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Slacker Friday

Slacker Friday

| 11:54 AM ET |

I’ve got a new Think Again column called “What Some Call Treason, Others Call Truth,” .

,” ‘splains the famed military historian, Martin van Creveld.

From the Benton Foundation:

THE FOX NEWS EFFECT: MEDIA BIAS AND VOTING[SOURCE: ]Does media bias affect voting? The authors address this question by looking at the entry of Fox News in cable markets and its impact on voting. Between October 1996 and November 2000, the conservative Fox News Channel was introduced in the cable programming of 20 percent of US towns.  Fox News availability in 2000 appears to be largely idiosyncratic.  Using a data set of voting data for 9,256 towns, the authors investigate if Republicans gained vote share in towns where Fox News entered the cable market by the year 2000. They find a significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000.  Republicans gain 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points in the towns which broadcast Fox News.  They also find a significant effect of Fox News on Senate vote share and on voter turnout.  The estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its viewers to vote Republican.

Hitchens gone crazy, agin’ , with Hugh Hewitt.

Bush might get even scarier:  John Dean ‘splains why, .

Do Washington Post editorial writers ?

Slacker Friday

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to be shocked about Iran.  Last Monday there was a remarkable exchange between Bill O'Reilly and Newt Gingrich over what to do about Iran.  After the pair agreed that nuclear Iran presents our clearest and present-est danger, Gingrich broke ranks.  He neither wants to negotiate with Iran or launch a military action (he only favors war if we're going to send in troops and seems resigned that this is not an option).  Instead he wants to support dissidents, create a "Radio (and TV) Free Iran" and foment revolution.  "But aren't we already doing that?" asks O'Reilly.  Gingrich vigorously shakes his head and says no.  He says we've done almost nothing in Iran nor do we have the capability to do so.  He notes the ruling fundamentalists kicked over a thousand candidates off the ballot last election and "that's a thousand people we should be supporting" but aren't.  O'Reilly is stammering but Gingrich is on a roll: he laments that Rick Santorum's bill is bottled up in committee, that since 9/11 it’s
been all talk and no action in rebuilding our intelligence.  O'Reilly seems uncertain.  "That doesn't speak well of the Bush administration, does it?"  "No, it doesn't" responds Gingrich.

This is not surprising to liberal hawks (or even idealistic neocons) who supported the Iraq war as a piece of a "democratize the Middle East" effort.  We saw the promised follow-up initiative to target the "Arab Street" for democracy, including cold war-like "propaganda" efforts, gutted
– not once, but twice.  Even with Iran, the Administration initially opposed Santorum’s bill (at a time when it only sought $10 million to support regime change -- he's increased it tenfold), then reversed itself and asked Congress for something similar, and now seems to have lost

I know, I know: Getting behind a Gingrich/Santorum/etc. measure which has "now all we need is an Iranian Ahmed Chalabi" written all over it might not excite you.  But if you believe that Dubya has his sights on military action in Iran, or are not quite ready to "live with nuclear Iran" this might be your best bet.  Plus, "work with the United Nations" is a loser for the Dems.  How about “Reagan’s winning cold war plan, not Bush’s losing hot war plan” instead?

Name: Ed Hanson
Hometown: Commerce City, CO
A lot of people keep saying how China is poised to take over the world, economically.  Much is made about how strong and dynamic their economy is and how it is raising the living standard for millions of Chinese workers.  What I don't hear much about in the media, is the incredible pollution levels they are dealing with in the heavily industrialized areas of the country, produced by all the new coal-fired power plants and all the new cars the workers can now afford.  I have a friend who flies for a major airline to China regularly and he describes the skies over the cities as a greasy brown.  On a good day, you can only see a small patch of blue directly overhead.  There have been a couple of PBS documentaries that have discussed this issue, also.  What happens to China's economy when pollution-related diseases kick in and thousands, if not millions, of modern Chinese begin dropping dead?

Name: Michael Rapoport
Eric: This is a (which I don't think you've previously taken note of, though I could be wrong) about how the supposedly feckless Democrats in Congress are a lot more tactically savvy than they've been given credit for.  I don't know whether I buy all of it, but I'd sure like to.

Name: Scott Schiefelbein
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
To Cynthia in Media, PA:
Sorry if I gave offense or unsolicited tax advice.  But now you're just not making any sense at all from a tax perspective.  First, you say that your income is basically the same as it was five years ago.  OK, that's plausible.  But if that's true, your federal income taxes must have gone down because marginal tax rates are now lower than they were in 2000.  Check out any website that has historical tax rate data (such as  Compare tax liabilities for 2000 to 2006. Many sites offer a simplistic calculation just using tax rates (no deductions): using moneychimp's calculations, $50,000 of gross income for a married couple filing jointly in 2000 created a tax bill of $8,300, while in 2006 the same gross income for the same couple only had a tax bill of $6,745. (At $50,000, the AMT did not apply in either year, so you don't have to worry about that element I described yesterday.) Over $1,500 in federal income tax savings, no?  Then you complain that your local school taxes, your township taxes, your county taxes, etc., all rose considerably, increasing your deductions. And still, you seem to complain that your federal income taxes increased. How on earth did your federal income taxes go up? Who preps your return? I suspect that your federal income taxes are actually going down, and you are correctly withholding just enough to cover your liability, so your federal income tax bill is actually lower than it was five years ago. This is why I wrote yesterday that your refund is not the appropriate benchmark for your federal income tax bill. Many people do not understand this -- you're in good company. I'm sure your local taxes and cost of living are going up. They are for me, too. But that's got nothing to do with a decrease in your federal income tax refund. It may have a powerful effect on how you spend your tax refund, of course.  Again, I do not write to defend the Republicans or their tax policy.  I'm sure a lot of your local tax increases owe at least a partial debt to the Republicans' control of D.C. -- even if Pennsylvania is a Blue State. But we need to make sure that we use the right ammunition when we argue, and your use of your decreasing federal tax refund -- by itself -- is like trying to shoot an arrow out of a .357. I only wrote because you have a lot of company in this admittedly minor misunderstanding of taxes . . . something that nobody in their right mind would really try to understand anyway!

April 20, 2006 | 10:30 AM ET |

Why can’t a man be more like a woman?

Is the Bravest Woman (person) in the Whole World?  You know, the world has a lot of problems that are large unsolvable.  But many, if not most of them, could be ameliorated if not eliminated, simply by investing in the education of women the world over.  It’s dollar-for-dollar-the best investment this country and the rest of the West could make.  “In particular, there is strong evidence that educating girls boosts prosperity.  It is probably the single best investment that can be made in the developing world.  Not only are better educated women more productive, but they raise healthier, better educated children.  There is huge potential to raise income per head in developing countries, where fewer girls go to school than boys.  More than two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults are women,” notes the Economist.  But of course, where’s the political constituency for educating poor, powerless people?  Anyway read and think about what might be done.

