IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Slacker Friday

Slacker Friday

| 10:53 AM ET|

Aww shucks, “Think Again” turns 100, with “Think Again: Rescuing the President from Katrina, , and I’ve got a Nation column, , “New Orleans is Us.”

The Clinton Thing:  I went to a few events of the Clinton Global Initiative last week and generally approve—though I missed Al Gore’s apparently killer speech.  Anyway, it’s important, but you know, … if I can get someone else to do it, I will.  In this case I got my friend Delia Cohen, who, a long time ago, directed Clinton’s correspondence office, and was a consultant to the CGI.  Here’s her report:

The birth of the United Nations of NGOs: the Clinton Global InitiativeLast week, former President Clinton convened the first annual meeting of his Foundation’s {} newest non-partisan project, the Clinton Global Initiative {}. Tired of talking about how to help solve the world’s problems, Clinton invited a small group of influential leaders to participate in a series of interactive discussions to determine what they could do right now to help alleviate poverty, improve governance in developing countries, minimize the differences caused by religion and maximize the opportunities to bring people together, and face the challenge of climate change in a way that improves economic prospects for everyone. With his invitation, he also asked that each participant make a commitment to take action in one of the four areas discussed after attending the conference.For 2 ½ days in New York City after the UN General Assembly, a bipartisan group of roughly 1,500 current and former heads of state, CEOs, religious leaders, NGO representatives, academics, and a sprinkling of celebrities engaged in serious talk about how they could work together to get something done. King Abdullah, Tony Blair, and Condoleezza Rice set the tone for the conference with a discussion moderated by President Clinton that ranged from Gaza disengagement to trade arrangements and agricultural subsidies to terrorism insurance.Whether Barbra Streisand or Brad Pitt, the Finance Minister of Rwanda or the Grand Mufti of Bosnia--everyone was engaged in the small group discussions. A commitments desk was established to link participants who weren’t sure about how best to help with different partnership opportunities. After each session, people poured out to make their commitments. In a poverty discussion, Jeffrey Sachs detailed that with a commitment of $300,000 per year for 5 years, a designated “millennium village” could be lifted out of poverty. After hearing Jeff’s remarks, two people immediately pledged to raise money through their churches to help two villages.The CEO of Gibson Guitars committed to sell 333 limited-edition guitars to raise $1 million dollars for victims of Katrina. A doctor from Columbia University decided to start an NGO called “Doc to Dock” to help provide medical supplies to the developing world and gathered a lot of support from fellow participants. CAA pledged to become carbon-neutral. A bank president offered to help train young Africans in banking and credit skills. One man pledged $100 million to help combat HIV/AIDS; another will volunteer 240 hours of his time in the Interfaith Youth Core.Although $1.25 billion was pledged at the conference, President Clinton’s closing remarks urged everyone to do more because we can and should. This year, his Foundation doubled the number of kids outside Brazil and Thailand who received AIDS medication, but he admonished the audience not to clap because it was pitiful. 500,000 children under 12 died of AIDS last year, and only 25,000 got medicine to stay alive. . After his final speech, 40 more people made commitments, and they are still flooding his office.


Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago

Hey Eric, it’s Stupid to glimpse into the future.  History will show the most important (and tragic) neocon philosophy wasn’t the doctrine of unilateral intervention but the economic philosophy called “starve the beast.”  This is their version of Ralph Nader’s “politics of misery.”  Just like Nader welcomed a Dubya presidency, most conservatives aren’t fretting about the budget deficit, even now that their previous knee-jerk response has been rendered moot by Katrina (i.e., as long as the deficit stays near 3% of GDP it’s not a problem).  The deficit is a tool for downsizing government, rooted in their belief that ultimately the voters will demand cuts in government spending rather than accept tax increases.

Nothing new, but we’re seeing it disproved at the state and local level.  The first instinct hasn’t been to cut spending (though there have been cuts) or raise taxes on the rich, but rather to sell assets.  declares that 2004 was a “banner year” for privatization and “innovative” asset sales.  In Chicago, the mayor balanced the budget by selling a toll road for $1.8 billion dollars.  To a French company.  Toyota paid $800,000 to close our new downtown attraction Millennium Park for a private party.  The governor tried to cover a $5 billion budget gap by selling the state’s downtown Chicago office building and auctioning a casino license.  And I’ve lost track of the stories about what “naming rights” might be for sale.

Didn’t all of this strike you as silly a while back?  But clearly we’re on a slippery slope, and this is happening in a recovery.  Imagine if we were in a recession.  We’ve seen whiffs of increased support for isolationism, but instead of selling-out, maybe we’d sell-off.  Didn’t we just release 10% of the strategic oil reserves?  Imagine the 2002 recession with Katrina and no $300/$600 rebate checks or refinanced home mortgages – does the sale of national assets seem that bizarre?  Buyers would be plentiful.  For example, imagine China’s interest in acquiring farming rights for some of the federal government’s immense land holdings.  Governments are like people – they instinctively avoid pain.  Sorry kids, there goes the inheritance.

Name: Barry  Ritholtz
Hey Doc,
There are certain things we all expect for our tax dollars:  Schools, Police services, Military protection, Infrastructure, etc.

This is true whether you believe in big government or small.  Note that these are not politically charged issues -- should the EPA be eliminated, why not privatize NASA, etc.

I am referring to the very basic services for which government is formed to provide.

Which is why the simply incompetent job performed by FEMA is such a cause for concern: Somehow, the administration has lost interest in strategic planning -- there is no intelligent design (pun intended) in anything this government does lately.

Even more pathetic than the failure at the Federal level is the post-disaster excuse making. Echoing similar 9/11 excuses, the "No one could have seen this coming crowd" is out pushing the same canard.

Let's put that lie to rest right here, via the WSJ:  In a recent article (), the Journal looked at all the prep work done in advance of Katrina by Wal-Mart (a small outfit you may have heard of).

It lays to rest the spin that these disasters -- 9/11, Iraq Insurgency, New Orleans flood -- were both unthinkable and unpredictable.

These were all thought of and predicted -- way in advance.  I can name at least a dozen private (and public) sector firms that spend all of their waking hours dreaming up stuff like this.  Not only was all this foreseeable, but it's the subject of deep and regular analyses by some very, very bright people.

Indeed, from the office of strategic planning in the Pentagon, to risk management officers in Re-insurance companies to capital preservation specialists at Futures trading firms to doctors who specialize in pandemics at the NIH, all sorts of these "what-could-go-wrong" analyses occurs everyday.  Wal-Mart plans distribution and routing strategies around all kinds of planned and sudden unplanned weather interruptions.

If we compare & contrast FEMA vs Wal-MART, we see some very clear distinctions -- in planning, in staffing, in the very basic thinking -- or lack thereof  -- that was performed.

This is not a private sector versus public sector analysis -- there are plenty of private firms run straight into the ground by incompetents.  The main difference between the two is that retribution for doing a lousy job in the private sector is much swifter; Incompetency in the public sector, as of late, results in winning medals.

On Wall Street, bigger funds consider the "What-if" scenarios all the time.  I have participated in stress-testing asset pools with funds running 100s of billions of dollars:  What happens if a Nuke goes off in D.C., if China invades Taiwan, if various heads of different States are assassinated (including the U.S. President and/or VP), if the Royal House of Saud falls?  Nukes are fun, cause there are so many scenarios -- in addition to the dirty bomb problems, there's what if N. Korea accidentally blows up a weapon, if Israel nukes Iran, if Russia admits 5 bombs are unaccounted for.  Then there's the accidental U.S. silo disaster, including various alternative misinterpretations (i.e., accident, terrorist, Russian or Chinese espionage, etc.)

All of this is called strategic planning.  Up until recently, it was something that was not only carried out by the private sector and the military, but also at he highest levels of U.S. government.  Lately, it seems to have become a lost art.

