• February 28, 2006 | 12:35 PM ET | Permalink

In the latest Tomdispatch.com interview, Mark Danner explains, “we've entered an 'age of frozen scandal.'  The great problem in this new age is that revelation is followed by nothing but more revelation.  Investigation, no less punishment, never comes so that, as he puts it, "it's as if we're this spinning wheel, constantly confirming facts that we already knew" and "the revelations become less and less effective in causing public outrage.  The public begins to become inured to it, corrupted in its turn."  It’s here.

Don’t believe the hype; just believe the numbers:  Here.  (I’m not really necessary here so I’ll let my fellow Americans do the talking.) 

In the poll, 34 percent approved of how he is handling his job, down eight points from a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in January.….In addition, 62 percent of those polled said the efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq were going badly, up from 54 percent last month….There has been a decline in Mr. Bush's support even among Republicans.  In the January Times/CBS News poll, 83 percent of Republicans approved of the way he was handling his job; in the latest poll 72 percent approve.  Approval among self-identified conservatives also dropped to 52 percent, from 62 percent.”

Quotes of Whatever:  "Everybody sort of likes the President, except for the real whack-jobs."  — Chris Matthews

And Boehlert asks:  “When are the smart guys at The Note finally going to face facts and concede the Bush presidency is a failure?”

This is pretty great:  A Joe Klein contest with an actual prize, here.  ( I don’t see how anyone can beat Pierce, but give it a try.)

Great moments in Little Roy-dom (No Hat-tip):

You're welcome.  And as I read this and other Iraqi blogs written by people who lived under a kind of terror that we in the West have no way to understand or truly empathize with, I feel a lump in my throat.  I am so proud of the country I was born in and the country I have made my home. I have never been prouder to be an Anglo-American, to have done in our time what so many before us have done - to broaden the possibilities of liberty, to bring hope, to restrain the violent men and evil ideologies that are each generation's responsibility. The men and women in our armed forces did the hardest work. They deserve our immeasurable thanks. But we all played our part. By facing down the evil, the cowardly and the simply misguided, we have done a great good.”

You think he means the lies, the torture or the civil war part?

Then again, people who know something can be just as silly as people who are just pretending, alas.  One of my current projects in life is to try to revive the tradition of 1950s era liberal intellectuals who participate in public life in the manner of say Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith.  But then I run into a sentence like this one, “Conceivably, the vulnerability of a Democratic administration would have made a Gore presidency still more pro-active and militaristic than George W. Bush has been in practice.” ( Here.)  Note the use of the weasel word “conceivably” as in “Conceivably, my cheeseburger is actually made from the remains of little green Martian men.”  To take the above seriously, one must simply ignore absolutely everything Gore has said and done with regard to Iraq, which in my view, rather weakens it.  So yes it “could” be true; the same way it “could” be true that I am the long lost son of the King of Saudi Arabia.  And this is by a person who’s written an extremely useful and interesting book, too.  It’s scary, really, and depressing.  Take a look at the book, though here, which as I said, is quite useful despite the nonsensical quality of the analysis above.

Reading Assignments:

  • Moyers’ latest is here.
  • Thoughts on A.J. P. Taylor here.
  • Thoughts on Strauss, here.
  • Thoughts on Nicholas Sarkozy here.


Sal on Elvis Costello and Mott the Hoople

"My Flame Burns Blue," here.

It's not easy being an Elvis Costello fan.  Just when you think you've got him all figured out, he throws you a Phil Niekro knuckleball, and although it's not possible, it is he, not you, who swings and misses.  His last release, "The Delivery Man," was a rootsy return to his "King Of America/Blood & Chocolate"-era British pop by way of Clarksdale, Mississippi, with a detour through the Appalachians.  A mini-tour with Emmylou Harris followed, which featured material from that record, as well some country standards made famous by Miss Harris.

So naturally, the follow-up record should be...a live album with the Metropole Orkest featuring material by Charles Mingus and Billy Strayhorn?  Ok, it's not that simple.

"My Flame Burns Blue" is a 2 CD set recorded in Hague with the legendary Metropole Orkest.  Disc one features Costello fronting the 52 piece band along with his right hand man Steve Nieve.  The repertoire includes revamped Costello classics like "Watching The Detectives," and "Clubland," that both work nicely with the orchestra, as well as some new material.  The opening track "Hora Decubitis" is a Charles Mingus composition with new lyrics by Costello, and the title track is actually the Billy Strayhorn classic "Blood Count," also containing new Costello lyrics.  This sounds like a disaster, but it is not. Not at all.

Costello has been known to oversing, especially when trying to croon.  His love letter to his wife Diana Krall, "North," was clumsy, and though much better, the Burt Bacharach collaboration "Painted From Memory," while containing moments of brilliance, was uneven, due to the lack of subtlety in Costello's vocal attack.  On "My Flame Burns Blue," the marriage works nicely and Costello sounds great.

Disc two is a live performance of an original Costello symphony, "Il Sogno."  I will try to listen to this and tell you what I think sometime in the next 6 years.

“Mott” and “All the Young Dudes.”

While I do like the first four Mott The Hoople records, it is fair to say that the band did not really find themselves until David Bowie found them.  Mott's self-titled debut, as well as LPs 2 and 3 ("Mad Shadows" and "Wildlife"), were somewhat uneven affairs.  Ian Hunter wanted to be Bob Dylan and Mick Ralphs was a rocker.  By LP number 4, "Brain Capers," you could hear a slight shift in the songwriting and presentation. This record was punchy.  It seemed whole.  It's the best of the lot, but still, something was missing. Mott The Hoople was about to call it quits.

Enter David Bowie, the savior.  Getting the long overdue rehaul from Sony are two legendary records from this legendary band, the Bowie produced "All The Young Dudes," and its follow-up "Mott."  If writing the quintessential rock and roll anthem, "All The Young Dudes," wasn't enough to seal your place in music history, how about giving it away?  Bowie's influence on Mott changed their lives forever. They were still a rock and roll band, and Ian Hunter still wanted to be Bob Dylan.  Only now, they would have to wear pink boas, glittering top hats, and eye make-up.  The rest is history.

1972's "All The Young Dudes" is near perfect.  Opening with a jangly take on Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," and featuring what I think are some of the best rockers of all time, "Jerkin' Crocus," and "One Of The Boys," ATYD's captures the band at its peak.  Even the tracks by the other band members are not throwaways.  Mick Ralphs' "Ready For Love" later became a hit for his new band Bad Company, and keyboardist Verden Allen's "Soft Ground" is a gritty, organ-led shuffle that is a standout. Plus, let's not forget the title track, which manages to get better and better, even after 30 plus years of airplay.

1973's "Mott" is just as solid.  Now monsters in the rock world, Mott could do no wrong. From the opening of the now classic piano chords of "All The Way From Memphis," Hunter finally achieves his goal as a respectable, Dylanesque storyteller. "Hymn For The Dudes," and "The Ballad Of Mott," are big bold ballads, recapping the band's ups and downs, and songs like "Honaloochie Boogie" and "Drivin' Sister," show that the band still had the ability to write hooks and melody.

The bonus material on both is also solid, especially the live tracks,  Dudes here and Mott here


Correspondence Corner:

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq
I am home now.  These things took place three weeks ago.

The Road Back Home: II

Camp Ali Al Saleem, Kuwait

On Day 4, the lights click on at 0700, amusing nobody.  Our cave-like tent, windowless and insulated against the cold, is pitch black until that point.  The groans of painfully interrupted sleep rise up, demanding darkness.  Most of us have been up “late” in this timeless place.  Your correspondent pulls his bag over his head and remains silent.

An anonymous voice pleads from somewhere on the other side of the tent, “C’mon, turn the lights out.”

“Doc,” the one who flipped the switch, answers immediately.  Almost everyone else is asleep, or trying to sleep.  “Hey, c’mon, let’s go.  It’s not my fault you all stayed up until midnight last night.”

“Doc” is a major.  As he put it, quite loudly, he is a “true citizen soldier.”  Until a few months ago, he was a civilian physician who had never worn a uniform a day in his life.  With some professions it is possible to get what we call a “direct commission,” and this applies to Doc.  A few weeks (two, actually) of classroom instruction about how to wear the uniform, customs, courtesies, the rank structure of the Army, etc., et voila, vous êtes un officer.  A few more weeks of training complete the program, and depending upon his or her level of standing, the doctor is commissioned either as a Captain or a Major, or more rarely to an even higher rank.  As Doc told any and all who would stand still, he was just coming back from Iraq.  Uh huh.  What took a little more time to figure out was that this "true" citizen-soldier was returning from what was, apparently, a “tour of duty” which was all of 90 days in duration.  Everyone else in that tent pulled the same kind of tour that your correspondent just finished.  Some were Reservists, some were Regular Army, all had been in Iraq for a year.

“Go where?” the tired and anonymous voice responds, “There is nowhere to go until Sunday. Now turn out the lights, willya?”

Doc’s response is disdainful and authoritarian.  “Well, at every military post where I have been, it’s lights out at 2200 and on again at 0600…”

Now even in my groggy, up-too-late-reading state, this line stands out. “Every military post you’ve been?!” the evil voice in my head echoed.  “Ferchristsake, I’ve got socks that have been in the Army longer than you have.”  (This, sadly, is not an exaggeration.)  Out loud, however, I was more restrained.

“Dude,” I say, trying to be personable, “just kill the lights, OK?”  This, apparently, upsets Doc.

“No, I will NOT…I am the Senior Officer here, and I’ve made a decision,” said Doc, in what I can only describe as a ‘chuffed’ tone of voice, “…and you will NOT call me ‘Dude.’ You can call me either ‘Major ____,’ or ‘Sir’.”

I may have been half-asleep, but this was a line sufficient to wake me.  Was this guy so completely oblivious?  Seriously?

There were four majors in that tent, one captain, one warrant officer, and three senior NCOs (sergeants).  Over the preceding long days of boredom, in the sort of casual conversations that make up professional small-talk, even between professionals who are not wearing their uniforms, we had all established who was who.  Admittedly, being a relative newcomer Doc might not catch the verbal temporal markers that established which of the four majors was the longest-serving, but even still, he surely could not have missed the oak leaves on all the other uniforms, nor the other markers of long service.  I was tired.  I was not amused.  Your correspondent is not always a nice man.

“Nah,” I responded, loud enough to carry to his end of the tent, “You’re a doctor, you’re all hung up on rules, and you’re throwing your rank around…I think I’ll call you ‘Frank’.”

Nobody over 35 could have missed the reference to Frank Burns, the character from the television show M.A.S.H.

Sputtering ‘Frank’ almost yelled, “You WILL call me ‘Sir,’ or ‘Major ___’.”

Joke’s over.

