December 23, 2005 | 10:41 AM ET | Permalink

A new Think Again column:  'Humility' is Front Page News, here.

The strike is over, leaving at least 123 reasons to  be glad you live here, or wish you did, beginning with this one.  74.3 percent of New Yorkers voted against Bush.  In Manhattan, the number was  81.7 percent.

Future historians will muse on the fact that we were the city (or “decadent fifth column coastal enclave” as Andrew Sullivan would put it), that suffered the attack for which George Bush pretended to be retaliating—or protecting us from another such one—and yet we saw through him better than anyone.  On the other hand, a full 18 percent of Americans say that was the reason they were voting for him.  Sorry to be blunt, here, people, but that was just nuts.  Personally, and this may be your only excuse: I think the SCLM bears the lion’s share of responsibility for your confusion on this point.  Where were the reports on the deliberately doctored intel?  Where were the reports on illegal torture prisons and domestic spying?  Why was Judy Miller still writing on the Times’ front page?  Where were the exposes of Karl Rove’s and Lewis Libby’s campaign of character assassination?  And finally, where are the stories of this administration’s AWOL performance on almost all aspects of homeland security?  Take it away, Brownie.

Lie of the Day I:   Congress granted Bush the right to spy on Americans.

Lie of the Day II: The bin Laden satellite phone was blown by the media:

President Bush asserted this week that the news media published a U.S. government leak in 1998 about Osama bin Laden's use of a satellite phone, alerting the al Qaeda leader to government monitoring and prompting him to abandon the device.

The story of the vicious leak that destroyed a valuable intelligence operation was first reported by a best-selling book, validated by the Sept. 11 commission and then repeated by the president.

But it appears to be an urban myth.

The al Qaeda leader's communication to aides via satellite phone had already been reported in 1996 -- and the source of the information was another government, the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan at the time.

The second time a news organization reported on the satellite phone, the source was bin Laden himself.

Causal effects are hard to prove, but other factors could have persuaded bin Laden to turn off his satellite phone in August 1998. A day earlier, the United States had fired dozens of cruise missiles at his training camps, missing him by hours.

Bush made his assertion at a news conference Monday, in which he defended his authorization of warrantless monitoring of communications between some U.S. citizens and suspected terrorists overseas. He fumed that "the fact that we were following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone made it into the press as the result of a leak." He berated the media for "revealing sources, methods and what we use the information for" and thus helping "the enemy" change its operations.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday that the president was referring to an article that appeared in the Washington Times on Aug. 21, 1998, the day after the cruise missile attack, which was launched in retaliation for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa two weeks earlier.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to judge Dubya against his own standards.  If I could have five minutes with the President, I'd read his 2001 inauguration speech to him.  It's flowery and vague, as you might expect, but in the middle he identified five specific policy issues.  The first was public education, and there was a time I would have given Dubya some credit here.  I love the approach of the No Child Left Behind Act: in theory it combines the best of liberalism (e.g., mandate tutors for students in low achieving schools) and conservatism (accountability for poor school performance).  I'd show Dubya some stunning data for the few students his underfunded law worked as-planned and ask why not for all? 

Next, Dubya said we needed to reform Social Security and Medicare so as to not burden our children.  "But Stupid," Dubya would say, "I tried, remember?"  And I would reply, "Only for Social Security, and you gave up.  You could have funded your private account proposal with, say, a windfall oil profits tax.  And don’t even start me on Medicare.” 

Third issue: lower taxes -- Dubya smirks because, you know, what can I say? 

Fourth issue: he vowed to rebuild the military "lest weakness invite challenge."  I'd ask if he remembers when the neocons were calling on Rumsfeld to resign back in 2001 -- not for incompetence, but in protest because the military was not being funded to “two war capability” levels.  Today the military says we’re at something like “war with complete victory/war with victory but no occupation” capability, which sounds a lot like “war-hold-war” to me.

The last issue was – get this -- weapons of mass destruction.  Were they already laying the groundwork to confront Iraq?  Or less cynically, were they ready to get behind the Nunn-Lugar effort to seriously address nuclear nonproliferation?  If so, I'd ask about the proposed cuts in his 2006 budget proposal for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.  We balked at the treaty but have contributed to their programs for detecting clandestine underground nuclear tests.  With Iran on the brink of having nukes and our own intelligence not exactly infallible, it’s hard to conceive this move.  But then I would wish him a Merry Christmas and leave to check out the new Smithsonian Native-American museum before my flight home.  Have a great holiday, y’all!

Oh, and yet another reminder/nag/cajole on the school supply project:  I'm going to pick up the shipping costs for stuff bought with contributions received this year, so if you ever wanted to say "you know, I once sent [your favorite school supply here] to Iraq" here's your chance!  A buck, for example, buys a kid a big pack of pencils.  More buys more!  If the spirit moves you, the PayPal address is: IraqSchools@hotmail.com

This just in:  Hey, Lookit Major Bob.

Name:  Gerald Barker
Hometown: Cookeville, TN
Following up on your claim to like John Gibson, you might want to see this link.  Seems he's 'in-character' even off the air.

Name: Mike Freed
Hometown: Parker, CO
As someone who works in the homebuilding industry, I can say pretty conclusively that it's hard to blame the Bush Administration for the overheated real estate market that is making housing increasingly unaffordable.  The key factor driving rising real estate prices is low mortgage rates, which is enabling even moderately affluent people to buy far more expensive homes, or even a second or investment home.  Indeed, if we want proof that the "bubble" in many markets is interest-rate driven, we need look no further than the fact that the "bubble" is bursting at the same time that interest rates are rising.  Furthermore, mortgage interest rates tend to fluctuate in response to the stock market; a bull market tends to make mortgage rates go up, while a bear market tends to have the opposite effect.  It's no accident that in the wake of the September 11th attacks, and the subsequent stock market crash, mortgage rates fell dramatically.  Therefore, if we want to see a drop in real estate prices, all we need to see is a dramatic increase in interest rates.  However, in order for that to happen, the financial markets will have to perform poorly, which benefits no one.  Furthermore, if interest rates do rise, the same people who are priced out of homes will find themselves in an even poorer position to be able to finance those homes.  And many less affluent people who bought housing using adjustable rate or interest-only mortgages will find themselves unable to make their payments if interest rates rise.  In any case, a bear market might also wipe out the assets potential homebuyers might use as a down payment.  In short, such a thing would help no one.

How could the government ease this situation? The only conceivable way would be price controls, which just don't work. And government-sponsored loan programs, such as FHA and VA, are still very competitively priced, and offer very attractive (and liberal) terms for low-income buyers or people with less-than-perfect credit. The Bush Administration has done anything to make these programs any less viable.  It seems to me that this situation is one of those unfortunate ones in which the market will have to adjust itself before less affluent homebuyers can enter the market.  There are a lot of things one can blame President Bush for, but this isn't one of them.

Name: Patrick Weidinger
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Dear Eric,
I wanted to drop you a line to say that I agree 100% that the actions of David H Brooks, CEO of a company that sells body armor for outrageous profits to our soldiers at war, and then uses his profits to spend $10 million on a party for his daughter is a scoundrel.  However, I disagree with you when you say this man's actions increases anti-Semite beliefs in the public's mind.  As a non-Jew, I don't see this man's actions as anything other than what they really represent - that of a greedy, self-centered, out of touch jerk.  Let his daughter join the military and go to war wearing his poorly made body armor, and then let's see if he still wants to spend $10 million on a party?  In other words - get a clue you stupid a**hole!
Sincerely,
Patrick Weidinger

P.S. - Thanks for another great year of sane, rational, intelligent, and well written news and analysis.

Name: Steve McGady
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
I have said this before, long statements about police states are often hysterical, and often go unread. With respect intended to Nervous in Ohio, I roll my eyes and make the same face when reading about security checkpoints as I do when Bill O'Reilly is on TV.  Stop trying to convince your friends.  You have to convince those in the middle who are apathetic, and they not only don't buy the police state stuff, they'll just scroll past the letter. 

