Jan. 23, 2004 | 11:36 AM ET

But does it matter where we are heading as of this moment? Nope.  Stuff will happen. Things will change. Depend on it.

On Errol Morris,  and why he should quiet down a bit.

Horray!  Smile is coming, just thirty-four years late.

Quote of the Day:  "Eric Alterman's blog, Altercation, is easily the smartest and funniest political journal out there. I urge you to get your daily hit at msnbc.msn.com/id/3449870."
- Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle.  
(Of course the line was actually Pierce's but why quibble? I'll give him one of mine, some day.)  Thanks very much, Mr. Carroll. We are (nearly) speechless.

Onto Slacker Friday:

Name:(At the request of the individual below, I’ve redacted his name, hometown and any other identifying characteristics.)

Dear Dr. E.,
I have been a soldier both on Active Duty and in the National Guard for fifteen years.  I am a lifelong Democrat, but I have voted for Republicans before, in the past when I thought he or she was the better person for the job.  I love my country and I’ll die before I’d do something against her interests.  I know this all sounds corny, but I’ve got tears running down my face as I type this.

Many have heard about the reservists on medical hold at Fort Stewart, GA.  Medical Hold Soldiers of the National Guard and Army Reserve were kept in Barracks at Fort Carson, CO that were scheduled for demolition.  Many soldiers got sicker during our stay there.  The toilet facilities were mostly broken, and mold covered everything.  Soldiers that could not stand or walk had to live on the upper floors.  Nothing was done about the problem, regardless of who we complained to.  I, like others, simply left at the first opportunity to come home.  Many of us did not ever get our problems taken care of.  Although I am now healthy (relatively speaking) I know of several soldiers of my state who are still sick at home.  They cannot work, but have not been paid by the Army for their Active Duty Medical Extensions.  The paperwork has either not been done, or has been lost, or something.  There are stories like this from all over the country.

My unit served in Iraq.  We were originally deployed to provide security in Kuwait.  We had trained for the security mission, essentially guard duty, for several months, without doing any offensive operations, convoy ops, or any other training.  Shortly after our forces secured Baghdad airport, my unit was put on planes to Baghdad, and we began convoy security operations.  We also undertook offensive operations against guerrillas in the Sunni Triangle.  Please understand that these are bread-and-butter operations for infantry like us, but you need to keep training to keep the edge.  We never had the Interceptor body armor, and at times we were low on ammunition, food, and water.  We had several contacts.  I am so proud of my soldiers.  You should’ve seen them.  They performed brilliantly, but God alone knows how we didn’t loose anybody.  I never will.

Since returning to the States, many of the middle-career NCOs have decided they are getting out.  I tried to talk a couple of them into staying, because we need good leaders, especially those with combat experience.  Both of them said that they were getting out and the war had decided it for them.  “They almost got us all killed for no good reason,” said one.  Two of my junior enlisted soldiers refuse to come to drill anymore.  I haven’t been able to talk them into coming.  They will soon be referred for further action at higher levels.  That could mean their arrest and prosecution, or simply administrative discharge.

This year, my unit’s only training objective is MOUT—Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain.  In other words, city warfare.  Where normally we would train to attack and defend in various environments, we are only doing urban ops this year.  No one will say it, but there’s only one place that leads, probably when the next troop rotation to Iraq takes place in the January-March, 2005 timeframe.

Training for this probable deployment will be difficult without weapons, however.  We have one rifle, one machine gun and one pistol for our whole unit, for basic familiarization training ("This is a rifle—the bullets come out this end…").  This is for an Infantry company with over 100 men.  All the other weapons have been transferred to another state for their impending deployment to Iraq.  We have been told that we will get at least a few rifles and a couple of machine guns to train with by Annual Training in June.  Hopefully we will get new stuff before the end of the year, but the CO just gave me a blank stare when I asked about it.  It seems that we will only have enough weapons to train one platoon at a time at AT.  So that means that two thirds of the company will not be training at any given time during the only extended training period we will get all year.  May God help us all.

