And I am a material girl ...


We have a new "Think Again" column called "Out, Out, Damned Earmark," here, and my new Nation column is called "Something Stupid," and that's here. I also did a review, sort of, of Jerome Corsi's Obama Nation for the Progressive Book Club, and that is here.

Yesterday, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, of London and New York, and a former financial backer of Hillary Clinton, came out for John McCain, saying that Obama was an "elitist." Leaving aside the many, many jokes that will be deservedly made about pots and kettles, I would like someone to explain to me why this is such a major news event. In the past 24 hours, de Rothschild gave live interviews to Neil Cavuto and Greta Van Susteren on Fox News, Campbell Brown and Wolf Blitzer on CNN, was discussed by panels on Special Report with Brit Hume and Larry King Live, and was the sole subject of stories by reporters at the Los Angeles Times, ABC News, Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets.

There's really no explanation for this level of coverage about someone nobody's ever heard of before she managed to get on the right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial pages aside from an obsession with stories that paint a) Democrats as elitists, and (2) an alleged Clinton-Obama rift; and c) well, nothing.

(There is of course comedic value in covering the story -- you know, a real-life baroness leveling elitism charges, and muffing an Obama quote like this: "The people out - who are the rednecks or whatever are bitter," Rothschild told CNN's Campbell Brown. And yes, I do entertain the possibility that this is actually a Liberal Media Plot, and one of the best I've ever seen. If someone would own up to me, I might have to take back everything I've ever said in my entire life. I mean comedy. Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, of London and New York, whining about the poor rednecks to million-dollar anchors? Would SCTV have even dared?

George Zornick writes: Last month, we flagged the AP's Mike Baker for concocting a narrative about "critics" who say Elizabeth Edwards was somehow wrong for not telling the world about her husband's affair. The story was sourced only on a North Carolina strategist, a Daily Kos commenter, and a former John Edwards delegate.

Yesterday, Baker wrote a story about a speech Elizabeth Edwards gave in Philadelphia, and included this context:

But she's been quiet about her latest hardship, only discussing the infidelity in a brief statement last month in which she pleaded for privacy and said that her husband had disclosed the liaison in 2006.

That statement set off a round of criticism aimed at her, as Democrats said she was too willing to keep the affair a secret to help her husband's political ambitions, as well as her own.

I've not seen a single other outlet or reporter advance this story -- since, you know, Baker basically made it up -- I guess he's going to push on ...

Editor & Publisher has a special report on "How Fact-Checking Took Center Stage in 2008 Campaign." Increased scrutiny of factual claims is surely welcome. But frequently the way that it's done can be aggravating as well -- as it's still inherently subject to the same biases and assumptions of that news organization, and other times can be far too narrow and reductive, missing the policy forest for the advertisement-claim trees.

One example of the latter is CBS News' Wyatt Andrews' fact check of Barack Obama's claim that "[McCain] wants to tax your health benefits.... That's a $3.6 trillion tax potentially increase on middle class families." Andrew takes issue with this claim, saying most Americans will get in fact get a tax cut under McCain's plan.

To understand why this is dubious, you first have to understand what McCain's health care plan is. Health Affairs has a comprehensive analysis, but in short, if you are one of the 177 million Americans who get health insurance through your employer, McCain does in fact want to tax the value of your benefits.

But then McCain's plan has a catch -- if you give up your employer-based health insurance and enter the free market to purchase health care on your own, you get a tax credit: $2,500 for individuals, $5,000 for families. Andrews inexplicably does not mention you have to give up your employer-based coverage, and only mentions the credit as proof that it's not really a tax increase; he cites analysis from the Tax Policy Center, which says that on balance -- with the tax credit for giving up insurance through your workplace -- it's really a tax cut.

Got it? But you can see, then, this is kind of a useless fact check. First of all, it is strictly true that McCain "wants to tax your health benefits," as Obama claims -- and note, Obama cites $3.6 trillion as a potential tax increase. So this is defensible. You could go on to say that if one gives up employer-based health insurance and enters the free market, there's a credit, so sure, in that case it's not technically a tax cut -- but what about the cost of the premiums, which you now have to pay on your own? What about the fact it's far easier to be discriminated against for pre-existing conditions when you buy on your own? Health Affairs estimates the McCain plan will kick at least 20 million people off employer-based coverage, and tax the rest. Andrews' narrow fact check misses all these points -- doesn't mention the planned gutting of an employer-based health system -- and provides a "fact-check" that, if anything, confuses people even further.

Somebody get Candy Crowley a journalism textbook.