I will make the case that a police state is unlikely because it is unnecessary.  First, the mechanics of politics and marketing are a lot more sophisticated than they were in George Orwell's, or Hitler's day.  And few people going to buy any comparison to Nazi Germany.  The ruling minority in control simply has to rely on their core, and keep those in the middle either leaning in their direction or apathetic.  They don't have to win support, just slime the other side.  They won't give a rat's ass whether you are a member, or have ever been a member, of a subversive group.  They just marginalize your message, you God-hating, big government marriage destroying, traitorous liberal cowardly scumbag.  See how easy that was? 

All the logic in the world is no use when the facts are either covered up or disregarded because of the war on the media.  Right now I don't see the Democrats getting a majority in either house.  The Republicans have moved us onto a battlefield where the tactics are repulsive to us.  But like it or not, fear and smear is the state of the art.  We will either have to fight like this, or somehow wrestle the battle to a different type of setting.  To do that you will have to find a Democratic John McCain, and I don't see any.  Otherwise, you will go to the voting booth and vote against your local Republican Senator or Congressman, just like you did in the last 10 elections.  What did that get you?  You have got to get other people to go along with you.  And they simply won't when you talk like a lunatic, and the alternative is a President who just wants to keep us safe.

Name: Bruce Dickerson
Hometown: Centerville, IA
Eric,
As a "middle class" parent who was unfortunately unable to save much for my children's college education, the student loan situation will certainly add to our families debt.  Of course like most in the middle we have too much income for any kind of grants...and the scholarships help but aren't nearly enough.  My daughter is now a sophomore at a major state university, and even with the loans and scholarships, we still have to come up with around 7 thousand a year.  Good thing though, my wife and I like beans!

Name: Michael Bowen
Hometown: Monroe, NY
Can Republicans sink any lower?  During a special session to pass legislation to increase the penalty for cop-killers, New York State Senator William Larkin said, "These crimes that have happened in the last two weeks happened in districts that are controlled by Democrats in both [New York State] houses."  So if you live in a district that is majority Democratic, cop-killers have free rein.

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown:  The Big Picture
Hi Doc,
Lately, the White House and Treasury Department have been trumpeting the fact that the economy has created 4.4 million new jobs since May 2003.

Inquiring minds want to know: How legit is that number?  How was it derived?  How does this job-creation data compare to prior cyclical recoveries?

The full take down on the numbers can be seen here:

Rethinking the 'Strong Jobs Recovery' Scenario

Meanwhile, here's a brief excerpt:

"Job creation is crucial to any economic expansion.  It directly affects consumer spending, and it's one of two key factors determining the health of real estate (the other being interest rates).  One cannot overstate the importance of job creation to the economy.

Let's zoom in on the actual employment numbers and see what's there:

First question:  How did the White House come up with that 4.4 million new-jobs number? Is it accurate?

The answer is simple math: Measured trough to peak, there were actually almost 4.5 million new jobs created.  In May 2003, there were 129,827,000 people employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  As of November 2005, there were 134,289,000. That reflects 4,462,000 new jobs.  So the "over 4.4 million jobs created" statement is numerically accurate.

So if that number is mathematically accurate, what's the problem?

As those of us who work on Wall Street know, you typically don't get to pick your time periods when measuring performance.  You especially don't get to base it on trough-to-peak numbers.  In most any series, there are more natural time periods, e.g., year to date, one, three and five years.

As opposed to cherry-picking the most favorable-looking time periods, job creation historically has been measured from the beginning or end of the recession, which the National Bureau of Economic Research puts at March - November 2001. Another commonly used period is from the start of the president's term (Jan. 20, 2001).

When we plug those time frames into the BLS data, we derive a significantly less rosy picture: From the beginning of the recession to last month, about 1.8 million jobs were created. Measured from the end of the recession, we see 3.4 million new jobs.

None of these measures take into account the 2.6 million jobs lost from 2001 to 2003.

Note that over the course of four years, those numbers fail to keep up with population growth. The U.S., with about 275 million people, needs more than 1 million new jobs per year -- between 125,000-150,000 per month -- just to maintain the same percentage of employed relative to the labor force.

You can see the rest of the analysis here:

Rethinking the 'Strong Jobs Recovery' Scenario

December 22, 2005 | 1:54 PM ET | Permalink

Republicans to American Dream: Drop Dead

Case I, Education:  Dick Cheney rushed back to Washington yesterday to ensure, together with the Republican majority, that higher education will remain out of the reach of an increasing number of struggling students.  Here’s what happened:

“Congress raised interest rates on the popular Stafford loans to a fixed 6.8%, even if commercial rates are lower, and cut subsidies to lenders.  Other affected programs include Medicaid and pension insurance.

Though it isn't the first time the federal government has made cuts in student-aid programs, it is the largest single cut in dollar terms, and it follows years of increased federal support for these programs.
...
The changes come at a time when families have been struggling with skyrocketing tuition bills. After adjusting for inflation, private-college tuition and fees have increased 37% over the past decade, while public tuition has risen 54%. Today, most college students borrow money to pay for college. Two-thirds of undergraduates graduate with debt; among graduating seniors, the average debt load is $19,202, according to an analysis of data from the Department of Education's National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. That doesn't include any debt that their parents might incur.

Here is how the bill will affect two of the most popular student-loan programs:

Stafford loans. These are the most ubiquitous type of student loans, largely because students don't have to demonstrate need in order to secure one. The interest rate on a Stafford loan is variable and reset annually, depending on a formula that looks at prevailing market interest rates. Today, that rate is as low as 4.7%, and students can lock it in thanks to the Federal Consolidation Loan Program, which allows for a one-time opportunity to refinance.

Under the new legislation, the interest rate changes to a fixed rate of 6.8% starting July 1, 2006, on Stafford loans. While that is significantly higher than what students are currently paying, it is only slightly higher than what the average repayment rate has been since 1992-93, when the current interest-rate calculus was instituted, and is still below the current cap of 8.25%.

Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students. Under this program, money is lent directly to parents rather than students. As with Stafford loans, the variable rate is reset every year, though it is capped at 9%.

PLUS loans will become far less attractive under the new law, as interest rates on these loans will be fixed at 8.5% -- near the cap of 9%. Currently, the repayment rate on these loans is set at 6.1%.

More here. ($)

Case II. Owning Your Own Home:

At the end of the first five years of the Bush administration, Housing affordability, one of the two key building blocks of the American Dream, has hit a 14-year low, according to the National Association of Realtors' Affordability Index, a widely followed measure of the average household's ability to buy a home at current interest rates.  In some areas, including New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Miami, housing affordability has dropped to levels not seen since the early to mid-1980s, according to mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
...
Housing affordability fell nearly 9% in the third-quarter from the same period a year earlier, according to an analysis prepared for The Wall Street Journal by Moody's Economy.com, a unit of Moody's Corp., which adjusted the NAR Affordability Index for seasonal variations. Affordability dropped by more than 20% in nearly two-dozen markets, including Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., Spokane, Wash., and Orlando and Lakeland, Fla., according to the study. "You have to go back 25 years to find a decline that is as significant on a percentage basis," says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Economy.com.

More here ($)

Remember, when members of the Bush administration insist they are violating one of your previously-guaranteed Constitutional rights in order to protect us from terrorism, they are, per usual, lying.  If they were even remotely serious about protecting us, stories like this would be a lot harder to write.

Quote of the Day: "The White House did not support us," said one of Ridge's top advisers. "That occurred repeatedly. It was [as] if the White House created us and then set out to marginalize us."

What are we to make of David H. Brooks?  “The chief executive of a company that supplies body armor to the American military in Iraq, who invited 150 of his daughter's friends to the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, where they were serenaded by 50 Cent, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks and other luminaries during a birthday party reported to have cost $10 million.”  The man makes body armor remember?  Our body armor doesn’t work very well, remember, but it costs a fortune.  Soldiers are getting killed in Iraq with crappy body armor; makers of body armor are engaging in some of the most disgusting conspicuous consumption during “wartime” in all human history.  Is that the reason this Times column does not mention that we are talking about a Bat-Mitzvah?  Can there be a greater gift to anti-Semites than this man’s actions?

Father Christmas, give us some money.  We’ll beat you up if you make us annoyed.

