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Slacker Friday

Slacker Friday

| 1:33 PM ET |

The Novak video is .  Take it away, L. Brent Bozell. (There were children watching, after all.)  More gossip . The bad man calls the kettle black, .  And I wrote “Think Again” about Novak again this week, before this happened .

P.S. Obsessives might wish to visit and .

P.P.S.  Boy am I glad Novak chickened out on our UC-Santa Barbara debate.  I would have felt terrible had I been responsible for his going visibly bonkers in front of a live audience, as I’m sure James Carvill does.

P.P.P.S.  This episode reminds me a little of MSNBC host Michael Savage telling a homosexual that he hoped he died of AIDS; it allows the CNN to do what it, obviously, should have done long ago (and would have done if they listened to columns like ), and look journalistically noble when in fact, they were merely craven.

Raise your hand if you want to be the last person to die for a (deliberately dishonest, counterproductive, possibly illegal) mistake, .

Matt Y. adds :

EVIL TERRORIST MASTERMINDS ARE MAKING SENSE.  It's probably not the most politic thing to say, but al-Qaeda ideologist Ayman al-Zawahiri seems right about this: Referring to the US president, George Bush, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, he said: "The truth that has been kept from you by Bush, Rice and Rumsfeld is that there is no way out of Iraq without immediate withdrawal, and any delay on this means only more dead, more losses. "If you don't leave today, certainly you will leave tomorrow, and after tens of thousands of dead, and double that figure in disabled and wounded.""Tens of thousands of dead" is probably a huge overestimation. Thanks to improved battlefield medicine and armor, our troops are now extremely hard to kill (as opposed to merely injure) and it would take an extremely long time to reach that figure.  Nevertheless, it's quite true that the current deployment in Iraq is unsustainable.  You can see it in the polling numbers and you can see it even more clearly in the recruiting figures and the budget.  We're going to have to leave Iraq sooner or later, and there's no real prospect of killing every jihadi in the vicinity before we do so.

It’s a hellova day when Evil Terrorist Masterminds appear more credible than the president of the United States, the vice-president of the United States, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, et al, but don’t blame us, we report, you decide.

One of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s top guys is indicted for spying on America for Israel; this is God’s gift to anti-Semites everywhere, and and hey look, Josh caught this: 

This JTA article seems to say that one of those two officials was recently given a senior position in the Bush administration: "A source close to the defense said that one of the U.S. officials involved, who has not been indicted, was recently appointed to a senior Bush administration post.  The source, who asked not to be identified, would not name the official."

E.J. Dionne remembers David Shaw, .  I admired David Shaw’s work and agree that his long series on coverage of the abortion issue had a seminal effect on journalism.  I’ve not had more to say because I did not know him well—we served on a few panels together and had lunch once—and so I feel that many others can, and will, have much more useful contributions to make.

Quick, Ann, call John Cloud, tell him to get Time's cover held this week, and bring the White Bordeaux and Nicorette; you've got another PR problem that only he can solve, .

My city’s better, continued:

Free concerts this week:

  • Richard Thompson, J and R Music World, August 9
  • Casey Chambers, Prospect Park, August 6
  • Little Anthony and the Imperials,  Battery Park, August 9
  • Greg Osby, Museum of Modern Art, Sculpture Garden, August 7
  • Brad Meldau, Jason Moran, Central Park, August 5

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  L. Conners
Hometown: Greensboro, NC
One other thing - one of your correspondents mentioned the bit about the German Navy Destroyer after 9/11, and while I got rather misty reading it, I thought, "is that really true?"

Name: David Firsich
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
Steven Hart's analysis of the Bush administration as a "bust-up" scam is completely and nightmarishly correct.  Al Gore saw their corruption early on and denounced their actions as "a form of looting."  Naturally, Gore was derided by the media as shrill and unbalanced.  But those of us who get it are buying gold and foreign currency.

Name: Bruce Kuznicki
Hometown: Alta Loma, CA
This guy Steven Hart is interesting; his writing is pretty darn good, but his thinking is as fruity as the conservatives he thinks he's lampooning.  I do agree that the Scatino bust out is scary as hell to watch-- that's a thing about HBO which makes it not just a cut above, but rather in an entirely different league most of the stuff that gets made not just for TV but the big screen, too.  But Hart's gotta ask himself-- if it's all so messed up, why is GDP so consistently high in the last several quarters?  Why is the stock market back up, why is unemployment down?  What's so bad about people voting in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Finally, I give you much respect for printing the piece about what went wrong with liberals and liberalism.  As I read it, I kept thinking about the complaint made by so many Democrats during the last campaign-- that Bush is somehow less than they are because he never admits a mistake.  I don't think they're all wrong, but I accepted Bush's willingness to pretend everything he did was right as a strategy for maintaining the confidence of his own people, and also for denying the press and the other side a way in to criticize him with his own words.  This is a double edged strategy, of course, but it seems like it can work for a person who has only been in power for four years better than it can work for several thousand people (the liberal establishment) who have been in power or at least prominent positions of influence for several decades.  I was thinking that the reason Clinton was able to sell a very watered down but still liberal version of liberalism was that he was one who truly could admit to mistakes without seeming weak.  Maybe that's what the Democrats need right now-- a reinvented liberalism that takes into account the different circumstances of now and the 50's and 60's, and applies itself to today's genuine problems, instead of pretending we're still fifty years in the past.  In other words, more Clinton, less Howard Dean.  Barak Obama might be one of your guys for that.  There's a dude whose strength would be respected by people like me, who obviously has the intelligence and seems to have the common sense for the job, who doesn't seem arrogant, and who seems to have had the black American experience but is not burdened with the bitterness.  In any case, I enjoyed the blog today.

Name: J. Landes
Hometown: London, England
Hi Dr. E,
Many are writing more insightful and knowledgeable pieces on London right now, so I will just stick to Library news.  This time it's about the American Library Association...

On June 29, 2005, the ALA Council passed a resolution on the connection of the Iraq War and libraries.  The resolution included a call for withdrawal of U.S. military forces, as well as assistance in Iraq and in the U.S. for "vital domestic programs."

Also, the ALA Council passed a resolution on "disinformation, media manipulation and destruction of public information."  This resolution opposes the use of government-made 'video news releases' which get distributed as independent news, the removal of public information from government depository libraries, and various other actions which prevent access to information.

The ALA is on fire, it seems, and the full text of these resolutions can be found .

Thanks for letting me pass on the library news!

Name:  Lali
Mr. Alterman, you said that Americans vote against their economic interest.  I've heard liberals say or write that often, but I've never heard an explanation of it.  I have never heard a democrat or liberal explain what their economic plan would be, except that somehow you will make everything available to everyone for nothing.  When I heard democrats talking about how they're going to somehow give me more money, I know that means they're going to take it from someone else.  Maybe they'll take it from me to give to someone else.  The stuff really does not grow on trees.  Also, everthing has its disadvantages.  Whatever the liberal economic policy would be or is it has its negative side.  You need to be honest about what that negative side is.  And remember that corporations are not like the beast that rose from the sea in horror movies.  People own them and work in them.  My husband is a manager in a corporation.  Are you going to destroy his job or cut his salary?  I really have no idea what you want to do.  This is the liberal's problem.  That is, just one of the problems

Name: Neil Kraus
Hometown: St. Paul, MN
Tom Frank's explanation about our politics today is much more persuasive than the essay by Massey.  And John Nichols piece on Bernie Sanders in The Nation also effectively illustrates how liberals can win.  Frank and Sanders both argue that Democrats just don't talk about economic issues largely because they are marinated in corporate money.  So the Republicans have stepped in to fill the void by talking about all the usual social issues.  As an academic, I can say that blaming liberal-academic postmodernists for why Democrats lose elections is like blaming the punter on a football team for a close loss.  Postmodernists and punters are somewhat related to Democratic loses and final scores, but there are many more direct explanations.  In the case of the Dems, you must begin by looking at our campaign finance system and Washington culture to even begin to figure out why the white working class has little use for them anymore.

Name: bstraub
Hometown: Dunellen, NJ
With all due respect, I find certain aspects of Massey's analysis on the decline of liberalism wanting.  His first point - that race played a determining role -- is understandable and likely accurate.  Liberals probably are paying a price now for championing the rights of gays, another sector that working class voters tend to reject.  Unlike Massey, I don't know if lower class voters could have been bought off, as he suggests, but it certainly is a point worthy of debate.  My differences come in his analysis regarding the decline of liberalism in light of Vietnam.  First of all, although he became the champion of the Great Society, Lyndon Johnson was never identified with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party when he assumed the presidency and was considered more of a Southern Democrat.  Massey argues that working class voters became disgusted with liberalism because they instigated the war and then sent their children to fight it.  So far so good.  But much of that war was fought under a Republican administration.  It was liberals who fought for withdrawal.  It was Ted Kennedy, the symbol of liberalism, who fought to do away with the student deferment.  As I recollect of the times, it was culturally conservative working men who supported the war.  Archie Bunker may be a stereotype but he did represent the thinking of these folks at the time.  Remember the demonstrations by the New York construction trades?  I don't see how this conclusion that working folks abandoned liberalism because of the war makes any sense under Massey's analysis.  It's true, I believe, that working class voters are drawn to the concept of tax cuts and that likely has had something to do with their alienation from liberalism.  But his other point -- that liberalism waged "a rearguard cultural insurgency from the safety of the ivory tower'' is kind of silly, sort of like asserting the media is liberal.  I don't think working folks spend all that much time worrying about the political climate on college campuses and the claims of them being politically correct -- boy am I sick of that term -- are way overblown.  There's an answer to the question Massey poses, but this isn't it.

