May 31, 2006 | 1:25 PM ET | Permalink

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Dateline: Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.

HADITHA

Fort Hood, Texas, Summer 1995:

Private Ericsson was the blond-haired blue-eyed epitome of American youth.  A little older than his peers at 22, he was often the first to speak up when I called for a response.  In this case I had just put forward the question, “What would you do?” to a hypothetical situation in which several prisoners had been captured who may, or may not, know about an ambush the enemy had emplaced for our unit some distance away.  The prisoners appeared to be civilians, taken in a village from which we had, in this notional scenario, recently taken fire.

“I’d shoot one of them sir, to see if it got the next one to talk,” said Ericsson with a perfectly straight face.  The room remained silent.

“WHAT?!”  It was not my calmest reply because I was, frankly, stunned.  Standing at the front of the room I looked around at the assembled men seated before me.  Nobody was leaping to contradict his comment.  Their attention was split between us.

Ericsson repeated his response, looking me straight in the eye. “I’d shoot one of them sir.  And then, if that didn’t get the next guy to talk, I’d shoot another.”

Jesus.

“Ericsson…” I started to reply, about to tell him how wrong that was, to lecture him and explain about not only the laws of land warfare but how this would additionally be entirely counterproductive in addition to being illegal and immoral, but I stopped myself.  If Ericsson thinks this way…

"No, wait…OK, how many of you think that this is the correct response?”  Now I was addressing the whole group, most of my company in fact.  After a few seconds almost half of the hands went up.

I had a lot of work to do.

I was a Captain at the time.  As a company commander in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, I lived.  Leading the men of my company was the most fulfilling professional experience of my life.  Some days it could also be the most frustrating.

When you are not deployed, the life of an infantryman can be moderately predictable.  In the First Cavalry Division we had a six-week cycle that ran our lives.  For six weeks we would train for war, then the next six weeks we would stand ready to go to war at a moments notice.  Finally, we would “stand down” and our unit would serve as the life support for the post.  During that last period we might train, but it would be within the confines of our barracks areas and motorpool.  I used the opportunity to address ethics.

Ethics training is mandatory in the Army.  It is not, or at least it was not back then, woven deliberately into all training, but it is addressed.  Unfortunately, as with most institutional requirements, what comes down from “on high” as the mandatory training package is often wildly inappropriate.  The pre-packaged ethics training we were supposed to deliver that year was about the misuse of government funds, specifically government travel cards (which had been much in the news at the time).  Given that I was a company commander in an infantry battalion, and absolutely none of my men even had such a card, that training was pretty damned dumb.  The slides we were given were a cover-your-ass block of instruction so that somebody way on high could later say at a press conference, “Every soldier in the division has been given ethics training on the use and abuse of government travel credit cards.”  Useless for my privates, sergeants, and lieutenants, so I took another route.

Bringing all the men available together, I showed them part of a PBS program entitled “Under Orders, Under Fire.”  It was a round-table session sponsored by the Annenberg Center.  Filmed in 1987, it was still perfectly suitable.  The moderator drew out the opinions and thoughts of the collection of academic ethicists, professional military officers, politicians (to include a younger and slimmer Newt Gingrich, and I believe Al Sharpton, among others), religious leaders and journalists.  To do this the moderator posited several hypothetical situations involving the thinly veiled “notional” countries of North Koksan and South Koksan, the former of which is supporting a guerilla movement in the latter.

In setting up this training I showed part of the video to all of my men, setting up the hypothetical scenario I described.  Then my First Sergeant took the NCOs and lieutenants out to another area, while I talked through the situations with the junior enlisted.  We would compare notes and cross-train at the end, but I wanted to hear what the privates might say on these topics when the sergeants were not around, and my First Sergeant wanted to talk to the sergeants without the “Old Man” (that was me, at the ripe old age of 27) around.  Showing my troops the tape, and then discussing with them the same situations, was among the most educational things I had ever done.  What I learned was that my men, a perfect mélange of middle Americana, (and absent their sergeants and lieutenants) were more than willing to use violence in completely inappropriate ways in order to accomplish what they saw as “the mission.”  In short, what they told me they would do was (were they to actually do any of these things) a collection of violations of the laws of land warfare.  It was a direct confirmation of something which I’d only suspected before, and something which drove me to spend a vast amount of time on these topics with the sergeants and lieutenants later.  I trained my men, officers, sergeants and junior enlisted, on these topics a lot thereafter.  I thought to this training when I came home on Sunday and started catching up on the news here.

I will not dispute the accounts now appearing about events that took place in the Iraqi town of Haditha.  So far as I can determine, there is nothing to dispute in the coverage thereof by the national (and international) press.  Thus far their reporting has confined itself, appropriately, to what is known.  That is bad enough.

Should even a small part of the allegations prove true, I will not be surprised, but I will be saddened.  What these charges may mean is that there was not just a failure at the lowest levels, but that there was a moral failure through several levels of command, among the officers.  Beyond that there is little that I can say.

Now is not the time to explain how such things happen, or why.  Although I have spent a good part of my professional and intellectual life seeking to understand how things like this occur, and believe that I have some understanding of the phenomena ( here), it is entirely too early to begin commenting now.  In no small part this is because any such explanation at this point may be construed as apologia, which is in itself not a good thing.  If events occurred as they are
currently reported to have occurred, then there is nothing more to say than, “It is wrong.”

Yet at the same time I cannot help but note that those who might be inclined to trumpet these events may themselves do well to maintain some perspective.  War, in short, is savage.  All wars, bar none.  It has always been savage, and it will always be savage.  No matter how “Good” the war is, how completely altruistic the motives of the civilians who send us to this conflict or that one may be, no matter how necessary a war may be, at the level of the Soldier, War is Savage.  Professionals know this, and it is one of the very real reasons that we are (somewhat ironically, for those who do not know us or our morals) so often opposed to the use of force.  In other words, we have an informed idea of what rests inside Pandora’s Box, and this colors our thoughts when considering force.

At the most basic level, the role of the professional military officer is to control and direct the use of violence.  It is to confine the savage, but you cannot prevent it entirely.  You can train for a lifetime, devote vast resources to the creation of a professional force, and emplace institutional checks to reduce the incidence of misdirected violence…but you will never, ever, stop it entirely.  Please keep this in mind.

PROVENCE WITHIN EARSHOT:

I returned on Sunday from Provence, France.  Someday, I suspect, I may have to move there.  Not forever, but for a spell.

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

Eric adds: I would also recommend this book.

Bush found out about Haditha from Time.

Karl Zinsmeister, the new chief domestic adviser to President Bush, while embedded as a reporter with the 82nd Airborne in Kuwait in 2003, declared that "many of the journalists observable in this war theater are bursting with knee-jerk suspicions and antagonisms for the warriors all around them.  A significant number are whiny and appallingly soft”   The Post and CBS News on the killings of two CBS journalists.

Jamison Foer has a really interesting essay on the media here.

And here is Moyers' latest on PBS.

From Tomdispatch:  "Nobody recently has publicly wondered what this thing called "intelligence," over which so many tens of thousands of analysts, code breakers, and agents labor with so many tens of billions of our dollars, really is.  What sort of knowledge about our planet do all those acronymic intelligence organizations really deliver? The value of the Intelligence Community (IC), as it likes to call itself, to deliver this thing called "intelligence," whatever mistakes or missteps might be made, is simply taken for granted.  Given its estimated $44 billion annual budget, if the IC actually worked as an effective intelligence delivery system, we would be a genius nation, a Mensa among states. We would have an invaluable secret repository of knowledge that would be the equivalent of the destroyed ancient Library of Alexandria (which reputedly collected all the knowledge in the then-known world). And you would have to wonder, looking back on the last years: In that case, how exactly could we be quite so dumb?"  Here.

This “Onion” thing is really an interesting newspaper:  Critics Blast Al Gore's Documentary As 'Realistic' here.

Speaking of which, what a funny song this is.

Ranking Literary Theorists: A bad idea

If anyone knows whether a tape is being made of John Kenneth Galbraith's memorial service today, and where I can get one, I'd appreciate it.

Alter-reviews:

I had a harmonic convergence in thinking about Spalding Gray, last week.  First there was this Times piece about his work.  And as I went for a walk on the beach not far from the last time I saw him—a sadly changed man following his accident, I found I had a copy of the Audio Renaissance production of “Life Interrupted,” here, read by Sam Shephard with an introduction by Francine Prose, eulogies by his agent, Suzanne Gluck; novelist A.M. Homes, his wife, Kathie Russo; his stepdaughter, Marissa, and many others who spoke at both Lincoln Center and Sag Harbor.  This is one of those cases where the audio version has got to be better than the book, since these are after all, monologues.  Walking along the beach, listening to Ms. Prose’s introduction, I was struck by the fact that while I wouldn’t have called Spalding my “friend,” the time we spent together had a lasting impact on me, for he did have an amazing talent for listening—and for offering insights into my life that literally changed my life and my own understanding of it.  Apparently I was not alone.  If you thought you knew Spalding from his monologues, you probably did, but not nearly as well as you will if you listen to these unspeakably sad, moving tributes.  The monologue is pretty great too, but like the life, too short.

I also really enjoyed the audio version of Jerry Lewis’ memoir of his partnership with Dean, here, called “Dean and Me: A Love Story.” (Nick Tosches’ Dino, is one of the greatest books ever, by the way.)   Gregory Jbara does a masterful reading job. And I think I said this, but I loved, loved, loved Zadie Smith’s On Beauty in its audio version. Also really well read.

And I can’t actually bring myself to watch it, apparently, but you may want to buy or rent “Winter Soldier.”  The New York Times describes it thusly:

The young John Kerry appears only briefly in "Winter Soldier," a 1972 antiwar film created by a collective of young filmmakers whose members included Barbara Kopple ("Harlan County, U.S.A.") and Robert Fiore (a co-director of "Pumping Iron," with Mr. Kerry's filmmaking friend George Butler). In his role as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War Mr. Kerry can be seen coaching a young man about to give his testimony during a widely covered meeting organized by the veterans' group at a Howard Johnson's in Detroit, where the organization hoped to turn a spotlight on the abuses and atrocities it believed to be occurring in Southeast Asia.

"Is there something you want to say in terms of the crimes that happened?" asks Mr. Kerry, using the kind of provocative language his presidential campaign went out of its way to avoid.

The film includes little or no documentary evidence, apart from some photographs and film clips that are too blurry to be of much use. So there are some who will be just as quick to dispute the facts it puts forward as they were to dispute Mr. Kerry's Swift boat record in the last presidential campaign. But even allowing for the inevitable exaggerations and desire to please the interviewees, the picture has a deeply upsetting ring of truth.

It also offers a strange kind of comfort, given how few reports of atrocities on this level have come out of Iraq. Perhaps things are much more humane today in the American military; "Winter Soldier" suggests they could hardly be much worse. Milestone Film and Video, $24.95, not rated.”

More here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Monica
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Dear Eric,
Speaking of NY Times headlines, I always thought that newspapers would kill for a good headline - that old "Extra Extra!" sorta thing.  But apparently not the Times.  This is the second time that they've done this with this specific subject, the Plame Affair: Instead of opening the article with a quick, punchy, effective headline, they create an elaborate, long, winding one. I thought they wanted to sell newspapers! First it was about Rove a few months ago. Now it's about the vice-president: " Notes Are Said to Reveal Close Cheney Interest in a Critic of Iraq Policy"  I'm not a journalist -- not even an English language native speaker -- but wouldn't even an intern pick something a little shorter and spicier, like "Notes May Link VP to Plame Affair"?  Thanks for your great work.

Name: Bryan Short
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Dear Dr. Alterman:
I would like to offer something further to Ken from New Jersey's comment regarding the Reverse Mortgage thread.  While Ken is right that it takes a great deal of professional expertise to read and understand the majority of the loan documents that ordinary Americans sign every day, there exist far more insidious problems than "mere" complexity.  In fact, many "agreements" that we encounter in our daily lives are purposefully inscrutible. For instance, read an insurance policy; no not the "dec" page, but the real policy. Try and understand what your coverage really covers. You will have a wonderful year-long jigsaw puzzle on your hands. Insurance contracts are notoriously drafted to be inscrutible to the purchaser, i.e., the insured. Moreover, what most of the argument of reverse mortgages has sounded like is a policy argument that surrounds the "viatical settlement" controversy. A Viatical Settlement is a payment of money now from a company to a person who is literally on death's doorstep in exchange for ownership of that person's life insurance contract. Not surprisingly, the same arguments arise: "It's an extremely important opportunity for those with terminal illness to pay for better end of life care"; "they should be eradicated because they too easily exploit the weak and desperate"; "they should be regulated" (and are highly regulated by the way). These arguments all skirt the basic economic reality, there is a fundamental lack of equality in these transactions. The buyers, both of viatical settlements and reverse mortgages, have little, if any, choice but to engage in these highly suspect transactions which can strip away a family's assets. The argument should not center on whether it is "good" that people can enter into these types of contracts, but whether they should ever have to in the first place. Should a family/matriarch be forced to sell all or most of the assets they own in order to pay for their current maintenance? I would posit that any civil society should find it repugnant that a person should be forced to sell assets they have accumulated from a lifetime of work and sacrifice, simply to finance their care and maintenance when they can no longer work to maintain themselves.