Tom Frank responds to Larry Bartels here.

And congrats to President Bush for winning the much coveted “Failure of the Year” award, here, in a repeat performance.

The WSJ ($) has a nice piece on Rosanne here.

Christmas is turning out to be a Jewish holiday, which is fitting, because you know people, you’re celebrating a Jew. The Voice has a wrap-up of city events here.  The What I Like About Jew boychicks are on tour and will be at the Knitting Factory for four shows on the 24th and 25th.  Read all about it here.  And there’ll be a return engagement of “ Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad" on Xmas eve too, at the Cutting Room, for two shows.  (I would go to both, but the strike is really cramping my nightlife.)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jesse Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR
On the issues of electronic voting: I certainly agree with Mr. Deikman's assertions about how internet and e-commerce technologies can be used to make electronic voting safe and secure, but there's another place we can look for resources.  I have a friend who does works on slot machines, and the gaming industry could handle this with little or no problems.  Think about it: Slot machines are subject to a lot of regulation, so the industry is used to having its code analyzed.  They connect thousands of machines across the country to provide progressive jackpots.  Everything is designed to be super-secure, because they're a lot of money at stake.  Between this and everything that's been developed to keep your credit cards safe at Amazon, there's really no reason that secure, verifiable electronic voting can't be quickly and cheaply developed and implemented.  The only reasons it hasn't are either that not enough geeks are working on it, or it's in someone's interest to keep it from happening.

Name: Nervous In Ohio
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
Regarding your rather small byline titled "More good news for police state fans."  This issue has serious and grave implications yet gets exactly that much exposure.  Little to none.  Our country, founded on the beliefs that all men are created equal, that we all have certain inalienable rights that no one has the authority to remove, is now carefully and systematically removing and eroding those rights in the name of 'security'.  The federal government hasn't quite gotten to the point of requiring all citizens provide their papers at checkpoints, but it is moving closer with each added security requirement.  Apparently the state of Ohio decided the federal government wasn't moving quickly enough and chose to take it all the way as quickly as possible.  One might ask how they could possibly think they could get away with doing such a thing, but you only need to look to the highest office in the nation to see where they get the idea from. As the world continues to watch, the U.S. slowly and carefully appears to be following down a rather slippery slope of the ends justifies the means.  The President's belief that he has the authority to take anyone at any time, from anywhere in the world and make them literally disappear falls extremely close to a decree from Adolph Hitler on December 7, 1941, " Nacht und Nebel."  While the Nazi party was well known for execution of those who were considered 'enemies of the state', given the fact that the President attempted to push a new version of the Patriot Act (Patriot Act II) through Congress without public knowledge.  It was through a leak from someone 'inside' that this new legislation became public knowledge.  However, the MSM never seemed to really touch it.  The new bill, coined the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003" had far sweeping impact, allowing the government to obtain any and all information regarding anyone they chose without the requirement of the person actually having done anything wrong.  To make it even more dangerous, it was written such that disclosure of said investigation to anyone (including your defense lawyer) was a criminal offense.  It further allowed for the President to literally expel anyone from the country, regardless of citizenship if the President deemed them to be a problem of any kind. The story about the NSA being authorized to spy domestically without a warrant is yet one more step towards a police state. The President's claims regarding domestic spying falls dangerously close to a statement by Adolph Hitler when addressing the Reichstag on March 23, 1933: "The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one."  I don't know about anyone else, but as I sit here in my home I have to wonder... what kind of person can justify eliminating rights domestically and turn around telling the world we're here to promote democracy?

Name:  Rob Tannenbaum
What I Like About Jew
Hey Eric,
We're doing our best to fire some shells in the War on Christmas. Imagine how the Xians would feel if the country were 90 percent Islamic and everywhere they went, strangers shouted "Merry Ramadan!" at them.  And every time they went into a store, they heard nothing but Cat Stevens songs.  And not even those good songs he did in the '70s, but the crap he's making now.  They'd be pretty aggrieved, wouldn't they?

December 21, 2005 | 11:39 AM ET | Permalink

Power and responsibility

Overheard in a Washington souk:  If you believe they are only spying on terrorists making international phone calls, I have a war I will sell you in Iraq, really cheap.  Special for you, Americans.  A “cakewalk,” practically.  You will be welcomed as liberators.  Here too.

When the Times tells the country the truth about the lawbreaking ways of this administration, the lawbreakers call it “ a shameful act.”  Yet:

On Aug. 21, 1998, the Washington Times, the capital's unabashedly conservative newspaper, which regularly breaks more intelligence-related stories than any other daily, ran an article saying that Bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones."  This occurred less than two weeks after the destruction of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam by al-Qaida and the day after the United States had bombed al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan and Sudan.
...
If there was one piece of intelligence in the entire file on Bin Laden that might have spelled the difference between 9/11 happening or not, the satellite phone was it.  When Osama hung up for the last time, the United States lost its best chance of finding him and, perhaps, preventing the deaths of 3,000 people.

Where are the conservative cries for Rev Moon’s head?  I know, it sounds like I’m kidding, but it demonstrates the degree of intellectual dishonesty this administration demands of its supporters.

Meanwhile, the reason most people hate the MSM is not phony charges of “liberal bias” that’s just part of a bait and switch operation.  The real reason is arrogance: the media’s insistence upon exercising power without accountability or even a willingness to take responsibility.  The New York Times holds its biggest and perhaps most important scoop of the year—a story it had before the last election-- and refuses to discuss why.  Look here:

"I’m not going to talk about the back story to the story,” Mr. Keller said by phone on Dec. 20.  Maybe another time and another subject.”
...
Through a spokesperson, Mr. Sulzberger declined to comment. Managing editor Jill Abramson, Mr. Taubman, Mr. Risen and Mr. Lichtblau all declined to comment. 

(Of course to be fair, I wouldn’t talk to the New York Observer either.  Every time I have, they have gotten what I was saying completely wrong, occasionally with clear and evident malice, and once even professed to read my mind across of room of hundreds of people.  But I don’t think that’s why the Times is refusing to talk.)

The problem in New York City is also power without responsibility.  The strike is costing the city hundreds of millions in lost income and destroying the pre-Christmas holiday shopping spree that would have kept lots of peoples’ businesses afloat for another year—the frequently quoted figures of $400 million are meaningless, but the number sure is high—because neither the union nor the MTA has the responsibility to be held accountable.  The MTA would not come up with $20 million in pension money to avoid this catastrophe and the union does not seem to care at all, going on strike against the wishes of its parent union.  (I would feel differently if that weren’t the case.)  Governor Pataki is entirely out to lunch, under the insane delusion that he is a credible candidate for president and Mayor Bloomberg lacks the power to force sanity on either side.  As a result, stores are closed and chaos reigns.  The strike doesn’t hurt me any; everything I need is within walking distance.  I even gave my students their final on the day before it began.  But it’s a crime against my city.

More good news for police state fans.  “Bill Would Allow Arrests For No Reason In Public Place,” here.

Another terrific piece of reported cultural criticism by Michelle Goldberg in Salon; this time on the neocon campaign against “Munich,” here.  (Though it’s misleading and simplistic to include Wieseltier with the rest of the Neocons.  He is actually their most effective critic.)

With the devolution of David Brooks into Republican apoligism, Chris Caldwell is the clear choice of America’s most thoughtful conservative columnist.   Here he is on Anthony Powell.

This is really funny, believe it or not, even though it was on SNL…

Death by mutilation is too good for that woman (not who you think it is…)

Altercation Book Club

Todd Gitlin, The Intellectuals and the Flag
Three Exemplary Intellectuals

Political intellectuals need to do more than dissent—or praise.  We need to clarify:  to call into question the conventional wisdom, to see the world without blinkers, to explain how things came to be as they are, to sharpen values and make them explicit, to sketch visions, to connect with publics in such a way as to suggest where we might go.  All this is our particular calling, even—or especially—in a time when most of the people one would expect to be paying attention, the morally alert young, are otherwise occupied.

