November 11, 2005| 11:36 AM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new Think Again column here called, "Cheney and the Intel Reporting: What's New, Pussycats?”

More Recommended Reading:

On Michael Walzer, here.

Look how great my friend Kai (and Marty Sherwin’s) book is, here.

Here’s Andrew Del Balco on Garry Wills’ great—it’s the only kind he writes—new book on Henry Adams.

David Glenn on Philip Rieff, here.

And did you see Obama on Kos, here?

My (Jesuit) friend Ray Schroth is smart fellow, isn’t he?

Alter-review:

Been There Seen That: Good Night, and Good Luck a Month After Its Release
By Mickey Ehrlich

Newsweek reported in its September, 19 issue that after Hurricane Katrina, Dan Bartlett, White House PR counselor, resorted to a DVD compilation on the storm to show the president.  Apparently, television news, like newspapers, is too filtered for a man with his hunger for truth.  The rest of us, however, have relied heavily on television to keep us informed for generations, whether See It Now in 1954 or Hardball with Chris Matthews today.  Likewise, we relied heavily on movies for our history, whether Birth of a Nation in 1915 or George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck.

Still, as Hollywood history lessons go, “Good Night…” has high aspirations.  The record was certainly “cherry picked” as one reviewer wrote.  However, it does a disservice to the filmmaker (and to Murrow himself) to assume that it falls short because it is not more complete.  We must always regard art, history, and the news critically.  To the extent that it starts a new conversation about McCarthy’s era, or ours, Clooney's film is successful.

The film is a snapshot of an era and of men so deeply veiled in enigma that we will forever speculate on their contributions, beliefs, ambitions, guilt and innocence.  Within the concise borders of this snapshot we see men (and some women) drawn together by the backdrop of the Cold War.  Some important players - Roy Cohn, Bill Paley, President Eisenhower - appear in the background while the foreground is dominated by a manic and broad-shouldered Joseph McCarthy and Murrow, with his uncomfortable halo of cigarette smoke.

This confrontation allows us to recall vividly the inspiration behind fetishism of both opponents of McCarthy and his eponymous legacy, as well as those like Ann Coulter and William Buckley who have worked to clear his name.

Film of Cohn and McCarthy gives us the most convincing portrayal of these figures yet.  James Woods' Cohn and Joe Don Baker's McCarthy in “Citizen Cohn,” come across as caricatures.  More recently we saw the Tony Kushner's Cohn in “Angels in America” played by Al Pacino on HBO; it was a great performance, but it wasn’t Cohn.

So what of these characters playing themselves?  Seeing them shape the rhetoric and the methods of McCarthy’s subcommittee helps Clooney tell the story he wanted to tell.

Other “real” characters also do their part.  In a portion of the March 9, 1954 episode of “See It Now,” President Eisenhower himself says, “This is America's Principle: Trial by jury, of the innocent until proved guilty, and I expect to stand to it.”

McCarthy and Cohn never felt bound by conventional guidelines.  In his 1968 biography of his friend and boss, Cohn said:

...the [state] department felt that any reasonable doubt as to an individual's loyalty should be resolved in favor of the Government.  We thought that this was sensible and fair and adopted it as our guide.

This "tie-goes-to-the-runner" justice suited the committee perfectly.  Cohn wrote:

As McCarthy once told me, “The test is not whether a man or woman is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of espionage or Communist party membership, but whether the circumstances are such that we cannot take a chance when we are dealing with a sensitive post in a sensitive area."

With no burden of proof, no lines drawn meant none crossed.  McCarthy called his targets "Fifth-Amendment Communists" while Cohn acknowledged:

… the excessive powers placed in the hands of unscrupulous and self-seeking prosecutors, particularly when engaged in personal vendettas.

This is irony bordering on self-parody.  Cohn complained in his book that the subcommittee was continually frustrated by recalcitrant government officials and that those who helped “risked verbal attack and sometimes even political ruin.”  In “Good Night and, Good Luck” McCarthy associate, Don Surine threatens “See It Now” reporter, Joe Wershba with alleged information possibly damaging to Murrow.

For figures as vilified as McCarthy and Cohn, it is no stretch for Murrow, or me, or countless others to find contradictions between their words and actions.  They were not stupid, they weren't perhaps wholly insincere, but they were dangerously arrogant, obeying laws only when it suited their narrow interests.  Again, a clear line can be drawn from the McCarthy era to the present.

Critical praise is showered upon Good Night, and Good Luck for the same media whose work it criticizes.  This phenomenon is echoed in unending acclaim for “The Daily Show,” lampooning the way the news is reported rather than news itself.  However, it is not just enough that the media be good sports.  Eventually they must learn from it.  The 1950’s Clooney has created is certainly romanticized, and it may be in black-and-white, but it makes these characters very human, and it is shaded with period context and perspective.  Taken together it may also have something to teach us today.

Mickey Ehrlich is a sophomore at Brooklyn College. He writes songs and performs them all over NYC. He is playing on 11/15 8pm at 169 Bar, 169 E. Broadway.

Slacker Friday:

A friend writes:

These are two things I believe:

Thing One: It is time to march virtually every high-priced reporter in Washington D.C. out across the Key Bridge and deep into the Virginia hills, where they will be incarcerated in a re-education camp until they begin making sense in their profession again.  (I specifically exempt Jack Farrell from Denver and the entire Knight-Ridder D.C. bureau.  They all can stay.)  I was going to exempt Jonathan Alter until I heard him complaining that the Democrats were wrong in resisting the ballot initiatives sponsored in California by Governor Anabolic J. Goosestep.  The ultimate "good government" initiative, Jon, you lovable doof, is to break the power of the Republican party everywhere until it comes to its senses and disenthralls itself from its Jesus On A Taco Shell element.  Sorry, Jon.  Pick up a shovel and start marching.  There are swamps to be reclaimed.

Thing Two:  I think that the presidents of MIT, Cal Tech, the University of Chicago, and all the other major universities with high-priced investments in the physical sciences should call a press conference and announce, much to their regret, that they no longer will consider any application they receive from any high school student in the state of Kansas.  Sadly, they
should say, due to the state's publicly expressed preference for mythology over science, they no longer can be confident that students from Kansas are sufficiently grounded in the basics for those students to succeed at these extremely competitive universities.  Disappointed?  Tough.  Go to Bob Jones University.

Name:  Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
Altercation pal Charles Pierce lays a smackdown on Creationism: Greetings from Idiot America.
(I get the sense he's had just about enough), here.

Name:  Bob Bateman
Hometown:  Baghdad
Some clarification:  My primary objection to Ms. Tyson’s reporting is that it is sloppy journalism.  She very obviously had a story already completed (the interviews predate the release of the data), and then tried to make the data work to make it sound as though it supported her thesis in the story she was writing about soldiers enlisting.  But that still does not become page A1 breaking news.  We recruit from people who would consider the $1.87/hour we pay a Private First Class to fight in lethal combat an economic step up, and always have.  (Based just on base pay, not including enlistment bonus or any other perks.)  Did Ms. Tyson’s page A1 story really contain new information for anyone?  Seriously challenge anyone’s previous assumptions?  Revise how or who you thought the military recruited?  (Or, in the words of some, “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”?)  No.  So what was the point?

I expect that next week she will report the news that either A.) The Ocean is Wet or B.) Concrete is Used to Build Many Buildings.

Now I do agree with Steve Reynolds that there were important bits of news one could find in the data that was released… the plummeting numbers of African American recruits alone is significant.  I should have highlighted that myself.  But with regard to Ms. Tyson’s reporting, she missed that (burying it low in the story in just a single line) as well as sliding past (with just one sentence) the fact that there was a change as shown in the data… the data showed that the median income of recruit households…went up.  ( Link here— use your Find function for, “larger than usual number of recruits from higher income households joined the military.”)

I understand James Polewski’s point about “newness,” but he misses mine (which is my fault.)  If there is new information about events that took place in the White House in the past, information that changes how we previously understood events to have occurred, then you report on the new information.  The emphasis is “new” and “change.”  Thus reporting on My Lai and Abu Graihb, events which occurred months or years before the stories broke, was news.  Ms. Tyson’s report contained neither.  But I do apologize for not presenting the data to support my contention as pointed out by Mr. Evans.  This information, which has been online and available for years, demonstrates that other elements of her “new” story, were not in fact new.  Say, for example, the “news” that most recruits now come from the South and West.  (Note that the DoD has gathered regional, state-by-state, and even general area of the state recruiting data for 30 years.)

In 2003 most of the recruits came from the South and West. See link here.  In 2001 most of the recruits came from the South and West.   See link here.  And that online report cites back to 1996.  I am sorry that I am away from my books at home to give better references, but this is what I could find in a few seconds to support my point.

Finally, reporters, as Eric points out, are supposed to be neutral.  Seriously neutral.  And that means calling a spade a spade, on the right, and on the left, and (very rarely nowadays) in the center.  Ms. Tyson, instead of using the GAO report of this data, used the “National Priorities Project,” which she describes as “a nonpartisan research group.”  Out of curiosity I went and checked.  Here are their “local partners.”  You decide if this is a non-partisan set of links to partners.  Maybe it is just me, but this does not look non-partisan. Which is fine, but should be noted.

Yes, when something that happened in the past is newly discovered, then it is news.  And when there are new revelations about the past, that too is “news.”  But when you’re reporting on things that have been true, and available for years already, and trying to make it sound new because that fits the interviews that you previously conducted…then I don’t think that’s good reporting.  It’s not left, it’s not right, it’s just plain old poor reporting.

Best from Baghdad,

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to turn into Michael Moore.  Even back when I supported the war, I enjoyed some of the anti-war protest songs.  My favorite was Billy Bragg's "The Price of Oil" ( here and probably elsewhere on the net).  Catchy as heck (seriously, you won’t be
able to get it out of your head) and one of the few protest songs to directly respond to the humanitarian argument for the war:

Now I ain’t no fan of Saddam Hussein
Oh, please don’t get me wrong
If it’s freeing the Iraqi people you’re after
Then why have we waited so long?
Why didn’t we sort this out last time?
Was he less evil than he is now?
The stock market holds the answer
To "why him?", "why here?", "why now?"

