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September 10, 2004 | 11:34 AM ET

We’ve got a new Think Again column up here, examining coverage of the Republican convention.  Otherwise, I’m on the road, but in the meantime it is still Slacker Friday, thank goodness, so I don’t have to think about all that bad news right now. 

There’s some good stuff below.

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Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
Hey Doc:
Just for the record, even I can find an Air National Guard outfit in Massachusetts.  So can anyone who can read the Yellow Pages.

As always, we return to Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables, in which he tells Eliot Ness, "If you open the ball on these people, you must be prepared to go all the way."  It is long past time to feed these people their own medicine back at them, and the key now is not to go all goo-goo and softy and start apologizing for things, and "distancing yourself" and renouncing stuff.  Let everything play -- the TANG material, Kitty Kelley -- all of it.  Sooner or later, the Bush family has to pay for having subcontracted the sleaze over the course of a 50-year political dynasty.  It might as well be now.  I saw John Edwards at a town meeting in N.H. yesterday, and he was manfully running down the issues like health care and college aid, and it was like I'd wandered into a different election.  This one's running on two tracks, and I think they're only polling on one.

Also, should C-Plus Augustus win his first presidential election, it's going to be very bad, and not just because a bunch of hooligans will be empowered.  The man is going to be LBJ in '68 from about the second day after he gets sworn in.  Lots of chickens.  Lots of roosts.  And a lot of important things are just not going to get done -- assuming, of course, that the Democratic legislators don't bow before the "mandate" that is going to be conjured up by the SCLM.

Not to wander onto Sal's turf, but there is a great British Invasion three-CD set out there.  I'm a sucker for that music -- I have been known to sneak the gorgeous "Ferry 'Cross The Mersey" onto the CD player at parties when nobody's looking -- and this thing has it all.  From Billy J. Kramer and the Dakota's "Bad To Me" (a Lennon-McCartney tune) all the way up to Traffic's "Paper Sun" and The Move's "Flowers In The Rain."  My only quibble is that I'd have replaced the anthemic-but-overplayed "My Generation" with Pete and the boys' pre-Tommy masterpiece "Substitute," but "I Can't Explain" and "I Can See For Miles" are there to make it all better.

RIP, John Ferguson. Editor. Texan. Friend.

Name: Connie Kreienheder
Hometown: St. Peters, MO
Dear Eric,
I'm a regular reader and am grateful for the common sense (with sources) that I find in your column.  With that said, I'm forwarding the following info because I know there are currently attempts to persuade the public that the 60 Minutes documents on Bush's "service" might be fake, so I've done a little research of my own and thought I'd pass along my findings.  I don't know about these so-called typography experts, but they need to go back to school.  They're out to lunch when they say the fonts in the documents weren't available in the early 70's.

The first IBM Selectric typewriter came out over 40 years ago, in 1961 and used the interchangeable font "golfball" typing element, better known as a typeball.  Additionally, the IBM Selectric "Composer" was a hybrid that came out in 1966 and had proportional spaced fonts.  The IBM Selectric I and II had the following fonts available to these models:

10-pitch type:  Advocate, Bookface Academic 72, Delegate, Orator, Courier 72, Pica 72, Prestige Pica 72

12-pitch type:  Adjutant, Artisan 12, Courier 12 Italic, Scribe, Prestige Elite, Courier 12, Elite 72, Letter Gothic

Special Type:  Light Italic, Script, Printing ANSI-OCR, Symbol 10, 108 OCR, Manifold 72, Symbol 12

Even if superscript had not been available under one of the special type font "golfball" elements, all a clever typist had to do was change the ball to a smaller pitch font, roll the carriage roller backward one half-line, hold it there and type the two letters, "th", to achieve the superscript "look," and there were many fussy officers who desired these things in their correspondence.  I know this because I was a clerk-typist and secretary for the Federal Government Civil Service and U.S. Army command in St. Louis, MO in the early 1970's, and had to use these tools.

So to those that say the fonts weren't available in the early seventies.......BALDERDASH!

Keep up the good fight.....

Name: jeremy
Hometown: Santa Monica, OR

Quite aside from the current crop of newly-released records, here's a question about Bush's National Guard service I don't see anyone else asking.

Bush's story: He missed a bunch of drills, but he made them all up. So he met his obligation.
Never mind that making up drills six months late isn't allowed - let's just look at the numbers.
Bush is credited with performing either regular or make-up sessions on the following dates:

January 4-5, 1973
January 13-14 1973
April 7-8 1973
May 19-20 1973
June 23-24 1973
July 21-22 1973
July 18-19 1973

But WHERE?  Even Bush doesn't claim he was in Alabama at that point.  And his commanding officer, Killian, says in August of 1973 that "Bush wasn't here during rating period and I don't have any feedback from 187th in Alabama.  I will not rate."  (according to the recent memo) and If he wasn't on the base in Texas, where could he have performed his makeup duty?

Name: Tom Moore
Hometown: Hurricane

After seeing the latest info on Shrub's guard service I just have to comment.  I was in the WV Air National Guard in the early 70's.  At the same time Shrub was pulling his no show performance, we had a young enlisted man who didn't show up for drills for about eight months.  He was arrested, handcuffed and escorted to base by Army MP's.  Then they court marshalled him, activated him and transferred him to the Army for the rest of his enlistment.  I guess it pays to have political connections.

Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: St.Louis

A Game Theory Review of the Neocon/Isreal problem is most disturbing:

The overlooked and most troubling aspect of the Israeli/Neocon phenomena is the fact that Neocons benefit from extremism.  Moderation and rational policies are going down the tubes in a self feeding frenzy of extremism begeting the need for more extreme policies untill we end up in tyranny.  And extremists on both sides cooperate to keep extremism going at the expense of moderates.

All of this is best understood through the eyes of Game Theory:

Most lay people were introduced to Game Theory by the movie "A Beautiful Mind," a story about the mathematician John Nash who's work provided proofs for certain aspects of Game Theory.  The major concept behind Game Theory is explained in simple language in a seminal work titled "The Evolution of Cooperation" by Robert Axelrod, an economist at University of Michigan.  Axelrod asks, then answers, the question, "When (under what conditions) does it pay cooperate?"  In short cooperation is a rational response when two egoist (parties) are in a prolonged game (relationship) with an indeterminable end.

Axelrod demonstrates that cooperation will often break out (and is a rational response) under these conditions between two parties, even when they do not communicate, even when they are hostile to each other, even between species in nature.  Using a simple game scenario, he then asks the question, "What is the second best strategy to cooperation under these conditions?"  The answer is the similarly simple "tit-for-tat" strategy which often will lead parties back to cooperation.  Another and very important finding is that if one knows that a game will end (that is if one can foresee the game ending, even if it is many moves from now) it pays to stop cooperating immediately.  Those who see their end coming are thus likely to be the first to end cooperation.  (It is important to point out that Game Theory explains much about human behavior, but not all, ideology and belief systems can alter otherwise rational responses).

Game theory explains a lot.  It explains why I can trust my grocer, or the person who cuts my hair, or a neighbor to not cheat me, but why I have to be guarded about someone selling me a used car: ongoing relationships encourage civility and cooperation, short term relations don't. It explains why religion can cause persons who might otherwise not be virtuous to be virtuous: relationships between each other and between the self and God don't end at death, without a determinable end, the rational reaction is to be civil, cooperative and virtuous.  It explains why term limits have spawned animosity in my state of Missouri's state politics: All politicians know that there is a future determinable end to their relationship in the legislature, so their is little reason to cooperate.

Game Theory also explains why Mutually Assured destruction theory in the cold war facilitated detente: Since neither party could prevail against the other party, and both parties rationally pursued survival, it meant that both parties would be in a continuous relationship with an indeterminable end -thus bringing about cooperation and a lessoning of tensions.  Game Theory also explains the animus of domestic politics characterized by the neocon movement:  (Perhaps) they saw their (near) end (extermination) in the 1964 election - facing termination they abandoned civility (cooperation) in political discourse and started playing an extremist game of elimination or hegemony over their opponent (a hallmark of arriving at this point is when one suddenly characterizes the enemy as Evil [singnaling a desire to terminate] [as Grover Norquist has of the Democrats], and reacts by going into a fundamentalist world view).

Game Theory also explains why hostility breaks out or can't be solved: In the Israel/Palestine situation - events are being driven by extremists (meaning end game strategists) that want to eliminate the other party.  In fact extremist on both sides seem to be cooperating to eliminate moderates, as when an extremist Israeli Jew killed Prime Minster Rabin.  Worse, in the Israeli/Palestine situation we get little to no news on the active efforts there towards nonviolent, civil disobedience and moderate efforts at peace that are currently going on both sides (following the Gandhi/Martin Luther King model for peaceful nonviolent change).  There are sizable numbers, if not majorities, on both sides that seek a rational Game Theory accommodation, sizable because this is a rational approach to the conditions there.  The lack of news coverage of the nonviolent civil disobedience movement there implies that extremists are emplaced in the establishment, blocking awareness: nonviolent civil disobedience's power is the appeal to a broad, almost universal, collective conscience.  If it is denied publicity it cannot succeed - condemning the participants to a bloody "tit-for-tat" outcome.

