October 14, 2005 | 12:17 PM ET | Permalink

This just in: America: “Bush a Failure,” here.

For the first time, more people say George W. Bush's presidency will be judged as unsuccessful than say it will be seen as a success, a poll finds. Forty-one percent of respondents said Bush's presidency will be seen as unsuccessful in the long run, while 26 percent said the opposite.  Thirty-five percent said it was too early to tell, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Comedy Quote of the Karl Rove Testimony Day:  "'In my Administration,' Bush told voters in Pittsburgh in October 2000, 'we will ask not only what is legal but what is right, not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves.'" Here.

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column here called “The Media and the War: Any Lessons Learned?”

The pressure's on Judy Miller to tell all about her grand jury testimony, but what about Russert?  He's remained silent for more than a year.

Is everything they say and do a lie?

McCarthyism, Scott McClellan style, here.

She’s right again, here, and I repeat, better than Modow…

Hobsbawn on the benefits of diaspora, here.

We do not deserve these people.

I’m sorry Daniel Drezner did not get tenure at the University of Chicago, here. Drezner usually attacked me whenever I came up but almost always civilly, as far as I know, and never my patriotism as an American or a Jew as his friend, a certain goyish foreigner likes to do.  Anyway, it’s bad a bad thing for the world because whatever the reason, it will discourage other untenured academics from starting blogs, and believe it or not, the world really does need academics with blogs, if only to teach journalists about topics about which they are too lazy to open and read a book.  I’m sure David Horowitz will blame liberals.  Let him try, Chicago is by far the most politically conservative of elite American universities; the home after all, to a fella named Strauss…

Right-wing journalism in action:  Rush Limbaugh declared that Bono has a mistress the other day.

He has been married for 23 years to high school sweetheart Ali Hewson, the mother of their four children.  When a caller demanded to know what basis Limbaugh had in making his accusation, he replied cryptically:  "You people are just going to have to trust me on this."

In case you’re not subscribing to Times Select, and you should be, here’s a hit of Krugman.

Right now, with the Bush administration in meltdown on multiple issues, we're hearing a lot about President Bush's personal failings.  But what happened to the commanding figure of yore, the heroic leader in the war on terror? The answer, of course, is that the commanding figure never existed: Mr. Bush is the same man he always was. All the character flaws that are now fodder for late-night humor were fully visible, for those willing to see them, during the 2000 campaign.

And President Bush the great leader is far from the only fictional character, bearing no resemblance to the real man, created by media images.

Read the speeches Howard Dean gave before the Iraq war, and compare them with Colin Powell's pro-war presentation to the U.N. Knowing what we know now, it's clear that one man was judicious and realistic, while the other was spinning crazy conspiracy theories. But somehow their labels got switched in the way they were presented to the public by the news media.

Why does this happen? A large part of the answer is that the news business places great weight on "up close and personal" interviews with important people, largely because they're hard to get but also because they play well with the public. But such interviews are rarely revealing. The fact is that most people - myself included - are pretty bad at using personal impressions to judge character. Psychologists find, for example, that most people do little better than chance in distinguishing liars from truth-tellers.

More broadly, the big problem with political reporting based on character portraits is that there are no rules, no way for a reporter to be proved wrong. If a reporter tells you about the steely resolve of a politician who turns out to be ineffectual and unwilling to make hard choices, you've been misled, but not in a way that requires a formal correction.

And that makes it all too easy for coverage to be shaped by what reporters feel they can safely say, rather than what they actually think or know. Now that Mr. Bush's approval ratings are in the 30's, we're hearing about his coldness and bad temper, about how aides are afraid to tell him bad news. Does anyone think that journalists have only just discovered these personal characteristics?

Let's be frank: the Bush administration has made brilliant use of journalistic careerism. Those who wrote puff pieces about Mr. Bush and those around him have been rewarded with career-boosting access. Those who raised questions about his character found themselves under personal attack from the administration's proxies.

Altercation Book Club: Lawless World by Philip Sands, reviewed by Eric Rauchway

The recent history of the world divides into roughly four phases.

  1. 1865-1914:  When the British Ran Things All Right, Considering;
  2. 1914-1945:  When the Americans Made a Bad Mess Worse;
  3. 1945-1968:  When the Americans Ran Things All Right, Considering,  and
  4. 1968-present:  When It Sure Looks Like the Americans are Making Another Big Mess But It's Still a Little Too Soon To Tell.

In Lawless World — which, for a start, let me be very clear and simple about this, Everyone Should Read, and whose publishers kindly provided Altercation with advance proofs — Philippe Sands tells the story of phases 3 and 4, and worries we may be in for a mess like phase 2 owing to the repeated efforts of the US, aided often by the UK, to pick apart a system Americans and British once worked so hard to create.

Let's begin by defining what we mean by "all right", as in phases 1 and 3:  during these periods, despite undeniable and even appalling examples of bullying behavior among nations, a handful of very unjust wars, and more than a few runs at genocide, a liberal order generally obtained throughout the much of the world.  In phase 1 this order rested on maintenance of the gold standard and something resembling rule of law.  In phase 3 this order rested on maintenance of the Bretton Woods system and something resembling rule of law.

These periods of order resting on known rules made possible a measurable increase of prosperity around the world, and not just among the already rich.  Not only could investment capital seek its best opportunities around the world, so could, as it were, investment labor -- which we recognize as immigration.  People, money, and goods, to a considerable degree, came and went with freedom and in the confidence that they understood the rules of the game they were playing, and that they could rely on more than the customs of the country to guarantee their international investments:  they could trust to rules, and law.

Both periods of global orderliness relied on great powers that stood ready to preserve order by the use of force.  When great powers demonstrate that they are unwilling to use force for order, disaster ensues, as in phase 2.  In the post-1918 period the Americans pursued a set of policies, including immigration restriction, trade protectionism, and inflexibility as an international lender, that efficiently killed whatever optimism had survived the Great War, and the world slid into crisis.  Mindful of this cautionary example, the Americans and British worked together in 1944-1945 to  create orderly and confidence-inspiring norms and institutions -- the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, trade agreements, conventions on human rights, and other legal protections.

That system began to fall apart only because it worked so well.  Its purpose was to allow a world ravaged by the twentieth-century's Thirty Years' War to restore itself to health.  As the world's former industrial powers regained prosperity they began in the early 1960s to act normally, trying to reduce the outsized gap between them and the United States.  Traders took a few runs at the dollar on the currency markets.  The poor fiscal policy accompanying the Vietnam War hastened collapse of America's already precarious and unnatural position at the apex of the world financial system.  In 1971 Richard Nixon took the dollar off gold, ending Bretton Woods and beginning the truly uncertain modern era.

Ever since the postwar system began to collapse in the early 1960s the United States has had to reconcile its diminishing authority in the world economy with its tremendous military power.  And, Sands argues, it has done so with increasing ill-grace over the decades.  Whenever a conflict has arisen between the carefully built structure of international rules and America's perceived interests at the moment, the country has chosen its perceived interest, eroding by steps the system it helped build.

In Sands's view, such behavior is penny-wise and pound-foolish.  The postwar system of international order has offered tremendous benefits.  "Treaties like the Conventions Against Torture and judgments like that of the House of Lords in the Pinochet case provide hope to a great number of people around the world." (223)  They signify that the great powers of the earth consider themselves bound not only by the practical limits on their power, but by legal limits too.  They send the message, heartening to the oppressed wherever they live, that might alone does not make right -- and that the US and UK maintain and pledge to use their considerable might specifically to enforce right.

Conversely, of course, the disregard for law necessary to the establishment of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib sends the opposite message.

Inasmuch as the War on Terror idea is no longer operative -- inasmuch as preventing terrorism is now no longer a mere exercise of superior force, but involves giving people around the globe a reason to want America to win -- a great deal depends on our reinvesting resources in the system of international law.  As Sands writes, "Tough guys are not enough in international relations." (238)  Is there any reason to believe the administration takes this idea seriously?

Sands notes that while since the election, the administration's most visible actions have said "no," less obvious moves say "maybe."  The nomination of John Bolton to the UN gives no indication the administration has any higher regard for international arrangements than ever it did.  But softly, softly, the administration has backed off its utter opposition to the International Criminal Court at Rome, Sands says.  Further, in February the President acknowledged that the US has "obligations under ... the International Court of Justice" in the Hague.  Condoleezza Rice visited the American Society of International Law to declare that the US "has been and will continue to be the world's strongest voice for development and defence of international legal norms."  (252-253)

Still, Sands points out, other voices within the administration speak louder.  In the US National Defense Strategy of 2005, he finds under "Our Vulnerabilities," this:

Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism.

On which he glumly concludes, "So there you have it.... Al Qaeda and the international lawyers.  Joined at the hip."  (253)

Sands's book gives the fullest possible hearing to those elements of the Bush administration -- more often nameless than not -- who express concern for the diminishing international order.  Such people clearly exist.  Last week, Timothy Garton Ash wrote, "A few far-sighted people in Washington are beginning to formulate a long-term American strategy of trying to create an international order that would protect the interests of liberal democracies even when American hyperpower has faded...."  But Ash doesn't name names either, and long-listening ears have more often heard tough-guy talk.  Perhaps it is not yet too late for sober persons of any partisan stripe to preserve a system that Americans designed for Americans' long-term benefit.  But which section has the President's ear -- those who see in the past and future a beneficial international order, or those who say, first thing we do, let's kill all the terrorists and lawyers?

