February 10, 2006 |11:50 PM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called, “ The War Goes On, Unreported…" here.

Lying/Incompetent/Extremist/Worst President-of-All-Time-story of the Day, I:  "White House Knew of Levee's Failure on Night of Storm," here.

Lying/Incompetent/Extremist/Worst President-of-All-Time-story of the Day, II: "Ex-Cheney Aide Testified Leak Was Ordered, Prosecutor Says," here.

Lying/Incompetent/Extremist/Worst President-of-All-Time-story of the Day, III: “The Vanishing Future," here.

Lying/Incompetent/Extremist/Worst President-of-All-Time-story of the Day, IV: “Ex-CIA official faults use of data on Iraq Intelligence ‘misused’ to justify war, he says” here .  More on that one here.

At least they didn't suggest that maybe the CIA was running a blog or two.

And by the way… Has there ever been a more irresponsible individual ever let near a printing-press (or pixel) than Little Roy?  After September 11, first he wanted to put Susan Sontag and myself in concentration camps.  Now he wants to deliberately incite terrorism and riots against American publications on the principle that these publications have a responsibility to risk the life and limb of their reporters and readers for the purpose of publishing religiously offensive cartoons.  Dear crazy unhinged Moslem rioters:  I hear you can find Andy’s place somewhere in P-Town.  Why not riot there?  Go easy on the bathroom, though.  He recently remodeled it and he’s very proud…  (And try not to get there on day when he’s “doing” Anderson Cooper.  That boy was very cute when he was all emotional over those poor people in the Superdome….)  Well, at least he hasn’t made any references to the possibility, reported in the New York Times, that the CIA might have a blog or two…

In IPF Friday, MJ Rosenberg writes about an Israeli, an Orthodox Jew, Yitzhak Frankenthal, whose 19-year old son, Arik, was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas.  Did that turn him into a hawk, a hater of Palestinians?  On the contrary, he vowed "not to become another bereaved parent who lost a son only to support the very policies and conditions that led to his death."  He liquidated his business and now devotes his life to promoting reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.  He has met with the Hamas leadership and addressed Hamas crowds in Gaza.  He has no illusions about them but argues that Israel and the United States should start talking to them.  He thinks  that if Hamas believes Israel is serious about getting out of the West Bank, they will be ready for a deal.  Unlike American Jewish hawks, this man's words merit serious consideration.  He lost his son, he is an Israeli.  Why is it that the most heroic and fearless hawks all seem to live in New York and L.A.?

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to rant about Dubya's budget again.  We all know about the health care crisis, but what about the legal care crisis?  An unexpected legal problem can be just as financially devastating as an injury or illness.  The pro bono agency I volunteer at won't touch a client above the poverty line.  If you are working class you basically can't afford a lawyer.  This is true even though we have a lawyer glut: about one out of every 200 adults is an attorney.

Now let's look at Dubya's budget.  It increases spending for the federal judiciary by $600 million. It gives an extra $100 million to the federal criminal defender program.  But civil legal services to the poor?  They are cut by $19 million.  That may seem small, but it's nearly 6% of the Legal Services Corporation's budget.  It's also 0.5% of the war cost of a single month in Iraq.  Try telling someone who needs an order of protection in a domestic violence case (one of LSC's most common services) that there's no linkage between the two.  Coretta Scott King admirers should note that Dubya wants to cut the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission budget by $4 million (a 1.2% decrease).  When challenged about this, the Administration claims the EEOC's budget is "sufficient to meet its important responsibilities of enforcing civil rights law, investigating and litigating discrimination charges.... I guess racism went down 1.2% in the last year. 

Admittedly, federal legal aid money doesn't address the larger problem.  Conservatives have a valid point that the attorney lobby can be overly protectionist.  we need a regulated system that permits independent paralegals to handle common legal tasks.  But the amounts at stake in this budget are trivial to the budget deficit and the harm the cuts will cause is immense. 

Iraq School Project Update:  Ok, I haven't asked for donations in a while, in part not to have a perpetual virtual-hand extended, in-part because I was having a hard time finding computers that weren't a rip-off (a bigger concern because of the shipping costs).  But sources have been falling into place so, hat in hand, here's the paypal address for contributions: IraqSchools@hotmail.com.

Name: Dr. Ken Bridges
Hometown: El Dorado, AR
As a historian, I cannot help but be amused by the absolute shock of many commentators that some speakers took a political tone at Coretta Scott King's funeral.  The Funeral Oration of Pericles during the Peloponnesian War is considered some of the finest oratory of the ancient age.  Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was delivered at the dedication of a cemetery.  Politics at funerals is nothing new.  No, funerals in our society are not meant to make people feel comfortable.  They are supposed to make you remember the life of the deceased and understand what that life meant to you.  If Martin Luther King, Jr., were alive today, what would these conservative commentators be saying about him?  Would they be quoting his great speeches or lauding his nonviolence?  No, they would be questioning his sincerity and his effectiveness.  They would be denouncing him as a radical and a hypocrite, just like they do with Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, and the NAACP.  The King Family endured criticism for years, but always turned the other cheek and pressed on with their work.  But all of this criticism from conservatives, as usual, overlooks the real issues -- what was Coretta Scott King's life dedicated to?  It was a life dedicated to civil rights and equal justice for everyone, poor and rich, black and white.  Martin Luther King wrote in "Letter from Birmingham Jail" that his goal was to create tension, the kind of inner mental and spiritual tension that would lead to growth.  We need that kind of spiritual and intellectual growth today.  It is time that we took the example of the Kings and rise above the dark shadows of fear and into the light of truth and moral courage.  We could use the inspiration of King instad of the desperation of Bush.

Name: Kevin
Hometown: White Plains, New York
In response to Tom's search for simple catchphrase for my helpless Dems, here are two that come to mind. "Country Club Conservative" "Corporate Conservative."  They are so simple and effective the Dems are assured to never use them. They invoke an image reinforced by every headline today of the disconnect between those in power, and us, the serfs.  They play on the corruption of the Republicans and reiterate the charges of tax cuts for the wealthy in a visual way. They also characterize the current Republicans in a similar way to the manner in which they have managed to use "liberal elitist" as a way of dispelling any educated opinion.  Finally, they effectively wedge between the top 2% the Republicans make policy for and the rest of us, who are consistently left behind.  But then again, "Together, we can do better" really sounds like a winner too huh?

Name: Rev. Daniel Alsop
Hometown: Tehachapi, CA
Dr. Alterman,
For Democrats to win more elections they will need to get more votes from Christians.  To do this they will need to show from the Bible that the purpose of government is not just to fight wars and arrest bad guys.  It is also God's will that governments do good things for all the citizens, especially the poor and needy.  In the New Testament, Romans 13:4 tells us that the job of government officials is, "to do you good."  Any politician whose goal is to shrink government and leave people alone is not following God's commands.  They should be working to improve the lives of the poor, provide health care for the sick and increase educational opportunities for all citizens.  Anyone whose goal is to give big tax breaks to the wealthy and cut services to the poor is acting against God's Word.  If the Dems could get that message out they just might win some more elections.

Name: Jeff
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
To follow a thread started by JDV, to me what most impressed me about how the GOP hijacked this country is the way they were able to claim ownership over the language.  Democracy.  Freedom.  Liberty.  Terrorism.  And so on.  The Republicans snatched these words from the everyday vernacular and imbued them with their own meanings.  Liberals can't even use such words anymore because the right wing has so successfully annexed them.  Here is every speech Bush has ever given: Blah blah blah freedom blah blah blah democracy blah blah blah terrorists blah blah blah freedom blah blah blah Hate America.  The great irony here, of course, is that Bush throws around words like democracy as if he actually knows what they mean, since his administration has been a sustained, brazen, broadside attack on our system of government.  If the Democrats wish to turn this ship of fools around they need to reclaim the language and demonstrate how W and Co. have bastardized it.

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle
Dr. E.,
Tom from Seattle and Ken Carlson have it right.  "Cronyism, corruption, and incompetence" -- we need to hammer it home.  And please tell your anonymous witty insightful Irish-American friend that nobody "ought to be howling from a steamgrate," not even felons who give weapons to terrorists.

Name: Wm. Weissbeck
Hometown: Schererville, IN
Apparently it is not enough for Republicans to pin Democrats as the party without values, now they want to attack how Democrats practice their religion, e.g. Hillary Clinton's "Plantation" speech, and the speeches at Coretta Scott King's funeral.  Would the Republicans now say that William Jennings Bryan inappropriately mixed politics with Christian symbols in his "Cross of Gold" speech?  I think Michigan Governor Granholm came up with the best sound bite as the center piece of a Democrat strategy in her radio reply to Bush's Saturday message. Paraphrasing:  President Bush advocates leaving no child behind, Democrats say, leave no worker behind.  The parallels to the time of Bryan cannot be ignored.  We have come full circle under the Republicans to told that there is more to be valued in "capital" and "wealth" than in the value of the worker.  The worker is told he must adjust to globalization, while the capitalist never misses a beat while offshoring his plant.

Name: Larry
Hometown: Yucca Valley, CA
A friend writes about Southern funerals:  Geeze, what do the Conservatives think a Southern funeral is?  A short ceremony before dropping the body in the ground to assuage the Gods?  They know nothing of Southern culture.  Six hours isn't a long funeral; it's about the norm.  Funerals there are a celebration of the person's life, a time to mourn their loss, a time to reaffirm their legacy, a time to strut new fashions and a time to socialize and cement bonds with your fellow man.  It's also a time to air grievances, open old wounds and start to heal.  Sheeeh!  Don't Conservatives know anything?  One of the more interesting funerals I attended in Lake Jackson, Texas in the mid 1990's was for a fellow garden club member who was an alcoholic, could be abrasive in manner, shortchanged his children when they were growing up, but was a brilliant hybridizer of citrus.  Bruce was tolerated due to his genius and the fact people have manners in the South.  At funerals however, the gloves come off.  The Episcopalian minister railed from the pulpit about what a rotten human being Bruce was and how we all should pray for his soul and hope he found peace beyond the earth's bounds.  Bruce's adult children then got up to testify about what a rotten father and husband he had been.  Others who knew him chimed in about the 3 a.m. phone calls from Bruce when he was drunk, etc.  A lovely reception-wake was held at the country club afterward burial, and it lasted into the wee hours with plenty of alcohol.

February 9, 2006 |12:01 PM ET | Permalink

A final thought about Sundance
Plus The Altercation Book Club

While I remain on record arguing that the festival itself is a terrific thing, it can be sometimes hard to remember that amidst all the corporate hype and celebrity hoopla.  If you’re not trying to get your movie bought, the most likely topic of conversation appears to be how much and what kind of SWAG you rated, in much the same way that journalist’s conversations at political conventions focus exclusively on parties.  (Directors got orange parkas; actors and panelists, blue ones.)  I’m not a prig, but one of the more morally objectionable things I’ve ever seen in my life were the “gifting booths” set up at Sundance exclusively for the purposes of giving celebrities expensive things they could easily afford and then leaking the news to star-struck journalists so that they could write about how wonderful both the celebrities and the products were as if that’s what was really important at a festival designed to nurture and encourage new artistic voices.  Clearly it’s a screwy society that gives rich people free stuff and brags about it.  (I saw on a gossip page that Ashley Judd at least had the taste to make an appointment to be given stuff when nobody else was around.)

Still I live in this crazy mixed-up world of ours and so I accept, even embrace the need to harness the power of celebrity worship or the gossip industry that swirls around it.  I admire that large-lipped Ms. Jolie, for instance, for soaking those celebrity magazines to donate to charity in exchange for the news of the bun in her oven.  While at Sundance, I did an informal survey of which companies were “gifting” celebrities exclusively to celebrate their own mutual wonderfulness and which were using the opportunity to get some money into the hands of good causes.  I don’t purport to be exhaustive at all; most of these places don’t even let you in the door if you’re not a close friend of Paris, but I did ask both Motorola and Atari what they were doing for charity at Sundance and they said nothing, but wanted me to know which wonderful people had taken freebies of their vonduful phones and mind-destroying kid games. The winners, from the standpoint of humankind, were my friends at Kiehl's whose wonderful products not only warm my metrosexual heart (and skin) but also arranged to ensure that big bucks go to:

Good causes all, give ‘em your money.

On a more celebrity-exploitative note—remember, something I believe in—my friend Brad Whitford and his wife, Jane Kaczmarek, began a charity called “Clothes Off Our Back.”  The people at Frigidaire were showing off their cool new washer dryers, and giving away blankets, but they were also lending their space to COOB, and corralling celebs to sign stuff so it could be auctioned off.  If you want to have Paris’ writing keeping you warm, this is the place.  Now Pony up…

My Sundance panel was written about here.

Surprise, surprise:  "Nearly six months after two hurricanes ripped apart communities across the Gulf Coast, tens of thousands of residents remain without trailers promised by the federal government for use as temporary shelter while they rebuild.”  Here.  (And good for the Times for putting this ongoing crime on page one).

Not so surprising, alas:  Mickey defines “responsible” as follows: “Being responsible--in effect, letting the administration spy without external supervision for another year before the program is formalized and restricted.”  I’m not kidding.  Didn’t know they had that brand of Kool-Aid out in Venice, here.

