January 14, 2005 | 12:03 PM ET

VICTORY! Sontag Unslandered

A number of Altercation e-mailers (Lance Harke and Don Collignon were first) alert us to the fact that Ann Wroe of the Economist is now sending out the following note.  Congratulations to all of us.

Dear ___

Thank you for your e-mail. We are running a correction in next week's issue, pointing out  that Ms Sontag did not herself use the word "deserve", and citing what she did say. It will doubtless not be the end of the debate (her article was written precisely to provoke it, after all), but I hope it will at least clear the air a little.

With best wishes,

Ann Wroe

We’ve got a new Think Again column about the conservative attempt to define torture up in support of Mr. Gonzales’s nomination and I’ve got a Nation column here called  “Pundit Limbo,: How Low Can they Go?” dealing with Messrs. Novak, Carlson and Williams.

Quote of the Day, (“No Comment” Department), George W. Bush:

On the tsunami:

Barbara Walters: "Do you think that, because of the kind of aid that we're giving, because of the leadership that we're giving, that this could make a difference in the Muslim world?"

Bush: "Absolutely. I think it can.  Our public diplomacy efforts aren't . . . aren't very robust, and aren't very good, compared to the public diplomacy efforts of those who would like to spread hatred and . . . and vilify the United States.  And, uh, but in the … responding to the tsunami many in the Muslim world have seen a great compassion in the American people.  Our troops are providing incredibly good service.  I mean, we are saving lives, and flying supplies, and I … people … aside from the propaganda, many people, outcasts, are coming over some of those stations, um, apart from that, or in spite of that, I guess is the best way to say it, people are seeing the concrete actions of a compassionate country."

I’m 45 today.  Let’s not make a big deal of it.  This site doesn’t cost you anything, and MSNBC.com makes it possible that we can do it without whining for money all the time, so how about saying “thanks" by making a big difference in the lives of a bunch of people in Lawrence, Kansas, who need some help, despite the best efforts of my long-time friend and hero—check the acknowledgements of Sound & Fury if you don’t believe me-- Loring Henderson to do everything a person could and more.  (Look what a big deal it was out in Lawrence when we just mentioned them; imagine how cool it would be if we became their biggest donor.)  Once again, the address is

Lawrence Open Shelter
944 Kentucky
Lawrence, KS 66044

More here.

And thanks.

And here's MJ from Palestine.

Even though it's supposed to be Slacker Friday, I cannot resist this one last big we told you so.

Update:  I'll be co-hosting "Majority Report" with Jeanine on Air America, Monday night, 7-10.

Correspondents Corner:

Name:  Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
Hey Doc:
I rise today to offer some unsolicited advice to Dan Rather and CBS -- to wit, unleash hell.

You got suckered.  By whom is still a mystery, but you got suckered.  Get up off the damn canvas.  If they're going to accuse you of being out to get the Avignon Presidency anyway, then by God, do it for real.  Start by digging into the AWOL story, which is still out there.  (In fact, dig into the Pundit Payola scandal and see how many lines cross between the two stories.)  Go after the assault on  Valerie Plame, everything we weren't told about the 9/11 whitewash, and the ongoing laundering of the crazy intelligence culture that led us into a war.  (A little press criticism there wouldn't hurt, either.)  Compare it to the current run-up to the demolition of Social Security.  Point it out every time C-Plus Augustus tells an outright lie, the way that he did the other day.  "The president's remarks seem to bear no relation to the actual facts..." would be a nice way to start one story per newscast.

Load up the foreign coverage again.  Vet the nominees yourself. Start with Chertoff, who ran Al D'Amato's Whitewater comic charade and who never moved far off GOP dirty tricks until he started devising ways to wipe his feet on the Bill of Rights.  Ted Olson would be a nice second-day story, I would think.  Squeeze your sources for every leak.  Nothing is off the record.  There are no gentlemen's agreements because there are no gentlemen.  Shame your competitors by doing the job correctly.  No fear.  No favor.  Truth, not fairness.

Be what they're going to accuse you of being anyway.  Turn off the complaint line.  You no longer care what Brett Bozell and his mailing list think of you.  You are now off the reservation, outside the Pale.  You are people with a television network and absolutely nothing to lose.  Make them fear that.

Hey, it's what the Rightist bloggers and The Dolphin Queen say they want -- television news with "its biases right up front, like Fox."  OK, give it to them.  In case you haven't noticed, Mr. Murdoch's toy network only has about four people to cover the actual news -- and one of them is Carl (Fala) Cameron, who's busy with his second job as a wall-hanging in the West Wing.  The rest of the budget goes for Bill O'Reilly's bath supplies.  You, CBS, for all the cutbacks, are still an actual television network with an actual news division.  Give them what they're asking for, just for a month, say.  Watch what happens.  Hear them scream.

Do it, Dan.  Go out the way Brendan Behan did.  F**k the begrudgers.

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Sivacracy.net
Eric:
Today let me offer the Slacker Friday Sports Section.

