July 31, 2006 | 11:38 AM ET | Permalink

It’s been a bad week for people —like George W. Bush— who seek to defend the Israeli invasion of Lebanon:  an estimated 56 innocent people killed in one raid at Qana, most of them children, and then it refuses to hold to a mere 48 hour ceasefire allegedly hammered out by U.S. Secretary of State, demonstrating to the world that it will not be bound by its word, and that Bush is either a political weakling, a chump, or a liar.  (“Why the false choice?” some might say?)  The New York Times reported that Rice "wrung the first significant concession from Israel" but it was over before most people even picked up their paper off the sidewalk, here .  That shouldn’t have surprised anyone, despite the credulous, pro-Bush reporting.  "'There is no cease-fire,' a 'senior government source' told the newspaper Haaretz, adding, 'If they are associated with Hassan Nasrallah, we will hit them.'"  And they weren’t kidding.

Meanwhile, in addition to being a public relations catastrophe everywhere but the White House, the war is strengthening Hezbollah politically, as was predictable. The Lebanese prime minister, who the LAT notes has been no friend of Hezbollah's in the past, "'thanked' the Islamic militant group for its 'sacrifices'" and said: "We scream out to the world community to stand united in the face of Israel's war criminals."

The thing is, however horrific, it’s not going to change many people’s minds.  It’s my experience that precious few people are actually interested in examining events related to Israel with an eye toward making an honest judgment.  I found myself oddly depressed after dropping by synagogue on Saturday morning when a woman stood to ask the rabbi what she could say to her teenage daughter, who was watching the carnage on TV and could not understand how the mass killing of innocents could be justified.  The Rabbi answered with nothing but bluster and bul**hit.  Refusing to even engage the question, he trolled for applause from the congregation with chauvinistic argument that because the world had treated the Jews so badly for so many years, Israel should not be criticized no matter what it did.  He even used the word "disproportionate" to refer to Palestinian attacks on Jews, when everyone knows that Israel has killed many, many more Palestinians than vice-versa since the conflict began. [*] It was the same old lugubrious interpretation of Jewish history that connects Pope Pius with Adolf Hitler with Hezbollah.  The idea that the Israeli government might actually be mistaken in its judgments or that American Jews had the right to think for themselves, or that this (absent) young woman might actually have the right to ask a tough moral question about the behavior of the Jewish state was effectively ruled out of order.  Many in the audience applauded.  Another woman complained that “even Fox’s” coverage was unfair to Israel.  A third blamed Hezbollah for putting its weapons in civilian areas.  Nobody offered an ounce of evidence and none was demanded.  It made me so angry I couldn’t even stay for the free food afterward.  And remember, this took place in one of the most progressive areas in America.  If Jews like this will never question Israeli behavior—even in a supportive manner that draws on mainstream opinion in Israel—then you can pretty much forget about it.

But people who oppose the invasion, save for a small minority, are not all that interested in evidence either as far as I can tell.  MJ Rosenberg writes about the phenomenon here.  The thing for me, however, is that nobody on the pro-Palestinian side of the equation understands the essential realist fact of this problem.  There is never going to be any genuine statehood, or dignity, or peace or prosperity or even the opportunity to earn a decent living for the Palestinians unless they convince the Israeli public that they want to live alongside Israel in peace. There is no military option for the Palestinians save suicide.  There is no possibility that the United States will ever “force” Israel to make peace.  In the first place, I don’t know how you’d do it.  In the second place, the Israel lobby is too powerful to let it happen and unwilling to challenge Israeli political leadership (except to undermine peace, as it did under Barak).  That’s why anybody who does not attend to this essential fact is not doing the Palestinians any favors.  And as long as the Palestinians have their present dysfunctional leadership crisis, as evidenced by their election of Hamas, no Israeli government can even imagine negotiating a peace agreement.  That’s just commonsensical.

So therefore I don’t think the advertisement that appears in today’s Times signed by a bunch of pro-peace Jews is all that useful, since it does not address the inability of any Israeli government to make peace with these Hamas fanatics and corrupt Fatah-ists, particularly when they cannot make peace with themselves.  And though I would have liked to—because I found their previous intervention so useful, I could not bring myself to sign this version of the "Open Letter from American Jews."  In the first place, referring to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon as a “crime” is going to shut down most conversations with most supporters of Israel, however much they may also value peace and justice.  In the second, whereas I agree that “Israel's ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories and massive human rights abuses against the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples are opposed by many Jews in Israel, the U.S., and throughout the world,” and that “attacks on civilians will not bring peace, security or justice to Palestinians, Israelis, or Jews anywhere,” every honest person must admit that these statements constitute at best, only half the story.  The other, crucial half is that the Palestinians have given the Israeli public no indication at all that they are ready to live side by side with Israel.  And if you ignore that, you’re ignoring the crux of the problem.

Borrowed from Atrios:

Meanwhile

In the forgotten war Joe Lieberman doesn't want to talk about anymore:

*BAGHDAD - Four marines were killed in action in restive Anbar province, the U.S. military said on Sunday. The marines, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7, died on Saturday.

*YUSUFIYA - Two people were killed and three wounded when gunmen attacked a minibus in Yusufiya, 15 km (9 miles) south west of Baghdad, a police source said.

BAGHDAD - Three suspected insurgents died and a fourth person was wounded in an explosion in a house that an interior ministry source said was being used as a factory for homemade bombs.

BAIJI - A policeman was shot dead by gunmen in the oil refinery city of Baiji, 180 km (112 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

NEAR TUZ KHURMATU - Kidnappers killed a policeman and a civilian after snatching seven people in an ambulance near Tuz Khurmatu, 70 km south of Kirkuk, on Saturday evening. The five others, including a second policeman, were released after being tortured, the police said.

BAGHDAD - Iraq's oil pipeline to Turkey has been fixed and exports will be resumed to the port of Ceyhan at a rate of 600,000-700,000 barrels per day, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said. A senior oil ministry official said pumping would start within a few days.

BAGHDAD - Police said they found 15 bodies in different parts of the capital, all bearing signs of torture and shot in the head.

What are we doing in Iraq?  How about this story:

The State Department agency in charge of $1.4 billion in reconstruction money in Iraq used an accounting shell game to hide ballooning cost overruns on its projects there and knowingly withheld information on schedule delays from Congress, a federal audit released late Friday has found.” 

Liars, thieves, fanatics, and idiots;  Rely on these people to remake a thousand years of Middle-Eastern history?  Sure, no problem.  The liberal hawks had it all under control.

Meanwhile, they are still hiding their lies about the manipulation of intelligence to fool the country into this ruinous war.  Ho, hum.

Quote of the Day:  "Talking about a new strategy is useless until we get a new team—in the Pentagon, in the Administration.  These guys have screwed up everything.  They haven't got the credibility to implement anything."  —retired Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century.

Here’s my question for his interviewer: Why, Mr. Klein does Colonel Hammes hate America?

Elsewhere in Time, the world’s in flames, but isn’t Condi wonderful?

Who loves Mel now?  Scarborough? Ingraham? Gibson? O’Reilly? Bennett? Let’s hear from you guys…

How far will the Neocons sink to defend their colossal foreign policy failures?  Matt Y points to John Podhoretz's case for genocide, expressed cowardly in the form of rhetorical questions, here.  John Podhoretz implicitly endorses genocide, here.

Math, David Broder style:  “Democrats everywhere are looking to Connecticut for clues about the party's direction.  The primary will probably point them leftward, toward a stronger antiwar stand.  But often in the past, the early successes of these elitist insurgents have been followed by decisive defeats when a broader public weighs in.”  Here.  We note for the record that the “elitist” position on Iraq to which “the Dean” refers has the support of 56 percent of Americans, while 63 percent versus 30 percent — said the Iraq war had not been worth the American lives and dollars lost.  In Connecticut I’m sure the numbers are much higher.  Pick up a copy of the Times Dean-O, next time, before you set your pen on autopilot.

State of the News Media 2006:  Magazines Roundtable here.

Speaking of which, what excuse can there possibly be for giving the lying hate-monger, Ann Coulter a forum to spew her pernicious nonsense unchallenged as both The Baltimore Sun and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews do?  (P.S.  The only time I was ever on “Hardball,” I was ambushed with Coulter as a fellow discussant…)

“If I were to get involved in editorial decisions, the paper would not have the value it has.”  Um, value?  Ten million bucks for a(n Ann-Coulter-loving) newspaper about media gossip that loses $2 million a year?  I dunno this guy Kushner, but one of us is real bad at math….

Things I was wrong about, continued:  Carlos Beltran — I thought the Mets had wildly overpaid for a guy who happened to have a few good weeks when everybody was watching.  I thought last year bore out my judgment.  Score that right about Iraq, Bush, Gore, etc; wrong about Beltran.

Alter-reviews:

Allison Moorer, Getting Somewhere

Allison Moorer's intelligently and subtly crafted lyrics range from  the brooding and poignant “New Years Day,” and How She Does It,”  which are powerful evocations of a troubled childhood, to the optimism  of "Fairweather" and the clear eyed transcendence of the title song.

She has long been one of the more interesting and complex alt-country writers and her almost literary approach is well served by a new musical direction.  On this album she is more alt and rock and less country, helped by producer (and husband) Steve Earle who plays guitar on several tracks.  Read all about it here.
______________________
[*] The shul in question is the Jewish Center of the Hamptons.  To be fair to rabbis and Jews in general, the rabbi in question was brought out of retirement as a temporary replacement for another, David Gelfand, who was run out of the congregation against the wishes of a massive majority of its members by a board of directors who were never able to explain their actions and may have succeeded in destroying the congregation with their anti-democratic actions.  Rabbi Gelfand, who relocated to the Temple Israel, of Manhattan, is a friend of mine, and a member of the board of Americans for Peace Now, and I feel certain that had he been there to answer the woman’s question, he would have challenged those present rather than pandered to their prejudices.  For all I know, his willingness to do just this may have been the reason the board was willing to risk destroying the congregation to get rid of him.

