December 17, 2004 | 12:13 PM ET

Hmmmm, secret prisons where those incarcerated have no rights, are sometimes tortured and the citizens of the country in question are kept ignorant of its existence.  Who said the Soviet Union died in 1991?  It’s alive and thriving inside the Bush administration.  At least its tactics are, here.  (I wonder when they will start poisoning Democratic candidates…)

Meanwhile, though I’ve not been there, everything out of Iraq tells me that we have already lost this war .  The sooner people start to realize this, the less damage we will inflict upon ourselves, the Iraqi people, and the rest of humankind, and the fewer of our brave soldiers and National Guard men and women—the ones who actually show up for work, Mr. President—will be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for the hubris of our benighted leadership..

America’s greatest television journalist, ever, (and yes he’s my friend and sometime patron, but I’m also a professor of media history and my reputation rests on judgments like that one), Bill Moyers ends his television career tonight.  The New York Times thinks that’s an occasion to quote David Howowitz and L. Brent Bozell, here.  The Star Telegram does a more sensible job here.  This Nation editorial gets it closest to right, though it only scratches the surface of thirty years of unparalleled achievement.  (The rumors that PBS responded to pressure by pushing Moyers out are false by the way.  I can promise you that.  But they’ve also made no efforts as far as I can tell to “balance” his departure with the egregious new programming featuring Tucker Carlson and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.  Not only public television but public discourse itself will be immeasurably impoverished as a result.)

We’ve got a new Think Again column on the media coverage of Social Security.  Um, it ain’t great.  ( Krugman has a few thoughts too.)

And felicitation, as well, to Le Monde Diplomatique.

Next time someone tells you something’s “not fair,” tell ‘em it’s time they learned life's not fair.  (At least we can take some solace in the $21,469.07 monthly maintenance fee…)

Oh, and the world is ending.  No, really.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:
Tree's up.  Roches are singing -- well, now it's Marianne Faithfull with the Chieftains.  I love my shuffle function -- and I'm feeling so merry and bright that I will amiably ask the question that's been rattling around my head since I saw that photo on Page One of the Times from the Medal of Freedom ceremony. To wit,

Which one's Shemp?

My father worked for over 30 years in the public schools.  In fact, the patriarchal end of my family is a tribute to Big Government Programs.  Himself, the GrandDa, walked right off the boat and into a job in a Big Government Program as a beat cop.  This enabled him to raise, among other folks, my father, who went off to a BGP called World War II, which enabled him later to become part of a BGP called the GI Bill, which helped him get a job with a BGP called public education.  Which is how I had the opportunity to become part of the Dreaded Private Sector.

Anyway...

All three of my children went to public schools, so I read with interest the story in yesterday's Post that, according to the latest NEAP study, students in charter schools do not do measurably better than do the public school kids.  What is so politically lovely is that this study bases its findings on the standardized testing scores so beloved by people like Rod Paige, the outgoing cluck at the Department of Education.  (The tests are central to the No Child Left Behind kabuki that someday may send even Republican governors to Capitol Hill with their pitchforks.)  Now, the assault on public education has taken place on two fronts.  The first consisted of the various stratagems -- charter schools, voucher paydays for religious schools, home-schooling -- and the other consisted of forcing public schools into a Procrustean labyrinth -- and, yes, I know I'm mixing myths -- lined with Number Two pencils within which they would be judged as failures if the test scores didn't rise to a certain level.

And now, over the past few months, it has gradually dawned on folks that there's very little difference as measured by those same tests between public school kids and those who are enrolled in the various newfangled systems.  So, do these folks believe in their reform schemes or do they believe in the tests?  Ah, they'll probably blame it on Eminem and video games.

Eric replies: Hey everybody, Bookmark Pierce’s TAP column so I don’t have to do this every week, it’s here.
   
Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to ask "is this it?"  Is all the left planning to do for the next two years is tick-off all the ways Dubya is destroying the nation (to ourselves, because nobody else is listening) and maybe filibuster a couple of judges?  Let me suggest something different.  Recall that the No Child Left Behind Act is the biggest unfunded mandate on local governments in the nation's history.  Here's just one example: the law entitles low-achieving kids in failing school to get after-school tutoring.  Here in Chicago 200,000 students are eligible for such tutoring, but the federal funding only covers 80,000.  Second-rate tutoring at that, done in groups of 15 students.  Now the Department of Education is demanding that Chicago use private tutors (which cost three times as much) or they'll pull the little funding they give.