My personal theory for a lot of what has gone wrong over the past few years is that ideology (i.e., Neo-Con) and faith-based belief systems (insert your choice here) have replaced elbow grease, deep thought, and long term strategizing as the methodology of implementing policy.

It's apparent in the anti-intellectual bend of much of the White House.  Is it a surprise that pseudo-science is challenging Science?  Not if you have been paying any attention.

The bottom line is that this distasteful, difficult stuff -- planning, strategizing, executing --  matters.  It matters to the nation, its population and ultimately, to their safety from all manners of ordinary, natural and extra-ordinary man-made disasters.

This is one of the few times I get to admonish the public and exhort members of both political parties with words such as these:   Figure it out -- or die trying.


Ann Zimmerman and Valerie Bauerlein
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, September 12, 2005; Page B1

Name: Mark Cashman
Hometown: Yonkers, NY

I'm a Catholic from a large Irish-American family that includes my late uncle, who spent most of his active priesthood serving poor people in the Phillipines, and a cousin who is a nun serving in a depressed area of a large New Jersey city.  The Catholic Church is the entire people - laity and clergy.  Unfortunately, the face of the Church to many is only a bunch of reactionary old men.  Someday, that will change.  That is my belief.  When I go to Mass, it's not about the fallible man preaching the sermon, it's about the mystery of the Eucharist and God's love for all His creation.  That said, I agree that the Church sometimes appears, as you said, "to be a totalitarian, homophobic, McCarthyistic institution."  As an institution it sometimes surely is.  But the real Church - the whole Church - is not.

Name: John Farmer

I can't disagree with your assessment of the Catholic Church.  Disappointment and horror are the best two words to describe my reaction to much of the Vatican's direction under this pope and his predecessor.  Conflating the problem of pedophilia with homosexuality is just the latest sin.  (Opening the priesthood to women and married people would solve most of what ails the church today, though that kind of progress is probably centuries away.)  So why do I, and many other like-minded people, even participate in the church?  (I had left for 25 years, but returned about two years ago.)  Because involvement is entirely local, and there are many good things that happen in the parish.  The church's positions on homosexuality, contraception, divorce, premarital sex, and so on, are never discussed.  Once or twice a year there may be a passing reference to abortion.  The priests don't talk about elections, candidates, and whom to vote for.  And as archaic as it may be, the church has rather progressive views on opposing the war and helping the poor.  But the focus is almost always on how people live their lives, with their families and within the community, and how to help those in need (lately, e.g., Katrina relief).  This past week our sermon was delivered by a rabbi from the neighboring temple.  Imagine that, a rabbi preaching in a Catholic church!  The reaction was wonderful, and at least where I live the spirit of openness and ecumenism that came out of Vatican II is alive and well.  That's not to say that what the pope does isn't important.  It surely is.  But it's really only a small part of what goes on in the church.  The church survives not because of what happens in the Vatican, but in the parishes, and luckily, there is enough good there to offset what we read about in the papers.

Name: Dale Bowden
Hometown: Boise, ID

As someone who detests the Bush Administration and its usual policies you can be sure that answering your question regarding Davis/Bacon wage policies is something that is not a matter of ideology for me.  Liberal Bloggers and commentators have gone out of their way to suggest that suspension of D/B will have a large impact on wages paid in the New Orleans rebuilding effort.  As someone who has administered projects subject to D/B in three states I can tell you the facts simply don't support that contention.  D/B, on construction projects, is divided between "Commercial/Industrial" and "Little Davis-Bacon" (LDB), for residential projects.  LDB required wages are so low that I have never seen them be a factor in wages actually paid on projects.  For example, a "carpenter" classified in Oregon or Idaho under LDB could be paid as little as $8-10 per hour.  It is not possible to find qualified personnel in any of their various classifications for as little as one is allowed to pay.  The only "value" of Davis-Bacon on these projects is the "annoyance value" of the useless paperwork being churned out to HUD on a weekly basis.  I cannot speak to your "truck driver" question, as far as I know D/B would apply only to drivers "On-Site" not "off-site" so I'm not sure if D/B even applies in cases similar to the one you alluded to.  As a confirmed progressive who unfortunately has considerable experience with HUD and it's ridiculously bureaucratic tendencies and obstructionist policies, I can tell you that keeping them out of this effort will have nothing but a positive effect on the workers and the progress of the rebuilding effort.

Name: Michael Rapoport
Boy oh boy, do I hear you on the TimesSelect login process.  I wasted 20 minutes earlier this week in a vicious cycle that kept throwing me back to the main TimesSelect screen.  If you're still having problems, try logging out of altogether and log back in fresh - that's what finally worked for me.  The site seems to work better when it's "reading" you as a Times paper subscriber who's logging into the site and also automatically deserves the TimesSelect upgrade, rather than just adding the upgrade on a piecemeal basis.  If you're interested in delving further into Genesis, I would highly recommend "," a live album with Collins fronting but doing a lot of Gabriel material.  Excellent stuff.

From Share Our Strength:

Make a Difference: Make a Reservation!

Join Share Our Strength, and Windows of Hope for Restaurants for Relief, a national dine out to provide immediate and long-term care for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

On Tuesday, September 27th, restaurants nationwide will donate a portion of dinner sales to Share Our Strength's Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund. Go to to find a restaurant and make a difference.

Participating restaurants across the nation will donate a portion of their dinner sales to Share Our Strength's Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund. 100% of their donation will be directed to local organizations providing immediate and long-term help to hurricane victims from the affected areas.

How You Can Participate:

Make a reservation at one of the participating restaurants for September 27th, order your favorite meal and enjoy knowing you are part of a national effort to bring immediate care to children and families.

Go to to make a reservation...and a difference.

Sept. 22, 2005 | 12:42 PM ET|

On “Borking” Roberts (And why it’s worth trying and losing)
Plus, the Altercation Book Club: Taming American Power

I have lots of problems with “liberal activists” and judges, I’ll admit, but it’s useful to admit (and examine) when one is wrong about something, in the hopes of learning from it.  It was a long time ago, but I was dead wrong about the fight over Robert Bork for the Supreme Court in 1986.  I figured what’s the difference if you beat Bork?  Reagan will just nominate someone as bad.  But boy was I ever wrong.  The fight against Bork galvanized the party and gave it some cajones to take on Reagan in every arena.  The verb "to Bork" is today understood to mean destroying a man’s reputation but what really took place is that Bork was simply called to account for his amazingly idiosyncratic and in my opinion, extremely dangerous views.  Moreover, it turned out to be a terrific break for the country for Bork, despite being an usher at George Will’s wedding, is... how to put this... deeply out of his mind.  Yesterday in USA Today he wrote, ,

The hysteria of the Democratic Left is understandable.  It has lost confidence in its ability to compete in the political arena and sees a politicized judiciary as its only hope to advance its agenda.  The policies it desires, and the Supreme Court has so far advanced, are ones that encourage radical personal autonomy in moral and cultural matters.  Activist judges announce principles and reach results that have no plausible connection to the Constitution.  Thus, it is increasingly obvious that activist judges are issuing decisions that have no basis other than the judges' personal preferences.

But who is the man making these accusations?  In his jeremiad, Slouching Toward Gomorrah, subtitled, Modern Liberalism and American Decline, he wrote: “There are aspects of almost every branch of our culture that are worse than ever before and the rot is spreading.”  The rot derived from the nation’s “enfeebled, hedonistic culture,” its “uninhibited display of sexuality,” its “popularization of violence in …entertainment,” and “its angry activists of feminism, homosexuality, environmentalism, animal rights—the list could be extended almost indefinitely.”  Bork closed out his account by observing the United States was “now well along the road to the moral chaos that is the end of radical individualism and the tyranny that is the goal of radical egalitarianism.  Modern liberalism has corrupted our culture across the board.”  Later, Bork participated in a symposium in the magazine “First Things,” in which the conservative editors, prefaced his comments with the question of “whether we have reached or are reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give moral assent to the existing regime.”[i]  In other words, had liberalism so damaged America’s moral fabric that the time had come to consider revolution?  And as Garry Wills points out in the current New York Review, Bork came pretty close to agreeing.  (Two members of the magazine’s editorial board including Gertrude Himmelfarb, quit over the incendiary nature of the question.)

