Slacker Friday


I have a new Think Again column on campaign spending, "The Best Things in Life Are Free ..." here, and a new Nation column, "The Politics of Pundit Prestige," here.

And don't forget Boehlert's terrific column on The Note here. (I really hate to plug my sponsors so much, because it looks so lame, but try to remember to check out Jamison Foser's weekly "Media Matters" column, which is, in many ways, the best thing in this crazy business of ours.)

Eric R. notes: "Republicans really do think you're the enemy, and they pretty much always have."

I was still pretty sick last night, but I was just well enough at 7:30 to pull myself off the couch and catch a cab to Carnegie Hall for this. Tomorrow I should be OK enough to catch the ABB for the third time in three weeks. How are things in your city? (P.S. Here is the bill, with Patti Smith substituting for Jewel. Give them some money!)

And hey, Check out Sal and Tony on the Times op-ed page ... Wow, huh?


Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

"Get me a bodyguard, a flock of judo experts, with machine guns."

Yesterday, there were two Japanese TV crews wandering through the office, filming people as they were watching Daisuke Matsuzaka's Red Sox debut on television. It's going to be a very strange baseball season.

Brief Alter-Review: There I am, listening online to the cool sounds of WWOZ, back home again in NOLA after its Katrina-induced exile in New Jersey. And up comes some group of Louisiana lunatics called The Tin Men, doing an airborne-gumbo version of one of that arena-rock goofball anthem -- Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." Listening to Robert Plant's laughable Norse bloviating in front of this instrumentation was the greatest thing I've heard in months, and the best thing that's ever happened to Zeppelin's lyrics, which generally sound like Plant cut up an old Marvel "Thor" comic and threw the pieces up in front of an electric fan. Washboard Of The Gods!


Over the next few weeks, Joe Klein's going to get a lot of stroking from the Usual Suspects for "bravely" discovering after almost seven years that C-Plus Augustus is rather, ah, ill-suited to the job of being president. It seems like just yesterday -- in fact, it may have been just yesterday -- that Brave Joe was dismissing this notion as the superheated delusions of partisan harpies not cool enough to match wits with Margaret Carlson while Chris Matthews sits off-camera, as dreamily transported as Teresa of Avila, holding a picture of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and reaching for a damp towel.

Jeebus Christmas, what was your first clue, Sherlock? The Social Security whipping? The Schiavo circus? Tthe Katrina debacle? The 2006 elections? It plainly wasn't the monumental disaster in Iraq, because you were hoping for the best there up until 30 seconds before you hit "Send" on your very brave column, as best I can tell. There are several things that are important to remember about Joe before his fellow Beltway buffet-grazers start fitting him for a toga. First is that, both online and in the mainstream media, smarter people than Joe Klein have been saying everything that Joe is now bravely saying almost from jump. For their troubles, they got insults, condescension and worse from, among other people, Joe Klein. Well, bollocks. I note for the record that he's still alternatively ignorant and gutless on the subject of the Constitution. You can't impeach a president because he's a self-evident f**k-up-- or for "maladministration," to use a more polite term that the Founders explicitly rejected. Klein -- and, it should be noted, Ann Coulter -- are both wrong about that. And, because he's got such a sweet tooth for Executive power, as long as it's exercised in ways that make him feel safe and warm and make his heart go pitty-pat, he not only minimizes dangers of turning the Department of Justice into a chop-shop, he also declines to address the towering constitutional heresy regarding Executive powers that has allowed this administration to run amuck over the Bill of Rights. And, finally, probably because he doesn't want to be seen as being "soft" on dangerous dark people who are coming to kill him, Klein neglects even to mention that this president already has admitted breaking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on 14 different occasions, and has announced his intention to go on breaking it, based on a preposterous fig-leaf designed by his pet lawyers. Want to impeach the guy? Impeach him for that. Put John Yoo and the "unitary executive" on trial. That's really the kind of issue that the impeachment process is supposed to address anyway.

