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Slacker Friday

Slacker Friday

| 10:55 AM ET |

I finally got around to dealing with that UCLA Media bias study in my “Think Again” column, .

Slacker Friday:

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Making War(stories)

Because my last post was so damned serious, and indeed many of them have been that way, I want to show you another side of being a soldier.  Consider the fact that in most headquarters the most common thing posted on walls are not patriotic slogans…but Dilbert cartoons.  This account, covering the mid-December celebratory fire that exploded when Iraq beat Syria in soccer, was written by a friend of mine who serves at a high-level headquarters. All of the words which follow are his.

       ~ Major Bob

The following spoof is not intended to defame the efforts and actions of real soldiers.  It is simply a little ditty about life in the International Zone.  No animals (and only one air force officer) were hurt in the making of this production.

How war stories are born:  Boldface is how it will be told, normal script is how it actually happened.

After completing my evening Rosary I was cleaning my weapon when the night erupted in enemy fire.  I donned my armor, ordered my terrified roommate (an air force officer) to seek cover under his bed and sprang to the nearest fighting position to assess the situation.

I realized that I could no longer hear the Chappelle show due to the outside clamor.  I ordered my terrified roommate to look outside while I popped another Reese’s Pieces in my mouth. 

Once outside I assessed the fire was coming from all directions and this was the strategic attack that we had been waiting for – Tet Offensive II.  Al Qaeda amassed for the final battle and I was ready.  I immediately chambered a round and begin a suppressive fire towards the river ramparts defending the Tigris.  I would not let the tower guards falter.     

My armor had a bunch of laundry on it so I put on a thick sweatshirt and peeked outside to a veritable circle of incoming fire.  After duly discharging urine, I told my roommate Frank to run to the embassy and get some help.  He disobeyed.  I reminded him that even though he out ranked me that I am an Army officer and therefore the trailer ground maneuver commander.  An inaudible sound squeaked from his fear stricken throat and he returned to the trailer.  

Enroute to the battle of the parapets I heard a cry for help.  I wheeled left and saw a crumpled figure.  I realized this squirming torso was a Coalition patriot struck down by an enemy bullet.  I rushed to his aid.  I immediately dragged the moaning mass to cover, applied direct pressure and treated for shock.  Once stable, I inspected the wound, dressed it, we shared a hasty prayer I turned him over to a corpsman.  I then continued my attack to the parapets.

After drying my pant leg I realized the enemy fire was predominantly going straight up into the air and not directed toward the Embassy.  The skewed trajectory reminded me of my live-fire training exercises in the 82nd Airborne Division back when I was a company commander.  It occurred to me that this was not the end of the world but would still be a major notch in my belt toward claiming post-traumatic stress with the VA so I got my camera.  My roommate forgot to replace my batteries like I asked him so I searched for some fresh “AA”s.   I went to an adjacent trailer where the fellahs were watching the end of the Chappelle show.  As I stood in the door bartering a recent Maxim magazine for a four pack of “AA”s my buddy’s roommate stepped out to take a leak.  While minding his own business, doing his business, he was struck in the shoulder by a much decelerated bullet that popped through the tin-can roof.  Aside from a zit sized mark and a small hole in the ceiling, the un-stunned troop was O.K.  He finished his business with respectably little spillage.  Amid the choirs of “dude” and “righteous” we found the slug and instantly recognized the importance of this invaluable family heirloom. 

I arrived at tower 3 and reinforced the redoubt.  The foreign mercenaries were preparing to abandon their post but I checked their retreat.  Unable to range across the river with my sidearm I secured an automatic weapon, binoculars and prepared to call for fire.  Once oriented, I assessed the illogical trajectory of enemy fire.  Instantly I realized this was Iraqi Army celebratory fire and cleared my weapon.  I realized the Iraqis must be celebrating the death of the murderous Abu Masab al Zarquawi.  I rendered a timely report, left orders with the guards and then scoured the compound for wounded. 

While busy photographing the shoulder scratch a news show mentioned that the Iraqi soccer team defeated the Syrian soccer team in the West Asia Games in Qatar.  We slowly put two and two together about the fire and I returned to my trailer.  Fortunately Frank had zapped some popcorn and Reno 911 was just starting.  I sat on my bunk thinking war is hell.    

After completing an area sweep I remembered my poor terrified roommate Frank.  I knew that he had never seen the working end of a gun and was probably dumbstruck with fear.  I returned to my living quarters and found the shell of a man.  In attempt to immediately quell his growing panic I decided to confront him on the spot.  I said, “Frank, war is a cruel teacher and you just witnessed your first lesson.  Use your mind numbing fear to sere this moment as the first repayment of a debt of honor that you owe to the founding fathers and to your nation.  Embrace the fear and remember that when the issue was most in question you cowered under your mattress alone and afraid while I carried the day.”  Nice work air-power.  We planned to visit the wounded at the Combat Support Hospital so he could witness first hand the ramifications of his inaction.  

After Reno 911 was over, it occurred to me that I could probably distort this event into a resume building exaggeration that we so often see in government service, academia and the media.  In fact, this was just the ammo I needed to expand my self-aggrandizing empire, solidify my service award and create a fog of confusion over my shitty office job in Baghdad.  Right On!  Another Iraqi Freedom star is born.  Look out Sam Damon.

Baghdad within Earshot:

No major firefights, at least within earshot, for a few days now.  No mortars or rockets either.  I do not read anything into this either, it just is.

The American Army has a tendency to pick up words in the places where we live and fight, and these become part of our lexicon. When I was a young officer, and there were still quite a few Vietnam vets around, it was not uncommon to hear people talking about the “Dai-Hui” (Captain), or when planning to leave an area saying that they were going to “Didi-mao.” Similarly, in our professional journals we might casually use the words “Aufstragstaktik” or “Behfelstaktik,” to describe particular styles of command and control.  We are like a sponge that way.

Over the coming decade the phrase I expect will become most common from our experiences here is “In’sh’allah.” 

You can write to Major Bob at .

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to revisit the original October Surprise: the charge that Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign covertly worked with Iran to keep American hostages in captivity until after the 1980 elections.  I'm embarrassed to admit this (especially to -this- readership), but I thought this had been debunked years ago.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  In 1992 there were Congressional investigations, but the focus was on whether President Bush (I) was involved in certain particulars.  The broader conspiracy revolved around Reagan's campaign chairman and later CIA director William Casey (who died in 1987).  Many of Casey's records mysteriously disappeared and his family refused to produce others, even under subpoena.  The Senate's Special Counsel decried the lack of cooperation.  Even so, the Senate found that Casey had at-best acted "at the outer limits of propriety."  The House’s investigation was more extensive, but after the ranking Democrat (Lee Hamilton) pronounced Bush I innocent, the rest of the investigation quickly dropped off the radar.

Fast-forward to January 20, 2001: Dubya's inauguration day, and the effective date for the Presidential Records Act, a Watergate era reform which ordered the release a President's records 12 years after leaving office.  Reagan’s papers were to be released, however White House counsel Alberto Gonzales ordered the papers withheld for "review." Ari Fleischer promised such reviews would not exceed 90 days, but Gonzales ultimately orders three reviews. On November 2, 2001, Dubya signs an executive order giving a sitting president the right to block releases under the Act (in 2005 he relied on the same executive order to withhold some of John Roberts papers).

Today the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis stares us in the face, thanks to the ascendancy of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Given the nuclear stakes involved and the circumstantial evidence surrounding Casey, don't we need to know whether Iran has a blackmail card against the current Administration?  Admittedly, if they did you'd suspect they would have used it during the Iraq-Iran war.  But up until now I've thought the Administration's drift/wimpiness on Iran (they can't really believe that an oil-rich nation can be sanctioned into compliance, can they?) was merely reflecting political realities.  Am I cracking-up or is there reason to be more paranoid?

P.S.  Hopefully I e-mailed everyone who wrote to suggest computer sources, but if not let me thank you here.  A couple of places donate the kind of computers we're interested in to local charities and if what they told me is typical, the digital divide isn't shrinking as much as the free marketers would have us believe.  Anyway, the contribution jar is still open (I've got a LOT of packing to do!) at and I promise not to make fun of Carolina contributors after the Bears win this Sunday.

P.P.S.  FYI, descriptions of some of the withheld Reagan docs:

  • "Talking Points on Iran/Contra Affairs";
  • a two-page memo for the President from the Attorney General, "Appeal of the Decision Denying the Enforcement of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987."
  • memos dated 22 November and 1 December 1988 for the President entitled, "Pardon for Oliver North, John Poindexter, and Joseph Fernandez";
  • memo: "Use of Military Aircraft by Mrs. Reagan."

Name: Bob Hawks
Hugh Thompson was buried today.  Thompson was the warrant officer who put his own life in danger, and basically lost his career, to not only blow the My Lai coverup but - here's a thought - actually step up on that day and STOP the killing.  He put himself and his helicopter between the out of control GI's and the villagers.  He stopped the atrocity-in-progress, he blew the whistle, testified at Calley's court-martial, and after twenty years of being ostracized by the military he was retired as a First Lieutenant.  An O-2?  Really?  This is a freaking disgrace.

If there's any justice in this world, and I'm not kidding myself that there is, Congress should take action, and the president should endorse and sign, legislation to posthumously retire Thompson as at least a Field Grade officer.  Lieutenant Colonel sounds pretty good to me.

I'm wondering what Major Bob's thoughts would be on that...


Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
Dear Eric,
In your discussion of France, you posit that a Jew could not win the Presidency in the United States today.  That's surely a myth, no?  Let's examine.  Start with the fact that one Jew - Joe Lieberman - was accidentally not Vice President just a few years ago.  Lieberman is modern Orthodox and kosher, facts that were barely a blip on the electoral radar and which may have helped ultimately strengthened his candidacy.  So we at least know that the public is willing to elect a Democratic ticket with a practicing Jew.  We also know that we already had a Presidential candidate with a Jewish father, Barry Goldwater (who considered himself Episcopalian).  Not a bad start for our potential Jewish candidate. 

Now let's look at why one might think a candidate's Judaism could be a hindrance.  Blatant anti-Semitism comes to mind, though one doubts many Democrats or moderate Republicans hold these kind of beliefs, much less would vote based on them.  Next consider that a Jewish candidate might seem more "blue" by nature (Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat and live in or near large cities) in a seemingly "red" country.  Yet barely blue Wisconsin, a state with few Jews, has two of the 11 Jewish Senators (Russ Fiengold and Herb Kohl), and other states like Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Pennsylvania with heavy rural populations have elected Jewish Senators.  So had red state Nevada, (Jacob Chic Hecht), despite the lack of Jews in the state and its large Mormon population.  Jews have also been elected Governor of Utah and Idaho, facts which speak for themselves.  It helps to keep in mind here that no matter what state you are in, Jews average around 2% of the population (New York's 9% is highest by far).  So based on the hundreds of millions of votes Jewish candidates have received for elected statewide and national offices, not to mention the frequent wins, stating definitively that a Jew cannot win the Presidency here seems flat wrong.  Of course, this says nothing about whether a particular Jew would win the Presidency.  Russ Feingold would make a compelling candidate in 2008, but may simply prove too liberal for a national audience.  And perhaps no other Jewish candidate would step up to try for his or her own reasons this time or next.  But the idea that any Jew cannot win is contradicted by too many facts and supported, as far as I can tell, by none.

Name: Jay Stebley
Hometown: Emeryville, CA
Dr. Alterman,
Good and interesting point about anti-Semitism here and in France.  I subscribe to your view.  What I observed among friends and associates during my time in France (during the synagogue bombings in the 80's) was that while there was occasionally some sentiment expressed with the use of the usual stereotypes, Jews were and are regarded as singularly important members of French society and their contributions greatly admired and respected.  Their history is (as ours is) hugely populated with remarkable figures - artists, politicians, and thinkers.  We haven't had a legal case in our country that had the same impact as Dreyfus in France and I don't think there has ever been a similar need to agonize over anti-Semitism here (I would defer to your opinion on this however).  While our Jewish population has, for generations, been genuinely part of the finest threadcount in our country's fabric intellectually and socially, I still catch, at least once a day, in my readings and dealings, that discordant note of a deeply imbedded prejudice against the race.  As the world becomes ever smaller and more integrated, I fail to see how these malignant attitudes do anything but shame our species.

Name: Peter Alaimo
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Your distinction between French and American attitudes about Jews is insightful and accurate.  I (and I consider myself a Christian, of the Catholic variety) always am uncomfortable with the Right Wing Evangelical support for Israel and Jews in general because it seems predicated on some bizarre end time theory.  In other words it doesn't strike me as philo-Semitic. It strikes me as using Jews and Israel as a means to an end, an end that results in Jews ceasing to be Jews and becoming Christians instead.

Name: Mike Andrews (aka greyhair)
Hometown: Santa Rosa CA
Hey Eric, Just wanted to mention that the Evangelicals love the Jews like a cattle rancher loves a calf for veal.  Thanks for your blog!

Name:  Josh Silver
Hi Eric,
Here's a brief update on where things are in media reform.  The Congressional session in 2006 will be focused on the great whale of media policy-reforming the regulations that govern cable television and broadband Internet access, often labeled with the umbrella term "Telecom Reform."  There are several key issues in this huge legislative package for media reformers.

First, Congress will decide what happens when the phone companies begin to offer TV and compete with cable.  For consumers and citizens, the new regulations will decide whether competition, lower rates, and better services come to everyone, or just to affluent areas.  Legislators must determine how to prevent red-lining and promote a greater diversity of content.

Second, Congress will decide whether local governments can offer broadband services (or Community Internet) to their citizens, or whether they will be prohibited from competing with the commercial providers.

Finally, the regulations that govern the future of the Internet will be decided.  In the past, the Internet has been open platform, neutrally serving up everyone's content, applications, and services.  Now the network owners (phone and cable companies) would like to start discriminating.  They would like to create different classes of service-those who pay for premium treatment and everyone else.  Such a policy would destroy the openness that has been the core of the Internet's DNA.  The alternative is to write into law the fundamental principles of openness, access, and non-discrimination.

We also expect the Congress will reengage the debate over how public broadcasting is governed.  After the scandals and fiascos of last year at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, there could well be a legislative shake-up that seeks to redress the problems and redraw the rules that guide the public's television and radio. And of course we're still expecting FCC Chairman Martin to move to lift media ownership caps, but he's waiting until he fills the vacant FCC chair with a Republican before doing so.

Name: Nancy S. Bishop
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Why are we not discussing the difference between an insurgency and resistance in Iraq?  There is a difference.  We have allowed the Bush administration to determine that there are no Iraqi patriots; they're all insurgents.  Tom Hayden (in Pacifying Iraq, 1/10/06, Nation website) at least seemed to recognize that some of the Iraqis who object to our invasion and occupation are the resistance, not just the insurgency.  I've been puzzled and irritated about the constant use of the term "insurgency" by the MSM and by the Nation - and of course by the Bush administration.  In the Dictionary of Republicanism, all the Iraqis who attack both Americans and their fellow Iraqis are insurgents.  Car bombers, suicide bombers, roadside bombers - they're all insurgents.  The administration purposely uses the term insurgency so that the resistors are not seen in the more positive light of patriotism.  There's a certain historical honor in the term resistance, and that's why it's not in the Bush glossary.  The French resistance and Dutch resistance against the Nazis, Czech resistance against the Communists - the resistors were considered patriots, not terrorists.  How do we know that all the insurgents are terrorists and not patriots?  Some of the so-called insurgents are surely Iraqi patriots who are resisting the US invasion and occupation of their country in the time-honored tradition of other resistance movements.  Are we too lazy or too partisan to separate the resistors from the terrorists?

Name: Kevin Bartner
Hometown: Alpharetta, GA
One thing that France has over us is gorgeous newsanchors.  If all the U.S. networks had anchors that look , their ratings among males would skyrocket for the news.

Name: Tony
Hometown: NYCD

This is in response to Cheryl Cook's response to that thing I wrote the other day:

Name: Cheryl CookHometown: Minneapolis, MNYou must be lacking a good rock radio station in NYC while Tony of NYCD laments the state of music and CD sales, this has to be one the best years for hard rock music in years.  This is the first year I have ran out and bought a CD in 5 years and not only did I buy 1, I bought 10.In your honor-Foo Fighters Green Day-American Idiot Out of Exile-Audioslave Lullabies to Paralyze-Queen of the Stoneage Guero-Beck All the right reasons-Nickelback And one of the greatest albums of all time came out in 2005, the double album Mesmerize/Hypnotize-System of a Down>>

Cheryl, first of all, the only one of those albums that got any significant airplay on mainstream (not rock) stations, Green Day's "American Idiot," was released in 2004.  You may have heard the others on your local rock or alternative stations, but not on ultra-conservative Top 40, which is what I was talking about.  And you are correct -- NYC no longer has a single full-time rock station, now that K-Rock has bit the dust.

Also -- and I don't have the numbers in front of me, so I may be wrong -- I believe that every one of the artists you mention, with the exception of Green Day and possibly Queens Of The Stoneage, sold fewer copies of their latest albums than their previous ones.

I, like you, found plenty of great music in 2005.  My point was that you're not going to hear much of it on your local Top 40 station, or see it on Mtv.

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz

Hey Doc,
The monthly payroll data (last Friday)  stunk the joint up.  Here are the details:

I have been having a debate with a hedgefund manager friend over the employment data for some time now.  He explains the subpar job performance because (he claims) this recovery cycle started with such high levels of employment.

The data belies that belief.  Not surprisingly, he has yet to muster any evidence supporting his thesis.  

Consider these three aspects demonstrating the weak jobs market: past recoveries, the present labor participation rate (LPR), and the flip side of LPR, the "slack" in the job market.

We have noted previously how the Labor Market continues to underperform prior recoveries.  As this chart from Northern Trust's Asha Banglore shows, this has been a historically weak private sector jobs creation recovery:

Source: Northern Trust

Not only has job creation lagged prior recoveries, but it appears to be flattening out at a point where in the past it was accelerating upwards.

Banglore notes:

Hiring in the current expansion is the weakest on record after four years of economic growth. The chart below is an index chart that measures growth in employment four quarters prior to the trough and 16 quarters after the trough. The payroll reading for the quarter when the recession ends is set to 100. For example a reading of 108 implies that payroll employment increased 8.0% from the level reported for the quarter when the recession ended.Following this methodology, on average, in post war economic recoveries which lasted four years, payroll employment increased 11.6%. In the current economic expansion, hiring has increased only 2.6%. In the 1991 economic cycle, after four years of economic growth, payrolls increased 7.2%.The current economic expansion could possibly end  with the fewest number of jobs created during an economic cycle in the post-war period.

How does that square up with the 4.9% unemployment rate?  As we have discussed all too many times in the past, the employment rate is a percentage, a fraction with total full time employed as the numerator, and total labor pool as the denominator:

Employment Rate =  Total Employed / Labor PoolUnemployment Rate = (100 - Employment Rate)

For those of you who may have forgotten your fractions, a percentage can rise in one of two ways:  the number on top goes higher, or the number on bottom goes lower. When it comes to the employment rate, that means either more people getting jobs (good) or more people dropping out of the labor pool (bad).

