue? An expected $1.2 trillion over 10 years. And, as David Rosenbaum reported in an Oct. 19 New York Times article (which you now have to pay to read online), the panel came up with two simplification plans. Both would severely limit the size of the home mortgage deduction. Now the deduction applies to up to the first $1 million of a mortgage. The panel's plans would cut it down so that it would only apply to loans that are the "maximum that the Federal Housing Administration will insure." The sum varies by market, but the maximum is $312,895 and the national average is $244,000. Both plans would eliminate deductions for interest on home-equity loans or mortgages for vacation homes. And both would eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes paid, including property taxes.

Fascinatingly, Gross observes that the changes recommended by a commission appointed by the President will have much greater negative effects on taxpayers in Democratic regions. It's as if the tax changes are a form of economic gerrymandering whose impact will be to significantly reduce the net take-home pay of (surprise!) Democratic donors.

He proposes quite a fascinating thought experiment:

"Go to Realtor.com, punch in your ZIP code and a price point, then punch in another ZIP code in a different part of the country and the same price point, and check out the astonishing difference in what you get."

Doing so reveals that the so-called Blue states where there are a high level of Government services, higher income, higher state and local taxes.  Property values are significantly higher. The mortgage deduction in these regions is worth quite a lot more than it might be in the lower tax/lower property value Red states.

Fascinating analysis...

Sources:
As the McMansions Go, So Goes Job Growth
DANIEL GROSS
NYT, November 20, 2005

What's Behind the Boom
JAMES R. HAGERTY
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, November 21, 2005; Page R4

Goodbye, My Sweet Deduction
EDUARDO PORTER and DAVID LEONHARDT
NYT, November 3, 2005

Tax 'em Till They Turn Red
The Bush tax panel's plan to screw Democrats.
Daniel Gross, moneybox
Slate, Posted Monday, Oct. 31, 2005, at 5:02 PM ET

November 22, 2005 | 12:51 PM ET | Permalink

Forty-two percent of Americans consider him honest, here.  That’s thirteen points higher than Dick Cheney, here.

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: A Reality-Based Community
Eric:
I think you should give credit to W and his administration for two other foreign-policy moves that were both reasonable and well executed.

First, this administration confronted the government of Sudan and forced it to deal with the civil war in southern Sudan.  The peace has generally held.  The administration's hypocritical failure to deal with the genocide in Darfur (perhaps because, unlike in the north-south conflict, Christians were not dying) should not prevent us from giving credit for the good thing.

Second, in a moment of sanity and clarity, the Bush administration convinced the UN Security Council to get serious with Saddam in 2002.  As a result of credible and reasonable multilateral threats, Saddam re-admitted UN weapons inspectors after four years of absence.  Had W simply gone with that as his strategy and supported the inspectors in their pursuit of the truth, we would have avoided this bloody mistake in Iraq.  Saddam would have played games.  We would have had to threaten invasion a few more times.  The weapons inspectors would have done their job, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Saddam had scrapped his weapons caches and programs years ago and was just boasting about them to generate fear among the Kurds.

Oddly, when faced with invasion, Saddam finally admitted he had been bluffing for years.  Alas, this president was not interested in the truth -- largely because the truth would have eliminated the facade that seemed to justify an invasion he had already decided on.  Of course, even with limited time to do their jobs, the weapons inspectors declared they had no reason to believe any of the U.S. intelligence information.  None of the sites that supposedly had stockpiles of weapons had any.  The inspectors knew this.  We knew this.  Only the administration and its toadies (and a few naive liberals) thought otherwise.

What else might have happened?  The Shiites and the Kurds might have asserted their independence more fervently once it became clear that Saddam had no force to speak of.  The Kurds had already been living in a de facto peaceful democracy since the mid-1990s.  The Shiites might have taken things into their own hands this time, instead of depending on U.S. lies like they did under George H. W. Bush.  There might have been some unrest.  But Saddam would not have been able to terrorize his citizens like he had in the past.  A multinational force could have stopped any genocide he chose to wage in the aftermath.  Given a clear example of genocidal aggression, we certainly could have coordinated a humanitarian force that included Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.  Strange things might have happened.  Saddam might still be ruling a rump Sunni Iraq.  But he would have revealed himself to be the weak, petty thug that he always was.  He would have gone from seeming like Adolf Hitler to Idi Amin.  That's a pretty good transition at low cost.  Alas, this president had no interest in managing a problem.  He was more interested in boosting his ideology and the fortunes of Halliburton (it was not about the supply of oil, Stupid, but the control of oil).