As the Chinese Premier drops by on his way to taking over the world, it might be a good moment to pause and take note of just how weakened, economically, America has become in the past decade or so and how out to lunch George W. Bush and company have been about it.  Let walk you though a few numbers, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics re-benchmarked payroll jobs data, adjusted from January 2001 through January 2006, based on the analysis of back to Charles McMillion of MBG Information Services:

Job growth over the last five years is the weakest on record.  The US economy came up more than 7 million jobs short of keeping up with population growth....Over the past five years the US economy experienced a net job loss in goods producing activities. The entire job growth was in service-providing activities--primarily credit intermediation, health care and social assistance, waiters, waitresses and bartenders, and state and local government.US manufacturing lost 2.9 million jobs, almost 17% of the manufacturing work force. The wipeout is across the board. Not a single manufacturing payroll classification created a single new job.The declines in some manufacturing sectors have more in common with a country undergoing saturation bombing during war than with a super-economy that is “the envy of the world.” Communications equipment lost 43% of its workforce. Semiconductors and electronic components lost 37% of its workforce. The workforce in computers and electronic products declined 30%. Electrical equipment and appliances lost 25% of its employees. The workforce in motor vehicles and parts declined 12%. Furniture and related products lost 17% of its jobs. Apparel manufacturers lost almost half of the work force. Employment in textile mills declined 43%. Paper and paper products lost one-fifth of its jobs. The work force in plastics and rubber products declined by 15%. Even manufacturers of beverages and tobacco products experienced a 7% shrinkage in jobs.The knowledge jobs that were supposed to take the place of lost manufacturing jobs in the globalized “new economy” never appeared. The information sector lost 17% of its jobs, with the telecommunications work force declining by 25%. Even wholesale and retail trade lost jobs. Despite massive new accounting burdens imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley, accounting and bookkeeping employment shrank by 4%. Computer systems design and related lost 9% of its jobs. Today there are 209,000 fewer managerial and supervisory jobs than 5 years ago.

With "In the Rubble," , Tom Engelhardt puts the incipient collapse of the President's domestic and foreign projects into historical perspective.  After all, this administration, as every poll now tells us, has gone from triumph to near collapse in less than five years, despite having next to no opposition at home.  After all, the Democratic Party proved itself hardly a party at all and the active anti-war movement, gigantic before the invasion of Iraq, has remained, at best, modest-sized ever since.  At the same time, in Iraq the administration faced not a unified national liberation movement backed by a superpower as in Vietnam, but a ragtag, if fierce, Sunni resistance and recalcitrant Shiite semi-allies (all now at each other's throats).

What makes the last few years so strange is that this administration, now standing amid the rubble of its own dreams and plans, has essentially been losing its campaigns, at home and abroad, to nobody.  What comes to mind is the famous phrase of cartoonist Walt Kelly's character, Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us."  This is likely to prove one of history's great surprises.

Worst president in history?  Sean W. says,

Finally, I read somewhere on the Web that I gave $4200 to Hillary Clinton.  That’ll be the day.  I do not contribute money, nor raise money for any politicians, period.  There’s a few other Eric Altermans in Manhattan and that one must be one of them.

Altercation Book Club:

Matthew Continetti The K Street Gang : The Rise and Fall of the Republican Machine, Doubleday, 2006.  (Continetti is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.)

Golf at the Lao Lao Bay course. Each trip cost thousands of dollars. One of Abramoff’s trips, from October 21 to November 4, 1996, cost $13,000. But that amount of money was understandable, Abramoff explained to the New York Times on January 20, 1998. The junkets were for “educational” purposes. “They [the Marianas] don’t have a congressman or a delegate to the United States,” Abramoff said. “It’s the farthest territory from the United States. Nobody knew anything about it. And the federal bureaucracy, which for so long had a paternalistic and almost colonialist rule over these guys, said let’s make a move on their economy.”

By December 1997, more than 150 congressmen and staffers had made the trek to the Marianas. 13 Each voyage cost between $4,000 and $6,000 per person. In the twenty months between April 1996 and December 1997, six House members went to the CNMI. Each brought an entourage—“Representatives Ralph Hall, Brian Bilbray, and John Duncan brought their wives along […] while Representative Dana Rohrabacher was accompanied by his fiancée.” In those same twenty months, the Washington Post reported, more than “60 VIPs” were invited to the archipelago. The “educational” component of the trip involved touring several factories owned by Willie Tan. Because Abramoff and his lobbying team were behind them, the junkets were often subject to scrutiny. In December 1996, Abramoff wrote his Marianas contact: “I . . . expect to receive a call tomorrow or Tuesday from the House ethics committee, asking for an update as to the reimbursement situation and, possibly, our outstanding bill. They are watching the trips very closely.”

They should have been. House ethics rules forbid a lobbyist from paying directly a lawmaker’s travel fees. But there are ways around the rules. And in this, Abramoff’s Marianas lobbying was a prelude of things to come.

Consider the manner in which Abramoff financed a January 24, 1997, junket.

Two Democrats were on the 1997 trip: Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi. According to a billing memo Abramoff sent on May 20 that year, the trip cost more than $15,000. The question is who paid for it. Abramoff seems to have organized the trip through the National Security Caucus Foundation, a project of the American Security Council Foundation, a conservative nonprofit. The disclosure reports of the two Democrats, Clyburn and Thompson, both said that the National Security Caucus Foundation paid for the travel. But this was incorrect. These lawmakers, like many who traveled with Abramoff, were unaware of, or unconcerned by, the details of who paid what, when. The National Security Caucus Foundation is now defunct. Its parent group, the American Security Council Foundation, lives on, however, and its director, Gregg Hilton, went on the trip, too. Hilton denies that the foundation paid the lawmakers’ travel expenses.

Preston Gates’ billing memos prove the law firm paid for Thompson’s and Clyburn’s—and Hilton’s—travel expenses. And the money, it seems, was put to good use. In the summer of 1997, DeLay and Dick Armey sent a letter to Governor Tenorio extolling the islands’ virtues. Members of the Republican caucus who had visited the commonwealth under Abramoff’s junket program, they wrote, have returned to the United States and described “a very different place than the one the administration has portrayed.” The two went on: “Furthermore, we have been greatly encouraged by your administration’s tough approach to labor abuses and law enforcement. Most impressive has been your commitment to eliminate labor problems in the CNMI, while at the same time adhering to, and advancing, the principles of free markets, enterprise, education choice, tax reform, and other innovative approaches to governance.” After his visit, Dana Rohrabacher took to the House floor in September 1997 and said that the Marianas “have had a great deal of reform, free enterprise reform, in the last five years that has totally turned around their economy.” There was some criticism, however, mostly from Democrats. California Democrat George Miller sought to draw attention to the islands’ unfair labor practices whenever he could. And sometime during 1997, President Clinton sent a letter to Governor Tenorio in which he wrote that “certain labor practices in the islands . . . are inconsistent with our country’s values.”

The majority of the Republican caucus supported Abramoff’s position: that the Marianas were victims of large-scale government interference; that the island territory was a laboratory of free-market economics; that the guest workers populating the archipelago’s labyrinthine factories were lucky to be there. The Republicans were taking cues from their leader, DeLay.

The first two components of Abramoff’s strategy—rhetorical repositioning and congressional junketeering—seemed to be going smoothly. Yet, in 1997, Marianas citizens elected a new governor, who wrote a new budget, one that cut the amount of money the government planned to pay Abramoff.

The budget cuts took Abramoff by surprise. On January 31, 1998, he wrote a four-page memo to Willie Tan and two other Marianas officials. “I composed this email before receiving Willie’s email concerning the budget for the representation,” he began, “so please understand that if the budget is significantly curtailed, it will be hard, if not impossible, to do many of these things.” Then Abramoff sketched out exactly how the astronomical fees he was charging the Marianas government paid for themselves: “There is no doubt that trips to the CNMI are one of the most effective ways to build permanent friends on the Hill and among policymakers in Washington. In light of the recent spate of publicity and the end of the congressional recess, the trips will be curtailed for a while. It is likely, furthermore, that the upcoming congressional elections will keep many Hill people in the states; however, the importance of bringing congressmen and senators to the CNMI cannot be overstated.”

