Same as it ever was ...


We've got a new Think Again column called "The Surge Goes On Forever (and the Spinning Never Ends)" here.

It would be appropriate for me to say something complimentary about William F. Buckley Jr. today. He was, undoubtedly, a great man, who moved history by sheer force of personality to a degree, I think, unmatched in recent history. He was also famously charming and eloquent in conversation. The thing is, while I did admire much about Buckley, I had strong misgivings about him as well, and these are inseparable from the things I admired. I don't mean only that I disagreed with him politically. I had a series of personal dealings with Buckley that I found deeply disturbing on a human level. Now is hardly the time to detail those -- though, ironically, I did promise Buckley once that I would do so upon his passing -- when, as I put it way back in August 1994, "your supplicants are fawning over your alleged virtues, as they have done for your racist and anti-Semitic comrade, Richard Nixon." Of course, Buckley had many virtues that were hardly "alleged." I hope to be able to do justice to them, in context, one day when the moment is more appropriate. In the meantime, I've always very much liked and admired his son Chris, and I wish all Buckleys everywhere all the best. (I've not had time to read many of the Buckley obits and tributes, but I did find Tim Noah's quite good here.)

"I will continue to work to steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance. And while I have always said I am not running for president, the race is too important to sit on the sidelines, and so I have changed my mind in one area. If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach -- and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy -- I'll join others in helping that candidate win the White House."

Possible Bloomberg-Drops-Out Headlines:

"No Country for Short, Divorced Jewish Billionaires"

"More Die of Heartbreak (than care about this egomaniac's preening)"

"Turns Out I Wasn't Such a Hot Mayor, Either (I only looked good following that other meshugge)"

"Bloomin' Ridiculous..."

"Don't Cry for Me, David Broder"

"Don't Cry for Me, David Gergen"

"Don't Cry for Me, David Ben-Gur --" Oh, never mind...

George Zornick writes: The Politico ran a story this week titled "GOP fears charges of racism, sexism." It detailed how many within the party are worried that attacking Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton during the general election could be perceived as prejudicial; the RNC is studying the issue. The story only notes in passing that the GOP is "often criticized for its insensitivity to minorities in campaigns dating back to the 1960s," but doesn't it seem that much more context is needed? The GOP has engaged in deliberate race-baiting during many recent elections, from Willie Horton to John McCain's black baby to Harold Ford/Playboy attack ads of 2006. The party rightfully "fears charges of racism" because, well, it's been racist in past campaigns. Are they planning to use race as an issue again? Is that what the RNC is "studying?" Or do they believe that attacking Obama is just inherently racist? That deserves some exploring by the reporter.

Bonus crazy quote from the story, by Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway: " 'You can't allow the party to be Macaca-ed,' she continued, referring to a much-publicized remark made by former GOP Sen. George Allen that played a significant role in his 2006 defeat. 'I think the standards are higher and the bar is lower for the Republican Party.' " Being "Macaca-ed" presumably means being caught saying racial slurs on camera. Damn those high standards.

Eric noted last week that he wishes CNN would stop pimping the surge during debates. I would add that the network should also stop the unseemly practice of allowing debates to be sponsored by the coal industry, which has a clear stake in the policies being discussed. Or, even if CNN going to let them sponsor it, it should be sure to actually ask some questions about global warming, to avoid the appearance of impropriety. In four coal-sponsored debates, there have been exactly zero questions on global where the candidates stand on coal.

It can be tough earning a living as a freelance writer and blogger; sometimes, one's mind wanders on the possibility of more stable living. There's always, of course, professional global warming skeptic, which appears to be lucrative - next week here in New York City, the Heartland Institute is having a big conference called "Global Warming: Truth or Swindle?" We see here that any attendee holding public office gets free lodging, pay, and a travel stipend just for attending.

Scientists who attend don't need to bring their thinking caps, either -- the conference invitation explains that "the purpose of the conference is to generate international media attention to the fact that many scientists believe forecasts of rapid warming and catastrophic events are not supported by sound science, and that expensive campaigns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not necessary or cost-effective." In other words, notes, it's really just a press event, not an actual scientific conference. Oh, and you get $1,000 if you want to give a speech. Not bad ...

(Note: John Stossel and Roy Innis are headlining the conference. Stossel has often displayed a poor understanding of climate science, here, and Roy Innis, as Eric noted last week, runs a "civil rights" group that really just serves to give cover to racists and dictators, and jobs to Innis' children. Apparently they are bringing global warming skeptics into the fold as well).

As an addendum to our Think Again column this week, note that one of the few accomplishments in Iraq that the Bush administration has claimed as a sign of political progress under the surge has just been negated. Unfortunately, Iraqi leaders vetoed a bill that would have set out the political structure for Iraq's provincial governments and established a basis for elections in October. It's a sad step away from functioning government in Iraq; hopefully CNN's John Roberts, et al, will take note.

