Did you ever see the faces of the children? They get so excited ...


We've got a new "Think Again" column, the final one of our study of the legacy of the Bush administration's War on the Press, here. It's called "Bush's War on the Press, IV. War on War (and more)." Links to the other articles in the series are at the end of the new one. Also, my new Nation column, "Center Right? Not Quite," can be found here.

The Art of Insinuation Without Evidence 101: "The President-elect's political universe overlaps uncomfortably with the Illinois governor's seamy world of swagger, cussing and kickbacks," Time's Michael Scherer writes. "The criminal complaint, meanwhile, is riddled with mysterious references to unidentified political aides, fundraisers, potential Senate candidates and even a union official who could bring legal scrutiny uncomfortably close to the new Administration."

His seamy world of ... "cussing"?

Goodness gracious me, a politican who cusses, from Chicago, no less. No wonder poor Mr. Scherer's tender sensibilities are shocked.

It gets worse. At Swampland, Scherer presents a list of several times in the past where politicians have refused to comment "because of an ongoing investigation." He lists Scott McClellan during the Valerie Plame episode, similar Jack Abramoff-related declarations, Ted Stevens, and even back to Gary Condit.

You can see where this is going. Scherer writes: "Why is Barack Obama declining to comment because of an 'ongoing investigation'? At his press conference yesterday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said that everyone who knows anything should come forward. He gave no hints of a need for secrecy."

Of course, in the transcript Scherer links to, Obama does answer (in the negative) a question about whether he ever spoke to Blagojevich. Then a reporter asks if Obama is aware of contact between Blagojevich's office and any of Obama's top aides. At that point, Obama notes the investigation is ongoing, and says "I think it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know." You can see that Obama is simply refusing to respond to speculation, and is forthright when it comes to his own role. And Jack Abramoff he ain't. Scherer concludes by saying, "Obama may be bringing change to Washington, but the game still remains the same." Yes, Scherer will see to that.

Media Matters has a long list of outlets playing the guilt-by-association game, from the Associated Press to (surprise!) Sean Hannity to Politico.

Meanwhile, to be shamed in sensibility by David Broder, man, that's gotta hurt:

The criminal complaint against Blagojevich, the nominal head of Obama's home-state party, is a mild embarrassment for the president-elect. But it really does not reflect on Obama, who has kept Blagojevich at arm's length for a long time.

Well, stopped clock and all that ...

George Zornick writes: Recently, we noted that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin actually approved a plan that would open white spaces for public use, potentially providing nationwide, low-cost Internet. That was good. But Martin also stipulated the service must also be censored, via a government filter that would block all pornography (and perhaps whatever else can be deemed "obscene," which as we know, is a heck of a lot when it comes to some conservatives). That was bad.

Sadly, when looking at the entirety of Martin's career as FCC chief, there is no such split decision. It's pretty much all bad. We wrote a Think Again back in March detailing the terrible policies pursued by the FCC under Martin and his predecessor, Michael "Son of Colin" Powell. Relaxed ownership rules, failure to investigate the involvement of telecommunications companies in warrantless wiretapping, and protecting and enhancing the interests of large media conglomerates were the hallmarks of the FCC under Martin and Powell.

Now, a bipartisan House investigation has released a scathing report about Martin's tenure -- not only were the policies he pursued wrongheaded, we believe, but the way in which he pushed them through, even more so. Surprisingly, yet another Bush appointee has made a mockery of good government. The report says Martin manipulated data and suppressed information to influence telecommunications policy debates at the agency and on Capitol Hill. Martin's legacy at the FCC will be "a blueprint of what not to do," said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), one of the congressional investigators.

Among the findings in this 110-page report:

  • Martin manipulated the findings of an FCC inquiry into the potential consumer benefits of requiring cable companies to sell channels on an individual -- or "a la carte" -- basis. The House investigation concludes that Martin undermined the integrity of the FCC staff and may have improperly influenced the congressional debate on the matter by ordering agency employees to rewrite a report concluding that a la carte mandates would not benefit consumers.
  • Martin tried to manipulate the findings of an annual FCC report on the state of competition in the market for cable and other video services to show that the industry had a big enough market share to permit additional government regulation. When the full commission voted to reject that conclusion, Martin suppressed the report by withholding its release.
  • Under Martin's leadership, the FCC's oversight of the Telecommunications Relay Service Fund, which pays for special telecommunications services for people with hearing or speech disabilities, was overly lax. This resulted in overcompensation of the companies that provide these services by as much as $100 million a year -- costs that were ultimately passed along to phone company customers.

Martin's offenses were basically foretold -- he was pegged as a friend of industry and enemy of the public interest as soon as Bush nominated him.