“Ideology is a brain disease,” said Jerry Rubin in the late 1960s, when he was riding high as a media-fueled, drug-fueled, shoot-from-the-lip Yippie celebrity; and virtually everyone in America outside the right wing would today agree.  So-called movement conservatives harbor grand ideas of robust entrepreneurship thriving on the outskirts of shriveled government while moralist discipline is enforced by robust government, but outside their ranks, big ideas and methodical thinking are out, specifics and practicality are in.  The end of ideology (meaning the end of left-wing ideology) prematurely heralded by Daniel Bell in 1960 did eventually arrive, leaving the few activists of the left who aspire to sweeping change either sentimental about one or another variant of the Marxist iconography or stranded without even nostalgia to fall back on.  When I see young people of a leftish bent fumble for a big picture of America in the world, they seem both earnest and marooned, and then, once again, I am dismayed at the left’s intellectual default:  its failure (or is it refusal?) to strive to see the world steadily and see it whole.  The analytical default is all the more wrenching when we contrast it with the ambitions of the foremost intellectuals of the decades of my youth.  Part II of this book is a tribute to three of the steadiest—their scope, their humanity, the intelligence of their efforts to make sense of a whole America.

True, the young activists who long for coherence may be starry-eyed about what ideology can accomplish, and in their eagerness may not sufficiently appreciate the benefits of being liberated from the dark side of coherence.  For a century, after all, there has been no more murderous force in the world than totalist ideologies.  When Marxist-Leninists performed their parody of intellectual confidence, they wagered that the gods of consistency wouldn’t mind their sacrifice of intellectual integrity.  (Today’s Islamists demand the same sort of sacrifice and offer other styles of joyful self-immolation.)  The Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists, and Khmer Rouge enthusiasts need not disrupt their thought patterns to take account of inconvenient facts.  Whatever happens, they always have an answer—because it is the same answer.  (In the words of an old joke, when a Communist found out about Stalin’s gulag, he was ready with a rejoinder:  It was necessary, it didn’t happen, and they’re not doing it anymore.) 

In fact, those who long for ideology may actually be pining for something different:  for a steady application of will; in other words, for stamina.  Fighting desolation, bewilderment, and other forms of entropy, they resort to a parody of Enlightenment faith—a fusion of Enlightenment and religious fanaticism.  Uncomfortable in the world as it is—and who possessed of a brain ought not to feel uncomfortable given the last century’s history?—they devise a grid more to their liking, a world in which only the rational is real, as Hegel liked, but the rational is what the sacred texts decree to be rational, so that once the pattern of the future is clear, only their ferocious will must be added to tie up the world’s loose ends.  What they call ideology, in other words, is a sensibility—the sort of mind-melting, fevered tunnel vision that Dostoyevsky brilliantly described.  It would seem like the triumph of intellect, to conjure a mental scheme so comprehensive as to provide an exit from every conundrum.  But in the end, what the totalists have in mind is intellectual suicide.

When I began this book, or what turned out to be this book, before September 11, 2001, I had in mind a series of tributes to a number of American intellectuals who had influenced me in my youth.   I was working on the third of  these essays when the jetliners smashed into the World Trade Center.  For a while, the book felt derailed.  It felt to me that intellectuals of the left had been asking the wrong questions, offering little or nothing in the effort to come to grips with apocalyptic suicidal-homicidal Islamist fanatics.  Perhaps it was not the intellectuals’ fault that the old systems of thought failed as prophecies:  The explosive events had not yet occurred to discredit traditions, and it would be absurd to blame them for having failed to do Nostradamus duty.  Yet this would not be the first time that Marxism, liberalism, and the other modern traditions had reported for intellectual duty empty-handed.  As Ira Katznelson argues in his stimulating book Desolation and Enlightenment:  Political Knowledge after Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Holocaust,[i] the main traditions in political theory were also mute on the awful twentieth-century experiences of total violence.  And as Susan Neiman argues in Evil in Modern Thought,[ii] the history of modern philosophy also needed to be rethought:  While in contemporary philosophy epistemology is the central subject, in her understanding, the main line of intellectual tradition was haunted since the seventeenth century by the problem of evil.  Violence and evil:  These were huge lapses, not minor omissions.  It was as if a theory of air flight failed to leave room for the possibility that a plane whose engines slowed below a certain speed would lose lift and crash. 

What do you say when bankruptcies of thought keep recurring?  You conclude that you are dealing with a case of chronic impecuniousness.  So the aftermath of the terror attacks was a fitting time to ask what we should now understand about the flaws—fundamental flaws—in our inherited intellectual systems.  For several months it felt to me that we had been plunged into an emergency, it was not solely a problem of security, but an intellectual emergency as well; and one piece of prime work to be done was an act of sweeping away—or rather, two.  The foreign policy of George W. Bush was a multiple disaster—its own apocalyptic threat.  (“Either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists.”)  But meanwhile, the fundamentalist Left stood in the way of what Michael Walzer, my former teacher and present colleague in Dissent magazine, called “a decent left.”  So I had a twin set of polemics to write and a lot of rethinking to do—and I am not done with either. 

In the process, I came to recognize that most of the intellectuals I had set out to write about in the first place, generalists who had done their strongest work in the Fifties and Sixties, still mattered, and so did their tensions.  It wasn’t just their breadth or the fact that, without sacrificing scope, they paid attention to the fine grain of their subjects.  Without confining themselves to minutiae, in the manner criticized by C. Wright Mills as “abstracted empiricism,” they kept their feet on the ground even as they looked to the larger movements of history.  It wasn’t just that they wrote accessibly, even stylishly—this was certainly an attraction, but their lucidity by itself wouldn’t have commended them as exemplary.  Nor was it just that they were, in their distinct ways, committed to changing America.  They were activists, to be sure.  But they were activists with a difference:  activists who, in much different styles, and disagreeing, sometimes vigorously, about the American predicament, aspired to a coherence that would also, at the same time, make room for something new under the sun—or if not altogether new, new in its weight and impact on the hitherto known world.  Usually without succumbing to received formulas, they liked “taking it big,” to use the phrase Mills liked to use with his students, yet alert to the danger of grandiosity.  Two sociologists and a literary critic, they extended themselves, whatever their work’s ostensible subject, beyond it.

In the term made famous by Russell Jacoby[iii] before overuse made it banal, they were public intellectuals.  Note:  public doesn’t mean freelance.  All three taught in universities (though Mills, toward the end of his life, thought he wanted to leave:  Columbia would not permit him to teach a course on Marxism, and he was impatient with students).  Their teaching positions were, whatever their besetting sins, more than convenient day jobs:  They were, rather, hospitable platforms for free-ranging careers where a serious writer did not have to worry about how to please commercially minded publishers.  The notion that writers for profitable magazines are somehow free of institutional commitments cheerfully overlooks all the ways in which the market functions as an institution (complete with gates and pressures) although its brick-and-mortar is harder to locate than a campus.

Mainly, Riesman, Mills and Howe wanted to make the world more comprehensible to readers who were not professional intellectuals.  They wrote for large-circulation general magazines as well as tiny ones, and their books made best seller lists.  In their time, great figures like Hannah Arendt and James Baldwin wrote the higher journalism for The New Yorker.  But none of them were, in Michael Bérubé’s aptly wicked phrase, “publicity intellectuals,”[iv] scattershot pundits promiscuous in their momentary appearances over the electronic media.  Even had they been more frequently invited, they probably would not have played.  (Riesman considered television a debased forum and would not appear at all.  Mills, on the other hand, suffered a major heart attack while cramming feverishly for a television debate.)  They liked having audiences but refused to offer up caricatures of themselves.  They believed in sustained argument, not punditry.  No accident, since they cared about the whole of society and culture, they sometimes argued with each other.  Each doubtful, in his own way, that intellectuals were entitled to rule, they did not veer over to self-loathing and take walks on the sound-bitten side.  They would write clearly because making an effort to explain oneself was a help to one’s own thinking.  And they thought that thinking clearly was, in fair times or foul, a worthy enterprise for its own sake.

