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Altercation

July 9, 2004 | 11:29 AM ET

Fishing anyone? 

Bin Laden Is Said to Be Organizing for a U.S. Attack

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Thank goodness, therefore, that, instead of focusing on shutting down al-Qaida, we’ve encouraged it to rebuild and flourish, pulling troops and agents out of Afghan-Pakistani border in order to fight a war in Iraq and thereby created a second terrorist haven.  I’m also thrilled that we’ve pretty much ignored homeland security while spending hundreds of billions on making sure that the entire Arab world hates our guts.

And I think it rather amazing that so serious a warning can be issued by the Department of Homeland Security and is pretty much ignored by everyone, save the page-one editors of the Times.  Can it be that this administration has lost so much credibility in its deliberate misleading of the nation on just about everything that it has lost the capacity to protect the country, even if it were ever to decide to take the job seriously?  Who knows, and it really doesn’t matter because it’s never going to happen.  Bush himself says he cannot think of a single mistake in his policies in which, according to at least one CIA officer, the president launched...

"an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages."

For Osama bin Laden, Anonymous argues, the American invasion and occupation of Iraq were like "a Christmas present you long for but never expected to receive" — a gift from Washington that "will haunt, hurt, and hound Americans for years to come."  Moreover, "U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990's… As a result, I think it fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden's only indispensable ally."

There you have it. Read Michiko Kakutani’s review here.  If, somehow, in an alternate universe, a bunch of liberal Democratic ideologues had been allowed to endanger the nation's security so profoundly while being found to have deliberately misled the nation to do so, my guess is that the likes of DeLay and Company would have tried them for treason.

(And can anyone ever remember a time when the CIA had declared open warfare on the White House for being too hawkish, too reckless?  Never, that’s when.  But this book would not have been published if the top agency brass had not decided to hell with it; the honor and the future of the agency are at stake.  And yesterday's Times report demonstrates that the administration’s cover-up strategy will be (a la the yellowcake madness) to blame the whole mess on Tenet and the CIA.  They picked the wrong patsy, methinks.

Sure it wasn’t the dog that ate them?

I know it’s Slacker Friday, but Ralph is not resting in his efforts to re-“elect,” George W. Bush, and so neither can I.  The headline says it all:  Michigan GOP gathers names for Nader

Boehlert wonders why Murdoch's interested in publishing Ralph Nader's new book.  But I think the charge is overblown.  What about Stupid White Men?  What about Bullworth?  What about the Simpsons?  What about Sound & Fury?  It's an enormous corporation and Murdoch likes money at least as much as he likes Republicans.  (Having said that, don’t forget about the “Outfoxed" premier.)

This is pretty go**am funny.

Now, finally, here’s the man.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
Hey Doc:
Greetings from Charlotte, where the news about John Edwards nearly fought the news about Mike Krzyzewski to a draw this week.  And let us all now forget, please, about John McCain.

There is nobody I respect more in public life than McCain, and I like him more than I respect him.  But there is something of the too-cute-by-half about his open willingness to be as active as he has been on behalf of C-Plus Augustus.  I don't buy for a moment this business about how he wasn't ready for them to use him in one of their ads on the day that Edwards's selection was announced.  He didn't get to where he is on a watermelon truck.  If there ever was a politician who had a better right to leave an administration of his party on hold until December, it's McCain, against whom the Bushies ran an unspeakably sleazy campaign.  Yet, there he is, seriously on board with people who'd sell him back to the Vietnamese if they thought it meant 10 points in Ohio this fall.  I don't care how much he wants to be Secretary of State, this can't be worth it.  And it is a measure of how dumb the whole flirtation with him by the Democratic party always has been.

P.S. -- And, as I will be flying on Sunday, I would like to ask Tom Ridge just what in the hell I am supposed to do with the ghost story he's been mumbling on every network for two days.  Just once, if they really had any respect for our intelligence, they'd have one of those scary puppet shows in which Ridge told us, "The threat is real.  Stay home.  Don't fly!"  Of course, that would cost somebody a buck, and we don't want to do that.  So the national motto becomes, "Be afraid! Put yourself in harm's way!"

I believe this warning as much as I believe that police dogs ate the president's crucial National Guard records.

Name: Withheld
HT: Withheld
Hello again, Dr. Alterman.
You may remember that I e-mailed you a while back about my concerns about the condition of reserve forces in general and my own unit in particular.

A friend of mine in Germany tells me that German TV has run a couple of reports regarding a children's section at the Abu Ghraib prison.  I found a link to an American blogger who tells pretty much the same story.  I was wondering what, if anything, the American press was doing with the story

I have two children.  Even if I didn't, this would make me heart-sick.

By the way, I got promoted, and we are expecting to redeploy to Iraq in 2005.  Again, please don't use my name.  Thanks.

Name: John S. Lucas
Hometown: El Cerrito, CA
Eric,
Sometimes it is hard to know where to direct one’s anger.  In the Ozarks they have a saying.  Do not try to teach a pig how to sing.  All you will do is end up annoying the pig and you will end up being frustrated.  The President and his crew are beyond any help but people like you and the alleged Liberal media probably fit into that category also.

In the years that I drove truck the only thing on the radio, with a few exceptions such as NPR, was Limbaugh, his clones and Christian radio.  If it was not for Bernie Ward and Ray Taliaferro on KGO I think I would have gone completely nuts.  In an age with the computer things have improved but I still do not think you get it.

I am supporting Kerry because as a fellow Vietnam veteran I understand where he is coming from on the war.  I love Edwards because not only does he get what the problem is but has articulated it so well with his two Americas theme.

My problem is with people like you and the alleged journalists who have covered the President.  A capsule of what the main issue that is confronting America is what the President did to get into the Air National Guard and out of the draft.  The then Secretary of Sate of Texas pulled strings to get the President into the Guard.  Someone from the other America had to take his place and take the risks of being sent to war.  As a veteran of that war I admit that it is personal.  I knew many boys, for we were all boys then, who came from that second America and got to pay the many prices of doing what your country wanted you to do.  I have no problem with those that were against the war and went to Canada.  I think of draft resisters who went to jail for their beliefs as heroes.  It does not bother me that the Vice President decided not to serve and got deferments.  The hypocrisy of what the President and his father did is at the core of what is wrong with this country.  Both men supported the Vietnam War and the father used political pull to get his son out of it.  If you really give it some thought this is what the Republican Party stands for and the President is really the poster boy for what the Republicans are all about.  First America, second America.

I cannot get real mad at Bush for a man who would do such a thing is missing something inside.  That something is called Character and sadly one either has it or does not. 

You on the other hand are a different cup of tea.  I read your blog every day and I think you care about this country and all that live in it.  You are obviously well educated and are certainly smarter than I am.  How is it that you do not get what the President did to get into the guard as an important issue in this election?  How is it that Chris Mathews, any of 60 Minutes crew, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and the rest of these “journalists” have not asked the President or any of his crew about this?  They say that 45% of the country will always vote for Bush.  I will tell you that it is not true.  If this story ever got the coverage it deserved and everyone was aware of it and of its implications Bush could not get elected to dog catcher.

