August 17, 2006 | 12:19 PM ET | Permalink

This just in: "A FEDERAL JUDGE IN DETROIT ORDERS IMMEDIATE HALT TO BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM, CALLING IT UNCONSTITUTIONAL"

Quote of the Day, Time's most liberal pundit, Joe Klein: "People like me who favor this program don't yet know enough about it yet," he says, "Those opposed to it know even less -- and certainly less than I do." Here. (Nice, tough reporting job there, fellas.)

I hadn’t planned to see Oliver Stone’s movie for a lot of reasons. Now I have one more. Former San Francisco Chronicle and LA Times columnist Ruth Rosen recently went to see Oliver Stone's reverent new blockbuster film, World Trade Center, which inaugurates the fifth anniversary flood of 9/11 films heading toward the various screens in our lives.  She explains just why September 11th, which brought out so much that was positive in those who rushed to the scene to help, still brings out so much of the Bush-era worst in so many of the rest of us -- and why Stone's film, by what it omits as well as what it choses to show, manages to support the Bush adminstration's Big Lie about Iraq and 9/11. In a film that, as she says, may end up being "the definitive cinematic record of what it felt like to be inside the hellish cyclone known simply by the numbers 9/11," this is no small matter. She concludes:

"How could Oliver Stone leave it up to viewers to discover for themselves who committed this crime? And how could he leave the audience with the impression that there was a connection, as Dick Cheney has never stopped saying, between 9/11 and Iraq? This is the tragic failure of Stone's World Trade Center. It undercuts the historical value of the film and reinforces the Biggest Lie of the last five years, still believed by far too many Americans -- that in Iraq, we are fighting those who attacked our country."

Can Mel play first base?

Why does Joe Scarborough hate America?

“Someone named Charles P. Pierce?”  Them’s fightin words. Gee, that was hard.

The rejected rejection letter is one my favorite genres.

The Senate WMD report: A critical appraisal by Roberg Jervis in the Journal of Strategic Studies.

Why do you think they call me blow? (Thanks Petey)

I’ve always said The Washington Times is garbage.

Buzz-building Sneak Previews Section: I saw the pilot for the Aaron Sorkin and the Tina Fay backstage-at-Saturday-Night-Live shows. Aaron’s show was terrific; Fay’s show was quite good. I don’t know if “quite good” is good enough to survive when your network has a “terrific” show on the same network. It’s not my problem, but I would have preferred it if the one that was terrific were about NY and the other one about LA, rather than vice-versa.

On the topic of buzz, I was thumbing through the new Vanity Fair last night, and I noticed that many of the ads were glorifying junkies and pimps and violent-looking rappers who might as well be pimps, getting oral pleasure in front of their homeys. As a parent, as well as a human being, I’m deeply disgusted. I think liberals should make a bigger deal out this kind of thing. Look at this awful company, which is one of the aforementioned advertisers. Why are right-wing hypocrites like the smut-peddling Rupert Murdoch the only people who are comfortable voicing their anger about this kind of thing? (One possible reason: Are these guys going to come beat me up now?)

If someone is going to pay so much attention to a three-year-old book, the least we can do is give him a link here. It continues here.

And while we’re on the topic of three-year-old debates, someone sent me a link for my Charlie Rose debate with Hitchens on the war, back then, here.

Alter-reviews by SAL, NYCD.

Randy Newman & Neil Diamond are two songwriters whose material has been covered by artists ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Two fairly recent releases collect a bunch of those sides.

"Forever Neil Diamond," is the better of the two, even though none of the 14 tracks are new. There is of course, "The Monkees" with "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," a great pop hit, but oddly chosen over the bigger hit, "I'm A Believer." Also included are the somewhat obvious, but no less wonderful "Kentucky Rain" by Deep Purple, the Pulp Fiction-fan fave, "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" by Urge Overkill, and the 80's hit "Red Red Wine" by the now aptly named UB40. Some other stranger choices include the band Crooked Fingers (who?) and The Four Tops version of "I'm A Believer." Plus, you get the awesome, sorta-punkified version of "Cracklin' Rosie" by Pogue Shane MacGowan. Little to complain about with this collection, although if I had my hand in it, I would have made it a little better and a little longer.  More here.

"Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman" is a newly recorded collection that has a bit of a country theme to it. The stellar line-up includes such faves as Steve Earle, Sonny Landreth, and Joe Ely, as well New Orleans newcomer Marc Broussard. Some tracks work: the aforementioned Steve Earle's version of "Rednecks," as well as his wife Alison Moorer's gorgeous version of my fave Newman track "Marie." But, some just don't come close to the originals, or even some earlier covers. Landreth, hailing from Louisiana, seemed like a good choice for "Louisiana 1927," but it just doesn't pack the whallop of Aaron Neville's heartbreaking version. Other artists involved include Sam Bush, Kim Richey, Del McCoury, and Tin O'Brien. It's not bad. Not great. Just, not bad. More here.

Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin (Rodale, 2006)
Prologue:

The people in flight from the terror behind—strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.
— John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Brian Wilson is sitting in a little room somewhere deep in the recesses of the Austin Convention Center, staring intently at the green linoleum floor. His face is blank; his mouth, a thin, unmoving line. His biographer-turned-friend-turned-advisor-and-documentarian, David Leaf, sits nearby, next to Van Dyke Parks, the musician/arranger/songwriter whose career has been inextricably bound to Brian’s for nearly four decades, though they’ve rarely seen each other most of that time. David and Van Dyke are chatting mildly—about restaurants, friends in common, their plans for the weekend. But the man who brought them together is silent, examining the universe beneath the toes of his black suede Merrell shoes.

Soon the three of them, along with a couple of music journalists, will sit on a stage in front of a jammed conference room to discuss Smile, the album Brian and Van Dyke wrote and recorded most of in 1966 and 1967. At the time—just when the Beach Boys’ early stream of surf/car/girl-focused songs had given way to Brian’s ambitious song cycle Pet Sounds and the smash pop-art single “Good Vibrations”—Smile was envisioned as a panoramic commentary on America’s tangled past, ambivalent cultural inheritance, and spiritual future. Simultaneously nostalgic, sad, dreamy, and psychedelic, the songs struck those who heard them as a whole new kind of American pop music. Some observers called it the harbinger of a new era in pop culture.

Then something happened. Exactly what that something was -- static from the other Beach Boys, interference from Capitol Records, the corrosive effect of drugs, Brian’s own neurological problems, or some combination of the above -- has never been resolved. But the aftermath was all too clear. Brian gave up on his musical ambitions and spent most of the next four decades adrift. The Beach Boys faded from the scene, only to return as a kind of perpetual motion nostalgia machine. And Smile became a folk legend: a metaphor for everything that had gone wrong with Brian, the Beach Boys, and the nation whose dreams and ideals they had once transformed into shimmering waves of harmony. End of story.

Except the story wouldn’t end. Even as the years turned the Beach Boys small and dispirited, the passage of time seemed only to enhance Smile. Hundreds of thousands of words came to be written about its creation and demise, including a science fiction novel whose hero goes back in time and helps Brian finish his masterpiece. Televised biopics and theatrical documentaries told the group’s story in various shades of personal, creative, and cultural melodrama. But all came to focus on Brian’s dramatic rise and crushing fall, and this story always pivoted off the lost glories of Smile, what it was, what it could have been, why it never came to be. Eventually Smile, in all of its glorious absence, became something else altogether. And that is why we’re here today.

David Leaf wants to get something going. “So Van Dyke,” he says, his eyes gazing past the short, stocky man in the foreground to the taller one sitting just past him, “did you ever think you’d be here at South-by-Southwest talking about how you finally finished Smile?”

Van Dyke smiles broadly. “It has been a wild ride,” he declaims in his storybook Mississippi drawl. “And I do need to thank Brian for the opportunity to take it with him.”

Both men look over at Brian, wondering if he’s going to toss in his own observation, perhaps priming the pump for the onstage discussion they’re about to have. But Brian is still gazing down at his toes, his face stony and empty. The two magazine writers on the panel—Alan Light from Tracks and Jason Fine from Rolling Stone—come in, but this only makes Brian seem more disconsolate. He shakes hands. He says hi. But he doesn’t even try to smile, and when the festival organizers come to shepherd the gang upstairs to the stage, Brian moves with the dark resignation of a man headed for the gallows.

Upstairs the room is crowded, buzzing with excitement. The ovation begins the moment Alan Light steps onto the stage, then grows more intense when Van Dyke steps into the light. The crowd jumps to its feet when Brian emerges, but he either doesn’t see this or doesn’t care to acknowledge it. Instead he moves robotically to his seat, sits, and stares stone-faced into the darkness beyond the footlights. The applause continues, now mixed with cheers, and finally the taut cast of his face loosens. He mouths a silent thank-you, and then, finally, his lips slip into a small, shy smile.

Light, serving as the event’s moderator, leads off with some background on Smile’s history. Then he throws the session open to questions, and the first one comes instantly, from a man whose eyes glisten as he addresses the stage. “Brian, I just want to thank you,” he says. “Your music has saved my life so many times . . .”

Brian nods. “You’re welcome.”

“I just want to ask, why did you decide to finish Smile now, after all this time?”

This is the key question, of course. You could write a book about it.

The room is silent, waiting to hear what combination of internal and external phenomena has led this man—so often described as a genius, just as often dismissed as a burnout or pitied as the victim of untold spiritual and physical torment—to make this unexpected leap back into the creative fires.

“Well, I knew people liked watching TV,” he begins. Brian is talking out of the side of his mouth, both because he’s nearly deaf in one ear and because this is what he does when he’s extremely nervous. “And, uh, Smile moves really quickly, right? So I figured people could hear it now.”

This is puzzling. But another hand shoots up, and another man stands to ask Brian about his decision to perform “Heroes and Villains” at a tribute concert in 2001. “Heroes” is one of Smile’s key songs, and Brian had refused to play it in public for more than 35 years. Was he frightened to take it on again—particularly on a show that would be broadcast on national TV?

“Oh, it took me about half an hour to prepare for it,” Brian says, shrugging. “But then it was great.”

“Oh. Well.” The man sounds a bit deflated. “It meant a lot to me. Thanks for doing it. And for bringing Smile back to life.”

“Oh, sure. Thank you,” Brian says.

Someone asks Van Dyke about how it felt the day Brian called to ask him to help him finish their long-lost masterwork.

“You must be talking about November 16, 2003,” he says. “Obviously, the day means nothing to me.”

This gets a laugh, and the glimmer of feeling behind his words prompts Light to ask Brian about the recording of “Fire,” the cacophonous instrumental piece that represented both the heights of his creative daring and the start of his emotional devolution. How did he get such a vivid, scary sound out of the drums, cello, violins, fuzz bass, guitars, and theremin? Did he really think the music had sparked a rash of fires in downtown Los Angeles? And did this inspire his decision to not finish Smile at all? Brian listens and nods—and once again refuses to provide an answer. Instead, he retells the story of how he had an assistant build a fire in a bucket so the studio musicians could smell smoke while they played. They all wore plastic fire hats, too. And the song came out great, he adds. “But then we junked it.” He shrugs. Light seems pained. But he smiles at Brian and nods. “Great. Thanks.”

This goes on for 45 awkward minutes. Throughout, two things are obvious: the depth of the audience’s feeling for Brian and his music; and Brian’s near-total unwillingness to acknowledge, let alone engage, that feeling. What it comes down to is this: The people who love him the most need Brian to be something that he is no longer able or willing to be. The journey was too difficult, the price too steep. He shed that skin a long time ago, and he has no intention of looking back. Which may be one reason he engenders the passion he can no longer abide.

Brian Wilson’s music became a part of the American cultural fiber not just because it was innovative and instantly memorable or even because it was so often set in a dreamland of open space and windswept horizons. It’s the desperation that inspired those visions—the darkness that ignited the flight to freedom—that tugs at people’s hearts. Like all of Brian’s best work, Smile tells the American story in those same visceral terms: innocence, pain, flight, joy, corruption, desolation, redemption. It’s in the music. It’s in the story behind the music. It’s in the sorrow that haunts Brian’s eyes even when he’s smiling.

This feels important, like something that should be talked about and understood, particularly while Brian is still alive, still able to put his thoughts into words. Only that’s not where he likes to put his thoughts. It’s the sound that matters to him. The feelings, the emotions, the vibrations, are all in the sound.

Eating lunch in Los Angeles a few weeks later, he addresses the same questions. Only now Brian is in a good mood, feeling the sun warming his back and sharing a piece of cheesecake with a friend and a writer he has come to know a little bit. He speaks easily and illustrates his thoughts with occasional bursts of song—a line of melody; a rhythm pounded out on the tabletop.

“Sometimes I think I sing too sarcastically. Like I get worried I can’t sing sweet anymore, so I sing it rough.” He’s talking about Smile again, contemplating the dozens of times he’ll perform the once-lost work for audiences during his summer tour. “I worry about that all the time, like I’m losing the sweetness in my soul or something. But then I hear myself singing sweetly and I think, Hey! Listen to me! A sweet sound, all full of love!”

He laughs and shakes his head. “Listen to me! Just listen!”

For more, go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

16 August 2006 Eric-- Mark Ace is right on target in laying the failure of passing the Clinton health care bill on Gingrich and Dole. For an interesting book about the missed opportunities of the Clinton administration, Haynes Johnson interviewed Gingrich who told him point blank that the defeat of the Clinton health plan was politics plain and simple--claiming that if it had passed foreseeable generations would owe a debt to the Democrats that would put the Republicans out of business. However, Gingrich's shameless power play doesn't redeem the Clinton plan from a fatal flaw: its excessive reliance on insurance companies. The waste and excessive costs are largely attributable to the bureaucracy of the insurance industry. When will corporate America realize that they can't afford the current system either, and that it's time to go national with Medicare for all?

Name: John
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Dr. A, That Fred Barnes column on Lamont/Lieberman was absolutely priceless. I have never seen so many conservatives and their media lapdogs, take such an active interest in a Democratic primary. Well the good news is: all the love that Lieberman is getting from Cokie and the gang, should be very helpfull for his chances at winning the Republican nomination in 2008.



August 16, 2006 | 12:19 PM ET | Permalink

A Question: How do the Liberman-is-wonderful people who are attacking Lamont for appearing with Al Sharpton—whom I detest by the way—explain the fact the fact that Lieberman asked for Sharpton’s support and was turned down?
This is the funniest of those I’ve read so far, by the way.
Joe has won a Kristol/Barnes/Broder/Peretz/Weisberg
/Barone/Roberts landslide; no wonder the voters don’t want him.
Another question: What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?
Insert your own joke here.

Alter-reviews:

I've recently been looking to literature to understand a little more about radical Islam, particularly its violent component. I can strongly recommend The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany for some insight. The Egyptian author uses the residents of a building in Cairo to illustrate endemic government corruption against the political backdrop of the last fifty years and the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism there. But just as importantly, he uses the sex lives of his characters to bring the place to life, and in doing so, creates a complex portrait of the ties between sex, Islam, and political corruption. It was hailed by no other than one of Egypt's most respected dissidents, Saad Eddin Ibraham, in Foreign Policy not long ago, as well.  There’s more here.

Rockin’ Bones:

This four-CD box features 101 tracks recorded from 1954 to 1969, by the people, mostly forgotten now, who made rockabilly. ROCKIN' BONES: 1950s PUNK & ROCKABILLY doesn’t skimp on the basics: You get Link Wray's "Rumble," Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," Jerry Lee
Lewis’ "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On," Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm.” From Elvis we get uncensored version of “One Night of Sin.” But you’ll have to be one hep cat daddy (or mommy?) to know most of this stuff. From the great Wanda Jackson down to the Poe Kats, and Elroy Dietzel and the Rhythm Bandits, there’s a lot of otherwise lost history here. The packaging is handsome, and there’s a useful essay by axman, Deke Dickerson. We also get excellent liner notes that include an introduction by the collection's producer, James
Austin; a song-by-song commentary by rockabilly expert Colin Escott. One more thing. There’s a lot of sex. Read all about it, here.
 

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mark Roderick
Hometown: Moorestown, NJ
Comments: You barely scratched the surface regarding the stupidity and evil inherent in Rabbi Gelman's Newsweek piece. The wise Rabbi chastises "the Jews" for failing to support Joe Lieberman. Apparently blind to the meaning of his own words, he thereby advocates a system in which a man's politics are defined by his religion. This is precisely the cause of the butchery today in Iraq and, over the centuries, has been the cause of so much butchery as to have been repudiated, with monumental effort, by all of Western civilization, including the founding fathers of this country.
That Rabbi Gelman would let the virus out of the test tube because it suits his narrow political interests as of a given moment in August 2006 reveals a breathtaking ignorance, or shallowness, or something. It's that much worse that he suggests this behavior on behalf of "the Jews," as if that group, above all others, has a single interest so superficial as to be implicated in the choice between a Joe Lieberman and a Ned Lamont. From Rabbi Gelman's position regarding "the Jews" it is a small step, a tiny step, to the world view of Mel Gibson. And Joe Lieberman's support of the war in Iraq, thereby empowering Iran, has been so good for Israel. . .but that's a different story.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Comments: Dear Eric, I share your reservations about Wes Clark as a presidential candidate, but I can't shake the feeling that he would be a great vice-presidential candidate. Imagine how much buzz it would generate if John Edwards were to announce before the primaries that, if nominated, he will choose Wes Clark to be his running mate? If Clark realizes that he can't win the nomination in 2008, he might be convinced that his best route to the White House is through the office of vice-president. His military credentials would go a long way toward neutralizing the Republican strategy of making the 2008 election a referendum on national security. His presence on the ticket would be particularly helpful if McCain gets the Republican nomination. It's an unorthodox suggestion, to be sure, but these are extraordinary times which call for extraordinary tactics.

Name: Mark Ace
Hometown: Portland, Or
Comments: Here's another legacy from the Republican ascendancy that Dems have not effectively figured out how to communicate: broken healthcare. Exhibit A is this article from Fortune in which Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is taking up the cause from the private sector side.
And why is it so broken? "It's the cloud Hillary created when she tried to change the system," he says. "People burned her so badly, and everyone remembers that. It's a subject people don't want to touch." So Hillary "created" it? Isn't it more accurate to lay blame squarely on the Republicans, led at the time by Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich, who were in power? They saw an easy way to thwart Hillary and Bill, gain points for themselves, and, further consolidate their hold on the legislature. The result? Byzantine healthcare finances, double digit percent increases in premiums year after year, crushing costs for business, reduced access and quality, the list goes on. Another Republican success story. Throw the bums out.

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Comments: Hello, Dr. Alterman. Just to pick nits, contrary to Brian Geving's claim, the leading cause of death among pregnant women is not murder. Yes, CNN said it, but that doesn't make it true. No doubt CNN was simply parroting the Washington Post's claim in a three-part series by Donna St. George, but Jack Shafer did a wonderful job dissecting the math involved in that story in Slate. Basically, the study being cited is counting women who are "pregnant or recently pregnant" with "recently pregnant" being up to 365 days after delivery, miscarriage, or abortion. The study found 247 "pregnancy-related" deaths of which 50 were homicides. But of those 50, only 23 were during pregnancy, all the others were in the one-year after period. Of the 27 remaining, only 3 were within 42 days of the end of pregnancy. St. George's piece goes on to say that 10% of all murders of women between 14 and 44 were pregnant or recently pregnant. But by Shafer's counting, 10% of all women between 14 and 44 were pregnant so any random sampling of women from this group would find that 10% of them were pregnant of recently pregnant.
In short, being pregnant makes you no more or less likely to be murdered than not being pregnant. Not to discount the very real problem of violence against women and the particularly heinous way it can befall women who are pregnant, but this claim of murder being the leading cause of death among pregnant women is nothing more than media hype.


Name: Greg Wortman
Hometown: Studio City, CA
Comments: Dear Dr. Alterman, Re: "Pure 80s: The Ultimate DVD Box.". How can you possibly deny that Disc #3 (Headbangers Rule) is just as "wonderfully awful" as the first two DVDs? You may not like or understand heavy metal, but like it or not, it was an integral part of what gave 80's popular music its identity. To assume your readers would want to s**tcan that entire genre as well is a mistake. As someone who watched MTV from the beginning, I find this entire compilation quite kitschy and nostalgic as well, but to my ears, nothing at the time was cooler than the sound of a loud, searing, overdriven Marshall stack.
Yes, most of the heavy metal here is cheesy, but it is no more so than the synth-laced pop on the other discs. I'd personally rather bang my head against a wall than be subjected to "Mr. Roboto", "Relax", or "Luka" (or most of Springsteen's catalog, for that matter), but to deny their place in that "wonderfully awful" decade's musical pantheon would be criminal. Also, where did all the quintessential '80s black (and rap) artists go? Donna Summer, Lionel Ritchie and Tina Turner had all been long since established at the onset ot the '80s, but Run-DMC, Whitney Houston, MC Hammer and even Michael Jackson are nowhere to be found here. Go figure.

