June 30, 2006 | 11:49 PM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new Think Again: The Best of Times … here.

We’re not yet a police state.  But I wonder what Mrs. Zarqawi thinks of the Supreme Court’s decision.

How sad to lose Cody's ($).

Greil Marcus, interviewed.

Our Man’s speech on faith, etc., is here.

When I was in Italy last week, talking about Bush's war on the media -- and particularly The New York Times -- more than one person asked me if it was not a way to exploit anti-Semitism. I hadn't really thought about it until I was asked, but it is, and it's got to be intentional on some people's part. The usually perspicacious Jon Carroll is the first person I've seen to write about it. It's may also explain why the White House and those lunatics in Congress are hysterical about the Times, but leaving the Journal alone.

Just when you thought it was safe to hate TNR comes … the return of Podenfreude. Remember this is the guy who called Hillary ugly.

Chip Ward, assistant director of the Salt Lake City public library system (as well as environmental writer), on the Pentagon's plans to set off what has to be one of the largest fertilizer bombs in history -- as a faux nuclear test at the old Nevada Test Site which had hundreds of nuclear tests between the 1950s and early 1990s.  Of the test's strange name, he writes:

"Then there's that name -- Divine Strake. Strake, not strike, which might seem logical under the circumstances. "Strake" is either an obscure nautical term meaning a line of horizontal planking running the length of a ship's hull or the aerodynamic surface mounted on the fuselage of an aircraft to control airflow. Why it has been used in this faux-nuclear context is not clear. Apparently, war planners regard the test as a platform, support, or control for something else -- but what? Or maybe, consciously or not, strake is an amalgam of "strike" and "mistake." Anyway, whatever one makes of "strake," "divine" conveys a breathtakingly unabashed and self-righteous hubris. It's also a clear case of linguistic bait n' switch since there is nothing divine about slaughtering innocents or destroying whole landscapes, unless of course it is death we are worshipping and our own power to play God and decide the fates of untold numbers of people.

"If we wonder how the rest of the world, especially Islamic cultures, hear these words, we have only to think how we would hear them if they were used by Iranians to describe a weapons program they were developing with the obvious purpose of targeting us. Proof of fanaticism, we would insist. Maybe we are in a holy war, after all, at least in the minds of those fashioning the weapons to fight it. While Islamacists set off car bombs and call it "jihad", we prepare a simulated nuclear explosion and label it "divine." The people of Utah and Nevada may be forgiven if they feel like hostages caught in the crossfire of warring zealots."

Is this a great city or what? Look at these listings and weep. Also my girl Maude is doing a free show on July 12, at the Hudson River Festival in Lower Manhattan at the World Financial Center Plaza, when I think Great Performances is also broadcasting Bruce from London. But what I really wanted to say is I don’t mind having our first three-game loss of the entire season if it hurts the Yankees. And tonight, to show you what a big tent Altercation is -- including not only the Lt. Colonel, who by the way married well above his station last weekend in Maine -- on the catastrophe that is Iraq, but tonight, Siva and I will be sitting in the upper decks, while I will be rooting for Good and he, for Evil.

Have a happy Fourth fellow flag-burners, marriage-crazy homos and other various Hate-America types. And remember, as I often do, how the world must have looked in say, 1936 or 7. And I don’t mean only Hitler and Stalin. Look at the goddamn Yankees …

Alter-reviews:

I saw Bonnie Raitt in Central Park Wednesday night. We were lucky to stave off the rain and Bonnie and her band were in an expansive, excited mood. She gave us a little too much information about how she was looking forward to a sexual reunion with her new boyfriend in Boston tonight, but she and the band were in fine fettle. Her set was far more generous with her early catalogue than when she played the Beacon about four months ago, and focused only on the good songs from her more recent (and less distinctive) material. Everybody had a terrific time, methinks, and she was joined by Keb Mo, Phoebe Snow and John Hall for the encores.

John Hall, the guy who sang “Still the One" and wrote that solar power anthem in the 70s --helping to inspire MUSE and the Danny Goldberg-produced shows that formed “No Nukes” (which really needs a DVD release whoever owns the rights) is running for Congress upstate somewhere near where Petey used be to the mayor. Bonnie and Steve Van Zandt and Steve Earle all came to a fundraiser at Danny’s for Mr. Hall -- with whom I spoke for a few minutes and seems to be running as a Mr. Smith kinda-candidate, from the school board to the Congress.  Anyway, Bonnie was great and you should go see her if you can. Gloria Steinem and John Sayles were in the audience, too. Mr. Sayles is apparently not a reader of Altercation, alas.

Bonnie’s official site is here. Check out all the good works this sexy woman does. That DVD is pretty good too. And John Hall for Congress is here.

The night before I saw this totally excellent, extremely clever little play, based on a kind of warped re-reading of the 1932 film classic by Ernst Lubitsch, who is played in the play by a disembodied voice. The movie is a kind of perfect pre-Code, screwball comedy (though it was pulled from circulation 1935 due to its multiple violations of the Code and was not re-issued until the 1960s). The play is both an homage and a send-up, with smart acting and a great score. I didn’t get tickets to Macbeth in the park but I didn’t feel bad about missing it because this thing was so much fun.  And it’s just been extended. Read all about it here.

Now, onto your letters ...

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to propose a Middle East peace initiative.  I know the limits of inductive reasoning, but there are a handful of observations and factoids which shape my view of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Last week I read that Gaza was approaching an African-like food crisis, largely due to the suspension of U.S. and European aid to the Palestinian Authority. Europe and NGOs were moving to fill the gap, but there were credible reports that animal protein has largely disappeared from Gazan diets.  Less credible but not unbelievable reports accused Israel of blocking some deliveries from crossing the border.  Now we have this military action which can only make the situation worse. 

Normally I'm pretty thick-skinned about Palestine, largely because the way it sucks precious media attention from worse humanitarian problems.  But mass starvation is different.  And you know that terrorist recruiters are salivating at the thought of images from Gaza of Ethiopia-like starvation.  My question is, why defer to Europe?  Why can't the U.S. provide food aid directly or through a middleman delivery nation.  The reason can't be Hamas -- we've provided humanitarian aid to North Korea, and they’re "axis of evil" level.  If Israel complains, all the better -- maybe it will make a dent in the anti-US coverage in the Arab press and make us appear less one-sided.  If there's one area we could soften our hardline positions in the Middle East, it's food.    


Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Metropolis
Last week and again this morning The New York Times told the truth. That is, instead of using mush words like "disputed" and "questionable" to describe patently false claims by Republicans, it actually called lies lies.

Well, it did not use the word "lies." Here is what Jim Dwyer of the Times wrote on June 25 about the lies that New Jersey Republican Senatorial candidate Tom Kean Jr. said about Sen. Robert Menendez:

In particular, Mr. Kean said that Mr. Menendez had distorted his own role in the political corruption of Union City, the Hudson County community where Mr. Menendez came to public life 30 years ago as a protégé of an old-fashioned political boss, William V. Musto.

Mr. Kean said that while Mr. Menendez now poses as a brave truth teller who helped topple a regime of political crooks, he had actually issued $2 million in public money to a corrupt contractor "as part of a massive illegal kickback scheme." Had Mr. Menendez not cooperated with prosecutors, aides to Mr. Kean said, he might have gone to jail himself.

To a depth unusual for events that are decades old, the Kean campaign's accusations can be measured against a robust historical record — including F.B.I. tapes and volumes of trial testimony — of a roiling human and legal drama between 1978 and 1982 in Union City.

The Kean accusations find no support in those records or from independent authorities of that era.


Period. Lie. Nailed. Case closed.

Of course, that did not stop Kean from playing the corruption card in a debate with Menendez that night. Mendendez defended himself by saying that the record clearly shows Kean is lying and newspaper reports back up Menendez.

