March 31, 2006 | 11:31 AM ET | Permalink

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new Think Again column here, “The Sad Saga of the 'Red State' Washington Post Blogger,” here.

And a new Nation column, “ Prescient and Patriotic: America's Honor Roll,” here.

And speaking of John Dower’s prescient warnings, take a look at this.

This just in.  Bush Lied (and lied and lied and lied and lied).  (Someone tell my buddy Richard Cohen, but don’t fire him.  He has bills to pay…)

Do me a favor and don’t pray for me to get better, OK?

Pray for Grover instead. Or perhaps Ralph Reed.

Speaking of Ralphie boy, wouldn’t it be nice if conservative Christians obsessed about this part of Jesus’ teachings rather than the stuff he never said about gay marriage and the like?

Quote of the Day, host:  "Did you know that in many ways the terrorists detained at Guantánamo Bay have more rights than corporate C.E.O.'s and their employees?" — Mark R. Levin, a radio talk show host here.  Don’t read any further if you have a weak heart.

Great Abramoff story here ($) by the way.  Every time I go back to DC I’m amazed at the amount of investment that’s gone into remaking downtown. Now I have better idea of from whence it all comes…

And now, the latest news from the Bush administration's global privatizing front -- nuclear weaponry for profit.  We all know that the Bush administration has the urge to privatize just about anything in sight, including its war in Iraq (where thousands of rent-a-mercenaries run wild and the U.S. military is completely dependent on Halliburton, its subsidiary KBR, and other corporations simply to continue daily operations), but our nuclear arsenal?  Sounds like the sort of nightmare you'd only find in the wackiest of dystopian sci-fi novels.  According to Frida Berrigan of the Arms Trade Resource Center, however, the management of key nuclear weapons labs is now being taken over by "big dig" Bechtel and other for-profit outfits.  Privatizing the apocalypse?  What a thought.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to answer your "what to do about illegal immigration" question.  We should ensure that Americans get first crack at jobs but be kind to the human beings here for the most humane of reasons.  Employers who want to hire "guest workers" should first register their job openings with their state's unemployment office and allow a short period of time for unemployed workers to apply.  If there really are no takers, this is probably a job "Americans won't do."  The employer would get a guest worker permit and all he/she needs to do to keep it is provide annual proof he's been paying the minimum wage and all taxes.  Zoe Baird would have been able to hire that illegal alien nanny...if nobody in New York wanted the job.  At the same time, create criminal penalties for employers who evade this system (say the mandatory minimum jail time for minor drug crimes) and give states concurrent enforcement powers.  If you do that, you can be more liberal with current illegal immigrants: (i.e., de facto amnesty) -- no need to return to their home countries and I'd even cut a deal on the back-taxes.  But nothing like that will ever pass Congress, because as with bankruptcy reform it’s the pro-business lobby that is pushing this.  As Paul Krugman courageously demonstrated, our open illegal immigration is not a boost to the economy, it's a pro-rich tax on the working poor.

People look at the issue as a threat to the GOP, but that's debatable.  In 2004 47% of Latino voters in Arizona backed a harsh anti-immigrant state statute.  Admittedly, the stupidity of the current House Republicans targeting sympathetic immigrants in cruel ways could galvanize less integrated Latino voters.  But I think the Dems have the bigger worry: to win the Presidency or the senate they need African-American turnout and a sizeable plurality of Reagan Democrats.  In 2004 Kerry ran an OK race, but his outreach to African-Americans was almost nonexistent.  And still there was a huge African-American turnout, which will be harder to replicate when Dubya is gone.  I’m no Donna Brazile, but I've read/heard enough to know that immigration resonates in a way gay marriage doesn't.

In response to Byron Short's charge that this is “all about xenophobia,” I’d note that immigration wasn't a big issue in the 1990's when there was demand for low skilled workers.  We weren’t less racist then.  I'm not naive, there surely is racism and xenophobia at play here, but those of us who benefit from all that cheap labor while not having our own jobs or wages impaired by a glut of workers (I doubt too many illegal aliens are licensed attorneys) should think twice before playing the race card.  If international outsourcing is a legitimate political issue, so is domestic outsourcing.

Name: Peter Webb
Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii
Dr. Alterman:
Bryan Short's letter on the treatment of illegal aliens is heartwarming but rather misleading. Emma Lazarus's great poem about "huddled masses" shouldn't be quoted without the context of Ellis Island and the *legal* immigration of those masses.  Nor should Mr. Short's vision of "guest workers" who arrive for the construction season, work for a pittance, and then go home again be accepted without looking at the experience of other countries' guest worker programs. Germany is the best example of this--a country which for 2 generations has imported largely Turkish guest workers to fill manufacturing and service jobs.  Have they gone home?  No.  Have they integrated?  No--in part because, as "guest workers," they were not entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as citizens.  Guest worker programs are terrific at solving short term labor problems, but they seem to create long term social problems of a very serious sort.

Finally, there are the twin issues of sovereignty and security.  One of the standard defining characteristics of a nation is that it has the right and ability to control its borders (the Palestinian territories, for instance, fail this test and therefore cannot be considered "a nation" at this time).  If we cede control over ingress to the US, we are diluting national sovereignty and the rule of law in a very significant and destructive fashion. 

Lastly, of course, there is the issue of security.  I'm not speaking here of the "terrorists sneaking in as wetbacks" scenario.  Anyone who has spent any time near either the Canadian or Mexican borders to the US knows that anyone with basic outdoor skills and a decent set of boots can hike into the US totally undetected along hundreds of miles of the borders.  The security issue I'm concerned about is the one we all saw footage of in France--"guest non-workers", one might say, burning cars and causing mayhem in a state to which they have no allegiance and for which they feel no affection.  Planned, legal immigration brings people into the country who want to become citizens. Illegal immigration, whether sanctioned by an ex post facto "guest worker" program or not, brings in people who, as Mr. Short points out, DON'T see themselves as belonging to the US--their loyalties are "at home" in other countries.  Why would we want to have 11 million people living in the US who, when push comes to shove, have no real interest in the welfare and basic principles of our country?  Legal immigration has been the lifeblood of the US.  The current system is overly complex, expensive, and restrictive.  But the solution is to reform legal immigration, not to simply throw open the gates and depend on the "kindness of strangers."

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT
Eric,
Randi Jewett is correct, and I did conflate the sort of democracy (actually, republican government, to be correct) we aspire to in the United States with "Demcocracy."  I'm not sure what a review of definitions in dictionaries would show, but mine gives as the fourth definition of the word "majority rule," and I'm pretty sure that is the most correct description.  In essence, it would then correspond with Jeremy Bentham's view of it - that any form of government other than simple majority rule is tyranny. As an advocate of, again, the type of government we aspire to, and in seeking to try to make clear why certain "majority" wishes cannot be made law, I did misuse the word. A technical but important correction, and I will bear it in mind. In trying to get people to think clearly about the words they are using, I wish to not be guilty of confusing matters myself.  But Randi, did ja hafta lump me together with Condoleezza Rice?  OUCH.  I will REALLY be more careful!  Oh well, to mix sayings, "If the truth hurts, wear it."

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA

Dr. Alterman,
Your respondent Mr. Short from across the Potomac provides a shining example of why any real and substantive debate on the issue of immigration (illegal or otherwise) is so very difficult to come by.  I simply mention that the issue poses a problem for the Republican party and I am immediately labeled xenophobic for merely broaching the issue.  Mr. Short then proceeds to provide several colorful labels for illegal aliens and then ridiculously suggests that development in Northern Virginia is somehow the net result of illegal immigration.  As a resident of NoVa, I recognize and concede that the booming development has been accelerated through the exploitation of illegal labor.  However, this does not justify or excuse or explain anything other than that developers and contractors are profit-driven and greedy.  The countless new multi-million dollar McMansions that are popping up like weeds would get built regardless.  Indeed, the only thing that has been able to slow development in these parts has been a few city councils.  In any event, if Mr. Short really believes that the current debate in Congress extends beyond catering to powerful corporate lobbies and pandering to potential voters, and that the real basis is Congress' newfound "care and concern over those individuals who risk life and limb to come here to support their families," then naive is far too kind a term to use for him.  Beltway politics is ugly and vicious, particularly in election years.  Congressional altruism extends as far as the ballot box.  Regarding the "HUGE percentage of Amuricans that despise 'them aliens,'" maybe some of those Americans actually believe we are a country founded on the rule of law and simply would appreciate proper enforcement of the current laws.  I suggest Mr. Short, as an attorney, peruse Title 8, Chapter 12 of the United States Code and provide some legal analysis.  Anyway, I suspect most Americans just recognize that this is a difficult problem that must be addressed.  Unfortunately, when someone has the audacity to suggest reform or enforcement of the current laws, the emotional (and generally baseless and offensive) accusations of racism are inevitably raised.  So my apologies to Mr. Short for offering such a cold, political view of what is for him such a human and emotional issue, but I'll take cold-hearted pragmatism over idealism any day of the week.  With that, I'll retreat to my two-bedroom that was built in the forties, thank you very much.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ

Heard Matisyahu for the first time, after a non-Jewish sales clerk at a record store told me he was "awesome."  Couldn't understand a single word he sang, the music was very good, but I'm left with a nagging question: we in the Observant Jewish community put a lot of time and energy into keeping the popular culture out--what do we do when it comes to us?  After all, ZZ Top took our style, not the other way 'round!

Name: JJ
Hometown: Eagan, MN
Beer reviews - OK, this was just wrong five different ways. "Warning, sexism, chauvinism, tastelessness abound." The reviews were hilarious but what was really tasteless was the writers' taste in beer.  I could see maybe a half dozen good brews in there, the rest were interchangeable lagers.  I thought it would improve on pages 2 - 5. But it was like expecting Joe Lieberman to act like a Democrat.

