August 12, 2005 |12:17 PM ET| Permalink

So what do you think Fox News would have done to Rosa Parks?  “Bus Rider flip flops: Used To Prefer Back of the Bus to Getting Uppity; Suddenly Decides She likes the front Now. This just in:  Another missing white girl, somewhere…."

I am all for the Washington Post’s management underwriting an administration pro-war propaganda rally exploiting the memory of 9/11.  That is, with some exceptions, what they’ve been doing for the past three years.  This just clarifies things a bit.

Having trouble keeping track of the Plame case and the 21—count ‘em—21 Bush administration officials somehow caught up in trying to out a loyal CIA agent and destroy her effectiveness while possibly endangering her life?  Have I got a Web site for you, here.  We note from a quick glance at it that “Cheney seems to be the common denominator.”

The Mets have been a loveable but enormously frustrating team this year; a great buncha guys, playing great most of the time, but screwing up so much that they can’t get much past 500—in part because of management’s failure to provide a decent bullpen.  But I fear the season’s over because of this Greek tragedy of a collision in San Diego Wednesday night.  Read this story.  Both guys were just being crazy, reckless, give-it-all competitors and this is how God decided to reward them.  If He/She exists, He/She is not a just being, insofar as I am able to judge—which is one reason among many that I could not give a s**t what people tell me he/she thinks about politics.

But, hey, how about that Dave Wright?

On to Slacker Friday

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to confess: I'm a Toby Keith fan.  One day I heard "My List" on the radio and couldn't stop humming it.  Back then Keith was the most un-political country star out there -- sort of a country David Gates.  Then he turned into Clayton Williams -- even then, when I supported the war, I cringed at his lunkhead attacks on Natalie Maines.  Then came the jingoistic songs and a tour of Iraq with Ted Nugent.  But there was more to the story.  In an interview last year he said, "People don't realize that I'm a registered Democrat.  They automatically assume that I'm a chest-banging, war-drum-pounding Republican with my military stance."  He continued that he was conservative like Joe Lieberman, but something inside of him still bristled at being seen as another GOP good old boy.  In a Playboy interview this year he said, "Whether we should go from country to country, like with the Iraq thing, I don't know.  This ain't as simple as Afghanistan.  We're going to Iraq for what?  For terrorism?  Have we seen any terrorist training camps?  I haven't seen the smoking gun.  And they haven't found the weapons of mass destruction.  He still visits Iraq, but his new album doesn't contain a single song about the war.

Like it or not the Democrats need figures like Keith.  Let's be brutally honest, Naomi Wolf's questionable sociology aside, the Dems have a "machismo" problem.  Don't believe it?  Ask yourself when was the last time the more-nebbish appearing candidate won the Presidency.  It goes beyond candidates.  While Bush was trotting out Kurt Schilling and John Elway, Kerry had Andre Agassi and Bill Walton.  Bruce was preaching to the choir -- country music is the most popular radio format in the country, yet its world is effectively hostile to progressives — an intimidating wall of conformity.  Keith is someone who would be heard and talked about.  So did anyone even approach him after he identifies himself as a Democrat?  Anyone who could write a song like "If I Were Jesus" and "Weed with Willie" strikes me as a person willing to chance some real controversy.  Harry Reid was willing to reach out to Jim Jeffords, a lifelong Republican, and change the world -- why stop with senators?   Shockin' y'all indeed.

To Ben: from Beaver, PA:  We know it's 10,000 times harder to stand alone than with allies.  But maybe you're not as alone as you think -- yours might be the example that gives courage to others in the community and they may seek you out.  Reading your letter I was reminded of a New Testament passage on fellowship:

And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem {about} threescore furlongs.  And they talked together of all these things which had happened.  And it came to pass, that, while they communed {together} and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.
—(Luke 24:13). 

In the meantime, I'd try to talk with some of these people - it says they will have a tent at the upcoming "Big Knob Fair."  And if kindred souls aren't to be found at home, you're luckier than us old fogeys in that you have the Internet and while it can take a while to find an online group you click with, there are a lot out there.

Re: Hitchens, I'm shocked that so few on the left have called the man out on Israel.  Prior to 9/11 he was one of Israel's, an particularly Ariel Sharon's, loudest critics (as I recall to the point of damning Ellie Weisel as a contemptible poseur for supporting him).  Since 9/11 his Israel rhetoric has been "muted" to say the least -- I don't recall a single Slate piece after 2002 even mentioning the peace process.  I think he realizes that there is no way to reconcile his endorsement of Bush's response to 9/11 with his previous positions, because to do so would acknowledge at least some of the left's argument that it isn't simply western values that feeds the terrorists.

To expand on the machismo rant, maybe a woman nominee would change the dynamics.  I think Siva's right on Hillary's politics but not her electability.  I think the only way she wins absent the economy going south is if she can be seen as the realist (a la Tsongas/McCain/etc.), not the moderate.  The two aren't always the same.  Anyway:

Dubya v. Kerry (close on machismo, close on vote)
Dubya v. Gore  (Gore gets more votes, but I think it was a factor in Dubya's
favor)
Clinton v. Dole (Clinton -- Dole was how old?)
Clinton v. Bush (not even close)
Bush v. Dukakis (can you say tank?)
Reagan v. Mondale
Reagan v. Carter (Carter's 1980 image much different than 1976)
Carter v. Ford
Nixon v. McGovern (here I think it's a nonfactor)
Nixon v. Humphrey
Johnson v. Goldwater
Kennedy v. Nixon
Ike v. Stevenson (x2)

Now we're beyond my time I don't know enough about Tom Dewey, but Truman was
obviously a vigorous man, they kept FDR's frailty from the public.  Hoover / Smith -- dunno, Hoover was actually kind of an adventurous globetrotter as a young man but Commerce secretary?

Name: Timothy Lee
Hometown:  New York City
A few thoughts for your "younger fellow": One of the most important things you can do is find a way to serve the country we all love.  As a young man, I quit my consulting job to spend a few years as a junior officer in the Navy.  Aside from my marriage, it was the best decision I have ever made.  My sister, likewise, served with Americorps as a science teacher in the rural South.  Such an act is immensely valuable for two reasons. First, it will expose you to peers from all of America's regions and social classes, so that you can hear and understand your countrymen's stories and concerns. In the military, I came to know and trust men I would never have met otherwise.  And it is much, much more difficult to know what Americans need to hear, or how to say it, without the breadth of mind and empathy that such an experience provides. 

Second, your service will inevitably provide tremendous authority to what you have to say.  Whom do you think reasonable people will listen to more carefully and respectfully, a man who has proven his willingness to put time and effort into what he believes, or a pampered College (boy) Republican who is too busy sporting Purple Heart-festooned Band-Aids to bother with signing up for the Army in its hour of need? 

Remember, Aristotle said that there were three ways to convince an audience of an argument: (a) build their trust in the speaker's character and goodwill, (b) play on their emotions and shortcomings, or (c) through the quality of the argument itself.  I wouldn't be a liberal if liberals didn't have a better claim on (c) most of the time.  But the Republicans have become far more skilled (and often less scrupulous) than the Democrats at (b).  So that leaves you with (a), which is the fundamental reason for the advice I proffer.  Earning such authority is a tough proposition, granted. But anything worthwhile in life is tough, and you may take comfort in the fact that many millions of your fellows, on the whole probably no braver or more talented than you, have done it.  And, with two out of three on your side, I'm confident that you can ultimately change a lot of minds and leave America better off in the process.