What, Klein thinks that this tepid, dilatory cud-chewing somehow validates everything his betters have been saying since 2001? That this watery-kneed pissantry gives the rest of us permission to know what we've known, and to say what we've been saying? Klein shouldn't be all over television, being praised by the cowardly for being timid. He should be out on Paul Krugman's lawn in sackcloth, pouring ashes over his head.

Name: drinkof
Hometown: Raleigh

I'm becoming a fan of the pace and choice of Democratic Congressional investigations. It's pretty much methodical and on point, recognizing both the value of forward motion and the fact that you can't get everything all at once.

Having said that, there's a critical path item I fear that they may be overlooking. There are a number of subjects on which Miers and, particularly, Rove simply cannot testify in public, slick as he is. Between emails and documents known and to come (even with the virtual shredders rolling away), Rove is caught in massive and significant contradictions he can't explain away. The response to questions about use of outside IP services alone would be worth triple the price of admission.

While as a matter of principle they shouldn't allow it, unsworn wouldn't matter. Transcript wouldn't matter. Public is what counts (with the cameras serving as perfectly excellent transcripts).

In urging the Committees to accept WH proferred "testimony" from Rove and Miers, several (including Specter, I believe) relied in part on the fact that going the subpoena route would take "a year and a half" (presumably including appeals and the like). While that's a grotesque exaggeration (meant to suggest that it's impossible), it will take some time.

The committees need to serve the subpoena, and get it rejected. They must then vary from the "standard" procedure, which calls for the US Attorney for the DC Circuit (a Bush loyalist) to prosecute the contempt charge which is key to getting Rove in the dock. There's no reason at all that the relevant committee can't establish a special procedure (duly recognizing the conflict of interest), and designate a special prosecutor whose sole job is to enforce the subpoena through regular, lawful channels on an expedited basis.

Once Rove has lost on a single subpoena, there's no logical reason he shouldn't be called by every committee on the Hill; it's clear that he attempted to influence every agency to use its resources to favor Republican candidates, thus it's clear that every committee has relevant questions. I will also enjoy listening to Bush or the spokesmodel explain why a political hack is so critical he can't be spared.

Rove is where the treasures are buried, the nexus through which all scandals attach. Time's a' wasting ... if they get it moving now, he could be a sitting duck in 2-3 months.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

I saw an interesting exchange between Jack Reed and Richard Shelby on NewsHour tonight about the Iraq funding bill. What baffles me is why Democrats who got this very crafty piece of legislation passed don't hammer Republicans who continue to talk about giving the latest strategy a chance to work. The bill does that. It gives it a year to work. But repeatedly Reed did not rebut Shelby's foolish claim that "Congress can't be 535 commanders-in-chief. There's only one commander-in-chief and that's the president." This bill does not usurp the role of the president, it simply requires accountability that he won't require himself.

Shelby kept saying, a la Friedman, that the next 6 months will be crucial. This is now the umpteenth round of 6-month prognostications, but OK. Still, if this last ditch effort doesn't work in 6 months, why is ending the fiasco in a year so bad? The notion of applying a date, when virtually everyone accepts the fact that this cannot go on indefinitely, is anathema to Republicans, but why? If it cannot go on indefinitely, then why not define a point at which it won't go on? It's not like they're arguing that the date on this bill is too soon, it's having a date at all that gets them.

What if the No Child Left Behind law said that school districts had to show success or lose funding, but didn't specify what timeframe in which those consequences would occur. Would that be accountability? How about asking for some accountability from Petraeus and from Maliki?

Moreover, the Congressional leverage being applied could be Bush's best tool to get the Maliki government to get its act together. And if they aren't willing to do that, then what is the point? If Bush wants to veto this bill, then the lack of funding for the troops will be on his head. Congress passed the funding, if he decides to defund his own war, then maybe that's an impeachable offense -- something like dereliction of duty.

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

So this is what passes for moderate in today's GOP? The party is no longer about limited government, libertarian ideals, or making people stand on their own feet. Somehow we came to a point where one party is about the American dream, and the other seeks to destroy the institutions of American governance.

Name: William Rabkin
Hometown: Pasadena, CA

Dr. Alterman,

I wanted to thank you for today's headline. I hadn't thought of "Border Song" for ages, and you made me dig it out of the iTunes pile and rediscover how wonderful that whole album was.

