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Good news for Bush: Armageddon

President Bush's  failure to deal with the potential nuclear threat from Iran  could turn out to be a  smart move politically. Of course the downside could be Armageddon.

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I’ve got a new Think Again: The War at Home,

I’m pleased to see The New Republic take a powerful, and eloquently argued stand on behalf of universal health care.  It’s too bad, however, that the magazine published the single most important article that helped the Republicans destroy our  hopes for such a program, back when it was a real possibility. It  was a fundamentally dishonestly argued article, by the then-unknown Betsy McCaughey, but it was typical of the magazine in those days, as edited by Andrew Sullivan. Meanwhile, there’s a long Krugman/Wells disquisition on our health care conundrum , and while we’re reading Paul, he has some extremely useful things to say about “The Conservative Epiphany” — if you’ve got Times Select.

Other readings:

Before you go accepting  the usually astute Kevin Drum’s advice about how great John Gaddis’s new book is, read about it by Tony Judt.
Stanley Crouch

The Stringers

By Paul McLeary

Good discussions of the implications of American Empire   and . Accomplish bub.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to relive history.  Few pundits discuss the possibility of an economic Depression.  What does Paul Volcker know that the rest of us don't? Why didn't James Fallows excellent Atlantic cover story (" now available online) generate much heat?  I see ominous signs every week (this week Chicago's Mayor Daley was talking about selling a second large public asset, Midway airport, just to keep up street repairs and the like). 

It made me wonder about the Great Depression—did any of the experts of the day predict it?  It seems only one of the major economists did: Ludwig von Mises. At first glance this guy would have been a good fit for Dubya:
Von Mises was an anti-Keynesian (actually he predated Keynes major works) and opposed government intervention in the economy, theorizing that the government always makes the wrong move.  Dig a little deeper and it seems he’d be sounding the alarms today too.  I'm not much of an economist (help me Barry!) but Von Mises' biggest fear seems to have been the government expanding credit and lowering interest rates, exactly what Greenspan did during the recession.  A couple of representative quotes:

"Credit expansion is the governments' foremost tool in their struggle against the market economy. In their hands, it is the magic wand designed to conjure away the scarcity of capital goods, to lower the rate of interest or to abolish it altogether, to finance lavish government spending, to expropriate the capitalists, to contrive everlasting booms and to make everybody prosperous."
"If the credit expansion is not stopped in time, the boom turns into the crack-up boom; the flight into real values begins, and the whole monetary system founders....The final outcome of the credit expansion is general impoverishment."

Pay now or pay much more later. If recessions are economic WMD's, Von Mises was the Scott Ritter of his era. But even if Von Mises was just "lucky," it's surprising how little consensus there is today on ( There was just a lot of "economic badness" you could point to. Doesn't that sound familiar too?  Housing bubbles, personal debt, national debt, entitlement expansion, etc. Anyway, if confronted with Von Mises' work, conservatives today might ironically quote Milton Friedman: "We are all Keynesians now."

Name: Don Welten
Hometown: Command Master Chief USS Roosevelt ( DDG-80 )

I would like to thank you, Dr. Alterman—for posting my last few inputs to your website. I got a few things off my chest, and enjoyed it. To close my least until this current deployment is over... Here are some last thoughts. I haven't been called "immature" in several decades - I don't know what "lame schoolyard defense" means—especially the schoolyard part.?? I don't think I said I didn't like John from VT— I simply disagreed with his impression that us rank and file military members could not obtain and process information that is available to the general public. I was pretty sarcastic about it—I do that. My name is spelled Welten — not Welton — I am not a Commander - I am a Command Master Chief. And—I think Richard Clarke is a self-serving schmuck.

Name: Mark
Hometown: Wyoming
RE: The Cary Grant Box Set: I, too, love "His Girl Friday," but "the best ever about journalism"? Not likely. Take another look at "Deadline USA" with Bogart. So much still rings true today, especially regarding issues of the news "business" and self-important "journalists" vs. reporters (pay close attention to Jim Backus' line). You do that, and I'll reserve further comment until I watch HGF again.

Eric replies: I actually felt guilty thinking about “Deadline” when I wrote that. Maybe it’s not the “best movie about journalism” but it is the best movie that happens to be about journalism. And of course, Bogie was the only competition for Cary.  Nothing ought to make journalists more wistful about what’s happened to their profession than watching that movie—which I plan to show to my students, even though it’s unavailable on DVD.

Name: David Joyce
Hometown: Fremont
Thanks for the great work. You're right about everything. But let me take a tiny issue with "from 20,000 leagues down to 20 miles up" statement. A league is 3 miles. The Jules Verne book, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" referred to the distance they went (and not depth), while at some submarine-depth (WWII, hundreds of feet; modern subs, a lot more, super-duper research vessel, ten-thousand-ish). More importantly, Saturday Night Live did a very funny routine 15 years ago or so where, in a Verne parody, somebody responded to the 20,000 leagues phrase by saying 'man, that's deep', which I have adopted as my standard response. However, the oceans are only 30,000 feet deep at the deepest , 20,000 leagues is 60,000 feet, and the earth is 4,000 miles in diameter. Incidentally, people will never go tens of miles into the earth no matter what. 20 miles up? Not enough for them. That's merely X-15 territory. They want a hundred miles or so, like Skylab or the Shuttle, to implement a laser weapons system that will make all other weapons pale in comparison, assuming it is done insanely or dishonestly, the way fission and fusion nuclear weapons were done ( produce 30,000 nuclear weapons, where 3,000 is 10 planets worth?-- it was stealing, actually). This system will destroy a vehicle (like perhaps a cruise missle), or a ship, or perhaps 10 times the area of the firestorm attacks in WWII, anywhere, anytime, and with merely the flick of a switch, all possibly in the hands of depraved criminals like Cheney or Bush.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman, Your respondent Tom S from Miami Beach submits that the US was not hit by foreign terrorists from 02/93, the second month of Clinton's first term, through 09/11/01, the eighth month of Bush's first term. While the continental US may not have been hit, Tom appears to have a short memory regarding several rather important events during that time period. Nov. 13, 1995 - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: car bomb exploded at a U.S. military headquarters, killing 5 U.S. military servicemen. June 25, 1996 Dhahran, Saudi Arabia: truck bomb exploded outside Khobar Towers military complex, killing 19 American servicemen and injuring hundreds of others. Aug. 7, 1998 Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: truck bombs exploded almost simultaneously near 2 U.S. embassies, killing 224 (213 in Kenya and 11 in Tanzania) and injuring about 4,500. Oct. 12, 2000 Aden, Yemen: U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole heavily damaged by a small boat loaded with explosives killing 17 sailors. Not to mention the numerous attacks during the watches of Reagan and Bush I and post 9/11. In any event, I do not blame any administration for failing to act, because prior to 9/11, there was no massive public outcry or support for substantive action against terrorism.

The vast majority of Americans merely chose to be shocked for a news cycle at each event and then continue on in its collective ignorant bliss, secure in the belief that no one could really hate the US. So when the likes of Scott from OK declare that "Bush blew it on 9/11.period." he does so in apparent ignorance (or at least lack of acknowledgement) of world events and public attitudes over the past twenty plus years (including the eight years of the Clinton administration). Clearly, it is much more difficult for the American public to look in the mirror to find blame than to point a finger. The question now becomes whether we revert to our reactive, ignorant past or progress to a proactive (albeit dangerous) policy of international engagement. If the UAE port deal spectacle is any indication, isolation and ignorance hold an early lead.

Name: Adrienne
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
"The jobs vanishing from Buffalo would eventually return...." Says who?! Western New York is deeply economically depressed, to the point that, for a time this year public libraries were closed due to insufficient funds.

Barry L. Ritholtz

Hey Doc: It continues to astonish, but the recording industry STILL does not have a clue WTF they are doing. Utterly amazing.

A story in the NYT Thursday reveals that the actual levels of business knowledge and economic understanding that exists in the recording industry. The answer, it turns out, is nonewhatosever.

Proof for this revelation is what the RIAA braintrust now thinks is hurting CD sales: its legal digital downloading that is holding back CD sales. Not illegal P2P, as the RIAA likes to tell us, but legal sales!

Consider: NYT: As blockbuster hits go, the R&B smash "So Sick" is hardly new territory for the 23-year-old singer known as Ne-Yo. Before crooning the song on his own album, he was a co-writer on the 2004 chart-buster "Let Me Love You" for the singer Mario.

But there's one big difference: even though fans could hear "So Sick" on the radio for the last two months, they couldn't buy it at popular online services like iTunes or Rhapsody, or anywhere else for that matter. Breaking from the music industry's current custom, the singer's label — Island Def Jam — decided not to sell "So Sick" as an individual song before Ne-Yo's album hit stores last week. Label executives worried that releasing the track too early might cut into sales of the full CD — a fear that figures heavily in the music world's lumbering entry into the digital marketplace.

The results of fans' pent-up demand for Ne-Yo are now clear: his CD "In My Own Words," burst onto the national album chart yesterday at No. 1, with sales of more than 301,000 copies, easily ranking as the biggest debut of the year so far. And just as eye-popping: the digital single of "So Sick" sold almost 120,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan."

Let's ignore for the moment the collossal business savvy reflected there:  Even though our customers have demanded digital downloads for nearly a decade now, LETS NOT GIVE IT TO THEM. My physician has advised me to avoid these absurdly perverse discussions without consuming healthy doses of valium prior.

Instead, lets consider what is being ignored by the industry -- its amazing that the focus remains in the wrong place.

The rocket scientists in the recording industry would have you believe it was all the pent up demand that led to all those sales, because they held back downloadable singles. I guess that means the other  all the CDs that opened big that also allowed downloads were anomolies (um, not).

You have a read little further down in the article to get to the true reason for the very strong CD sales of Ne-Yo's CD "In My Own Words": "There is still plenty of debate over the effect of holding off on sales of the digital single; many also note that Island Def Jam offered a discount to retailers who stocked the album, allowing it to sell at stores like Target for $7.98 last week."  (emphasis added)

Holy snikes! In case you missed that small detail, allow me to repeat it for you: The CDs were sold for $7.98! $7.98! $7.98!

How much more obvious does it have to be to get these dolts realize they have priced themselves out of the mass consumer market by charging $15.99 per? How many more brick and mortar retailers have to go belly up before they get a clue?

Consumers have long ago figured out that CDs as sold by the major labels represent a poor deal for the dollar. How many times can I buy a CD soundtrack (Hi-Fidelity, Garden State, The Big Chill) that costs more than the DVD of the film?

Whether a CD gets played more than a DVD is irrelevant to the person standing in Target, with a 45 minute audio CD in one hand ($15.98) and a DVD of the same -- 2 plus hours of Audi/Video Movie, plus hours more of interviews, outtakes, directors commentary, etc. for the same or less money -- in the other.

The bottom line is while all other media entertainment has dropped in price -- or given you alot more for the same price (games, DVDs, internet, software, etc.) -- CDs retain their prior price point. In the fiercely competitive market for consumer entertainment dollar, they Recording Industry has simply  become non-competitive.

Economics 101 is why CD sales have slid so perniciously. Until sub $10 CDs become the norm, I expect to see the slide continue.

Amazing that these guys are allowed to run companies ...



I keep reading by Jake Weisberg in Slate where he is picking on Howard Dean and I can’t believe it: “His injudicious comment about the GOP being the party of white Christians was followed by his statement that "the idea that we're going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong." Such gaffes lead to endless debate about how Howard Dean is screwing up, rather than about how Bush is screwing up.”

How in the world is possible for Michael Kinsley’s appointed successor to write the word “gaffe” in this context in the magazine Kinsley founded without pointing out Kinsley’s most famous observation: that “gaffe” is what Washington calls a statement by a politician that happens to be true? Would Weisberg argue that White Christians do not dominate the Republican Party? Would he argue that we are “winning” the Iraq war, or are likely to in the foreseeable future?

Clearly both Dean statements constitute Kinsley “gaffes” in the respect that both are true. And it’s the job of intellectuals to congratulate politicians for speaking uncomfortable truths… at least I thought it was. I know my memory is going, but I don’t recall any cases in which when Kinsley wrote about such things, he was attacking the truth-tellers. But Weisberg seems to think Dean is deserving of contempt for exactly this reason. Am I missing something or is this as depressing as it looks? 

And by the way, if you’re looking for a politically palatable way to argue for withdrawal from Iraq but you need plan, begin with Barry Posen and with the Center for American Progress’s Korb and Katulis report. And then read Fareed to see why Newsweek doesn’t hire people like me to be its foreign editor. He writes “ It's the president who needs to learn from his mistakes.” I would have titled that piece. “I believe in the Easter Bunny, Too.”