Name: David
Hometown:  Richmond, KY
This is a response to Ben in Beaver, PA I work in a factory in a rural area of Kentucky.  If you can think of a nonsensical, reactionary right-wing line I probably heard it twice yesterday.  But here's the thing: there aren't as many hard-core nuts as you think, they're just louder and twice as shameless as we are.  The typical wingnut response to something sensible being said (Iraq not a terrorist haven until we made it one for instance) IS to spit venom.  Unfortunately the typical progressive's response to the venom is to shake their head and silently wonder how people can be so stupid.  I decided about a year ago to confront people with facts every time I hear a nutjob outburst.  You won't convince the person spitting venom, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how many of the people within earshot seem open to good sense and objective fact.  I'm almost arrogant to believe that enough closet progressives doing this sort of thing can slowly turn the red state tide, at least to some extent.  It took 20 to 30 years of right wing hackery to get people to accept some of the things that are now said in my workplace on a daily basis, and it had a lot to do with the people saying them seeming confident, self-assured.  Maybe the first thing we have to do is open our mouths and speak with confidence the way the know-nothings do, and the Thomas Paine article speaks well to this.  I'm no longer ashamed of being in a minority, I'm proud of knowing what the hell I'm talking about.  And from now on every time I hear a talking point with no basis in reality coming out of Bubba's mouth, I take his double-digit IQ havin' ass to the woodshed.

Name: Nate Lambeth
Hometown: Virginia Tech - Blacksburg, VA
Hi Eric,
Ben's question today piqued my interest.  I'm 23 and attending graduate school.  The conservatives have informed me that since I am in college, I should be located in a liberal stronghold where they feed Reaganites to the lions, but for the life of me I can't seem to identify many liberal students.  Perhaps the conservative students are simply more vocal, but I haven't seen many liberals at all, and the ones I have seen are more the type that threatens to move to Canada every time Bush is quoted in the newspaper.  Don't get me wrong, I am just as frustrated as Ben, but I would feel much better about my generation if I could point to a group of somewhat-mature liberal students that are interested in changing the country, not abandoning it. The results from the last election show the country balancing on a needle point, but that balance does not show, at least on my campus.  Everyone seems to be more apt to tow the GOP line and extol the virtues of war and cutting federal funding for the less fortunate, and many of these same loudmouths are borrowing money to get their education.  In a truly liberal fashion, I have trouble believing that these people actually feel this way.  Today we are assaulted by information on all sides, told what to think about everything from politics to business to sports by the likes of Fox News, CNN, and others.  It seems these students form opinions by blindly repeating whatever Rush Limbaugh, that prick Tucker Carlson, or (God forbid) Ann Coulter happen to be spewing lately.  Is this a case of a confused young person who is looking for his place finding it in the words of the Righteous Media?  Or, is my generation growing up truly believing in Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Evils of Homosexuality?

Name: D. Earl
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Hi Eric,
This is in response to Ben from Beaver, PA on what we liberals can do in the face of the Republican juggernaut.  We have to hit it til it breaks.  I'm from rural MS/AL and most of my family is still down south.  After going through grief and contemplating the Canada-here-I-come route, I decided that I was far too spiteful to concede defeat.  I looked at the e-mail lists that I had been put on by various members of my family who sent me infuriating right wing crap and I gathered together every e-mail address I recognized as belonging to a relative.  I wrote them a polite letter explaining what I was about to do (which can be read here) and started e-mailing them as often as I could find time.  I would read something, and I would send it to them, sometimes with a little bit of my commentary, sometimes just an article or a cartoon.  I have tried to remain somewhat friendly and seek common ground where I can but I have been blunt as can be with my criticisms.  I have been doing this since January, and it has been a really positive experience.  I have had some heated discussions with conservative relatives, but people seem to be reading what I send and angry or not, the dialogue is open.  I've had other family members e-mail and ask to be added to the list and gotten thank you letters from secretly liberal folks out there.

Like Ben, I am almost 28 and people our age are old enough to be taken somewhat seriously and young enough to get away with saying inflammatory things.  One of the big problems with how liberals are viewed in this country is that the perception of who we are and where we are has been controlled by the right.  Ann Coulter,etc. paint this insane picture of who we are, so those folks in our family in more conservative communities are shocked if someone stands up and says, "I'm liberal" and challenges their assumption of what it means.  I feel that all too often we assume in red state areas that we are the only one and keep quiet or avoid talking politics, which is sometimes the right thing to do, but these days THEY aren't avoiding talking politics and we are getting railroaded.  We have to take an active role in shaping how politics are discussed in our personal circles.  You would be amazed at how many times I have gotten e-mails back saying, "I had never heard about that before."  I have been keeping up with the e-mail exchanges and plan to compile them all in a blog (the above link is the meager beginning).  I did write a little bit at the beginning of this project on my main blog which details the origin of this resolve.

I wish Ben well.  I'm doing my familial scolding with from the safety of distance and surrounded with a progressive safety net and know how hard it can be to be right in the thick of it.  Good luck.

Name: John
Hometown: Groveland, CA
Hi Eric,
Ben has taken the first step in doing something by writing you, and therefore, getting in touch with other like minded people.  I too live in a very red area.  I do not feel comfortable speaking my mind to my neighbors.  But by speaking out here and other progressive areas, I feel at least able to talk to like minded people.  It helps.  He is 28 and I am 60, but the feeling is the same.  The good news is that all things change.  I've seen it and he will too.  To quote the professor above, "There is too much common sense and independence in America to be long the dupe of any faction, foreign or domestic."  We shall overcome.

Name: JY
Hometown: Topeka, KS
Regarding Jim Hall--I'm sorry, but in checking this man's biography I missed a few things.  First, I didn't see anywhere that he had children in the military.  Second, I didn't see where he had served in the military himself.  Finally, and most importantly, I didn't see anywhere that his children had been killed _in service of our nation_.  To call a woman who has lost a son in this war "a disgrace" while yourself not having served _a single minute_ in harm's way is repugnant.  My disgust for this individual borders on that usually reserved for child molesters and traitors to our country.  For this man to say this woman has "no right" to question the President when she has got to get handed the folded flag and place her loved one in the ground is stunning.  For shame, Sir, for shame.

August 11, 2005 |11:58 AM ET| Permalink

Altercation Book Club: Tom Paine, American Idol

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column here.  It’s called “They call this ‘Changing the Tone?’” and it’s about the conservative media’s predilection for character assassination.

I made a cameo in Sid Blumenthal’s portrait of Bob Novak, here.

And Media Bistro asked a bunch of us “media machers” to name our favorite books on journalism, here.  I kinda cheated.

Ridiculous Anonymous Source of the Day, the L.A. Times, here: "The White House aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said political considerations were not one of the administration's criteria in reviewing the documents for release."

Quote of the day: "Cindy Sheehan evidently thinks little of her deceased son." — Jimmy W. Hall, guest columnist, Atlanta Journal Constitution

Now we know where GOP bloggers get the idea of bullying a mom like Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq; they get it from Bush.

And the new Green Day, anti-war video is here.

Altercation Book Club:

ON THOMAS PAINE AND THE PROMISE OF AMERICA
By Harvey J Kaye

For too long we have allowed the right to appropriate the nation’s history, define what it means to be an American, and corral American political imagination.  It is time for liberals and radicals to recover their fundamental principles and perspectives and reinvigorate Americans’ democratic impulses and aspirations.  And we must start by reclaiming, and reconnecting with, the memory and legacy of Thomas Paine and the progressive tradition he inspired and encouraged.  Doing so will remind us of not only what we stand in opposition to, but, all the more, what we stand in opposition for…

Paine was the greatest radical of a radical age.  Through Common Sense and the Crisis papers – and words such as “The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth,” “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” and “These are the times that try men’s souls” – he not only emboldened his fellow citizens-to-be to turn their colonial rebellion into a war for independence.  He also defined the new nation in a democratically expansive and progressive fashion, and articulated an American identity charged with exceptional purpose and promise.

America and its people had made Paine an inveterate champion of liberty, equality, and democracy and after the war he went on to apply his revolutionary pen to struggles in Europe.  In Rights of Man he defended the French Revolution of 1789 against conservative attack, challenged Britain’s own political order, and outlined a series of public initiatives to address the inequalities that made life oppressive for working people.  In The Age of Reason he criticized organized religion and the power of churches and clerics.  And in Agrarian Justice he proposed taxing the landed rich to provide grants to young people and pensions to the elderly.