Yet another Northern Trust analysis shows why the unemployment rate has dropped so low: its for the wrong reasons:

Source: Northern Trust

Note that the past five years have seen the first major decrease in Labor Participation Rate since the post-war period under President Eisenhower -- about 45 years ago.

Banglore explains further:

The labor force participation rate has dropped each year in the 2000-2004 period (see chart 1) and held virtually steady in 2005. This is an atypical event because during economic recoveries the participation rate rises as more people enter the labor force.There is no conclusive research explaining the reasons for the downward trend. Studies have shown that the civilian unemployment rate would be significantly higher than the current estimate of 4.9% if the participation rate were to mimic the trend of previous economic recoveries. In other words, the current reading of the unemployment rate partly exaggerates that implied strength in the labor market.

Next up, here's what econ data analyst Joan McCullough thinks about NFP and the impact on the Fed:

Finally on Friday, the Big Kahuna, NFP:  Okay. We all know that the headline was lame but that the saving grace was the revisions. You can call it “mixed” if you need an adjective, but here’s what we should be focusing on: the rate looks good on the 6 o’clock news, 4.9%, right?  But that’s where it ends. Because the only reason it’s down there is owing to the shrinkage in the percentage of the population who are actively participating in the labor force (employed or lookin’). The peak of the recent cycle was March of ’01 when the LFPR was 67.2%.  It currently stands at 66%, flat y/y.Does this tell you anything? It should scream volumes. If there were no slack in the labor market, prospective employees would be entering it in droves, not staying away/dropping out. As for earnings, December showed a +3.1% gain y/y [below inflation]. Thus John Q. remains below water.So there you have it. A trash heap of data amid claims of the latest emergence of the bull market.  Which is the proper reaction if you espouse the “market rallies when the FED is viewed as finished” rationale.

Lots of slack in the labor market, little in the way of wage pressure, employees working longer hours -- and without overtime -- hence, the productivity miracle.

At the same time, we see average hours worked continues to increase.

If there was not so much slack in the labor market the productivity miracle would look far less miraculous:  People would more readily be switching jobs; instead, they are scared witless about losing their employment -- and even more importantly, their health benefits and medical insurance.

Back to the Fed:  I wonder how much impact they will have regarding inflation, considering their is no wage pressure. That's one of the areas they have the strongest impact on. Overseas commodities demand is not an area they have much influence on, unless they induce a global recession.

| 10:55 AM ET |

First, a small point about Alito’s wife’s crying yesterday: 

As Bruce Neuman of East Hampton writes in a letter to today’s New York Times,

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., in his confirmation hearing, has shown himself to be a conservative-minded judge.  In practical terms, if confirmed and unless the judge changes his stripes, he would stand for a narrower view of judicial power, greater deference to the other branches of government, a friendlier view of federalist principles and a narrower view of individual rights not expressly stated in the Constitution.The proper role for each senator will be to decide whether the balance of the Supreme Court should shift to a more conservative view collectively.  Each senator will represent 1 percent of the wisdom and responsibility of the Senate in determining the makeup of the court.  While with this nomination the philosophical direction of the court will likely be determined for a long time to come, both the presidency and Congress are subject to review by the rest of us more often.What happens now may well determine the outcomes of many elections to come in the near future.

On the other hand, his wife got upset and cried.  Hey cable stations, get a grip, (for once).  If it’s such an awful thing for a woman to cry, Mrs. Alito can stay home and do something else during the hearings.  Or perhaps Judge Alito could withdraw to spare her any more emotional upset.  I don’t know if this is a cheap tactic or not.  I just know it functions as one.  Can we please get on to ?

And now, … back to God:

Taking a far tougher line against Pat Robertson than the Bush administration did when he and Jerry Falwell said we got what we deserved on 9/11, Israel said Wednesday that it was breaking off negotiations on a tourism project with the evangelical leader Pat Robertson in response to his remarks suggesting that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution.  .  I say “Maazel Tov.”  Any break between secular Israel and the Christian conservatives is good news for people who believe in secular government, here or there.

Speaking of which, you know, it’s a given in American political discourse that France is anti-Semitic and the U.S., loving of Jews, except a few nasty leftists, filled with self-haters like yours truly.  I wouldn’t argue that the French are not anti-Semitic and that American right-wing Christians are not philo-Semitic, but it’s not that simple.  France had Jewish prime ministers in both the thirties and fifties and might get another one soon.  No way that could happen in the United States even today.  So what does that say?  Here’s what I think, though it’s not provable.  In France, they don’t like “the Jews” but they have no problem with Jews.  I lived in Paris for a bit and it was never an issue and I’ve never heard of it being an issue for any of my friends.  Among Christian right-wingers, however—of whom I know darn few, I’ll admit—I get the feeling they love “the Jews” but don’t have much use for Jews, as individuals.  It’s just a thought. Anyway, an article on the latter phenomenon.

God-Related Alito Hearing Quote of the Day:  “Most people in America don't believe that God is a dirty word.  But the sad fact is that some Americans are left to wonder whether the Supreme Court might have greater regard for it if it was.”  Senator Cornyn, .

Bush Brown-Noser Quote of the Day:  David Horowitz, at the White House Hannukkah Party: 

I hadn’t been at an event with the President (who is looking slim and trim) in four years and didn’t know if he would recognize me.  But the minute he saw me in the line he called out “Horowitz” with a big smile on his face, then embraced me in a bear hug.  In the moment I had his ear I said, “Thank you for taking all those arrows for the rest of us.”  Graciously, he said, “You take more than I do,” which I don’t and said so.  Then as I was walking away he called out, “Don’t let them get to you.” I called back, “Don’t you either,” and he replied in a strong voice. “I won’t.”— from

What was that chapter (inspired by Norman Podhoretz) in Joseph Heller’s Good as Gold called again?  Oh yeah, “."

I said Santa Clara yesterday: I meant Santa Barbara. Sorry everybody.

“Eric Alterman and Tucker Carlson will face off in the debate The American News Media—Liberal or Conservative Bias? on Saturday, January 14 at 3 pm at UCSB Campbell Hall. Eric Alterman is a columnist for The Nation and author of What Liberal Media? and When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences.  Tucker Carlson, longtime co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, currently hosts The Situation with Tucker Carlson on MSNBC.  The annual Arthur N. Rupe Great Debate will be moderated by Ronald E. Rice, the Arthur N. Rupe Chair in the Social Effects of Mass Communication and Co-Director of the UCSB Center for Film, Television and New Media. .

Oh and I accidentally deleted a bunch of mail yesterday, sorry.  If there were Stones tix in any of them—or even if there weren’t--feel free to resend…

And speaking of theological eminence grises, “good riddance’ to ,” too.  (I hear Talon News Service is looking for people with your abilities…)  Sorry for everybody else.

Altercation Book Club:

Michael Kazin: God and the Liberals

Imagine the ideal democratic nominee for president. He’s twice won election in Nebraska, one of the reddest of states, and is just as popular across the South and Midwest. He’s a charismatic, energetic orator. He’s also a stalwart progressive who has taken tough stands against corporate crime, to aid labor organizers, and to raise taxes on the wealthy. His marriage is loving and cooperative, and his three children long to emulate their father. Although a war veteran, he’s an eloquent advocate of peaceful solutions to international conflicts. Most significantly, he’s a devout churchgoer and lay minister who preaches that every true Christian has a duty to transform a nation and world plagued by the arrogance of wealth and the pain of inequality.

That man is William Jennings Bryan, and he’s been dead for 80 years. But progressives should encourage a resurgence of the social gospel he championed as they seek to regain power in what remains the most religious nation in the developed world.

Bryan was the first major-party politician to advocate what became the core of modern liberalism: expanding the powers of the federal government to serve the welfare of ordinary Americans. He preached that the national state should counter the power of banks and industrial corporations by legalizing strikes, subsidizing farmers, taxing the rich, banning private campaign spending, and outlawing the “liquor trust.” “The power of the government to protect the people is as complete in time of peace as in time of war,” Bryan declared in 1922. “The only question to be decided is whether it is necessary to exercise that power.”

Of course, Bryan did want the power of the state to extend into the moral realm. He believed that liquor companies robbed workers of their wages and corrupted family life. His famous (or infamous) opposition to evolutionary theory stemmed from a similar impulse. In 1925, Bryan joined the legal team prosecuting John Scopes because, like many Americans at the time who were not scientists, he equated Darwinism with social Darwinism, particularly with a belief in eugenics. He feared that the result of replacing belief in a merciful God with the doctrine of survival of the fittest would be “a system under which a few supposedly superior intellects, self-appointed, would direct the mating and the movements of the mass of mankind.” Bryan burned only to see religion heal the world.

This conviction helped him to attract a tremendous following. Bryan probably received more letters than any other politician in his era, including every president until FDR. He was the most popular speaker in America at a time when oratory was a prime source of entertainment. If his Republican opponents hadn’t enjoyed solid support from the industrial elite -- which enabled them to outspend him by as much as 1,000 percent -- Bryan may well have been elected president. His popularity depended on his passion for an “applied Christianity” that millions of Americans shared. The historian Richard Hofstadter once wrote that other leading progressives only “sensed popular feelings; Bryan embodied them.”

But that empathy didn’t extend across the color line. Bryan, leader of a party anchored in the “Solid South,” never denounced the cruel system of Jim Crow. Nor did he protest when Dixie Democrats enacted state laws that deprived most black citizens of the right to vote. His position, echoed by most white Democrats until the mid-1930s, damaged his liberal image, not to speak of crippling his soul. It also left intact the gulf of mistrust between Bryan’s white followers and black evangelicals, groups which could have benefited from a working alliance against big landowners and union-busting employers.