And hey, ever hear of the Pentagon's new concept of "full-spectrum dominance" — to military planners this seems to mean: from 20,000 leagues down to 20 miles up (and everything that creeps, crawls, swims, or flies in between) and includes implanting electrodes in blue shark brains to make them, in some dystopian future, US Navy "stealth" spies. Tomdispatch has the latest in Pentagon dreaming in a piece with a title worth the price of admission:  "Shark and Awe." It’s  

Alter-reviews by Sal: Little Willies (with Nora Jones) and two Cheap Trick re-releases.

LITTLE WILLIES—"LITTLE WILLIES." Has Norah Jones' popularity turned off so many people that the news of a new record generates about as much excitement as a Quarterflash reunion?  We mentioned this two weeks ago, gave it a stellar review, and got little response.  Well, it's out, and it's still damn good.  Norah, along with Richard Julian and members of her "Feels Like Home" band, runs through some obvious and not-so-obvious country songs, as well as a few originals, showcasing a playful Jones both on vocals and piano.  This is a winner, regardless of what Entertainment Weekly said.

CHEAP TRICK—"DREAM POLICE" & "ALL SHOOK UP" (REMASTERS). A classic and a shoulda-been classic finally get remastered and expanded.  "Dream Police," from 1978, was the solid followup to "Live At Budokan," which put Cheap Trick on top of the world for a little while, and "All Shook Up," from 1980, had Sir George Martin behind the boards and the makings of a Beatleesque classic.  Unfortunately, it was a little too bogged down in strings and "Sgt. Pepper"-like production to really break through, but it has aged well, and now, with the awesome bonus tracks (including the long-lost "Found All The Parts" EP), both of these are essential.

The Altercation Book Club:

Eyal Press, Absolute Convictions: My Father, A City and the Conflict That Divided America, (Holt). Here, Press describes the factory closings during the '70s that devastated Buffalo's economy just as he and his family were settling there.

Like that of many newcomers to the city, my father's experience of the hard times that befell Buffalo in the 1970s was mostly secondhand. He didn't know many people who worked in the steel mills and the auto plants. The professional association he eventually joined was the American Medical Association, not the AFL-CIO. Although he crossed paths with plenty of poor people in the city's hospitals, and although we ourselves were hardly living lavish existence at the time, the fear and insecurity that hovered over many families in the city did not lurk over us.

Even so, it was impossible to be in Buffalo at the time and not feel that something was profoundly awry, that something in the American Dream, which was supposed to guarantee opportunity to anybody who worked hard and strived to get ahead, had soured. As it turns out, the factory workers in Buffalo who started to view this dream as a mirage were not alone. The year my parents and I arrived in America, 1973, marked the beginning of what the economists Bennett Harrison and Barry Bluestone later termed the Great U-Turn. In the decades to come, several million manufacturing jobs disappeared from the United States, wages fell, the middle class shrank, and the U.S. economy more and more closely resembled an hourglass, with inequality rising and more and more people concentrated at either the bottom or the top. The jobs vanishing from Buffalo would eventually return but, as throughout the country, many of the new jobs would be part-time and lower paid. A new category, the working poor, would arise, and the era when a family supported by one breadwinner was a realistic vision for most Americans drew to a close. These were national as well as local trends. With or without feminism, they would help to render the traditional nuclear family (Mom tidying up the house, Dad at work, the kids in school) obsolete.

It was the perfect recipe, in theory, for a resurgence of the sort of class politics that had crystallized during earlier periods of economic duress. The Great Depression had prepared the way for the rise of organized labor and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Forty years earlier, during the 1890s, the plight of small farmers and mounting anger at big business had sparked the rise of the populist movement. "We have millionaires by the thousands and mendicants by the millions," Eugene Debs declared on a visit to Buffalo in 1896, just as the movement was gathering force. "A land where wealth accumulates and men decay." A quarter century later, in the 1920 presidential election, one in ten Buffalonians cast their ballot for Debs, the jailed socialist candidate.

There would be a resurgence of populism at the end of the twentieth century as well, only this time it would take radically different form. As the chasm between rich and poor widened, conservative activists would hone a language that linked the insecurity many Americans felt to the depredations of an immoral elite: not the economic elite nineteenth-century populists had inveighed against but a cultural elite. Not to financiers and robber barons but liberals, homosexuals, and feminists. Not the people who had moved Buffalo's factories to the Sun Belt and decimated its unions, but the ones who supported abortion rights and could be blamed for the nation's moral and spiritual decline."

Here he describes a video of a rescue that has just taken place at his father's office and explains how, in a blue-collar city where social activism once meant participation in the labor movement, the focus of rage among working-class people had shifted by the late 1980s to social issues like abortion (thanks in no small part to the conservative strategists who began courting this constituency a decade earlier).

"At first glance, the class identity of these people might have seemed murky: were they down-on-their-luck factory workers or pampered suburbanites? Viewed through the prism of the nation's culture wars, however, their status is clear. 'The clinics are run for profit - we're a nickel-and-dime organization,' a spokeswoman for the protesters had told The Buffalo News in 1985. This was the new language of populism in America, pitting ordinary, churchgoing Americans against a corrupt secular elite. By the time the video at my father's office was shot, class in America no longer existed in popular consciousness as a signifier of how much money people made. Instead, it had been redefined as a function of education and cultural background. If you believed that the Bible was the word of God and that traditional values were under assault, you belonged among the subjugated masses. If you believed in evolution and read The New York Times, you were privileged. If you attended church on Sunday and were convinced that the people running Hollywood, the courts, and the media were bringing America to ruin, you were marginalized. If you thought there were bigger problems out there than homosexuality and abortion, you were a snooty elite. In blue-collar Buffalo, a place where factory workers once attended night classes on the class struggle - but where, as elsewhere, churches increasingly played the role unions once had - this was how the social pyramid was increasingly imagined and seen."

For more, go

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Scott
Hometown: Norman, OK
Re: Don Welton "EVERYTHING is Bush's fault?!!" Bush received a little presidential briefing entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." but did nothing about it. The outgoing Clinton administration warned the incoming Bush administration that the biggest threat they will face is Islamic terrorism. The Bush administration did nothing about it. "We never could have imagined airliners would be used as weapons." BS! That was completely untrue. Bush blew it on 9/11.period. He had plenty of warning but ignored it. This outrage at everything being "blamed" on Bush is getting tiresome. Bush has earned plenty of the blame and whining about Bush being "blamed for everything" comes across as an immature and lame schoolyard defense.

Name: Tom S
Hometown: Miami Beach, Florida
Eric: Commander Master Chief Welton says a lot in his post. If he does not like John, perhaps he would like to read an article by someone I presume he would think is capable of reasonable debate, Paul Pillar. (The summary and .)

Summary: "During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, writes the intelligence community's former senior analyst for the Middle East, the Bush administration disregarded the community's expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case."

Also, I acknowledge that the homeland has not been struck by terrorists (other than domestic Anthrax) since 09/11/01 and I attribute that mostly to the war in Afghanistan and stepped-up intelligence efforts, which debilitated Al Qaeda. Also, the US was not hit by foreign terrorists (but there was McVeigh, Unabomber and Rudolph) from 02/93, the second month of Clinton's first term, through 09/11/01. Maybe someone, somewhere did something right during the Clinton years as well The 'ballyhooed' 9/11 commission found fault with both administrations and, I believe, noted that the attacks were planned for a couple years. Beyond that, I'll presume that the Commander would not care for Richard Clarke's version of events. As for quagmires and support for the war in Afghanistan. I recall strong support among Democrats for that war and would be interested to learn more about the rather anonymous Democrat who Commander Welton quotes on the third day of that war. Keep up the good work.

Name: Janis
Hometown: Traverse City, Mi
I just wanted to say something about the character of Major Bob. I sent him a short note with a welcome home message and he responded with comments that let me know he had actually read my e-mail. It was a confirmation of what what his postings had led me to believe-that he is a thoughtful and caring man who listens and responds to what he hears and sees around him. Or, maybe, as I heard in my youth down South, he just had good home training. Whatever, his response made my day. Best wishes again to him and his loved ones and thank you, Eric, for continuing to give him a forum.

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Mr. Alterman - Your exchange with Mr. Ruel explains why I continue to read this blog. Every time I decide it's not much more than an echo-chamber for self-satisfied GOP-haters, you manage to avoid predictability with a poke at some of the people who have done the Left genuine harm at the electoral level. The obvious examples are the increasing association of 'the Left' with Hollywood and its mix of fantastically right-wing industry practices and lifestyles (no wonder Ben Stein loves southern California)with half-informed liberal lecturing, and, as well, the somewhat Stalinoid habits of thought of some of the lumpen-intellectuals often found living in university districts. I don't expect to stop being annoyed by some of the flat-earth economic ideas floated in your column, and the notion that Ronald Dworkin is a profound legal scholar calls your judgment into question in that area, but you are just counter-intuitive enough, as bloggers go.


Yes, I’m harping on this but the guy did call me a traitor to my country: Look at the situation plainly:  I’ve offered to give $10,000 to any AIDS organization the newly anti-Bush pundit Andrew Sullivan so chooses if he can prove an extremely serious accusation he made against me after 9/11. Andrew, who is HIV positive and likes to discuss this fact with reporters, has not deemed to reply.

This can only mean one of two things. Either Andrew does not care about the victims of AIDS who are not as wealthy as he is enough to bother with my publicly offered contribution—with the added bonus for him that someone he deems “hateful” is out ten grand--or he is a liar who casts about wild accusations he cannot support against people for saying pretty much what he is saying today.

Which is it Andrew?  Do you not care about your fellow HIV sufferers enough to bother to get them ten thousand bucks or are you just an irresponsible McCarthyite liar?  Same question for your superiors at Time, by the way….

Ps. I don’t actually expect Andy to admit he was wrong any more than I do his ex-buddy, W. But he might wish to make amends to all of the folks he slandered, you know, the late Ms. Sontag and the rest of the “decadent coastal elites” manning (and wo-manning) the “fifth columns” with whom he now agrees about Bush, by making out a check of say, $5K to the AIDS organization of OUR choice.

Darfur Again:

Thanks to the editors of The New Republic for carrying Eric Reeves’ profoundly useful coverage of the increasingly horrifying situation in . He seems a mite naïve about Bush, however, as anyone who hopes for anything positive at all from this government must be. This week he writes in the hopes of having Bush lead NATO into Darfur despite the fact that NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer ruled out the possibility of sending NATO troops  NATO's role, he said, should be "in the enabling sphere" and should not involve "the boots of troops on the ground."

Reeves notes: “This is the central problem. Even if the United Nations agrees to relieve the African Union in Darfur, there is no reserve of U.N. peacekeepers from which to draw. Assembling a U.N. force will therefore take a good deal of time; and, meanwhile, the genocide will continue. Insecurity is on the rise throughout Darfur; humanitarian reach is contracting; and violent attacks continue to displace civilians. If security deteriorates to the point where humanitarian workers cannot stay in Darfur and continue to serve refugees, then disease and malnutrition will take over--and finish the genocidal work that the Sudanese government began. That is where NATO could have helped: by deploying troops now as an interim step until the United Nations is ready to send peacekeepers of its own.”

But really, George Bush?  Can he lie to us about Darfur’s weapons of mass destruction? About its nuclear weapons program? About its harboring of Al-Qaeda terrorists? Did its intelligence chief meet with Mohammed Atta in Prague in April 2001?

Here Reeves comes back to the unhappy reality: “Unfortunately, the administration's signals so far have not been encouraging. Almost as soon Bush had uttered his mid-February statement on Darfur, a Pentagon spokesman cautioned that it was "premature to speculate" on the involvement of U.S. troops. This comment tracked closely with what a State Department spokesman said following a meeting between Bush and Kofi Annan: that it's "premature to speculate on what the U.S. contribution might be."

I don’t think it’s “premature” to speculate. Whatever Bush does, he’ll lie about it.
I promise.

Join the Million Voices for Darfur

Worst President in History, Update:

You know what’s funny? First this, from the WSJ via The No” Despite the likely drawdown in the number of troops overseas, the Wall Street Journal's David Rogers reports that the bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to grow this year. Of the monthly tab of $5.9 billion in Iraq and another $1 billion in Afghanistan, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, says "there are unprecedented costs. It's staggering."

You know what else? The guy ran as a fiscal conservative, he’s busted the budget beyond belief and the above costs are not even included! And yet he still has the support of “movement conservatives.”

You know what’s not funny? Our children will pay for this profligacy in the form of dysfunctional government and declining living standards, perhaps forever.  You know what else is not funny? The MSM don’t seem to care…

"While high-income Americans have prospered from Bush's policies, reaping most of the benefits from the tax cuts he pushed through Congress during his first term, a majority of high-end earners told pollsters that former President Bill Clinton did a better job than Bush in managing the economy."