First, I hope everyone out there in Altercationland checked out Charles Pierce's insightful article in Slate about how lame a retiree Michael Jordan is.  I don't know about you, but I don't miss Michael at all.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, I happen to think that the NBA is in its true golden age.  It lacks the star power of the Bird-Magic-Jordan years.  But star power is overrated.  It sells soda.  But it don't sink jump shots and it certainly does not play team defense.  The Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest debacles notwithstanding, the current crop of NBA players is highly skilled, remarkably well distributed among teams (although the Eastern conference certainly gets the short end), and relatively well behaved.  LeBron James and Carmello Anthony are the true geniuses of tomorrow.  And Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are among the most admirable and focused players to ever tie the long laces.  Shaq himself seems reborn, ready to show everyone there he is the best center ever to play the game.  He understands his role, his duty to the present and history, and the needs of his team.  He understands that Russell and Wilt stand in his way of that title.  But he is ready to muscle them out.  For every Bryant and Artest there are a dozen players just as good who play hard and keep their business out of ours.  Overall, the league is playing great ball.

Consider the three best teams of the past five years: The San Antonio Spurs (my team), the Detroit Pistons, and the Los Angeles Lakers.  They all played great team defense.  Two of the three lacked marquee stars, but they also lacked marquee cities in which to star. So it all worked out.  It might be a coincidence, but I think the NBA is better when the Knicks and Bulls suck.  Failure in the big cities makes the networks pay attention to the smaller venues.

For years we have been hearing about how the NBA is all about scoring and dunks and showmanship and that young NBA players lacked fundamentals and discipline.  No way.  Don't listen to grumpy old Republicans like Charles Barkley.  This is Tim Duncan's game now.

Altercation fans will remember that during the summer I took the liberty to diss Eric's favorite baseball team, the lowly New York Mets.  I believe I called them the most dysfunctional sports franchise in America (the entire NHL notwithstanding).  I stand by that judgment with some trepidation as we witness the Omar Minaya honeymoon.  Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday are still the dumb-and-dumber twins of baseball owners.  But they were smart enough to hire Minaya as GM and give him free reign to make good decisions.

Minaya made his best move first, signing Willie Randolph away from the Yankees' bench to manage the Mets.  Randolph has all the makings of a great manager.  With the signing of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, the Mets are instantly interesting, if not contending, in the National League this year.  If they can sign patriotic dissenter Carlos Delgado to play first base, they have most of the elements of a good team.  Of course, they are still stuck with the worst catcher in the history of baseball.  Oh well, I will need something to laugh at in Queens this spring.

My wife and all my friends in Boston and Baltimore will not appreciate this, but I can't help cheering on Peyton Manning and the Colts this weekend.  They have one of my favorite coaches, the Chuck Noll-trained Tony Dungy.  And they were assembled by my favorite GM, Bill Polian.  You might remember Polian as the genius who assembled the greatest team in NFL history: the 1991-1994 Buffalo Bills.

After seven trips to India, I still can't follow cricket.  Sigh.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL

Mr. Alterman,
I would like to invite your attention to the following .

Here is one JAGC's opinion of the defense in this case.  The evidence offered is interesting, and I am inclined to believe it is accurate.  It would not surprise me at all if SPC Graner and some of his confederates were encouraged/ordered to "soften up" some detainees.  However, that in no way constitutes a defense to the charges against him, or excuses his moral culpability for his actions.

"I was following orders," is a defense that is offered up in nearly every war crimes trial, and it is usually bogus.  Why?  Because service members have a duty to disobey a clearly unlawful order.  In close cases we can argue about who knew what about whom.  Most trials alleging violations of the law of war, this one included, are not a close calls.  The range of behaviors, the sheer inventiveness of different kinds of abuse, and the apparent glee the prosecution's witnesses attributed to SPC Graner make clear he went far beyond following orders.

In that respect, I would evaluate the defense's decision not to call SPC Graner to the stand as a mistake.  The picture the government witnesses have painted of his behavior was not pretty.  He needed to at least try to demonstrate he is a sincere young man that got caught up in a misguided sense of mission in a crazy environment, etc. etc.  Resting your case on the mistaken believe that all you needed to show is that someone senior condoned this behavior is a bad call.  My expectation, and my hope, is that the court-martial will say that is interesting and disturbing, but he's still guilty.

BTW, I would also like to see some of those same senior personages called to account for what they have done.  Granted, plenty of the defense's witnesses have big, fat motives to try to spread the blame around.  We can't know what really happened until their allegations are seriously examined.  I don't know if that has happened yet, and I have a hard time believing a relatively junior member of a National Guard unit cooked up all the creative sadism the prosecution described, and swept along other members of his unit, including Guardsmen superior in rank to him, all by his force of personality.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,
I too sent a letter to The Economist, and the response I received is identical to that received by Tim Hosking.

Ms. Wroe begins by acknowledging that Sontag never wrote that America "deserved" to be attacked on 9/11, but she goes on to say that there is "no great difference" between "deserved" and "justified" -- which might make sense if Sontag had written that the attacks were justified, which she did not.

