October 21, 2005 | 1:06 PM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column entitled “Elitism? Moi?” here, and a new Nation column: “Corrupt, Incompetent, and ‘Off Center’" here.

Shorter LAT:  Libby’s nuts, and boy does he work for the right guy, here.  (Planted by Rove?)

Shorter WP:  Rove’s expendable here.  (Planted by Libby?)

Shorter NYT:  What the hell ever happened to Novak?  Here (no plant).

Alter-reviews:

Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane [LIVE]
This 1957 concert recording of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, which was accidentally discovered in an unmarked box in the Library of Congress earlier this year by recording lab supervisor Larry Appelbaum and prepared for release by producer Michael Cuscuna (famous for his restorative work on Blue Note, Impulse! and his own Mosaic label) and Monk's son, T.S. Monk.  It’s a revelation.  Coltrane is playing Monk, rather than the other way around, and is just on the cusp of becoming Coltrane.  In the meantime, the communication between the musicians and coupled with the truly amazing sound quality makes this an absolute must-have for anybody who professes to care about Jazz.  And by the way, this was made at a Carnegie Hall benefit for the “Morningside Community Center.”  Whoever those people were, they had the good taste to invite Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra, Ray Charles, and Sonny Rollins all together for a single show.  Can you imagine?  There’s a set list here.  Fred Kaplan’s got a rap here.

Also, on the DVD front, the kid and I are happily continuing our education on the history of one of this country’s greatest art forms through the release of Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Three.  It’s another four CDs and I really can’t do justice to how much fun it is.  The historic stuff includes debut of Porky Pig in 1935, “Point Rationing of Foods," a rarely seen wartime short released 2/25/43, Sinkin' in the Bathtub" (1930 - first Looney Tunes cartoon,  "It's Got Me Again" (1932 - the first Warner Bros cartoon nominated for an Academy Award, but the funnest stuff is the Bugs Festival that takes up all of disc one.  If you’ve been toying with buying a set of these, I think this one is by far the best collection yet.  Here’s a list of everything and some crowing by the experts.  They’ve also released a two CD Looney Tunes Movie Collection and a bunch of Tom and Jerry cartoons on separate DVDs.  I feel silly going on too much about these.  The movies, as I recall, are pretty damn great.  I have never been a Tom and Jerry person.  But click through on the Amazon link and you can read all about ‘em there.

Slacker Friday

Name:  Stupid
Hometown:  Chicago
1) Hey Eric, it's Stupid with a suggestion for the week.  Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma is one of my least favorite politicians -- Tom DeLay with an added dollop of disingenuousness.  He's done but one good thing in his entire career.  As a member of the House of Representatives, Inhofe led an effort to remove anonymity from the discharge petition process.  When a bill is bottled-up in committee, any member of the House can circulate a petition to discharge it to the floor for a vote.  If a simple majority signs, the bill is discharged.  Yet a congressman could proclaim that he or she supported a bill while secretly working to keep it buried.  Conservative talk radio and Ross Perot got behind Inhofe and the confidentiality rule was reversed.

Back then the Dems controlled Congress and Inhofe surely planned to use discharge petitions to embarrass the Dems.  So why not do the same thing now?  Introduce a clean bill to allow the importation of prescription drugs, then circulate a discharge petition.  This would eliminate any wiggle-room for GOP incumbents come next November, and who knows, with the GOP in disarray and the midterm elections coming up, it might even pass -- let this be Dubya's first veto (or heaven forbid, it passes and the Dems can claim a tangible accomplishment).  In the meantime, on Tuesday I asked my Congressman if he would circulate a discharge petition for the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, the watered-down version of the Darfur Accountability Act which passed the Senate unanimously and the Administration had killed in the House.  Everyone says they are for it, it's time a single Representative has the courage to call this bluff.

2) As the "liberal hawk" who posted more pro-war arguments on Altercation than anyone else I feel compelled to respond to the charge of "criminal negligence."  I'll accept "we were wrong."  I’ll accept “we were very wrong.”  I'll agree that we inexcusably bought into the myth of GOP
competence (i.e., "the adults are in charge").  I'll even say many liberal hawks had a cold-war smugness, like it was the 1950's and they were defending liberalism against the commie apologists (that's definitely the image The New Republic has of itself).  But the sharpness of your attack relies too much on hindsight.  Consider this:

  1. Most war opponents thought Saddam had at least a nascent WMD program. (I have to give credit to the late Jude Wanniski here -- he boldly wrote that Saddam did not have any WMD's and few acknowledged how accurate his analysis turned out to be.)

  2. The post-war evidence supports the hawks' cynicism about the alternative to unilateral war -- keeping up containment and working through the United Nations. 

Even if one makes allowances for some degree of Administration dishonesty, how risk-adverse should one be here?  90%?  95%?  It's a tough question.  Yes, this goes beyond WMD's, and those of us who supported the war on humanitarian grounds have to admit that we overfocused on how awful the status quo in Iraq had become and not considered how likely perpetual instability and civil war was (and did not listen enough to expert warnings about this).  But while Rumsfeld's postwar failures were predictable, were Paul Bremmer's?  Did war opponents really foresee that we would disband the Iraqi army and ban officers from any postwar role?  That we wouldn't “follow the money" and announce from the outset that any Constitution would have to ensure that the Sunnis wouldn't face an impoverished cash-starved future?  If so, I applaud their foresight more than I feel guilty for failing to recognizing the obvious.  At the time I remember writing that the strongest argument against the war was its cost, and personally that's the one I feel I had the biggest blinders on because it was so obvious this was going to cost at least twice what was being touted and that oil revenues wouldn't make up for it (an argument I frequently used).

Finally, this is just my gut feeling, but weren't most liberal hawks somewhat ambivalent about the war?  I recall more who went out of their way to say there was merit in the anti-war arguments than there were spouting Hitchens-like bombast.

Name: Jim Garry
Hometown: Delmar, NY
Eric,
I WILL read Hacker and Pierson's book.  The idea they present has been qualitatively understood by many of us for a long time.  It will be useful to get a quantitative report on this phenomenon.  Last year I participated in my local newspaper's responsiveness forum (about 30 readers were invited to attend).  I was struck by the views of the conservative attendees that the newspaper relied too much on articles from the NYTimes, WaPo, and LATimes.  One attendee complained about the over use of Associated Press reports.  Later, this same group complained about the Op Ed columnists.  Of course they hated al the Liberal columnists.  They surprised me when they said George Will was too wishy washy for them.  But the topper came when, in all seriousness, they advocated that the paper run columns by Coulter.  The editor, a moderate kind of a guy, sat in stunned silence for a long while.  When many people think Coulter is a standard Conservative columnist, the country is in deep s--t.

