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Feb. 6, 2004 | 11:15 AM ET

I have to be short today, I have to tape two programs for the History Channel, eat lunch and give a talk at the New School Fear conference, at which Al Gore gave one of the great speeches I’ve heard in years last night.  If only that guy had run for president… More about Al later, here are a few odds and ends, plus Pierce, Stupid, the Scotty Saga continued, and Sal’s Vindication.

Thanks to Susan Oehler of Asheville, NC for more of our continuing saga, “Can You Say ‘Yes or No, Scotty?

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Q Can you say if White House officials, including Dr. Rice, are providing information under oath?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Under oath?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Terry, what I am saying is that we are committed to making sure that the commission has all the information they need to do their job, and do a thorough job, and complete that work -- complete their work in a timely manner.  We have provided them unprecedented cooperation.  We have made administration officials -- let me just go down kind of a list of a few things here.  There have been more than 100 briefings, including the head-of-agency-level officials briefing the commission. There have been some 500-plus interviews. We've provided more then 2.3 million pages of documents to the commission, as I cited a minute ago.  And we are continuing to make sure they have all the information they need to do their job.

Q But does the White House have a flat policy of not wanting officials to provide information under oath?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that there are lots of ways to provide the commission with information, and these are issues that we discuss with the commission and work with them to make sure that they have that information. So that's the way that I would --

Q So you're open to providing --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't -- I would state it the way I did. We're working with the --

Q Could I get an answer to the question, which is --

MR. McCLELLAN: We're working with the commission on all those issues and we're making sure that they have all the information they need to do their job.

Q So that is a yes or a no?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, those are issues that we discuss with the commission. And we work to make sure they have the information they need to do their job.

New “Think Again" column here.  “Deficit Coverage, What’s Missing,” guest authored by that brilliant bloggist, Brad Delong.  Remember, always relevant archives are here and you can sign up for the incredibly, almost so-useful-it-makes-you-feel-guilty-as-you-stare-speechless-in-admiration Progress Report here.

The Shadow Cabinet Continued:  I forgot the EPA: RFK Jr.

Crackpots of the world unite!

The real action figure is here.  (Just so nobody gets the wrong idea, I hereby disassociate myself with the over-the-top and unfair allegations that the very funny people who did make them seem to think are appropriate.  Altercation does not endorse these allegations, but does find some of them funny.)

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Eric --
In case Tim Russert hasn't figured it out yet, they're planning to make him the Dan Rather of '04.  Remember back in 1988, when Poppy Bush lied his withered hindquarters off about Iran-Contra, but the only story was how he'd gotten "tough" with Dan Rather, thereby burying the "wimp factor"?  Well, that's what this Meet The Press business is about on Sunday.  C-Plus Augustus is going to get on there and either be "tough" with the allegedly "tough" Russert, or he's going to "do surprisingly well" in addressing the steadily rising mountain of lies that now comprises his entire political life.

Little Tim Russert -- Stage Decoration.

Anyway, brother Boehlert in Salon yesterday got me thinking about my Dad and Richard Nixon.

After a scary couple of years in the North Atlantic at the beginning of WWII, my father got transferred to a ship bound for the forward areas of  the Pacific.  Once there, he told me he met at least three guys who claimed to have lost money playing poker with the young Lt. Nixon, who was one of the most notorious cardsharps in the Pacific Theater.  (One of Bravo's True Tales Of The West Wing concerns the youthful Dick's way with a deck on deck.)  Further, he also met about 10 guys who claimed to know guys who got similarly fleeced.

My point is this. The forward areas of the Pacific were, I think we can all agree, a slightly more chaotic and random duty station than was, say, Air National Guard billet in Alabama in the early 1970s.  Yet, by his own reckoning, my father met at least 13 guys claiming at least a secondhand acquaintance with a future president of the United States.  By contrast, the Republicans can't find one single person who remembers encountering the young C-Plus Augustus in peaceful Alabama as the age of Aquarius faded.

They apparently can;t even find anyone who saw him in the Piggly Wiggly, let alone in the cockpit of a jet fighter.

They apparently can't even find one barracks braggart to come out and lie about it.

They apparently can't even find anyone who'll do it just for the reward money.

That is the ground on which I call bulls**t on every bit of Republican spin on this story.  You lied.  You're still lying.  You buried the documentary evidence.  Admit it and move along, please.

By the way, and certainly not to be catty about it, but judging from my observations on Tuesday night, both Chris Matthews and Dee Dee Myers ought to be, ah, circumspect on the subject of any candidate's use of forehead-enhancing fish poisons.  Jeebus, who'd these people hire to do their work? The Borglums?