Name: Bill Dunlap
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon
Comments: Hey, Eric: Your review of the Chuck Berry DVDs really piqued my interest, in part because I produced a two-hour music and interview radio show with Charles for NBC Radio in, I think, 1979. The man is strangely friendly and off-putting at the same time. He had just released a new record, Rockit, at the time, but he was the only artist I did shows on who demanded to be paid-$2,000-for the interview.
My partner and I interviewed him in his studio near St. Louis and he charged us for the tape stock. His lawyer, a wonderful man named Bill Krasilovsky, warned us to have the $2,000 in cash when we went to meet him, but Chuck didn't demand it at that time. I have often said to friends that I think the root of much of his difficult nature is an obsessive fear of getting screwed by the White Man. He was just getting ready to head for Lompoc on a conviction for tax irregularities when we met. He wouldn't talk on tape about that or his previous jail time.
But speaking of Lompoc, he did volunteer that he'd been in tougher joints. He was very forthcoming on other matters, although I don't know how honest he was in his responses. I think Chuck tailors his stories to suit his current needs. When Johnnie Johnson died last year, Chuck was widely quoted as saying that Johnson inspired Johnny B. Goode. He told us back in 79 that he envisioned Johnny B. Goode as a young white boy. But whatever his idiosyncrasies, he was and is a rock and roll icon. I think he'll be 80 in October and he's still playing gigs and probably getting more pussy than any of the rest of us.

Name: Uncle Walt
Hometown: St. Louis
Comments: Regarding your review on the Chuck Berry docu-concert recorded in 1986 (holy crap, has it already been 20 years...) I attended the filming of that with my youngest brother at the Fox Theatre in STL, and the music was great. Berry has always been well known here in STL for "backing out" of gigs until the promoter sends somebody over with a bag of cash. He also had that incident some years back when a hidden camera was discovered at one of his properties taping women in a dressing room. And then there was that time... well, you've got him pegged. He still plays about ten times per year at the basement bar at Blueberry Hill in University City, and by all accounts still puts on quite a show for the peoples.


August 15, 2006 | 12:19 PM ET | Permalink

When Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean in 2004 right before Dean’s campaign imploded, taking $40 million with it, everyone treated Gore as if he had gone even crazier—what with growing a beard, pointing out that Iraq was a mistake and George W. Bush was a liar. My thought was that Gore was positioning himself for 2008. Hillary was already remaking herself as the DLC candidate and Gore was fitting into his role as the Moveon.org candidate. Those were the party’s two national power bases, and their strength varies from region to region, but they both produce money and Moveon produces money and volunteers. (I am using these two organizations as a short hand for all of the organizations they represent. Another way to do it would be “Establishment” and “Insurgency.”)
If both Gore and Hillary do run for the presidency, I still think that’s the way the race will shake out. With these two heavyweights in the race, there will be no “oxygen”—i.e. money and media attention--for anyone to cut-in on this meta-and mega-grudge match.

If Hillary runs and Gore does not—as seems most likely today—then the race is all about being the un-or anti-Hillary. Since she has so much money, organization, her husband, and about a third of the party sown up, if all the other candidates divide up the opposition and the “electable” vote, then it’s already over. Mark Warner is the favorite of the professionals right now, but he is new, untested and unknown outside the beltway. He may be terrific but he’d better be really terrific if he wants to have a chance, particularly given his lack of appeal to the netroots beause of his hawkishness on Iraq. Ditto, nearly, Joe Biden. He certainly has impressive support among Sunday talk-show hosts and bookers, but that, as far as I can tell, is it.

If you look at who is best placed to emerge in Un-Hillary role, then right now, it’s gotta be John Edwards. Edwards is quietly running a brilliant strategic campaign. He has a message “optimistic populism” that resonates with the middle of the country and appeals to the netroots. He has deepened his connection to labor in a way no other candidate has, which means a ton in terms of GOTV operations, and he is acceptable to both the Moveon—he apologized for his Iraq vote--and DLC wings—he made the vote in the first place--though he is neither’s favorite. Yes he was a massive disappointment as the VP nomination, but most Democrats accept the excuse that everything about that election was John Kerry’s fault., which, by the way, makes his candidacy hopeless and a little sad, however well-financed. Most important perhaps, the primary calendar was written as if by an Edwards staffer. First comes Iowa, where they loved him in the first place, and where he always seems to be. Next comes Nevada, where Hillary is not going to appeal, and after that, South Carolina.  By the time we get to New Hampshire, he already has the un-Hillary role locked up and then it becomes a battle over “electability.” 

Sadly, for Edwards and for common sense, the biggest question is whether he looks old enough. Last time around he looked to be barely 30. People need to be reassured by a candidate’s face since for many of them, that’s all the information they need to know to chose their favorite. Edwards needs to start dying his hair a little gray and have some plastic surgery to add a few lines to his face. Maybe he should hire Nora Ephron as an aging consultant. Alas, I’m not kidding.

One candidate I’ve left out of this calculation because I don’t know where he fits in is Wes Clark. I dropped by a Clark event out here at the beach over the weekend, and I was mighty impressed. He was articulated and moving and had a strong grasp on the issues as well as the kind of requisite personal charisma one needs to do this kind of thing. He made a few mistakes, however—I can’t describe them because the event was not really open to the press; I was there as a friend of someone else; and these are the kind of gaffes that can cause a candidate real trouble. Clark’s problem last time—in addition to not being ready as a politician—was lacking the kind of organization that could keep him within the bounds of the mindless media discourse so that saying something a little complex would not rebound against him. I wonder if that’s still a problem. I also wonder if he’s running. I do think he’d make a fine president and his relationship with his fellow soldiers and veterans who have been so viciously abused by this administration—would go a long way toward healing some of the wounds Bush has opened up in this country.

But again, where’s the oxygen? As I see it, he’s competing with Edwards. With Gore out of the race, Feingold is going to get the lefty activist support, even though Clark was quite good on the war, and he probably deserves it. So if Feingold gets out early and endorses someone that could make a big difference. So could Gore’s endorsement if he doesn’t run. Clark could be there as the un-Hillary if Edwards implodes—or as the Hillary if decides not to run—but right now, it’s hard to see how it works. (And in the extremely unlikely event that Obama gets in the race, ignore all of the above.)

Now, to Connecticut. It’s really too bad that Lamont did not trounce Lieberman and thereby strengthen his Democratic friends’ arguments that he not act a spoiler. It was a healthy thing to tell the Establishment that they do not speak for voters, particularly on the war—and a healthy thing to tell Democratic representatives that only so much betrayal can be tolerated, and Lieberman was well over the line. So good triumphed there, for once, but not by enough for comfort. Now that there’s going to be a real race in Connecticut, political professionals have to decide where their priorities lie. If Lieberman wins and keeps his word to his Democratic supporters by remaining part of the Democratic caucus then it really doesn’t matter so much who the senator from Connecticut is. What matters is who controls the House and the Senate.

And possibly, there is no conflict between those two priorities. But Connecticut is an extremely expensive state. If you think money is infinitely expandable in an election, then fine; the same people who give to the DSCC and DCCC will also give to Lamont and nothing has been lost. Popular Democrats will stop by Connecticut and Moveon will raise some money for advertisements, but not at the expense of the close races elsewhere. The argument for this being the case was the fact that Dean blew $40 million on his campaign but that didn’t hurt Kerry’s fundraising one bit. George W. Bush is the Democrats’ greatest fundraiser ever, and he’s still there.  But this may be wishful thinking, and if resources grow scarce, than I think, even Ned’s strongest supporters would have to agree that they need to be allocated in a way that does the greatest good for the country.

While we’re on the topic of Lieberman/Lamont, this being the Internets, a great deal has already been written about Chuck Roberts amazing assertion that Lamont was the candidate of Al-Qaida. On CNN’s “Reliable Sources over the weekend, our girl Arianna got to the proverbial meat of the issue, when she told Mr. Conflict of Interest, “I mean, you had your own headline anchorman, Chuck Roberts, describe Lamont as the al Qaeda candidate. This is an equally deceitful, fraudulent, fabricated statement. There should be zero tolerance for all those deceits, whether in images or words.” Kurtz, who is after all, paid by the people whom Arianna is trying to hold accountable, does his best to wimp out of the controversy wihtout angering his bosses:
KURTZ: "Well, what Chuck Roberts said, according to the transcript, was that some are calling Ned Lamont the al Qaeda candidate. But it's certainly not a formulation I would have used.” But the woman is indefatigible. She comes back at Mr. Conflict.
HUFFINGTON: "You cannot find a single person who called Lamont the al Qaeda candidate, except Chuck Roberts. And what have been the consequences when it comes to Chuck Roberts? Has he been demoted to be covering Paris Hilton or entertainment news?”

There are two points here, lest they get lost in focusing on the egregious stupidity of Mr. Roberts. The first is that journalists can, and do, say anything they want about someone and refuse to take responsibility for it, by putting in the words “some people” or stating it in the passive voice. If I wrote, “some people say Chuck Roberts is a chicken-molesting axe murderer” it would be just as true as the statement he made on CNN. But because the right-wing controls the airwaves, these slanders are almost always directed at liberals. The second point is that there is little or no accountability in the media, save for the blogosphere—which is one reason the MSM is so invested in calling everyone in the blogosphere ipso facto, lunatic. Here we have a rare example of someone demanding accountability from the network that allowed this slander to take place on that very network, but only because Arianna is the kind of celebrity that appeals to Howie and his producers. And yet even in an example this egregious, Mr. Conflict can not even bring himself to agree. Some media cop. Some media. anyway, Arianna is here and David Brock’s letter to CNN is here.

Still in Connecticut, I happened upon perhaps the dumbest sentence of the year: Liberman “lost because Barbra Streisand's highly publicized contribution to Lamont.” Hey “Newsweek Rabbi Marc Gellman," maybe you should stick to theology.

Lord help him, it gets worse: “if you asked me to explain why Jews did not vote for Joe the way blacks voted for Barack Obama…” Um, Rabbi dude, the same blacks who voted for Obama deserted the um, black Alan Keyes. There was no white candidate in the race] ..or Catholics voted for John F. Kennedy I would not know what to tell you. [Um, Rabbi dude, one more time, that was 46 years ago. In the last election, Catholics went for the non-Catholic candidate George W. Bush over the Catholic candidate John F. Kerry by a small plurality. Is your editor at the Vineyard or is he perhaps a secret anti-Semite who is enjoying this?]

Most amazing sentence yet: “So he supports the war. So what?” Really what is one to say? “So what?” About this war? This Rabbi is arguing that Jews should put Israel’s interests ahead of America’s, up to and including getting their fellow citizens killed for no good reason. This is not even “dual loyalty.” It is disloyalty and thank God, if you’ll excuse me bubbela, that most American Jews have the good sense to ignore you.  And Newsweek, perhaps it’s time to find a new rabbi. .

“There are fewer more devoted adherents to that strain of American foreign-policy thinking than Lieberman himself. Call this perspective what you like -- puerile, misguided, even paranoid -- but don't call it strong on defense.” Excellent piece by TNR editor Spencer Ackerman here  (I wonder why it’s not in the “proudly schizophrenic” TNR, don’t you? Maybe I should ask my rabbi…)

Quotes of the Day: “Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."”

Why does George F. Will hate America?

What happens when a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago reads a book by Ann Coulter.

In the wake of the Reuters photo-doctoring scandal, here's a look back at efforts by warblogs such as Little Green Footballs to tag journalists for being soft on terror and staging phony battlefield photographs

Alter-reviews:

Chuck Berry - Hail! Hail! Rock N' Roll. (4 DVD edition)
I have always found Chuck Berry a hard guy to like and the more I read about him, the more I feel that way. Kudos, therefore to Taylor Hackford, for constructing this endlessly fascinating and illuminating document around a truly complicated but incredibly important figure. The film, which was originally released in 1986, is pretty great, albeit uneven. The band, led by Keith Richards, features Robert Cray, Chuck Lavell  and Johnnie Johnson, and features guest shots by Clapton, Linda Rondstadt, Etta James, and Julian Lennon, among many others.
The bonus material—three discs worth—is a must for all amateur rock historians and perhaps most documentary film-makers. It includes:

-- 54 minutes of rehearsal footage
-- The Reluctant Movie Star making-of documentary
-- Trailer
-- Witnesses to History documentary Parts 1 & 2
-- "Chuckisms" - a collection of classic Chuck Berry remarks
-- "The Burnt Scrapbook" - Chuck Berry reminisces over his musical memories with Robbie Robertson.

Among the highlights from the documentary part: In the words of Amazon’s Sam Graham, “But if you're the type who can't turn away from car wrecks, don't miss "The Reluctant Movie Star," an hour-long "making of" documentary, for it's here that Hackford and the others who worked on the film tell their war stories. The Chuck Berry they know demanded to be paid every day, in cash, or he'd refuse to be filmed. He showed up for a dinner meeting at L.A.'s posh Le Dome with a bag of McDonald's takeout. And two days before the St. Louis concert, he announced that he was leaving town for a gig in Ohio, where he proceeded to blow out his voice--so his vocals all had to be overdubbed after the fact (an extra payday, natch).” There’s also an hour-long sitdown between Chuck, Little Richard and Bo Diddley and interviews with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, Bo Diddley, The Everly Bros, and Willy Dixon. There’s lots more here and there’s also a two-disc version for the less obsessive.

I am also enjoying a three-cd box called “Pure 80s: The Ultimate DVD Box.” It also appeals to the historian in me because it’s got so much of that wonderfully awful stuff so many of us watched in the early days of MTV. The music doesn’t hold up too badly. I still love “Rapture,” “Tainted Love,” “Safety Dance,” “Our House,” (Madness, not CSNY, no cats in the yard…) “Centerfold,” “She works Hard for the Money,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Luka,” “She Drives Me Crazy,” etc. And the videos are fun in a trashy sort of way. One warning, however, the music on the third disc, “Headbangers Ball” could not be worse if it were the sound of my head being banged against a wall. I’ve never understood the appeal of this stuff but now I understand it even less. So you may want to buy volumes one and two individually. Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: MB
Hometown: Jackson, MS
Comments: While I think you made a very cogent argument why supporting Lieberman for VP in 2000 but not supporting him now is not necessarily hypocrisy or idiocy, I think you missed a key reason why Lieberman is persona non grata now when he was, arguably, a party leader just 6 years ago. That reason is that, Joe's highly public denunciation of Clinton's peccadilloes notwithstanding, many, many Democrats did not really know much about him until the 2000 election. We got to know him through that campaign and, speaking for myself, I was less than impressed.
His refusal to give up his Senate seat made him seem self-serving and unsure of his running mate's campaign. His performance in the Cheney debate was abysmal. It was hard for me to listen to it and not believe that Lieberman simply threw the debate. He was, pretty much at every turn, a poor campaigner (at least in his run to be the VP, he managed to be easily re-elected to his Senate seat -- Yay him!) The VP candidate is supposed to have his running mate's back and should be empowered to make a spirited defense -- to say things the Presidential candidate cannot. As the wild-eyed Right attacked Gore at every turn, we didn't hear much from Lieberman. Joe's too nice for that, I guess, or maybe he just believes that elections should be bipartisan as well as governance.
As the election ended in the Fiasco in Florida, Lieberman could barely contain his inclination to concede early and often. His performance was sickening; especially in retrospect as we've seen him become Bush's favorite Democrat over the succeeding 6 years. It leaves me wondering what team Lieberman was really playing for. The intervening 6 years have seen Lieberman moving closer and closer to the Right. For example, while he may be nominally pro-choice, he enabled and facilitated the ascension of Bush judges who will undo Roe at their earliest opportunity (not to mention the assault on other civil liberties.) It's Lieberman who is the hypocrite. He's been a pretend Democrat too long. There was at least one good thing that came out of the 2000 election -- and that is that Joe Lieberman never got (and never will get) anywhere close to being President of the US.

Name: Bob Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI
Comments: What is it about the truth that makes neocons so allergic to it? Last week, after the British airliner plot was broken, Dick Cheney sneered something about liberals wanting to look at terrorism as a law enforcement problem. On Sunday, Joshua Muravchik repeated the charge.
According to Muravchik, presidents from Nixon to Clinton refused to face up to Middle Eastern terrorists, instead "shaking a symbolic fist or issuing some subpoenas.... This led to the Sept. 11 attacks." By contrast, Bush "set forth the enormous goal of destroying terrorist groups; cutting off government support for terrorists, if necessary by regime changes." Bush has had five years now; let's look at the record. The Taliban are no longer in power in Afghanistan, but they are far from gone and are consolidating power in the south of the country.
Iraq is now the breeding ground for terrorists it wasn't before our invasion. There have been more incidents of terrorism since 9/11 than before; in 2005, there were 11,111 incidents resulting in more than 14,000 deaths, according to the State Department.
And of course there have been major devastating incidents in Western capitals like Madrid and London. And oh yes, there might have been a major attack on American airliners, but it was thwarted--by law enforcement. Yes, while we were bomnbing, MI-5 issued some subpoenas. And they succeeded. Why does the truth hate America?

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle
Comments: Dr. E., could the "guns of 1948" refer to the splinterist Henry Wallace candidacy? It still doesn't make sense: you have been consistently vociferous against Nader's splinterism and now Lieberman's. Wallace latered renounced his connection with the Soviets, but a lot of what he stood for in 1948 is now mainstream, especially desegregation and full voting rights for all; unfortunately, his call for universal government health insurance is only "mainstream" in that the majority of Americans agree with it, though no major politicians do.

Eric replies: Yes, it does. Perhaps I should have spelled that out, though of course, it still makes no sense.

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Comments: Eric, A local paper recently ran this list of our ranking among the world's developed countries in many different areas. I've seen a few of these before, but seeing them all together is very depressing to me. It would be interesting to compare how these statistics have changed since 2000. A few lowlights that jumped out at me:
- The United States is 49th in the world in literacy (the New York Times, Dec. 12, 2004).
- Twenty percent of Americans think the sun orbits the earth.
- Seventeen percent believe the earth revolves around the sun once a day (The Week, Jan. 7, 2005).
- The leading cause of death of pregnant women in this country is murder (CNN, Dec. 14, 2004).
- As of last June, the U.S. imported more food than it exported (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

Name: Wanda Marie Woodward, M.S.
Hometown: West Chester
Comments: Is anyone paying attention to this? China, Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan, et al. forming an OPEC like organization? All they need is to ask Venezuela to join and America is screwed. With Russia and Iran being two of the top 10 providers of oil to the U.S., with Russia and Pakistan currently having nuclear bombs and with Iran and India racing to make them, and with China's gargantuan rise to superpower status in the next few years, this is a nightmare on the horizon. 


August 14, 2006 | 12:19 PM ET | Permalink

One the country’s most significant problems is the stupidity of our political discourse. It’s most obvious in cable news, but it’s everywhere, in print, on the net, on the Sunday shows, on the left, on the right, on the center. It’s not just inconvenient and annoying; it interferes without our ability to address our problems and allows thugs to get away with metaphorical murder. Here’s three examples, two of which involve me.

Joe Klein represents virtually everything wrong with political discourse in this country; he’s ignorant, insulting, self-satisfied and feels himself to be some sort of victim. Witing about Connecticut, he complains of the “expected torrent of rubbish from left-wing blognuts and conservative wingnuts….nauseating triumphalism …. unblinking assertion… stupid excesses” and that’s just in the first few paragraphs. It’s all typical Klein but what caught my eye was the end, where he describes “bipartisan moderation” as “the highest form of patriotism” here. Oh really? What if the “center” goes off the rails, as in Iraq; as in the present economic policy? The Medicare bill? Etc, etc. Klein says, “Agree or else: dissent is unpatriotic.” Where does it end, Joe? Just a little bit of torture? A touch of illegal spying? Throw away half the bill of right? 

Now, how stupid is the extremist Left in this country? Klein and the whole so-smart-they’re-stupid-Neocon establishment treat sensible liberals like Ned Lamont as if they were raving Commie lunatics which is a shame, but it doesn’t mean they there aren’t a few raving lefty lunatics around. Fortunatley, they are entirely impotent. Still, when my name’s involved, I usually hear about it and it can be pretty annoying, the way mosquito bites often are. Look, for instance here. If you read this column, you see someone making an argument that liberals thought Liberman was good and Nader was bad in 2000, and now think Liberman is bad, so doesn’t that mean Nader was always good and we liberals are hypocrites?

It’s sad that anyone would think this requires a response, but here it is. In 2000, Lieberman was:
a) a vice-presidential candidate, an office with no inherent power;
b) running against George W. Bush.

Nobody’s views on Lieberman have to change to prefer him as vice-president to George W. Bush. Just because someone is preferable to say, Dick Cheney, does not mean they are also preferable to Ned Lamont. Is that clear? (Moreover, I had always argued that Nader should have run against Gore in the Democratic primary, just as Lamont did. Had Lamont gone the Nader route, he would have been but a blip. Of course Nader was apparently too deluded by his onset of megalomania to do so which is perhaps the most significant reason this country is in the mess it is. So thanks again, Ralph.)