Still, let's admit it.  W did a few things right before he turned two victories into defeats.  His incompetence and dishonesty undermined a couple of rather impressive victories.  He is the diplomatic equivalent of the Texas Rangers' bullpen.

With Bill Moyers in retirement, the retirement of Ted Koppel signals the end of serious people committing themselves to television news, alas.  There is no one, and nothing (but Jon Stewart) left.  Cue the Wasteland, here.

Quote of the Day, Edward M. Kennedy:

"The only thing dishonest and reprehensible is the way the administration distorted, misrepresented and manipulated the intelligence to justify a war America never should have fought," adding, "It defies belief that the vice president can continue to say with a straight face that Congress had the same intelligence as the president and vice president had."
Here.

France's failures, hatred, and signs of a new look at America;  The Anti-Anti-Americans — 13,000 words by Paul Berman and none of it, really is terribly objectionable, and most of it is pretty great.  Unlike Iraq, where my friend has turned out to be wrong, wrong, wrong, I defer to Paul on all matters French save those related to wine, women and song.  One thing this piece could have used, however, is a better distinction between reasons why the rest of the world has a right to fear the consequences of American power and condemn aspects of its culture and those that are driven by paranoia and insecurity.  Quite a feat, I’d say.

Don’t miss David Bell either, here.

Back-scratching in our time.  Ariel Levy wrote a 6,000 plus word profile of Maureen Dowd in New York that contained not a single negative word.  Asked about contemporary “girlie girls” in a Times chat, MoDo returns the favor: “A. I recommend reading Ariel Levy's new book, 'Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.'  It has a lot of interesting material linking the red state surge and the self-actualized sex kitten surge." [ Link]

'The Tongue Is the Pen of the Heart': As Yiddish 'Dies,' Yiddish Lives here.

R.I.P. Link Wray

Let’s hope he doesn’t shoot up the newsroom one of these days, here.

I’m available.

From McSweeney’s:

Bruce Springsteen Songs, If the Title More Accurately Reflected the Subject Matter

"You and I Are Confronting the Industrialized Wasteland Alone, and We Must Cling Together, for We Are Beset on All Sides by Inescapable Oblivion"

"I Have Deep-Seated Emotional Issues With My Father That Cannot Be Resolved Despite My Attempts to Communicate With Him in a Meaningful Fashion"

"You Were Once Attractive, but I Have Grown Weary of Your Company, Even Though I Have Not Forgotten That Previously We Had a Meaningful and Romantic Courtship"

"Vietnam Ruined My Life and the Lives of Those Close to Me" (Repeat)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Michael Rapoport
Comments:
Eric:
I'll give the issue of what Bush has gotten right some consideration - but in the meantime, will you settle for something Charles Krauthammer has gotten right?  (By the way, even if you read this column in the print Post, look at it online - specifically, the ads generated by the washingtonpost.com search engine. The column mentions Isaac Newton and the Kansas State Board of Education, so of course the ads all have to do with hotels in the town of Newton, Kansas. Oy.) 

And on comics:  This may not be the first time the NYT Book Review has reviewed a comic, but it may be the first time it's reviewed a 20-year-old comic, albeit one that richly deserves all the attention it gets.  You HAVE read "Watchmen," haven't you?  If you haven't, what are you waiting for?  You don't need to spring for the pricey super-deluxe special-edition version reviewed here; just buy the original.

Re the "Masters of American Comics" exhibit:  It's now in L.A., through mid-March, jointly at the UCLA Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art.  It'll be at the Milwaukee Art Museum next April through August, and it comes to the NYC area, at the Jewish Museum and the Newark Museum, from Sept. '06 through Jan. '07.  See here.

Name: Andrew LaFollette
Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
Hello Eric,
In the holiday spirit, here's one other small bit of praise for the worst President in modern American history:  At least we're pulling our troops out of Uzbekistan .  Uzbekistan has long been one of the more glaring examples of neocon hypocrisy on the issue of democracy promotion-- railing against tyranny in Syria and Iran, while quietly paying rent to the substantially bloodier and more repressive Karimov regime.  Perhaps someone in the White House has finally developed a conscience... or at least a modicum of common sense.