Eric replies: So then what was “wrong,” bub?

March 30, 2006 | 11:10 AM ET | Permalink

Senate reforms payola, um, I mean 'lobbying'
Plus the Altercation Book Club

Here’s something else I’ve been wondering.  Because I’m working on a history of the rock 'n' roll business, I’ve been investigating the phenomenon of “payola.”  Basically, it’s a system where record companies—today, through third parties, back in the old days, by themselves—wine and dine (and drug) deejays and program directors, sometimes with cash, sometimes not—to get their records considered for play on the air.  The food, liquor, drugs, hookers, and cash did not guarantee that a record would be played.  They only guaranteed that the people with the power to decide would favorably consider the record and play the ones they actually liked—at least that’s the way the insiders described it.

Here is one such description for promotions man, Artie Rip:

Promotion meant first of all that you came in with a great record by a great artist with a great song. It did not mean you came in with a piece of s**t, put money on the table, and go to some disc jockey or program director and get that person to play the records…. Rather than saying, ‘I’m paying you to play my record,’ we’d take the guy from, let’s say, Pittsburgh over the West Virginia line to Wheeling and go to a gambling place. So he’d turn around and say, ‘Artie, give the guy a thousand. Let him go over and play.’  It wasn’t some kind of a blatant action: Here’s the envelope with the money, here’s the record, play the record. George’s style was much more [to] fill up a hotel floor with chicks. There’s a blonde over here. There’s a girl with brunette hair over there. There’s a black girl over there. There are two broads over in that room. What’s your flavor today? You could go into that room, and one of the girls might turn and say: “You know George would really appreciate… Not only am I going to make you happy, but George wanted for you to go out and get yourself a great suit so we can go out together’… he had a sensitivity that he didn’t want the disc jockey to feel like he was a hooker.

Usually you’d get close enough to these guys that they’d say, ‘Jesus, I really would love to have that down payment on the car.’ And the guy would be giving you the hint of what kind of help he’d like to have. And then somehow, someway, we would find the way, if he was a strong enough guy, to take care of his wish and his need.

So how, exactly, is that any different from way Congress operates?  Read this and perhaps you can esplain it to me….

Setting the Record Straight on Cap Weinberger.  It’s a shame that the ideologues at the Wall Street Journal edit page felt a need to observe the death of Cap Weinberger with a touch of character assassination aimed in the direction of  Lawrence Walsh, the Republican-appointed Republican special prosecutor, on Iran-Contra, here.  What the Journal wrote: 

After he left office, Mr. Weinberger served his country as well by refusing to accept a plea bargain in the politically motivated indictments by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh over the Iran-Contra affair.

Sorry, Cap, I was trying to be a nice guy, what with you dying and all.  But you lied to Congress and your country and you got caught.  That’s why George H.W. Bush had to pardon you and that’s what the Wall Street Journal editors are seeking to cover up with their nasty crack about the politically-motivated Republican-appointed Republican prosecutor.  Here's an example from When Presidents Lie:

According to Walsh’s final report, Weinberger “deliberately lied to the Tower Commission, to Congress and to us.” His notes confirmed that he knew in advance that the president had authorized the 1985 HAWK shipment, after Weinberger had warned Reagan that the proposed shipment was illegal.  The president, according to Weinberger, replied that he “could answer charges of illegality but he couldn’t answer charges that ‘big strong President Ronald Reagan passed up a chance to free the hostages.’” When the president joked about going to jail, Weinberger told him he “would not be alone.”

On the other hand, a lot of people felt that the revelation of Weinberger’s diary with regard to Bush’s lies about his role was what destroyed his momentum in the final moments of the 1992 campaign and elected Bill Clinton.  I was in Little Rock on Election Day and the Clinton people vociferously resisted this, because it would have interfered with their ability to claim a mandate for their candidate.  I dunno.  But still, thanks Cap.

Quite astonishing animated map of Iraq war casualties.

This animated map of coalition military fatalities during the Iraq war unfolds at ten frames per second. Each frame represents one day of the war. One dot marks each casualty site. A death begins as a white flash, then grows to a larger red dot, which turns black after 30 frames (days), fading at last to permanent grey.

Created by Tim Klimowicz

Beer reviews here: Warning, sexism, chauvinism, tastelessness abound.

Quote of the Day: There's an awful lot of superfluous news, the pervert of the day and someone that shot seven people at a fraternity party… Who needs it all?"  —Ted Turner, here.

Altercation Book Club:

The following is excepted from Why by Columbia University sociologist, Charles Tilly, just published by Princeton University Press

Even stories of sickness can be uplifting if properly told. Alison Light reports, in fact, that Raphael Samuel wrote almost half of his Island Stories during his all too brief cancer treatment (Samuel 1998: xii). But others have made serious illness itself the subject of their stories. Take the editor, critic, essayist, and fiction writer Anatole Broyard. Broyard’s final book shared some properties with Samuel’s posthumous volume. In the course of a long writing career, Broyard had published powerful essays on his father’s final illness and on the literature of death. Broyard received a diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer in 1989, and immediately went into treatment, only to die 14 months later.

Soon after his diagnosis, Broyard started writing an extraordinary book about his experience of cancer and its treatment. He completed three essays and a set of journal notes. They appeared in 1992 (along with two of the earlier essays and an epilogue by his widow, the psychotherapist Alexandra Broyard) as Intoxicated by my Illness. In a foreword, Oliver Sacks remarks that:

I have never seen any writing about illness that is more forthright – nothing is glossed over, or evaded, or sentimentalized, or pietized – and that is at the same time deeper, more intelligent, more reflective and resonant. You feel the man himself – who is also and always a critic and an artist – seize his pen with unprecedented force, determined to challenge his illness, to go into the very jaws of death, fully alive, pen in hand, a reporter, an analyst, to the last. He takes his pen almost to the darkness. His final journal notes go to within a few days of his death (Broyard 1992: xii).

Clearly Broyard wrote more than a straightforward story; he wrote a prose poem about sickness, death, and dying. But because his personal experience focused his thought, the book contains some of the most compelling stories on the subject I have read.

Here is a Broyard passage that will resonate with many a sick person:

When my father died, I tried to write a novel about it, but I found that my whole novel was written politely. I was so pious about death that it was intolerable, and I find that people are doing that to me now. They’re treating me with such circumspection. They’re being so nice to me. I don’t know whether they really mean what they say or whether they’re accommodating me. It’s as though they’re talking to a child, and I want them to stop that. I can’t find them anymore. I need their help, but not in this form. The therapist Erving Polster defined embarrassment as a radiance that doesn’t know what to do with itself. We need a book that will teach the sick man’s family and friends, the people who live with him, what to do with that radiance. If they knew how to use it, their radiance might do him more good than radiation (Broyard 1992: 22-23).

Broyard was then, of course, writing the very book about which he was writing: a book that showed how to find radiance in sickness. In this sophisticated passage, nevertheless, we discover a powerful story with Aristotelian overtones: people are treating me tenderly because they fear hurting me. Doing so, they are hurting me.

But Broyard also searched for non-technical explanations of his own condition. Like many sick people, he recounted what might have caused his malady – and therefore what he might have done differently to avoid it:

My first reaction to having cancer was lyrical – irony comes later. It’s part of the treatment. While I don’t know whether this is lyrical, ironical, or both, I’m tempted to single out particular women and particular practices that strike me now as more likely to be carcinogenic than others. Coitus interruptus, which was widely practiced before the Pill, seems a likely suspect, and oral sex comes to mind as putting a greater strain on the prostate. But after saying this, I want to make it clear that I certainly don’t hold my cancer against these women – whatever I did, it was worth it. I have no complaints in that direction. I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I had known what was coming. and though this is only a fantasy, this talk of femmes fatales and pleasure you can die of, it’s part of the picture of the cancer patient, and I don’t want to edit out anything that belongs to my case (Broyard 1992: 26).

As he went on, nevertheless, Broyard wove an artful story: of fatal illness as a creative opportunity.

Although most of us do not write about the passage into illness so lyrically as Anatole Broyard, he certainly did not invent the idea of disease as a new world containing its own distinctive challenges. Douglas Maynard illustrates the sense of crossing a threshold at the onset of illness:

This movement from one to another world is captured in the remarks of a physician who was diagnosed with a cancer in his right leg (synovial sarcoma). Appearing in a Public Broadcasting System program called “When Doctors Get Cancer,” he is shown walking on crutches into a hospital and, with a baseball cap covering a bald head, sitting on a bed while undergoing chemotherapy and being examined. The doctor is now a patient, and in a voiceover, he says, “Back in October, a year ago, I was given six months to live. So here I am today, a year later, with a new world, a continuum of my last one but essentially a new world.” That bad news can usher one into a “new world” is vividly captured not only in this statement but in the picture of this doctor now in patient garb and in the patient role (Maynard 2003: 11).

Broyard probably would have rejected the PBS broadcast’s optimistic spin. But he could certainly have told the cancer-stricken doctor about crossing a brilliant threshold. Reading Broyard’s book, writer and prostate cancer victim Robert Vaughn Young confided to his own journal “I had found someone whose words expressed my excitement and explained why my priorities had shifted” (Young 2001: 6). Stories may do mundane work, but they need not be uninspiring.

For more, go here.

