Slacker Friday: Ground Control to Major Miltie ...


I've got a new "Think Again" column called "So Who's 'The Decider?' " here. I did a column remembering Milton Friedman and the current right-wing betrayal of his ideas on TAP online, here.

And a short, silly comment on OJ, for Comment is Free, here.

Stop the presses! The Smart Boyz inform us: "On Sunday, you will not want to miss 'This Week with George Stephanopoulos' when George will be joined by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in an exclusive interview."

Wow. What a brilliant, creative idea in Sunday TV booking. How in the world did they ever come up with the idea of booking this independent, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-will maverick? I take back everything ...

Speaking of ABC, remember their fakumentary The Path to 9/11? Well, there's more to the story. ABC VP Judith Tukich, who brings new meaning to the term "televangelist," just received an award from the Liberty Film Festival for her role in bringing Path to your TV screen. Tukich has said, among other things, "The single greatest way to evangelize the world is through the media." Indeed, as Media Matters wrote, Tukich, in referring to ABC's broadcast of the 2000 animated film, The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus, also said: "We send our kids off to Borneo and New Guinea, but I reached more people that night than probably every church on the Pacific Coast. This is the reality of it; this is where the power lies. Clearly we touched a lot of people that night."

And speaking of made-up right-wing history, longtime Stalinist and pseudo-scholar David Horowitz, together with Richard Poe, have finally come through -- as best they can, apparently -- with their long-promised response to Media Matters' smackdown of their poorly researched and written hatchet job on George Soros, The Shadow Party. Well, they promised both a "full-blown response" and a "point-by-point refutation," but delivered ... um, not so fast. Check out Media Matters' Simon Maloy's cleaning of the floor with these jokers.

From the return to the corridors of power of Bush I -- James A. Baker III and Robert Gates -- to the forging of "non-withdrawal withdrawal plans" for American forces in Iraq, Tom Engelhardt covers the Iraq policy waterfront. You'll find discussions of the return of Baker, of the way he has been conducting his own off-shore foreign policy, of a possible purge of some of the last key neocons in the Bush administration, and of the attempted isolation of the vice president. You'll also find a clear-eyed discussion of what all the "redeployment" and "phased withdrawal" plans now floating around Washington really add up to; and, perhaps most important of all, a consideration of two key aspects of our Iraqi venture that the mainstream media essentially have not cared to cover: our permanent bases in Iraq and our use of air power in heavily populated urban areas of that country. Yet, without them, it's simply not possible to assess the various "withdrawal" plans now on, or about to be on, the table. Engelhardt concludes:

In the Vietnam era, President Richard M. Nixon went on a well-armed, years-long hunt for something he called 'peace with honor.' Today, the catchword is finding an 'exit strategy' that can 'salvage U.S. prestige.' What we want, it seems, is peace with 'dignity.' In Vietnam, there was no honor left, only horror. There is no American dignity to be found in Iraq either, only horror. In a Washington of suddenly lowered expectations, dignity is defined as hanging in there until an Iraqi government that can't even control its own Interior Ministry or the police in the capital gains 'stability,' until the Sunni insurgency becomes a mild irritation, and until the massive American embassy now under construction, that eighth wonder of the world of security and comfort, becomes an eye-catching landmark on Baghdad's skyline.

Imagine. That's all we want. That's our dignity. And for that dignity and the imagined imperial stability of the world, our top movers and shakers will proceed to monkey around for months creating and implementing plans that will only ensure further catastrophe (which, in turn, will but breed more rage, more terrorism that spreads disaster to the Middle East and actually lessens American power around the world).

Another way of putting this is "How Working the Refs Works."

Libération was just what a newspaper should be, once upon a time... (Is everything getting worse, or am I just turning into an old fart?

Today is the first anniversary of Rep. John Murtha's call for pullout of Iraq, and guess what -- 790 Americans have been killed since then, 6,000 Americans injured. Greg Mitchell, here.

"30 Rock vs. Studio Whatever on Sunset?" Both great. Why the false choice? (You Tapped guys are sooo wrong ...)

Could some math major please do the calculation of whether Andrew Sullivan has exploited Time Inc. with more self-promotional mentions of his book than Mark Halperin has managed with his endless self-promotional mentions of his book, thereby exploiting ABC/Disney? Inquiring minds want to know ... maybe Andy will name an award after the winner.

(Remember back after 9-11, when Sullivan was calling for all book self-promoters in blue states to be sent to concentration camps? He sure has changed ...)