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
Dear Eric,
Let's assume (contrary to fact) that everything Bush and Cheney told us about Iraq before the war was true.  Hussein was a major threat worthy of war because he had lots of WMD and ties to Bin Laden.  Thanks to our war, we have now confirmed that Hussein was not a threat, had no WMD, and had no ties to Bin Laden.  Plus, Hussein is in jail, his would be successor sons are dead, and his regime is deposed.  Mazel tov, right?  So since when is it "cutting and running," "retreating" or "cowardice," as Cheney and other Republicans have suggested of war critics, to leave when you have accomplished your stated mission?  Isn't leaving common sense?  But if the goal in Iraq is to stay until every last potential evildoer is dead or has obtained a new personality, we'll be in Iraq forever, and the bulk of our military will be eternally tied up fighting a couple of branches on one tree in the evildoer forest.  Does Bush know what "re-evaluation" means?

November 21, 2005 | 11:43 AM ET | Permalink

One argument you often heard from liberal hawks before the Iraq invasion was that, "well, we did a nice job in Afghanistan, so what’s so hard about Iraq?” We heard the same thing from those smart liberals, like Jake Weisberg, who wish to argue that Bush can’t possibly be as bad as stupid liberals like yours truly argue. Well, this Washington Post piece on Afghanistan would argue that these liberal hawks/liberal “Bush Ain’t So Bad” types are jes’ whistlin’ Dixie when it comes to Afghanistan, which now betrays all of the symptoms of Bush/Cheney malign neglect.

Still, we are generous folk at Altercation and we’ve decided to do our opponents’ work for them. It is true, as they would have it, that not absolutely everything Bush and his advisers do is uniformly horrible. Here are two pretty decent things of recent times. Really. Let’s all add to the list. It will show how reasonable we are about this fellow whom we’ve frequently proven (not argued, but proven) to be a liar, an incompetent, and an ideological extremist.

  1. Ben S. Bernanke appointed as head of the Fed
  2. Condi Rice throws away her schedule and negotiates a deal to open up Gaza

(OK, that’s two.  See, I’ll bet you thought that was a setup.)

Still, you can’t keep up with the lies, part XVIII here:

“According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said… The White House, for example, ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball's account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq's biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years.

At the Central Intelligence Agency, officials embraced Curveball's account even though they could not confirm it or interview him until a year after the invasion. They ignored multiple warnings about his reliability before the war, punished in-house critics who provided proof that he had lied and refused to admit error until May 2004, 14 months after the invasion.”

Congrats to Drogin and Goetz on this report. If only we had gotten this kind of thing when it might have prevented a war.

Some 2,000 U.S. troops dead, 15,000 wounded, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, world hates us, and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted…. Thanks again, Ralph.

I realize it’s too much for so strong a war supporter to admit that his arguments have led to a human and strategic catastrophe, but just what is David Brooks smoking when he writes, “Re-enlistment rates are high because most American troops believe they can create a better Iraq.”

Here is a the lead sentence of an article that appeared in his newspaper two days before his false and unsupported assertion was published: “The military is falling far behind in its effort to recruit and re-enlist soldiers for some of the most vital combat positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new government report.”

This is consistent with what has been happening ever since the Iraq war began. “Facing its worst enlistment crisis since the all-volunteer army began in 1973, the shortfall in manpower grew so acute that beginning in 2005, the military began accepting new recruits with criminal records and pending criminal charges -- and to offer them enlistment bonuses ranging from $14,400 to $20,000 in addition to as much as $70,000 towards college loan repayments. To retain soldiers already enlisted, the army was forced to offer as much as $150,000 to some soldiers in key areas as a means of retaining them. The Pentagon also asked Congress to lift the age of military recruits to 42, a full six years older than it had been three years earlier. [i][i] Despite all of these inducements, all three services continued to miss their recruiting missions.”

Once again I ask Gail Collins and the rest of the Times op-ed team: Is a Times column considered a license to lie?

Liberal hawks can’t admit they were wrong, part XXVVI: I usually admire Jonathan Chait,  but not here: “I believe that liberals loathe the war because they loathe Bush, rather than vice versa. What they want above all is for Bush to admit he made some huge mistakes in Iraq.”

Now try this:

“What was I thinking? Transforming an Arab, Islamic dictatorship like Iraq with an unstable population make-up and thousands of years of cultural isolation into a democracy, whatever the reason -- and we were consistently lied to about those -- would have been a Herculean and possibly impossible task under any circumstances and with the most enlightened of leaders. To try to do it with virtually the entire world against us and with the likes of these dishonest, incompetent, torture-justifying, ideological extremists running things was the height of folly as I now realize. In any case, I apologize to all my liberal anti-war friends for (occasionally? Consistently? Obliquely?) doubting your motives. You were right. I was wrong. I will never place my trust in these people again.”