“Since when, Frank, does one Major… call another Major ‘Sir’, huh?”  This, still, from beneath my covers.  I was not in the mood.

In almost seventeen years of commissioned service I think I have personally “pulled rank” twice.  The Ranger Regiment First Sergeant and Special Forces Sergeant Major who originally cast me into the form of the officer I am today stamped one lesson indelibly upon my mind.  They burned in this rule so deeply that it is something I will take to the grave:  Pulling Rank is the absolute last measure anyone with rank should ever use.  Even in combat.  It is one step short of pulling your weapon to quell a rebellion; it is (or should be considered) that dire a measure.  At least, that is how it should be among true professionals.

“You…you’re a major?” Frank Burns warbled.

“Yes Frank, I am a major…and so is the guy in the bunk next to me, and that guy over there,” my arm shot out from under the covers to indicate another lump in a bunk-bed across the room. “There are four majors here Frank, and you just woke up three of them.”

“I, I, I…didn’t know.”


Darkness returns.  Silence.  Shuffling.  The door at the end of the tent opens and closes.  Pause.  Pause.  Chuckles of laughter from the direction of the sergeants.  Silence.  Sleep.

I am not proud of this, it just is.

You can write to Major Bob at Bateman_Maj@hotmail.com.

Name: Carol Haaksma
Hometown: Edmond, Oklahoma
Dr. Alterman:
I am depressed beyond words by the current events in Iraq.  You see, my son is currently in basic training in Ft. Benning Georgia.  His dream is to be an Army Ranger but his fallback is Airborn.  He knew when he enlisted that he would go to Iraq and he says that they have been told that they will all go there.  Despite his father and my objection to the war we have been as supportive of his Ranger dream as possible in the circumstances.  Those who say that these young people volunteered are right but remember that they are in their teens or early 20s and do not really understand what they are volunteering for.  Haven't we been told that when you are young and irresponsible you are young and irresponsible?  He goes to a church on Sundays that posts pictures of their services on the Web and when I see all those young faces I get sick to my stomach.  Which one of those young men will come back without arms or legs?  Which one will not come back at all?  I am haunted by John Kerry's words: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?  How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"  Change Vietman to Iraq and you have the current situation.

Name: Ben Vernia
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Re: Larry Wilkerson-- I would be inclined to judge Col. Wilkerson harshly for not speaking out against the Administration's misdeeds earlier were it not apparent that he and his boss, Colin Powell, were (to some extent at least) themselves deceived and gaslighted about Iraq and the threat it purportedly posed.  Wilkerson's recent comments regarding the government's torture of prisoners underscores powerfully the central irony of our times:  that the Bush Administration defines our enemy as those willing to violate the customs of war (i.e., to use terrorism as a political/military tactic), and then justifies our own violative tactics by reference to the norms of our enemies, and not to our own.  I hope that coming generations will look back on this period with shame and regret, as a period utterly out of character with the America that produced Lincoln (appealing in his first inaugural to the "better angels of our nature") and Roosevelt (admonishing us in his first inaugural that the "only thing we have to fear is fear itself").  Were they not to do so, it will be because we've failed in our central duty as citizens: to "keep" our Republic, as Franklin warned us.

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle
Wow, the national debt clock!  Thanks to Joe from Phoenix for the reminder.  I had forgotten all about this monstrosity.  I used to see it often when I commuted to NYC for jobs/internships during college in the 80s.  I moved away in 1996 and I always figured that once it rolled backward to zero sometime in the late 90's, it would have been retired to a museum.  Sadly, it's still alive and kicking.  Uh, thanks... Ralph.

Name: Bill Baarsma
Hometown: Chicago, IL
I think there is a not-so-minor fact which the MSM is glossing over regarding the Dubai Ports World story: It's been widely noted that two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE.  One of the two was Marwan al-Shehhi, the pilot-hijacker of United Flight 175.  It was Al-Shehhi who piloted that aircraft into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, killing over 650 people.  Al-Shehhi first joined Al Qaeda while he was a student in Hamburg.  He went to school there on a military scholarship, which he received after joining the UAE Army in 1995.  In fact, he continued to receive stipend payments from the UAE Army through December 23, 2000, using part of that money to pay for the flight lessons he took in preparation for the attacks.  So the same government that will be running our major eastern ports helped finance the 9/11 attacks.  I haven't seen anything to suggest this wasn't inadvertent on their part, but if they had no idea that one of Al Qaeda's deadliest killers was on their military payroll, how can we trust their assurances about Dubai Ports World?  FYI, this is covered in the staff reports of the 9/11 Commission.  The reports are silent on whether Al-Shehhi was ever actually discharged from the UAE Army prior to September 11, 2001.

Name: Samuel Knight
On quoting Sullivan again.  Isn't just ridiculous that major media outlets continue to hire anew columnists like Andrew Sullivan and Jonah Goldberg and ask for articles from Kenneth Pollack - and have them write lots of pieces about Iraq - despite the fact that they were utterly and completely wrong on Iraq before?  And despite the fact that they also get creamed on the more-or-less free market Internet by people who were right on Iraq (and other matters) such as Duncan Black, Kos and you?  Ever wonder why those Sunday news shows get such low ratings when they run the same bunch of idiots every Sunday morning?  Joe Biden!  John McCain!  Joe Lieberman!  Somehow it doesn't appear to be just the market working...

February 27, 2006 | 11:29 AM ET | Permalink

No 'there' there?

Why does William F. Buckley, Jr. hate America?

So here’s the deal.  Bush has unleashed a possible Armageddon in the Middle East, see here, and increasingly it looks like the guy is just not there.  The “I’m a dope” strategy is not just a ploy to fool us into misunderestimating him, though it may be useful for that too.  Rather it is a strategy for cynicism on the part of Rove, et al, who are using this joker for their own political designs.  Remember what Bush ally John Dilulio said before he was forced to recount his words in language that reminded historians of the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s:  “There is a virtual absence as of yet of any policy accomplishments that might, to a fair-minded nonpartisan, count as flesh on the bones of so-called compassionate conservatism,” and has had “no precedent in any modern White House.”  Finally, he concluded, “What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm.  It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”

Why am I saying all this at the moment?  Because take a look at the paragraph I found here.

The President's directions seem to have been limited to such slogans as "we're not going to fail" and "pace yourself, Jerry."  In Bremer's account, the President was seriously interested in one issue: whether the leaders of the government that followed the CPA would publicly thank the United States.  But there is no evidence that he cared about the specific questions that counted:  Would the new prime minister have a broad base of support?  Would he be able to bridge Iraq's ethnic divisions?  What political values should he have?  Instead, Bush had only one demand:  "It's important to have someone who's willing to stand up and thank the American people for their sacrifice in liberating Iraq."  According to Bremer, he came back to this single point three times in the same meeting.  Similarly, Ghazi al-Yawar, an obscure Sunni Arab businessman, became Bush's candidate for president of Iraq's interim government because, as Bremer reports, Bush had "been favorably impressed with his open thanks to the Coalition."

We are living in a nightmare of frightening proportions.

By the way, in the current Harper’s the estimated cost of this horrific war to each American taxpayer is just under $20,000.

Quote of the Day:  "I don't know Dick Cheney as intimately as Scowcroft does, but I did see him as secretary of defense and now as vice president.  I can tell you that 9/11 made him a paranoid, to the extent where I'm not sure his exercise of power carries with it reason."  — Larry Wilkerson.

It’s the same story with economics, and just as is the case with the war, virtually the entire conservative elite has signed up to swallow the Kool-Aid.  Take a look at the smarmy tactics of ABC’s star of “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” who by the way, received tens of thousands from the crooked Conrad Black and sang his praises in public, Mr. George F. Will, here.  Will is seeking to undercut the now unemployed Bruce Bawer in the allegedly liberal New York Times Book Review: “Sometimes Bartlett is a tad too robust.  His chapter 'Why the Bush Tax Cuts Didn't Deliver' might be more convincing were the economy not in the fifth year of a humming expansion.”  Come now.  Did anyone ever doubt that you could engineer a temporary expansion of the U.S. economy by increasing the size of government by more than thirty percent and turning a massive surplus into a deficit that will curse our the lives of our grandchildren?

Things are so awful that I had to wait until this far down in the blog to get to this new revelation in the creation of the American Gulag, here.

Tragedy, farce, you be the judge.  In the meantime, pass the Danish.  (No Time for the Babaganouch.  No really, stop, it hurts.)

Ouch.  Maybe if Little Roy hadn’t been so busy calling those of us who did not ignore the truth back then traitors and decadent fifth columnist coastal elites he might not be forced to make himself look so gosh darn ridiculous right now.  Nice catch Mr. Yyglesias, here (and my sympathies again to Time for not being able to land Ms. Coulter as chief blogger).

NEITHER HARRY WHITTINGTON NOR THE QUAIL WERE SHOOTING BACK!  Forget my editors. This wouldn't have gotten past Sister Marie de Paul at St. Peter's School in Worcester, Mass., back in 1965.
Joe Klein and the rest of the cats 'n kittens in the political press corps, are more charming in their delightful naïveté.  George Bush is a cowboy!  Condi Rice is a genius!  Dick Cheney has a soul to search! 

Why aren't any of these people ever at my poker table?

If you don’t want to feel the pain of Pierce's absence, then don’t read the rest of this.

Alter-reviews:  Nellie McCay and “The Miser”

Perhaps I fall in love too easily, but Nellie McKay, whom The New York Times reviewer terms a “cabaret pop sprite” is both talented, and nutty, beyond belief.  I saw her Saturday night for her performance in the American Songbook series at the Allen Room of Jazz at Lincoln Center.  Wearing (what the Times informs me was) “a crinoline skirt and red pumps befitting her Dorothy-in-Oz default mode,” she supported her unreleased, no-record company, record that Columbia did not think was worth the trouble.  We note also, that “after conducting a guessing game with prizes like a vegan restaurant guide and the Shirley Chisholm documentary "Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed,"—guess who won that?—“ Ms. McKay drew laughs by weirdly replacing K. D. Lang's parts on their duet "We Had It Right" with an impression of Bob Dylan.  (What a shame it is that she replaced her Dylan imitation with KD.  It’s priceless.)

I read also from my friends on W 43rd Street that “After mentioning her coming stint as Polly Peachum in "The Threepenny Opera" on Broadway, Ms. McKay eddied into an anxious lament about 'evil critics,' repeating: 'They're so evil.  They have so much power.'  It seemed a curious complaint coming from a critics' darling.”  Well, yeah, but that’s like saying Springsteen shouldn’t write about poor people because he’s so rich.  Whether she’s a critic’s darling or not, she can still be right, (which doesn’t mean she is, but she is wonderful, right or wrong).