Matching voters to databases to decide who can vote caused havoc in Florida twice in a row.  In case you thought that Congress finally fixed the problems caused by matching voter lists: will make you think again.

Did you see Eric Umasky’s op-ed raising about the administration's move to "transfer" Gitmo detainees to their home country where some, again, are being held without charges and in some cases abused. The white house is actually pushing afghanistan, where many of the detainees are going, to change its constitution since, inconveniently, it currently doesn't allow
prisoners to be held indefinitely without trial. It’s

Republicans, Then and Now:

Things I’ve not noticed but apparently others have: “I've noticed that quite a few Americans are resistant to the idea that there's any connection between, say, the agit-funk of Gang of Four and the glam-disco of ABC.”

Altersports section:

Michael Rapoport writes: “Eric: I know you're a Barry Bonds fan, but I'd like to see any defender of Bonds explain   Eric replies: I’m working on it, but in the meantime, congrats to the Times Sports section for this sentence: “The New York Times was unable to verify the information independently.”

(But had to hurt: “An article on Feb. 28 about concerns raised by the Coast Guard over the deal with a Dubai company, DP World, incorrectly described legislation proposed by two Democratic Senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and a correction in this space on Thursday also described it incorrectly.”)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Don Welten
Hometown: Command Master Chief USS Roosevelt (DDG-80)
To Major Bob: My sole point—which is why I didn't address those poll numbers cited by John in VT—was that his statements of how closed off the military is from any news or information source other than what our "leadership" tells us—was totally off base. As far as the politics of why we are where we are—The Saddam / Al Qaeda connection—which I don't believe—is far outweighed by what I do believe. And what I believe is after watching and listening to 5 years of the Commander in Chief I voted for get hammered—I would still vote for him. I believe the Democratic Party has lost it's collective mind—and all capability of reasonable debate. It was exactly 3 days into the opening strikes into Afghanistan—I was serving in a fighter squadron with CAG 11 aboard Carl Vinson that began that campaign — that the first Vietnam "quagmire" comparisons were spoken by a Democrat. Idiocy. What clinched it for me—there are to many examples to go into—was the much ballyhooed 9/11 Commission. Bush had 8 months in office prior to 9/11—the previous administration had 8 years to "connect the dots"—but EVERYTHING is Bush's fault?!!

Those 19 terrorists did not plan or decide to hijack those planes on Inauguration Day 2001. I won't go into the fact that every single member of that previous administration ( that matters anyway ) has quotes on record of Saddams WMD. And I would like to hear ANY member of the loyal opposition acknowledge the fact that the homeland hasn't been attacked since 9/11 - and that it's not "luck" or good karma - someone is doing something right somewhere... As far as those poll numbers - I personally do not believe 994 or whatever it was ( I'm not going to bother looking it up again ) is an accurate sample of 130,000 troops. I kind of put it up there with the exit polls in the last election.

Inaccuracies stated as fact by people who's idea of the military comes from episodes of JAG drive me crazy ( not that John got his there....) I'm in my 29th year of service—it's almost over for me. You're right—I haven't been to Iraq and won't be going before my retirement next year. But I do have a "sense of urgency"—about anyone in uniform in harms way. I've got friends ( mostly Corpsman ) serving or have served with Marine units - and sons of friends of mine in the Army over there now. But this isn't a scorecard—you've been there—I haven't. Point taken. But—I'm just not going to take the results of a poll and presume to press the CNO for anything. It's not enough. I am also aware of the Armys recruiting numbers—there's that news and info seepage again—and I have to ask if you actually believe this is based on an inaccurate portrayal of the Saddam / Al Qaeda connection that you seem to concentrate on—at least in your response to me. We could shout from the rooftops that it's not true—I believe young men and women will still volunteer to serve for their own personal reasons, through what we now term as "popular" and "unpopular" wars. Although it looks like we have to agree to disagree on a number of things—I'm glad you're home safe, sir. Enjoy your reunion with the family. All the best.

Name: Scott Kimball III
Hometown: Victoria, Texas
Eric Your blog provides an outstanding arena for a free exchange of ideas and viewpoints, and I would like to comment on the recent observations of John from Vermont, Command Master Chief Welten, and Major Bob. John from Vermont is alarmed that 90% of the troops believe that Saddam was responsible for 9/11, blames the administration for deliberately misleading them, and feels that they are particularly susceptible to being manipulated and deceived. It also appears that John feels our troops are thus being victimized, and perhaps betrayed, by their civilian leadership. It is obvious to me that John supports our troops, and in no way meant to attack or demean them. Command Master Chief Welten was offended by John's letter, as he perceived that John was inferring that the those in the military are ignorant and gullible. He said not a word, however, about any connection between Saddam and 9/11, although his sarcasm about being "shamelessly lied to" and his preference for Fox News indicates, at least to me, that he is inclined to believe his Commander in Chief, who continues to trumpet this rationale after previous attempts at justifying his Iraq War debacle.

Then we have Major Bob, who has earned my undying admiration for having the cojones to recognize, and then speak, the truth regardless of the consequences. He too is alarmed that so many of the troops have accepted such a bogus justification for this war. Rather than blaming this belief on ignorance on the part of the troops, or deceitful manipulation by the leadership, he understands how this can occur in a society such as the armed forces, who are no different from the rest of us in tending to believe what we want to believe, or need to believe. Major Bob's concern, of course, is for the welfare of the troops themselves. He realizes that not knowing the real reason for their service and sacrifice is harmful to the troops, that it is the responsibility of their leaders to ensure that they know the truth, and that what they apparently believe about the reason for the fighting and dying, whether by misinformation or disinformation, is wrong and should be corrected, for their sake.

If the civilian leadership will not do so because of political motives, the military leadership should, as part of its responsibility to those under its command. So the important questions are these: Why was this war really started, why does it continue, and how is it to end ? Major Bob sees this as a twenty year war, and who would know better than he ? What is to become of the men and women who have served, are serving, and will serve in this war ? If they are not being told the truth now, how will it affect them when they realize it later?

Name: Walt
Hometown: Thornhurst, PA
If 90 percent of active duty folks believe the link between Saddam and 9/11, I contend that some of the link is due to the more often conservative nature of a service member along with the probable news organization that they will get their news from (i.e. Fox News). My explanation comes from recently having left active service in the army and seeing many fellow soldiers being almost religious about having to watch only Fox News, with many calling CNN either the "Communist or Clinton News Network". I guess this would be due to the perceived liberal slant other news organizations carry. Very (otherwise) bright individuals who feel this way about their news probably think Saddam and 9/11 are related if you watch enough Fox news and listen to enough Cheney speeches. Not once did I ever hear from a superior officer or anyone with a "captive audience" that the two were ever related. I dont know if they choose not to believe the stated facts that they are not related, or maybe it might make what they are being sent to do a bit easier to stomach. Either way, God bless them for their service.

Name: Ken Goldstein
Hometown: Boston, MA
Dr Alterman, What have we learned from the Larry Summers incident? If you're ever about to be fired from a post at a major university, say something "Politically Incorrect" to the press just before the hammer falls. That way you get to be a free speech martyr and it'll be easier to get another job afterwards no matter how bad (or corrupt) you were at your job. It is amazing watching the press assume he just woke up one morning and said "You know, people aren't talking about the differences between men and women, as an educator I should say something to spur discussion on the matter."
It's also not surprising they're not talking to the scientists at Harvard and elsewhere who study that very issue and say he's full of crap. Yes, there are differences, but they're not that big, and definitely not big enough to account for Harvard's poor record of hiring women mathematicians and scientists. This, of course was a problem he was supposed to fix and ended up making worse. The "So Called Liberal Media" is having too much fun bashing feminists and college academics in general to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Name: Bill
Hometown: NYC
Did I miss the part where Andy acknowledges that at the time of the invasion, more than half the population of the US opposed to doing it unilaterally? His biggest mistake was to ignore the many loud voices of opposition and reason that were all around him, and he seems intent on continuing to do so. We may be hearing conservatives admitting to mistakes, but I'll be very surprised if you ever hear one say that the liberals were right and might be worth listening to once in a while.

Name: Jim Ruel
Hometown: Hartford, CT
Mr. Alterman, I do not ascribe to most of your political views with regard to American foreign policy, and we'd probably disagree on many domestic policy issues as well. In fact, I'd probably best be described as a cross between Victor Davis Hanson and Peter Beinart, which I'm sure does not particularly impress you if one could be expected to decipher what I mean by that. Anyway, with the exception of your utterly weird insistence on referring to Sullivan as "Little Roy" (that is really creepy), I must tell you your site impresses me.

Your quips such as: "Why does William Buckley hate America?" are very funny, I love Major Bob, and though I always want to, I can't find the elitism in your site that I'd usually use to refute your arguments (in my head). And, of course, I enjoy the way you call out certain liberals like Laurie David for preaching about global warming while flying in private jets (I think you could be a little tougher on Huffington in that regard, no? She can take it.). I was also impressed with your retort of Beinart's post-2004 election screed, although I agree with him and not you. I support the war (so to speak, as I acknowledge I haven't sacrificed much more than some monetary donations to the troops, and merely read articles at my desk), but it is helpful to me to read the opposing view on a site that, unlike so many others, is clearly well thought out and which doesn't "hate America." Keep it up. I'll be reading.

Eric replies: Thanks bub, I think. Funny story: I was actually so nice to Laurie about the private jet thing that I asked her to come up with a decent response to it while we were having lunch with Arianna, figuring that she could be talked into giving them up. Well, she never did and so I had to use what I had. At one point during the lunch, however, my favorite Greek-philosopher-Picasso biographer-sex-goddess-jet-setter-blogging-mogul leaned over and said, “You don’t have any problem with people hitching rides on private jets that are already being flown somewhere, do you?”

I did not, the world being what it is. Double denoument: 1) Some rich guy in the restaurant paid for the lunch for the three of us and never even bothered to come by and say hello. That’s what being famous does for you, no matter how rich you are 2) I was having a great time, but had to leave early… to go to Burbank to be insulted by a not-yet-cancelled Dennis Miller. (And Laurie [and sadly, Larry], have not spoken to me since the article appeared…)


The power of the consensus narrative in journalism is all but impermeable to reason or evidence. The right understands this and the left does not. That’s why the right worries little about nuance or getting the details straight; it’s the story that matters. Once you’ve defined the story, journalists struggle to make the facts fit the narrative rather than vice-versa.

The consensus narrative with regard to Larry Summers’ forced resignation as the president of Harvard is that an honest, albeit blunt, reformer was hounded out of the university by a spoiled, leftist, politically-correct, and lazy faculty that could not handle the demands that they actually teach their classes or pay attention to real world concerns.  The narrative was originally framed during the Summers/Cornel West tiff in which Summers deliberately humiliated one of Harvard’s best known and most politically active faculty members on the basis of false rumors that he was skipping classes to campaign for Bill Bradley. (Summers also did not like the fact that West recorded a rap CD, but nobody with a brain would argue that a professor does not have the right to do what he wants in his free time.) Anyway, a long article in Vanity Fair by Sam Tanenhaus revealed (as we blogged here on the first real day of Altercation back in May 2002) that Summers was completely misinformed and insulted Cornel in public on the basis of his own ignorance. (He did so, moreover, as West was about to enter the hospital for an operation to remove a very serious case of pancreatic cancer.)  West missed no classes to campaign for Bradley or for virtually any other reason.

In any case, nobody cared about the truth and the phony story of West’s allegedly missing classes and that lie has been repeated, over and over, in the coverage of Summers’ forced resignation. Also missing from many, but not all of these stories is much discussion of the extremely expensive role that Summers’ cronyism cost Harvard in the nefarious case of Andrei Shleifer, Summers’ close buddy, who appears to have been involved in some extremely questionable and potentially worse, financail shennanigans and who last year agreed to pay $2 million and the university $26.5 million in an out-of-court settlement. Summers refused to discipline his friend, but now that he is no longer being protected, an investigation is being launched. See   
It’s not that there is no truth at all to the popular caricature of lazy and out-of-touch academics, it’s just that it’s no less true of journalists, of lawyers, and of presidents of the United States. And it appears to have had little to do with the reason that Summers was a such a specatacular failure at Harvard. And yet people who have no particular knowledge of the case—nothing to go on really, except their own ignorant prejudices—feel free to explain it to the rest of us as if they possess a God’s eye view. The New York Times op-ed page contained a particularly egregious example of this yesterday in one of those nutty Camille Paglia essays that one would have hoped might have died with Andrew Sullivan’s New Republic editorship. A few examples of her unsupported (and mostly unsupportable) allegations below:

Summers “stellar early career as an economics professor did not prepare him for dealing with an ingrown humanities faculty that has been sunk in political correctness for decades. As president, he had a duty to research the tribal creeds and customs of those he wished to convert. Foolishly thinking plain speech and common sense would suffice, he flunked Academic Anthropology 101…. In a widely reported incident four years ago, Mr. Summers's private conversation with Cornel West, one of Harvard's short list of distinguished scholars who have the title of "university professor" (because they teach across department lines), resulted in Dr. West angrily decamping to Princeton. Whatever critique of affirmative action Mr. Summers intended was lost in what became a soap opera of hurt feelings and facile accusations of racism. ..IT now remains to be seen whether Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences is capable of self-critique. Will its members acknowledge their own insularity and excesses, or will they continue down the path of smug self-congratulation and vanity? Harvard's reputation for disinterested scholarship has been severely gored by the shadowy manipulations of the self-serving cabal who forced Mr. Summers's premature resignation. That so few of the ostensibly aggrieved faculty members deigned to speak on the record to The Crimson, the student newspaper, illustrates the cagey hypocrisy that permeates fashionable campus leftism, which worships diversity in all things except diversity of thought.
"If Harvard cannot correct itself in this crisis, it will signal that academe cannot be trusted to reform itself from within. There is a rising tide of off-campus discontent with the monolithic orthodoxies of humanities departments. David Horowitz, a 1960's radical turned conservative, has researched the lopsided party registration of humanities professors (who tend to be Democrats like me) and proposed an "academic bill of rights" to guarantee fairness and political balance in the classroom. The conservative radio host Sean Hannity regularly broadcasts students' justifiable complaints about biased teachers and urges students to take recording devices to class to gather evidence.”