Still, I was completely turned-off by this conspiracy theory nod.  Come on now!  It’s one thing to look the other way at some war profiteering and another to go to war to help the (then) beleaguered oil industry.  Besides, once the sanctions were removed wouldn't Iraqi oil cause an oil glut and depress prices?

I'm reconsidering all of that since "Darfurgate" broke a couple of weeks ago.  What’s “Darfurgate”?  You may (or may not) recall earlier this year the Administration brought the alleged organizer of the Darfur genocide, Sudan Major Salah Gosh, to America for consultations about Al Qaeda.  At the time it seemed he must have coughed up some good intelligence, because shortly thereafter Dubya ordered a tough anti-Sudan bill killed in the House (after it had unanimously passed the Senate).  But several weeks ago we learned the Administration granted Robert J. Cabelly a waiver from existing sanctions so Sudan could pay him $530,000 per year.  (Bipartisan congressional letter protesting to Condi Rice, here.)  Who is Cabelly?  A former Bush I state department official who now flacks public relations for African dictatorships (his past clients include Angola and Ethiopia).  It’s bad enough selling out the fight against genocide out of a misguided zeal to go after Al Qaeda (why expect that they would stop at condoning torture?)  But selling out the fight against genocide to enrich your friends?!  Hard to believe, but the Administration has hit a new low.

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Dear Dr. A,
Charles Westmoreland criticizes liberals for not having a solution to France's current woes.  But the pervasive conservative Schadenfreude over the problems highlighted by the rioting in France seems seriously misplaced to me.  It is true that the rioting and violence that have shaken France recently make it clear that France's approach to issues of racial and ethnic integration has not worked.  But at the risk of some oversimplification, I would point out to conservatives like Westmoreland that France's approach to these questions has been a rigidly "colorblind" one.  (The government is forbidden, for example, from collecting statistics based on race or ethnicity.)  It strikes me as ironic that *conservatives* should criticize France on this point, because this inflexibly colorblind policy is precisely the one that conservatives have advocated in this country, as they seek to dismantle affirmative action and all other race-conscious attempts to remedy racial discrimination.  Am I wrong in detecting an inconsistency here?  And by the way, you're right to point out that Mr. Westmoreland doesn't seem to realize that France has a conservative government.  But then, when have conservatives ever allowed themselves to be confused by the facts?

Name: Susie Scaldino
Hometown: Houston, TX
This response is to Mr. Westmoreland of Houston, Texas.  One possible reason for not addressing the problems in France is that, courtesy of Bush and Company, we have plenty of problems of our own to deal with.  Record prices at the gas pump (which big oil blames on increased costs but goes on to report records profits - go figure), increasing poverty (both number and rate rising for four consecutive years - 31.6 million people below the poverty level in 2000 to 37.0 million in 2004), total lack of respect worldwide, the Congress debating whether or not we should TORTURE PEOPLE (possibly the most un-American thing I could have ever imagined), a war that the current administration flat out lied to get us into that is costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives...gee, I just can't imagine why no one is talking about the problems in France.

Name: Jerry Jasperson
Hometown: Temple, NH
Alright already.  Listen up people, especially you Tom - who give us on the Left a truly bad image, Major Bateman deserves the space he has here.  Period.  If you don't like it, leave.  His opinions are just that, no greater nor larger than our own.  He is, however, worthy of respect because of his duty to country; to disrespect him either because of his leanings, profession or his status as an officer is downright Repugnant, so everyone just back off.  Let him be and move your irritation/hatred/disrespect to those that truly deserve it.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
Your respondent Tom's diatribe against Major Bateman is quite telling.  Rather than rationally approach Major Bateman's opinions and views, he facially challenges Major Bateman's mere presence on this blog.  Tom apparently does not believe in affording alternate views their due, regardless of the source.  He simply discounts Major Bateman as a military propagandist who could not possibly mean what he says.  Then, in a fit of political correctness run amok, claims that Major Bateman's questioning of a reporter's news-sense "crosses the line, even for a blog."  What line would that be exactly?  Last I checked, blogs were about the unfettered exchange of views, ideas and opinions (lines be damned).  Tom's response makes one wonder if he even read the disputed article.  The Post story laid out some statistics and then pre-supposed the motivations of thousands of military personnel based on interviews with a few enlistees from one region of the country.  I'm sure many in the military were (would be) offended by Ms. Tyson's conclusions and implications.  There are at least two sides to every argument.  Those that ignore opposing views merely surround themselves with walls of ignorance.  Far too often, people allow their natural intellectual curiosity to yield to ideology and self-righteousness.  Tom should let go of his indignation and pursue some diversity of thought.  I, for one, am grateful for Major Bateman's contributions (to this blog and our country) and thank Dr. Alterman for providing valuable space for Major Bateman to waste.

Name: Mike Sinclair
Hometown: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Eric:
As a former infantry officer (a Cold War warrior, mind you), I have found Major Bob's blogs interesting and often erudite.  I served in the military via the ROTC route -- which certainly paid my education -- because I wanted a career in the Army.  I didn't do it for the cash (right) or the fame (hahahaha) or the glory or the medals or the possibility of advancement (I was NEVER going to make general, believe me).  I served for my country and my desire to do something worthwhile.  Although conservative in much of my outlook, I am neither a registered Republican nor a Democrat (and I do vote both ways on occasion; I pretty much place myself in the radical moderate camp).  I support a strong military and the right to bear arms and fiscal responsibility but I am not a supporter of anti-flag burning amendments (I consider all such nonsense as stupidly simplistic) or pre-emptive war (especially Iraq which has been scared shitless of us since the first Gulf War) or patently false pseudo-patriotism (so generously exhibited by the most chickenhawk of both parties).  I came from a LONG line of NCOs and my dad and uncles reminded me constantly that military law required officers be saluted but to be respected as a "superior" officer, you were required to earn it.  In all my 4 years of active service and +13 in the Reserves, my primary responsibility was to my men; my NCOs continually saved my ass and I made of point of saluting them first (tradition be damned) as a point of respect.  Major Bob nicely (and lovingly, in my opinion) touches on much of military life today, but he sometimes misses the point...like in his diatribe against the article on military recruitment.  So what?  If it's news to some, it's news.  Even if he doesn't like it.  As a military officer, he serves the public, not the other way around.  If he wants to rant to other admin officers (majors and above!), so be it.  I don't want to hear it.  I can catch more than my fair share of that nonsense from conservative pundits, who wouldn't know truth from spin on their best day.  Please, Major Bob, dial it back a bit.  There are many other things to be more concerned about...like IEDs and suicide bombers and a war without a mission (or end).

Name: Todd
Hometown: Pleasenton, CA
From the book "The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right," by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon.

When President Bush and his advisers were faced with an unimaginable attack by a terrorist group that was more capable than most states, they determined that a state must have been behind it.  They refused to allow the facts dent their strategic understanding.

Understanding?  The author assumes that the Bush administration simply committed an error in their theory, and ignored the facts that were in contradiction to their theory, "much like scientists do"!  I believe this is an error in itself.  A more reasonable explanation is that they knew all the facts and their meanings.  In fact not only did they ignore the facts, but they created new ones (forged), they just lied, and exaggerated, in order to start a war they wanted to start.  It was not an error.  It was not an "intelligence failure."  It was part of their strategy to get re-elected, keep the country on the edge, mobilized, unified, busy, and distracted, in order for them to stay in power and push their ultraconservative agenda.  What is better than a war for that?  Of course they achieved their short-term objective.  It is the rest of the world that has to live with the long-term consequences.  I wish all these smart people stopped explaining this away as an honest or stupid mistake.  It is laughable.

Name: Jim Hassinger
Hometown: Glendale, CA
Eric,
What struck me about the letter from Judy was how she tried to make it a matter of principle!  Apparently, Custer died for a federal shield law.  Can anybody enlighten me as to what that might consist of?  If it would have sheltered Judy's shameful performance, then it's obviously a bad idea, because it would also have given a permanent hiding place to Libby and perhaps others: leak your story to a pet journalist and then pretend to have found it out from them!  Perfect, no?  I'm afraid we'll have to rely on common sense from prosecutors, adherence to the DoJ's own guidelines, and, if need be, an act of courage by a journalist who stands up for the truth.  And that doesn't mean providing cover to someone who apparently witnessed a felony.  Oh, and by the way, does anybody notice a decrease in any stories sourced from "high government officials"?  Just asking.

November 10, 2005| 12:16 PM ET | Permalink

I would say something about Judy, and I may, in the Nation, but as far as blogging goes, I can’t compete with Arianna and I won’t try:  Just look at this, um, hed, here

Judy is Out; Wants It Made Clear She Didn’t Screw Libby (Just the American Public)

A journalistic oddity:  In Vanity Fair this month, Arianna is lovingly profiled and she gets off a great line whispering in the ear of a “liberal columnist” at her house that she switched sides “of the sex.”  I said this on the record.  I’m just as happy not to have my name attached to it, to be honest; I’m a professor and all.  But it’s weird that a magazine would put someone on background when they were on the record.

P.S.  Mickey is being “stupid on purpose” again about Times Select.  $6.1 million is $6.1 million, bub.

Here’s Yossi Beilin in Ha'aretz today:

Less than three years ago, New York Times star columnist Thomas Friedman proposed a test for the success of the war in Iraq: if the price of a barrel of oil, which was then less than $30, drops to $6, it means there was a terrific victory, and if it rises above $60, it means defeat.  Friedman, who supported the war, has not since mentioned the scale that he invented but even without it, the overall feeling is that the U.S. has lost a large part of its influence as a superpower.  The awakening of the Chinese giant creates a feeling that someone else is going to take the lead in the near future.

What’s Jack Abramoff’s favorite song? 

Bongo, Bongo, Bongo 
I don’t wanna leave the Gabon,
I don’t wanna leave Gabon,
Bongo, Bongo.