Eric Rauchway
Professor, Department of History
University of California, Davis

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to triangulate.  Is it just me or have you noticed a sudden spike in conservatives pushing a flat income tax?  In the last two weeks I've seen it, like, everywhere: the Wall Street Journal, Steve Forbes, Andy, David Brooks, and now the Bush Administration.  You don't need to be a Karl Rove to see why – it’s a good distraction from the GOP scandals, Iraq, and even Harriet Miers. Yet there are three good reasons for the Democrats to unify behind their own flat tax proposal and triangulate this issue.  First, it's good politics.  Tax simplification might be a sexy issue that gets some media play, but negotiations over the details won’t.  Those voters attracted to a flat tax might even trust the Democrats more to produce a fairer plan.  Plus it would provide future neutralization to GOP "marriage penalty" and "class warfare" talking points.  Second, it might actually be good policy.  I realize that in-theory a flat tax removes progressivity from the tax code, as if concentration of wealth in the richest 10% isn't proceeding quickly enough.  But there's soooo much incidental evidence that the complexity of the tax code has turned progressivity upside down that I simply don't know.  Here’s a flat tax plan that seems pretty fair.

But most importantly, a flat tax would force the Dems into a much needed paradigm-shift away from redistribution of wealth and towards making “wealth matter less.”  This was the brilliant thesis of Mickey Kaus in “The End of Equality” before he turned into a smart aleck, and deserves a post of its own.  Consider: doesn’t it seem that the typical Republican response to popular Dem proposals is to counter-propose something weaker which involves revenues?  For example, instead of permitting foreign importation of drugs, the GOP suggests entitlements to help people give money to the drug companies.  If a flat tax was enacted, Dems would be well-positioned to resist future efforts to “re-muck” the tax code.  The debate would focus on the programs themselves, which would be populist and popular.

Name: Ryan McQueeney
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Speaking of the USA Today, today, there actually was some real irony on the front page.  To wit, what's up with the homeless family whose father/husband was in the military up until a year ago but couldn't get medical coverage for his wife and her high risk pregnancy?  I mean, what the f**k?  If the story is correct, this guy fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, comes back home, knocks his wife up, she's got a high risk pregnancy, and because of that the Army drops her from its insurance coverage?  The child is stillborn, and they spend their rent money on a coffin, eventually living out at a campgroud with their 3 other kids.  Is that real?  If so, how ironic?  An administration that sends its military to war, criticizes anyone who criticizes them as unpatriotic and against the troops, then, cuts off a returning soldier's insurance because his wife's pregnancy is high risk.  All while trying to convince the religious freaks that Harriett Meirs is pro-life?

Name: B.L. Webb
Hometown: Edmonton, Canada
After reading all the other suggestions for current protest music, I cannot help but notice one glaring omission, being The Revolution Starts...Now, by Steve Earle.  This is one of the finest protest albums I have ever heard, and includes his usual collection of wonderful songs inhabited with beautifully drawn characters, and striking commentary on Iraq, U.S. Imperialism, the FCC, and of course, the sublime ode to Condi.  I have had the pleasure of seeing Steve play live twice this year, and his tour to support the album early in 2005 was one of the most riveting concerts I have ever seen.  If there's a better songwriter working today, I don't know who that might be.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Mr. Alterman,
I am coming around to your Gore/Obama '08 position.  I look back at Al and I see a guy who took on a lot of good government projects, to include his much maligned and misrepresented efforts to pass legislation that assisted in the creation of the Internet.  I see a guy who is rock solid on national security issues; he volunteered for service in Vietnam as a young man, voted for (correctly in my view) the first Gulf War use of force resolution (one of a few Dems to do so), and publicly opposed (also correctly in my view and also was one of few prominent Dems to do so) the second Gulf War Use of Force Resolution.  Finally, the principal obstacle in 2000 was his association with the Clinton Administration and the scandal-fatigue many of us felt about that.  (BTW, I emphatically still voted for Gore in 2000.)  Golly, the Clinton Administration looks better and better in retrospect to all but the most ardent movement conservative, and after 8 years it's hard to tag Al with the alleged sins of the Clintons.  Al baby, we hardly knew ya!  Obama, who I heard speak in Chicago last Friday, is just terrific, and I hope his message and his methodology are the future of the Democratic Party.  My one reservation about him as a President is his lack of government executive branch of experience.  There are two places you get that, and not so coincidentally the same two places where we have found most of our Presidents lately.  The Governors' Mansions and the Vice Presidency.  Obama at the bottom of the ticket to get that seasoning, plus the charisma he would bring, is a brilliant selection.  Where do I sign up to get campaign literature?

Name: Pat Vaughan
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Dr. Alterman:
Try this Wilson/Palme scenario.  First, Libby tells Miller in June, 2003 that Palme was a CIA agent.  Second, sometime in the following three weeks Miller tells Novak.  Third, Novak asks Rove to confirm the story and Rove does so by saying that "he had heard that too."  Fourth, Novak asks Libby to confirm the story and Libby, who, in also saying something like "he had heard that too," confirms his own leak.  This scenario has the following advantages:

  • It explains why Novak was willing to be so forthcoming to the Grand Jury.  He did not believe he would get either Rove or Libby in trouble.
  • It explains why Miller was so willing to go to jail, and wrap herself in the flag and the first amendment - she was trying to protect Libby.
  • Because Novak fingered Miller as his source (he would have no problem doing this because the conversation between Miller and Novak was not confidential), it explains why Fitzgerald was so fervid in his pursuit of Miller.  Fitzgerald needed Miller to finger Libby, which, in effect, she did when she suddenly remembered the June, 2003 meeting between her and Libby.

The only problem with this scenario is that Rove may slip the hook.

Name: Steve Elworth
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Siva comes into your house on the Day of Atonement, and knocks the Mets and praises Bloomberg.  One does not choose to be a Met fan, one is born into it or took them as a replacement team to that Brooklyn franchise that disappeared after 57.  One does love the Mets for winning 25% of world championships, one loves them for the great teams, 69, 86 and the bad ones which are too many to mention.  This year with Brooklyn guy, Bronx star, they turned it around with great pitching and two great young stars, one GM, an ownership that learned to be quiet.  The future is bright.  Our billionaire Republican mayor, why do so many smart people who should know better decide that is OK to be a major contributor to Bush, DeLay, Rove and buy the election by pulling out of Campaign financing and still be a good guy and vote for them.  Why should we let the GOP run this town particularly the debacle of the convention last summer and didn't he just try a Bush 9/11 strategy in the subway?  He is obviously superior to the Dreaded Rudy, but is it some of this fear of the Bronx and people of color.  Of course, some of the Dems endorsing Bloomie is just a pernicious effect of term limits, my guy won't run against billionaire incumbent, so let's endorse billionaire incumbent because if he wins, my guy can run next time with no incumbent.  Don't we need the best candidate for the best reasons and the Republicans hate this city, so why give them 16 years in a row.

Name: Jim Townsend
Hometown: Frontenac, KS
Hook em horns?  Please.  First, I'm sure that you are much more educated than I, since I didn't finish college.  So you surely know that there is no NCAA Division 1 football championship.  Anything that is voted on instead of decided on the field is not a championship.  It's a beauty contest.  Second; Thanks for the kind words about Steve Earle. I've been driving back and forth from SE Kansas to Denver these past few months and I now own enough Earle that I can make the entire trip without repeating a song.  It makes for a heavenly trip.  I play and write songs but with Steve in the world can never call myself a songwriter.  Have a great day.

Name: Sarah
Hometown: Originally Norman, OK
Dear Siva, via Eric: Siva, Siva, Siva!!  I was a big fan of yours...Until I read that you're a Longhorn.  I'm a Sooner Born and a Sooner Bred, so now I have to dislike you.  Sigh.  Sorry! P.S.- Your successful Longhorns are a fluke!  Mack Brown doesn't have the stamina to keep it up...OU will rise again!

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
I have seen the Magic Numbers' music mentioned in the same sentence as the Beach Boys, the Lovin' Spoonful, and now the Mamas and Papas.  Each, to me, is a wholly inadequate description.  The best I can come up with (probably equally inadequate) stems from my absolute first 'what the hell is this' reaction.  It reminded me of the first time I heard Cowboy Junkies.  So imagine Cowboy Junkies, only with more pop (and a little soul) instead of country (and a male singer, most of the time), and you start to get the idea of the Magic Numbers.  That is to say, I don't quite know what to make of them.  But I can't stop listening.

From Sal’s newsletter (and who do you think he’s thinking of…)

UNTIL NEXT WEEK, WE LEAVE YOU WITH THIS:

To all you Yankee-hating New York residents, wouldja stop it already?  What's to hate about Robinson Cano or Aaron Small or Chien-Ming Wang or Mr. Class, Bernie Williams?  Or Mr. Clutch, Derek Jeter?  Or 3rd base coach Luis Sojo?  Or Mel Stottlemyre?  Or John Flaherty?  Or Mo Rivera?  Or Joe Torre?  Let's face it, you hate Steinbrenner and A-Rod, and so do we.  But it's not like the Red Sox or the Mets are lining up outside the soup kitchens, either.  Just stop!  You've got until spring training 2006 to get with the program.