Name: Ben Vernia
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Proponents of a flat tax point to the complexity of the Internal Revenue Code as Exhibit A with what's wrong with our system.  The Code's complexity, however, derives from two sources-- one good, one bad.  The good source of complexity is the Code's adaptation to taxpayers' efforts to structure their financial and business relationships to avoid taxes.  The Code's complexity thus comes about, in part, as a reflection of economic complexity (which in turn, is caused in part by the Code).  The bad source of complexity comes from powerful individuals and interests, which lobby lawmakers to build into the Code (or maintain, as in the example of the Hummer deduction) exceptions in their favor.  The latter source of complexity should be ruthlessly removed from the Code: it renders the tax system less fair, and adds to the perception that the Code is byzantine and a trap for the layman.  The former source of complexity, however, should be encouraged.  It makes the system more fair.  Reducing complexity with the blunt instrument of a flat tax will merely tip the balance of power to the financially powerful temporarily.  Over time, the system will once again become complex.

Name: Becky Martz
Hometown: Cambridge, MA
Dear Eric, Here's a link to Tom DeLay's mug shot.  Is it nice to post this on the Internet?  No, but he looks so smiley and happy that I can't feel bad sharing the picture.

Name: Pat Healy
Hometown: Vallejo, CA
re: Protest music  Well, there's always room for a fresh, new voice to join the Choir of the Reality-Based Community.  I give you: Burt Bacharach, lyricist.  Who knows, the guy may have a career after all.

October 20, 2005 | 11:25 AM ET | Permalink

Altercation Book Club: Off Center
Plus Major Bob

From Off Center:  The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy
By Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

Eric’s note:  Have I ever said anything like this before?  Off Center is the most important book on contemporary American politics to be published in more than a decade (since Thomas and Mary Edsall’s Chain Reaction actually.)  If somehow, Tim Russert, David Brooks, Joe Klein, the smart boys at “The Note,” etc., and the rest of the MSM could be forced to read it and address the power of its evidence, American politics would be transformed overnight.  Read it.

P.S.  For the record, in case you were wondering, not only have I never met (or really heard of) either of the authors, they, like, TOTALLY ignore my work.  And yet I'm still doing this (and this week's forthcoming Nation column. (Must be quite a book, huh?)

Unequal Polarization

To many political analysts, a single word captures this brave new world: polarization. Commentators all seem to agree that the great problem in American politics is that the parties are drifting ever further apart, with the political center an increasingly large and empty space between them.

Though the rise in polarization is undeniable, the conventional lament misses crucial aspects of the change. It suggests a transformation that is somehow equal on both sides, as if the two parties had run away from each other at the same speed. In fact, as we shall see, the move from the center has been spearheaded and driven by the Republican Party. Over the same era in which conservatives have risen to power, they have moved further and further from the political center. Nothing remotely close to this massive shift has happened on the other side of the spectrum, much less among the great bulk of ordinary voters.

No less important, for all the hand-wringing, contemporary discussions of polarization too often suggest that not all that much is at stake. Our politics is less civil, true. But ultimately, in American politics, extremists are not supposed to win the pitched battles they fight. Given the checks and balances built into our institutions, moderates should usually hold the balance of power. In this common view, the worst that polarization can bring is stalemate, as the parties find it harder to agree. But when government does act, it does so only because sensible politicians have at least momentarily reclaimed the middle.

Yet just as polarization has been unequal in its effects on Republicans and Democrats, it has been inconsistent in its effects on public policy. Polarization has certainly made it harder for the parties to agree, and sometimes gridlock has indeed reigned. Yet, as the testimony of disaffected moderates in the Bush administration suggests, it is not just political rhetoric that has become more extreme. It is the governance of the nation itself. Somehow, ruling Republicans have found a way to do what Democrats, when they held the upper hand in similarly close political fights, either would or could not: put in place policies that are far from the moderate center.

Polarization is a major and growing problem. But the problem is not just polarization. It is unequal polarization—unequal between Democrats and Republicans, unequal in its effects on the governing aims of liberals and conservatives, and unequal in its effects on American society. Over the past twenty years, the economic gap between the middle and the top has grown enormously. Recent events strongly indicate that the gap in effective political power has, too. With money more important in politics than ever, with the organizations that once protected the interests of the middle in broad decline, Republicans have showered their attention and largesse on the most privileged elements of American society and worried little about potential fallout. Agreement is often elusive in today’s polarized climate. And yet it always seems most elusive when government action is necessary to protect ordinary citizens.

Polarization is real, but it is not the real puzzle. What makes the shift of American politics off center so puzzling is that Republicans have achieved a number of big policy changes in spite of increasing polarization—and in spite of evident public concern about many of them. This book explains how and why Republicans have so often successfully pursued this improbable yet far-reaching campaign.

American Politics Transformed

The winds of change have swept through every cranny of American government. But perhaps the most transformative have been in Congress. In the nation’s vaunted legislative body, the moderate center is on life support. Democrats are shut out. Republican leaders aggressively control the agenda of debate and the alternatives members of Congress get to consider. Veteran Congress-watcher Norm Ornstein, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says that “it is the middle-finger approach to governing, driven by a mind-set that has brought us the most rancorous and partisan atmosphere that I have seen in the House in 35 years.”

And yet, the rightward shift of the nation’s leadership, evident in every branch of U.S. government, is as much a symptom as a cause of the transformed nature of American politics. In the textbook vision of American politics, ordinary voters ultimately call the shots. So long as both parties need to court swing voters, and so long as such voters have basic information about what politicians are up to, then voters do not have to do anything more than vote for the candidate they like to discipline politicians. The need to court middle-of-the-road voters—or at least to escape their wrath—will by itself keep politicians roughly in line with public sentiment.

In a metaphor that nicely captures this view, the political scientist James Stimson and his colleagues describe politicians as “keen to pick up the faintest signals in their political environment. Like an antelope in an open field, they cock their ears and focus their full attention on the slightest sign of danger.” True enough, but in American politics today, middle-of-the-road voters are not the formidable predators of days gone by. Rather, they are more like wounded prey, lacking both the knowledge and the power that once made politicians pay consistent heed. Politicians keep their ears cocked, but the main threats they listen for come from their party’s leaders and their partisan base.

In an age of big government, voters need to know more than ever to make informed judgments. But thanks to personality-focused elections, run through a news media that provides increasingly little in the way of substantive information, most voters find it hard even to learn the basics. Political elites know this well. They now shape the issues of debate and structure laws and policies in ways that make it exceedingly difficult, even for the attentive and well informed, to know how they will be affected by what government does. It is a devastating one-two punch. Take away the old sources of information, like traditional news organizations, widespread voluntary organizations, and locally grounded political parties. Then craft rhetoric and policies to make it difficult for even the well informed to know what is going on.

Knowledge and power are, of course, intertwined—and ordinary voters have seen both ebb over the past thirty years. Middle-class Americans have seen their paychecks rise only modestly, while the richest Americans have witnessed dramatic increases in their income and wealth. Middle-class Americans have watched as the organizational and financial resources that ordinary voters can bring to bear in politics have atrophied, even as American politics has become much more responsive to organization and wealth. To be noticed, voters increasingly need to be highly mobilized or highly wealthy or both. Instead of assiduously courting the ordinary voter, political elites happily cater to business groups and the well heeled, increasingly confident they can circumvent the hapless run-of-the-mill citizen on Election Day.

