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We've got a new "Think Again" column called "The Crisis from Nowhere," here.

Will we have a debate tomorrow night? Should we? Well the last question is easy but a better one is what kind of debate should we have at all. I remain haunted by the horrific horror shows last spring -- and I can't be optimistic about the future either. Unlike past presidential debates, tomorrow will be more free-flowing, allowing candidates to speak for as long as nine minutes. With this kind of extended speaking allowed, what prevents the debate from becoming basically a battle of stump speeches? Debates are supposed to give us a chance to break away from the sound bites and canned platitudes, and so who is going to question the candidates on the veracity of what they are saying, and press for more details?

Not debate moderator Jim Lehrer, according to ... debate moderator Jim Lehrer. From the Huffington Post, which interviewed Lehrer:

[Lehrer] framed his role as one of political tour guide rather than referee. For instance, when asked whether it was the moderator's responsibility to call a candidate on a blatant lie, Lehrer said no.

"It is the responsibility of the other candidates," he said. "It is not an interview. This is not a journalism exercise, this is a debate exercise."

If it's not a journalistic exercise, I'm not sure what Lehrer plans to do. He says that "[i]t is the responsibility of the other candidates" to cross-examine each other and call out lies. I'm sure they will, but this format is simply an extension of "On-the-One-Handism" mentality of too many political journalists. There are going to be extremely complex issues at hand tomorrow night, and the public would be well served to have someone neutral to navigate through the speechifying and outline objective facts. I thought that was the idea of having journalists moderate debates. But apparently we're in for a lot of Obama-said/McCain-said stuff, which doesn't seem wildly useful.

It is true, though, that were Lehrer himself to get involved, the results may not be much better. Our colleagues at the County Fair blog remind us of Lehrer's dreadful performance in the 2000 Bush-Gore debates, of which he moderated all three:

The short version is that Lehrer helped Bush falsely blur the differences between Bush and Gore on the Patients Bill of Rights by falsely suggesting the two candidates agreed on the issue. Then, when Gore asked Bush a straightforward question about whether Bush actually supported the same piece of legislation he supported, Lehrer told Bush: "Governor Bush, you may answer that if you'd like." So, in his role as moderator, Lehrer gave viewers the false impression that the candidates agreed (exactly the impression Bush wanted viewers to have) then, rather than pressing Bush to clarify his position, he made it optional. Naturally, Bush declined.

One difference between 2000 and 2008 is that there can be much more citizen input into how the debates are handled. Free Press is offering a Citizens Media Scorecard, so viewers can respond in real-time to the performance of the debate moderators. I'd have it in hand Friday. Pushback matters - note that ABC isn't hosting any debates this round...

Remember the VP debate four years ago when Andrea Mitchell attacked John Edwards for an allegedly demagogic attack on Alan Greenspan without mention that she was, um, married to the guy? That didn't "have the appearance of a conflict of interest." It was one, pure and simple. And it continues today, which you can read about here.

George Zornick writes: The increased use of Tasers by police is fertile ground for enterprising reporters, especially at the local level. Tasers aren't strictly lethal, but can be -- the latest example coming yesterday here in New York City. A naked and mentally distraught man on a building ledge in Brooklyn was threatening police with... a fluorescent lightbulb. The police tasered him, and he predictably fell off the ledge, under which there was no mattress, net, or any kind of soft landing. The man died. The Talk Left blog follows these kind of events around the country of late, should you be interested.

Quote of the Day: A U.S. Treasury spokeswoman on the $700 billion needed to bail out the financial industry: "It's not based on any particular data point. ... We just wanted to choose a really large number."

Quote of the Day 2: "It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where -- where do they go? It's Alaska." -- Sarah Palin.

Our recent Think Again column, "Nowhere-istan," noted that decreased media coverage of the continuing war in Afghanistan was peculiar given more U.S. troops were dying there than in Iraq. Brandon Friedman at VoteVets has new numbers that the war in Afghanistan is now 15 times more deadly than Iraq.