Today, most evangelicals hope to find or build what civil rights activists in the early 1960s called a “beloved community,” one that fills needs both worldly and spiritual. For millions of Americans, church is the only institution that attempts to help them with a variety of personal problems and places no bureaucratic obstacles in the way. So when a trusted minister or fellow congregant urges support for candidates who stand up for “families” or “traditional values,” otherwise apolitical church members are inclined to go along.

But liberals are not besieged rationalists on a shrinking island of good sense in a red sea filled with fundamentalist sharks. An extensive poll conducted for the Pew Forum soon after the votes were counted in 2004 found that the most significant divide was between churchgoers rather than one that pits them against the nonobservant and the unaffiliated. Bush and Kerry each drew half the votes of mainline Protestants, which includes members of such denominations as the Episcopalians and United Methodists (to which the president himself belongs). Bush carried three-quarters of all evangelicals, but Kerry won a narrow majority among modernist evangelicals who, whatever their theological preferences, take progressive stands on most political issues.

These numbers should embolden those progressives who are trying to bridge the divide among believers. But national Democrats have done little in recent decades to back up their vow to be the party of “people who work hard and play by the rules,” in Bill Clinton’s still resonant phrase.

What grand program have Democrats enacted in recent decades that resulted in measurable, durable changes in the economic fortunes of most working Americans? The last landmark piece of legislation that fit that description was Medicare, signed by President Lyndon Johnson in the summer of 1965. Health care insurance for all could have been such an achievement, but the Clintons failed to overcome staunch opposition from Republicans and most employers, as well as the serious flaws in their own design.

The consequence is that the white Americans from the lower and middle classes no longer expect presidents to do much that will improve their material lives. But the one thing they know politicians can do is talk, and that rhetoric signals which aspects of American culture are harmful and which need to be strengthened. So it’s not surprising that many religious, wage-earning Americans vote with their more prosperous brothers and sisters. They trust a conservative president to use his bully pulpit to promote abstinence, bash abortion, promote the power of prayer, and denounce “indecent” programs on television.

In the end, the success of a political opening to white evangelicals and traditional Catholics depends upon the sustained resurgence of a grass-roots left. Many liberals still harbor a nagging contempt for the God-fearing, the unhip, and the poorly educated -- a weakness that GOP strategists from Lee Atwater to Karl Rove skillfully exploited. As long as millions of ordinary churchgoers see no material advantage to voting for a Democrat and few places where secularists and evangelical believers are working together for the same political causes, they are likely to rely on institutions they already trust and leaders, both local and national, they already know.

For most of American history, such people saw no contradiction between practicing their faith and healing the wounds of an unequal society. Bryan declared that his overriding purpose was to place “the heart of the masses against the pocketbooks of a few,” and even his enemies didn’t doubt his sincerity. Unless liberals can articulate their politics in such clear and passionate terms, their victories are likely to be fleeting and rare.

Adapted from Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, (Knopf) More .

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bruce Westrick
Hometown: Longview, Washington
Dear Eric:
I believe that not enough play has been given to the of the Seattle PI that even the so-called "rubber stamp" FISA court could not bring itself to plug its nose and sign off on at least 179 of the Bush Administration's original FISA warrant requests.  As noted in the story, this seems like a smoking gun as to why the Administration decided to stop going to the FISA court for surveillance authorization. Given the role of the FISA court to validate the legality of the warrant requests, and its reportedly liberal approval history, it seems that it would be telling to know what was in the rejected requests that even the FISA court could not accept. When pundits on both sides marvel at why the Administration would sidestep the seemingly compliant FISA court, it should be noted by astute observers that, according to the PI report, the FISA court deemed illegal at least 179 Administration surveillance requests before or around the time that the Administration decided to stop asking the FISA court for surveillance permission. It would also be interesting to know whether the warrantless surveillance activities conducted by the NSA, FBI, and/or others included elements of the 179 requests that had already been determined to be illegal by the FISA court.

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
RE: 'signing statements'  Through a link from some blog or another (Atrios?), I came across , which in turn quotes as saying that the use of such "signing statements" has become so frequent under Mr. Bush that "in 2003, lawmakers tried to get a handle on Bush's use of signing statements by passing a Justice Department spending bill that required the department to inform Congress whenever the administration decided to ignore a legislative provision on constitutional grounds.  Bush signed the bill, but issued a statement asserting his right to ignore the notification requirement."  Unbelievable, isn't it?  Under King George the Infallible, we not only have imperialism, we have meta-imperialism!

Name: Fred Wright
Hometown: Kensington, MD
I have to take exception to the reactions Sarah Mott and Jon D expressed toward Major Bob's musings.  People doing hard dangerous things for relatively little money naturally spend a lot of energy thinking about being somewhere else doing something else.  I know I did during my Vietnam period.  Major Bob is a professional: he chose this sort of life.  There is a bit of envy in his musings.  But mostly I get an affirmation of the importance of what he is doing and the strength that doing it demonstrates.  That may come across as disrespect, but it is impossible to engage in the non-stop horror and chaos of war without those motivations.  So more power to you, Major Bob.  We owe you and your men a great debt for what you do.  And I thank God that there are men like you to carry on so that I don't have to do anything like that again.

Name: Jason Boskey
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Dr. Alterman, Wasn't it you that people tried to take to task for saying the CIA would start fake blogs for propaganda purposes?

Name: Jason Roberts
Hometown: Redmond, WA
Hey Doc, I've been following your blog for awhile now and never had occasion to write you before now.  In response to Paul from Las Vegas' missive to you I've decided to go and buy your book... again.  Not because I particularly need it or because I think you need the royalty (although I think it will make a good random gift for a friend).  Mostly because, while I think Mr. Chomsky does provide some decent contributions to policy debate, I really loathe the "Chomsky is always right" cult that feels that anyone who disagrees is automatically a tool of state capitalism.  Keep up the good work and have a wonderful day!

Name: Ben
Hometown: Downers Grove, IL
I've got to give you credit for taking on Chomsky (also just started reading When President's Lie and have found it quite good).  Chomsky's a little too clever for his own good, and when I was in college I found Chomsky readers/aficionados to be the most smug, pedantic bunch of them all.  You could not convince them of ANYTHING that the master had not already "revealed".  The guy has some good points, but seems to attract the most repellent bunch of stuffed shirts imaginable.  Your writing may be less blustery, but at least it is more "reality based".  Heh.  I love using that phrase.  Good luck with the writing and fending off the Chomskyites (watch out, they bite!), and keep up the good work on the blog, where I am a regular visitor during work hours.

Name: Jake Robert Claro
Hometown: Sunderland, Vermont
I realize you're probably tired of the Chomsky debate.  I recently took the time to visit your recent link to the fellow who called you a coward, and responded with this comment.  I don't think it covers the issue fully, but like so many things that are intuitively simple and obvious it takes more time and energy then one would ever expect (as I'm sure your all to aware of).  This comment was written after an earlier and much more brief exchange. 

"Well there are many claims that I would like to address, but first I believe there is a burden of proof on yourself to demonstrate why Alterman would be "jealous" of Chomsky. But thats a rather superficial contention and one I don't expect you to delve into extensively. However, I deeply believe, on a philosophical level, that you are wrong to say that there are no limits (to proper censorship), and I believe you yourself have shown this. As you said, absolute freedom of speech only reaches cogency on a metaphorical heuristic level, beyond that in everyday discourse we are able to reasonably discern between what is rational expressions of free speech and what is absolute vitriolic bullsh**t. Alterman's point(s), and I believe it is a good one, is that as an academic, presenting material not only to collegues but students and the public at large, one has a responsibility to present the truth; as close as one can get to such an elusive ideal. Expounding beliefs that the Holocaust never happened is not only an act of academic fraud, but is absurdly dangerous in matters of public discourse. Such "scholarly" writing only fuels the hatred of groups that threaten our freedoms, beyond the freedom of speech, but the freedom to literally be. If we are to talk of freedom, in its most absolute form, we must see it as a respect to the freedom of others, and as far as I am concerned, I do not see this respect coming from apologists of the holocaust. Instead of defending the ideal, would it not make more sense for Chomsky to defend the actual individuals who died/and/or were deeply affected by the Nazi regime. According to your logic, there actions are justified, and so is the defense of their actions becuase just as anyone else is, they are able to defend them through their expression of speech. We must remember that speech can lead to action, and it is in the action that we must measure and delineate the value of a persons articulation. Surely one can express what they want, but we should not blindly defend this expression simply for the sake of it, but must with a profoundly difficult precision, determine the implications that ones views have on society at large. Chomsky's defense allows for atrocities because it ends up defending eggregiously damaging thought. Chomsky's defense seems more for affect rather than actual practical implication. And so, I will leave with my original question, why defend such ridiculous claims (or the right to make them) when one could spend time on a more worth-while debate? (such as the imperial nature of the US perhaps) You asked me to put myself in Chomsky's shoes, and I can only ask you to put yourself in Alterman's. As a Jew, would you not think it ridiculous to find intelligent academics defending the right to claim that the holocaust did not exist? Likewise, would you not find it ridiculous if I punched you in the face and immediately claimed I did not? Would you not find it entirely counterintuitive for a national leader to lie about reasons for war and then to blatantly say that they did not? Surely one has the freedom to do so, but to defend one's right to blatenly lie is merely to defend ones right to also negate your own freedom; intellectual and external. For a lie is often the very negation of what is real, what is true, and so, like a double-edged sword, the act of free speech can often be the negation of another’s freedom; because it can bury the truth just as easily as it can reveal it. It therefore would make sense for Chomsky to defend free speech de facto, but in a particular case like the Faurisson one, it goes beyond intelligibility. In essence, by involving himself personally in support of Faurisson, he is, albeit indirectly, supporting the potential spread of Faurisson's ideas. Certainly not something any of us would like to see. As Adorno concluded, we should simply look to prevent anything like the Holocaust from ever happening again, and I think allowing Faurisson to express his beliefs in the halls of academia is incredibly dangerous and counterproductive to fulfilling Adorno's (and the worlds)simple and rational wish."

| 11:34 AM ET |

Alito Plays Dodge Ball

by Jeralyn Merritt of

The media headlines from Judge Sam Alito's first day of questioning trumpet his declarations, and .  The Washington Post leads with and while the New York Times declares Alito .