And how stupid is the Right in this country? Here. (To say “extremist right” would be redundant.) James Pinkerton, complaining about liberals and Lamont, writes “Needless to say, Beinart's left-bashing has been reciprocated by plenty of Beinart-bashing from lefties, including The Nation's Eric Alterman. And so the guns of 1948 are still not silenced, and the wounds are still open.”

In the first place, what does that mean? I have no idea, to be honest, and Pinkerton does not point to a single example to support his point. Maybe I bashed him because I didn’t like his haircut. Maybe I didn’t bash him at all. Anything is possible on the basis of evidence Pinkerton doesn’t bother to provide.
But whaddya say we break it down anyway? I did, in fact, bash Beinart’s article that led to his book, but hey, Beinart removed almost all of the material I criticized when it came time to write the book. As far as his book goes—which is what Pinkerton is writing about—I called it “mostly excellent.” If that’s his idea of a “bash,” well then, don’t invite him to your party. And second, what the hell does it mean that “the guns of 1948 are still not silenced, and the wounds are still open.” I have pretty strong anti-Communist credentials, after all. And while unlike Beinart, I did oppose the war in Iraq, he would say I was right and he was wrong.  And what has Communism actually got to do with the invasion of Iraq anyway? Are they, in fact, interchangeable? Pinkerton doesn’t bother to argue this, but his article makes no sense otherwise. But of course the very argument is laughable.

Anyway, whenever you read something on Tech Central Station, remember Nick Confessore’s terrific piece on just how fundamentally corrupt the entire enterprise is.

The US helps plan and execute an Israeli war: a Neocon dream come true.

Spike Lee’s previous two movies were two of the best films to be released by major studios in the past decade. He’s got a new one, about Katrina, and he’s profiled by the writer who became Maureen Dowd’s New Best Friend, here. 

From MediaBistro: Fox News Priest Tricked Us Into Talking, Says Brit Imam (Guardian)
Representatives of a mosque used by several of the terror suspects reacted angrily to a "sick stunt" by Fox News Channel. The imam of the mosque complained that he and others were tricked by a rep from the cable channel, a priest who said he was working for the Vatican and wanted to talk peace.

Jill Carroll’s series is here.

Alter-reviews:

Bruce didn’t show up and sing with Fogerty the night I saw him at Jones Beach with Willie Nelson. It was a beautiful night and hey, what could go wrong. Rather than rely on my meager literary abilities to do justice to the experiences of these two deeply American icons—it’s a cliché, but it’s true--, you might want to take a look at this and this.

Prestige Records' Stitt's Bits: The Bebop Recordings, 1949-1952 Stitt is one of bebop's progenitors, often associated in people’s minds with Charlie Parker. He insisted that his style evolved his alto sax style before he had ever heard Parker. When he and Bird first met and played together in 1943, they were both amazed at their stylistic similarity. He’s mostly on tenor here, but he played all three horns, and appears here on this handsome, well constructed box with Jay Jay Johnson, Bud Powell, Max Roach, John Lewis, Art Blakey, Gene Ammons. We get nearly four hours of music - comprise 76 tracks that Stitt recorded as leader, co-leader and sideman for Prestige and its related labels. The ensemble size ranges from quintet to septet (with trumpeter Bill Massey and trombonists Bennie Green or Matthew Gee adding their talents), featuring outstanding rhythm sincluections, ding Duke Jordan and Junior Mance on piano, bassists Tommy Potter and Gene Wright and drummers Art Blakey,  "Papa" Jo Jones. And hey, guess who wrote the liner notes? Harvey Pekar. Plus phots by photos by Chuck Stewart, Herman Leonard and others. It’s cheap too. More here.

In celebration of Milestone Records' 40th Anniversary, Concord proudly announces the release of retrospective collections by five of the venerable label's most extraordinary artists - Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Jimmy Smith and Jimmy Scott. Orrin Keepnews founded Milestone in 1966 together with pianist/producer Dick Katz… The original dates were mostly produced by Orrin Keepnews and the compilations were assembled by Nick Phillips, Vice President, Jazz and Catalog A&R for the Concord Music Group, which acquired Milestone in 2004. Each collection also contains a bonus disc featuring an additional track from each of the five artists, along with one additional selection each by Flora Purim, Jim Hall & Ron Carter, and Hank Crawford & Jimmy McGriff. You can look them up here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Michael Goldfarb
Hometown: London, England
Comments: Eric, A last word on Lieberman refusing to bow out. In 1980, Jacob Javits lost the Republican primary to Al d'Amato. The Democrats had a strong liberal challenger for that senate seat: Elizabeth Holtzman. Javits refused to accept the will of his party's primary voters and glommed on to New York's Liberal Party nomination. It was abundantly clear that this would siphon votes from Holtzman but the aged and, as it turned out, terminally ill Javits could not put his ego aside. He stood on the Liberal Party ticket and, in a foreshadowing of Ralph Nader's role in the 2000 campaign took just enough votes away from Holtzman to get d'Amato elected.
There is no need to remind anyone of what that meant. Joe Lieberman is in a position to do similar damage ... even if the Republican candidate in Connecticut is not the rabid conservative that d'Amato was, in a whipped to a fare-thee-well Republican Senatorial caucus he can do much damage. The terrifying thing is that it seems that somewhere in Lieberman's heart of hearts (or ego of egos) he simply doesn't care.

Name: Rich W.
Hometown: Clarks Summit
Comments: Hey Eric, Here's an interesting article from the Washington Post's Peter Barker that was posted on the MSNBC website. A couple of quotes that really raise some eyebrows: 1. "The thought was having the presence of reporters (at fundraisers in a private home) would disrupt the intimacy of the events," said Ari Fleischer, who was then White House press secretary. That's a great line, 'the intimacy of the events'. I have images of 2 co-workers stealing moments together between meetings on a business trip. 2. Then there was this from C-SPAN's Steve Scully, president of the White House Correspondents' Association. 'Scully said he may raise the issue of closed fundraisers with Snow.
"As we move into the fall campaign, if this happens more often, we're going to put pressure on Tony and others to open these events," Scully said. "He is the president. He is traveling at government expense. . . . We should be in there to hear what he has to say." Question: Why isn't he putting pressure on him NOW? This is getting out of hand. I'm getting really sick about the media playing nice with the president, when it's clear to anyone with any sense that this is one of the most inept presidential administrations ever. Something needs to be done.


Name: Scott Schiefelbein
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Comments: Re: "18 writers whose opinions on the Middle East intelligent people can ignore . . ." I dunno - that list contains a lot of "elite" names. Gore Vidal! Harold Pinter! Shouldn't I venerate these "elite" names? Three Nobel Prize winners! Zeus's thunderbolts couldn't pack as much of a wallop as the thoughts dropping from the minds of these "elite thinkers"! Seems this little blurb epitomizes all my peeves about establishing someone as "elite." Why on earth should I care what Toni Morrison (for example) thinks about the Middle East? What relevant qualifications does she have? All I know about her is that she has written some well-received novels that I haven't read.
Yet her opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue get into The Nation, solely on name recognition. People always extend the qualifications of the "elite" too far. Joltin' Joe was an elite baseball player, but for some reason he lent "Mr. Coffee" a whole bunch of credibility. Similarly, the author of "Beloved" gets to have her views on the Middle East published even though there is no evidence of which I am aware that TM is more informed than anyone else. I like Cormac McCarthy's novels more than Gore Vidal's (although not by much). Should I therefore subscribe to his views on the Middle East over Vidal's? What particularly chafes my hind is that these 18 "elite" thinkers have bound themselves together, creating a little club of elitism.
It's clear by this list that it's not the quality of the opinions they hold that got them on this list, but their qualifications external to those opinions. Something leads me to suspect that if I, non-author of novels, dramas, or works of history that I am, shouted "I agree!" and tried to attach my name to the list, these 18 elites (or their agents) would have denied me the opportunity. Not "elite" enough of a thinker to qualify for admission. I guess I picked the wrong day to stop drinking coffee . . .

Name: Michael Terry
Hometown: Columbia, MO
Comments: I live in Columbia, Missouri, and the editor of our local paper is constantly being accused of being too big a fan of Bush by the local, vocal left. God, I love living in a college town. Anyway, he recently changed his picture to one of himself reading "What Liberal Media?" and looking shocked and appalled. See here: Cracked me up.


August 11, 2006 | 1:19 PM ET | Permalink

I have a new “Think Again,” called “An ‘Honest’ Failure,” here, a new “Liberal Media” column in The Nation, called “Neocon Dreams, American Nightmares,” here and a short comment in the Guardian’s “Comment is Free,” called “A question of attitude,” here.

Joe Lieberman asks, why do more than 60 percent of Americans hate America?

“We just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England,” Mr. Lieberman said at a campaign event in Waterbury, Conn. “It will strengthen them, and they will strike again.” More here.

Drafting Al Gore, here is the plan.

At Tomdispatch, Mark Levine offers a remarkable tour of political chaos theory in action in the Middle East.

He begins: "Perhaps the greatest illusion of any strategists, leaders, or generals is that they are in control -- and perhaps the most hubristic version of this illusion is the belief that they can use chaos itself to further their control, to strengthen their situation. Our world today reminds us constantly that you ride that tiger at your peril."  And ends:  "With George Bush still insisting on the need to fight 'Islamic fascism' to the bitter end, Labor Party Defense Minister Amir Peretz imploring Israeli soldiers to turn southern Lebanon "to dust," and Iran's Mahmud Ahmedinejad declaring the need to wipe Israel off the map, the hubris, arrogance, and utter disdain for human life that has brought the Middle East to its latest precipice continues to harden the hearts of leaders and peoples alike. And all will be the losers because of it."

In between is a tale of leadership folly -- American, Israeli, Lebanese, Iranian, Iraqi -- brought to us by people who think they control events that, in the end, are certain to outrun us all and who are, consequently, threatening to turn our world into rubble.

18 writers whose views on the Middle East conflict intelligent people can safely ignore, if they weren’t already. I particularly like the “makeshift missile” line, as if Syria and Iran were mom-and-pop firecracker companies.

But really Tomasky, with Marty, and Kristol, and 99 percent of the punditocracy on the case, does Tapped really need to publish a mini-Marty telling the world of mean old journalists to leave poor defenseless AIPAC alone. (You think the “mini-Marti” line unfair? Just who does this sound like: “A greater focus on exposing on combating the emergence of uncomprising Christianist zealotry on Israel would serve the left better than more pieces "exposing" the overestimated influence of groups like AIPAC.”) More here and here and here.

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine …

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Matt Taylor
GOP.com had posted a picture of Howard Dean in which they photoshopped in a Hitler moustache. They have now replaced that picture, but Chris Anderson of Interesting Times has located the original, and posted a clickable image that definitively proves the image was altered

Name: Rolf
Hometown: Cerritos, CA
To Jeff of Baltimore, MD: Party affiliation was not declared in the first three presidential elections. George Washington was distinctly opposed to political parties. The constitution did not assume political parties, the most peculiar evidence of which is the method it specifies for selecting a vice president, viz., the person winning the second most electoral votes. The authors plainly did not foresee the VP being from a different party than the president. It was only after the 1800 electoral debacle that the constitution was changed in this regard.

Name: David Simon
Hometown: New Haven, CT
You know, there really was a primary at which the Soul of the Party was at stake on Tuesday -- in Michigan, where an incumbent one tick to the left of Bush (that is to say an '80s vintage Republican) lost his spot on the ballot to an radical right guy about three giant steps to the right of Bush. Here was the opportunity to see whether the GOP's tent was big enough to accommodate a fellow who thought maybe "Arrest and Deport" doesn't make for an immigration policy. Even though the incumbent, Joe Schwarz voted the Bush line on virtually every misguided so-called security measure (and even though Bush actually endorsed Schwarz), the big party money (and the majority of the party activists' votes) went to the challenger. So in Connecticut, where at least half of the Lieberman voters oppose the war in Iraq, we see a party where renewal is possible (particularly if Joe decides that his legacy should be something other than that of New England's Robert Mugabe). From Michigan, we see what happens in that other party when the orthodoxy gets challenged. Concluding thought from the Michigan primary: Someone to the right of Bush (Frist? Delay?(!)) is going to go deep into the primaries, at the very least.

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield, MA
Leo Strauss was undoubtedly a very learned and intelligent man, but as an innovative philosopher, he was essentially a one-trick pony. He unreflectively applied a Heideggerian hermeneutical style to a variety of interesting topics that he often oversimplified as false opposites--Reason vs. Revelation, Ancient vs. Modern, Jerusalem vs. Athens, etc. Taken as a whole, it is unclear if his studies amount to a definitive coherent position, and he himself was reportedly modest about his achievements. But his elliptical treatment of seemingly provocative issues has made it easy for today's anti-Liberals to cherry-pick from them alleged principles, e. g. Moral Certitude, to suit their own political agenda. The ironic result is a form of Nihilism, seen plainly in the absence of a clear rationale for the Iraq invasion, that Strauss's own anti-Nihilist writings might not even recognize.

Name: Edward Furey
1972 is a really poor analogy if we're talking about a Congressional campaign in 2006. The Time Magazine cover story on the 1972 election featured Nixon with the caption: "The Lonely Landslide." Nixon won easily, but had no coattails. The Democrats won the Congressional elections equally easily; indeed, it would be 22 years before the Democrats, "weakened" by McGovern, would lose the House. After holding it for 40 years. They would lose the Senate in 1980, as the Reagan landslide swept in a collection of GOP turkeys, most of whom would be plucked in the 1986 Democratic landslide that regained the Senate.

August 10, 2006 | 1:08 PM ET | Permalink

It’s 1972 all over again or so Cokie, Broder, Marty, Jacob, Bill, Bob, Joe, are telling us. The Democrats blew it by endorsing a left wing “elitist” antiwar candidate who hated Middle America back then, and now are getting read to do the same. Here’s the thing, being a pundit makes you stupid. All these pundits supported the war, natch, and understand at some subliminal level, that they too are being rejected by the voters who blame Lieberman for trusting Bush and getting us into this horrific war. They reach for the nearest historical analogy they can find to bolster their argument and settle on 1972. Thing is, they understand very little of history, most of them having stopped reading anything but one another in college.

I wrote this in The Nation a while back, but it speaks to historical background of today’s situation, I think:

“At a recent conference on the Clinton Administration at Hofstra University, ex-press secretary Jake Siewart made a point that had previously eluded me: It was during the early days of Clinton's presidency that the democratization of instant information made the insider press corps obsolete. To retain their importance and self-regard, these journalists had to invent a new function for themselves, and they did: interpreting, not reporting, the news. But instead of doing the hard work of researching the historical, economic, sociological and political contexts of a given story and then finding a way to explain these in lay terms, they preferred to rely on what came most easily to them: cocktail party gossip, green room small talk, semiofficial leaks and unconfirmed rumor, almost always offered up as if the source had no interest in pushing a point of view.

"It soon became clear that the insider press corps had developed a set of values almost completely antithetical to those of the majority of the American people. This disjunction is frequently misinterpreted--often deliberately--as one of snooty liberal elitists versus God-fearing, Darwin-disbelieving, upright common folk. It's almost impossible to find reliable evidence for this characterization, either in what the press corps believes or what the public does. Ironically, the media elite are attacking themselves when they embrace this myth, which is purposely stoked by the far right…”

Back to today. The punditocracy argument about 1972, while dead wrong about McGovern himself, who was a brave, patriotic World War II hero form the South Dakota, has some validity, given whom he was perceived by voters to represent. The first serious historical research I ever did was when I was researching my honors thesis as an undergraduate. I wanted to study the origins of neoconservatism, the Six Day War, and Vietnam—this was back in 1981—and my adviser, Walter LaFeber—insisted that I learn a little context first by examining the attitudes of the entire country to the war and the antiwar movement. I poured over the polling data and found to my surprise, that in many ways, the antiwar movement was counterproductive. Many Americans didn’t like the war but they really hated the counterculture. If supporting Nixon was a way to get back at the hippies and protesters and rioters, they were willing to do it, even if it meant extending a war they thought to be already lost.

Now look at today. In the first place, as I keep saying, remember this is Connecticut. It’s blue, antiwar state. It’s not the whole damn country. But second, look at the context for God’s sake. There’s no antiwar movement to speak of, no riots, no marches, no one is burning their draft cards, preaching free love, wiping themselves with the flag, bussing your kids to ghetto schools or vice-versa, taking away your jobs, raising your taxes to give the money to rioting race-baiting Black Panthers, etc. Our Lady of the Magic Dolphin, insists that the people who originally inspired the Lamont campaign, “The Kos crowd is viewed by most people outside that crowd as hate-fueled, bitter and stupid--the devil's flying monkeys making their "Eeek! Eeek!" sounds” here.
Methinks Peggy’s been nipping at the sherry a mite too frequently. The only Abbie Hoffman/Jerry Rubin types are on the right and when they’re not hosting Fox News programs, they are being called “brilliant” by Chris Matthews on MSNBC. So the upshot we are left with is that Connecticut Democrats picked a candidate whose positions are consistent with the majority and rejected one whose are not. And yet that, we are told is somehow the “elitist” position that will destroy the Democrats with a public that largely agrees with them.  In other words, the analogy fails completely upon the slightest scrutiny.

In that regard, take a look at this from TP: "It's an unfortunate development, I think, from the standpoint of the Democratic Party, to see a man like Lieberman pushed aside because of his willingness to support an aggressive posture in terms of our national security strategy,'' said VP Cheney. Al-Qaida is "betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task." White House spokesman Tony Snow put it more succinctly, "A white flag [in Iraq] in short means a white flag in the war on terror." Josh does a good job on demonstrating how the mainstream media are repeating the right-wing McCarthyite talking points of the Bush Administration. What is so damn ironic about this of course, is the fact that the invasion of Iraq was a present to Al Qaeda, a never-ending recruitment video for them, to say nothing of the fact that the administration’s obsessive focus on it is what allowed Bin Laden and his lieutenants to get away. Peter Wallerstein details these talking points in the L.A. Times:
"Republicans also sought to use the Lieberman loss as an opportunity to drive wedges in the Democratic base — following White House advisor Karl Rove's strategy of energizing conservatives while trying to make certain Democratic voters question whether they should vote with their party...."

"The Republican response Wednesday was highly coordinated, tightly matching a set of GOP talking points distributed to activists and strategists. The effort also paralleled an internal strategy memo, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, that laid out the party's intent to mobilize its base for the election by highlighting Bush's actions in Iraq and the notion that Democrats were weak in their approach to 'foreign threats.'" Boehlert has more.

PS. I hear the British terrorists were going to call this off if Joe had won his primary, what with American showing its “strength” and all. Damn you, Connecticut primary voters….

Ever wondered how to get a gig as a high-powered political consultant in demand by the mainstream media? Tim from The Road to Serfdom explains: 

“Here’s some really bad news for Joe Lieberman’s chances as an Independent Senate candidate: Dick Morris thinks he can win. In the general election, Lieberman can paint Lamont (a former client of mine) as the rich, light-weight dilettante he is (heir to the fortune of J.P. Morgan’s partner) and can focus on the broad range of his legislative agenda. After all, Lieberman has taken the lead on issues ranging from campaign-finance reform to tobacco regulation to corporate-governance reform to tough action against terrorism to the battle against global warming. He’ll look better and better, whilxe Lamont will look like a one-issue challenger who is out of his league.
"Morris, in case you don’t know, has a pretty bad record of prediction (Google it), though, as you’ll see, he also has a pretty good record of prediction too. Depends on what day you read him.
"For instance there was this one from a little while back about Lieberman’s chances in the primary he just lost:
“[Lamont] need not be taken very seriously. Lieberman is not vulnerable and a primary will only make him that much stronger (assuming Ned even gets on the ballot).”

Bummer. But fear not, there was also this Morris prediction about Lieberman’s chances, in which he does much better:
Senator and former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman will lose the Democratic primary in Connecticut, political strategist Dick Morris predicts.

The unfortunate thing about this was that at the same time, he also said this about Lieberman:…if Lieberman then runs in the general election as an independent, he will be “so crippled” by his defeat in the August 8 primary, and his Democratic opponent Ned Lamont “so empowered,” that Lieberman will lose the general election as well and give up his seat in the Senate, says Morris.

Which bring us back to d’oh and the Morris prediction that I kicked off this post with.”

(Coming soon from Hasbro: The Weisberg/Peretz Perpetual Conventional Wisdom Machine… with interchangeable parts. [To be fair, I could have used Broder or Cokie or the Post editors or Kristol or Kagan, etc. Michael Barone would have been just as easy: “He writes that he Democratic Party wants to "stand aside" from the global struggle against "Islamofascist terrorism." He also uses the presence of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton by Lamont's side on Tuesday to suggest that the Democratic Party is "not necessarily on the side of Israel."]