Alter-reviews:

NEW ORLEANS SOCIAL CLUB - "SING ME BACK HOME."  By Sal: ( NYCD)

Produced by Leo Sacks, who narrowly lost out to Sal Nunziato in the "Guy Who Loves New Orleans The Mostest" competition, this collective was assembled in the same fashion as the Buena Vista Social Club, in which an all-star band backs up a revolving cast of luminaries, featuring such legends as Leo Nocentelli, George Porter Jr., Ivan, Cyril and Charles Neville, Dr. John, and Irma Thomas, to name but a few.  Along with "Our New Orleans," this is one of the best and most musically solid of the recent batch of New Orleans tribute discs.  More here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Greg Wortman
Hometown: Studio City, CA
Dear Dr. Alterman,
RE: "This Eric Johnson fellow"- I'm sorry you've never heard of him, but not entirely surprised.  Eric Johnson is one of the greatest of all the great guitar players I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.  Johnson's music spans several genres (rock, jazz, blues, country), which makes him difficult to pigeonhole or unfortunately, mass market.  He is also very much a "guitar player's guitar player," as he is mostly overlooked by non-guitarists.  What makes him often more exciting to listen to than his miniscule peer group is the magical and unique sounds he squeezes from his uber-expensive vintage guitars and amps.  Check out the CDs "Tones" and "Ah Via Musicom"- this is jaw dropping scary virtuoso electric guitar playing at its finest, and required listening for any electric guitar aficionado.

Name: Randy Jewett
Hometown:  Gainesville, FL
Thomas Heiden, Condi Rice and many others seem not to be aware of the distinction between "democracy" and the particular American form of it as originally established.  She said it's not democracy in Afghanistan if the Christian convert is executed.  Sure it is, if the rules of Afghan democracy allow it.  What we have here is a democracy, plus a bill of rights that makes restrictions on democratic rule.  In Iraq they could vote for a theocracy and that would be a democracy too, even if it allowed execution for converting from Islam.  People seem to confuse the word democracy with our particular form of it.  A pure democracy is the tyranny of the majority, which sounds like what they have in Afghanistan: everyone must be a Muslim.  If the US is going to export its particular form of democracy, then there must be a bill of rights to go along with it.  Just pure democracy can result in theocracy, or any fool thing the majority votes for.

Name: Mike Dickenson
Hometown: Bluff City, TN
Great link to FAIR.  I remember when Matthews said "those Damn Democrats".  I was thinking it was close to Mission Accomplished day.  He and Liddy were just giddy over Bush that day. They were even talking about the bulge in his pants.  Everyone keeps saying the Democrats will get even in November.  We won't if we don't work at it.  It is going to take hard work because the Republicans and their media will frame the debate in the fall.  Also why is it that when someone from the left appears, he is usually a pushover like Willie Brown.  It has been a long time since I saw either Joe Conason or you on a show.  Randi Rhodes was on Lou Dobbs the other night and really did well.  Guess we won't see her again.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Olympia, WA
I just read that the federal government has broken off all ties to the Palestinian government.  We refuse to interact with a democratically elected government, but continue to support the elected theocracy of Afghanistan and are creating another one in Iraq.  What gives?  Does this country care more about fostering true democracy in the world or building our own strategic allegiances and alliances?  I understand that these governments are terrible, but we should be trying to do something about it.  Preferably in a non-violent manner.  Instead, America will ignore the problem until it becomes a crisis.  God I love this country.

Name: Bryan Short
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Dear Dr. Alterman:
I would like to respond to Brad of Arlington's strangely xenophobic post.  Brad seems to feel it foolish and laughable that Congressmen would "pander" to those who wish to see the downtrodden helped.  It is not that these "illegals" represent a voting block, it is that legalizing their status in this country speaks to the very heart of our democracy.  "Give me your tired, your poor, your weary, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free..."  I believe it was Solzhenisyn who wrote that you can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners.  I think the modern equivalent to that observation is that a modern democracy can be judged by the way it treats non-nationals (or "Furreners" in the vernacular).  What Brad dismisses as claptrap, the care and concern over those individuals who risk life and limb to come here to support their families, will be the human rights issue of the coming decade (mark my words).  I was previously a court appointed attorney in Northern Virginia.  Anyone familiar with Northern Virginia will understand that its gigantic and soaring development has been built on the backs of "illegals."  In many cases, these people are too afraid of being caught and deported to seek medical attention or legal advice.  They are exposed to numerous individuals who will take advantage of them.  Violence and forced labor are not uncommon.  Because these "illegals" are not provided (or are too scared to seek) basic government services they are readily exploited by the less seemly side of our society.  If "wetbacks" were kept out of this country, so as not to alienate that HUGE percentage of Amuricans that despise "them aliens," it would not be Northern Virginians building Brad's condo.  No, Brad would be hard pressed to find ANY new development in his neck of the woods.  The entire immigration issue boils down to xenophobia, period.  Legalize illegals and they will not all stay here.  In fact, many constantly voice desires to return home and "commute" to the U.S. for the growing/construction season.  They remain here because they cannot enter and exit the country easily.  If they could, they wouldn't be such a threat to Brad's neighborhood; they would build his 1 bedroom condo, with parking cheaply and move back home.

March 29, 2006 | 11:53 AM ET | Permalink

Government gone crazy, continued

While George Bush and company were out invading countries that did not threaten us in any way, wasting trillions, killing tens of thousands, destroying functioning infrastructure, torturing innocents, inspiring hatred, and portraying America as a nation of incompetent, lying, torturing, illegal phone-tapping hypocrites to the entire world, what else was happening?

Oh yeah, he was AWOL on taking the steps needed to prevent a nuclear 9/11.

This is not some crazy commie leftist latte-drinking thing, it’s a new study from the Council on Foreign Relations whose new report, Preventing Catastrophic Nuclear Terrorism, notices, “while the 'threat of a nuclear attack by terrorists has never been greater, the U.S. government has yet to make prevention the highest priority.'"

Council Fellow for Science and Technology Charles D. Ferguson writes:

"Securing and eliminating vulnerable nuclear materials and weapons offer points of greatest leverage in preventing nuclear terrorism,” says the report. “For these activities, much more national and international action is urgently needed to address the problems of Pakistan’s highly enriched uranium [HEU] and nuclear arsenal; Russia’s highly enriched uranium; highly enriched uranium at more than one hundred civilian facilities in dozens of countries; and tactical nuclear weapons."

"The biggest impediment to reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism involving Pakistan is President Musharraf’s expressed belief that terrorists cannot make nuclear weapons,” says Ferguson. The United States should try to “convince [President Musharraf and Pakistani leaders] that certain terrorist groups can build crude, but devastating, nuclear weapons if these groups have access to enough highly enriched uranium.”

“Securing Russian weapons-usable nuclear materials is vitally important but not adequate,” says the report. A recently released Council-sponsored, Independent Task Force report on U.S. policy toward Russia underscores this point: “The United States must expand its cooperation with Russia to keep the most dangerous international actors from acquiring the most dangerous weapons, technologies, and materials. This is a fundamental American security interest—one that is far easier to protect if Washington and Moscow work together and far harder if they do not.”

The report identifies areas where efforts have fallen short in securing and eliminating nuclear weapons and weapons-usable nuclear materials, and offers recommendations to plug these gaps:

More here.  Read it and weep.

‘How would I know?” section.

Bloggers and pundits pretend to know a great deal that they don't really.  We’re fighting back…

  1. Israeli election.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Israel, I know a bunch of people there.  I’ve read a few books, too.  But what does the election mean for the peace process?  Who knows?  Why don’t we just wait and find out…

  2. Immigration.  About twelve years ago, I got Rolling Stone to send me to San Diego to ride around with the Border Patrol for a week and chase illegal immigrants trying to sneak across the border.  I could probably spin that into a column about today’s hot-button topic, but I don’t feel like it.  We can’t close the border and we need those people.  But we can’t let everybody in or punish law abiding people.  What to do?  Hell if I know.

  3. Bolten for Card.  What’s the difference?  Again, do these people talk to me?  And the people they do talk to, do they ever tell the truth to anyone about anything?

  4. New Iraqi Prime Minister.  Bush doesn’t like the new Iraqi Prime Minister?  That’s easy.  He’s my guy.  It’s not that I like him, whoever he is, or even that I hate Bush; I just play the averages.

  5. Fed raises rate again.  Yeah, like anybody knows…  I’m sure the punditocracy has recognized, by now, the folly of trying to predict the future of the economy.

Speaking of which, I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to this from FAIR, and all the fodder it offers for the case that our punditocracy is run by liberal elitists (and people who know anything about anything…)

Here’s just a sampling brought to you care of your So-Called Liberal Media:

  • "The only people who think this wasn't a victory are Upper Westside liberals, and a few people here in Washington."
    (Charles Krauthammer, Inside Washington, WUSA-TV, 4/19/03)

  • "We're all neo-cons now."
    (MSNBC's Chris Matthews, 4/9/03)

  • "The war was the hard part.  The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier.  I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war."
    (Fox News Channel's Fred Barnes, 4/10/03)

  • "It was reminiscent, I think, of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  And just sort of that pure emotional expression, not choreographed, not stage-managed, the way so many things these days seem to be. Really breathtaking."
    (Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly, appearing on Fox News Channel on 4/9/03, discussing the pulling down of a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad, an event later revealed to have been a U.S. military PSYOPS operation--Los Angeles Times, 7/3/04)

  • "We're proud of our president.  Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern.  They want a guy who's president.  Women like a guy who's president.  Check it out.  The women like this war.  I think we like having a hero as our president.  It's simple.  We're not like the Brits."
    (MSNBC's Chris Matthews, 5/1/03)

  • "He looked like an alternatively commander-in-chief, rock star, movie star, and one of the guys."
    (CNN's Lou Dobbs, on Bush's 'Mission Accomplished' speech, 5/1/03)

  • "Why don't the damn Democrats give the president his day?  He won today.  He did well today."
    (MSNBC's Chris Matthews, 4/9/03)

  • "What's he going to talk about a year from now, the fact that the war went too well and it's over?  I mean, don't these things sort of lose their--Isn't there a fresh date on some of these debate points?"
    (MSNBC's Chris Matthews, speaking about Howard Dean--4/9/03)

  • "Now that the war in Iraq is all but over, should the people in Hollywood who opposed the president admit they were wrong?"
    (Fox News Channel's Alan Colmes, 4/25/03)

  • "I doubt that the journalists at the New York Times and NPR or at ABC or at CNN are going to ever admit just how wrong their negative pronouncements were over the past four weeks."
    (MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, 4/9/03)

  • "I'm waiting to hear the words 'I was wrong' from some of the world's most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types.... I just wonder, who's going to be the first elitist to show the character to say: 'Hey, America, guess what? I was wrong'? Maybe the White House will get an apology, first, from the New York Times' Maureen Dowd. Now, Ms. Dowd mocked the morality of this war.
    ...
    "Do you all remember Scott Ritter, you know, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector who played chief stooge for Saddam Hussein? Well, Mr. Ritter actually told a French radio network that -- quote, 'The United States is going to leave Baghdad with its tail between its legs, defeated.' Sorry, Scott. I think you've been chasing the wrong tail, again.