State Department dishonesty on Darfur.

More evidence Satan is running things up here too.

You go girl.

Howie shills for Bush, Part XXXVIII:

Much of the MSM missed the boat.

Too many wrote predictable leads about the Coretta Scott King funeral, all but ignoring, or at least burying, the Bush-bashing that was going on.

Whether you think it was appropriate or galling for Jimmy Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery to use a funeral to take partisan shots at a president who was sitting behind them, this was news.

PARTISAN?  WHO TALKED ABOUT THE DEMOCRATS? WHEN, FOR EXAMPLE, ELIE WIESEL CHIDED REAGAN ABOUT BITBURG (WITH HIM SITTING THERE) OR CLINTON ABOUT BOSNIA AT THE HOLOCAUST MUSEUM (AGAIN, WITH THE PRESIDENT SITTING THERE), WASN'T THAT MORAL WITNESS?  And by the way, wasn't it a Democratic President who wiretapped the Kings, and wasn't that whom Jimmy Carter referred. Is it wrong to admit a gross historical injustice because it's politically inconvenient for a sitting president?  Howie would seem to believe so, or so he pretends.

Grammy awards with which I mostly agree, here.

Contemporary Folk Album: "Fair & Square," John Prine.

Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media: "Ray," Ray Charles.

Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group: "Beyond the Sound Barrier," Wayne Shorter Quartet.

Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal: "Restless," Alison Krauss and Union Station.

Solo Rock Vocal Performance: "Devils & Dust," Bruce Springsteen

Traditional Pop Vocal Album: "The Art of Romance," Tony Bennett.

Bluegrass Album: "The Company We Keep," The Del McCoury Band.

Best Long Form Music Video: "No Direction Home" (Bob Dylan).

Historical Album: "The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax," Jeffrey Greenberg and Anna Lomax Wood, compilation producers (Jelly Roll Morton).

Jazz Instrumental Solo: "Why Was I Born?" Sonny Rollins.

Musical Show Album: "Monty Python's Spamalot."

The thing about last night: Sly, oy vey…

OK, genuinely transcendent thing about last night: U2 and Mary J. Bilge

The Altercation Book Club:

"Edge City, France: Immigrants, Integration and National Identity” by Rod Kedward

For over two weeks in November 2005, the suburbs of Paris and over two hundred other French towns were the scene of violent expressions of youth alienation and anger at long-term unemployment, deprivation and police harassment. As cars and buses were torched and public buildings targeted, the riot police moved onto the attack with tear gas, beatings and arrests to counter a hail of rocks and home-made Molotov cocktails. In and out of the bitter confrontations, other local demonstrators tried to register the discrimination widely experienced by French youths of immigrant origin while also trying to curb the reflex resort to flames and destruction. 

It is a scene which has been played out many times over the last thirty years in these areas of densely populated, dehumanised blocks of concrete housing. The giant mass of apartments, but not their inhabitants, are visible from the autoroutes which fly past and over the destitution of the banlieue, a word which has taken on such a negative discourse that it translates inadequately as ‘suburb’. It is better rendered by the word ‘periphery’ to convey the experience of marginalisation and exclusion on the outer edge of affluent towns. The eruption of this current crisis in the banlieue has forced these areas to the center, but with what result is uncertain. Few commentators predicted an early end either to the violence or the alienation.

News headlines and reflective columns have mainly concentrated on three issues behind the all-pervading one of law and order, registered by the passionate and justified calls for personal and local security. First and most prominent is the high incidence of unemployment, reaching over 50% among youths whose Muslim names and addresses in the banlieue earn them instant refusal by certain employers. This level of discrimination is hard fact, repeatedly demonstrated through dual applications by the same individual: one giving a conventional French name which receives a summons to an interview, and the other the real name which provokes a rejection.  The synonym of unemployment in the banlieue is injustice.

The second issue is the French model of citizenship, which does not recognize any ethnic difference between citizens, only a common Frenchness. This egalitarian ideal is theoretically all-inclusive: it encodes the unitary aim of the secular French Republic. Ethnic origins are not declared on any official forms. They figure in no statistics of educational achievement or employment. It is a model which claims to integrate diversity and avoid the disasters of ethnic segregation and cultural apartheid. The consensus opinion in France around this model declares that if it is seen to be failing then it must be improved. Few French people of any origin argue that it should be abandoned.       

Thirdly, the riots have triggered vivid comparisons with all previous confrontations. They draw on a collective memory of conflict and provocation. This is the approach which appeals uncritically to commentators outside France, who easily evoke images of revolutionary mobs and barricades to suggest that the French would rather dig up the paving stones and burn anything to hand than engage in dialogue. Cynics enjoy a field day: at least, they wryly observe, the Muslim youth are well integrated into this particular French identity, disputing center-stage with the role, however mythical, ascribed to women of the Paris Commune, accused of setting fire to historic buildings within the much smaller city of 1871. As for violence from the other side, there is no less a memory of police brutality which provoked ever more serious student protest in May 1968, of political credibility given to the racism of Jean-Marie Le Pen and the ideology of exclusion at the heart of his National Front, and of unknown numbers of Muslim deaths at police hands on 17 October 1961, when a peaceful demonstration from the Paris suburbs against a curfew during the last stages of the Algerian war was violently dispersed. This memory too haunts the reactions to the contemporary scenes in the banlieue.

Place has to be given to a fourth dimension, all too easily occluded by the flames of the burning cars and the inflammatory words of Nicholas Sarkozy, the Minister of the Interior. Persuasive voices from multi-ethnic social movements have been insistent that the self-destructive and mindless violence must stop, but it will only do so if the communities of the deprived banlieue are integrated urgently through employment and educational opportunities, and still more by making diversity a transformative and empowering concept within the national identity.

A continuing history of interchange, of shared projects, and creative and political initiatives from within the banlieue exists as a counter to that of conflict. This history needs to be made central to the collective memory of the nation. Much of it was expressed in the motivation of Matthieu Kassovitz, the 27 year-old director of La Haine and winner of the Best Director’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival of 1995. He set out to explore the vitality and complexity of the banlieue from within. The film may have left only images of conflict for many of its audience, but for most it gave visibility to a world of inventive energy which was doomed to be destructive unless the priorities of the French elite radically changed. Ten years before the film it was precisely creativity and visibility which lay behind the political assertiveness of the beurs, street backslang for Arabs. Expressive of hope and determination among the younger generation of immigrant origin, the beur movement flowered alongside the popular force of SOS-Racisme, the vigorous youth campaign against racism, to which Jack Lang, the Minister of Culture at the time, gave huge government backing. Countless other associations and movements have mushroomed in the banlieue in the last twenty years and have gained a fragile foothold in mainstream policy. 

There is Azouz Begag today, a junior Minister of Equal Opportunity in the current government, who derives from a shanty town outside Lyon, and is well-known as a beur writer. But although he has been openly critical of Sarkozy’s offensive language, he faces a period in which he has to build a profile of effective independence if his role is not to be dismissed as tokenism in the banlieue.  It is this challenge which faces all gestures of solidarity, all reforms. There is a positive national memory and history of ethnic, social and cultural diversity to be mobilized. It should not be confined to the periphery, either by the French themselves or by those reporting on France from the outside. If Americans have been forced to re-assess the social realities revealed by the hurricane Katrina, so will the French agonize over the riots. In each nation, whatever model of integration and non-discrimination has been claimed as essential to national identity, there is a widespread realisation that it is not working at the social level where it should really make its impact. It must surely be made to do so.

The above is drawn from France and the French: A Modern History.  For more, go here.

Correspondence Corner:

A friend writes:

Jesus, Jeff Greenfield has become a fathead.  Not an ideologue, or a performance piece, but just a smug, slippery waste of pixels on my electric television screen.  This passage of dimwittery with Myles O'Brien yesterday may be the final straw that sets Robert Kennedy to dry-heaving in the Beyond.  Look at these two well-fed buffet-grazing fops, discussing proper funeral etiquette.  Greenfield, to his everlasting shame, brings up how the Wellstone memorial was traduced in 2002 and does so: a) without ever acknowledging his own role in the 2002
smear, to which Al Franken long ago put paid in his book, and b) only in the context of its political utility, without discussing at all the moral implications of lying about a funeral to help win an election.  This is what happens when you tailor your principles based on who might not invite you to dinner some day.

Politics at a funeral.  This suddenly gives people the vapors?

Shakespeare didn't mind it.  Hell, the husband of the deceased in question had no problem with it.  Of course, in those days, he didn't have to worry about whether Imus would book him, or whether John McCain would approve of him.  Neither did this guy, a distant relative according to family legend, on a rainy August day in 1915:

The  Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open.  They think that they have pacified Ireland.  They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half.  They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! - they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.

Name: Ken Carlson
Hometown: Delmar, NY
Many thanks to Tom from Seattle for making the obvious point: the Dems need to get some good -- preferably simple -- talking points, get everyone on the same page, and pound those points.  Over.  And over.  And over.  I've been test-driving the phrase "cronyism, corruption and incompetence," which isn't too far from Tom's suggestion.  Can't we get everyone on board with repeating that basic phrase or one similar to it? It drives home some basic points and allows us to jump off from that general phrase to the specifics, like the failed rebuilding effort in Iraq (too many cronies getting contracts); the failed response to Katrina (cronies in high level jobs at FEMA); and the whole Abramoff/Delay/K Street Project lobbying scandal (corruption, corruption everywhere).  Say it early and say it often: "the GOP in Washington has fostered a culture of cronyism, corruption and incompetence, and it's costing the American people every day."  As for those cold-callers asking for $ for the DCCC or 21st Century Democrats or whichever group I keep hearing from: ask them how much is going to the Dems and how much goes to the fundraisers themselves.  One recently told me that 40% went to the fundraisers, though more would go to the Dems if I used my credit card.  Don't know what's accurate, but I'd hate to think of the $50 I send every now and again that only $30 is actually being spent to beat the Republicans.  Especially when they're doing such a poor job with it in the first place.

Name: Justin Robinson
Hometown: College Park, MD
Dr. Alterman,
Tom from Seattle mentioned our lack of a plan for winning the upcoming elections and got me thinking about possible strategies.  Personally I think we should stick to our bread and butter, civil rights.  I think we need to hammer home the idea that this government is in place FOR its people and from that base we can jump off to our other most important priorities like health care, education, the budget etc.  The key is to, like the Republicans, frame every issue inside the scope of the overall platform.  For example, "The government should be subject to the same accounting rules as corporations because Americans have a RIGHT to know their money is being spent properly."  I think we also need to shift our ideas away from trying to steal from the Republicans and towards defining ourselves on our own terms.  Everyone knows home team always has the advantage and we've been on their court way too long.  We need to take a definitive stance and say that we are going to stand up for gay rights and not allow them to be treated as second class citizen's.  Being wishy washy on issues like this only furthers the Republican myth of libs having no conviction and alienates our own base. 

Another issue that gets absolutely ZERO attention is statehood for D.C. Aside from the bonus of an additional two senate seats in a solidly blue area, it's just common sense.  The 10 mile difference of being born in D.C. and Maryland means that you have no representation in Congress and that's just not fair.  We can also take it beyond these half million Washingtonians to a national level, demanding real election reform to remove the partisanship from our electoral system that allows a candidates campaign leaders to be in charge of an election.  I urge every person who reads this blog every day like me to contact their senators and tell them we are tired of the same ol', same ol'.  Write the DNC, talk to your local party leaders, do something! Republicans paint a severely distorted image of our party and get away with it, I think, because we do not do enough to put pressure on our leaders to get us the results we actually want. If we want accountability, lets start with ourselves.

Name:  JDV
Hometown:  Minnesota
Hey Doc, I've read many opinions on what the Dems need to do in the upcoming elections, but I think people are missing the real issue, and that's the perception of the party by the average Joe.  Republicans came to have a majority after many years of labelling liberals as certain things.  It doesn't matter if these labels are true or appropriate, it matters that the average Joe who gets his information from sound bites and TV commercials, believes them.  And the Democrats have failed miserably in countering the perception, of which the opposite is often true.  Big spenders - Republicans or Democrats?  Ask the average guy and whats's he going to say?  My guess is he'd say Democrats when in fact the opposite has been true when we look at the last 60 years.  Democratic presidents have averaged a 6.96% overall growth in government spending from 1962-2001, while republican presidents have averaged 7.57%. If we eliminate non-defense spending, it's democrats 8.43% and republicans 10.08%. Republicans are the big government party.  How about the number of public employees (non-defense related)? From 1961-2001, the number of federal employees has increased from 782,000 to 1,151,000. On who's presidential watch did that occur? Democratic -16%, Republican -84%. But would the average American think that? Again, it's an example of successful propaganda.  Good for the economy? The stock market? Inflation? GDP? Real disposable income growth? After tax return on capital? These are typically regarded as republican friendly topics, when in fact Democratic presidents have outperformed them in all of these. Why don't we know about this?!!! Soft on defense? Take a look at the list of prominent Republicans and Democrats and who served in the military and who didn't.  But is that the public perception?!!!  And I won't even get started on the flat out LIES of the present administration on their policies (e.g. "The Clean Air Act"). Grrrrr.