The shift has been abetted by our rickety electoral structure, which gives those who finance campaigns and the highly energized partisans who vote in primaries increasing power to shape who gets elected. The biggest change is the rise in safe seats. As recently as a decade ago, a quarter or more of congressional seats genuinely were in play in any given election. Today, virtually none are. Thanks to the increasing power of incumbency, combined with sophisticated partisan gerrymandering, most House districts are almost completely safe for one party or the other, and Senate elections are also less competitive than they once were. This leaves favored candidates to worry almost exclusively about pleasing their partisans.

At the same time, the parties—and especially the Republican Party— have grown much more involved in campaign finance, and much more adept at targeting their resources to maintain partisan unity and power. Unconcerned about challenges from the other side of the aisle, protected by the resources of the party (and fearful of losing the favors of powerful groups and leaders), most members of Congress today find it far better to be a loyalist than a maverick. And so most voters sit on the sidelines watching a political blood sport that plays out with little concern for what the moderate center of opinion thinks—except as that moderate center represents a modest obstacle to be evaded.

This excerpt adapted from Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of  American Democracy, by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, published this month by Yale University Press.  For more information go to YaleBooks.com or HackerPierson.com.

Alter-reviews:

I caught a show by Paula West at the Oak Room in the Algonquin last night.  It was another tasteful, intelligent performance of a number of largely forgotten classics.  West’s voice is smooth and bluesy but it’s more important as a instrument in the band than for its inherent power.  Both the thoughtfulness and the control of her performance are a wonder to behold.  Even though she wasn’t working with the Eric Reed trio, her rapport with the band was deep and, often times, exciting both to watch and hear.  They were great too, though I was disappointed not to see Reed, I didn’t leave disappointed.  She didn’t sing anything from Come What May but it looks good, no?

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Exhaustion

I am tired.

There is really no way to avoid this conclusion.  My mind is losing its plasticity, my imagination wanes, my ability to see new ways to accomplishing things is fading.  I sit ringside here, or perhaps indeed within the ring, and note that my power to observe things from different perspectives has faded.  This is not good.

These are my weapons in this war, and I can see now that they are becoming dull.

I have not written about what it is that I do here, specifically, in part because it never really mattered.  It does not matter now, but it does bear upon this observation.  In this war my primary tool is my mind, and like any weapon used too long, mine is now notched and has lost its edge.

These thoughts occurred to me recently when I observed, with disinterest, a plan being put forward by somebody new to Iraq.  The plan seemed rational, logical, and sufficient.  It was also completely unworkable, but the author did not know this.  Several of us sitting in the room, however, knew not just the outline of the plan, but the unmentioned details of what it would take to make the plan work.

The devil is always in the details.

Those details, the myriad compendium of necessary elements which together constitute the whole of an Operational Plan, would expose to the author the reality which we “old hands” already knew.  It would take him days, if not weeks, to work through the deliberate process which would expose the fundamental flaws of this plan to him, but we cut him short.  Trying to save time. “It won’t work.”

“But we have to, we need to accomplish X to enable Y”

“It won’t work.”

“Yes, it will, we can move this here, and that there…”

“It won’t work.”

When you bring together people from different elements of any large organization to combine and develop a plan there are always tensions.  The means of expression for this human phenomena are generally no different in the military than in any other group.  Only our manners differ.  It is my perception that within the walls of my house, we are perhaps a little more direct.  But that is beside the point, as the emotions are the same.  When a new plan is put forward, and rejected, there is an immediate assumption on the part of many when faced with resistance to their immaculate plan, to believe that what they are seeing before them is purely a case of resistance due to NIH syndrome.  (“Not Invented Here”)  Few things exacerbate more than this.

“Yes it will work.”

“No, it won’t, and if you try it you’re a fucking idiot.”

“Why?”

“Because we’ve tried that before.”

I saw this, in an instant, for what it was.  Taken from an abstract point of view, the response of my peers and me, those who have been here the longest, could really mean only one thing.  We were no longer striving with our minds.  We were on auto-pilot.  Almost outside of myself I looked back and noted that lethargy of the mind, the way that my brain wrapped itself in the sure cloak of knowledge and practical experience, which resulted in my reaction.  Yes, of course, we had tried X before.  No, we had not been able to accomplish Y.  But in war that does not give you the excuse, the permission, to stop trying for X, if X is important.  You must find another way, another route.  You must stay up later, work harder, imagine more, and in my job, use your brain to find you a new path to get to X.  But I have been overcome.  Too many plans wrecked on the lee shore of reality, too many ideas come to naught, too many visionary concepts brought up hard against the wall of bureaucracy had combined and robbed me of the ability to see another way.

I think now I know, just a little, what it is like to be an Iraqi.

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:

The Referendum, as all know, went off with a minimal amount of violence.  Within earshot I hear fewer car-bombs, none indeed, since travel restrictions went into place prior to the voting.  A few rockets, here and there, and the occasional salvo of mortars, remind us that our work is not done.  But for some time now, and for the moment at least, I have not felt the deep-thrumming reverberation in the chest one gets when a car-bomb explodes.  I do not know what this means, and at some level, I am afraid to hope.

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

Name: Curt Roeder
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Hey Eric,
When you pose the question of how Sulzberger and Keller could have allowed Judith Miller to "hijack" the Times, methinks someone is missing some detail on Keller and perhaps Sulzberger.  On C-Span several months ago, Keller was asked why the Times never pursued the "Downing Street" memo.  (Actually there were nine of them, at one point).  Keller stated on live TV that he didn't believe the Downing Street memo was "evidence."  I can tell you that this lawyer's jaw dropped to the ground.  In my business, evidence is what can be perceived through the senses of the witness, and includes documents, photos, etc.  The rules to "discover" evidence, under the law, are governed by what is "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery" of evidence.  In other words, even if the Downing Street memo was not itself evidence, it certainly confirmed the existence of evidence, ie, that the Bushies "fixed" the intelligence before pushing the war.  The fact that it made specific reference to meetings with White House officials makes it even more compelling as a source, at the least.  Incredibly, Keller was advocating that the Downing Street memo was not direct evidence of wrongdoing (although you can make the argument it was), and therefore did not merit further investigation.  Keller and Sulzberger are in this up to their necks because someone was afraid that the Times would lose access to the administration before this all occurred.  The Times was compromised when Judy Miller was allowed to write unchecked in the lead-up to the war, and Keller and Sulzberger realized too late that the entire institution was part of the "fixed" reporting, resulting from "fixed" intelligence.  Based on what I saw on C-Span, Keller cannot be separated from Miller.

Name: SuperKey
Hometown: Los Angeles
Eric, speaking of ongoing investigations: "Bush said he will personally lead an investigation into what went wrong with the early federal response to Katrina." [ Link]  Anyone know how that's going?  Last I heard was the appointment of Frances Townsend to head the probe of FEMA's response to Katrina - though delegating an investigation doesn't sound like "personally" heading it to me.  Perhaps the Prez is too busy firing "anyone involved in leaking a CIA operative's identity".....?

Name: Vince Hill
Hometown: Chicago
What motivated Jacob Weisberg to trash Fitzgerald?  Maybe the fact that his mother is a commissioner and confidante of Mayor Richie Daley, whose administration is also in the sights of U.S. Atty Fitzgerald.  In Illinois, this guy has the machine Democrats scared as well, which is exactly why the GOP can't dismiss him as a partisan hack.