    "Maybe disgraced commentators and politicians alike, like Daschle, Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich, and all those others, will step forward tonight and show the content of their character by simply admitting what we know already: that their wartime predictions were arrogant, they were misguided and they were dead wrong. Maybe, just maybe, these self-anointed critics will learn from their mistakes. But I doubt it. After all, we don't call them 'elitists' for nothing."
    (MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, 4/10/03)

  • "This has been a tough war for commentators on the American left. To hope for defeat meant cheering for Saddam Hussein. To hope for victory meant cheering for President Bush. The toppling of Mr. Hussein, or at least a statue of him, has made their arguments even harder to defend. Liberal writers for ideologically driven magazines like The Nation and for less overtly political ones like The New Yorker did not predict a defeat, but the terrible consequences many warned of have not happened. Now liberal commentators must address the victory at hand and confront an ascendant conservative juggernaut that asserts United States might can set the world right."
    (New York Times reporter David Carr, 4/16/03)

  • "Well, the hot story of the week is victory.... The Tommy Franks-Don Rumsfeld battle plan, war plan, worked brilliantly, a three-week war with mercifully few American deaths or Iraqi civilian deaths.... There is a lot of work yet to do, but all the naysayers have been humiliated so far.... The final word on this is, hooray."
    (Fox News Channel's Morton Kondracke, 4/12/03)

  • "Some journalists, in my judgment, just can't stand success, especially a few liberal columnists and newspapers and a few Arab reporters."
    (CNN's Lou Dobbs, 4/14/03)

  • "This will be no war -- there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention.... The president will give an order. [The attack] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling.... It will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation. And I say, bring it on."
    (Christopher Hitchens, in a 1/28/03 debate-- cited in the Observer, 3/30/03)

  • "I will bet you the best dinner in the gaslight district of San Diego that military action will not last more than a week. Are you willing to take that wager?"
    (Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, 1/29/03)

  • "It won't take weeks. You know that, professor. Our military machine will crush Iraq in a matter of days and there's no question that it will."
    (Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, 2/10/03)

Straight-talk from the Maverick McCain, continued here.

What Liberal Media? continued here:

"The Bush White House already is known for its discipline and managerial skill."   ( In a news story.)

Conde Nast has killed its shopping “magazine,” Cargo, that contained no journalism, just advertorials, written by the staff, to promote advertisers’ products.  I don’t think they did it for journalistic reasons, but still, the business is in such bad shape, I’ll take my good news where I can find it.  These “magazines” are a stain on the name of this profession.

Alter-reviews:

When I was getting all excited about the quiet, dignified greatness of Merle Haggard last week, I missed an opportunity to mention three new DVD’s from New West’s Live From Austin series, taken from perfectly recorded and reproduced “Austin City Limits” tapings.  One is the Hag, from October 30, 1985, backed by the Strangers.  Then there’s Mr. Cash, from January 3, 1977 with a duet with June, doing a mostly greatest hits set, and then there’s Waylon Jennings from April 1, 1989.  He is nowhere near as great as Johnny or Merle but he hardly sucks.  And while you’re checking them out here, look into the rest of the series for precious performances by Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson, Robert Earl Keen, the Flatlanders, Susan Tedeschi (Mrs. Derek Trucks), and our friend Steve Earle.  I don’t know who this Eric Johnson fellow is.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Brad
Hometown:  Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
You have got to love Congress in an election year.  Or at least love to hate them.  Apparently we have entered stage two of the slow-motion implosion of the vaunted Republican juggernaut (the Dubai port deal was stage one). Enter congressional "debate" regarding immigration, or more pointedly, illegal aliens (or "undocumented workers," if you prefer).  It's actually rather humorous (in a sick, morbid way) to watch these "conservative" congressmen (and women) trample each other in the ridiculous effort to get out in front on this issue in a disingenuous attempt to pander to the Latino voting bloc.  The long knives have been out for some time now, and blood is starting to flow in the once-unified Republican ranks.  It amazes me to no end how some myopic politicians will so readily alienate large sections of their bases to court a few extra votes.  The disconnect between the poll numbers on this issue and the debate in Congress is startling.  Apparently, this is one of the incredibly few issues in D.C. that is relatively poll-proof.  Unfortunately, the illegal immigration issue has become a vile confluence of corporate election dollars and partisan power-brokering.  Title 8, Chapter 12 of the United States Code, and any modification or enforcement thereof, has become (for the time being) the central battleground for the ongoing political struggle between left and right and the perpetual defense of the almighty incumbency.  It will be interesting to see which side is the first to successfully subvert the desire of the vast majority of Americans (not to mention an entire body of federal laws) in order to cater to their corporate financiers and some possible future voters.  Or just maybe, the debate will shine a light on the real and far-reaching effects (good and bad) of illegal immigration on our country.  In any event, the conservative talking heads that pushed so hard for national debate on this issue may rue the day they got their wish. That loud cracking sound may be the Republican party fracturing over an issue central to their red-state base.

Name:  Jim
Hometown:  Colorado
With all due respect to Matthew Shirley, could he give an example of someone treating "all" U.S. soldiers as "bloodthirsty war criminals"?  Is he under the impression that it is Democrats who are nickel-and-diming soldiers and vets on pay and benefits?  The president is a master at the warm personal gesture?  Which funeral has he attended?  Scrunching up his little face for a photo-up with people whose opinions are pre-screened by Karl Rove doesn't strike me as "masterful".  And what I am most surprised to see missing from his list of dislikes is civilian commanders who base decisions on politics and elections, civilian leaders who bully military brass into going along with their detached from reality statements (see Pace, Peter and Shinseki, Eric); and most of all, civilian leaders who allow active duty combat soldiers to believe in false premises for their mission, or is the "left leaning Lt Cmdr" untroubled by polls showing that nearly ninety per cent of those in combat in Iraq believe they are there in response to Saddam's involvement in 9/11?

Name: Jeff
Hometown: San Diego, California
This is in response to Lieutenant Commander Shirley's post.  I would like to make two points.  First, I understand the Lieutenant's frustration with people who do not know what they are talking about.  Almost anyone with a technical or specialized career has encountered the problem.  As a tax attorney, I know first hand what it is like to confront ignorance, as do my friends who are doctors, accountants, and current or former career military personnel.  I tend not to deal with the people who willfully embrace their ignorance and continue to form opinions based on their lack of knowledge.  Other people, while maybe not possessing all of the information, are interested in learning and, therefore, are much more comfortable to deal with, even if their opinions differ from mine.  The key is identifying those who are amenable to fact-based argument and those who are not.  I focus my energy on the former and try not to waste it on the latter. 

The second point has to do with my perception, as a civilian, of military service members.  I live in San Diego and am surrounded by the military and its people.  I used to place military service members on the proverbial pedestal because, unlike my job, they put themselves in harm's way and, therefore, their contribution to society is more honorable than mine.  After living here for ten years and meeting many military personnel, I have changed my views and here is why: I know a former Navy fighter pilot who will not talk to me about the military or politics because he does not respect the opinion of a civilian (he specifically said so), although he will talk with me about golf, sports and weather.  My uncle, a former Coast Guard sailor, does not believe I can fully understand the world and how it works because I never served my country.  I know Marines that served in the last and current Iraq wars who truly believe Iraqis are subhuman and that we should just "glass" the entire region.  I watch other Marines beat the living snot out of people for no good reason.  However, I also know the Major Bobs of the service.  I know shy Army medics, an outgoing, talented Navy Master Chief musician, and many others.  One of my best friends, a retired Navy Chief, spent thirty years under water on a submarine and is probably one of the most kind hearted, thoughtful persons I have ever met.  Funny thing is, I also know people who have never stepped foot on a military base who possess the same characteristics of those military members described above.  The point, as Lieutenant Shirley indicated, is that we are all just regular people, regardless of what we do for a living.  Accordingly, I view the military as I do the office of the Presidency.  I respect it as an institution that is vital to our democracy, but those who serve it need to earn my respect and honor just like everyone else.

Name: Barbara Klingbeil
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I just want to go on record commending Thomas Heiden for his extremely well-written letter.  His rational and logical argument detailing the intellectual bankruptcy of the "religious right" was a joy to read.  It struck just the right chord regarding why there seemed to be such a lack of basic understanding between the two viewpoints of how a "republic" or "democratic" style of government should work, versus the "theocracy" the religious right seems determined to put in place.  The Declaration begins "We, the people," not "We, the Christians" and must include all people, not just the ones who may share a narrow, moralistic view of the world.  Keep up the good work, I love to read your blog everyday and my day seems incomplete if I don't get to it.  Thanks!

