Potpourri

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I don't really relish being right about this election, but Barron's did a race-by-race analysis, all 468 Congressional contests, taking into account cash on hand, as well as organization assets on the ground, and comes up with small Republican majorities in both houses as the most likely result. (That makes it me, Karl, Barron's, Jon Alter, and Mickey if you're keeping score.) Using the same methodology in the 2002 and 2004 congressional races, Barron's bucked conventional wisdom and correctly predicted GOP gains both years. "Look at House races back to 1972 and you'll find the candidate with the most money has won about 93% of the time. And that's closer to 98% in more recent years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. ... Our method isn't quite as accurate in Senate races: The cash advantage has spelled victory about 89% of the time since 1996. The reason appears to be that with more money spent on Senate races, you need a multi-million-dollar advantage to really dominate in advertising, and that's hard to come by." Remember, money matters, not issues, not voters, not really much of anything, save money -- and, of course, the Republicans' natural structural advantages.

(Well, I could be wrong. I've been wrong before. Media Matters says the methodology used by Barron's in 2002, 2004, and 2006 hasn't been consistent, here.)

Italy's Top Spy Is Expected to Be Indicted in Abduction Case, here. Have you noticed that everyone -- everyone -- who places their trust in George W. Bush gets used up and thrown away? Look at the evangelicals. Look at Tony Blair. Look at the ex-PM of almost everywhere, like, say, Spain. Look at Pat Tillman. Look at all those dead people in Iraq.

After Pat's Birthday, here.

"RNC Mailing Accuses Pa. Democrat Of Helping To Start the War in Iraq," here. Laugh or cry, I dunno.

The neocons at The New York Sun are all umbraged over this letter to Abe Foxman about his apparent (though disputed) attempts to prevent Tony Judt from being heard at the Polish Embassy. They write "Many of the same left-wing intellectuals who are rushing to sign the open letter to attack the Anti-Defamation League and to defend Tony Judt's supposedly endangered freedom of speech were nowhere to be found when it came time to defend, say, the freedom of speech of Ayaan Hirsi Ali or of the editors in Denmark or in America who published the Mohammed cartoons."

In fact, this signer of that letter did explicitly defend both Ali and the editors in Denmark on this site and the Guardian's "Comment is Free." We were also not so crazy about Judt's broad-brush attack on all American liberals, among other things. But free speech is free speech, right? (Of course the organizers of the letter left my name of the print edition. Think it's because I'm Jewish?)

P.S. Oh, and ruhhly, Lilla's a "leftist"? Funny how he fooled both The American Spectator and The Public Interest, both of whom hired him as an editor.

Congratulations to The New Yorker for discovering Keith Gessen, whose excellent article on Alexander Herzen is here. Young Gessen, who was originally discovered by Brian Morton at Dissent, is to literary journalism what Young Yglesias is to political journalism, though the latter young man's name has made its last appearance on this site so long as Altercation is not on his blogroll. (And nice hed, bub.)

And the MSM shall follow:

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox of exaggerating or faking the effects of Parkinson's to help a Democratic Senate candidate who supports stem cell research. Explained the radio host: "He is an actor, you know." Yes, Rush, Fox is an actor. And guess what? Fox also has Parkinson's. And that's what happens to people when they do. Here's Crooks and Liars with the original Limbaugh broadcast, here. TNR fact-checks here.

From the Benton Foundation:

CONSUMER GROUPS TO FCC: FURTHER MEDIA CONSOLIDATION THREATENS DEMOCRACY [SOURCE: FreePress, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America]

Consumer groups emphasized the critical link between democracy and an open and independent media in detailed comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission today on a proposed loosening of media ownership rules. In more than 800 pages of comments and studies submitted by Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Free Press, the groups urged the FCC to adopt media ownership rules that encourage diverse viewpoints and ensure access to competitive, independent sources of local news and information. "Our data blows holes in past FCC arguments for loosening media ownership limits. The facts are straightforward. A vast majority of Americans still rely on locally owned television stations and newspapers as their most important source for local news and information. Cable and Internet are no substitutes," said Gene Kimmelman, vice president for federal and international policy for Consumers Union. Studies submitted as part of the detailed comments show that in markets with fewer dominant media companies, independent and local media outlets competing against each other are more likely to air diverse opinions and provide more ownership opportunities for minorities.

