May 19, 2006 | 12:33 PM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called “ A Nation of Suspects" here.

You asked for it:  Alterman debates Tucker Carlson here.  Tell me if you think I was too nice.

We’ve made Iraq safe for emigration.

Unrequited Love Quote of the Day:  (I love Mike Kinsley; he doesn’t love me.)  “How many Americans and Iraqis should die so that we can enjoy entertaining presidential speeches?”  The End of John McCain begins here.

In IPF Friday today MJ Rosenberg points out the hypocrisy of  the Bush administration and, even more, Members of Congress who applaud  the Bush decision to normalize relations with Libya's Qadaffi while enthusiastically pursuing ways to punish Palestinians for voting in Hamas. He raises the question: what if the Palestinians had blown a Pan Am jet out of the sky and killed 269 passengers (including 189 Americans, 35 of them Syracuse University college kids)?  He reserves special scorn for Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), uber-hawk on Iraq and Iran, chief advocate of  the "starve the Palestinians" bill which the House will vote on Tuesday, and self-proclaimed "leading voice in Congress for normalizing relations with Libya."  Lantos, who could barely find enough nasty adjectives to describe Arafat and even Abbas, has now met with Qadaffi four times!  What is with these people?  Here.

Rob Boynton disposes of one of the nuttiest books by a putatively smart person I’ve seen in a long time, here, and makes some decent points in addition.  (In it, by the way, I am twice equated, ideologically, with Joe Klein.)  I look forward to the Hofstadter bio.

From the Benton Foundation:

SENATE BACKS TEN FOLD HIKE IN INDECENCY FINES
[SOURCE: Reuters, AUTHOR: Jeremy Pelofsky]
The Senate late on Thursday approved boosting fines tenfold to $325,000 on television and radio broadcast stations that violate rules on airing profanity or sexually explicit material. The measure had languished for almost 16 months, drawing criticism from family groups and conservatives including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), a likely 2008 contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Lawmakers demanded higher fines on broadcasters after pop singer Janet Jackson briefly exposed her breast during the 2004 Super Bowl football halftime show broadcast on national television. "Radio and television waves are public property and the companies who profit from using the public airwaves should face meaningful fines for broadcasting indecent material," said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), author of the bill. The Federal Communications Commission is the agency responsible for reviewing indecency complaints and the current maximum fine that can be imposed is $32,500 per violation. The House of Representatives more than a year ago passed a bill that would hike fines to as much as $500,000 per violation and require the FCC to consider revoking a station's license after three indecency violations. House and Senate negotiators will have to work out their
differences before any increase can become law.

NETWORKS FIGHT RISING NUMBER OF FCC FINES (requires subscription)
[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal, AUTHOR: Amy Schatz]
As lawmakers embark on an election-year push to clean up the airwaves, federal regulators' zero-tolerance policy against indecent programming is resulting in a backlash, with broadcasters showing a new willingness to take the fight to the courthouse. That could be problematic for the Federal Communications Commission, which has interpreted the law inconsistently over the years. In a signal that the networks are ready for a fight, they have retained some big legal guns, including Seth P. Waxman, a former solicitor general, and Carter G. Phillips, who has argued more than 50 cases before the Supreme Court. Lawmakers and FCC officials say they need to crack down on the airing of indecent programming because the public is complaining more. Last year, the FCC received 233,531 complaints about indecent broadcasts, compared with 346 in 2001. Broadcasters say the numbers are inflated because a majority of complaints received by the FCC appear to be email campaigns organized by Christian or pro-family interest groups, like the Parents Television Council. PTC complaints were behind the record $3.6 million fine proposed in March against CBS affiliates for an episode of "Without a Trace," which featured a brief scene of a teen sex orgy.  Of about 6,500 complaints filed against stations  that received fines, all but three appeared to originate as computer-generated form letters.

Slacker Friday Lite*:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to take a break from the immigration debate.  Instead, I'll return to my economic apocalypse watch.  The House of Representatives is poised this month to loosen restrictions on reverse mortgages.  That alone should tell you it’s a bad thing!  A reverse mortgage is kind of like a casino bet on your retirement.  Typically a homeowner (age 62 or older) gets a guaranteed monthly payment for the rest of their life provided, and here's the big catch, they stay in the home.  If they need to move in with the kids or live in a nursing home (including long term but temporary stays), the loan is due in its entirety, except that the total is capped at the selling price of the home.  The interest rates and closing costs are much higher than traditional mortgages, so short-term borrowers lose big.  Unscrupulous lenders also grab the entire appreciation of the home's value during the term of the loan, though mainstream lenders have abandoned this practice.

The number of reverse mortgages is on the rise.  What bothers me most is that this has the potential to act as the greatest regressive "wealth concentrator" since Dubya's tax cuts.  The lenders will get rich (they can even insure against home value depreciation), the prescription drug companies get paid, the doctors get paid, the utility companies get paid, etc., etc.  My mouth drops when I see reputable sources (personal finance writer Terry Savage, the New York Times editorial page, the AARP Web site) gush over reverse mortgages.  Think about that: the mainstream media is *advocating* seniors sell the family homestead, not asking how society can support retirees.  If that's not a political opportunity for progressives, I don't know what is.  Especially for Generation X and Y.  There are strong emotional ties to the home you recently grew up in which might pierce some of the voting apathy.  We're already going to have less help with our retirement from the government and our employers, now they're taking away the folks!

P.S. to Eric:  Why aren't you getting credit for being ahead of the "draft Gore" bandwagon?

Eric replies: Yes, we’ve got Arianna and Frank Foer on board.  All we need is a major cover story in New York Magazine, say… Monday?  (Bastards will ignore my contribution to the movement then, no doubt.)

Name: R. Nelson
Hometown: Visalia, CA
To Jim of Glendale, CA...
But we do have immigration laws now.  Isn't the point that people of the time did things legally?  Why did they do it legally?  Because there weren't laws against it.  Now there are, so guess what?  Follow the laws, the rules, and do it right.  My wife is here legally.  Her family came here legally.  And no, they didn't come here in the 1920's.  They came here in the 1980's.  I have no problem with them coming here, I only have a problem when they don't follow the laws.  We have prisons where we keep people that didn't follow laws.  And if they protest that they were prosecuted and found guilty because they didn't follow the laws, we put them on lock down.  That is the ridiculousness of the whole protest thing that happened recently.  People were protesting because a lot of people want us to enforce our laws better and maybe tighten up a few as well.  If you don't like that we want to enforce our laws, go illegally immigrate to another country where they won't enforce their laws.

