Dec. 31, 2003 | 11:23 AM ET

Oops! There goes Another Constitutional Right…  I don’t suppose it would interest anyone in the mass media but George W. Bush appears to have signed major aspects of the much-reviled USA Patriot Act II into law without anyone noticing. According to this story in the San Antonio Current.  

Bush took the opportunity of Saddam’s capture to sign, on a Saturday, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, which now includes what author David Martin terms “a simple, yet insidious, redefinition of ‘financial institution,’ which previously referred to banks, but now includes stockbrokers, car dealerships, casinos, credit card companies, insurance agencies, jewelers, airlines, the U.S. Post Office, and any other business ‘whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters.’” 

He also notes that “while broadening the definition of ‘financial institution,’ the Bush administration is ramping up provisions within the 2001 USA Patriot Act, which granted the FBI the authority to obtain client records from banks by merely requesting the records in a 'National Security Letter.' To get the records, the FBI doesn't have to appear before a judge, nor demonstrate ‘probable cause’ - reason to believe that the targeted client is involved in criminal or terrorist activity. Moreover, the National Security Letters are attached with a gag order, preventing any financial institution from informing its clients that their records have been surrendered to the FBI. If a financial institution breaches the gag order, it faces criminal penalties. And finally, the FBI will no longer be required to report to Congress how often they have used the National Security Letters.”

This is how rights are lost—in the metaphorical dead of night, while the nation’s news media is celebrating the capture Saddam. Every time I think I cannot be surprised by the cynicism of this crowd, I find I’m underestimating them again.

During the 2000 election, the Washington post’s Ceci Connolly published false GOP press releases about Al Gore specifically designed to mangle his words in order to make him appear to be claiming credit for “discovering” Love Canal. Here is one typically misleading quote:  "Add Love Canal to the list of verbal missteps by Vice President Gore," she wrote. "The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie 'Love Story' and to have invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site." Note the mistake was hers, not Gore’s but you’ll find no admission of that anywhere. The Post did eventually publish a small, insignificant correction but the story continues to be repeated today. Unfortunately this was typical of her coverage, which was ridden with contempt for the candidate and helped set the tone for the rest of the Gore-hating press corps. So I guess we should not be surprised that her editors have rewarded her by asking her next to take on Howard Dean.

Mike Tomasky argues that the Deaniacs are locked in. What Howard Dean has to do now is reassure everbody else.

Stupid Corner:
Eric, it's Stupid, with more Memories of  the Dukakis Administration (er, I was just testing y'all last week...). 

If the idea in 2004 is that beating Dubya comes before all else then this is not the time to rally to Dean's defense.  Even assuming the attacks by the Clintonistas are unfair, can a Dem win in 2004 without their support?  Let alone their animosity?  Dean's fundraising is impressive, but it pales next to Dubya's juggernaught.  And Dean doesn't strike me as the one to turn out the base. The tin-ear on the confederate flag (and lack of much of an African-American presence in the campaign), the "not taking sides" on Israel, and I never hear him talk about women's issues: none of it augers well. I credit Dean for being genuine and earning his front runner status, but I don't think he’s electable. 

And yet...there's something horrible about the regular party anointing a candidate to stop an outsider.  I wouldn't blame Dean supporters or anyone else for being infuriated if that comes to pass.  One could argue Dean tried the same thing via Al Gore's endorsement, but it doesn't rise to the same level.  Why have primaries if you can't EVER defeat the powers that be?  In 2000 Gore v. Bradley presented a clear choice about where to lead the party -- if that choice doesn't exist then the Nader crowd has a legitimate point. 

Thus, I won't fall in line for Wesley Clark.  I've come full circle on Edwards.  Not only is he running a positive campaign which is on-target on the issues, he's also the only candidate I see besides Dean I see who:

  1. Has a discernible campaign theme (economic progressivity)
  2. Generates any noticeable grass roots enthusiasm
  3. Might connect with young voters (that great mythical source of untapped votes...)

Stupid's Dad had a great veep suggestion for Edwards (or for that matter Dean): Diane Feinstein.  She's no Geraldine Ferraro and would immediately make a victory more plausible, which is half the battle!

