August 19, 2005 |12:04 PM ET| Permalink

A License to Lie:  A column on the (tax-payer subsidized) Wall Street Journal editorial page is a license to lie.  How else to explain this (sub) by Deputy Editorial Page Editor Daniel Henninger, slandering Cindy Sheehan (about whom I have not yet written a word).  “Now we've got Cindy Sheehan, Media Mom superstar.  She's using her center-ring moment to divide an entire country over a war…”  Only a liar—yes Mr. Henninger I am calling you a liar—or someone living inside a sealed bio-dome without access to any news of any kind — could blame Cindy Sheehan for ‘dividing’ the country over Mr. Bush’s war.  Every single monthly poll by the Gallup organization this year—eight in a row—have shown a majority of Americans saying the war was not “worth it.”  As Ron Brownstein and Mark Mazzetti reported in the L.A. Times on August 13, here:

In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released this week, 54% of Americans said "no" when asked if they thought "it was worth going to war in Iraq." A majority has answered "no" all eight times Gallup asked that question this year.

Strong majorities of Americans believe the president and his advisers deliberately misled the country to trick Americans into supporting it.  One poll even found a majority of those who answered the poll blaming Bush, rather than Saddam Hussein being its primary cause.  Since a minority of the country—and a majority of the MSM--continues to support this misguided adventure, it is fair to call the nation “divided” rather than fully opposed to the war.  What Ms. Sheehan has succeeded in doing is not dividing an already quite divided country, but in focusing the conservative media on the war’s majority opposition, though they apparently can’t quite bring themselves to admit it.

In any case, let’s put this plainly: Mr. Henninger, you are lying to your readers in order to slander a woman who lost her son to a failed war you and your political allies promoted, on the day after her mother suffered a stroke.  Have you no sense of decency?

P.S. Mr. Henninger invites readers to e-mail him here.

P.S. to Mickey:  What the hell is this accusation against Robin Wright for “ sneering from sidelines?”  Just what, exactly, do journalists do for a living, bro?  Would you have her pick up a rifle?  A picket sign?  What?  What would you call Kausfiles in re say, welfare reform?  Do you administer the programs?  Isn’t absolutely everything you write describable as “sneering from the sidelines" (or perhaps “cheering from the sidelines”)?  Why so nasty to Ms. Wright for pointing out the unreality of the claims for war you — in a rather lonely fashion at Slate as I recall — had the “shrewd” sense to oppose?

God, this is funny/scary.  UPDATE:  That link is having trouble.  Here's the source.

And finally, what’s with the media not making a big deal about the Roberts documents in re affirmative action that happen to go missing after a visit from the Bush White House?  Personally, and I have no evidence whatever, it sounds to me like a cover-up of a non-P.C. racial reference of the kind that people use all the time in private but could sink a Supreme Court Justice nomination.  Seems worth looking into to me.  (On the other hand, while I do hope the Democrats oppose Roberts down the line for his ideological extremism, and thereby make the political point about this way-out-of-the-mainstream presidency, I don’t see any point in actually trying to beat him.  Bush is not going to appoint another Anthony Kennedy in his place.  He’ll appoint another Robert Bork.)

On to an all-star Slacker Friday

A friend writes:

This is the most interesting story of the week.  It's always been fairly plain that the Vatican -- by which we mean the upper-level bureaucratic structure of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, has been hip-deep in the manure of this particular international conspiracy to obstruct justice ever since it broke wide open a couple of years ago.  Now, though, you have the former Cardinal Ratzinger attempting to cut a pre-emptive immunity deal on the grounds that he is the sovereign ruler of the Vatican city-state.  I am reminded of Peter Sellers as royal gamekeeper Telly Bascomb, attempting to invade NYC on behalf of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

Anyway, Benedict XV  would not have kicked over this hornets' nest unless he was pretty damned sure that the plaintiffs had good reason to drag him into their lawsuit. I'd like to see Tim Russert deal with this bit of CYA cowardice from the gentleman he called "our" pope.  I'd like to see a response from George Weigel and all the rest of the big media incense-huffers who were so transported by the transparently engineered ascendancy of a career apparatchik into the Chair Of Peter.  And I'd like to see the White House meeting on whether or not to grant the papal request.  Turns out that all those Baptist ministers were right back in 1960 about American presidents taking orders from Papist Rome.  We just had to elect a born-again Methodist for it to happen.

And, more than anything else, I'd like to see the man in the witness chair, if only because the reflexive response of the Vatican and its stateside enablers has been to blame this country's "culture" for the unspeakable crimes of the Church's hired hands.  We had that idiot archbishop comparing the American media coverage to the persecutions of Diocletian.  (Would 'twere that it were.  I know the first person I'd feed to the lions.)  We have Rick Santorum blaming Boston, or Harvard, or both because the people to whom he genuflects cared more about their own jobs than about abused children.  Enough of that.  The scandal flourished because of the centralized control of the Catholic episcopate established by the late John Paul II, currently being fast-tracked to sainthood by the likes of Mary Magdalene Noonan.  The former Cardinal Ratzinger was an important part of that effort.  Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, boys.  And render the pope to a Texas courtroom.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to nominate Gerald Ford for President.

Did you see the headlines this week that inflation is back?  When I was a kid, President Ford sent me one of those bright blue "WIN" buttons -- "WIN" standing for "Whip Inflation Now!"  Thinking back, I couldn't remember what his anti-inflation policy was (hey, I was only nine!) so I decided to look it up.  I was shocked.  I know the GOP has drifted to the right, but the disconnect between a centrist conservative and the currently sitting president is startling.  First, consider the following for political courage:

I am aware that any proposal for new taxes just 4 weeks before a national election is, to put it mildly, considered politically unwise.  And I am frank to say that I have been earnestly advised to wait and talk about taxes anytime after November 5.  But I do say in sincerity that I will not play politics with America's future.

Dubya and Rove aren't fit to be a pimple on Gerald Ford's butt.  And no, Ford wasn't a liberal in disguise: while proposing tax increases (including a windfall profits tax on oil companies) he also proposed a 10% tax cut for investors in order to increase savings.  Ford was willing to make environmental sacrifices to increase coal production and hinted (without specifics) at deep cuts in domestic spending.  Nonetheless, there's everything you'd expect in a responsible economic program (e.g., targeting automobiles for a 40% fuel efficiency improvement in four years) and some things you might not (item #3 identified price-fixing and promised vigorous enforcement of antitrust law).  Then there was this, which I remembered brought him some
ridicule:

My fellow Americans, 10 days ago I asked you to get things started by making a list of 10 ways to fight inflation and save energy, to exchange your list with your neighbors, and to send me a copy.

Democrats are attacked by neocons for having no program of their own.  They could do worse than adopting Fords, including his naive attempts to get the public involved in public policy.  Dick Cheney declared "we're not going to conserve our way to energy independence."  Ford had more faith in, and more expectations of, the nation.  Jimmy Carter took the sacrifice thing too far, but I think voters know we've gone too far the other way.

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Nueva York
Eric:
There has been much discussion lately about whether Google's plans to digitize every book in the University of Michigan Library renders the idea of the library obsolete or makes Google something close to a library.  Please allow me to respond to these notions.