Recall that most of the money in the Marianas budget comes from the U.S. government. The CNMI, in other words, was paying U.S. tax dollars to Patton Boggs to lobby the government to give more money to the CNMI.

For more, go .

Name: Traven
Hometown: Arlington, VA
I thought in the L.A. Times on the effect of immigration on blacks was interesting.  I think the Left could benefit from more discussion of this issue, but seems stuck on labeling anyone who wants to crack down on illegal immigration of being nativist and racist.

Name: Cynthia
Hometown: Media, PA
Thanks for the tax advice guys, but I'd like to clarify a couple of things. The $600+ refund was AFTER I adjusted my W-4.  Since then, my local school taxes have increased 250%, my county tax has increased 20%, the Occupational Privilege Tax in the township where I work has increased by 400%, and my township of residence has imposed an Earned Income Tax (which I actually voted to pay because it buys land to preserve for open space).  So my deductions have actually increased over the period.  My main deduction is for mortgage interest and property taxes; the increase in property taxes has surpassed the decrease in mortgage interest.  I don't have children, just pay for their schools, and my husband is a disabled Vietnam veteran who gets a very small stipend from the Veterans Administration.  Also in that time, my propane bill has increased 300%, and of course the gasoline to drive to work is about 250% higher.  Just this year I began to feel the upward push at the grocery store.  I managed to feed the two of us on $90 a week for almost four years.  That is up to $120 a week.  All of this might be OK if the small business I work for had been doing well enough over the past five years to offer a cost of living raise, but to date, I haven't had an increase in my salary since 2001.  So basically, I've been living on a fixed income in one of the highest COL areas in the country. 

And Mike, I will never vote for a candidate of any political party based on how he stands on a single issue.  I will vote for Bob Casey in the fall even though we are light years apart in our positions on a woman's reproductive rights because in all other respects, he's the man Pennsylvania needs in the U.S. Senate.  I do feel the overall platform should be considered, but most importantly, actions speak louder than words.  Too many times, politicians promise one thing to get the votes in the ballot box, only to follow the guidance of lobbyists or the most vocal extremes of their party.  I remember a line from the Bruce Springsteen live boxed set: "Blind faith in your leaders can get you killed."  The operative word, of course, being "blind."

Name: Steve Turner
Hey Geraldo.  The most memorable rape of nuns happened in El Salvador, courtesy of a Reagan-sponsored Death Squad.  Nuns and Strippers, apple and oranges, the callous levity of your comment, no matter who is being raped, leaves me no choice but to designate FOX, the #1 Rape Humor Channel.

April 19, 2006 | 11:15 AM ET |

'Sometimes it’s the strippers'

Quote of the Day:  “Ya know, it’s not always the nuns who get raped.  Sometimes it’s the strippers.” —Geraldo Rivera, in a clip I caught on Jon Stewart this morning.

Hey Jerry, Have I got a job for you.  No, not , silly. .  (Oh Damn.  wouldn’t be any fun at all.) 

And speaking of distinguished Fox News journalists, let’s play “

Hey look, you can fool all of the time.  But Tom Friedman gets off the boat

I look at the Bush national security officials much the way I look at drunken drivers. I just want to take away their foreign policy driver's licenses for the next three years. Sorry, boys and girls, you have to stay home now — or take a taxi. Dial 1-800-NATO-CHARGE-A-RIDE. You will not be driving alone. Not with my car.

Um, Tommy boy. Maybe we should retire that foreign policy guru title, since this insight comes say, three years, tens of thousands of lives and about a trillion dollars too late.

Still wondering what that invasion was about, Tommy?  “Three years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, only one major U.S. building project in Iraq is on schedule and within budget: the massive new American embassy compound.  .

What’s changed since 9/11?  Let’s just say, .

Good piece on Walt/Mearsheimer by Tony Judt .

Chinese President Hu Jintao will arrive at the White House Thursday to be greeted by the traditional 21-gun salute due a major state leader; but, as Michael Klare points out in a new piece, "Containing China," quite another kind of 21-gun salute is being prepared by the Pentagon and Bush administration strategists.  After a couple of years stuck in Baghdad's Green Zone, they have turned their attention back to China as America's potential number one imperial rival of the future and are preparing a political/military containment policy of quite a sweeping sort against that rising power.  Start imagining the possibility of a new arms race in Asia and the sharpening of various potential crises connected to the U.S.-Chinese relationship, ranging from North Korea to Iran.  .

The rest of today comes to you courtesy of the .

JOURNALISM/GOVERNMENT & COMMUNICATIONSRumsfeld Suggests bin Laden, Zarqawi Manipulating U.S. PressRUMSFELD SUGGESTS BIN LADEN, ZARQAWI MANIPULATING US PRESS[SOURCE: ]When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appeared on Rush Limbaugh's talk radio show on Monday, his remarks defending himself from calls for his resignation drew wide attention.  Generally overlooked were a couple of questions and answers on the subject of press coverage in Iraq. For one thing, Rumsfeld said it was important to "recognize that the terrorists, Zarqawi and bin Laden and Zawahiri, those people have media committees. They are actively out there trying to manipulate the press in the United States. They are very good at it. They're much better at (laughing) managing those kinds of things than we are." Asked why fewer reporters were embedding in Iraq, Rumsfeld said he'd talked to one journalist, and "there was a kind of impression left that 'Well, if you got embedded then you were really part of the problem instead of part of the solution and you were almost going over to the other side,' argument. I think that's an inexcusable thought, and I don't know if that's the case."BENNETT: PULITZER WINNERS RISEN, LICHTBLAU, PRIEST 'WORTHY OF JAIL'[SOURCE: ]On his national radio program today, William Bennett, the former Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration official and now a CNN commentator, said that three reporters who won Pulitzer Prizes yesterday were not "worthy of an award" but rather "worthy of jail." He identified them as Dana Priest of The Washington Post, who wrote about the CIA's "secret prisons" in Europe, and James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times, who exposed the National Security Agency's domestic spy program. Bennett said that the reporters "took classified information, secret information, published it in their newspapers, against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president and others, that they not release it. They not only released it, they publicized it -- they put it on the front page, and it damaged us, it hurt us. How do we know it damaged us? Well, it revealed the existence of the surveillance program, so people are going to stop making calls. Since they are now aware of this, they're going to adjust their behavior . . . .on the secret sites, the CIA sites, we embarrassed our allies....So it hurt us there. As a result are they punished, are they in shame, are they embarrassed, are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer prizes - they win Pulitzer prizes. I don't think what they did was worthy of an award - I think what they did is worthy of jail, and I think this investigation needs to go forward. "See also -- * SEALING UP 'OUR NATION'S ATTIC'[SOURCE:  (requires registration), AUTHOR: Laurie Kahn-Leavitt][Commentary] Only a handful of people know exactly what is in the Smithsonian-Showtime deal. So what would happen under the new rules? The deal requires filmmakers using more than "incidental amounts" of Smithsonian material to offer their films to the new Showtime-Smithsonian joint venture. But what about filmmakers who are making their films for different networks? Or what about filmmakers without broadcasters who might not want to offer their films to Showtime? I am not against the Smithsonian making hundreds of hours of programs with a commercial network, and I am not against the Smithsonian bringing millions of dollars into its coffers through such a relationship. But public-private deals like this one need to be open to scrutiny. And whatever deal is signed should not include any restrictions on legitimate filmmakers who wish to use materials from "our nation's attic." Many organizations have mobilized to demand an investigation of the Smithsonian-Showtime deal. Among them are the Society of American Archivists, the American Historical Assn., the American Library Assn. and the International Documentary Assn. On Monday, more than 200 filmmakers, historians and academics also demanded that the contract's terms be made public and that the restrictive policy be reversed. It is time to shine a bright light on the details of the deal. The Smithsonian's leadership has lost sight of the institution's fundamental mission.  The Smithsonian is not a business venture but a publicly chartered guardian of our national heritage.* (requires registration)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Steve
Hometown: New York, NY
It is important for American Jews to support reality-based organizations such as Israel Policy Forum.  As Avi Becker's recent article in Haaretz points out American Jewish lobbyist organizations are to the right of the Israeli Jewish citizenry.  For too long AIPAC, ZOA and even sadly the so-called Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (which blocked pro-peace organizations from joining) have been more pro-settler/settlement & pro-Likud than pro-Israel.  Remember when they publicly undercut the duly elected governments of Rabin when he was negotiating over Golan Heights and again later both Rabin & Barak in negotiations with PA.  All have kept out American Jewish anti-settlement pro-peace voices from their organizations.  And of course like lobbyists and advertisers generally they want it both ways-claiming their power and effectiveness to their internal funders and supporters and those in the American government, but then denying it when it is publicly inconvenient.