Eric replies: Stupid’s dad should hold onto his day job. A divorced Jewish woman is not going to help anyone’s chances in this election, save the boy in the flight suit.

Happy new year to all.

Dec. 30, 2003 | 10:51 AM ET

The Washington Post editorial page today, featuring E. J. Dionne and Robert Samuelson, offers a lesson about how to be unusually thoughtful and how to be knee-jerk contemptuous about the same topic: Howard Dean and so-called “Bush Hatred.”  Read EJ carefully, as this issue is not going away.

Meanwhile The Wall Street Journal

continues the joint campaign it launched with the editors of the Washington Post described here

to delegitimate George Soros for playing the same game for which they regularly give a pass to far-right conservatives.  Blame the liberal media.

Everything old is new again: Richard Nixon is still getting away with it; screwing the public, taking our money, even in death. You gotta admire the guy’s tenacity, if nothing else.

Beware of terrorists with almanacs.

In the CD Player: James Carter, “Gardenias for Lady Day,” is yet another tribute to Billie Holiday and some of her contemporaries. Carter is one of the most interesting soloists in contemporary jazz; tied neither to the new traditionalism nor to the avant-free jazz movement but conversant and expert in both, he plays songs like “Strange Fruit” and “More than You Know” as if he wrote them yesterday.

I’ve also been listening a lot to the new edition of David Bowie’s career spanning box set “Sound and Vision.” It focuses on Bowie’s career from 1969 though 1993 and now contains 23 more songs than it did in its original version; which, to me, seems a little unfair to the people who bought the original. I am not a Bowie fanatic; his career seems to contain more misses than hits. But I admire his audacity and originality—and I think “Heroes” is one of the great songs of al time. But at the same time, I could live without much of his influence.

“Sound and Vision,” however, is terrific; many of the alternate versions are more interesting and heartfelt than those that were released. Supplement it with the recently released “Best of Bowie,” available on both CD and DVD and it seems to me you have most of what you need from the guy, unless you really like him.  Non-Bowie fanatics will not need the two CD, one DVD edition of Black Tie White Noise, to be released in January, which struck me as interesting, once or twice. Bowie fanatics, however, are encouraged to ignore everything I’ve said, buy all of the above, and not to write me with your complaints.

Dec. 29, 2003 | 2:05 PM ET

The Times finally discovers the Tiger Force massacre, sixty days or so late and many, many dollars short:

“Villages were bombed, burned and destroyed. As the ground troops swept through, in many cases they gunned down men, women and children, sometimes mutilating bodies — cutting off ears to wear on necklaces. They threw hand grenades into dugout shelters, often killing entire families.”

"'The story that I'm not sure is getting out,' said Mr. Causey, then a medic with the unit, 'is that while they're saying this was a ruthless band ravaging the countryside, we were under orders to do it.'" 

Finally, more than sixty days late and many more dollars short, the New York Times acknowledges the Toledo Blade's incredible Tiger Force scoop.  Note that:

“'Absent any new or compelling evidence, there are no plans to reopen the case,' Colonel Curry said. 'The case is more than 30 years old. Criminal Investigation Command has conducted a lengthy investigation when the allegations surfaced four years after they reportedly occurred.'"

We will have to wait for the book version to se if this horrific human rights scandal will ever be addressed.

New Nation column here. We have seen the enemy and his name is Howard Dean.

The media conspiracy, explained here

to me.

Henry Kissinger, handmaiden to mass murder:  From in "The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability" (The New Press) by Peter Kornbluh as quoted in The New York Times:

Kornbluh notes that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jack Kubisch gave Kissinger the news that 2,700 people were killed during the killed during the 1973 coup, expressing concern that the United States appeared too close to the Pinochet regime.  In a later meeting with Chilean foreign minister Patricio Carvajal to discuss support for the idea of holding a meeting of the Organization of America States in Santiago in order to improve Chile’s international standing, Kissinger complained, “Well, I read the briefing paper for this meeting and it was nothing but human rights. The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there were not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State.”

Later he told General Pinochet not to worry about human rights criticisms, adding, I wanted to tell you about this. My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world, and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government that was going Communist.”

Quote of the Day: “"He looks like the nicest cannibal you could ever meet."