From the Benton Foundation:


The nation's largest network of radio stations, Clear Channel Communications, agreed Thursday morning to be bought for $18.7 billion, in a deal that may test private equity's seemingly insatiable appetite for media properties. A consortium that includes Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital won the bidding, beating out a rival consortium of Providence Equity Partners, the Blackstone Group and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company. The deal would rank as one of the largest media buyouts ever, surpassing the recent takeover of Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications, which a private equity consortium bought for $12 billion earlier this year. In a press release announcing the transaction on Thursday, Clear Channel put a total value of $26.7 billion on the transaction, including $8 billion in assumed debt. The company's board has unanimously approved the proposed transaction and is recommending that shareholders vote in favor of it. Clear Channel said in a separate statement Thursday that it would sell all of its radio stations outside the top-100 markets, totaling 448 of 1,150 stations, as well as its 42-station television group. Overall, the properties generated less than 10 percent of Clear Channel's revenue last year, and all the properties are located in small to mid-sized markets across the nation. In addition to its radio stations, Clear Channel owns a substantial number of billboards and other outdoor advertising. The company generated $6.6 billion in sales in 2005. Clear Channel's broad reach could raise regulatory concerns, however. Thomas H. Lee Partners is part of the buyout consortium that owns Univision, so the Clear Channel deal may be the first in which regulators will have to consider private equity owners as established players in some media markets.

PRIVATE EQUITY LOVES MEDIA COMPANIES [SOURCE: New York Times, AUTHOR: Andrew Ross Sorkin & Peter Edmonston]

Some of the largest broadcasters and publishers are being swept into the arms of private equity firms, which are drawn to the rich cash flows these businesses generate and are undaunted by their slowing growth. The trend could raise new regulatory concerns, however, as some of the big private equity firms start to weave a complex web of cross-ownerships in the industry. As the audiences for traditional media companies have shrank, advertisers have responded by moving more dollars to the Internet. As a result, the growth rates at many media companies have slowed sharply, making them undesirable to many investors. But many of these same businesses throw off a great deal of cash that can be used to support a debt-financed buyout. There are plenty of banks willing to lend money for such deals, and interest rates are relatively low. Private equity firms believe they can unlock value by selling off pieces or making drastic operational changes.

A LOUD AND CLEAR SIGNAL ON MEDIA BUY-OUTS [SOURCE: Financial Times, AUTHOR: Aline van Duyn and Joshua Chaffin]

The willingness of private equity investors and banks to buy Clear Channel at valuations above those placed on it by stock markets could lead to other buyouts or sales attempts at media companies. "Clear Channel is the most important media deal so far," said one senior banker. "Not only is its scale important - it sets a new benchmark for going-private deals - but the board is voluntarily saying they're better off private than public." Private equity investors, despite the mountains of equity they are willing to invest and the ease with which they can raise debt, are not likely to pounce on all media assets, however. In the sale of Knight Ridder, private equity bidders were notable for their absence. Even in Clear Channel's case, the attraction was not so much its radio stations, but its outdoor advertising business, one of the few media sectors that is not suffering from a decline brought on by digital distribution.


Paul Kouroupas, vice president of regulatory affairs for Global Crossing, strongly criticized the Federal Communications Commission's broadening of a 1994 law -- originally intended to cover telephone providers -- as disproportionately costly, complex, and riddled with privacy concerns. His company is one of the world's largest Internet backbone providers. At issue is an order issued last fall by the Federal Communications Commission that set a deadline of May 14, 2007, by which most broadband and Internet phone providers are required to reengineer their networks for easier snooping by law enforcement. The move expanded the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, which Congress wrote to impose obligations on telephone companies, but not Internet providers. Even without the new FCC rules, police have the legal authority to conduct Internet wiretaps, but they have claimed the need for a "standardized" system. The formal broadening of the rules followed lobbying from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department, which said they needed to be able to eavesdrop more readily on criminals who spurned traditional telephone lines. Kouropas questioned repeatedly whether the rules create an appropriate balance between law enforcement needs and communication provider obligations. After all, he said, federal and state courts only signed off on about 1,700 wiretaps last year. If the government doesn't have the budget to finance its own tapping technology, then why should it have the right to "deputize the telecommunications industry" to do that work, he asked.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to argue ad nauseam. Last week I urged the Dems to revive Dubya's faith-based initiative so as to capitalize on conservative evangelicals' growing disenchantment with the GOP. Larry raised valid concerns about the separation of church and state, while David Calderhead thought I was overestating the political boost. Normally I'd leave that as the last word, but I really think this is a big deal. First, the GOP knows the value of going after the other guy's base. It's no coincidence that they've reached out to African-Americans in the last two elections. Sure, it's a cynical outreach that fell on its face, but if it had worked the Dems would have been doomed (at least in the non-gerrymandered senate). The same is true for the GOP: "white evangelical" support for Republicans dropped by 3%, but "weekly churchgoers" dropped 6%. In states like Virginia and Montana the evangelicals alone accounted for the margin of victory: white evangelicals are estimated to account for 24% of voters nationwide. No wonder the GOP is trotting out Mitch McConnell and Trent Lott. All the Dems need is one major talking point, something they can point to when the GOP attacks the party as anti-religion.