Meanwhile, over at TomDispatch, Mr. Engelhardt considers the Bush administration's urge to overcome, via anti-proliferation wars, the "nuclear taboo" that has, since August 10, 1945, restrained American presidents and the leaders of other powers in the "nuclear club" from turning such weapons into useable parts of their military arsenals. Since its Nuclear Posture Review of 2002, the Bush administration has been playing with the "nuclear option," most recently (as Seymour Hersh has reported) as a possible way to take out Iranian nuclear facilities.
He concludes:"Nuclear weapons as anti-nuclear-proliferation devices; anti-proliferation wars as a way to end the 'nuclear taboo' and open the door to the ordinary use of such weaponry -- talk about diabolical. As in Lebanon, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, so in its nuclear policy, the only thing the Bush administration seems capable of doing is exporting ruins to the rest of the world. In this sense, it has offered the world a model drawn directly from the charnel house of nuclear policy which began on a clear day over Hiroshima sixty-one years ago and has never ended."

This just in: The New York Dolls at the South Street Seaport, free, next Friday.

Altercation Book Club:

“What is a Straussian?” from Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism by Steven B. Smith.  

Once when I was in graduate school, at a party where there was probably way too much to drink, a friend of mine—now by coincidence a prominent attorney in New Haven—was asked if he was a Straussian. “If you mean by that do I regard everything that Leo Strauss ever wrote as true,” he replied, “then, yes, I am a Straussian.”  We all laughed because my friend’s answer so perfectly captured and parodied the common view of Straussianism. The question, am I a Straussian, is something I have been asked on more than one occasion over the years.  Sometimes the question seems prompted by nothing more than the idle desire to know what Straussianism means. At other times it has the vague character of an “are you now or have you ever been . . .” kind of accusation. In any case the question has caused me to think about what it is to be a Straussian.

The first point I would make about Straussianism is that it is not all of a single piece. There is rather a set of common problems or questions that characterize Strauss’s work: for example, the difference between ancients and moderns, the quarrel between philosophy and poetry, and of course the tension between reason and revelation. None of these problems can be said to have a priority over the others nor do they cohere in anything as crude as a system.  Whatever may be alleged, there is hardly a single thread that runs throughout these different interests. Strauss did not bequeath a system, doctrine, or an “ism,” despite what may be attributed to him. Rather, he presented a distinctive way of asking questions or posing problems that may have been loosely related but that scarcely derived from a single Archimedean point of view. It is questions that motivate all of Strauss’s writings—questions like “Is reason or revelation the ultimate guide to life?” “Has the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns been decided in favor of modernity?” and “Are the philosophers or the poets better educators of civic life?”  The point of Strauss’s questions is less to provide answers than to make us aware of certain alternatives. In the age-old debate, he was probably more a fox than a hedgehog.

There are many different kinds of Straussians with many and varied interests and perspectives. Some Straussians have devoted themselves entirely to ancient philosophy, while others work on postmodernism; some are deeply religious, while others are proudly secular; some think about politics and policy-making, while others delve into the deepest problems of Being. This diversity reflects, to some degree, the variety of Strauss’s own interests. Strauss’s writings range from studies of the ancient political philosophy of Thucydides, Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle, to the Judeo-Arabic writers of the Middle Ages, to such early modern political thinkers as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke, to late 19- and early 20-century figures like Nietzsche, Weber, and Heidegger, to issues regarding the philosophy of history, hermeneutics, and the nature of the social sciences. In each of these areas Strauss made notable and lasting contributions that are still widely discussed today.

Few people—one might have to go back to Hegel—have written with as much authority on so wide a range of philosophical, literary, and historical topics. Precisely because Strauss’s work covers such a broad landscape, there is not one way of being a Straussian. In fact there are considerable differences among his heirs over precisely what is most valuable in his legacy. Strauss regarded himself as taking the first tentative steps toward the reawaking of substantive interest in the permanent or fundamental problems of political philosophy at a time when it was widely argued that political philosophy was dead.[i]  More than this, he expanded the repertoire of political philosophy to include a large number of previously neglected thinkers and topics. The major textbooks of his era made no reference to any of the medieval Judeo-Arabic writers or even to the works of the American founders. Strauss’s work treated the American founding as an important philosophical moment in the development of modernity and even encouraged a reconsideration of the ideas of philosophically minded statesmen like Jefferson, Lincoln, and Wilson. His work also inspired a serious engagement with the work of African-American political thinkers from Fredrick Douglass to W.E.B. DuBois to Martin Luther King, Jr. at a time when their writings received little formal recognition in the academy.[ii]  None of this, however, gets us any closer to an understanding of what a Straussian is.

For more, go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Comments: In our form of government, it is the responsibility of the opposing party to OPPOSE. Joe Lieberman's fall amongst Connecticut Democrats was NOT that he agrees with the Republicans on the Iraq war and their policy of preemptive strikes against other nations; he is allowed his opinion and vote accordingly. But, did he have to get up in front of the Senate time and time again and denounce his own party? He very easily could have stayed in the background, voted his conscience and still won yesterday's primary as a centrist Democrat. His own ego was his downfall. Before his switch, Jim Jeffords certainly didn't denounce the Republicans as often (or as loudly) as Joe denounced the Dems. As a Texan, I feel comfortable in saying to Joe, "Don't shoot the folks what brung ya." Democrats are united on the fact we must oppose the Bush Administration, even if we're not united on how exactly to do that (listening to Americans is a good start).

Name: Jeff
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
Comments: Regarding Rick Gerwin's post about withdrawl from Iraq. He writes "imagine what would happen if we packed up and left immediately." What would happen immediately is what would happen if we left in a year or two years. In fact, what would happen is what's already happening. Civil war. We simply can't achieve our goals there. Here's why. American democracy sprung from a unique combination of historical, cultural, geographical and religious factors. American democracy simply can't work in other parts of the world because those conditions don't exist. A form of government arises organically. It can't be imposed from above. As I mentioned in a previous post, most Russians want Communism back. The best description of the political situation there is that they are awaiting their next dictator. (I think he's arrived.) Despite their parliamentary government the British still have a royal family. In the movie Braveheart William Wallace cries out "Freedom!" as he's being eviscerated. But what did freedom mean to him? The Scots chafed under English rule. Their definition of freedom was to be ruled by a Scottish king. We assume that everyone wants what we have.
But it's just plain ignorant to think we, with our 200+ year history, can impose our value system on a region that has been at war for thousands of years. There are other democratic countries in the world, but they're all different, whether it's Iceland, Costa Rica or Australia. And there's the question of whether the American form of government truly is a democracy, when our president is quite openly trying to assume powers that should belong to the legislative and judicial branches. As for his assertion that "I find it hard to believe that our fore-fathers designed our government with a strictly two-party format in mind," I would urge him to take a refresher course in colonial history. We need not wonder what they had "in mind," we merely need to look at what actually happened.
There were two political parties, which formed around the starkly different political philosophies of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. The Republicans party (who evolved into the Democrats of today) took their cues from Jefferson, who believed in an agrarian society with a weak federal government. Hamilton and the Federalists wanted a stronger federal government which would copy England's financial model. It was a philosophical battle for nothing less than the soul of the nation. The best example of the ferocity of the dispute is the duel in which sitting Vice President Aaron Burr mortally wounded Hamilton, a former treasury secretary general. So not only was there a two-party system during the nation's founding, the differences between them were even greater than today.

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

[i] See Isaiah Berlin, “Does Political Theory Still Exist?” in Concepts and Categories, ed. Henry Hardy (New York: Viking Press, 1979), 143-72.

[ii] Herbert J. Storing, ed. What Country Have I? Political Writings by Black Americans (New York: Saint Martin’s, 1970). 

August 9, 2006 | 12:38 PM ET | Permalink

Um, who was it that first suggested Time hire Josh Marshall? I don’t know if they have, but this piece turns out to have been a good assignment  which turns out to be a good thing because it saves me the trouble of writing this:

“Lieberman got in trouble because he let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom and A-list punditry. He flattered them; and they loved him back. And as part of that club he was part of the delusion and denial that has sustained our enterprise in Iraq for the last three years. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, A-List D.C. pundits were writing columns portraying Lieberman's possible defeat as some sort of cataclysmic event that might foreshadow a dark new phase in American politics — as though voters choosing new representation were on a par with abolishing the constitution or condoning political violence. But those breathless plaints only showed how disconnected they are from what's happening in the country at large. They mirrored his disconnection from the politics of the moment.

The polls tell us the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular, three-term senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington D.C. is too.

They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either. “

I’m growing increasingly obsessed with the almost perfectly crazy use of “elitist” in our political culture. In the first place, I have no problem with genuine elitism. A society of 300 million people requires elites to help it function. It couldn’t possibly do otherwise. The problem with our elite is that, to put it gently, they’re a bunch of jerks.  On the one hand, whenever their power is slightly challenged, they act like a bunch seventh-grade “Heathers.”

This is from What Liberal Media:

The elite media’s attitude toward the Clintons appeared akin to be that of Old Money (or power) toward some Ozark hick who failed to pay proper heed to their superior social grace and aristocratic breeding. As David Broder would later explain to the famed Georgetown hostess and sometime reporter, Sally Quinn, "He came in here and he trashed the place, and it's not his place." Other pundits made similar points. "We have our own set of village rules," says David Gergen, editor at large at U.S. News & World Report, who worked for both the Reagan and Clinton White House. "We all live together, we have a sense of community, there's a small-town quality here. We all understand we do certain things, we make certain compromises. But when you have gone over the line, you won't bring others into it. That is a cardinal rule of the village. You don't foul the nest. "This is a community in all kinds of ways," insisted Ms. Roberts, whose husband was a pundit, whose parents both served in Congress and whose brother is a high-powered corporate lobbyist.  "When something happens everybody gathers around. . . . It's a community of good people involved in a worthwhile pursuit. We think being a worthwhile public servant or journalist matters."[*]

The only problem with their analysis was that 68 percent of the country disagreed, and the Democrats were swept to victory in 1998.

Now both Roberts and Broder—both of whom should have retired decades ago—are using the term “elitist” to apply to the majority of Connecticut Democratic primary voters. The views they characterize as “elitist,” however, according to the most recent New York Times/CBS poll here are supported as follows:

62 percent disapprove of President Bush's handling of the war, while only 32 percent approve.
63 percent think the war with Iraq was not "worth the loss of American life and other costs" while only 30 percent think it was.
57 percent think things are going very or somewhat badly for U.S. "efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq" while only 41 percent think things are going very or somewhat well.
53 percent think "Iraq will probably never become a stable democracy" while only 4 percent think it will occur in the "next year or two."
56 percent think the U.S. should "set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," compared to 40 percent who oppose such a timetable.
72 percent think the Iraq war has made the United States' image in the world worse, 69 percent think it has hampered U.S. diplomatic efforts, and 41 percent think continued U.S. presence in Iraq makes the region less stable; only 25 percent think it makes the region more stable.

Their use of the word “elitism” is therefore perfectly Orwellian.  Too bad so many good people will die and lose their limbs in support of it.

And since Cynthia McKinney got clobbered on the same night, while In Michigan, Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-MI) went down to defeat at the hands of former former State Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI). The moderate Rep. Schwarz, who supports embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights while opposing a ban on same-sex marriage, was targeted by the anti-tax Club for Growth, why aren’t we getting a bunch of headlines reading “Democrats return to the sensible center while Republicans go even further nuts (if possible.)" and here.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t picked up Geoff Nunberg's book, you should. In this absolute must-read of a book, which will, of course, be ignored by the entire Washington press corps, he informs us that even in allegedly "liberal" papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, liberals are “four times as likely as conservatives to be described as ‘unapologetic’ or ‘unabashed.’
It’s hardly surprising, Nunberg notes, that on Fox News viewers hear references to the “liberal elite” fifty times as often as say, “business elite.”[†] But turn on allegedly "liberal" CNN  or any major newspaper and you’ll find that the use of “media elite” outnumbers business elite by 2 or 3 to 1. (In the British press, these figures are reversed, much as they had been during the 1970s and 1980s when, as Nunberg points out, is when the right's campaign against the "elite liberal media" went into high gear. The word “values” has been similarly hijacked by right-wingers, again, even when used by mainstream—allegedly liberal—reporters. In the Washington Times, owned by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, you’ll find references to “conservative values” seven times as frequently as “liberal values. But in the Washington Post, the ratio hardly much better—at four to one.

[*] Sally Quinn, “NOT IN THEIR BACK YARD: In Washington, That Letdown Feeling,” The Washington Post, November 02 1998, E1

[†] On Fox News broadcasts since 1996, Nunberg calculates, elite has occurred within two words of media 363 times, and within two words of Hollywood 44 times. The figures for business and financial, by contrast, are 6 and 0. In broadcasts, of course, a number of these mentions of the media elite came from remarks by conservative interviewees.  But what matters from the standpoint of influencing the language is most important thing is the raw frequency of use, and it's significant that there's little corresponding use of phrases like business elite by liberal guests. And the proportions are pretty much the same when you look at Google Groups postings, for example, where media elite and elite media and the like outnumber the corresponding phrases with business by 4 to 1.

----------

Being a genuine liberal elitist, I am not one for by-the-numbers “diversity,” but as I was clicking on this site last night, I kept wondering, do these people really look like Connecticut? I mean, they don’t even look like Yale, much less New Haven…

Too funny, Marty thinks that Connecticut hangs on his Wall Street Journal mutterings; or at least he thinks it necesssary to say he doesn’t think so, which of course means he thinks it does, or should. I dunno. Read it if you care about the storied history of liberalism’s flagship journal, weep.

Um, I seem to remember Mickey having a great deal to say about what a catastrophe it was to allow Oliver Stone to direct a 9/11 movie, because he would undoubtedly take the side of the terrorists, or at least of the crazy conspiracy-mongers. Anything to say about it today, Mr. Mickster?

Over at TomDispatch, independent reporter Dahr Jamail had just landed in Syria on his latest journalistic travels when the new round of war between Israel and Hezbollah began. He has since journeyed through parts of devastated Lebanon and now offers a striking overview both of events in that country and what they look like from Damascus (a place we seldom hear much from or about). He offers a portrait of a region in which in which the shouting as well as the shooting "might reach previously inconceivable decibels and nobody will be listening."  He concludes in part:
"Arab leaders continue to earn the scorn of their populations for not putting their all into stopping the Israeli campaign against Lebanon. Meanwhile, Hezbollah appears committed to doing so until the very end -- and, based on what I saw in my days in Lebanon, that "end" of mutual destruction seems all that is left on the minds of those involved. The Israelis, over-valuing the technology of war and, in particular, of air power (as so many have done before them), began their campaign against Lebanon by using perfectly real bombs and missiles to achieve largely psychological ends -- the humiliation of Hezbollah in the eyes of the Lebanese population. As it turns out, they have indeed changed the psychology of Lebanon -- and possibly of the region. Just not in ways they ever imagined."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Comments: Eric-- Bob Kagan's clarification still implies that Gore as VP was in favor of a war with Iraq. How, then, does he explain the Clinton administration's rebuff to the PNAC gang who proposed to the Clinton White House that they topple Saddam Hussein. Is Kagan suggesting that Gore agreed with the PNAC-ers and disagreed with the administration policy? That won't wash.
Gore was and is too smart, too worldly, to fall for that idiotic policy. As a candidate for VP, Gore was directly critical of the Reagan arm sales crimes in Iran-Contra as well as the Reagan involvement in arming Iraq--you know, all those WMDs that were eliminated in the 1990s, but for which the Bush administration insisted we must invade Iraq. Kagan's disingenuousness has no bounds.

Name: Rick Gerwin
Hometown: Lisle IL
Comments: I have grown increasingly impatient with statements like that from David from Houston, who claim to be "independents", and take the attitude that Democrats need to "work on something that I can agree with". Yo, David, why don't YOU come up with something to share with the class. Stop standing on the sidelines.
The Democratic party is big enough and diverse enough to take in a lot of different ideas. What do you stand for? While you "examine" the nominees, remember this: The administration's record of dishonesty, incompetence, corruption, and criminal behavior is as well-documented as any in history, yet the Republican party has marched lockstep with the Bush administration for the past 5+ years.
We often joke about election choices being "the lesser of two evils", but it is no joke this November. There is only one evil, and it controls the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government. You can vote for change, even if you might find it "uninspiring" or you can vote to continue the evil. That's a real choice, and if that doesn't motivate you, then maybe you should stay home.
Hometown: Michael
Comments: As a registered Independant,I, too, agree with David from Houston regarding Susie's ignorance concerning Independants. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with members of both of our parties regularly. I find it hard to believe that our fore-fathers designed our government with a strictly two-party format in mind. This country is long overdue for a new movement that won't be subject to (at least for a little while)the petty political bickering that has enveloped Washington. Nothing productive gets done by either party. Postering and more postering is all I see from our esteemed representatives- from both parties.
Republicans are screwing everything up, says the Democrat. Well, thank you very much Captain Obvious, now instead of complaining about it, try to offer some suggestions to fix it. Anyone can point out mistakes, it takes quite a bit more than that to get my vote. Why do you think the democrats have not won a presidential election in two terms. The candidates and their platforms are not convincing.
No one likes a whiner. To simply say "We need to pull our troops out of Iraq immediately" is obviously not going to work. The power vaccum would be immediate and immense. You think it looks like civil war there now, imagine what would happen if we packed up and left immediately. That would truely be irresponsible. It is our responsibility for the present state of affairs in Iraq, and likewise, our responsibility to make it better. How about a real, workable plan instead of the typical democrat response of "We should never have gone there anyway."
Agree or disagree with that statement, it is moot. We are there, we need to get out, and we need to formulate a plan to do it. It will take the work of both parties together to figure this out. I for one think it is long past due for another party to move in with new ideas that are not tied to this political interest group or that lobbying organization. And who are not forced to express their views based solely on political party lines

Name: David Shaffer
Hometown: Harleysville, PA
Comments: Doc - To answer the question posed by Luke from Nesconset, NY, What's wrong with being an elitist? Luke, you gave an excellent description of what an elitist is. Now, if you think about that description, and think about who's running the country, it should be glaringly obvious why the R's would sneer at being an elitist. If they didn't "accept a shoddy effort, sloven inefficiency, or drab incompetence", Dubya wouldn't be president - he'd be the assistant manager at the Midland 7/11.

Name: William Johnson
Hometown: Middleville, MI
Comments: Dr. Alterman While I don't disagree, calling President Bush the worst president of the century is perhaps too early to do so. The 21st Century started Jan. 01, 2001. President Clinton only served 19 days of the 21st Century, and wasn't doing much. Ergo, we can also call President Bush the best president of the century, or at least 2nd best. History will hopefully prove you correct and we won't have another one this bad again.

Name: Roger H. Werner
Hometown: Stockton, California
Comments: Eric, On the matter of atrocities committed by the US military during Vietnam I would like to relate this story. In 1971, I was attending a New England liberal arts college. I was living in a small dormitory with perhaps 25 other men one of whom was a transfer from other school by the name of Jeff. Jeff was a really nice fellow: Quiet, friendly, always smiling and laughing; in short, the kind of guy who was plain nice to be around. Jeff lived alone on the third floor of our small dormitory. One night the entire dorm woke up to a terrifying series of screams. I lived at the foot of the stairs to the third floor, and, along with two of my close friends, was on the third floor while the screaming continued. We opened the door to Jeff's room and he was lying in his bed drenched in sweat, bug-eyed, and paralyzed with fear. Jeff was immensely powerful and he began to flail at the air with his hands.
It took the three of us along with several other volunteers to hold him down to prevent him from hurting himself. He eventually collapsed into a sobbing heap. Once the ruckus ended, most of the guys left but I along with one other fellow, a man who after 35 years is still my closest friend, remained behind to make sure Jeff remained calm. It didn't take long for Jeff to return to normal and he began to talk, to spill his guts.
This event happened 35 years ago and I can recall it as if it happened last week. Jeff's story flabbergasted me. Jeff was an officer in Army intelligence and for a year it was his duty to interrogate VC prisoners. This was his method of interrogation. He would take four prisoners aloft in a Huey and fly east over the South China Sea for an hour or so. The Huey then hovered at approximately 5,000 ft. Jeff and two enlisted men would take the first prisoner and walk him to the open door on the side of the chopper. They didn't bother to ask the first prisoner any questions but merely tossed him out the door. They then took the next prisoner in line and offered him a chance to save his life. Each prisoner was then given the opportunity to talk.
When the interrogation was over, each of the three remaining prisoners was thrown out of the helicopter. Jeff said he undertook this ritual several times a week for about a year and he wasn't the only officer doing it. VC prisoners were not treated as POWs but as insurgents and irregulars not subject to the Geneva Convention. Rather innocently, I asked Jeff about his nightmares.
He told me that he could clearly see the faces of every man he killed; they would surround his bed at night and stare at him. He wasn't sure what they wanted but he was convinced it was something. He wasn't sure he could live with these nightmares for long. Jeff did not return the following year. Anyone who befriended a returning Vietnam veteran right after their tour of duty ended and before the rose colored glass had a chance to tint their vision of the war, could perhaps tell similar stories. Veterans were of course reluctant to speak about such horrors but many did so.
Of course, My Lai wasn't the only atrocity during the Vietnam era; they were all too common. I suppose one can draw a distinction between killing VC and women and children but frankly I cannot see much difference: A life is a life and murder is murder. In my opinion, the real atrocity of war is the fiction that it can be fought without atrocities. To win a war it is often necessary to dehumanize your adversaries and once that happens it becomes a little easier to kill them and if women and children die they may be chalked up to regrettable tragedy.
I believe if there is anything dirtier than a dirty war it is a sanitized one where one side never sees the true ugliness of murder and mayhem on a mass scale. Anyone who thinks war is ever a grand notion should be compelled to fight and wouldn't it be wonderful if the damn fool leaders who start wars in the first place were compelled to finish them personally. I suspect we might have a lot less war if this were to occur.