MEDIA ACCESS PROJECT AND DIVERSE COALITION URGE FCC TO KEEP OWNERSHIP LIMITS [SOURCE: Media Access Project]

Media Access Project and a coalition of public interest, media reform and community media advocates, today filed comments in the FCC's broadcast ownership proceeding, urging the Commission to protect localism and diversity by retaining the current broadcast ownership limits. Parul Desai, Assistant Director of Media Access Project said, "Without the current rules, a small number of media executives will be in charge of deciding what information the public has a right to receive. How can one be expected to make knowledgeable choices and decisions about issues affecting their lives without a full range of relevant Information." Members of the coalition include: Center for Creative Voices in Media, Center for Digital Democracy, CCTV Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause, Media Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America Foundation, Prometheus Radio Project, and U.S. Public Interest Research Groups.

Read the coalition's filed comments here.

COALITION ASKS FCC TO TIGHTEN OR MAINTAIN EXISTING BROADCAST OWNERSHIP LIMITS [SOURCE: Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, et al.]

The Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc., National Organization for Women, Media Alliance, Common Cause, and Benton Foundation, urge the Commission to tighten or maintain existing broadcast ownership limits so as to increase opportunities for minorities and women to own broadcast stations and to best promote the public interest goals of diversity, localism, competition, and efficient use of the spectrum. The Coalition urged the Commission to make increasing opportunities for minorities and women to own broadcast stations a central focus of its proceeding. Increasing minority and female broadcast station ownership would serve the public interest in many ways. First, it would benefit the public by increasing the diversity of programming. Second, it would help to break down racial and gender stereotypes. Third, increasing the number of minority or women-owned stations would result in better service for underserved segments of the population. Finally, it would help remedy the past discrimination against both women and minorities in which the Commission has been at least a passive participant. Tightening the existing ownership limits and eliminating "grandfathering" are among the most important steps the Commission could take to foster new entry by minorities and women. At a bare minimum, the FCC must ensure that discrimination based on race or gender does not occur in the sale of broadcast stations by adopting MMTC's Proposal for an equal opportunity transaction rule. The Commission must ensure that local television stations, newspapers, and radio stations are held by multiple, diverse owners. These media are the primary sources of news and information for the vast majority of the American public. Alternative information sources such as cable, Internet, and satellite provide little if any local news, although they may serve as additional platforms for the news gathered and produced by broadcast stations and newspapers. Additionally, a significant number of Americans do not have access to or cannot afford these alternative media sources.

CITING NBC U, HOLLYWOOD HAMMERS FCC [SOURCE: Broadcasting & Cable, AUTHOR: John Eggerton]

In comments filed at the FCC on Monday, the Center for Creative Voices in Media argued that the Federal Communications Commission's "ill-considered" ownership policies are "harming competition, diversity of viewpoints and localism." "General Electric's recent announcement that it would reduce or eliminate scripted programming on its NBC network in the 8-9 p.m. hour of primetime is particularly illustrative of the unintended harmful consequences of FCC policy changes that have had the practical effect of eliminating independently-produced programming from the public's airwaves," the group argued. "Just two years ago, NBC's 8 p.m. hour block was home to Friends, a hugely popular hit produced by strong independent producers -- one of the few shows still running from the days when FCC policies properly protected the right of independents to access the network airwaves." Now, says the group, "with GE/NBC taking advantage of FCC rule changes to eliminate independent producers and take over for itself the production of programming, NBC's own in-house studio has developed and produced few successful 8 p.m. scripted shows. ... [A]dmitting failure, NBC will forego scripted programming in the 8 p.m. hour, and replace it with game shows and so-called 'reality' programming -- some of the very programming that Newton Minow cited when he described television as a 'vast wasteland.' "