Name: James
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Misguided Liberals.  Yes, I was one of those.  I thought it would be great to use America's influence for good.  Yes, it is/was probably a conflating of power projection, benevolent world gardener and a hopelessly failed understanding of realpolitik.  I mean, what if we decided to get rid of bad guys?  Hussein was clearly a bad guy.  Go in, remove, leave, and agitate the local town council for a sister city near Falujah.  Sure, I didn't believe the neocon arguments.  I *knew* they were lies.  (I still think the real reason was a winkie issue - W's winkie all knotted up about Saddam trying to kill his daddy on that Kuwait trip - it's clearly Occam's explanation.)  But I was willing to put it aside, suspend disbelief, and pitch in my "Hell yea!" on the basis that, you know, we LIBERALS should project some power, some force, in support of our efforts to fertilize the good in the world and deracinate the bad.  But, boy, did I get that one wrong.  I could just say it was the right idea, wrongly executed.  But then, I would be the coward.  I would be the one to ignore the truth, to tautologically reprieve my guilt and my embarrassment.  And I'm not alone, I think quite a few of my ideologically congruent thought like I did.  But boy, were we wrong.  I'm not a Liberal Who Likes to Lose, I'm just a Liberal Who Wants to Come in from the Cold.

Name: Vicki Cheikes
Hometown: New York, NY
Mr. Norris has missed my major point.  He refers to someone "earning" $100,000, but does not address the question I posed, which is how is that $100,000 to be calculated?  Does he have a business?  Is the $100,000 what he is "paid" from the business, and if so, how are the business earnings calculated?  In other words, the "flat tax" only deals with the % to be applied to the amount which is subject to tax (ie, "taxable income"), but Mr. Norris in no way addresses the question of how we reach "taxable income" in even one of the myriad of circumstances addressed by the Internal Revenue Code.  I cannot tell you precisely, but I can tell you that the Code and Regulations have pages and pages of provisions which apply to sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies, "regular" corporations, "S" corporations, trusts, and so forth, but the same Code and regulations also contain substantially fewer (but still lots of) pages which apply to individuals.  I remain of the view that the flat tax is a bad idea, but, as I said before, no one listens to tax lawyers.

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Eric,
Dan Norris seems to have neglected to read Vicki Cheikes article completely.  Here's the part he seems to have missed:

The complexity is how to define 'income,' and how to deal with expenses, such as medical expenses, health insurance, mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions, charitable deductions and the like.  The flat tax only deals with the rate, not the determination of income nor whether certain deductions now allowable should continue.

None of the major players among those who are advocating for a flat tax want those deductions removed.  Capital gains will not be taxed.  Money derived from corporations will not be included.  It is not enough to simply say, "You earn $100,000, you pay 10% after the first $25,000."  You have to define just how much of that $100K is taxable.  Very few people who actually acquire $100,000 in one year will actually have an income of $100,000 by the time they have deducted all the "non-income" sources.  The rich will find ways to divert their sources of money into those "non-income" categories so that their actual income will be at or below the cutoff for taxation.  Here's a thought: Let's try it with corporate taxes, first.  Corporations pay very little tax as it is (only $250B out of a $2T economy) so it shouldn't be too drastic an experiment.  If we can then show that the megacorporations don't have a huge plummet of tax while the little guys find themselves taxed out of existence, then we should consider it for the personal income tax.

Name: Greg Crockett
Hometown: Inverness, Scotland
Dear Dr. Alterman,
Speaking of liberal hawks this is quite an amusing article from The Guardian.  Vaclav Havel, a distinguished playwright and moral hero supports rewarding Harold Pinter's theatrical talent.  Christopher Hitchens (who praised Lenin and Trotsky when Havel was fighting communist thuggery) launches a Zhdanovite attack, which manages to be inaccurate in a sentence (as Pinter has written frequently since the last decade).  Tom Stoppard is a superb playwright famous for supporting Thatcher and he supported the decision to award.  I do not have a clue who Roger Kimball is, but he has decided that the decision is unambiguously 'repellent.'  I myself do not agree with Pinter politically, and even his literary standing is open to debate, but the ideology of his enemies is scary if they attack a complex writer in such unbalanced terms.

Name:  Rabbi Mordechai Moscovitz
Hometown:  Postville, Iowa
Eric:
As you know, this is the season of the great and festive holiday Sukkot, or Z'man Simchateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing.  Please find it in your heart to search for peace and find the good in others, including the people you speak so rudely of everyday in your, how do you say... blog?  Only through Sedaka will you become a force of good in your community and help bridge the gap that exists between so many of our beloved brothers and sisters in America.  Please Eric, stop being so divisive and start on a path of enlightenment.  In other words, be a Mensch.  Next year we shall meet in Jerusalem.

October 19, 2005 | 1:37 PM ET | Permalink

I am not one of these people who argues that the so-called “liberal hawks” made it possible for George W. Bush to start this disastrous war.  I think Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and company, would have gone to war no matter what and would not have allowed anything at all to stop them.  But the liberal hawks did succeed in weakening opposition to the war, as well as liberalism.  By refusing to face up to the true character of this administration; its dishonesty, its incompetence; its arrogance and hubris and its utter contempt for the nuts and bolts of the incredibly difficult and complex task of attempting to remake an entire society, they are guilty at the least of criminal negligence.

I try never to speculate on the motives of any given individuals.  And I know that some liberal hawks were genuinely—one might even say—idealistically misguided.  Some were merely careerists—no one in America has paid a political price for their catastrophic judgement vis-à-vis Iraq—and many liberals have been rewarded with new “relevance” on the cable news networks and generous book advances.  A second motivation—unconscious I suppose—is that some liberals prefer losing to winning.  The media seem to prefer these liberals to the tougher-minded kind.  They pretend that turning on powerless liberals is somehow braver than standing up to the Bush administration and its entire propaganda apparatus in the conservative (and a healthy chunk) of the mainstream media.  But of course there is no price for this and the rewards are considerable.  In the meantime, right-wingers must have a good laugh at these ‘principled’ who take every political question on its merits but always end up finding fault with their own side.

I don’t know what motivated Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, here, identified in the mainstream media as one of those “responsible” liberals who is always voicing his contempt for his own side, to support the war any more than I know why, in the New York Times Book Review, he felt compelled to undermine three strong critiques of the Bush administration’s incompetence and malfeasance while endorsing its behavior in areas where he simply passed along false or incomplete accounts of its actions.  (That is really the only way to defend these people alas.)  But I’d by lying if I pretended to be surprised to find him defending Rove, Libby (and God willing) Cheney against indictment for their attempt to smear honest public servants like Joe Wilson and his CIA agent spouse, Valerie Plame, while breaking the law in doing so.  Patrick Fitzgerald’s case offends Weisberg’s sense of principle and propriety.  He had little problem with a $73 million dollar investigation into Bill Clinton’s blowjobs but he is put off by the attempt to get to the bottom of some of the nefarious political operations that were necessary to sell this dishonest and destructive war.  He’d prefer that Rove, Cheney, Libby, etc., remain in power to continue to destroy what remains of value in our public life, and to smear liberals as pro-terrorist and anti-American in the process.  I’m sure that position goes over quite well among talk-show bookers but I can’t imagine it’s going to do the country any good.  (Am I the only person who finds the idea of right-wingers saying to one another, “Well, gee, I’d have a moral problem with doing this if only those liberals—like Republican Patrick Fitzgerald—hadn’t gone ahead and done it first.  Now I feel no moral qualms at all..." a bit much?)

