December 31, 2004 | 12:07 PM ET

Thank God that’s over.  My motto in life is that things can always get worse, though it’s hard to imagine exactly how.  A special thanks to Pierce and all the incredible altercators I am so fortunate to have amassed for making this Weblog so much more interesting than it would be with just me.  And thanks, of course, to all my readers for your attention and support.  See you next year and please, do yourselves a favor today and open up your wallets and buy yourselves some good karma.  Relief addresses are again below.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:
The next time I go to New York, the streets are going to seem a little less safe -- and a lot less interesting -- without Lennie Briscoe, I'll tell you that.  "OK, so this guy spends Saturday night alone, punching the clown..."  And he could sing, too, and he could shoot him some stick.  In pacem, big guy.

Let's do something interesting.  OK?  I mean, as long as some of the lower-echelon cabana boys of the Avignon Presidency decided to bring it up.  Let's imagine we could put Bill Clinton and C-Plus Augustus on identical airplanes.  Let's fly them both simultaneously to Sri Lanka.  Let's have them land at the same time and then let's have them taxi up, side by side.  Let's have both men disembark together.  Does any sentient person believe that the fervor of their respective receptions would be anything close to equal?  There wouldn't be enough people around the incumbent to carry his bags.  One of these men is an international figure of nearly universal respect.  The other one has to be swathed in bubble wrap to go to Canada.  However, it was nice of Himself to arrange such an energetic kickoff for Jebbie's '08 campaign.

What I don't understand are these reports that some of the tourists who booked New Year's package tours to these poor drowned places SHOWED UP ANYWAY!  I mean, Jeebus Christmas, the body count's well into six figures, and these people come to toss frisbees and drink MaiTais surrounded by mass graves.  Who are the people who would do that?  The rich are different from you and me, Doc.  Many of them are morons.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to enter the fray.  Here are some headlines (front page for all but one) which I collected in the last 45 days:

  • China Picks Up Slack in U.S. Aid to Central America
  • Chinese Move to Eclipse U.S. Appeal in Southeast Asia
  • U.S. Slips in Status as Hub of Higher Education (guess who is moving up)
  • Out of Beijing (China's projects in Sudan example of new Africa oil policy)
  • Venezuela Agrees to Export Oil and Gas to China
  • China Negotiating Oil and Gas Deal with Canada

OK, so what is all this about how the left should galvanize around fighting Islamofacism?  You'd think the rest of the world promised to stand still while we're bogged down in Iraq.  Yes, the left needs a more coherent message than "we support the 9-11 Report."  (I fear that neither side grasps how much things could change if the war on terror here starts to look like the war on terror everywhere else in the world, i.e., exploding buses rather than exploding airplanes.)  The left can plausibly argue that they want to fight the war on terror the way that Reagan fought Communism: international alliances, promoting democracy and undermining the enemy's resources.  But the greatest danger that the U.S. faces both at home and abroad is Dubya's giant economic Tragedy of the Commons.  If you want a Pax Americana, you have to avoid the mistakes of the Pax Romana.  We can survive the war on terror, we can't survive turning into Argentina.  The Republicans are going to use the war on terror as a justification for the decreasing social mobility in our nation (among other things).  I think Peter Beinart unintentionally sets-up a trap for the left to support them on this.  You (Eric) may be correct that liberals won't win elections without a better national security image, but there's not much we can do other than focusing the message and have some faith that facts are stubborn things. 

The above notwithstanding, Happy New Year to Altercators everywhere! 

From: newsletter@convio.com
Convio.com
Dear Eric,
Millions of victims in Southeast Asia need help to recover from the tragic events of the past week.  Among the many groups mobilizing to meet this need are several nonprofit organizations that work with Convio.  Below are links to donation pages these organizations have set up to raise funds for the tsunami victims.  Please consider lending your support to these or other organizations that are trying to address this crisis.
Donate to:

  • Action Against Hunger
  • Catholic Medical Mission Board
  • Compassion International
  • Feed The Children
  • Mercy Corps

In addition to these organizations, The American Red Cross is seeking donations to tsunami disaster relief. You can donate online to the Red Cross.

Please forward this message to colleagues, friends or family members looking for ways to support the victims.

Thank you for your support.