Name: Robert Cruickshank
Hometown: Seattle, WA
I am sympathetic to Douglas Massey's account of the failures of liberalism, although I believe it is wrong to argue that liberals had a working class base.  I think that what was actually going on in the 1960s and the 1970s was an emergent liberalism among the American middle class, on issues from the environment to civil rights, and this created immense pressures on Democratic politicians to support the liberal middle class's wish list.  In this sense those liberal Democrats Massey excoriates were captives of a process, not necessarily its shapers.  And, though I agree with Massey about the failures of academic liberalism and the retreat into "arcane ideologies," I think to explain that as liberalism's ultimate fate is to do injustice to the many activists, liberal and leftist, who spent the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties involved in efforts to organize both the middle and the working classes for change and to resist conservatism.  One wonders what place Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition and 1984 campaign have in Massey's vision of liberalism, or where the renewed vision and vigor of union organizing along an SEIU model fits in these ideas as well.  I definitely agree that by the late 1960s a working class backlash had developed in the US.  I often assign Peter Schrag's 1969 article in Harper's, "The Forgotten American," to students in my 20th century US history courses to explain this phenomenon.  And yet, one wonders just what liberal Democrats should have done, or could have done, to stem this rising backlash, given the pressures from the middle class that I described above.

Name: Catherine
Hometown: Berwick, PA
Re: "What Went Wrong with Liberalism?"  All the pundits have provided such deep analysis of this question.  In fact, the answer is not deep at all.  Let me say it as simply as I can.  My husband and I are in our late 40's.  We both came from large, poor families.  Our fathers did not finance our lifestyle beyond the basics.  We both worked as teenagers, educated ourselves, got good jobs, and planned for our own retirement only to discover that we earned the privilege of paying for those who did not plan for their own future.  Please don't misunderstand - we believe we have a civic obligation to our society to pay our taxes, no matter how outrageous they may be.  We also vote in every election, and we are inclined to vote for candidates who recognize our plight.  As long as liberals insist on redistributing what we work so hard to earn, we will continue to vote otherwise.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to seek redemption.  It's time to check-in again on the Indian Trust litigation.  Last month Judge Royce Lamberth (Reagan appointee, nemesis of Bill Clinton) unleashed the harshest rant against the U.S. government this side of Al Jazeera:

...For those harboring hope that the stories of murder, dispossession, forced marches, assimilationist policy programs, and other incidents of cultural genocide against the Indians are merely the echoes of a horrible, bigoted government-past that has been sanitized by the good deeds of more recent history, this case serves as an appalling reminder of the evils that result when large numbers of the politically powerless are placed at the mercy of institutions engendered and controlled by a politically powerful few. It reminds us that even today our great democratic enterprise remains unfinished. And it reminds us, finally, that the terrible power of government, and the frailty of the restraints on the exercise of that power, are never fully revealed until government turns against the people.

I won't belabor the Kafkaesque facts of the case.  Basically, the Department of the Interior unilaterally made itself trustee of the land use rights on Indian reservations, cut businesses sweetheart deals, then haphazardly distributed a fraction of those royalties it bothered to collect and responded to Native Americans' request for an accounting with a scorched earth policy that included retaliation.  There's a similar case regarding tribal lands that involves different laws.  The Judge's rant above arose from Interior's refusal to inform trust holders of what it has already admitted: the records are a mess.  But what really struck me about this latest volley was the observation that the Native Americans are "politically powerless." 

Already this case has seen a Constitutional powergrab where the Administration and Congress passed legislation to keep one of the judge's orders from being enforced.  Compare that to Eisenhower, who criticized Brown v. Board of Education but sent troops to Arkansas to enforce it.  I think most of us when we were kids in school and first learned about slavery imagined being there, maybe as part of the underground railroad or whatnot.  If you're like me, such thoughts were followed by a sobering double-take that most people did nothing or supported the status quo and what makes me think I'd have been any different?  That's why things like this case or the Ohio vote suppression strike me as a quantum level more important than most of our political debates here -- even the Iraq war doesn't go to the core that runs through our nation's soul and history.  It's 2005, I'm not going to get a brick in the forehead if I call my Congressman and tell him I'm watching.

| 11:46 AM ET |

Announcing the inauguration of the Altercation Book Club:  I’ve always thought we don’t do enough for books on this site as we should, given how much space they have lost in the culture, particularly among most newspapers.  Plus it’s August.  So the idea is that as long as I have stuff I like, I’m going to turn over Thursdays to the author of a (relatively) recent book that I think deserves more attention than it’s received—and that could be any amount less than say, Harry Potter, and we’ll continue the discussion on Slacker Friday.  Pretty simple, I’d say.  I’ve got about five waiting, but we’ll see how long this lasts.  Here’s the first one.

“What Went Wrong with Liberalism?” by  Douglas S. Massey, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs,  Princeton University.

Liberal pundits are asking why middle class Americans so often vote against their own economic interests.  Mostly they look outside the liberal movement for answers.  If they are being charitable, they chalk it up to the pervasiveness of “traditional values.”  If they are being less charitable, they portray voters as dim-witted dupes of lying right-wing politicians.  Often they just throw their hands up in exasperation and wail, “What’s the matter with Kansas?”  Yet survey data do not show a fundamental cleavage of values among Americans; and constantly asking people “what’s wrong with you?” is unlikely to win elections.  Maybe it’s about time liberals looked to themselves and ask what they have done to drive so many people away from a party it is in their material interests to support.

Liberals often point to race as the wedge issue that broke apart the New Deal coalition, and of course they are right.  As important as race is to understanding the collapse of liberalism, however, it is only half the story.  Opposition to civil rights was only partly based on race.  As paradoxical as it may seem, resistance was also based on class, for by the 1970s the ruling elites of the Democratic party had grown arrogant, self-righteous, and callous toward the sensibilities of the working class.

As the civil rights movement shifted out of the south, liberal democrats naturally encountered resistance from entrenched social and political interests in northern cities.   Rather than acknowledging the sacrifices that were being asked of working class whites and their political bosses, and attempting to reach a political accommodation that offered benefits to counterbalance them, liberal elites treated lower class opponents as racist obstructionists to be squelched using the powers of government.  Rather than outlining a political argument to explain why desegregation was in their interests and providing money to ease the pain of transition, liberals turned to the courts and executive branch to force working class whites and local political bosses to accept whatever changes they mandated from above.

The arrogance and self-righteousness of liberal elites manifested themselves in yet another way.  The same liberal architects who promoted civil rights and social welfare also prosecuted a costly foreign war on the basis of lies, deception, and subterfuges that callously abused the faith and trust of the working class.  As subsequent tapes and archives have clearly shown, liberals in the Johnson administration—including the president himself—manufactured an attack on U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin to secure congressional authorization for military intervention in Viet Nam.  Then they systematically lied to voters about the costs and consequences of that engagement and its ultimate prospects for success.

The Vietnam War forcefully underscored the fact that liberal elites made the decisions while working class whites paid the price, thus reinforcing a politics of class resentment manipulated so effectively by conservative Republicans.  The soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam were disproportionately drawn from the America’s working and lower classes.  The sons and daughters of upper middle class professionals—the people who held power, influence, and prestige in the Great Society—by and large did not serve in Vietnam.  They avoided military service  through a combination of student deferments, personal connections, and a skillful use of medical disabilities.  Tellingly, once the system of student deferments was abandoned and the children of the upper middle class faced the real risk of being drafted through random assignment, direct U.S. participation in the war quickly ended.

To blue collar workers in the north and poor whites in the south it looked like liberal lawmakers favored the war as long as someone else’s children were serving and dying as soldiers, but as soon as their precious offspring were put at risk, they quickly ignored the sacrifices of the working classes, forgot about the 60,000 dead, and abandoned hundreds of POWs and MIAs in their haste to leave Vietnam.  The ultimate result was the evolution of a working class mythology of sellout by unpatriotic liberal elites (“America haters”), epitomized cinematically by the movies and roles of Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Clint Eastwood, whose tag lines were appropriated to great political effect by Ronald Reagan.

Aside from the betrayal of public trust, the Vietnam War also contributed to the demise of liberalism through fiscal means after 1968.  Economically, Johnson’s attempt to support guns and butter without raising taxes laid the foundation for inflationary spirals and stagflation in the 1970s.  The 1973 oil boycott would have dealt a serious blow to the U.S. economy under any circumstances, but the fiscal excess of the Great Society combined with the Vietnam War turned what in Europe and Japan were severe but manageable recessions to a disastrous brew of inflation, unemployment, and long-term recession in the United States.