Name: Cheryl Haaker
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
Re: the Northside Elementary students.  Admittedly, $12K is A LOT to try to earn in a few weeks, but let me suggest something that's worked surprisingly well for the Eldorado High School cross country team, here in Albuquerque: the Egg Sale.  Here's how it works: the athletes team up in pairs, in uniform.  Parents drive them to various neighborhoods, and the athletes fan out to cover more ground.  At the first house, they ask if they can have an egg, and explain that they're fundraising for the cross country team.  At the next house, they attempt to sell the egg, explaining about the cross country team.  They go from house to house, obtaining and "selling" eggs.  Often, people give them money just to get rid of them.  The groups work through a neighborhood, then the parent drives them on to another venue.  Repeat until the time limit is up.  It's all over in 2-3 hours, and generally nets over $2,000. There's no expensive middleman to pay off (as in most school fundraisers where they sell candy, etc.)  It doesn't take any special equipment or even much organization - everyone agrees to meet on a certain day after school, and do it.

Name: Joe P.
On cartoons, religious tolerance, and the enlightenment:  On another MSN editorial page, Reynolds praised the Australians for having the right idea about Muslim extremists.  Some officials were quoted: "If those are not your values, if you want a country which has Sharia law or a theocratic state, then Australia is not for you,"  "I'd be saying to clerics who are teaching that there are two laws governing people in Australia, one the Australian law and another the Islamic law, that that is false." "If you can't agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy, and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to another country which practises it, perhaps, then, that's a better option," Costello said. ... I wondered if anyone noticed the irony in some of these statements?  Do we know any groups in the U.S. who disagree with independent courts and want to be able to disobey the law in the name of a higher law?  Anyone preaching that we should have a theocratic state?  Perhaps Rousseau said it best: "In my opinion, those who distinguish between civil and theological intolerance are mistaken.  These two forms of intolerance are inseparable.  It is imposible to live in peace with people one believes to be damned; to love them would be to hate the God who punishes them; it is an absolute duty either to redeem or to torture them.  Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it is bound to have some civil consequences, and when it does do, the sovereign is no longer sovereign... (Social Contract, Book IV).  And Rousseau adds in a footnote about marriage: "Enabling priests to decide whether to marry people according to their assent to this or that doctrine, their assent to this or that formula, or according to their being more or less devout...is it not clear that ...it will in time alone dispose of inheritances, offices, the citizens and the state itself, since the latter could not endure if composed only of bastards?" It might be going a bit far to disagree with Rousseau's last statement about who can run a state (we have seen ample evidence of the contrary, without naming names), but it is remarkably if chillingly accurate about current opinions among certain religious or self-styled religious leaders.

Name: Matt
Hometown: Medford, OR
I actually voted for McCain in the 2000 primary, figuring he would be a better nominee than Bush.  However, McCain showed his true colors after refusing to take a stand against the swift boat ads that attacked John Kerry.  I had hoped that, at the very least, he would put honesty in front of politics.  But I was wrong.  McCain can kiss the vote of this former Republican goodbye.

February 8, 2006 |11:37 AM ET | Permalink

Heckuva of a job, Deutschie

Is it the incompetence?  The ideology?  The Dishonesty?  Every day we find these three defining characteristics of the Bush Administration in competition with one another to define its most essential quality.  Everyone in this government is Michael Brown, from George W. Bush right on down.  Today’s Exhibit A is George C. Deutsch, the young presidential appointee at NASA who told public affairs workers to limit reporters' access to a top climate scientist and told a Web designer to add the word "theory" at every mention of the Big Bang.  Turns out the 24 year old writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office lied about, get this, graduating college.  And this lying little pisher was telling James E. Hansen what he could and couldn’t say about the science of Global Warming.  Really, would James Frey even dare make these people up?  Doesn’t every single person in the country who ever said a word about George W. Bush’s “competence” owe an apology to every single other person in the world?  (Plus the little twerp’s a polar bear killer .)

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.” — Joe Klein 

Mc-Crazy:The thing about John McCain:  Well a few things, actually.  McCain really is an attractive fellow, especially for a politician.  And let’s give him his due, he sure was brave during Vietnam.  But the thing about McCain to remember right now is that:

  1. Note-y journalists remain deeply in love with him and believe he can do no wrong, whether he is the victim of Bush/Rove/Falwell/Robertsron attacks on his alleged South Asian love child or kissing the collective posterior of same individuals.
  2. He’s really quite a right-winger and a hawk.
  3. Even though he is the above, he is nowhere near right-wingy enough for the Republican rank-and-file, but he is willing to pretend to be, for the sake of maybe being president, which calls into question the value of everything attractive about him.
  4. Another thing that calls into question the value of everything attractive about him is that if he does get the Republican nomination for the presidency, because he is not really trusted by what Lee Atwater used to call the “extra-chromosome Republicans,” he will have to appoint someone who is credibly extremist in the Bush fashion to be his VP. Someone like say, … Jeb Bush.  And remember, McCain is old and sick.  Can you imagine?  (Personally, I think I’d prefer a nuclear holocaust.)
  5. But finally, the last thing you have to remember about McCain is that he is at least a little bit crazy, and seems to take pride in showing it.  That’s all you really need to know about his otherwise inexplicable attack on Barack Obama.  The entire problem with Obama, from McCain’s standpoint, is that he has agreed to serve as one of Harry Reid’s appointees on a commission on reform.  Really.  So why is McCain kicking and screaming like a guy who has just been forcibly thrown inside a rubber room?  Is it because attacking the only African-American member of the Senate is a means of building his bona-fides with the Republican rank and file?  I dunno, your guess is as good as mine.  In the case of McCain, you can sometimes only answer that the man is genuinely crazy.  But if we give him the benefit of the doubt, then he has to have a reason and that reason cannot possibly be contained in the nutty letter he released.  So it’s gotta be a play to the party that doesn’t trust him but contains the key to the future he so desperately seeks.  Why Obama?  You tell me.

There’s good coverage of McCain’s close relationship with Jack Abramoff here at Josh’s nicely redesigned TPM Café site, as well as more musings on the ridiculousness of his attack on Obama.

Anyway, maybe McCain has figured out something that’s been gnawing at me lately.  If the Republicans do manage to nominate McCain, given the love he enjoys from “The Note” and the chattering class it represents, there is only one Democrat who could conceivably beat him.

You guessed it: The name is “Barack Obama; Get used to it.”

The Bush Budget, continued, here.  “If President Bush gets his way, the venerable $255 Social Security death benefit will fade into history.  And 16- and 17-year-old high school dropouts will lose their monthly survivor payments.”

How much does “The Note” love this administration?  David Igantius writes here,

The administration is trying to ramrod the program through, shamelessly summoning families of Sept. 11 victims to intimidate political opposition.  Rove evidently has defined anti-terrorist surveillance as a new "wedge" issue -- you're either with the administration or you're for Osama bin Laden.”

The smart boys headline the piece: “The Washington Post's David Ignatius claims that liberal interest groups are refusing to compromise on the wiretap debate.”  Here.

Speaking of cartoon rioters,  “I demand that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Indonesia and Egypt apologise to me.  Otherwise I am unfortunately forced to threaten, beat up, kidnap or behead their citizens.”

On the other hand, if they clean my city’s streets of the floating trash of New York Press, maybe these rioters can’t be all bad.

Congratulations to Time Inc on paying Little Roy to make jokes about having homosexual sex with Anderson Cooper, here.  I have no idea whether Cooper is really gay, as everyone in the media appears to believe, but since all gay people seem to know everybody else is gay, I guess this solves it.  Meanwhile, I do know that CNN, which is owned by Time Inc, cannot afford to have it be believed out there in Real America, as it would destroy their credibility in the hyper-right wing world of cable news.  So here is Andy joking about “doing” Cooper in the guise of bragging that he got invited onto his show.  (“Corporate Synergy, not Sisterhood, is Powerful.”)  Next thing you know, Andy will be moving to one of those decadent coastal elitist-places where we think being gay is just fine, but don’t love George Bush’s posterior enough for his taste —and I don’t mean that in a you know, gay-but-there’s-nothing-wrong-with-that —way. 

So what’s the word, Coop? Do your own decorating?

Even when The New York Observer gets a story right, they still manage to get it wrong: Read this story (rather than its misleading CNN-centric headlines) carefully to learn that MSNBC.com is kicking the asses of both CNN and FOX, and by the way, making more $ than they do over at that station where they compare Michael Moore to Bin Laden and Bush to Jesus.

Speaking of sex, Quote of the Day, February 28, 1951, Special Senate Hearings on Organized Crime, Eses Kefauver, Chair:

Senator Charles Toby to Virginia Hill. “Young lady, what makes you a favorite of the underworld?”

Virginia Hill: “Senator, I’m the best go**amed coc**ucker in the world.”

Happy Birthday, Martin Buber.

And the Stones were not fine with it,  you morons.


Al Green re-releases by Sal

I once read that Al Green never recorded a bad song.  I might have read that right here on Altercation, and I think it may have been me who wrote that.  While I stand by that statement, assuming it was me who said it, the recent batch of reissues are certainly not as "classic" as the first five.

The further into the 70's Al Green recorded, the more he drifted from the silky soul that put him on the map.  His records started to have a glossier production and his love songs were less about women and more about "the Lord."

"Livin' For You" from 1973 still holds up well and includes the killer title track, as well as some minor classics as "Let's get Married" and a strong version of "Unchained Melody."

The next three, "Al Green Is Love," "Have A Good Time," (both from 1975) and "Full Of Fire" from 1976, suffer from a slick production that was more befitting of the disco records that started to become popular at the time.  The material is uneven, but still offers some Al Green classics such as "L-O-V-E (Love)," "Love Ritual," and "Full Of Fire."  I would not recommend these three titles to someone just discovering Al Green, but I would not deter someone from buying them either.  It IS Al.

The last of the lot is "Truth 'N' Time" from 1978, a record that admittedly doesn't bode well with most critics, but happens to be a fave of mine.  No hits, but it does include a definitive version of the 60's classic 'To Sir With Love."  Is he singing to his father or to his "Father?"  Either way, it's one of the most inspired and emotional performances of Green's career.  The rest of the record is Al doing what he does best, breaking hearts and getting sweaty.


Correspondence Corner:

A friend writes:

Now, wait just a cotton-picking minute.  What in the name of Fawn Hall's brassiere is going on here?  Back in the good old days, when Ollie was running his little arms-for-hostages scam, and getting taken for his socks and underwear by every con artist east of Cyprus and west of Tashkent, wasn't the original explanation for selling missiles to a country —the one that sponsored the killing of 243 of Ollie's fellow Marines— that Ollie was trying to make a breakthrough with "moderates" in the Iranian government?

Isn't it several TOW missiles too late to decide that there aren't any, Islamic moderates that is?

Or is he saying that Iran had moderates then, but not now?

Or is he just somebody who ought to be howling from a steamgrate outside Lafayette Park instead of delivering opinions on major issues from inside a television studio?

Name: Stuart Shiffman
Hometown: Springfield, Illinois
Isn't it time that all of us who were wrong about the cost of the War in Iraq apologized for our mistake?  I remember shortly after the invasion being on a talk show here in Springfield, Illinois and suggesting that the war might cost between 100 and 150 billion.  I was told I was wrong.  I was.  I guess I should apologize.  But I did cover the over/under!

Name: Peter Noteboom
Hometown: Austin, TX
Dr. A,
Boy, Matt Shirley of Gurnee, IL hit the nail on the head.  Leahy was an incoherent mess on FTN.  Come on, Dems!  How hard is it to get these points across: 1. We're not against spying, we're all in favor of spying on al-Qaeda.  What we're against is illegal spying.  2. Why are we against it?  A) It's unnecessary.  A wiretap on a suspected al-Qaeda member is the easiest court order in town to get.  And you can get one 3 full days after the fact.  B) It's not useful.  You can't go to court with evidence that is obtained illegally.  So best case scenario is that we find an al-Queda member plotting against us and have to let him go.  And C) it's unconstitutional.  The Fourth Amendment clearly states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."  See how easy it is?

Name: Renee Knowles
Hometown: Elmhurst, IL
In response to Brad from Arlington: My apologies, the link to article is here .  According to the article, the school cannot afford the insurance necessary to offer a car wash (the school is in a very poor district), and, as I'm sure you're aware, the days of the bake sale ARE long past.  You can't really sell anything that isn't wrapped anymore.  In these litigious times, ANYTHING is a risk.  I suppose an alternative to donating to the school would be to send the principle ideas for fund-raising, but time is running out... the students need to raise the funds by the end of the month in order to take their trip.

Name:  Pat O'Neill
Hometown:  Folsom, PA
"Are the days of the car wash and bake sale gone?"  Perhaps not the car wash--although those are generally less successful than you might think--but the bake sale was killed over the past 25 years by the rise in the number of working moms, who simply do not have the time or inclination to bake for these things.  "Has it become antiquated to approach local businesses (or god-forbid big box stores) for sponsorships or donations?"  If my experience in suburban Philly is anything like that in Fort Lauderdale--after I tried to get donations and sponsorships for an award-winning marching band--yeah, that's an antiquated idea.  Most locally-owned businesses are running too tight to afford anything more than an occasional $25 ad in a program book these days...and the big-box stores require everything to "go through corporate" which can take weeks if not months and more times than not is answered with "Sorry, we have a national contribution program you can sign up for that gives X percent to your local school if the purchaser uses our credit card, but we don't make other donations."