Name: Kate G.
Hometown: Cambridge
I'm confused by Brad in Arlington.  He seems to want a national, big government, solution to the immigrant problem while also arguing that every big government solution is a wrongful infringement on our rights and duties as citizens (his JFK quote).  Shouldn't Brad be arguing that the proper American response to illegal immigrants is simply for every citizen who feels he or she is affected to shoot or deport any illegal immigrant he or she wants too?  Why drag the federal government into it if you think smaller government is important to you?  Which is it, are we all weak kneed, latter day communists for having any kind of central government or are we weak kneed latter day anarchists for refusing to allow the federal government to criminalize, deport, confine or kill temporary workers?
___________________________

*A miscommunication has prevented our usual presentation of the Slacker Friday mailbag.  We'll catch up once we get our lines uncrossed.

May 18, 2006 | 12:23 PM ET | Permalink

'Deconstructing Iraq'

"Media coverage of the Iraq War," writes Michael Schwartz, here, "has generally portrayed the current quagmire as the result of an American failure to achieve a set of otherwise admirable goals: suppressing the insurgency that is intimidating the Iraqi people and sabotaging the economy; stopping the destructive ethno-religious violence that has become a major source of civilian casualties; building an Iraqi army that can establish and sustain law and order; and nurturing an elected parliament that can effectively rule. U.S. failure, then, resides in its failure to halt and reverse the destructive forces within Iraqi society.  This rather comfortable portrait of the U.S. as a bumbling, even thoroughly incompetent giant overwhelmed by unexpected forces tearing Iraqi society apart is strikingly inaccurate."  The Bush administration almost programmatically deconstructed the country, he concludes, and the American presence in Iraq continues to be a force for deconstruction.

If a Kerry Administration tried something like this the Neocons would scream “Appeasement!”  And by the way, remember when Colin Powell tried to continue this policy at the beginning of the administration, Bush and Rumsfeld cut his cojones off (never to be recovered…).

This Angelina Jolie person is my heroine.

A few words about Rick Stengel.

  1. This Howie piece is just a warm-up for the inevitable, “Oh What a genius he is, but isn’t he a liberal?” piece.

  2. He was a basketball star when I was like, in 6th grade.  But he was more famous for his passing game than his shooting.  I think he might have been a counselor at my basketball camp one summer too.

  3. When we were “Friends” together at the dawn of MSNBC, he was, indeed, a “flaming moderate,” but a brave and committed one.  He once picked on the IRS on the air and I made sure they had his social security number.  Also, I met Steve Forbes at his book party.  (Which reminds me: we were both friends with John Gibson back then, which further implies that Gibson’s entire racist, nativist act is just that; which may make it more or less despicable, I dunno.)

  4. He had one of my favorite lines of all time, back before his first kid was born: “I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, as long as it’s rich.”

  5. Everybody likes the guy.

"If I trip over one more rolling suitcase the next storage receptacle you see will be your casket."

The funny thing about this Britney car seat stuff is that car seats are actually useless.  Statistically, they are no better than seat-belts.  I read this in a WSJ article that I can no longer find.  But all parents love to make such a big deal about them, and of course, there’s a law, but the whole thing is a massive scam.  I’m glad she’s not my mother, just the same.  UPDATE: The car seat piece appeared here.  ($)

Tom Friedman:  They say that Heaven is ten zillion, um, I mean just a few months away.   Here:

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman is considered by many of his media colleagues to be one of the wisest observers of international affairs. "You have a global brain, my friend," MSNBC host Chris Matthews once told Friedman (4/21/05). "You're amazing. You amaze me every time you write a book."

Such praise is not uncommon. Friedman's appeal seems to rest on his ability to discuss complex issues in the simplest possible terms. On a recent episode of MSNBC's Hardball (5/11/06), for example, Friedman boiled down the intricacies of the Iraq situation into a make-or-break deadline: "Well, I think that we're going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we're going to have to just let this play out."

That confident prediction would seem a lot more insightful, however, if Friedman hadn't been making essentially the same forecast almost since the beginning of the Iraq War. A review of Friedman's punditry reveals a long series of similar do-or-die dates that never seem to get any closer.

"The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time."
(New York Times, 11/30/03)

"What I absolutely don't understand is just at the moment when we finally have a UN-approved Iraqi-caretaker government made up of—I know a lot of these guys—reasonably decent people and more than reasonably decent people, everyone wants to declare it's over. I don't get it. It might be over in a week, it might be over in a month, it might be over in six months, but what's the rush? Can we let this play out, please?"
(NPR's Fresh Air, 6/3/04)

"What we're gonna find out, Bob, in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war."
(CBS's Face the Nation, 10/3/04)

"Improv time is over. This is crunch time. Iraq will be won or lost in the next few months. But it won't be won with high rhetoric. It will be won on the ground in a war over the last mile."
(New York Times, 11/28/04)

"I think we're in the end game now…. I think we're in a six-month window here where it's going to become very clear and this is all going to pre-empt I think the next congressional election—that's my own feeling— let alone the presidential one."
(NBC's Meet the Press, 9/25/05)

"Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won't, then we are wasting our time."
(New York Times, 9/28/05)

"We've teed up this situation for Iraqis, and I think the next six months really are going to determine whether this country is going to collapse into three parts or more or whether it's going to come together."
(CBS's Face the Nation, 12/18/05)

"We're at the beginning of I think the decisive I would say six months in Iraq, OK, because I feel like this election—you know, I felt from the beginning Iraq was going to be ultimately, Charlie, what Iraqis make of it."
(PBS's Charlie Rose Show, 12/20/05)

"The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it—and the next six months will tell us a lot. I remain guardedly hopeful."
(New York Times, 12/21/05)

"I think that we're going to know after six to nine months whether this project has any chance of succeeding. In which case, I think the American people as a whole will want to play it out or whether it really is a fool's errand."
(Oprah Winfrey Show, 1/23/06)

"I think we're in the end game there, in the next three to six months, Bob. We've got for the first time an Iraqi government elected on the basis of an Iraqi constitution. Either they're going to produce the kind of inclusive consensual government that we aspire to in the near term, in which case America will stick with it, or they're not, in which case I think the bottom's going to fall out."
(CBS, 1/31/06)

"I think we are in the end game. The next six to nine months are going to tell whether we can produce a decent outcome in Iraq."
(NBC's Today, 3/2/06)

"Can Iraqis get this government together? If they do, I think the American public will continue to want to support the effort there to try to produce a decent, stable Iraq. But if they don't, then I think the bottom is going to fall out of public support here for the whole Iraq endeavor. So one way or another, I think we're in the end game in the sense it's going to be decided in the next weeks or months whether there's an Iraq there worth investing in. And that is something only Iraqis can tell us."
(CNN, 4/23/06)

