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No Guru, No Method, No Presidency

Slacker Friday

October 10, 2005 | 12:40 PM ET|

When the history of this period of American politics is written, the indictments that are, or are not, about to be handed down by Patrick Fitzgerald may loom larger than any other event in explaining why the Bush façade finally fell apart. Karl Rove is scrambling to save his own Texas-sized posterior from indictment and possibly even slammer-time, and may not be able to do so, bless Fitzgerald’s frigid little heart.

Meanwhile, Cheney’s health has not been good and his man “Scooter” Libby is on the ropes. Nora Ephron speculated that he and Bush are on the outs. That means Bush has been playing with B-team advisers telling him what to do and hence, we are finally seeing his true “unhandled” self. The result stuff like, “So what if it’s raining at Trent Lott’s house. I wanna go fishing,” and “Way to Go Brownie.” “Why not put Harriet on the Supreme Court?” and “We’re winning in Iraq, really, really we are, anyway, what about 9/11? Remember that?” together with a 33 percent approval rating.

This is who Bush really is—successfully hidden from public view; someone with the competence and commitment of the other members of his now, transparent hackocracy  as those clever TNR/Harvard boys have named it, and even “the base” or what Lee Atwater used to call “the extra-chromosome conservatives” can’t stand it. Well, you asked for it… (And don’t miss Frank Rich, here.)

Good Night and Bad Luck

Writing in Slate about the movie “Good Night and Good Luck,” which I highly recommend, Slate’s Jack Shafer makes an extremely long and tendentious argument here  which makes a few telling points about the film’s historical accuracy—I actually think it a bit silly for people to depend on Hollywood for their history—but in doing so, goes on to make a series of extremely troubling arguments. I’ve picked out four (well, five), of them below, but believe me, I could go on.

1) Shafer writes, “The Venona transcripts have shown definitively that American communists and Soviet sympathizers, such as Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg, did gather information for Moscow in the 1930s and 1940s.”

This is tricky, but fundamentally dishonest and ultimately false sentence. In the first place two people out of tens or hundreds of thousands of “that American communists and Soviet sympathizers” does not show much of anything. It is a statistically insignificant sampling. You might just as well argue that it has shown definitively that “brown-haired people and guys in suits did gather information for Moscow…” More importantly, perhaps, it’s false. I’m guessing Shafer has never read the Venona transcripts. For if he did, he would know that they don’t demonstrate anything about Alger Hiss. The single mention of Hiss in the many thousands of pages of recorded conversations is not part of the transcripts themselves, but a scribbled margin by an unknown NSA functionary and dated 24 years after the original translated cable that names a spy with the codename “Ales” and represents a guess at his identity.

It is not supported by any corroborative evidence, and is a sensible guess, but that’s all. Even if  the alleged spy discussed in this cable really is Hiss--and nobody knows for sure--this would have to be argued outside the context of the Venona transcripts, rather than as a result of them. I try to stay away from the Hiss case per se, because down that road madness lies, though I’ve read much of what has been written about the case—at least what’s in English—and I spend a lot of time on its political impact in When Presidents Lie, which, coincidentally, is just about out in paperback. I did do one article inspired by the ALES controversy which you can find here.
(I take no position on guilt or innocence, merely on the quality of the evidence, which has titled, inconclusively, toward Chambers’ version of late and against Hiss.) You may think this nitpicking, but this is the foundation upon which history rests, and Shafer appears ignorant of most of it.

Second, Shafer writes, “Now, just because Moss was in the party doesn't make her a traitor, as McCarthy would have it, although it would make her a perjurer. If Clooney has researched the story as deeply as I believe he has, he knows of the evidence against Moss and has chosen to ignore it to make his story as black and white as its film stock. Likewise, in the Radulovich program, Murrow made no effort to explore whether the reservist might be a security threat if his family members are. But is it journalism when the only question asked by a reporter is whether a beleaguered citizen is receiving due process? In a recent review of the Murrow DVD set, Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin posed the question this way: "Would we be comfortable these days with an Air Force officer with a security clearance whose father belonged to al Qaeda?"

Here, both Shafer and Garvin accept the McCarthyite premise—one that also underlies the false analogy driving Peter Beinart’s argument described here, that to sympathize with Communism, whatever that means--and it can have mean, many, many different and contradictory meanings--is the equivalent of wishing to overthrow the US government and make war on its people. After all, the problem with Al Qaeda is not that they believe in a particularly radical form of Islam, but that they want to kill us.

The Shafer/Garvin argument would have us accept that anyone who was related to a Communist was a legitimate security risk. Oh really? Is Arlo Guthrie a security risk? Is Carl Bernstein a security risk? What about the children, grandchildren and great, grandchildren of America’s “most successful Communist,” Pete Seeger? Are they all security risks? (I see Fred Kaplan got it right when, in criticizing Bush (and by extension, his ideological ally in this matter, Shafer/Garvin) on the same day in the same magazine, he wrote of Bush, “He likened the struggle against terrorism to the Cold War struggle against Communism—ignoring that Communism's strength derived less from its ideology than from its embodiment in the massive, heavily armed, centrally controlled Soviet state.” here

True, I might want to be extra careful about an Air Force officer whose father was a member of the KGB, but to be a simple, innocently misguided Communist is an American right. (A better analogy would be to Islam itself, and I’d be really impressed if Garvin/Shafer want to go there, though I know people like General Boykin and maybe that guy who just got kicked out the Air Force Academy do…)

Then there’s this: Shafer writes, “According to Sperber's book, by this time CBS TV had become the single largest advertising medium in the world. See It Now had never made a penny. To leave a ratings loser in a coveted time slot when so much money could be made with a quiz show or other fare would have been insane.” That sentence speaks for itself but I disagree. Some lawyers, for instance, like to do pro bono work even though it is not as profitable as working for tobacco companies to deny compensation to cancer victims. I don’t find that “insane.”

To make a more precise analogy. ABC could have made a lot more money showing semi-clad female wrestling matches at 11:30 every night instead of “Nightline.” I don’t think they were “insane” for letting Mr. Koppel go on every night instead.  Money, in other words, isn’t everything, which after all, is why we’re in this business…

Finally, this sentence just amazes me: “Instead of a black-and-white docudrama, what if Clooney had exploited the humor in McCarthy's manic-depressive cycles, his crazed periods of insomnia, and his battles with the bottle? Play Roy Cohn's closeted homosexuality for laughs, too…” Am I missing something, or is Shafer really suggesting that mental illness, alcohol addiction, and homosexuality be “played for laughs?” What kind of homosexuality was possible in that day for an ambitious right-wing hatchetman other than the closeted kind? (This helps explain why present-day right-wing homosexual hachetmen are free to proclaim their preference, while acting much as Cohn did in other matters, in re Decadent Fifth-Columnist Coastal Elites who cannot be trusted to fight Al Qaeda from their remodeled P-Town bathrooms, though I won’t mention any names.…) 

Oh yeah this too: Shafer mocks Clooney’s message, which is that “… compared to the giants of 1954, modern journalists have been cowed by those in political power. What a facile, Hollywood cliché.” I agree. Why would anyone in the world think that American journalists have been cowed by those in political power? It’s not as if anyone of them reported that Saddam absolutely, positively, certainly, no doubt about it, had WMDs; or was about to get nukes; or was best friends with Osama; or that we would be “welcomed as liberators…” etc, etc, What a facile, Hollywood cliché.

Shame on that bad Clooney man. Its historical inaccuracies aside, “Good Night and Good Luck,” is a beautiful piece of movie-making. Go see it and then read a history book.  For the best intellectual history of the period, I’d recommend Richard Pells, “The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age,” here. The best history of McCarthyism so far is, I think, Ellen Schrecker,  “Many Are the Crimes : McCarthyism in America here.

Does anybody edit Slate?
Bryan Curtis writes “…there's a New England Patriots manifesto on the way from David Halberstam, whose byline usually indicates that something terribly historical has happened” here.
Previous Sports Books by David Halberstam:

  • The Teammates
  • Breaks of the Game
  • Summer of '49
  • October 1964
  • The Amateurs : The Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal
  • Playing for Keeps : Michael Jordan and the World He Made (The Best American Sports Writing of the Century)

(By the way, excluding the brilliant but 33-years-old, “Best and The Brightest” and the well-reported but comically badly written “Powers that Be,” he’s a lot better on sports than politics. I wrote about his last big, bad, book, here. And I entirely agree with Kitty Kelly’s Times op-ed here, which is why I wrote the same piece about four years ago, here.