Who is at fault here?  It is not Bush for what he did lines up with his beliefs.  In front of a bunch of his first America crowd he said, “Some would call you the elite but I call you my base.”  He meant it.  The problem is with all you smart commentators and journalists.  It is your job to get the facts out to everyone.  The facts of the President sending someone else to face the risks of the draft by using political pull should be known to every person in this country.  That it is not is because of the “liberal media” and commentators like you.  Though I like you and agree with you politically on 90% of what you write I must tell that you really piss me off.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,
A dubious milestone was reached today with the death of five more U.S. soldiers. The tally of coalition troops killed in Iraq has now surpassed the 1,000 mark. CNN has the most current figures.  882 were Americans; the rest of the breakdown is "60 Britons, six Bulgarians, one Dane, one Dutch, one Estonian, one Hungarian, 19 Italians, one Latvian, six Poles, one Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and seven Ukrainians" as of July 8, 2004.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid.  Are you excited about Paula Zahn Sudan Day?  I know I can hardly wait.  In the meantime, forgive me for the sucking-up that follows.

My biggest concern about the Kerry camp is that it hasn't planned for an economic boom in the fall.  Haven't the Saudis pledged to provide Dubya with as much?  Not to mention all that disingenuous Keynesian deficit spending?  But I think the GOP are giving Kerry an opening to redirect the debate with all the tired "Liberal!" attacks.  They remind me of when your collaborator on "The Book on Bush," Mark Green, was here in Chicago.  He began his talk with a simple statement: "George W. Bush is different."  Green didn't attack the administration's conservatism but its closed-mindedness to whatever evidence is presented to it. 

Kerry can easily say, "George W. Bush calls himself conservative.  But is it conservative to run up record deficits that your children will pay off?  Is it conservative to RISK BRINGING BACK THE DRAFT, which a single significant military conflict would surely do?  (Amazing enough, three months before 9/11 the Weekly Standard urged Rumsfeld to resign to protest Dubya's weakening of the defense).  Is it conservative to put government shackles on stem cell research?  Is it conservative to keep our economy shackled to foreign oil interests?"  Kerry needs to focus the campaign on the future, not the present, because the GOP are masters at presenting chimeras.  And I'd hit that draft thing hard -- let's see if John McCain is really willing to bail the administration out on that one. 

After a months-long dry spell, I've finally heard some thoroughly enjoyable CD's:  Call and Response's "Winds Take No Shape" is great soft/hazy mid-fi pop, Brandy's Aphrodisiac shows her the true heir to the underrated Jody Watley (both with and without Andre Cymone) and Razorlight's "Up All Night" is what would have happened if the Gang of Four had been high school dropouts and listened to top-40 radio.

Name: Graham Strouse
Hometown: Doylestown, PA

Hey Dr. E,
I'm thinking a Nader-MacGruder ticket (yes he is six years shy of legal age but maybe they could count in dog years) would be rather apropos, don't you?

There's a line in "God-Emperor of Dune," where one of Leto II's underlings asks to justify a particularly heinous-seeming decision. The reply:

"I did what I always do. I created an effect."

That's really what Ralph Nader & Aaron MacGruder do, isn't it? They create effects without thought to the consequences.

I admit that the first time I read about that MacGruder's speaking engagement at the banquet, the one that sent you off sputtering into the lobby to work on your book, my disestablishmentarian self was amused.  Later, I had my doubts.  Two days ago, spinning madly away at level 20 in the recumbent bike at the local YMCA, I decided I was 180 degrees wrong. MacGruder's "Boondocks" can be genuinely hysterical--I'm thinking of the find-a-man-for-Condi thread here.  Thing is, he's so utterly indiscriminate in his condemnations, so cynical and well, such a punk, that when I think of him now, my mind conjures the image of Spike Lee on a serious bender.

Nader's the same way, but maybe even more pathetic.  He's an old man who can't stand the idea that he's no longer relevant.  He'll protest anything if it means a little press.  Remember his stern rebuke to Bud Selig after the All-Star game tie?

Remember the Corvair, GM's semi-revolutionary rear-engine bust which, in its earliest incarnations, had an unfortunate tendency to swap ends at speed?  Unlike the Pinto, which was a truly dangerous little POS, the Corvair wasn't such a bad little ride after GM came down on the bean counters and forced them to start installing a $44 dollar sway bar.  It took a couple years, but the last several runs were certainly not "unsafe at any speed."  It was ugly, but light & economical & efficient in a day when dinosaurs ruled the roads.  But it was too late. The damage was done.

Ralph's always doing that sort of thing.  So is MacGruder.

Brahma creates.  Vishnu preserves.  Shiva destroys.  What these punks fail to grasp, however (or in MacGruder's case, callously ignore), is the fact that once Shiva's work is done the field must once again be cleared for Brahma to create once more.  I'm all for a little creative anarchy & real advocacy of any stripe.  But these guys aren't "for" anybody.  It's just not in their game plans.

Name: David S. Bernstein
Hometown: Boston, Mass.
Eric:
I offer the following analogy as analysis: John Edwards was the Christmas present your kid (ie, the media) has been asking for every day since Thanksgiving.  You can give the kid something you think he'll like better in the long run, but you'll have to get through the moping and pouting on Christmas morning.  John Kerry made a calculation that a happy Christmas morning -- ie, good pre-convention VP coverage -- was more important than future utility -- ie, bringing in Missouri or Florida in November.

Sure enough, the media has treated the Edwards announcement like a kid who found what he wanted under the tree.

This is all part of a calculated July marketing scheme not much different from the build-up to Spiderman 2.  The moment the media starts running low on Edwards stories, we'll have leaks of convention speakers, convention plans (a Town Hall stage with REAL PEOPLE in the seats!), a new policy announcement, even a controversy of some nature to build interest.

Barring something unexpected, Kerry should lead by double digits by the end of July, and the media story coming out will be that the GOP convention is do-or-die for Bush.  These Kerry people aren't stupid.

Name: Mark W. Budwig
Hometown: New York, NY

You wrote, "I would have gone with a Garry Wills or an Alan Brinkley ... ."
"A" Gary Wills?  "An" Alan Brinkley?
Where are these other Willses and Brinkleys?  Bring 'em on!  We need 'em!

July 8, 2004 | 1:46 PM ET

A Terrorist Woodstock
It’s official.  Iraq was never a terrorist threat to the United States, and now is, thanks to the Bush administration.  I wonder how the 883 American families who’ve lost children, daddies, mommies, etc, and the thousands of soldiers who’ve lost limbs feel to have sacrificed themselves in order to create a terrorist haven where there was none before.

And this from the Center for American Progress:

Americans agree Osama bin Laden and his followers must be captured as quickly as possible.  But according to an explosive new report in The New Republic, the White House is now demanding that the Pakistanis find high-value al Qaeda targets like Osama bin Laden before the November elections, preferably coinciding with the key events of the White House's political opponents.  As one Pakistani intelligence source said, the country has been specifically told by the Bush administration that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any high value terrorist target] were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July" - the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.  The article points out pressure to find terrorists “would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets before Americans go to the polls in November.”  The article notes that “no timetable[s] were discussed in 2002 or 2003" — but according to a Pakistani Interior Ministry official, the Bush administration wants Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf "to bail them out when they face hard times in the coming election."  See more on the White House's long history of using the war on terror for its own political gain in this previous Progress Report.”

The TNR article is here and the Center has a history of administration’s willingness to politicize the war on terror here.

The McCain Mystery:  Owing to stories like this one, a friend of mine wrote me,

Do you think Bush will keep Cheney?  I mean, Bush has his whole "loyalty" thing, I know, and has said he won't ditch Cheney, but what if...he picked...McCain? They're looking pretty chummy lately.