Name: Jane Hamsher
Hometown: Otter Rock, Oregon

Dear Dr. Alterman,
I am a big fan of your blog, thanks for writing about Susan Sontag so aptly.  I met her once when I was a borderline retard college freshman trying to interview her, and she was incredible.  I really appreciated that you pointed out most of the people who wasted airspace tearing her down weren't fit to shine her shoes. 

I would love it if you would check out my blog.  I put together a list of all the airlines who would allow you to donate airline mileage directly in the tsunami relief effort to organizations like the Red Cross, Unicef and Habitat for Humanity, among others.  I haven't seen any other such lists, and I've been getting a lot of e-mails from people saying they really appreciate the information, they wouldn't have thought about it as a way they could give.  It's a great way for people who feel like they're a bit cash strapped to feel like they're doing something.

If you could mention it, I'm sure it would make a huge difference.  The Tsunami help blog mentioned it, and I don't think the information is collected together anyplace else on the Web.

Anyway, my next task is e-mailing "Patsy" Powell.

Name: Tim
Hometown: Mediachannel.org

Stingy?

For perspective, the $35 million dollars in aid that the U.S. has committed to tsunami relief efforts equals three-and-a-half hours of the cost of fighting the Iraq War.

How does this compute, you ask?

According to "Project Billboard" the War has cost America more than $157 billion.  Though "Cost of War" more conservatively puts the number at $147.6 billion (as of 6:00pm EST, 01.30.04)

America has been at war in Iraq for approximately 654 days. So, taking the more conservative number, that means:

654 days X 24 hours = 15,696 hours;

$147.6 billion / 15,696 hours = approx $9.4 million/hr

Jeff my accountant in Grand Rapids points out, it may be costing more than the $10M an hour because this calculation is based on straight-line averaging.  "In fact, we have more troops deployed today than we did a year ago," he writes.  "I would say the actual hourly cost right now is probably closer to $12 M or more."

Go figure.

More at my newly launched blog MediaCitizen.  Happy New Year.

Hello, Dr. Alterman:
Thanks for alerting your readers to the Mediaweek findings about Brent Bozell's bozos spamming the FCC.  I hope I'm just one of thousands who thought this was a challenge worth rising to.

In case you collect samples of letters sent in as a result of your link, I'm appending mine below.  Hope it's not falling on deaf ears down there... when urged to write anyone in this administration, I usually figure they're impervious to opposing views, but perhaps Powell's loyalties are dislodgable (considering, among other things, how this top-down lockstep crew treated his dad).
Best,
Bill Millard

Dear Chairman Powell:

I understand that the FCC's recent clampdowns on free speech are influenced in large degree by complaints from the Parents Television Council (source of 99.8 percent of the so-called "indecency" complaints in 2003, according to Mediaweek's investigation posted at http://www.mediaweek.com/mediaweek/headlines/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000731656).  I am curious about why you seem to consider the occasional exposure of a human body part a greater obscenity than the diminution of free expression.

When policy changes impinging on free speech result from a barrage of complaints by one organization, any citizen must wonder whether you, as a public official, serve the entire population or that group alone.  PTC does not represent the nation as a whole; it is simply a well-organized interest group advocating a quixotic puritanism explicitly rooted in a theocratic belief system antithetical to the principles expressed in the First Amendment. Do not confuse the number of PTC's complaints (I trust you understand the technologies behind spam) with the breadth of its support. Believers in free speech still outnumber them.

If the tender sensibilities of the PTC can't handle the trivial challenges of pop culture -- a mildly salacious halftime show, say, or a few comedians whose vocabularies include certain blunt monosyllables that have been part of the English language for centuries -- then these easily offended people can simply turn the channel. But if the state asserts increasing control over the full range of expression (ranging from sexual display and humor to the more 'serious' art forms to the political dissent and investigative journalism that are the lifeblood of democracy), those of us who still honor the First Amendment will have no recourse at all.

Please reconsider your policies and your apparent loyalties. A free, open, and substantively democratic culture may gradually disappear from the United States, God forbid, but if this happens, it won't be because of Howard Stern or Janet Jackson. It will be because of a theocratic faction that has the temerity to call itself "Christian" as it sends Jefferson and Orwell spinning in their graves. Please recognize the PTC for what it is, and please start listening to the rest of us.