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Eric, it's Stupid to revisit the ongoing (and escalating) generational war.  On Tuesday the headlines about Dubya's 2005 budget overshadowed two other stories in need of attention.  The first was the return of personal bankruptcy "reform."  It's back, thanks to an insidious move by Tom DeLay, who attached it to a farm bill passed by the Senate. 

This sop to big banks (I usually bristle when someone labels "the banks" as the enemy, but here it fits) is the Dems' darkest moment since Dubya's election.  Even Hillary voted for it!  Only a bizarre series of events unrelated to the gist of the bill itself (which turns a "clean start" for working families into a long-lasting anvil if they dare to hold onto a job) have kept it from passing.  The second story was a front page NY Times piece about how companies are drastically cutting health benefits for retired workers.  Money quote: "Experts expect that the trend, driven by the fast-rising cost of health care, will continue despite the billions of dollars that the government will distribute to companies [from the new Medicare law]." 

I see these stories as linked beyond "the rich are getting richer under Dubya."   An underreported (I think) story of this recession was/is how many struggling families got help from their parents.  From my vantage point it was more than in the past.  Yet the First National Bank of Parent is having its vault looted by these health care and housing costs.  Just wait until "reverse mortgages" (sort of a second mortgage that you don't worry about until you're dead) catch on.  Younger families will be on their own: no refinancing their mortgages, no federal surplus (ha!) to tap into and a boomer-swollen AARP guarding the elderly entitlements. 

Normally, bringing any of this up would be anathema for a presidential candidate, but aren't the voters aware this is going on?  If you frame the issue in terms of Iraq costs, not morality, and say the 100% underestimate (lie or mistake) risked creating a generational divide at home, I wonder how it would resonate.

Name: Eugene Larkin
Hometown: Portland Oregon
To the National Guard Soldier who is "worried," get out of the Army Guard and start a garden.  If Mr. Clinton had done his job in the eight years he was fooling around in office we would not be dealing with a lot of the current issues.  It is easy to balme it all on President Bush as a scapegoat but we know where the problems started.  I served in the first Gulf War and have two brothers who served in this one.  None of us feel like this guy does.  Maybe he should just retire?  To be a soldier you have to be motivated and find a way to accomplish the mission.  He can either complain, or do his job and find a way to train his men.  If one of his men get killed, who is he going to blame that on, Mr. Bush?  Accept your duty as a soldier and "suck it up, move out, and draw fire".

Name: Jeff Weed
Hometown: Denton, TX

Eric & Hulka,
Statistically, Sal was right about Hall & Oates' status as the "most popular" duo as measured in hit singles.  In the 1980's, "they passed the Everly Brothers as the #1 charting duo of the Rock era." (Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits).  29 Top 40 Hits, 16 Top 10's, and 6 #1's.

Unlike Simon & Garfunkel, H2O never had monster album sales.  They also did not have a zeitgeist hit single like "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (no 's'--the water is NOT plural!) or "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (Yes, I know H2O did "Lovin' Feelin'", but its' not the same.)  I am a fan of all of the above-mentioned acts, but it should be mentioned that The Carpenters had more Top 40 Hits than either Simon & Garfunkel or The Righteous Brothers.

Feb. 5, 2004 | 2:39 PM ET

Questions, Questions:

  1. Was Bush a Deserter?
    Walter Robinson here and Eric Boehlert here.  (And why is the Boston Globe the only national SCLM newspaper to demonstrate any genuine interest in this question?
  2. Are Republican Senate Staffers Criminals?
    "Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) top aide on judicial nominees is expected to announce his resignation at the end of this week - a sacrifice offered by the GOP leadership in hope of persuading the Democrats to wind down the fight over leaked Judiciary Committee memos." More here.
  3. Will the 9/11 Commission Be Allowed to Complete its Investigation?
    Bush caved on the deadline, here, though not enough to be willing to testify himself.
  4. Was Haliburton Run By Crooks?
    What Did Cheney know and when did he know it? Here.
  5. Was there really a “failure of intelligence?"
  6. What is up with Cheney?
  7. Will the White House be able do to Kerry what they did to Max Cleland?
  8. Why are Canadians so sensible?
  9. Why did I go skiing for the first time in thirty years? 
    It was a good cause.  The T.J. Martell foundation invited me to come and ski, listen to music, get to know some musicians I’ve always liked, and learn something about the work they sponsor on cancer and AIDS research.  This “Country in the Rockies” thing, which was having its tenth anniversary, raised lots of money for the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, which has so far received roughly $13 million from fundraising efforts like these, which I’m told they have been able to leverage into roughtly $100 million.  This is particularly important money, as some of the doctors explained to me, because it comes without strings, unlike government funds, and empowers them to undertake risky strategies with potentially high payoffs and to move quicly to seize on discoveries by colleagues that have the potential to help shape new preventative cancer strategies—which is basically what they try to do.

