May 12, 2006 | 10:48 AM ET | Permalink

How low can he go?  Bush’s approval rating drops below 30 percent, according to the Terrorist-loving Commies at the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the Republican sex cop who authored Ken Starr’s final report on Clinton’s Lewinsky relationship after Starr cut and ran, has been charged with stalking an ex-girlfriend, a law enforcement official said, here.  Should we be surprised?  I dunno.  Ask Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett or Newt Gingrich.

I’ve got a new “Think Again” called “ Remember the Goss Era?” here.

And my “Liberal Media” column in The Nation is a tribute to Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, Rev. William Sloane Coffin, and John Kenneth Galbraith.  It’s called “Three Liberal Lives,” and it’s here.  I really like this “emancipation of belief” notion of Galbraith’s.  I think it might be the single most useful definition of liberalism I’ve ever heard.  (And I would have liked to include Jane Jacobs in the column, but it’s nearly impossible to say anything useful about four lives in a thousand words or so, and she didn’t really fit the insider/outsider model.)

Oppose the (Idiotic) Blacklisting of Israeli Academics, here.

Colbert wins and wins again.

Gitlin and his critics, here.

“The Steins” are here but the Times barely notices...

And in IPF Friday today, MJ Rosenberg discusses the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis in terms of the upcoming House vote on the Lantos/Ros-Lehtinen bill that will pretty much eliminate all aid to the Palestinian people, regardless of whether they support Hamas or oppose it.  The administration opposes the bill, arguing that it needs "flexibility" to provide aid to President Mahmoud Abbas.  The Israeli foreign minister says that efforts, like that of the Quartet, to send aid via Abu Mazen is "okay" with Israel.  So why is the House pushing ahead with its effort to starve Palestinian kids?

Rosenberg says that House staffers have told him that the Democratic leadership in the House is telling Members that it is important that fewer Democrats than Republicans oppose the bill in order that Rahm Emanuel's fundraising efforts for the DCCC do not suffer.  So there it is:  the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis played out in real time.  And who is calling the shots?  AIPAC, which, as Rosenberg points out, represents the views of only a small minority of American Jews (not to mention Israelis).  It’s here.

Interesting that the Dow collapses on the same day that the Bush administration and the Republican Senate are looting the treasury on their behalf.

Police State Update (Lifted from the Benton Foundation)

BUSH DENIES SPYING INFRINGING ON AMERICANS' PRIVACY
[SOURCE: Reuters, AUTHOR: Matt Spetalnick and Andy Sullivan]
President George W. Bush denied on Thursday the government was "trolling through" Americans' personal lives, despite a report that a domestic spy agency was collecting phone records of tens of millions of citizens. Defending his administration's espionage program, Bush said intelligence activities he had authorized were lawful and the government was not eavesdropping on domestic phone calls without court approval.  But Democrats and Republicans alike demanded an explanation after USA Today reported the National Security Agency was secretly amassing phone records from phone companies to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist plots.  Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who was nominated by President Bush on Monday as director of the CIA, headed the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and would have overseen the call-tracking program.

CONGRESS 'FLYING BLIND' ON NSA ISSUE, SOME SAY (requires registration)
[SOURCE:  Los Angeles Times, AUTHOR: Ronald Brownstein and Maura Reynolds]
Since the first revelations about the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance, the struggle over information about the program has been as contentious as the debate over the wiretapping itself. For months, Democrats in Congress have accused the White House of stonewalling questions about the program and have charged that Republicans have failed to press hard enough for answers. Some GOP senators joined in the complaints that Congress had been left too much in the dark. Those disputes appeared to be waning this spring. But they were reignited Thursday with the report in USA Today that the NSA has secretly collected the phone call records of millions of Americans. That report instantly renewed calls from lawmakers in both parties for the administration to answer questions about the range of surveillance activities it has undertaken since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.  "We're really flying blind on the subject, and that's not a good way to approach … the constitutional issues involving privacy," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). The debate over whether enough members of Congress know enough about the surveillance seems likely to spill into the confirmation hearings for Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the former NSA director whom President Bush has nominated to run the CIA. But the rekindled argument also is likely to complicate the push from Sen Specter and other Republicans for legislation providing explicit legal authority for the NSA warrantless surveillance. The new disclosure about the scope of surveillance has hardened Democrats' conviction that Congress knows too little about the NSA's program to set rules for it.

  • Lawmakers Call for Hearings
  • New NSA Revelations Highlight Need for Congressional Oversight
    [SOURCE: Center for Democracy and Technology]
    Today's revelation that the National Security Agency has been secretly compiling the telephone and Internet records of millions of innocent Americans sends the clearest signal yet that Congress must demand details on the full extent of the administration's domestic spying program. A story in today's USA Today details how the NSA, working with major phone providers, has created a massive database that tracks the phone communications of ordinary Americans.  CDT believes that the program described in the article is illegal.

More on NSA Surveillance:

EVER-EXPANDING SECRET (requires registration)
[SOURCE: New York Times, AUTHOR: Editorial Staff]
[Commentary] Ever since its secret domestic wiretapping program was exposed, the Bush administration has depicted it as a narrow examination of calls made by and to suspected terrorists.  But its refusal to provide any details about the extent of the spying has raised doubts. Now there is more reason than ever to be worried — and angry -- about how wide the government's web has been reaching. What we have here is a clandestine surveillance program of enormous size, which is being operated by members of the administration who are subject to no limits or scrutiny beyond what they deem to impose on one another. If the White House had gotten its way, the program would have run secretly until the war on terror ended -- that is, forever. Congress must stop pretending that it has no serious responsibilities for monitoring the situation. The Senate should call back Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and ask him -- this time, under oath -- about the scope of the program. This time, lawmakers should not roll over when Mr. Gonzales declines to provide answers. The confirmation hearings of Michael Hayden, President Bush's nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, are also a natural forum for a serious, thorough and pointed review of exactly what has been going on. Most of all, Congress should pass legislation that removes any doubt that this kind of warrantless spying on ordinary Americans is illegal. If the administration finds the current procedures for getting court approval of wiretaps too restrictive, this would be the time to make any needed adjustments. President Bush began his defense of the NSA program yesterday by invoking, as he often does, Sept. 11. The attacks that day firmed the nation's resolve to protect itself against its enemies, but they did not give the president the limitless power he now claims to intrude on the private communications of the American people.

  • An Easy Call: Lying (requires registration)
    At least now we know that the Bush administration's name for spying on Americans without first seeking court approval -- the "terrorist surveillance program" -- isn't an exercise in Orwellian doublespeak after all. It's just a bald-faced lie.
  • The General and the Telephone Companies
    Reed Hundt writes: "No one should imagine that what NSA has done, if reports are accurate, is normal behavior or standard procedure in the interaction between a private communications network and the government. In an authoritarian country without a bill of rights and with state ownership of the communications network, such eavesdropping by people and computers is assumed to exist. But in the United States it is assumed not to occur, except under very carefully defined circumstances that, according to reports, were not present as NSA allegedly arm-twisted telephone companies into compliance."

IS ANY PHONE CALL OFF-LIMITS?
[SOURCE:  Los Angeles Times, AUTHOR: Editorial Staff]
[Commentary] Gen Michael Hayden, President Bush's nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, may want to call off his charm offensive with members of Congress. The Air Force general isn't likely to make much headway after the revelation that the National Security Agency, which he used to head, not only eavesdropped on telephone conversations and e-mail messages of Americans suspected of ties with foreign terrorists, it also induced telephone companies to turn over the records of billions -- that's with a "b" -- of domestic calls. Even under the Patriot Act, there are judicially supervised rules on how investigators may use technology -- known as "pen registers" and "trap and trace" -- that monitor telephone traffic without actually listening in on conversations. So the legality of this program is debatable at best. Congress, which has shown no backbone for challenging the previously revealed NSA program, must press the administration to explain and try to justify this much more pervasive operation. By now no one in (or out of) Congress should have any faith in the administration's assurances about either its actions or its intentions under this program. As another president once observed: Trust, but verify. Congress needs to fill in the blanks.

Finally...  Bruce tickets for Boston's Tweeter Center goes on sale Friday at 10 a.m., and New York's Madison Square Garden on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Slacker Friday

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to ask Dubya to stop killing me.  For several decades I’ve commuted by bus to downtown Chicago.  In the past three or four years I’ve noticed a sharp increase in the number of buses where exhaust gets inside the cabin through the back (as it was once explained to me, that’s where a protective plate comes lose).  Usually I can tell even before
before I sit down: I can feel an unusual amount of heat and the engine noise is unusually loud.  Then, whenever the bus idles, you can smell it.