What if the Democrats announced the following strategy: vow to filibuster every spending bill brought to the floor of the Senate until the Administration fully funds the No Child Left Behind Act.  The only exception would be a clean spending bill relating to our troops in Iraq.  Moreover, the Democrats would promise NOT to filibuster any other spending bill until the next Congress IF the GOP relents on No Child Left Behind.  Such a strategy has a host of benefits.  It will break through the media wall and put the Dems back in the spotlight.  There are scores of media-friendly talking points for the law, and the juxtaposition of it against Dubya's other deficit spending works to the Dems benefit.  Second, it is easily defended: Republicans are the ones who promised to end unfunded mandates, and this is Dubya's own law.  Obstructionist?  Hardly -- the Dems are sacrificing their most powerful remaining tool for the next two years all for the sake of our children.  It screams family values and gives the Dems an identity besides simply being against the Administration.  And it's win-win because when the GOP refuses, the Dems will have protection against the obstructionist charge for when they do filibuster. 

P.S. My favorite Christmas song: Christmas Time by the Chris Stamey Group (former dB).  Sweet, not a scintilla of heavy-handedness, great hook, lightly rocks.

Name: Richard Rand
Hometown: Albuquerque

FYI, here is a study of missile defense published in Physics Today about a year ago, which further highlights the folly of Bush's policy.

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture: Macro perspectives on the Capital Markets, Economy, and Geopolitics
Hey Doc,
We've been treated to two days of sound bites and punditry from the President's economic forum this week.  While the media has been dutifully fulfilling their role as stenographers, the actual populace is not buying into the need for "reform."

Here's the latest poll -- the first since the election:

Mandate/Shmandate  ( mirror)

The first Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll since Bush got re-elected finds that public opinion remains rather skeptical about any shifts in the 69-year-old Social Security program -- which offers retirement and disability income to more than 47 million Americans -- and is wary of rewriting the tax code.

The public, by 50% to 38%, is inclined to believe it's "a bad idea" to let workers invest Social Security taxes in the stock market.  Similarly, the poll found Americans somewhat more likely to advocate leaving the tax code as is, rather than embracing some of the more sweeping changes that have been advanced.

I would be remiss if I failed to point out that private retirement accounts -- such as IRAs and 401k -- have existed for many years.  Further, IRAs in particular tend to be not fully funded by people in the lower salaried employment -- the bottom tax brackets -- who would be most impacted by a decrease in Social Security benefits when they retire.

Playing to the Base: The Journal poll also found that while the president retains "overwhelming personal and ideological support among Republicans" he fares much more poorly among people who have not drunk the kool aid.  Not surprisingly, President Bush generates poor ratings (personal and ideological) among Democrats, and produces "mixed feelings" among political independents. (duh)

How likely is the passage of a full revamp of Social Security or a overhaul of the Tax Code? Perhaps less likely than many presuppose:

"The upshot is that the president, to sell his legislative program, will have to repeat the winning formula for his 2004 campaign: add just enough middle-of-the-road support to his strong political base to form a narrow majority.

On contentious issues such as Social Security and tax overhaul, "that's a difficult starting position," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducts the Journal/NBC survey with his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart. Yet as the November election proved, Mr. McInturff adds, "they have sustained their coalition with these numbers" so far."

For those who believe that a major shift in Social Security is likely to be an unmitigated disaster, that's encouraging news.

Source:
As Bush Sells 2nd-Term Agenda, New Poll Shows Public's Doubts
JOHN HARWOOD and JOHN D. MCKINNON
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, December 16, 2004; Page A4

Name: Linda Dorf
Hometown: South Orange, NJ

Much of this "seige on Christmas" originates with the Alliance Defense Fund.  They have a Christmas Project which serves as a tool to divide communities by faith and politics.  The Alliance Defense Fund, which has close ties to Focus on the Family, promotes an agenda of creationism and Christianity in the public schools.  The Christmas Project is designed as a hot button to prompt discord by declaring that Christmas has been banned from the public sector and then seeking redress in the courts.

According to the ADF site, 3,000 communities have been targetted this year for special Christmas attention.

BTW, this meme that the U.S. is not a secular nation just gets stronger and stronger.  In a speech just before Thanksgiving in a NYC synagogue, Scalia declared that unlike Germany, we are a Christian rather than a secular nation and therefore the holocaust could never happen here.

Name: Wally Bowen, MOUNTAIN AREA INFORMATION NETWORK
Eric
As you recall, the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) in Asheville, N.C. is a nonprofit Internet Service Provider (ISP).  Our annual budget is comprised primarily of revenue from our dial-up and Web hosting services.  We also offer wireless broadband in a growing number of local communities we serve here in North Carolina.

