January 31, 2006 |12:03 PM ET | Permalink

Alito and the Democrats
— Jeralyn Merritt, TalkLeft

Judge Sam Alito was confirmed today, as expected.  The final vote was 58 to 42.  The voting list is here .

This past weekend saw a unified effort in the blogosphere to engage readers in a call to action.  By continuously posting fax and phone numbers, big blogs like Daily Kos, Atrios FireDogLake and Crooks and Liars took the lead in an effort that by Monday found Senators' voice-mailboxes full and their fax machines maxed out.

Bloggers and online activists even may have changed a few minds.  Senators Diane Feinstein (CA) and Barbara Milkulsi (MD), who only a week ago said they would vote against both Alito and a filibuster came around in recent days.  So did Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY) and Barak Obama (IL), who cast their votes to extend the debate, joining with Senators Kennedy and Kerry.

Predictably, the Republican-Lites, such as Joe Lieberman and Colorado's Ken Salazar, stumbled by sending out mixed messages: They agreed Judge Alito was outside the mainstream of judicial philosophy and declared their intentions to vote against him, but voted with Republicans not to extend the debate.

Lieberman and Salazar also are members of the Gang of 14, which last year came up with the nuclear option compromise that contained a promise not to initiate a filibuster unless there were "extraordinary circumstances."  What are "extraordinary circumstances?"  The problem is, no one knows.  It's an imprecise term, one that can only be defined by saying, "I don't know, but I'll recognize them when I see them."  In other words, they are in the eye of the beholder and totally subjective. That test is a failure.

While the attempt at a filibuster was doomed from the start, the majority of Democratic Senators for once listened to their vocal constituents and instead of taking a centrist position, took a stand.  On principle, they decided to protest the confirmation of a judge they viewed as hostile to a woman's right to choose, civil rights, civil liberties, economic equality, the right to privacy and the rights of the criminally accused. 

24 Democratic Senators (and one Independent) voted to extend debate on Judge Alito which would have led to a filibuster.  That's more than half of the Democrats in the Senate.  To online activists and the netroots, that's a gain, not a loss — a gain that hopefully will energize them to rally with renewed vigor to get out the vote in 2006 and 2008.

Monday's cloture vote on Judge Alito did not affect his confirmation but it may hold promise for the future.  Everyone understands the real reason Judge Alito is going to become a Supreme Court Justice is that President Bush won the 2004 election, and therefore, he gets to call the shots.

Democratic leaders, activists and the netroots are coming to an understanding.  A symbiosis has begun.  The only way to change the future makeup of the Supreme Court and Congress is by winning elections.  Through the effort to block Alito's confirmation, the Democrats are learning that by listening to their base, they can count on increased support to help them win elections.  At the other end, the netroots have gained respect for their Democratic leaders which will translate into more voting.

Now, if only the two can come to an agreement on a values message that will resonate with voters, there is a real chance there will be no more Judge Alitos once President Bush's term has ended.

To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie:

You know, if one person does it, they may think he's really sick...
if two people do it, in harmony, it's no big deal. 
If three people do it, they may think it's an organization. 
And can you imagine fifty people a day, ....friends they may thinks it's a movement.

End Jeralyn.

I’d like to congratulate the Bush administration for having the good taste to not make too big a deal about the kidnapping of U.S. journalist Jill Carroll by Iraqi insurgents.  Since the Bush administration is in the business of politically kidnapping innocent people too, including the wives of people it wants to surrender.  I hate to say it because of the all the baggage it carries but it reminds me of the deliberate murder of the innocent Ethel Rosenberg, to try to get a confession out of her husband.

We destroyed the country in order to destroy it.

And it’s a good thing we were never serious about this Arab democracy stuff, either, because, you know, look.

Let’s not oversimplify this with a comment like “ Racists for Bush,” just because of the sentence, “That study found that supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did.”  On the other hand, are you really surprised?

On the third hand, somebody needs to say this: The fact that Cindy Sheehan lost her son to a counterproductive, dishonest and possibly illegal war in no way implies that the woman has any political judgment whatever.  She deserves our respect as a mother and as a symbol of other, similarly mistreated mothers across the land.  As a pundit or a political activist… not so much.

Genius Kinsley writes here:

How dire is it for the Democrats?  George Will noted on TV the other day that they have lost five of the past seven presidential elections.  This baseball-like statistic—"Democrats have lost X of the past Y elections"—has been one of Will's favorite tropes over the generations. But why now five out of seven? Two out of the past four would be equally accurate, and not nearly as grim. If you take a longer view, things get grimmer again. In fact, you can measure back from the present to any of the past 20 elections (which takes you back to 1928) and only once (starting in 1932) do the Democrats come out ahead. But this hardly supports Will's contention—and everyone else's—that things went to hell in the 1960s. If this exercise has any meaning, they've been in hell continuously since 1936.

Of course the real scandal is not that ABC News employs this particular shill for the Republicans, you know, the one who took money from the disgraced Conrad Black and called him a wonderful man in print, repeatedly; nope, the real crime is that nobody on ABC News would ever think to contradict him.  God forbid a genuine liberal would be allowed on, much less given the time to offset Will’s nonsense.

It’s odd that I need my young hero Matt Y. to tell me to read this study for the most excellent think tank for which I labor, but alas, I do.  Liberals and Democrats make a terrible political mistake in refusing to take defense seriously and CAP is doing something about that.  Good for them.  (Note: I had nothing to do with this…)

WSJ edit page Quote of the Day:  ""Piano Man" Billy Joel never recovered from "Uptown Girl."”  (Written in the midst of Joel’s thirteen-night sellout of Madison Square Garden, for which by the way, I’m accepting free tickets…)

Alter-reviews:  The New Group: Abigail’s Party

I kinda hate Mike Leigh’s films and I couldn’t imagine he write something in 1977 that would have been funny then, much less now.  I’m not sure he did.  But Jennifer Jason Leigh is one of our greatest living actresses and I’m a nice guy so I went anyway, and I was really glad I did.  JJL has this weird talent—that she sometimes overdoes—of being engagingly (and impressively) annoying and she is at her peak in Abigail’s Party.  Seeing her go to town, so to speak, in so intimate a setting as this tiny theater is a real treat.  The rest of the cast, albeit definitely supporting, are all kinda wonderful in their rather less respectively hysterical fashions.  And the play, while not the greatest, is not as annoying as later Leigh, which means the whole thing works quite well before the whole thing falls apart at the end.  Still, seeing Ms. Leigh in this context is a fine investment of both time and money.  Trust me.  More here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Dr. Derek Ryter, P.G.
Hometown: Lincoln, NE
Eric,
Thank you for writing up the climate related misinformation that the Bush administration is pushing.  During my career as a geologist I have studied climate change as a tool for understanding geologic phenomena and find it very fascinating.  When you are used to working with data that spans many thousands of eons and you see the remarkable changes that our planet has undergone, pushed by plant and animal life, volcanoes, meteor impacts and slight changes in the amount and timing of inputs in energy from our sun, you can't help but marvel at the rapid changes that have and will befall our planet--our Petri dish.  The climate that we have evolved in is the culmination of billions of years of change that has radically transformed our atmosphere and biosphere.  By rapidly burning fossil fuels and clearing land, we are converting our home back to the environment that will soon be similar to that of 300-500 million years ago, before the coal and petroleum sequestered so much of the CO2. Can we live in such a place?  We are living out our little experiment and it will be interesting to see--or not see--the result.  And it is truly sad to see so many of us forsake the very attribute that fully separates us from the primates: our brain.  For this to continue leads me to no other conclusion but that we as a collective are truly fools.

Name: Jerome Clark
Hometown: Canby, Minnesota
Thank you for your continuing "Thanks, Ralph" reminders.  I know a few of your readers, who would like to perpetuate the hoary myth of Naderian innocence, don't appreciate them.  One hopes that one day they'll grasp the elementary truth that a narcissist left is a self-defeating left.  No way around an unpleasant fact: Nader's run and Nader's voters made possible the country's calamitous, blood-soaked course over the past five years.  Al Gore would have been a good President (may still be, if we're lucky), and thousands of Americans -- not to mention tens of thousands of Iraqis -- now dead would have been alive to celebrate something that, courtesy of Nader and those who voted for him, never happened.  Thanks always, Ralph.

Name: Don Dougherty
Hometown: Lynbrook, New York
Dear Eric:  When Condi stated that she was shocked that Hamas won, it was because she thought that the Palestinians were voting on Diebold machines.