Don’t believe me?  Or don’t care about me (sniff!)?  Ok, how about your kids?  Yale University did a study of 75 school buses and found that 100% of the busses exceeded the state (Connecticut) limit for fine particulates.  The exhaust contains approximately 40 hazardous substances, predominantly benzene, a known carcinogen.  At times the concentration levels were ten times the state limit.  The same "shocking" results were found in California: kids in a single school bus were inhaling more pollution than the combined population in a surrounding urban area.

So what does Dubya have to do with this?  This is just one effect of his “starve the beast/budget deficits don’t matter” policy.  Only big government can effectively address public health issues.  The GOP traditionally favors lax environmental regulations, but now add the effect of budget deficits:  there’s no money for the federal or local governments to act even if they had a mind to.  Last month the Chicago Tribune reported on the decrepit condition of public school textbooks – where’s the money going to come from to buy high-tech buses?  The Chicago Transit Authority has been teetering on massive service cutbacks for the last years.  The EPA has a modest fund to address school bus exhaust by helping to fund replacement buses, but it’s woefully underfunded.  Meanwhile, we’re all sucking in the benzene.  Memo to Howard Dean: a corollary to “all politics is local” is “nothing is more local than your lungs.”

Name: Bob Bateman
Hometown:  Washington, D.C.
In response to Jim Garry, who brought up a point which I thought I addressed: Jim, General Shinseki was not fired.  Nor was LTG Riggs. Shinseki was, de facto, made a lame duck and gutted, and what happened to Riggs certainly appeared to many of us as retaliation, but these things are not the same as a "relief for cause."  Shinseki continued for more than a year, and Riggs was already outbound (only the demotion was a case of post-fact gob-smacking in the opinion of some).  While it can be argued, and would appear true, that both cases were examples of retribution for the comments these two generals made, they were not summary relief-of-command actions.

A relief comes in the middle of a command (or the beginning) period, when the actions of the UNIT that the officer is leading do not meet the expectations of the powers that be.  In other words, when your unit fails to accomplish the mission, or performs horribly in the mission, the leader is removed because ideally, in my profession, the leader is responsible for all that his unit does or fails to do.  The Navy does this, semi-regularly, anytime a ship runs aground.  But the commander of a ship is not an Admiral, he's the Navy equivalent of a Colonel (a "Captain" actually, but don't get me started on the strange Navy ranks).  So, for example, if you are commanding a division in some province in a hostile country, and your unit not only does not make the situation better, but makes it worse...logically (and historically) the commander of that division (a Major General) would be relieved.  This goes up the chain as well.

We have not, so far as I can discern, relieved a general officer of command for the failure of performance of his command, since the Second World War (when dozens and dozens were relieved).  Starting in Korea we have "nudged aside" a few, but none have been fired for the performance of their units.  By that standard, Lincoln would have fought out the entire Civil War with the generals he started with in 1861, instead of the ones who ultimately won the fight in 1865.  Follow?

Name: Mark McKee
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
Dr. E:
If you have you ever followed the Congressional record live, you know how they delete all the parts that they feel public would find objectionable and provide a nice, revised version for the actual historical record.  I keep meaning to see if someone has made a site that captures the true, unedited version.  I was shocked to discover yesterday, that CNN engages in the same practice.  Here's a quote from this article that was removed in less than an hour: "Bush visited with some waiting in a courtyard where Frank Sinatra's "Young At Heart" played on the loudspeakers, then he went indoors where people were looking over the laptops.  He walked around giving handshakes and hugs to those who rose for his entrance, and greeted a man who remained sitting in a wheelchair with, "You look mighty comfortable.""  Can, you tell me, Dr., if this has become common practice in the MSM?  It just seems like the White House has someone vetting articles for CNN.  Of course FOX does it, but CNN?  What gives?

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Re: "Nascar Nation"
I believe Joe B's theory on why Kerry lost the election (and Hillary can't win) is incredibly over-simplified, much like the vaunted "Nascar Nation" itself.  Kerry, for all of his faults, was honest (as much as any politician is) about his concerns regarding the country's direction and his plans for reversing that direction and he told the "Nascar Nation" the truth.  Unfortunately, the Nascar Nation cared more about having W over for a beer, than having a President who was being led around by his nose by his neo-conservative handlers.  Now the Nascar Nation is paying over $3 a gallon and they have only themselves to blame.  By Joe's logic, only a beer-swilling, flag-waving, "man of the people" can be President of the United States, and I must hope that this nation hasn't yet slipped that low.  I guess if Hillary wants to win, she needs to hang out in the pit, right?  I applaud Nascar fans for whatever it is they see in that sport (besides the horrific crashes), just as I applaud fans of the luge for whatever they see in that sport.  But a particular group of sports fans does NOT a "political demographic" make, and to assume it does, does a disservice to the fans of the sport as well as Americans everywhere.  Being patriotic is more than waving the stars and bars at a sporting event. It's about doing the work necessary to choose the best leader, no matter what party he comes from or whether he likes Nascar or not.

Name: Kevin
Hometown: White Plains, NY
With regard to Joe B's comment about the Democrats failure to get the Nascar vote, it seems to me that trying to get the Nascar vote is how we got in this mess in the first place.  There is nothing a Democrat can say to turn a Rush devotee...they hate us on principle.  His arguments are circular and nonsensical and any rational or coherent argument back is branded some catchy, idiotic insult back ("cut and run," "defeatist," "comfort to the enemy").  Any discussion of something America is doing wrong is considered an attack on the country.  They genuinely believe that Democrats hate America and there was nothing John Kerry could have said to overcome that.  That being said, the young voting turnout was deplorable and the minority turnout was also terrible.  How do the Republicans get the Evangelical's out in such great numbers?  They play to them.  Imagine if the Democrats actually talked about real ideas that made sense, or dare I say it, inspired some of these nonvoters (that being said, they seem to be getting the picture now talking about universal health care, but how about a better energy policy, a sensible drug policy, raise in minimum wage).  The youth and minorities should be the Democrats' bread and butter.  Instead we get I Cant Believe it's not Republican.

Name: Lynn F
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
After reading your two letters today about the unavailability of Living with War, I searched the Internets to see of Circuit City or Best Buy carried the CD online.  While Circuit City does sell it, I could not find the CD at BestBuy.com.  I thought only the service in their stores was terrible, but now I have to add their censorship policies to the list of poor business practices.

Name: RJ
Hometown: Cherry Hill, NJ
Dr. Alterman,
I was reading today's front page piece in the WSJ on Judge Luttig, a "former" Bush acolyte who decided to quit and head to the corporate world.  His rationale for quitting struck a familiar theme: "This is especially so, as I am sure you can understand, given that my daughter, Morgan, is rapidly approaching college age, and my son, John, is following not far behind."  Poor guy.  How much does he make?  Only $171,800!  If you recall Tom Ridge quit his gig at DHS for similar reasons :  "Ridge, 58, has explained to colleagues that he needs to earn money to comfortably put his two children, Tommy Jr. and Lesley, through college, officials said.  Both are now teenagers.  Ridge earns $175,700 a year as a Cabinet secretary."  I can understand especially since average household income (which is nowhere near $171,800) continues to fall, their favorite leader cut student loans by $12.7 billion and the Republican lobbyists cabal put the squeeze on student loan borrowers. Just how many more supremely qualified people are the Republicans going to lose to the corporate world because they can't afford to send their kids to school?  Sigh.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman,
The quoted excerpt from Samantha Power regarding Darfur is an incredible exercise in demonizing the United States (or at least the administration) while simultaneously playing the apologist for the rest of the world.  While noting that "the United States cannot stop this genocide without the help of others," she continues on to say that "the countries that have the troops, political pull, and legitimacy to enter Darfur to halt the violence seem largely indifferent."  If, as suggested, the U.S. capacity for moral leadership is indeed at its lowest point in history, is the rest of the world so morally bankrupt that no other country can fill the void?  How exactly is the inaction and indifference of the rest of the civilized world somehow excused by this point or the net result of American foreign policy?  The situation in Darfur is begging for UN attention.  Where is the leadership from Kofi Annan or France or Germany or England or any of the other enlightened countries that profess moral leadership (or any leadership, for that matter) above and beyond the United States?  The Darfur situation is not (and should not be) a political weapon to be used against the current administration.  Darfur is unfortunately yet another tragic example of the startling indifference of the rest of the globe and the remarkable ineffectiveness of the UN at dealing with tragic humanitarian situations, particularly on the African continent.  As one of the few countries who have spoken out on Darfur, this is not a reflection on the United States.  Rather, it is a shining example of how the United States truly is the leader of the world in virtually everything from human rights to liberties to economic freedoms, because in the absence of forceful leadership from our country, the remainder of the world sits idly by (presumably waiting for us).  It is not suspicion of Bush or his motives that has paralyzed these other countries, rather, as duly noted ,"scant domestic pressure."  As Ms. Power notes, "other countries don't seem very interested in civilian protection."  Is this notion somehow unique to America?  If not, where are our fellow compatriots in thought?  The Darfur situation provides yet another opportunity for the world to step up and show us belligerent and bellicose Americans what moral authority truly is about.  The continued silence on the part of the civilized world is telling and deafening.  The festering situation in Darfur has nothing to with Iraq or Bush's policies or the GWOT.  It is a sad testament to the failures of our multi-national institutions and the world's dependence on American leadership.