Columbia University Press Copyright ©  2006 Todd Gitlin.  For more, go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Kent Morris
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Before everyone jumps on the "No Technology" bandwagon for voting.  Here is an op-ed from Seattle Weekly's Knute Berger.  "The Seattle Times reported this week that 45,000 ballots in King County, and more than 100,000 statewide, had to be redone by hand so they could be read by tabulating machines.  The problem is that a significant number of voters-about 8 percent-don't know how to fill in a simple ballot.  They can't, don't, or won't read the simple instructions.  In other words, there are tens of thousands of people in this state who cannot take a pen and color in a tiny oval."

Name: Alan Deikman
Hometown: Fremont, California
There is real misinformation posted here about electronic voting technology.  There are not one but several obvious ways to make electronic voting safe, secure, accurate, fast, and anonymous.  You just use commonly available public-key cryptography and digital signatures.  There is a gigantic segment of commerce that already relies on this technology.  If it didn't work they would be defrauded out of business buy now.  I would like to point out that it is all available in open-source as well.  "Trade Secret" need not apply.  What electronic voting can do that paper balloting will never do is give ALL parties equal access to the ballots.  Have you been able to go examine the overvotes in Florida 2000?  Me neither.  They should all be online somewhere but it would be too expensive.  Yet if the ballots were all digitally signed XML documents they could all be available for less download time than Paris Hilton's famous video.  And each voter could go back and check to make sure his or her vote was tallied correctly.  The thing you don't hear very often is that all this works even if you assume some or all of the voting machines themselves have been hacked or compromised.  How?  Because the tampering would be easily detected and proved.  Imagine if you had 5000 people in Ohio stand up and say, "Hey wait a minute that wasn't my vote!  And I can prove it!"  You think it would be hard to mount (and resolve) a court contest then?  Yet most of what you read on electronic voting is all about how machines can be hacked.  Of course they can.  And you don't need paper receipts either, although they are nice.  Note how many people throw away their Diebold-printed ATM receipts.  Aren't they afraid of losing their money?  They trust Diebold that much?  Your media at the service of the superficial once again.

Name: Kelly Cameron
Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
Eric:
I'm with you on your lengthy discussion of John Lewis's courageous stand.  I have been wondering how it is possible that no major pol, not to mention (unsurprisingly) major news org, has suggested that Snoopgate is an impeachable offense.  (Barbara Boxer is quoting John Dean to that effect, which is nice but not completely forthright).  My concern, however, is what law will Bush obey?  Is there any?  I would like to hear the President answer the following questions (my own little fantasy - first that anyone will ask, second that he would actually respond, much less answer):

You contend that you are authorized by Article II of the Constitution (and, apparently, by the Congressional resolution authorizing use of force against al Qaeda after 9/11) to conduct warrantless surveillance even of US citizens.  If the Supreme Court were to rule that the President does not have such authority, would you comply with that ruling and cease such surveillance?  Or, for that matter, if Congress were to impeach and convict you, would you leave office?  Wouldn't that also be inconsistent with your inherent authority as Commander in Chief during a time of war?  And how would Congress force you to go, since Congress has as many divisions as the Pope?  Are there any actions that your inherent authority as Commander in Chief does not permit?  For example, are you empowered to cancel elections?  Are you empowered to declare that, in the interest of national security and public safety, that you will remain in office beyond the scheduled expiration of your term on January 20, 2009?  Since you consider that you are authorized by the same Congressional resolution mentioned above to hold even US citizens as enemy combatants, are you also authorized, as Commander in Chief, to order these persons be executed?  If not, why not?  Or must their torture stop just short of death?

Name: Steve Cameron
Hometown: Mason City, Iowa
Dear Dr. Alterman,
I'm a former New Orleans Public Schools teacher.  While I certainly agree with your statement that many people choose private schools for social, rather than academic reasons, I wouldn't be so dismissive of the fact that many public school systems are dysfunctional and leave parents who have the money little choice but to enroll in private schools.  At least in New Orleans, most of those parents weren't "elites".  They were just middle or working-class parents--including me--who could scrape together the extra $400 a month for parochial or private school tuition.  This might sound ironic coming from a public school teacher, although I gave my all in blood, sweat, and tears in the classroom daily in order to make my public school better.  It just wasn't enough.

Eric replies: Dude, I’m sure you’re right.  I was talking about New York City public schools only.  I don’t profess to know much of anything about anybody else’s.  And the figure I would use here is about 30 percent; which sucks, from a public policy standpoint, but from a parental standpoint, it means you can find the schools if you really want to—and if you choose to live where they are, as I did.

Name: David Z.
Comments:
Eric, thank you for standing up to the NY private school myth.  I had 2 children to educate and I managed to find good public schools for them in Manhattan.  In fact, my younger child, now a freshman at a semi-elite college, complains that all of his classmates are spoiled private school brats--probably because many of them are.... In other words, he values his NYC public school experience -- a lot more than he thought he would -- and no, he didn't go to Stuyvesant or Bronx Science either.

P.S.-- After spending all those thousands on tuition, you know what happens to those private school kids?  They have to compete against EACH OTHER for a tiny number of college slots!  It's a joke....

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Hello, Dr. Alterman.  Let me try to help you with Dr. Srirangapatnam's comment to Dr. Smith.  Fair warning, I only have a Bachelor's degree in Applied Math, so what do I know?  It would seem that Dr. Srirangapatnam is referring to Fermat's Lesser Theorem regarding primes (which few people know about), not Fermat's Greater Theorem (which most everyone has heard of and is commonly called "Fermat's Last Theorem").  In short, the article about Simpson's dream is wrong, as Dr. Smith pointed out.  Not only is it wrong by inspection (carry out the calculation), but it is also a violation of Fermat's Greater Theorem.  There are no integers x, y, and z such that x-to-the-n + y-to-the-n = z-to-the-n where n > 2.  Dr. Srirangapatnam's comment, therefore, is irrelevant.  Too, it looks like a whole bunch of formatting disappeared in Dr. Srirangapatnam's post.  I'm sure it's supposed to read (a+1)-to-the-p rather than (a+1)p, for example.

------------------------------------------------------------------

[i] Columbia University Press, 2003.

[ii] Princeton University Press, 2002.

[iii] The Last Intellectuals:  American Culture in the Age of Academe (Basic, 1987).

[iv] Michael

December 20, 2005 | 11:38 AM ET | Permalink

Secrecy and self-protection in the administration …and the media

We were promised a more open, transparent Times following the WenholeeJaysonblairJudyMiller scandals.  But what do we get?  Once again, the paper is keeping secrets and the stories on it are being broken elsewhere, for other people’s readers.  Here .  Jon Alter tells of Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger’s no-longer-secret meeting at the White House where Bush tried to intimidate them into keeping his illegal spying on Americans a secret.  Arianna knows more about from go**am Tahiti, than the average Times reader does a block from Times Square.  So too, LA Times readers here on the other coast.  Even the public editor ignored the story over the weekend; it seems that secrecy and self-protection is in the paper’s DNA, public promises to the contrary.

But back in Washington...  Really, it’s a challenge that is beyond my abilities to write about this without sounding alarmist, but we have a bunch of unlawful, dangerous, ideologically-driven people running our government and they feel free to ignore our laws.  The Rockefeller letter warning about just this program, is here.  Now we learn that they are infiltrating peace and animal rights groups again, as if they are populated by Moslem terrorists.  That shameful story is here.  Thank Goodness our brave FBI agents are on the job, protecting us against the fearful power of a "Vegan Community Project, the Catholic Workers group and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals."  (The latter were planning a protest against the use of Llama fur…)

This is pretty shameful and even more infuriating, since it involves patriotic American soldiers getting blown to bits.  “You go to war with the military you have,” says Donald Rumsfeld.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t really have to go to war; if you’re lying to the country and to the world to pretend you do; and if you don’t bother to protect your troops against predictable threats and then lie about it.  Here.

Look at Katie C., here, and Tim Russert, here, playing their game.  Really it’s maddening.  (Thanks to Media Matters…)

In this otherwise basically-on-the-mark story about journalistic income, Daniel Gross perpetuates the evil and incorrect stereotype that “When children arrive, the couple has to choose between living in an expensive town with good public schools (which means long, painful commutes), or the prospect of private-school tuition at $25,000 per kid per year.”  Look bub, I have only one kid.  I think education is pretty damn important.  Do you think I’d choose school for my only child as the place to cut corners if I wasn’t sure she couldn’t get a good education in New York City public school?  A lot of people I know go the private school option purely for social, rather than educational reasons.  And while they may be gaining something academically for their child—which can be made up in other ways and at home--what they lose in terms of real world knowledge, particularly as it relates to class and race, can never be regained.  I don’t deserve any congratulations for this.  It’s not a political choice; it’s a self-interested choice.