A particular challenge to liberals stemmed from the fact that high rates of inflation in the 1970s produced rising nominal wages but declining spending power in real terms, causing a serious problem of “bracket creep” in the federal tax system.  In the course of the 1970s, more and more Americans were pushed by inflation into income tax brackets that were originally intended to apply only to the very affluent.  Middle income Americans were working harder for less money in real terms, but were being taxed at higher and higher rates.

High inflation also brought about an escalation in the value of real assets, particularly housing.  Families with modest incomes suddenly found themselves owning homes—and paying real estate taxes—far above what they could really afford.  Rather than sympathizing with the plight of middle class families struggling to pay taxes in an era of stagflation, however, liberals viewed  rising tax revenues as a source of easy money.  Bracket creep and asset inflation offered liberal legislators a seemingly costless way to raise taxes steadily without ever voting to do so.

But there were costs.  The unwillingness of Democratic legislators to adjust tax brackets or accommodate the inflation of housing prices set the stage for a middle class tax revolt.  As is often the case, the revolution began in California.  By a large majority, voters in that state passed Proposition 13 to cap property taxes permanently at unrealistically low levels.  Riding the wave of middle class anger and resentment, won a landslide victory over the hapless Jimmy Carter in 1980, and one of his first acts was to cut tax rates sharply and to reduce their progressivity.  When combined with a massive increase in defense spending, these actions shut off the flow of money that had financed the expansion of liberalism.  Following a path that led from intervention in Vietnam to hyperinflation to bracket creep, liberal Democrats, through a remarkable combination of arrogance and self-righteousness, dug their own graves in the 1970s and created the political conditions whereby conservatives could achieve their cherished goal of “de-funding” the New Deal.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as liberal Democrats began to be driven from the public sphere by the politics of race, combined with their own self-righteous blindness and arrogance, they responded in unproductive ways.  Liberals retreated to the confines of academia, where under the banner of postmodernism, deconstructionism, critical theory, or more popularly, “political correctness,” they prosecuted what became known as the “culture wars.”  In the course of this new campaign, liberalism on campus became an Orwellian parody of itself, suppressing free expression to ensure liberal orthodoxy and seeking to instill through indoctrination what it could not achieve politically at the polls.

To the delight of conservatives everywhere, liberals often ended up in attacking each other—seeking to unmask a white male as a closet racist, and ferreting out the last vestiges of racism, sexism, classism, and ageism wherever they might remain, even in the nation’s most liberal quarters.  Authors such as Dinesh D’ Souza, Alan Bloom, Roger Kimball, and Robert Bork had a field day lampooning the tortured logic, breathless rhetoric, and impenetrable jargon offered up by the priesthood of postmodernism, further alienating liberals from their base among the poor and working classes.  Anyone who has ever tried to digest a postmodern tract quickly realizes that contempt for the uninformed and un-elect is built into the corpus of critical social theory.

Although liberals accomplished great things during the first three quarters of the 20th century, thereafter they stumbled badly.  When they encountered resistance to black civil rights among poor and working class whites—some of it racially motivated some of it not—rather than dealing with the resistance politically, liberal elites sought to impose solutions from above by taking advantage of their privileged access to judicial and executive power.  Then, rather than telling Americans honestly about the likely costs and consequences of a military intervention in Southeast Asia and trust them to make the correct decisions, they used lies and deception to trick voters into supporting an unwinnable war that was fought mostly by the poor and working classes; and when the war came too close to home, they quickly forgot about the lower class combatants and their sacrifices they had made.  Then after liberals’ attempt to support guns and butter set off hyperinflation to erode the real value of wages, they callously thought up new ways to spend the windfall of tax revenue rather than adjust tax brackets to relieve the unsustainable burden on the middle class.  Finally, when faced with political revolt because of these misguided policies, they retreated into arcane ideologies to wage a rearguard cultural insurgency from the safety of the ivory tower.  Is it any wonder that liberals lost the public trust?

From  Return of the "L" Word: A Liberal Vision for the New Century. More information .

Columbia Legacy has just released a four CD Johnny Cash, “The Legend,” box and a two CD June Carter Cash box called, “Keep on the Sunny Side — Her Life in Music."  The Johnny box has 104 cuts, all the most famous stuff, and a nice CD of duets, but it does not appear to have any of the Rick Rubin CDs, so you’ll have to get that on its own.  Otherwise it replaces all previous collections, but not, by any means, the individual CDs; so I guess it depends on what you have.  (Don’t forget it’s covering 50 years worth of recordings.)  It’s quite handsome though, and it’s got seven unreleased songs.  And they got Johnny’s co-autobiographer, Patrick Carr, to write the liner notes, which have a series of terrific photos.  The deluxe edition, which I’ve not seen, will have a lot of other stuff, including a DVD from the Johnny Cash show (I have a bootleg of this stuff and it’s wonderful) and a home taping of his first radio appearance.) 

For the June collection, producer Gregg Geller not only tracked her numerous singles as a Columbia artist (from 1952 through the mid-'70s), but also looked to her work with other performers.  With Johnny producing, June finally got to record her first solo LP in 1975, Appalachian Pride, an "undiscovered gem" all of which appears on the second CD.  Good liner notes essay too.  Rosanne is getting the re-release treatment in the fall, so keep eyes peeled.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Nanci Green
Hometown: Cuyahoga Falls (near Akron), Ohio
Dear Major Bob,
I can tell you exactly what we're thinking about here in Northeastern Ohio.  We're thinking about the loss of six men on Monday from the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines based in Brook Park, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland).  We're thinking about the loss of 14 more men from the SAME Battalion just this morning.  We're thinking about the lives that are in risk, the pain of the families, and the utter madness of a war based on lies.  We're thinking of all the troops, and praying for your safe return.  We're thinking nothing could be more important than that.

Name: Ted Laidlaw
Re: Judge John Roberts' pro bono work:  325 hours?  Over how long a time frame?  Given that lawyers at large law firms are expected to put in 2000 hours per year of billable work, and are encouraged to 'give back' to society in the form of pro bono work, I hardly think that this number is significant.  Over a 10-year career, 325 hours amounts to one week of pro-bono week per year.  What a humanitarian!

Hometown:  Highland Park, N.J.
One of the things that redeemed the second season of "The Sopranos," which had gone all wobbly after a good start, was the unblinkingly cruel subplot about David Scatino, a boyhood friend of mobster Tony Soprano, who talks his way into one of Tony's high-stakes poker games and almost instantly buries himself under an unpayable mountain of debts.  It quickly turns out that Tony knew about Scatino's compulsive gambling problem, but let him into the game anyway because Scatino and his wife own a successful sporting-goods store.  What follows is more frightening than any monster movie.  After siphoning out Scatino's bank account (including his son's college fund), Tony and his cronies gorge themselves on the store's credit lines, buying up easily resold big-ticket merchandise and leaving the store awash in hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills.  The business dissolves into bankruptcy, taking with it Scatino's marriage (his wife divorces him), his family (his son, cheated out of an Ivy League future, hates him) and a good portion of his sanity.  In the end, as he prepares to embark on his new life as a drifter and day-laborer, Scatino asks Tony why he let him destroy himself.  After all, haven't they known each other since childhood?  Tony replies with the story of the frog and the scorpion.  "This is what I am," Tony says.  "This is what I do." 

What we've just seen is a variation on an old con called a bust-out.  Usually it involves con men offering to buy a business, making a partial payment to gain access to the firm's credit and name, and then hollowing out the company's finances by running up the existing credit lines and opening new ones, all of which are maxed out to buy electronic gear and anything else that can be resold quickly at a fraction of its value.  For the con men involved in the bust-out, it's all gravy.  The phony buyer -- usually a shell company with no discernible assets -- defaults and the business reverts to its original owner, by which time the once-thriving firm has been turned into a rotting hulk ready to have its bones picked clean by creditors. 

The Bush family has often been referred to as the WASP version of the Corleones, but the Soprano clan makes for a much better comparison.  At its best, "The Sopranos" is an acid mockery of the phony gravitas of the three "Godfather" movies.  Where Michael Corleone is heroically evil, an international player who consorts with statesmen and the Vatican before succumbing to his tragic flaw, Tony Soprano is a sewer rat engaged in the grubby business of preying on human weakness and fear — when his fall comes, it will be tragic only to himself.  Until then, however, he's going to make as much money as he can for himself and his buddies, and leave the rest of the world holding the bill.  I'm not just using hyperbole here.  I do think that when honest historians assess the Bush administration, they will find it more useful to treat George II and his Republican cronies as a criminal organization rather than a political party. 