“The Miser”

Since its founding in 1971, the Jean Cocteau Theater stands out as one of the longest-running classic theatres in the nation.  Moliere wrote The Miser 336 years ago, so that clearly counts.  The play hasn’t aged badly, though it’s quite silly to begin with.  This is a particularly spirited performance.  Angus Hepburn is a wildman as Harpagon, and Seth Duerr is quite good, albeit quite gay, as Cleante.  The rest of the cast is a lot of fun, too, mostly.  (For instance, when Harpagon’s treasure, buried in the backyard, is stolen, he rounds up all the suspects—including the audience—and threatens torture and imprisonment.)  Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: JA
Hometown: Germantown, MD
What is more than a bit amusing about the NYTimes article on pulling classified documents off of the shelves at the National Archives is how very poor the reporting and investigation really is.  Consider: If intelligence agencies are involved, then the information contained in the documents is most likely classified by statute, not executive order.  Thus, Executive Order 12958 and its current amendment (should) have absolutely no effect on the declassification and release of these documents (EO 12958 is the basis for the "declassified after 25 years" figure).  The whole basis for programs like this is Clinton's EO 12958 and several agencies' reaction and over-reaction to the requirements of that executive order.  Agencies that had other agencies' information in documents in their possession unilaterally (and erroneously) declassified those documents.  Even within the agencies themselves, some of their own sloppy processing let slip some of their classified documents (think of the expansion that took place in the TSA after 9/11 -this is just the sort of expansion that many of these agencies' declassification programs went through).  Agencies that had for decades been in the mentality of "once classified, always classified" were faced with the downgrading and declassification requirements of EO 12958.  Classification/Declassification offices were suddenly inundated with more work than they could do in a century, and given timelines of less than 5 years. 

The situation is further compounded by the ineptitude of the National Archives staff.  The staff at the Archives want to preserve documents in their original condition, which means not marking through the classification markings on the original documents.  NARA staff are delegated derivative declassification status from most agencies, but this is just a formality to accommodate NARA's desires with respect to original documents.  NARA staff will make copies of documents for researchers (with the original classification markings still apparent) and then will use their derivative declassification status to strike through the classification markings on the copy.  NARA staff have taken this to a whole new level, one that was never intended. They have taken it upon themselves to declare many agencies' mixed holdings (unsegregated classified and unclassified documents) as declassified "in bulk", many times not even bothering to open the boxes to see what they are actually declassifying.  Also laughable is Mr. Leonard's (ISOO chief's) declaration of a "bureaucratic quirk" in the declaration of erroneously released documents as "not unclassified."  Information classified by statutes such as the Atomic Energy and Intelligence acts absolutely cannot be declassified through executive order.  Indeed, these statutes classify some of the most sensitive information that the United States owns.  Finally, I'd implore the NYTimes to consider the source.  The people cited in the story make a hobby, if not a living, off of trying to uncover classified information.  Thus any counsel that they give on such matters must be weighed against their own slants and biases.

Name: Joe
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Hi Eric,
This week I leave NYC.  It was my first time here (doing some IT training)...just happened to be right next to the national debt clock at 44th and 6th Ave.  Currently it's at 8 Trillion dollars, which was a very sad site on my walk to class everyday.  However, the saddest part is that it's almost out of digits.  I suppose the original maker of the clock never imagined we would break 10 Trillion.  Only 2 more to go.  :(

Name: Steve Blowney
Hometown: Philadelphia
Nice to hear that Major Bateman is home.  Congratulations and thank you.  Buy him a beer or two, Dr. Alterman.

Name: Dan Small
Hometown: Radway, Alberta, Canada
Re: Your Picasso quote of the day...  I remember reading about Picasso's "Guernica," a painting depicting the destruction of that city in the Spanish Civil War.  One day a German officer was visiting Picasso's studio and asked Picasso, "Did you do this?"  Picasso turned around and said, "No, you did."  Love your blog.  Keep it up if you can!

February 24, 2006 | 11:37 AM ET | Permalink

Slacker Friday

Think Again is here.  It’s called “Second, Third and Fourth Thoughts about the President."

Not a joke:  Later today, the Pentagon expects to release its quarterly Iraq Progress Report entitled "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq."

Tom Tomorrow explains to me why I should be genuinely, rather than pretend-concerned about Dubai running our ports here.

We regret the death of Theodore Draper an honest and thoughtful patriot/intellectual.

In IPF Friday today, MJ Rosenberg ridicules David Brooks for calling Congressional opposition to the Dubai port deal a "kick in the Arabs' teeth."  Brooks’ concern for Arab feelings over a ports contract is in contrast to his usual indifference to their feelings about the occupation of the West Bank.  The United States and Israel are both behaving recklessly when they cut off aid to Palestinians to protest the results of a democratic election. 

The election was pushed by the United States and Israel.  It was democratic, free and fair.  We don't like the results but, in urging the Palestinians to adopt democracy, we never hinted that they would be punished for voting "wrong." And punished they will be.  Teachers won't get paid, hospital supplies will run out, infrastructure will continue to collapse.  All this despite the fact that Hamas has not engaged in terrorism for a year.  Why are we punishing Palestinian people now?

Quote of the Day, Pablo Picasso:  Shortly after WWII, an American went to visit Picasso in his Paris studio and asked, “How does it feel to be Picasso, the master of the art?”  The artist replied, “Give me a dollar bill.”  The American complied, and Picasso signed his name on it.  “There, that dollar is now worth $500. That’s how it feels to be Picasso.”

Slacker Friday

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq
I am home now.  These things took place three weeks ago.

The Road Back Home: I

Surprising almost nobody, getting out of Iraq is not easy or simple.  Regardless of one’s reasons for leaving, be it a mid-tour leave, or your “permanent” redeployment back to the States, the process distorts time.

Psychologically, of course, every returning Soldier feels the same inclination towards impatience.  “I want to go home, and I want to go home NOW!”  But mine is an institution known, for good reason, as the origin of the phrase, “Hurry up and wait.”  After almost seventeen years under the colors I know this as well as anyone.  My solution is reading.  I brought five books, and hoped that would be enough.

I left my base on “Day 1,” and by nightfall of Day 2 was in a transient camp in Kuwait.  This was blinding speed.  I know that to many readers who are used to flying across the country in a few hours, covering a little more than 300 miles in 36 hours does not seem fast, but you will have to take my word on this.  In my world this pace is near lighting speed.  Of course, that could not continue.  In the transient camp the normal pace of military travel reasserted itself.

Imagine a Roman legionary camp.  The Roman legions succeeded, in no small part, because they were rarely taken by surprise.  Each night that a legion was on the march they stopped and built a camp before nightfall.  The Romans laid out their camps in the same exact pattern every day, then built a rough defensive wall around the perimeter.  A Roman camp had Row upon row of squad-sized tents suitable for eight or nine men, all of them set out in a logical grid, with well ordered “streets,” a few towers at the corners, and a defensive berm around the lot of them.  In more than 2,000 years, we really haven’t changed that much.  That description works equally well for the modern Army as it does for the Ninth Legion, with the exception that in our more sustained base camp, we have added some amenities.  Our tents are slightly larger than were theirs, there is a dining hall so we do not need to cook or eat MREs, we have showers and hot water, and there are a few places to grab food from a trailer-mounted version of a fast-food restaurant.  Oh, and of course there is  the now-ubiquitous Internet lounge, albeit one contained in what amounts to a double-wide trailer.  But other than that, any centurion would recognize the shape of things.  This order is useful.  It simplifies things, and as I would be here only a few days, I had nothing to complain about with the accommodations.

Day 3 and Day 4 pass in a mindless blur of sameness.  In my tent my incidental traveling companions and I settle in to a routine: wake up-read-eat-read-shower-read-nap-read…you get the picture.  We are all older, more senior sergeants and officers, though because none of us are getting up and about, we mostly leave our uniforms hanging at the foot of the steel-framed bunk-beds we occupy.  Day and night do not signify. There are no formations, no inspections, no means of marking the passage of time except the turn of the page.  You lay stretched out on your rack and read.  I anticipated this, so mostly I wear my comfortable sweatshirt and sweatpants.  There is no reason not to, I am not going anywhere.  Only your flight time, the projected day on which you will board your freedom bird, matters.  That is, at best, days away. By nightfall on Day 4 some 1,400 pages are behind me.

You can write to Major Bob at Bateman_Maj@hotmail.com.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to recommend a book.  Before this week I was aware of three books Dubya claims to have read since wining the 2000 election.  There was a biography of John and John Quincy Adams, Nathan Sharanksy's "The Case for Democracy" and Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons."  Now, thanks to Fred Barnes, I know of a fourth: Michael Crichton's "State of Fear."  Barnes reports that Dubya is a fellow "dissenter on global warming,” has "avidly read" the book and invited Crichton to the White House for an engaging hourlong chat.  This week the White House said Barnes' account was "misleading" and that Dubya has acknowledged global warming in the past, sort of.  I read Crichton's book last Spring.  It's pretty bad.  The plot reads like a hybrid of Tom Clancy's animal-rights conspiracy "Rainbow Six" and a James Bond movie.  There's the ludicrous contention that -real- science has debunked the theory of global warming.  And there's an utterly tasteless and almost libelous attack on the actor/activist Martin Sheen (the veil couldn't be thinner).

So why do I recommend it?  Because Crichton makes broader arguments about science and politics which, if Dubya adopted them, might one day salvage his miserable legacy.  "We desperately need a nonpartisan, blinded funding mechanism to conduct research to determine appropriate policy."  Amen!  Someone tell Michael the administration's first question of  potential advisory committee scientists is "Do you support the President?" (According to Prof. Sharon L. Smith, an expert on Arctic marine ecology at the University of Miami, when you answer "no" the interview ends.)  But I digress.  Crichton also does a good job illustrating how unintentional bias can infect any study that isn't double-blinded (i.e., both the subjects and researchers don't know what drug/treatment/stimuli/etc. has been given to whom).

The problem of research funding goes beyond Dubya and even mixing religion and science policy.  Think DDT bans and the return of Malaria, or Utah throwing money at “cold fusion” when a couple of native sons trumpeted a lab experiment nobody could reproduce.  Undoing the damage done to our economy requires nothing less than a 1990's like boom, which required the Internet, which was a public sector creation.  Dubya’s Crichton connection provides some good press conference opportunities to raise these issues.

From H-Diplo:

Malcolm Byrne
The National Security Archive
The national debate over U.S. government secrecy took a new turn today (Feb. 21) with the revelation that the CIA and other federal agencies are currently reviewing and reclassifying open records from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Presidential Libraries.

Intelligence historian Matthew M. Aid discovered the secret program and wrote a report on it which the National Security Archive has posted on its Web site.

( The National Security Archive is a non-governmental research organization and publisher based at George Washington University.)

Aid's report, which was the basis for the lead article in today's New York Times, found that the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community began systematically reviewing files in 1999 and are due to continue until 2007.