    In addition, it’s a hellova a lot of fun. I was in one dive bar where $30,000 was raised in two hours, care, in large measure, of Suzy Bogguss selling the $20 margaritas she was mixing and people shelling out over a grand at a time to hear a single song, or for the fairest member of a band called “Trick Pony” to part with certain articles of her clothing.  I have to say, I never really understood the attractiveness of redneck culture until I watched these (white, exclusively white) people.  I understand it comes with a genuine cost, and it’s not one I think justifies its dark side, but it is there. Life is complicated.

    What’s more, the cancer center has just about the coolest band—for a bunch of oncologists—I have ever heard.  After the bar stuff, “Soul Incision” played a terrific set of oldies, with guests like Charlie Daniels, doing an incredible “Stormy Monday.”  The lunatic Trick Pony people, Suzy, Lari White, Kathy Mattea, and others joined in on old chestnuts.  (That’s all I can say about that, though.  As all these musician folk like to say, “Whatever happens on the mountain, stays on the mountain.”)

    Anyway, aside from the dangers of breaking legs and tearing knees, the only peril I encountered was the presence of Page Six’s “Richard Johnson” and his much too good for him girlfriend.  So far, no damage done.  I did spend some time talking with Suzy and Robert Earl Keen, and I’ll be passing along some of that—as well as couple of discoveries I made—at an appropriately leisurely pace in the next few days.
  10. Speaking of Page Six, who was at Laurie David’s incredibly successful political meeting last night at the Society for Ethical Culture, where about 700 invitees heard a pitch from Harold Ickes, Ellen Malcolm and Steve Rosenthal on what will be necessary if the Democrats are to give Bush and his hundreds of millions a remotely fair fight?

    Well, actually it was off the record. But the press conference before hand, yielded this Quote of the Day from ABC’s political guru Mark Halperin in this morning’s Note:
    “After the pre-event press conference, actor/writer Larry David and writer Eric Alterman engaged in animated conversation, producing a concentration of misanthropy not seen since Moliere's Alceste first took the stage."

    PS: I was actually telling Nation fan, Larry, that he really ought to read “The Note” to see what the machers are thinking.

Correspondents’ Corner:
Name: Erica Howard

Hometown: Seattle
I was in the U.S. Reserves beginning October 1990.  I was supposed to drill through 1996.  For many reasons, I quit showing up for my weekend drills and two week drills for the last two years of my tour.  I simply stopped showing up.  In 1998 when I would have been finished with the Reserves and the IRR, I received an honourable discharge from the U.S. Army.  The White House statements about receiving an honorable discharge mean absolutely nothing.  It doesn't prove that he fulfilled his duties because I certainly didn't. 

Name: Hulka
Hometown: Baltimore

"The most popular duo in music history?"  Ahem, Simon and Garfunkel, ahem.  Even the Righteous Brothers have a better claim to the title.

Eric replies:  He’s got you there, bub.  And what about Sam ‘n Dave?  What about Dean ‘n Jerry?  Speaking of which, I met a guy named Martin N. Lewis last night, really.  He’s a Brit though and says it’s a coincidence.  When the guy at customs asked him “Are you some kind of comedian,” he said, “well, yes.”

Feb. 4, 2004 | 5:00 PM ET

The Roots of Kerry’s Victory:  Dean Buys Disaster:  I can’t take credit for this observation because it came up at a poker game last night, but if you want to date the moment that Howard Dean’s candidacy collapsed, it was not “the scream” but the decision he and Joe Trippi took to blow off spending limits for the primaries. 

This decision, which was followed by the one to blow Dean’s incredible war chest, not only proved counter-productive in tiny Iowa, where caucus-goers are unlikely to be moved by wall-to-wall television advertising, or massive crowds at rallies in New York City—but it opened the door for John Kerry to do the same by mortgaging (one of) his house(s) and spending enough money—though far less than Dean—to revive his then moribund candidacy.  (At the time, Kerry’s fundraisers were complaining that they couldn’t raise a dime.)

