• September 1, 2006 | 1:12 PM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new Nation column here called “All governments (And Some Journalists)) Lie and my debate with Mort Zuckerman about Lebanon on Larry

King is here.

I also did a post for the Guardian's "Comment is Free" blog, here about the new Republican attacks on 60 percent of Americans....

Extreme Poverty: The Catfight: The Mickster objects to Robert Greenstein by way of Rick Lyman, here. I’m waiting for backup on that one. In the meantime, how about EJ, here.

“The "good" news is that the poverty rate, the proportion of Americans who are poor, didn't change much between 2004 and 2005, falling in a statistically insignificant way from 12.7 percent to 12.6 percent. The bad news is that the poverty rate, having risen steadily in recent years, is still higher than it was in 2001, when it stood at 11.7 percent.

Worse is that the proportion of the poor who are very poor has risen. People are considered in deep poverty if they have half or less of the yearly income of those at the poverty line. In 2005 half the poverty line for a family of three was $7,788; for a family of four it was $9,985. (Try living on that.) According to the new report, 43.1 percent of poor people lived in that sort of deep poverty -- a record since 1975, when the government started assembling such statistics.

In the six economic recoveries since the early 1960s, this is the first time the poverty rate was higher in the recovery's fourth year than it was when the recession was at its worst.”

Oh and… “The number of Americans without health insurance rose, too, to 46.6 million in 2005, up from 45.3 million in 2004 and 41.2 million in 2001. The proportion without insurance is up from 14.6 percent in 2001 to 15.9 percent in 2005.” What was the name of that magazine whose dishonest coverage of the Clinton Health Care plan proved the crucial link in the chain to its destruction again? Who was its editor? (Clue: The same charming fellow who appointed Stephen Glass head of fact-checking…)

Quote of the Day: Pat Buchanan, “"What I would like is -- I'd like the country I grew up in. It was a good country. I lived in Washington, D.C., 400,000 black folks, 400,000 white folks, in a country 89 or 90 percent white. I like that country."

From AP/Ipsos Poll on the Anniversary of September 11:

In the long term, do you think there will be more or less terrorism in the United States because the U.S. went to war in Iraq?

More: 60%
Less: 31%
About the same/no difference: 6%
Not sure: 3%

Everybody buy and read my friend Brian Morton’s new novel even thought I did not rate a cameo. It’s called Breakable You.

I couldda been a contender.

From the Benton Foundation:

Net Neutrality fans rally in 25 cities
[SOURCE: C-Net|News.com, AUTHOR: Anne Broache]
With Congress still dispersed for its August recess, advocates of Net neutrality laws this week took to knocking on office doors of U.S. senators in 25 cities across the nation. From Seattle to Denver to Montpelier, Vt., small groups of citizens, small businesses, nonprofits and individuals allied with the "Save the Internet" coalition staged rallies on Wednesday and Thursday.
Hoisting orange signs touting their cause, they presented senators' offices with petitions signed by thousands who support legislation mandating the divisive concept, defined as a broad prohibition against prioritizing Internet content and services. The activities were designed to ramp up momentum for the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The proposal was narrowly defeated by an 11-11 vote in the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this summer when it was proposed as an amendment to a mammoth communications bill. The House of Representatives in June rejected a similar measure by a wider margin.
The Snowe-Dorgan plan is expected to surface again when the sweeping Senate communications bill, chiefly sponsored by Sen Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), goes to a vote in the full Senate, although it's unclear how soon that formal debate will resume.
The politicians, who return on Sept. 5, already have a heavy agenda and are expected to recess again by early October so some can return to campaigning on their home turf for the upcoming elections. According to a running tally taken by the Save the Internet coalition, 26 senators have publicly voiced their support for the Snowe-Dorgan approach. Only one of them, Sen Snowe herself, is a Republican. Sen. Jeffords, an Independent from Vermont, emerged in favor this week as well. Four of the senators siding with the Net neutrality lobby publicly declared their stance just this week, in the midst of the coast-to-coast rallies.
(Four more are still waffling; 14 are opposed; and 56 have not yet made their positions public, by the coalition's count.)

* National Outpouring of Support for Net Neutrality

Viewers ask FCC to impose fines over president's swearing
[SOURCE: MarketWatch, AUTHOR: Siobhan Hughes]
The Federal Communications Commission has been asked by about two
dozen people to impose financial penalties in connection with television and radio broadcasts in which President Bush was heard swearing at the G-8 summit in July. President Bush apparently thought a microphone was off last month while he was speaking with Prime Minister Tony Blair. While discussing political tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, Bush used the word s***. His comments came just four months after federal regulators said that the word was one of
the most vulgar, graphic and explicit words relating to excretory activity in the English language and would likely trigger fines if broadcast. Many listeners were offended after hearing Bush's remarks on channels such as CNN, a cable network whose programs aren't subject to Federal Communications Commission fines.
But at least one person complained that the word was aired on an NBC affiliate - a station that is subject to FCC penalties since its programs air over spectrum licensed from the government. If the FCC pursues an investigation, the Republicans who dominate the agency will be in the awkward position of focusing on improper language used by President Bush, who nominated them. If the FCC declines, it will leave itself open to charges of playing politics and to complaints from broadcasters who will have more reason to claim that the FCC's
indecency standards are inconsistent.

Another Quote of the Day: “During the 9:30 pm CT/MT hour on August 27, 2006, the phrase "t*ts over a*s" was spoken by both Ms. Mirren and Ms. Flockhart and both times aired unedited during the NBC Network broadcast of the Emmys" said the PTC.
"It is utterly irresponsible and atrocious for NBC to air this vulgar language during the safe harbor time when millions of children were in the viewing audience," said PTC President Brent Bozell.

Slacker Friday

Comments:  Hey Eric, it's Stupid to warn against complacency.  Maybe I'm a worrywart, but despite recent polls, Bob Novak fretting, etc. I'm feeling pessimistic about the 2006 election.  Recall the race to fill Duke Cunningham's seat.  Nice Dem effort, but the GOP still won by 5%.  The Democrats are paying for their past complicity in allowing unfettered gerrymandering without realizing that many of their Southern and Western seats were about to leave them forever.  This fall Democrats may ride a wave of dissatisfaction with the war, the economy, health care, stem cells, whatever, and still only manage to reduce the GOP margin of victory.  Take Illinois, one of the bluest states in the nation.  There are only two house districts in play and one of them has a centrist Dem incumbent. 

The GOP is also better at canvassing voters. Look at this interview. Their databases are so deep that they can target an individual and identify pinpoint wedge issues (e.g., kids in private school) with tailor-made appeals. Meanwhile, the Dems are ignoring their base again. In 2004 the war may have motivated a new group of activists, but traditionally Dems don't win elections without a big turnout by African-Americans and/or a strong get-out-the-vote effort by organized labor. That’s why the GOP will push the immigration issue: it resonates with both groups in a way "gay marriage" doesn't. The Dems seem to merely rely on anger over Katrina staying on full-boil for the next two months.  And did you notice how the FDA just blunted any abortion pro-choice appeals by approving the morning after pill.  I know, you're shocked that a Dubya administration would play politics with science.   

Finally, I sense a lack of energy. Maybe because polls are validating many Dems' antiwar positions they feel the battle is won. Or maybe they are understandably exhausted.  Regardless, I don't see the Move-On/ACT presence, or the grassroots things like Meetup.com nights where people were handwriting letters to voters. I've received two e-mails this month from fellow 2004 Kerry workers asking if I know of any efforts going on. If there are, the word isn’t getting out.

Name: Ben Ross
Hometown: Bethesda, MD
Comments: Eric, I don't think it's accurate to call David Brooks a neocon. (Although the rest of what you imply about him today is utterly accurate.) He is so slippery that putting him into any category is unfair to the category. In the example of today's quotations, the call for civility that you first quote is a most un-neocon sentiment. I've written elsewhere about the neocons' lack of philosophical consistency, but if the term has any meaning at all, the group it refers to has a common style as well as a common political preference. More generally, there is Brooks' air of bemused tolerance toward what neocons call the liberal elite (see especially the second half of his Bobos in Paradise). Of course, Brooks can never bring himself to criticize those who wage "culture war" against a group toward which he affects benign tolerance.
Going back to the ideological debates of the 30s and 40s might offer some terminological pointers. Brooks is like the subgroup of liberals of that era who could never bring themselves to criticize communism. He's no more a neocon than, say, Walter Duranty or Henry Wallace was a communist. Today's word, I suppose, is "enabler" -- but maybe we need something more specific, on the model of "fellow traveler" or "Stalinoid" -- to describe those who play this role toward neocons.

Name: Kevin
Hometown: Bloomington, IN
Comments: "The remaining workers either prefer to be on Medicaid rather than pay a premium, or choose not to have health insurance."--- I love how those who didn't leave New Orleans for Katrina, who didn't leave Lebanon ahead of the bombing, and who probably can't afford the health insurance at Wal-Mart, all "choose" their situation.

Name: Wes Lukowsky
Hometown: Geneva, Il
Comments: Add to "What a Great Country This Is.." Microwavable Pork Rinds....or not

Name: Tim Schroeder
Hometown: Willimantic, CT
Comments: Hi Eric, On the topic of good things happening in the USA: the Antarctic ozone hole has stabilized and is showing signs of possible recovery.  This is an example of the US participating proactively in an international environmental treaty that is showing excellent results. The ozone hole problem is orders of magnitude simpler and cheaper to solve than global warming; but hey, we are doing something right anyway. Banning CFC's really did work, and nobody died of a hairspray shortage.

Name: Derek Lessing
Hometown: Philly
Comments: "What a Great Country This Is" -- What a great idea! I'm inspired to pile on: 3 cheers for U.S. research universities and professional science education.
With no evidence at all, I'm going to claim that most successful scientists in other countries have spent at least some part of their education or career here in the U.S., i.e. college, grad school, or a postdoctoral gig. (Like much on your list, it's wise to qualify claims of U.S. superiority with an "at the moment, and in spite of Bush administration policies." )

Name: Bob Carrick
Hometown: Salida, CO
Comments: Re ...two good things happening in the United States...on behalf of my staff (I'm a high school principal)and my sister who is an elementary teacher in Georgia thank you for your kind comment about "underappreciated and underpaid public school teachers"...they are both.

Eric Rauchway
Davis, CA

How about: The New York Public Library
The National Bureau of Economic Research
The fact that people really are, still, in spite of what you hear, reasonably decent to each other on a day-to-day basis (except in airports, what happens to people in airports?) (or does this sound too much like Anne Frank?)

August 31, 2006 | 12:32 PM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new Nation column here called “All governments (And Some Journalists)) Lie, and my debate with Mort Zuckerman about Lebanon on Larry King is here.

From the National Coalition for History: 1)” According to a report released last week by the National Security Archive (NSA), as part of a congressionally-mandated review of previously released historical documents relating to nuclear energy and
weaponry, the Pentagon and the Energy Department have reclassified as national security secrets historical data relating to the size of the American nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.  The report documents that so far the cost of the Kyle-Lott reclassification review to the
American taxpayer is over $3,313 per page, a figure that has raised the eyebrows of government watchdog groups that question the relative cost/benefit of the program.