Speaking of Slate, why does Mickey ignore Viveca Novak’s husband’s new job on the FEC?  I wouldn’t.  It feels like a bribe to me; in fact, it’s the classic, textbook form, and used to be recognized as such by journalists.  And for it to be happening now, it clearly had to be in the works during much of the period when she was keeping the information from everyone.  How shameful is it that we have to learn this fact from Arianna, (again) in Tahiti, here.

A friend writes:  Read this and realize that it comes from a man whose faith in America and its promise is surpassed by that of no living human being, not just because it is held by the bravest man in public life, but because it is a faith that survived even the best efforts of the worst of his countrymen.  Bleeding, his skull cracked, John Lewis lay by the side of the road near the Edmund Pettus Bridge and still heard what the Founders had to say.  It's a big moment now for all of us.  If you've been keeping score at home, the incumbent president of the United States has announced that he can do anything he wants to anyone at any time, the laws be damned, all in the cause of protecting us from his own fears.  He has infantilized the nation.  (At the Republican convention, I heard Andy Card explain to a delegation that the president looked upon the nation the way "we all" would look upon our young children.  He was dead serious and now, more than ever, I think it's the most frightening thing I've ever heard from, a public official.)  It is a big moment now because it's time for us to decide if we're Americans or not.  This is a country for grown-ups who take governing themselves seriously.

If we're Americans, we realize that the president is but our employee.  He works for us.  He takes an oath to abide by the immutable principles of a Constitution that begins with the three magnificent words, "We, The People." If we're Americans, we realize that there is not a system of "our" rights and "their" rights.  Every abridgement -- potential or actual -- of someone's civil liberties is an attack on them all.  If we're Americans, we realize that there is more to the country than its economy, that there is more to the system than its military.  The Eastern bloc people didn't shake off the petrification of the Soviet bloc just because they wanted blue jeans and the Beatles.  They wanted Jefferson and Madison, too, and all the raucous, unruly freedom that came after them.  It is a big moment because it is one of those moments that forces on us the fundamental question that a wise old teacher of mine once said was at the heart of the American experiment:

Do we govern or are we governed?

If we are governed, then nothing that's been revealed in the past several days matters very much.  However, if we govern, then it's goddam well time for us to get on with it.  Russ Feingold shouldn't be out there alone.  Where's John Edwards?  Where's Hillary?  Why is John McCain's straight-talkin' mouth suddenly full of mush and marbles?  Where's anybody who wants to be president on the subject of the towering and illegal presumption of the current one?  Where's the media, so concerned about the First Amendment that they can't be bothered with the next several?  The president has declared himself beyond the law, beyond the Congress, beyond the people, beyond all reasonable limits, and beyond the Constitution he swore to preserve, protect, and defend.  He has made himself a king, and he's declared himself proud of it.  There's John Lewis, who knows better than all of us what's at stake.

Where's everybody else?

[ permalink ]

This just in: Entire nation not nuts , not yet anyway...

Transit strikes are great occasions to be grateful for one’s job as a blogger.  And hey, I know I’ve been crowing about “Showtime” of late, but “Sleeper Cell” is just about as good as anything I’ve ever seen on TV.  “Masters of Horror” is so far wonderful too.  Make sure you get it on demand.

Alter-reviews:

My bad, but I hadn’t noticed the new jazz label Justin Time until recently, when I came across the new David Murray album here.  Murray right now has the highest genius-to-unknownness ratio of anyone in music, me thinks, and this album finds him again in peak form, as a composer, arranger and soloist.  Not as demanding, but no less rewarding is the newest from the master Hank Jones, “ For My Father,” exquisitely arranged and played, per usual.  Thanks to Jusin Time, I also discovered the Susie Arioli Band, whose “ Learn To Smile Again” is a real pleasure for people who liked Diana Krall before she got all famous.  I don’t know much about her, except she seems big in Canada,… [insert joke here]

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ben Vernia
Hometown: Arlington, VA
As for the issue of domestic surveillance, I'll defer to Chris Young's letter and the lengthy quote he included from Justice Douglas's concurrence to U.S. v. U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972).  One of the problems with the Bush administration, however, is that even when they receive criticism for the latest outrage, it is never put into context, even when that context is patent.  Exhibit A is the President's repeated attempts to poach rhetorically on Congress's power to declare war.  Here's what Bush said on Sunday: "As your President, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq."  Although he is certainly morally liable for that decision, this kind of statement-- which he made repeatedly during the run-up to the war in Iraq-- has no constitutional basis.  Congress is granted the power to declare war, in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.  You'll search Article II (the Executive Article) in vain for any similar grant of authority.  The public will be unconvinced by criticisms of individual abuses (the trees) unless they are made to see how they fit into the scope of the Bush administration's ambitions to aggrandize executive power (the forest).  Although Bush's views of the war-declaring power may be old news, the tacit acceptance of those views by Congress (including, sadly, many Democrats) and the public were the ultimate cause of our incursion into Iraq-- much more so than faulty intelligence.

Name: Kim Viner
Hometown: Laramie, WY
So the president says that revealing the (probably illegal) NSA collection effort was a "shameful act."  How disingenuous!  Evidence that compromises collection efforts is released all the time by the administration to bolster its case for the war.  A prime example was Powell's address to the U.N just before the war started.  The imagery and other evidence presented was classified until they wanted to use it in a public forum.  20 years as a Naval Intelligence Officer certainly taught me that information and collection methods remained classified unless its revelation could serve some purpose for the powers that be.

Name: Lee Hite
Hometown: Dallas, TX
I've worked in the computer industry most of my life, and I have to agree with Phillip Davies' take on electronic voting systems.  Robert Cringely of PBS wrote a great column on this subject two years ago, "Why the Best Voting Technology May Be No Technology at All" (see here).  As he notes, Canada uses a paper-and-pencil system that costs a fraction of what we spend, plus it delivers results faster.  And most importantly, it's less open to abuse.  But then they're Canadians, so what could we possibly learn from them?

Name: Dr. Valailuk (Mookie) Srirangapatnam
Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa
Eric: What "Doctor" Fritz Smith of Whittier, California is so conveniently forgetting about the Fermat Theorem is that: (a+1)p = ap = (p/1)ap-1 + (p/2) ap-2 +.(p/p-1) a +1. Therefore, his point is moot.

Eric replies: “Um, right…”

Name: Nate
Hometown: Portland, OR
Hey, Doc!
Just wanted you to know I saw the paperback version of When Presidents Lie, and picked it up last night for some reading at my job.  I haven't started it yet, but co-workers were asking me about it.  (I work in law-enforcement, where a typically conservative mindset prevails).  So, I just wanted to compliment you on your choice to include 3 Democratic vs 1 Republican president in the book.  It makes it really easy to discuss with folks of all political stripes, and yet make the essential points.  Personally, I'm most looking forward to the Iran-Contra part - not because I want to pick on the lone Republican, but because it's the only case-study in the book that I lived through.  I first became aware of what was going on in Central America from a Dead Kennedys song, and have had a life-long love of punk rock ever since - the only music that regularly deals with real-life issues.  And, by the way, I still occasionally pull out What Liberal Media?, and that also generates a lot of conversation.  It seems your sober and fair analysis of these issues is of interest to all sorts of people.

Name:  Sal
Hometown:  NYCD
Forget what Nancy Butterfield said. Find a way for the cat to repay you. He should know the importance of the iPod.

