Slacker Friday

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new "Think Again" column here on the continuing oddity of ignoring pundits' records when giving them prominent spots on TV and a new Nation column on "The Race Beat," here.

The redacted Times op-ed is here.

Matt takes up the "Crazy Marty" beat so I don't have to ...

Does free will exist?

Forget your troubles, come on ...

So we're taking the week off and will be back in the new year. If you've got too much money, need a tax break, or just want to get in good with whatever religious/Kharmic/inherently moral system to which you find yourself answerable, I'd like to recommend the following:

The Lawrence Community Shelter: My friend/hero Loring Henderson is both the day and night (!) manager of this shelter in red, red Kansas, and it's the only place that takes in people no matter what their problem may be. You can imagine how difficult life must be for the people who make the sacrifice to work there. Actually, I can't either, which is one of many reasons I send them money.

The Doe Fund puts homeless people to work, cleaning up the city, in nice, clean dignified uniforms. It's not a perfect solution by any means, but it's better than any of the available alternatives

Music for Youth is a nonprofit initiative with a mission to identify, fund, and lend experience to innovative programs that make quality music education available to underprivileged young people, which I think is a great thing.

And finally, the Actors Theatre Workshop is an established pioneer in nonprofit theatre that produces classical and contemporary plays, develops new dramatic works, trains and develops actors, writers, and directors while making a difference in the lives of homeless children and the community at large.

Happy Holidays. See you next year.

From H-Diplo:

This letter appeared on H-Diplo:

Wednesday, December 20 2006 01:06 pm
From: Robert MacNichol
Subject: Pinochet: A Declassified Documentary Obit [MacNIchol]

Prof. Altman pretty much sums up the spin surrounding the Bush/Florida situation, when he opines that, "[I'm being] imprecise because there is no agreed-upon method of vote-counting;..." This was not at all the case. The Democrats flubbed up in their own district, disenfranchised their own people (this would not be the last time), then displayed their desire to convince Americans that they could _divine_ what someone meant when so-called "chads" were "hanging," "double punched" or only "dimpled" by voters who in some cases were too old to any longer grasp the meaning of voting (if you believe some reports)--in favor of Al Gore. It was farcical. This is what was not decided upon until the US Supremes got involved. The Florida Supremes then defied the US Court in the ultimate act of illegality--this was what was thwarted in--"a process [Prof. Altman reminds me] that was deliberately thwarted by the Supreme Court..." Deliberate yes, and the _law_ also, "... lest it conflict with the result of their decision." What decision? The one hammered out as per the law? Or the one that didn't let Al Gore steal the election through fraud? (i.e. Boise, who was guilty of using a precedent that never took place.[1]). The final verdict in Florida was that the Law won.

I see nothing but opinion from either Profs. Altman or Kaiser. They are entitled to it. I'd still like to see the so-called _BEST_ study showing the Bush didn't win at all.

The Buchanan incident is an overblown issue that didn't even register on the vote counting radar. Most states report a 3-4% "+" or "-" statistical error in the voting. Florida has been the focus due to the amount of Electoral votes it posesses. Buchanan wasn't even within the 3% range.

[1] Therefore, it appears that Respondent-Attorney Boies and Respondent-Attorney Berger offered an allegedly false affidavit to two Florida courts: the Circuit Court of the 15th Judicial Circuit of Florida (Palm Beach County) (Florida Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga) and the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit of Florida (Broward County) (Florida Circuit Court Judge Leroy H. Moe). See supra Greenberg & Mihalopoulos; Miller; Florida Democratic Party (affidavit of Michael Lavelle).

...

To summarize, it appears that Respondent-Attorney Boies and Respondent-Attorney Berger offered an allegedly false affidavit to two Florida courts,7 <http://www.nlpc.org/gip/001130fl.htm#footnote7> and there has been no report that Respondent-Attorney Boies or Respondent-Attorney Berger has taken remedial measures to address the allegedly false affidavit. http://www.nlpc.org/gip/001130fl.htm

Robert MacNIchol
Irvine Valley College

This reply, for some reason, did not:

Eric Alterman

If Professor MacNichol is going to accuse me of "pretty much sum[ming] up the spin surrounding the Bush/Florida situation," I would suggest that he a) get my name right, and b) take a moment to examine the facts more carefully.

As the Associated Press reported of the NORC recount in November 2001,"A full, statewide recount of all undervotes and overvotes could have erased Bush's 537-vote victory and put Gore ahead by a tiny margin ranging from 42 to 171 votes, depending on how valid votes are defined."

And as for the no-agreed-upon standard of counting, In fact, had the Supreme Court not intervened for the man, it seems quite likely that Gore would have won in the Florida State Supreme Court despite his own side's incompetence. Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis informed an Orlando Sentinel reporter that he had never fully made up his mind, but he was considering the "overvote" standard that would likely have given the count to Gore. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff also discovered a contemporaneous document demonstrating that Lewis meant what he said.

