June 9, 2006 | 11:11 AM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new Think Again column called “Media Amnesia on Iran," here, and a new Nation column, “Truth Is for 'Liberals'" here.

Here is Mary Ann Weaver’s longish "The Short, Violent Life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," from The Atlantic Monthly.

Wall Street Journal Comedy Hour:  “Americans have an excellent grip on what's going on at the U.N., thanks partly to the reporting of Fox News and these columns, the commentary of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as Congressional investigations by Middle Americans Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois.” Here.

I was at this speech.  It was a brave thing for a professional diplomat to do, even if everything he said was simple common sense.  For me the highlight of the conference were the remarks of Joschka Fischer, a great friend to the United States who tried to save us from the catastrophe Bush and company have inflicted upon us and the world.  (He told me he really admired Paul Berman's book, except for its unrealistic argument about Iraq.  I was pleased to hear this and naturally I concur.)

For more on the conference in question, as well as the papers that came out of it, and the statement by John D. Podesta, CEO of the Center for American Progress and Richard C. Leone, President of The Century Foundation, who sponsored the conference, about Malloch Brown’s comments, here.

Remember I said the best passages in Peter Beinart’s book were those in the beginning where he apologized for his misguided writings (and um, editings…) about Iraq?  Well, here they are: 

I supported the war because I considered it the only remaining way to prevent Saddam Hussein from obtaining a nuclear bomb.  I also believed it could produce a decent, pluralistic Iraqi regime, which might help open a third way to the Middle East between secular autocrats and their theocratic opponents - a third way that offered the best long-term hope for protecting the United States.

On both counts I was wrong. ... It is a grim irony that this book's central argument is one I myself ignored when it was needed most.  If at times I judge others for having failed to appreciate certain aspects of the liberal spirit, I do so with keen awareness that I have not always been its most faithful custodian myself.

Time, once again, invites John Cloud to stick his nose up Ann Coulter’s nether regions, here.  And they’re proud enough of it send out a press release.  Reels the mind…

Neocons to Israel:  You're not nuts enough about Iran.  (Funnily, none have volunteered to actually do any fighting there...)

Chicks, sheesh, and here too.

Slacker Friday

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to set aside his topic for today (if we're in an economic recovery, why are mortgage foreclosures spiking?) to respond to Danny Goldberg.

With one exception Goldberg's criticisms of "liberal hawks" are on target.  Most, like Packer, talk exclusively about how Dubya bungled the war rather than questioning the strategy of going to war.  But Goldberg oversimplifies "the Bush doctrine," at least as he conflates it with the agenda of liberal hawks.  Underlying the desire to use military force in Iraq was a post-9/11 logical syllogism:  1) The Middle East is utterly dysfunctional  2) Left alone, it is only a matter of time until Islamofascists acquire WMD's and wreak havoc on the West and thus 3) Radical change is needed (what Freidman called the "Hail Mary pass").

The war fails in this respect as well.  And probably unlike Packer, I would now agree with those who had the foresight to argue the war wouldn't succeed apart from the obvious strategic errors.  But that said, what were the war's opponents proposing?  Oversimplified, it was the status quo.

Goldberg himself puts forth the line "containment was working."  On Saddam, but not on the region.  Images of Iraq under the sanctions combined with the occupation of Palestine were inflaming the Arab world just as the war has.  Most hardcore anti-war voices prior to 9/11 favored loosening containment, surely leading to even greater weapons proliferation.  Goldberg's suggestion of spending more money on foreign aid (which would mostly go to areas outside the Middle East) and building domestic infrastructure like levees makes good sense, but it isn't a short term geopolitical strategy.

This may sound abstract and defensive, but consider the thwarted Canada attack, which is a much bigger story to voters than Haditha.  When the domestic attack comes, the left will be portrayed as the ones who wouldn't do anything, be it wiretap, torture, go to war, you name it.  Post 9/11 it was not enough to be against a bad idea -- nobody on the left is blameless here.  The thing is, the anti-war left has a non-war alternative for addressing "the syllogism."  It's called the Cold War.  Combining economic destabilization (read: gas tax/CAFE limits) with pro-democracy propaganda efforts, including greater involvement in Israel/Palestine.  If we can’t settle the hawk/dove debate, we need to at least postpone it.

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
Dear Eric,
The confluence of the Zarqawi and Coulter stories reminded me of another reason to be disgusted by your former colleague, Christopher Hitchens.  He may not be quite as vicious as Coulter, but Hitchens is equally dismissive of the opinions of terror victims.  In his most recent Slate piece, here, he wrote off Zarqawi victim Nick Berg's father as "a MoveOn type now running for Congress on the Green Party ticket," as if that label renders his opinions worthless, before oversimplifying Mr. Berg's opinion that George W. Bush is ultimately responsible for his son's death.  In the past, he has labeled Cindy Sheehan's comments that Bush was influenced by neo-cons (shocker!) as "sinister piffle" and claimed that she and other relatives who speak on behalf of their deceased loved-ones are "hysterical noncombatants who exploit the grief of those who have to bury them."  And last June, he called the Christian mother of a deceased solider "an embarrassing woman" because she viewed the death of her son as a sacrifice.  He's lofted similar invectives at Joe Wilson (who did not ask that wife be exposed), and has all but accused the left of wanting to lose the Iraq war.  What Coulter and Hitchens are doing is not merely disrespectful or even hateful -- it is dehumanizing.  Coulter and Hitchens deny the mourner their right to have any response to their loved-ones death other than the political response Coulter and Hitchens prefer.  This is pretty sick stuff.  I'm not sure why supporters of Bush's war feel the need to resort to this disgusting behavior, but the choices are not becoming to them or their cause.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman,
There is a stark difference between acknowledging and correcting mistakes and dwelling on them.  While most Americans see the merit of the former, the Democratic party appears determined to pursue the latter.  A failed strategy for ten years running.  People don't want to be told what went wrong and where (they usually know), rather they prefer to be told what the solution should be and why.  Quite simply, America craves ideas.  So when someone comes out with only a litany of failures and missteps, it rings hollow and bitter when lacking a proposed solution.  Further, most Americans are also astute enough to recognize that an alternative is not necessarily a solution.  The existing two-party system has proven that repeatedly. The natural corollary is that Americans love success. They appreciate the fruits of hard labor and creative ideas, even when there have been great failures along the way. Those that seek to diminish success fail to comprehend this simple idea and are often summarily discounted as angry, envious, or resentful.  In general, Americans are inherently optimistic and don't care much for those who can't move beyond past mistakes and failures.  Perfection, while ideal, is not attainable.  Mistakes and failures in any enterprise are inevitable.  Throughout the history of our country, it has been the progression beyond such setbacks to achieve success that has made America so successful.

Name: Tom
Hometown: Seattle
Hey Doc,
Wanted to chime in on Paul E.'s thread on gay marriage.  I and most of my lefty friends - yes, the gay ones too - feel similarly to Rob.  In many respects it comes down to strategy.  What seems to be the fatal flaw in this whole discussion is that gay activists have chosen to focus on the "M" word.  Or at the very least, they haven't tried to disuade media and the right from focusing on it.  The M-word gets many people riled up who wouldn't normally get off their chair to vote against you.  The M-word dominates the discussion and clouds the real issue of rights.  Using the M-word allows the right to co-opt the talking points.  It seems to many of us that what gays could have already had in many states is the rights they seek via civil unions and left "marriage" to the churches where it belongs to begin with.  If you want to have your God bless your union, what does it matter if the state attends the service?  If you seek human-granted rights, why bring religion into it?  Most of us are already afraid of the diminishing wall between church and state.  Fight for the rights and we'll all actively stand with you.  Find churches that support gay marriage and use them (we'll be there too) but when it comes to government don't put them in the position of having to act as theocratic arm of the bureaucracy.  Many of us are working hard to keep them out of that business.  In short, do you want to make a point, or do you want to get what you deserve? What was that line from Jerry McGuire..."help me help you"?

Name: Mark McKee
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
Dr. E:
I commend you for not taking the bait and leaving the gay marriage debate where it belongs. I have a gay son, and am very proud of him. We attend Gay Pride every year. But honestly, gays are without a doubt the most politically apathetic group I have ever encountered, so for a gay man to chastise you for doing something that the overwhelming majority of gays do themselves is just plain silly.  Most gay men couldn't even tell you the names of the candidates, hence the deafening silence in 2004 when General Clark basically was the only candidate to completely adopt their position.  Through a combination of apathy and prejudice, after all he's a General, Clark's message sailed right over Gay America.  And let's not forget, because of our stereotypes, that most gays who make seven figures are much more interested in the estate tax than any marriage amendment.  They vote Republican, they love Bush, and as long as gay marriage is illegal they never have to expose their estates to their bimbos, er, significant others.  Who would've thought that gays are just like every other minority and majority.  It comes down to who has the money.

Name: Josh Maresca
Hometown: Santa Rosa CA
I hope that it's not too early for Bruce reviews.  I saw him (with my 18 yo son) on Tuesday night in Concord and - Wow!!  I can say I've never spent so much time at a concert either smiling, singing along, or with a tear in my eye.  The playlist was eclectic with folk and traditional songs mixed throughout with the brass section showing some big Nawlins style.  He included three of his rock standards (Atlantic City, Johnny 99, and a real interesting version of You Can Look But You Better Not Touch).  He touched a few political points, especially on How Can A Poor Man Live and Bring 'Em Home but the night was filled with good-time music (he played for 2 and 1/2 hours).  Overall a great show in front of some empty seats.  My only regret is recognizing my failure as a parent - my son didn't know any of the words to the songs - even Erie Canal or Dan Tucker.  The good news is that he saw a wonderfully talented and finely-tuned band and he got to see the great Joan Baez step on stage to sing a song.  Love your blog, Eric. Impeach Bush & Cheney!!

June 8, 2006 | 11:26 AM ET | Permalink

Getting Zarqawi four years too late
Plus the Altercation Book Club

It’s nice that they got Zarqawi.  Too bad they didn’t try harder before the invasion, when they lied about his membership in Al-Qaeda to create their phony link between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.  Remember, in arguing for war,  Bush referred to a "very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year."  But the administration has given no indication that Abu Musab Zarqawi collaborated with senior Iraqi officials.  So did Powell.  As Matthew Yglesias wrote in one of the first “Think Again” columns, back in November 2003, here.

This particular bit of dishonesty began its life in the more sophisticated hands of Colin Powell, where it was more a piece of misdirection than outright deception.  In his well-received presentation to the UN Security Council laying out the case for war, Powell noted the existence of Ansar al-Islam and did state that it operated "in northern Kurdish areas outside Saddam Hussein controlled Iraq," but alleged that its head, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had once received medical treatment in Baghdad.  Based on this slender thread of a link, Powell dedicated about 1,000 words to detailing the threat posed by Zarqawi and his group.
...
[When] Don Rumsfeld brought up Ansar's pre-war activities in Iraq on not one, not two, but three different Sunday shows, he noted back then he got not “even a whiff of contradiction or clarification passing through the lips of Snow, George Will, George Stephanopoulos, or Tim Russert."

Anyway, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski  broke the story back then “that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger.  The reason?  'People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,' according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.”