Eric replies:  Um, Mel Stottlemyre?

October 13, 2005 | 10:50 AM ET | Permalink

A Sivacation special

Hey, everyone.   Siva Vaidhyanathan here again.  Eric left me the keys to this place again today.  Someday he will learn not to do that.  Until then, I will keep trying to persuade y'all of the moral superiority of the New York Yankees and the Texas Longhorns and the immoral inferiority of the Republican Party.  At least Eric will concur with the latter.  Actually, I have never heard him express an opinion of a college sports team.  But I think I can assume he favors his fancy private alma maters over my more athletically gifted one.  In addition, I will once again try to push the music conversation among Altercation readers beyond old white guys with guitars (not that there is anything wrong with that).  OK, that's unfair.  Eric loves writing about jazz artists and Rosanne Cash.  Still, we could use some fresh air in the music department once in a while, no?

But as long as we are talking about old white men with guitars, here is one scene where one would expect to see Eric Alterman and is surprised when one does not: Steve Earle (who is now my neighbor here in the Village) played a solo acoustic show down at the Culture Project on Bleecker Street on Tuesday night.  He was fun and brilliant, as usual.  He was also warm, happy, and passionate.  He closed the show with my favorite song of his, "Christmas Time in Washington."  Earle was raising money to put on a new play that he wrote.  It's called Karla and tells the story of Karla Faye Tucker, the born-again Christian woman W laughed about executing when he was governor of Texas.  If you are in NYC this fall, please come downtown to see this play.  You will be moved.  I promise.  Oh, and Earle was wearing a fetching Hideki Matsui shirt during the show.

"It's Money that Matters"

And speaking of the Yankees, I can't help but address Eric's rant against them the other day.  His chief reason for hating them seems to be money.  OK.  Let's think about this.  The MLB payroll has swollen to epic proportions since the owners were busted for colluding in the late 1980s.  Since that time, the Yankees won four World Series in 16 years.  That's a 25 percent championship rate.  Somehow, before these crazy times and for much of the time the owners benefited from the options clause restricting players from getting paid market value the Yankees won 22 championships.  Overall, the Yankees won almost a quarter of the World Series trophies.  So the Yankees have won at the same rate they always have, regardless of the inflation of the past decade and a half.  Even in that time lower-paid teams have won many series.

So money is not the key to victory.  Eric concedes as much.  So let's get this straight: George Steinbrenner throws away millions of dollars on dogs like Kevin Brown and Kenny Lofton and Eric has a problem with that?  Didn't Big George save some other team from paying almost that much to lose games with Brown on the mound?  Isn't that good for baseball?  Granted, George did not step in and save Eric's beloved Mets from throwing away millions on Mo Vaughn.  But he can't do everything, can he?  And why should Eric or anyone else care if Steinbrenner throws away his own money on players who don't win it all?  As far as the money Steinbrenner makes from fans like me, he pays a higher luxury tax than the rest of the owners, thus subsidizing other teams and the sport in general.  What's wrong with that?

Eric often reminds his readers that he lives in the greatest city in the world.  But the greatness of New York and the greatness of the Yankees have the same root: piles of money.  Amazing things happen in this city because it can afford infrastructure, civic pride, education and training, diversity, experimentation, creativity, and a constant infusion of talent.  Amazing things happen in Yankee Stadium because the team can afford these same things.  Our city is great because our city is rich.  The Yankees are part of that greatness.

Basically, the Yankees are not great because they have a big payroll.  They have a big payroll because they are great.  Jorge Posada, Mo Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter are paid more than most because they have been the heart and soul of a winning machine that has taken eight straight AL East titles.  They make so much because other teams would have taken them away from the team that raised them had not the Yankees given them big raises.  A-Rod's salary was set by the Rangers, not the Yankees.  And the Yanks got him instead of the Red Sox or Mets not because the Yankees were willing to pay him more.  In fact, they are paying less for A-Rod than the Red Sox wanted to.

I wish I could have included Andy Pettitte in that list of home-grown talent the Yankees pay for.  Losing him was Steinbrenner's greatest mistake since putting a tail on Dave Winfield.  And there is a lesson there: If you win a championship, don't let your best pitcher get away.  The Red Sox would have won the AL East and at least one game in the first round of the playoffs if they had kept the best pitcher they have ever had.  Instead, Pedro Martinez left for the lowly Mets and gets the fall off.  Oh well.  The Red Sox have never been very good at valuing great pitchers.  The Yankees have a house and Roger Clemens has a closet full of Cy Young awards as proof of that principle, too.

I was very pleased to see that the 2004 Red Sox finally sputtered and choked.  It just took them 12 months longer than usual.

OK.  Enough mocking the Mets and Red Sox.  I just want to make the point that any Angels or White Sox fans out there who want to pick on the Yankees are welcome to.  They earned it.  Red Sox and Mets fans, not so much.

Now I have that out of my system, I can boast about the unbeatable Texas Longhorns.  They will have the opportunity to win their first national championship since Nixon was in office.  In the mean time, I find myself actually hoping for a Notre Dame win this weekend to knock off the perpetually overrated USC Trojans.  Never overestimate the influence of a pretty boy quarterback on AP ranking voters.

What about dissing Republicans, you say? Enough about music and sports? Ok. Here we go.

Duty, Honor, Country

Here is a serious thing:  Someone should write a book titled something like "The Republican War on Soldiers."  The extent to which Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush have put our good soldiers in danger by shorting them on body armor and equipment and underestimating how many soldiers it would take to keep the rest safe borders on the criminal.  Perhaps because they were too scared, lazy, and/or drunk to serve when it was their time, but the extent to which these cowards have mistreated good, brave, American officers and soldiers is the great untold scandal of the past six years.

Here is one example:

“It was my turn to be humiliated every time I was taken to have a shower.  Naked, I had to run my hands through my hair to show that I was not concealing a weapon in it. Then mouth open, tongue up, down, nothing inside. Right arm up, nothing in my armpit. Left arm up. Lift the right testicle, nothing hidden. Lift the left. Turn around, bend over, spread your buttocks, knowing a camera was displaying my naked image as male and female guards watched.

“It didn’t matter that I was an army captain, a graduate of West Point, the elite US military academy. It didn’t matter that my religious beliefs prohibited me from being fully naked in front of strangers. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been charged with a crime. It didn’t matter that my wife and daughter had no idea where I was. And it certainly didn’t matter that I was a loyal American citizen and, above all, innocent.”

It continues to boggle my mind how anyone could possibly consider Republicans champions of American strength and security.  How many soldiers have to die (or be humiliated and run out of the military) before people wake up from the illusion that Republicans make us safer and treat soldiers and veterans better than Democrats.

Make way for the big man!

One of the great things about political blogging is that you never have to apologize for piling on.  It's my turn.  In case you missed it, here is the great Jay Rosen talking on CNN's Reliable Sources about Judith Miller and way she is ruining The New York Times:

... I think The New York Times has lost the capacity to tell the truth about itself in this story.  It's completely overidentified itself and the majesty of the institution with Judy Miller and what its own people describe as her personal decision making.
...
It isn't the First Amendment drama that they think it is.  It's a much more complicated, darker and ultimately dubious tale, and that has suspended journalism at The New York Times.

The Times gets sillier and sadder every day.  It's been hard to watch.  Why can't New York City have a brave and responsible daily newspaper?  How about one that chooses not to take "intelligent design" seriously?  Please.

It's my Party

I am intrigued with Eric's early endorsement of Al Gore for president.  Gore won a presidential election despite having a charisma deficit, a sex scandal at his workplace, a lazy and hateful media that was bent on helping his opponent win the election, and spray-painted hair covering his bald spot.  After being robbed by a corrupt Supreme Court, Gore stood down with dignity, just as he served with dignity.  Now he has a clearer message about what has gone wrong in this country and what we can become than any of his potential rivals for the Democratic nomination.  I still maintain that Sen. Clinton is justifiably popular and highly electable.  But Gore is better prepared to be blunt and bold and thus be president.  How about Gore/Clinton this time?  That said, I still think Wesley Clark and John Edwards would make excellent presidents.  In presidential politics I have a low tolerance for Yankees.

But I have to disagree with Eric on the mayoral race.  I am leaning toward voting for Bloomberg.  As with Steinbrenner, it does not concern me that Bloomberg spends his own money on bad ideas and bad politicians.  That's his business.  Who can run the city better?  Would Fernando Ferrer be a more effective and responsible mayor?  Would he give teachers bigger raises?  Would he hire more cops?  Would he retain control over the school system (perhaps Bloomberg's greatest political victory).  Look, Bloomberg was the driving force behind the most important environmental and public health initiative in almost a century: the smoking ban.  He wiped out Giuliani's deficit and then cut taxes.  He has kept our police force well staffed and trained and extended the amazing drop in crime that David Dinkins started.  This city is in an amazing upswing.  And now it even has Steve Earle!  I concede that Bloomberg has been ineffective in getting the city a fair shake from the state and federal governments.  And this subway search thing is just plain stupid.  But it's not like a real Democratic mayor could have done any better.  As usual, our city is left to fend for itself.  Good thing we are so strong.

