I don't care what you say anymore, this is my life ...


Bob Schieffer comments here about his strategy for tonight's debate. He says he will allow the two candidates to break away from the rules if they both choose to engage each other outside of the strict debate format: "I would say 'Gentlemen, have at it.' I would lean back in my chair, and I would probably enjoy it more than anyone else." Schieffer also says he won't be afraid to say, "Gentlemen, that was not the question."

Sounds good. But here's Richard Cohen with a column proposing his own questions for Schieffer. Among the ones Cohen imagines for Obama ("did you ever tell Bill Ayers to his face that what he did was wrong?" and "isn't it reckless of you to think that, at your young age, with your limited experience, you can manage it all?") there's this old Cohen favorite:

Senator Obama, in 2007, your former church and its then-minister honored the Reverend Louis Farrakhan, an anti-Semite. Why didn't you say something in protest? Have you ever heard the Latin dictum "Qui tacet consentire videtur," silence is consent?

With the financial markets on the precipice, two wars, etc., this is a pressing question for Senator Obama according to Richard Cohen, and it's a ridiculous one. We went through this in January, when Cohen devoted an entire column to Obama's Farrahkan test, where he generously says it's "important to state right off that nothing in Obama's record suggests he harbors anti-Semitic views or agrees with Wright when it comes to Farrakhan," but then goes on to somehow argue that because of these two degrees of separation, Obama is saddled with, and responsible for, Farrakhan. (Doesn't hurt they're both black, I guess...) This was a popular line of attack way back in the beginning of this year, when Farrakhan's unsolicited endorsement of Obama got 478 newspaper and wire mentions, according to FAIR. (It's worth mentioning that over the same time period, McCain's openly solicited and accepted endorsement by John Hagee, who has called Roman Catholicism a "false cult system," an "apostate church" and a "Great Whore," got only 123 mentions.)

So what prompted Cohen to rewind to the spring and talk Farrakhan? We don't profess to know and we are certainly sympathetic to the desire of a columnist to recycle his old columns, however ill-considered and foolish, but we also can't help notice the new movement among bigfeet reporters to turn this election around if possible. The Washington Post's Dan Balz argued that "questions ought to be going toward [Obama] as much or more than McCain," because "[i]t would be helpful to voters to know now, rather than after the election," where Obama's priorities stand. This circular logic -- that we should give Obama the scrutiny of a president, so that people have a clear option of choosing someone else -- is both nonsensical and ignores the brutal scrutiny Obama has gotten over everything from Reverend Wright and Farrakhan back in the spring, to the "celebrity" charges of the summer, to the intensely parsed Clinton relationship during the conventions, and so on. His policy positions have been parsed and argued over countless debates and analysis pieces. What are the pressing, unasked questions, exactly? Balz names some, and Jonathan Chait explains why they've been largely asked and answered, here. And we see what Cohen's questions are.

Mark Halperin agrees with this new strategy, too. During a panel discussion Monday, he was asked if the media had been too soft on Obama. John Fund at The Wall Street Journal tells us that "to the surprise of the largely liberal audience, his answer was yes." A surprise only if you haven't been paying any attention to Mark Halperin of late, who has been acting in many instances as an all-but unpaid PR consultant for Karl Rove and going on talk radio the world over to promise to try to make the media less "liberal." Still, it is also consistent with the disease we diagnosed yesterday -- Howard Fineman admitted that, in the home stretch of the 2000 campaign, "I don't think the media was going to allow just by its nature the next seven weeks and the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency."

So they've all got more questions -- here we go again.

Eric Boehlert writes: "When reading a David Brooks campaign column, Times subscribers need to ask themselves whether the dispatch reflects the writer's true opinion, or whether he's pulling his punches, the way he did regarding Palin, in order to help the RNC. And when reading a Bill Kristol campaign column, readers need to ask if he's acting as an opinion columnist or working more in a role as a quasi-campaign consultant for McCain. Because right now, it's hard to tell with the both of them."

Read more here.

Scott Horton raises an interesting question: Did PBS spike an exposé on torture, called "Torturing Democracy," out of political fear?

According to producer Sherry Jones, PBS told her that "no time slot could be found for the documentary before January 21, 2009" -- the day after Bush leaves office.