That said, now that the "controversy" over using lyrics as titles has ended, I wonder if I could make a request -- I'd love it if somewhere in the column you could cite the source of the quote. It's not a matter of giving credit where it's due so much as protection for those of your readers who have been known to drive themselves crazy for hours trying to figure out where we know that line from.

Or maybe I'm the only one.


Eric replies: I'll try, thanks.

Name: David Shaffer
Hometown: Harleysville, PA

Doc --

As a longtime reader (since you started back on that *other* site), I've always enjoyed the commentary and links. Don't always agree with everything, but I enjoy being challenged to think. But in addition to thinking, today's lyric brought on a serious memory trip -- "Border Song" from the Elton John album. Nice obscure reference to a great song from a great album that I haven't listened to in ... well, a long time. Have to change that.

Eric adds: Is this the place where I get to add that my second concert evah was Elton John at Carnegie Hall, 1970? He was wearing jeans.

Name: John J Emerson
Hometown: Osakis, MN

Peretz's wife, Anne Labouisse Farnsworth Peretz, is a Singer sewing machine heiress, but she is not descended from Isaac Merritt Singer. Her sewing machine ancestor is descended from Edward Clark, Singer's IP lawyer, who was given a hefty share in the company for defending against a lawsuit from Elias Howe, who claimed to be the actual inventor of the sewing machine.

This is tremendously important, but no one seems to care. I just don't understand.

Name: John George

Chas Murray's piece about Jews being smarter has 2 early factual misstatements: No Jews were monotheists in 800 BCE -- they were henotheists. The first Jewish monotheist was the second writer of Isaiah somewhat after 750 BCE. As to the first monotheist, it was probably Zoroaster somewhat before 1000 BCE. This is from the most recent scholarship I know about, so correct me if I'm wrong. Keep up the good work.

Name: Todd DeGroff
Hometown: Indianapolis


On the subject of The Bell Curve, and the broader topic of racial stereotypes and intelligence, I highly recommend Ashley Montagu's Race and IQ, first published in 1975. The expanded edition, published in 1999, includes 5 essays specifically addressing the general deficiencies, questionable data, and intellectual sloppiness of Murray and Herrnstein in The Bell Curve.

While it's rewarding to read Alan Ryan, Charles Lane and others demolish The Bell Curve's "slightly mad, and at worst, plain ugly" arguments, the earlier material, such as Stephen Jay Gould's 1974 essay, "Racist Arguments and IQ," makes it clear that Murray's brand of pseudo-scientific justification for racism has been around for a long time.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT


What is with this Matthew Dowd guy? How can you run Bush's '04 campaign ('04! -- not '00) and then two years later express profound disappointment with him?

What could he have possibly failed to see by 2004? What has changed about Bush in the last 2+ years? -- NOTHING. I reserve a special loathing for people like Dowd. It's as though they think they can do whatever they want and then issue a meaningless apology that absolves them of their, in this case, horrific guilt.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Albany, NY

McCain's weekend photo op at a Baghdad market is yet another indicator that McCain has become ridiculous. As the Times reported on Tuesday:

A day after members of an American Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain pointed to their brief visit to Baghdad's central market as evidence that the new security plan for the city was working, the merchants there were incredulous about the Americans' conclusions.

Like so many other instances of GOP prevarication, this episode brings to mind something Peter Viereck once said: "Reality is that which, when you don't believe in it, doesn't go away."

Name: Bob Wenning
Hometown: Chicago, IL

As usual, I think Fareed Zakaria perfectly captured the problems inherent with the escalation in last week's issue. He describes how, also as usual, the Bush Administration is pursuing an almost purely military solution to the Iraq problem while only paying lip service to the political issues, acknowledged by everyone else, including Gen. Petraeus, as the only real solution.

Also, I saw John Bolton on The Daily Show last night (a rerun actually) and was amazed at his apparent opinion that a president is only beholden to those who elected him, not to the country, as a whole. Amazing, but typical of the attitude of this Administration.