I take no joy at all in what I have told you.  I fear for the future of the Army, this organization that gave me a home and fed me for so long, and that continues to be a huge part of my life.  Please know that for all of this, I love the Army, and the National Guard, and I cannot escape the nagging feeling that I have broken faith with my chain of command.  I would’ve volunteered to go to Afghanistan when one of our sister units from our state deployed (with proper equipment), if I’d been healthy in time to go. 

Afghanistan is a justifiable mission.  There’s a good reason for U.S. forces to be there.  Iraq, on the other hand, felt wrong to me from the get-go.  Liberating an oppressed people is something I will always be proud of, but that’s not the reason Bush gave us for going to war, is it?  He and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, of all people, claimed that we were under some kind of Sword of Damocles with all of the chemical and bio weapons that were supposedly aimed at us.  That it was a matter of time until Al Queda used Saddam’s gas on us.  He lied to us, plain and simple.  He also did incalculable damage to the UN and our alliances with Europe, two international structures that have served my country so well for so long.  But I want to ask—with the Army either broken, or about to be broken, what the hell are we supposed to do if Korea goes up?  What if something happens in South America?

The reason I contacted you is that you seem like a reasonable man.  I read Altercation, and I agree with most of what I see there.  I also know that Eric Alterman probably has resources that I do not have.  I need people to know just how bad things are, but if my career crashes into my idealism, then I won’t be able to take care of my soldiers the next time my unit deploys.

Please do not use my name or state.  Other than that, use what you can.  It was reading those two articles on Early Bird, right after reading Altercation, that I decided I needed to say something.  For the record, I am a Clark supporter, having served under the General in the past.  I am also very comfortable with Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards.  In any event, I would vote for the rotting carcass of a dead rat before I vote for the Texas AWOL.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
Eric --
I loved the Democratic response to Chock Full O'Swill the other night. Next year, though, I think they should move it out of Madame Tussaud's.

However, I would like to dispense with all the post- (and pre-) mortems and salute an Unknown Kid In A Ski Cap.  Full in the knowledge that the Pundit Class would wreck caucus night for me, I stuck resolutely to CSPAN's 1 and 2 for live, un-Matthewsed coverage.  C1 was in the 23rd
precinct in Dubuque, and Our Hero was there on behalf of Dennis Kucinich.

At  a desperate moment, a Gephardt woman came over and tried to enlist him.  He wouldn't budge.

Finally, the Gephardt woman desperately played her last trump card --I believe it was the Four, actually -- and argued electability. The kid shook his head, "Lady," he said, "you're worse off than we are."

She walked away sadly, but Our Hero was juiced, having won the Brawl In The Hall.  Sensing a Kucinich Moment, he went racing off to find his fellows who'd already signed aboard other campaigns in order to bring them back to the Kucinich side.  Note to whoever is the nominee: Find this kid and put him to work. His optimism is true and right and glorious, and he doesn't need 15 speechwriters and his Daddy's bagmen to summon it up.

And, of course, there's the latest installment of When Presidents Argue:

"Tonight I ask you to codify this into law, so people of faith can know that the law will never discriminate against them again."
(George Bush, January 2004).

"What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society?...in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people."
(James Madison, June 1785).

But what the hell did he know? David Frum never called him a leader.

P.S.  Why doesn't the phrase, "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities" become as big a national punchline/millstone for the guy who said it as, "no controlling legal authority" was for that other guy?  Are there any books you could recommend on the topic?

Name: Stupid
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to gloat.  Anyone notice that John Kerry's campaign fortunes turned around just when he started airing ads about energy independence?  Ok, I'm not kidding myself -- that's not the reason for his Iowa success.  But the Dems would do well to realize that voters aren't dumb: the juxtaposition of a quest for energy independence with a quest to put a man on Mars amply shows who is a serious leader and who isn't. 