Bloggers and liberal organizations are much harsher in their analysis.  calls Alito a "freeper." Armando at Daily Kos calls Alito , while Jane at Firedoglake calls him . Skipping the name-tags, Robert Gordon at Balkinization provides of why Judge Alito is wrong for the Court, written on the eve of the hearing.

The ACLU, which has only opposed three Supreme Court Nominees in its 86 year history, explains its , culled from rulings made during his 15 year tenure as a federal judge:

"At a time when our president has claimed unprecedented authority to spy on Americans and jail terrorism suspects indefinitely, America needs a Supreme Court justice who will uphold our precious civil liberties....Unfortunately, Judge Alito's record shows a willingness to support government actions that abridge individual freedoms."....By and large, Judge Alito's opinions make it more difficult for plaintiffs alleging discrimination to prevail, easier for the government to lend its support to religion, and harder to challenge questionable tactics by the police and prosecution.

I watched the hearing intermittently Tuesday and later read the of the portions I missed.  While there was no knock-out punch, there is plenty of cause for concern.  Time and again, I watched Judge Alito dodge the issue.

The Senators, with few exceptions, used their allotted time rather than to learn something about Alito or give him enough rope to hang himself.  They spent countless minutes spouting off their views, followed by close-ended questions he could answer or refuse to answer in a sentence or two.  Walter Shapiro at Salon has more on .

In his answers, Judge Alito danced around stare decisis, under which judges rule in deference to a court's prior decisions, asserting he was a staunch believer in it, but then added an escape hatch: “ It's not an inexorable command, but it is a general presumption that courts are going to follow prior precedents.”  What does it take to rebut the presumption?  When is it okay to disregard precedent?  He didn't say, he only outlined a general process he would follow in arriving at such a decision in the future.

Alito bobbled and weaved in his answers about his college membership in the conservative and discriminatory group CAP (Concerned Alumni of Princeton).  Version one was he didn't remember being a member.  When forced to acknowledge that he listed it on a 1985 application for employment in the Reagan Administration, he admitted he must have been a member, but said he could not have been a very active member, because then he would have remembered it.  He added that his best guess is that he joined because of the group's willingness to stick up for ROTC members who had been expelled from the campus.  I could almost hear Stars and Stripes playing in the background.

But CAP was not about the Vietnam War.  It was about to Princeton, which had just gone co-ed in 1969.  Read for yet another theory on Alito's ROTC comments.

On presidential power, he said the President must obey the law, except when the Constitution trumps it.   When asked if  Article II of the Constitution vests enough power in the commander in chief to trump statutes like FISA and no-torture laws, Judge Alito declined to answer, saying the issue might come before him as a Judge.

He tried, but failed to appease on abortion.  He glossed over his troubling record in civil rights and employment discrimination cases.  He recited constitutional support for upholding the strip-search of a ten year old while professing allegiance to the Fourth Amendment.  He dismissed the notion that he goes out of his way to find reasons to rule for the Government and claimed his decisions in favor of the Government were just reasonable interpretations of the law. He distanced himself from his Reagan and Justice Department-era statements, claiming he was just a "line attorney," pitching for the boss.

The bottom line is we don't know anything more about Judge Alito today than we did yesterday.  Except that he's good at dodge ball.

Police State Update, (Dagnab that librul media)….

From :

After TP raised the issue last week, a WP editorial offers a red flag on the "signing statement" that Bush offered to the McCain anti-torture amendment suggesting the administration does not consider itself bound by the law.[The White House] is explicitly reserving the right to abuse prisoners, while denying them any opportunity to seek redress in court. Having publicly accepted the ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Mr. Bush is planning to ignore it whenever he chooses.Number of news stories the Post, NYT, USAT, LAT, and WSJ devoted to the signing statement: one—and that's being generous.”(See original for links.)

Genuinely Honorable Quote of the Day:  “We don’t just need a new majority leader, we need a course correction.  A lobbyist can’t be corrupt unless he has somebody to bribe, and we’ve created a culture that just breeds corruption.”  — Arizona Republican congressman, .

Unintentionally Funny Quote of the Day:  "The Bush administration, which has taken such a praiseworthy stand against terrorism in general, … " — , The New Republic

“Noam is an Island/It Happens Every Time” Department, or Why it’s not worth the trouble to hold Chomsky accountable…

  1. “Eric Alterman: Coward
    Just like some right-wing blowhard, he'll continue spouting 'Faurisson Affair' whenever he wants to attempt to redirect Chomsky's critiques.  Free speech, Alterman and many others want you to believe, is good - but only if you agree with them - otherwise, free speech is not so good.

    I think Alterman is jealous of Chomsky because Chomsky is intellectually superior, more honest, and more decent - in general, an all-around better person, better humanitarian, better defending of human rights - he's everything that Eric Alterman will never be.  Alterman chooses to write for MSNBC - another pro-corporate media outlet.  What a joke.  He's quite content to stay within the bounds of 'acceptable discourse'.  More Chomsky, and less Alterman, please.”  .

  2. Name: Paul Kovacic Jr.
    Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
    Once again you play the role of the pedantic asshole.  Whatever your issues with Chomsky, you should try keeping them to yourself.  Perhaps your "axe to grind" is born out of the fact that people won't listen to you like they will Chomsky.  Either way, take the challenge I issued last letter: If you so disagree with his methods, if you truly believe that he "is something worse" then document it, write a book about it and publish it.  Otherwise shut your pedantic self up for once.  You may be right a lot of the time sir, but due to your own special attitude, there are many people who will never listen to your message.  That should be a very large message to you about your own behavior.  Of course you won't get the message so here is one you can understand:  I will no longer buy your books or pay attention to your writings of any kind.  If I want to listen to a know-it-all I'll tune in George Bush.

And finally…  It’s my birthday this weekend and I have to spend it debating Tucker Carlson in Santa Clara, owing to the machinations of Chicken Novak.  It’s really disappointing the kid.  Anybody got a free Stones ticket—the 18th or the 20th-- to make us all feel better about it?

Sensible Correspondence Corner:

Name: Sarah Mott
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Dear Eric - I enjoy your blog, and mostly enjoy Major Bob, but did he slip a little bit today?  There was more than a "frisson" of contempt for the educated crowd with his remarks about college buddies back home working at "some think tank" or ordering couches or hanging out at country clubs.  In over-romanticizing his Army he ignores the value of those that stayed home.  Not everybody's a chickenhawk and not everybody is a spoiled rich boy on a golf course.  Maybe those college types are starting jobs as interns at a teaching hospital or a Democratic policy think-tank, and their most important decisions may involve saving a life in the ER, or developing campaign themes that might get Major Bob's ass out of Iraq.

Name: Jon D
Hometown: Milwaukee, WI

On Monday Major Bob wrote: "Their most significant decisions generally involve choosing the color and fabric for their first 'real' post-college sofa, or perhaps selecting the right clubs to hit over the weekend."  I have been impressed with Major Bob in the past, but these comments typify the arrogant attitude of our military and our government today.  Guess what Major Bob?  The people you volunteered to defend make life and death decisions every day too.  You don't have a monopoly on drama.  We support you but you are supposed to support and respect us as well.  When you reduce our lives to trivia you set yourself and your buddies above those who you are defending.  These comments are a clear illustration of the institutional hubris that starts with our president and trickles down to everyone under his command.  Is it any wonder that it is tough for most soldiers to fit in when they get back to our 'mundane, work-a-day" lives?

Name: Dan S. Boyd
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
What I am writing in about is the news out today about Tim Russert's trying to avoid giving evidence to Patrick Fitzgerald.  His motion apparently said that he wanted to avoid giving evidence because it would harm his relationship with other sources.  Now, the several comments I have seen about this (Huffington, Atrios, others) make the point that this was not likely his real reason and that his true motivation was probably to maintain good relations with the administration so that he could continue to get good bookings for his show. I don't disagree with that. An equally important point to me, though--and one that has not been discussed to my knowledge--is that his legal argument is completely frivolous. What support in the law is there for the proposition that a reporter whose source has given him permission to cooperate with an investigation can avoid doing so because it would be upsetting to other sources? None, of course. If that were the law, a reporter could never be compelled to give such evidence, under any circumstances. It's the flimsiest excuse for a legal argument that I've seen raised in the Plame case. Maybe he thought the court would just defer to him because he is Tim Russert.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Eric-- In light of Pat Robertson's outrageous claim that Sharon's stroke is God's retribution for dividing the promised land, we now learn that Israel had agreed to donate land to Robertson to develop a Christian tourist attraction.  If I were to believe in the kind of God that Robertson does (and I don't), I'd at least consider the possibility that God might be sending a message about dealing with the likes of Robertson.  Because of his foolish and offensive remarks, Israel has cancelled its deal with Robertson.  If Sharon recovers now, I just might have to re-think my atheism.

Name: Patrick Weidinger
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Dear Eric:
Regarding The American College of Emergency Physicians report card on state preparedness for health care emergencies, it was interesting to note the discrepancies between "blue" states and "red" states.  By assigning point values for each letter grade (D - = 0.67, D = 1.0, D+ = 1.33, C- = 1.67, C = 2.0, C+ = 2.33, etc.) I came up with the following blue/red GPA's:

  • Red states = GPA of 1.71
  • Blue states = GPA of 2.28

While a C+ is nothing to brag about, it beats a C- any day.  Just another reason to live in a "blue" state.  You have a better chance of your state's emergency medical system responding in the event of the next Katrina, the flu, or a WMD attack.