A recent major network upgrade now allows us to offer unlimited dial-up Internet access NATIONWIDE.  This service will be marketed under the brand of " IndyLink" (the Web site is near completion) to progressives who believe in supporting an independent media and progressive causes in general.  At $14.95 a month, this service will include spam/virus filtering, dial-up  accelerator, and pop-up blocker.  We also have the strictest privacy  protection of any ISP.  As a progressive nonprofit, we can assure subscribers that we do NOT harvest personal information or track online sessions -- and then turn around and share this information with marketing partners.

We also have a rock-solid network platform at a state-of-the-art co-location facility near here.  We've been offering dial-up access and Web hosting since 1996, so we have considerable technical expertise under our belt.  We can also assure subscribers that their tech-support calls will NOT be routed to low-wage workers in India.

In short, we are giving progressives -- who only need or can only afford dial-up -- the ability to put their Internet dollars where their values are, rather than continuing to send their dollars to support an undemocratic corporate media.  What we lack is national marketing reach.  That's why I would like your quick feedback on the following concept: We are considering taking 1 percent of our annual gross revenue and distributing it to various national progressive nonprofits, such as the ones with which many of you are affiliated.  (I'm sure many of you will recognize this as the Working Assets model.)  The distribution would be based on an annual vote by IndyLink subscribers.

This program, we hope, will provide a financial incentive for the national nonprofit to encourage their supporters to switch to IndyLink.

Our market research shows that demand for dial-up, while falling sharply among middle-class urban users, will continue to be substantial among lower-income and rural users of the Internet over the next 4-5 years.  We know there's a viable niche for a progressive nonprofit ISP like IndyLink.

What do you think?

December 16, 2004 | 12:19 PM ET

High-tech rat hole

The genius of this administration (and its allies), I keep saying over and over, is to launch so many wars on so many fronts that no one -not a newspaper and certainly not one little Weblog- can hope to keep track.  Journalists committed to an “objective” rendering of events are loathe to paint too accurate a portrait of what’s actually happening lest too much reality provide evidence of dreaded “liberal bias” merely through the act of attempting to cut through the BS and tell a little bit of the truth.

Today, for instance, we find the American president pretending that his frightful lack of fiscal discipline is not doing exactly what it is doing; that is destroying confidence in the dollar and significantly reduce its purchasing power.  In Iraq, chaos continues to reign, with Iraqis and Americans being killed at an alarming rate, a Potemkin Election Campaign, with events like this (borrowed from Today’s Papers): 

Dr. Allawi's campaign started on an odd note, when American and Iraqi forces closed off sections of central Baghdad so he could leave the Green Zone and cross the Tigris River to declare his candidacy at a sports club.  But Western reporters judged the three-mile journey to be too hazardous in the bus provided by Allawi aides, and remained behind.

(Of course an honest election would elect an Islamic theocracy, but don’t worry, there’s no chance of an honest election.)  Political assassinations appear to be in vogue, as well.

At home they are rewarding people who would attempt to legalize and condone torture (which is happening all across Iraq and ripping off children's funds to pay for experimental vaccines.  (Here’s the slogan: “Money for torture but not for vaccines.”) 

Oh and the guy who helped ruin Medicare while in office just collected his payoff, estimated to be more than $2 million a year.  And that’s just business as usual.

I could go on like this indefinitely if I had nothing else to do today but the real issue I wanted to focus on is missile defense.  Ever since March 1983 when Ronald Reagan got it into his head that we could build an astrodome over the earth and created a crash program with almost no respectable scientific or expert input, this albatross has been nothing more than a welfare program for generals and defense contractors -men who often turn out to be the same person,  see under “Tauzin” for a domestic allegory- but the scale is really something to behold.  This particular administration’s obsession with Star Wars crowded out any attention it might have been willing to pay to terrorism during the 9/11 days, but even with all of the evildoings discussed above, it still finds money to pour more and more billions down this high-tech rat hole while at the same time pretending it is not the unarguable failure it has proved to be at virtually every moment of its existence for the past 21 years—and counting.  Want the shorthand version in two easy steps?

  1. “The first test of a national missile defense system in two years failed Wednesday when the "kill vehicle" never got off the ground.”  Here

  2. Quote of the Day from the same story: "I definitely wouldn't categorize it as a setback of any kind."

Here’s an old piece I wrote about this years ago, but one of the best sites for SDI info can be found here.