Name: Charles Hinton
Hometown: Satellite Beach, Fl
Comments: I would like to add to Col Bateman's observation about recognizing the culture of military people. One of the reasons the services don't get along is they don't speak the same language. For example, if you told navy personnel to "secure a building" they would turn off the lights and lock the doors Army personnel would occupy the building so no one could enter. Marines would assault the building, capture it, and defend it with suppressive fire and close combat. The Air Force on the other hand would take out a three year lease with an option to buy.

August 8, 2006 | 12:08 PM ET | Permalink

The hysteria of the pro-Lieberman forces is a (joyful) wonder to behold. William Kristol says Connecticut Democratic voters who don’t support him are "anti-American ($)."  Broder, Cokie, Marty, Kagan and the Post editors all demonstrate a similar commitment to a man who has crossed party lines and insulted the patriotism of his own party in order to embrace the disastrous policies of America's worst president of the century, possibly ever.
By Kristol’s definition, the only "pro-American" policy is one that gets our young men and women killed for no good reason (and plenty of awful ones). The only "anti-Elitist" position is one that is rejected by a majority of Americans, even after they have been subjected to five years of lies and the world’s most sophisticated propaganda techniques. If Ned Lamont's campaign exposes nothing more than the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of America's political class, he can say "Dayanu" ("It would have been enough").

But that’s not why I’m taking up this space I originally allotted to Bateman. Rather, I was inspired by Lani Davis' ridiculous op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, here ($). Davis, a Lieberman partisan, quotes a bunch of anonymous commentators in the response pages of various Kos and Huffpo to declare, "Mr. Lamont and all other liberal Democrats should remember the McCarthy era and not fall into the trap of the hypocrisy of the double standard -- that it's not OK when Ann Coulter dispenses her venomous hatred, but it is OK when our side's versions of Ann Coulter do."

Good God, man, can you really be that stupid? Look bub. Ann Coulter is the honored guest of NBC News, CNN and like her fellow haters, and hysterical fantacists, Rush Limbaugh, Jonah Goldberg, David Horowitz, Andrew Sullivan, etc., a mainstay of MSM discourse and Republican attack-style politics. There is simply no corollary on the other side; not Michael Moore, who is after all a filmmaker and who pays a great deal more attention to truth than any of the above -- even though his politics are well to the left of mine. Not Noam Chomsky, whose politics I hate but who can document most of what he says, however wrong-headed. Perhaps Alexander Cockburn is comparable. Perhaps Ward Churchill. But certainly not a bunch of anonymous commentators on blogs.

If you want to compare those to say, the posters on Free Republic, who lamented that Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy couldn't be on Paul Wellstone’s plane, or the people who threatened to kill the members of Florida's Supreme Court, well, then, that would be reasonable. But  just look at the marginality of these morons compared to the centrality of the Ann Coulter's. What's more, no Americans are dying in Iraq right now because of the deliberate distortions and mean-spirited character attacks of any liberals or left-wingers.

Would that any of Liberman's supporters and pro-war right-wingers could say the same.

Correspondence Corner

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Dateline: Capitol Hill, DC

The Pentagon is a huge place.  It is difficult to overstate this. Roughly 26,000 people work in this building, about half, maybe even two-thirds of whom are civilians.  I am told that it is the largest office building in the world.  It has a huge parking lot.  The other day I walked across that vast expanse.

"Rank Has Its Privileges" used to mean something in the military.  While the overwhelming majority of those privileges disappeared over, roughly, the past sixty years, one remains in full force. At the Pentagon, as is the case in most of America, Rank = Parking Proximity.

A Muldoon like me (Majors and Lieutenant Colonels are the worker bees in the Pentagon) is relegated to parking upwards of half a mile away from the building. Though  I usually take the Metro, sometimes events dictate that I drive.  So it was that I found myself walking across the parking acreage a little while ago, heading for a distant point.

The walkway through the "A" lot was stuffed with the cars of senior civilians, Colonels, and Generals.  These are people who can afford the car that they want, as opposed to one which they need.  They are older, their kids are usually grown, and they have more disposable income.  Spotting a hot late-model Corvette just ahead of me, I made an idle internal bet and then laughed out loud when it proved to be true.  Walking just beside me was another mid-grade officer. He looked quizzically towards me.

"Vette," I said, jerking my thumb towards it as we passed, “I saw it and knew it had to be a fighter-pilot’s.”  He smiled, but did not see the connection.  I pointed down to the license plate. It said, “ChekSix,” which is common fighter-pilot slang for “look behind you.” He then chuckled a little himself, and we fell into step. A few car-lengths ahead I noticed another distinctive vehicle.  It was a brand new example of the epitome of German engineering. A sedan, to be sure, but one with such clean lines that it was in its own way, a work of art.

“Bet?” I asked.

“Yea, sure.”

“Naval Surface Warfare. Has to be.”

He nodded, but shot back with, “Could be a submariner.”

“Hmmmm, yea, maybe.”

A few steps later I was two-for-two. The blue DoD sticker in the windshield showed that he was an officer.  The vanity plate, reading “DDG___” and three numbers (I won’t say which three), gave it away.  In Navy parlance every individual craft has an alpha-numeric code. The letter codes for submarines are SSN or SBN, while surface ships have a whole range of letters: CVN for Carriers, BB for the now-retired battleships, CG for Cruisers, etc.  DD is the code for Destroyer-type ships. It was worth a laugh, and now the game was on.

Large mud-spattered four-wheel drive off-road type complete with twigs still stuck in the brush-guard from battering through some undergrowth?  Has to be a Marine.

Small hyper-fast European sports car? Naval aviator, for sure.

One after the other we nailed the car to the owner. Sometimes we had to peek into a window to confirm the identity of the owner, but by the end of the parking lot, we had not missed a one.

I am not a car guy. Except for a few distinctive models, I generally cannot tell one particular model from another. But I recognize that in our society, for a lot of people, their car is an extension of self. Tagging the different makes and models to particular elements of the military was therefore easy, because all you had to do was match the particular style of the vehicle to the sub-culture of the military most likely to own it. And our sub-cultures are, without a doubt, distinct.  Different personalities choose different services, and since the end of the draft, this self-selection process has served to reinforce already extant predilections.  Thus, Naval surface officers will gravitate towards the highly-engineered and reliable, Air Force fighter-pilots buy sports cars, Marines worship off-road trucks, etc.

Is this a deep revelation? No, not really. But there is substance behind this shallow observation.  It may help readers to understand how very different some of the cultures within the military actually are, one from the other.  From this it becomes easier to understand how different services understand conflict differently, and why they have different doctrines relating to war.  Those who fly (or who have flown) high-performance combat jets generally espouse one vision for what “War” means.  Theirs is usually a conceptualization which revolves around targets, and the effects one may expect when one blows up those targets.  Because technology is their enabling factor, they tend to focus upon the destruction of the technology of the enemy.  Conversely, those who live and fight on the ground, who interact with people, see war as a human endeavor.  Technology, for many in the Army and Marines, is just the tool. The human being is the actual “weapon” and also the objective.   

The best book on this topic is The Masks of War. It was written by the late Carl H. Builder back in the late 80s. At the service-cultural level, nothing much has really changed since then.  Over the past couple of weeks several people wrote and asked me for recommended books. This, I suggest, would be a good place to start as the dynamics which Builder describes, while not universal, are broadly useful in understanding not just the US military, but many the behaviors of many different military forces around the world. You can find the book here.

In unrelated news, I notice that Reuters fired one of their stringer photographers for doctoring up a photo. See that here.

Mr. Weldon’s comments (see Letters, last Slacker Friday ) with regard to the propaganda efforts of the Kuwaiti government which hired the PR firm Hill & Knowlton to convince the United States to go to war on their behalf is, indeed, a classic case of propaganda.  I am less convinced by his association of Army recruiting ads as classic propaganda, as they do not espouse a political point of view or recommended political action, and are by the measures I suggested, mere marketing.  The Army is always recruiting, that does not change depending upon the international or domestic events. Unless Mr. Weldon is contending that all advertisements to join any service throughout American history, in peacetime or war, is propaganda, I fail to see his point.  

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


Name: Luke
Hometown: Nesconset, NY

I never quite understood the use of the word "elitist" as a slur. Is appreciating and championing productivity, integrity, professionalism, worth and value a negative? If it's elitist to expect the most out of people, to promote and support quality worksmanship, to enjoy getting things done and to laud the people who can do things cleanly and perfectly with no problems, then I wish we had more of them around. Republicans use the term "elitist" like a derogatory insult, but truth be known being an elitist is a good thing. It means you request the best in yourself and the best in others. That you don't accept a shoddy effort, sloven inefficiency, or drab incompetence. That you fight the movement to water down your fun, and that you refuse to accept an existence that bores the hell out of you. The elitists of this world are the tent poles of progress, propping up achievement and pushing the arts, sciences, culture, music, and the human condition to forever best itself in all avenues of creativity. Without elitists, the tent falls, flattened into the ground of ridiculously tepid, safe, boring mediocrity. It's the elitists who express early desires for higher standards in every capacity of life. It's the elitists who put every interesting genre of music you've ever heard on the map, who've established every untouchable sports record, who write books that continue to sell long after the author is dead, who've put men on the moon, cars on the roads, and your computer in front of you. Without elitists, everything that's wrong and inane with life will run unchecked. Without elitists, we, as an interesting species, are truly screwed. Let the Republicans call us elitist all they want, and if that's the case, then so be it. But let me honestly ask you: What's so wrong with being elitist?

Name: Greg Grant
Hometown: Columbus, OH

The good news - Representative Bob Ney, premier Abramoff crony, has decided not to run. The bad news is that the person tabbed to run instead is Ohio State Senator Joy Padgett, a shameless character assassin. Please tell your readers the story of how Joy Padgett smeared Terry Anderson in 2004 (Google both names and you'll find several good articles). Yes, she accused that Terry Anderson, the one who was a hostage in Lebanon for so many years, of being soft on terrorism in her last race. Like the rest of her crooked party in Ohio, she has no shame. People ought to know.

Name: David Sass
Hometown: Houston, TX

Susie, I am fiercely independent and always paying attention. Problem is that for every neo-con idiot out there, there is an equally stupid liberal right behind. I tired of corrupt democrats in the 80's. The Contract with America taught me republicans are equally corrupt. Clinton's morals disappointed me greatly and Bush has me scared to freakin' death of what he will do next. I would appreciate it if you would not insult me just because I plan to take my time and carefully examine both pathetic party nominees before wishing my neighbor's dog was on the ballot so I could vote for an organism with character. Susie, remember, independents are people who should be democrats but find your message, your leaders and your principles completely and utterly uninspiring. Work on that...not on us.



Name: Phil
Hometown: Elizabeth, NJ
Heads up to your Irish-aggro-loving readers: the first five Pogues albums are being reissued by Rhino on 9/19. All have multiple bonus tracks, so the "Poguetry In Motion" and "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah" EPs are there, too. My favorites remain the first two, "Red Roses For Me" and "Rum Sodomy & The Lash," but the third has the Christmas anti-classic "Fairytale Of New York," and even "Peace & Love" and "Hell's Ditch," despite finding the group taking on too much eclecticism for its own good, still have plenty of solid moments. Too bad they never released a live video during their peak -- the shows from back then are legendary to this day.


August 7, 2006 | 1:20 PM ET | Permalink

Let’s all hope that this year, the president doesn’t tell his briefer “"All right. You've covered your ass, now,” and then spend the rest of the afternoon fishing if handed another memo  entitled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US,” as he did five years ago, yesterday. 

Speaking of which, sometimes Altercation operates like a major Hollywood studio—absent the hookers and the cocaine, alas. We’ve got a lot of scripts in development, but we probably wont’ have the resources to greenlight all or even most of them, particularly in August. Here’s the memo.

1) How “Working the Refs” works:

In this story, titled “9/11 Commissioners Say They Went Easy on Giuliani to Avoid Public’s Anger,” we learn, “The independent federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks did not pursue a tough enough line of questioning with former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani during a hearing two years ago because its members feared public anger if they challenged him, according to a new book written by the panel’s leaders.

The commission’s gentle questioning of Mr. Giuliani during his May 19, 2004, testimony at the New School University in Greenwich Village was “a low point” in its handling of witnesses at its public hearings.” And just what constitutes “public anger.”

A) (Republican) John F. Lehman, at the previous day’s hearing that New York’s disaster-response plans were “not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city.”

B) The morning of Mr. Giuliani’s testimony, (Republican Rupert Murdoch’s) New York Post’s cover had the single word “Insult” above a photograph of a firefighter kneeling at the World Trade Center site.

Upshot: Public never gets the full truth about 9/11 failures; we are not as prepared as we should be for next time; Rudy is a much stronger contender than he deserves to be; Republicans benefit.

2) History, Get Me Rewrite:

I keep looking for an honest Neocon to praise because I believe in the value of civic discourse and I believe it’s necessary to respect one’s opponents and his arguments in order to test one’s own intellectual honesty. For a while, believe it or not, I tried to go with Bill Kristol. I had to give that up, and I was similarly disappointed after settling on David Brooks.
I could probably settle for Chris Caldwell, whose reporting on Islam in Europe has been uniformly terrific, but Al Franken’s chapter in “Lying Liars” on Caldwell’s report on Paul Wellstone’s funeral takes a continent-sized chunk into Caldwell’s reputation as an honest reporter and thinker, and I’m not sure it survived it. My other hope was Bob Kagan. His book on Venus and Mars is smart, albeit wrong-headed. And I was once at a conference where Ed Luttwak behaved extremely badly to Kagan and he was a real gentleman. Plus I really like his father, with whom I studied at Yale. And I never saw him write anything patently dishonest. Until now.

Here’s Kagan on Lieberman whom he calls “The Last Honest Man” in The Washington Post.

In the piece, you’ll see Kagan treats Lieberman’s unequivocal embrace of George W. Bush’s dishonest war in Iraq as indistinguishable from Al Gore’s position that yes, Hussein is a security concern but, well,…

a) Here is Kagan: “Al Gore, the one-time Clinton administration hawk, airbrushed that history from his record. He turned on all those with whom he once agreed about Iraq and about many other foreign policy questions. And for this astonishing reversal he has been applauded by his fellow Democrats and may even get the party's nomination.”

Now take a look at Al Gore’s Sept. 23, 2002, speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, which by the way, was carried by the Washington Post, but you can find the full text here.

GORE: “To begin with, to put first things first, I believe that we ought to be focusing our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and who have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than was predicted.

"And, I believe that we are perfectly capable of staying the course in our war against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, while simultaneously taking those steps necessary to build an international coalition to join us in taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion. If you're going after Jesse James, you ought to organize the posse first, especially if you're in the middle of a gunfight with somebody who's out after you.

"I don't think we should allow anything to diminish our focus on the necessity for avenging the 3,000 Americans who were murdered and dismantling that network of terrorists that we know were responsible for it. The fact that we don't know where they are should not cause us to focus instead on some other enemy whose location may be easier to identify.

"Nevertheless, President Bush is telling us that America's most urgent requirement of the moment right now is not to redouble our efforts against Al Qaida, not to stabilize the nation of Afghanistan after driving his host government from power, even as Al Qaida members slip back across the border to set up in Afghanistan again.

"Rather, he is telling us that our most urgent task right now is to shift our focus and concentrate on immediately launching a new war against Saddam Hussein. And the president is proclaiming a new uniquely American right to preemptively attack whomsoever he may deem represents a potential future threat.

"Moreover, President Bush is demanding, in this high political season, that Congress speedily affirm that he has the necessary authority to proceed immediately against Iraq and, for that matter, under the language of his resolution, against any other nation in the region regardless of subsequent developments or emerging circumstances…..

"Now, here's another of the main points I want to make: If we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth-rate military of Iraq, and then quickly abandon that nation, as President Bush has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan after defeating a fifth-rate military power there, then the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. …

"I believe that we can effectively defend ourselves abroad and at home without dimming our core principles. Indeed, I believe that our success in defending ourselves depends precisely on not giving up what we stand for. We should have as our top priority preserving what America represents and stands for in the world and winning the war against terrorism first.”

Upshot: For that speech, Gore was called “crazy” by Washington Post columnists, including particularly Charles Krauthammer. Now, in the most Orwellian manner conceivable, Kagan is seeking to portray Gore as having changed his mind, when in fact, his was a lone, brave voice, against this catastrophe. Shame on Kagan for that and shame on me for ever thinking him to be an honest man.

b) But wait there’s more. Gore was right from the start. Few Democrats were. But remember, Bush was misleading the nation about the nature of the threat, based on phony intelligence, deliberately misrepresented. Many of those who supported the war did so because they foolishly believed George W. Bush would not purposely lie to Americans about so serious a subject. (I didn’t, Gore didn’t. Ted Kennedy didn’t. Robert Byrd didn’t. But a lot of people did.) A number of them, including John Kerry and John Edwards have, however belatedly, admitted the error of their ways in trusting this dishonest president.
Remember, as is reported in the Times the Republicans are still keeping secret the (probably whitewashed) investigation into the purposeful manipulation of pre-war evidence. Kagan purposely ignores this phenomenon when he writes “Politicians have twisted themselves into pretzels to explain away their support for the war or, better still, to blame someone else for persuading them to support it.” But of course it does not require a “pretzel,” merely a lying president and a Congressional majority helping to cover it up. Another definition for “honest” in Kagan’s Lieberman apologia, and for “strength” in the Washington Post endorsement of Lieberman over Lamont, as well as Broder, Cokester, (see below) etc, is “unwilling to admit a mistake no matter how many people continue to die needeless for your stubborn, intellectual dishonesty.”

(And John-Boy, I tried to warn you.)

3) The word “elitist.” David Broder, Cokie Roberts, and everybody they represent refer to the Lamont insurgency as “elitist.” But Lamont’s position on the war is supported by a majority of Americans. And this is true despite the fact that half the country is still as clueless as ever about the WMD deception. Meanwhile, Lieberman’s pro-war position is a majority only within Republican extremist circles and by the insider Washington elite. So what does “elitist” mean?  Does this remind anyone of 1998. All the pundits whined that the Democrats were finished because Clinton had so upset “the children.” Just before the election, on the "McLaughlin Group," John McLaughlin said the GOP would gain 13 House seats; Pat Buchanan, 12; Michael Barone, 8; former Gingrich spokesman Tony Blankley, 7; and Eleanor Clift, 6. On ABC's "This Week," George Will said 6 to 20 seats, Kristol said 15. On CNN's "Capital Gang," Al Hunt and Robert Novak both saw the Republicans picking up five Senate seats. Instead the Republicans lost six seats.

4) Speaking of Kristol, who now wants to involve us in two more wars,  because, one assumes, Iraq has turned out so well, was this sentence in which he argues “what's under attack is liberal democratic civilization” deliberately intended to echo this one, 24 ago, by Norman Podhoretz, in Commentary in which he accused everyone who who dissented from Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon, “of faithlessness to the interests of the United States and indeed to the values of Western civilization as a whole.”

I ask because Kristol likes to do this kind of thing, as a kind of code for the well-read in Neocon history. Remember back during the election of 2004, he attacked the foreign policy pronouncements of then-Democratic presidential candidate, Richard Gephardt, by writing, “But the American people, whatever their doubts about aspects of Bush’s foreign policy, know that Bush is serious about fighting terrorists and terrorist states that mean America harm. About Bush’s Democratic critics, they know no such thing.”
Wrong-headed and McCarthyite to be sure, but what was most interesting about Kristol’s unfair attack on Gephardt was that it perfectly echoed a famous defense of Senator McCarthy that appeared in Commentary magazine in 1952. “For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy; he, like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesman for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing.” The author? “Godfather” of neoconservatism and father of William Kristol, Irving Kristol. I wrote about that on “Altercation” the day it happened (no archives) and later here.