The NSA report details for the public the number of Minuteman missiles (1,000), Titan II missiles (54), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (656) in the historic U.S. Cold War arsenal ­  information that had previously been public through the administrations of four
Secretaries of Defense in the 1960s and 70s but is now blacked out. Security classifiers also have also redacted from documents deployment information relating to the number of American nuclear weapons in Great Britain and Germany -- information that was first declassified in 1999.  Also blacked out -- details regarding the nuclear deployment arrangements with Canada, even though the Canadian government has declassified its side of the arrangement.

The congressionally-ordered review was sanctioned under the 1998 Kyle-Lott amendments.  They were crafted in the pre-9/11 era and were designed to re-screen documents for inadvertent releases of  information relating to the American nuclear arsenal. More
recently, the costly program has been justified in terms of its potential to thwart terrorism.

Thus far the Energy Department has spent some $22 million in implementing the Kyle-Lott amendments. To that end the department has surveyed more than 200 million pages of previously released public documents. The program has certainly kept young historians and
contract researchers employed, but there are serious questions relating to the relative cost/benefit of the program and whether America is actually any safer as a result of the re-review.

To date, Energy Department screeners have withdrawn a total of 6,640 pages (.3% of the total pages reviewed) from public access as a result of the re-review. This comes to a total per-page cost of $3,313, but even this figure is deceptively low: Over two-thirds of the documents being withheld are marked with lesser classification rankings than that of "Restricted Data (RD)" ­ documents of prime concern that could potentially reveal weapon systems design/fuel information that could possibly be of use to a potential terrorist, should such persons actually use archival sources to obtain such information. (There has never been a documented or even alleged case in which information gleaned from any American archival source has been used by a terrorists  to plan an attack on a Western target.)  "It would be difficult to find better candidates for unjustifiable secrecy than decisions to classify the numbers of U.S. strategic weapons," remarked Archive senior analyst Dr. William Burr, who compiled the NSA report.”

Is this a great country or what? (See below) Particularly if you’re obscenely rich. (If you don’t have Times Select, try this.

But the above is actually a pretty good argument for Times Select, as was that long Philip Boffey piece on global warming, and this one on infrastructure). 

Some lowlights: “According to the latest installation of a survey that the Federal Reserve has conducted every three years since 1989, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans accounted for 33.4 percent of total net worth in 2004, compared to 30.1 percent in 1989. Over the same period, the other Americans in the top 10 percent saw their share of the nation’s net worth basically stagnate, at about 36 percent, while the bottom 50 percent accounted for just 2.5 percent of the wealth in 2004, compared to 3.0 percent in 1989.

In 2006, the average tax cut for households with incomes of more than $1 million — the top two-tenths of 1 percent — is $112,000 which works out to a boost of 5.7 percent in after tax income. That’s considerably higher than the 5 percent boost garnered by the top 1 percent. It’s far greater than the 2.5 percent increase of the middle fifth of households, and fully 19 times greater than the 0.3 percent gain of the poorest fifth of households.

A recent study done for the Business Roundtable, a lobbying group for chief executives, shows that median executive pay at 350 large public companies was $6.8 million in 2005. According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s 179 times the pay of the average American worker.

The fast-growing gap between the rich and poor and middle-class Americans is not something that has just happened. The Bush policies are an attempt to dismantle the institutions and norms that have long worked to ameliorate inequities — progressive taxation, the minimum wage, Social Security, Medicaid and so on. The aims that can’t be accomplished outright — like cuts in Social Security — are being teed up by running deficits that could force the shrinkage of government programs, even though the public would not likely condone many such cuts unless compelled to by a fiscal crisis.

Underscoring the point, the Bush administration's own Economic Report of the President in 2006 shows that average annual earnings of college graduates fell by 5 percent from 2000 to 2004. In those four years, the difference between the average yearly pay of a college graduate and a high school graduate shrank from 93 percent to 80 percent.”

“Civility, Neocon style.”  David Brooks, three weeks ago: “The McCain-Lieberman Party counters with constant reminders that country comes before party, that in politics a little passion energizes but unmarshaled passion corrupts, and that more people want to vote for civility than for venom.” Here.

David Brooks, this morning: “Perhaps you remember the left-wing bloggers foaming so uncontrollably at the thought of Rove’s coming imprisonment that they looked like little Chia Pets of glee.” Here.

The author realizes that by employing the term “neocon” he is practicing a combination of anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred. Being a liberal, he simply cannot help himself.

Speaking of which, here’s one more reason this war is the stupidest, most counterproductive and most dishonest thing  any American president has done since, well, actually, I can’t think of anything Maybe you can. (Thanks, liberal hawks and Ralph)

All hail President Joe McCarthy.

Let's impeach the punditocracy, as well.
The official “Retire already, David Broder” calendar begins today...

How do you spell S-C-H-A-D-E-N-F-R-E-U-D-E? 

In defense of war photographers.

Pretty good definition: “the mainstream style on reporting the news that most papers employ is not really concerned with depicting the truth, but concerned primarily with balancing lots of competing agendas and offending the least amount of interests as possible,” Here.

Catholic Right, The: Here.

Altercation Book Club:

From: Greil Marcus, The Shape of things to Come. Prophecy and the American Voice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, September, 2006)

The Barking Dog

America is a place and a story, made up of exuberance and suspicion, crime and liberation, lynch mobs and escapes; its greatest testaments are made of portents and warnings, Biblical allusions that lose all their certainties in American air. “A dog, a dog,” as David Lynch wrote in a song called “Pink Western Range,” “barking like Robert Johnson.”

The story of America as told from the beginning is one of self-invention and nationhood, and before and after the formal founding of the nation, the template, in its simplest, starkest terms, came in the voice of God from the Book of Amos, calling out to the Children of Israel: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” From John Winthrop in 1630, with “A Modell of Christian Charity,” describing the mission of the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Company, to Abraham Lincoln in 1865, delivering his Second Inaugural Address, to Martin Luther King, Jr., ninety-eight years later, speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, America has told itself that story. Whether America has heard itself in these prophetic voices—voices that were raised to keep faith with the past, or with the future to which the past committed their present—is another question.

he Children of Israel made a covenant with God, to keep his commandments, obey his rules, and follow the path of righteousness; the covenant and nothing else made them a nation. The promises they made were not made to be broken; because one people and no other had made a covenant with God, the stakes were much higher. The promises were made to be betrayed, which meant that when one betrayed the promise, one betrayed God. In the Israel of Isaiah and Jeremiah, as the land fell into misery and sin, prophets stepped forward to speak in God’s name, to warn the people that as in their covenant they had been promised God’s greatest blessings, should they betray their covenant they would suffer the greatest torments; as they had offered themselves to his judgment, so they would be judged. America began as a reenactment of this drama, Amos’s words echoing over Fitzgerald’s phylogenetic American memory of “a fresh, green breast of the new world.”

The Puritans carried the sense of themselves as God’s people to America as they found it; that sense, armed, is what is called American exceptionalism. It re-creates the nation as a voice of power and self-righteousness, speaking to itself in a message broadcast to the whole world. This is an original and fundamental part of American identity; there is no American identity without it, which is also to say there is no American identity without a sense of portent and doom. This is the other side of the story: the urge of the nation, in the shape of a certain kind of American hero, to pass judgment on itself. Israel had the comfort of knowing that should it betray its covenant, God would be the judge; in America, a covenant a few people once made with themselves, a covenant the past made with the future and that every present maintains with both the future and the past, passing that judgment on America is everyone’s burden and liberation. It’s what it means to be a citizen; all of citizenship, all taxes and freedoms, flows from that obligation. To be obliged to judge one’s country is also to have the right to do it.

This story, once public and part of common discourse, something to fight over in flights of gorgeous rhetoric and blunt plain speech, has long since become spectral; it is now cryptic. To the degree that it is worth the telling, it is a story told more in art than in politics, even if it is at the heart of our politics—our ongoing struggle to define what the nation is and what it is for. In the nineteenth century, along with Melville and Hawthorne, Emerson and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass and Edgar Allan Poe, politicians and preachers asked if the country understood the nature of its covenant. They asked if the country understood the price that would be paid if the covenant were to be broken, or the price to be paid if the fact that the covenant had already been broken, a fact buried under generations of patriotic speeches and prayers, proved to be impossible to hide.

For more, go here.

Correspondence Corner, Special “What a Great Country This Is” Edition: [ permalink ]

Name: Harry and Devorah Silverman
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Eric, Please settle a bet. My wife says you are unable to mention two good things that are happening in the United States unrelated to the arts. I say it might take you a few hours but you can do it. C'mon Eric, step up to the plate. The payoff is great, if you know what I mean.

Eric replies: The things I do for my readers… Well, off the top of my head, this should keep you in payoffs through the winter at least…

—The Mets are leading their division and have lots of young talent for the future.
—This has got to be the best country in the world for bacon cheeseburgers.
—You can get a cab in Manhattan without walking to a taxi stand or calling one, when you can get a cab, that is…
—It’s a good place to be born a Jew.
—My impression is America treats its immigrants better than most places, though that one’s getting iffy…
—Diet root beer and Dr. Brown’s are pretty hard to find elsewhere.
—Did we invent Whack-a-mole? We must have invented Whack-a-mole.
—Central Park.
—The fact that they keep improving Ipods.
—The scenery on the California coastline.
—Napa Valley and Sonoma are nice places to visit.
—New York is safer and cleaner than it’s ever been since the Indians sold it.
—I think the brick-oven pizza here is the best, including particularly Italy.
—Human rights groups like Human rights Watch, Amnesty International, USA and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
—Fascism and Communism were never that strong here.
—Those people who save stray cats and dogs.
—Newman's Own, Clothes Off Our Backs, that kind of thing…
—Underappreciated, underpaid public school teachers.
—The Environmental Movement, (excluding those of its members who regularly refuse to “fly commercial”).
—California’s new greenhouse gasses law.
—Altercation’s Correspondence Corner.
—The liberal blogosphere, moveon.org, Media Matters, CAP, i.e. fighting back.
—The fact that according to every poll for the past year, Americans have finally figured out that their president is a dangerously incompetent liar despite being told by most pundits that that means they Hate America…
—The fact that I get to make a pretty good living doing pretty much what I want to do with my life.
—The progress we’ve made on racism and sexism, and are starting to make on prejudice against gays.
—We still have a First Amendment.
—Some journalists still make good use of it. (even though their editors often bury these stories).

Correspondence Corner, regular.

Name: C.L. Moffatt
Hometown: Orlando, Fl
Comments: My next-door neighbor's wife works at Wal-Mart. He's 73 and she's 74. They both should be retired. She works because she needs health care and prescription drugs. She's "fortunate" enough to be one of the few full time Wal-Mart employees. This provides her with health care (I'm guessing not great healthcare). He has two artificial knees and could retire but feels guilty having his wife working and him not. She can't retire from Wal-Mart (15+ years with the company) because Wal-Mart doesn't have a pension for her and she won't get to keep her medical benefits. They'll both probably work until it becomes physically impossible. To me that's sad. Is that $9.99 Tee-Shirt really worth it?