Happy 97th Birthday, Saturday, to one of my heroes, that great Canadian American, John Kenneth Galbraith. Eric Rauchway’s review of Richard Parker’s biography is archived here.

Quotes of the Day:

"It's good to be on Long Island. Long Island and New Jersey are alike. If you scratch a Long Islander you find a New Jerseyan. If you scratch a New Jerseyan you find a Long Islander. They're two sides of the same tragic coin."
"A lot of fans come up to me on the street, and they always ask me the same question: 'Have you got any change?' No, seriously, fans are always asking me, what's it really like to be the Boss? I could try offer some fake humility bul**hit, but the real answer is: fabulous beyond your wildest dreams..."
-- Bruce Springsteen, Nassau Coliseum, (as reported by JJ Goldberg)

“…with whom he agrees.” This might have been one of the greatest lines of all time if only Mary Gaitskill hadn’t been so careless as to end it with a preposition: "He moves like he's being yelled at by invisible people whom he hates but whom he basically agrees with."

Alter-reviews by Sal

Two boxed sets that have taken up a lot of my time this week both come from Rhino. "Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings of Ray Charles"  and "One Kiss Can Lead to Another" The Girl Group Sound: Lost & Found"  are two near-perfect collections...musically.
While Ray Charles had put out some fine material after 1960, his recordings from 1952-1959 for the Atlantic label, is arguably his most magical. From the jump blues of his early singles, to the rock, rhythm and blues of such staples as "What'd I Say," and "Talkin' Bout You," to the gospel-influence of "I Believe To My Soul" and the heartbreaking balladry of "Hard Times" and "Come Rain Or Come Shine," this box literally has it all, including the wonderful jazz recordings with Milt Jackson. What makes this box so special is its lack of weak material. 120 songs on 7 CDs and 1 DVD and there is no filler.

And, what is shaping up to be my favorite collection of the year is the "Girl Group Sound: Lost & Found," four CDs of perfect pop singles from superstars such as The Supremes and Dusty Springfield to no names such as The Palisades and Peanut, this was the first box set that I started playing and didn't stop until I finished.
Producers Sheryl Farber & Gary Stewart have compiled what I can only describe as a labor of love. Avoiding the obvious and taking a chance on the obscure yet powerful, this box is not some repackaged collection of songs we never have to hear again like "Soldier Boy" and "Leader Of The Pack."  This is the equivalent of someone, say, a Bruce Springsteen fan opting to include "Meeting Across The River" on a compilation instead of "Dancing In The Dark." We all know the hits, but check out these amazing songs instead.

The Chiffons' could have easily been represented by either of their two monster hits "One Fine Day" or "Sweet Talking Guy," but instead we get the daring, quasi-psychedelic "Nobody Knows What's Goin' On (In My Mind But Me) and the amazing "When The Boy's Happy" recorded under their pseudonym The Four Pennies. Same with The Shirelles, who's aforementioned "Soldier Boy" is thankfully neglected for the rarely acknowledged rocker "Boys," more commonly associated with The Beatles. The list goes on and on.
Some real gems- "Dream Baby" from a pre-nosejob Cher, the unbelievably catchy "Baby Baby, I Still Love You," from New York's The Cinderellas, "He Was Really Sayin' Something" by The Velvelettes, later an 80's hit for Bananarama, "Go Now" by Bessie Banks, a song most of us know by The Moody Blues, and a song I had never heard until this set, "I Never Dreamed" by The Cookies, a song with spine-tingling melodies that will remain in your head for days. The list goes on and on. I cannot recommend this one enough.

Now earlier I referred to these sets as near-perfect. Here is why. As usual, the packaging is clumsy and overdone. The Ray Charles set is housed in what looks like box better fit for a pair of shoes, and the Girl Group set is packaged in a hat box. When purchased together, it would look as if you spent an afternoon at Gimbel's instead of a fine record store like NYCD. Nice jewel cases that fit comfortably on a shelf would not only be more practical, but no doubt bring the cost down to something more affordable. And the most confusing is the sequencing of the Ray Charles set. If anyone out there has any idea of why it was randomly spread over seven CDs, instead of chronologically, please let me know.

Eric adds: Actually, I like the box for the Ray Charles set and while I do think the Girls Group Box is a little nutty, it has individual boxes you can put it on your shelf and my kid is happy to hold onto the hatbox.

Also, George Whitman, the crazy man who let me live for a month in the “Writer’s Room” surrounded by first editions and other crazy people above Shakespeare and Company in Paris (without a bathroom) back in 1984, is profiled tonight on IFC, which reminds me, rent “After Sunset” if you havent’ already seen it, which begins with a reading in the store, and goes for walk in the neighborhood, which remains virtually unchanged in the past 20 years….

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Comments: Hello, Eric. Richard Heinzman makes a mistake of confusing raw numbers with comparative numbers. That is, trying to compare the tax burden of someone who is very rich to someone who is very poor by simply looking at the raw number of dollars collected in taxes is misleading and inappropriate.
A person who earns $1 million and pays $1,000 in taxes is not more burdened when compared to someone who earns $50,000 and pays $500 in taxes. The tax bite of the person earning 50K in this scenario is 10 times greater than that of the person earning a million, even though he's only paying one-half of the amount in raw dollars.
And this in spite of the fact that two-thirds of the revenue generated came from the top 50%. Thus to claim that 80% of taxes are being paid by the richest 20%, while simplistically true, doesn't mean that the rich are being soaked. It simply reflects the fact that the rich by dint of being rich have more to contribute. A small percentage of a large thing is still a large thing. Back when Bill Gates was still the golden boy of the richest of the rich, there was a term used by the computer wonks to represent a huge amount of money while at the same time recognizing the outrageous amount of money Bill Gates had: The milligates.
It represents one-thousandth of the reported net worth of Gates. These days, that's about $45 million. As another way to help wrap your mind just how wealthy the super wealthy are, another Gates-related scenario was to suppose that Bill was walking to work and saw $1,000 bill lying on the sidewalk. Given the amount of money that Bill earns, it would not be worth his time to bend down and pick it up. He would earn more to just keep walking.
So of course the percentage of raw dollars into the revenues will mostly come from those who have the most. But to pretend that this means that they are paying their "fair share" is to misunderstand statistics. They might, they might not. The only way to tell is to compare the rich to the poor. Raw numbers mean nothing. You must always place them within context. Let's take a look at a more interesting set of numbers: The amount of federal revenue paid through personal taxation compared to corporate taxes. Using inflation adjusted dollars, the federal revenue was about half a trillion dollars of which the split was about 50-50, corporations paying about $250 billion. Over 40 years later, the federal revenue has expanded to about two trillion...all on the backs of the individual: Corporations still pay only about $250 billion in taxes.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Comments: Eric-- Richard Heinzman's assessment of the disproportionate share of taxes paid by the wealthy ignores the fact that the rich reap the rewards of the infrastructure in a grossly disproportionate fashion as well, especially indirectly.
Take Heinzman's own example, the bus system that they pay for but don't use themselves, as an illustration. It's true that many wealthy people have never dropped a fare in the farebox or sat next to a stranger to get to their job, but this public infrastructure serves them in ways that Heinzman doesn't acknowledge.
Does the business owner send a car around to pick up his employees, or do these low wage earners ride the bus? If there was no bus to ride, and thus no way for those employees to arrive at work and conduct Mr. Ms. Tycoon's business, how would that business survive? What would the bottom line look like if the Tycoons had to start paying wages that enabled employees to own cars, pay insurance, fill the tank? Mr. and Ms. Tycoon may send their kids to private school, or maybe they don't have kids, but the employees that they hire to staff their offices or run machinery in their factories, or drive the trucks that deliver the goods their businesses sell were educated in public schools.
And at the very least, Mr. and Ms. Tycoon need solid wage earners who can participate in the economy in order to make their astronomical salaries.
Even more abstract infrastructure like the SEC enables fortunes to be made without the risk of corrupt; wealth at the level of those in the 1% category is leveraged by investments.
Behind the statistics that Heinzmann cites, the disparity of income in the US continues to grow at an obscene and dangerous rate. As those in the top 1% put greater distance between their wealth and that of all others, they will continue to pay a higher share of the taxes, but do they pay at a rate commensurate to the benefits they enjoy? Not even close.