Name: John
Hometown: Los Angeles
Amen, Thomas Heiden of Stratford, CT!!  It's nice to know that there are others out there who aren't falling for the re-crafting of the image of our Founding Fathers as pious Christians who wanted to form a religious Union.  It's sad how often we hear this from the religious right and how people just swallow it and neglect the FACT that preventing such a Theocracy was one of the biggest aims for those visionary men.  Also, in regards to the Woodsman, couldn't agree more.  How did the academy ignore this amazing performance (and Mos Def's too) and yet give the highest honor to that sappy after-school-special called "Crash"??

Name: Pat Healy
Hometown: Vallejo, CA
To Sal - Welcome to the club.  Your DeadHead Decoder Ring is in the mail.  My favorite quotes related to "getting" the Dead: 1) an old Zen koan - Those who know don't tell; Those who tell don't know. 2) Jerry - "Deadheads are kinda like people who like licorice.  Not everybody likes licorice, but people who like licorice, *really* like licorice!"

Name: Melinda Bates
Hometown: Rosarito, Baja Norte, Mexico
Dear Dr. Alterman,
Your Dead review reminded me of their visit to the White House during the Clinton years.  The VP's office had asked me to arrange it "unofficially" so it would not show up on his schedule.  We arranged for them to "run into" each other in the House.  Mr. Gore is a HUGE Dead Head from his time in Viet Nam.  The band arrived and I went to greet them and introduce their Secret Service escort.  I myself had been more of a Stones and Poco fan, and didn't want to say I loved the music.  So when we were chatting with Jerry Garcia, I said "I love your ties," which he seemed to appreciate.  The USSS officer then said "And I love your ice cream."  Jerry laughed and said, "Great! Of course you know I had nothing to do with it, but I can say that the day it came out was the happiest day in my lawyer's life."  Thanks for reminding me of a wonderful time.  I have left Washington and am trying to leave politics as I head off to Baja, Mexico to write my book about all these interesting White House encounters.  I suspect people there are not all that interested in politics and policy, so thank God I can turn to you 5 days a week to keep informed.

Name: Bill Woods
Hometown: Chester, New Jersey
Hey Doc:
Now that Sal gets it, I would recommend he catch Ratdog at the Beacon in April.  Not the Dead, Not Jerry for sure, but an energetic and fresh interpretation of the music.  Next best thing to being there, I guess.  As you know, there is no recording that exists that truly captured what happened in the moment when the beast took over the band.  You just had to be there once to understand what it was all about...

Name: SteveG
Hometown: Cedar Rapids Iowa
In further re: Springsteen/Neil Young. Whatever their merits or your preference (I'd hate to have to choose), you shoulda been at the Vote for Change concert in St Paul, Minn, October 2004.  Surprise guest "Canadian for Kerry" Young (and his black Les Paul) joins Bruce and the E Streeters make like Crazy Horse on "Souls of the Departed" and "All Along the Watchtower." Young returns for an encore that includes "Rockin' in the Free World" and "What's So Funny About Peace Love, etc."  PLUS John Fogerty.  PLUS REM. A 5 hr 30 min show.

March 28, 2006 | 12:56 PM ET | Permalink

A government gone mad?

When future historians look back at America’s reaction to the attacks of 9/11 and see that our leadership decided to ignore the many, many, vulnerabilities of our homeland to devastating attacks that could easily kill millions while at the same time, going off on a foolish and counterproductive tangent to remake a nation that had nothing whatever to do with the attack, thereby ignoring a real threat and creating a new one where none existed before, I do think they will study us as an example of a government gone mad.  (And I am not factoring in the pulling of agents and troops charged with tracking down the man who actually pulled off the attack in order to apply them to Iraq, which was also evidence of a dangerous and delusional obsession.)  Anyway, take a look at this Times story by Eric Lipton.  Here are some highlights, that follow on Jonathan Chait’s thoughts to which we linked yesterday: 

Undercover Congressional investigators successfully smuggled into the United States enough radioactive material to make two dirty bombs, even after it set off alarms on radiation detectors installed at border checkpoints, a new report says.

This is the umpteenth gazillionth warning we have had that we are ignoring our vulnerabilities.  (With Katrina, God weighed in too.)  I write about this till I am proverbially blue in the face, most recently here.  When the next preventable attack comes, no doubt those responsible for this criminal negligence will blame the liberals…

And hey,  look:  Michael Schwartz takes the glut of 3rd-anniversary-of-war media consensus assessments of what the Bush administration did wrong in Iraq -- not sending in enough troops, dismantling the Iraqi army -- and shows why they miss the real picture.  Among the behind-the-scenes stories of Iraqi life that could be found on the political Web but rarely in the mainstream media were the draconian privatization plans the Bush administration imposed on Iraq after Baghdad fell.  And yet, Schwartz argues, if you don't understand what these plans did to the daily economic lives of most Iraqis, as our regular news just about never does, there is simply no way fully to grasp the origins of the present Iraqi insurrection or the dismal failure of the Bush administration in that country.

Meanwhile, the administration has enlisted Howard Kurtz in its campaign to try to blame its failure in Iraq on the courageous journalists who are risking their lives, daily, to cover it.  In his column he asks, if the media has "declared war on the war,” and wonders, “well, no wonder people back home think things are falling apart because we get this steady drumbeat of negativity from the correspondents there.”

Here’s some news for you, sir, from your colleagues in Iraq.  Hope it doesn’t upset your morning:

Every day, journalists in Iraq face a gut-wrenching decision:  Do they venture out in pursuit of stories despite great danger or remain under self-imposed house arrest, working the phones and depending on Iraqi stringers to act as surrogates?  A constant feeling of vulnerability heightens their angst.  They know once they leave heavily guarded hotels or walled compounds they could end up in the hands of masked gunmen, pleading for their lives in a grainy video posted on the Internet.  Or be within striking distance of an improvised explosive device (IED), a major killer in Iraq.
Here.

And here is some more:

LOGAN: “Well, who says things aren't falling apart in Iraq? I mean, what you didn't see on your screens this week was all the unidentified bodies that have been turning up, all the allegations here of militias that are really controlling the security forces.

What about all the American soldiers that died this week that you didn't see on our screens? ...You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on?  Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked about, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack. 

Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage.  And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked. 

I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country... So how it is that security issues should not then dominate the media coverage coming out of here?

That was back in September.  Since then, it's only gotten worse -- much worse.  The NYT's Jeffrey Gettleman had two articles in yesterday's paper about his return to Baghdad, one called "Iraq Violence Turns Inward" and another, more horrifying piece, "Bound, Blindfolded and Dead: The Face of Revenge in Baghdad" (both of which unwittingly answer Laura Ingraham's deceptive, uninformed call for reporters "to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies").  It's too bad that the Iraqis with whom Gettleman speaks bring horrific stories of brutal gangland-style slayings on the streets of Baghdad.

And finally, a bit more here: 

Visiting any of the news bureaus gives an immediate sense of how embattled foreign journalists now are and how difficult it has become for them to do their jobs. Everyone I spoke to complained that the deteriorating security situation has increasingly made them prisoners of their bureaus.

"We could go almost anywhere in Iraq in a regular car, unprotected," wrote the Wall Street Journal correspondent Farnaz Fassihi this February, in a wistful front-page story for her paper about the situation she found when she first arrived in 2003. "I wore Western clothes—pants and T-shirts, skirts, sandals—walked freely around Baghdad chatting with shopkeepers and having lunch or dinner with people I met." By the spring of 2004, she writes,

the insurgency had been spreading and gaining strength faster than we had imagined possible. For the first time, I hired armed guards and began traveling in a fully armored car. Outings were measured and limited and road trips were few and far between.... As security deteriorated around the country, the areas in which we could safely operate shrank.
...

The bitter truth is that doing any kind of work outside these American fortified zones has become so dangerous for foreigners as to be virtually suicidal. More and more journalists find themselves hunkered down inside whatever bubbles of refuge they have managed to create in order to insulate themselves from the lawlessness outside. (A January USAID "annex" to bid applications for government contracts warns how "the absence of state control and an effective police force" has allowed "criminal elements within Iraqi society [to] have almost free rein.")

In the meantime, this is not a bad question:  “Where, indeed, are the bodies?”  Of course we need Tom Tomorrow to put this surrealist horror show into perspective.

Josh Bolten Quote of the Day section, (thanks to Todd Gitlin):

[From an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, 10/9/03]

1. On raising tax on the wealthiest Americans to pay to rebuild Iraq:

(Bolten) "I don't expect that. I can't imagine a situation in which the right thing to do to meet our needs in Iraq is to undermine the US economy."

2. "The purpose of the Iraq supplemental is not principally to make the Iraqi people more comfortable and make their lives better, although that is an important by-product. The purpose of the Iraq supplemental, both the security side and the reconstruction side is a national security purpose. That is to make that country secure and stable enough so that the situation there is not threatening to the United States."

[From Business Week, 12/3/01]

3. "Bolten operates with two guiding principles: absolute loyalty to the boss and absolutely no attention to himself. Indeed, his penchant for secrecy befits the son of a career CIA officer."

[From Chris Suellentrop, Slate, 11/6/01]

4. "During the 2000 campaign, Bolten was Bush's policy director, and during the Florida recount he was a top lieutenant to James Baker."

[ Brad DeLong, 8/4/04]

5. "[I]t was very disappointing to me to see the New York Times's coverage of the midsession review when it was issued begin with:

New York Times: The White House projected on Friday that the budget deficit would reach $445 billion in this fiscal year. That would make it by far the largest shortfall ever in the dollar amount, though it would be well below the record for a deficit as a percentage of the gross domestic product and well below the amount forecast six months ago. Joshua B. Bolten, President Bush's budget director, presented the new forecast as good news, saying "the improved budget outlook is the direct result of the strong economic growth the president's tax relief has fueled."