If Dean had played nicer with others, he’d still be sitting on a $40 million war chest going into the rest of primaries instead of asking his staff to forgo their paychecks.  This would not only have saved him to fight another day down the road, it would also have been a compelling argument for his nomination, since it is the point perhaps of the Party’s greatest weakness vis-à-vis the Bush money machine.  And Kerry would not have been permitted to get himself off the canvas and start fighting back.  I forget who’s line this is but I love it: “You may not believe in irony, but irony believes in you.”

For more on Dean’s spending mistakes, see here.

Shadow Cabinet, Take I.
I’ve been giving the idea of a shadow cabinet some thought and I think it’s a neat idea.  Of course, it would create problems; not everyone could be fully vetted and some changes might be necessary over time.  The Clinton people had a hellova lot of trouble picking their cabinet and pretty much screwed up the early part of the presidency in doing so.  (If only Powell had accepted Secretary of State, then Christopher would have had to take AG.  No Zoey Baird.  No Kimba Wood.  Damn fewer problems with gays in the military.)  Anyway, the idea would be to announce a shadow cabinet that would function as a cabinet, but be subject to revision later, depending on availability, changes, stuff.  But it would take the focus off the “personality” and give the media something to write about other than who was the inspiration for “Love Story.”

Speaking of a hypothetical Kerry/Edwards or even Edwards/Kerry ticket, here are a few shadow suggestions.  I am excluding all senators from the list because I think it would be silly for the Democrats to give up any seats when they are already outnumbered.

Secretary of State: Wesley Clark or Anthony Zinni, if Clark is on the ticket.
Adviser for National Security: Anthony Zinni if he’s not Secretary of State
Secretary of Defense: Max Cleland
Chairman of the Federal Reserve: Joseph Stiglitz
Director of the CIA: Joseph Wilson
Secretary of the Treasury: Laura Tyson
Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers: Paul Krugman
Attorney General: Elliot Spitzer
Secretary of the Interior: Gary Hart
UN Representative: John Lewis
Ambassador to Niger: Paul Wolfowitz
Ambassador to Mars, George W. Bush
Ambassador to Venus, Ralph Nader.
Chairman of the Democratic Party: Howard Dean

Keepin’ the family honor alive:  I realize that the intellectual quality of our political discourse has degenerated, but what kind of an as**ole do you have to be to think something like this list is cute?  I used to feel sorry for Jonah, given his family circumstances, etc.  Silly me.  For the record, Izzy Stone and Edward Said, just to pick two examples, remain more intellectually vibrant and politically decent while dead than the idiotic author of this list is alive; and a good thing for America that is.

Is the administration only discovering now how bad their intelligence was? Come now

More Desert: The Times, not understating a bit, finds a “striking contrast” in the records of Bush and Kerry.  Check out SIVA’s musings on Bush’s military history and implications here.

Meanwhile, I hear that Walter Robinson, the Boston Globe reporter who did just about the only thorough reporting on Bush’s apparent disappearance from duty during his Air National Guard, is updating and broadening his work.  We may have the piece tomorrow.  In the meantime, just for fun, check out this illuminating exchange from yesterday’s White House press briefing: (Thanks to Eli Pariser via Todd Gitlin.  Where were these guys four years ago?)

Q     Scott, you expressed some outrage this morning that Democrats are questioning whether President Bush shirked his military duty with the Texas Air National Guard.  Is the White House trying to come up with any records or any eye-witnesses to demonstrate that he did show up for his last two years in Alabama?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Terry, I would just say that it was a shame that this issue was brought up four years ago during the campaign, and it is a shame that it is being brought up again.  The President fulfilled his duties.  The President was honorably discharged.

Q     Scott, can I follow that up?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Do you have a follow-up?

Q     Well, the question actually was whether or not you're trying to find any eye-witnesses or any records to prove --

MR. McCLELLAN:  Terry, this was addressed four years ago, and like I said, it was a shame that it came up then and it's a shame that some are bringing it up again.

Dana, did you have one?

Q     The Democrats have been attacking the President for months on a lot of issues.  Why this issue -- why is it that you're choosing to respond to this particular issue, where in the past you've --

MR. McCLELLAN:  The reasons I said.  It is really shameful that this was brought up four years ago, and it's shameful that some are trying to bring it up again.  I think it is sad to see some stoop to this level, especially so early in an election year.  The President, like many Americans, was proud to serve in the National Guard.  The National Guard plays an important role in the security of America.  And the President was proud of his service.