What Sontag did write is that the 9/11 attacks were comprehensible, that the terrorists had concrete reasons for doing what they did.  Unfortunately, we have reached the point in public discourse where explaining someone's actions is considered to be tantamount to defending those actions.

Fortunately, Sontag's New Yorker piece is still available on the magazine's web site, so readers can judge for themselves.  Indeed, her comments are so insightful that reading them today sends a chill down my spine.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to mention the most important Supreme Court case you (probably) never heard of.  First, do you remember the history of the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution?  Way back in 1777 a British loyalist from South Carolina sold some goods to the state of Georgia.  During the Revolutionary War Georgia passed a law extinguishing all legal claims of the loyalists.  Undeterred, the man's estate went to federal court to collect.  Georgia responded that the Constitution prohibited federal courts from hearing a lawsuit by an out-of-state resident against a state.  When the federal court disagreed, all Hell broke loose.  Georgia passed a law ordering anyone sent to collect on the judgment be hanged and buried without benefit of clergy!  The rest of the nation had a similar reaction and swiftly passed the Eleventh Amendment to bar such suits.

The story illustrates why the Republicans love "strict constructionist" judges and Dubya is vowing to appoint more of them.  Such judges have a wealth of ancient anti-federal government material to back-up their rulings.  Liberals typically respond to strict constructionism with talk of the Constitution being a "living document" and the need to adapt it for changing societal mores.  Such arguments have merit, but they play into the hands of conservatives who portray liberals as non-objective, where everything (laws, morality) is relative.  In fact, the strict constructionists' logic can be turned back on them via the 14th Amendment.  At the time of the Civil War the government was dominated by the "Radical Republicans," whose contempt for "states rights" knew no bounds.  While the Supreme Court has used the Amendment to protect many civil liberties, the central question of its interface with the founders has been lost, largely because of a misreading of "The Slaughterhouse Case" of 1873.  I'll return to this in the future, but for now consider this: the 14th Amendment provided the ultimate in liberal judicial activism: Bush vs. Gore.  The shame of the "per curium" (i.e., nobody admitted to authoring it) Supreme Court's opinion wasn't its use of federal power over a state election, it was the footnote saying its respect for the Equal Protection Clause shouldn't be used as precedence by any other court!

Name: Larry Wilson
Hometown: Dallas, TX

It might just be me, but you would think that after 2 straight years of reports that public schools performed better than charter schools, the Bush admin might at least try to keep the push for Christian Madrasas under the radar.  But, no.  Instead, they publish this piece on January 12, 2005, through the GAO that says, "To Enhance Education's Monitoring and Research, More Charter School-Level Data Are Needed."  Funny, I would have thought the purpose of a school was to teach kids!  But, having taught 4th grade, maybe my view is a bit out of whack.

Then comes another report from the GAO that says,

The federal government's gross debt as of September 2004 was about $7.4 trillion, or about $25,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country.  But that number excludes such items as the gap between promised and funded Social Security and Medicare benefits, veterans' health care, and a range of other unfunded commitments and contingencies that the federal government has pledged to support.  If these items are factored in, the current dollar burden for every American rises to about $145,000 per person, or about $350,000 per full-time worker.  GAO's fiscal policy simulations illustrate that the fiscal policies in place today (absent substantive entitlement reform or unprecedented changes in tax and/or spending policies) will result in large, escalating, and persistent deficits that are economically unsustainable over the long term.  Without reform, known demographic trends, rising health care costs, and projected growth in federal spending for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will result in massive fiscal pressures that, if not effectively addressed, could cripple the economy, threaten our national security, and adversely affect the quality of life of Americans in the future.

( link)

January 13, 2005 | 12:08 PM ET

Sontag slandered

The Economist Slanders Susan Sontag, continued.
Thanks to Tim Hosking, we have below, the obituary editor of the Economist admitting that they slandered the late Susan Sontag by making up the fact that she said the United States “deserved” the 9/11 attacks, but justifying it on the grounds that she was critical of U.S. foreign policy.  Note how she equates criticism of the United States with “encouraging others to hate it” and then equates that with encouraging murderous terrorism.  And where is her evidence for any of these false and malicious characterizations?  She presents not a shred.  The first time I thought it was an oversight or an honest mistake.  Now I think it’s malice and either Ms. Wroe, or the person in charge, if it is someone else, should be summarily fired.  If you agree, feel free to let the editors know, here.  The letter is below:

(To Tim Hosking)

Thank you for your e-mail. You are right that Susan Sontag did not say, in so many words, that America "deserved" the September 11th attacks. But the whole tenor of the article (as well as of many of her writings both before the attacks, and after them) was that America, by its behaviour in the world, encouraged others to hate it, and that terrorist attacks on it should not be considered as random or unjustified events.

You will recall as well as I do the immense furore caused by the New Yorker article. It was not caused merely by her refusal to call the terrorists "cowards", but also by her refusal to see America as the innocent victim of an unjustified attack. Between "justified" and "deserved" there is no great difference---as the commentary at the time reflected.