But Democrats said the revised forecast for the 2004 fiscal year, still almost 20 percent higher than the record $375 billion deficit in the previous year, showed just how much the government's fiscal health had deteriorated under Mr. Bush. "They're claiming improvement?" said Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee. "That is utterly preposterous."

In the 2001 fiscal year, the last time the budget was prepared by the Clinton administration, there was a surplus of $127 billion. Soon after Mr. Bush took office in January 2001, his staff projected a 2004 surplus of $262 billion. In early February, the White House predicted that the deficit in this fiscal year would be $521 billion. The lower number announced on Friday in what is called the mid-session review resulted from larger tax receipts than had been expected. Mr. Bolten said that was a consequence of "the broad-based and sustained economic recovery."...

Note what the New York Times doesn't say. It doesn't say that "the improvement in the forecast was due to a highballed overestimate of the deficit made in the previous forecast of six months ago"; it doesn't say that "Mr. Bolten's statement made no sense because the effects of George W. Bush's tax policies on growth were already included in the forecast made six months ago and cannot be responsible for the change in the forecast"; it doesn't say that "economic growth since January 2004 has been no faster than was forecast back then, so Mr. Bolten is incorrect to say that higher tax receipts than forecast are the result of faster growth"; it doesn't say that "Mr. Bolten's spurious claims of 'improvement' were simply the latest in what budget expert Stan Collender has called 'a consistent pattern of questionable projections and forecasts.'"

What the Times article does do is to turn the story into a match of dueling quotes, of "he said--he said" with the author providing insufficient clues for a reader not intimately familiar with the budget and its forecasts to figure out who is telling the story straight and who is spouting partisan garbage.

And so game and set to Josh Bolten. Bolten has accomplished his mission: he has gotten his meme that the deficit outlook is improving because of George W. Bush's policies out into the stream of public discourse about the budget. And the New York Times has cooperated with him: it has printed Bolten's statements, and done so without surrounding them with the appropriate context to allow readers to make an informed judgment of their veracity."

Tough, hard-hitting reporting from “ The Note:”

— But [Card] will also be missed because he is without question one of the most beloved people to ever run a White House, thought of by his staff as one of the most selfless, kind-hearted and hard-working people in politics and government.

— There is sincere hope that Josh Bolten, equally respected and admired by his colleagues, will help the team get back some of the mojo they need to turn around this ship of state.

What Bush told Card, According to Petey:  "Bush to Card:  shuffle along, deal with you later..."

And speaking of straight-talking  “mavericks,” John McCain will be speaking at Liberty University; you know, the place run by that fellow who (together with Pat Robertson) said we got what we deserved on 9/11, and distributed videos accusing President Clinton of committing murder.  EJ has something to say here.

Billy Joel Quote of the Day section: "Under no circumstances would I ever have anyone fired for having breasts that were too large."  — The Piano Man hisself, responding to accusations from a dancer in a production of his hit Broadway show Movin' Out that she was fired because of her ample bosom.

Eric Alterman, Intrepid Reporter:  I ran into Janeane G at a screening of the first episode of Showtime’s “Huff” at the Museum of Television and Radio last night (which was oddly populated by cast-members of “The Sopranos,” as well as the terrific Huff, and the terrific “Spamalot,” but not the terrific “Sleeper Cell,” nor the terrific “Weeds.”  One of those Friends guys was there too, unshaven and with a baseball hat so like, he wouldn’t be recognized, right?  While we’re on the topic, have I mentioned how great Showtime has gotten recently?  And if you get a chance, tune into Kevin Bacon’s amazing and unsettling performance in “The Woodsman,” which I saw on Showtime over the weekend.  I think it clearly deserved the Oscar, even over Hoffman’s great Capote.)  But anyway, back to my reporting.  Janeane says no, showing off her tattoos on last week’s West Wing was not her idea, but her director's, even though it was entirely out of character. Thank God that’s settled.

Alter reviews by Sal: The Grateful Dead - Dick's Picks 36 (Philly, 9/21/72), four CDs, here.

“This is a difficult review. I have never been a Dead fan.  And I like Dead fans even less than I like the band.  I mean, I never understood having to "wait" for the moment.  12 minutes of lazy noodling, waiting for that 2 minute peak, was not my idea of good music.  (Please save your hate mail.)

OK, that said, I finally get it.  It's taken many years, but I get it.  I won't go into why.  You all know already.  Not "why I get it," but "why you get it."  Get it?

I will say this, 'DICK'S PICKS 36, 9/21/72" really knocked me out.  And here's what did it for me.  I've always loved Jerry's guitar playing.  (see "Dick's Picks 8- Harpur College- acoustic set. Damn. That's some fine bluegrass.)  And his vocals have always been heartbreaking.  But as a drummer--I've played drums since I was 3---I couldn't get past the laziness of the rhythm section.  Not to mention, Bob Weir's horrendous, almost-always-offkey caterwauling.  (Not quite as bad as Donna, but what is?)  All of that is missing from this set.  (Except for Donna's caterwauling- did you know that she sang back-up on "Suspicious Minds' by Elvis?)

It doesn't click from the opening number "Promised Land."  They ease into it.  (There's that "waiting" again.)  But once they hit "China Cat Sunflower," the rhythm section is, dare I say it, funky.

By the time we hit "Cumberland Blues," a highlight of the aforementioned Harpur College set, the band is on fire.  Jerry's playing is flawless, and Phil's playing is inspired.  It actually kicks ass!

Now you may be thinking, "Who the hell is this guy and what the hell does he know?"  Well, I guess I'd be thinking the same thing if I just read my opening paragraph.  But I've been listening to the Dead so much over the last few months, I've lost many friends, and my wife has been giving me the occasional "hairy eyeball" when catching me play air guitar (very quietly on the couch) to "BIODTL."  (see: even got the abbreviations down) I'd also like to mention that a few of my close friends and relatives, who are Deadheads, have given me the proper tutelage, and passed me with flying colors.

I know I've missed a lot of Dead since 1966.  And while I've been lucky enough to see Led Zeppelin twice, Frank Sinatra's "Main Event" at Madison Square Garden in 1974, and even Cher's band "Black Rose" with her then husband Les Dudek, open for Hall & Oates at Central Park in 1980, I have never seen the Dead live.  I have had countless opportunities, but always resisted. After listening to DP 36, I now regret it.

Sal
NYCD

Correspondence corner:

Name: John Farmer
Comments:
Dreams of empire die hard apparently.  You said that today is L.A. Times Day, so I thought I'd mention Monday's Niall Ferguson op-ed, "America, right and wrong: The neocons were mistaken on Iraq.  But that doesn't mean the naysayers on the left were correct."  ( Link is here.)  Ferguson does a fair job of describing errors of the neocons -- there were many, and I wouldn't think it would be hard to fill a column with them.  But he goes on to claim that his reasons "do not lead me to conclude that the left was correct all along."  Well, I'm not the expert at revisionist history that Ferguson is, but I wasn't born yesterday, and I'd have to say that if the question is whether we should have gone to war against Iraq in 2003, and the neocons were wrong for supporting the war, then ipso facto those on the left who opposed the war were right.  It really is that simple, and I find it fascinating that people on the right who are finally beginning to admit they were wrong cannot yet admit that people on the left were correct.

Name: Peter Alaimo
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
As a Catholic, Neuhaus and Hittinger frighten, but do not surprise, me.  We have endured almost 3 decades now of reactionary, theocratic oriented faith-fascism in the Catholic Church.  Their foul tide which swamped the work of John XXIII and Vatican II has yet to crest.  Internationally it has made common cause with Islam to destroy the emancipation of women and sexual minorities, and in this country it has aligned itself with the most ignorant and fundamentalist branches of Christianity.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT
Eric,
I started reading "The End of Democracy", got through the introduction and began Bork's contribution, but found it difficult to read further.  The intellectual bankruptcy (I struggle for a better description) is predictable and simple, but nonetheless appalling. What is incorrect in all of it comes down to two simple points. Since the Judicial branch cannot write or pass laws, its ability to be "tyrannous" is never going to be great; when it is at its most "active" and strikes down a law, the rest of government is free to try again, ad infinitum.  In the meantime, things revert to the status quo ante - a very "conservative" approach indeed.  Second, no matter how religious conservatives feel, and more importantly, no matter how great a majority they might become, they are not entitled to impose their religion's morality on the rest of us. The founders explicitly intended a secular government in which the "secular morality", if you will, of Reason is to prevail.  In other words, the government must in each instance make a reasoned case that its actions will do more good for the citizenry than harm. Personal feeling or religious faith are supposed to be irrelevant to consideration of policy, and calls for either of them to supersede rational consideration in politics are tantamount to treason (at the risk of using a word so cheapened by the likes of Coulter et.al). Even with rational majority rule, there are certain rights that NO MAJORITY, however large or insistent or belligerent or bullying or obnoxious or ignorant or militant or self-righteous or well-funded (or even well-intended), can take away. The religious conservatives simply cannot answer the charge that they are seeking to illegally impose their morality on all of us, so they do not. They pretend that the Founders were Benthamites - they were NOT, and they warned repeatedly about the "tyranny of the majority". They pretend that because many of the founders were Christians (or at least deists), that proves that we should be governed exclusively by laws that reflect Christian morality. They pretend that they can put their idea of God's will, God's law, above the law of the land - that they can render both what is Caesar's and the Lord's unto the Lord, if you will.  Any such call is arguably a call to treason, and arguably a betrayal of their faith as well. The courts ARE functioning properly when they refuse to allow the Jim Crow south to continue to keep African-Americans second-class citizens; when they say, not that men and women are identical (Bork's propagandistic assertion), but that they are to be identical before the law; when they say that government has no role in matters of private conscience unless the public "weal" can be rationally held to be sufficiently hurt - we do not allow human sacrifice in religion, for example. All of the authors share that basic refusal to acknowledge the bedrock of what the founders and framers sought - a secular, humanist government that would leave behind the tedious slaughter and oppression which is the legacy of government by Faith. The current Afghan case of the man who converted from Islam to Christianity perfectly illustrates all of this.  By no means can Afghanistan, or any other nation, hold itself to be "democratic" when it claims a role in what is a matter of private conscience, as Madison put it.  No matter how great the Muslim majority, the State cannot by definition both impose Muslim morality and be legitimate republican government.  America seems at times frighteningly confused about all of this, when it is in fact both simple and readily shown in the historical record. Witness the distress of our citizenry at the thought that Iraq, after all our sacrifice of blood and treasure, might turn into a nation governed by the Sharia and by Shia clergy. This, BY DEFINITION would not be a democracy or republican government, no matter how many purple fingers there are. Does anyone know what it would take to get people to understand this?  I do not know about "No Child Left Behind", but the simple and direct ideas underlying this nation's founding have apparently been left behind by our education system.