Name: Dwight
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
This is in response to Dan in Greer, SC who stated it was shocking to hear Sec. of State Condi Rice profess amazement at Hamas winning the election in Palestine.  Actually Dan it is the only reaction she has ever professed since she has been in W's administration.  I.e., "no one could have imagined we would be attacked with airliners" and also "no one could have predicted a catastrophic hurricane would destroy New Orleans."  For all her supposed intelligence and education I find her to be quite frankly thick as a brick (no insult to Jethro Tull) and wonder why she tends to get the biggest pass when assessing the failures of the Bush admin.  I would hazard a guess but then I would be labeled a racist most likely.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ
Doc,
I'd like to introduce your African-American readership to the Yiddish phrase, "A Shanda for d'Goyim" (kinda like what I felt when I saw Mr. Abramoff wearing my Shabbos outfit).  I mean, she was surprised?  Huh?  Oy vey iz mir, what are we going to do with these cabbage heads?

Name: Dave Coomber
Hometown:  Wilmington, DE
I respect what Merrill R. Frank has to offer about Steve Milloy.  However, he is too kind in pointing out one of Steve's less strident columns.  For a real insight into the selling of one's soul for asbestos of all things, read his column dated 9/14/01.  You will then want to shower, so have the hot water ready.  This was actually my introduction to Fox News online, and it really set me straight as to where they were coming from.  In the midst of all the pain and death, he managed to come out sounding authoritative while displaying an abysmal understanding of physics and metallurgy all while shilling for his sponsors.  I guess he's currently saying that the levels of asbestos are not dangerous, but he was earlier crying that things would have been better with more asbestos.

Name: Bill Skeels
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
"Pierce is back but we don't have him.'  Everybody needs to read the linked article.  Remember how bad Jon Stewart got Tucker and the gang?  It's that good.  Remember how bad Dan Akroyd got James Kilpatrick?  It's that good.  Like those classics, so good that you'll never hear them again without thinking about it.  Required reading, here.

Name: D.R. Marvel
Hometown: Memphis, TN
"Pythagoras on crystal meth" That Pierce is a Keeper...

January 30, 2006 |10:48 AM ET | Permalink

Global warming, hot airWe know from previous reporting that it is a concerted Republican strategy to sow false doubt in the minds of Americans about the phenomenon of global warming so that their campaign contributors and political allies may continue to destroy the earth’s ecosystem without inconvenience.  To do this they must deny the reality of Global Warming, by serving up mountains of bul**it.  Here is one Frank Luntz memo about how they planned to do it.  One thing I learned at Sundance watching Al Gore’s film was that a study has been done of the available scientific literature on the current state of scientific knowledge.  The scientists gathered up nearly a thousand peer-reviewed articles that purported to examine the issue and picked at random, ten percent of these to read.  They found a grand total of zero actually challenged the existence of the phenomenon.  Yet when they did a similar percentage study of mainstream media, they found right-wingers had been so successful in their campaign of disinformation that 53 percent (I think) of the articles written about global warming called the scientific data into question.  This is how “working the refs” works and demonstrates why the kind of contentless reporting promoted by the likes of “The Note” is part of the problem.  When sources lie, they lie too; and they don’t even bother to discern the truth of the matter because it only matters what their sources tell them.  (Remember that’s Judy Miller’s excuse—and Joe Klein’s.)  Anyway, look at these two stories:  Global warming may soon be irreversible, portending incredible catastrophe, here, and the Bush administration is censoring and silencing top climate scientists at NASA, here, because they prefer to allow the danger to continue unabated, for matters of political convenience.  And by the way, call me “shrill,” but I call that “evil.”  (Read this article for background if you haven’t yet had a chance to educate yourselves about the process.)

What "mojo?”  Meanwhile, the increasingly pro-Bush Time Magazine, which stopped arriving in hard copy at my door shortly after I wrote about Ann Coulter, and whose idea of a “liberal” is Joe Klein, sent me this press release yesterday morning:

WHITE HOUSE MEMO: MIKE ALLEN—How the NSA Furor Helped the President Regain His Mojo  (p. 31) (Online)

Going into this week and the State of the Union address, President George W. Bush was “selling himself with more vim and certitude than at any other time since he was re-elected 15 months ago,” writes TIME’s White House Correspondent Mike Allen.  “Buffeted by Katrina, the CIA leak and Iraq, Bush was teetering on the edge of irrelevance after a largely wasted 2005.  But he found his voice in an improbable place: at the center of what looked like a serious scandal,” reports Allen.  “The eavesdropping controversy turned out to offer a foothold… When a new threat on tape from Osama bin Laden emerged, Bush was set up to return to the stage as Protector in Chief, the Republicans’ award-winning role in the past two elections.

Of course, just like Klein’s unsupported allegations, discussed here, all of that would seem to be existing in a bubble that has little or nothing to do with what genuine Americans think, as in the very next paragraph we get a  TIME Poll: 

The President’s approval rating is 41% approve-55% disapprove.  The latest TIME Poll finds the President’s approval rating off 12 points from this time last year.  His current approval rating is little changed from late November (41% approve-53% disapprove).

And don’t miss this NYT correction

A front-page article yesterday describing the results of the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll referred imprecisely to Americans' favorable opinions of President Bush.  The 42 percent of respondents who said they viewed him favorably were referring specifically to how he handles his job.  On another question — about how he is liked overall — the result was 37 percent favorable.”

Why, by the way, is every mistake the media make in favor of Bush?

Dishonest and incompetent in everything they do: Exhibit XXXVIII: Haiti

Did I mention “ corrupt ” too?

Police state update, I:  The U.S. Army released documents that reveal that the American troops have in at least two incidents kidnapped and jailed the wives of Iraqi suspects in order to of "leverage" their husbands to surrender.

Police state update, II:  Bush ignores the law, the courts, whatever, whenever he feels like it.

Destroy the military, Quote of the Day:  “Basically, if you haven't been court-martialed, you're going to be promoted to major."  — Here.

Pierce is back but we don’t have him.

Alter-reviews:

I caught short but sweet performance by Fountains of Wayne in New York’s coolest room, the “Allen room” on the 6th floor of the TimeWarner Center as part of Jazz @LC’s new theaters.  It was part of a marvelously innovative series programmed by the people at the American Songbook series there.  (Take look at the series here if you doubt either my words, or that everybody who can, really ought to live here.)  Anyway, the boys were a mite confused to be playing in such a nice room before a group of people who had dressed up to see them.  Still, what can you say about this band?  They play perfect hooks with clever, ironic lyrics and sound really nice when they sing.  Though they don’t demonstrate it so much in the studio, they have some chops, too.  And they have a sense of humor, apparently, or else why the inclusion of “White Wedding?”  Anyway, I say that’s rock n roll.  It was short, but sweet, and now I wanna meet Stacey’s mom.

The two new Library of America editions include Arthur Miller, Collected Plays, 1944-1961, here, edited by Tony Kushner.  I haven’t read many plays since college, but Arthur Miller is an essential piece of our nation’s experience and there’s much to learn from sitting down with him at one’s own leisure.  For me the highlight, however, is Henry James: Novels 1901-1902, here, which includes “The Wings of the Dove,” which is for most people the best of the late James, described by the master himself as "a young person conscious of a great capacity for life, but early stricken and doomed, condemned to die under short respite, while also enamoured of the world."  I have never read The Sacred Fount but I will, I promise.  Leo Bersani is the editor.  James never ceases to amaze me with the timelessness of his observations about human nature.  We’d all be better people if we spent more time with him, instead of starting wars and such…

Correspondence corner:

Name: Steve Scott
Hometown: Cupertino, CA
Just to second Tom from Vernon Hills' letter about Al Gore.  When I met Vice President Gore over a high tech trade issue with Japan and China, he was charming, approachable, and genuinely curious about our delicate situation.  It could have been a five minute meet-and-greet with a promise to 'do something'.  Instead, for 30 minutes he asked very intelligent questions about our technology (someone did their homework) and our situation, and told us what he was going to do for us.  Then he did it.  I'd buy him a beer, for sure.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights
Re: Steve Milloy pundit for hire.
Dr., In recent weeks much has been reported in the local, sans Murdoch, media about a number of WTC rescue workers who have been dying off at a rate higher than norm.  At least 23 have died and numerous workers with chronic respiritory problems that leave them disabled.  Many of these folks are in their 30's and 40's, non-smokers with no history of prior health problems.  Much has been documented by the 9/11 long term health project at Mt. Sinai hospital.  In the past week Congressmembers Maloney D-NY, Queens and Fosella R-NY-SI have introduced legislation that would create a 9/11 health czar.  How does Mr. Milloy fit in to this calamity?  Here's one of his many nuggets of " junk science:" "Claims of Post-9/11 Health Risks Show 'Reckless Disregard' for the Truth."