We will, in any event, be publishing one of the critical letters in our columns.

With best wishes,
Ann Wroe
Special Reports and Obituaries Editor

Just so we’re clear, the Bush administration approves of torture.  They don’t like to say so out loud, but that appears to be official policy and it doesn’t want anyone messing with that.  Of course, when it gets caught, it’s perfectly willing to allow a few peons to go to jail for carrying out its policies, here.  But sometimes, it prefers to ask other countries to do its torturing for it, here, since it gets to be such a hassle when Congress and the media start asking questions about Geneva conventions and the like.

About that Liberal Media…  I’m having a little trouble understanding Gloria Borger here, but I think I get it.  The way it works here is that if you want to defend the Bush administration against its critics, you don’t need to present any evidence whatever. She writes:

Clinton aside, some Democrats, like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, still can't bring themselves to just say that the United States is doing the right thing in the right way: "When you think of the billions and billions, on order of a trillion dollars, that is being spent on Iraq ... we're talking about several hundred million for humanitarian assistance, I think it's a small but necessary price to pay."  Next thing you know, someone will propose repealing the tax cuts to pay for tsunami relief.

For context, she compares the U.S. to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; not Britain, not Denmark, not Japan; all nations that are not as wealthy as we are but whose per capita contributions dwarf our own—even after the Bush administration was forced by political pressure to increase its incredibly puny original offer by ten fold—but Arab autocracies.  It recalls Don Rumsfeld defending torture by comparing the way we practice it favorably to that of Saddam and Al Qaeda.  But at least Rumsfeld gets paid by the government to do that kind of thing.  What can possibly be Borger’s excuse?

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: "Left Washington in Disgust"
Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Eric,
You wrote on January 12, "Bush was lying to Rather and to the Nation when he denied his involvement with the Iran-Contra crimes.  This was revealed four years later by the publication of Cap Weinberger's diaries placing Bush at the key meetings and had the effect of blunting the president's last minute surge against Clinton."

All true, except for the final bit about blunting the Bush I's surge the week before the 1992 election.  This is a lie promulgated and repeated to this day by the Bush junta to support the unsupportable -- the pardoning of Cap and the other Iran-Contra criminals on Christmas Eve of 1992.

In fact, there was no Bush I "surge" that was blunted.  For a month or more before the election, all of the polls consistently showed Clinton with a sizable lead, except for a single poll released the week before the election that showed the race getting very close.  That single poll was clearly an outlier, a statistical phantom, not evidence of a "surge" by Bush I.

As a side note, the Bush I pardons, were, for the record, simply the last step in years of a broad Reagan-Bush-Republican Party campaign of lying and covering up the crimes and other stupidity and incompetence of Iran-Contra.  Not that the SCLM ever cared about any of that.  The SCLM simply accepted -- hook, line, and sinker -- the lies about Iran-Contra that were put out by the Reagan Administration and its defenders in 1987.

Name: Dwayne Hardin
Hometown: Austin, TX

Interesting article you cite in Christianity Today.  One thing the author fails to mention (also from the Barna survey) is that charity from evangelical Christians goes overwhelmingly only to their own church.  " Ninety-five cents of every dollar donated by evangelicals went to churches."

Name: Ray Symons
Hometown: Donaldson, PA

I called Staple's headquarters a few minutes ago just to say thanks for their decision to pull their advertising from Sinclair Broadcasting.

They have a special department set up just to deal with this issue, and I have no doubt who the majority of their callers really are.

The woman at the other end of the line gave me the impression that positive responses are, um, not as numerous as negative.

I'd urge everyone to take a couple minutes and contact them, just to balance the equation.

Corporate Information
500 Staples Drive
Framingham, MA 01702
508-253-5000

Name: Michael Rapoport
Eric:
Take a look at the online WSJ's " Question of the Day" today:

"How much have you given to tsunami relief?"

As I write this, 39% of the respondents have given nothing, zero.  (This is an unscientific poll, of course, and the respondents are self-selected.)  And lest you think that's because people can't afford it, take a look at some of the comments on the issue that respondents have sent in.  It's an eye-opener.

Name: Missy Hall
Hometown: Louisville, KY

If you get a chance, check out the trickle down effect of the GOP power grab that is going on in D.C.  Here in KY, the Republicans have taken control of the state senate and governor's office for the first time in a million years.  What is their first act?  They vote to seat a newly elected representative (Dana Seum Stephenson) who has been judged (by Jefferson Circuit Judge Willett) unqualified based on the residency requirements of our state's constitution.  Further, our Senate President, David Williams, says, in effect, "and you can't make us" to the KY Supreme Court, should they decide to take the case.  Oh, by the way, the candidate is also the daughter of one of our oldest and most powerful GOP Senators, Dan Seum, but I am sure Daddy didn't sway the vote at all.  The only upside to this is that even their own party members are getting peeved and one actually threatened to resign, but eventually switched party affiliation as a direct result of this defiance.  Here is a link if you would like to read more. 
Thanks for all you do.

