Post-mortem potpourri (plus the Altercation Book Club)


I've got a new "Think Again" column here about what looks to me like a cover-up inside the 9-11 Commission on behalf of Condi Rice, and a Nation column here, "Abolish the Editorial Page?" I also went back to the well for a short piece to jog everyone's memories about what, exactly, Robert Gates did wrong during the Iran-Contra scandal. That's up at the American Prospect website and can be found here.

I see our buddy Fred is totally in the tank for Gates, here. Alterman's #1 Rule of Journalism: Always wonder what the reporter is trying to cover up when he takes to the passive voice to describe positive actions. Fred writes "But the nomination was withdrawn after concerns were raised about Gates' role in the Iran-Contra scandal." And that's it. ("Concerns were raised?" I suppose it would be enough to say "mistakes were made," too, huh, without any clarifying details either.) Sorry, buddy, but this Times story gets a lot closer to the truth of the matter. I'm not saying Gates is a bad nominee, given who's president. I'm just saying, let's keep things in perspective. He was, after all, nominated by the worst president in the history of the United States ...

If you're keeping track at home, using Senate numbers only, Democrats' 31,591,495 votes equals 55 percent of the vote. (House voting totals don't work because so many incumbents run unopposed.) So at last count, the country is, by rough-perhaps-but-the-most-accurate-count-we-have 55 percent Democratic and 45 percent Republican. Say what you will, but dammit, this is not a "conservative" country -- at least not in the nutty way that our contemporary right-wingers use the word. (Thanks, Petey.)

Teddy's attack ad.

Mr. Conflict-Of-Interest checks in with his base.

Dow Reaches New High on Election Results. So who's your daddy, Wall Street?

87 percent for Democrats in return for 13 senators. Do my people know how to bargain or what?

One of the smartest things the liberal commie Democrats did in this election was to go out of their way to recruit lots of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. (Shame on you again, Mark Halperin.) Back in the beginning of this year, a bunch of them formed with a very simple mission -- elect their own to public office, and make sure those politicians who were for the war but against the troops were held accountable. And now they've got Joe Sestak and Patrick Murphy to begin the work of trying to get it done. No less significant, they targeted Rick Santorum, Conrad Burns, Jim Talent, George Allen, Gil Gutknecht, Melissa Hart, and John Sweeney, who were targeted with powerful ads to show them what happens when you screw with the troops while trying to exploit their uniforms. Democrats will need more of them in the future, though, to demonstrate just what poseurs these Bush Republicans are. For more, check them out here.

I picked up the Village Voice yesterday, as I usually do. There's not much left of it, but the concert ads are still there. I've not seen an announcement, but where the hell is our man Tom Tomorrow? He finally gets the goatee right, and they lose one of the only decent things they have left? Come now. What's the point of being a left-wing newspaper if you drop America's best left-wing cartoonist?*

* assuming that Comrade Trudeau is more than a cartoonist; he's America's greatest political commentator, period.

From the Benton Foundation:

AMERICA'S INTERNET DISCONNECT [SOURCE: Washington Post, AUTHOR: FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps] [Commentary]

America's record in expanding broadband communication is so poor that it should be viewed as an outrage by every consumer and businessperson in the country. Too few of us have broadband connections, and those who do pay too much for service that is too slow. It's hurting our economy, and things are only going to get worse if we don't do something about it. There are concrete steps government must take now to reverse our slide into communications mediocrity. To begin with, the Federal Communications Commission must face up to the problem, adopt a real world definition of broadband, cease assuming that if one person in a Zip code area has access to broadband then everyone does, and start collecting data on pricing. The FCC needs to start working to lower prices and introduce competition. We must start meeting our legislative mandate to get advanced telecommunications out to all Americans at reasonable prices; make new licensed and unlicensed spectrum available; authorize "smart radios" that use spectrum more efficiently; and do a better job of encouraging "third pipe" technologies such as wireless and broadband over power lines. And we should recommend steps to Congress to ensure the FCC's ability to implement long-term solutions. We need a broadband strategy for America. The solution to our broadband crisis must ultimately involve public-private initiatives like those that built the railroad, highway and telephone systems. Combined with an overhaul of our universal service system to make sure it is focusing on the needs of broadband, this represents our best chance at recapturing our leadership position. It seems plain enough that our present policies aren't working. Inattention and muddling through may be the path of least resistance, but they should not and must not represent our national policy on this critical issue.