Anxiously appreciating that Paine had turned Americans into revolutionaries, the governing elites continuously sought to banish him from public memory.  Nevertheless, Paine remained a powerful presence.  Recognizing the contradictions between the nation’s ideals and reality, diverse Americans – native-born and immigrant – struggled to defend, extend, and deepen freedom, equality and democracy.  Rebels, reformers, and critics such as Fanny Wright, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, the Haymarket Martyrs, Mark Twain, Henry George, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Howard Fast, A.J. Muste, Saul Alinsky, and C. Wright Mills, along with innumerable others right down to the present generation, rediscovered Paine’s life and labors and drew ideas, inspiration, and encouragement from them.

Heartened and animated by Paine, progressives have pressed for workingmen’s rights; insisted upon the separation of church and state; demanded the abolition of slavery; campaigned for women’s equality; confronted the power of property; opposed Fascist and Communist tyrannies; fought a Second American Revolution for racial equality; and challenged our own government’s authorities and policies, domestic and foreign.  Admittedly, we have suffered defeats, committed mistakes, and endured tragedies.  But we have achieved great victories and far more often than not, as Paine himself fully expected, we have transformed the nation and the world for the better.

Today – ever since the one-time FDR Democrat, Ronald Reagan, recited Paine’s words in 1980 – not only the left, but also the right, quotes Paine.  Yet conservatives really do not embrace Paine and his arguments; in fact, they cannot.  Furthering the interests of corporations and the rich over those of working people, they have subordinated the Republic to the marketplace and overseen a concentration of wealth and power recalling the Gilded Age.  Carrying on culture wars, they have divided the nation and undermined the wall separating church and state.  And lying, prevaricating, and obfuscating, they have corrupted American politics and jeopardized our standing in the world.  While mouthing Paine’s lines, conservatives register their true ambitions in their literary celebrations of the more reactionary Founders, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Gouverneur Morris.

Still, those of us who might make the strongest claim on Paine have failed to truly make his vision and commitments once again our own.  In contrast to the majority of our fellow citizens and to generations of our political predecessors, we no longer proclaim a firm belief in the nation’s exceptional purpose and promise, the prospects and possibilities of democratic change, and ordinary citizens’ capacities to act as citizens not subjects.  We have lost the courage and conviction that once motivated our efforts.

Electrified by America and its people, Paine argued that the United States would afford an “asylum for mankind,” provide a model to the world, and support the global advance of republican democracy.  But many on the left have eschewed notions of American exceptionalism and patriotism and allowed Republican politicians and rightwing pundits to monopolize and define them.  Presuming that such ideas and practices can only serve to justify the status quo or worse, and ignoring how, historically, progressives have articulated them to advocate the defense and extension and deepening of freedom, equality, and democracy, too many of us have failed to recognize their critical value as weapons against injustice and oppression.

Moreover, whereas Paine declared that Americans had it in their power to “begin the world over again,” too many of us seem to have all but abandoned the belief that democratic transformation remains both imperative and possible.  We need to cultivate a grand vision of democratic possibilities and to advance ideas that will offer real hope of addressing the threats to our freedom and security, the causes of our deepening inequalities, and the forces undermining our public life and solidarities by enhancing the authority of democratic government and the power of citizens against the authority of the market and the power of corporations.  We must recover the optimism and energy that led Paine to declare, “We are a people upon experiments.”

And while Paine had every confidence in working people and wrote to engage them in the Revolution and nation building, we, for all our rhetoric, have remained alienated from, if not skeptical of, our fellow citizens.  Asking labor unions to underwrite their campaigns and appealing to working people for their votes, Democrats – the party of the people – hesitate to actually mobilize them to fight for political and social change.  Committed to cultivating democratic life, progressives must assure that Democrats not only commission expert panels, draft plans, and line-up legislative votes in a top-down fashion, but also engage American aspirations and energies and enhance public participation in the political and policy-making process.

Paine would assure us that the struggle to expand American freedom, equality, and democracy will continue, for as he proudly observed of his fellow citizens after they turned out the Federalists in 1800, “There is too much common sense and independence in America to be long the dupe of any faction, foreign or domestic.”  Indeed, we have good reason not only to hope, but also to act, for Americans’ growing interest in and affection for Paine and his words signify that our generation, too, still feels the democratic impulse and aspiration that he inscribed in American experience.  Responding to those yearnings, we might well prove – as Paine himself wrote in reaction to misrepresentations of the events of 1776 – that, “It is yet too soon to write the history of the Revolution.”
_________
Harvey J. Kaye is professor of social change and development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of the newly-published Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (FSG/Hill and Wang), from which these words are drawn.  He will be the guest on C-Span 2’s “After Words,” interviewed by Michael Novak.  Look here for that and here for the book itself.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
The letters from John of Groveland, CA and Dave of Myownbootstraps, WA bring to mind the all-too-often overlooked last line of the Declaration of Independence: "And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour." "...we pledge to each other...OUR FORTUNES..."  Indeed.

Name: Ben
Hometown: Beaver, PA
I have a question for you.  I'm a younger fellow (28) and seem to lean to the left.  What can liberals really do to make a difference?  I'd like to get involved but the conservative juggernaut seems so overwhelming that I do what most liberals do... sit on my butt, moan, grumble and stay miserable.  I feel like I'm living in a bizzarro world, I'm surrounded by small town conservative religious zealots, I had to convince my family that the Koran doesn't actually SAY to blow yourself up.  It's that isolated small town middle class mindset that I have to battle with everyday.  So from a young liberal to an older liberal; how do you maintain your sanity?  I hear the old "move to Canada" line thrown out a lot but now I'm really starting to consider it.  I'm ashamed of this country and where it's heading.  I'd like to do something for the better but you can't change someone's mind when they blindly follow a belief system and wait for you to finish speaking so they can spit venom in your face.  Just wanted to share some observations from down here in the Gen-X gang.  I guess my generation is supposed to be miserable and cynical though, right?

Eric replies: Well, people, who’s got an answer for our younger fellow?

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, Al.
Dr. A,
A personal note.  I have gone back and read your opening posting of 8/8.  The opening paragraph contains an observation that just tears at me.  I have read and re-read this in hope of finding your penchant for humor or perhaps my taking the thought out of context.  For you to write that 9/11 has disappeared "... into the ether..." saddens this ole' boy beyond words.  If there is one thing I have learned reading you it is that the MSM is not so liberal as just plain lazy.  I hold no animosity for a man trying to earn a profit on his investment.  It's what I try to do every day in our lil' ole' business.  But the inattention of the press to all of the issues begat by this attack on your great city is a scandal.  I want to assure you and your neighbors that we out here in rube land have not forgotten.  You, survivors and the dead, are continually in our thoughts and prayers.

August 10, 2005 | 12:47 PM ET | Permalink

Infidelity: One Soldier’s View
Major Bob leads an Altercation All-Star Cast

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Washington, DC

Flights of Fantasy

On the ground. Somewhere in Germany. Oh-Dark-Thirty. I am on the way home for two weeks of Rest and Recreation.

At the front of the packed terminal seating area, a stocky officer stumps to the front of the assembled mass of soldiers. He introduces himself as the chaplain of the local command.
We have been traveling for about 48 hours already. Our individual paths starting across the length and breadth of Iraq some two days earlier, converging on this filled-to-capacity flight.  Our plane is refueling for the final leg home. We should be on the ground for two hours.
What follows is one of the most enthusiastic appeals to counseling which I have ever heard.  The Chaplain, his spit shined boots stomping across the terminal floor, rolls right and left across the front of our group. He looks rather like the Drill-Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, with his graying high-and-tight and starched uniform. His message is energetic, punctuated with more “Hoah”s than I believe I have heard since I left Ranger School, and contains not a word about God.