January 12, 2005 | 11:36 AM ET

Rather conspiratorial

I’m still sick, and more than that, I’m sick of Dan Rather.  I was very much hoping to keep this a Rather-free zone but this can’t be helped.  It’s too depressing.  The internal CBS panel, led by former Republican politician Dick Thornburgh, have given CBS News a clean bill of health on the charge of political bias because, well, they asked and Rather says, “No.”  They can’t possibly expect right-wing witch hunters to buy that.  Instead, it merely compounds the evidence of some sort of conspiratorial cover-up and the whole game starts again.  What people identify as a cultural liberal bias in the media is really attributable to arrogance and self-importance, a significant proportion of which derives from the tremendous wealth that inevitably accompanies media stardom.  The right-wing exploits that arrogance—which it terms “elitism”---attaches a phony “liberal” label to it, and proceeds to concoct a story about the SCLM that bears almost no relationship to reality.  But it works and Dan Rather and CBS News have given it fresh new life.

As for evidence, none is necessary, save a few unproven accusations given further credibility by MSM sources doing the bidding of right-wing henchmen by repeating these charges without any explanatory context.  Per usual, Howard “Conflict of Interest” Kurtz plays the right-wing puppy dog role to the hilt, here.

Noting that Rather’s conservative critics have long painted him as the embodiment of media liberalism. They point to Rather's on-air shouting match with then-Vice President Bush in 1988 and his 2001 speech at a Texas Democratic fundraiser involving his daughter.

That’s it.  Kurtz repeats this litany as if it proved anything.  In fact (as Kurtz would know if he read When Presidents Lie), Bush was lying to Rather and to the Nation when he denied his involvement with the Iran-Contra crimes.  This was revealed four years later by the publication of Cap Weinberger’s diaries placing Bush at the key meetings and had the effect of blunting the president’s last minute surge against Clinton.  So all Rather was doing was trying to be a journalist, which, as often as not, is usually the source of the right’s complaint against the SCLM.  And as for the Texas Democratic fundraiser, Rather didn’t even know that’s where he was speaking.  He thought he was just doing his daughter a favor.  (No newsman of his stature would be stupid enough to make an appearance on behalf of political party.)

But Kurtz relates all this without any context and the right has a new charge for its conspiracy theories.  Liberals, on the other hand, get the blame for a biased media, when in fact, it is the right—as per Hacktacular Howie—that almost always benefits.

And a quick note to the smart fellas at The Note:  The word “commentariat” does not appear in either the Oxford English Dictionary or the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. The word “punditocracy" does.  Get used to it.

Armstrong Williams and Sinclair Broadcasting deserve one another.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Our Man in India:

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Sivacracy.net
Eric:
As our finally elected president goes full-force toward destroying the most successful and well-run policy program in the history of the United States, let's reflect on that age-old question: Why can't Americans learn from the successes and failures of experiments in other countries?  We "debated" health-care reform without considering the success of Canada.  We are surrendering environmental standards without considering the high number of birth defects in Mexico.  We launched an invasion and occupation of a former colonial nation without a strategy to deal with insurgents nor an exit strategy (wait, that's our own mistake we can't learn from).

And we consider privatizing Social Security without considering that the UK did this 20 years ago and it has been a complete disaster.

I just returned from a two-week trip to India.  As I observed the relief efforts in Tamil Nadu and everyday life in Delhi I had frequent conversations with Indians about where our two countries are heading.  Frankly, they think we are off our rockers.  At least a dozen times I had to field the question, "How could Bush have won?"  Indians look at the United States and see an unpopular president leading an unpopular war and undermining everything Indians love about America: its openness, optimism, and opportunities.  They can't figure out how we could get fooled by this guy.

Just last May the world's largest democracy faced the prospect of one more term of a government run by religious extremists who exploited cultural anxieties and fear of Islamic terrorism for political gain and stoked the material status of an elite few at the expense of the many.  You know what?  They tossed the bastards out.  It was not even close.  So Indians look at us and wonder why we can't get it together enough to do the same.

Traveling around the world since 2001 has been trying: constantly defending the goodness and the greatness of the United States and promising people that first of all, we did not elect this guy in 2000 and that we certainly would make sure he left in 2004.  Well, now it's even more difficult.

As we drove south from Madras toward Pondicherry along the East Coast Roadway in Tamil Nadu we saw hundreds of trucks filled with supplies and provisions.  We saw thousands of makeshift tents set up to replace the fishing villages that were wiped out by the tsunami.

And every day I had to concur with Indians who asked me about my country that no, we don't seem to care about the fate of the species as much as Australia, Germany, and Japan do.  And no, we can't seem to rise above opportunities for petty jabs at Kofi Annan and the United Nations at a time of massive global crisis.  And yes, Colin Powell has no soul and no spine left in his body.

What can we learn from India?  Only a few things.  India is a bigger mess than we will ever be.  It can't teach its children to read.  It can't make a concerted effort to stop diseases from ravaging its poor people.  Corruption at all levels and by all parties is rampant and endemic.  But it has a press that stands up to authority and suffers no fools.  And it has a strong sense of democratic accountability: lie and fail and these billion democratic citizens will take you down.