Q     Scott, can I ask you about, again, the National Guard thing?  As you know, the President was committed to a six-year term, and what's at issue is the last two years.  And the commander of the Alabama unit in which Bush was assigned in 1972 said that Lt. Bush never showed.  That is absent without leave, otherwise known as AWOL, which is the charge that the Democrats are making.  Can you be specific then about those last two years which are in question --

MR. McCLELLAN:  Norah, we already have been specific.  We were specific four years ago when this shameful accusation was made.  I think you need to go back and look at the facts.  The President was honorably discharged.  He fulfilled his duties.  It is really sad that people are now stooping to this level once again.  And people should condemn this.

Q     So where was he, then, in that period when his commander says he did not appear?

MR. McCLELLAN:  This has already been previously addressed four years ago.  Yet some people continue to stoop to the level that they are now stooping to --

Q     You're not addressing the substance of the charge --

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, we already have --

Q     So the White House position is that the honorable discharge answers the question, that as far as the President's commanding officers were concerned, he preformed his duties honorably, and that's it?

MR. McCLELLAN:  People that are discharged honorably are people that have fulfilled their duties.  And we appreciate the service of all those people who are currently in the Guard and all those that were previously in the National Guard.  We welcome all that they do to help make this country safer and better.

Or to put the matter more briefly, as the folks at The Note did:

“Number of times Scott McClellan addressed the substance of the AWOL charge at his daily briefing from that podium: 0.”

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Sal
Hometown: NYC
I went to see Daryl Hall sans Oates at B.B. King's on Saturday.  Say what you want about H&O, but prior to their cheesy 80's residency on MTV as the most popular duo in music history, their recorded output was solid, thanks to Daryl's Philly influences and fantastic voice, so a solo show in (sort of) his hometown was appealing.


Ever the pompous-ass, Mr.Hall, who according to club management had a prompt 8 p.m. start time, took the stage at 9:05 and offered no apology to his many fans who had been waiting outside since 4 p.m. in the brutal cold.  (Actually, that's just stupid and not his fault.)  He took the stage, clearly unhappy -kicking microphone stands and sneering at his engineer- and proceeded to perform a flat and soulless 70 minute set.  No chestnuts from the heyday.  No obscure fan favorites.  Just songs from his last two solo albums and then a scripted "Good-bye, NY, we love you."  A disaster.

There were 500 people in the club, most in their 50's.  The club was filled with Hall admirers who had been fans since 1972, none of which, I assure you, gave a rat's patootie about new material.  I understand the concept of moving on, and not dwelling on the past, but a performer needs to work the crowd just a bit, don't ya think?  He did nothing of the sort.  I was embarrassed for him.  The odd thing though, I don't think anyone else was.  It seemed like a crowd who would've paid to see Daryl Hall read from "Beowulf."  And as long as die-hard fans continue to bestow unjust praise upon their favorite artists, the artists will get lazy and their output will continue to stink!

Feb. 3, 2004 | 12:31 PM ET

ABC News lies for Bush:  Here is the direct quote from Sunday night’s broadcast, thanks to Todd Gitlin: “Reporters investigating Mr. Bush's military career found that, while he missed some weekends of training,  he later made up for them and was eventually honorably discharged.”  That sentence is a falsehood.  In fact, as I explained in Newsday, only one reporter, the Boston Globe’s Walter V. Robinson, investigated the charge with any kind of probity and he found that Bush missed not “weekends of training” but approximately eighteen months.  A May 2, 1973, Annual Performance Report noted that he has "not been observed at this unit" during the previous year and could not be evaluated. 

His superiors apparently believed that he had been training in Alabama, but nobody can turn up any evidence of his having bothered to show up.  And the general who commanded that unit, William Turnipseed, told Robinson he didn't remember even seeing the young man.  Moreover, Bush did not submit to the required annual physical examination and lost his right to actually fly any planes.  Bush was “honorably discharged” in pretty much the same fashion he was “cleared” for insider trading; in other words, regardless of whether he was guilty.  Shame on ABC for its dishonest shilling for the White House, misinforming its viewers without doing any investigation of its own.

Why the world is screwed up I.  In the current Economist, the world’s smartest newsweekly, I read the following sentence in the leader, re John Kerry: “As a supporter of the Iraq war, he can convincingly criticize the White House’s exaggerations about weapons of mass destruction.”  The point here -and it is almost universally shared within the SCLM- is that one has to have been taken in by the phony arguments of a dishonest administration in order to criticize it with “credibility.”  Luckily, the public is a lot smarter than the smart guys on this.  The above is actually the entire justification for Joe Lieberman’s candidacy and you can see how far it’s gotten him.