Maybe if the bodies were piled up in front of Milloy's home or on the steps of the Cato Institute they would believe it.  But then again when you live in the faith-based community and worship the goddess Ayn Rand anything is possible.

Name: madaboutharry
Comments:
I read with amusement Joe Klein's comment on how "Eric Alterman is simply not a serious person."  Um.  It seems that every time I see or hear Mr. Alterman I find myself saying: "Hey, Eric, lighten up."  You come off as one of the most painfully serious people I have ever seen or heard.  I especially like the humor free zone you have brought to Air America during your visits.

Name: DA
Hometown: NYC
I love this blog, even if I think the Nader thing is so, like, 2005 and happen to also think a world without Chomsky is a tantamount to a world without Beethoven and soy!  Speaking of good documentaries -- have you seen *The Corporation* or *Orwell Rolls in His Grave*?  Both are quite nice, if a bit "unbalanced" -- though, given the Frey and Oprah hoopla (so entertaining, isn't it?), how could anyone be surprised that documentaries might be a little skewed to make a point?  What a world!

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: DailyRevolution.net
A Word on Behalf of the Long Hair Crowd
I realize Mozart doesn't rate much around these pages, but let's give the guy a little nod on his 250th birthday.  For a story about Mozart, the Challenger disaster, and Rudolf Serkin, check here.

Name: Dan
Hometown: Greer, SC
Doctor, it is shocking to hear the Secretary of State profess amazement at the prospect of Hamas winning big in the Palestinian elections.  How does that speak for our intelligence efforts around the world?  If we cannot see a 2/3's vote coming when it was a free election and just some modicum of effort should have borne some fruit as far as predicting the results, how then are we going to address Iran?  Blind grasping in the dark?  Finally, in response to those in the government and out who exalt democracy as the remedy for all known national ailments & then take the position that we will refuse to deal with the 2/3's winner of the election:  they were for democracy before they were against it.

January 27, 2006 |12:12 PM ET | Permalink

Slacker Friday

Thanks again to mighty Matt Ygeslias for taking care of “Think Again” again with this terrific piece, “Iran is a Problem, Not an Emergency" (And thanks to Siva for his excellent albeit alarmingly idiosyncratic blogging.  That's um, enough mail about the Longhorns, people.)

Just asking:  Is it a coincidence that so far, every single payola pundit is a right-winger, working for a right-wing outfit, like The Washington Times, Fox, or Reason?

I think I forgot to recommend the amazing Fra Angelico show at the Met, which I would have appreciated far more had I read Arthur Danto on it before seeing it.  I may have to go back.  (It has nothing like the crowds of the Van Gogh show, and is right near that lovely Lehman room as well.)

Classy fella, this president of ours.

Good line from Today's Papers:  “The NYT is alone in revealing there is at least one issue where Iran and the United States can be allies:  They both don't want two gay rights groups to have a voice at the United Nations.”

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid with a different angle on an old policy suggestion.  For all the hawkish alarm about Iran, hardly anyone calls for immediate military attacks.  More common is the push for sanctions (yes, it's ironic), with acknowledgment that the resulting high oil prices could shock the economy.  Even before the Iran/Nukes crisis, an increasing number on the right were endorsing non-market mechanisms to reduce our oil consumption.  Well, these folks are about to meet their match. Nothing explains this Administration better than asking "what will make the most money for domestic oil producers?"  I used to think that Iraq disproved such conspiracy theories. Wouldn't prices plummet if Iraq's oil was set loose on the market?  Now I think they knew better.

But the Iran situation provides a great opportunity for Democrats to call the President's bluff.  They should propose a gasoline "non-tax.”  Gas prices would increase $1/gallon, but the money would be refunded at the end of the year.  I'm betting that the psychological effect of the higher pump prices, which would be permanent, would have the same effect as an outright tax.  Demand for gas is relatively inelastic, but studies have shown it becomes more elastic when oil prices remain high for an extended period.

People wouldn't wait for the end of the year, they would try to conserve immediately.  Later they would spend the money as-needed, not apply it to next year's gas purchases.  Most importantly, the mere threat of a serious American energy policy might enlist OPEC nations who don’t want their own revenues cut.  Imagine: Hugo Chavez and King Abdullah, our most effective foreign policy agents.

Voila: a distinct alternative to the Administration's foreign policy.  One that is logical, has conservative support (if not Republican), is both aggressive and non-violent, and provides endless taunts of the Administration ("The President trusts Saudi Arabia to cut off Al Queda's financing.  We don't.").  And come the next terrorist attack, they'll be glad they have one.

Name: Dilan Esper
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Joe Klein's statement about wiretapping reminds me of what Michael Kinsley defined as a "gaffe" in Washington-- accidentally blurting out the truth.  Not that his statement is actually true-- I don't think that the people who oppose the program know less than he does.  I mean the first part of his statement-- he is essentially admitting that people who are supporting this program have no idea what the heck they are supporting.  This is quite true and cannot be emphasized enough.  Listen to the talking points of supporters of these programs-- "if someone's got Al Qaeda on the other end of the phone line, the government's got a right to listen."  Well, yes, but how do any of these supporters of the program know that the eavesdropped communications involved Al Qaeda members?  Oh, yes, I know, it's a state secret who we are listening to and if word got out, it would tip off Al Qaeda. The result is, they get to pop off about how they support this "important" program and that anyone who opposes it is taking away a "crucial tool", yet they have no evidence whatsoever to back up their claims that the program is important or crucial.  And when that is pointed out, they justify that by saying that the program has to remain secret.  Pretty neat way to justify supporting whatever the Administration does.

Name: John Dalessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY
Listeners to the Air America morning show with Rachel Maddow last week were treated to the full Joe Klein act during what was supposed to be a debate on the NSA spying.  In response to intelligent and restrained questioning by the host, Klein continuously interjected O'Reilly-esque comments like "Now Rachel, lets not get hysterical here" and the like.  Well, you know what these hysterical liberal women are like.  A more boorish, bullying, obnoxious persona is not to be found anywhere who is not paid by Murdoch.  In fact, the whole thing sounded like Klein's impersonation of Rumsfeld.  It appears that Klein's secret sources say that all is well, so what's your problem?  Who exactly is it who finds this guy credible?

Eric replies:  I find it curious, I must say, that Alternet, which regularly publishes my work without remuneration, and stands in opposition to everything Klein says in his atrociously sourced article that I critiqued here , would want to publish his substance-free as-told-to rant about me at all, much less without my response which I sent to them.  (They did provide a link, but did not publish the item.)

Name: Tom
Hometown: Vernon Hills, IL
Eric,
Just wanted to share a story about Al Gore.  Sometime around 1975 or 1976, while living in Nashville, I dated a girl who grew up in Carthage, TN.  She was as country redneck as I was a snobby city moron.  I can tell you after some years of reflection that one of us was much more honest and interesting than the other.  I don't know if Al was still a reporter or if he was running for Congress, or perhaps he had already been elected.  I don't even know why Carol and I were talking about him.  She told me the Gores were neighbors when she was growing up and that she and Al were friends.  My small mind just could not wrap itself around the concept of this redneck girl being friends with the Gore family.  She insisted they were friends, she was welcome at the Gore's farm, and that Al didn't think he was any better than anybody else, or as she would say, "Al is just regular folk same as you and me."  I thought I was the smartest one in the room, but actually I was just about the biggest dumbass in the world.  Anyway to prove her point, she got Al's number and she called Al up and spoke to him at length.  I listened in as they caught up on the news in their lives.  I can tell you he treated Carol just like you would expect someone to treat an old neighbor they haven't spoken to in years.  He asked about her, about her father Roy, and caught her up on the doings in his family.  There was nothing hurried about the convesation, he seemed as pleased to be hearing from Carol.  What strikes me as the years go by (other than what a jerk I was), is about how people are portrayed in the media and how that so differs from the actual heart of the person.  At that moment in time Al Gore didn't seem wooden or ill at ease.  Carol was right about him being regular folk just like her.  I do wonder how stupid our press corps must be to think that George Bush is the guy to have a beer with, and Al Gore is wooden and bland.  I was a dumbass twenty year old, but these people seem so unable to recognize commitment to service as opposed to commitment to power.