The best tool for analyzing Bush's policies is not historiography, but the procedures used by federal agents as they pursue a RICO investigation into a mobbed-up business.  Take the money and run.  As long as Republicans are in power, that phrase should replace "E Pluribus Unum" on the national seal.  It's the natural outcome of a quarter-century of rhetoric about how government is the problem, not the solution; how government doesn't work; how deregulation is the only way to build the economy.  If government is nothing but a taxpayer-funded scam, then why not use it to enrich yourself and your buddies?  If the very idea of public service as an idealistic calling has been turned into a mealymouthed joke, then where's the shame in abusing power and running the country into the ground?  As long as you can convince just over 50 percent of the suckers to vote your way, you can throw yourself a party and leave the world holding the bill.  This is what they are.  This is what they do. 

Didn't they tell you?  The recess appointment of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is all of a piece with this scenario.  Even many Republicans find this loudmouthed dolt hard to take; certainly no foreign leader will be able to take him seriously as a player on the world stage.  Bolton will face a building full of career diplomats who know his nomination was dead in the Senate, that he had to be smuggled into office under cover of darkness, that the best they can expect is three years of low-down entertainment until the Bushies pack up their swag and head for the hills.  If you despise the very idea of the United Nations -- and if your core voting bloc cherishes Satanic conspiracy fantasies about the UN being the Antichrist's method for achieving one-world government -- then an ambassador capable of effective diplomacy is unnecessary.  The important thing is that a plum job went to a crony.  Sure, he may very well be implicated in the Valerie Plame case, but after a couple of years on the government sugar tit he'll be able to lawyer himself up and hold the prosecutors at bay for a long time. 

Insane tax cuts for the wealthy.  Delusional military ventures abroad.  From the minute the Bushies took power, their biggest concern has been to break open the cash registers, empty the shelves and open the bank vaults.  Stewardship is a joke to them.  What we are witnessing may very well be the biggest bust-out in human history.  And if you, good citizen, are wondering where you fit into this picture, just cast your mind back to the last episode of the second season of "The Sopranos."  One of the closing shots shows us David Scatino in an empty parking lot, tying some gear to the top of his car as he prepares to leave his ruined life behind him.  He wanted to play poker with the big boys, so you can say he brought his troubles on himself.  A majority of Americans voted for Bush in at least one of the last two elections, so you can say we brought this on ourselves.  In Scatino's case, human weakness created a business opportunity for Tony Soprano.  America's weakness created a business opportunity for the Republicans.  With the national press at a historic low ebb, the Democratic Party flat on its back and the airwaves humming with wingnut propaganda, the pickings couldn't be any richer.  They saw their chance and they took it.  That's what they are.  That's what they do.

August 3, 2005 | 11:27 AM ET |

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

News from the Home Front

“Bob, when you come back, tell me what you think.”  I am about to come back to the States for a few weeks.  My mid-tour leave approaches.

“‘Bout what Tom?”


Tom and I got here at roughly the same time, we work together day in and day out.  In fact, at this point it is even odds as to whose face is more familiar to me, Tom’s, or those of my children and my love.  Spend fourteen to sixteen hours a day with a guy, seven days a week, and his face gets somewhat familiar. You also get to know the man, and Tom is worth knowing.  A graduate of West Point, and an infantryman like myself, he attended grad school at the Budapest University of Economics (after having learned his third language, Hungarian, during a year at the State Department’s language program in Arlington, Virginia.)  I learn a lot from Tom, and I’ve learned that even his questions can be fascinating.

“What do you mean?” I asked, not quite following where he was going.

“Well,” he said, with his characteristic pause as he chose the right words, “I mean tell me what you think about what they’re thinking about back there.”  Tom often leaves open-ended questions.  He is very good at not telegraphing his own thoughts on an issue.

Tom’s daughter had an emergency surgery a few months back, so he’s already been home once.  His question was leading to something, but I was not sure quite what it was yet.  I filed it away.

Then a few hours later I had an e-mail from a friend, an e-mail that goes to a small circle of like-minded individuals, the rest of whom are currently Stateside.  The rather long e-mail went into some fascinating speculation about issues of national security, and then (strangely to me) ended with, “But enough of that, what I want to know is what’s at the bottom of that pond, and what will happen to the three hooligans.”  This last completely lost me, so I sent out an open query asking, effectively, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The e-mails from the Loop came flooding back, but all of them were privately to me instead of posted to the Loop.  It was as though everyone was embarrassed to admit they knew the answer.

That’s when I learned about Natalee Holloway, and the amount of air-time which our national news services have devoted to her story these past few weeks…weeks during which our Supreme Court is in transition, a UN nomination is in stasis, there is death in the Sudan, death in London, a game of nuclear chicken in Korea, and the Armed Forces of the Nation are involved in a life-and-death struggle on a daily basis here in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then I understood the unstated part of Tom’s question.


Nothing Significant To Report

(In militarese that is “NSTR,” a common acronym on a daily update slide here in-theater.)  Now you know something you didn’t know before.

You can write to Major Bob at

Scoring SCOTUS, by Jeralyn Merritt of

Reports are coming in on the details of the 84-page questionnaire Judge John Roberts submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee for his nomination to the Supreme Court.  Released to the media Tuesday afternoon, there's not much new to chew on.

Roberts provided his :  He said that while precedent is important, the role of the judge is a limited one.

"They do not have a commission to solve society's problems, as they see them, but simply to decide cases before them according to the rule of law."

And in answer to equivalent of the question, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Federalist Society," Judge Roberts is sticking to his guns.

According to recent press reports, in 1997 I was listed in brochures as a member of the Washington Lawyers Steering Committee," Roberts wrote. "I have no recollection of serving on that committee, or being a member of the society."

Roberts' supporters in three cases:  110 hours on behalf of welfare recipients who lost their benefits; 200 hours to protect a convicted Medicare "swindler" from civil penalties; and 25 hours on a behalf of a death row inmate.

More interesting is the continued dissection of his memos written while serving as Associate's White House Counsel under Ronald Regan.  There's for questions about his views on a constitutional right to privacy and civil rights. 

With Congress in recess and confirmation hearings not scheduled until September 6, it will be interesting to see how much attention the mainstream media gives to Judge Roberts between now and then.

End Jeralyn.

A friend writes --
I was watching Hardball Monday night, and they had this Melanie Morgan woman on who was part of the talk-show brigade who went over to Iraq last month.  She was on with Paul Rieckhoff of .  It was the usual sparring, with Matthews even more woolly and clueless than normal.  But, at one point, Rieckhoff made a mild criticism of the fact that the talkers probably got to see only what their handlers wanted them to see, and Morgan went off on him, talking about (I'm paraphrasing here without a transcript) that she had been in Tiananmen Square when the tanks rolled in and in Lebanon when our Marines were killed.  Now, according to her official bio at her radio station, she does seem to have been in Lebanon for some local station in KC.  No mention of Beijing, though.  Piquant?

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Frank Foer
I wrote a piece on the Standard's back of the book.  You might find it relevant to your post today, it’s .

Eric replies:  Foer’s brilliant piece was in the deep recesses of my increasingly befuddled mind when I wrote and I appreciate his raising it to the fore.  In connection with John P. “Normanson” Podhoretz, I should have offered a nod to a Ms. Charlotte Hays, who, irony of irony, credits (the once apparently not so idiotic) Ms. Charlotte Allen, below, with coining the word “Podenfraude” in honor of John Podhoretz when the two were both employed at the Moonie-owned Washington Times.  I knew this once, as I wrote it in Salon in 1997 :

Writing in The New Republic, Hays reported that Podhoretz's self-infatuated prose was often read aloud "to the accompaniment of gales of laughter."  Charlotte Allen even coined the term "podenfreude" to describe the enjoyable sensation one experiences while reading terrible writing.

| 12:39 PM ET |

'Mature conservatism,' continued

David Brooks wrote recently of John Roberts, “This is the sort of person who rises when a movement is mature and running things,” .  I don’t have an opinion of Roberts, whom I’ll leave to , but if he is the face of "mature conservatism,” then of what (Goo-goo ga-joob) type of conservatism is John Bolton the face?  The Times edit page has new notes on this question .

What really inspired these thoughts was a recent article in Brooks’ old haunt, The Weekly Standard, (in which Roberts appears on the cover).  It’s not online, but a conservative woman named Charlotte Allen has written an article about the freelance writers union’s legal victory over big media companies that contains this amazing sentence:

… the novelist E.L. Doctorow, best known for an anti-Bush graduation speech rant at Hofstra University last year that nearly got him booed offstage, and also for his novel, The Book of Daniel, (later a movie), which argued that the convicted and executed atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were actually innocent.

Now, I suppose I should disclose that Doctorow is my close friend, and I am particularly sensitive to aspersions cast on his writing having read his masterpiece, The March, which is coming out in September.  But I don’t think either of these two factors need have any effect on my view that Allen's statement—and I say this advisedly—is perfectly (but instructively) idiotic.  I can’t imagine there is anyone in the world who “best know[s]” the author of Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, The Book of Daniel, The Waterworks, City of God, Sweet Land Stories, etc., as a guy who gave a truthful but unpopular with some—graduation speech at Hofstra.  If Allen’s piece was edited by anyone, that person should be immediately fired.

But look, there’s more:  In the very same sentence, Allen insists that Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel makes an argument about the innocence of the Rosenbergs.  Hello?  It’s a novel.  It’s fiction.  It was inspired by true life events.  But it makes no historical argument about anything.  It tells a story about made up people.