Kean won't quit. Now he is making a "Swift-boatesque" film about Menendez' early political career. Back in the 1970s Menendez -- at great personal and political risk -- stood up to the mob-connected and deeply corrupt Democratic leadership of Union City, New Jersey. Everyone around here knows the story. Menendez has survived and thrived in New Jersey by being clean. That's rare. And that's one of the reasons Republicans hate him so much (along with not a few corrupt Democrats).

So how does Dwyer at The Times describe the film's attacks? The same way, with clear, unambiguous language:


Mr. Kean's chief campaign consultant, Matt Leonardo, a strategist for Republican candidates, disclosed the plans in an interview and said the film would be "very similar" in purpose to the commercials used to attack the military record of John Kerry during the 2004 presidential race.

Kean campaign officials have sought to erode their opponent's public biography, charging that virtually every moment of Mr. Menendez's career has been mired in graft and bossism. That includes his early days in Union City, where Mr. Menendez has said that he acted to thwart a racketeering scheme involving his own political associates and organized crime figures — a claim that is documented in public records and corroborated by independent authorities.

But then, in the very next paragraph, Dwyer is back to the same old right-wing tricks that made MSM coverage of the 2004 Kerry campaign so shameful:

Nevertheless, the Kean campaign will challenge that biography in "a long-form film," Mr. Leonardo said, just as commercials broadcast in 2004 attacked Mr. Kerry's military record. Those commercials, relying on claims by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, purported to expose Mr. Kerry's military decorations as exaggerated or fraudulent. Although the premise and many elements of the Swift boat advertisements were strongly disputed, as a whole they were seen as successful in hobbling the Kerry campaign.

"The similarity between the Swift boat ads and this movie — you have two individuals who have told stories for a political purpose and the facts just don't jibe," Mr. Leonardo said. "And these two individuals were able to get away with telling it their way for more than a decade and a half. I would say it's very similar in that way."

"Strongly disputed"? Come on, Dwyer. The Swift Boat charges were completely fabricated. They were uquestionably disproven. They were directly contradicted by military and medical records. They were dismissed by eyewitness accounts.

Oh, and what's up with "were seen as successful at hobbling the Kerry campaign?" Gotta love the passive voice. It was the Times and other spineless tools of right-wing propaganda machines that made the charges successful. Had the Times and others been doing their jobs, the Swift Boat campaign would be been just another wacko conspiracy moment with as much credibility as those who claim 911 was a government-generated fraud or that Bush actually won the election in 2000.

So the TImes is halfway there to telling the truth again. Let's keep pushing it to make it all the way.


Name: Brad
Hometown: St. Louie
Hey, I'm with Stupid! Last Friday, Stupid from Chicago set forth the brilliant and long overdue proposal that the Democratic Party return to its roots and focus on labor and workplace issues. (Meanwhile, Altercators spent the week burning electrons debating alternate strategies and likely effects from the Second World War! Talk about getting off topic). I couldn't agree more with Stupid's suggestion, as long as we are modernizing the topic for today's laborers: white collar workers. The nation needs to address the flaws in the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the categories of "Exempt" and "non-Exempt" employees. My maternal grandfather was an IBEW member, and worked as a lineman for the electric utility in southeast Missouri for 42 years. He retired with a pension, Social Security, and a paid off house, car, and fishing boat. I spent a great deal of time with him when I was young. His regular advise to me was to "be sure to get a college education, so you don't have to work outside in the heat and the cold".

Well, I listened, and I have had a pretty enjoyable, and fairly lucrative career in a technical field. However, it has required many 50 - 60 hour weeks, and deferred holidays and vacations. And I'm not certain the tradeoffs of "cubicle world" are a great improvement over the outdoor elements. Those 50 - 60 hours weeks that most of our generation have put in have never even come with comp. time, let alone direct financial compensation due to the FLSA. I think there is a fertile field to be exploited there, as Stupid pointed out. And there's even a simple, sound-bite mantra, "An hour's pay for an hour's work" to address the issue.

I see Newsweek is on to who really should be the obvious choice for the next Democratic Presidential candidate, a name that has had no play here on Altercation. Obama is not ready, Kerry and Gore have had their shots, and Hilary won't play in Peoria (or St. Louie, or Des Moines, etc.). Edwards seems to me to be the only guy with the right combination of experience, exposure, and charisma. The Mrs. and I spent a romantic weekend getaway in Des Moines ("I love Des Moines in June, how 'bout you? I love a Springsteen tune, how 'bout you?") to catch Springsteen's Seeger Sessions Show three weeks ago. Along with being at Pujols' three homer game on Easter Sunday, it was the highlight of the year so far.


Name: Josh Cochran
Hometown: Nashville, TN

I've got to take issue with Beth from Arlington, Virginia's comment that she's not criticizing the troops, but rather "criticizing the way that the suits in the Pentagon are throwing bodies at an insurgency with no way of getting out." Sorry, Beth, but those "suits in the Pentagon" are troops too. They take their orders from the White House. Pursuing this war was not their idea, nor was the current strategy of "throwing bodies at [the] insurgency." The blame for the war and the ever increasing number of flag-draped coffins in this country lies squarely on the commander-in-chief. To blame the "suits in the Pentagon" dilutes the argument against the war in two important ways: 1) It insults career military officers who are, in general, only doing their best with what they've been given, and 2) it takes the spotlight off the president - which should never happen. That spotlight of blame should be focused on President Bush and company like a laser. They started it, they've consistently chosen to continue it, and they alone have the power to stop it. But please don't insult our military leaders. Our democracy has suffered many blows in the last few years, but we're not to the point that the Pentagon makes its own decisions about when to wage war. Put the blame where it belongs.

Name: Wyval Rosamilia
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

My husband, my son and I just went to see "An Inconvenient Truth". Even though I already knew the greater truth and only details were new to me, I had to fight off despair. A truly powerful and moving experience. However, it was Al Gore himself that I found most riveting. I voted for him--and will again if I get the chance. This is the Al Gore we should have been allowed to see on the campaign trail--passionate, funny, fiercely intelligent--not the bland robot his handlers thought would win. In a couple of places, he shows potential for being one of the old-time southern firebrand speakers, some in politics, some in religion, that even if you don't agree with what they say, you love to hear them say it. It's great to see him back. Let's hope this is just the beginning!

June 29, 2006 | 12:39 PM ET | Permalink

Lots of quotes today, all of them cherce:

  1. George W. Bush, following the briefing at his Crawford, Texas, homestead on Aug. 6, 2001, about a CIA memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." Upon listening to the CIA briefer, Bush says, "All right, you've covered your ass, now."  Bush proceeds to go fishing… (From Ron Suskind, here.)

  2. "With these realities:  1) invading for democracy having no credibility; 2) the United States considered occupiers; 3) Iraqis wanting us out; 4) creating instead of eliminating terrorism and 5) the likelihood of religious strife continuing regardless, "staying the course" isn’t worth another G.I.’s life.  We have to redeploy and stay close to make sure that Iran doesn’t takeover.  The Iraqis must settle this themselves without us as targets."
    —From Senator Ernest Hollings.

  3. "While Les Halles —with its vast food markets— was the poetic belly of Paris, Pigalle was its penis."
    —From Michael Dregni's Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend

  4. "Lolita, then, is undeniably news in the world of books.  Unfortunately, it is bad news.  There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention.  The first is that it is dull, dull, dull, in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion.  The second is that it is repulsive."
    — From the New York Times Book Review of “Lolita,” by someone named Orville Prescott.

  5. "That Nigger's Crazy" (1974), which surprised record-industry executives with its appeal to young whites as well as blacks.  Despite its X-rating because of explicit language and sexual content, the record sold more than a half-million copies and won the Grammy Award for best comedy album of the year.
    —From the Times obit of Richard Pryor.
    (Um, despite?)

  6. Asked if Democrats who are on record denouncing DeLay's tactics would be vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy from the NRCC spokesguy Carl Forti, Emanuel said, "Well, given hypocrisy is how we earn our living around here, I don't think it's a problem."
    —Rahm Emanuel.