The most frightening thing is that extremism is in Bush's best interest - as demonstrated by Cheney's "Vote Bush or Die" platform.  We see now that Putin is leaning towards this same position.  Create war to generate job security.  It seems there are no reasonable problems to deal with real issues today.  Just a fanning of the flames of extremism.  Most troubling - nothing for the white rabbit to do but run and hide in a very deep hole and pray for rain to put the flames out.

Name: Kent Bell
Hometown: London, UK

re: Ali G / Sascha Baron Cohen

Having lived in the UK for three years and watched the back catalogue of the Ali G Show on DVD, Cohen illuminates the darker sides of the English class system and subtle racism with the same disarming manner.  Because his subjects cannot be certain of his background -- with a name like Ali he could be a Muslim, but he could be many other things, they think -- they don't dare say anything that causes offense.  At least they don't think so!  In one roundtable discussion he posed the philosophical question, "What if everyone were just made black?  Would that end racism?"  And one of the guests blurts out, "You're just saying that because you are black."  Cohen gives a sly wink to the camera, his subjects as unknowing as ever.  Borat gets a stuffy hunter to admit that it "makes him feel big, like a real man."

And you want some more indication of FBI "competency"?  Check out Ali G interviewing Associate Director Tom Pickering (who later testified before the 9/11 Commission) and discussing Studio 54, X-Files and how to join the FBI.

Unfortunately his cover doesn't work in the UK any more, so enjoy it while it lasts!

Name: Dave Elley
Hometown: Seattle

In follow-up to John Amussen's contribution on Thursday, here's Pleasure Boat Captians for Truth.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to ask, "What does it profit a man to win the Presidency but lose his soul?"  Well, the Presidency.  So this past week I've been trying my best to respond to your challenge "how about an idea that would help win the election instead of one that allows you to be all proud of yourself and lose it?" 

But first a defense of my advice to go the Paul Tsongas route.  Contrary to what many believe, the media is against Kerry, and in the past the press has warmed-up to candidates who claim the "tell it like it is" moral high ground (Anderson, Tsongas, Perot (to an extent), McCain).  A dollop of that might change the tone of media coverage significantly.  Yes, yes, I know, none of those guys won anything.  But primaries and third parties are different animals.  Besides, Kerry's "Bob Shrum - Part II" strategy (vague platform, don't offend anybody, rely on the other candidate's weakness) -- how's that working for ya?  The left's response is to push Iraq harder, but I'm telling you, voters are not itching to tell the world "we were wrong" or "we were duped." 

Ok, how about beating them at their own game?  Instead of bribing the voters with regressive tax cuts that reward the rich, bribe them with tax rebates (like the bipartisan $300/$600 checks we got back in 2001), which are progressive.  Rebates inoculate you from the charge of soaking the rich and government paternalism.  Everybody is treated equally, defensible, as the infrastructure and regulatory system that powers America's economy is owned equally.  Kerry shouldn't change his opposition to the tax cuts -- that's the heart of his deficit-cutting plan.  But he could also propose a new fund, a la the Alaskan Permanent Fund (which uses oil royalties to pay each Alaskan up to $2000 per year) to provide for the rebate.  This would be funded by neo-revenues, not income taxes.  Whether you like this idea or not, you may be thinking "where's the money going to come from?"  I'm outta space but I'll have some suggestions next week.

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
Here' s a little overlooked economic tidbit about the costs of the RNC to NYC:

Had a chat with Jan, an old family friend.  He's a very savvy business person who has been around long enough that he has extensive contacts in practically any field you can think of.  Call him very “plugged-in.”  This gives him insights into things ordinary mortals simply don’t.

Because of his Real Estate dealings in NYC (especially some seedier neighborhoods), he is way plugged into NYPD.  He tells me they were ecstatic about RNC.  He described the senior guys as "simply giddy."

Maybe the following helps to explain some of the sillier arrests we heard about . . .

Hidden Costs of Conventions

Why was the NYPD --especially senior veterans with 20 years of service -- so thrilled with the RNC?

You might think “Because of overtime?”

Kinda -- but its really because of retirement.

NYPD and NYFD provides retirement at 1/2 pay after 20 years of service.  Here’s the kicker: That retirement payscale is determined by your final 6 months of service.  While retiring cops and firefighters are known to take as much OT as they can get before they step down, the RNC provided a huge windfall: Instead of a small bump in pay, municipal employees -- and cops in particular -- worked massive overtime.

The word is that many officers who were planning on retiring in January or June 2004 all pushed their retirements back to 2005. These guys worked practically around the clock for the RNC. The salary bump was quite substantial.

They way I figure it, most cops increased their total wages for this 6 month (26 week) period by between 4 - 8%.  That means their retirement pay -- for the next 20, 30, or 40 years (the rest of their lives) is that much higher.  It's a hidden cost of the RNC that the taxpayers of
the City of New York will be paying until 2050 or so.

I’d be curious if anyone with contacts in the Boston area could verify if a similar phenomena took place around the DNC.

National conventions: The gift that keeps on costing taxpayers, far, far into the future.

September 9, 2004 | 1:19 PM ET

Neocons for anti-Semitism
And on this issue of anti-Semitism about which the Neocons express so much concern,  what could possibly have been a more generous gift to Jew-haters than this foolish war? 

Think of it:

The American people were purposely misled and are paying for it dearly, in both blood and treasure;

The war was planned by neoconservatives, many of whom worked directly with their counterparts in the Israeli government, who helped perpetrate the deception;

The war did improve the security of Israel, but not that of the United States.

No other country’s population thought it was a good idea, including Britain, save that of Israel.

Some of the very people who helped perpetrate the deception, most notably Richard Perle and R. James Woolsey, have used the opportunity to make millions for themselves in the process.
Pentagon neocons were spying for Israel and using the Israel lobby as a conduit.  (How perfectly paradigmatic is that?)

It seems to me all of the above constitutes a gift of enormous generosity to those who seek to blame Jews for divided loyalty, dishonesty, and duplicity in the service of their own financial interests.  Of course, those of us who point this out, just as the people who recognize the fact that Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians endangers Jews all over the world-- will somehow be tarred as anti-Semites or “self-hating Jews” rather than those who, like the Neocons, have themselves poured gasoline on the fires of anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred the world over.

On this issue of Israeli endangerment of Diaspora Jews, as well as the cost to America of its perceived unwillingness to reign in Israel’s behavior—made worse recently by the Bush administration’s reversal of policy and, alone among civilized nations, endorsement of the expansion of the West Bank occupation- see this report in The Forward on the Jewish Agency's newly created policy-planning institute, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, chaired by the former U.S. Middle East special envoy Dennis Ross. 

Add that to yet another spy scandal in which it appears that the Israel lobby is directly implicated and have the entire package, sealed with a blue and white ribbon in the shape of a star of David, delivered directly to the anti-Semites, bought and paid for by Neocon arrogance, incompetence, and perhaps we shall also see, disloyalty.  (Just about the only thing these right-wing Jews have going now is that Bob Novak converted and can no longer be blamed on them.)  And on the issue of increased Arab hatred of America, see this.

Meanwhile, there’s an excellent dissection of current hysteria over anti-Semitism that so many conservatives seek to exploit for their own political purposes here in The Forward, by Jerome A. Chaynes, who is pretty damn smart of the topic.

And seriously, Mr. Robertson, if gays can cause a tornado, why can’t a stolen election cause a couple of hurricanes?  Inquiring minds and all that…

It’s official: It’s a landslide.

Bill Moyers has a special edition of “NOW” tomorrow night in which he digs more deeply into the 9/11 Commission Report than anyone on television has so far seen fit to do.  In dong so he demonstrates a few things.  One is the obvious power of television when used properly, to tell a story with words and images that is immensely more powerful than just the latter can be.  (I read the transcript for the show and found the words to be somewhat dead, alone on the paper.  But when combined with the images Moyers and his producers have assembled, their impact is positively visceral.)

Second, as Moyers demonstrates merely by sticking to the story, the media have pretty much given the Bush administration a pass on 9/11—both for its lack of serious planning and preparation for any predictable form of terrorist attack as well as its panicky and ultimately counter-productive reaction to the attack itself. Cheney ordered the shoot-down of the plane without even talking to Bush.  Rumsfeld was completely out of the loop.  Officers way down the line of responsibility were forced to make life or death decisions while those at the top were either out to lunch or too incompetent to deal with the crisis.  Planes were scrambled without pilots being given any instruction whatever.  (One says he was looking for a cruise missile attack from Russia.)  Condoleezza Rice, in particular, comes off as profoundly incompetent and unwilling to take even the slightest responsibility for her failure to treat the threat of terrorism seriously.

And third, Moyers points out the poverty of this kind of reporting elsewhere in the broadcast media.  Perhaps Ted K. does some of this.  I don’t stay up late enough to say so.  But nowhere else.  And after the election, when Moyers retires, PBS is cutting NOW back to a half-hour to make room for the far-right ravings of The Wall Street Journal editors.  So much for the Liberal Media.

Quote of the Day: “We heard, of course, that hell was full and therefore Mr. Clinton will be with us for a while longer,” Former MSNBC-TV host, Michael Savage.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Tom
Hometown: Atlanta
Re: "conundrum of the day"
Dr. Alterman,
Maybe I didn't pay close attention to that skit.  But if I recall, Barat, Sasha Baron Cohen's woman-hating, gypsy-hating, anti-Semitic correspondent from Kazakstan was singing that song in a country bar somewhere in the South.  I think the whole point of Barat is that he's a walking, talking stereo-type, and Cohen, a Jewish comedian, is commenting on EXACTLY the fact that many people are "casually anti-Semitic" as you say.  Or did I miss the point?  He's better as Ali G anyway.  The Pat Buchanan interview was brilliant.