Regards,
William B. Millard
New York, NY

Name: Michael Rapoport
Eric:
I know everyone figures it's in the works, but I haven't seen it stated quite this baldly elsewhere: The WSJ, in its 2005 preview, says Bruce will have a new album next year.

By the way, if you haven't been reading Doonesbury lately, get caught up.  The current storyline lampoons Bush's thirst for blind loyalty, as a certain character you'll recognize is tapped as " Secretary of Toady Affairs."

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown:: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
OK, my last rant for the year about the music industry:

Yesterday, we discussed the attempts to wring more dollars out of smaller numbers of music buyers.  Today’s rave looks at a new fallacy gaining traction: Decreasing CD sales can be supplemented with increasing music DVD sales:

DVDs continue cannibalizing CDs

The NYT gets it exactly backwards with this headline: “ Music Labels Look to DVD's as Sales of CD's Decline.”  A more accurate headline would have read: “ Sales of CD's Decline as DVD's Soar.”

We considered this previously in terms of movies on the DVD format; lately, we've been noticing DVDs as a musical format (i.e, concerts and videos) are also kicking some serious CD butt.  DVD music sales have been slowly eating away at the entire CD format.

It's no surprise why: at $15, the CD is a decreasingly attractive value to consumers, versus the DVD.  One contains 45 minutes of audio; the other 2 plus hours of audio, video, documentaries, interviews and additional content.  Which provides a better bang for the increasingly tight consumer dollar?

The music biz marketing wizards need to face facts: CDs are a lousy deal.  Indeed, the so-called free DVD given away with a CD purchase is a misnomer; buy the DVD -- The more desired product -- and it comes with a free CD.

As much as they desperately want to blame P2P, the dysfunctional labels need realize that nearly all of the “old economy” media have been suffering a sales slow down: Newspaper readership is down big; Televised sports programs have seen their audiences slide; Film attendance is soft (revenues are up due to increasing ticket prices); Magazine sales have been lackluster; The Book Industry Study Group reported that sales dropped by 23 million units from 2002 to 2003.

Increased competition from many digital formats -- internet, TiVo, DVD, video games, and digital music -- are competing for scarce consumer time and money. Why is it that only the music industry gets to blame the P2P boogie man for its woes?

Source:
Music Labels Look to DVD's as Sales of CD's Decline
Robert Levine
NYT, December 27, 2004

Is Hollywood to blame for the music industry's woes?
Meredith Amdur
Variety, March 31, 2004

Sal responds:

Name: Sal
Hometown: NYC

I don't understand how Barry can call "CDs a lousy deal."  And I'm not just saying this because I sell them for a living.  When did watching a video and 45 minutes of documentary footage become the same thing as listening to 12 new songs by an artist?  It's apples and oranges.  Sure, you're getting more bang for your buck with a DVD, but it's a different bang.  $15.00 will also get me 350 pieces of Bazooka bubblegum, as opposed to 20 Hershey bars. So?  I want the new Bruce (even though it's acoustic) CD, not a live performance of the new CD with a "making of" and photo gallery.  How many times have we listened "The River" or "Revolver" in our lifetimes?  How many times have we watched "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?"  $15.00 for a wonderful piece of music is a bargain, unless we find new and illegal ways of getting the music for  free.

December 30, 2004 | 12:03 PM ET

FCC Chair Michael Powell insists that his conversion from a free-speech advocate to a harsh censor is based on public outcry.  Most of us have swallowed that excuse.  Well, this Mediaweek article demonstrates what nonsense Powell is spouting, whether he knows it or not.  It turns out that Powell’s FCC is shutting down free-speech on broadcast TV and radio entirely at the bidding of one lousy little conservative organization, which –all by itself—has generated, count ‘em—99.8 percent of the complaints about obscenity.

Looky here"

Through early October, 99.9 percent of indecency complaints—aside from those concerning the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show broadcast on CBS— were brought by the Parents Television Council, according to the FCC analysis dated Oct. 1. (The agency last week estimated it had received 1,068,767 complaints about broadcast indecency so far this year; the Super Bowl broadcast accounted for over 540,000, according to commissioners’ statements.)

Get off your metaphorical duffs, people, write to 'PTC Patsy' Powell and tell him you prefer freedom of speech to the censorious interference of Christian conservative zealots.  Tell him this is your country too, dammit.

Oh great, we destroyed the city in order to save it.  Great idea, this war.  Congrats to everyone involved.