December 19, 2005 | 12:04 PM ET | Permalink

Falling for it every time

I accidentally turned on ABC News last night expecting to find Desperate Housewives and unhappily was greeted by Elizabeth Vargas and that other new guy.  She told me that people were “very optimistic” in Iraq and that turnout for the election had reached 70 percent.  I can promise you that number is unsupportable.  The truth is nobody had any idea what the turnout in Iraq was.  All the early coverage can handle is whether there are long lines for voting or not.  If there are, the vote was a success.  All you have to do to get the US media to go along with your foreign election is make sure there aren’t enough voting places—something at which the Bush administration demonstrated its considerable skill in Ohio.  Months or years from now, we’ll get the truth, but this falling for it every time—well, that’s as sure a thing a Roger Clemons striking out your grandmother, should he ever get the chance.  Anyway, ABC News thinks this constitutes, “Breaking News”: “ Bush Claims U.S. Forces Are On The "Road To Recovery" In Iraq."  Personally, I’d like to see a bit of follow-up on this story, buried on p. A28 of the Post on Sunday and ignored entirely by the Times.  (Don’t even ask about ABC et al.)

Iraqi Parties Complain of Vote Irregularities

As the United States portrayed Thursday's Iraqi elections as a resounding success, political parties here Saturday complained of violations ranging from dead men voting to murder in the streets.

The Iraqi electoral commission said it had received more than 200 complaints in advance of a Sunday deadline for filing grievances. A commission spokesman said many are "exaggerated," but political parties from all corners maintained that violence and fraud made the outcome suspect.

"We have documented violations, threats and breaches," Mehdi Hafedh, an official of the secular party of former prime minister Ayad Allawi, said at a news conference. At almost the same time, the coalition of Shiite religious parties that is vying to retain its majority in parliament warned that it "would not accept" results it deems fraudulent.

U.S. officials speaking from Washington declared the elections clean and fair…”

How many Iraqi dead?  Don’t ask, says the Pentagon.  30,000 or so, says Bush.  Not a bad guess, says my friend Sarah Sewall.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, “U.S. officials in Iraq knew that a contractor was paying local papers.  Discretion was the key,” here.

Under the category of “Unhappy Days are Here Again”:

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."
Here.

I have always liked John Gibson and don’t think for a minute that he takes any of this crap seriously as anything more than job insurance in Murdochland, but this war against the non-existent war against Christmas was bound to turn into a war against Jews, given the swamps in which much of the Right still swims and here is just one of many examples from Townhall.com.

It’s weird how many right-wing pundits expect to get paid-off by the subjects of their columns.  Last week we found out that syndicated columnist, Cato Institute fellow, former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and frequent contributor to Reason magazine, Doug Bandow, was on the take from Jack Abramoff.  I wonder if Reason is planning to go through Bandow’s many contributions to see which constituted part of his pay for play shenanigans.  I wonder if any other of their contributors are playing this same dirty game.  Could Cathy Young be next perhaps?  Read all about it here.  We can’t be sure how many more are being paid because, you see, the ones who are frequently lie and the people in charge often don’t care.  Franklin Foer writes here, “I was sure that Abramoff paid Peter Ferrara and Doug Bandow for op-eds--and tried to strongly hint that in my piece.  But, as you'll see, I couldn't quite prove it.  The reason: Bandow lied to my face and Ferrara never responded to my queries.”  We note also, per Krugman, “The president of Mr. Ferrara's institute told BusinessWeek Online that 'I have a sense that there are a lot of people at think tanks who have similar arrangements.'"

Let’s also note Krugman’s warning, here:

First, if the latest pay-for-punditry story starts to get traction, the usual suspects will claim that liberal think tanks and opinion writers are also on the take.  (I'm getting my raincoat ready for the slime attack on my own ethics I'm sure this column will provoke.)  Reporters and editors will be tempted to give equal time to these accusations, however weak the evidence, in an effort to appear "balanced." They should resist the temptation.  If this is overwhelmingly a story about Republican lobbyists and conservative think tanks, as I believe it is - there isn't any Democratic equivalent of Jack Abramoff - that's what the public deserves to be told.

Second, there will be the temptation to ignore the backstory - to treat Mr. Abramoff as a rogue, unrepresentative actor. In fact, before his indictment, Mr. Abramoff wasn't off on his own. He wasn't even a lobbyist in the traditional sense; he's better described as a bag man, running a slush fund for Tom DeLay and other Republican leaders. The point is that there really isn't much difference between Mr. Abramoff's paying Mr. Ferrara to praise the sweatshops of the Marianas and the Department of Education's paying Armstrong Williams to praise No Child Left Behind. In both cases, the ultimate paymaster was the Republican political machine.

And inquiring minds want to know: Who else is on the take?  Or has the culture of corruption spread so far that the question is, Who isn't?

Meanwhile, what’s up with so-called libertarian journalists on the take?  Is it part of their ideology too?  Take a look at this terrific piece by Nick Confessore on the strange practices of James Glassman and the Web site “TechCentral Station.”  Here’s a bit:

But TCS doesn't just act like a lobbying shop. It's actually published by one--the DCI Group, a prominent Washington "public affairs" firm specializing in P.R., lobbying, and so-called "Astroturf" organizing, generally on behalf of corporations, GOP politicians, and the occasional Third-World despot. The two organizations share most of the same owners, some staff, and even the same suite of offices in downtown Washington, a block off K Street. As it happens, many of DCI's clients are also "sponsors" of the site it houses. TCS not only runs the sponsors' banner ads; its contributors aggressively defend those firms' policy positions, on TCS and elsewhere.

James Glassman and TCS have given birth to something quite new in Washington: journo-lobbying. It's an innovation driven primarily by the influence industry. Lobbying firms that once specialized in gaining person-to-person access to key decision-makers have branched out. The new game is to dominate the entire intellectual environment in which officials make policy decisions, which means funding everything from think tanks to issue ads to phony grassroots pressure groups. But the institution that most affects the intellectual atmosphere in Washington, the media, has also proven the hardest for K Street to influence--until now.

Sound familiar?

Scroll down to January 14, here, and tell me, who lives in the greatest city in the world…

Alter-reviews:

There have been a bunch of books that I’ve not had the time nor space to address with even a modicum of the attention they deserve, but I’ll list a bunch here in case you’re looking for gift ideas.  Keep in mind, I am not saying these are my recommendations for books to buy as gifts including everything that’s been released for the entire year; it’s just the ones I feel I missed and feel kinda bad about it.

  • Richard Stern, Almonds to Zhoof: Collected Stories, here.  I never heard of this guy, but, boy, what a discovery….it’s that old cliché that never actually pans out; the lost master; the forgotten masterpiece…

  • Peter Guralnik, Dream Boogie : The Triumph of Sam Cooke, here. The definitive biography and social history, sensitive and scholarly.

  • Studs Turkel, And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey, here, interviews with Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar and Andres Segovia, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, et al…

  • Dave Eggers and Lola Vollen, edit, Surviving Justice: America's Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated, here.  The stories of people wrongfully convicted and exonerated. See also here.

  • James Agee: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, A Death in the Family, ShorterFiction, here.

  • James Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism, here.  Two handsome, uniform, and worthwhile Library of America editions that will always reward a dip in.

  • Perry Anderson, Spectrum: From Left to Right in the World of Ideas, here, from Michael Oakeshott, Friedrich Hayek, Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt through John Rawls to E. P. Thompson, Robert Brenner and Eric Hobsbawm, and Sebastiano Timpanaro, again, a great dipper.

  • E.H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World, here.  A children's history originally published 70 years ago, that everybody seems to love.

  • Tony Judt, Postwar : A History of Europe Since 1945, here.  Nearly impossible to pull off, almost does.

  • Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939, here, volume two of three, ought to settle a lot of arguments…

  • The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, here.  (We all worked hard on this…)  Also in this category, Strunk and White, The Elements of Style Illustrated, here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Chris Young
Hometown: Wayne, PA
The President's authorization of domestic spying is a grave Constitutional violation.  But we have been down this road before.  In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Nixon Administration's argument that the President could order wiretaps without obtaining a warrant.  Unlike today's Court, the vote wasn't close -- 8-0 (Associate Justice Rhenquist had just been confirmed, and did not take part in the consideration or the decision of the case).  The following language from Justice Douglass's concurring opinion says it all:

"As illustrated by a flood of cases before us this Term, e. g., Laird v. Tatum, No. 71-288; Gelbard v. United States, No. 71-110; United States v. Egan, No. 71-263; United States v. Caldwell, No. 70-57; United States v. Gravel, No. 71-1026; Kleindienst v. Mandel, No. 71-16; we are currently in the throes of another national seizure of paranoia, resembling the hysteria which surrounded the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, and the McCarthy era.  Those who register dissent or who petition their governments for redress are subjected to scrutiny by grand juries, 7 by the FBI, 8 or even by the military. 9  Their associates are interrogated. [407 U.S. 297, 330] Their homes are bugged and their telephones are wiretapped. They are befriended by secret government informers. 10  Their patriotism and loyalty are questioned. 11 [407 U.S. 297, 331] Senator Sam Ervin, who has chaired hearings on military surveillance of civilian dissidents, warns that "it is not an exaggeration to talk in terms of hundreds of thousands of . . . dossiers." 12 Senator Kennedy, as mentioned supra, found "the frightening possibility that the conversations of untold thousands are being monitored on secret devices." More than our privacy is implicated. Also at stake is the reach of the Government's power to intimidate its critics. "When the Executive attempts to excuse these tactics as essential to its defense against internal subversion, we are obliged to remind it, without apology, of this Court's long commitment to the preservation of the Bill of Rights from the corrosive environment of precisely such expedients. 13 [407 U.S. 297, 332] As Justice Brandeis said, concurring in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 377 : "Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty." Chief Justice Warren put it this way in United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258, 264 : "[T]his concept of `national defense' cannot be deemed an end in itself, justifying any . . . power designed to promote such a goal. Implicit in the term `national defense' is the notion of defending those values and ideas which set this Nation apart. . . . It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of . . . those liberties . . . which [make] the defense of the Nation worthwhile." "The Warrant Clause has stood as a barrier against intrusions by officialdom into the privacies of life. But if that barrier were lowered now to permit suspected subversives' most intimate conversations to be pillaged then why could not their abodes or mail be secretly searched by the same authority? To defeat so terrifying a claim of inherent power we need only stand by the enduring values served by the Fourth Amendment. As we stated last Term in Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 455 : "In times of unrest, whether caused by crime or racial conflict or fear of internal subversion, this basic law [407 U.S. 297, 333] and the values that it represents may appear unrealistic or `extravagant' to some. But the values were those of the authors of our fundamental constitutional concepts. In times not altogether unlike our own they won . . . a right of personal security against arbitrary intrusions . . . . If times have changed, reducing everyman's scope to do as he pleases in an urban and industrial world, the changes have made the values served by the Fourth Amendment more, not less, important." We have as much or more to fear from the erosion of our sense of privacy and independence by the omnipresent electronic ear of the Government as we do from the likelihood that fomenters of domestic upheaval will modify our form of governing."

The entire decision can be found on findlaw.com here.  Every American should be outraged at the destruction of our Constitution perpetrated by this administration.  Thus, we conclude that the Government's concerns do not justify departure in this case from the customary Fourth Amendment requirement of judicial approval prior to initiation of a search or surveillance. Although some added burden will be imposed upon the Attorney General, this inconvenience is justified in a free society to protect constitutional values.  Nor do we think the Government's domestic surveillance powers will be impaired to any significant degree.  A prior warrant establishes presumptive validity of the surveillance and will minimize the burden of justification in post-surveillance judicial review.  By no means of least importance will be the reassurance of the public generally that indiscriminate wiretapping and bugging of law-abiding citizens cannot occur.

Name: Phillip Davies
Hometown: Lafayette Hill, PA
Dear Eric,
People are finally talking about the problems with Diebold's electronic voting systems.  However, a question that is not being addressed with all the focus on Diebold (and ES&S) is whether an electronic system is even the right way to go.  I was a Systems Engineer with a major computer company.  Computers are great, but for automating repetitive processes to save manpower.  None of these apply to voting.  While many people repeat the singular act of voting, the overall process consists of everything that happens that day.  And since this process only happens once a year or so, this isn't really a repetitive process.  Ironing out problems would take many iterations of the process, which means many years.  But, by that time, vendors are selling new systems with new problems of their own.  Likewise, electronic voting systems provide no real savings in manpower.  With or without electronic systems, each precinct requires the same kind of preparation and requires a large number of people during the day of voting.  The electronic systems might tally the final vote a little bit faster, but any savings is more than offset from the costs and time required for system design, implementation, maintenance and training required.  So, the solution to voting integrity is not just getting rid of the bad systems like those of Diebold and ES&S, it is finding a truly effective system, which may not be an electronic one.

Name: USNR-Retired
Hometown: East Tennessee
Anyone in the IRR is legally liable to be called up.  In fact staying in the IRR allows someone to earn/increase a Reserve pension.  I am against the war, always have been, but as a retired reservist it bothers me when people are willing to take the dime but not do the time.  Once you put your name on the dotted line there is always the potential for activation.  I was activated to go to Gitmo the week of my retirement party.  My wife was upset that I was willing to go and didn't seem angry about being called up.  I tried to explain that (a) my country had called me, and (b) I had been willing to take the money all those years and now it was time to ante up some time.  As it was it would have taken too much paperwork to stop the retirement and go ahead with the activation so someone else went in my place.

Name: Dr. Fritz Smith
Hometown: Whittier, CA
Hey Eric,
I'm a regular reader who usually doesn't comment, but as a mathematician I needed to make note of your Simpson's bit.  If what Homer dreamed had been correct, it would have had major consequences in the mathematical community--you might have heard of the Fermat Theorem which says that there are no solutions to the equation a to the nth power plus b to the nth power equals c to the nth power if n is greater than 2.  This theorem was finally proved a few years ago by Andrew Weil--one of the great accomplishments of modern mathematics.  It would be really something if Homer has shown the theorem to not be true.

Name: A. Patriot
Hometown: Steamboat Springs, CO
Alterman vs Carlson?  I'd ask you not to hurt him, but I kinda want you to hurt him.  Will it be televised?  To me, the bizarre thing about the Froomkin/Harris flap was the involvement of the Ombudsman.  I thought an ombudsman was supposed to be the readers' advocate in print.  Howell seems to have taken something that should have been handled with an inner-office memo and (with Harris's help) blown it up into something much bigger.  That's what's so aggravating to me about Harris whining that he can't figure out how this got to be such a big deal in the "crankosphere" (you'd think the chief political editor of the Washington Post would have a thicker hide and not such a tendency toward petulance).  Was this anything but a public apology to GOP operatives who felt threatened by stories that didn't start with their spin?

Name: Neil Kraus
Hometown: St. Paul, MN
Eric:
Thanks for the links to the pieces by Rosenberg.  As I read his recent article, I couldn't help but think of Michael Medved and his mean-spirited attack on a Lutheran minister (whose name escapes me) the other day for her support of a letter signed by a variety of clergy to Wal-Mart about the company's business practices.  Medved echoed all of the corporate/religious right-wing's blind defenses of Wal Mart et al., and revealed a complete inability to actually engage any substantive issue. Rather than address any of the minister's critical points about Wal-Mart (basic stuff like low wages, rotten benefits, etc), Medved instead attacked her credibility, accused her of being a hypocrite, wanted to know who funded her group, and the like.  He almost blew a gasket on the air.  It was embarrassing to listen to.  Thankfully, the minister didn't take any of the bait and calmly addressed the issue.  Medved was truly stumped when the minister talked about "justice," a concept apparently never even considered by Medved. The odd coalition between some Jews like Praegr and Medved and religious Christian conservatives needs to be addressed.  And Rosenberg does a great job of exposing many of the problems inherent with this alliance.

Name:  Nancy A. Butterfield
Comments:
How can the cat repay you?  Maybe you owe the cat.  Maybe you shouldn't leave your things around to get in his way and scare him when they (as could be foreseen) fall and crash and you (probably) blame the cat and even raise your voice!!  You should kiss his feet every day that he deigns to live with you.  Cats are the greatest species, most regal, beautiful beyond comparison, wise and just.  The fact that they associate with humans at all is probably their greatest failing - like a fatal attraction to bad boys who do dangerous things like leave laptops around to trip up the poor cat.

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