Name: David Morse
Hometown: Oakland
hello sir
You, and only partly your friend, are right about the Ali G episode with the country music sing-a-long.  The brilliance of the show is a result of the star's ability to maintain the facade of a straight-faced genuineness that beguiles many unwitting stooges.  And to that, it is a guilty pleasure to watch Ali G trick those on his show every week.  But, more important, sociologically speaking, are the truths that he scratches out about America's just-below-the-surface anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.  And yet, somehow, with all the darkness that he lulls into the light, the show, as a rarified mirror to the American character, is both culturally embarrassing and laugh-out-loud hilarious at the same time.

Name: John Amussen
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Eric -
It's time to spread the Swift Boat treatment around, starting with the father of our country.

If only Karl Rove were around at the end of the 18th Century.

Name: Charles Allen
Hometown: San Diego

Good afternoon Mr. Alterman:

Pretty faithful reader, first-time writer.

The three stories on the front page of the  L.A. Times I had time to read this morning (and I'm paraphrasing): 1,000 Dead in Iraq; Record Budget Deficits; Cheney Says Vote for Us or Terrorists Will Attack.

I'm waiting for one journalist or correspondent to stand up and say, "Mr. Vice President, by saying, 'If we make the wrong choice [on November 2], then the danger is that we'll get hit again,' are you guaranteeing that if you and the president are reelected we will NOT get hit again? Yes or no, sir." Of course he wouldn't give a straight answer, but no matter what he says any competent journalist should be able to follow up to make it perfectly evident to even the most suggestible voter that Cheney's statement is just another shameless effort to terrorize and browbeat vulnerable citizens into submission.

Or maybe someone can point out to the vice president that, according to the State Department's own report, terrorist attacks are increasing around the world.


And speaking of shameless, how about Scott McClellan's touching tribute to the 1,000 American corpses spewed up by the war in Iraq: we remember them all, just as we remember those who died on September 11, 2001, at the beginning of this heroic struggle (paraphrasing again). This administration can't even give its war dead a passing moment of their own without dragging in the rubble from ground zero to dress the set.

On the other hand, Rumsfeld seemed pretty happy with the numbers; it's all a matter of running the percentages, you see.

It's still lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Anyway, let us carry on...

September 8, 2004 | 12:55 PM ET

So 1000 soldiers have died for nothing and the bad guys are winning.  To me, therefore, the most impressive aspect of the intellectual "tendency" termed “neoconservatism” is its shameless audacity, otherwise known as “chutzpah.”  I have been writing about this for literally more than two decades, noting its attempted kidnapping of its intellectual opponents after they are dead—like George Orwell and Lionel Trilling—but never has it been more impressive than in the case of this war.  Remember absolutely everything they insisted would happen has not happened and/or never did happen.

  • There were no WMDs

  • There was no nuclear program

  • There was no connection to Al-Qaida or any other group of anti-American terrorists.

  • We were not welcomed as liberators;  We were “welcomed” as infidel occupiers.

  • The occupation did not pay for itself; it is costing us hundreds of billions of dollars.

  • Saddam Hussein is more popular in Iraqi opinion polls than Ahmad Chalabi, who may be an Iranian spy, (and so, too, may be some of the Neocons themselves, but that’s another story).

  • America is more hated and reviled in the Arab world than any time in its history.

This Salon article lists twenty-one separate false Neocon assertions.

All of these developments are directly contrary to the assertions made by virtually every prominent neoconservative before the American public was fooled into supporting this ruinous war.  You might think an apology would be in order.  And while there have been a few, most of them have been on the periphery of the movement and not one of them has acknowledged that many people were warning of exactly the dangers that lay in store should the nation proceed with this folly.  And yet the delusion continues.  Here, Norman Podhoretz takes up more than 30,000 words to attempt to rationalize what is—to all but the most ideologically blinded—an obvious disaster.  It is a deeply impressive exercise in purposeful obfuscation coupled with deliberate dishonesty.  No wonder George W. Bush saw fit to give Podhoretz a medal; they are truly peas in a pod.  (Continued Tomorrow)

I’m confused.  They hit us once, in part, because our current leadership was asleep at the switch (and is covering it up).  Now an apparently desperate, flailing Dick Cheney says,

It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice.  Because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.


He’s right of course. There’s no question that Osama bin Laden would prefer a Bush victory to a  Kerry victory.  The man may be evil but he’s not crazy.  Would Kerry have let him get a way at Tora Bora?  Would Kerry have launched an anti-American terrorist recruitment drive in Iraq?  Would Kerry have alienated the entire world from the fight against Al Qaida and made bin Laden a more poplar figure in the Arab world than the president of the United States?  (Saddam Hussein, too, by the way.)  And would Kerry have starved homeland security to fight a counterproductive war, thereby ensuring the effectiveness of the next attack?  But what I don’t understand is, why is Cheney admitting all this?  Maybe I didn’t read the article as carefully as I should have but I’m sure the answer is in there somewhere.

Meanwhile, this sure is an interesting election.  One candidate unarguably used his influence to skip a war he professed to support, here.  He appears top have deserted his post and was declared unfit for service, here and here.  He is observed by Sharon Bush, who has a better credibility record than the entire White House staff combined, to have done coke at Camp David, here

One served admirably and is a decorated war veteran.  Guess which ones the conservatives are supporting?  You can’t make this stuff up.  (Oh yeah, in case you were wondering that’s the same guy who exploded the budget deficit, here.)

Conundrum of the Day: What to make of that “Ali G” show where everyone in the bar sings about how much fun it would be to “throw the Jews down the well.”  My young friend Eli says it’s all about how nice Americans are, and how they want the Ali G. character to feel at home. But I wonder just how much of Red State America is not a bit casually anti-Semitic once you scratch the surface.  After all, would it have worked if he sang, “Throw Jesus down the well”?  I doubt it.

God is my Co-Pilot.  From the Wall Street Journal

Smith, a professor of public administration at Florida State University in Tallahassee.  The so-called Republican horseshoe, from Naples north to Interstate 4 and down to the affluent communities on Florida's eastern coast, is where three-fourths of the state's Republicans are concentrated.  That area was hit twice by the storms, which could dent the turnout for Mr. Bush, says Mr. deHaven-Smith.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Ivan is on its way to the Florida coast, (Then again, if you’ve got Ralph Nader running as a second Republican candidate, maybe you don’t need God.)

Excellent political blogroll from Campaigns and Elections here.

Atrios remarks intelligently on the amazing sight of a dog standing on its hind legs, a stopped clock, etc…

Alter-reviews by Sal:  Maurice Brown’s "Hip To Bop"
You want the best jazz record of the year?  Here it is- Maurice Brown’s "Hip To Bop."  I'll explain.  It's not some rehash of half a dozen standards that we've heard too many times before.  It's not some pretentious experiment in noodling.  It's not some Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday wanna-be covering piano trio versions of Radiohead songs just to appear hip with the kids.  And it's not some cheesy R&B record released on a jazz label, so the unfortunate "think" they are buying a jazz record.

Maurice Brown is a 23 year trumpeter who made his bones playing with hardboppers Von Freeman and Fred Anderson in Chicago.  He moved to New Orleans and for the last 18 months has been holding weekly jam sessions with the greatest musicians the city has to offer, playing anything from New Orleans funk and "Bitches Brew" type fusion to straight ahead bop, and turning Tuesday nights into the "place to be" in the Crescent City.  Now, we get the culmination of the relentless blowing on "Hip To Bop," his first CD, featuring 8 original compositions.

From the opening track, "Rapture," which would have fit nicely on any one of Miles Davis' quintet records, to "Mi Amor" a gorgeous ballad with such a familiar melody, it already has "standard" written all over it, to the title track- five minutes of mind-boggling blowing to a hip hop back beat- Brown has created a record that shows off the chops of his fine band (Doug  Bickel on piano, Jason Stewart on bass, Derek Douget on sax, and Adonis Rose on drums) and still leaves room to breathe.  And when was the last time you could boast about a jazz release having a "lead track" or a "single?"  "It's A New Day," with its breezy groove and melody, has enough hooks to snag a flounder.  It's a perfect reminder of those great instrumental hits of 60's and 70's from Donald Byrd or Ramsey Lewis, without ever crossing that awful line into smooth jazz territory.

Brown Records, available exclusively at and (for now).

Sal Nunziato
NYCD: New, Used, and Rare CDs in New York City

Eric adds: I’ve never heard of the guy, and I had to cut out a bunch of Sal’s purplest prose, but I’m buying.  I’m also enjoying a new DVD of performances from the old Rosemary Clooney Show, which features lots of wonderful songs like “C’mon a My House” and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture

Hey Doc,
Here's the latest from the WSJ:  Yes, the incumbent is presently enjoying a bounce -- but it is modest.  This remains a very tight race, and is likely to stay that way until the next major catalyst shifts views: That's likely to be the debates.

Forget the malapropisms and Bushisms:  From Ann Richards to AL Gore, anyone who has ever misunderestimated W has gotten their arses handed to them. These debates will be no different.