Does Allen not understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction?  Does she not care?  And what of her editors?  Do the editors of the Weekly Standard fail to distinguish between truth and falsehood on every page of their magazine?  Is that why they are still allowing Stephen Hayes to crow about Iraq and Al Qaida?

Of course, nobody at the Standard will be fired for this bit of inarguable nonsense, because—while both of Allen’s statements are intellectually indefensible—they do fit the ‘Conintern’ style of Stalinist/Philistine cultural criticism in which the contemporary American right wing revels.  (Remember the Weekly Standard culture section was begun by John Podhoretz, before he his personal unpopularity with his underlings at the magazine sent him packing for yet another Murdoch-funded sinecure… where his personal unpopularity with his underlings sent him packing for yet another Murdoch-funded sinecure, etc.)  In one words, Allen’s demonstrably idiotic comments are to right-wingers —like so much of what one hears on Rush, O’Reilly, Hannity, Scarborough, etc.— a kind of “salutary nonsense.”  It serves their purposes just as nobody thinks about it for even a moment.

If this be “mature conservatism,” I’ll take the John Birch Society any day.

But wait, there’s more:  Amazingly, Allen manages to be no less idiotic in her very next sentence.  She writes,

Since, along with the noted historians, Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton, I believe the Rosenbergs to be guilty as sin, I wondered how “representative” of me Doctorow would be.

Let’s examine the logic of this for a moment.  Doctorow —who does not need a nickel for his republished freelance work, being rather well-off from the millions of sales of his books, plus the movie and theater rights, etc.— unselfishly lent his famous name to by-and-large penniless freelancers who do very much need the money to live, in order to give a successful lawsuit heft and help recover payments legally owed to them, according to the courts.  Allen, who cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction, thinks that the fact that the litigants have borrowed Doctorow’s name makes it less likely to be representative of her, personally—as if that matters—with regard to issues relating to the contractual payments for her freelance writing, because she differs from what she thinks are Doctorow’s views of the Rosenberg case, gleaned from a work of fiction she may or may not have read.  But wait, believe it or not, Allen cannot even get the source she cites correctly.  The Radosh/Milton book makes the case that Julius was guilty (and I agree) but that Ethel was innocent and was executed by the United States Government largely as a bluff to try to get one of them to confess.  In other words, Julius guilty, Ethel innocent.  Not “the Rosenbergs ... guilty as sin."  One of the woman’s sources for her irrelevant complaint is fiction and the other one she apparently hasn’t read.  All that foolishness in just two sentences…  It’s almost impressive when you consider it.

OK, that’s enough.

No wait, one more thing:  Really, I know it’s crazy to continue with this silly article, but this is a blog, and anyway, I’m skipping pretty much the entire thing, which I imagine, would yield a blog post longer than Remembrances of Things Past, but in closing the magazine, I noticed its penultimate sentence.  Allen writes:

If the National Writers Union wants to do something for writers, instead of fooling around with Lexis/Nexis, why doesn’t it try to get us bigger fees for our articles in the first place?

Again, this sentence is so stupid as to be barely believable—except perhaps as a parody--but also again, it is instructively so.  In the first place, “fooling around with Lexis/Nexis,” is exactly how writers can get themselves bigger fees for their articles.  Second, and perhaps more to the point, the entire history of the National Writers Union has been one long struggle to get writers “bigger fees” for their articles including the long and painful negotiation of union contracts for freelancers with underpaying magazines (including The Nation).  In other words, Allen has written this quite lengthy and extremely nasty article not only as a perfect idiot, but also as a perfectly ignorant idiot—knowing literally nothing about the organization and the individuals she is attacking.  One despairs for the fate of humankind that a smart fellow like William Kristol would put his name above a masthead that prints such things, but I suppose that’s what “mature conservatism” means.

(I guess I should also disclose that I used to be a member of the NWU for the purposes of my health insurance, but have not been for five or six years, and did not have much else to do with it, though I support most of its goals, insofar as I am aware of them.)

Speaking of an inability to distinguish between fact and fiction…

Great Quotes in History or, Why Can’t Life be More Like Baseball?


The guy who said that was slapped with a ten day suspension.  But what about these guys?

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." Dick Cheney Speech to VFW National Convention, Aug. 26, 2002.[]"Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons." George W. Bush Speech to U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 12, 2002.[]"We know they have weapons of mass destruction … There isn't any debate about it." [It is] beyond anyone's imagination" that U.N. inspectors would fail to find such weapons if they were given the opportunity. Donald Rumsfeld, September 2002.[]"If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world." Ari Fleischer Press Briefing, Dec. 2, 2002.[]"We know for a fact that there are weapons there." Ari Fleischer Press Briefing, Jan. 9, 2003.[]"We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more." Colin Powell Remarks to U.N. Security Council, Feb. 5, 2003.[]"We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have." George W. Bush Radio Address, Feb. 8, 2003.[]"So has the strategic decision been made to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction by the leadership in Baghdad?... I think our judgment has to be clearly not." Colin Powell Remarks to U.N. Security Council, March 7, 2003.[]“Does Saddam now have weapons of mass destruction? Sure he does. We know he has chemical weapons. We know he has biological weapons. . . Defense Policy Board Chair, Richard Perle, speaking to a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing, March, 2003. []"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." George W. Bush Address to the Nation, March 17, 2003. []"Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly... all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes." Ari Fleisher Press Briefing, March 21, 2003[]"There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction."  Gen. Tommy Franks Press Conference, March 22, 2003. []"We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." Donald Rumsfeld ABC Interview, March 30, 2003. []"I'm absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there " Colin Powell Remarks to Reporters, May 4, 2003. []

Media Matters notes that Novak contradicted himself on Senate committee's Niger conclusions, but I wonder, now that on the case to defend himself, should the Washington Post editorial page and CNN continue to accept his refusal to discuss his role in the crisis?  He forfeited his own excuse for his own selfish purposes, how can he go back to his former sullen silence and expect his employers to continue to accept it?  Does anyone at either place have a spine—or at least care about their respective reputations with anyone other than Novak’s coterie of friends and informants?

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Fred Griffin
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Regarding your August 1st comments about the outpouring of solidarity we received from Europe following 9/11: There was a story which may not have made it out of military e-mail circles about the actions of a German Navy destroyer.  In the week or so after 9/11 an American destroyer was coming out of the big NATO base at Rota, Spain.  As it was proceeding up the channel, it was signaled by the German Navy destroyer behind it which asked for permission to pass the American ship.  This is a rather unusual request, so after the American destroyer granted it, much of the crew came to the side of the ship the German destroyer was going to pass on to see what was what.  As the German destroyer passed the American, the entire crew of the German ship was lining the rail in their dress uniforms and saluted the U.S. destroyer as they passed it.  Per one of the officers on the American ship, there wasn't a dry eye on board ship.  This is what Bush has squandered.

Name: Phil
In an earlier post, Nate commented on the quote "At no time in the history of Civilization has a conquering army gone to such great lengths to protect civilians during wartime."  He discusses the possibility of measuring civilian loss as a percentage of all innocent civilians.  There is a little known war, fought here on the North American continent, in which there was no loss of life, civilian or otherwise.  It was the Toledo War of 1835-36, also known as the Ohio-Michigan Boundary War.  Though it would be hard to say which side was the "conquering army" as the surveys of that time put Toledo between Ohio and Michigan, it is clear that if the quote is interpreted as Nate suggests, the quote is wrong.

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA
For all D.C. Metro area residents, the Murdoch son decamping smells a lot like the very public disintegration of the Haft family empire.  In short, Father was a controlling tyrant.  Elder son wanted more say-so and less interference from Father.  Mother and sister take Elder Son's side.  Younger son sees this as an opportunity to advance by siding with Father.  Parents divorce, Father cuts off contact with his grandchildren, fires younger son for wanting more say-so as to what goes on with the company.  Marries long time female companion on his deathbed.  Last I heard, will was being contested.  Imagine this scenario being played out with News Corp., instead of Crown Books and Dart Drug!

Name: Pedro Gomez
Hometown: New York, NY
I found the Boston Globe editorial about Colombia to be very unfair and poorly researched.  It makes it sound as if the situation in Colombia is now as bad as it's ever been, but most Colombians will tell you that things are much better now than they were 5 years ago.  In fact, these trips McGovern likes to take in "vans and SUVs on the back roads in remote areas" would have been impossible five years ago.  The Colombian government has many faults, but you can hardly blame them for using the U.S. aid for military purposes.  You know enough about the current U.S. administration to know that that money would quickly disappear if it were to be used for "economic and social program aid" instead.  And just about all of these massacres of rural citizens are the work of the guerilla groups, not the government.  The conflict in Colombia has been going on for almost forty years, and yes, some unsavory compromises will be necessary if it is ever going to end.  This statute the Colombian president (whose name, by the way, is Alvaro, not Alvara) and congress are trying to pass covers all combatants, not just paramilitaries, and is not quite as forgiving as the article makes it sound.  All Colombians are fed up, but establishing a few "peace communities" in areas under army control is not the solution.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Steve Pandolfo of Darien, CT argues that the meaning of "militia" in the Second Amendment can be derived from certain passages of 10 U.S.C. Giving an act of Congress the effect of establishing the definitive interpretation of constitutional text, however, would run afoul of the principle of judicial review established in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803).  Consistent with Marbury, only the judicial branch can decide the meaning of constitutional text.  While it is certainly the fervent wish of some on the radical right to have Marbury overruled, it hasn't happened yet.  Consequently, 10 U.S.C. really cannot be considered as settling the question of what "militia" means when the word is used in the Second Amendment.