July 28, 2006 | 11:55 PM ET | Permalink

Slacker Friday

I've got a new "Think Again" column here called "Bush Bounced, Reporters Follow."

Does Jerusalem Have a Plan For What Comes Afterward?  Here.

In "Degrading Behavior," Tom Engelhardt takes up the Israeli air campaign against Lebanon and puts it into the context of a seldom discussed subject, the history of air power.  He concludes:

As air wars go, the one in Lebanon may seem strikingly directed against the civilian infrastructure and against society; in that, however, it is historically anything but unique. It might even be said that war from the air, since first launched in Europe's colonies early in the last century, has always been essentially directed against civilians. As in World War II, air power -- no matter its stated targets -- almost invariably turns out to be worst for civilians and, in the end, to be aimed at society itself. In that way, its damage is anything but 'collateral,' never truly 'surgical,' and never in its overall effect 'precise.' Even when it doesn't start that way, the frustration of not working as planned, of not breaking the 'will,' invariably leads, as with the Israelis, to ever wider, ever fiercer versions of the same, which, if allowed to proceed to their logical conclusion, will bring down not society's will, but society itself.

For the Lebanese prime minister what Israel has been doing to his country may be 'barbaric destruction'; but, in our world, air power has long been robbed of its barbarism (suicide air missions excepted). For us, air war involves dumb hits by smart bombs, collateral damage, and surgery that may do in the patient, but it's not barbaric. For that you need to personally cut off a head.

Alter-reviews:  “Follow You Down” by Caroline Doctorow

I don’t like to review my friends’ records (or books or movies or anything else, really) both for the sake of the friendship but also for the journalistic issues it raises. But neither do I think they or their work should be penalized for the fact of their being my friends. So I try to work things out. What I worked out for my friend Caroline Doctorow and her CD, “Follow Me Down” is her own mini-essay for “Altercation” about how she came to make the music below… (Their is a real review and a place to buy the CD here.)

Narrow Lane Records
Release date July 25th 2006
Caroline Doctorow

Follow You Down is my fifth recording, and the first to be distributed nationally. It is available through independent distributor Select-O-Hits of Memphis, TN, which was founded by Sam Phillips of Sun Records.  The legendary Phillips was responsible for launching the careers of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf among many others. There is a musical connection here. The longer I make records, the more I try to make them sound like Sam Phillips did. That is, I want to be about the performance and the song and less about the production.

Follow You Down is a song cycle that details contemporary loss and self-destruction. That’s the theme of the record, which sounds very dark but is a bit subtler than that. I read a quote from Bob Dylan once and his advice to songwriters was to “try and write three-dimensional songs.” That’s what I’m after. A song has its obvious meaning and physical setting. But I then want to take it to a deeper place and pull the listener in on different emotional levels.

Follow You Down is filled with references from the folk canon. I am thoroughly rooted in folk music. I couldn’t get away from it if I tried. As a kid, I listened to hours upon hours of old English, Irish and Scottish folk ballads and to the 1960’s folk artists whose repertoires were filled with them. These songs are patterned into my consciousness. The title track on my CD Follow You Down is a song about a man chasing after a beautiful, yet unattainable evil young street girl. He’s willing to ruin his life in pursuit of her. The phrase Follow You Down is borrowed from a folk song Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, which is about a much lighter and happier romance. I also make reference to The Greenwood Side, which is the title of an old murder ballad. It’s another way of adding depth to a song, to tell a story but also to say “this is a reference to my musical history, and maybe it’s part of your history too” In this way, you almost get the images of two songs in one because with any luck the listener has a vague memory of the song you are referring too. This is my attempt to follow Dylan’s advice and find another dimension.

I often feel inspired by a general idea for a song. But the actual writing is a methodical and very thought-out process for me. I have to work at it pretty hard, with the rare exception of a song popping out nearly finished. That doesn’t happen often, and I have not yet reached that heavenly songwriter state where you dream a fully realized song, which is something James Taylor and Townes Van Zandt claim to have done.

I tend to write three songs at once, working on them all in the course of my day. I like this method because if I get restless with one, chances are I can make something happen with another. If I can keep the lyrics going and tell the story, the music is not far behind. I don’t think about rhyme much. I tend to use soft rhymes and if things are going well, the rhyme happens almost on its own. I prefer word play, using two words that have opposite meaning at the end of lines in the same verse. But mostly a song works for a writer, I think, if you focus your point of view and really have it defined in terms of the characters.

The longer I record, the more interested I have become in a raw, acoustic sound. When I started out in the studio in the early 1990s, it was then in vogue to use lots of effects and reverb on vocals. This helped create a big, lush sound. The problem was, my big, lush voice sounded like so many other big, lush voices. Over the years, I have gotten away from this, and into a more “storytelling” kind of singing. I now use almost no effects when recording and this has helped me find my voice. You have to be brave though, because it can be like singing naked. My voice has a sweet sound, and if you place this over sweet-sounding music, there is no tension there.  No interest. To get some conflict going, my producer Frank Carillo and I have begun to leave in all the “dirt” as we call it, in the tracks. Such as the sound of the musician’s fingers over the strings or the creek of the chair they’re sitting in. Most of all, I sing right up into the microphone. I have a lot of high end in my voice and recording this way helps to preserve that aspect of my voice and lends it a certain style. You might call it a signature aesthetic. We also started leaving in mistakes that we would have erased several years back. Somehow this has come to work for me. I don’t use Pro Tools or computers to fix things. The songs are mixed quickly and with no fuss. It’s a straight ahead process, just like Sam Phillips did it back in the day.

Caroline Doctorow, July 25th 2006

More Alter-reviews by Sal, NYCD

Critics loved Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" when it was first released in 1991, but no one thought it would become a modern classic 15 years later. On the new remastered and expanded reissue from Legacy, we get the original CD, 15 Sweet compositions that are one third Beatles, one third Beach Boys, and one third Byrds. What makes these mini-masterpieces so special, is the twin guitar attack of Television's Richard Lloyd, and the late great Robert Quine, two musicians who turn already wonderful songs into something fresh and exciting, thanks to unconventional guitar solos that would normally seem out of place on a pop record, but really, would not be the same without them.

There are jangly gems like "I Wanted To Tell You" and "I've Been Waiting." Psych work outs like "Divine Intervention." And beautiful country ballads like "Winona," all of which flow seemlessly into each other.

The bonus CD in this essential package is the long out of print, "Good Friend" CD, originally released as a promo item to radio. This CD features alternate takes on many songs from "Girlfriend," as well as some acoustic versions of songs that ended up on Sweet's next record, "Altered Beast." It also features some choice covers of John Lennon and Neil Young.

Sweet fans have had these records for years, but for those who never had the pleasure of hearing this great record, this release is an ideal purchase.

RAUL MALO - "YOU'RE ONLY LONELY."  The brilliant voice behind the Mavericks releases the long-awaited followup to his 2003 solo debut.  Produced by Peter Asher, Malo puts his trademark Roy Orbison-inspired vocals on some of his favorite songs, which include Ron Sexsmith's "Secret Heart," the Everly Brothers' "So Sad," the Bee Gees' "Run To Me," Harry Nilsson's "Remember," and the title track, penned by JD Souther. A beautiful record, through and through. If you don’t like it, you’re a bad person. (And how great a song is “Run to Me,” by the way?) It’s all here.

BRUCE HORNSBY - "INTERSECTIONS" (BOX SET).  4 CDs and a DVD covering his entire career, including sessions with other people.  Features over 20 unreleased tracks and lots of video performances never commercially available. If you know him only as the guy who sometimes played keyboard with the Dead and managed to live, well, there’s a lot more, here. The man’s got a wonderfully pleasant voice, and is just crazily versatile, he plays with Ornette Colman, Keith Jarrett, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Pat Metheny, Branford Marsalis, Bonnie Raitt, the Dead, of course, Willie Nelson and Huey Lewis, and writing with Don Henley and Chaka Khan  and plenty plenty more. (He does "Comfortably Numb" with Roger Water, fer instance.) There’s a ton of music on here that proved an education for me and an enjoyable one at that. Read all about it here.

Slacker Friday

Name: Bob Wright
Comments:
Eric--
Belated thanks for your not wholly dismissive reference last week to my NYT op-ed on "progressive realism".  Re your complaint--the allegedly questionable salability of this world view--I'd say, two things: (1) Selling a non-stupid, non-belligerent foreign policy is definitely harder than selling a stupid belligerent foreign policy.  And it depends on who the messenger is.  But I think a sufficiently good orator could get voters inspired about a mission for America that's as much moral as martial.

And, more pragmatically, if you can convince Americans that hatred of America is public enemy number one--the thing most likely to lead to the deaths of their children 20 years down the road--you can go a long way from there.

Finally, I'd argue that, on the salability front, the phrase "progressive realism" is an asset.  It's upbeat yet down-to-earth, and the down-to-earth part—the “realism”—fights the stereotype of liberals as naive idealists by suggesting firm contact with gritty reality.

BTW, should you decide that this e-mail is worthy of publication (Slacker Friday is just around the corner!), please note, as my op-ed piece presumably approaches seclusion behind the NYT's $-only archival firewall, that I've made the piece freely available elsewhere.