Because I hate to write anything for free, I’m printing my reply:  Don't worry your pretty little head about McCain being VP.  He was much more likely to run with Kerry whom he likes than Bush, whom he hates.  McCain had to give that speech in case Kerry wins and he runs against him.  The Republicans would have told him to get lost next time around if he didn't.  And I really think that Bush would rather lose with Cheney than win without him, not that VPs can make that much of an electoral difference.  My reading of Bush and Cheney is that he would genuinely be afraid to govern without him.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a new “Think Again” column here.  It’s about the repudiation of Michael Powell and the movement to oppose further media concentration.

The cover-up continues, here.

And did you see thisProper headline:

Administration official directed to mislead Congress or be fired
Cost to nation, hundreds of billions

Today’s “Nader is a Menace” item is here.  Dart to my hero Steven Colbert for letting him get away with so much silly nonsense the other night; Jon’s wife has one little baby and the whole show goes to hell.

Politicking “Politics’
Picking a book-reviewer is not an exact science.  On the face of it, Richard Brookhiser was not a bad choice for the New York Times Book Review to review Rick Hertzberg’s lifetime collection, Politics.  Personally, I would have gone with a Garry Wills or an Alan Brinkley, and true, Brookhiser is an editor of the right-wing National Review and Hertzberg is America’s most eloquent liberal essayist and former two-time editor of the liberal New Republic, back when it still really was liberal.  But Brookhiser is one of those conservatives who—like David Brooks and, when either one is in the mood, both Bill Buckley and Bill Kristol—can step outside his ideological skin and honor and appreciate superb craftsmanship in a political adversary I know Brookhiser from spending a week on a National Review cruise a few years back and a debate at Yale and have always found him to be a thoughtful, engaging adversary.

But largely I think, because the war has gone so badly and Bush has become so unpopular, conservatives are on the defensive and are no longer willing to treat their adversaries so magnanimously.  You can see this in Brook’s extremely disappointing Times column and it was clearly evident in James Pinkerton’s Washington Post review of The Book on Bush, which was riddled with obvious factual errors in an effort to defend Bush’s record and disappearing popularity.  Now, in a far more significant review—this is Hertzberg’s entire career we’re talking about—Brookhiser has failed this fundamental test and produced an ideological hatchet job—one that may belong in National Review but not in The New York Times.

To call Hertzberg’s New Yorker “comments” “bland, bullying and dogmatic,” is beyond foolishness.  They are to National Review’s regular fare what a well preserved bottle of 1982 St. Emilion is to warm Gatorade, elegant, subtle, and free of ideological hectoring.  (Nothing like mine, for instance.)  Brookhiser loses credibility immediately on this point as nearly a million New Yorker readers could tell him.

But OK, that’s an opinion.  A foolish one, to be sure, but an opinion and people are entitled to differ.  What about this: 

The post-9/11 world we live in is not one of crime-fighting, but of war-making and war-threatening.  We can expect the fighting to be long and intermittent, with coalitions breaking and re-forming, popular support waxing and waning.  Occupations, like that in Iraq, may prove to be as bloody as attacks.  Hertzberg served in the Navy stateside for two years during the Vietnam War, yet he seems to understand little of this.  He wishes the war hadn't happened; therefore, except for our own blundering, it hasn't.  Hendrik Hertzberg is amusing, insightful and stubborn.  His time has passed. Not, alas, ours.

Jut what the hell is that?  Brookhiser disagrees with Hertzberg’s view of the response to 9/11 and Bush’s ruinous war in Iraq and hence, pronounces him “stubborn” and irrelevant.  Well sorry Richard, but Hertzberg’s view of the war is looking a lot more prudent and intelligent than anything National Review published during the past three years.  (I see now even Buckley thinks the war a mistake.)  And really, what has Brookhiser’s disagreement got to do with whether these pieces are well-argued and well-written?  Why, in other words, are we getting a National Review review of America’s best liberal writer rather than a New York Times one?  And why for goodness sakes, didn’t the editors ID Brookhiser with his day job—which is far more relevant in the case of this review—than with the history books he’s authored?  Just asking.

The Wall Street Journal vs. The Wall Street Journal, part XXVII
And while we’re on the topic, the Wall Street Journal edit page saluted National Review on Friday noting that it “remains the largest opinion magazine in America.”  Like so much  of what one reads on that page, this is not merely flat-out false, but also contradicted by the real journalists at The Wall Street Journal.  On June 2, 2004, John Harwood reported on the paper’s front page that

The flagship publication of the left, The Nation, claims to have captured the highest circulation of any weekly political magazine...The Nation has seen its circulation grow to 160,000 from nearly 140,000 in mid-2003 and just over 102,000 in June 2001.  The latest figure exceeds the circulation of longstanding stalwart National Review, which is roughly 155,000, down from about 159,000 in mid-2001.
-- "Hopeful Liberals See Signs of a Political Comeback", Wall Street Journal, June 3, here.

Since it appears twice as often, do the math—more than twice as many copies of The Nation are circulating as those of National Review.  Surprise, surprise.  I do think Buckley deserves the congratulations, despite everything, including hurting my mother’s feelings once. 

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: John Athridge
Hometown: Bethesda. MD
Hey Eric, just to pile on the RNC's foolish McCain as attack dog commercial, here is McCain's quote from the dust jacket of Edwards' book.  Not sure how they could demonize Edwards, but I doubt they'll stop trying.  It's all they know how to do.  Thanks for the good work.

In Four Trials, John Edwards has written movingly of people who were terribly wronged, and whom he helped seek some measure of justice with great skill, determination, and genuine compassion.  He shows a perceptive appreciation in these accounts for the strength of his clients' character.  And, in the loving portrait of his son, Wade, and the deeply touching account of his loss, John reveals the strength of his own character and gives the reader a look beyond a political biography into the heart of a good man.
-- Senator John McCain

Name: Paul Corrigan
Hometown: Lexington, MA

FYI
Here is a link that has the transcript of Fahrenheit 9/11.

I found it on Atrios.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Vallejo, CA

Want Bush? Vote Nader

'Nuff said!

Name: Joshua Haugh
Hometown: Portland, Maine

Dear Eric,
Howard Kurtz just repeated the "Kerry's health care plan will cost $900 billion" lie on CNN's Inside Politics.

The $900 billion dollar number is baseless.  It comes directly from Bush/Cheney 2004 talking points.

We must shed some light on these media whores.

Don't let them "Gore" John Kerry!

Name: Viv
Hometown: Austin, TX

Thought this was a very interesting story - especially with all the hoopla GWB is raising over Kerry's selection of Edwards. 

Bush Liked Less Than Saddam, Bin Laden
Jul 7, 11:07 am ET

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - President Bush is disliked by more Hungarian secondary school children than former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, according to an opinion poll published on Wednesday.
Bush also topped the list of most-liked foreigners with eight percent of the vote, ahead of Pope John Paul with six percent.

The survey of 34,000 students, aged 16-18, from 655 high schools showed Adolf Hitler was the most disliked foreign personality with 25 percent of the vote, followed by Bush with 23 percent and Bin Laden with 16 percent.

Bush was even more unpopular than former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, according to the poll.

The most unpopular Hungarian was Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy followed by Viktor Orban, the leader of the right of center Fidesz opposition.