Name: Tom
Hometown: Seattle
Hey Doc,
Maybe other readers have run into this one lately.  I know I have.  A Democratic fund raiser calls asking for some $ to take back Congress in the fall.  I say, great - what's the 3 talking points we'll be hammering home to the public?  The fund raiser stumbles for a bit and then meekly reply's with, "Iraq?"  No, I say, that's an issue, not a position.  "Well, I'm just a fund raiser."  Fine, can you get one of your superiors to come to the phone and tell me what the actual PLAN is?  I'm not made out of money here, I want to have SOME faith that the Democratic leadership (as it were) has some idea how to spend it with well-positioned intent.  So, the fund raising person tells me that she'll try to have someone call me back.  Like that will happen.  Given the apparent vacuum of ideas on how to capitalize on the far right's overplay, I'll suggest one.  Frankly, this should be like shooting fish in a barrel for any decent political strategist but hey, we're just Democrats, we're too busy discussing a plan to actually enact one.  Let's try this one on for size:  Republican leadership is incompetent and corrupt.  Full stop.  Fiscal health, the Constitution, Katrina, Environment, Education, the list is virtually endless, and each and every one of those areas has a specific disaster of policy and/or execution attached to it that can be plainly described in one short sentence.  Easy to do.  $800 BILLION prescription drug plan that is a catastrophe so large that even Republicans would like to repeal it.  Here's another:  Republican leadership failed America.  Full stop.  Again, a first year Poly-Sci student could come up with half a dozen short, catchy examples as follow-ups.  Let's face it, this is a team sport and we'll need to act like one if we have a prayer of offsetting the mantra machine Rove has in store this fall.  Can we please decide on a game plan before September and stick to it?  Please?

February 7, 2006 |11:17 AM ET | Permalink

You can skip “The Note” today, and almost every article written about the Bush “budget.”  Typical of Bush, it’s a lie from start to finish.  The Times notes “omissions include any costs for the war in Iraq after 2007, any additional reconstruction costs for New Orleans after 2006 and any plan for preventing a huge expansion in the alternative minimum tax after the end of this year,” and that’s just for starters, here.  Bush has done to the country’s fiscal sanity what he’s done to Iraq’s physical infrastructure.  We are talking shortfalls of trillions of dollars, all to no useful purpose.  Congrats to all his enablers on all fronts, including the Washington Post’s Kool-Aid drinking Amy Goldstein who writes, with a straight-face that this phony-baloney budget is aimed "taming the deficit to satisfy conservatives, who complain that Bush has presided over a rapid expansion of federal spending."  Here.  This is the kind of MSM reporting that backed up Bush on claims like “You can’t talk about Saddam Hussein without talking about Al-Qaida.”

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at what this kind of budget mean, for starters, for public broadcasting:

  • Rescission of FY 2007 CSG Funds:  The Administration proposes a crippling cut of $53.5 million of the FY2007 appropriation previously made to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • Further Rescission of FY 2008 CSG Funds: The Administration goes further than the crippling cut in FY2007 with a recommendation to slash an additional $50 million from the FY2008 appropriation.
  • Even Deeper Funding Cuts Proposed: The Administration continues its attack by proposing no new funding for digital infrastructure and interconnection programs, which combined received $65 million last year.
  • Elimination of PTFP ­ the Sole Source of Emergency Funding for Stations Devastated by Hurricane Katrina: The Administration proposes eliminating the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program ­ which was the only source of emergency funding to help hurricane-ravaged stations serving Gulf Communities.
  • Elimination of Ready To Teach: The Administration proposes completely eliminating this successful program that provides funding for online resources for teachers seeking quality professional development that is easily accessible, flexible and tailored to local, state and national standards.

See here and here.

Quote of the Day:  "Oscar the Grouch has been friendlier to the Sesame Street characters than President Bush."  — Rep Ed Markey, here.

Other Quote of the Day: "Of all the budgets I've seen recently, this is the one going nowhere the fastest."  Here.

OK, one more, Richard Durbin:  “I’ll check out Pajamaline, but I’m not familiar with your publication.”

Meanwhile, this is not about money, or perhaps ideology, just incompetence, which is just about the only thing in which these people excel:

Schools Feel Void With No Ed-Tech Chief

Nearly six months after the nation's top educational technology official stepped down, the U.S. Department of Education has yet to name a replacement.  With the federal focus shifting to math and science education, advocates of school technology say having a point person to turn to for guidance within the department's Office of Educational Technology is critical to students'-and teachers'-success.

Alter-reviews:  The Strokes and Ray Davies, by Tony, NYCD


If the Strokes hadn't made such an amazing first album, and hadn't gotten more hype than any band this side of the Bay City Rollers, then maybe they wouldn't be in the bind they're in now.  Their third album, "First Impressions Of Earth," is damn good.  They've always sounded to me like a band that took all the great punk-era NYC bands and put 'em in a blender with a healthy dose of Velvet Underground for good measure, but here they stretch out a little more stylistically, adding touches of everyone from U2 to the Cars.  Their sound has also gone from tinny to expansive.  It sounds cool as background listening, cranked up to 11 at a party, or on headphones for geeky lyrical analysis.  But because nothing they ever do will match "Is This It," their 2001 debut which still holds up as one of the best albums of the decade, I fear people won't pay as much attention to "First Impressions Of Earth" as they should.  If they'd put another name on the cover, they'd be as hot as the Arctic Monkeys.  Hopefully, people will give this one a fair shot and not compare it to past glories. It’s here.


With the exception of hardcore fans, nobody has cared about a new Kinks album since about, oh, 1984 or so, and with good reason.  Despite the fact that Ray Davies is one of the greatest songwriters of the rock era (and brother Dave is no slouch, either), they've been lackluster, uninspired affairs.  Recently, however, a friend made a compilation of all the best songs from those '80s and '90s albums, and they showed that not only did the Kinks have a lousy knack for picking singles in their later years, but Ray hadn't lost his touch for writing great songs, even if he couldn't do it as often as he did in his heyday.

Which brings us to the first full-fledged solo album of his career.  "Other People's Lives" is a thrilling return to form, showing his biting wit and keen eye for detail to be totally intact, as well as his knack for writing a catchy tune.  It sounds like Ray Davies -- instantly recognizable for anyone who's familiar with his music, for the most part, without sounding like a trip down memory lane, despite occasional musical or lyrical references to past hits.  Kinks fans should stop waiting for a reunion and start clamoring for a follow-up to this excellent record.  It’s here.

Eric notes:  Sal and Tony have closed the store and converted their business into Internet-only sales.  Go here to shop.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Mr. Alterman, I share your "Thanks again, Ralph" views on the 2000 election.  However, after reviewing Sen Leahy's dismal performance on Face the Nation yesterday, I'm beginning to understand the "let's blow up the Dem Party and start over" school of thought.  He was tapped to debate a Rep Senator on the issue of NSA surveillance program, and all he could do was repeat the same general platitudes without any indication he understood the details of the case.  GEEZ!  He couldn't even hit the hanging curveballs!  His Rep colleague claims that the Intell Oversight committee was briefed and no one objected.  Gee, Sen Bedfellow, how about mentioning Sen Rockefeller's memo stating he can't tell whether to object because the terms of the briefing prevented him from reviewing whether it is actually legal?  (Said memo Altercation readers had a chance to review for themselves within days of the story breaking.)  The crying shame of this is not just that we went with the ranking leader of the relevant committee, no matter how brain dead on the issue he is.  No, the real shame is that the Party has sitting on the Judiciary Committee a no kidding Constitutional scholar who is also one of the most telegenic individuals in either Party, Sen Obama.  The wasted opportunity, reels the mind.  To be brutally frank (and I say this as a life-long Dem Party member who has often argued the fastest way to fix things is to support your Party leaders, even if they are not perfect), the legacy leadership needs to step aside. They have been in power too long, and they are too detached from the lives of the average Joes and Josies they allegedly are championing. They have no ideas; they have no mandate other than what they can wring out of incumbency, and they have no clue how to call out even the looniest elements of the Rep Party on what should be the easiest issues.

Name: Mark
Hometown: Portland, OR
I caught about an hour of the exchange between AG Gonzales and the three senior members of the Judiciary committee today before work (many thanks to NPR for broadcasting this).  A couple things struck me, and are causing me even more dismay than the officiating at the Super Bowl.  One is the AG seems to be allowed to get away with complete and utter evasions of the questions; he is allowed to either completely stonewall the question or answer with something that, if someone made such equivocations to you, your gut reaction would be that this person is lying.  Sen. Leahy really tried to get him to answer some of these questions of when and how, but the AG just stonewalled him.  I guess I don't mind the stonewalling as much as I mind that fact that the Senate, which has oversight responsibility, lets him get away with it.  The other thing that bothers me is when I recall the tone of debate during the hearings and impeachment of Bill Clinton, during which the House and Senate were convulsing themselves with the effort to get to the "truth" about possible perjury by the President on the subject of his sexual activities.  The hue and cry then from every Republican was that "we are a nation of laws," and that those purported lies, or ANY lies, were fundamentally injurious to the fabric of our nation, and must be rooted out.  So to hear Sen. Hatch spend most of his hearing time this morning trying to give cover to the AG and the administration, and to see that the Republican-led Congress in general has not interest in getting to the truth on behalf of the nation is just too depressing.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ
Doc--re: Mr. Ritholtz's letter, a whole lot of economics is faith-based.  I recommend Benoit Mandelbrot's (i.e., father of Fractal Geometry) new book, "The Misbehavior of Markets" for a very readable mathematical demolition of current economic thinking.  In particular, he mathematically proves that markets are inherently much riskier than we've been led to believe.  In other words, the widespread apprehension over Social Security privatization is completely rational, even if it were to be created and administered by honest people.

Name: Renee Knowles
Hometown: Elmhurst, IL
Thank you for posting my message regarding the students at North Side Elementary in Fort Lauderdale, FL.  For those not familiar, students at North Side are protesting the selling of junk snacks to their fellow students because the sales are promoting bad eating habits.  These sales would have funded a trip to Washington, D.C. that is now in jeopardy due to their protest.  I have updated information on where people can send donations so that these students can do the right thing without having to give up their trip.  Donations can be sent to: Michaelle V. Pope, Principle North Side Elementary 120 NE 11th St. Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304 Thanks again!

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman, While I was unable to locate the article cited by your respondent Ms. Knowles regarding the school in Fort Lauderdale, FL, the events described put on display what so many in this country seem to lack (and, in my humble opinion, is what lies at the root of many problems in our society today).  Ms. Knowles notes that "[t]hese young people are exercising their voice as Americans and doing the right thing, but because they can't find an alternative to selling candy bars in order to fund their trip, they may have to forego it."  I do not know the specifics here, but it would appear that these "bright children," or at least their teachers and parents, lack the creativity or initiative to find an alternative to selling candy bars. Are the days of the car wash and bake sale gone? Has it become antiquated to approach local businesses (or god-forbid big box stores) for sponsorships or donations? How about setting up a joint venture with the school to promote and sell healthy snacks and drinks? I know such options may take a little more time and effort, but if the trip to DC truly is important to these 19 students, how about a little more creativity and perseverance?  I do salute the students for making a principled stand, but if they are unwilling to back up their beliefs with alternative action then the true civics lesson is lost.  I am sure that the trip to Washington would be that much more satisfying for those children (and even their parents and teachers) if it were the result of their creativity and hard work, as opposed to anonymous generosity solicited by distant by-standers.

February 6, 2006 |11:47 AM ET | Permalink

If I were the kind of blogger who ran contests, I’d have an essay contest today asking people to write in and explain which of the following two stories is the more perfect representation of the Bush Administration’s overall approach to the rest of the world.  Is it this one, in which we learn that the administration’s toleration and encouragement of corruption in the conduct of its unnecessary and counterproductive war is actually providing the financial resources to the Iraqi insurgents to further destroy that nation and, in the process, kill the American soldiers [and Iraqi civilians], whom the very same administration has so foolishly and callously sent into harm’s way?  You’d think so, wouldn’t you, until you read this one , in which we found that the warrantless domestic spying regime instituted by the Bush administration—instigated even though they already had the power to instigate wire taps without a warrant if they merely went to the trouble to get one within seventy-two hours—has yielded virtually no useful information with regard to national security.  Yes I know, believing that Joe Klein got snookered by the “intelligence sources” he talked to is almost as hard to believe as either Nick King or Cathy Young making a mistake in interpreted in the Talmud.  But there it is.  They are destroying the most important constitutional protections we have … because they can.

Harold Meyerson had a great piece about how they can’t even be bothered to defend themselves, here, and Dissent has a lot of good stuff this issue, but pick what interests you yourselves.

Anyone who footnotes my largely unread Who Speaks for America?, here, gets a link here, even if he does use a bunch of my arguments, uncredited, and steal a bunch of my footnotes, something that I could never, ever, ever even think of doing, no never, really…

Other people who don’t understand the need for domestic spying as well as Joe Klein/Rory O’Connor:  GOP Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Arlen Specter .