"Well, I think that we're going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we're going to have to just let this play out."
(MSNBC's Hardball, 5/11/06)

Alter-review

I saw Rebecca Luker at Feinstein's at the Regency the other night.  What a charmer.  She’s from Alabama, where a typical meal consisted of "mountains of grits and a whole mess of pecan pie," and the dinner table talk was of "football, church, football and, oh yeah, football," but sings songs that have the words (word?) “hand-job” in them.  Actually her material—which was based on the theme of female composers, was part of what was most surprising and endearing about her performance.  I was unfamiliar with much of  it and happy to be introduced to newish Broadway songs I didn’t know.  The other part was her voice, which is rich and powerful (but not like Dick Cheney)—sometimes almost overpowering the small space.  (Her blonde, southern-belle looks are not exactly a problem either.)  She’s already conquered  Broadway, and the world of cabaret and song-standards is wide open for a unique talent like hers.  She just needs to place it under a little bit more control, as a few times, I feared her voice was going to knock my wine-glass into my lap.  But remember, the cover is $60 and there’s a $40 minimum.

P.S.  Funny that in Stephen Holden’s Times review, he translates “Jewish” into “cosmopolitan.”

Altercation Book Club:  Lapdogs by Eric Boehlert

Relatively early on in the August coverage of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth story, ABC's Nightline devoted an entire episode to the allegations and reported, "The Kerry campaign calls the charges wrong, offensive and politically motivated. And points to Naval records that seemingly contradict the charges." (Emphasis added.) Seemingly? A more accurate phrasing would have been that Navy records "completely" or "thoroughly" contradicted the Swifty. In late August, CNN's scrawl across the bottom of the screen read, "Several Vietnam veterans are backing Kerry's version of events." Again, a more factual phrasing would have been "Crewmembers have always backed Kerry's version of events." But that would have meant not only having to stand up a well-funded Republican campaign attack machine, but also casting doubt on television news' hottest political story of the summer.

When the discussion did occasionally turn to the facts behind the Swift Boat allegations, reporters and pundits seemed too spooked to address the obvious—that the charges made no sense and there was little credible evidence to support them.. Substituting as host of "Meet the Press," Andrea Mitchell on Aug. 15 pressed Boston Globe reporter Anne Kornblut about the facts surrounding Kerry's combat service: "Well, Anne, you've covered him for many years, John Kerry. What is the truth of his record?" Instead of mentioning some of the glaring inconsistencies in the Swifties' allegation, such as George Elliott and Adrian Lonsdale 's embarrassing flip-flops,  Kornblut ducked the question, suggesting the truth was "subjective": "The truth of his record, the criticism that's coming from the Swift Boat ads, is that he betrayed his fellow veterans. Well, that's a subjective question, that he came back from the war and then protested it. So, I mean, that is truly something that's subjective." Ten days later Kornblut scored a sit-down interview with [Swift Boat leader John]  O'Neill. In her 1,200-word story she politely declined to press O'Neill about a single factual inconsistency surrounding the Swifties' allegations, thereby keeping her Globe readers in the dark about the Swift Boat farce. (It was not until Bush was safely re-elected that that Kornblut, appearing on MSNBC, conceded the Swift Boast ads were clearly inaccurate.)

Hosting an Aug. 28  discussion on CNBC with Newsweek's Jon Meacham and Time's Jay Carney,  NBC's Tim Russert finally, after weeks of overheated Swifty coverage, got around to asking the pertinent question: "Based on everything you have heard, seen, reported, in terms of the actual charges, the content of the book, is there any validity to any of it?" Carney conceded the charges did not have any validity, but did it oh, so gently: "I think it's hard to say that any one of them is by any standard that we measure these things has been substantiated." Apparently Carney forgot to pass the word along to editors at Time magazine, which is read by significantly more news consumers than Russert's weekly cable chat show on CNBC. Because it wasn't until its Sept. 20 2004 issue, well after the Swift Boat controversy had peaked, that the Time news team managed enough courage to tentatively announce the charges levied against Kerry and his combat service were "reckless and unfair." (Better late than never; Time's competitor Newsweek waited until after the election to report the Swift Boat charges were "misleading," but "very effective.") But even then, Time didn't hold the Swifties responsible for their "reckless and unfair" charges. Instead, Time celebrated them.  Typing up an election postscript in November, Time toasted the Swift Boat's O'Neill as one of the campaign's "Winners," while remaining dutifully silent about the group's fraudulent charges.

That kind of Beltway media group self-censorship was evident throughout the Swift Boat story, as the perimeters of acceptable reporting were quickly established. Witness the MSM reaction to Wayne Langhofer, Jim Russell and Robert Lambert. All three men served with Kerry in Vietnam and all three men were witnesses to the disputed March 13, 1969 event in which Kerry rescued Green Beret Jim Rassmann, winning a Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart. The Swifties, after 35 years of silence, insisted Kerry did nothing special that day, and that he certainly did not come under enemy fire when he plucked Rassmann out of the drink. Therefore, Kerry did not deserve his honors.

It's true every person on Kerry's boat, along with the thankful Rassmann, insisted they were under fire, and so did the official Navy citation for Kerry's Bronze Star. Still, Swifties held to their unlikely story, and the press pretended to be confused about the stand-off.  Then during the last week in August three more eyewitnesses, all backing the Navy's version of events that there had been hostile gun fire, stepped forward. They were Langhofer, Russell and Lambert.

Russell wrote an indignant letter to his local Telluride Daily Planet to dispute the Swifties' claim: "Forever pictured in my mind since that day over 30 years ago [is] John Kerry bending over his boat picking up one of the rangers that we were ferrying from out of the water. All the time we were taking small arms fire from the beach; although because of our fusillade into the jungle, I don't think it was very accurate, thank God. Anyone who doesn't think that we were being fired upon must have been on a different river."

The number of times Russell was subsequently mentioned on CNN: 1. On Fox News: 1. MSNBC: 0. ABC: 1. On CBS: 0. On NBC: 0.

Like Russell, Langhofer also remembered strong enemy gunfire that day. An Aug. 22 article in the Washington Post laid out the details: "Until now, eyewitness evidence supporting Kerry's version had come only from his own crewmen. But yesterday, The Post independently contacted a participant who has not spoken out so far in favor of either camp who remembers coming under enemy fire. “There was a lot of firing going on, and it came from both sides of the river,” said Wayne D. Langhofer, who manned a machine gun aboard PCF-43, the boat that was directly behind Kerry’s. Langhofer said he distinctly remembered the “clack, clack, clack” of enemy AK-47s, as well as muzzle flashes from the riverbanks." (For some strange reason the Post buried its Langhofer scoop in the 50th paragraph of the story.)

