I'll go back to black ...

We've got a new Think Again column here called “Catch-22 Revisited: The Bush Administration and the Public's 'Right to Know.' ” It was written in honor of Sunshine Week and is a follow-up to the one we did a couple of months ago, here.

I'm told by friends that Amazon, BN.com, Powell's, etc., have started shipping out Why We're Liberals, and its official pub date is Monday. There is a review in this week's New York Times Book Review which believe it or not, criticizes me from my left. There's also one in The New York Observer, which are the only two I've seen. Both are more critical than positive. But both are serious and respectful of the endeavor, and so for now, at least, I'm not going to whine about them. I'll be speaking at Shabbat services at Temple Israel Park Avenue (at 75th) Friday (services start at 6), and I'll be doing the Firedoglake Book Salon here. We'll start printing the week's schedule tomorrow since I'll be touring for a few weeks, and as the book tour starts gets going, Altercation will turn into (even more of) a group blog for a while.

Irony department: I don't think there's anything morally wrong with either being or patronizing a prostitute, either male or female. The problem with the relationship is its exploitative nature. Few prostitutes are in the job out of choice. Most are there owing to a combination of poverty and lack of opportunity. Most would prefer to be doing something else. But that is true of many, many occupations. Prostitution may be the worst of them; I don't pretend to be able to judge. When you buy a banana, an orange, a sneaker, or a cup of coffee you are, in all likelihood, engaging in an act of exploitation. That's the nature of the system in which we work. Many of the worst aspects of prostitution stem from its having been forced underground. Legalize it, allow the prostitutes to unionize, regulate it, clean it up, and everyone would be happier. But to me, the real irony is this: If Spitzer had been having an adulterous affair, he would have been endangering his family and possibly someone else's family. All things being equal, that is generally morally wrong. But had he been caught having an affair, he wouldn't have had to resign because, well, while we don't approve of that kind of thing, we understand. Moreover, in Spitzer's case, it's rather hard for me to feel sorry for a woman who is paid $5,500 an hour to have sex in a luxurious setting with a handsome, eloquent gentleman. So I, personally, think it doesn't even count as exploitation. It's just plain stupidity. And so he had to go.

And while we're on the topic of stupidity, I don't think Geraldine Ferraro was being stupid. I think she was purposefully exploiting racism of people like herself on behalf of Hillary Clinton's campaign. It's good that the campaign finally repudiated her, but it sure did take a while. (Scroll down to the video on Matt's site; you'll be glad you did.)

Note to The Note: When you write “The Obama campaign chose to pounce on the Ferraro comments, but it risks blowback,” It's not proof of anything to quote The Wall Street Journal editorial page as if it is a disinterested, non-partisan source. You know that, but you do it anyway. Why? Here is the quote:

“Is it just us, or does Barack Obama seem a mite too quick to play the race card when facing criticism from political opponents?” writes The Wall Street Journal editorial board.

“For all of Mr. Obama's soaring rhetoric about the nation's need for a post-racial politics that 'brings the American people together,' his campaign at times has seemed overly sensitive about race. It also seems to want it both ways. Mr. Obama claims that his brand of politics transcends race, but at the same time he's using race as a shield to shut down important and legitimate arguments.”

From George Zornick: ABC News is reporting (via Think Progress) that the Pentagon is childishly attempting to hide a report that reviewed over 600,000 Iraqi documents and found “no evidence” that Saddam Hussein “had any operational links” with Al Qaeda. The Pentagon can't get away from completely suppressing the report, but instead just wasn't planning on alerting the press about its existence, and won't put the report online. One has to specifically request the report, which will then be sent via U.S. mail from Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. A Pentagon official “said initial press reports on the study made it 'too politically sensitive.' ”

This is a far more amateurish attempt at hiding information than what we cataloged in this week's Think Again on government secrecy -- but sad nonetheless. How many press outlets do you think will write for a copy of the report? I'd suggest every network that hires Stephen Hayes, author of the book “The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America,” as a serious pundit on Middle Eastern affairs (ahem, CNN) should drop a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Joint Forces Command. It's certainly easier than getting Hayes to the studio, and a hell of a lot more informative.

The Fox News Network has canceled The Big Story with John Gibson, everyone's favorite televised crazy uncle. What did him in? When he said that the Jena demonstrators only "wanna fight the white devil"? When he said that Iraqis were "knuckle-dragging savages from the 10th century"? That “lefties” are "cheering terrorist victories"? No, Fox News wanted more election coverage during the day, and is putting Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly in the chairs during that slot. That's the news business, I suppose -- election drama sells. The question, though, is will they defend Christmas? Won't someone think of the elves ...

From TomDispatch:

In Tom Engelhardt's latest post, he skips the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war entirely to discuss the sixth one. Here's how he begins:

What's wrong with these sentences?

On March 19, 2009, the date of the sixth anniversary of President Bush's invasion of Iraq, as surely as the sun rises in the East I'll be sitting here and we will still have many tens of thousands of troops, a string of major bases, and massive air power in that country. In the intervening year, more Americans will have been wounded or killed; many more Iraqis will have been wounded or killed; more chaos and conflict will have ensued; many more bombs will have been dropped and missiles launched; many more suicide bombs will have gone off. Iraq will still be a hell on Earth.