Speaking of Klein’s hysterical (Alternet-enabled) rant about me, Steve Luxenberg makes an interesting point here:

Out of curiosity a few years ago, I spent an afternoon in The Post archives reading Letters to the Editor from the 1950s and '60s.  After looking, more or less randomly, at hundreds of letters, I can report the following:  No one thought that we should be ashamed of ourselves for publishing someone's opinion.  No one thought they had to grab the microphone by proclaiming themselves offended by what they had read.  The letter writers seemed bent on advancing their arguments rather than showing off their smarts.  They seemed more interested in discourse than dissing.

I have to say, because of staff absences, I read all the letters that I did not accidentally delete for the past few weeks and it’s amazing to me how nasty people feel they have a right to be to me just because my experience of an issue does not match theirs.  It really is shocking, as well as unpleasant and depressing.  And this proves almost as true for admirers of Noam Chomsky and Cindy Sheehan as it does for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  Really, people, what is so damn difficult about the fact that someone, somewhere sees things differently than you do?  Take a chill pill.

Thanks to ABC for saving us from the scary phenomena described here, particularly the editing of “a reference to a woman's sexual sway over a dead man….”  (Were they worried about conservative Christian rioting?)

And Alan Wolfe on Michael Kazin, here.

A few conference notes:

Politics & Science: How their interplay results in public policy

New School Conference on February 9th and 10th The latest expose of how this administration is dismissing some of our best science and trying to stifle scientists came to us on the front page of the New York Times this week [ 1], with the report that the Bush administration is pressuring NASA to stop a top scientist, James Hansen, from calling for reductions in greenhouse emissions.  It's been two years since the Union of Concerned Scientists demanded "immediate steps to restore the integrity of science in the federal policymaking process," [ 2] and last summer the ACLU documented the "excessive, unnecessary and ineffective" restrictions placed on scientists by recent changes in public policy [ 3].   Even more recently, John McCain and Peter Likins, President of the University of Arizona, have gone on record to say that "The government can finance research and use the results to shape public policy; scientists can discover new truths. But each must rely on the other, or the partnership will not work. Scientists must be allowed to conduct their work unfettered by political or commercial pressures*When members of  Congress recently began pressuring scientists who have offered evidence of global warming, they broke that crucial covenant." [ 4]   James Hansen will speak at The New School conference on Politics and Science which comes at a time when there is a clear need to examine the current state of the relationship between science and the government in order to face these issues head on.  Here for the conference agenda and information on how to register.

And this:

Thursday, February 9, 2006, 6:00-7:30 p. m.
Swayduck Auditorium, first floor, 65 Fifth Avenue (between East 13-14th Sts.).
Admission is $5.00. Visit here for a live webcast and online discussion.  Panel with Sherle Schwenninger, WPI Senior Fellow, Fellow at the New America Foundation, former Editor of the World Policy Journal, former Director of the World Policy Institute, Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, and Me.

Also this:

The "Politics & Media in the New Millennium" conference will be held at the Belo Mansion in Dallas, Texas on Saturday, February 18, 2006. During this one day seminar, scholars, members of the media, students, and political strategists are invited to examine the changing relationship between politics and the press.  I’ll be on a panel on the media, here.

Joni Mitchell Tribute, Carnegie Hall, February 1;
Rosanne Cash, “Black Cadillac”

Joni has post-polio syndrome and couldn’t be there, but about thirty performers were and almost all of them managed to do justice to her genius by not trying to do too much with songs other than playing and singing the songs pretty much in the same fashion that Joni did—at least before she started redoing all of them, needlessly and pointlessly, with orchestration and grandiosity.  This would be a personal thing, I suppose but for me, the real revelations were Bettye LaVette’s painfully soulful "Last Chance Lost," and Amy Grant’s terrific “Big Yellow Taxi,” believe it or not.  I loved the surprise of Neil Sedaka opening with “Raised on Robbery,” and I always like Nellie McCay, who did interesting things with "Chelsea Morning" before Judy Collins did her beautiful, moving version of it to close the show.  The show was flawlessly produced by Michael Dorf, with no wasted time between acts and backup musicians who felt no need to call attention to themselves.  But I can’t do justice to everybody who played and anyway, I’d rather take the time and space to ask you to over to the Web page for the Music for Youth Foundation, here, which is a really important cause and worth your investment.

Rosanne Cash, “Black Cadillac,”
By Jeff Metzger, Coto de Caza, CA
One of my first impressions upon listening to Black Cadillac, the great new album by your pal, Rosanne Cash, was that it is a spiritual bookend to Warren Zevon's The Wind.  They are both about the "universal concept" (Rosanne's words) of death, loss, and reflections, as Zevon wrote about his own impending death in his typical blunt style, while Rosanne's new songs are from the perspective of the children who are left behind, but with graceful and emotional imagery.

The songs are about her parents--dad Johnny, mom Vivian, and stepmother, June--and a tribute to them, each who died between 2003 and 2005, all at the age of 71.  In one of several accolades to them, the final track of the album is 71 seconds of silence.

The disc also contains a short DVD movie in which Rosanne talks about the theme of the album, using several of the songs as illustrations.  The album is mostly ballads, and primarily about her dad (there's even a couple of snippets of Johnny talking to her when she was as a baby), though the song, "The Good Intent" centers around the first of her ancestors to reach America over 300 years ago.

Three of the songs have made a particular impression on me.  The title track is a song of mourning ("it was a black heart of pain that I'm wearing that suits me just fine"), both literal in its references to the black Cadillac, as that was the car Johnny loved to drive, but also poignantly symbolic.  He wrecked several of them, Rosanne tells us on the video, and thus were a destructive force in his life, while representing abandonment in hers ("You were always rolling, but those wheels burned up your life.")  It was also the kind of car for which he took his final ride ("It was a black Cadillac that took you away; everybody's talking, but they don't have much to say.").

"Radio Operator," is an uptempo song, and one of three on that album that Rosanne wrote with her husband and producer, Jon Leventhal.  It is about her dad's job in the military intercepting Russian transmissions in the years before he became Johnny Cash.  (Remember that in Walk the Line?)  And, "House on the Lake," is full of nostalgia and reminiscence of Rosanne's days as a child with her dad in Tennessee.  "The love and years are not for sale, in our old house on the lake." (Yep, that same one that was the setting for those scenes in the movie.)

On the video, Rosanne sums up the meaning of the album.  "What makes feeling and people and things timeless is to connect to the traditions you come from.  There's no timelessness without tradition."  Wonderful stuff.   (The lady’s Web site is here.)

P.S.  Maude Maggart, a second opinion.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Renee Knowles
Hometown: Elmhurst, IL

There was a wonderful AP article on MSNBC.com today regarding a school in Fort Lauderdale, FL.  Approximately 19 students are protesting because the school is asking them to sell candy and other junk snacks in order to raise money to take a trip to Washington, D.C.  They've been taught that these snacks are bad for your body, and they don't want to sell them to their fellow students.  These young people are exercising their voice as Americans and doing the right thing, but because they can't find an alternative to selling candy bars in order to fund their trip, they may have to forego it.  I tracked down the Web site for the school, found here. I would appreciate it if you post this on your blog and encourage your readers to contact the school and offer donations so that these bright children can do the right thing without getting punished by giving up their trip.  Thank you for your time and keep up the good work!

Name: Weldon Berger
Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii

Hi, Eric.
This past Monday my blog's White House writer, Eric Brewer, asked Scott McClellan how the administration's "we're winning the war on terror" rhetoric squared with the 51% increase in terrorist attacks and 36% increase in fatalities from 2004 to 2005 that Eric found when he availed himself of Homeland Security's terrorism database.  Scott's response was that Eric should "look at the facts," which is what we thought he was doing.  But I digress:  Eric reported on the dramatic upsurge in terrorist activities two weeks ago, and asked McClellan to respond to it almost a week ago, and so far as either of us can tell, not a single reporter among the institutional press has bothered to do the simple research necessary to obtain objective data on the administration's effectiveness at combating terrorism.  We weren't surprised that no one in the White House press corps picked up the story -- there seems to be an unwritten rule that only Knight Ridder correspondents are allowed to do serious critical reporting most years -- but we are surprised it's gotten no traction elsewhere.  You can find Eric's posts on the statistics and Scott's creative response to them, respectively, here and here.  I suppose we should send them along to Joe Klein so he can explain how liberals spurred the terrorists on.  Cheers ...

Name: Matthew Sollars
Hometown: NY, NY

Live Chat with Shlomo Ben-Ami at here, Monday, Feb. 6, 3:30 PM EST Shlomo Ben-Ami, the former Foreign Minister of Israel and author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace will be in our office on Monday and he has graciously agreed to sit down to answer your questions in a live chat beginning 3:30 PM EST!  Scars of War, Wounds of Peace is a balanced and evenhanded history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and includes behind-the-scenes accounts of the Oslo, Madrid and Camp David summits. President Clinton says it "should be read by everyone who wants a just and lasting resolution" to the Middle East peace process. An Oxford-trained historian, Ben-Ami had a distinguished career at the University of Tel Aviv before he was appointed Israel's ambassador to Spain in 1987. He later became a member of the Knesset, Minister of Public Security, and finally Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has been a key participant in many Arab-Israeli peace conferences, most notably the Camp David Summit in 2000. Click here to read Ben-Ami's reaction to Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections Submit your questions in the comments section below or by email blog.us (at) oup.com. Then, check back to this site between 3:30 - 4:00 PM on Monday.

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
The most recent cover story in BusinessWeek oddly lays claim to the idea that the "economy is so much stronger than you think."

What's so peculiar about that is the they have been pretty bullish on the economy and the stock market for quite some time now.  Indeed, much of the mainstream media has merely aped the positive economic reports, rather than dig into the data underneath the rosy headlines.

Here are the details:

BusinessWeek Cover Story: Disingenuous or Denial?

Cover Image: Unmasking The Economy

I was initially perplexed by this magazine cover, and it took me a few moments to figure out why.

Eventually, I concluded that it was one of two things; either this is a disingenuous cover, or the Editors at BW are in Denial.

If its disingenuous, then it comes across as an awkward attempt to be slyly contrarian by (follow this twist if you can) repeating the dominant view as if it were the minority perspective. With BusinessWeek itself rather Bullish about both the market and the economy, perhaps they are trying to convince themselves.

On the other hand, previously strong economic reports have begun to show the signs of slowing down.  After a good three year cycle, GDP has begun to weaken, we see real wages actually negative, the savings rate has dropped to zero, and the mighty housing sector has irrefutably begun to slow.

Not to worry, BW admonishes us, the Economy is stronger than you think. That sounds a lot like denial to me.

Let's take a closer look at the mainstream media's financial reporting about the economy:

First off, the economic headlines -- misleading though they might be -- have been primarily positive: GDP (ex-Q4), Unemployment Rate, Earnings growth, Real Estate gains, Merger Activity, Share Buybacks, Employment, and low inflation have all been reported by the MSM as very positive economic developments.  A superficial glimpse anytime over the past year shows strong growth. 

It's only a few ornery cusses (like myself) who have been pointing out that the reality beneath the headline data paints a very different portrait.  A closer look at how various economic components are calculated reveals that the CPI dramatically understates inflation, or that job creation this cycle is so very poor, or why the Unemployment rate is misleading.

Indeed, as one of the few people who actually believe the economy is not all that strong -- and is about to get considerably weaker over next the 18 months -- I wonder who BW is addressing this cover article to.

Second, as the special year in preview forecast revealed, the vast majority of Pundits were very bullish.  I was the only person who suggested a greater than 10% correction was a possibility (One other pundit thought a 10% correction was probable). Wall Street Economist and Strategists have been constructive on both the market and the economy for some time now. With few exceptions, the crowd of experts have continually overestimated growth, forecast too aggressively on job creation, and to this day still underestimates inflation.

If the economy is actually stronger than this consensus, then we must have a helluva robust expansion going on.

The Disconnect: Perhaps BusinessWeek is addressing a different audience -- the large group of people who in poll after poll rate the president poorly on his handling of the economy.

What BW fails to grasp is that most people aren't thinking about the economy; I'm not sure if all that many people even have an opinion on the Macro issues.  But they do have a sense of their own financial situation: Are they getting ahead, are they falling behind, is their standard of living rising or falling, how much confidence do they have about the future, etc.

On that score, much of the country has become increasingly pessimistic.

This is the source of "the Disconnect."  Their own personal financial situation has gotten considerably worse.  Their health care costs a lot more, but their employers now cover less of it; Food, Energy, Education, Housing, Healthcare all cost more -- but their real wages (after inflation) are actually negative.  Even the one bright spot -- their Real Estate gains -- are only relative.  Why?  The rising tide has lifted all boats homes.  So while they can get more for their own homes, moving up now costs considerably more also.  This makes gains somewhat illusory in relative sense -- unless you move to a cheaper part of the country, or rent post-sale.

Bottom line:  While most of the headline data up until recently has been positive, beneath the surface the recovery has been lumpy, being as overly dependent on government stimulus and Real Estate as it has been.  It is starting to show signs of increasing weakness.  People who do not rely on abstract models (i.e., non-economists) and instead only interpret their own financial situations are have been economically uncomfortable, and more recently increasingly so.