So that was a real victory made possible by a Democratic majority in the senate.  Victory over Roberts is impossible, me thinks, but a smart, strategic fight is more than worthwhile.  Anyway, is the brilliant Ronald Dworkin on Roberts.

  Bush is Lyndon Johnson, circa 1968, and Iraq, for exclusively political purposes, really is Vietnam.

Is Frist (also) a crook?  .

I don’t profess to know much about this stuff, but doesn’t it appear that the Catholic Church is showing itself to be a totalitarian, homophobic, McCarthyistic institution, ?

What’s more, their degree of intervention in our politics, is beyond people’s worst nightmare about John Kennedy.  Read Garry Wills’ characteristically terrific piece in the current New York Review on this, which, alas, is not online.

Yet another 9/11 cover-up from the this dishonest administration, .

I don’t mind Times Select.  I’m a Times subscriber anyway, and I think people should pay for journalism.  What’s more, the opening of the archives for free is more than worth it for me.  What pisses me off is the fact that after I signed up, they want me to sign up again.  In other words, it ignored my first sign up and offered me no place to log-in as a result of their mistake.  See here.  Where’s the simple log-in?  Like I have time for this crap….

Raymond Carver on the short story, .

Errata:  I got a chance to talk to Michael Stipe last night at a Gawker Media party for Arianna Huffington and her Huffington Post staff.  We talked mostly about the Voters for Change experience and his feelings about his own political involvement.  I offered my free advice that I thought it was extremely important to institutionalize the experience—to give musicians (and other artists in other contexts) the opportunity to use their communicative and fund-raising powers to move people and money on issues and campaigns other than elections every four years.  Stipe concurred, and noted that much of his political involvement is under-the-radar, and that for an R.E.M. audience, fighting to beat Bush is something that might be expected, but that other musicians for whom politics is a riskier proposition with their audiences need the support and the example, and to use the Net to make it a part of everyday life.  So now someone needs to start it.  Sound like a job for, to me.

Altercation Book Club:  Taming American Power by Stephen M. Walt.
(Walt is Academic Dean and a professor of international relations at the Kennedy School.)

The United States has been humbled by the debacle in Iraq and embarrassed by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, but it remains the dominant global power.  Although the Bush administration’s imperial hubris has been decisively deflated, Americans still need to decide how to use the vast power at their disposal.

For the rest of the world, however, taming American power remains a primary goal.  Other countries still view U.S. primacy with considerable misgivings—in large part due to the Bush administration’s inept handling of foreign affairs—and they are using various strategies to contain, resist, exploit and undermine it.

The desire to tame U.S. power may seem surprising to Americans, who tend to think that U.S. primacy is good for the rest of the world.  Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington believes our dominance is “central to the future of freedom,” neo-con pundit Charles Krauthammer calls it the “landmine between barbarism and civilization,” and President Bush assures others that we will not use our power “for unilateral advantage.”  The American people agree, with nearly 80 percent believing that “it is good that American ideas and customs are spreading around the world.”  

Yet the rest of the world sees U.S. power differently.  The percentage of foreigners with a “favorable view” of the United States has declined steadily since 2000, and a January 2005 BBC survey of twenty-one countries found only five where a majority had a positive impression of the United States.   This past June, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that majorities in every country they surveyed “favored another country challenging America’s global military supremacy.”  Indeed, citizens in France, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom now hold more favorable views of China than of the United States. 

Other states seek to tame American power for three main reasons.  First, they know that Washington can use its power to threaten their own interests, and they can never be sure that we will not try to exploit them.  Americans like being #1 because it gives us more influence and makes us feel safer, but that is precisely why our dominance makes other countries nervous.  As a Chinese statesman puts it, “How can we base our national security on your assurances of good will?”  Because American power can harm others’ interests even when we don’t mean to, the rest of the world will always be looking for ways to keep it under control.

Second, foreign opposition to U.S. primacy is also driven by specific U.S. policies.  According to Pew, “antipathy toward the United States is shaped more by what it does in the international arena than by what it stands for politically and economically.” Traditional allies in Europe and Asia resent the Bush administration’s aggressive unilateralism, and especially its stubborn opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, the international criminal court, an enhanced biological weapons convention, the comprehensive test ban treaty, and a host of other international covenants.  Latin Americans are wary because the U.S. has repeatedly intervened there, and the Arab/Muslim world resents our one-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and our cynical support for Arab dictatorships (including, in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq).  As the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board concluded last year, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies.”  The invasion of Iraq reinforced all these concerns, because it shows how much damage the United States can do when it allows ideologues to run its foreign policy.

Third, other states resent American hypocrisy.  We condemn India and Pakistan for testing nuclear weapons and demand that North Korea and Iran forego them, yet we keep thousands of weapons of our own and are planning to build more.  We lecture other countries about the rule of law and the importance of human rights, but hold thousands of detainees without trial and torture prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And when these abuses are exposed for the world to see, our President refuses to apologize and doesn’t ask any senior officials to resign.  No wonder the rest of the world has less respect for U.S. leadership and growing misgivings about U.S. primacy.

But what can other states do to tame the American colossus?  Until recently, some Americans thought we were strong enough to do whatever we wanted, without worrying very much about others’ reactions.  As President Bush commented when asked about the risks of U.S. isolation in the war on terror, “At some point we may be the only ones left. That’s okay with me.  We are America.”  This smug overconfidence is misplaced, however, because even far weaker states can make life difficult for the “800-lb. gorilla.”

One obvious option is balancing.  Other states can contain U.S. power by joining forces with others or by mobilizing their own resources.  France, Germany and Russian united to thwart U.S. efforts to obtain United Nations authorization to attack Iraq, and Russia and China signed a “Treaty of Friendship” in 2001 and are cooperating to enhance their military capabilities.  The Pentagon believes Syria and Iran are supporting the Iraqi insurgency, an obvious response to our threatening them with “regime change.” Some U.S. opponents are trying to get nuclear weapons to counteract America’s conventional superiority, and extremists like al Qaeda rely on terrorism to exploit U.S. vulnerabilities.  In each case, the goal is to make U.S. primacy more expensive and to persuade us to change our policies. 

Other states resist U.S. primacy by balking, or “just saying no.”  Turkey balked when we wanted to use their territory to attack Iraq, the Organization of American States balked when we tried to pressure the Chavez government in Venezuela, and China and India are now balking over referring Iran’s nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council.  Israel balks when we ask it to stop building settlements and the Palestinians balk when we demand that they crack down on terrorists.  Balking can be an especially effective strategy because even the United States cannot compel obedience all of the time.

Weaker states can also gain concessions through blackmail, as North Korea has repeatedly demonstrated, and even U.S. allies like Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan can extract benefits by implicitly threatening to collapse if we don’t ante up.  Finally, America’s opponents also strive to delegitimate our global leadership by portraying the United States as a selfish and violent society whose actions abroad are dangerous and not in the best interests of mankind.  Thus, foreign critics invoke Abu Ghraib to challenge America’s moral stature and China responds to our criticisms by issuing a lengthy report cataloguing U.S. human rights violations.  Even Hurricane Katrina is portrayed as evidence that the United States remains a racist society that does not care about the poor.  It also cast doubt on America’s competence, for as Die Zeit commented, “how can America expect to save the world when it cannot even save itself?