And what's this?  The winner of MoveOn's controversial TV commercial contest is beyond controversy: a subtle-but-devastating attack on Dubya's budget deficits.  Even a conservative couldn't argue with it!   They went Perot!!!  For the first time this election season I feel hopeful.  I still prefer Edwards, but I can live with Kerry.  I'm surprised we don't hear more from Kerry about his prescient 1997 book, which was more about international high-tech crime than on terrorism, but it proposed many of the counterterrorism reforms that came out of 9/11.  Take that, Rummy!  Not that I'm completely counting out Dean, but I can't see him as a veep.  I think the big problem for the Dems will be finding a place at the table for his supporters and the antiwar crowd.

Today I saw an attack on Edwards for supporting social security privatization.  The thing is, privatization isn't per-se bad as long as it's --progressive--.  Rep. Harold Ford was reportedly about to endorse such a plan, which would allow working class people the opportunity to invest a greater percentage in the stock market than the rich.  It would also help the nation's abysmal savings rate.  Well, my source for that was Robert Novak, so take it with a grain of salt.  Nonetheless, with the A-A-"boomers are our future"-R-P set to block sensible reforms like means-testing, this shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.  Dem support could even be linked to putting more teeth into corporate ethics enforcement.

Jan. 22, 2004 | 1:27 PM ET

On the Kerry Surge, a few things to remember:  For goodness sakes, Kerry should take New Hampshire .  In a rational universe, there should be no contest in a New Hampshire Democratic primary between a man who is simultaneously so liberal and so well-prepared to be president and...

  1. a governor of Vermont with no foreign policy experience
  2. a General with no electoral experience
  3. a Southerner, with less experience
  4. a sort-of Republican
  5. Kucinich and Sharpton

So we are really only getting back to normal here. But normal isn’t a bad thing; here’s why:

If you share my view that there is really only one issue for the Democrats this year and that is who among these candidates has the strongest chance to beat Bush, then the only answer has to be, we don’t know yet.  My early thinking was that Clark had the best resume for that purpose and I still believe this.  I worry on Kerry’s behalf that a Massachusetts liberal is unelectable in certain parts of the country by definition and I worry about the stiffness he often communicates to voters—though I wish we were a mature enough country not to worry about such things. 

With Edwards, whom I think to be a terrific candidate in every way save “gravitas”—again, a silly idea but an important one given the way things are—we don’t know how he’ll hold up in the long term once he starts getting those “trial lawyer” attacks.  And with Clark, well, the guy is one big question mark, campaigning wise.

The point is that the process is going to do our job for us.  If Clark lives up to his resume, then well, he’ll win.  From Iowa we learned that neither labor support nor anger about Bush’s deceptions about the war, and his irresponsible fiscal policies are enough to carry a candidate to the top.  (But we also know, thanks to Dean and Gephardt’s support levels, that they are necessary but not sufficient conditions to win both the nomination and the election.)

So I do think Dean is out of it, at least for the top spot and I think it’s for good reason.  He did the party and the nation a saluatary service by acting as a vehicle for popular grass-roots anger, both at Bush, and at the party for being such wimps in the face of Bush, but he is, in my view, unelectable for lots of reasons.  And we will, over the course of the rest of the campaign, find out who else is unelectable for whatever reason.  As I keep saying I don’t have a dog in this fight except victory.  (And hell, I could be wrong about Dean.  Last week Josh Marshall and I were agreeing over lunch that Kerry was probably finished in New Hampshire no matter what happened in Iowa.)

But my overall point is, let’s keep our eye on the ball, rather than on say, our own emotional attachments. After all, it was so many pundits’ irrational distaste for Kerry (as they had it in for Al Gore—see under “Kaus, Mickey”) that blinded them to the man’s considerable strength to the open-minded voter in Iowa.

“The Sorry State of the State of the Union” Think Again, here and archived here.

Are Senate Republican staffers spies and thieves?  Could be.  Read this article and note, “the scandal highlights GOP dirty tricks that could result in ethics complaints to the Senate and the Washington Bar -- or even criminal charges under computer intrusion laws.”  And hey, guess who got the stolen material?  Bob Novak?