So far, they have removed more than 55,000 pages of records that were previously publicly available and that in some cases had even appeared in official publications such as the State Department's FRUS series.

The study, "Declassification in Reverse," is part of an Archive Electronic Briefing Book, edited by Aid, William Burr, Meredith Fuchs and Thomas Blanton.  For readers' interest, the briefing book includes a number of sample documents that already have been pulled from public collections.  Some of them date to the late 1940s.

Today's New York Times story is here.

Name: Michael
Hometown: New York, NY

Brad from Arlington is certainly mistaken about at least one thing: the federal government is NOT good at collecting taxes, at least not from small businesses, investors, and farmers.  The government is pretty good at collecting from anyone who gets a paycheck, but really bad at collecting from businesses and investors who report their own income.  In fact, the IRS estimates that, in 2001, the government failed to collect over $340 BILLION-enough to almost cover the 2007 budget deficit.  The IRS also says that cheating on business income is a problem 50 times larger than cheating by wage earners.  Yet they're still hell on people who claim the earned income tax credit.  Go figure.  Brad can read about it here.  Maybe he has some "conservative" ideas about how to get these tax cheating businesses to pay their fair share.

Name:Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown:  The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
There's an interesting report out today by The Federal Reserve Board on U.S. family finances.  There's nothing in it that's a big surprise, but it quantifies a lot of what I've been discussing over the past year, and comes from an unassailable source -- the Fed.

Here are the details:

Fed: Stagnant Net Worth for Typical US Family

Every 3 years, the Federal Reserve undertakes a massive survey of nearly 5,000 US families.  The interview process is comprehensive, covering all manners of financial information -- and it's intensive, taking between 80 minutes and 2 hours.

It's the Federal Reserve's Report on U.S. Family Finances, and it quantifies what most people already know:  The average family is not making much economic progress:

"After growing rapidly during the boom of the 1990s, the net worth of the typical American family rose only 1.5% after inflation between 2001 and 2004, the Federal Reserve said in an update of a survey it does once every three years.

The Fed said the net worth of the median American family -- the one smack in the statistical middle -- was $93,100 in 2004.  Net worth, the difference between a family's assets and liabilities, rose a robust 10.3% between 1998 and 2001 and 17.4% in the three-year interval before that.

A booming housing market boosted the typical American family's wealth between 2001 and 2004, but stagnant stock prices and rising debt offset many of those gains."

The Fed helps explain what many politicians have been unable to grasp: the disconnect between rosy economic headline data and real life experiences for most families.

The report also gives lie to much of the foolish spin we have heard from some politicians and from the economic charlatans -- those people who know better (or at least should know better), but knowingly deceive the public in pursuit of their own political or economic agenda.

A few items pop out from the report:

And, it's no surprise that the gap between economic strata has widened.  This is part of the ongoing squeeze on the middle class:

"The report, the most comprehensive survey of household wealth, also found a widening of the gap between households at the top and the bottom of the economic ladder. "While the typical American household basically ran in place, less affluent households actually lost ground," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.

The net worth of the typical family in the richest 10% rose to $831,600, a 6.5% increase from 2001, adjusted for inflation. In contrast, the net worth of the typical family in the bottom 25% fell 1.5% to $13,300.

Meanwhile, the typical family took on more debt. After declining for years, mortgage and other debt as a percentage of total family assets rose to 15% in 2004 from 12.1%, the Fed said. "The largest part of that increase was attributable to debt secured by real estate," the report said. "As debt rose over the period, families devoted more of their incomes to servicing their debts, despite a general decline in interest rates."

All of the above has been very visible in the economic data, if you ignore the headlines and dig into the underlying data: Job creation, income, inflation, debt, savings rate, foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Which ever political group figures this is the primary basis for the disconnect between the so called official data and the self reported economic concerns -- and responds to it -- stands to do well in the next election...

Typical U.S. Family's Net Worth Edged Up Only 1.5% in '01-'04
WSJ, February 24, 2006; Page A4

Recent Changes in U.S. Family Finances:
Evidence from the 2001 and 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances

Brian K. Bucks, Arthur B. Kennickell, and Kevin B. Moore
Federal Reserve Board, Division of Research and Statistics
February 2006

February 23, 2006 | 11:37 AM ET | Permalink

America the not-so-stupid

55% Now Call Iraq War a 'Mistake' according to Gallup.  That figure now stands at 55%, up 4% points since late January and it precedes the civil war that is about to be unleashed.  Only once before was the figure higher, at 59%.  What I find so interesting about this is the good sense of the American people.  They are consistently lied to by their administration and neither broadcast television nor cable television nor talk radio, with a few statistically insignificant exceptions, carries the arguments of war dissenters.  Gallup noted that it had asked this question about other wars involving the United States, "and only the Vietnam War engendered more public opposition than the current Iraq War." 

The peak opposition to the Vietnam conflict was 61%.  That figure for the generally unpopular Korean War was 51%.  When asked to assess the progress of the war, only 31% say the United States and its allies are winning the war – the lowest Gallup has measured to date."

The article is here but where are the Democrats?

I did a profile once of Alan Dershowitz.  I actually liked him even though he is both a lunatic (on the subject of himself) and a liar (ditto, and I can prove that Alan, with tape, if you want to sue me).  But I do remember that the guy refused to talk about where he lived for security reasons.  We went to dinner and a Celtics game with his family, but no info about the address.  This didn’t bother me.  And it doesn’t bother me that William Bennett has the millions not only to gamble on blackjack but also to pay for his own private extensive security arrangements.  And so I think it would be the better part of valor for both of these multimillionaires to shut up about the working stiffs in the media being cowards for not risking life and limb to print a bunch of cartoons.  Nobody’s saying they don’t have the right to print them.  Nobody’s defending the jerks doing the rioting.  And most important, nobody with half a brain is contending that there’s any news in the cartoons.  (If you can’t accurately describe a cartoon, you really shouldn’t be allowed near a printing press.)  So people are just making judgments that the risk to life and limb—and not only their own life and limb but innocent bystanders—is not worth the benefit of printing the cartoons.  I do have a solution, however, to Dershowitz and Bennett and Andrew Sullivan’s problem:  Why don’t they have sweatshirts printed up with the cartoons on them and wear them around town?  That’ll show them.  (And by the way, I saw a picture of a beagle on Andy’s blog, but no riot-causing anti-Moslem cartoons.  Did I miss something?)  The hypocrites are here.

On the other hand, I do object to how little attention the media are giving to the Abu Ghraib photos and the many instances of torture and official murder carried out by the Bush Administration.  Human Rights First notes that these photographs from Abu Ghraib, the UN report recommending closure of Guantanamo, and the government whistleblower hearings – all in the news last week – put a new spotlight on torture and abuse in U.S. facilities.  But the media is showing only a small part of the picture.  Investigations to date have been shrouded in secrecy.  Human Rights First has independently investigated detainee deaths in U.S. custody and just today released an eye-opening report, titled Command’s Responsibility, here.

The study describes more than 20 detainee deaths in detail, to illustrate both failures in investigation and accountability.  One such case involves Manadel al-Jamadi, whose death became public when prison guards were depicted in a photograph from Abu Ghraib giving the thumbs up over his dead body.  No U.S. official has been punished for this death.

The longest sentence for any member of the American military linked to a torture-related death of a detainee in Iraq or Afghanistan has been five months.  In only 12 of 34 cases has anyone been punished for the confirmed or suspected killings.  Beyond those cases, in almost half of 98 known detainee deaths since 2002, the cause was never announced or was reported as undetermined.

As long as commanders can get away with this unlawful behavior, the problem of torture and abuse will persist.  Not only did commanders fail to give troops clear guidance, they inadequately investigated the cases – and they must be held accountable for unlawful acts about which they knew or should have known.

Not only torturers, but Death Squads 'R' Us.  Congratulations again to all you liberal hawks for thinking that entrusting this administration with this war was such a great idea.

“My Hero, John McCain,” continued: McCain “may be the only politician who might come out a winner from the port storm.  He played the politics well, critiquing the deal but urging caution and prudence.” — Here.

Sal calls this the “greatest thing in the world,” and he’s not all wrong.

Well, if I can infuriate Brendan Nyhan, here, at least I haven’t wasted my day…

The Altercation Book Club

I'm No Angel: The Blonde in Fiction And Film (Cultural Frames, Framing Culture)
by Ellen Tremper

“...love me for myself alone
     And not my yellow hair.”
       --W. B. Yeats, “For Anne Gregory”

A brunette walks into the doctor’s office and complains:  “Doctor, I hurt all over.”  The doctor says, “That’s impossible.”   “No, really!  Just look.  When I touch my arm, ouch! it hurts!  When I touch my head, ouch! it hurts!  When I touch my chest, ouch! it really hurts!” she wails.  The doctor just shakes his head and says “You're really a natural blonde, aren’t you?”  The woman smiles weakly. “Why, yes, I am.  How did you know?”  The doctor replies, “Because your finger is broken.”

Why was the blonde upset when she got her driver’s license?  Because she got an “F” in sex.

Did you hear the one about the guy who was blond?....  Neither did I!....

Why did jokes like these--always about women--begin to circulate in the ether?  What is it about the blonde that invites adjectives like brassy, sexy, hot, and dumb, or names like bimbo and bombshell?  On the other hand, why did platinum, or honey, or golden, or ash, or any other number of blond shades become the requisite colors for women of influence in public life--for television anchors, for CEOs, and a certain senator?

Blondes, of course, haven’t always been the butt of jokes--always about a shortage of intelligence and surfeit of sex.  But then, too, they haven’t always been figures of power.  Once upon a time, they were the most beautiful girls in the kingdom, with souls of perfect beauty to match.  They were graceful and modest, their dispositions of the sunniest.  They were always meek, mild, and gentle.  Even in 1860, Wilkie Collins was thinking of that sort of blonde when he wrote in the Preamble to The Woman in White: “This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve.”

Yet something happened to make Collins’s words as silly as any “dumb-blonde” joke.  The history I’m about to recount explains the radical alterations in blond iconography, from the nineteenth century to the present, from fiction to film--the morphing, that is, of Ivanhoe’s childhood love, the “flaxen Saxon” Rowena, into Marilyn Monroe.  Stephen Jay Gould’s neo-Darwinian model, “punctuated equilibrium,” aptly characterizes the fitful nature of this social and aesthetic evolution.  The long periods of stability that had marked the representation of the blonde in northern European culture were twice signally “broken by shorter spurts of evolutionary change”: during the twenty-five-or-so-year span from 1847 to 1872, when women novelists found their voice and gained a popular audience; again in the 1930s, the first decade of the “talkies,” when “voice,” no longer merely metaphor, became technical reality in cinema.  These novelists wrote, and blond movie stars acted, refreshingly against the grain and expectations.  By subversively alienating blondness from its long-lived association with “feminine” character traits, they made the color do social work, which benefited all of us.  George Meredith in his “Essay on Comedy and Uses of the Comic Spirit” argued that evolved civilization cannot prevail without equality between women and men.  The story of the blonde, at its roots, and with its dark materials, shadowed but also participated in the evolution of modernity.