Name: Ralph Vought
Hometown: Cary, NC
Dr. Alterman,
I have been reading your blog for almost two years and while I truly enjoy most posts and generally agree with most of your points of view, I felt compelled to respond to today's lead. I retired from the Army a year ago and just now feel as though I can freely engage in political discourse, but as a former Soldier, I have been following the events related to the alleged atrocities with alot of doubt regarding the veracity of the events as they have been portrayed. Yes, the military seemingly takes forever to conduct investigations. Yes, the miltary seemingly "covers up" when horrific incidents occur, but to unabashedly portray the events as described by "witnesses" who may or may not have a hidden (or overt) agenda, is, in my opinion, totally over the top. If, after an exhaustive investigation, the accused Marines are determined to have acted with savagery purported, nothing short of maximum punishment should be meted. But let's not punish those involved until or unless we hear all that happened. Could it be that in the heat of battle and in their struggle for survival, there were momentary lapses of reason. Is it possible that the Marines involved were fired upon and in an effort to survive, fired indiscriminately, and afterword, someone may have staged the then weaponless bodies so that they appeared harmless(as all dead bodies do)? Again, I truly enjoy your blog and repeated attempts to hold both the Administration and SCLM more accountable for their acts of both ommission and commission, so please don't be hypocritical in this very important matter. Thanks

Name: Mark McKee
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
Dr. E:
I thought you might find interest in this op-ed piece by Gerry Bradley, an economist and Research Director for New Mexico Voices for Children, who did an economic study contrasting the state's educational expenditures on the children of illegals, versus the amount of tax revenue we receive from illegals. It turns out Estado de Nuevo Mexico is making a profit of $1.3 to $2 million per year. You don't need to print this, I thought you'd want the links, since everyone talks about numbers and how illegals are destroying the economy, some folks are finally adding up the numbers and they tell a different story.  Op-ed here.  And the study here.  One final thought: I hate Wal-Mart. I really, really hate Wal-Mart. My wife is severely disabled, ergo, I have to shop at Wal-Mart. I owe my soul to the company store... I also grew up in rural SW New Mexico in Geronimo/Billy the Kid/Wild Bunch country. I grew up around illegals. They were called wetbacks and many families in the area hired them, and many put their kids to work next to them. That's how I learned about hard work and grew to know them as people, mostly sweet, decent people, not numbers. I bring it up because I can spot them a mile away and every week when I do our family shopping I see several families of illegals shopping at Wal-Mart. Where else in America would illegals shop? Wal-Mart, I imagine doesn't have a problem with illegals as customers. I hope all goes well for you and your family.

Name: Mark
Hometown: New York, NY
Bruce is on Leno this Monday June 5. Also liked the shout-out for Dan Zanes. With a 6-year-old, and 3-year-old he's a god-send for adults having to listen to kid's music, and a great way to introduce your kids to great music.

Name: Marty
Hometown: Boulder
Eric,
Thanks for printing the list of "conservative rock songs" that Ryan Scott shared with you. I'd like to make a point about the list's suggestion that the Beatles' "Revolution" is conservative because of the line, "Don't you know that you can count me out." As you undoubtedly know, that line actually follows the line, "When you talk about destruction," not the line, "We all want to change the world," as the list compiler would have us believe. Furthermore, perhaps the compiler of the list should listen to the version of "Revolution" found on the White Album, where John Lennon actually sings, "Don't you know that you can count me out -- in." Also, it was a good point Ryan had about Lynyrd's Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." I think most people would say that song is conservative because of the line, "Now Watergate does not bother me." I suppose all the scandals and abuses of the Bush administration don't bother them, either.

May 30, 2006 | 12:04 PM ET | Permalink

Bush’s war:  Another massacre, another cover-up

I can’t say whether it’s a conscious strategy but the administration is, once again, proving itself so incompetent and dishonest in so many directions simultaneously we find it impossible to keep up, even in our own imaginations.  For instance, the Washington Post reported over the weekend

“Witnesses to the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha say the Americans shot men, women and children at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing.

Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who said he watched and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, recalled hearing his neighbor across the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family members. "I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: 'I am a friend. I am good,' " Fahmi said. "But they killed him, and his wife and daughters."

The 24 Iraqi civilians killed on Nov. 19 included children and the women who were trying to shield them, witnesses told a Washington Post special correspondent in Haditha this week and U.S. investigators said in Washington. The girls killed inside Khafif's house were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1, according to death certificates.
...
The remains of the 24 lie today in a cemetery called Martyrs' Graveyard. Stray dogs scrounge in the deserted homes. "Democracy assassinated the family that was here," graffiti on one of the houses declared.

The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq said it sent copies of the journalism student's videotape to mosques in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, using the killings of the women and children to recruit fighters.
...
"They are waiting for the sentence -- although they are convinced that the sentence will be like one for someone who killed a dog in the United States," said Waleed Mohammed, a lawyer preparing a file for Iraqi courts and the United Nations, if the U.S. trial disappoints. "Because Iraqis have become like dogs in the eyes of Americans.''

Points about the above: In addition to the mass murder of innocent individuals

  1. We are apparently discrediting the idea of democracy.
  2. We are creating recruitment videos for anti-American terrorists.
  3. We are paying a trillion dollars to do this.
  4. We are losing our young men and women to do this.
  5. We have destroyed a country to do this.

The country is not even safe enough for reporters to do their own reporting on a massacre; or for the nationals hired to do the reporting to reveal their names.  Note these sentences:

Four people who identified themselves as survivors of the killings in Haditha, including some who had never spoken publicly, described the killings to an Iraqi writer and historian who was recruited by The New York Times to travel to Haditha and interview survivors and witnesses of what military officials have said appear to be unjustified killings of two dozen Iraqis by marines.
...
The name of the Iraqi who conducted the interviews for The Times is being withheld for his own safety, because insurgents often make a target of Iraqis deemed collaborators.

The complete Time story, including the focus on the  cover-up is here.  (Time originally broke the story, and deserves our gratitude for having done so.)

What the smart boys at The Note think is important about this story: “John Murtha: Media Superstar and News Driver.”  Here.

14 Dead in Anti-American riots in Kabul American soldiers fire on the crowd (Someone tell these people we liberated them too) More here.

The Iraqi insurgency is winning.

Guantanamo hunger strikers now number 75, here.  As many as 24 prisoners under age 18 may have been held at Gitmo.

Earthquake in Indonesia  (How is that Bush’s fault?  I’m working on it.)

Forget about peace in the Middle East.

Forget about Egyptian Democracy.   I love stories where conservatives finally figure out that this guy’s been lying to them too.  Too bad, it's Egypt’s democrats, rather than Wall Street Journal editorialists, who are likely to be arrested and tortured, huh?  Here.

Here’s what ABC News thinks is genuine news about Bush’s new treasury secretary, known to be a job pretty much nobody wanted, also from “The Note”:

ABC News' Jessica Yellin reports a former Bush Administration official said this about the Paulson pick this morning: "Paulson is a fantastic pick.  He has a keen, singular understanding of the financial markets.  The markets will love the pick.  His fingers are truly on the pulse of the global economy.  He is held in the highest regard in the financial services industry and Wall Street.  One of the world's most prominent investment bankers as Treasury Secretary is absolutely huge.

Next up, my mother on why I deserve a raise…

Another great Time story here on the all-but-ignored war in the Congo.

New York Times to Liberals: “Apologize Now!”  Look at this subhed:

Talk of Pelosi as Speaker Delights Both Parties
By MARK LEIBOVICH
Representative Nancy Pelosi, who would lead the House if Democrats win a majority, is an unapologetic liberal.

Excuse me, Mr. Times Headline Writer, but exactly why are liberals supposed to “apologize?”

Todd Gitlin is similarly incensed here.

Quote of the Day:  “I think religion is bad and drugs are good.  Why don't you go find me a campaign manager?”  Bill Maher, not running for office.

How about those Mets?  Aren’t daily newspapers a miracle by the way?  I went to bed at 11:30 with the Mets tied 7-7.  This morning, I woke up with a full report on the game delivered to my breakfast table.  How incredible an achievement is that?  Young people today, sheesh.

Bruce is on Leno tonight; he’ll be on Conan on June 23.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ken
Hometown: New Jersey
In response to Stupid's recent statements on reverse mortgages (I agree wholeheartedly, by the way), it is interesting to note that while our government is willing to turn a blind eye toward (or in the case of the recent bankruptcy law changes, overtly conspire with) the financial industry while they use a wide variety of purposely difficult-to-understand financial tools (reverse mortgages, 0-interest loans, ARMs, unlimited consumer credit, etc., etc.) to essentially steal money from middle class Americans, old and young, they were shockingly quick and continually willing to fight to ensure that the very rich can pass on their entire estates to their kids.  Before somebody breaks out the old "you should never sign on the dotted line without understanding the fine print" argument, let's not forget that the overwhelming majority of us don't have the means to buy our way into and pay our way through an Ivy League MBA program.  While we're at it, it might be important to add that, even those of us without an Ivy League MBA, understand that constantly spending more than one earns (particularly when you are well aware of large pending financial obligations) will result in a financial catastrophe.

Name: Paul Fraser
Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico
I have some comments on the immigration controversy from a Mexican perspective.  I have lived and worked in Mexico for the last 20 years and during that time, I , as an attorney, have tried to help people get tourist visas from the embassy here in Mexico City from time to time. Mind you I am talking about a visa just to visit the U.S. for a few weeks.  It is so difficult to get this visa that the average person has no chance at all of convincing the people at the embassy that he is just going for a few days or weeks.  The people at the consulate office are rude and arbitrary as to who the select for the visas.  Just as an example, my wife, when she was my girlfriend, tried to get a visa to travel with me to the U.S. to visit my parents.  She was nearly 50 years-old and white, tall and classy looking.  She certainly didn't fit the profile of one who would overstay their visa and look for work in the U.S.  Apart from that, I guaranteed her stay in the U.S.  She was turned down three times basically because she was not working and living with me, so she had no perceptible income.  I finally intervened with the consul and she received her visa.  What's the point of all this antecedent?  Just this.  If it is so difficult to get a tourist visa, how difficult is it going to be to get a work visa? 

I contend that it will be extremely difficult if not impossible for the average Joe (these are the people that usually cross the border illegally) to get this visa.  I would be willing to bet that he will need an invitation to work to get this visa and certainly would not get a visa for his family. I have not heard one word about the implementation of this so called guest worker program but it will certainly be subject to quotas just like residency.  Neither the Bush administration nor anybody else has talked about this because they want to bar everybody and this guest worker bullshit is just a smoke screen.  There will be no guest workers or very few guest workers.  If that happens, we will just go back to the same old system where people will illegally cross the border by hook or crook, and employers will find some way to shield themselves from prosecution for hiring illegals (one way is to hire people through roving agencies that vet out possible employees and swear on a stack of bibles that they are legal).  Businesses, especially those who hire immigrant labor, should be aware of this anomaly in Mexico and try to make sure that access to these work visas will have specific standards and procedures that are not overly complex and that are reasonably within the capacity of workers to comply. Refusal to grant a visa should be very specific and fall within specific categories such as a criminal record or history of disease, etc. I like your column and have heard you talk on the internet at UC. I am not left wing but agree with most of your commentary (Easy to do with Bush in office)

Name: Ben Ross
Hometown: Bethesda, MD
Take a look at the right-wing blogosphere's reaction to the recent revelation of Jack Abramoff's contributions to Democratic County Executive and gubernatorial candidate Doug Duncan.  You won't see a word.  It's like Sherlock Holmes' dog that didn't bark -- showing that the right wing acts in unison, as if in coordinated response to talking points issued from somewhere.  You would think Republicans would be thrilled by the revelation of Abramoff contributions to a prominent Democrat.  The circumstances are more than sufficiently suspicious to cause a right-wing blogger to draw all sorts of dire conclusions.  And they cannot possibly be unaware of something that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post two days running.  How come?  The most plausible explanation I can think of is that Duncan has been doing the Republicans' work by attacking the Democratic primary frontrunner for governor, Martin O'Malley.  They don't want his candidacy to collapse.  But the why isn't the main point.  Surely, if there were a crowd of bloggers making their own strategic calculations, they wouldn't all come out the same way.  The herd behavior is remarkable

Name: Ryan Scott
Hometown: Portland, OR
Eric,
Here's a mix of politics and music that you might find (unintentionally) amusing, if you haven't seen it already.  It's a reprint of the top "conservative rock songs" that apparently was first published in the National Review. It's an odd list, with a few odd rationalizations justifying how some of the songs are conservative.  ("My City is Gone"?) But even though the article must stretch the meanings and interpretations of many of the songs in order to include them on the list, they fail to mention the real reason Sweet Home Alabama should be considered "conservative."