Name: Eddy
Hometown: Edmonton, Canada
Dr. A,
Reading Hugh from Houston's comments I get an inkling of what you must feel when people make comments disagreeing with something you wrote, and then saying very little that refutes you.  I said that Khaddam "spoke against his self-interest" by definitely not calling for a war with Syria.  I didn't know, from the Newsweek article, that his funds had been frozen.  But although I am sure he wants Assad overthrown, he isn't asking for the US to invade Syria to do it for him.  So, even though Khaddam may be dishonest about many things each and every day, in this one respect he was honest and not self-serving.  Definitely not Curveball II. And definitely the only point I was trying to make. An Ahmad Chalabi clone? Yeah, maybe, although I don't see him saying anything about American troops being greeted by sweets and flowers. But in any case, I made no comments about that.  Why disagree with me if you have no argument? Can't we all just get along?

Name: Kevin Matthews
Hometown: Somerville, Ma
Hey Doc,
Amie Kellar from Lynchburg, VA appears to fall into the same trap about government spending that a lot of people do.  The lack of appropriate body armour does not demonstrate a lack of funding, it demonstrates a lack of priority in funding.  Last year discretionary military spending topped 450 billion dollars, and that does not include the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Call me crazy, but 36 million dollars, or even 360 million for that matter, doesn't sound like a whole lot of money to me when you consider we blow BILLIONS of dollars a year on developing a missile defense system that will never actually be able to shoot down a missile.

Name: Jason Liechty
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Ms. Amie Kellar believes its "ironic that the same people who are say that deaths could have been prevented by "mere" body armor are the same people who complain and vote against and increased defense spending."  She didn't come right out and say it, but she's clearly referring to congressional Democrats.  She's also completely wrong.  It only took me five seconds of searching to find proof that the Democrats have tried repeatedly to increase spending for body armor, only to be shot down by Republicans.  And there are no doubt many more examples out there, for those who have more seconds to devote to searching.

From :

Democrats voted to increase funding for protective gear, including body armor. In an effort to address this problem, on October 2, 2003, Democrats supported an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2004 Supplemental Appropriations bill, introduced by Senator Dodd, that would have provided an additional $322 million for safety equipment, including body armor. Republicans united to defeat this amendment, tabling it by a 49-37 vote (Vote No. 376).Democrats also strongly supported an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2003 Supplemental Appropriations bill, offered by Senator Landrieu, that would have appropriated $1.047 billion for National Guard and Reserve procurement. Despite the fact that National Guard and Reserve troops serving in Iraq are the most likely to lack appropriate body armor, Republicans tabled this amendment on April 2, 2003, in a 52-47 vote (Vote No. 116). Finally, during the course of last year's appropriations process, Senator Leahy successfully worked with his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to add $220 million to the National Guard and Reserve discretionary equipment account.

Amazingly, Ms. Kellar seems to have no problem with soldiers being forced to pay for their own armor or having to apply for government grants (!) to afford said armor.  I find this failure of leadership abhorrent, and I don't even have relatives in Iraq.  I can't fathom why Ms. Kellar finds this state of affairs remotely acceptable.  That GOP kool-aid is some powerful stuff, I guess.

Name: Kevin
Hometown: Vallejo, California
Amie Kellar wrote that "...if you supply 60,000 troops with new vests at $600 a piece you're talking $36 million just in vests."  She went on the lay the lack of better armor at the feet of those that complain about military spending.  Put this number in perspective.  $36 million is very near the cost of 2 (two) F-16s in 1998 dollars (USAF numbers).  It's not as though the money is or was not there, it's a question of prioritization by our leaders.

Name: Joe
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
In response to Mrs. Kellar's concerns of the cost of providing body armor to our boots on the ground, please consider :

According to the Pentagon, each of the hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles dropped on Baghdad so far cost $1 million. Each bomber run over the Iraqi capital cost up to $15,000 an hour. Each aircraft carrier group deployed in and around the Persian Gulf carries a price tag of $3 million a day. And each "meal ready to eat" consumed by U.S. forces runs $6.77 -- a daily cost of more than $3 million to feed 250,000 soldiers.

We have the largest military on earth, and outspend all the other countries on earth COMBINED when it comes to Guns over Butter.  The arguments of apologists trying to justify why marines do not have body armor is in a word, disrespectful.

Name: Warren Veith
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Dr. Alterman, Come on, you wrote that letter supposedly by Amie Kellar just to see how many of us would take the bait. I'm not biting.

Name: Cheryl Cook
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
You must be lacking a good rock radio station in NYC while Tony of NYCD laments the state of music and CD sales, this has to be one the best years for hard rock music in years.  This is the first year I have ran out and bought a CD in 5 years and not only did I buy 1, I bought 10. 

  • In your honor-Foo Fighters
  • Green Day-American Idiot
  • Out of Exile-Audioslave
  • Lullabies to Paralyze-Queen of the Stoneage
  • Guero-Beck
  • All the right reasons-Nickelback
  • And one of the greatest albums of all time came out in 2005, the double album Mesmerize/Hypnotize-System of a Down

2005 made me believe in music again.

| 12:43 PM ET |

Just Asking:  If your government were truly interested in protecting its “homeland,” in the event of the catastrophic terrorist attack it says is coming, wouldn’t be the kind of thing to which they might pay some attention, instead of say, attacking countries that present no terrorist threat to us and inspire more terrorists to join the cause, much less wasting say, to do it?

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Camp Liberty, Iraq

The Promotion of a Lieutenant

Monday, 12:06 Local (Baghdad)

On Saturday it rained.  For the first time in almost nine months, a full ground-soaking squall passed through Baghdad.  Baghdad has no sewage drainage system.  There is no engineered means to collect and direct runoff rainwater into the river.  The combination of eight months of dust and one day of rain does not make for the most attractive blanket for a city, as one might imagine.  At Camp Liberty, a collection of trailers and temporary buildings some distance away from the city, the effect is even less attractive.  Mud, the true medium of the Soldier, churned by Bradley fighting vehicles, HMMWVs and thousands of boots into a glomming muck, dominates existence here.

Inside the Tactical Operations Center (called a “TOC” in our parlance) in this Battalion headquarters chatter from multiple radio systems barks across the room.  American units on routine patrols send in their reports steadily.  One element searches for the source of gunfire they recently heard coming from a few blocks away.  Another unit coordinates and removes the possibility for confliction between two Iraqi units operating in close proximity to each other.  To the untrained ear the constant stream of callsigns, grid coordinates and acronyms may seem like chaos.  But, just as stock brokers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange can pull meaning from their pits on the floor of the Exchange, so to do American soldiers mentally create order from these streams.  It is a delicate and precious skill.  But today, at this instant and for the next twelve minutes, the chatter is drown out by events more local.  This too is a skill.  I am here as witness to a ceremony.

The front of the room is covered with maps, screens, and charts.  In the back, however, two soldiers hold aloft an American flag.  It is the only adornment, the only concession to a special event, the sole decoration for this ceremony.  In front of the flag stand a Second Lieutenant of Infantry and a Lieutenant Colonel, the latter some eighteen years senior to the former.  The Colonel commands the battalion, the lieutenant is one of his officers.  A major, few captains, and some Non-commissioned officers cluster in a horseshoe around them. The sergeants on watch, still at their stations, turn down the radios.  The Colonel speaks.

He has words of praise for the young officer.  He speaks of the shiny gold bar which a Second Lieutenant wears, and how it discolors and becomes worn over time.  His metaphor speaks to the process of developing wisdom through the only true method known to man, by making mistakes.  He speaks of growth and maturation, and most of all he speaks to an unstated element of potential.  This, he is saying, is a young man who is worthy.  They are words filtered through his own long years of service, but they carry with them the message of faith.  Not faith in any religion, for this is the ultimate secular ceremony, but faith in the man standing before him.  It is a faith I share, for I know this Lieutenant.  I came to Camp Liberty from my own base specifically to be here for this event.  After a few moments the Colonel issues the sole command of the event, “Publish the orders.” Nineteen sets of mud-encrusted heels clomp in near unison as every man present snaps to. We are in the position of attention.  Silence reigns, broken only by the staccato bursts of situation reports over the radio nets.

The Adjutant speaks out, reading aloud the words many of us have heard hundreds of times before, words that are new to only one man in the room.  “The President of the United States has reposed special trust and confidence in your patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities. In view of these qualities and your demonstrated potential for increased responsibility, you are, therefore, promoted in the United States Army to the grade of First Lieutenant...”

The order is as short as it is direct.  Only four sentences long, it takes about twenty seconds to read. Halfway through the recitation the Colonel comes from the position of Attention and faces the lieutenant.  With his right hand he reaches out, and tears the old rank, the golden “butterbar” of Second Lieutenant from the young man’s chest.  A second later he replaces it with the black bar (silver on our non-combat uniforms) of a First Lieutenant.  The promotion is complete.

There are many things that we do not do well in my Army.  There are many things in which the military as a whole could do better.  In our professional journals I am among the first to point these out.  But there is one thing, at least, which we perform magnificently.  We make it clear, to each man and woman, with each promotion, that this means something.  Officer or enlisted, there is always an acknowledgement of the qualities, and often the sacrifices, of the person being promoted.

Here, in combat, promotion means something else as well. There is an added frisson, an added measure of validation.  You have been tested, judged worthy by your peers and superiors, selected, promoted…and you will now be tested again, immediately, with even more responsibility.