Name: Ken D'Antuono
Hometown: Woodstock, GA
Comments: In response to the people who responded to my comment on Wal-Mart, I will try to address each of you. Beth from Virginia - Wal-Mart does offer health insurance to both full-time and part-time employees. Wal-Mart employees are eligible to participate and receive a matching contribution in Wal-Mart's 401(k) program. You can count the businesses who offer traditional pension plans to new employees these days on one hand. Wal-Mart estimates that more than 75% of their employees have health coverage through a Wal-Mart plan, a spouse's plan, or a retirement plan.
The remaining workers either prefer to be on Medicaid rather than pay a premium, or choose not to have health insurance. The latest figures that I saw show 48% covered by company insurance, 30% covered by a relative's insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare, and 20% without insurance. The 48% with company insurance exceeds the retail industry average of 46%. Wal-Mart estimates that 5% of their employees and 27% of the children of employees are covered by Medicaid which is below the industry averages of 6% and 27% respectively. Beth claims that Wal-Mart is an overall drain on communities. Wal-Mart provides 1.3 million jobs as the nation's largest private employer. In addition to the savings on household items, particularly for low- and moderate-income households, Wal-Mart pays move than $5 billion a year in taxes. That does not even take into account the taxes the employees pay on their earnings.
I would hardly call that a drain. As far as the other companies that I mentioned, it was in response to Eric's assertion that Wal-Mart destroys hometown stores. I simply disagree with this assertion. If you are going to assert that Wal-Mart has a negative impact on small local business, then you have to hold all of the other large retailers who are able to offer their products at lower prices to the same standard. I have no idea how much these other companies pay their employees in terms of wages and benefits. Since they are in the retail industry my guess is that they are very similar to Wal-Mart. The fact that Wal-Mart employs 1.3 million people shows that working at Wal-Mart is at least as good as working at other retailers. It is certainly better than unemployment.
What would the overall economic impact be if Wal-Mart did not exist? If local competitors respond by lowering their prices, and in conjunction lowering wages and benefits to employees, how is that Wal-Mart's fault? I don't see a movement to save competitors who are fighting for their lives in other industries. I don't see a movement to save General Motors and Ford by forsaking Toyota and Honda, money that is going straight back to Japan. I don't see a movement to encourage more people to fly Delta. Douglas from Washington - I will focus more on the issue of wages. The retail industry as a whole tends to require workers with fewer skills, and less experience than other areas. This naturally results in a reduction of wages across the entire sector. Mr. Samuelson of Newsweek reports average hourly wages of $10.85 (Food Stores), $10.63 (Clothing Stores), and $10.84 (Department Stores). The latest averages I saw for Wal-Mart were $10.11 per hour. The study that Douglas references puts average compensation for Wal-Mart employees at $10.41 per hour, with an average work week of 30.5 hours. I am unable to determine if the study defines compensation as simply wages, or a combination of wage and benefit costs. The proposal in the study to increase compensation for the estimated 85% of non-supervisory employees by $2,100 would increase the average yearly gross income from $16,500 to $18,650. Since it appears that Wal-Mart pay employees comparable wages, and the fact that employees are choosing to work at Wal-Mart over other retail jobs or unemployment, suggests to me that the problems rests with the retail sector as a whole, not just Wal-Mart. Douglas also questions the wisdom of purchasing inferior goods at Wal-Mart.
Since Wal-Mart is the both the largest grocery store and the largest pharmacy in the country I still contend that Wal-Mart allow low- and moderate-income families to get more for their money.
Chris from New Jersey - I will certainly look into reading Mr. Fishman's book. Thank you for the suggestion. I am curious to know if Mr. Fishman's assertion is that Wal-Mart causes the higher poverty rates in those counties, or if those rates were in effect prior to Wal-Mart opening at least one store. I am aware that Wal-Mart buys a significant amount of items from China. Chris seems to draw the conclusion that this is due to a relationship to the Bush family.
Is Chris aware that President Clinton championed bringing this "oppressive government" into the World Trade Organization? Brad from Indiana - Please don't let the Georgia address fool you. I was raised in New York and Connecticut. I have lived in Georgia for the past 12+ years, and while I have adopted many Southern delicacies, pork rinds are not one of them.

Name: Chris M
Hometown: Buckeye AZ
Comments: Eric, Harold Henderson over at the Chicago Reader points to an alternate analysis of the poverty debate, specifically about what criteria determine "the poverty line". To summarize, Americans are making gains in several categories not accounted for.

Name: Melissa
Hometown: Chicago
Comments: Dr. A-- Check this out from MSNBC.  I wonder if Senator Frist had received this extra training, he might have learned that it's not ethical or possible to diagnose a patient via video. Will the MSM even care? Which is worse: A. Blowing off continuing medical education and lying about it? or B. Blowing off one's required military service and lying about it?

Name: R Selcov
Hometown: Hyde Park, NY
Comments: For more on Jazz history lost in the flood, listen to the NPR ATC story on Michael White.

Name: Joanne Murray
Hometown: Santa Barbara CA
Comments: OK, just had to write in about seeing "King of Hearts" last night. Woke up at 2 am, couldn't get back to sleep, dog, both cats and husband snoring. So I went into the living room, turned on the movie channels, and lo and behold, this fabulous movie was on. What a delight. The terrific Alan Bates and the remarkably young and gorgeous Genevieve Bujold. The insane take over the town and make everything much better. Ah, that it would be true these days. Alas, not so. I did go back to sleep with a smile on my face, so thanks to Philippe de Broca for such a fine film.

August 30, 2006 | 1:10 PM ET | Permalink

Extreme Poverty Is US

The New York Times Post headlines this story: “Census Reports Slight Increase in ’05 Incomes.”

This is, in every meaningful sense, misleading. You have to get to paragraph four to learn that “While the economy has been strong by most statistical measures for the past several years, its benefits have not translated into improvements in the standard of living for many people. In New York, the proportion of city residents living below the poverty level has not changed in the last five years. Nationally, the small uptick in median household income reported yesterday, 1.1 percent, was not enough to offset a longer-term drop in median household income — the annual income at which half of the country’s households make more and half make less.”

So if the median household income is falling, what difference does a “slight increase in 05 incomes” make?  The story goes on to explain, “That figure fell 5.9 percent between the 2000 census and 2005, to $46,242 from $49,133, according to an analysis of the data conducted for The New York Times by the sociology department of Queens College. The difference was so sharp, in part, because the 2000 census measured 1999 income, which was at the height of the dot-com bubble.” Moreover, “the new data also showed continuing erosion in the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance. In 2005, an estimated 46.6 million people had no coverage, up 1.3 million since 2004 and increasing the percentage of Americans without health coverage from 15.6 percent of the population to 15.9 percent. After recent decreases in the numbers of children without health insurance, this year’s data found that their numbers grew between 2004 and 2005, rising from 10.8 percent of those under 18 to 11.2 percent.”

Again, moreover, “although the numbers living below the poverty line held steady between 2004 and 2005, there has been a sharp increase in those living in extreme poverty."

Naturally the Bush Administration, which cares only about the extremely wealthy, will try to spin this as they did their egregious tax cut program. This morning they got some help from the New York Times headline writers. 

Harold Meyerson, hardly surprisingly, offers a useful perspective. “Ours is the age of the Great Upward Redistribution. The median hourly wage for Americans has declined by 2 percent since 2003, though productivity has been rising handsomely. Last year, according to figures released just yesterday by the Census Bureau, wages for men declined by 1.8 percent and for women by 1.3 percent. As a remarkable story by Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt in Monday's New York Times makes abundantly clear, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of gross domestic product since 1947, when the government began measuring such things. Corporate profits, by contrast, have risen to their highest share of the GDP since the mid-'60s -- a gain that has come chiefly at the expense of American workers. Don't take my word for it. According to a report by Goldman Sachs economists, "the most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income.” …  the declining power of the American workforce antedates the integration of China and India into the global labor pool by several decades.
Since 1973 productivity gains have outpaced median family income by 3 to 1. Clearly, the war of American employers on unions, which began around that time, is also substantially responsible for the decoupling of increased corporate revenue from employees' paychecks. But finger a corporation for exploiting its workers and you're trafficking in class warfare. Of late a number of my fellow pundits have charged that Democratic politicians concerned about the further expansion of Wal-Mart are simply pandering to unions. Wal-Mart offers low prices and jobs to economically depressed communities, they argue. What's wrong with that?
Were that all that Wal-Mart did, of course, the answer would be "nothing." But as business writer Barry Lynn demonstrated in a brilliant essay in the July issue of Harper's, Wal-Mart also exploits its position as the biggest retailer in human history -- 20 percent of all retail transactions in the United States take place at Wal-Marts, Lynn wrote -- to drive down wages and benefits all across the economy. The living standards of supermarket workers have been diminished in the process, but Wal-Mart's reach extends into manufacturing and shipping as well. Thousands of workers have been let go at Kraft, Lynn shows, due to the economies that Wal-Mart forced on the company. Of Wal-Mart's 10 top suppliers in 1994, four have filed bankruptcies….Devaluing labor is the very essence of our economy.”

The Mother Jones lie-by-lie timeline is live, at last.

Yes, people like Andrew J. Bacevich are defeatist wimps who hate America, but the fact is this problem has no solution and war can only make it worse.

The Cheney presidency.

George Allen just doesn’t like colored--literally--people. Let’s see if Virginia prefers a decorated war hero.

Congratulations to Newsweek, for having the sense and foresight to pick Jon Meacham as its new editor in chief. Meacham has many accomplishments, including being not only a famously good editor but also a decent historian. He will best appreciated on this site, however, for his brilliant book reviews.

What’s up with Spike Lee? I thought the HBO documentary overly long, but quite powerful and necessary. And we’re often saying here how he is at the top of his powers as perhaps America’s greatest working director right now. But what kind of guy tells Charlie Rose he used to be a Mets fan and is now a Yankees fan? That’s like saying, I used to be a virtuous human being who did not beat my wife, oh never mind. If you haven’t had enough of Katrina, or even if you have, try to catch Sundance’s documentary on the life and work of Herman Leonard, “Saving Jazz” who lost much of his work and his home in the flood. I collect photography and the first two images I ever bought, I bought in at the Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans, here.
One was a nude Belloc and one was Herman Leonard’s photo of Frank Sinatra at Monte Carlo in 1959, which hangs over my staircase in between Nat Fine’s Babe Ruth and Lynn Goldsmith’s Bruce Springsteen.  Leonard’s site is here.  Oh and kudos to my friends at Nonesuch Records for their 1 million dollar donation to Habitat for Humanity International to build homes for musicians in New Orleans, which were raised through sales of the benefit album Our New Orleans. Check out the record here and Habitat, here, though ignore that distasteful photo at the top.