Name: Mitchell J. Freedman
Hometown: Poway, CA
Amen, Eric, on your comments on Israel, Hamas, Fatah, and Ha'aretz.  Reading Ha'aretz, I noted the Hamas person quoted did not reject peace talks per se.  That was interesting.  So, too, is Bush a.k.a. The Terrible President's, ahem, diplomatic sounding initial response.  One may imagine how the right wing Jews in America who still support him must be choking a bit after that one--though we have no reason to believe nearly anything Bush says.

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Not meaning to promote someone else's equally well written and researched blog, (Talking Points Memo) but it turns out that the photography service for the Bush White House has scrubbed the photos of Bush and Abramoff.  As in erased from their database (one reason not to use digital cameras -- no negatives).  Now, if we apply the "what if Clinton did it" test, the hue and cry would go on for days, weeks, months, etc.  Did Bush commit a crime with Abramoff?  Don't know.  Is Bush involved in a coverup of his relationship with Abramoff?  You betcha.  And as they said 32 (and 8) years ago, it's not the crime, it's the coverup.

Name:  Jon Callahan
Hometown: 
Salt Lake City, Utah
Eric:
I've never written before, but I'm a nearly daily reader of your blog since inception and read WLM a few years ago.

I saw An Unreasonable Man at Sundance last night (all 3 hours!), and had pretty much the same impression of it that you did.  The movie was obviously a long apologetic for Nader's role in the 2000 election, but I do give it credit for voicing all of the main points of criticism even if it stacked the deck in rebutting them.  I was amused by how much time was spent addressing and justifying his campaign's focus on swing states right before the election.  Do you happen to remember who wrote the article in the New Republic in 2000 pointing this fact out before the election?  I can't find it in their archives.  (The accompanying cartoon with Nader as a poodle biting Gore's leg contrasted with Buchanan as a happily panting hound by Bush's side sticks in my memory.)

And, by the way, I was also struck by how the film was edited with short clips of your interview to give the impression that you were shrill and ranting.  I, for one, was highly irritated by that on your behalf.

Keep up the good work.

Name: Chris
Hometown: Great Mills, MD
Eric,
I highly suggest you read Nightingales Song by Robert Timburg.  It follows the careers of James Webb, Ollie North, John McCain, and John Poindexter from their Academy days to the Iran Contra hearings.  It absolutely blows my mind that a man of Webb's standing speaks out against this war and it’s not news.  I am glad he is sticking to his guns and defending good men like Murtha and Kerry.  I wish I could say the same for McCain.

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: 
The Big Picture

"Priced out of Brooklyn"

Is NYC a Microcosm of the U.S.?

I would never had thought so.  Manhattan is totally unlike the rest of the nation.  I always loved paraphrasing a great line from Spaulding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia, which pointed out Manhattan's almost foreign nation status relative to the rest of the country:

Q: Do you live in the United States?

A: No, I live on a small island off the East Coast of America."

But in a surprising twist, a recent front page column in the NYT raises an interesting and unexpected parallel:  It turns out the wealth dichotomy in the U.S. between the Haves and the Have Nots is surprisingly similar to those of Manhattanites versus the outer boroughs:

New data compiled by the federal government suggests that New Yorkers who work outside Manhattan are being increasingly squeezed by inflation and slow wage growth - the bookends of economic struggle. And while inflation may vary somewhat from borough to borough, economists say that those variations do not affect the overall trend.

The Consumer Price Index rose 24 percent from 1996 to 2005 nationwide but grew 27.6 percent in every borough of New York. In the last three years, New Yorkers saw fuel prices rise 27 percent, while they grew 19 percent nationwide. And while the housing prices rose 8.4 percent nationwide, they went up 14.7 percent in New York. At the same time, benefits have decreased in many professions.

While Manhattan workers were not impervious to inflation, their wages helped shield its blow. Indeed, the number of families in Manhattan earning more than $200,000 a year rose almost 20 percent from 2002 to 2004 alone, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In other words, the borough of New York County is very much like the rest of the nation -- assuming you compare it only with the top 1% of earners nationally.

Consider: The real estate wealth, the limited access to exclusive events, museums, restaurants, shows.  Manhattan turns out to be exactly like a cross section the country -- just limit your gaze to the very most expensive parts.

Meanwhile, people in the outer boroughs are struggling to keep up.  Here's a phrase I never thought I would ever hear:  "Priced out of Brooklyn."  While we've heard similar phrases referring to other regions, where once sleepy bedroom communities see a big real estate price rise as higher paid urban professionals outbid the locals for homes in convenient commuter towns.  In the NY area, its not just Great Neck and Manhasset and New Rochelle and Scarsdale -- its been happening in Brooklyn, lower Harlem and Queens.  The Bronx may very well be next.

Why?  Personal Income gains for the rest of NYC -- Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island -- are actually failing to keep up with inflation.  This has also been happening nationally for the past 5 years.

Indeed, there's no reason to assume the middle and blue collar classes in Queens and the Bronx should be any different than comparable workers in the rest of the nation.  Energy prices have skyrocketed, as have housing costs, transportation, medical care, education costs, health insurance, and even food.  Just because outer borough residents work for wealthy law firms, investment banks, brokerages, advertising agencies, publishers and media companies does not insulate them from the same inflationary forces that are affecting the rest of the country.

What was it exactly that the Times had to say about Manhattan versus the outer boroughs?

As the pay and purchasing power of Manhattan residents have moved higher and higher, incomes in all four of the boroughs outside Manhattan have trailed inflation over the last few years, in a stark example of the increasing income disparity in New York City. In terms of wages, Manhattan families are doing better on average than those in the rest of the nation, while families in the four other boroughs are doing worse.

In Manhattan, real wages - earnings adjusted for inflation - rose 5.4 percent between the first quarters of 2002 and 2005, led by the finance and information industries, while the national average was flat.

Soaring year-end bonuses seemed to play a major role in the Manhattan increase. Economists generally look on first-quarter results as providing the best indicators of trends.  But in the rest of the city, those wages fell at least 2.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The drop was biggest on Staten Island at 8.3 percent, although that figure may be more volatile because that borough has the smallest population in New York City.

Real wages are one of the best indicators of how people are doing financially. Driving the buying power of these wages down, it appears, is inflation. There is also an absence of serious upward pressure on wages in most industries, especially those that employ the lowest earners. The number of both high- and low-wage jobs has grown, but there is little mobility between the two.

The economics of this is no surprise -- recall we previously looked at the The Disconnect and Economic Classes several times last year.  What is intriguing is the newfound interest in the declining middle class in the mainstream media.  Over at Slate, Dan Gross has done a few pieces on The Cram Down Decade.  Then this week's NYT article.  But the very last place I would have imagined this phenomena to be discussed is the Op/Ed pages of the WSJ.  Yet the same day the Times piece was out, Robert Rubin, former U.S. Treasury Secretary (1995 - 99), and a present director of Citigroup, made a cogent analysis on why this is bad for the nation's economic health:

The seeming inertial tendency of our economy toward less and less broad-based participation is startling and too little discussed. Median real wages, household incomes and family incomes have increased relatively little over the last 30 years, except during the last five years of the '90s. Thus, a study showed that in 1979 it took 44 people with average earnings in the bottom half of the population to equal each person in the top 0.1 of 1%, while in 2001, the last year in that study, that number was 160.  Our economy is not working for too many of our people, and that is a problem for all of us.

Of course, the editors at the Journal editorial page managed to omit Rubin's commentary from the public OpEd online page.  But that omission only points the fact that 1) Rubin hit a nerve and 2) Idealogues are rarely comfortable with contra-arguments.  (Is it any surprise that many reporters at what is arguably the finest newspaper in America are actually embarrassed at the rhetorical excesses published at its Op Ed page?)

Expect to see this issue gaining more traction in the mainstream media as wages stagnate and inflation remains an issue...