Put me down for wanting to hear a presidential debate on this issue, current financial crisis notwithstanding...

John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei are now entered into the "On-the-One-Handism" sweepstakes. Their piece "John Kerry II versus George Bush III" brings out perceived equivalencies all over, with the basic point, as you can see from the headline that each Obama and McCain are retreating into the same-old roles of previous candidates. You can read the whole thing, but here's just one example of their straining:

One big reason this campaign feels so familiar is all the familiar faces in the middle of it. McCain, for instance, is guided by all kinds of veterans of the George W. Bush campaigns, people who were schooled by Bush strategist Karl Rove. There's Steve Schmidt -- the message guru for Bush in 2004 -- running it. There's Nicolle Wallace -- the public face for Bush in 2004 -- doing the same thing for McCain.

So it should comes as no surprise that McCain is grabbing into Bush's bag of tricks. There's constant barrage of attack ads. Then there's the relentless effort to portray Obama as an exotic, effete elitist who would be a weak commander in chief.

It's not like Obama has turned to a bunch of fresh faces either. David Axelrod is the strategist who deserves a ton of credit for Obama's rocket rise to the top. But his approach has not been especially novel. Axelrod -- the mastermind of John Edwards' populist uprising -- is a firm believer in using a powerful life narrative to drive a campaign.

See? John McCain brought in an almost all-Bush campaign team and used the exact same Rovian attacks. And Obama's chief strategist... well, he was a communications guy for a Democratic runner up in 2004. And, um, he uses a "life narrative" to sell his candidate.

New Republic Index: Number of words in The New Republic article by Martin Peretz promoted on its website with the headline, "The Persistent -- And Despicable -- Refusal To Believe That Julius Rosenberg Was A Communist": 1,249

Number of (living) individuals cited in said article who are quoted as disbelieving that Julius Rosenberg was a Communist: 0

Words for which neither Marty Peretz nor anyone charged with editing or fact-checking him has any understanding:

  • "fiction" -- We note that E.L. Doctorow is an author of fiction and, hence, cannot be held accountable for holding every view expressed by every one of his characters.
  • "drama" -- We note that Tony Kushner is an author of drama and, hence, cannot be held accountable for holding every view expressed by every one of his characters.
  • "guilty" -- Victor Navasky, whom the little McCarthyite Peretz actually thinks should be removed from his position at Columbia University because of his belief in the innocence and non-Communist-ness of Julius Rosenberg, has actually been on record for well over a decade saying that Julius Rosenberg was both a Communist and guilty of running a spy ring for the Soviet Union.

(Were I a nastier fellow than I am, I would add another paragraph comparing the achievements of Messrs. Navasky and Peretz, but as the new year approaches, the spirit of charity moves me to take pity on Peretz and refrain. Though in the future, when Peretz feels a need to be this simultaneously sloppy and transparently envious, he might wish to stick with his nom de plume, "James Kirchick.")

One of Israel's heroes, Ze'ev Sternhell, was attacked by thugs with a pipe bomb this week. Far-right activist Baruch Marzel denied that his organization, the National Jewish Front, was involved in the attack against the professor, but would not condemn it, here. I met with Sternhell at his (then unguarded) home in Jerusalem and quote him extensively here.

This Week on Moyers:

As financial fallout dominates the news, Bill Moyers Journal explores how the shifting national priorities that may be threatening what America stands for. Bill Moyers sits down with history and international relations expert and former U.S. Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, who identifies three major problems facing our democracy: the crises of economy, government and militarism, and calls for a redefinition of the American way of life. "We're squandering our power. We are squandering our wealth to the extent that we persist in our imperial delusions. We're also going to squander our freedom," says Bacevich. Respected across the political spectrum, Bacevich has contributed to The Nation, The American Conservative, Foreign Affairs, among others, and his latest book is The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

Alter-reviews: Joan Osborne, Randy Newman, and Jackson Browne

Joan Osborne -- Little Wild One, by Sal:

From the early, sweaty nights at Wetlands and Delta 88, to the ill-advised slot opening for Queen guitarist Brian May's solo show at the Beacon Theatre, Joan Osborne always delivered. So it was no surprise, at least not to me, when her major label debut Relish, hit the big time. "One Of Us" may have been the hit, but for me it was "Right Hand Man." What balls!! That song rocks like a hurricane.