Name: Tim Dukes
Hometown: Austin, TX
At the outset, thank you for, among other things, linking to Jonathan Schell's article at TomDispatch.  I could not help noticing that the article makes a (quite common) assumption - that our times are different from all that came before.  He declares that conquering weak peoples (like Rome or Britain before) is impossible now because of the tenacity of the indigenous populations.  I wonder whether this phenomenon is an inalterable fact or a mere phase of history where guerilla warfare has achieved some kind of parity with conventional armies. The human desire to protect one's loved ones and possessions from harm is just too basic to have originated over the last century. It must have burned within the Gauls and the Indians and the Africans as their way of life was destroyed by the Roman/European colonists. So why did they lose? Was it because of the victors converted their technological lead into horrors so extreme that it finally broke the spirit of these peoples (temporarily, as it turned out). If so, what prevents our age from repeating the bloody cycles of the past, given that the technologies of mass destruction are so readily available? At what point will greed and anger completely suppress our better instincts and we begin to revel at destruction instead of being repulsed by it? I am afraid that we may be entering an age of conflict far more vicious that what we have seen in the last few decades.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Hgts, NYC
Recent Altercators have been musing about "Who won the Cold War".  Let's not forget the role of the pro-democracy movements in Eastern Europe and the musicians who inspired them such as John Lennon, Frank Zappa and Lou Reed far more than the Gipper.  This piece makes the case quite well.  Another major factor was the cultural exchanges as exemplified by 40 year foreign service officer's Yale Richmond book Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain.  The State Department sent top musicians such as Satchmo, Brubeck and Dizzy on goodwill tours with the theory that culture would open up the way for politics and economics. Just look at how the virtual ban on cultural exchanges imposed on Cuba enforces the status quo, Buena Vista Social Club not withstanding. Just think what an enlightened cultural exchange policy along with competent versions of Condi Rice and Karen Hughes could do in the Middle East.

Name: Michael M.
Hometown: Rockville, MD
If you want examples of the anti-Israel/Anti-Semitic nature of the left, I suggest you review the letters on Salon or Huffington Post to any writer who does not sufficiently condemn Israel and completely blame it for the current war. Both of these web sites are rather mainstream, probably attracting a mains tream liberal to moderate readership. The language and anger at Israel for having the temerity to fight back is disturbing. While Israel does many things that I find objectionable, existing is not one of them. Unfortunately it is a problem for many on the left who have bought in to the Arab narrative that somehow "only" 99% of the land in the middle east being run by fascist Arab dictatorships is not enough. If the result of moderate's unease is that a sleazy politician such as Joe Lieberman is re-elected, the left only has itself to blame for tolerating anti-Semitism under the guise of "balance" in the middle east.

July 27, 2006 | 2:35 PM ET | Permalink

Objectivity and Ideology: What they really mean

I've got a new "Think Again" column here called "Bush Bounced, Reporters Follow."

High-class news folk claim to be professionally anti-ideological and constantly mock their critics as “ideologues.”  But as Victor Navasky has tirelessly pointed out for decades, they are deeply ideological, but an important—nay fundamental—aspect of this ideology is to refuse to admit it is an ideology.

One fundamental tenet of this ideology is that anything that calls itself “free trade” is good.  Anything that gets in its way, bad.  Take a look at this hard news story on the front page of today’s Times Business section, with the hed “Failure of Global Trade Talks Is Traced to the Power of Farmers" By STEVEN R. WEISMAN and ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO.  It reads in part: “But the collapse of world trade talks this week has again proved that a small number of farmers in the United States — as well as Europe, Japan, India and other trading partners — have the power to resist lower agricultural tariffs and subsidies, even though a global trade deal might ultimately benefit most of them.”

Is there any evidence that “a global trade deal might ultimately benefit most of them?”  None presented and none needed.  Trade deals good; obstacles  bad; bad, even for the people who seem to think they understand their own interests than, say The New York Times does.

Another unspoken aspect of Establishment/Timesman ideology is that while it is not OK and is probably anti-Semitic to say out loud that Jews often vote for politicians on the basis of what they think is good for Israel, it is OK to act as if it’s true because of course it is.  Take a look at this story on Connecticut Jews and Joe Lieberman.  It begins by quoting Lesley Korzennik, who says she is “furious” with Lieberman for things having to do with this country, including the war.  But she adds, “Given all that’s going on in Israel right now,” –which after all, is a different country-- “I am not going to let Lieberman go.”  A Rabbi Robert J. Orkand, of Temple Israel in Westport adds, “Senator Lieberman is a known quantity who has a long history of clearly articulated support for Israel.  If it becomes an issue of anti-Iraq versus pro-Israel, there will be no question.”

The reporter Jennifer Medina adds: “There is little question that Mr. Lieberman enjoys strong support in the national Jewish community, and several pro-Israel groups and prominent Jewish donors are rallying to funnel money and manpower to defend his seat. Many of the senator’s Jewish allies also assert that concern about his political fate, as well as about Israel, is likely to increase Jewish turnout for Mr. Lieberman in the primary.”

Excuse me but how is what is described above any different than the phrase “dual loyalties?”  So do American Jews have “dual loyalties” or not?

Another aspect of Establishment ideology is that it is OK to accuse liberals of anti-Semitism without presenting any evidence, as in, “Some of Mr. Lieberman’s supporters say there is a strain of anti-Semitism in the antiwar left that could make Jewish voters uneasy about supporting Mr. Lamont.  'There’s a small but vocal pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel and perhaps anti-Semitic faction of the Democratic Party,' said Dan Gerstein, a former Lieberman aide and informal adviser to the campaign. 'It is a small minority but it is getting bolder, and even worse. There is a growing tolerance of it in the progressive community.'”

Again, can we have an example please?

You have to ask?  A few poll numbers, here:

  • A majority of respondents, 56 percent, said they supported a timetable for a reduction in United States forces in Iraq;

  • Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said they approved of the way Bush is doing his job.  55 percent say they disapprove.

  • Democrats also seemed to have public support on several major issues. Their push for a higher minimum wage has wide public support, according to the poll. Over all, 85 percent of respondents supported a Democratic proposal raising the minimum wage over the next two years to $7.25 an hour from $5.15 an hour, including majorities of Republicans and independents. House moderates who support a raise in the minimum wage are prevailing upon more conservative House leaders — who have been opposed to one — to allow a vote on the issue. And 59 percent of those polled said they approved of medical research using embryonic stem cells. Mr. Bush used his veto power for the first time in his presidency last week to reject a Congressional bill expanding federal financing for such research.

  • More than twice as many respondents — 63 percent versus 30 percent — said the Iraq war had not been worth the American lives and dollars lost. Only a quarter of respondents said they thought the American presence in Iraq had been a stabilizing force in the region, with 41 percent saying it had made the Middle East less stable.

Establishment ideology says: “Ignore all of the above.”

Reading around:

Peter Galbraith on the current quagmire, here.

Stanley Hoffman, here.

A collection of Israel/Palestine peace blogs, here.

Reporters for the nuclear power lobby line, here.

'I enjoy cocaine because it's a fun thing to do.'" —Stephen Colbert, here.

Jonathan Schell, in the latest Nation (posted at Tomdispatch), argues that the United States has misunderstood the nature of power in our time.  Our tale, as he tells it, is not one of success followed by crisis, but of a deep and abiding kind of failure; nor is it a tale of a successful empire now in crisis, but of a failed empire, now in disarray.  He concludes, in part:  "Even tiny, piteous, brutalized, famine-ridden North Korea, more a cult than a country, can deter the United States with its puny putative arsenal. The United States, to be sure, is a great power by any measure, surely the world's greatest, yet that power is hemmed in by obstacles peculiar to our era. The mistake has been not so much to think that the power of the United States is greater than it is as to fail to realize that power itself, whether wielded by the United States or anyone else -- if conceived in terms of military force -- has been in decline. By imagining otherwise, the United States has become the fool of force -- and the fool of history."

Woody Allen Quote of the Day, I:

"I wasn't away," he says patiently. "And I'm not back. 'Match Point' was a film about luck, and it was a very lucky film for me. I did it the way I do all my pictures, and it just worked. I needed a rainy day, I got a rainy day. I needed sun, I got sun. Kate Winslet dropped out at the last moment because she wanted to be with her family, and Scarlett Johansson was available on two days' notice. It's like I couldn't ruin this picture no matter how hard I tried."

Woody Allen Quote of the Day, II:

"I never wanted movies to be an end. I wanted them to be a means so that I could have a decent life -- meet attractive women, go out on dates, live decently. Not opulently, but with some security. I feel the same way now. A guy like Spielberg will go live in the desert to make a movie, or Scorsese will make a picture in India and set up camp and live there for four months. I mean, for me, if I'm not shooting in my neighborhood, it's annoying. I have no commitment to my work in that sense. No dedication."

Woody Allen Quote of the Day, IIII:

"Kubrick was a great artist. I say this all the time and people think I'm being facetious. I'm not. Kubrick was a guy who obsessed over details and did 100 takes, and you know, I don't feel that way. If I'm shooting a film and it's 6 o'clock at night and I've got a take, and I think I might be able to get a better take if I stayed, but the Knicks tipoff is at 7:30, then that's it. The crews love working on my movies because they know they'll be home by 6."

Woody Allen Quote of the Day, IV:

"For me, being famous didn't help me that much. It helped a little. Warren Beatty once said to me many years ago, being a star is like being in a whorehouse with a credit card, and I never found that. For me, it was like being in a whorehouse with a credit card that had expired."

This is a wonderful profile, by the way; the kind you forget that newspapers can do when they let real writers write…

Could some rich person please give this free summer music camp program a few hundred thousand bucks so it doesn’t have to close?  What could be better for our society than to ensure that poor kids get a chance to enrich their lives with music?

I know it’s not fair but the fact that these people (WSJ, $) love Israel so much makes me love it less.  This is true for both good and bad reasons.