An Item about Fran Drescher, believe it or not: Don’t tell Gawker, but I was at a charity celebrity poker tournament last week, and Fran Drescher told me that she plans to go into public service. When I asked what she had in mind, she said that, while it was a long way off, she thought she would enjoy being a senator from New York. Knowing absolutely nothing about Ms. Drescher, save this conversation. I cannot say just how likely she is to achieve her ambition, but my guess would be “not very.” But I promise to learn more about her if I turn out to be wrong.

Correspondence Corner:
Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Comments: Ken's comparison of Wal-Mart to GM leaves out a lot. First, GM pays their employees a living wage - they can afford to purchase a home. Wal-Mart employees are encouraged to apply for Section 8 housing. GM employees have health care and a pension plan. Wal-Mart employees are encouraged to go on Medicaid and have no pension plan. GM employees are union members. Wal-Mart employees are fired if they are suspected of dabbling in any sort of union activity.
GM does have a lot of problems, but paying their workers a living wage isn't one of them. Also, the savings that Ken gloats about are an illusion. Wal-Mart is an overall drain on communities - by lowering wages, benefits, and services. Taxpayers pick up the tab for the public assistance that Wal-Mart workers are eligible for. Also, Wal-Mart places an enormous demand on communities for improved infrastructure (roads, water, electric, etc.), without contributing any additional tax revenue (buying a loaf of bread at Wal-Mart rather than Safeway is a shift of sales tax). Not to mention the tax breaks that Wal-Mart demands from communities when they want to build a new store. And none of the money that is spent at Wal-Mart stays in the community - it is sent back to Arkansas as soon as possible. And count me among the 15% - I REFUSE to shop at Wal-Mart. I am also willing to pay extra if I knew that the employees had health care and a pension plan. We do some shopping at Costco, whose employees have decent wages, health care, and other benefits. Thank God for states like Maryland and cities like Chicago standing up to the bully from Bentonville, telling them to provide health care and a living wage to their employees. And if any of those other companies that Ken mentions treat their employees as bad as Wal-Mart, I'd like to hear about it. Also, the internet is just another sales outlet for many big box stores. If I'm looking for a book or a CD that hasn't sold many copies, I'll search the web. But if I'm in the market for "The Devil Wears Prada", I'll buy it where I can find it.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Plymouth, IN
Comments: I would like to respond to Ken's defense of Wal-Mart. I am a school counselor in a small town that has lost many of it's businesses to a Super Wal-Mart. Many of my students have parents who work full time at Wal-Mart. Most of those students are on free or reduced lunch and some have health care that is provided by the state government if they have any health care at all. Ken may want to save a few cents on his bag of Pork Rinds at the expense of a reasonable standard of living for the Wal-Mart employees, but I do not.

Name: Douglas
Hometown: Seattle, WA
The Wal-Mart cheerleading by Ken Danturo yesterday can't unchallenged. The study he mentions is entirely bogus, a bit of pay-for-play analysis and saying "even if the results are halved" doesn't make it any more believable. It's also entirely possible that Wal-Mart doesn't save consumer's any money. While their heavily discounted specials are highly advertised and they are known to use predatory pricing(selling at a loss to until local businesses are driven under), they are also known for rampant bait-and-switching. They were recently forced to sell off their stores in Germany because their prices were too high. German shoppers were willing to actually price check everything they bought, buying toilet paper at store and detergent at another for example. U.S. consumer's are more desperate for one stop shopping. All this ignores the negative effects of Wal-Mart on wages and employment as well as their intense pressure on suppliers to cut prices, and inevitably quality. If you're making less money and spending it all at Wal-Mart for inferior goods are you really saving money?

Name: Chris Dougherty
Hometown: Wanaque, NJ
Comments: Re: Ken Dantuono's letter about Wal Mart. The actual impact of Wal Mart's presence in a community is still being assessed but Mr. Dantuono might be interested int eh book The Wal-Mart effect by Charles Fishman. Fishman's book is an intelligent and balanced look at the company. he points out that jobs have been lost in localities by Wal-Mart's presence, not because consumers have simply abandoned their local stores.`Fishman's studies show that counties in the US that had at least one Wal-Mart had higher poverty rates than those that did not. No study shows that Wal-Mart offers "comparative wages and benefits" to other retailers. For example Costco's initial offers usually run up to 60% higher than Wal-Mart's. If we are to restore our nation's vital position as innovaters and designers we must move away from the simple notion of Americans as consumers to strenghtening our position as planners and designers. Wal-Mart does not help this situation at all. Mr. Dantuono also might be interested that Wal-Mart's primary contributor to its' manufacturer base is none other than Red China. So we are not only exporting our industrial base and our capital we are propping up one of the most oppressive governments on the planet. But since they are friends of Bush's dad and there is no oral sex or real estate losses in Arkansas involved I guess we can let it slide.

Name: David Shaffer
Hometown: Harleysville, PA
Comments: Doc - Check out the article on MSNBC.com . It's the story of Don Rumsfeld's speech to several thousand veterans at the American Legion's national convention. He accuses opponents of the administration of suffering from "moral or intellectual confusion", adding that part of the problem is that the American news media have tended to emphasize the negative rather than the positive. (Hey, why take responsibility when you can blame someone else?) He said, for example, that more media attention was given to U.S. soldiers' abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib than to the fact that Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith received the Medal of Honor. Not to denegrate Sgt. Smith's honor, but I would argue that minimizing what happened at Abu Ghraib is as clear an example of "moral confusion" as there is.
Some might argue that fighting terror with terror makes us as bad as the terrorists. I would argue that it makes us worse, since doing so means deliberately and willfully abandoning the very principles that make us better. He also added, "But some seem not to have learned history's lessons." If certain members of this administration, say, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et. al., had "learned history's lessons", we wouldn't have the mess we do in Iraq. Even a cursory study of the history of the region in general and Iraq in particular could have prevented, or at least slowed, the parade of mistakes that they have made. And finally, "Can we truly afford to believe somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?" he asked. No, they can't. So I guess there's no appeasing this administration.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Comments: Dear Eric, It wasn't my intention to defend Dick Clark. I was just pointing out that his corruption was different -- and certainly more subtle -- that Alan Freed's. As for Clark's copyrights, it's sort of a chicken-egg question. Did he get the copyrights because he played the songs, or did he play the songs because he owned the copyrights? Both, probably, although it's impossible to prove. Clark had his fingers in every business aspect of the music business.
He owned part of record companies, part of record pressing companies, part of record distribution companies, part of artist management companies, and part of music publishing companies. Everything he did on "American Bandstand" during the late fifties was tainted by conflict of interest. The conflict of interest extended to higher levels, as well. When "American Bandstand" went national, it was broadcast by ABC, which had its own record label, ABC-Paramount. During the first six months that ABC carried "American Bandstand," six ABC-Paramount recording artists appeared on the show and four ABC-Paramount singles became top ten hits. Coincidence? You are correct about payola. It didn't become illegal until 1960, and even then it was illegal only when done under the table. Radio stations could accept "pay for play" as long as they were up front about it.

Name: Richard Lindsey
Hometown: Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
Comments: Regarding LTC Bateman's response to my reaction to Scott in Denver: I think what we have here is to an extent a failure to communicate, to some degree my fault. I may have misunderstood Scott's post, though I must say, in rereading that post I nowhere see the kind of privacy argument that LTC Bateman identifies as its "spirit"; the argument appears to be altogether a different, and less compelling, one. Regardless, if I missed the point, I apologize.
To be clear, I have no interest in regulating or even inquiring into either LTC Bateman's or Scott's politics, family affairs, or finances, nor do I consider that I have a fundamental democratic right to be informed of them (except with the reservations LTC Bateman stated). In fact, I didn't claim otherwise: when I spoke of "questioning" what "the military" does, I meant (1) the military in its official capacity as an arm of the US and (2) the specific actions of servicepeople in their official capacities as members of the military--I didn't mean everything a soldier might ever say or do or think. Questioning, in the sense I describe, IS a fundamental democratic right, as Michael from Afghanistan notes.

August 29, 2006 | 1:21 PM ET | Permalink

When I read David Grossman’s eulogy for his son, Uri, here, I started to cry in the middle of it and couldn’t do anything else for a long time. Remember, there are over 5,200 American parents and roughly 100,000 Iraqi parents who feel the same way today, all due to our government’s lies—and so much of the media’s willingness to shill for them.
And hey look, Mickey is hassling Chris Matthews, of all people, for not being sufficiently optimistic about Iraq, given alleged late-breaking news, which is apparently exclusive to Andrew Sullivan. Ruhhly. What is in the koolaid they sell at Slate? Hey “Mickster,” see TP this morning?
“At least 40 people, including 25 soldiers in the Iraqi Army, were killed in street battles that took place in the southern city of Diwaniyah, according to the LAT, which appears to have the latest casualty numbers. The NYT has the best explanation of what sparked the fighting. A week ago, at least two Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb that the army believes was planted by Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army.
The army responded with arrests, after which militiamen took to the streets and skirmished with police. That led to military raids on three neighborhoods, which sparked yesterday's gunfights and shelling. It was soon clear who had won," says the WP—Sadr's militia. Several papers mention that an Iraqi general said a group of soldiers who'd run out of ammunition were executed in front of residents in a public square.
"Some Iraqi soldiers were captured and beheaded," says the WP. This is not the first time the radical cleric's men have caused trouble, of course. But they've become more aggressive of late. The papers note that the Iraqi government is not likely to crack down on Sadr anytime soon: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's parliamentary coalition includes members of Sadr's political party.
It's been an exceptionally bloody couple days everywhere in Iraq: "Over all, more than 100 Iraqis were killed Sunday and Monday," according to the NYT, including at least 13 in a Baghdad car bombing. Which somewhat takes the wind out of yesterday's lead LAT story, which was headlined: "Deaths Drop in Iraqi Capital."

The news sure does travel fast when you’re grasping at illusory straws (and mixing metaphors).

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, Ann Jones, author of Kabul in Winter, writes: "Remember when peaceful, democratic, reconstructed Afghanistan was advertised as the exemplar for the extreme makeover of Iraq? In August 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was already proclaiming the new Afghanistan 'a breathtaking accomplishment' and 'a successful model of what could happen to Iraq.' As everybody now knows, the model isn't working in Iraq. So we shouldn't be surprised to learn that it's not working in Afghanistan either."

In fact, the modest amount of news that trickles out of Afghanistan is all bad -- and getting worse.  Award-winning journalist Jones, who spent most of the last four years in Afghanistan, explains just why this is so.  In particular, she considers the nature of Bush administration "reconstruction" and exactly what kind of a shell game it is.  It turns out that, for a variety of reasons, up to 86 cents on every taxpayer dollar of reconstruction assistance, may essentially be "phantom aid."

With tropical storm/hurricane Ernesto a potential menace to a wide stretch of the U.S. Gulf Coast including Katrina-ravaged, still largely unreconstructed New Orleans, and with the Army Corps of Engineers just informing that city's residents that their partially rebuilt levees may not, in fact, be able to withstand a strong storm, its wider applicability is unfortunately all too obvious.