Name: Chris Harlow
Hometown: Virginia
Comments: Although I don't want to put up a lengthy response (I would really rather spend that time with my kids), I think it is important that Mr. Heinzman (and others like him) understand that he is taking data out of context. Without that context, I can understand Mr. Heinzman's frustrations, but when you understand the context of where that data is coming from, you begin to understand that the actual problem is that the top earners really aren't paying enough.
What Mr. Heinzman stated is accurate, but it is not complete. Let's start by getting the data together so you can look for yourself. The IRS has provided their 2002 information here, and you can find variations of that data at as well.
But this spreadsheet provides all that we need to show where Mr. Heinzman has gone wrong. I'll keep myself restricted to the breakdowns shown on that spreadsheet so you can easily understand how I arrive at my conclusions.
The top .09% of earners (the bottom 4 rows) involves 90,591 returns. They collectively have an AGI of $339,928,491,000 (dollar figures on this spreadsheet are in the 1000s). Now, let's get about that same AGI from the bottom earners. In order to get close to that figure, $324,097,301,000 is accomplished by the bottom 40,639,473 (or 39.74% of earners - the top 12 rows) returns.
That's right, collectively the top .09% of earners make more than the bottom 39.74% of earners in this country. Now, as we analyze this deeper, it will only get worse. On average, the top .09% of earners has an AGI of $3,752,343. On average, the bottom 39.74% of earners has an AGI of $7,975. Just divide the AGI of each group by the number of returns for that group. Now here is some of that context I mentioned earlier. But to be fair, let's take out the taxes and see how each group ends up after the tax season. The top .09% of earners paid $110,444,738,000 in taxes.
The bottom 39.74% of earners paid $38,553,943,000 in taxes, or only about 35% as much. The results: on average, the top .09% of earners has remaining income of $2,533,185; on average, the bottom 39.74% of earners has remaining income of $7,026. Yes, the top earners pay substantially more taxes than the bottom earners, but let's focus on the context of the remaining money. How much are those top .09% of earners suffering?
With 2.5 million dollars annually, will they be starving, or living on the street, or sitting in rags? They paid on average almost $1.25 million in taxes but are still left over with tons of discretionary money to buy the latest gadgets, cars, super-sized homes, fancy feasts, and pretty much anything they want that pops in their minds. They don't have to worry about medical emergencies, or repossessions, or increases in energy costs. Those are all drops in a bucket to them.
They worry about such things as their stock portfolios or what country they are going visit for a vacation. I don't know about you, but I would be happy to live with such suffering. Now, let's look at the bottom earners. Perhaps Mr. Heinzman would be kind enough to enlighten me where I could live on an average of $7,026 per year. How do I pay for a place to live, and food, and clothing? If my income is just under $8,000 per year, you can bet that $950 paid to taxes hurts a lot. At that income level, every single dollar counts.and they gave $950 of that in taxes, increasing their suffering all the more.
There is no discussion about stock portfolios (or any investments for that matter), and a vacation probably involves driving a short ways to visit relatives. A medical emergency wipes them out, repossessions are a reality, and increasing energy costs have huge impacts. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine living under such circumstances. When you start digging through this information historically, Mr. Heinzman, you will find that the reason that the top earners keep paying proportional more is because their incomes have risen much faster than the incomes of the poor. Greater disparity in incomes will result in a greater disparity in taxes paid. From the link provided earlier on this blog: The top tenth of 1 percent had more income in 2003 than the poorest third of taxpayers, a group with 330 times the number of people, analysis of the data showed. This is a sharp change from 1979, the earliest year in the I.R.S. report, when the total income of the poorest third of Americans exceeded that garnered by the top tenth of 1 percent by 2.5-to-1. And before you think I'm just a whining low income individual who wants more and more, let me inform you that I'm in the top 10% of earners in this country, and I would be happy to pay more taxes.

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle
Comments: Woah, I thought the best part of the brazenly idiotic Bill O'Reilly quote was "They had to leave the country, just as Africans had to leave -- African-Americans had to leave Africa and come over on a boat and try to make in the New World with nothing." Seems like Professor O paused to contemplate just how moronic it was--is he suggesting that the slavers parked their rat-infested ships off shore and the 18th Century Africans clamored to get on board to start off anew with nothing, as slaves? I assume he's equating his Irish ancestors with all other immigrants, but to single out the segment of our population that, for 250 or so years, was forced to come here as chattel, well, he's really mixing falafels with loofahs….

Name: Mark Burnette
Hometown: Evanston IL
Dr. Alterman, This is directed to you personally, and you may already be aware of it, but if you wish to share it with Altercation readers, please do.
The Optimists: The Story of the Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust Starts October 21st at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011.
The film will have its NY Premiere on Oct. 10th at the Center for Jewish History, New York City. The screening is sponsored by: Consulate General of Israel in New York Consulate General of Bulgaria in New York American Society for Yad Vashem American Jewish Committee American Sephardic Federation Center for Jewish History, and in collaboration with The International Raul Wallenberg Foundation.
The special screening will be followed by an award presentation by the American Jewish Committee to a representative of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, on behalf of the two Righteous Among the Nations from Bulgaria, The Metropolitan Bishops Stephan and Kiril. For the first time in the US, members of the Bulgarian Church are recognized for their role in stopping the deportations of the Bulgarian Jews to the death camps. A discussion with special guests: Bulgarian Ambassador to the US, H.E. Ms. Elena Poptodorova, Film Producer Jacky Comforty, and Honorary Bulgarian Consul in New York Victoria Schonfeld.
The Optimists tells the inspiring story of how 50,000 Jews in Bulgaria survived the Holocaust because their Bulgarian neighbors and friends helped defend them. Many individuals, each in his or her own way, took action to foil the Bulgarian government's plans to hand over the Bulgarian Jews to the Nazis. The film features everyday heroes and role models from all walks of life.
The Optimists will start its theatrical run on Oct. 21 at the Quad Cinema. During the first week director Jacky Comforty will be available for QandA after selected screenings. To schedule a special screening for groups e-mail

October 7, 2005 | 12:40 PM ET|

I’ve got a new Think Again column, here “ Meet Roy Blunt. (If You Liked Tom DeLay…”) and a new Nation column here, “The First Time Was Tragedy.”
Thanks George. “CNN reported that U.S. military and other government agencies conducted a raid south of Baghdad on Wednesday night based on the same threat information passed to New York officials, rounding up al Qaeda operatives and intelligence. New York police said they made the announcement after two al Qaeda operatives were arrested in Iraq. Spokesmen for the Pentagon in Baghdad and Washington said they were looking into reports of a raid and any connection to New York.”  So those people who were going to attack us, were um, in Iraq after the invasion but not before. How nice they have a safe place to operate…(And thanks again, Ralph)

The whole world hates us, Part XXXVIII here. As for Bush’s speech, let’s just go with Ygliesias or Fred.

And this anti-intellectualism thing, I’m lovin’ it too, Here’s Garance. 

And another another day in Bushworld, "Nationwide, every one of the Army's 41 recruiting battalions failed to meet its recruiting goal in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, falling 7,000 soldiers short of the goal needed to refill the ranks, according to Army figures. Not since 1979 has the Army missed its annual quota by so many recruits." Here.

And Another Day... "Radicals in Iraq Begin Exporting Violence, Mideast Neighbors Say" WSJ $.

Question of the Day. How is Bush like Oakland?

Ok, it’s New Jersey but it’s interesting that all Jon Corzine thinks he has to do to win the governor’s race is to call him “Bush’s Choice for Governor…”

Stupid on Purpose?

A friend writes:
Professor O'Reilly's History Class And Auto Repair:
"MY  people came from County Cavan in Ireland. All right? And the British Crown marched in there with their henchman, Oliver Cromwell, and they seized all of my ancestors' lands, everything. And they threw them into slavery, pretty much indentured servitude on the land. And then the land collapsed, all right? And everybody was starving in Ireland.
They had to leave the country, just as Africans had to leave -- African-Americans had to leave Africa and come over on a boat and try to make in the New World with nothing. Nothing. And succeeded, succeeded. As did Italians, as did -- and I'll submit to you, African-Americans are succeeding as well. So all of these things can be overcome I think, [caller]. Go ahead."