Orban was also the most popular Hungarian followed by Arpad Goncz, the former dissident who became the country's first post-communist president.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Dear Eric,
Did you see Howard Fineman's column yesterday?

He writes this about John Edwards: "Except for Ike, I can't think of anyone in modern times that entered electoral politics and gained a place on a major-party ticket on such a hurried timetable."

Fineman apparently has forgotten about Spiro Agnew, whose political experience consisted of  four years as County Executive of Baltimore County and two years as Governor of Maryland. Agnew was several months shy of his 50th birthday when he was selected to be Nixon's running mate.

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle
Esteemed Doctor,
Perhaps you can help clear something up about Mr. Cheney. 

He was called to testify before the 9/11 commission.
Check. 

He testified and theoretically told them everything they should know that is relevant.
Check. 

It was closed-door, so there's no need to hold anything back, right?
Check.

Then when they say "no collaborative connection" between Al Qaeda and Iraq he says he "probably" has access to some data they don't have.  Hmmmm, that's odd.  This makes him:

  1. an obstructer of justice? That's a criminal offense, no?;
  2. a perjurer (before the commission), surely a criminal offense;
  3. a liar when he says to the media he has more intel (no crime there, but not the kind of guy you'd like to rely on a whole lot);
  4. or my favorite, a traitor who is withholding information because he knows better than the public what is right, has an agenda for which the additional data is useful, and holds his ideals above the security of the country. Once more, a criminal offense.
  5. I guess he could also be right and honest and the commission is therefore suffering under some collective, amnesiac, delusional spell cast by Harry Potter or something. (If that appears in their new campaign, remember, you heard it here first.)

Regardless of which one of the above is right, just exactly why are people who consider themselves "strong on defense" or "strong on morality" or "strong on integrity" or "strong on God-knows-what" going to vote for this sleazy charlatan??  Frankly, it seems that the media deserve some kudos for repeating his ludicrous assertions after the commissions findings came out--they could easily have swept his comments under the rug because "he clearly didn't mean it" or "he's reading from last month's script," but the "non-story" as Cheney's rep has described it has had some legs in the papers when they could have cut him some slack.  Maybe it's only a story if you actually believed him the first hundred times (like many reporters clearly did).  At this point he could claim to own Mars and it wouldn't faze me because after hearing so many overblown lies, I'm almost deaf to them.

Name: A Cautious Man
Hometown: New Jersey
Regarding Kerry/Edwards - I believe it's the first "all-Springsteen fan" ticket in the history of American presidential elections.

July 7, 2004 | 11:29 AM ET

Flashback to February 21, 2003, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, taped and captured on C-Span despite efforts of stalker to cancel reading and broadcast:

Questioner: So, what do you predict will be the Democratic ticket this time? (Or something like that.)

Alterman: Well, with the caveat that everything could change and probably will, if I had to guess right now, I’d say ‘Kerry/Edwards.” (Or something like that.)

You can look it up.

And hey, the Republicans are running scared.  Look at Mr. “Independent conservative” William Safire, talking straight-off the RNC talking points; ditto the WSJ.

History will ask, "Where was America?"   Just as the Bush Administration is stepping-up its war against global sex education, The Washington Post reports, “The global AIDS epidemic spread at an alarming pace last year with a record 4.8 million new infections, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday, which expressed concern that the virus is spreading quickly in Eastern Europe and Asia.”

I finally saw “Fahrenheit 9/11" over the weekend and while I have a million minor qualms, I thought it was by and large terrific. 

Katha Pollitt sums up my feelings in this column, particularly when she writes:

I found the movie immensely cheering and energizing, even though I don't agree with its main thesis, drawn from Unger, that Bush's oil-business interests, particularly his close financial and personal connections with the Saudis, drove his post-9/11 decisions to go easy on Saudi Arabia and invade Afghanistan and Iraq.  I think President Gore might well have invaded Afghanistan too--although, who knows, maybe the Republicans would have thwarted him out of spite.  I also think that key promoters of the war in Iraq--Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld--were motivated by a sincere, if deranged, belief that overthrowing Saddam would usher in U.S.- and Israel-friendly capitalist democracies all over the Middle East.  They had, after all, been pushing for regime change for years.  Like all Moore's movies, Fahrenheit 9/11 is somewhat muddled and self-contradictory.  Just as Bowling for Columbine excoriated the NRA while arguing that guns don't kill people, Americans kill people, Fahrenheit 9/11 simultaneously argues that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are wrong and unnecessary and that we need to send more troops; that the Bush Administration does too much and too little to protect the country from another terrorist attack; that Bush is an idiot and a lightweight and that he is a master of calculation. Actually, come to think of it, that's not such a contradiction--but I wish Moore had acknowledged Bush's obvious political skills. It's not easy to fool 40 percent of the people 100 percent of the time.

Her media criticism is also spot-on:

Moore's critics are going over the movie frame by frame, but he's phrased his most controversial contentions, about the Saudi flights, carefully.  He doesn't actually say they took off while the airports were closed, and he doesn't say the bin Ladens weren't interviewed, although a viewer could get that impression.  Other complaints seem trivial.  Does it really matter if Moore says only one child of a congressperson or senator is serving in Iraq, and doesn't mention that a few others are in the armed forces, just not there?  Of course, the scene in which Moore tries to hand out recruitment literature to politicos is unfair: It's not as if parents can enlist their kids.  The scene works, though, because Moore's basic point is right: Politicians whose own kids are safely ensconced in the Ivies send off to die in Iraq the children of women like Lila Lipscomb, the vibrant working-class Flint woman Moore follows in the second half of the movie, who puts out the flag every morning and who has always encouraged her kids to join the military as a path to a better life.  Her grief and rage when her son is killed in Iraq are unbearable to watch.  Surrounded by her large, interracial family, she reads her son's last letter home: "He got us out here for nothing whatsoever.  I'm so furious right now, Mama."  There are plenty of mothers and fathers like her--but you don't see Katie Couric ("Navy SEALs rock!") interviewing them.

What I find so interesting in the media criticism of Moore is its hysterical tone.  I wrote about this already in Think Again, but it just keeps coming back.  What is the matter with my buddy Richard Cohen?  And what the hell is Time thinking, giving this space to Little Roy to foam at the mouth about the thing?  It’s not as if we’re dealing with the likes of Judy Miller here.

The fact is that while Moore makes a few contentions that are arguable, most of them adhere pretty closely to the known facts.  This is not the case of the Bush argument for war -the media by and large reporting those phony contentions with credulous admiration.  I’m willing to bet that I could find more lies, phony statements and false accusations in just about any single episode of “Meet the Press,” “This Week” or “Face the Nation” devoted to Iraq and the war on terror than can be found in Moore’s entire film.  I could probably find more in any single five minute segment of an O’Reilly, Hannity or Scarborough show.  Why are the media so furious at Moore?  Because he is doing their job for them and taking away their narrative.  If they did it better, he wouldn’t have to.  Perhaps those reporters attacking Moore should be good enough to publish some of their own comments on the war alongside it.

Meanwhile Todd Gitlin has a good piece about it too.

Today’s Nader is the Republicans' 'useful idiot' item.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Sam Johnston
Hometown: San Francisco

As someone who voted for Nader in 2000 in California (knowing that Gore was safely ahead of Bush here by 7%), I am heartened that so many Greens are coming around to the wisdom of strategic thinking.  Medea Benjamin deserves big kudos for steering the Green party conventioneers away from a Nader endorsement.