Name:  David Gottlieb
Comments:
Dear Eric,
In the interests of keeping columnists I like accurate, in your Friday Altercation:

And let’s hear it again for Jesse Oswald, Archeologist, here.  (Scroll down)  Congrats to the fine investigative reporters of this new newspaper, “The Onion” for tracking down this fine political analyst and exposing his views to the public.

I think you wanted this link actually.

May 26, 2006 | 11:31 AM ET | Permalink

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new Think Again: Straight Talk Distress, here, and a new Nation column, here, “Time Is on Their Side.”

And let’s hear it again for JesseOswald, Archeologist, here.  (Scroll down)  Congrats to the fine investigative reporters of this new newspaper, “The Onion” for tracking down this fine political analyst and exposing his views to the public.

Good God, another massacre by U.S. troops.  Sorry, this war is evil.  Congrats to all the neocons and liberal hawks who thought it would be a “cakewalk” for the role they played in creating the horrific situation that allowed these crimes to come about.  More here.

If you can’t lie you can’t work in this White House.

Krauthammer's amazing, isn’t he?

Why does Novak still have a column in the Post?

Watching press elites this week scramble to tear down Al Gore (again) has been both depressing and predictable.  For instance, here, Slate makes up facts about Gore and the 2000 Democratic primaries.

Here is Bill Moyers’ Baccalaureate address at Hamilton College.

Homer, philosopher.

Quotes of the Day, Homer:

  • "What's the big deal about going to some building every Sunday, I mean, isn't God everywhere?"
  • "Don't you think the almighty has better things to worry about than where one little guy spends one measly hour of his week?"
  • "And what if we've picked the wrong religion?  Every week we're just making God madder and madder?"

My buddy Dan Zanes.

Funniest footnote I’ve ever seen:

*

Here.

Alter-reviews:

Miles Davis - "The Legendary Prestige Quintet Recordings."  A 4 CD set featuring remastered versions of the famed quintet sessions from the '50s that included John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones.  Over the course of three studio dates, they recorded what became five historic albums for Prestige Records:  The New Miles Davis Quintet, Cookin’, Workin’, Relaxin’, and Steamin’ all taped by Rudy Van Gelder at Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, NJ, has been remastered in 24-bit from the original analog masters and presented in the sequence recorded at sessions beginning in November 1955 and concluding in October 1956 and has just been released together as the Prestige boxed set The Miles Davis Quintet: The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions.  A bonus CD features eight previously unissued radio and television audio performances.  Included on Disc 4 are two tunes from The Tonight Show With Steve Alle, including Oscar Pettiford’s “Max Is Making Wax.  The packaging features cover art by Miles (the painting “New York by Night”) and includes five complete musical transcriptions of Miles’s solos, and a 40-page booklet with by Bob Blumenthal.  He writes: “The Miles Davis Quintet heard here was Davis’s means of seizing the moment when his physical health and his musical concepts were on an upswing, and when the public and the music industry had finally begun to pay attention….This is the band Davis organized when he wanted his recordings to stand for more than snapshots of his momentary interests.”  What are you waiting for?

Slacker Friday:

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: The left side of the bar at Antone's
Eric,

"'Heart of Austin music' had blues in his blood"

Clifford Antone, the man who hosted the blues scene in Austin, Texas, passed away.  I will miss him.

Austin back in the day had many eccentrics.  Clifford was among the best of them.  He was always gracious and friendly.  He was a fan first, a business owner second.  He believed in nurturing young talent and rewarding high-mileage veterans.

One Sunday night back in 1989 my girlfriend and I stopped by his club, which was then just north of the University of Texas campus.  We had been there the previous Friday night, at which time Clifford had told us that there was to be a secret performance by the guitar legend Albert Collins on Sunday.  The problem, he said, was that this particular performance was a fundraiser for the Travis County Republican Party.  Clifford hated the idea.  So did Collins.  But Collins needed the money and the Republicans then -- as now -- had all the money.  So as a favor to Collins Clifford decided to host the party.  But he wanted us to show.  We would be on the guest list so we would not have to pay, he said.

When we got there, the place was filled with ill-fitting blue suits, white shirts, and red ties. Many of the Republicans sported big tortoise-shell glasses.  They all stood in rows.  Heads bobbing in unison.  Weight shifted to the back leg.  Lower lip protruding.  Eyes half-closed. Soul, baby.  Soul.

In every single right hand sat a can of Coors Light.

We scurried to the bar in a hurry and ordered a couple of Shiner Bocks.  We shared an eye-roll with the bartender.  Then Clifford came out to greet us.  He put his hands on our shoulders and led us into the back room where Collins was tuning up.  As we turned, he said "looks like we are the only Democrats in the place.  Anyone who is not a Goddamn Reaganite is a friend of mine."

When we got to the back room Collins was exchanging riffs with -- gasp and gag -- Republican strategist Lee Atwater, the South Carolina Gamecock fratboy who used racism to win elections and then played the black man's songs back to him as if that would make everything OK.  As I saw him, I could not help but superimpose the image of Willie Horton on his head.

It turns out this was Atwater's party all along.  The Republicans had invited him to come talk at a fundraiser.  He had insisted that it should be a concert with Albert Collins at Antone's.

I am sorry to report that Lee Atwater, who died about a year after this event, could both sing and play guitar.  He was really good.  He was not Albert Collins good (who was?).  But he did hold his own up there.  It's too bad.  I would have liked to see him sent to the woodshed by the master of the Telecaster.

Clifford, throughout the night, was friendly to his uptight guests.  They were potential blues fans, after all.  And they were helping out Albert Collins, who never got the rewards he deserved.  And that mattered more than anything.

We will miss you Clifford.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid not to recognize myself.  So I'm reading about these heartless creeps who want retirees to become homeless and die so that their kids can fatten up on the inheritance, and then I realize one of those creeps is me!

A couple of points/clarifications.  If reverse-mortgages were merely being viewed as a financial tool, I’d just ask for better regulations to protect against the situations Larry Howe raised.  I saw examples where a three-year reverse mortgage (e.g., the borrower has to leave the home for a nursing home and pay off the entire loan) carried effective interest rates over 42% because of the huge costs and higher interest rates that these loans entail.  That’s more than twice most state usury laws.

But it's more than that.  The New York Times editorial I referred to called reverse-mortgages "a kind of social policy" and predicted they would "become a social norm as the broad middle class of aging Americans begins to face a financial squeeze."  Imagine the reaction if Hillary Clinton suggested the way to bridge failed pensions and rising health care was for seniors to tap their home equity, or that the middle class was fated to carry mortgages until death!  Even Dubya's smart enough not to admit things like that, and indeed, home equity as "social policy" strikes me a lot like privatized social security.  For the present, a widescale promotion of reverse-mortgages (with the misleading image that they are the equivalent of a lifetime monthly annuity) as a normal retirement supplement would hide the pension crisis/savings crisis/prescription drug crisis/etc. and reduce the pressure to solve them.  The generational warfare issue is thornier, and I understand I probably sound like one of King Lear's ingrate kids
here.  But the Times rhapsodized about $2 TRILLION in home equity ready to be tapped into by reverse-mortgages.  If the lion's share of that money winds up with creditors and the health care system where in the past it would have gone to the next generation, isn't that a seismic shift in the concentration of wealth?  Fine, forget the kids, but tax some of this windfall but do something to prevent this from becoming yet another regressive tax.

Name: Barbara C.
Hometown: Pompano Beach, FL
Eric,
On Al Gore: John Kerry gave long "intelligent" answers to questions also.  But John Kerry does not have Al Gore's new found, hilarious, sense of humor, and his experience as a VP working with heads of state.  When you look back on Democratic Presidents; i.e. Jack Kennedy, it is that sense of humor that propelled them to popularity among a cross section of voters.  I call it "The "C" Factor.  The C stands for Charisma.

Name: Stephen Hock
Hometown: Haverford, PA
Dear Dr. Alterman,
In the list of living American authors with their own journals, don't forget Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon Notes has been since 1979.

Name: M. George Stevenson
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Doctor: "Is London Calling 'better' than Eat a Peach?  Is The Godfather better than Jules and Jim? Is Sentimental Education better than Anna Karenina?"  Yes, no-ish and yes: Romantic iconoclasm ALWAYS trumps regional/religious romanticism.  Your round, my friend.

Name: Dan Fischer
Comments:
Roth's work over the past 10 years is a marvel in itself, but The Human Stain is only a piece of it, and certainly not the best part.  Sabbath's Theater holds that position--any novel that Martin Amis finds filthy is one of a kind.  But it's much more than that--funny and outrageous, which The Human Stain isn't.  I'd rank Stain behind American Pastoral as well.  Lists like these will always stir people up, but what I find most objectionable is that this one seems to stick to the safest names. Now that Charles Portis (I'm dead serious here) seems to have more or less withdrawn from the field, American lit is far from the most interesting reading around.

Name: Jordan Weltman
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Eric,
Quote of the day from Bush at a news conference with Blair: Iran, he said, "needs a government that is going to recognize that part of being a great country is to be in line with your international obligations."

Name: Catherine
Hometown: New York, NY
Eric,
Regarding Maureen Dowd and her insipid babbling on the op-ed pages of The New York Times.  If it weren't for John Tierney it would be a real toss-up to figure out who to award the dunce cap to over there, Brooks or Dowd.  I'm convinced Tierney was only hired to make Brooks and Dowd look less like idiots.  If it weren't for Krugman, worth the price of the subscription all by himself, I'd cancel.  I am so sick and tired of Dowd droning on and on about nothing.  Seinfeld is off the air.  She's not writing for Seinfeld.  She is writing for the New York Times.  Someone needs to inform her.  She's not cute, she's not funny, she sounds like an idiot, and I resent it.  There are so few women on the op-ed pages of this nation's newspapers, you might think that as one of the few she would shoot a little higher than giggling school girl jokes about Clinton's wandering penis and Gore's wardrobe.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT
Eric,
OK, let me get this straight.  Cheney, and others of his ilk, felt that the post-Watergate restrictions on Executive branch power were excessive.  To my knowledge, no one has ever succeeded in getting him to provide any evidence to support the view that harm had come from these restrictions.  Nonetheless, he asserted the changes were not necessary. These restrictions did not appear out of the blue as some power-grab by the Legislative branch - they came about because the American people collectively felt that Nixon's malfeasance proved the Executive branch had too much power, and they demanded and expected that said power be curtailed. Virtually from the moment they took the reins (and much more so after 9/11), Bush and Cheney began to do the exact same types of things (excessive secrecy, defiance of the other branches of government, illegal snooping, menacing of the press, illegal handling of funds, dirty campaign tricks, ad nauseam) that had led to the restrictions in the first place. In short, they immediately began to provide the proof to refute Cheney's contention!  One of the most basic ideas of the Founders was to learn from historical mistakes so that they would not be repeated.  Clearly they did not anticipate an administration so malignant that it would deliberately seek to enlarge upon mistakes already proven.  What is the difference between us collectively condemning such conduct 30-some years ago and swallowing it so much more complacently now?  You have clearly and repeatedly pointed to the acquiescence of the MSM in all of this, and this writer frequently points to the Fox/Limbaugh propaganda apparatus (which was also erected in response to Watergate) as a major factor.  For whatever reason(s), we have accepted much lower standards for our government than we did then.  And so we will have to learn again from and for this mistake.  Wondering what the price of this lesson will be, and when that bill will come due, keeps me awake at night.

Back on Tuesday.

May 25, 2006 | 1:26 PM ET | Permalink

Gore galore

I went to a dinner for Al Gore last night.  After being introduced by his hosts, Harry Evans and Tina Brown, he fielded questions and the first one, from Charlie Rose, was the right one: “What would it take to convince you to run for President in 2008?”  Gore gave a long, interesting answer in which he pointed out that the transformation of our political culture into one of short soundbites was not one in which he felt most comfortable or to which he thought he was particularly good at adapting.  I fear he’s right about this.  To listen to the long, thoughtful, erudite answers Gore gave to questions last night —Chris Buckley asked him about nuclear power; I asked him about the weaknesses of our political and journalistic establishments that allow the Bush administration to get away with its mendacity/extremism/incompetence for so long— is to bring oneself to tears over the contrast between this thoughtful, intelligent, articulate and well-informed would-be statesman, and the purposely ignorant ideologue whom the Supreme Court placed in the world’s most powerful office.  But Gore is no good at pithy quips and tries hard to tell the truth, even when it hurts.  There’s little value on that in our debased political culture, where Maureen Dowd complains about his coffee tastes, his clothes, about everything except what matters, and she’s on the Good Guys’ team.  I have no question that Gore is the person best qualified in America to be president today.  And I think he’d be the strongest Democratic candidate, but matching his brave new, liberated, truth-telling self with the demands of contemporary political campaigning would not be easy and may not be possible.  And it’s that mismatch, I fear, that may keep him out of the race, though I feel even more certain now, he’s thinking about it.