Name: London Lawson
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Dear Dr. A,
I'm sure you , but...
Thanks for all you do,

Name:  Larry Birnbaum
"Facts on the Ground - Israel is making Palestine impossible, on purpose."
Eric, There's a good argument to be made that the West Bank settlements, wall (location), etc., serve a rational purpose.  It goes like this: A central factor in Palestinian reluctance to close a deal has been their underlying belief that time is on their side -- which is to say, that if they wait longer, they'll get a better deal.  This isn't an irrational belief.  It has history (they got rid of the Crusaders eventually), logic (they can lose innumerable times, they only have to win once), and demographics on its side.  So the question is, how do you negotiate with someone who is in no hurry to close a deal because he believes time is on his side?  I think the answer is obvious: You change the circumstances so that time isn't necessarily on his side -- which is to say, you put in place policies such that the longer he waits, the worse the deal gets.  That's what the West Bank settlements do.  I'm not saying that everyone behind this policy is behind it for this reason.  But I think it's what I would do if I had to confront this situation.  In fact, I think it's what you would do, too. The Palestinians are being rational in delaying. The Israelis are being rational in putting into place policies that make them pay a price for that.

Name: Michael Rapoport
Eric: Regarding Brian P. Evans' take on Bush's poll numbers: Check out this hilarious Colbert Report video clip, in which Stephen Colbert opines that Bush's plunge in the polls is actually good news, because ... well, .

Name: Mike
Hometown: Boise, ID
To Cynthia in Media, as I stated, I vote based on the issue that means the most to me at the time.  Doubt I am the only one.  Besides, in Idaho it's all Republican.  (One writer claimed his county was 70% Republican.  In Idaho that would be considered a democrat stronghold.)  We only have 1 Democrat elected to a statewide office and I think about 14 or so in our house.  My tax refund has typically increased - and no, not because I am 'rich'.  Together my wife and I make 60K+.  The increase is due to the Child Tax credit increase and broadening of the lower brackets and elimination of most of the marriage penalty tax.  (I am a CPA and prepare taxes on the side.)  Also, personal exemptions have increased, the Earned Income Credit, contributions to retirement accounts.  Sorry, I actually get a bit excited about taxes.  I'm a bit weird.  I find it fun and like a massive war game (Like Risk or Axis & Allies or even Chess.)  I apologize for highjacking the thread.

Name: Scott Schiefelbein
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
To Cynthia from Media, PA: As a tax lawyer, I just wanted to comment on your use of comparable refunds as a barometer of the Republicans' tax cuts -- it's an inaccurate measure. (NOTE: This is not a defense of the Republican tax policy -- just a tax geek trying to address a common misunderstanding.)  To determine whether you have personally benefited from the Republicans' tax cuts, you should compare your total tax bill, not your refunds, from one year to the next -- and even that will not necessarily give you the full picture.  Here are some variables for you to consider: 

  • Withholding: You indicated that you have adjusted your W-4 to reduce the amount of tax you prepay with each paycheck.  Bravo for you -- failure to adjust withholding is one of the biggest mistakes taxpayers make, resulting in major overpayments to Uncle Sam.  Your refund is the amount of the interest-free loan you have given the government -- most of us should aim for filing a 1040 that results in no refunds and no payment of tax.  But since you say you adjusted your withholding to reduce your prepayment of tax, you cannot use your reduced refund as evidence that the Republicans' tax cuts have harmed you.

  • Deductions changing:  You wrote that your "deductions, etc." five years ago were "identical."  For most Americans, that's almost a statistical impossibility.  We earn different amounts, our home mortgage interest deduction generally goes down as we increase principal, our medical expenses fluctuate, we give different amounts to charities, etc.  I'm not saying it didn't happen in your case, but there are probably as many Americans who had exactly the same tax return five years ago as there are die-hard Milli Vanilli fans.

  • AMT - the Stealth Tax: It is entirely possible that you did receive, technically, some benefits under the Republicans' tax cuts, only to have them wiped out by the Alternate Minimum Tax. Americans pay the greater of their regular federal income tax or the AMT, which is a nasty piece of business put into the Internal Revenue Code decades ago to catch millionaires who didn't pay their fair share of taxes.  Unfortunately, Congress didn't index the AMT for inflation, and now it's catching millions of middle-class Americans (particularly in Blue States, with its denial of deductions for state and local taxes and mortgage interest).  The Republicans can crow about tax cuts, but it doesn't matter if you get the benefit of the reduced rate on capital gains or dividends if you still get hit by the AMT.  But since the AMT is generating so much revenue (soon it will generate more revenue than the regular income tax), the Republican-controlled Congress has not had the guts to do anything more than enact short-term "patches" to reduce (but not eliminate) the impact of the AMT on middle-class Americans. 

Again, congratulations on getting a smaller refund -- remember that a refund is just the amount of cash you deprived yourself of during the year, interest-free.  There are plenty of legitimate reasons to oppose the Republicans' tax policy, but your diminishing refunds aren't (by themselves) the proper yardstick.

April 18, 2006 | 11:24 AM ET |

Here we go again (again)

TNR and the Weekly Standard both have cover stories arguing for a war in the Middle East. and .  There are three, count ‘em, three articles arguing for war in the Standard.  Shouldn’t they be forced to put up their batting averages for pre-emptive Middle East wars going in?  By count, add up both magazines and you get a grand total of 000.  (Throw in Joe Klein’s and the number stays the same.)

Gore for President — on board, sort-of and our man has hired Dean's campaign manager, to help save the planet.  Has anyone started an official draft movement yet?  That’s the only thing that will work, I’m convinced.  Hey look, Richard Cohen is on board as well, .  That means something.  Cohen is a bellwether, (though not as much of one as Maureen Dowd…)  Where’s the draft, already?

In a column on March 23, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote about "the rise of what Richard Lowry of the National Review calls the ‘To Hell With Them' Hawks."  In part, Brooks characterized these hawks as being conservatives who "look at car bombs and cartoon riots and wonder whether Islam is really a religion of peace."  One of the advantages of history is that you have to check such thoughts at the door.  If Islam can't be considered a "religion of peace" -- as Mike Davis makes clear in his two-part history of the car bomb ("the quotidian workhorse of urban terrorism") -- then at least its jihadists join a roiling crowd of less-than-peaceful car-bombers that has included Jews, Christians, Hindus, anarchists, French colonials, Mafiosos, Peruvian Maoists, members of the Irish Republican Army, and CIA operatives among others, .