So there you have it.  Bush didn’t go after Zarqawi because he was useful in developing an argument for war—even though that argument was based on lies.  Tens of thousands have died, trillions of dollars have been wasted and who knows how many terrorists have been created as a result of his all-but-criminal negligence.  Read all about it here .

Meanwhile, Anthony Cordesman, a leading military and intelligence analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the Pentagon's assessments of Iraq have grown increasingly unrealistic and now border on "deception."  Cordesman says the report delivered to Congress in May "dodges around all of the problems and simply does not give either Congress or the American people anything approaching a realistic picture."   Here.

Alter-review by Sal, NYCD

We've written about this and teased all of you for weeks now, and your chance to buy and hear it for yourself is finally here.  Elvis Costello & Allen Toussant's " The River In Reverse" is a landmark recording.  What originally started as a Joe Henry-produced Elvis Costello reading of the Allen Toussaint songbook became an emotional collaboration between the two artists and some of New Orleans' finest musicians.  Rather than go for the obvious Toussaint hits, El & Al (El-Al for short) dug deep into the Toussaint catalog for songs that relate in some way to the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina.  What we get is one of the finest recordings of the year.  Costello's vocals are restrained compared to the oversinging he's been prone to on his collaborations with the Brodsky Quartet and Burt Bacharach, and Joe Henry seems to do no wrong lately in the producer's booth.  An interesting sidenote:  Many of these songs can be found in their original form on the LEE DORSEY "YES WE CAN" import on Raven Records.

Altercation Book Club

Danny Goldberg on George Packer’s Assassin’s Gate (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005).

Note: An abbreviated version of this appeared in Tikkun.  I am publishing the full version here because I think it’s the best commentary I’ve read on Packer’s extremely influential book anywhere, and because Goldberg’s important argument has also not appeared anywhere else, insofar as I’m aware.  Danny Goldberg is the author of the book, "How The Left Lost Teen Spirit.”  You can read his equally trenchant comments on Peter Beinart’s new book, here.

In the interest of the Democratic party’s attempt regain national power, it would  be desireable if there were mutual respect between the majority of Democrats who opposed both the war in Iraq and those “liberal hawks” who supported it. Thus far, the liberal hawks, and the Democratic leaders who express their ideas,  have not made it easy.

George Packer is the best poster-child that “liberal hawks” have. He has the imprimatur of the New Yorker which regularly publishes him. He is respectably received on the Jon Stewart Show.  His prose is elegant. He has visited  Iraq several times.  Packer’s writing  is at its  best in the chapter in his widely praised book “Assassins At The Gate”  in which he describes in nuanced detail the anguish of  Chris Froheiser whose son Kurt was killed in Iraq in 2004. However  for all of his  erudition , Packer remains in stubborn denial about the depth or the mistakes made in going to war in Iraq and maintains a sullen hostility to those who opposed it.

According to Packer the problem with the Bush foreign policy is not the policy itself but the way  the Bush administration has executed it.  If only they had listened to General Shinseki and sent more troops; if only European allies had been “coaxed into joining the effort,” he writes,  ”if Congress had more been kept in the loop; if instead of Paul Bremer, Bush had picked someone like retired General Zinni to run post-war Iraq; if Bush had been honest about explaining that the war was not about weapons of mass destruction or phantom ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, but that it was about “ending tyranny in Iraq and helping it to become a democracy, ..then, Packer asserts, the war would have been morally and politically effective.

Thus Packer criticizes Bush without criticizing the Bush doctrine.  Echoing Michael Dukakis’s campaign against the first President Bush, Packer believes that the problem with Bush’s foreign policy is not its ideology but its lack of competence.

Without a hint of irony Packer, writes that “The Iraq War started as a war of ideas” and later rhapsodically writes that in pre-war planning “Ideas burned hot across an astonishing assortment of minds.”  The main “Idea" was that recent U.S Presidents has been morally wimpy in using military power to enforce and spread democracy.  Packer says Richard Perle was “appalled at the feeblesness of the Clinton administration.”  According to Packer himself, “By the end of the decade Saddam’s crushing defeat in Kuwait appeared to have become a moral victory—for him if not the Iraqi people.  He had defied America and gotten away with it.”  The Iraq War is presented as a positive moral alternative to this supposed weakness, a visionary idealistic cause undermined by the operational failure of the Bush administration to execute properly.

For a writer that purports to be intellectually rigorous, Packer is remarkably resistant to giving voice to dissenting ideas.  There are no quotes or summaries of the arguments or even any reference to the twenty-three Senators and the one hundred and thirty three House members who voted against the war authorization. Nor is there any mention of  former U.N, Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter who with uncanny accuracy predicted all of the woes of the actual war before it happened ,nor a summary of the arguments given by leaders of traditional U.S. allies who opposed the war, nor the careful but unmistakable opposition of the National Security Advisor for the first President Bush, Brent Scowcroft.

Like many liberal hawks, Packer refers repeatedly to human rights violations in pre-war Iraq but gives no context for human rights as an element in American foreign policy an idea that was popularized by Jimmy Carter and which is advocated regularly by organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The primary argument against the war was not to deny that it couldn’t produce desirable outcomes for some people. For at least 99% of those against the war, there was no denial of  Saddam’s venality. The anti-war position merely expressed (accurately it turned out) that he was not a genuine threat to the U.S. and that  the cost of deposing him was likely to be unacceptably high.

In one of the few instances in which Packer gives anti-war views acknowledgement, he refers to a pre-war panel discussion at NYU  at which Michael Walzer author of “Just and Unjust Wars” pointed out  “There is no mass murder now.”The administration, explained Walzer  “There is no basis in just war theory for wars of choice. Containment was working even if the Iraqi people were among those being contained.”

Packer then describes the emotional response to Walzer by  of one of his book’s heroes, Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya.  After describing what the elimination of Saddam would mean to those whom he had oppressed Makiya stated, “If there is a sliver of a chance of what I just said happening, a five to ten percent chance—you have a moral obligation I say to do it.”

As if this eliminated Walzer’s argument Packer writes that “The room exploded in applause.” In a similar vein  Packer  quotes former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger’s pre-war testimony to Congress   “People way there will be chaos.  I disagree but I must confess frankly that even chaos would be better than Saddam.”

Is there any limit, according to Packer/Weinberger, to the amount of chaos that would make the war worthwhile or would unlimited world-wide chaos for the rest of our lives still have been a bargain price for deposing Saddam Hussein?  Unanswered by Packer is why any thoughtful moral person would think that a 5-10% chance of a good outcome was a morally mature policy when the 90-95% likely outcome would be so expensive in blood, damage to US relations and huge sums of money that could be spent on other desirable outcomes with a far greater chance of success such as money for starving  and sick and uneducated people over-seas, levees in New Orleans, money for protection against terrorism in the U.S. etc.

What is the psychology that prevents liberal hawks from logically and fairly discussing, even now, the enormous risks and costs of the war?  When the subject is anti-war opinion, Packer’s nuanced writing is replaced by thuggish smears.  Regarding those who supported far less costly interventions in Bosnia and Haiti but opposed the Iraq War he writes “Perhaps the fact that the United States had strategic interests in the region (oil) and that the issue of Iraq involved unconventional weapons as well as mass murder, made the war more complicated for airy humanitarians.”  Of course such straw men do not exist in real life, but only in the desperate defensive imagination of those who cannot bear to admit that they were wrong.

Similarly Packer writes that Eli Pariser of Moveon “seemed to exist so that the rest of the country couldn’t dismiss the anti-war movement as a fringe phenomenon of graying pacifists…” The word “graying” is not usually a pejorative in describing foreign policy thinkers. The word “pacifist” although associated with an intellectual tradition that deserves more than a cartoon-like reference is not, in fact, an apt description of millions of middle aged and older people who opposed the Iraq War but who supported other wars. The obvious examples are those millions who opposed the Iraq War but supported the invasion of Afghanistan.

Packer’s appears certain that only a select group of insiders are worthy of inclusion in foreign policy discussions. In an OP-ED piece  in the Los Angeles Times written to coincide with the publication of “The Assassins Gate,” long after it was clear that the actual war was a disaster ,Packer wrote of the pre-war debate   “ One had to balance …. the Middle Eastern status quo against unknown consequences, Donald Rumsfeld against the legacy of the Halabja poison gas attack, the United Nations against democratic idealism. In the winter of 2003, what you thought about the war mattered less to me than how you thought about it. ... In those tense months, the mark of second-rate minds was absolute certainty one way or the other.”

What you thought about the war mattered less than how you thought about it.  Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Eric Alterman, Michael Lerner, and countless others who predicted with painful accuracy the perils of the war were presumably “second rate” intellectually to those like Packer who writes that "it was striking to spend an hour in Chalabi’s group riding a giant wave of history into a future that belonged to them” and who writes without irony  that “democratic idealism” was a plausible motive of the likes of Dick Cheney.

Although there are some progressive activists who will never forgive the Democratic leadership that signed onto the war, it is likely that the vast majority of Michael Moore fans, Air America listeners, Moveon.org  Members  Tikkun readers and even “graying pacifists” who opposed the war would be willing to enthusiastically support  Democrats who supported it in the context of all of the differences between Democrats and Republicans. Many progressives have compassion for the enormous pressures brought to bear on politicians and pundits. But no one, likes to support people who openly despise them.  Respect needs to go both ways.  Such accommodation requires liberal hawks to take a deep breath and acknowledge, in word and in tone, the patriotism, intellectual depth, and moral compass of those who got it right.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Chris
Hometown: Syracuse, Utah
To Mike in Tampa: I was responding to Chris, from Phoenix, who claims 10 years Air Force experience.  Since my 25 years was spent all in the Air Force, I felt qualified to respond to his assertions.  I certainly realize that the different branches have different cultures and mindsets, however.  As I stated, this is an AF thing.  For the record, no, I was not SO, I was a career maintainer, mostly B-52G/H, B-1B, and F-16.  I had a lot of contact with our warfighters - the pilots and commanders, and provided guidance and advice to the same.  My observations are based on the relationships I had with them, and with my flight line maintenance troops, and are valid within that context, at least.

Name: Ed
Hometown: Scarsdale, NY
Dr. Alterman,
I know that you hesitate to give her any more publicity, but can someone please tell me how in the world Coulter can get away with this garbage?  I refer of course to her new "book" and her writings regarding the 9/11 widows.  She actually had the nerve to write "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."  She also wrote "and by the way, how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies?  Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they'd better hurry up and appear in Playboy."  The gall of this woman.  I need someone to explain to me 1) how she still gets book deals and 2) why the heck she is given airtime to publicize this slander.  I say we should start a foundation to collect money so these women could sue Coulter for libel and slander.

Name: Mike Prater
Hometown: Daytona Beach, Florida
Eric,
I follow this blog every day, and enjoy it, you don't seem to let "lying liars" get by with their crap.  How can we combat the harpie know as Coulter?  I just about flipped my lid when I saw her interview with Matt Lauer.  I can't believe she gets away with the things she has said about the victims of 9-11, and their survivors.  Surely there is now no question that she is an opportunist mean spirited POS who simply leads the right wing extremists like the swine that they are.