Quote of the Day:   “To a considerable extent, 20th century liberals achieved many of their goals.  Racial segregation was abolished,” Michael Barone.  Tomorrow, we abolish gravity…. 

Alter-word of the day: Alecktorophobia: fear of chickens.

Tsunami Update from Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture:

A few resources that might have gotten overlooked regarding the Tsunami and relief efforts:

1) Google set up a page with links to sites set up to provide information and handle donations 
for victims throughout the region.

The Tsunami help blog is also providing a comprehensive list of ways to help.

2)  The Tsunami death toll now exceeds 115,000.

Deaths by country:

Indonesia: 79,940
Sri Lanka: 23,015
India: At least 10,000
Thailand: 1,830  (Thai PM says toll could rise to 3,000 as 4,265 people are still missing).
Myanmar: 90
Malaysia: 66
Maldives: 46

3) U.S. ups aid to victims

How is it that the U.S. can find 300+ billion dollars for War in Iraq, but cannot muster 1% of that amount to help out in SouthEast Asia?

Isn't Karl Rove supposed to be this PR genius?  How did he blow this opportunity?  Put aside for a minute the simple motivation to do what's right, and look at this the way he looks at everything else -- as a PR opportunity.  For a billion or so dollars, the Mayberry Machiavelli could have reaped a PR windfall for his boy and the U.S., whose rep in the world has never been lower than it's been the past few years.

I guess if it don't help your guy elected, it don't matter all that much...

Oh, well, another missed opportunity, brought to you by the Crawford gang that can't shoot straight -- unless it's at Democrats.

4) Several sites have gathered home videos of the Tsunami:

5) Tsunami Relief: Charity Efficiency and Transparency Ratings

Helps provide an overview of how much of your donations actually make it to the victims, using several rating systems.

Doctors w/o Borders, American Red Cross, American Jewish World Service and OxFam were all very highly rated.

Here's where to make Contributions online to the top rated Charities:

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Tom Panelas
Hometown: Chicago
While Sontag will get plenty of praise in the days ahead, yours is particularly pointed and in-your-face, appropriately so given how widely she was slandered. 

If saying the 9/11 terrorists were not cowards is taboo; if such an assertion is to be construed as sympathy with them, then we are in peril.  If a coward is anyone who opposes us or our rulers and a hero anyone who stands with them, then language has become an instrument of domination, and our ability honestly to probe the meanings of words, to create community, and to rid ourselves of self-deception is lost.  That would suit some people just fine, but we can't let it happen.

Name: Rob Stevenson
Hometown: West Palm Beach

Confession #1:
When John Sebastian released "Nashville Cats" in 1966 I was ten, and thought the song was about actual cats. 

Confession #2: I thought Hank Gordon was just a session guy who played w/ Elvis.  Sheesh! Thanks for all the great stuff in your cut-short career, Hank!  Sorry 'bout my ignorance.

Name: Sal Nunziato
Hometown: NYC

Can we find out if the "loaded" versions of the recent U2, Green Day, and Eminem CDs sold anywhere near the numbers of the plain old CDs?  Bonus DVDs with CDs, at least in my store, are a waste of time.  I've yet to see a customer shell out 5-10 dollars more for an extra 25 minutes of backstage footage, or Norah Jones shopping for sunglasses.  Another point I'd like to make--two years after Michael Jackson's Thriller was released, Epic was pushing the 7th single and 7th video.  Why doesn't that happen anymore?  "Stacy's Mom" off the last  Fountains Of Wayne CD was a huge hit with a wildly popular video.  What happened to the second single?  Same with "Vertigo" off the new U2.  A month later, no second single.  Is this a conscious decision by the labels?  Declining CD sales may have more than a little to do with the absence of radio support and an audience needing to hear more than one song before dropping $12.00.