For anyone who clings to the idea that a vote for Nader in a swing state is in any way strategic to progressive goals, I just offer this thought:  Nader is more self-aggrandizing than you realize.  I confirmed this conclusion after seeing Ralph on Meet the Press last night.  While his soundbites were characteristically progressive, he made one slip toward the end of the interview.  He said that if Kerry and the Democrats continue on their current course of compromise, they will find themselves locked in a grand battle with the Nader forces.  There's the rub: Ralph fancies himself as the "hero-broker" standing up for the common people.  I am left with the conclusion that this posturing masked in progressive garb is really intended to just make a difference - no matter what that difference is.  It is simply an ego run amok.

Name: Michael Bérubé
Hometown: State College, PA

Hi, Eric.  Well, we were thinking exactly the same thought again, this time re Edwards.  But I've proposed a solution to his "looks" problem.

It's been noted that Edwards is a one-term Senator who looks 15 years younger than his age.  I think that in Media Land, the latter is going to be more of a problem than the former-- Edwards has simply been taking care of himself too well, doing all that running and clean living, and he doesn't look 50.  But that can be fixed without too much trouble.  We'll just give Smilin' John some Xotob injections to make his face look more wrinkly and aged.  (Mickey Kaus will be all over this story in a few days, so check back with his blog as often as you can.)

Name: Tom Vinson
Hometown: Rockville, MD

What's that about the SCLM?

Did you see Robert Novak's July 5th column in The Washington Post in which he claimed, that "New York's great financial houses are filled with Democrats who are determined to drive George W. Bush out of the White House."

Who knew Wall Street had gone blue?!

You won't be surprised to learn that Novak had his facts wrong. 

According to Opensecrets.org, 15 of Bush's top 20 contributors could arguably be labeled "financial houses," many even based in New York!  Morgan Stanley, the top contributor, gave $551,625.  Merril Lynch, $514,804.  Pricewaterhouse, $492,100.  Lehman Brothers, $347,709.  MBNA Corp, $345,000.  Goldman Sachs, $338,875.  Credit Suisse First Boston, $300,150.  Bears Stearns, $277,800.  Citigroup, $266,050.  You get the idea. 

By contrast, Citigroup gave John Kerry $150,306; Goldman Sachs gave Kerry, $130,500; and Morgan Stanley gave $74,704.

Name: Tom Pierce
Hometown: Louisville

Eric,
Happy to see the plug for Tom Tomorrow, who is no question one of the funniest and most incisive satirists around.  Those who don't have a subscription to Salon can get their weekly fix of Mr. Tomorrow at WorkingForChange.com, a great web site for progressives.

Keep up the good work!

Name: Mark O.
Hometown: Rolla, MO
I just read Calvin Trillin's new book "Obliviously On He Sails" (The Bush Administration in Rhyme).  It is full of good laughs, pointed comments and sad reminders of the current administration all set to rhyme.
Great Fun!

Perhaps Trillin should be our National Poet Laureate instead of those we see on PBS from time to time.

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: Big Picture

Hey Doc,
Big Picture, Chicago style: Whenever I travel, I always seek out the regional papers.  It's instructive to find a little local flavor, and read a perspective different from one's usual views.  When you come from, as Spalding Gray used to describe it, "a small Island off the East Coast of America," it's good on occasion to check out other voices.

So I was intrigued today, on the Fourth of July, to see the following rather interesting survey from the Chicago Tribune on their Perspectives section on the First Amendment.

Before lamenting the woeful state of Democracy in this nation, or the shocking ignorance of the responses of some of the poll participants (print edition only), be aware that these views are not all that unusual.  I've seen many such polls asking questions like this over the year, and once I got over the initial shock, it actually makes some sense, making the drafters of the 1st Amendment seem all the more wiser.  The Founding Fathers were concerned as much by the "Tyranny of the majority" as they were outright oppression by the government.

The good news is that 84% of Americans believe groups opposed to the war be allowed to demonstrate and protest against the war.  The bad news is that this remains, in part, a deeply puritanical country, immature and almost childlike in its fears of all things sexual.

Europe, we are not.

There are many deep paradoxes about this.  While there is strong opposition among many to business and financial regulations by the government, there does not seem to be the same ardor for keeping government out of sexual or cultural issues.  When it comes to matters involving dirty-naughty-peepee stuff, there is a deep vein (even a majority) who are quite comfortable with government regulation of content.  And yet when you consider that the porn industry generates more revenue than the film, music and sports businesses combined, this seems sort of odd.

When you read some of the following outlandish and frighteningly ignorant statements, remember to cherish the First Amendment, and do whatever needs to be done from the relentless attempts to sandpaper it away, one small restriction at a time.  (Unfortunately, only the print edition -- but not the online version -- has interviews with the poll participants.)  Although that's what some of the public -- more than half -- says it wants, but I suspect those making these statements have not considered the longer term implications of these off the cuff, telephone interviewed views.

FREE SPEECH: Do Americans really believe in it?
Should the government be able to limit what you can read, hear and watch?
The Chicago Tribune set out to measure some attitudes about those questions across America.

July 6, 2004 | 10:47 AM ET

PHEW! 
There were about fifty good reasons for John Kerry to pick John Edwards and only one to pick Dick Gephardt.  (I never knew what the reasons were to pick Vilsack).  Had Kerry gone with Gephardt, as The New York Post apparently thinks he did, I would have been disappointed in Kerry, but I would have understood the calculation: a vice-presidential candidate is about one thing: standing up to the other guy in the debate where everybody is watching.  Gephardt was viewed by the punditocracy as being “strong” and sufficiently experienced to take Cheney on one-on-one.  But that was it.  Gephardt would have been a harsh slap in the face to the Deaniacs and an announcement by Kerry to a united party that he knew better than they did and didn’t care what they thought.

In all the years I’ve written about politics, I’ve never seen in either party so strong a consensus across regional and ideological lines for a choice as was made to Kerry for Edwards.  He is, I’ve said over and over, a magical candidate when he works a room.  Nobody, including Bill Clinton, is a more compelling campaigner.  The media love him, which Kerry desperately needs, since they seem to disdain the candidate as much if not more than they did Al Gore.  He brings in the South and forces the Bush campaign into a defensive crouch in states they thought they had locked up and helps to open up the possibility of a Democratic take-over of the Senate (thanks in no small measure to the genius of David Rudd).  But he does so without sacrificing anything in the Northeast. 

And alone among serious presidential candidates, he speaks the language of class, which our politics desperately need, if the conservative class war against poor and middle-class people is to be joined and the rest of us are ever to be able to unite in any meaningful way despite our racial and religious differences.  The choice could even go a distance toward shutting up that deluded megalomaniac Ralph Nader, who came pretty close to endorsing Edwards, for reasons that—if you listen to the rest of the nonsense Nader spouts and add it to the fact that Kerry has a more progressive voting record than his running mate-- are genuinely unfathomable.

Edwards’ only problem—and it’s not a negligible one—is that he looks like he’s about thirty.  So much of American politics is about looks that this “issue” is just not going to go away.  Idiot pundits will bloviate on TV about whether he “looks” presidential.  I guess by that they mean can he

  1. mislead the country into war;
  2. destroy a worldwide consensus of sympathy and solidarity for the United States
  3. increase anti-American terrorism;
  4. destroy all vestiges of fiscal responsibility;
  5. turn the justice system over to religious fanatics who ignore homeland defense;
  6. you know I could go on indefinitely here.