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? [SOURCE: The Nation, AUTHOR: Kristal Brent Zook]

Once again, all five FCC commissioners were invited. Once again, only two showed up. It was the Democrats alone -- commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein -- who arrived at Hunter College in New York City Thursday to listen and to agree with a crowd of 350 citizens opposed to further consolidation of the media. Emotions ran high, as some waited for nearly four hours, until 10 PM, to have their chance at a microphone.

Fake Correspondence Corner:

Dear Eric,

I ran for president in 2004 and got the nomination because people thought it'd be a good idea to nominate a war hero against a deserter who supported the war. Turns out it wasn't. I was a crappy candidate who couldn't beat the worst president of this country for the past hundred years. Thing is, I managed to save about $15 million in the deal, which I couldda spent on, you know, trying to win the election, but I figured, hey, if I lose, I got $15 million more than anybody else to start off for the next one. I want to keep it all for myself, even though my party has a chance to take the House and the Senate but is being outspent by the bad guys, and I have no chance whatever of winning the nomination, even though I don't seem to understand that.

Here's my question: Do you think this is a good idea?

Sincerely,

Meglomania in Massachusetts

Eric replies:

Dear Meglo: Raise your hand if you think it's good 2008 strategy for Kerry's spokesperson to call members of the netroots "cowards," here, too.

Wall Street Journal Correspondence Corner:

Letters to The Wall Street Journal, here:

Counting War Dead Is Difficult -- Therefore, Let's Not Exaggerate

Stephen E. Moore's Oct. 18 editorial-page commentary "655,000 War Dead?" calls into question the estimate by Johns Hopkins scientists that there have been more than 600,000 "excess" deaths since the U.S. invasion of Iraq relative to what would have been expected from levels of mortality in the 15-month period before the invasion.

We agree with Mr. Moore that a cluster survey is the preferred approach to quantifying post-invasion violent deaths in contrast to counts of deaths from newspaper articles and morgues or not counting at all. Cluster surveys have two components, the number of people included in the survey and the number of points from which these persons were sampled. Mr. Moore's objection is with the number of clusters in the survey, not with the methodology of the survey or the number of people included. Because there were only 47 clusters, he claims one would have "crazy results." Survey experts know that estimates of mortality with 47 or 470 or 4,700 clusters are all unbiased. That is, unlike news reports, surveys accurately estimate death rates. What is different between these examples is the degree of precision in their estimates; the more clusters, the more precise is the estimate if sample size also increases.

What is remarkable about survey methodology is that in addition to a best estimate, it also produces a range of plausible values, that is, an interval that reflects the margin of error in the estimate. Based upon our 47 clusters, the Hopkins team reported a best estimate of 655,000 but we also gave a range of plausible values from 393,000 to 943,000. Had the study used 470 clusters, this range would have been about three times narrower.

While there were 47 clusters in the survey, there were also 12,800 people surveyed, a fact that Mr. Moore omits from his piece. Surveyor researchers use the "effective sample size" defined to be the number of independent people who would give a similar degree of precision as their survey to indicate the "size" of the study. In the Hopkins study, the effective sample size is roughly 3,700 independent people, nearly three times larger than the typical political survey that reports +/-3% that Mr. Moore offers as the gold standard.

We agree that more clusters increase the precision of the result. However, more clusters also mean more risk to the survey team. Our final decision on the number of clusters represented a balance between obtaining a meaningful sample and having survey team members return alive.

We agree with Mr. Moore on the importance of estimating the number of civilian deaths in the conflict, and hope he will join us in our recommendations for an independent body with adequate resources to monitor deaths among civilians in conflict using scientific methods as was done in our survey.