The rest of you smart guys have that one for free too.

The scandal continues here. It would have been too  much to expect Kit Seeleye and the Times Business section to really go after Howie Kurtz’s various conflicts of interests and the myriad examples that Mickey Kaus and I have detailed here and elsewhere over the years. And I admit it would have been a lot of work. I am quoted at the end of the piece, only to be pooh-poohed by a journalist from the City Paper in Washington, who can expect a friendly call from Howie soon, with an invitation to lunch sometime no doubt, and maybe the suggestion that he really should be working at the Post… . Still, a phone call or e-mail from Ms. Seeleye to me would have put her on course to at least judge some of the case against Kurtz, instead of ignoring so much of it. And man, does Downie get off easy…

Speaking of me and Howie, look at this from the now infamous Gigot/Tomlinson e-mails:

From Gigot to Tomlinson (Aug. l3, 2004): btw, the Alterman column won't hurt. He's the guy who continually writes that howard kurtz is a right-winger.

From Tomlinson to Gigot (same day): Paul -- oh, I agree. You cannot touch this. But I will try to get someone interesting in laughing at these clowns.

And here is the Nation column that pissed them off:

It still may call itself investigative journalism -- and so it once was -- but now it's really just a glittering and carefully choreographed waltz in which all the dancers share the unspoken agreement that the one unpardonable faux pas is to ask who's calling the tune.

Excellent piece by the LAT’s Tim Rutten, here.

Money for Nothing? Is this fair? The Times Sunday Styles section plays this story as famous rock stars cashing in on nouveau riche a**holes with too much money paying for insanely expensive weddings and bar-mitvahs. But could we please make a significant distinction between Paul McCartney, Elton John, and others who to do this kind of thing in order to support charitable causes, and those stars who are just slumming to line their own pockets? The Times did the same thing to Dave Eggers a few years ago. It is a noble thing to separate well-to-do people from their wallets in order to support charitable causes. It is not money-grubbing as the Times so frequently wishes to portray it. (To be fair, this “Today’s Paper’s” description makes the article appear far worse than it is. Here is its entirely indiscriminate description: “Even more venerable acts like the Rolling Stones and Elton John will play a wedding reception if the price is right -- and the guests promise not to tell anyone.” 

And speaking of which, Little Roy is all upset about this McCarthyite attack on the Democrats. Seems to me it’s not nearly as bad as his hysteria about Fifth Column decadent elites in the very same city that had just been attacked. Methinks that Andy deserves his own “Malkin” award permanently tattooed on his forehead; what he certainly does not deserve, particularly since he is getting paid by AOLTimeWarnerCNNETC, is your money, for which I see he is still trolling. Give the money instead to UNICEF to fight AIDS in Africa. (If Andy disagrees, this space is his to make a counter-argument.)

How messed up is our political system? A Republican woman who calls decorated Marines cowards defeats a Democratic soldier who served in Iraq by playing the hyper-patriotism card.

Gore/Obama, 08.

Tramps like Frist, McConnell, Santorum  -- they were born to run away.

Alter-reviews:

Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings
Catalog of the exhibition by Colta Ives, Susan Alyson Stein, Sjraar van Heughten, and Marije Vellekoop
An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 18–December 31, 2005.
Metropolitan Museum of Art/Van Gogh Museum/Yale University Press, 380 pp., $65.00; $45.00 (paper)

I’m not sure I have a lot to add to what Mr. Updike writes here except to note the comparison he makes to the Vermeer exhibition, which was the greatest art exhibition of all time, so crowds are crowds for a reason. In this case, the night I saw the Van Gogh (who was my lifelong favorite painter before I saw the Vermeers and now it’s like no contest), it was comically crowded. And the funny thing about Van Gogh’s drawings is that, while they are terrific, the definition he was able to achieve is awe-inspiring; they are also, in this extremely unlettered (when it comes to art) opinion, besides the point. Every so often the exhibition will include one of his paintings and it just serves to remind that his true genius was his use of color, not his drawing ability. So actually, this catalogue really does the trick, since you can examine the drawings up close without half of New Delhi in your way.

I’m also grateful to my new friends at Yale for publishing Masters of American Comics, which is something I’ve needed for a long time: thoughtful essays about the great comics of the past century, placed in historical context, alongside samples of the work itself. Some of the essays are more cute than informative, alas.