“Ya’ll have been cooped up, I know,” the chaplain explains, “but I just want you to know that I’m here, if any of you want to talk. Huah?!”

“Huah,” comes the half-hearted response from more than 300.

“We got phones back there,” he says, waving his arm towards the back of the terminal, “and a USO with some internet connections, and I will be either at the front of this room, or in the USO…Huah?!”

This being about the seventh “huah” in as many sentences, the humor of it starts sinking in. The responding “Huah” is somewhat louder. His enthusiasm and utter military-ness is just so over the top that we begin to relax a bit. He is entertaining us, as much as he is making us aware of his offer.

We are about to be released on our own, for a short time, in this empty military passenger terminal. There is nowhere to go, but as the chaplain points out, there are phones and a USO with computers. The chaplain has a tough audience. There are few audiences potentially more surly than a collection of soldiers half-way out of combat, and half-way home. The inclination to listen politely to one more briefing is inversely proportional to your distance from home. But his volume, his booming military-ness, his unrepentant “Hoah,” serve a purpose.
Later, taking a break outside in the coolest weather I’ve felt in seven months, a young sergeant makes a comment about being cooped up for the first 20 minutes after we got off the plane. He resented being pinned to yet another seat, after a flight of six hours already.
“Think about this for a second sergeant…ask yourself why,” I interject. “Why did they have a social worker, a chaplain, and an MP here. Why now?”

“Shit sir, I dunno.”

“OK, let me rephrase that.” I pause for a second. “Ever have a soldier get a Dear John?”
He nods. The light goes on. I press forward to make sure he gets it.

“If you were on your way home now, facing ‘Jodie’ at the end of this flight, would you want to talk to the touchy-feely?” (The social worker).

“Nah, yea, I see.”

For some, the social worker, who spoke for 30 seconds and presented pretty much the same message, “I am here to listen,” might work. But most grunts, most of those from the world of the infantry, would not go near a touchy-feely with a 10-foot pole. That Chaplain, with his hyper-military verbal punctuation, his avoidance of the religious issue, and his flat-top, was pitching to the 19 year-old rifleman from Alabama in a language designed to the audience, not the speaker. It worked. That chaplain is a genius.

On our flight of 300+, statistically there are probably seven soldiers who are going home to deal with a situation of infidelity.  This is the last point at which the Army can hold out a hand, and an implicit warning.

Some of those on our plane have had the message, “I’ve found somebody new…” There may be some who, calling back from that terminal itself, hear an unfamiliar male voice answer what they thought was their home phone. It is a poisonous situation when you are Stateside, and none of us have been Stateside, for six months. All of this helps explain another recent event.
Yesterday the news hit the wire that General Kevin Byrnes has been relieved of command.  A four-star general, sacked, while we are at war.  What sort of massive misbehavior must he have committed?  Well, if CNN is right, he is under investigation for “Sexual Misconduct.” Usually, though not always, that means adultery in some form.

These two things are related, the first explaining the second.  To understand why we would destroy a part of ourselves, the very real 30+ years of training and millions of dollars of education the Army invested in a four-star general, one need only juxtapose these two items.  Nothing, but nothing, can destroy the moral of individuals, and entire units, faster and more completely. Soldiers, deployed far from home, in a foreign land with people trying in earnest to kill them, will spend their days mooning about events half a planet away. It is illogical, it is also eminently human. The possibility that it is another soldier, back at the home-station, who is the proximate cause…

When you consider these realities, they help explain many of our reactions and behaviors towards various sexual scandals in the past decade or more. Follow?

Washington Within Earshot:
I am home. My own reunion with my Love has been delicate bliss. We leave in an hour for the Beach, where I will build sandcastles with my daughters, read the new Harry Potter, and pretend that there is no world beyond the boundaries of the Outer Banks.

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

Hey, this is funny (and true, I suppose).
Wolf Blitzer: "Do you like tatertots, Mr. Rumsfeld?"
Donald Rumsfeld: "The question is not whether I like tots. Do I like tots? Of course I like tots as much as tots deserve my affection which is a lot in a broad stroke description of tots with errrrmmmm... ketchup. So do I like tots? Of course I like tots and ketchup. The question that needs to be asked about tots is --"
Wolf Blitzer: "Mr. Secretary! I have to interrupt with breaking news. We go now live to Bumpus, Virginia where some kid stepped on a bee!"

You know, compared to the way I feel about George W. Bush, Maureen Dowd wants to settle down and have his children, but I’ll be damned if I can even begin to understand this sentence. “But his humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.”  (I’m guessing neither she, nor her editors, could either.)

Sivacation:

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: The House the Ruth Built
Dear Eric:
I am back from a couple of weeks in the United Kingdom. I think that place is going to have to change its name. It never really fit. Ever since the Act of Union in 1800 that set of islands has been freaking out over its identity, its essential "Britishness" (or lack thereof), and its methods of navigating its plural and diverse populations. Every couple of decades it goes through convulsions, often violent. It even had a nasty civil war a couple of centuries ago over how churches should be decorated. One side proudly called itself " Roundheads." Strange place.

The devastating attacks of July 7 an the failed attacks on July 21 have sent British pundits and politicians into fits of self-examination. And they don't seem to realize that they have been convulsing this way for centuries.

Basically, the United Kingdom can't seem to find a creed that unites its citizens. It never really has. There used to be the English and the others -- Welsh, Scot, and Irish. Then there were the British (much more inclusive, even if the English considered the Irish sub-human) and the colonial subjects. Since the collapse of the empire, the colonized have come north, ready to assume their rightful place in the various service industries of the British Isles. All that time, those who can trace their families back  more than two generations on the British Isles have been wondering and worrying how they would cope. Yet cope they did, rather well in fact. For the past two decades the UK has seen the collapse of its nativist and hate-filled political movements and the rise of a general sense of tolerance. The debate over what recently became called multiculturalism raged on. But the British were always multicultural in deed and fact, if not in word, regardless of the debate. Anglo-Saxon, after all, was the original hyphenated identity.

Now the Prime Minister, who increasingly sounds less like himself and more like his dumb American cousin, wants the power to revoke the citizenship of fellow Brits whom he dislikes or fears. In other words, he wants to be able to deport people to ... well ... it's not clear where one would deport a British citizen ... most likely someplace with torture like Syria or Saudi Arabia. Of course, he asks his fellow citizens to trust him that such power would not be misused. It would never be used to imprison, deport, or torture innocent people.  No. Never.  And he and his henchmen are also considering implementing secret terror courts. Remember when conservatives used to boast about how something called "western culture" invented all these grand rights and freedoms like due process and transparency? Amazing how fast those things disappear when panic sets in. At no time do those who cry about civil liberties as "weaknesses" look around to places that have no civil liberties and ask whether they are really any safer. Ask people in Russia and Saudi Arabia about that.

That reminds me of the most (unintentionally) ridiculous op-ed headline I have read in some time, from the Independent (UK):  " It is not illiberal for the state to curtail free speech in protection of its citizens."

Meanwhile, British papers are stocked full of columns musing about what it really means to be British now that Britain is visibly diverse (again, ignoring the fact that it has always been religiously and ethnically diverse). Strangely, some of the commenters, including the Home Secretary, point to the United States as a model, claiming that immigrants just melt right in over here and that they consider themselves Americans first almost right away (which is news to me and anyone else who has studied immigration history). Others say the UK should be more like France, where civil liberties easily give way to restrictions on public displays of faith and to practices of deportation for anyone who might cause trouble. While that cartoonish images of American and French immigration might serve a polemical purpose in the immediate British debate, they are really no help. For very good reasons, the UK is not the US and vice-versa. And it's certainly not France (to the great relief of both nations). No place with diverse populations is trouble-free. And violence comes from all sides, nativist and immigrant alike.