Where to start? Oh, yes -- Cromwell as the British Crown's "henchman." Cromwell? The guy who beheaded Charles I. Is he this stupid or does it just not matter any more.

I saw “Good Night and Good Luck” last night and really admired it. The amazing thing, though, was that at the theater, both of the people seated next to me on either side were Al Zaquari’s number two terrorist… Anyway, here’s a good review of the movie with a bonus funny-take down of “Little Roy.” (Big Roy also appears in the movie, but he’s better in “Angels in America.”

How much does my city kick your city’s ass? Let me count the ways…
The following are all free. Go here for details…

Monday, Nov. 14: Blind Boys of Alabama and Cat Power
Tuesday, Nov. 15: Buddy Guy with Shemekia Copeland
Wednesday, Nov. 16: Jeff Tweedy with Nels Cline
Thursday, Nov. 17: Jeff Tweedy with Glenn Kotche
Friday, Nov. 18: Ryan Adams and The Cardinals
Saturday, Nov. 19: Rickie Lee Jones with Vic Chesnutt
Sunday, Nov. 20: Aimee Mann with Keren Ann


Night Train to Nashville, MUSIC CITY RHYTHM & BLUES, 1945-1970 Volume II, compiled by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Lost Highway Records release, is not quite as great as the original, which deservedly won the Grammy Award as the best historical recording of 2004. If you know any of these songs, listed here I’d be impressed. They are pretty obscure. And none of them suck, but the point is as much history as it is entertainment, and that’s what makes this collection all the more appreciated

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to follow the dinar.  I can't believe that some liberal supporters of the Iraq war are pushing the “Sunni boogeyman” as an exit strategy.  In August the editors of the New Republic suggested that the only way to force the Sunnis to cooperate with the new Iraqi government would be to accelerate U.S. troop withdrawal. Last week Thomas Friedman was
more blunt. Friedman wrote that if the Sunnis don't shape-up within the next several months: 

"We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind. We must not throw more good American lives after good American lives for people who hate others more than they love their own children."

I don't know where to start. First, there's the assumption that Sunni fantasies of returning to power are behind the insurgency. From what I can see, it’s more like they don’t want to become the next Gazans. The proposed Constitution effectively cuts oil revenue to the Sunni regions.

Any hope of Shiite/Kurd largess towards the Sunnis should have been dispelled by this week's tampering with the upcoming Constitution vote. Remember those pamphlets the U.S. army dropped from the air before the war urging the Iraqi army not to destroy oil wells?  They featured Iraqi families watching the fires and said that their future livelihood was at stake.  So what changed?

Particularly galling is that these liberal hawks have forgotten why they supported the war in the first place: the "Hail Mary" pass to transform a dangerously dysfunctional region.  First they were silent when the Greater/Broader Middle East Peace Initiatives (cold war-like proposals for
pro-democracy propaganda and infrastructure in the region) were watered down to meaninglessness.  Now they have forgotten that most of the Muslim world is Sunni.  Try to envision the future of the Sunni Triangle under the proposed regime, then throw-in an American position of “the Sunnis got what they deserved."  I dunno, maybe they believe Al-Jazeera will give more airtime to our senate votes against torture. 

PS: My reaction to Meiers is the same as Thomas only more so: patently unqualified. I pposed Thomas bcause he was such a lightweight (one year judge, 3 years b-level agency).
But he's John Marshall compared to Meirs. There are literally 100,000 lawyers in America as qualified as she is. I know this sounds snobbish, but we're doing a real disservice to the institution if we confirm her.
I would have much prefered McConnell even though he definitely would move the Court to the right (though if Jay Sekolow isn't upset with her, that tells
me all I need to know...)
Finally, don't underestimate the power of the ex-Cub factor.

Josh Silver

Hi Eric:
A few interesting developments.
The first serious effort at the long-awaited rewrite of the Telecom Act is now circulating in draft form in the House. It is an attempt to create a regulatory framework for tomorrow's broadband networks carrying data, voice, and video. The draft bill contains good starting positions that support municipal broadband services and look to make sure network owners can't discriminate against content or applications on the Internet. The bill needs substantial improvements and we are engaged in these early rounds of legislative formation to make sure citizens and consumers have a seat at the table.

The other major media legislation is the digital television bill (DTV), which will set a date for shifting the broadcasters off the old analog channels and into digital-freeing up a wide swath of the public airwaves for public safety communications and wireless broadband. Congress fully intends to auction off this valuable public spectrum to the highest bidder-likely the cellular phone companies. We are working to open up some of this spectrum (as well as the empty TV channels) to create public broadband on the public airwaves, a low-cost Internet solution to bridge the digital divide. We are fighting back against the broadcasters and cable companies as each industry attempts to maximize its control of tomorrow's video marketplace with sweetheart policies. We favor diversity and choice in digital TV, opening up more slots on the dial to independent and minority programmers and making sure consumers can choose their channels "a la carte", picking and paying for exactly what they want.

Last Friday, an investigation by the Government Accountability Office determined that the Bush Administration broke the law when it used taxpayer dollars to hire fake journalists like Armstrong Williams to tout Bush's education policies before the 2004 elections. The report also dug up other instances of abuse including a previously undisclosed case in which the Bush administration commissioned a newspaper article that praised the White House's role in promoting science education.

The GAO isn't an enforcement agency, and their investigations are merely "advisory". They do not ensure prosecution. Yesterday we launched a sign on letter to pressure members of Congress to press for prosecution and keep the story in the news cycle. Based on our successes with fake news, Sinclair and anti-payola legislation, it's a worthwhile campaign and the public gets it.

Public broadcasting just got even more partisan. The CPB board replaced our favorite GOP operative Chairman Ken Tomlinson with his soul mate Cheryl F. Halpern, a New Jersey lawyer and real estate developer. Halpern and her husband, Fred, have for years been financial supporters of Republican candidates, including President Bush and Republican Sens. Trent Lott (Miss.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Conrad Burns (Mont.) and Christopher Bond (Mo.). Tomlinson's term as chairman had expired, but he remains a member of the board. The board also elected another right-winger, Gay Hart Gaines, as its vice chair. Gaines, an interior decorator by training, was a charter member and a chair of GOPAC, a Republican fundraising group that then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) used to engineer the GOP takeover of the House in 1994.

In the face of deep, structural problems in public broadcasting, poll after poll confirm that vast majorities of Americans support it and want it to survive. We believe that the only fix will come from a multi-pronged approach: 1) Organize the growing number of NPR and PBS station managers that are angry about dysfunctional CPB governance and undue partisan/ideological influence and create an inside-out reform strategy. We can facilitate a coalition of these activist managers that will help build public and affiliate/institutional support. 2) Research and craft viable policy solutions for governance and independent funding; 3) Reconstruct the broad coalitions that supported the birth of pubcasting and its original mission of public service by organizing public support and for structural reform. We have no illusions that this will work in the short term given the current political environment, but we must do the groundwork now in anticipation of a more friendly White House and Congress down the road.

Finally, Free Press organized another FCC "Town Hall" meeting last night in Iowa, and it was another overflow crowd. These hearings are what sparked the media ownership uprising in 2003, and continue to be a potent organzing stategy. Article from today's paper in Des Moines below.

Name: Richard Heinzman
Hometown: Walla Walla, WA

The top 1% of earners pay 33% of all income taxes and the top 50% pay 96.4%. Other recent statistics released by the Office of Management and Budget show that 10% of all federal taxes, including Social Security, are collected from the top one-tenth of one percent of wage earners. 80% of all federal taxes, including Social Security, are collected from the top 20% of earners. Despite the lowering of tax rates in the Bush tax cuts (tax cuts which by the way were relatively modest compared to Kennedy and Reagan), the proportion of taxes paid by the highest earners has increased relative to all taxes paid. The inverse is also true that the lower earners pay proportionately less. The lowest 20% of earners pay, including Social Security taxes, 1.5% of all federal taxes collected. So far I've mentioned only federal taxes. Since rich people can and do buy more expensive things, they also return a greater proportion of state sales taxes collected. For states with income taxes the same is true. Rich people buy more expensive gas guzzlers and can afford to drive them more, thus paying a higher proportion of gasoline taxes. The same goes for local real estate taxes where the more expensive the house, the more taxes are paid. In fact, any tax that involves spending results in the rich paying more taxes. In many cases, they aren't necessarily getting more back in the form of available services as with local sales taxes that help fund municipal bus systems. These funds are also provided disproportionately by the rich and better off who are themselves less likely to use the service provided. Then there is philanthropy and I would speculate that the 20/80 ratio probably applies fairly well to philanthropy as well. My point? Next time you imply that the rich aren't paying enough and essentially call for raising taxes on them, or when you see a rich person, at least say thanks for past contributions.