QUOTE OF THE YEAR (Reprise): "You're welcome [to an Iraqi] ….The men and women in our armed forces did the hardest work. They deserve our immeasurable thanks. But we all played our part. By facing down the evil, the cowardly and the simply misguided, we have done a great good."
- Andrew Sullivan, Gaycatholictorygapmodelfreedomfighter.

Correspondents’ Corner:
Name: Jeff Metzger
Hometown: San Diego
At your suggestion, I will be adding Save the Children to our list of year-end charitable donees.  An excellent idea.  In deciding to do so, I also referred to the latest issue of the American Institute of  Philanthropy's Charity Rating Guide an organization that we have been subscribing to for the past few years.  It rates and grades several hundred charities primarily on the percent of money raised that actually goes to the program service ("60% or greater is reasonable for most charities") and the cost to raise $100 ("$35 or less to raise $100 is reasonable for most charities.")   There is other information provided as well, such as the amount of the top salaries within each organization (which makes for some very interesting reading--the venerable Wayne Lapierre, Jr. of the NRA brings down a cool $515,895, which is the 17th highest such compensation package).

Save the Children received a grade of A-, as 84% of the money raised goes for the program service and $23 is spent to raise $100.  (Contrast with, say, Feed the Children/Lary Jones Ministries, which gives 18% of its money raised to the program service and spends $71 to raise $100.  Wanna guess what grade it got?)

So, here's one back for you.  Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger.  We've been very involved with this since the mid-80's when it started.  Based out of Los Angeles, it has raised millions of dollars which it gives in grants to deserving hunger-related organizations, usually for the infrastructure that will allow food to reach the hungry.  AIP gives it a very rare grade of A+, as 90% of the money raised goes for the services, and only $7 is needed to raise $100.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
No doubt you have noticed that there has been precious little mention of the supposed Mohammed Atta-Iraq connection since Iskikoff and Hosenball debunked it in Newsweek two weeks ago. I've been looking high and low for retractions, but they are proving to be as difficult to find as WMD in Iraq.

Con Coughlin of the London Sunday Telegraph appeared on "Meet the Press" on 12/14 and said this about his story:

"But this is a document, and I've had it authenticated. This is the handwriting of the head of Iraqi intelligence, Habush..."

Two days later, the Newsweek reporters wrote this:

"Contacted by Newsweek, The Sunday Telegraph's Con Coughlin acknowledged that he could not prove the authenticity of the document. He said that while he got the memo about Mohammed Atta and Baghdad from a 'senior' member of the Iraqi Governing Council who insisted it was 'genuine,' he and his newspaper had 'no way of verifying it.'"

Transcripts for the 12/21 and 12/28 broadcasts of "Meet the Press" show that Russert has made no attempt to correct the story. 

Coughlin's story also was trumpeted on 12/16 by David Horowitz on "Hardball" and by John Loftus on "Scarborough Country."  A search of transcripts since then indicates that neither host has seen fit to inform his viewers that the story was a hoax.

Regarding influential albums, let's not forget Duane Eddy's 1958 LP "Have Twangy Guitar - Will Travel." Eddy was a major influence on John Fogerty, George Harrison and just about everyone else who picked up a guitar in the late fifties and early sixties.

Finally, you might want to remind everyone that "Curb Your Enthusiasm" returns for Season Three on Sunday and Season One is due out on DVD on 1/13.

Dec. 24, 2003 | 12:27 PM ET
Happier Holiday Cheer: There’s still time to buy off your conscience a little bit for doing so little to address the horrific AIDS in Africa crisis, along with the millions of orphans it is creating. Save the Children will do the work. All you have to do is write the check and pour the eggnog. It’ll taste better. Trust me.Reading: Did Hitchens “Blame America” for 9/11?   Hitchens vs. Wilentz and Gitlin.America’s greatest living playwright on America’s greatest playwright, ever: Tony Kushner on Eugene O'Neil

Greatest Holiday City in the World, Part III. I saw the Blind Boys of Alabama last weekend at the Beacon. They were filming a PBS version of their new Christmas album Go Tell it on the Mountain. The album has "Tom Waits on the title track, Chrissie Hynde on In the Bleak Midwinter (featuring Richard Thompson on guitar), Aaron Neville on Joy to the World, Shelby Lynne on The Christmas Song, Michael Franti (Spearhead) on an amazing version of Little Drummer Boy, and Les McCann on White Christmas -- plus soul, gospel, and funk legends Solomon Burke, Mavis Staples, and George Clinton."  The guests I saw include, Chrissie (who yelled, “Good Yuntif everyone!”) Neville, Mavis, and John Medeski, Duke Robillard, and the amazing Robert Randolph. The Blind Boys are in their seventies and in better shape than most of us.