Altercation Book Club:

Blessed Among Nations
by Eric Rauchway

The United States became the country we know today at the end of World War I, when it took over the role of “top nation” from Britain. The story of its rise to this position of strength began at the end of the Civil War. After the demise of slavery, America spread west over the plains, swiftly settling the continent and bringing twelve new states into the union. With the winning of the West came the transformation of the United States into the world’s largest economy. By 1917, when the United States entered World War I, America stood out among nations, its anomalously large economy yoked in uneven harness to an anomalously small government with unusually few powers. Perhaps paradoxically, the United States could not have diverged so significantly from the behavior of other countries had other countries not involved themselves so significantly in American affairs. The globalization of the nineteenth century, in which powerful forces reached across national boundaries to bind the earth’s people tightly together, pushed American development in a peculiar direction. We need neither admire nor despise these peculiarities to note them and assess how much they resulted from the impact of international factors…1

The United States’ extensive connections to the rest of the world have created and maintained the nation’s peculiar habits of government. No other nation enjoyed America’s unique place within the network of worldwide forces that commentators today summarize under the term globalization, nor have these forces affected the development of other countries as they have America…

Global openness affected the United States as it affected no other nation.  The United States received not only more, and more different kinds, of immigrants than any other developing nation either in the Western Hemisphere or the Antipodes, but also most of the ocean-crossing migrants who went anywhere in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.2 The United States also received more money from the international capital markets than any other developing nation, and more so than was the case elsewhere in the New World, this money came into the country through private banks instead of through investment in government. The private banks naturally looked after the interests of their clients, including those overseas, as they fueled the wild growth of the American West.3 As a result of this involvement of international capital and labor in this critical phase of American development, the United States ended up with an empire and a government unlike any other country’s…

Like other colonials, westerners nursed their resentment as a way of defining their politics. But unlike other colonials, they had the power to express their discontent through policy.4 What had been Dakota Territory, ruled from Washington, could in 1889, as the new states of North and South Dakota, put four senators and three congressmen in the Capitol in Washington…

But the anticapitalist sentiment of a colonial people differs from the anticapitalist sentiment of labor movements. This helps to explain why, although it is broadly true that a critique of capitalism fueled the growth of state power in America just as it did in other countries, it is more precisely true that, because the U.S. government offered a disproportionate representation to its formerly colonized West, the government grew according to the dictates of a different critique of capitalism than prevailed elsewhere. The colonial settlers of the American West resented having to borrow money at what they saw as unfavorable rates of interest, resented the conditions placed on loans, resented seeing the profits from moneylending leave the West to fund the further growth of the already rich East. They resented having to pay shipping rates to monopolist railroads to get their goods to market. And they focused their resentment on the owners of the banks and railroads, whom they saw—with some reason—as not only distant but foreign. Just as the influence of foreign capital contributed to the quick building and settlement of the West, it determined the essentially nonsocialist character of the American response to industrial capitalism, which focused its ire on the outside ownership and control of American assets…5

As much as foreign capital investment pushed American development into exceptional channels, another major component of the production equation—the influence of foreign labor—mattered even more. The abuse Americans heaped on foreign capital sounded positively polite compared with what they had to say about foreign labor. By the early twentieth century, the West was full of native-born, white Americans who had left the eastern cities where immigrants were landing in record numbers…

The urban working class in the United States was visibly alien—not only foreign-born but newly arrived. This cultural difference between classes, added to the material difference, reduced the likelihood that Americans would support social policies like those of other nations, and ensured that whenever Americans thought about the problems of an industrial working class, they thought about the problems of immigration.

            In having a significantly immigrant working class, the United States did not differ wildly from other developing countries that relied on migration to swell their populations and keep their growing factories well supplied with workers. What made the United States different was its profoundly polyglot immigrant population. The country not only received far and away more immigrants than any other country, it received more kinds of immigrants from a wider variety of countries. Workers who spoke different languages and worshipped at different altars were more sensitive to the cultural divisions among them and less attuned to their shared economic interests…

With its relatively inexpensive, impermanent inland empire, its nonsocialist politics of anticapitalist protest, and its variegated, imported urban proletariat, the United States experienced few of the pressures pushing other countries to develop strong central states. European countries had to increase the size and authority of their governments to pay for welfare and warfare. It would have been surprising if the U.S. government had resembled them, given its different position in the world at the time. It would also have been surprising if the United States had turned out to look like any other New World nation: on a very brisk analysis, we must recognize that it simply had far too much money to look too much like other new societies. It looked therefore like a hybrid between the Old World and the New, with features all its own. Its habits and institutions of government, which came quickly to seem strikingly American, represented the United States’ adaptations to its unique place in the world, as a peripheral state and a special beneficiary in a global system through which capital and labor moved more or less freely.

We might thus conclude that the American way is, therefore, neither a good nor a bad thing in itself but rather a better or a worse adaptation to environment. If these habits and institutions served the United States reasonably well while it developed into an industrial power in the nineteenth century, they served noticeably less well in the world after 1918, when the United States had become “top nation.” We might then draw the lesson that particular circumstances call for particular policies, and that when the circumstances change, it is wise to change policies. Certainly, a tendency to cling to old adaptations in new environments can lead to disaster in the political as in the natural world.

Notes:

1. As I hope will prove clear from what follows, I neither cheer for nor jeer at what scholars know as American exceptionalism, nor am I even especially interested in it. I am interested in discernible degrees of difference in the impact of world systems and the extent to which they appear to have mattered in American national development.

2. Timothy J. Hatton and Jeffrey G. Williamson, The Age of Mass Migration: Causes and Economic Impact (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 123.

3. See cumulative tables in Irving Stone, The Global Export of Capital from Great Britain, 1865–1914: A Statistical Survey (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999). Also the chapter “Capital” in this book.

4. Donald Meinig, “American Wests: Preface to a Geographical Interpretation,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 62, no. 2 (1972): 159–84, 181.

5. On the near-total absence of American socialism, see Lipset and Marks, It Didn’t Happen Here. On the importance of agrarian protest in shaping the growth of the American state, see Elizabeth Sanders, Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877–1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

From BLESSED AMONG NATIONS by Eric Rauchway, published by Hill & Wang, by Eric Rauchway. More here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Josh Silver
Hometown: 
www.freepress.net
Hi Eric,
Quick update.....

  1. Many people have mentioned Jon Stewart's masterful coverage of the Net Neutrality debate on The Daily Show. He has now covered it three times, and I have compiled them for you. They are a good laugh, and have amplified an issue which is now so big it's expected to kill the larger telecom bill for this Congress. A huge victory, but we'll need to come back next year with a massive and even-better-organized industry/public interest coalition, and more boots on the ground in Washington.
  2. Third Net Neutrality segment on The Daily Show – interview with John McCain, Monday, July 24, 2006
  3. Second Net Neutrality segment on The Daily Show, Wednesday, July 19, 2006
  4. First Net Neutrality segment on The Daily Show, Wednesday, July 12, 2006

  5. Last week, the US Senate voted to fully fund public broadcasting -- a key vote after the House voted for a 23% cut. The House and Senate will reconcile the two bills in December.

Meanwhile, the White House announced the nomination last week of another controversial, highly partisan board member at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  A sitcom producer who describes himself as “thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues.”  Not exactly the nonpartisan sort of person that was promised in the wake of the Kenneth Tomlinson controversy.  The full story is here.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: Daily Revolution
Eric: your six-point response on the Lebanon War yesterday was, along with Chris Hedges' piece at TruthDig, the most clear-sighted and eloquent response I've encountered on this latest danger to the world.  It's why I visit here every day.  What if we had world leaders with the same intrinsic sanity in their view of events and their relationships with others?  As for Weisberg, I couldn't begin to guess what got up his bum; but I have also been attacked over this same issue by those who I thought were relatively sober in their judgment (in my case, I was branded a Hezbollah-loving Nazi).  My message to Mr. Weisberg would be: if we are to have any hope of diplomacy coming to life in this world, we will all have to lead the way.  The alternative is to rely on the likes of Condi and Bolton; and I shudder to think of how that will work out.

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, Al.
Dr. A,
Andrew Irving makes some excellent points, especially about the awesome silence of the left when negotiated concessions fall apart.  It has to be frustrating to watch, just ask Mr. Clinton. I was captivated and genuinely moved by your responses.  I have learned so much about your faith and culture that was totally unknown to this old street kid from the midwest.  My Catholic education in the 50's and 60's taught me to hold the brave Zionists up as heros for bringing a brave new religious entity into the world.  Your sharing of your views has cast the issues into a very different light.  You continue to educate even those who RESPECTFULLY disagree with you. Yours from the Red States.

Name: Chef
Hometown: Mesa, AZ
Dear Dr. Eric-
It was your response and that of "the third policeman" that drives me to make sure I read your blog every day.  Policeman's comments were exactly right that the dear Lt's message would be better directed to the Idiots in charge than the readers of your blog. Secondly, I agree with your response to the entire Israel-Hezbollah issue, though maybe with less of a vested interest. Just because the news is reporting on an issue does not mean every person has to form and publicize their opinion in two days, or two weeks. Contrary to what our current leaders would have you think, a well-considered position takes time to formulate and DOES CHANGE as events change. I think its a side-effect of the CNN-age that everyone thinks they need to have an opinion on every story as it is reported. So anyway, keep up the good work, and know that many of us look forward to having some rational/sane forum to express ourselves. The only must-read's I have every day are your blog and Bill Simmons on ESPN so I don't know if this entire e-mail should be considered a compliment or a little sad.