My former colleague Wayne Wiegand (formerly of Wisconsin, now of Florida State) uses a phrase to describe his scholarly mission, studying "the library in the life of the user."  That means getting beyond the functional ways users use library services and collections.  It means making sense of what a library means to a community and the individuals in that community.  Libraries are more than sources.  They are more than collections.  They are both places and functions.  They are people and places.

As I wrote in The Anarchist in the Library, "libraries are temples of the Enlightenment" and embodiments of republican ideals.

Libraries pump the life blood of a democratic culture and a democratic republic: culture and information.  They are places people escape from each other (imagine a gay teenager growing up in Boise without a library).  And -- more importantly -- they are places where people come together.

The presumption that Google's powers of indexing and access come close to working as a library ignores all that libraries mean to the lives of their users.  For more on this, please see Chapter 8 of The Anarchist in the Library, especially the part where I describe a Saturday afternoon at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Some might want to claim libraries are dens of pornography and terrorism (some have).  But the fact is these people fear (and underfund) libraries because they bring people together, regardless of faith or class differences.  There is nothing more terrifying to a would-be tyrant than seeing his subjects get together and share books and ideas.  Just as importantly, public libraries are where the rich fund information for the poor.  There is a reason that Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and others felt the republic could not survive without libraries. And there is a reason why today's corrupt leaders would like to see libraries wither and die.

This September 11 hundreds of libraries around the country and in 20 countries will be holding discussions about democracy, patriotism, and human rights.

The September Project is a grassroots effort to encourage public events on freedom, democracy, and citizenship in libraries on or around September 11. Libraries around the world are organizing public and campus events, such as: displays about human rights and historical documents; talks and performances about freedom and cultural difference; and film screenings about issues that matter.

The September Project is one of the most ambitious ways libraries have reached out to make this world a better place. As I have written before, libraries and librarians have a mission, a code, a creed, and a passion that no publicly traded corporation based in Mountainview, California can ever match.

Please check out your local library's plans for September 11. If it has nothing planned yet, please help plan. Meet your neighbors. Discover their concerns. Plan a better future.

Let's see Google do that.

Name: Erik Fraser
Hometown: Trinidad, CA
Re: Barry's analysis of Extraordinary Machine, I got worried as soon as I saw the words "A new producer brought in."  A change of producers to please a record company is very dangerous.  The NYT's comparison with Dave Matthews Band is a perfect example of that.  The NYT's statement that fans "voiced a preference" for the Lillywhite Sessions is the understatement of the week.  Hard-core fans HATE "Everyday."  (Example: I went to both shows in SF last weekend, and my acted like her weekend was ruined when he closed the second night with "What You Are," which is a great song live, but she hates it "because it's from 'Everyday.'") Hard-core DMB fans also greatly prefer the Lillywhite Sessions over "Busted Stuff," and that is largely a compliment to Steve Lillywhite.  And though critics and "the mainstream" like the new album, "Stand Up" well enough, some fans long for Lillywhite's return.  So when I read that Fiona has a new producer for the official release of "Machine," well, my expectations drop a little.

Name: Mona Dougherty
Hometown: Sebastopol, CA
Hi Eric,
I was hoping you had some book recommendations on the history of the political situation between the Israelis and Palestinians.  I'm especially interested in the formation of the Gaza and West Bank settlements.  I feel like I'm missing an important part of the picture beyond Imperialism and many sources seem to have an overly biased, emotional POV.  You strike me as someone capable of seeing both sides.  I'd appreciate any recommendations you may have for me. Thanks.

Eric replies: There’s an extremely pro-Palestinian book by Geoffrey Aronson called “Facts on the Ground.”  It’s only about the history of the settlements, and to be honest, I’ve not read it, and I’m not sure it makes sense to study the settlements outside the context of the larger conflict.  The two most comprehensive studies I can recommend on the overall history would be Avi Schlaim’s The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, and Benny Morris', Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001.

Name: Ray Lodato
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Eric,
Uh, that's a great story that Perlstein tells about Boeing and the 747 and it's likely demise, except for the story in today's Chicago Tribune that says that Boeing has seen a resurgence in orders for the 747.  The orders are mostly for the cargo version of the plane, but there are some rumblings that the 747 may have new life as a passenger plane, too, since the Airbus A380 is not as efficient as had been advertised, and the 747 is available now, while the A380 won't be ready until 2009.  Granted, it's the Tribune, so you should take its boosterism for Chicago companies with several grains of Morton's salt (also a Chicago product), but 21 orders in the first 6 months of the year indicates something other than Perlstein's "frozen sales" charge.

August 18, 2005 |11:43 AM ET| Permalink

I’ve got a new Think Again column here.  It's called, "Fiscal Conservatism ... R.I.P."

Good for Salon for getting Daoud Kattab to write about Gaza, here.  The Palestinians have so few voices who can speak the language of the West, and tell the truth at home.

Soviet Communism was one big Crime Against Humanity, here.  (Someone tell Alex Cockburn.)

Salon subhead of the week:  “What Jude Law's exposed manhood can teach us about straight chicks, porn, and why size really, really doesn't matter”

Arianna, Judy, Arianna, Judy, Arianna, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy

I see the editors of The New Republic are calling on Kofi Annan to resign.  “The big question is whether Annan will insist on continuing to burden the United Nations with his presence or finally go and write his memoirs.”   Here (sub.)  I don’t want to spend all day on this but, in light of the catastrophe in Iraq from which Annan tried to save us, here is a short list of people who ought to resign, long before we start worrying about Kofi:

  • George W. Bush
  • Dick Cheney
  • Donald Rumsfeld
  • Condoleezza Rice
  • John Bolton
  • Every Republican Senator and Congressman and about half of the Democrats
  • Judy Miller
  • The entire editorial staff of the Weekly Standard
  • Tom Friedman
  • Charles Krauthammer
  • All of the “talent” at Fox News, and much of it at CNN, and MSNBC
  • Limbaugh
  • The editors and owners of The New Republic…

Anybody know if Nick King still has a job?  (Alter-clarification: I don't actually have any reason to believe that Mr. King is involved in this shameful episode of the Globe's.  I merely assume, on the basis of my experience with both his incompetence and lack of professional responsibility as demonstrated in the now infamous Cathy Young episode that he does this kind of thing all the time.

From:  Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: What the NY Times is supposed to cover
Eric:
What are we going to do about our local Republican rag?  I don't mean the NY Sun.  Nobody reads that. I'm talking about the WMD-rumor-spreading, intelligent-design-promoting, Whitewater-digging, Clinton-bashing New York Times.  On Tuesday, the Grey Lady ran two 
stories that should have embarrassed any reasonable set of editors.

First, it rolled with this story, which claimed to break the news that the U.S. State Department had warned the Clinton White House that this Osama Bin Laden dude was a really dangerous guy.  Somehow, the reporter, Eric Lichtblau, forgot to mention that not only did Clinton concur with such an analysis, he actually sent missiles into Afghanistan to try to kill the guy.  If you remember, Republicans, oddly anticipating the electoral boost that Bin Laden would later give them, opposed the strike against their old Mujahadin ally Bin Laden because Clinton was trying to distract the country from such important issues as fellatio.  Where did Lichtblau get the tip on this "story?"  The right-wing nuts at Judicial Watch, of course.  If Judicial Watch calls, the Times comes running.