On or about January 1847, the blond character changed.  The challenge to meanings associated with blondes in folk- and fairy tales--purity, patience, modesty, endurance, docility--indeed, the beginning of a blond insurgency, began in this watershed year in which William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair appeared.  Dynamic and aggressive “sandy-haired” Becky Sharp, the most animated puppet to come out of the workshop of the “Manager of the Performance,” was followed in October by a cameo appearance of a more traditionally-hued but very ill-tempered blonde, Georgiana Reed, in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.  In December came Emily Brontë’s fair, ringleted Catherine Linton in Wuthering Heights, with her “cool, regardless manner, exceedingly embarrassing and disagreeable.”  Despite differences in their hair tints and characters, these three figures had something in common.  They were not the flawless and always lovable, placid, pliant, good-as-gold blondes familiar to readers from fairy tales.  But neither were they demons.  They occupied the middle ground of ordinary life, being merely active or captious, but always desiring, women.  They thwarted readerly expectations by perplexing, disobeying, or manipulating their fellow characters to achieve their ends.  Often purposely straying outside the social fold, they were “bellewethers,” leading the way towards an active and natural femininity that, by the 1930s, had unquestionably arrived in Hollywood.

The first recorded use of the word blonde as a noun, to mean a female with light hair, was in 1822: “Edin. Rev. 199 Brenda, the laughing blue-eyed blonde.”  In 1847, both Thackeray and Charlotte Brontë used it disparagingly to lessen public admiration for this iconic beauty.  Marina Warner is thus off by a century when she writes in From the Beast to the Blonde: “only in the 1930s and 1940s, under the influence of Hollywood, did the word emerge as a noun, and acquire its hot, vampish overtones, based in the jaunty and ironical reversal of meaning cultivated by popular media this century.”  The Brontës’s new-fashioning of the blonde reflected their resistance to the social and cultural privileging of women of infantine and/or coquettish beauty--loved not for themselves alone but for their yellow hair--above those exhibiting (like the authors) intelligence, enterprise, integrity, and perseverance.  Charlotte, especially, wrote stories in which women, who are the captains of their souls, become, as well, the masters of their fates.  Like Thackeray, she scorned the fairytale blond and her counterpart in Romantic novels from earlier in the century--admired primarily for their beauty.  The dedication to the second edition of Jane Eyre suggests that Brontë believed this model of womanhood helped to keep young girls from the full exercise of their intelligence and talents--from a life of economic and social engagement.  Her novels, with brunettes for heroines, also featured aggressive blondes, who--as much or more than the brunettes--disturbed the ages-old image of the passive and pliable young woman.  Between that season in 1847 when readers encountered Becky Sharp impersonating a vengeful Clytemnestra, about to plunge a dagger into sleeping Agamemnon, or scowling Catherine Linton, surlily refusing tea to Mr. Lockwood, and the sunny moment in 1932 when moviegoers watched Clark Gable in Red Dust plunge the platinum-blond head of Jean Harlow into a rain barrel, the terrain of the playing field for women and men had been leveled considerably.  The development of intellectual, social, sexual, and economic freedoms--in short, of modernity--is partly owing to the Victorians’ first re-presentations of the blonde.

For more, please go here.

Correspondence Corner:

From:  Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: The Ivory Tower
I appreciate your reticence about the Larry Summers resignation.  But in your explanation you mischaracterized both what Summers said about women in science and you missed why he resigned as President of Harvard University.

Summers did not simply say "women may be physiologically different than men in ways that have unknown significance."  At a conference session devoted to solving the serious problem of under-representation of women in the sciences he declared that biology might be a factor in their sparse numbers.  As I explained on this blog at some length when it happened, certain traits are sex-linked.  And no one is stupid enough to deny differences.  But the problem is that doing science is not a "trait."  It is not a simple set of aptitudes or tendencies.  It is in fact not one thing at all.  There are hundreds of ways to be a scientist.  And women are underrepresented at all of them.  They are less represented at Harvard than at other major research universities.  That's the problem.  It's his problem (or, was).

No one who claims that biology determines success in science can explain how there are more women scientists now than ever before or how every university besides Harvard has been able to increase their numbers in recent years.  So Summers' claim was simply stupid.

Perhaps Summers resigned because men don't have what it takes to be president of Ivy League universities.  After all, Brown, Penn, and Princeton in recent years have had great success with brilliant women as their presidents.  Two of them had women scientists, in fact.  All Summers had to do was look to his peers, all of whom were better presidents than he was.  Instead he said something ignorant, ill-tempered, counterproductive, and simply wrong.

The reason Summers left now had nothing to do with his relationship with Cornell West or women.  In fact, what he said to West was not nearly as bad as what he said about women.  He only asked West to do some real scholarship.  Frankly, West has not done any in decades.  And I would even take issue with your positive comments about West's The American Evasion of Philosophy.  It think he willfully misunderstands pragmatism so it covers his list of heroes.  But that aside, driving West away from Harvard was also stupid.  It was merely the first in a series of horrible mistakes.

What pushed Summers over was the fact that he openly practices cronyism.  The faculty of Arts and Sciences was about to issue a second vote of no confidence against him.  Why?  As the Chronicle of Higher Education explains the reasons:

Chief among them was to be a motion to censure Mr. Summers for his role in what has become known as the "Shleifer affair," the professor said. Andrei Shleifer, a prominent Harvard economist and personal friend of Mr. Summers, was a defendant in a lawsuit alleging that he and a former staff member had defrauded the U.S. government through a program intended to help Russia make the transition to a market economy.

Harvard defended Mr. Shleifer throughout the litigation and last August agreed to settle the case by paying a $26.5-million penalty. Mr. Shleifer has never been disciplined by Harvard, and in fact was awarded a new chair during the litigation, said the professor who spoke to The Chronicle. As a result, Mr. Shleifer's relationship with Mr. Summers has drawn increasing criticism. The professor said the combination of the penalty and legal fees had cost Harvard $44-million.

The man was an incompetent university administrator.  He was also a sexist and a blowhard.  But those things never got a white man fired in America.

Name: Alan Straus
Hometown: New York
I can understand your not wanting to waste time on issues that have more politics than substance behind them.  And just maybe the Dubai Ports World issue is one of those.  On the other hand, the projected takeover of P&O by Dubai Ports World raises some very fundamental issues.  Siva raises one of them in your column today, namely the impact of WTO free-bidding rules.  But another issue that is of concern is why the operational control of ports is a private-sector endeavor to begin with -- and if it is, why shouldn't there be limitations on foreign ownership and control?  We have limitations on foreign ownership in the communications industry.  We have limitations on foreign ownership in the airline industry.  I am sure there are others as well.  And, there are plenty of companies with defense contracts that are forbidden by law from having foreign owners or sharing information up the line of corporate parentage.  I submit that port operations -- and airports too, for that matter, should be subject to the same types of rules.  I'm not so concerned about who the ultimate stockholders are that make a profit out of the operations, but I am concerned that persons who can make policy about how a port is operated and what types of security restrictions should be in place should not be beholden to, let alone part of, a foreign government.  I'm not persuaded by the fact that P&O is already a "Great British" company, as Mad King George would have it.  That, combined with the fact that there seems not to have been even any sensible political review of the decision (apart from there being no real review at all) makes me want to stand on the side of at least slowing this transfer down until some safeguards can be built in.

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
Dear Eric,
With all due respect to Siva, the transaction that allows Dubai World to manage U.S. ports was neither orchestrated by Bush nor had anything to do with rigged trade.  Dubai World purchased the British company that manages them now in a public transaction approved by the British company's shareholders.  Dubai's only competition -- the only other serious bidder -- was from a company controlled by Singapore, who Dubai ultimately outbid.  So forgive me for finding the one meritorious needle in the Bush haystack of fraud, but Bush happens to have a point here, as even Jimmy Carter admits (whether Bush has poor motivations for accepting Dubai is another story perhaps).  Dubai World already manages ports in Germany, India, and Australia without incident, and no one has suggested that the company has illicit ties to terrorists (who hardly need the inside job angle to do damage to our barely inspected ports).  So while Hillary Clinton may have a point that we might not want foreign governments managing our ports, one has to wonder if she and others would object at all if Singapore had won the bid.  No one seemed to care that a British company has run things.  I'm hardly suggesting that any foreign entity not be subject to a strict security review.  But should they prove beyond reproach, objecting to Dubai World based on their national origin is exactly what our enemies assume we would do.  So this is the exceptionally rare occasion where disagreeing with Bush as a matter of course happens to be the wrong thing to do, and frankly, very much against the Democrats long history of fighting against exactly this kind of prejudice.

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Dear Dr. A,
I'm sure you'll get a number of responses to the request by Brad from Arlington for examples of what the federal government has excelled at, but I'd like to offer a few if you will permit me to do so:

  1. Social Security -- Yep, Brad, the program that you and all conservatives love to hate has actually been a huge success.  It provides a basic guaranteed income for America's seniors with an administrative cost of under 1%. Thanks to Social Security (and that other federal program, Medicare), seniors have gone from being the age group most likely to live in poverty to being the age group least likely to do so.

  2. Transportation infrastructure -- I suggest that the next time Brad gets on the Capital Beltway that he recall that it, like the rest of the Interstate Highway System, was built largely by Uncle Sam. And lets not forget the role the federal government played in the creation of the country's rail network through subsidies and land grants or all the federal money that's been used to build bridges, ports, and canals. True, our infrastructure may be crumbling and creaky these days, but for that Brad can thank his fellow conservatives and their sustained campaign of disinvestment in the public realm.

  3. Pure food and drug laws -- The federal government's involvement in this area dates to the early 20th century and is one of the reasons that Americans can be reasonably certain that, when they purchase food at the supermarket or fill a prescription at the pharmacy, the food or drug is safe to consume.

  4. Rural electrification -- Here's one many of us don't think about, but it's been vitally important to the lives of rural Americans. I believe that it was another one of those New Deal agencies, the Rural Electrification Administration, that brought electric power to rural communities that the free market would have found uneconomical to serve. So today there are millions of red staters and other rural residents who owe a debt of gratitude to FDR.

How's that for a few achievements, Brad?  And I'm just getting started.  Maybe you can write in and explain how much better it would be to do all of these things privately.  But if so, I guess you'll have to be prepared to invest a pretty penny in things like getting all of your own food and drugs tested for safety and laying your own asphalt.  Good luck.