Yes you read that right. Sean Hannity and David Horwitz are trotted out as trustworthy, disinterested observers in search of higher truth. Words fail. The piece is

Little Roy: I’ll pay the parking tickets:

Speaking of the beginning of the end of TNR, Remember David Berkowitz, aka, “Son of Sam?”  No, really.  Back in the summer of 1977, he would go around killing young women and terrifying the population until he was finally found, I think, in New Rochelle, because of a bunch of unpaid parking tickets. When he was caught, he offered a plea bargain by offering to pay all the parking tickets if the serial killing-related charges were dropped. Petey and I were in high school at the time and we toyed with calling our resume-building humor magazine, “I’ll pay the parking tickets.” (Other competing titles: “So I Bit Him and “Grandson of Sam.”)

Anyway, I was reminded of the plea-bargain offer when I read Andy Sullivan’s self-justifying apology in Time this week. I read the piece pretty carefully, but nowhere could I find any mention of the fact that Sullivan accused everyone who understood then what he finally understands now, of being a traitor. Nowhere does he apologize for his lies about yours truly, Susan Sontag or others. (The offer still stands Andy: $10,000 to the AIDS charity of your choice if you can support your accusation that I said I would oppose military action in Afghanistan after 9/11.) His apology, if it can be believed, is based on his belief that he was just too damn idealistic. From his remodeled bathroom in P-Town, this joker takes credit for the invasion of Iraq, and now he wants us to feel sorry for him for getting it a tiny little bit wrong. Perhaps Andy might volunteer to take the place of an innocent prisoner at Abu Graib before he mouths off again about the next “liberation for which he plans to take credit. and are together on this one, and Andy’s amusingly self-pitying piece is .

To be fair, while I am picking on other publications, I should note for the record that published one of the worst pieces I have ever read in the magazine this week. Daniel Lazare’s “review” of my friend Todd Gitlin’s new book will offer Nation-haters ammunition for years to come. The review is simultaneously smarmy, dishonest, Stalinist, and sectarian in a fashion that dishonors everyone involved with it.

Lazare all but ignores the book itself, which is about topics ranging from post-modernist discourse to life and work of people like C. Wright Mills and like David Riesman, and focuses instead on an essay Gitlin published in Mother Jones that does not appear in the book at all. The reviewer apparently does not approve of patriotism, even in the wake of 9/11, believes that this gives him the right to paint Todd, who spoke at numerous antiwar rallies and called the invasion of Iraq in the very book that Lazare was pretending to review, an example of “runaway bullies, indifferent to principle, playing fast and loose with the truth,” as a hypocritical war supporter. (His editor, Adam Shatz did the same thing to Paul Berman on Vietnam years ago, again, apparently on the basis of mind-reading, rather than evidence.)  Shatz and Lazarre have together combined to attack not only Gitlin but also Berman, Michael Walzer, David Remnick, Mike Tomasky, and anyone associated with Dissent Magazine, mimicking an obsession evinced in the past by Alex Cockburn, who quite personally attacked the magazine’s founder, the late great Irving Howe, while he was still being mourned by those who loved him.

The last time I was forced to take note of Shatz, it was because his author, Mike Davis referred to the honest, honorable, liberal anti-Communists Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Daniel Bell as “hungry sharks” and “hellhounds of the Cold War” because they, not the Nation, were right about Stalin. (That stupid piece is .) And the last time I was forced to take note of Lazare’s review there was when he took great umbrage at an author terming Stalin’s Soviet Union to be a “bloodthirsty regime.” From what I can judge, the political spectrum of acceptable thought in these review pages stretches all the way from Noam Chomsky to Alexander Cockburn. To be attacked in its pages is a badge of honor. Congratulations Todd. (The piece is, happily, not online, but you can read about the book . (Note: People should know that the editor in chief and publisher of The Nation is/are not responsible for what appears in the back of the book. They/She retain only the power to hire and fire…)

Famous Future Obituaries: “It will be: Oscar winner George Clooney, ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ 1997, Batman, died today in a freak accident ..."  “Eric Alterman, who legendarily, ‘pulls more ass than George Clooney on a winning streak,’ according to the famously accurate website, died today on a boat in the Mediterranean…”


Reviews Jews Can Use….

I had the positively surreal experience the other day of being told, albeit in a friendly, helpful way, by the outgoing editor of Marty Peretz’s New Republic that this blog was, are you ready, “too Jewish.”  Read that again to make sure you got it right. Anyway, just to show that I can’t be intimidated by surrealism, or whatever, I knowingly went to the Hammerstein (yep) Ballroom last night to see Hasidic reggae star, Matisyahu, perform the first of two sold-out shows. Talk about surreal… The guy is scary-talented, and sings with passion and devotion that the rest of us can only envy. Musically his band is first rate, and the entire experience would work just fine even without the Abramoffesque black hat. But seriously, Matisyahu is weird enough, rapping about the coming of the Messiah and the division of Jerusalem, et all, but what makes the entire experience otherwordly is seeing young (I’m assuming Jewish) hipsters singing and swaying as if this were a Dead concert. I lack the words or at least the ambition to describe it accurately, but you can check it our yourself on his cd, And while I am out-Heebing TNR, I’d like to mention that the CD from the show have made an album called “Unorthodox.” They remain ‘more fun than circumcision…’

Correspondence Corner

Major Bob Bateman
The Pentagon

I will continue my account of "The Road Back Home" in a future installment. For now, some current comments press.
Command Master Chief Welton, aboard the USS Roosevelt, suggests that "John in VT" is way off base.  From my seat, the Master Chief is both right, and wrong.
Chief, you and I know that ours is a somewhat reclusive, socially, profession. I say this with an awareness of the totality of our society, and hope that you see my point. Our men (I cannot speak inclusively in any way for our women, frankly, because I know few and have served with fewer, being an infantryman myself) tend towards the self-referential and reinforcing in their selection of sources.  This is more acute among Army enlisted than among officers, and you being Navy, I leave it to you to refute or affirm that the same dynamic exists in the Sea Services.

But the point that "John in Vermont" made scares the piss outta me too, Master Chief, and I do not know what to do about it. How, at this point, do we educate our men as to the facts about why we went in? I mean, I have a personal reason for supporting the war, and my own year-long deployment inside Iraq, but how do you and I convey to the troops that Saddam was not really in cahoots with Al Queda? It is sort of important, Master Chief, because this is going to be a 20-year war, and while the rest of the country might not yet acknowledge that anymore than did the folks in 1955, you and I know better. That means that we cannot screw around with the motivation of our troops for short-term (three or five year, or even 10-year) goals.  We have to make sure they know the bottom line, and are fighting for that, so that they are not disillusioned at some point in the future. That potential conflict could wreak the Army.

Your service, of course, only has a few thousand in direct combat, and so I understand how there might be less of a sense of urgency on this point. But there are more than 130,000 Army troops taking fire in one way or another either in Afghanistan or Iraq, (as well as several thousand Marines). That our troops know the facts, and know that Hussein was not a part of 9-11 is important because the cognitive dissonance which will occur over the long term if they do not understand this, while the rest of the country does. America has a long history of retreating into its shell, and we cannot afford that this time. Our enlistment rates in the Army are already showing dangerous signs, and we are only a few years in to this multi-decade fight. (Yes, I know, the Navy has no enlistment problem, but then you aren't losing men on a daily basis either right now. The two facts are probably related.)

How do we explain to them, at this late date, that in fact whatshisname Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, explicitly rejected an offer of allegiance and cooperation from Hussein in 1998, and that this rejection was the result of their ballyhooed meeting of liaisons in that year? It is a point which is troubling to me, professionally. I can work with the men around me, but in your professional opinion, given the results of that survey (which indicate that the vast majority of our enlisted believe that me and mine are fighting in Iraq because Hussein was responsible in some way for 9/11), do you think that we should press for the CNO and CSA to issue a public statement about the facts for our men? I am about half-way to advocating that point myself.


In another venue a group of professionals in my field have been discussing the fine points of logistics, which constitutes the true measure of support for a war. A close friend of mine, a Military Police Officer (and a twisted one at that, which is why he's my friend) provided this insight on supply at the "pointy end of the spear." Although somewhat dated, it comes from the last Gulf War, when he and I wore a younger man's clothes, I offer it here to Altercation as an insight to the life of a soldier. Some things are immutable.

Some translations: "MP" is "Military Police". "PFC" is "Private, First Class", a very junior enlisted Soldier. An M-60 is a machinegun. "E8" is "Enlisted Grade 8" in other words a very senior sergeant. "Specialist" is also a very junior enlisted grade, with an average time of service of about two or three years. A “Corps” is a unit of about 75-100,000 men. As a means of identification, it is utterly useless unless you wear three stars on your collar. And now, the story:

From LTC RM (Reference Desert Storm, 1991):

“Every good platoon has a scrounger. Mine was Specialist Hutchins, "Hutch" to his friends and victims.  Hutch had a terrible stutter, unless he was discussing his recent larcenies at the cost of the greater DoD supply system or about women--in both cases, he spoke perfectly and clearly. I often find myself firmly convinced that Hutch became an MP since he figured that was the best way to work the system. Regardless, he could get just about anything we needed.

As some of you know by personal experience, the terrain on the Iraqi/Saudi border, especially in the region around Rafha, is hell on tires. Our HMMWV's, with tires designed to run along Autobahns, were being used up at a rate that no logistics specialist whose area of expertise was tires would believe. My vehicle had the worse tires in the platoon--they were literally bald. The battalion motor officer would shrug and say "I'd be careful on those," or some other nugget of wisdom when he told me and my Motor Sergeant that there weren't any tires around.

So, I sent Hutch on a quest. "Hutch, I need tires. At least two, but four would be great." His response, in the tradition of the American enlisted man since 1775 was, "Ok sir, I can get them but don't ask too many questions." The only limit I placed was he had to legally get them (which resulted in a distinct slouch in Hutch's countenance).

Off he goes. For two days. Literally, he vanishes with a PFC, one of my vehicles, an M-60 and his basic load of ammo. Just about the point when we were going to put his picture on our shelf-stable milk cartons, he reappears. "Sir, I couldn't get two."  I respond, "Ok, what did you get?" (expecting 'one' or 'none' as likely answers).

"Sir, I got 28."  I was stunned. I was amazed. I was intently suspicious. "Who'd you steal them from Hutch?"  He, of course, in the manner of privates and small children everywhere, looked both hurt and trapped at the same time. "Nobody sir. Got 'em from the Air Force."  He then goes into a long tale of visiting every Army unit he could find, until he ended up at the Riyadh International Airport (I would note that this was a good 300 miles from his unit at this point), and a crusty Air Force E8 supply NCO. After describing his sad tale to the USAF NCO, who must have felt sorry for poor stuttering Hutch (who could turn this skill on and off when needed for the Greater Good), told him "Well, son, I can't let you have two. But I can let you have a pallet of them if you sign for it."  And sign Hutch did.  "Specialist Hutchins. Unit: XVIII Airborne Corps."

And my platoon now owned 28 unaccounted for HMMWV tires. After replacing 10 or so on our own vehicles, we gave another 10 to the company for the unit's use.

The other eight transmogrified into an interesting mix of supply items that just never seemed to make it to Platoon level, such as MRE comfort packs, missing parts and supply items and other needed goodies.