This is from the Benton Foundation:
[SOURCE: USAToday, AUTHOR: Donna Leinwand]
A $1.4 billion anti-drug advertising campaign conducted by the U.S. government since 1998 does not appear to have helped reduce drug use and instead might have convinced some youths that taking illegal drugs is normal, the Government Accountability Office says. The media campaign, which purchases TV time, radio spots and newspaper ads, changed its advertising theme last year. The old approach said parents and informed teens were “the Anti-Drug.” The latest version encourages teens to be “above the influence.”
The report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, confirmed the results of a $43 million, government-funded study that found the campaign did not work. That evaluation, by Westat Inc. and the University of Pennsylvania, said parents and youths remembered the ads and their messages. But the study said exposure to the ads did not change kids' attitudes about drugs and that the reduction in drug use in recent years could be attributed more directly to a range of other factors, such as a decline in high school dropouts.
The Westat study also said youths could interpret the ads to suggest that marijuana use is more common than it actually is. The GAO report, released Friday, urges Congress to stop the White House's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign unless drug czar John Walters can come up with a better strategy. President Bush's budget for 2007 asks Congress for $120 million for the campaign, a $20 million increase from this year. Walters' office disputed the study and noted that drug-use rates among youths have declined since 1998. A 2005 survey by the University of Michigan indicated that 30% of 10th-graders reported having used an illicit drug the previous year, down from 35% in 1998. The GAO report is “irrelevant to us,” says Tom Riley, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). “It's based on ads from 2½ years ago, and they were effective, too.
Drug use has been going down dramatically.
Cutting the program now would imperil (its) progress.”

[SOURCE: Associated Press, AUTHOR: Jill Lawless]
Former Vice President Al Gore said Sunday ever-tighter political and economic control of the media is a major threat to democracy. Gore said the goal behind his year-old "interactive" television channel Current TV was to encourage the kind of democratic dialogue that thrives online but is increasingly rare on TV. "Democracy is under attack," Gore told an audience at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
"Democracy as a system for self-governance is facing more serious challenges now than it has faced for a long time. "Democracy is a conversation, and the most important role of the media is to facilitate that conversation of democracy. Now the conversation is more controlled, it is more centralized." He said that in many countries, media control was being consolidated in the hands of a few businesspeople or politicians. In the United States "the only thing that matters in American politics now is having enough money to put 30-second commercials on the air often enough to convince the voters to elect you or re-elect you," he said. "The person who has the most money to run the most ads usually wins."

[SOURCE: Multichannel News, AUTHOR: Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center]
[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission, at the prodding of the U.S. Congress (which authorizes the Commission’s budget), has slapped selected broadcasters with steep fines for indecency. But that has not changed the cozy relationship between broadcasters and the agency charged with regulating them.
The fines imposed for indecency are just a drop in the bucket compared to what the government should be requiring of broadcasters for using our public airwaves. The FCC’s quick response to broadcasts of indecent material stands in stark contrast to the agency’s refusal to act on defining broadcasters’ public-interest obligations in the digital age, which is now quietly stretching into its sixth year! So how is it that the FCC can regulate indecency to the point of calculating down to a specific dollar figure varying amounts for exposed body parts, but shows signs of paralysis in spelling out broadcaster obligations? The FCC’s failure to act has huge
consequences for the viewing public, as broadcasters pay nothing for the extremely valuable licenses they are granted by the government.
The National Association of Broadcasters has waged an intense public relations campaign to convince citizens and policy-makers of its members’ commitment to fulfilling their public-interest obligations. The effort would actually be funny if it were not so indicative of how ineffective the FCC has been in regulating this powerful industry. This is all bad enough, but there is more. Broadcasters are looking for another, and even bigger, handout from the government today: They want the FCC to force cable operators to carry as many streams of programming as the broadcasters can squeeze from the digital spectrum that the government gave them for free. Not surprisingly, broadcasters are strong supporters of multicast must-carry and cable operators are vigorously opposed. FCC chairman Kevin Martin has made no secret of the fact that he wants to push such a requirement through, but he has yet to muster the support of a sufficient number of his colleagues to make it
happen. It’s long past time for the FCC to serve the public, and to stop making excuses for the broadcast industry. Public interest obligations are just that, in the public interest. The FCC needs to remember that and start collecting at least this token rent on the public’s airwaves.

[SOURCE: Broadcasting&Cable, AUTHOR: John Eggerton]
The American Family Association has sent out an action alert under the heading "CBS To Air Profanity-Laden Program" asking members to complain to the FCC and CBS affiliates and to "share this information with your Sunday School
class." The program in question is the CBS documentary "9/11." CBS will air content warnings before and during the documentary's Sept. 10 airing. The show, which has aired twice before unedited, features firemen and other emergency workers swearing in the heat of one of the most cataclysmic events of our time. CBS has said it does not expect to have any problems with the
FCC, pointing to the FCC's decision that the FCC found that the swearing in film "Saving Private Ryan" was not indecent in context.

Foucault the Neohumanist? Here.

Like Menand on Dylan, Here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Hometown: Capitol Hill, Washington, DC
Comments: Mr. Lindsey oversteps, I think, when he attacks "Scott in Denver." Scott's point was in answer to a question about why reservists do not protest (leaving aside the debateable legality of such an event) as they do in Isreal. Richard says that it is entirely just for civilians to question the "those who serve," which is correct...with regard to their service. But Richard missed the point of Scott's diatribe entirely.
This was not about their service, Scott was not talking about their performance on behalf of the American people, this was about the personal non-service life of Reservists and National Guardsmen. And in that I am inclined to agree with the spirit, if not the reasoning, of "Scott in Denver." Richard, you are entirely correct to question my professional behavior at any time. You can seek to see how I perform my duties, in the past and in the present, in the course of my service.
You should elect Congressmen who you think will best oversee the actions of my profession overall. But I would thank you to stay out of my politics, my family affairs, and my finances (except as the last might indicate any conflict of interest), because those things do *not* come under your "rights" to "question" purely as a function of my federal service. Protesting is a political act. So you don't have the right to officially question servicemen on this topic.
The same applies, in spades, for Reservists and National Guardsmen. If you were to try such a thing I would say that you are, indeed, "presuming," and I would not agree that this is your "fundamental democratic right" to question the political allegience or behaviors of any serviceman who chooses not to demonstrate. That, sir, is one of the very foundations.

Name: Michael
Hometown: Afghanistan
Comments: As one who is currently "actually sacrificing something in this fight," as Scott from Denver so blithely put it, I hope and expect that questions will continue to be asked about the war in Iraq. (By the way, there's a tiny little fight going on here, too, but the MSM seems to have completely forgotten) Questions from the citzenry must keep coming. It's what makes democracy work when the press works for the whitehouse. Keep asking questions about how we got into these wars, what tactics we are using, what strategy we adhere to, what equipment we use, why we do these things, and how much does it all cost? Patriots do these things because they want our country to be right and win. Only an idiot or a republican--not that there's a difference-- would suggest that a valid war effort, such as Afghanistan could be harmed by this, or that an invalid one, such as Iraq should survive it.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Comments: Dear Eric, A few comments regarding Dick Clark. Guitarist Duane Eddy, a member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, was quoted as saying that Dick Clark "liked to make money...not so much for greed, as it's his hobby." A couple of years ago I mentioned this to John Zacherle (better known as Zacherley, famous for hosting horror movies on his TV shows in Philadelphia and New York), who knows Clark well. Zach concurred with Eddy's opinion. So there is no doubt but that the man likes money. However, there is a significant legal distinction between what Clark did and what Alan Freed did. While Clark clearly had conflicts of interest, there is no evidence that he ever accepted payola for playing records on American Bandstand. Freed did accept payola.
The difference is that accepting bribes was illegal, but having conflicts of interest was not illegal. In addition, there is no evidence that Clark ever failed to report any of his income to the IRS, whereas (as you noted) Freed was indicted for tax evasion. Clark's $125 investment in Jamie Records also deserves to be put into perspective. He made the investment in 1957, at a time when Jamie was losing money and had never released a successful record. Clark's investment gave him a 25% interest in the company, which at the time was essentially 25% of nothing. It wasn't until 1958 that Jamie had a charting single, so there is no evidence that Clark's investment was a quid pro quo for promoting Jamie's records on his show. Of course, when in 1958 Jamie finally did sign a successful artist, the aforementioned Duane Eddy, Clark gave his records a lot of play on American Bandstand. A conflict of interest? Yes. Payola? No. Finally, there is more than a bit of Urban Legend in the claim that Clark was averse to promoting black musicians.
In fact, the list of American Bandstand guests in 1959 includes Little Willie John, Georgia Gibbs, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Roy Hamilton, The Platters, Chuck Berry, The Flamingos, The Crests, Wilson Pickett, Bobby Freeman, Sam Cooke, The Drifters, Eugene Church, LaVern Baker, Leslie Uggams, The Clovers, Marv Johnson, and The Coasters. In 1962 Clark's musical guests included The Shirelles, Ike & Tina Turner, Gene Chandler, Lou Rawls, Jackie Wilson, Clyde McPhatter, Jimmy Soul, Dee Dee Sharp, Fats Domino, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, The Five Satins, Ruth Brown, Little Eva, Chubby Checker, Aretha Franklin, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Bland, and Little Esther Phillips. While it's true that Clark did promote whitebread singers such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian, it's not as if he ignored black acts. Sources: "American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire" by John A. Jackson (Oxford University Press, 1997) "The History of American Bandstand" by Michael Shore with Dick Clark (Ballantine Books, 1985)

Eric replies: Actually, payola was not illegal at the time, which is why they got Freed on tax evasion. And my point is that Clark was corrupt. He played the records in which he had investments and then made a fortune on them. And if he wasn’t accepting payola, how did he get his name on all those copyrights? Sorry, this sale has not been made.

Name: Ken Dantuono
Hometown: Woodstock, GA
Comments: Eric, I must take issue with your very general and negative characterization of Wal-Mart. You contend that Wal-Mart is "destroying hometown stores" without noting that 85% of Americans report shopping at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart can't drive anyone out of business; only customers can do that. Wal-Mart customers would obviously prefer to pay lower prices than pay a premium to keep small town stores in business. Of course you ignore the global trend of large scale retailers who can offer products at much lower prices because of their size, precision and efficiency.
If you are going to take Wal-Mart to task on this trend, then why leave out Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowes, Sports Authority, and Barnes & Noble? Never mind the fact that due to the convenience of Internet shopping, consumers can purchase a significant number of items from the above retailers without leaving their homes.
Do the "hometown stores" that you reference offer that? This is called the free enterprise system and it is based upon competition. Companies that can't compete either have to adapt, or go out of business. Either way consumers and the economy as a whole benefit. Because of the economies of scale that Wal-Mart has created for themselves, they are able to pass savings of between 7% and 20% (depending on the study you reference) on household items, including food, to consumers. In the current issue of Newsweek, Robert Samuelson references a study that estimates Wal-Mart saved consumers $263 billion in 2004.
This comes out to just over $2,300 per household. Mr. Samuelson does disclose that the study referenced was financed by Wal-Mart, but that even if the results are halved the savings are still $1,165 per household. Sebastian Mallaby is simply pointing out that fact that in an evenly divided population every vote counts. Where no issue exists, Democrats are looking to invent one in an effort to pander for votes. By all objective measures to other retailers, Wal-Mart offers comparable wages and benefits to employees. Since 85% of Americans vote for Wal-Mar with their pocketbooks each year Mr. Mallaby points out that this may not be the best way to get elected. If you want an example of the long-term effects of paying above-market wages and benefits, look no further than General Motors.