Merry Christmas, from Fox News.

How to be a “character assassin” in one easy step:  Just repeat what Bill O'Reilly says

P.S.  Frank Rich smacks O'Reilly around as well.

Alter-reviews
A few weeks ago, when The Today Show asked Sue Miller to pick her favorite novel by a (relatively) unknown writer, she chose my friend Brian Morton’s most recent work, A Window Across the River .  I beg to differ.  I feel pretty certain Starting Out in the Evening, which inspired an essay I wrote years ago in the Times Book Review, here (but not free), is his masterpiece, but I’m not going to quibble with someone who can get you so much attention from “America’s Favorite Family.”  Such quiet, meticulously crafted novels almost never get the attention they deserve and that’s one of the reasons, at least in my opinion, to justify my use of this space.

Corresponents’ Corner:

Name: Dan Friedman
Hometown: Harrison, NY

Eric,
I planned on responding to the Scarborough post but I had my office Christmas party (which, being the only Jew, was somewhat surreal as always) and didn't have access to the computer.

With regard to the notion that Hollywood is dominated by the secular Jews, I find it incredulous that folks like William Donahue and Jennifer Giroux (can someone please explain to me what makes her an expert on ANYTHING) continually want to take us back to the halcyon days of 1955.

If they want to state the Jews created Hollywood, I have no problem with the fact that Hollywood was run by the Jews.  In fact, it's one of my bragging points.  But as it was pointed out and conveniently overlooked, that ain't so anymore and it hasn't been the case since at least the late 1950's.  And lest we forget that Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, and the rest were all huge Republicans.  The biggest stars of the day (Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart) would be considered right-wing nutjobs today.  So to continue to lay the blame for everything that is wrong with the product produced by Hollywood (and I'm the first person to lament a lot of the dreck it spits out) at the feet of the Jews, as William Donahue seems to do, is to not be living in reality.  And Jennifer Giroux seems borderline psychotic which I guess makes her perfect for cable news.

The fact that we still talk about this is incredulous.  The Passion of the Christ, for whatever else you want to call it, is a movie.  It's not a lost gospel or a revelation.  It almost makes one wonder if Donahue and his fellow travelers don't realize their own hypocrisy.  I recall, as I am sure you do as well, the uproar over The Last Temptation of Christ, a film with not a tenth of the violence and gore of The Passion, but which caused Herr Donahue to protest the studios (read: the Jews) and give a pass to it's director (Martin Scorsese, a Catholic).  Isn't that an insult, to basically insinuate Scorsese must have been duped or blinded by the dollars the studio threw at him by the moneychangers?

I guess I'm not surprised that these people feel this way, I'm just surprised they now feel there is no repercussion for saying so publicly and blatantly.  And honestly, The Passion could be nominated and win any number of Oscars.  I thought it deserved the cinematography award hands down.  If the Academy is smart, they will nominate both it and Fahrenheit 911 and give the award to Sideways.

December 15, 2004 | 11:23 AM ET

Crazy's more credible?

No global development is more worrisome than the crazy folks in North Korea getting a deliverable nuclear weapon.  The Clinton administration had an extremely imperfect policy in this area and the president himself really screwed up by not sealing the deal by visiting North Korea at the end of his administration.  (He admits this, by the way.  Weird, huh?  A president admitting a mistake.)  But as Sig Harrison writes in the current Foreign Affairs, when, two years ago, Washington accused Pyongyang of running a secret nuclear weapons program, "a review of the facts shows that the Bush administration misrepresented and distorted the data -while ignoring the one real threat North Korea actually poses.”  It’s a sad but amazing fact that two crazy dictators have now proven more believable about their own weapons program than the president of the United States… but there it is.

(And while you’re in Foreign Affairs, see the debate as to whether it was the administration’s incompetence that doomed the war or the war was doomed as a “fool’s errand” from the start.  Of course both can be true, in degree.)  That’s here and here.

Er, the buck stops with Rumsfeld, says Bill Kristol, not with the guy who appointed him, retained him, and continues despite everything, to express full confidence in him.

Please stop writing me about Little Roy’s compulsion to share his nocturnal emissions with his readership.  Living with my own six year old, I’ve had enough of such conversations to last me a lifetime.  I do think Roy might want to start to think about starting his own “bathroom blog” the way Mickey has spun off his car obsession.  I hear some guys are into that. 