But it does not stop there.  Just below that story was this one, in which reporter Philip Shenon interviews an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves who claims to know that the Army's formerly top-secret "data mining" project called "Able Danger" had revealed that Mohammed Atta was in the United States and worth watching.  He claimed that Pentagon lawyers prevented Able Danger from sharing that information with the FBI.  How did Shenon get this "story?"  He got it from U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, of course.

You remember Weldon, don't you?  He is the one who has been spreading this Able Danger story for a few weeks.  The wingnuts, led by Rush Limbaugh, have been using it to bash the Clinton administration, apparently not realizing that Clinton is no longer in office.  Specifically, they keep saying that the FBI would have known about Atta in 2000 had it not been for Assistant Attorney General Jaime Gorelick and the "wall" that they accuse her of constructing between the military and the FBI.  The invocation of the "wall" was a futile attempt by failed FBI-chief Louis Freh to distract attention from his office's mistakes leading up to 9/11.  For some reason, the Republicans think that it's still an effective lie to spread.

OK.  You won't read this in that Times story or hear on Rush's program.  But here are the facts: the "wall" was constructed under the Reagan administration and renewed in 2001 under the W administration.  Oops.  And (you would see this in the Times story), the co-chairs of the 9/11 commission dismissed Weldon's histrionics weeks ago.  So it's a non-story.  Why are we still subjected to it?  Just because this truth-impaired hack of a congressman sets up an interview with a reservist who happens to "remember" stuff that the 9/11 commission says it never took seriously?

Oh, speaking of Weldon, last week he actually backed off on the Atta thing, only to bring it back up now.  And he is notorious for spreading lies.  Back in 1999 he stood on the House floor and accused Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary of leaking the design of the W87 nuclear warhead to U.S. News and World Report.  Well, of course, that was a lie.  Weldon has never apologized to O'Leary, his constituents, or the American people for falsely accusing a cabinet secretary of a federal crime.

I am afraid the Times has gone beyond being worked by those who would work the refs.  I don't know what you would call it.  It's sloppy and careless, at best.  I don't want to think about the worst.

Scoring SCOTUS by Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft

John Roberts' Confirmation Hearings: Light on the Mayo or Heavy on the Mustard?

There are differing signals about what will happen at Judge John Roberts' confirmation hearings.  The Washington Post reports that Democrats are conflicted.   For the most part, Senate Democrats seem lukewarm on grilling Roberts, but at the same time, they realize that the party's liberal advocacy groups and grass roots activists want them to mount a vigorous challenge.

The two Democrats to come out swinging so far are Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)  Both say Roberts' record is so conservative as to fall outside any acceptable measure of mainstream ideology.  Sen. Kennedy, who is expected to lead the hearings on civil rights issues, is demanding an investigation into documents on Roberts that are missing from the archives.  Sen. Leahy said Judge Roberts has expressed far right radical views.

The American Bar Association Wednesday gave Roberts its highest stamp of approval, declaring him "well qualified" for the Supreme Court position.  Democrats, however, were quick to point out that the ABA rated Roberts without reviewing the recently released documents from Roberts' days as Associate White House Counsel and Principal Deputy Solicitor General.

The hearings will begin September 6.  Each of the 18 Senators on the Judiciary Committee will have 50 minutes to question Roberts, in two rounds.  More rounds may be scheduled if necessary.  There will also be one session of closed questioning.

From the documents released so far, there appears to be plenty of fodder to question and challenge Roberts on his views on abortion, civil rights, the environment, a constitutional right to privacy and the death penalty.  The question is, will the Democrats step up to the plate, ask the hard questions and demand he explain himself on these issues, which would satisfy their activist base, or will they throw him softballs, thereby conceding the practical reality that he will be confirmed, which could cost them the support of those who would fight the hardest for them when the 2006 elections come around?

Altercation Book Club:

The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo (here)
By Rick Perlstein

I begin with a parable about politics.  Once upon a time, in 1916, William Boeing founded an aircraft company with a single-minded commitment to building the best airplanes the world had ever seen.  With America’s entry into World War I, the company boomed, then went bust when the war ended.  So Bill Boeing converted his factory into a carpentry shop, anything so that he could survive to keep on developing airplanes.  That became the Boeing way, the very essence of the company’s corporate identity: the willingness to stake itself to the long term for the sake of building something enduring.

Seed capital from big government helped, of course. The technology behind the bombers that Boeing built to help America win World War II would soon contribute to another American triumph: the invention of cheap and readily available passenger air service.  Only a week after the B-52 bomber made its maiden flight in 1952, the Boeing board of directors celebrated their success by sinking $16 million into a project to develop a jet-propelled passenger plane.  It was a huge gamble.  It paid off.  With the rise of the 707, Boeing became one of the world’s great corporations.

In the 1960s Boeing took an even mightier gamble, setting more than 12,000 engineers to work day and night to turn a failed military transport into the aeronautical equivalent of the Model T jumbo jet to bring transcontinental flight to the masses.  The course was numbingly hazardous.  It also appeared foolish, since the market for passenger jets was depressed.  At one point during the $2 billion saga the company went 18 months without a single domestic passenger-jet order.  The first 747 sold in 1970.  That year and the next, the company was forced to lay off 60 percent of its workers to keep the project going.  Boeing even considered dropping out of the aviation business altogether.  This era was made famous in local history by a billboard reading, "Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn off the lights."

Well.  Long story short, Boeing’s persistence paid off.  In 1978, airlines ordered eighty-three 747s, and Boeing’s returns were the highest of the Fortune 500 companies.  Boeing made $20 billion over a decade on that original $2 billion investment.  Bullheadedness carried the day.

A nice little story, but in order to turn it into a parable, I must introduce our second character, the upstart.  In 1967, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom established a consortium, Airbus, to take on Boeing’s de facto monopoly.  The strategy was plainly Boeing-esque: Airbus’s ownership structure and managerial culture were self-consciously crafted to eschew short-term profit, to patiently cradle a long-term risk.  And long-term the risk was: it was eight more years before the company sold a single plane.  By the late 1980s the consortium had paid off only $500 million of a $25.8 billion debt.  Airbus’s member nations had thrown $13 billion from their treasuries down an apparent abyss.

So it is not surprising that in the middle of the 1990s, when an Airbus executive boasted of plans to far surpass Boeing by the year 2003, Boeing’s CEO Phil Condit simply laughed imperiously.

Phil Condit was the CEO hired to fix what was seen, in the context of contemporary American capitalism, as a fatal flaw in Boeing’s institutional model: its long-term orientation.  Wall Street didn't like it.  All stock markets tend to value short-term profits more highly than long-term profits, explains the British commentator Will Hutton.  That was why in the middle of the 1980s, Boeing’s stock traded at $7 a share even though the company’s net worth was equivalent to $75 a share.  In 1987, the Texas corporate raider T. Boone Pickens attempted a hostile takeover of Boeing with the goal of unlocking the hidden value buried within: selling off slow-moving divisions, liquidating excess capacity, trimming research and development turning a dinosaur into a lean, mean, short-term-value-producing machine.