Name:  Ed Tracey
Hometown:  Lebanon, New Hampshire
A confidential Scotland Yard file, which was released at Britain's National Archives to the Guardian newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that Detective Sergeant Norman "Nobby" Pilcher, who built his drug squad career targeting musicians, including Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Eric Clapton and Donovan, finally turned his attention to the biggest prize of all - a Beatle - in October 1968.  Pilcher came under strong pressure from the then home secretary, James Callaghan, after a raid on John Lennon's Marylebone, London flat.  It was widely believed that Lennon had already immortalised Det Sgt Pilcher as "Semolina pilchard" in the Beatles song "I Am the Walrus."  The Beatle described him as a "head-hunting" cop: "He went round and bust every pop star he could get his hands on, and he got famous.  Some of the pop stars had dope in their house and some of them didn't."  Lennon always insisted he had been framed by Pilcher, who was subsequently jailed for corruption because of his practices in the drug squad.  Lennon was only fined £150 for possession but the conviction was to give him years of trouble and pain.  It was enough to trigger a deportation order against him in the U.S. in 1971, and a subsequent four-year battle against being thrown out.  Ono said it also contributed to the couple losing custody of her daughter, Kyoko.  For the entire story, use .

Name: Piack
Hometown: Denver, CO
Dr. Alterman,
I really enjoyed Stupid's ideas about profiling tax bandits; thank you for continuing to post such great material from your correspondents.  My two cents?  Aside from the very obvious legal and civil rights issues with profiling, it's just illogical, and to be perfectly honest, DUMB.  If a government says, "Okay, we're just looking for Muslim males of Middle-Eastern descent," the first thing I would do if I were running a terrorist organization is to recruit some blonde-haired blue-eyed white people.  It's pretty clear that these organizations are pretty well financed, and if they can make a good enough financial offer and a good enough case with wackos, say, on the Tim McVeigh side of things, odds are pretty good they'd side-step any myopic racial profiling program in operation.  Get a clue, Hannity!

Name: Ben Tafoya
Hometown: Reading, MA
Dear Eric:
I thought you might appreciate another example of journalistic integrity from Cathy Young of The Boston Globe.  In she equates religious tests for judicial nominees with concern over Judge Roberts' membership in the Federalist Society.  Which, by the way, she informs us, has paid her from time to time.  Do they have any editors here?

Name: Ken Gunn
Hometown: Sudbury, ON Canada
Hi Eric,
Thought you might be interested in this news from north of the border.  Three members of the B.C. Marijuana Party were arrested at the request of the U.S. government by the Vancouver police.  Canadians are a little freaked out.  We are in the process of legalizing pot given that everyone in the country uses, has used, or has been in the same room as someone using therefore aiding and abetting a criminal act.  Good thing your President never did anything like that--we Canadians might have to ask he be arrested and extradited here.  We'd deal with him forthwith and harshly--maybe a fine.  Apparently these evil characters arrested in Van, if sent to the U.S., face 10 years to life in prison.  Get a grip.  With all the mind-altering things available that are legal, pot is one the least offensive things I can think of.  Gateway drug?  That's a joke.  It's based on correlational data and any scientist will tell you a correlation means nothing.  Classic example:  There is a high correlation between street crime and ice cream sales--every university grad remembers that one.  Of course, ice cream does not lead to street crime, it's just that when people are out on the streets in warm weather buying ice cream they are more susceptible to street crime.  So pot "causes" people to use other drugs?  No.  People that use pot are more likely to use other drugs?  Yes.  They are also more likely to buy fast cars, get higher-level positions in companies--and become President of the United States, I'm pretty sure three of your last five presidents qualify.  Maybe the head of the D.E.A. should sit back and have a couple of shots of whisky, take a Valium, an antihistium if his nose is running, and rethink this whole thing.  He wouldn't be braking any laws.


[i] , “Vice President Speaks at VFW 103rd National Convention; Remarks by the Vice President to the Veterans of Foreign Wars 103rd National Convention,” August 26, 2002.

[ii] , “President’s Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly; Remarks by the President in Address to the United Nations General Assembly,” September 12, 2002.

[iii] Mitchell Landsberg, “Ample Evidence of Abuses, Little of Illegal Weapons,” Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2003, p.1.

[iv] , “Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer,” December 2, 2002.

[v] , “Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer,” January 9, 2003.

[vi] , “Remarks to the United Nations Security Council,” New York City, February 5, 2003.

[vii] , “President’s Radio Address,” February 8, 2003.

[viii] , “Remarks to the United Nations Security Council,” New York City, March 7, 2003.

[ix] Seymour M. Hersh, “Selective Intelligence; Donald Rumsfeld Has His Own Special Sources. Are They Reliable?” The New Yorker, May 12, 2003, p. 44.

[x] , “Address to the Nation,” March 17, 2003.

[xi] , “Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer,” March 21, 2003.

[xii] , “U.S. Central Command report,” March 22, 2003.

[xiii] , “This Week with George Stephanopolous,” March 30, 2003.

[xiv] , Remarks after “NBC’s Meet the Press,” Washington D.C., May 4, 2003.

August 1, 2005 | 11:54 AM ET | Permalink

The administration's true face

Let’s hear it for George W. Bush’s recess to the United Nations.  Bolton hates the UN, misled the Senate, can’t get confirmed, may have been involved in outing the identity of a CIA agent and therefore committing a felony (and quite possibly to Judy Miller, though that part is confusing—see --) and wont reveal just who he was spying on during the UN debates, though it may have been his superiors.  No wonder Condi is fighting so hard to get him out of the State Department.  No wonder Bush and Cheney want him so desperately to represent them before rest of the world.  They are as one.  This is the true face of the Bush Administration, and I hope all of its fans can deal with that.

I did not have the room to include this in my Nation column this month, , but one thing that has always bothered me about Jake Weisberg’s long review of anti-Bush books in the NYTBR of last year is that in order to demonstrate how sensible, responsible “liberals” think and act—rather than the crazies he names like Graydon Carter, Blumenthal, Conason and myself--he instructs us to calm down about this fellow Bush, who simply cannot be as bad as we pretend.

What is incredibly telling about this, however, is that even a smart guy like Weisberg cannot come up with any legitimate examples of Bush’s not-so-horribleness to make the case.  Of the three he chooses, one is perfectly pointless and the other two deliberately misleading.  In other words, Bush really is that bad; it’s just not kewl to admit it.  Weisberg wrote back then, “… not every single thing Bush has ever done in his whole entire life can be utterly deplorable.  What about increasing AIDS funding?  What about deposing the Taliban and bringing NATO into Afghanistan?”

First off, no American president imaginable would ever have let the Taliban remain after 9/11, or does Weisberg mean to argue that Al Gore would have thrown them a party?  Bush gets no credit for doing what any president who didn’t want to be impeached did, but he does deserve condemnation for doing it so badly; letting bin Laden escape, letting the Taliban and Al Qaeda regroup, and removing troops and resources to fight a stupid, counterproductive war in Iraq.  But Weisberg is wrong when he credits Bush for bringing NATO into Afghanistan.  Here, from is what really happened:

Nowhere were feelings stronger than in those European countries whose leaders had been at odds with the administration over the arrogance and unilateralism of its foreign policy. Formerly contentious Europe overflowed with spontaneous symbols of what German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called "unconditional solidarity."  Le Monde ran a banner headline declaring Nous Sommes Tous Americains.  Millions held vigils, rallies and prayer services.  Fantastic amounts of money were collected. Stars and Stripes hung everywhere. For the first time in its history, the Atlantic Alliance invoked its solemn obligation to come to the defense of a fellow member, articulating what Michael Ignatieff termed “this sense of a common trans-Atlantic identity under attack."[]Instead of embracing the world’s—and most particularly its allies’ — outstretched hands, Bush replied in deed if not in word: “Thanks but no thanks.”  Europeans hoped that the need to fight a global terrorist menace "would turn the Bush Administration toward greater multilateralism," as the editors of The Economist put it.  It appears, however, to have done just the opposite.  When U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz flew to Brussels to address NATO defense minister, he did described US plans for the "wide-ranging, long-term approach the U.S. is adopting to combat terrorism."  He did not even mention the extraordinary NATO offer.  "He said very clearly that we don't need you," a European official at NATO later explained.[]  The French strategist Jacques Rupnik characterizes the American attitude this way: "We decide what is good and we decide what is evil.  If Europe wants to follow us, fine; if not, too bad for them."[iii]