One thing I think it’s OK to report was a longish, by these standards, talk I had before dinner with Tipper where, when I told her that the word in smart circles was that she did not want him to run again and that might stand in his way.  She vehemently objected to this notion and insisted that whatever was good for Al, was good for her.  She would not stand in the way of any decision he made about his political future.

Finally, if my argument is correct, that Gore is the only candidate who could unite the Moveon.org and DLC wings of the party, since he’s long had the trust of the latter and recently (and deservedly) earned the trust of the former, it’d be nice to hear some support for that idea from the Al Fromms and Will Marshalls of the party.  I might be wrong about that, but if I’m not, I think it’d matter to Gore if we heard it out loud.

And forgive me, but I want to give a shout-out to one of my heroes, and new friends, Altercation reader, Matt Groening, who not only has not ‘sold out’ after all these years, but even more amazingly, has remained fresh.  There are not many people I don’t pretend to be all cool around when I meet them, but with Matt I couldn’t help it.  Here’s to you, sir.  (And while we’re doing this shoutin’ out thing, here’s to Jesse Oswald of a newspaper called “The Onion.”  Quite a perspicacious fellow, this Mr. Oswald.  I can’t wait to read his ideas on archeology.)

I've got a new Think Again column, Straight Talk Distress.

Quote of the Day:  Great catch from TP:  “The WP notices that President Bush appointed a new domestic policy adviser.  Karl Zinsmeister, a longtime editor of the conservative American Enterprise Institute's magazine, has a knack for piercing through cant.  Last summer, for example, he wrote: ‘What the establishment media covering Iraq have utterly failed to make clear today is this central reality: With the exception of periodic flare-ups in isolated corners, our struggle in Iraq as warfare is over.’"  Here.

Police state update:  (Laws for thee, but not for me.)

I read on Mickey that Tom Edsall, who is a contender for America’s most sophisticated mainstream political reporter, is taking a buy-out from The Washington Post.  This may be a matter of personal choice, but the symbolism is really worrisome for the state of contemporary journalism.  Nobody adds context more diligently, or writes about politics more thoughtfully in the news columns than Tom.  And the book he wrote with his wife Mary, CHAIN REACTION, is the most important book to be written about liberalism and the challenges facing Democrats in this country in two decades.  You simply can’t understand the main currents of American politics if you haven’t read it, and I say this as someone who took much too long.

Walter Pincus is the Post’s other best reporter, and will undoubtedly be retiring soon.  Todd Gitlin makes a bunch of useful points in re “Dean” Broder and Hillary, here.  Broder is a long way from being the best reporter anywhere, Establishment myths not-withstanding.

And Boehlert asks:  “Can Jacob Weisberg actually read the mind of Hillary Clinton?”

What is it with these “Best of"s?  Maybe it’s me, but I did not even get through Toni Morrison’s Beloved and I think she’s a wonderful writer.  Hence, I have a hard time understanding how anyone could think it’s the best book of the past 25 years.  (Her best, in my notso humble opinion is Song of Solomon.)  Ditto Phillip Roth’s Human Stain.  It’s inferior, in my opinion, to both Counterlife and Operation Shylock, and possibly Patrimony.  Delillo’s Underworld has some wonderful parts, but it’s a big sprawling mess, and nowhere near as powerful as White Noise.  Updike’s Rabbit quartet is magnificent in every way, but it’s really four books published over a period of four decades.  Is that fair?  If so, Roth’s Zuckerman Bound was published by FSG in 1985.  And it’s not on the list, though it’s pretty unarguably his masterpiece, and they were published together, not over four decades.  And while I’m biased, Doctorow’s The March belongs here too.

Time had much the same problem when it picked the best pop album of all time—and came up with Bob Marley’s “Exodus”—which is not even close to being Marley’s best album, much less the best of anyone’s.  It turns out the guy who got to pick it, Christopher John Farley, just wrote a Marley bio.  The whole “best of” thing is kind of crazy.  Is London Calling ‘better’ than Eat a Peach?  Is The Godfather better than Jules and Jim?  Is Sentimental Education better than Anna Karenina?  Well, it may be fun to argue about, but…

Meanwhile, the Philip Roth Society announces the publication of Philip Roth Studies. Cormac McCarthy is apparently the only other living American author with his own journal, though Saul Bellow had one too.

Here, by the way, are some quotes I read of Phillip’s in The Guardian last December, by Martin Krasnik. They are pretty interesting.

M: "Why don't you smile?" I ask.

P. "There once was this photographer from New York. 'Smile,' she always said. 'Smile!' I couldn't stand her or the whole phenomenon. Why smile into a camera? It makes no human sense. So I got rid of both her and the smile."

M: "Do you ever smile at all?"

He looks at me. "Yes, when I'm hiding in a corner and no one sees it."

"Are you satisfied with your life?" I ask.

P: "Eight years ago I attended a memorial ceremony for an author," he says. "An incredible man full of life and humour, curiosity. He worked for a magazine here in New York. He had girlfriends, mistresses. And at this memorial ceremony there were all these women. Of all ages. And they all cried and left the room, because they couldn't stand it. That was the greatest tribute ..."

M: "What will the women do at your funeral?"

P. "If they even show up ... they will probably be screaming at the casket."

M: I ask him if he is religious. "I'm exactly the opposite of religious," he says. "I'm anti-religious. I find religious people hideous. I hate the religious lies. It's all a big lie. Are you religious yourself?" he asks.

P: "No," I say, "but I'm sure that life would be easier if I was."

"Oh," he says. "I don't think so. I have such a huge dislike. It's not a neurotic thing, but the miserable record of religion. I don't even want to talk about it, it's not interesting to talk about the sheep referred to as believers.

It's a horrible existence being a writer filled with deprivation. I don't miss specific people, but I miss life. I didn't discover that during the first 20 years, because I was fighting - in the ring with the literature. That fight was life, but then I discovered that I was in the ring all by myself."

(end)

Altercation Book Club, by Eric Rauchway

Urban populists
Tony Michels, A Fire in their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005. xii+335 pp. Illustrations, notes, and index. USD 27.95 (cloth).

The first fib we tend to believe about American socialism is that there wasn't any. Hardly had Werner Sombart urged an understanding that the U.S. couldn't have socialism than the Socialist Party of America shot to its greatest electoral successes in 1910-1912, winning enough state and local offices to worry observers about "the rising tide of socialism", and garnering Eugene V. Debs 6% of the presidential vote in 1912. So important were the Socialist positions and the Socialist vote in that hotly contested campaign that Theodore Roosevelt, the only-slightly-ex Republican, felt compelled to co-opt them (along with Bryanism, and indeed whatever other tendencies toward discontent he could lay claim to).

The second fib we tend to believe about American socialism is that it was an overseas import. We have an easier time believing that swarthy foreigners brought alien radicalism to these shores than that it sprouted here of its own. This is true even if we're sympathetic to those early, pre-Bolshevist, not-especially-Marxist, non-revolutionary Socialists, even if we're poring over Irving Howe's World of Our Fathers on a grandparent's coffee table. We have the idea that socialism came over on the boats with a population already hardened in conflict with European oppressors. This too is untrue: the most Socialist of states in 1912 were Oklahoma and Nevada, along with Western states more generally, states not so rich in foreign immigrants as in mad-as-hell, pitchfork-wielding farmers, native-born American internal migrants whose orators made the eagle scream in protest against monopolist railroaders and predatory lenders. They became Socialists, or Populists, or Progressives, because the American dream had failed them, and even after Socialism failed them too, they retained a leftist streak for decades.

Moreover, Tony Michels explains in a beautifully written and crisply narrated history, foreign immigrants became Socialists for similar reasons and likewise passed down to their children the legacies of this experience. Jewish immigrants to New York, seeking a language of community that would allow them to protest the injustices they saw in the city's great industries, found Socialism, adapted it to their needs, and thus became just as American as those angry white Protestant farmers out West.

As it happens, like those prairie populists, idealistic Jews coming to America from Russia had originally imagined themselves escaping Eastern oppression for a Western Eden, setting up as virtuous farmers in the unclaimed spaces of the plains. They had in mind, Michels writes, "a kind of Jewish version of Utah." But, like so many of the would-be homesteaders, they "possessed none of the skills needed to survive in a far-flung region." (35) So they fell back on the cities, where they found a new ideal among some older immigrants: German socialists. "German socialists ... highly valued their own culture.... [yet t]heirs was a universalistic and secular ideology." (43) For Jewish immigrants, as for so many others, the process of Americanization meant learning from earlier immigrants. Contact with the Germans, and the catalyst of strikes and protests in 1886, affected the idealistic Russian Jews in a further, significant way: it encouraged them increasingly to drop Russian and use instead Yiddish, a language not unlike German and commonly shared among Jewish immigrants. The result was a Jewish labor movement with a common tongue and points of contact with other Americanized immigrants.

As Jewish immigrants built a community in New York around Yiddish, they created a public culture in their language whose principal feature was the lecture. "[Y]oung Russian Jews were more likely to attend a lecture than a synagogue service, dance hall, saloon, card game, [or] night school...." Michels notes. The lecturers were not notable for their highbrow style or even, particularly, their expertise: "[F]ew lecturers could claim expertise in the subjects they addressed, including the most important one, socialism.... 'Most of our lecturers,' the writer Leon Kobrin later acknowledged, 'perused a book, or sometimes a pamphlet, and then lectured on it to the broad public.'" (78) This being so, what did the speakers have to offer? Again, like their counterparts on the radical plains, like William Jennings Bryan or Thomas Gore, they offered the intensity of religion brought to politics: "Aiming to inspire listeners more than to edify them, [Abraham] Cahan adopted the style of a traditional Jewish preacher or magid, illustrating his points with parables, jokes, and dramatic gestures." (80) By speaking in Yiddish, and in the preacherly idiom, the politicians could, as they said, reach "Moyshe", the ordinary Jew in the street.

And what were the politicians telling "Moyshe"? or rather, more importantly, what did he hear? Increasingly, the medium became the message: the growth of Yiddish culture, as a democratic form of communication, became an end itself, irrespective of its apparent political content. "Yiddish culture and Yiddish education will grow continuously and will become a formidable force that will bind together as one not only the educated people with the folk, but also all Jews from all countries," wrote Chaim Zhitlovsky in 1898. (134) And even as new immigrants came to New York's Jewish community, they could not help feel as Zhitlovsky did. "[W]e should not and cannot posit any political demands for the Jewish proletariat, as the Bund does in Russia, because we live in entirely different conditions, in free conditions of a democratic republic," one leader wrote in 1912. (168) Instead they created a culture "at once 'purely secular' and 'thoroughly Jewish,'" focused on shared language, customs, entertainment, and learned traditions. (179)

The continuously Americanizing community of Jewish immigrants and their children, adapting to American ways while constructing their own culture, continued growing until the era around World War I. Then, the violent creation of the Soviet Union exacerbated existing splits between the more serious radicals and the rest of the community. Soviet-sponsored splitters campaigned against the old guard. As Michels writes, "How could it have been otherwise? Socialists espoused universal principles yet created a movement consisting entirely of Yiddish-speaking Jews." (253) The anti-German and anti-radical sentiment of the war and afterward pushed Jews, along with other immigrant Americans, away from their own language and politics. Immigration restriction in the 1920s took its toll, too: Americanization was no longer an ongoing process, but something that within a generation would have finished.

Even as their distinctiveness waned, their political impact increased. In the 1930s, the Jewish socialists finally threw in their lot with the leftover Bryanite populists and any number of other disaffected communities to back Franklin D. Roosevelt for President. The New Deal's political indiscipline and indiscriminate cultural appeal at long last brought together these outsider groups that for so long had enjoyed the comforts of culture instead of political power. But Michels's particular story does not quite end with that ambivalent success: the transition from outsider to insider is never complete in this country with no real insiders of its own. No coalition ever completely absorbs or eliminates these legacies of incomplete acceptance. Their peculiarities eventually assert themselves, prying apart even the most apparently invulnerable political alliances, and necessitating new debates over how people become American.

Eric Rauchway
Professor
Department of History, UC Davis

Disclosure: Michels, Rauchway and Alterman all entered the Stanford History Ph.D program together in 1991.
_________________________________

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Norman gravely
Hometown: Woodbridge, Va

In regards to your debate with Tucker Carlson, wasn't that bit from Tucker about Finland's suicide rate bogus?  I thought you had debunked that claim in Altercation a while back.