Pickens lost the battle.  Boeing fought off his raid but Wall Street won the war.  Boeing began to play by stock-ticker rules.  Plans for bigger, better planes were cut back.  So were investments in R&D, personnel, and overhead.  Condit described the new strategy: We are going into a value-based environment where unit cost, return on investment, shareholder return are the measures by which you’ll be judged.

By 1997, the year Phil Condit was laughing at Airbus, Boeing had become a Wall Street favorite and a powerful force, engineering a hostile takeover of its competitor McDonnell Douglas.  By then Airbus had begun the most ambitious civil aviation project in the history of humanity, a superjumbo nearly 50 percent larger than the 747 and, it promised, more fuel efficient than a family car.  In 1997, Boeing announced that it wouldn't try to compete: no more foolish gambles for them.  Bill Boeing would have rolled over in his grave, but Wall Street loved it.  Boeing’s stock price shot up to a record high, $60 a share.

The last laugh, of course, belongs to Airbus.  After six more years of carefully shepherding its paleo-capitalistic vision, eschewing short-term gain all the while, Airbus now fills almost 60 percent of new commercial-aircraft orders.  The A380 superjumbo, set to fly early next year, has frozen sales of 747s.  Boeing has become so desperate to maintain its market position that it engineered a deal to lease 767 jet tankers to the Pentagon, which not only reversed its previous strategy of using Pentagon money as seed capital for advances in civilian aviation but, as Boeing now admits, involved unethical practices.  Phil Condit resigned amid the scandal.  That pleased stockholders: Boeing now trades at a healthy $44 a share.

A company called Boeing will likely hang on for the foreseeable future.  But, writes one financial journalist, the odds are good that Boeing will be out of the commercial aircraft business in ten years.

Is that an unhappy ending?  Only if you are a citizen of the United States.  According to a report by two University of Buffalo researchers, commercial aviation is the single most important sector of the U.S. economy in terms of skilled production jobs, value added and exports.  And so the political-economy lesson of our parable is plain to see.

But I promised you a parable about politics.  So let us bring out the political resonances from the aeronautical shadows.

It was around the time the CEO of Boeing brought on a short-term boost in his company’s fortunes by announcing that he was canceling plans to design a superjumbo that the chief executive of a certain political party stepped into the well of the House to announce that he would not be extending his own institution’s long-term, risky, carefully stewarded, sometimes even apparently foolhardy grand project.  That would be Bill Clinton, declaring that the age of big government is over in his 1996 State of the Union Address.

It worked.  His stock, his party’s stock, shot back up, and he won his reelection even after the historic blow by Newt Gingrich’s conservatives, the rival upstarts stewarding their own multigenerational political project.

The New Deal, inaugurated in the 1930s, succeeded in some goals at first and failed in others, but always instilled its vision in the next generation of Democrats.  Some parts of the vision, health care for the aged under Social Security, took 30 years to reach fruition.  And until the Democrats abandoned universal health care in the 1990s, they’d been trying for almost 60 years.  But after their electoral traumas of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, jettisoning such dinosaurs seemed to be what the market demanded.

We are left with a political party whose fixation on shifts in public opinion can be hawk-like, one that concertedly questions core principles in the interests of flexibility.  This may have helped in the short term.  And certainly, elections in America being winner-take-all propositions, the short term is of paramount importance.  Nothing I'm going to say should be interpreted as deviating from a fundamental commitment to beating George W. Bush at the ballot box in November this is imperative to the future health of the United States.  But beating George W. Bush in November is not the only problem Democrats face.  Another, the one that is my focus here, is that Democrats sometimes win their immediate battles in a way that brings them perilously close to making Boeing’s kind of mistake.  How, instead, can Democrats begin winning in a way that puts them back on the road to their former position as the dominant party in the United States?

The year 1977 was the Democrats most bountiful in terms of a key indicator: party identification.  Fifty-one percent of Americans called themselves Democrats.  Only 21 percent called themselves Republicans.  Now, a just about equal number call themselves Democrats and Republicans.  Coincident with this shift was a breathtaking historical reversal: the Republican Party became the party of great dreams, with a long-term project, conservatism, that Republicans have stuck with even when it seemed foolhardy, even when its individual tenets were demonstrably unpopular.

Why does this matter, as long as the Democrats are still able to win plenty of elections?  It matters for a bedrock political-science reason: party identification is the most reliable predictor of whether someone will vote for a given candidate.  It is a mighty store of value, party identity, which we now know is a form of social identity, notes the Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, not unlike ethnicity or race, with considerable durability over time.

The fewer people who identify themselves as Democrats, the harder you have to work, and the greater the cost to get them to vote Democratic in any particular election.  You have to play by stock-ticker rules; you have to cater to their short-term whims.

So when does the Democratic Party end up looking like Boeing, so hollowed out by short-term thinking, so stripped of people proud to identify with it, that it cant compete in the big leagues at all?

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown:  The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
While some pundits are talking about the strength of the economy, a few of us reality based strategists/analysts/economists are watching the psychology slip slide away.  The implication is that a very real possibility of a recession is on the horizon; Here are the details:

Recession Predictor

There's an interesting dynamic swirling around the impact of Oil and the likelihood (or not) of a possible recession.  Some economists are saying that, well, its different this time, and Oil won't precipitate a recession, that "Expenditures on energy are a sufficiently small share of GDP" that it won't matter much.  I disagree -- not because of the relative size of Oil to GDP, but rather, due to Psychology of consumers in light of inflation, very high Gas prices, weak job creation, Real Wages, and an ongoing messy War.

See  graphic

Over the past decade, we've seen several developments that makes the average consumer more sensitive to fuel prices.  Most of the country now drives larger vehicles: SUVs, trucks, large sedans.  Fuel economy for the average suburban family is down significantly.  Combine that with leasing rates that allow people to obtain much more expensive vehicles than they could otherwise afford to buy outright.  That put a lot of trucks on the road.  Drive to any suburban mall or shopping area, and every other car is an SUV.

But it also allowed people to spend and indebt themselves into a position where they don't have a significant margin of budget safety.  Now add to that the two recent wealth effects -- stocks in the 1990s, and homes in the 2000s -- that led people to feel flush, and further encouraged many of them to live relatively beyond their means. 

Which brings us to 2005.  While Oil may be a much smaller percentage of GDP today than it was in the 1970s, the relative financial conditions of indebted consumers may also be that much less able to absorb an extended shock than it was then.

There are two stats that always seem to get mustered to counter this: Some point to consumer debt, not as a percentage of GDP, but relative to net asset wealth.  The other rationale is median personal income (not just wages) as showing how flush consumers are.
I find neither of these arguments convincing.

As we learned in 2,000, relying on net wealth which is subject to asset price fluctuation can lead to a rapid rise in asset to debt ratios when the values of those assets declines precipitously.  When stocks crashed in 2000, suddenly people were sitting on a lot more debt percentage wise than before.  Then the negative wealth effect led to a modest curtailment of spending, exasperating a mild recession.