Barack Obama has a chance to not only correct Martin and Powell's mistakes, but transform the FCC into a far more effective agent of the public interest. Here, Free Press is running a discussion about what the ideal FCC chair might look like. Head over and have a say.

Way to go, my buddy Carroll:

Here's Lynn Sherr in The Daily Beast on "The Laura Bush Backlash":

Beforehand, a few Council [of Foreign Relations] members told me they were enraged by the timing of Mrs. Bush's speech, on this date celebrating the bible of the international human rights movement, which was created under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt.

"Look, there was once a first lady who helped to draft a universal declaration of human rights," said Carroll Bogert, associate director of Human Rights Watch and a member of the Council. "And maybe the calculation was, why don't we invite another one to talk about it? But you know, Laura Bush ain't no Eleanor Roosevelt. What was the Council on Foreign Relations thinking?"

Bogert sent a letter of protest to Council president Richard Haass, but did not get a response from him. She did not attend the speech because she had another date -- at the United Nations, which has just awarded Human Rights Watch its prestigious human rights prize. But she would have boycotted it.

Today's Think Again is devoted to the final installment in our series on George W. Bush's contempt for the press. But we'd be remiss not to mention Richard Nixon's pioneering work in this field.

Here, from the newly released Nixon tapes, you can hear Nixon repeating, "The press is the enemy... write that on the blackboard 100 times." Also, this, on his press strategy: "Return the calls to those poor dumb bastards ... who I know are our friends. Now do it ... We made the same mistake [Dwight] Eisenhower made, but not as bad as Eisenhower made, because he sucked the [New York ] Times too much ... G-d damn it, don't talk to them for a while. Will you enforce that now?"

From Media Matters, the most outrageous statements of 2008. My vote for the number one: Michael Savage. Responding to a caller who said, "I had to explain to my young son why these two men were holding hands the other day," Savage stated, "You've got to explain to the children ... why God told people this was wrong. ... You have to explain this to them in this time of mental rape that's going on. The children's minds are being raped by the homosexual mafia, that's my position. They're raping our children's minds."

Oh, that Bush library is going to be hilarious.

Quote of the Day: "Welcome to the American Dream: a billionaire using public funds to build a playground for the rich and powerful." -- Montgomery Burns, last week.

For more on this story, read this:

The $1.3 billion stadium is designed to generate more revenue than the old one did, even as the recession worsens. But here's a sometimes-forgotten wrinkle that helps the Yankees rationalize contracts like Sabathia's $161 million over seven years:

Major League Baseball gives teams a tax shelter that justifies going into debt to build a stadium. Stadium costs, like bond payments and maintenance, can be deducted from the team's net local revenue that are used to calculate revenue-sharing.

By slashing the revenues that are taxed at a 31 percent rate, the Yankees will be able to shelter a chunk of the money that would have been shared. They paid about $100 million into baseball's revenue-sharing pool in 2007, but could have received a multimillion-dollar credit if they had had their deductions for the new stadium.

And this:

New York City and the Yankees may have violated federal tax regulations and state laws in using $943 million in tax-exempt bonds to build the baseball team's new stadium, according to a report issued on Tuesday by Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky.

Alternative Quote of the Day:

"Omar, please address the bullpen."

This week on Moyers:

This week on the Journal, Bill Moyers sits down with political commentator and Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald, who asks: Are we a nation ruled by men or by laws? A former constitutional and civil rights lawyer, Greenwald looks at the legacy of the Bush administration, the prospects for President-elect Obama's Cabinet choices, as well as the possibilities for government accountability. Greenwald is the author of two New York Times best-sellers, How Would a Patriot Act? and A Tragic Legacy, and most recently, Great American Hypocrites. And, Georgetown University's legal and finance scholar Emma Coleman Jordan takes Bill Moyers through recent news on the bailouts as big business begs for more.

Alter-reviews: McCoy Tyner at the Blue Note

I'd wish McCoy Tyner a happy 70th birthday today, but I think it would be pointless, if you can't be happy playing your own classic compositions before a loving, attentive and appreciative crowd at the Blue Note backed by an incredible band featuring the great innovative bassist Gerald Cannon, Eric Kamau Gravat on drums, Gary Bartz on sax, and the incredible Savion Glover, well, on tap, then all of our lives have got to be pretty pointless. Tyner is the last living member of the classic John Coltrane quartet. He joined when he was just 17 and remained for a full decade when Trane passed. Now, 43 years later, he still tickles the proverbial Steinway ivories with complete command and impressive dexterity, and the band cooks like nobody's business. Sure, he's history, but he's still pretty great too. Every night a different guest is playing. I saw Joe Lovano last night, whose beautiful tone is nothing like Coltrane but was perfect for the arrangements of the expansive Tyner originals chosen for last night. ("McCoy Tyner doesn't write originals, he writes standards," Bartz announced. Would it kill you guys to announce song titles, when they were recorded, and by whom?) You missed him already, and Marc Ribot too. But if you make time with sufficient efficiency, you can catch Ravi Coltrane, Bill Frisell, or John Scofield. The cover is $45 at the tables and $30 at the bar. You can watch some soundcheck video footage here with Glover and Ribot.