Name: Tom
Hometown: Seattle
Hey Doc,
Brad from Arlington makes several valid points.  One of which is to ask the serious question, what does government do well?  A few things were singled out as generally agreed upon tasks. Let me add to that list, administration of health care.  Medicare/Medicaid has a track record of about 3% administrative overhead compared to around 25% for private insurance companies.  That's not insignificant in either real dollars or real health outcomes.  But that's not what I really wanted to point out.  My real intent was to ask the inverse question about private enterprise in America today.  Has anyone noticed that it seems most companies these days spend more time figuring out how to monopolize markets, lobby government for handouts and deregulation, offshore profits, and create paper wealth for their very top management than innovating and building better mousetraps?  God forbid they have to compete in an open market.  Examples dujour: Auto companies, Drug companies, Energy companies, Wall Street investment banks, etc. And you might want to ask around about how many billions of dollars companies blow on pet projects that never see the light of day (and I'm not talkin' R&D) or pump up short term perceived value at the expense of long term actual value to their customers.  It's not like they're all functioning in a pure Smithian open market - not even close. All lipservice aside, most of them would rather get government protection FROM competition than actually BE better competitors.  That's left to the small businesses of America.  And frankly, if we spent a third of our corporate handouts to give small companies a leg up and let them function in open markets, this country would be FAR better off.  All of which is to say, let's not forget that inefficiencies live in every human enterprise, regardless of whether they're run by bureaucrats or...Donald Trump.

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Hello, Eric.
To Brad from Arlington: Things the government does right:

  • Social Security. This program is the single most effective anti-poverty program the world has ever seen. If it were to be removed, the elderly poverty rate in this country would jump from less than 10% to nearly 50%. The Republicans are doing everything they can to dismantle it. Interstate Highway System: You don't think those goods that come in to the foreign-controlled ports just magically teleport to the interior of the country, do you? No, they get transferred via trucks requiring a well-regulated interstate highway system funded by the federal government.

  • FDIC and FSLIC: The money that you deposit in banks and savings-and-loans is insured by the federal government to $100,000. If the institution fails, do you really think the state is going to be able to guarantee you get your money back?

This is just a small sampling. There are many other federal programs that are vital to the success of our nation and the citizenry that can really only be carried out at the national level rather than at the state, county, or municipal level. From issues of safety regarding the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, the drugs you take, the jobs you work at (anybody remember the mining disaster that recently happened and how the mine in question had failed inspections over and over again?) to questions of keeping people from starving, helping them get an education, and providing assistance with housing to economic regulation in order to prevent runaway costs and inflation, providing information that you can use to invest wisely, and assisting in the creation of new wealth and jobs, the federal government is quite often the only entity capable of stepping up to the mandate stated so clearly in the Constitution: Promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty. 

The federal government can work at scales local governments cannot. Think of the bargaining power that could be wielded to lower drug prescription costs if Medicaid could negotiate for all recipients, for example. Oops! The Republicans made sure that can't happen. Now instead of being able to leverage the huge numbers of patients on a national level, we're left to handle it individually and our bargaining power has vanished. The conservative suspicion of the federal government is a knee-jerk response to imagined threats. Nobody is after your gun. Nobody is going to force you to marry somebody you don't want to. Nobody is going to take away your Bible. The fear of the government doing something conflates to a fear of the government doing anything. But, as we have seen, the reality is that the Republicans aren't for a smaller government. If they were, then the government should shrink when the Republicans are in charge. Instead, we find that it expands under the Republicans and shrinks under the Democrats. If a person truly distrusted the government and wanted to make it smaller, it would seem the answer is to vote anything but Republican.

Name: Matt
Hometown:  Pittsburgh, PA
"And by the way, what exact links did the UAE government have to 9/11?"  See this:

Dubai had long served as an offshore trans-shipment hub for the Pakistani nuclear-procurement network, and it served just as well now as a center for the business of nuclear distribution.

As for what Brad in Arlington, VA says (in short: "Since the Dems aren't fixing anything, a pox on both parties") -- he may not be clear on this, but the Republicans control everything.  How exactly are the Democrats supposed to be "creative" and solve the problems this country faces?  It isn't for a lack of plans or proposals or ideas.  But no one hears about these, because the press can't be bothered to report on what are, really, just meaningless hypotheticals (to them).  The best we can do, really, is compare the past to the present.  Record deficits now, vs. record surpluses under Clinton/Gore.  Increasing poverty now ... decreasing median wage ... S&P 500 down ... ignoring ObL ... But as long as people like John in Cincy, defended by Brad in VA, can say, "What have the Dems done lately?", the incompetence and corruption just continues to bankrupt -- monetarily, physically, and ethically -- this once great country.

February 22, 2006 | 1:01 PM ET | Permalink

Can you say 'permanent bases?'

Tom Engelhardt does a much better job of explaining that than I can, here.

Now tell me these people aren’t evil.

This does not exactly rise to the level of evil, but it is pretty awful.

And this is pretty funny but I worry that this whole “Bush is a Dope” thing is a Rovian plot to cover up the evil that lurks beneath.  On the other hand, the man is willing to go to quite the distance in proving the former.

Friendly Faces in the Press Corps:  We're not going to say that President Bush was looking for a friendly face when he sat down with the White House press corps earlier today for a roundtable, but he did call on his own communications guru Dan Bartlett by accident after a round of questions regarding the ports deal:

THE PRESIDENT: I don't see why not.  Again, you're asking -- I need to make sure I understand exactly what they're asking for.

Yes. Oh, you're not the press.

MR. BARTLETT: I could ask a question.  You showed some strong leadership today -- (laughter.)

It’s here.

McCain the “straight-shooter” continued:  "'The president's leadership has earned our trust in the war on terror, and surely his administration deserves the presumption that they would not sell our security short,' McCain said in a statement."

Things about which I can’t get exorcised or excited even though it would (or would have been) politically convenient:

  1. UAE-owned ports
  2. Cheney shooting his friends in the face
  3. Larry Summers saying women may be physiologically different than men in ways that have unknown significance
  4. That thing Bill Bennett said about abortion, which was just fine in context, I thought
  5. Danish cartoons and rioting Moslems

I mention these things because I get mail about them, and occasionally see blog items taking me to task for not discussing them.  I keep having to repeat this, but this is not a newspaper and I am not a public figure. The port thing seems to be silly to me and it makes smart people seem really dumb.  Look at this catch of Maureen Dowd by TP:

TP's nominee for most obvious yet asinine port comment: "Maybe it's corporate racial profiling, but I don't want foreign companies, particularly ones with links to 9/11, running American ports."  That's not Bill O'Reilly or Lou Dobbs.  It's MoDo.  Memo to Maureen: Foreign companies are already managing "the majority of key U.S. ports."  And by the way, what exact links did the UAE government have to 9/11?

I don’t mind if politicians want to exploit public ignorance in the service of a good cause.  I particularly don’t mind it if makes trouble for anyone in the Cheney household for any reason whatsoever. But don’t ask me to do it for dumb reasons.  In the cases of Summers and Bennett, ditto, sort-of.  Summers' behavior toward Cornel West was unconscionable and Bennett is just a bad guy.  So if they get hit for the wrong reasons, I’m not sure I see it as my responsibility to champion their causes, even though, if asked, I’ll give a straight answer.  (When I do cross lines, as I did to defend John Fund from charges of abusive behavior, it caused me no end of hassles by the way, and for what?)  Finally, with regard to rioting Moslems who don’t like cartoons, I have zero sympathy whatever.  If I lived in one of those wonderful Northern European social democracies, moreover, I’d sure I’d take a hard-line anti-immigration position.  (What right do these people have to come and destroy the welfare states and liberal social polities they played no role in building and whose values they do not even accept?)  On the other hand, what the hell do I really know about the situation, aside from having read a few articles?  What is this idiotic idea that having a blog makes you an expert on anything in particular?

Sleazeballs for Gore? Interesting:  From “The Note:”

G.O.P. operative Roger Stone writes in the New York Observer about the "uncanny parallels" between Al Gore in 2008 and Richard Nixon 40 years earlier. LINK

His touting of global warming over the last years, Sen. Clinton's position on the war in Iraq, and the popular perception that he was "robbed" of the White House, might just be what it takes for Al Gore to make another go of it, writes Dick Morris in his column in The Hill.  LINK

How hateful is Eric Alterman?  Good question, plenty of answers, I’m sure.  (I am hateful “to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…?”  I am “largely” hateful.  I contain multitudes of hatred.”  Tramps Like Eric Alterman, We were born to hate….”)  Another I might offer, however, is that I am so damn “hateful” that I have received, three--count ‘em--three invitations in the same week to attend a party in honor of Andrew Sullivan at the home of Time’s editor.  I also, for the record, got an invitation recently to be a guest on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.  I haven’t made up my mind about the latter one yet.  As for the former, I will be busy, plotting with my fellow decadent coastal elites, to find ways to undermine our Heroic Leadership in the fight to make America safe for torture, lawlessness, fiscal insanity, and gay-bashing.

(The “I Can’t Admit I Was Wrong about Bush's War” Club will meet alternatively at the homes of founding members, Andrew Sullivan and George Packer.  Joe Klein will bring the beer and chips...)

A friend writes;

Bush took the rare step of calling reporters to his conference room on Air Force One after returning from a speech in Colorado.  He also stopped to talk before television cameras after he returned to the White House.  "I can understand why some in Congress have raised questions about whether or not our country will be less secure as a result of this transaction," the president said.  "But they need to know that our government has looked at this issue and looked at it carefully."

Boy, howdy, not to get all Mark Crispin Miller on everyone, but that's one helluva paragraph there.  Please read the quote carefully.  "Some in Congress" have raised questions, but "Our Government" has looked at this issue.  In other words, this strange entity, "Congress," is somehow different than "Our Government."  Perhaps it runs a souvenir stand.  Maybe it parks cars.  But it doesn't do anything, you know, important.  Someone's going to have to explain this to the Republican majority -- which, after all, on the vastly more important issue of domestic espionage, is apparently ready to sign off on unlimited executive power during "wartime."  Maybe they can sell bean pies on the sidewalks along Constitution Avenue.  And those two men of conscience -- John McCain and Joe Lieberman -- who already have lined up behind not merely the political idiocy of this move on the ports, but the principles enunciated above, can pick up their cojones at the West Wing entrance when Karl Rove is finished playing mumledy-peg with them.  We are in the hands of cowards and fools, God help the country.

Quote of the Day, Ed Helms.

Correspondence Corner:

From:   Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Soon to be protected by Taliban supporters
While watching the president and his posse defend the unreviewed contract to let the United Arab Emirates run security in most of the major East Coast ports, I am struck by the lack of discussion of WTO rules and economic globalization.  One of the principles that the WTO is supposed to protect is open bidding (regardless of nationality) for services as well as goods.