Gilbert Burnham
Shannon Doocy
Les Roberts

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health
Baltimore

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bob Davidson
Hometown: Norfolk, Virginia

Here's another one the so-called liberal MSM failed to inform the public about. The current issue of CFO magazine notes that, over the period August 22-August 31, 2006, the federal government stopped all Medicare reimbursement payments to providers. The amount added up to about $6 billion. While the payments were then made in September, the federal government uses cash basis accounting (bogus as that is to begin with), so withholding the payments at the end of the fiscal year "reduced" the deficit by that $6 billion. And who do we have to thank for this sleight of hand? Why, the Republicans in Congress of course, who wrote this provision into the Deficit Reduction Act of 2006. This is exactly the sort of chicanery that got WorldCom into trouble. Of course, now that they've started this fraud, they will have to perpetuate it every year or else it will catch up with them and make the next year's deficit worse. As a CFO of a company myself, this makes me sick. I can't believe the Democratic candidates running against incumbent Republicans haven't made an issue of this -- it has certainly cost Thelma Drake my vote here in Virginia.

Name: Martin
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Hi Eric,

I do not know who is responsible for writing the Bushcronium joke. However, it appears to me to be a take-off/re-write on an earlier piece about an element called "Governmentium."

Google it to see many variations.

There are dates for "Governmentium" jokes from the last several years. But "Bushcronium" appears to have originated sometime around December 2005.

Name: Barbara C
Hometown: Boca Raton, FL

Dear Eric,

I agree on the "now's the time" part with Mr. Obama.

I saw Senator Hillary Clinton on C-SPAN in a debate with her opponent over the weekend.

I caught Senator Obama's interview on MSNBC with Keith on Friday Night.

I know this is way too early to say this, but when it comes to beating her ....

NO CONTEST if Obama is in the race.

Remember months ago, I told you about the '"C" Factor. Well -- Obama is dripping with it.

The Presidential race will never again be won on who is more intelligent -- as you can see from the 2004 fiasco. It is going to be won on who has more charisma.

Name: Randi Gifford
Hometown: Camanche, Iowa

Dr. Alterman:

Be careful about falling all over yourself in praise of Barack Obama. Talk to some of us who live in his neck of the woods. Ask what he's done since he took office. Ask what his positions are. Five will get you ten the answer to either question will be "I don't know."

Barack Obama may be the best thing to hit the Democratic Party since FDR. But it's going to take longer than two years for him to establish the kind of track record that will make him electable.

Gore in '08!

Name: John O'Leary
Hometown: Edwardsville, IL

Eric --

OK, that's entirely too much for one day, but we'll start at the beginning and slog our way through.

First, Anna Quindlen is one of my favorites (given the opportunity, I'd pen a "gushy profile" of her on just about any topic), so it pains me to see her ... confusion on this Hillary/Obama topic. Normally she can crystallize just about any topic so well I can actually feel it. But let's give her a break on this one. I think she'll come around.

And although you claim supremacy for your city, I'll pit my two senators against yours any day.

Onto Paul Simon. I loved the idea of his language as rhythm section. It's one of those little things that just connect -- like many of the things I've found in Quindlen's work. I saw him with Garfunkel a couple years back and he actually told some wonderful stories (cynical, yes, but they really added to the songs) and showed some personality. National treasure, indeed.

And I haven't heard "Father and Daughter," but in light of the seven-year-old sleeping upstairs, I'll be headed to iTunes just as soon as I'm done typing.

Lastly, Edwardsville is a suburb of St. Louis, and since I've already challenged you politically ... Watching Beltran freeze before that nasty hook from the rookie Wainwright was almost too beautiful an ending to a remarkable baseball game. Along with a substantially larger payroll, you folks picked up some bad karma from Cardinals fans who watched Carlos beat us up with the bat and glove in a couple NLCS battles.

So how is it that the better team is resting and relaxing, while I'm headed to the new Busch Stadium tomorrow night in bleacher seats to hone my own sense of elitism?

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