Excuse me, but how is this ?  Did the invitation specify a sexual preference test on Easter egg hunts?

Facts on the Ground — Israel is making Palestine , on purpose.

I see .  He was a difficult man.  That is the nature of being an unhappy prophet, which he also was.  He was also a terrific historian.  I went to see him at his house once, and we stayed in contact for a while, but it was his role as a brave and tireless public intellectual I will always admire.  Take a look at to get an idea of what I mean.

William Sloane-Coffin:  The Conscience of a Nation, .

Back to TNR and the Weekly Standard for a moment:  Their batting average on Middle East wars is one reason why the has proven so important to the Standard’s editors.  If they weren’t sliming the reputations of their ideological adversaries, they might be forced to answer some tough questions:  For instance, how do they expect us to trust them when they can’t defend their role in helping the Bush administration mislead the nation into a ruinous war that has pointlessly killed so many of our finest young men and women, wasted trillions, destroyed Iraq and created so much hatred, and potentially, anti-American terrorism?  Are they the slightest bit contrite?  Do they owe their readers an explanation for the constant stream of misinformation they have printed?  (And how many of the editors who have been so quick to play with these lives have themselves ever served in uniform?)

Remember that incredibly brief shining moment after US troops entered Baghdad, and tore down that statue, and Bush strutted around in his “Mission Accomplished” costume, many right-wing war supporters and others tried to read war opponents out of polite discourse.  Both The New Republic and The Weekly Standard—who run their foreign policy shops out of the same factory—carried “IDIOT” quotes.  They also ran quotes like the one the Standard’s Charles Krauthammer pronounced,  "The only people who think this wasn't a victory are Upper Westside liberals, and a few people here in Washington."  (This was the period when Bill O’Reilly put up a mugshot of me because I had the temerity to question the assertion that “we will be welcomed as liberators.”)

Anyway, now that we’ve seen your handiwork in Iraq, fellas, who’s the “idiot” today now that have died for nothing, sirs?

One point of gentle irony with regard to that particular quote is the fact that I gave it to the Times reporter, David Carr, on the very day American troops took Baghdad and pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein.  I had to wake up early that morning to catch a train to Washington, and so I sent off an old blog item before leaving that I had been saving for a day when I didn’t have time to do one.  Ideological commissar Andrew Sullivan attacked me on the same day for refusing to celebrate the American “victory” that I didn’t even know about.  When I arrived in Washington, I was introduced to a group at the Hudson Institute, where I was speaking, by then-Weekly Standard editor, David Brooks.  We were friendly in those days and he good naturedly saluted my courage in agreeing to speak to the group on a day when “Eric’s entire worldview has collapsed.”  Again, I had no idea what he meant.  I guess I still don’t.  I won’t hold my breath waiting for an explanation, however.

Funnily, Standard editors have a schizophrenic attitude when it comes to quoting yours truly, which can be quite funny.  They think it’s shameful that Mearsheimer/Walt paper I wrote about relied on my research.  This reminded me of previous episodes of McCarthyism, of course, but it also recalled the time I told New York Times’ David Carr that the Standard was America’s most influential magazine, its editors were so excited by the quote, they built a national advertising campaign around it.  But they didn’t want to have to quote me, of course, so they attributed it to “The New York Times” as if the paper had written it in an editorial.  When I pointed out how dishonest this was—that I could quote some terrorist who was quoted in the Weekly Standard, and attribute it to the editors, as in “Death to America, George Bush and especially Jews,” –The Weekly Standard, they pretended not to understand.  I got Columbia Journalism Review to give them a “dart” for this piece of deliberate deception and finally, after weeks of running and defending their ad, gave in and dropped it.

Finally, finally:  I waited this long: … 

Trivia-related boast:  No team has ever been five games up in the standings after just twelve games…. .  I said all last year all we needed was some decent relief.  And we got wayyy more than that.  (And hey, look at the Sox, too.)

Omigod: I almost forgot to congratulate .  Virtue, patience, honor rewarded; it's a rare and beautiful thing.  .

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John DAlessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY
That was an intriguing link to the historical speculation about GW Bush's place in the 'pantheon' of bad Presidents.  It might be more appropriate to ponder whether Bush has vastly surpassed the worst of the bad presidents, and is now worthy of inclusion with the Joe McCarthys and James Wilkersons as the very worst scoundrels in American public life.  [Our generation just absolutely loves lists and rankings, don't we?]  Bush's 'accomplishment' is particularly striking because this is renowned to be the most secretive administration ever.  If Bush is The Disaster President [copyright pending] based just on this partial record, which consists of "known knowns" as Rumsfeld would say, how will he be judged by posterity after investigations are made into any of the following: The unprecedented Bush vs. Gore Supreme Court decision, and whether the Bush campaign made any improper ex parte approaches to members of the Court; The strange matter of the exit polls and electronic voting in Ohio in 2004, and the conduct of the Secretary of State of Ohio; The broad areas of disclosure foreclosed from the feeble 9/11 commission, which used unsworn testimony, and had limited time, powers and money; The still un-investigated circumstances of the run-up to the Iraq War.  A very incomplete list, at that.  This, of course, assumes that Kevin Phillips, in his study of the Bush family, or Kitty Kelly in her gossip screed, got absolutely nothing right.  It also assumes that Bush is not on the verge of committing genocide by dropping nuclear weapons on Iran, which will make the trivial pursuit of list-making unnecessary.

Name: Oscar Richard
Hometown: Lakeland, Fl
Dr. A,
to a free streaming of the new Bruce album.  Keep doing what you are doing.  You are making a difference.  Sometimes it is just hard to see the forest for the trees.

Name: Cynthia
Hometown: Media, PA
Dear Mike from Boise: I read your list, and I'm certainly amazed that you've voted for Republicans in the past.  Have you ever listened to their platforms?  Or have they mastered Doublespeak to such an extent that when they say things like "We're for getting Government out of people's lives," you actually believe that's what they mean?  Just curious.  Because I've come to DISbelieve absolutely everything Republican politicians say.  Speaking of which...  Having just filed my income taxes, I'd like to point out that five years ago, with the identical deductions, etc. my refund was more than $600 (changed my W-4 to make sure I got the money to hold instead of the IRS).  This year, it's a whopping $138.  Man I love how these tax cuts have benefited me!

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Dr. Alterman, I know it's snarky, but it did make me think.  The latest poll numbers put the percentage of the population who "strongly approve" of Bush at 20%.  Recent pollings of Russians, though, indicate that more than 25% if he were still alive.  What does it say about our leader if he is less popular than Stalin?

Name: Bob Flenner
Hometown: Greenwich, CT
To Mike from Boise.  I have been reading with interest this thread that you have started.  I think that the problem with most people is that we all think in generalities and make assumptions.  I have been a Democrat for all of my life, and deplore almost all of the things that the radical right stands for, but doctrinaire leftists also make me itch.  There are reasons to distrust those on the extremes, in all things.  I read with interest your current list of things that you believe in and I find myself agreeing with a lot of them.  Thank you for doing that.  I hope others on this board have the graciousness to do the same.  There are things I disagree with, but on the whole you have a coherent set of beliefs, very rational.  There is plenty here to discuss and to agree on.

| 12:28 PM ET |

'The open mouth of a snake filled with poison'

Time’s most liberal columnist thinks it might be a pretty good idea to .  Of course he knows more about it than you do and you’re an idiot and an Anti-American if you disagree.  (Was he booked on ABC’s “This Week” as the liberal?)  Never mind that the war plan, , looks to be a recipe for disaster that will undoubtedly inspire massive acts of terrorist retaliation against the United States, .  Why do Richard Clarke and Steven Simon hate America?