Here are the polling details:

Projected Electoral College Vote: Swing States, 9/07/04

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the post-RNC bounce.  Their conclusion:  Modest, but noticeable:

The Republican convention and the war on terrorism seem to have touched a nerve with voters, according to the latest Zogby Interactive poll of likely voters in 16 battleground states. Mr. Bush now leads in four states, up from the two states he held two weeks ago, and he improved his standing in eight of the 12 states in which John Kerry continues to hold the lead. Mr. Kerry's margins in three states -- Nevada, Missouri and crucial Florida -- are under one percentage  point.

The latest poll was conducted Aug. 30-Sept. 3, as the Republicans held their national convention amid high security in New York. Though the nomination went off without a hitch, a pair of plane crashes in Russia and militants' seizure of a Russian school raised Americans' concerns about terrorism. The rising death toll for U.S. troops in Iraq (August's toll was the highest since May) and the continuing dispute over Sen. Kerry's service record also highlighted war and security issues.

Another sign of Mr. Bush's improved standings in the latest poll: His leads are outside the margin of error in three states, the most for him so far in this polling series. And those healthy leads include Ohio, which in previous elections has been a strong indicator of the national outcome. Overall, many contests remain close, with the results from nine of the 16 states within the margin of error, which varies from +/- 2.4 to +/- 4.3 percentage points per candidate.

The Journal observes that this remains a very tight race:

Despite Mr. Bush's stronger showing, he still has a way to go. If all the states -- even those within the margin of error -- were to go to the current leading candidates, and the other 34 states go as they did in the 2000 election, Mr. Bush would get 231 electoral votes and Mr. Kerry would get 307. (See this analysis of how this could play out in the Electoral College for more details)

Indeed, Mr. Kerry holds leads outside the margin of error in four states, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, and his leads in others, while slipping, remain sizable.

The post-RNC bounce ranges from modest to double digit:  Time and Newsweek has Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney ahead of Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards by double digits; The incumbents are also ahead in a CNN and USA Today Gallup poll by 7%.  Their lead in a Zogby America poll is 3%.

However, the Journal also notes, "Two other readings show the race for the White House is still as tight as ever. The candidates are tied in the most recent three-day tracking poll from Rasmussen Reports and in a survey by American Research Group."

The key question at this point, with less than 60 days to go: Can the incumbent build on the post-convention momentum?  Or, like $50 a barrel oil, has he just peaked?

Stay tuned . . .

Sources :
Battlegrounds States Poll - August 23, 2004

Interactive version

Run the Numbers: A Stronger Showing for Bush

Bush Gets Modest Bounce, Leads in Several New Polls
September 7, 2004 4:04 p.m.

September 7, 2004 | 12:50 PM ET

Why does God hate Florida?  Could it be that God is angry about the 2000 stolen election and is smiting the entire state to avenge the crimes of Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris?  Or is it because Floridians actually elected Jeb Bush (unlike his brother) and God doesn’t like this generation of Bushes and is sending hurricane after hurricane to Florida as a proverbial whiff of grapeshot across our bow to let us know what will be in store for all of America if we, for the first time, legitimately elect his brother?  Or is the Big Guy just warning Jeb et al not to try the same shenanigans again this time?  Is God tired of wars and lies and Halliburton and lousy homeland security programs and exploding debt and the destruction of His creation at the hand of polluting energy industry contributors? 

Try as I might, I spent all weekend trying to reach Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to ask them what was on God’s mind when he decided to punish Florida twice in one month.  My efforts have been so far unsuccessful. And since I don’t have my own direct line to the Old Almighty, like they did, when they justified the 9/11 attack on us as the Lord’s will, we’ll just have to call it a hunch.

I must have missed some of the Republican convention, because try as I might, I did not see any of the people who are running (and ruining) our country right now.  How did I miss John Ashcroft?  Don Rumsfeld?  Paul Wolfowitz?  Condi Rice?  I suppose Richard Perle could not get away from meeting with his lawyers in his vacation home in Southern France to make an appearance.  What about a greatest hits package?  You know: “We will be welcomed as liberators.”   “Torturing people can be kinda fun.” “Dissent is evil and must be punished.” “We just about have Osama captured by now."  That kind of thing.

You know even the actors they found to play Republicans got screwed by their scriptwriters.  That funny fellow Arnold, for instance.  Was he really remembering seeing Russian tanks as a boy or was that what we writers call poetic license?  And that debate between Nixon and Humphrey he seemed to be describing, was that just a dream (or a nightmare) too?  True lies anyone?  (They never debated.)  And apparently, nobody told the guy that this Nixon guy, about whom he was fantasizing, was a liar and a crook and had to resign the presidency after disgracing the office and himself.  That was one funny trick they played on that nutcase.  Too bad nobody let the national media in on it.

Fun with words: Will the word “Millerism" replace “McCarthyism” in our national lexicon?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Fun with numbers:  All you really need to know.

Working the Refs, a case study
It’s amazing that right wingers convinced the Times editors that this lunatic gathering justified coverage.  Conservatives whining that publishers are biased against their point of view.  Even writing those words makes me feel a little silly.  The very day of this article, Crown Forum—an imprint created by Bertlesmann for the express purpose of publishing conservatives—often with books that do not merit publication except as a means to stoke the beast that eats up the likes of Coulter, Goldberg, Charen, Bozell, etc. 

My publisher Viking has one too.  And Free Press has always been devoted to right-wingers, to say nothing of Regnery, whose standards would have to rise to reach the sewer.  It’s not as if they have any trouble getting published and until recently, they dominated the best-seller list. They’ve even convinced reviewers to go easy on them.  How else to explain David Brock’s lies about Anita Hill getting a rave in the allegedly liberal New York Times?

But hey speaking of working the refs check out how the right-wingers, silly as they may be, succeed in getting the Times to term Richard Clarke part of “the left.”  I’ll bet that came as a surprise to this button-down, veteran counter-terrorism adviser to the likes of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and until recently, the current gift to far-right extremism now in the White House.  But that’s how the game works.  If Clark is “the left” then the genuine left, is ipso facto nuts.  Score one for the right-wingers.  Silly as they may be, they are damn strategic.

Stop the presses. This one is even worse.  On Sunday, New York Times political correspondent John Tierney termed the Upper West Side, “the neighborhood that has called itself 'the conscience of the nation.'"  Excuse me, but in addition to the self-hatred the papers are exhibiting here—much of the Times top brass lives in this neighborhood—exactly how does a “neighborhood” call itself anything?  Anybody who considered this sentence even for a moment could easily determine that as written, it is pure nonsense.  And yet it’s in the news section of the newspaper as if it were a fact.  I’m an Upper West Sider and I demand a retraction.  I’m also a Times reader and subscriber and I’d really appreciate it if its editors would pay a bit more attention to what goes into the paper.

Amazingly, this nutty sentence continues in another direction no less nasty and incoherent.  "We were looking for liberal New Yorkers who might be re-examining their consciences,” writes Tierney. “Re-examining our consciences?”  With regard to what, exactly, sir?  Why should our consciences be troubling us?  Is it because we were attacked on 9/11?  Is it because this attack was manipulated by the administration to launch a war that has left us less safe than before it began?  Is it because we turned over much of our city to the very people who seek to starve it of the resources necessary to protect us the next time around in order to reward their political funders and political supporters?

Gee, we’re sorry.

Remember this is allegedly ground-zero of the So-Called Liberal Media.  Ann Coulter has invited her terrorist friends to blow it up.  I am generally able to resist the urge to write furious letters to the paper or I’d do nothing else, but it’s my neighborhood (and Bill Keller’s (!) these self-hating liberals are allowing Tierney to slander and they should be called to account.  It’s enough to turn one into an anarchist.

Alter-Reviews:  I had the notion that I might be able to catch the gist of Bush’s speech last week without actually watching it in prime time—much less sitting up the cheap seats of the Garden to be harangued in person—and so I took the opportunity to catch the legend Abbey Lincoln at her opening show at the Blue Note downtown.  As it was the opening show, Abbey’s band was a bit jagged ‘round the edges, and as is her wont, she let them have it, over and over.  She tends to swing from an almost hypnotic intensity to a kind of petty orneriness that makes her often prickly with her musicians and sometimes with the audience as well, reminding one, in a nice way, of Nina Simone, at 74 (officially) she’s still got that soaring, piercing voice that comes closer to a level of Billie Holiday-like transcendence than anyone else alive.  I’d catch her while you can.  And if you’re just getting to know her, start with the album she recorded with Stan Getz -his last, by the way—called, “You Gotta Pay the Band.”  It might be my single favorite jazz album of the past twenty years.

And speaking of Ms. Simone, I caught a lovely little movie, “Before Sunset,” by Richard Linklatter over the weekend which ends with a meditation on said wonderful singer.  The movie begins in the Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., where I lived for a month in the Writer’s Room, overlooking the Seine, with fleas in my bed and a bathroom down the street at the café in the summer of 1984.  What made me all sentimental about the film’s opening, however, which gets the place exactly right, is how little Paris has changed in twenty years.  The couple go for a walk from his reading and go past all the places I used to go past every day.  The Navigator restaurant is still there.  That wonderful movie theater that only shows the world’s most obscure films and then has them break down is still there.  The same cafes.  The same bookstores.  The same people strolling past the Seine.  And they were right about Iraq.  How can anyone with a heart not love Paris?