Name: Laura Webb
Hometown: Richmond, VA
Carter did have a valid point about the fact that the Gay Marriage Ban Amendment was not mentioned, despite the fact that it had no current chance of passing as already demonstrated by the Senate.  The larger picture with the attempt that was destined to fail is the motivation factor.  This motivates the conservatives who take this issue to heart and encourages them to vote in other candidates that will pass the amendment, as well as other agendas that are not desirable to a lot.  Besides, with the gay marriage ban in the headlines, where is Iraq?  It's a game of distraction.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC
Freddie "the Beetle" Barnes commits a sin of omission in his Weekly Standard piece on the "best" Governor in the country.  The sin being Jeb and the Bush families ties to far right Cuban terrorists.  This piece from the UK Guardian sums it up well.  Namely Orlando Bosch, who was involved in the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight that killed 73 people, including members of the Cuban national fencing team.  He was pardoned in 1992 by the elder Bush.  One wonders if he would have left out these salient facts if he was writing a profile of any other prominent pol.  Though maybe in Freddie's mind this gives Jeb foreign policy cred, something needed if he runs for Prez.  So much for his brother's maxim "one of the lessons learned after September the 11th is that we must hold people to account for harboring terrorists.  If you harbor a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, if you house a terrorist, you're as equally guilty as the terrorist."

Name: John D
Hometown: Kinnelon, NJ
Eric,
"Gleeful"?  Those right wing pundits have no shame.  As a left of center, former serviceman, I am deeply disturbed by allegations of vengeful killings by US troops.  I was similarly moved (although to nowhere near the same degree) watching my President sound like a bumbling idiot in the first debate with John Kerry: as an intelligent patriot and American, I feel bad for America; it has nothing to do with left-wing, anti-American "glee."  If any moron ever said to my face that I was "gleeful" for the murder of innocent women and children, I'd knock his teeth out on the spot.  The only reason the pundits get away with it is because they're insulated from society by the airwaves.

Name: Paul E.
Hometown: Louisville, KY
Gotta respond to Rob Stafford and James Hassinger regarding Eric's virtual ignoring of the gay marriage issue.  You guys make some good points, but what it boils down to is THIS IS OUR LIVES.  Yeah, you could argue that the estate tax, etc., is YOUR LIFE, but it really doesn't sound right, does it?  Gay people have been punching bags by the extreme right (well, not so extreme lately.  Even though the amendment failed, it was 49-48 - not too lopsided, is it? Scary!) and it's taking an emotional toll.  To tell us to, essentially, get over it is just silly and wrong.  I feel like I have the wind taken out of my sails on a daily basis.  That's pretty hard to get over.  I hope Hassinger's view of the future holds true, but right now I don't see it.  All I see is more and more intrusion into our personal lives by the government and I don't see much fight from either side to stop it.  Frankly, I'm pessimistic, but hope I'm wrong.  Please don't dismiss our fears.  We've been disappointed way too often.

June 7, 2006 | 12:41 PM ET | Permalink

Haditha hysterics

The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told the Pentagon on Tuesday that he planned to hold hearings "at the earliest possible date" into the reports of killings of civilians by marines in Haditha, Iraq.  Other senators complained that the Defense Department had been slow to share details about the case.  Good for them.

William Kristol is in full McCarthyite dudgeon, here:  “The anti-American left can barely be bothered to conceal its glee.”  There’s more from the WSJ ($) here and here (in which the author attempts, again, to pretend that Iraq was somehow a response to 9/11).  Boehlert has a column here in which he notes:

Rush Limbaugh this week announced the press was "gleefully" reporting about Haditha, and was "ecstatic" about the blood-soaked tale.  But he offered no examples to illustrate his allegation.  Fox News analyst and right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin insisted she could see "puddles of drool in the offices of the L.A. Times and The New York Times" as they reported out the atrocities allegedly carried out by U.S. Marines.  Malkin also demanded that there be "a ratcheting down of all the hyperventilation and treat this incident with the seriousness and sobriety that it deserves." 

Malkin, as is her custom, cited no examples on Fox to back up her charges that journalists at major dailies were thrilled about the unfolding mass murder story.”

Also on Fox, Bill O'Reilly claimed that the "left-wing press" and others were "rejoic[ing]" over Haditha...O'Reilly also cited no examples.  Same with National Review's Rich Lowry, who wrote that the coverage to date telegraphed the press' "instinctive glee" over the failings in Haditha.”

He notes also that:

...a search of Lexis-Nexis shows that over the last week the New York Times has published approximately 22 articles and columns mentioning "Haditha," compared to more than 40 articles and columns that mention the GOP hot-button issue of "immigration."  Same for the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times; both devoted far more print space in the last week to the Republican-fueled immigration debate than they did to the alleged war crimes in Haditha.  On television, the imbalance was even more pronounced.  Between Mary 23 and May 30, back when the White House was most aggressively pressing the issue of illegal immigration, CNN mentioned "immigration" and "immigrants" 463 times, according to TVEyes.com. Compare that to the last seven days when, according to conservatives, Haditha media mania was raging.  How many times did CNN anchors, reporters and guests utter "Haditha" on the air?  263 times, or 200 fewer times that they mentioned "immigration" and "immigrants." The same was true at all-news MSNBC, where there were 220 fewer mentions of immigration than Haditha.  Of course the disparity was more pronounced at Bush-friendly Fox News--614 mentions of "immigration" and "immigrants," compared to just 155 references to "Haditha."

NOTE: Fox News has made more on-air mentions to "gay marriage" this week than it has to "Haditha."

Meanwhile the most interesting response in my view was that of my old comrade Hitchens, in Slate, here.  It’s called "The Hell of War: Why Haditha isn't My Lai" but as a friend of mine pointed out, the subtitle that would have summarized it more accurately would be "Why Haditha isn't So Bad."

He writes:

The other difference, one ought not need add, is that in My Lai the United States was fighting the Vietcong.  A recent article about the captured diary of a slain female Vietnamese militant (now a best seller in Vietnam) makes it plain that we were vainly attempting to defeat a peoples' army with a high morale and exalted standards.  I, for one, will not have them insulted by any comparison to the forces of Zarqawi, the Fedayeen Saddam, and the criminal underworld now arrayed against us.

But what does this have to do with the killing of innocent women and children?  (And innocent men, for that matter.)

Only pacifists—not those who compare the Iraqi killers to the Minutemen—have the right to object to every casualty of war. And if the pacifists had been heeded, then Slobodan Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein would all still be in power—hardly a humanitarian outcome.

So only pacifists have the right to object to the killing of innocent women and children...?  And pacifists don't really have the right to object either, come to think of it.

Really, it’s disgusting.  These are not innocents caught up as “collateral damage” in a military campaign.  They are innocent people pulled off the street and murdered.  And Hitchens somehow thinks he can argue that that nobody has the right to object?  And Slate has editors who read this crap and allow it to go through unedited?  Reels the mind…

The Bush War on the Press continues here.  Background here and here.

More Mearsheimer/Walt

Great moments in senatorial debate, yesterday:

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) used a prop of a blown-up photo of his family (some 20 people or so). Gesturing towards the photo, he said:

{14:24:36} (MR. INHOFE) (NOT AN OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT }AS YOU SEE HERE, AND I THINK THIS IS MAYBE THE MOST IMPORTANT PROP WE'LL HAVE DURING THE ENTIRE DEBATE, MY WIFE AND I HAVE BEEN MARRIED 47 YEARS. WE HAVE 20 KIDS AND GRANDKIDS. I'M REALLY PROUD TO SAY THAT IN THE RECORDED HISTORY OF OUR FAMILY, WE'VE NEVER HAD A DIVORCE OR ANY KIND OF A HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIP.

The amendment lost by the way.  I guess my parents will be getting divorced now that marriage is no longer safe…

Alter-review: Terri Miller on a terrific new band, “The Hacienda Brothers"

What rock have I been hiding under?  How is it that a band so full of talent and range could have flown under my radar for so long?  To say that The Hacienda Brothers blew my socks off (Mystic Theater Petaluma, CA May 12, 2006) is putting it mildly.  The duo of Chris Gaffney (Dave Alvin Band) and Dave Gonzalez (Palidins) joined forces to meld their passion for classic country music and early soul.  As the artists have evolved, so has their sound, incorporating roots-rock, blues and a tex-mex flavor, Hacienda style.  While I was busy getting my fill of more established bands, The Hacienda Brothers were busy gaining popularity at music festivals (South by Southwest and others) and at small clubs across the country.  With Gaffney, alternating between acoustic guitar and accordion and providing lead vocals, and Gonzalez, shifting between acoustic and electric guitar, The Hacienda Brothers, backed by the talent of David Berzansky (steel), Hank Maninger, (bass) and Dale Daniel (drums), pack their live performances with soulful country melodies, rockin’-blues, and kick-your-heels-up tex-mex riffs.

While The Hacienda Brothers were the opening act, I felt as if I got my fill and more when they left the stage.  Be sure to keep The Hacienda Brothers above the radar and do not miss the opportunity to see them when they are in your neck of the woods.  For Tour dates check out their website.

Eric adds:  Actually, I asked Terri to do this because I love the album.  It’s produced by Dan Spooner and has wonderful versions of “It Tears Me Up,” "Cry Like a Baby" and “Cowboys to Girls,”  Read all about it here.  (I’m going to buy the first one.)

Have I forgotten anyone?  I’ve forgotten Billy Preston….

Name:  Steve Anderson
Hometown:  LA, CA
Eric,
I worked with Billy several times while I worked at Capitol studios.  Here is my post about him,

From Billy Preston's web site:

The great singer-songwriter and performer Billy Preston, the real "Fifth Beatle" has died after a long illness as a result of malignant hypertension that resulted in kidney failure and other complications. As a result of a medical insult he'd been in a deep coma since last November 21st, but was still struggling to recover. He died at Shea Scottsdale Hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona where he'd lived for the last couple of years.

Watch this video of Billy talking about music as God.

As I told John Amato earlier today, Billy was in Capitol Studios several times while I worked there in the late '90s.  He was always, gracious, friendly, and funny.  He also came into Larrabee once while I worked there, to play on the Jet record.

I remember one time at Capitol he was warming up on the B3 in Studio A, while next door in Studio B the seasoned studio musicians playing on a TV scoring date were taking a break.

Hearing Billy, they all came running to see who was playing so freakin' amazingly.  Even the session keyboard player stood smiling and groovin'.  Billy was that good.  Just blew everyone away.

Lots of people make music, fewer are really about music.  Billy was one of those.  The last time I saw him he was loving life, loving playing music, and happy to be there. I was happy he was there too.

Thanks, Billy.