Name: Richard Opie
Comments:
Re the Tucker Carlson: Mr. Carlson apparently did not take advantage of your offer to submit evidence on the Finnish suicide rate (a wholly unrelated and ridiculous response to your point regarding the Finland's "education for life" policy).  The best I can do, from the WHO website, is that Finland is 12th and Cuba is 16th. 

One other point - anytime I hear a conservative start to tell me what liberals "stand for" or about the "difference" between liberals and conservatives I listen up because I know what will follow: a bunch of 10 second sound bite garbage.  Tucker didn't disappoint.  His premise: liberals see politics "almost as an "end" and conservatives see politics as an unappealing means to an end, the end being "to be left alone" is as false as the conclusion; that explains why they have alot of trouble believing someone they disagree (I assume politically) with can be decent person.  First of all, I am a Liberal, and I disagree with a lot of really decent people, family included.  Secondly, politics to me is the means by which we cooperate to make life better.  Perhaps the difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives want to use politics to make life better for themselves, and liberals want to use politics make life better for everyone.  As evidence for that, look to the way the Republican congress has comported itself.

Name: Edward Furey
Comments:
The Dover, Del. reception of the Fred Phelps gang is a little reminiscent of a family legend about the Ku Klux Klan.  It is not widely known, but the Klan was quite strong on Long Island in the 1920s. The Klan in those days was anti-black as mostly an afterthought, concentrating its wrath on the Catholics and Jews in the north in the sure and certain hope that it had little to fear from their wrath, at least in Suffolk County.  On the occasion of one of their major marches down the Main Street of Bay Shore they were greeted with a barrage of bottles from members of my family and some other Irish Catholics (perhaps assisted by the odd Pole and Italian, and some of the local Jews -- the texts are unclear on this point), forcing them to march through broken glass.  One of my great uncles, a football player at Columbia when that actually signified something, decided broken bottles weren't quite enough, stormed into the line of march, pulled off one of the Klansman's hoods and punched him out on the spot. The guy turned out to be a local grandee who never lived down being outed as a bigot and being punched out for his troubles.  Little things like that -- and groveling to keep one's trade -- can drive a man to Tolerance.  The Klan's failure to intimidate area Catholics and Jews (pace The Onion) cost it much of its cache and it faded away on Long Island.  No doubt, socio-economic factors played a role, but sometimes a little fisticuffs can help the Socio-Economy along.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Eric-- The correspondents who challenged Stupid and Larsen's critique of reverse mortgages make some interesting counterclaims.  But in the two personal cases that were cited, it seems not coincidental that both parties were in desperate situations with no alternative.  And therein lies the problem with Jim from Shelton's claim about choice.  While the reverse mortgage provides these retirees with cash flow and shelter, they don't calculate the costs.  That's always the danger of a desperate bargain.  The solace they take from their immediate security doesn't change the fact that some financial institution got rich selling them the money to pay for that house, and now another one is making another fortune draining their equity back out of it.  Forget about leaving an inheritance for one's kids, what happens if the reverse mortgagee outlives the value of the property?  What then?  Larsen's right this is a scheme to render hardworking people into lifelong debtors.  Brings us back to the etymology of "mortgage" (mort = death, gage = pledge).  Just like our government, American personal finances are overrun by debt.  This is what comes of a consumer economy driven by an insatiable need for growth.  When there's not enough wealth to propel that growth, credit is the fuel used to stoke the furnace.  But credit is the bank's term.  Understood in the full financial frame, the bank's assets (revenue generated by interests on the credit they extend) are debits for those on the other end of the loan.

May 23, 2006

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
United States Department of Justice
935  Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20535

Dear Mr. Gonzales:

We write with growing concern about what appears to be an eroding respect in the Department of Justice for the absolute right of a free press to pursue the news without fear or favor.

The most recent instance was your appearance this past Sunday morning on the ABC program This Week, on which you suggested that New York Times journalists who reported on the National Security Agency’s monitoring of phone calls between the United States and countries abroad—a controversial subject of essential national importance—might be prosecuted for espionage.

As you remarked on This Week, "There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility."

You left unclear what those statutes might be.  One speculation is that you might be thinking of the 1917 Espionage Act, which made it a crime to receive national defense information and transmit it.  Never in the difficult history of the past 89 years has the Act been applied to American journalists.

In the same week that USA Today published a disturbing account of secret eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens our colleagues at ABC News—Brian Ross and Richard Esposito—reported that a senior federal law-enforcement official had advised them that the government is monitoring its phone calls in an effort to establish which sources the pair have drawn upon in their reporting.  Reporters for the New York Times and the Washington Post, Ross and Esposito reported, may also be under surveillance as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

The New York Sun, a newspaper with a well-known pro-administration tilt, followed up with a similar report on May 16th.  According to the Sun, FBI sources confirmed to Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, that the Bureau is monitoring the calls of a number of news organizations as part of a leak investigation—possibly in regard to reporting on the CIA’s detentions of terrorism suspects at locations outside the United States.  Another speculative pretext is published accounts of the agency’s use of Predator drones in Pakistan.

This kind of secret prying into the private conversations of professional journalists is unworthy of our democracy, Mr. Gonzales.  You know better than we do that the law has long required law-enforcement agencies which subpoena the phone records of journalists to notify those journalists within 90 days of obtaining the records.  Neither ABC nor the Times has received any such notification.  In any event, we remind you that when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald sought copies of phone records from the Times in 2002 in connection with its reporting on an allegedly fake Islamic charity a federal judge sided with the paper in its refusal to comply.

ABC has suggested that its records may have been obtained without normal due process under a “national security letter” created by the Patriot Act of 2001.  No one knows, of course, and in the absence of straight talk from the Justice Department rumors and suspicion are gaining traction.

The press-freedom committee of the Overseas Press Club frequently reminds authoritarian governments that good journalists are a foundation of great nations.  No nation has ever been better served by its journalists than the United States.  We trust we don’t need to remind you, Mr. Gonzales, that the private telephone records of reporters and editors deserve the full protection of the law.

Respectfully,

Larry Martz
Kevin McDermott
Norman A. Schorr
Co-chairman – Freedom of the Press Committee

May 24, 2006 | 12:52 PM ET | Permalink

The Bush Putsch: Officers Speak

Former military man and present-day historian Andrew Bacevich on the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz attitude toward 9/11, here.

Yes, it was a disaster.  Yes, it was terrible.  But by God, this was a disaster that could be turned to enormous advantage.  Here lay the chance to remove constraints on the exercise of American military power, enabling the Bush administration to shore up, expand, and perpetuate U.S. global hegemony.  Toward that end, senior officials concocted this notion of a Global War on Terror, really a cover story for an effort to pacify and transform the broader Middle East, a gargantuan project which is doomed to fail.  Committing the United States to that project presumed a radical redistribution of power within Washington.  The hawks had to cut off at the knees institutions or people uncomfortable with the unconstrained exercise of American power.  And who was that?  Well, that was the CIA.  That was the State Department, especially the State Department of Secretary Colin Powell. That was the Congress.

Meanwhile, Gregory D. Foster, professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University. wrote a brilliant op-ed in The Baltimore Sun a few weeks back. Here are some excerpts:

Even as Long War rhetoric artfully circumvents such politically discomfiting terminology as "insurgency," its underlying message should be clear: We dutiful subjects should be quietly patient and not expect too much (if anything) too soon (if at all) from our rulers as they prosecute their unilaterally proclaimed war without end against ubiquitous evil.

The intent of the message is to dull our senses, to dampen our expectations, to thereby deaden the critical, dissenting forces of democracy that produce political turbulence and impede autocratic license. Being warned here amounts to being disarmed - intellectually and civically.

President Bush; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace; the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John P. Abizaid; and the recently released Quadrennial Defense Review, among other authoritative purveyors of received wisdom, all warn us that we're embroiled in - and destined to be further subjected to - what is to be known as a Long War.

It would be one thing if such semantic legerdemain reflected revelatory strategic insight or a more sophisticated appreciation of the intrinsic nature of postmodern conflicts and enemies. But that is not the case. In fact, it's hard to avoid the cynical view that America's senior military leaders are willfully playing public relations handmaiden to their political overlords at the expense of a naive, trusting citizenry.

And lest we forget, the Tiger Force book is out, here.

Let us not let the passing of Jim Carey pass without noting his pioneering.  I knew the man only slightly, but when I was writing my first book, Sound & Fury, back in 1989, I had a lot of unformed notions (and more than a little anger) about the media, but it wasn’t until I discovered Carey’s work that I found an intellectual framework—particularly regarding his discussions of John Dewey—to make sense of what I was seeing and hearing in a fashion that might give these notions some lasting value.  I find that I have returned to these ideas over and over during the intervening period and I hope my own works carries on a small part of the tradition he helped established.

Correction:  Rick Stengel informs he was a power-forward, not a guard in high school. We’ll take his word for it.

P.S.  The Clintons “have all but insisted we analyze” their marriage about as much as Little Roy has insisted we examine his online dating habits, methinks.  At what point, other than in this man’s fervid imagination did the Clintons ever ask anyone to examine their marriage?  Yes they were forced to discuss it by a media that lacked all respect for privacy, but Andy was forced to discuss his personal ads?  Was he “insisting” we discuss his sex life as well?  The hypocrisy astounds…  (And by the way, this blog/columnist never discussed either one, and won’t.)

Alter-reviews:

TV-DVD Roundup

From HBO Deadwood and Entourage, season II.

Two of the best shows never on television.  (“It’s not TV, it’s HBO.”)  But it sure is great.  I can't vouch for either show’s realism, just for their entertainment value.  Life would be so much poorer were not for HBO.  Start with season one, though, respectively if you’re starting out.  More here and here.  And here’s the kind of thing you’d write if you wanted to miss the point of everything, as this letter-writer sure did: 

The overuse of profanity and sexual scenes really detracts from what Deadwood could really be.  It's too bad that it has to sell itself to sex and profanity starved people in order to survive.  For Example, "High Noon" starring Gary Cooper is the best western ever made and it has not sex or profanity, just great acting, a great story and great music.  I would recommend that people avoid this series like the plague until the writers and produces stop relying on the aformention central theme of how cool non-stop profanity sound in someone's living room.

Also, in no particular order:

24, season 4. Morris Dickstein recently wrote in Dissent, here:

Just as the current Bush administration has propped itself up with claims of pursuing a global war on terror, so writers and directors have used the real threat of terrorism as an inexhaustible source of evil and danger.  They depend on the stereotype of swarthy, scheming men with Middle Eastern accents, demonic in their fanaticism and implacable in their hatred of the American way of life. The best example of the conventional thriller today is the highly addictive Fox series 24, with Kiefer Sutherland as the super-agent Jack Bauer, battling fools and traitors in his own government as he confounds a dizzying array of terrorist plots. Bauer is at once fearless and modest, loyal to his agency yet often out on his own, with a knack for finessing insoluble problems.  With each episode set in a single hour of a twenty-four-hour period, and many innocent lives hanging in the balance, the series gives us a high-tech version of the endless cliffhangers of old movie serials.  Blithe in its improbabilities, dazzling in the speed and concentration of its action, anticipating tomorrow’s headlines, 24 touches on serious themes such as the use of torture on terror suspects only to keep us glued to whatever might happen next.

Sounds good don’t it?  People say so, but I’m a few years behind.  Anyway, it’s seven CDs and 1055 minutes.  And you can read about it here.

I Love Lucy - The Complete Sixth Season (1956-7)

It’s the final season of I Love Lucy. I read the following:

The first major show to be put on film rather than kinescope…. A big change comes to I Love Lucy in the season’s second half, when the Ricardos decide it’s time to become homeowners and pull up stakes at their old Manhattan apartment.  Moving to a nice, new house in Connecticut, they’re soon joined by Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel (Vivian Vance), and the season’s storylines take on a distinctly suburban flavor, with country clubs, barbecues, and gardens figuring into the comedy.  With those developments, I Love Lucy came to a close after making television history as a much-beloved sitcom.  Lots of special features, including multiple audio commentaries, flubs, lost scenes, and five episodes of My Favorite Husband, Ball’s radio show. Great episodes: 12. Lucy And Superman, 3. Lucy Meets Orson Wells, 1. Lucy And Bob Hope.

The Bob Newhart Show - The Complete Third Season (1974-5) here (these 24 episodes, compiled on three discs, come from 1974-75)  What’s not to like?  It’s not Bob’s fault he was turned into a drinking game.

Family Affair - Season 1 (1966) here.  Brian Keith stars as bachelor Bill Davis, a highly-paid engineering consultant who lives in a posh Manhattan apartment with his proper English manservant, Mr. Giles French (Sebastian Cabot).  Davis’ carefree existence is turned upside down when his brother and sister-in-law die suddenly in a tragic plane accident, leaving their three children orphaned.  Davis becomes an instant father figure to six year-old twins, Buffy and Jody (Annisa Jones, Johnnie Whitaker) and their big sister, Cissy (Kathy Garver). 30 episodes on 5 discs.