Secondly, median personal income gains paint a misleading picture of the economy.  A more accurate measure would be Real Hourly Wages.  That's the data point which impacts the vast majority of consumers, and therefore has the largest impact on spending.  After inflation, we see little in the way of income gains.  Median income, on the other hand, disproportionately reflects the benefits of tax cuts, dividends, and capital gains.  These improvements are real, but not widely disbursed.  That's also why we see a bifurcated spending pattern developing: Wal-Mart's losses are Tiffany's gains.  Just because Bill Gates walks into a bar, everyone else in the bar isn't better off.  Sure, the mean income just went up dramatically, but the median is hardly changed.  That's an exaggeration of what's been occurring to personal income in the U.S. -- some are doing very well, while others are slipping backwards.

Back to the recession issue:  Longtime readers know I am a fan of Chaos theory, periodicy and cycles (or at least the cyclical nature of business ).  A possible recession in the 2006-07 time frame is hardly a stretch.  Consider the past few contractions, and then fill in the blank: 1990, 1994, 2000, ______.

It's even easier to presume a potential contraction when one looks at how stimulus driven this post-recession period has been, and the net results of what happens as that stimulus attenuates.

Which brings us back to Psychology.  How much additional pressure can the consumer absorb before pulling in his/her spending?  Despite good economic headlines, consumer confidence is mixed, and the President's approval ratings have reached the nadir of his term (both Reagan and Clinton scored higher at the same time).

Consider all of the following: Record high gasoline prices that fall back a little but stay inflated; Add a housing boom that doesn't crash, but merely fizzles.  The ongoing refinancing machine which drove so much consumer spending decelerates rapidly.  Add to it a War which the majority of the country now believes turns out to be "Not worth it" and a significant percent (though not quite a majority) believes we were led into under "false premises."  Lastly, the myriad stimulus from the government -- tax cuts, ultra low interest rates, deficit spending, increased money supply, military expenditures -- all begin to fade.

What might all this a recipe for...?

Sources:
Economy Shows Signs of Strain From Oil Prices
By JAD MOUAWAD and DAVID LEONHARDT
Published: August 17, 2005

U.S. Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Prices, 08/15/05

AAA Fuel Gauge Retail Gasoline Prices

Oil Spike Won't Cause Oil Shocks of Past
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: August 17, 2005

August 17, 2005 |1:28 PM ET| Permalink

Deep Throat, shallow sales

Bob Woodward’s Deep Throat book had one thing going for it and that was the fact that it was short, and therefore not that intimidating to pick up and read.  But it had everything else going against it in the sense that it was a book by Bob Woodward that had nothing in it that anyone really needed to know.  Woodward is an extremely interesting phenomenon.  He is, I seem to recall reading, the greatest living non-fiction author in terms of sales.  But he’s a lousy writer and not much of a thinker.  His reputation as an author rests entirely on his ability to get information that nobody else can and which turns out to be true.  (Lately these have been spoon fed to him by Bush administration members who were breaking national security laws in doing so, but that's another matter.)  Well there’s none of that here and so nobody’s buying the book.  How do you spin that if you are Simon and Schuster?  Try this:  "The book has sold quite well in absolute terms and relative to other new titles as a bestseller.  The one disappointment has been in terms of inventory shipped."

Meanwhile, the current occupant of the White House, says The Economist, “has the dubious distinction of presiding over the largest negative budget swing in American history: from a surplus of $236 billion in 2000, the year he was elected, to a deficit of $412 billion, or 3.6% of GDP, when he stood again in 2004," here.

Congrats on that, Mr. Fiscal Conservative.  (And by the way, that’s not counting either war.)

And hey, guess what?  The Republicans have a new solution to the problem of rising health care costs: Exposing you to fraud by shady insurance carriers that will leave you without benefits and owing lots of money.  Jonathan Cohn does the job, here.

Paging Rose Mary Woods...

"Novel Jews," the Forward's literary series and book club, now has a Web site.  Come visit.  (For lazy types: Short-story master Richard Stern will read with Daniel Stolar on September 14.)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Robert
Hometown: San Diego
In response to Brad from Arlington:  The Iraq debate may be shrill, but pointing out the demonstrably false statements made by the administration to justify the war does not constitute ignorance, arrogance, or ideological obsession.  Nor is it having one's head in the sand, quite the contrary.  What I find particularly galling, is the continued use of terrorist acts by Al Qaida to justify the Iraq war, despite no evidence linking Iraq to any terrorist group.

Name: John Biasatti
Hometown: San Francisco CA
Comments:
Re Brad from Arlinton VA's recent letter: "The Neville Chamberlain school of appeasement has created the current problem."  No, neocons who mistook Iraq for Al Qaeda did.  "Afghanistan crumbled under its own weight."  Gee, I guess the Northern Alliance, backed by American bombing, had nothing to do with it. 

"Pakistan quickly righted its ship (though it still may be listing)."  A dictatorship that still funds anti-American madrassas, won't allow our troops to pursue Taliban/Al Qaeda terrorists who retreat from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory, and allows A.Q. Khan to remain free is certainly a REAL friend. 

"Iraq folded (current situation, notwithstanding)." At the cost of $300 billion dollars, 1800+ lives of American troops plus tens of thousands wounded, a degraded military capacity, our standing in the world never lower, 20,000+ Iraqi lives plus gods know how many wounded, terrorists with the run of the country, and a slow-moving civil war unfolding, now that's progress!

"Libya voluntarily quit its weapons programs."  Its defunct, obsolete program that they surrendered as part of negotiations to lift the 10+ year economic sanctions on their country.

"Syria has disengaged from Lebanon." Because they were stupid enough to assasinate a popular former prime minister.  Wow, why didn't we think of that?

"Iran is talking."  And, telling everyone, "we'll do whatever we like on nuclear processing, go take a flying leap."

"Kim Jong Il has returned to the table."  After 4 wasted years of dilly-dallying by this administration.

"Israel has even started to dismantle some settlements in the Gaza Strip."  Yes, I'm sure they're doing it because we asked so nicely.  Couldn't be due to them realizing on their own that their security is better off if they withdraw.

"None of these are isolated incidents, in my humble opinion."  With a string of coincidental incidents like this strung together, you should be humble.

Name: Adam
Hometown: New York, NY
Dear Eric,
Hitchens is a perfect example of right wingers everywhere who know the facts, yet deny them in mixed metaphors and paralellisms which often make no sense.  He writes:

Most irritating is the snide idea that the president is "on vacation" and thus idly ignoring his suffering subjects, when the truth is that the members of the media-not known for their immunity to the charm of Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod in the month of August-are themselves lazing away the season...