And you may ask what happened to Hutch. After I got him an ARCOM for his service in the war (the phrase "inventive and exceptionally meritorious behavior" comes to mind), he went on to better and bigger things. As an MP, he went to Ranger School, came back to Bragg and went to the 82d MP Company. Made enough jumps and passed the Jumpmaster course to get his Master's wings. He sent me an e-mail a couple of years ago from the MP School at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, where he is teaching recruits how to be good Military Policemen.

Just a short tale that came to mind whenever I hear about the Army supply system.  I am sure a lieutenant in Washington's army had a corporal who could get just about anything despite the supply system.


I have been selected for an interesting job in the Pentagon.

This past weekend my oldest daughter, at her request, came to DC to spend her birthday weekend with her girlfriends (also HS freshmen) at "Dad's House."   I was flattered, though I hold no illusions that "Dad" is cool. Only his choice of housing is qualified for that. Nonetheless, it was one of the best weekends in my life. I learned more about my teen-age daughter, from spending 48 hours with her and her girlfriends Cat and Alex, than I had in the preceding three years as a divorced and geographically separated father.

From Cat I learned that my daughter is a social butterfly.  Alex’s demeanor assured me that, at least when the three of them are together, my daughter won't end up like her father when he was a teenager.  Both girls do great credit upon their parents. This, although it may seem mundane to Altercation readers, was actually a major part of my own homecoming and re-integration. Life, with daughters, matters. More on this next time.

| 11:55 AM ET |

Go ahead, try and find any serious coverage of the National Books Critics’ Circle Award in today’s Oscar-besotted Times. In a better world, it goes without saying, well, don’t get me started.

Anyway, I went to the awards ceremony on Friday evening, and was rewarded with two big wins: Doctorow won for fiction, no surprise there. It’s not every year critics get to judge a novel that combines Tolstoy with Faulker, but still, it was a pleasure to be able to witness it. The genuine surprise for me was the perspicacity of the judges’ in choosing Kai Bird's and Martin J. Sherwin's "American Prometheus," a work we featured here in a long review by the redoubtable Mr. Rauchway. Even if you think him a commie, and I sometimes do, you could not find a nicer guy than Kai, who edited my very first article ever, in The Nation in March 1983. And Marty Sherwin began this book more than 25 years ago!

It’s not flashily written, but it is remarkably sensitive and thoughtful and oy, vey, the research. What’s more, they still really like one another, which believe me, is quite unusual, given the circumstances. It was a rare and beautiful thing to see virtue triumph in person. is an article about it.

And here are Edgar’s remarks, minus the personal thank yous to editors.., which we have exclusively.  (MUST CREDIT, etc…)

“I've wondered for many years if literary awards are good for literature. But I find that when I'm offered an award I tend to accept it. I want to point out that my colleagues here in this room are without exception the authors of bold and resourceful works, and in the storm of literature we and our fellow novelists raise we are each of us lifted aloft and set down in ever new and uncharted territory.

"That has to be good for everyone. Because the independent witness of book writers provides the deepest and most profound and unmediated form of communication in our society. The book that is written in silence and read in silence goes from heart to heart and soul to soul as nothing else can."

Bonus Amazing Globalization Detail: At the dinner following the ceremony, Marty Sherwin received a congratulatory call from the lawyer, Marty Garbus… in China!  Bonus Altercation personal detail. I once gave Garbus a nasty review in The Times. He has always shown incredible grace and good manners when meeting me since. Ditto, by the way, Ken Auletta, to whom I gave as nasty a review as anyone could get once, in the L.A. Times. We all could learn a lot from these men, myself included. (I still hate Gary Hart, etc..)

But enough about you: In case you were getting impatient about when the go*!!*ed  Academic reviews for were going to start trickling in, our long national nightmare… etc. Burton I. Kaufman, writing in American Historical Review finds it, at points: “compelling… interesting… provocative… persuasive…on the mark,” and adds, “Alterman does a fine job in pointing out the massive White House deception.”

Sorry Mr. Cheney; There’s no huntin’ for you here…

This is too funny: Remember to vote only once and by number, and that your comments are also being evaluated for snark factor as they contend for the Charles P. Pierce Award for Excellence in Klein Snark. Mr. Pierce will be selecting the winner of this award from entries made in the comments section, so please defend your choice with craft and passion. The winner of this coveted crown will likewise be awarded a DVD copy of the darkly funny and late lamented show Action.

More Bruce news,

Bush Lawless Act of the Day: “Bush Move to Cancel Funds Led To Illegal Steps, Official Asserts,”

(For those who don’t subscribe to the WSJ) “A White House proposal to cancel funding approved by Congress led federal agencies to illegally withhold more than $471 million for a dozen programs last year, according to Comptroller General David Walker.Mr. Walker's findings come as President Bush has proposed similar "cancellations" of about $1.5 billion from prior appropriations, generating savings to offset new spending Mr. Bush wants in fiscal 2007, beginning Oct. 1.”

The war on Science

And speaking of Bush wars against the rest of us, um, guys, . And Didn’t I try to tell you this ?

says: AT&T/Bell South Merger Is Bad for Consumers

In response to the proposed $67 billion purchase of Bell South by AT&T, Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott issued the following statement:

“AT&T's move to acquire Bell South, if approved, would be a major blow to the endangered American ideal of competition and choice in the marketplace. Coming on the heels of AT&T’s merger with SBC and Verizon’s acquisition of MCI, this new marriage is terrible news for consumers.
“Concentrated ownership of the nation’s digital networks eliminates any real chance of vigorous competition or innovation and lower prices for consumers. At best, the new network giants in telecommunications will square off against the cable behemoths - a cozy cartel of two companies in each market divvying up the profits from telephone, broadband and video services.
“The merger, if permitted, would be an ironic and disastrous twist in the history of federal telecom policymaking. In 1984 and 1996, Congress broke up the telecommunications monopolies to enhance competition and innovation. In exchange, the industry received dramatic loosening of consumer protections in rates and quality of service.
“Now the telecom monopoly is being reconstituted, but the consumer protections we swapped for competition have not returned with the network giants. This proposed merger represents a giant leap backward -- trading a regulated monopoly in telephone service for an unregulated duopoly in telephone, broadband, and video.
“At a moment marked by a precipitous American decline in the ranks of the world’s broadband leaders, the FTC, the FCC, and Congress should act swiftly to correct our problems - not exacerbate them. This merger must be stopped.”


An article by Jesse Drucker in the Wall Street Journal last month turned me on to a few, pretty obscure records that originated with the great Muscle Schoals studio, outside of Guess Where, Alabama. And I managed to track down a few of them, which turned out to be a great idea.  This Eddie Hinton fellow has a record on Zane Productions called “Beautiful Dream, Sessions Vol. 3. Drucker explains that that Hinton, of whom I had never heard previously, “was one of the many faceless musicians and songwriters behind scores of famous soul recordings: That's his guitar on the Staple Singers' "I'll Take you There"; Dusty Springfield recorded his song "Breakfast in Bed"; and Aretha Franklin recorded his composition "Every Natural Thing." A former roommate of Duane Allman -- himself a frequent guitar contributor to the Muscle Shoals rhythm section -- Mr. Hinton had an enthusiastic vocal style that is at times pure blue-eyed Otis Redding. The performances are part Southern rock, part Southern soul.” This album is really terrific, particularly for a white guy. More 87
So too, is a live record by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham on Proper Records called “Moments From This Theatre.” Once again I learned from Mr. Drucker that Mr. Penn turns out to be the author of some of the greatest songs of all time including "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," by Aretha Franklin and "Cry Like a Baby," by the Box Tops. Many were co-authored by Spooner Oldham, who also played keyboards on Ms. Franklin's biggest hits for Atlantic. This CD, taken from a series of 1998 U.K. concerts and now officially released for the first time in this country, Drucker wrote, “is a nearly perfect album. These spare recordings largely sung by Mr. Penn, and backed only by his guitar and Mr. Oldham's Wurlitzer, should remind listeners that some of the best Southern soul, especially in Muscle Shoals, was a true marriage of R&B and country. More Penn has also produced a new soul album backed by the Muscle Shoals musicians, Bobby Purify's fine "Better to Have It." It’s fine stuff too, but I’d start with “Moments.”  And while we’re at Muscle Schoals, we’d be fools to take our leave without noting the re-release of four new cds by the wicked, wicked Mr.  Wilson Pickett on Collectables Records. These include the totally excellent "The Wicked Pickett" and "The Sound of Wilson Pickett" both recorded there, with the help of Mr. Penn and the genius Jerry Wexler, released on Atlantic beginning in 1962. If ever there were a “real thing,” this would be it. Looky

Quote of the Day: Wilson Pickett, flying to Muscle Shoals studio, having left the South to become a star in the city and looks down from the plane, and sees “black folks pickin’ cotton,” and says, “S**t, turn this mothe**uckin’ plane around—ain’t no way I’m goin’ back there.”  (Plane does not, in fact, turn around.)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Don Welten
Hometown: Command Master Chief USS Roosevelt (DDG-80)
For John in VT: We in the military are not a "captive audience" and are not "primarily dependent upon this administration for our news and information." We get satellite TV (including FOX News - Thank God ), newspapers, and radio. Most of us even know how to vote and read. Some of the guys and gals in Iraq and Afghanistan even had the opportunity to see the Super Bowl live - for crying out loud. Your opinion is your opinion — no problem — but you obviously know nothing about today’s military. We are not wind up toys kept in the dark— waiting for "the administration" to tell us how to think. I have to go now — got a meeting with the "leadership," it's our turn to be "shamelessly lied to."

Name: Rakesh
Hometown: Charleston, W.Va.
I followed your link to FAIR regarding Kemal Hussein (Saddam's son-in-law). This material was extensively reported contemporaneously in the foreign press and is part of a book by Dilip Hiro. During the build up to Iraq war, I wrote to both my senators as well as to Mrs. Clinton and the white House to bring Kemal Hussein's testimony (who was debriefed by the CIA). There was no interest by anyone. Mr. Pillar is correct—Iraqi war was not influenced by intelligence good or bad, it was irrelevant.

| 11:23 AM ET |

I’ve got a new Nation column on liberals and religion and William Donohue’s anal sex fixation and please don’t forget the Think Again column on Port insecurity.

And Boehlert asks:  “Since when is a White House hopeful spending weeks at a time in the hospital under a considered to be a non-story?”

And there’s from Tom’s Dispatch:

No one has paid the slightest attention to a strange phenomenon of the last three years:  Unlike the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or the Gulf War of 1991, our present conflict in Iraq has no name.  Pollsters, for instance, speak of "the situation in Iraq," but never the Iraq War (capital I, capital W) and the press follows suit.  Not naming something is sometimes as much an act as naming it, especially when it comes to an administration like our present one that has put so much effort into naming things (often in Orwellian fashion).  The lack of a name for our war in Iraq, in fact, represents a small triumph of the Bush administration which wanted the only "war" in town to be their Global War on Terror (or GWOT) -- of which Iraq was to be but a "theater," or a "front," or a single "battlefield."  Think of us, in other words, as fighting a war without a name and a name without a war.

From the Benton Foundation:

[SOURCE: Broadcasting&Cable, AUTHOR: Robert Corn-Revere]
[Commentary] The FCC's “Further Report” on cable à la carte pricing should be seen for what it is: a piece of advocacy, not reasoned policymaking.  This complete reversal of the FCC's position within one year of the agency's original report to Congress is unprecedented. It ignores prior studies of the issue, including those by the Government Accountability Office, and it seriously misstates the record the FCC has previously assembled. The report's lack of
substance likely doesn't matter, since it may already have served its purpose. Announcing the redo helped FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pressure major operators into creating family-programming tiers. The report also led the usual array of pro-regulation advocates to crow about the reversal and to demand a legislative response.  Serious policymakers should demand more: a real study instead of a stratagem.

And read from FAIR:

Missing From ABC's WMD "Scoop"Star defector Hussein Kamel said weapons were destroyed


The Cary Grant Box Set

I don’t want to get into any arguments about who was the greatest actor of all time.  I’ll just put my money on Mr. Grant as this blogger’s favorite.  This box set contains my third-favorite film of all time, and the best ever about journalism, “His Girl Friday.” “Holliday” and “The Awful Truth” are also awfully close to as good as it gets.  It does not contain my second FFOAT, “The Philadelphia Story,” (if we ignore its horrid politics) because that was in the recent screwball comedy release.  (“Casablanca,” if you’re wondering.)  That one had “Bringing Up Baby,” too I think.  But “Only Angels Have Wings” and “Talk of the Town” are perfectly decent movies too, and benefit considerably from the technical improvements.  “Holliday does not seem to be available as a single DVD, so, there you are.  Tough luck, I guess.  Anyway, there’s more .