Name: George
Hometown: Wilkes County, NC
It is a shame that years ago comics made a punchline out of Bill Clinton's famous words: "I feel your pain."  It is a shame because it is precisely that ability which most of us, not just conservatives, are lacking in our public and personal lives today.  When a bomb falls on a house in southern Lebanon or Anbar Province in Iraq and children are killed, people of all stripes too often call it "collateral damage," a euphemism that smothers the enormity of the tragedy of human life destroyed.  Every person is a unique collection of hopes, dreams, experiences, and soul bound together and to each other.  Imagine all of the living experience you have had, the love and hate, the dreams, the work, and imagine that if, just like that, it was wiped from existence.  That is exactly what occurs when each life is lost, and the infinity of value destroyed is beyond our comprehension.  Regardless of what you think of the politics of it all, this is the bottom line.  We do not appreciate the true preciousness and precariousness of life, and we do not value each other.  If we did, none of this would be happening.  Maybe we will be forced to fight this war to the bitter end, nevermind why, but let's never stop grieving for the dead of both sides. They are all wasted and we are all less for having lost them.

Name: David Macheska
Hometown: Newark, NJ
Dear Dr. Alterman:
I wanted to take this opportunity to write to you regarding Jacob Weisberg's recent Slate editorial entitled, "Don't Blame Bush: The War in Lebanon Isn't His Fault."  In it, he correctly places the blame for the current Mideast crisis on Iran's support for Hezbollah.  However, as I pointed out in a response that I posted at Slate, Iran had a politically moderate president in Mohammed Khatami.  Under Khatami, Iran provided logistical and intelligence support for the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.  Bush responded to Khatami's efforts by refusing to meet with him at the White House, and branding his country a member of the "axis of evil."  By reducing Khatami's standing in Iran just prior to a crucial election, Bush may have opened the door to the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."  While the current crisis may not be Bush's fault, his ideologically-driven foreign policy certainly has not helped.

July 26, 2006 | 11:43 AM ET | Permalink

The impossible dream: Honest debate about Israel

Correspondence Corner:

Jacob Weisberg
Editor
Slate Magazine
251 W. 57th Street
19th Floor
New York, NY 10019

Eric,
I couldn’t really listen to Israeli propaganda about the invasion of Lebanon, since as I thought I made clear in my column, it hadn’t happened yet. Also, that wasn’t really the viewpoint of Saeb Erekat from the PLO, or various others we met with on the trip.

FYI, Slate’s policy is that we disclose any relevant interests, so that morons like you can claim we’ve been bought. Has Eric Alterman never accepted free travel or meals from people with a point of view?  Or do the rules you think Slate should follow not apply to Microsoft and NBC?

Eric replies:  To answer Weisberg’s question, while I have no idea what the rules are here at MSNBC.com, nor how they apply to contract bloggers, as opposed to say, editors-in-chief, the fact is, no sir, “Eric Alterman never accepted free travel or meals from people with a point of view” on any political matter about which he was writing.  Ever.  But I’ve also never criticized anyone for doing so, given proper disclosure.  Had Weisberg taken the time to read what I actually wrote here , before writing in to attack “morons” like me, he’d see that even though he is going to bat for Bush (again), nowhere in the short item is he actually criticized for anything.  My moronic inquiry was directed toward the Washington Post Company.  No Washington Post or Newsweek employee would ever be allowed to accept the largesse of an organization like AIPAC, and then write about it, with or without disclosure.  (And I’m betting no employee of the organization has ever accepted a free trip from any pro-Palestinian organization, period.)  So what’s the deal with Slate?  Personal invective notwithstanding, my question stands.

Name: Andrew Irving
Hometown: New York, NY
Eric,
I must say I have been disappointed by your reticence in addressing what is happening between Israel and Hezbollah.  Saying that you "lack the energy to explain everything I find both right and wrong" about Kurt Andersen's column is, to put it bluntly, a cop out.  I have no doubt that you would have the energy to address, persuasively, the William Kristol approach to the issue.  But if what is left of the peace movement is only moved to speak to support Israeli concessions, our muteness when those concessions backfire, almost literally, creating hard choices, like now, greatly impairs our credibility.  MJ Rosenberg has addressed the issue.  So has Sam Freedman.  How about it Eric?  Is kill-ratio a valid measure of proportionality?  Is destroying Hezbollah as a military force a good idea?  Who should do it?  And if it is impractical, what does that mean for a secure Israel?  Is a secure Israel still a goal worth having, if bombing its enemies is the way to achieve it? You're a big boy; step up to the plate and take a swing.

Eric replies( permalink ):  Dear Andrew:

Thanks for writing.  Smart letter, too, as I am planning to do a Nation column on, as you say, “the William Kristol approach to the issue.”

I’ve not written anything extensive about the Israeli attack on Lebanon for the following reasons:

  1. At first, I couldn’t make up my mind what I thought about it.  I shared the view that Israel could not sit still for missile attacks on its cities.  No nation could.  But would the response actually improve the situation?  Would the price in innocent life, property destruction and increased hatred among the potentially violently-armed Arab citizenry justify the costs?  Did the Israeli military planners know something I didn’t know?  I didn’t know.  Blogs, cable TV, etc, even column deadlines can be the enemy of thought in a complex environment where knowledge is decidedly imperfect.  And so I waited, while expressing my misgivings about the general principle.

  2. Generally speaking, I tend not to sound off on issues unless I think I have something useful to contribute.  I don’t think of myself as a politician who has to take a position on everything.  Until it worked out so well in the end finally, I never could make up my mind if I supported U.S. military intervention in Kosovo.  (This was one point on which Andersen was wrong; though he was right about a great deal.  a) I did criticize the invasion, or at least its principles, but b) I was mostly silent because I didn’t think I had anything particularly useful to say… yet.)  And by the way, nobody asked me, either.  Had I been asked I would have done my best to give an honest answer.

  3. Where Andersen is very right, however, is that believe it or not, I try to avoid the Middle East whenever possible.  Often times, this is impossible, but the result is rarely a good one.  The level of invective and refusal to listen are equivalent on both sides, with the caveat being that the pro-Israeli side is approximately 99 times as strong in the United States as the pro-Palestinian side.  Whenever I try to say anything remotely nuanced about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am called vicious and hateful things by right-wing Jews even in respectable places like the Boston Globe editorial pages, where liars like Cathy Young apparently abound, to say nothing of the Weekly Standard, or organizations that are set up explicitly for this purpose like Camera, FlAME and The New Republic.  On the other hand I receive quite similar attacks from the other side in letters to The Nation and places like Counterpunch.  There was also quite a bit of disturbing leftish anti-Semitism in the comments section of a short post I did recently for the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” Web site.

  4. I would accept this as the price to be paid for truth, justice, etc, and the fact that this is the life I’ve chosen if I thought it did any good.  But it never does.  No one ever listens.  The thing about the Middle East is that nobody ever changes their mind about anything.  They don’t listen.  They just wait as long as they can before interrupting and then scream at one another.  (Look at Weisberg’s letter above.  He did not even notice that he was nowhere criticized.  He just called me a moron because he presumed I disagreed.  And that guy is the editor of Slate.)  People don’t really want to know anything that changes their worldview.  I was in synagogue on the Saturday morning after the attack and the rabbi instructed everyone to write their senators to ensure they supported Israel unquestioningly.  In New York!  The speaker that afternoon was the Israeli consul general.  (The previous rabbi, who was kicked out by the board in an extremely divisive and anti-democratic process that violated every known tenet of due process, was on the board of Americans for Peace Now.)  Did anyone in the synagogue raise the issue that maybe the invasion was a bad idea—or perhaps even morally wrong?  To ask the question is to answer it and believe me, I saw no point in raising it either before or after services.

    As a corollary, when I was in Venice, I briefly broke my rule over a lovely dinner where I sat with a new friend who is the European bureau chief for Al-Jezeera.  We had an extremely warm, friendly and informative discussion—although I found some of his views about global Jewish power quite worrisome—until an American leftist—one I actually like—objected to some of my answers to my friends questions in typical dismissive know-it-all Chomsky/Cockburn fashion, instructing me that the Arabs have always wanted peace with Israel, but Israel wouldn’t give it to them, and Mossad is actually doing all the damage that’s being done in the Middle East.  I ended that conversation and unfortunately, I cannot help but like that fellow less than I used to.  (Fortunately we were eating in the casino, so the entire night wasn’t ruined.  I just went upstairs.)  Anyway, my point is, it’s not generally useful and almost always destructive.  Sometimes silence really is golden.

  5. So finally, we’ve seen about two weeks of this invasion and my guess is: it’s a catastrophe.  Look at this report in today’s Times.  Then read this and this and this.  Countries often go to war to solve problems because, while it doesn’t solve the problem they were facing, it does solve their political problem.  But war is rarely an effective, or morally valid means to address issues that are not ones of national survival, and armies are not good at fighting popularly supported guerrilla insurgencies.  Rather they feed them, much like bullets and Japanese movie monsters.  This Israeli attack is nowhere near as counterproductive, dishonestly defended, incompetently conducted-and hence, morally indefensible as America’s invasion of Iraq.  But it does look to be an extremely bad idea, both morally and pragmatically, nevertheless.  And nothing in life is as wrong as killing and dying for no good reason.  I’ve not done a systematic reading of all of the literature, but of what I have so far read, I think young Yglesias has come closest to giving voice to my thoughts and feelings when he writes here, “A foolish war is never a just one -- and Israel's war is a moral and strategic folly.”  It’s a remarkably smart and sensitive piece—albeit one written from (our mutual) narrow perspective of “as an American Jewish friend of Israel…” and hence may not be compelling to someone who does not think or feel this way.