May 11, 2006 | 12:35 PM ET | Permalink

Samantha Power, a national treasure in my opinion, makes the point that among the many horrors visited upon us by the Iraq invasion is the impossibility of doing anything to save Darfur. “With U.S. military assets stretched to their breaking point, U.S. political capital dwindling, and U.S. capacity for moral leadership at its lowest point in history--the United States cannot stop this genocide without the help of others. And the countries that have the troops, political pull, and legitimacy to enter Darfur to halt the violence seem largely indifferent. They are under scant domestic pressure, and they are suspicious of Bush's motives for speaking out….Thanks to the war in Iraq, sending a sizable U.S. force to Darfur is not an option. Units in Iraq are already on their third tours, and the crumbling Afghan peace demands ever-more resources. Moreover, sending Americans into another Islamic country is unadvisable, given the ease with which jihadis could pour across Sudan's porous and expansive borders. Making Darfur a magnet for foreign fighters or yet another front in the global proxy war between the United States and Al Qaeda would just compound the refugees' woes.
The key to protecting Darfur is for the United States to mobilize a united front--including Russia, and China--to force Khartoum to allow the deployment of a far larger U.N. force. But U.S. conduct in combating terrorism has drastically reduced America's ability to make the moral case. And other countries don't seem very interested in civilian protection. In March, after Bush finally issued a public call for the African Union to be replaced by a U.N. successor force, African leaders felt they were being condescended to and revolted, deciding merely to extend the AU's mandate.” Eric Reeves, as always, has more here.

Ariel Sharon: Secret Peacenik (not)

I know anyone who thinks that the US media, particularly the New York Times reflects the Israeli point of view quite frequently is necessarily a commie and a terrorist sympathizer, but still, I found this sentence by Foreign Affairs editor Jonathan Tepperman to be curious in the extreme.
“Sharon's great final project — extricating Israel from the occupied territories — risks coming undone.”

Excuse me, but in what universe did someone named Ariel Sharon seek to “extricate” Israel from someplace called “occupied territories?” In this one, the Ariel Sharon who was the Prime Minister of Israel sought to keep the parts he wanted to keep, and leave the Palestinians with Bantustans that had no strategic value or masses of Israeli settlers occupying them.
It’s a significant difference between US media coverage of the conflict and that of every other nation in the world—including Israel—that the policy of expropriation and occupation receives far less attention here than anywhere else, but this goes beyond even that; it’s pure fantasy.

A 4,200 word obit and no mention of the historic achievement of Abe Rosenthal, the columnist? He was, I believe, the first man to achieve the hitherto unknown goal of quoting himself, quoting himself: “As I wrote back then, I…” In tribute, this achievement has since been replicated by Andrew Sullivan and others, with considerable frequency. But Rosenthal broke the barrier.

Speaking of whom, I know you are but what am I? “There was a silver lining in Bush's re-election: the unsentimental education of conservative triumphalists.” Here. (Can you believe this guy? He thinks he’s talking about someone else… )

Actually, it would be news if they weren't.

I’m actually feeling kinda sorry for Bush this moment. These right-wingers are a whiny, ungrateful bunch. After all, he’s declared war on science for God’s sake. What more do the want from the guy?

Alter-reviews: Stax Profiles

I don’t have the space to do justice to the history of Stax Records here, but it ranks among the highest order of musical innovation, ethnic expression, and just plain fun. The company was started in Memphis in 1957 by Jim Stewart. In 1961, its name was changed to Stax, to reflect the two initials of Stewart’s last name and that of his sister and co-owner, Estelle Axton. Stax was tougher and less polished than Motown, but I think its music has weathered the years better.
Again, I could roll out lots of superlatives and they would all be justified. It’s not just Otis Redding, but also Rufus and Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, the Staple Singers, Albert King, and Booker T. & the MGs (the house back-up band). The company had a tumultuous history, including a musically-rich but commercially disastrous alliance with Atlantic Records, which led to some of the greatest recordings of people like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett under the direction of Jerry Wexler. But we digress. The music remains magnificent and the new line of Stax Profiles (with more info here offers you in some cases an introduction—this is nowhere near enough Otis for any sensible person—and in some, perhaps most cases, a full course. None of ‘em suck though, so you can try ‘em all, one at a time.

Altercation Book Club:

Marshall Berman, On the Town : One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square (Random House)

Epilogue: Reuters and Me

I was standing in front of the Reuters building in June 2004 doing something I’ve done often through the past couple of years: sketching and taking notes on the people and the signs. As I noted the details of a LET THE NEW AGE BEGIN sign, I was disturbed by a man wearing a plastic vest marked SECURITY, a black man around 40 years old, who told me I was not allowed to stand in front of the building.
What? I saw three white men standing in front of the building, all large, middle-aged men in brown suits talking on cell phones. I asked, whether they, too, were forbidden to stand in front of the building? The guard shrugged and looked at me sadly: why was I making his job hard? I said I was writing a book on Times Square, and taking notes on what was there; where was I supposed to do it if not here, at the Square’s core? He clearly wasn’t prepared for encounters like this. First, he suggested “in the street.”
As we observed the midday traffic rush by, he seemed to abandon that idea. He pointed to what looked like a pillar used by construction men, and said I could stand against or behind it; I replied that there I wouldn’t be able to see the things whose presence I was trying to record. Again he shrugged: look, he had his orders; if I didn’t leave, I would be “forcibly removed.”

Now I was really mad. Did Reuters think it owned the street? It sounded like it did. Was I making too big a deal of this? Maybe it was just a slow day, and the guard, a lower-level employee, felt that in order to keep his job, he had to convince his superiors he could handle strangers like me—an old fat man with a beard, in a T-shirt and shorts, with a red notebook. Maybe it was the “Alice’s Restaurant” syndrome in action, where lots of crime-fighting capability meets little crime, and cops get itchy. Or maybe Michael Moore has changed the ball game, so that wherever security forces meet, Fat Men Spell Danger?

In any case, this guard wasn’t on routine patrol: he had come out of the building specifically to accost me; he had a cell phone attached to his belt, and he had clearly been talking to somebody. This situation oozed irony. On one hand, Reuters, the British news service, is probably the freest in the world, offering a picture of reality that is more incisive and generally accurate than any of its American competitors. (It carried an excellent series on the anti-GOP mass demonstration that took place just a few blocks away from this building, on August 29, 2004.)
On another hand, here it was acting just like the many despotic regimes it covers so well around the world, regimes to which the British feel so superior, regimes that deny that their people are a public and deny that their city streets are public space. New York City had offered immense tax breaks to Disney, to Virgin, to MTV, and at last to Reuters, in the context of what Lynn Sagalyn calls “a dramatic shift in values, from corporate business to popular culture.” But so much of our popular culture today is organized by media conglomerates, which are just as suspicious and hostile to people as steel conglomerates, liquor conglomerates, cereal conglomerates, auto conglomerates! Some of their products are thrilling and humanly liberating. The fact that they depend on our fantasies and dreams for their money has not done much to bring them and us humanly closer.

I felt terrible, and I still feel terrible, that I just let it be. What kind of citizen was I? I should have stayed on the spot in protest, forced a confrontation, got arrested—I wonder what would it have been for, for “loitering”? “disorderly conduct”? “disturbing the peace”? I might have had an unpleasant night, but I would have spoken up in court for the freedom of the city; my wife would have called people we know in the press, and some of them would have seen something alarming enough to print. But it was my son Danny’s tenth birthday. In fact, I was also in the Square that day to buy him gifts: an Eminem CD, an MTV Times Square T-shirt. His long-planned party was going to start in an hour uptown. There was no way on earth I could explain not being there to him: not yet. I moved on—the guard said, “Thanks”—and I got on the subway and headed back home. If I were a serious citizen, as I like to think I am, I would protest another day. The Reuters Building has a castlelike bulk and heft, so I could be sure there would be plenty of days.