And speaking of, a Candy edition of McCain Suck-Up Watch: NPR and CNN reported that Sen. John McCain mocked Sen. Barack Obama for holding fundraisers in Beverly Hills that were expected to raise several million dollars, but neither report noted that McCain himself reportedly attended a fundraiser in Miami earlier in the week that raised several million dollars and held a fundraiser last month in Beverly Hills attended by celebrities.

In the current issue of The National Interest, Joshua Muravchik and Stephen M. Walt argue, usefully about Neocons vs. Realists, here. I've included a longish excerpt from Walt's post below but you really should read the entire thing to see just how tenuous the Neocon case has become in the wake of Iraq, as well as how nasty Muravchik feels he can get towards his opponents. Walt maintains a polite tone throughout despite Muravchik's constant baiting. Anyway here's a section of Walt:

The true test of neoconservatism began after the 9/11 attacks, when it became the intellectual blueprint for U.S. foreign policy. Although there were a handful of realists in the George W. Bush administration, neoconservatives occupied key positions in the Defense Department and in the influential office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Prominent neoconservatives inside the Bush administration included Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, vice-presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Assistant Secretary of State (and later UN Ambassador) John Bolton, Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle, as well as aides like Elliott Abrams, John Hannah, David Wurmser, Michael Rubin, Abram Shulsky, Aaron Friedberg and Eric Edelman. Other neoconservatives served as cheerleaders and enablers from their vantage points at the Weekly Standard, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal editorial pages. This situation led Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer to declare that "what neoconservatives have long been advocating is now being articulated and practiced at the highest levels of government . . . it is the maturation of a governing ideology whose time has come." Similarly, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol proudly proclaimed in 2003 that "our policy . . . is now official. It has become the policy of the U.S. government. . . . History and reality are about to weigh in, and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdict."

Not since Neville Chamberlain has history delivered such a swift and crushing judgment.

Their chief failure, of course, is Iraq, which columnist Thomas Friedman termed "the war the neoconservatives wanted, the war the neoconservatives marketed." The neocons were wrong about Iraq's WMD, wrong about its alleged links to al-Qaeda and above all wrong about what would happen after the United States ousted Saddam. Kenneth Adelman announced the war would be a "cakewalk," and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz dismissed Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki's estimates that the occupation would require several hundred thousand troops as "wildly off the mark." Wolfowitz also told Congress that the war and reconstruction would cost less than $95 billion. Wolfowitz was "off the mark" by just a hair: the price tag for the war already exceeds $500 billion and will probably exceed several trillion by the time we are finished.

Neoconservatives also loudly, naively and wrongly predicted that Saddam's ouster would yield far-reaching benefits in the region. Fouad Ajami reportedly told Vice President Cheney that the streets in Basra and Baghdad would "erupt in joy the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans," and Kristol foresaw a "chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy." Joshua Muravchik predicted that the invasion "will set off tremors that will help rattle other tyrannies including the mullahs of Iran and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez," Richard Perle thought Syria and Iran would "get out of the terrorism business," and Michael Ledeen claimed "it is impossible to imagine that the Iranian people would tolerate tyranny in their own country once freedom has come to Iraq." None of these rosy scenarios has come to pass.

The most consistent source of dubious forecasts was Kristol himself, who predicted the occupation would require only seventy-five thousand troops and that U.S. forces "could probably be drawn down to several thousand soldiers after a year or two." On the eve of the invasion, he reassured readers that "very few wars in American history were better prepared or more thoroughly than this one by this President." One month later, he announced that "the battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably." Kristol also derided warnings of a Sunni-Shia conflict as "pop sociology" and claimed there was "almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular."

The war dragged on, and the Kristol ball remained cloudy. He and coauthor Robert Kagan greeted the first anniversary of the Iraq invasion by announcing that Iraqis "had made enormous strides" toward liberal democracy, smugly deriding prewar predictions "that a liberated Iraq would fracture into feuding clans and unleash a bloodbath." Nine months later, Kristol judged the Iraqi elections of January 2005 to be "a genuine turning point." Wrong again: Iraq spiraled ever deeper into sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, and the bloodbath Kristol had dismissed became a reality.6

This string of failed forecasts flowed directly from the neocons' naive belief that democracy would be easy to establish and from their ignorance about Iraq and the broader region. These beliefs also made them easy prey for the blandishments of unscrupulous individuals like Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi. Because they assumed the occupation would be easy and cheap, they saw no need to prepare for protracted war and dismissed the realists' warnings that establishing a stable political order would be a long, expensive and uncertain undertaking.