OK.  Bye for now.  Oh, if y'all are in Atlanta on Friday, come see me speak at Emory University.  Should be fun.

Hook'em Horns!

October 12, 2005 | 1:01 PM ET | Permalink

Enough "irony" already

Today’s USA TODAY carries this story by John Diamond:

A newly released report published by the CIA rebukes the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to prewar intelligence that predicted the factional rivalries now threatening to split Iraq.

Policymakers worried more about making the case for the war, particularly the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, than planning for the aftermath, the report says. The report was written by a team of four former CIA analysts led by former deputy CIA director Richard Kerr.
...
The intelligence "also provided perceptive analysis on Iraq's links to al-Qaeda; calculated the impact of the war on oil markets; and accurately forecast the reactions of ethnic and tribal factions in Iraq."
...
"In an ironic twist, the policy community was receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right," they write.

How many times am I going to have to read about this kind of "irony" before they come to take me away?  In the first place it’s a misuse of the word.  But really, that’s not the point.  The point is the fact that hello, this is what they did!  They used (and demanded) the intelligence that allowed them to justify the war as a “cakewalk” and purposely ignored everything that implied that it might not be as easy as say, insider trading on your phony blind trust.  In other words, all of the effort that went into the State Department’s post-invasion project was thrown away.  The Council on Foreign Relations—which was so eager to play that they offered to partner with the Heritage Foundation—or AEI—when instructed to do so—was turned away when Rove told AEI to foggettaboutit.  They literally sold their fans on the Chalabist notion that it would be the easiest thing in the world to transform a 1000 year old autocracy into a democracy overnight.  The “Liberal Hawks,” including the whole crew at Slate and TNR, bought this bill of goods and peddled their own versions of it, and here, years later, the same crap is being shoveled out of the CIA.  Enough already.  These people are dishonest, OK?  Ignore what they say.  Watch what they do.

Speaking of which…  Harmonic Convergence Anyone?  Maybe there is a God.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine it was possible to nail Cheney, Rove, Libby, Miller, DeLay and Frist all at the same time.  But what’s up with this and this and this and this and this?

Atone very hard and sincerely, people.

(Arianna’s) Hollywood and I are as one:  Gore/Obama, '08, here, and not just because the entire country (and particularly the press corps) owes him an apology.  But because he’s the best placed candidate to unite the party and make the case against these corrupt, incompetent radicals.

Quote of the Day/Alter-reviews:

The most significant quality of totalitarian thinkers is extreme  contempt for facts, for, in their opinion, fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it.
—Hannah Arendt, " The Concept of History"  (Thanks Barry R)

And while we’re on the subject, Shocken just published two more worthy Arendt collections, Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954; Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism and The Promise of Politics, here.

I guess I should mention Rhino’s new Talking Heads Box, called The “DualDisc Brick.”  It’s all eight of their studio albums, expanded and remastered as two-sided DualDiscs featuring audiophile DVD-A sound.  They do come with individual jewel cases if you hate the brick or want to replace that beautiful but strangely-shaped box set they put out a couple of years ago.  It’s got everything, but it ain’t cheap.  Read all about it here expanded and remastered as two-sided DualDiscs featuring audiophile DVD-A sound.  Song list is here.

And just to confound my reputation, I found a new band I really like, The Magic Numbers.  They’re Brits, but they do a Mamas and Papas thing, and revive some of the best of what was musically and melodically attractive about the early seventies.  Together with the Kaiser Chiefs, that makes two.  Their Web site is here.

To all my landsmen and landswomen (except Nick King and Cathy Young) have an easy fast.  I’ll be back on Slacker Friday.

Correspondence Corner:

ALCON (Military-speak for “All Concerned”),
An historical mea culpa is in order:

In citing Professor Grimsley’s observations and lecture about the mythology of Sherman’s March to the Sea, I incorrectly attributed the story of the mansion directly to Professor Grimsley himself.  I was wrong. He does cite this incident, pretty much as I described it, in his lecture, but the event actually occurred to a third party in 1958.  For those interested, the complete lecture is located here.

Yours,
Bob Bateman

You can write to Major Bob and castigate him for his inaccuracies, past, present, and future at Bateman_maj@hotmail.com

Name: NABNYC
Hometown: Camarillo, California
Re: Yankees.  Joe Torre is a great manager.  Give him a team of decent players and he will work miracles.  The problem is that Steinbrenner wants to load the team with big name players who are prima donnas and will not be "managed" by Torre or anyone else because they think they already know it all.  Look at Randy Johnson's refusal to have Posada catch - he was babied and allowed to get away with it, so every five games you had Flaherty (who may be a good catcher but can't hit).  Look at A-Rod: only out for himself, big-mouth in putting down other players, and, ultimately, a complete loser in post-season.  Kevin Brown, of course.  The Yankee payroll actually hurts them.  It's like the all star game - a bunch of good players who don't really play as a team, and aren't that interesting because of that.  If Steinbrenner would let Torre have more of a voice in what players he wants, the Yankees could win again.  That and dump A-Rod.

Name: Paul Gordon
Hometown:  St Louis, MO
Hey Doc,
I have to admit that I'm a Yankees fan.  Old allegiances die hard.  If I were not from New York, and grew up when the Yanks were down (I started rooting for them as a 10-year old in 1965 (talk about bad timing)), I'd take a stand against their evil empire, too.  But, please, recognize a few things.  The Yankees, despite the tyrant Steinbrenner, are mostly a group of hard-working professional athletes.  The heart and soul of the team, Jeter and Rivera, came up through their system and weren't high-priced add-ons.  This year, the big expensive guns, especially Wright and Pavano, were flops, and the Yanks were rescued by the farm-system specials: Cano, Small, Wang.  And their best mid-season addition was one of the bargains of the year: Shawn Chacon.  So, if anything, the Yanks did well this year in spite of their huge salaries.  Oh, and if you're going to get all huffy about how much teams spend, how can you be a Red Sox fan?

Eric replies:  And how could FDR have supported Stalin?

Name: Phil Freeman
Hometown: Elizabeth, NJ
Eric - Ken Castro's letter intrigued me, and as a professional music critic, I figured it was up to me to reply.  Believe it or not, most of the political protestation going on in music today is in heavy metal.  Lamb Of God's albums "As The Palaces Burn" and "Ashes Of The Wake" are screaming, enraged anti-war/anti-Bush diatribes; particularly check out the title track from "...Wake," which is an instrumental featuring interview tapes of soldiers talking about killing Iraqi civilians.  System Of A Down, an Armenian-American band from L.A., has also been extremely vocal in their opposition to the war (Michael Moore directed one of their videos, centered around the big L.A. peace march from a couple of years ago).  Longtime industrial-rock monsters Ministry called a recent album "No W," and every song was a slam against the president, with no punches pulled lyrically or musically.  Metal, as I've known for several years and the New York Times discovered a couple of weeks ago, is no longer the knuckle-draggers' wasteland it used to be (in fact, it never really was, but this isn't the space for that diatribe).  Metalheads are thoughtful, pissed-off people, and there's a big political element to the music - it just gets missed by the mainstream media most of the time (System gets lots of press, but the other acts I mentioned don't, and neither do lots of others like them).

Name: Dan
Hometown: Alexandria, VA
In response to Ken Castro (who I agree with, having written a column on this exact subject in college 4-5 years ago): Part of the reason you don't hear about the anti-war music of today is because like most media conglomerates, the major labels don't believe it's profitable, certainly in comparison with the latest Britney clone.  That being said, you can still find some of it around.  Rage Against the Machine were extremely political (and extremely angry), System of a Down carry on that tradition (albeit in such a bizarre fashion that you might not even realize it at times), as well as numerous less mainstream acts, particularly in the punk and indie rock sub genres.  And of course, there's the multi-platinum, Grammy winning anti-war "rock opera" American Idiot from punk stalwarts Green Day.  The political/protest/anti-war songs are out there, you just have to find them.