Oh and congrats to the writers on “Boston Legal” for finally breaking the bestiality barrier.  I was waiting for that…

Altercation Book Club:

"The Bush Administration's Theory of Everything?"
by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon

A core part of the case that Bush and his advisers made was that Saddam might collude with terrorists because it would allow him to hurt the United States "without leaving fingerprints," but it appears that a large part of the reason Iraq—like Iran and Libya—stopped targeting the United States was the belief that it could not carry out an attack without detection.  (Iran, under its newly elected president, Muhammad Khatami,  may have also changed its policy after the Khobar Towers attack because terrorism was not advancing its goals.  The Iranian regime appears to have supported the attack because of a desire to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia, but the bombing’s only effect was to cause Washington to move the troops stationed in Saudi Arabia to a more secure location.)  Since detection carries with it a strong likelihood of retaliation, as Iraq learned in 1993, when U.S. cruise missiles destroyed the country's intelligence headquarters, the calculus did not make sense—it was just no longer worth the risk to attack America.  That cruise missile strike was derided by conservative critics of the Clinton administration as a “pinprick,” but Saddam seemed to have gotten the message.[i

Beyond the matter of whether the Iraqi regime was likely to attempt a terrorist attack against the United States, the administration's argument raised the further question of whether Saddam Hussein and Usama bin Laden were likely to collaborate.   In fact, Iraq and al Qaeda were anything but natural allies.  A central tenet of Al Qaeda's jihadist ideology is that secular Muslim rulers and their regimes have oppressed the believers and have plunged Islam into a historic crisis. Hence, a paramount goal of Islamist revolutionaries for almost half a century has been the destruction of the regimes of such leaders as Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, the military government in Algeria ,and the Saudi royal family.  To contemporary jihadists, Saddam was another in a line of dangerous secularists, an enemy of the faith who refused to rule by Islamic law and who habitually murdered religious leaders in Iraq who might oppose his regime.  Perhaps the best summation of the jihadist view of Saddam’s Iraq was given during the Persian Gulf War by Omar Abdel Rahman, the radical sheik now imprisoned in the United States. When he was asked what the punishment should be for those who supported the United States in the conflict, he answered, “Both those who are against and the ones who are with Iraq should be killed.”

The interests of Baathists and jihadists were too divergent for them to collaborate against America while Saddam was in power.  But that does not mean they had no contact or did not at times sniff around each other to see if they might become allies.  The Middle Eastern tradition of keeping tabs on all groups, friendly or not, persists, and the U.S. intelligence community was aware of a few meetings between bin Laden's men and Saddam's.   Most of these contacts occurred in the first half of the 1990s, before al Qaeda's destructiveness had been demonstrated by the August 1998 Nairobi and Dar es Salaam bombings, though some meetings occurred as late as 1999.   While bin Laden was still in Sudan, Hassan al-Turabi, the country's Islamist leader and bin Laden’s local patron, brokered a truce between al Qaeda and Saddam.[ii]  But by the standards of state sponsors, there were few contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda.  In reality, Iran had many more contacts with the jihadists, but these too seemed to be aimed primarily at giving Tehran some insight into what al Qaeda was up to.   The conclusion of the intelligence community in the 1990s was that neither country had a collaborative relationship with al Qaeda.  In 1998, in an effort to ensure that the U.S. government was not becoming complacent in this judgment, Richard Clarke asked his staff to evaluate the available intelligence to see if these conclusions were justified.  After reviewing a large amount of intelligence, they too endorsed the intelligence community's verdict. After a lengthy investigation of its own, the 9/11 Commission arrived at the same understanding in 2004 and noted in its final report, "We have seen no evidence that [the contacts] ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.  Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."[iii]

The argument that all of our enemies will inevitably find common ground should always be treated with caution.  This is the kind of thinking that prevented American policy makers from recognizing the Sino-Soviet rift in the 1960s, a period in which the Soviet Union and China were more likely to wage war against each other than against the United States.   But if the claim that Iraq and al Qaeda had cooperated or might collaborate was questionable, the idea that Saddam Hussein would give a weapon of mass destruction to al Qaeda was even more dubious.  

About the underlying premise of this argument—that Saddam had such weapons—there was little doubt among the security professionals in the West. [iv]   Saddam had used chemical weapons against Iran in the brutal war of 1980-1988.  He had also used them against his own people in the notorious case of the gassing of the Kurds of Halabja.  He had failed to account for large stocks of nerve agents, such as VX, and biological weapons materials, such as anthrax, as required by the terms of his surrender in 1991 and subsequent UN resolutions.  

Whether he had weapons of mass destruction was clearly an important question, but the crticial issue was whether he would use them.  In a sense, the question was whether it was true that September 11 had changed everything.   The attacks certainly showed that catastrophic terrorism on American soil had become a reality.  But that is not the same as saying that anyone other than al Qaeda or terrorist groups like al Qaeda would carry out such attacks.  In a 2004 interview, Douglas Feith explained that after September 11, the administration asked the question, “Was Iraq involved in 9/11? We found no hard link. What about Iraq-Al Qaeda links in general? Well, there were some, but that wasn't the essence of the Saddam Hussein threat. The danger of Saddam's providing W.M.D. to Al Qaeda or another terrorist group— there you had a real problem, because his record on W.M.D. was indisputable.” [v

But was it?  Did Saddam’s weapons pose a greater threat after September 11 than before?  Did al Qaeda's attack tell us something new about Saddam Hussein's behavior? The answer to these questions is the same:  no.  Saddam is an execrable man and one of the most loathsome national leaders in a century in which there was plenty of competition.  He had miscalculated badly on a number of occasions, most notably by invading Kuwait in August 1990.  But he was not insane.  He wanted to avoid obliteration.  As far as the United States and its vital interests were concerned, he was deterred. 

The “indisputable” record on WMD does not prove what Feith believed.  In January 1991, during the runup to Operation Desert Storm, Secretary of State James Baker had sent Saddam a message.  In a meeting in Geneva with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, Baker said bluntly:

If the conflict involves your use of chemical or biological weapons against our forces, . . . the American people will demand vengeance.  We have the means to exact it . . . this is not a threat, it is a promise.  If there is any use of weapons like that, our objective won’t just be the liberation of Kuwait, but the elimination of the current Iraqi regime, and anyone responsible for using those weapons would be held accountable. [vi]

At that time, Iraq possessed enormous stocks of chemical and biological weapons, but Saddam never used them during the war. In the twelve years thereafter, he never used them, although, characteristically, he implied that he might use chemical weapons against Israel. 

There is also no record of his having given such weapons to any terrorist group.  The Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had provided training to al Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological warfare has never been confirmed.  When it was asserted, senior intelligence officials privately expressed discomfort with the report, suggesting that it was an overstatement. The 9/11 Commission noted that the source who made the most detailed allegations on this case later recanted them.  Two top al Qaeda members who were subsequently captured—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubayda—also "adamantly" denied that there had been cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda.[vii]  Before the war, CIA Director George Tenet publicly declared that only when Saddam believed he faced the end of his regime was he likely to use weapons of mass destruction or give them to terrorists.  Saddam obviously believed that James Baker's threat about overwhelming retaliation was one that remained in force after Baker left office in 1992.  That he declined to back al Qaeda or any other terrorist group in conspiracies against the United States indicates that he believed prudence was his best course.  And he remained true to the unwritten rules of state sponsorship of terror: Never get involved with a group that cannot be controlled and may get you into much more trouble than you want; never give a weapon of mass destruction to terrorists who might one day use it against you.

The lesson is important: in an age of catastrophic terror, deterrence remains a viable means of keeping rogue states in check.  There are, of course, no guarantees; statecraft is not a natural science with immutable laws.  North Korea, for example, has a record of provocative behavior, including involvement with drug dealing and counterfeiting, blowing up South Korean airliners and killing South Korean cabinet members.  It is hardly inconceivable that the Pyongyang regime, in its desperation for cash, might sell a nuclear device to al Qaeda.  But the hypothesis that Iraq would do so was never a strong one.

Possibly the best explanation of what the Bush team did in developing its hypotheses about Iraq and al Qaeda collaborating in an attack with weapons of mass destruction is the one provided by the great historian of science Thomas Kuhn.  He observed that when new data threaten established and strongly held theories, scientists tend to explain them away. Though the scientists “may begin to lose faith and then to consider alternatives, they do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis.  They do not, that is, treat anomalies as counter-instances, though . . .that is what they are.” [viii]  In other words, they try to shoehorn new facts into old ways of understanding.  In the same manner, when President Bush and his advisers were faced with an unimaginable attack by a terrorist group that was more capable than most states, they determined that a state must have been behind it.  They refused to allow the facts dent their strategic understanding.

From The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right, (Times Books).  More here.

Alter-review:

The New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley calls the Frankie Valli-playing star of “Jersey Boys” John Lloyd, a “genuine star-in-the-making.”  After seeing the matinee with the kid yesterday—who as one person in the audience commented to me, was “learning a lot of words she probably never heard before,” I’ll sign on to this.  The guy has that something extra that leads to think you’re seeing him when…  More interesting, however, and even kinda spooky, is something else Brantley mentions: “the real, mostly middle-aged crowd at the August Wilson Theater, who seem to have forgotten what year it is or how old they are or, most important, that John Lloyd Young is not Frankie Valli.”  The whole play was like this.  People were applauding for the real-life, post-play accomplishments of the people the actors were playing—as if it didn’t matter that these were just the actors, or else they couldn’t tell the difference.  This is something that has been hinted at with tours of the Four Tops and Temptations, sans any actual Tops or Temps, but it opens up all kinds of ghoulish exploitative possibilities.  (In the music biz?  Nahh.)