Neoconservatives now proclaim that the "surge" is working and that victory is within reach. Unfortunately, this is not true. There was never any question that the United States could dampen the violence by increasing troop levels. The key issue, however, is whether the surge will enable Iraqis to create a workable political system and an effective military that can disarm powerful local militias. That has not happened, which is why the United States will remain stuck in Iraq for the foreseeable future, trying to prop up a government that still cannot stand on its own.

But Iraq is hardly the neocons' only failure.

By marching us into Baghdad while refusing to negotiate seriously with "evil" North Korea, they made it possible for Kim Jong Il to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, recycle nuclear material and test a nuclear weapon. Efforts to contain Pyongyang's program made progress only after Bush abandoned the neocons' approach to North Korea and engaged in patient diplomacy.

By insisting on elections in the Palestinian territories while impeding any genuine effort toward peace, neoconservatives helped Hamas win a parliamentary majority in 2006 and made a two-state solution that would preserve Israel's Jewish character even more elusive. The subsequent refusal to recognize Hamas then exposed the hypocrisy of the Bush administration's alleged commitment to spreading democracy in the Arab world. And by backing Israel's ill-conceived strategy during the summer 2006 Lebanon war, neoconservatives undermined the pro-Western Siniora government, prolonged a conflict that cost Israeli lives and strengthened Hezbollah. They claim to be committed to Israel's well-being, but the neoconservatives' policies have in fact been deeply harmful to the Jewish state.

The neoconservative approach to foreign policy has driven America's global image to new lows and given millions of people reason to doubt our commitment to the rule of law, justice and basic human rights.

From TomDispatch:

Steve Fraser, author of the appropriately titled book Wall Street: America's Dream Palace and TomDispatch regular, puts the present policy chaos in Washington over the meltdown of the U.S. financial system in the context of history -- of the way Wall Street dreams and governmental attitudes have intersected so disastrously. In April, when, in the mainstream, pundits were still wondering whether we might possibly, actually, really be edging toward, or near, a recession, Fraser brought up the dreaded "D" word at TomDispatch. Now, he's being quoted on the front page of The New York Times.

In this powerful piece, he reaches back to the age of J.P. Morgan to incisively trace the history of the federal regulation of Wall Street and then the fundamental change in the relationship between Wall Street and Washington that began in the 1980s and paved the way for the present institutional collapse. He writes:

"The undoing of that New Deal regulatory regime, and its replacement, largely under Republican administrations ... with what some have called the 'socialization of risk' has contributed in a major way to the mess we're in today. Beginning most emphatically with the massive bail-out of the savings and loan industry in the late 1980s, Washington committed itself, at least under conditions of acute crisis, to off-loading the risks taken by major financial institutions, no matter how irrationally speculative and wasteful, onto the backs of the American taxpaying public."

Now, in confusion, Washington is beginning to depart from even the new orthodoxy. (After all, it let Lehman Brothers go down.) "The road ahead," as Fraser says, "is dark and unknown." He concludes this striking piece:

"Washington's mission may, at this late date, be an even greater one than Roosevelt's New Deal faced. The government must figure out how to deploy its power to shift the flow of investment capital out of the mine-fields of speculative paper transactions and back into productive channels that will help meet the material needs of American society. Real value must be created in place of chimeras. In the meantime, we all have ringside seats -- in fact, far too close to the action for comfort -- as another gilded age is ending."

This Week on Moyers:

Amidst historic economic failures, Bill Moyers Journal takes an in-depth look at what led to the financial meltdown, what it means for American families, and how it will affect voters between now and November. Bill Moyers sits down with former Nixon White House strategist and political and economic critic Kevin Phillips, whose latest book Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism explores the role that the crumbling financial sector played in the now-fragile American economy. And, Moyers speaks with New York Times business and financial columnists Gretchen Morgenson and Floyd Norris to discuss who wins and who loses in the financial turmoil.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ken G
Hometown: Cherry Hill, NJ

With General Petraeus leaving the Iraq theater, there has been more talk than usual in the MSM about his "surge" strategy, and the alleged great success it has been. Am I crazy? Does the media in this country really have that short of a memory or do they just assume that the public has the short memory? Can they really look me in the eye and tell me that the "surge" is, was and always has been intended purely as an end unto itself? Is that what I am now expected to believe?