Check out the cd: a percentage of the royalties goes to American Diabetes Association. The first version of the band was formed at Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939, and founding members Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott are still in the band. Hard not to get into the spirit of things, when you can make “If I had a Hammer” swing.

Welcome to Slacker Christmas Eve Day. Happy holidays. Here’s everybody else:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
Happy holidays, and pax vobiscum to the extended Altercation family. And God bless us all, every one.
OK, now that we've got THAT out of the way.
What is to be done about David Brooks?  Is there any hope?  In Tuesday's column, we see the unreadable seeking out the unspeakable, as Brooks asks Weepin' Joe Lieberman whether Lieberman would "pick a fight with (Howard) Dean on values."
Here's a quaint notion.  How about we have an election that has nothing to do with "values." It's a word that is so overused that it's devoid any more of political meaning. It's a way to gussy up your policy positions with quasi-religious filigree in order to argue that your opponents are not merely wrong, but immoral.
I think we'd all be better off. Otherwise, we'd have to point out that the Republican First Family is a seething multi-generational conglomerate mass of the Seven Deadly Sins; that several prominent conservative voices have recently been revealed as being courtesans of a crooked media baron; that another one is a pill-popping baby who's using a Kennedy family mouthpiece to sell out the maid he'd used to score his dope; that a prominent conservative philosopher/compiler squandered several times the federal poverty level acting out the famous Aesop fable of The Three Cherries; that the political genius of the Republican Revolution raised wife-dumping to such a high parliamentary art that the lubricious posse he led into Congress followed his lead, and is now so sorely afflicted by Comely Aide Syndrome that their collective matrimonial butcher's bill makes Henry Hyde look like Pius XII, and Hyde had his own problems, as we know.
Yes, I think the country could do with a rest from "values" for a spell, especially if you're going to campaign against an administration that believes the country should be lied into a war.
Merry Christmas.

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to check the wordcount for Pierce last week.  335 - got it.  Of course Pierce sometimes checks in twice a week, but he's probably twice as interesting...

A Stupid (lifespan) History of the Dems:

1964: nominate Southerner.  Win.
1968: nominate Northerner.  Lose.
1972: nominate Northerner.  Lose.
1976: nominate Southerner.  Win.
1980: nominate Southerner.  Lose. 
1984: nominate Northerner.  Lose.
1988: nominate Northerner.  Win.
1992: nominate Southerner.  Win.
1996: nominate Southerner.  Win.
2000: nominate kinda Southerner.  Kinda Win.

The moral: don't nominate anyone whose state touches Canada, or else you will turn the Dems into the mirror image of the Canadian Alliance.  If they do nominate Dean (I'm still hoping the voters will come to their census), I think his only (slim) hope is to "go Perot."  Something like, "Dubya has topped Nixon: instead of breaking into Watergate to get re-elected, he broke into our children's bank accounts."  Then make the lies about Iraq's war costs, NOT it's righteousness, exhibit A if he must.  

Great Britain gets it - they're about to spend $12 billion (or 4 months of Iraq) to build the world's largest wind farm project.  When finished it is projected to provide 7% of their energy needs.  While we're waiting for similarly farsighted leadership, I'd urge readers to try a similar experiment at home: buy a 4-pack of Nickel Metal-hydride rechargeable batteries and a charging unit (total cost at a downtown Chicago drugstore is $25 - 30). They are sooooo much better than previous generations of rechargeable batteries (see Consumer Reports Nov. '03): more juice and no "memory effect" which limited the number of times you could recharge them (you can recharge the NiMH batteries over 1000 times).  Bonus: there's no toxic waste when you throw them away.  If it works for you, tell your representatives about the broader implications!

There, 309 -- Happy holidays everyone!