And those of you who want a reply/critique to Peter Beinart, I’ve secured an extra 600 words for next week’s Nation column to do that.  I know I do a blog here, but I still find it weird how everybody is expected to reply to everything immediately.  Don’t forget it took John Dewey five years to reply to Walter Lippmann…

Speaking of this crazy world of ours, there is something a little nutty about correcting a fake news show that is consistently superior to every single example of the real thing, but if Jon Stewart is going to continue to carry this heavy burden, then someone should have a talk with the guy who put Lani Guinier in the category of cabinet nominees undone by “nanny” problems.  Lani was never nominated for a cabinet position and she had no nanny issues; the problem was that her excellent writings on problems of representation were twisted by conservatives into an albatross around her neck, and Clinton did not want to spend any political capital in defense of her complex reasoning.  And put me in the category of people who believe that this whole story of Kerik’s about the nanny is made up.  I don’t doubt that he broke this law; most people with nannies do. I just think the idea that he did it once is a bunch of crap.

Meanwhile Why the Democrats Lost, continued...

  1. Mike Tomasky
  2. Mike Kazin and Todd Gitlin in Mother Jones but not online
  3. Gitlin online but abbreviated

Alter-reviews
I made my annual holiday pilgrimage to Feinstein's at the Regency last night to see Michael Feinstein and his um, extremely fine seven piece band that included the great Bucky Pizzarelli do a show he calls “Holiday Heart Songs.”  Feinstein is kind of an ur-entertainer.  His voice is not really distinctive, but he inhibits the music so profoundly you find yourself transported by the music.  I had no idea what a masterpiece “Lullaby of Broadway” was until I heard Feinstein sing it last night.  I also very much appreciated the musical education Feinstein offered in his introductions to the songs of people like Harry Warren, Hugh Martin, and Howard Dietz, who do not get the ink of Messrs. Porter, Berlin or Gershwin, but whose work belongs in (just about) the same category.  What’s more, he did an entirely credible and quite uplifting “Great Balls of Fire.”  Also he’s right, Tom Lehrer’s “Hanukkah in Santa Monica” deserves to go right to the top of that tiny canon.  Ok, now the bad news: $60 cover; $40 minimum early show, $30 for the late show.

Elton John & Rod Stewart.  Two rock icons who, up until 1975, had released some of the greatest albums of all time.  And since then, have released some of the worst.  But this year sees Rod & Elton trying again.  Elton's "Peachtree Road,' was the best thing since 1976's "Blue Moves," and although I can say nothing positive about Stewart's three abysmal attempts at the "Great American Songbook," his new DVD "One Night Only: Live At The Royal Albert Hall," has some magical moments.

A 17 song set that relegates just 5 American standards to its middle, Rod and his band, rollick through some classics, such as the opener "You Wear It Well," "Handbags & Gladrags," and two with ex-bandmate and former Face, Ron Wood.  Seeing the boys together gave me chills and made me long for that overdue Faces reunion that keyboardist Ian McLagan has been campaigning for since the year Gimmel.

Overall it's a nice package and a fun show that upsets me more than delights me, thanks to Rod's weak vocals.  He's sounds more like Carol Channing than his old self.  But, we take what we can get, and it's certainly a billion times better than hearing him caterwaul "It Had To Be You."
Sal
NYCD

Eric adds: But let’s keep in mind folks, Sal has gone on record in this space musing that the Faces may be been a better band than the Stones, which makes him both a purist and a little bit obsessive about Classic Rod.  I think Rod’s voice sounds fine on this DVD, but I too could live without his version of “What a Wonderful World” in exchange for a reprise of “Stay with Me.”

Name: Michael Brendan Dougherty
Hometown: Brewster, NY

Hey Eric,
I'm one of those awful young anti-war paleocons -and in a blue state- which makes me a Latte-Burkean or something.  I realize there is nothing more loathsome than a young conservative (especially of my type) so enough of politics:

I also love the new William Shatner album.  It helps to be a fan of Ben Folds and his work on the production is apparent to anyone familiar with his career.  The album works by sliding between its comedic and serious elements quickly and even within the same song.  "That's Me Trying" is very melancholic but all of the funny asides and details actually heighten the emotion.  Similarly the bombastically funny "You'll Have Time" has a Chestertonian pathos of making a point by making you laugh.  It also holds up to a repeated listening.

Also, if you haven't already, tell your readers to check out Nellie McKay.  I saw her before she was signed, downtown at Fez under Time Cafe.  Progressive politics and pop culture skewering delivered with a wit and coo that makes this Burkean blush.

Name: Nancy Pickard
Hometown: Prairie Village, Ks.