HO HUM, More dishonesty, more wasted money, more scandals buried deep inside the Washington Post and largely uncovered elsewhere.  This one, you guessed it: "Missile Defense Testing May Be Inadequate.”  Hey Mr. Headline Writer, that is one hell of a “may” you got there.  Anyway, I miss the days when this was one of our most significant problems.  Speaking of the Post, Michael Getler thinks there’s “lots of smoke and probably a fire” in its pro-war, pro-Bush biases.

Alter-update:

I’m speaking at a two panels at conference at the New School in New York next weekend, with Al Gore as the keynote. Here’s is the description sent to me:

“We are living in a time of collective fear.  Since the shocking events of September 11 our sense of vulnerability and fear -as individuals, a nation, and a world community- has been inflamed by our government and exacerbated by our media.  Fear: Its Political Uses and Abuses will be provocative, original, and engaging -a unique event not to be missed.  Over this three-day period, February 5-7, experts in the field, journalists, and academics will gather at New School University to examine this timely and relevant issue.  Speakers include: Al Gore, Eric Alterman, Cass Sunstein, and Stanley Hoffmann."

The agenda is here.  To register go here.

Book on Bush tour news, Write it down:

  • Portland 2/16, FIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH  1011 SW 12th Ave.
  • Seattle, 2/17, ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY 101 S. Main Street 
  • San Francisco, 2/18 CLEAN WELL LIGHTED PLACE 601 Van Ness Avenue
  • San Francisco, 2/19 COPPERFIELD'S BOOKS & MUSIC 138 N. Main St. Sebastopol
  • NYC, 2/27, BARNES & NOBLE Upper West Side 2289 Broadway (@82nd St.)
  • Washington, DC, 3/2. POLITICS & PROSE 5015 Connecticut  Avenue Politics and Prose, 

There will be other appearances by Mark Green if you live somewhere else, but those are the ones currently scheduled for me.

Alter-review:  Yes has yet another best-of collection on Rhino. I listen to Yes much the same way when writing that I listen to the Dead or the Allmans—the instrumentation is impressive to catch your attention when you look up or want a break, and the lyrics don’t really bother you when you’re trying to work. I have always found the band’s lyrics to be completely ridiculous, in fact, which only bothered me in high school when people would mistake them for profundity and used them in their yearbook quotes.  Anyway, this new collection sounds fine, and is mostly great, but suffers a bit from being overly skewed away from the band’s glory days toward more recent decades of rerun material. If I didn’t have anything, I’d start with “Fragile,” and go all the way up to “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” before calling it a day.  “Nous Somme du soleil” indeed.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Don Dougherty
Hometown: Lynbrook, New York

Dear Eric: If the bill collector calls, I will inform him that I have a checkbook which is evidence of "possible intent to develop bill-paying programs."  That should satisfy him.

Name: Tim Francis-Wright
Hometown: Medford, Mass.

Why would anyone want a name like BR-549?  Well, BR-549 was a phone number for Junior Samples' used car lot on the old Hee Haw show. 

Speaking of numbers, if Kerry wins the nomination and faces C-Plus Augustus, do voters face a Catch-322?

Name: Victor Wood
Hometown: Falls Church, VA

Best part of SOTU:

"For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible," said Bush. "And no one can now doubt the word of America."

Dude broke my ironometer. Fortunately for the [technical] President, he, like many of his followers, appears to be immune to ironicalness--even in such lethal doses.

Name: Rob Breymaier
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM

Eric,
Since Sal was featured today I thought I'd bring up the death of the indie record store.  In my hometown of Toledo, OH an institution will cease to exist on February 1, 2004.  I worked (and was fired from) Boogie Records in the 90s.  Before and after that, I shopped there when I lived in Toledo.  It was a great place.  Moreover, it was a hub for local bands and people with eclectic musucal tastes.  The staff knew about all kinds of music.  They could help you pick out something new and/or suggest things you never heard.  Plus, the laid back atmosphere made it even more enjoyable.  Despite efforts to diversify, etc. they are closing up because of the policies of record companies that favor big chains.  Now, all Toledo has is chain stores.  But, most importantly Toledo lost its best music store, an interesting place, and an important part of its community.