  7. “I agree with [Wall Street Journal editorial writer, Daniel] Henninger.  If a woman in India marries a snake, gay people in America should have to justify it… I’ve got no problem with people marrying snakes as long as they’re not marrying gay snakes…. Maazel Tov to all the happy couples.”
    —From Stephen Colbert

  8. “…Something called Campus Progress,”
    —TNR’s Lawrence Kaplan, read Ezra Klein’s whole excellent post here.  (It doesn’t really have a great quote in it but I thought it worth noting anyway.)

  9. “Because the Sicilians did not liberate themselves but were instead liberated by northerners, while they themselves remained passive or hostile, their sense of identity is still today defined by opposition to everything that the liberal kingdom of Italy tried to impose on them, starting with legality itself.

    It is the same in Iraq today, except much worse.  At least the Piedmontese and Sicilians were nominally of the same nationality and religion, and the invasion of Sicily was preceded by decades of propaganda for a united Italy that had reached Sicily as well. In Iraq, by contrast, it is widely assumed that the un-Islamic liberators/invaders are there primarily to subvert Islam—for example by propagating women’s rights—while Iraqi Arabs who may or may not believe this do believe that the primary purpose of the invasion was to destroy the power of the strongest Arab state. Almost all Iraqis—Kurds included—also agree that control of the oil fields was another prime motive. (Because they themselves would never dream of invading another country except for loot, they exclude the possibility that Americans and British are expending blood and treasure to establish a democratic and prosperous Iraq.)

    Further embittering the Iraqis has been the increasing mayhem. Many Shiites now assert that the Americans are secretly organizing the attacks against them, in order to weaken both the Arabs and Islam by provoking a Sunni-Shiite civil war; for their part, many Arab Sunnis claim that U.S.-Iran tensions are a sham and that the two want to capture and divide Iraq and the Arabian peninsula. And these are only the simplest explanations on offer; more complete conspiracy theories usually include an Israeli and Jewish angle, which is why fatwas have been issued forbidding the sale of land to Jews.

    The overall result parallels the Sicilian syndrome: having been liberated instead of liberating themselves, Iraqis now construct their sense of identity by rejecting all that the liberators stand for and embracing radicalized versions of their own cultures, with the leaders that go with them. These include the hopelessly ignorant and xenophobic clerics whom the Shiites now obey more blindly than ever and who favor elections only because they will assure Shiite rule; the clan and tribal leaders of the Arab Sunnis; the Baath holdouts; and the Islamist killers.

    Left to its own devices, Iraq might have evolved over time in a natural and organic fashion toward better forms of governance than Saddam Hussein’s. As things stand, it will first have to overcome the effects of its liberation, adding generations if not centuries to the process.

    It is the same in all the other places of the Arab world and beyond that are so different from Germany and Japan in 1945, where aborted prewar democracies only had to be rehabilitated, where there was no Islam standing in the way, and where years of bloody warfare had extirpated the enemies of democratic advancement and utterly discredited their ideologies.”

    —Uber-hawk Edward Luttwak, here.

Altercation Book Club:

The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country with a Fabled History and a Storied Culture Was Taken over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi
by Alexander Stille
Penguin Press

Alexander Stille is the author of three other books, "Benevolence & Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism,"(Picador) "Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic," (Vintage) and "The Future of the Past," (Picador). He is also a professor of international journalism at Columbia.

In the summer of 1993, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s richest man and the owner of its largest television and publishing empire, conducted a series of polls to test the possibility of his founding his own party and becoming a candidate for prime minister. One poll found that Berlusconi enjoyed 97 percent name recognition with potential voters, while the actual prime minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, was known to only 51 percent.

The media tycoon who had brought “Dallas,” “Wheel of Fortune,” and “Baywatch,” to Italy, who led the Milan soccer team to several championships, whose yachts and villas and beautiful wife were frequently featured in the supermarket tabloids, was of far greater interest than any of the traditional politicians on the market. Another poll conducted among young people showed that Berlusconi was their “most loved,” on a long list of names. Arnold Schwarzenegger was second and Jesus Christ third.

The end of the Cold War had wiped out the traditional political parties that had dominated Italy for the previous fifty years. The old ideologies of the 20th century were waning and the most influential institution still standing in the rubble of the Berlin Wall was a television media company.

Aware of his opportunity to fill this void, Berlusconi undertook what has to be one of the most extraordinarily innovative election campaigns of our age. All the divisions of Berlusconi’s vast empire – from television stations and newspapers to department stores and an insurance and financial services company – were fused almost overnight into an enormous political machine. The ad executives contacted the companies who bought advertising on the Berlusconi channels. The stockbrokers and insurance agents working for Berlusconi’s financial services company became campaign workers and set about turning the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of financial clients into voters and party supporters. The personnel department of the television advertising company selected more than a hundred of the company’s top ad salesmen to be candidates for the parliamentary elections. The candidates took screen tests at the television studios, were given lessons in politics, and were cross-examined to see how they would hold up under the fire of an election campaign. The candidates all were obliged to buy a special kit that included a 35-page booklet, eleven video tapes explaining the party’s program as well as lessons on how to speak in public and on TV.

Initially, the work was carried out in secret. Berlusconi vigorously denied that he had any intention of becoming a candidate. The official word was that he was helping found a political movement to promote the values of freedom and democracy through a series of clubs, called “Forza, Italia!” (Go, Italy!), the phrase soccer fans chant when cheering on the national soccer team.

With rumors of Berlusconi’s project growing with every day and his figure gaining prominence with each denial of his plans, the terrain was perfectly prepared as in the launch of a new product.

Then, on January 26, 1994, Berlusconi appeared on the three main private TV networks (which he owns) and announced that he was founding a new political party and running for prime minister.

It looked much like an address from the oval office at the White House. Berlusconi was shown in the study of his sumptuous 18th century villa, seated behind a large, commanding desk, with family photographs in the background. He spoke to the nation with a grave and authoritative air. Even though he was only a private citizen and a political novice, it looked as if he were already president. "Berlusconi...was the 'virtual-reality' president," says Giuliano Ferrara, one of his chief political strategists and the ghostwriter of the speech. "I understood at that moment that he had changed the form of Italian politics."

Within just two months Berlusconi was in fact prime minister.

             *                 *                 *

The Berlusconi story is one of the great political adventures of the late twentieth century, an astonishing example of what happens when media, money, and politics combine forces in a society with almost no rules.

It would be easy but mistaken, to dismiss Berlusconi as a uniquely Italian phenomenon, but that his story takes place in Italy is at the same time no accident. Italy has a rather remarkable record in the 20th century as a kind of laboratory of bad ideas that have then spread to other parts of the world. Fascism was invented in Italy, as was the Mafia, and left-wing terrorism went further in Italy than in any European country. This is not to say that Berlusconi is a fascist, a Mafioso or a terrorist, but all these phenomena are by-products of a weak democracy with few institutional checks and balances. As a country late to unify and industrialize, Italy is a place where all the strains and problems of modernity are present, but with few of the safeguards that exist in older, more stable nations; ideas get taken to their logical extreme, where they can be seen with particular clarity. The increasingly close relations between big money, politics and television are hugely important everywhere, but in Italy, where a major media business, in the form of Berlusconi, has taken power directly, they have achieved a kind of apotheosis.

While Forza Italia contains vestiges of Italy’s past, Berlusconi is also a troubling avant-guard figure, a kind of Citizen Kane on steroids. It is not an accident that the president of Thailand is also the country’s richest man and largest media owner, who is interested in acquiring soccer teams. Or that Vladimir Putin, who is a frequent guest at Berlusconi’s vacation home in Sardinia, has easily won apparently democratic elections after gaining control over virtually all of Russia’s television channels. There are even, in fact, powerful parallels with the Berlusconi phenomenon in the country that likes to refer to itself as the world’s oldest continuous democracy, the United States.