Source:
As Manhattan Booms, Inflation Squeezes Rest of New York
JENNIFER STEINHAUER
NYT, January 25, 2006

'We Must Change Policy Direction'
ROBERT E. RUBIN
WSJ, January 24, 2006; Page A20

January 26, 2006 |12:11 PM ET | Permalink

Things can always get worse

If George W. Bush has had no positive virtues whatever as president, he at least has taught us that things can always get worse.  So too, have the Palestinian elections.  It would be hard to invent a worse result than a victory for the vicious, corrupt group of murderous gangsters and hucksters who run Fatah—read this brilliantly reported piece if you think that overstated—but a victory for Hamas is just that.  The ironies abound, all of them painful.  First off, it was the Israelis themselves who helped get Hamas off the ground as a potential alternative to Arafat.  Second, they have shown themselves to be its most significant political supporter with their refusal to deal with the far more moderate and westernized Fatah, undercutting its ability to show anything for its public face of moderation and therefore pushing people into the arms of the relatively corruption-free, socially responsible Hamas.  Third, while the reasons that the Palestinians support Hamas may have little to do with its professed desire to wipe Israel off the map—again—they genuinely provide real services and do not terrorize the population for their own material gain as does Fatah—the net result will be to give the Israeli hardliners the opportunity to further immiserate the Palestinian masses, putting off the day, even further into the future, when these almost infinitely abused people will ever be able to live their public lives with some dignity and, perhaps prosperity.  It’s encouraging to see a genuinely democratic election in the Arab world, yes.  But look what you get.  This is one of the too-many-to-count fallacies in the insanely counterproductive neocon strategy in the Middle East, which I’m sure will only get worse.  In the meantime, the short-term winner of this election is Bibi Netanyahu, which is bad news for all humankind.

I’m sure it is a reflection of my own cultural prejudices but for events like this, I turn to the coverage in Ha’aretz.  I can promise you it will be fairer to the Palestinians and more knowledgeable than almost anything you will find in the mainstream U.S. media

“A Fine Klein Whine,” or “Hey Joe, Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?” [ permalink ]

Joe Klein’s response to this column, in which, as you can see for yourself, I submit a series of his unsupported assertions to the weight of contrary evidence, contains the following points of facts and/or evidence in rebuttal…

Oh wait, there isn’t any.  That’s right, zip, nada, nothing, the null set, etc.  It does, however contain the following examples of playground-style name-calling and (metaphorical) foot-stamping until he gets his ice-cream cone back: Eric Alterman, says Time’s most liberal columnist, is: “simply not a serious person … not worth addressing… [someone who] just spews opinions without having any information or doing any reporting… [characterized by] essential narcissistic laziness… so peripheral, I forget he’s in the business… [has] opinions without bothering to report first… [and] has written lots of inaccurate, foolish stuff about me before…”

Well I’m convinced.  Blogger Rory O’Connor charmingly gives Klein’s comically substance-free tantrum free run of his blog here, failing to ask him to substantiate a single one of his charges.

Bloggers, sheesh.

Quote of the Day:  “People like me who favor this program don’t yet know enough about it yet,” he says, “Those opposed to it know even less – and certainly less than I do.”  —Joe Klein.

(People who know “certainly less” than Joe Klein about FISA: Beth Nolan, Curtis Bradley, David Cole, Geoffrey Stone, Harold Hongju Koh, Kathleen M. Sullivan, Laurence H. Tribe, Martin Lederman, Philip B. Heymann, Richard Epstein, Ronald Dworkin, Walter Dellinger, William S. Sessions, William Van Alstyne, here, and the Congressional Research Service, here.)

Bonus: Joe Klein Quote of the Day:  “Given the circumstances [of George W. Bush’s ‘victory’], there is only one possible governing strategy: a quiet, patient, and persistent bipartisanship.”  Here.

Bonus Alanis Morisette/Joe Klein point:  You know, in my original column, I toyed with a reference to the fact that Klein is on record as willing to mislead his colleagues, editors, and the rest of us for his own personal financial gain, as he did when he repeatedly denied being the author of “Primary Colors.”  I do think it relevant, but I made a strategic decision that it would feel like a personal attack and I wished to stick exclusively to the evidence of his journalistic malfeasance in this particular instance.  Go figure.

Things I learned at Sundance, Part III

I saw three documentaries the day before I left Sundance.  The most significant of which was the Al Gore movie about global warming, here.  It’s an incredibly impressive presentation and absolutely terrifying.  Whether it can have even a fraction of the galvanizing effect that will be needed to save the planet from catastrophe, well, I can’t imagine it.  The film is essentially a long lecture with incredibly cool graphics.  It’s a good two hours long, and while I learned a lot, I have a hard time imagining masses of people devoting themselves to time necessary to take it in, much less affecting their behavior on the kind of scale that would be required.  It left me thinking that Gore really better run… however the smug, superior, journalistic condescension is never going to go away.  (Remember this is the very same newspaper that misled its readers and the rest of the press corps about Gore’s alleged claims of having “discovered” Love Canal, actually publishing Republican campaign propaganda instead of Gore’s own words.)

Speaking of which, I also caught the second half of the Ralph Nader documentary, here.  Made by Nader admirers, the first half—which is about ninety minutes long, is an examination of what the producers see as the heroism of Nader’s career.  OK, but I find that arguable.  The second half of this extremely long movie is really a second film about Nader’s destructive career in electoral politics.  The primary critical voices are the people who are running the organizations that Nader helped start but feel themselves to be completely alienated by his actions and unwillingness to listen to anyone.  The two people interviewed to give voice to the anger that so many Americans feel at Nader for allowing the election to be tipped to Bush are me and Todd Gitlin.  Almost every time we speak, however, we are followed by a chorus of Nader supporters who are given considerably more time to make their cases and invited to offer up evidence that makes them sound convincing.  (Todd and I are quoted in snippets.)

Yeah I know, it’s only fair, given what a weak case they have to make, but still…

It’s a solid, serious effort, but one that is overly tipped on the scales on behalf of Nader’s narcissistic nature for me to endorse it.

I also saw a bit of Julien Temple’s documentary about the Glastonbury festival, here.  I was genuinely curious but I thought it horrible and unwatchable and left after twenty or so minutes.

I did leave Sundance with a renewed appreciation for the power and importance of the long-form documentary, particularly since these are increasingly difficult to find on TV.  And if you doubt this, rent the masterful “Control Room,” here, and see if you don’t find it to be a revelation, both about your own government, and about its subject, Al-Jazeera.

I hope we’ve all been keeping up with Paul in Baghdad.  Come home safely, bub.

The CUNY Journalism School and its dean, Steve Shephard, are fairly profiled here.

Public Service Announcement:  Each year a number of government openness organizations, including the American Library Association, American Society of Newspaper Editors, and OpenTheGovernment.org, celebrate "Sunshine Week," an annual event begun last year that seeks to raise awareness of the importance of open government.  This year events will take place of 12-18 March 2006.  Programs will focus around the theme: "Are We Safer in the Dark? A National Dialogue on Open Government and Secrecy." Regularly updated information can be found here, including a listing of groups sponsoring local programs. Online registration is now available here and will continue through 6 March 2006.

Alter-reviews:  Cameo Parkway 1957-1967 [BOX SET] 

I’ve been studying the early history of rock n roll of late and Cameo/Parkway, founded by Bernie Lowe and Karl Mann in a Philadelphia basement, often gets shafted because unlike say, Chess or Sun, it was neither present at the creation, nor did it focus on exploring a single sensibility.  Plus an awful lot of it was disposable junk of the most frivolous junk.  (And believe me, you don’t know the meaning of the phrase “frivolous junk” until you’ve heard “Senator Bobby” sing “Wild Thing.”  But check out this song list and you’ll see a bunch of important steps on the road to ruin, including early Kinks, Bob Seger, the magnificent ? & The Mysterians, and lots of people previously known only to obsessives.  What’s more, you’ll have a great deal of fun on your way there.  And historically speaking, Jeff Tamarkin’s liner notes are invaluable.

And while we’re speaking historically, EMI has released Linda Rondstadt’s first four (post-Stone Pony) solo records in a two CD set slightly misleadingly entitled “The Best of Linda Rondstadt.” I say “slightly” because it really is the best of Linda Rondstadt (save the exclusion of the SP’s heavenly “Different Drum”), but most people won’t see it that way, having been raised on Linda as Buddy Holly interpreter.  She actually gets better and better and peaks in 1974 with “Heart Like A Wheel,” a near perfect record and almost as influential as “Tapestry” in its own way.  And the cover photo is a real heartbreaker, though the others have a kind of soft-core baby doll feel to them.  Anyway, it’s great to have these cleaned up and in one place.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Matt Devens
Hometown: Michigan City, IN
Dear Eric,
I'm glad you mentioned "this fellow James Webb" in a recent post.  His criticism of the invasion of Iraq, coupled with the cred he's achieved through his unapologetic gallantry in Vietnam and tenure as Ronald Reagan's Navy Secretary, ought to make him Bush & Co.'s worst nightmare.  I'm not sure why, though, his cable gabfest appearances are so infrequent.  Perhaps his intelligence and candor have rendered him persona non grata.  I want to share with you and the gang some choice observations Webb made on uber-spitting head Chris Matthews's show in October of '04, which are particularly timely as Rove and Cheney again trot out their exclusive claims to post-9/11 wisdom.