Sadly, while the Labour government goes through convulsions and calls for extremism to fight extremism, hate crimes are rampant.  And multicultural hand-wringing continues, offering no 
real answers to the deep and troubling questions on everyone's mind:

  • How could British citizens kill their neighbors and blow up their own transportation system?

  • What can a free society do to limit the hate that motivates such actions, when closed societies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are just as vulnerable?

  • Did Iraq make them do it?

Actually, that last one is neither deep nor troubling. Tony Blair, once again taking cues from W, refuses to admit mistakes. So even over there, where the press has actually documented and confronted Blair's many lies about the justification for the illegal invasion of Iraq, and where tremendous majorities of the population opposed the war at every step, Blair refuses to admit that he screwed up big time. But immediately after the July 7 attacks, which could have United the Kingdom if Blair had not been so pig-headed, the prime minister immediately went on the defensive, claiming preposterously that these attacks could not possibly have been motivated by the brutality and torture unleashed by the war in Iraq. Of course, lefties like London Mayor Ken Livingston blamed the events (just as preposterously) on decades of missteps in the Middle East. For days, this stupid debate went on:  Were the terrorists motivated by particular UK policies, or were they motivated by some ideological rage that rides untethered to any particular event or policy? As it happens, when one of the terrorists from the failed July 21 bombings was captured in Italy, he told reporters that his group did not care about Jihad or Al Queda and all that. He was just angry over Iraq. It's hard to take that guy seriously. But at least he's not the prime minister of a major power.  At no point in that silly debate, however, did it occur to any of the players that OF COURSE London was a target because British troops
torture and kill civilians in Iraq, and OF COURSE these murderers are motivated by a whole array of indignations, both real and imagined, many of them centuries old, most irrelevant and irrational. And no, the war in Iraq can't justify the slaughter of 50 people and the terrorizing of millions more in a nation that actually opposed the war in the first place (or, for that matter, such violence in a population that actually supported the war, rare though that was).

As Ali G would say, you got to recognize. The Iraq war was a bad idea on its demerits, regardless of what happened in London in July. It was a bad idea before and it remains a bad idea now. But the 50 people who died had nothing to do with it. The professionalization of combat was a brief moment in human history. We are not back to a state of nature, in which we are all "enemy combatants" to someone, regardless of what uniform we wear or don't wear. We are just going to have to deal with that fact.

Any country that is going to march around the world with guns (or checkbooks) drawn has got to expect someone to bring the fight home these days. Weapons are small and cheap. People, money, and propaganda move freely. And there is really nothing a powerful country can do to ensure that every subway, federal office building, school, bridge, or tunnel will be safe. There are violent extremists everywhere. If we are going to do some stuff in the world, we are going to have to expect stuff to blow up here at home. And a world in which powerful nations do nothing is simply not realistic nor desirable. No president or prime minister is going to admit that to you, of course. Which is why we need the occasional poet, priest, or professor to say it.

Have we (let alone the British) come to terms with the alarming level of necessary vulnerability we live with every day? It's not our freedoms that make us vulnerable. It's our mobility, our motives, and our machines. We now have the knowledge to make nuclear bombs that fit into backpacks and kill hundreds of thousands. We have the imagination to use rudimentary tools to take over tubes of metal filled with fuel and ram them into tall buildings. Sure, we get warnings some times. And occasionally our leaders take them seriously (just not our particular leaders, of course). But it's remarkable that more people don't die horrible deaths at the hands of suicide bombers in more of the world.  Think about it.

Instead of contemplating the existential vulnerability of the modern human condition (which, granted, is a downer), we make up all sorts of quick fixes, none of which address the strange phenomenon that underlies the violence: we hate each other too readily and kill each other too efficiently. Instead, we ponder national ID cards, fences that imprison entire populations, total biometrical surveillance, deportation to face certain torture and likely death, and blaming third parties that have nothing to do with the threat at hand.

It's really sad that four years after the fall of the World Trade Center, we have not advanced our debate and discussion beyond counterproductive restrictions on civil liberties both in the United States and Europe. If only it were that simple. Sigh.

On other matters, I noticed that on Tuesday you questioned the presidential electability of our fine Senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  I don't get this. She is one of the most popular politicians in the country. She is beloved by real Americans of all persuasions -- especially women. There is cadre of misogynistic right-wingers who despise everything about her and imagine the most horrid stories to tell about her. But she has faced it all, fought back, and prevailed.  All the lies have already been told and exposed. They have nothing new on her. That's why they fear her so much. In addition, Sen. Clinton has always been a moderate -- raised a moderate midwestern Republican and married into a moderate Southern Democratic family. She has always been a cerebral yet brave. She is basically an Arkansas Democrat, old school style.  That's where she learned her skills. And she had a brilliant tutor. For every weakness her husband revealed, she showed a strength.  If I have a complaint about her, it's that she is not liberal enough.  But that's the same complaint I had about our last president, who ended up being a deep disappointment to anyone who believes in the core missions of liberalism. Still, I sure miss the guy and the days in which sex scandals counted as serious threats to the nation. I am rather bullish on the prospect of Sen. Clinton's pending nomination. I think she is pretty close to unbeatable.

Paul McLeary Chimes in

In July, 2004, “FOX News Live” featured a segment in which a " suburban stay-at-home mom"
appeared supporting president Bush over John Kerry in the upcoming November election. The woman, who was identified simply as a former lobbyist who had "started a nonprofit organization for moms" smiled and shilled for the camera, saying that she felt that Bush he would be better able to keep her children safe than John Kerry.

This same woman appeared on FOX again the next month to support the president and bash Teresa Heinz Kerry, and was again identified merely as a "stay-at-home mom.”

Nowhere in either segment was it mentioned that Penny Nance -- this concerned citizen and everymom -- was in fact a long-time conservative operative with ties to several prominent Christian activist organizations. At that time of last summer’s FOX segments, Nance, in addition to being a mom, was also the president of Kids First Coalition, a conservative group for which she was still a registered lobbyist, and a board member of the conservative Christian women's
organization Concerned Women for America. Somehow, both FOX and Nance also forgot to mention that she was president of Nance and Associates, a public policy and media consulting firm.

And of course, this woman who in effect lied about who she was – twice – on national television has been hired by the Federal Communications Commission as a “special advisor” to help develop agency policy. And which policy would that be? Specifically, she will help develop the agency’s stance on fining alleged instances of “indecent” content on broadcast and possible cable television.

As Eric pointed out in this space yesterday, (and I wrote about at CJRDaily) the long, peaceful slumber of FCC boss Kevin Martin may be about to end. As opposed to those wild and wholly days when his former boss at the agency Michael Powell was handing out fines for alleged “indecent” broadcast content like he was being paid by the profanity, Martin has taken a pretty low-key approach since succeeding to throne in March of this year – so far neglecting to issue ANY fines up to this point.  Powell, on the other hand, partially spurred on by a
Republican-controlled Congress ready to knock some Hollywood heads, dished out a whopping $8 million in fines during 2004 – up from the measly $48,000 handed down the year before he took over at the FCC in 2001.

And it looks like those bad old days may be coming back for an encore performance. Martin has long been on record as wanting to enforce stricter indecency fines than Powell had. And Nance is poised to bring her own Biblically-enhanced view to help the cause.  The Concerned Women for America, for whom Nance served as a board member until recently, helpfully describes its mission as “helping…to bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.” Another cookie-cutter religious right group called The Center for Reclaiming America, for whom Nance also worked as a lobbyist, points out that it sees its mission as one to “defend and implement the Biblical principles on which our country was founded.”

Sounds like just what a secular democracy needs in someone who will have a say in what is able to be broadcast over the nation’s airwaves, doesn’t it?