  6. A point I’ll return to in The Nation, also borrowed from Young-but-Remarkably-Wise-For-His-Age, Yglesias: Isn’t it interesting that I, and so many others, are accused of self-hatred, conspiracy-mongering, and collective character assassination whenever one muses that perhaps Jewish voters care at least as much about Israel as they do about say, Toledo.  Anyone who has ever attended synagogue or a Hadassah convention, as I did a few years ago, knows that amongst themselves, Jews make no such pretensions.  (“Good or bad for Israel; that’s all I need to know” as one Hadassah bubbe said to me regarding the issue of bias in the media.)  The competing idea, put forth by Marty Peretz and William Kristol—that everything in the world that helps the right-wing in Israel—just happens to be in the interests of all Americans, even if, it, um, gets a few of them killed, well, it’s hard to believe we’re expected to take that seriously, but the fact is, if you don’t hew to it, you’re either an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew.  (Walt and Mearsheimer may have written a sloppy paper but does that make them Jew-haters?  You’d certainly think so by reading 90 percent of the commentary on their essay.)

All that was by way of introduction to this piece by David Gelertner in The Weekly Standard, yes, The Weekly Standard, that attacks American Jews for caring too much about their own country and not enough about Israel.  Why does the Weekly Standard hate American Jews?

Thanks for giving me the chance to say all this.

Name: Peter H. Dohan, MD
Hometown: Huntington, NY
Dear Dr. Alterman, yours is one of the few blogs I read.  Must be addictive.  Here's a question:  Have the Arabs and the Jews really been fighting for thousands of years?  My vague understanding of history is that when the Old Testament Israelis came on the scene, they knocked a few heads and there was the warfare of the neolithic and bronze ages; however, during the Pax Romana, there were no conflicts twixt the Jews (who were a large minority in the Roman colonial population) and the rest of the population, many of who later became Arabs. The only real warfare as I understand it came with the beginning of the Zionist movement and hard-heartedness of both sides of the question.  This is a relatively new conflict as far as I can figure out, well dwarfed by the 100 years war, the reformation and counter-reformation, etc.  So when I hear air-head commentators say this is an age old conflict, they shine darkness where there should be light and add to the hopelessness of the situation.  Let's invest Dick Cheney's One Percent in economic development in the region and teach Peace.  It seems hard now with the rockets flying on both sides, yet someone has to stand up for sanity and humanity. Shalom and salaam.

Eric replies: Dear Peter,
You are right, of course.  This is a conflict about land and resources.  Nothing else.  All of the hatred generated by both sides grows out of that.  That’s why it's such a shame that neither polity could be motivated by its leadership to support the solution negotiated at Taba.  It’s clear that the compromise is there.  But it remains many years and many thousands of deaths away.

Name: Becky Martz
Hometown: Cambridge, MA
Dear Eric,
In Praise of the Altercation Book Club I haven't read everything that the book club recommends although I appreciate hearing about all of it.  I tend to wait until titles hit soft cover, so the first recommendation of yours I read was American Prometheus (the biography of Robert Oppenheimer) since reading that in May, starved for more information I have read 109 Palace Ave by Jennet Conant (About Los Alamos), Richard Rhodes History of the Atomic Bomb and William Shirer's the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  All of which I'd recommend to the Altercation book club, although I understand that you concentrate more on current titles.  I wonder what I'll end up reading once the other books come out in paper.  Keep up the good work.  I consider myself well read, but given the volume of political analysis, biography, second-guessing & opinion books that are currently on the market it is great to get an honest review of a few of them.  From this, we can all make up our own reading lists.  Many thanks!

Name: Ed Hanson
Hometown: Commerce City, CO
I have tremendous respect for LTC Bob Bateman.  I think it just rose a couple of notches.  I have been saying, and I firmly believe, that if every soldier who experiences war, were to share those experiences in detail when they came home, there would never be another war.  Now, I understand why this doesn't happen: the trauma of war is severe on the participants and they don't want to revisit those memories.  But I know, through personal experience, that the effects of trauma can be treated and healed by sharing. And when enough people are exposed to the details of the horrors of war, win or lose, it will cease.

Name: Kent
Hometown: Norman, Oklahoma
Here's my completely non-professional, eccentric list of books about war.  The first book might be a bit hard to find; I lost my copy and Amazon couldn't find me a copy.  It is Martin Smith's brilliant "Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity".  Smith has traveled widely among the ethnic insurgents of Burma, and combined first hand experience with incredible research. I realize there aren't too many Burma fanatics like me, so I suppose most people wouldn't read the whole book (but they should).  However, the chapter on insurgency as a way of life and the appendix on millennialism should be of interest to a wider audience. 

"The Transformation of War" by Martin VanCreveld, especially his first and last chapter, should be on any list.

The Atlantic magazine article by Robert Kaplan, "The Coming Anarchy", which incorporates VanCreveld's ideas, should also be on the list. Kaplan should re-read that article as well, and maybe he wouldn't write silly stuff like he has in the last few years. VanCreveld predicted the rise of private military contractors that have been so prominent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My two last suggestions are, "Blood Diamonds" by Greg Campbell, which is about the civil war/diamond trade in Sierra Leone and Scott Anderson's "The Man Who Tried To Save The World", a biography of Fred Cuny, the legendary relief expert who died in Chechnya.

Name: The Third Policeman
Comments:
It's my agreement with LTC Bateman's post today that causes my anger and despair to rise. It's where he enjoins us, Altercation readers, to study military history, to gain this knowledge. I imagine many Altercation readers are just like me, already lay-students in military history, and perhaps there are even a very few who, like me, have a long-term hobby playing military strategy games - the old-school kind with mapsheets and pieces you push around with your hands, not with a mouse on a screen. It is readers such as myself who have been opposed to this murder and chaos that was deliberately created in Iraq, opposed on two essential reasons the likes of which the PNACs and AEIs and Packers, Hitchens and Sullivans of the world lack the knowledge and imagination to even consider: strategy and morality. As students of military history, we readers could never discern a strategic rationale for waging war on Iraq that was both comprehensible and even vaguely plausible. As curious and knowledgeable and discerning readers, we had no problem finding, by late 2002/early 2003 enough information, available freely to the public, that demonstrated Iraq had no strategic or tactical nuclear, biological or chemical weapons [and I consciously do NOT user "WMDs," which I don't think has any meaning when actually considering strategy, just like "Shock and Awe"]. We also understood concepts such as the road to peace in Israel runs through Baghdad as idiotic, political assertions, not actual strategic thoughts. What started happening in Iraq roughly August 2003 was no surprise to us readers: once you understood there was no strategy involved in waging this war, the rest follows, logically and expected. But strategy can seem a pretty cold argument to make against all the morally smug who assured us that waging this war was the right thing to do. Us students of military history understand that war is the most morally serious human endeavor, that war is destruction, the rending and murder of flesh, the laying waste to human resources, pestilence. Because it is so terrible, the decision to wage it must be absolutely certain and understood profoundly. The luxurious ease with which our professional ignoramuses on TV, in Congress, in their think tanks, and especially in the White House approached waging war on Iraq, the smug assumptions about how everything would fall exactly into place as in their nightly dreams of pride and grandeur betray their complete ignorance of military history and their complete lack of a moral sense. These, not Altercation readers, are the dangerous fools LTC Bateman should be urging this reading on. You'd think they could at least pick up a copy of Wilfred Owen, but I don't see them as a poetry loving crowd either.

Name: John Farmer
Hometown: Woodland Hills, CA
Maybe Joe Klein has been brainwashed.  That quote of his on Lieberman sounded eerily similar to this: "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."  Joe Lieberman: Democratic candidate or Manchurian candidate?

Name: Bob
Hometown: Whitehouse Station, NJ
If you are interested there is an excellent site for streaming live concerts from many many bands. Lots of Dead, the Band, Dylan, and many more. I listened to a fantastic Leo Kotke concert from '89 today. It's at SugarMegs.org.

July 25, 2006 | 1:10 PM ET | Permalink

Knowledge is Power

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Dateline: Newport, Rhode Island

I am in Newport right now, true holy ground for sailors from around the world. Yesterday I strolled along the docks, goggled at the hull-shapes in the Newport Shipyard (including at least one former America’s Cup hull, which I recognized), and dreamed of setting sail. But that is not why I am here.  I am here because in addition to all of the fancy mansions, the gigantic sailboats, the top-end civil life, there is one thing here which is found nowhere else: The Naval War College.

No, I am not signing up as a student. You must be selected to that level of schooling, and I’m too young yet to even be considered. And I have not suddenly decided to quit my life ashore and ask for a transfer to the Navy. I am here to talk to some smart people, we just happen to be meeting here. It is work related. But the fact that I am up here, at this center for learning within my profession, as well as some things Eric linked to yesterday, combined and I realized something which is exceedingly obvious.

We have a problem in the United States. Well, we have a lot of problems of course, but one in particular I can help alleviate. We have a problem of knowledge. More specifically, we have a problem with a lack of knowledge about one particular topic: War.

Two of the stories to which Eric linked yesterday dealt with military affairs, and they were written by a friend of mine. Tom Ricks, a reporter for the Washington Post, has just written a devastating book entitled Fiasco. The Post is highlighting it on the front page, printing extracts as news. It fairly well indicts my profession on a number of counts of hubris, stupidity, and a whole host of other faults. Although Ricks himself never uses those words, the evidence speaks for itself, and Ricks has been covering the military for more than a decade, so he knows whereof he speaks. This is a salient point.   

The third story Eric linked was a book review by Andrew Bacevich, a soldier-turned-academic who, when he wore a uniform, had a career-path very similar to my own. It is a review of the book Cobra II, which is about the highest-level planning and discussions about the beginning of the war in Iraq, and his point, well, the title says it all, “Why read Clausewitz when Shock and Awe can make a clean sweep of things?” That speaks volumes. Or does it? I realized that it means a lot to me, but does the title of the review really mean something to you, the majority of you, who read Altercation?