The State Department thinks we talk too loud.  Well maybe, but how about .  That might help too.

The New York Times edit board publishes .  (For a bad editorial, go .)  Have you noticed that the Washington Post is now replicating the worst aspect of the Wall Street Journal?  Its editorial page, driven by right-wing ideology, is ignoring or purposely contradicting facts printed in its news pages.  Read all about it and .  Congrats to Gellman/Linzer for their great reporting.  (And by the way, isn’t it funny that Howie Kurtz says it doesn’t interest him at all that the Post edit page contradicts the facts on the news page?  Isn’t he admitting that he can’t cover his own paper?  And if he can’t cover his own paper, why is he covering his own network, CNN?  Which kinds of conflicts-of-interest are “good conflicts of interests,” as the Post edit board might put it?)

Finally, on the journalistic ethics beat, isn’t it about time we put a moratorium on the practice of journalism by telepathy?  Read this paragraph in TNR by Noam Scheiber, .

It's fitting that the idea animating Dean's tenure at the DNC is a big one.  Dean, after all, effectively sacrificed his future presidential ambitions to pursue his current job.  The only reason he would do such a thing is that he considers the DNC post more important than even the presidency.

Well, actually, bub, I can think of quite a few more reasons he would “do such a thing.”  Maybe, for instance, he thinks he can win one and not the other, which turns out to be true, since he did win one and not the other.  Then again, maybe Dean thinks he is personally better suited to one, rather than the other.  Maybe he prefers not to give up his personal privacy to the extent a president would have to.  Maybe he feels like he’s a young man and can run again later.  Maybe, maybe, maybe all kinds of things.  Scheiber builds much of his piece around this bit of dime-store psychoanalysis and it has absolutely no basis in reporting or any other form of evidence, though it does nicely illustrate the contempt that the smart journalistic establishment regularly demonstrates for Dean.  If Scheiber had been writing something decent about Dean, one imagines his editors would have ask a few tough questions.

Hey look:  “The intense opposition to Bush is larger than any faced by Clinton.  For all the polarization the 42nd president inspired, Clinton's strong disapproval never got above 37 percent in Post-ABC polls during his presidency.”  .  Is he the worst president in a hundred years?  he is.  More, I’d say.

Quote of the Day:  "Woman's sexual organ is like the open mouth of a snake filled with poison.”  —Rev. Sun Myung Moon, whose pastors, under George W. Bush's Healthy Marriage Initiative and abstinence-only grants, have won nearly $1 million in public funding.  Read the rest of .  It’s wild.

Contempt for books in the news business builds:  Do a search or even one and you won’t find the word “book.”

And finally, a massive Maazel Tov to the smart folks at the Jewish Theological Seminary for having the creativity and smarts to pick my old professor at Stanford, , to be the new Chancellor.  I’ve never met a scholar of Judaism whose arguments I found more compelling than Arnie and he’s a great guy, too.  Brave of him, too, to take this position on gay marriage coming in…


The Drive By Truckers are one of my favorite live bands and you shouldn’t miss them if you get the chance.  They’ve got a new CD "," about which Sal writes, “More white trash than a Rockaway dance club, this new release by everybody's favorite raunchy rockers is full of loud guitars, screeching vocals, driving beats, and even a possum or two.  More fun than a jar of moonshine.”  There’s a also a short review of it in today’s Times, , where it is termed “warm” and “shaggy.”

Sal also digs ."  Their 1981 collaboration, newly remastered, with over a half-dozen bonus tracks, was groundbreaking at the time, if a bit pretentious.  Beautiful new packaging from Nonesuch makes this a must for fans of Eno, Byrne, and pretentious music.

This too: ."  Produced by Leo Sacks, the recording sessions took place in Austin soon after Hurricane Katrina left all of these musicians homeless and displaced.  The loss and emotion comes through on these performances, which feature a core band of such legends as George Porter Jr. and Leo Nocentelli, as well as New Orleans greats Henrry Butler, Raymond Weber, and Ivan Neville.  Vocal performances by Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Dr. John, and Marcia Ball round out this wonderful tribute to a great city.  The closing number, a cover of Annie Lennox's "Why" by the great John Boutté, is enough to make even a member of FEMA choke up.


Correspondence Corner:

Name: Dana
Hometown: Houston, TX
To Don from Riverdale, NY
About your letter re: "careerism" among senior military officers.  The active-duty military is sworn to follow the orders and direction of the civilian leadership.  Publicly criticizing that leadership while still active duty is not an option.  In addition to that, something worth noting, because many civilians are not aware of it, is that: the military does not have stock options.  The military does not have 401K's.  If you manage to make it to twenty years in the military without getting a pink slip because they no longer require your specialty (happened to some P3 pilots I know), you are eligible for a pension.  Before that -- nada.  Generals, of course, have many more years than that, but their compensation package, compared to what CEOs get in the private sector, is pretty pitiful.  Speaking out before retirement about disagreeing with the SECDEF, requires much more risk of any kind of financial security than it would in the civilian world.  That is true even after retirement.  I applaud those brave retirees!

Name: Hank Branom
Hometown: Great Falls, MT
Dear Eric:
The Times story you linked on William Sloane Coffman contained a significant error in my opinion.  While Rev. Dr. Coffman was ordained a Presbyterian, in the 60's he transferred to the .  We have been the Christian "left" for over 400, yes 400 years.  Our spiritual roots are the pilgrims.  John Adams and John Quincy Adams and the Niebuhr brothers were members of our predecessor denominations.  Some of our current members beside me, include Howard Dean, Bob Graham and Barak Obama.  Just a reminder that Christians are much more than the Christian "right"/wrong.

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
Dear Eric,
As your readers know, I've written in before about the substance of the M/W paper.  It's good to know, via your Nation column, that you agree the paper has some pretty glaring weaknesses and, as you phrase it, "myster[ies]."  Now I haven't thrown around the term anti-Semite to describe M/W, whom I do not know.  But I will say this: Why would such universally esteemed historians write a paper on an obviously controversial subject that is so riddled with obvious shortcomings and mysterious omissions?  One answer might be that you and I are simply wrong to think the M/W paper was lacking.  Another might be that M/W had some kind of predetermined agenda that would only be advanced by presenting their argument in a manner wholly inconsistent with their reputations as top notch scholars.  What agenda might that be?  Speaking hypothetically, since I don't know M/W, one would hardly expect renowned scholars to simply announce that they were anti-Semites.  One might imagine they would publish a paper about Israel riddled with shortcomings, mysteries, and omissions, and that makes a point a notch or two short of anti-Semitism.  They might hope anti-Semites latch on to their conclusions via their sterling reputations and use it to advance their cause.  They might hope to provoke the "see I told you so" attitude inherent in their take on critics of their position when such criticism is directed at their efforts.  They might even hope to create a new atmosphere for debate that allows them to advance even more controversial positions in the future.  Or not.  Like I said, I don't know M/W.  But is it really unreasonable per se to question the motives of world class historians when they produce such shoddy material, or is it only reasonable when anti-Semitism is not the issue?  Yes, it is wrong to toss around labels haphazardly.  But it is worse when people who should know better intentionally provoke that outcome, which (I suspect, since I don't know them) is precisely what is going on here.