Perhaps BusinessWeek's editors need to get out of the office more...

Why The Economy Is A Lot Stronger Than You Think
By Michael Mandel, with Steve Hamm in New York and Christopher J. Farrell in St. Paul, Minn.
BusinessWeek, FEBRUARY 13, 2006

February 3, 2006 |1:14 PM ET | Permalink

Notso slacker Friday

New Nation column:  “Lies About Blowjobs, Bad. Wars? Not So Much," here.  (For the first time in 116 weeks, I don’t have a “Think Again,” this week.  I had one, I thought, but it didn’t come through at the last minute.  Sorry.)

The Los Angeles Times' Mary Curtius and Richard Simon see the Boehner pick as a sign that the GOP wants to "show a strong commitment to ethics reform," here.  Ha.  The Republicans’ idea of a “strong commitment to ethics reform” is, from TP,

The Wall Street Journal notes that [Boehner] reportedly has accepted $150,000 worth of junkets since 2000, "more than all but six other members of Congress."  He's generally tight with business lobbies (not that there's anything wrong with that).  And of course, about 10 years ago Boehner handed out checks from the tobacco industry while on the House floor.

More from Downing Street, More to be ignored by U.S. media:

Tony Blair told President George Bush that he was "solidly" behind US plans to invade Iraq before he sought advice about the invasion's legality and despite the absence of a second UN resolution, according to a new account of the build-up to the war published today.

Read this report about NASA and ask yourself, how is it possible to remain honest, without sounding “shrill” about these people?

In IPF Friday today, MJ Rosenberg attacks the Jewish right-wingers who are now joyously arguing that because Hamas won the election, Israel has "no partner" with whom to negotiate.  That may be true, at least for now.  But, MJ points out, the very people rejecting talks with Hamas previously argued that Abbas was no partner, not to mention Arafat.  MJ reserves special scorn for Charles Krauthammer whose anti-Palestinian diatribes are as predictable as they are ugly.

MJ writes:

It is easy for right-wing Americans to argue that Israel should now give up on negotiations and just hold on to the West Bank forever. These are usually the same people – many in the media and Congress -- who have never liked the idea of negotiating with any Palestinians ever.  But, as the polls show, Israelis know better.

Along these lines, it is instructive to read today's column by Charles Krauthammer, always ready to fight to the last Israeli from the comfort of his home in Maryland.  He writes that the 'current nostalgia' for "Fatah moderation" is "absurd."  Hamas is no different than Abbas or Arafat or any Palestinian leader he has ever heard about.  For Krauthammer, those three years in the late 90's when Israeli-Fatah security cooperation reduced Israeli victims of terror to less than a half dozen over three years, were no different than the subsequent three years when, after negotiations collapsed, a thousand Israelis (and 3000 Palestinians) were killed.  So, 'cut off Palestine,' he says.  The war that results will not be his problem.

Mickey is always right when he’s writing about Howie…

Quote of the Day:  "The allegations in this case of Whitman's reassuring and misleading statements of safety after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks are without question conscience-shocking," Judge Batts said, here.

Another Quote of the Day, “I've been accused of being a lot of things.  But being called deaf and a Jew Cancer?”

Something funny about Cosmo, here.

We kick, um, posterior.

Slacker Friday:

But first, a joke:

Todd Gitlin sent me this joke the other day. I don’t know from whence or where it originates.  But I was having breakfast yesterday with a friend from New Mexico and while I was telling it, Philip Roth came into the restaurant and we said hello, so now Philip can use it too.  Thanks Todd, and thanks again, Ralphie boy. (And it’s only a joke, people…)

President Bush was scheduled to worship at a small Methodist Church outside Washington, D.C. as part of Karl Rove's campaign to reverse Bush's rapidly deteriorating approval ratings. A week before the visit, Rove called on the Methodist Bishop who was scheduled to preach on the chosen Sunday.   "As you know, Bishop," began Rove, "we've been getting a lot of bad publicity among Methodists because of the president's position on stem cell research and the like. We'd gladly arrange for Jack Abramoff's friends to make a contribution of $100,000 to the church if during your sermon you would say that President Bush is a saint."

The Bishop thought about it for a few minutes, and finally said, "This parish is in rather desperate need of funds ... I'll agree to do it."

The following Sunday, Bush pompously showed up for the photo op, looking especially smug even while attempting to appear pious.

After making a few announcements, the Bishop began his homily:  "George W. Bush is a petty, vindictive, sanctimonious hypocrite and a nitwit.  He is a liar, a cheat, and a low-intelligence weasel with the world's largest chip on his shoulder. He used every dirty election trick in the book and still lost, but his toadies in the Supreme Court appointed him. He lied about his military record in which he used special privilege to avoid combat, and then had the gall to dress up and pose on an aircraft carrier before a banner stating "Mission Accomplished."  He invaded a sovereign country for oil and war profiteering, turning Iraq into a training ground for terrorists who would destroy our country. He continues to confuse the American people by insisting on a nonexistent connection between the horrors of 9/11 and the reason he started his war in Iraq.   He routinely appoints incompetent and unqualified cronies to high-level federal government positions and as a result, hundreds and hundreds of Americans died tragically in New Orleans. He lets corporate polluters despoil God's creation and doom our planet. He uses fear-mongering to justify warrantless spying on American citizens, in clear violation of our Constitution. He is so psychotic and megalomaniacal that he believes that he was chosen by God.  He is the worst example of a Methodist I have ever personally known.  But compared to Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and the rest of the evil fascist bastards in this administration, George W. Bush is a saint.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it’s Stupid to be beaten to the punch – you already wrote about Darfur this week, but let me add a couple of things.  This month the United States holds the chair of the U.N. Security Council.  The last time we were in this position, John Danforth ordered the council to Kenya to put pressure on Sudan to end their southern civil war.  As Kenneth Bacon noted in the NY Times, John Bolton has the power to do the same for Darfur by holding a session there or at the Chad border refugee camps.  He could order the release of a secret UN study which names the countries selling arms to the government-backed genocides and the fractious rebel groups warring with them.  Most importantly he could publicize the inadequacy of the undermanned African Union force.  

The other thing is Darfur’s “What Liberal Media?” moment: Andrea Mitchell.  Chivalry must be dead, because you’d think that after a female correspondent gets roughed-up by thugs of a genocidal government, as Mitchell was last July, her comrades might get a little angry.  Maybe start airing some graphic footage from the region on a regular basis.  Maybe ask Scott McClellan why the state department granted a sanctions exemption to Sudan to give lots of money to a GOP PR lobbyist.  Why the Administration killed the last Darfur relief bill and why it isn’t helping to usher the current watered-down version through the House.  Even a measly “Scott, is the oft-reported story that President Bush was so moved by (Phillip Gourevitch’s) New Yorker story on Rwanda that he wrote “NOT ON MY WATCH!” in the margin?” Or interview some Arab League nation and Chinese ambassadors about why they run diplomatic interference for Sudan.  For that matter, why doesn’t Mitchell do this herself –  she’s the chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC Nightly News, by criminy.  A NEXIS search turned up nothing except a passing comment during the promotion for her book.  If the press won’t stick up for itself when it’s literally attacked, no wonder the Administration finds them so easy to manipulate.

Name:  Steven Hart
Hometown:   The Opinion Mill
If you want to know what moral authority sounds like, don't bother listening to the State of the Union address, and don't waste your time scanning the utterances of Bill Bennett, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Turn, instead, to the words of U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, who yesterday refused to give Christine Todd Whitman, onetime Environmental Protection Agency head and former New Jersey governor, immunity from a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of residents of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn who were exposed to poisonous fumes and vapors following the destruction of the World Trade Center. Despite abundant evidence that the air was unsafe, Whitman (as head of the EPA) assured everyone that it was okay to return to work and their homes.  Using phrases like "conscience shocking" to describe Whitman's callousness, the judge made it clear that this classic "moderate Republican" is in for a world of hurt: "No reasonable person would have thought that telling thousands of people that it was safe to return to lower Manhattan, while knowing that such return could pose long-term health risks and other dire consequences, was conduct sanctioned by our laws." As the death toll rises among the heroic people who walked into the maw of hell every day in order to clean up the wreckage of 9-11, survivors are calling for the appointment of a "9/11 Health Czar" to cut through the cloud of obfuscation and deceit swirling around the environmental and health consequences of 9/11. Meanwhile, Whitman has scarcely broken stride as she moved from head of the EPA to head of the Whitman Strategy Group, which lobbies for FMC Corp., one of the most notorious polluters in the country. A "pro-choice Republican" who wouldn't stick up for abortion rights; a "budget-cutter" who simply pushed costs down onto municipalities -- in every way, Christine Todd Whitman is the classic, useless "moderate Republican." Last January, when I reviewed Whitman's weasel word epic "It's My Party Too," about her ambition to take the GOP back from religious extremists, I noted that "The story of how [Whitman] helped present the rescue workers of Ground Zero with lasting health problems will have to be told, I suspect, with the help of subpoenas and lawsuits rather than ghostwriters." Praise God, that day of reckoning is now several steps closer.

P.S. SOTU: I know I mentioned this before, but given that Dubya wants to cut Middle East oil purchases 75%, it’s worth noting that Carter gave us 87% until Reagan reversed policy in 1986.  The Dems won’t even run on their -proven- record.  Isn’t there a Move-On/Jimmy Carter TV ad in there somewhere?

Name: David Maki
Hometown: LaGrange, IL

Re your book club selection  It's something I'm really interested in.  My father came from the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota. He left there during the depression so he could get a job in Chicago. But I still have a lot of relatives in Minnesota and I've seen what globalization of the iron industry has done up there. Iron ore mining still drives the economy, but the empty store fronts in the towns tell you how the bad things really are. About 25 years ago the Mesabi Daily News, the local paper, ran a series of stories about how to pack up and leave to find work elsewhere. I have relatives who have lost their retirement benefits because of steel companies going Chapter 11. Brazilian mines are the reason. It was cheaper to mine Brazilian iron ore and ship it to American mills. And this is raw materials. For years I've been wondering how American workers can realistically compete with the third world without a serious reduction in living standards. Skills can be learned, and technology reduces the need for skills. I wish there was some way to outsource CEOs' jobs to Asia.

Name: Commie Atheist
Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Quotes below from "The Global Class War," by Jeff Faux, which you kindly excerpted:

"...this book starts by demonstrating how America's bipartisan governing class protects its privileged clients while abandoning the rest of us to an unregulated, and therefore brutal and merciless, global market...although there are some substantial differences between the core leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties on domestic matters, and some tactical differences on foreign policy, the two have worked hand in hand to help so-called American corporations disconnect themselves from their obligations to the American people."

While you continue thanking Ralph (and rightfully so), please consider that there are many important ways in which Democrats and Republicans are essentially no different from each other, such as the way both parties equally ensure that the wealthy elites maintain their dominance over the national, and now global, economy.

Name: Jeff Hauser
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Ten Things Every American Jew Should Know About John Boehner 

  1. For School Prayer and Amending the Constitution: Rep. Boehner supported a school prayer amendment to the United States Constitution in 1997 (H.J.Res. 78), 1999 (H.J.Res 66), and 2001 (H.J.Res. 52); voted to permit school prayer "during this time of struggle against the forces of international terrorism" (House Roll Call Vote 445, Nov. 15, 2001); and voted to only allow federal aid to schools that allow prayer (House Roll Call Vote 85, March 23, 1994).

  2. For Forced Religion in Anti-Poverty Programs: Rep. Boehner voted to permit taxpayer-funded anti-poverty programs to require aid recipients to join in religious activities. (House Roll Call Votes 16 and 17, Feb. 4, 2004)

  3. 100% Against a Woman's Right to Choose: Rep. Boehner received a "0%" pro-choice score from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2005.

  4. For Religious Employment Discrimination: Rep. Boehner voted to permit taxpayer-funded anti-poverty programs to engage in federally-funded employment discrimination. (House Roll Call Votes 15 and 17, Feb. 4, 2004)

  5. Against the Rule of Law in Ten Commandments Case: Rep. Boehner voted to prevent the Justice Department from enforcing a court order to remove a 5,000 pound Ten Commandments monument from Alabama's state supreme court. (House Roll Call Vote 419, July 23, 2003)

  6. Against Common-Sense Environmental Safeguards: Rep. Boehner voted for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (House Roll Call Vote 122, April 20, 2005); voted to gut the Endangered Species Act (House Roll Call Vote 506, September 29, 2005); and voted to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (House Roll Call Vote 242, June 15, 2004).

  7. For More Religious Employment Discrimination: Rep. Boehner voted to permit taxpayer-funded job training programs to engage in religious discrimination when hiring and firing employees with federal funds. (House Roll Call Vote 46, March 2, 2005)

  8. Against Confronting Proselytizing at the Air Force Academy: Rep. Boehner voted against an amendment to squarely address religious coercion and proselytizing at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. The amendment criticized "coercive and abusive religious proselytizing" of cadets at the Academy while observing that "expression of personal religious faith is welcome" throughout the military. (House Roll Call Vote 283, June 20, 2005)

  9. Led the Effort to Inject Religious Employment Discrimination into Head Start: Rep. Boehner added a controversial amendment in September to a previously bipartisan School Readiness Act which would "allow federally funded early-child-care providers to discriminate on religious grounds," according to The Forward. The Forward notes, "The federal government transfers about $6.7 billion annually to 19,000 Head Start providers in 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia." Jewish groups opposed to the measure, according to The Forward, include the "Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and the National Council of Jewish Women."

