One Cuba Libre, please ...


How (sadly) crazy has my old friend Hitchens gone, you ask? Read this: "In our own current election, every serious candidate has stated that the outcome of a nuclear theocracy is simply not acceptable. It will indeed need to be decided, and in the lifetime of your administration, whether we aim merely to negate that intolerable ambition, or whether we have the ingenuity to make this the occasion for a wider and deeper engagement, consummating the progress made in Iraq and Afghanistan and confirming it in the keystone society that lies between them."

You read that right: "progress made in Iraq and Afghanistan." Just like Orwell would have put it ...

The attack of the right-wing Jews on Obama is just getting started. Recall that a staffer of the American Jewish Committee circulated a memo to Washington policy types that came pretty close to proposing a campaign of character assassination. Then, last week we read of Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations* making a series of unsupportable allegations against Obama here. Last week also saw a dishonest attack on Obama adviser Samantha Power (you can read about that here). Today, The New York Sun, which exists largely for these purposes, attempting to cast aspersions on adviser Rob Malley, here. It's as distasteful as it is transparent; what's more it's contrary to the values and principles of most American Jews, making these people's claims of representation as fraudulent as their arguments.

If you caught Boston Legal last week, you might have noticed that it played to the worst cultural stereotypes of Limbaugh-like lunatics. The story was driven by a wealthy liberal activist with a house in Martha's Vineyard who does nothing but sue irresponsible corporations and (unapologetically) have sex with every man she meets, up to and including propositioning the judge. This kind of thing is pretty powerful, and I don't see all those people who are always complaining about the content of TV shows complaining much.

Oh, and another thing: Did you read the James Stewart profile of Stephen Schwarzman here? It contains the following scene:

On June 22nd, the opening day of trading, Blackstone shares reached a high of thirty-eight dollars. On a day that should have been the pinnacle of Schwarzman's career, with an achievement likely to earn him a place among such figures of finance as J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie, Schwarzman stayed away from the Stock Exchange and didn't ring the traditional closing bell, apprehensive about further unflattering publicity. He had no plans for that night. His wife was on a long-scheduled African safari. He worked until after 8 P.M., then returned to his apartment and had dinner in the library, in front of the TV. He wanted to escape, perhaps with an episode of "CSI." He clicked on the remote, and stumbled onto a live panel discussion on CNBC about him and the Blackstone offering.

"I stared at this in complete amazement," Schwarzman said. "All I wanted was a normal private moment in front of the TV. I thought it was all over." He sat for about ten minutes before turning the TV off, feeling odd and alone.

If Schwarzman's story ever becomes a movie, I can promise you this scene will be in it. In virtually every movie I've ever seen, whenever anyone turns on the TV, it's always about them. No director I know is willing to forgo this trick.

George Zornick adds: Dutifully detailed in last week's New York Times coverage of troop levels in Iraq, written by Michael Gordon, are the opinions of those who think a reduction in troops would be a bad idea: there is a "senior American officer" who thinks we have "momentum" in Iraq that must be maintained; "Military officials and experts outside government who favor a pause," and whose arguments are detailed over many paragraphs; and "American commanders" like Gen. David Petraeus who oppose troop reductions. As FAIR notes, there really isn't any clue that anyone actually favors reducing troop levels, other than a single-line nod to the hard-to-ignore Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, who says the Army is "stretched and stressed" by the constant deployments.

The issue of troop levels in Iraq is going to be high on the political agenda in March, as Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will once again deliver a report to Congress, which will consider even more funds for the occupation of Iraq. For the public to really decide if maintaining the surge in Iraq is necessary and worthwhile, we have to know if it's working. The evidence says it's not (see here, for example), and it would be nice to hear these arguments reported, in detail, by the media.

"Hundreds of U.S. Marines have been killed or injured by roadside bombs in Iraq because Marine Corps bureaucrats refused an urgent request in 2005 from battlefield commanders for blast-resistant vehicles, an internal military study concludes," reports the AP.