And for these past few weeks, as the world rallied to the aid of the suffering, India has come out with its dignity intact.  The United States has a long way to go before it gets its dignity back.  This is not a permanent condition.  But I fear that if we keep going like this, in fifty years the United States is going to look a lot more like India does now: an almost negligible middle class, religious conflagrations and riots, rich people walled up in air-conditioned fortresses as poor children beg in the streets, filthy air and water, and rampant corruption that allows the wealthy carte blanche on exploiting all resources and opportunities, crumbling schools and gleaming nuclear weapons.  It would not take much to avoid this fate.  But India might be the future in more ways than we might like to consider.

So again, perhaps we might take the time to learn from the mistakes of others.  Is that so crazy?

Name: Jerry
Hometown: Grand Forks, ND

As far as folks who gave til it hurt, let's not forget the late Harry Chapin, who devoted the proceeds of (if I recall correctly) something like 100 concerts a year to his charity, World Hunger Year.  That's what I call walking the walk.

Name: Peter Noteboom
Hometown: Austin, TX

Dr. A,
I'm right there with you on this whole "morality" farce.  The GOP's success is based on dishonesty (Swift Boat Liars), voter suppression (Florida and Ohio), corruption (Tom Delay), and, of course, propaganda (examples too numerous to list).  Now, however, we're told that their behavior crosses the line between basic corruption and actual criminal acts.

The Clintons had to endure dozens of investigations, most of them predicated on the flimsiest of evidence.  Well, we've got a smoking gun, so where's the special prosecutor?  Are we so numb to the ethical problems of this administration that we're going to shrug this one off, or are we just "Ken Starr-ed" out after the prosecutorial zeal of the 90's?  Well, here's another chance for the left to claim the moral high ground, and we ought to be all over it.

January 11, 2005 | 11:57 AM ET

Enough 'morality' lectures, Thanks

“Satan must laugh in sneerful derision.”

I am really tired of the implicit assumption in almost all MSM reporting that “evangelicals” and other (non-Moslem, of course) religious fundamentalists are more “moral” than the rest of us.  Since when did we secularists (religious and otherwise) cede the definition of morality to them?  If you ask me, it’s pretty damn “immoral” to discriminate against gays and working women, or to force a thirteen year old girl who has been raped by her father to give birth to that child.  What’s more, I don’t find a literal reading of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, to be a very useful moral guide.  Is slavery really so terrific?  Is it right to stone someone to death because they gather sticks on the Sabbath?  Well, it’s there in black and white.

In any case, we don’t have to settle that one now, because the fact is that people who profess to teach us this kind of strict morality we should be practicing don’t really practice it themselves.  I don’t mean merely Bill Bennett, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingriich, Jimmy Swaggart, Henry Hyde, etc.  I mean all of ‘em—or at least most of ‘em.  (And just so there’s no mistake, I don’t mind if people want to gamble, fornicate and get high on their own time.  Just shut up about the rest of us, please.)  Anyway, don’t take my word for it.  The following is borrowed from an article by Ronald J. Sider, professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy and director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He is also president of Evangelicals for Social Action.  This article is excerpted from his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience and appeared in Christianity Today.  Sider explains:

Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity.  By their daily activity, most "Christians" regularly commit treason.  With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment.

The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking.  "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general."1  Divorce is more common among "born-again" Christians than in the general American population.  Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe.  White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race.  Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their nonevangelical peers.

The rest is here.

And speaking of the Big Guy, this column by Heather Macdonald put me in mind of this classic by Randy Newman.

What the world needs now.

Hey look, we made this bestseller list.

Give a little bit…
While we’re on a morality jag here, one of the most complicated issues in the world is how much is the right amount of money to give away, and I don’t aim to solve that one here either.  Bill Gates gives away, I suppose, more money than anybody else in the world, but he also ends up with more money than anybody in the world can spend, so he doesn’t really feel it.  So what’s the big deal?  When I give money, it comes from somewhere else, though it’s but a fraction of what Bill and Melinda dole out, it hurts a lot more.  People much poorer than me give away tons without anybody putting them on magazine covers. 

Bruce Springsteen gets a ton of credit for his charity work as well as his recent foray into trying to save the country and the world. I was  pleased to see it and no doubt, it sets a good example for the rest of us, but Bruce too, ends up with more money than anybody could ever spend and while I don’t know how much he gives away, whatever’s left leaves him with no concerns about money whatsoever. His concerts for VFC were terrific but not, I think, as Annie Navasky argued to me on the Nation cruise, “heroic.”  I don’t have a problem calling Bruce’s concerts “heroic,” narrowly understood.  And perhaps Bruce is heroic in private, I don’t profess to know.  But giving away enough money or doing a few concerts while remaining one of the richest people in the world does not fit my standard.  The problem with making judgments on this basis, however, is that none of us really know how we’d behave in the same situation.