Name:  David Morse
Hometown:  Oakland
"What's happened to the idea of protest and anti-war songs?"  Protest artists haven't gone away.  I would suspect that at the time the older artists you named were most vociferous about war and justice, they probably weren't getting a whole lot of airplay.  Over time, their views came to reflect the views of the majority, more or less, and existing songs became more radio-friendly, then they become "classics" that many do not even really associate with protest any longer.  Granted, radio is worse now than it has been at times in the past, with 2 or 3 companies owning virtually all the stations, but radio has always had a big weakness in regard to protest movements as activism and corporatism more often than not are like oil and water.  There are plenty of artists out there making great protest music today, much of it is hip-hop which flies under the mainstream radar.  Punkier bands and some metal as well.  There are even modern folk rockers out there.  Thing is, almost none of it ever hits the billboard charts.  You have to seek it out if your usual main exposure to music is radio, TV, etc. and bands you've known for 20 or more years.  It helps if you keep an open mind about it because a lot of the protest music these days is a angrier than much protest music of the 60s, often includes a lot more class and race consciousness, and involves exciting, newer sounds like punk and hip-hop.  Keep your ears open and you're sure to be pleased with the wide selection out there today.  Here's a few of my contemporary favorites:  System of a Down (hard rock with humor from LA), Paris (hip-hop legend from Bay Area still making powerful protest albums -- you *must* hear his "What would you do?" Bush clip from "Sonic Jihad"), Saul Williams (hip-hop), MC Frontalot, Michael Franti & Spearhead (soulful rock), David Roviks (political folk), and, of course, I could never leave out Oakland's own hip-hop legends The Coup, voted to have the "Best New Album of 2004" by the S.F. Chronicle.  Even well-known acts like Chumbawamba, Green Day, Zach De La Rocha, and the Beastie Boys have written songs directly protesting against this foul war in Iraq.  If you want to hear great political music, you will not be disappointed with any of the still-active bands I listed.  Enjoy!  A great site to sample modern protest songs for free can be found here.
Peace,
David

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

Why it’s OK to Hate the Yankees

I'll admit I enjoyed watching last night, particularly because I’m a Mets fan and our season ended with a heartbreaking crash about a month ago.  But even if I weren’t a Mets, (and a part-time Red Sox fan, but these conditions are actually inseparable) I’d still not feel the slightest bit guilty about hating the Yankees and rejoicing in their misery.  Am I a bad person?  Perhaps but here are my reasons:

  1. Steinbrenner.
  2. Money.  According to this ($) extremely useful analysis by the Wall Street Journal’s Allen St. John, the cost per victory of a team good enough to make the playoffs is approximately $900,000 per.  The White Sox made the playoffs at just $759,373 per victory while the Angels paid $1.03 million.  In the National League, the Cardinals managed at $862,685 per victory while the Astros ponied up $921,068.  The Yankees, on the other hand (with its $208.3 million payroll) led the majors with a ridiculous $2.2 million per victory, which is seventy percent higher than that of the closest competitor, the Red Sox, at $1.3 million.  To root for the Yankees, therefore, is to root for the power of the money, pure and simple.  You might as well root for Citigroup…

P.S.  St. John is consistently interesting and the WSJ consistently has the most interesting baseball coverage I read anywhere, but they really need to bring back Allen Barra on a regular basis.

The Pinch and Judy Show.  (Am I the first person to use that?)  Is it really possible that the Times columnists, every one of whom is appointed by the publisher who has championed her cause, have had nothing to say about the entire Judy fracas for the years that it has now gone on?  And why does everyone at the Times suddenly sound like they work for the Kremlin?  Were all those promises we heard after the Jayson Blair events just a means to get us to go back to bed, and now they don’t respect us anymore?

The blogger/journalist conundrum, continued, here.  I got an anonymous phone call on Sunday with what purported to be an explosive revelation about Judy and the Fitzgerald investigation.  The caller provided no evidence when I asked for verification and you’d have to be someone like Sy Hersh rather than someone like me to figure out whether there’s anything to it.  Should I print it here and see if anything comes of it?  I think not.  Is that un-bloggy?  Maybe.  (Ooops.  Have I just slandered bloggers?  Is Jeff Jacoby going to beat me up?)  Should MSNBC.com fire me for my unblogginess or give me a raise for my journalistic high-mindedness?  Discuss.  I’ll start it off.  Um, it’s been quite a while guys…

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Perception is Reality

In Ohio State historian Mark Grimsley is one of the most balanced and intellectually inquisitive academics I know.  His interests and insights across a wide-range of fields demonstrate all that is right within academia, and his ability to spot interesting anomalies never fails.  He is also an expert on the Civil War.  His award winning book, The Hard Hand of War, describes the evolution of the behavior of the Union Army towards civilians in the States then under rebellion.  He starts with the infamous “Lieber Code,” and carries the official view through “General Order 100” to the eventual culmination of a ‘hard handed attitude’ towards the enemy by the end of the war.  The ultimate expression of which was Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s now-infamous March to the Sea.  But Professor Grimsley has an accompanying lecture that he likes to give about Sherman’s March.  During that lecture he recounts a curious tale about a situation in which he found himself while researching his book.

Grimsley was in Georgia, along the route which Sherman took from Atlanta to the Sea.  He was in a small town and somehow the topic of his research came up.  One of the oldsters noted that yes, Sherman’s ‘bummers’ had come through and absolutely destroyed the town.  Then the man pointed at one of the beautiful, pristine, and never rebuilt ante-bellum mansions and said without apparent irony, “Yep, they burned it [the mansion] to the ground.”

The building, the standing, completely-untouched-perfectly-preserved Ante-Bellum building, was a testimony to perceptions vs. reality.

The reality was that Sherman’s “bummers” burned a lot of outbuildings, a lot of barns, a lot of warehouses, but had not touched (by and large) the homes along their route.  But the legend, even today, even in a modern first-world nation state, is much more powerful than the mere facts.  The concrete, unassailable-evidence-standing-right-there-fact is that the mansions, regardless of Margaret Mitchell’s intimations, remain standing even today, without much more than a scratch.  In a way they are a mute testament to the ability to change history to match their ideas of what should have happened (or must have happened) despite concrete evidence to the contrary.

Today, here in Iraq, we are struggling against a perception in the Arab world which is just as misrepresentative of the larger reality as that of the myth of the March to the Sea.  I just cannot see any way to counteract that myth either.  The developing macro-myth of the American treatment of prisoners will be with us, like it or not, for generations.  And this is important:  It will not matter when we have completely fixed all the institutional, or individual, or systemic problems that led to the various accounts of abuse.  It will not matter at all.  We could turn over the entire military judicial system, hell, we could turn over control of the whole U.S. military, to the combined powers of the ACLU, Doctors Without Borders and the Hague, and it would not matter.  The power of myth is that strong.

Now let me note that from a moral standpoint it should not matter that tens of thousands have processed through or been held by American forces.  Human Rights, when you absolutely boil them down, are not about the many, but the few.  So what should matter to all of us is what happened to those who have been abused.  Morally, this is the right way to approach the issue.  But at the same time the focus on the few means that their image is amplified, and over time the amplification of that image will result in the solidification of a larger myth.

Perhaps not soon, but eventually, more of the images of what took place here two years ago at Abu Ghraib will enter the public domain.  These will coalesce with the stories such as those revealed by Captain Fishback of the 82nd Airborne.  The end result of which will be an iconic image of this war which was not imagined before it started.  From this will derive two situations.  The first, here, in the Middle East.  The second occurs back there, at home.

Here the images and the facts will blur.  What will remain is an iconic perception which will tar the United States for decades if not centuries.

At home the blame game will really start.  Within academic halls the images will be deconstructed, their effect analyzed, and the “inevitability” of their appearance retro-forecasted.  But on the political side, the only debate from that point forward will be, “Whose fault is it that the pictures landed on the Internet?”

The real question, however, should be, “What are we going to do about this coming reality?”  We cannot stop the myth from developing, and we probably cannot erase the myth.  So how will we live with it?

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:

On Friday my daughter Morgan went shopping for her first Homecoming Dance dress.  She is a freshman in High School.  One of her best friends was nominated to the Homecoming Court.  She is…growing up.

This is very difficult for her father to accept.

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

$343 million lost, here, somewhere in Homeland Security because fancy hotels are nicer than ugly malls.  You think these people can transform an Arab autocracy into a Western-style democracy? Haha

Quote of the Day: 

The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek.  They placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at crucial moments.  They paid actors to make phony video press releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it in return for positive stories.  And every day they unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President.
Here.

Al Gore for President, and yes, dammit, I mean it.

Gossip Item Clarification:  There was an item in the New York Magazine gossip column last week (or so) which was confusing to most people about my subbing for Dave Eggers at Brooklyn College.  That’s not what happened.  What did happen is that my chair, Ellen Tremper, asked Dave if he would speak to the incoming freshman about “Heartbreaking, ETC” which they had all been assigned to read.  He readily agreed to come in from San Francisco to do so, even though he has stopped talking about that book, and to do so for free.  When he realized that he couldn’t make the agreed date for family medical reasons, he came in early and taped a discussion with a few summer students, again, gratis.  Ellen decided to show the incoming freshman the taped discussion and I introduced it.  Somehow, New York Magazine had a problem with that, but I don’t get it...

The Nation Institute is sponsoring a discussion with October Scott Ritter and Sy Hersh next Wednesday, Ocotber 19, 7-8:30 PM at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th St @ Central Park West, NYC.  It's free and there are no tickets, but it might be crowded...

Alter-reviews:

The Band, A Musical History, is in contention for the classiest box set I’ve seen in, well, a really long time.  It’s five CDs plus, with 102 tracks, 30 of them are previously unreleased, and eight Dylan cuts.  The accompanying DVD has nine live performances.  It comes with a really handsome 108 page hard-bound book, without any celebrity reflections, etc., but everything you need to appreciate the music’s context.  You can also put it on your coffee table if you want to.  Musically, it’s better than anything I’ve heard by the band before beginning with Levon & The Hawks, the Ronnie Hawkins stuff and of course, the Zimmie tapes, though if you have the remastered albums, maybe you’ve already got most of it.  And not everything a person could want is here; “Stagefright” is largely stiffed, and where are those Dylan cuts that were on the re-release of “Rock of Ages”?  But I doubt anyone but a real fanatic has all the later stuff and here what you’d want from it is captured.  And yes, the DVD could have been more generous; they must have some concert videos that nobody was using…  Still, it’s a beautiful package and some beautiful music.  Anybody cool would want it as a gift.  You can read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: 
The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
I noticed a map in the back of Sunday NYT's Week in Review relating decreasing individual bankruptcy filings and real estate prices (you know my predilection for those kinds of things).