Yeah, right.

Alter-reviews

Look!  Up in the air…. It’s, it’s, it's, the first great (1952) season of “Superman” on DVD.  Those were the days, huh, when the “American way” was synonymous with “truth and justice.”  Well of course, it never was.  But it was a whole hellova lot more credible than under Messrs. Bush and Cheney.  But anyway this is nice package.  This first season has Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane - she would be replaced by Noel Neill—who played her in those movies beforehand as well - in the later seasons.  It’s five CDs and it comes with Superman and the Mole Men theatrical movie, a ‘featurette’ called "From Inkwell to Backlot" retrospective, a vintage George Reeves short and the original Kellogg's Cereal TV spots.  I’m sure the Superman equivalents of Trekkies will have problems with this Warner Home Video package—and I worry about scratching the DVDs given the internal package, but overall, we here at Altercation are loving it.  This was a great country, once, with newspapers like the Daily Planet and superheroes like Clark…

I’m writing this while watching a 1989 version of The Who perform Quadrophenia.  Rhino has just put out a three CD box of live performances of Tommy, Quadrophina and a bunch of greatest hits.  Most of it was recorded in KA in 1989, with some extras from 1996-7 and a bit from Giants Stadium in 1989.  I estimate these were done during their 11th “Farewell” tour in between their 20th and 21st Greatest Hits packages. They were still a great band, but it is not the same band that we all found to be so thrilling back in the day.  Keith Moon is gone and they have the bad taste to invite Billy Idol to perform in both shows.  (With Tommy, you also get Phil Collins, Elton John Patti Labelle and Stevie Winwood.  With Quad, you get somebody named PJ Proby.)  There are also movie excerpts in the Quad performance to make it more comprehensible.  It’s really great music and Daltry is not that annoying, but Billy Idol, Oy.

Up to you really, especially if you have “The Kids are Alright” already. The song list is here.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Ron Legro
Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Of Judith Miller you write: "... She did not believe it her job to determine, as she admits, whether what they were telling her, and she was printing, had any veracity."  Just so, but widen the net of that thought a bit and you would capture another, even better known journalist who falls into the same category.  As best I can tell at a distance, Bob Woodward operates pretty much from the Miller playbook, except in slower motion, and with more florid descriptions.  Maybe Miller now would be held in higher regard if hubby Jason Epstein had only turned her work into a Woodward-style gab of a semi-deadlined book.

Name: Dan Norris
Hometown: Redding, CA
Eric,
Vicki the tax lawyer leaves out one crucial part of the flat tax proposal: the one deduction for EVERYONE.  This would be the level of income at the "poverty line" and you and I would only pay the tax on every dollar above that line.  So, if the line is set at $25,000 and you earn $100,000, at 10% you'd pay $7500, whereas someone who lives below the poverty line would pay nothing, which helps take the regressivity out of it, but would undoubtably decrease the need for accountants and tax lawyers for most of us (just two of the many special interest groups that benefit from the byzantine income tax system).  As I said before, a strict flat tax system that even eliminates low income earners from paying taxes will still be opposed by liberal (and some conservative) politicians because it will curb their power and influence that they wield by granting favored groups exceptions carved out of the tax code (in return for campaign contributions and votes, natch).

Name: Diane E. D'Angelo
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
I was a supporter of Dick Gephardt during the primaries and was disappointed that he withdrew so quickly.  His willingness to admit that his support for the war was wrong only reaffirms his integrity.  He is the first politician I've heard of who is willing to be straight and say he was wrong, rather than straddling both sides of the fence.

Name: Mark
Hometown: Portland, OR
What happened to the $1 billion?  With all this preoccupation about Judy Miller and Harriet Miers, there's a major story from a couple weeks ago that I see no one talking about: members of Allawi's cabinet or others absconded with $1B in Iraq sometime in the last few months?  This has disappeared from the media.  I know the Bush administration doesn't want to see it in the press , but c'mon!

October 18, 2005 | 12:25 PM ET | Permalink

Please God, promise you’re not just toying with me

Cheney's name has come up amid indications Fitzgerald may be edging closer to a blockbuster conspiracy charge - with help from a secret snitch.  "They have got a senior cooperating witness - someone who is giving them all of that," a source who has been questioned in the leak probe told the Daily News yesterday.
Here.

The big question in The New York Times cafeteria yesterday was how did it happen that Arthur Sulzberger and Bill Keller let so dishonest and slippery a character as Judy Miller hijack the institution of the New York Times for her own nefarious purposes and humiliate its entire echelon of top leadership; the publisher; the editor and the editorial page.  The LA Times investigates the question, here.

There’s no simple answer but it’s a question that should have been asked a long, long time ago. Close observers of Miller’s work have always known she could not be trusted and now we know that the editors ignored a “Judy Miller Must Be Stopped Now” memo from one of her colleagues years ago, before she wrought all the damage on the paper’s credibility with the lies she printed about WMDs.

Again, the answer is ultimately unknowable, but I’ve always felt it was a matter of social power.  Judy is married to Jason Epstein, who is one of the most widely admired and well-liked people in all of New York.  Jason is a legend of an editor, and was widely referred to for decades, almost every time you heard his name as “the smartest man in New York.”  He practically invented the trade paperback book, and played key roles in the founding of The New York Review of Books and the Library of America.  He is also the editor to some of our greatest fiction and non-fiction writers.  What’s more, he is a charming raconteur and a famous amateur chef.  Maybe he’s got some bad qualities, but I’ve never heard any mentioned.  Anyway, Jason and Judy are famous hosts, at their apartment in the Police Building downtown and their Sag Harbor House, and they sit at the nexus of an extremely important social network that nobody wants to be thrown out of.  (I saw Jason, whom I like and admire, at a party the night before Miller’s last testimony and did not know what to say to him, given what I’ve written about his wife.  I’m sure a lot of people don’t want that problem.)  The fact that Judy was also close to Arthur Sulzberger made her nearly untouchable, no matter what she did inside the paper.  As Keller admits in the long take-out, he could not control her.  She had more power to get her reporting in the paper than he felt he did to keep her out.