Repairing America’s global image is not just a task for public diplomacy tsarina Karen Hughes; it also requires genuine policy change.  To make our position of primacy acceptable to others, we need to stop telling the rest of the world what to do and stop trying to reshape whole societies in our image.  Instead of garrisoning the world and trying to impose democracy at the point of a gun, the United States should return to its traditional position as an “offshore balancer.”  Few regions of the world contain vital interests for the United States, and the United States does not need to control the key regions that do exist (such as the Persian Gulf) with its own troops.  Rather, it merely needs to ensure that these vital areas are not controlled by a single hostile power.  We can do that by playing the balancer’s role—intervening only when the local balance of power breaks down—and by promoting progressive change through the power of our own example.  In short, we should follow Woodrow Wilson’s advice to “exercise the self-restraint of a truly great nation, which recognizes its own power and scorns to misuse it.” 

As a candidate in the 2000 Presidential campaign, George W. Bush said that other nations would be attracted to the United States if it were strong but also humble.  They would be repulsed, he warned, if we acted in an “arrogant” fashion.  Bush’s instincts were correct, but his subsequent policies were not.  Our task, therefore, is to rebuild the sense of trust, admiration, and legitimacy the United States once enjoyed, so that the rest of the world focuses not on taming American power but on reaping the benefits that U.S. primacy can bring.

For more, go .

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Richard Freeman
Hometown: Valparaiso, IN
Dr A,
Can someone really explain the rationale for suspending wage and affirmative action laws, as related to the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast?  Consider that working wages in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are not the highest in the nation.  Consider that you have literally millions of Americans either temporarily or permanently displaced AND without work.  Consider that there is going to be an urgent need for both skilled and unskilled labor to get things going.  Consider the number of working poor that lost jobs, homes and possessions.  Consider that a Truck Driver working for KBR in Iraq makes thousands of dollars per month.  Toss in the President's "acknowledgment" that there are Americans shut off from opportunities that are the American Dream.  What we have is a mixture more toxic than the stagnant water in New Orleans.  Some of those people Bush referred to are the same displaced, unemployed Americans who would benefit from jobs and wages earned rebuilding their cities and towns.  Do you think they would take pride in rebuilding their communities?  Do you think they would feel "ownership" of those communities?  Do you think the very people who long for "responsibility", and "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" would fall in line behind the idea of paying these folks a decent wage to work?  Of course not.  None of this is about taking this disaster and making it into an opportunity to do right by citizens of this country.  This latest grab is all about business as usual- politics and rewarding those that support those political ideas.  In one of the poorest sections of the country, where wages are low to start, the administration that is awarding no-bid contracts will protect said companies, not the people.  The moral of the story?  It is better to drive a truck from KBR in Iraq, than to drive one at home.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Karl Rove is the perfect person to lead the rebuilding efforts in the Gulf area (soon to include parts of Texas).  After all, he has extensive experience building something from nothing.  He built a two term President out of George W. Bush.

Name: Peter A. Alaimo
Hometown: Scottsdale, AZ
The Democrats do always seem to miss the opportunity to take the Republicans on directly.  For example, they need to hammer hard on the fact that what Republicans call "legislating from the bench" is actually the judiciary doing precisely what an independent judiciary is designed to do, defend personal liberty against legislative and popular majorities that try to deny it; that liberty is indivisible, to have it for oneself one must be willing to grant it to those with whom one disagrees; and that true "legislating from the bench" is what Republicans do when they insist Christian Sharia should be the basis of our civil law.  Unfortunately, the Democratic Party seems incapable of the clear thinking and bold speech that would take.

Name: Patrick Moody
Hometown: Brandon, FL
I've got to call you out on your second passive-aggressive statement about Yes this month!  It's clear you have a certain admiration for the band, but how can you justify a statement like Genesis is ".a lot like Yes. but less embarrassing lyrics?"  Genesis was the band that under Phil Collins gave us gems such as, "She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah, she seems to have an invisible touch, ohhh" and "Tonight, tonight, tonight, ohhh." Yes' lyrics, even their commercial 80's lyrics, are poetry in comparison.


[i] First Things Editors, “Introduction,” First Things, 67 (November 1996), 18.

| 1:14 PM ET|

Reid is wrong

As I understand American politics, Harry Reid is right to oppose John Roberts for Supreme court Chief Justice but wrong, wrong, wrong to say he’s doing it because he was "very swayed" by the civil rights and women's rights leaders who testified Thursday in opposition to the nomination.  By putting it that way, Reid is giving a massive gift to those who portray the Democrats as untrustworthy with the national interests of the country; beholden, as they are—and as two New York Times reporters put in their very next sentence,

Liberal advocacy groups, who raise millions of dollars to support Democratic candidates and who have been putting intense pressure on Democrats to oppose the nomination, were elated.

Democrats need to use the Roberts nomination to demonstrate just how far out of the nation’s political mainstream this administration and Republican Party have grown.  If Americans were voting on issues, rather than on personalities and “culture,” Republicans would barely qualify as a minority party; opposing as they do, virtually everything majorities of Americans say they believe.  But Republicans consistently cloud the debate—with the help of their minions in the media—to mask this fact; and the Democrats seem to walk into the punch every time.  Reid, who really ought to know better than to announce that he is caving into what will be seen as a “special interest” is inexplicably playing by the Republican play-book here, as if his mind has been taken over by a pod person from the planet Karl Rove.  Establishment types like the editors of the Washington Post and the New Republic are insisting that Democrats vote to approve Roberts because he’s the best you can hope to do from a right-wing Republican President.  But just what the hell happened to the idea of an opposition party?  They should oppose him because they oppose him; that’s what they were elected to do: oppose people who believe what people like Roberts believe.  That’s called democracy.  Reid has just muddied the waters.  And with Patrick Leahy announcing that he is voting for Roberts, one is tempted to conclude that the Democrats are just plain hopeless as an opposition party and the Republicans will get yet another chance in 2008 to destroy what remains decent and hopeful about America.

Joel Kotkin makes a congruent point in today’s Times, , about the New York mayoral primary.  I’m not sure I agree but it is a view that liberals avoid at the peril of their own political extinction.

Here we go again:  Bill Frist, "a potential presidential candidate in 2008, sold all his stock in his family's hospital corporation about two weeks before it issued a disappointing earnings report and the price fell nearly 15 percent." []  What’s going on?  Is bilking your stockholders a necessary qualification for all Republican presidential nominees?  Was he on the audit committee too?  And who did buy Bush's stock for him, and why has the media allowed him a free pass on that?

BONO: one more genuine idealist who looks like a chump for trusting Bush and company to keep their word, .  Has anyone come away from this president feeling like they dealt with an honorable human being?

I don’t mean to be insensitive about all the journalists and others who are going to lose their jobs, nor about the diminution in quality these papers are about to experience, but to those of you picking the people to be canned at the The Boston Globe, allow me to nominate .

I have always been one to enjoy a catfight, but rarely as much as .  Go Arianna.

Take a look at the American Jewish World Service Darfur Call to Action .  Sign it, and give generously.  In a letter to Bush, it reads in part,

We urge you to assert moral and political leadership and promote immediate and comprehensive international intervention to lead the world community in:Creating security through a larger international peacekeeping force with the expanded mandate and ability to protect all civilians;Providing additional financial and logistical support for African Union troop training, mobilization and deployment to Darfur;Increasing funds for humanitarian assistance and facilitating its urgent delivery; andAssisting in the reunification of families, their voluntary return to their lands and the rapid reconstruction of their communities.Unless there is this comprehensive response, more than two million people will remain crowded in camps, subject to starvation, disease, rape and murder.Their lives are in our hands.Sixty years ago, after the Holocaust, the world vowed "never again." That pledge was repeated after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.We cannot wait any longer to make good on our promises.We look forward to continuing our partnership with all communities of faith and conscience in this call for justice.