Name: Todd Gitlin
Hometown: NY, NY
This morning's Walter Pincus piece in the WP, "White House Faulted on Uranium Claim," includes this fascinating little line:  "The source said that at the time of the State of the Union speech, there was no organized system at the White House to vet intelligence, and the informal system that was followed did not work in the case of that speech."  Sixteen months after 9/11, "no organized system at the White House to vet intelligence." The mind has to rest on that one for a long hushed moment.

Name: Michael Padnos
Hometown: Vauvenargues, France

As an American living in France, I am always astonished to read the American press on the subject of the frogs.  What, precisely, was  the point of the article about "Do the French have a sense of Humor?"  Was it to prove that the word "humor" did not exist in the French language until recently? The writer seems to think the French have never had any funny films with an int'l reputation: has he ever heard of M. Hulot? How about batches of Depardieu films, and "The Tall Blond man with One Black Shoe", just to mention a few that come to my mind in an instant. The French satirical TV program "Les Guignols," which the author does mention, is about 100 timnes funnier --and more popular -- than any American equivalent; Fench satirical magazines and newspapers, of which he mentions only a few, are VERY funny --and v. popular; there is no equivalent for this massive outpouring of ha-ha anywhere in American culture.
America seems to think that the best way to view the world is through the eyes of a moron --hence Forrest Gump. For me, one of the pleasures of living in France is things here are seen as endlessly, hilarously funny, and nothing is as funny to the French as the French themselves. The French, in my experience, love to laugh at almost everything, starting with themselves. Indeed  if you want to see the difference, just step into a restaurant in the U.S. and listen to the silences, or the pompous businessmen busy one-upping one another; and then step into any restaurant in France and listen to the level of laughter.
To a person used to living in France, the country that invested joie de vivre, America seems like a grim and terrified place, and its leader like Forrest Gump with rockets.
Please, spare us all that sniggering at the French. I find it so false, and so tiresome, and so uninformed, and so jingoistic, and so smug ----  I'll stop there.  I trust you get the point.

Dear Otherman,
To quote Krusty the Klown, "I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, a Krazy Kwanzaa, a Tip-Top Tet, and a Solemn and Peaceful Rrrramadann! And now here's a word from my God, our sponsor . . ."
Anyway, you get the idea. Happy holidays.
Patrick Giles

Dec. 23, 2003 | 12:00 PM ET

Libya Dreamin’:
Hitchens has lost his critical faculties, part XXVII . From Slate “The hawks are quite plainly right to say that this sudden tribute by vice to virtue is a direct consequence of Operation Iraqi Freedom. So is the new readiness by the mullahs of Iran to accept international inspections. It might even be true to say that the supposed failure to find WMDs in Iraq is a factor in this welcome surrender. I know I am having it both ways here because I actually believe that Saddam Hussein was concealing illegal weapons.”

Some questions an editor might have wished to ask:

  1. How do you know, dear Christopher, that “that this sudden tribute by vice to virtue is a direct consequence of Operation Iraqi Freedom.” This is the web, after all, there’s plenty of room here for evidence should you care to provide any.
  2. “So is the new readiness by the mullahs of Iran to accept international inspections.” Ditto
  3. “I actually believe that Saddam Hussein was concealing illegal weapons.” And I believe we may be about to be attacked by spiders from Mars. But I wouldn’t send the country to war over my belief because we have um, the CIA and other professionals to determine whether there is any reason to act on those beliefs and once again there’s this pesky question of evidence.
  4. “If Howard Dean really believes that we are no safer than we were on Sept. 11 (and I presume he can't literally mean that the removal of the Taliban made no difference), then it's time he said what he would have done differently.” Um, Christopher, I think he has. You can look it up, here.  And by the way, the national security leadership of the country apparently believes it too. "I have never seen the national security leadership as tense and anxious as they are right now," said one top official.I think The Guardian has this issue exactly right:

“If back-slapping is in order, congratulations should also go to Robin Cook, the man who relaunched British relations with Libya in 1999 and on whose policy of critical engagement this success is founded.
Patient diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation, clearly enunciated principles and red lines, respect, mutual trust, and attractive incentives - these are the civil tools that helped bring, at the weekend, perhaps the most significant, tangible breakthrough in arms control since the strategic weapons pacts of the later cold war era. Libya has gone from 1986 target of Ronald Reagan's bombs, from "rogue" sponsor of non-state, anti-western terrorism and, as it now admits, from active pursuer of nuclear and chemical arms to, if all sides honour the bargain, a prospectively valuable friend and partner.
This was not achieved by military power, by invasion, by shredding inter national law, by enforced regime change or by large-scale bloodshed. Nor, in fact, despite Mr Bush's eagerness for plaudits, was it primarily achieved by his administration at all. It was achieved by discussion - by endless talk, mostly in London, latterly in Libya, and finally in a London gentlemen's club. Boring perhaps, but effective; and here, with shock and awe, is a lesson for the Pentagon to absorb. Here is a measure of the true worth of the diplomacy espoused by Mr Cook and others. It bore fruit in Iran last week, another country which Britain refuses to join the US in ostracising. It could yet produce results in Syria, another low-grade WMD state, and in North Korea, if only senior US officials would stop threatening them.”Quote of the Day: “What I don't understand is that the bill of goods the neocons sold him has been proven false, yet heads haven't rolled," he says. "Where is the accountability? I think some fairly senior people at the Pentagon ought to go." Who? "That's up to the president."
- General Anthony Zinni  (But what would he know?)And perhaps I’m naïve, but I find it amazing that a journalist, even in the conservative Washington Post, could be lionizing Paul Wolfowitz at this late date in his discredited career.None of this would have happened if Colin Powell were still alive.And Rumsfeld, Reagan (and George H.W. Bush) did not appear to mind at all when Saddam used his chemical weapons back in the eighties. At least that’s what the evidence (and here) appears to demonstrate. Kind of makes you wonder, huh? We support Iraq when it uses its chemical weapons against innocent civilians; we invade it after it gets rid of them. There’s that word “mendacity” again. A pox on both their houses. Family values, Southern Republic style. (Remind you of anyone, Professor Gingrich?)We at Altercation are still waiting to hear what are The Washington Post’s policies on columnists who accept payments to write about the people who pay them.  (And it’s not just George Will; the above would apply to Mistah Kurtz, too, alas.) Also, read Atrios on this issue, Krugman, Roy Cohn, Luskin (who is apparently not a guy you want to trust with your money, according to this)... but anyway, get back to Atrios. It’s complicated, but he performs a valuable service in laying it out. Are the French funny? Was Albert Camus? Is the guy who wrote "Wild Thing?"Greatest Holiday City in the World, Part II:  Last Saturday night I saw “The Last Supper,” which is not only a brilliant play/piece of performance art, but is also a pretty decent supper. It stars, at least according to the billing, Jesus of Nazareth, who “has appeared on stage in hundreds of plays, from the morality play The Second Shepherds’ Play to the Broadway musical, Jesus Christ Superstar”; Leonardo da Vinci, who, “is pleased to be reunited with Jesus, with whom he worked in Mel Brooks’s The History of the World, Part I,” and Ed of Brooklyn who “has had his plays rejected by some of the most and least venerable theater companies in America, including Arena Stage ("not right"), Manhattan Theatre Club ("really don’t think it’s right"), Ensemble Studio Theatre ("not right for us at this time"), Williamstown Theatre Festival ("don’t feel it is right for us at this time"), etc…. Seriously, it’s a work of idiosyncratic genius; a play less about the last supper than about theater and the creative process. Together with “Caroline or Change,” it’s the most interesting night I’ve had at the theater since “Rent,” and possibly even since “Angels in America.”  Ed has a big apartment, but the pews only seat thirty people. Go if you can. Like I said, the food is pretty good, and I even liked the people I ended up sitting next to at dinner, so even if you have bad taste in theater, you can still have a great time.And if you’re not doing anything on Christmas, you could do a lot worse than fighting your way into “What I like about Jew.”   Stuff like this—along with all those reservists refusing to serve on the West Bank—is actually what I like best about Jews. It’s intelligent, reflective, funny, self-critical and celebratory all at once. And it sure beats the hell out of circumcision. (But don’t everybody go, it was crowded last year and I almost didn’t have anywhere to sit.)Correspondents’ corner:
Note: The letter we ran last week on Ralph Nader appears to have been lifted wholesale from Josh Marshall. Apologies.Name: Billy Ralph Bierbaum
Hometown: New Braunfels, Texas

Dr. E,
The post on Buffalo Springfield inspired me to create another category: Most overlooked influential albums:

Okay, I don't want to get the Stupid lecture. I'll stop here.