Name: Mike Kelm
Hometown: Corpus Christi, TX

In regards to Cross Canadian Ragweed, it's named after the band mambers, Grady Cross, Cody Canada and Randy Ragsdale.  The live shows are very good and they are on the verge of a major breakout with videos on CMT and a whole lot of word of mouth.  Allmusic.com is good site for background info on just about anything to do with music of any type.

Jan. 21, 2004 | 12:01 PM ET

I don’t feel like doing an instant analysis of the State of the Union Speech.  I imagine most of what you need to know about is contained in this massive collection of information and I will write a column about it for tomorrow.  But I will say something: The man is politically vulnerable and he knows it.

Ok, I’ll say one other thing. What the hell is a “weapons of mass destruction-related program activity?”  And what is its relationship to statements like these:

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
- Dick Cheney Speech to VFW National Convention, Aug. 26, 2002

"Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons."
- George W. Bush Speech to U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 12, 2002

"We know for a fact that there are weapons there."
- Ari Fleischer Press Briefing, Jan. 9, 2003

"I'm absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We're just getting it just now."
- Colin Powell Remarks to Reporters, May 4, 2003

Here are a few of Siva’s:

A cheese-food product is closer real cheese than "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" are to real weapons.

Try this at work during your annual review: "Well no, I have not finished that project and have no results. But my desk has some evidence of dozens of project-related program activities."

Here’s mine: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky?” 

Oh wait, one was about a private affair and one was about taking the nation to war under false pretenses. Silly me.

Speaking of which, I admit it, I am not a good person.  I am genuinely enjoying the fact that our own Little Roy Cohn, not altogether unlike Emma Bovary, is finally, painfully waking up to the fact that the political figure to which he has betrothed himself so profoundly and abjectly during the past three years has been using him for kicks, mocking his assignations while professing his true allegiance to those who would stigmatize gays as less than human and even rewrite the U.S. Constitution to prevent their becoming—Andy’s own words—“free at last.” 

The ironies are too thick and laden with multiple metaphor to unpack here.  (I wonder how many slaves fell—politically speaking—for Jefferson Davis…)  And I haven’t even mentioned the drunken-sailor spending spree that used to define exactly what a conservative isn’t—at least in the days before Karl Rove ran the country.  My heart almost goes out to the guy.  Being the world’s most famous gaycatholictoryMcCarthyiteGAPmodel ain’t as easy as it used to be.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe how stupid pundits are—or pretend to be. It was a cold day in New York on the day that Al Gore gave his speech on global warming. That means it's not happening.  Really, people write and say these things. All the time.  They should just wear “idiot” signs on their fat foreheads instead.

Good pickup by Eric Umansky today on why lazy objective journalism is even worse than the “fairandbalanced” kind. It allows politicians to lie with impunity. Given credit where it belongs, he writes:

Nearly all the papers let that humdinger slide. USA Today is the exception. In the kind fact-checking piece that should be ubiquitous, the paper has a wide-ranging "reality check on what Bush said on key issues." The article, which runs inside, notes that despite Bush's suggestions, the Kay report "turned up no weapons and no evidence of any advanced weapons program….
Bush also called on Congress to make his tax cuts permanent. "Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase," he warned. Back when Congress was debating the cuts, Republicans held down the cuts' projected costs by technically making the cuts temporary.  Most observers considered the so-called "sunset" clauses misleading.  The criticism was that Bush and congressional leaders would do what the president just did, suggest that retiring the cuts would actually constitute a tax hike. The papers' news sections used the
lowball projections anyway.

So The Nation has a cover story on the Myth of the New Anti-Semitism by someone I never heard of.  Believe me, I was more worried than you were when I saw this.  But it’s pretty good. And it nicely ignores the whines of certain anti-Semitic, Stalinist Nation columnists who have just published self-justifying books on this exact topic.  Actually, this is probably kind, but I digress. Read the piece. And then read Benny Morris’s defense of Israel’s expulsion of the Palestinians in the 1948 war—something that most officials of official American Jewish organizations will deny ever happened.