What grabbed me was the odd familiarity of the regions...  Ironically, it turns out that many of the areas that have seen their fates improved real estate/bankruptcy wise voted against the President, while those regions whose bankruptcy rates are spiking were big supporters.

Here are the details:

Insolvency Epidemic

The Sunday NYT observes the inverse correlation between hot real estate markets and bankruptcy filings.

A NEW bankruptcy law takes effect this month in the midst of an insolvency epidemic: personal bankruptcies have been rising steadily since 2000, and will most likely reach an all-time high this year.  The law, which will make it harder for many people to clear away credit card debt, takes effect on Oct. 17 and has touched off a rush to the courts.  In the bankruptcy court for the northern district of Texas, for example, filings for September were 46 percent greater than in September 2004.

Yet the rise in bankruptcies since 2000 has been far from uniform around the country.  While there have been large increases in much of the South and Midwest, sections of the East and West Coast have had declines in filings over the last five years. To some extent, the increases in the South and Midwest reflect job losses from manufacturing and agriculture.

Economists say that as housing markets begin to cool, bankruptcies are likely to increase. "At some point you will get a combination of falling values combined with rising payments on adjustable mortgages, which will result in more bankruptcy," said Mark Zandi of the research firm Economy.com. "For these areas of the country that are enjoying such wonderful conditions right now, it will become much less wonderful a few years down the road.

It certainly makes sense that a strong real estate market -- along with dropping interest rates -- allows equity extraction via cash out refinancings.  That may be keeping even more people from filing for bankruptcy.

Of course, it's a double edged-sword:  as rates tick up, and as prices begin to cool, this source of easy money goes away.

Now here's something curious:  The Map from the NYT shows the various increases in bankruptcy rates on a county by county basis.  The results were not exactly what I would have suspected, given how various counties voted in the last Presidential election:

Changes in Bankruptcy Rates by County, 2000 to 2005  (graphic courtesy of the NYT)

Is it just me, or is the map above surprisingly similar to those red/blue maps we saw so much of right after the election?

The really curious thing is that the Gore voters from 2000 are filing for fewer bankruptcies since 2000, while the Bush voters are filing for more.  (Does that make any sense to you?)

Here's the 2000 county Presidential voting map.

This map looks surprisingly like the first one.  Would you have guessed that regions that supported the President are increasingly filing for bankruptcy protection?

See also the population density maps of the same ( here and here) for more of the same.

Source:
Where Home Prices Rise Steeply, Bankruptcies Fall
FORD FESSENDEN
NYT, October 9, 2005

Name:  Don Dougherty
Hometown:  Lynbrook, New York
Dear Eric:
The great thing about David Halberstam's writing about politics is that every book, no matter what the subject, reads exactly the same.  Those sentences, filled with commas, spinning like pinwheels, with wandering allusions to what the friends of the people involved saw as the subjects' brilliance from an early age.  In the end most of his political books are all style and not much else, sort of like a Bill Buckley issue analysis.  They are actually funny without meaning to be.

Name: Ken Castro
Hometown: Los Angeles
Eric:
I appreciate your music reviews, and the comments from others on different musical genres, obscure talent, and attempts to list so-and-so's greatest song.  I've noticed that almost all of the postings here on music fall into three camps: 1) Roots music of various genres, 2) Obscure artists and their impact, and, 3) Bruce, Jerry, Clapton, et al.  Nothing wrong with any of those areas.  I could read blogs about Jerry all day ~ still can't believe it's been 10 years since he passed.  Anyway, after reading your blog for some time, what with the many postings about this war on "terror," both pro and con, and noticing the interest here on music, I have one question: Why isn't the music of today reflective of this damn war?  And not just of the deaths in Iraq of our young men and women, and those of the Iraqis, but of the whole idea of "America as am Empire," and all that entails?  I'm 52 years old, been into music since I could talk.  What's happened to the idea of protest and anti-war songs?  Where is this generations' Dylan, Ochs, Baez and Odetta, to write and sing about the obvious atrocities and right-wingnut events??  We keep talking about the Bob Dylan of 40 years ago, and rightly so, but can I issue the challenge to the younger readers of your column: where are your protest singers and songs?  Doesn't your generation feel the need to express something, ANYTHING, about the situation our country is in??  I work on the campus of UCLA; this is the campus of Angela Davis, for Christ's sake, and I just don't see any of activism here today... hell, we've still got one of the Chicago 7 here on faculty (John Froines), but there is absolutely NO campus activism whatsoever here.  Anyone care to address this?

October 10, 2005 | 12:40 PM ET | Permalink

No Guru, No Method, No Presidency
Five errors about Murrow and McCarthy

When the history of this period of American politics is written, the indictments that are, or are not, about to be handed down by Patrick Fitzgerald may loom larger than any other event in explaining why the Bush façade finally fell apart. Karl Rove is scrambling to save his own Texas-sized posterior from indictment and possibly even slammer-time, and may not be able to do so, bless Fitzgerald’s frigid little heart.

Meanwhile, Cheney’s health has not been good and his man “Scooter” Libby is on the ropes. Nora Ephron speculated that he and Bush are on the outs. That means Bush has been playing with B-team advisers telling him what to do and hence, we are finally seeing his true “unhandled” self. The result stuff like, “So what if it’s raining at Trent Lott’s house. I wanna go fishing,” and “Way to Go Brownie.” “Why not put Harriet on the Supreme Court?” and “We’re winning in Iraq, really, really we are, anyway, what about 9/11? Remember that?” together with a 33 percent approval rating.

This is who Bush really is—successfully hidden from public view; someone with the competence and commitment of the other members of his now, transparent hackocracy  as those clever TNR/Harvard boys have named it, and even “the base” or what Lee Atwater used to call “the extra-chromosome conservatives” can’t stand it. Well, you asked for it… (And don’t miss Frank Rich, here.)

Good Night and Bad Luck

Writing in Slate about the movie “Good Night and Good Luck,” which I highly recommend, Slate’s Jack Shafer makes an extremely long and tendentious argument here  which makes a few telling points about the film’s historical accuracy—I actually think it a bit silly for people to depend on Hollywood for their history—but in doing so, goes on to make a series of extremely troubling arguments. I’ve picked out four (well, five), of them below, but believe me, I could go on.

1) Shafer writes, “The Venona transcripts have shown definitively that American communists and Soviet sympathizers, such as Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg, did gather information for Moscow in the 1930s and 1940s.”

This is tricky, but fundamentally dishonest and ultimately false sentence. In the first place two people out of tens or hundreds of thousands of “that American communists and Soviet sympathizers” does not show much of anything. It is a statistically insignificant sampling. You might just as well argue that it has shown definitively that “brown-haired people and guys in suits did gather information for Moscow…” More importantly, perhaps, it’s false. I’m guessing Shafer has never read the Venona transcripts. For if he did, he would know that they don’t demonstrate anything about Alger Hiss. The single mention of Hiss in the many thousands of pages of recorded conversations is not part of the transcripts themselves, but a scribbled margin by an unknown NSA functionary and dated 24 years after the original translated cable that names a spy with the codename “Ales” and represents a guess at his identity.

It is not supported by any corroborative evidence, and is a sensible guess, but that’s all. Even if  the alleged spy discussed in this cable really is Hiss--and nobody knows for sure--this would have to be argued outside the context of the Venona transcripts, rather than as a result of them. I try to stay away from the Hiss case per se, because down that road madness lies, though I’ve read much of what has been written about the case—at least what’s in English—and I spend a lot of time on its political impact in When Presidents Lie, which, coincidentally, is just about out in paperback. I did do one article inspired by the ALES controversy which you can find here.
(I take no position on guilt or innocence, merely on the quality of the evidence, which has titled, inconclusively, toward Chambers’ version of late and against Hiss.) You may think this nitpicking, but this is the foundation upon which history rests, and Shafer appears ignorant of most of it.

Second, Shafer writes, “Now, just because Moss was in the party doesn't make her a traitor, as McCarthy would have it, although it would make her a perjurer. If Clooney has researched the story as deeply as I believe he has, he knows of the evidence against Moss and has chosen to ignore it to make his story as black and white as its film stock. Likewise, in the Radulovich program, Murrow made no effort to explore whether the reservist might be a security threat if his family members are. But is it journalism when the only question asked by a reporter is whether a beleaguered citizen is receiving due process? In a recent review of the Murrow DVD set, Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin posed the question this way: "Would we be comfortable these days with an Air Force officer with a security clearance whose father belonged to al Qaeda?"

Here, both Shafer and Garvin accept the McCarthyite premise—one that also underlies the false analogy driving Peter Beinart’s argument described here, that to sympathize with Communism, whatever that means--and it can have mean, many, many different and contradictory meanings--is the equivalent of wishing to overthrow the US government and make war on its people. After all, the problem with Al Qaeda is not that they believe in a particularly radical form of Islam, but that they want to kill us.