Look, deserved or not, there has been a lot of tension between liberals and the military since Vietnam and the corresponding antiwar movement. But it's time that liberals start speaking out loudly on the unbelievably awful treatment of troops at the hands of conservatives these days, and get military members and their families to really identify who serves their interest best. At the same time bureaucrats were denying urgent requests for blast-resistant vehicles, Bush was giving speeches to soldiers urging them to buck up, tough out the stop-loss deployment orders, and live by the mantra "We're soldiers and we drive on." (In unprotected vehicles, apparently). Much more than being electorally practical, it's morally necessary to respect and provide for those who serve the nation. One might even say it's why we're liberals ...

And hey, the Lt. Col. reminds me to remind you that Frontline is doing Haditha tonight.

We see via TP that Bill Kristol finds it "unbelievable" that Congress won't give President Bush "the benefit of the doubt" and allow him conduct warrantless spying, unchecked by any court. Is it any surprise that Kristol, perhaps the biggest living recipient "benefit of the doubt," also wants to bestow it on others who are as equally undeserving?

McCain Suck-up Watch: Nicholas Kristof, in a column called "The World's Worst Panderer," writes that John McCain is "abysmal at pandering." He cites among a long list of examples McCain's "heroic" stand against the Bush administration's torture policy, a move that really irked conservatives. Of course, last week, McCain turned around and voted against a bill that would have prevented the CIA from using harsh physical interrogation methods, but Kristof dismisses it by saying McCain "pretended to be more conservative than he is." That sounds an awful lot like a... um, what's the word... rhymes with "dander" (and "ishful inking" and "elf elusion, etc.) Kristof should also clue us in as to how he knows McCain is "pretending." Does he, as Matt Yglesias suggests, have a crystal ball?

Also, here, Michael Kinsley writes that McCain is "widely regarded (everywhere except inside the Republican Party itself) as honest, courageous, likable and intelligent." Et tu, Michael? Man this is sad. I'm thinking of converting this entire blog to one big McCain Suck-Up watch. Did you see that Danziger cartoon that had Bush hugging an unhappy McCain? It was McCain, bub, who was doing the hugging. I wonder if McCain would hug me if I accused him, through my surrorgates, of course, of having a black love child. Anyway, here's Michael's logic: "When people believe you are telling the truth if you agree with them and lying if you disagree, you don't need to flip-flop."

Though of course he does, all the time, alas.

Speaking of McCain, in Philip Shenon's new book The Commission, which we discussed in Think Again last week, there this little tidbit, worth re-entering into the public record now:

"With Bush's election, McCain told Daschle in early 2001 that he was still so angry about the presidential campaign that he was considering bolting from the Republican Party, and the two men talked over several weeks about the possibility. Daschle said the talks were so far along that they had discussed the logistics of the news conference at which McCain would make the announcement. "We came very close," Daschle would say later. McCain backed away from the idea in the summer of 2001, after another Republican, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, abandoned the GOP and declared himself an independent; that gave Democrats a de facto one-vote majority in the Senate. McCain told Daschle, "Look, somebody else has given you the majority - you don't need me anymore."

Hey, what a surprise that a book that calls into question the verities of free trade would be dismissed without evidence in a Washington Post review. How in the world did that happen?

And OK, this totally doesn't matter, but look anyway:

A VIDEO of Heath Ledger hanging out at a drug-fueled party two years before his death would seem to constitute must-see material for a tabloid entertainment show.

But when such a video ended up in the hands of the producers of "Entertainment Tonight," the program declined to broadcast it, a spokeswoman said, "out of respect for Heath Ledger's family." The 28-year-old actor died on Jan. 22 from what the medical examiner called an accidental overdose of prescription medications.

Amy Winehouse did not merit the same discretion. Images from a video that showed her smoking what a British tabloid, The Sun, said was a pipe of crack cocaine, as well as admitting to having taken "about six" Valium, were widely disseminated in the news media around the same time.

