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May 21, 2004 | 11:16 AM ET

Slacker Friday

New Nation column, “Hawks eating crow" and Bob Bateman has some cherce words for Rush Limbaugh and company in today’s “Think Again” column.  Check out the archives and don’t forget to sign up for the daily Progress Report while you’re there.

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And my God, look at this photo.  [warning: graphic image] It just leaves one speechless.

On to Slacker Friday

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

(From the MSNBC transcript)

Scarborough:  Eric Alterman, respond.

Eric Alterman, Center For American Progress:  I think that gentleman is
seriously deranged.

And good evening to you, too, Doc.

In the course of working on the John Kerry profile for Esquire, I spent a lot of time wading through the various tributaries of the Iran-Contra era.  The more I read, the more I realized what a pivotal moment-- and missed opportunity -- that was for anyone who believes in accountable democratic government, which some of you geezers in the audience may recall as having once been an important thing.  It's not just that so many of that period's Undead walk again among us, instead of being in pre-release programs at Leavenworth where they belong.  It's that Iran-Contra serves now as the template for Getting Away With Stuff that the Avignon Presidency has used ever since Uncle Nino picked the locks to the executive mansion.

Do it in secret.  Avoid accountability, all accountability.  Leave it to low level incompetents to make the blunders and commit the crimes.  Depend always on crooked locals --Manuchar Ghorbanifar, shake hands with Ahmad Chalabi (Count your fingers afterwards, though.)-- to sell you a bag of magic beans.  (Given what we now know, I'm shocked that Oliver North isn't walking around D.C. wearing a barrel.)  Then, when the con breaks down, you can plead being a rube as a defense against being called a crook.  Rely on a compliant press, and on the efforts of Blue-Ribbon Important People to keep the investigations from running out of control.  And, most of all, make sure you sell very hard the story that the whole mess is just...too...complex for ordinary folks to understand.

Oh, and just for the purposes of set decoration, make sure Colin Powell is standing nearby, probably with pigeons landing on his head.

The greatest price we paid for not throwing the lot of them into the federal sneezer (and in not running a bill of particulars against Uncle Ronnie, for that matter) is that we publicly consented to -- and thereby empowered -- unaccountable secret government, which is pretty bad on its best days, but unfathomably worse when it's run by a collection of manifest incompetents.  Plus ca change, plus ca bagmen, I guess.

Nice tip on that British Invasion boxed set; just FYI, the greatest rock single of all time can be found on Disc Three, Track 15.  I am a complete sucker for this stuff.  For example, I believe that James Taylor has labored his career away in vain and still not written a song as lovely as "Ferry 'Cross The Mersey."

R.I.P to the late Mr. Randall and what can I say, but...

No more Greek clues!

P.S. -- Note to CNN and Paula Zahn.  Given the events of the past week at Chez Chalabi, it probably wasn't the best time to do a segment with Judith Miller.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid.  Since I last wrote you about Iraq, the war has gone to hell in a hand basket.  What I'm about to say echoes a recent New Republic column by Peter Beinart, but I have a slightly different take.

First, a political lesson for the left.  I've done a lot of soul-searching over whether, in hindsight, the war was a good idea.  I keep concluding, barely, that it was, but am I simply not willing to admit that I could have been so wrong?  If I'm deluding myself I'm not alone (see Dubya's decent poll numbers) -- until the election is over don't underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance and keep those "we told you so's" in check.

Ok, so given the immense damage to our national image (to me the hostage abuse/Geneva-convention trashing far exceeds the damage caused by unilateral intervention) and the future negative impact on the economy, are there any good reasons for supporting the war (besides foolish pride)?   No, not the sanctions.  While they still count, they have to be weighed against the realistic threat of interminable civil war in Iraq. 

I'm almost 40 and during my life world history has been largely a story of fatalism.  Chronic starvation in Africa?  Well, the Bible says the poor are always with us.  Maoist killing seasons in Asia?  We can't get involved.  Women subjugated in the Middle East?  Don't go imposing our culture on others.  People forget how revolutionary President Clinton's "humanitarian interventions" were -- the first true manifestation of "never again" in foreign policy.  As Beinart wrote, what is at stake in Iraq is the principle of universal liberal democracy.  If we fail in Iraq, the American zeitgeist will be that we offered Iraqis freedom but "those people are different."  Already some on the right are mumbling this, and if the left thinks the U.N. will fill the void, note that their reaction to the mini-genocide of Sudan has been to elect the genociders to its human rights panel.  Maybe saddest of all: Kerry seems to understand all of this and yet he is attacked on both sides for the sin of a nuanced opinion.

Name: J. R. Taylor
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

The Bob Thompson WaPo Hersh article is available gratis here.

Thanks for the tip; I enjoyed it immensely.

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle

Dr. A,
I'd like to point out that the article you linked to about advertisers paying bottom-dollar to Fox News was from that commie/pinko/liberal rag the Wall Street Journal.  Yet another example of the yawning chasm that separates the actual journalism in that paper and its editorial page.