Name: Peggy
Comments: Dear Eric -- my husband and I saw CSN&Y near Boston two weeks ago and found it aboslutely thrilling -- both musically and politically. Soon after, I read this book, "Laurel Canyon" about the legendary enclave near the Sunset Strip which features many great anecdotes about Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Mitchell), and Young. A great read!

Eric replies: Hi Peggy, I read a part of that book. It did not work for me as well as it worked for you, but thanks. I am however, looking forward to getting a jump on Barney Hoskyns' Hotel California,The True-life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends here.

August 28, 2006 | 12:41 PM ET | Permalink

How is the economic philosophy of the Washington Post’s Sebastian Mallaby here any different than that of the Wall Street Journal editorial page? And is it any wonder that the wealthy and obscenely wealthy have enjoyed virtually all the benefits of recent economic growth when no one will stand up for the for the interests of the working men and women of this country? The Republicans are ruining the country’s future finances and this guy is attacking the Democrats for opposing a company that is destroying hometown stores, sponging of state Medicaid, and undermining local unions. Wal-Mart workers are supposed to live on poverty wages, and Mallaby tells them that the Democrats have no business telling them to do anything but take it and like it. Union representation in the private sector is down below 8 percent here and a so-called “liberal” newspaper speaks only for the prosperous. Sorry, but Antonio Gramsci had this country down.

War crimes are us. Thanks, liberal hawks, and Ralph…

American Grandstand:
Did you see Dick Clark get that award last night on the Emmys, all sickly and moving, and stuff? Well, I wasn’t so moved. Alan Freed and Dick Clark were both corrupt back in the fifties, but Freed promoted black music before integrated audiences while Clark was much more cautious vis-à-vis race and made much of his early fortune with whitebread parent-friendly rip-offs versions of black hits. Here’s the research I’ve come across:

“In 1959 the U.S. House Oversight Committee, at the urging of ASCAP, began to look into deejays who took gifts from record companies in return for playing their records on their shows. Though a number of deejays and program directors were caught in the scandal, the committee decided to focus on Freed.  Freed's broadcasts alliances quickly deserted him. In 1959, WABC in New York asked him to sign a statement confirming that he had never accepted payola. Freed refused "on principle" to sign and was fired.

On Feb 8, 1960 a New York Grand Jury began looking into commercial information in the recording industry and on May 19, 1960 eight men  were charged with receiving $116,580 in illegal gratuities. This probe would lead to Freed being charged with income tax evasion by the IRS. Freed was the only deejay subpoenaed by the Oversight Committee and refused to testify despite being given immunity. Trial began December, 1962 and ended with Freed pleading  guilty to 29 counts of commercial bribery. Though he only received a $300 fine and 6 months suspended sentence his career would be over. Freed was indicted by a federal grand jury for tax evasion. The IRS claimed that Freed owed $37,920 tax on unreported of $56,652 for the years 1957-59. Living in Palm Springs, California at the time, Freed was poor, unemployed and unemployable. Before he could answer the charges he entered a hospital suffering from uremia. Alan Freed died Jan 20, 1965 a penniless, broken man. He was 43.

Clark admitted only to accepting a fur stole and expensive jewelry from a record company president. In fact, the same committee investigators found that Clark had partial copyrights to one hundred and fifty songs, many of them were played on his show. Also, there were ties to 33 music related businesses, including publishers, recording companies, and pressing plants, most being located in Philadelphia When Clark appeared to testify he brought Bernard Goldsmith a statistician. Goldsmith told the committee that Clark had a 27 percent interest in records played in the past 28 months and those records had a 23 percent popularity rating.
Clark admitted a $125 investment in Jamie Records returned a profit of $11,900 and of the 163 songs he had rights to143 were given to him. He was admonished for only this single transgression, despite the fact that songs and artists that he held considerable financial interests were frequently feature on American Bandstand. At the end of the investigation the Senators could find nothing illegal. Committee chairman Oren Harris called Clark ‘a fine young man.’ “

There you have it.

“He’s a team player, and he’s on our team, if you know what I’m saying,” Mr. Moskowitz said.  I know, you  know, but maybe some Yankee fans don’t know and so I’ll spell it out. The Mets have “arguably the best Jewish baseball player since Koufax,” and you don’t. And if he wants to grow a beard or long hair to look like another famous Jew of 2000 years ago, the teams fascistic owners won’t make him shave them off.  Here.

A Short Play Starring Christopher Hitchens here.

Speaking of the Emmys, here’s something worthwhile:  The Clothes Off Our Back Foundation was founded by Jane Kaczmarek and Bradley Whitford during the 2002 Primetime Emmy® Awards. The idea for the charity came to them during the previous year’s Emmy® Award telecast which was postponed twice and then converted into a more somber affair, leaving many celebrities with elaborate dresses and tuxedos that were no longer appropriate. Knowing that once a celebrity wears a designer outfit on the red carpet, it is not worn again, Kaczmarek and Whitford decided to gather some clothes from their television-industry colleagues and auction them off for charity. Thus, Clothes Off Our Back was born.
Five years later, the organization has raised over a million dollars for children’s charities, including the emergency relief efforts in Darfur, the Children’s Defense Fund, and Cure Autism Yo u can log into www.clothesoffourback.org to bid on gowns, tuxedos, sunglasses, shoes, celebrity decorated items, costumes from your favorite television shows, and the like…

Alter reviews:

CSNY, “Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming: Let’s Impeach THIS President”

I caught Crosby Stills Nash and Young at Jones Beach last week. It is really two bands at once these days. One is a nostalgia trip, done better than they’ve done in decades, with careful harmonies, first rate guitar work, and a kind of hippy dippy eithos that was always an illusion, but can be an effective one over the course of an extremely generous set by great musicians who are no longer stoned or drunk most of the time.
You get almost everything you want to hear from the old, pauchy fellas: Carry On, Cut My Hair, Teach Your Children, Our House, Ohio, Chicago, Love the One You’re With, Southern Cross, etc… This was CSNY as their own, expert, tribute band and it was nice to see them  The second show that took place simultaneously was a brand new, quite powerful, and downright exciting Neil Young show with Steve Stills on second guitar, and Graham Nash and David Crosby singing backup, (and Spooner Oldham on piano).
That band, playing not only Neil classic after classic,  including a solo “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” But also blistering version of “Let’s Impeach the President.” With lyrics provided for singalong purposes, was everything a band should be. Proficient in a way Crazy Horse never was (as well as entirely alive) it was a rousing prooftext that contrary to popular belief, you’ can be too old to rock n roll.  The man is (sorry, Canada) a national treasure. Too bad the lyrics are mere fantasy, salutary fantasy perhaps, but fantasy never nevertheless.

I had to go to LA Wednesday morning right after CSNY but I got back just in time on Saturday to drive from the airport to Amagansett to catch a wonderful set at the Stephen Talkhouse by Raul Malo and his band. Once again, I submit that this guy has, perhaps the most perfect pop voice this side of Roy Orbison, but also a fine sense of musical heritage. I guess he found the Mavericks overly confining over the years because this set wandered all over the place, from the beautiful stylings of his latest record, TK, produced by Peter Asher, to a raucous “Guantanamera” into “Twist and Shout,” which by the way, Bruce used to do on the Human Rights Now tour. Anyway, with the Mavericks catalogue behind him and a TexMex by way of Havana vibe happening, Malo is among the most talent semi unknown singers and players in America. I can’t imagine anyone who’d be disappointed after picking up the new CD, You’re Only Lonely, here or catching the band live. Trust me. Read all about it here. (And I say this despite the fact that he not only refused my request of “The Air that Breathe,” but mocked it, accepting one from the guy before me.)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian Kresge
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Comments: Dr. Alterman, I see others have responded to your question regarding why reservists here don't protest as they do in Israel. IMHO, as a Guardsman, it's not for lack of the feelings of being used and abused. Many of my fellow servicemen find the current policy distasteful, and when it comes to the question of when, like our recently returned sister brigade from Pennsylvania, it will be our turn, it can get really ugly. I think it's a matter of a couple of things. For one, Israel has a higher ratio of soldiers-to-citizens, and if you compare geography, they're less dispersed, and therefore more able to a) coordinate with one another a protest and b) get the notice of the public. I have experience with protesting, as the Forward picked up, when I indicated I would refuse to serve on the Mexican-American border if the mission included actual armed enforcement. The consensus amongst my peers, as well as other Jewish servicefolks was that my disgust with policy had no place being exercised in uniform. I agree with them, too, which is why I would have accepted the consequences.
There's also this...and I don't relate this with bitterness. A childhood friend of my wife died as an Israeli paratrooper in southern Lebanon. He got the full Fox News treatment and an incredible memorial service in Philly. The kid certainly earned it with his earnest commitment to the Jewish people. And yet, KIA'd and WIA'd American soldiers, reserve or active duty, are lucky if they receive local press coverage and the attention from the "G-d hates fags" crowd. To me, this alone says that Americans, in spite of faux-yellow ribbon magnets, don't care enough to pay attention to a protest from us. They elected President Bush in spite of 4 years of nincompoopery, can't be bothered to educate themselves on the difference between Iraq and Al Qaeda, all the while asking others to make the sacrifice.
Americans are too far removed from the conflicts they ask us to fight to care if we protest. Israelis, unfortunately, live with their conflicts. There are quieter protests from the military establishment, but they take the form of Lt. Gen Blum (the overall Guard commander), calling it like it is about our sorry equipment and training state. I wish there was more we could do, and fervently wish the same unit cohesion would spill over into protest solidarity, but the climate here is just too different to ever do as the Israelis do. Thanks so much, as always, B

Name: David Sass
Hometown: Pearland, TX
Comments: In response to Matt Shirley from Friday, just because today's soldiers were not alive during Vietnam does not means the wars or the actions of our soldiers are any different. Some things do not change: war is brutal and the truth about war is that the good guys often do some very bad things. To pretend otherwise is how we let these chickenhawks drag us into Iraq in the first place. They sold us a clean and crisp liberation campaign and what we got was a messy, savage war. "Routine" might not be the best word for it, but in the heat of battle, I bet uninvestigated mistakes that result in the death of Iraqi civilians happen all the time. We call them "collateral damage" to protect our precious sensibilities, but this idealist idea that we are somehow fighting a polite and measured war has got to stop. Matt would like to believe today's soldiers are more noble or professional than their fathers, but if they are, it is only because the conflict they experience is not (yet) as brutal.