While we’re on the topic of small movies, if you get a chance to see a tiny little flick called “Gloomy Sunday,” do so, or you can ignore my advice about everything.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Another Soldier
I'm writing in response to the letter from the soldier attached to the 321st Military Intelligence Battalion.  That guy is speaking the absolute truth.  My medical battalion is going through the EXACT same thing.  We were activated in support of Iraqi "Freedom," wasted a year sitting on our thumbs at a post in the United States, and the housing they kept us in was literally condemned by the city after housing  inspectors responded to complaints from the soldiers (they had us living in run-down apartments off the base because of a base housing shortage due to poor logistical planning).  Now we are back home, but my unit is still on "alert," my entire unit is still on the "stop-loss," and in the last month they have begun to take people, individually, from my unit and attach them to units full of complete strangers and then ship them overseas.  This has got to stop -- unfortunately we constitute a statistically insignificant number of voters, and therefore Bush feels he can treat us in any manner he pleases

Name: Andrew Wender Cohen
Hometown: Syracuse, NY
As you and your readers know, I'm very hopeful about stem cell research, and its ability to cure various genetic diseases.  President Bush's restrictions on that research are one of many reasons I oppose him. 

Though the stem-cell issue has helped the Democrats among senior citizens and suburbanites, many young American males don't seem to care much about terminal illness ("Sickness is for loooosers!  Four more years!!!")  But I feel I can say with some certainty that the frat house crowd does care about their hairline.  Today's news reveals that stem cell therapies promise to end the curse of male pattern baldness.  Perhaps John Kerry and John Edwards aren't the best messengers for this argument-- both are blessed with abundant manes.  But properly done, this vital issue could turn the election.

Name: Gema Haraughty
Hometown: Chico, California

Mr. Alterman,
I just watched the program about your book on CSPAN.  I will buy it. I am a Cuban born and raised.  I left Cuba in 1968, I lived in Europe.  I lived in Iran.

I was always against the war in Iraq, but my question is: How the people of this country can even think about electing this president again?  On the other hand, I didn't vote for him the first time, and although I will vote for Kerry-Edwards team, I have little hope for them. I think the damage done by this "hurricane" will take a long time to rebuild.  How a family can have so much power in a nation like this one?  Is this the democracy that we were supposed to teach the Iraqis?  I am disappointed about the system, the parties, Congress.  I think it’s a big joke at a time of serious business due to the dangers of terrorism.  Is there a hope?

Name: Ken
Hometown: Bay Area
Hey Eric,
I'm with Stupid strategically, and I'm with you (or rather I'm with Joe Lieberman) politically.  Mr. Bush's Wilsonian crusade to democratize the Arab world may well only succeed (as it has so far in Iraq) in dislodging the decaying political architecture of Arab nationalism (no matter what form that Arab nationalism may take, including Baathism) in the Arab world, and unbounding the forces of radical Islamism that have seduced the younger Arab generations.  I'm still waiting for someone of note to point out that the most receptive generation alive today in the Arab (and much of the wider Muslim world) to liberal democracy is the elder "Arab nationalist" generation (which includes Sistani and Arafat among others), and that the younger generations - including Bin Laden's generation, and Sadr's generation beneath that, and the generation of the Mahdi army at the bottom - are in fact in revolt against their Arab nationalist elders, who they feel failed to deliver them from their sense of historical humiliation.  And you can't build a successful liberal democracy with just old people.

But liberals shouldn't rejoice at the prospect of Mr. Bush's missionary crusade failing.  The internationalism favored by mainstream liberals would do nothing about the root causes of Islamist terrorism against the west - the political, economic, and cultural status quo in the Arab world, and America's continuing enabling of that status quo (ie the empire thing) - and is therefore at best a strategy for containment, rather than victory.  The American people know it too, which is why the dumbasses are going to vote for Bush in November.

Stupid's point is prescient.  We're probably wasting our time (not to mention money, and lives) in Iraq, but it's also probably wrong to assume that isolationism will put an end to the threat of radical Islamism.  The anti-empire crowd is right to assert that Al Qaeda and its fellow travelers are an anti-imperial insurgency that seeks to evict the American imperium from the Muslim world, and reestablish the caliphate, but the right-wing goons are also probably right to assert that al Qaeda et al also represent an imperial movement themselves, and will not settle for a big patch of already-Muslim real estate.  This is why total war with the Muslim world may become inevitable no matter what we do.

As a strategic matter, developing energy independence and detaching ourselves from the Muslim world may be the wisest course (even if we do ultimately end up in an outright clash of civilizations), but as a political matter not even an action hero Republican could get away with pitching this policy now (the forces of reaction are even declaring avowed xenophobe Pat Buchanan a traitor these days), let alone a "pansy ass" Democrat.  If John Kerry really wants to win this election, he'll start sounding a hell of a lot more like Joe Lieberman, and talking up Arab democracy ad nauseum, and a hell of a lot less like himself, however foolish and costly Joementum's favored foreign policy may be.  But that's not going to happen, and so we will lose.

Eric replies: Dear Ken (and Stupid): We at this Web site do not get fooled as often as you two seem to invite.  There is no “missionary crusade” for democracy in the Arab world.  There are just a few, flailing, speeches about it designed to fool naïve liberals and the kinds of people Jake Weisberg thinks are so smart.  The democracy-building aspects of this war are about as real as the manned mission to Mars and just as likely to succeed, absent any real effort.  For goodness sakes, when will you people learn?  Watch what he does, not what he says.  The next person who writes a letter to this Web site even remotely implying that this administration’s word can be taken at face value about absolutely anything is really going to get it. 

Get this straight: These people are good for nothing; dishonest, incompetent, ideologically obsessed and corrupt.  And you want them to teach a people that have had little interest in democracy for over a thousand years how to do it?  Stop it, you’re giving me an ulcer.

September 3, 2004 | 10:51 AM ET

Here’s the new Nation column on the media’s dereliction of duty in regard to the Swift Boat liars, and the new Think Again column on the strange case of Douglas Feith.

We’ve got Pierce on the floor of the convention so I feel OK about seeing the event the way most Americans do—on The Daily Show.  (Disappointing on how Jon did not call out McCain on his role in making this election so ugly.  All he had to do was lay down a few rules for his participation in the campaign.  He caved, and so he shares responsibility for the situation he so ostentatiously lamented.)  Here’s The Man but make sure you read the second letter too.  You won’t find anything like it anywhere else.  See you Tuesday.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:
At a loose moment on radio row in the Garden, I saw Bob Barr, off in a corner, hosting a talk-show.  This set me to wondering about the other great Unmentionable -- other than that bin Laden chap -- at the Republican Zellapalooza this week.

Six years ago, the Republicans, for reasons of high principle and in defense of the rule of law and the Constitution, brought forth the only impeachment ever of an elected president of the United States.  Remember the soaring rhetoric, the agonized lawmakers talking over their epochal decision with their dogs and their children.  (I guess Cokie Roberts's kids came through the Clinton years unscathed after all.)  I particularly liked that one guy from California who went surfing, and the great power of the sea convinced him that, sadly, Bill Clinton had to go.  It was a bold and brave moment for these young conservatives.  Remember how proudly they bore themselves on the talk shows?  Remember how nobly they suffered their betrayal at the hands of their Senate brethren?  Remember how they attached themselves to the uncompromising Thomas More created by Robert Bolt in "A Man For All Seasons"?  (They quoted that movie the way some sportswriter pals of mine quote "Caddyshack.")

My question, then, is this:  Where in hell's the video tribute?

Where's the 15-minute package honoring these selfless solons, some of whom got the boot shortly thereafter?  Where's the stirring music, the NFL Films narration?  Where's the appreciation from the Republican Party for what these courageous men of honor did?  They fearlessly dragged out what Thomas Jefferson -- a Democrat, and wouldn't you know it? -- famously called a "scarecrow," and they used it on behalf of the laws to which we all must be subject.

Where's the movie, y'all?

A couple of more conventions without one, and I might think the whole impeachment thing was a prolonged dirty-trick aimed at hamstringing a moderate Democratic president that you couldn't beat at the polls, and rammed through because of some aggravated nutbaggery from the extremists in the House of Representatives.  This would be very disappointing to me, and to Thomas More, I'm sure.

Name: Withheld
Location: Withheld
I wanted to take this opportunity to offer an explanation on the current military practice and of cross-leveling, especially as it relates to the case of SPC Israel Rivera and Abu Ghraib

Here's what happened to him and my unit.  I got caught up in the first half, but I volunteered for a second year of active duty and ended up at CENTCOM for OIF.

In OCT 2001, my battalion, the 321st Military Intelligence Battalion, was called to active duty.  We shipped up to Fort Hood, TX where we sat for months waiting for something to happen.  Instead, we spent a year of misery living in sub-standard housing being treated like crap by the active Army.  We sent a few guys and gals to GITMO and one to Afghanistan, but were largely left out of the fight.  A wasted year.  The same thing happens to a similar Army Reserve unit, the 325th Military Intelligence BN at Fort Bragg.  But apparently, the 325th is a really bad unit, so they have a much worse time than us.  Lots of DUIs, fights, etc.

In the fall of 2002, the Army begins gearing up for Iraq, and the 325th gets called back up.  This creates a huge political fall-out so when the Army goes to call us back up our unit gets "red-lined" by Rummy.  He personally takes our unit off the mobilization list.

However, the Army does not have enough intelligence soldiers especially HUMINT types like interrogators and counter intelligence.  This is especially true of the 325th because many of their soldiers have left the unit because of what happened before.  So the Army begins looking for help.  They start taking soldiers out of our unit to "cross level" to the 325th and other units.