The personalization of politics through television, the decline of traditional political parties, and the rise of billionaire politicians (Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, Jon Corzine and Mike Bloomberg) who circumvent party organizations by purchasing vast amounts of television time, are all very much with us. Moreover, the deregulation and politicization of American broadcasting – starting with the elimination under Reagan of the “fairness doctrine” and public interest requirements, and the recent decisions under Bush to further do away with restrictions of media concentration – all, ironically, follow the Italian model. Information is increasingly in the hands of a six or seven international media conglomerates of which Berlusconi’s is one, most of them owned by highly conservative interests who often cooperate with one another. Berlusconi has worked closely with both Leo Kirch of Germany and Rupert Murdoch, using interlocking ownership of media companies to skirt the anti-trust legislation of different countries.  The much more aggressive, partisan style of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Rush Limbaugh is eerily reminiscent of the highly-slanted Berlusconi channels.

The affinities between the Italy of Berlusconi and contemporary America are hardly coincidental. Most of Berlusconi’s success in his career, from real estate to television to politics, has consisted of importing American models to Europe. “I’m in favor of everything American before even knowing what it is,” Berlusconi told the New York Times in 2001. He brought Italy the suburban subdivision, Dallas and Dynasty, Survivor and “So you want to be a millionaire,” he brought focus groups, the 30-second political ad and a “contract with Italy,” based on Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” More importantly, like other businessmen-politicians (Ross Perot) and celebrity candidates (Arnold Schwartzenegger and Jesse “the body” Ventura) he tapped a deep distrust and dislike of politics, which characterizes modern democracy in an age of declining political participation. He helped create a continental model of the politics of anti-politics, the notion, popularized by Ronald Reagan, that “government is not the solution, government is the problem.”

While Berlusconi may at first glance appear to be a freakish and uniquely Italian phenomenon, on closer inspection, Italy under Berlusconi may in fact be a not-so-distant mirror, in which many of the same forces at work in our own society can be seen taken to their extreme logical conclusion.

For more go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Rick
Hometown: Layton UT
Dr. Alterman,
I just had to comment on Rob's comment about no one proposed a timeline for WW1 or WW2.  Those were wars.  The military grew as necessary to meet the requirements.  Everybody in America sacrificed to some degree.  Iraq, or for that matter the so-called war on terror, is not a war.  The military is getting smaller and with the exception of the military (and their families) and the victims of the 9/11 attacks, sacrifice isn't happening.  I served 28 years in the Air Force that included a recent tour in Iraq.

Name: Bill Skeels
Comments:
Could it be any more obvious that the GOP tanked the flag amendment?  If it was passed, they'd lose it as an ongoing issue.  Not to mention that people would start thinking about the obvious practical problems ... how can W sign that flag and not violate the amendment?  How can we throw out the 4th of July ads in the newspaper and not get in trouble?  It seems crystal clear that they engineered the one vote loss.  They allowed Chafee, who needed to vote 'no' for political reasons (winning reelection in a blue state) and found 2 otherwise reliable GOP Senators to whom it doesn't matter (McConnell and Bennett) to vote nay as well.  Seriously, is there a more political animal than McConnell?  Can we believe that Orrin Hatch's fellow Utahan Bennett, on this issue of all that have come down the pike in recent years, found civil liberties religion?

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Do the job right?  Who are you kidding Rob?  General Shinseki wanted to 'do the job right' by putting 300,000+ troops on the ground, to secure all the military sites, not just the Oil Ministry. And what happened to him?  Forced to retire.  So, what do we have now?  American soldiers, who don't have armored vests or vehicles, being blown up by roadside bombs (made with materiel stolen from weapons dumps).  The war is over as stated by President Bush on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln THREE YEARS AGO (maybe you saw it on TV).  The Iraqis see the Americans as OCCUPIERS.  The Iraqis WANT THE AMERICANS (and everyone else in the "coalition of the willing") OUT.  NOW.  Yesterday would probably be better.  And in WWI and WWII Germany (and Japan) surrendered.  There was an end point.  Here, there is no end point.  Just more and more maimed Americans coming home without the VA services that they need for rehabilitation.  And by the way, no one is criticizing the troops.  I am criticizing the way that the suits in the Pentagon is throwing bodies at an insurgency with no way of getting out.

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield, MA
Here's a link to Coulter trying to argue that she and some Conservative friends are truer Deadheads than Liberals.  It is perhaps notable that she found people friendly to her in situations where what she had to say was probably drowned out by music.

Name: Kevin Bartner
Hometown: Alpharetta, GA
Although, I've owned a DVD copy of Dazed and Confused for over 5 years, I went ahead and purchased the Criterion Collection copy of Dazed and Confused.  It was well worth it.  The picture looks great on the restored print but it is the extras that make it worthwhile.  Linklater's commentary is good but the stars of the extras are the deleted scenes (particularly the scene where Pink, Benny and Don discuss Vietnam in the pickup), the interviews with the cast in character and the story of how Matthew McCaughey came about getting the part of Wooderson and how he turned a 2 line part into a major role in the movie.  One thing I did notice.  There were no extras involving Melvin.  In character or out.  Maybe he was out getting a sixer at the Centennial.  Oh well.  Just remember, Martha Washington was a hip, hip, hip lady!!!!

June 28, 2006 | 12:45 PM ET | Permalink

Signing the Constitution away

I’ve got a new Nation column here, “The Uses and Abuses of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”

Signing the Constitution Away:  Isn’t it kind of amazing that after all this time, Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe remains just about the only reporter in America interested in the story that George W. Bush feels he can ignore the laws of the land whenever it strikes his fancy?  Here is today’s entry about potential Senate action.  Here is a page 09 story in the Washington Post with the ho-hum headline, “Bush's Challenges of Laws He Signed Is Criticized.”

Dan Froomkin writes a similar complaint here though he misses the column cited below.

Patriot, Joyce Green of Oklahoma writes me:

Mr. Alterman:
I have been reading media and legal materials (including your piece, “Think Again: Signing the Constitution Away,” at the Center for American Progress), here, about the unitary executive and the Bush administration’s use of presidential signing statements.  I think this is an important topic.

Therefore, I have collected all presidential signing statements from January 19, 2001, through June 12, 2006, and posted a temporary webpage that provides full text of all the bill signing statements issued by President George W. Bush.  By setting out the full text of the signing statements, this Web page should remedy complaints that the statements are difficult to find.  To help readers verify text, the Web site also provides links to the full text of the same documents at the White House and Government Printing Office (GPO) Web sites.

The Web site also provides links to the full text of the laws that are the subject of signing statements.

I am contacting law schools, scholars, attorneys, and commentators, hoping to find a permanent home for this Web page.  Please feel free to pass the URLs to others who may be interested in either: (1) giving this information a permanent home on the Web, or (2) using the information (including stealing and distributing it).

The main URLS are:

I hope that the Web site will: (1) help scholars and commentators write intelligently and authoritatively about presidential signing statements and the unitary executive, and (2) save attorneys a great deal of time rooting these statements (and the laws to which they apply) out of the GPO and White House websites.

The site is not pretty, but it is useful.

In sum, I want to give this information to someone else.  My offer is free to any taker.

Thank you for your time.  I enjoyed your article and have linked to it on my site.  I appreciate your writing well on such an important topic.

—Joyce

Hey lookCheck out librul man’s goatee!  And go, right away to buy Tom Tomorrow’s terrific tome today, here, so that it softens him up a bit when I ask him to send me the original.