John Hammond Jr. at Makor

I love seeing shows at Makor.  The sightlines and sound are great.  The (kosher) food is good and much better and cheaper than at most clubs.  And the waitresses are beautiful.  Seeing John Hammond Jr. is weird though.  For one, he looks so much like his famous father, it’s spooky, and he seems to have inherited some of his mannerisms, spookier still.  Second, he genuinely seems to think he’s black.  Or else he thinks there is no contradiction whatever in singing the blues as if he were black.  And, to be honest, I guess it’s a little racist of me to think it might be.  But still, we all know that some styles just strike one as “black” and Hammond’s southern blues style is as if out of Clarksdale.  He’s awfully good as a guitarist and harpist and the integrity of his interpretations is impressive.  He’s also a quite good interpreter of Tom Waits’ work.  I don’t mean to nitpick, but you know, this is a blog.  Check him out.  And too…

Slacker Friday:

Name: Neil Kraus
Hometown: St. Paul, MN
Thanks for opening a discussion about labor and liberalism.  One of the central problems that have contributed to the weakness of U.S. labor is race.  And casual examination of many unions today, particularly those in construction-related trades, reveals the lack of African Americans and Hispanics among their ranks.  With the historical development of racial exclusion in many unions, the groundwork was laid for the current dynamic in which so many white union members vote Republican and think nothing of it.  Richard Iton's Solidarity Blues (2000) is an excellent account of how race has historically divided unions and ultimately weakened liberalism as a result.  Discussions about how to strengthen labor in the U.S. today require looking unromantically at the history of unions as well as thoughtfully considering the political attitudes of many of today's union rank and file.

Name: Peter Eisenstadt
Hometown: Rochester, NY
Eric Rauchway's critique of Michael Kazin's biography of William Jennings Byran is cogent and well-argued.  I have read somewhere where Kazin lauds Bryan as one of the founders of the modern democratic party.  I don't think Bryan fits the bill.  If one must nominate someone for that position, I would vote for Al Smith, who was the first significant modern Democrat who appealed primarily to an urban constituency that included blacks.  Smith might well have been the first prominent democratic politician ever for whom racist denigrations of African Americans was not central to his political credo. Another thing I have heard Kazin say about his book (which, I should probably make clear, I haven't read yet) as is that he sees Bryan as a representative of the Social Gospel.  The term Social Gospel is often used loosely, to encompass any religiously oriented Protestant who cared about social problems, like Salvation Army folks.  But that is to misuse the term-the most significant exponents of the Social Gospel, like Walter Rauschenbusch, were theological liberals who wouldn't have had anything to do with Bryan's fundamentalism.  The best response to the "religious right" is not holding up Bryan as a pious Democrat but emphasizing the complexity of America's religious heritage.  Even at his best; his sometime defense of the "little man" against corporate capitalism, and his opposition to the campaign to drag the US in the World War, Bryan was muddled, and his positions were more coherently argued by others.  In short, I don't think there's much in Bryan's legacy the modern Democratic party can use.

Name: Ellen Marie Lincourt
Hometown: Worcester, MA
Re: the Bank Panic of 1837 Michael Maughan indicated in his post on the US debt that the Great Panic of 1837 was the result of the zeroing out of the US debt in 1835. That was only one very minor part of the causes of the Panic.  A greater part of responsibility lies with Andrew Jackson and the revocation of the charter of the Second Bank of the US. Jackson, while a very popular president, was woefully ignorant of actual fiscal management. Under Nathaniel Biddle, the Second Bank of the US had a policy of trying to force other banks to keep sufficient assets on hand to back up their bank notes.  Jackson's revocation of the charter, resulted in many banks (wildcats) producing huge numbers of bank notes far in excess of assets, which were in turn used to speculate and to purchase land in the western part of the US. Because so many these bank notes were virtually worthless, Jackson put forth the Specie Circular, requiring that US lands be purchased ONLY with specie - gold and silver coin. Much like the Great Depression, people tried to get the gold and silver coin (Note the US did not produce paper currency until the Civil War period) by redeeming the bank notes. In reality, even what I have written is a gross simplification of the causes of the Panic of 1937. However, trying to say the cause was paying off our debt, is simply propaganda. It is an attempt to pretend that the US debt is good. Debt without a corresponding build up of either infrastructure or expansion of the common good has repeatedly been shown to be a disaster to governments.

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle
Dr. E.,
Your Catholic friend knows this, I'm sure, and you probably do too, but it bears repeating.  All this sugary angel-ology goes directly against how the Bible depicts them.  In the Bible, every time an angel shows up, people freak out with fear, and the first bit of dialogue always goes something like, "Don't be afraid! Please! I'm not going to kill you!" (That's a paraphrase.) I'm with your friend: those critters probably don't embarrass as easily as Ms. Noonan frets they might.

Name: John
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Dr. Alterman,
I'm a middle-of-the-roader, progressive Independent (parents are Conservatives, me...not so much), and I just wanted to tell you that I thoroughly enjoy your page and the links you provide.  Both myself and my girlfriend continually scour the pages of papers and Web sites, and still, there have been countless stories that we never would have seen were it not for your great research.  I always pass them along to spread the information (which I suppose is really the main point of all this right?)  Despite coming from a Right-leaning family, I don't see your opinions as being overly Liberal.  I think they are always very objective and fair.  Thanx for the great work, keep it up.  Also, I love the music/book reviews. 

One thing that astounds me is how most people who supported the war, still do despite all the evidence of "disingenuous" motives, faulty intelligence, and the horrible mess that it has become.  I admit that I fell for the case that was made, and supported the idea (although I was definitely on the fence).  I admit now that I was wrong.  Had I known about the skepticism in the intelligence community (which this administration conveniently kept from the public), I don't think I would have supported the war.  What really amazes me is that so few Pro-war people that I know, will now concede that there were no WMD, no exit strategy, no plan for post-invasion, no concern about the insurgency etc., and yet they still can't admit they were wrong.  I have always believed one of the biggest signs of character is being able to admit you've made a mistake.  Whether misled by the gov't, or blinded by post 9-11 jingoism, this war was a mistake.  It's time that it's supporters started owning up to that fact.  Gotta run, Homeland Security is probably at my door regarding this e-mail.

P.S.  My views get further Left with every moment of this tyrannical regime.

Name: Bobby Joe Gore, Jr.
Hometown: Nashville, TN
You may not think the AFL is important but I have news for you and all of you New York snobs. The AFL is very important to all of the football players who are trying to eke out a living and maybe achieve their dream of someday playing for an NFL team.  I know they are not the Pittsburgh Steelers but Arena Football League teams such as the Grand Rapids Rampage and the Nashville Kats (along with all the others) deserve your support and not your elitist scorn.

Name:  Josh silver

Dear Eric,
There are several major media policies moving on Capitol Hill and at the FCC while media reform continues to draw more attention from activists, strategists and funders - all of them beginning to understand that the future of all television, radio, telephone and Internet service --- what channels we will see, who gets distribution rights, how affordable it is, and what quality of service --- is going to be decided during the next two or three years.

The 2006 legislative calendar is accelerated by the approach of the November election. Politicians are wary of voting on anything controversial in the summer or fall, so highly sought-after bills have enormous pressure to move now. The Senate Commerce Committee has set a blistering schedule of hearings on a wide range of communications law. Our policy director Ben Scott is testifying today in front the Senate Commerce Committee which is rewriting the Telecom Act. The House Commerce Committee has also been in negotiations for weeks over the substance a “telecom reform” bill.

Network neutrality, as I described in my last update, is one of the least understood and most important issues on the table today. We have been working very closely with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to draft a good net neutrality bill that is expected to drop in the Senate today.

Good net neutrality law would ensure that the Internet is open and free; that we can access any website or service we want; and that the owners of the network do not have the right to gate-keep our Internet experience. In February, we hosted a press conference with several dozen bloggers. Panelists included Professor Larry Lessig (the newest member of our board of directors) and Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott. You can download audio at .

During the past month, we built , and ran online ads in the leading blogs.  Within two weeks of our campaign launch, both USA Today and the New York Times editorialized in favor of our position and using our language. We have partnered with Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America to commission public polling on the issue.

This week, we partnered with Electronic Frontier Foundation, MoveOn and a coalition of right and left wing groups to oppose AOL’s proposed “GoodMail” email tax scheme. The campaign was picked up in . The campaign is .

The phone companies - facing crushing competition from Internet phone providers - are moving aggressively to offer high-tech cable TV services and high-speed internet. But they don’t want to guarantee service to every household, just affluent (and profitable) neighborhoods. We’re working to make sure new technology is offered to everyone; that local communities have control over their public rights-of-way, and that local communities are provided with well-funded public access television channels.

A good, pro-community internet bill was introduced in Pennsylvania that would nullify that state’s current prohibition of municipal/community internet. This month we also turned back an attack on community internet in Indiana.

In February, we hosted a Community Internet forum for opinion leaders at the . 75 policymakers, Congressional staffers and journalists attended. The panel included a presentation by Scottsburg, Indiana Mayor Bill Graham (R), who deployed broadband in his county in order to keep businesses in town, save jobs and encourage business relocation to Scottsburg.

We also saw a positive development in broadcast spectrum, as we fight to open the public airwaves to service wireless internet networks - particularly in rural and low-income urban areas. We have recently secured the support of a bipartisan group of Senators headed by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) -a major breakthrough after over a year of work.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is starting to walk a straighter line, as the new president and board members that CPB will no longer watchdog PBS and NPR for perceived “liberal bias” without consulting with them first.  This move was the result of massive public pressure from Free Press and our allies. The appropriations process is right around the corner in Washington, and we expect a fight: the new White House budget recommendations to dramatically slash the pubcasting budget.

Finally, we launched a major push this month against radio “payola” by the biggest record labels. The FCC and New York Attorney General’s office are now investigating reported payola deals at large recording labels. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has also subpoenaed the records of nine of the nation's biggest radio station chains.  We launched a major petition, and have that are under investigation.

In the coming months we may see a major battle over media ownership rules reemerge, although the GOP-controlled FCC, wary of the DeLay scandal and the Iraq quagmire, may well wait until after the November elections for fear of public backlash.

March 2, 2006 | 12:56 PM ET |

Labor: Shrink to Win
Also, the Altercation Book Club

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column on the Dubai mishigas and the coverage of Homeland Security.

Shrink to Win?  I have not had much to say about the split in the AFL, not because I don’t think it important, I do, but because it’s so complicated and demands more expertise in its intricacies than I presently have time to amass.  Andy Stern gave a talk in my apartment last year and made what struck me as a quite compelling case for why the current structure had no hope of reviving the labor movement—which in turn means we have not hope of reviving a muscular liberalism, but I’ve not really heard the other side of the story.

Still, I was reading Nelson Lichtenstein’s history of the movement for my history of liberalism and I came across these statistics which, in my mind, greatly strengthen Stern’s argument for the need for a massive consolidation of the American unions in order to allow them to organize in a rational, industry-wide fashion:

The firm-centered system of U.S. bargaining generated a positively baroque industrial-relations regime. By the 1980s when labor claimed only about 16 percent of the wage and salary workers as members, there were nevertheless 175,000 collective-bargaining agreements in force.  American workers were represented by 70,000 local unions, roughly 275 state and regional organizations, and 174 national unions, of which only 108 were affiliated with the AFL-CIO. By way of contrast West Germany, with a far higher union density and more centralized set of bargaining structures had only 19 unions, 17 of which were members of the powerful union federation, Deutsche Gewerkshaftbund (DGB).The U.S. had sixty thousand full-time union officers in 1960, compared to just four thousand in Great Britain. Not unexpectedly, these top-heavy, well-paid bureaucracies proved highly resistant to rotation in office, quite as much as in the UAW, whose leadership advertised its adherence to democratic procedure in an extravagant fashion, as in the Teamsters or the building traders, where little pretense was made of such democratic norms. Indeed, the outright corruption of unions like the Teamsters, the National Maritime Union, the Laborers, East Coast Longshoremen, and Confectionary Workers was a product of the near irresistible temptations faced by an entrenched stratum of union officials when given the opportunity to administer health, welfare, and pension funds that mounted into the billions.((from Nelson Lichtenstein, State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002) 142-144)

Quote of the Day:  “Class conflict is essential if freedom is to be preserved, because it is the only barrier against class domination." — Arthur Schlesinger Jr, The Vital Center, 1948

A moment on the death of .

Also, Tomasky would like us to know that he has written a column today looking for a few honest conservatives, .

Altercation Book Club

Michael Kazin, . New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. xxii+376 pp., illustrations, notes, and index. USD 30.00, cloth. 

Reviewed by Eric Rauchway.

