April 8, 2005 | 11:35 AM ET | Permalink

New Nation column here on what’s missing from last week’s intel report.

What he said:  EJ on the Pope, here.

Him too:  Michael Walzer on values and the left, here.

This guy was in my high school class.  He was not the kind of guy we would have predicted to be able to buy and sell the rest of us, but that’s the way it is with the Net, no?

Long Dylan essay in The Nation, here.  I’m very excited about Greil Marcus’s biography of “Like a Rolling Stone,” as, to quote the great Debbie Boone, “Nobody Does it Better.”  More about that here.

Get Trio?  Saturday, beginning at 5, you get some of the greatest hits of my buddy Sam Seder, (featuring Sarah Silverman) with “Who’s the Caboose?” and a whole bunch of “Pilot Seasons.”  I think you’ll like it.  Also, another guy I went to high school with made a really first rate film about a young woman drawn into prostitution called ‘What Alice Found,” and it runs sometimes on Sundance, including Sunday at 9:00.

“Citizen journalists" aren't so interested in documenting facts, are they?  Boehlert calls them “ ideological bullies” masquerading as media critics who want the press to stay away from stories (and images) that they deem unacceptable.  And the sooner the mainstream press understands that, and stops anxiously amplifying bloggers' conspiracy of the week, the better off it will be.

Alter-Employment Announcement reposting.
I’m looking for a senior researcher to who work somewhere between half and full time for me, doing mostly historical research for my books, but also a bit of clerical work and helps me a bit with planning my teaching, writing and speaking schedules.  If you are interested, please apply ASAP to Whatliberalmedia_at_AOL.com, but do not send me your resume as an attachment.  I won’t open it.  Sorry I can only reply to those e-mails I want to pursue.  If you don’t hear from me, it’s a “no.”  Please apply only if:

  • You have at least a master’s degree in American history or a closely related field like American studies, or, you have at least two years experience as historical researcher or editor or as a particularly impressive intellectually-oriented journalist on say, a Matt Yglesias or Sarah Wildman level (which means I should already be acquainted with your work).
  • You already live, or will be living, in or around New York City two weeks from today.
  • You can make a commitment to work 20-40 hours a week at least until Labor Day.
  • You are independent, efficient, grown-up, well-organized and discreet.

Onto Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to play Monday Morning Quarterback.  What if a year ago, by magic, you were told that the Democrats were going to lose the 2004 Presidential election as well as some seats in Congress regardless of who they nominated or how they campaigned?  If you knew that, what kind of campaign would you have run against Dubya?  I'm reminded of a history professor who swore that the seminal figure of the Democratic party was Al Smith, because his 1928 campaign set-up the New Deal coalition of the future.  I remember thinking that there was that little matter of the Great Depression, but comparing Smith's campaign to Kerry's is revealing.  1928 had its own polarizing hot-button issue: Prohibition.  Hoover called it "noble," Smith favored repealing it.  Some things never change: Protestant conservatives raged a slime campaign against "Al-choholic Smith," the New York City sinner (and Roman Catholic).  Like 2004, Democrats were conflicted and most shied away from the issue and focused on Smith's proactive (for then) government plans to boost the economy and education.  (At least Kerry didn't wear his Northeast roots like Smith, whose campaign song was "The Streets of New York.")

Smith got trounced, or so it appeared.  Hoover won 58% of the vote, and won the electoral vote 444 to 87.  However turnout was huge: Smith got as many votes as the victorious Calvin Coolidge four years earlier, and reversed the GOP's hold on all the major cities.  Catholics and Jews saw that they had a home in the Democratic Party.  Moreover -- and here's my point -- Prohibition was a bad policy and over time it became more and more unpopular.  Voters identified Democrats with the alternative policy, just as they did with FDR's New Deal (Hoover in the 1932 campaign also proposed government programs to help the Great Depression -- voters went for the real thing.  I don't blame Kerry for trying to position and craft a message to win - the stakes were high enough.  But the Dems are paying a price: the public doesn't remember Cheney dissing energy conservation, it doesn't know we spend $4 billion per month in Iraq.  They aren't the alternative, they're the mumbling dissenters.  Arguably the elections aren't the time to "heighten the differences" but what's the excuse now?

Name: Mark Viste
Hometown: Brooklyn Center, MN

I find a simpler, practical problem with Libertarianism in that the basic rights government is supposed to be limited to -- property, defense, and so forth -- are in fact quite expensive to deliver and inherently inconsistent with a small government.  "The Cost of Rights" by Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein makes this point better than I can and at some length.

Name: Jeff Weed
Hometown: Denton, TX

Dr A,
One of the many reasons for the limited appeal of economic libertarianism may be the lack of a credible spokesperson.  Think of who is generally identified with libertarian thought -talk-show buffoons like Neil Boortz and Larry Elder, pseudo-academic hacks like Charles Murray, and the late, batty Ayn Rand with her cult of pocket-protector geeks guffawing over every word in their dog-eared copies of "Atlas Shrugged" (former Rand crony Alan Greenspan has apparently been excommunicated).  By comparison, this almost makes Team Bush look like Mensa (almost).  

Another reason for its lack of appeal is that it is sheer foolishness -both philosophically and practically.  This brand of libertarianism is to the Constitution what fundamentalism is to the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, et al -claiming to be adhering to the true literal meaning of the text, but usually missing the point entirely.  It is self-centered Social Darwinism wrapping itself in the phony garb of principled adherence.  In fact, the advocates of an unregulated "free" market will never admit -to themselves or to those who listen to them- that a capitalist system devoid of sensible regulation and government oversight would result in the disappearance of the middle class.  For more, see this excellent article by Thom Hartmann here.

Name: Andrew Gachanja
Hometown: Brunswick, ME
Mr. Alterman, I'm a fan of Michel Houellbecq and I've read "Elementary Particles", "Platform" and "Lanzarote".  But to be fair, I think the differentiation between misogyny in his work and gangster rap is dishonest.  Why should misogyny be sanitized just because it's a white French writer with philosophical pretensions and condemned if a black man pens the same sentiments but in rap?

Name: Dave Elley
Hometown: Seattle
Eric,
I thought there might be a few more candidates for the 'buried news' list these last two weeks:

  1. Apparently you can't eat Dubya's brand of democracy.  Better off without Saddam? It depends who you talk to.
  2. The U.S. stoking an arms race in Asia by letting military dictator Musharraf (and nuclear proliferator Pakistan) have his F-16s.
  3. And by doing so, appeasing the killers of Daniel Pearl.

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
Eric,
You posited, "Still, Bruce must know some Jews.  He is, after all, in the music business..."  You mean, like Max Weinberg, his drummer?

April 7, 2005 | 12:12 PM ET | Permalink

The art, not the artist

I’ve got a new Think Again column here.  It’s about all the missing stories that have been buried beneath the wall-to-wall coverage of Terri S and Pope JP II. 

And my friends at Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation have started a new foreign policy blog, here.  It’s quite good and features, among other people, Lorelei Kelly who was a much more responsible tenant at 1801 T Street apartment 604 than a certain right-wing blogger currently fulminating at National Review and on CNN.

I only met Saul Bellow once.  In my youth, I paid what felt like a fortune--$50 I think, to go to a PEN/Faulkner reading and reception for him at the Folger Library (or the Library of Congress, I forget which).  I watched an amazing moment at the reception when one those people who carry around autograph books everywhere and appear to live for such things approached him with a pen and the book open.  Bellow refused, saying if he signed that one, he’d be signing all night.  The guy was crushed and humiliated.  A friend with whom I went said to me, “You know, Saul Bellow could write a great story about that moment.”

As with “The Plot Against America,” I am in a minority of people who think “Ravelstein” to be by far Bellow’s weakest work.  (When I went to see him read a couple of years or so ago at the 92nd Street Y, I had to leave right away when I saw that was what he intended to read, because I didn’t want that to be my last memory of him.)  But I disagree with those who don’t like his “cranky” period.  I loved The Dean’s December, and I liked the late novellas a great deal too.

An issue:  I do think Bellow, the author, had what Norman Podhoretz might call a real "Negro Problem."  It shows up in his work and it’s almost impossible to miss.  And that’s one more reason I think it silly to worry about the politics of an artist.  So what if Bellow, personally, might have been a little racist?  (Or if Updike and Roth display a misogynist streak or Balzac and Trollope don’t cotton much to the Tribe…)  Talk to me about the art, not the artist.  Perhaps Bellow’s discomfort with black people weakens his work; perhaps it strengthens it.  Let’s treat the issue independent of the individual.  (I do think Updike, for instance, derives power from his hatred/fear/contempt of women, because he reflects it so unconsciously and we, the reader, benefit from seeing it illustrated in so pristine a fashion.)  One can see this process in its most unexpurgated form in the work of Michel Houellbecq but I hesitate to take the argument to gangsta rap, which I abhor.  Anyway, here is Robert Penn Warren on Augie March.

Reading Murray Waas, in TAP, it’s hard not to conclude Novak has turned state’s evidence—or possibly taken the Fifth- and won’t admit it.  Otherwise, this Mr. Fitzgerald is simply crazy.

Quote of the Day:  Geneva Overholser, professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and former chair of the Pulitzer board, and a former editor of the Des Moines Register:  "Bob Novak has acted so dishonorably throughout all of this.”  His fellow journalists “should be calling on him to say what happened.  He should say if he has been subpoenaed, if he has testified, or whether or not he has taken the Fifth. If he wants to say he is a journalist, he should tell the truth.”

After playing patsy for nutty right-wing bloggers, Howie Kurtz might want to issue an apology for misleading readers about this Republican authored memo.  I see he left the story to Mike Allen.

I’ll miss Dan Kennedy’s work too.  There was no more thoughtful or fair-minded media critic writing anywhere, I think.  If the Post were paying attention, they’d have given him Mr. Conflict of Interest’s job, long ago.  (Still, since that’s not going to happen, it really ought to go to Richard Leiby, who’s paid his dues.  And Hacktacular Howie is really a gossip columnist at heart.)

Why does Bush hate the mothers of dead soldiers?

From Salon:

Pentagon bans casket photos

The Bush administration's decision to enforce the ban on media photographs of flag-draped caskets returning from Iraq was widely reported last year -- but even mothers of dead soldiers are being shut out by Pentagon.  When Karen Meredith lost her son to a sniper in Iraq, she wanted a photo of his casket at Dover Air Force Base for personal use, but was not permitted to take one, reported Cox News Service.

"It's bad enough that they won't let the country see the pictures of the caskets, but a grieving mother?" asked Meredith. "It's unforgivable after what I lost."

Ironically, the Defense Department introduced the policy (back in 1991, when Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense), in the name of protecting the privacy of families who don't want their loved ones' caskets photographed by the press.  But Meredith said she wasn't buying it: "They say it's for privacy, but it's really because they don't want the country to see how many people are coming back in caskets."

That may also explain why the Pentagon has them all coming back only under cover of darkness.

-- Julia Scott

Laugh, cry or get blown up:  Fred Kaplan on the Penatagon and foreign languages, here, would be funny, 'ceptin' it's going to get lots of people killed.  (In the meantime, let's fire all the gays.)

Abe Rosenthal award for quoting myself:  Andrew Sullivan - "Last night on Hardball, I said what I think needs to be said."  The funny part about it is what he says is essentially correct.  Might I suggest a little shrink time, buddy, devoted to the question of what compels one to make a jackass out of oneself with the twisted-arm pat on the back (as if appearing on “Hardball” is something worthy of braggadocio, in the first place)?

Correspondents’ Corner

Name: Jane Elizabeth Dougherty
Hometown: Boulder, CO

Dr. E:
The discussion on libertarianism has been interesting.  In response, I give you an essay by Ian Frazier, a better writer than I.

Name: Matt Orel
Hometown: West Bloomfield, MI

Bruce's HBO special in 2001 also premiered on the evening of Passover first Seder.  God willing, he's got a few more holiday premiers in store for us.

Eric adds:  And didn't the Joad tickets go on sale on Rosh Hashanna?  And doesn't every tour go on sale on Shabbat?  And my parents are still mad at me for blowing off Kol Nidre for No Nukes, but for that tell 'em to blame my buddy Danny Goldberg, who's more than made up for it with free office space for Tikkun and all those books by Israeli peace guys.  Still, Bruce must know some Jews.  He is, after all, in the music business...

Name: Steve Paradis
Hometown: Davison Michigan

There was this old jape about libertarians: that they imagined themselves as the tall laconic cowboy who rides into town and enforces his will--and who in reality were more like the whiney dude forced to dance to the tune of gunshots by drunken louts.

The image of an armed Grover Norquist attempting to enforce his will on anyone mentally cues the SCTV bit of Woody Allen starring in "Taxi Driver."

April 6, 2005 | 10:01 AM ET | Permalink

Saul Bellow, 1915-2005

Our guest blogger today is my late friend, Alfred Kazin, who wrote what follows forty-one years ago,  publishing it in The Atlantic Monthly in January, 1965, but would have wanted to have it published here, I feel certain.

.....

One day in 1942 I was walking near the Brooklyn Borough Hall with a young writer just in from Chicago who was looking New York over with great detachment.  In the course of some startlingly apt observations on the life in the local streets, the course of the war, the pain of Nazism, and the neurotic effects of apartment-house living on his friends in New York, observations punctuated by some very funny jokes and double entendres at which he was the first to laugh with hearty pleasure for things so well said, he talked about D. H. Lawrence and James Joyce, Theodore Dreiser and Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald, not as great names but as fellow artists.  He said, as casually as if he were in a ball park faulting a pitcher, that Fitzgerald was "weak," but Dreiser strong in the right places.  He examined Hemingway's style like a surgeon pondering another surgeon's stitches.  And citing D. H. Lawrence with the intimacy of a brother-in-arms, he pointed to the bilious and smoke-dirty sky and said that like Lawrence he wanted no "umbrella" between him and the essential mystery.

The impression this conversation made on me was very curious.  Bellow had not yet published a novel, and he was known for his stories and evident brilliance only to a small intellectual group drawn from the Partisan Review and the University of Chicago.  Yet walking the unfamiliar Brooklyn streets, he seemed to be measuring the hidden strength of all things in the universe, from the grime of Brooklyn to the leading stars of the American novel, from the horror of Hitler to the mass tensions of New York.  He was measuring the world's power of resistance, measuring himself as a contender.  Although he was friendly, unpretentious, and funny, he was serious in a style that I had never before seen in an urban Jewish intellectual: he was going to succeed as an imaginative writer; he was pledged to grapple with unseen powers.  He was going to take on more than the rest of us were.

As Bellow talked, I had an image of him as a wrestler in the old Greek style, an agonist contending in the games for the prize.  Life was dramatically as well as emotionally a contest to him, and nothing of the agony or contest would be spared him.  God would try him in his pride and trip him up, and he knew it; no one was spared; he had been brought up an orthodox Jew, and he had a proper respect for God as the ultimate power assumed by the creation.  A poor immigrant's gifted son, he had an instinct that an overwhelming number of chances would come his way, that the old poverty and cultural bareness would soon be exchanged for a multitude of temptations.  So he was wary--eager, sardonic, and wary; and unlike everybody else I knew, remarkably patient in expressing himself.

For a man with such a range of interests, capacities, and appetites, Bellow talked with great austerity.  He addressed himself to the strength of life hidden in people, in political issues, in other writers, in mass behavior; an anthropologist by training, he liked to estimate other people's physical capacity, the thickness of their skins, the strength in their hands, the force in their chests.  Describing people, he talked like a Darwinian, calculating the power of survival hidden in the species.  But there was nothing idle or showy about his observations, and he did not talk for effect. His conceptions, definitions, epigrams, apercus were of a formal plainness that went right to the point and stopped.  That was the victory he wanted.  There was not the slightest verbal inflation in anything he said.  Yet his observations were so direct and penetrating that they took on the elegance of achieved thought.  When he considered something, his eyes slightly set as if studying its power to deceive him, one realized how formidable he was on topics generally exhausted by ideology or neglected by intellectuals too fine to consider them.  Suddenly everything tiresomely grievous came alive in the focus of this man's unfamiliar imagination.

Listening to Bellow, I became intellectually happy--an effect he was soon to have on a great many other writers of our generation.  We were coming through.  He was holding out for the highest place as a writer, and he would reach it.  Even in 1942, two years before he published his first novel, Dangling Man, his sense of his destiny was dramatic because he was thinking in form, in the orbit of the natural storyteller, in the dimensions of natural existence.  The exhilarating thing about him was that a man so penetrating and informed should be so sure of his talent for imaginative literature, for the novel, for the great modern form.  We all knew brilliant intellectuals, academic conquistadores, geniuses at ideology, who demanded one's intellectual surrender.  Every day I saw intellectuals clever enough to make the world over, who indeed had made the world over many times.  Yet Bellow who had been brought up in the same utopianism and was himself a scholar in the formidable University of Chicago style, full of the Great Books and jokes from the Greek plays, would obviously be first and last a novelist, a storyteller, creating new myths out of himself and everyone he had ever known, fought, loved, and hated.  This loosened the bonds of ideology for the rest of us.  It was refreshing to be with a man who so clearly believed himself headed for power in the novel: it disposed of many pedantic distinctions.
......

Quote of the Day: “I am an American, Chicago born - Chicago, that somber city - and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent."  Augie March, 1953

One more thing: Gallup: Bush Approval Rating Lowest Ever for 2nd-Term Prez at this Point here.

One more, one more thing:  Happy birthday, kid.

UPDATE: This just in

For Immediate Release                    April 6, 2005

Bruce Springsteen Spring 2005 U.S. and European Tour

April 25    Detroit, MI                 Fox Theatre
April 26    'Devils & Dust' Release Date
April 28    Dallas, TX                  Nokia Theatre at Grand Prairie
April 30    Phoenix, AR                 Glendale Arena
May 2        Los Angeles, CA               Pantages Theatre
May 3        Los Angeles, CA               Pantages Theatre
May 5        Oakland, CA                 Oakland Theatre
May 7        Denver, CO                  Convention Theatre
May 10       St Paul, MN                 Xcel Energy Center
May 11       Chicago, IL                 Rosemont Theatre   
May 14       Fairfax, VA                 Patriot Center
May 15       Cleveland, OH                 CSU Convocation Center
May 17       Philadelphia, PA              Tower Theatre
May 19       East Rutherford, NJ           The Theater at Continental Airlines Arena
May 20       Boston, MA                  Orpheum Theatre
May 24       Dublin, Ireland               The Point
May 27       London, UK                  Royal Albert Hall
May 28       London, UK                  Royal Albert Hall
May 30       Brussels, Belgium             Forest National
June 1       Barcelona, Spain              Pavello Olimpic Badalona
June 2       Madrid, Spain                 Palacio De Deportes de la Comunidad
June 4       Bologna, Italy                Palamalaguti Arena
June 6       Rome, Italy                 Palalottomatica Arena
June 7       Milan, Italy                Milan Forum
June 11      Hamburg, German               Color Line Arena
June 12      Berlin, Germany               ICC
June 13      Munich, Germany               Olympia Hall
June 15      Frankfurt, Germany            Festhalle
June 16      Dusseldorf, Germany             Phillipshalle
June 19      Rotterdam, Netherlands          Ahoy
June 20      Paris, France                 Bercy
June 22      Copenhagen, Denmark             Forum
June 23      Gothenberg, Sweden              Scandinavium
June 25      Stockholm, Sweden               Hovet

Expect an announcement of additional U.S. tour dates later this year.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: David Rice
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Dr. Alterman:
I appreciate your posting Mr. Stafford's rumination on Libertarianism.  I think supporters of the two main parties would learn a lot about what government should and should not do by giving libertarianism a serious look.

That being said, I think Mr. Stafford's reservations about libertarianism are misplaced.  Libertarianism does not operate under the assumption that people are always good or will always make good choices.  If people are good and can be trusted, then they shouldn't have to suffer the interference of government.  If people are not good, and cannot be trusted, then we shouldn't trust them with the power to impose their will on us (which is what the government does).  Since people are rarely all good or bad, then each person should be able to live their life as free from the decisions, and mistakes, of others.  No one that I am aware of has ever claimed that libertarianism promises nirvana, but then again, no one is claiming that we have nirvana now.

Mr. Stafford's observation that some of libertarianism's supporters have self serving agendas that are unseemly is not unique to libertarianism.  Wouldn't it be safe to say that many politicians, and their constituents, of both liberal and conservative persuasions, have betrayed their ideas in the furtherance of greed, intolerance, and oppression?  

I believe that our political culture is horribly corrupt and debased.  I think it is going to take at least one generation of Americans, learning a different relationship to government than the one we have now, before we can reduce the oppressive presence the government has, not just in our lives, but in the lives of foreign citizens.  I believe that libertarianism would be a healthy beginning to a conversation that could move us in that direction.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

Rob Stafford's letter on Libertarianism interested me greatly.  Although I am totally sympathetic to the notion of minimal government intrusion into our private lives, it has struck me that many of Libertarianism's more outspoken advocates also believe that corporations should be left equally free of control.

I know there have been some horrific Supreme Court decisions to the effect that corporations have "rights", but the notion that entities created solely to generate profit can or should be on equal footing with those "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights" is treacherous and absurd.

Grover Norquist was quoted in Mother Jones as saying, roughly, "My ideal citizen is self-schooled, owns a gun and an IRA, because he doesn't need the government for a @#$%@#$@# thing...".  Perhaps we should offer those of Mr. Norquist's ilk a deal: they can pay almost no taxes, but companies can sell them any products they wish and such citizens will have no recourse when their faultily-made gun blows up in their face, their IRA investments go belly-up due to uninvestigated corporate corruption, and they succumb to mad cow disease after eating uninspected beef.

Many on the Right try to claim that the Founders never intended that the government could "interfere" with "commerce".  Why does no one seem to emphasize the fact that in 1776, you knew if the blacksmith shoed your horse poorly, or if the grain you were buying was bad, and so did everyone else - bad merchants did not stay in business for too long.

Does anyone know if their car or computer will work out of the box?  Do they know if their medication will affect them adversely?

I will stop, but how much of a record of defrauding investors, exploiting employees, and abusing consumers does modern corporate capitalism have to have before the benighted Right acknowledges that MORE rather than less regulation is needed.

Sigh.

April 5, 2005 | 12:41 PM ET | Permalink

'The crown jewel of American liberties'

Name: Eric Rauchway
Hometown: Davis, CA
Among the dirty tricks the U.S. Constitution played in its wild younger days, the three-fifths compromise ranks high on the cynicism scale because it used black people to increase the voting power of white people who denied those black people the right to vote.  Nor have the days of three-fifthsism passed.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in a rare procedure involving all of its sitting judges, is about to decide whether the modern version of three-fifthsism should survive.  The U.S. Attorney General thinks it should, and argues that a federal statute cannot constitutionally apply in this case.  And the federal statute the Attorney General is trying to have declared unconstitutional in this application is the Voting Rights Act.

The origins of this mess lie in the mind of Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, né Anthony Bottom, lately of Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, NY.  Muntaqim is a convicted cop-killer who decided to challenge New York State's law that bars felons like him from voting.  Muntaqim v. Coombe went to a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court, where Muntaqim lost.  On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.  You might have heard nothing further about Muntaqim had not the Second Circuit, in an unusual move, granted his request that they hear the case in banc, which means that all thirteen active judges on the circuit will hear the case on June 22, 2005.

{Pedantic note, 1:  Everyone, including me, spells it "en banc."  Except the Second Circuit, which uses "in banc."}

{Pedantic note, 2:  Argument on June 22 will consolidate Muntaqim v. Coombe with another case, Hayden v. Pataki, to combine questions the two cases pose (about vote denial and vote dilution) with respect to the Voting Rights Act.}

Muntaqim, as a cop-killer, does not strike me as the ideal poster-child for thwarted civic ambition.  (By contrast note that the Brown in Brown v. Board was the Reverend Mr. Oliver Brown.)  But Muntaqim's case suggests that when he loses his vote -- which may be, in itself, a just thing -- bad practical consequences ensue for everyone else owing to neo-three-fifthsism.

Here's how it works.  Most prisoners in New York State come from the five boroughs of New York City.  But in the last thirty years or so, the state has built all its prisons upstate.  So all those downstate criminals get convicted and then moved upstate.  And then, for the purposes of apportioning representation, this prison population counts in the upstate district -- even though the felons can't vote.  The effect is the same as the three-fifths compromise -- only now, five-fifths of disenfranchised people can count toward the representation of their enfranchised neighbors.  In consequence seven New York Senate Districts would, without their prisoners, not have enough residents to qualify for representation.

{Pedantic note, 3:  Historians use "disfranchisement," an economical form.  But everyone else likes "disenfranchisement."}

{Pedantic note, 4:  To put the apportionment problem more precisely, without the prisoners these seven districts would fall below the average district population by more than the allowable deviation, thus invalidating the scheme of representation under White v. Regester.  The whole study by Peter Wagner is worth reading.}

As a result of this policy of disenfranchisement and relocation, New York City loses population and thus representation to upstate, rural areas.  It is a very traditional, American outcome, as if New York State had its own miniature Senate or Electoral College.  But insofar as race matters in voting -- and U.S. law assumes it does -- this policy causes worse problems.  The prison population in New York State is about 80% black and Latino.  So the state's disenfranchisement and export of felons means that the otherwise fairly white counties upstate get a bloc of nonvoting minorities whose presence augments their right to representation in the state legislature, while the downstate counties get whiter by the number of prisoners exported.

Here the Voting Rights Act comes in.  Passed in 1965 to provide federal oversight for elections in the Jim Crow South, its Section 2 originally stated that "No ... standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."  As later amended and passed in 1982, Section 2 now says, "No ... procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State ... in a manner which results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color...." (Emphasis added.)  Briefs offered in the Muntaqim case argue that the state's felon disenfranchisement law as implemented counts as just such a procedure under the Voting Rights Act because it results in denial and abridgment of voting rights of a class defined by race.

At this stage the lines of legal conflict get truly tangled.  Courts have by statute to notify the Attorney General if the constitutionality of a federal statute is questioned in a case to which the U.S. government is not a party.  (The current version of this law is 28 U.S.C. 2403.)  Congress enacted this requirement in 1937.  As Rep. Hatton Sumners (D-TX), the bill's author and sponsor, explained, it give the AG the power "to defend, solely, the question of constitutionality" and this power was "limited to the one thing, and that is the defense of the constitutionality of the act."  (81 Cong. Rec. 3254 and 3259)  Muntaqim's case draws into question the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.  And the Attorney General is responding -- only, he's responding not to defend but to oppose the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in this application.  The United States' brief expresses disapproval of  "the vast overinclusiveness of Section 2" of the Voting Rights Act.  If Section 2 were enforced this way, the U.S. amicus brief argues, it "raises serious questions" about the constitutionality of at least this part of the Voting Rights Act.  (Brief for the United States as amicus curiae in Muntaqim v. Coombe, 21)

Does the Attorney General's unusual intervention reflect a partisan skew to the clash?  Yes and no.  The Senators from New York's upstate districts that depend on prisoner populations to justify their representation are Republicans, and of course the Attorney General's office is now staffed by Republicans.  But this is not just about Republicans vs. Democrats.  It's about Republicans (2005 edition) vs. Republicans (1982 edition).  Because the Voting Rights Act as it now stands, with that "overinclusive" Section 2 that tries to prevent procedures anywhere in the country from producing a racially discriminatory result, irrespective of intent, was passed by a majority-Republican Senate -- even Strom Thurmond voted for it -- and signed into law by Ronald Reagan.  But you know Reagan and Thurmond.  They were weedy liberals, with wild ideas about  how "the right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished."

Disclaimer:  The Second Circuit Court appointed counsel for Muntaqim in June 2002.  This learned and charming counsel's name is Jon Rauchway.  These opinions are mine, not his.  All information presented here is public record, and legal commenters generally agree on the importance of this case.  See the NAACP LDF's Muntaqim site; see Appellate Law &
Practice's analysis; and also Chris Bowers at MyDD on " The Most Important Voting Rights Case in Decades."

As of 3/31/05, former United States Attorneys Zachary Carter, Veronica Coleman-Davis, and Scott Lassar, together with the National Black Police Association, the National Latino Officers Association of America, and other current and former law enforcement officials have weighed in on the side opposite the Justice Department, arguing in their own amicus brief that concerns about federalism or law enforcement should not prevent the application of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in this case.

About Last Night:  I’ll admit, I think I’m a pretty good writer.  Sometimes I wish I weren’t because then I would have ended up spending more than the single day I did at Columbia Law School and now I’d be obscenely rich.  Still, most of the time I’m grateful for whatever talent I have as a writer because it makes it easier to articulate what I think and feel and I find that therapeutic.  Plus—and this is no small thing--I get to make a good living doing pretty much what I’d do if I didn’t have to do it for money.  Still, while I think I’m pretty good, I’m know I’m not that good.  I’m not good enough, for instance, to describe for you how if felt to sit five feet from Bruce Springsteen last night in a tiny theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, while he sat at the piano, and played “Thunder Road,” twice, and then spent fifteen or twenty minutes, describing his ambitions for the song when he wrote it and how it grew into what it is now, and singing each line over and over again—and sounding, unbelievably it seemed at the moment, exactly like Bruce Springsteen--to illustrate what he meant.  [And I thought I was sick of that song.]  I’m not even good enough to describe how it felt when he did the same for “Devils and Dust,” “Brilliant Disguise,” “Raining on a Sunny Day,” (and again as Smokey Robinson), “Nebraska,” “The Rising,” and another new song from Devils and Dust about Jesus and Mary, and maybe something I’m forgetting.  I am good enough, however, to have gotten my first-ever writing assignment from Backstreets Magazine, and that was why they let me in in the first place.  So I’ll be trying harder in the next few weeks to write about it for them.  (Immediacy is both the best and worst thing about blog-writing.)  In the meantime, I can say this.  Never in my life have been so glad I was not a lawyer.

(VH-1 will broadcast the “Storytellers” show in April 23, which I see is the night of the first Seder.  I have noticed in the past that Bruce often has a problem avoiding major Jewish holidays.  I’m pretty sure this is always a coincidence, but an annoying one, nevertheless.)

Alter-Employment Announcement
Seconds ago, I received two weeks’ notice from my senior research assistant who works somewhere between half and full time for me, doing mostly historical research for my books, but also a bit of clerical work and helps me a bit with planning my teaching, writing and speaking schedules.  I’d really like to have someone in place by the time he’s gone.  If you are interested, please apply ASAP to Whatliberalmedia_at_AOL.com, but do not send me your resume as an attachment.  I won’t open it.  Sorry I can only reply to those e-mails I want to pursue.  If you don’t hear from me, it’s a “no.”  Please apply only if:

  • You have at least a master’s degree in American history or a closely related field like American studies, or, you have at least two years experience as historical researcher or editor or as a particularly impressive intellectually-oriented journalist on say, a Matt Yglesias or Sarah Wildman level (which means I should already be acquainted with your work).

  • You already live, or will be living, in or around New York City two weeks from today.

  • You can make a commitment to work 20-40 hours a week at least until Labor Day

  • You are independent, efficient, grown-up, well-organized and discreet.

Nice ‘Culture of Life’ you have there, buddy:  Incitement to Terrorist Murder of the Day, “I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country.  And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence."  Sen. John Cornyn, here.

Alter-correction:  I had the wrong link for Mediatransparency.org yesterday. Check them out here please.  It’s a great site.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Dave Elley
Hometown: Seattle

Eric,
Dude, where's my coalition?

Name: Rob Stafford
Hometown: Spring Valley

Are you a closet Libertarian?

Can’t say, but don’t think so.

I was registered Libertarian for several years, contributed to the party, read the literature, walked around with a little libertarian talking points card in my wallet.  Even went to an occasional meeting.  Though I stopped that pretty quickly.

I’ll tell you why:

Libertarianism is a fine idea, with many good and useful points to make about American politics.  They can, and do contribute usefully to the discourse.  I’m glad they’re here, and I’m glad they speak up.

But there are at least two things the literature doesn’t discuss in much detail, if any. 

One, at least one of the fundamental tenants of libertarianism is seriously flawed.  Libertarianism relies on an assumption (if you come to it from the left, as I do), that left to their own devices, humans will be good stewards of their own planet, their own communities, their own (and their neighbors') resources.  They must be, because the philosophy of minimal government means no one will be taking care of these things for us.  It turns out humans aren’t real good at this kind of collective responsibility.  Want proof?  Google "Tragedy of the Commons."

Two, Libertarians in person are different from Libertarians on paper.  There are several sub-categories of Libertarians, and many of them are fun characters to drink with.  But those involved in the politics, those contributing the money, those writing many of the articles, are not what you might think.  My (personal, limited, subjective) take on these people is that most of them are business men who feel constrained from following their natural money seeking instincts, even by today’s incredibly pro-business government regulation & oversight.  Think for a moment about your boss, or your landlord, or the people who manufacture cyanide gas on the Indian sub-continent, and how those particular individuals would act completely unrestrained by any kind of law or propriety.

I do not want to paint all libertarians with the same broad brush.  I have good friends in the movement.  I admire greatly some past and present advocates of the politics, but I did think it was important to note, that on the ground, many of them are like the rest of humanity.  They’re in it for themselves, and their politics are a convenient reflection of that fact.

Name: Rebbe Herschel Bassman
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Young man, you need to smile a little more.  God willing, I will teach you how to get all of the hate out of your body.  It is eating you up.  … I can help you, boychik!

April 4, 2005 | 11:50 AM ET | Permalink

Defeating the cultural ghosts

Our Man in Baghdad

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Police Story

A few weeks ago an American officer I know received an education of sorts in the long-term effects of Hussein upon this culture.

He was visiting an Iraqi police station in the general area of Baghdad.  On his way into the station, being the curious sort, he stopped at the front gate and through his interpreter talked to the Policeman guarding the entrance.  After asking about the fellows’ general health, his pay, and his duties, the American looked to his equipment.  It appeared clean, and generally in good working order.  This last, perhaps more than many other things, is a good indicator of the quality of a unit.  Clean weapons matter.  More importantly, they work.  Usually those who clean their weapons also have the discipline to stand and fight as well.

Then he asked about the policeman’s ammunition.  Did he have enough?  It turns out that the fellow had none.

One might assume that the officer would then fly into a paroxysm at this revelation.  But this American, like more and more of us, was now aware enough of the environment not to press the issue with the humble patrolman.  If he did not have ammo, given the other indicators, it was probably not his fault.  The officer nodded and proceeded inside the station.  There he found the local chief of that station. The conversation that followed is instructive.

“Did you know that the guard out front doesn’t have any ammunition for his weapon?”

“Yes,” replied the police chief, “We haven’t enough to go around.”

“How is that?” said the American advisor, who knew that there was ammunition in the logistics system, millions upon millions of rounds in fact.

“They have not given us any ammunition,” replied the somewhat embarrassed Iraqi police leader.

“What do you mean?  Have you asked them for ammunition?” said the American, knowing that hoarding can be an accidental byproduct of a people acculturated to keep an exact accounting of all that a centralized government such as that of Hussein provided them.

“No, no,” responded the Police Chief.

“Well, why not?”

“Oh, that cannot be done, it would dishonor my superior.”

“Do you mean you would, you are, leaving your station to be guarded by men without ammunition for their weapons rather than dishonor your superior by asking for it?”

“Yes.”

Of course, after some discussion, that station got ammunition.  Pretty much immediately in fact.  But that is not the relevant point.

I relate this story to make a point which was difficult to for me to truly comprehend before arriving here.  It’s one of those “you have to see it to believe it” sort of things.  What the Americans (and the Brits, and the rest of the Coalition, as well as the UN, all the NGOs in the world, and NATO) face in this country is not just the task of defeating an insurgency.  That, in some ways, is the simple part.

What looms larger is the effort needed to defeat the cultural ghosts of Saddam Hussein.  As it was told to me one thing was clear: the Police Captain was one of the good guys.  The American relating the tale was illustrating a point by telling this story about one of the good guys.  The point was that it was not fraud, it was not waste, it was not the near-ubiquitous bakshish which inhibited his Iraqi counterpart.  That Iraqi Police leader was good, honest and dedicated, but he was operating in his own context of honor and a fear of causing dishonor.  That was what kept him from requesting the needed ammunition, even in a combat zone.  This is a point which Americans find alien.  I cannot speak for other cultures, but Honor, to us, is different.  Even for me.  This observation demands more thought.

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:

Nothing of note within earshot this week.  I have decided that, like many of my peers, I generally dislike the “PSD”s (Personal Security Detachments).  One almost ran me over (along with about ten others) the other night, speeding like they’d just been hit by an IED on Haifa Street.  They went from a dead stop just behind us, whipped past while accelerating to about 20-30 mph over a distance of 200 yards, before they had to hit the brakes hard to stop.  Why? Because all of this was INSIDE the Embassy area, which is inside the Green Zone, and there just isn’t that much road.  I was annoyed.

No mail these past five days for any of us, nor will there be for a little while, so I dread the potential deluge of French Vanilla coffee creamer that is storing up in a powdery bow-wave preparing to crash.  My love, Kate, ruminates on grad school decisions, my daughters remain healthy, the home front is peaceful.  Like most of you, I am wondering where Pierce hides.

Readings:

I’ve always been grateful for the Web site Transparency.org which does such a helpful work tracking the money tree on the right through foundations to their donors and products.  It helped me a great deal writing What Liberal Media?  And so I was pleased to be able to contribute this short essay on the history of neoconservatism.

Am I a closet libertarian?

On Kennan and Nitze, here.  You can find NSC-68 here and Kennan’s “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” here.

This would be a better country, huh?

Winning when it doesn’t matter; choking when it does.  "Let the evil ones have it.”

May God bless Reba Shimansky and here.  May her wishes all come true…

And don’t miss Kevin Mattson’s terrific article here on the misunderstood lessons for liberals of the sixties.

Judy Miller: “I’m still here and here.

April Alter-Appearances

  • 4/13 ASNE Panel, "The Bias Question: The News of Affirmation vs. Verification," with Gerald Boyd, Kathryn Lopez, and David a Zeek, Washington D.C.

  • 4/20 Williams College, lecture on “The Future of Liberalism”

  • 4/22 University Synagogue, Irvine CA, Shabbat service, discussion of media, public discourse and Israel and the Palestinians

  • 4/23 LA Times Festival of Books, 11:30 am, panel, “Deceit & Cover-ups” with John W. Dean, Maureen Dowd, Dr. Michael Shermer, Jon Wiener. (Um, what’s this “Dr.” stuff?)

  • 4/27 Ohio State University, Dean’s Forum on "Keeping It Civil--Or Not: Public Discourse and the Humanities,” with Pauline Yu and Mary Louise Pratt.

And come say hello if you happen to be in Red Bank today.  Looks like we’ll have some time to kill… (My entry: “Just what in the world is a hemi-powered drone?”)

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
The discussion of the private accounts side of Social Security Reform (as opposed to strengthening its finances) relies on a single premise:  That Human Beings are rational economic participants.  That's the theory underlying a range of behaviors, from retirement planning to privatization schemes.

Problem is, it has been very well documented as false.

Humans are terrible at making the risk/reward analysis.  As a species, we are emotional, tend to have a very weak comprehension of time beyond hours or days, are given to herd behavior, and have an awfully good ability to self-rationalize.

These reasons (and others) are why most people do such a lousy job at handling their own investment monies.  It's not just mom and pop, though -- most pros stink too.  80% of all professional money managers underperform the S&P 500.  Making it even more complex, it's a different 80% that underperform each year!

I suspect most people have known this intuitively.  It's a large reason why a majority of the public prefers a guaranteed insurance plan (the current Social Security structure) versus private accounts (the President's plan for privatizing risk).

If you want more details as to why Humans are not hardwired for the capital markets, see these comments:

Why You Suck at Investing

USA Today had an interesting article this past week (it happens).  The discussion was on the fact that most Americans are no good at investing.

A more accurate title would have been "Humans not good at investing."  There's a very specific reason for this; it is something I am in the middle of writing up, and will address very soon in print.

Meanwhile, here's an excerpt:

"A study by Hewitt Associates that analyzed the 2003 investment behavior and account activity of 2.5 million employees eligible for 401(k) plans exposes a trove of investment mistakes by average investors:

  • Three out of 10 employees eligible for 401(k) plans don't participate, Hewitt says.  That means investors are passing up free money in the form of matching contributions from their employers.

  • Despite horror stories about employees at scandal-scarred companies such as WorldCom and Enron having their 401(k) accounts wiped out because they had all their money riding on their own company's stock, 27% of 401(k) investors still have more than half of their money in their employer's shares.

  • And proving that investors are hardly hands-on, only 17% made 401(k) transfers in 2003.

Another Hewitt study, done in fall 2004 with Harvard University and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, found that a "non-saving mentality" persists.  The study focused largely on "low savers," those who do not stash enough in their 401(k)s to earn the company match.  When "low savers" learned they were passing up $1,200 a year in matching contributions, one-third said they intended to raise their savings rate.  Only 15% actually did."

This factor, more than any other reason, explains why the President's Social Security Privatization idea has generated so little positive response amongst most Americans.

Put aside the Social Security issue for a moment.  I find the argument that people are not hard wired to be investors is quite fascinating.  Wall Street uses a variation of this to suggest "professional management;" indexers use it to argue against active management; discount brokers say if you can do as well as the mediocre pros, then why pay big commissions?

All of these positions miss the bigger picture: Why are Humans Beings so ill suited to investing?

I first came across one of my favorite explanations as to why we simply aren’t hardwired to undertake risk reward analysis in capital markets many years ago.  It was from Michael Mauboussin, now Legg Mason Funds chief investment strategist, formerly chief U.S. investment strategist at Credit Suisse First Boston.  In a cogent and persuasive manner, Mauboussin explains the reason why: "The mind is better suited for 'hunting and gathering' than it is for understanding Bayesian analysis."

Simply put, you just ain't built for it.  Mauboussin breaks down the emotional and psychological impediments into 7 subtopics:

  • Desire to be part of the crowd.
  • Overconfidence.
  • Inability to assess probabilities rationally.
  • We love a story, especially when it links cause to effect.
  • Use of heuristics, or rules of thumb.
  • Chance.
  • Fitness landscapes and the role of the inductive process.

Each of these is explained in more detail, but the bottom line remains:  Most people simply do not posses the counter-intuitive skill set, or the emotional detachment, or the discipline required for long term outperformance in the markets...

Source:
Most Americans no good at investing
Adam Shell
USA TODAY, Posted 3/23/2005 12:12 AM
Updated 3/23/2005 1:14 PM

What Have You Learned in the Past 2 Seconds?
Michael Mauboussin
March 12, 1997

April 1, 2005 | 11:44 AM ET | Permalink

Slacker Almost Opening Day Friday

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column here regarding the reporting of the Social Security Trustees’ report.

As went CNN yesterday, we note that the Schiavo press coverage, written, produced and directed by the right wing.

In IPF Friday today, MJ Rosenberg advises the Senate that if it follows the House lead and guts Palestinian aid, its bill will earn the title of Hamas Relief Act because it will buck up the terrorists while seriously damaging Abu Mazen.  AIPAC should understand that it will not succeed in eviscerating Bush's $200 million aid request in the Senate in the dead of night --  as it did in the House.  MJ, and others, are watching, here.

On to Slacker Friday:

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: The Evil Empire
Don't Call This a Comeback

Eric:
Sorry I have not contributed to Altercation in a while.  I have been consumed with my day job and the recent Supreme Court arguments about peer-to-peer file sharing.  Oh, the paperback of my second book, The Anarchist in the Library, is about to come out.  Altercation readers really should buy it.

But I wanted to weigh in on the dawn of spring and the return of baseball.  As much as it broke my heart to learn that during the inauguration Republicans donned Nationals hats for their distinctive "W," I sure am glad that our nation's capital has Major League baseball again.  I have been bitter about the Expos ever since 1968 when they stole the expansion opportunity from its rightful owner, the greatest sports town in America, Buffalo. OK.  I was two years old and more concerned with my pacifier than baseball.  But I have been angry ever since I learned about it.

Here are my predictions for the 2005 season:

1. The season of comebacks: Pedro Martinez will make the Red Sox sorry by winning the Cy Young and about 21 games for a struggling young Mets team.  Both Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi will have respectable seasons at the plate, thus saving their careers and reputations. Juan Gonzalez will not.

2.  A-Rod, MVP for life: The top home-run hitter in baseball will be Alex Rodriguez, with 50.

3. Back to the Gold Standard: Remember when George Foster hit 50 home runs for the Reds? He was the man.  We will return to a 50-home run standard of excellence for a few years.  This will happen less because hitters will quit steroids (it's not as big a malady as some in Congress pretend).  But hitters and managers will be more interested in on-base percentages, moving runners, and playing for one run (these are Giambi's real strengths).  Fans will make it clear that they suspect big HR numbers and the players will respond.

4. Rebuilding for 2092: The Red Sox boyish brain trust will start planning out their lineup for the next time they win the World Series.  Oddly, drunken Yankee fans will sense no irony in chanting "2004" at puzzled Red Sox fans.

6. Empire, evil or not: The Yankees will begin their domination of the 21st century. They will beat the Angels in the ALCS.  They will beat someone in the World Series. The As will fade late in the season. The Twins will fade late as well, despite having a great manager who gets it.  No one in the National League interests me so I will make no predictions beyond this: many pitchers will strike out many times.  Yawn.

Ok. Bring on the flames and Pierce's predictable response!

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to get excited.  After witnessing all the gushing concern for Terry Schiavo I suddenly have hope that the nation won't turn its back on the Darfur genocide after all.  Surely if people care sooooo much about one woman's life, to the point that they pass legislation with lightening speed to try to save her, the same people won't ignore the deaths of 300,000 and will move with similar alacrity to help the million who are at risk.  Amos 9:7, world's greatest human rights disaster and all that.  Here I thought Sudanese government had successfully ridden out a toothless media storm.  Now they'll see what a moral majority can do! 

Seriously, to all Altercators, there really is something you can do, and it might be the last best hope for Black Africans in Darfur.  Support the divestment movement here.  There's no burning passion for divestment, but there are pending bills in California, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland which have been steadily moving forward.  Even a small bit of public pressure might make a difference, and there's power here: in Illinois alone state and local governments have over one ***TRILLION*** dollars invested in companies actively doing business with Sudan.  Is it a coincidence that Apartheid South Africa collapsed around the same time the divestment movement was picking-up steam?  Possibly, but what else is there?  In the height of surrealness, the United Nations says it's more important to set up a Sudan/Darfur war crimes tribunal than to try to stop the war crimes.  The United States, rather than confront China and Russia and present a muscular resolution for a vote, is bogged down protesting the --nature-- of the tribunal!  Pox.  Both.  Houses.

PS: OK, my Wake Forest pick for the NCAA tourney was, er, a little off, but last year with major league baseball I got 6 of 8 playoff picks right.  2005:  National League: St. Louis, Atlanta (who look weak on paper but I'm picking them until someone dethrones them), Los Angeles, San Diego (wildcard).  American League: White Sox, Yankees, Angels, Red Sox (wildcard, but I think they've awoken a Yankee monster and will not repeat.  Sorry...)

Name: Daniel
Hometown: Tahlequah, OK

Snowjob indeed.  Unless I'm mistaken, this is not the second half of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report which was delayed until after the election, because it was to examine the extent to which intel was distorted and manipulated to achieve the administration's desired result.  The last I saw on the subject, Sen. Pat Roberts (KS) was trying to discourage the release and questioning the need for the public to view its conclusions.  This released report was nothing more than a misdirection maneuver and simply scapegoated the intel community, which the first part of the Senate report had already accomplished.

Name: Christopher Barnes
Hometown: Studio City, CA

Dr. Alterman, how dare you impugn the integrity of the Whitewash...I mean White House panel looking into the Iraq intelligence disaster?  I'm shocked, shocked to think that anyone would interpret Dick Cheney's visits to the CIA, W's immediate assignment of blame to Iraq after 9/11 and Don Rumsfeld's, Colin Powell's and Condi Rice's flagrant disregard for facts, evidence and integrity in the run up to war as somehow proving much of the blame lies with senior cabinet members.  Next you'll be asserting that the man who preaches personal responsibility and honesty should take a "buck stops here" approach and accept accountability for a war that never should have been fought.  Oh and I'm sure you'll want to dredge up the ever changing "101 best reasons we went to war" aided by the MSM and how facts were interpreted at the White House in the worst possible light in order to justify an unjustifiable attack.  Well if you're going to be a spoilsport, we'll just have to empanel another commission--this one to prove there never was a second Iraq war and that this has all been misinformation fed to us by that liberal media.  That'll show you.

Name: Jason Reagle
Hometown: Pittsburgh
Dear Dr. Alterman,
In response to Tim the Fighting Irishman, and his assertion that U2 sells its floor seats for a good price, it must be said that those seats, at a given concert, represent at most 20% of the available tickets.  It is laudable that U2 doesn't sell ALL but the most nosebleed-inducing seats for the $100 to $160 range.  However, the $100 to $160 prices are, in and of themselves, cringeworthy.  The going rate for better bands these days that aren't on yet another "Our Investments Aren't Doing as Well as we Planned Tour," (see the Stones/Eagles/Babs for god's sake a few years back) is in the $45 to $60 per ticket range before the monolithic and monopolistic Ticketmaster extorts its fee.  For U2 to charge much beyond $60 is prima facie of evidence of greed.  As big a U2 fan as I am let's call it what it is.  To even get U2 floor seats at most venues, one must pay $40 to take part in an elaborate "pre-sale."  $40 per person who wants a shot at 2 floor seats is robbery as well.  Any administrative costs that U2 may incur in running a "fan-site" cannot, in any way, equal the huge amount of revenue they receive by charging what is, in effect, a $40 pre-sale fee.  If they want to receive what the market will bare that's their right, but please don't give me this "taking care of the little guy" crap because it is exactly that.

Name: Sal
Hometown: NYCD

The great STEVE WYNN performing LIVE on the NYCD STAGE!!

Saturday, April 2nd- 3PM!!

It's free!! It's fun!! And let's face it- STEVE WYNN IS DAMN GOOD!!

Come on down!

NYCD
173 West 81st Street
Between Columbus & Amsterdam

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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