OK, did Entertainment Tonight broadcast the Amy Winehouse video? Apparently not. Did the Sun have legal access to the Heath Ledger video and refuse to show it? If not, how exactly does this comparison demonstrate anything at all, save the lax standards for such things in some of our great newspapers? Also, was Ledger filmed smoking crack? I didn't think so.

From TomDispatch:

In recent months, from Southern Sudan to Vietnam's Mekong Delta and Mexico's impoverished state of Chiapas, Tomdispatch has been bringing on-the-spot reports from the conflict (and former conflict) zones of the planet. Today, Ann Jones, who, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, spent several years as a humanitarian aid worker focusing on the lives of Afghan women and wrote a moving book, Kabul in Winter, about her experience, takes TomDispatch readers to West Africa and into the chilling nightmare of women's lives in war-torn lands.

She begins her stunning, as well as shocking, account of the crimes against women that don't end when wars and civil wars end, this way:

Kailahun, Sierra Leone -- Greetings from a war zone that's not Iraq. And not Afghanistan either.

"I'm checking in from West Africa, where I've been working with women in three neighboring countries, all recently torn apart by civil wars: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivoire. The Iraq debacle has monopolized attention and obscured these "lesser" wars -- now officially "over" -- but millions of West African women are struggling to recover. For them, the war isn't really over at all, not by a long shot. This is the war story that's never truly told.

As she points out, "The war against women in West Africa and elsewhere is different from other wars -- whether driven by ideology, politics, greed, or personal ambition -- in that every faction, every side, makes war on women. They all abduct and rape and force women to labor. They all murder women." The three lands she writes about are now categorized as "post-conflict zones," but in the lives of their women, peace has never arrived. In fact, in some cases, in the post-war period rapes of women have actually increased.

This is a dramatic, if horrifying, story -- one seldom written about. Jones ends her dramatic account this way:

Here in Kailahun District, women tell the story -- possibly apocryphal -- of an old woman who was huddled over her cook fire when RUF rebels entered her village. She was frying some tasty frogs. Rebels surrounded her, peering into the pot to see what she was cooking, and one of them said: "We are freedom fighters of the Revolutionary United Front. We have come to save you from the government." The old woman -- unafraid -- replied: "Then you must go to the capital. The government is not in my pot." Women in Kailahun District tell that story over and over, and they laugh every time. They are so proud of that lone, bold, old woman who told those rebel men off. That's the spirit of survival, still alive in them, though they must know that the rebels probably shot the woman and ate her frogs.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jim
Hometown: WPB, Fla


Auditors of financial statements must be independent in both fact and appearance. Philip Zelikow was neither, but should be held to the same standard. Independence is a cornerstone of auditing because audits must be trustworthy, because it is virtually impossible for someone who is not independent to act without bias, and because to prove they did act without bias, you must re-perform their work.

In auditing, if there is a serious independence violation, the SEC will usually require a different auditor to re-perform the entire audit. The SEC would require that here. This is especially important because we now know that the Bush administration ignored many warnings of 9/11. I am starting to see everything the Bush administration has done since 9/11 as a long winded excuse for why they didn't stop 9/11. We don't need torture, Guantanamo, warrantless wiretapping, and an invasion of Iraq to prevent terrorism. We don't need to gut the Constitution to prevent terrorism. We need an administration that grasps reality to prevent terrorism.

Keep up the good work.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

I think an important fact to keep in mind for Democrats in terms of being optimistic that a Democrat, regardless of nominee, will win the presidential election in November is that Democratic voters are choosing a candidate -- they are choosing a candidate they feel strongly about, and someone who the entire party, even if you supported someone else, can feel strongly about. The Republicans, however, are settling for their candidate -- Sen. McCain will get the nomination not so much because voters liked him, but because voters disliked him the least. Mayor Giuliani was supposed to be the nominee, then his campaign imploded. Then conservatives convinced Fred Thompson to run because they didn't like any of the other candidates -- then they learned that Sen. Thompson wasn't quite up to the challenge. Then they took a hard look at Gov. Romney, but despite his good looks, tons of money, and willingness to essentially read verbatim from a how to be a conservative playbook, the Republican voters decided against Romney -- leaving McCain. Not that this guarantees a win, but it is far easier to get excited about an election and get others excited about your candidate when you are honestly a believer in the candidate, and not just supporting the party or arguing against the other side.