  • Experts say U.S. must act on Internet: In the largest such survey ever conducted, 86 percent of a group of more than 1,000 experts on the next-generation Internet say they worry that the head start of other nations will hurt the United States.


It's no exaggeration to say that bad news comes every day for the embattled newspaper industry. Yesterday, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer became the second top editor of a major newspaper in two days to leave. Also yesterday, investors increased pressure on the New York Times Co. to scrap its venerated family-ownership structure, saying it has harmed the company's value and is no longer accountable to public shareholders. Facing declining circulation since 1987 and diminished revenue for the past few years, major newspapers and their owners are trying to remake themselves for the digital age. Most papers have moved aggressively into Internet -- and some, mobile -- delivery of their news and ad sales, as they attempt to follow their readers from paper to the Web and beyond. But the changeover has been costly, and even though online ad revenue has been rising, it is not enough to offset the loss of classified and display advertising in newspapers. Newspaper companies also are feeling pressure from Wall Street investors, who see an industry that shows little or no growth potential.

The Altercation Book Club

The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood by Rashid Khalidi (Beacon Press, October 2006)

Khalidi is Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and director of its Middle East Institute.

The PLO's Failures

Failure, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder. Each analyst of Palestinian politics probably would cite a different set of shortcomings in listing the PLO's failures, and any such assessment must perforce be in some measure subjective.

In assessing Palestinian failures, whether those of the PLO, those of earlier incarnations of Palestinian nationalism in the 1930s or 1940s, or those of later ones, such as the PA and Hamas, it is necessary to do so in terms of what was feasible for each at the time. ... [O]ne is obliged to weigh what the Palestinians could or could not have expected realistically to achieve in the late 1930s in the wake of the rise to power of the Nazis, and in the face of a determined Zionist movement and the power of an imperial Britain girding itself with grim determination for a major European conflict. Similarly, it is necessary to understand the constellation of power, both Arab and international, within which the PLO operated, and similarly to assess what it could and could not have done in those circumstances.

While this should not lead to the generation of counterfactual scenarios, a fruitless endeavor at best, it does mean that one must not hold actors in history to standards that would have been unrealizable at the time. For the Palestinian national movement during the Mandate period, this means that it is thoroughly unfair to expect them to have triumphed absolutely, as the Zionist movement ultimately did. ... That is not to say that the Palestinians could not in any circumstances have contributed to producing better outcomes for themselves. In order to have done so, for example, perhaps the Palestinians could have opposed the British more resolutely and systematically much earlier than they ultimately did in 1936-39, or alternatively, they might have tried to initiate some kind of binational historic compromise with the Zionist movement when it was at its lowest ebb in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Neither of these things happened, of course, and there are good historical reasons, many of them adduced in earlier chapters, for that, and for why things came out as they did. Some would argue that the historian's job is to explain how things came out, and leave it for others to draw conclusions. But even mulling over these might-have-beens of history reveals some of the rigid constraints within which the Palestinians operated during the Mandate, and why the results were as they were.

The Palestinians from the 1950s onward operated under a different set of constraints than those that had characterized the Mandate period. These most notably included the physical dispersal of the Palestinian people, and their subjection to a variety of political jurisdictions in several newly independent states, each one highly jealous of its sovereignty and prerogatives. These constraints became more severe as the originally relatively weak states that controlled the territory of the former mandatory Palestine, or hosted Palestinian refugees -- Israel and the surrounding Arab states -- grew stronger. Re-creating the Palestinian national movement, or creating an entirely new incarnation of this movement, was a difficult task in such circumstances. These circumstances remained in place over time, even as the PLO grew stronger and obtained a larger measure of recognition and legitimacy. They defined the universe within which it operated, until the mid-1990s move of the center of gravity of the PLO, together with most of its leaders and cadres, from outside of Palestine to the occupied territories, where they set up the PA. Constraints rooted in these circumstances still operate with regard to the political (and often the economic and social) life of the majority of Palestinians who continue to live in the diaspora.

Thus to fail to take into account the shark-filled waters, especially those in the Arab world, within which the Palestinian national movement in exile had to operate after 1948 is to ignore the fundamental conditions that shaped Palestinian existence in this period. And although navigating masterfully in these waters was one of the greatest accomplishments of the PLO leadership, and notably of Yasser Arafat, the undisputed captain of the ship until his death, the characteristics that made possible this feat were often less than optimal ones for other areas of endeavor. To put it more bluntly, the deviousness and subterfuge that were indispensable for a weak PLO in dealing with the predatory mores of the states that dominated Arab politics were much less well adapted to, or completely unsuitable for, other arenas. These characteristics ultimately severely restricted what could be achieved by the generation of PLO leaders who had grown up under these circumstances, most notably 'Arafat himself.