Back at home many of this lieutenant’s peers from his alma mater Harvard are now well into their third year of grad school, or they may be in their first year as a research assistant in some think-tank, or starting to work their way up to the corner office.  Their most significant decisions generally involve choosing the color and fabric for their first ‘real’ post-college sofa, or perhaps selecting the right clubs to hit over the weekend.

At 12:26 the lieutenant returned to his work, at the moment that consisted of analyzing events in a particular neighborhood in Iraq so that when his unit next passed through the area, nobody would be killed.

Baghdad within Earshot:

My fiancée left for Haiti yesterday as a part of a democracy project.  I fell in love with a woman who is as fully engaged in the world as am I, yet I did not anticipate this aspect of that attractive quality. I think that in the future we will have to agree to a rule: Only one of us in a dicey situation at a time.

You can write to Major Bob at .

Correspondence corner:

A short exchange on the Chomsky/Faurison affair, and one hopes the last for quite a while:

Name: David W Scott Jr
Hometown: Se Simons Island, Georgia
Dear Eric,
I am guessing you haven't read His Right to Say It Noam Chomsky The Nation, February 28, 1981 I would put it in a link that you could click on but I'm only barely literate on the computer.  Any way in it he explains in detail his evolvement in the whole Faurisson thing. This paragraph probably sums up best his position Faurisson's conclusions are diametrically opposed to views I hold and have frequently expressed in print (for example, in my book Peace in the Middle East?, where I describe the holocaust as "the most fantastic outburst of collective insanity in human history"). But it is elementary that freedom of expression (including academic freedom) is not to be restricted to views of which one approves, and that it is precisely in the case of views that are almost universally despised and condemned that this right must be most vigorously defended. It is easy enough to defend those who need no defense or to join in unanimous (and often justified) condemnation of a violation of civil rights by some official enemy. And so I don't understand how you can call holocaust deniers like Ahmadinejad and Faurisson "Chomsky's Homies."  I have read all your books, in hard cover I might add, and your columns in the Nation and here and consider you to be an important voice for truth and honest objective views and opinion.  So I just don't understand what you have against Chomsky. It seems to me like you two should be homies.
Your homie as well as Chomsky's,
David W Scott Jr.

Eric replies:  Thanks for the nice tone of your response, but please let’s examine what we know to be the facts.  Chomsky first claimed never to have read Faurrison at all, and but later decided he was "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort."  He also defended him against the accusation that he is an anti-Semite, noting “I find no evidence to support [such conclusions]."

I’m sorry but this is just crazy.  As Vidal-Naquet points out, he is describing someone who not only denies the historical reality of the gas chambers, but also writes that in requiring Jews to wear the yellow star starting at the age of six, "Hitler was perhaps less concerned with the Jewish question than with ensuring the safety of German soldiers.”

Now some people might take refuge in the absolute defense of free speech but I think that is just silly and unworthy of response.  Free speech is not an absolute right.  Almost nothing is. And anyway, nobody is being jailed or arrested here.  We are talking about a man’s qualifications to be a university professor; a man who claims to have done “research” and presents “findings.”  Clearly the Holocaust took place.  Anyone who denies that it took place is at best crazy, and more likely, something much worse.  Such a person has no business being on the faculty of any university and I would support the firing of anyone who seriously makes this claim on my own faculty, just as I would support the firing of anyone who denied the reality of the Gulag.  At the very least, students have the right to be taught by someone who is not either insane, or a liar/apologist for the mass murder of millions.  Faurrison is clearly one of these two things, or perhaps both.  For Chomsky to pretend otherwise takes the concept of “bad faith” to heights that are impressive even by the standards of our own benighted political leadership.

Just look at the language of the pro-Faurrison petition he signed:

Dr. Faurisson has served as a respected professor of twentieth-century French literature and document criticism for over four years at the University of Lyon 2 in France.  Since 1974 he has been conducting extensive independent historical research into the "Holocaust" question.  Since he began making his findings public, Professor Faurisson has been subject to a vicious campaign of harassment, intimidation, slander, and physical violence in a crude attempt to silence him.

Remember, Chomsky is endorsing the “findings” of a Holcaust denier that purport to be based on “extensive independent historical research.”  Moreover, as Vidal-Naquet notes , “He went considerably further than was generally believed in his personal support of Faurisson, exchanging friendly letters with him, accepting even to be prefaced by the leader of the revisionist league Pierre Guillaume (while claiming --mendaciously-- that he had not written a preface for Faurisson), characterizing Guillaume as "libertarian and antifascist on principle."

Chomsky could have said, “Sorry, I screwed up.  I should not have signed that silly, mendacious petition.”  He could have disassociated himself from the use of his essay for this murderous purposes and he did not need to continue to exchange “friendly letters” with this apologist and liar who puts himself in the services of mass killers.  But he did none of these things.  Instead he attacked the motives of those whose intellectual honesty, inspired them to risk his wrath by pointing out the absurdity of his position.  Mr. Chomsky is quite obviously not stupid; the only conclusion I can draw is that he is something much worse.

Name: Amie Kellar
Hometown: Lynchburg, VA
My husband is an officer in the Army and the biggest reason that they don't have all of the protection that they need is because there is a lack of funding.  So don't you kind of think it's ironic that the same people who are say that deaths could have been prevented by "mere" body armor are the same people who complain and vote against and increased defense spending?  By the way, that body armor isn't cheap.  Just a vest usually starts at about $600 a pop (even with a military contract).  So, if you supply 60,000 troops with new vests at $600 a piece you're talking $36 million just in vests. Or soliders could do what my husband did and go to and apply for a government grant to partially or wholly fund a ballistic vest purchase.

Name: Ben
Hometown: Fergus, Ontario, Canada
Dear Dr. Alterman, I wonder if you've seen yet.  The short of it: Ali Fadil, award winning Iraqi journalist, investigates abuse of funds by the U.S. Army and contractors.  His home is then shot up, and he's taken and detained by U.S. forces.  Ouch!

Name: Hugh from Houston
Hometown: Houston, TX
Dear Dr. Alterman,
I am compelled to respond to Eddy from Edmonton.  While I agree that the comparison between former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam and Iraqi WMD-source "Curveball" is silly and unhelpful, I could not disagree more that Mr. Khaddam is "somewhat honest" and not "self-serving."  His current position and recent inflammatory remarks from his "government-in-exile" in Paris is completely self-interested.  Because he was a confidant of the former President Assad and the current President Assad, he certainly can air some dirty laundry about the regime that is indeed true, but that in no way makes him an honest broker. Mr. Khaddam's Syrian assets (which I understand to be enormous) have been frozen by the regime, so he has tremendous pecuniary self-interest. Moreover, although he has denied desiring to participate in politics in a post-Assad regime, I'd bet you my favorite pony he'd be back in the game in an instant.  He's not Syria's "Curveball," he's Syria's Ahmed Chalabi.

Name: Tony
Hometown: NYCD
The numbers are in, and as expected, the only bright spot for the music industry in 2005 was digital downloads, which posted greater-than-expected gains while CD sales continued to decline.  My worry is that the record labels will see this shift as an indicator that music as a physical object to be purchased is passé, and that online sales are the only way to go.  Downloading music will, of course, continue to gain in popularity, and the labels are right in doing everything they can to exploit that growing market.  But as they've been doing since the late '90s, they're ignoring the other symptoms of what's wrong with brick-and-mortar music retail.

Take a look at the biggest selling CDs and top singles of 2005, and it's clear that last year was a dud creatively.  Bland, radio-friendly, and incredibly conservative music topped the charts from beginning to end.  2005 could be compared to 1963, the year before the Beatles shook up the industry, or 1990, just before Nirvana exploded into mass consciousness.  The pop scene is ripe for something new, something thrilling -- something that will get people excited about buying music again.

The big problem is that, as sales continue to decline, the major labels and commercial radio stations are becoming MORE conservative, giving the next Beatles or Nirvana even less of a chance to break through to a mass audience.  The stunning increase in downloading is symptomatic not only of the market's embracing of a new technology but the fact that the music itself is becoming more disposable.  Why spend the money on a full CD from an overmarketed artist who'll be milked for a hit or two without any hope of a lasting career, when you can download the single and delete it from your iPod in six months?

The downloading market is not making up for the loss in revenue from CD sales.  Free radio stations that play new music are disappearing from the landscape.  Clearly, the current model is not working.  And one of the biggest culprits is the lack of new music that will get people excited about going into a record store and buying a CD.  The proof is in the numbers.  Catalog sales eroded far less than sales of current releases.  There's still a market out there for CDs -- it's just not being exploited by the tastemakers at radio and the record labels.

The time is right for caution to be thrown to the wind and for chances to be taken.  If the current model isn't working, why not take a few risks?  Make radio more of a laboratory to test the impact of new sounds.  Find more music that doesn't sound like a retread of what's already in the marketplace -- and then give it the promotional muscle it needs to make an impact.  Do more to court the underserved adult market, which wouldn't give a second thought to plunking down $15 for a CD of new and noteworthy music, as opposed to constantly chasing the teens, many of whom need their parents' permission to buy music at 99 cents a song online.  Find a way to engage more of those millions of lifelong music buyers who want to own a physical object, not just a file on a hard drive.  Use SACD and DVD-A technology to court the audiophiles who realize how much sound quality is lost in digital downloads.  Find and promote more artists who make full albums of worthwhile music, as opposed to the one-shot singles acts that currently clog the record store bins.

In short, instead of saying "We can't," start saying "Why not?"  At this point in the history of the music industry, we haven't got a lot left to lose.