What has made Times Square special for a century is that, to a remarkable extent, it really did belong to everybody. It enveloped the whole world in its spectacle of bright lights; it gave everybody a thrill; it was a trip where the whole world could cruise. The old spectacles are gone, but the people on the street look like they have the life and energy to create new ones—including big or small demonstrations (“TUPAC LIVES”) that things are wrong. But the people look great, the lights look great; so I let it be, until the day one of these global corporations touched me, and told me I wasn’t allowed to stand on the street on Forty-Second Street and Broadway.

Where did these guys get the idea that they own the street? How many more of the Square’s new corporate giants share this belief? And how did they get it? When Disney arrived on the deuce in the middle of the 1990s, some people said it was turning Times Square into one of its private theme parks. I and many other people said this was silly, because on the sidewalks of New York, unlike inside Disneyland (and all other theme parks), they didn’t control the space. But maybe somebody in city government gave the big boys a signal, or at least a hint, not to worry. Could it have been Rudolph Giuliani, who was so proud to be photographed signing the documents that brought them in? No, this sounds too conspiratorial. More likely, it was a misunderstanding. World-class conglomerates take it for granted that their plus-size bottom lines entitle them to control the space around them. When they signed in, nobody wanted to complicate the party by explaining that New York’s everyday life depends on the simple but complex practice of sharing space. Will our city government explain it now? Will it be posted on the zipper, or on the Morgan Stanley sign? I’d hate to wait for that post. Most likely, people who care about our streets and our spaces and our city will have to make signs and make noise and find ways to post it ourselves.

As I close, there are two big ideas to sign. The first big idea, which goes back to the start of the Enlightenment, is that the right to the city is a basic human right. The second, flowing from the first, is the right to be part of the city spectacle. This spectacle is as old, and as modern, as the city itself. Most forms of city spectacle are designed at once to give their spectators a thrill and to reduce them to docility. This was true for the Roman circuses lamented by the poet Juvenal in the first century and for the Nuremberg Rallies that typified the horrors of the twentieth. Must it happen here? Times Square, all through its “one hundred years of spectacle,” has always been a place that wakes people up and makes them feel alive, more alive than they are supposed to be. It presents the modern city at its most expansive and intense. It gives people ideas, new ideas about how to look and how to move, ideas about being free and being oneself and being with each other. I have been telling stories about how the Square has enticed and inspired all sorts of men and women to step out of line, to engage actively with the city, merge their subjectivity into it, and change the place as they change themselves. Sometimes this has crushed the self (Edward Hurstwood’s “I’ll quit this”), but sometimes it has brought joy and creative triumph (The Jazz Singer’s “my name in electric lights”). There are other stories I could have told, and still others I can’t tell; there are whole generations of stories waiting to be lived. If people want a chance to live them, they must get a foothold on the street. If they want to be here now, they can’t be made to move on. The squarest and soberest people who love Times Square today may have to do what those Marx Brothers of Rap, the Beastie Boys, told their MTV audience they would have to do in 1986: “You gotta fight for your right to party.” Whatever this fight consists of, it may be the only way we can translate the Enlightenment idea of “the right to the city” into twenty-first century Times Square.

More here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Joe B
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Comments:

Eric, In regards to "why, when the Democrats had such an easy case to make, and so obviously a more qualified, more honest, and more patriotic, and more eloquent a candidate, they still couldn't beat the guy." remark...Kerry lost because he could not capture the "Nascar Nation" vote. Plain and simple.
There is not a lot of logic to it, nor real debatable points that we could go back and forth on. But any presidential canidate that does not capture this vote will have a huge uphill battle in winning the White House. Having been to a few Nascar events now (I am not a fan btw...but company tickets are always cool), I can assure you that this demographic views themselves as highly "patriotic", they vote, and most importantly they talk politics...or at least some of them regurgitate Rush talking points. There is more stars and bars at a Nascar event than a political rally.
While Kerry on all points would have made an extraordinary President if he was elected, he did not have the 'straight talking' persona that resonates with people south of the Mason-Dixon line. Democrats ignore this at their own peril. One reason that Bill Clinton was so successful even in the midst of scandal was his ability to relate and communicate to "the common man". This is also the reason why his wife will never be president.

Name: Jim Garry
Hometown: Delmar, NY
Comments:

Eric, LTC Bob Bateman wrote: "Today it appears that no matter the results which a commander at any level may turn in, he will not be tossed out. Politically, and somewhat curiously, my peers and I are held in such a generically revered space that it is left exclusively to those who have worn our uniforms for a full career to be the sole voice of criticism." Hey, I like LTC Batemen as much as any Altercation reader. But he seems to have forgotten recent history on this one, such as several generals being "retired" for not toeing this administration's line, among them Shinseki and John Riggs.

Name Withheld
Hometown: Albuquerque NM
Comments:

Dr A: Just thought you'd like to know that Neil Young's album is not available at the local exchange (military BX) here. I had to buy it at the local CD store. I asked the manager and was told that the album wouldn't be carried. Apparently someone is afraid that we will get to hear what free speech is, even though they protect it. (I am an active duty AF officer and would prefer not to have my name used. Thanks)


Name: Marty
Hometown: Boulder
Comments:

Eric, I went out this afternoon to buy the new Neil Young album, LIVING WITH WAR. I thought you might be interested to know that the first two stores I visited, Target and Circuit City, did not have the album. Thinking that both stores might have been sold out of the copies they received yesterday, I asked at both stores if they had any left in stock. I was told at both stores that they did not receive the album.
Furthermore, workers at both stores told me that they do not expect to receive the album, as it is not on the release sheet listing new material being sent to the store. At first, I wondered if something delayed the album's release. After all, it is not uncommon for the release date of an album to be pushed back at the last minute. However, when I finally found (and bought) LIVING WITH WAR at Barnes & Nobles, I realized that the album had indeed, been released on schedule. I can't help but wonder if both Target and Circuit City have refused to stock LIVING WITH WAR due to the album's anti-war and anti-Bush message. I wonder if other people had trouble finding LIVING WITH WAR. If that is indeed the case, this is an outrageous example of corporate censorship!

May 10, 2006 | 12:25 PM ET | Permalink

So Bush is more unpopular than ever Well, that just means people are finally, finally, finally, beginning to understand what the man is up to. The big question for me, is why, when the Democrats had such an easy case to make, and so obviously a more qualified, more honest, and more patriotic, and more eloquent a candidate, they still couldn’t beat the guy. Buncha smart guys have been arguing about just that: Let the match begin:

In this corner, Tomasky arguing for the Common Good. In this corner, Judis arguing for the Common Bad.  In this corner, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira arguing for well, it’s complicated  In this corner Stephen Rose complicating the boy from West Virginine’s dreams. Now throw in the Third Way Argument, Tom Frank and Larry Bartels and Frank's response to Bartels,  and you really have the proverbial mud-flying. I’m writing a book on some of this stuff, so I’ll wait to have my say, but in the meantime, here is a terrific piece from the current issue of Dissent which I think has a lot to say and can’t be ignored by the above. It’s by Benjamin Ross and it’s called  “Democrats and Middle America: What's the Real Problem?”
Here’s the most important part:

“The electoral map of 2004, when George W. Bush ran as the invader and democratizer of Iraq, showed little change from 2000 when Bush opposed nation-building and called for a humble foreign policy. The shifts that arguably reflect foreign policy were few and scattered, and often might equally well be ascribed to other causes. John Kerry bettered Al Gore’s showing in the upper Midwest, where today’s mainstream Protestantism and the isolationist past might both be at work, and along the Quebec border, where the Republican jihad against all things French could not have played well among voters of French-Canadian heritage. A disproportionate shift of votes toward Bush along the mid-Atlantic coast from southwestern Connecticut to Delaware (an area that went heavily for Kerry) may reflect the absence of a Jewish candidate from the Democratic ticket as well as the direct impact of September 11 and the area’s historic internationalism.

"The Republican advantage on national security arose during the Vietnam War, and it persists to this day in the conceptual shadow of that war. Why did voters turn against antiwar Democrats? Surely it was not because they liked the Vietnam War. It was because they didn’t like the antiwar movement. In other words, it was culture.

"If voters like your position on the issues and dislike your cultural affinities, you win votes by making people focus on substance. You must tone down cultural appeals, identify issues that affect everyday lives, and sharpen differences over those issues until people pay attention. That’s why Hillary Clinton’s foray into foreign policy is so futile. Hawkish gestures remake her image about as much as Paris Hilton’s sojourn on an Arkansas farm makes her seem folksy. The intensely polarizing cultural dimension of Senator Clinton’s persona remains unchanged, sure to overshadow the substance of her platform and dominate voter attitudes toward her presidential candidacy.”