Name: Rob Stafford
Hometown: San Diego
Carter--
Not sure if Eric will answer (and I hesitated to respond to you, as I didn't want you to feel I was picking on you, but I've had two cups of coffee, & so...), he may let your e-mail speak for itself.  I hate to tell you pal, you sound a little paranoid (I speak as one who sometimes sounds a little paranoid--so I know of what I speak)... Here's my guess: Eric ignored the gay marriage ban because 1) no way in hell it will go anywhere, 2) if you check Salon.com "War Room" you'll see what percentage of the American people thinks it's really important (Answer: it's roughly 0%, which surprised me, but maybe they took the poll Sunday morning or something...), 3) it's *clearly* a "Red Herring," a spurious, inauthentic stance designed to distract (from the war, the economy, etc.-though I will tell you, if it's not soundly defeated America will have taken another big step back - I believe Eric intentionally ignored it to make this point, but it's admittedly subtle), and even many of the fundies know that..., lastly, I'm convinced (but I can't speak for you or your point of view, nor for Eric) that Eric is in many ways 'a good, old fashioned liberal,' in the sense that he assumes that class & privilege are the real issues (that's what I've always gotten) and that everybody who feels the weight of this administration squeezing the life out of us (including this white, middle aged heterosexual male) is welcome to the party--but none of us are special. 

Other than for issues like intolerance, bigotry, hypocrisy, lying & mass murder-Eric seems tolerant of everyone & I wouldn't waste my time reading him if I suspected any different.  I gotta tell you, if you're gonna feel picked on because someone doesn't go out of their way to regularly praise your peer group, you're gonna suspicious of a lot of people who are probably, in every sense that matters, your allies.  These are hard times.  If I were you, I would feel oppressed, endangered.  But, in case you hadn't noticed, everybody making under, I don't know, 100K, 200K a year is getting screwed over pretty much as badly as you, even if we haven't been singled out for special humiliation.  With any luck, this year & in 2008 we'll throw the bums out, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and start living like people again, rather than simply as marks.  Hang in there man, it's almost over.

Name: James Hassinger
Hometown: Glendale, CA
To the guy in Rancho Mirage who thinks because Eric started off his blog on the day that "Bush introduced a gay marriage ban" which won't pass, with an important story about the abolition of the estate tax which probably will, please let your own activism not get in the way of seeing the sky.  I think eventually we will have marriage for gays, but we seem to be going through a generational change, and nothing much will change until a smaller percentage of people say, "Yuck."  Young people already are more tolerant.  This is a long fight, like votes for women: the majority were plainly against it, until they weren't.  Freaking out every time they pull your chain doesn't help.  But the estate tax, "boring" as it is, is passing now, and it will have a devastating effect on our budget, and our society.  And we can possibly turn it back.  If you really want to lead with the gay marriage item, a. get your own blog, and b. don't make accusations against people without the slightest evidence.  It doesn't do any cause, even progressive ones, any good to be throwing around wild accusations.

Name: Mike
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Regarding: Name: Chris Hometown: Syracuse, Utah
As a now-retired career AF CMSgt, As a career Special Operator, I have never seen an AF CMSgt with boots in the mud shooting--CMSgts are supervision and seldom leave the confines of the green zone HQs on purpose. Please clarify "your considerable experience" for us as through all of my deployments CMSgts are at Wing or higher HQ--special ops CMSgts not included in those types.

Name:  Nance Levine
Hometown:  B
erkeley, CA
Tidbits from Stephen Baldwin's forthcoming THE UNUSUAL SUSPECT: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith.  Among them, the born-again actor reportedly says that God "wanted him to star with Pauly Shore in Bio-Dome--but advised him against playing Jennifer Garner's love interest in Alias."

Name: Nate
Hometown: Portland, OR
Doc,
Until I read Charles Pierce's article on the 50 Top Conservative Songs, I'd forgotten that the Dead Kennedys "I Fought the Law" was on it.  Do you suppose Mr. Miller actually listened to it?  Because THIS one is actually "I fought the law and I won," detailing all the bad things (murder, drug use, etc.) he's gotten away with, and concluding with the lyrics: "You can get away with murder if you've got a badge, I AM the law, so I won."  Pretty conservative.

June 6, 2006 | 11:37 AM ET | Permalink

How’s the economy?  Let’s talk about gay marriage and flag burning.

First, this “Mission Accomplished” statistic from Today’s Papers:

The LAT's Iraq piece mentions a remarkable stat: "More people were shot, stabbed or killed in other violence in May than in any other month since the invasion, according to statistics tallied by the Ministry of Health. ... Last month alone, 1,398 bodies were brought to Baghdad's central morgue."  That doesn't include soldiers killed or bombing victims.  (The LAT first reported the stat over the weekend—but buried it inside.)

Ok, this too:

The Journal has a fascinating piece inside with military officials saying GIs at checkpoints and in convoys are only mistakenly shooting one Iraqi per week, down from seven a week a year ago.  (The military is reportedly patrolling less nowadays.  So, has the "per checkpoint" rate been reduced that much?)  In any case, as the WSJ notes, the numbers suggest "hundreds of Iraqi civilians" have been killed in such encounters.  Military officials added that they didn't start tracking casualties from such shootings until last July.  Activist Marla Ruzicka, who had been pushing for a civilian casualty count, was killed that April, and her efforts subsequently became well-known.

Name:  Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: 
The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
It's more than just the Estate tax – the entire economic system has become bifurcated, top loaded, and misunderstood.  The top % of earners are doing great, while everyone else is under increasing pressure.

What is so astonishing is how those in the top brackets don’t comprehend the angst felt everywhere else.  Hey, what’s all the fuss about?  Everything is pretty good, ain’t it?

Actually, not so much.  As Dan Gross explains in the NYT this past weekend, aggregating data is part of the problem – it’s a “one foot in boiling water, one foot in freezing water,” and on balance, everything appears just fine.  The reality is quite different.

Here are the details:

When Statistical Measures Fail to Capture Reality

The Sunday New York Times had an interesting column by Dan Gross about one of our favorite themes: What happens When Statistical measures fail to comport with experienced reality?

This phenomena is the result of how the economy got to where it is today:  Post crash, the massive government stimulus created an artificial recovery.  The details of the stimuli -- ultra low rates leading to a real estate boom, tax cuts that primarily benefited those in the highest tax brackets -- are why the aggregates present a misleading picture.

The typical measure was never designed to capture the details of such a bifurcated economy.  Perhaps these models are creatures of an era when wealth distribution was far less concentrated.  They seem to be unable to keep up with the present shift, and the downsizing of the middle class.

"This strange and unlikely combination — strong and healthy aggregate macroeconomic indicators and a grumpy populace — has been a source of befuddlement to the administration and its allies.  It's not unreasonable to assume that Mr. Snow is being replaced as Treasury secretary in part because he couldn't make Americans appreciate just how well the economy is performing.  And it's possible to detect among Bush partisans an element of frustration at the public for what they see as its failure to do so.  In Iowa last month, Rudolph W. Giuliani bluntly dismissed concerns about the economy and higher gas prices by saying, "I don't know what we're all so upset about."

Gas prices and the Iraq war have surely contributed to this disconnect.  But a lesser-known factor is also at work: the misleading aggregates.

Aggregates — big-picture figures like the unemployment rate, productivity and growth in the gross domestic product — are highly useful to economists.  But to most people, they're abstractions.  You can't use a low unemployment rate to pay a mortgage.

As a result, large aggregates "are something that people may hear about in the news, but don't have a direct impact on how people feel," said Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Survey at the Conference Board." (emphasis added)

How can this be?  Low unemployment (NILF), Low Inflation (Ha!), strong GDP (carried over from Q4).  It turns out there is a simple explanation -- the data is "simply misleading:"

"Aside from being abstract, many of the most popular aggregates are simply misleading. Dean Baker, a director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, puts the Consumer Price Index — the main gauge of inflation — at the top of the list.

"It has no direct relationship to what people perceive as inflation," he said. Mr. Baker notes that the index doesn't take account of rapidly rising co-payments and higher insurance deductibles when it calculates health and medical costs. And to gauge inflation in housing, the index approximates a measure of rent instead of looking at home purchase prices.

"We've had a huge run-up in the price of housing, and that doesn't show up in the C.P.I.," he said. So while the index shows that inflation is elevated but still under control — up 3.5 percent from April 2005 to April 2006 — many Americans find themselves paying sharply higher prices for essential goods and services."

Remember the concept of substitution: If beef prices rise, but chicken doesn't, BLS allows a substitution in their basket of goods -- therefore showing no price gains.  But the shopper in the Supermarket says, "Damn! These meat prices keep going higher!" -- hence the disconnect.

That's only part of the explanation as to why we have no inflation (ex inflation). Real income has been negative, and people feel that.  Most people don't care about the BLS data, they are concerned with how much money they have at the end of the month after they pay their bills:

"In addition, aggregates generally are averages, which are of declining utility in an economy characterized by greater inequality of income and assets. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in March, Mr. Snow took pains to point out that there had been substantial gains in per-capita income (8.2 percent, after inflation) and net worth (24 percent, before inflation) from the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2005.

The data he cited were averages, or means, and that can be misleading. "The average wage is a useful indicator if you want to know what's happening to the tax base, but it might not tell you what's going on for the individual worker," said Alan B. Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton and a former chief economist at the Labor Department."

As every student of statistics knows -- and the chart below reveals -- there is a big difference between median and average. Average is skewed by outliers (Bill Gates walks into a bar...) whereas Median is not:

See Chart here.

Then there's the so-called Jobs recovery.  This recovery cycle, Job creation has been overly reliant on Real Estate construction, which will surely end as the Housing boom tails off.  Other strong sectors are dominated by low paying, low benefit positions, like Retail and Food & Beverage Service.  At the same time in Corporate America, there has been a huge wealth transfer from Shareholders to CEOs and senior management.  People are starting to get upset about this, and it shows up in Presidential polls and consumer confidence numbers:

"To see how typical workers are doing, it's better to look at median wages and incomes — the midpoint that separates the top 50 percent from the lower 50 percent. And median income, which was stagnant during President Bush's first term, is struggling to keep pace with inflation. "Median household income has gone nowhere since the turn of the decade," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com.

Mr. Zandi puts the problem with averages another way. "If you put one foot in a tub of hot water and the other in a tub of cold water and take the average, everything is fine."

THIS dichotomy accurately describes the economy. From 2001 to 2004, the average net worth of an American family rose 6.3 percent, according to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances. But not everybody grew richer. For the bottom 40 percent of families by income, the median net worth fell. "It just doesn't resonate with people when the Treasury secretary says everything is fine," Mr. Zandi said. "It's fine for half the population, and it's clearly not for the other half."

Bottom line -- if you are in the top 10% or so, this has been a very good couple of years financially.  Of course, everyone else is less than thrilled; Not only have their ships not come in, they are taking on water and beginning to sink.

I had a very obnoxious friend in grad school named Andy.  My crew were all pretty much cum laude, good academics, Journals, etc.  Andy's idea for a graduation speech was to say "those of us in the top 10% want to thank the rest of you for helping to make this possible."

I wouldn't be surprised to find out he was working for John Snow.

Source:
When Sweet Statistics Clash With a Sour Mood
DANIEL GROSS
NYTimes,  June 4, 2006

Why does only The Boston Globe seem to care about this?

“Oh, Lord, sometimes, you make the fish so big and the barrel so small.”  Tomasky’s got him.  We don’t.

And while we’re talking to the Lord, if not Al, God, then please, Obama Here is the speech.