The number of times Langhofer was subsequently mentioned on CNN: 0. On Fox News: 0. On MSNBC: 0. On ABC: 0. CBS: 0. NBC: 0.

As for Lambert, The Nation magazine uncovered the official citation for the Bronze Medal he won that same day and it too reported the flotilla of five U.S. boats "came under small-arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks."

The number of times Lambert was mentioned on. On Fox News: 1. On CNN: 0. On MSNBC: 0. ABC: 1 On CBS: 0. On NBC: 0.

Additionally, the Washington Post's Michael Dobbs, who served as the paper's point person on the Swifty scandal, was asked during an Aug. 30, 2004, online chat with readers why the paper hadn't reported more aggressively on the public statements of Langhofer, Russell and Lambert. Dobbs insisted, "I hope to return to this subject at some point to update readers." But he never did. Post readers, who were deluged with Swifty reporting, received just the sketchiest of facts about Langhofer, Russell and Lambert.

If that doesn't represent a concerted effort by the press to look the other way, than what does?

Correspondence corner:

Name: Todd Ernst
Hometown: Petersburg, IL
Apparently Israeli Arabs and Jews do have the same right, or the same lack of rights, as the case may be:  Jasmin Avissar and Osama Zatar fell in love, got married and hoped to live happily ever after -- but she's an Israeli Jew and he's a Palestinian Muslim and now they have nowhere to call home.  They wed two years ago, but Israel has not granted them permission to live in the Jewish state.  So they live in the West Bank city of Ramallah but on borrowed time -- Avissar's Israeli army-issued permit to cross into the Palestinian-run city is temporary.

Eric replies:  I appear to have been wrong in both directions on this.  I thought it was a case of legalized discrimination against Israeli Arabs, but it apparently it isn’t.  On the other hand, I was willing to grant the possibility that it might be necessary for security reasons, and I see that’s probably not true either.  I must say, I’m proud of myself for admitting I really didn’t know anything about this issue in particular.  (And I stand by my larger point of legalized discrimination.  Anyway, I see here that “Supreme Court President Aharon Barak wrote in a private letter this week that even though his opinion was voted down in Sunday's High Court of Justice ruling upholding a ban on family unification, most of the other justices agree with his position that the law violates constitutional rights and is not proportional.  He said they also agreed that if the Knesset were to extend the validity of the Citizenship Law in its current format, the court would apparently overturn it.”

Name: Jim Hassinger
Hometown: Glendale, CA
With all the talk of legal, illegal, security, the National Guard, and so on, I think we've lost track here.  You frequently hear people bragging/complaining, that their ancestors were immigrants, but they came here LEGALLY, for God's sake.  And why is that?  Well, because we had almost no immigration laws until the 1920s, when we shut the gate on the Chinese and the darker-skinned Europeans.  Before that, if you showed up in New York Harbor with a strong back and no syphilis or tuberculosis, you were legal!  And then, if you snuck in illegally, you only had to hide from the feds for five years, after which, welcome aboard, brother.  It's all in this opinion article by Mae M. Ngai.  (Registration required)

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
If a boat is sinking, what do you do first?  Patch the hole or bail the water?  So why the great resistance in our federal government (and small swath of electorate) to beefing up the border and cracking down on employers who employ illegal aliens (aka enforcing the law passed in 1986)?  I continue to be baffled.  Has our government become so insular and arrogant that the demands of its citizenry are irrelevant and that laws can be selectively enforced or ignored at will?  I would submit that it has (on an alarming number of fronts).  Actually, I would submit that it has been for quite some time.  This is a condition that has become endemic in both parties in Washington.  Sadly, it has gradually only become more blatant and brazen in recent years.  The true tragedy, however, is the alarming lack of concern or acknowledgment of the problem amongst voters.  Many of whom seem all too happy regurgitate the latest talking points from their party of choice without any real concern for (or knowledge of) the issue du jour.  We seem to be content to cloak ourselves with political idealism while relying on a paternalistic government to care for us and solve all of our woes.  Have a problem?  Here's a program for you. 

John F. Kennedy has one of my favorite political quotes of all time.  He said, "Every time that we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders, and shift that problem to the hands of the government, to the same extent we are sacrificing the liberties of our people."  Truer words have rarely been spoken.  Unfortunately, we have a government (and, ultimately, electorate) that has felt free to ignore that ideal for the last forty years and impose its "social" policies. We've also had a two-party system that has been complicit in the progression in order to secure its own political power.  The sooner we realize that last point, the sooner real change can begin to occur in this country.  Instead of bickering over minutiae and fringe inflammatory issues (abortion anyone?) pushed by the parties, maybe a true dialogue free from ideology could be pursued regarding real solutions to the real issues facing our country, for example, actually working toward energy independence.  What ever happened to common American goals?  My apologies for the rant, but I've hit my breaking point with the pervasiveness and ridiculousness of the politicization of every imaginable issue and the automatically perceived (and often assumed) division between the two parties.  I know it's cliche, but we need to realize the basic fact that we are all in the same boat.  We are all Americans.  The differences between us are what make this country great, not what divides us into tidy political blocs.  We are all in this land pursuing life, liberty, and happiness, regardless of political affiliation.  The current venomous rhetoric being callously tossed around by both parties defies this basic tenet.

Name: Tom Parmenter
Hometown: West Newton, MA
Your correspondent Colin reminisces about his life as a holder of an H1B.  It's no better at the other end.  My most miserable experience as a manager was helping a worker get through the H1B extension experience.  I had to write an ad describing his job, post it (in exactly the wrong place to find the kind of worker we needed), then interview all the respondents, praying that they were not qualified, or finding some other excuse to get rid of them.  Fortunately, most of them were INS wards already, not the US citizens I was pretending to look for.  I managed to turn all the applicants down, speaking personally to each one (all of them desperate for jobs), and hang on to my worker until the next crisis, which was his marriage, and which ended only with his transfer to the Canadian branch of the company.

May 17, 2006 | 11:28 AM ET | Permalink

Bush administration deceptions endanger WTC rescuers
Whose turn next time?

The Sierra Club released an update of "Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero," its 2004 report on the federal administration's failure to protect the public and rescue workers against toxic pollution from the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.  "Should Americans feel assured that our federal government will do a better job of protecting health and safety in any future disaster?  The answer appears to be no," said Suzanne Mattei, author of the report and Sierra Club's New York City Executive.  "Health and safety agencies will not be in the drivers' seat."  The original report is here and Carl Pope wonders why the local media remains uninterested in this story, here.