Anyway, about the play.  It’s not much, but just sufficient to hang what Brantley also aptly terms “exasperatingly infectious” tunes.  Those are great.  And the performances are also wonderful.  And there are moments you a get lump in your throat that totally eludes your brain.  But you gotta like the Four Seasons in the first place.  And you gotta have a high tolerance for cliché of the post-Sinatra/pre-Springsteen Jersey boy sort.  Really high.  But hell, if money’s no object, it’s a fun two hours.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Tom
Hometown:  Shawnee Mission, KS
I'll dispense with all the politically correct qualifications and praise for Major Bob: he gets entirely too much space in this column for writing subtle--or not so subtle--propaganda.  So he's an erudite officer in the military, big deal.  My brother is an erudite Marine grunt on tour three of the Sand Box, who has nothing but contempt for "ring knockers" (aka service academy graduates).  Why don't you simply link to Bateman's reporting instead of wasting valuable space?  Or are you simply showing off that a man from a traditionally conservative profession, the officer corps, is contributing to a progressive blog?  Admit your lapse in judgment and move him.  His diatribe against the Post reporter crossed the line, even for a blog, as many of your readers have already pointed out.

Name: Jim Morgan
Hometown: Elizabethtown, KY
Did I miss something?  Why do we enlist?  A little background first.  Born and raised in a coastal town outside of San Francisco to a stay at home mom and professional carpenter.  Never went hungry and had what I needed.  As young as I can remember, I listened to my father speak of the Army in a manner in which grabbed my interest, and regardless of the story new or old, I sat, rapt, with attention.  He spoke of Soldiering as the most proud and honorable experience.  He told us it was our choice, but made sure we understood our responsibility was to register to vote and sign up for selective service when we turned 18.  I bounced around for a few years until I made the choice.  No, not in trouble!  As soon as I arrived for Basic at Ft. Knox, I knew I had found a place in which I could excel.  I do not believe I ever thought of money or lack of, I only wanted to be a proficient Soldier and attain the next level of challenge.  As a private, I trained hard and competed for all coveted titles in a Tankers world, As a Corporal, Sergeant and Staff Sergeant.  From Ft. Knox to Germany to Desert Storm to Drill Sergeant duty, I relished it all.  Money was not a concern, along with Soldiering, the Army taught me how to do more with less and how to be a Man.  I have been out for 7 years and 5 times a Staff Sergeant's pay and still miss the life, war or no war.  Soldier On!

Name: Charles Westmoreland
Hometown: Houston
When is liberal groundhog day is going to end?  It's all a repeat of the same things.  You're not really changing policy here or influencing many people.  The diehard leftys are still with you and everyone else thinks you're obsessive and not much help.  So you really haven't changed anything.  But I know you want to change things, because every editor/journalist has a bit of Woodward/Bernstein in them.  I find it strange that you don't have the solution to France's dilemma.  I mean, the creative juices don't even seen to be flowing (as if they ever did with liberalism).  Same with Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Carter, etc.  All you Save the Worlders have suddenly gone quiet when a Bush hating, liberal, socialist country is in a jam.  If you can't find a way to blame it on Bush, then you apparently can't come up with an answer.

Eric replies: “Socialist?”

Name: Eric Larsen
Hometown: Salinas, CA
Eric,
On your quote of the day it's too bad you forgot to mention that around a year or so ago Dennis Hastert had the gall to lecture John McCain about torture.  Please rectify your omission so as to remind your readers that Cheney isn't the only Republican draft dodger trying to lecture a veteran of the Hanoi Hilton.
P.S. - Keep up the good work.

Name: Bruce Kuznicki
Hometown: Alta Loma, CA
Congratulations on what you helped accomplish yesterday.  I admit it-- you saw stuff going back a while that I didn't see, that a lot of us didn't.  I don't know if the reason people like me couldn't see it is that lingering anger over 9/11 coupled with a desire to know that SOMETHING was being done against Islam was the problem, or if it was a desire to see the moral stance we believed in affirmed after the Clinton years.  Whatever it was, we let the Bush White House get too comfortable in the idea that we would defend it against any attack.  I don't know if that sort of lack of fear of consequences would have brought out the worst of anyone with that much power, or if these are people who have so much darkness in them that its manifestation was merely a matter of time no matter how much or how little they were watched.  None of that much matters, now, though. They've had their chance and they've squandered it.  Like I said a month or so ago, I think I pretty much have to vote Democratic in the next election or two, not because I have become liberal in my thinking but because my party needs to be punished if it is to grow and because the Republic needs new leadership if it's to regain some self respect.  Since there's really no one else, that means voting Democratic.  And I'm not going to say "I'll hold my nose and vote Democratic," that is untrue and a useless expression of bitterness that I don't really feel.  In reality, it's people like you who have a legitimate right to feel bitter-- you worked hard to make people like me see the problems you saw, and speaking only for myself, I chose, most of the time, to not see it.  In any case, hat's off to you for your efforts and your vindication.  I'm not saying you needed an election win to be right, because you were right about a lot of stuff even when the votes didn't follow.  But the affirmation of an election obviously means a lot.

Name:  Steven Hart
Hometown:  The Opinion Mill
Re: The new Beatles book by Bob Spitz.  I'd give a little more weight to those Amazon.com critics if I were you.  I haven't read the Beatles tome, but I can attest that Spitz's Bob Dylan biography is sheer hackwork.  On the scale of Dylan biographers, Anthony Scaduto ("Dylan: An Intimate Biography") is recognized as the pioneer, but his book breaks off at the early 1970s mark.  The recent bios by Clinton Heylin ("Behind the Shades") and Howard Sounes ("Down the Highway") are the most up-to-date and comprehensive: Heylin is superb on the actual music, drawing on the sea of Dylan bootlegs to chronicle the ups and downs of his performing career as well as his recordings; Sounes is a clunky writer with no analytical skills, but he is an invincible fact-hound and had the inspired idea of tracking down William Zanzinger, who's still seething over being called out by Dylan in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."  Robert Shelton's "No Direction Home" is a sad story: he lost his way in the material, was forced by his editor to cut the book from a two-volume project to a single crowded and hurried tome, and ended up covering only about as much as Scaduto.  What should have been the crowning work of his life was left unfinished by his death -- considering that Shelton's New York Times review made the young Dylan into the king of Greenwich Village, the man deserved a much better fate.  And way way way down at the bottom of the heap is Spitz, whose book is read only by those hardcore Bobcats who must pass their eyes over every piece of paper with Bob Dylan's name on it.

Name:  Maureen Holland
Hometown:  South Venice Beach, FL
Dear Doc:
Since I implicitly trust your cultural instincts - and as a reader of Altercation from day one, how could I not? - I humbly seek your counsel.  A beloved niece is marrying an adorable Irishman, who's just become a citizen.  He's a denizen, devotee and resident of NYC.  I'd like to get him a wonderful book about the city, perhaps a history.  I've already given him some Pete Hamill.  If you find that minute to reply for which I ardently hope, it will no doubt result in one smilin' Irishman becoming yet another fan.  Can't Pierce use a nom de plume?

Eric replies:  E.B White's "Here is New York" is wonderful, but also Thomas Kessner's "Capital City" if something more straight history, less literary is called for.  There’s also the magisterial The Power Broker by Bob Caro, and a personal favorite of mine, Alfred Kazin's A Walker in the City, which is short and beautiful.  Volume one of Edwin G. Burrows NS Mike Wallace’s (so far) definitive “Gotham” is available, but it’s got another hundred years to go and is already about a thousand pages.

A source writes:

The Israeli Labor Party tossed out Peres in favor of an old-time lefty, a Moroccan (Arabic speaker, no English) who ran as the anti-Barak, anti-Bibi (and I'd add: anti-Tom Friedman).  Stick it to the Right.  The left is coming back in their favorite country.  Will they still like Israel even when it fulfills the destiny Herzl and B-G envisioned?

-----------------------------------------------

[i] It is an interesting question whether our opponents in the future will have the same respect for American intelligence capabilities after the debacle over Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.  It would deeply ironic if the push to war in Iraq weakened this aspect of our deterrence.

[ii] 9/11 Commission Report, 61.

[iii] Ibid., p.66

[iv] One of the authors had written speeches for President Bill Clinton on the issue, including a joint radio address he had delivered with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

[v] James Risen, “How Pair's Finding on Terror Led To Clash on Shaping Intelligence,” New York Times, April 28, 2004.

[vi] The Politics of Diplomacy, James A. Baker III with Thomas DeFrank (G.P. Putnam and Sons: 1995) p. 359.

[vii] 9/11 Commission Report, 472.

[viii] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 77.

From the book "The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right," by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. Copyright (c) 2005 by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. Published by arrangement with Times Books/an imprint of Henry Holt & Co.

November 9, 2005| 12:46 PM ET | Permalink

$44 billion; Torture ain’t cheap

The Constitution —remember that?— calls for “a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time,” but the CIA—indeed the entire intelligence community—has decided they are exempt.  Well, never mind.  “In San Antonio last week, Mary Margaret Graham, a 27-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and now the deputy director of national intelligence for collection, said the annual intelligence budget was $44 billion," here.

A lot of this stuff is pork, here.

So far, the republic, such as it is, has survived…

What, you thought torture was free?  Republicans want to investigate the leak, here, but not the torture itself, here.  Surprising, huh?

The New York Times editorial board writes here,

After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run.  An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front.  But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.

Thing is, guys, you’ve been acting like Judy Miller is a hero, and yet she was doing the lying for these guys, in your newspaper.  Maybe even helped him get re-elected,… weird, huh?

And then there’s “A history of the Iraq war, told entirely in lies,” here.  Judy couldn’t have written it better herself…  (Really, how did Judy go from being this unimpeachable hero to someone about whom we read,

Meanwhile, executive editor Bill Keller told Mr. Sulzberger that he was not prepared to accept Ms. Miller’s return to the newsroom in any form, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

The rank and file shared the executive editor’s stance.  “There is a quiet rebellion in the newsroom,” a longtime staffer said. “They don’t want her back.”

What’s changed except the fact that the Times has been forced by outside events to recognize the truth?  [OK, I know it’s in the Observer, but it sounds true.]  And you know how we know it’s the Observer—aside from the fact that maybe it’s not true, we get this crap:  "An orange sweater was draped over her shoulders, and she wore her preferred oversize tortoiseshell sunglasses.  She had a Treo holstered at her right hip, and a dime-sized compass clipped to her watchband.”)