The often criticized approach of the PLO to its inter-Arab dealings, balancing one powerful state off against another and resisting their attempts to penetrate the Palestinian political arena, was in large measure necessitated by the PLO's weakness, the absence of reliable external sources of support, and its lack of a nearby secure base of operations. It came to be much caricatured in the Arab (and later the Western) press, with Arafat in particular depicted as shifty and untrustworthy. Given the backstabbing and double-dealing characteristic of much of inter-Arab politics, it was not surprising that one of the weakest of Arab actors should adopt an approach that might be depicted in such an unflattering way. The PLO in fact had little choice in this regard. Whatever its origins and the justifications for it, however, this approach was ill suited to dealing with non-Arab powers, especially Western ones. Most importantly from the perspective from which this book has been written, that of the Palestinians' failure to develop structures of state through most of their modern history, this same approach was also often dysfunctional. For example, it required sharply honed skills to balance the main pro-Syrian and pro-Iraqi factions of the PLO, Sa'iqa and the Arab Liberation Front (which were no more than Trojan horses for these two states, or worse, vehicles for their murderous intelligence apparatuses), and their overbearing and powerful patrons in Damascus and Baghdad. These skills included bluster, bluff, compromise, and sometimes deceit. These same skills proved to be a liability in dealing with non-Arab powers, and in building Palestinian state institutions. This was a major contributing factor to what can be described as the first of the main failures of the PLO: the failure to develop the organs of the PLO into the framework for a full-fledged Palestinian state. The PLO under Arafat's leadership did grow into a quasi- or para-state structure, with departments that were the functional equivalent of ministries carrying out a variety of financial, educational, medical, and social tasks. The PLO was hampered by having to do these things in difficult conditions of exile, where it often clashed with the regimes of Arab host countries, in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere. The Palestinians suffered, moreover, from the manifold inadequacies of the para-state institutions the PLO created. They were neither very well run nor efficient, nor were they particularly democratic. Operating mainly in conditions of war and civil war in Lebanon, the structures of the PLO's para-state had nevertheless functioned in an adequate fashion for fifteen years, until the expulsion of the organization and thousands of its fighters and cadres after the Israeli invasion of 1982. During this period, it succeeded in providing some basic services to the country's three to four hundred thousand Palestinians as well as to many Lebanese. Nevertheless, cronyism, the arbitrary exercise of power, corruption, and the absence of discipline over its various factions always seriously marred the PLO's performance in Lebanon. These many defects, together with the heavy-handed interference of the PLO and its many constituent groups in Lebanese politics and in the everyday lives of Lebanese citizens, led to the alienation of the great majority of Lebanese from the PLO. This alienation was to cost the Palestinians dearly in 1982 and afterward.

For more, please go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mike Perry
Hometown: Herndon, VA

Hey, Doc --

While it would take a long time -- decades, perhaps -- to balance the scales after what the Greens did in 2000, maybe we're seeing a tiny bit of karmic payback.

If you haven't done so, check out the full vote totals from the Montana election, and in particular the vote total for the Libertarian candidate.

Would Jon Tester have beaten the truly odious Conrad Burns if the Libertarian candidate wasn't in the picture? Sure don't look that way to me...

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield, MA

My feelings exactly about Howard Dean. For several years now, he's been the closest thing to a visionary in the midst of the national-level Democrats, despite the sometimes rude treatment at the hands of DLC-types. And, who knows how he would have fared as a presidential candidate in 2004 if he hadn't been mugged in Iowa by the party bosses? Not only do Chuck and Rahm owe him a thank-you, they might also consider lending him their ears as they plan for 2008.

Name: John S.
Hometown: Seattle

Kerry's gaffe was that he tried to tell a joke about Iraq at all. Not that he should not be trying to tell jokes, but that nobody should be joking about Iraq.

Other topic: the 50-state strategy worked, the netroots were every bit as "big tent" in their thinking as Rahm Emanuel, enthusiastically supporting centrists like Webb and even genuinely conservative D's like Casey in PA. But you're right, Dr. E., it's horrifying that the D's majorities are so slim.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

I can't say that I'm unhappy about Rumsfeld's dismissal, but doesn't this underscore the hollowness of everything the president has said?