MATTHEWS: Why do our leaders, starting with the president down, why did they not expect nationalistic resistance to an occupation in Iraq, when our whole history of the world tells us, expect people to resist occupation?

WEBB: You know, the sad thing is, there's not a thing that has occurred in Iraq that was not only predictable but predicted.  And predicted with good military advice to this administration.

MATTHEWS: Did ideology overwhelm military history here? Is that why we went in with such confidence?

WEBB: My view of it, when Vice President Cheney repeatedly says that the people who have questioned the war against Iraq don't understand the post-9/11 world, my view is the complete reverse. The people who did this, this was on their to-do list when they got into the administration, and they did not...

MATTHEWS: Cheney?

WEBB:  Cheney and the whole group that really put this together.  They wanted this as a part of what was going to happen in the Bush administration. One way or the other, they were waiting for... (CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That's why they joined, you could argue.

WEBB: And in my view, these people don't understand the realities post-9/11. Post-9/11, this was a bad idea. Pre-9/11, I still would have opposed it, but at least it was an arguable idea.

MATTHEWS: Because-why is it more of a bad idea now since 9/11?

WEBB: Because international terrorism really moved in a dramatic way from a regional problem to a global problem. We saw that we had to step to the forefront. We had all the nations of the world with us after 9/11. And we systematically alienated a huge percentage of the world at a time we needed their cooperation. We tied down our military in static positions when we had developed, for 10 or 15 years, we had worked on a maneuverable military. And now we dumped them into static positions. So it is a bad idea in terms of international politics, a bad idea in terms of grand strategy, and a bad idea in how to use the military.

MATTHEWS: Did we dare the Arab world to take us on in Iraq? The young men of the Arab world? Did we say, go ahead, make our day, go ahead, step up to the plate, you got it?

WEBB: Clearly, it was the inevitable consequences of anyone who thought this through.

MATTHEWS: Like bring it on. That's what the president said. And they did.

WEBB: And well, I think that by putting our people in Iraq, we certainly made them targets in a way that they wouldn't have been if we were fighting the war against international terrorism from a position to maneuver.

MATTHEWS: OK. Good luck with the book. "Born Fighting." If you were teaching at the academies, any one of the academies, would you be saying, don't to go war in Iraq? That was the lesson here?

WEBB: As a policy matter or as a personal matter?

MATTHEWS: As a military history matter, it was a mistake, it was a blunder?

WEBB: I would say, I would say in terms of national policy, it was a bad strategic blunder. In terms of talking to an individual, you have to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

MATTHEWS: I'm talking about course 101 in Annapolis, when you're teaching a course in military history, would you say one of the lessons of the war with Iraq that began in 2002, or whatever, was don't do it?

WEBB: I would say it was a bad idea. A bad strategic blunder.

MATTHEWS: OK. That's fair enough. I don't want you to make other people's points. I mean, you're a great man, with a great history. You worked for Reagan. You think this war was a bad idea. James Webb. Your book is called "Born Fighting."

If Webb gains greater national visibility in the Iraq debate, let's see how long it takes him to get Murtha-ed.

Name: Bill Heber
Hometown: Torrance, Ca.
Hi Eric;
You know the amazing thing about the Bush Whitehouse is that just when you think you know all the reasons why you hate those guys, they come along and give you yet another reason. This link is from the NBC nightly news on Jan. 25th.  It talks about how the Bush administration has decided to let a lot of New Orleans rot by not investing in the billions necessary to revive it.  As an added bonus the Bushies are also exercising executive privledge to prevent Congress from finding out "what did it know and when did it know it" about Hurricane Katrina and its potential for devastation in the gulf coast.

Name: Cheryl
Hometown: Minnepolis, MN
In Star Trek the original and Deep Space Nine there was an alternative universe where everything was the opposite of what it is in the real universe.  I sometimes find myself daydreaming of the alternative universe where Al Gore was our President.  Let's just say he was and 9/11 just happened.  He could foresee the energy crisis looming and how we needed to rid ourselves of our Middle East oil dependence and pour our money and resources and brain power into alternative energies.  This would have led to his going to Detroit to enlist their help to make more fuel efficient vehicles/hybrids or whatever else the smart people at Ford and GM could come up with.  So in my universe 35,000 people didn't lose their jobs at Ford yesterday.  Oh yeah, and Osama Bin Laden probably would not be still taunting us and Roe would not be doomed.  Beam me up.

Name: Birdman
Hometown: Out West
Dr. - the funny-madman Bob Goldthwait - had a great joke that bears retelling: 

When I was in school, they gave us intelligence tests...and I scored third...from the bottom.  I was OK with it though because I KNEW...there were two guys who scored lower than I did.  And I KNEW...that all I had to do was to find those guys...AND I'D BE THE LEADER! 

The kind of resume that drives the C+ administration.  And to Brad from Arlington, since no one wants to "cut and run" and leave the Iraqi people with the mess we "helped" them into; it seems the best solution will be to "help" them (and us) out of this situation under new leadership, theirs and our own.

Name: John S. Ransom
Hometown: Carlisle, PA
Gerald Benz writes: "Good thing [Alterman] never has sit in a foxhole and think about dying." Yes, that is a good thing, because that must be uncomfortable.  But also, isn't 'foxhole' a bit outdated?  I mean, who these days goes into a foxhole?  And then: "I bet his coward ass rubber legs would be good for the skeddaddle."  First, rubber legs aren't very reliable vehicles.  Second, 'good for the skedaddle'? Sounds like dialogue from 'Sling Blade.' And: it's just not true, as Gerald Benz alleges, that Eric Alterman "drinks the best booze and screws the broads." He's a liberal, remember?  That means he occasionally has an aperetif, a glass of white wine here and there (for instance, in a foxhole), and *seduces* -- not 'screws! -- androgenous metrosexuals with his fine knowledge of Petrarchian sonnets.

Name: Bill
Hometown: NYC
Eric, a while ago you had some links for where to mail stuff to soldiers in Iraq.  Think you could direct us to them?  Also, thank God people like Gerald Benz are manning the foxholes in Missouri.

Name: Don G.
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Hey, Eric, thanks for publishing the message from Gerald Benz, of Springfield, Mo. -- whose sister Mercedes I've been after for years, incidentally, to no avail.  But I had a question.  Mr. Benz, once he got revved up, wrote "Good thing he never has sit [sic] in a foxhole and think [sic] about dying, I bet his coward ass rubber legs would be good for the skeddaddle. Lets [sic] we we [sic] never had to rely on pricks like this to defend our country."  I just want to be sure.  He WAS talking about the president, right?

Name: Jim Garry
Hometown: Delmar, NY
Eric, Benz doesn't really require a response but you could link to a list of all the GOP politicians who didn't serve and the Dems who did.

Name: Mike S.
Hometown: Englewood, OH
Your "Quote of the Day" and link for 1/24 made me realize, again, just how much I miss The Man's contributions to this blog.  Keep up the good work, Pierce!  You speak for many of us.

Name: Richard Pachter
Hometown: South Florida
I have no trouble believing that Bobcat made a great movie.  Have you ever seen "Shakes The Clown"? Here's a link.

January 25, 2006 |12:45 PM ET | Permalink

In praise of Vince Young
And anxiety about surveillance, privacy

Hey, everybody out in Altercation land. Siva Vaidhyanathan here, back to drop some science on y'all while Eric is flying back from lovely Utah. Today, I have no Paris Hilton sightings. I have no previews of movies that will not hit your local theatre until some time in July. And I can offer you no insight into Al Gore's intentions.

But I will do my best to keep you entertained and informed for the next five minutes or however long you spend each day reading this site.

Since I last appeared here back in December, a wonderful thing has happened in my life. Well, two wonderful things. First, I became a father. Wow.

Ok. And second, my Texas Longhorns won the National Championship in football! I predicted the win some time ago on this site. I received mail from doubters and Sooners who thought Texas lacked that sense of inevitability that only comes when ESPN talking heads anoint your team "the greatest of all time." But hey, look at the score, my friends. Look at the score.

Mark my words: Vince Young is the greatest college football player of all time and is destined to be the greatest professional football player of all time. He will change the game. He will rock the league. He will retire with more rings than Michael Jordan. Vince reminds me of Jordan in so many ways. Both of them could stepped up and played better when the pressure was one. Both raised the level of their peers' games by example. Both made good decisions on the fly.

Jordan is the only other athlete besides Vince Young who could simply decide to win a championship and then do it. Jordan had to drive past five defenders. Vince has to dodge 11.

By the time Vince Young retires, he will be considered better than Unitas, Montana, and Elway. Those guys were great. But they always needed someone on the other end of the pass to win the game. Vince can do it all by himself.

Like Jordan, Vince Young will go third in this year's NFL draft. Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart will be the Sam Bowie and Akeem Olajuwan of their time. I'm not saying which is which.

Ok. Enough gloating now on to some serious matters: surveillance and privacy.

I was on the great public radio show Open Source (click to listen) the other night talking about Google and its efforts to stand up the feds in their efforts to get massive records of our Internet searches from the company. This is a rather big deal. As many of us have been saying for years, there is real danger in Google (and Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Amazon.com, etc.) collecting dossiers on our Internet habits. While these companies might annoy us with targeted ads and please us with customized service, they collect all sorts of information that might or might nor accurately reflect our relative danger to society.

The danger comes when the federal government demands records of our Internet usage and then runs the data through badly-designed "data mining" algorithms. In the specific case of Google, the Feds are not seeking any individual or identifiable information. But spikes and anomalies in the data could send them scurrying for more specific information. If it sees a high incidence of searches for "Anthrax" (the microbe, not the band) or "Jihad" over a set of days, the FBI could request deeper data. Then you could be in trouble.

For instance, you might want to read all you can about Al Qaeda before you take the Foreign Service Exam. Your innocent searches could be misinterpreted as solidarity instead of curiosity. All of a sudden, you find yourself a "false positive." Worse, such a foolish process can't help but yield "false negatives," letting really bad people slip through while we place way too much faith in the power of raw data and fast computers.

Now, the whole thing is actually pretty stupid. The Feds want lists of all the sites Google has indexed and all the search terms Google users have entered in a specific period of time. The Justice Department wants to give this data to a scholar who will generate some sort of statistical report demonstrating -- get this -- THERE IS A WHOLE LOT OF NAUGHTINESS ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB!

Yep. This is like issuing a subpoena to Boeing to determine that Seattle has a whole lot of cloud cover. The ultimate goal of the report is to bolster the defense of the unconstitutional Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which is supposed to forbid commercial entities from offering content deemed "harmful to minors." Yep. It's that vague. I'm not making this up.

In this case, Google is actually standing up for you and me. The company is fighting the government subpoena. And it deserves our thanks. But as Tim Wu of Columbia University Law School writes, the real problem here that Google collects and keeps all our data in the first place. We must demand that Google purge its servers of our personal data. If it won't we should demand that Congress act to protect us. I know, the thought of Congress actually working to protect Americans is painfully out of date. But hey, I can't give up hope.

Google has major problems. It is fact becoming one of the world's most troublesome companies. Last month I wrote a big article critical of its plan to scan in entire libraries of books. And yesterday we learned that Google is setting up a separate filtered search service for the People's Republic of China. That's right, the company that pledges to "do no evil" is doing evil. It's directly supporting the repressive and murderous tactics of the Chinese government. Do we really want to trust this company with so much that is dear to us?

Of course, the big surveillance story has been the Bush administration's massive and criminal effort to spy on Americans without warrants. It's becoming clearer all the time that we need a comprehensive and honest debate over privacy and surveillance in this country. Every day I see evidence that we never really won the Cold War. After all, the KGB is running Moscow again. We just brought it home and started emulating our former enemies.

One old-fashioned Red, White, and Blue American version of surveillance and intimidation is alive and well. The right wing is still trying to shame and expose those who dissent from their Manichean views of the world. In their clumsy fashion, they can't help but do it poorly.

The latest comic example comes from a lone UCLA alumnus who offered a $100 bounty to any student who would record a lefty professor expressing her views in the classroom. UCLA faculty members freaked out about this. And the UCLA administration behaved much worse. Let's me ask you what's worse: a guy paying students a minimal amount to record classes that they are already paying for or a major university threatening that guy with dubious copyright claims. As Michael Bérubé wrote, this guy is paying $100 for recording an entire semester of lectures, so the students would be getting less than $2 per hour.

See, UCLA lied. Its lawyers said that by recording lectures, students would be violating copyrights of either the professor or the university or both. Not only is this claim not true, it's unethical. There is no copyright protection for spoken performances. You only get copyright protection when something is fixed in a tangible medium of exchange. Lectures are not. (Oddly, if professors sang their lectures, they would have some protection under international law).

But more importantly, since when is teaching a secret activity? This ain't the CIA. Professors should be encouraging students to tape and distribute lectures. It's our job to spread knowledge! Many times in my teaching career I have had students who have reading or learning disabilities who recorded my lectures. I never asked them what they were doing with the recordings. It's not my business.

I often make MP3 podcasts of my lectures to help students review and make up classes they miss. It's a nice service and it costs me nothing. There is no market value for my lectures. And I have already been paid for the service of preparing and delivering the lecture. So it's my ethical duty to spread what I know and open myself to criticism and correction. If the right-wing activists want to pay me $100 for all my lectures, they are welcome to them.

That's supposed to be the ethic of higher education. But because we live in such a politically paranoid time, overwhelmed with anxiety of letting knowledge flow freely, we recoil at the notion that conservative students might have problems with what and how we teach. And (gasp) they might even want to document what we do!

Well, let's face it. The right wing makes stuff up all the time. Most of the complaints the right has made about lefty professors have been debunked. Maybe if these whiny activists actually had to listen to a few lectures, they would realize that we are really boring, completely harmless, and not worth their time and $100.

January 24, 2006 | 10:44 AM ET | Permalink

“We Just Pay Them.”

It’s a rather amazing but telling sign o’ the times that it will be considered a measure of exoneration of the Bush administration that the European Commission says the administration was not necessarily setting up secret gulag-style torture camps in Poland and Romania, but merely sending suspects to be tortured in nations where doing so does not present much of a problem, politically. here . Of course, this does not mean the Poland and Romania stories are false. I doubt that. We know from Brian Ross’s redacted reporting on ABC News, that I discussed here, that the CIA probably rolled up these operations just before Condi Rice’s plane touched down in these countries after they were exposed by Human Rights Watch and The Washington Post. What this means, most likely, is that the US got the Europeans to play ball on behalf of these countries’ governments—who might not survive the revelation were it confirmed at home—or that the CIA is showing a rare degree of competence in rolling them up so effectively that the investigation can find no traces of them. Still, it is a measure of how low this administration has taken us that its new slogan may be “We don’t torture (much). We just pay torturers to do our work for us.”

Things I learned at Sundance Part II.

Well, I never really noticed Bobcat Goldwaith before. He seems really enduring but really annoying in person. But I’m about to write something you’d have to see to believe. At 9:15 a.m. yesterday, a packed auditorium gave him a massive ovation for a beautiful, sensitive, funny, thoughtful and provoking movie about a girl who gives her dog a blowjob. No really. It’s called “Stay” and I loved it, and so will you if it ever gets released and you have any taste at all.  Say this for Sundance, inside all the Paris Hilton hysteria, it works.  Films get discovered. Talent gets a hearing. New voices are found and nurtured. I’d be prouder of this, were I the great man, than of my acting career.

Quote of the Day: "He is so engaged as a passionate observer of and writer on the American experience," said Warren. "Those kinds of writers are rare to come by." here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jeff Thomas
Hometown: Brighton, MI
Eric, If I may paraphrase "Stupid" from Chicago; It is crazy to want to be the next President of the United States. Bush's current strategy, a'la Rove (of course) is to make sure nothing falls apart until January 1, 2009. After that, blame everything on the next President and say that nothing bad happened on "my watch" (except 9/11, Iraq, Abramoff, Katrina support, et al). The next President is going to inherit a disaster. Who, in his or her right mind, is going to want to have to deal with paying all the bills that Bush racked up? Who will want to get us out of Iraq and the Middle East quagmire and do it without being called a "defeatist" or, worse, "defeated". Bush knows that as long as he keeps troops in Iraq, he can say he was not defeated. His plan is to leave the "defeat" to the next President. You keep encouraging your pal Al to run for President. I say he would be crazy to do it, and he probably knows he would be a one-termer, as the next President is likely to be. Al is young enough to wait until 2012 when his hair will be a little grayer and his appearance and "statesman" credentials are a little more "Presidenial". Jimmy Carter had to absorb the Nixon legacy (Ford wasn't around long enough to take much of the blame) and look where it got him. Unless something exceptional happens while still in office, Bush is setting the terms for the next Presidency, and they aren't pretty. My recommendation is to find someone crazy to run for President, because no sane person would want the job.