Here is the reference for yesterday’s big think quote of the day:

The Marketplace of Perceptions
Behavioral economics explains why we procrastinate, buy, borrow, and grab chocolate on the spur of the moment. by Craig Lambert  

How not to write here.
I don’t feel well. That’s all for today.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Dateline: Capitol Hill, Washington, DC

THE REVOLT OF THE GENERALS

In historical terms, the recent “Revolt of the Generals,” during which anywhere from six to nine recently retired Army and Marine Corps generals came out with very vocal criticisms of the Secretary of Defense, will likely be little more than a blip on the radar. Such things are usually short lived and forgotten by all but us military historians within a few years.
Already, a mere 57 years later, the 1949 “Revolt of the Admirals” and the concurrent open lobbying of Congress by the newly formed Air Force is almost completely forgotten, yet that era was far more contentious than is the recent “revolt” committed by recently retired Army and Marine Corps generals.
The “Revolt of the Admirals” ultimately saw the Secretary of the Navy resigning in protest, and the Chief of Naval Operations publicly relieved, for cause, by the SECDEF of the time, yet who remembers it today?
Similarly, the hue and cry raised by a series of general officers during the Eisenhower Presidency, during which the ground forces were effectively emasculated in favor of more economical nuclear weapons and systems, is also now forgotten. But there is, however, an aspect of the current situation which may bear watching. The problem, as I see it, is that my profession has become too powerful.
I am not talking about physical power here, nor am I concerned with the much-discussed “Military-Industrial Complex” which so many remind us that Eisenhower first noted (the irony being, of course, that it was very much a creation of Eisenhower’s defense plans throughout his Administration), and I am not even too worried about any direct threat to civil-military relations. Those who fear an upending of our centuries-long tradition of military subordination to civil authority, learned men among them, do us in uniform a great discredit. No, what concerns me is something more insidious. We have, unfortunately, become unassailable. I fear that this will, in turn, corrupt our military.  That cannot be good.
When I say “corrupt” I do not mean this in a simple or crass way.  That is mere human nature, immutable probably, and one which we actually do a fairly decent job of mitigating.  No, what I mean here is that through a gradual 25-year process of accretion it has become absolute political suicide for anyone involved with the levers of power, from either party, to criticize the military in general, and the generals in particular.
As a result of this process the Executive, the Congress, and even the Governors of the States are now effectively taken out of the loop. Only, it seems, a member (or a retired member) of the military may now criticize the military in any substantive way.  Thus, at the end of the line we are faced with a situation wherein we in my profession have been elevated to such a degree that there is no way to keep the quality of our generals – as measured by their demonstrated effectiveness at the head of their commands – at a consistently high level.
There are a host of political and social reasons for this state of affairs, most of them cogently elucidated upon by Professor Andrew Bacevich in his book The New American Militarism.  These include everything from the long-term effects of the homogenization of the self-selecting people serving in the all-volunteer military, to the post-Vietnam political lionization of “the troops” by one, and then both, political parties.  But this has gone on now for so long and at such volume that it is now de facto impossible for an elected official to criticize anything but criminal behavior on the part of our armed forces or the generals who lead us. To do otherwise is to effectively ensure that he will lose his next election.
Abraham Lincoln sacked five commanders of the Army of the Potomac. Think about this for a moment.  Five commanding generals of the largest and most important (it was guarding Washington, DC, for example) of the several Union Armies during the Civil War, were given their walking papers. How in the world could he do such a thing, especially in the case of one of the most beloved of the commanders, the “Little Napoleon,” General McClellan?
What gave Lincoln that political capital was, ironically, his opposition. Bi-partisan criticism flowing indirectly from the “Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War” made it possible for the President to relieve generals like McClellan, as well as others like Hooker and Burnsides, until he ultimately found one who could win. Similar support, coming from the top some 80 years later, permitted four-star General Eisenhower to relieve division, corps, and even army-level commanders during World War II.
Somewhere between then and now, we lost this ability. That frightens me.
Today it appears that no matter the results which a commander at any level may turn in, he will not be tossed out. Politically, and somewhat curiously, my peers and I are held in such a generically revered space that it is left exclusively to those who have worn our uniforms for a full career to be the sole voice of criticism.  Although this started eight weeks ago with a series of attacks against the SECDEF (about which I have no official opinion), I believe that perhaps this may start a very healthy process by which we cut our own selves down to size.
That is, unfortunately, a skill which we seem to be lacking within our ranks at the moment.

Capitol Hill Within Earshot
:

My fiancée and I leave for France on Friday.  We will be there for two weeks.  I expect that I may observe some interesting reactions when my profession, and recent assignments, inevitably come out during discussions over drinks with the locals.

You can write to LTC Bob at Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT
Comments:

Eric, The AP quotes Iranian leader Ahmadinejad as saying that Liberalism and Western-style democracy "have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity". This sounds like the kind of line John Stewart dreams of a guest feeding him, because the potential retorts are almost as delicious as they are endless (maybe you can have a wirte-in contest). Here are a few: "Oh I see - it's the mullahs, basiji, and medieval fundamentalism that will accomplish THAT." "You're right - the world was a much better place for the average person prior to 1776!" "Which 'ideals'?"
It would all be laughable were it not terrifying—we seem to be approaching a brink, and being led to it by a reckless, thersitical Shia apparatchik and a reckless, spoiled, "incurious", inadequate, stubborn frat boy. I honestly try not to think about it, because the prospects are just too frightening.
Are we SURE that this problem has to be dealt with? If we have swallowed North Korea and Pakistan having nuclear weapons, isn't it hard to justify going after Iran? Iran will never use such weapons first-hand, as it knows incineration awaits it about 17 mintues later. Will it sell an atomic weapon to a terrorist group? To gain what? The potential destruction of Israel? First, it would have good reason to expect the above-noted fate in that circumstance as well.
Second, the US and Israel are valuable as rallying points (as is the case with other oppressive Muslim regimes of the Middle East), as Iran's restive masses would quickly turn their attention to domestic political malfeasance if not kept sufficiently distracted. Third, North Korea needs the money more and would probably sell one more cheaply. Admittedly, none of this is completely reassuring in the face of a leader capable of making some of the incendiary remarks Ahmadinejad has made, nor is it certain the more inflammatory stuff is meant strictly for domestic consumption. Acknowledging the risks of doing nothing, they simply do not seem as great right now, or in the near-forseeable future, as the certain numerous disasters which will befall if we do attack Iran.
Lastly, I don't know how many readers caught this, but Secretary of State Rice told a reporter the administration already has all the congressional authorization it would need to attack Iran. Yes, she did say that. When I have thought about how to protest such a policy, I have realized we are likely to awake one morning to discover it has already happened.

Rob Stafford
San Diego
Comments:
Dr. A:

I think that Brad from Arlington’s assertion that Iran will need to give up its nuclear ambitions one way or another may be true.  It may also be pragmatic, but I must challenge a number of his assertions. I assume the Iranians are smart enough to know we (or Israel) might very well launch an air assault. I’m guessing that they assume that should that occur A) the Iranian leadership will probably survive, and B) such an attack will greatly strengthen their internal control and perhaps their international standing (among those countries they care about) as well.

1) The phrase “...last followed by the recently-deposed Saddam Hussein,” is IMHO, revisionist history at best.  I think we have both enough undisputed documentary evidence and just plain old nuts-and-bolts analysis to see clearly now that as much of a monster as Saddam was (and I don’t think anybody disputes that), the current adventure in Iraq is a war of choice and was the international version of Nelson telling Millhouse to ‘stop hitting yourself.’

2) I wonder Why Mr. El-Baradei deserves Brad’s disrespect.  Was it for being correct, for asserting that he was, or for being unwilling to knuckle under to our home grown chicken hawks?

3)  How to put this? The phrase, ‘ludicrous "hearts and minds" ‘ annoys. The FBI is monitoring 5,000 terrorist web sites, what percentage of the total do we think that represents?  Al Gore was right six years ago. The ‘War on Terror’ will not be won with either cruise missiles of M1A1 tanks. Anyone who thinks it will be is living in a fantasy world. It’s win their hearts and minds or endless war, world without end. It’s international policing (using police) or the genesis of one failed state after another, with the problem only being shifted from one region to another.  In both cases, I prefer attempting the former to accepting the latter.

4) We can further alienate the Muslim World. This statement of Brad’s is what is known in college Freshman Composition as a ‘sweeping’ or ‘hasty’ generalization. It is, by definition, a logical fallacy that a college freshman should be able to identify.

5) The comment about the energy ‘crisis’ also doesn’t sit well. I don’t consider the current price of gas a crises, but it is certainly a problem, and one that will be with us for years. If he is talking about the bigger picture, including the on-going threat to our national security caused by much of our energy being supplied by people who detest us, global warming, and a whole host of other factors—I’d call it a crisis, no quotation marks needed.

