I’m flying to Ann Arbor today, but I’ve got a new “Think Again” column here about abuses in Congress by the Republican majority.

Speaking of welfare reform, and Mickey is always about to, I had pretty good sources inside the White House during that period and Jonah, who was my tenant then, is characteristically blathering without any knowledge or attempt to complicate his prejudices. Clinton’s internal polling told him he would win with or without welfare reform. Hillary Clinton did not oppose it. Note how Jonah’s ignorance-first interpretation does not allow for any disagreement either, even though he does not even bother to present any evidence. I’d say this is one thing about blogs that really makes them a net negative for journalism, except it would be just as easy to find the same kind of thing in National Review itself.

Quote of the Day:  "I have several times had occasion to say that it never pays for our government to give false impressions to the American public with the view to enlisting its support for short-term purposes, because this always revenges itself later when it becomes necessary to overcome the wrong impressions one has created."
George F. Kennan,  1994

Speaking of welfare reform, here’s a Altercation-reader review of Jason DeParle’s excellent recent book on the topic. The list of still reviewable books follows.

Keira Slevin
American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and A Nation’ s Drive to End Welfare (NY: Viking, 2005) 420 pp. by Jason DeParle

Three women and ten kids, all family and all down on their luck, make up the case studies that form the almost-novelistic heart of this book.  But it is Jason DeParle’s interweaving their lives in the Milwaukee inner city with coverage of the “nation’s drive to end welfare” that ultimately makes this book important for anyone concerned about poverty and policy

As the New York Times reporter on the poverty beat since the 1980s, DeParle was on-site to report the play-by-play of the 1996 federal welfare reform bill’s emergence.  As he shows in great detail, the final Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act did not result from do-gooderism or even from informed policy design.  Rather, DeParle documents a near-farcical Washington melodrama; political desperation, fervid rightist ideology, campaign timetables, ignorance of welfare’s on-the-ground realities, and dismissal of the relevant academic scholarship all played parts.  Examining Governor Tommy Thompson’s supposedly model Wisconsin welfare-to-work program, DeParle reveals brazen corruption, cynicism, and incompetence behind its superficial success.  Lowered welfare claims simply disguised the realities: needy clients trapped in a bureaucratic hall of mirrors and others out on the streets, and ex-clients forging a new way to be poor in America.

While the most tragic predictions of “children sleeping on subway grates” did not come to pass, DeParle saw that the new program created unexpected changes in clients’  lives. As Angela Jobe, one his trio of women, summed up the end of welfare as we know it: “It means I be a broke motherfucker for the rest of my life!”

DeParle spent years conducting on-site visits, extensive interviews and casual discussions, as well as pursuing every kind of official record and personal writing.  Writing with the acumen of a novelist, his attention to striking details (such as the condom saved as a keepsake by Jobe’s still-virgin fifteen-year-old daughter) and his recording of people’s pungent commentary makes American Dream compelling to read.  His aptly chosen subjects--Jobe, Jewel Reed (the aunt of two of Jobe’s children), and Opal Caples (Reed’ s cousin)--are more welfare survivors than victims, as they deploy myriad strategies to wring a life out of minimal resources.

The on-the-surface success of welfare reform, which made states responsible for solutions to be paid for with federal block grant money, did not mean clients migrated into the middle class.  DeParle shows that mothers like Angie, Jewel and Opal were never actually “dependent” on welfare, since by the ‘90s welfare provided hardly enough to subsist on.  Such women had always had a nexus of resources, including work -unreported, under-the-table, part-time, or intermittent work.  When workfare required community service or make-work in exchange for checks, they just left the system and started working more.  Or they didn’t: they lived with men, with families or friends, or in homeless shelters or drug houses; they scraped by with handouts or by sliding into illicit activity.

But working at America’s most terrible jobs did not notch up their economic level, though it improved self-esteem for some.  Without a safety net, their slightly larger incomes were diverted to transportation, childcare, and medical bills.  Mixed with some poor decisions and lack of planning, the women barely came out ahead. And their children, left largely to themselves, ran wild instead of modeling themselves after their practical, hardworking, bone-tired moms.

Even unemployable welfare clients, DeParle found, dropped off the rolls. The system in Wisconsin, riddled with corruption and run with a business -rather than a client-centered agenda, was deliberately designed with a high “hassle factor” to drive away anyone who could be driven away.  When most welfare clients sought other options, the provider companies reaped huge savings.

DeParle sums up by identifying directions for the future, both in policy and in research. In particular, he points to the need to know more about and do more for poor men, who have not been touched by welfare designed as aid to families of dependent children.

Another just-published book also focuses on urban poor women using a participant-observer methodology and supplements DeParle’ s perspective.  Kathryn Edin and Marie Kefales, authors of Promises I Can’ t Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage (University of California Press, 2005), are University of Pennsylvania sociologists who studied 162 unmarried mothers in eight urban poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Camden (NJ) to uncover the dynamics of early pregnancy.  Edin moved her family to one of the Camden neighborhoods, making the book an intimate and powerful examination of young women for whom postponed marriage is a conscious, if not happy, decision.

Other reviewable books:

  • Wayne Baker, America’s Crisis of Values
  • Nick Kotz, Judgment Days
  • Westeman and Gusterson, Why America’s top Pundits are Wrong
  • Steve Frasier, Every Man a Speculator
  • Sarah Greenough, et al, Andre Kertesz
  • Nick Salvatore, Singing in a Strange Land
  • Clarke and Halper. , America Alone
  • Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity
  • John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
  • Robert Norrell, The House I live In
  • Charles Mersh, The Beloved Community
  • Paul Khan, Putting Liberalism in Its Place
  • Bill Arkin, Code Names
  • Craig Shirley, Reagan’s Revolution
  • Gil Troy, Morning in America
  • Michael Ybarra, Washington Gone Crazy
  • Ricrd Overy, The Dictators
  • Curtis Cate, Freiedrich Nietzche
  • Stepehn Graubard, Command of Office
  • Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism
  • Irwin Stelzer, The Neocon Reader
  • John Ehrman, The Eighties, in the Age of Reagan
  • Donald Ritchie, Reporting from Washington

Books I’ve read but feel free to beat me to the act of actually reviewing them:

  • Godfrey Hodgson, More Equal Than Others
  • Jim Atlas, My Life in the Middle Ages
  • John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism
  • Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt, second edition
  • Richard Parker, John Kenneth Galbraith

Slacker Friday

Name: Stupid
Location: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to ask "Why?"  Why did Dubya, with more political capital to spend than any President in almost 30 years, make privatizing social security the focus of his second administration?  It wasn't a burning issue, it carries the risk of political defeat and antagonizing the AARP crowd, and most of all, hardly anyone thinks it's a good idea (even would-be supporters balk at the transition costs with the deficit so high).  Richard Stevenson wrote a long piece in the New York Times alleging that the President has wanted to do this since 1978.   Puh-leaze.  Whenever I hear someone talking about Dubya's leadership I remember Paul O'Neill's story about a 2002 meeting on new tax cuts.  Dubya is troubled and starts asking things like "Haven't we already given money to rich people?...Shouldn't we be giving money to the middle?"  Karl Rove steps-in and that's that.

Another explanation (suggested by one of your readers among others) is that social security is a smokescreen to distract the left while Congress passes other pro-business legislation.  But that's not necessary with this Congress.  Heck, the Blue Dog Democrats did more arm-twisting on bankruptcy reform than the Administration.  OK, let's try longterm politics: by convincing voters that the GOP tried to "do something" about social security, when the crisis hits they will have cover and blame the Democrats -- hence the President's blusterty campaigning and the "social security first, then Medicare" mantra.  Then there's the political angle to "ownership society": The more new voters that enter the stock market, the more the GOP can play the "good for the market" card: their very own social security scare tactic.  But none of this is compelling, especially in light of the deficit and weak dollar.  Why risk so much on this?  The only answers I can come up with are paranoid ones: big business donors have managed to pressure this on the hush, or they truly are courting a "starve the beast" Come to Jesus moment to transform the "welfare state" once and for all. 

Thing is, I used to make fun of paranoid political people like me...

Name: Witheld
Comments:

I've been a telecommunications lawyer with twenty years experience both at the FCC and in front of state regulatory commissions.  Because I represent entities with pending cases there today, please do not publish my name.  That said, I heartily endorse Ben Scott's critique of Chairman Michael Powell's thoroughly anti-consumer tenure.  Michael Powell is the worst kind of regulator.  He arrogantly assumes he knows everything, and therefore is completely close-minded to any legitimate input. The most notable example you barely mention, which is Powell's strident opposition to competition for residential and small business consumers.  You might ask why this is the case, when Powell lards his long, pompous speeches with fulsome paeans to consumers?  Mr. Powell single-handledly has eliminated the requirement that large incumbent phone companies like Bell South, SBC and Verizon, share their bottleneck facilities with competitors.  These facilities are called "UNE-P", and is the only mechanism in place allowing competition.  Powell's legacy of eliminating these facilities has yet to be quantified, but already competition for these consumers is evaporating.  How can this occur?  Simple.  Powell is allowing the incumbents to charge "market" prices for these facilities, effectively in March, 2006.  What are these prices like?  Not surprisingly, they exceed the retail prices charged by the same incumbent providers.  This is why the nation's largest competitive providers of residential service, MCI and AT&T, are quickly exiting the market and being purchased by Verizon/Qwest and SBC for chump change.  But you ask, doesn't Powell say internet phone service and cell phones will provide the competition once MCI and AT&T (and dozens of other companies) exit the market?  He does, but don't believe it.  Very few people have abandoned their local phone service and totally rely on cell phones.  The only people that do are the kinds of folks that did not have phone service to begin with (students, transients ,etc.).  What about Internet phone service (called in industry parlance "VoIP")?  This is a margin product today, and is frankly not getting too much penetration.  One only need consider AT&T's utter failure in that market (far less than 100,000 customers over six months after entering and marketing the service) to see this is not going anywhere.  What about cable TV companies, another competitor cited by Powell?  Nationwide, cable providers service 3% of consumers, and are quite slowly rolling out services.  The sum, as you will see over the next year, is Powell's legacy of remonopolization take hold.

Is Martin more pro-consumer?  In reality, he is.  Martin originally voted against Powell's scheme to eliminate competition. However, after the Bell Companies put on a full court lobbying blitz at the White House, Martin was forced to follow Powell's lead.  Absent a White House that were not in cahoots with the large monopoly providers, I suspect Martin would do a good job at the FCC.  Alas, we know this is not true.  The future of competition in America is therefore bleak, since the Bush Administration and its appointees only look out for the large special interests.  Get ready for more consolidation and less competition over the next four years.    

Name: Samuel Knight
Hometown: Arlington,. VA

I want to strongly disagree with your and Fred Kaplan's notion that Wolfowitz is a good candidate for the World Bank.  Although McNamara and Wolfowitz both share the dubious distinction of leading the U.S. to disaster in a foreign land, they are vastly different in their qualifications for a senior executive job.

McNamara had been a successful CEO of Ford Motor Company and thus had the managerial and financial background to lead a complex, multinational such as the World Bank. 

Wolfowitz doesn't.  He was an academic Dean, an Ambassador, and a think tank guy.  And his DoD experience shows that he can be a bad manager on a large scale, but he has never been a good one. 

That's a world of difference, and that's why I think that the Europeans will be doubly furious.  Not only are we sticking them in the eye with Iraq again, we are advancing an unqualified candidate to lead one of the highest profile development positions in the World.

Name: Zil Friend
Hometown: Boston, MA

Hi, Eric - I just thought I'd offer my $.02 on the subject of school auctions.  I grew up a middle class kid in Oakland, CA, which, in the mid-1980s, had a school system that (justifiably) induced terror in the hearts of parents.  My parents - despite having very little disposable cash - sought to get me into private school, and managed to do so from second grade onwards, with the generous help of my grandparents.  My school held an auction every year, and continually runs fundraisers seeking money from parents, grandparents and alumni.  Why?  Well, it's simple: although the school could probably continue to operate on tuition alone, it couldn't expand, and it certainly couldn't offer scholarships for less fortunate students, of which we had several per class, or host a gigantic Head Start program.  Auctions were always a more "sexy" alternative to boring phone drives (local businesses donated most of the goodies, in exchange for publicity / tax write-offs, &c) ... which is also why if you need extra $ to build a computer lab for the middle school, you don't just ask for money, you offer alumni & parents the opportunity to have their names etched on the classroom.  Cold fact of life.  And totally detached from the problems of public schools, which have been malnourished by government.

Name: Sandy Goodman
Hometown: Rockville, MD

It's been two weeks since U.S. soldiers killed an Italian intelligence agent and wounded the freed woman hostage he was protecting at a checkpoint near the Baghdad airport. The Pentagon promised an investigation, at the insistence of Italian authorities, who want to pinpoint responsibility for the shootings.  Why is it taking so long to complete the investigation?

This one probably will be completed and its results made public, because of the insistence of Italian authorities.  But generally, for the Pentagon, the announcement of an investigation is simply a way of covering up.

Take for example, the horrible helicopter crash on Jan. 26 that killed 31 U.S. servicemen.  It was the deadliest single incident of the entire Iraq war. The Pentagon immediately announced an investigation.  But it's been more than two months, and no findings have been made public. We still don't know the cause of the  copter crash, specifically whether it was a mechanical or other failure, or caused by insurgent fire.  And, given the Pentagon's policy of coverup, we probably never will.

March 17, 2005 | 1:12 PM ET | Permalink

Meet the new boss

I asked my friend Ben Scott, who keeps up the inner workings of the FCC better than I can, to give us background on Kevin Martin, tapped by George W. Bush to replace Michael Powell as that body’s next char: Here’s his report:

This is a promotion for Martin, moving from Commissioner to Chairman.  The shift entails more than a new office down the hall from his current digs on the 8th floor.  It means he’ll be able to set the agenda for the policies that shape America’s media system, phone service, and broadband Internet access.  Nothing will come for a vote without his say-so, and he’ll get to pick and choose what to do and when to do it.  No individual on the planet will have more power over what’s on TV, who owns your radio station, how fast your broadband is (or whether you can get it at all), how many cell phone companies you have to choose from, and how much it all costs, than 38-year-old Kevin Martin.

Michael Powell hasn’t exactly given him a smooth passage of the torch.  Powell has been playing both sides of the fence at the Commission for the last couple of years.  On the one hand, he’s been pushing massive deregulation, gutting public interest limits on media ownership and stripping away critical public oversight over network infrastructure—the so-called “information superhighway.”  On the other hand, he has led the regulatory charge against those who dare to utter curse words or show an inch of flesh on broadcast television. You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t support the rampant consolidation and market control of corporate media giants like Disney, Viacom, and News Corporation and then turnaround and moan about the content they produce and the lack of alternatives to the mainstream river of mindless entertainment and tabloid news.  Whose policy was it to choke off access to the mainstream media by independent, alternative and noncommercial voices?  Whose policy was it to make it virtually impossible to enter the television market with a different kind of product? Whose policy was it to hand over control of the Internet to the companies that own the wires?  The crusade to crown corporations the kings of the media has run smack up against the crusade to be more family friendly.  Somewhere in between the principle of democratic governance got tossed out the window.

Sadly, Martin appears to be right on board with Powell’s hypocrisy on all these issues.  He’s been the number one advocate for the broadcasters at the Commission, except for when he’s a crusader against their indecent behavior.  Needless to say, Martin has not distinguished himself as a friend of the public interest.  Nor has he shown a great penchant for expanding access to new technologies to broaden the diversity of viewpoint and culture in the media system. He’s pretty much fallen in line with the talking points of the National Association of Broadcasters.  All these sticky questions may explain why the White House picked him.  Because he’s an FCC Commissioner already, the promotion to Chairman means he can skip the unpleasantries of a confirmation hearing in the Senate and the inconvenient questions about contradictory and failed policy decisions it might bring.

Maybe when he gets in the seat of power, the air will be cleaner and the view clearer.  Maybe he’ll wake up one morning and decide that he and Michael Powell have been behaving like idiots for the last few years and reverse course.  Maybe he’ll call for public hearings and actually inject a little democracy into the process of media governance.  Maybe he’ll turn out to be “okay” instead of crappy like his predecessor.  If not, we’ll just have to continue to organize and mobilize a democratic movement for media reform that will make his tenure in the Chair as miserable as Mr. Powell’s.

Here’s more coverage:

And on the other appointment of the day, Fred Kaplan is about right on Wolfowitz, here.

Quote of the Day:  "It's not my job to be popular.” Elisabeth Bumiller, here.

Quote of a few years ago:  “I think we were very deferential because it's frightening to stand up there.  Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the President of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war.  There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the President at this very serious time."  Elisabeth Bumiller, here.

One More Deeply Annoying Phenomenon: School auctions.

A friend of mine and fellow public school parent once pointed out the absurdity of school auctions.  Private school parents can afford to overpay by a fortune for items to show off their generosity to schools that don’t need it while public school parents cannot for the schools that desperately need the money.  Private school parents can also afford to offer up truly expensive items like a time-share in St. Bart’s.  My friend was commenting on the fact that his school was auctioning off a basketball signed by Michael Jordan.  What they should have done, was had a private school auction it off and split the cash.  Does this story mention that phenomenon?  I find this whole thing too annoying to read that far into it.

Altercation Celebrity Reporting Edition
About a dozen years ago, I was having lunch at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central with Hitchens and a Vanity Fair editor and they were discussing the phone interview he was supposed to do that day with Melanie Griffith.  I made fun of him for it and so the editor, a friend of mine, though it would be fun to show me that I was not above such things by offering me the assignment and outrageously overpaying me for it.  I did it, (and some holier than thou lefty twerp at the Village Voice brought it up about eighteen times afterward), and all it involved was a twenty minute conversation with Melanie on the phone and ten minutes writing it up.  There were two funny parts of the phone conversation.  First the Melster sent me a copy of that really goofy book, “The Celestine Prophecy,” signed with a happy face over the “I” in her name to help me with my spiritual growth.  Second, when trying to make small talk, I mentioned that we had a mutual acquaintance, my then-student at Stanford, Jennifer Connelly.  This was apparently an enormous faux pas on my part, because as I later learned, Jennifer and Don Johnson had been an item on the set of a recent movie, "The Host Spot,"—Get the Miles/John Le Hooker soundtrack if you can-- causing one of Melanie and Don’s many break-ups.  And Melanie started to cry at the mention of her name.  (Vanity Fair clearly had the wrong guy for this assignment.)  So why am I writing this?  Because last week I watched a really good/bad modern noir made in 1996 with a magnificent cast starring, as unbelievably attractive love rivals for Nick Nolte, Melanie and Jennifer, including Melanie watching films of her husband, Nick Nolte with Ms. Connelly in a compromising position after compromising position.  (I guess Mr. Banderas found a way to sooth those wounds, and Jennifer does get thrown out of a plane rather early in the film.)

And while we’re on the topic of the absurd, C-Span will run the Aspen Comedy festival “discussion” at 8 and 11 PM EST this Saturday evening.  Some of it is just not to be believed in so many directions at once I can’t begin to explain them.  More here.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: D.C. Smith
Hometown: Raleigh, N.C.
About the Saddam Hussein capture story, apparently UPI is disavowing it.  The day after this story came out, a Weblog maintained by the World Editors' Forum ran the following note from UPI's Pamela Hess:

I'm the UPI Pentagon correspondent. This is actually not a true story. It was written in a Saudi paper, and picked up by our Arabic-speaking desk in Lebanon. However, I've not been able to find any evidence that this guy exists, much less that he was in the Marine Corps. The story was not run by me before it was published, and we have since pointed out the errors in the piece. Any questions, please contact me.
Pamela Hess, UPI.

Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Destin, FL

Hey Eric,
Old Navy guy again.  I held onto this comment for a few days to reflect.  I have to tell you that it kills me to read the travails of Major Bateman and those with him.  These young people are doing their job -and that is really the only way for them to look at it- but more on that point in just a moment.  You can't really question too finely the soldiers or commanders on the ground in a situation where they are constantly under fire.  The rules of engagement get very dicey where the enemy varies his tactics on a daily basis in response to the doctrine in place.  The guys I fault the most are the senior commanders and politicians who put them there -not to mention the electorate that supports the prosecution of a lawless foreign policy.

Concerning the Major's specific comments, though, you really have to question how well "disciplined" anyone can be in that situation.  I write this just after Berlusconi has come out to say that the car did indeed stop but that the troops fired anyway -we'll see how the investigation shakes out.  But there is the almost weekly story of civilians, including women and children, killed by violating the check points.  Common sense will tell you that if the armed and trained military guy has a high "pucker factor" on Route Irish wouldn't you think other non-military types may share that pucker factor and not be inclined to immediately stop at the sight of someone with a weapon?

On a tactical and operational level we sent these young men and women into a very tough situation based on a lie and self-delusion.  The lie is well documented and the self-delusion, especially after the round of non-drug induced craziness on the part of the neo-cons over Lebanon, is grotesquely altering the character of what we are as a nation.  It's apparent that conservatives and all those armchair warriors "support the troops" as long as they say what conservatives want them to say regardless of the reality of the situation, that they go to war unprepared for the type of warfare they are asked to wage regardless of the need (especially if it means paying taxes) and that, after all, they are a professional military, get paid (minimally) and should just do what they're told -the equivalent (albeit larger and more sophisticated) of a uniformed security force for the country club community.

What troubles me is that even liberals don't necessarily get it, feeling that they need to make the obligatory bow to the military and to "support the spread of democracy."  Michael Shellenberger, in an interview in the February issue of The Sun said that he has no problem with the United States being an imperial power as long as it spreads the right values.  I respectfully disagree and here I return to first principles.

I do not think that we should go about, in the words of John Quincy Adams, "abroad in search of monsters to destroy" in the process of prosecuting fanciful preventive wars that only serve to centralize power among elites and send young men like Major Bateman on a fool's errand.  I can read Stupid's response in charging me with isolationism already but what I am advocating is just the opposite and I contend that it is unilateralism and the concept of preventive war that is in the tradition of the isolationists.  (Hat off to Arthur Schlesinger for making this case in his latest book.)

But I base my disagreement on two premises that I think are being proven correctly: 

1. The unilateralist/preventive war philosophy directly threatens democracy and liberty here at home by elevating militarism and the capriciousness of the executive (which then selects its elites to reward at the expense of civil society).

2. This policy isolates us from the world and leaves us to accept childish beliefs that explain the 9-11 attacks in terms of the terrorists attacking us because they "hate our freedoms."  Modern terrorism as it is defined (loosely) is the very threat that requires engagement with the world -that is, multilateralism and international cooperation.

I dedicated myself to the profession of arms for most of my life and so I do not believe I can be accused of opposing its use when necessary.  But military force is a blunt weapon, despite the illusions of minimized "collateral damage" and other euphemisms used on a populace removed from the reality of the conflict.

You have dedicated a great deal of space in your articles to urge an understanding of the Palestinian issue and you have suffered more than a little slander for it.  The position you urge in the end, I am confident, is the only reasonable one that will eventually win the day.  The true enemy of civilization is fanaticism for a cause regardless of where it resides.

Name: Nancy Bishop
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Re the media panel --  "7 p.m. March 19. U-M Law School, Hutchins Hall, Room 250.  The school is located at 625 S. State St."

In what city, please? Or should I always assume the default is NY?

Eric replies: Sorry, I screwed up.  It is at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

Name: Marc Levitt
Hometown: Berlin, Germany

Dr. A,
I have precious little time on the Internet these days, but you'll be pleased to know I make use of some of that time to catch up on your blog.  I thought I'd write in with some news from Germany/Berlin, where I'm presently located for the year, since it pertains to Judaism and the alleged rising tide of European anti-Semitism.

As you're likely aware, Germany's NPD, the closest contemporary descendant of the Nazi party, recently won 9% of the vote in Saxony and gained seats in the state parliament for the first time in 36 years.  Some have sought to argue that a depressed economy and new social welfare restrictions have contributed to the NPD's success.  Such arguments have a certain a priori attraction, but the areas where the NPD had its most success were not particularly hard hit by unemployment, whereas they achieved minimal success in parts of Germany where the local economy was in far worse shape.  This evidence doesn't rule out the aforementioned correlation, but it does make it far more tenuous.

A smarter analytical strategy has, sadly, not been taken up in German media.  In all of my reading, I have yet to see any insightful explanation for the NPD's resurgence.  Indeed, it seems that, as with all things Nazi-related, most people would prefer to ignore it or push it swiftly under the rug.  And so in a very timely manner, various levels of the German government have been set into motion to sort of blindly combat neo-Nazism.  Hence, a recent raid on several neo-Nazi 'cells' in East Berlin and the speedy conviction of a group of Brandenburg youths accused of atrocious acts of vandalism against foreigners' businesses.  Now, I employ the term 'blindly' because little apparent effort is made to ferret out root causes here.  Whereas public policy decisions in Germany are often made with transparency and an eye for actually solving the problem, a sharp contrast with America's Wars-on-Whatever, the German government has eschewed a deliberate, analytical approach in favor of an iron fist.  Only a passing acquaintance with modern German political debate would reveal how uncommon this is.

All of this leads to the frightful question and its more frightful answer: is right-wing extremism, including a strain of neo-anti-Semitism previously less tolerated alongside more acceptable xenophobia (directed at Turks mostly), on the rise?  I believe the answer to be a disconcerting 'yes,' but it's regrettably based on circumstantial reasons.  First, we're hard-pressed to account for the increased popularity of the NPD unless it's their policies people like.  Two, the most recent version of a longitudinal survey by Dr. Wilhelm Heitmeyer, the most thorough study of its kind, demonstrated a sharp rise in xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and hatred of Muslims amongst the German populace.

So, why won't the German media, or indeed the German government, pursue a penetrating inquiry?  Because they're afraid of what they'll find.

March 16, 2005 | 12:01 PM ET | Permalink

What's so confusing?

Just what is so confusing about this ?  If this were Iraq, then it might matter what Americans—the vast majority of whom who have precious little dependable information on Iraq—thought of the nation’s situation.  Since it’s America, however, what matters is not what they think of events in Iraq but what they think of them here.  Here, we think that this war is a stupid idea.  The numbers—and the trends--are even stronger here.  So the opening sentence of this Washington Post/MSNBC report offers a bit of false confusion, designed to promulgate the administration’s views:

Two years after President Bush led the country to war in Iraq, Americans appear to be of two minds about the situation in the Middle East: A majority say they believe the Iraqis are better off today than they were before the conflict began -- but they also say the war was not worth fighting in the first place.

A lot of places might be better off if we invaded them—though that’s far from clear about Iraq—the question is, was this invasion a net plus for America?  The answer: Well, we’re more hated than ever; there are more loose weapons than ever; we’ve created more terrorists than ever; our enemies are rejoicing and Bin Laden remains at large, laughing at us, and we’ve shown the world that our word and our competence cannot be trusted.  (And um, oh yeah, 1500 dead, 11,000 wounded and a few hundred billion down the drain, but no mind that.)  Nice job.

Meanwhile, the rule seems to be, prosecute an easily predictably failed war, get to run the World Bank and here.  To learn that while Wolfowitz may not be the perfect pick, he will at least lie less than McNamara did, buy this.

Can anyone clear up the mystery of what was up—and whatever happened to the UPI story “Ex-Marine Says Public Version of Saddam Capture Fiction?”  I read it and saved it when it appeared and it explained the following:

A former U.S. Marine who participated in capturing ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said the public version of his capture was fabricated.

Ex-Sgt. Nadim Abou Rabeh, of Lebanese descent, was quoted in the Saudi daily al-Medina Wednesday as saying Saddam was actually captured Friday, Dec. 12, 2003, and not the day after, as announced by the U.S. Army.

"I was among the 20-man unit, including eight of Arab descent, who searched for Saddam for three days in the area of Dour near Tikrit, and we found him in a modest home in a small village and not in a hole as announced," Abou Rabeh said.

"We captured him after fierce resistance during which a Marine of Sudanese origin was killed," he said.

He said Saddam himself fired at them with a gun from the window of a room on the second floor. Then they shouted at him in Arabic: "You have to surrender. ... There is no point in resisting."

"Later on, a military production team fabricated the film of Saddam's capture in a hole, which was in fact a deserted well," Abou Rabeh said.

Abou Rabeh was interviewed in Lebanon.

Now it’s gone. Esplanation, please?

Liberals? No Ideas? The CAP Tax Proposal
What’s not to like? Or do you prefer a country in which the rich get richer and everybody else gets the shaft.

Alter-links:  It's time for another Altercation links contest.  The blogosphere keeps expanding and it's easy to miss some really good sites.  I've drafted Jeralyn again to take your nominations for  blogs that should get the coveted slots on the right in our high-powered MSNBC.com blogroll.

Send nominations to her, not me, at alterlinks@aol.com.  There's no point in stuffing the ballot box because once she's aware of your blog, it's "Merritt" driven.  (Hint: Without a link to Altercation, don’t bother.  Judge Jeralyn would probably appreciate a link too.)

Alter-review:  Rosanne Cash has been playing a series of informal, acoustic (unmic'ed, actually) performances at the Rubin Museum in Chelsea inspired by the some of the more exotic art work there.  Well, actually, the performances are inspired by the art work but Rosanne just decides what she wants to play and tries to find an excuse, not always successfully.  Last Friday night she did the show with her husband John’s band, Mojo Mancini, and the thing was wonderful in too many ways to enumerate.  It was alternately thoughtful, evocative, challenging and beautiful, sometimes all at once.  Some of the songs were from the new album she’s doing, inspired, unavoidably by the deaths of Johnny and June, some were brilliant riffs on old things, hers, others, the band’s—spanning from country mountain songs to Broadway to a wonderful “Can’t Buy Me Love.”  I loved it so much, I’m torn between wanting to let everybody know, and keeping it to myself, so it stays nice and small.

Name: M. George Stevenson
Hometown: New York, NY

With regard to your concomitant Balzac nominations and lauding of HBO series, how about a nod to the recently much-profiled David Milch, of "Deadwood"/"NYPD Blue"/"Hill Street Blues" etc., Tom Fontana of "Homicide"/"Oz"/etc./etc. and David Simon of "Homicide"/"The Wire" (for my money, a show of an absolutely Dickensian level of achievement, especially in the second and just completed third seasons).  All write all or most of their episodes (David Kelley does this too, but at a lesser level -- plus he's married to Michelle Pfeiffer) and all of the shows in question are far more consistent in writing quality than many of HBO's denotative gems (e.g. "The Sopranos").  Oh, and let's not forget the husband of that environmental activist, either.  His show's pretty good, too (though what was the usually spot-on James Wolcott thinking when he held up "Fat Actress" as being on a scale with "Curb"?  Avoirdupois and a shared eye for talent (Rachel Harris, Mel's humorless lesbian secretary and Kirstie's makeup artist) do not an "Enthusiasm" make.

Name: Jim Treglio
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Eric,
I would like to add my two-cents worth on the HBO series discussion.  There are two issues worth mentioning along those lines.  First, the quality of the casting on HBO series is exceptional.  With perhaps the exception of the prostitutes in Deadwood, the actors and actresses are chosen because they can act, not because they look the part or are recognizable by the public.  This goes all the way through the cast, not just the central characters, something definitely different from network TV, and even the output from most major movie studios.  Second, the characters are all fully developed.  Their series flow more like novels, with protagonists and antagonists rather than good guys and bad guys.  There is a connection here, of course -- if the actors couldn't act it wouldn't work.

March 15, 2005 | 11:44 AM ET | Permalink

AIPAC to Israel: We know best.  (Congress: Ain’t nobody here but us … )

MJ Rosenberg breaks a story in his column, here, that the MSM (with the exception of David Rogers in the WSJ) has largely missed.  On Tuesday night, the House Appropriations Committee, under the watchful eyes of AIPAC, took President Bush's $200 million aid package for the Palestinians and tore it to shreds.  Following AIPAC's lead, the committee endorsed the aid in principle and then attached so many conditions to it (mosques and the Internet must be monitored to prevent criticism of Israel, was one of them) that the aid package becomes one big slap in the face to Abu Mazen.  (Arafat did not have so many conditions on aid).  But no matter.  All legislation like this has a "national security waiver" that the President can invoke to provide the aid for national security reasons even if every demand by Congress is not met.  So, under intense pressure from AIPAC, the waiver was removed.  Bush's hands are tied.  It is worth noting that the government of Israel supports the aid, without onerous conditions, as being in Israel's best interests.  The Administration says it needs the aid to promote peace and an end to terrorism.  And the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) which represents virtually every major Jewish organization in the country -- including all the local federations -- endorsed the aid without killer amendments.  But AIPAC is apparently its own sovereign state so it does what it likes.  And it has the ranking Democrat on House Foreign Ops, Nita Lowey, doing its bidding.  I guess she thinks she is being pro-Israel by undermining Palestinians trying to end terrorism against Israel.

Osama On the Loose:  Well maybe if you hadn’t let him go on purpose in Tora Bora and then pulled so many assets out of Afghanistan in order to invade a country that presented no threat whatever to us, but now does, thanks to your counterproductive invasion, he might not have gotten away so easily with killing thousands of Americans and then laughing at you…

Your lawless administration at work, demanding to use your tax dollars to feed you lying propaganda, here.

Nominees for the Balzac, Mozart, Picasso, Club:  Elvis C, Isaac Asimov, PG Wodhouse, William Dean Howells, Gore Vidal.  Here is the nomination for Asimov: It looks pretty strong, save for the fact that these books do not remotely compare with Balzac’s:

How about Isaac Asimov?  Born in 1920, he began writing short fiction in 1939 and saw the first of his more than 500 books published in 1950.  He was also a full-time professor of biochemistry at Columbia from 1948 to 1958, when he began to work at writing full-time.  Check out the details here.

One of the most genius moves of all time was the right wing’s decision to continue to whine, incessantly, about the so-called “liberal media” decades after such a phenomenon could rationally be said to exist.  No matter how much cogitative dissonance the idea continues to inspire given the obvious reality, almost everyone in the media continues to cling to it, rather than recognize the obvious reality that this is an idea whose time has long past.  Take, for instance David Margolick’s extremely generous-minded profile of Robert Novak in the current Vanity Fair.  He writes of the following “paradox”: “For all his fulminations against the liberal media, it is the liberal media that sustains him.”  Then again, perhaps that’s not such a paradox.  After all, if we’re only pretending to see a liberal media, then conservatives can work the refs all they want, no matter how fully they dominate debate. 

I see from a recent Media Matters posting that Bill O'Reilly made the curious claim that "there isn't one conservative commentator on CNN.  Not one. ... There's not one! ... No, there isn't any."  Um, right. Novak’s a commie. The only interesting thing about O’Reilly is the question of whether he believes his own “ Harry G. Frankfurt.”  A more important question for the rest of this is how such a clown can be taken seriously anywhere, much less be blessed with the most watched “news” show on cable.  Then again, we all “know” CBS News is dominated by liberal bias, right?  Sorry, Bernie, not exactly.  Here’s more from our friends at Media Matters:

What Liberal Bias? Part Two: CBS News

With the end of the Dan Rather era at CBS, the usual suspects have been predictably vocal in emphasizing the network's place at the center of the "Left Wing Media."

Which leads us to wonder if they are watching the same network we are. Consider:

  • Rather's temporary replacement, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer, is an old friend of President Bush; in 2000, Schieffer described a Bush-Gore debate in which Bush had flatly lied about the issues as a win for Bush because "He seemed to have as much of a grasp of the issues [as Gore]." And in 2004, as Bob Somerby has noted, even the pundits on Fox News acknowledged that John Kerry won 2004's first presidential debate -- but not presidential pal Schieffer.

  • Right off the bat, in his first broadcast, Schieffer introduced a segment about Chile's privatized Social Security system that downplayed the serious problems the system caused. While acknowledging that some critics say the program has flaws, CBS' Trish Regan concluded: "Still, most people who consistently contribute to their accounts, like Hector Espinoza, says the system works." In January, The New York Times explained that problems with Chile's system are far deeper than the CBS report indicates, noting "now that the first generation of workers to depend on the new system is beginning to retire, Chileans are finding that it is falling far short of what was originally advertised."

  • Last month, Schieffer downplayed the costs of Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, claiming that "critics" say the plan would cost trillions of dollars and would do nothing to extend the solvency of the program. In fact, that isn't just something "critics" say -- it's the truth; the Bush administration itself has admitted as much.

  • Earlier this week, CBS glossed over criticism of John R. Bolton, Bush's nominee for United Nations ambassador. While NBC and ABC both detailed Bolton's history of attacks on the U.N., Dan Rather didn't; instead he just read a quote from Bolton that day.

  • On March 6, 60 Minutes reporter Scott Pelley misleadingly blamed the Clinton administration for President Bush's controversial practice of transferring suspected terrorists from where they are captured to other countries, including nations known for torturing prisoners, while bypassing formal extradition procedures. Pelley didn't mention that the Bush administration greatly increased the number of these transfers and eased restrictions the Clinton administration had put in place.

  • In December, Rather introduced a segment on Social Security by correspondent John Roberts that suggested Social Security would be unable to pay any benefits by 2042; in fact, even the most pessimistic forecast indicates that the system will be able to pay 75 percent of scheduled benefits in 2042.

  • In late September, CBS postponed a prepared report questioning one of the Bush administration's rationales for invading Iraq until after the election; a CBS spokesperson acknowledged that the network didn't want to air the report before Election Day. Presumably coincidentally, the head of Viacom, which owns CBS, endorsed Bush for re-election at about the same time, saying "the election of a Republican administration is a better deal" for Viacom "because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on."

  • A recent Media Matters for America review of three months of CBS Evening News broadcasts found that the program featured Republicans and conservatives far more often than Democrats and progressives -- nearly 30 percent more often, in fact. Political segments on the CBS Evening News featured 65 clips of Democratic officials or commentators representing progressive organizations and 83 clips of Republican officials or commentators representing conservative organizations. These figures do not include clips of President Bush, which were featured on 40 Evening News episodes.

  • Gene Lyons and Bob Somerby remind us that recent claims that CBS treated Bill Clinton "like a friendly witness" while president but treats Republicans "with hostility" aren't true. Lyons and Somerby note one of many examples: a 1998 60 Minutes package featuring Kathleen Willey's baseless allegations against Clinton. As Lyons explained: "Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr investigated star witness Kathleen Willey's allegations against Bill Clinton to a fare-thee-well before concluding what any halfway skeptical reporter would have suspected from the first: that she was an unreliable, self-dramatizing person with a habit of embroidering her own history."

Examples abound -- and yet everybody "knows" CBS is plagued by "liberal bias."

Eric Rauchway observes:  “This is the kind of things that makes historians no fun, but:  according to the TLS of February 11 (OK, I'm a little behind) Henry V's actual battle cry at Agincourt was "Fellas, let's go."  (Compare Shakespeare.)”

Event announcement: Entitled “Not from concentrate?  Media regulation at the turn of the millennium,” this symposium examines the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership regulations that were designed to protect the diversity of voices, to foster competition and to ensure local accountability in the media.  Three panels, held March 19, will address whether the FCC may further relax ownership restrictions; whether ownership restrictions are good or bad for social, political and cultural debate; and the repercussions of media (de)regulation on women and minorities.  Eric Alterman, a media columnist for The Nation and author, will give the 5:15 p.m. keynote address on March 18. Jonathan Adelstein, an FCC commissioner, is the guest speaker for the dinner, which begins at 7 p.m. March 19. U-M Law School, Hutchins Hall, Room 250

The school is located at 625 S. State St.

Alter-reviews:  Let us now praise HBO

Years ago, I noticed that HBO was making better movies than just about any movie studio in Hollywood.  They soon expanded their capacity with inconsistent results, but even when they fail, they appeared to be aiming higher than almost everybody else.  That was, and I suppose remains, a controversial judgment with regard to movies, but it is almost incontestable with regard to HBO’s series, which are head and shoulders above just about anything else produced on any network.  And it’s not merely true of the famous successes, like “The Sopranos,”  “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Sex in the City,” but also of its lesser-publicized, but no less artistically successful programs like “Deadwood,” and “The Wire.”

The former’s first season has just been released on DVD as has the latter’s second season.  Both are more finely observed, acted, and crafted than would be possible were they hoping to appeal to the kinds of numbers needed for network news—part of HBO’s attraction is its elitist strategy—but the network also seems to recognize the value of inviting in extremely talented people and giving them room (and money) to roam.  Both of these shows reward a viewer's commitment of time and attention to a degree that no network show save maybe “The West Wing” could ever survive.  There’s a review of the second season of Deadwood here.

P.S.  Spamalot reminder:  The reviews will appear tomorrow. It is already impossible to get decent tickets before mid August, even at those crazy prices.  I warned you.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Kirk Knight
Hometown: Alameda, CA

Eric,
Three items.

1. It should be obvious the Social Security issue is a red herring meant to distract the youth vote from the reality of the budget deficits saddled on them by the Bush regime.

The Bush regime will spend $400 billion more this year than it takes in, a similar business model to Harken Energy and other Bush ventures.

That averages out at $1,400+ per citizen. But most of that will be paid by non-boomers when the T-bills come due.

Add up all 8 years of the Bush regime and the total person debt will near $12,000 per person. That amounts to $3.5 TRILLION according to CBO estimates.

2.  It took the NY Times 2 years (725 days) to figure out the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with WMD, as evidenced by the looting of purported WMD sites, and it's considered news?  Where is the explanation for the DoD not targeting Colin Powell's famous "dangerous terrorists with WMD labs" such as Zarqawi's Ansar al Islam camps in Kurdish no-fly zone until the second week of the war?  We had carte blanche to go after him without Saddam's permission.

3. The Afghan poppy crop is leading to a global heroin problem. What would it cost to buy the ENTIRE Afghan poppy crop before it is sold to heroin smugglers?  If one is to believe a 2004 US gov't report, only $50 million.

"The $10 billion U.S. annual retail heroin market thus generates about $1 billion in imports, of which roughly $50 million goes to poppy growers."

Why not send U.S. agents into the ripening fields to out-bid the terrorists?  Moralistic congressmen who feel it's better to spend $473 million on "eradication" rather than simply buying the crop and destroying it for a fraction of the cost.

The numbers are the gov'ts, the idea is mine.

Source:
CRS Report for Congress
Illicit Drugs and the Terrorist Threat: Causal Links and Implications for Domestic Drug Policy April 5, 2004  aper RL32334.  CRS Drugs and Terror paper.pdf

Name: Becky Martz
Hometown: Cambridge MA

Eric,
The Liquid List has a truly sickening article about _children_ being held in prison.   Just as bad or worse (depending on how you look at it) is a Major General saying "I don't care if we're holding 15,000 innocent civilians,"  "We're winning the war."

Name: JL
Hometown: Birmingham
I look forward everyday to reading your blog. I also love your articles for the Nation and your Think Again column.  And I like your books.  But I've got to tell you that Maj. Bob Bateman reads like a composite compiled in Karl Rove or Karen Hughes's basement or in the tombs of a neocon don't-think tank.  He's just a bit too slick to be believable.  Comparing Bagdadians to New Yorkers was the final straw.  Has Rove FINALLY figured a way to get free press in what's left of the liberal media?  The administration's slant on Iraq (things are kind of bad now but it's all going to be right in the end) is sort of subtle in Maj. Bob's notes, but it is distinctly there.  This is just one woman's opinion, but I think you're being taken for a ride in a smooth-running virtual Hummer.

March 14, 2005 | 1:13 PM ET | Permalink

The perfectly predictable

This story, the likes of which have been percolating since days after the war, is fleshed out here better than it’s been in a long time, and has long made it nearly impossible for any thinking person to take the Bush administration seriously in its arguments for the Iraqi invasion.  It’s difficult to believe that they take themselves seriously either.  If the danger from Iraq was the fact of their weaponry being used against either Americans or other innocents, then the perfect way to make this more—rather than less--likely would be to create a situation whereby anyone who wanted the weapons could loot them, cart them off and sell them to the highest bidder.

These included "equipment that could be used to make missile parts, chemical weapons or centrifuges essential for enriching uranium for atom bombs."

To invade Iraq, without bothering to secure these sites demonstrates a degree of either incompetence or bad faith that, in a sensible world, would inspire impeachment proceedings.  We are all poorer and far more insecure for their cavalier attitude toward the perfectly predictable dangers their invasion inspired.

On a related topic, boy is this is annoying.  I read Alan Wolfe’s new book, Return to Greatness: How America Lost Its Sense of Purpose and What It Needs to Do to Recover It, just published by Princeton University Press, and learned a great deal from it. Even by Wolfe’s categorization scheme, I am one of those who prefers a “good” America to a “great one.”  But then I get to the end where he is discussing liberalism’s reaction to 9/11 and speaking of rediscovered patriotism.  Fine, but who are his examples?  Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman, George Packer, Kenneth Pollack and, I kid you not, Christopher Hitchens.  In other words, Wolfe, who himself condemns the Iraq war as a pretty much idiotic enterprise, picks only war supporters as those who have properly expressed their patriotism.  Note that Hitchens is not and has never been a liberal; he was a left-wing Trot who expressed nothing but contempt for them in his previous incarnation and he’s now a kind of fellow-traveling neocon, or perhaps just a right-wing Trot.  This is not about me.  Wolfe uses as an example of the new stirrings of liberal patriotism, liberals hanging flags from their balconies.  This is an obvious reference to Todd Gitlin who has written about this repeatedly but Wolfe leaves him off the list because, why?  What about Mike Tomasky another patriotic liberal who didn’t support the war?  Wolfe also sloppily equates Susan Sontag with Noam Chomsky for these purposes, something I don’t think he would want to defend.  In any case the rest of the book is worth reading, but this lionization of the liberal war hawks—not one of whose analysis has been borne out by reality— by people who should know better, gives me a real pain.

Another quite useful study just published by Princeton by the way is Geoffrey Hodgson’s More Equal than Others, which is a history of this country since the seventies and a sequel to his classic, America in Our Time. 

And while I’m looking at new books from Princeton, I’m having a lot of fun with Michael J. Schell’s Baseball’s All-Time Best Sluggers; Adjusted Batting Performances from Strikeouts to Home Runs.  Schall is a Professor of Biostatistics and UNC and Director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. This is his second book on baseball stats, and using his complicated formula, he concludes that the greatest sluggers are:

  1. Ruth
  2. Ted W.
  3. Rogers Hornsby
  4. Barry Bonds
  5. Lou Gehrig
  6. The Mick
  7. Stan M
  8. Ty Cobb
  9. Jimmy Foxx
  10. Say Hey…

Even so, if you look at the best seasons ever, Barry’s 2001 and 2002 look like the best to me, but I’m not sure I’m understanding everything.  Anyway, this can launch, but probably not settle, dozens of altercations.  So, too, can Harry G. Frankfurt’s new book, the title of which you will have to read on Princeton’s Web site here.  In a better world, I’d have space/time to discuss Anthony Apiah’s Ethics of Identity, but I don’t so just try chapter one here.

I’ve got a new Think Again column here.  It’s called “The New Content Commissars.”

This just in:

Name: Maj. Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq
Eric:
I cannot yet speak about other cities or places in Iraq with any authority, but the inhabitants of Baghdad are proud.  Cynical, but proud.  In many ways they remind me of New Yorkers.

Inhabitants of both cities believe that they live at the center of the universe, and that all things which are important happen first in their city.  In Baghdad, of course, this feeling is tinged.  There is an awareness that Saddam robbed them of their place as the core.  Now most seem resigned for the moment to being the center of their country.  At the same time it seems they fully expect that they will someday reclaim their position as the most important city in the region.  It is refreshing to see this positive attitude, even as I imagine that it must rub other Iraqis the wrong way in the same manner that New Yorker’s proclamations drive people like me, raised in Ohio, nuts.

Yet even as they are proud of their city in general (and in a city with literally thousands of years of history, they have plenty to choose from), there are curious blind-spots in their knowledge.  It took me a little while to puzzle this out, but the bottom line seems to be that their gaps are one more of the lasting effects of Saddam.

“A” and I were driving in his car from one office to another inside the Green Zone.  “A” has a little VW, I am not a car-guy, so I did not recognize the model, but it is decently new.  You would not notice it if you saw it on the streets in D.C.  Coursing down the blast-wall canyons of concrete, we passed a few bombed-out buildings.  Massive structures, they were obviously something important during the war.  I asked him as we passed each one, “What was that?” “A” did not know.

He has lived in this city his entire life.  Indeed, with the exception of one trip out for a vacation once when he was younger, he has never left the city of Baghdad.  (There are those parallels with New York again.)  Yet despite this, and despite the fact that the wrecked buildings to which I was pointing were some of the largest in all of Baghdad, he did not know what they were before the war.  It took a little while for the answer to come out.

“Bob, you must understand that before the war this area was off limits to ordinary Iraqis,” he said.  “We could drive through, yes, and some of these roads were very busy then, but you could not stop.  You could not get out of your car, look, point, or take pictures.  To do so could mean imprisonment.  It could mean death.  So when you ask us, ‘What is this, what is that?’ even here, in our own city, we don’t know.  Under Saddam…” and his voice trailed off.  He was embarrassed.  I was too.

Everywhere I look I seem to catch ghosts of Hussein’s lingering stench.  It was difficult for me to understand when I was in the U.S. why Iraqis were not popping back.  I did not comprehend why they still feared Saddam even after we toppled him.  Why their fear crept on, even to some degree after his capture.  Now, I think, I understand a little more.

But in the end it comes down to people.  Baghdadis and New Yorkers, they have a lot in common.  I think this will matter in the years to come.

Eric adds:  Bob’s been set up with subscriptions to The New Yorker, The Economist and The Nation.  I’m sure he’d appreciate other stuff, though.

Wolfowitzianisms
A thoughtful and interesting take on Wolfowitz’s comments to me, here

And Juan Cole had this to say. 

Meanwhile, Gawker made up this wonderful graphic, of which I would a like a 16 by 20 suitable-for-framing poster.  I wondered how long it would take for some holier-than-though Naderite-type to say, “The horror, the horror” speaking civilly to a man with whom one profoundly disagrees.  The answer: about 48 hours, with a bonus that we get a Chomsky invocation,  blessed-be-his-name, as a bonus.  Too bad Mr. Smartypants couldn’t get the city right within say, 150 miles, but hell, it’s the blogosphere.  Who cares about accuracy?)

Smorgasbord
Terrific Times reporting the Bush Administration’s incredibly effective propaganda program here

And here’s a small piece of good news, we’ll get Frank Rich back on the op-ed page, where he will do what he can for the forces of good…

Air Fleischer takes some wobbly swings at the SCLM.

And this just in: Ari’s former boss, George W. Bush, spends his time reading Camus and De Tocqueville.  No really, just ask Elizabeth Bumiller of the Bush-hating liberal New York Times.

Evangelicals nationwide are realizing that moral values apply to more than just what Bush pal Rev. Jerry Falwell says they do.  Now that the National Association of Evangelicals is working to combat global warming, Think Progress thought it would only be fair to let Falwell – who once declared, “I have no conscience problems at all and I’m going to buy a Suburban next time.” – weigh in with his thoughts on the environment.  Catch their (fictional) exclusive interview with Jerry Falwell.

Alter-reviews
First Run Features has finally given us a DVD version of Joseph Dorman’s “Arguing the World,” his invaluable study of the intertwined lives of four pre-eminent New York intellectuals, Irving Howe, Nathan Glazer, Dan Bell and Irving Kristol.  It is not only an invaluable historical document, honest, probing, responsible, but also a fascinating work of art.  It examines both the meaning of Jewish American history and the big questions of politics, literature and philosophy to which these men devoted so much of their energies.  Dorman has already published a book that contains the transcripts of his interviews, and I recommend that too, but on film it’s a far more jarring and frequently moving experience.  Plus it’s great to see Irving Howe again, doing what he did better than anyone.  My only complaint is that I would have liked to see more Alfred Kazin, not merely because he was my friend and I’d like to have him on DVD, but because, in many ways, he was far more central to the story than Glazer.  But I suppose that’s arguable, depending upon how one defines “this story.”  In any case, I intend to show this film to both of my classes at Brooklyn, and to keep showing it, year after year.  Read all about it here.

First Run has also released the 2001 documentary on Lenny Bruce called “Without Tears,” here.  Also noteworthy is Mirra Bank’s documentary about the collaboration between Maurice Sendak and the Pilobolus Dance Theater on the dance-theater work that honors a haunting holocaust legacy, Last Dance.  There’s a lot more there, too if you just shop around.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA

Reader Don Pugh sent in a link to AnySoldier.com, and wonders about their bona fides.  For what it's worth, I saw a piece on CNN (NewsNight?) just a few days ago in which they were very positively portrayed.

Similarly, a while back CNN ran a story on another website engaged in sending "CARE packages" to soldiers in Iraq.  They are called " Jacob's Adopt-a-Soldier", named for Jocob Fletcher, a soldier killed in Iraq in 2003.

Thanks.

Name: Dave Nicoll
Hometown: Sicklerville,NJ
Eric,
Reading a letter from a fellow reader about Springsteen and his involvement with World Hunger Year (WHY) I felt compelled to direct attention to this website, BorgenProject.org, which was founded by former fire fighter & world relief worker, Clint Borgen.  I think people can learn a lot from a guy like him.

Name: Edward Debevec
Hometown: Fairbanks, Alaska
According to an article in our local paper (Fairbanks, Alaska), Senator Ted Stevens says he will consider retiring from the senate if a bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge does not pass this year.  As I'm sure you know, there is a provision in the current budget bill that includes income from opening the Refuge and there will likely be an amendment this week to pull that item from the bill.  I'd like to encourage all your readers to contact their senators and encourage them to support this amendment, i.e., to not allow exploration and development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  It's going to be close, but if we can stop this bill, not only will we protect the Refuge for a little while longer, but we may also hasten the departure of Ted Stevens from the senate.  Kind of a two-for-one deal.  Despite what our congressional delegation says, there is a sizeable opposition in Alaska to developing the Refuge.  But we continue to need the help of everyone throughout the country to protect it.  Thanks to everyone who has helped.

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