How much is that advertisement in the window?  That will teach you not to invite Marty Peretz to sign your ad.  “Celebrity politics is at best second class politics, from top to bottom.”  Buying a magazine with your wife’s inherited fortune; that, however, is real classy.  By the way, here’s another of Marty’s quotes that seems relevant, particularly in light of his McCarthyite attack on Juan Cole.  In a 1982 interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Peretz explained to a reporter that Israel needed to turn the Palestinians “into just another crushed nation, like the Kurds or the Afghans” and thereby make their problem “boring.” 1

From the sublime to…  If memory serves, Ann Coulter’s boobs were a fraction of this size when she was first hired by MSNBC ten years ago, and I used to wonder if maybe she had once been Jimmy Hoffa…  Maybe Mickey has, um, more…

Quote of the Day, Al Gore:  When Dana asked whether then-Gov. Bush's 2000 campaign pledge to limit CO2 emissions was a smart strategic move, Gore replied thusly: "'Well, if you define the word 'smart' in an antiseptic and clinical way that excludes any ethical dimension, then, yeah, I guess it was smart,' says Gore. 'Smart, if you're willing to say things that you know are not true.  But that's what Karl Rove is known for.  Bush's whole pose as a compassionate conservative was fraudulent.  His budget was fraudulent.  Even the idea that he would be staunchly opposed to nation building was fraudulent.  I don't mean that he actually knew at the time of the campaign that he was going to invade Iraq — because I don't think Cheney had told him yet [laughs].  But the statement on global warming, and the specific pledge to reduce CO2 emissions with the force of law, was part of a larger pattern.  He was completely fraudulent from head to toe.'"  From Rolling Stone, not out yet.

This from Bruce Craig and the National Coalition for History:

1.  HOUSE CUTS NARA FUNDING BY $8 MILLION

In a surprise move on the floor of the House of Representatives, on 14 June 2006, the lower chamber cut the proposed budget for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) by $8 million.  A higher level budget had been approved by the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, and the District of Columbia.  If the Senate agrees with the House the net result would signal (to quote a "dismayed" Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein) "a very austere year" in FY 2007 for NARA - one that would mean a reduction of hours of operations, partial closings of researcher reading rooms on nights and weekends, and even possible furloughing of employees.

The cut took National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) legislative staff and the House Appropriations Members and staff by surprise; there was no advance notice of the proposed amendment.  The amendment, sponsored by Representatives Darlene Hooley (D-OR) and joined by Kenny C. Hulshof (R-MO) and Ike Skelton (D-MO) sought to restore funding (including $8 million from the NARA budget) for a drug interdiction initiative that had been zeroed out of the federal budget.  The initiative seeks to help curb the extensive abuse of crystal methamphetamine.

The congresswoman recommended taking the money from NARA's budget as she needed to find an "offset" (when Congress adds money to a bill, an "offset" must be found and the budget for that program reduced by an equal amount) in order to fund the interdiction program.

While the funding plight of the interdiction program was recognized by Congressman Knollenberg (R-MI), Chairman of the Transportation/Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee, he vigorously opposed funding proposal at the expense of NARA's budget.  The chairman told his colleagues that the National Archives was already struggling to fund a $12 million shortfall, and that the agency is considering other measures to save money in addition to the hiring freeze (see related story below).  During the first vote the amendment was defeated, but Rep. Hooley demanded a roll call vote; the final vote on the amendment was 348 yeas to 76 nays, with 8 members not voting.  As a result, NARA's proposed funding shortfall in FY 2007 is now over $20 million.

In conversations between the National Coalition for History and Senate appropriations staff and others on Capitol Hill, most insiders believe the Senate will not agree to the proposed offset and that the $8 million will be restored by the Senate in conference when the bill is reconsidered by representatives of both houses.

Insiders also report that when the Senate takes up the NARA funding bill (probably after the July 4 recess) the Senate is likely to agree with the House on the need to provide some level of funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).  While the president proposed zero funds for the NHPRC, the House approved funding at $7.5 million ($5.5 for grants; $2 million for administration and staffing).  The Senate is expected to provide funding for the NHPRC at a level consistent with the House.

Constituents of Representatives Hooley, Hulshof, and Skelton may wish to contact their member (write, e-mail, or call -- the capitol switchboard number is (202) 224-3121 and express their views on the amendment that was offered and let them know about the devastating impact it conceivably would have on NARA's ability to serve the public.

2.  NARA IN FISCAL TROUBLE - HIRING FREEZE AND OTHER MEASURES PLANNED

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) plans on instituting a hiring freeze and other steps - including an early retirement buy-out program for qualified employees - in order to minimized an anticipated budget shortfall for this and next year.

While Congressionally-mandated pay raises, higher facility rents, and increases in energy costs in facilities nationwide account for some of the projected funding shortfall, the fact is that personnel costs make up the largest part of NARA's operational expenses.  According to NARA officials "these costs must be reduced."  Consequently, a hiring freeze is set to begin 3 July.  It will effect only those positions funded by the agency's core operational funds and will not effect positions funded from NARA's Revolving Fund, Trust Fund, through the ERA appropriation, or through most reimbursable programs.

In addition to instituting the hiring freeze, NARA anticipates taking additional action to reduce the budget: there will be opportunities for employees to take an early retirement, and a reduction of hours of operation for both the research and exhibition sides of NARA - that move is anticipated to hit the genealogical community and other researchers, as well as the visiting public especially hard.

This just in: “BREAKING NEWS ALERT:

On July 16 (a Sunday, naturally), Andrea Jones will start as the new Executive Director of Media Relations for ABC News in Washington, D.C.  She will oversee the public relations for Nightline (making frequent trips to Gotham City), This Week, and ABC News' powerhouse DC bureau.  Jones comes to ABC News from Sen. John McCain's office where she has served as press secretary since March 2003.  Born into politics, Jones has an impressive resume for someone so young.  She was assistant campaign manager for the Simon for Governor bid in California in 2002, state field director for Bill Jones in 2001, campaign manager for Campbell for Senate in 2000, and was John McCain's national youth coordinator in 1999 and 2000.  Jones will report to ABC News Vice President Jeffrey Schneider and his powerful lieutenant, the incomparable Cathie Levin.

My question is this: Will she keep the same office?  Job Title?  Will the name on her paycheck change?  Just asking.

Thanks to Eric, Eric, Jeralyn and Siva for doing such yeoman’s work this past week.  They’ll be back at some point over the summer when I feel like taking it easy, maybe joined by the Lt. Colonel.

Alter-reviews:

1993’s Dazed and Confused, directed by Richard Linklater and produced by my buddy Sean Daniel is one my favorite movies of the past twenty years, and boy has the Criterion Collection pulled out the stops to give it its due.  As Jeff Shannon explains on Amazon:

The set comes in a slipcase (complete with "Physical Graffiti"-like picture-windows) and Linklater's feature-length commentary, which offers all aspiring filmmakers an important lesson protecting your vision and knowing when not to compromise.  In recalling the many struggles he endured during production, Linklater covers a lot of territory (notes from the studio, the fantasy abundance of muscle cars, selection of music, and his acute disappointment when Robert Plant--but not Jimmy Page--refused to allow Led Zeppelin songs to be used in the film). 
...
Disc 2 supplements are highlighted by Making "Dazed", filmmaker Kahane Corn's decade-in-the-making 50-minute documentary, chronicling all aspects of the production from casting to the Dazed tenth-anniversary celebration in Austin, Texas, in 2003. "Beer Bust at the Moon Tower" allows random viewing of a 118-minute compilation of behind-the-scenes footage, on-set interviews (with cast members both in and out of character), audition footage, and recollections from the anniversary bash, plus a 72 page booklet three appreciative mini-essays (the best being by journalist/author Chuck Klosterman), recollections by cast and crew, and humorous "Profiles in Confusion" portraits of the characters in Dazed, reprinted from the film's similarly designed companion book.  It's all topped off by a miniature reproduction of the film's original poster, designed by Frank Kozik.