And as for the alleged increase in AIDS funding, here again, from The Book on Bush:

While disease, civil war and starvation ravaged much of the continent, the president proposed two major programs for Africa before departing.  First was a $15 billion initiative, originally described in his 2003 State of the Union, to attack the AIDS crisis with a flood of antiretroviral treatments and prevention monies.  And he offered up $10 billion program termed the Millennium Challenge Account, to provide poor nations with the opportunity to compete with one another for grants in order to inspire the new race toward development efficiency.But as so many millions of vulnerable and dependant Americans had already learned, what the president says and what the president does are not always intimately related. In this case, the money disappeared from the table even before any cards were dealt. Even before Bush left for Africa, his request for Millennium Challenge Account in its 2004 budget had shrunk to just $1.3 billion. Remember that’s the high point of the Congressional appropriations process. And instead of the $3 billion Bush promised per year over five years for the aids initiative, the White House's 2004 budget request asked Congress for only $1.9 billion. But even that was something of a mirage, as it appears to be based on a mere reshuffling of accounts. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria—much of which is designated for Africa--for instance, received a $150 million cut from the previous year. (Moreover Congress mandates that even this money will not be spent unless the Europeans double the U.S. contribution.)  USAID’s budget for infectious disease programs, much of which is earmarked for Africa, fell 32 percent from the previous year, while the funding levels for child survival/maternal health funds drop by 12 percent.[]  To add the final insult to the various injuries it had already inflicted, the administration also discontinued financing for a small but extremely highly-regarded AIDS program for African and Asian refugees in August 2003, alleging that that one of the groups involved in the project supports forced abortions and involuntary sterilization in China. The administration admitted it had no actual evidence that the Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium had actually participated in any abortion or involuntary sterilization.[] And its weakening will almost certainly result in the necessity of more abortions—as well as more unnecessary AIDS deaths. But it lost its $34 million in funding anyway; a victim, once again, to a combination of ignorance and ideology that apparently knows no bounds and feels no shame.

(My column also notes that “Weisberg's review also deemed MSNBC's prewar cancellation of Phil Donahue's liberal talk show--its highest-rated program at the time--a matter of economics, not politics, despite well-publicized internal NBC memos indicating otherwise.”  For the evidence on that one, see Media Maters, .)

“Every quarter, the State Department should identify the Top 10 hatemongers, excuse makers and truth tellers in the world.”  A journalist is advocating that the government decide what kinds of dissent are allowable?  A government of liars, no less, that long ago lost any credibility on virtually any issue of importance?  The only thing the Bush teams knows to do with truth-tellers is fire them and then leak damaging and false information about them.  I do believe Tom Friedman has truly lost his mind; let’s hope it’s temporary.  .  (Remember, they call this guy a liberal.)

I want a dad just like… Rupert Murdoch  Dear Old Dad.  According to the Times report on Saturday, Lachlan Murdoch was paid $3.8 million in salary and bonus last year.  News Corporation documents show him as the holder of 1.7 million shares of his own beyond the family's interests.  The newspaper for which he is responsible, The New York Post, lost what the Times estimates is $70 million, and he’s whining that daddy was interfering too much.  (That’s tens of millions more than Russ Smith’s family had to lose to get him a job running New York Press, the only New York paper worse than the Post.)  The story is , though the version that makes it sound like one of Trollope’s Palliser novels is free in today’s WSJ, .  We note that daddy praised the kid for “driving all of his reporting divisions to record profits and The New York Post to its highest-ever circulation."  Give him credit, as always, for audacity.

(In my utopian daydreams, I live in a world where the all the spawn of Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol would have to make a living in the free-market system they profess to admire so much, without the Murdoch teat.  Bill Kristol would have been a decent ad man, me thinks.  But “John P. Normanson,” well, perhaps he could have made it on a reality show.)

Why my city is better than your city, continued:  FREE concerts in New York that I happened to notice this week, (even though I’m not looking because I’m not there):  Patti Smith, Central Park, Thursday, The MC5 with the Sun Ra Akestra, (You missed that, Central Park, yesterday,) Ronnie Spector and the Uptown Horns (of whom Paul Berman was an original member) Battery Park City, Wednesday, the O’Jays, Wingate Field, Tonight, Los Amigos Invisibles, El Museao del Barrio, Thursday, James Blood Ulmer, Commons Plaza, Thursday, Chris Smither, South Street Seaport, Wednesday, McCoy Tyner, Castle Clinton, Battery Park, Thursday.

Wanna fight about it?

Scared Straight:  I was lecturing the kid the other morning on the dangers of alcoholism, and lo and behold, came up with the following example.  “I have a friend, honey, who was one of the greatest writers in the world.  But he drank so much that now he even likes George Bush….”  Seemed to work, for now.

Another success story for George W. Bush, .  (More Upper West Side Dreamin’: President Jim McGovern; minority Texas Congressman, George W. Bush…)

Congrats to my friend, Harry Evans, , a Brit who (apparently) drinks just the right amount.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Chris Cooper
Hometown: Kent, Ohio

Thanks for posting my appeal for food aid to West Africa yesterday.  Here is the whole story. The aid groups on the ground in western Africa saw the crisis (due to drought and a locust infestation that destroyed most of the food crops) coming and made an initial appeal for aid to the international community in May of this year, only to be virtually ignored.  Consequently, the situation has gone from a "mere" crisis to outright devastation.  It is estimated that if the response had been timely, about $1 in food aid per person would have been needed to avert mass starvation, now it will take about $80 per person.  In addition, the rainy season has started, so it is becoming more difficult for aid to reach areas in which it is needed due to washed out roads and bridges.  With the rains, also come mosquitoes, and where there are mosquitoes, there is malaria, which is exacerbated by the malnutrition. People have also been forced to sell their livestock (at greatly reduced prices) and to eat next year's seed to survive. Consequently, next year might be worse.  I don't know MSNBC's policy about linking to competitors, but CNN has a good synopsis of the situation .  The U.S.'s paltry $1.66 million donation again makes clear how little this "culture of life" administration seems to care about life that already exists, but I digress.  The BBC has on a new proposal by the UK's International Development Secretary Hilary Benn on creating a $1 billion "crisis fund" that will help get aid to folks before outright devastation occurs. 

I encourage your readers to harass their elected officials on the issue.  Some are organizations that can use our donations are (in addition to the ones I mentioned Friday): 

  • Action Against Hunger
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • World Vision
  • CARE
  • Africare
  • Lutheran World Service
  • MAP International
  • PLAN

2005 is also the "International Year of Microcredit."  Microcredit and microfinance are small, small, small-scale loans provided to poorer peoples around the world, people that are locked out of the traditional financial system.  They use these funds to help them acquire assets, start small businesses, send children to school, etc., thereby helping them escape cycles of poverty and subsistence living.  Organizations that provide microfinancing around the world can be found .

Many additional ones can be found by doing a Google search.  Most of them accept donations, but many of them allow you to invest in them like more traditional financial instruments.  The financial rate of return is usually small (around 2%) but (and you knew I was going to say this) the social rate of return is significant.  Anyways, thanks for letting me rant, but I wanted to try to provide your readers with short, medium, and long-term ways to help.  It is also discouraging (but unfortunately not surprising) to see how little attention this is generating in the domestic media.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Once again, you and your very informed correspondents continue to provide substantive insight.  Thanks especially to Chris Dougherty for the history of court rulings on 2nd Amendment cases.  This is far more valuable than all the NRA-inspired sentimentality about prying weapons "from one's cold dead hands."

Name: James Warren
Hometown: Federal Way, WA

Jane Jimenez' column titled "Pelvic Thrusts" that you linked to brings up a pet peeve of mine: the younger generation is corrupted and the world is sliding toward the abyss.  The theme is as current as her column and as old as the Bible.  When our children are born, they open their innocent eyes in a TOTALLY DIFFERENT WORLD than their parents currently live and make their lives in.  Children--if raised and guided by respect and understanding and authentic family values--will more than likely grow up to be responsible and moral adults.  The fact that little girls often want to show off a naked midriff and wear short skirts or that little boys sometimes grab themselves like Michael Jackson and practice adult profanity has NOTHING to do with debauchery or moral decline.  In their shared social context, they are growing up, acquiring their values and doing the best they can in incredible times and in an amazing world.  Ms. Jimenez' (and others') moral panic, I believe, stems from the fact that their Weltanschuung is passing away.  And that is as it should be.  "Not tryin' to be a big sensation... Talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation."  This is how the drama of civilization presents itself--over and over again in different ways and through different cultural expressions.  World without end.
Amen. ...James

Name: Dave Jones
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

To assuage Robert Murphy of Seattle, the slavery 'debate' has probably run its course, as has science versus magic, or atrocities versus peace.  However, Progressives in general (not just in Emerald City) seem to take 'progress' for granted, and quickly lose patience with those who aren't up to speed.  Both attitudes are big mistakes.  Hard won freedoms of all sorts require vigilance and yes, sometimes, revisiting seemingly settled issues for new generations.  Why shouldn't schoolchildren be asked why slavery was and is wrong?  A 30-year-old college-educated person doesn't recall Vietnam at all, was 16 during Gulf War I, and was not long out of university as of 9/11/01.  Our ancestors' sacrifices mean our grandchildren often couldn't understand these issues the same way.  Still, confusion about warfare, science teaching, etc., should warn us of gaps in education.  Have we designed it for ourselves more than for them, even mystifying it for our own ends?  Is this why George W. Bush's glib nonsense of sounds better to them than it should?  (Just asking.)  In any event, since we're speaking to people who 'weren't there,' we need to be more patient and careful in our methods.  What we expect they 'should just know' is useless and our contemptuous exasperation is counterproductive.  It's our job to ensure they know it from now on:  be glad they still come home to have the arguments.