Alter-reviews:
What is alternative music?  Here’s a partial definition in the form of a history of the magazine “ No Depression” and the CD they put together to “offer some aural focus to our vision of alternative-country music.”  It’s called, um, “No Depression” and it’s on Dualtone. You can start your education here

Another alternative Dualtone band I put on a lot, but can’t quite decide if I love or only like is called BR549.  I don’t know they would want to be called such a thing, but Tangled in the Pines is really decent and you can hear it here if you do the clicking. 

And another smart alternative band, whatever that means, with sweet musicianship, harmonies and intelligent lyrics has the weird name Canadian Cross Ragweed, which I guess must be named in tribute of that other CCR band. They don’t sound much like them, but I suppose I see the connection. (Or this could be really amazing stuff. Did you know that we’ve all got, like, an entire universe in every little molecule of our fingernails? Whoh.)  Anyway, decent musicianship, smart lyrics, nice melodies—sort of like the Jayhawks, I guess, but they grab me with a bit more force.

Alter-review by Sal:
The Cure "Join The Dots: The Fiction Years" is a four-disc set featuring 70 rare recordings available only on radio samplers, promo releases, 12" dance singles, soundtracks, and other sources -- as well as 10 tracks never before released by Goth-King Robert Smith and his band The Cure.  While I never disliked The Cure (many of their 80's radio hits "Love Cats," "Lullaby," "Let's Go To Bed" were quite good) a box of rarities seemed like a bit much for the casual fan. So the thought of reviewing this set seemed more like a task than a pleasant listen.  Boy, was I wrong!

Some of the tracks on Disc 1, b-sides of early hits like "Killing An Arab" and "Boys Don't Cry," are sparse, pseudo-punk exercises much like very early XTC or Siouxsie, while others suffer from that dated, over-produced, heavy-synth sound. (Almost all could have been used as the perfect soundtrack to any John Hughes movie starring Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy.) Yet, very few tracks sound as if they were throwaways, as "b-sides or rarities" are so inclined.

By Discs 2 and 3, which cover the years 1987-1996, Smith found a style and locked himself in. The songwriting and production is solid and is unmistakably "The Cure."  In many cases, the b-sides were just as strong as the a-sides.  Songs like "2 Late," the b-side of "Love Song," and "Halo," the gorgeous flip of "Friday I'm In Love" -another infectious, pop-gem- were stronger than some of the lead cuts from their respective albums.

There are some fun covers, as well.  Takes on "Purple Haze," "Hello, I Love You," recorded for Elektra's 40th anniversary "Rubaiyat" collection, and Bowie's "Young Americans" are all inspired. The packaging 76-page booklet features track-by-track commentary by Robert Smith and Simon Gallup, plus scores of photos, including many from Smith's private collection.  You can read all about it here.
-Sal Nunziato
NYCD
173 West 81st Street

Jan. 20, 2004 | 11:19 AM ET

What we learned:

1)       John Kerry is a lot tougher than most pundits (and many bloggers) imagined.  It must have been humiliating as hell for Kerry to have to keep slogging away, sucking up to the media as they bashed his candidacy as over.  I rolled my eyes internally when, five weeks ago, I overheard Kerry telling Time’s Jim Kelly that he was “getting a really good feeling about Iowa,” but did not have any internal polling data to support it.  He is a bit of a stiff—which will hurt him with Bush—but Kerry has some important and unique assets; nobody in the race is better versed in the issues and nobody in the race has better credentials to claim with progressive voters who make up the bulk of those people willing to show up for caucuses and primaries. (Never forget how relatively small this number is. It’s possible to win a major party’s nomination with only 10-15 percent of eligible voters turning out for you.) And dammit, maybe it’s a rich white boy thing, but Kerry looks presidential.  That annoys journalists in his peer group but it matters to voters.