Name: Richard Lindsey
Hometown: Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
Comments: Scott in Denver says: "Please don't presume to question those of us that are actually sacrificing something in this fight." Scott, you are serving this country in the military. We honor that service. But as you must know, implicit in the term "service" is that the military, well, serves. Whom do you serve? All of us. Not just the military. What this means is that each and every citizen in this country has a right to "question" what the military does if we deem it necessary and appropriate to do so. Not only do we have the right, we have the duty to do so, because what the military does is done in the name of all of us. We don't "presume" when we question what we feel we must question; "presume" implies we're exercising a privilege we're not entitled to. What we're doing is exercising a fundamental democratic right. Please don't forget that.

August 25, 2006 | 2:10 PM ET | Permalink

Let’s start the morning with a song, shall we?

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to say "goodnight nurse!" Have you compared the number of items on Altercation discussing foreign affairs (Iraq, Lebanon, etc.) to the number discussing jobs and the economy? I had to search for the latter, even having the computer search the page for keywords (economy, jobs, deficit, housing, interest rates, etc.) but I didn't find much. You're far from alone, and given that the war involves immediate life and death issues the focus is understandable. But I'd be cynical about the polls that say the most important issue to voters is Iraq or the war on terrorism: people tell pollsers that because the economy isn't in a full recession. I overhear more conversations about money issues than anything relating to Iraq or geopolitics. These issues are interrelated, but when the left talks about the war it usually plays up the human aspects and ignores the financial costs. This is myopic, especially when Dubya's deceptions about the war's costs are easier to show than the ones on WMD's.

For example, currently there is an immensely important battle going on before the National Labor Relations Board. Known as the "Kentucky River cases," it involves big hospitals attempting to de-unionize nurses by reclassifiying them as "supervisors." Previous Boards were hostile to such efforts, but persistence has been paying off. The Supreme Court upheld a much narrower reclassification in 2001 by a 5-4 margin. Of course this is a different NLRB and, more importantly, a different Supreme Court.  The outcome isn't limited to nurses: it is estimated that 30% of workers would lose their union rights if the new definition of "supervisor" is accepted, in professions ranging from construction workers to nuclear engineers. Here you have an issue that could hit tens of millions of Americans directly in their pocketbook and nobody is talking about it. You'd think the Dems would see this as a chance to energize another part of their base, especially when the notion that the GOP is a shill for big business interests resonates with the electorate as much as the GOP is more trustworthy on security issues does. It's time to recognize the anxiety that is out there on the economy and put it back on the political radar.

Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo
Dear Eric: I wanted to thank you for directing me towards Norm Birnbaum's piece on Monday. I would have to say that it contained some of the best analysis concerning current politics that I have yet read. It was efficient, short yet breathtakingly brilliant. To my knowledge, I had never read him before, but I will be looking out for everything I can get from him. First I must say that Birnbaum's piece reminded me why I am so sympathetically fond of things Jewish. Having grown up in a Jewish neighborhood, with lots of Jewish neighbors, I've probably been to as many Bar/Bah Mitzvas (spell?) as any non-Jew, but my affinity has always been deeper than that. It's the realization that the need for plurality to protect the Jewish community lead the Jewish people to apply their influence, skill, intellect and support to helping create and implement Roosevelt's New Deal social contract - which provided plurality, but also distributed wealth more evenly creating the great post World War II economic boom (which doubled global productivity in 30 short years). My father was an uber-mechanic with only a high school education, who gained a supervisor position in a factory that gave him an upper middle class wage - something his father could only have dreamed of, and allowing for him to send me to private schools and college. And my father's siblings did much better than he. Birnbaum's piece reminded me of all these things and renewed my appreciation for the Jewish community in America and while I am glad of where I grew up. And for those who have never had Jewish educators, perhaps it’s harder to appreciate the contributions they make. As Americans, they have been the greatest Americans and all of us have benefited immensely. It seems to me that Birnbaum's piece reflects a reasonable, rational dissent in the Jewish community. Again, the skill and efficiency of his assessment simply amazed me, creating an irony whereby in trying to debunk the myth of Jewish intelligence, he manifests it all over again in the process. Brilliant really.

His assessment of the situation of American Jews and Israel helps me understand Spielberg's movie "Munich". Munich presents a case of Game Theory gone awry. According to Robert Axelrod's "The Evolution of Cooperation" the best, most rational strategy, where two parties are in an iterative relationship with no discernable end, is to cooperate. This phenomena explains why I can trust the person who cuts my hair but not the person who sells me a used car - one represents and ongoing relationship with no foreseeable end, the latter does not. The second best strategy is "tit-for-tat": I punch you in the nose, you punch me back. The thing about tit-for-tat is that it should lead the parties back to civility and cooperation - that is unless one likes ones nose broken. The dark side of Game Theory is that if a party learns that the game is going to end, even many moves from now, it pays to stop cooperating immediately. This phenomena is illustrative of Chamberlain's Munich circa 1938 - to the Western allies (France and Britain), cooperation was rational. By bending over backwards, Chamberlain was trying to send a strong signal to Hitler his intent to do the rational thing, participate in cooperate, civil diplomacy to avoid war. What Chamberlain couldn't grasp is that Hitler saw the game of European diplomacy coming to an end. Hitler saw himself vanquishing his (or being vanquished by) opponents and so logically wasn't interested in diplomatic civility or cooperation. Of course this was both irrational and yet logical - Irrational in seeking an end to the game, but once arriving at that position, became logical to end cooperation and civility in diplomacy. (This same lack of civility and cooperation, by the way, is what really frightens me about Bush and the Neocons in American politics.) This brings us to Spielberg's Munich. He demonstrates the insanity of a continued game of tit-for-tat. The refusal to cooperate suggests that the game is being played by extremists who propose to end the game, as Hitler attempted, by vanquishing their opponent. This view exists on both sides, and as the assassination of Rabin by a fellow Jewish Israeli suggests, not only are their extremist on both sides, but they are willing to cooperate to eliminate moderates on both sides. I have no doubt that this phenomena contributed to Arafat not cutting a deal back when Clinton oversaw our politics. What I now see, from viewing Spielberg's film and reading Birnbaum's piece is that there is a dissenting school of thought in the Jewish community that suspects that the on going tit-for-tat strategy is insane, destructive and perhaps has a nihilistic end - which could never be good for the Jewish community, even if it somehow succeeds, and that salvation lies in pluralism, strictly construed and rigorously applied; In other words, coexistence.

At the end of Spielberg's Munich, the protagonist turns his back, not just on the game of 'tit-for-tat' and the insanity it imparts upon him, but also upon the non-pluralistic premise behind Israel, choosing instead to live the life of a Jew in pluralistic America. To Spielberg, this is much more rational. As Birnbaum suggest, the homeland for American Jews, is not Israel, but America. Spielberg's Munich and Birnbaum's piece make excellent bookends for making the case of a dissenting opinion in the Jewish community. Birnbaum correctly points out the security that comes with functional plurality, for Jews, of course, but also for all. He also points out that the Neocon-Jews are making a Faustian bargain with the evangelical Christians who could turn on them the minute they realize that Christ's second coming is not occurring and perhaps is stalled, and hung up because Jews refuse to convert to Christianity as prophecy says they will on the eve of the second coming. (The evangelicals propose, by their actions, to manipulate God into implementing the second coming simply by recreating the conditions so prophesied in the book of Daniel and Revelations, conveniently ignoring Christ's commandment "though shall not test the Lord thou God). He also points out that the Neocon movement is a reaction against modernism and a refutation of the enlightenment and all its fruits, one of which being our pluralistic constitution and all the protections it affords and has built into it. By aligning with the Neocons one signs up for a brave new world yet to be defined. For a community known for its shrewd business acumen, this is a notoriously and intrinsically bad bargain) By definition, though powerful but still relatively small, in a world of tribe-against-tribe, the Jews just don't have the numbers that would suggest they would succeed long term. Then there is all that blood shed and misery that comes with the tribe-against-tribe paradigm. Wouldn't it be better to just opt for functional pluralism, and get back to the game of making money, making babies, and pursuing knowledge and enjoying everything that comes along with those pursuits? Thanks so much for pointing me towards Birnbaum's piece. That was great stuff. 

Name: Chris Schell
Hometown: Milton PA
Eric, Maybe it’s because I agree with you so often I only write when I disagree. But I fail to see anything wrong (at least seriously) with the media because a news anchor (more accurately host of a news discussion show that tries to be entertaining) doing a dance contest show - especially compared to reasons 2 and 3 in your list. About Woody and Roth: Maybe Woody is merely jealous that Roth mines the comic vein of American Jewish angst better than Woody does. Or that Roth is actually a "serious" writer while Woody is a "humorist". And speaking of Roth you linked to the Nation article "Is Isael Good for the Jews?" Reminded me of Roth's novel of visiting Israel and the Roth impersonator who was advocating that all Jews leave Israel in a new Diaspora.

Name: C. L. Murphy
Hometown: Shawnee, KS
Eric, In theory, your idea that the large salaries made by the anchorperson could save jobs and run more news bureaus is true. However, do you really think that if the networks paid the anchor less, that they would use that extra money to do better reporting? Highly doubtful. That money would probaby be funneled into a more "extreme" finale of "Survivor" or more likely end up in the CEO's pockets.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Mr. Alterman, I have a couple of responses to your comments on Haditha and Vietnam. You have correctly quoted the headline from the article. However, that headline wrongly leaves the impression that the Marine Battalion Commander thought the intentional killing of unarmed civilians was routine. The rest of the article makes it clear that is not at all what he said. He said that based on the reports he received about the incident, he thought the deaths were unfortunate consequences of combat, but not unlawful. Based on what he was told at the time, he thought there was no need for an investigation. If you are arguing the U.S. Armed Forces should be more careful about how we operate around civilians, and should be more curious about the deaths of significant numbers of civilians, I'll agree we can have a reasonable discussion. (And some of the investigators seem to agree with this point of view about Haditha. That is noted deep in the article.) On the other hand, I do not agree that the intentional, unlawful killing of civilians is "routine," and I resent the implication. Moreover, by the action of the military disciplinary system, the Marine Corps is now treating the Haditha incident as anything but "routine." Now that all the facts are out, the Marines accused of unlawful acts are facing possible courts-martial and lengthily prison sentences if convicted of the more serious charges. Second, and more important, I take exception to juxtaposing incidents from the Vietnam War, over 30 years ago, with the Haditha incident as if that means anything. The Armed Forces today are not same as at that time. Indeed, I am one of the oldest people at my command, and I was 14 years old when the Vietnam War ended. Most people on active duty now were not even born at the time of that conflict; check the demographics. Picking out two data points separated by over 30 years and trying to argue they represent a trend line is specious reasoning. As always in a forum like this, the views I have expressed are solely my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Dept. of the Navy, DOD, or the Federal Government. Matthew Shirley LCDR, JAGC, USN

Name: Dan
Hometown: Greer, SC
Doctor, not often I disagree with you on just about any point, except for some musical tastes occasionally. And, I did find the case of the Israelis holding their leader's feet to the fire with rapidity a nice counter to America's glacial slow accounting for Iraq. However, you say that Israel has a vibrant democracy, and to some slight degree I fear I must differ. I do not think it wise to have the military or military reservists that occupied in protests and day to day politics. I think the vibrancy of democracy involves the separation of the military from a civilan leadership, where lack of military service is not, in of itself, evidence of being a chickenhawk. I did not serve, and am not a chickenhawk, would be too scared to be one if I fancied such a thing. I worry that the too close involvement of the military in the leadership of Israel might give one pause. I say this understanding the roles played in American history by military folks, from George Washington, to Andrew Jackson to Ike. I know you cannot wall off politics from former military, but for folks directly exposed to the fight, I do not think political campaigning and the like is really healthy, in my humble opinion, for a democracy.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: dailyrevolution.net
Eric, please forgive me if I'm the 976th MoJo subscriber to write to you about this chrono piece you mentioned. According to an email from Jay Harris, the online version of that outstanding timeline should be available by the end of this month. I'll see if I can get it into a "page-turning" Flash media format that I can keep at the top of my blog, and let you know how it turns out.