Name: Larry Matasar
Hometown: Portland, OR
Your sports-fan readers should know more about George Mason University.  I haven't done a comprehensive study (that's why they pay you the big bucks), but you might start here:  "The heavy stream of money invested in George Mason University offers a striking example of the attention that conservative foundations have paid to the recruitment and training of college youth.  Located just outside the Washington, D.C. beltway and offering good access to national decision makers, George Mason University has been a magnet for right-wing money for over a decade." from here.

Name: Eric Ritter
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Re: Bruce Springsteen & Neil Young Mind if I add a corollary? Huey Lewis is Bruce Springsteen for retarded people.  (From an article by Katy St. Clair at the SF Weekly.) It's a great article, actually, and not as mean-spirited as you might think. Huey Lewis comes off as a gent, although I'm sure his manager wasn't entirely happy about the article.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Mr. Alterman,
What do MAJ Bob, our favorite right-leaning Command Master Chief, the retired Master Sergeant from yesterday, and yours truly-an opinionated left-leaning Lieutenant Commander-have in common?  We're all trying to express discontent with the lack of understanding about people in the Armed Services and what we do.  Please indulge me a few lines from Kipling's poem "Tommy":

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy how's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints:
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

( Full poem)

What we'd like is some recognition that we are regular people, just like the readers of this blog, but we do unusual and sometimes dangerous things, and that commentators should put a little effort into learning about them and us before they go spouting off. This is not necessarily a right or a left wing perspective.

Let me give you some examples of things that piss us off.

  • Characterizing all of us a blood-thirsty war criminals based on the actions of a few.
  • Trying to kick recruiters off of campus over "don't ask; don't tell." (Trust me, even left-leaning service members-those who would be fine going to war with openly gay or lesbian comrades-find attempted recruiting bans irritating and counter-productive.)
  • Spouting off about operations based on complete ignorance and/or speculation about what is going on.
  • Blowing off ground rules about the security of on-going operations or simply the safety of reporters in a combat zone.
  • Turning the funeral of one of our fallen comrade into a platform for one's own views about the war (or other kooky items on a personal, political agenda).
  • Nickel and diming veterans and retirees on what we understood our benefits would be.
  • Expressing feigned interest in our issues (personal or matters of national security), while simultaneously demonstrating complete cluelessness about them.
  • Offering to shower us with lavish perks and benefits, unrelated to any coherent policy, as if we were mercenaries.
  • Deconstructing patriotism and devotion to duty.
  • Chickenhawks.

Let me give you some examples of things we like.

  • Imbedded reporters who share risks and hardships, and get to know the common soldier/marine/airman/sailor/coast guardsman.
  • Leaders who do the right thing when no one is looking.
  • Following through on promises.
  • A warm, personal gesture to the wounded or the families of the fallen (and let's give credit, Pres. Reagan and the current President are masters at this).
  • Reporters who devote time and study to learn the jargon and the issues, ask intelligent questions and write thoughtful pieces.

In short, we like acknowledgement of what we do, and we can take legitimate criticism. We don't care for ignorant ass-kissing or vilification. Some of your readers may be tempted to loose a fusillade about one of my points and how ignorant and stupid I am about . They've done this to MAJ Bob and others. I wish that before they get all wrapped up in the argument that they could try to understand, we're not trying to say we are right and they are wrong. Our point is that this is how it looks to us, and we're trying bridge the gap in our experiences a bit. Lecturing back at us may make you feel good, but you won't learn a thing you didn't already know.
—Matthew Shirley LCDR, JAGC, USN

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: 
The Big Picture
Hey Doc,

Compare and Contrast: Millionaires versus 18 - 40 Demographic

We've run numerous stories discussing the decline of the middle class in the U.S. Historically, the middle class as we have come to know it was primarily a post-war phenomena.  As of late, the group seems to be under increasing pressure, in what Dan Gross calls the "Cram Down decade."

Is it possible that this expansive, home-owning, SUV-driving, plasma-screen watching, internet surfing, day trading, kitchen-renovating, debt laden, cell phone chatting, iPod listening, credit card spending, consumer oriented group was merely a post-war aberration?

I sure as hell hope not, but if that is the case, a lot of economic infrastructure -- think of each market sector referenced above  -- is entering a potentially challenging period.

An interesting side note about this is that it is not a uniquely American phenomena: In Great Britain, a similar cram down effect seems to be at play:

An official government study into Britain's personal finances reveals a lost generation of 18- to 40-year-olds unable to cope with debts and soaring house prices, with alarmingly low levels of savings and little hope of building a decent pension.

The study, by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and Bristol University, published today, is the biggest of its kind undertaken in Britain. It paints a picture of a generational divide fuelled by higher education costs and the collapse of company pension schemes - with 42% of adults now with no pension and 70% with no meaningful savings.

Around one-quarter of adults aged 20 to 39 have fallen into financial difficulties over the past five years, compared with 5% of over 60-year-olds, said the report.

What makes this study so fascinating is that this is less a matter of "class warfare" then it is a generational one. The UK study discovered that "24% of young adults are currently overdrawn, compared to 11% of over-50s and just 4% of over 60s."

It's not a function of thrift or industriousness, but rather, it's due to "rapidly changing economic and social trends presenting young adults with greater challenges than their parents. Even after lower incomes and limited experience are taken into account those in the 18 to 40 age group are less financially capable than their elders."

In the United States, we see a similar phenomena. Younger people are saving less, and graduating college with more debt. The job market remains difficult, although the silver lining is that the entrepreneurially talented have options today that did not exist 20 years ago.

At the same time, the number of "American households with a net worth of $1 million or more, excluding their principal residence, grew to a record 8.9 million last year," according to an article in today's NYT:

The number of millionaire families rose to 7.1 million in 1999, said Jeanette Luhr, a TNS manager who directed the survey, and then, after the Internet bubble burst, dropped steadily to 5.5 million by 2002. The ranks of millionaire households rose to 6.2 million in 2003 and 8.2 million in 2004, she said.

More than one in seven of the households were in just 13 of the nation's 3,140 counties, TNS said.

In most large counties, about one household in 12, or about 8.5 percent, was worth $1 million or more, Ms. Luhr said. An exception was Nassau County on Long Island, where millionaire families were more than twice as common, at 17.5 percent of all households.

The households had an average net worth, excluding principal residence, of nearly $2.2 million, of which more than $1.4 million was in liquid, or investable, assets. The survey counted some tax-deferred retirement savings but did not include individual retirement accounts in the liquid assets.

There's another discussion about how the rich themselves are stratifying: There's the merely rich, and the uber rich -- but that's an entirely different issue. Meanwhile, some of the details about the US millionaires are pretty surprising and fascinating:

The survey found that 29 percent of the millionaire households did not own stocks or bonds and 32 percent did not own mutual funds. One in four had a second mortgage on a home. Half of the heads of millionaire households were 58 or older, Ms. Luhr said, and 45 percent were retired.

Just 18.7 percent of the millionaires own — or owned before they retired — part of a business or professional practice, an indication that high-wage earners who save and invest are the dominate group, at least among those on the lower rungs of the millionaire class.

195 counties had at least 10,000 millionaires and that slightly more than a third of all counties had at least 1,000 millionaires.

Two groups seem to be bearing the brunt of economic change: the middle class, and those who have entered into the work force over the past 20 years place.

Whether this is a temporary phenomenon or a full blown secular change will have a significant impact  -- on society, on the economy, and on the markets...

Sources:
Study reveals financial crisis of the 18-40s
Patrick Collinson
The Guardian, Tuesday March 28, 2006

New Rise in Number of Millionaire Families
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON
NYT, March 28, 2006

March 27, 2006 | 12:13 PM ET | Permalink

Don’t read me, read these people

Damon Linker on Father Neuhaus, here. (free if you register):

All of the participants in the First Things symposium--it was called "The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics"--permitted themselves radical rhetoric.  Robert H. Bork denounced the nation's "judicial oligarchy" for spreading "moral chaos" throughout the land.  The Catholic theologian Russell Hittinger asserted that the country now lived "under an altered constitutional regime" whose laws were "unworthy of loyalty."  Charles W. Colson maintained that America may have reached the point where "the only political action believers can take is some kind of direct, extra-political confrontation" with the "judicially controlled regime."  And in a contribution titled "The Tyrant State," Robert P. George asserted that "the courts ... have imposed upon the nation immoral policies that pro-life Americans cannot, in conscience, accept."