The following is from my book, What Liberal Media: The Truth About Bias and the News (Basic Books, 2003), and has never been factually challenged:

Shortly before the September 11 attacks, a Gallup Organization poll found that nearly half of Americans surveyed remain convinced that President Bush either "won on a technicality" or "stole the election." And they were right, though this would have been difficult to discern based on the coverage the eventual release of the recount report received. The headlines read: "Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote," (The New York Times) and "Florida Recounts Would Have Favored Bush," (The Washington Post). These were misleading at best. What the NORC researchers really discovered was the Gore legal team's incredible incompetence. They happened, it turned out, to choose just about the only counting argument that would have lost Gore the election even had the Court ruled in his favor. Lead member David Boies had explicitly ruled out a more inclusive recount of Florida's votes-one that not only would have elected his man, but would have been immeasurably more fair to the people of Florida. Instead Boies asked the court to count "undervotes" but not "overvotes." Using that method, Bush did indeed outpoll Gore and the Court's intervention did not ultimately make a difference. It was, perhaps, a perfect coda to a perfectly awful campaign.

But buried beneath the misleading headlines was the inescapable fact that Al Gore was the genuine choice of a plurality of Florida's voters as well as America's. As the AP report put it, "In the review of all the state's disputed ballots, Gore edged ahead under all six scenarios for counting all undervotes and overvotes statewide." In other words, he got more votes in Florida than George Bush by almost every conceivable counting standard. Gore won under a strict-counting scenario and he won under a loose-counting scenario. He won if you count "hanging chads" and he won if you counted "dimpled chads." He won if you count a dimpled chad only in the presence of another dimpled chad on the same ballot -- the so-called "Palm Beach" standard. He even won if you counted only a fully-punched chad. He won if you counted partially-filled oval on an optical scan and he won if you counted only a fully-filled optical scan. He won if you fairly counted the absentee ballots. No matter how you count it, if everyone who legally voted in Florida had had a chance to see their vote counted, Al Gore is our president.

Eric Alterman
CUNY

Also this:

To celebrate the January 23 release of Grateful Dead's LIVE AT THE COW PALACE, NEW YEAR'S EVE, 1976, the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Famers will turn back the clock 30 years and present the entire performance on the Internet. A free online stream of the classic concert will be made available for two days at www.dead.net.

From 12:01 AM PST on December 31 to 11:59 PM PST on January 1, 2007, fans can go to www.dead.net/cpstream and hear one of the most interesting and inspired offerings from the Dead's legendary tape vault of 2,400 performances. Available as an on-demand stream for QuickTime, Real, and Windows Media players, the eclectic three-hour-plus show highlights the best elements of three or four clearly defined eras of the Grateful Dead's long career.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to hold grudges during the holidays. The most underreported outrage of Dubya's administration is the undermining of the Internal Revenue Service. Forget presidential signing statements: who needs Rube Goldberg-like legal twists and turns to avoid following the law when you can simply refuse to follow the law? Consider the IRS estate tax enforcement department. Each attorney working there recovered, on average, $2,200 for every hour they worked. So what did Dubya do this summer? He cut the department in half, arguing that the agency only needed to audit about 10% of wealthy estates to get 80% of the revenue. The Clinton administration said the opposite and hired additional attorneys for the department. Who do you believe: the surplus administration or the record-deficit administration? This at a time when concentration of wealth is becoming so severe that even some conservatives are recognizing the "death tax" is a needed break on rising inequality.

It's part of a larger plan. In 2001 Dubya killed a jointly developed U.S.-European plan which targeted offshore tax havens, particularly "tax rogue states" (small nations that don't sign treaties on tax enforcement). In 2002 Dubya refused to allow the then-commissioner of the IRS to testify about tax enforcement. In 2003 the Treasury's Inspector General reported that the IRS had "lost" the vast majority of files they had on businesses identified as tax cheats. It goes on and on. A 2005 internal IRS analysis showed that Dubya's budget would leave half a million delinquent tax accounts uncollected and a nearly 50,000 audit backlog. Remember how offshore tax dodging was an issue in the 2004 elections? At the time Dubya promised tax simplification in his second term, and indeed, corporate tax cheats take wild advantage of the complexity of the tax code in setting up elaborate schemes. Which is why he hasn't revisited it since. Nor, for the most part, has the media. The Dems might want to change this: just because they took control of Congress doesn't mean there isn't a deficit problem or a recession coming. Now that the GOP will return to bashing big government, the counter-narrative of collecting hundreds of billions of dollars of dishonestly withheld taxes sounds pretty good.