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA

Lawyer Matt Shirley said:

"If Congress does not pass the immunity, I'm going to get a call from Verizon's Corporate Counsel informing me they are going to give me zilch until I can prove to their satisfaction their company is not going to get sued."

But they wouldn't get sued, because they didn't do anything illegal....for that first 72 hours. If they don't pull your plug after 72 hours (assuming no warrant was forthcoming), THEN they've broken the law. And then they should be sued. That's why (in part) the 72 hour provision is there!

I would hope Verizon's Corporate Counsel would understand that. If not, then maybe Verizon needs to get new counsel.

Name: Jesse Zander Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR

I strongly disagree with Matt from HI on the need for telecom amnesty. He argues it's necessary so that in the future, telecoms can work with the government "in good faith, assume the Government is not asking them to break the law." But that's precisely the point- these telecoms KNEW this was illegal and did it anyway. Other companies knew it was illegal and told the government to get lost. It's like a doctor handing over your records without your consent. The point is that they broke trust with their customers and should be held accountable. And I don't care if the next president is a Democrat-- I want rules anyway. I may happily vote for Obama or Hillary but that doesn't mean I trust them not to use the power handed to them.

Name: Bruce
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NY

I'm SHOCKED that Woody Guthrie isn't in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He's the quintessential American songwriter -- the one they measure new songwriters, like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, against.

I also want to note and recommend to you (and your readers) The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie Live in Performance 1949, the ONLY known live recording of this great man. (That it just happened to win the Grammy for Best Historical Album in 2008 is a coincidence, I'm sure :-)

Finally, as I look over the list of inductees in the Hall, I can only shake my head over the fact that a generation of Americans hold Hee-Haw as their first association with country music. Not that the music's poor -- precisely the opposite, as most of the core cast are in the Hall -- but the buffoonery associated with the show probably turned a good many kids off of country music and reinforced stereotypes that have come home to roost over the last six, or eight, or thirty years in our politics.

Name: David Dennie
Hometown: Norfolk, Virginia


I've tried to stay out of the discussion on Who Should Be In The Country Music Hall of Fame as it's really not my bailiwick, but I can hold my tongue no longer.

Unless I've missed it, no one's mentioned The Byrds, fer Pete's sake!! They (mainly Roger McGuinn and the already-name-checked Gram Parsons, before his solo career) invented an entire sub-genre, country-rock -- unless you count Gram's abortive project The International Submarine Band and its one little-known album, in which case it was still The Byrds who really popularized and kick-started it.

For that matter, a good argument could be made for including the Flying Burrito Brothers (separately from Gram Parsons himself), owing to the strong work of ex-Byrd Chris Hillman, as well as Sneaky Pete Kleinow and the other members.

(Oh, and as others have said, OF COURSE Woody Guthrie, but don't hold your breath!)

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC

Country Music Hall of Fame inductees. Have we forgotten about the late lamented Townes Van Zandt? Tortured soul that he was, being a manic-depressive alcoholic, yet he greatly influenced not only country but the sub-genres of country from Outlaw and Americana.

Older established artists such as Willie Nelson to more recent performers like Steve Earle and Nancy Griffith have paid considerable homage to Townes.

The greatest irony about his life is how it ended. He died on the 44th anniversary of Hank Williams' death, New Years Day 1997.

* Malcolm Hoenlein's organizational affiliation has been corrected above. When I wrote the item this morning, I confused him with Morton Klein, head of the extremist Zionist Organization of America, with whom I did, in fact, take a teen tour in 1974.

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