Name: Chuck Moore
Hometown: Willow Grove, PA

Mr. Alterman,
"Richie" was the diminutive nickname hung on Mr. Allen by the historically racist Phillies organization.  He privately bristled at having to answer to that unwelcome tag and switched his professional name back to Dick as soon as he felt able to do so.  Source: "Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen" by Dick Allen and Tim Whitaker.
Keep fighting the good fight,
Chuck Moore

Name: Walter Crockett
Hometown: Worcester, Mass.

Hey Eric,
You're right, the Nation and Think Again columns were twice as good.  Excellent take on the New York Times, and on malicious media monolithicization. Here in Worcester, Mass., where voters overwhelmingly elect Ted Kennedy and John Kerry as senators and the truly liberal Jim McGovern as congressman, the daily Worcester Telegram & Gazette is now owned by the New York Times.  But rather than changing the T&G's Paleolithic Republican editorial stance, the Times has been content to cut staff and milk the paper dry.  The only major radio station, WTAG (formerly owned by the T&G), is now a Clear Channel station with a steady diet of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Dr. Laura, and Michael Reagan.  So our residents are not being served by the media.  Rather, we are being herded like sheep by those business interests who would take America on a "Serfing Serfari."  If it's like this in Worcester, Mass., God help the red states.

Name: Steve Pandolfo
Hometown: Darien, CT

I don't know why someone would look to the dictionary for the definition of militia, when it's the legal definition that matters.  According to US Code Title 10 Subtitle A Chapter 13:

a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard. (b) The classes of the militia are- (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.

Since the National Guard and Naval Militia have their own regulations (I believe), and the unorganized militia is bound by the entirety of the laws of the United States, both classes appear to be "well-regulated" and are granted the right to bear arms.  So, if we're to truly go by the legality of the Constitution, the right to bear arms is granted to all males between the ages of 17 and 45 who meet the qualifications pertaining to citizenry listed in the above paragraph (except as provided in section 313 of title 32), and females who are in the National Guard.  While this is ageist and sexist, if people are going to start throwing around case law and definitions of legality, as long as the 2nd Amendment has its current wording, and as long as militias are going to be classified according to their current status in the US Code, there is no just way to prevent those who fall under that classification from their armaments. Change the Constitution or the definition of militia in the US Code, then we'll talk.

Name: Steve Rodowick
Hometown: Paradise, CA

In the ongoing debate on the original intent of the drafters of the Second Amendment, all fail to consider the historical time frame of when the Bill of Rights was drafted.  If the original intent was for everybody to have the right to possess single-shot, flint-lock blunder busts, then by all means, let's not infringe on that right.  I feel if the drafters could have foreseen the war weaponry of the 21st Century that passes as recreational firearms, they would have written the Second Amendment with a good measure more detail.

Name: Nate
Hometown: St. Louis, MO

Brad, from Arlington, VA, writes, "At no time in the history of civilization has a conquering army gone to such great lengths to protect civilians during wartime."  I have either read or heard that same sentiment by many who wish to excuse/rationalize/condone the disturbing actions by our military, and the civilians with authority over that military, that have taken place in the course of the Iraq War.  What does that even mean?  And I would love to have some sort of evidence provided in support of that assertion other than statements by military generals or the Secretary of Defense.  Are fewer civilians (as a proportion of the innocent-civilian population) being killed by our forces than in any other war in "the history of civilization?"  How would Brad even know such a thing?  I am not a moral absolutist, but countering a valid criticism of our actions in this, and other wars, with some relativist ramblings about "the history of civilization" and the horrible things that take (or have taken) place in other countries is not a response, its a cop-out.  It seems to me that recognizing our own immorality is the only way we can (1) stop it from continuing; and (2) preventing it from happening in the future.

Name: Keith Molesworth
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

Re: Second Amendment I'm glad Matt from Denver mentioned technology advances in guns.  Which seems to be the one of the other major argument gun control advocates claim proves that the 2nd Amendment doesn't give anyone the right to own any longer.  Matt makes the very correct point that this isn't the same country as the late 18th century.  And the fact that technology has advanced diminishes none of the ideas in the Bill of Rights.  Otherwise, one could say that the First Amendment doesn't apply to anything but newspapers, pamphlets and shouting on a street corner.  If improvements in technology since 1789 preclude these rights wouldn't that mean that the First Amendment doesn't apply to the telegraph, telephone, television, radio, satellite, cable, walkie talkies, bullhorns, cell phones,the Internet and a host of other communication methods that didn't exist then?  No, of course not.  I do not now and never have owned a gun, in fact I've only shot a .22 once...about 25 years ago as a kid.  I just happen to believe in the entirety of the Bill of Rights, and as Matt pointed out, specifically in its Spirit.  I'm not a cafeteria civil libertarian.

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Dear Dr. A,
As a lawyer, I'd like to comment briefly on the issue of the Second Amendment and more specifically on the "incorporation" doctrine in constitutional law.  It is true that the post-Civil War amendments have been construed as "incorporating" the Bill of Rights and applying it to the states.  Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has never viewed incorporation as an all or nothing proposition.  The due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment do not make the *entire* Bill of Rights applicable to the states.  (A somewhat obscure example of this is the status of the Seventh Amendment.)  Thus, just because the incorporation doctrine makes, say, the First and Fourth Amendments applicable to the states, this doesn't mean that the Second Amendment necessarily applies to the states also.  As far as I am aware, the Supreme Court has never held that the Second Amendment has been incorporated and applies to the states.  (This point is, of course, separate and apart from what the Second Amendment means in the first place.)

Name: Tom
Hometown: Providence, RI

Hey Goateed One!
Did I miss your article covering the ? I mean, as an elite upper middle class white liberal who summers in the Hamptons, you probably have spent many cocktail parties and wine tastings showing how tolerant you are of gay men and women. I mean, you guys are so compassionate! But uh, here is the murder of gays for the crime of being gay and you are, typically and predictably, silent. Another example of the poser facade you upper middle class elite white liberals have. Of course, the liberal upper middle class elite white liberal media that you are a part of, the dominant class of media in the country, is also silent. It really does not fit into the Colombia university school of world politics. Nope. If you can't blame Bush for it, ignore it. Which is what the MSM did. Of course, homosexuals are also oppressed in Cuba where it is also illegal to be gay. And you guys still find time to give be suckups to Castro. And how you love your mojitos! Enjoy the Hamptons this weekend, oh you champion of the working class! And don't be a stiff. Tip twenty percent to the wait staff. Rents are high in the effing Hamptons, poser-boy.

Name: S.E. Sanders
Hometown: San Antonio, TX

Actually, I can sympathize with Jane Jimenez in her desire for less lewdness.  When I read her full article, I could see where she was coming from.  Our society is so rampant with entertainers and advertisers who promote whatever with brazen sexual maneuvers, we have become lulled into thinking that this is enjoyed by everyone.  Actually, some of us left-wingers are just as offended.

Letters to the New York Times Book Review

Greetings From Rumson, N.J.
To the Editor:
Regarding "The Boss Bibliography" (July 3), by A. O. Scott:

The merits of my music and performances over the last 30 years I gladly leave to the fans, critics and writers.  On the subject of "image," however, I thought I might be able to provide some simple clarification.

The "saintly, man of the people" thing I occasionally see attached to my name is bull – – – –.  It was perhaps invented, like myself, by Jon Landau . . . or maybe by that high school kid somewhere who supposedly wrote "Blowin' in the Wind."  Life, art and identity are, of course, much more complicated.  How do I know?  I heard it in a Bruce Springsteen song.
Rumson, N.J.


[i] Michael Ignatieff: Michael Ignatieff, “The Divided West,” Financial Times, August 31, 2002, p. 8.

[ii] Wolfowitz and NATO: Marc Champion, Charles Fleming, Ian Johnson and Carla Anne Robbins, “How the Iraq Confrontation Divided the Western Alliance; France and Germany Strive to Check American Might,” The Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2003.

[iii] Jacques Rupnik: Eric Alterman, “USA Oui! Bush Non!” The Nation, February 10, 2003.

[iv] Editorial, “Talk Is Cheap”, The New Republic, July 21, 2003.

[v] Rachel L. Swarns, “,” New York Times, August 27, 2003.