Why the World is Screwed Up, II.  In James Pinkerton’s Washington Post review of The Book on Bush, you know, the one where he did not identify himself as a former loyal employee of Bush’s daddy, among other complications, he attacks our work because the authors “can't adequately answer the question ‘If Bush is so bad, how come he's so far ahead?’" 

James, you and your editors should feel free to weigh in here on two recent surveys, one from Quinnipiac College, and one by Gallup for CNN, here.  Bush is far behind not only Kerry, 53-46 among likely voters, his approval rating is a mere 48 percent, which, even though he is a “wartime president” is a full twenty percentage points lower than than Bill Clinton's was on the day that he was impeached!  So I don’t think the question of why “he is so far ahead” is actually germane to a fair and balanced book review, bub.  In fact, I think it’s a meme that ought to be retired right here and now.  We can move on from there.

Little Roy Cohn is for Dean. Need I say more?
UPDATE: (Well, actually I will, since a few people have written in, misunderstanding my point. I'll spell it out: Andy loves Bush.  Andy wants Bush to be president.  If Andy wants Dean to win the nomination it is because, like Karl Rove and the folks at National Review, he thinks he is easily beatable.  This is not a reflection on Mr. Dean one way or another except as a candidate, and as such, it is nothing new.  Good effect on the other candidates and the race; bad bet as the nominee.  Ok, is that clearer now?) 

Speaking of whom, say one thing for Mr. “Here’s the News from My Bathroom,” every time I think the guy has peaked, he manages to surprise me.  Imagine two anonymous people on the planet: One guy is a “GayCatholicToryGAPmodel” who takes credit for liberating Iraq with his modem, and one guy fought with heroism in a war for his country, both in Vietnam and when he returned.  So guess who is a “pompous, do-nothing, faux-populist, Establishment blow-hard with the Vietnam obsession”?  I wonder how many bullets the tough-guy blogger has taken for his obsessions.  (Anybody ever aim an AK-47 at that P-town toilet?)  If you’ve got a strong stomach, you can find it here.

Correspondents’ Corner:
Slacker Tuesday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric A., it's Stupid to compliment John Kerry when I'm still hoping John Edwards will beat him, but David Brooks' recent attack on Kerry ticked me off.  Brooks listed a number of speeches where Kerry has stepped on political third rails: chastising the lockjaw grip teacher unions have on the Dems, proposing sensible energy taxes, etc.  Brooks argued this isn't good enough -- Kerry needed to become a crusader for these causes, a la John McCain and campaign finance reform.  Good grief, first conservatives claim Kerry is left of Kennedy, then they chide him for not being to the right of Zell Miller!  I would have liked to see Kerry be more aggressive on some of those issues, but how many GOP senators do you see stoking the debate fires, especially while their party holds the White House?  And if Kerry isn't as eloquent as Edwards can be, he's hardly the Dan Quayle some on the left are painting him to be. 

Thing is, all politics is local (almost) and here's what frightens this Chicagoan about Kerry: the old Kennedy connection to the Daleys.  Eric, even a keen observer such as yourself has no idea how corrupt things are here -- it almost makes me cry.  The local media can seemingly find a "city workers doing nothing and/or tied to the mob" story at their whim.  There is no opposition: Daley Jr. gets along swimmingly with the Illinois GOP machine and the local opposition is tiney, shrill and irrelevant.  Would President Kerry appoint a local U.S. attorney as ferocious as Patrick Fitzgerald (the Plume affair investigator)?  Ha! 

I raise all this local arcana because I think it's analogous to Nader's siren song: we're constantly asked to swallow our concerns for the greater good, but after a while you start to think only seismic change can work.  It's a fallacy, but a seductive one, and calls for one to practice the amoral "politics of misery" or  worse, simply stop caring.    Propose true reform and a Dem can capture some of that Dean "spirit" Eric R. was talking about.

Name: Matthew Saroff
Of course, Mickey and the rest of the pundits are missing the obvious:  Kerry was just treated for Prostate Cancer, and part of the regime might be estrogen, which does tend to smooth skin.  That being said, this is a not uncommon treatment, and I'm wondering if it's anyone's bloody business.

Name: Pat Healy
Hometown: Vallejo, CA
Michael Powell to probe Janet Jackson's breast.  (How's that for a headline?  Response - In his dreams.)

There's a reason they call it the "Boob Tube", y'know.

Eric replies: Anybody remember when Mick Jagger ripped off Tina Turner’s skirt during their Live Aid performance?  Man, the world sure has degenerated since then.