SPC Rivera had been in basic training when all this happens.  He graduates, attends one or two drills with our unit, and gets yanked to the 325th.  He ends up in Iraq with a bunch of strangers.

While in Iraq, Rivera gets traded back and forth among several locations and teams.  He finally ends up at Abu Ghraib.  He is not part of a trained, cohesive unit, but really just a bunch of part-time strangers thrown together in a bad situation.  The whole place is like that.  Naturally, this creates the lack of a clear chain of command and you can see the results.  This doesn't excuse what happened, but the torture is a symptom of a broken reserve system.

This is a happening all over.  My unit is continually pimped for replacements.  One or two here.  Five or six there.  Right now we're getting ready to send a conglomerate unit of about 100.  What is happening is that they are taking non-intelligence soldiers like mechanics sending them to shake and bake schools and shipping them over as intelligence units.  They are not taking any of the senior leadership because then they couldn't maintain the facade of not calling our unit back up.

This is not just happening to intelligence units either.  The Texas National Guard is sending a Brigade over to Iraq.  I know some senior leaders in the guard because of my full-time Texas Homeland Security gig.  These guys are saying that they had to rob the entire Texas National Guard to field this Brigade at full strength.  By the time you sort all the guys who can't deploy with all the empty seats in units, you are usually left at about 60-70% strength so they've had to take soldiers from the remaining guard units to fill the one going to Iraq.  So on paper we still have three available Brigades, but the reality is that they are now hollow.

This is happening all over the Army.  And we're running out of troops.  I'm a perfect example.  Under the current policy, I am now exempt from further mobilization because I have done two years.  About 50% of my unit is getting to that point.  But, the occupation goes on and on.  So how long can we be benched before they have to change the policy and re-set our clocks back to zero?  The rumor is that they are waiting until after the election to do so.   That would mean I will be home for about a year, and then probably get called back up again because I'm an intelligence officer, an in-demand resource.

Anyway, that's a long explanation of cross-leveling.  The end result is hollow units at home and non-cohesive ones in the field.  And it cannot be sustained for long.  My unit has seen a large drop in recruiting and retention in the last year.  It’s the same all over.

Don't print my name if you use any of this.  Thanks.

P.S.: Have you noticed that there have been no Congressional Medals of Honor awarded for Iraq and Afghanistan?  What do you bet in the next few months we see a bunch of them awarded at events where "W" can surround himself with troops before the election?

Name: Dick Price
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Keep up the good work.  I'm another Vietnam Vet who has been working with my girlfriend to get John Kerry elected.  I like that he served his country years ago when he could have easily avoided it.  I like that he spoke the truth as he saw it when he returned.

More importantly, I believe he will work to improve economic conditions for all Americans, work to fix our broken health care system, work with our allies around the world to extricate ourselves from the mess Bush and his boys have created for us, work to create a rational energy policy.

When he says he'll work for those things, I believe him.  When Bush says anything like that, I believe he doesn't think people like me merit the truth.

I was in Vietnam the same time Kerry was, in the same general area in the Mekong Delta.  I was a machine gunner, squad leader, acting platoon sergeant with the 9th Infantry Division, twice-wounded.

For part of the time, we worked off a different kind of Navy boat -- called Tango boats -- slow, loud, lumbering craft that would alert everyone with miles with an AK47 to our presence, then drop us off on some muddy riverbank, there to win a few hearts and minds.

I feel for my comrades in arms in the Swiftboat Veterans for Whatever It Is The Hell They Think They're Doing.  As with many combat veterans from most any war, I had my own heartaches coming to grips with Vietnam, but I wonder if these swabbies from the motorboat brigade have ever heard of post-traumatic stress syndrome.  If they had, they would know where all this unbearable anger they're spouting comes from.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to be an economic girlie-man.  Did you see Alan Greenspan take a swipe at Kerry?  Normally I'd be happy about this -- he was sounding the alarm about generational warfare (retiring baby boomers exploding Social Security and Medicare).  But he did so as a partisan: attacking John Kerry's "solution" (grow the economy and increase tax revenue) without mentioning Dubya's "solution" (allow private investment and the stock market will take care of everything in about 30 years).  Instead he pretended to take the high road, suggesting austerity measures like raising the eligibility age.  What a crock -- he knows that's a political non-starter.  Why not also mention Nader-like isolationism?  It would save more money and be less painful, at least until the real World War III hits.  Some point to rolling back Dubya's tax cuts, but that's insufficient to cover the "real" (i.e., on the books) deficit.

Stay with me here: Sure, Kerry could duck this issue entirely -- it's probably not going to capture the public's imagination.  But Kerry needs something dramatic to become more than just the "anti-Dubya" -- dare I say, a "Walter Mondale moment."  (Call me stupid, but I think the failure of Mondale's "he won't tell you, I just did" line on raising taxes was because it was Mondale, not because the electorate can't handle tough talk).  I don't want Kerry to say he'll raise taxes but that he'll jack up the CAFE requirements so high that SUV's will either change or die.  Every honest reporter out there knows that the real giant sucking sound is the hundreds of billions of dollars SUV's take out of our economy.  Wrap the message in 9/11 patriotism: say you have faith in Detroit, in what Americans "will do for their country" and draw on the Dems record of protecting Social Security.  I know, it's a big risk, but I remember Pierce's line that "if that's the center, the center has to be moved."  If the Dems indeed need an Al Smith moment, might as well start here.

Eric replies:  Dear Stupid.  Sorry that that’s really um, you know what….  Ideas like that—in an election season—are why liberals always lose.  How about an idea that would help win the election instead of one that allows you to be all proud of yourself and lose it?

Name: Bill Heber
Hometown: Torrance, Calif.

Hi Eric;
I am writing to ask you to please post this story.  While Bush and his goons want to make this election about swift boats, flip-flopping and liberals.  I think every once in a while it needs to be pointed out what a complete failure his presidency has been.  If the world is safer than how do you explain that terrorist killings have increased?  So much for the war on terror being this president's strong point.

September 2, 2004 | 11:04 AM ET

When he was young and irresponsible, he was young and irresponsible, (and nowhere near his National Guard post).

Speaking of Salon, there's more there this morning.  For instance, was Rudy Giuliani's convention speech line about how, on the morning of 9/11 he turned to a buddy and said, "Thank God George Bush is our president" too good to be true?  Boehlert thinks so.

If Republicans are smart, they'll put Zell Miller back in his cage.

If Ben Barnes does eventually break his silence about the Texas Air National Guard, it's very bad news for Bush.

People sometimes say that the president and his admirers don’t get a fair shake on Altercation, to show what an open-minded kinda place we have here, I’ve prevailed on my friends Jenna and Barbara Bush for some guest blogging. Take it away, ladies.

JENNA BUSH: It's great to be here. We love Arnold. Isn't he awesome?
Thanks to him, if one of us ever decides to marry a Democrat, nobody can complain, except maybe our grandmother, Barbara. And if she doesn't like it, we would definitely hear about it.
We already know she doesn't like some of our clothes, our music, or most of the TV shows we watch.
She thinks "Sex and the City" is something married people do, but never talk about.
We spent the last four years trying to stay out of the spotlight. Sometimes, we did a little better job than others.
We kept trying to explain to my dad that when we are young and irresponsible, well, we're young and irresponsible.

BARBARA BUSH: Jenna and I are really not very political, but we love our dad too much to stand back and watch from the sidelines.
We realized that this would be his last campaign, and we wanted to be a part of it.
Besides, since we've graduated from college, we're looking around for something to do for the next few years.
Kind of like dad.

JENNA: Our parents have always encouraged us to be independent and dream big. We've spent a lot of time at the White House, so when we showed up the first day, we thought we had it all figured out. But apparently my dad already has a chief of staff, named Andy.

BARBARA: When your dad's a Republican and you go to Yale, you learn to stand up for yourself.
I knew I wasn't quite ready to be president, but number two sounded pretty good.
Who is this man they call Dick Cheney?

JENNA: I think I know a lot about campaigns. After all, my grandfather and my dad have both run for president, so I put myself in charge of strategy. Then I got an angry call from some guy named Karl.

BARBARA: We knew we had something to offer. I mean, we've traveled the world; we've studied abroad. But when we started coming home with foreign policy advice, dad made us call Condi.

JENNA: Not to be deterred, we thought surely there's a place for strong willed, opinionated women in communications. And next thing we know, Karen's back.

BARBARA: So we decided the best thing we could do here tonight would be to introduce somebody we know and love.

JENNA: You know all those times when you're growing up and your parents embarrass you? Well, this is payback time on live TV.

BARBARA: Take this. I know it's hard to believe, but our parents' favorite term of endearment for each other is actually Bushy.
And we had a hamster, too. Let's just say ours didn't make it.

JENNA: But, contrary to what you might read in the papers, our parents are actually kind of cool. They do know the difference between mono and Bono. When we tell them we're going to see Outkast, they know it's a band and not a bunch of misfits. And if we really beg them, they'll even shake it like a Polaroid picture.

BARBARA: So, OK, maybe they have learned a little pop culture from us, but we've learned a lot more from them about what matters in life, about unconditional love, about focus and discipline.
They taught us the importance of a good sense of humor, of being open-minded and treating everyone with respect.
And we learned the true value of honesty and integrity.