Quote of the Day:  "We would prefer that the U.S. work with the transitional government and not with criminals," the prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, said.

An old-but-relevant-quote of the day:  "Boom!" wrote Barnes, "The wall between the two schools is gone, at least in the president's formulation."  As he explained, "The policy of idealists will lead to the goal of realists," because Bush had declared that "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."  Here.

Quantifying Genocide in Darfur - Part 2 (Eric Reeves)

The latest update on the horrifying realities of the Darfur atrocity, from Eric Reeves.

Part 1 of this mortality assessment (April 28, 2006), surveying all relevant extant data, concludes that since the outbreak of major conflict in Darfur (February 2003), over 450,000 people have died from violence, disease, and malnutrition [....]
Moreover, despite the “peace agreement” reached in Abuja (Nigeria) last week, there is little reason to believe that the current mortality rate for disease and malnutrition (based on UN data) will decline from a level of almost 7,000 deaths per month (see Part 1). Indeed, this rate will likely soon rise dramatically [....]
A wholesale implosion of humanitarian operations also remains a distinct possibility, one highlighted in a recent interview offered by Jan Egeland [UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs]:

A massive congratulations to my friend Rick Stengel, who, depending on who you talk to, was the best point-guard in the history of Scarsdale High School.  He’s done a few things since, here.  And Jim Kelly went out with real class, didn’t he?  (Now about how about a few liberal columnists?)

On the costs of Abe Rosenthal’s obsessive homophobia, here.

Best line: "According to a former Times staffer, Frankel sent a memo to publisher Sulzberger, 'Punch, you’re going to have to swallow hard on this one: We’re going to start using the word gay.'"  (Good catch, Petey)

Speaking of which, for 376 million pounds, I’d have married Paul McCartney too.  (Come to think of it, Paul did look a little sad that time he was at the stop sign in his truck and I was at the stop sign on the other corner, two summers ago at the beach.  I should have been there for him, with you know, a crash or something…)

Alter-review roundup by Sal and Tony, NYCD

NYCD'S QUARTERLY REPORT: THE BEST RECORDS OF THE YEAR, SO FAR!

JAMES HUNTER: PEOPLE GONNA TALK. In the words of Rob, "Number one with a bullet, and I believe it's gonna stay that way until the end of the year."  If you missed out the first time we raved about it, it's like this: if you didn't know better, you'd swear that it was a great lost soul record from the early '60s.

THE ESSEX GREEN: CANNIBAL SEA. Imagine a less twee Belle & Sebastian with hooks that recall the Monkees and the Mamas & The Papas. A great pop record.

VARIOUS ARTISTS: SING ME BACK HOME. Many New Orleans tribute CDs this year, some of which were really amazing, but this one shines above them all. Incredibly moving performances by the likes of Cyril and Ivan Neville, Irma Thomas, Dr. John and more.

RAY DAVIES: OTHER PEOPLE'S LIVES. The first proper solo record from one of the all time great songwriters was a welcome return to form, even though it sank without a trace when it came out a few months ago.

NEIL YOUNG: LIVING WITH WAR. You've heard about it, now hear it. A rock n' roll album with a purpose and a message, from one of the great voices in the history of music.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: WE SHALL OVERCOME. We've said it before, we'll say it again -- this is not just some throwaway covers record. It's totally unlike any Springsteen album you've ever heard, and it's the best time you'll have since you watched David Blaine float around underwater for a week.

And even though you've got another three weeks of waiting... ELVIS COSTELLO & ALLEN TOUSSAINT: THE RIVER IN REVERSE. As unlikely as the pairing sounds, that's how musically amazing it really is.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Colin
Hometown: Omaha, NE
I am a frequent reader of your column and I'd like to make my contribution to this highly-charged discussion on immigration reform.  With all this talk about a comprehensive reform, what I find conspicuously absent is an examination of the inadequacies of the current legal process and suggestions for a remedy.  Instead, the main focus is on how to make citizens out of illegal immigrants.  There is a proposal that would put some on a path to citizenship if they're here for more than five years, pay their taxes, a fine, obey the law, learn to speak English, and other criteria.  What does this mean, "on a path to citizenship"?  Would they immediately be eligible to apply for citizenship or would they have to apply for permanent residency (green card) then meet the five-year requirement, then be eligible to apply for citizenship?  If it is the former, then, not only would it be blatant amnesty, but it could also be considered to be citizenship for sale!  We have large numbers of persons in this country (H1B visa holders, for example) who meet all but one of those requirements, who would certainly welcome such eligibility, but for the fact that they have been here LEGALLY and obeying the law, paying their taxes, speaking English, possibly owning a home and a car or two, they wouldn't qualify.  If they didn't have so much to lose, they could say that they have been here illegally in order to qualify for citizenship under this rule. 

Now, if the proposal would require them to apply for residency first in order to become citizens, just how is that process going to work? My understanding is that most people who emigrate here do so through a family member or through employment, and in such circumstances, the individual cannot make the application himself. The family member or the employer has to file that petition on behalf of the person to live here permanently. So then, what about those who have followed the rules, are here legally and cannot apply for residency? Are they going to be afforded the same opportunity, or will they sadly watch as Congress bypasses them again in favour of illegal immigrants? 

Dr. Alterman, I am a permanent resident who has been through the perilous H1B process, and from my own experiences and research I have concluded that it is far easier to stay in this country illegally than it is legally. The foundations of this country have been built by immigrants, and we so lavishly celebrate this every year with Thanksgiving. If we accept the fact that people will always be coming here, we have to make up our minds - do we want them to come here legally or illegally? If we want the legal route to be the preferred one, then we need to modify the rules to reward people who follow them. I'll give you some of the hazards of which the legal process is fraught. As an H1B visa holder, one's dependents can enter the country with an H4 visa, but they would not be eligible for employment. As such, they are also not eligible for social security numbers. Try doing anything in this country without a social security number! Unless the spouse gains his/her own H1B status, it's going to be a one-income family. This work permit is valid for three years and renewable for another three, during which time one hopes and prays that the employer files a petition for permanent residence, which would also cover the dependents. If that does not happen at the end of those six years, they would have to leave the country or join the ranks of the illegal immigrants. For the green card petition, a labour certification must be approved. This means that the job one is currently working in must be advertised and interviewed for over a period of time.  If one qualified person is identified during this process, the application will be denied, and one is faced with leaving the country or joining the ranks of the illegal immigrants. An H1B visa is specific to one employer, so if one wants to work for another company, the prospective employer must apply for a separate H1B or have it transferred. Now, in an "employment at will" environment, if one loses his job, he has TEN DAYS to find a new employer who would be willing to take on the H1B, else the person would be out of status and then either leave the country or join the ranks of the illegal immigrants. TEN DAYS! One of the things I would suggest to Congress is to allow persons who are here legally, following the rules, be allowed to apply for permanent residence, though I wouldn't call it amnesty for LEGAL aliens.