December 29, 2004 | 1:00 PM ET

The death of Susan Sontag (and here) reminds us of how relatively impoverished our culture has grown during the past three decades.  Susan was wrong a lot, like all of us, but fearlessly so.  She came to New York in 1959, divorced, with $70, two suitcases and a 7-year-old, and she conquered the city, with her brains, beauty, wit and not least of all her bravery.  She believed that certain kinds of knowledge impelled us to certain kinds of actions if we wished to retain the right to call ourselves moral beings and she put her life on the line—repeatedly—in defense of her ideas about right and wrong, which is more than can be said about me, or just about anyone else I know.  She didn’t care about left and right.  She cared about the defense of language, literature, and moral complexity from present-day Visigoths and philistines, who pose as self-appointed moral arbiters and worse.  Despite a cold façade in photographs, Susan was also a warm, generous person, always focusing, as far as I could tell, on the person in the room who was least comfortable, who might be drawn into a conversation where she might learn something she didn’t know (and wouldn’t forget).  Our condolences to David Rieff,  her younger sister, Judith Cohen, and her many, many friends.

Alas, I fear many inhabitants of the blogosphere know Susan only for the slander and opprobrium she earned for the ill-timed, but not untrue, comments she made in the aftermath of 9/11.  These foolish attacks  were made by people whom history will record as it does gnats circling ‘round a great beast of the jungle--if at all.  If you read the interview she gave Salon about the war, here, you’ll find more wisdom than in the entire collectivity of those who, in their arrogant ignorance, call her nasty names and give out clever “awards” like school children with masturbatory dreams of power and retribution.

Quote of the Day: "So when I go to a Patti Smith concert, I enjoy, participate, appreciate and am tuned in better because I've read Nietzsche."  -- Susan Sontag

(And by the way, based on the evidence of the placement of Sontag’s death, I repeat my contention that Edward Said, perhaps the most famous and among the most influential intellectual in the world, was denied his due by the Times editors for reasons, most likely, of personal pique and politics.)

Jack Newfield, 1938-2004

Is this president interested only in killing people, but can’t be bothered when given the chance to help save them?  His morally callous parsimony in the face of this, the greatest natural disaster in modern history, seems determined to give the rest of that world exactly that impression.  George W. Bush shames our nation with large talk and small deeds; with his want of character and smallness of spirit.  To help, go here .

For once, I think I agree: Before Sunset was the best movie I saw last year and “Eternal Sunshine,” the second best, though I’ve not yet seen “Sideways.”  And try not to miss “The Saddest Music in the World,” if possible.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture

Hey Doc,

Some more interesting changes going on in the music industry -- and it's not just for holiday sales:

Music Industry Responding (slowly) to Pricing Issues

Just about a year ago, we discussed the music industry’s intent to “ decommoditize their products."  The problem with that strategy is that their products are essentially commodities, and should therefore become vulnerable to low cost retailers.  That process has actually begun sometime ago, with Wal-Mart and Target responsible for an ever growing percentage of CD sales.

But the industry’s reluctance to actually compete for sales on anything but price -- to refuse to recognize they merely sell a commodity product -- has dampened overall sales.  (Basic economics tells us that lower prices = higher sales.)

Since then, I’ve become convinced that the lack of competitive pricing -- both within music, as well as vis-a-vis other forms of entertainment -- has been in large part responsible for the declining CD sales. The price fixing (and here) scandal gets some credit for this -- though the roots of the problem go much, much deeper than that.  The RIAA can blame P2P all they want, but the smart money knows there's more to this story than meets the eye.

So it was with great interest that I read of a new tack the industry is now trying: Offering both “stripped-down or fully loaded” CDs:

While the major record companies continue to discount new releases or even slash prices to try to counter file-sharing and widespread CD burning, some music executives are quietly trying to expand the top end of the market. The average retail price of an album slid 4 percent in the third quarter to $12.95 - a new low, according to NPD Group, a research company. Yet some labels are pushing tricked-out versions of big titles that carry their highest prices ever.

There's a basic business logic behind the move to test the upper limit, executives say. If labels must cut prices and sacrifice profits on the mass market, they must try to cover the difference by targeting niches of hard core fans who are willing to shoulder higher prices for their favorite acts.

This makes sense, given a study by the Handleman Company. They discoverd that less than 
1/4 of all music buyers are responsible for 62 percent of album sales, buying a CD per month.

To appeal to these hardcores, Labels have begun putting out “ Deluxe” editions of CDs:

  • Green Day's " American Idiot" can be had for $10 for a "POD" (plain old CD) -- or for 150% more ($25), you get the premuim package, including a 52-page hardcover book.

  • For $24, Metallica’s " Some Kind of Monster" includes a band t-shirt.  

  • Eminem's " Encore" will set you back $27, but you get 25 glossy photos plus bonus Internet access to Eminem cellphone ringtones.