Quote of the Day, “The way in prehistory that humans or hominids rose from prey to predators was through collective action.  I mean that is the great human trick.  Weapon-making, too.  We're smart at that.  But there's a human ability that doesn't get enough attention -- that ability to mobilize concertedly as a group.  I think that's ultimately what tipped the balance in our favor...  Similarly, to get out of these internal prey situations in our own economy, you've got to band together.  That's not just a lesson from the last 200 years of labor history, but one of the deepest lessons from thousands of years of human experience."  —Barbara Ehrenreich, "A Guided Tour of Class in America," here.

David Horowitz, Ignorant racist:  “Horowitz: 'Cornel West is a black airhead.'"  From Media Matters:

David Horowitz referred to Princeton University professor Cornel West as a "black airhead," adding that he "is blessed with these unearned and undeserved perks solely because he's black." Horowitz further described West's work as "useless" and claimed that he "hasn't written as scholarly paper or book in twenty years (if ever)."  (Frontpage, May 28, 2006)
...
"Actually, my book The Professors features portraits of several bloviating dummies like West."

P.S.  Here is a book David Horowitz ought to continue to ignore, because my guess is, it has too many big words.  Still, if you'd rather get your philosophy recommendations from say, Richard Rorty than ignorant racist McCarthyites, you might note that it “may well become the standard account of the role of pragmatism in American thought.”

This day in history:  What were you doing thirty years ago today?  I went to see “The Omen,” and left for a six-week “work tour” of Israel the next day, I think.  I’m sure about “The Omen” part.  Petey’s best line about it was “Put your head on my shoulder…”

Alter-reviews:

The War Tapes: I got a copy of “The War Tapes” which stopped in the middle, so I didn’t see the whole thing.  And I started off a bit suspect because the film was officially sanctioned, albeit independently produced.  I can’t testify to its realism, but it’s not like any view of Iraq you’ll get on TV.  I concur with Nora Ephron, who wrote “One of my favorite moments in "The War Tapes" focuses on a parking area in Iraq that's full of trucks owned by Kellogg Brown Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton.  There are hundreds of these trucks, stretching out to the horizon, and according to one of the soldiers in the documentary, each truck requires its own individual soldier to stand guard.  Sometimes the trucks contain food, so the detail of guarding the KBR trucks is called "Guarding Cheesecake."  A certain amount of venting takes place among the soldiers in the movie about Halliburton and Dick Cheney and whether it makes sense to use so many troops to guard cheesecake; this is almost the only political moment in what's otherwise a frustratingly-evenhanded look at the war.”

I also liked the part where the soldier talks about how much he likes reading The Nation.

Anyway, read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Josh Silver
Hometown: FreePress.net
Dear Eric,
I think it is safe to say that media policy activism is exploding in the United States in 2006 as it has never done before.  The breaking news: Last week, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin got his fifth commissioner (a 3-to-2 Republican majority), and he’s moving quickly to do away with the few remaining corporate media ownership limits.  The proposed rule change would allow one company to go into a community and own the daily paper, two or even three TV stations, eight radio stations, the largest Internet provider and the cable TV network.  It is another reminder of the profound impact of policy debates raging in Washington.  The consequences would be disastrous: what has happened to radio broadcasting following the relaxation of ownership rules in 1996 - when commercial broadcasting was all but destroyed - would be extended to the entirety of the media in community after community.  The pattern would be one or two conglomerate-owned McNewsrooms serving all the media in a community or metropolitan area. Martin’s move - so close to the mid-term election watched by a nervous GOP - is a sign of the intense pressure from the giant media chains Tribune Company and Media General as well as the White House to remove the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership limits for influential "mid-size" media companies that own newspapers and TV stations and want desperately to own them in the same cities.  In 2003, the last time the FCC last tried (unsuccessfully) to let big media get bigger, 3 million people contacted Washington. Our current challenge is to build a bigger, more vocal and more diverse coalition; flood the FCC and Congress with millions of letters and calls; mobilize people in-district during the August recess; educate journalists and opinion leaders; run viral online campaigns; and make media ownership (as well as Internet freedom) an election year issue. Our advantage this time around is significant. Free Press has 23 staff, existing relationships with the key players, and we have a unified campaign coalescing at StopBigMedia.com - modeled after the enormously successful SaveTheInternet.com campaign.  Here’s the likely timing: On June 15, the FCC will likely launch its NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) stating their intention to readdress media ownership limits. That will begin a 45-day public comment period for proponents and opponents to make their cases. Our new Web site at StopBigMedia.com will enable millions of people to submit opposition comments directly into the FCC’s official record. Next comes a 15-day reply period - very short - for us to reply to opposing comments. Martin will likely launch a few public hearings during that time - possibly as early as July - because he faces too much political pressure not to follow in the footsteps of Michael Powell. In 2004, as a result of intense grassroots pressure, Powell announced a plan to hold hearings on media localism around the nation. Powell quietly ditched those hearings within a year because at each of them hundreds of people showed up demanding more local media - and stricter media ownership rules.

Free Press has continued to organize public hearings with Commissioners Copps and Adelstein. Our job is to organize hundreds and maybe even thousands of people to attend Martin’s public hearings and raise hell. Our last hearing in Norfolk, Va., was a big success, and we have another planned in Asheville, N.C. on June 28 - conveniently located in Martin’s home state. It is unlikely that the FCC would actually vote on the rule change before the November election. More likely to be in December when Washington is quiet. The new ownership battle comes right on top of the heated debate over the future of the Internet, as the U.S. House prepares to vote this week on the deeply flawed COPE bill, a rewrite of the Telecom Act. The stunning, bipartisan 20-13 House Judiciary vote in favor Network Neutrality (NN) two weeks ago means that we may see a strong Net Neutrality amendment offered for a vote of the full House, but leaves us in a tricky position. While Net Neutrality is the most important provision that we seek in any telecom legislation, the rest of the bill is not good on critical issues such as network build out to rural and poor communities, and local television franchising. The goal is to keep up the pressure for Net Neutrality while stalling the larger bill so that nothing passes in this Congress. Hopefully, we can start from scratch next year with a stronger coalition, a better-coordinated industry and public interest lobby, and perhaps a more friendly Congress. We now have 770,000 petition signers at SaveTheInternet.com, and new major industries continue to weigh in for Net Neutrality: the American Electronics Association, the largest association of retailers, and video gamers are a few of the recent additions. The high tech company-sponsored website has an impressive list of industry supporters at here. Our coalition’s list of public interest groups has topped 725 here and now includes the ACLU and the National Council of Churches.

On the public broadcasting front, we are getting word from Capitol Hill that despite the White House’s proposed $157 million, 2-year budget cut to CPB, there seems to be strong resolve in House and Senate Appropriations Committee to not cut funding for public broadcasting. We continue to build relationships with NPR and PBS station managers, and build the coalitions required to sustain a long-term funding overhaul campaign. That’s it from here. Cheers, -Josh
P.S. Here is some recommended reading:

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Eric,
As an Army veteran who served in Desert Storm, my experience is similar to Chris from Phoenix. However, I think you can reasonably say that the more one knows about the horrors of war, the more one hates war itself.  Most of the people I lived with in the military started off gung-ho during the first Gulf War, but it didn't take long before boredom, sand storms, cold showers, crappy food and the numerous spiders, scorpions, snakes and other critters starting driving everyone crazy.  War is not so glamorous when you're a part of it.  I never had to watch my buddies get wounded or die, but seeing the hundreds of charred Iraqi bodies as a direct result of the military I loved fundamentally changed my outlook.  Like everything else in life, the more you know about the world, the more your viewpoint changes.  I've never been a pacifist, but knowing what war is really like makes me less likely to support sending our young men and women into that situation.  It is also unsettling that the Generals who should know better all too often seem to follow the Bush reasoning for war without much thought to how it affects the grunts who die for their decisions.  I don't expect Bush or Cheney to give a damn about them, but when officers seem not to care about the soldiers they command, it makes me increasingly angry and sad.

Name: Chris
Hometown: Syracuse, Utah
As a now-retired career AF CMSgt, I find it difficult to believe that Chris from Phoenix spent any time - at all - even remotely affiliated with the military.  The vast majority of career military types I encountered over my 25 year career, both officer and enlisted, were as LTC Bateman described - very reluctant to use force and very cognizant of the horrors war holds. My rather considerable experience paints the opposite picture that Chris describes.  In my career, the most gung-ho were almost always the younger guys, and almost never the "older heads."  Either Chris has some sort of agenda, or he spent time in some other dimensional military I am unacquainted with.

Name: Barbara C.
Hometown: Pompano Beach, FL
Dear Eric,
RE: Mike from Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan.....I e-mail my step son everyday over there.  Thank you for voicing your opinion on what I have been afraid to ask my stepson, for fear someone is monitoring my e-mails to his laptop.

Name: Daphne Chyprious
Hometown: Springfield, Illinois
Thanks for the link to the hilarious Weekly Standard article re: best governor by the barely literate Fred Barnes.  I literally had to shake my brain back from his parallel universe mindset (in which Jeb Bush isn't a politician because of his last name but in spite of it).  Just one question: does this publication employ proofreaders?  What would explain this intriguing phrase: "immigration and taxes and soon."  Seems typos are the least of Barnes' -and the Weekly Standards' -problems.

Name: Carter Rezin
Hometown: Rancho Mirage, Ca
Dear Eric,
On the day our president offers a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions, you lead with a stale and boring article about abolishing the estate tax.  Why is it that you rarely discuss the rights of gays in any of your blogs?  Could it be homophobia?  Could you be a progressive but not when it comes to the rights of gays?  I've been reading your blog for a year or so and I've noticed that you never mention a word about gays and how we're demonized by the repugs.  What gives?

Name: Jordy Cummings
Hometown: Toronto
Re Dead Dead Keyboardists... On one level, it's four out of four - as in the fulltime keyboardists are all dead.  On another, it's not four out of five - but four out of six - Tom Constanten and Bruce Hornsby are still alive.  I was never much of a Vince fan - though his Baba O'Riley>Tomorrow Never Knows encores brightened up some lousy 90s shows - but this is truly a shame.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Basking Ridge, NJ
As a programmer with over 20 years of getting paid for developing software, lemme tell you: books are the optimal text read-only devices, and pad and pen are their buddies on the read/write side.  Random access, ambient light activated, more or less portable, well-understood technology; training is low cost and is usually freely available.  Format changes have been few and far between, with the beauty of thousand year old readable output (try reading that 5.25 inch floppy today).  In all seriousness, this obsession with complexity is very often misguided.  Witness the Mr. Gingrich/Mrs. Clinton odd couple, gushing over the joys of electronic health records.  Careful people, you may just get what you ask for.

June 5, 2006 | 12:26 PM ET | Permalink

The evil of estate tax repeal
Nordic dream, American nightmare

Remember the “American Dream?”  I used to believe in it too.  Turns out we were all being naïve—at least insofar as the last half century is concerned.  Why am I writing about this today?  Because Congress is readying itself to make everything worse by repealing the estate tax.