Name: Noam Sane
Hometown: Mechanicsburg, PA
Hi Eric. Glad to see you post about Yes last week - by coincidence, I'd recently been listening to the Rhino remaster of "Going For The One," which really deserves your consideration as probably the last great Yes record.  Yeah, more of Jon Andersen's lyrics - he wants you to be an 'ever opening flower' or some such - but monster playing from Howe, Squire and Wakeman on some pretty good, shortish (for Yes) songs.

I didn't know there was such a thing as a metal 'solar' nipple medallion until today. Thanks Drudge - you're a boob too.

And, I'd like to send Randy Newman's "I'm Dead But I Don't Know It" out to Jumpin' Joe Leiberman. Dean can listen in, too.

Name: John
Hometown: Winchester, Virginia

Eric:  Obviously, you don't know anything...after ghost writing 'Love Story,' Kerry went to Viet Nam, where he created the Internet between combat missions...I heard him say these things in 1995.

Name: Steven Gieseler
Hometown: Charlottesville, VA

It's the craziest thing.  I read your blog and I hate you.  Seriously.  All you do is bitch and moan like a teenage girl, and you can't answer a legitimate question about a Democrat without flogging President (circa 2001-2009) Bush.  But then I see you on Imus in the Morning and you seem like a decent guy.  It's killing me.

Eric replies: “Tough luck, Jon.”

Feb. 2, 2004 | 1:40 PM ET

Here we go again: Mickey Kaus writes, “The Kerry botox story is not a frivolous bit of gossip but a perfectly legitimate synecdoche for this type of Kerry behavior.”  Um, one guy deceives the U.S. by saying a nation is threatening us with nothing worse than a few botox shots, to trick us into a counterproductive, expensive war.  One guy might have gotten a botox shot, himself, and lied about that.  Hmmm, I dunno.  I’ll decide which is worse when I know more about whether Kerry was the inspiration for any of the characters in “Love Story.”

Mickey, we all know is not always so silly.  He also thinks Dean is planning to go Kamakaze when it’s a sure thing he’ll lose.  I sure hope not, because up till now, he’s done nothing but great things for the party and for the country.  But if Dean does decide to try to take the nominee down with his nearly-disabled candidacy, the fact that he chose to go with Mr. Corporate Lobbyist over Mr. Grass Roots Democracy as his campaign head ought to soften the blow a bit.  So too, his defense of the NRA, on “Meet the Press” yesterday.  To try and lighten my mail load a bit, I will forgo the obvious comparison between defending the alleged ideals of an organization, while distancing oneself from evil statements of its unchallenged leadership.

We at Altercation are not in anyone’s tank here.  We think Kerry is the best qualified of all major candidates to be president and also the one with the most consistently progressive record.  But we share the stated view of most primary voters that at this moment of maximum national peril, we think it an unaffordable luxury right now to worry too much about who would be the best president if it’s someone who is never going to be president.  We prefer someone who will be elected president, and we'll worry about their imperfections and ideological deviations at some future date.  If this person turns out to be Edwards or Clark, that’s just fine with us.  The process, as crazy as it is, will answer that question for us in the end.  In the spirit of the above, therefore, read this incredible Boston Globe series and make up your own mind.  Or, to save time, read this handy cheat sheet offered by the The Note, offering a list of things about which to worry once Kerry’s “buyer’s remorse” period begins, should he sweep this week.  These guys are right when they say, “those Kerry supporters who object to this section, we say: if you can't stand the heat of The Heat, how can Democrats expect you to stare down Rove and Gorbachev?”

I seem to have sustained some sort of skiing injury to my wrist and so must keep typing light. So no comments on the WMD commission, which is too complicated to address in a short space.  In the meantime, I’ve a backlog of pieces I published last week.

Think Again column: Burying the 9/11 commission here.

Newsday Op-ed: Is Bush a deserter?

(Note: I am reliably informed that ABC News is categorically reporting that that Bush says he made up his missing time on weekends.  If that’s accurate, based on Robinson’s reporting, it sure sounds like a blatant falsehood.  Any other reporters think this might be worth a second look, uh, now that the guy’s president and started a war and dressed up in a flight suit and will be attacking the character of a genuine war hero?  Just asking.)

Nation column:  Special Groundhog Day edition on liberal hawks’ buyer’s remorse edition here.

Washington Post Book World gives “Book on Bush” to James Pinkerton, former Bush daddy speechwriter, who does not identify himself as such, before trashing book here (though he liked the foreign policy part…)

The book is here.