Anyway, McCoy is in the midst of a run of shows at the Blue Note to mark his 70th birthday and to promote his new record, Guitar. Two sets and a different special guest each night. The guests include Ribot, Joe Lavano, Ravi Coltrane, and Bill Frisell. I saw Lavano at the early show Wednesday night -- photos here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

You're right on target in your assessment of the manufactured media suspicions about links between Obama and Blagoevich. One need look no farther than the complaint filed by the estimable Patrick Fitzgerald (who has done more for Illinois politics in the last year or so than anyone in recent memory). Throughout the complaint are numerous quotations from the alleged felonious governor (G-Rod is what they call him in the tabloids here) about his personal desire to profit from his role and his resentment that the Obama camp expected him to name a replacement Senator for nothing but "appreciation." He goes on to refer to Obama as a "m*****f***er" for not participating in the kind graft that G-Rod thinks is his due.

The only link between these men is a constitutional one--G-Rod is authorized to name Obama's senate successor; there's nothing nefarious, unethical, or illegal between them. All of those adjectives remain on the Blagoevich side of the ledger.

In addition to seconding your praise of Rich Miller of the Sun-Times, let's recognize the merits of Patrick Fitzgerald. It seems not coincidental that Obama wants him to remain as US attorney for Illinois.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

In keeping with the fine standards upheld by The Not (misspelling intended), the editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the guy who is supposed to make sure the news product is fair and thorough, begins his blog, "And you thought Nevada politics were cutthroat. The latest out of Obamaland ...."

Obamaland? He could get a job with The Not or working for the McCain staff -- uh, the Associated Press.

Name: Neil
Hometown: Dewey Beach, DE


First, loved the most recent book. It's been helpful in fighting the good fight!

So, the Bush administration decided to give an 11th hour gift to the N.R.A. by overturning the infallible Reagan, and allow concealed weapons to be carried in our National Parks. Now, when we take our families into the beautiful wilderness for a weekend of camping and hiking, we can sleep a little easier knowing that the fellow in the next camp site may well be armed.

This ignores the fact that the previous rules pertaining to concealed weapons in our parks have worked wonderfully, that Seven former National Park Service directors went on record opposing the change, saying that the previous laws "are essential to park rangers in carrying out their duties of protecting park resources and wildlife, and in assuring the safety of visitors to the parks."

Once again, the safety and well being of the American people take a back seat to Mr. Bush's personal debts to conservative advocacy groups. As pleased as I am that we as a country have elected Mr. Obama, I fear the gentleman from Illinois will need more than two terms to undo the damage this man has done to our country.

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

Watching what is week in and week out the smartest TV show I'm familiar with, it was a great pleasure to listen to Russ Feingold. Far from being a dangerously unhinged leftist radical as portrayed in talk radio and parroted by the MSM, he showed a grasp of the challenges facing the nation and the new administration that few people are smart enough or honest enough (or both) to express. It isn't going to be easy and it won't all go smoothly, but we have to get out of Iraq. There are a lot of centrists on team Obama, but a range of participants is needed for good decision making. The automakers largely made their own bed but it would be irresponsible to flush 3 million jobs down the drain just to make them suffer. Campaign finance isn't perfect, but it's better than it was before. I wish real politicians would start referring to themselves as Liberals instead of Progressives, centrists, or just dodging the issue entirely, if Feingold, Obama, and some of the others currently gaining prominence give me great hope for the future. Who knows, maybe we can rest the myth that Conservatives know what's best for the economy.

Name: Ron Curtiss
Hometown: Studio City, CA

Wow. From one Jew to another (and longtime reader), I was shocked at your "minimalist" attitude towards Bible characters Isaac and Ishmael. While I wholeheartedly agree, I wonder about your opinion on other Bible characters, including Moses and Jesus, as their existence is questioned more and more. In your opinion, is anything Biblical authentic, or just fables told to bolster the populace?

Eric replies: Well, I'm actually looking into that question now, and I'm not yet ready to say that any of the major incidents has much in the way the way of historical evidence to support it. I think Jesus probably lived around when it was said he did. Moses -- indeed the entire Exodus -- I doubt. But I know that the early parts are insupportable. I'm a big fan of the book I'm reading on this topic, James Kugel's How to Read the Bible.

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