Surprise, Surprise: Lloyd Grove reports, “'Keller got snowed by Wolfowitz,' says a source. 'That's [Keller] who gave Miller the green light' to keep writing her piece.”  This is true.  If you read Keller’s loving profile of Wolfowitz in the Times magazine, you’ll see that the idea of a “liberal” New York Times picking an editor like this is a contradiction in terms.  I tried to point this out on a TV chat show once, but of course, it was a complete waste of time and energy.

Losing Roe would not be the worst thing in the world.  It’s already mostly been lost, here.

I’ve always wondered what Michael Ledeen had to do with these Niger forgeries, here, too.  And really, would anyone put it past Cheney’s guys or even the CIA to have tried to make this up?  (But start a blog, never!  How dare I…)

A minute on the elections
It’s important to understand that the public is not merely rejecting Bush; it is rejecting the entire ideological, incompetent, and dishonest Republican establishment.  Bloomberg won because he was able to distance himself from everything Republican—and he better stop funding them ASAP.  The media will treat this as a contest of personalities but the Democrats need to understand that they need to hammer on these issues, beginning with Alito.  I still support a filibuster, particularly one that loses, to demonstrate just how out of line with the majority the Republicans have flown.  They can’t even win support for (the few) decent things they support.  Read Mickey today, here.  I would have supported any honest anti-gerrymandering initiative, but nobody trusts Republicans anymore, quite rightly, and so it failed in CA.  I think it’s that simple.  Democrats should seize the issue.  This Virginia thing, however, is a big boost for Mark Warner with the media, which comes at the expense of both the junior senator from New York as well as the ex-junior senator from North Carolina.  (Sorry, but I can’t take a Kerry or Biden candidacy seriously.)

Also look what Mickey does to Kristof.  I had lunch with a Times editor the other day.  He/she said “Jayson Blair was a rogue cop.  Judy Miller is ‘Chinatown.’”  She’s right.  The institution is fundamentally corrupt and Kristof’s shenanigans are but a small part of that.  On the other hand, it’s also fair to say that every one of our significant political and media institutions are fundamentally corrupt and the Times, given its company, is among our best.  Still, they annoy the crap out of everyone, because they act as if they are the holiest of the holies, and hey, guess what…Jayson Blair, Wen Ho Lee, Judy Miller, your Whitewater coverage…  Something stinks…  (You know you’re in big trouble when the PR industry thinks it gets to lecture your ass.

Life’s Little Ironies, I:  A couple of years ago, I tried to get the Nation to partner with Yale University Press to publish a series like the below, instead, this from Publisher’s Lunch:

In other announcements, Yale University Press is partnering with The New Republic on a Yale/TNR books line that will "present a range of perspectives on American and international politics as well as the world of arts, letters, and culture.

Life’s Little Ironies, II:  Last year, another university press, just as tony as Yale —maybe even a little tonier, publishing-wise— asked me to write a book about Zionism and American Jews, which I spent a year doing my thesis on in grad school before switching over to what became WHEN PRESIDENTS LIE.  I wanted to do it, but my other contractual obligations precluded it.  Now Marty Peretz is writing the same book, albeit, one that will be a lot different, I promise.  “Among the three launch titles, due 'as soon as fall 2006,' is magazine editor-in-chief Martin Peretz's Choosing Jerusalem: Zionism and the Transformation of the Jews.”  It will be Marty’s first book and will preserve his perfect streak of only being able to be published by entities he happens to own…

Golden Oldie:  You know, I remember the very first day of Altercation.  Marty was an item that day:  Roll the tape back to May, 2002 on which day I noted that “in a May 20 New Yorker, David Denby, the magazine’s excellent film critic, referred to New Republic (now partial-) owner and one-time Cramer-backer-now-Cramer-enemy, Martin Peretz as “the Harvard political theory professor.”  This annoyed me—then as now—“because the key thing to know about Peretz is that his entire position in the world of politics is due to the fact that he purchased TNR with money his wife inherited from her Singer Sewing machine fortune.  Peretz is always viciously attacking people who have earned their intellectual or journalistic credentials, rather than purchased them, and I wonder if his own precarious position in this world is the key to the frequent slander to which he subjects those with more genuine literary accomplishments.  (Peretz has never written a book, or any other significant work of scholarship or reportage.)  What’s more, he’s no political theory professor at Harvard.  He has never been affiliated with the Harvard Government department—which is what they call political science there-- and is no longer a lecturer in its Social Studies department, which is as close as he ever came to being a professor of political theory.  The New Yorker reference troubled me in part because the fancy title would appear to give Peretz’s usually baseless attacks on his many enemies an undeserving patina or respectability…” to say nothing of its legendary reputation for fact-checking.  And you know, it was in The New Yorker, yes, The New Yorker…

Sarah Silverman back when any Jewish guy had a chance with her…

Alter-appearances again:

I’ll be on Al Franken’s show on Thursday afternoon, at 1.  It will be live at the New School in New York and I hope there will be details here.  I’m doing it to plug the paperback of When Presidents Lie.

That evening, I’ll be back at the New School to interview Navasky.  The information is below. We will both be signing books afterward, but he will be signing more of them.  You can go to that if you’re at

Swayduck Auditorium
65 Fifth Avenue
6:00. Friday the 11th

I’ll be giving one paper at a panel on Clinton and the media, and commenting on three more on a panel on Clinton and the culture at the Hofstra Conference entitled, WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, The "New Democrat" From Hope.  Everything you need to know is here.

“Stiff Little Roy/Give to AIDS in Africa Week” continues:  Little Roy is still trolling for $.  Stiff him.  Give the money to UNICEF to fight AIDS in Africa instead, here.

Speaking of Little Roy, note the quote that appears at the top of his blog from Dick Cheney about “freedom.”  It reads a like a joke, doesn’t it?  And yet, I’m pretty sure that when he put it up, he meant it.  What does that say about the rest of what he told us and all of his judgment about these guys?  Same thing goes for his comrades, Hitchens and Horowitz.  If you admit now that you were wrong for most of your life, why should we take what you say now seriously?  Isn’t it likely that you’re going to turn out to be wrong again?

One more thing about that.  All you (beautiful) “first rate minds” hanging out at Packer’s over in Brooklyn: anything to say about how smart it was to put your faith in the Vice-Torturer in Chief?

Quote of the Day:  Jon Stewart to John McCain on Dick Cheney, last night: “Man, where does he get the balls to lecture you about torture?”

Oh and congrats to Georgetown for giving a “Distinguished Professor” title to the 'first rate mind,' General Tommy Franks terms, ‘the dumbest fu**ing guy on the planet,’ former U.S. defense policy chief Douglas Feith, whose prewar role in cooking the intel books the Pentagon Inspector General has been asked to investigate, and believe me, it won’t be pretty.  How about a little protest, people?

You can find the quote here and the story here.

Alter-reviews:  The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz. 

One problem with 1,000 page books is that they are hard to review, at least honestly.  I intended to read this book and review it here, but, hey, it’s 1,000 pages.  I’ve read about a hundred so far, but I really need to wait for the unabridged audio version, because, um, I have work to do.  Still, I can say this: It’s extremely well-written, though sometimes over-written, and crazily well-researched.  The section on John’s childhood is terrific and quite moving.  And it hurts my head to think how hard it must have been to locate those interview subjects.  Over at Amazon, here, a bunch of people are complaining about the book’s many mistakes.  But none of them name them.  Perhaps they are there, but mistakes are endemic in a thousand page book, and I’d be more concerned if someone would point them out.  Anyway, if anyone deserves a thousand pages, it’s these boys, and though Spitz is not a professional historian, he seems to have done his homework.  Once we get the New York or London Review of Books verdict, we’ll know of the mistakes are overwhelming, but so far, my sympathies are with the guy who did all the work.  Salon has a good review here.

Speaking of books on tape, I’ve got an unabridged version of Zadie Smith’s on Beauty, and it's providing a million excuses to go to the gym or walk to Zabar’s or something.  It’s really wonderful, as all the reviews have attested, (Amazon has PW’s here) and much easier for me to follow than White Teeth, which everyone thought was so terrific but lost me.  The audio is read wonderfully by Peter Francis James, but Amazon doesn’t even tell you who it is.  Is that right, guys?

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Mark Kraft
Hometown:  Insomnia
A March '05 publication by the US Army confirms that US soldiers used white phosphorus offensively in the Battle of Fallujah. This directly contradicts statements made by the U.S. Department of Defense and by the US State Department.

Here is the story on artillery use from the March/April edition of the US Army's "Field Artillery Magazine."

Here are the relevant mentions of WP in the article:

"The munitions we brought to this fight were . . . illumination and white phosphorous (WP, M110 and M825), with point-detonating (PD), delay, time and variable-time (VT) fuzes."

"WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

What the article does not say, however, is that there is no way you can use white phosphorus like that without forming a deadly chemical cloud that kills everything within a tenth of a mile in all directions from where it hits. Obviously, the effect of such deadly clouds weren't just psychological in nature.

This claim of "shake and bake" is further confirmed in a news article by an embedded journalist at the time.  See here.

"Bogert is a mortar team leader who directed his men to fire round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday, never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused. . . they ran through the drill again and again, sending a mixture of burning white phosphorus and high explosives they call "shake 'n' bake" into a cluster of buildings where insurgents have been spotted all week."

This directly contradicts a previous US State Department statement, located at this link, that WP was used "very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes."

You can also direct people to the video of the Italian broadcast, which made the original claims, which is online here and here.

Name:  Bob Hawks
Hometown:  
Carpentersville, Illinois
As much as I respect Major Bateman and appreciate his service (and speaking as a veteran myself) I think his overreaction to Ms. Tyson's story is telling.  The fact that he finds it offensive to think that the underemployed (or worse) might be more inclined to enlist for a job or college money than devotion to duty, their country, or the idea of service don't change it from being true.  And the reason that becomes "News" during a war is, duh, because we're at war.  But don't take my word for it, there's an easy way to check: What's the demographic breakout of newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenants?  And while you're at it, what's the demographic breakout out of newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenants who were not obligated to take the commission via the ROTC scholarships (read as: did it for financial assistance thru college...)  And exclude as well the service academy grads, because although they probably are more motivated, the demographic breakout is tainted because of the appointment system from each state's congressional representatives.  My obvious point: there won't be a lot of poor rural officers, because even rural college grads have other options.