Second, Judy had sources inside the Bush administration in a way almost nobody in the Times did.  She had been cultivating the Neocons for decades, doing their bidding in the Paper of Record, and was willing to do so in the run-up to the war.  She did not believe it her job to determine, as she admits, whether what they were telling her, and she was printing, had any veracity.  And the editors, particularly Howell Raines, were so desperate for scoops, they did not want to look too carefully.  Raines went so far as to allow her to publish a front-page “scoop” based on an interview she was not allowed to conduct and was “edited” by the Pentagon itself.  She also apparently agreed to the censorship restrictions that come with a security clearance, though Times readers were never informed of this.  All of these are by themselves, firing offenses, ignoring the current contretemps where she refuses to cooperate with paper’s efforts to investigate its unjournalistic behavior.  But they are also the way the world works.  And so nobody at the paper is admitting anything really, and Sulzberger and Keller are just hoping it goes away.  Keep in mind, however, when you read articles about the “liberal media” that Raines—who let Miller pass along lies to promote a dishonest Bush war—is supposedly exhibit A.  If I were Arthur Sulzberger, the next time anyone accused the Times of being liberal, I’d say, “Hey, I’m the guy that stuck by Judy Miller …”

But also, don’t forget what this is really about:  it’s about a conspiracy to defraud the American public into war and destroy the reputation of a public servant who tried to warn us—even at the cost of endangering the lives of loyal CIA agents.  Everyone involved is guilty of that and it’s worse than anything of which Keller and Sulzberger can be even remotely accused.

I thought it interesting that the smart boys at ABC’s “The Note” mocked news stations that covered the feed of soldiers being coached to play extras in a Bush promotional video that masqueraded as news.  That’s because ABC News, together with their colleagues elsewhere in the media, think nothing of portraying these phony propaganda ploys as real news and see nothing wrong with being used by the White House to deceive, rather than inform the public.  Too bad the viewing public is never let in on the game, except on “ The Daily Show" which is why, with the departure of Ted Koppel, Jon Stewart is genuinely a more credible news source than anyone at ABC News—or any other television network, his own protestations notwithstanding.

Bush Censorship Story One, here:

Liberal radio talker Ed Schultz was eagerly anticipating his debut yesterday on Armed Forces Radio, which agreed last month to carry his program to nearly a million soldiers around the world. But at 7 a.m., Schultz's producer got a call from Allison Barber, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for internal communications, who said without explanation that the deal was off. Perhaps, Schultz said in an interview, it was just a coincidence that he spent the end of last week chastising Barber for coaching a group of U.S. soldiers in Iraq before a teleconference with President Bush. Barber was seen repeatedly on television last week asking mock questions to soldiers in Iraq, who generally gave responses similar to those they would momentarily provide to the president. Schultz played some of these clips on his show. The Pentagon said the soldiers were not rehearsed but apologized for "any perception that they were told what to say." "The fact is, they don't want dissenting voices or any other kind of speech unless it's going to be promotional for them. Obviously, these people are making sure they're not going to have any opinion other than the Rush Limbaughs of the world," Schultz said.” We note for the record that Limbaugh encourages soldiers to violate their professional code by torturing prisoners, and yet he is somehow considered kosher by the powers that be because he sucks up to the administration.

Bush Censorship Story II, here:

In Sign of Conservative Split, a Commentator Is Dismissed
In the latest sign of the deepening split among conservatives over how far to go in challenging President Bush, Bruce Bartlett, a Republican commentator who has been increasingly critical of the White House, was dismissed on Monday as a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative research group based in Dallas.

Stephen Metcalf did not read the long three part destruction of the Bell Curve we printed here, but he comes to the same conclusion, here, which is that Little Roy is, once again, congratulating himself for his own moral depravity and intellectual dishonesty.

Watch Frontline tonight about torture.  CPB hasn’t ruined that program yet…

Alter-reviews:

TV DVD Round up:  Well, here’s what I’m watching.  There’s the new release of The Bob Newhart Show - The Complete Second Season (1973) which pulls together 24 episodes on three double-sided discs of one of the cleverest shows ever, here, and the mother-ship, The Mary Tyler Moore Show - The Complete Second Season (1971) also 24 episodes on three discs, here.  Both are guaranteed to put you in a good mood.

Rhino has also put out a double DVD of Cream at Royal Albert Hall - London May 2-3-5-6 2005.  This double-disc collection (and accompanying CD set) begins with Clapton saying “Thanks for waiting all these years," following a first-rate "Outside Woman Blues," and a promise that "We're going to do every song we know." The track listing is, indeed, generous, though it’s missing "I Feel Free," "Strange Brew," and "Tales of Brave Ulysses.  Since they’re doing only three North American shows—and those are priced in the stratosphere, I think most people will find this extremely satisfying. 

Also quite generous—though I think I mentioned it once before is the collection, The Right Spectacle - The Very Best of Elvis Costello, which includes  27 videos (arranged in chronological order), along with an additional 18 live performances, with a total running time of nearly three hours.  Just about every time Elvis has been in front of a camera is here, and the early videos are a real treat.

The big thrill from the UPS man, however was the delivery of The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus 16-Ton Megaset.  It’s all here:  14 DVDs of the entire history of the show, plus the two-disc Monty Python Live.  Saturday Night Live was never this funny.  I’m not sure anything was.  I don’t exactly understand why it’s being re-released.  I supposed it’s cleaned up or re-somethinged but I can’t really tell.  I can only tell you that it’s really great, but you knew that.  So it’s all a question of money, I guess.  Can you afford it?  Can you afford not to?  None of my business really, but here are the details…

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Vicki Cheikes
Hometown: New York, NY
Being a tax lawyer, I will assume that no one will really listen to my comments about the "flat tax" issue, because they will think I am more interested in protecting my income.  Be that as it may, my comments are that the flat tax is about as good an idea as believing that the Earth is flat.  Such a tax will benefit the most wealthy, but that is about all.  The math is simple.  If a person has $100,000 of income and pays 10%, that's $10,000.  If a person has $10,000 of income, and pays 10%, that's $1,000.  The first has $90,000 left, and the second has $9,000.  There can be no real doubt that the first, richer person, can easily afford a higher tax bill than the second.  But this is philosophical.  The complexity in the Internal Revenue Code is due NOT to the applicable tax rates.  The tax rates payable whether one rate or many rates - are the EASIEST part of the whole thing, as it's simple multiplication. The complexity is how to define "income," and how to deal with expenses, such as medical expenses, health insurance, mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions, charitable deductions and the like.  The flat tax only deals with the rate, not the determination of income nor whether certain deductions now allowable should continue.  For the vast majority of individual taxpayers, their Federal tax calculations are quite simple.  Most who would dispute this either do not know the facts or suffer from what I call "form anxiety."  I prepare a friend's tax return, a friend who receives a W-2 for income and a mortgage statement, which I would guess is fairly standard for the average U.S. taxpayer.  This friend could do it herself (and easily with a calculator) but she is intimidated by the form.  A client has a very complicated tax return.  He's involved in many different business activities.  Maybe someone of the "flat tax" "experts" could try to show how a "flat tax" will make this client's tax return the size of a postcard.  Last, let us not forget the "law of unintended consequences."  You think you don't like the IRS?  Well, if you live in one state and only do business in that state, maybe getting rid of the IRS will benefit you.  However, we have 50 states in the U.S., and within many of those states, various city and local taxing authorities.  Let me tell you, I would rather deal with the IRS any day rather than any state/local tax group...and businesses which do business in many states already know of the nightmare of different rules in different states for the identical matters...that will only get worse.  But no one wants to hear from tax lawyers.