Aside from rank politics, certain social programs might depend on a faith-based initiative. A week before the election, David Brooks wrote that poverty and human rights advocates were about to lose their greatest advocate: Senator Rick Santorum. Yes, I gagged -- while senators like Santorum and Sam Brownback occasionally stake out compassionate positions, they never sacrifice any real political capital for them. But neither do most Democrats. Brooks was correct that these causes don't attract the mainstream of either party. It takes a degree of, er, quirkiness, to stand outside some foreign consulate office holding candles that you don't find at an immigration rights march. Consider the neglected issue of prison conditions and prisoner's rights: what would be the effect if 1/1000 of evangelicals took Jesus' commandment in Matthew 25 literally to personally visit prisoners. Would it be intolerable to fund a mentoring program to provide transportation and logistical support for such efforts? The church/state concerns are legit, but I sense there's room for creativity here.

Name: J DAlessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY

You have raised the possibility of an attack on Iran before Bush leaves office. I have been afraid of this also.

The only interest I took in the Murtha-Hoyer fight is the problem with Hoyer's very close relationship with AIPAC. Like Jane Harman, Hoyer is a reliable "vote" for a war with Iran. Murtha loves the troops too much to accede to such madness.

If, on the other hand, the new Defense Secretary-designate Gates is a realist who represents a takeover from the Cheneys and Douglas Feiths by the Bush I regime, maybe the "next war" can be prevented after all. If Cheney has been marginalized, and the Baker commission recommends bringing in Iran as one of the parties to mediate the Iraq resolution, who in this battered and discredited administration will be pushing to preemptively attack Iran? And why would the Republicans in the House and Senate, having been so thoroughly screwed by these guys, put themselves on the line for yet another war?

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

Dear Eric:

Right now all the buzz surrounds the question, "Will the White House and other Republicans compromise with the new Democratic majority?" It should come as a surprise to nobody that all signs point to "NO!" Rabid conservatives continue to be nominated for appointed positions. Verbal olive branches are paired with pointed comments about the need to pass "the President's agenda." Hard-liners are elected to leadership positions in Congress. The talk radio vultures are spending most of their time in dire statements such as "all the things we warned would happen if Democrats gain a majority are already coming to pass" before Speaker Pelosi even gets a gavel in hand.

So what's the Democratic Party to do? The Republican-Lites at the Democratic Leadership Council may be on the right road, although they got off at the wrong exit. The DLC understands that the strength of Democrats for decades was being the party of the Middle Class, but they're mistaken in thinking that mimicking Republican positions will reclaim that position. The key is to frame progressive positions so that Middle Class taxpayers will see the benefit to themselves. Utilities are regulated because it prevents big monopolies and oligarchies from taking advantage of the average consumer. Public schools must remain strong so that those who can't pay private school tuition can compete in life on an equal footing. Environmental initiatives protect the public health and ensure that the wilderness legacy we inherited from our forebears can be passed to our progeny.

All of the positions I've just stated are obvious to regular Altercation readers, but are they obvious to the public at large? I don't think so, because Republicans have done a better job telling their story. Now Democrats have the House, the Senate, and Republicans stirred up like angry hornets over their electoral losses. Don't underestimate the power of this last factor. Conservatives claim to have an exclusive on ideas, but in reality that consists almost entirely of being against anything Democrats are for and classifying anything they don't like as Liberal. An example of the latter is the current furor over Eminent Domain, which was expanded to its current extent through the efforts of pro-business conservatives to "improve the business climate." See also Republican judges labeled as activists thanks to single rulings that don't suit the purposes of the culture warriors. Democrats have a chance to claim a big chunk of the electorate now, while the GOP is arguing about whether the party is conservative enough. They need to move fast.

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

So now the president is comparing Iraq to Vietnam, even though he previously said that Democrats should not be making those comparisons?? I'm sure that Bush will now say that he never said anything like that.