Your Newspaper of Record: From Vanity Fair in a terrific piece about Vietnam films by Peter Biskind:

Universal planned to open the picture [The Deer Hunter] at one theater each in New York and Los Angeles for a week in December 1978, to qualify for Academy consideration, then close it to build interest. But just as the film was about to open, [director Michael] Cimino gave an interview to The New York Times's Leticia Kent that nearly torpedoed the publicity campaign. The director told her, "I was attached to a Green Beret medical unit." He said that he joined the army about the time of the Tet offensive, in 1968 -- making it sound as if he had sprung to the defense of his country -- and trained in Texas, but was never sent to Vietnam. He gave his age as 35. As [then-Universal president Thom] Mount recalls, "I was peacefully working in my office in California, and our publicist called me: 'We got a problem.'

" 'What is it?'

" 'Well, the reporter can't find any information corroborating what Cimino told them.'

" 'Tell me exactly what he said.... He told the fucking New York Times he was a medic in the Green Berets? I know this guy. He was no more a medic in the Green Berets than I'm a rutabaga.' So I went to see Mr. Wasserman. I said, 'Lew, I think we have a huge problem. I think in 24 hours The New York Times is going to run an article about a delusional director. We have x millions of dollars in this fucking thing. I need the fiction that this guy is connected [to the military] or we're fucked.' Lew said, 'I'll call you back.' The next day, early in the morning, Mr. Wasserman's secretary calls and says, 'Have the reporter call this number at the Pentagon.' I passed it on through the publicist to the Times reporter." Kent (who Vanity Fair was unable to locate) was presumably able to confirm Cimino's claims to her satisfaction because the article ran with his assertions taken at face value.

I didn't watch the Oscars, but I did look through the Times' slide show of Red Carpet appearances: Most of the dresses look like clown suits to me. The ones I thought were tasteful, and flattering, were located on the bodies of Ellen Page and Nicole Kidman. Laura Linney, Amy Adams and Kerri Russell were disqualified because while their dresses looked great, they scraped along the ground after them as if they thought they were the Queen or something. Take a look here.

And have you seen Duel in the Sun lately? I watched it on TCM the other day. It has a 15-minute "prelude" followed by a short "overture" where nothing happens. No credits, nothing. Just a still photograph and some music for 15 minutes. What were they thinking? It was 1946. Did anyone in the world have that kind of time?

From The National Security Archive:

White House Ignored Repeated Warnings That E-mails Were at Risk

White House Staff Claims Ignorance about its Own Prior Investigation Into Missing E-mails, Acknowledges it Still Has Not Located E-mails From Over 200 Days

Washington D.C., February 26, 2008 - At a hearing today before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, it was disclosed that the White House has received repeated warnings from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and from information technology experts within the White House about the risk of lost e-mails. Records obtained by the Committee showed that NARA's warnings began as early as January 2004 and that the White House was aware of the danger that e-mails may not be properly preserved. Further, testimony and evidence indicated that a new records management system was developed by the White House and NARA and then rejected by White House Office of Administration Chief Information Officer Theresa Payton in the fall of 2006, when the system was ready for implementation. The existing archiving process, which was installed as a temporary solution in 2002, was "primitive," according to a former White House technology expert in communications with the Committee.

"The White House's witnesses disclaimed knowledge and responsibility for the e-mail problem. The NARA witnesses said that they are waiting for the White House to take action. But no one is doing anything and time is running out," commented Meredith Fuchs, General Counsel to the National Security Archive.

This week on Moyers:

As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama make their appeals to lower-income voters in Ohio and Texas, expert on media and politics Kathleen Hall Jamieson analyzes the messages on the campaign trail in the lead up to Tuesday's potentially decisive primaries. Also on the program, historian Nell Irvin Painter examines what history reveals about the current state of inequality in America. Painter looks at today's economic disparity as a new "Gilded Age" that threatens democracy.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Siva Vaidhayanthan
Hometown: A Proud Son of Buffalo, New York

Dear Eric and Charles,

Please refrain from soiling the good names of all Buffalonians and their esteemed football club (two-time-AFL-Champion club, that is) by taking Mr. Russert as paradigmatic of that fine corner of the world. While we are almost as ashamed to share memories of the town with Russert as we are O.J. Simpson and Tim McVeigh, we are proud to point to many notable Americans who have trudged through the snow and ice with covered heads held high and breath smelling of Frank's Red Hot and Gennie Cream Ale.

Some of the great Americans who have resided in Western New York include Joyce Carol Oates, Mark Twain, actor John Shuck (Painless from M*A*S*H), J.M. Coetzee, Leslie Fiedler, Mable Dodge, Terry Gross, Buffalo Bob Smith (Howdy Doody's sidekick), Grover Washington, Jr., Ani DiFranco, Gurf Morlix (produced Lucinda Williams' second album), Lucille Ball, Aretha Franklin, TV producer Tom Fontana, Katherine Cornell, TV producer David Milch, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisolm, cartoonist Tom Toles, Nobel laureate Herbert Hauptman (who came to my wedding), Warren Spahn, Bob Lanier, Seneca Nation leader Red Jacket, and the forever funky Rick James.

Alas, we also have to claim Chief Justice John Roberts and former U.S. Reps. Jack Kemp and William Miller. But no place is perfect.