Name: Martin
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Mich.

Hi Doc, Altercators everywhere will likely agree that Wednesday's edition of Democracy Now was exceptional. An hour with Studs Terkel: "As you were reading the news, I thought of one thing: a burlesque house. Burlesque. The hotel in which I was raised during my young manhood in Chicago had several burlesque houses around, first and second bananas. And George Bush is a perfect second banana. The second banana is the one who is fed this stuff and who is a natural foil for the first banana, who would be Karl Rove. But they're not as funny as the burlesque shows I saw."

Name: Steve Davis
Hometown: Harrison, Arkansas

The quote is from a PBS website, but now I can't find the page. "In 1969, the Senate defeated President Richard Nixon's nomination of Judge Clement Haynsworth to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Abe Fortas (see below). Still angry about the Haynsworth defeat, in 1970 Nixon nominated Judge G. Harrold Carswell, a Southern conservative with "strict-constructionist" leanings, to fill the Fortas vacancy. Carswell had recently been appointed to the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which served the Deep South. His nomination was a surprise to many: Carswell had been a judge for just a short time and was seen as lacking distinction.
Prominent legal scholars publicly criticized the nomination. Some senators tried to sell Carswell's rather unremarkable career as an asset. In a famous speech in Carswell's defense, Republican Sen. Roman Hruska of Nebraska argued: 'Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers, and they are entitled to a little representation, aren't they? We can't have all Brandeises and Cardozos and Frankfurters and stuff like that.'" If we can't trust the Republicans to promote mediocrity, whom can we trust?

October 6, 2005 | 12:40 PM ET|

Billionaire Bloomberg: Taken to the Cleaners

“As mayor, he gave $250,000 to the same Republican party-building effort that Representative Tom DeLay is now charged with using to launder political money.” .

This is why I won’t vote for Mike Bloomberg, even though he’s a competent and sensible mayor and a welcome relief after the crazy Rudy years.  For no good reason, our billionaire mayor has been funding the corrupt right-wing Republican machine of Tom DeLay and other right-wing Republicans who use their power to starve our city of its rightful resources and attack our values as un-American.  He says he’s buying influence.  Fine.  Where is it, bub?  Congress has even cut the money promised after 9/11.  Pataki won’t even pony up the money the courts have ordered to provide New York City school children with a classrooms and supplies so they don’t have to do math in the bathroom and English in what used to be the gym.  Note that the article explains that “Mr. Bloomberg also donated $2,000 to President Bush in 2003 and, as has been widely reported, gave $5 million in cash to support the Republican National Convention here.”  All that is bad enough.  Bloomberg was so eager to play the role of the good boy that he unlawfully ordered hundreds of innocent people arrested during the Republican convention whose only crime was standing up for the principles in which he professes to believe. 

Perhaps he’s a better mayor than Freddie would be.  To be honest, I’d not be amazed were that to be the case.  (And what’s more, he’s so popular among Democrats and liberals that a Ferrer victory is likely to require some sort of Divine Intervention of a kind that is not presently imaginable.)  But whatever Bloomberg pretends his millions have bought for the city, it has cost us far more.  And irony of ironies, he could have gotten the Democratic nomination if he wanted it and none of this would be necessary.

Stupid on Purpose:  If Times Select were a smashing success, does Mickey Kaus really think a number would be sufficiently significant to affect the media conglomerate’s stock price, or is he just being ?  (Tuesday)  I think “Stupid on Purpose” is a good new Altercation category, reserved for people who can’t possibly believe the nonsense they spout, but do so in the service of some larger ideological or political goal.  Another one would have been this Quote of the Day a week or so ago from Fred Barnes:  “Finally, there's the media, more aptly called the Republican-hating media.  We've already seen what they are willing to do to protect Hillary Clinton.  They trashed a perfectly respectable, though highly critical, biography of Hillary by veteran newsman Ed Klein.  It got so bad that conservatives, too, began attacking his book.  If this is happening in 2005, imagine what lengths the press will be willing to go to in 2008 on Hillary's, or another Democrat's, behalf.”  Yeah, right…

Oh wait, in a row, from Judy Miller and Lou Dobbs.

MILLER: That's why I was sitting in jail.  For the public's right to know.

DOBBS: And all of us in this craft respect you immensely and are deeply grateful to you for so doing.

Another Day in Bushworld: 

After falling for two years, the share of income going to the richest slice of Americans - the top tenth of 1 percent - grew significantly in 2003 while the share going to 99 percent of Americans fell, tax data released yesterday showed....At the same time, the effective income tax rates paid by the top tenth of 1 percent fell sharply, declining at more than 10 times the rate reduction for middle-class taxpayers, the new report, by the Internal Revenue Service, showed.  The top tenth of 1 percent had more income in 2003 than the poorest third of taxpayers, a group with 330 times the number of people, analysis of the data showed. This is a sharp change from 1979, the earliest year in the I.R.S. report, when the total income of the poorest third of Americans exceeded that garnered by the top tenth of 1 percent by 2.5 to 1. Other data show that among major world economies, the United States in recent years has had the third-greatest disparity in incomes between the very top and everyone else. Only Mexico and Russia, among major economies, have greater disparity.

.  The cynical among us might imagine they’re doing this on purpose.

Quote of the Day:  "They told us, please don't discuss this or make objections, just vote for the statement," Shatha al-Musawi, a Shiite lawmaker, said of the Shiite leadership,” .

Though this one was hard to resist, too:  “So where does this lover of Trotsky and hater of God, this despiser of religion and tradition and devotee of “permanent revolution,” this anti-Catholic bigot and reviler of Reagan and John Paul, now find an ideological home?  Among the neoconservatives, naturally."  Guess who, .

Find the Brownie,   (Thanks Petey)   too. 

“Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, declined to say whether his client had been contacted by Fitzgerald.  In the past, Luskin has said that Rove was assured that he was not a target."  .  Repeat after me, “Oh Happy Day…”

Happy to be Wrong:  You know, I originally thought the Miers nomination was quite smart politically.  The woman had no paper trail, came pre-approved by Harry Reid, and appeared to be a fundamentalist Christian of the most dependable sort.  What I underestimated, after all these years, is just how fanatically extremist these right-wingers have become.  It’s not enough for them to have a reliable majority on the Supreme Court. They want to dance around the end zone for fun first, and with Miers they don’t get to do that.  And she may actually go down because of it.  Read all about it .  Really, I find it just amazing, particularly when you consider they are doing all of this on the basis of a minority view of the country and its constitution, but a iron grip of its institutions.  In other words, once people wake up to the fact that we are being run by a band of incompetent, dishonest ideologues who don’t share their values, Republicans might be called to account for something.  But they seem to want to hasten that day.  I say, “Bring it on…”

before they notice...

He’s not back, but…  Who but our boy could open a piece like this… "Even by the standards of Washington, D.C., this is an impressive gathering of expensive suits.  The crowd jamming the committee room is dark and woolen.  It makes the waitstaff at Waterman Funeral Home look like the Village People…”  If you miss him, they’ve got him.  The GREAT Charles Pierce on the no less great, .  (I could go on you know.  Check this one out: “The water, rank and pestilential, washes back and forth through the conversations of the powerful.  Guilt is the river, and shame is the current that powers it.”  And he hasn’t even mentioned Barney yet…

My TimeWarner DVR is incredibly temperamental and decided the other night that it would only tape a minute of “Boston Legal.”  Why can’t ABC figure out how to sell me the opportunity to watch that episode whenever I can?  Isn’t that stupid?

Required Reading:

  • The story of Hans Bethe .
  • David Rieff does to Robert Kaplan what needed to be done, .
  • Another good Edmund Wilson piece, , by our second favorite sports writer.
  • And an interesting piece by Alan Wolfe on the “Authoritarian Personality.
  • And oh yeah, kids and computers, Bad Idea, .