The thing practically gets you high all by itself.  Read all about it, here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Elli Argenti
Hometown: Daleville, AL
Speaking as a veteran dependent of the Air Force for over 35 years, when you are occupying a country for more than 3 years and you decide to cut back on your troops, you are not doing a cut and run.  Cut and run would have been if we had withdrawn our troops right after we ousted Saddam and left the Iraqis to their own devices.  Cut and run is the vicious rhetoric of the Republican Party and is being used to label the difference of opinion that many patriotic Americans have with the Republican Party and the way our president is handling the war.  The Iraqi people will never become self sufficient as long as we are there in great numbers to cover their butts and clean up their mistakes.  Immediate withdrawal doesn't mean 6 months to a year from now, it means right now.  No one is suggesting we get out of there tomorrow.  We need to establish a timetable to reduce our presence in Iraq.  That's not giving a head's up to the insurgents; it's giving a head's up to the Iraqi government that they will need to be in control and take responsibility for their country and her people.  It's so easy for people who have never been in the military in any shape or form to dictate what should be done in a conflict, Mr. Murtha notwithstanding.

Name: Ben Vernia
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dear Eric--
I agree with Eric Boehlert on most things, but he's off the mark in criticizing the media over the Iraq troop withdrawal issue.  It's not that he's got the wrong target; he's just attacking it for the wrong reason.  The media's failure on Iraq does not derive from its insensitivity to poll numbers, but to its refusal to cover Iraq on its own merits, instead of as the political football du jour.  What are all our options in Iraq?  What can we expect each to cost us in lives and money?  Where might those resources (military and otherwise) be spent?  The actual policy choices in Iraq, and the actual victors and victims of those choices have but a very tiny voice in the national media.  Democrats should know by now that the Republican forte lies not in the brilliancy of their rhetoric (virtually every word uttered by Bush demonstrates this point) but in the GOP's ability to keep the press fixated on the horse race.  We won't get far by insisting that the media tilt to the left in their political analyses; we will get far, however, by insisting that they tilt toward substance of the issues rather than politics, because, as Stephen Colbert says, "facts have a well-known liberal bias."

Name: Rob Nelson
Hometown: Visalia, CA
Why do people continue to think that the public should determine the timeline of troop withdrawal instead of the generals?  Everyone would like to be an armchair general, but let's leave the fighting of the war to the soldiers and their commanders.  Put pressure on them sure, but don't dictate how they will fight the battle.  The last thing we need is our soldiers fearing backlash for doing what they do best.  No one proposed a timeline for WW1 or WW2.  Back off the troops folks. And would I like to see them home in 12 months?  Absolutely, but not at the expense of doing the job right.
__________________________________

1 See Peretz's interview with Benny Landau, published in Ha'aretz, December 9, 1982.

June 27, 2006 | 11:12 AM ET | Permalink

I think Eric A is back from his travels, but not really back.  Meaning, not back in the sense that Time Warner repair will let him be back, so it's Eric Boehlert filling in for today's session and offering Eric A a friendly wager on this weekend's Subway Series.  (Although to be honest, having boyhood hero Willie Randolf at the helm in Flushing makes it tough not to wish the Amazin's well.)

WHY DO AMERICANS HATE AMERICA?

On the same day at least 40 Iraqis were killed by insurgent bombings, USA Today reported a strong majority of Americans (57-39) want a timetable set for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq.  Which, of course, means a strong majority of Americans back the Democratic timetable initiative, the same initiative that the mainstream media—across the board—last week labeled a political loser for Dems, while cheering the GOP for winning the war over the war with its 'cut-and-run' rhetoric.  Now we find out that 57 percent of Americans want to cut-and-run.

The newest findings only add to the insult of last week's incredibly dishonest news coverage of the Senate debate regarding Iraq, where RNC talking points were billboarded again and again. "GOP leaders took obvious pleasure in the Democrats' disarray" on Iraq, wrote the Washington Post.  CNN reported Republicans were "having a field day" watching Democrats debate resolutions to establish a withdrawal timetable, while conveniently ignoring the fact a majority of Americans supported the Democratic plan (even last week).  And Newsweek obediently announced , "Democrats lost the week in the war over the war."

Folks, we need to pause here and really examine just how derelict the MSM has become, and just how entrenched the entire corporate media enterprise is in terms of allowing the Republican party to dictate coverage on key political issues.  The fact that the lapdog press allows it to happen on behalf of a historically unpopular president just boggles the mind.  (And yes, the USA Today poll confirmed Bush's much-anticipated June bounce was non-existent.)

As I noted last week, "Apparently if Karl Rove signs off on a political strategy (hit the Dems hard over Iraq), the press assumes it's a work of genius and shows little interest in dwelling on the pertinent questions, such as isn't there an obvious risk Republicans run in making the hugely unpopular war in Iraq, and specifically the notion that U.S. troops should pretty much stay there indefinitely, the centerpiece for their 2006 campaign?"  Instead, journalists purposefully ignored clear polling data which obliterated the narrative that the Republicans had the winning had in the Iraq troop debate.

Why can MSNBC talk show host and former GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough easily analyze the American domestic politics of Iraq, but entire bureaus within the Beltway cannot, or more specifically will not?  Because let's not kid ourselves, journalists at this pay grade are not dumb.  They can read the polling data just like anyone else and could instantly grasp the political barriers the Republicans were erecting by going all in with Iraq during an election year.  But they chose, as a group, to focus on the perils facing Democrats instead.  And that's what makes the media's complete failure on the issue all the more distressing; it's being done intentionally.  Journalists are afraid of the facts and the consequences of reporting them.  My book is filled with the examples —entire chapters— and last week's Iraq debate is just the latest instance.  Reporters and pundits obviously chose to allow their coverage be dictated by the RNC and White House aides.  There's no other explanation.

On yeah, here's Scarborough Monday night, after citing recent polling data regarding Iraq: "This sound like a complete loser for Republicans come this fall."  Maybe now that somebody on the right flank has said it out loud, timorous journalists will get up enough gumption to repeat the shriekingly obvious point.

And speaking of Newsweek, its really, really bad article gets my vote for the week's worst MSM effort.  (I know it's only Tuesday, but this one's gonna be tough to beat.)

Meanwhile, if it's an election year, that means the White House has declared war on the New York Times.  (The tactic worked in 2004 when Cheney tossed Times reporters off his campaign plane and Bush mocked the Times during his convention acceptance speech.)  It's a three-fer; it puts the paper on notice, rallies the GOP base, and provides a convenient bogeyman for the War on Terror —it’s the media's fault.  Greg Sargent looks at why the GOP's exclusive focus on the Times following widespread reporting on the government's secret financial surveillance program story seems particularly phony.

The right truly has become unhinged about the Times, although I doubt the rage is authentic.  `Wingers have been beating the drum for so long —and doing it so dishonestly— about how journalists are aiding the terrorists I doubt serious people pay much attention anymore.  Also it doesn't help when Powerline comes this close to inciting violence against New York Times staffers, writing:

"[L]ikeminded media colleagues will undoubtedly continue to undermine and betray the national security of the United States until they are taught that they are subject to the same laws that govern the conduct of ordinary citizens, or until an enraged citizenry decides to take the law into its own hands and express its disagreement some other way."
[Emphasis added.]

What do you get when you put Hugh Hewitt and Christopher Hitchens together in front of a microphone?  Lot-o-fun.  I laughed out loud when Hitch claimed Daily Kos readers "think George Bush blew up the World Trade Center and hold conferences to try and prove it."  I must have overslept the morning of that Bush-blew-up-the-World-Trade-Center panel discussion during YearlyKos.

Speaking of Kos, it's a toss-up trying to decide who over at TNR embarrassed themselves the most during the mag's ill-advised and seemingly around-the-clock Kos coverage in recent days.  People, there are a growing number of liberal bloggers who attract a large following of progressive readers who, for instance, oppose the war and are committed to supporting candidate who passionately share their views.  And yes, said bloggers now often communicate with each other via e-mail.  Why the hysterics from TNR?  And does the mag's shrinking circ numbers have anything to do with the nasty, over-reaching attacks?