Hometown: Decatur, GA
If you like Nellie McKay I think you might enjoy Susan Werner.  She's Chicago-based and has been around for at least a decade touring small acoustic clubs mostly.  Like McKay she blends both old and new genres and always has wry wit in her lyrics.

January 9, 2006 | 11:51 AM ET |

You go to war with the army you have…

...Even if you’re lying when you describe the threat, do it incompetently, refuse to plan for its aftermath and —get this— you haven’t even given significant attention to protecting the brave men and women from whom you are demanding this sacrifice.

I’m rather hard to shock when it comes to the incompetence/moral callousness of the Bush Administration, but I admit this threw me:

A secret Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such armor has been available since 2003, but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.The ceramic plates in vests now worn by the majority of troops in Iraq cover only some of the chest and back. In at least 74 of the 93 fatal wounds that were analyzed in the Pentagon study of marines from March 2003 through June 2005, bullets and shrapnel struck the marines' shoulders, sides or areas of the torso where the plates do not reach.Thirty-one of the deadly wounds struck the chest or back so close to the plates that simply enlarging the existing shields "would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome," according to the study, which was obtained by The New York Times.This too, The Pentagon has been collecting the data on wounds since the beginning of the war in March 2003 in part to determine the effectiveness of body armor. The military's medical examiner, Dr. Craig T. Mallak, told a military panel in 2003 that the information "screams to be published."  But it would take nearly two years.

So our soldiers are dying unnecessarily (not merely counter-productively) because the same administration that can’t be bothered to verify the intelligence it receives from drunken Germans and Czechs, and deliberately deceptive convicted Iraqi embezzlers, cannot be bothered to protect the troops it sends to fight and die for its incompetence and dishonesty.

What else are they hiding?  .

And by the way, The Times piece is a model of journalistic disclosure:

The Times obtained the three-page Pentagon report after a military advocacy group, Soldiers for the Truth, learned of its existence.  The group posted an article about the report on its Web site earlier this week.  The Times delayed publication of this article for more than a week until the Pentagon confirmed the authenticity of its report.  Pentagon officials declined to discuss details of the wound data, saying it would aid the enemy.

And despite what you’ve read in Michelle Malkin, Redstate and the National Review, was released showing what Americans truly think of Bush’s policy:

56 percent of respondents in an AP-Ipsos poll said the government should be required to first get a court warrant to eavesdrop on the overseas calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens when those communications are believed to be tied to terrorism.

.  I’m sure the Mexicans are grateful.

Anybody home at Slate?  Their correspondent reports of Amir Peretz:  “The outsider candidate, largely untested on the foreign policy front, is a member of Peace Now, the Israeli pacifist organization, .

Hello?  Peace Now, alas, is not remotely a “pacifist” organization.  It was founded and staffed by top military officers who made clear their willingness to fight when necessary.  Yitzhak Rabin was killed shortly after attending one of their rallies.  Do you think the Israeli Prime Minister who believed in “breaking Palestinian bones” was endorsing pacifism?  Calling Peace Now pacifist in Israel is akin to calling it traitorous, given the constancy of the threat that Israel faces, and makes Peretz look like a naïve fool.  Does Slate have people covering Israel who are really that ignorant?  And is anybody editing the thing?

OK, so I’m a bad person because schadenfraude is my favorite word, but I was pleased to see that Dow Jones’ stock rose nearly 12 percent on the news of the firing of Peter Kann and Karen Elliott House, .  They always did belong on the editorial page, which is about the most insulting thing I can think of to say…

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Rev. Hart Edmonds
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
Speaking as a Presbyterian minister and as a Christian, I cannot fathom the basis of Pat Robertson's morally reprehensible statements about the grave illness of Ariel Sharon.  It is repugnant. Robertson is no prophet, and I seriously believe he is not a Christian either. The words of the prophet Micah offer guidance here: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Robertson's God is a vengeful, petty, abhorrent deity who bears no resemblance to the God of the prophets or to the Christian apprehension of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  The churches of this nation and their leaders; be they conservative, liberal, or evangelical, Catholic-Protestant-Baptist-Charismatic; should collectively renounce the mad ravings of Pat Robertson as a disgrace to the faith we share! We must apologize to Israel and to our Jewish brothers and sisters in this country as well for the shame brought upon the Christian faith by leaders such as Robertson. Let me correct that last comment, Robertson isn't deserving of the title of Christian leader! He is an apostate to the faith!

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Please take a look at and let me know why MSNBC prints every crazy word that comes out of this guy's mouth.  It obvious to me that many news outlets will print anything if it leads to bigger ratings, even if they're giving a megaphone to the crazies of the world (i.e. Al Jazeera).  Here's a clue to Mr. Robertson...Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)  If he wants to quote the Bible, then he should choose the correct verses.

Name: Chris Walker
Hometown: New York, NY

Hi Dr Alterman, following on from Friday's "Quote of the Day", I was wondering if you, or any of the readers had been in touch with our direct line to God, namely Pat Robertson, to find out what the latest hospitalization of Dick Cheney could possibly mean? Is he finally getting his comeuppance for twisting information and lead us into an unjust and immoral war? Being punished for the ensuing deaths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands (for who really keeps track?) of people?  Or is he just being gently reminded to lay off the cheesburgers for a while? Come on Pat, we need to know!!

Name: Jim Van Norman
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Doctor Alterman,
Here's a prediction for 2006:  Just in time for the elections, GW will come to realize that the Iraqis are now standing up, so we can begin to stand down.  He will, flying in the face of the reality-based community, declare success based upon a newly formed Iraqi government and begin a phased withdrawal.  This will all be reminiscent of his about face on the creation of a Department of Homeland Security -- a once-ridiculed idea will become his own.  My other prediction: the Democratic Party will sit slack-jawed and silent as Bush distorts reality and claims victory.

Name: Dr. Robert Hellman
Hometown: Georgetown, D.C.
Eric: Today (Fri) about 12.50 EST President Bush told a audience in Illinois that Speaker Hastert was doing "a heckuva job."  No kidding.  There was no report of Hastert's reaction.

Name: Eddy
Hometown: Edmonton Canada
Dr. A,
I thought that Brad's comment on Friday about Abdel Halim Khaddam being the Syrian version of "Curveball II" was a mischaracterization.  From the interview in Newsweek, it is quite apparent that Khaddam has no love for the Bashar Assad regime.  At the same time, he is not in any way advocating for a war on Syria, nor on Iran for that matter, saying the last thing the region needs is another war.  Indeed, he spoke against one of the more common excuses for a confrontation with Syria - that insurgents are infiltrating Iraq from Iraq - saying that this is not happening in any sanctioned way.  This is what is known as a statement against self-interest.  If he were truly "Curveball II" he'd be pushing all sorts of reasons to attack Syria.  Indeed, Khaddam seems - dare I say it? - somewhat honest and not at all like the self-serving original Curveball, whoever he was.

Name: Greg
Hometown: Vancouver, WA
Well, now that the Democracts are getting a public announcement of the troop reduction the Al-Qaida has claimed victory.  I wonder which Democrat Al-Qaida will support in 2008.  With the help of Democrats the US will not be able to stop Al-Qaida from attacking again.  Thanks Hillary, Ted,etc... you are making the US a better place for Islam.

Name: Dave Wieland
Hometown: Sun City, AZ
Dr. A,
As Jules said in Pulp Fiction, "Allow me to retort" to Brad from Arlington, VA.  I did not take my statement from other blogs or verbal diarrhea on talk radio. Yes Brad, check out the brain on the Democrat (again, with apologies to Jules) as he does come up with an original thought without talking points memos or prompting from anyone else.  Facts are facts and what I said are the facts, after the Alabama mine disaster in 2001 and the ensuing Presidential blather, the President via a Republican controlled House (where all funding bills originate for you people who slept through Social Studies in grammar school), cut funding for mine inspectors and enforcement.  As the old National umpire, Doug Harvey, said, "You can look it up."  While granted, it takes both Houses to approve the spending, less money was spent on mines and enforcement under Bush than Clinton.  Further, budgets sent to the House by the President as it reflects his priorities.  Sorry Brad, the President sucks the pipe on this one because as I said, the buck stops there.  I say this out of respect for the dead because the idea Brad, is not to have mines open that are unsafe.  I'm not picking at the carcasses, I am trying to prevent more carcasses.  So take that and shove it up your Hannity.  Also, how much did Bush receive from mining interests in the past six years?  Just asking.

Name: Jim Pharo
Hometown: New York, NY
On Alito and "executive intent," perhaps it is so obvious that it is overlooked, but so much of the dialogue around this omits the key point: legislative history has value in large measure because the legislative branch is the fact-finder.  Congress (in theory at any rate) holds hearings, hears from constituents and other interested parties, and considers a wide array of solutions.  The legislative history is therefore illuminative.  The executive's take on things is perfectly legitimate for what it is: the point of view of that branch of government which has only to say whether or not it agrees or not.  I'd like to see us stop bashing the whole notion of the president's signing message and instead relegate it to its proper, insignificant place.

Name: Richard Freeman
Dr A,
Let's compare the two leak investigations.  The first one destroyed the career of an agent whose work was helping fight GWOT.  If one of our fears is that of terrorists acquiring nukes, then nonproliferation is a must.  As I have said before, it isn't just the exposing of Valerie Plame, but the loss of the CIA front company for which she worked, the other agents operating under that front, and their contacts in other countries.  That is truly an act of treason.  The NSA spying situation is what so many Bush apologists claim the Plame Affair was about- whistleblowing.  If Bush really felt that the leaking of NSA activities was a criminal act, why wasn't the investigation started in 2004?  Remember, the Times was sitting on the story, and asking the Administration for comment.  That was the perfect time to launch an investigation- right after you believe a crime has been committed, not over a year later, when you feel that you have been embarrassed by that act.