The Color Honeymooners - Collection 1 (1966) here.  These were taken from the Jackie Gleason Show, “the sun and fun capital of the world – Miami Beach!"  How great it was.  Reprising the show, we get Gleason as Ralph, Art Carney as Ed with newcomers Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean playing Alice and Trixie.  If you can’t get enough of these people, and many people can’t. It’s four CDs, 450 minutes, out on June 27.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
Dear Eric,
Like the M and W paper, the Massing article is another in a long line of pieces that miss the most salient fact about AIPAC: they do a very good job raising money for American politicians but not a very good job at achieving concrete results.  Take the examples from Massing's piece:

  1. AIPAC raised a lot of "noisy money" (my term) about moving the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in an effort to undermine Oslo, but the Embassy was never moved. AIPAC "did not succeed."

  2. AIPAC opposed the candidacies of John Bryant and James Moran, both of whom won anyway, and AIPAC's opposition to Cynthia McKinney in 2002 did not carry over to defeat her in 2004.

  3. Massing admits that "a candidate's position on Israel is rarely enough by itself to cause defeat." Indeed, although there are literally hundreds of elections for state and national office in every four year period, Massing can only cite four cases where AIPAC money allegedly made the difference, and one was from 1981 and took the presumably non-lobbyable Illinois State Supreme Court to decide it. Later, Massing quotes a former AIPAC lobbyist admitting "I don't think they can defeat a member of Congress, not even in New York." That hardly sounds like an all-powerful organization.

  4. Massing notes that Democrats get most of AIPAC's dollars, but later claims a substantial overlap between AIPAC and the neocons. Its hard to see how AIPAC achieves anything this way. Since Jews overwhelmingly vote for and contribute to Democrats anyway, that Democrats receive most of AIPAC's money should hardly be surprising. But Democrats do not control Congress. That suggests that AIPAC is either backing losers, which means its dollar-raising ability doesn't translate to wins, or (more likely) it is backing strong candidates who would probably win anyway, which suggests AIPAC is probably wasting money and/or preaching to the choir. Worse for AIPAC's Republicans, the neo-con reign has been a disaster. So where is AIPAC's success here?

  5. AIPAC did officially endorse the Oslo accords, which contrary to AIPAC's desire, contemplated restrictions on Israel's ability to settle the West Bank and Gaza and would eventually result in a Palestinian homeland. Now, Israel has unilaterally withdrawn from Gaza and intends to withdraw from much of the West Bank. On one hand, Massing thinks AIPAC likes this because they distrust negotiations with the Palestinians (even if they endorsed Oslo). But the end result - unilateral withdraw from territory, ouster of many Jews from settlements, and the creation of a Palestinian state - seems squarely at odds with AIPAC's goals. So what did AIPAC achieve?

  6. When the President of Iran seeks nuclear weapons, denies the Holocaust, and makes other crazy statements about destroying Israel, you don't need a lobbyist to get you to wonder about Iran's intentions. So maybe AIPAC does effectively create a lot of pressure-building "background noise" and raise a lot of money. But to what real result? AIPAC as the great beast of lobbying has become such an accepted fact of life everyone assumes it must be accomplishing something concrete regarding Middle East policy - things that would not be accomplished were it somewhat less of a beast.  If there is a case to be made for that proposition, neither M and W nor Massing make it.

Name: frelkins
Hometown: bklyn, ny
dear eric:
i too liked many things about the massing article. however, towards the end i began to get a little anxious, as the sourcing got thinner and thinner, more and more anonymous (sparing people from embarrassment -- one reason he gave for not naming a source -- really shouldn't be the goal of hard-hitting journalism). further, while he stated that wasn't trying to imply the existence of a jewish cabal, he rather does towards the very end, by laying out who's married to whom, etc. i also just don't like to hear jewish people referred to with phrases like "group of 50" or "gang of four," since that really feeds into the traditional anti-semitic notion that small groups of jewish people somehow have undue influence in the world for sinister ends. me no fan of most of the people in that article, but again, some things about it kinda make me nervous. am i just too sensitive in these days when casual anti-semitism seems on the rise? i do worry that support for israel overall is falling. i would have preferred it if massing had shown a little more support in the piece for the existence of a peaceful, just, neighborly and secure israel.

Name: Steven Rennie
Hometown: Fillmore, NY
Eric,
Eric Larsen's and Stupid's comments about reverse mortgages leave me speechless.  My parents never owned their first home until they were in their 60's.  My father was in the ministry for 40 years and we always rented or a parsonage was provided by the church.  My parents raised 7 children on my father's small income.  My mother did not work outside the home.  Every cent was accounted for and every mouth was fed and every body clothed.  Yet, when dad retired 16 years ago he had managed to save enough for a down payment on a modest home in his hometown.  He managed to keep up with mortgage payments with his and my mother's Social Security and serving as an interim pastor in small churches who needed him. On a Sunday in July three years ago he preached his last sermon for the next Tuesday a stroke took his ability to read and write and think in the abstract. Suddenly the only home he had ever owned became a financial burden. Thankfully, I had read about reverse mortgages and contacted a lender who was up front about the costs and ramifications of this type of loan. We were able to pay off the mortgage, the car loan and still had money left which we used to put an addition on my parents' home so dad would not have to climb the stairs to use the bathroom. My mother still has a little left in her account for unforeseen emergencies. By doing this we have been able to keep my parents in the only home they ever owned and we can assist them ourselves to maintain their independence for as long as possible. Since when do parents have an unfettered obligation to leave an inheritance to their children? How did we come to this point in our history where so many believe it is society's duty to care for each of us so that we can hand down what we have worked for to the next generation? How does a reverse mortgage equate with stealing from our children's inheritance? My parents owe me nothing. I owe it to them to do what I can do to care for them and to allow them to maintain their independence and dignity for as long as possible. If Eric and Stupid are waiting for mommy and daddy's inheritance, fine for them. But their paranoid intolerance for lending institutions should not dissuade others from using this tool to assist those in need. We were fully aware of the terms and conditions of the loan. In fact, you cannot finish the application process until you have consulted a certified financial counselor and provided a certificate attesting to that to the lending institution. Though I am probably right of center, I enjoy your column even as I often do not share much of your worldview. The amusing rants of Stupid and Eric, though predictably shallow, at least illustrate that paranoid thought processes are not confined to either end of the ideological spectrum.

Name: Jim F.
Hometown: Shelton, CT
Dr. A.,
Stupid's and Mr. Larsen's opinions of reverse mortgages are way off base almost to the point that I have to wonder if they understand the basics of personal finance and economics. Here's a quick brief on the facts:

  1. The money he/she earns or the assets that he/she accumulates is the property of he/she and thus they can do whatever they please with it (as long as it is legal). They can spend it, they can bequeath it to their heirs or charity, or they can simply destroy it. In fact, they could even go as far as to spend the monies on doctors and pharmacies so they can live longer or even go out on a limb and contribute to political candidates/campaigns such as Gore/Obama '08. The point is that the choice is theirs.

  2. During the course of one's lifetime, the most valuable asset one will usually acquire is their homestead/real estate. So the real question is, how does one create liquidity in this asset yet still somehow utilize the asset? One way is to borrow against the asset, ergo, a home equity loan, reverse mortgage, etc. Another is to sell the asset and take a reduced amount of the sale proceeds and purchase another dwelling (since shelter is one of man's basic necessities).

  3. Credit is needed in an economy. Credit helps create liquidity albeit with an additional cost. Imagine one's current situation if there simply wasn't any credit and everything was cash.

Finally, I want to make it clear that I am not in the mortgage or banking industry and am not really interested in a reverse mortgage at this time.  However, to make a blanket statement and claim that reverse mortgages are a tool of "the man" to fleece the unsuspecting elderly and their heirs of any money/inheritance, well, is just stupid.

Name: Mr. E.
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Dr. A.
I'm a 76-year-old retired engineer.  I gave my children life, love, a college education, cars and "loans".  Now, my pension is gone, my ready cash depleted and I'm dependent on Social Security and Medicare only for most everything else.  Now, with nothing left but $400,000 equity in my home, Stupid and Larsen tell me not to rob my children by getting a reverse mortgage.  I'd love to hear your alternative guys.  I don't have enough income for a second mortgage; and if I sell, where do we live? If you guys are suggesting my wife and I move in with one of the kids, forget it. They're sending their own kids to college and it's costing them more than it cost me. A well executed reverse mortgage (with limits higher than they are now) will keep me in my home, give me a small income so I can buy groceries and pay for other little niceties like internet access so I can read more ridiculous opinions. Yes, a reverse mortgage is expensive, but it's a way to keep, and live in, my home and still buy groceries. Keep up the good work Dr. A.

Name: Beaumont
Hometown: Chicago
Doc, Just a quick comment on Tucker, yes, he was worth listening to.  In fact, he sounded more like a postmodern multiculturalist. But I think with the audience he had, he knew he could not get away with the language games he plays on his TV shows.  That would be taking an opponent's statement out of context or playing gotcha with rhetoric.  I remember a particular Crossfire where he had Gore Vidal on.  He knew he wouldn't be able to get away with some of the things he normally does, so he was very careful with his rhetoric.  But still, Vidal told him to 'take a course in remedial English'.

Name: Mark Shotzberger
Hometown: Dover, DE
Though it never made the national news, the small town of Seaford, DE ran a group of Fred Phelps "God hates fags" bunch out of town while they were set up down the street from the funeral of a local Marine killed in Iraq.  The towns residents crossed the police barricade and let loose on them!  The police escorted the Westboro bunch out of town through a rain of bottles and rocks.  Seaford, a small town in southern Delaware, has now lost 3 of her sons in Iraq.  Two within two months.  Link to the full story.

May 23, 2006 | 11:40 AM ET | Permalink

The Right Response to Walt/Mearsheimer

Finally, we get a thoughtful detailed, critical response to the frustrating Walt/Mearsheimer paper, The Israel Lobby by Michael Massing in the New York Review of Books, here.  While appropriately critical of the paper’s many (and surprising) weaknesses, Massing’s article focuses where W/M should have in the first place: on the nefarious, anti-democratic activities of AIPAC and its allies and the degree to which these are contrary to the long-term interests of both Israel and the American Jewish community: Some excerpts follow:

“The [AIPAC] "Gang of Four," as these men are known, do not share the general interest of a large part of the Jewish community in promoting peace in the Middle East. Rather, they seek to keep Israel strong, the Palestinians weak, and the United States from exerting pressure on Israel. AIPAC's director, Howard Kohr, is a conservative Republican long used to doing the Gang of Four's bidding. For many years Steven Rosen, AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues, was the main power on the staff, helping to shape the Gang of Four's pro-Likud beliefs into practical measures that AIPAC could promote in Congress. (In 2005, Rosen and fellow AIPAC analyst Keith Weissman left the organization and were soon after indicted by federal authorities for receiving classified national security information and passing it on to foreign (Israeli) officials.)

… A former AIPAC staff member described for me how the system works. A candidate will contact AIPAC and express strong sympathies with Israel. AIPAC will point out that it doesn't endorse candidates but will offer to introduce him to people who do. Someone affiliated with AIPAC will be assigned to the candidate to act as a contact person. Checks for $500 or $1,000 from pro-Israel donors will be bundled together and provided to the candidate with a clear indication of the donors' political views. (All of this is perfectly legal.) In addition, meetings to raise funds will be organized in various cities. Often, the candidates are from states with negligible Jewish populations.

One congressional staff member told me of the case of a Democratic candidate from a mountain state who, eager to tap into pro-Israel money, got in touch with AIPAC, which assigned him to a Manhattan software executive eager to move up in AIPAC's organization. The executive held a fund-raising reception in his apartment on the Upper West Side, and the candidate left with $15,000. In his state's small market for press and televised ads, that sum proved an important factor in a race he narrowly won. The congressman thus became one of hundreds of members who could be relied upon to vote AIPAC's way. (The staffer told me the name of the congressman but asked that I withhold it in order to spare him embarrassment.)

Conversely, candidates who challenge AIPAC can find their funds suddenly dry up….In 1981, after leaving the Senate, Adlai Stevenson III decided to run for governor of Illinois. In the late 1970s, Stevenson had introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill in the Senate that would have cut US aid to Israel by $200 million until such time as the president could certify that Israel's settlements policy was consistent with US policy. The amendment failed, but, as Stevenson told me, "the Israeli lobby lowered the boom. The money dried up." The campaign, he told me, became demoralized, and his poll ratings dropped. In the end the race was so close that it was finally decided by the Illinois Supreme Court in favor of his opponent, Jim Thompson. The drop in funds, Stevenson says, "was critical." Cases such as this "happen almost once a year," I was told by a Democratic congressman (who asked not to be named)….