First off, the President IS on vacation.  When the boss is out of the office and at his summer home, do we still call it "work" if he faxes or phones once in a while?  Let's call a spade a spade.  Second of all, reporters are responsible for reporting the news.  The president is responsible for protecting the whole country.  If reporters laze around, it's irresponsible.  If the president lazes around, it's deadly.  (Lest we forget, Bush was also on vacation when "Bin Laden Determined To Attack U.S." came across his desk.)  Hitchens also says: "You don't have the right to cut in line by having so much free time that you can set up camp near his drive."  What?!?!  So we're supposed to hate Cindy because she's spending all her time fighting for a cause instead of having a job like writing for Slate?  She doesn't have the "right"?  Perhaps MLK Jr. should have gotten "a real job" too, huh Hitchens, instead of spending all his time on the civil rights movement?  Perhaps Hitchens is reading a different Bill of Rights, but the one most Americans know guarentees Freedom of Speech without regard to whether or not they "deserve" it.  While we're on the subject, does Cindy Sheehan deserve another meeting with the President?  Maybe not.  But what she does deserve, and what all of us deserve, on the left and the right, are answers.  Was our intelligence really so bad that we thought this war would be over in a day?  Were our agents so wrong that they actually believed Saddam had WMDs?  Or was intelligence deliberately altered, buried, and skewed to make the case for a war that wasn't necessary for our safety?  The most compelling argument Cindy makes isn't the one for withdrawal.  It's the demand for answers.  The demand for accountability.  And while the President laughs everything off as he chops wood on his ranch, thousands of soldiers have been chopped down in a war Cheney predicted would only take a few months.  Was he decieved?  Or was he the one decieving us?  We deserve answers.  And more power to Cindy for cutting in line to get us the answers we've been waiting for.

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
You may recall our earlier laments on Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine.  The impasse of the non-released CD by Sony has been broken.  Here are the details:

Extraordinary Release

Fiona's new album, Extraordinary Machine, has been freed from purgatory.  A new producer brought in, and the first remixed track -- Oh, Sailor (stream) -- released.  The disc is scheduled for release in October.  The Times story, though, has an odd twist to it.  It quotes an anonymous executive as saying, "It was never in a place where she wanted it out..." and "Record executives, however, insist Ms. Apple herself believed the album remained a work in progress."

That's a bit of historical revisionism.  There was never anything said suggesting that Apple was dissatisfied with the original disc she and producer Jon Brion had recorded.  Personally, I will reserve judgement until I hear the entire new disc -- but I really enjoyed what I initially heard on the leaked album.  (The New York Times' Jon Pareles called it "an oddball gem.")

I hope fans will have the opportunity to hear complete releases of both versions, similar to what happened with Dave Matthews Band; Here are the specifics of that from the NYT:

The release of "Extraordinary Machine" echoes a situation faced by another popular act, the Dave Matthews Band, four years ago. Weeks after the band released " Everyday," an album produced by Glen Ballard, Mr. Matthews and his bandmates discovered that an album's worth of songs they had recorded earlier - and then scrapped - had leaked to file-sharing systems and had been heard by untold numbers of the band's followers.

" Everyday" went on to sell 3.6 million copies, but several critics, not to mention hard-core fans, voiced a preference for the somewhat downbeat unreleased material, which had been created with the band's longtime producer, Steve Lillywhite, over the work produced by Mr. Ballard, whose influence gave the band a lighter, more radio-friendly sound.  The band rerecorded many of the songs from the so-called "Lillywhite sessions" and released them as the album " Busted Stuff" in 2002.  That album has sold an estimated 1.9 million copies. 

So much for downloading killing CD sales.

For those who want more details, here are some additional links:

August 16, 2005 |12:15 PM ET| Permalink

Every year we get these “what the president is reading on vacation" stories, here.  Guess what people, they’re constructed by aides who have no idea—or concern—with what the president is reading, or even if the president is reading (or can read).  Every year the press falls for them because they think there’s nothing more important about which to write in August than some dumb fictional reading list that is designed purposely to fool people that the president is a more serious person, intellectually, than he really is.  The book business likes them too.  Me, I’d prefer he read his briefing books, particularly the ones with titles like “Bin-Laden Determined to Attack US.”

Cindy Sheehan continues to drive GOP pundits to distraction.  We haven't seen them this unhinged since the Florida recount.

Hitchens spreads what appears to be the slander of Cindy here, though he also picks up on Maureen’s nonsensical statement to which we called your attention last week.

Anyway, here is the truth, apparently, from TPM Café:

Re: Hitchens Piffed Off
by truebluedem on Aug 16, 2005 -- 05:39:52 AM EST

Transcript of Cindy's interview on CNN's Cooper Anderson

Cooper: you were also quoted as saying, "my son joined the army to protect america, not israel. you get america out of iraq and israel out of palestine and you'll stop the terrorism." how responsible do you believe israel is for the amount of terrorism in the world?

sheehan: i didn't say that.

cooper: you didn't say that? ok

sheehan: i didn't -- i didn't say -- i didn't say that my son died for israel. i've never said that. i saw somebody wrote that and it wasn't my words. those aren't even words that i would say.

i do believe that the palestinian issue is a hot issue that needs to be solved and it needs to be more fair and equitable but i never said my son died for israel.

cooper: ok, i'm glad i asked you that because, you know, as you know, there's tons of stuff floating around on the internet on sites of all political persuasions.

sheehan: i know and that's not -- yes.

cooper: so, i'm glad we had the opportunity to clear that.

sheehan: yes, and thank you because those are not my words. those aren't -- that doesn't even sound like me saying that.

Also:

Re: Hitchens Piffed Off
by Andy Vance on Aug 16, 2005 -- 12:12:07 AM EST

Methinks Hitch has been punk'd.  Sheehan's "letter" has been seeded all over right-wing message boards, and nowhere else that I could find.  Most of the links seem to point to this Google BBS post, in which the full text of the letter appears. But there's something strange about it. The prose is stilted, and there's something about how the author uses acronyms, place names and dates that makes me think it was written by ex-military. Look at this paragraph:

The very worst thing of all, is that my son was sent to rescue some fellow soldiers trapped in an ambush in the back of a LMTV..which is basically an open air trailer. It would be the equivalent of driving through Dallas on 11/22/63 in a Convertible. The troops stationed at FOB War Eagle were sent ahead of their tanks and Bradleys!!!

Also, a member of this "bull yard" group is supposedly the one who forwarded the message to Nightline:

Cindy, Skeeter Skeeter asked me to send our your letter to Nightline. I did already and believe you got a copy, as below. I added your name to the bull yard list, along with Judge P on the stuff I send out.

And check out the description of the "bull yard list:"

An eclectic group, mostly men, gathered from around the world. Many are ex priests and the discussions are mostly political and religious. On the far right there are strong Bush supporters. On the far left there are heavy Bush bashers. Not for the faint of heart.

I admire Edward Jay Epstein for the brilliance with which he parcels out his work to so many sources simultaneously.  Lately he has been able to get Slate to publish virtually his entire new book on Hollywood without anyone mentioning that this is the case.  Perhaps I’m mistaken but I feel like this is the second time Slate has used this excerpt; I guess the fact that it’s an audio version makes it OK (or else I'm imagining it).  And it’s just bad timing that it came out during a week when two R-rated movies are the top-grossing films, and one of them, “Wedding Crashers” is the hit of the summer.  No big deal; that doesn’t disprove the thesis, but idiots will insist it does and Epstein and Slate should have dealt with it.  (“Excuse me Mr. Scientist, you say the earth is warming and yet my feet are cold today.  Doesn’t that prove President Bush right?”)  Wedding Crashers is terrific by the way.  And “the Heights” is pretty good.

