And another child grows up to be somebody you'd just love to burn


I can't possibly improve on the "Shrill One" this morning, but he's behind a pay wall ($) and I'm not, so read on:

The only real question about the planned "surge" in Iraq -- which is better described as a Vietnam-style escalation -- is whether its proponents are cynical or delusional.


Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thinks they're cynical. He recently told The Washington Post that administration officials are simply running out the clock, so that the next president will be "the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof.

Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science for his research on irrationality in decision-making, thinks they're delusional. Mr. Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon recently argued in Foreign Policy magazine that the administration's unwillingness to face reality in Iraq reflects a basic human aversion to cutting one's losses -- the same instinct that makes gamblers stay at the table, hoping to break even.

Of course, such gambling is easier when the lives at stake are those of other people's children.


Well, we don't have to settle the question. Either way, what's clear is the enormous price our nation is paying for President Bush's character flaws.


And am I the only person to notice that after all the Oedipal innuendo surrounding the Iraq Study Group -- Daddy's men coming in to fix Junior's mess, etc. -- Mr. Bush turned for advice to two other sons of famous and more successful fathers?

(You know, I think he is....)


Mr. Bush is expected to announce his plan for escalation in the next few days. According to the BBC, the theme of his speech will be "sacrifice." But sacrifice for what? Not for the national interest, which would be best served by withdrawing before the strain of the war breaks our ground forces. No, Iraq has become a quagmire of the vanities -- a place where America is spending blood and treasure to protect the egos of men who won't admit that they were wrong.

Amen, brother.

Whaddaya know, here's Joe Klein, frothing, screeching and vitriolicizing ... silly of Paul to be so shrill ... here, too.

Where's Waldo? I haven't read this, but a hundred bucks says you can't find the words "we were wrong" anywhere in it. And Atrios has Lord Weisberg's number, sadly.

It can be a chore reading the LA Times op-ed page, what with Jonah Goldberg and Max Boot, but I think Jon Chait, Rosa Brooks, and Joel Stein just about make up for it. Ms. Brooks makes an extremely important point in her column this weekend, here. She writes:

Buried in the news last week was one of the most potentially significant stories of recent years. The Military Times released its annual poll of active-duty service members, and the results showed something virtually unprecedented: a one-year decline of 10 percentage points in the number of military personnel identifying themselves as Republicans. In the 2004 poll, the percentage of military respondents who characterized themselves as Republicans stood at 60%. By the end of 2005, that had dropped to 56%. And by the end of 2006, the percentage of military Republicans plummeted to 46%.

The drop in Republican Party identification among active-duty personnel is a sharp reversal of a 30-year trend toward the "Republicanization" of the U.S. military, and it could mark a sea change in the nature of the military -- and the nature of public debates about national security issues.

Watching the Pelosi fest on Thursday with my daughter, I found myself extremely moved by the celebration of the first female speaker in America's history and naturally optimistic about the possibility that this might make American politics a bit more humane both operationally and ideologically. But it is an extremely perilous enterprise to do this without alienating the macho-in-their-own-minds white men without whom Democrats cannot win elections. On the one hand this problem appears, in the short term, to be solving itself by virtue of what Ryan Lizza calls the "Alpha Democrats" and their prominence in the party. With Pelosi on the one hand and Webb on the other, we are saved from the "false choice" analogy like a great Chinese menu.

But to take a slightly historical view, the very fact that someone like James Webb has become a Democrat is largely due to the spectacular incompetence and ideological extremism of contemporary Republicans. To be an enthusiastic Republican today, you almost need to be a fundamentalist Christian, corporate CEO, neocon ideologue, or (at least) a little bit crazy. But as National Review's Rich Lowry put it so perspicaciously, "Liberals cannot count on conservatives being associated with corruption, incompetence or an unpopular war forever." I worry ...