And a brief, personal comment on Ground Zero--I was a little surprised a couple years ago when you mentioned bringing your daughter.  My wife, our then one-year-old, and I paid only the briefest of visits when we were in town in December 2001, partially due to the suspicion that that place wouldn't be clean for 100 years, regardless of what anybody told me.  Call me a cynic.  Clearly the gov't had a vested interest in reassuring people, getting the markets up and running, and showing a resilient American facade to the world.  True head-in-the-sand actions, because when 20,000 people with Magnavox-sized tumors start suing the EPA in ten years, the excrement will really hit the fan and GWB will be long gone to some brush clearing festival in Texas.

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle

Dr. A,
I have to offer this recycled year-old Slate piece by your pal, Hitch, defending Chalabi at full roar.  The title is "Lay Off Chalabi."  What insight.  I don't suppose he's willing to stand outside Chalabi's house blocking the soldiers from coming in, is he?  Maybe he can get a job as a butler there....

The piece starts thusly:

"If I was ever to volunteer for the role of American colonial puppet, I would hope to play my role with the same panache that Ahmad Chalabi has brought to the part.  Denounced only last month by yet another anonymous "report" from the CIA and sneered at on a daily basis by the New York Times, he has either failed to be sufficiently biddable by the puppet-masters or (how simple it all seems when you think of it) has cleverly arranged to be the object of his own disinformation campaign."

It doesn't go on to defend the man himself all that much more, but gives precious little credence to Chalabi's detractors.  Read it here.

Name: David Ehrenstein
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Proust, Auden and. . .Trotsky?  Don't see the connection at all.  However Trotsky figures in two of my favorite movies -- Alain Resnais' "Stavisky" (with a fabulous score by Stephen Sondheim) and Joseh Losey's highly underrated "The Assassination of Trotsky" with Alain Delon delivering what's arguably the greatest performance of his life.

And speaking of Marxists in the Movies, Che Guevara is making a comeback via the babe-a-licious Gael Garcia Bernal in "The Motorcycle Diaries" which just unspooled at Cannes.

Name: Gregory Fuller
Hometown: Bloomfield, MI
Per your request, info on Elvin.

Elvin Ray Jones, RIP [1927-2004]

Name: Matt Graham
Hometown: Tulsa, OK
Elvin Jones may have wanted you to send money here.

I did - and am happy.

May 20, 2004 | 12:12 PM ET

Things that make me crazy part xvii: My own government lying to me about the health risks of taking my three year old daughter to Ground Zero and lying to all the heroes who volunteered to serve their nation (and my great city) in its hour of need.  Remember the White House overruled the scientists of the EPA on 9/11 and issued a false assurance to everyone concerned that the air was much safer to breathe than in fact, they had any evidence to claim.  In all the many, many ways in which this government has broken its faith with those whom it professes to serve and failed to provide for its security, this seems to be the absolute worst and least morally defensible even within the context of its ideological hysteria and hubris over Iraq.  And yet the SCLM, save this Newsweek piece, cannot seem to rouse itself to report much about it.  Not even the New York Times seems to think it important.  Has this great nation ever been more desperately off the rails than it is at this moment?  Has its leadership class ever been less responsible?  I think you have to go all the way back to the pre-war leadership of the confederate states to find a useful comparison.  This History News Network survey offers some other points of comparison.

Another day in George Bush’s America, another set of headlines in which American troops and Israeli troops (using American weapons) are pictured throughout the world killing scores of innocent Arab women and children, and of course, inspiring more terrorism.  I feel safer, don’t you?

If you are not buying the Journal every day during this scandal, you are missing the best non-Hersh reporting to come out of it.  For instance today the Times has a much less informative and more administration friendly version of the story that Journal readers read a week ago, in which U.S. authorities admit in the fine print that the June 30 handover will be a ruse and that Americans will be running Iraq as much as ever.  Today’s top story:  “U.S. Generals Say No System Exists For Abuse Reports.”  It seems to be here

Another front-page story shows why advertisers think Fox viewers are losers and won’t pay very much to reach them.  That one is here.  Don’t feel guilty about skipping the editorial pages, neither.

The Blumenthal family is doing double duty this morning.  Sidney is all over Gen. William "Jerry—“I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." Boykin, while Young Max does his homework following up Sy Hersh on Raphael Patai.

His Royal Sy-ness.  Here.  I meant to mention yesterday that my old friend and sometime editor Bob Thompson wrote a profile of Sy that appeared in The Washington Post Magazine on January 28, 2001 that is not only the best profile of Hersh ever to appear, but one of the best magazine profiles of anyone I’ve ever read anywhere.  If I taught this kind of thing, I would teach this piece.  You’ll have to pay to read it though.  Scott Sherman updated the story to include Hersh’s New Yorker work for the Columbia Journalism Review, which is free.

An award for journalism handed over by Dick Cheney?  Was Ahmed Chalabi unavailable?  This is too easy.  Um, marriage counseling from Liza Minelli? Accounting tips from Conrad Black?   Modesty tips from Laura Ingraham?