May 16, 2006 | 12:00 PM ET | Permalink

Bush’s Immigration Speech: A Potemkin Production

Before last night’s presidential speech on immigration, the smart boys at ABC’s “The Note” hyped the speech enormously, sent their usual package of chocolates and roses to Karl Rove (“brilliantly executed”), and instructed their minions, here: “Almost all Old Media reporters are hopelessly out of touch with the feelings and motives of those concerned about getting back control of the border.”  What is missing from this massive hype is what’s missing from all Note-driven political coverage —which is most of it: even a hint of genuine substance.  In fact, the entire immigration discussion is a Potemkin production.  6,000 National Guard troops?  Gimme a break.  (“… heavy on symbolism but will be small in scale — and largely invisible on the ground," writes Julian Barnes and Peter Spiegel of the Los Angeles Times, here.)  I’ve ridden with Border Patrol outside San Diego, chasing and arresting illegal entrants, and as far as I can tell, the only way to control the border is with a big, long, ugly fence of the kind that nobody is really contemplating.  (What a symbol it would provide for global anti-Americanism.)  But of course, we all know that our economy depends on these same people, and while we hang a “Do Not Enter” sign on the border, there’s a “Help Wanted, Low Wages, No Benefits” sign just beneath it.  What’s more, millions of people who are already here cannot be rewarded for breaking the law, but neither can they be tracked down and deported.  So nothing is going to happen except some red-meat rhetoric will be thrown to the yahoos in the hopes of keeping them quiet through another election cycle.  We therefore have the worst of all possible worlds: vicious, hateful rhetoric and both casual contempt and selective (and therefore pernicious) enforcement of the law.

Is my phone being tapped?  Is this becoming a police state?  Are the media interested?  The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly seeking reporters' phone records in leak investigations.  "It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration," said a senior federal official.  Here.

I know someone who had a private meeting with Karl Rove in the past few days. The issue did not come up but boy, if the guy’s about to be indicted and has already resigned ($) he’s playing with one hell of a poker face.

Is the KGB working for Homeland Security?  Somebody needs to look into this.  Al-Jazeerah report:

On March 17, 2003 Bush hired “the former head of the KGB (the secret police of the former Soviet Union), General Yevgeni Primakov,” as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Primakov joined another Russian, Oleg Kalugin, KGB (Ret) with the Department of State Security, also as a part of Homeland Security. On January 1, 2005 Kalugin was replaced with the infamous and sinister 'Silver Fox' himself (his former CIA code name), Gen. Markus Wolf. “Wolf was the head of the international intelligence gathering arm (HVA) of East Germany's Ministry for State Security (MfS), or Stasi. Under Wolf (1958 to 1987), Stasi ran a network of about 4,000 agents outside East Germany, infiltrating NATO headquarters and the administration of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.”

TomDispatch writes:  "Someday, those reflecting pools and that tower will mirror so much of the rise as well as the fall of the Bush administration -- not least of all its heck-of-a-good-job-Brownie incompetence and its inability to fulfill civil promises of any sort.  After all, almost five years past the catastrophe of 9/11, after all the grandiose promises and the soaring costs, after all that 'enormity,' there is nothing 1,776 feet in the air, nor, as yet, any hint of a gravestone over the dead of the tragedy of that day."  Here.

Judy Miller has finally found the natural home for her WMD reporting: the fiction pages of the Wall Street Journal. ($)

My new friend Marc Chavannes writes here.  "A woman of international stature, who takes strong positions on matters relevant to world developments, is being stared out of Dutch society because she is controversial.”

A.J. Liebling on Floyd Patterson vs. Sonny Liston, here and here.

Alter-reviews:  Be the Coolest Dad on the Block: All of the Tricks, Games, Puzzles and Jokes You Need to Impress Your Kids (and keep them entertained for years to come!) by Simon Rose and Steve Caplin

You might think this is just one of those books placed at the cash register around a holiday for the impulse-buy, but in fact, it's an incredibly read-able, incredibly useful reference work.  For instance, it gives you great words to use in hangman, teaches you how to make noise like a pigeon, the rules for a bunch of car-games, answers to questions like "how big is the universe?", and a host of practical jokes to play on your kids.  And since it's written by a couple of Brits, it's done with wit rather than pathos.  More here.

Also, the new issue of N Plus One is out.  I’ve only thumbed through it but once again, it holds to the enormously high standards, both in terms of ambition and execution—though a bit more the former than the latter—but I really admired Keith Gessen’s piece on writers, money and real life.  Another fine piece on this topic can be found in Rob Boynton’s thoughtful review of Gay Talese’s anti-memoir in Columbia Journalism Review.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Steve Stein
Hometown: Acton, MA
Eric,
In your item about Palestinian/Israeli marriage and the rights of Arabs in Israel, you're confusing a couple of things.  You say that this is a demonstration of how Israeli Arabs are not treated equally.  In order to validate this point, you'd have to demonstrate that an Israeli *non-Arab* would be allowed to marry a Palestinian, whereas an Israeli *Arab* cannot.  As far as I know, this is not the case - the ruling applies equally to Israeli Arabs *and* non-Arabs.

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
Context is always instructive when it comes to Israel's relationship with its million-plus Arab citizens, who have equal voting rights, freedom of religion, are entitled to due process and equal protection under Israeli law.  Israeli Arabs currently hold nine Knesset seats, have held cabinet posts and ambassadorships, and now hold one seat on the Supreme Court (their second).  The Israeli Supreme Court has recently ruled against housing and education measures it deemed discriminatory against Israeli Arabs and against one iteration of Israel's security fence because it negatively affected non-citizen Palestinians.  So yes, in a rare 6-5 vote, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a law that restricts the Israel-residency rights of Palestinian men under 35 and Palestinian women under 25 who marry Israelis (the law does affect the few Palestinians who marry Israeli Jews). But as we know in America, a single vote margin in the Supreme Court is hardly a definitive mirror of the national conscience (See, Gore, Al), and even some of those writing for the majority questioned the law's security-related justifications.  Indeed, despite the restrictions, in practice the Israeli law actually allows about half of the Palestinians who would seek residency in Israel through marriage to live in Israel.  It also allows Palestinian children who have one Israeli parent to obtain Israeli citizenship.  Maybe Israel's marriage law is imperfect, even discriminatory (and it is not like Israeli Jews don't face their own problems when it comes to obtaining legal residency for their foreign Jewish spouses). And maybe the five-justice minority opinion was correct and the law should be undone (as it might be and should be).  But Eric, why such intense ire at an Israeli law upheld by a single vote?  Will the Palestinian State allow Jews to even live there, or be granted full citizenship?  Will Hamas give Jews the right to vote, or allow Jews to be members of a Hamas-controlled Parliament?  Will Jews obtain high government positions or becomes arbiters of Palestinian law?  To think that any of this will come to pass under the Palestinians' present regime is ludicrous, and yet rather than devote your outrage to the Palestinians' foundational discrimination, you focus on a decision that comes from a process that does, in fact, protect Palestinian/Arab/Muslim rights in Israel, even if not every time with the comprehensiveness you desire.  So if I'm going to laugh in someone's face, it will be anyone who attempts to use the 6-5 decision -- even though I disargee with it myself -- as a moral argument against Israel in favor of the Palestinians' right to complain about how Israel treats them