Dec. 22, 2003 | 12:19 PM ET

Now that we’re on high alert for another Al-Qaida attack, aren’t you glad the Bush administration has starved homeland security and pulled resources and agents out of Afghanistan in order to fight a needless, expensive, and counterproductive war in Iraq? I thought I’d ask before the attack, just in case John Ashcroft decides to make such questions illegal afterward.

Meanwhile, how corrupt is the right-wing Conintern?  Read this profile of Conrad Black to find out. George Will, Bill Buckley, Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger might say nice things about you too if the check has enough zeros. (What I’m enjoying in particular about this story is imagining all the right-wingers who got left off the gravy train, reading and whining to their wives about how unfair the SCLM is to them.)  And check out, by the way, the terrific George Will quote these guys got. “My business is my business. Got it?” I can’t wait ‘till the next time a guest tells that to the august Mr. Will on ABC one Sunday morning. And I’d love to know what are ABC’s the Washington Post’s and Newsweek’s policies are on this kind of payoff by a subject of a pundit’s commentary. Feel free to use this space, guys.

Two cheers by the way, to the Times this morning, in addition to the Black story, for the terrific OSHA investigation, the first rate reporting on nuclear smuggling (countries we should have invaded: 1) Saudi Arabia 2) Pakistan 3) Liberia), and its continuing editorial series on the manipulation of free trade agreements to keep the poor poor, called “Harvesting Poverty ." I’ve always thought many free-trade proponents to be hypocrites because the agreements they support are almost never actually in support of free trade, rather they should more properly be termed “free investment” agreements, designed to screw workers and the environment for the profit of a few. The Times editorial page however takes the real world problems of free trade seriously and has committed more resources and attention to this story than literally anywhere else in the media. OK, make that four cheers.

Quote of the Day: “We have long ago crossed the line between fighters fighting a just cause and oppressing another people."
-"Thirteen reservists from Israel's elite military commando unit who stated Sunday in a letter to the prime minister that they would no longer serve in the occupied territories, joining other influential security officials who have recently criticized Israeli military tactics and treatment of the Palestinians."

The big picture from Henry Siegman in The New York Review

Tom Tomorrow: What would we do without him? More specifically, what would I?

Joke of the day

Get away from me, you weirdo.(WSJ)

A bitter end for The Bottom Line?

How lame is the PR department at Showtime? Why do I seem to be the only person who goes around saying how terrific the Chris Isaac show is? The second best show on right now, second only to the untouchable Larry David. It’s worth paying for, people.

How lame is Verizon? One thing that totally sucks about living where I do is Verizon phone service. They make you stay home all day for days on end for repairmen (and women) who don’t show, overcharge you and then make you wait a half-hour on the phone to ignore your request to get your billing problem fixed. Now they are holding my phone account hostage by listing me as a DSL customer—when I’ve always used Time Warner’s much superior Roadrunner cable service here—and therefore making it impossible for me to switch to a better/cheaper phone company. This is what telecommunications deregulation has brought us; another product of our corrupt, money-driven pseudo-democracy.

From “Let's Play ''What's the Difference? !!!”
The Community has a new game based on this enlightening exchange between Diane Sawyer and Resident Bush. Hey America, it's "WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?"!!!

DIANE SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still --

RESIDENT BUSH: So what's the difference?

Uh, okay....Soooo.......

You won the lottery as opposed to the possibility that you could win the lottery?

"What's the Difference?"

Jennifer Connelly loves you as opposed to the possibility that Jennifer Connelly might one day love you?

"What's the Difference?"

Join in the fun! Add your own "What's the Difference?" here.

Greatest Holiday City in the World, Part I: I got to see Michael Feinstein sing  "The Great American Holiday Songbook" at Feinstein's at the Regency.  If I were a really rich man—or had a Conrad Black-style expense account--I would drop by Feinstein’s once a week just to see who was in town. The place is a throw-back to the nightlife you see in “Thin Man” movies. Michael Feinstein, meanwhile, trained at the proverbial knee of Ira Gershwin and was taken under wing by Rosemary Clooney. He does not so much perform his material as inhabit it. Not as flashy as Bobby Short over at the just-as-incredibly-expensive Carlyle , but so much the better to appreciate the genius, the romance and dare I say it, the majesty of America’s (and immigration’s) greatest contribution to cultural history: popular music.  Next up in January, my man Steve Tyrell. But remember, the cover is sixty bucks; the minimum is thirty. Plan on more if you’re eating.