Alter-minireviews, Music:


  • New Clapton, “," boring.
  • New Neil Young, “."
  • New Bonnie Raitt, “,”  nice, pleasant, solid, even, not really boring, but doesn’t really grab you, either.
  • New Dead DVD, “” (1980, Radio City). Transfer quality from video did not really seem to improve video, though audio is much better (and available on expanded version of “Reckoning”). I guess you buy it if you have to have either acoustic Dead on video or Al Franken with the band, being pretty funny, as it turns out.

Surprisingly good: Genesis, Platinum Collection.  I never paid much attention to Genesis before, but this 3 CD, 40 song set on Rhino demonstrates that they were pretty damn good, both when fronted by Peter Gabriel and later by Phil Collins.  I guess I’d say they’re a lot like Yes, with not quite as virtuosic musicianship but less embarrassing lyrics. Three CDs does not seem like too much. Song list .

Alter-mini-reviews, film:

“Capote”  Easier to admire than to enjoy; impressive on every level; acting, lighting, directing, and the way it gets underneath the skin of its subjects.  Drags a little, but more than justifies itself.

“Like Heaven”  Skip it or you’ll be embarrassed with yourself as I was.

“Thumbsucker”  I liked it a lot, though it could have easily employed more gratuitous female nudity.

“El Crimen Perfecto”  Really funny and smart, though probably not playing anywhere near you unless you live near me.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Andrew Baker
Hometown:  Hambantota, Sri Lanka (formerly Portland, OR)
Dr. Alterman,
Since February I have been working in tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka.  There are some things that I can predict will happen in New Orleans, based on my experience here.  Most of your readers are probably aware enough to see this ahead of time but some might be surprised.  In fact most of these things happen after every disaster,

Relief phase:  People need food clothing shelter health care and something to do immediately.  That can be addressed with having people stay with friends, in hotels, or having them moving in with friends or relatives.  Many of the people who move in with family and friends will be overlooked for other relief support until they make a stink about it.  Day labor jobs can help get cash into people's pockets immediately, give them something to do, and help prepare for the recovery phase.  Some people will try to take advantage of relief items, and day labor jobs, but not enough to cause any serious problems with the programs.

Recovery phase:  People will need transitional shelter.  This is not obvious but they will need a secure place of their own to live after they have worn out their tent, or their welcome with friends.  It takes time to build permanent replacement homes so people will need someplace to live, reasonably close to where they work or go to school.  FEMA trailers might do the job.  Other people can relocate permanently.  Next, the government has to say definitively where they will allow people to rebuild.  People cannot rebuild if there is doubt about which dikes will be repaired.  Lawsuits, and insurance compensation packages could slow this process down but it is important to do it quickly, transparently, and fairly so people that have to move on are not waiting in limbo in their transitional home.  There should be some science to the rebuilding zones or there will be charges of corruption and land grabs when the government does not allow people to rebuild exactly where they were before.  There will be problems with equity.  Will houses be built on a house-for-a-house basis, or on a house-for-family basis?  Will renters get the same compensation as owners?  Not such a big problem where people have insurance but of those that don't what will happen?  Will the renters without insurance actually be better off than those that had it?  Disasters make lots of opportunities to redistribute wealth and people will try to take advantage of that to redistribute in their favor.  People in temporary and transitional housing have to be mobilized.  They have to be organized to advocate for themselves and to communicate their priorities and needs effectively.  Traditionally marginalized groups should be included to avoid further inflaming tensions in the communities that are formed.  There will be people trying to scam the folks paying the bills at every step of the process.  People who didn't lose a home will say they did.  Contractors will demand outrageous prices, or try to collect from two sources for the same project.  People who were not washed out will say they were.  It will be tough to determine, since the water wiped out lots of records, who really is entitled to support.  Rebuilding will be much slower than most people expect.  I will add to the list later if I think about it longer, or maybe other people with disaster experience could contribute.  Enjoy the last days of summer.

Name: Ben Vernia
Hometown: Arlington, Virginia
Altercation seems to be channeling T.E. Lawrence this week.  Reba Shemanski's heartfelt "[t]he fact is that Bush's immoral vanity war is not worth one American life or dollar," recalls Lawrence's preface to Seven Pillars of Wisdom: "And we were casting them [i.e., British troops-- "clean, delightful fellows"] by the thousands into the fire to the worst of deaths, not to win the war but that the corn and rice and oil of Mesopotamia might be ours.  The only need was to defeat our enemies (Turkey among them), and this was at last done in the wisdom of Allenby with less than four hundred killed, by turning to our uses the hands of the oppressed in Turkey. I am proudest of my thirty fights in that I did not have any of our own blood shed. All our subject provinces to me were not worth one dead Englishman."

Likewise, British Col. Tim Collins' cry that "One cannot help but wonder what it was all about" echoes Lawrence's remorse just a few sentences later: "They [the Arabs] saw in me a free agent of the British Government and demanded from me an endorsement of its written promises.  So I had to join in the conspiracy, and, for what my word was worth, assured the men of their reward.  In our two years' partnership under fire they grew accustomed to believing me and to think my Government, like myself, sincere.  In this hope they performed some fine things but, of course, instead of being proud of what we did together, I was continually and bitterly ashamed." Seven Pillars of Wisdom, p.25. Plus ça change, and all that.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
In spite of all the calls of shame directed at the president, he's shown that he knows no shame.  Even before he gave his speech last Thursday in the temporary glow of photo-op lighting in front of Jackson Square, Bush suspended fair wage laws for the rebuilding effort.  So you had to know that something was amiss in his noting that historical racial inequalities had played a part in the consequences of Katrina being borne disproportionately by those who were black and poor.  But those who pointed to this acknowledgment and his acceptance of responsibility as a sign of a corner being turned were being far too optimistic.  Today, Bush announced plans to suspend affirmative action requirements on construction companies.  If only the president's response to Katrina was as swift as this: mention racial inequality on Thursday, suspend Affirmative Action on Tuesday.  And as a sop to all those core conservatives who want tax dollars to pay for religious education, the president also wants to allow vouchers to be paid to private schools. 

Make no mistake, the president has shown that his response is not about policy but about politics.  Anyone still doubting the president's intentions need only note the person Bush has authorized to oversee the rebuilding of the hurricane damaged areas: Karl Rove.  We'll allow a few seconds for that name to settle into the consciousness of anyone who thinks that the president is sincere about his response to those ravaged by the hurricane.  After all the outrage about Mike Brown's lack of disaster planning and response experience, a conscientious congress member might inquire about Rove's experience in major redevelopment.  But Karl wasn't really assigned to this job to attend to the countless victims of the hurricane; he was assigned to take care of just one-Bush himself.  And he's calling on Rove to rescue his presidency from free-fall.  There's really not much left to save here.  I wonder when Patrick Fitzgerald will be seeking indictments in the Plame exposure case?

Sept. 20, 2005 | 11:24 AM ET|

Baghdad diary:  'There is superstition...'

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Superstitions are curious things.

Convoy briefings for trips down Route Irish are becoming so normal to me that I barely hear them anymore.  The “actions on contact” (the things we should do if something bad happens) remain, roughly, the same.  The route has not physically changed.  The people I am riding with are the same, most of the time.  Even the vehicles we use are the same.  Which made the one thing which was different stand out.

“Finally, sirs,” said the young lieutenant leading the platoon which would escort my vehicle and its passengers, “there have been no serious incidents on Route Irish in the past 72 hours.”

Say what?

“Lieutenant,” I interject, because this is new, “when was the last serious incident?”

“Three weeks ago sir.”