The Shafer/Garvin argument would have us accept that anyone who was related to a Communist was a legitimate security risk. Oh really? Is Arlo Guthrie a security risk? Is Carl Bernstein a security risk? What about the children, grandchildren and great, grandchildren of America’s “most successful Communist,” Pete Seeger? Are they all security risks? (I see Fred Kaplan got it right when, in criticizing Bush (and by extension, his ideological ally in this matter, Shafer/Garvin) on the same day in the same magazine, he wrote of Bush, “He likened the struggle against terrorism to the Cold War struggle against Communism—ignoring that Communism's strength derived less from its ideology than from its embodiment in the massive, heavily armed, centrally controlled Soviet state.” here

True, I might want to be extra careful about an Air Force officer whose father was a member of the KGB, but to be a simple, innocently misguided Communist is an American right. (A better analogy would be to Islam itself, and I’d be really impressed if Garvin/Shafer want to go there, though I know people like General Boykin and maybe that guy who just got kicked out the Air Force Academy do…)

Then there’s this: Shafer writes, “According to Sperber's book, by this time CBS TV had become the single largest advertising medium in the world. See It Now had never made a penny. To leave a ratings loser in a coveted time slot when so much money could be made with a quiz show or other fare would have been insane.” That sentence speaks for itself but I disagree. Some lawyers, for instance, like to do pro bono work even though it is not as profitable as working for tobacco companies to deny compensation to cancer victims. I don’t find that “insane.”

To make a more precise analogy. ABC could have made a lot more money showing semi-clad female wrestling matches at 11:30 every night instead of “Nightline.” I don’t think they were “insane” for letting Mr. Koppel go on every night instead.  Money, in other words, isn’t everything, which after all, is why we’re in this business…

Finally, this sentence just amazes me: “Instead of a black-and-white docudrama, what if Clooney had exploited the humor in McCarthy's manic-depressive cycles, his crazed periods of insomnia, and his battles with the bottle? Play Roy Cohn's closeted homosexuality for laughs, too…” Am I missing something, or is Shafer really suggesting that mental illness, alcohol addiction, and homosexuality be “played for laughs?” What kind of homosexuality was possible in that day for an ambitious right-wing hatchetman other than the closeted kind? (This helps explain why present-day right-wing homosexual hachetmen are free to proclaim their preference, while acting much as Cohn did in other matters, in re Decadent Fifth-Columnist Coastal Elites who cannot be trusted to fight Al Qaeda from their remodeled P-Town bathrooms, though I won’t mention any names.…) 

Oh yeah this too: Shafer mocks Clooney’s message, which is that “… compared to the giants of 1954, modern journalists have been cowed by those in political power. What a facile, Hollywood cliché.” I agree. Why would anyone in the world think that American journalists have been cowed by those in political power? It’s not as if anyone of them reported that Saddam absolutely, positively, certainly, no doubt about it, had WMDs; or was about to get nukes; or was best friends with Osama; or that we would be “welcomed as liberators…” etc, etc, What a facile, Hollywood cliché.

Shame on that bad Clooney man. Its historical inaccuracies aside, “Good Night and Good Luck,” is a beautiful piece of movie-making. Go see it and then read a history book.  For the best intellectual history of the period, I’d recommend Richard Pells, “The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age,” here. The best history of McCarthyism so far is, I think, Ellen Schrecker,  “Many Are the Crimes : McCarthyism in America here.

Does anybody edit Slate?
Bryan Curtis writes “…there's a New England Patriots manifesto on the way from David Halberstam, whose byline usually indicates that something terribly historical has happened” here.
Previous Sports Books by David Halberstam:

  • The Teammates
  • Breaks of the Game
  • Summer of '49
  • October 1964
  • The Amateurs : The Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal
  • Playing for Keeps : Michael Jordan and the World He Made (The Best American Sports Writing of the Century)

(By the way, excluding the brilliant but 33-years-old, “Best and The Brightest” and the well-reported but comically badly written “Powers that Be,” he’s a lot better on sports than politics. I wrote about his last big, bad, book, here. And I entirely agree with Kitty Kelly’s Times op-ed here, which is why I wrote the same piece about four years ago, here.

Happy 97th Birthday, Saturday, to one of my heroes, that great Canadian American, John Kenneth Galbraith. Eric Rauchway’s review of Richard Parker’s biography is archived here.

Quotes of the Day:

"It's good to be on Long Island. Long Island and New Jersey are alike. If you scratch a Long Islander you find a New Jerseyan. If you scratch a New Jerseyan you find a Long Islander. They're two sides of the same tragic coin."
"A lot of fans come up to me on the street, and they always ask me the same question: 'Have you got any change?' No, seriously, fans are always asking me, what's it really like to be the Boss? I could try offer some fake humility bul**hit, but the real answer is: fabulous beyond your wildest dreams..."
-- Bruce Springsteen, Nassau Coliseum, (as reported by JJ Goldberg)

“…with whom he agrees.” This might have been one of the greatest lines of all time if only Mary Gaitskill hadn’t been so careless as to end it with a preposition: "He moves like he's being yelled at by invisible people whom he hates but whom he basically agrees with."

Alter-reviews by Sal

Two boxed sets that have taken up a lot of my time this week both come from Rhino. "Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings of Ray Charles"  and "One Kiss Can Lead to Another" The Girl Group Sound: Lost & Found"  are two near-perfect collections...musically.
While Ray Charles had put out some fine material after 1960, his recordings from 1952-1959 for the Atlantic label, is arguably his most magical. From the jump blues of his early singles, to the rock, rhythm and blues of such staples as "What'd I Say," and "Talkin' Bout You," to the gospel-influence of "I Believe To My Soul" and the heartbreaking balladry of "Hard Times" and "Come Rain Or Come Shine," this box literally has it all, including the wonderful jazz recordings with Milt Jackson. What makes this box so special is its lack of weak material. 120 songs on 7 CDs and 1 DVD and there is no filler.

And, what is shaping up to be my favorite collection of the year is the "Girl Group Sound: Lost & Found," four CDs of perfect pop singles from superstars such as The Supremes and Dusty Springfield to no names such as The Palisades and Peanut, this was the first box set that I started playing and didn't stop until I finished.
Producers Sheryl Farber & Gary Stewart have compiled what I can only describe as a labor of love. Avoiding the obvious and taking a chance on the obscure yet powerful, this box is not some repackaged collection of songs we never have to hear again like "Soldier Boy" and "Leader Of The Pack."  This is the equivalent of someone, say, a Bruce Springsteen fan opting to include "Meeting Across The River" on a compilation instead of "Dancing In The Dark." We all know the hits, but check out these amazing songs instead.

The Chiffons' could have easily been represented by either of their two monster hits "One Fine Day" or "Sweet Talking Guy," but instead we get the daring, quasi-psychedelic "Nobody Knows What's Goin' On (In My Mind But Me) and the amazing "When The Boy's Happy" recorded under their pseudonym The Four Pennies. Same with The Shirelles, who's aforementioned "Soldier Boy" is thankfully neglected for the rarely acknowledged rocker "Boys," more commonly associated with The Beatles. The list goes on and on.
Some real gems- "Dream Baby" from a pre-nosejob Cher, the unbelievably catchy "Baby Baby, I Still Love You," from New York's The Cinderellas, "He Was Really Sayin' Something" by The Velvelettes, later an 80's hit for Bananarama, "Go Now" by Bessie Banks, a song most of us know by The Moody Blues, and a song I had never heard until this set, "I Never Dreamed" by The Cookies, a song with spine-tingling melodies that will remain in your head for days. The list goes on and on. I cannot recommend this one enough.

Now earlier I referred to these sets as near-perfect. Here is why. As usual, the packaging is clumsy and overdone. The Ray Charles set is housed in what looks like box better fit for a pair of shoes, and the Girl Group set is packaged in a hat box. When purchased together, it would look as if you spent an afternoon at Gimbel's instead of a fine record store like NYCD. Nice jewel cases that fit comfortably on a shelf would not only be more practical, but no doubt bring the cost down to something more affordable. And the most confusing is the sequencing of the Ray Charles set. If anyone out there has any idea of why it was randomly spread over seven CDs, instead of chronologically, please let me know.
Sal
NYCD

Eric adds: Actually, I like the box for the Ray Charles set and while I do think the Girls Group Box is a little nutty, it has individual boxes you can put it on your shelf and my kid is happy to hold onto the hatbox.

Also, George Whitman, the crazy man who let me live for a month in the “Writer’s Room” surrounded by first editions and other crazy people above Shakespeare and Company in Paris (without a bathroom) back in 1984, is profiled tonight on IFC, which reminds me, rent “After Sunset” if you havent’ already seen it, which begins with a reading in the store, and goes for walk in the neighborhood, which remains virtually unchanged in the past 20 years….