Of course, the W administration has been no friend of free trade.  It approved steel tariffs, knowing they violated WTO rules.  It supports obscene farm subsidies that destroy farms in poorer nations.  And it flagrantly violated WTO rules when it excluded French, German, and Canadian firms from bidding on contracts to rebuild Iraq.  All those empty words about free trade that pushed the CAFTA treaty through Congress meant nothing.  W likes rigged trade that crushes the poor.

In this case, W likes rigged trade that favors the Bush family's buddies in the petrol aristocracy.

Think about it: Canadian companies were unworthy of competing to fix the power grids in Iraq. But the government of UAE is somehow qualified and trusted to protect your child and mine.

Name: Sencer Adams

I saw this story at TomPaine.com and was completely floored.  But with the ongoing incompetency of this Admin., we really shouldn't be surprised by any news of McCarthyite tactics anymore.

In September, Laura Berg, a Veteran’s Administration nurse in Albuquerque wrote to a local paper, The Alibi, expressing outrage at the administration’s incompetent and inhumane handling of Katrina and Iraq. “Is this America the beautiful?” she asked.

Evidently so, given that Berg’s letter prompted the VA to investigate her for sedition, a charge that would have sounded significantly less anachronistic back when “America the Beautiful” was written in 1893. Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU in New Mexico, was stunned:  “Sedition? That’s like something out of the history books.”

While there does still exist a federal law governing sedition, which can carry up to a $250,000 fine and a 20-year sentence, it refers exclusively to intentionally instigating violent revolt against the government. To read Berg’s call to “act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit” as a direct appeal for insurrection is certainly a colorful interpretation.

Nonetheless, Berg’s work computer was seized within days of her letter’s publication. It took the VA's chief of human resources, Mel R. Hooker, almost two months to admit that no evidence of the letter having been written on the VA’s computer could be found. Rather than apologize, Hooker went on to reiterate the possibility that the letter constituted sedition.  Moreover, according to Berg’s American Federation of Government Employees Union representative, the VA has turned the offending letter over to the FBI.

Although her cause is being championed by the New Mexico branch of the ACLU and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D- N.M., Berg is understandably distraught and, according to Simonson, “scared for her job,” and has not issued any statements to the press. And so a dissenting voice has been bullied into silence—that’s nothing new.

No matter what apologies or assurances Bingaman or the ACLU may be able to secure for Berg, she will not soon be able to forget the risks that are again becoming associated with peaceful dissent. And neither will the rest of America, especially given the fact that Berg is only one target in a recent spate of actions taken to silence federal employees expressing dissent or criticism.

Name: Martin
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Hi Eric,
Nice summary of Presidential inaction in the lead-up to 9/11.  I was just curious, and searched the White House Web site for instances of "bin Laden" occurring before 9/11.  There are 5 matches.  One is a notice extending sanctions on the Taliban.  The other four are questions from the press about what the White House was doing about bin Laden.

#1. (5/31/2001) The trial in New York, the bombing trial of the U.S. embassies, now Osama bin Laden has been warning to the U.S., he is condemning the bombing trials. And also, what we are doing really, this administration or President Bush, to bring now the main, Osama bin Laden, maybe this opens the way for him -- for the U.S. to bring him to justice in America?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question I think you want to talk to the Department of Justice about. In regard to the verdict in New York, the State Department has already addressed that question.

#2 (2/27/2001) Ari, according to India Globe, the Taliban in Afghanistan, they have offered that they are ready to hand over Osama bin Laden to Saudi Arabia if the United States would drop its sanctions, and they have a kind of deal that they want to make with the United States. Do you have any comments?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take that and get back to you on that.

#3 (2/5/2001) Ari, the embassy bombing trial just got started in New York today. I wonder what the President's expectations are for the trial's outcome, and also, since two of the suspects are charged with worldwide conspiracy associated with Osama bin Laden to kill Americans and to destroy American property; so I wonder what steps President Bush is going to take to counter terrorism?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to, for the moment, refer that question to Mary Ellen, to the Department of Defense.

#4 (7/2/2001) The murderous Osama bin Laden has threatened Israel and the United States in the next two weeks to, in his words, hit them where it hurts the most. Since President Jefferson sent the U.S. Navy to attack the Barbary pirates and President Wilson sent the U.S. Army under General Pershing into Mexico in pursuit of a mass murderer of Americans, named Pancho Villa, the President realizes that these are two legitimate presidential precedents for his taking military action, doesn't he, Ari? Or does he think that Jefferson and Wilson were wrong? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak to the history, Les --

REPORTER: You know the history, you went Middlebury College, they have a good history Department. You know the history. Now, was that, in the President's view, wrong what they did?

MR. FLEISCHER: They also teach foreign languages there. Les, I don't discuss military options.

REPORTER: No, no, no, I just want to know, does he think that these are not good presidential precedents?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President will take action that he deems appropriate in national security interests.

The rest is, as they say, history.

Name: Morgan
Hometown: Downey, CA
I just read that funding for the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory was cut, including 32 workers laid off, and then reinstated just before Bush arrived there to give his speech on renewable energy.  And this was included in the article:  "You're doing great work here," said Bush, who picked up a bottle of clear-colored ethanol and smelled it.  Breathe deeply, Mr. President. Breathe deeply.

Name:  Ed Tracey
Hometown:  Lebanon, New Hampshire
Though he was "only a sportsman," it would appear that the late Curt Gowdy had more courage than many journalists/broadcasters of today.  He received criticism for stating during the 4th quarter of Super Bowl III that the Jets victory would "change the map of football in America" and there were suspicions that NBC yanked him from baseball after the 1975 World Series because he (and Tony Kubek) faulted an umpire's decision not to call interference.  Denying that he was a shill for the old AFL, he said that his opinion about Super Bowl III was "just telling the facts."  Some of our "serious" journalists of today could learn from him.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ
Shande, shonde, schanda, whatever--when transliterating Yiddish into English, if it feel kosher, do it!

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
The myriad responses to John from Cincy highlight the profound dichotomy and confusion within the two political major parties.  Beth from Minneapolis astutely points out that "[t]he only way to make America better is by addressing the problems, discussing them, and finding solutions." However, it is the deafening lack of the third step that speaks so loudly to people like John.  Most people recognize and understand the problems facing our country.  They don't need (or want) to be bludgeoned over and over with negative information they already know.  People are attracted to ideas and solutions.  Real solutions beyond getting rid of certain people and continuing on with the status quo, only doing it better.  It appears that neither party wants to acknowledge that the status quo (and the bipartisan adoration of it) lies at the heart of the majority of the country's problems.  Sadly, when dramatic and substantial change is proposed, by either party, the fear card is played and the status quo (and political power) is maintained.  Real change requires creativity, fortitude and conviction, traits sorely lacking in an incumbency-obsessed and poll-driven Congress.  One quick and easy (yet incomplete) solution: term limits.  New and different people have new and different ideas, regardless of political party.  Jesse from Portland suggests that "As for bashing everything America does, who wants to eliminate every domestic program?  Who speaks of drowning government in a bathtub?  The Democrats may not like our foreign policy, but the Republicans harp on the idea that government is just no good at anything except defense."  I would respectfully add the government is also good at collecting taxes, but that is neither here nor there.  Most conservatives believe in curbing "federal" power, per the Constitution.  In that light, most (pre-compassionate conservative) Republicans may be against federal domestic entitlement programs, but not generally opposed to the same programs at a local or state level. Unfortunately, the constitutional idea (rather, requirement) of federalism has been lost to both major parties, the court systems, and sadly to a large swath of the electorate.  For example, it has become all but impossible to oppose federal spending on education without being labeled as "against education."  One question, though, aside from collecting taxes (and spending same) and (arguably) defense, what else has the federal government excelled at?  Examples, please. It is for this reason that, as noted by Beth, "even those who are not big fans of Bush like John, vote Republican."  The conservative suspicion of the federal government often runs much deeper than mere politics and elected individuals.

February 21, 2006 | 11:41 AM ET | Permalink

Shortly after he was inaugurated, back in early 2001, just after the USS Cole was attacked, the Bush administration received a blue-ribbon commission report warning of the dangers of a catastrophic terrorist attack.  Headed by Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, the report detailed the urgent steps necessary to begin the process of protecting the United States against a terrorist attack.  “States, terrorists and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction, and some will use them,” the report warned.  “Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”  Hart even presciently predicted that the country was vulnerable to “a weapon of mass destruction in a highrise building.”  The authors called for the creation of a department of homeland security combining and superseding the functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol, and the Customs Service, a recommendation converted into legislation by Senator Joseph Lieberman.

What did Bush do to implement its recommendations and protect the nation from terrorism?  He announced a government-wide review to be overseen by Vice President Cheney and promised, “I will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.”

In fact, neither Cheney’s review nor Bush’s chairing of NSC meetings on the topic ever took place.  When White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was asked to list the vice president’s policy portfolio at a press briefing on June 29, 2001, no mention was made of the review.  When a reporter asked a specific question about whether Cheney might be heading task forces “after energy,” Fleischer responded in the negative.  The Washington Post later reported that no review ever took place; the problem was simply laid aside.

Now fast-forward five years and the issue is not terrorism, but civil liberties.  In this report the L.A. Times follows up on the final 9/11 report, which gave the administration an “F” for its attempts to reconcile its war with traditional Constitutional protections for civil liberties.  The story notes, “A year after its creation, the White House civil liberties board has yet to do a single day of work.”  But wait, it’s even worse than it sounds: 

The board chairwoman is Carol E. Dinkins… a longtime friend of the Bush family, she was the treasurer of George W. Bush's first campaign for governor of Texas, in 1994, and co-chair of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney, which recruited Republican lawyers to handle legal battles after the November 2004 election.

Dinkins, a longtime partner in the Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins, where Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales once was a partner, has specialized in defending oil and gas companies in environmental lawsuits.

Here’s an example of my argument about why the pretense of objective journalism gets in the way of telling the truth.  Looky here:

Some members of Congress are concerned that the administration may still be trying to shortchange the board.  The fiscal 2007 budget that the administration released this month includes no express mention of any funding for it.

Um, may be?

Jane Mayer’s story demonstrates the incredible energy they’ve devoted to demanding that U.S. forces torture the people they capture in defiance of international law and the military’s own code of ethics, here, shocking even Little Roy with their amorality and lawlessness.  (I do believe he calls them war criminals, ladies and gentleman; he might want to apologize for acting as their McCarthyite attack dog.)

Meanwhile, they are actively creating a secret government employing old fashioned Stalinist techniques, here, (good for the Times in going up front with this) and this kind of thing happens in every government, but somehow seems more insidious in one that cares nothing for truth and everything for politics and ideology.

This is a hell of a piece in the WSJ, which by the way, contradicts almost everything you’ll read on the Journal’s editorial page about Iraq.