6) Lastly, again, as I teach my students, if you want to have a polite debate with someone, generally speaking, you keep the sarcasm dialed down at least enough that it isn’t detectable in print. Often people are more likely to listen to your ideas if they don’t feel you are belittling them or their opinions. I recognize I have probably violated that rule in my response.
Best,

Take a look at this headline: Republicans Set Aside Middle-Income Tax Cuts to Focus on Rich

I know it sounds like DNC press release, but it’s a news story—not an editorial—from Bloomberg News—not The Nation—Bloomberg News. I point this out because it helps explain why, for 40 years, right-wingers have sought to demonize honest, normative reporting as “liberal bias.” When Comrade Colbert notes that “the facts are liberally biased,” he is, for practical purposes, telling the truth. But you needn’t bother addressing it if you can call it “bias.” Anyway, see below what the Commies at Bloomberg have to report:

“Republican lawmakers, facing the prospect that their power to cut taxes may soon be curbed, plan to extend breaks that mostly benefit the wealthy and Wall Street at the expense of reductions for middle-income households.

"Six months before elections that may return a Democratic majority in at least one house of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois are focusing on extending the 15 percent rate on investments and repealing the estate tax. They won't push extensions of lower rates for all taxpayers and expanded breaks for married couples and families with children, which expire after 2010.

"In politics, timing is everything; you do what you can when you can, and this is what's queued up right now,'' says Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, the No. 4 Republican in the Senate. Given the federal budget deficit, it would ``be hard to generate public support overnight'' for making permanent the other tax cuts, he says….. Internal Revenue Service data show taxpayers who earned at least $1 million reaped 43 percent of all savings from reduced rates on dividends and capital gains. The estate tax will affect only 12,600 families with more than $2 million in assets this year, a number that will decline to 7,200 by 2009, according to a study by the Tax Policy Center.

"In contrast, households earning less than $75,000 received about 70 percent of the benefits from increasing the child credit and 64.4 percent of the benefit from creating the 10 percent bracket on the first $14,000 of taxable income, the Tax Policy Center says. In addition, it says 55.2 percent of the benefit from ending the so-called marriage penalty was received by families earning less than $100,000.

"…The Joint Committee on Taxation, a bipartisan congressional panel, estimates that renewing the investment tax breaks will cost the government $50 billion in revenue it otherwise would have received. Republican tax-cut advocates dispute this, saying that capital gains tax receipts have increased because investors have sold assets they would have kept when taxes were higher. Repealing the estate tax would cost the government as much as $78.8 billion a year by 2016, according to the committee….”

Man of the Hour. Comrade Tomasky. The piece is here. 

Maybe if we invaded 33 more countries, we could lower their birthrate survival statistics and so we would not have to endure the shame we have so richly earned. (Why does AP/MSNBC.com hate America?)

Here Historian Greg Grandin explores how the Pentagon, which has now largely superceded the State Department in handling the world, is responding to Latin America's open revolt against being a U.S. "backyard." Its strategists are creating a vision of a Latin "Wild West"; melding a variety of possible problems from drugs, arms trafficking, intellectual property piracy, and rebellion to money laundering and Islamic terrorism into a single dangerous doctrinal brew; driving "lilypad" military bases deep into the continent; and preparing a new generation of young Latin American military officers to "cooperate" in a Pentagon-driven future.
This is an eye-opening look into the underside of the present Latin American drive for regional independence—or, put another way, a description of how the Bush administration might mess up a second region of the world, as we are presently so intent on doing in the Middle East.

WFUV 50 essential songs here and here are Vin Scelsa’s.
But seriously, people, what is with this Jeff Buckley obsession?

Free the Blues says my buddy Marty Scorsese, for cursing.

Big-Think Thought of the Day: “Intertemporal Choice,” or “In the future, we want to eat fruit, to quit smoking, and to watch Bergman films.” (I can’t remember where I found this, nor who wrote it, but perhaps someone will tell me.)

“A national chain of hamburger restaurants takes its name from Wimpy, Popeye’s portly friend with a voracious appetite but small exchequer, who made famous the line, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Wimpy nicely exemplifies the problems of “intertemporal choice” that intrigue behavioral economists like David Laibson. “There’s a fundamental tension, in humans and other animals, between seizing available rewards in the present, and being patient for rewards in the future,” he says. “It’s radically important. People very robustly want instant gratification right now, and want to be patient in the future. If you ask people, ‘Which do you want right now, fruit or chocolate?’ they say, ‘Chocolate!’ But if you ask, ‘Which one a week from now?’ they will say, ‘Fruit.’ Now we want chocolate, cigarettes, and a trashy movie. In the future, we want to eat fruit, to quit smoking, and to watch Bergman films.”

I was going to leave Roger Friedman  alone, because he seems like a nice guy, and really, what do I care what appears in a gossip column, but I see at the end of this column he's flacking for Ann Coulter and so I feel compelled to point out that Pat Mitchell has not been head of PBS for quite a long time, and so is not "maybe the most important woman in broadcasting." (I believe she's the head of the Museum of Broadcasting), and that Paul Simon song, "Father and Daughter," which you say is a cinch for the Grammy for "Best Song at the 2007," came out five years ago.  
Still, it's a better average than O'Reilly's.

Alter-review/music history lesson: Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. The below is actually lifted from a press release, but it’s pretty straight-forward, and I do like the record, so I’m sharing:

"Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith was born in Helena, AR in 1936.  At the age of 17 he ventured to Chicago where he heard Muddy Waters for the first time. Willie was hooked on the blues and the attraction to the music persuaded him to stay in Chicago.

I"n 1954 Willie, playing harmonica, formed a trio with drummer Clifton James. The trio built a following in Chicago and gigged around the area for a few years.  During this same time, Willie played harp with several other artists including Bo Diddley, Arthur 'Big Boy' Spires and Johnny Shines. In 1957 Willie joined Little Hudson's Red Devil Trio and switched to playing drums. After gigs or between sets, Willie started sitting in on drums with Muddy Waters' band.  Muddy liked what he heard, and invited Willie to play drums on a 1959 recording session. Willie began to fill in for Muddy's drummer Francis Clay, and continued to play recording sessions with Muddy. In 1961, Willie replaced Clay in Muddy's band and played with Muddy till mid-1964. During this period, as he solidified his Chicago sound, Willie recorded with James Cotton, Jo Jo Williams and Muddy Waters on a tribute to blues vocalist Big Bill Broonzy.

"After performing with Muddy Waters, Smith established his own niche within the tradition of the Delta Blues Sound by co-founding the Legendary Blues Band with Pinetop Perkins, Louis Myers, Calvin Jones, and Jerry Portnoy. The group was nominated for several Grammy Awards, recorded four critically acclaimed albums on the Ichiban label, backed up Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf and Junior Wells, toured with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. They played behind Muddy for the soundtrack of the movie "The Last Waltz" and appeared in the movie "The Blues Brothers," where they played street musicians backing John Lee Hooker."

You can look into his new album, “Way Back” here.

Correspondence Corner:
Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Dateline: Capitol Hill, Washington, DC

Guilt II?
On Sunday morning I woke up, brewed my coffee, and logged on.  Faced with a minor deluge of e-mail which periodically accumulates when I am on the road, I read selectively in the first pass.  One of the first e-mails I opened was from my friend LTC Mike.  He is still in Iraq. Mike’s letter was succinct, one sentence updates on the others with whom we served.  Halfway through the letter was the following line.
“Don’t know if you remember General Hammandi, the tubby little Iraqi General who worked with Strickland on basing.  He was assassinated on the way to work the other day.  Just came back from his memorial service at the MOD.”

That is all there was.
Brigadier General Hammandi was, indeed, both “tubby” and “little.”  I would guess that he stood about five foot three and weighed in at around 225.  He looked for all the world like the Arabic version of one of Santa’s more joyously rotund elves. I never saw the man without a massive smile which stretched, almost literally, from ear to ear. Gray hair in a crew cut and the mandatory mustache could not conceal what appeared to be his fundamentally happy-face demeanor. Mostly he worked on innocuous topics, like finding space for barracks and coordinating things like sewage and water supplies for the new bases of the Iraqi Army.  I did not know him well. He generally worked with Lieutenant Colonel Strickland on those issues and they did not relate much to my work, but while his command of English was not exactly up to the standards of Oxford, it was a damned sight better than our Arabic.

I could not find a single line of text in the news about his assassination. I suppose that it may have merited a few lines in the Iraqi press, but like too many of his peers, Brigadier General Hammandi’s violent passing will likely become just one more stitch in a tragic tapestry.  I
guess I am still wondering what image that tapestry will display when it is finally complete.