Consider what you’d have learned if you’d read the (conservative) Economist magazine last week:

I’m afraid, that the “Nordic Dream”—or even the “British Dream” is a more realistic one than the much cherished “American Dream.  This is true at nearly every level of society.  Overall,  according to two separate studies based on a set of   data collected beginning in the 1950s, Nordic countries score around 0.2 for sons, Britain scores 0.36, and America 0.54 (meaning that a son's earnings are more closely related to his father's in America, and almost not at all in the Nordic nations).  But it is at the bottom rung where the failure of the American system is most profoundly apparent.  In the Nordic nations, for instance, three-quarters of those on welfare had moved up and out of the system by the time they reached in their forties but barely more than half of their American counterparts had.  As the editors of the conservative Economist magazine put it, “In other words, Nordic countries have almost completely snapped the link between the earnings of parents and children at and near the bottom. That is not at all true of America.” In Britain, too, fully seventy percent of those enmeshed in the welfare system had moved out within a single generation, again—a higher percentage than in America. The magazine points to the generous tax and welfare provisions for families as “The obvious explanation for greater mobility in the Nordic countries…  which (especially when compared with America's) deliberately try to help the children of the poor to do better than their parents. [i]

Now take a look at what I learned from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, here.

Estate tax repeal will likely cost $1 trillion in the first decade alone, and compare that amount to other priorities.  For example, in light of the controversy this week over cuts in homeland security funding for a number of communities, it is worth noting that the annual revenue loss from repealing the estate tax is roughly the same as total federal spending on homeland security nationwide.

  • The number of estates subject to tax is small and shrinking rapidly under current law — from more than 50,000 in 2000 to fewer than 13,000 in 2006 to about 7,000 in 2009.

Phony “compromise” proposals are being pushed by some who favor repeal to attract moderate Republicans and Democrats.  The leading such “compromises” proposed by Senator Kyl or Senator Baucus would cost almost as much as full repeal, according to the Tax Policy Center, though the former is a bit worse than the latter.

  • If the tax is frozen at its 2009 level instead of repealed, only the wealthiest three out of every 1,000 estates would owe any tax at all.

  • If Congress were to opt for the Kyl or Baucus proposals instead of freezing the tax at its 2009 level, all of the additional tax-cut benefits would go to the wealthiest 0.3 percent of estates (those worth more than $7 million for a couple).

All of this, meanwhile, will further separate the wealthy from the rest of us, and hasten the creation of class-driven/anti-opportunity society where democracy has become all but impossible to practice.  I keep saying this over and over, these people are purposely destroying everything of value in this country; and media are just watching.

For more, go here.

Hooray for Harper's sez I, in the Guardian’s “Comment is Free.”

“Thank you sir, May I have another?”

But Mr. Bush, led by Ms. Rice, is taking a significant risk.  He must hold together countries that bitterly broke with the United States three years ago on Iraq.  And now, he seems acutely aware that part of his legacy may depend on his ability to prevent Iran from emerging as a nuclear power in the Middle East, without again resorting to military force.

What crap.  More of the same crap here

“Yet some Washington veterans detect signs of a tentative new willingness by the administration to heed the advice of others rather than sticking stubbornly to its position.  Just this week, under pressure from European allies and U.S. foreign policy elders, the administration reversed itself and agreed to join talks with Iran if it suspends nuclear activities.  And last week, Bush temporarily sealed documents seized from a congressman's office in response to complaints from Capitol Hill.”  This too, is comical, unless “dissenter” means, well, I actually, can’t figure out what the heck it would have to mean to make any sense here.

Haditha is the cover of Time and Newsweek .

Everybody read Navasky’s CUNY Commencement here.

And because we are soon to be colleagues on the CUNY School of Journalism faculty, it is not really worth it to me to tell you what I think of this, but you can imagine….

The New York Times pays for its Wen Ho Lee coverage, literally.

Too funny for words.

Another dead Dead keyboardist, here.  Oy, that makes four out of five.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mike
Hometown: Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan
I'm a Staff Sergeant--quite a bit below LTC Bateman in the food chain.  In response to Dan from Oregon's question, and as an addendum to John from Pensacola's statement, there aren't too many US servicemembers around these parts who are terribly thrilled with Bush right now. If he were to come here to pose with a fake turkey and make a speech, we'd all listen and applaud (having little choice) but I can't foresee a lot of heartfelt joy at the prospect.  The view of many who have been here a while is that Iraq has sapped our ability here to prosecute the war as effectively as we could have otherwise done.  That this place is where we were attacked from, and is still eminently "winnable" with the right resources (that are no longer available) does not make for good feelings for the Bungler-in-Chief.

Name: Dan
Hometown: Portland, Or
Dr A,
John from Pensacola's honest perspective of the troops' assessment of BushCo's lack of combat experience during the 2004 presidential campaign ("... really enjoy the thought that the U.S. military is out in the world "kicking @$$ and taking names") unfortunately confirmed my suspicions.  During the heat of the 2004 campaign, I read the Washington Post Magazine cover article, "The Soldier in my Attic" (Peter Perl) on Memorial Day weekend.  The article included a quote from a wartime journal by John P. Delaney ("The Blue Devils in Italy").  It has haunted me ever since and even more so now:

"War is never glamorous. War is a dirty, filthy business. It is life lived under the most miserable conditions. It is death suffered under the most horrible circumstances. It is fought on lonely hillsides, in rubbled towns, in ditches and sewers and cellars, in rain and snow and mud, in pain and fear . . . War is dead men in the hot sun, dying men screaming in pain, wrecked men in hospitals with plates in their skulls, sightless eyes, stumps of legs and arms, men fed through tubes or with their insides held together by wire . . . War is something that should never happen, but does."

It's enlightening to consider this was written from a soldier's perspective of a "good" war, a war of necessity, not of choice. Where are these voices today? What has happened to the US Armed Forces' collective memory since 1947 that has erased wisdom like this? LTC Colonel Bateman states that "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." John from Pensacola's assessment and the actions of our current Joint Chiefs of Staff suggest otherwise.

Name: Chris
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
In response to John from Pensacola: I am a 10-year member of the Air Force and I believe that you are absolutely right about how most in the military just want to be out "kicking @$$ and taking names", as you put it. This attitude is prevalent in most of the people I have encountered in my time in the military, especially in those that are career military. From what I've seen, the ones that do not feel this way are often the young people who are working on their first enlistments, and generally get out when their enlistments are complete. Most people that possess this "kick @$$" attitude do not really care about the differences of what kind of people attacked us on Sept. 11, and pretty much view all Muslims as our enemies. Most of these people equate the invasion of Iraq with the "War on Terror", and don't really care that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. I have sat in briefings from commanders where they came out and said that we are at war with any country that is under Islamic law, then showed up a map that had all the Middle East and North Africa encircled, displaying the area we are at war with. The fact is, a lot of the people in the military are some of the most hardcore Republicans you will ever meet.

Name: Rob Carlson
Hometown: Collingswood, NJ
Nick Sullivan: re Cynthia Lowen-- Agree with you Mumia is guilty and also thinks the place should get over it-- but let's not mince words. The establishment you refer to is Geno's, home of said freedom fries and no fewer than 3 references to the slain officer as you walk up to get your leathery steak. Visitors will also know Geno's by the excessive amount of neon that makes it a landmark from a mile away at night. You should point out however, that across the street from Geno's is "Pat's", a more humble establishment (that notably had a Kerry/Edwards sign in its window in 2004). Pat's is the real deal for Philly cheese steaks. It's kind of an object lesson for life, really. The flashy jingoistic place makes crap and the small humble place makes the better meal. Go figure.

Name: Kevin
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Thanks for printing Nick Sullivan's response to Cynthia Loewen. Aside from veering WAY off course from her excellent commentary on Pearl Jam, she managed to piss this liberal and an entire city off. Mumia Abu Jamal may be intelligent, well-spoken and wildly successful at fashioning himself a political prisoner, but he is first and foremost a cop-killer. When we stop to ponder why the Democratic party cannot win an election, maybe we can think about just how many moderate voters are pushed into the arms of the Republican party by remarks such as Cynthia's.

Name: Virginia Dutch
Hometown: Falls Church, VA
Two songs by master ironist Ray Davies were included in the conservative top 50, as if we needed more evidence that conservatives don't do irony. But how could they have overlooked the obvious choice for a right-wing anthem- A Well Respected Man. After all, the chorus goes: "He's a well respected man about town / Doing the best things, so conservatively."

Name: felicity smith
Hometown: Manhattan Beach CA
Bill Dole: The Iranian Council knows full well that Iran, as a signatory of the NPT has the inalienable right to produce and use fissile materials.  Any demand by the US that it cease and desist exercising this right is illegitimate.  Of course, Mr. Bush believes that he has the inalienable right to disregard any and all treaties which seems, all in all, to indicate that a war with Iran is inevitable.

Hometown: Oklahoma City, OK
Comments:
Eric,
To beat a thoroughly dead horse just a bit more... As Tom from New York points out, Lynyrd Skynyrd's body of work is hardly conservative, though the band obviously has strong ties to the rural south. One of the songs on their greatest hits album offers the following lyrics:

Handguns are made for killin', they ain't no good for nothing else.  And if you like to drink your whiskey, you might even shoot yourself.  So why don't we dump them people, to the bottom of the sea before some ol' fool comes around here and wants to shoot either you or me. 

To my mind that is quite a "loud and proud" liberal statement for a band so rooted in the rural, southern way of life.  Not likely to get them invited to play many NRA gigs either.

------------------------------------------------------------------

[i] See “Snakes and ladders; Charlemagne,” The Economist, May 27, 2006. See also  Markus Jäntti Bernt Bratsberg

Knut Røed Oddbjørn Raaum

Robin Naylor Eva Österbacka

Anders Björklund Tor Eriksson, American Exceptionalism in a New Light:  A Comparison of Intergenerational Earnings Mobility in the Nordic Countries, the United Kingdom and the United States
D I S C U S S I O N P A P E R S E R I E S
Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit
Institute for the Study of Labor
January, 2006

and

Markus Jäntti Bernt Bratsberg
Åbo Akademi University Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research
Knut Røed Oddbjørn Raaum
Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research
Robin Naylor Eva Österbacka
University of Warwick Åbo Akademi University

Anders Björklund Tor Eriksson, SOFI and IZA Bonn Århus Business School, American Exceptionalism in a New Light:  A Comparison of Intergenerational Earnings Mobility in the Nordic Countries, the United Kingdom and the United States
Discussion Paper No. 1938
January 2006
IZA
(Bonn)

June 2, 2006 | 11:51 AM ET | Permalink

Notso Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new Think Again called “ Oh, That Liberal Media...” here.

Also, I’ll be at the Center for American Progress/Nation student journalism conference at CAP this afternoon and my session, with Katrina vanden Heuval, E.J.Dionne and Helen Thomas, will be on CSPAN II, live at 4:30.  Thanks also to my good buddies at CSPAN for broadcasting the Galbraith Memorial at 8:00 PM on Saturday night.  Here are Jamie Galbraith’s comments.

New Poll Says Bush Is Worst President Since 1945...  Why does America hate America?

Won’t you please come to Ohio just to steal an election?

Sounds like an invitation to leave to me...

He has a point, though.  Yet another massacre.

But don’t fool yourselves, it won't be easy.

The WSJ: Still lying about Iraq:  Lemme guess: We’re going to get more crap like this: “The missions in Iraq and Afghanistan grew from the moral outrage of September 11.  U.S. troops, the best this country has yet produced, went overseas to defend us against repeating that day.”  Here from this.