This will protect us from terrorism as soon as Al Qaeda gets its space age weaponry and aims it at Alaska, giving the Pentagon the coordinates of the attack in advance, and at least six chances to hit the target.

Um, let’s invade a country that supports Al Qaeda and supplies nuclear weaponry to "rogue nations."  Nahh, they didn’t try to kill Bush’s daddy. (And by the way, neither did Iraq—at lest it probably didn’t according to a lengthy inviestigation by Sy Hersh that The New Yorker really out to put back up on the Web).

America sees black breast, is nearly destroyed from within:  Did Saddam supply Janet Jackson with "Pasties of Mass Destruction?"  (Or was it just “pasties-of-mass-destruction-related program activity?”)

A great big “thank you” to Eric Rauchway for filling in so brilliantly during the Altercation computer breakdown in Mt. Crested Butte.  Everybody take a look at Eric's book, "Murdering McKinley."

Just before going away, I saw Steve Tyrell at Feinstein's at the Recency.  The frightening weather outside gave the room a romantic winterwonderlandy feel and if my wrist weren’t killing me, I’d go on and on about Tyrell being the perfect cabaret act, combining an incredibly distinctive voice with a musical intelligence and a unmatched sense of swingingness.  I would sure try and catch him live, and Feinstein’s is the perfect place, though you’d better be celebrating something really special or else be very rich.  My only complaint about the him is that he’s starting to look more and more like a guy who’d “win” an election under false pretenses and then trick the nation into a counterproductive war.  (Did I mention he’s from Texas?)  Check out the terrific new Tyrell album here.

And to make a donation in memory of Stephanie Tyrell, Steve’s wife who passed away in October 2003, please send checks to:

The Childrens Hospital Los Angeles Foundation, Childrens Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases
Attention: Elizabeth LaBorde
4650 Sunset Blvd. #29
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Speaking of charity, how about an Altercation Charity Auction?  I left a pair of new Fischer skis and poles in Crested Butte.  If you promise to make a decent donation to the “A World Without Cancer” Campaign of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, I’ll pay to get them sent to you.  Highest promised donation wins, and it better be at least a hundred bucks, but you’ll be on your honor to actually make it, since I’m a little busy to be checking up on that sort of thing.  (And don’t ask me any questions about the skis.  They’re new and they’re good and the bindings pop when you fall.)

Alter-review, Family edition:
Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle

As long as the musical reviews are touching on music that youngsters might appreciate as well as oldsters (well, I tell my wife at 39 I'm not exactly old, but...) I have to make strong recommendations for the works of Sandra Boynton (yes the cartoon lady) and Michael Ford, old friends who put together a few wonderful albums for all ages.  "Rhinocerous Tap" has some super numbers on it and "Philadelphia Chickens" features the vocal work of, among others, Kevin Kline, Kevin Bacon, Meryl Streep, Scott Bakula, Laura Linney, and Patti Lupone -and some wonderfully playful lyrics, styles, and tunes.

I got them as Father's Day gifts, but my 3 and 1 year-olds love them plenty.  Which hasn't stopped me from taking them to work to play on the computer from time to time.  They come with books, as well.  Give them a try.  (The third offering is "Grunt."  Pigorian chants takes a bit of getting used to and is better for grownups.  The pigs all chant in pig latin, while the other barnyard animals sing in real latin.  It's a hoot.)

Eric replies: We are big fans in this house of Ms. Boynton’s oeuvre.

Correspondents’ Corner, Serious stuff:
Name: Scott McConnell
Hometown: New York City
I can see the logic of a Kerry-Edwards ticket, which seems to be Eric's preference, and that of a lot of the top liberal pundits.  But isn't there a downside to a ticket of TWO senators who voted for the war.  One point: it would give Nader the reason for running he now lacks.  Curiously, Nader, if he chose to, could tap into some of the normally Republican vote this time.  There is a lot of outrage on the right towards Bush's illegal immigrant amnesty plan.  So a run by him might not necessarily be deadly to the Dems.

Name: Steve Trumbull
Hometown: Nellysford, Virginia
With all you know about both presidential politics and Bruce Springsteen, who would you guess that Springsteen prefers among the Democratic field:  John "No Surrender" Kerry;  John "Factory" Edwards; Howard "War-what is it good for?" Dean; Wesley "Tougher Than The Rest" Clark; Al "Hungry Heart" Sharpton; (recently departed) Dick "Working On The Highway" Gephardt; Joe "I'm On Fire" Lieberman; or Dennis "Dancing In The Dark" Kuchinich?

Eric replies: Shut up. You’re giving me "The Fever.”

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