And from Frances Fukuyama’s Times Magazine piece here:

It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power.  (Italics added.)

It is hard to read these lines without irony in the wake of the global reaction to the Iraq war, which succeeded in uniting much of the world in a frenzy of anti-Americanism.

It is ironic, but not surprising that the piece did not include Fukuyama’s writings about how heavily the neocons have internalized Israel’s example, and are perhaps unconsciously, seeking to turn the U.S. into a global version of that persistently embattled state.  That piece appeared in The National Interest, in an argument with Charles Krauthammer.  To see that, click around beginning here.  Yale is publishing Fukuyama’s book-length argument in late March here and it carries this blurb from one of the founders of Neoconservatism:

Francis Fukuyama here gives the most lucid and knowledgeable account of the neoconservative vision of America's place and role in world affairs, and where it has overreached disastrously.  He argues effectively for an American foreign policy more aware of the limits of American power, less dependent on the military, and more respectful of the interests and opinions of other countries and emerging international norms and institutions.
— Nathan Glazer, Professor of Sociology and Education Emeritus, Harvard University

What a hero that McCain is, huh?  (Ten to one says Sully falls in love with him, next.)  And Vaugan Ververs seems to argue, if I read him right, here, that the Sunday shows can’t possibly skew right so long as they love McCain.

A moment of genuine sincerity.  Congratulations to my friends, mentors, and heroes, Victor and Edgar and I am truly honored to be able to write that sentence without exaggeration.  Congrats also to the other winners, especially Frank Rich.  It will take more than the incompetent, dishonest, and corrupt SOBs currently in power in our government to destroy the greatness that remains alive in our journalistic and literary cultures.

Send Nick Kristof to Africa:  Face it: Kristof is a terrific foreign reporter but a crappy columnist, and a net loss for liberals, because, like Joe Klein, he is one of those “liberals” who is forever attacking liberals to prove his cojones to conservatives.  Here he pretends that the Bush administration, like previous administrations, is interested in redeeming itself and providing the nation with good government.  It’s taking him 750 words, in other words, to say “Thank you sir, may I have another.”  I’m taking up a collection to send him to Africa to report on famine, with or without Bill O’Reilly.  Send the money directly to me and when I have enough, I will offer it to Arthur Sulzberger to put Kristof’s talents to use.  If that doesn’t work out, I’ll buy a place in P-Town and have the bathroom remodeled and write all about it on my blog.

Quote of the Day, Dennis Hamill:

John Dean is now considered a journalist.  As is former Nixon flack Pat Buchanan, and Watergate burglar Gordon Liddy.  George Stephanopoulos carried Bill Clinton's water before becoming his Gypo Nolan.  Joe Scarborough is a recovering congressman.  Chris Matthews and Tim Russert made their journalism bones reporting to Tip O'Neill and Pat Moynihan.

Matthews asks and answers all his own questions in a burlesque impersonation of a tobacco auctioneer.  And Russert, who hosts a show called "Meet the Press," actually met regularly with a ghost writer to pen a book about his own father!

No real reporter calls rewrite for a book about his old man.

Dear Gawker goyim:  It’s spelled “ S-H-A-N-D-E.”

I’ll be at Princeton tomorrow afternoon.


I was in Dallas this weekend, and while I missed my connection and spent a bunch of time in the airport, I was rewarded by finally arranging to see the city from  a DC-9 at night.  (“And Dallas is a jewel.  Dallas is a beautiful sight.”)  In any case, I was lucky enough to catch my first ever performance of the wonderful Cowboy Junkies on their 20th anniversary tour at the beautiful Grenada Theater.  Anyway, what a sexy, sultry woman that Margot Timmins is.  And she does some of the best Bruce covers I’ve ever heard, this side of Johnny Cash.  If you look at their Web site, here, you find that they put out a bunch of CDs that are not available anywhere else, and again, filled with terrific covers that re-imagine songs in ways you could not have.  Exhibit A, of course, is “Sweet Jane.”

The Junkies show up on a surprisingly good tribute/compilation record, This Bird Has Flown, on Razor and Tie.  The record is a bunch of hip people singing “Rubber Soul” on its 40th anniversary in order, and while people almost never improve on the Beatles, there’s room for many mansions in this house and almost everything on this album works.  I have more than a few favorites but I’m always happy to hear Nellie McCay do anything and the Junkies closer on “Run for Your Life” is, naturally, ethereal.

Oh and the Conrad Black documentary on the Sundance Channel is terrific; charming, funny, and thoughtful, though I would have liked more about George F. Will, William F. Buckley, Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger, taking his money and singing his praises in public, given, you know, that he turns out to be have been a crook and all.  Anyway, watch it if you get Sundance.  It’s on all the time.  Black is a metaphor for all the corruption that has made neoconservatism the curse in our lives it has since become.  (The guy paid himself non-compete fees to not-compete with himself, with his shareholders’ money, for starters.)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bill Spotz
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
Dr. A,
Rove wants to frame Bush's warrantless wire-tapping as though the issue were whether or not the U.S. government can spy on terrorists.  This is ridiculous.  Of course we can and should spy on terrorists.  Who in their right mind would oppose that?  The real issue is a much bigger one:  Do we want a president or do we want a king?  If we want a president, then he must be subject to constraints as the Founders envisioned.  He must come under oversight.  He must be checked and balanced.  Once we lift these constraints, he can do whatever he wants and becomes a king.  If he can spy on the "bad guys" without a court order, then there is absolutely nothing to stop him from spying on the "good guys" or anyone he considers to be a political enemy.  Legally, spying via wire taps is equivalent to search and seizure.  When King George III of England did this to American colonists without an independent authority declaring it reasonable, the Continental Congress found it so offensive as to list it in the Declaration of Independence as a crime justifying the American Revolution.  Do we want a president or do we want a king?  Bush and his enablers and his supporters want a king, whether they admit it or not, whether they realize it or not.  And it is up to those of us who want Our Presidency back to stop them.  Let's start by making sure everyone knows the question.

Name: Beth
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
John from Cincinnati is a perfect example of one reason many people, even those who are not big fans of Bush like John, vote Republican - they can't take any criticism.  Republicans tell them what they want to hear - that Americans can do no wrong.  I guess it makes them feel good.  But I wish they would realize that the fact that America is a great country does not mean Americans can do no wrong.  John has decided after reading this blog that all Democrats hate America and all Americans.  He couldn't be more wrong.  What we believe is that America is a great country that could be even better if we fixed some of the problems.  And they aren't going to get fixed by ignoring the fact that there is a problem, which is obviously what John wants to do.  The only way to make America better is by addressing the problems, discussing them, and finding solutions.  That is exactly what this blog and others are attempting to do. This country is great, but right now it is headed in the wrong direction, and is becoming less great.  It is not wrong for a blog to point that out.  John is wrong to think that people who point out the negative hate America.  The truth is they love America more than he does because they want to make it better.

Name: Jesse Zander Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR
I just read John from Cincinnati's entry and realized I'm something of a counterpart to him.  I'm 26, raised in a strongly liberal Democratic household, have voted exclusively Democratic, although I'm often more liberal than the candidates.  I even started reading Altercation about the same time he did.  I can't help but feel that John is making some mistakes that reinforce the ideas he already had.  First off, he recycles the standby argument against the SCLM that it's exclusively negative.  Sorry, but that's the world, not the frame.  We started a war based on neo-conservative fantasies so delusional that they caused every part of the war to be mismanaged.  Conservatives and Republicans passed a prescription drug package that benefits no one but the drug industry.  And when faced with a natural disaster that overwhelmed state and local government, the Feds failed to pick up the slack.  I'll admit that the glee over Dick Cheney's recent accident reeks of schadenfreude, but it pales in comparison to the darkly 'humorous' rantings of Ann Coulter or other conservative media figures.  John also confuses the current administration with 'America', saying that criticism of policy is the same as saying "...Americans are the worst people in the world."  Iran and DPRK may be run by bad people, but I live in America and I demand that America live up to its ideals.  Then, maybe, I'll start worrying about everybody else.  John says "...you also bash the military, claiming all they do is torture Iraqis."  He completely ignores the dozens of posts from Major Bob and the heartwarming account of delivering school supplies to Iraqi children.  John must have missed that day.  As for Altercation making reasonable points about what Democrats and liberals believe, pointing out the hypocrisy and incompetence of the current administration does just that.  We're the minority party right now, and it's our responsibility to point out what's going wrong, just as Republicans felt the need to point out any mistakes, real or imagined, of the Clinton Administration.

Finally, John is flat out wrong when he charges that liberals are the ones who are cynical and "...bashing everything our country does."  I can't imagine anything more cynical than the neo-con/Straussian concept of fabricating a myth to rally the people.  Rummy, Perle and Wolfowitz did it to reignite the Cold War, they did it with Clinton and Lewinsky, they did it with al Qaeda, and they did it with Iraq.  As for bashing everything America does, who wants to eliminate every domestic program?  Who speaks of drowning government in a bathtub?  The Democrats may not like our foreign policy, but the Republicans harp on the idea that government is just no good at anything except defense.  Perhaps John was not so open-minded as he wanted to think.

Name: Tom
Hometown: New York, NY
To John in Ohio:  I agree completely.  I for one am SO SICK of Eric giving Major Bob space for his relentless attacks the military and his narrow focus on the torture committed in Iraq in our name.  Also, by promoting private charities as Eric does, he clearly implies that the Republican administration isn't providing for all our citizens.  That's despicable, defeatist, and tantamount to treason.  Since John doesn't seem to be the most adroit of readers, I will note that the above is sarcasm.

Name: Linda Whitener
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
I think we've caught "John from Cincinnati" -- the Republican who's so put off by Altercation -- in a major whopper here.  He can't possibly be reading your blog on a regular basis if he believes that "you also bash the military, claiming that all they do is torture Iraqis."  You've devoted so much blog space to Major Bob Bateman's positive portrayal of the military that some readers have actually accused you of being an unwitting tool of the Pentagon.  (For the record, I don't agree with them.)  If this is John's idea of reading "with an open mind," I've got some real estate in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans he might be interested in.

Name: R.J. Sweetman
Hometown: Bristol, RI
I am also a 27-year-old who has read you blog for about two years.  I would not characterize my up bringing as either Democratic or Republican but one of tolerance and responsibility.  One of the more appealing aspects of your blog is your ability to criticize and give voice to both the left and right's points of view (including John's from Ohio).  I had intended to counter John point to point but I will instead ask him (and anybody else) to do something constructive - go to a foreign news Web site and read about the world news, just the headlines If you'd like.  Come back and compare it to MSNBC's or any other American news outlet's world news.  Take as much time as you do/did as reading Mr. Alterman's blog.  If you want another perspective on the President's policies in action, you will be satisfied.

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