“That was indeed Mick Jagger dining with Howard Dean at Café Milano last night.” (Was he hard enough?  Was he tough enough?  Is he not too blind to see?)

Altercation Book Club: Amazonia by James Marcus

We’re breaking a few rules here, going with an afterward to a new paperback that stretches our mandate for a good “Altercation,” but we rarely find really good books written by our sister’s ex-high school boyfriends who were also pretty good high-school guitarists, now literary critics, so here it is.  The following is drawn from a conversation between James Marcus and Henry Blodget, at Housing Works Café in Manhattan (Blodget is the guy who said Amazon stock was a worth a lot more money than he really thought it was and was fined millions, but not nearly as many millions as he made, and James Marcus is described above.  James, by the way, has a well-regarded literary blog, , and the rest of Amazonia can be found .)  What’s below is taken from the book’s new afterward.

Blodget: Everything is obvious in hindsight.  We look back on the Internet era, and there are obviously enormous disasters, and it’s clear why certain things happened and certain things didn’t. Yet I would argue strenuously that this is what has to happen for an industry to develop. You cannot look at the whole process as it is happening and say, this is going to work, this isn’t. You had to experiment. Lots of companies did that in a more responsible way. Amazon, I do think, spun out of control during the heyday. But that said, the first question I have for James is: You were employee number 55, which is extraordinarily early in the company’s history. When you joined, what was your expectation, if any, of what the company could become?

JM: I have an oddly bifurcated response. On one hand, my immediate reason for joining was simply that somebody was offering me a job. It seemed to me that the company might well detonate and explode a year later, because e-commerce was so much in its infancy. It wasn’t that I thought e-commerce was a bad idea, or that nobody would buy books from the company. It seemed likely, however, that Amazon would be shoved out of the way as big players like Barnes & Noble entered the marketplace. So in that sense, my expectations were low.

On the other hand, as I recall in the book, the excitement of the place—the weird sense that you were making history as part of your job—was so palpable! Of course, all those people could have been kidding themselves. But in fact they were correct to sense that they were onto a huge thing, an enormous socioeconomic ripple, and that feeling was extremely contagious. So I went there with modest expectations, and within a few weeks, I drank the Kool-Aid—for what it’s worth—and became enormously excited.

HB: You would have to have been dead not to be excited at that point, looking at it from the outside. Amazon’s growth, for probably twenty quarters from inception, was astronomical: it was one of the fastest companies ever to get to $100 million in revenue, in an industry that is not growing—the book business. And all of this revenue, all of these sales, are coming right out of the pocket of Barnes & Noble, smaller bookstores, and so forth.

JM:  I’ve always thought that B&N, the biggest bookseller in the United States, made a terrible mistake by not getting into the online book market six to twelve months earlier than they did. If they had done that, I think things may have played out a little differently.

HB: I would say that’s probably true—

JM: We’ll never know, of course.

HB: But one of the reasons they did jump in was the spectacular success that you had. If you look at how industries develop, you’ll see this pattern over and over again: it is the start-up that needs to bank everything on their particular business, and to somehow fight off the preexisting behemoth, which in this case is B&N. Now if you look at B&N’s core competency—what they knew how to do—it was incredibly different from what you were figuring out on a daily basis, in a kind of Internet laboratory. And although Amazon was sometimes criticized for its kindergarten atmosphere of experimentation, I don’t think the business would have survived if it hadn’t been running at 150 miles per hour during the initial phase.

JM: I totally agree. The number of initiatives that Amazon rolled out and quickly folded is basically unknown to the public. Because they threw a lot of stuff at the wall, some of it almost invisibly.

And then there were, of course, some more high-profile flops. The auction business would be a good example. We all thought that auctions would be a big success. Well, you had a perfectly sound rationale at the time. Jeff and his advisors thought: Look, eBay is gaining on us at a frantic pace, they could easily launch a fixed-price operation. In other words, they could launch their own Amazon very quickly. So we’d better launch our own eBay as fast as possible. There were many arguments to support the idea. Yet it flamed out completely. It was a hard call.

HB: As James notes in the book, apparently I thought it was going to be a big success as well.

JM: You have to recall that the company had this zeal for expansion: every three weeks they were announcing another deal, many of which I didn’t even mention in the book. Some of that stuff seemed insane. But by this time Amazon had very deep pockets for acquisitions, partially because the stock was priced so high and they could use it to pay for companies, but also because they had done these bond issues and raised close to a billion dollars in cash.

HB: The other thing that came out in the book—and which is highly relevant to people watching the new Internet company on the West Coast, Google, which is about to go public and is very secretive—is that Amazon had this cult feeling from the outside. There was certainly a cult of secrecy. Unlike Yahoo and some of the other Internet companies, they wouldn’t tell the Street anything. Things were developed and suddenly sprung on you. Well, according to your book, it felt the same way inside the company. There would be Project X, and you would find out about it accidentally the day before…

But that said, the thing that comes out in the book is: I don’t hearing you talking that much in the book about We. As in, we fifty-odd employees built this incredible engine and then it fell apart on us and we had to fire a bunch of employees, which was very wrenching. You talk about it as thought it’s happening around you. To what extent is that a literary device—and to what extent was there really a kind of inner cabal at the company, from which almost everybody else was excluded?

JM: Two things. One, I made up my mind to do the book from memory. Having taken up that formal challenge, I was forced to have a fairly myopic (or let’s just say narrow) focus. But I think it’s also a pretty accurate reflection of what was going on. There was certainly an element of secrecy, of cloak-and-dagger behavior, in the corporate culture.

HB: I think that was one of the reasons there was such a backlash, if you followed the press, against Jeff Bezos. He went from having started the company in his garage to, five years later, being the Man of the Year in Time. Then, a year and half after that, he was just excoriated in the press. Now the company was going to go out of business! And there was this wonderful prediction by a certain securities analyst, that he was sure that within three months toe company was going to go to zero, and so forth. It’s interesting to watch how Jeff has dealt with that. Clearly this is a maturation process for him, now that he’s a world-famous (and justifiably so) entrepreneur and CEO. Part of the reason there was such a backlash is what you talk about so effectively in the book, which is that it’s very difficult to make the transition from a garage-style business to a global corporation, where you’re offending half your employees every time you do something.

JM: Yes, that was a tough hurdle to jump over. As for Jeff, he may have had his moments of sitting awake at three in the  morning, covered with perspiration, but he always seemed very convinced of what he was doing. Not that I would go, you know, overnight camping with him: I don’t really know him. But he remained very accessible, even after becoming a billionaire: he didn’t have the billionaire’s static field of repulsion. And let’s face it, he’s done very well. The company is here to stay, I think, and he can feel very good about the job he’s done.

HB:  Absolutely. The company is ten years old, and I think we’re really looking at the equivalent of Wal-Mart in 1970, in terms of the trajectory from here. All of this stuff will be forgotten, which is why I think Amazonia is not only a great read, but very important historically.


Pink Floyd aficionados will flock to pick up this fascinating and extremely weird look at the band’s beginnings, "Pink Floyd, London 1966/67," which mixes up some of the band’s earliest work with genuinely wild scenes of swinging London.  We are also advised that one of these happenings includes the first meeting of John and Yoko, which calls to mind that Delmore Schwartz short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” in which a son begs a movie version of his parents never to get together.  But I lost my point here.  I’ve yet to find a good best of Pink Floyd DVD—their Pompei thing is kinda weird too—and this isn’t it.  But it is pretty damn good for what it is.

Also, if you found Ludivine Sagnier as irresitible as I did-if I were like, twenty years younger—in “Swimming Pool,” an absolutely perfect movie in this fella’s opinion, then you’ll want to rent , whose cast is just as good, and whose heart is just as dark.  The director, Claude Miller, is a Truffaut, protégé, so really, what more do you need?

Correspondence Corner:

I’m having some trouble with the mail, sorry.

From Stupid, April 1, 2005:

P.S. OK, my Wake Forest pick for the NCAA tourney was, er, a little off, but last year with major league baseball I got 6 of 8 playoff picks right.  2005:  National League: St. Louis, Atlanta (who look weak on paper but I'm picking them until someone dethrones them), Los Angeles, San Diego (wildcard).  American League: White Sox, Yankees, Angels, Red Sox (wildcard, but I think they've awoken a Yankee monster and will not repeat.  Sorry...)

| 10:59 AM ET|

Eric wishes all a good yuntif and will be back on Thursday...