Alter-news:  It’s our second anniversary today.  Thanks again to MaxSpeak for comparing our first column to Proust, which I think I’ve said before, does not happen nearly enough.  Now he says I look like Trotsky.  Trotsky and I have in common the fact that we both lived on the same block of St. Mark's Place, along with our fellow St. Markian-between-First-and-Second, W.H. Auden.  Come to think of it, I don’t get compared to Auden enough either.  Once for Trotsky is plenty though.

But since it’s my anniversary, how about I buy myself my own present?—I am choosing between the Sony VAIO Z1WA, the Toshiba Tecra M2 and the HP NC 6000 and will accept advice from you if a) you own of these or b) you sell or in some way manufacture one of these or c) write about them for some computer magazine.  (My current laptop is a Toshiba and I hate it because every time you rest your thumbs on the keyboard, the cursor flies around. Have they solved this problem?  What about keyboard size?  Those are my two main issues.)

Anyway, OK, I’ll buy my own present and everybody out there who thinks they should have bought me a present already makes a donation that would make both me and Tony Randall happy, to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.  In that stupid, lying Observer profile of me last year, I was accused by a “friend” of dropping the names “Paul and Joanne” a lot.  That idiot of a “friend,” if in fact he or she exists, does not know irony when he/she hears it and hence has no business being my friend.  I am happy to drop it here, unironically for once, because Mr. and Mrs. Newman, the late Alice Trillin and Mr. Randall have all done the work of angels for these kids and the least you can do, Go**ammit, is write out a check.  Happy anniversary to me and thanks at everybody at for your help and support.

I don’t know where Elvin Jones would have wanted you to give your money. I’ll be happy to publish it if anyone does.  I can’t imagine he would object to the above.

Two clarifications thanks to my readership:  Yes, Saul Bellow is probably every bit as conservative as John Updike, if not more.  I don’t know who he is supporting.  And yes, Izzy Stone was the greatest in his way too, but I’m sorry, much as I loved Izzy, whom I count among the most significant influences on my life in too many ways to count, the political significance of his work cannot be compared to that of Hersh’s.

Alter-reviews:  Hip-O records has put together a few nice three-CD collections of music everybody ought to have if they don’t already.  “The Roots of Rock n Roll” covers 1946-1954. It’s smartly done and there are a few things I’ve never heard before on it.  The 1954-1963 years are covered in "The Golden Era of Rock n Roll” and while a more orthodox collection, if you don’t already have one of these, this one will do fine.  It’s not nearly as comprehensive as Rhino’s “Loud Fast and Out of Control” but it’s also cheaper (and goes a bit further into the early sixties.)  And I’m not sure that’s available anymore anyway.  Finally, there’s also a "British Invasion" which is a pleasure from start to finish and has all kinds of things that were lacking from my collection.  You can read about them here

Additionally, Rhino’s released another Dead show from 1972 called “Rockin’ The Rein” which it makes a big deal of being the only full show legally available from that tour.  It’s great of course, but I am not a Pigpen man and there is way too much of him for my taste on this, though I do like the “Good Lovin.”  Read about it here

And Columbia Legacy is giving some attention to one of my faves.  Dave Edmunds, who made one great early Beatlesque “Rockpile” album with Nick Lowe, which is remastered and expanded, and actually sounds terrific, believe it or not, on the soundtrack to Porky’s Revenge.  Lovely George Harrison cut on that too, along with Willie Nelson singing “Love Me Tender.”  Really this record is terrific.  (I’ll have to fast-forward through the movie again.) 

And there’s a new single-CD, Dave E. best-of, too, also on Sony Legacy, which, again, competes with a more comprehensive two-CD 1993 version from Rhino, which, to be honest, has an awful lot of crap on it from something called “Love Sculpture,” but is mostly great.

Correspondents’ Corner:

From:  Eric Rauchway
Hometown:  Davis, CA

Look, I know this is Not Important, and in fact the degree to which I care about it even though it's unimportant shames me.  Nevertheless.  Those guys over at Slate so do not get The Sopranos.  The whole point of the series since episode one is that Tony does not have what it takes to be an effective mob boss precisely because a significant part of him wants to be a good husband and father (and even a good son).  This problem interests viewers because it is an extreme version of the conflict between macho masculinity and domestic masculinity that most modern American men face to some degree.  We want, like Tony, to be Gary Cooper; we also want to be good to our wives and kids.

And of course Tony's version of this situation is highly ironic:  neglecting your wife and kids so you can be a good soldier in the mafia means being a shakedown artist, a skirt chaser, and a killer more or less in that order; it's much less noble than neglecting your wife to stand up for the town at High Noon (even if it is a lousy, cowardly town it was Coop's duty to stand up for it, and that's what counts).  And on the other hand, Tony's domestic family are absolutely implicated in his life in the mob.  That's what gives the series its complexity, its juice.