Route Irish, according to this threat-briefing, which represents our best guess at the situation before we locked and loaded and headed down the trail, has not been seriously hit in weeks.  That was news.  Some rifle and light machine-gun fire, sure, but nothing heavy.  No Rocket-Propelled Grenades, no VBIEDs, not even any IEDs…nothing, for weeks.  Things have changed on that road.  An Iraqi brigade is sitting there on both sides of the highway, and they have taken some hits, to be sure.  But the Iraqis made the road safer than I have known it to be before.

Still, that did not preclude some things.  We loaded each of our weapons and chambered a round.  Then we loaded up, as we’ve done so many times before, and got in our vehicle.

Usually I prefer to ride in a HMMWV, when I am traveling by myself.  But when there are more than a few of us going someplace, we use one of our up-armored “Non Tactical Vehicles” (called “NTVs” in my acronym-crazy culture.)  Basically these are huge SUVs with a few thousand extra pounds of armor built in.  I do not prefer them, but there are advantages.  A working air conditioner is one.  A CD player is another.  In the NTV I usually ride in we also have a tradition.  When traveling Route Irish, we always play the Eagles Greatest Hits, which of course starts off with the song, “Take it Easy.”  Well, perhaps it started as a tradition.  It is not anymore.  The fact that this particular vehicle has never been hit when the Eagles are playing changed that.

We were almost out of the Green Zone when I remembered.  I started frantically looking, while weaving through the barriers at the checkpoint, for the right CD.  Nothing.  I looked in the dash.  Nothing.  The glove compartment.  Nothing.  We’re getting close to Irish…

Finally a light clicked on in the dim recesses of my brain and I realized that the CD was already loaded, but that because we have a six-CD changer, it just wasn’t the one selected.

I cannot explain the sense of relief that I felt when I managed to switch to the right CD in the changer, hit “Play,” and heard the first strains of “Take it Easy” just as our wheels hit the pavement of Irish.

A few nights later I was talking to my friend Major Mike about my discovered superstition.  It was late, the temperature had dropped below 100 though, so it was not unpleasant.

“When I first got here, we were taking a lot more indirect fire,” I said to Major Mike, as we walked out of the headquarters.  “Some close, some not so close, but that first couple of weeks I went to sleep most nights with the thought of ‘the round’ at least somewhere in the back of my head.”

“Hmmmm,” Mike responded, waiting for me to make a point.

“But over time, it just sort of became something I accepted.  Or at least I thought I had.”

Major Mike survived thyroid cancer, and so dealt with issues of life-and-death at a personal level long before he came here.

“It was funny,” I said, only half believing it myself, “even though the threat is practically gone, I was nearly in a panic because I didn’t have that stupid song playing.”

“Yea,” said Mike, choosing his words carefully, “I know what you’re talking about.  But I don’t think it applies to me.”


“Well,” he responded, “I look at it sort of like I looked at the cancer right before I went under the knife.  There is nothing that I can do about it now, so there’s no point worrying.  I’ve pretty much felt the same way here.”

Now it was my turn to say, “Hmmmm.”

“In fact, ever since I got my orders here I’ve known that nothing was going to happen to me,” he continued.  “You guys are fucked, of course, but I’ll be OK.”


Last week Baghdad took a bunch of hits, and we took a few shots here as well.  But all in all, it was not as much as, say, April.  I’ve also noticed that there seem to be fewer firefights within earshot lately.  I draw no conclusions from these facts.

My daughters have started a new school year, as has my love.  I think, that when the time comes to hang up my uniform and come down off the ramparts, that I might like to return to a position in academia.  Or maybe writing something.

My love will soon be writing a column as well, though hers is for her grad school’s paper.  I look forward to reading about “Civil-Military Relations” as she writes if from the other side of the wall.

You can write to Major Bob at .

A certain young blogosphere language cop recently took issue not only with my use of irony on the blog but also with my implication that the mainstream media have consistently treated President Bush as far more popular with Americans than he really is.  As a public service, we note the following:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's vow to rebuild the Gulf Coast did little to help his standing with the public, only 40 percent of whom now approve of his performance in office, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.Just 41 percent of the 818 adults polled between Friday and Monday said they approved of Bush's handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while 57 percent disapproved. And support for his management of the war in Iraq has dropped to 32 percent, with 67 percent telling pollsters they disapproved of how Bush is prosecuting the conflict.The survey had a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.Fifty-nine percent said they considered the 2003 invasion of Iraq a mistake. That figure is the highest recorded in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

Now, :

On the September 18 broadcast of NBC's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, MSNBC News Live anchor Lisa Daniels repeatedly defended President Bush's widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina, predicting "that this is actually ... going to be a win for President Bush."  Citing Bush's purported ability to overcome low expectations in presidential debates, Daniels described Katrina as "the perfect storm for him" and suggested that it was "actually going to work to his advantage."  In addition, Daniels touted Bush's "likeability factor" and told viewers, "He's the same guy that was on 9-11 with the bullhorn.  He hasn't changed.  And people still relate to his character."  She added that "the white folks" in the French Quarter "told me directly" that "[t]hey're blaming New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin" instead of Bush, because "[t]hey think he [Bush] cares."

Now imagine what would happen if an NBC correspondent spoke of Bush’s “hatebility factor.”  It might be true, but it ain’t allowed…

Meanwhile, the administration that prides itself on applying the highest standards in cronyism and nepotism in the jobs where incompetence can cost the most lives continues to live up to its billing .  (Note to blogworld language police, etc…)

Progress Report notes,

Some conservative lawmakers and pundits are arguing that while the funding for relief and recovery efforts from the hurricane may be money that the nation has to spend, the costs will swell federal spending to dangerous and unprecedented levels.  This claim is being used both to advance calls for sharp cuts in other domestic programs — in order to offset the costs of relief and recovery efforts — and to reject any suggestion that the tax cuts of recent years be revisited to even a modest degree.

The rhetoric about an explosion in federal spending is not supported by the facts as from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities demonstrates.  And in any case, .

We note today's story, , on the top procurement official who was arrested in the Abramoff probe.  His wife is the chief counsel on the investigative subcommittee of the government reform committee, which is charged with investigating HIM!  She was supposed to do the "tough" Katrina probe.  Um, right.

Luke Menand on Sartre and De Beauvoir, .

Alter–reviews: The Complete New Yorker and Restless Giant, The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore

Like the Times, the New Yorker can be infuriating but is ultimately invaluable.  The Complete New Yorker on eight CDs, is a thing a beauty.  The design, which makes it appear like a medium size coffee table book, is handsome and dignified.  And having the entire magazine available at your fingertips is invaluable for researchers and kibitzers alike.  Now I can finally find that piece I heard George W. S. Trow read twenty years or so ago at the Library of Congress, “You Just Missed It,” as well as Wolcott Gibs on Henry Luce--“Backward marched the sentences until reeled the mind”—and Janet Malcolm’s brilliant profile of a Jewish dissident bubble-gum wrapper collector I happened to befriend in Prague during the bad old days, who, last time I was there, was on his way to become Ambassador to Israel.  I could go on, but you get the point.  I could teach my entire magazine journalism class from these discs, and at a hundred bucks, it’s an incredible bargain too.  And you can update it every year.  (Plus the highlights booklet is nice too.)

I’ll be honest.  I read James T. Patterson’s : The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore (Oxford) and I found it neatly written and organized but thinly sourced, particularly compared to Patterson’s magisterial companion effort, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974.  Most of the research did not appear to go more deeply than a New York Review of Books or New Republic article.  The thing I most admired about it was Patterson’s unwillingness to include 9/11 in the book; I thought it exemplary that he wrote that nearly four years later, we lack sufficient perspective to define the meaning of these events in our history.  I particularly liked this point because of the confidence our culture places in ignorant snap judgments based on little perspective and less knowledge.  So I had a disappointed short review in mind when I noted, in the Washington Post Book World, by my old adviser, Paul Kennedy, who is—let’s face it—in every relevant category, a more judicious, knowledgeable and qualified reviewer of a work of history than I am.  And Paul loves it.  He says, “Patterson has risen magnificently to the task of describing and analyzing this rich and confused period,” and “Giant is extraordinarily sharp in its repeated references to and use of American popular culture -- be it the movies of the time or the better known television series -- as key indicators of shifts in lifestyles, tastes and, ultimately, political preferences.”  I agree with the last part, and I don’t really feel in a position to argue with the first part.  If it’s good enough for Paul Kennedy, well then, ….