Eric replies: Notice in the item, I did not even say I disagreed with the ruling.  I said I didn’t have enough information to judge it.  I chose it, however, because I think it is one of many demonstrable instances in which it’s clear that Israeli Arabs do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as Israeli Jews.  It is a propaganda point of many right-wing partisans that Jews and Israeli Arabs enjoy similar rights in Israel, but this is nonsense.  And once you start arguing that Israel is better than Hamas—which is, after all, a fundamentalist/terrorist organization, I think you’ve given up the game.  Hell, Bush and Cheney are better than Hamas…

Name: Robert Murphy
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Hi Eric.
In your inspired rant about the NSA spying, you asked if the cellphone companies and internet ISPs are next in line.  According to this article in today's Salon, an intelligence fellow in DC says that's the next logical step - assuming they're not already, of course.  Personally, I say the burden of proof is on the Bush administration to disprove any and all of this.

Name: Michael O'Connell
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Well, yeah! " White House rhetoric runs counter to policy realities, speech experts say"

May 15, 2006 | 10:57 AM ET | Permalink

U.S. foreign policy; mentally unfit?

Given how frequently they misdescribe reality, it’s got to be liars or crazy people are running U.S. foreign policy; those are your only two choices, I’m going with liars, based on this story and this one, and of course, hundreds of others.

As for the Police State Update, putting troops on the border might qualify too.  See here for another aspect of creeping Police State tactics, though, of course, it is actually a joke in real life.  How many troops do you think we have?  They are busy in Iraq observing suicide bombings, mass hysteria, and through no fault of their own, destroying whatever good will the United States enjoyed in the world before the Bush Presidency.

Some of our troops are apparently mentally unfit which, unfortunately, is a damn near perfect metaphor for this entire war effort.

Call me shrill, but hell, you’re going to have to say that about an awful lot of people.  Here's Bob Herbert, for instance:

So we've kidnapped people and sent them off to be tortured in the extraordinary rendition program; and we've incarcerated people at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere without trial or even the right to know the charges against them; and we're allowing the C.I.A. to operate super-secret prisons where God-knows-what-all is going on; and we're listening in on the phone calls and reading the e-mail of innocent Americans without warrants; and on and on and on. The Bushies will tell you that it is dangerous and even against the law to inquire into these nefarious activities. We just have to trust the king. Well, I give you fair warning. This is a road map to totalitarianism. Hallmarks of totalitarian regimes have always included an excessive reliance on secrecy, the deliberate stoking of fear in the general population, a preference for military rather than diplomatic solutions in foreign policy, the promotion of blind patriotism, the denial of human rights, the curtailment of the rule of law, hostility to a free press and the systematic invasion of the privacy of ordinary people. There are not enough pretty words in all the world to cover up the damage that George W. Bush has done to his country. If the United States could look at itself in a mirror, it would be both alarmed and ashamed at what it saw.

Meanwhile, USA Today reports that 51 percent of America disapproves of Bush’s Police State spying tactics, here.  And Frank Rich says it’s treason.  He’s right, of course.  In some ways, sending mentally unfit soldiers to die and kill for your lies and ideological obsession seems worse than treason to me.

P.S.  How in the world did they think they could keep this secret, what with the necessary involvement of so many employees of the telecom companies?  And will the cellphone and Internet companies be next?

Here’s a Benton Foundation Roundup:

Bush aide defends eavesdropping on phone calls

Questions raised for phone giants in spy data furor

Right-wing partisans of Israel often insist that Israeli Arabs are citizens of that nation just like Jews.  This is demonstrable nonsense in many ways.  One of them is reported in today’s Times, here

Sunday, Israel's high court narrowly upheld a controversial law intended to block Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from living in Israel with spouses who are Arab citizens of the country.  By a vote of 6 to 5, the court rejected the contention that the law violated the civil rights of Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel.  A majority of the court sided with Israeli authorities, who have argued that allowing young Palestinians to move into Israel through marriage poses an unacceptable security risk.

I’m not arguing that this decision is not necessary on security grounds.  Perhaps it is.  How would I know?  But I do know that Arabs cannot possibly be said to have the same rights as Jews in Israel.  The next time someone makes this claim, please laugh in their face.

184 million dead due to global warming?  Who cares?

What are they hiding about John Roberts?  We will never know, and the press corps never cared.  My guess is off-color comments about African Americans that would have sunk his nomination.

More evidence that Andrew Sullivan is purposely, hatefully, dishonest, here:

Modern liberals' continued attachment to men like Galbraith, rather like their inability to concede that Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs were Communist traitors and spies, is an impediment to a revived liberalism.  Because the truth matters.  And Galbraith was on the wrong side of the truth for most of his life.  This was a man who was still impressed by the Soviet Union in 1984.  The only response to a person like that is sadness mixed with contempt.

In the first place, there is the obvious point that, in terms of intellectual accomplishment, a no one and a nothing like Sullivan lacks the knowledge and training even to assess Galbraith’s theories, much less pronounce them to be “on the wrong side of truth.”  (In this case we have a rerun of his gnat-on-the ass-posture regarding Susan Sontag.)  On the matter of pure fact, however, I doubt he can name a single “modern liberal” who disputes that Julius Rosenberg was a spy.  I know of none.  Also to the point, however, let’s see a single piece of evidence that Ethel was a spy.  She wasn’t.  The state merely blackmailed her with the death penalty to try, unsuccessfully, to force her to turn on her husband.  It was a conspiracy to murder for political purposes aided and abetted by Irving Kauffman and Roy Cohn, Andy’s role model.  Either Andy approves of this—or else he simply has not bothered to acquaint himself with the facts.  I won’t hazard a guess…. (Classy, too, coming so soon after Galbraith’s death…)

Meanwhile, my president — the guy who won the 2000 election — is actually a funny guy.