But never does David Chase let us forget this conflict between Tony's two families in every member thereof.  We see, usually in the same "breath," Patsy Parisi threatening Gloria Trillo and then buying groceries at his wife's behest; Paulie Walnuts being a psycho and then being good to his comare and her kids; Junior being a considerate boyfriend and then being a lousy boyfriend precisely because Cosa Nostra norms for manliness don't permit being a considerate boyfriend.  Which, parenthetically, is why Johnny Sack is so interesting:  while he's the most ruthless and effective mob boss (at least, so it seems so far) he's also the most devoted husband (AFAIK he never has a comare).  But in any case, the show is in fact about character conflicts, and centrally (though not exclusively) conflicts in men's characters.  And so Tony's sense of who he is and who he wants to be, as repeatedly revealed through dreams, is central to the show, too.  Which means that whether or not it resembles the DeCavalcantes or any other real-life mob family is way, way irrelevant.

Hey, I could make the case that The Sopranos is for these reasons great American culture and the fact that it is NOT simply about the Whacking of the Week is evidence that we have a significant civilization going here.  But I won't bother; let's stick with this as a picayune, escapist digression.

That is all.

May 19, 2004 | 1:36 PM ET

Stop the Presses: Wolfowitz Concedes Errors”  Meanwhile, the top intelligence official at the Homeland Security Department says new terrorists "are being made every single day on the streets of the Middle East,” and would not be surprised if we are attacked by a biological bomb or something.  Good thing we decided to back off fighting al Qaida in Afghanistan and investing in protecting our nuclear and chemical plants in order to do our part in the terrorism-making business in Iraq.  Perhaps that’s what Wolfowitz was thinking…

If any foreign power ever comes to occupy the United States in the name of democracy and decides to arrest our pundits for a little fraternity fun, like raping and murder, it’ll be interesting to see the following fellas cut to the front of the line: Rush Limbaugh, MSNBC fave, Michael Savage, Mark Steyn, Jonathan V. Last, and Oliver North.  Should be fun, dontcha think?  (I know it’s an unfair comparison; after all, 70-90 percent of the Iraqis arrested were innocent.)

Life is Complicated Department:  Today Sy Hersh is a hero to the media everywhere.  Seven years ago, he was supposedly washed-up, a figure of pity and ridicule from some of the same people who today sing his praises.  (I can’t bring myself to do the search to see if Howie is among them, but …)  Anyway, when Sy was down, I wrote this piece in Salon defending him.  Thing is, it’s complicated.  I got a call after the piece ran from Robert Sam Anson that led me to believe I’d been unfair to his piece and that some of the stuff he reported about Sy was awfully well-sourced.  I asked him to write a letter but he just wanted to let me know privately.  So I link to it with that caveat and withdraw the snide implications about Anson’s writing.

Stop the Presses Again: Thirty-seven years after its anticipated release, an all-new studio recording of SMiLE—often referred to as the most famous unreleased album in history—will be made available worldwide by Nonesuch Records on September 28, 2004.  SMiLE will be produced by Brian Wilson and will feature the ten-member band that has supported him on tour over the past five years, augmented by The Stockholm Strings and Horns.

A salute of course, to the amazing Mr. Johnson.  Personally, I cannot enjoy the beauty of the achievement without hearkening back to a night when the cursed 22-year old rookie, Jimmy Qualls broke my little nine year old heart.
Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Manuel Cortinas
Hometown: Austin, TX

You weren't kidding about those Left Behind guys.  Consulting the Jesus Phreaks on Middle East Policy?  No wonder the whole region is a mess.

Name: John W.
Hometown: Wheaton, IL
Thanks for your comments about Tony Kushner, a great American and playwright.  I was struck again by how brilliant his art can be when I saw a staged reading of the first act of "We Who Guard the Mysteries."  It's based on a column he did for The Nation, so you are probably familiar with the text.  Long story short: even in a staged reading, the power of the man's dialogue, the threads of images he can weave into a poignant tapestry of humanity was breath-taking.  And it's Laura Bush on the stage for 90 minutes!  I was stunned to feel such sorrow for her, empathy, and even kindness.  And I didn't want to feel any of those things.  The mark of a true master of craft.  All hail Mr. Kushner.

Name: Mark Budwig
Hometown: New York, NY

A Heritage Foundation "survey" contained in a fund-raising letter -- God knows why I got it -- contains the following statements as predicates to questions:

"Americans currently pay an average of 35 to 40 percent of their earnings each year in federal taxes."

Speaking of the so-called "Death Tax": "In fact, one in four of small businesses will have to shut down to pay the tax, unless it is permanently repealed."

The expiration dates attached to some of the Bush tax cuts were "demanded by liberals in Congress."  If the cuts are not made permanent, "families will face a tax increase of as much as 100%."  

This is just a sample.  These guys go way beyond spin.