Dear Eric,
One day I was toodling along in my car with the radio on and I happened to tune into a song that was so witty, so rich and tuneful, so well performed, that I had to sit in my car until it finished.  I couldn't wait to hear who the artist was. . .yep. . .William Shatner.  You could have knocked me over with a 45 rpm vinyl.  And, yeah, his Boston Legal character is terrific, too.

Name: Paul Wolfson
Hometown: Hanover, NH

2 of the Barenaked Ladies songs that Steven Anderson mentions can be heard at about 1:04:30 of this music stream.

This is (IMHO) one of the best shows online, and they do it every day, without a net!

December 14, 2004 | 1:36 PM ET

A tale in headlinesWays to Destroy a Great Nation in just a few headlines in a single daily newspaper.

  1. Mislead the country into an endless, unwinnable, counterproductive, and extremely expensive war, here.

  2. In that war, destroy your moral authority worldwide and incite countless additional enemies by taking a “see no evil” attitude to torture, up to and including murder, here.

  3. In fact, encourage brutality on the part of your undertrained, inexperienced soldiers so that even the C.I.A. wants to know nothing about it, here.

  4. Treat the actual security of your homeland with undisguised contempt, here.

  5. Forcibly silence the people willing to tell the truth here.  (Ok, not a headline from today’s paper, but we had her on the show last night and she’s fresh in my mind, and I didn’t want to forget.)

  6. Attempt to destroy the authority of those international bodies that demonstrate your mendacity, here.

  7. Continue to express confidence in the people who have screwed everything up and refused to admit any errors, here.

  8. And while you’re at it, foment a phony crisis in order to destroy the most successful social program in the nation’s history—one that just happens to be associated you’re your opponent’s political party, here.

  9. Support the destruction of working people’s ability to ensure themselves dignity and decent pay in the workplace through collective bargaining, here.

I’ll stop for now.

Words I never thought I’d say:  William Shatner's new album is really great.   No really.  It’s moving, funny, and ironic (I think) in all the right places.  And how funny is that guy on “Boston Legal?”  Too bad he’s kind of a fascist.  Or was.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Steve Rosenblum
Hometown: Wilmington
Dear Eric,
Thanks for the article and links to Scarborough Country.  One point I'd like to flag is their overall agreement that "secular Hollywood" (or secular Jews, depending on who makes the statement) is responsible for all of the "bad movies" coming out of Hollywood today.  If we can accept the supposition that the early pioneers of Hollywood were disproportionately Jewish (disproportionate with respect to their percentage in the overall population), then I would wager quite a bit that the movie makers of the 1940's and 1950's were much more secular than those of today.

From my own experience, everyone I know (Jews as well as Christians and Muslims) are more religious today than when I was growing up.  Heck, my (Jewish) family has celebrated Christmas for at least 3 generations, and the Synagogue we belonged to did not even offer Bar/Bat Mitzvah's until well after I was in college in the late 1980's. 

What I've seen is that up until the mid or late 1970's, Jews and other minority groups had a strong tendency to try to assimilate into the mainstream culture.  Gradually, assimilation was shunned in favor of multiculturalism.  At least among Jews that I know, religious expression expanded greatly over this period.

So, the whole premise in "Scarborough Country" that secular Jews (or others) ruined Hollywood seems ludicrous.  If anything, one might be able to argue that Hollywood's Golden Age was dominated by secular moviemakers, while the more pious filmmakers of today are making the movies that offend the religious right.

Name: Stephen Anderson
Hometown: Los Angeles
Eric,
Working in the music business, I get a chance to collect some fun, different Christmas albums, and yes, Hanukkah albums too.  I have the obligatory Beach Boys, Phil Spector's "A Christmas Gift For You," Elvis, etc.  Also Louis Armstrong, Boy's Choir of Harlem, John Fahey, many many more.

But the real joy is finding some stuff outside the mainstream.  I have several compilations from when I worked at Capitol Studios featuring such divers artists as Kate Bush, Cliff Richard, Shawn Colvin, The Ramones, James Brown, Bobby Darin, well, the list goes on and on.

Until now, my absolute fave was The Roche's "We Three Kings."  With humor and joy, their voices soar as only they can.  They are a spine tingling delight as they take on the usual songs, plus several originals.