P.S.  As noted, I served for eight years in the USAF as a Staff Sergeant and just for the record, we saluted most officers because we didn't want to go to jail.  Military courtesy in the real world is a one way street...think military justice and military music...

Name: Rich Kokoska
Hometown: Mansfield, Conn.
I enjoy Major Bob's correspondence, but it must have been a hot and weary day in Baghdad when he wrote this scathing criticism of poor Ann Tyson's Washington Post article about rural recruiting. I thought the article was outstanding journalism, giving facts and numbers like no one in journalism makes the effort to do any more, and interviewed people in a lot of situations to get a rounded picture. The only thing she seems to have done wrong is not make some acknowledgement to Bob's existential insight that soldiering has always been a poor boy's job, but hey, Bob, Ann is coming from the perspective of Women, who, you may remember, suffered their own oppressions up until recent times and doesn't need to tip her hat to that father-son thing behind your complaint. I also want to tell you from the perspective of someone who's worked on college campuses for 25 years that I never heard an ROTC candidate mention any reason for joining the military other than financial aid: not once, ever, in 5 student generations. If Major Bob is meeting all kinds of young recruits who are talking about joining for patriotic duty then he's talking to them well after the front-end recruiting has worn off...

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Eric,
Major Bateman may be an historian, but he needs some work on his analysis skills. His point seems to be that the trend for recruitment into the military has always been the West and South. However, he provides no evidence for this assertion. I realize that he's not exactly in a place where he can do the research to come up with the numbers, but that doesn't excuse his outburst. Argumentation is predicated upon evidence and if you don't have it, it doesn't matter if your point is correct: Nothing you have said or done provides any justification for your point. Ms. Tyson has numbers. Where are Major Bateman's? Considering that the ZIP code data was applied to the recruitment numbers for the very first time in 2004, it would be interesting to know where the Major is getting his information. And just as curious is his casting of those who are in poor financial circumstances and are looking for ways to improve their economic lot as "deadbeats." Like it or not, one of the reasons people join the military is because of money. It isn't the greatest money in the world, but it is steady work, provides training, and includes health care and pension benefits. If there is no work where you live, then the military becomes a more attractive option. Perhaps the Major is forgetting that there are towns in this country where there is a single employer (the mill, the mine, the factory, etc.) and quite often that employer shuts down, shutting down the town in the process. What are the people in such a situation supposed to do? Considering the alternatives, why not join the military? I had always thought the definition of "deadbeat" was someone who didn't want to work for a living and would put out the least amount of effort. Is the Major suggesting that military work is trivial? What is insulting is the Major's insinuation that Mr. Deal, a new recruit profiled in the article, is being insincere when he comments, "It's something to make a life of." Is that the sound of a "deadbeat" or someone who is doing what he must not to be one?

Name: James Polewski
Hometown: Madison WI
Major Bateman is wrong to label a reporter a fool just because she reports on something that isn't a recent event. Newness ought not be the determinative factor in deciding what appears in a newspaper's news reports. It is a clear fallacy to hold that recency is more important than significance. The notion that anything that happened yesterday has more claim to newsprint than what happened the day before is what keeps the citizenry spectacularly ill-informed. Following Maj. Bateman, there is no reason to report on the lies that took us to war, or suspicions of treason in the WH: no, that was so "last month". It is newsworthy, and will continue to be newsworthy, that in this Republic the people who choose war do so in the comfort that none of their children will ever be at risk of injury, or even inconvenience. It does no dishonor to those who choose a military career to point out that we have a system that overwhelmingly selects that choice for people on economic grounds, and to suggest the question of why it is that the rich and powerful so rarely serve. If the military is an honorable choice, then it is entirely fair to point out that the people who make that honorable choice rarely come from the upper classes. Is the Major willing to accept the implication that the rich are less honorable because they do military service so rarely in comparison with the poor and middle class? Finally, what does it matter that the poor have historically been more honorable than the rich in this respect? Our Republic is supposed to be different from, and better than, the nation states that preceded it, if not the others that exist today. The reporter who continues to point out truth is not foolish, but merely persistent. Perhaps one day, with enough repetition of and attention to truth, the rich will be required to be as honorable as the poor and middle class.

Name: Steve Reynolds
Hometown: Hamilton, Ontario
I like Major Bob's contributions to Altercation, but he missed the boat in his reaction to the WaPo story on the disproportionate representation of rural people in the military. Major Bob says that there is nothing new in the story, but there is: · In fiscal 2005, the Army took in its least qualified group of recruits in a decade, as measured by educational level and test results. · The current analysis of 2004 data is the first time that recruitment patterns have been presented by zip code, making all kinds of new analysis possible. · Fiscal 2005 was the worst year for recruiting since 1999. · Blacks fell from 22.3 percent of Army recruits in fiscal 2001 to 14.5 percent this year; Hispanics rose from 10.5 percent to 13.2 percent, and whites, from 60.2 percent to 66.9 percent. Women dropped from 20 percent to 18 percent. I agree with Major Bob that this was not the best-written story. The above bits of info should have been more prominent. However, to call the story "the most offensive and ignorant piece of pseudo-news I think that I have seen in years" is out of line. Myself, I liked Doonesbury's recent treatment of the whole subject better.

Name: Jimmy Camp
Hometown: Arlington, TX
DR. A
How refreshing it is to hear that someone else appreciates the talent of Rosanne Cash. I've heard more screechy women with over-emphasized accents in the country genre than I'll ever be able to forget (no matter how hard I try). Ms. Cash, on the other hand, can not only sing, but has a beautiful voice for doing so. Quite a songwriter to boot. Very soulful.

November 8, 2005| 11:55 AM ET | Permalink

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, IraqBias of the ignorant sort

A few days ago a journalist friend of mine, soliciting my thoughts, asked me about this article.  I ask indulgence in my delayed reaction, as I do have a “day job.”

Eric’s Page is called Altercation, and it is cited in many places as being a site dedicated to media criticism.  I suppose that it is only right that I lend my hand in that effort.

The article is about the most offensive and ignorant piece of pseudo-news I think that I have seen in years, and it is extremely distressing in what it says about the reporter and her editors who allowed it to appear in print.  The article appeared on the front page of the Washington Post.

Now before I get into too much depth, I should note my general thoughts about the media are positive.  Several of my friends are journalists, and as a rule I find them intelligent, widely read, and thoughtful.  I do not always agree with them, but I relish these interactions as well.  But then as with any profession (my own included of course) there are those whom I consider fools.  Ms. Ann Tyson, the author of this article, just introduced herself into those ranks.

As a historian and sometime writer I acknowledge that what you write, and sometimes how you write it, is colored by your own life experience.  As an academic I am acutely aware of this in my own writing, especially within the field of history.  I try hard not to introduce my own biases into observations about the Swiss Eidgenossen of the 16th Century, or the Union Army of the Civil War, even as I try to empathize with my subjects so that I might explain their behaviors with the readers more effectively.  But long ago and far away I also took some journalism classes, and among those classes were instructions about “what makes news.”  The short version of these instructions can be summed up this way: “New things are news.”

Which brings me to the story published by the Washington Post on their front page.  As with any “hard news” article, the element of the story which the reporter and her editors consider the absolutely most important part of the story is right up front.  This is what Ms. Tyson wrote:

As sustained combat in Iraq makes it harder than ever to fill the ranks of the all-volunteer force, newly released Pentagon demographic data show that the military is leaning heavily for recruits on economically depressed, rural areas where youths' need for jobs may outweigh the risks of going to war.

More than 44 percent of U.S. military recruits come from rural areas, Pentagon figures show.  In contrast, 14 percent come from major cities.  Youths living in the most sparsely populated Zip codes are 22 percent more likely to join the Army, with an opposite trend in cities.  Regionally, most enlistees come from the South (40 percent) and West (24 percent).

Many of today's recruits are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on Zip codes and census estimates of mean household income. Nearly two-thirds of Army recruits in 2004 came from counties in which median household income is below the U.S. median.

How is this news, in any way, shape or form?

Five years ago the story would have had the exact same statistics.  For the better part of the past 160 years, barring the period after WWII until 1973 when we had a draft, most of our enlisted recruits came from the South, and the West. I would be willing to lay good money down, cash on the barrel-head, that for the past 160 years a near-majority of our recruits came from rural areas.  For that matter, I am completely confident that for the entire period of our history the majority of our enlisted recruits have come from “economically depressed areas,” either rural or urban.  So how is Ms. Tyson’s article “new”?  It is not.  At all.

Yet the demographic data cited as the most important by Ms. Tyson (by virtue of the fact that she led her story with these lines), and the most important story in the newspaper as judged by the editors of the Washington Post who placed the article on page A1, is not new at all.  Which leads one to ask, “Are the editors just ignorant, or was this in some way deliberate?”

There is a second theme here which annoys as well, though it is somewhat more insidious.  The entire cast of the article, the very tone of the piece makes it sound like Ms. Tyson believes that only reason why soldiers enlist (and have been enlisting for more than 100 years) is for money.  That alone is not only misunderstanding our motivations in the modern post-1973 military, in quite a few cases (perhaps, gasp, even the majority) it is downright offensive.  It makes those of us in uniform seem like deadbeats who only enlist for money, who cannot find employment anywhere else, and so are forced to the “employer of last resort.”

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:

Temperatures are dropping into the 60s here at night, which is nice, though we have yet to see a serious rainfall beyond the single light sprinkle we saw a few weeks ago.

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

This makes it all the more important to figure out, “ When did he go nuts?”  P.S.  Bush will pardon Libby.  The only question is whether he thinks he can get away with it before the presidential election…

Note to "Nightline:"  Scooter Libby was indicted.  Might be worth some coverage.