Name: Andy
Hometown: Boulder, CO

Re: Relative ideological bents of major foundations.  It's apples and oranges.  The Ford Foundation is, indeed, "liberal," in the sense of the issues it chooses to work on and what tactics it prefers.  But the Heritage Foundation is Republican.  There's a huge difference between "liberal" and "Republican":  They are not two sides of the same coin.  Same holds for the SCLM and the Conservative media.  There is no Democratic counterpart whatsoever to the Republican media or the Republican think-tanks.  There are, however, conservative counterparts to the liberal establishment (Cato Institute, which is actually conservative rather than Republican, comes to mind).

Name: M. George Stevenson
Hometown: New York, NY

Dear Eric:
Speaking as a professional film buff (cultural journalist/filmmaker/film studies teacher), the Rock/Doris films (and the lamented Mr. Randall's roles in them) get a lot of respect from the post-auteur cinematic cognoscenti; they just don't generate much ink  because their appeal and the strength of their playful critiques of convention are utterly self-evident.  Any belaboring of say, the gender issues in "Lover Come Back" --in which Rock pretends to be a manly but eventually self-outed as, um, fey -- would be (to err on the side of the Mary McCarthy character in "Pictures from an Institution") painting the lily.  Ecce homo (et femina et sidekick), indeed.

Name: Mark Shanks
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
The world is poorer for the loss of Tony Randall.  I'm certain that I won't be the only one to mention the undervalued "Seven Faces of Dr. Lao"; how can a movie with Randall playing Pan against Barbara Eden be anything less than "must see"?

Name: Mark Kolner
Hometown: Seattle

Your link to the Laura Ingraham comment of Ms. Kerry's attire at Cannes also carried with it this great quote on an important difference of perspective between France and the U.S.:

"Former Washingtonian Karen Fawcett, who has lived in France 17 years and runs the Web site, also yawned at the hubbub.  'The French would say c'est normale -- it's absolutely normal.  No one would look twice.  They are much more bothered by war than they are by somebody's breasts.'"


May 18, 2004 | 2:19 PM ET

Dumbed down discourse:  I was prepared to agree with much of this Times OpEd and looking forward to reading the extended, book-length version of the piece that argues that “the right has out-organized, out-fought and out-thought liberal America over the past 40 years” as it parallels an argument I’ve been making in my speeches and writings for the past five years or so, and I could use some data.  Unfortunately, I completely lost confidence in the authors’ ability to distinguish anything at all when I read their contention that “The Ford Foundation is as liberal as Heritage is conservative.”  This, to put it plainly, is unsupportable nonsense, though it is exactly the form of nonsense that conservatives find so useful to peddle and that lazy journalists and hosts and producers of moronic cable and radio shows like to tout. 

As I’m sure even the Times editors who signed off on this piece are aware, the Ford Foundation supports peer-reviewed social science research that commands the respect of professionals working in the fields who produce and consume it.  Perhaps some of that work is funded with a mildly liberal agenda, but it remains largely unimpeachable as a source.  The Heritage Foundation, on the other hand, is an entirely political operation that demonstrates little but contempt for such academic niceties.  As Heritage President Edwin Feulner explained back in 1995, "We don’t just stress credibility. We stress timeliness. We stress an efficient, effective delivery system. Production is one side; marketing is equally important.”  Burton Pines, a Heritage vice president, has added, "We're not here to be some kind of Ph.D. committee giving equal time.  Our role is to provide conservative public-policy makers with arguments to bolster our side."  I spend a lot of time explaining all this in What Liberal Media (which, by the way, has a new chapter).

The great conservative victory in public discourse that the authors are unwilling to admit is how effectively they have dumbed it down.  I agreed at the last minute to appear on Scarborough last night and the guy I was slated to appear against began by arguing that Michael Moore should be tried for treason and then told the French that nobody would defend them against Al Qaida if they continued to clap for his movies at Cannes.  Really, where is one to begin in the presence of self-evident idiocy?  I do this because it’s part of why I get paid by the Center for American Progress—which, by the way, is nowhere near as “left” as Heritage is “right” either—but it’s all one can do to keep from breaking out laughing upon hearing it. 

The French do not need American protection from Al Qaida, particularly since our idea of “protection” seems to be jailing and torturing innocent Iraqis who have nothing whatever to do with them, and hence, causing more terrorism.  And if Moore is guilty of treason for encouraging Ba’athist aggression, well then, what of George W. Bush?  Or was Michael Moore the guy who, protected inside the bubble of White House security, told enemy killers to “bring it on” approximately 600 or so American deaths ago?  And ratings aside, the Scarborough show is far from the worst, though I renew my offer to Rick Kaplan to take it over and improve the ratings for whatever they are paying Joe, plus a liquor and catering allowance.

Todd Gitlin points out that now that (it's been reported that) Iraqis have used sarin against American troops, doesn't Bush's (or "The White House's" refusal to attack Zarqawi's camp before the war for fear of eliminating an argument for war look even more irresponsible?  Fred Kaplan notes much the same.

Chalabi is off the payroll.  Who will provide the Times with its front-page WMD scoops on now?