But I've found something new: The Barenaked Ladies' "Barenaked For The Holidays."  What a thrill!  They do everything from very respectful versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" with Sarah McLaughlin, followed by a very witty ode to Elves who want to unionize, "Elf's Lament," with lyrics spun at the speed of their popular "One Week."  We have roller rink organ stylings, straight ahead rock'n'roll, even a version of Deck The Halls ("Deck The Stills") sung entirely with the lyrics of "Crosby Stills Nash & Young."  These guys are so charmingly out of their minds, it's a joy to hear.  They even throw in a straight reading of "Do They Know It's Christmas," far and away a better Christmas charity song that MJ's treacly "We Are The World."  I mean come on Mike, It's supposed to be a charity song about starving people in Africa, and the title includes the plural pronoun 'we'?

The Ladies men also include "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah," and " I Have A Little Dreidl" for Jewish folks.  And it's all topped off by a very earnest "Auld Lang Syne" that is so solid and rootsy, it almost makes you want to thrust your cigarette lighter into the air and wave.

This is the funniest, most creative ChrismaHanuKwanza album I have heard in years, and I highly recommend it.

December 13, 2004 | 3:35 PM ET

Comically credulous

Josh Marshall has a useful round-up of some of the missing pieces of the coverage of the administration’s meltdown on its appointment of Bernard Kerik to head the Homeland Security department, as well as the almost comically credulous New York Times coverage of the event, particularly when compared with the Newsweek piece that appeared at the same moment, and yet gave readers a far more useful explication of the various shenanigans involving Kerik that make the appointment appear an almost willfully self-inflicted wound on the part of the administration.

The screw-up is being portrayed as just the opposite, of course, by a media that loathe to look too deeply into anything with Karl Rove’s stamp of approval, but in fact it is the entire Homeland Security issue writ large, which is just one reason The Wall Street Journal can report that “few qualified contenders want the job, according to administration insiders, senior Republicans and top officials inside the Department of Homeland Security,” here

Another for instance:  Does this sentence remind you of any recent wars or anything?

It is unclear why White House lawyers could not uncover a warrant that Newsweek discovered after a few days of research, although some are blaming Bush's insistence on speed and secrecy for failing to catch this and other potential red flags in Kerik's background.

When the next attack on the United States comes, Americans will wonder just what the hell was occupying our government as it ignored the vulnerability of our chemical plants, nuclear plants, ports, and food supply in order to waste lives and resources chasing chimerical enemies in Iraq and creating new terrorist enemies across the Middle East.  As currently constituted, this administration’s effort to protect us is often little more than another pork barrel for Republican members and senators to fund unneeded and wasteful projects while our true vulnerabilities go ignored.

Of course, what they know is that Bush will benefit politically from any attack, no matter what the circumstances, just has he did when his administration proved asleep at the proverbial switch on 9/11 and then panicked (and lied to us) in its immediate aftermath.

(And talk about family values.)

Why I don’t believe in “principles” anymore
Well, I believe in them for children, but not for adults.  For adults I believe in results.  Let me give you an example.  According to the results of a recent Gallup Poll:

Less than a third (31%) of Americans would favor an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would "allow a U.S. citizen who was born in a foreign country to be elected president."  Two-thirds (67%) would oppose such an amendment.  These results are roughly in line with results from a survey conducted in August 2003, while Schwarzenegger was campaigning for governor.

In principle, I think it’s wrong that foreign-born Americans cannot become president.  I mean, who cares?  Lots of people who would make great presidents were not born in the U.S. and, in principle, nobody should be penalized for where he happened to be born.  A citizen is a citizen is a citizen.

On the other hand, almost everything in this country will suck a great deal more if we elect yet another Republican next time around, and Arnold’s eligibility would make that more likely.  So I’m against it.  Who cares about the “principle?”  My acting on principle is not going to do anybody any good save the fact that I get to feel self-righteous.  But reducing the likelihood of another four or eight years of Republican misrule sure will, especially to the people living on the margins, most vulnerable to the various cruelties of extremist Republican rule.  To me that’s an easy choice.  If you need a “principle,” to make you feel better, I chose utilitarianism.  (A second argument against principle in this case is that the Republicans have none—see “Bush vs. Gore”-- and their opponents cripple themselves if they act upon theirs.  But I don’t even need to go that far.)

What was the name of that Elvis Christmas song again?  “I’ll have a ….

I write a lot about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism here.  I’m not convinced they are the same thing, but they often bleed into one another on the Left.  The sole sour note for me about The Nation cruise from which I just returned was the strength of the anti-Israel animus one sensed among a significant portion of the audience and some of the panelists—mirroring recent writings in the magazine.  I heard no expressions of anti-Semitism —Alexander Cockburn was not present— but one gets an uneasy feeling nevertheless at the vehemence with which some people feel a need to voice their “solidarity” with the Palestinian cause.