If you want to read everything worth knowing about William Jennings Bryan, Michael Kazin has set it down in a lively style that moves briskly through the Great Commoner's five-act life, each episode of which contains a different epic defeat -- three times beaten for the presidency, one time shackled as a pacifist Secretary of State to an administration bound for war, and finally humiliated at the hands of Clarence Darrow and H. L. Mencken in the court of public opinion. Among the minor successes he scored we can count the sale of Florida swampland, which he shilled on the same bill as a "shimmy dancer", and the Democratic Party's adoption of Jim Crow, which he cheered on behalf of the "advanced race". But Kazin hasn't much interest in counting Bryan's wins or losses: he wants us to hear the voice of a populist Protestant preaching against the entrenched rich, because "Bryan's sincerity, warmth and passion for a better world won the hearts of people who cared for no other public figure". (306) That Bryan did not also win office doesn't detain Kazin: he wants rather to draw our attention to the phenomenon of a Christian left, irrespective of its success.

1. About a boy orator

I first heard of Bryan when I was maybe six, and my mother played a record of "Blue Water Line," a folk song urging the cooperative takeover of a failing railroad:

If you can't afford a quarter then you ought to give a dimeIf everybody gave then we could save the Blue Water LineJust twenty thousand quarters and forty thousand dimesAnd we'll ride again to glory on that old Blue Water LineWe'll have William Jennings Bryan stokin' coal on number nineSo dig inside your pockets for the old Blue Water Line

Which about sums the man up: there he is, energetically stoking the fires for a doomed effort to rally the power of ordinary people, whose collective might ought to be enough to thwart the business interests -- but somehow, it never is.

The details corroborate this caricature. Born and brought up in Illinois, Bryan there married wisely a woman who "always cared far less about her husband's many causes than about whether he could win." (291-2) In this, Mary was bound for disappointment, like all Bryan partisans, but she kept an eye on worldly matters. They moved to Nebraska for the opportunities Bryan saw in the new state.

Setting aside his own commitment to prohibition, he had his campaign buy booze for the largely immigrant, Catholic, wet constituencies of the Nebraska Democratic Party, and won election twice as a Congressman, in 1890 and 1892. He declined to run again in 1894 so he could seek the Senate seat, which he did not get. He never won a general election again, but his best years lay ahead of him.

When Bryan entered national politics, both parties were working to reshape the electorate. Democrats in Southern states were writing laws to take the vote away from black citizens, while Republicans in Congress were working to admit as states those Western territories with reliable Republican majorities. In 1889-90, Republicans backed the admission of six new states, who signally failed to show gratitude. In the grips of a great depression, those Western states full of farmers and debtors were looking mutinous.

Here Bryan came in -- just barely old enough to run for President in 1896, he went as a delegate to the Democratic convention in Chicago. He had been to Chicago before, but saw little good in it; as Kazin notes, he learned nothing from its labor politics, which "could have taught the pious young man from downstate that big-city workers were not merely victims of the new corporate order. To win their hearts, one had to spend less time preaching about 'character' and more time appreciating their deep awareness of class and their need to organize for economic self-defense." (16) On his triumphant return to the Illinois metropolis, he had still less time for city folk, workers or otherwise; his people were not city people: "Bryan lavished his words of praise entirely on rural and small-town Americans." (60)

He knew how to set a stage, how to make an entrance, speak a piece, and exit triumphant, amid flourishes. These were his great, and maybe only, talents. At the Chicago convention he engineered the order of speakers for the free silver plank so he would come last, after the racist Ben Tillman and other specifically sectional spokesmen. By talking of the virtuous oppressed, irrespective of location, he would sound, not regional, but patriotic and even moral.

So he gave his greatest speech, concluding "we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." And he stuck his arms straight out, holding the posture of his own crucifixion for "perhaps five seconds." (61)

Egomaniacal and blasphemous, the pose thrilled the crowd. The next day, on the fifth ballot, the boy orator from the Platte overtook the seasoned favorite, "Silver Dick" Bland of Missouri, to attain the Democratic nomination for president.

There were at least two problems with Bryan as a nominee. First, though his rhetoric was good -- the best, even -- its effect faded quickly. John Peter Altgeld, the Illinois governor, heard the "cross of gold" speech in the convention hall, and said he'd rather give a speech like that than be president. But a little later, he wrote a friend, "Applause lasts but a little while. I have been thinking over Bryan's speech. What did he say, anyhow?" (63)

Second, Bryan was appealing generically to virtue, and the virtue specifically of the oppressed. It was a fine appeal, that -- as his adherents noted -- transcended sectional divisions within the Republic. Kazin, looking over what little remains of Bryan's heaping drifts of fan-mail, makes a case that the appeal transcended even class -- that Bryan's call to virtue chimed in the souls of small-time entrepreneurs and professionals, who heard in his moral language the higher purpose for which they yearned. (195)

But the Democratic Party between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Era was -- first, last, and always -- a sectional party. After the state constitutional conventions and Jim Crow legislation of the 1890s, the Democrats had the Solid (white) South in their corner. The only way for them to win nationally was to reach out beyond the white supremacist South to another constituency. Winning the mountain West wasn't enough -- there weren't enough electoral college votes there to overwhelm the populous Republican strongholds. The Democrats needed to hang onto the South while gaining the immigrant and ethnic populations of the cities.

Which was precisely what Bryan could not do. When he spoke the language of the evangelical Protestant, he was preaching words of comfort to the converted, and saying nothing that city constituencies wanted to hear. In the election of 1896, Bryan carried outright more states than McKinley,¹ but nobody much lived in them: he lost by 95 votes in the electoral college. It would be his best showing.

2. A voice crying out

After the Spanish-American War, which even Bryan couldn't resist -- he signed up with the Nebraska National Guard, though his unit never left Florida for Cuba -- McKinley looked like an untouchably popular war president. Principled objections to taking the Philippines as colonies, and to fighting an interminable dirty war to keep them, were ignored. Bryan made this losing cause the hallmark of his 1900 candidacy. As Kazin writes, "The stark truth is that Bryan's long campaign had done nothing to alter the verdict of 1896" -- except, perhaps, for the worse; Bryan lost by a much larger margin this time. (108)

For eight years afterward he spoke and wrote for a living, selling only himself. As Willa Cather noted, "[h]is constituents are controlled not by a commercial syndicate or a political trust, but by one man's personality." (101) The same might have been true of some others in the era -- Robert LaFollette, perhaps -- but few sold as well as Bryan, whose Chautauqua speeches paid for a handsome living in all his various houses.

Having lost twice with a tribune of the people from the Western plains, the Democrats nominated a conservative New Yorker, Alton B. Parker, in 1904, and lost even worse. They returned to Bryan in 1908, and lost again.

Then something changed. In 1910, the Democrats carried the House of Representatives for the first time since 1892. The country had evidently begun to tire of the Republicans. Sensing finally their opportunity, the Democrats picked not a Westerner or an Easterner, but a Southerner who lived in the North: Woodrow Wilson. In 1912 they won the Presidency and the Senate, too. Wilson honored Bryan with the Secretaryship of State, giving him a position at the heart of the administration.

As the country's principal diplomatic officer, Bryan had no authority over domestic matters. But, Kazin said, "his immediate task was to flesh out the assault on corporate wealth, to turn the Democrats' new power into a boon for the majority of American voters who either earned wages or owned a farm or other small business. What ensued was the greatest rush of reform legislation in U.S. history until the New Deal, one inspired by Bryan's speeches and the party platforms he'd been drafting since 1896." (223)

Yet Wilson's reforms, whatever their inspiration, were not in fact especially Bryanite. As Kazin notes, on the most Bryanite issue of all -- government control of credit and currency -- Bryan sold the pass. He started off strong, telling Wilson, "The government alone should issue money," and threatened to resign if Wilson didn't keep the Wall Street bankers out. (225) But before many months had passed, Bryan swallowed his pride, "decided to act like a statesman," and stumped for the compromise Federal Reserve Act, which kept private bankers in the system. Within a year afterward, Wilson had put the most eminent Wall Street banker and critic of Bryanism, Paul Warburg, on the Federal Reserve Board. (226) It was the first of a series of compromises for Bryan, including those on the Clayton Act and the Federal Trade Commission. He had little input into the Wilson inner circle. Nor did he say anything about Wilson's segregating federal employees along racial lines, though he privately wrote a poem in the voice of a black man who "does not applaud segregation, but ... seems to accept it as divine will." (227)

As Secretary of State, Bryan annoyed the lushes among the diplomatic corps and the press by refusing to serve alcohol at dinners and receptions. He tried to stick up for his favorite leaders in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but Wilson eventually sent in troops to invade and run them both. In Mexico, undergoing a wrenching revolution and without a proper government since 1910, Bryan suggested backing Pancho Villa, a fellow "teetotaler" whose family were regular churchgoers. (231)

Finally he had to quit. He objected to any strong stand against Germany's submarine warfare, even when it killed Americans. After a U-boat sank the British liner Lusitania, killing over a hundred Americans, Bryan asked Wilson not to protest too harshly. After Wilson's telegram demanding that the Reich respect the persons and property of neutral nations, Bryan spoke privately to the Austro-Hungarian ambassador, who claimed the Secretary of State had told him not to worry too much over the Lusitania note. Bryan denied saying it, and shortly afterward resigned from an administration with which he had never been in tune.

3. Moral victories

Into the 1920s, Bryan kept stumping for his vision of the working man's needs, and his brother Charles stayed in politics, becoming Nebraska governor and Vice Presidential candidate. But after his resignation in 1915, Bryan had finished with electoral politics: Mary moved the household to Miami, and although Bryan stayed a Nebraskan for voting purposes till 1921, he followed. He liked Florida, whose palmetto frontier he helped settle by selling real estate in Coral Gables.

After the Democrats' defeat in 1920, when James Cox and Franklin Roosevelt lost to Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, Bryan declared "The day is past when the liquor machines and the Wall Street interests of the large cities can successfully dictate to the great moral majority of the nation." He had launched himself on his last crusade for that moral majority. As Kazin writes, his "effort to reverse the erosion of religious faith eclipsed every other cause." (271)

First of all, Kazin notes, the crusade was "irrational." There was, on the face of it, no erosion of religious faith; churchgoing rose through the 1920s. It was also ecumenical, on behalf of faith per se, not any particular faith: "religious diversity had never bothered Bryan, and he didn't protest it now...." What he didn't like was science taking faith's place as the way of explaining the world; "he recoiled at any research in biology or geology that denied the supernatural." (272-3)

As a Southerner now, and a crusader against Darwin, Bryan found himself comfortable with certain longtime allies. He grew easy with segregation, which he explicitly endorsed. His "passion for democracy had always cooled at the color line," Kazin notes. (278) And Bryan found himself increasingly able to express his worries about immigrants, too, who -- he wrote his brother -- "may not be only against prohibition, but other moral issues which are coming." The new Klan, revived in the 1910s, found itself at home with the new Bryan, and when the Democratic convention of 1924 tore itself apart over whether to dissociate itself from the hooded night-riding white supremacists, Bryan argued that his party ought to let the Klan alone.

In the spring of the following year, the prosecutors in the Scopes trial invited him to join them in Dayton, Tennessee to enforce the state's law against teaching evolution. When Bryan accepted, Clarence Darrow agreed to join the other side. As Kazin notes, Bryan's speech against the evolution textbook emphasized his indignation at the implications of natural selection, which dissolved the barriers between man and beast: "How dared these scientists possibly think of shutting man up in a little circle like that with all these animals, that have an odor...." (289) Darrow put Bryan on the stand and made him look a fool. The jury found for the state against Scopes and the judge levied the minimum possible fine, which H. L. Mencken's newspaper offered to pay (it was the least they could do after publishing every barb and libel the Baltimore wit could think to lob at Bryan and his Tennessee supporters). That Sunday, Bryan went to church in Dayton, had lunch, and lay down for a nap from which he never awoke.

4. The moral of the story

Kazin points out that Mencken was an anti-Semite who hated Franklin D. Roosevelt, and thus that it is "an irony" that "progressive intellectuals continue to repeat Mencken's great slur" on Bryan. (299) Mencken was a nasty piece of work, and a great hater -- which is partly why he was so funny -- but this doesn't necessarily make him wrong about Bryan.

Bryan had little time for any ideas, and less for those that upset his pieties. He had an instinctive rapport with hundreds of thousands of Americans, and could win the votes of millions, based mainly on his ability to take a moral stance when properly situated onstage. But he hadn't any administrative ability to speak of, nor crossover appeal to key, swing demographics.

Kazin takes Bryan's career partly as a parable on "[t]he obvious problem for liberals," which he says "is that most Americans don't share their mistrust of public piety. Time and again, secular reformers defeat themselves by assuming that this difference doesn't matter, that they can appeal solely to the economic self-interest of working-class Americans and ignore moral issues grounded in religious conviction." (303) Yet as Kazin himself shows, Bryan appealed both to economic self-interest and to religious conviction -- and lost, time and again, himself.