What the hell was Kristol thinking when he chose to associate himself with his father’s defense of the disgraced McCarthy and to equate the war on terrorism with red-hunting hysteria? I spent an hour with him in the Green Room of the New Yorker festival a couple of years ago but dammit, I forgot to ask him. I’m still curious.

That’s all the scripts for today, but don’t miss the resolution passed Friday by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) which is the leading professional body for academics in journalism and media studies. (I am a member.) It was brought to the floor of the annual convention by David Mindich of St. Michael's College, author of Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Follow the News (Oxford, 2005).

The key passage is: "The membership of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication urges the Bush administration to abandon its anti-press policies." The resolution identifies 10 troubling practices involving secrecy, propaganda and the control of information. It recognizes that there is always tension between presidents and the press. "This tension is both unavoidable and generally salutary: When each side conducts its duties with honesty and integrity, both hold the power of the other in check."

The motion was endorsed by the Resolutions Committee and the Standing Committee on Professional Freedom and Responsibility. AEJMC director Jennifer McGill said this is the first major statement against the policies of a president since the Vietnam War. Attached for reference is a resolution by the Boston University journalism faculty condemning fraudulent use of video news releases by the Bush Administration. It was passed in March of 2005. -- J.R. It’s all here.

Also don’t miss this incredible Los Angeles Times story about documents “that detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by Army investigators — not including the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre.

Though not a complete accounting of Vietnam war crimes, the archive is the largest such collection to surface to date. About 9,000 pages, it includes investigative files, sworn statements by witnesses and status reports for top military brass.

The records describe recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese — families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing. Hundreds of soldiers, in interviews with investigators and letters to commanders, described a violent minority who murdered, raped and tortured with impunity.

Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units, a Times review of the files found. They were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.”

Here’s a high/lowlight:
“On Oct. 8, 1967, after a firefight near Chu Lai, members of his company spotted a 12-year-old boy out in a rainstorm. He was unarmed and clad only in shorts.
"Somebody caught him up on a hill, and they brought him down and the lieutenant asked who wanted to kill him," Henry told investigators.
"Two volunteers stepped forward. One kicked the boy in the stomach. The other took him behind a rock and shot him, according to Henry's statement. They tossed his body in a river and reported him as an enemy combatant killed in action.”

This is war people; and it’s one more reason that going into Iraq was criminally stupid.
A selection of documents used in preparing this report can be found at latimes.com/vietnam.

Good news from Vanity Fair: “Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, the longtime, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporters who lost their jobs at Time Inc. a few months ago, have taken the leap from mass to class and are joining Vanity Fair.”

They are the best in the business and their loss was a scandal. But why in the world would a fellow journalist, in this case put the hire in these terms: “Here are a couple of questions for the magazine’s new sleuths: Why did those advertisers leave? And will more investigative reporting bring them back?”

Since when do journalists think that the only thing that matters in journalism is profits?

I have no comment on the Cokester’s comments over the weekend here except to say, I thought we drove a stake through that vampire's heart. How the hell did she get back on “This Week?”

Nice, thoughtful, un-bloglike piece by Josh thinking about Israel/Lebanon coverage. Interesting perspective on Hezbollah, here.

Alterman gets results:

Thursday: Eric Alterman, “Remember Iraq?”
Monday: TIME cover: “Life In Hell - A Baghdad Diary
As Lebanon Rages, Iraq Slides Into Civil War.”

Why are all chicks “crazy?” See here.

Back to Bush’s vacation: It’s both bad politics, and bad manners, to make fun of what a dope our president is, but I can’t help myself. Maybe he'll finally finish that one about his pet goat

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Susie Madrak
Hometown: Philadelphia PA
Comments: Eric, The Gore numbers aren't as discouraging as you think. Here's what I posted: "Clearly, the averages are skewed downward by the Republicans. (Who you'd expect to be adverse to someone so closely identified with Bill Clinton, and so critical of George Bush.) But look at the independents (or, as I like to call them, "People Too Lazy to Pay Attention Until The Last Possible Second"); they're almost evenly split on Gore - which is how they actually voted in 2000. "Keep in mind what this means: the same independents who voted for Gore still view him favorably. Now, imagine how much more favorably they'd react to a campaign for the Al Gore who's unfettered by the Clinton scandals, especially in light of the many, many mistakes and lies of the Bush administration." Plus, he has very high favorables among minorities (our base) and young people. Another point: Candidates who poll well this early tend to drop into the campaign. I think Gore is exactly where he needs to be if he decides to run.

Name: London Lawson
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Comments: Dr. Alterman, In the Al Gore link you posted on Friday there's an excellent and scary example of propaganda for Colonel Bob. It mentions that Exxon Mobile used an ad agency to produce "viral" propaganda in the form of a YouTube spoof of Inconvenient Truth. How many people who saw that video realized it was paid for by Big Oil? Scary.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Comments: Mr. Alterman, Just a brief response to Mr. Weldon Berger's letter last Friday. He appears to criticize LTC Bateman for not describing in all its lurid detail his (Mr. Berger's) belief that all statements in the last 15 years that tended to support U.S. policies towards Iraq (since he wants to go all the way back to the first Gulf War and talk about statements made by the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador) were not always 100% factually accurate. He seems to argue that somehow this makes the U.S. morally equivalent to any regime that has ever told a lie in support of a terroristic or genocidal war. He then criticizes LTC Bateman's point about intentionally targeting civilians versus civilian casualties that are unfortunate side effects of targeting legitimate military targets. Mr. Berger's final word on this seems to be, "show me a war in which one side didn't commit war crimes...; until then, we're just dickering over numbers." Golly, is he seriously suggesting that any nation that ever went to war and had some of its soldiers commit war crimes (as he correctly suggests, nearly all nations at any time) regardless of whether it worked to prevent such abuses and whether the perpetrators were tried and punished, is morally equivalent to any other belligerent, including nations that pursued systematic genocide? OK, if his point is that the world is not black and white, I think we all get that stunningly original observation. However, Mr. Berger principled refusal to stoop to distinguishing shades of grey is equally unhelpful in making sense of either Iraq or Lebanon.

Name: Steve Winkler
Hometown: Sandy, Oregon
Comments: Eric, Word is that the Majority Report radio show on Air America might be axed. Could you urge all your readers who, like me, are fans of Sam Seder, to write to: supporttheshow@majorityreportradio.com and voice your displeasure. Thanks.


August 4, 2006 | 1:00 PM ET | Permalink

I've got a new Think Again here, "Remember Iraq?"

Jim Fallows says we won.  You’ll have to read why.

  • Generals Give Grim Report on Iraqi Strife," the Los Angeles Times. [ Link]
  • "Generals warn of civil war in Iraq," Washington Times. [ Link]
  • "Top generals: Iraq nearing civil war, " the Chicago Tribune. [ Link]

...(You knew it was coming:) Why do America’s top generals hate America?

As a reporter, Judith Coburn covered the Vietnam War.  Watching the Bush administration introduce a range of failed Vietnam policies in Iraq, especially, most recently, "Vietnamization" (redubbed "Iraqification" -- think: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down"), she's experienced the journalistic equivalent of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

She writes:

However it feels to anyone else, it's distinctly been flashback city for me ever since.  One of the great, failed, unspeakably cynical, blood-drenched policies of the Vietnam era, whose carnage I witnessed as a reporter in Cambodia and Vietnam, was being dusted off for our latest disaster of an imperial war.  Some kind of brutal regression was upon us.  It was the return of the repressed or reverse evolution.  It was enough to drive a war-worn journalist to new heights of despair.

Her vivid anecdotes from Vietnam highlight the madness of the present moment in Iraq as our old Vietnam counterinsurgency policies prove to be utterly bankrupt against vastly weaker forces in Iraq.  On guerrilla war, our leaders, political and military, are evidently nothing short of brain-dead.

Goof:  It took a couple of e-mails but “moron” that I am, I finally get it.  The Pentagon report on global warming, reported in the Guardian in 2004, is not what the Guardian, and by extension I, though it was.  I am reliably informed that "the report was just a report TO the Pentagon.  It was not a report OF the Pentagon.  That was the point.  It's like saying that a term paper that a student turns in to you, should be ascribed to Eric Alterman, because it was asked for by him, and turned in to him.  That, in effect, is what the Guardian did."  Still, as dumb as my mistake is, thank goodness I am not this dumb.

I may also be being dumb about Gore.  These numbers are real, and worrisome.

Alter-reviews:

Books on Tape: In the past few months, I’ve listened to complete versions of “Oh the Glory of It All,” by Sean Wilsey, “Revolutionary Characters” by Gordon Wood, “MayFlower” by Nathaniel Philbrick, “The Big Bam, by Leigh Montville, “Sea Change,” by Robert B. Parker, and “Until I Find Him” by John Irving.  I really loved the Wilsey book and so should you.  Gordon Wood is always strongly recommended and these essays, reworked from TNR and TNYRB, are probably the first place anyone should go to learn get to know the founders, once you’ve got a basic understanding of what actually happened in the Revolutionary period.  I wish I could join in cheers that are apparently inspired by “Mayflower” but I can’t.  It’s solid, well-written history but it’s more than I wanted to know and I gave up, for now.  And Montville’s biography of Babe Ruth seems mostly dependable, but the clichés piled up a bit too much for my taste and I had to force my way through a bunch of it.  I need to forget what I learned so I can go back to the Robert Creamer book one day.  Parker’s mystery is first-rate Parker, and is apparently the fifth in the series of Jesse Stone novels, with which it is, I imagine, hard to go wrong.  I love John Irving even when nobody else does and this is another of those times.  It’s really long but I’m finding it addictive, as I did his previous novel, “A Widow for One Year,” which nobody else I know loved either.  When the 27 CDs are finally over, I’m going back to Doctorow’s “March” which I read last summer, but too quickly to savor it as I should have.  Anyway, if you don’t know it, audio books are one of the world’s greatest inventions, and the iPod has made them even greater.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Heikki Helava
Hometown: Deer Park, NY
I'd like to comment on Bob Bateman's definition of "disproportionate."  The Katyusha explosive warhead (biggest known) is 22 lb.  Hezbollah is rumored to have 13,000 Katyusha rockets.  The total maxium warhead capacity of Hezbollah is 286,000 lbs.  That sounds like a lot but it is equivalent to 286 Israeli 1,000 lb bombs.  It is probably true that Israel has already used this many 1,000 lb bombs on Lebanese (not only Hezbollah) targets.  Add in artillery and tank shells and Israel has already poured 10 (maybe more) times as much high explosives on Hezbollah and Lebanese civilians as the entire arsenal available to Hezbollah.  Katysuaha's are meant to be fired in rapid salvos from truck mounted carriers.  Clearly Hezbollah doesn't have capability to use the Katyusha's as they are designed to be used.  In effect they are only "nuisance" weapons and Israel could quickly evacuate its entire population out of Katyusha range in a matter of hours if it chose to minimize its casualties.  Compare this to 100,000+ Lebanese civilians trying to escape the war--the real war.  Maybe there is some esoteric definition of "proportionate" that war makers use and Bob Bateman considers appropriate in this case; however, most rational people consider Israel's actions truly disproportionate.

Name: Adam
Hometown: New York, NY
Hey Eric,
Jesse from Portland has some interesting rebuttals to my points, and he's not entirely off on some of them, but I feel like I should respond.  First of all, the situation in the Middle East is incomparable with "the war on drugs."  No drug dealers have fired rockets into US territory or kidnapped American soldiers.  Whether or not the Lebanese should be responsible for the huge army of terrorists living within their borders is beside the point-- the fact is, their country contains an active military threat against Israel.  Are the Israelis supposed to ignore that?  True, both sides have their extremists.  And Israel doesn't "look" good when it reneges on a verbal promise to cease their air campaign.  That said, why are those same people who criticize Israel not putting any pressure on Hezbollah to disarm?  Who is coming out and assailing Hezbollah for their broken promises?  Hezbollah broke the peace, not Israel. 

The words "disproportionate response" have been thrown about, but what exactly is a "proportionate response?"  Exchanging prisoners never stopped attacks in the past, and have actually encouraged terrorists to kidnap more people.  What other options do Israel have?  House to house searches in Lebanon with ground troops?  Wouldn't that cause more casualties on the Israeli side?  The truth is, these days, no nation in its right mind would send ground troops into a foreign country without an adequate air campaign to clear out threats.  How can Israel limit civilian casualties even more than they've already tried, and still fight a war against Hezbollah?  I don't think it's meaningless at all to say that Israel doesn't deliberately target civilians.  If they deliberately targeted civilians, there would be no civilians left in Lebanon. Thank God the Russian and Iranian missiles Hezbollah possess are innaccurate.  The Israeli campaign is not designed to cause terror... it's aimed at ending it.  Can you picture an Arab nation ever apologizing for the killing of Jews?  This is a military campaign against military targets.  Civilians have been killed as a result of Hezbollah forces basing their operations in heavily populated areas.  Who's fault is that? 

Hamas is the party currently in control of Palestine.  Unlike Hezbollah, Hamas IS the governing authority right now in the West Bank and Gaza. Forget about them getting control of the "crazies," they ARE the crazies-- directly responsible for the kidnapping of Shalit and the missiles fired at Israel.  Saying Israel didn't give Hamas the power to stop Hamas isn't a very persuasive argument.

"Right of Return" means the right of Palestinians exiled from Israel during the 1948 war to return to their former homes.  Sounds fair-- except both Israelis AND Arabs forced communities to leave their long established homelands.  How fair was it when, in 1948, Jordan bulldozed entire Jewish communities in eastern Jerusalem, some of them dating back to biblical times, so that they could create Arab neighborhoods and lay claim to what had been, at that point, a predominantly Jewish city?  Do those Jews ousted get to return as well? "Right of Return" isn't easy to implement either... it remains controversial because of the difficulty in determining land ownership, the difficulty in defining who exactly is a refugee, and the problem of inviting a lot of Jew-hating Arabs back into and next-door to the country they've sworn to destroy.  Arafat, and the Palestinian people, missed a huge opportunity to self-govern when they spurned the 200 deal. Israel is not perfect.  And its government is certainly not.  But in this particular battle, the country finds itself with few other options for assuring its citizens' security.

Name: Andrew MacGowan
Hometown: Rochester, New York
Two points to Jesse Sander Corum: 1. If the drug cartel in Mexico were also lobbing 200+ missles a day into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, I think we can be assured that, yes, America would and should invade Mexico.  Try to use an honest analogy next time.  2. "Perhaps Hezbollah doesn't want peace."  Perhaps they are honest when they call for a removal of the "Zionist state."

Name: Bryan Short
Hometown: Washington, DC
Dr. Alterman:
David from Cary, NC totally misunderstands what a "Hezbollah Victory" will look like.  Hezbollah does not need to win any single battle, skirmish, or fight in order to "win".  The running logic assumes that Israel's military force is so outrageously better than the rest of the Middle East that any power that tangles with Israel will suffer swift and assured destruction.  However, Hezbollah merely needs to not be annihilated in order to "win".  Having Israel kill innocent children in the process is just icing for Hezbollah.  Drawing Israel into a brutal guerilla war with high Lebanese casualties is "winning" in Hezbollah's calculation.  Israel has quickly lost any sympathy it held in the international community (ala the US in Iraq).  David must understand that Hezbollah is by and large a POLITICAL party, that uses military force/terror to accomplish its policy aims. You can lose a war and win a political victory, just maybe not in the United States, I suppose.  If the international community reacts violently to Israel's use of military force, Hezbollah will be extremely victorious.  Other than then U.S. no one is going to call for Hezbollah to disarm anytime soon.  For those of you who watched the Lebanese comedy skit from LTC Bob (and all of you should) Hezbollah can now try and free Abu Hasan's garden in Detroit.

Name: Weldon Berger
Hometown: Honolulu, HI
I have a few suggestions for Colonel Bob's propaganda file, and one along the lines of the Lebanese lampoon of Hassan Nasrallah.  On the propaganda front, you won't go wrong with Hill & Knowlton's fabulous "Incubator Babies" campaign from the runup to the first Gulf War, in which a tearful Kuwaiti girl, who turned out to be the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the US, told a rapt Congress the story, later proved to have been concocted by the PR firm, of how Iraqi soldiers dumped babies from their incubators in a Kuwait hospital and made off with the equipment as the babies expired on the cold hospital floors. Propaganda connoisseurs will have recognized the story as an ironic variant on the blood libel so often leveled at Jews. For current efforts, you can't go wrong with the productions used to sell Colonel Bob's own organization; I don't watch TV and the ads don't seem to be posted on McCann Erickson's site any more, but I'd guess most of your readers who do the tube have noticed the scent of perished mackerel filling the room every time one airs. You know the ones I mean: where the dad remarks on his son's new package of direct gaze and firm handshake without mentioning the prosthetic nature of the latter. I'm looking forward to the next generation of these "influencer-targeted" ads, in which grandpa explains to his granchildren that the rising enlistment age and recruiting bonuses have made the Army an irresistible opportunity to finally nail down that elusive retirement nest egg. I'm 15 years older than Colonel Bob, but I may yet get a chance to serve under him. On the "Dear Lord Look At This Clown" front, there's no better English-language equivalent to the Nasrallah clip than Stephen Colbert's paean to our own Rocket Man, which is, in the unlikely event any of your readers haven't seen it, available here.  I'm a reader of blogs, and a writer of one ( btcnews.com), and I like to think I'm a critical thinker, and a skeptical one as well. That's why Colonel Bob's doughnut-hole comment on proportionality lit up my merde detector. Setting aside the provenance of the Israeli assault on Lebanon, one has to note that the inevitable corollary to an instruction that not every civilian death is a war crime is that not every civilian death isn't one.  If Colonel Bob can show me a war in which one side didn't commit war crimes, I'll be considerably more impressed with the virtues of a Clausewitzian education than I am now; until then, we're just dickering over numbers. And regardless the parsing of legalities -- and I do think legalities are important -- a war in which one side accidentally kills at one stroke more civilians than the other side has killed soldiers and civilians combined raises, or ought to raise, serious moral questions beyond those implicit in any conflict.  Finally, I'd like to recommend the TV-free lifestyle -- or at least the TV news-free lifestyle; I'm not a Puritan -- to all your readers. There's nothing you can't find online if you really must-see, and five years without CNN will add ten years to your life.

Name: Hugh Maguire
Hometown: NYC
Re: Norton Garfunkle.
I can't respond to all i'd like too of this bookreview by EA. So I'll stick to a couple of the points that gets my depression up most. "the federal government was not only able to pay down trillions in accumulated debt; it had money left over to help cope with looming crises in Social Security and Medicare". The actual surplus was a pittance, but the real heavy was the "projected" two trillion. But why do many self described smart folk insist this was in the bank? It was based on the massive top rung capital inflows from an expanding NASDAQ heavy tax base. The same tax base that collapsed in 2000 and 2001 and has yet to return from its 72% decline. Nothing illustrates the decline in tax revenues like ground zero and country leader California that went from massive surpluses (10-12bn) despite two and half times inflation type govt spending growth to ten billion in the hole as their (and ours) "silicon valley" evaporated. The cause of which was corporate america curtailing post Y2K capex spending and thus making more apparent to the market the cashflow sinks these tech companies really where. In short; recession was real in the last quarter of Clintons days, the technology/internet boom did bust and business spending did contract everywhere. Additionally, I admire FDR for his leadership in the war years, but he was no more successfull than Hoover at economic policy. Last: There is no correlation between high taxes and U.S. post war boom times. U.S. business and manufacturing capacity was the only game in town back then ability to fill the worlds production needs in post war and those days are 30 years gone now. The economic emperical case for taxes is present day Europe, not the 1950's U.S.A. And social security (& medicare) fail your first test of the three tests (subjective ground to base the book on don't you think?), it doesn't work! Its a, oh forgive me mom, pyramid that kicks the ball down the field. The long term structural liability on a present value is in the tens and tens of trillions.

Also LTC Bateman writes:

"The Fool"'s comment yesterday is a more correct statement, and I should have been more clear in my own description. Civilian casualties are measured, against legitimate military gains, in the targeting process. What I had meant to address was the fact that casualties on each side are not supposed to be counted and tallied for each side as though that determines "proportionality."  If that were the case, the American Civil War would have been immoral because more Confederate civilians died than Union civilians. I thank "The Fool" for clarifying my imprecision. I recommend ALtercators read Stanford University's excellent primer on the topic, here.

August 3, 2006 | 1:00 PM ET | Permalink

But first, a short roundup:

I've got a new Think Again here, "Remember Iraq?"

60% disapprove of his handling of Iraq and 59% disapprove of his handling of the economy. Guess who?  (Why does America hate America?)

The NORAD Tapes, here.

Josh writes:

Yglesias adds some good critical analysis to J-Pod's new pro-genocide position on running the Middle East: brutal crackdown and massacres can be effective in the context of an on-going process of tyrannical repression and brutal dictatorship. Less so if you so don't want to run a police state permanently, which probably undermines the argument in favor of indiscriminate mass-killing as a means of democratization and liberalization.