And a friend writes:

Does Christopher Hitchens give good goddamn about ANYTHING he writes these days? I was wandering through his Vanity Fair piece about his travels through the American South -- think Stanley And Livingstone Sing Hank Williams, and you've pretty much got it -- when I was gobsmacked by his description of the late NASCAR idol Dale Earnhardt as, "the Galahad of NASCAR chivalry, who went into a wall at 160 m.p,h. in 2001."

Oy, as not many folks say along the backstretch at Talladega.

It is not possible even for Hitchens to be that drunk even at a NASCAR event.

Dale Earnhardt was mean as a snake, a cutthroat, whiskey-slick redneck motherf***er who put a helluva lot more people into the wall before he finally planted himself there. There was a reason why the sumbitch was called "The Intimidator." There was a reason why he wore black  for god's sake.

Galahad?

I mean, honestly, Galahad?

Junior Johnson is laughing his ass off at this one, unless his VF subscription has lapsed.

This is why we should never let Brits eat barbecue.

End everybody else

And why, asks Comrade Boehlert, does Michelle Malkin hate Americans?

Alter-clarification:  The Motown Box I reviewed yesterday is only available from PBS, not from Shout Factory!, Sorry.

Correspondence corner:

Name: Brian Kresge
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Dr. Alterman,
I recently returned from my 3 weeks with the Pennyslvania Army National Guard for our Annual Training. The drain the recent wars have taken on humanpower is palpable. Besides one nineteen year old with a year in, the only recent recruits to our company were myself and two other prior Active Duty servicemen, all of us approaching or crossing the threshold into our 30s. Many of the older fellas are recent veterans of a deployment to Kosovo, and the reality is, the National Guard is every bit as deployable as the active duty units, and with two recent Pennsylvania Guard casualties in Iraq, the duty is just as dangerous. Many of the soldiers coming close to reenlistment are struggling with personal loyalty to their friends and the security and stability of civilian life. Many of them are not questioning at all, but rather counting down the days to their discharge from the Guard. They're definitely not going to be replaced. Pennsylvania supposedly has the biggest National Guard division in the United States, yet they had to pillage other units to form a single cogent brigade to send to Iraq. As such, all of our "good" weapons and assets had been donated to this other brigade, leaving us in quandry as how to effectively train for the same duties they perform now. I was not disappointed in the National Guard unit itself. We did the best we could, and our efforts would be something an active duty unit could be proud of. Most of our leadership, especially at the company level, exemplified love and care for the individual soldier, inspiring confidence in spite of what we all might expect in these dark times. Nevertheless, given the situation we have, where we're missing every third man we need, no amount of reorganization or reshuffling will continue to suffice. I imagine active duty is the same or worse; how we are going to continue to sustain the current efforts without the use of the "d" word is beyond me. Even the pending increase in enlistment/reenlistment bonuses isn't enough for a lot of the guys. Speaking of my own as-of-yet sight-unseen prior service enlistment bonus, if you're not too hung up on an IBM Thinkpad, I'll be very happy to buy you a new or lightly-used iBook once the money arrives. I took my old clamshell iBook on many backpacking adventures, flights, etc., and it still serves me well. I'm serious about this, even if someone else offers you a Thinkpad.

Eric replies: Dear Don,
Thanks for your generosity and thanks to all the people who wrote in about my computer issues, (except you people who wrote in to say “I told you so” about my dead VAIO). Just to clarify: I was not asking anybody to buy the computer. I was just asking to become someone at IBM’s friend or family for a minute, at no cost to them, since IBM lets you do this for 25 people a year. Thanks to one reader, I did, almost right away, and saved a bunch on the Thinkpad I bought with the riches I receive from this enormously lucrative blog job. Ok, back to the beach, everybody.

August 9, 2005 | 12:47 PM ET | Permalink

Silly Liberals

I am one of those liberals who worries more about Hillary’s electability than anything else about her, what with her being the likely 2008 nominee and the country barely being able to survive another seven years of what we’ve got, and her being such a lightning-rod, but I have to say, liberals are acting very silly about her DLC speech, together with her move to the rhetorical center ground of American politics.  One sees this kind of thing frequently among liberal special interest groups—always hyper-vigilant for some rhetorical slight that a politician is about to sell them out, and for good reason, since it happens a lot—but that’s OK.  Politics is supposed to be about compromise and most people in this country are not members of liberal interest groups.  They need to learn that they are going to get sold out a lot—at least until they get stronger and can force the other guy to worry about it.

But in the meantime, Hillary said nothing objectionable.  She did not moderate her pro-choice position—not that I think that would be the end of the world.  She merely found language that proved more respectful of those with whom she disagrees.  It’s stupid that I have to point this out, but this is exactly what liberals need to do if they are to return to power in this country.  After all, the country already agrees with us on almost all the issues.  According to a May 2005 survey published by the Pew Research Center for People and Policy poll, 65 percent of Americans questioned favor providing health insurance to all Americans, even if it means increasing taxes, and a full 86 percent say that they favor raising the minimum wage.  77 percent of those polled believe the country "should do whatever it takes to protect the environment," while 63 percent subscribe to that view "strongly."  With regard to foreign policy, a May 2005 Rasmussen poll found that 49 percent of Americans say that President Bush is more responsible for starting the War with Iraq than Saddam Hussein, compared to only 44 percent who believe that it was Saddam Hussein’s fault.  During 2005, strong majorities of Americans polled have consistently expressed disapproval of the war and told pollsters they believe the Bush Administration had deliberately misled the nation into it.  From USA Today, today, “An unprecedented 57% majority say the war has made the USA more vulnerable to terrorism.  A new low, 34%, say it has made the country safer, here.

And yet while Americans hold all these undeniably liberal positions; only twenty percent of Americans regularly describe themselves as liberal.  Plus, look who’s president, etc…

The obvious problem is that while Americans agree with liberals on the issues, a great many still don’t really like them, or trust them, or want to be associated with them.  A great deal of the problem lies in the conservative campaign of character assassination; one that has unfortunately been joined in the past by the DLC.  And so one understands the hard-feelings that Hillary is engendering.  But as David Kusnet sensibly explains here, this year’s DLC meeting was a triumph for liberals.  And people, even if you hate everything about the DLC, do you really think you can win an election without them?

Finally, I think Hillary is right morally.  Abortion is probably necessary in a society that (purposely) does such a bad job of educating its youth about sex and does not give a s**t about poor kids once they’ve been born.  But for most people it’s a personal tragedy.  To celebrate it as a “right” is a big mistake, given what an unhappy experience it is for all concerned.  What’s more, a lot of people think it’s murder and their religion tells them this is true.  Why can’t we respectfully disagree?  How does that diminish anyone?  Grow up, everybody.

Oh, and an aside:  Excuse me but why are these views, held consistently by a majority of Americans, completely unrepresented on the cable shoutfests?  I know the answer from Mr. Ailes, but perhaps Mr. Klein or Mr. Kaplan might wish to respond?

(The Jewish-born) Novak and Opus Dei, here.  (I wonder if they’d like us to reclaim him.  No thanks, by the way.)  And what’s up with the Robert Hanssen connection Bob?  Wasn’t that the last time you say you sold out a source?  Did you get a Papal dispensation?

Kinsley is brilliant, for a change, this time on the flat tax, here.

Quote of the Day, David Horowitz:  Jennings "did considerable damage to the cause of civilization and human deceny [sic]."

Nothing about Peter Jennings:  I’m not making a statement or anything.  He was always a perfect gentleman to me on the rare occasions when we spoke—the last time was to say thanks for not putting him on the spot in re ABC’s promotion of John Stossel, of whose work, he indicated, he did not approve—but I did not know the guy at all, and I haven’t watched a network evening news broadcast in its entirety since Walter Cronkite retired.  Anything I said would be either inappropriate or mawkish B.S. of the kind that makes me puke.

Onward Christian conservative soldiers, marching out to create an American theocracy.