Buffalo does not deserve to be criticized for Russert's bluster, alarming though it is. I would hope that Charles would be more careful in the future. I am sure he would hate to have his fine hometown sullied by the sins of people like Bill Belichick or Noam Chomsky. Just as Russert should not have stooped to imply that Obama's character is lacking for sharing a friend and a hometown with Farrakhan, Charles should have refrained from associating Buffalo with Russert.

For the record: We Buffalonians denounce Tim Russert!

Oh, and for those of y'all unfamiliar with the rules, they are called "wings," not "Buffalo wings." And they come in groups of ten, not eight or 12, with blue cheese dressing, not ranch.

Go Sabres!

Name: Bill Skeels
Hometown: Raleigh NC

Pierce is both dead right on the Russert thing, and is otherwise, in almost every way, a national treasure.

Then there's this ...

" 'In my hometown of Buffalo.' Oh, bite me, please."

I am a native and resident of North Carolina, but my in-laws live in and around the great and underrated city of Buffalo. I can say, based on considerable experience and without fear of contradiction, that Russert level bloviation (on any subject) would receive a world class beat-down / roasting in any Buffalo watering hole the likes of which effete New Englanders and Bostonians would not recognize.

And this ...

"Oh, and the Bills still suck."

The Patriots cheat, always have, and they're on the way down. Like Timmeh.

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA

Let me be among the first to thank Charles Pierce for his excellent synopsis of the Democratic debate. I flipped over to the debate whenever there was a timeout in the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. I am quite familiar with Russert's "hypotheticals" and therefore refuse to watch. He is demeaning the process.

Name: Rick
Hometown: San Jose, CA

One thing I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere about Timmeh's appalling questioning last night is when he tossed the partial quote from the questionnaire about Obama pledging to accept public financing. This has already been debunked all over the place.

After the debate Keith O. asked him about the rest of the quote. Russert gave his smarmy smile and replied to KO that he was giving Obama an opportunity to complete the answer.

Why the heck does he ask a gotcha question when he already knows that the premise is false?

Name: Jason Parrish
Hometown: Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Alterman,

The whole episode was the political equivalent of the Oscar-broadcast scene in "There Will Be Blood" from the night before. Maybe that's why Tim Russert was getting so hot and bothered. Sen. Obama had to sit up and do their bidding or risk losing his life's work.

I think Sen. Clinton, by opportunistically piling on, again demonstrated why her "instincts" are not up to presidential standards. The United States has rejected the political behavior and tactics of W, Rove, Cheney, DeLay, et al. as the new standard, as will history.

Name: Richard Berndt
Hometown: Seattle, WA

We don't have cable, so I've been following the debates mainly through analysis and through YouTube clips on Talking Points Memo and elsewhere. While I agree with Charles Pierce, TPM, Daily Kos and others on how awful Russert was and how dumb the moderating has been in most of these debates, I'm wondering if the point is to complain or do so something about it.

Most of the readers of this column and similar ones would prefer, I think, debates about issues that actually mean something to America and the world instead of debates focusing on the moderators and distractions such as haircuts, cleavage and Louis Farrakhan.

Why don't the netroots and alternative media host debates? It certainly wouldn't be difficult, and you could always offer simulcasting with PBS, NPR, CSPAN, local TV stations, etc. to expand access. I'd love to see a TPM-sponsored debate, for example, or people like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich discussing health care details with the candidates.

Name: Simon
Hometown: Toronto, ON


I was in New Orleans last week on vacation. Not exactly a beach vacation, but way warmer than in Canada at this time of year.

In any event, I was flipping through the television channels, and came across Mr. Goldberg, apparently being interviewed about his book "Liberal Fascism."

I had not yet heard of this book, so I watched with great fascination and an awkward mix of horror and humour as he labeled everyone he seemed to feel was not sufficiently Republican as a fascist.

I suppose that all sorts of hucksters and loony tunes appear on tv all the time, but what astounded me most of all was that he was given this platform on one of CNN's channels. And not just for five minutes, or for fifteen minutes, which surely would have been more than enough for this sort of nonsense. No, CNN apparently felt this interview was worth an hour, and that it should be rebroadcast ad nauseam. I counted about three straight hours before I lost track.

I've now learned from your blog that this book has also made reputable best seller's lists.

The sickest part of the whole thing is that this book has been written, and now promoted, and eagerly consumed, during the period in which the United States of America has a president who has clear and undeniable fascist leanings. Far more so than any American President I am aware of, including Nixon.

So where is George W. Bush in this book?

Name: DrSteveB
Hometown: NYC

As a Jewish American and independent voter, I find the resurgent smear campaign against Senator Obama regarding his pastor's comments about minister Farrakhan (what is that -- two degrees of separation?) ridiculous. Back in January the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) already said it was fine with Senator Obama's clear cut repudiation of second and third parties' words. This contrasts sharply with the ADL not being okay with Senator McCain's actual own words claiming falsely that the Constitution founded the U.S. as a Christian nation. When they asked McCain to refute this, he waffled and equivocated. McCain was trying to have it both ways with different audiences. According to the ADL's press release of October 2, 2007, they were not satisfied with Senator McCain on this religiously divisive and historically false rhetoric. See here.

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