England Within Earshot

I must apologize. Despite having been home now almost three months ago, I am still not sure if I am really ready to begin writing again.  It took me a little while to grasp this, and longer still to associate the effect with the probable cause.

I spent last week in the west of England.  Work took me there, but fortunately also brought me together with an officer with whom I served in Iraq.  Colonel Bryan, of the British Army, is an intellectual officer. After disposing of our business, we adjourned to his “local.”  Over pints we
waxed reminiscent. He left Iraq about five months before I did, so the discussion was wide ranging.  English pubs are optimized for such.

While in Iraq Colonel Bryan and I co-developed and wrote several things together, documents which were not trivial.  It is rare to find somebody with whom you can talk, rarer still to find somebody with whom you can collaborate within one culture, let alone across cultures.  Discovering that that person is, coincidentally, the person with whom you must work anyway,
is almost unheard of in any field.  But that was the case with Colonel Bryan.  Now that he has returned to England, in his “spare” time he is working towards completing his Ph.D. dissertation. One comment he made that evening, however, resonated particularly.

“The truth is, Bob, that I just don’t much feel like writing…it’s almost a chore, and it just doesn’t, I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like it matters.”

For the record, Colonel Bryan's dissertation topic does matter, and it is important.  He is studying leadership styles, cultures, and the interaction of the two so that we might have a better understanding of how to lead people in the 21st century. It is, or will be, relevant and useful, and will contribute to both his field of intellectual inquiry and the sum of human knowledge. He is addressing a topic which is and will remain important for his nation, and which could easily be applied across several cultures, so his assertion that, it doesn't feel like it matters is, on the face of it, illogical.
But I understand.

Name: John Reitzel
Hometown: Bloomington, IL
Comments:

Eric, Re: Brooks oped As a sociologist, I do concede that some differences in self-control can be explained by psychology, all else equal. Yet, I cannot ignore the structural differences. In this case, family disruption, poor neighborhoods, gangs, class/economics, poor schools vs. rich ones, etc... that are far better predictors of who develops better self-control skills or a better sense of what delayed gratification can achieve.
While Brook's piece was informative, of which he does acknowledge structural correlations, he still misses the point. The ecological setting in which children are reared drives a large part of the differentiation in self-control. How much can you expect of a kid to understand the meaning of delayed gratification when that kid lives in squalor, say in bed-sty or south chicago, whose father is nowhere to be found and whose mother works two jobs but is still poor, where gangs rule the neighborhood and drug dealers are the role-models (selling drugs can seduce seduce most in this position into forgoing any delayed gratification because of what it "promises")?
In other words, their future is hopeless in their eyes. Delayed gratification doesn't even make sense. Then, compare that to kids like my nieces and nephews, who live in a million dollar home in Purchase, New York, go to one of the best private schools, belong to a $13,000  per-year beach club, and want for little. They get tutoring when they need it, go to soccer and all these other activites etc... (my sister and I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Astoria). But, you get the point. Who is more likely to be able to delay gratificatiion? Brooks, nor psychology, can explain away these differences. And that's why Brooks is typically only 1/4 correct when he preaches his comical sociology.

Name: Brian Kresge
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Comments:
Dr. Alterman, You weren't kidding about Neil Young's new album. It's a masterpiece. The protest music has been out there, but it's hardly been as inspirational as Mr. Young. For those of us who can put a face to the name of a dead comrade(s), and we are Legion, "Roger and Out" could be an anthem. The whole album is a cry that encapsulates everything so many of us have felt since the March of 2003, perhaps even November of 2000. I have long envied my parents' generation for having CSN&Y and other potent musical responses to Vietnam. Bad Religion's "The Empire Strikes Back" stands out, but my parents (former hippie boomers) and I (Gen X) can enjoy the amazing Mr. Young together. G-d bless him. Thankyouthankyouthankyou for turning us on to this wonderful new album.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Comments:

Dr. Alterman, Welcome back! Tom Engelhardt had a very telling (and likely prescient) comment regarding Iran and its soon-to-be tragic miscalculation of world opinion and American power. He said, "Not, certainly, the Iranians, who are, if anything, too radically unimpressed with the preponderance of American power for their own good." From the rhetoric flowing from Tehran, the powers-that-be appear hell-bent on treading the path last followed by the recently-deposed Saddam Hussein.

Many commentators have noted the startling similarities between the two situations. However, there are significant differences as well. Namely, the preeminent (in some circles) Mr. El-Baradei believes that "the existing gaps in knowledge continue to be a matter of concern," and France, Germany and Britain are spearheading the effort at the UN.

Indeed, the Administration has somewhat shrewdly covered itself with the (admittedly thin) veneer of internationalism. Granted the facade would quickly disappear once the first shot was imminent (at least based on history) and America would again be at the forefront, albeit this time defending three fronts (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel) while treading the impossible line between decisive (or, at least, strategic) military victory and the ludicrous "hearts and minds" struggle. Which is to say nothing of the havoc to be wreaked in the oil market, and its resultant effects on the domestic (and world) economy.

In any event, diplomacy will eventually run its course and barring one side blinking, the next step will need to be determined. Many opposed to military intervention claim that Iran is years away from making a bomb, while others talk of further alienating the Muslim world (as if that were possible). However, much like the current energy "crisis," the lack of effectively dealing with a known, future problem only compounds the difficulties in finding a solution down the road. While I do not necessarily endorse the military option in this instance, difficult decisions lie ahead. Given its current leadership, a nuclear Iran should be unacceptable to reasoned peoples.
That Russia and China are Iran's two biggest supporters should also provide a modicum of insight. I, for one, would not permit Iran to go nuclear in order to protect the investments and oil interests of Russia and China. Israel certainly will not permit it under any circumstances. The multi-national institutions of the world are again being tested. Let's all hope they step up to the plate.

Name: Phil
Hometown: Washington, DC
Comments:

Is Nicholas Kristoff really America's worst "liberal" columnist? You provide ample evidence that Joe Klein deserves that title. I'd like to submit another nominee: Richard Cohen, the supposedly liberal columnist of the supposedly credible Washington Post. Cohen is infamous for dubbing the Valerie Plame fiasco a "crappy little scandal" and, more recently, his "it offended the president--horrors!" reaction to Stephen Colbert's performance. Really, the guy is atrocious.


Name: Kevin
Hometown: Bloomington, IN
Comments:

Interesting comments on John Mellencamp. The feeling here is that he's overlooked, but it's a hard thing to gauge because he lives here. I'm not sure what it's like in the more fabulous celebrity climes, but around these parts, he's a familiar sight. He shows up at the Jiffy treat. I've seen his wife at used clothing stores. Everyone has at least two "celeb sightings" involving Mellencamp. He donated over a million dollars to a local university he didn't even attend. Everybody knows where he lives, and probably where he used to live before that. Anyway, hope he gets his due soon. In addition to being a blue-collar rocker, he's a real person who doesn't seem to have let it all go to his head.

Name: Robyne F.
Hometown: Davis, CA
Comments:

Eric B. wrote, "I seriously doubt young music fans today have that sort of intimate relationship with FM radio and the joys of discovery." Wrong. We get that all the time on community/college radio. You merely need look for us. At KDVS in Davis, CA (yes, shameless self-promotion), we talk with the listeners, take requests, and encourage new music from artists who perform under the corporate radar. True, you might not get what you remember on commercial radio any more, but don't forget small community stations

May 8, 2006 | 11:24 AM ET | Permalink

Having been away for eight days, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.  There’s too much going on, almost all of it is bad, and I’m not even including Victor Zambrano’s arm.  I’m just to list a few things for the time being in the hopes of playing catch-up.  Thanks to my excellent guest Altercators, who are hereby invited back for the last week of June, when I have another trip planned.

1) 4,304 civilian deaths in the first three months of 2006. Did someone say “ Mission accomplished?

2) Why does Lt. General William Odom hate America?

3) Question:  What's the difference between the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and a future massive air assault on Iran?

Answer: When it comes to Iran, the nature of the catastrophe will be evident on day one.

4) This man said we got what we deserved on 9/11 and that the President of the United States was a drug-dealing murderer. So why is he the kind of person a) whose ass Republican politicians continue to kiss and b) whom the New York Times op-ed page believes is worthy of this kind of prestige and respect?