Correspondents’ corner
Name: Kevin C.
Hometown: Philadelphia
Military member and in agreement with MANY of your opinions.  Of course we all disagree sometimes.
Writing today in reponse to MSgt Dennis from Petersburg.  His presumptous, self-congratulatory letter was a poor reflection of the men and women in our armed forces, and I'm guessing went a long way in convincing some of your readers that in addition to being brave, our soldiers are also mindless and Republican by default.
I for one have had enough of the Republican party claiming patriotism as its own, and hypocritically stifling dissent.  It pains me to see many peers in the Armed Forces so willing to lay their lives on the line to help implement the ideological worldview of an administration whose leaders did everything in their power to ensure they would never have to serve themselves.
While I appreciate your publishing MSgt Dennis' dissenting views, I fear you may have fallen victim to the same "more patriotic than thou" ploy used daily by the neocon movement.  Just because a guy is in the military doesn't mean you have to publish his moronic letter.

Name: Tom Daniels
Hometown: Phoenix AZ
With Respect to Master Sergeant Dennis:
This "I'm spilling my blood so you can whine about it" stuff has got to stop. Is it barely possible, just barely, mind you, that one person with other than John Birch Family Values has EVER served this great country of ours? My son is Air Force. I am very proud of him. I love my country. I honor his service. Yet I am deeply troubled by this war and the lying liars who made it happen. It appears to bring comfort to a lot of conservatives to instruct us all to think alike. Most of them argue their points as if they have crap for brains, because sooner or later, times and tides do change. Do they REALLY want to reduce or eliminate the ability to freely speak out to our government when we think they've screwed it up? Finally, MSgt, what you are fighting for is to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. It is a very nice piece of work. Check it out.

Name: George Lange
Disagreement is hate. ::lol::
I disagree with Bush's policies and somehow I HATE AMERICA?!?
Me, a 9 year army vet, son of 22 year Air Force Vietnam Vet

Eric replies:  A lot of you wanted to pile on my friend Dennis. This is all I’m printing but thanks to the rest of you for your spirited defenses of your favorite Fifth-columnist/decadent coastal elitist.

Name: Jeff Huffman
Hometown: Seattle
"And ‘Do You (YOU!) Feel Like We Do?’ is a go**am perfect song; almost justifies the whole Frampton thing."
You're definitely out on the limb and holding the saw all by yourself on that one.  Frampton, who I hated in high school, was the king of dumb inexplicible luck with that album.  Rather than the planets being in alignment (which is supposed to produce something positive), they all must have been staggering around drunk when that turkey topped the album charts.  Just desserts in that he sunk like a stone not long after that only to be remembered as a punchline.  However, like trying to find someone who voted for Nixon in '72 after he was hounded from office, try to find someone who admits to owning and liking that waste of vinyl.  Besides yourself, of course.

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle

Dear Doctor,
I have to concur with your correspondent that the influence of Good Vibrations petered out by the late '70s.  Not its quality, its influence.  GV inaugurated the pop rhapsody in the etymological sense of stitched-together song; in other words, a song with radically different parts and irregular form, like Rhapsody in Blue, GV, Day in the Life, Admiral Halsey, Live and Let Die, and Bohemian Rhapsody.  People just don't make pop records like that any more.  The brilliant hip hop cover of Bohemian Rhapsody a few years ago (don't know the artist) cut the operatic stuff and just gave a hard beat to the story of a senseless street killing, making it a really affecting record, but no longer a rhapsody.

Name: Steve Clark
Hometown: Albany, NY
Dear Dr. Alterman,
What could be more pathetic than the "Hardball At Harvard" story?   Andrew Sullivan's  decade long one-note response to the works of Tony Kushner...   The Altercation reader who wrote  you to say that CCR was an insignificant band...The A-Rod/Manny R. "trade….


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