I've written before about the network's decision to give the extremist editorial board of the Wall Street Journal its own show, and we worried back in February that the Bush administration's proposed 50 percent budget cut might scare the network into another capitulation. The extremely odd timing here suggests it has.

(Please note that, while PBS won't run the documentary, many individual affiliates agreed to -- and for our New York readers, "Torturing Democracy" runs on Thursday, October 16, at 9:00 pm on WNET. It can also be viewed online at torturingdemocracy.org, and other broadcast times and locations are there as well).

George Zornick writes: Glenn Greenwald has taken on The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein again. Pearlstein was sharpening his pen for a stock market rise, so he could predictably gloat that the bailout was a good idea all along and that "[U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson has moved faster, more aggressively and more deftly than any of his international counterparts."

Of course, as Greenwald points out, that's exactly wrong -- the European actions, led by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, caused the market spike. "The Europeans not only provided a blueprint, but forced our hand," said one Harvard professor and McCain adviser.

This is a basic and fundamental misunderstanding of the situation, as Pearlstein must certainly now realize, if he didn't before. So, naturally, we wonder if he's sticking by this: "Thank God there is a mainstream media out there that actually does reporting and has people who understand thing [sic], because if the flow of information and news to the American people were left solely to bloggers, we'd be in a big mess."

Um, as opposed to what?

At the end of a recent Think Again column, we noted the story of Hans van Spakovsky. Recently, six career professionals in the Justice Department sent a protest letter insisting that he had attempted to transform the Department of Justice's voting rights section from its "historic mission to enforce the nation's civil rights laws without regard to politics, to pursuing an agenda which placed the highest priority on the partisan political goals of the political appointees who supervised the Section."

Naturally, the Bush administration gave him a promotion, to the U.S. Justice Department Commission on Civil Rights, which will help oversee the election.

But the right-wing affirmative action didn't stop there -- he's now appearing on Fox News, bashing ACORN for perceived offenses on voting rights. Lovely.

Roger Simon bashes the McCain campaign here, but he just can't resist this:

Maybe that is what McCain would like his campaign to be all about. But others are telling him to forget that "fundamental issues" stuff.

The polls stink, they are telling him. The voter registration numbers stink. And Obama may have the most effective ground organization in Democratic history.

So how can McCain close the gap? There is a playbook that tells him how. It is a playbook that the Republicans have used for a number of cycles now: Promise low taxes, promise to better defend the country against its enemies, and then attack, attack, attack.

Willie Horton. Sighs and lies. Swift boat. Attack. Just do it.

But McCain is hesitating. "If you want a fight, we will fight," McCain told that crowd in Minnesota. "But we will be respectful."

Old habits die hard.

Alter-reviews: New box sets from Johnny Cash, Nina Simone, and (just in time for the World Series) a big box of Philly soul.

Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia

This is a priceless collection that defines a key moment in the evolution of a precious American art form: soul music. Philly is not Memphis and it's not Detroit. It doesn't get the ink in either the history books nor popular mythology that is showered on Motown and Stax, or even Muscle Shoals. But it's a great synthesis of sound and style with hooks from people like Jerry Butler, Billy Paul, the OJs, the Spinners, the Stylistics, Harold Melvin. One could go on and on, but I think you'd be better off checking it out for yourself. It's got a nice booklet with nice photos and decent discography but nothing too fancy. There are four CDs with 71 tracks in this box set. It's out on Legacy, and more information is here.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition

There's been an avalanche of posthumous releases from the Cash estate. (Although, not to be too nitpicky, I'm still waiting for a DVD of the Johnny/Willie "Storytellers" show I saw way back when.) Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison is one of those historical moments in American culture that helps explain us to ourselves. This new package comes not only with both shows -- each of which demonstrate Johnny's easy camaraderie with his audience -- but also a historical-minded DVD featuring interviews with Merle, Rosanne, Marty Stuart and even a few inmates who were at the show. Can there be too much Johnny Cash? The answer is we still don't know, but I imagine all fans will want to get their hands on this. It's a two-disc (51 tracks), one DVD box set, and more information is here.