Howie and Novak: Peas in the Post’s Pitiful Pod:  Speaking of Conflicts of Interest, it’s hard to keep up with Howard Kurtz, who has more of them than entire rest of the Washington Post combined and multiplied by six.  What does it say about your staff, Mr. Downie, that you cannot find anyone at that great newspaper who can cover the media without exposing the paper to exactly the kinds of issues of trust that are destroying reader confidence?  Anyway, here’s one more — Howie’s Republican consultant wife—that he mentions at the bottom of this transcript.  This kind of disclosure, meanwhile, hides more than it reveals because of the way the world works.  Anyway, again, Mr. Downie, CNN has decided Novak’s various conflicts are too much for it.  Does the Post have more lax standards when it comes to issues of integrity than CNN?

Walter Laquer on Arthur Koestler, here.

On Sonny Rollins, here.

Noam is an island (and here) —and he should stop slandering my friend Ed Vulliamy on behalf of fascist murderers... Just a suggestion.

Gordon Wood on the Election of 1800, here.

Dirty stuff from right-wingers, here.

Quote of the Day:  O'Reilly, 7/26/05

Don't believe the right-wing ideologues when they tell you the left still controls the media agenda.  It does not any longer.  It's a fact.

Alter-reviews:

The Bob Dylan scrapbook, another companion to “No Direction Home” or the “Control and Define Your Own Legacy Project” as it’s called around my house, is a really fun toy for fanatics as well as the history minded.  It’s filled with all kinds of weird and sometimes wonderful stuff, like a “trove of gatefold pages, pull-out reproductions of handwritten lyrics for songs like "Blowin in the Wind," an early press kit, newspaper clippings, hand written “How Does It Feel?”s and even a promotional counter display for record stores, all made to mimic their originals in what looks like a lot of work.  A CD with excerpts from Dylan's first radio interview and clips from the Scorsese documentary is also included. 

Also brand new is Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan by Douglas R. Gilbert.  These are photos the 23-year-old Dylan hanging with Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, and John Sebastian, and the Bobster’s family in Woodstock, at Newport and in the bar, the Kettle of Fish done for Look Magazine, which found him “too scruffy” for middle America, and never ran them.  This is therefore their debut and they are pretty sweet.

Meanwhile, we are definitely biased in a million ways simultaneously but we don’t see how anyone could fail to be thrilled with the re-releases of Rosanne Cash’s early stuff, here.  The sound is much improved, and the material, well, there’s a lot of it and some of it is just good and some of it is great.  “Seven Year Ache” is beyond great.  It’s transcendent.  The CDs are cheap and so you can buy all of them (even if you have them already) and give away the ones you have to people less fortunate than yourself.  If you’re poor, you can start with this one but anyway, read up on all of them here, and if it were me, I’d get all of them and listen to them in order and watch the girl grow up.  (Interiors is the dividing line, methinks.)  Oh and the new liner notes are all written by smart guys and are pretty expansive and ambitious, particularly as these things go these days.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Rob
Hometown:  Dallas, TX
Scott from Texas provided us a useful link to the proposed state constitutional amendment for Texas.  He is one of quite a few folks that seem to think that the wording of that proposition is sketchy.  While he does not list what he finds sketchy about the law, I must assume that they find issue with part (b) of the proposition. Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. (b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.  If you read state or federal statues very often, one might find that this sort of language is quite common.  If laws were truly straightforward and easy to understand, why would we need lawyers?  Sections (a) and sections (b) are both part of the same parent section, and both are true of the same section.  To assume otherwise, you would have to falsely believe that the two sections are independent of each other.  This is not the case, and I urge the reader to sift through many more statues that are law.  This type of language is quite common.  In addition to this, judges are not inhuman machines.  One would assume that the judge in question would consider the precedent that this law carried with it.  No judge in his right mind is going to declare all marriages issued in the state of Texas null and void.  I personally don't agree with this proposition for a variety of reasons, but tossing around questionable information is a less than ethical way of achieving the means to defeat the proposed amendment.  It stinks of the fear mongering style the Bush Administration uses.  But then again, Bush is a Texan.  Perhaps he learned it at home.

Name: Bill Heber
Hometown: Torrance, Calif.
Hi Eric;
While I was reading the TNR blog "the Plank," they linked to the TPM Cafe article called " The Pragmatics of Torture."  The article points out something that has gotten no mention so far.  Torture is not designed to get the truth.  Rather it is designed to get compliance; a signed confession, stories that the interrogator wants to hear, etc.  This is why torture is a tool of choice for "Thugocracies" everywhere.  Brent Scrowcroft said in the New Yorker article "...This Cheney I do not know anymore..."  If Bush doesn't change course will we be saying that of our own country?

Name: Dan Riley
Hometown: Vista, CA
Correspondent Aaron Good raises the wrong question about Bill Maher.  It's not why can't he refute the lamebrain arguments of Joe Scarborough.  It's why does he fill his valuable airtime with the likes of Scarborough, Tony Snow, and Ann Coulter?  Does he think these intellectual clods need more exposure?  It's the talk show equivalent of a tax break for the richest 1%.

Name:  Paul Ketley
Hometown:  RedBank, New Jersey
Eric
To follow on with your suggestion to Ursula Phillips looking for good world news, may I suggest she listens to National Public Radio or the BBC world service for her news.  While some may consider both to be biased towards the left, I consider myself an Independent Centrist and find that the reporting matches my expectations in coverage.  NPR in fact broadcasts an hour from BBC each morning - which I find more informative, more interesting and more balanced than any other outlet I can find.  And being from Indiana, Ursula is going to find Robin Lustig's and Owen Bennet Jones' accents compelling!  You can find where NPR broadcasts in your area by logging on to NPR.com or sign on to BBC.co.uk.  The BBC streams world news 24 hours a day.  That should be enough.  I understand that MSNBC may not take too kindly to publishing rivals sources of news, but we all remember that movie with Kris Kringle recommending a store across the street that could provide something his store could not...  Or does nobody believe in the Sanity Clause any more?

Name:  Rando Wilson
Hometown:  Columbus, OH
Dr. A
November 8 is big day for the finest person with the last name of Bush.  Kate Bush releases her first disc in a dozen years, a 2 CD effort titled "Aerial."  It is being compared favorably with her stunning 1978 debut, "The Kick Inside" and 1985's monumental "Hounds of Love."  She will also be featured in the December issue of Mojo.  For my money, no recording artist alive today can match her ability to produce jaw-dropping music.

Name:  Dan W
Hometown:  Providence, RI
Dr. Alterman,
This is a hysterical flash cartoon.  Gov. Arnold and fellow conservatives meet Sesame Street.  You'll need speakers or headphones.  Thanks for Altercation as well.  I've been a reader for quite some time.

November 7, 2005 | 12:03 PM ET | Permalink

You know, I’m getting a little tired of wondering, “How will the Bush cheerleaders spin this one?” every time fresh evidence appears that they were deliberately misleading the nation into war, and that this deception is responsible for the deaths of 2000 Americans, the wounding of  more than ten thousand more, and the killings of tens of thousands of others, as well as the torture of who knows how many people, and the hatred of America world-wide, as well as the creation of more terrorists, one of whom, eventually, will attack us, and kill more of us, starting the whole thing again, leading to more excuses by Bush cheerleaders for their deliberate deception…  Anyway, read all about it here and here.

But then I’m reminded that there’s the torture issue, too, here and here.  As Laura Rozen puts it of our vice-president:

If he had been supporting the very same policies he is now advocating while representing a regime like Serbia's, the big man would be in a Hague jail cell.  The same support for torture.  The same naked contempt for democratic processes.  The same contempt for law.  The same contempt for their people.
Here.

(And don’t forget, they still haven’t released the worst photos from Abu Ghraib.)  It’s sick and disgusting and it's Bush Administration policy.  I’ve said it before and I fear I have to say it again.  If you support Bush, you support torture.  Deal with it.  (The Supreme Court will, but I’m hardly one to put my faith in the people who gave us “Bush v.Gore” to uphold the Geneva Conventions.)

We note with slightly turned stomach that the smart boyz at “The Note” believe the primary significance in "Vice President of the United States fights for the right to torture” stories is "a must read for all sorts of reasons, especially the blind quotes and the likely motivations of those quoted (not to mention their identities!!!).”  Oh boy.

Meanwhile, it’s important to remember at all times that these people lie about everything, you know, even heroes like Pat Tillman, who gave up a $3.6 million contract to serve his country (and who apparently did so even though he opposed the Iraq war), if it serves their nefarious purposes.  Chicken-hawks exploiting the deaths of genuine war heroes with transparent lies:  And by the way, these people can use the Patriot Act to find out anything they want about you, and to use it against you in any way they want, here, and since they’re rather fond of all forms of police state tactics, here that might be a problem.

(Do I sound shrill?  Perhaps.  How can it be helped?  Look what they’re doing.  I don’t know if that’s part of their strategy or they really just don’t care about anything but their base and their ideology.  And while we’re on the topic, I was watching Sy Hersh on C-Span yesterday and found myself wondering at one of the same questions he raised:  Why did Cheney go nuts after 9/11?  He was a conservative realist one day and a raving “faith-based” empire-builder, nation-builder, torture-supporter and deliberate deceiver on behalf of all of it the next.  And since he’s the most powerful man in the world—Rove is only president for domestic policy—this is really terrifying, methinks.)

Oh and for that reason, I’ll be amazed if he goes, here, unless dragged out by an indictment.  Bush would be afraid to wipe his nose after a sneeze without Rove to tell him from which nostril the um, mucus, originated.

Quote of the Day:  "Wow! Brazil is big." —George W. Bush, President of the United States, here.