5) On the other hand, I thought TimeSelect proved to be so useful that you can’t afford not to subscribe, if you are not a subscriber to the paper on Sunday, because of:

a) Heroes of Darfur, here.  (Yes, Nick Kristof is America’s worst “liberal” columnist.  But he is its best foreign policy columnist. Go figure.)

b) Marshmallows and Public Policy, here.  (Yes, Brooks has forfeited all of the affection he earned before joining the Times op-ed page, but goddamit, this is the most useful op-ed I think I’ve ever read.  I never heard of this experiment but believe me, the kid is going to know it by heart.)

c) Too Soon? It's Too Late for 'United 93', here.  (Frank Rich is worth it all by himself.)

6) And then there’s Krugman who would be worth it even if Rich weren’t there.  (Maybe Charles Krauthammer should go back on “his lithium.”)

7) Is this headline missing a word? (I think I should thank Barry for that.)

8) See this? The chairman of the Republican Party was booed at an American Jewish Committee event over comments on Iraq, here:

Mehlman replied by acknowledging that Iraq was a “challenge,” but claimed it’s “less of a challenge than when Saddam Hussein was in power.”  The room filled with boos and hisses.

9)  “There was a time -- it's been decades now -- when politicians or pundits would call people "liberal intellectuals" and not mean it as an insult.”  Nice Galbraith piece by John Harris here.

10)  More on Joe Klein later in the week, but every time I read crap like his, I laugh about those who claim the left is lowering the level of public discourse.  Look at how John Podhoretz termed those with whom he happens to disagree on immigration:  “With their psychotically provocative behavior, these radical lunatics of the Left… [inspire the] Democratic Party's embrace of the most irresponsible and reckless liberal rhetoric on the subject of immigration ever heard in this country.”

I actually don’t have a position worked out on immigration.  It’s too complicated and I know too little about what might actually work.  But interesting that Poddy did not see fit to provide any examples of the alleged psychosis, lunacy, irresponsibility and recklessness.  What’s more, my guess is that Poddy is not so familiar with the country’s complete history of “rhetoric on the subject of immigration ever heard in this country” as he pretends.  Has he even read (much less written) a book like this?  Even crazier, by the way, is the fact that the smart boys at “The Note” quoted this nonsense as if it were somehow worthy of respectful notice… not unlike Mr. Falwell, methinks.  Anyway, it’s here.

11) One small comment Porter Goss and “Hookergate”:  Could liberals stop acting like there is something particularly shameful about prostitution.  There are far worse ways to make a living from a moral standpoint, and many widely respected people in our society do so.  (See above.)  Yes, I would wish to live in a society where no one had to earn a living in a fashion they did not wish to, and perhaps prostitution is one of the most unpleasant.  But shameful?  Not at all.  Calling Fox News reporters and the like “media whores” and “presstitutes” is unfair to whores and prostitutes… at least to the kind who ply their trade without illusion—which again, is more than can be said… see above.

12)  Hey look, I get the Commie Seal of Approval, here, despite my status as a “democrat and a liberal” who “definitely has his limitations…”  My mother will be so proud... (and it should keep Alex Cockburn off my ass for a while...)

13)  Speaking of which, it’s been so long that I heard a great protest song, I’d forgotten how great they could be.  Just to be clear, since Altercation is alternately about both politics and music (and a few other things), this is not a policy, but a musical recommendation, but I mean it just the same: LET’S IMPEACH THE PRESIDENT FOR LYING.  Jeralyn has the lyrics here.  The album will be available here (Want the chords?)  It’s Neil’s best album in decades.

Alter-reviews:

Rosanne Cash at St. Ann’s Warehouse; Steve Tyrell at The Blue Note.

Rosanne Cash:
Yeah, I’m the last guy to ask for a disinterested review of a concert by this woman.  But still.  She is getting more ambitious, both in her writing and her presentation, more comfortable with her audience, and her voice and self-confidence are deepening to the point where, believe it or not, when she’s singing about her dad, as she did many times on Thursday night, it doesn’t really matter who her dad was.  The show made use of a film that’s been made about Rosanne in which she muses on William Cash, a Scottish sailor who came to the United States in 1653 and the 100 songs her daddy told her she had better learn to play, including a few of his.  Just as she writes almost exclusively in metaphor, Rosanne herself is becoming a kind of metaphor—of a life fused through with art, loss, love and passion made whole in presentation that spares virtually nothing of herself and yet manages to pierce both the heart and the brain in equal measure.  Not even the drunk idiots kicking my chair and screaming indecipherable stupidities in my ear over the music managed to break the spell of this damn near magical performance.  I’ll happily plug the album, but you really should try to see her live, which I think will be possible this summer.  (And while we have Her attention, Rose, when are we going to get “Ode to Billy Joe” awwreaddy?  “Wouldn’t be Loverly” would also be most humbly appreciated.)

Lorraine Bracco and I saw Steve Tyrell at The Blue Note last night (separately) making it the second time I’ve seen a band with a Soprano cast member while the show was on.  (E Street Band, Kansas City, 1999, I think.)  Unless I missed it, Tyrell, who sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and Dr. John, but swings like Sinatra and Tony Bennett, didn’t play a single song from his new CD of Disney songs but played almost all of his Songs of Sinatra.  The evening was one of those wonderful throwbacks to the days of the thirties and forties when it was possible to pretend that real life was like this.  And as bonus, Mr. Tyrell, who is from Texas, did not say anything nice about George Bush, or introduce George Steinbrenner like he was a big deal, which put a major damper on the last two times I saw him—even though I am big on separating the singer and the song, sometimes it’s harder than others.

Anyway, Tyrell has been visited with the gift/burden of being given Bobby Short’s old November/December gig at the Café Carlyle.  Those are some damn big shoes, but in the meantime, it was nice to appreciate him in a jazzier setting.  He’s got a wonderful band and an absolutely unique voice.  His command of the material is also impossible to challenge.  The stage patter, however, is a bit too heavy on the wonderfulness of everyone he has ever met.  I mean Sinatra could sing, but he was a real SOB.  So, I imagine, were lots of the allegedly wonderful people Tyrell kept praising from the stage.  Remember, it’s the song, not the singer, at least when you’re the singer.  (I almost said “swinger,” which means I’m getting the disease and better stop now.)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT
Eric, I DO apologize to Mr. Rauchway for my insulting language (which only reflects on me, not on Mr. Rauchway) - I need to cool off before writing and clicking.  We will disagree about the perniciousness of global capitalism, but I am puzzled by (naive about?) one thing in particular: if more government regulation of commerce leads to business and government leaders "fixing things for THEIR benefit", and so does LESS government regulation (think K Street project), then there really is no hope.  It seems to me that capitalism is just like fire - carefully controlled and kept in its place, it is a blessing and can accomplish great things, but let it outside of such restraint and it is likely to consume all in its path.  The Mississippi/California analogy seems disingenuous to me.  The states of the union are a distinct political entity joined by a sort of a contract - the US Constitution.  The United States is supposed to be a somewhat collective and cooperative endeavor, and we have at times sealed and consecrated that commitment by shedding our collective blood for our collective good, pooling our resources for the same purpose, etc.  In short, we are a nation.  There is no such commitment or arrangement between any of the Latin American nations and the US.  I would love to see everyone everywhere have the standard of living I enjoy - I just don't see that this nation can provide that, or even the opportunity for that, to an open-ended number of people.  Again, we do not care for the citizens we already have, and even if that were to be dealt with by a re-allocation of resources (I suspect we'd agree that a greater sense of community and mutual obligation would at this point make us stronger than any number of weapons would), our national wealth is not infinite - indeed, as I tried to point out, it is shrinking.  In any case, we are probably discussing moot points.  The border cannot realistically be sealed, as I understand it, and we will continue to have illegal immigration without that.  We cannot safely give the government the power to round up and deport the millions already here illegally, and I cannot imagine employers really being subjected to a consistent and rigorous enforcement policy vis-à-vis their hiring of illegal aliens. Seems to me we are stuck with the status quo.

Name: Jeff Weed
Hometown: Denton, TX
Dr A.,
Eric B's concern about John Mellencamp being overlooked by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a legitimate one, but one that will most likely be rectified in the next few years.  It took Bob Seger 11 years of eligibility to get in and JCM most likely will not have to wait that long.  As I observed in a posting here several months ago, the Rock Hall is likely to be inducting "catch-up" nominees for the next few years due to the smaller number of historically significant artists to debut in the 1980's.  (I actually omitted Mellencamp's name from the suggestions I had posted at that time--a major oversight on my part.)  Previously overlooked performers such as Mr. Mellencamp, The Cars, Todd Rundgren, Kool & the Gang, Hall & Oates, Van Halen and The Spinners (just to name a few) should have their best opportunity to be honored alongside R.E.M., Run-D.M.C., Madonna, Metallica, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys and other first-time eligible 80's debut artists.  Mellencamp is most certainly an artist deserving of induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his time should come sooner than later.

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