Name: Eric Boehlert
Hometown: Media Matters for America

Since nobody bothers to buy, or listen to, albums anymore, here are my favorite musical moments from 2006:

  • "Lookin' For a Job," Todd Snider. Boomtown economics as explained by our favorite stoner.
  • "Gone Daddy Gone," Gnarls Barkley. The Femmes are smilin'.
  • "Thunder on the Mountain," Bob Dylan. He's got Alicia Keys on the brain.
  • "Here It Goes Again," OK Go. And dude, that was before the Nike ad.
  • "Suddenly I See," KT Tunstall. A force of nature.
  • "Passenger Side." Wilco's drunk driving gem covered by the Bottle Rockets at Maxwell's in Hoboken.
  • "Soul Meets Body," Death Cab for Cutie, performed on SNL. Now I get it.
  • "Help Me Suzanne," Rhett Miller on The Tonight Show. Pop perfection.
  • "Our Country," John Mellencamp. I know, he launched the song off a Chevy ad. But you know what, Mellencamp turned down Madison Ave.'s millions for a decade-plus. Plus, how many other platinum stars are singing about bigotry and poverty in America?
  • "When We All Get to Heaven" and "Are You Washed in the Blood?", Alan Jackson. Gospel gold. Play 'em at my wake. Loud.
  • "Over My Head (Cable Car)," the Fray. Top 40 radio made me smile again.

Song of the Year: "This Is Us," Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris. Two old pros who know how to swing.

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

Dear Eric:

I thoroughly enjoyed your "Think Again" column on choosing guests who are popular and predictable over those who've been proven right in the past. While your piece was tailored to make a particular point there's a related matter that tilts the playing field even farther. One of the common formats is a supposedly neutral "debate" in which two guests spar with the host serving as a theoretically neutral moderator. The format is set up to give the debate a legitimacy that it in no way deserves. Time and again the reality is that one guest expounds at length with the moderator offering supporting comments. When it's time for the opposing guest to speak the first guest and the moderator both pounce quickly and repeatedly to prevent him/her from completing a thought. If they're lucky the guest will eventually break down in frustration and behave in a foolish manner. At the very least it's a guaranteed win for the host's chosen position because one guest has expressed that position (however ridiculous) while the other is said to have expressed a weak case when in actuality he's been prevented from making any argument. For some reason this is considered exciting and entertaining. It may be that, but people who rely on these exchanges to educate their thinking will end up with nothing but a false sense of superiority, a bizarre set of beliefs, and probably a similarly argumentative way of approaching every discussion.

Name: Charles Perez
Hometown: Marion, NY

The military, parts of the intelligence apparatus and most of the press continued to overplay the USSR's capabilities right to the bitter end of the Cold War. I remember, as a military pilot, the glee and curiosity I felt when a defector flew a MiG 25 Foxbat to Japan in the early 1980s.

This was supposedly their most impressive fighter plane, the one which inspired the US to design and build a fleet of F-15s. What those who had the most to gain from a spiraling arms race would not or could not see (nor tell the rest of us) was that the Foxbat was designed to counter a bomber we decided never to build -- the supersonic B-70 Valkyrie -- and was never meant to be maneuverable against another fighter.

The engines needed overhauling every 150 to 200 hours against a much higher number for any of our aircraft. And the damn thing was not made of some super alloy of "unobtainium" as claimed; it was made of steel! And that was just one of many ways that aircraft, and indeed much of the Soviet military, was oversold to the American people. The same was true in varying degrees about their missiles and tanks and soldiers.

Once again, lessons learned the hard way must be learned all over again by a gullible public. Fursenko's and Naftali's book is well timed. I can't wait to dig into it.

Name: Mike
Hometown: Indianapolis!

According to this, we might be better served reviewing not just the questions asked of the president about Iraq in the most recent press conference, but the actual and meaningful answers -- not responses -- he gave to them.

Called follow-up, ladies and gents of the press.

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

To Bill from Oregon:

Of course those who claim to know God's will never hear him say "No ... Don't do that!" When it comes right down to it, they are only using God as a crutch to support their own biases. Susan B. Anthony said it best when she said, "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."

Name: Kyle Childress
Hometown: San Francisco

You note in your post today that questions regarding Laura Bush's cancer outnumbered questions on all other topics at the President's press conference. This shouldn't be surprising. If you can't begin to believe the answer, then what's the point in asking the question. The man is a liar. It is as simple as that. And the sooner everyone accepts that, the sooner we can all begin to move this coutry in a better direction.

The Democrats who now control the Congress should especially take this attitude. The Iraq Study Group lacked this attitude, and they wound up being "the marketing plan needed to get the White House through the election" that the White House intended from the beginning. Now, we've moved on to the "listening tour," which of course is another marketing plan developed by the White House to make it look like it is doing something when it is in fact not.

This country has suffered immeasurably from that deadly mix of lies and incompetence this President has visited upon us. Nothing, absolutely nothing, he says should be taken at face value. If he says it, he should be required to prove it. Otherwise, no dice.

Thus, I am all in favor of the press corps simply asking inane questions of the President at press conferences. He's probably too obtuse to realize that such questioning symbolizes his irrelevance, but we are at least saved from having to hear his inane answers to legitimate questions.

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