But it was Neuhaus himself who did more than anyone else to push the tone of the symposium beyond the limits of responsible discourse. In the unsigned editorial with which he introduced the special issue of the magazine, Neuhaus adopted the revolutionary language of the Declaration of Independence to lament the judiciary's "long train of abuses and usurpations" and to warn darkly about "the prospect--some might say the present reality--of despotism" in America. In Neuhaus's view, what was happening in the United States could only be described as "the displacement of a constitutional order by a regime that does not have, will not obtain, and cannot command the consent of the people." Hence the stark and radical options confronting the country, ranging "from noncompliance to resistance to civil disobedience to morally justified revolution."

That is the America toward which Richard John Neuhaus wishes to lead us--an America in which eschatological panic is deliberately channeled into public life, in which moral and theological absolutists demonize the country's political institutions and make nonnegotiable public demands under the threat of sacralized revolutionary violence, in which citizens flee from the inner obligations of freedom and long to subordinate themselves to ecclesiastical authority, and in which traditionalist Christianity thoroughly dominates the nation's public life. All of which should serve as a potent reminder--as if, in an age marked by the bloody rise of theologically inspired politics in the Islamic world, we needed a reminder--that the strict separation of politics and religion is a rare, precious, and fragile achievement, one of America's most sublime achievements, and we should do everything in our power to preserve it.  It is a large part of what makes America worth living in.

And when you’re done with that, read:

  • Paul Berman on Francis Fukuyama, here.

  • Paul Berman on Paul Berman, and George Packer, et al, here.

  • Francis Fukuyama on Francis Fukuyama, here.

  • Garry Wills on Taylor Branch, here.

  • All the other Taylor Branch books reviewed here, including Elizabeth Hardwick from 1968.  (An aside: The greatness of Branch’s achievement is weirdly parallel to the greatness of Robert Caro’s achievement.  Danny Goldberg and I were discussing this the other day at lunch and he pointed out that in both cases; the first volume felt like one of the greatest achievements ever in the field of narrative history until the third volume hit, which was even greater.  In both cases, volume II is a big disappointment and can probably be skipped, though I’m not recommending that.)

The great Jonathan Chait is Michael Kinsley with more energy, but not quite the same level of brilliance, as if that were possible.  Anyway, this administration is guilty of so many things, it’s impossible to keep track.  One of the least covered of these, however is its criminal negligence regarding homeland security, something Chait first pointed out in the most important TNR cover story I’ve ever read.  (That’s in a good way, Betsy McCaughey’s and Charles Murray’s were among the most important, in a bad way…)

Russell Jacoby on Eric Lott, here.

Molly Ivins on Newspaper suicide, here.

The Times report on how Colin Powell and company were used by Bush and Cheney merely to try to fool the rest of us, here. (Seems like a mea-culpa for its underplaying of the Downing Street memo, no?)

You know, the difference between the greatness of Bruce Springsteen and that of Neil Young as someone once explained to me back in college:  Bruce makes you think you, too, can be as great as he is; Neil makes you think he is really no better than you are to begin with.  Remember that.

It’s apparently L.A. Times Day: Sweet piece here.

What if Stephen Hayes and Laurie Mylroie had a baby; then maybe Saddam and Osama would really be best friends.

Refs worked:  Here’s Media Matters' wrap-up on Washington Post Journalistic ethics when it comes to sucking up to Right-wingers.  (And hey, great work, guys.)

  • WashingtonPost.com executive editor James Brady denounces progressive readers who "insult" Post employees, but hires employees who insult progressive readers.

  • The Post hired a Republican operative to write a blog, equating that partisan political activist with its own reporters.

  • The Post's media critic repeatedly downplayed and distorted progressive criticism of the newspaper in order to dismiss it.

  • Post national political reporter/columnist distorted progressive criticism in order to dismiss it, while insulting readers.

  • The Post's ombudsman feels free to comment on WashingtonPost.com bloggers who she thinks are liberal, but deflects questions about a Republican operative hired to write for the website.

Now, throw in a few more things worth remembering about the Post:

And more.

How to be a bad mother.

OK so Atrios was on “The West Wing” last night, that’s nice.  I was in row AA—that’s the front row--seat 105—that’s the center seat in the front row--of the final of 14 nights of the Allmans at the Beacon.  Who wins?  (Clue: They played “Afro-Blue” with Ravi Coltrane…)  Thanks Shelley.

Two things about West Wing:

Alter-reviews:  The Derek Trucks Band, “Songlines”

This guy is just scary-talented.  While Warren Haynes makes funny faces when he solos, young Mr. Trucks just stands up there, expressionless, and plays the most thrilling guitar in the world this side of Mr. Clapton, (with whom he is touring this summer).  This is his first album of new studio material in four years and it’s an almost impossible amalgam of Allmansy-blues, Coltrane-ish jazz, some Otis, and a lot of this guy Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, from Pakistan. I’m not sure how I feel about the singer, Mike Mattison.  He doesn’t suck, by any means, but I’m not sure he’s sufficiently distinctive to hold up to Trucks’ magnificent—and completely distinctive—fretwork.  Anyway, check him out.  You can start with “Songlines” here or you can start earlier.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: MSGT FP, USARMY ret
Hometown: Seattle, WA
It's like the sun rising every morning, The Prez passes laudets out to our noble service members for defending our way of life in Iraq.  But where is the Imperial Family?  No Bush twin is in any service defending this nation.  No other family member is either.  In fact no Bush has been near active combat since WW2.  If sacrifice is so damned good then where are the twins???  Do I smell hypocrisy or cowardice???  Please note I'm a Vietnam, Panama and Granada Veteran with 20+ years of service as a grunt.

Name: Steve McGady
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Regarding Stupid's discussion of the Bush tax cuts and Andrew Sullivan's ideas, it is worth noting that the Medicare expansion and retirement age changes (while worthwhile) would have no impact on the deficit, since they are technically paid for from a separate tax base.  I am waiting for an analysis of how big the economic expansion would have to be in order to break even again.  Secondly, when reporters in Iraq are facing the same dangers as our troops, why is it OK to lionize the troops but vilify the reporters?  Third, I am waiting for that State Dept. report about the crappy state of Iraq to get around.  But before everybody jumps on it like they want to, notice that the report is very careful to use the past tense.  Apologists will simply state that the violence cited was from last year and beyond.  Notice how effectively the apologists distract people from the fact checkers.

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
On Friday, Traven questioned how Israel is a national security concern for the U.S. by wondering how we would be effected if it disappeared.  This is hardly the test for vital alliance -- the U.S. arguably does not "need" any ally to survive.  It probably needs China more.  The most important U.S. allies share certain traits -- democratic governments, mutual non-democratic enemies, mutual support of numerous multinational and bilateral institutions and agreements, intelligence gathering and sharing, economic interdependence, military strategy, and shared mores and values.  Not all of these factors need be present (they rarely have been historically), nor does "ally" imply a constant mutual admiration society.  Allies frequently disagree, often about important matters.  So how has Israel been our vital ally?  Israel is a democratic state surrounded by 22 non-democratic countries, most of whom were once allied with the Soviets (against whom Israel provided invaluable intelligence), and many of whom currently have problems related to Islamic terrorism or other destabilizing despotic behavior (again).  Israel's economy produces more non-oil exports than the rest of the region combined, and is a major developer and exporter of cutting-edge technology to the U.S.  Israel and the U.S. are partners to numerous bilateral agreements, including a Free Trade Agreement and other economic development agreements, as well as various security, intelligence, and military agreements.  At the U.N., Israel has voted with the U.S. more than any other nation and the majority of U.S. aid to Israel is spent in the United States (at a much higher percentage than any other recipient country).  The U.S. and Israel share moral disgust for historical and current forms of anti-Semitism, and share an interest in preventing anti-Semitism from having practical consequences both in Middle East politics and around the world.  The Unites States is also home to the largest population of Jews outside Israel.  All of which may not make Israel the U.S.'s most important single ally, much less as important as a broad alliance such as NATO.  But any suggestion that Israel has not been a vital ally is to reinvent the word to exclude only Israel from the definition.  Unless, of course, you want to imagine a world without India, Australia, Canada.

Name: Ken Carlson
Hometown: Delmar, NY
Hey Doc.
As you suggested we do, I just skimmed over the transcript from Bush's Cleveland visit in search of a clear answer to the question of whether Iraq and terrorism are signs of the apocalypse.  Of course there's no clear answer, but if you're familiar with the code spoken by end-timers (which admittedly I'm not), you may pick up on a curious little aside about Israel.  Yes, Bush jumps into his stock reply on 9/11, etc. but note that when he talks about Iran, he uses that to segue into the Iranian threat to Israel.  Recall that the apocalyptic types are strong supporters of Israel in part because they believe that Israel plays some sort of role in the Second Coming (a quick search online yielded this article, which does a good job of explaining these beliefs).  So, Bush can't directly answer that question without coming across like an irrational fundamentalist to most Americans, so he answers it with a coded reference to Israel.  For similar use of code to speak to Bush's right-wing, fundamentalist base, see this story in Slate on how Bush's reference to the Dred Scott decision, when talking about judges, was intended as a signal to fundamentalists that he was really talking about Roe v. Wade.  To most Americans who heard that ramble during the 2004 debate, it came across as incoherent and maybe just plain odd.  But to his base, they got the message loud and clear: Bush wants to overturn Roe v. Wade by appointing like-minded judges.  I wonder if Bush's mention of Israel -- and how Israel is our strong ally that we will defend -- in that non-answer answer in Cleveland was his way of similarly signaling to the end-timers that yes, Bush is with them, while of course on the surface really not saying so...

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