Jeffrey Record and W. Andrew Terrill have written, and the U.S. Army War College has published, a lengthy study entitled “Iraq and Vietnam:  Differences, similarities, and insights."  Among their findings,

“a careful examination of the evidence reveals that the differences between the
two conflicts greatly outnumber the similarities. This is especially true in the strategic and military dimensions of the two wars.  There is simply no comparison between the strategic environment, the scale of military operations, the scale of losses incurred, the quality of enemy resistance, the role of enemy allies, and the duration of combat.

Such an emphatic judgment, however, may not apply to at least two aspects of the political dimensions of the Iraq and Vietnam wars: attempts at state-building in an alien culture, and sustaining domestic political support in a protracted war against an irregular enemy.  It is, of course, far too early predict whether the United States will accomplish its policy objectives in Iraq and whether public support will “stay the course” on Iraq. But policymakers should be mindful of the reasons for U.S. failure to create a politically legitimate and militarily viable state in South Vietnam, as well as for the Johnson and Nixon administrations’ failure to sustain sufficient domestic political support for the accomplishment of U.S. political objectives in Indochina. Repetition of those failures in Iraq could have disastrous consequences for U.S. foreign policy.”

Updike is for Kerry, and he’s always been the most conservative of Great American Novelists. Who does Bush have? Those “Left Behind” guys?

Too bad that Tim Russert had to throw a hissy fit just a day after Nick Lemann did such a bang-up job of dissecting his appeal, here, in an essay that the Dean should assign to all Columbia J School students both for its content and its example.  Russert’s essential con-game does not escape Lemann, but the piece is nevertheless as generous and rational as one could hope for.  Still, if you read it carefully, you understand why these Sunday shows are ultimately so contentless and hence, why administration officials are so eager to go on them, knowing as they do that nothing they say will be challenged in any fundamental fashion no matter how little evidence they may have to support it.

And speaking of Ms. Kerry, we don’t quote Wonkette a great deal on this high-minded site, but we share her credulity on this point: “Did Mickey Kaus really use Alexandra Kerry's [four-letter colloquialism for female breasts] as a reason not to vote for her father?”  Indeed, and it’s only May.  Next thing you know, Kaus will accuse Kerry of leading the country into stupid, counterproductive war and lying about it.  Nahh, that would be OK, compared to having a daughter who has breasts.  (And by the way, while we’re at a low moment here, those of us who have worked at close quarters with Laura Ingraham almost fell off our collective chairs at the idea of Laura, of all people, telling Ms. Kerry that she ought to behave in a more demure fashion with regard to such matters.  Being a gentleman, however, I can say no more.)

I note with sadness the death of Tony Randall, a great New Yorker, a great actor, a great guy, a friend to all fans of serious theater through his founding of the National Actors Theatre and the greatest Felix of them all.  I saw him and Jack Klugman reprise their roles in the Neil Simon play on Broadway about ten years ago on my birthday and it was a joy to watch.  I also love those roles he played in the Doris Day/Rock Hudson films, which don’t get nearly enough respect from film buffs.  Around Christmastime, Tony would organize a production for the lucky kids who lived near his apartment on the Upper West Side

Correspondents’ Corner:

From:  Eric Rauchway
Hometown:  Davis, CA

A report on my field trip
by Eric Rauchway

Just got back from Cambridge, England, where I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak about the influence of global events on American politics in the early twentieth century.  Some points of note, in no particular order:

A distinguished British scholar of U.S. history, deeply sympathetic to Americans and who remembers the Vietnam era, told me in great sadness that he had never seen so much anti-Americanism so casually expressed in the U.K. or the rest of Europe as lately.  He said that people mostly know they dislike what the U.S. government has been doing -- and not who Americans are -- but that as time goes on this becomes a harder distinction to make.

Niall Ferguson gave a talk in which he made a case that present U.S. fiscal policy could help the euro replace the dollar as a global reserve currency.  Those of you who understand what this means for our financing will understand how bad it would be.  Ferguson also argued that recent tax policy has made the deficit all but boom-proof -- i.e., even if the economy turns around dramatically there won't be a significant inflow of money into the Treasury because of the targeting of cuts toward the richer end of the earning spectrum.  And he is pessimistic about Americans assembling a viable empire in any case.  This would be unsurprising to anyone who's actually read his books, but to those who simply read his press it may come as a shock.

Airplane reading:  Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold.  Very lively, historically-inflected tale of the golden age of magicians and theatrical performance, indebted to the better aspects of comic-book culture, in this respect slightly like Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

And here’s a public service announcement from our boy in Newton:
Doc --

My Kerry piece -- "The Misunderestimation Of John Kerry" -- is in the latest Esquire, and there's a new column called "Mr. Christ" up on the AmProspect website, too.

Name: Robert
Hometown: Redmond

I think there's Coen brothers film in here somewhere:

"The former girlfriend of San Leandro sausage factory owner Stuart Alexander testified in his murder trial today that Alexander said several times he wanted to kill several meat inspectors, put them in a meat grinder and make sausages out of them."