The larger point is that the best—indeed only-- defense is a good offense.  The battle has been joined.  If not now, when?

Is the Commie New York Times spinning for the Bush campaign?

"WASHINGTON, July 5 - President Bush's campaign strategists say they are planning to attack Senator John Kerry's running mate as a second choice no matter who it turns out to be and are preparing a commercial asserting that Mr. Kerry has made clear that his first choice was a Republican who still stands at Mr. Bush's side, Senator John McCain."

But hey, the WaPo explains that “Mark Salter, McCain's chief of staff, said McCain "has never been offered the vice presidency by anyone"

Want to know how the administration tough-guys would have done in selling this war if they had to face real reporters?  Take a look at this BBC interview with Donald Rumsfeld.  If our media were doing their job, he wouldn’t have been so shocked, and so many people wouldn’t be so surprised to learn that they were selling us a bunch of B.S.  (Because I don’t have Dick Cheney’s potty-mouth, I won’t type the words in full.)  And look what happened when George Bush met a real reporter from Ireland, here and Tom Tomorrow is also characteristically on the money.

Paul Begala teaches Bob Novak a lesson about truth in advertising. See here.

Correspondents’ Corner

Name: Kathy Vullis
Hometown: Astoria, NY

Instead of worrying so much about the Nader voter you need to worry somewhat about the Gore voter, Democrats like myself who voted for Clinton twice, Gore in 2000, live in New York City and turned into neo-conservatives on 9/11 and have not switched back.  I was deeply affected by that day and I have been truly shocked that the American left can't summon within itself any sort of anger at Osama Bin Laden or at least not one twentieth of the anger they feel for George Bush and John Ashcroft. 

Name: Bupkis
Hometown: Paris, France

Eric, you really have to see the Franco-Swiss documentary "Le Monde Selon Bush."  I saw it and expected the worst: over-the-top paranoia about America that the French seem to specialize in.  But it's not that.  It's a sober, methodical recounting of the mindblowing horrors of the Bush administration--hitting what I understand are many of the points F9/11 hits and some he doesn't (the Plame affair)--mostly from the mouths of American interviewees on the right and the left (Norman Mailer, Michael Ledeen, David Frum, Stanley Hoffman, Richard Perle, Joseph Wilson and more).  I haven't seen Fahrenheit 9/11, but this is a valuable (and probably less open to criticism) reinforcement of its message.  It's not humorous and it's not playing "gotcha" or trying to be a mass-market documentary but it is damn effective in making the case.  I think a U.S. release is planned.  See here for trailer and extracts in English.

Name: John
Hometown: Pittsburgh
Eric:
Hey, what do you know?  A snarky letter from a Naderite that completely missed the point.  Is Hell freezing over?

BTW, I voted for Nader in 2000 in Pennsylvania.  I didn't see that much of a reason to vote for Gore.  If I knew then what I know now.....

Yes, Cynthia, I must not be left enough, or care enough, or whatever, but I think I research enough to make an informed decision.

I like the Greens.  I did research and thought about it a lot, and I'm going to vote for John Kerry.  That's the way it is.

KEEP IT UP DR. ALTERMAN!!!!!

Name: John Mojack
Hometown: Clearwater FL
I was watching "Good Will Hunting" the other night.  Remember the scene where he is interviewing for a job at NSA.  Sound familiar?

Name: Colin
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Eric,
I think it would be good at this time to actually applaud somebody within the Bush Administration who had previously greatly disappointed many of us: Colin Powell.

In the past 6 months, he has distanced himself from the untruthful rhetoric espoused by most of the administration, he has admitted he and others made grave mistakes, and most deserving of applause: he has called the U.N. to task with regards to the Sudan.  This is still very much a work in progress, but the fact that the U.S. Secretary of State has been in that country, immediately followed by Kofi Annan, can only have good consequences, and maybe prevent another Rwanda from taking place.

Also, Stupid in Chicago deserves praise for continuing to bring this subject up.

People on the right harp on the press for not talking about the good news in Iraq.  They are misguided.  What they should be upset about is the press not reporting about the yeomans work the Secretary of State has been doing of late.  It is sad that so many conservatives have sworn their allegiance to Bush and turned their back on the greatest conservative within their administration:  Powell.

The conservative movement can only be weakened by such treatment of him, which, when all is said and done, may actually be a good thing for the country.  But still, Powell deserves respect and congratulations for his work.

July 2, 2004 | 11:38 AM ET

Slacker Friday:  I wrote a “Think Again” column called “Michael Moore, Cause for War?”  It’s here.  Now onto the main event, a special Holiday Slacker Friday.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:
You're Christopher Hitchens, right, and it's Friday night, and so far this week, you've performed on a show hosted by an ax-grinding charlatan named Joe Scarborough, and then Mr. Murdoch's startlingly advertising-free little magazine has published an essay you've written about Bob Dylan in which is contained no evidence whatsoever that you've ever actually LISTENED to a record.  Joe Scarborough's sidekick and a check from Murdoch for being the hippest guy in Squaresville.  What's next on our intellectual journey?  Healing lumbago in Iowa on The 700 Club?

Since it seems incumbent upon the children of the Ireland's American diaspora who reach a certain age to discuss earnestly their family's Authentic Immigrant Experience -- pace Jill Nelson, for my embroidering your wonderful phrase -- I thought I'd join Messrs. O'Reilly and Russert in that regard.

I am the grandson of a shepherdess and a cop.  They met in Worcester, in central Massachusetts.  My grandfather was an escapee from the seminary in Tralee.  He came over and got a job on the Worcester P.D. because he had cousins there already.  He never took an exam.  He never filled out a form.  There was nothing like a meritocracy in place.  (I mention this because my grandfather walked off the boat and into the job, and yet the WPD didn't hire its first black patrolman until nearly 50 years later.  Which is why I mention it.)  Anyway, that job got the family through the Depression, and it allowed my grandfather to send my father to the College of the Holy Cross, from which he graduated just in time to join the Naval franchise of a Big Government Program called World War II.  After which, he bought a house and got a graduate degree through a Big Government Program called the GI Bill.  He then took a job and spent over 35 years in a Big Government Program called Public Education, the last 20 of them in what became known as an "inner-city" high school. This enabled him to send me to Marquette University, where George Reedy could teach me about a Big Government Program called Lyndon Baines Johnson, and from which I could embark on being the first male member of my Authentic Immigrant Family to make a career in the private sector.

Which is only part of the reason why I never became a "Reagan Democrat," why the DLC nauseates me, and why millionaire Bill O'Reilly, whose white-collar Daddy made about three times as much in the average year as my father ever did, can shove his concern for "the folks" where the sun don't shine in Westbury.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to bury the most important WMD/terrorism story of the year in Section D, page 3.  But that's what the NY Times did Tuesday so we need to dig it up.  The issue is germ warfare and the government's plan to build more "biosafety level 4 (BSL-4)" laboratories to research sophisticated new human pathogens.

A respected critic, Dr. Richard H. Ebright, argues that this is a recipe for a catastrophe.  He notes that most biological attacks have been from professional researchers who gain access to the pathogens.  Multiplying (by eight) the number of BSL-4 labs just increases the likelihood "troublemakers" will slip through.  Even innocent mistakes can happen with deadly consequences, like when SARS virus escaped from BSL-4 and BSL-3 labs in Taiwan, Singapore and Beijing.  The money and talent for the new labs will be diverted from other research, including preparation for attacks from "level 2" agents like "simple anthrax" (still capable of killing off a whole city).