Like lots of good folks, Marty Kaplan makes the mistake of assuming David Brooks feels confined by facts and logic.  (Gail Collins must be proud.)  As Eric A recently wrote, truth is for liberals.

More trouble for Grover?

This is what network news divisions use the Web for?

Go here if you'd like to read Washington Monthly's excerpt of my chapter on ABC's The Note.  It's a long overdue undressing of the smart boys at ABC.

UNHINGED MICHELLE MALKIN

She called me an idiot yesterday, which after being called a traitor by Ann Coulter, makes all the hard work worthwhile, no?  I suspect Michelle's mad about having a starring role in my " Lapdogs" chapter on the right-wing Press Haters, as I call them, bloggers on the right who hold up journalists as "Godless" traitors, while concocting facts in order to prove their beloved theory of liberal media bias.  They're not interested in serious, constructive press criticism; they're interested in intimidating and demolishing the press corps.

Anyway, this is my favorite "Lapdogs" passage about Malkin.  It came from the 2004 campaign when Malkin was out peddling the Swift Boat trash on the airwaves.  She even appeared on "Hardball" on Aug. 19, and suggested Kerry may have shot himself on purpose while serving in Vietnam.  Malkin then spent the next 18 hours lying about her unhinged, televised performance during a follow-up C-Span appearance and while blogging on her site.  If I were Michelle and had to read all this stuff detailed in a new book, I'd be pissed, too:

The cable tête-à-tête began when a fellow MSNBC guest, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown who was defending Kerry's war record, lashed out at the Democrat's critics: "He volunteered twice.  He volunteered twice in Vietnam.  He literally got shot.  There‘s no question about any of those things.  So what else is there to discuss?  How much he got shot, how deep, how much shrapnel?"

Malkin, who had already questioned Kerry's courage on the show, jumped right in: "Well, yes.  Why don't people ask him more specific questions about the shrapnel in his leg.  They are legitimate questions about whether or not it was a self-inflicted wound."

Matthews pounced: "What do you mean by self-inflicted?  Are you saying he shot himself on purpose?  Is that what you're saying?"

A rapid back-and-forth followed in which Matthews tried to pin Malkin down on whether she was suggesting Kerry shot himself on purpose. The key exchange was this one:

Matthews:  Did he shoot himself on purpose?

Malkin:  Some of the soldiers have made allegations that these were self-inflicted wounds.

Matthews:  No one has ever accused him of shooting himself on purpose.

Malkin:  Some of the veterans say...

Matthews:  No.  No one has every accused him of shooting himself on purpose.

Malkin:  Yes.  Some of them say that.  [Emphasis added.]

It was quite clear; Malkin claimed that in Unfit for Command, some Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had alleged Kerry shot himself on purpose.  It's not only obvious from that quote, but from the nearly a dozen times Matthews asked Malkin point-blank whether Kerry's self-inflicted wounds were intentional:  "I want a yes or no answer."  Time and again Malkin wavered.  ("I'm not sure.")  Clearly if she thought it was preposterous to suggest Kerry shot himself on purpose she would have said so.  She did not.

The truth is the Swift  Boat Veterans never alleged Kerry shot himself on purpose.  Even chief John O'Neil, who during the 2004 campaign was willing to make all kinds of baseless allegations about Kerry's war record, adamantly denied Kerry ever shot himself on purpose.  "Oh no.  He didn’t intentionally wound himself," O'Neill told PBS.  "He wounded himself with his own grenade.  He didn’t mean to."

Malkin went on national television and slandered a presidential candidate and then, caught in the act, tried to cover her tracks with a series of lies.  It was the type of attack Malkin and the press haters made all the time online.  The only difference was this time it was caught on tape."

This is a story I've wanted to write for years.  Seriously, I think I pitched it to Salon back in 2000 —the professional mini-golf championship.  The Washington Post's Wells Tower does a nice job with it.  When I was a kid growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind., we'd take the bus out to Glenbrook Mall and across the highway was a Putt-Putt golf.  We went on Mondays in the summer because you could play all day for just one price.  So we'd pay our $3.75 and putt our golf balls over carpeted cement for hours, while baking under hot Midwest sun.

If there's ever been a TV show better written than "Deadwood," I'd like to see it.  And it seems plain to me that even though it's only episode three of the season, actor Gerald McRaney has already locked down an Emmy for his portrayal of gold magnate George Hearst.

This summer's best obligatory reality series just may be A&E's " King of Cars" and Discovery's " Deadliest Catch."

Don't look now but Taylor Hicks has the country's No 1 single w/ "Do I Make You Proud."  (Somewhere Michael McDonald is having trouble sleeping.)  Then again, any top ten that boasts Shakira, Nelly Furtado and Gnarls Barkley in it can't be all bad.  When it comes to pure pop summer fun, for me nothing this season tops The Fray, "Over My Head (Cable Car)."  A rock band with drums, guitar and piano.  Is that still allowed?

Tip: buried on the Pixar "Cars" soundtrack is a sweet, new, laconic James Taylor tune, "Our Town."  Put it on the pod; it'll make this summer's Wood Hole's ferry crossing even more pleasing.

And oh yeah, I can't stop listening to Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris' " This Is Us."

Name: Jim
Hometown: Lakeland, FL
Brad, you stated, "Furthermore, an American blockade of Japan would have had virtually no effect on that country.  What exactly would we be depriving them of?"  I guess you're forgetting the blockade of Japan enforced by submarines of the United States Navy.  In fact, Navy subs dispatched some 6 million tons of Japanese shipping to the bottom during the course of the war.  The vast majority of that shipping was of the merchant variety; military targets were not the highest priority.  The noose began tightening within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, at a time when there were very few other assets to send into harm's way. What did we deprive them of?  Oil, rubber, bauxite, copper, iron; pretty much the whole shopping list needed to wage war.  American submarines also prevented troop ships from arriving with reinforcements that our soldiers and Marines would have had to face in combat.  There was a blockade of Japan and it was devastating to their war effort.

Name: Sam Goldman
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
A small note re: Stupid's description of Smoky Burgess: The all-time leader in pinch hits is not Burgess, but rather the immortal Lenny Harris.

Name: Ben Cronin
Hometown: Duxbury, MA
Dr. Alterman:
I will forego the very interesting WWII discussion that's been playing out in your letters section to report on a particularly pusillanimous and egregious instance of the "What Liberal Media?" phenomenon in action.  Scanning television news this morning, I came across a report on the CBS' The Early Show about Gen. Casey's (contingency) plan for troop withdrawal from Iraq.  The report features three to five clips from prominent Republicans -- Lugar and various other GOP foreign policy worthies -- compared to only one clip of Barbara Boxer.  But even more telling than the objective, numerically verifiable rightward tilt in terms of speakers, was the substantive content of what these speakers said and what the reporter -- a woman named MacMillan, I believe -- said about these substantive matters.  First, Lugar et al. get out there and grinningly reverse course on just about everything the GOP has said regarding withdrawal, acting as though Casey's contingency plan for withdrawing several thousand troops amounts to a major GOP achievement.  Nevermind the fact that they've spent umpteen months caricaturing Democrats who call for precisely these actions as proposing to "cut and run"; nevermind either that Casey, as a uniformed officer, is (or ought to be) a tool of neither party.  Cut to the obligatory fifteen seconds of Barbara Boxer stating the obvious -- that they have no plan beyond slogans and we're totally screwed -- followed by a live-shot of the reporter (MacMillan?) outside the Whitehouse.  And what does the reporter say?  Unbelievably, without mentioning the palpable facts of the story she theoretically just reported -- i.e., GOP also calling for withdrawal; or, less charitably, GOP Wants to 'Cut and Run' -- she makes a statement along the lines of "some have accused the Democrats of 'cutting and running.'"  As you say, reels the mind...