Name: Ajay Chandra
This story about Maj Gen Latif in Fallujah is encouraging even if it brings back none of the civilians and Marines killed there in April.

May 17, 2004 | 12:04 PM ET

The Greatest, Ever:  I am going to have to call Sy Hersh and apologize when "When Presidents Lie" comes out in September (and he is going to growl back at me on the phone), because he wrote an essay in a small Jewish magazine called OLAM which, unfortunately, illustrated some points I needed illustrated about how naïve even someone like Hersh could be when it came to the honesty-level of past presidents, like Truman and FDR.  So I’m happy for the opportunity in this piece to call him “no question, … the most important reporter in America since 9/11.”  I’d go quite a bit further.  Hersh is, as far as I can tell, the greatest investigative reporter in the history of this country; perhaps in the history of any country, though I’m not qualified to say that.

Here is his latest, which, because it was released to the media and on the New Yorker’s Web site on Saturday, determined the tenor of Sunday’s Bigfoot press coverage.  What would we do without him?  And thank goodness the New Yorker has given him the space and support he needs to do his best work, ever.

Hersh is the greatest, no doubt, but that is not the same thing as saying there is no good investigative reporting out there.  Last week, Yochi J. Dreazen and Christopher Cooper of the Wall Street Journal published a terrific article (subscription only) demonstrating that the June 30 deadline for the alleged hand-over of power to the Iraqis is essentially a hoax.  The article, entitled “Behind the Scenes, U.S. Tightens Grip on Iraq’s Future; Hand-Picked Proxies, Advisers Will be Given Key Roles in Interim Government,” has received almost no attention anywhere, despite its having been published on the front-page of the Journal.

This piece stands in contrast to the nuttiness of the paper’s editorial page, which has destroyed its overall credibility with antics like this.  But the likely explanation for the article's lack of coverage is the fact that the story contradicts the agreed-upon narrative line of both an increasingly desperate administration as well as a media mindset that cannot handle too much complication at once, much less complete and total dishonesty on the part of the U.S. government.  But keep it in mind.  When Colin Powell brags to Sunday anchors about all the power that has been turned over to Iraqi ministries, these are Potemkin edifices.  Many of the people allegedly in power haven’t even been informed yet, though they are supposedly already running things.

How silly is journalism sometimes?  This sentence appears in Time’s cover story this week: "'Iraq,' said a longtime Bush watcher, ‘is taking its toll.’"  Excuse me but just what is so brilliant about that observation that it required an ID of its speaker that would apply to roughly say, a quarter of the human race?  After I read it I had to ask my six year old if she happened to be the source because for all Time tells us, she might have been, though to be fair, her comments about Bush tend to have more substance than that one.

And Katie Rosman is pissed about People, though not, I’m guessing, for the last time.

Nice work if you can get it:  "Of the 246 fundraisers identified by The Washington Post as Pioneers in the 2000 campaign, 104 -- or slightly more than 40 percent -- ended up in a job or an appointment."

I’ve not read Craig Unger’s House of Bush/House of Saud and was prepared to believe at least some of the accusations that New York Times Book Review writer Jonathan Tepperman leveled at it in his nasty review of a few weeks ago.  (After all, not every terrible thing you can say about the Bush family is true, just because many are.)  That is until I saw this exchange in yesterday’s Book Review.  In it, Tepperman grants a number Unger’s complaints of unfairness but takes great umbrage at the one that seems least impeachable. 

“I chose not to mention Unger's account of the emergency evacuation of Saudi royals from American soil following Sept. 11 not because of any political agenda, but because he provides no proof that there was anything untoward about the White House's helping prominent Saudis leave the country during a dangerous time.  Unger seems to assume that these Saudis, by virtue of their nationality and the fact that some were related to bin Laden, were terrorism suspects and should have been treated as such.  But since he provides no evidence for this claim, I decided not to mention it: to repeat a slanderous charge is also a form of slander.”

Oh sure.  The bin Laden family just happens to be the only people in the entire United States to be allowed up in the air to leave the country without questioning by the authorities and Tepperman thinks it’s “slanderous” to wonder just what could be up with that?  I wasn’t allowed to fly.  Tepperman wasn’t allowed to fly.  But people named “bin Laden” are given a special dispensation to run away without any form of questioning about the whereabouts, habits or thought-processes of their mass murdering relative and Tepperman thinks Unger ought to be the one apologizing for asking a few uncomfortable questions. 

As I said, I can’t vouch for the book; only that it deserved fairer from its reviewer.

HOLY S**T:  The New York Daily News writes, "Democratic operatives are buzzing that the Boss has been talking about staging a free concert somewhere on Sept. 2, when President Bush is due to address the Republican National Convention."

Alter-reviews:  And speaking of this business of reviewing, I have read Ed Doctorow’s latest collection "Sweet Land Stories," and while fiction can be a highly personal matter, and I am writing about a dear friend, I could not recognize the warm, knowing and beautifully crafted stories collected in that book in their Times review of last week.  Doctorow at the top of his form is American literature at the top of its form in this century or any other.  These stories took me inside lives I could never have imagined and made me feel as if I knew the characters who peopled them as well as, if not better than, the people I really do know.  They were fully imagined and sympathetically rendered to the point where I found myself rooting for them, in all their moral horror. 