And raise your hand if you’re surprised that the guy who told the lie about the Iranian yellow badges for Jews has the lead article in this month’s Commentary.

In "The Swift Boating of America," here, Greg Grandin reminds us that the 20th anniversary of the Iran-Contra Affair is almost upon us and much that became part of our political world from the Swift Boating of the opposition to elaborate government-funded disinformation campaigns to manipulate the public into war began with Ronald Reagan's Central American policies.  He writes:

Staffed with psych warfare operatives from the CIA and the Army's Fourth Psychological Operations Group, the Office of Public Diplomacy, set up in 1983 and headed by Otto Reich, carried out a massive campaign of media deception. Working with polls conducted by Madison-Avenue PR firms, the office provided emotive talking points to government officials, pundits, and scholars, linking the Sandinistas to any number of world evils: terrorism, Soviet nuclear submarines, religious and ethnic persecution, Cuba's Castro, East Germans, Bulgarians, PLO leader Arafat, Libyan dictator Qadhafi, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, even Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang -- claims as false as, yet no less effective than, those now famous sixteen words in Bush's State of the Union Address of 2003 that pinned the yellowcake tail on the Iraqi donkey.

Stolen from Tapped:*

THE 71,000 SEPT. 11 SURVIVORS & THEIR STUDY. The same days as news hits that New York's homeland security budget is being reduced by 40 percent, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announces the next phase of their study of the long-term health of the more than 71,000 survivors of the attack on New York, some of whom apparently still suffer from something known as "World Trade Center Cough." Previous surveys have documented a higher than normal incidence of respiratory ailments, rashes, and mental health problems among the population caught in the dust cloud or otherwise impacted by the unusual mix of toxic chemicals unleashed that day and after, as people evacuated and returned to the 38 damaged or collapsed buildings in lower Manhattan. You can click here for more information on the survey or its latest (April 2006) results (PDF).

This too:*

BUSH APPOINTEE LOCATED. Well, that was easy. Who was the idiot who had to sign off on the "traitorous" decision to defund anti-terrorism efforts in New York and Washington? Says The Washington Post:

Tracy A. Henke, assistant secretary for grants and training, told reporters that the new funding distribution was the result of a better review process and does not indicate lesser risk for cities such as Washington or New York. Officials noted that Congress had cut the program by about $125 million in 2006, to $711 million, and that New York, Washington and other major cities still would receive the largest shares.

"We have to understand that there is risk throughout the nation," Henke said. "We worked very hard to make sure that there was fairness in the process."

Tracy A. Henke, assistant secretary for grants and training at Department of Homeland Security, was previously at the Department of Justice, where she was the deputy for Deborah Daniels, sister of former Office of Management and Budget director Mitch Daniels, and where, according to this 2005 New York Times report by Eric Lichtblau, she previously attempted to doctor a report showing higher rates of searches at traffic stops for black and Hispanic drivers:

In April, as the report was being completed, Mr. Greenfeld's office drafted a news release to announce the findings and submitted it for review to the office of Tracy A. Henke, who was then the acting assistant attorney general who oversaw the statistics branch.

The planned announcement noted that the rate at which whites, blacks and Hispanics were stopped was "about the same," and that finding was left intact by Ms. Henke's office, according to a copy of the draft obtained by The New York Times.

But the references in the draft to higher rates of searches and use of force for blacks and Hispanics were crossed out by hand, with a notation in the margin that read, "Do we need this?" A note affixed to the edited draft, which the officials said was written by Ms. Henke, read "Make the changes," and it was signed "Tracy." That led to a fierce dispute after Mr. Greenfeld refused to delete the references, officials said.

Ms. Henke, who was nominated by Mr. Bush last month to a senior position at the Department of Homeland Security, said in a brief telephone interview that she did not recall the episode.

Failing upwards -- it's what the Bushies do best.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

And this:*

OUR TWILIGHT ZONE GOVERNMENT. Via Atrios, I see that ABC News is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security's explanation for cutting anti-terrorism funds to New York is that "New York has no national monuments or icons." Really? You can see the DHS form that asserts this here (PDF). Says ABC:

That was a key factor used to determine that New York City should have its anti-terror funds slashed by 40 percent--from $207.5 million in 2005 to $124.4 million in 2006.

The formula did not consider as landmarks or icons: The Empire State Building, The United Nations, The Statue of Liberty and others found on several terror target hit lists. It also left off notable landmarks, such as the New York Public Library, Times Square, City Hall and at least three of the nation's most renowned museums: The Guggenheim, The Metropolitan and The Museum of Natural History.

The form ignored that New York City is the capital of the world financial markets and merely stated the city had four significant bank assets.

How much do you want to bet that this form was approved by someone connected to or appointed by the administration or congressional Republicans? Clearly, it was filled out by an idiot. But the only way such a massive error could have wended its way so far upstream as to enter the 2006 DHS budget plan is if an utterly incompetent boob signed off on it first. And the most likely way for such a person to gain a position of sufficient authority to approve an error of this magnitude is through political connections. The Daily News is right on this one: Michael Chertoff should step down. It truly boggles the mind that this idiocy could have passed without notice through the DHS bureaucracy; even more mind-boggling is The Daily News' allegation that it might have been "vengeful payback by a petty bureaucrat who tangled last year with the NYPD and wound up humiliated."

The DHS budgetary plan should be sent back to the department for a rewrite that reflects reality. And Chertoff really needs to go. He already lost New Orleans -- now he writes off New York, too?

--Garance Franke-Ruta

[*See the originals for inline links.]

Slacker Friday

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to be contrite.  Not about Iraq (yeah, but I've done that) but about a comment I made in 1991 on my first visit to Canada.  I was driving to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and listening to the tourist information being broadcasted on the radio.  A cheery voice said "currently the U.S. dollar is worth more than the Canadian dollar, so be sure to convert your currency to take advantage of the exchange rate."  “Ha!” I mocked.  “‘Currently’ my foot!”  Anyone who noticed  the prices on a book cover knew the U.S. dollar was worth a LOT more than the Canadian dollar.  By the late 90's the exchange rate was so generous that I felt guilty at the grocery store when I would load up on Coffee Crisp candy bars, "All Dressed" flavored potato chips and maple flavored breakfast cereal.

This Memorial Day I was back in “The Soo” and found that the U.S. dollar is nearly at parity with the Canadian dollar.  A trade paperback can run you $24.  It’s one thing to know at an abstract level that our economic “recovery” is phony, paid for by a credit card binge, and another to have that fact shoved in your face.  The Canadians don’t have a looming budget deficit, they have a surplus.  Their currency is stronger than ever, though when their currency does weaken, at least it has a positive effect on their trade deficit.  Our currency weakens and our trade deficit remains at near record levels.  Yes, some of that is due to oil prices, yet while Western Canada does have oil, Canada as a whole has more sensible gas taxes (they’re about at the oft-cited “$4/gallon” level).  So guess who is joining China in buying us up at bargain prices?

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Canadians are repeating our mistakes.  After a long period of Liberal party rule combined with some (graft) scandals, Canada turned to a conservative who plans to use their budget surplus for tax refunds.  Take it from us folks, budget surpluses are a
rare and wonderful thing!

Name: Tom
Hometown: New York, NY
Hey Eric,
Still on "Sweet Home Alabama", sadly enough.  The lyric is actually "In Birmingham they love the governor Now we all did what we could do Now Watergate does not bother me Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth " I've always been a bit ambivalent about this song and the band.  The confederate flag thing is uh, not so cool.  But if you consider the body of their work they are anything but racist (For instance, "The Ballad of Curtis Lowe").  And I've always considered this song and the Neil Young bashing a response to "Southern Man," which tarred all the residents of an entire region of the country with guilt for lynchings.  On the other hand, this bit bothers me: Sweet home Alabama Oh sweet home baby Where the skies are so blue And the governor's true.

Name: Charles C. Poston
Hometown: Bedford, TX
Eric,
In Birmingham we love the governor, who was a Democrat, who was for the working man, who later appointed many African-Americans to state government. As a southerner I have no problem with those who realized their error (Senator Byrd, Gore, and the Governor) and then worked to do the right thing.  In '64 we started sorting out those who were racist from those who just needed to overcome and learn from the past.  By '72 we knew who the racists were.  They were on our ballots running as Republicans!  For that I will never forgive the Republican Party or those who left the Democratic Party because they said it 'left them.'  I knew then what they were talking about and I know now.  Ask Jesse about the Governor!  I would give odds to Bill Bennett that Jesse can see into a man's heart better than the fake Texan that squats in the Whitehouse now.  We were not ashamed of Watergate because we didn't automatically believe that the government or Texas oil millionaires intended the best for us.  What I want to know now is: how all these citizens who were so concerned about the governmental power to enforce civil right laws are now not concerned about the government listening to their phone calls?  It could be they are just a bunch of racist hypocrites.  In which case, my conscience doesn't bother me.

Name: John Kessel
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
Eric:
I don't like "Sweet Home Alabama" but your correspondent Trey from Denver is right.  The line is "In Birmingham THEY love the governor."  The speaker of the song is making the point that in Alabama he and his sort voted AGAINST George Wallace (and presumably the racism Wallace stood for) but Wallace won anyway.  When he says "Watergate does not bother me/Does your conscience bother you?" he's elaborating the same point: that he is no more responsible for Wallace than those of us who voted against Nixon (futilely) are responsible for Nixon's criminal actions.  Since our consciences aren't bothered by Watergate, then why should he feel bad about Wallace, because people like him "all did what we could do."  I think this lets the speaker off a little easily, and sounds like a rationalization, but the point is logical even if it is missed by most of the listeners of this song.  I'm sure that many people think this is a pro-Wallace song, and that the audiences for Lynrd Skynrd were full of Wallace supporters who cheered when they played this song because it told those damn Yankees to go **** themselves.  As I suppose, in a general way, it does.

Eric replies: Don’t like the song?  How is that possible?

Name: John
Hometown: Pensacola, FL
Eric--
Although I'm a few paygrades below LTC Bateman and in the Navy rather than the Army, I'd like to reply briefly to Dan from Oregon's question: no.  In fact, most of the military personnel with whom I've come in contact not only thought that Mr. Bush was a great president doing a wonderful job back then, but continue to believe the same now.  The only explanation that I can come up with is that most military personnel (especially the ones that haven't seen combat) really enjoy the thought that the U.S. military is out in the world "kicking @$$ and taking names."

Name: Bill Dole
Hometown: Alexandria, VA
Eric,
You've got to stop believing everything you read.  Sadegh Kharrazi was willing to go into dialogue with the American (and French) and the State Department and they agreed in principle to a meeting in Beirut, of all places.  What Gareth Porter left out and what you could have known if you didn't fall hook line and sinker for every left wing rag you read, is that the Iranian Council added last second (literally) conditions, including that before talks start many "unreasonable" IAEA protocols would be removed.  There is one more condition that even you would consider a deal beaker, however, they must remain guarded at this time.  The reason I am writing is that you reach many people and I don't want them to take everything you print as fact to regurgitate back to other gullible left wingers who are looking for any tidbit to bash Bush. There are plenty of actual missteps this administration has made.  So many in fact, there is no need to make up new ones.  Please be more careful in the future.  You have a responsibility to present the truth, no matter how much it may hurt.