Third in a continuing series.  “The new Bush secretary is a wonder guy", by Howie 'Conflict-of-Interest' Kurtz.

I don’t see any argument against the proposition that David Remnick is by far the most talented journalist of our generation; perhaps of any generation currently working.  Pete Hamill was the right person to review it too, here.

Catfight: Arianna vs. Hillary, here.  It’s really no contest, even if she does go overboard, as is her want.  Meanwhile, she’s the lady of the hour, here.

“If she's a feminist, her husband is a good president.  And I think we know the answer to both questions.”  Being funny after Nora is hard work, but this guy managed it.

This Times piece on literary wanderlust has me in pretty good company. 

I should have mentioned last week that the Benjamin Ross article I cited on the Democrats and class is available on the dissent Web site as a is a more extensive excerpt from Marshal Berman’s book on Times Square., here.

A new 20 minute Bruce video is here.

Alter-reviews:  The Lieutenant of Inishmore

What a trip this play is.  It features, as Ben Brantley wrote in the Times, “some of the stupidest characters ever to cross a stage.”  The play, by Martin McDonagh, who wrote the amazing "Pillowman," has written a play in which we are treated to blood smeared over walls, floors, furniture, clothes, skin and cat's fur.  The play’s hero, Padraic, we learn, "him the IRA wouldn't let in because he was too mad," heads a one-man splinter group.  His life’s work is made up of de-nippling pot pushers and blowing up fish and chip shops.  Why fish and chips?  “They aren't as well guarded as army barracks.”  This leads to dialogue like, “I'm at work at the moment, Dad.  Is it important?" as Padraic ask on his cellphone, while cutting the toenails off the pot dealer.  Other classic lines:  "Many's the time I trampled on my mam when she was alive.  After she died, I stopped.  There seemed no sense." And finally, on a stage covered with blood and severed body parts, “It’s incidents like this does put tourists off Ireland.”

Aww Feck it.  Just take my word for it it’s great.  Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Hart Edmonds
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
Eric,
Your tribute to three liberal lives was great.  As a Presbyterian minister in the "evangelical liberal" tradition all three of these individuals have inspired me to varying degrees.  As a political science major in college Galbraith's vision of a just economy provided substance and grounding for me in considering what a just economy should offer all its citizens.  At the time it looked like our nation cared about the poor.  Since then we've moved in a direction in which we as a nation have decided to rob from the poor to give to the rich.  Coffin was an inspiration to me as a young minister in the 1980s and beyond.  His "Living the Truth in a World of Illusions" collection of sermons still resonates.  His book "Credo" distills the pungent thoughts that characterized his writing and preaching.  In so many ways Coffin shaped the prophetic tradition of faith in America over the last several decades. Leaders like Jim Wallis have taken up the mantle, but it's often discouraging to see the mainline church of which I'm a part, display such timidity in the great justice issues of war and poverty in our day.  We Presbyterians are consumed with debates about gay/lesbian/transgendered persons, revealing our obsession with what people do in their bedrooms, while the world is burning down around us.  Coffin, Hertzberg, and Galbraith reveal many bright shining truths for our time!

Name: Mike Sierschula
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Progressive glee at Bush's paltry polls is misplaced.  His 30% base will actually show up to vote and punch a straight Republican party ticket.  Since barely half of eligible voters bother, 30% is more than enough to keep the GOP in office.  Karl Rove knows that.  Why can't progressives figure it out?

Name: David Sass
Hometown: Pearland, TX
Dr. A:
Reading Brad in Arlington opine about how Darfur is a "shining example" of how great the United States is has left me with a strong urge to bathe immediately.  Brad would have us believe that American action and inaction in the face of tragedy are both signs of our greatness.  When we act, it is due to our impeccable morals and strong world leadership (our greatness).  When we do nothing, if the tragedy continues it is due to us giving other nations the opportunities "to step up and show [their] moral authority" (again, our greatness).  Since World War II, America has a long history of decisions regarding where and when to intercede with force.  The cynics among us might note, with the exception of Bosnia, we choose to intercede only to stop the contagion of communism or to secure oil rights/oil fields/waterways.  But any realist has to concede, we intercede only when it affects us negatively and directly, or more frankly, we intercede when it selfishly suits us.  The bottom line is there would already be US boots on the ground in Darfur if there oil reserves at stake or if this was circa 1987 and the Soviets were assisting one of the combatants.  No oil, no communists, no boots.  Brad wants the rest of the world held accountable for this also, but for what?  Following our lead?  I can understand an argument that states there is no moral requirement to forcefully oppose genocide in a far off land.  I can understand any number of the positions that conclude it is not our responsibility to stop these genocides.  However, I do have a hard time understanding Brad's position that as a leader we can selfishly chose to ignore this tragedy and chastise/blame the rest of the world for acting similarly and then claim the inaction as a sign of continuing American greatness.  I know this does not narrow things down any, but I suspect the truth is somewhere between Samantha Power's "demonizing" and Brad's canonizing of America.

Name: Gordon
Hometown: Maryland suburbs of Washington
Eric,
I hope your consideration of Tom Frank's political analysis will include Ellen Willis's thoughtful critical paper, available here.

Name: Steve Rhodes
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
I see you linked to Michael Miner's Chicago Reader piece about Stephen Colbert.  I published this similar piece four days earlier - before his deadline - and was also linked to Romenesko, but in a spot virtually unnoticeable.  For that matter, if you want to know how the NSA story played in Chicago, look at this.  But please, give me some credit for doing what Miner did only sooner and better.

Name: Graham N Smith
Hometown: Annapolis, Maryland
Dear Dr. Alterman:
I just finished reading "When Presidents Lie" and wanted to drop a note to express my appreciation.  It is a compelling analysis of the motivation for presidential lies and the damaging effects of such lies.  I must confess, I found myself profoundly depressed as I read the chapter on LBJ's Vietnam lies.  Not only were LBJ's actions tragic for the country, but the parallels between LBJ's decision to escalate military action against Vietnam, and Bush's decision to invade Iraq are eerie.  Similar tragic and spooky parallels are found in the complete lack of congressional oversight of both LBJ and Bush as well as the passing of far too broad and ambiguous congressional resolutions that allowed both presidents to run amok.  That we, as a nation, could make the same mistake within such a relatively short time span is incredibly disturbing and depressing.  During Vietnam and during the lead-up to Iraq, our elected representatives and the members of the 4th estate failed us.

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