To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story

Nina Simone was one tough lady. When I saw her live at the Beacon in her last year or two, she was really mad at us. I never found out why. This Legacy box set covers 36 years of recordings on three CDs and includes 24 live tracks and eight previously unreleased tracks. Plus they throw in a DVD documentary with another 9 live performances -- a veritable cornucopia that for some people will serve as everything they need from this difficult but rewarding artist, and for some will serve as merely an introduction. The music is eye-opening and by and large wonderful. And the packing is handsome, but I have a thing about box sets that don't fit comfortably on your box set shelf, and because this is package horizontally instead of vertically, it loses half a star; excellent liner notes though, make that a quarter star. Thanks to Legacy for finally giving this fine artist what she deserves. More information is here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

Maybe a close second behind stories about how much money candidates have raised, the media has been obsessed this election cycle with polls. Yet with the electoral college being what matters in a presidential election, why don't the networks if they are going to be obsessed with polls, spend more time with the state by state numbers?

Taking a close look at the state polls for the upcoming election one thing is absolutely clear -- Senator Obama has a commanding lead in more than enough states to get him to the needed 270 electoral votes. So, why is this being unreported or not reported by the MSM?

Is it to help their friend Senator McCain? Or is it just to help themselves?

The MSM, especially those on TV, have become obsessed with promoting themselves, each one cleverly calling themselves some form of the best election coverage on TV. The razor thin elections of 2000 and 2004 had to be great for the networks, it made for great TV. I am sure they want the same thing again. The longer they perpetuate the story that this election is going to be just like 2000 and 2004 (coming up next on fill in the blank news show, which state will be this year's Ohio?), they know interest in what they are showing will remain high. But start telling the truth, and really examining the state polls that show Obama likely to hold on to all of the states Kerry won, plus be leading in more than enough others to get to 270, all the drama is removed. They would become irrelevant. They can't have that. So, they keep on under-reporting what it is the State polls, the ones that really matter, are showing.

Name: David Fuller
Hometown: Peotone, IL

Dr. A. and George,

The Tom Engelhardt post at TomDispatch.com got me thinking again about something I've heard relatively little about in the whirlwind of economic news we've seen over the last, oh, 4 to 5 weeks or so: derivatives and credit default swaps.

Now, let me start by saying upfront: I'm not an economic genius by any stretch of the imagination. For that matter, I have a basic understanding of supply and demand, and not much more. That said, I've read enough about derivatives and their offspring, credit default swaps to know that a good part of the engine driving economies the world over has to do with these complex, and exceedingly opaque, financial instruments (that are entirely unregulated, as I understand it). They've been implicated in just about every major bank failure or stunning stock collapse, as well as contributing to two AIG "loans" (or bailouts, whichever you prefer).

What I've not heard from anyone in the media is what will happen when many of the over-leveraged companies and hedge funds finally DO understand how much risk they have on their books (which could take some time), and will then have to liquidate even more investments to pay their institutional / other investors the cash they demand. Considering that just about everything from credit card debt to mortgages to car loans have all been sliced and diced into these investment vehicles, I'm at a loss to understand (yet) what the real exposure everyone has is, and when it is determined, what happens to financial markets and major economies.

I concede, it's entirely possible that know one has any clue whatsoever. But I've also not seen anyone even speculate as to the magnitude to which it could reach, especially since these are supposedly the problematic financial instruments at play. I think THAT thought is what worries / concerns / frightens / depresses me more than anything, because given that it is a 60-some-odd TRILLION dollar market, it seems the repercussions could be utterly devastating.

Maybe it's best not to talk about it? Like "Fight Club," maybe the rule is, "The first rule of derivatives / credit default swaps is you don't talk about derivatives /credit default swaps..." Of course, if we don't understand the extent of the problem, it will be difficult to fix it through more effective regulation.

Anyone care to take a shot in the dark on this one? Or perhaps, as Tom said, "Why look?"

Name: Pat O'Neill
Hometown: Folsom PA

While the three you and Buhle mention are important, I think it leaves out a number of other equally important Jewish contributors to comics:

  • Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman
  • Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg), co-creator of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and many others
  • Stan Lee (Stanley Lieber), co-creator of virtually all of the "Marvel Universe"

On the business side, many of the original comic-book publishers were Jewish:

  • Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, DC Comics
  • Martin Goodman, Marvel Comics

Name: Scott Goldman
Hometown: Norman, OK

Hey Doc,

Looks like George nailed it.

Keep up the good work!

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