And yes, the collapse of the neocon vision of forcible democratization does seem to glide rather effortlessly into an embrace of genocide and mass slaughter.

So mass slaughter in the service of democratization to mass slaughter in the service of mass slaughter, or what I guess we could call the transition from incidental or pragmatic genocide to a more principled genocide.

Aha! We finally nailed it down:  Every single contributor to the Pennsylvania Green Party Senate candidate is actually a conservative -- except for the candidate himself.

Is there a more despicable human being than David Horowitz?  (Nominations: Gibson? Coulter? Cheney? Sullivan? Jpod? Rabbi Daniel Lapin? Bin-Laden? Blogofascists? Discuss….)

Another administration criminal  (There goes that lovely “evil twin” theory.)      

Harold Myerson on Peter Beinart, here.

Quinnipiac today has Lamont up 54-41.  As much as I detest pointing this out, Tomasky called a blowout on Monday.  Not bad.  (Call it “Nomentum.”)

Fox News, outflanking the Israeli government, continues to raise doubts that Israel bombed Qana.

More proof of God’s non-existence: Tom Friedman’s a Billionaire

Today’s Altercation Book Club selection is Norton Garfinkle’s “The American Dream vs. the Gospel of Wealth: The Fight for a Productive Middle-Class Economy, which is not yet out, but is soon to be published later this month by Yale University Press.  It was originally called to my attention by Bill Moyers, who calls it, “the most important book I've read in years.  Thoughtful, clear, readable, and insightful, it is a remarkable account of how reactionary politics and regressive supply-side economics have produced an America that is no longer working for all Americans.  But this is no hand-wringing polemic.  Garfinkle has identified and diagnosed the virus that has been loosed on the American Dream, but he also summons us to fight back—with the ideas and values that may yet redeem in our time the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s vision of government ‘of, by, and for the people.’”

The American Dream vs. The Gospel of Wealth: The Fight for a Productive Middle-Class Economy, by Norton Garfinkle

Every important economic policy has three kinds of consequences: factual, moral, and political. In evaluating economic policy, we have to ask three questions: (1) Does it work? (2) Is it fair? and (3) Will it sustain the democratic structure of our society?

Today debate tends to focus almost exclusively on the first question, at the expense of the other two. It was not always so. A generation ago, most Americans instinctively understood the relevance of all three questions—factual, moral, and political. That is because public views of government economic policy were shaped by memories of the Great Depression, which brought dramatic policy failure on all three levels.

Most Americans became convinced of three things: the government under President Hoover did not know what it was doing; the fate meted out to ordinary workers and their families was patently unfair; and unemployment and spreading poverty threatened the very basis of American democracy.

After the economy recovered in World War II, Americans were still thinking within this framework. Demand-side economics, inspired by economist John Maynard Keynes, became a kind of unofficial economic policy in the postwar years. The main lesson economists drew from Keynes was that government could restore growth to an economy suffering from high unemployment by engaging in deficit spending to increase “aggregate demand.” Expanded demand would provide customers for business, give investors a reason to invest, bring down unemployment, and support a growing economy.

By the beginning of President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration in 1953, demand-side economics had become the basis for a bipartisan consensus. The post–World War II economy was understood to be “Everyman’s economy”” the purpose of the economy was to provide economic opportunities as well as a measure of economic security for ordinary workers and their families. Government was understood to have an active role—indeed, a responsibility—in this process.

The demand-side consensus constituted the basis of an economy that saw a remarkable growth of the American middle class. It was an economy in which ordinary workers in ordinary jobs could expect to better their conditions, own homes and automobiles, send their children to college, and retire in relative security. It was an economy in which the vast majority of citizens had a stake. It was an economy that promoted a strong faith in democracy.

Supply-side economics as propounded by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush created, in effect, a mirror image of demand-side theory. The real engine of growth in an economy was not demand, said the supply-siders, but rather supply. Supply-siders believed that demand-siders had put too much emphasis on the issue of fairness and in the process had neglected job 1: to make the economy grow. Government should not be worrying about ensuring an Everyman’s economy or building up the middle class. It should simply get its hands off business and the economy and let business and the economy generate growth. The most important way for government to get its hands off the economy was to lower taxes, especially on the highest income taxpayers. The supply-siders claimed, incorrectly, that most high-income people owned their own businesses and would use their increased income to increase production by hiring new workers and purchasing new equipment. Many supply-siders claimed such tax cuts would so powerfully unleash the forces of supply that the tax cuts would not even produce a deficit: they would pay for themselves in increased tax payments.

It was one thing for supply-siders to claim to emphasize the factual dimension of economic issues at the expense of the moral and the political questions. That was simply a debating posture. It was another thing to actually have a factual basis for their claims.

As the new millennium dawned in 2000, the American economy presented an extraordinary portrait of success. For the previous four years, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had grown at an average real rate of 4.2 percent, a figure well above the 3.2 percent average for the post–World War II era. Unemployment, at 4.2 percent, was well below the postwar average. Inflation was minimal. To top it off, by the end of 2000, the federal government had produced surpluses for three consecutive years—a minor miracle, not seen since the late 1940s. From 1993 through 2000, the U.S. economy created over 23 million new jobs. The federal government was not only able to pay down trillions in accumulated debt; it had money left over to help cope with looming crises in Social Security and Medicare.

Then came the new policymakers. President George W. Bush came to office in 2001 with a minority of the popular vote, a razor-thin electoral vote margin, and a radical plan to slash the federal taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans. Between 2001 and 2003, the Bush administration pushed through major cuts in the top marginal income tax rate, the estate tax, corporate taxes, and taxes on dividends and capital gains. By 2004, the administration’s tax cuts had trimmed over $200 billion from the federal government’s annual revenues, with most of the money going to those in the top 12 percent of the income scale.

Yet the results were not what the president and his advisers predicted. First to disappear were the projected federal surpluses. From a surplus of $256 billion in 2000, the federal budget went to a deficit of $413 billion in fiscal year 2004 and $319 billion in 2005. In the five years of the Bush administration from 2001 to 2005, the economy created only 31,000 new jobs per month, compared to 240,000 per month during the eight years of President Bill Clinton’s administration. Business investment growth during the first five years of the Bush administration averaged only 0.1 percent per year, compared to 9.9 percent per year during the Clinton presidency. During the Bush administration the average annual GDP growth of 2.4 percent was considerably lower than the average annual growth of 3.7 percent during the eight Clinton years. Annual employment growth was anemic at 0.3 percent compared to 2.4 percent during the Clinton years.

After five years of their ambitious tax-cutting program, the central claim of Bush and his advisers—that tax cuts for the wealthiest would create a new economic environment fostering historically high rates of investment, job creation, and growth—had not panned out. The crowning irony was that the sustained boom of the 1990s had been ushered in by a major tax increase during the Clinton administration while the Bush tax cuts produced nothing of the kind.

The data clearly show that regressive tax policies based on a Gospel of Wealth supply-side theory are not helpful to economic growth, while progressive tax policies based on demand-side theory can provide a continuing spur to economic growth consistent with the economic, moral, and political vision of the middle-class American Dream.

One thing is clear: Americans must understand the profoundly different directions in which policies based on the supply-side Gospel of Wealth and policies based on the middle-class American Dream will take them. Political leaders seeking to serve the common good must reawaken our understanding of the true American Dream and remind us again of what Lincoln meant when he expressed the profound hope that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

More about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: G.L. Horton
Hometown: Newton, Ma
Hey, it's just Connecticut..... In a 8/2/06 Boston Globe review of "Academic Freedom After September 11" ed. by Beshara Doumani, Neve Gordon says the book recounts that "immediately after Sept. 11, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), founded by Lynne Cheney and Senator Joseph Lieberman, published a report accusing universities of being the weak link in the war against terror and a potential fifth column.  As if the general hint at treason were not enough, an appendix to the report listed the names of more than 100 "un-American" professors, staff members, and students, and the offending statements they had made.... A few months after ACTA's study was disseminated, Daniel Pipes, the director of a think tank called Middle East Forum, launched an Internet site called Campus Watch, which publishes dossiers on scholars who criticize US policy in the Middle East or Israel's treatment of Palestinians.  On the website, one finds a 'Keep Us Informed' section, where Pipes encourages students to inform on any professor who deviates from 'correct conduct.'"  That Joe Lieberman joined with Cheney to lead an attack on free speech and the most basic democratic principles of pubic debate and reasoned dissent is, by itself, sufficient cause for his removal from office. The senator's actions in the primary campaign illustrate that Lieberman believes that he "owns" his office, and that his incumbency gives him the right to define the limits of debate and "correct conduct."  When members of his party and his own his constituency disagree with him on vital issues of fact and of policy, his reaction is not to refute their arguments point by point, but to try to suppress them.  He accuses opponents of being "un-American" and giving comfort to the enemy.  But challenge, dissent and opposition are how the trial/error/correction process of democratic government is supposed to work.

Name: Jesse Zander Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR
I'm only a regular observer, but Adam from NY's bullet list inspired me to respond point by point:

  1. If Lebanon doesn't control Hezbollah, is it really appropriate to wage war on them?  Would you also support an invasion of Mexico as part of the 'war on drugs'?

  2. Perhaps Hezbollah doesn't want peace, but by immediately breaking their own suspension of bombing, it doesn't look like Israel wants peace very much either.  Both sides have extremists, be they terrorists or settlers.

  3. Even if Israel has no choice in whether to do battle with Hezbollah, it has options when it comes to tactics.  Bombing campaigns are horribly destructive to civilians and infrastructure, but not necessarily good at stopping mobile rocket launchers.  Plus, this sort of disproportionate response is exactly what Hezbollah was hoping for. Perhaps supporting Israel should mean discouraging tactics that provide exactly what their enemies want.

  4. Dead is dead. To say that Israel doesn't deliberately target civilians is meaningless, because they know people will die when they drop bombs. You aren't innocent of murder if you fired with your eyes closed. And I'm sick of hearing that the civilians can just leave. That's not remotely true when all of the roads and bridges have been destroyed.

  5. Israel withdrew from Gaza... sort of.  It's not like the Palestinian authority was ever given the sort of freedom needed to keep their crazies under control.

  6. I think you're too quick to dismiss that "right of return".  Not only does it seem fair to me- for one thing, how is it really a Palestinian State if they don't get to decide who can come live there?  My understanding is that Arafat gave up just about everything he could without being assassinated by his own side.  He'd given up plenty too, and the Israelis share just as much blame for walking away without an agreement.  As to Israel's options, I go back to the choice of tactics. By engaging them directly, they've handed Hezbollah a victory simply for surviving this long in the face of overwhelming military superiority. That probably doesn't help Israel at all.

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
At one point in the video clip pointed to by LTC. Bateman, the Israeli spokeswoman refers to the CNN reporter as 'Rosemary'.  So, in response to Bateman's asking who the CNN reporter is, I did a search for CNN International reporters named Rosemary. I came up with Rosemary Church, here.

Name: The Fool
Hometown: Foolsville, USA
I sent an earlier more extensive e-mail but it seemed to get lost in an error when I sent it.  Just in case you missed it, your boy Bateman made a glaring error about Just War theory when he said: "In short, really short, the number of casualties is not supposed to be measured, the means and ends are.  Thus, if you deliberately target civilians, to no purpose, that is wrong according to the UN and Geneva. If you strive to avoid civilians, but they are killed anyway during a pursuit of a legitimate military target, this is not considered a part of the equation." This is completely wrong.  In short, Just War theory prescribes what is essentially a cost benefit analysis.  Any collateral civilian deaths have to be more than outweighed by a reasonably certain and larger benefit.  It is absolutely false to say that the civilian deaths aren't counted in the equation.

Name: David
Hometown: Cary, NC
Isn't it funny how 1.5 billion Muslims blame their problems on 15 million Jews?  If the Islamofascists were successful in destroying Israel, they would still lack education, infrastructure, honest government, birth control, sexual equality, tolerance, the ability to assimilate with the modern world, and a source of income other than oil and kitty litter.  It's time for the world to finally get it - Islamic terror is a cancer that must be removed.  Problems in the Arab world are largely their own doing, and aggression against the U.S. and Israel will simply lead to the total destruction of country after country until there's no one left to fight.  Isn't it also funny how Hezbollah is claiming victory?  There are roughly 800,000 homeless people in Lebanon, at least 300 Hezbollah killed, more injured, their weapons systems destroyed, and hundreds of innocent Lebanese killed and injured as collateral damage.  The whole infrastructure of Lebanon is in ruins.  And what did Hezbollah accomplish?  They kidnapped a few soldiers?  They launched a ton of missiles and rockets at innocent people, and only one in a hundred was effective? The entire world saw them hide behind civilians? I guess their victory was to see Israel apologize for having to kill innocents in a building from which Hezbollah launched rockets against Israel. In other words, the only real gain is that Israel feels sorry, and the world is upset, that Israel had to hit a military target intentionally set up adjacent to civilians. Well, since the world has always sided against Israel, even that isn't a real victory.  It's just more of the same.  The Lebanese should take up arms and take out Hezbollah themselves.  But they'd better hurry, because if they wait too long, there won't be anyone left to kill - Israel is on the move in Lebanon.

Name: Luke Wilson
Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Jon Carroll, with a great deal of help from a blogger has the malaise of the Democrats figured out here.

Name: Tim Friedline
Hometown: Agoura Hills, CA
I saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at the Hollywood Bowl last night.  Wow!  What a concert! They played for almost 4 hours and I spent the whole night with my either my jaw dropped open in amazement or singing along with the songs.  Stills voice may be going just a little bit, but not his guitar or keyboard skills!  The others sing like they were 25, and the grand finale 'Keep on rockin in the free world' is something I will never forget.  According their schedule they will be in NYC on 8/27.  If you see ANY concert this summer, see this one. Oh and P.S. Let's do impeach the president.

Eric replies:  And at Jones Beach on 8/22, when I may have to dump my tickets, I haven’t decided yet, because Rosanne, Jackson B, Steve E and Nancy Griffiths are doing a benefit for John Hall at Town Hall that night too.  And by the way, they (CSNY) do charge way too much.

August 2, 2006 | 11:12 AM ET | Permalink

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Dateline: Newport, Rhode Island

Knowledge is Power II

Last week I enjoined Altercators to read more history, specifically military history, and lamented the relative rarity of those who had actually read Clausewitz.  I was, in fact, serving up a straight line for my host.  He passed, so, dammit, I will brag on him.  Although not his first published article, way back in 1987 Eric Alterman, in ‘pre-Doc’ status at the time, published an article entitled, “The Uses and Abuses of Clausewitz" in the premier professional journal of the US Army, Parameters, (for those really interested, it appeared in v.XVII, no.2 (Summer 1987), and can be found cited in most major bibliographies of Clausewitzian analysis such as that found on Clausewitz.com here.

But there was more to my appeal than this request that members of the American experiment seek to understand war.  There was, unstated, a request for critical thinking to be coupled with the new knowledge.  I suspect that just about everyone who reads blogs considers themselves a critical thinker who is open to other opinions and positions and who weighs carefully the balance of the evidence.  What sometimes stuns me is the implied disdain for those who went before us (historically speaking that is) which often accompanies these sentiments.  Of course, upon occasion, I have been guilty of the same.

One of the first images of war which imprinted itself into my mind as a child was that of a Confederate soldier.  I was about eight years old.  At that time my family would regularly drive from our home in Ohio to Manhasset, on Long Island, where my grandmother lived.  In my own house, at that time, there were no books of history nor any books with anything even remotely related to a military theme.  (Yeah, go figure.)  My father was then a physicist specializing in optical coatings, and mom’s passion is cooking, so what we had were a great number of books on those topics, but nothing much else.  At Grandma’s house, however, there were a couple of coffee-table books of American History, and one of these contained what is generally considered one of the most iconic photos to emerge from the Civil War.  You have probably seen it in your High School history books.

The image is one of a Confederate soldier, dead and sprawled in what was described as a “sniper’s position” in the “Devil’s Den” at a place called Gettysburg.  At the age of eight I had no idea what any of those three things were, but the image was as starkly captivating to me in the early 1970s as it had apparently been to those who first saw the photo.  It was one of the first ever taken of dead soldiers upon a battlefield and when it first appeared in 1863, it caused quite a stir.  It was only decades later that I learned the truth.  The soldier shown in the photo, a man who fought honorably for his side (however disgusting his side was), had been killed elsewhere, and the ghoulish photographer, in an effort to create a more captivating and emotionally loaded photo, had moved the body and placed it in a more “dramatic” location.  You can read about it here.  A similar situation, on the same battlefield, is here.

This discovery was one of my first awakenings to the power of propaganda.  Subsequently, I looked into the topic whenever it accidentally appeared on my intellectual radar screen.  One of the more fascinating subjects which I once researched was the British propaganda effort in World War One.  Now, obviously, this was in large part designed for domestic British consumption.  But there was a significant, coordinated, and deliberate component of this effort which focused on the United States.  Specifically the British put forward the image and idea that war was all jolly good fun, a right challenge that any sporting lad should experience, and which was, all in all, not that bad.  That fact, the cold fact or their manipulation, came to my attention only in graduate school, when a good friend (and huge movie buff) named Mitch McNaylor showed a group of us a video copy of the 1916 British movie, The Somme.

Now, if you know any military history (uh, hint, hint) you are well aware that this multiple-month long battle was among the most obscene events in military history.  On just the very first day of the assault by the British forces against the Germans (1 July 1916), the attacking British lost almost 20,000 dead, and (depending upon your source) some 40,000 (+) wounded. That was the first day.  The.  First.  Day.  It got worse.  The damned obscenity lasted until NOVEMBER!  But you need to know that, and know a little about the infantry experience, to see why the 1916 movie was so morally repugnant seventy years later.  Yeah.  They made this obscenity look fun.

In the movie, smiling Tommies move out towards the front line.  “Heroic” Tommies surge “Over the Top” where a few are seen, anonymously, “falling dead” after a few steps while the rest move on into the mist.  Other “compassionate” Tommies share cigarettes with captured Germans.  All the wounds are clean and dressed.  Well, you get the picture.  Maybe I am overestimating your outrage.  But to a professional grunt, an infantryman, this travesty is obscene.  If you want to see it yourself, here is the video.  Here is an assessment of some of the footage.

The British distributed the movie world-wide, but particularly targeted the US once they realized what a “smash” they had.  It was part of an overall effort to lure the US into the War on the British side.  A few links, because this is important: Here is the British national archives listings on British propaganda efforts; and here is a semi-scholarly paper presented to the NY Military Affairs Society on the efforts by both sides in WWI (NYMAS is good people); and here is historian Thomas Fleming on the “Sell-Out” of a historian in the service of this British effort.  Of course, there was a backlash after WWI.  Among other things it contributed to an extreme anti-British and anti-Military sentiment in the US during the interwar period.  That only meant that the British were a little more circumspect when they tried the same thing twenty years later.  This is a decent book on that effort to sway our opinion.

(Oh, in the interest of historical accuracy, the US did the same domestically after we entered the war.  The Creel Committee is a story unto itself.  But you can research that yourself.)

All of this occurred to me as relevant recently because of a confluence of inputs.  Every once in a while people doubt that I am, in reality, either human or just who I seem to be.  This, obviously, would surprise my mother, but I usually let it go.  (Theories have ranged from speculation that I am actually a consortium of evil PR geniuses in the bowels of the Pentagon, to one which posited that I am Karl Rove, posing as a professional soldier, to somehow undermine the Progressive movement.  Nobody has speculated that I am an alien, yet, but I have faith that it’s only a matter of time.)  Apparently, despite the fact that I list my e-mail, Altercation (I recently learned) gets a regular flood of this detritus as well.  In any event, that person’s doubt, coupled with some things I’ve been reading about the Middle East combined in my mind and made me think about propaganda again.

To really get the full effect, you need to scan all of these sites.  They come from both sides, and represent a pretty interesting collection, in juxtaposition.

This first one is pro-Palestinian, aimed at the West (and particularly the United States) and uses conventions which are familiar to Americans.  It contains nominal experts, reasoned discussion, and something approximating a History Channel documentary.  The video is here.  I’ve watched the whole thing, but be warned, it is 79 minutes long.  According to the site, “Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land carefully analyzes and explains how--through the use of language, framing and context--the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza remains hidden in the news media, and Israeli colonization of the occupied territories appears to be a defensive move rather than an offensive one.”

Using a similar suite of techniques is this site.  It too uses academics, but is created for the net.  (It is also much shorter.)  Two videos, in addition to all the raw material going into the documentary, are here.  They are an analysis of Al Durah and “Pallywood.”  The latter is interesting for its deconstruction of France 2 television and their cameraman and editing.

In 2001, the late Edward Said wrote this essay, stating (in part) that the Palestinians must make a concerted effort at Public Information (which, he notes, when Israel does it, is “propaganda”).  Although more than five years old now, it is interesting nonetheless.  Read this article here.