And this was my realization, brought on by my presence here in Newport, where nearly side-by-side sit two communities which are almost completely alien, one to the other.  There is the Newport Naval Base, with the Naval War College sitting grandly on the water, and just a few miles away, downtown Newport, home of mega-yachts, “Millionaires Row,” and every accoutrement to personal wealth you might imagine, and it occurred to me that neither know much about the other, but that this toleration of ignorance might not be something we Americans can afford anymore. If, as they say, “War is too important to be left to the Generals,” well then, that presupposes that somebody else knows about war.  It is an idea which I endorse.

Tom Ricks, the journalist, and Andrew Bacevich, the soldier-turned-academic, know war. They have studied it, researched it, and in their cases, seen it as well. There are also a limited number of qualified commentators out there as well, but the number, sadly, is entirely too small for our Republic, especially when we are at War. We need more people, educated in the history/theory/practice of war, participating in our democracy, for without the depth of knowledge, we do not have a breadth of opinions, and again, in a democracy this is not good.  Given that we are a nation which increasingly relies upon 3 percent to protect the other 97 percent, we will have less and less personal understanding and experience, which is OK. But we need to replace that with something.

So I enjoin you to read. Not just Altercation (though, of course, continue to do that), and not just the news about war, but I think that I must ask you to read about war, become educated in war, so that, in the end, you can discuss war with reason, facts, understanding of theories, and hard-nosed comprehension.

Note, in all of that I did not say that you should like war, or that you should condone war, or even that you should agree with the idea of war in any way shape or form. But just as an environmentalist must study economics and the science of, say, the logging or oil industry to be an effective environmentalist, so too must a citizen study those things which affect their nation most directly. For four years now, the thing which has affected us most directly has been, well, war. Even our presidential elections, to some degree, hinged upon events in a war long past and even more on perceptions of who would be more astute in their application of force within war. (No, I am not endorsing one side or the other, I am merely noting how reputations on some topics affect larger events.) 

Bacevich, in his title, makes assumptions about his readers.  I think we should stop making those assumptions. I have realized that almost nobody has actually read Clausewitz**, and even fewer have read the thought-pieces which resulted in the idiotic theory of “Shock and Awe.”  But you need to read a lot of history, and at least some military theory, to really understand how damned stupid the idea of Shock and Awe really was, and how it has been tried (under different names) over and over again since the late 1920s, and it never works!  Perhaps, just perhaps, if some people in the right places had read more military history, well, things might have turned out different.

So, here are some recommendations. I am not smart enough to say, “Here is my top 10”…other wiser people have done that aplenty.  But you can go here and see one list, here and see another, or if you’re in more of an academic mood, try this list here. (Oh, and I also recommend Professor Grimsley’s blog itself, where thoughts on war run deep. That’s here.  These are starting points, only.
 
NEWPORT WITHIN EARSHOT:

Kate, my new bride, took off for India the week after the wedding. She is there now, seeing and learning some interesting things. All of which combine to give me some insights about how we are really seen in the world. Perhaps next time I’ll update you on that.

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

**Well, actually somebody has. See Eric Alterman “The Uses and Abuses of Clausewitz,” Parameters (US Army War College), Summer 1987.

July 24, 2006 | 1:10 PM ET | Permalink

Jeopardy question:

The guy is a graduate student at one of America's most prestigious business schools.

The guy is the leader of his class basketball team.

The game was tight.  The other team's captain, Gary Engle...went up for a  shot.  The guy slugged him — an elbow to the mouth, knocking him to the parquet.  "What the hell are you doing?" Engle remembers saying.  "What, you want to get into a fistfight and both of us end up in the fu**ing emergency room?"  The guy just smiled.

Moments later, at the other end of the court, Engle went up high for a rebound and felt someone chop his legs out from under him.  The guy again.  Engle jumped up and threw the ball in the guy's face.  The two went at it until two teams of future business leaders leapt on their captains, pulling them apart.  Engle, angry and vexed by what had happened, began wondering why the hell the guy would have done what he did.  He lost his composure, and his team lost its leader.

A few years later, Engle...bumped into his brother, a governor....Engle, a Republican contributor, had thought from time to time about his game against the guy.  Nothing like that had happened to him before or since.  This was his chance to get a little insight about it.  He told the story.  The governor kind of laughed, Engle recalled.  "In Texas, they call guys like the guy 'hard case.'  It wasn't easy being his brother, either.  He truly enjoys getting people to knuckle under."

Who is the President of the United States?

Why are we losing the war?  Well, there are more reasons than we can count, but here is one and here is another and here too is yet another.

Gilbert Cranberg says the D.C. bureau and Landay, Strobel, Walcott deserve high honors for their reports challenging the Bush administration during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, here, I second that emotion.

What a wimpy headline for a story about the fact that The American Bar Association said Sunday that President Bush was flouting the Constitution and undermining the rule of law by claiming the power to disregard selected provisions of bills that he signed.  Here.

Slate’s editor, Jacob Weisberg, took an AIPAC sponsored junket with a group of other journalists to listen to Israeli propaganda about their invasion of Lebanon.  He disclosed this fact in this defense of George Bush.  I wonder, can’t the Washington Post company, owner of Slate, afford to pay for its own reporting trips?  And who else is getting their “news” from AIPAC without disclosing it?  Would they also accept a Hezbollah-sponsored trip?  Doesn’t this kind of demonstrate the Walt/Mearsheimer argument?

(And by the way, on this “Arafat rejected Camp David” argument.  It’s true, but after doing so, he got a better deal at Taba shortly thereafter.  So it made sense for him to reject Camp David, since in doing so, he improved his position.  Of course the Israel government couldn’t deliver the deal at Taba, so it turned out to be a mistake.  And it’s far from clear that Arafat would have implemented it if they could have.  But still, it’s hardly so clear as everyone makes out that the problem was Camp David.  It wasn’t and it existed on both sides.)

Meanwhile, I lack the energy to explain everything I find both right and wrong in this challenging and maddening column by Kurt Andersen about what we talk about when we talk about Israel.  And here’s Remnick on same.

Some background on Hezbollah, here and here.

Ha’arretz columnist Gideon Levy:  “Israel can gain nothing more from this war than a bloody reputation.  It is the right time to stop,” here.

Quote of the Day, I:  "The U.S. occupation is butcher's work under the slogan of democracy and human rights and justice." —Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

Quote of the Day II:  “Joe Lieberman is, without question, one of the finest men I've known in public life.  I could never imagine myself voting against him.”  —Time’s most liberal columnist, Joe Klein.  (P.S.  Don't go away mad, Joe.)

Quote of the Day, III:  "If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced it would be expected that he would retire or resign," — William F. Buckley, Jr.  Why does William F. Buckley, Jr. hate America?

Quote of the Day, IV:  “We look for guidance these days to two other notable squishes, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice.”  — David Brooks  (If you can make sense of just what the hell policy Brooks is implying here, and what hopes for success it may have, you’re a smarter (wo)man than I am.)

Quote of the Day V:  “Why would a progressive European government want to have anything to do with the one-sided diplomacy of a fading president, driven by extreme theology?”  Good question, here.

An anonymous "senior Justice Department official" (quoted in the New York Times) offered the following explanation of a personal decision by George Bush to block a Justice Department investigation into the NSA eavesdropping case: "We had to draw the line somewhere."  The only inaccuracy in the line was that splendidly placed "somewhere."  As on every other issue of legal, ethical, or constitutional import, this administration never draws the line "somewhere"; it always draws its line at the same place -- the place, to be exact, which gives the commander-in-chief presidency that is this administration's heart and soul the most possible power and denies power most outrageously to any other branch of, or agency of, government (except, of course, the Pentagon).

Recently, though, one of those branches refused to accept the administration's "somewhere" in the sand and instead drew some rather striking lines of its own.  Law professor David Cole offers a canny, original, and vivid assessment in the New York Review of Books and at Tomdispatch.com of how and why the Supreme Court drew those lines in the recent Hamdan decision, challenging an administration that, until recently, brooked no challenge.

He concludes:  "The Bush doctrine views the rule of law as our enemy, and claims it is allied with terrorism. As the Pentagon's 2005 National Defense Strategy put it: 'Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism.'  In fact, both the strength and security of the nation in the struggle with terrorists rest on adherence to the rule of law, including international law, because only such adherence provides the legitimacy we need if we are to win back the world's respect.  Hamdan suggests that at least one branch of the United States government understands this."

Frances Fitzgerald on the fight in Ohio, here.

Why Republicans love the Voting Rights Act (and why it’s bad for the rest of us)

Shaw over Shakespeare; Michael Holroyd and I agree.

Against Free Speech here.

Charles Darwin and the value of friendship, here.

Sucking up to evil, here.

Another academic—sort of—review of When Presidents Lie from Logos, here.  The H-Diplo symposium, if you missed it, is here.

Alter-reviews

There’s a new Clark Gable box from The Signature Collection and it includes Dancing Lady / China Seas / San Francisco / Wife vs. Secretary / Boom Town / Mogambo.

Except for 1953’s Mogambo, all of these are from the man’s peak as America’s most attractive man in the mid-thirties.  I love Mogambo, though, a remake of “Red Dust,” because of the crazy chemistry between Gable and Ava Gardner with Grace Kelly playing the role of the other Catfighter.  John Ford lit the sparks in this one.  Other leading ladies include Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady, which also boasts Fred Astaire in his film debut, a group named “Ted Healy and His Stooges, aka Moe, Larry and Curly; Jean Harlow in China Seas, from 1935, with Rosalind Russell, Harolow again in Wife vs. Secretary, plus Myra Loy.  1936’s San Francisco, gives us Jeannette MacDonald and Claudette Colbert.  It’s all great, even the parts that aren’t so great, particularly the recurring catfights.