It’s a talented artist who can play those kinds of tricks on a reader, all in the name of our common humanity and I, for one, am thrilled that Ed Doctorow is still doing so. Check out the reviews on the site if you doubt my word.

I’ve also enjoyed Billy Joe Shaver's music since I was 16 and read somewhere that he was Jimmy Carter’s favorite singer.  I had no idea of what a tough time he’s had of things.  I see from this Salon interview that Johnny Cash has called him his favorite songwriter too, while Willie Nelson claims he "may be the best songwriter alive today."  His stuff is available on Compadre Records, which also has a new live CD from James McMurtry, Larry’s son, and another literate, intelligent and hard-bitten songwriter who proves just how complicated a place Texas can be, for all of the sins for which it must answer.

And finally, when I saw Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week, I once again fell in love with his artistic and intellectual audacity as well as the intense affection he brings both to his characters and the many off-kilter ideas they carry around in their wonderfully confused heads.  Kushner is like an intellectual and emotional sponge of the contemporary zeitgeist, though he processes the horror of so much of contemporary life through not only a brilliant critical mind but a generous and forgiving human heart.  And lest we forget, he wrote this play about Afghanistan under the Taliban long before 9/11—when nobody in official American life could give a proverbial rat’s derriere about what happened in that godforsaken nation.  In this regard, as in so many he shames us all.  So what if the play is still a bit of a mess and perhaps ten percent too long?  The acting is enchanting and the evening a bargain, whatever the price.  If only all of us took our life’s callings this seriously.

(During half time, I picked up two of Kushner’s collections of plays and essays and read a few on the subway home, Man of the People that I am.  I see from an old Nation essay that he admits to having had a crush on a certain gaycatholictoryGAPmodel blogger but was cured of it upon being compared to a “gay Neil Simon.”  There are a lot of dumb things Little Roy has said over the years but that bit of envious self-revelation deserves its own place in that particular hall of shame.)

Correspondents’ Corner:

From Eric:  Could the lawyer from Wiggins, Childs, Quinn & Pantazis please get back in touch with me. I accidentally misplaced your e-mail address.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,
I realize that the prisoner abuse issue is grabbing all the headlines this week, but...

The Bush Administration's new overtime rules, which have been promulgated with the misnomer "FairPay," have received remarkably little scrutiny from the media.  One of the more remarkable aspects of the new rules is that the DOL has established a new exemption (i.e., no overtime pay) for insurance claims adjusters.  Insurance claims adjusters?  Of all the occupations in the U.S., why would insurance claims adjusters be singled out?

It's all about campaign contributions, of course.  One of George W. Bush's largest contributors over the years has been Farmers Insurance Group, the third-largest seller of automobile and homeowners insurance in the United States.  Farmers donated $50,000 to Bush's gubernatorial inauguration in 1995 and gave $235,250 to Bush-Cheney for the 2000 campaign.

In the summer of 2001, a Superior Court jury in California awarded 2,400 Farmers adjusters approximately $130 million in damages (including interest) because of Farmers' refusal to compensate them for overtime worked.  Current and former Farmers adjusters testified that they routinely worked 9-11 hour days but were never paid for the extra work.  Subsequently, a Class Action lawsuit was filed in Federal Court in Oregon on behalf of Farmers claims adjusters in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

That court recently ruled that Farmers will have to pay back overtime pay to a yet-to-be-determined number of adjusters in all seven states.  The exact amount of damages likely will not be established until the end of this year.

Farmers is hardly the only Bush contributor to benefit from the new claims adjuster expemption.  During the four-month period ending January 31, Bush's 10th largest fundraiser was Robert G. Davis, CEO of USAA, a $71 billion insurance giant headquartered in San Antonio. The list of Bush "Rangers and Pioneers" (fundraisers who have pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the campaign), includes a veritable Who's Who of insurance executives:

  • Hank Greenberg, Chairman and CEO of American International Group
  • Ned Cloonan, Vice-president of American International Group
  • Tom Petway III, Chairman of Zurich Insurance
  • Robert J. O'Connell, Chairman, President and CEO of MassMutual Financial Group
  • Patrick G. Ryan, Chairman and CEO of Aon Corp.

A full listing of Bush "Rangers and Pioneers" can be found at

The insurance industry made more than $41 million in campaign contributions in 2000, of which 65% went to Republicans.  Thus far in the current election cycle the insurance industry has made $16 million in campaign contributions, of which 68% has gone to Republicans.

As of 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics placed the number of insurance company claims adjusters at about 123,000, with a mean hourly wage of $22.50/hour. Assuming that the typical adjuster puts in 250 hours of overtime each year at an overtime rate of $33.75/hour, exempting them from overtime pay will save the insurance industry more than $1 billion a year.

Not a bad return.

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