It is more in sorrow than in anger that I note that I tried to save the Boston Globe this embarrassment  by suggesting they fire the incompetents on their editorial page, starting with Nick King.  Alas...

America's worst alternative weekly, New York Press (and I realize what a difficult competition that may be) can only get better; though judging by the quotes in this piece by its new 27-year-old minicon editor, maybe not that much...

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John S. Ransom
Hometown: Carlisle, PA
Hello Eric,
Subject: Your 8/15/05 comments on article that admits original Iraq plans were 'unrealistic.'

I can't add anything to your wonderfully scathing review concerning this item, but something tells me that just over the horizon of the next few news cycles, we will be confronted with some version of the following "discussion" topic:  "Who lost Iraq?"  Will conservatives use this debate as a way to get back at their critics?  Will they turn in on each other?  Will liberals finally be able to get some traction with the political elite that has given so much discretionary power to Bush these past four plus years?  It's hard to be too optimistic about the last possibility. 

If you had told me before the war started that a diplomat sent to check out a key part of the administration's claim would write an Op-Ed piece in the NYT explaining how his investigation definitively showed the claim had no substance, I would have thought that would be enough to put a serious road block in Bush's rush to war.  But no.  If you had told me that someone of Clarke's stature would write a book proving that Bush and Cheney wanted to pin 9/11 on Iraq from day one, and worked hard to 'shape' the intelligence in favor of that end, I would've said Bush couldn't be reelected.  Wrong again would I have been!  And so now we have trial balloons of key strategists admitting that yeah, it's true, we didn't know what the [expletive deleted] we were doing when we went into Iraq.  When the trial is over and we start moving to one of our famous dishonorable exits from a lost war, mumbling that hey, wow, that turned out to be just too darn hard after all, will there finally be an accounting?  Some individual, group, or other agent of justice and national self-preservation who will -- better late than never! -- deliver the coup de grace to this incredible bunch of idiots?  And if the answer is "No, not this time either.  Everyone just gets to walk away," then how can we continue to work in this anti-reality reality?

Name: Phil
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Dr. A,
The non-apology apology by the unnamed senior official brings to mind Robert McNamara's non-apology apology for Vietnam.  Back in 1995, McNamara, the old ex-defense secretary who 30 years previous was among those who pushed hardest for escalating our involvement in Vietnam, wrote his account of what happened, with no small amount of self-criticism: 

We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation.  We made our decisions in light of those values.  Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong.

I, being too young to remember much of Vietnam, found the admission better late than never.  Easy for me to say, apparently; I recall that a friend who was older than I was less forgiving.  "Great, NOW he tells us," my friend said, more than a little bitterly.  You know, 58,000 American deaths later and all that.  McNamara's mea culpa received an unfriendly reception in lots of quarters.  But credit McNamara this: at least he signed his own damned name.  The "unnamed senior official" (I've heard rumors it was Rumsfeld, but I guess we'll never know) won't even do that.  Instead we get this anonymous copout, which is likely to get lost in the shuffle by, I dunno, next week.  And then there's the gall of the statement itself.  "Unreality that dominated?"  No duh.  Don't these people ever learn? Did they pay even the slightest attention to Vietnam?  Apparently not.  Judging by the behavior of the president and his friends in the Corporate Media, the unreality remains dominant.  I wonder how many in the Bush Administration read McNamara's book.  (If any of them want to and happen to be reading this, it's called In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.)  Once again, all we on the Left get is the right to say "I told you so."  It doesn't mollify.  So, nice try, Mr. or Ms. Unnamed Senior Official, but I don't accept the non-apology apology.  Try again.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman,
The "lethal combination of ignorance, arrogance, and ideological obsession" exists on both sides of the increasingly shrill Iraq debate.  On one side, you have those with their heads in the sand (or clouds) oblivious and ignorant to the difficulties presented by the reality in Iraq.  On the other, you have the doom and gloom traders predicting tens of thousands dead and the destruction of a nation (which nation, I'm not sure) oblivious and ignorant to the realities of the world we've lived in for the last 20+ years.  Somewhere in between lies the truth.  I find the most galling part of the current situation to be the "I told you so" crowd gleefully pointing out the missteps and failures of our country and armed forces (while citing unnamed sources, no less).  Even more galling, is that their actions are driven by an ideological hate toward the administration and a keen selection of supporting facts (sound familiar?).  There is much more to the current conflict than the body count, oil prices, and sinking poll numbers.  There is a bigger picture that needs to be recognized.  If nothing else, an acknowledgment that rhetoric and dialogue are not viable options in the war on terror is in order.  The Neville Chamberlain school of appeasement has created the current problem.  Unfortunately, it took 9/11 to awaken this country from its blissfully ignorant slumber.  Something the first attack on the WTC, the embassy bombings in Africa, or the attack on the USS Cole could not do.  As a result, instead of shouting rhetoric across the oceans at the problem, we have kicked in its front door.  While shocking and heavy-handed to some, it was sadly overdue and remarkably effective.  Afghanistan crumbled under its own weight.  Pakistan quickly righted its ship (though it still may be listing).  Iraq folded (current situation, notwithstanding).  Libya voluntarily quit its weapons programs.  Syria has disengaged from Lebanon.  Iran is talking.  Kim Jong Il has returned to the table.  Israel has even started to dismantle some settlements in the Gaza Strip.  None of these are isolated incidents, in my humble opinion.

August 15, 2005 |11:30 AM ET| Permalink

Oooops, Sorry

What do we have here? 

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion.  "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

Here .

Yeah well, you know what’s coming next; tens of thousands dead; more than that wounded; hundreds of billions wasted; the hatred of the world; the creation of countless terrorists and torture victims, the destruction of a nation; and the dishonoring of the leadership of the United States of America.  All in the service of something that “was never realistic,” an “unreality” that was sold to us by a dishonest, fanatical group of ideologues and their cheerleaders in the so-called liberal media.

What’s is perhaps most galling about this is the fact that if you tried to warn your fellow citizens against just this likelihood three years ago when it was still preventable, you were part of some decadent, fifth-columnist coastal elite that hated America, while the chest beating patriots were the ones who drained this nation of its blood and treasure is the service of their own lethal combination of ignorance, arrogance, and ideological obsession.  Onward Christian Soldiers.

Harold has more here

Protecting soldiers, Rumsfeld-style, here.

Smearing Cindy, conservative style, here [1]

Welcome to POTUS, the new presidential historians’ blog.  It’s about time, Rick.

Kinsleyless Kinsleyism; Less Filling:  It’s not easy trying to be as smart as Mike Kinsley; in fact, for mere mortals like you and me, it’s impossible.  I’ve always thought the biggest problem over at Slate is that nobody there got the memo that read “Don’t try this at home,” (or in the office, for that matter).  More often than once a week, there’s someone over there making some contrarian argument for the sake of contrariness with none of Kinsley’s brilliance, panache or, ironically, intellectual modesty.  (One of Kinsley’s greatest attributes, as Paul Simon might put it, is that he knows what he knows... and vice-versa.)