Wasn't he frantically canvassing the country last week talking about the correctness of his policy and the virtues of his team? He has said over and over again that Rumsfeld is *the* man to lead the Pentagon. True, the election shows that the American people disagree, but Bush has fashioned his leadership profile around the idea that he does what he thinks is right not what the polls show people think. The fact that this happened within the blink of the election results suggests that this was already in the works pending the outcome of the election. So everything he said last week was offered with crossed fingers. Cheney's "full-speed ahead" rhetoric, denying the importance of the election on the Iraq policy, seems also to be undermined, by Bush's apparently independent decision. We can all be satisfied with that development, but don't lose sight of the fact that it took an electoral humiliation to induce the president to make it. It wasn't the facts of his disastrous policy that swayed him; it was the political consequences that made the difference. Had the electorate not reacted so firmly, we'd be staying the course. This isn't the kind of leadership that we should feel confident about. Fortunately, we'll have a Congress that might be able to lead him away from his worst inclinations.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: Daily Revolution

While the gloomy gus here continues to look through the glass darkly, allow me to point out a few things to celebrate about Tuesday's outcomes:

1.Montana (MONTANA!!!). That it was even close is miraculous; that Tester actually won is beyond credibility, except for the fact that it happened. This is your surefire sign of sea change.

2. Dub invites Nancy to lunch, no doubt to exact a promise that there will be no impeachment hearings. Don't fall for it, girl. Rummy falling on his sword means nothing except that now there's blood to smell and more to fall after him.

3. Brown: he didn't just win in OH, he kicked butt.

4. That map the Times put on its home page yesterday: 3 or 4 states a light shade of pink (for GOP holds); the rest, light and dark blues.

So don't let Mr. Sunshine here bring you down, people: this is a great, great day. Celebrate the fact that the people of America can shift course with no direction from the pundits, the media, or the talking heads in DC with their advertising machinery. Celebrate for a day--there won't be time for any more of that for quite a while to come. But this is a great start.

Name: Tom Panelas
Hometown: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.


I'm using this as a pretext for a self-serving promotional message. Still, on the off chance you keep track of such things, it may interest you to know that Encyclopaedia Britannica's political editor, Michael Levy, eschewed "commentariat" in favor of the correct term, "punditocracy," in summing up the election on our blog yesterday:

And while I'm flacking, if you ever want to give your readers background on a subject, you can link to the relevant Encyclopaedia Britannica articles, and readers who click on the links will get the full text of those articles, even if they're not subscribers. It's true. Details here.

Name: Josh Silver
Hometown: Free Press

Hi Eric,

Yesterday's election represents a sea change in American politics, and the outlook for media policy in 2007 will be carried along with the new tide. A Democratic House puts Reps John Dingell and Ed Markey back into power in the House Commerce Committee. Like much of their party, these new leaders are staunch defenders of an open Internet (Net Neutrality), champions of public broadcasting and fierce opponents of media consolidation.

A Democratic Senate would elevate Senator Daniel Inouye (HI) to the chairmanship of the Commerce Committee and empower strong advocates of public interest media policies like Senators Rockefeller, Kerry, Dorgan, and Boxer.

In the near term, the Democrats will dust off Congressional oversight power and begin to investigate the myriad policy failures of the current administration. They will visit serious pressure on the recalcitrant federal agencies that have been shirking the public interest for years. And it will be payback time against the special interests that used the GOP majority to batter Democratic opposition in 2006. The anti-Net Neutrality telephone companies are particularly vulnerable, standing as they do on the opposite side of many burned bridges. They are very nervous.

A Democratic House and a Democratic Senate provides Dems with an opportunity to open up their offensive playbook for the first time in many years. The prospect of setting the agenda, writing legislation, and pushing for change will be a heady brew, but it bears a great deal of responsibility as well.

It is unlikely that any major telecommunications legislation will pass the Congress next year. In this context, we will measure success by exercising oversight and political pressure and by transforming the terms of the debate from defense to offense.

We have developed deep relationships with Democratic staff, and we will generate several pieces of proactive, visionary legislation. We are well positioned to offer a progressive vision that will set the table for our long term agenda to foster critical, independent media though diverse, local media ownership, robust, politically insulated public broadcasting, and an open, democratic Internet.

Free Press remains a strictly nonpartisan organization, and we expect that more Republicans will break ranks with an unpopular White House to side with the public interest on the many media issues that garner conservative support. It is a time to build broad coalitions and strong leadership for democratic media policy from broadcasting to broadband. It is an opportunity to show the American people exactly what they can and should expect from their media and their government; a paradigm shifting moment to grasp the levers of change and begin the long road back to democracy.

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