Anyway, I do know that I’ve got a close friend who moved back to Lawrence, Kansas years ago to take care of his dying parents and now lives there, running two open shelters—the kind that don’t turn away anyone, one during the day and one at night- that’s a twenty-four hour responsibility.  He makes in year what Bruce makes playing the first three chords of his opening song on opening night.  That’s heroism, in this man’s opinion, and you should all recognize it by sending a few bucks, as well as blankets and coats and stuff, which would make a world of difference.  Read all about them here.  (And I don’t think I’ve asked you to send anybody any money in a long time, not including AIDS in Africa and Tsunami victims, which you hardly need me to do, and since this site is free, come on, send them a check or whatever else they need.

Please make checks payable to "Lawrence Open Shelter, Inc." and send to:

Lawrence Open Shelter
944 Kentucky
Lawrence, KS 66044

And just like they do it at the UJA dinners, I’ll start it off with $250.00.)

But back to my earlier point, if you are going to give money to charity, it’s a good idea to actually give it to charity. Mr. Springsteen does quite well in this category according to this article in the admittedly, usually unreliable New York Observer.  Compare Bruces, for instance, Springsteen and Willis.

Yes, it was intentional:  We are a Rather-free zone…

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Rob
Hometown: Dayton, OH
Thanks for pointing Sontag's obit.  I sent this to the Economist:

You wrote:
Anyone who thought the years had mellowed her received a rude shock when, after the September 11th attacks, she wrote in the New Yorker that America had deserved it.

I read the article and she did not say that at all.  This is a serious accusation, if you had quotes to back them up, you should have printed them.  If not, print a retraction (not buried somewhere).

Jerry Falwell did say as much and Pat Robertson agreed.  Here are some links to back it up.

See that wasn't too hard.

Name: David
Hometown: Santa Fe, NM
Dr. Alterman -
I have read a few pieces in your blog about the "McMusic" and "Clear Channelization" of radio nowadays.  I'm just writing to make your readers aware that it isn't JUST Clear Channel doing such a thing. 

One of Clear Channel's competitors in particular, Citadel Communications, is doing the same thing to "sanitize" the radio waves.  Comparing the programming choices both make, the playlists, etc., you will find that they are nearly IDENTICAL in operation, scope, music, etc. (If you are unfortunate enough to have both 600 lb. gorillas controlling stations with similar formats in your area [you can check here and here to see for sure], just listen for a few days and you'll see for yourself.)  The sad fact of it is that in some smaller media markets (like Albuquerque/Santa Fe), only the big boys control/own the radio stations available to us.  Here in the West (other than the larger cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver, et. al.), our area is also generally devoid of high-speed Internet access and other means of listening to the latest stuff out there via some alternate source.  

Even the rows these two media behemoths have gotten into with Howard Stern ( here and here ) are eerily similar.

Apparently I'm not the only one that notices, either.

Needless to say, XM and Sirius are sounding more and more attractive by the minute, even if I do have to pay for it.

Name: Charlton Price
Hometown: Kansas City, MO

Dr. Eric,
I share your admiration and gratitude for Richard Barnet.  I first knew him in the 1960s, when I was on the staff of The Menninger Foundation and we worked with the then-new IPS and Donald Michael of University of Michigan on problems of information management and other media issues.  I also much admired and reviewed for publication (for a management consulting journal) Global Reach, which was far more sensible than Tom Friedman's Lexus/Olive Tree naive cheerleading, and was strongly supported by Bill Greider's useful One World, Ready or Not....IPS has been a uniquely valuable institution.  They would not take government contracts, which enabled them consistently to speak truth to power.

Name: Steve MacCrory
Hometown: Malvern, PA

Tell me how this makes sense: A President, a federal official mind you, holds a gigantic celebration in Washington, D.C. for his recent election victory.  This celebration comes off the heels of an election in which the President was apparently a "strong" leader dedicated to fighting terrorism.  The federal government pays for only a tiny amount of the expenses.  The city is forced to pick up the rest of the bill ($17.3 million), diverting money from it's Homeland Security fund ($11.9 million).

I guess you'd have to be a Republican to understand it.

January 10, 2005 | 11:55 AM ET

"The biggest [scandal] in the history of the Universe," (Not)

Buried in Judith Miller’s coverage of the report on the U.N.’s Oil for Food program published in The Times, for some reason on the front page of both my Sunday and Monday papers, is this nugget:

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Volcker said that the internal audits "don't prove anything," but do show how the United Nations was urged to tighten up its supervision of the program."  There's no flaming red flags in the stuff," he said.

The audits show, however, that United Nations officials repeatedly warned Mr. Sevan's office about its poor supervision of its own personnel and its major contractors.  One Congressional investigator who has examined about two-thirds of the documents said it was clear that Mr. Sevan's office failed to supervise the program's inspectors.  "They did not do their job," he said.

The rest is here.

Now recall this from Ian Williams’s story in The Nation.