Name: DHinMI
Hometown: Michigan
Eric,
A partner of mine at The Next Hurrah recently spoke with Dick Gephardt, and followed up the conversation with e-mails in which Gephardt admits his support of the Iraq war was wrong. Unlike most of the other liberal supporters of the President's policy toward Iraq, Gephardt doesn't trot out the "it wasn't a bad idea, but it was poorly executed" crap.  He says it was a bad war, and that by tipping his hand so the White House would know that he would support the war if it were about WMD, it just allowed them to manufacture fraudulent arguments about WMD.  I hope you can check it out: Gephardt on Iraq: "I Was Wrong"

Name: Chris Martin
Hometown: Decatur GA
While you're on the topic of Lomax you might enjoy this story on today's NPR Morning Edition about Hobart Smith (1897-1965) and the musician who taped him, Fleming Brown (1926-1984).  There's also a related link to the songs of Judge Learned Hand at the bottom of that page. Hm.

Name: James Lamb
Hometown: Oakland, CA
As a representative from the under 25-set, and a TA routinely interacting with undergraduates, let me try to teach some of you old timers about 'protest music'.  Steve Earle is known by less than 1% of the younger generation and qualifies as a boutique curiosity, if at all.  There have always been old socialist white guys scraggly-singing with a guitar, but unless it 'breaks through' to the mainstream it's not really protest music, it's a life-style accessory for the already converted.  Let me direct you instead to music that questions U.S. policy and still succeeds in penetrating the mainstream.  First, as Stephen Carver noted, is Green Day's "American Idiot" which gets heavy Top 40 play and MTV video rotation (especially important is the show Total Request Live).  But, even more important, is mainstream Hip Hop music.  It is the genre most favored by the young (of all ethnic and racial groups) and the only sector of pop music that regularly includes political, social and economic themes in its subject matter.  Of course, particularly notable of late has been Kanye West (two albums), but the tradition is long and broad.  Other recent examples of rappers with Top 40 success addressing the war and U.S. foreign policy generally include Common, the Black Eyed Peas and Eminem.  Most importantly, unlike the overwhelmingly white and almost archaic (to the young) rock and folk scenes, protest and socio-political awareness are commonplace and expected in Hip Hop music.  Mega acts from Run DMC to Public Enemy, NWA, The Fugees and many more have always included politically relevant themes in their music.  And this is of course omitting somewhat less popular but ultra-political artists such as Rage Against the Machine, KRS One, the Dead Presidents and The Coup.  Perhaps the Altercation set just needs to broaden where it's looking for protest a little bit.

Name: Eric Bressler
Hometown: Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
More protest music.  The last two Bad Religion albums (Process of Belief and The Empire Strikes First) are scathing indictments of the administration and when I saw them at the House of Blues in conservative Orange County, CA I was in the 95th percentile, age wise, at only 41, so maybe Stephen Carver is right in that we can get them early.  Social Distortion would also make the list and don't forget Rock Against Bush Volume One and Two.

Name:  Jack Hickman
Hometown:  St. Petersburg, FL
I'm a bit surprised that Camper van Beethoven's latest disc has not been mentioned in the recent discussion about protest music.  After nearly 15 years apart, the band got back together to create "New Roman Times," which is a modern rock-opera about a soldier serving in the Fundamentalist Christian Republic of Texas.  Required listening for old and new CVB fans as well as forward-thinking progressives.

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

Judy Miller, Manchurian Reporter

Here’s the Times takeout; here’s Judy’s story; and here is just a theory:

A while back, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Don Rumsfeld, and John Bolton, decided they wanted to invade Iraq, but realized they didn’t really have any good reasons to do so.  Iraq had no WMD.  It had no nuclear program.  It had no significant relations with Al-Qaeda or any other anti-American terrorist group.  In fact, it was behaving a lot nicer than it did in the days when Rumsfeld and Cheney were saying what a nice place it was and Bob Dole was joking with its dictator about what a pain in the ass the media could be.  They realized that they could make a lot of silly arguments that almost nobody in the media would bother checking, and even a few “liberal hawks” would buy into just to show what hairy chests they had, but what to do about The New York Times?  It had the resources to check into their lies as well as the means to discredit them.  That’s when they hit on the idea of Judy Miller; their Manchurian Reporter.  Working through Miller, and taking advantage of her closeness to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, and the fact that she wouldn’t let anybody edit her but somehow managed get almost anything to the paper—[She called herself "Miss Run Amok," and said it meant “I can do whatever I want.”]—the guys figured out that by feeding Judy bad stuff, they could not only avoid the Times laborious editing process but they could sell their war through its pages.  And if anyone ever found out that they were lying, well, that would be the Times’ problem—and any problem for the Times was a good thing for the media because they were, you know, headquarters of the dag-nabbed liberal media.  (Cheney, I’m guessing, used a different word for “dag-nabbed.”)  Anyway, here’s how it looked way back when, in the memo upon which all five members of the meeting secretly signed off:

  1. Get Judy to write a whole bunch of phony stories about what a meanie Saddam was.  Give her unlimited access to that Chalabi guy and promise her that he always tells the truth.

  2. Have a war.  Give Judy her favorite unit to hang with.  Let her pin medals on the guys if she wants.  Hell, let her wear the goddam uniform.  If they give her any flack, have her call Rumsfeld--or threaten to—that ought to be good enough.

  3. When nobody finds any weapons, get Judy to somehow convince her editors to print stuff from an “engineer” whom she is not even allowed to talk to, confirming all the lies she’s been printing, on the front page.  Allow the Pentagon to edit her copy.  Tell Rush and everybody to go crazy with this stuff because, you know, it’s in the Times, they’re Commies, so if they admit it....

  4. Give her a “security clearance” so she can’t legally write anything you don’t want her to write, though that may not be necessary…

  5. Tell her what a meanie Joe Wilson is and that his wife works for those other meanies, the CIA, even though that’s against the law.  Pretend you’re a “former Hill staffer” when she brings it up, though.  Get Novak to write it if her editors start to feel funny about you know, breaking the law.  (Tell him it’s an order if he whines about losing his CNN gig.)

  6. When they finally figure out how badly she screwed them on the WMD stuff, have her tell them she wants to cover Bolton.  No really.  He can give her some of that crap about Cuba having WMDs, too.  I promise you we’re not kidding.  It’ll work.

  7. When that stops working—it will have to, eventually--get her to go to jail for the principle of not telling her readers who lied to her—or whom she lied to.  Make it sound like something else, though.  (Duh.)

  8. Get the Times to devote millions of dollars in legal fees, as well as the credibility of the entire newspaper, news and editorial, to defend her, without bothering to find out what the hell she was told, by whom, or to whom she told what.

  9. Get the Times news editors ignore the story of the scandal that may bring down the entire administration because it could hurt Judy with the prosecutor or the judge.  (Yeah that’s the ticket.  Hide the news to defend the principle of never hiding the news.  We love that one.)

  10. Get the Times editorial page to promise, over and over, that Judy will never give because the principle she is defending is so important.

  11. Then get Judy to give in, accepting exactly the same waiver she had been offered a year ago, proving our principle that reporters will eventually cave in to prosecutors.  All you have to do is jail them.

  12. Get the editors to allow the Times to be scooped on this story too, just for fun.

  13. Get the Times to write a story about the whole thing in which Judy says she, um, can’t remember who told her what after all.