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Comments: Hello, Eric. Richard Heinzman makes a mistake of confusing raw numbers with comparative numbers. That is, trying to compare the tax burden of someone who is very rich to someone who is very poor by simply looking at the raw number of dollars collected in taxes is misleading and inappropriate.
A person who earns $1 million and pays $1,000 in taxes is not more burdened when compared to someone who earns $50,000 and pays $500 in taxes. The tax bite of the person earning 50K in this scenario is 10 times greater than that of the person earning a million, even though he's only paying one-half of the amount in raw dollars.
And this in spite of the fact that two-thirds of the revenue generated came from the top 50%. Thus to claim that 80% of taxes are being paid by the richest 20%, while simplistically true, doesn't mean that the rich are being soaked. It simply reflects the fact that the rich by dint of being rich have more to contribute. A small percentage of a large thing is still a large thing. Back when Bill Gates was still the golden boy of the richest of the rich, there was a term used by the computer wonks to represent a huge amount of money while at the same time recognizing the outrageous amount of money Bill Gates had: The milligates.
It represents one-thousandth of the reported net worth of Gates. These days, that's about $45 million. As another way to help wrap your mind just how wealthy the super wealthy are, another Gates-related scenario was to suppose that Bill was walking to work and saw $1,000 bill lying on the sidewalk. Given the amount of money that Bill earns, it would not be worth his time to bend down and pick it up. He would earn more to just keep walking.
So of course the percentage of raw dollars into the revenues will mostly come from those who have the most. But to pretend that this means that they are paying their "fair share" is to misunderstand statistics. They might, they might not. The only way to tell is to compare the rich to the poor. Raw numbers mean nothing. You must always place them within context. Let's take a look at a more interesting set of numbers: The amount of federal revenue paid through personal taxation compared to corporate taxes. Using inflation adjusted dollars, the federal revenue was about half a trillion dollars of which the split was about 50-50, corporations paying about $250 billion. Over 40 years later, the federal revenue has expanded to about two trillion...all on the backs of the individual: Corporations still pay only about $250 billion in taxes.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Comments: Eric-- Richard Heinzman's assessment of the disproportionate share of taxes paid by the wealthy ignores the fact that the rich reap the rewards of the infrastructure in a grossly disproportionate fashion as well, especially indirectly.
Take Heinzman's own example, the bus system that they pay for but don't use themselves, as an illustration. It's true that many wealthy people have never dropped a fare in the farebox or sat next to a stranger to get to their job, but this public infrastructure serves them in ways that Heinzman doesn't acknowledge.
Does the business owner send a car around to pick up his employees, or do these low wage earners ride the bus? If there was no bus to ride, and thus no way for those employees to arrive at work and conduct Mr. Ms. Tycoon's business, how would that business survive? What would the bottom line look like if the Tycoons had to start paying wages that enabled employees to own cars, pay insurance, fill the tank? Mr. and Ms. Tycoon may send their kids to private school, or maybe they don't have kids, but the employees that they hire to staff their offices or run machinery in their factories, or drive the trucks that deliver the goods their businesses sell were educated in public schools.
And at the very least, Mr. and Ms. Tycoon need solid wage earners who can participate in the economy in order to make their astronomical salaries.
Even more abstract infrastructure like the SEC enables fortunes to be made without the risk of corrupt; wealth at the level of those in the 1% category is leveraged by investments.
Behind the statistics that Heinzmann cites, the disparity of income in the US continues to grow at an obscene and dangerous rate. As those in the top 1% put greater distance between their wealth and that of all others, they will continue to pay a higher share of the taxes, but do they pay at a rate commensurate to the benefits they enjoy? Not even close.

Name: Chris Harlow
Hometown: Virginia
Comments: Although I don't want to put up a lengthy response (I would really rather spend that time with my kids), I think it is important that Mr. Heinzman (and others like him) understand that he is taking data out of context. Without that context, I can understand Mr. Heinzman's frustrations, but when you understand the context of where that data is coming from, you begin to understand that the actual problem is that the top earners really aren't paying enough.
What Mr. Heinzman stated is accurate, but it is not complete. Let's start by getting the data together so you can look for yourself. The IRS has provided their 2002 information here, and you can find variations of that data at www.irs.gov as well.
But this spreadsheet provides all that we need to show where Mr. Heinzman has gone wrong. I'll keep myself restricted to the breakdowns shown on that spreadsheet so you can easily understand how I arrive at my conclusions.
The top .09% of earners (the bottom 4 rows) involves 90,591 returns. They collectively have an AGI of $339,928,491,000 (dollar figures on this spreadsheet are in the 1000s). Now, let's get about that same AGI from the bottom earners. In order to get close to that figure, $324,097,301,000 is accomplished by the bottom 40,639,473 (or 39.74% of earners - the top 12 rows) returns.
That's right, collectively the top .09% of earners make more than the bottom 39.74% of earners in this country. Now, as we analyze this deeper, it will only get worse. On average, the top .09% of earners has an AGI of $3,752,343. On average, the bottom 39.74% of earners has an AGI of $7,975. Just divide the AGI of each group by the number of returns for that group. Now here is some of that context I mentioned earlier. But to be fair, let's take out the taxes and see how each group ends up after the tax season. The top .09% of earners paid $110,444,738,000 in taxes.
The bottom 39.74% of earners paid $38,553,943,000 in taxes, or only about 35% as much. The results: on average, the top .09% of earners has remaining income of $2,533,185; on average, the bottom 39.74% of earners has remaining income of $7,026. Yes, the top earners pay substantially more taxes than the bottom earners, but let's focus on the context of the remaining money. How much are those top .09% of earners suffering?
With 2.5 million dollars annually, will they be starving, or living on the street, or sitting in rags? They paid on average almost $1.25 million in taxes but are still left over with tons of discretionary money to buy the latest gadgets, cars, super-sized homes, fancy feasts, and pretty much anything they want that pops in their minds. They don't have to worry about medical emergencies, or repossessions, or increases in energy costs. Those are all drops in a bucket to them.
They worry about such things as their stock portfolios or what country they are going visit for a vacation. I don't know about you, but I would be happy to live with such suffering. Now, let's look at the bottom earners. Perhaps Mr. Heinzman would be kind enough to enlighten me where I could live on an average of $7,026 per year. How do I pay for a place to live, and food, and clothing? If my income is just under $8,000 per year, you can bet that $950 paid to taxes hurts a lot. At that income level, every single dollar counts.and they gave $950 of that in taxes, increasing their suffering all the more.
There is no discussion about stock portfolios (or any investments for that matter), and a vacation probably involves driving a short ways to visit relatives. A medical emergency wipes them out, repossessions are a reality, and increasing energy costs have huge impacts. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine living under such circumstances. When you start digging through this information historically, Mr. Heinzman, you will find that the reason that the top earners keep paying proportional more is because their incomes have risen much faster than the incomes of the poor. Greater disparity in incomes will result in a greater disparity in taxes paid. From the link provided earlier on this blog: The top tenth of 1 percent had more income in 2003 than the poorest third of taxpayers, a group with 330 times the number of people, analysis of the data showed. This is a sharp change from 1979, the earliest year in the I.R.S. report, when the total income of the poorest third of Americans exceeded that garnered by the top tenth of 1 percent by 2.5-to-1. And before you think I'm just a whining low income individual who wants more and more, let me inform you that I'm in the top 10% of earners in this country, and I would be happy to pay more taxes.

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle
Comments: Woah, I thought the best part of the brazenly idiotic Bill O'Reilly quote was "They had to leave the country, just as Africans had to leave -- African-Americans had to leave Africa and come over on a boat and try to make in the New World with nothing." Seems like Professor O paused to contemplate just how moronic it was--is he suggesting that the slavers parked their rat-infested ships off shore and the 18th Century Africans clamored to get on board to start off anew with nothing, as slaves? I assume he's equating his Irish ancestors with all other immigrants, but to single out the segment of our population that, for 250 or so years, was forced to come here as chattel, well, he's really mixing falafels with loofahs….

Name: Mark Burnette
Hometown: Evanston IL
Dr. Alterman, This is directed to you personally, and you may already be aware of it, but if you wish to share it with Altercation readers, please do.
The Optimists: The Story of the Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust Starts October 21st at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011.
The film will have its NY Premiere on Oct. 10th at the Center for Jewish History, New York City. The screening is sponsored by: Consulate General of Israel in New York Consulate General of Bulgaria in New York American Society for Yad Vashem American Jewish Committee American Sephardic Federation Center for Jewish History, and in collaboration with The International Raul Wallenberg Foundation.
The special screening will be followed by an award presentation by the American Jewish Committee to a representative of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, on behalf of the two Righteous Among the Nations from Bulgaria, The Metropolitan Bishops Stephan and Kiril. For the first time in the US, members of the Bulgarian Church are recognized for their role in stopping the deportations of the Bulgarian Jews to the death camps. A discussion with special guests: Bulgarian Ambassador to the US, H.E. Ms. Elena Poptodorova, Film Producer Jacky Comforty, and Honorary Bulgarian Consul in New York Victoria Schonfeld.
The Optimists tells the inspiring story of how 50,000 Jews in Bulgaria survived the Holocaust because their Bulgarian neighbors and friends helped defend them. Many individuals, each in his or her own way, took action to foil the Bulgarian government's plans to hand over the Bulgarian Jews to the Nazis. The film features everyday heroes and role models from all walks of life.
The Optimists will start its theatrical run on Oct. 21 at the Quad Cinema. During the first week director Jacky Comforty will be available for QandA after selected screenings. To schedule a special screening for groups e-mail comforty@comforty.com.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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