JENNA: When you grow up as the daughters of George and Laura Bush, you develop a special appreciation for how blessed we are to live in this great country.
We are so proud to be here tonight to introduce someone who read us bedtime stories, picked up car pool, made us our favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cheered for us when we scored a goal, even when it was for the wrong team.

BARBARA: Someone who told us we actually looked cute in braces, always welcomed our friends and was there waiting when we came home at curfew.

JENNA: Ladies and gentlemen, one of the two most loving, thoughtful people we know.

BARBARA: Your president and our dad, George W. Bush.

Is this a great country or what?

Aww shucks, I made this feller cry.  I feel jes’ terrible.  (Hey, didn’t there used to be a writer in New York named Russ Smith, who used to sneer at successful people in a fourth-rate paper his brother bought just to give him a job?  Didn’t he lose millions of his brother’s bucks before the guy wised up, sold the paper, and kicked him out of town?  Whatever happened to that Russ Smith?)

A note on the New York Sun’s circulation figures by the way.  A letter writer, way back, pointed out that New York news dealers are only credited with one penny if they return their papers back to the Sun after being put up for sale.  (He said they only charge a penny as well.)  That means there is no point in returning them unsold, because it’s not worth the chump-change to do the paperwork and manual labor.  Hence, a tiny fraction of the papers that are listed as bought are actually purchased, according to this guy, and most are thrown out by the newsstand people. Think this was Conrad Black’s idea? 

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bruce Knight
Hometown: Cresskill, NJ

Mr. Alterman:
Insane as it may seem, I am both a Kerry volunteer and a Yankee fan since 1983.  I've also spent two-thirds of the Bush administration in a vain search for employment.

In the large scheme of things, getting a rejection letter from an interview on the same day I'm told I'm a "girly man" for not being bullish on an economy still 1.5 million jobs in the hole is bad enough.

Characterizing a Yankee 22-0 loss as "not everything is bad news" is minor in comparison, but it still feels like that knife between my ribs got given a good hard twist.

In the main, I enjoy your work; but the debacle in Yankee Stadium was bad news for a lot of New Yorkers, who are trying to find any silver lining on this nightmare of a week...

Name: Rob
Hometown: Boston

I know it's a dangerous, ass backwards world out there but how about the history making drubbing that the Yanks endured last night in front of all those Republicans?  Look out, here come the Sox!  The next best thing to a Kerry victory in November would be a Yankee no-show in October.

Name: John Sherman
Hometown: Moorhead, MN
Shakespeare had a line for the Purple Heart band-aid creeps:  "They jest at scars that never felt a wound."

Name: Paul Yamada
Hometown: Chicago

Did you know that shortly after the Box Tops' version of "The Letter" came out, a version was released by soul singer Robert Knight?  It appears on his album along with his big hit, the original version of "Everlasting Love" (yes, there was a big hit version several years before the one most people know by Carl Carleton.  Knight's recording of "The Letter" is quite good, so you may want to seek it out on CD. 

On another point, if, apparently the Vietnamese have gotten over their war, why haven't Americans gotten over it?  I realize this may seem simplistic (and other questions ARE laden), but all the current bad blood over that war, and the evident hatred really reveal much sickness in our society and its citizens.

Name: Phil the pornographer
Hometown: Elizabeth, NJ

Yer pal Sal seems upset that Ray Charles' final musical statement was overly tarted up with synths and strings.  I submit that this was likely Ray's own intention; in the latter years of his life, he, like many R&B/soul performers, developed a distressingly hearty appetite for cheese.  If Sal's looking for raw music, he should investigate the 9-CD "Holy Ghost" boxed set by saxophonist Albert Ayler, which I received in this morning's mail (it actually hits store shelves 10/5).  Every note is previously unreleased except on bootlegs, and it features guest spots by Cecil Taylor and Pharoah Sanders, as well as the famous performance by Ayler at John Coltrane's funeral.  Plus a 200-plus-page book, plus one of the most beautiful packages I've ever seen anything come in.  It's being put out by Revenant Records, and I recommend it to any adventurous ear.

Name: Martin
Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI

Hi Eric,
An interesting thing about the speakers so far at the RNC:

None of them have mentioned Osama. The man chiefly responsible for attacking our country, during Bush's term.  He is still at large.  Thousands died.

Does anyone else find this peculiar?  What is going on?  Does anybody care?

Transcripts of the speeches:

Editor's Note: Readers wanting to look back at what's been said may find value in's RNC video gallery

Name: Adam M.
Hometown: New York

Zell Miller's speech was utterly disgusting and shameless, full of flat out lies and blatant distortions of John Kerry's record on defense.

John Kerry voted FOR 16 of the 19 Pentagon spending bills while he was in office.  Since 1997, Kerry voted FOR every single regular DOD appropriation bill and FOR every authorization bill. John Kerry did NOT specifically vote against the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, did NOT specifically vote against the M1-A ABRAMS tank or the Patriot Missile (he has opposed extension of our nuclear capability, including Star Wars).

Who DID oppose major conventional defense programs? DICK CHENEY.

As Secretary of Defense,
CHENEY called for the elimination of the Apache helicopter,
CHENEY called for the elimination of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle,
CHENEY called for the elimination of the M-1s
CHENEY called for the elimination of the F-14 and the F-16
CHENEY called for the elimination of the B-2 bomber (which Kerry also opposed for its nuclear capabilities).
CHENEY called for the elimination of the MX missile.
CHENEY helped cut the defense budget by $300 BILLION.

Where was Miller's rage at Cheney?

And Miller's claim that Kerry voted against body armor for our troops in Iraq is another disgusting distortion.  Kerry voted FOR authorization of the $87 billion to fund our troops in Iraq, but BUSH wanted to veto that version of the bill because it would have reversed Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy to help defer the cost of the war.  Kerry, quite consistently, did not approve the way Bush was handling the war, including its funding.

How long will the media allow the Republicans get away with these lies and distortions?  I can never recall a political campaign so built on lying about its opponent as the campaign George W. Bush is running.

Name: Tommy E. Ferrell
Hometown: Rogersville, Alabama
Hey Eric!
I am one of those (baby-boomers) who is still working and contributing to modern-day America's society!  I am also a partially-disabled, partially-blind Vietnam vet.  I also am carrying a little shrapnel in my body.  War is hell, not like Hollywood depicts it.  In 1969, while I was in An Khe, South Vietnam, 20 men from my unit were randomly chosen for a special trip into Cambodia, this while tricky-Dick was telling the American people that, "I did not send troops into Cambodia."  We had memorial services for 3 of the men who did not come back alive! 

I dare Dole, Cheney, Bush, Rove, or anyone to call me a liar!!!!!

It happened!  Atrocities occurred on both sides.  That is a fact!  Thanks for listening.  I am voting for Kerry for president.  Failed policy after failed policy by Cheney-Bush is destroying the whole middle class of Americans. 

If you people are intelligent, then start acting like it and do what is best for America instead of what is best for a chosen few!  We are called the "United States of America," not the Divided States of America!  We will not stand long divided!  I am proud to be an American and a Democrat!  I stand firm in my belief that surely to goodness, Americans can see what damage these failed policies have done to our freedoms!  Vote for a new direction in November.  Vote! Vote!  Vote!

September 1, 2004 | 1:15 PM ET

Republicans, spinning the media into orbit
The Note notes approvingly all the ways in which its colleagues have been successfully manipulated by the Republicans at this convention into spouting disingenuous nonsense not only with free facials and poached salmon, but by among, many, many other things,

“Banished any talk of health care, unemployment, and poverty figures.”


“Mostly kept reporters from chasing their own (potentially anti-Bush) storylines by doling out pre-planned surprises at calibrated intervals."

and of course

“Got reporters to say and write "compassionate conservative" with a straight face.”  

It’s here.

And yet,  Glenn Reynolds, speaking for the propagandized majority, asserts on the extremist editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal that “big media” is almost completely “tilted” toward the Democrats.  In fact, the media coverage of this campaign has been so heavily tilted toward Bush and the Republicans it would lead any disinterested observer to wonder if some Hollinger didn’t have more people than just George F. Will, William F. Buckley and Richard Perle on its payroll, doing the conservatives' bidding.  A year or so ago I defined the contemporary definition of “liberal” as “not crazy.”  Alas, you don’t need a liberal state of mind to question the assumptions that underlie the mainstream media’s coverage of the Republicans.  You just need a mind, period.

Just look at the front page of this morning's (allegedly liberal) New York Times:

Lead story: Upbeat Republicans Revive Bush Theme of Compassion, here

A more accurate, unspun headline would be: “Republicans misled nation about phony 'compassion' issue four years ago; think they can get away with it again, irrespective of their actions of the past four years; Media to help.” 

Or this:

Serving Canapés, Then Recalling the 107th, here

Accurate Headline: “Victims of 9/11 see their tragedy exploited to re-elect president whose administration was asleep at the switch during attack, and then ignored its lessons and went easy on its perpetrators in order to focus money, attention, resources and lives on obsession with Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with it.  Now they’re allowed to serve as waiters.”

Or this:

Talks to Disarm Rebel Shiites Collapses in Iraq, here.

Try “Yet Another Administration Promise Regarding Iraq Collapses, leading to further death, mayhem, and billions wasted on non-existent threat turned into terrorist haven”

Or this:

Hollinger Files Stinging Report on Ex-Officials, here.