Scoring SCOTUS

Harriet Miers: The Ultimate Faith-Based Nomination
by Jeralyn Merritt of

Monday's reactions to President Bush's nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor ranged from outraged cries of cronyism and inexperience at one end  to praise at the other.

For Republicans and the radical right, Harriet Miers' nomination for Supreme Court Justice Monday spelled trouble.  They were but instead got a nominee with a blank slate and little to no paper trail.  To add to their chagrin, Ms. Miers was on the "short list" of acceptable nominees sent to the White House by Senate Democrat and Minority Leader Harry Reid, who also was the nomination yesterday:

I have to say without any qualification that I am very happy that we have someone like her.

That sent the radical right into a tail-spin. Charlene Yoest, a Senior Research Fellow for the evangelical Family Research Council wrote on her blog:

...conservatives are left with some nagging questions:Why was Miers on Reid's short list?What does "someone like her" mean?And finally, if Reid is "very happy," should we be?

In order to accept Ms. Miers, evangelicals will have to place blind faith in the promise by Cheney and Bush that she's one of them.  Even though faith lies at  the core of their existence, with the stakes so high on abortion, gay rights and other hot-button issues,  Miers' nomination may put that faith to the ultimate test.

For Democrats, on the other hand, Miers' nomination brought an initial sigh of relief.  As Senator Schumer said, "It could have been so much worse."  He's right.  We could have gotten Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, Edith Jones, Alberto Gonazles or yet another conservative White male.

There were complaints of cronyism and questions about Ms. Miers experience by both sides. According to the , conservatives were particularly harsh in their comments.  One example:

Manuel Miranda, a conservative lobbyist active in promoting Bush's judicial nominees, argued that "the president has made possibly the most unqualified choice since Abe Fortas."

The White House anticipated these reactions.  The New York Times reports the White House and Republican Party early to assure the conservative base that Ms. Miers was in their corner.  Karl Rove called James Dobson over the weekend.  By Monday afternoon, Dobson was willing to take the leap of faith into Bush's corner:

In an interview, Mr. Dobson said he came out to support her partly because of her faith and partly because he believed she opposed abortion.  "I have reason to believe she is pro-life," he said.  Still, Mr. Dobson said he intended to keep a wary eye on the confirmation hearings.  "This is for all the marbles," he said.  "It is a scary moment for many of us."

Vice-President Cheney took to the radio, appearing Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity's radio shows to pitch Ms. Miers.  The White House also conducted conference calls with right-wing groups, trying to assure them that Ms. Miers was pro-life and a nominee cut of the finest evangelical cloth:

In one call, friends of Ms. Miers, including Justice Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court, testified to her evangelical Christian faith and devoted participation in the theologically conservative Valley View Christian Church in Dallas. Mr. Hecht, in particular, assured them that she personally opposed abortion and had once attended "pro-life" events with him, said participants in the call.

I wonder if they disclosed that Ms. Miers went on the record when she was on the Dallas City Council?

Bloggers were all over the map on Miers' nomination.  The Wall Street Journal (free page) has .

Glenn Reynolds said he's underwhelmed, and asks, over on , "Harriet Who?"  and those at are seriously peeved, while scored the nomination a win for Democrats.

lambasted Miers for her law firm's settlement of a malpractice suit.  Yale Law said even though Miers is a stealth candidate we don't know much about, it's likely the cronyism factor means she will protect presidential power.

If there was any common ground between the right and left Monday, it was over the lack of available information on Miers.  While ultimately, Republican Senators and influential evangelists may be willing to take the Bush Leap of Faith, .

If anyone thinks Ms. Miers is going to disclose her personal views on critical issues like abortion and privacy rights voluntarily at her confirmation hearing, they are apt to be very disappointed.  On February 2, 1992, The Associated Press (available on LEXIS.COM) reported on Ms. Miers' participation in an ABA panel discussion on Supreme Court nominations.  The panel was asked whether a President, who was elected partially based on his abortion stance, should ask a potential nominee about his or her views on abortion. Her answer:

"Nominees are clearly prohibited from making such a commitment and presidents are prohibited from asking for it."  She said people who think such inquiries are proper display "a misunderstanding of the separation of powers by proposing that judicial nominees should mirror a president's views."

If she's not going to offer up her views voluntarily to the President who nominated her, the Senate doesn't stand a chance, unless the Democrats step up to the plate.  For those of us who treasure reason over blind faith, Senators must insist she both reveal her stand on issues and unwaveringly declare her commitment to the fundamental rights and liberties of all Americans.

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan

This is the last nice thing I am going to write about Harriet Miers.

No.  I don't mean that.

We might discover many wonderful things about Miers over the next few weeks.  But in the mean time, understand that like John Roberts she worked on Bush v. Gore, which pretty much sullies her as far as supporting basic ideas like Constitutional democracy.  I wish someone in the Senate would ask her about that.  I can't think of a more important or unjust ruling since Plessy v. Ferguson.

Oh yeah...  The nice thing.

She is no Michael Brown.

There have been hints that the Dem strategy to shake her up will consist of calling her appointment another example of "cronyism and incompetence."  Some will accuse her of lacking the resume for the job.  I say that's crap for a couple of reasons:

  1. For a woman of her generation to achieve all she has is remarkable.  She had to work in firms full of the goodest and oldest of the good old boys.  Think about all the snide remarks she must have had to put up with over the years.  Think of all the men she has had to school.  So few women have been appointed to the federal bench that we can't expect any president to limit himself to judges when considering such an appointment.  It's good to see a president look beyond the usual suspects.

  2. White House Counsel is a hell of a difficult job, full of constiutional judgements complicated by political contingencies.  The very fact that she has served in that job without making headlines is to her credit.  Alberto Gonzales was not that deft.  Neither was John Dean.  So kudos to Miers for serving her client well.

That said, I shall now proceed to gather more reasons why she should not serve on the High Court.

In the mean time, please check out , and that my friend David Leheney wrote on my blog about Iraq, the attacks in Bali, and the state of Al Qaeda and global terrorism.  David is a renowned expert on security and terrorism, as well as a scholar of "soft power."  He is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (Go Badgers!).

Oh, and in response to Kevin from Sommerville, Mass. who says rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the dealer in blackjack, I feel I must remind him that the Yankees only win about a quarter of the time.  The dealer wins most of the time, like the Celtics in the 1960s or the Patriots this decade.

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Politics in Hammurabi’s Land

I am reminded, recently, of a passage from Michael Goldfarb’s book Ahmad’s War, Ahmad’s Peace.  Goldfarb related a scene which he witnessed, in which a young State Department employee was giving a lecture (complete with Microsoft Powerpoint slides no less) to an assembly of Iraqis in their 50’s and 60’s.  The young man, well intentioned I am sure, was instructing them in democracy.  Goldfarb thought this somewhat ridiculous.  This ancient capital has witnessed men conducting political maneuvers for more than a Millennia.  As Goldfarb wrote it the scene sounded crazy, and indicative of some of the ways that we have not done well here.  At the time I read it, I found myself nodding in agreement.   But upon reflection I think that I should give the young man more credit, at least potentially.  (Even if it was a stupid idea for his boss to send a fresh college graduate to lecture elderly Arabs in anything, that’s not the young man’s fault.)

Teaching Iraqis about politics is inane.  The process of politics is woven into the very fiber of Arab culture.  Teaching them about democracy, however, is probably not.  Democracy is about, above all other things I think now, compromise.

Over the next thirteen days Baghdad will again become the center of global attention.  The maneuvers executed by the politicians of all stripes and colors here are already starting to take shape.  Their stakes, and ours, are high.  Compared to the aborted threat of a “Nuclear Option” in our own Congress earlier this year, the Iraqi politicians are operating on a plane long steps above.  What is more, they are playing this “game” with real skill.

What is not apparent, yet, is if they will play it democratically.  Will they compromise?  All of the following events have been in the news in the past few days:

Two days ago the Minister of the Interior’s brother was apparently kidnapped.  A few hours ago he was apparently “rescued,” under curious circumstances by Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia.

A few minutes ago, the President (a Kurd), called for the resignation of the Prime Minister (a Shia) over issues relating to Kurdish rights/roles in Kirkuk.