In terms of re-releases, I’ve been spending a lot of time with the complete Riverside sessions of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.  It’s not as amazing as last’s year’s sunken treasure Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, this one collects all of their studio meetings, including previously unreleased takes, and it’s a must for fans of both.  Orrin Keepnews’s essay is also a keeper.  Read all about it, here.  Another oldie-but-goodie to be given the star “deluxe” treatment is the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle.”  You get the remastered CD plus a live anniversary DVD and some other stuff.  It’s a kind of more user friendly “Dark Side of the Moon,” and it sounds as good as ever, even w/o any drugs.  Speaking of which, I see PULSE is the number one selling DVD at Amazon.  I came to Pink Floyd pretty late in the game, and I miss Roger Waters in this—as he looked so damn cool in that silly Live Eight concert, but this is just plain great music.  And what a light show.  Even without chemical supplementation.  This is one of those DVDs that really justifies its DVD-ness. 

On “The Long Road Home; the Concert” recorded live in concert in September 2005 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, on the other hand, John Fogerty merely plays some—well 26 actually— of the greatest American popular songs, one right after another, and has a terrific time doing it.  You can get the CD.  You can get the DVD.  You can buy all the old Credence albums and at least two of his solo albums, or you can get em all.  The DVD is here

Oh yeah, one more:  Johnny Cash Man In Black: Live In Denmark 1971.  The 19-song set includes June Carter Cash in three duets with Cash, Maybelle Carter, matriarch of the First Family of Country Music, is also here, as are Mother Maybelle’s other two talented daughters, Anita and Helen, plus performances by Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers, who aren’t half bad.  And Johnny’s great of course.  It’s all here.

One more thing: Almost all reality TV totally sucks. It’s stupid, dishonest, and degrading. The Daily News show that premiers on “Bravo” called "Tabloid Wars" is none of those things.  It’s really compelling, basically honest and voyeuristic in a not-terribly-unhealthy way.  Plus, it will be useful to teach in J-Schools. Watch it if you can…

Correspondence corner:

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Where eight million innocent civilians live
Eric:  'Civilian Casualty'? It Depends - Los Angeles Times

Alan Dershowitz wrote this in the LA Times today:

There is a vast difference — both moral and legal — between a 2-year-old who is killed by an enemy rocket and a 30-year-old civilian who has allowed his house to be used to store Katyusha rockets.  Both are technically civilians, but the former is far more innocent than the latter. There is also a difference between a civilian who merely favors or even votes for a terrorist group and one who provides financial or other material support for terrorism.

Finally, there is a difference between civilians who are held hostage against their will by terrorists who use them as involuntary human shields, and civilians who voluntarily place themselves in harm's way in order to protect terrorists from enemy fire.

These differences and others are conflated within the increasingly meaningless word "civilian" — a word that carried great significance when uniformed armies fought other uniformed armies on battlefields far from civilian population centers. Today this same word equates the truly innocent with guilty accessories to terrorism.

Oh, there are so many problems with this argument.  Chiefly, it seems completely divorced from the real world, where soldiers and officers are not prepared to — nor should we expect them to — distinguish among Dershowitz's "types" of civilian.  They have enough to worry about already, i.e. distinguishing general civilians from real combatants.

Perhaps most troubling is that Dershowitz (and the leaders of Israel in recent weeks) have been invoking the exact immoral argument that Hamas and the IRA have been using for decades in support of the slaughter of innocent Israeli and British civilians: "They are all potential militants; some are just more culpable than others."

Hamas is wrong. The IRA was wrong. Dershowitz is wrong.

Yes, we need a better understanding of the role of civilians in unorthodox combat situations. But this is not a new thing.  Let's not pretend that armies have not faced these issues since Lexington and Concord.  Dershowitz, alas, does not help clarify the situation.  He is too busy being clever.

Name: Jim Hassinger
Hometown: Glendale, CA
This "objective" business that you cite from Sullivan should be instantly recognizable to anyone who ever delved into the politics of the left.  It was the Stalinist's favorite idea, perhaps their only one.  These "bourgeois idealists" with their "reformist" ideas were "objectively" pro-Hitler, pro-whatever, because they gave comfort to the idea that democracy could heal itself, and they weakened Papa Stalin's grip on political power.  There were a fair number of "objectively" pro-Franco leftists and anarchists who were eliminated by this totalitarian word.  Sullivan should be ashamed, and be aware of the completely non-conservative roots of this concept.  David Horowitz, particularly, subscribes to this idea, with his loony "conspiracy maps" of the left, but this radical right-wing movement we're burdened with now has adopted this logic to their litany.  Which is why they're "conservatives without conscience," to use John Dean's terminology.

Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo
Dear Eric:
Not that you would ever need assistance in any intellectual, or otherwise, jousting with Andrew Sullivan - but to impute you or anyone else left of center to being sympathetic to Bin Laden or Al Qaida is ludicrous.  Who paved the way for the Great Bin Laden exodus come 9/12?  Who turned the great guns of the U.S. off of Bin Laden and redirected them to Iraq?  Who recently granted Bin Laden a virtual pardon by closing up the CIA's shop focused on hunting down Bin Laden?  For that matter who allowed Bin Laden to pull off the most murderous stunt in U.S. history after being warned repeatedly of an impending attack?  During who's administration have major portions of two major U.S. cities have to be evacuated?  One still prostrate?  It wasn't any one left of center.  Not to mention the $500 billion thrown down a rat hole in pursuit of a nation whose GNP in 2002 was only $52 billion, and the major loss of life that occurred along the way, including more Americans.  None of that was done by any one left of center.  But to the extent that things have not gone better than they did, well that's the fault of people left of center.  His credibility plummets with stuff like that.  I find all that dribble appalling.

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Got to disagree with Steve from San Jose.  Bush's veto was a HUGE mistake.  This hands the Democrats another club to bludgeon the Republicans with — that they are "out of touch with mainstream America" — 70% of Americans approve of embryonic stem cell research, about the same number of Americans that thought that federal interference in the Terry Schiavo matter was WRONG.  I do agree that this issue needs (and deserves) serious national debate, not more political theater along the lines of gay marriage and flag burning.  This veto will be used against Republicans in tough House races (along with the mess in Iraq, Social Security, Medicare, the deficit, insecure borders, global warming, illegal spying, lack of oversight, illegal detentions, torture, corruption).  I know there are other things that these Republicans have done, but I can't think of any more.  Can you, Eric?

Name: R.T.Tihista
Hometown: Sisters, OR
"New Jersey Ken" falls for the conservative mythology that Reagan's decision to out-spend the Soviets caused the end of the cold war.  He has a valid point that the hopeless planned Soviet Economy was doomed to fail.  But there were other more powerful factors than Reagan.  The Containment Policy put in place during the Truman Administration and continued by every Administration of both parties afterward was first and foremost.  Gorbachev was also important and I suggest Robert Kaiser's book "Why Gorbachev Happened."  By the time of the Soviet Union's collapse they were so far behind in essential computer technology an argument could be made that Bill Gates made a more important contribution to the Soviet demise than Ronald Reagan.  If the Soviets had done like the Chinese and embraced Capitalism, they might not have imploded.  China is still ruled by Communists and has become an economic juggernaut.  Had the Soviets gone that route think of what a formidable enemy they'd be today with all those nukes and the capability of delivering them.  Plus, with a wealth of natural resources coupled with a robust Chinese style Capitalist economy the U.S. would not be the world's sole "Superpower."  Given the arrogant disastrous ambition of the Bush's Neocon foreign policy, the world may have been safer with the balance Mutual Assured Destruction provided.

Name: Jeff
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
To those Reaganite automatons who worship him for sending the national debt through the roof in order to "win" the Cold War, I would like to offer an alternative theory.  The economic theory is quite dense and the historical context is convoluted, but bear with me, it all ties together in the end.  Here we go: Communism doesn't work. Seriously, can we take a step back and examine Reagan's foreign policy? We will outspend you! That's like having a contest to see who can max out his credit card the fastest. Ready, set, go! Communism in the Soviet Union was going to fail as it's failed everywhere else it's been tried, most notably in China. They've been inching closer to a free market economy because they realized what they had wasn't working. They're quickly becoming a superpower, not that anyone here is paying attention... While Reagan was scaring the bejesus out of us with horror stories about the mighty Soviet military their soldiers were riding around in tanks featuring the very latest in WWII technology. The weapons the Iraqis used in the first war were supplied by the Soviets, and they were hopelessly outclassed. It was the Pittsburgh Steelers playing your son's little league team. The Soviet military threat was exaggerated beyond all reason. What exactly did we gain from this "victory"?  During the Cold War the world was a simple place. It was us versus the commies. Now the world is a much more complicated and violent place. Ethnic and religious rivalries didn't explode into violence with the frequency and ferocity that we see today because the government simply didn't allow it.  Yugoslavia was peaceful for decades under Tito.  It fell apart at the seams when he died.  I'm not a fan of the Soviet Union, of course, but it had a strong and stable government, which is more than can be said for virtually any other country. Do the research, read the surveys, talk to the people -- most Russians want Communism back. Stalin is still considered a hero in some parts.  Back then the trains ran, the hospitals were open and there was food.  Now they have a president who is as power hungry as ours. They have virtually no middle class which means their economy is driven by the mafia and copious amounts of aid from the US.  For $3000 you can take a ride in a MiG fighter plane over the Kamchatka Peninsula.  If military equipment is being used for tourism one can only wonder what other uses they've found. Victory. Woohoo. Thanks Ronnie.

Name: David Lambert
Hometown: Austin, Texas
As a follow up to Ken of New Jersey's letter regarding Reagan's efforts to cause the Soviet Union to crumble I must point out he used oil as an economic weapon by persuading the Saudis to produce more, causing the price to drop and deprive the Soviet Union of the revenue from its oil sales.  Kinda ironic when one thinks of Cheney's admonishment to the Russians not to use energy as a political lever.

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