What AIPAC wants can be summed up very succinctly: a powerful Israel free to occupy the territory it chooses; enfeebled Palestinians; and unquestioning support for Israel by the United States. AIPAC is skeptical of negotiations and peace accords, along with the efforts by Israeli doves, the Palestinians, and Americans to promote them. …

…All the measures pouring out of Congress convey a very clear message. As one congressman put it: We're so predictable, so supportive, so unquestioning, of Israel's actions that in the long run we've alienated much of the Arab world. We've passed any number of resolutions making it clear that we didn't want Clinton or Bush to put pressure on Israel with regard to settlements, or negotiations. If we passed a resolution that fully embraced the road map, it would make an enormous difference in the Arab world, and it would help undermine terrorists. But you would never get a measure like that through the international relations or appropriations committees. Congress would never pass a resolution that was in any way critical of anything Israel has done.

I asked the congressman if he was willing to be identified. He said no.

Mearsheimer and Walt's essay, meanwhile, has been the object of much study by AIPAC's research unit, which intently follows the activities of critics of Israel and of the lobby. Its "Activities Update," a compilation of dozens of press clips, speech transcripts, and minutes of meetings, is periodically e-mailed to a select list of AIPAC supporters. This research provides the raw material for AIPAC's efforts to intimidate and silence opponents. The editor of "Activities Update" is Michael Lewis, the son of Bernard Lewis, the Princeton scholar and interpreter of the Arab world who gave advice to the Bush administration in the months preceding the war in Iraq.

The nasty campaign waged against John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt has itself provided an excellent example of the bullying tactics used by the lobby and its supporters. The wide attention their argument has received shows that, in this case, those efforts have not entirely succeeded. Despite its many flaws, their essay has performed a very useful service in forcing into the open a subject that has for too long remained taboo.”

Also, A letter to AIPAC by Betty McCollum, Member of Congress, 4th District, Minnesota. 

And my column is here.

I didn’t know exactly what I thought of Peter Beinart’s mostly quite good book until I ready Mike Tomasky's brilliant review of it.  (You can’t know what it costs me to say that, but he earned it.)  Two points I’d add:

  1. Tomasky does not give quite enough credit to Beinart for his Iraq apology.  It is a thing of beauty and the rest of us could learn a lot from it, though George Packer could learn more than most.

  2. Another massive weakness of Beinart’s book is that while it is quite good on the history of America’s domestic debate, it ignores the effect of that blinkered debate on the real world.  The United States supported mass murder in El Salvador and terrorism in Nicaragua (if the word has any meaning at all).  The other side may have been commies, but they were Mother Teresa compared to the people we armed, paid for and organized and lied for.  This is not an ideological point; the numbers bear this out.  Sorry to say it this way, but Beinart should have read When Presidents Lie and here’s Beinart.

I Imagine Things So They Become True Quote of the Day:  Little Roy: "Still, no marriage has generated as much political and cultural buzz over the years as the Clintons' - and they have all but insisted we analyze it," here.  (And can we depend on the Times to do a front-page story on how often Chuck Schumer and his wife do the dirty deed as well?)

Boehlert asks: “Why the different standards for liberal and conservative blogs?”

Chad Heeter reports from Waveland, a town on the Mississippi coast on the eve of the next hurricane season that the only rebuilding that's gone on since Hurricane Katrina leveled the area is casinos and fast-food outlets.  Otherwise, FEMA's idea of rebuilding was to put Mississippians in "travel trailers" -- 100,000 Mississippi residents in 38,000 trailers.  The problem with travel trailers is simple:  Gusts of 50 miles per hour lasting more than three seconds can damage mobile homes.  From March 2003 to April 2005, thirteen storms with winds of at least 58 mph -- the low-end of a severe storm -- blew through Waveland and surrounding communities.  Even the FEMA website points out that people in trailers in hurricane season need storm shelters.  Only problem, there is just one certified Red Cross shelter in Waveland's county, 20 minutes inland, with a capacity of 250 people.  (The current estimated population of the county is over 40,000 people.)  That sums up the Bush administration's Iraq-style "reconstruction" at home, here.

Wimpy, We Don’t Want to Win, Democrat Quote of the Day:  "If I were the Democrats, the last thing I would do is really try to mobilize these folks as a political force . . . because I think some of this is a real unhappiness with the whole business of politicizing religion," said Mark Silk, director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn, here .

From Answers.com: 

Ninety-five years ago today The New York Public Library, at the time the largest marble structure ever built in the United States, was dedicated by President Taft in New York City.  Designed by J. M. Carrère and Thomas Hastings, it took 16 years to build.  Edward Clark Potter sculpted the two lions which guard the entrance.  The building's main reading room is 78 ft (23.8 m) wide by 297 ft (90.5 m) long, with ceilings 52 ft (15.8 m) high. The library has nearly 2 million cardholders, and its collection grows by some 10,000 items a week.

New Public Citizen Report on Lobbying Released: The Bankrollers: Lobbyists' Payments to the Lawmakers They Court, 1998-2006, here.

Alter-reviews
I think Kris Kristoferson is a brilliant song-writer but man, his voice sucks.  What to do?  Give thanks to The Pilgrim: A Celebration of Kris Kristoferson for solving my problem: We get

- and then expanded out to include old friends like

It won’t be out for another month but you can read all about it here

Speaking of Rick Rubin, and we almost were, Sal adds, “his bare-bones recordings of JOHNNY CASH revitalized the Man In Black's career in the '90s.  Now comes the release of two discs of previously unreleased solo acoustic tracks made a good 20 years earlier, that share the spirit of records like "American Recordings I-IV."  "PERSONAL FILE" is a joy from beginning to end, and an absolute must for all Cash collectors.”  A series of informal private sessions he recorded in 1973 featuring just voice and guitar--with a few numbers added between then and 1982--were left untouched at his House of Cash studio, unearthed only after his death in 2003.  These 49 songs, labeled "Personal File," show him exploring 19th-century parlor tunes, Tin Pan Alley pop, gospel, little-known Cash originals, classic and contemporary country, and even a recitation of Robert Service's poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee."  On many, his spoken introductions reveal personal ties to a given number.  That’s here.

Sal also likes T. Bone-Burnette’s TRUE FALSE IDENTITY, the first release of all new material from the producer extraordinaire in 14 years, sounding a little like a Rain Dogs-era Tom Waits meets Hank Williams. This release is a welcome return from Mr. Burnett.  Oh brother, where were thou?  And TWENTY TWENTY is a 2 CD, 40 track retrospective, including rarities, lyrics, and previously unreleased tracks. That’s here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Something Polish
Hometown: Falls Church, VA
Slogan for Gore in '08 (and he will run):  Right then, right now!  This enhances the (correct) meme that Gore has been right about many things for quite a while, from Global Warming, to Bush's disastrous fiscal policy (recall Debate I), to the more recent (and obvious) Iraq War.  Gore's been proven right on all of these counts (and others) at this point.  It'd also maybe possibly help to suggest that had Gore been Prez in '01 (and many of us think he should have been anyway), the WTC would probably still be standing today (and many of us believe this too).  Cause, you know, he actually reads the memos--and acts on them.  Gore: Right then, right now.  Add Obama, and you get a good bit of the "now" in the slogan too.  He's the politico of Now and so forth.  Gore/Obama: Right then, right now.  Hmm.

Name: Nick Sullivan
Hometown: Upper Darby, PA
Eric --
There will be no 'penance' from the media, I'm afraid.  We could wish otherwise, but check Matthews on 5/21: "Is Gore 'a slice shy of a loaf'"?  Klein: His 2002 Iraq speech had the delivery of a "madman."  Kathleen Parker: "Some people say Gore's lost it ... I won't go that far ..." And this is May 2006.  Disgusting.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Buffalo, NY
John Heilemann writes: And even some of the non-Hessians were singularly unhelpful-in particular, the writer Naomi Wolf, whose advice to Gore to shed his "beta male" image and adopt earth tones in his wardrobe made him a laughingstock.  Bob Somerby says (just search for "earth tones" at his site): Did Naomi Wolf tell Gore to wear earth tones?  No one ever seems to have offered an actual source for the pleasing claim.  But so what?  Because the tale was so deeply enjoyable, scribes let nothing keep them from telling it.  Even when Wolf made a flat denial, scribes continued repeating the story, almost never mentioning what Wolf had said.  Which is it?  How can Al Gore ever win when the press keeps repeating the same false stories that caused him to lose in 2000?

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman,
In your piece regarding McCain, you note that "[t]here is something about college that leads kids to think it's immoral to allow someone to speak with whom they disagree."  Unfortunately, that statement can be readily expanded to most of what passes as political discourse in any venue during these polarized times.  The art of listening to diverging views and opinions appears to be endangered.  However, it is only through an understanding of those with whom we disagree that productive and rational debate is possible.  Too many are all too willing to wrap themselves in their ideology to the extreme exclusion of alternate views. Such closed-mindedness and singularity of vision often results in ignorance on a fundamental level.  As sharply noted by Martin Luther King, Jr., "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

Name: Eric Larsen
Hometown: Salinas, CA
I liked Stupid's remarks Friday concerning reverse mortgages.  He's right that the rich and greedy have found yet another new way to rip us off by stealing the inheritances of our children.  Adds new meaning to the term "ownership" society where the top few own almost all of the wealth.  It's sad to see Robert Wagner shill for these rip-off artists knowing that this merely screws the children.  Yep now they're trying to tell us that it's okay to live beyond our means today by stealing from our children's inheritance.  The other disturbing new trend in personal finance is the "neverending" loan.  Take Quicken's "Smart Choice" loan ads that show how much it costs to pay a fully amortized loan versus one that's interest only.  They say how smart it is to save all that cash to waste on other stuff.  What they don't say is that their "Smart Choice" loans will never get paid off ensuring perpetual mortgage payments.  They don't show the total cost of the payments compared because then people would see how much they're really being ripped off for. Those are "Stupid Choice" loans that only idiots would fall for.  Now they will loan you 125% of your home's value, another way to ensure a neverending loan and increasing the risk of overextending debt burden so the banks can foreclose and steal the property.  Today there's news that mortgage companies now want to offer 50-year mortgages so they can truly lock people into neverending loans increasing the amount they can rip off average people for.  Our country used to pride itself upon being a society of thrifty people who would save up for big purchases.  Now we're nothing but a society of shifty people trying to live beyond our means today by selling our future off now.

Name: John
Hometown: Los Angeles
Dr. A,
Why does HBO hate America??  Their new series Baghdad ER is the most gut-wrenching visual account of the hell of war that I have ever seen.  Very straightforward, not preachy, but certainly not for the squeamish.  Simply a camera in the ER of a Baghdad hospital.  I think you and all you're readers should check this one out.  It really hammers home the reality of this war in a way that will make the hawks very uncomfortable.  In short, it is everything that other Iraq documentaries have failed to be.  War is hell, and this series shows it, and more importantly forces the viewer to FEEL it.  Can't help but think that honest programming like this would make for far fewer wars of choice.  Kudos to HBO for proving yet again to be the gold standard of modern television programming.

Name: Rick Chapman
Hometown: Holiday, Florida
Please.  If you ever post a link to another picture of someone as ugly as John Podhertz again, post a hurl alert.  He has the balls to call someone unsexy?  Yeeccch

Name: Barbara C
Hometown: Pompano Beach, FL
Dear Eric,
I can tell you one thing....you are a damn site cuter than Tucker.  Don't worry, I am just an older, honest widow.  Did you miss the boat on the debate.....no, I love the part about Clinton.

May 22, 2006 | 11:04 AM ET | Permalink

Gore/Obama '08, continued

John Heilemann spends 7,057 words here getting Gore no closer to saying he’d consider running than I did five months ago at Sundance.  (I wanted to write a cover story calling on Gore to run right around the time he launched “Current” but I couldn’t without indication he was considering it.  I still can’t, alas.)  Heilemann makes a pretty decent case for it too.  And you gotta imagine it’s going to be hard for Al to resist—especially with Hillary looking so vulnerable in a general election and her position on Iraq growing murkier and murkier.  We’ve been saying it for over a year and we’re happy to welcome Mr. Heilemann to the club.  In truth, I don’t think Gore was planning to run, but now I think he’s thinking about it.  He’s run what turns out to be a perfect non-campaign-campaign.  And after all, he’d clearly like the job.  He’s prepared for it his entire life.  And lots of people are telling him only he can save the country from the disaster of yet another Republican—possibly even another Bush—presidency.  Raising money and fielding an organization would be not problem.  And say what you will about Gore, the man’s a patriot.  And if Al starts losing weight, instead of wolfing down ice-cream sundaes, we’ll know he’s in.  What we can’t know, is if the media will do penance for its horrific 2000 performance, for which Maureen Dowd will probably have to spend some time in purgatory, should it exist.  (Jeffrey Goldberg has a long piece on the Democrats, arguing for a move to the center and the avoidance of a Hillary candidacy in the New Yorker, but it’s not online.  Per usual, it confuses voters refusal to identify as “liberal” with their rejection of “liberal” positions on issues, which is wrong.)  And New York has another Hillary piece here.  And Obama for VP.