Senator Thomas Gore of Oklahoma gave a speech nominating Bryan for the presidency in 1908. He liked in later years to tell how, as the two of them rode away from the convention hall, "[a]n exuberant Bryan said, 'You know, Senator, I ascribe my political success to just three things.' [Gore] would pause dramatically at this point in the telling. Then: 'I'm afraid I don't remember a word he said, but I do remember wondering why he thought he was a political success.'"² Bryan may well, as Kazin says, have created a rhetoric and a "new style of politics" that endure today. (305) But whatever his lesson for our own time, it isn't how to win elections.

You can buy the book .


¹Bryan won 22 states to McKinley's 21; they split California and Kentucky. Bryan won 176 electoral votes in 1896, 155 in 1900, and 162 in 1908.

²Gore Vidal, Palimpsest: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 1995), 49.

Correction: I was a little confused about the credits on “Torremolinos 73.” While it is being pitched as a series of “From the Films of Almodovar,” and looks to be thirty years or so old, it is actually directed by Pablo Berger and was released in 2003. My apologies.

Correspondence Corner:

A friend writes:
Today's Embarrassment To Catholic Thought, brought to you by .

Let me tell you what I say, in my mind, after things like this--the symposium, the commercials, and so forth.  I think, We are embarrassing the angels.Imagine for a moment that angels exist, that they are pure spirits of virtue and light, that they care about us and for us and are among us, unseen, in the airport security line, in the room where we watch TV, at the symposium of great minds.  "Raise your hands if you think masturbation should be illegal!"  "I'm Bob Dole for Viagra."  "Put your feet in the foot marks, lady."  We are embarrassing the angels.Do I think this way, in these terms, because I am exceptionally virtuous?  Oh no.  I'm below average in virtue, and even I know it's all gotten low and rough and disturbed.

Let us imagine angels.  Let us imagine that they discover that a crazy woman has come to speak on their behalf.  Let us imagine that they have good lawyers.

Let us imagine that they drink.  Heavily.

On behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, I would like to apologize.  I don't know how she got out of the attic this time.

Name: John F. Reese, Jr.
Hometown: Barre, VT
Regardless of their position on how we should deal with the continuing "war in Iraq," I hope that your readers take the time to examine in full the recent .  Of all of the results listed, the item that I find most disturbing is the fact that nearly 90% of our military men and women believe that the Iraq war is being conducted "in retaliation for Saddam's role in 9/11."  Given that it has been shown time and time again that Saddam had no role in the attacks of September 11, 2001, I'm dumbfounded that our military is not aware of this fact; I find this to be both telling and disconcerting.  The perception by our troops that Saddam was somehow involved in or responsible for 9/11 clearly shows that our current leadership has shamelessly lied to the troops and purposefully kept them in the dark about how deceitful the administration was in the run up to war.  Our troops are, after all, a captive audience and primarily dependent upon this administration for their news and information.  What's even more telling is the fact that, in spite of their belief that we're in Iraq to retaliate for 9/11, by an overwhelming majority, they still want the United States to withdraw our troops within the next year. 

I believe that we're standing on the edge of a precipice.  The way I see it, we have the choice of three paths: 1) stay the current course and simply trust that everything the President and his minions tell us is the truth; 2) proactively support the President by refusing to question his motives and by berating those who would dare question his judgment; or, 3) stand up for our nation and tell everyone that we know about how our country, our future and the prospects of our children have been hijacked by an administration that is only interested in creating an American monarchy, raping our nation's treasury, sacrificing our youth, and invading our bedrooms.  In my opinion, everything that the current administration has done was crafted to suit their hypocritical definition of morality and, moreover, to fatten their wallets and ensure their ability to quash any dissenting voices.  I am and always will be a proud American.  There is an enormous difference, however, between being a proud American and an oblivious sheep on its way to the slaughterhouse.

Name: Dan
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
OMB has some nice Excel spreadsheets () that list about everything you'd like to know about the Federal budget today, back to 1940 and 5-6 years into the future.  For example, the Federal debt at the end of the 2005 fiscal year was 7.9 trillion dollars. This is 64% of total yearly GDP for the US.  The debt went up by a total of $541 billion during the 2005 fiscal year. The reported yearly deficit was $318 billion.  I'm not sure where the difference is unless you take Social Security out of the mix.  That surplus was $175 billion in 2005.  In Clinton's last year, the debt was $5.6 trillion.  So the debt has gone up 41% in Bush's 4 years.  In Clinton's last year, the debt went up $28 billion.  In the following years under Bush, the debt has gone up $141 billion (2001), $329 billion (2002), $562 billion (2003), $594 billion (2004) and $551 billion (2005).  This is staggering!!!  In Clinton's 8 years, the debt went up $1.6 trillion. Bush is doing that every 3 years.  And the sad part is even their best estimates for the next 5 years shows a debt increase of $600 billion a year with the Federal debt crossing $11 trillion by the end of 2010.  BTW, with these estimates, the national debt clock will run out of digits sometime around Christmas of 2008.

Name: Walter Crockett
Hometown: Worcester, MA
Hello Eric,
The golden age of the New Republic was not under Kinsley.  It was way back in 1961-62, when the original TRB was still writing and the mag was one of the few sources of good information on the looming war in Indochina.  Kinsley helped put the curse on it with a brand of hyper-logical and overly clever analysis that infected all under his sway, and that lives still in the worst of his writing, in the best of Mickey Kaus' writing, and in ephemera of various Slate contributors.  One of his hallmarks is the ability to pooh-pooh or avoid serious issues in the pursuit of the ultimately clever contrarian stance.  A trip to the library archives would, unless I'm hallucinating, show the true value of TNR back in the early years of the Kennedy administration.

Name: Michael A. Maughan
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
In re Dave Hoffman, "the cumulative national DEBT, unfortunately, has not been zero since the inception of our nation."  In fact, the public debt went to zero in about 1835, due to land sales and tariffs.  Amazingly, Congress declared a dividend of sorts, payable to the states.  This appears to have led to the Bank Panic of 1837.  Neither the paid-off debt or the Panic is remembered much today.  The president in 1835 is remembered, though.  As he was a former general, I wonder what Andrew Jackson would have thought of LT Bush.

March 1 , 2006 | 11:09 AM ET |

Osama picks Bush (Wouldn’t you?)

In Bush appears to endorse the view put forth by a whiney John Kerry that Bin Laden’s videotaped message put him over the top in 2004.  Bush said there were “enormous amounts of discussion” inside his campaign about the 15-minute tape, which he called “an interesting entry by our enemy” into the presidential race.

“I thought it was going to help,” Bush said. “I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush.”

Come now.  If Bush can figure it out that an Osama intervention is going to help him, then, so too can Bin Laden.  Just as Fidel Castro offered, through emissaries, to endorse the candidate he hated most in our elections once (jokingly, one presumes) bin Laden, who knew that Bush’s team did nothing to prevent 9/11 despite considerable signals, let him get away at Tora-Bora, pulled agents out of Afghanistan to send them to Iraq, recruited gazillions of potential terrorists for his organization with his chaos-inducing invasion of Iraq and spread more hatred of the United States than our worst enemies might have hoped for, purposely intervened on behalf of Bush.  Whether it mattered, no one can say.  What we can say for sure is that with an approval rating of 34 percent and the Middle East sliding towards Armageddon, it’s one of the worst things ever to happen to this country.

They lied to us about the insurgency, too .  No surprise there.

Quote of the Day:  "'Frankly, senior officials simply weren't ready to pay attention to analysis that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios,' said one official who was then chairman of the National Intelligence Council.”

Police State Update:  “Extent of Eavesdropping May Go Beyond NSA Work"  .

TNR Agonistes:  David Carr’s piece on the transition at TNR, , has two problems, in this notso-humble opinion.  The first is that it hearkens back to a “golden age” but gets it wrong.  The golden age were the Kinsley/Hertzberg/Kinsley/Hertzberg years.  TNR’s exorable decline began with Sullivan’s editorship, and the publication of the nutty Camille Paglia and the shamefully dishonest pieces by Betsy McCaughey and the crackpot racism of Charles Murray.  Michael Kelly’s hatred of liberals continued the process downward, leading to the Stephen Glass debacle.  (But to be fair, it was Sullivan who put Glass in charge of um, fact-checking.)

Second, articles about TNR are supposed to quote the editor of The Nation and vice-versa and compare their circulation.  That’s the rule.  As Navasky notes in his memoir,

When The New York Times reported in February 1979 that in the wake of The New Republic’s shift “to the right,” disaffected readers were moving to The Nation, owner-editor-in-chief Marty Peretz complained in a letter to the editor in the Times, “We have no feud with that magazine.  Its readership is too tiny, its contents too reflexively gauchiste to trouble with.”  Our response?  We took out a classified ad on the front page of the Times: “Martin Peretz, please come home.  All is forgiven.  The Nation—still unfashionably liberal after all these years…” (Victor S. Navasky A Matter of Opinion (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)

Today, the Times reports TNR’s circulation at approximately 60,000.  The Nation’s is approaching 200,000.  Seems worth noting…

(By the way, though they’ve cut off my paper sub and now force me to read those long literary essays on my computer, I still think the magazine has been quite good under Beinart.  If it hadn’t farmed out its foreign policy to Bill Kristol, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly, but I’m happy to recommend it half-heartedly, and I see no reason why Foer won’t continue to oversee its continued improvement.)

Headline of the Day: “US leader crashed by trying to 'pedal, wave and speak at same time” .

Alter-mini-reviews by Sal

Rhett Miller, "The Believer" and Van Morrison, “Pay the Devil”

Rhett Miller of the Old '97s has a sophomore release, "The Believer,” which  picks up where his fine debut, "THE INSTIGATOR," leaves off, with some more excellent pop-rock/, not unlike a modern-day Byrds.  KEY TRACKS:  "Meteor Shower" and "I'm With Her." Meanwhile, after cranking out mediocre records for over a decade, at a pace faster than white trash gets booked on "Maury", Van the Man returns to remind us why we call him "Van The Man."  "Pay The Devil" is a country record, featuring standards like "Half As Much," "My Bucket Got A Hole In It," and "Your Cheatin' Heart," as well as 12 others not attributed to Hank Williams.  The arrangements are perfect, not overproduced or drenched in cheesy strings and background vocals, and Van sounds like he's been wanting to make this record for years.  KEY TRACKS:  "Half As Much," "Till I Gain Control Again."

More and .


DVDs Pedro Almodovar's Torremolinos 73

I’m a fan of almost everything by Mr. Admodovar, and this movie has its charms.  But it mostly consists of physically unattractive people having sex.  It’s kind of clever and I’m sure was shocking in its day, and its domestication of the porno business is interesting for a little while.  If you’ve got nothing else to rent, it’s OK.  If you’re a serious student of Aldomovar, it’s a must.  But otherwise, it’s about the last of his films I’d recommend.  For the details, go .

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Kevin in the middle
Hometown: Madison, NJ
I have a different take on the 'frozen scandal' scenario.  The problem isn't that we're not doing anything about the scandals, it's that there are just so darned many of them it's impossible to focus the spotlight on the most compelling.  The Republicans had Bill's wayward dick.  They pounded away at it (figuratively, of course) day after day after day.  They didn't divert your attention from it for one second.  You want to talk about Kosovo?  No, let's talk about Bill's dick.  You want to discuss the economy?  Not until we're done talking about Bill's dick.  Welfare reform?  Dick!  The Democrats have a many-hued tapestry of scandals; lying to get us into a war, the empty-headed conduct of the war and the occupation, torture and rendition, the NSA, and monumental mismanagement of all levels of government that bespeaks an absentee landlord who hasn't a clue as to what is going on behind his back.  The MSM and the public are like magpies -- they're attracted to new shiny objects.  Right now, there are so many of them, it's impossible to even remember them all, let alone judge which one is "worse."  I say pick one scandal.  Stay there.  Don't waver.  But make it something people can get riled up about.  Something that has the potential to impact their lives personally, or something they can get emotionally connected to.  (Sorry to say, torturing suspected terrorists, while evil per se, probably doesn't qualify.)  Handing our domestic ports over to state sponsors of terrorism may be the least compelling intellectually (and may even be a faux scandal), but I'll bet it sells in Peoria.

Name: Dave Hoffman
Hometown: Hanover, PA
Point of correction/clarification on the e-mail from Bob Mangino in Seattle: The "national debt" would not have been rolled back to zero in the late 1990's as Bob suggests.  While there was a brief period of budget surpluses, meaning the national DEFICIT in those particular years was zero, the cumulative national DEBT, unfortunately, has not been zero since the inception of our nation.  That's the scary part.  Think of how difficult it is to get the deficit to zero in a given year.  Getting the debt to zero, at this point, would take years and years of surpluses.  Not a pretty picture.