But it really fills a void, at least insofar as I am aware. The exhibition is traveling now, so pay attention.

Finally, I am so far from qualified to review Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction by Joseph Dan, just published by Oxford, that I won’t even try, but it looks to be a lot more useful for these purposes than say, a Madonna album. PW says it “offers deep history in succinct fashion, resulting in a fascinating and highly readable effort." Of course that guy might not know what he’s talking about either, but I found it highly readable and informative, too. If some smart Kabbalah-ist wants to send in a short review, I’ll print it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jeff Myhre
Hometown: New York, NY

Dear Eric, I would just like to know why Mr. Bush has decided to Cut and Run in Afghanistan! There are 20,000 Yankee troops there now, and this spring 4,000 are leaving with more out later in the year. With the Taliban still carrying weapons, with the druglords now producing 80% of the world's heroin there and with President Karzai's writ barely making it to the suburbs of Kabul, there is no way the Afghans are standing up so we can stand down. A couple of links to back up this take on the Murtha-like "surrender" in Afghanistan:

Sorry, but the American press doesn't seem to have anything on this.

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
Your friend Stupid refers to the Rove Republicans, facetiously (or maybe ironically), as the party willing to do "whatever it takes" in their war on terrorism. But if they really are the ones willing to do "whatever it takes", then why are Osama and Zarqawi still at large? Could it be that "whatever it takes" doesn't work? Maybe someone should ask them.

Name: Alan Breslauer
Hometown: Los Angeles CA

Does it offend you when Paul Gigot sends an email to Ken Tomlinson stating, "I don't know anyone who takes alterman seriously, and all his accusations are years old." Just one of many outrageous and funny things in their released email exchange. Take a look if you have not already.

Name: Larry
Hometown: Denton, TX

Hi Eric, In your review of Woodward's book, you wrote: "That's too bad, because unfortunately Cheney is nuts." It reminded me of this lyric from a Dylan song: The next day everybody got up Seein' if the clothes were dry. The dogs were barking, a neighbor passed, Mama, of course, she said, "Hi!" "Have you heard the news?" he said, with a grin, "The Vice-President's gone mad!" "Where?" "Downtown." "When?" "Last night." "Hmm, say, that's too bad!" "Well, there's nothin' we can do about it," said the neighbor, "It's just somethin' we're gonna have to forget." "Yes, I guess so," said Ma, Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet.

Donald L Feinberg
Naperville, IL
Apparently putting human rights at the top of his agenda, President Bush tried to promote religious tolerance and freedom in China on Sunday, by attending church services before meeting top leaders. In an object lesson we are all supposed to emulate, in the church's guestbook the President wrote: "May God bless the Christians of China." In his quest to promote religious freedom, Bush clearly prefers that the Christians (4% of the population) of China be blessed, while he feels that the (96% of the population) Chinese of other faiths are not so worthy of God's blessings.

And I had thought the President was an evangelical?  Just four days previously, police in central China arrested 130 members of an underground Christian evangelical group, including three American citizens.  The church members were seized in an afternoon raid in Henan province's Xihua county, in central China, and have been detained at the county jail, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy has reported.

Uh, Mr. Bush?

Mr. Bush also said nothing about the Buddhists - another "tiny" sect in China.  Perhaps he could have asked the Chinese to stop persecuting the Buddhists?

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[i][i]
Page 1A
Soldiers re-enlist beyond U.S. goal
Troops help offset recruiting shortfall
By Dave Moniz
USA TODAY , July 18, 2005

and

Army Boosts Benefits for Recruits Taking High-Demand Jobs
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 22, 2005; A09
A2005

Pentagon Proposes Rise in Age Limit for Recruits
By DAMIEN CAVE, NYT, July 22, 2205,

November 18, 2005 | 12:53 PM ET | Permalink

Two new columns:  “Why not, Messrs Sulzberger and Keller, rescue the Times by rescuing the news as well?” — "The Lies That Bind," here and Think Again: "The New Rules of the Game," here.

Another day, Another ‘Mission Accomplished’:  "Suicide bombers killed 65 worshippers at two mosques in eastern Iraq on Friday while in Baghdad two car bombs targeted a hotel housing foreign journalists and killed eight Iraqis," reports the AP .