How’s this: Neoconservatives accept cash bribes from crook to testify to his honesty and integrity.  Richard Perle makes millions.  George Will, William F. Buckley, Henry Kissinger, only tens of thousands; judgment no better on this than regarding Iraq”

Twin Blasts Kill 16 in Israel; Hamas Claims Responsibility, here.

Now try: “Bush policy of ignoring peace policy and backing Israel without question has helped destroy any hope of peace.  Parties further apart than ever, death, destruction continue unabated.”

You can call me “liberal.”  I am liberal.  But the headlines I’ve written comport more closely with the view held by most of the civilized world.  The opposite views—the ones around which our political circuses spin—are held only by a tiny minority of people.  It is the world’s colossal misfortune to have this tiny minority at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation, despite their side having lost the last election by any reasonable measure.

But hey, not all news is bad news

Meanwhile Eric B. points out that like Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry has to battle both the press and the GOP attack machine, as Salon looks at the tag team results.

Back to Black:  In discussing Perle's disgraceful actions, the Hollinger report notes: 

It is difficult to imagine a more flagrant abdication of duty than a director rubber-stamping transactions that directly benefit a controlling shareholder without any thought, comprehension or analysis.

Meanwhile, here, in an almost comical example of the stupidity of reflexive On-The-One-Handism, Floyd Norris of The New York Times writes,

Democrats were not left out, with the board including Robert S. Strauss, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Richard R. Burt, a former United States ambassador to Germany.

Excuse me but Burt, a former Times reporter, was a top Defense Department official in the Administration of that great Democrat, Ronald Wilson Reagan.  And Strauss, a lobbyist/lawyer, while nominally a Democrat, also served as an adviser to Reagan and frequently gave him political cover for rolling over what was then an entirely moribund party.  Reels the mind…

Quote of the day:  “I spent the next 20 minutes trying to convince NYPD information officers that I wasn't doing anything wrong. Their response was, what in God's name is Slate magazine?"

Ray Charles, “Genius Loves Company,” by Sal, in which we get live recordings, from March 2004, including Norah Jones (“Here We Go Again”), Willie Nelson (“It Was A Very Good Year”), Elton John (“Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”), Van Morrison (“Crazy Love”) and Natalie Cole (“Fever”)

...and yet still Sal is not happy.

How about a record featuring one of the greatest of all time, Ray Charles, dueting with some of the other greatest of all time?  Genius, right?  Well, almost.  "Genius Loves Company" had the potential to be a wonderful swansong for the recently departed Ray Charles.  And, it really has some nice stuff on it.  As a matter of fact, Ray sounds amazing, as do most of his partners.  So, where is the problem?  The production.  I mean, who's the genius who decided to take the "genius of soul" and add schmaltzy strings and cheesy keyboards to a repertoire that would've faired nicely with a little "less is more" production?  (Joe Henry's production of the last Solomon Burke CD is an example of letting a few musicians back a major talent and letting the star do his thing.)

Many songs work, especially Ray & Bonnie Raitt on Michael Smotherman's "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," and Ray & Gladys Knight on Stevie Wonder's "Heaven Help Us All."  (How about Joe Henry producing a new Gladys Knight soul record?)  Even Ray with Elton on the latter's already schmaltzy "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" is a sweet rendition, thanks to Mr. Charles' unbelievable vocals.  But, covering "It Was A Very Good Year' and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" with Willie Nelson & Johnny Mathis respectively caterwauling over Ray's touching vocals would have just slipped under the "bleccch!!" radar, if the production had just a bit of irony to it.

I do like the album and I am very happy to have one last record by one of my favorite artists of all time.  But, knowing how amazing it could have been in the hands of "others," leaves me wanting more.

Sal Nunziato
NYCD: New, Used, and Rare CDs in New York City

Eric adds: More here.

Correspondence corner:

Name: Robert Drury
Hometown: Dubuque, IA

I write again in extreme anger at the way the Republican campaign has treated Vietnam Vets and now, with the "Cute Purple Heart bandages," all Veterans.  For those who have never seen the business end of a rifle or RPG or other weapon of personal destruction it might be cute.  But to those of use who have been there on the ground, in helicopters, in swift boats, in Jets over Hanoi, The Purple Heart is the one medal you don't want, but cherish if you get it.  It is not cute!!!!  Carrying shrapnel in your body for 30 years is not "cute."  It is disgusting to see all those people (I'm willing to bet that 99 per cent have not a clue about service to their country) wandering around thinking they are funny, desecrating the sacrifices that any man or woman who has gone to war has made.  And worse yet, desecrating the medal that represents the horrible reality of any war and many times the ultimate sacrifice (along with the notification that your son, daughter, husband, wife, mother is dead you also get a Purple Heart "with the thanks of a GRATEFUL nation").

If it weren't so sick the bandages would be funny.  If it weren't so hurtful I might even laugh.

It just shows that the Republicans don't get it.  Their leader clearly doesn't get it.  And I'm sick of it!

Vietnam May69-Dec70
Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, 33 air medals ete. Al

Name: Mark McKee
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM

A quick question I was hoping could be passed on to the SCLM.

Why is it, when Bush says one day that we can't win the war, then the very next day says we can, it is referred to as a "clarification" as opposed to, say, a "flip-flop"?

All the best!

Name: Dave F.
Hometown: Illinois
Dr. Eric,
I enjoy reading your column every day.  I am what you would call a left-leaning moderate, so although I do not always agree with everything you write, at least you tend to back up your stories with more in the way of actual facts than your conservative counterpart here on  Besides, although I am in a "blue" state, I reside in a decidedly conservative town.

I was thinking about your contention that the press has largely ignored the story about W.'s military record (with particular regard to the TX pol who was ashamed of helping him). 

I think it can be summed up this way: Lying (it would seem) makes more 'noise' than the truth, because truth is just that - truth.  Lies on the other hand, can just get bigger, and more sensational and more fanciful with time (and enough cable news cheerleading).

Just some thoughts from a simple but educated voter on Main Street USA who thinks it is important to actually discover the truth before casting a ballot, and hoping other voters, regardless of party affiliation, do the same.

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture

Hey Doc,
Our old liberal friend, the Wall Street Journal, is on a tear lately.  Here's the latest: CPI, or consumer price index, shows inflation to be relatively benign.  Despite this good data, the Journal notes, most middle income families are feeling a cost squeeze.

Here's why:

Health care costs are way up.  Food has gotten pricier.  The costs of sending your kid to a decent college is through the roof.  Property taxes have risen -- and in some areas, quite aggressively.  State and City taxes have generally increased.  And of course, energy costs are dramatically higher than they were this time last year.

To make matters worse, real wages are not keeping up.  By many measures, families are actually sliding backwards.  This is not good for the White House:

WSJ: Inflation Data not good for the incumbent

Favorable inflation numbers should be giving President Bush a boost in his re-election campaign.  But while official figures show inflation remaining in check, consumers are being pinched by higher prices and that could affect votes in November.  At the Sam's Club warehouse store here, Jim Long now buys food in bulk and complains he can no longer afford steak.

Recently, everyday expenses seem to belie government statistics.  The Labor Department's July inflation report found prices rose 3% over the previous 12 months, down a bit from 3.3% in June and still low by historical standards.

Because food and energy prices can be volatile, economists often look at a gauge that excludes those categories to measure underlying inflation trends.  The index, which includes prices for goods such as housing, furniture and cars, has increased at an annual rate of 1.8% in the past year.

This is a perfect example of a failure of classical economics: The data is volatile and sloppy, so the focus shifts to more reliable, but far less informative, inflation analysis: CPI ex-food and energy.  (That means core inflation, only not counting food and gasoline.)

Now, if only we all can figure out how to go about our day without: eating, using heat, electricity, or fuel to commute to work, then we will have whipped inflation!  And all we had to do was ignore the ugly data (a/k/a cooking the books).

Here's another WSJ clip:

The Federal Reserve in July pronounced "underlying inflation" to be "relatively low" and said that some of the recent rise in prices "seems to reflect transitory factors."

For consumers who have been paying about $2 a gallon for gasoline, $5 or more a pound for steak and $3 for a gallon of milk, inflation seems to be a lot higher than the government numbers indicate.
"The problem is, the everyday citizen still doesn't feel like there's a recovery. They judge it by the price of a quart of milk, a loaf of bread or a gallon of gasoline," says Robert Denton, a professor of political communication at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va.

Lower-income voters say they are worried about increased commodity prices, although consumers overall think inflation will remain at an annual rate of about 3% over the next 12 months, according to the University of Michigan consumer survey.  Consumers also believe housing prices are too high, and there is widespread concern among older Americans about rising out-of-pocket health-care costs, says Richard Curtin, director of the university's consumer surveys.

But prices are only part of what is driving consumer unease.  Some feel a pinch because their wages have risen less than prices.  In July, average weekly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, were down 0.7% from a year earlier.

That is little comfort to consumers who seem to pay more attention to higher prices for food and gasoline.  Prices of meat and poultry are 9.2% higher than a year ago, dairy products are up 14%, and gasoline has jumped 26%, according to the Labor Department.

Inflation creeping higher while real wages fail to keep up?  Hardly a beneficial economic backdrop for an incumbent.

Inflation Data May Not Aid Bush
Although Rate of Price Increases Steadies, Consumers Feel Sting of
Higher Food, Gas Costs
Michael Schroeder
The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2004; Page A4

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