If the Constitutional referendum does not pass, according to the Transitional Administrative Law written and published by the now-defunct CPA, what will then happen is another election, which will bring in another “Interim” government.  Another such series of events may be seen as strengthening the Kurdish bargaining power (because of the way that it’s structured to protect minority voting block rights.)

One potential outcome of this is that none of the parties will compromise.  All of them will dig in their collective heels on “principal,” and the country is suspended in stasis for another year.  The potential (and obvious) second-order effects of that is a pretty large wager to place on the table.

Yes, I think Baghdad has certainly witnessed the foundations of a solid core of political operatives here.  I hope, dearly, that it is witnessing democracy as well.


On Wednesday I saw clouds.  Several of us noticed them.  Haven’t seen any since April.  On Thursday it dropped below 100 degrees.  That too was nice.

You can write to Major Bob at .

October 3, | 11:36 AM ET|

Ms. Miers is It. (Just ask Harry…)

Those smart, well-plugged-in guys at “” write this morning, “One senior Democratic source on Capitol Hill confirms to ABC News that Democratic Leader Harry Reid signaled to Bush that Miers would be acceptable.”  Well, in his liberal blog conversation of last week, he didn’t just “signal,” he said so; repeatedly, in conversation with our own Altercation SCOTUS correspondent, Jeralyn Merritt—at least I thought he did.  I figured everybody knew it, because he wasn’t being cagey at all about it.  He just said he thought she’d be an ideal pick, in part because she was not a judge, and he thought that to be an extremely important criteria.  We can pretend that this is going to be some kind of big fight, but actually, let’s admit it, it was a brilliant pick and it’s going to sail through.  What it means beyond that, well, you’re talking to the wrong guy…  (There is this, though: “While active in the ABA in late 1990's Miers was a leader of the movement to get ABA to rescind it’s [sic] pro-choice positions and support for tax payer funded abortion for poor women.  She was unsuccessful.)

Hey Look:  Only 32% of those surveyed for released last week approved of Bush's handling of Iraq, compared with 40% in August and 50% earlier this year.  The survey also showed that 59% considered it a mistake to have sent U.S. forces to Iraq, up from fewer than half during the summer.  And 63% said the troops should be partially or completely withdrawn, up 10 percentage points from August.  Just 21% of those surveyed believed U.S. forces would win the war, while 34% said they considered the conflict unwinnable.  (And what will they think if they find out—as has been hinted lately—that both Bush and Cheney may have been involved in the “Get Joe Wilson” leak?  I know it’s a lot to ask for Big Guy, but it is Rosh Hashonna and I’ve been a very good boy…)

You go girl,

Eric Rauchway writes: Here's a fun quiz for Altercation readers!

Which lede came from real-live professional journalists, and which from a clown who wears his political bias on his sleeve?(a)  "House Majority Leader Tom Delay, the man often described as the most effective member of Congress, has been knocked out of his position in the Republican leadership."(b) "Yesterday, a Texas grand jury indicted House Majority Leader Thomas P. DeLay."

Have you no heart, ?

Things that suck: If you didn’t have cable, or satellite, you couldn’t watch the Sox beat the pinstripes off the Yankees yesterday.  Pretty sucky, I’d say…

Salon subhed of the week:  “Dare I buy the gleaming baby carriage that dazzles the eye of all who behold it?”


TRY FOR THE SUN: THE JOURNEY OF DONOVAN" is an ambitious, if a bit excessive boxed set chronicling the hippy-dippy, hurdy-gurdy fairy named Donovan.  Starting with the early Dylan-esque folk of "Catch The Wind" and finishing up with his most recent material from 2004, the set's 60 plus tracks in between cover the sublime to the ridiculous.

Hits such as  "Sunshine Superman," "Season Of The Witch," and "Mellow Yellow" still have great appeal, as do many of the lesser known tracks like the psych-pop mini-masterpiece "The Trip," and the sunshine singalong "Wear Your Love Like Heaven."  And thanks to Martin Scorsese's brilliant placement of "Atlantis" in a key scene in "Good Fellas," that track, also included on this set, is no longer a camp-classic, but a genuine classic.

The box is full of rarities such as b-sides, live tracks and demos.  Some are quite good, but most are just for the curious.  This would have been a great opportunity to include the super-rare cover of David Bowie's "Rock N Roll With Me" which was a single only release in 1974, but somehow that got overlooked.  Some of Donovan's 70's material sounds more dated than his 60's material, and that is what makes "TRY FOR THE SUN" more for collectors, with the 2 CD "Essential Donovan" for the everybody else. It’s also from Sony Legacy.

—Sal Nunziato, NYCD

I’m guessing that the parents of and are having a really good morning today.  I hope the sisters are too.

Dead roundup:  It’s nearly impossible to keep up with the post-Jerry, Jerry and Dead output, but here’s a shot.  We’ve got a DVD of the Jerry Garcia Band, Live at Shoreline which was recorded back in September 1990, when Brent Myland died and the Dead were supposed to play, but lacked a keyboardist and so the JGB stepped in.  Shoreline was the one of the best places to see the band, and so, you know, I think it’s the first DVD of the JGB as well.  Then there’s a CD of the Legion of Mary, which I’ve not yet heard, but it is explained as “the first-ever live release of recordings by the legendary Legion of Mary, the vibrant, loose and jazzy quintet Jerry formed at the end of 1974 with Merl Saunders, Martin Fierro, John Kahn and Ron Tutt, and I’m looking forward to it.  Plus, yes, it never ends, there’s this new “Pure Jerry” release March 18, 1978, performance at the Warner Theater.  Believe it or not, what I’m most excited about is the publication of the beautiful, and amazingly comprehensive, Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.  According to PW, in 1994, David Dodd, who edited The Grateful Dead Reader, founded the first Web site of annotated Dead lyrics, and this book is the product of that project, which united academics and fans in finding "new references, resonances, and refractions" of not only Dead authored songs, but Dead-identified material as well.  It’s 512 pages and published by Free Press, and if you’ve read this far, believe me, you’ll love it.


(If I were writing this a few weeks from now, and I may or may not, I’d tell you not to miss Rhino’s two CD collection of “Garcia Plays Dylan.”  The problem with the Dead’s collection “Postcards from the Hanging” was that it skimped on Jerry’s Dylan performance, for Bob and Phil.  This two CD collects Dead, JGB, Legion Of Mary, Old and in the Way, everything, really, except the Dead/Dylan stuff itself, which I like a lot but has a bad rep.  Anyway, even if you’ve got it all over the place, it’s great to hear it all at the same time.  There are really few things as poignant in this world as Jerry’s voice on Dylan’s lyrics, particularly his “Postively 4th Street.”)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bob Dodds
Hometown: Kill Devil Hills
Dr. A....
More fun with numbers, I have been meaning to send this for awhile.  Given the corrupting aspect of fundraising for people in public office along with the current headlines, the following fun with numbers seems appropriate now.  Of the 290 million people in the U.S about 170 million of them pay income tax, about 60%.  The rest are children or dependent adults.  In the last election cycle about 1.7 billion was raised and spent on federal campaigns.  To account for inflation, we will assume that number jumps to 2 billion the next time around in '08.  When you divide 2 billion by 179 million, the cost to each taxpayer would be about $11.49 Yes eleven dollars and forty-nine cents.  So the question that needs to be asked, loud and proud, is; "would you spend $11.49 to relieve YOUR representative of the burden of fundraising?"  We could call this the Chump change for big change campaign.

Name: Rob Maurino
Hometown: Huntington, NY
In response to Stupid's push for a gas tax, I have to point out that it won't work in America as we know it.  It works in Europe because they have better public transportation and no suburban sprawl.  Our society is built on cheap gas.  A gas tax would have to be accompanied by a massive re-investment in public transportation as well as tax incentives to relocate to sustainable communities.

Name: Don Collignon
Hometown: Chicago, IL
You'll excuse me if I don't get all frothed about the Red Sox and their arch enemies, the Yankees, and how long they waited for a World Series win.  I'm from Chicago.  We're cursed by a GOAT; you WERE cursed by an overweight baseball player (although I will admit, he was one of the all-time greats).  We Cub fans are still waiting, and we've been doing just that a lot longer than you guys.

Name: Kevin Matthews
Hometown: Somerville, MA
For Siva, My girlfriend likes the Yankees, so sort of identify with your position.  But rooting for the Yankees (especially for someone born outside of New York) is like rooting for the dealer in Black Jack.