(Lifted from the Benton Foundation)

FCC HIRES CONSERVATIVE INDECENCY CRITIC
The Federal Communications Commission has hired as an advisor an anti-pornography activist and former lobbyist for groups that push for Christian precepts in public policy.  The move may herald a reinvigorated campaign against broadcast indecency and bring renewed pressure on cable to reconsider its racy offerings.  Penny Nance, until recently a board member of Concerned Women for America, is working as a special advisor in the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, said aides to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.  The strategic planning office helps develop agency policy.  Some observers believe the FCC is preparing to act, perhaps in coming weeks, on as many as 50 indecency complaints.  Some see Nance's arrival as an indication the agency is leaning toward stricter enforcement.  "Why else would [Martin] have someone like that on board?" asked one Washington attorney who watches the FCC closely.

[SOURCE: MediaWeek, AUTHOR: Todd Shields]

* Bringing "Biblical Principles" to the FCC
[Commentary] Why Ms. Nance at the FCC?  Maybe Brent Bozell wasn't available -- or was unwilling to take the pay cut... But it might as well be Brent, as the article makes clear.  What does this say about the direction new FCC Chair Kevin J. Martin intends to take the Commission on so-called "indecency" issues? This is extremely troubling news for anyone concerned about freedom of speech, and the separation of church and state.

* The Wages of Sin
[Commentary] I have a few places where Ms. Nance can start tackling this "indecency" epidemic in cable.  Let's begin with the ninth commandment "Thou shalt not bear false witness."

* FCC Hires Anti-Indecency Activist
(free access for Benton's Headlines subscribers)

* FCC Hires Anti-Porn Advocate as Advisor

Alter-reviews:

I did not catch the Early Motown special on PBS this weekend, but to make up for it, I’m listening to this new box set from Shout Factory.  I’m at the beach, so I can’t compare it to the earlier Motown box, which I’m not sure is even still in print, but for this one, Shout! Factory were granted exclusive access to the original recording sessions, not only enabling stereo mixes to be created for the broadcast and CD release, but allowing extended versions of more than 30 tracks to be mixed for the companion CD boxed set of four CDs of hits by the original artists.  Obviously, it’s some of the greatest music ever made.  It’s also got rarities like CD-debut of Stevie Wonder’s “Purple Raindrops,” the original B-side of his 1966 hit “Uptight,” and found an extra two minutes on the end of ‘Tracks Of My Tears’ by The Miracles that the public has never heard.  Search the Shout Factory! Web site for more.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown:  The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
Here's my market commentary from this week covering two interesting subjects -- Why there's no Real Estate bubble, and why slowing Real Estate will be bad for the U.S. economy.

Here's the skinny:

Real Estate Begins to Cool

Two major themes we have been discussing for quite some time appear to be coming together:

  1. Real Estate, though not a bubble, is an extended asset class overdue to retrace;
  2. RE has been the dominant sector in the U.S. economy since the recession ended.

Those themes lead us to following: 5 key factors suggest to us that Real Estate has finally begun to cool:

  1. Inventory
  2. Prices paid
  3. Time on the market
  4. Relative strength of Condo sales
  5. Mortgage rates

Mortgage rates have ticked upwards to 6% on the decoupling of the Chinese Yuan from the Dollar and the reintroduction of the 30-year Treasury bond.  Given Real Estate's contribution to economic growth, this is quite significant.  Despite recent data to the contrary, the Real Estate complex has been the most robust economic growth engine in the U.S.  We credit half-century low interest rates, demographic trends, disenchantment with equities, and the decreasing availability of buildable plots of land for this phenomenon.

We spoke with Real Estate Agents in the NY area, and they have all noted a pronounced shift.  Bidding for Houses is far less furious than it was a few months ago.  Sellers who were inflexible on price wait much longer to sell, as Buyers have become more selective.  Even the credit worthiness of some bidders is not as strong as it was prior.  Anecdotal evidence, combined with quantitative data, suggest that we are now in the latter stages of the housing boom.
As the sector begins to further cool, we foresee several significant elements coming into play:

  1. Housing related employment slows and reverses.  Think real estate agents, mortgage brokers, durable goods manufacturers, home-builders and retailers. They could move from a hiring mode to laying off sometime over the next 18 months;
  2. Major retailers (Home Depot, Lowes, Sears, Bed Bath & Beyond) will feel the pinch, as revenue and profits begin to slow;
  3. Home builders, still cheap on a P/E basis, will begin to throttle back growth.

How the builders handle the slowdown will be a function of their prior positioning.  Those with little debt, prime locations and a strong back order will likely see only a modest slowdown.  However, Jeff Matthews notes that some homebuilders are engaging in speculation; He specifically cites Toll Brothers as " playing the spot market."

The silver lining is that slowing Real Estate gives the Fed the excuse it needs to stop tightening, assuming their motivation was to let some air before a real bubble got too far out of hand.

Given the significance of this sector and the relative modest strength of the rest of the economy, we suspect the Fed will fail in their attempt to engineer a soft landing.  We expect a recession in the 2006-07 time frame.

Name: John
Hometown: Groveland, CA
Eric,
Just a few thoughts on the discussions around redistribution of wealth etc.  I for one would like to know how much time all of the people who claim to stand alone have spent working in the public streets repairing holes that otherwise would break their axels?  How many hours have they spent hauling water to put into the public water system?  How many have been in their sewer to see if everything is working right?  How many hours have they spent teaching in public schools?  In other words, feeding at the public trough, but not contributing to it.  Why is it OK for the very wealthy to get more than their fair share from the public weal, and pay less and less for it?  If you think you can stand totally on your own in today's world, you probably believe in Santa Clause too.  Taxes are our contribution to the society for what we get from it.  I think we should get more for our money than a 1/2 trillion dollar military.  If we took half of what we put into defense, we would be able to have health coverage for all.  Social Security would be secure.  Our elderly would not have to feel guilty for taking money that they need but are villainized for by wealthy conservatives who think they should stand on their own.  People who have never not had enough to pay the bills in their lives think that people who have to live that way deserve nothing from all of the taxes they have contributed throughout their lives.  We who work for a living don't have tax lawyers to allow us to avoid paying taxes.  We have every penny we earn reported to the IRS.  And we receive less from the system than the wealthy.  Our children go to the wars they start and fight and die.  They are the ones who benefit.  Is it too much to ask that they pay their fair share?  Remember, united we stand, divided we fall.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Myownbootstraps, WA
Re: Catherine in Berwick PA;  A Day in the Life of Joe Republican
Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffee pot with water to prepare his morning coffee.  The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.  With his first swallow of coffee, he takes his daily medication.  His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.  All but $10 of Joe's medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too.  He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs.  Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.  In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo.  His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.  Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath.  The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.  He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work.  It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor. 

Joe begins his work day.  He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards.  Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union.  If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.  It's noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so the can pay some bills.  Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.  Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime. 

After work this evening, Joe plans to visit his father at his farm home in the country.  He gets in his car for the drive.  His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards.  He arrives at his boyhood home.  His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans.  The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.  Joe is happy to see his father, who is now retired and lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.  Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show.  The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good.  He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day.  Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives!  After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

August 8, 2005 | 12:51 PM ET | Permalink

Will Bush pardon Rove?
(and Libby, and Bolton, etc.)

The Pardon Speech, by Paul Begala, is here.

You know if Bush does end up pardoning Rove—and I agree he will, if he has to; Rove and Cheney are both indispensable men.  I also think he’d be smart to do so, as Bush could not pull off the impression that he is even close to being qualified to be president without these guys whispering in his ear.  (Can anyone remember a single news story during the history of this administration in which either Rove or Cheney did not appear to get what either one wanted from the man?)  If Bush is forced to go this route, it will be a big story for a little while, but it will disappear into the ether like everything else (including 9/11, by the way, at least as a genuine act of war against the United States, instead of a political excuse for the Republican conservatives to do whatever they wanted to do in the first place).  Anyway, the Democrats have no power and the media have no collective memory; plus, nearly half of them act as if they are in the pay of the RNC, although they get paid a lot more than they would if they were, and will muddy the waters sufficiently so somehow, it will all be Hillary’s fault.  In other words, it will not translate into a “Saturday Night Massacre” because if Fox, Rush, Scarborough had been around then, Nixon and Kissinger would still be in office.  (Well, you know what I mean.)  As for the left-wing blogger-outrage it will inspire, well, somehow I think Bush can live with that too.