  10. Pushed Ohio Schools to Embrace "Intelligent Design:" People For the American Way reports that Rep. Boehner and fellow Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Chabot wrote to the Ohio school board claiming that legislative language required that references to "Intelligent Design" be included in Ohio's science standards. In fact, such language was removed from the relevant education bill before it became final.

Hometown: Mesa, AZ

Eric, Check out what Arizona's "Conservative" legislators have cooking here.  Meanwhile, Barry Goldwater spins in his grave. I don't have tenure yet--so I'm leaving my contact info blank.

Name:  Josh Silver
Hometown:  FreePress.org

Dear Eric,
There have been several key developments during the past month.

Last night served as another reminder of how bad the media problem is. Following the State of the Union, not a single network - including PBS - had a journalist equipped with facts to refute the President's empty rhetoric.  To point out that that terrorism has increased dramatically since Bush’s war began, that his energy policy is directly oppositional to his new oil conservation spin, that his numbers on new jobs are fuzzy math, that 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded, that world perception of the US is at an all time low, etc. Instead you had the same vapid pundits and token spineless opposition -- and no means for the public to learn the truth.

Over 70% of Americans get their news from corporate TV and radio, and it's not going to improve: profit pressures and corporate ideology will see to that. We have to block further consolidation while getting independent, critical programs and networks on TV, radio and the web -- into the living rooms of regular people across the nation. We have to insulate public broadcasting funding and reform governance so that they can challenge government; we have to make Internet access fast, affordable and ubiquitous. That all happens through policy, and that's what our initiatives will do if we’re successful.

Industry lobbyists are beefing up their DC firepower in anticipation of the new Telecom Act, despite recent indications that the massive legislation will not get a vote this year. Lots of hearings are scheduled on the Hill, and the jockeying has begun. The decisions being made now will shape the future of the Internet for generations.

Ramping up for the fight in Washington, we are launching a new campaign for “network neutrality” - this wonky-but-crucial issue will determine whether Internet users will be able to:

  • Access Internet content of their choice;
  • Run online applications and services of their choice;
  • Connect their choice of devices to the Internet; and
  • Have fair competition among network, application, service and content providers.

Six Senators are planning to introduce stand-alone bills that we would support. In addition to our outreach efforts, we conducted a major poll on the issue in conjunction with Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America.

At the FCC, it appears that Chairman Kevin Martin, the White House and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) have agreed on a new Republican FCC Commissioner to fill the vacant fifth seat. Robert McDowell is an industry lobbyist and loyal GOP attorney. McDowell’s work lobbying for smaller telephone companies may make him sympathetic to some of our concerns about “open access.” But if he’s confirmed, we expect Martin to move quickly to try to eliminate media ownership rules - starting with the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership. We are hosting two public hearings with FCC Commissioners Copps, Adelstein (and possibly the other commissioners) in Virginia and Arizona in March and April to elevate the issue and build public support.

PBS will get a new president in March. Paula A. Kerger, a top executive at New York public television stations WNET and WLIW, will be the PBS’s sixth president and CEO. She is the best we could hope for -- a public broadcasting veteran and not a GOP operative, with a solid record of supporting the public interest. Her appointment bodes well for our efforts to win stronger internal support at PBS and NPR for a comprehensive reform agenda.

Bob McChesney and John Podesta of the Center for American Progress co-authored a widely reprinted article in The Washington Monthly on the promise of Community Internet.  Meanwhile, more community wireless sites keep popping up across the country. Our interactive map now features more than 300 projects nationwide.

Knight-Ridder, owner of 32 newspapers nationwide, is being pressured to sell its properties. The conglomerate confirms telling bidders they could save $150 million a year by cutting staff, paper and the “news hole” - i.e., cheapening the product. As a recent editorial in one of its own papers said:

“Knight-Ridder is doing exactly what it should as a company under siege from its shareholders. It’s focusing on the business aspects and putting on its best and most profitable face. But that doesn’t make the reality any less painful for a community facing further erosion of its local news options. At the end of the day, we get what we pay for, whether it’s information or highways. In our haste to cut taxes and get ‘free’ information, we as a society have lost touch with reality and in the end we’ll pay the price. Buying generic works for acetaminophen and paper towels, but all information isn’t the same. And that’s a lesson San Jose and 31 other markets around the country are on the verge of learning the hard way.”

The Communications Workers of America are attempting to buy nine of those papers to create employee-owned papers.

The crisis in journalism, of course, isn’t limited to print. In his first week as Frank Rich’s stand in at the New York Times, Ted Koppel lamented the decline of television news, and the rise of what he calls “boutique journalism” - news that is tailored to suit advertising’s most profitable demographic. It’s a must-read.

February 2, 2006 |1:19 PM ET | Permalink

America the Greedy, continued

A day after Bush got done telling the country what a brave, noble and generous people we are, the Republican Congress votes to stick it to the poor, the old, the indigent and the most vulnerable.  Yesterday’s budget cuts include reductions in:  “In the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled, $4.8 billion will be saved in part by increasing co-payments and reducing payments for prescription drugs" and will force students to pay higher interest rates on these federal loans beginning in July, here.

The budget-busting Bush who has destroyed the surplus, exploded the deficit, and increased the size of the federal government by more than thirty percent since coming to office set a record for shamelessness by announcing that the vote "will continue to build on the spending restraint we have achieved."  And the Times prints this straight-faced.  Ha.  As TP points out,

As the Post notes, "The impact of the bill on the deficit is likely to be negligible, slicing less than one-half of 1 percent from the estimated $14.3 trillion in federal spending over the next five years."

And while we’re on the topic of what a fine, generous, and moral people we are—particularly the ultra-rich who make up the non-Christian Conservative, non-Neoconservative jihadist part of Bush’s base, I saved this article from a while back.  Today’s cutbacks make it more relevant than ever.  It was in the Times:

Working-age Americans who make $50,000 to $100,000 a year are two to six times more generous in the share of their investment assets that they give to charity than those Americans who make more than $10 million, a pioneering study of federal tax data shows.

The least generous of all working-age Americans in 2003, the latest year for which Internal Revenue Service data is available, were among the young and prosperous - the 285 taxpayers age 35 and under who made more than $10 million - and the 18,600 taxpayers making $500,000 to $1 million. The top group had on average $101 million of investment assets while the other group had on average $2.4 million of investment assets.

On average these two groups made charitable gifts equal to 0.4 percent of their assets, while people the same age who made $50,000 to $100,000 gave gifts equal to more than 2.5 percent of their investment assets, six times that of their far wealthier peers.

I saved this too:

In 1985, the combined wealth of the Forbes 400 was $238 billion, adjusted for inflation. Today, the 400 richest people in America are together worth $1.13 trillion. To put that number in perspective, $1.13 trillion is more than the gross domestic product of Canada. And it is more than the G.D.P. of Switzerland, Poland, Norway and Greece - combined.

Remember, we also, as a nation, give by the far the tiniest percentage of our GNP to development aid of any Western industrialized democracy as well—though believe it or not, every time I write this, people write in to insist that we include our wars.  It would be funny were it not for the fact that…

We destroyed the country in order to save it.

Good news, bad news: The good news for humankind is that Major Bob is “wheels up out of Baghdad at a little after 16:00 hrs (local) yesterday, out of Iraq and quartered safe” in Kuwait. The bad news is that Iraq has lost a good friend, at least in its midst, and we, at Altercation, have lost a hell of a Baghdad correspondent.

Altercation Book Club

The Global Class War, by Jeff Faux, just published by Wiley.
(Faux is a founder and former president of the Economic Policy Institute.)

The seed of this book was planted in a conversation I had with a corporate lobbyist in the main corridor of the U.S. Capitol in 1993.  She was exasperated that I couldn’t see the virtues of the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which her company was promoting.

“Don’t you understand?” she finally said. “We have to help Salinas. He’s been to Harvard. He’s one of us.”

“Salinas” was Carlos Salinas de Gortari, then president of Mexico.

The reference to “us” seemed odd. She and I were not in the same political party, and a one-year fellowship at the Kennedy Institute of Politics hardly qualified me as a “Harvard man.” She, as it turned out, hadn’t gone there at all. It took me a little while to understand her point: we internationally mobile professionals had a shared self-interest in freeing transnational corporations from the constraints imposed by governments on behalf of people who were, well, “not really like us.” Despite the considerable political and social distance between Carlos Salinas and me, she was appealing to class solidarity.

At that moment, I realized that globalization was producing not just a borderless market, but a borderless class system to go with it…

As Jorge Castañeda, who later became Mexico’s foreign secretary, observed, NAFTA was “an accord among magnates and potentates: an agreement for the rich and powerful in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, an agreement effectively excluding ordinary people in all three societies.”…

In the public discussion of domestic politics, the simple and obvious truth that the rich and powerful collude for their own benefit is occasionally acknowledged. In the public discussion of international politics, almost never. The possibility that the mobile, cosmopolitan, and privileged of different nations would find common cause in designing the global marketplace never seems to have crossed the minds of the mobile, cosmopolitan, and privileged pundits who explain globalization to the American public…

By and large, the punditry has  confused the simple and age-old process of people in different countries trading to acquire goods they don’t produce at home with the privileges taken by those who run giant transnational corporations to corrupt governments, undermine social mores, and defy protections of people and the environment at will. That having been done, the world is divided by those who are for or against “globalization.”  If you are against corporate abuses you must be against all international trade, which makes you an ignorant protectionist—and if you drink coffee imported from another country, a hypocrite as well.  The argument reflects the art of the propagandist, and is aimed at stopping conversation and silencing opposition.

A political commentator named Amy Goodman said recently that the job of a journalist is “to go where the silence is.” In that spirit, this book starts by demonstrating how America’s bipartisan governing class protects its privileged clients while abandoning the rest of us to an unregulated, and therefore brutal and merciless, global market.  It is not the only place from which to examine globalization, but it is the place where the “silence” is.

That modern mass consumption societies divide along economic class lines should not be news. Nor should it be surprising that the rich and powerful of different parts of the world are drawn to one another’s company in the upscale resorts, boardrooms, and social events where they congregate. But until recently, wealth and power—however diversified the portfolios—have been rooted in national market systems.

All markets have rules and, therefore, have a politics, which reflects conflict and bargaining over the rules for economic advantage.  In stable modern societies, the bargaining takes place within a social contract—supported by laws, institutions, and customs—that assures that enough benefits of growth trickle down to keep a majority of citizens productive and loyal: what is good for General Motors becomes good for America.

The relentless integration of national economies raises the question:  what then are the politics of the global market—a market without the common laws, institutions, and customs that would enable the economic classes generated by that market to negotiate a social contract?

The politics of the global economy are currently the equivalent of a one-party system, dominated by a virtual network this book calls the Party of Davos, after the now famous meeting place in Switzerland where the world’s political and economic elite have their annual “convention.” The platform of the Party of Davos is simple: enhance the bargaining position of corporate capital in the global economy.  In the absence of global government, the transnational investor class represented by Davos depends on support from the elites running the major nation-states of the world, the U.S. superpower being the most important.

Although there are some substantial differences between the core leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties on domestic matters, and some tactical differences on foreign policy, the two have worked hand in hand to help so-called American corporations disconnect themselves from their obligations to the American people.  Led by Robert Rubin, the Clinton administration used the economic instruments of free trade, financial deregulation, and the leverage of the International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions to further the world strategies of transnational banks and manufacturers.  Led by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, the Bush administration continued these policies and expanded the use of the U.S. military to extend investment opportunities at home and in the Middle East…

This is not the first time in American history that investment opportunity has marched under the banner of a messianic crusade to enlighten the world. But in the past, when what was good for General Motors was good for America, the economic benefits generally trickled down to the people back home. Today, the new post–cold war globalization has disconnected the fate of America’s citizens from those who own and control the great transnational corporations with American names. Economic success these days is not, as many would have it, a matter of being connected to the global economy.  Illegal immigrants, downsized factory workers, and laid-off telemarketers are all connected to the global economy—as are design engineers, accountants, and computer programmers stunned to learn that their jobs have been outsourced. The successful are not just connected, they are connected to the top—to the people who run the Party of Davos.

Globalization did not by itself cause America’s growing inequalities.  Rather it allowed the rich and powerful to detach themselves from the bonds that had connected the economic fate of Americans of all classes since World War II. Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the air traffic controllers’ union in 1981 signaled big business that it could violate the domestic social contract. Clinton’s passage of NAFTA in 1993 signaled that big business could abandon it completely…

For more, go here.