Eric replies: Dude, I recommended the article.  I said nothing.

Name: Nick Sullivan
Hometown: Upper Darby, PA
Cynthia Lowen: I read your Pearl Jam entry with interest, but was stopped in my tracks by your take on Mumia.  I've been to that cheesesteak place and always wonder why they don't just get over it.  Yes, the officer was gunned down, and as hard as it might be for you to believe, Mumia is as guilty as the day is long.  No amount of Hollywood fluff-heads and sixties retread black "anger" will change the facts on the ground.  I just wish the cheesesteak place would join the new century and start posting signs about the Bush war instead of offering ... yes, still ... freedom fries.  I gotta stop eating there ...

June 1, 2006 | 12:38 PM ET | Permalink

More phony negotiations, more war

Here we go again:  One "former official" told the NYT, "It came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box" of offering negotiations.  Amazing that even conservatives don’t understand the game plan yet.  The Wall Street Journal is whining, which, usually, is a good sign, but I’m guessing they’re just playing along.  Meanwhile, look at the American Prospect to see Gareth Porter’s piece on how this problem might have been solved, here.

Meanwhile, another day in beautiful Baghdad, where roughly 50 civilians were killed around Iraq.  Forty-two bodies were discovered, "most of them shot in the head and showing signs of torture."

Actually, maybe Laura might want to consider moving to Baghdad permanently.

Haditha, continued.

Let’s create as many terrorists as we can, but let’s not defend the cities that need defending.

A man who claims to be writing a book (for about a decade now) to be called “Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton” is in all likelihood unembarrassable, but I hope my good friend Nick Goldberg, whom I like and admire, is at least a little queasy about having to publish crap like this on the august pages of the L.A. Times.

Coincidence that the day the Post announces that it is losing a bunch of its best reporters it could not find anyone to cover John Kenneth Galbraith's memorial service?

Alter-review: by Sal, NYCD

THE RACONTEURS: BROKEN BOY SOLDIERS. There's been plenty of hype about this band, which would normally lead to disappointment.  But in this case, it's actually justified.  Brendan Benson, Jack White, and those guys from the Greenhornes team up for what sounds like their homage to '60s psych-pop.  A little bit of Syd Barrett-era Floyd, a dash of Arthur Lee's Love, and a soupçon of psychedelic sounds make up this hook-laden, melody-filled winner.  It's just askew enough to appeal to White Stripes fans, catchy enough to appeal to Brendan Benson's fans, and it features those guys from the Greenhornes for the Greenhornes fans.

TIM EASTON: AMMUNITION.  Singer-songwriter Tim Easton has always had a little bit of a following, but maybe with the release of his new CD, his current tour opening for Lucinda Williams, and the strength of the material on Ammunition, he will get a little more acclaim. This is a strong record of story-driven roots rock that also features Ms. Williams on vocals.

Pearl Jam, live, by Cynthia Lowen:

Judging by the crowd in attendance at Pearl Jam’s back to back shows in Camden, New Jersey over Memorial Day weekend, the band is addressing their concerns to the same demographic rediscovered by Republicans and Democrats during the last presidential election: the young-middle aged, middle class, white male.  Pearl Jam has always put politics at the forefront of their music, evolving from twenty-something alienation to forty-something responsibility, but are audiences listening to the words frontman Eddie Vedder is singing, or just the ecstatic sound of his voice?

Since the 1991 release of their first album, Ten, Vedder’s lyrics have delivered irony, rage, and scorching (albeit, at times, facile) critiques on topics ranging from mankind’s destruction of the environment (This land is mine, this land is free / I'll do what I want but irresponsibly) to the religious right’s hypocrisy (Got a gun, fact I got two / That's OK man, cuz I love God.)  Pearl Jam’s latest album turns an eye towards the war in Iraq, deceit in the White House, and economic injustice, and the band demonstrated a tangible commitment to social issues by donating a dollar from every ticket sold for Saturday evening’s show to The Innocence Project, a not-for-profit working to exonerate the wrongly accused using DNA evidence.  During the first encore, three men released from prison through the Project’s efforts were brought on stage to join the band in a rendition of the 1960’s hit, Last Kiss, and Vedder encouraged the cheering audience to think more critically about the justice system.

In the past, I had liked Pearl Jam’s music, though I wouldn’t consider myself much of fan. Seeing them perform gave me both a renewed respect for the group, and the desire to be more proactive in my own life—I wondered if other people were feeling that way too.  While teams are almost always better than their weakest player, looking around I couldn’t help but feel the guy in front of me wearing a shirt claiming, “If You Lick It, They Will Come,” was somehow emblematic of the whole: an inebriated, testosterone-fraught, frat-boy type, whose patterns of consumption, feelings about gay marriage, and impressions of the Middle East will play a large role in shaping American policy over the next several decades. The good new is, if it seems the band faces an uphill battle in heightening social and political awareness among listeners, in 2000 their long-term fan base proved that audiences can be motivated when thousands of Pearl Jam fans voted for Ralph Nader, for whom Vedder campaigned.

After two encores, and phone calls to multiple cab companies which would not pick up passengers in Camden, a city considered by many the worst in the U.S., I eventually made it back over the Ben Franklin Bridge to Philadelphia to try a famous Philly cheese steak.  As I approached the register at the restaurant I noticed a sign asking customers to remember Officer Daniel Faulker, “shot and killed by Mumia Abu-Jamal.”  Until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone still believed Mumia, who is probably the most famous political prisoner in the United States after the Rosenbergs, was actually guilty of killing a cop here in South Philly.  I didn’t notice the second sign, admonishing customers to “Order in English, This is America,” until the girl across from me, who had also just come from the concert, pointed to it, exclaiming, “That’s so funny, I want a shirt that says that.”

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Dan
Hometown: Portland, OR
Dr. A,
As I was reading LTC Bateman's latest post, "Haditha," my mind leapt back to the 2004 presidential campaign to one of the clearest contrasts between the two candidates.  In a time of great uncertainty and war, it was comforting to know that John Kerry had seen and experienced the horrors of war firsthand.  To me, this was one of the strongest arguments for his election.  On the other hand, W and his administration of chickenhawks were perfectly content to send our troops into harm's way with no real perspective into the savagery of war and its lasting consequences.  Because of this, I believed that Kerry would carry enough of the military and veteran vote to mitigate Bush's margin of victory in 2000.  Then, Swiftboating happened and the rest is history.  If I were to ask LTC Bateman one question, it would be, "Did the lack of wartime and military experience in the Bush Administration (especially after the lack of planning for post-war Iraq became apparent) cause any real concern or debate among the troops during the 2004 campaign?"

Name: Bill Dauphin
Hometown: Vernon, CT
Eric:
Thank you so much for continuing to give us the wisdom of LTC Bateman.  Today he tells us something that should be obvious, but has so much more impact coming from someone who REALLY knows: "War, in short, is savage." This simple truth, in the context of the Haditha story, crystallized something that's been bothering me since the first revelations about Abu Ghraib: It seems inevitable that whenever we send large numbers of young people into the savagery that is war, some of them will lose their moral compasses and commit unspeakable acts.  I don't for a moment excuse those who commit atrocities, but to a limited extent, I do pity them.  Some of our soldiers sacrifice their families, their health, even their lives to the war's goals; others, it seems, end up sacrificing their souls.  THIS is why it's so despicable that we were led into this war under false and insufficient pretenses. When weighing the costs and benefits of prospective combat, our leaders must consider not only the expected loss of life, but also the grave moral peril savage war presents to the souls of our soldiers, and to the soul of the nation itself.  That is a very high bar indeed, and it's clear the Bush administration baldly lied to us about whether the Iraq invasion met it.  Shame on them.

Name: Jonathan Eddison
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
From your occasional correspondent in LA: Re Haditha.  An atrocity like what seems to have happened was inevitable given the circumstances, which is not to excuse it. Take highly armed young Americans (or any other troops) and make them targets of mines, ambushes, snipers, etc. indefinitely and there will be reprisals, some immediate and some deliberate and planned. You are right to point to Vietnam - recall that Calley's unit had been taking regular casualties from mines and booby traps - but you could as easily point to the Indian Wars (see Richard Slotkin's work among others), the French in Algeria, the French in Vietnam, the Russians in Chechneya, etc. The longer the war in Iraq goes on the more of these incidents can be reasonably forecast to occur.  Cover-ups by higher command are virtually automatic. Their careers are threatened by exposure, not the atrocity.  I believe that you can easily verify that professional military men know the foregoing.  What the US government has done, as it did in Vietnam, is knowingly accept the risk of repisal atrocities rather than admit error, reverse policy or change the battlefield.  In Iraq as in Vietnam, the "enemy" has the initiative and the protection of the population and is quite prepared to use the population for its military and political purposes.  For deep psychological reasons the reprisal often exceeds the offense by a considerable margin.  Again see Slotkin on the Indian Wars.  Such a policy was the deliberate practice of the Nazis in occupied countries and of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Name: Keenan Kline
Hometown: Santa Rosa Beach, FL
I'm a retired Army officer and co-worker to active duty Marines.  I have been actively following and discussing the Haditha story for several months.  Ralph, it's patently obvious that there are people in Iraq with an agenda to discredit the U.S.  Duh.  But to deny that soldiers are not inclined to lie to cover their asses and avoid punishment is to profess a complete ignorance of human nature.  The guilty have an agenda to lie by definition.  It's not the other parties I would worry about.  One of the oldest rules about war is that the victors don't appear before war crime tribunals.  In my eyes, the only thing that would sully the Corp is failure to punish, if guilty, or to maintain discipline.

Name: Tim Schroeder
Hometown: Willimantic, CT
Hey Eric,
I found several entries on the conservative rock song list confusing.  The one I really didn't get is "Godzilla".  What is so conservative about Japanese sci-fi?  Perhaps one manifestation of conservatives' inferiority complex is fantasizing about destroying Asian cities?  Also, several logical choices were left off the list, like "Speak English or Die" by Storm Troopers of Death.  Several other S.O.D. songs would fit as well, but their titles would not be fit to print here.

Name: Trey
Hometown: Denver, Co.
Eric-
Not to keep dragging up that stupid list of "conservative" rock songs, but I have to mention this- It's hysterical that Sweet Home Alabama made the list (#4). The writer is oblivious to any sense of context.  The lyric "Watergate does not bother me, does your conscience bother you... tell the truth" means the singer voted against Nixon.  The reason he voted against Nixon is because he voted for George McGovern.  So it's a conservative rock song about voting against a conservative icon and for George McGovern?  On the second thought, I think it's perfect.  The blogger cherry-picked one lyric (the Neil Young slam) lifted it from context and sold it to the neocons.  Does that remind you of anything?

Eric replies: “In Birmingham we love the governor?”

Name: Rob Stafford
Hometown: San Diego
God I miss Spalding, though I never met him.  A good man & an interesting & insightful one.  There was a period of time I would just put "Swimming To Cambodia" on in the background almost everyday and just let it run--damn that man could talk.  We are poorer for his absence.  Thanks for your comments today--have been doing an approach/avoidance thing with Life Interrupted for awhile, will grab the audio... Best,

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