Convincing, but on the other side is Dr. Richard Spertzel, who lead the U.N. inspection team for bioweapons in Iraq.  He and others argue that the level-4 labs are absolutely essential.  I can't say who is right.  But to invoke Santayana, it took Russia, what, five years to develop the atomic bomb after the Manhattan Project?  And Ebright's comment that BSL-4 funding is "the easiest way to bring $100 million to your university" is stinging.  We need a Senator Harry Truman, who rose to fame by investigating waste and fraud during World War II, more than ever. 

Name: Kel Brady
Hometown: Denver, CO

Well you are getting through to the Nader fans.  It worked on me anyway.  I sure as hell WAS a Nader fan, and got rather peeved at your critical view of him.  Well I have seen the light and see now that this is not about Nader's ideology (which I used to agree with) but it is now just about Nader himself.  He made his legacy a joke, the dumbass, and if he gives this election to Bush, I will call for his head on a platter.  What can I say, you were right I was wrong.  And you know I must be a liberal if I admit a mistake.

Name: Alexandra Samuel
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 2, 2004

NEW ONLINE CAMPAIGN AIMS TO OUST NADER… BY SUPPORTING HIM

While Republicans who oppose Ralph Nader on the issues are striving to put him on the ballot, a new grassroots Internet campaign is trying to do the opposite.

Dear Ralph ( http://www.dearralph.com/ ) asks Americans to “support Nader on the issues – not on the ballot.”

Unlike most recent anti-Nader campaigns, Dear Ralph openly admires Nader’s political legacy, and urges voters to pledge donations to organizations Nader helped found.  But if Nader has not left the race by September 1, the pledges instead go to organizations working to defeat George Bush by electing John Kerry.

While the site hopes to persuade Nader to leave the race, it also aims to show potential Nader voters that progressive Americans are uniting behind the Kerry campaign.  The site’s author expects that would-be Naderites will be impressed by a show of support from fellow liberals, even if Nader himself remains unswayed.

“Do I really think Ralph will drop out?” asks site creator Alexandra Samuel, a doctoral candidate in political science at Harvard University. “I admit it’s a long shot. But with all the folks slamming Nader for staying in the race, I figured someone needed to give him a good reason for getting out.”

For more on Republican efforts to get Nader on the ballot, see the June 30 news release from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Name: Andrea
Hometown:  New York, NY
Speaking of Nader... I was frightened to learn that my ardently conservative father and all his business friends (members of the 200 club) are giving donations to the Nader campaign as a means towards Bush's re-election.  My father, as with many wealthy people who hold multiple residences, will be voting twice this year (as he did in the last election in both Florida and Pennsylvania for Bush) as there is no process set in place to check multivoting.

Name: Cynthia Anderson
Hometown: Houston, TX
Dear Eric,
Just a quick note to let you know that, as a Nader supporter myself, I agree with you completely.

It could'nt be clearer that I am part of an outright conspiracy with far-right groups to insure that George W. Bush remains president. You are so insightful! I am voting for Nader, because I really want to vote for Kerry - though I can't do that, even though I am aware it is what I actually want, as you Democrats tell me. Besides, you know as well as I do that I really am just a member of anti-homosexual-rights group in rural Oregon who is secretly a Jewish neoconservative wanting total war on the world. NOT.

Lookie here, prick, you are convincing me with every passing day of your insipid writing that I truly AM doing the best thing. If you ever pull your head out of your ass, or better yet, grow out of your "terrible two's", drop me a line, and we can talk about these serious issues as if you are an adult.

F**k you very much,
Cynthia

Eric replies:  Cynthia, baby-doll.  How did you know I meant you?  Gosh, I though I hid that pretty well.  Well, you found me out.  There’s no sense in trying to fool you Naderites, huh?  And by the way, nice little war we’ve got going in Iraq.  Thanks.

Name: Stephen Anderson
Hometown: Los Angeles

Hi Eric,
Here is Krugman today, with the best analysis of Fahrenheit 9/11 I have seen.

His column resonates with me, especially in light of your new Center For American Progress editorial.  He says the: "film is a hit because the respectable media haven't been doing their job."  This is so frustrating, since no end seems to be in sight.  The pathetic mea culpas from so many: Will, Sullivan, etc., are simply devoid of logic and responsibility.  Shorter version: "I was misled because I failed to exercise any diligence and power of logic.  I simply didn't believe this administration would blah blah blah."  Even the NYTimes hedged their bets by admitting they were only kind of wrong, but not at all responsible.

Matt Taibbi's column today in the NYPress smacks down the issue even further. Here is the most priceless quote: "If even one reporter had stood up during a pre-Iraq Bush press conference last year and shouted, "Bul**hit!" it might have made a difference."

Also, Moore with Hannah Storm as reported by BuzzFlash here was priceless.  Poor thing, she was so verklempt.

Last but not least, the Center For American Progress presentation on economics yesterday, (order video here), covered by CSPAN, was several Ph.D. dissertations all rolled into one. Appelbaum, Lilly, Galbraith et al, were masterful in painting a clear picture of life today, and potentially tomorrow, in America.

Name: Peter O'Malley
Hometown: Berkeley, CA

Sorry for two posts on the same subject, but EC pushes my buttons.  He is the latest and not the last of the white blues guitarists who 'clean up' the more original and perhaps more rough around the edges African American blues artists.  With Clapton, it's Freddy King.  With Stevie Ray Vaughn, it was Jimi Hendrix.  Clapton having the bigger hit with I Shot the Sheriff than Bob Marley's sublime version just proves my point.  Wilco's got nothing to do with this.  Don't believe the hype.

Name: Eric Rauchway
Hometown: Davis, CA

Terry Gross featured interviews with Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach last week on Fresh Air, which prompted me to watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) again.  In truth it doesn't take much prompting:  it's a terrific movie.  The close-ups, of desperate faces against the backdrop of desert, pit men against nature in a way that rivals Lawrence of Arabia.  The arrival of the ghost-coach, full of dead men and trailing its draperies like angels' wings, is a beautiful scene.  And of course there's Ennio Morricone's music, which remains somehow impervious to endless repetition and parody.  But every time I've seen it I've been more impressed by the treatment the movie gives to the Civil War.  So for the sake of argument -- and I know people like to argue about these things -- let me propose that The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ranks as a great Civil War movie precisely because it does not put forward the "Sideburns of Glory" ethos that otherwise dominates the genre.

Consider:  the first soldiers we see are an amputee (the "half-soldier") and a coach of drunken whore-chasers singing "Bonnie Blue Flag."  Then we see more amputees, a monastery full of the wounded.  The Confederates morosely abandoning a position ("He looks dead," one onlooker says of the general).  Artillery bombardments, but not the army doing the bombarding.  And then a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp, in which a sergeant defends his use of brutality by asking whether POW's are treated better in Andersonville.  Another amputee scene:  Tuco brags that he has a $3000 price on his head, and asks an armless man if he got even a penny for his limb.

Apart from bombardments, we don't see an actual battle until two hours into the movie, only the fringes and incidents of battle.  And all of that is so ugly, it's hard to imagine the battle itself could be better.  It's not:  men scramble from fortifications and clash under murderous fire.  Blondie: "I've never seen so many men wasted so badly."