Lots of times these people get me thinking like a neocon.  After all, what is it about the Palestinians that makes their cause so central?  I mean, for me, as a Jew, it's central, because it's my landsmen doing the oppressing and I feel a strong sense of personal responsibility.  But what about, for instance, the entire continent of Africa?  What about the global AIDS crisis?  What about Dafur and the Sudan?  What for God’s sake about the rest of the Arab world—places like Syria and Egypt and Saudi Arabia where the masses seem to me to be rather oppressed as well?  Why don’t any of these solidarity types ever get excited about that oppression?

Then again, I have to admit, the anti-Semitism I encounter on the Right –while often cloaked in the language of support for Israel—feels even more troubling to me because everything the Right does is more important than what the Left does these days, given the disparity of power and influence.  For instance Fox’s Bill O’Reilly is approximately a million times more influential than any Nation magazine cruise goer as well most of its writers and editors and he recently told a Jewish caller, “[I]f you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel." ( Here.)  When the ADL’s director objected to this bit of anti-Semitic agitation, O’Reilly called him “ a nut.

Even more bizarre, and disturbing, was a recent edition of “Scarborough Country” in which guest-host Pat Buchanan—a man with a soft spot for accused Nazi war criminals and Holocaust revisionists—hosted a program in which William Donahue of the Catholic League complained that “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular” but “likes anal sex.”  (Got that?)

When (the very strange) Rabbi Shmuley Boteach tried to jump in, Pat Buchanan interceded on behalf of his fellow Catholic conservative to help legitimate his incitement to attack on Jews—both for making bad movies like “Fahrenheit 9/11—which, um, was made by a gentleman of Irish extraction and rejected by “Jewish Hollywood” in the person of Michael Eisner despite its likely profitability, but never mind that—when the following exchange occurred:

BOTEACH:  Stop the anti-Semitic garbage, OK? 
(CROSSTALK)
DONAHUE:  Who‘s making the movies?  The Irishmen? 
(CROSSTALK)
BOTEACH:  Michael Moore is certainly not a Jew.  Let me speak here,
DONAHUE:  I didn‘t question that.
BOTEACH:  Hollywood has become a cesspit because it‘s secular, period. 
Don‘t this us—don‘t tell us that it‘s secular Jews. 
DONAHUE:  So the Catholics are running Hollywood, huh?
(CROSSTALK)
Is it time for Hollywood to dump Michael Moore, and how will the red states react if Tinseltown awards Michael an Oscar this year, and he trashes the president again in front of a TV audience of a billion people on Oscar night? 
Bill Donahue, I said I would give you the right of response to the Rabbi‘s remarks before the break.  The floor is yours. 
DONAHUE:  Yes. 
Obviously, he‘s concerned about secularists.  I‘m talking about secularists in Hollywood.  They‘re not Rastafarians.  They‘re Jews.  Just pick up any copy of the Jewish...
(CROSSTALK)
DONAHUE:  And you‘ll learn that.
BOTEACH:  Those Jews. 
DONAHUE:  You‘re going to tell me that the Chinese don‘t live in Chinatown, right?  To say that Hollywood is dominated by secular Jews...
Jennifer GIROUX:  Yes. 
All I can say, Rabbi, is, you‘ve got to concede the fact—and it‘s difficult because we all at times in life have to say, I‘m sorry, I was wrong—we cannot go back and make it that the Hawaiians killed Christ.  Mel Gibson and all Christians...
BOTEACH:  What are you talking about? 
GIROUX:  I‘m saying you can‘t rewrite history.
BUCHANAN:  Rabbi, cut the personal insults, please.  Rabbi, cut the insults, personal insults, please.
(CROSSTALK)
BOTEACH:  Oh, come on, Pat. 
(CROSSTALK)
BOTEACH:  The Jews are ruining the world and you‘re telling me to cut the insults?  Come on, Pat.  Get real here, OK? 

Remember Buchanan and Donahue were all complaining about the treatment of a movie that is itself an incitement to anti-Semitism, and an extremely twisted reading of the gospels to boot, and this Jennifer Giroux person seems genuinely annoyed at us for actually killing Christ.

The next time someone complains about anti-Semitism and insists it comes only from the Left or the Right, you know that that person is himself intellectually dishonest and looking only to score political points.  But while the Leftist kind could hardly be more marginal— the conservative kind is being broadcast to the world by the world’s most powerful media corporations and dressed up in patriotic garb.  Tell me which one looks more worrisome?

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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