  • U2's " How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" will cost you $10 (or less) for the disc, or $32 for the "collector's edition" including DVD and 50-page hardcover book (Priced inbetween is a CD/DVD w/o book.)

  • Celine Dion's " Miracle," is $14, or for CD; For $27, you can get the 60 page Anne Geddes photo;

We previously discussed the dual disc DVD/CD phenomenon. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how the CD side of the industry may not realize it yet, but they are in the process of morphing into the DVD industry...

Sources:
$10 for a Plain CD or $32 With the Extras
Jeff Leeds
NYT, December 27, 2004

December 28, 2004 | 1:09 PM ET

Next time you hear some politician or conservative pundit blather on about what a generous country we are, remember this; we’re devoting less than half of what Bush is planning to spend on his own inauguration to helping people recover from one of the worst natural disasters in human history.  I suppose it’s just a coincidence that we’re reading this on the very same day. (Thanks to Dr. Atrios.)

Show the world we are better than this benighted government of ours: Please donate (borrowed from The Washington Post).

  • American Red Cross
    Contributions should be sent to

    International Response Fund
    P.O. Box 37243
    Washington, D.C. 20013

    For more information about donating, call 800-435-7669.
    For information about friends or relatives who may have been affected, call 866-438-4636
  • Asia Relief
    The Maryland-based nonprofit organization is accepting donations of cash, nonperishable food, clothing and toys for victims in Sri Lanka.
    Donations should be dropped off or mailed to

    Asia Relief
    19409 Olive Tree Way
    Gaithersburg, MD 20879

    Contact Rizwan Mowlana at 301-672-9355 for more information.
  • Association for India's Development Inc.
    The Maryland-based nonprofit organization is accepting cash donations to help relief work in India.
    Contributions can be made on the Web at AidIndia.org or mailed to

    AID Zone 3
    P.O. Box 4801
    Mountain View, Calif., 94040-0801,

    with checks made payable to AID.
    Contact Priya Ranjan at 301-422-4441 for more information.
  • Tsunami Relief Inc.
    The Virginia-based nonprofit group has been set up to help victims in Sri Lanka.
    Donors can call 703-934-6922 or mail checks payable to Tsunami Relief Inc. to

    9302 Lee Hwy.
    Fifth Floor
    Fairfax, Va. 22031
  • B'nai B'rith International
    Donations can be made online at BnaiBrith.org or mailed to

    B'nai B'rith Disaster Relief Fund
    2020 K St. NW, Seventh Floor
    Washington, D.C. 20006
  • More information about donations to humanitarian organizations can be found on the U.S. Agency for International Development's Web site, USAid.gov.
    Donors can also call the Center for International Disaster Information at 703-276-1914.

When you add this together with this, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bush administration would prefer to leave America woefully unprepared for the next major terrorist attack—just as they left it on September 11, 2001, rather than risk having anyone who is not an ideological fanatic or a get-along bureaucratic hack in the government in any place of significant responsibility.  Don’t worry, however, at least Tom Ridge is pulling down his $50,000 per speech cashing in on his failure to improve the nation’s security when he had the chance.

Those Who Forget History:  “After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal.  Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia,” here.  (Thanks, Ralph.)

Eric Boehlert asks, why are we inflicting Rush on our armed services?  Why not Al Franken?

Someone's not reading someone's Nation column, bub.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Steve Parsons
Hometown: New York

I was not particularly enamored of Beinart's piece and I appreciated your thoughtful reply in 'The Nation' - but it does bring up a point that is realpolitik, Liberals (and I am one) are a lethargic sort and generally need a lightning rod to activate them in a meaningful and sustained way on the national front (although we are generally tireless on the local and international levels).  But people like Beinart and for that matter Bill Clinton who make a pact with the Devil for national electoral success (or electoral post-mortems).  They are generally correct, a walk to the right does help the success rate, sad as it is to say.  The attack on MoveOn is nonsensical, but the general idea is unfortunately correct.  America is primed for real morality and progressiveness but absent a lightning rod and a candidate willing to recognize the lightning, it's semi-right wing policies that will "win" - for all the good that will do us.