Given his access to nearly unlimited funding, if he can come close to Clark in New Hampshire—something I thought nearly impossible last week—he has a solid shot at winning the nomination and the election. (Yes, I, too, am enormously pissed about the war vote, but I’m over it. As I keep saying over and over, elections aren’t therapy.)

2)       John Edwards is a terrific candidate up close.  And Iowa, being so tiny, gave him a chance to demonstrate his strengths up close and personal.  At this point, I’d say he is the media’s favorite, in part because he is so damn likeable and in part because he is different enough from most reporters in background that he does not threaten their sense of self-importance.  His problem is the historic one: money.  He can do O.K. in New Hampshire and win South Carolina—though Clark’s presence in the race makes this far tougher—and then be essentially stuck in the face of the vastly superior resources of his three opponents.

Then again, he is the perfect compromise candidate, both for strategic voters looking for a winner who worry about Clark’s level of experience and command of domestic issues, as well as for pols looking for a way to unite the party around an acceptable second choice.  Since he is liked by almost everyone, and is not running any negative ads, he has no reason not to stick around until the end, barring an offer for the veep spot in exchange for withdrawal, just in case we really do go to a brokered convention.

3)       Howard Dean is no Ralph Nader and we should be grateful to him for it. Dean did exactly what Nader claimed to be doing when he started on his egomaniacal journey to elect George Bush: he forced the party to get back in touch with the values of its base.  Dean had the right position on the war from the standpoint of the Democratic primary voter and was the only one who did so. Now they’ve all come around, more or less, to his way of seeing things, leaving Lieberman out in the cold as a Bush apologist. 

But Dean does not wear well for a variety of reasons and is too risky a choice for the top spot on the ticket. Assuming he does not flip out down the road, he can be an important influence on the direction of the party as well as possibility for the veep spot. All that money he’s raised and the organization he’s put together will keep him competitive, but assuming he can be stopped, he will be.

4)       Dick Gephardt proved—if it still needed proving—that the New Deal collation is not merely dead, it has already decomposed. The new base of the Democratic Party is well-educated suburban voters, women, blacks and Latinos. Unions can offer troops for turnout and fund-raising, but regarding their membership, they have become so weak and so divided that they simply cannot deliver voters anymore, even for something as relatively small as an Iowa caucus vote.

5)       What does all this mean for Wesley Clark? Was he a dope for skipping Iowa? I don’t think so. He’s been on the ground in New Hampshire, making friends and learning how to campaign outside the spotlight of the media. Now it’s showtime and the general’s assets in character, money, experience and organization put him in the smart money, at the very least tied with Kerry and slightly ahead of Edwards and Dean. This could change. He could screw-up.

But overall, Iowa was a terrific outcome for the party because it will force all the candidates to demonstrate their strengths and weaknesses before being sent into battle with a White House that will stop at nothing to retain its power.  I actually don’t know who will make the strongest candidate yet, but I have a much better idea of who it won’t be.  Thanks to Iowans for my education on that point.  I still think this is a silly way to choose a presidential candidate but it has its advantages.

Hey MSNBC-TV guys. You ruined my bagel Monday morning with your full page ad.  I didn’t mind the photos—I don’t love them, but I can live with them,--but why in the world did you guys leave out the captions? Here they are, as public service:

  • Norah O’Donnell, alleged moderate, no politics
  • Pat Buchanan, nice guy, extremist conservative, proud McCarthyite, possible anti-Semite, Reagan adviser
  • Keith Olbermann, no politics
  • Chris Matthews, alleged “moderate,” hated Clinton and Gore, loved Bush, but opposed war and worked for Tip O’Neil, extremist Catholic moralist.
  • Joe Scarborough, nice guy, extremist conservative, Republican congressman
  • Peggy Noonan, extremist conservative, believer in magic dolphins, Bush worshipper, Reagan adviser
  • Howard Fineman, alleged moderate but actually voice of (mostly) conservative conventional wisdom, no politics.