Exhibit A this week is Jack Shafer’s perfectly “contrarian” brief on behalf of biased book reviewing.  There is a case to be made that nobody is really “objective” about anything, and that the search for the appearance of an objective book reviewer can result in the choice of a less than ideal review, but Shafer’s argument, which mocks the very idea of  fairness is quite a different thing.  (Kinsley has actually gone so far as to argue against reading books before judging them, but, of course, he somehow managed to come up with a pretty good argument.)  But Shafer—like the rest of us—is no Mike Kinsley.  What’s more, he’s never written a book.   Here he treats the book itself as an unimportant appendage to the review.  Good books take years to write and the authors who undertake them deserve an honest hearing for their work from someone who can at least try to judge them on the basis of their merits.  From a societal standpoint, moreover, they are important cultural artifacts, perhaps the single most important avenue for a culture to learn—or at least discuss—arguments and data that are either complex or uncomfortable--and require both evidence and explication to elucidate.  Shafer’s argument reveals the limits of Slate’s reification of the contrarian wiseguy, together with the flaws of Kinsleyless Kinsleyism.

I suppose I should disclose that while I barely know Shafer, he’s written a few dismissive things about “What Liberal Media?” always referring, as far as I can remember, to the few hundred words or so of the book published, believe it or not, on NRO.

Salon sub-head of the week:  “African-American street fiction is moving on up from sidewalk stalls to megastores like Borders.  But should these gritty novels of drugs, gang wars, race and romance replace James Baldwin and Toni Morrison on bookstore shelves?”  Um, has anyone on the planet actually suggested that Baldwin and Morrison be “replaced?”  Doesn’t the prefix “mega” imply a store with room for more than one type of African-American fiction?  Just asking…

I noticed one of my old interns' marriage announcement in the Times yesterday, and she was married by a minister from the Universal Life Church.  Take a look here and then forgive yourself... Online.

Alter-reviews:  Sal on the new Ramones Box

I love the idea of boxed sets, but I am usually disappointed.  An opportunity to get everything you want by an artist in one neat package, is quite often botched by the omission of key tracks, or ridiculous packaging.  Universal's "Funk Box" from a few years back offered "single edits" of most tracks and made it impossible to "get down" at 3 minutes a song.  And I'm certain the Albert Ayler box on Revenant had some amazing music on it, but I still haven't found the CDs amidst the pressed flowers, potpourri, postcards and certificates included, all for an additional 60 bucks.

"Weird Tales of the Ramones," the new set from the masters at Rhino, is almost perfect.  With most songs barely over two minutes, the 3 CDs offer a whopping 85 classic tracks, with only the second half of disc three bordering on weak, thanks to the latter, so-so material.  It also includes a DVD with 18 videos, as well as a booklet/comic book with art by 25 top comic artists.  Everything you want is here, with only a dozen songs, total, missing from the first four legendary albums.

You either "get" The Ramones or you don't.  Some may find a 20 track anthology, 10 songs too long.  What stopped me from calling this set "perfect," was the omission of "Not My Place In The 9-5 World," a track that Vin Scelsa used to play twice a day, and made a radio hit.  And the fact that the box doesn't fit on my shelf.  But, if there was ever a boxed set that gave you the goods, this is it.

Sal
NYCD

Eric adds:  I am a lot more excited about the packaging of this box set than Sal—the comics are wonderful, both in inspiration and execution, and less thrilled with its content.  The idea that 1990s Ramones' songs are equally worthy of collection as those of the late seventies Ramones is, um, rather difficult to defend.  If one is not going the completist route, and this box is not, then more live stuff, rarities, etc., would have made sense.  But the overall endorsement goes, and you can find the set list here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Isaac Luria
Hometown: University of Florida
Eric,
Some advice for Nate who wrote in on Friday, I noticed that he's a grad student at Virginia Tech.  If he's looking for liberal students he needs to leave the engineering building on campus and visit the natural sciences occasionally.  I am currently attending LT24, a low temperature physics conference in Orlando, FL.  1200 scientists in attendance and not a neck tie in sight (I love being a scientist).  Talks frequently end with something like, "And here is a list of contributions to my research, the NASA entry at the bottom has just been canceled thanks to George Bush."  1200 physicists and not a single groan or grumble when a speaker throws a barb at Bush.  These guys hail from 50 different countries but they all know exactly what the speaker means about Bush.  We scientists live and die by the data and the proof, the kind of proof Republicans ignore shamelessly.  If you seek loyal liberals on campus, visit the physics building, or any of the natural and pure sciences for that matter.  And speaking of proof... all this talk about standing up to conservatives with proof, I must remind everyone to check out TalkOrigins.org for enough proof of evolution to make any "intelligent design" proponent lose their mojo.

Name: Justin Robinson
Hometown: College Park, MD
Dr. Alterman,
As another young liberal (19 years old) I have often contemplated Ben's question and come away with nothing but a sense of hopelessness.  At the University of Maryland, our business school attracts a fairly large number of conservative students, but more often than not, when I try to engage them in some sort of discussion my attempts are rebuffed and I end up feeling like a used car salesman.  After much thought I believe I may understand why they are so unwilling to discuss politics with someone they consider a friend or acquaintance.  They might actually agree.  Conservatives, by nature, are adverse to change.  They are usually fairly well off and therefore the conservation of rights, wealth, power, etc. is almost always in their interests.  So when a normal person like me comes along and challenges pretty much everything they believe in (with evidence to boot) I can only imagine that some of the things I say can be difficult to grapple with.  Sometimes I may actually feel like I have gotten through and made a great case but there will always be conservative messages that caricature liberals as out of touch, communist, wussies that just don't get it.  This is why I feel like engaging in debate just isn't enough.  I hate to reference the Simpsons, but the episode where Homer becomes super intelligent comes to mind.  Homer walks up to Ned and hands him a small piece of paper explaining that he has proved there is no God.  Ned looks it over and for a second thinks he has found a mistake but then realizes its air tight.  After Homer walks away we see Ned stand there and then crumple the paper up and swallow it only to see Homer going down the street putting copies of the paper on the windshield of every car.  This, I think, is the only way we can overcome the conservative machine.  The truth, it's like kryptonite to Republicans.  Now all we need is a way to spread it easily to millions of people, you know, like that liberal media we hear so much about.

Name: Brian D. Plikaytis
Hometown: Tucker, GA
Hello Mr. Alterman,
On Thursday you published a link pointing to a rather caustic and uncharitable guest editorial published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution attacking Cindy Sheehan for her protest outside the Bush compound in Texas.  I thought you might be interested in learning that this morning (Friday) the AJC published four letters to the editor all berating the editorialist's total lack of empathy for the mother of a son lost in Iraq.  The AJC has a well-published policy of printing letters which represent a cross section of the opinions of all letters received on a particular subject.  Given this policy, I was surprised to see not a single letter supporting the writer's viewpoint.  Then I noticed a footnote under the four letters stating that of the 50 letters received by the AJC regarding the editorial, none of them supported the writer's viewpoint.

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