Name: Scoop Democrat
Hometown: Seattle, Washington

Dr. Alterman,
While I find elements of Mr. Beinart's now-infamous piece about Democrats and national security in the age of Islamist terrorism to be demagogic and unnecessary - the anti-MoveOn.com sentiments, and the seeming desire to cast "softs" out of the Democratic Party in particular - his central thesis is fundamentally right, both as a strategic and a political matter.

Opinion polling in the Muslim World indicates resoundingly that while America's failure to broker a fair and equitable peace between Israel and Palestine is an enduring source of anger and resentment against America (which, you'll note, Mr. Bush has only worsened), the chief and most palpable source of anti-American rage in the Arab and wider Muslim world is Washington's continued enabling of repressive and corrupt Arab and Muslim dictators.

As long as America continues its protective, enabling, and dysfunctional relationship with brutal Arab and Muslim regimes from Riyadh to Islamabad, Cairo to Tashkent, America will continue to be a target for radical Islamist terrorism.  This conundrum suggests two possible strategic options for eliminating the threat of Islamist violence against our country, either military and political disengagement from the Muslim world (otherwise known as isolationism), or the aggressive promotion of political and economic reform in the Arab and wider Muslim world.

The trouble with isolationism (apart from the fact that it is likely a political loser) is that careful scrutiny of radical Islamist propaganda suggests that the Islamo-fascist movement is not simply "anti-imperial," which is to say committed to evicting America militarily, politically, and economically from the Muslim world, but also imperial itself, which is to say committed to first restoring the Muslim caliphate from Morrocco to Afghanistan, and ultimately committed to global pre-eminence. While the latter possibility may now seem to be laughable, the fact of the matter is that radical Islamist hegemony in the most oil-rich region in the world could cripple oil-dependent America and the west's ability to respond to the threat, and nuclear proliferation makes that potential threat even greater.

Which leaves the promotion of democracy.  While the ultimate outcome of the war in Iraq remains uncertain, and the execution of the war itself was just short of criminal (in the case of Abu Ghraib without doubt actually criminal), an aggressive push for democratic reform in the Arab and broader Muslim world, coupled with a large scale "Manhattan Project" on energy independence and a commitment to securing a just and equitable peace between Israel and the Palestinians, remains our best hope for diminishing the tidal wave of anti-American anger that feeds Islamo-fascism recruitment, and terrorism against us.

This doesn't mean a commitment to invading every last Arab and Muslim country. Indeed, Beinart never suggests such a course of action, and it should be clear to anyone with a bit of sense that the bulk of work that needs to be done with respect to democracy promotion in the Arab world most immediately does not involve a single bullet, bomb, or soldier. The very announcement of a Manhattan Project on energy independence would give America the latitude to tell the people of Saudi Arabia and other oil rich gulf states what we truly think of their leaders, and to begin to pressure them into political and economic reforms. The very announcement of the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would give America the latitude to tell the people of Egypt and other Arab and Muslim states what we truly think of their leaders, and to begin to pressure them into political and economic reforms.

Bush, of course, has done none of these things, preferring a safe rhetorical "commitment" to Arab democracy than the hard work domestically and internationally that it would take to begin to realize these goals. Yet, criticizing Bush for the failure to live up to his high-minded rhetoric about democracy in the greater middle east was never John Kerry's (or any of the other Democrats) line of attack against this president during the campaign. Indeed, even as Kerry made it clear that he would not hesitate to use military force if America was directly attacked by another state, or against a state harboring terrorists (that had directly attacked us, and refused to turn them over), he presented no grand strategy for ultimately defeating the Islamo-fascist threat. He talked a great deal about multilateralism and alliances, but to what end? Fighting al-Qaeda while continuing to enable the political and economic status quo in the Arab world that is producing that terrorism? Promoting democracy? What?

Sadly, John Kerry never used the words "Arab" and "democracy" or even "Iraq" and "democracy" in the same sentence, and it was this lack of apparent commitment to positive, transformative change in the Arab and wider Muslim world that more than anything else cost him the election - not "values." Indeed, as others have pointed out ad nauseum, the percentage of voters who cited "values" as their chief concern was about what it was in 1996 and 2000 (both elections when the Democrat won the popular vote), and that indeed the share of the "values" vote going to the Democratic candidate increased this year over 1996 and 2000.