Anything seem like it’s missing to you?   Obligatory book plug

Stop the Presses.  I got an e-mailed headline from Time on Sunday morning reporting that “Three-in-four Democrats (75%) want better candidates.”  My question is, “Who said they didn’t?”  Why would anyone not want a “better candidate?”  I want a better candidate, a better bagel, a better stereo and a better art collection.  But that’s not the way the world works.  Life is about real choices, not hypothetical, undefined “better” ones. I wonder how much money Time wasted on preparing, executing and publishing this bit of nonsense.

Another of the e-mails I received read “Bob Dole calls Howard Dean 'the most pessimistic man in America.'” That is just about as dumb.  There is a guy I know who lives on a grate at 96th and Broadway.  I am pretty certain he is more pessimistic than Dean.  I am also pretty sure that Bob Dole doesn’t know most of the men in America, or even most of the pessimists.  It is an idiotic statement by almost any measure.  Was Time putting it in the headline to demonstrate what an idiot Dole has become?  I don’t think so.  Was it doing so to demonstrate they don’t really care about the contents of what they report?  You be the judge.

Alter-reviews:
I saw Andrea Marcovicci perform a show of Cole Porter love songs at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel last week. The woman is a throwback to a better time and place. Marcovicci, has a mature beauty, a fierce intelligence, a hungry mind, and voice that blends in with her carefully chosen material that combines into an iconic cabaret performance. Whitney Balliett, writing over a decade ago, described one of her performances, as follows: 

“[Her] set in the Oak Room generally includes over twenty songs, and lasts an hour and a half. She starts poised on a small platform in the crook of the piano, both hands on a floor microphone in front of her. A measure into her first song, her hands take off. She holds them at her sides, index fingers pointed at the floor, or moves them willow-fashion on either side of her head, or knots them together at one side of her waist. Then she rests her right hand on the piano and, folding her left leg up behind her, grasps the heel of the shoe with her left hand–a “Gee, I’m shy” gesture from a thirties Ginger Rogers movie. All the while, she turns slowly from side to side, giving the impression that she is trying to look into the eyes of each of her listeners. (When she catches you, you suddenly feel like the only person in the room.) Around her seventh or eighth song, she takes the microphone from its stand and sails easily up onto the piano. She crosses her legs, then lets one leg dangle over the edge. Her hands keep dancing. She combs her short brown hair with her fingers and rests her hands, palms down, on the piano, steadying herself in the waves of applause. Somewhere around the thirteenth number, she jumps down on the platform and finishes the set there. She smiles much of the time, but when she does a ballad her eyes go dark and the lines on either side of her mouth tighten and she looks as tragic as Duse.”

I can’t really improve on that. The current show is part of an ongoing project she is undertaking to rescue some of Porter’s lesser known material and present the better known songs in a new context. It is a warm, witty show which she is taking around the country. You can see her at the Oak Room if you have a lot of money or you can buy the cd—which she is pressing minus the artwork until she makes enough money to add that later. Read up on her here.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Eric --
Because every day, even Dr. King's Birthday, is Slacker Friday, Part The XXIV:
Three years ago, on behalf of Esquire, and in the midst of the Florida election heist, I spent a week with the folks who operate the Hubble Space Telescope, and it was one of the best times I ever had doing a story. These were dedicated, brilliant, wonderful people whose only job was to expand human knowledge about the universe, and to do so partly by producing way-cool pictures of stuff almost beyond the imagination -- like the famous Hubble Deep Field, with distant galaxies everywhere you look in the frame, some of which were photographed at a point in time as far before the pharoahs as the pharaohs were before us. (One of the guys, a funny man named Zolt Levay, confided that his secret desire was to one day, just for fun, pop the starship Enterprise into one of the images.)
So, what happens last week?  NASA determines that it will help C-Plus Augustus produce his campaign commercials this fall, and that one of the ways that's going to happen is that it's going to leave the Hubble up there to die.
Great f**king god, is there anything that these smug, sleek philistine bastards won't sell, pervert, twist or otherwise ruin before they're satisfied? Some DLC idiot is going to have to tell me again about the spirit of compromise. To hell with that.

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