June 26, 2006 | 10:53 AM ET | Permalink

Self-satirizing news

Hi all, Eric Rauchway again.  Regular Eric should be back tomorrow.

I remember when the blogosphere started up, it was easy to substitute for Eric:  you read the news, you spotted the spin, and you made a few wisecracks.  That was before the modern era of self-satirizing news.

Look over here at what's going on in the Global War on Terror.  Last week's big victory was the arrest of seven guys with a hookah full of dreams, swearing up and down to their "al Qaeda contact" (i.e., FBI informant) that they were bad men who wanted to blow stuff up.  They had no guns or explosives, but they did manage to weasel a camera and some boots out of the FBI guy.  What does our Attorney General say?  He's agnostic on whether they were dangerous or not.  You see, it's not government's job to decide who's actually a threat to our security and who isn't.  "I think it's dangerous for us to try to make an evaluation, case by case, as we look at potential terrorist plots and making a decision, well, this is a really dangerous group, this is not a really dangerous group."  So maybe we should arrest them all, and let the legal system sort them out.

Only, of course, we don't.  We stick them in jail and wait for someone to insist that we try them.  (How do we decide who's "them"?  Right question!  Hard to answer.)  The President says "some" of those in Guantanamo ought to be tried in a US Court.  Good.  Let's do that, shall we, before we begin to doubt our government's commitment to the rule of law.  And what about the rest of them?

Jose Padilla, let's remember and thank God, is finally being put through the courts.  (Which is good, because otherwise we might begin to doubt our government's commitment to the rule of etc.)  As of last week, it's turned out that after all these years the Padilla indictment is " light on facts".  So says the judge in the case, Marcia Cooke (who, before you ask, was nominated by the current president).

And then of course there's the highly fruitful torturing-mentally-ill-people-and-believing-whatever-they-say program.  But we talked about that last week.

How about US economic supremacy?  Best not to ask:  the US needs high interest rates so overseas capital will keep flowing into dollar-denominated assets.  How's that going to work?  " It's like Peter Pan who shouts, 'Do you believe?' And the crowd shouts back, in unison, 'We believe.'"  So, if you're keeping track, what was once "the almighty" dollar is now a bedridden fairy ailing from bad medicine.  ( Which could be fine.  Really.)

In presidential politics, Hillary Clinton is considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.  No further comment.

Finally, the tempest in a blogspot.  Apparently it's very important to know what Lee Siegel said about Markos Moulitsas, which made David Brooks snigger.  Well, at least it gave Henry Farrell reason to point out that evidently the Kossacks are "[s]quadrons of rabid, venom-spitting command-lambs," which image brightened my day a little.  Please ignore the shrieks of "Shachtmanite!"; this is your discourse, people.

Thanks for your letters:

It is always a great pleasure to write Altercation for such a fine community.  Thanks again.

Name: Rob Nelson
Hometown: Visalia, CA
I find it astounding that people are up in arms about the government tapping into banking transactions. They have been doing that for years. For decades our banks have been compelled to report transactions in excess of $10k to the IRS. Has that completely slipped their minds? The transactions in question are also international transactions which I'm sure other governments aren't restrained from perusing. Get real folks. There is little out there that hasn't been transmitted that can't find its way into the hands of someone we don't wish it to.  Be vigilant and be wary.  Even data our government tries to protect finds its ways into the hands of our enemies and criminals.  I'd be more worried about that than about them knowing the balance of my bank accounts.

Name: Tim Dukes
Hometown: Austin, TX
I am normally a silent observer on this blog, but the chit-chat between Brad on one hand and Ed/Hal/Steve/Beth on the other has overcome my lethargy.  I will defend Brad on his point that Japan fought a two-front war.  I would consider the conflict in Burma with the British as a separate front from the Pacific.  Hell, you could even say they were in a three-front war if you consider China as a front (It tied down roughly 40% of Japan's troops).  Also, there was nothing "inevitable" with what happened in Russia.  True, it was the Russian winter and tenacity that turned the tide, but those factors only got a chance to come into play because Operation Barbarossa got delayed (pushing the invasion into fall/winter of '41) and Hitler's obsession with keeping Stalingrad rather than pushing further into Russia's south in the summer of '42.  It is hard to say that the Normandy landings would have been attempted when they were without American involvement.  While Britain and Canada made up a large portion of the landing force, on their own they would have to wait even more for the Germans to get even weaker.  This force would have probably met the Russian army in France itself.  Thus there would have been only two realistic scenarios possible w/o US involvement - A complete domination of the European continent by either the USSR or Nazi Germany (depending on the outcome of Barbarossa).  Would totalitarianism have still failed from such an advantageous start?  Would the US be completely preoccupied with keeping South America/east Asia still in its orbit and give up on Europe?  Well, future history does not have answers, only speculations. Have a nice day, all.

Name: Joseph Miller
Hometown: Tinley Park IL
As a history teacher who has designed and taught courses in the history of both the world wars and the Soviet Union, I have to weigh in on the issue of Russia in World War II.  No, Russia COULD NOT have won the war single-handed, and any assertion to the contrary betrays a lack of understanding of the war's true dimensions.  The U.S. Lend-Lease program was of such immense importance to the Soviets that years after the war Nikita Khrushchev, in a moment of candor, said, "Where would we have been without the Americans?"  The 400,000 trucks which allowed the Red Army to become fully mobile in 1943-44, the 13 million pairs of felt boots, the millions of tons of food which supplemented the Red Army's diet in a major way, the radios that allowed the Red Air Force to become a modern striking force, the steel rails and thousands of locomotives for Russia's damaged rail system, and the whole range of other materials were considered so vital that Stalin himself kept track of convoy shipments to the USSR from the West.  Further, American industry in WWII produced enough material to equip the equivalent of TWO THOUSAND Allied divisions, not to mention 300,000 aircraft.  Militarily, the strategic bomber program, according to the work of John Keegan, diverted 10,000 German artillery pieces, 2,000,000 civilian and military personnel, and the majority of Germany's aircraft industry AWAY from the war in the East.  Would the Red Army have not noticed the impact of 10,000 additional German 88s opposing it?  Further, the bombing offensive broke the back of the German oil and transport industries.  At Tunis, in May 1943, 250,000 Axis prisoners were bagged by the Americans and British.  The Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 forced Hitler to divert German forces from the Eastern front at a critical juncture.

Although the invasion of Italy was a strategic mistake by the Allies, it did tie up substantial German forces.  The British air forces in southeast Europe constantly harassed the Germans, facilitating the Soviet offensives.  The Battle of the Atlantic, which crushed the German submarine campaign, was a key to Allied victory.  (Since this battle was not won until spring 1943 we can see why the Allies had to wait until 1944 for a fully realized cross channel invasion.)  The German forces in the West were NOT by any means all "second rate," there being numerous Waffen SS forces among them.  The Western Allies inflicted 500,000 casualties on the German forces in northern France between June and August 1944.  As many German tanks were destroyed at Falaise in 1944 as at Kursk in 1943.  American and British forces captured and crushed Germany's key industrial area, the Ruhr.  And there was that little matter of the Pacific War, in which the Western Allies crushed Germany's chief ally.  These are hardly negligible achievements, and they aided the Soviet war effort immensely.

The USSR triumphed because of the heroism and sacrifices of its people, especially those in the Red Army.  But it also triumphed in part because of the terrible losses Stalin was willing to let his people suffer, many of which were needless and some of which were inflicted by Stalin himself.  (Roy Medvedev says that Russia's losses were between 27 million and 32 million dead, and he severely criticized the inept, brutal, and heavy handed leadership of Stalin for contributing immeasurably to Russia's suffering.)  The Allied victory in World War II was a TEAM EFFORT.  Neither the West nor the USSR could have won without the other.  Yes, Americans too often neglect Russia's vital role in the war (a neglect I am trying to remedy in my teaching).  But the Russians sometimes forget the vital contributions of their Allies.  Both need to be remembered.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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