Furthermore, it seems rather strange to suggest that gay marriage played a role in Bush's victories in swing states where it was not on the ballot, including Florida, Iowa, or New Mexico, and of course Kerry won both Michigan and Oregon - both states with anti-gay marriage initiatives passed comfortably. As U of Virginia political scientist Paul Freedman points out "It's true that states with bans on the ballot voted for Bush at higher rates than other states. His vote share averaged 7 points higher in gay-marriage-banning states than in other states (57.9 vs. 50.9). But four years ago, when same-sex marriage was but a twinkle in the eye of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Bush's vote share was 7.3 points higher in these same states than in other states. In other words, by a statistically insignificant margin, putting gay marriage on the ballot actually reduced the degree to which Bush's vote share in the affected states exceeded his vote share elsewhere."

To turn your assertion about the alleged lack of a constituency for a domestically liberal party with a "neo-conservative" foreign policy (I think TNR would prefer liberal hawk - there is a difference) on its head, who do you suppose would vote for a socially conservative liberal internationalist party? All those Christian fundamentalists down south still angry that Bush never got UN backing before invading Iraq? Please...

The Democrats can "reframe" or substantively change their positions on any number of domestic issues (and they damn well should embrace economic populism, by the way), but anything less than a total commitment to the democratization of the Arab and wider Muslim world will continue to make them the minority party in the age of Islamic terrorism. 2002 (when incidentally gay marriage was not on the ballot) and 2004 will become the benchmarks for a generation of loss.

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture

Hey Doc,
I give the big Labels a lot of grief for their poor business methods, but for many new artists, there are simply not a whole lot of other options -- yet.  Only well established acts like Pearl Jam can start their own label.  Yet a variety of interesting options exist for those willing to "think different."

James Taylor explored a similar alternative: Since Taylor had fulfilled his contractual obligations with Columbia on the release of October Road he was free to apply his creativity to the business side:

JT bypasses the Labels

James Taylor provides a text book example of "disintermediation" in the music industry, with the release of his first holiday album.  Once his obligation to Columbia was fulfilled, he has not signed to a new label.

So Taylor decided to try two things he hadn't previously done:  First, he recorded "James Taylor: A Christmas Album."  Then, he cut a deal to sell it only in Hallmark Cards, and for the more modest price of $10.95 -- or $6.95 with the purchase of three greeting cards. The CD is an exclusive to Hallmark this holiday season and next.

There was no advertising, and almost no press.  How did it do?  James Taylor: A Christmas Album has sold over one million copies in less than two months.  That's a home run by any measure.

Here's what the NYT had to say:

In selling the CD, Hallmark is taking a page from Starbucks , which has had tremendous success selling Ray Charles's " Genius Loves Company" and other releases alongside its chai tea lattés and espresso macchiatos.

"Our expectations from the beginning were very high," said Ann Herrick, integrated marketing manager at Hallmark, "but this project ended up exceeding our expectations and we all here are very happy about it."

Industry watchers say that more artists, particularly older acts who are somewhat out of the current music retail scene, will look to outlets like Starbucks or Hallmark for fresh opportunities." TBA Network, an entertainment-consulting firm, negotiated the deal with Taylor. A similar deal was brokered for Hallmark with Christian music artist Steven Curtis Chapman.

The success of the holiday CD has Hallmark considering expanding its music promotion: "A Valentine's Day album by the country singer Martina McBride is scheduled to hit stores in 2005. And Ms. Herrick added, "We're looking at opening it up to other seasons, not just holidays."

That might not be particularly welcome development for the major labels; it is, however, good for music fans -- and a music industry that's becoming increasingly less dependent upon the labels.

Source:  
James Taylor's Got a Friend at Hallmark Cards
LOLA OGUNNAIKE
New York Times, December 17, 2004

Name: Ellen Moore
Hometown: Seattle

Our organization (Borgen Project) was recently contacted by the casting director of the television show "Trading Spouses."  The show is looking for a family with strong beliefs against the war in Iraq who will be paired with the opposite.  As an organization that's focused on mass communicating global issues to average Joe's, we view this as an opportune situation for reaching several million people and we've agreed to help them find a family.

We want to send them a bright couple that can effectively communicate the issues.  If you could post on this topic and see if there are any interested families we'd greatly appreciate it.  They usually pick families with at least two kids and each family receives $50,000.  We highly encourage anyone interested to contact ellen@borgenproject.org and I'll forward the information.  We're on a very short deadline so the sooner the better.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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