Which is followed by this British citizen’s (apparently Libertarian) analysis of images.  Frankly, this one really disturbs me, not the least because of comparisons with the Civil War images I noted at the beginning.  “Time Stamps” are subject to some dispute, since if you know how newswires work, you know that the “dateline” time is not necessarily the same as the time the image was taken, which this guy seems to think.  But the point this analysis makes about the main person in the images wearing, literally, different clothes in some of the different images (while the victim remains the same) suggests that the analysis of the time-stamps may be accurate in concept.  WARNING: GRAPHIC NEWS IMAGES Here.  I think, perhaps, this one upset me the most.  Using the bodies of children, that is just wrong.

But there is a development occurring within the technology which applies to propaganda which I do not think has been anticipated very well.  Since at least the time of the British efforts to entice the US into WWI, the creation of propaganda was very deliberate, some was made for internal use, some for external efforts.  Never the twain shall meet.  Well, YouTube.com, the new streaming video site which takes advantage of the high-capacity internet connections which are increasingly available, mixes the two.  Propaganda for internal-only consumption, and propaganda for external use.

Here is an interesting clip from Palestinian television.

While this one is intended to accomplish what Edward Said asks, though I find the crying baby overdub to be, well, clumsy. There are GRAPHIC IMAGES here as well.

And this one, if accurate and true (which it appears it may be) is truly disturbing.  (from Palestinian television).

This one is a clip of a CNN reporter giving an Israeli spokesman a hard time. I need some comments here.  It is right for journalists to ask hard questions, and on principal I am in favor of reporters not giving spokesmen a free ride.  Any spokesman.  In fact, except for what I am about to explain, I really applaud this reporter.  The only problem is that she is ignorant on a couple of issues. (This is about 2:45 into the 4 min video)  My specific disgust comes from when the militarily ignorant reporter says,

“But they’re crude rockets, aren’t they, and after all, their impact has been minimal compared to the impact of Israeli strikes on Lebanon.  Explain something to us, why would you not try to be shooting these missiles, these Katyushan missiles, or rockets we should say, they’re not missiles at all, they’re rockets, why would Israel not be trying to shoot them out of the sky?  Hizbolla rockets from the sky?  They have the capability to do that…”

See it here.

Well that is just dumb, and a very good example of why I made my plea last week for people to learn more about military issues.  This reporter is ignorant on three issues, and here is my real media criticism, because this matters.

First, nobody, not even us, can shoot a salvo of missiles like the Katyusha, out of the sky.  We (in the US) have a limited capability to shoot a low-flying (compared to a SCUD for example) munition like this, one at a time, within a few hundred yards.  But that is on our ships, and uses a system called a Phalanx, which is essentially a high-tech Gatling-gun.  (Look it up.)  She is confusing the ability to shoot down something which flies into the stratosphere (like a SCUD), which a Patriot (Block III, if you want to get technical) or the Israeli “Arrow” can do, with shooting something which is entirely different.  She is reporting on a war for a huge news agency, and just spread something which is not true by stating it as fact.

Next, she conflates the legal issue of “proportionality.”  I enjoin you to examine Just War theory for this one.  My recommended work is Michael Walzer’s, Just and Unjust Wars, which includes a section on this topic.  In short, really short, the number of casualties is not supposed to be measured, the means and ends are.  Thus, if you deliberately target civilians, to no purpose, that is wrong according to the UN and Geneva.  If you strive to avoid civilians, but they are killed anyway during a pursuit of a legitimate military target, this is not considered a part of the equation.  Oh cripes, there is so much more, but you need to read it for yourself.  That is hard, but that is what the UN and Geneva say.  You’re not entitled to your own facts.  No matter what Wikipedia says.  And no matter how far the truthiness meter is pegged, the same applies to journalists who are reporting on war.  You do not get to make up truths.  (Now, if somebody believes that the Israelis deliberately target the people in that building because they are civilians, that would be different.)

Finally, and this really burned me, the reporter attempted to establish quasi-intellectual referent authority over the idiot Israeli spokesperson.  (She was an idiot, in my opinion, because she herself was little better prepared to address these issues.)  With her little, “these Katyshan missiles, or rockets we should say, they’re not missiles at all, they’re rockets” she demonstrated that A. She is a fool and B. She was grandstanding, ignorantly, to try and assert some sort of Alpha Male-type authority over her “subject.”  Damn I hate that.

Yes, ask hard questions.  Yes, beat the hell out of official spokesmen for any authority group.  When Ms Kate Turner, a grad student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, did this to the President, she was exemplifying my point. See here.  Yes, if you have specialized knowledge (and fer crying out loud, the lady on CNN is a reporter reporting on a damned WAR, she ought to know what she is talking about), use it.  But don’t fake it.  That destroys the whole point of your interaction.  Does anybody know who this reporter is, or how to contact her?

Finally, a really interesting old clip from Lebanese television.  It is old, it should be noted, but if this sort of thing is indicative of what appeared on a comedy show in Lebanon, it might give some insights into what the “popular” Lebanese depictions of Hizbulla were prior to Israel’s actions.  See this one here.  (The morality of making fun of rockets is a different kettle of fish entirely, which I leave aside for now.)

Wars, all wars, elicit this sort of thing.  One could fairly easily make a case that Thucydides, in writing on the Peloponnesian War, was creating propaganda.  But as with my request for more reading about war (last week) among citizens of our national experiment in democracy, I think that becoming a skeptic is important as well.  I would note that “skeptic” is not the same as “cynic,” but your mileage may vary.

By the way, I tried hard to make this a balanced list.  Any inclination is unintentional.  But the topic fascinates me.  If anyone has examples (links) of similar propaganda from Israeli television, or British or French or German, please send it along.  Press releases, press conferences, official denials, etc., don’t count.  We all expect “spin” and that, while related in theme, is not the same.

On an unrelated note, or perhaps it is not, I note this tidbit of news from last week.  I do not endorse any politician.  I do welcome those who join me in uniform.  The two are not related.  Unfortunately, as the article notes, only 1% of our representatives in Congress have family in service.  Some 32, however, are apparently married to lobbyists.  See the story here.

NEWPORT WITHIN EARSHOT:

Kate is still in India doing research on Sunni-Shia relations in the largest democracy on Earth.  That she learned Hindi (over the past year and more) while enroute to this study only increases my amazement towards this wondrous woman I married.  Damn I miss grad school.

My middle daughter Ryann, an even more voracious reader than her father, became enamored of a new genre of books which did not exist when I was a child: First-person historical fiction (where the protagonists are always pre-teens or early teens).  Now she wants to write a book of this type with me.  How cool is that?  We are setting it in Washington, D.C., in 1932, during the Bonus March.  I am one deliriously happy father.

I will be in New York City, tonight, Wednesday the 2nd of August.  Driving back to D.C. from here (Newport, RI), I thought I’d stop in what even I, raised in semi-rural Ohio, call, “The City.”  I will have dinner and drinks with some friends early on, but if any Altercators in NYC or environs would like to determine for themselves the actuality of my existence (given the above cited doubts)…come by the White Horse Tavern in the Village at around 8pm.  I’ll be the big bald guy.  (Oh damn, given that this is the Village, that might not be enough.)  OK, I’ll be the big bald guy who answers when somebody yells, “Colonel Bob?!”  How’s that?  More than happy to tilt one, and have a collegial “Altercation” with anyone who’d like to show up.  If you don’t know the White Horse, type in “Dylan Thomas Jack Kerouac Whitehorse dead at 39” in Google and the address will pop right up in one of the links.  It is only a coincidence that I turned 39 in April.

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

August 1, 2006 | 2:56 PM ET | Permalink

Eric will be on Larry King tonight, discussing American Jews and Israel.

August 1, 2006 | 11:38 AM ET | Permalink

Hey, it’s just Connecticut…

Today’s WSJ front page feature is about MoveOn and the lefty takeover of the Democratic Party, here ($).  Similarly, in The Nation, John Nichols quotes the DLC’s Marshall Wittman saying of the Lieberman/Lamont primary, "This is a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.” Here.  This echoes David Broder’s silly Sunday column, in which he refers to majority positions as “elitist” and virtually everything one reads both in the punditocracy and the blogosphere. This is in part, a consequence of the fact that people who work in and write about politics need to make as big a deal about everything as they can in order to make themselves feel important.  Occasionally they’re right, but not often.  The fact is, the race is taking place in the liberal state of Connecticut, where Bush and the war have virtually no support, and where “Kansas” style politics have no hold.  No one of consequence is arguing that Ned Lamont should run there or that anyone in the party should be purged if they do not support the party line—whatever that might be—on every issue in conservative parts of the country.  But this is a blue, bluey, bluish state.  If Connecticut Democratic Primary voters think Lieberman has been a bad senator and will likely continue to be so, they should vote him out of office.  The fact that he continues to believe that invading Iraq was a good idea, that creating a Department of Homeland Security was a good idea, that overruling Terri Schiavo’s family was a good idea, that joining in the Republican vendetta against Bill Clinton was a good idea, well, that argues that what you’ve gotten from the man in the past is likely what you’ll get in the future.  People like Broder, the Washington Post editorial page, Lani Davis and Al Hunt seem to think there’s something unfair in people voting their democratic preferences in their own primary’s party.  We’ll see.

Greg Rodriquez has some interesting things to say about Democrats and religion.

Old News is Not News [ permalink ]

One of the problems with the word “news” is that it contains the word “new.”  If something is not “news” it’s “history” and deserves to be ignored until it can be forgotten.  All you’ve got to do if that’s in your interest is wait out the news cycle.  Better yet, if no news cycle ever emerges.  I was reminded all this while working on my book when I came across this story from February 2004 in the Guardian.  Titled, “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us,” it tells of a secret, suppressed Pentagon study warning that “warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020.  Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies.  The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

"'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis.  'Once again, warfare would define human life.'"

What is the Bush Administration doing to protect you from this massive threat predicted by its own Department of Defense?

It’s suppressing the news, hoping you don’t find out; attacking those who present similar warnings, and, as in almost all cases, abdicating its Constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense.  Where are the so-called liberal media?  You tell me.

Could Mel get a job on Fox?  

"The complaint claimed Chillemi, during a department discussion about discrimination in the workplace, said that when choosing between hiring a man or a woman, "of course I'd pick the man. The woman would most likely get pregnant and leave."

In October 2004, Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly settled a sexual harassment suit filed against him by his former producer Andrea Mackris, hours before a scheduled court showdown over audiotapes believed to be at the heart of the case.

What Ben Adler misses in his mild defense of AIPAC here is that the real estate/construction PACs do not target any member who defies them for political destruction, which is why even though they give more money, they are not as politically intimidating as AIPAC.  He also misses the irony of quoting Henry Siegman the “the former head of the American Jewish Congress, who disagrees with AIPAC.”  That word “former” is there for a reason, bubela…. Can you find me any contemporary heads of major Jewish organizations willing to go on record criticizing AIPAC?  My guess is that they’d be “former” heads pretty quick as well.  And finally, why the false choice?  There’s lots of people in the press corps.  Why not “a greater focus on exposing on combating the emergence of uncompromising Christianist zealotry on Israel” as well as “more pieces ‘exposing’ the [still-misunderstood] … influence of groups like AIPAC?”  And not of “groups like…”  The problem is AIPAC itself.

A linguistic milestone of a headline for MSNBC.com, here .  (Thanks Petey)

Frida Berrigan, an expert on the U.S. global arms trade, considers what our world might be like if the top two best-known American exports — Hollywood's products and the ones the Pentagon peddles — traded media places.  What if, she asks, E! became A! (as in "A! Today in the Arms Trade") and People magazine became Power magazine?

"What if," she wonders, "American girls grew up reading Jane's Defence Weekly instead of (or in addition to) JANE?  What if Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrel labored on their craft in virtual obscurity, while Cameron Diaz and Scarlett Johansson did their own laundry after a hard shift on the film set?  What if the attention these stars now get went to the arms trade?  Then, Jeffrey Kohler and Robert Joseph would be household names, their every move tracked by a voracious media."

Alter-reviews

There’s a new Richard Thompson CD/DVD collection called 1000 Years of Popular Music.  It really is, sort of.  The music, recorded during shows on two consecutive nights, February 2nd and 3rd, 2005, was filmed for this DVD release as a kind of a dare.  According to the esteemed Mr. Thompson, deserving to be included in this weird but august company are Squeeze’s “Tempted,” and whatshername’s “Oops! I Did it Again!”  He also does wonderful versions of “Cry Me a River,” and the Kinks’ “See my Friends.”

How did it happen?  Thompson explains,

For this show, which has been performed occasionally, and will hopefully receive a few more airings. The idea is that Popular Music comes in many forms, through many ages, and as older forms get superseded, sometimes the baby is thrown out with the bathwater - great ideas, tunes, rhythms, styles, get left in the dust of history, so let's have a look at what's back there, and see if still does the trick.  I am unqualified to sing 98% of the material here, but me having a go could be considered part of the fun.  Also, trying to render an Arthur Sullivan orchestration with acoustic guitar and snare drum is pretty desperate stuff, but may, at a stretch, be thought "charming."  What appears on this CD is a performance, rather than a chronological, distillation of several different shows - hence some gaps in the 17th and 18th centuries, and too much weight on Music Hall and Rock & Roll - we just felt that some performances weren't quite captured.

It’s all here at his site.

And if you haven’t heard it yet, the new Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways really is as good as everyone is saying it is; possibly even the best of this terrific series.  It’s produced by Rick Rubin again and is on Lost Highway.  It’s almost impossible to fulfill the cliché a “fitting epitaph” for a man like Cash, but this comes pretty damn close.

Short-takes:  I’ve only had a few listens but I am really enjoying Dave Insley’s Here with You Tonight, here.  An Amazon reviewer says of his first record, “Always central to the proceedings are Insley’s amazing vocals, a deep, rich baritone, the perfect match to his unique songwriting.  From his early days with cowpunks Chaingang and Politics or Pontiacs, in the mid 80’s, thru his more recent work with newgrassers The Nitpickers & hell-raisers Trophy Husbands, Insley has matriculated into a full-blown Americana artist.” Also, he sounds a bit like Willie Nelson.  Also really good is So Much More by Bret Dennen, here, which doesn’t look to be coming out until September, so let’s all read about him here.  I concur with the Paul Simon comparison.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian Kresge
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Dear Dr. Alterman,
I'm not the ardent student of military history that Major Bateman is, though I've been an infantryman almost as long in one form or another.  I feel somewhat ashamed that my feeling on Israel's attack of southern Lebanon is shaped less by being a Jew and more by my "considered" military judgment (to borrow from a peer).  Qana sealed the deal for me.  I've never fathomed how the mayhem inflicted by air strikes necessarily "sends a message" to the enemy, any more than rockets on Haifa send a message to Israel.  As is standard military practice, those who fire rockets don't linger long in the place they fired from.  If Israel really wants to truly eradicate the threat posed by Hezbollah, it seems to me that they'll have to use the combination of house-to-house, intelligence on the ground and eyes in the sky, and infantry / combat engineer units to do so.  I will not be shaken in the belief that 2000 years of suffering does not justify terrorizing a civilian population.  Ordinarily, I would say "let Israel decide its own course of action," but it's all too easy for us in Diaspora to end up being targets, so by default, that has to give us a say.  Just as you feel, we shouldn't have to yield up unwavering support for what increasingly seems like a bad course of action.  I've heard it bandied about by many pundits, that Israel is not making any kind of strategic decisions with regards to this current action.  I think both American Jews and the rest of America should be proposing a more intelligent military solution at worst, a combination diplomatic/military one at best. One has to wonder if the President might be pandering to the base that is right now furiously masturbating to the looming rapture and apocalypse, given his current course of inaction.  Maybe it's a trifle unfair, but it just seems like we, too, could levy better solutions than we are currently.  Thanks for having the courage to put this forth.  It feels too often like American Jews are stuck in the middle of ardent/blind support of Israel or naive peaceniks.

Name: Adam Hunter
Hometown: New York, NY
Dear Eric,
I enjoy your insightful analysis of the current situation in Israel and Lebanon.  I believe that Israel's response is justified, and here's why.

  1. Lebanon has no control over Hezbollah. It's not like Israel can get Lebanon to rein in these extremists. The UN certainly couldn't do it years after they declared Hezbollah a terrorist group.

  2. Hezbollah does not want peace, they want to achieve their goal: The Destruction of Israel. How do you negotiate under those terms? Every negotiation simply buys Hezbollah more time to plan and arm themselves for attacks on Israel.

  3. Since no other country can stop Hezbollah from firing missiles or kidnapping soldiers, and Hezbollah is unwilling to give up its goal of destroying Israel, Israel has no choice but to engage in a direct battle with Hezbollah.

  4. Civilian casualties are a tragic result of any warfare, whether it be World War II or the war in Iraq. Intent must be brought into any discussion of civilian deaths. Yes, more Lebanese have been killed. But how many of those civilians were deliberately targeted by Israel? None. On the other hand, how many of the Israeli citizens killed by Hezbollah were deliberately targeted? All of them. Body counts are not enough to establish right and wrong.

  5. Israel withdrew from Gaza. The result: Hamas fired more rockets into Israel, and kidnapped a soldier. Israel's step toward peace was rewarded with fresh attacks.

  6. What option remained to the Israelis?  How could they defend themselves against a group that no one else is willing to control?  When no viable options exist diplomatically, and Israeli lives are at risk, what is left but war? What diplomatic solution exists that does not involve the continued peril of Israeli citizens within the range of Hezbollah missile strikes? Israel has reached out for peace time and time again. In 2000, they offered almost everything Arafat desired-- save for Jerusalem and the oft-debated "right of return."  Despite the fact that the deal would have given the Palestinians their own country in the West Bank and Gaza (and set groundwork to work out the other outstanding territorial and policy issues), Arafat killed the deal outright. While Palestinians claim all they want is "an end to the occupation," their support of Hamas and Hezbollah, groups bent on nothing less than wanton destruction undermines their cause.

Name: John
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Dr. A, couldn't agree more with you on the Middle East.  Both sides have plenty of blame over the years, and both sides would greatly benefit from finally implementing a 2-state solution. The extremists on both sides will still bitch and moan, but it seems like the flammability of the tinder in that volatile region would be largely tempered by a reasonable compromise.  As Yglesias so poignantly added, it would also cut the legs out from under Hezbolla.  Like a boxing match where there is no clear victor and never will be, it's time to call it a draw before the gymnasium burns down.

P.S.  Ann Coulter comparing herself to Jesus is about the most absurd thing I've ever read.  But it could make a great SAT inspired game:  Ann Coulter is to Jesus, as ___ is to ___.

Name: Justin
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Dr. Alterman,
You write this today on your blog about the Israel/Palestine problem: ". 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." In late June of this year, Hamas, pushed by Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas, approved to a two state solution which implicitly recognized the state of Israel.  Hamas was initially reticent, but under pressure of a popular referendum, which would have passed, they agreed to it.  Chris McGreal commented in the Guardian, "Hamas has made a major political climbdown by agreeing to sections of a document that recognise Israel's right to exist and a negotiated two-state solution. If [Hamas] formally approves the entire document, it will represent a significant shift from its founding goal of replacing Israel with an Islamic state and its more recent position of agreeing a long-term ceasefire, over a generation or more, if a Palestinian state is formed on the occupied territories but without formally recognizing the Jewish state." A few days later, June 24, the IDF kidnapped two Palestinian brothers, one a doctor, in Gaza. On June 25th, Hamas kidnapped Gilad Shalit. Does this joint agreement from Hamas and Fatah, agreed to by Hamas in part because Abbas threatened to hold a referendum and Hamas knew it would have passed, to recognize Israel's existence qualify as "no indication at all that" Palestinians "are ready to live side by side with Israel"? It seems to me your statement is inaccurate. McGreal, Chris. "Climbdown as Hamas agrees to Israeli State."
________
The Guardian, 22 June 2006 Ilene R. Prusher. "Moderate voices vie for clout within Hamas."
Christian Science Monitor, 19 May 2006 Barzak, Ibrahim.
Associated Press, 27 June 2006 Staff. "Israel Captures Pair in Gaza Raid."
BBC News, 24 June 2006

Name: Mike Sinsheimer
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
Stupid questions - What would you do if Rockets were firing into your neighborhood killing your citizens with no apologies?  What would you do if your enemies had stated many times that their only goal was your destruction?  What would you do when your enemy doesn't care about their own civilians and surrounds them with rockets effectively putting together a civilian shield?  Israel has dropped flyers announcing to civilian in targeted areas that they'll be going after and unlike their enemies if innocent life is taken, they admit it, call it a tragedy and apologize.  I wonder what your prescription is - this is very much a damned if you do and a damned if you don't situation.  You could allow the attacks on your citizenry to continue and lose the war or you can fight back and lose the PR battle.  Israel seems to have chosen the lesser of two evils.  The World for the most part hates Israel already so I'm not sure that losing the PR battle is so important especially when the alternative is destruction.  It's easy to be an armchair quarterback in this region, but not so easy when rockets are flying overhead.

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