Since then. Joan Osborne has failed to achieve numbers anywhere near "Relish" with her subsequent releases. This is NOT her fault. Label changes and as the stories go, a few rec exec faux pas', and what you have is a solid body of work that somehow failed to reach the masses. On every one of those releases, Miss Osborne delivered. The melodic pop of Righteous Love, the countrified R&B of Pretty Little Stranger, and the very groovy cover project Breakfast In Bed all shine thanks to Joan Osborne's soul-stirring voice.

She's back again, reunited with the creative team behind Relish, and Little Wild One does not disappoint. A tribute to her adopted home, NYC, each song takes you on a little tour of the greatest city in the world. The songs, especially the opening 1-2-3-punch of "Hallelujah In The City," "Sweeter Than The Rest," and "Cathedrals," are some of the most musical of Osborne's career. The people of her old Kentucky home lost a treasure, but once again, Joan Osborne and NYC score big.

Eric adds: Joan is playing at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn tonight, FYI.

Eric writes: Last weekend I saw Randy Newman and Jackson Browne, both of whom I also saw, if I'm not mistaken, in 1977, and a bunch of times in between. The shows were quite different. Newman played Carnegie Hall solo, with just his piano (and a bad cold). It was a night for a songwriter's songwriter. (Pat Metheny and Bruce Hornsby were seated next to me; Jon Landau was two rows in front. I saw Jon Levanthal there too.) Newman was clearly nervous about the hall, and he was right to be. Back in '77, when, as I recall, I took my mom to Avery Fisher, he had a good chunk of the New York Philharmonic to preview "Good Old Boys." This time, no nothing; just the genius of his songs. One thing I noticed in listening to the generous set is that, outside of his film work, Newman has stopped writing singable, or even recognizable melodies. His songs are now closer to spoken-word short stories written with a musical accompaniment. Nobody else could ever record them, and this makes his work unique. In this, and many other regards, Newman reminds me of Tom Waits -- it's not only the odd voice and the quirky writing style, but also as a literate, tough-minded and original musical thinker. Anyway, the audience loved him and in his self-effacing, cynical fashion, he loved them back. Harps and Angels, reviewed here recently, is just about as strong as anything he's ever done and it's a thrill to find one's judgment at 17 confirmed by 31 years of uncompromised striving, growth and integrity.

Jackson Browne came to the ornate United Palace church/theater with a full band. If absolutely everything Randy Newman says or sings is tinged with irony, virtually nothing about Jackson Browne is. More than three decades later, the dude is still all earnestness. His music is much more diverse and polyphonic than he is usually given credit. And his oldest songs -- "Doctor My Eyes," "Fountain of Sorrow," and "The Pretender" received by far the largest applause. But Jackson, rather apologetically, played almost half a show worth of new material, and added a lot of older, but later material from albums that most people probably didn't own. Some of all of this was near-great. Most of it was political -- which was interesting because Jackson said almost nothing political all night. He's an interesting artist -- marching to his own proverbial drummer in the face of the clichés of what sells and the condescension of most critics. It doesn't always work but it's always worth attention. He closed with Steve Van Zandt's "I Am a Patriot" -- the night's only cover -- which I think must have confused the crowd, but worked just fine for me. Sal reviews the new record, which I don't have yet, on his new weblog, Burning Wood, and I've lifted it from him. "On his first studio album in 6 years, Jackson Browne doesn't take many chances. And that's a good thing. There's nothing here that will tear your heart apart like the old days, but it's a solid record with Jackson's voice showing just the slightest bit of age. Politics and more politics as usual, "Where Were You," an almost 10-minute march against the government's failure to react to Katrina and "Far From The Arms Of Hunger" with it's church-organ and hypnotic pace are both very powerful tracks on a better than average album."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Larry Israelson
Hometown: Glendale, CA

At 3 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 24, the lead story on the CNN.com website was "Biden, Obama votes kept 'Bridge to Nowhere' alive." The link took you to a story from the "CNN Special Investigations Unit" (!) detailing that the 2008 Democratic nominees both voted against an amendment to a massive transportation bill that would have re-allocated funding from the Alaskan "bridges to nowhere" to repair hurricane damage to the bridge across Lake Pontchartrain.