Prediction is, of course, a risky business. Otherwise I'd now be commuting via jet pack through spire cities (as the futuristic articles of my youth so regularly predicted). If you were to punch holes in the above sentences, you would certainly have to note that it's risky for a man of 63 years, or of any age, to suggest that he'll be sitting anywhere in a year; riskier yet if you happen to live in those lands extending from North Africa to Central Asia that Bush administration officials used to call the “arc of instability” -- essentially the oil heartlands of the planet -- before they turned them into one. It's always possible that I won't be sitting here (or anywhere else, for that matter) on March 19, 2009. Unfortunately, when it comes to the American position in Iraq, short of an act of God, the sixth anniversary of George Bush's war of choice is going to dawn much like the fifth one.

In the rest of the piece, Engelhardt explains just why this is likely to be so, no matter who's elected president in November. Pointing out that a child “born on March 19, 2003, just as Baghdad was being shock-and-awed, will be of an age to enter first grade when the sixth anniversary of George Bush's war hits,” he offers that child his or her first lesson in global “realism” with the eight fundamental beliefs of the Washington consensus that ensure the 2009 anniversary will be much like this year's.

Here's a typical example: “A belief that all answers of any value are to be found in Washington among the serried ranks of officials, advisors, former officials, pundits, think-tank operators, and other inside-the-Beltway movers and shakers, who have been tested over the years and found never to have a surprise in them. Most of them are notable mainly for having been wrong so often. This is called 'experience.' ”

This Week on Moyers:

Bill Moyers Journal looks at waste, fraud, and abuse of power in Washington with an examination of the scandals investigated by Congress's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “If no one thinks they're being watched and being held accountable, they think they can get away with anything,” says Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), the committee's chairman. The report looks at the most egregious cases of abuse. Also on the program, a Journal essay on government secrecy from correspondent Rick Karr.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield, MA

Let there be no doubt about it -- Ferraro's comments about Obama are racist and self-destructive. There might be a legitimate argument that Obama is underqualified for the presidency, but it's an argument that is entirely based on his lack of national political experience. So, the question of race is gratuitous, and is introduced only for derogatory purposes. Furthermore, those comments expose Clinton to the analogous charge that she would not be where she is today if she weren't the wife of an ex-president. How that helps Clinton is unclear, at minimum, and it is not easily distinguishable from an act of suicide bombshelling designed to take the whole Party with it.

Name: Bob Wenning
Hometown: Chicago

All the recent arguments between the Obama and Clinton campaigns have been about experience and judgment, but have barely mentioned what I think is the most important quality of a Commander-in-Chief is temperament. The importance of a cool temperament and carefully considered actions by a Commander-in-Chief so he or she avoids rash and possibly inappropriate actions are really of primary importance. All you have to do is compare the response and actions of the still relatively inexperienced President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis compared to the ill-considered actions of the current President and his 'experienced' cabinet of old GOP hands.

This would seem to be something Obama should be emphasizing as he seems to be the most cool-headed of all the candidates -- certainly more so than the hot-headed than John McCain. Of course, “proving” your temperament to the electorate may be difficult, but I think it's his best counter to the 'experience' questions.

Name: Randy Jewett
Hometown: Gainesville, FL

Ms. Ferraro speaks only in hypotheticals: What IF Obama was white, what IF he was a woman, what IF Jesse Jackson was white (said in 1988). This woman is not in touch with reality. How can she speak this way and get so much publicity? People are who they are and they never have or never will be anyone else. Why can't she see that? And until she does her comments should be relegated to the dustbin, since they are worthless.

Name: David Fuller
Hometown: Peotone, IL

Hi Dr. A.,

In your response to Thomas Heiden yesterday, you said, “It was the close friend of a whore, I believe, who said, ” Let he who is without sin cast the first stone ...". I hope you weren't intending to refer to Mary Magdalene as the “whore” there, who was (and often still is) erroneously referred to as a prostitute. Nowhere in the New Testament is there evidence to suggest or imply that she was a prostitute. The Church has even corrected its erroneous mentions of Mary Magdalene for this matter. I hold you in high regard for your rigorous research, so this statement was a bit surprising coming from you.

And for what it's worth, I like the Swedish model of dealing with prostitution (from what little I've read anyway). It's not illegal to sell sex, but it is illegal to buy it. In that country, it's cut down on a variety of sex-related crimes, and reduced prostitution overall as well. Compare it to next-door Finland, and the difference is apparently quite striking.

Keep up the great work.

Eric responds: If true, I apologize. ...

Name: Venus von Willendorf
Hometown: Hopkinsville, KY

Mr. Alterman,

Your reply to Mr. Heiden of CT concerning prostitutes and lobbyists hit home with me.

I consider myself a liberal. I agonize about the war, the uncounted Iraqi dead and the thousands of Americans who have lost their lives and have suffered injuries and emotional trauma in this unnecessary war.

I am outraged by the current administration's attempts to stretch the limits of our country's laws concerning surveillance, torture and free speech.

Yet I make a living writing software that facilitates surveillance by our military and government.

I tell myself that since I live in Egypt, KY, I don't have any other option. But actually, there are other jobs locally. Problem is, those jobs, at best, pay 30-40% of what I make writing software.

Prostitutes (and lobbyists, for that matter) aren't necessarily more venal than I am. They make the same calculations as the rest of us.

Name: Fred Roberts
Hometown: Decatur, GA

Eric, you're right that Spitzer's major public transgression was the arrogance, right along with hypocrisy and giving Republicans a big fat target. But to say prostitution isn't morally wrong -- presumably because it's “victimless” -- is to ignore the sad spectacle of Spitzer's wife standing next to him at the microphone, looking as if she had aged fifteen years. He has dragged his family through the muck because, unlike most of us married men, he couldn't contain his urges. And prostitutes' business involves muck, no matter how high the price. There's plenty of moral blame to go around.