P.S.  I’d be a little nicer about Heilemann’s piece, but he won the first hand after he sat down last week, and it’d only go to his head.

"Liberals” vs. “Conservatives”
All this talk of McCain reaching out to both sides by speaking at a “liberal” university and “conservative” university, here, highlights the genuine differences between liberal and conservative.  “Conservatives” like Jerry Falwell practice sexism and racism—forbidding inter-racial dating, etc., and accuse their political opponents, like Bill Clinton of drug-running and murder, and making money off of this slander by selling videos.  They also announce that the United States got what it deserved on 9/11, though they apologize.  Even if you leave Falwell out of the equation, you have to admit, Liberty University is the kind of place where if you do not do as everyone else does in say, matters of religion or sexuality, you are either harassed or banished.  Freedom of thought or of speech is anathema.  At a “liberal” school like the New School, you can do whatever you wish, be whomever you wish to be.  You can even be a conservative.  You just can’t force other people to be like you.  (Though you are welcome to try to persuade them.)  Of course if we had a genuine “conservative” movement in this country, it might not be so easy to score points like the above.  But instead we have this benighted would-be theocracy.  America lost a genuine conservative last week.  We have damn few of them left.

I will say, however, I wish those kids at the New School had shown better manners, since that’s about the only issue the media is capable of addressing.  There is something about college that leads kids to think it’s immoral to allow someone to speak with whom they disagree.  It was the same thing when I was in college.  (See the letter below in case I am wrong about the overall tone of the students’ reaction, which is clearly possible, as I wasn’t there.)

We Told You So, continued.
Here’s David Frum: "Putting the [National] Guard on the border is a symbolic act…. But I am afraid that in this case the symbolism is manipulative and deceptive."

Deceptive?  Bush?  He must have the wrong guy.  Just a couple of years ago, Frum wrote: "I've always thought it strange that so many on the left have chosen to make an issue of President Bush's honesty.  The president is, if anything, almost excessively direct and self-endangeringly truthful."

(From Jonathan Chait, here.)

Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Lie of the Day:  “The left's larger goal is to turn the Democratic Party solidly against the war on terror, and especially against its Iraq and Iran fronts.”   Here ($) Never mind that the war in Iraq has turned out to be, as we warned, a war for terror, as it has weakened the United States, strengthened the terrorists everywhere and recruited new ones.  There are more distortions in this tiny edit than I feel like counting…  Read Krugman today ($) as a corrective.

“Hello, Mr. Pot? This is Mr. Kettle.”  Actually, that’s unfair.  Hillary is a total babe, judged by the standard of most U.S. senators.  Actually, the whole question is ridiculous.  She’s a 59-year-old mother of an adult woman, for goodness sakes.  What a pig this young Podhoretz is, calling her  "pathologically unsexy ... not a raving beauty," here.  What makes this even funnier, is, how to put this… um, well, excuse me, Poddy, but have you seen yourself?  Heeeeeere's Johnny!  (And if I were in a really nasty mood, I’d reprint the story that Sid Blumenthal tells in The Counter-Establishment about George McGovern, Norman Podhoretz, and Johnny’s mom, Midge Decter, and why—perhaps—when it comes to neocons, nothing is more political than the personal…)  And while we’re on the topic of fat black kettles, Johnny also calls Chelsea’s mom, “a bitch.”  I’m sure his mother is very proud if this pathetic little pisher.

Speaking of Black Sheep:  How terrifying that Peter Hitchens has turned out to be a symbol of common good sense, and (how sad the obvious comparison has become for his big brother).

Police State Update:  “We blow CIA ops whenever we feel like it to get at our enemies.  Reporters go to jail for telling the truth.”  From the Benton Foundation:

ATTORNEY GENERAL THREATENS TO GO AFTER REPORTERS
[SOURCE: Associated Press]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, citing an obligation to national security. The nation's top law enforcer also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly. "There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility," AG Gonzales said, referring to prosecutions. "We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected."

Alter-review:

Andrea Marcovicci’s new show is not based on the music of Fred Astaire, or World War II, but on audience choices from about 200 candidates.  Requests submitted by guests are put into a top hat passed around and she literally picks them out of the hat.  She picks a bunch herself too, and in the show I saw, these were heavily weighted towards songs by people who were actually in the audience, which was pretty neat.  The most moving of these was Christine Lavin’s The Kind of Love You Never Recover From, lyric here, which I used to think was a folk song.  Anyway, Marcovicci’s delivery is so impassioned and intimate it can almost be embarrassing.  She made fun of her usual “schoolmarm” performances, but I miss the history and context she usually brings to the material.  Of course it’s the singing that matters and in that regard, she remains, about to enter her 60th year, peerless.  She’ll be at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel through June 10.  Here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Neal Hunter
Hometown: Fishers, In
Regarding the Tucker Carlson debate here.  Yeah, you were a little too nice.  I've always considered him one of the least obnoxious of the cable news talk show species.  Still, I was surprised by how quickly he gave up the main premise of the debate.  Two points that stick out for me were his meager attempt to psychoanalyze liberals and his invocation of 'a dodge' to dodge a point you had just made.

Name: Eric Hamburg
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Re the Carlson "debate", I don't know about being "too nice," but if this was a battle of the bands, you were the E Street Band and he was the Archies.

Name: Paul Corrigan
Hometown: Lexington, MA
Eric -
I watched your debate with Tucker Carlson.  You were at your best in presenting the analysis of the post-1964 election activities of Scaife and others to change the ideological landscape, to which you got Carlson to concede.  I enjoyed that very much.  I wish you spent more time on the right-wing's "gravitional pull" (I think this is where Drudge does his most damage) on the mainstream media.  Carlson used his skills as an entertainer (you need to understand that guys like him have much more experience in front of a camera; God, have you ever seen him on TV without his "costume" (bow tie) to avoid the point in the debate where you had him pinned.  You stated the factual truth that there was a correlation between the people in the US who supported the Iraq war and believing specific untruths disseminated by the Bush administration.  He used all the tricks to escape that truth.  Good job on your part to show the most emotion in the debate calling him on his B.S. and stating that the president lied to Congress.  One place where you were not given a chance to respond due to the format was his definition of a conservative.  His definition was total B.S., claiming the mantle of small government and individual liberty.  The right-wing today is the antithesis of these Goldwater principles.  The feeling I get watching Tucker is that despite all his protestations that he believes what he says, his body language indicates when he often is uncomfortable with a position he claims to support.  Alas, he has way too good a gig to do anything to that would put that gig at risk.  In short, he's a corporate guy.

Name: Chris Marshall
Hometown: Durham, NC
Yes, Eric, you were too nice.  I watched the debate and I'm afraid I was very disappointed.  I think that your arguments are much stronger than Carlson's but your presentation was weak.  Rhetorically he was much stronger.  You had a few strong moments, but in each case you made an argument, Carlson got up and simply dismissed it -- for the most part without argument --and then you failed to follow up.  For example, your early argument about the PIPA findings and the implications they have I think is an extremely powerful one.  But you let Carlson get away without addressing it.  Instead of being such a nice guy you should have pressed him to respond because it truly is amazing and incredibly revealing that so many people had the basic facts wrong about the most important issue of our time.  Similarly when Carlson simply dismissed your argument on the grounds that many Democrats supported the war, you eventually responded that they were lied to but you failed to challenge Carlson when he once again simply dismissed your claims as ridiculous.

Name: Ginny Woolsey
Hometown: Tampa, FL
No, I don't think you were too nice.  I found you both to be pretty interesting.  It was very good.  I couldn't help thinking, as Tucker did seem very amusing and sane as you so aptly put it, of the way he misrepresented the funeral for Senator Wellstone, that bothers me about him to this day.

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Hey, Eric.
I don't think it was a question of being "too nice" with Tucker so much as it was a question of being "too unfocused."  It appeared in your statement/response sections that you were going to respond a refute claims that he had made in his statements, but instead you went off on tangents.  While Tucker's argument was all about emotions and feelings ("We all agree this," "We all know that"), you brought up specific examples...that had nothing to do with his gut reaction display.  I think this is part of the reason that many people claim that the public can't handle nuance.  They can, but they also need an emotional connection.  Without it, intellectual argument requires effort to maintain.  You need to be able to internalize the information on a base, emotional level so that you don't have to go through the entire theoretical argument every time you want to employ the philosophical/political stance.  As an example, you spent your time during your opening statement talking about Bush and Iraq and justifying the claim of the war being supported on a tissue of lies when the question is bias in the media.  It would have been more effective to have skipped to the end to point out that those who watch certain media outlets like Fox are more likely to believe factually incorrect but politically correct things.  This would have given you the chance to head Tucker off at the pass:  It isn't that the viewers are dumb.  It's that the media outlets, due to their biases such as not questioning the conservative leadership, not following up on statements made by conservatives, treating outrageous statements by conservatives as equivalent in integrity and validity to those who contradict them, presented these lies as if they were possibly true.

Fox News didn't cause the war in Iraq, no, but it was its biggest cheerleader and the people who watch Fox News were told things that weren't true.  Instead, they were told things that the administration needed the population to think were true but couldn't say themselves.  Beyond being simply biased, the media became the mouthpiece of the government.  This could have led to you handing Tucker his hat when he made the completely ridiculous claim that being lied to is somehow the fault of the one who was deceived.  That if I lie to you with malice aforethought in an attempt to get you to do something which turns out to be a tremendous mistake, it is not cowardice or wimpiness to protest it.  This is precisely the example of conservative bias that has infected the media:  For all of Tucker's claims about things we all know, things that make us Americans, I would have thought that holding liars in contempt and disregard was one of them.  How did we get to the point where the person being lied to was the one who needed to "be a man" and apologize?  Don't we expect liars to be the one to beg forgiveness?  And thus, we find that Tucker Carlson, despite the claims of people, is not a nice person.  Tucker tries to dismiss this with hyperbole, but he is not.  This doesn't mean he kicks puppies, but when did not kicking puppies become sufficient to claim a person was nice?  He just said it: Everything he has ever said he believes completely and wholeheartedly with no regrets.  Given his positions, how can anybody claim that he's a nice guy?  In the end, Tucker comes off as a true believer with "courage of his convictions" and while this is a ridiculous assessment for those who know what those convictions are, it's the gut reaction he's going for.  You, on the other hand, came off as detached and out of touch, as if you were wishing you were at another discussion...possibly one with Bob Novak.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown:  Daily Revolution
Dr. A.:
I'd like to set the record straight on a couple of points surrounding Sen. McCain's address at the New School today.  I've dealt with it in more detail here but this is the essence of it--and I ask forgiveness in advance for daring to question the veracity of the great bastion of the so-called liberal media, the New York Times: McCain's response was to thank Rohe for her "Cliff's notes" version of his prior speech (given at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University), and then to launch into a mimeographed version of that very same tirade.  I have a message for you, Mr. McCain: if you are going to thus look down your nose at the youth of this country, I don't want you anywhere near the White House.  In fact, I don't want you in Congress; but I can't do anything about that except to appeal to the people of Arizona to reject this kind of lazy and contemptuous arrogance with their voices and their votes.  I also have a message for the Times: Ms. Rohe did not (as you claimed in the first paragraph of your story) "mock" McCain ("pointedly" or otherwise).  She didn't make fun of his looks, his manner, his speech, or his message.  She was (again, unlike McCain himself) neither scornful nor contemptuous.  What I read of her remarks reveals to me that she took on his record and his known allegiances, and exposed them as marks of grievous error and failed policy.  If that is mocking, then I recommend that your editors go back to English class-third or fourth grade level ought to do it.  These kids, to my mind, did the same thing Ray McGovern did in a Rumsfeld press conference; the same thing Americans at the President's recent public appearances have been doing; the same thing that more than two-thirds of the electorate in this country are doing now.  They raised their voices against a regime, against a tyrannical coterie, that has suppressed democracy, alienated the world, and wrought untold death and suffering on a nation that had done no violence against America, that posed no threat to our nation.  Therefore, my final message tonight is to the people whose day this occasion was supposed to honor, the graduating seniors of the New School.  Thank you.  The more the authorities-whether of your own school, the government, or the mass media- tell you to be silent and obedient, the more we will need to hear your voices.  Thank you again for letting us hear them today.

Name:  Weldon Berger
Hometown: Honolulu, HI
Hi, Eric.
I saw your column about the possibility that the Bush administration is tracking journalists' phone calls.  I'd like to note that although the institutional press don't seem particularly interested in the issue, my blog's White House writer, Eric Brewer, asked Tony Snow about it last week and we hope will have an opportunity to follow up on it again.  Eric wrote about his exchange with Snow here.  Reporters in the press pool may not be interested in the extent to which the administration operates outside the law, but we're pretty curious about it.

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