In the meantime, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy…  The saga continues.

Did she hang her newspaper out to dry? They have nobody to blame but themselves…

Murray Waas, here, Editor and Publisher, here, meanwhile, this is just in from Brentwood, or the Nice, or Sag, or whatever….

And Elisabeth Bumiller wakes up from a long nap, here.  And in re Novak’s nuttiness, Josh notices this.

Reading Around:

Luke Menand on Edmund Wilson, here.

Edmund Wilson on the London blitz, here.

Alter-reviews:

I learned a lot from this documentary about Woody Guthrie called “This Machine Kills Fascists.”  I thought I knew most of what I needed to know about the guy, but I could not have been more wrong.  It’s quite well-made and does not stint on the (many) not-so-admirable aspects of his character or the incredibly weird aspects of his family life.  Speaking of the Guthrie-esque, I am also enjoying Putumayo World Music, American Folk, which features people like Natalie Merchant, Nanci Griffith, and Patty Griffin as well as Josh Ritter, Lori McKenna singing new, but old-fashioned–sounding folk songs.  You can read the set list here.  (A portion of the money goes to a good cause, too, so keep reading.)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Roger H. Werner
Hometown: Stockton, California
Eric,
Regarding Massey's piece on the decline of liberalism...Rather than offer pros and cons on his arguments I feel compelled to comment on his statement concerning taxes and its affect on the support liberalism receives from the working class.  Cutting to the chase: Americans are not overtaxed and I am sick of hearing this phrase repeated ad nauseum.  In fact, the belief in over taxation is a red herring begun by anti-tax groups to drum up support for their beliefs.  The main problem with taxation in America is that Americans see little direct benefit from their tax dollars.  Considering how much we pay combining all forms of taxation, I think it fair to say Americans come nowhere close to getting their money's worth.  Considering how much money each working American adult pays in taxes I ask: What have we got to show for the billions collected?  Anyone who is not oblivious to reality sees: Deteriorating infrastructure, dysfunctional public schools, an overworked and understaffed court system, understaffed police and fire, 40 million plus Americans lacking health care, a collapsing social security system, an inadequate child care system, rapidly increasing post secondary school costs, lack of a viable energy policy, no real support for alternative energy sources or recycling at a time when these are absolutely crucial, decreasing water and air quality, a general decrease in public services such as libraries, increase public use fees (on top of the taxes we pay), and a generally decreasing quality of life owing the above list of issues and others not listed.

Each issue plagues different communities differently but one or more of these problems affects most Americans regardless of where they live.  I really do hate comparing countries to one another but having spent quite a bit of time in Europe, the differences in taxation and how public money is spent between Europe and the U.S. are striking.  I will grant that the U.S. is the best place to be if one is wealthy but it is not so wonderful for a family living at a lower income level. 

I am well aware of the argument that Europe prospered because Europeans let themselves be defended by the United States.  This is a simplistic analysis that is only partly true and those who render this argument never state that the country that most benefited from this arrangement was the United States; in truth, we were really doing the Europeans a favor but simply helping them while making our own country the economically dominant player in the world.  Indeed, Europeans appear to have taken advantage of our military largesse but the arrangement was equally and perhaps more beneficial to Americans.  And what are the differences between Europe and America?  For more than 25 years, politicians have told us that we should strive for a rugged individualism.  I have always found this commentary ludicrous given the nature of modern society since each American is rather interdependent and what affects one group ultimately affects the whole; unless of course we all think it advisable to rewind the clock to the pre-industrial era.  I suspect that much of this ideal is a result of Hollywood depictions of the American frontier.  Fortunately, none of us lives on the frontier any longer. 

Patrick Henry once said that we must all stand together or hang separately and this polemic perhaps exemplifies the true American spirit of enlightened community cooperation.  It is the American sense that we are better off and stronger as a democratic unit that has allowed this nation to grow and prosper; over the past 30 years however society seems to have lost its sense of wholeness and so today we have a nation of 275 million rugged individuals who apparently don't care about what happens across the street let alone in another community or state.  I think Barak Obama hit the nail on the head in his Knox College commencement address.  I understand that obsessing about over-taxation is as American as apple pie dating to before Revolutionary War and there are those among us who will always oppose any taxation.  It is my contention however that taxation is necessary in a modern and enlightened society, and, if a government wants the body politic to support taxation some effort must be made to ensure that that those paying the bill (the citizens and voters) get something in return.

If we tax too little, we see a decrease in complaints about taxes but also a decrease in the public services most of us desire.  Increased taxation without a collateral increase in real government services engenders complaints about over taxation.  The goal then should be to seek a balance between taxation and services.  We all want the government to protect us from internal and external enemies but when expenditures for these services grows to obscene levels, which is where they are today, and, when other obviously necessary domestic services are suffering, as they clearly are today, such a situation also provokes anti-tax animus.  I would like to see the debate on taxes include this middle ground position: Americans get too few direct benefits from their taxes, which then leads to the belief that we pay too much to the government.  Is it any wonder that whenever taxpayers are polled they appear to want their cake and eat it too?  They want lover taxes but more services.  These polls perhaps more than any other evidence supports my belief; it also supports Massey's implication that liberal government taxed the working class too much and gave too little in return.  I grew up in a working class family and can attest to the fact that as a family, we received no direct benefits from the taxes we paid but did have access to a well-maintained civil infrastructure, and decent public schools and libraries.

Name: Christopher
Hometown: Nashville
Eric,
Your letter from Catherine in Pennsylvania made my jaw drop, but perhaps there's in it a clue as to why liberals and Democrats have such poor success when it comes to communicating a responsible fiscal policy.  Here's what she said:

We both worked as teenagers, educated ourselves, got good jobs, and planned for our own retirement only to discover that we earned the privilege of paying for those who did not plan for their own future... As long as liberals insist on redistributing what we work so hard to earn, we will continue to vote otherwise.

I'm not sure exactly what Catherine is referring to here, but why is it that social programs are considered a "redistribution of wealth" and immense tax cuts to corporations are not?  Why are Americans perfectly willing to redistribute $185 billion to the beneficiaries (foreign and domestic) of the Iraq war, but when it comes to helping out less fortunate Americans our wallets snap shut?  Perhaps liberals should start appealing not to the charity of Americans but to their greed.  Maybe it would be much more effective to point out how the GOP is stealing your retirement money and handing it out as tax cuts to Exxon.  Just a thought.

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Dear Dr. A,
Like so many conservatives, Catherine in Berwick, PA appears to be laboring under the illusion that her success in life is the product of her efforts alone.  And she derides unidentified liberals for "redistributing what [she and her husband] work so hard to earn."  May I point out what should be obvious?  In a complex and interdependent society such as ours, Catherine and her husband are undoubtedly frequent beneficiaries of various forms of "redistribution."  Take for example her claim that she and her husband educated themselves.  Unless they're both autodidacts, this statement isn't literally true -- she and her husband went to school and were educated by teachers.  If, as seems likely, they went to public school, the tax dollars of many, many other people made that possible.  Her school was built and her teachers were paid with some of that "redistributed" money she complains so bitterly about.  If her education enabled her to get a good job and plan for her retirement, then I'd bet that she owes a large debt to society as a whole for providing her with the opportunity to get that education.  And remember, that education was "free of charge" only because it was subsidized by some of that bad old liberal "redistribution."  Folks like Catherine need to stop flattering themselves for their illusory independence and start recognizing just how much they owe to others.

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