Patterson, David Kennedy, Robert Middlekauff and James McPherson will all be at Borders Columbus Circle (in the TimeWarner building) to discuss the Oxford History of the United States.  The event is tonight at 7 p.m.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Reba Shimansky
Hometown: New York, New York
I was present at the debate between Galloway and Hitchens at Baruch.  I disagree with everything that Galloway says except when he talks about the debacle in Iraq then he is right on.  As for Hitchens (who is a truly obnoxious and condescending person) he does not get it.  Nobody cares if the Iraqis get a constitution or the building of a infrastructure in Iraq.  The fact is that Bush's immoral vanity war is not worth one American life or dollar.  Hopefully the expense of Katrina will force us to get out of Iraq.  And after all the only reason that we are still there is because Bush wants to save face.

Eric replies: Just because it’s Reba…

Name:  Greg
Hometown:  Inverness, Scotland
Dear Dr Alterman,
I found the Galloway/Hitchens debate a total waste of time, watching two self-indulgent, unpleasant and rather ignorant men yelling insults at each other.  However, I wish that those who used to admire Hitchens would accept that his talent has left him as well as his discernment.  In a previous article for Slate, in the same paragraph as 'I don't wish to stoop', he writes:

Those of us who revere the vagina are committed to defend it against the very idea that it is a mouth or has teeth.  Study the photographs of Galloway from Syrian state television, however, and you will see how unwise and incautious it is for such a hideous person to resort to personal remarks.  Unkind nature, which could have made a perfectly good butt out of his face, has spoiled the whole effect by taking an asshole and studding it with ill-brushed fangs.

Really, Hitchens can only be described as a failed clown: his attempts at humour are getting worse than his attempts at profundity.  I wouldn't mind, but as a Brit I feel sad that he is regarded as a prime example of the wit and urbanity so common in my compatriots.

Name:  JT Ambrosi
Hometown:  Rochester, NY
While dated, I think gives some perspective on the value of polls in telling us what Americans, particularly young Americans, think about American foreign policy.  I suppose the logic could be applied to any national policy worthy of public discourse but, as you so accurately pointed out in your critical review of the Hitchens/Galloway debate, when one spouts opinion not even remotely based in fact, the value of that opinion is lessened substantially.  I suggest all individual participation in future polls on US policy in Iraq be discrete enough to allow participation only when the pollee correctly identifies the location of Iraq on a world map.

Name: Larry M. Beasley
Hometown: Pflugerville, Texas
Dear Eric,
Concerning comparisons with Vietnam, I keep waiting for some professional media talking-head brave soul to state the following three obvious "Nam parallels:

  1. We face an enemy embedded in and indistinguishable from the general population.
  2. We have no control over the borders of the conflict; Hell, we can't even stop illegal immigration in Texas.  Just for gallows giggles compare the Iraq border to that of our southern border with Mexico; the conclusions are more than obvious.
  3. We face an enemy willing to accept any and all losses.  Suicide tactics - 'nuff said. 

So much for the liberal media conspiracy, huh?

Name:  Josh Silver
Dear Eric,
On top of a busy season for media reform efforts, Katrina raised a number of additional media issues in the Congress and changed the debate over others.  Here's a quick update...

The failure of public safety communications has resulted in renewed pressure to move the Digital TV transition (DTV) legislation.  This bill would open up valuable pieces of the public airwaves for a national channel for wireless, public safety networks.  The bill is also key to expanding low-cost broadband access to underserved urban neighborhoods and rural areas. Most people can't afford broadband (65% of Americans don't have it).  But Congress wants to auction off spectrum to pay back the deficit, leaving us stuck with the status quo: duopoly control of Internet access by cable and telephone companies that charge high prices for slow connection speeds.  What passes for "broadband" here is 100 times slower than what they're rolling out in Japan and South Korea.  The United States is now ranked 16th in the world in broadband penetration, having slipped from fifth five years ago.  We are about to release the first comprehensive map of all community Internet networks in the U.S.  .

The key to success with the DTV bill is earmarking empty broadcast television channels for wireless broadband. In most of the country, more broadcast channels are empty than occupied.  Turning these public airwaves into a national resource for broadband access would be a significant boost for economic growth, educational opportunity, and information equality.  We're pushing hard to raise the profile of this extraordinary opportunity and encourage legislators to write it into the bill.

DTV is the priority telecommunications bill at present, but there are numerous efforts afoot in the Congress to move a broad revision of the Telecommunications Act.  Among the key issues are new rules for the franchising of cable TV now that the telephone companies are moving into the video market using broadband networks.  Congress must address critical questions about competition, universal service to low-income communities, access for independent networks, and prohibitions on network owners tampering with content that flows over the wires. Also on the agenda is the debate over whether a municipality should be permitted to offer broadband services (on its own or with a private partner) to its citizens.

The FCC will soon revisit the issue of media ownership limits, and the process will play out over the winter. As you know, two years ago the Commission eliminated most of the public interest caps on owning multiple broadcast stations in the same town and cross-owning broadcast stations with newspaper-- a huge favor to the major media conglomerates like Viacom, News Corp, Gannett, and Tribune. The courts rolled back the rules, and the new FCC chairman Kevin Martin is redrafting, but the goals are the same.  We are reconstructing and dramatically expanding the right/left coalition that was instrumental in the 2003 debate, and launching the first of several public FCC hearings on October 5th in Iowa City. Another will follow in Asheville, NC in December.

Finally, public broadcasting will again be on the agenda this fall. The House voted to slash nearly half of the budget for public broadcasting - which was already being attacked from CPB chairman Kenneth Tomlinson for its alleged "liberal bias." The US already spends less on pubcasting than any other developed nation (per capita). Huge public backlash pushed the House to restore half of the money and convinced the Senate to move a bill with full funding. The two versions will be reconciled in house-senate conference this fall, and we'll see another round of press and public attention then. We are reconstructing the broad coalitions that endorsed public broadcasting in the 60's when it was born, and hosting - along with Common Cause - "Town Hall" meetings with PBS and NPR affiliates across the country. The first two will be Springfield, MA and Denver in Nov and December.

Sept. 19, 2005 | 11:21 AM ET|

This is a mess of our own making

I was disgusted to watch the Hitchens/Galloway debate on CSPAN yesterday.  Both are brilliant debaters without much care whether the points they are making are consistent with the known evidence.  Galloway is a considerably more offensive individual, and while he’s right about much of what he says regarding Iraq, he’s right for all the wrong reasons.  He is the face of that part of the global left that really does abhor democracy and blames Israel for everything.  My old friend Hitchens, on the other hand, still cannot come to grips with the fact that most people who opposed the war a) supported a war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, despite its having been bungled by this administration and b) do not “prefer” that Saddam Hussein remain in power any more than he would prefer that thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis be killed for no earthly reason.  One’s position on the war is a matter of weighing costs and benefits.  Virtually everyone who supported it, and I include many of my close friends in this category, lost sight of this fact and allowed themselves to be taken in by a group of charlatans and ideologues selling what ultimately amounted to strategic snake oil.  Pointing out the evil of Saddam is not an argument.  Pointing to the results of the war is.  On that score, rather than Galloway or Christopher, I think I’ll take my side with the British Colonel Tim Collins, who gave a celebrated speech to his troops about their mission to liberate, not conquer, in Iraq, but has since left the army and offered in the Observer yesterday entitled, “This is a mess of our own making.”  He observes:

What I had not realized was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might.  We were to beat the Iraqis.  That simple.  Everything would come together after that. The Iraqi army was defeated - it walked away from most fights - but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment.  The Baath party was left undisturbed.  The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organize the insurrection.  A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived. One cannot help but wonder what it was all about.  If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever: a sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA.  If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced.  If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam.  UK military casualties reached 95 last week.  I nightly pray the total never reaches 100. … It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on.  It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice.  The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive.  This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.