Name: James Warren
Hometown: Federal Way, WA

Sir Eric,

After using your "Pundit Prestige" column as a springboard, my coffee-primed thoughts are telling me that the warp and woof of the computer/internet/blogscape is affecting our culture in ways we cannot see, and may not really see until decades later, when the novelty and intensity wear off a bit.

More than ever before, we can see the fiefdom of punditry and politics as both hedge and history -- a necessary institutional defensiveness coupled with an instantaneous paper trail. Personally, I am paying closer attention to how a candidate, office-holder or pundit contextualizes his/her presence and if that person is actually standing in the "here and now" flow and trends of the cascading information we all now find ourselves in.

Through this lens George Bush -- for reasons I can only guess at -- has "hedged" himself into his own corner and seems oblivious to his own "paper trail" of mulish temperment and lack of accountability to consequences. Most of us can see this now -- that the president seems congenitally imprisoned -- and we are beginning to understand how his behavior is neither useful nor normal.

Hillary Clinton -- to use another example -- is definitely an alternative but to me she seems increasingly imprisoned by an unreal political history which already played itself out more than a decade ago. Her husband, in my opinion, is similarly mired but he still remains a sentimental favorite (which counts for something, I guess).

I beg off naming an individual pundit who qualifies for inclusion in this process, but I can guess that pundits usually only listen to other pundits. The authentic "give-and-take/listen and respond" qualities necessary in campaigning are missing from the pundit's world.

I guess I'll wind this dog-and-pony show up by noting that although some of today's politicians have to be skilled at "staying in the moment" in the midst of this new venue of electronic media, the pundit is -- by the very nature of punditry itself -- isolated from America's vital and ongoing conversations.

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Dear Altercation,

Eric Boehlert asks why Wal-Mart, Bayer, and Visa would help sponsor an awards ceremony thrown by the right-wing Media Research Center. I'll treat this question as if Boehlert really wants to know the answer ... Wal-Mart, in case Eric hasn't noticed, has been a target of left-wing activists for years now. (Nobody goes after the Target chain, itself a commentary on the tendency of the Left to mix up emotions with economics. Similarly, leftist activists get lathered up about McDonald's, but no one ever urges burning down a Burger King.) John Edwards has made Wal-Mart a subject for his particular brand of class warfare, even while he privately seeks little favors from the retailing giant ... Bayer is a pharmaceutical company; need I say more? ... Visa is also a venerable object of the hatred of upper-middle class urban white people, as it provides easy credit to the poorer classes in exchange for high interest rates. This is a risk that u-mc w p don't think the lower orders should be exposed to, for their own good of course ... really, why on earth should these companies not support their friends and oppose their enemies?

Name: rj
Hometown: Cherry Hill, N

"After all, this is Make Stuff Up Week at the Drudge Report."

I think every week is "Make Stuff Up Week" at the Drudge Report.

Name: Dan Garfinkel
Hometown: Pittsburgh

Simple answers to difficult questions: Will someone please explain to me why WHITE HOUSE business was being conducted on unsecure servers?


This concludes simple answers to difficult questions.

Name: Jack Wallace
Hometown: Luxembourg

Hey Doc,

Something has been making me laugh about this entire debacle at Justice. When Monica Goodling took the 5th Amendment, her lawyers used four cases to justify her not testifying due to the threat of perjury. Three of the cases were Oliver North, John Poindexter and Scooter Libby. (The 4th was in the Clinton Administration, and I had never heard of it.) My point is this: When claiming that you're afraid of your client being held for perjury due to politics, could you perhaps include at least one case where the person DIDN'T in fact perjure themselves? North, Poindexter and Libby?!? Irony has stopped trying these days, hasn't it?

Name: Daniel Ostern
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN


I really enjoyed your writing on MSNBC and I'm glad you landed on your feet at a great site like Media Matters.

Anyway, I just read "A Global Intelligence Briefing For CEOs" by Herbert Meyer and wasn't able to locate any response to this piece of work that is being forwarded around the world.

I'm guessing you've read it, but if not, you can find it here.

Keep up the great work.


We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.