When the troop build-up started, its intent was very clear. It was intended to sufficiently reduce violence and take the pressure off the fledgling Iraqi government enough so they could take the difficult steps necessary to make the country self-sustaining without continued U.S. help. The reality is that, while much American blood and treasure has been spent to reduce violence, the Iraqis have not taken even baby steps toward holding up their end of the bargain. Provincial elections have been cancelled. There continues to be no progress on oil-sharing legislation. By all accounts, large portions of the so-called Iraqi army and police forces remain poorly-trained, incapable of completing even basic missions (like, for example, actually waking up on time in the morning) and ready to fracture along ethnic lines the minute the U.S. military stops backing them up. Now, the government is also apparently backing off agreements to integrate the Sunni security forces (whose decision to accept U.S. money and reject al-Qaeda are likely just as responsible as the increase in U.S. manpower is for the reduction in violence) into the national defense forces in any significant way. I could go on and on.

Will somebody ... anybody ... in the MSM, PLEASE cover this story? It is, after all, their job.

Name: Terry

OK, per Col. Bateman, the Air Force can huff and puff but it can't blow up enough of an enemy's strategic buildings to win a war. Agreed.

Didn't work in Vietnam. Check. Funny thing about the Third World. They don't rely as much on the kinds of structures we do. But more importantly, I think, is that there's a problem when we insinuate ourselves into some other country's civil war, whether with bombs or humans or both.

Which brings us to our next really big undeclared war, Iraq.

The Air Force hasn't been able to bomb away the resistance in Iraq. But are things really working that much better on the "human" side? Plenty of humans have been killed. Surely plenty more will. And it seems that insinuating ourselves in a two- and three-way civil war doesn't work any better.

Anyone here want to bet that the Sunni militias -- which are the big reason for the surge working right now -- will continue the job once we inevitably leave, surely sooner rather than later? They're gonna melt faster than ice cubes on a Baghdad street in August.

The problem isn't so much the differing tools, tactics and philosophies of our various military branches. It's the mission. Nothing will work.

It doesn't take an Einstein to come up with a definition of this insanity.

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Thank you to LTC Bateman for giving us all a look into military Joint Operations. His insight is definitely appreciated here.

It seems to me that part of the problem is that there is still inter-service rivalries between the Air Force, Navy and the Army, although the success of joint operations since Vietnam was supposed to have alleviated a lot of that. Obviously, each service is going to claim that they are indispensable to the success of any future war, which is amplified when you have each service fighting for weapon systems that cost tens of billions of dollars. Fighting for those dollars is bound to create some animosities.

Beyond that is the fact that each service has a different point of view of the battlefield. The farther you get from the ground-view of operations, the easier it is to make decisions without regarding the terrible consequences for non-combatants, resulting in the euphemistic "collateral-damage." The air operations in Iraq & Afghanistan are a prime example of this, with both countries complaining about the high civilian casualties from air strikes. I obviously feel that many of those missions should have been done by the Army and Marines, even if there was a higher chance of casualties. If we want the people to support us being there, then we should take every opportunity not to kill them and their children. The Army and Marines have to deal with the local population every day, and to have the Air Force or Navy drop a bomb on a bunch of civilians -- reversing a lot of the gains we've made there -- has got to really piss some of them off. I know I would be pissed.

Name: Colin Payne
Hometown: Vicenza, Italy

Last time I checked, the power to declare war was vested in the Congress of the United States. So far, I don't recall that Congress has declared war on anyone. Therefore, we are, by definition, not at war.

On the other hand, there's not any difference between what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and War. I guess it's the only word that fits.

I work on a US Army base here and I see soldiers newly returned from Afghanistan with scars criss-crossing their scalp or their face and neck and probably on what is hidden under their uniform and all I want to do is cry. I haven't figured out how to thank them even if Bush and his thugs lied and deceived us and them to make this happen. That's separate from what these men and women have given.

I wonder what George Bush feels if he sees anything like what I see here. Or perhaps he feels nothing at all.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles

While I generally love the LTC's posts, I have to disagree with him when he states, "Well, let's start with the simple fact that we are at war."

I certainly haven't seen hide nor hair of it on MY television lately. Ergo, it must not exist.

Then again, I don't have cable. Maybe they have a war there.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

Why is it major news on every network that Obama raised $9 million from donors in Hollywood, but it is not newsworthy at all that McCain only two nights earlier raised $5 million in an event in Florida?

Name: Keith
Hometown: Mississippi

Dr. A --

Another great alt-country band is Mississippi's own Blue Mountain. Twangy, rocking, and soulful. Try "Dog Days" or "Homegrown" from the mid-90's. If you don't like this, well ... you really aren't going to like any alt-country music and you might as well quit trying.

Name: Tom M
Hometown: Chicago

What's going on in my town? As long as you ask, we've got two baseball teams headed for the playoffs in October. I don't know how deep they'll go, but it'll still be at least six more games than anybody with an "N" and a "Y" on their jersey will play.

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