Name: Mike
Hometown: Boise, ID
Mike from Idaho back for more punishment.  I don't know if this will be posted as several of my earlier responses were not.  Perhaps that is for the best.  I may have come across as angry which plays into the 'right-wing' stereotype.  Perhaps it would just be a long post you wouldn't read or believe anyway and Eric had more important items to post.  I just want to be clear, isn't calling someone a liar is considered an attack?  It does seem some of the other readers here noticed it was adversarial.  Also, no one has bother to point out why parental consent would be so wrong.  Easier to think of me as a right wing nut job and dismiss me as a crank or looking for a fight.  But don't worry, I wasn't beat down by it.  I just find it sad.  My purpose was not to attack - I apologize if it seemed so.  It was more of a lament.  My right wing beliefs.  Oh my.  Just from a couple positions you assume to know where I stand on all issues.  You might be surprised if you would even ask.  But you don't.  Every issue has become a tug of war between the Democrats and Republicans.  Basically, I am one of the people stuck in the mud pit between both parties.  I have my personal priorities as do we all, and those determine the importance I put to various issues.  As events change, priorities change.  (I view denying parental consent/notification as an unjust interference with parenting.)  Others are more concerned about other issues that are much more import to them.  But that does NOT mean either is wrong.  It is just a matter of a person's perspective viewed through the lenses of their own priorities.  Would I still lobby to further cut abortion if for some reason the Democrats decided to embrace parental consent?  Yes.  But it would be from the inside the party instead of outside.  Also, the issue would drop on the importance scale for me.  It would still be important, but another issue would take priority. 

What are some of my 'right wing' beliefs, values and thoughts?  Here, let me give you a few.

  1. Warrant-less searches are evil.  No-knock warrants are over used.
  2. If beer and cigarettes are legal and taxed, why not pot also?
  3. Al Sharpton would be a FUN person to invite over for dinner and an evening of conversation.
  4. John Kerry would not be. (For me at least. Maybe he's a laugh riot, but I'm just not really interested.)
  5. I've voted for Perot.  Twice.  (No, not in the same election.)  Loved his response to questions about Clinton's alleged pot smoking.
  6. My son & wife spent over a week in Europe on a school trip (Italy, France & England).  My son speaks French and plans to go there as an exchange student.
  7. The 'secret laws' enforced at airports are evil.  They should be published so we can read them, or repealed.
  8. We all need to see each other as individuals and not opponents.  Look at Bush Sr. and Clinton were able to put behind them.  Who saw that coming?
  9. Why was the response by the U.S. to the tsunami quicker than the response to New Orleans?  More needed to be canned over that.
  10. I know 'same sex marriage' will happen.  It's just a fight over when and what it is called.  Quite honestly, if we allow that, I see no difference from polygamy.  We should allow it also.
  11. Sex education in schools should include abstinence.  Not exclude or the other extreme of being abstinence only. Parenting classes should be mandatory.
  12. Extend the school year.  Daycare for teenage mothers to attend high school.
  13. I'm all for merit pay for quality teachers.  Elimination of student loans for teachers based on years of service. Maybe a federal stipend direct to public school teachers - so the funds can't be diverted for administration or other costs.
  14. I don't like the implementation of any of the charter schools I have seen in my area. They appear to be private schools we pay for, allowing only a select group.
  15. I donate to more than my church.  Yes it's true.  Christians donate to more than faith based groups.  (Public library, youth rehab, ARC, Special Olympics, etc.)
  16. I don't think the purpose of the Iraq war should be to enrich Haliburton.  (I had never even noticed the company's existence until after the election.  Now they seem to be everywhere.)
  17. Duke Cunningham got off way too easy.  So did all the Enron idiots.  And the Tyco CEO.  Tom Delay disgusts me.
  18. I used to listen to Rush and O'Reilly.  Not for news so much as entertainment.  Both seem like 'Saturday Night Live' skits.  But like all SNL skits that go on too long, they are now boring.  And O'Reilly has turned into an infomercial for his 'factor gear.'  Very boring.  Both are outclassed by SNL's Hardball skit though.
  19. Adoption laws are too slow and restrictive.  The process needs to be sped up.  More families need to be made eligible.  Basically any family/individual with no convictions for violence, child abuse or sex crimes and a stable home should be eligible.  I could financially and emotionally support another child or two, but I can't afford the financial and emotional cost involved in the adoption process.  Again.  (Yes, I already have one adopted child.)  First a child needs a safe stable home. Next they need love and acceptance. I don't care WHO gives it to them as long as SOMEONE does. Yes.  I am endorsing single and gay/lesbian adoption.
  20. Why again is Chavez considered evil?  Or even Castro?  I don't really understand.  Seems like a leader sincerely looking out for his perceived best interest of the country instead of ours.  Isn't that his job?  People who listen to Robertson should be ashamed of themselves.  A man of God does not call for the assassination of people.  All our efforts appear to be just hurting the people.
  21. No way in **** I would consider voting for Cheney.
  22. Lobbyist money is buying our politicians.
  23. Bankruptcy reform was to benefit corporate sponsors and hurt consumers.
  24. I love to read Boondocks and Doonesbury.  Just wish they would do a Doonesbury animated show.  Sometimes I find myself almost shouting in agreement with Ted Rall as I read his column.  Other times, I want to shout at him.
  25. We need more immigrants.  The process to legally immigrate needs to be streamlined.

The point being, sure some are right wing.  Others might not be - I can't tell.  Labeling a person as being left or right on just a couple opinions is not accurate.  Do I have solutions?  No.  I can only speak for myself - but I assume I am not unique.  I have stated what would tip the balance for me towards the Democrats.

Name: Renee Borkowski
Hometown: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Dr. Alterman,
I've been a regular reader for some time now and enjoy it immensely.  I'd just like to share a quick thought with everyone who has been responding to Mike from Idaho.  I am very progressive and living in one of the reddest states around.  Over 70% of the voters in my county supported Bush in the 2004 election.  I have taken a lot of abuse for my politics.  I have to tolerate a work environment where all manner of conservative views are expressed verbally, via e-mail and by items posted on the outside of cubicle offices.  I do not enjoy the same luxury.  I have met very few conservatives who are in any way tolerant of my opinions no matter how fairly I express them.  It's important to treat all people with courtesy, but let's not kid ourselves.  Conservatives and liberals can be equally intolerant of each other.  No amount of kindness will get someone to change his or her vote if there is basic philosophical disagreement.  So, yes we could be nicer because it is the right thing to do, but it won't affect the outcome of the next election.

Name: Dawn
Hometown: New York, NY
Dr. Alterman,
Like everyone who reads your blog, I've been following the discussion about Mike from Idaho's e-mail.  Here are my two cents.  Maybe it's because I was raised by two former hippies, but it deeply disturbs me that this conversation about our government has so quickly come to center on Christian beliefs.  (No I'm not living in a hole, I know what has happened to politics in the last 6 years, but I've always enjoyed Altercation and its readers for being able to call out this type of pandering.)  Mike wanted some convincing arguments to vote Democrat in the coming elections.  So why argue about what denomination believes what?  Why not focus on what the Democratic Party stands for, i.e. subsidized health care, improving education, Social Security that works, etc.  An argument: my roommate has Type 1 Diabetes, when graduating from Grad School, she was more worried about finding a job that would give her healthcare than following her dreams, luckily after much anxiety, she has a job that fulfills both, for now.  Why should she have to choose between life and her dream?  Since we are a nation that is very proud, and rightly so, of the innovators and creative thinkers that have our nation has produced, don't you think that we could better support ingenuity and creativity if people didn't have to make these kinds of choices?  The most recent attempt to address this problem by our administration was in the form of personal savings accounts.  I would like to point out that in order for this to be a viable option it means you have to have enough money to put away in a savings account.  Let's look at the situation of most of my friends, we are all in our mid-twenties and trying to live in New York City, most of us on a monthly basis have to figure out how to pay rent, our bills and student loans (don't get me started on what this administration has done in that arena.)  I'd like to know where I'm supposed to find the money for a healthcare savings account.  In my opinion, the savings plans are a disassociated answer by someone who has never known what it is like to worry about whether or not one can afford rent and groceries in the same week.  The right to healthcare is a basic principle that our government has failed to provide.  It's fighting for making these basic principles a reality, which, for me, and hopefully for more Americans than the 2004 election, is the reason for voting for a Democrat 2006 and 2008.