From the Benton Foundation:

FIRST WIRETAPPING, NOW LETTER-OPENING? [SOURCE: Los Angeles Times, AUTHOR: Editorial Staff] [Commentary]

The Bush administration seems determined to raise the specter of surveillance over every means of communication within the United States. Not content to monitor selected phone calls and e-mails in secret, it recently hinted that letters and packages may be opened without a search warrant too. Befuddled, some privacy advocates started asking why the White House felt compelled to assert these surveillance powers when the issue wasn't even on the table. Was Bush trying to provide cover for another secret monitoring program? Was he laying the groundwork for a new one? Was he prodding balky government agents into being more aggressive on mail searches? It's hard not to be suspicious of the president's position on mail privacy, given the administration's record on the issue of domestic surveillance. In the name of the "war on terror," it has taken an unusually expansive view of government power and a correspondingly restrictive view of individual privacy rights. It also has sought to redefine what constitutes a "reasonable" search, and has often done so unilaterally and in secret. The administration may indeed be up to nothing new when it comes to mail - and that's not the least bit comforting.


A new Gallup poll reveals a halt in the steady decline of Americans who rely on newspapers for most of their news gathering, with local TV news still holding at #1. Despite all of the publicity about people fleeing to the Web for their daily news diet, the Gallup survey found that twice as many still rely on newspapers: 44% daily vs. 22% daily for Internet use. An additional 13% say they rely on newspapers "several times a week," meaning 57% use the papers a lot. Behind local news and newspapers come the network news at 35% daily and cable news at 34%, and public television at 28%. Radio talk shows fall far behind at 20%. Gallup reports: "Only 7% of Americans say they read a national newspaper (such as USA Today or The New York Times) every day. An additional 6% read these several times a week.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ron Aronson
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan

Dear Eric,

Obviously "surge" means something very different than "escalation." I've been struck (once more) by the media's docility in the face of how the Administration has been framing the impending turn in Iraq. I had never heard "surge" used militarily before, but after a while it seemed that someone (Frank Luntz?) was cleverly avoiding "escalation" for obvious reasons and that the media was obediently and uncritically playing along -- except, I think, for Keith Olbermann, who last late week called it an "escalation." And since Friday, lo and behold!, Barack Obama used "escalation" in his criticism and then Nancy Pelosi did the same. It seems as if some of the Democrats have at least refused to get trapped in the Administration's language. What will the media do now? Anyhow, I thought of you as I thought about this.

Name: Jane
Hometown: Shoreham, VT

Pierce hits the nail on the head -- again -- when he refers to Pres. Ford's big contribution towards: "the infantilization of something called 'The Country,' a perilously fragile flower that needs to be protected by Its Leaders from the rough edges of the hard truth."

It's what bloggers these days refer to as "rampant Broderism."

I lost count of the number of times I heard some politician or commentator during many days of the Ford funeral extravaganza say "the country" had been "torn apart" by Nixon and that Ford "healed the nation."

Anyone who was around during that period, and anyone who wasn't but who can read, knows that the country was in no way, shape or form "torn apart" by the time Ford took it upon himself to save us all from the spectacle of Nixon on trial. The country was extroardinarily unified in its disgust for Nixon, Republicans as much as Democrats.

Personally, I think respect for the presidency -- another thing Ford is inexplicably said to have restored by pardoning Nixon -- would have been greatly enhanced by prosecution of the man who so grossly abused it.

And perhaps, just perhaps, that spectacle might have restrained just a little bit the current occupant of the White House, who now believes quite rightly that he can literally get away with anything.

Name: David Dennie
Hometown: Norfolk, Virginia

Dear E,

I don't know why I should be surprised by the following bit of misleading TV news -- you said it best: "What liberal media?"

Anyway, I almost never watch any of the network evening news shows, but I happened to catch the end of Charles Gibson's Thursday, January 4 ABC evening news broadcast, which featured a piece on "The Patriot Guards", the group of military-veteran motorcycle riders who have begun attending Iraq War veterans' funerals to shield family members from the obscene onslaughts of "Rev." Fred Phelps and his band of fundamentalist followers.

(You'll recall that Phelps and his Kansas church group are fervent homophobes who campaign tirelessly to spread the news of their rabid hatred. In the past, they have done things such as picket the funerals of AIDS victims, carrying signs emblazoned with proclamations like "God Hates Fags". When those sorts of actions didn't cause enough commotion, Phelps and his gang began disrupting Iraq war veterans' funerals with signs stating "God Loves Dead American Soldiers", and the like, to promote their idea that God is punishing America for its tolerance of homosexuality by killing young American men and women in Iraq. The Patriot Guards formed, again, to shield the families of dead American soldiers from Phelps and his followers' obscene insanity.)