And hey, Good news for Terrorists, al-Qaeda is back and getting stronger, , and hey, so is the Taliban, , thanks to America’s insane invasion of Iraq, just as we warned way back when.  Oh, I believe Bin Laden’s doing just fine too.

A few points from the September 17, 2005 New York Times/CBS poll .

More than 8 in 10 Americans are very or somewhat concerned that the $5 billion being spent each month on the war in Iraq is draining away money that could be used in the United States … nearly half of Americans say that the war is distracting President Bush from addressing problems at home, though an equal number do not share that concern.Support for the war in Iraq has fallen to an all-time low, according to the poll.  Only 44 percent now say the United States made the right decision in taking military action against Iraq, the lowest rating since the question was first asked by this poll more than two years ago.  When asked how long American troops should remain in Iraq, for example, 52 percent of people interviewed called for an immediate withdrawal, even if that means abandoning President Bush's goal of restoring stability to that country.  Only 42 percent said that troops should remain for as long as it takes to accomplish that mission, 12 percentage points lower than slightly over a year ago, when the question was first asked.  Nearly two-thirds of people surveyed said the war was having an impact in their communities.  Of those, 39 percent said it was a negative impact and 19 percent said it was a positive impact.  Here especially, the poll showed a stark racial divide. Fifty-eight percent of blacks said the war was having a negative impact, compared to only 36 percent of whites. The poll also found that nearly 60 percent now disapprove of the way Mr. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq.  And nearly half of those surveyed said that they were not proud of what the United States was doing in that country.  Ninety percent of people surveyed, including a majority of Republicans, said they would disapprove of cutting expenditures on domestic programs, like education and health care, to continue paying for the war.

Again, Fred Barnes is right.  With a Republican Congress and no re-election to face, Bush does not need to be popular to continue ruining our country.  (Note to Blogworld Language Police: I am not saying Bush, himself, thinks he is ruining the country and enjoys doing so, and therefore does intentionally.  I am saying that is the net effect of his actions, regardless of his intentions.)

Nope.  Nothing at all .

The Times mentions the finally, weeks after we noted the Guardian’s coverage of it.

And why not just hire Armstrong Williams?  In , “Black Leaders Say Storm Forced Bush to Confront Issues of Race and Poverty,” by ELISABETH BUMILLER and ANNE E. KORNBLUT, Todd Gitlin points out, (all the way from Shanghai), the only "black leaders" quoted are Bush supporters, who are not exactly easy to find unless that’s your intention.

Read these:

  • Arthur Schlesinger Jr. on Niebuhr, .
  • Alan Wolfe on the Times' terrific (but flawed) series on class in America, .

Nora E. asks, “Where the hell was Cheney?” .

insults our intelligence with the pretense that the conservative Washington Post editorial page is not conservative, writing, "Pigs flew on Sunday, when the Washington Post endorsed Roberts for Chief."  Remember, they are the guys who told us what a great response the federal government had made to Katrina.


Shout! Factory has done us the favor of releasing the fourth season of SCTV, and it does just get better and better.  This one lost Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis and Catherine O’Hara but gives us Martin Short and John Candy in their prime along with some excellent music, I am also enjoying the complete series of “Undeclared” which is not quite as great as “Freaks and Geeks” which was also produced by Judd Aptow, but is pretty good nevertheless, and features some pretty funny acting by Loudon Wainwright III.  Read all about them .

And I see that Shout! Factory is donating all the profits for their terrific New Orleans box set that we reviewed here when it was released.  Look .

(And  while I’m on the topic of my friends at Shout!, I ought to let Altercation readers know that my favorite CD package to come along in an extremely long while is the three CD box set, “Swinging with Bing,” a meticulously restored and nicely annotated set of Crosby radio broadcasts with the Andrews Sisters, and Ella and Louis.  If you want to hear “genius” defined, it’s right here, thrilling and soothing at the same time.)

I am also admiring two art catalogues from Yale, one of Van Gogh’s drawings, which are about to featured at the Metropolitan Museum (that’s ) and really require no endorsement from yours truly, as well as Atget catalogue, which features selections from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Bob Dodds
Hometown:  Kill Devil Hills, NC
Dr. A.,
More fun with numbers. The initial 55 billion dollars is enough to construct nearly 400,000 single family dwellings at about 140,000 per.  Now to folks in the "greatest city in the world" 140,000 for a house may seem a little cheap, but since many would also be housed in apartments and townhouses, both much less to construct on a per unit basis, and the fact that labor is less and the area does not support basements in the houses, 140k is a pretty reasonable figure.  So if 55 billion is enough to cover all that, what is the additional 200 billion for?  The fact is, insurance will pay for a lot of the reconstruction outside of pure flooding areas, which are a relatively small part of the total area of destruction.  Some really big players are going to be fighting each other on the reconstruction in the wake of Katrina.  Insurance companies will face off against banks for starters.  Banks are holding the notes on a lot of these houses and the houses have no equity at this point, so the notes are almost worthless without a new house on the spot.  It would be interesting to know what percent of housing in the area was rental housing.  Very poor folks don't own houses usually, and the Gulf Coast, a vacation destination, was probably littered with houses that are rented at high rates during the summer and empty the rest of the year.  Here in the Outer Banks nearly 80% of houses are empty during the winter.  So if the slum lords of La and the absentee owners of the Gulf Coast start defaulting on some big mortgages, the banks will get blasted.  So guess what we need $200,000,000.00 for?  A clue: Not the raw value of building enough units to replace what was lost.

Name:  Ron Radosh
Hometown:  Brookeville, MD
Finally, Eric Alterman writes something I agree with, and historian Michael Wreszin (name misspelled in Alterman's column) goes crazy.  How dare anyone associated with The Nation actually reveal he is anti-Stalinist?  For the record, I NEVER was a member of The Nation magazine's editorial board, although I do admit to having written for them a long time ago (including a cheap shot attack on Arthur Schlesinger, by the way.)  Eric might reconsider his claim that Stalin was "the worst mass murderer" of the last century, after he reads the new biography of Mao by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.  But on Wreszin's main point, he should stop worrying.  I publicly testify, "Eric Alterman is not a Cold War liberal or a neo-conservative."  I know.  I debated him a few years ago on the topic of McCarthyism in the pages of Slate.  Sorry, Michael, Eric has a long way to go until he joins us.

Name: Paul Yamada
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Eric: have you checked out the recent compilation of Richard Hell, Spurts?  Even if it is Rhino, Hell oversaw it.  You seem to think the world of Rhino; I could write a long essay about their mistakes, errors, omissions, and the generally vain-hipster-poser-customer they spend millions of dollars appealing to.  But I will endorse the Richard Hell collection, and if you have any interest in inventive, literate rock of the late 70's, this is a must.  After all, you already seem to like Television, so please, take the next step.  I also urge you to purchase the recent Johnny Smith (he was a jazz guitar player) re-issue, Walk, Don't Run, which features the original version of the well known tune.  And yes, Smith's original--he wrote it, too--predates well known versions by Chet Atkins and the Ventures.  Previously available only on a 10in ep, this re-issue goes a long way in filling a large, instrumental gap between 50's jazz and early 60's rock. Buy it, everyone!

Eric replies: I tried to like “Spurts” and couldn’t so thanks Paul for that…