  14. Get Judy to confuse people to the end with stuff like “We have everything to be proud of and nothing to apologize for,” in case we decide we want to try this one again sometime.

The upshot:  You get your war.  You silence and humiliate The New York Times, which after all, might have been a pain in the ass on this stuff if you hadn’t—to say nothing of the millions of dollars they wasted defending the principle that Judy decided wasn’t really so important.  And yeah, Judy has to go to jail for a while, and will probably have to quit her job with its fancy expense account, but hey, Bolton promises to visit her there and she gets her journalism awards, her lecture tour at $50K per, and her million-dollar book deal.  So [absent the appointment of a special prosecutor like say, Patrick Fitzgerald] everyone’s a winner, except, well, The New York Times readers, not so much…

(At this point, I’m guessing, all five participants at the original meeting collapse into collective, convulsive, laughter…)

It’s a theory, anyway…

Quote of the Day, I:  Judy Miller to Ray Suarez on PBS’s “Newhour,” April 21, 2003: “Well, I think they found something more than a smoking gun …… What they've found is a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we've called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them, firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions."

Quote of the Day, II:  Judy Miller to the author of Bush's Brain, James Moore, a little later: "I was proved fu**ing right."

More here.

Sarah Silverman, profiled here.

Sean Wilentz’s masterpiece, here.

Alter-appearance, Pittsburgh, 10/27 for “Just Harvest” dinner.

Eric Alterman, political and cultural columnist for The Nation and best-selling author of "What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News" will be the guest speaker at the 17th annual Harvest Celebration Dinner Oct. 27 to benefit Just Harvest.

Just Harvest fights hunger and poverty through collaboration designed to influence public policy and educate the community.

The dinner is at 6 p.m. at the Omni William Penn Hotel, 530 William Penn Place, Downtown. After Alterman's presentation, the Allegheny County Bar Foundation's Attorneys Against Hunger will receive the 2005 Just Harvest Seeds of Justice Award. The Attorneys Against Hunger annual campaign collects charitable gifts from attorneys to fight hunger among children and families.

Alter-reviews:

Some people’s singing voices just put you in a good mood, period.  Two of those people are my dear friend Suzzy Roche, and a guy I don’t know at all but feel like I do, Jimmie Dale Gilmore.  I got spend my weekend listening to both of them, which meant that the basement flooding was not quite as infuriating as it otherwise would have been.  I saw Suzzy with her sister Maggie at Symphony Space, a wonderfully inventive and multifaceted neighborhood arts center three blocks from my apartment.  The promo poster outside billed the show as a performance from their recent CD, “Why the Long Face,” here, but it ended up a mix with stuff from the Roches and that CD, which you should have if you don’t.  Everybody had a terrific time and you will too, next time you get a chance to see them, unless you’re a really bad person.  (Suzzy announced the return of those great Bottom Line Roches Christmas shows this year at Town Hall.  In the words of the great Levi Stubbs, “I’ll be there.”)

Gilmore played at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, not far from the location of said flooded basement.  He began the show by quoting a reviewer who accused him of “never having met a digression he didn’t like.”  He then proceeded to digress upon his digressions until it was impossible to determine which was which anymore, not that it was important to do so.  Gilmore’s flakey intelligence is as irresistible on stage as his singing voice is ethereal.  (If there’s a more beautiful song in the world than “Dallas,” I don’t think I’ve ever heard it.)  This show mixed his own compositions with cover songs from a new album devoted to his father’s favorite music, and again, it’s just silly to resist buying it.  Jimmie’s one political statement of the evening:  “Not every Texan agrees with every other Texan.”  I wanted to tell him, “Relax, dude, you’re in New York.  We all hate the guy here.)  More on Jimmie here.

Correspondence Corner:

A friend writes:
This is hugely worthy of note.  For decades, it has been only Alan Lomax who got credit for bringing the music and the culture of the Delta blues to the wider world.  The massive contributions of John Work, a musicologist from Fisk University in Nashville, to Lomax's enterprise were largely lost to history, even though Work certainly deserves as much credit as Lomax does for bringing that music out of the Delta and into, among other places, the Clapton home in Surrey.  Inexcusably, Lomax slighted the efforts of Work and his colleagues from Fisk, who were of immeasurable help to Lomax in seeking out and finding the music that changed everything about the way the world looked at America and the way America looked at the world.  All credit to the people who found this material and published it.

Name: Don Dougherty
Hometown: Lynbrook, New York
Dear Eric:
The professor makes a good point.  It is also significant, in my mind, that without the counterbalancing Soviet Bloc and the fear of the Chinese to act as a check on the power of the U.S., our foreign policy has become increasingly amoral.  Think for example what the Bush Administration would have done in the Vietnam situation where the only restraint on our behavior was the fear of either Soviet or Chinese retaliation.  Take that away and even the fiction of trying to help the South Vietnamese would have disappeared and I think we would have invaded North Vietnam.  In an odd way it seems to me that Russians and Chinese acted as brake on the U.S. and thus as a stabilizing force in the world.  There seems to be no stabilizing force at this moment.  Perhaps the Chinese will decide to turn their economic power into military power and play that role by grouping themselves with others dubious about our intentions into a strong enough force to alter the current reckless behavior of the U.S. but until that happens there is no reason to believe that the Wolfowitzs, Perles, Niall Fergusons, or Max Boots of the world have learned anything from Iraq except that they needed a better commander-in-chief and a more intelligent Defense Secretary.

Name: Dan Norris
Hometown: Redding, CA
Eric,
Can't believe I'm going to agree with Stupid (and, I assume, yourself) on the need to go to a flat tax.  So much the better if liberals want to jump on this bandwagon, I say, but I fear it will be for naught.  The problem is this: the current thousands of pages of the tax code is supported by special interest groups who will never willingly give up their deductions (like charities and the housing industry in regards to the mortgage interest deduction) and by the politicians who love to exercise their power and hold up contributors by bestowing tax deductions to favored groups.  Unfortunately for the U.S. taxpayer, a flat tax is a pipe dream caught in the perfect storm of lobbyists and politicians.

Name: Jeff Lichtman
Hometown: El Cerrito, CA
In response to Stupid's comments on a flat tax:  What annoys so many people about the current tax system is not its progressivity - it's the arcane system of deductions, credits, exceptions, and other complications that make filling out your tax forms an exercise in competing fears: that if you can't afford a team of accountants you'll end up a chump for paying more in taxes that you have to, but if you make an innocent mistake trying to get what you're entitled to you'll end up in legal trouble with the IRS.  I suppose it's possible that the proponents of a flat tax are really talking about simplifying the entire tax code, rather than eliminating brackets.  I don't believe this is what the Republicans mean.  For some time now they've been pushing to reduce taxes on the wealthy, and getting rid of brackets without eliminating the arcana in the tax code would go a long way toward doing this.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Regarding protest music:  Has anyone over 25, besides me (almost 40) actually listened to Green Day's "American Idiot" album?  That's a protest album from beginning to end.  Don't get me wrong, I'm from Austin and have always loved Steve Earle, too (from waaay back), but Green Day's slickly produced album has been heard by far more young people in America today.  Green Day's success takes nothing away from Earle's genius.  Let's get 'em while they're young, people!

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