So, in his introduction to the Patriot Guards piece, Gibson omitted some vital information. Here is a verbatim transcript:

CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS) (Off-camera) Finally tonight, coming home. There is an increasingly common sight at the funerals of America's war dead. Motorcycle riders, attending the services as a show of respect. They call themselves 'The Patriot Guards," whose missions started when protesters began disrupting military funerals. Tonight, ABC's Erin Hayes on the bikers who want to protect and pay tribute.

PLEASE NOTICE: he says "protesters began disrupting military funerals," NOT "vicious psycho nutjob homophobe fundamentalist protesters began disrupting military funerals, not to protest the war but to attract attention for their fundamentalist insanity." Reporter Erin Hayes also fails to describe the disruptions (in fact, she never even mentions them again in her report).

By failing to properly characterize the "protesters" who prompted the Patriot Guards into action, Gibson and ABC leave their viewers to guess at the nature of the "protests", and I think I'm safe in saying that when most Americans hear "protesters," they think "left-leaning, anti-war protesters," which in this case is just about the opposite of the truth.

I don't know whether this selective omission by ABC is conscious and deliberate, or accidental, but at the very least it is extremely irresponsible.

Name: Richard Padgett
Hometown: Reston, VA

No wonder Bush refuses to condemn those who taunted and baited Saddam just prior to his execution. He did the same to Karla Faye Tucker and in my opinion with even greater callousness. I guess it is OK because he is promoting the culture of life. Just one of the innumerable reasons why that person sickens me.

Name: S.D. Miller
Hometown: Norwich, VT

Dr. Alterman,

It's always great to hear from Charles Pierce, and his post on Friday was particularly good. And for those of your audience too young to have experienced the Nixon debacle, I can certainly vouch for Pierce's statement that the country ate the Ervin Committee for breakfast. I remember being on the beach in Evanston, Illinois, and virtually every radio was tuned in to the hearings rather than music. Congressional hearings, at the beach, on the radio! Hours of coverage on the three major TV networks, every day! You betcha the country would have loved to have seen Nixon in the dock. When the pardon came, there was widespread, palpable disgust.

Name: Jay Dixit
Hometown: New York

Dear Eric,

I wanted to let you know about an article I think would be of interest to your readers, a piece that might otherwise fly under your radar. I'm tooting my own horn a little here, since I'm the author, but hey, we're on a shoestring here, which means there's no one around to toot it.

The piece is called "The Ideological Animal," and it's in the issue of Psychology Today that's just now hitting newsstands. The piece investigates how fear impacts political reasoning, and explores the relationship between personality and political orientation, i.e. the personality differences between liberals and conservatives. Highlights:

  • Liberals are messier than conservatives. Their rooms have more clutter, more color. Conservatives' rooms are better organized, more brightly lit, and more conventional. Liberals have more books and their books are on a greater variety of topics.
  • Compared to liberals, conservatives are less tolerant of ambiguity, a trait researchers say is exemplified when George Bush says things like, "Look, my job isn't to try to nuance. My job is to tell people what I think," and "I'm the decider."
  • Conservatives have a greater fear of death.
  • Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature.
  • Conservatives are higher on conscientiousness, which includes neatness, rule-following, duty, and orderliness.
  • Conservatives have a greater need to reach a decision quickly and stick to it.
  • When people are prompted to think about death -- a state of mind psychologists call mortality salience -- they actually become more conservative.
  • Studies show that when people are prompted to think about 9/11, their support for President Bush goes up.
  • Conservatives are more likely to have been insecure as kids, whereas liberals are more likely to have been confident as kids.

You can view the article here.

Name: Joe Raskin
Hometown: Brooklyn

Dr. Alterman --

I agree with Charles Pierce about "Slip Kid" being one of The Who's most underrated songs. Taking it a step further, the album it's on, The Who By Numbers, is even more underrated. The music on that album contains some of Pete Townshend's best work ("Guitar and Pen," to me, is his best song of all).

On another subject, concerning a guy who might have been standing too close to the speakers at a few Who concerts, do you think that President Bush got the message in November? I get the feeling that he thinks that his party won the elections (or, at the least, narrowly lost).

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