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Dr. Alterman.
I know that this means the thread is going on for more than a week, but please bear me out.  Once again, we find someone claiming to speak for a group he is not a member of, misstating that group's position, and is now going to claim offense at being shown to be wrong.  In the interest of full disclosure, I point out that I am not a Democrat.  They may be better than Republicans, but they still leave a lot to be desired.  Brad from Virginia claims that "the Democratic positions on these issues do not readily comport with those of the majority of Americans."  And what is his proof?  That "57% oppose abortion solely to end an unwanted pregnancy."  Well, we're back to the question that seemed to cause so much trouble in the first place:  Just who are these Democrats that actively support abortion solely to end an unwanted pregnancy?  I don't know of any and I can't think of any Democrat in any significant position who claims that abortion for any reason is always and completely justified.  The Democratic Platform states it quite clearly:  "Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare."  That hardly seems to be the position of someone advocating that abortion is a good method of birth control as Brad seems to be insinuating.  Again, I am not a Democrat, but would somebody please find me a single Democratic leader who is actually encouraging women to have abortions?  This statistic Brad throws out is meaningless in this debate.  The question is not if people like abortion.  If we're going to throw out statistics, the citizenry is clearly on the side of not banning abortion.  The question, however, is not if it happens but rather who gets to decide.  The Republicans seem to think that the government should decide.  The Democrats think that the woman who is pregnant should decide (Harry Reid excepted).  He then goes on to talk about partial-birth abortions and late-term abortions.  Again, the implication is that there is a Democrat somewhere who thinks that these are good things and actively encourages them.  But that isn't the position of the Democrats.  Instead, the position is that the government is not the one to declare if a medical procedure is appropriate or not.  This goes back to Terry Schiavo:  Why do legislators think they are capable of determining the best medical course for an individual?  Isn't that something a doctor should be deciding in concert with the patient?  Aren't they the ones with the most knowledge about what is going on?  Aren't they the ones who will be most affected by the outcome?  To take the issue of partial-birth abortion, the claim by the lawmakers is that there is never a reason to perform it.  Says who?  Don't we trust doctors to be competent enough to determine when a medical procedure is necessary?  Bill Frist may think he is capable of diagnosing a person via videotape but I have my doubts as to the ability of a lawmaker to understand the intricacies of the female reproductive system and to determine what the best medical procedure is.  Note, this doesn't mean that a partial-birth abortion or a late-term abortion is as innocuous as taking a vitamin pill.  What it means is that you and I are not in a position to tell a medical expert and the patient what is and is not necessary.  The position of the Democrats is that the government needs to keep its nose out of the private medical decisions of the citizenry. 

If a disgusted Republican is looking for a reason to jump ship and vote for a Democrat, why not follow that "smaller government" mantra that keeps getting espoused?  Don't you want your doctor to have all options available?  Don't you want your doctor to be able to do his job with procedures that will cause the fewest complications?  Don't you want your doctor to be free to do what's best for you and not have to fight the government bureaucracy?  I know...I leads to such horrible things as trusting your neighbor to "do the right thing" as you see it.  But that's the price we pay for liberty and freedom: You have to trust your neighbor.  The problem with "softening the Democratic position on these divisive issues" means that the party would have to sell out its core values of freedom, personal responsibility, and liberty and justice for all.  That "for all" means something.  Let's take, as an example, Brad's trumpeting of the disapproval of same-sex marriage.  At the time of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision in the 60s which decriminalized interracial marriage, opposition to miscegenation ran at 70%, much higher than the 50% opposition to same-sex marriage that Brad quotes.  So a question to Brad: Was the Supreme Court wrong to claim that marriage was a fundamental right and should not be criminalized on the basis of the race of the participants?  The overwhelming majority of the populace opposed the notion, but were they right to do so?  Was it not a horrendously racist thing?  Wouldn't a group that was steadfastly for equality be selling itself out if it "softened its position" on racial equality? Brad's suggestion seems to be that if Democrats want to win elections, they should become Republicans. This seems to be the typical Republican line when it comes to the question of "bipartisanship": Democrats shut up and do what Republicans tell them to do, even if it means abandoning every principle that distinguishes a Democrat from a Republican. This is something that I have noticed again and again: If you ask a person individual questions about certain values they hold such as freedom of conscience, environmental stewardship, universal healthcare, etc., etc., they all come down on the liberal side of things.  And yet, these same people declare themselves to be Republicans and end up voting for people who actively work against the very values they claim to hold so dear.  Why?  Because the Republican takes a strong stand on a single issue that the person finds emotionally significant.  But to quote from the Bible, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"  Great, you stopped same-sex couples from getting married...something that you would never do and nobody is asking you to do.  But in the process, you destroyed the environment, allowed the government to throw you in prison essentially forever on secret evidence, and got over 2000 of your fellow Americans killed in a war we didn't have to fight.  Was it worth it?

Name: Bill Skeels
Stupid is right about the big business vs. small business aspects of the patent situation, but wrong to defend the ludicrous (and, I might add, entirely 'judge made' for all you strict constructionists out there) "business method" patents.  Per Stupid, " ... the problem isn't that such patents exist (why wouldn't you want to encourage genuinely innovative ways of doing business?)".  This is typical of the vague, feel-good defenses given across the board to "business method" patents, which try to force what amounts to the square peg of 'best practices' into the round hole of a system designed to protect scientific innovation. There are legions of examples of the truly absurd patents which have resulted (not least the original State Street Bank case itself).  Netflix 'patenting' the 'unique' method they use to exchange movies (basically, send it back when you're done, we'll ship another, duh)?  Amazon claiming a patent on 'One-Click' shopping?  Sun patenting web 'shopping carts'?  Priceline patented its 'reverse-auction' method. as if reverse auctions hadn't been in use for a century?  Basically what it amounts to is that adding the words 'on the internet' to any common business practice, then adding the usual techno-legal gobbledygook, is sufficient to blow these things past the admittedly overwhelmed patent examiners.  I would challenge Stupid or anyone else to describe any business method patent which has created a genuinely innovative way of doing business, sufficient to begin to outweigh the lawyer-fest which has been created.  Most defenses of the phenomenon are truly vague; 'sure, those you cite are bad, but what about all the good ones?' So, where are they?  For those who are interested, read the State Street Bank case and the considerable commentary on it; it's quite simply a picture of federal judges being hoodwinked on a topic on which they have many, many words but aren't in the same county as a clue.  It's a classic case of a court inserting itself into an arena where it has no expertise, and a walking advertisement for judicial restraint if there ever was one. If the examiners are so overwhelmed (and they are, in so many ways), then why leave this vague, non-statutory, ultimately impossible to gauge non-sense in the system?  Not to mention supporting ambushing of normal business practices by lawyers seeking to enforce this nonsense. Given the 'patent industrial complex' that's arisen, and their lawyers, these things aren't likely to go away, but it's time to quit pretending they're anything but a judge-made burden on the real free market.