And the lesson that he took away from the Vietnam War -- a war that he never had to serve in -- is that we simply need to stay the course and tough it out in order to win, as if intestinal fortitude was the only winning strategy. This illuminates his total lack of knowledge about the history and culture of Vietnam and many other Asian countries that prevailed under occupation by imperial powers and the Japanese. These cultures look at history in spans of centuries and millenia, and fighting an occupation for ten or twenty years is not much of a sacrifice in the long run.

How I long for 2008 ...

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

The reporting today in the NY Times echoes strains generally reverberating in the media post-election: the Democrats are feuding. This is nonsense. The Democrats are debating a number of issues, like the relative merits of different leadership candidates the merits of different electoral strategies. The same edition of the Times is trumpeting the orderliness and solidarity of the emerging minority leadership, like in the Senate where the ethically challenged Mitch McConnell just announced that Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate leader who lost his position by endorsing, half a century later, Strom Thurmond's presidential candidacy as a segregationist. Give me spirited debate over that kind of orderliness any day.

The Times' reporting on the Democrats gives a disproportionately high profile to James Carville's criticism of the Democrats' "failed" strategy. This fringe opinion is hardly worth mentioning. Despite Carville's cavilling, the Democrats won a solid majority in the house and a slim majority in the Senate, where almost no one predicted they would. It may be true that Emanuel and Dean had different strategies in mind, but they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Emanuel was running a strategy for this election; Dean for the long haul. Pursuing one without the other would have left the Democrats with either a majority that would be short-lived, or an improved minority position with the potential for a majority in the future. Bridging the differences by pursuing both was the wisest course.

But the Times' reporting emphasized party divisiveness that, while stoked by Carville, did not emerge in Emanuel's remarks. To be sure, he may have some regrets about Tammy Duckworth's failed bid for Hyde's seat, but that's to be expected since she was his hand-picked candidate for in Illinois 6th district, which neighbors his own. For all of the success nationally, Emanuel has to feel somewhat disappointed within his own state caucus. Obviously, I'm not privvy to all of the data that he has, but his claim that the DCCC was left short of funds to put Tammy Duckworth over the top is debatable. Her problems were not simply DCCC support; her campaign spent most of its own funds early to establish name recognition, and left her without sufficient resources at crunch time. And she also ran away from the party label, which in this climate, even in a staunchly Republican district, was ill-advised. Most of the local analysis suggests that this Roskam pulled it out late on the ground, and that relied on the GOP infrastructure built up over years. No amount of DCCC funding could have rivaled that operation in a short time. That Duckworth came close to winning in a district that has been a Republican automatic for more than a generation is reason to take heart.

The same could be said for many of those close races that Carville is complaining about. Sometimes you can win an election outright, sometimes you do well enough to establish field position for the next drive. And that speaks to the virtues of Dean's 50-state strategy. It might have been nice if the Times, or any major media outlet, made some mention of the credit due to both Emanuel and Schumer for the present success, as well as to Dean for creating the basis for reversing the erosion of the party's appeal for the long haul. This might also be the time for the party to get a little message discipline as well. I'm a bit tired of Democratic officeholders playing into the overblown image of fractiousness.

Name: Ken Carlson
Hometown: Delmar, NY

Hey Doc, your mention of the Dead's Go To Heaven -- it was "Go" not "Goes," but now I'm nitpicking -- see the album cover here.

Good God, can you believe THAT is a photo of the Grateful Dead? Man, the late-70s/early 80s (the album was released in April of 1980) -- sure were a strange time. . . .

But I digress. The reason I'm writing is to bring to your attention the fact that Dark Star Orchestra is playing the Nokia Theater, not too far from your residence in the greatest city in the world, on November 24 & 25. For those who are unaware of their deal, they generally pick an old Dead show and play it in its entirety. Friends of mine have been raving about them for years, but I just saw them in Troy for the first time, and while I was moderately disappointed in the show selection the night I saw them (it was a 1993 show with a fairly subdued first set), I've gotta say they did a GREAT job with the material (and the second set rocked). They sure as hell don't look like the Dead, but they do an excellent job with recreating the sound and even the feel of their music (if it's possible and if it makes sense to "feel" music -- probably not to the uninitiated). Anyhow, if you stuff your face on Thursday and want to dance off the pumpkin pie, you could do far worse than to check them out at the Nokia. And who knows -- maybe they'll do that Englishtown, NJ show from '77 and you can re-live the "glory days". . . .

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