Inadvertent Quote of the Day;  Why we may be in Iraq forever: "As parents of young children and dog owners know, it takes longer to clean up a mess than to make one."  ( The White House)

Ideologues, incompetents, crooks and thieves, part XVII:  (I’m sure this guy “has a good heart” and that Bush has “looked into his soul,” so no worries...

A clarification in re Noam Chomsky from the Guardian to which we had previously linked, here.

Bush's War on the Press by John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney (but um, hey, guys, we used that title here).  And congratulations to me on that essay being included in this year’s Best American Political Writing, 2005, here.

Speaking of Dick Cheney’s other best friend, I reviewed Woodward’s first, awful book on the war, here, and wrote a column about his much better one here.

Neocons next target:  Jordan.  In today's IPF Friday, MJ Rosenberg quotes from an editorial in the neoconservative New York Sun, the day after  62 innocent people died in the hotel terror attacks in Amman -- endorsing Israel's annexing of.....Jordan, Yup.  Not just the West Bank but the East Bank, the entire country of Jordan.  At least Doug Feith is no longer at the Pentagon to sell the idea to Cheney and Rumsfeld.  These people are truly mad.  On the other hand, Condi Rice did actually produce the Gaza agreement which is an important step toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.  Maybe Rice understands that the neocons who produced the Iraq war are the same folks who pushed the administration into backing Israel's hardliners.  Maybe Bush is pissed and has decided to dump the whole lot of them for getting him into the Iraq quagmire.  And all their "policies" too.  Let 'em work for Netanyahu! Here.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it’s Stupid to be Machiavellian (again).  Recently ABC published some poll results with generally good news for the Dems.  The public trusts them more than the Republicans to do a better job on nearly every issue, including taxes.  There is only one exception: terrorism.  Presuming Karl Rove has the same information, ask yourself why the Administration fights so hard against Congressional moves to ban torture.  Do they really believe torture is a reliable and vital tool to our intelligence effort, worth the damage caused to our public image, or do they figure that somewhere down the road we’re going to start to see terrorist attacks at home and the public will remember which party is willing to do “whatever it takes”?

Am I saying the left is wrong to protest the Administration’s tolerance for torture?  No, but for every word they say about torture, they should be saying ten about preparedness.  This week CNN ran a report saying there is effectively –nothing– to stop a terrorist from blowing up an airplane:  legions of cargo containers are left unguarded.  Moreover, the Administration, at the behest of the cargo industry, blocked a bipartisan move to address this.  Bet you dollars to donuts that most voters know something about the torture debate and don’t have a clue as to the cargo fiasco.  Where’s a Move-On TV campaign when you need one?  Let’s look where we are: gerrymandering makes winning the House an uphill struggle, the Senate is naturally tilted to the GOP, and remember Osama bin Laden’s “Hey America, I hate Dubya!” October Surprise in the 2004 election?  Those aspen roots aren’t connected on purpose, but they’re still connected...

Name: Jason
Hometown: Germantown, MD
One thing that many people (including one of your respondents) seem not to grasp is the regular jargon of Washington.  What the Robb-Silberman report and the White House Web site both correctly state is that LEGISLATORS (congressional intelligence committees) saw the same intelligence (NIEs) that the President (PDBs) and the senior POLICYMAKERS-i.e. cabinet level administration officials (SEIBs) saw.  The report, in fact, makes it clear that senior policymakers (heads of IC and other cabinet-level agencies) were not presented with evidence of dissent between the intelligence community's analysts.  Also, as the report makes plain, the PDB (president/vice president level) and SEIB (senior executive level-secretary/deputy- and under-secretary level) claims were even more insistent on Iraq nuclear/chem/bio ambitions than were the NIEs that the Congress saw.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Albany, NY
When Dr. Breland and others talk about intelligent design, I'm reminded of Richard Feynman's 1974 commencement address at Caltech.  In explaining the scientific method, he contrasted it with "Cargo Cult Science."  Criticizing pseudo-science, he said:

We really ought to look into theories that don't work, and science that isn't science.  I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science.  In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people.  During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now.  So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land.  They're doing everything right.  The form is perfect.  It looks exactly the way it looked before.  But it doesn't work.  No airplanes land.  So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

He went on to explain that what was missing was scientific integrity - doing all one could to enable others to test your theory and possibly prove it wrong.  It's impossible to imagine any proponent of ID displaying that kind of scientific integrity.  You can find his whole speech here.  There's also an excellent discussion of intelligent design, creationism, and science, titled " Intelligent Design Has No Place in the Science Curriculum," here.

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