“Soon the scandal was "the biggest in the history of the Universe," according to her FDD colleague and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer.
...
The New York Post denounced the investigation as a cover-up, while Safire referred insultingly to Annan's "manipulative abuse of Paul Volcker," whose reputation for integrity, he said, "is being shredded by a web of sticky-fingered officials and see-no-evil bureaucrats desperate to protect the man on top who hired him to substitute for--and thereby to abort--prompt and truly independent investigation."
...
On November 18 former New York Mayor Edward Koch followed with a column in the New York Sun claiming that Annan's "ability to lead the UN is seriously impaired.  He no longer has the confidence of America because of his failure to create a consensus on Iraq among the permanent members."  On November 24 National Review declared that "Annan should either resign, if he is honorable, or be removed, if he is not." This was echoed on November 29 by Safire, who ended a New York Times column with the comment that the "scandal" would not end "until Kofi Annan, even if personally innocent, resigns--having, through initial ineptitude and final obstructionism, brought dishonor on the Secretariat of the United Nations."  Finally, on December 1 in the Wall Street Journal, Norm Coleman, the chair of the Senate investigations committee, called for Annan's resignation.  Inspired by his example, Representative Scott Garrett raved a few days later, "To me the question should not be whether Kofi Annan should be in charge. To me, the larger question is whether he should be in jail."

Could we even imagine a more moronic media than the one we have?

Meanwhile back in Iraq, here’s a genius idea: Let’s start murdering the people we don’t like.  That’ll teach ‘em democracy.  It “worked” in El Salvador, here .  This seems like a good time to point out that the Central American chapter of When Presidents Lie helps explain a lot of this.  Kevin Drum may or may not have read it, but it’s a not a crisis in his case, the way it is in the case of Professor Instapundit, as you’ll see if you read Kevin.

Esplain please:  Jeb Bush explains he fired one guy for sexual harassment, hired another one accused of it, then his PR flak said that the fact that they fired the first guy proves that the second guy (their new guy) must be innocent.  "The fact that we take sexual harassment allegations very seriously here proves that the allegations of sexual harassment made against Lloyd have no merit," DiPietre said.  Huh?  It’s all here.

St. Child Stealer?  If you think a guy who takes advantage of the Holocaust to (effectively) kidnap Jewish children and refuse them to their parents and grandparents ( here) is worthy of sainthood, well then yes, I have a problem with that.  And I think if the Vatican goes through with it then Jews ought to draw the obvious conclusions and act accordingly, no matter how much it might upset the idiots that Fox and MSNBC invites to host and fulminate on its programs.

Speaking of the tribe, we are a funny people, even when we are making stupid “mother-focker” jokes.  At least you people seem to think so.  Just ask Joel Stein.  I like us better weird though, in ways you Focker-lovers can’t possibly get behind—that was not a reference to anal sex, Mr. Dirty Minded head of the Catholic league- like this fellow Matisyahu who’s album is not only pretty damn good in and of itself but also a tribute to Judaism’s ability to renew itself and to New York City’s cultural melting pot and the undreamed-of riches it offers to those with a little bravery and a lot of imagination—or vice versa.  (Better you judge us by reggae-singing Hasids than that silly Focker, Ben Stiller.)

This is pretty funny, too, though I am loathe to admit it.  Too bad that a few hours after I read, I came across a stupid and slanderous obit in The Economist in which its anonymous author wrote that Sontag had written of September 11, that America “ deserved it.”   This is a straightforward lie and it is amazing that a publication with a reputation for wit and intelligence would print it.  It was Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who, together, concurred on this egregiously anti-American comment in the wake of the terrorist attack, not Susan Sontag, who merely pointed out that its perpetrators were not cowards.  Shame on the Economist for its combination of editorial laxity in publishing it.  Feel free to let them know of your disapproval, here.

A personal note:  My first internship after graduating from college in 1982 was at the Institute for Policy Studies under Richard J. Barnet.  At that point in my life, he represented what I wanted to be when I grew up.  We never became very close and I, of course, moved on in a slightly different direction, but I never lost my admiration for his critical intelligence and his faith in the power of ideas to change the world for the better.  He was always perfectly nice and honorable to me, as well.  My condolences to his family.

And don’t forget to visit Berube’s blog here, as I often do…

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Michael Dawkins
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Dear Dr. Alterman,

Perhaps you've heard of the stir that's been rippling through the blogosphere about the comments made by Tom DeLay at this past Tuesday morning's Congressional Prayer Service.

Essentially, in the wake of the Asian tsunami disaster, and within the context of his colleagues' expressions of condolence for the victims of that tragedy during the prayer service, DeLay gets up to the pulpit and, without explanation, reads a passage from Matthew 7 that includes the following verses:

"And everyone who listens to these words of mine, but does not act on them, will be like a fool who built his house on sand:
The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined."

You can check out the full transcript on AmCop, the blog that first got this story moving.

It's getting to be a big story.  It should be a bigger story.  With your stature and platform, you would be ideally suited to draw attention to this incident and to call Tom DeLay to task on the latest, and perhaps most egregious, display of his callous arrogance.

Thanks so much for your consideration, and for the excellent work you do shedding light on the murkiest places in politics.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments