May 20, 2005 | 11:55 AM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column here about missing coverage of the British war memo, and a new “Liberal Media” column here about the Democrats’ foreign policy conundrum.  (I’ve already started getting mail from Nation readers saying, “Don’t you understand, if only a liberal Democrat would speak clearly for peace, love and understanding, the American people would rise up and support him/her.”  So please don’t waste your keystrokes here.  I’m familiar with that argument.  I’m aware of the poll data.  I wrote a (largely unread) book based on some of it here.  I just don’t think people vote that way.)  I’m also feeling like this article on how Bush is sorta right about Yalta disappeared without a trace, so here it is again.  (And um, I might as well plug this while we're on the topic of presidential lies.)

I saw Bruce last night at the Meadowlands and I’ll try to have something intelligent to say about his remarkable performance in the next few days.  I will mention that I was sitting behind Elvis Costello and Diana Krall and people, I really think you should leave celebrities alone in public places, instead of asking them to sign their autographs and listen to your stories.  If you really appreciate what they’re doing, let them enjoy their privacy.  A couple of weeks ago, at the Dylan/Merle show (which I attended thanks to an Altercation reader), people wouldn’t even leave Willem Dafoe alone in the bathroom.  And really, people, Willem Dafoe?  What’s the big deal? “Celebrity” is such a destructive notion; it doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves.

Torture Is US from Today's Papers

The NYT got ahold of—and off-leads—a 2,000 page of Army investigation detailing abuse of prisoners at on at the U.S.'s Bagram airbase in Afghanistan back in 2002. As the Times originally reported about two years ago, two prisoners were killed at the base, incidents that the military said were aberrations. But the Times says the documents show "harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity." The investigation concluded that the guards and interrogators were inexperienced and hadn't been given clear guidelines. As was previously known—but not widely reported—the investigation, which didn't get off the ground until the Times originally uncovered the deaths, recommended last year that charges be filed against 27soldiers. So far, only seven have been charged, including four last week.

It's worth checking out the Bagram story's audio slide-show. Also, take a look at one guard's drawing of the treatment meted out. One question or, actually a request: If a newspaper's main task to inform and provide information, and if the Times got ahold of the Army's investigative report, then why not post it for readers to download?

The Post fronts U.S. officers in Baghdad detailing cases of Iraqi forces torturing prisoners, including according to one report," assault with fists, wooden sticks, cords and weapons" and "electrical shock and choking." The U.S.'s top commander in Iraq wrote a letter to his subordinates: "It is very important that we never turn a blind eye to abuses, thinking that what Iraqis do with their own detainees is 'Iraqi business.'" A recent NYT Magazine piece suggested that U.S. forces occasionally do turn a blind eye.  Human Rights Watch recently released a report on Iraqi torture of prisoners.

Corruption too:

A frontpage LAT piece says right before U.S. occupation officials turned over formal sovereignty to Iraq last year they began tossing out money left and right on reconstruction and in the process ignored financial controls and standards.  "We were squandering the money we were entrusted to handle," said one U.S. advisor. "We were a blind mouse with money."  TP wonders if the piece is actually a bit unfair about what it describes as the "mania to move money." After all, maybe it was worth it to spend boatloads on reconstruction quickly, even knowing that some of it would be lost in the process.”

Not to mention hypocrisy:

The NYT and WP note inside that the Red Cross passed along detainee complaints about guards at Gitmo abusing the Quran.  After the Red Cross gave the military its report, notes the Times, "complaints from detainees stopped."

Well, he’s as liberal as Kondracke…

How does working the refs work?  From Media Matters, here

Kondracke baselessly claimed that CPB appointed a "liberal" ombudsman

Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke claimed that Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), appointed a "liberal ombudsman and a conservative ombudsman" to monitor response to public television and radio broadcasts.  Kondracke was referring to recent appointees Ken Bode and William Schulz, respectively. But while Schulz is clearly a conservative, Media Matters for America has previously noted that Bode is hardly a liberal. A former NBC national political correspondent and former CNN senior political analyst, Bode is an adjunct fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute.

An Anniversary note:  Today is Altercation’s third anniversary. We’ve been doing this for three years straight, without a single (unsubstituted ) vacation I might add, but with enthusiastic (and unqualified) support from MSNBC.com, my fellow Altercators past and present, and of course our readers.  By and large, it’s been an extremely gratifying experience, especially since I hired someone to filter the hate mail and the “I can’t believe you’re not writing about…” mail.  I appreciate your notes of support, even though I don’t print them, and lately a few people have actually reached out and sent me incredibly thoughtful gifts.  They are actually among the most thoughtful and appropriate gifts I’ve ever received, which means either I’m revealing more of myself here than I intended or a genuine community of interests has been forged/discovered—or both.  But anyway, thanks to those of you who know who you are.

Since Mr. Gates and Co. are kind enough to pick up the freight on this site for the rest of us, I'd like to take this opportunity to separate some people from their money on behalf of good, generally non-controversial (read “non-political”) causes in the hopes that those of you who can afford it will be as generous as you can in lieu of hearing pleas for money from me.  I’ll be mentioning a few in the next ten days, but I’d like to get it started with another pitch for the shelter of which my friend and personal hero, Loring Henderson, runs, as both its day and night director—yes you read that right--in Lawrence, KS.  I’m doing this to show everybody that not everything is the matter with Kansas, but also because last time I did it, they didn’t have a Paypal account, and they do now.  Go here and read all about them, and dig in.

Since it’s Friday and I don’t do cat-blogging, although as of Sunday I could, I’d also like to put in a word for the people whose help made it possible to find young “Duke Alterman” a home.  It’s incredible the dedication of these people who find these animals nice homes and they get no recognition for their efforts.  We got the thin, white (and gray) Duke from City Critters, here, so if you’re a pet person, help them do what you would do if you could, but face it, they are just better people than we are.  (Runner up names, by the way, were: Doc, Sly, Fio, Alvy, Merle, and Dewey.)

More to come in the days ahead.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Of Soldiers and Politics

Thayer Hall is a huge granite edifice on the edge of a Plain overlooking the Hudson River.  The classrooms of Thayer Hall, which is one of the main academic buildings at the United States Military Academy at West Point, are fairly small.  Twenty-five desks are the most that may fit in a single room on the third and fourth floors there.  This is appropriate because there are no large lecture-hall based classes at West Point.  Since the average class size generally hovers around seventeen, no need exists for large classrooms.  Each student has a desk, and a chair.  I preferred to have my students group their desks into clusters of four.  I used to teach history.

During a lecture on the American Civil War, while discussing General McClellan’s relief from command by President Lincoln in the wake of Antietam, I always took the time for a mild professional digression.

“How many of you,” I would ask of my class, “think that I am Republican?”

By this point in the semester these students had spent at least fifteen hours with me, much of that time in interactive discussion.  About a third of the hands would go up.

“And how many think that I am a Democrat?”

Another third move their hands off their desks in the universal behavior of students wondering where-the-hell their professor is going with this topic.

“OK, how many think that I am a Libertarian?”

Sensing that this would be the last option offered, the last third of the hands usually reached upward at this point.

“My point is that you don’t know…and that is EXACTLY as it should be,” I would explain.  Then I would launch into a short lecture on the ethics of the profession of arms.  I would like to make that point here as well.

I think that perhaps some things should be clarified, about Officers and politics, lest one gather the wrong impression.  Optimally, officers have none. Or perhaps more accurately, we abstain.

This is a very frustrating position for some of my civilian friends to really understand and accept.  Many have lived for so long with politics at the core of their days, that they cannot comprehend the deep rejection of it which I must maintain.  I am happy to say that I have friends on the right and friends on the left.  Many of them feel very strongly that theirs is the moral position.  They are sometimes frustrated by my own avoidance of agreement, or of my agreement with all.  This is exacerbated because back home I live, literally, on Capitol Hill.

I am explaining this, in part, because mixed in with the wonderful letters sent to me over these past few months, a few have expressed anger.  The old demon is rearing its head again, and some are beginning to equate the war with the warrior.  Clarifying the difference is, in part, why I write here. It is also why I write for the DC Examiner.  I am trying to live true to the standards of my profession, and in the corners help people understand what it means to be a soldier. That means speaking to the left, the right, and the center, and explaining to each why I am standing apart from them at the same time.

Because this point is so important, I will try to reduce it to its most basic component.  The bottom line is that for officers, expressing a truly political position is against our ethical core. This central value took a long time to take root, more than a hundred years in fact.  Some might say with justification that there is erosion around the edges, but the foundation still holds: Serving professional military officers should not be political.  I take this to heart.

My children and my love, my parents and my friends, none of them know how I voted in the last election.  The same ethic stilled my tongue in the last Administration, and stills my tongue in this one.  I said nothing about my personal opinions about President Clinton when he was in office and I say nothing now about President Bush during his presidency.  To do so would be wrong for one very simple reason. You do not want the guys with the guns to dabble in politics.

In fact, that inclination is backed up by law. Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the body of laws which rules my life, is the only real inhibitor on my free speech (barring secrecy elements of the job).  This simple two sentence law prohibits me from making adverse or disrespectful comments about any elected official, and several appointed ones, down to the level of Governor.  This is a very good thing, a wise thing, for the nation.

I am living now at the center of a country which has never known a non-political Army.  Iraq is a land where, for roughly the past fifty years, political changes of power started with the Army, not the ballot box.  It is a land where political power traditionally flowed from the barrel of a gun. Ultimately this was the direct result of an ethic which allowed, and indeed expected, political opinions from military officers.

I suspect that to many of you at home, living in a democracy which has never suffered even a hint of this threat from your own Army, this Iraqi historical reality is so alien that you find it difficult to accept.  I know that it is hard for even my close civilian friends to comprehend at times.  They want me to agree with them, either on the left, or on the right.  Some feel frustration that I don’t see the light, and I suspect that a few consider my public neutrality itself immoral.  I think that in the future, I will ask them to read about Iraq, her Army, and her history.

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT

No mortars or rockets landed in my general area for yet another week, though a buddy on the other side of town said he heard a few two days ago.  The VBIEDs do actually seem to be slowing.  But as always, when I say that in this section, that is literally just what is within my hearing.

Two of my daughters recently had birthdays.  May is usually a happy month for that reason, but this one just exacerbated my longing.  My father, on passage to Newport, had to divert to Bermuda for several days due to bad weather.

There are just under 140,000 of us here right now.  Assuming that ten people are emotionally close to each of us, that means that 1.4 million Americans pay very close attention to what is going on in Iraq, let alone Afghanistan.  I am told that the news at home has focused upon a “Runaway Bride” and McCauley Culkin of late.

I wonder what this says to Iraqis about how a democracy works.
____________________

Write to Major Bob at Bateman_Maj@Hotmail.com

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
I had always thought that when you add up the political executions, disappearances during the Cultural Revolution, and something like 18 million starvation deaths during the Great Leap Forward Mao was the winner.

I dunno.  It's hard to keep count in the bloody 20th century.

Name: Michael Rapoport
Comments:
Eric: I didn't know he was from Montclair!  Presenting the second-funniest person from my hometown (Yogi Berra is still No. 1).  And this just in: Bush's approval rating down to 43%.
Best,
Michael Rapoport

Name: Mike H.
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Eric: Can you believe Joshua Redmond's "Saxophone Colossus" interview with Sonny Rollins in Jazz Times?  I don't know which is harder to believe; that Newk is 75 years old or that he gave an interview to the kid.  P.S. Have you had a chance to see Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band?  I don't know when they will make it out to the East Coast, but if you have a chance, you seem like the kind of person who would enjoy their sound.

May 19, 2005 | 12:18 PM ET | Permalink

Newsweek, neverending

I’m glad I did not have the time on Tuesday to accede to my Nation editors' request to postpone the column I had written about the Democrats foreign policy conundrum and jump on the Newsweek story because the more I’ve learned about it, post-deadline, the more my views have evolved.  This may be a strength of blogs, it may be a weakness, but I think that the mistakes of Newsweek’s editors pale in comparison to the nefariousness of Newsweek’s enemies, in seeking to exploit this episode for their hypocritical purposes in defense of their policies, have generated actual torture, largely unpunished.  A good faith error is a good faith error.  Mark Whittaker has taken responsibility for Newsweek’s mistakes; point out the administration’s lies and Andy Sullivan asks why you hate America.  Sid Blumenthal has a fine piece here (minus the misplaced sympathy for Spikey). 

I am also second-guessing my assumption that the editors could have predicted the reaction to the piece, particularly given the fact that it had appeared many times previously, albeit not officially confirmed, and added to the lack of a Pentagon objection to its publication.  Furthermore, it’s far from clear that the piece itself was the reason the riots occurred.  Really, who knows?  Mistakes are mistakes, but let’s keep our eye on the ball.  Stop the torture; not the reporting.

For the record:  I may have been too generous to Andy yesterday when citing Erik Tarloff’s original Slate piece.  I remembered the piece quite well, I thought, because Erik and I and our wives had dinner together in New York on the evening of September 10, 2001, the night before the world changed, for the worse, in every way, and it makes me tear up a little just to think about it.  The world also changed for the worse, in every way, on Election Day, 2004, though obviously in different and rather less traumatic fashion.  One ought to be able to make such statements without sanctimonious hypocritical idiots insisting one is equating George Bush and Osama Bin Laden, but alas, as long as ideological Gestapo agents like Little Roy are on the loose, that’ll be impossible.  Anyway, I asked Erik for his original comments and here they are: Erik wrote,

My wife and I were in New York on 9/11, and we had walked the city streets the afternoon after the destruction of the Twin Towers.  Walking the streets of Cambridge the day after this election we found an eerily similar atmosphere.  There were far fewer people out than normally, and they were walking quietly, unsmilingly, looking shell-shocked, heads down, grim and preoccupied.

He adds: 

Sullivan implied in his blog, and stated overtly in a note to me, that I had asserted a moral equivalence between the 9/11 attacks and the election results.  To call this a willful misreading is to give the man far too much credit.  He simply wanted to make a show of moral sensitivity and chose to misrepresent my words in order to have a straw man he could knock down.

The Boston Globe takes Jeff Gannon revisionism to laughable extremes here.

A Graduation Address:

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: The Ivory Tower
Eric:
Now that traitor and national security risk Robert Novak has chickened out on debating you at UCSB, how long will it take for him to claim that conservatives never get a chance to lecture at America's major universities?  His decision to back out did a great disservice to his fellow conservatives, many of whom appreciate the value of debate and intellectual diversity.  Of course, Novak has demonstrated for years that he has no integrity.  So I suppose we must wait for some time before he answers questions about why he put an American covert operative (and thus all of her human intelligence assets) in danger.

The myriad ways that these Republicans endanger our national security for fun and profit boggles the mind.  Anyone seen Osama lately?

I received many helpful and intelligent comments on my last post for Altercation about the conservative assault on academic freedom and particular academics.  Many disagreed with what I wrote.  And these were the most helpful.  These responses offer me the chance to demonstrate what we in the higher education business call "teaching moments."  At the risk of misrepresenting these critics, please let me summarize some of their points and respond:

  • Some took my observation that the intellectual back-and-forth that occurs on campus is "sometimes civil, sometimes uncivil" as an endorsement of incivility in the classroom.  I should have been clearer.  I meant campus at large, not the classroom.  Cafeterias and dorms and common areas often necessarily act as sites of uncivil discourse.

    Understanding how to deal with or rise above incivility is part of the learning process at universities.  However, I would never endorse incivility in the classroom.  All good professors warn against it and enforce standards of civility in the classroom.

  • Others wondered how my vision of teaching maps with the mission of science and technology courses.  Could they be Socratic and argumentative as well?  Well, yes.  The scientific method demands broad considerations of possible hypotheses and the invocation of diverse evidence to support or refute them.  It doesn't sound the same as what Juan Cole or I do in the classroom.  It's not, exactly.  But it's not completely different, either.  The humanities and social sciences demand a more open search for truth with no expectation that we will conclude a course with firm answers.  We are part of a three-thousand-year exploration of concepts of truth and justice and efforts to unlock the past.  Progress is slow because unlike scientists we are still debating methods at the forefront of our explorations.  Few scientific proclamations from the 15th century still have currency.  But over on our side of campus we can't ignore the fact that Machiavelli got a lot of things right.

  • What about undergraduate lectures?  Can we be sensitive and open teachers who help students navigate the rapids of intellectual discourse in a class of 100 or 300 students?  Surprisingly, yes.  It takes more skill.  But it can be done.  In fact, it must be done.  Lectures cannot be flat, one-sided speeches filled with platitudes and raw data.  It's not that we risk indoctrinating students (which, as I wrote, is impossible).  It's that we risk being spectacularly unsuccessful teachers.  If we lecture without sensitivity and openness to the range of possible explanation of a phenomenon, we risk turning off students.  The students inclined to disagree with flat lectures are likely to dismiss everything we say.  The students inclined to agree with us suffer more because they never get to challenge their own beliefs.  The results of one-dimensional lecturing are alienation and laziness.  If students exit class more alienated or more comforted than when they came in, we have failed.

  • Many people wrote to me about the duty of teaching "both sides" of an issue.  Let's be clear.  Some issues -- like global trade, theories of consciousness, or the value of John Rawls' "original position" thought experiment to derive a theory of justice -- have eight sides.  Others, like global warming and the scientific validity of evolution, have only one.  But even for "settled" issues like evolution, little is settled.  Witness the fierce debates between radical Darwinians like Richard Dawkins and Darwinian revisionists like Stephen Jay Gould.  Within settled issues are a thousand unsettled questions.  That's where the action is.  That's where the interest lies.  That's the marrow of the intellectual experience.  Of course, you can't get to the good stuff if some legislature or outside agitators demands that you waste weeks on presenting "both sides" of the evolution-creationism flap (while ignoring, of course, foundation myths from Hinduism and the thousand of other belief systems alive in the world).

Faculty play different roles in different contexts.  What I write here on Altercation is linked to what I do in the classroom and what I write in my scholarly work.  But they are not the same.  I must be held accountable for all of it, but in different ways.  The Columbia professors who were harassed and heckled for months before being hauled through an unnecessary and cowardly examination of their actions and statements suffered from the conflation of these accountability standards.  Even though a distinguished panel of their peers absolved them of the gravest charges, they have paid a huge price for being informed and expert scholars who dare to take brave stands on public issues.

My point was that society at large should be more patient and less judgmental with professors.  Most of us are working in mysterious ways.  And we may seem frustrating at times.  But overall and in concert we offer students a tour of ideas and debates unlike any other media system in the world.  And the imperfect American higher education system -- while alarmingly expensive and increasingly corporate and conservative -- is still justifiably the envy of the world (except, perhaps, of Canada).  Therefore, we should not tolerate the constant surveillance and harassment of professors who hold unpopular or controversial public positions.

But the chief lesson I want to leave is that we should all grant greater respect to students.  They are not weak or malleable.  They are often braver and stronger than we ever could have imagined.

Last week I looked out at a sea of faces that comprise the NYU Class of 2005.  These young adults were eager 18-year-olds who had moved to lower Manhattan about a month before the Twin Towers burned and collapsed, killing almost 3000 of their neighbors and shattering the comfortable post-Cold War bubble in which they grew up.  They started their academic journey by sleeping in the gym and reassuring their parents that they were not in danger.  In the weeks following the attacks, all of New York was nervous and hurt, yet somehow more humane and solidified than ever before.  People made eye contact with others while walking down the street.  Strangers hugged and cried in Union Square.  This was not the orientation to New York that these students had signed up for.  But no college experience could have been more valuable.

Now, four years later, these students are ready to deploy the wisdom and knowledge they acquired through that experience and everything since.  They are smart and steady, brave and determined.  No matter where they go to work and live, they will always be New Yorkers.  They inhaled the dust and smoke that unifies us all.

So congratulations to the Class of 2005.  We need your help more than ever.

(end Siva)

Alter-reviews: Two Shows at the Blue Note

McCoy Tyner fronted a really interesting band at the Blue Note Sunday night going from generation to generation with Ravi Coltrane on tenor, Gary Bartz on alto, Terell Stafford  on trumpet, Eric Kamau Gravatt  on drums, Charnett Moffett on bass, demonstrated the kind of virtuosity and speak that can leave you speechless, but to me, more impressive was the thoughtful, almost arresting manner through which the three-man horn section melded into one voice.  The two saxes and the single, startling beautiful trumpet complemented Tyner’s unflashy genius in a way that made one grateful for the 46 years that Tyner’s been playing since he graduated high school in 1959.  He didn’t speak much.  (I would have preferred a little more explanation and context.)  And he didn’t show off at all.

Two nights later, I returned to see Ben K. King and this depressed me almost as much as McCoy and company perked me up.  (They were both late shows.)  I don’t mind that King has mostly lost his voice.  That’s not his fault, and it’s not an insurmountable problem.  What I object to is that he’s lost his way.  He played only a few Drifters songs and otherwise chose a bunch of undistinguished disco era hits, with the kind of stage patter that puts one in mind of a Holiday Inn in Cleveland.  He brought a big seven piece band, plus two back-up singers, but not much in the way of soulfulness, which was sad, for the man who has sung some of pop music’s most penetratingly beautiful songs of love and solidarity.  It had the feel of a boxer’s final few fights.  It’s OK with me if King wants to spend his seventies this way, after all, it’s really none of my business.  But it’s always a little weird—but I suppose, not that uncommon—when one wants to honor an artist’s past more than he does.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Philip Cornwall
Hometown: London, United Kingdom
You write:

Lazare writes that "The Warsaw Ghetto freedom fighters, who included a sizable Communist contingent, would have been appalled at any suggestion that the two sides were on the same moral plane. So, presumably would many of Reiss's murdered relatives."  Well, one presumes that the Warsaw Ghetto freedom fighters would have been even more appalled at the fact that Stalin betrayed them and allowed them to be slaughtered, too. (More here.)

This is to confuse two separate events - as the link you publish makes clear: "Q: Were the Warsaw Uprising and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising the same event? "A: No. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was a struggle of the Jewish fighters who, between 04/19/43 and 05/16/43, gave armed resistance to the German efforts to liquidate the ghetto's remaining 55,000 inhabitants.... "The Warsaw Uprising, on the other hand, was a struggle of the Polish underground which, between 08/01/44 and 10/02/44, conducted an armed struggle aimed at liberating Warsaw and its 1,000,000 inhabitants from the German occupation at the time the Soviet army was approaching the city limits from the east."

Eric writes:  Thanks, and my apologies.

Name: Darrel Plant
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Eric: It's hard to get reliable figures on such massive devastation, but I think Mao might give Stalin a run for Worst Regime Ever. The Great Leap Forward by itself may have accounted for as many as 20 million victims, and that was just a few short years, wasn't it?  As for Newsweek, I don't think they could reasonably have expected a reaction to their report.  The allegations have been in the news abroad for over a year, the only twist they had was that they were referring to a government source citing an official document rather than a former detainee.  I doubt that anyone planning to riot would make that distinction.

Name: Ira Hozinsky
Hometown: New York NY
Just a heads-up that, as per its website, C-SPAN has a rebroadcast of the Moyers speech scheduled on Saturday at 10 AM (subject to change, of course).

Name:  Barry Ritholz
Hometown:  The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
There's a simply ridiculous Op-Ed in today's WSJ, by Harvey S. Rosen, chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.  It is either appalling or amusing, depending upon whether you are a “glass half-full" or "half-empty” type of person.

I was astonished to read the Princeton professor exhorting readers how terrific things are economically (really), while simultaneously admonishing us to "focus on the long term."

So I decided to do just that.  Let's have a look at what Chairman Rosen has to say, while at the same time remaining cognizant of, as he calls it, "the long term."

A review of his applauding review of the economy reveals an extreme degree of disingenuousness, all shrouded in feel-good econo-speak:

Economic Cheerleaders

"What a difference a month makes.  Some pundits were sounding pretty gloomy after a few soft economic data reports about March.  But the recent stream of good economic news should lift even the most dismal of spirits: The economy created 274,000 new jobs in April, 100,000 more than expected, and the preceding two months were revised upward by nearly 100,000 as well.  Retail sales grew 1.4% in April, bouncing back from a soggy March."

Let's begin with the NFP report for April:  As we have discussed several times since its release, this was an extremely “massaged” data point.  That the CEA Chair would trumpet this number is gravely disappointing.

The cynicism continues:

"The March trade deficit came in $6 billion less than expected. And revisions to all these data show that earlier months were stronger than originally reported. Data aficionados have been running to their models to see what these reports imply about the strength of the economy.  Already, there is speculation that GDP growth in the first quarter may have been substantially stronger than the solid 3.1% originally reported."

There is no speculation; The trade deficit data figures prominently into the GDP calculation.  This is somehow overlooked in this paragraph.  When the next GDP data gets released -- likely in the 3.8 - 4.0% -- we should not be surprised at the next cheering missive from Mr. Rosen -- "Hey! I told you so!”  Of course, omitted from this paragraph is that a decrease in imports due to slackening demand is hardly the sign or a robust economy.

The bounce-back in recent data exemplifies that we shouldn't overreact to individual reports of economic data -- or even to a full month of data.  The economy has a way of making anyone who puts too much emphasis on a single month look foolish.  We should look at the longer record for an accurate view of the state of the economy.

Does anyone else find it ironic when someone warns against a particular methodology error as they commit that same error themselves?  Lord, it's the first sentence of the piece: “What a difference a month makes.”  Do not read too much into any one data-point, we are advised, as the April’s NFP is then promptly read too much into it.

Puh-leeze.

I do not recall the source of the following quote, but it's apropos: "I cannot hear what you are saying when what you are doing is speaking so loudly."

Back to the text:

That record is strong. Over the past year, the economy grew 3.6%, above historical growth rates, and productivity advanced a robust 2.5%. Our growth and productivity are the envy of the developed world. At the same time, more Americans are finding jobs. The economy added 2.2 million jobs in the last 12 months, bringing total job gains to 3.5 million since the job market turned around in May 2003. The unemployment rate is down to 5.2%, well below the averages of the '70s, '80s and '90s.

1.  The economy has been growing, but that growth has been decelerating post 2003 stimulus.  We see this in attenuating GDP Data as well as year over year corporate earnings for the S&P 500.

2.  I thought China’s growth, which has slowed to 8-9% GDP, down from a red hot 15% -- some 3 to 4 times our own -- was the envy of the world.

We are doing marginally better than Europe and Japan, but no way near China, Brazil, India, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea (and much of Eastern Asia).  In other words, in a race, we can beat the slowest kids in the class . . . That’s hardly cause for celebration.

3. The economy has indeed added more jobs recently.  Unfortunately, they are disproportionately not private sector jobs, but all too many are courtesy of Uncle Sam.  And the newly created private sector jobs that have been created are disproportionately McJobs (or Wal-Jobs) that pay less and have weaker benefits then the lost jobs they replace.

As to the low unemployment rate, that’s a function of people leaving the labor force -- not more people landing work.  By other measures, it's much worse than that.

No matter how it's spun, this post recession period has created fewer jobs than any prior post WWII recovery.

Next:

Consumers are doing well: Their spending has increased 3.6% over the last year. Businesses are doing well: Investment in equipment and software has increased more than 14% over the last year.

Merely looking at increases in consumer spending -- and then declaring they are doing well -- is absurd beyond words.  One would think that a credible approach would include looking at whether their personal income has risen (not very much), including the real, after inflation dollars (even worse -- it's been rapidly falling).  Then we’d look at their savings rate (non-existent) and examine other cost’s beyond what’s measured in CPI -- things like education and health care (both skyrocketing).  Finally, we’d review their debt ratio to income -- the WSJ did this yesterday, and found they it is at all time and unsustainable highs.

Doing well?  Perhaps in a fool’s eye.

Even the federal government is doing better: Tax revenues are 14% above the same period in the last fiscal year. Where did this strength come from? Never underestimate our market system, which allows workers and entrepreneurs to realize their potential. Plus the combination of tax relief and the Fed's interest rate cuts helped our economy recover from recession, corporate scandals, terrorism, and war.

The comparison is easy: 2004 tax revenues, paid in 2005, are all post stimulus.  The comparable Tax period last year (calendar year 2004) included the first half of 2003, which was pre-war, pre-stimulus -- and totally anemic.  That makes for a very easy compare and contrast.  The same data point next year will look at 2 post stimulus periods.  That will provide a clearer picture as to how well we are really doing.

And, note that 2004 had lots of Real Estate activity, thanks to half century low rates (more policy stimulus).  If the Federal Tax revenues are anything like NYC’s, they have been going up thanks to an enormous surge in real estate activity.  Thanks to these Ultra low rates, Home, Coop and Condo prices are at record highs; Real estate transactions have been taking place at a torrid, record-setting pace.  Home Equity Loan Cash Outs (HELCOs) saw consumers treating their homes like ATM machines. It's no surprise that tax receipts are up dramatically across the country.  Recall that we saw a similar phenomenon in the late 1990s, when the stock bubble also generated a spike in tax revenues.  You recall how that ended.

“Over the last year, the economy has clearly shifted from a policy-supported recovery to a self-sustaining expansion.”

The first half of that statement is honest, at least.  Ever since the market crashed in 2000, we have been in a post-bubble environment.  That typically comes with lots of negatives.  A “policy supported recovery” is a polite way to say government managed stimulus: tax cuts, deficit spending, increased money supply, favorable accounting changes (ADCS), ultra low interest rate, capital gains cuts, new dividend tax rate.  This is without a doubt the most manipulated economy in recent history.  That’s the “policy-supported recovery” part.  Whether we have "successfully transitioned to a self-sustaining expansion" remains to be seen.

"These gains are welcome, but no reason to become complacent. We still have work to do to improve our long-term economic prospects."

The understatement of the year...

"Fiscal policy is another opportunity. By controlling spending and keeping taxes low, we can improve growth and fiscal health. Congress has adopted two consecutive budgets that increase discretionary spending at or below inflation."

It sounds good that spending is growing slower than inflation -- until you realize that inflation is the strongest it's been in decades.  And two consecutive years -- is that supposed to be some kind of positive?

"And for the first time since 1997, the budget includes savings for entitlement spending as well.  Policy makers now need to follow through on these initial steps and take the much bigger step of permanently fixing Social Security's funding imbalance."

And yet we still do not see even a glimmer of recognition of the more pressing policy issue of Medicaid/Medicare.  If Social Security is alleged to be a crisis, going cash flow negative in 32 years, what the hell would you call Medicaid?  That’s going into the red in a little more than decade.  Which is the more pressing “crisis?”  And this is after GM was cut to junk status, in large part based on its legacy obligations for health care.

"So here's a little insider information from an economist. Economists say many things about short-term movements in the economy, and pundits will tell you even more. March's economic data were weaker than expected; then the data were stronger than expected for April; and there's always a chance that this month's forecasts will be off again.  The long term, as always, is the smartest focus."

Yes, let’s think about the long term.  About the structural imbalances, the Federal Deficit, the massive debt build up, the current account deficit.  The fact that 50% of U.S. Treasuries are now in the hands of foreign holders.  The increasingly expensive (and over-stretched) military.  The reluctance of Corporate America to aggressively hire or make CapEx investments.
~~~~~
I cannot claim any particular insight into Mr. Rosen personally.  His position, however, puts him in the running for Cheerleader-in-Chief -- neck and neck with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan for the title.  Why?  A review of his commentary reveals him to be either an adulator or a propagandist.  After reading -- and rereading -- his economic commentary, I cannot determine which adjective suits him best.  (There's a possibility that both do.)  Regardless, neither adjective is your first choice in the Council of Economic Advisers’ Chairman.

It's a shame that our national economic policy making has been reduced to waving pom-poms and cheering rah-rahs for the crowd.  The heavy lifting -- fiscal discipline, responsible spending, intelligent planning, making difficult choices -- has been found nowhere in recent policy decisions.

Indeed, the dictionary definition of a cheerleader is “one who expresses or promotes thoughtless praise.”  That seems to be the job description for what used to be important economic policy appointments:  Treasury Secretary, Chair of the CEA, even Federal Reserve Chair.

Then again, we shouldn’t be all that surprised.  Wasn’t the President himself a cheerleader at Yale?

Source:
Data Bait
Harvey S. Rosen
WSJ, May 18, 2005; Page A14

May 18, 2005 | 12:19 PM ET | Permalink

Too hard on Newsweek?

Was I too hard on Newsweek?  Perhaps.  I didn’t realize when I wrote yesterday’s item that the Pentagon had signed off on it before it went to press.  Nor did I know of the impact of this cartoon, which, funnily, doesn’t seem to be upsetting the White House because they (all but) write the damn thing.  See the letters below.  More here and here.

I don’t agree with Glenn much, but it’s nice to see the evolution of people’s honest views, and here he gives us a thoughtful post on Andrew’s moral and intellectual unreliability—something upon which we have harped here ever since he accused this writer of being a traitor on the basis of opposing a war I actually supported.  And that was before he accused me of perpetrating another Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  (Remember I’m the American and the Jew.  He’s the foreigner and the goy.  And we’re still waiting for your retractions/apologies on both of those, buster.)  We note for the record that Andy has a habit of screaming hysterical accusations at people in public, and apologizing in private without ever correcting the record.  I recall he attacked my good friend Erik Tarloff who noted that the day after election day felt a little like the day after 9/11.  Andy said Tarloff was equating Bush and Bin Laden or some such nonsense, when all Erik was saying was that he was sad, disappointed in his fellow man and woman, and confused about what came next.  We all were, but with thought-Gestapo types like Andy scouring the blogosphere, no one better dare utter a complicated thought, lest it be twisted beyond recognition by a guy with no sense whatever of moral responsibility or intellectual honesty.  Erik told me he got a note from Andrew too.  But where’s the public apology, punk?

Quote of the Day: 

“I met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him," Mr. Galloway went on.  "The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns, and to give him maps the better to target those guns."

-- George Galloway, here.  We note for the record how difficult it was to get the substance of Mr. Galloway’s critique of U.S. foreign policy from the coverage, both from what I saw on CNN and in today’s Times.  (Incredibly, or perhaps notso, The Note does not even mention a word about it; nothing like not sticking to the script to ensure that nobody hears what you say….)

This is pretty small potatoes compared to Newsweek, but the New York Observer, whose reporting I have learned not to trust the hard way, over and over, again returns to the topic of advances secured by New Republic editors for books, and repeats again the misinformation it put forth when it pretended to know the amount of Peter Beinart’s advance for a book expanding on his grossly misguided TNR article on the Democrats.  The figure that the Observer gave in the first place—more than $600K for two books, is flat out false.  I know that for a fact.  If you see today, we get “a reported mid-six-figure advance,” here.  That’s a Wall Street Journal editorial style correction.  We also note Mr. Chait’s “reported $300,000.”  There is no figure at all associated with Mr. Scheiber’s book.  So just where is the story here?  Why is it an item at all, except to pretend that the writer, Gabriel Sherman, knows something he clearly doesn’t.  I have no objection to gossip for gossip’s sake, but methinks it should have some content.

Stalin? Again?  One of the strangest things about The Nation is its attraction for smart people who believe things that should appeal only to the very stupid.  The poster boy for this is obviously Alexander Cockburn, who thinks Stalin wasn’t so bad, but the late Paul Wellstone, Bernie Sanders, Barney Frank and the Israeli peace camp are the enemy of all humankind.  Oddly, Cockburn’s nutty politics have emigrated to the back of the book of late, into its book reviews, putting an additional burden on those of us associated with the magazine seeking to shake this albatross from our collective reputation.  It turns out the problem is not just Cockburnism on Israel; a reflexive desire to side with whomever is accusing Israel of anything no matter how specious the evidence or convoluted the argument.  I’ve addressed this tendency here in the past. 

Now I see something even more surprising; a writer unwilling to condemn Stalin.  When I first read Daniel Lazare’s review of Tom Reiss’s book, The Orientalist, I thought it an ideologically-driven hack attack, much like the piece he published in The Nation on the New Yorker, but I withheld judgment, and still, to some extent continue to do so, because I’ve not read the book, but I thought the piece that inspired it to be terrific.  (There is some New Yorker conspiracy theory in both his review and his reply too, which, if you know David Remnick, or even read the magazine, is extremely odd.  I disagree with much of what I read in its war coverage, but what the hell kind of pro-war conspiracy would invite Rick Hertzberg to be the political voice of the magazine?)  In any case, Lazare demonstrates the bad Old Lefty habit of treating any deviation from leftist orthodoxy as ipso facto evidence of bad faith and/or ideological capitulation.  Now, in a long exchange with the author in the magazine’s letters pages, Lazare takes great umbrage at Reiss’s terming of Stalin’s Soviet Union to be a “bloodthirsty regime.”

Oy. Can this really be happening, again?  True, it’s possible to mislead with statistics, but Stalin’s regime did manage to kill more people than any other in history, including Hitler.  That may not make it worse, since Hitler’s regime was ended by World War II and certainly would have liked to add to that tally, and Cambodia was too small for Pol Pot to kill that many people, etc, etc, but what’s with the sensitivity to the word “bloodthirsty?”  Did Stalin kill only reluctantly?  Did he only kill because he had to?  Did we nasty capitalists make him do it?  Lazare writes that “The Warsaw Ghetto freedom fighters, who included a sizable Communist contingent, would have been appalled at any suggestion that the two sides were on the same moral plane.  So, presumably would many of Reiss’s murdered relatives…”  Well, one presumes that the Warsaw Ghetto freedom fighters would have been even more appalled at the fact that Stalin betrayed them and allowed them to be slaughtered, too.  (More here.) 

But that’s not even the larger point.  What if they would have been appalled, so what?  Did they know what we know?  I supposed denying reality is one kind of argument.  I have been present when Alexander Cockburn publicly denied that Stalin was responsible for the tens of millions of deaths with which every reputable historian now credits him (together with Lenin).  I assume Lazare is not that crazy.  So is he arguing the fact that partisans in an isolated Eastern European ghetto more than sixty years ago may have been unaware of the true nature of the regime they supported somehow strengthens his attack on Reiss? (To be fair Lazare does refer to Stalin’s “monstrous crimes,” but lets go of the issue with the observation that “he was not a Hitler,--whatever that means.)  It’s kind of sick, given what we know about Stalin, even to be having this discussion today.  I think FDR and Churchill had no choice but to ally with Stalin in World War II because Nazi Germany represented a far graver threat to the West than did Soviet Communism.  As a Jew, I’m glad they did so for selfish reasons.  But the idea that we can attach some sort of moral superiority to Stalin as a result of the fact that our interests happened to have coincided with his, however briefly, is both morally and intellectually indefensible.  Like Hitler, Stalin was a bloodthirsty mass murderer.  Just what is so difficult about saying so, loudly and clearly?  And why, dear Lord, must this dangerous nonsense appear in The Nation?

From the Benton Foundation:

COPPS CALLS 'BIG MEDIA' FOES TO ACTION
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps let loose with a "call to action" before artists, activists, and journalists gathered at the National Conference for Media Reform. "I ask your help in this all-American crusade to reclaim the people’s media for the people," said Commissioner Copps, who, along with fellow Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein voted, against the FCC majority's 2003 attempt to loosen broadcast ownership rules.  "Don't listen to those who counsel that now is not the time to fight.  Don’t let the usual suspects inside the Beltway write the rules.  Jump in with both feet.  Involve your friends, your neighbors, anyone you can.  Convene meetings.  Write letters and articles.  Take to the Internet.  Use every source you can access.  Do everything you can—and then do a little bit more!"  The normally understated Copps wasn't done with the polemics: "A lot of work to do?  Sure.  Powerful interests on the other side?  You bet.  A steep climb?  Absolutely.  Winnable?  I have a two-word answer for that one:  Damned right!"

[SOURCE: Broadcasting & Cable, AUTHOR: Bill McConnell]  (free access for Benton's Headlines subscribers)

* Copps Warns of Possible FCC Deregulation Efforts

* Full text of speech

Sivacation:

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan, Sivacracy.net

Progressivism is not Liberalism

I think Dr. Rauchway hit it true in his Brief History of American Liberalism on Monday. Let me offer an addendum: A Brief History of American Progressivism. I do this at some risk, because Rauchway is a world-renowned authority on progressivism. He should feel free to correct me.

First, some clarity.  Progressivism is not liberalism.  It's not even a softer name for liberalism (neither J.S. Mill liberalism nor John Rawls liberalism).

Progressivism was a distinct American political and social movement that influenced the development of American liberalism because some of its followers (John Dewey, Herb Croly, Jane Adams, Franklin Roosevelt, etc.) grew frustrated with its limitations and paternalisms.  I would argue that these progressives-turned-liberals were never progressives in the first place.  They just had no place else to go, no other allies, in the first two decades of the 20th century.

The Ku Klux Klan, however, was very much a progressive phenomenon.  Its 20th century incarnation was certainly devoted to several of the most important tenets of progressivism: segregation, anti-immigration, American superiority, government reform, women's suffrage, and prohibition.

If you want a quick phrase that captures the spirit of progressivism, it's "cleanliness is next to Godliness."  Progressives were spiritually motivated to clean up the country.  That meant some good things: electoral reform, civil service reform, women's suffrage, and public health initiatives.  It also meant that progressives could champion racists like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson without reservation.  The legacy of progressivism certainly includes Jim Crow, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Asian violence and policies.

The legacy of regulation that Rauchway cited Monday is a direct descendant of American progressivism (especially the Federal Reserve).  But its nature changed as liberalism ascended and Roosevelt appointees (especially the Legal Realists) left their marks on federal courts and law schools.  The progressive-era regulation, meant to curb excesses, was replaced by a more "corporatist" vision of regulation that allowed "capture" by the very industries that they were supposed to regulate.  The dissatisfying functions of mid-century liberalism can be traced to this process of capture and conciliation.

But that's all highfalutin theory.  The real change came when progressives-turned-liberals could no longer avoid dealing with a more powerful slogan: "Justice is next to Godliness."  By the time that A. Philip Randolph and Paul Robeson came knocking on the door, Eleanor Roosevelt was home to answer it.  After that the ugly side of progressivism had to take a seat in the back of the bus, for once.  And we were able to forget that "progressive" meant more than Fightin' Bob LaFollette.  It applied to D. W. Griffith and a host of eugenics supporters like Alexander Graham Bell and Norman Bel Geddes as well.

For these reasons, "liberal" has been a dirty word in the South, while "progressive" was acceptable in polite (white) company.  In Austin, liberals have long aligned themselves into a powerful electoral activist group called the "Austin Progressive Coalition" because "Austin Liberal Coalition" would not work at all.  Even Texas liberals like Maury Maverick and Ann Richards had trouble calling themselves liberals.

Progressivism did not die.  It remained a force around, more than within, liberal circles.  It certainly saw rebirth in the reformist, anti-labor, anti-identity-politics of neoliberalism.  The South rose again, just like they said it would.

Steinbrenner to Alterman: Dis us Any Time!

If you want to make fun of the Yankees playing poorly IN APRIL, go right ahead.  You seem to have tremendous motivational power.  The Red Sox and Orioles can boast of many May 1 pennants.  Oh, yeah.  They don't give pennants for being in first on May 1!

The Media Reform Conference Rocks

Many people have noted Bill Moyers' powerful speech.  And the conference in St. Louis over last weekend was an amazing blend of writers, speakers, and activists.  It promises to have a profound effect on the media reform movement.  Bob McChesney of the University of Illinois deserves much credit for bringing us all together.  The highlight for me, though, was when I was picking up some new books at the book sale table.  Standing just to my left, signing her book of poetry, was Patti Smith!  I was in awe.  I have met many famous people, including a few presidents.  But few make me gasp when I see them in person: pretty much Patti Smith, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, O.J. Simpson (pre-trial), and Earl Campbell, in my memory.  I grabbed a copy of my book, The Anarchist in the Library, and quickly signed it over to her: "You have been a huge inspiration to me."  I can forgive her Nader support.  She made
Easter.  She rocks.  Forever.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Samuel Knight
Hometown: Arlington, VA
The tricky part of this Newsweek story is that despite the retraction, it seems pretty clear that desecration was used by U.S. interrogators.  There are just too many other sources with the same story.  And the larger context is that the U.S. clearly is still aggressively interrogating all over the world - and no-one really seems to care in the U.S.  So, if you're a reporter and you want to try and raise the issue and make the military stop, then the moral choice is to run the story - because it might get it back into peoples' consciousness.  Because in the long run the fact the U.S. set up and ran torture cells all over the world will probably be a bigger blow to this country's image than the fact that it made up stuff to go to war.  We condoned it, we institutionalized it, we whitewashed it, and we let it continue.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Eric-- Let's hear it for MP George Galloway, who's not going to cower in front a blowhard like Norm Coleman.  Galloway knows that the sources of the allegations, unlike those that Newsweek relied upon, are guys with names like Curveball and Screwloose and Chalabi.  So go ahead and posture Mr. Coleman, but you might want to look at actual oil trading companies like Bayoil, from good ol' Houston Texas, instead of an MP whose got the courage to stand up to you.  As for the Newsweek debacle, Gen. Myers is correct that the unrest in Afghanistan is not attributable to a brief Newsweek item; these charges have been made by former detainees for over a year now.  So who do you think Afghans are likely to believe, those with whom they identify ethnically an ideologically like former detainees or Isikoff?  The Pentagon didn't say anything about the Newsweek piece for 10 days.  Why now?  Don't think that it's because Rumsfeld cares about 17 people dying; shock and awe killed 1000 times more innocent civilians.  It's much more simple: their grand world order scenario is crumbling, they can't raise the recruitment numbers because 1622 American dead military personnel have a way of discouraging even the most desperate, and the rest of the "Evil axis" is not falling into line.  This administration might go down in history as the architects of the end of the American century. –LH

Name: Colin Whitworth
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
Dr. Alterman,
As a journalist and magazine publisher for two decades, I must strongly disagree with your comment "The deadly reaction was predictable; the value of the news, highly debatable."

Who are you to predict the reaction a story will have?  At what point does a particular reaction rise to a level in which self-censorship is required?  If the prediction, in this case, had been massive protests with little to no violence, would you have run the story then?  How much predicted violence would be required to kill the story?  And who sets that bar?  Why are you or anyone so privileged that you can learn information that your readers might value yet withhold it to prevent some future reaction you think might happen?

A reporter's job is to report the facts.  I agree that much journalism today is based on unreliable information, but that is a separate issue.  If a story has a bad reaction, then that should be the fault of the facts, not the reporter.

In the hypothetical case you raise -- in which the Newsweek article had been well-sourced and reliable -- there is ample reason to run the story.  It lets people know yet another reason Muslims around the world oppose our actions -- an illegal war, torture of detainees, desecration of their shrines, killing of tens of thousands of innocents, manipulation of their societies for our personal economic benefit, and on and on.

In the late '80s I was a reporter for a small Central Florida newspaper that worked for more than a year on a series of stories about missing items from the sheriff's evidence room and a lack of documentation that all sorts of weapons, drugs and other confiscated items had been destroyed post-trial.  The paper waited to run the series the week before the sheriff faced re-election against a strong opponent.  The sheriff lost by less than 350 votes, with more than 60,000 people voting.  The articles were strong and thoroughly documented, and you could guess that it would have a negative effect on the sheriff's re-election.  But so what?  Blame the sheriff for his mistakes, not the newspaper for running the stories.  I would have had a bigger problem with the editor holding the stories until after the election.

Eric replies:  I’m sorry dude, are you comparing a corrupt sherriff’s election loss with the death of seventeen people and riots across the Arab world?  The entire point is to address the likely consequences.  If you don’t like the point, fine.  But try not to make your argument so easy that you lose the essential ambiguity of the situation.

May 17, 2005 | 12:26 PM ET | Permalink

Newsweek: Now you tell us….

Well, we may not know, ontologically, all of the following, but they seem like pretty good guesses to me:

1)  Even the best of our journalism is incredibly lightly-sourced.  It’s amazing to me that an organization like Newsweek would go to press with so crucial a story on the basis of so little.  Think of all the people who had to read this item before it passed into print.  Not one of them appears to have guessed at its import and asked the tough questions of Mike Isikoff, who, as we all know, has displayed an extremely unhealthy willingness to be guided by sources of a nefarious nature in the past.  And yet this story, true or not, was sourced lighter than air.  Add this together with John Cloud’s lazy Google research before giving Ann Coulter carte blanche to make stuff up in a Time cover story, and we see just how easy it is to print fiction in the guise of high-minded, fact-checked journalism.

And here the Detroit Free Press finds that it can’t trust what its star columnist, Mitch Album writes, but can’t bear to get rid of him either, because it’s so profitable to keep him, even at the expense of the paper’s credibility.  Remind anyone of the Boston Globe editorial page, except for the profitable part?)  Anyway, editor Mark Whittaker speaks to some of the issues here.

2)  Help bring a down a president over a few blowjobs and the right-wing will leave you alone.  Can you imagine, for a second, my Clintonite friends keep e-mailing me, if this story had a byline of say, Sidney Blumenthal or even Dan Rather?  The virtual crosses would be burning on lawns across America.  But Lucianne’s buddy “Spikey” pretty much gets a pass from Rush, O’Reilly, Scarborough and the rest of the cable TV/Talk radio circle jerk.  I agree, but I tire of making this point.  After all, far more judges have been confirmed—both in real terms as a percentage of those nominated under Bush than under Clinton and yet all of a sudden Republicans think the filibuster is a threat to democracy.  And they don’t like the ethics committee now that Tom DeLay is Public Enemy Number One.  And when our troops were fighting in Bosnia, the House Republicans could not even agree to pass a resolution in support of the troops.  Put the wrong bumpersticker on your car now, and they’ll send a state trooper your way.  (Or at the very least forcibly remove you from an official White House informational meeting on Social Security.)

3)  The Wall Street Journal editors think that this story proves that reporters do not suck up enough to the military, here.  I’m sorry, I just find that funny.  There would be no war in Iraq if the media had taken even remotely seriously their charge to ask tough questions of military (and civilian Pentagon, and secretaries of state who happen to be former generals) briefers.  But reporters were so intimidated by those stripes and so sucked in (understandably) by the embedding process, that no questions were asked until the proof that we had been misled was already in. (And the misleading was made a lot easier by the fulsome and illegal-but-officially-sanctioned leaking to Bob Woodward, so I have to laugh again when he says there’s not enough use of anonymous leaking in the media today, here.)  If you guys think there is not war undertaken by unaccountable officials and military men, just say so.

4)  As a journalism professor/media critic, the really interesting question to me here is what should Newsweek have done if the story had been well-sourced and understood to be true, but might help cause the riots, etc.  In principle I’d say, “Publish.”  It’s dangerous in a free society to have reporters worrying about the consequences of what they publish before they publish it.  Except in cases where revealing military (or other forms of secrets) would endanger lives, then it’s the fault of the wrongdoer, not the journalist who publishes.  But as careful readers of this column know, I no longer care very much about principles.  I think they’re for children.  I care about results.  The likely results of publishing this story vastly outweigh the value of publishing it.  Unlike Abu Ghraib, for instance, where the torture would have continued unabated had the country’s conscience—or what’s left of it—not been pricked—I’d say hold off in this case.  The deadly reaction was predictable; the value of the news, highly debatable.

5)  This one seems to be a perennial:  Just when you think it impossible for the cynicism/dishonesty/incompetence of the Bush administration to surprise you, they manage to pull it off, here, here, here, here and here.

Seems PBS' new Republican-appointed ombudsmen don't pass the smell test.

Alter-reviews:

Maude Maggart at the Oak Room, last night.

No, I never heard of Maude Maggart, either, but I thought it’d make a nice belated Mother’s Day outing, since she was singing an entire set of songs from 1933, and she’s gotten some great reviews.  Was I right?  Does a chicken have lips?  In the first place, 1933 really was, as the man sang, “a very good year,” for music, if not much else.  We got Al Dubin / Harry Warren songs like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Remember My Forgotten Man.”  “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” “Yesterdays,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Night and Day,” “It’s The Talk of the Town” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.”  We also got a, believe it or not, swinging song with a Yiddish chorus I can’t remember, but that my mom understood.  Anyway, this Maude Maggart is, as they say, going places.  She’s Fiona Apple’s sister, but more important for our purposes, she’s been tutored by Andrea Marcovicci and Michael Feinstein, which not only helps with the singing and the stage presence, but also with the history too.  Like her mentors, Ms. Maggart was meticulous in giving the audience plenty of context based on her own original research and she delivered it in a charming, funny sort of way that only grated once or twice.  Did I mention that she sings really well and is a total babe?  Well, consider it mentioned.  Unfortunately her Monday night run at the Algonquin is over but she says she’ll be back in the fall with a new, as yet unplanned show, and she’s got these 1933 songs on a CD called “With Sweet Despair.”  You can read about her here. I liked it so much I might give her sister another listen too, since I’ve recently been informed by the younger generation that I was confusing her with Tori Amos, without whom I can definitely live.)

Correspondent’s Corner:

Name: Timothy Karr, Campaign Director, Free Press
Hi Eric,
Yesterday, Free Press posted the audio and video files of Bill Moyers’ electric speech at the close of the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis.  Today we're calling on 100,000 people to sign our petition for the ouster of Kenneth Tomlinson of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.

Spread the word. And Act Now!

Name: David A Snyder
Hometown: Edison, NJ

Regarding Dr. Rauchway's "Original Observation":

One thing that puzzles me about neo-liberal economics, in fact, is that so much of it is focused on an equilibrium state of affairs (albeit a dynamic equilibrium) when an economy in equilibrium (e.g. not growing) would be considered by many, including those same economics, to be rather bad.

I would submit that there are at least three economic equilibria:  (1) the market economy of Econ 101, (2) Marx's Communist Utopia and (3) Feudalism.  The problem is that both equilibria #1 and #2 are completely unstable and can never be reached (the latter even in theory requires tremendous coersion to reach).  "Capitalist" economies, if left alone, tend to equilibrium #3.  Any economic equilibrium would be bad because it would mean the end of economic growth, but economic equilibrium #3 should send shivers down the spine of anyone with more than a Medieval Times understanding of life 1000 years ago.  In particular, we Jews should be very afraid of such an equilibrium.

Of course, to avoid an equilibrium, you need an outside force acting on the economy, e.g. government -- and a pretty big one at that.

I would define a liberal as one who is concerned that our economy not reach a maladaptive equilibrium as well as one who trusts rule by law more than rule by man but also, as a believer in moral autonomy at some level, trusts people more than markets and collections of people (mobs, corporations).

A "conservative" is one who believes, OTOH, in rule by powerful people but, not trusting human nature to be positive, trusts markets and collections of individuals (mobs, corporations) more than people.

Name: Timothy Cooper
Hometown: Portland, OR
The other thing I would add to Eric Rauchway's description is the rise of irrational economics.  Primarily the tool of post-Nixon Republicans, irrational economics tells people that they can have something for nothing.  Prior to the 1980's both political parties had grown-ups in charge who tried to restrain the "Low-Tax/High-Spending" impulses that lead politicians to tell voters they can have whatever they want without any tax increases.  (See the Simpson's episode where Homer becomes the city manager and takes over the garbage service!)  Conservatives can point to huge deficits and say that government is wasteful, and if the "starve-the-beast" tactic works then liberal causes suffer the most.

May 16, 2005 | 12:34 PM ET | Permalink

What did liberals believe?
Plus: Man Bites Dog - "Alterman: Bush is Sorta Right..."

Man Bites Dog  "Alterman: Bush is Sorta Right..."  My piece on Bush, FDR and Yalta is on The American Prospect website, here.

Name:  Eric Rauchway

Since we're all writing about liberalism, here is a capsule history, written off the top of my head, that I hope might help.

1.  Where did American liberalism come from?  American liberalism, as we knew it in the twentieth century, developed from the wide acceptance of an observation that capitalism, while wonderfully creative, does not regulate itself satisfactorily.  Neat theories notwithstanding, capitalist economies, left to themselves, quite often idle at equilibria that a substantial minority, if not a majority, of citizens find unpleasant or even unendurable.  (People afflicted with scruples often find such equilibria unjust.)  Let's call this the Original Observation.

2.  What did American liberals recommend?  Lots of things.  The hodge-podge that was twentieth-century liberalism failed to cohere because the Original Observation can sustain any number of policies, ranging from government subsidy of economic development through regulation to welfare.  The nearest thing to a coherent recommendation -- the New Deal -- comprised three major measures apart from emergency relief: 

a)  subsidies for economic development (things like the Tennessee Valley Authority);

b) a commercial and financial regulatory apparatus (things like Glass-Steagall, the enhanced Federal Reserve Board,  and the SEC);

c) a social insurance program (Social Security).

Later, American liberalism extended to efforts to include groups excluded, for extrinsic reasons, from general economic progress:  e.g., measures like Civil Rights and the War on Poverty.

3.  What happened to American liberalism?  Well, item 2a), subsidies to economic development, became defense spending, so that almost all spending on economic development was justified or originated from defense priorities (in fairness, this was the reason the Supreme Court let the TVA stand in the first place).  Item 2b), regulation, began to go in the 1970s and has almost all gone, with obvious exceptions like the Federal Reserve Board, which remains acceptable except to conspiracy theorists and gold-standard fans (not mutually exclusive sets).  Item 2c), a social insurance program, is now possibly to become an investment program.  More on this below.

4.  Why did these things happen?  For the same kind of reason that liberalism arose in the first place -- much as liberalism arose on the observation that unregulated capitalism made messes, opposition to liberalism arose on widely accepted observation that, in particular, the Great Society didn't make things better.  Obviously some opposition came from plain-vanilla racism, some came from people who always hated FDR, but the critical, marginal opposition came from people who observed that bad economic things still happened under the current regime.  Do I think this was a fair observation?  No; most of the things people objected to were not results implicated in the original New Deal synthesis of American liberalism.  But partisan politics and Cold Warriorism ensured that the New Deal would get blamed anyway.

As a result, we've apparently decided that Everything Liberals Ever Thought Was Wrong, and that includes, especially, the Original Observation.

5.  What comes next?  Because the Original Observation is now understood to have been incorrect, we're about to replace an insurance program with an investment policy.  This is of course a simple category mistake that nobody should make.  Under insurance, you pay premiums so that if a bad outcome occurs you get a set payout.  Under investment, you set aside capital which may or may not yield a return of indeterminate proportion whether or not a bad outcome occurs.  They perform very different functions, and in particular, they allocate risk differently.  Under insurance, the insurer takes the risk.  Under investment, you do.

But if we believe that capitalism polices itself, we don't need insurance and there's no risk from investment.

6.  What to do?  Oh boy, I don't know.  But any answer to that question should take into account some version of the foregoing, or else of some better history, because I suspect that the laws of human behavior that yielded the Original Observation haven't been repealed and won't be, even if the New Deal is.

(End Ruachway)

More PBS censorship on the way here.  Moyers speaks to the Free Press convention, here.  A full transcript of the Moyers talk can be found here when it's posted.

Now Republican CPB chairman Kenneth Tomlinson wants to monitor NPR for biased Middle East coverage.  Why?  CPB's own internal polls show Americans don't think NPR has any problem reporting from the region.

I'll be on with Al Franken tomorrow on Air America from 1-1:45 EST. I espect we'll be talkin'  'bout Mr. Novak.

Borrowed from the Benton Foundation:

BILL OF MEDIA RIGHTS INTRODUCED
A coalition of 116 media-activist groups [including the Benton Foundation] unveiled a "Bill of Media Rights" Monday, which they insist must be included in any major media- or telecommunications-overhaul legislation.  The provisions are aimed at turning back the effects of increasing corporate ownership of broadcast stations, cable systems and newspapers since media-ownership rules were deregulated by the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The consequences of the resulting consolidation since 1996 include escalating cable prices, diminished ownership of media outlets by minorities, and a decline in the amount of political coverage and children's programming. The groups are calling on Congress to enact 15 provisions they believe will lead to lower prices for pay-TV and other services, more competition and greater diversity of viewpoints expressed in major communications outlets. The provisions include requirements for locally produced programming; restrictions on cross-ownership of broadcast stations, cable systems and newspapers in the same market; requirements for political and civic programming; more frequent and "rigorous" license renewals; and media employment ranks that "reflect the presence and voices of people of color, women, labor, immigrants, Americans with disabilities and other communities often misrepresented." This coming weekend, 2,000 anti-consolidation activists will rally in St. Louis to build momentum for upcoming legislation over ending the switch to DTV and rewriting communications laws (see you there!).

[SOURCE: Broadcasting & Cable, AUTHOR: Bill McConnell] (free access for Benton's Headlines subscribers)

See the Bill of Media Rights here.

See also -- * Coalition Plans to Fight Lax Telecom Law

This just in:  The Middle East Studies Association has issued a statement unequivocally condemning the AUT blacklist of Israeli academics as an attack on fundamental principles of academic freedom and open intellectual interchange.  This action is very significant, both because of MESA's importance ... and because no reasonable person could accuse MESA or its membership of being biased in favor of Israel or Israeli policies.  It has taken a stand on basic principles here, and deserves to be commended for it.

I hate to discuss the holocaust too , dude.  Good piece.

Alter-reviews by Sal:  Gang of Four and Paul Westerberg

1)  Less is more with Gang Of Four!  Rhino's new reissue of their seminal debut "Entertainment," is splendid.  4 guys who barely played their instruments, Gang Of Four created a piece of work that went on to influence such bands as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and recent iTunes darlings Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads, and Interpol.  Even if you're not fans of these bands, you need to hear what started it all.

The music is raw.  Post-punk meets white funk.  Think the Specials playing James Brown.  Or Siouxsie Sioux playing Led Zeppelin.  This CD, now with 8 bonus tracks, includes the classics "Damaged Goods," "At Home He's A Tourist," and "Anthrax," and is a must.  "Entertainment" is one of those records that will get under your skin, and I don't mean in a George Costanza way.

2)  The new Paul Westerberg compilation from Rhino, "Besterberg" is an uneven collection.  Making his bones with the sloppy, drunk and sincere rockers The Replacements, Westerberg's aggressive songwriting and "screw you" attitude became legendary.  When the band called it quits, Westerberg's life changed.  He quit the bottle and became a sensitive singer-songwriter, much to the chagrin of 'Mats fans worldwide.  The songs lost their edge.  The guitars were now in tune.  The band made no mistakes.  Sounds great?  Well, sort of.

His first two solo CDs, represented by the first 12 tracks here with a few odds and ends scattered about, (like "Dyslexic Heart" from the Cameron Crowe film "Singles" and a b-side or two) were better than what die-hards expected.  Paul can still rock with the best of 'em, but can also write a damn fine ballad.  Check out "Runaway Wind."  But then, in the words of Earl King, "It All Went Down The Drain."  Westerberg married, had a kid, and his next two solo albums played as love songs to his family, (not a "Living Proof" to be found) prompting Replacements fans all over the world to take part in the ritualistic burning of any and all remnants of the once raucous front man.  (OK, not really true.)  But, he did indeed poison the well for fans.  What once sounded like some of the greatest, no holds barred rock & roll ever made, suddenly became annoying.  Acoustic ballads with insipid lyrics better suited for the Dan Fogelberg crowd that were so bad, they seemed to infiltrate the good records.  That period is represented by the last 8 tracks on this collection, with a few odds and ends scattered about.

"14 SONGS," Paul Westerberg's first solo record is solid from beginning to end, and still plays well after a dozen years and that makes it better than his "Best Of."

Sal
NYCD

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