Although technically accurate, the article makes it appear that Obama and Biden were instrumental in keeping the Alaskan bridge projects alive, and seems to give John McCain a pass for being one of three senators who did not vote on this particular amendment and one of six who did not vote on the main transportation bill. (Isn't McCain the one who likes to play it up anytime Obama misses a Senate vote or votes "present"?)

Anyway, according to a 10/21/05 Washington Post article, opposition (82-15) to the "re-allocation" amendment and support (93-1) for the final bill was pretty overwhelming. Also, during the debate on the amendment, none other than Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) theatrically declared his intention to resign if the bridge funding was taken away from his state.

As I see it, the proposed re-allocation to an urgent situation caused by Hurricane Katrina probably was a good idea, but CNN is remiss for not pointing out that it was resounding opposition from both sides of the aisle, and not just Obama and Biden, that prevented it.

Name: Derrick Gibson
Hometown: Miami, FL

Please counsel your friend Kurtz. His "analysis" of a new campaign ad from the Obama campaign -- an ad that points out that McCain traveled to Bermuda to tell reporters there that "he understood the concerns" of insurance firms about legislation that would crack down on US business operations in "so-called tax havens".

After this little sojourn and commentary, McCain receive $50,000 in cold hard campaign cash donations, from insurance firms.

And Howard's penultimate analysis paragraph is this:

"The commercial is accurate in saying that McCain received $50,000 in donations from people with Bermuda addresses -- for the first time -- including the president of a Bermuda insurance association fighting attempts in Congress to close the tax loophole for companies operating there. While this does not prove a quid pro quo, it is problematic for McCain, who often rails against the influence of special interests. "

"While this does not prove a quid pro quo . . ."?

Mr. Kurtz plays a far different game of Clue than I learned growing up, because what I just saw was Professor Plum, in the library, with a knife.

Name: Charles Perez
Hometown: Marion, NY

Any thoughts on why the deafening silence in our SCLM on the Keating Five Scandal? Perhaps a little public reminder of the key issues and players might help the electorate decide who might best handle the current crisis...

Just a thought.

Name: Larry Israelson
Hometown: Glendale, CA

As a long-time reader, I am aware that you consider "seems" to be a weasel word, but I am far more offended when folks like Rush and BillO' use the definitive "is" for declarations that are little more than their personal opinions.

Name: Roger Stude
Hometown: NYC

Ah, give Lou Dobbs a break. He's got to find something to talk about now that the tanking economy is robbing him of his favorite issue. Immigration is way down now.

Name: Paul Kingman
Hometown: New Bern, NC

When I tell my 17-year-old son about seeing the Clash at the Cape Cod Coliseum, where it was so humid inside it rained (no a/c in those days). How the opening act got booed and had bottles thrown at them, how people doing illicit substances were doing backflips off the stage into the crowd. Somehow, someway, I am a little bit cooler, a little bit more approachable, a little less a father and maybe (just maybe) someone he'd want to hang out with just a little more ... and then, the moment is gone. In an instant, I'm just his Dad again, getting older, fatter, balder and more stupid as every day goes by ... but what a show!

Name: Steven C. Day

Doctor Alterman,

The third Godfather movie didn't suck; it just had the misfortune of following the first two.

It's sort of like if good local rock singer found himself on stage right after the Boss and the Stones. He might well belt out a very passable tune, but he'd still seem pretty awful by comparison.

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