This is not to deny a definite nobility to the only two U.S. Army officers we meet:  the commandant of the prisoner camp and the captain of the forces in battle.  Both are decent men who want to wage war honorably but abhor the butchery that the war has become.  And both are critically wounded themselves; the commandant has gangrene and the captain is a drunk, which suggests that decent men who don't like killing have no place here.

The overall story of the movie is how Blondie is transformed into the antihero of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More (films made earlier, stories take place later).  In his initial appearance he's a bit of a flamboyant dude, with the high-fashion shirt and tailored duster.  Over the course of the film his individual choices are stripped away and he acquires more utilitarian clothes from dead or dying men, so by the final scene he's wearing the denim and serape of the other movies.  He's been turned into the wandering killer (ronin, if you like) of the later films.

What did that to him?  The Civil War, the dehumanizing incidents of the Civil War.

Now, to the best of my knowledge there's nothing historically accurate about the battles or armies in this movie.  And there's a strong chance that the war being depicted is as much the Second World War as the Civil War; Sergio Leone was after all in his early teens during the war and might have seen some of it.  But inasmuch as the general butchery of the war, especially its last year or so, might have had some of the effect that the film describes, I think there's something historically worthwhile in it, and something that other Civil War movies don't touch on:  the price of battle not only in the dead, but in what the killing does to those who survive.  Folks who write about real-life gunfighters -- Hickok, for instance -- sometimes trace the source of their attitudes toward killing to the Civil War; there's at least one book that talks about shell-shock and the Civil War.  These experiences seem to me presented in this film, and not elsewhere in the Civil War movie canon.

July 1, 2004 | 11:19 AM ET

Well this is something.  The New York Times has a card-carrying democratic socialist as an Op-Ed columnist.  It took only about 108* years.  And it’s a brilliant beginning.  The fact that it also replaces Tom Friedman, well, it almost makes me feel sorry for George Bush.

*The Ochs family purchased the New-York Times in 1896.  On August 19 of that year, readers awoke to the “business announcement” that it would henceforth “give the news, all of the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is parliamentary in good society” and “give it impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of any party, sect, or interest involved.”

Ralphie and Georgie sittin’ in a tree….  “Conservative groups have already mobilized for Mr. Nader in Oregon as well as in Arizona, where 46 percent of the registered voters who signed petitions last month to get Mr. Nader on the ballot were Republicans, almost double the percentage of Democrats or Independents, according to a state Democratic Party lawyer.”

Nader is no progressive, Part XXXVII

and PART  XXXVIII

I mean really, this is getting to be overkill, I know.  And I also know that many of Nader’s supporters are people of bad faith, who care more about their preening moral superiority than actually helping the victims of the Bush administration worldwide or ensuring that the majority of the nation’s voters actually get to choose the president this time and so would actually prefer a far right-wing, ideologically-driven, conservative Christian pawn of Neocon manipulators as president.  But certainly there remains a group who are simply idealistic and misguided.  And how is it possible that these people can tell themselves that they are striking a blow for the powerless and dispossessed when they are in league with Pat Buchanan, Lenora Fulani, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Oregon Family Council and conservative Republican groups in states like Washington and Wisconsin? 

Just why do you think these people are supporting Ralph, people?  Is it because he opposes corporate power?  Or is it because he is its pawn-- and theirs?

Why do I hate America?

Alter-review:  Sal gets to see Clapton and I don’t.

After an entire decade, maybe longer, of mediocre recordings, it's easy to understand just why so many, including the faithful, have given up on Eric Clapton.  But last night's performance at Madison Square Garden was such a monstrous display of guitar prowess, it made it just as easy to forget such uninspired work such as "Pilgrim," "Reptile" and the very sleepy new release, "Me & Mr. Johnson."

Backed by Steve Gadd on drums, Nathan East on bass, and Chris Stainton on keys, Clapton opened the set with "Let It Rain" and while in theory it should have worked wonders as an
opener, it was only mildly greeted by the elderly crowd.  Two to three more songs were played, and the happy but somewhat subdued crowd continued to politely applaud.  But, it was only after the most amazing version of "I Shot The Sheriff" I have ever heard, that the crowd woke up.  Other highlights were the George Harrison penned, Cream classic "Badge", "Got To Get Better In A Little While" (another welcome addition to the usually pat live set of late), and a full-blown "Derek" arrangement of "Layla," complete with piano tag.  (I still have chills.)  Even the 5 song acoustic set about midway through the concert, featuring tracks from the new CD and performed sitting down in front of the stage, had more life than the CD itself.

I fear that this is another one of those things, whether a CD, a concert, or a movie, that people will just toss aside because it barely registers on the "Wilco Endorsed Hip Meter."  But any fan of music and music history should take the opportunity to see Eric Clapton on this tour.

Sal Nunziato
NYCD

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown :NYC
Eric I was on the NPR show, The Connection, on Wednesday pushing the point that Fahrenheit 9/11 is basically a film about class.  It makes us to consider who benefits from recent follies and who pays the highest price.  It's not about Bush.  It's about us.  I also wanted to highlight the fact that our mediascape is incapable of considering serious issues unless someone like Moore makes himself the target.  It's sad but true.

The things that moved me in the film -- what I wish Moore had done more with -- were the Bush assaults on veteran benefits and military pay.  We have soldiers on food stamps.  That's something everyone should be screaming about.  I hope John Kerry gets going on it soon.

You can listen to the Real Audio file of the show here.

Name: Robert P. Ewing
Hometown: Paoli, PA

Although it may not be a big story until Americans start dying from it, I am amazed that no news outlet is going after the Bush Administration's April, 2004 decision to prevent a private beef producer (Creekstone Farms Premium Beef) from testing 100% of their cattle for Bovine Spongiform Encephalpy (Mad Cow Disease).  Why have these staunch defenders of private enterprise and initiative taken steps to prevent an entrepreneur from distinguishing themselves in the marketplace by going above and beyond USDA mandated, but grossly inadequate BSE testing (200,000 tests out of 40 million cows)?  I for one would be willing to pay more for beef which I knew to be safe, especially given the fact that even the inadequate testing is now coming up with both inconclusive and positive tests for the presence of BSE.

Name: T Leeman
Hometown: San Diego

And perhaps one day Eric your daughter will aspire to give the President of the U.S. a blow job while gracefully avoiding the use of F word.

Eric replies: I thought long and hard before printing that one. The above individual, let us recall, is talking about a six year old girl.  I do so because, alas, it is hardly an isolated incident in the kind of mail I receive.  I am not going to do a Little Roy and headline the letter, “Look What the Bush Supporters/Liberal Haters Have Sunk To,” or give the jerk an “award” named after someone with whom I disagree politically—and thereby slander by innuendo—but I do think that those who wish to claim any degree of moral or civil superiority for right-wingers in this country ought to be faced with evidence like the above—along with the radio programs of Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.  And should anyone ever run into T. Leeman of San Diego, please feel free to let him know what you think of him in any fashion you feel to be appropriate.

Name: Clay Landon
Hometown: Los Angeles

Eric,
If you haven't already done so, allow me to promote the wonderful profile of Manny Ramirez in this week's Sports Illustrated, written by our man Pierce.  It's rare when sports and literature intersect but it's wonderful when it happens and it happened here.  Check the table of contents, folks, under 'cover story.'  Great stuff.


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