Correspondence corner:

Name: Rob Stafford
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Hey Doc:
Re: Darfur The piece from the Forward reminded me of something illuminating Condi said before the 2000 election which shocked & offended me.  I couldn't find it in the first three results that came up in Google (the length of my attention span), but luckily, I did find something almost identical her boss said around the same time: "We should not send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in nations outside our strategic interest."  George Bush From the NYT, Sept 30, 2000, in a piece called "Bush & the World" by Anthony Lewis which I found reprinted here.  It's just good to know that the Christians running our country want to make it perfectly clear: they are not their brother's keepers.  Since they established the ground rules way back then--my guess is they feel we have no right to complain--genocide that isn't in conflict with our strategic interests isn't something to worry about.  Right?  Oh, but...why were we in Iraq again?  I'll leave the answer as an exercise for the student.  How's that for compassionate conservatism?

Name: Brian Chin
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
So Eric, Prince Harry could go to Iraq.  Where are the American chickenhawk children?

Name:  Fortune Elkins
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Suddenly relevant today: "It is the desperate moment when we discover this empire, which had seemed to us the sum of all wonders, is an endless, formless ruin, that corruption's gangrene has spread too far to be healed by our scepter, that the triumph over enemy sovereigns has made us the heirs of their long undoing." from Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino, Harvest Books, 1978

Name: Daniel Yunghans
Hometown: Cortland, NY
So, Sec. Rice knows that Pittsburgh will win the Super Bowl but she didn't know that Hamas would win the Palestinian elections?

Name: Mike Stefaniuk
Hometown: Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Want a great example of the benefits of government, particularly when it comes to regulating safety?  Check out the difference between the rescue operation in a mine fire in Saskatchewan and those in West Virginia.

Name: Bill Strachan
Hometown: Enfield, CT
If Bush intends, as his SOTU speech indicates, to call DEMS and other critics isolationist and defeatists, he is clearly calling the proverbial kettle black.  All of his actions in Iraq were unilateral.  He spurned NATO and the UN in his actions.  The only allies he had were the UK and a coalition of the bribed - Spain, Poland, Mongolia!  He unilaterally isolated the U.S. in its invasion of Iraq.  He publicly humiliated the UN and proceeded to try an end run to avoid going before the Security Council.  With all its faults and corruption, not unlike this Republican Government we labor under, it is a world body that already was deeply involved in containing Saddam.  Bush & Co., already armed with the radical right wing hatred of "foreign entanglements", like Treaties, Geneva Convention, alliances, international obligations and rules of law the U.S. had a huge hand in creating, blew off Kyoto, has had a hand in sabotaging DOHA, abdicated the U.S. role as a human rights leader, upgraded torture to a state run intelligence device, and has domestically trampled on the Constitution.  SEATO is going it alone.  NATO is highly suspicious of U.S. leadership, former Eastern Bloc countries are increasingly nervous about U.S. policies and are being driven back into the Russian fold, Islamic countries are forming hostile resistance to our peace initiatives, Latin America is moving to its own beat, China has gotten far more room to maneuver and gain strength & credibility, and we are far more isolated in the world than ever in our history.  Isolationist?  G.W. Bush, living in a bubble, is the monarch of the term "isolationist".

Name: Fortune Elkins
Hometown:  Brooklyn, NY
Eric: sorry to write again so soon, but since I believe in freedom of the press -- even if we no longer really have it here in the U.S.A. -- I'm thinking we should perhaps generate a wave of pro-Danish cheese buying to combat the growing anti-Danish boycott.  What do you think?

Name: Matt
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
I wonder what the P.O.S. Ralph thinks about the further attacks on the poor in our country.  Passed the house by two votes yesterday.  Off to renew the tax cuts for the rich!

Eric replies: Thanks again, bub.

Name: Tom Scarlett
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Today's offerings at opinionjournal.com were even more ludicrous than usual.  In one, Peggy Noonan mentions how moved she was by the death of "Michael Kelley," although apparently not moved enough to bother to spell his name right (it was Kelly).  In another, a guardian of our culture asks the burning question: "Will the Curious George movie be too politically correct?"

Name: Wayne Anderson
Hometown: New York, New York
T-Shirts, The New Weapon of Mass Destruction.  Doesn't it scare anyone that Cindy Sheehan can be falsely arrested and charged with a non-existent crime, because she wore a T-shirt?  In an age where torture is defended as an effective investigative method, it becomes more and more obvious that America has indeed changed since 9/11.  But just what kind of a society have we allowed ourselves to become?

Name: Glenn Condell
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
It's a bit disappointing to find you disparaging Cindy Sheehan one day and praising William Kristol the next.  Perhaps she doesn't have his 'political judgment', which given the last few years I would have thought a huge plus.  Maybe you'd like her more if she 'weren't in politics'.  Maybe not.  Kristol at any rate would never wear a protest T shirt to the SOTU and you wouldn't catch him trying to stop a war.  But then he would never lose a child to war either would he?  No, he'd just play a crucial role in creating such wars, thus ensuring mothers like Ms Sheehan lose their children so that Mr. Kristol and his children (I'm relying on past performance here) can continue to pursue their violent retributive fantasies on behalf of a foreign country.  That country of course was mentioned by Ms Sheehan in one of her attempts to answer her own question of Mr Bush - 'what is the noble cause for which my son died?'.  Is her courage in actually saying what millions of people think (a job your profession has shamefully ignored for decades) behind your animus with Ms Sheehan, and/or your solidarity with Mr Kristol?  Or is he just a fellow New York sophisticate with good manners, but regrettably murderous politics?  She might not be quite so polished but more truth has flowed from her pen in the last year than Mr Kristol has managed in a decade.  Which of them comes closest to qualifying for the epithet 'un-American'?

Eric replies: I am a bad person.

Name:  Karl Witter
Hometown:  Bloomfield, CT
I heard Maude Maggart perform on A Prairie Home Companion, and it just knocked my socks off.  Everything you raved about in her performance I could feel just on the radio.  And Marshall Barer and Hugh Martin's "On Such a Night as This" is a song not to be missed--one of those almost lost gems.

February 1, 2006 |12:03 PM ET | Permalink

Never mind the SOTU: Remember Darfur

Nice catch by Today's Papers:

The NYT is worse, announcing on top of Page One: "BUSH, RESETTING AGENDA, SAYS U.S. MUST CUT RELIANCE ON OIL."  Whoever wrote that might have benefited from reading one of the nation's best papers, the New York Times.  As the Times mentioned inside, the only thing the president is "resetting" is the clock: "Bush has called in each of his past four State of the Union addresses for a reduction in the dependence on foreign oil."

Actually, read all of Today’s Papers and you can see why I feel OK about ignoring the whole thing.  (Remember when he pretended to want to go to Mars and got Time to put it on the cover?  Never mind that, Katrina, Republican Congressional corruption, exploding budget deficits, Ahmed Chalabi, non-Middle Eastern foreign oil, etc.)  I actually wrote today’s Altercation yesterday, cuz, you know, the guy is nothing if not predictable…

In January 2002 I was in one of those trans-Atlantic confabs in Brussels and I congratulated my fellow confabulator, Bill Kristol, on his having won the battle for what might politely be described as the president’s “mind.”  Bush had just spoken the silly, ultimately contentless, words of Danielle Crittenden’s hubster about the so-called “Axis of Evil” and it was clear we were going to invade Iraq and maybe a few other places.  But I stopped and asked him, “What if it was just a speech?  What if he doesn’t really mean it?”  Kristol, who I would like a lot if he weren’t in politics, replied, “With any other speech I’d be concerned, but not with the State of the Union.  That speech is vetted and re-vetted so many times that nothing gets in there by accident.”  So he felt good and I felt bad.  I still feel bad, but differently.  As we all know, that speech was filled with un-vetted falsehoods.  (Which reminds me, it was the 2003 SOTU in which we heard that nonsense about imaginary shipments of yellowcake uranium.  And you will recall Condi’s excuse was the same one she used about 9/11 and about the Hamas victory and about WMDs, etc, which was “How Should I Know? I Only Work Here.”  Naturally she was promoted for this, as was her deputy Stephen Hadley, who took her job, and who was the guy actually responsible for vetting the speech.

And by the way, if Condi was so shocked, shocked by Hamas’ victory, how do we esplain this sentence in Ari Shavit’s New Yorker report? 

Harari, who served as an intelligence officer in the West Bank and then as the adviser on Palestinian affairs to the Israeli Defense Ministry, is still closely connected to his former colleagues, and he said he had heard that, some weeks ago, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, who was afraid of a Hamas rout at the polls, begged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to exert United States pressure and postpone the scheduled elections.  Rice refused, Harari said, and told Abbas to go forward.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that my conscience as a whatever-it-is-I-am is pretty clean about ignoring whatever it is Bush says in his SOTU because even in these speeches where the whole world is watching he can’t  be bothered to tell the truth, and his aides are aware of this, and unlike past presidencies, as Mr. Kristol’s words so eloquently testify, they don’t bother either.

So I think we can forget about all the hot air unleashed last night and all of the excitement about it over at “The Note” and such and spend a day focusing on something really important, like our government’s unconscionable response to the avoidable genocide and mass starvation in Darfur, where since February 2003, according to international estimates, more than 400,000 men, women and children have died while another 2.5 million civilians have been forced into refugee camps in Sudan and in Chad.  This was in the Forward not long ago.

The Bush administration in 2004 applied the term "genocide" to the repressive actions conducted by the Sudanese government and its henchmen against the population of Darfur. The United Nations passed a series of resolutions, and the African Union introduced troops into the area. Even so, according to diplomats and relief groups, the situation on the ground has worsened.  "This is the first time the United States has determined that a genocide was taking place while it is still happening, but at the same time, the administration has failed to act on it," said Ruth Messinger, president and executive director of the American Jewish World Service.

More, along with a place to send money, here.

For information on Darfur we rely on Nick Kristof in The New York Review (as we do not on matters of liberalism, but life is complicated).


Maude Maggart (A lot more fun that Bush’s SOTU, Nora.)

One of the great tragedies of contemporary American life is that if you type the words “Maude Maggart” into Amazon’s search engine, you do not get any actual Maude Maggart albums.  Instead you get a bunch of albums I never heard of that cannot possibly be as good.  It’s OK with me that lots of people really like Fiona Apple.  I kinda like her too.  But the truth is, if she were my girlfriend, and her sister came downstairs and started, you know, flirting with me, we’d have a Lovin' Spoonful situation on our hands…  Maybe it’s because I’m a youngish old fart.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Ms. Maggart three times now at the Algonquin’s Oak Room and I’ve never seen Fiona anywhere, much less at the Algonquin, much less singing songs as great as these.  (I actually asked her mother last night which sister was the older one and she said Maude was.  But when I asked how old, she said she couldn’t remember her daughter’s age any better than she could remember her own.  I guessed around 26, but got no response.)

Anyway, Ms. Maggart is blessed with a beautifully ethereal voice and a charming, sometimes and sultry delivery, plus brains, a sense of humor, a feel for history and more sex appeal than any one human body ought to be able to comfortably contain.  In her “Comes Love” show last night she focused on songs written in the late thirties and early forties, in part to pay tribute to the short but tempestuous marriage of her musician grandparents, who sang and played with Harry James after Frank Sinatra and Dick Haymes.  Highlights included a long, drawn out “My Funny Valentine,” and a powerfully realized “Hooray for Love” as a closer.

Since Amazon is such a loser on this score, go directly to Maude’s site, here, buy one of those CDs —the Irving Berlin one is the best yet— and see if you live in a place that’s cool enough to have her perform there, and if you can afford it if you do.  (But you know, since so many bands have begun to scalp their own fans, cabaret bars have come to seem reasonable in comparison.  The Oak Room’s music fee is fifty bucks and the food is pretty reasonable and not bad at all once you’re there.

Correspondence corner:

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Alito is on the Supreme Court.  Well, the 20th Century was nice, wasn't it?  All power and glory to the corporation.  To the citizens of this great country -- squat, nil, zip, zero, nada.  Equal rights down the drain.  No more 4th Amendment.  Makes me want to crawl under my bed with my cat and a flashlight for the next two years while Bush is in power.  Maybe I'll crawl out when the Democrats take back the House and make the idiot boy's last two years in office a living hell.  Once again, thanks Ralph.

Name: A. Curious Gentile
I thought it was "a Schande vor die Goyim"?

Name: Christopher Wing
Hometown: Richmond, CA
Eric, That's not what Arlo said, and his line is a lot better, considering... And take a risk and listen to something different - with music here - too much folk, country, and Billy Joel can do bad things to a soul.  Guitars are fun and all, but...

Name: Amy Billings
Hometown: Portland, Maine
I am a receptionist at a travel agency in Portland Maine.  I watch the Sunday morning talk shows and read all the major political pundits, but nowhere, except in your blog, do I find an accurate reflection of the opinions of ordinary Americans like me.  All the political know-it-alls seem to think white, Protestant, church goers like me are only momentarily disapproving of the President's job performance and that will change when the price of gas goes down.  I am dismayed at the lack of awareness in the MSM of the depth of political discontent in small cities and suburbs.  My own town is bursting at the seams with protest activities, much of it coordinated by groups like MoveOn.org and Veterans for Peace, but some of it from homegrown activists like our own League of Pissed Off Voters….

Name: Billmonaghan
Hometown: Springfield, Oh
Bush's State of the Union address cleared up something for me: It's "War on Terra." This whole time I thought he'd been saying "War on Terror." Now his actions make a lot more sense. (Well, they don't "make sense," but at least they're, like, internally consistent.)

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