Name: Simon
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Eric, I hadn't seen any mention on your blog of Michael Franti's album 'Yell Fire', so I thought I would write because I think you and many of your readers would be interested. It is an amazing record, a fusion of reggae, rock, and pop, and is every bit as anti-Iraq as Neil Young's recent album. And though I haven't seen it, he also released a documentary dvd with the album of his trip to Iraq and Palestine. Love your blog Eric, thanks for keeping the light on the last few years, I'm sure it hasn't been easy.

Name: Scott
Hometown: Denver
As an American reservist, I can answer your question of why we aren't protesting. It is simple: Haji would kill our families if he had a chance. Whether in Bagdhad, Zareh Sharan, or the Sheeba farms...they want to kill us, our friends, and anyone that gets in the way. Guess what? I for one am going to the beat them to it. If ranting on a blog is your contribution to this war then more power to you. Please don't presume to question those of us that are actually sacrificing something in this fight.

Name: Bill Skeels
"8) Todd Snyder, "The Devil You Know" 7) Caroline Doctorow, "Follow You Down" 6) Rosanne Cash, "Black Cadillac" 5) Johnny Cash, "American V" 4) Dave Alvin, "West of the West" 3) Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, "Under the covers, Vol. I" 2) Raul Malo, "You're Only Lonely" 1) The Hacienda Brothers with Dan Penn, "What's Wrong with Right?"" Damn, when I first started reading Altercation some time back I 'accused' you of not paying enough attention to a certain strata of music; I think I (incorrectly!) accused you of not knowing who Steve Earle was or some such stupidity. This list proves, again, that at least for the kinda stuff I like, you are, indeed, the man. I have only heard clips of the Alvin thing, but it sounds drop-dead wonderful. I think I'm off to order it right now, thanks for the reminder.

Name: Dan
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Dr. A, In response to LTC Bateman's idea for a print journalist "conspiracy" against their TV brethren, I say, "Welcome to America (at least what the other 99% watches)." LTC Bateman, you have just stumbled onto a debate that has been raging for several years. I don't believe it's possible to engage in any discussion about the state of our Union without calling out the failings of the Fourth Estate - including print media. I don't know if we can trust print media to police television journalism: there's too much joint ownership and they have a common goal - selling more advertising. Newspapers are in the titillation business as well. I think I read several JonBenet articles this week in the Oregonian. Dr A regularly includes references the So Called Liberal Media (SCLM), which you may dismiss as simply partisan grumbling, but in my opinion, the SCLM meme is really about the failings of "traditional" American journalism. By the way, there's already a conspiracy underfoot, but you won't find it in your mainstream media outlets. Try reading blogs. The ones I read may represent liberal points of view, but they call out the failings of "news" organizations on a daily basis. And they even prompt their readers (successfully) to write letters to these media outlets to voice their displeasure. Just ask John Harris, Washington Post Political Editor...

Name: Hal Carpenter
Hometown: Kingston, RI
Thank you, LTC Bateman, Your article is on the money. I can't watch it either. I made an abrupt break with all the screaming a few years ago and don't miss it a bit. The friends I have who still watch seem deluded and out of touch. The Press must battle Cable TV. Why does Bill O'Reilly get a free pass? Would Billy Sunday get a free ride? What's going on in American heads, that as long as race and gender isn't insulted, beating war drums, bending reality, shilling for industry, boot licking party politics is allowed to call itself; Fair And Balanced. And, call itself, NEWS!!!! The print media is letting itself get kicked around by these screaming heads hawking entertainment/news on television. It's a mistake of the Left to think the Press is going easy on the Bush administration out of fear of the Bush administration, boogeyman that Dick Cheney might seem to be. They are retreating from the criticism of TV commentators. It's understandable that the press was in retreat after the beating they have been taking from TV for so many years. A few shouts of "elitist Eastern media" and the Press backed off from the likes of Rush, but we have to remember that in our new TV reality many presses have been stilled by jerks like Rush. It's up to us to let them know that many of us see the harm that this 24 hour a day scream, fear-monger and hate TV is damaging our national mentality. The Press has both the right and duty to attack this social and political malfunction, Cable News. The fact that they are economic rivals opens the Press to fairly easy counter-attack. But they have to attack. A good chunk of our nation is half hysterical from fear that some Arab terrorist is going to kidnap their daughter on a tropical island after meeting her in an internet chat room, when she was 12. Cable News should be under a microscope both for what lies it tells and also for what effect it has on anxiety levels in viewers. Can they make people afraid not to watch them? If you don't watch FOX, whose gonna cut away from Tiger Woods if the Rapture arrives? Thanks again, we should all let the Press know that attacking Cable TV as harmful is fighting a righteous fight.

August 24, 2006 | 1:40 PM ET | Permalink

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Dateline: Duck, North Carolina


The plain fact is that I do not watch much television.

That is not pretension, or something that I deliberately intended.  It is not an intended affectation, used to establish moral superiority during cocktail parties.  Indeed it is sort of embarrassing.  But it just happened.  Over the course of time, for no particular reason at all, I stopped watching television.

I was six years behind in seeing the infamous “Bet” on Seinfeld, I am only vaguely aware of the existence of “Reality” shows, and much to my dating detriment, I had never seen Sex and the City  (or is it “in” the city?) when I became single and moved to Washington. 

OK, true, I am a geek.  I read obsessively.  I read at work, I read in my local (Tunnicliffe’s Tavern, on Capitol Hill), I read on my comfy couch at home.  But the fact that I have three daughters contributed to this state of affairs at some point as well, I am sure.  There are only so many times that one can watch Barney or Sponge-Bob Squarepants for example.  Of course, that was when my daughters were much younger, but this probably played a part as well.

The bottom line though is that over time it came to pass that I just was not watching TV much at all.  When I caught the “Major’s Disease” (officer self-deprecating slang for a divorce), I did not ask for the television.  My kids disabused me of that position, however, and so I eventually picked one up.  It stays in the basement though because Kate does not watch television either.  The upshot is that I generally know jack-shit about the latest programs, I probably miss some entertaining material, and I almost never see cable news in action.  I am on leave (read: “Vacation”) now.  I am with my daughters and my parents. The equation is changed.  My parents watch Fox News, exclusively and constantly.  I have my own opinions about their selection, but my observations about a recent event apply to all of the major round-the-clock “news” channels.

Last week there was a story about a plane diverted to Logan International Airport near Boston.  The storyline, generically, was that the pilot reported a problem aboard the aircraft, requested a military fighter-plane escort, and aborted the flight.  The plane was flying from the UK to Dulles, in Washington, DC.  It diverted to the nearest landing point, which was at that instant, Logan.  That was the bottom line.  

I was eating brunch at the time, and as is usual, Fox was on the television at the end of the counter, so I caught every breathless announcement.  What I witnessed was a travesty, a cruel mockery of journalism, and I think it was damaging for our Republic.  Instead of reporting the “bottom line” quickly, and then checking out the story and determining the facts, Fox, and MSNBC, and CNN, stayed with the story more or less continuously.  Because they did not yet have any facts, they instead reported every single rumor, as it occurred.

This is important, at least to me, because I happen to think that journalism is crucial to a democracy.  But what I witnessed that day, live, on-air, was the antithesis of journalism. It was mere entertainment, masquerading as journalism, and it was mostly wrong.

Now I am the first to note that in the military we know all about the phenomena of "initial reports" and how they are often wrong.  Indeed, I've noted how this occurs (within the military) in letters here in the past.  But we don't broadcast "initial reports" all that often. When we do, we're often burned ourselves.  This inhibits, and hopefully our Public Affairs folks learn. But to my eyes what happened with this diverted-plane-to-Logan story was a nadir.

In the event, all the news stations broadcast every single rumor, as each rumor arrived.  In this case, initial reports broadcast on Fox included breathless assertions that "it is being reported" that two “Arabic looking” men are in custody, or that the woman had "prohibited items and a note about al Qaeda," on her person.   The items were later excitedly reported as "Vaseline, matches, a screwdriver and a notebook with information about Al Qaeda" until, finally, they reported the first version of what appears to be the facts, that it was an elderly American woman, Caucasian, from Vermont, and that she apparently freaked out with a case of claustrophobia.

This inclination, to air every version of every rumor, is a bad thing.

In polling my own family several hours later, two family members (of six who had seen some of the news) were under the impression that it was a terrorism-related event and were surprised to discover the later news.  In other words, because all of these news organizations were willing to put rumors on the air, rumors became “facts” to those who did not watch the whole program. That is not reporting, or journalism, it is rumor-mongering.

My question was initially: How do we end this?  How do we stop the decline of television "journalism" so that those making decisions no longer feel compelled to broadcast each rumor but instead have the courage to take the time needed to gather the facts, discern truth from rumor, and then go on the air?  I ask because what we got in this case, was tripe. If the "news" was this inaccurate, yet still made it on the air, why should anyone believe anything they hear now?

My solution is sophomoric, but it is the best I can think of. We should initiate a conspiracy.

This would be a conspiracy among print journalists, and particularly among print journalism’s editors, which has the objective of assaulting the television news industry whenever and wherever they play upon this culture-of-the-immediate.  What if, for example, the Wall Street Journal took Fox to task for this crap? What if the New York Times, in repeated and thundering editorials, assaulted MSNBC, when they too put forward images and rumors instead of doing the research that the craft of journalism demands?  What if the New Yorker, and Atlantic Monthly, and Esquire for that matter, took it upon themselves to commission articles about why, and how, such tripe reaches the screens?  What if you, all of you, when you saw rumors broadcast as “news,” wrote in to protest?  Forget left and right for the moment. Focus instead upon the content of the news at the most raw stage of development.  I believe that our national experiment cannot survive without the involvement of the people.  But if the people are misled by our own Constitutionally protected establishments, how can we move forward? 

Would it work? I do not know, but I have hope. Any editors out there reading this?  I know that I am ready to write.


Duck, North Carolina, is as close to heaven as I believe I will ever come.  I am back in DC as of last night, but heartily recommend that area to anyone considering leisure. 

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

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments