July 22, 2005 | 12:01 PM ET | Permalink

I‘ve got a new Think Again column, here, called “Fuzzy Math, Sloppy Reporting.”  It’s about bad budget/deficit reporting.

And somebody’s lying, here.  It’s like getting Al Capone on tax evasion, but I’ll take it.  (And who is going to question Tim Russert on what he told the grand jury this weekend, by the way?)   This too, though it’s weird that Rove and Libby’s lawyers somehow think this is going to help save their respective posteriors.  (While this would have made a much bigger difference had it been reported before the election, I’ll take it now, and just hope the Almighty is not toying with us…)

In IPF Friday today, MJ Rosenberg has a modicum of good news from Congress.  It seems that this week 100 House members actually rejected a pernicious amendment by Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) to slash our paltry Palestinian aid into four segments and essentially make Abu Mazen beg to get it.  Standard operating procedure for the AIPAC-driven House but this time 100 members actually said "no" including Nita Lowey who I have criticized in the past for Palestinian bashing.  Of course, the amendment passed but 100 nos are better than the usual dozen or so.  The irony is that amendments like Berkley's are portrayed as pro-Israel when, in  fact, the only people to benefit are Abu Mazen's enemies in Hamas and Islamic Jihad.  Maybe amendments like this should just be called "pro-Hamas." It’s here.

On to Slacker Friday:

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown:  The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
Before the Iraq War began, the CBO estimated that the war would cost $1.5 billion to $4 billion per month; The actual expense has been between $5 billion and $8 billion per month.

More details below:

Will the US Economy Become a Victim of the Iraq War?

War is not only Hell -- but Hellishly expensive:

"In September 2002, the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, estimated that the war would cost $1.5 billion to $4 billion per month.  In fact, it costs between $5 billion and $8 billion per month.

The Pentagon says the "burn rate" -- the operating costs of the wars -- has averaged $5.6 billion per month in the current fiscal year, but that does not include some costs for maintenance and replacement of equipment and some training and reconstruction costs, experts say."

Recall our Pre-War Analysis from March 19, 2003 ( Not-So-Hidden Agenda: Strategic and Economic Assessments of U.S. led Invasion in the Middle East) -- we predicted the War in Iraq would last up to 10 years and cost $1 trillion dollars over that decade.  That length and expense was (at the time) considered an outlier, far beyond other expectations.

Now, almost 2 1/2 years later, other analyses are (finally) catching up.  A recent study from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments upgrades the estimates of what the war will cost to ~3/4 of a trillion dollars (so we are getting closer to my $ trillion dollar estimate).

"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost taxpayers $314 billion, and the Congressional Budget Office projects additional expenses of perhaps $450 billion over the next 10 years.

That could make the combined campaigns, especially the war in Iraq, the most expensive military effort in the last 60 years, causing even some conservative experts to criticize the open-ended commitment to an elusive goal.  The concern is that the soaring costs, given little weight before now, could play a growing role in U.S. strategic decisions because of the fiscal impact.

"Osama (bin Laden) doesn't have to win; he will just bleed us to death," said Michael Scheuer, a former counterterrorism official at the CIA who led the pursuit of bin Laden and recently retired after writing two books critical of the Clinton and Bush administrations.  "He's well on his way to doing it."

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, has estimated that the Korean War cost about $430 billion and the Vietnam War cost about $600 billion, in current dollars.  According to the latest estimates, the cost of the war in Iraq could exceed $700 billion.

Put simply, critics say, the war is not making the United States safer and is harming U.S. taxpayers by saddling them with an enormous debt burden, since the war is being financed with deficit spending."

You can get a visual sense of how much the war(s) have been costing the United States per year below; These data points reflect budget allocations, and do not include the expenditures for military men and material already budgeted.

[ Chart courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle]

One of the few vocal critics of the cost the Iraq war has generated has been Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel (R).  He has pointed out (repeatedly) that the present expenses are many multiples greater than what the White House had promised in 2003.  Future expenses threaten to make the war even more costly.

Long term deficit hawks (and that should include any equity investors) should take note of Hagel's observations regarding the ultimate impact of this spending: it is throwing U.S. fiscal priorities "out of balance," and "It's dangerously irresponsible."

Indeed.

Source: 
CASUALTY OF WAR: THE U.S. ECONOMY
James Sterngold
Chronicle Staff Writer, Sunday, July 17, 2005

P.S.:  The low-down on congressional travel — In the past 4 and one-half years, members of the U.S. House and Senate have taken more than 4,800 trips.  The total cost of these trips was more than $14 million.

So who's footing the bill?  Corporations and outside interest groups.

Congress is allowed to accept reasonable travel expenses for legitimate reasons.  Unfortunately, this is often abused on Capitol Hill.  And the ethical implications are staggering.

At this site, you can learn how much your representative and senators have accepted in travel expenses.  And you can see how they compare to their colleagues.  I found it very, very interesting.

To visit this site, go here.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to be overwhelmed.  For all the big stories this week -- Roberts, the assassination of the Sunni constitution guy, Patrick Fitzgerald hammering Daley (hey, its his day job) -- the one that most shook me up was a front page story in the Wall Street Journal ( reprinted here) detailing a retiree's Kafka-esque fight with Motorola to get his pension benefit.  The story details how the law sets up layers of bureaucracy that allow companies to stonewall appeals, knowing that most people will eventually give up.  This tactic is nothing new.  The Reagan Administration once considered further cutting welfare beyond what Congress had approved by merely changing some of the paperwork.  But the reason the pension story struck home was that this guy managed to get some legal aid.  As the article noted, most lawyers aren't interested in these cases (work intensive with little payout) and most individuals can't afford one.  I've always been hit up for legal advice by friends, but in the last few years I've been getting calls from friends of friends, friends of pro bono clients, even the maid of one of my bosses, all seeking help with some relatively uncomplicated legal matters (or what should be uncomplicated - I wince when I have to call Immigration).  See Eric, avoiding law school is looking better all the time!

What to do?  Heck if I know.  I think the barrier to practicing law in this country is far too high - the ABA has a monopoly on certifying law schools everywhere but California.  The bar has fought the independent paralegal movement (allowing trained certified paralegals to handle simple cases) tooth and nail, and the public doesn't have the resources of, say, the medical profession to hire counter-lobbyists.  I'd love to see vocational-oriented how-to-navigate-the-legal-system courses offered at the college level.  Alas, this problem would have been right up President Simplify-the-Government Gore's alley.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr Alterman,
Siva Vaidhyanathan offers an excerpt from Mark Graber regarding the activism of Justices Scalia and Thomas.  As a generally conservative person with Libertarian leanings, I offer the following retort:

  1. They insist most campaign finance laws are unconstitutional.
    First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech."  Regulation of speech, particularly political speech, has long been held to be protected.  An aside, that McCain-Feingold has really worked wonders cleaning up elections.  Contrary to the promises, the special interest money flood gates have been opened.  In my lowly opinion, it is quite possibly one of the most damaging laws in regards to our election process (and political process) currently on the books (and possibly ever).

  2. They insist that most regulations of advertising are unconstitutional.
    Commercial speech has long been held to a different standard and I have not heard differently from Justices Thomas or Scalia.  That said, in certain circumstances I can see how a federal law regarding such might be viewed as unconstitutional depending on how the regulation is framed whether it fails the fairly well-established test regarding commercial speech.  This is generally very case specific and I am unsure as to what Mr. Graber is referring.

  3. They insist that state legislatures can do little to protect abortion clinics from organized mayhem.
    Did Mr. Graber read the decision on that one?  Does not sound like it.  For better or worse, the facts surrounding that case drove it.

  4. Thomas has suggested that elected officials have very limited capacity to regulate handguns.
    Second Amendment: "The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  Whether we like it or not, the language is rather clear.  Last I checked, a handgun is by definition an Arm.

  5. They would use the Fifth Amendment to dramatically limit the capacity of local legislatures to pursue urban redevelopment.
    Fifth Amendment: "Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."  What is confusing about the term public use?  It does not say public purpose or public good.  And no, taking a citizen's property for use by private investors in order to increase taxes is not a public use, in my humble opinion.

  6. They regard the Fifth Amendment as also limiting environmental regulations and limiting conditions that local legislatures can attach to private development.
    I refer Mr. Graber to the above.  The placing of undue burdens or restrictions on private property in many instances can amount to a governmental taking.  That said, there is a plausible argument, based primarily in nuisance, that the actions by a landholder can detrimentally affect surrounding landholders.  At that point, the primary arguments revolve around the level of nuisance and federalism and limits on federal power (see below).  Environmentalist have done much to harm their own cause on this one.  Private stewardship of land is not the great evil they make it out to be, especially given the current state of our public lands.

  7. They insist that affirmative action is unconstitutional, even though the persons responsible for the equal protection clause passed numerous laws providing special benefits to persons of color.
    Mr. Graber seems to have missed the key words: "equal protection."  Special benefits to a particular group clearly do not amount to equal treatment of similarly situated persons not within the protected group.  The perversion of MLK's dream by those who wish to exploit it should sadden us.  MLK dreamed that we would judge people based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.  Affirmative action does the latter.

  8. They insist on sharp limits on federal power to remedy 14th amendment rights, insisting for example that Congress may not punish rape or even pass laws ensuring that state courts are accessible to the handicapped.
    I presume he is referring to the due process clause therein.  However, criminal law has historically been the province of the states.  As indicated by the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  Mr. Graber may be shocked to learn that there are indeed limits to the ADA that were included so that the law would pass constitutional muster.

  9. They believe that states have an unenumerated right not to be sued, unless the law is a legitimate application of the 14th amendment (but see 8).
    Once again I refer him to the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  The use of the term unenumerated defies his very statement.  That said, sovereign immunity is not dead and indeed is having a small renaissance.  While it is appropriate to redress wrongs committed by the government, the current process is very flawed and is propagating the revival.

  10. They believe that states' employees have an unenumerated right not to help implement federal laws, even though the first congress repeatedly so conscripted state officials.
    Once again with the unenumerated.  See above.  However, defiance of constitutional federal laws will get you in trouble.  What is Mr. Graber's stance on unfounded mandates?  Should those be implemented without question?

  11. It is highly probably (sic) they believe that many federal spending programs are unconstitutional.
    Because maybe they are?  Many federal entitlements have achieved sacred and untouchable status but their constitutional grounds are not seriously questioned, primarily due to politics.  Indeed, many a tortured reading of the Constitution has resulted in their current status.  I ask Mr. Graber to show me the constitutional grounds for FEDERAL welfare programs, education programs, farming subsidies, Medicare, Social Security, even the defense budget.  I don't disagree with all these programs, but the constitutional basis of each is questionable.

  12. They insist that government officials must allow religious groups access to schools and programs aimed at securing secular goals.
    I refer him to the First Amendment once again: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." There is no constitutional requirement for a totally secular government.  I agree that one is probably preferable, but it is not found in the Constitution. 

With that said, I agree that judicial activism is generally wrong regardless of the perpetrator.  The judiciary was created to interpret laws.  The legislature creates the laws and the executive is supposed to enforce them.  These lines have been incredibly blurred by all the players involved over the years.  If someone wishes to try to re-establish these boundaries, I fully support their efforts and do not consider them radicals.  If Mr. Graber believes that activism includes reining in a runaway government using the text of the Constitution, we can only hope such activism thrives.

Name: Dale
Hometown: St. Helens, OR
I found Perry Anderson's essay on Rawls, Habermas and Bobbio well worth a quick read.  I'm familiar with Hab., much less so with Rawls and not at all with Bobbio's work.  I don't know Anderson's background or leanings.  But it seems to me he isn't sensitive enough to H's notion of legitimation and his search to build upon and expand existing legitimate orders.  Most of us can't be pacifist.  So we look for ways to expand democracy and defend human rights- even, at times, by force of arms.  Surely, the U.S. and Europe are imperfect vessels of legitimate democracy and human rights.  But in a sense, they are all we have.  In terms of the Balkan Wars and the 1st Iraq war, I am sympathetic to active intervention.  Letting naked force prevail is not an option for progressives.  Where Habermas and most others fail, I believe, is in their reluctance to promote cautious experimentation with less lethal forms of democratic intervention into local wars.  But even the above interventions were progressive in the sense that they were designed in response to naked aggression.  Habermas, and all progressives, can use the existing democratic I wish they had been conducted with an eye to finding better answers to the questions of how to respond to inter and intra national violence.  But that is not so much a criticism of Habermas' work.  It is up to us to promote and legitimate less lethal forms of intervention.  And our dislike for the worst in our American democracy should never deter us from promoting the best we have to offer.  How that translates into political practice is not so much a matter of theory but more a matter of feeling our way through the darkness.  I remember, in Portland a couple of years ago, you said that you asked Habermas if, on the whole, the U.S. was a positive or a negative influence on the world.  You found some reassurance in his response that it was a positive.  Somewhere he remarks that everything is ambivalent.  That ambivalence leads us to answer the questions of actual political practice in different ways.  But for me, I find his work to be among the most illuminating I have ever been exposed to.

Eric adds:  For the record, I only asked him about Western Europe, and yes, his answer was strongly positive.  He was much more critical of the U.S. role in the Third World.  I concur.

Name: Chuck Fitz
Hometown: PHX, AZ
Another point to consider is that a strict-Constitutionalist would interpret the right to declare war to be the role of Congress; not one gun-happy, revenge-filled, death-penalty pushing (Pro-Life indeed!) ideologue.  Someone should ask Mr. Roberts during Congressional hearings what is his interpretation of who has the authority to wage war under his so-literal reading of our great document.

Name: Derrick Gibson
Hometown: New York, NY
I have a hunch that while all of us regular, Altercation readers bask in the warm glow of the prose penned by Major Bateman, his words on "no romance in the dust" are probably eerily echoed in the letters home from Vietnam, Korea, every front in both world wars and on back through the Philippines and beyond.  Whatever happened to "study war no more"?  Are we really doomed to repeat the same mistakes of our fathers?

Eric replies: We study everything here at Altercation….

Name: Jacqueline Tate
Hometown: Fergus, Ontario
Dear Dr.,
Thanks for providing a Web site guaranteed to keep my mind engaged.  Here is the Web address of the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.  They really do a bang-up job of keeping the works of GBS alive and relevant.

Name: Bill Ladd
Hometown: Bensalem, PA
I was fortunate enough to be in the crowd at last night's Elvis Costello/Emmylou Harris show at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA.  As a big fan of Elvis, I expected to politely sit through Emmylou's opening act waiting for Mr. C. Boy, was I wrong.  Bounding out on stage only minutes later than the 8:00PM showtime, Elvis ripped through 45 minutes of his back catalogue, with some selections from his latest release thrown in.  At that point, he brought out Emmylou and a multi-instrumentalist (whose name escapes me) for more then an hour.  Singing duets, taking turns on lead vocals, covering Johnny Cash and George Jones tunes (along with some of their own work) Elvis and Emmylou clearly loved working together.  Elvis finished up the show ripping through 10 or so of his own songs before bringing Emmylou out for both encores, the first lasting for 6 or 7 songs.  The show lasted 3+ hours and must have had 40 songs.  I was so blown away, it disturbs me that the venue didn't appear to be sold out.  If this is the case for their upcoming shows together, tell your readers to get out there and catch this act while they can.  Emmylou is only spending two weeks on the tour, with the last date July 31st.  Get there if you can!

Name: Eric Alterman
Hometown: New York, New York
Happy  75th Birthday, Carl. Thanks for a lot of things, (but not everything).

July 21, 2005 | 12:37 PM ET | Permalink

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq
I love to be outside.  To some degree this is a happy coincidence.  For the first five years after college I probably lived one day in four out-of-doors.  As a “light” infantryman in the beginning, much of that was without any shelter at all, except for maybe a poncho.  Live like that long enough and you can become romantic about the weather.

Yet there is nothing profound one can say about dust, though it is such a major feature of this place that I would be remiss were I to ignore this aspect of the experience.  Dust is the color of our world.

Like rainstorms back home, dust storms here vary depending upon location.  Any soldier will tell you that a storm in the Carolina pinelands around Fort Bragg is vastly different than the rain you experience in the Kahuku Mountains near Schofield Barracks on Oahu.  Rain near Fort Lewis, hard by Seattle, differs from the experience of rain at Fort Hood, Texas.  So too, it is here, with dust storms.

Out west, towards the Syrian border, at places like Al Asad, a dust storm may come upon you like the wrath of God.  Towering walls of grit and sand, whipped to near-stratospheric heights, approach at sixty miles an hour and lash anyone not protected when they arrive.  The approach of these monsters looks exactly like the special effects scenes in The Mummy, or Hidalgo, but in Iraq these are not the products of computer-generated graphics.

Here in Baghdad, further to the east, we do not see the same.  The storm approaches on the horizon like a seeping sickness, turning the western horizon a sickly yellowish brown.  Even calling it a “storm” feels wrong.  Half the time these things whisper into the city like some insidious illness.  At times they feel like a thick London fog.  But this fog is yellow-brown, and with every breath you know you are taking the dirt of centuries into your lungs.

Visibility plummets, the steady background noise of helicopters over the city disappears, and everything seems muffled.  Spend more than a few minutes outside and your nasal passages remind you of their purpose as a filter.  In an hour your throat may become sore, and invariably when you find your vehicle, you need to use the wipers to clear off the thin film coating the windshield.  Swab the sweat from your brow and your hand comes away with mud.

I find nothing romantic in any of this.

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:

There are few things more embarrassing than being dogged by your buddies.  Good natured, peer-to-peer stuff among brothers to be sure, but embarrassing none-the-less.  This morning one of the guys I work with found this page, and some of the nice things written here.  I think that perhaps at some point I should explain how men, most particularly men without the presence of women for extended periods, revert to our early-teen selves.  This does not just apply to 19 year-old privates, mind you, but Majors, Lieutenant Colonels, and even Colonels under some conditions, are prone to this retrograde.  In good units anyway.

My great uncle is not doing well.  As he was my mother’s surrogate father, this has an effect on the rest of my family.

My love spent the weekend speaking French with her great friend Aurelie, who was visiting our home for a few days.  She sounds very happy.  In three weeks I will see her again.  Not long after that, I will see my daughters, and I will read the new Harry Potter aloud to the youngest, Connor.  I am very happy when I think about that.

You can write to Major Bob at Bateman_Maj@hotmail.com.

Just three words: Go get ‘im.

This just in:  John Roberts is Jesus:  Quote of the Day, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), “It's a little bit like biblical Pharisees, you know, who basically are always trying to undermine Jesus Christ," here.

And here's a reading in honor of our soldier/scholar.

“Scoring SCOTUS” a new, largely informational but occasionally political Altercation feature generously contributed by our friend, criminal defense attorney, and Koufax Award-winning blogger extraordinaire,  Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft:

Trying to Define John Roberts

The Supreme Court released its schedule for the fall term Wednesday.  There are two abortion cases that will be argued on November 30, one on use of the federal organized crime statute against those who block access to abortion clinics, and one on a parental notification bill.

Judge John Roberts didn't provide any real clues to his views on abortion during his two years on the federal bench.   NARAL and People for the American Way ( PFAW) oppose Judge Roberts based partly on cases he argued while a  Deputy Solicitor General.  In one, he argued, "Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled…."

Predicting how he would rule based on cases he argued as a Deputy Solicitor General is not a very reliable method.  Arguments lawyers make on behalf of a client often do not reflect the lawyer's personal values, or how the lawyer would rule if he were the judge, rather than an advocate on the case.  Roberts himself stressed this point at his confirmation hearing two years ago.

A more helpful tool would be to examine the decisions the Judge wrote or agreed with while serving on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  SCOTUS' Supreme Court Nomination Blog has just completed an examination of 200 cases which Roberts voted on during his two years on the Court.

The conclusion: "No clear ideological pattern emerges."

For a compendium of news articles around the country on Judge Roberts today, check out this post at How Appealing.  Also, the New York Times has an exhaustive article detailing Judge Robert's life from elementary school through the present.

Sivacation:

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: New York City
Eric,
It's clear that the Bush agenda has ground to a halt.  He can't get his radical agenda through a radical Republican Congress that has rigged all the rules in his favor.  His plan to destroy Social Security is stifled because most people realize it's just dumb.  His efforts to extend the tax cuts for rich people so that they can spend my grandchildren's money on top of my children's money that they have already spent seem to be going nowhere.  His criminal war gets less popular every day as the poor citizens of Iraq suffer the equivalent of a London Bombing nearly every day (without the 24-hour news coverage, of course).

This is the extent of "mission accomplished":  Declare in February that the deficit will be stunningly large, then revise the prediction in July saying that it will be only alarmingly large — and declare victory!  The deficit (prediction) is down!  Note that the deficit did not get smaller.  It just won't be as big as they predicted.  Nice move.

No, all they really have working for them is the fact that people get old and sick.  Specifically, Supreme Court justices get old and sick.  W will get at least two appointments.  So they are clearly going all out.  They are in no mood to compromise on their efforts to undermine basic rights in this country, expand the power of the executive branch to ridiculous proportions, and undermine the status of women as much as possible.

But to do this, they will mask their intentions by using the language "restraint" -- literally.

If a conservative friend of yours drops lines into your conversations like "judicial restraint," "judicial activism," or "legislating from the bench," ask her or him to define these terms.  Push for precision.  Then run some recent decisions by the current right-wing Supreme Court by her or him and ask if they count as "judicial activism."

I am confident that you will both agree that the current Court is about the most activist court in American history.  That's not a value statement.  I have other, pejorative value statements to make about this Court.  No, I just think it's important for everyone to realize that when conservatives use this language they are being blind to the real situation and willingly ignorant about how law works.

As Mark Graber writes:

President Bush demonstrated his usual capacity for double-speak last night when he praised Judge John Roberts as a jurist who would "not legislate from the bench."  As noted on this blog and more extensively in Keck, THE MOST ACTIVIST SUPREME COURT IN HISTORY (mandatory reading during the confirmation hearings), the Rehnquist Court does nothing but "legislate from the bench" with Justices Thomas and Scalia being the most active judicial legislators.  Consider the numerous areas in which they impose or would impose limits on state and federal officials.

  1. They insist most campaign finance laws are unconstitutional.
  2. They insist that most regulations of advertising are unconstitutional.
  3. They insist that state legislatures can do little to protect abortion clinics from organized mayhem.
  4. Thomas has suggested that elected officials have very limited capacity to regulate handguns.
  5. They would use the fifth amendment to dramatically limit the capacity of local legislatures to pursue urban redevelopment.
  6. They regard the fifth amendment as also limiting environmental regulations and limiting conditions that local legislatures can attach to private development.
  7. They insist that affirmative action is unconstitutional, even though the persons responsible for the equal protection clause passed numerous laws providing special benefits to persons of color.
  8. They insist on sharp limits on federal power to remedy 14th amendment rights, insisting for example that Congress may not punish rape or even pass laws ensuring that state courts are accessible to the handicapped.
  9. They believe that states have an unenumerated right not to be sued, unless the law is a legitimate application of the 14th amendment (but see 8).
  10. They believe that states employees have an unenumerated right not to help implement federal laws, even though the first congress repeatedly so conscripted state officials.
  11. It is highly probably they believe that many federal spending programs are unconstitutional.
  12. They insist that government officials must allow religious groups access to schools and programs aimed at securing secular goals.

The crucial points are, first, that no respectable historian believes that this catalogue of constitutional limitations reflect the original meaning of the constitution, and second, that many are, if anything, inconsistent with the constitutional text.  Now, if one points out that liberal activism is no more rooted in text or history, fair enough.  But the debate over John Roberts ought to be whether we want a conservative activist, who will legislate from the bench in ways approved by President Bush and his most conservative supporters.

If your conservative friend STILL won't concede that these guys are activist radicals, then ask where in the Constitution does it say that federal courts have jurisdiction over the vote-counting process in individual states.  Ask how in the world a Court busy "restraining" itself could possibly justify appointing a president over the wishes of the American electorate and in direct violation of Florida law.

That should be fun.

Meanwhile, it's worth considering the big differences between O'Connor and Roberts. They probably have nothing to do with abortion or women's rights in general.  They have to do with fairness, procedure, and a realistic sense of life in America.  Unlike O'Connor, Roberts is not so interested in proportionality.  The law for him is black and white, bright lines and shiny handcuffs.

Sandra Day O'Connor is a real American who lived the challenging life of a pioneering professional woman, mother, and struggling, brilliant attorney before running for office as a Republican in Arizona.  Roberts is a rich kid who had everything handed to him all the way up the Republican legal ladder.  That's not to say he is not brilliant.  He most definitely is.  He might turn out to be an amazing justice.  You can't always tell so early.

But as Kim Lane Scheppele explains, there was one significant issue that both Roberts and O'Connor dealt with in the past two years.  They took very different approaches to it.  O'Connor wrote the dissent in an important case about the police arresting people for minor infractions.  Roberts cited this Supreme Court case in a case he ruled on. You decide which side better reflects real life in America:

Scheppele writes:

Ansche Hedgepeth was, at the time of her crime, 12 years old.  She was waiting for a friend to buy a Metrocard at the Tenleytown/American University Metrorail station in Washington, D.C. when she committed the fateful act.

She opened the fast food bag she was carrying and ate one French fry – in plain view of an undercover police officer.

The police officer placed her under arrest, handcuffed her and removed her shoelaces “pursuant to established procedure,” as the opinion tells us.  She was held at the local police station for three hours until her mother could come to collect her.

Her offense?  She violated a city ordinance against eating in Metro stations.  The police had been instructed to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy in enforcing this ordinance, and Ansche Hedgepeth was one of 14 juveniles arrested for similar infractions during zero tolerance week.

The adults who ran afoul of the policy during zero tolerance week were merely given citations on the spot and were allowed to pay their fines later, as the local ordinance permitted.  Minors were not eligible for such citations, however, and so were arrested because that was the only strategy available to police to enforce the ordinance. Given that police had been told that no infraction, however minor, was to be excused, any minor caught eating in the Metro was subject to mandatory arrest.

Her mother brought suit on Ansche’s behalf against the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority asserting that Ansche’s arrest violated her equal protection right under the Fifth Amendment and her right to be free from unreasonable seizures under the Fourth Amendment.  Both claims failed.

To the argument that age should be considered a suspect classification that would trigger heightened scrutiny in constitutional Fifth Amendment analysis, Judge Roberts wrote for a unanimous panel that it is not.  As a result, the difference between the treatment of the adults and the treatment of children in the D.C. ordinance was subject only to a rational relation test, which Judge Roberts found it easily passed.
...
But Judge Roberts seems determined to draw bright lines.  Even though his statement of facts in Hedgepeth begins with a lament that “No one is very happy about the events that led to this litigation,” he did not let his unhappiness divert him from what, in his view, the law required.  And the law allows of no exceptions, no room for common sense to modify the strict operation of a strict rule.
...
Though many of us have railed against Justice O’Connor’s fact specificity and her predilection to decide cases on the narrowest possible grounds, I suspect that we are going to very much miss her humanity.  Ansche Hedgepeth may be the first visible victim of the future Justice Roberts’ strict constructionism.

Again, abortion is not the interesting question here.  This dude ain't going to be a friend of women, that's for sure.  But we should hope he at least would be a friend of the rule of law.

Alas, there is strong reason to think he does not believe in the rule of law.  He is a rampant right-wing judicial activist who believes that one president's whims should trump decades of international and human rights law.

Roberts concurred as one of the three judges who ruled last week that prisoners in Guantanamo are at the mercy and whim of the president and the Defense Department.  They keep making stuff up about how these prisoners should be treated.  A federal judge had ruled that the Geneva Conventions should apply to Guantanamo prisoners.  However, Roberts and the others don't seem to care about the law of this country, which traditionally and appropriately grants basic rights to those imprisoned by the federal government.  These are not crazy rights.  We all sleep better knowing that we can't be kept in prison for three years without charge and that we will face a fair trial with competent legal counsel ... except when we can be kept without charge or trial.  Consistently, the Bush administration has tried to assert that they should just be able to make stuff up (What they heck is an "enemy combatant" besides someone we don't feel like dealing with legally?) and treat prisoners (citizens and non-citizens) arbitrarily, in direct violation of the Constitution and binding treaties.

As Georgetown Law Professor Neal Katyal, the attorney for the prisoner in the case, said after the ruling:

The U.S. Court of Appeals’ ruling today is contrary to 200 years of constitutional law.  We respectfully disagree with it.  As the Supreme Court put it 9 years ago in an opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, 'the Framers harbored a deep distrust of executive military power and military tribunals.'  Yet today’s ruling places absolute trust in the President, unchecked by the Constitution, statutes of Congress, and longstanding treaties ratified by the Senate of the United States.  It gives the President the raw authority to expand military tribunals without limit, threatening the system of international law and armed conflict worldwide.  As many retired Generals and Admirals of our military have stated, the cavalier treatment of individuals at Guantanamo Bay, and the setting aside of the Geneva Conventions in the military commission process, threatens our troops, our interests, and our way of life.  These issues demand finality, and we will be seeking appropriate review.

So it looks like the shameful erosion of American values will continue.  Roberts will do nothing to uphold the law.

Alter Free-Show Announcement

RODNEY CROWELL &  the  OUTSIDERS
Pier 17, South Street Seaport, NYC
South Street and Fulton Street Entrance
( (( SHOW STARTS AT 7PM, RODNEY & BAND ON @ 7:45 PM )) )
FREE SHOW, Presented by WFUV-FM

July 20, 2005 | 11:17 AM ET | Permalink

On Roberts:  What do I know?  My proudest achievement so far in life is managing to avoid law school.  Seems like a smart pick, and will almost certainly be confirmed, unless he’s got a skeleton somewhere.   The Note this morning is one big Bush/Roberts press release today—even more so than might be expected.  And the words “Karl Rove” do not even appear in it.  If I were writing a banner headline for the White House, it would read “ Mission Accomplished."  (A Pew Research study Tuesday showed that half of Americans are paying attention to news reports that Rove may have leaked classified information about a CIA operative.  And 58% of those following the reports closely say Rove should resign.)

Face it, while the country is evenly divided politically, and more liberal on the issues than most Democrats, right-wing extremists have figured out how to monopolize all of the wheels of government and to take the media along for the ride.  Unless the other side figures out how to overcome its many handicaps, we will continue to be run by a runaway government, with little or no meaningful accountability.)

Anyway, the Roberts nomination seems to mean we should plan on saying goodbye to thirty-two years of life under “Roe,” which is not entirely a bad thing, even for pro-choice advocates.  After all, Bush did terrific with unmarried women without college educations.  It would be helpful, politically (and democratically) for them to learn just what it was they were voting for.  There’s a much longer argument to be made here, about how judicially-created and enforced liberalism has weakened its cause and alienated its potential supporters while not gaining terribly much in real world terms.  (I’m told much the same can be said for “Brown v. Board—at least the “with all deliberate speed” part of it too, but I’ve not yet read up on that argument, and it’s not nearly so germane.)  The implications go far beyond that obviously.  Roberts is only 50 and Bush is likely to get two more nominees.  We may not recognize the Constitution when he’s done.  In the meantime, I’ll stick to what I know, will cover the nomination fight if something extraordinary happens.  If not, there’s plenty to keep us all busy.

(Ditto, by the way, on the New York mayor’s race.  I may have strong feelings abut it, but no particular independent knowledge or expertise.  That said, it’s already over and Bloomberg’s won—again, barring some extraordinary circumstance.)

Remembering Rove:  I’m not done with this, for damn sure, though the White House stenography appears to be, this morning.  Let’s see if, beginning tomorrow, they can deal with two stories at once.  In the meantime, there's this.

On Iraq:  I fear I’ll never be done with this.  According to this:

The United States could safely withdraw almost all its forces from Iraq within a year or so without further destabilizing the country, according to a 19 July proposal by the Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA), a US-based think-tank.  Progress toward that end requires a significant political compromise with the Sunni community and with Iraq’s neighbors, however.  The new proposal, entitled 400 days and out, follows an earlier PDA report, Vicious Circle, which found that US military operations in Iraq were generating substantial support for the insurgency.

I am of two minds about withdrawal, personally, or I would be, if I trusted this administration to do anything competently.  Since I don’t, I guess I’m for it, but of course it’s off the table, for now.

Why do print reporters suck up to TV “reporters?”  So some guy who was on CNN is going to be on Fox… who cares?  Howie writes up the press release here.

And let’s hear it for at least five members of the Northwestern Women's Lacrosse team here.  (Thanks Kary)

Stolen from Tapped: 

A WORTHY PLUG.  Eric Reeves, a Professor of English literature at Smith College and one of the most consistently accurate interpreters of events in Sudan, is guest-blogging at The New Republic's &c. all this week. Today, he’s posted an excellent primer on the conflict in Darfur and the resulting genocide for those generally unfamiliar with the situation. Check him out at &c. and be sure to visit his personal website as well.

There’s an American Masters profile of the great Bob Newhart on PBS tonight.

And here is Perry Anderson on “Arms and Rights: Rawls, Habermas and Bobbio in an Age of War.”

Alter-arts Interview:  Director Jeff Zimbalist, 26, discusses the making of his debut documentary, Favela Rising, with Cyntha Lowen.

Cynthia Lowen: In your director’s statement you say the idea for Favela Rising came from your desire to see more stories in the media about communities that work. How would you define a community that is successful - that is working across economic, political, and social lines?

Jeff Zimbalist: Initially, it was development. I was all about inside-out, asset-based community development. So finding groups or communities that had initiated and circulated their own methodology to overcome whatever the odds were or whatever the antagonism in their life was.

In studying Third World development for the last ten years, I was very opposed to paternalism, and the First World charity/donation type of development. So that is how I initially defined it: communities that are inside-out, asset-based (meaning they are not dependent on someone from the outside), working with what they’ve got, who are fighting and beating some of the odds that they’re up against.

CL: Do you feel that the support AfroReggae has received from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations has presented obstacles you wouldn’t necessarily assume would come with success? In terms of the paternalism you were talking about, was that an unforeseen challenge?

JZ: (José) Junior, particularly, but Anderson (Sá) and the whole group were very sustainable to begin with. When Ford comes along, all they are doing is offering the potential to expand. This support doesn’t threaten AfroReggae’s methodology, their philosophy. I think the symptom of paternalism that is most dangerous is apparent as soon as funding disappears: if a group is dependent on it, everything falls apart. Were Ford to disappear right now, AfroReggae might not be able to work in some of the other favelas, they might not expand in the same way, but they’d definitely generate more money, even on their own, and all of their core programs would still be in place. I think there are ways for outside sources to come on board, and piggy-back on projects that are inside-out development based, and I think it can really help. I’m not anti-First World philanthropy.

CL: How did AfroReggae’s ideology impact or alter your process of making the film, especially in terms of self-representation, and deciding to have children from the favela do some of the filming?

JZ:  To make a film about empowerment or asset-based development and to represent it from my point of view was inherently the opposite of what I was focusing on. Your process has to be consistent with your subject - that was something I developed early on. The Chiapas Media Project is huge in this respect: get cameras, train people to use them, say, “Here, self-represent, tell me your story through your eyes.”

With this project we were walking into an area that was already very organized in terms of the arts, kids were motivated and reliable, they were responsible already. And on top of that, they had a direct interest in collaborating with me in the edit, because they had never edited before, and they understood filmmaking. So I went back for the first two months of the edit, I had an apartment at the base of the favela, and I would sit there with a laptop and a couple of external drives and people would come in and hang out for the afternoon. I wouldn’t say, “We’re editing together.” I would show them a clip and say, “What do you think of this? What do you think of the way I put this together?” And if they’re like, “I loved it.” I’d say, “Is that what it felt like when you were there?” And they’d say, “Yeah, that was great, that’s what it felt like.”

CL: What you think of the characterization of the favelas and favela residents in the main-stream media?

JZ: I think it takes groups like AfroReggae to create the image of the favela as a bubble of music and culture that just needs to be burst. O Globo is the biggest news organization in South America, and they are the fifth largest media conglomerate in the world – it’s all up to them, entirely. O Globo is playing both cards at the same time. They are saying to the rich area, “Watch out, all that is up there are bandits.” And then on the side they are helping us with a film like this, which says 1% of the people in the favela are bandits. The other 99% are hardworking, culture loving, very talented, skilled, empowered people. I think the identity is definitely changing in some of the favelas, and at the core of that transformation needs to be a change in the representation by the media – and that’s what I am trying to do with the film.

CL: What do you think Favela Rising has to say about the policies and practices of U.S. troops in the communities they are currently occupying?

JZ: A lot of documentaries that are successful, particularly Latin American or Third World documentaries, have a heavy story-through line of how America has fed the problem, and how America continues to be the problem. But that is not helping in any way to resolve or ameliorate the problem. What I find this approach does is either it alienates an American audience altogether, or it certainly alienates what we now know is half of our country, who support Bush’s policies. If we are going to start to have any understanding, or sympathy, or compassion here in the States between 50% of the audience who agree with our government’s philosophy, and 50% of the audience who do not, we can’t alienate one side. I don’t think I have as urgent a political agenda with this film as I have in some of the others, or as some films out there like Outfoxed, or the Michael Moore stuff, but I think it is hitting the roots in a more skillful, less obvious way.

CL: Are you going to be arranging screenings in the favelas?

JZ: We have already, yes, the response has been awesome, and we are just getting started. In July we have a screening in Jacmel, Haiti. Jacmel doesn’t have any theatres, and in Jacmel there is vast poverty and most people there have not ever seen a film. It will be projected in the main plaza, and you’ve got 3-4,000 Haitians who are in this really tumultuous, precarious political situation right now, and this film is going to show them people in situations probably comparable to what they’re in, who have made something from nothing. I hope that the film can be used to motivate dialogue or inspire action, and I think it will.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Michael Kenny
Hometown: NYC
I also read with disbelief Ben Stein's ridiculous article in the Times.  Ridiculous not in sentiment, which is dead on, but absurd in the context of the well-documented political and economic beliefs of the author.  Why people, Ben Stein included, cannot see the link between items like boat slip shortages for 40'+ yachts in Florida and the paltry new starting salary of $25,000 dollars for police officers in The Most Expensive City in the country is absolutely beyond me.  It's even more disgusting that New York City government officials don't see or won't honor the similar link between the efforts of the same cops who over the past ten years have created literally billions of dollars in real estate values in NYC by reducing crime and making NY the safest city in the country.  According to recent reports, property values in my neighborhood, Washington Heights, skyrocketed 34% last year.  But somehow taxing the gains of landlords and real estate flippers who are benefiting from the massive crackdown on drug gangs in Upper Manhattan over the past 10 years or so and giving some back to the guys on the front line facing the city's scum just never seems to be on the table for discussion.  Do they not see the links, or does it just not matter to these guys?  Maybe Ben Stein can buy Mike Bloomburg a beer and they can moan about how bad it is for the grunts while admiring their man W's tax cuts.  P.S. $25,000 a year for a family of four qualifies you for food stamps.  That's what we pay those who guard our lives and property.  Amazing.

Name: Mark Raven
Hometown: Schenectady, New York
Eric,
Some people just make ya' laugh.  Here's Ben Stein in the July 15 edition of that Con and Neocon propaganda treasure, The American Spectator, Wlad Long Gone Mad's operation.  "Our lives are measured by what we do for others, not by how much money we make. ... Sharing company with a lonely man or woman or child is about as good an investment in your own net worth as a human being as you can make. Do it today."  Yup, that's Ben Stein, who, according to his effort, is absent his better half for much of the next 12 months (care to guess why?), which has left Our Gentle Ben, in his own words, "...walk(ing) the streets of Beverly Hills with my dogs and when I see a couple smiling and talking together, I am acutely jealous."  Touching, truly touching.  Of course, in the June 3 edition of Wlad Long Gone Mad's publication, Mr. Stein displayed such caring and compassion for W. Mark Felt, now better known as "Deep Throat."  "Mark (Felt) took out his anger and frustration for being passed over at the FBI, by ruining the career of the peacemaker, Richard Nixon. So, he condemned a whole subcontinent to genocide and slavery and poverty to please his own wounded vanity." Here's more of Mr. Stein's June 3 boundless "kindness" toward Mr. Felt: "Have you noticed how Mark Felt looks like one of those old Nazi war criminals they find in Bolivia or Paraguay? That same, haunted, hunted look combined with a glee at what he has managed to get away with so far?" Such grace from Mr. Stein, and we must bring forth yet one more passage from his June 3 effort showing Gentle Ben's (Cathy Young-ish) warmth for Mr. Felt and fellow members of the Jewish faith and residents of the State of Israel. "And it gets worse: it's been reported that Mark Felt is at least part Jewish. The reason this is worse is that at the same time that Mark Felt was betraying Richard Nixon, Nixon was saving Eretz Israel. It is a terrifying chapter in betrayal and ingratitude. If he even knows what shame is, I wonder if he felt a moment's shame as he tortured the man who brought security and salvation to the land of so many of his and my fellow Jews. Somehow, as I look at his demented face, I doubt it." Isn't it nice to see a friendly humanitarian like Gentle Ben teaching Mr. Felt the meaning of such terms as "betraying", "shame", "terrifying", "tortured", and "haunted."  An astute example of the pot calling the kettle ... whatever Wannabe King Karl Rove claims is patriotic.  After reading Mr. Stein's statements of affection, kindness, and heart-felt warmth toward Mr. Felt, one cannot be touched (or perhaps torched).  Of course, one also gets the idea of why the current Mrs. Stein will spend the balance of the next year away, far away from that self-admitted Beverly Hills wanderer, Gentle Ben. P.S. You don't really believe Gentle Ben walks his own dogs, do you?

Name: Kevin T
Hometown: Oakland, CA
You have only just begun on the reprehensible Ben Stein.  He once stated on his TV show that David Eisenhower is the smartest man he has known, no doubt because he married Julie Nixon.  He called the NPR network during the night of the returns from the 2000 election, after tens of thousands of African American voters had been turned away by Republican poll officials in Florida and elsewhere, saying, "I don't know when the black voters in America are going to realize that the Democratic party has done nothing good for them historically."  It was a few months later when the Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond affairs hit the fan.

Name: Nathan Riggs
Hometown: Shelbyville, Kentucky
Dear Dr. Alterman,
I was wondering who did each of the actors play in the Don Juan in Hell scene?  Obviously (it would seem) Dianne Weist played Ana, but did Rene Auberjonois play the devil/Mendoza or did Asner?  I can only guess Asner played Ana's father/The Statue.  I completely agree with your belief on Shaw.  It depresses me that he does not get the credit for which he so richly deserves.  It seems that his plays have been lost today, which is both depressing and strange.  For someone who had such an impact during his life as an essayist, critic and playwright, it is odd that he is no longer well read.  Even at his most saccharine (Arms and the Man, the Devil's Disciple), his plays still had a point to make.  Can you recommend any good biographies of Shaw?  Thanks.

Eric replies:  Yes, Ed played Ana’s father, and as I recall, Michael Holroyd wrote a terrific biography of Shaw.

Name: dang in mpls
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
A report from the Intonation Festival at Union Park in Chicago this weekend: Can you put on a decent outdoor rock show for $15 a head per day?  That's the question that organizers of the Intonation Festival were determined to answer in the affirmative this weekend.  Except for a drought of hip hop bands that rivaled the browning park grass, the two-day bill was a great scattershot sampling of the indie music scene.  Of course, that meant you were likely to hate a number of acts as much as you loved others.  For example, at least one act, defined a genre that was new to me and thoroughly wretched: "Laptronica," which is about as exciting live as watching some guy downloading songs on I-tunes.  And I still don't really "get" Tortoise, who headlined on Saturday.  For me, several acts from Canada really lit up the festival.  Vancouver-based Carl "A.C." Newman, who also plays with indie sweetheart Neko Case in the New Pornographers ("Music is the new pornography."--Jimmy Swaggart), maybe the catchiest songwriter around today, and he backs up the smarts with an effortless tenor and off-kilter rhythms.  Broken Social Scene was another highlight, with an emotionally raw set that hinted at what Joy Division might have become had Ian Curtis not offed himself and his bandmates, who went onto form New Order, had avoided synthesizers.  BSS seemed to be pretty fluid about who was actually in their band--I think there were about nine guitarists on stage at one point. That's apparently representative of a thriving but incestous Toronto music scene that includes one of my current faves, Stars.  Singer Amy Millan from Stars was with Broken Social Scene this weekend, although Stars' previously scheduled gig was cancelled.  Apparently everyone in the Toronto scene knows everybody else's songs and can sit in when called upon; it's like a jobs program or something.  I'm guessing it helps a music scene to have guaranteed health care.  Other highlights were the Hold Steady, who tell Springsteen-like stories over better than E-street riffs (sorry Eric!), the virtuoso Andrew Bird, and the Wrens.  After Sunday's headliners, the Decemberists, left the stage, the dust covered crowd was already heard talking about who they'd choose for next year's line up.  All in all a great weekend in the city of big shoulders.

Name:  Dave Abston
Hometown: Vallejo, CA
I'm sure I'm not the first, and I won't be the only, but I feel compelled to point out that not only weren't "The Partridge Family" and "The Brady Bunch" part of CBS' legendary Saturday night line-up of yore - they were on Fridays - *they weren't even on CBS!*  They were back-to-back on ABC, followed by either Bobby Sherman in "Here Come the Brides" or the classic "Room 222". IIRC, CBS' legendary Saturdays started with "All in the Family," which was followed by either "Maude" or "The Jeffersons," then "Mary Tyler Moore," "Bob Newhart," and finally "The Carol Burnett Show."  Classics all!

Eric replies: Okedoke, Dave, but dude, are you sure you want to be famous for knowing that?

July 19, 2005 | 12:23 PM ET | Permalink

Terrorists: Made in the White House
Meticulous study confirms CIA warnings that Bush ignored

Nothing about Edith Clement.  (There, that’s everything I know about Edith Clement.)

Before the war, George W. Bush was warned in a secret report by the CIA that while anti-American terrorism had no relationship whatever to Iraqi actions and had not for at least a decade (probably more), the act of invading Iraq would likely incite terrorism.  Bush, his advisers and the war’s supporters all ignored this report—which appeared on the front page of The New York Times—because they cared more about overthrowing Hussein for whatever reason than they did about preventing terrorism.  In fact, they were so eager to start this war, they were willing to increase terrorism.

Well, they got their wish.  Read this

New investigations by the Saudi Arabian government and an Israeli think tank -- both of which painstakingly analyzed the backgrounds and motivations of hundreds of foreigners entering Iraq to fight the United States -- have found that the vast majority of these foreign fighters are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war itself.”

Bush has almost admitted as much, by the way.  Or else how to explain this quote?  ''Some may disagree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but all of us can agree that the world's terrorists have now made Iraq a central front in the war on terror."

The Plame Game:  “ The Note” shills, again, for Karl Rove.

Quotes of the Day: "If anyone in this administration was involved in it [the improper disclosure of an undercover CIA operative's identity], they would no longer be in this administration." - Scott McClellan, September 29, 2003.

"I don't know of anyone in my administration who has leaked.  If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action.  And this investigation is a good thing." – George W. Bush, September 30, 2003.

"I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know the facts and if someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration." - President Bush, yesterday.

The Post's Allen and VandeHei have the President allegedly changing the standard to a "higher threshold," here.

Quotes of the Day, Lynn Cheney:

“How I long to see you again, to hold you, to kiss you a thousand times,” the schoolteacher wrote to her [lesbian] beloved.  “My darling, my own precious darling. What I would whisper in your ear were you here this moment with me.”

“There could be no tearing off one’s clothing and lustily hopping into bed, not if one would preserve the love-religion. But the loving words and the warm embrace were permitted, and the kiss before sleep, the arousal gentle enough so that its nature would not have to be acknowledged.”

—Sisters (1981)

This Ben Stein fellow has got to be one of the worst people on earth.  I first noticed him when he wrote a column in the Washington Post about his children’s friends that could not have been better designed to ruin their lives (and embarrass the hell out of them).  Then recently, you will recall, he wrote that morally disgusting column about Mark Felt, blaming him for Cambodia, and comparing him to a Nazi war criminal, and sucking up to (and apologizing for) that anti-Semite, Richard Nixon while blaming Felt for betraying Jews by betraying Nixon.  (No, really.)  Now he’s got this column in the Times where he pretends to care about the economic plight of military people, cops, firemen and the like and writes, “This is not leading up to a specific policy prescription beyond what my father and I have been saying for decades: that upper-income people like me (and I am a welfare mother by Wall Street standards) should pay more tax, and people in uniform should get more pay.”  Oh really?  Well then how about you don’t keep supporting the guy who wants to cut taxes on the wealthiest few down to roughly nothing while doing nothing at all for wage-earners, save perhaps cutting their benefits?  That would be a start, you sanctimonious, hypocritical poseur...

Todd Gitlin notices that Tucker Carlson endorses terrorism, here.  (Remember what I said about our terrorists and theirs?  Well this was France’s terrorists.)

Bruce and Nick Hornby, here, with footnotes.

Be “grateful to be still alive, in the warmth and the light of summer, out of the storm.” [ Link]

Do any readers know James P. Young, professor emeritus at SUNY Binghamton?  Could you please tell him that his Reconsidering American Liberalism: The Troubled Odyssey of the Liberal Idea (Boulder, Co. Westview Press, 1996) is the best book I’ve ever read on American liberalism, no contest?  I had never heard of the book or its author, I was just browsing the keyword on Amazon, and ordered it on a lark.  Goodness what range ….

Errata: My life as a Cannibal
Back in 1996, I took a National Review cruise to Alaska for The Nation, with Robert Novak, among others.  I wrote it up in a piece called “Heart of Whiteness.”  The first thing they do on these cruises is give you the lifeboat drill in case you sink.  Here’s what I wrote about what I was thinking:

I resist the urge to question the sexism of the captain’s orders that "women and children first” are to be loaded into the lifeboats, before we, soon-to-be dead white males.  I wonder if, in extremis, I would eat Robert Novak. 

(And here’s what I left out for reasons of, ahem, taste:  “And I know I could digest him because it's only a good man you can't keep down.”)

This just in from Gallup:  In his 18th quarter in office -- spanning the dates from April 20 to July 19 -- Bush averaged a 47.4% job approval rating.  That average includes a term-low-tying individual rating of 45% in a June 24-26 poll.  The average was propped up slightly by the 49% rating Bush received just after the London terrorist attacks.  Notably, in all but 3 of the 10 Gallup Polls conducted during the quarter, more Americans expressed disapproval than approval of Bush. 

The 47.4% average is the lowest of Bush's presidency to date, just below the 47.9% average in his 14th quarter in office (April-July 2004).  Those are the only two times Bush's quarterly average rating has dipped below 50% approval.

This also just in:

On Tuesday, September 6, Columbia Music Video will release an expanded and completely re-edited DVD version of Bruce Springsteen's historic solo 'VH1 Storytellers' concert.  First aired on VH1 April 23, the stunning solo performance is nearly two hours long and features a total of 8 complete songs.

Alter-reviews
Want to hear the Downing Street Memo read by a bunch of actors including my old friend Ed Asner?  It’s here.  And read more about the Downing Street efforts, here.  I got a chance to see Ed do a reading of one of the great dramatic works of all time on Sunday night, Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell—the third act of his incredible “Man and Superman” which makes Hell look pretty good.  "Hell, in short, is a place where you have nothing to do but amuse yourself."  Asner starred with Diane Wiest, Rene Auberjonois, Harris Yulin, John Drew Theater in Association with Playwrights' Theatre of East Hampton.  I really can't do justice to what an incredible work it is, in this world of cultural crap that surrounds us.  Nor what a privilege it is to hear it so well done.  I continue to maintain the minority position of preferring Shaw to Shakespeare.  Note: I am not saying one is “better” than the other; it's just a preference, but a strongly felt one, and I urge you never to turn down an opportunity to see one of his  plays, no matter who is acting in it.  The one time I saw all of “M&SM,” it was done by student actors in college, twenty seven years ago, and yet it’s never left me.

While we’re on the subject of Ed, they’ve released the second season of Mary Tyler Moore on DVD.  (If you buy the first season of the Partridge Family, the Brady Bunch, and the great Bob Newhart, also just released, you can recreate the Saturday night schedule of CBS, I think, circa 1972-73 or so.)  Anyway, it’s great.  Read all about it here and see if there’s any reason to live without it.  I can’t think of any.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: After finishing Ed Doctorow’s new Russian masterpiece of a novel, The March (out in late September, but I’d order it now), I picked up yes, The Washingtonienne,” and guess what?  It’s great.  Well, you know, not great like Tolstoy (and Doctorow) but great in its own trashy, funny, self-aware, damn-near unputdownable way.  I’d read all of Tolstoy (and Doctorow) first, but if you want to read crap, crap doesn’t come any more fun than this.  Congrats to Ms. Cutler on turning out to be a funny, knowing, and entertaining writer, and also for having the good sense to move back from Washington to New York.

July 18, 2005 | 12:15 PM ET | Permalink

'You Americans cannot talk about democracy.'
Dying for a rigged election

Lest the administration’s nefarious behavior in Washington obscure its nefarious behavior in Iraq, take a look at The New Yorker this week.  Sy Hersh demonstrates, once again, that only fools and knaves take the Bush administration’s word seriously about anything at all, but never more so than when it comes to its rhetoric about democracy in Iraq.  (They do not take democracy seriously in this country, why would you expect them to do so in Iraq?)  When I urged patience and caution in assessing the results of the Iraqi vote, based on past U.S. performance in similar situations, including most recently El Salvador, as well as my own understanding of the modus operandi that has characterized everything else about this war, naturally the Bush cheerleaders in the blogosphere and MSM insisted I hated America.  Here is my post of January 31, 2005.  Now those among you who insisted that an administration that would purposely out a CIA agent for political purposes and lie to get this country into a counter productive war, would never, ever try to manipulate the results of an election that threatened to demonstrate just how ill-considered and counterproductive this entire war effort has been, might wish to start explaining themselves.  (Of course that doesn’t mean they would dare start a phony blog.  It is akin to murdering people merely to suggest as much.) 

In any case, here are some of the highlights of Sy Hersh’s New Yorker report that confirms what I suspected at the time of the election.  And it’s the same old drill.  Pick an old CIA/intel agent with no popular base to run the country you don’t understand and then screw with the election to make sure the really popular people don’t get a fair chance.  The proof is not conclusive; we will have to wait years for that.  But when you place it inside the pattern of the lies, deceptions, and hypocrisy that has characterized, literally, every aspect of the administration's policies with regard to Iraq, well...  We told you so.

Hersh’s independence of mind and doggedness of method continues to shame the rest of the Washington press corps, and almost alone, shows them what real reporting would look like, if they ever got into their heads to try it.  The whole thing is here:

By the late spring of 2004, according to officials in the State Department, Congress, and the United Nations, the Bush Administration was engaged in a debate over the very issue that Diamond had warned about: providing direct support to Allawi and other parties seen as close to the United States and hostile to Iran.  Allawi, who had spent decades in exile and worked both for Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat and for Western intelligence agencies, lacked strong popular appeal.  The goal, according to several former intelligence and military officials, was not to achieve outright victory for Allawi—such an outcome would not be possible or credible, given the strength of the pro-Iranian Shiite religious parties—but to minimize the religious Shiites’ political influence. The Administration hoped to keep Allawi as a major figure in a coalition government, and to do so his party needed a respectable share of the vote.

The main advocate for channeling aid to preferred parties was Thomas Warrick, a senior adviser on Iraq for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, who was backed, in this debate, by his superiors and by the National Security Council. Warrick’s plan involved using forty million dollars that had been appropriated for the election to covertly provide cell phones, vehicles, radios, security, administrative help, and cash to the parties the Administration favored. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor resisted this plan, and turned to three American non-governmental organizations that have for decades helped to organize and monitor elections around the world: the National Democratic Institute (N.D.I.), the International Republican Institute (I.R.I.), and the National Endowment for Democracy (N.E.D.).

“It was a huge debate,” a participant in the discussions told me. “Warrick said he had gotten the Administration principals”—senior officials of the State Department, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council—“to agree.” The N.G.O.s “were fighting a rearguard action to get this election straight,” and emphasized at meetings that “the idea of picking favorites never works,” he said.
...
Within weeks of a meeting, the N.G.O.s would “still hear word of a Track II—a covert group,” the participant said. “The money was to be given to Allawi and others.”

A European election expert who was involved in planning the Iraqi election recalled that Warrick “was always negative about the Shiites and their ties to the Iranians. He thought he could manipulate the election by playing with the political process, and he pushed the N.G.O.s on it really hard.”
...
As the campaign progressed, Campbell said, “It became clear that Allawi and his coalition had huge resources, although nothing was flowing through normal channels. He had very professional and very sophisticated media help and saturation television coverage.”
...
Nonetheless, in the same time period, former military and intelligence officials told me, the White House promulgated a highly classified Presidential “finding” authorizing the C.I.A. to provide money and other support covertly to political candidates in certain countries who, in the Administration’s view, were seeking to spread democracy. “The finding was general,” a recently retired high-level C.I.A. official told me. “But there’s no doubt that Baghdad was a stop on the way. The process is under the control of the C.I.A. and the Defense Department.”
...
A Pentagon consultant who deals with the senior military leadership acknowledged that the American authorities in Iraq “did an operation” to try to influence the results of the election. “They had to,” he said. “They were trying to make a case that Allawi was popular, and he had no juice.” A government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon’s civilian leaders said, “We didn’t want to take a chance.”

I was informed by several former military and intelligence officials that the activities were kept, in part, “off the books”—they were conducted by retired C.I.A. officers and other non-government personnel, and used funds that were not necessarily appropriated by Congress. Some in the White House and at the Pentagon believed that keeping an operation off the books eliminated the need to give a formal briefing to the relevant members of Congress and congressional intelligence committees, whose jurisdiction is limited, in their view, to officially sanctioned C.I.A. operations.
...
Ghassan Atiyyah, a secular Shiite who worked on the State Department’s postwar planning project before the invasion of Iraq and is now the director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, in Baghdad, told me that he and many of his associates believed that Allawi’s surprisingly strong showing “was due to American manipulation of the election. There’s no doubt about it. The Americans, directly or indirectly, spent millions on Allawi.” Atiyyah went on, “As an Iraqi who supported the use of force to overthrow Saddam, I can tell you that as long as real democratic practices are not adhered to, you Americans cannot talk about democracy.”

Only 400 suicide bombings in Iraq since the invasion.  So that’s how they welcome “liberators….”

Two quick points about this Rovegate paragraph:

Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has shown particular interest, legal sources told TIME, in a classified State Department memo that was forwarded to the White House the day after Joe Wilson’s article appeared in the New York Times.  It was marked for delivery to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was traveling with the President to Africa that day.  The memo, originally dated June 10, 2003, identified Plame and discussed her role in recommending her husband for the mission to Niger, TIME’s Editor-at-Large Nancy Gibbs reports. [ Here]

Point 1:  We’re told we’re not going to get nearly as many unattributed quotes any more and we get, from Time, “legal sources?”  That’s the best Time could do?  What the hell good is that?  For all we know, this story is sourced to Arnie Becker.  (Hint: Administration lawyers like Rove’s Ruskin are leaking like proverbial sieves.  Prosecution lawyers are not.)

Point 2:  A State Department memo was leaked.  Hmm, doesn’t John Bolton work in the State Department?  Isn’t he a notorious leaker to his neocon allies?  Isn’t the administration refusing to show the Senate Foreign Relations Committee his memos even though it means they are refusing to confirm him as a result?  Didn’t Judith Miller carry his water on those now discredited leaks in re Syria and Cuban WMD programs, or some other such scary nonsense?

Fun on Sunday morning:  Take a look at this “Meet the Press” transcript and begin where Russert asks Mehlman, "They were not involved."  Is that comment still operative?

Podesta had a nice summary during the show: 

Mr. Rove has created a tremendous credibility problem for this White House, for this president, for this country on a matter of utmost national security, whether we can trust him to tell the truth about serious issues involving this war that has now claimed 1,763 Americans.  And I think that the one thing that is unassailable at the end of this week is that Mr. Rove did not tell the truth in 2003, and I think given that, he's hurting the president by staying there and I think he has a duty to the president--and, quite frankly, the president said he would fire leakers, not lawbreakers.”

CNN stands by its liars, here.

Congrats to CNN (and The Washington Post) for their role in stories like this one:

Difficulties Recruiting Foreign Agents

In the wake of the disclosure of Plame’s identity, foreign intelligence services were known to have retraced her steps and contacts to discover more about how the CIA operates in their countries.  Outside of a James Bond movie, spies rarely steal secrets themselves; they recruit foreigners to do it for them.  That often means bribing a government official to break his country’s laws and pass state secrets to the CIA.  “It becomes extremely hard if you’re working overseas and recruiting [foreign] agents knowing that some sloth up in the Executive Branch for political reasons can reveal your identity,” says Jim Marcinkowski, who served four years in the agency and is now the deputy city attorney for Royal Oak, Mich.  “Certainly this kind of information travels around the world very quickly.  And it raises the level of fear of coming in contact with the United States for any reason.”  On the other hand, some critics charge that the agency tends to overstate the value of its undercover operations, whose lapses in recent years have certainly been the subject of much debate. 

Here.

A few honest and outspoken CIA agents (and ex-CIA agents) have their say here.

Mickey’s catch: 

More Modesty: 

"Not many big blogs are as independent and non-partisan as this one."

Update: The sentence has now disappeared from Andrew Sullivan's blog. 5:00 A.M

More lies:  "The Office of Research and Development at the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking outside public relations consultants, to be paid up to $5 million over five years, to polish its Web site, organize focus groups on how to buff the office's image and ghostwrite articles 'for publication in scholarly journals and magazines.'"   Here.

“Agree with me or I will organize a boycott by your advertiser.”  What a big baby that Frank Luntz fellow is, here.  (Has MSNBC fired him again yet?)

Alter-reviews

The Times' Stephen Holden reviews a Carole King show here.  I don’t think he gets the seminal importance of “Tapestry” in cementing a certain way of life—and worldview—amongst an entire generation of what someone (Ann Beattie?  George Will?) once called “the hipoisie.”  It’s just a perfect record, and can’t help but put you in a decent mood, even if it does not quite succeed in making you get up in the morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart.

Anyway, I wanted to talk to Carole King when I was researching my Hollywood liberal piece because nobody I can think of off-hand did more to drop everything and—without ego—do whatever she could to help elect Kerry.  She didn’t make political pronouncements; she just showed up in people’s living rooms to sing and raise money.  I find the whole thing quite touching and admirable, marred only slightly by the fact that it was partially inspired by a friendship based on neighboring ski chalets.

When I did talk to King’s husband, I offered the free advice that I thought she needed to do a double CD “best of” with one CD being just a perfect reproduction of Tapestry and the other CD being everything else, including the Brill Building stuff.  That didn’t happen but Concord Records has released a double CD set of these “living room” performances she has since taken on the road.  It includes most of Tapestry and a bunch of the Brill Building stuff.  It puts you in a good mood, too, but I still like my idea.  More here.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Richard Freeman
Hometown: Valparaiso, IN
Dr. A,
Lost in the whole Rovegate mess is the question of how many OTHER agent covers were blown when Bob Novak outed Plame AND her CIA-cover company?  I would think the same Repubs who are now defending Rove would at least have to pause long enough to remember their canards of Bill Clinton dismantling human intel networks.  Guess it's okay if it is one of their own that blows cover. 

On a side note, will the MSM delve into the story of how the Bushies may have aided in the London attacks by revealing the name of a terrorist that was aiding the Pakistanis and Brits?

Name: Tim Francis-Wright
Hometown: Medford, Massachusetts
Patty Larkin is behind an effort that might respond to your question of a few months back--the one about why there are no great female guitarists. A compilation CD is due out in November.

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