I had a bottle of Argentinean Malbec on Saturday night in honor of the Argentine protesters’ good sense.  (I’m also incredibly impressed with their ability to tell the IMF to get lost—one of the most under-covered stories in the media.)  Anyway, Bush is his usual self, blaming others, misleading, shaming our nation, creating hatred, you know the drill…

To Howie’s list of why the public has lost faith in journalism, I don’t see how he can avoid its refusal to address fundamental conflicts of interest, like say a media reporter for the Washington Post who covers CNN while receiving a paycheck from his sources and subjects, here.  (This will always be a profound stain on Len Downie’s legacy for the Post.  And by the way, if you think Howie is above using his column to pursue his personal interests, how would you explain the fact that Howie quoted Altercation frequently until I started attacking him with What Liberal Media? and has never mentioned my name or this column since?)

I haven’t noticed, but has anyone seen Howie address his slander of his colleagues in saying that Novak “led” them to out Valerie Plame, when his Post/CNN buddy is the only one who took the bait and played patsy for the Bushies?  Someone want to do that in one of his “chats?”  I’m betting the answer will be “That Eric Alterman is a bad man…”

This is funny.

CSPAN III LISTING

House Committee
Presidential Pardons, Part 2
Government Reform and Oversight
I. Lewis Libby , White House
Peter Kadzik

Harold Levanthal, RIP, here, by Theodore Bikel

“Stiff Little Roy/Give to AIDS in Africa Week” continues:  Little Roy is still trolling for $.  Stiff him.  Give the money to UNICEF to fight AIDS in Africa instead, here.

Alter-reviews:

Books: Those of us who are still trying to make political sense of the South, would be wise to spend a little time with a new biography, "Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond," here, by Jack Bass and Marilyn W. Thompson, ex-reporters who covered him for years, if not decades.  For a more historically-minded view, I plan to read the great historian William Leuchtenberg's Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History, entitled, “The White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson.”  Leuchtenberg is as admired by his colleagues as any historian and the loss of the south by the Democrats is pretty much the most important explanation for the current state of the nation’s politics, despite all of the ink (and airtime) spilled on the crimes of the evil liberals.  That’s here (and interestingly, does not turn up under its title or its author with Amazon’s search engine).

And for my fellow fans of Jenny and the Cat Club, good news, two new adventures are available here.  It’s my favorite kids' series of all, and I’m grateful to my friends at New York Review Books for helping me to discover it.

CDs:  If you thought last year’s Nirvana box was too much, I agree.  And if you like nice, clean sounding Nirvana, then maybe “Sliver,” which is the best of the box, is too much for you too.  For me it was just the right amount.  My friend Danny says Cobain is the only artist he can think of in recent times whose genius can be compared to that of John Lennon.  Argue with Danny, not me.

DVDs ought to be superior by definition to CDs, but it ain’t so.  An example is the recent re-release of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen DVD, here.  You see all kinds of superlatives for a concert film that I thought came so close to post-Spinal Tap self-parody that it was almost funny.  Emphasis on almost.  (Keep in mind I couldn’t stand “Festival Express” either.)  The deluxe edition of the CD, however, is terrific; so great, in fact, that I felt fine about getting rid of the rest of my Joe Cocker because this is all I’m ever gonna wanna hear.  (I guess part of the problem is what John Belushi did to Cocker, too.  But that is a visual problem.  Like I said, it’s just wonderful music.)

One of my own personal discoveries of the past year was Todd Snider’s terrific recent album, East Nashville Skyline.  Now we’ve got a bit of the backstory, That Was Me: The Best of Todd Snider 1994-1998 and it doesn’t disappoint, here.  (The promo material compares him to Randy Newman, Bob Dylan and Neil Young and it’s not completely crazy.)  ENS is on John Prine’s Oh Boy records here.  It’s a real find.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Aaron Good
Hometown:  Ardmore, PA
Eric,
Did you happen to see Scarborough bloviating on Real Time with Bill Maher?  He was going on about how Bush is like Reagan and that history will vindicate his policies as Reagan's policies have been vindicated.  The problem was that there was no one to point out that Reagan's second term turned around AFTER he jettisoned the neo-cons and hardliners.  Scarborough also alluded to "crazy" people on the left who decried Reagan's Latin American policies.  He sneeringly talked about paranoid lefties who accused the U.S. of training Death Squads in El Salvador.  Again, no one pointed out the facts regarding what we actually did down there, and no one asked Joe to explain how support of Death Squads and dictators in Central America led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  I know that in our country there are no public podiums for educated liberals, but it is a shame that the closest thing we get are the charming, funny, and smarter-than-the-average-person types like Bill Maher and John Stewart.  These guys are clever and entertaining, but they can't systematically destroy the arguments of the Joe Scarboroughs and David Brookses of the world like you or Juan Cole could. 

Speaking of David Brooks, is he losing it completely right now?  I've read David Brooks' columns recently and he seems like a guy trying to act casually dismissive while his hair is on fire.  He is doing his best to mock anyone who asks about the manipulation of Iraqi pre-war intelligence, even equating them with Bigfoot hunters or UFO abductees in his most recent column.  I also saw him on The Jim Lehrer Report saying that it was reprehensible for anyone to question the purity of the pre-war intelligence gathering process because to do so is tantamount to accusing the Administration of practically the most depraved actions conceivable.  He may be right about the second part, but all in all, I think he protests a little too much.  We have learned more and more about this "intelligence" over time.  What is amazing is not just that the intelligence was all bad, but that there were plenty of reasons why it was suspect at the time that the administration was using it, and that the administration knew this.  Indeed, it is harder and harder to point to a single piece of intelligence that did not discredit itself one way or another even back then.  If this doesn't warrant an investigation, what possibly could?  If this were an honorable administration, why wouldn't they want an investigation, if only to remove doubt regarding whether or not they had knowingly used false information to launch a war of aggression?

Name:  Scott
Hometown:  Dallas, TX
Dr. Alterman,
Texas will soon vote on whether to ban gay marriage and gay civil unions.  However, the law is so poorly written that, as it stands, the law would ban ALL marriages and ALL civil unions.  Please go to this page for a link to this proposition.

Name:  Brad
Hometown:  Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
Mr. Shaffer takes issue with the "Commonwealth's interest in promoting the integrity of the marital relationship."  While the Libertarian in me whole-heartedly agrees, the Federalist part of me defers to the state (particularly in light of hundreds of years of legal precedent).  Indeed, the marital relationship has long been recognized by the courts to be a ward of the state.  Indeed, an entire body of law has grown up around this court-anointed important state interest.  An interest furthered and exploited over the years by both political parties and the court system.  This is not a traditional ideological rift, it is established legal and governmental practice.  However, I agree that in the idealistic (and Libertarian) world, "The purpose of laws, any laws, is to protect people's rights, NOT to uphold morality."  However, in such a utopia there would be no laws regarding seat belt use, drug use, polygamy, child abuse, prostitution, alcohol, tobacco, child labor, etc.  Morality is intertwined with virtually every law in the book.  Whether agreeable or not, morality is a necessary facet (evil?) of any government.  However, the level of establishment and regulation of morality through legislation is clearly and necessarily debatable.

NABNYC states that "There is no legal reason to require a woman to tell her husband she is going to have an abortion unless the law also gives the husband the right to prevent her from having the abortion."  Did they teach her that in law school?  If so, she should seek a refund from her institute of choice.  In any event, the real question here is whether the husband has a legal right to have his views weighed against those of his wife within the framework of a marriage.  NABNYC flatly asserts that "the husband's views on the decision are irrelevant."  Do husbands have any reproductive rights in a marriage (or otherwise for that matter)?  Is it that outlandish for a husband have the right to know if his wife is going to abort their child?  Clearly, to NABNYC the answers are no and yes, respectively.  It is surprising (and, on a certain level, hypocritical) that so many are so quick to summarily dismiss the rights of a whole class to protect the rights of another.

Mr. Robinson takes issue with the reporting requirement for exception (3) of the stricken PA law regarding spousal sexual assault.  However, most people with experience in this area would also recognize that if exception (3) occurred except was not reported, then exception (4) would directly and properly apply.  Thus, in application, there would be no requirement in the law to report the sexual assault.  Realistically, exception (4) provides a gaping legal loophole for practically any circumstance.  This would appear to be particularly true in light of the majority opinion which alleged that men may be prone to violence in these type of circumstances.  From a legal point of view, the law was very weak and virtually unenforceable, particularly regarding any exceptions asserted by the pregnant wife.

Name:  Ursula Phillips
Hometown: 
Indianapolis, IN
Mr. Alterman,
I just finished your book, What Liberal Media.  I wanted to compliment you on the painstaking scholarship of the book, and thank you for trying to present the truth without becoming hysterical.

I am a middle class citizen of Indianapolis and hold strong conservative beliefs on most social issues; and I confess that I picked up your book expecting to disagree heartily with it, and probably not end up being too fond of you personally.  I ended up appreciating your research and the overall tone of your work.  You and I would almost certainly disagree about almost all of the social issues of our day, and probably about many political ones as well, but I appreciate someone who can disagree with me, and at the same time calmly allow that I have a right to my opinions.  I can't tell you how refreshing it was to read your admission that the intellectual and cultural elite in our country by and large have no idea what is it like to live my life.  They don't understand my religious beliefs, my worldview, or the values by which I live.  Thank you for stating this obvious but seldom mentioned fact.

I have long been disillusioned with the media in our country, not because they slant the news one way or the other, but because they are so often lazy, patronizing, boring, and just plain wrong.  Only once in my life have I been personally involved in a situation deemed "newsworthy" by the local media.  I was appalled as I watched and read the coverage to find that the reporters usually had no idea what they were talking about, and if they couldn't unearth any actual facts they either speculated freely or simply lied.  I have never again trusted any news story that I see on TV or read in the paper to be factually true.  I have given up local TV news in despair, because I can't sit through a 30 minute newscast that contains only 2 or 3 minutes of anything I would consider "news."  And I can't say that I find national network news to be much better.  If you have any suggestions about where one can find honest reporting on what is actually going on in the country and around the world, I would be delighted to hear them.

Thank you again for you very informative and enjoyable book.

Eric replies:  I guess I think the Brits are better.  I enjoy the Economist which is conservative--and the Guardian, which you can read online, which is genuinely liberal, for keeping up to date...

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