Name: David A Snyder
Hometown: Edison, NJ
Dr. Alterman, Something struck me in your latest column. You quote Joe Klein as saying: "A strong majority would favor the NSA program...if its details were declassified and made known." How does he know with such certainty what people would think if the details of the program were declassified? How does he even know what he would think? Either he has some polling data at hand with hypothetical details and the public supporting the program under certain scenarios (and my understanding is that the public only would support the program if it is so limitted there is no reason why the Bush admin couldn't have gotten warrants in the first place -- in which case, in spite of the public's hypothetical support, the program would be an obvious and eggregiously pointless abuse of power by the President), or he is so arrogant (in which case his arrogance will be seen by many as evidence that all of us liberals are so arrogant) as to second guess the public's opinion based on what he thinks the details of the program are -- unless he knows what the details of the program are?

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman, Your respondent Mr. Childress from SF would apparently doom Iraq (and all its citizens) to a chaotic and bloody demise for no other reason than disdain and distrust of our current administration. Despite noting that "the US has a strong interest in a stable Iraq," and that "in a more perfect world, we would stay and straighten things out," Mr. Childress would have America simply walk away so that no more Americans need "to die for [the Bush administration's] failure." Sadly, Mr. Childress appears to have little to no regard for the people of Iraq or the consequences of his "best" solution. Clearly mistakes have been made in Iraq, but to abandon the entire endeavor because of them is myopic and needlessly cruel and careless to all the parties involved. He may call me "delusional" for believing a positive outcome is still possible (and even likely), but I would retort that Mr. Childress is naive and ignorant regarding world affairs. Our country is in the glaring international spotlight, and what happens in Iraq will color world opinion and views (and events) for years to come. To use a tired and overused phrase, failure is not an option we can remotely consider. There is much more to this war than body counts and political grandstanding. We all would do well, if even for a moment, to step out from our red/blue trenches and take a collective look at our country as a singular nation. America is not simply a collection of Democrats and Republicans. Failure in Iraq would equally affect all of us (and not positively). Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all citizens under the same flag. Those that oppose our country and its "Great Experiment" do not make political distinctions. In the meantime, me and my big red pig-tails and delusional nationalism will continue to swell with pride when I read items like that from your respondent Mr. Rainey in Southern Iraq and quietly hope that opinions such as Mr. Childress' are not pervasive. For if the war crimes trials that Mr. Childress so eagerly awaits come to fruition, we will have cut off our nose to spite our face.

Name: clinton
Hometown: brooklyn
hey eric, thanks for all your hard work. i have a comment for tony in regard to his CYHSY analysis: i agree that CYHSY's music is not overly impressive, and i especially agree with your stated preference for the Eno-produced Talking Heads' work. what i disagree with is that CYHSY sounds anything like those first 3 Talking Heads albums. Eno knew how to get lead singers (even Bowie!) to shut up for just long enough to allow the listener to be properly transported by his atmospherics. CYHSY's vocalist never shuts up; his vocals begin and end when the album respectivly begins and ends. CYHSY and countless other indie acts have yet to learn the timeless art of addition by (occasional vocal) subtraction.

Name: Eron
Eric, I thought that your readers might be inspired by the incredible quotes found at the Global Issues website at http://www.globalissues.org/Other.asp#Quotes Here are a few examples: "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind" - Mahatma Gandhi "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." - George Orwell "Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception." - Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger, 1916, Ch.9 and finally the real inspiration two Republicans "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." - Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President 1901-1909(From The American Presidency) [quoted from MediaChannel.org media in conflict news page.] "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron." - Former U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a speech on April 16, 1953 It is not the political party that defines a person, it is what is in their heart. Please continue to be a voice of compassion in this world governed by the grossest of self interests.

Name: Gerald Benz
Hometown: Springfield, Mo.
poor Eric. He lives like a capitalist but whines like a good liberal. Drinks the best booze, screws the broads just like the Haliburton boys, gets paid to do nothing and then complains constantly. Good work if you can get it. Good thing he never has sit in a foxhole and think about dying, I bet his coward ass rubber legs would be good for the skeddaddle. Lets we we never had to rely on pricks like this to defend our country. see you whiney boy. gb

January 23, 2006 | 10:44 AM ET | Permalink

1) How different is celebrity life from that of the rest of us?  Well, at Sundance, companies set up stores not to sell things but to give them away; expensive, beautiful things; things that would cost you and me many hundreds of dollars plus tax, they just give you, if they think you're famous.  While they do it, they ply you with drinks and cappuccinos, and tell you how much they admire your work.  Every time I see something like this up close, I say to myself, it's no wonder these people go so batty so quickly.

2)  Paris Hilton travels with a scrum of bodyguards and scummy journalists and photographers so large, it puts one in mind of the secret service detail around Clinton, if the secret service were much more scruffily dressed and had really bad manners, and would knock over your great grandmother to bask in her aura.  It is really one of the worst comments one can make about this country save the fact of who is somehow president.  I wonder what the suck-up sales people say to her instead of "I really admire your work."

3)  Speaking of which, my buddy Al Gore would not budge an inch on '08, though we were at a crowded party and I did not have a chance to make my case in earnest.  He told me he's been writing those terrific speeches of his of late by himself.  He also told me "The West Wing " is cancelled, which is too bad, as it's been pretty great lately.  I particularly liked the episode Brad Whitford wrote last week, up until the ending.

4)  This Redford fellow is one pretty lucky guy.  The Sundance Institute is about as nice a place a anybody could want to live.  It's quite removed from the craziness of the festival, which by the way, contains every economic form of human being known to man.  Twice I've been in the men's room with people who appeared to live there, for washing up purposes and stuff.  It is capitalism at its most raw, coupled with the dream of fame and endless free stuff, and it's both moving and scary to see what people will do for it.

5)  " Little Miss Sunshine" is a magical little movie.  Go see it if you can.  "Thank You for Smoking" is also hot and is a lot better than if Mel Gibson had made it as was planned.  It is not quite tough enough of the Abramoff culture as I see it but it is at least there, and the timing is excellent.  People treat movies here as if they were Springsteen/Dead concerts.  At an 11:30 a.m. showing of "Thank You" at the Park City Library, people were holding up one finger as if hoping for a "miracle," begging for a ticket.  I gave away my ticket to a documentary on Leonard Cohen, and the guy was so grateful it was as if I was offering to put his children through college.

6)  The Yarrow Hotel is one of the worst hotels I've stayed in in my adult life.  Anything my sponsors are paying over $59.95 a night is a rip-off.  Hell, that would be a ten dollar rip off.  I supsect they are being ripped off, however, by a factor of about 600 percent.  This saddens me but it's bad form to complain about it, what with so many people washing up in the men's room. **

7)  The woman who made "Control Room" Jehane Noujaim flew all the way from Cairo to be here for our panel this afternoon.  I will try to cede the time for all of my unimportant remarks to her.

Alter-review from Tony, NYCD:  "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah"

I like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's D.I.Y. ethos -- they sold about 25,000 copies of this record more or less out of their apartment -- so much that I was ready to fall in love with their self-titled debut album before I even heard it.  Once I took a listen, though, I was less impressed.  Is it just me or does every new indie band seem to sound like the Talking Heads records that Brian Eno produced?  And I'd rather listen to "More Songs About Buildings And Food" or "Fear Of Music" or "Remain In Light" than this album any day.

Don't be so quick to dismiss CYHSY, though.  Their influences (T. Heads, Feelies, early '80s British new wave) may be the same as every other current indie band's, but they have a sound that's all their own.  Well, they sound a LITTLE like the Arcade Fire, but still, put on 15 seconds of this record and you know exactly who it is.  And give it a few songs and an open mind, and you'll probably be enjoying it.  At the very least, it's an educational experience that will teach you the sound of the zeitgeist, circa 2006.

________________

**Not to be interpreted as ingratitude for the generosity of my hosts in putting me up at the festival, for which I remain appreciative.

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