The time has come today ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new "Think Again" column called "The 'Surge' and the 'Purge,' " here.

My favorite lines from Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy At Home -- of whose ranks I am profoundly proud to be included -- so far:

... what angers religious Muslims is not the American constitution but the scandalous sexual mores they see in American movies and television. What disgusts them is not free elections but the sights of hundreds of homosexuals kissing one another and taking marriage vows. The person that horrifies them the most is not John Locke but Hillary Clinton. (Page 16)

(P.S.: I don't recall if Peter Beinart ever responded to the criticism of his argument -- one of many good ones -- that there was a real and central contradiction between his embrace of social liberalism a la TNR and making friends with non-terrorist Musims? I forget who pointed it out, but it's a real problem, methinks.)

Kristol, Krauthammer, Kaplan, Peretz, and Perle enemies of Israel? This Forward article says "Israel was safer with Saddam."

The irony here is palpably painful. Bush is so inept and the neocons are so out to lunch that an invasion that was launched, unarguably, in part to protect Israel has increased the danger to it, in addition to all the other horrible things it has done to the United States, Iraq, and the rest of the world. Anyway, here are a few choice quotes:

  • "If I knew then what I know today, I would not have recommended going to war, because Saddam was far less dangerous than I thought," said Haifa University political scientist Amatzia Baram, one of Israel's leading Iraq experts.
  • Saddam's death, Israeli deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh warned, could lead to "a reinforcement of Iranian influence in Iraq." He said that Iraq had turned into a "volcano of terror" following the war, with "destructive energies" that could spill over into Jordan and Israel.
  • "When you dismantle a system in which there is a despot who controls his people by force, you have chaos," Shin Bet security service director Yuval Diskin said, unaware that the meeting was secretly recorded. "I'm not sure we won't miss Saddam." The tape was later broadcast on Israeli television.
  • "Saddam's regime was preferable -- not only for us but for all the states in the region, except for maybe the Iranians," Hebrew University political scientist and security specialist Eitan Barak said. "Saddam held together a divided, tribal, hostile state of Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds. He was a single man who made all decisions, and he was a rational leader. The moment he was gone, everything fell apart."

I've ignored Phil Weiss' blog here in part becaue I have too much to do and in part because it's in the Observer, and just about every journalistic interaction I've had with the Observer has contained some aspect of malicious journalistic malpractice up to and including a reference to me walking across a crowded room in which the reporter professed to read my mind. But that's not fair to Phil, who has been doing brave and useful work on the attempt by so many conservative Jews to shut down debate on Israel. Here is his discussion of the Walt/Mearsheimer rebuttal paper which is going to remain offline as they work on their book, and here is today's entry on related scholarship questions. P.S.: I love the Forward, as I say over and over, but they have really stunk up the joint with their coverage of this controversy.

And here is a piece in TAP describing the following: "The Union of Progressive Zionists, some of whose chapters and affiliates brought the 'Breaking the Silence' tour to places like the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Maryland, is a part of the Israel on Campus Coalition. This December, the 30,000-member Zionist Organization of America (an ICC member) sent a letter to the ICC demanding that the UPZ be removed from the coalition because of this tour."

Note: Any word from Marty, Charles, Alan, etc., about the undisputed reports that the Israeli government consistently stole land from its rightful owners to give it to Israel's illegal West Bank settlers? Lemme know if you hear.

This is funny: In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. wonders if former Vice President Al Gore, an Apple director and member of a special committee which investigated and exonerated Steve Jobs for backdating, might have something new to say about the decision and the public debate over corporate ethics. Here ($).

Yeah sure, Gore is guilty as hell. Now recall the following, from The Book on Bush, which I'm pretty sure, never made the Journal when it might have had any impact:

Harken Energy is a Texas energy company that in 1988 purchased a failing Spectrum 7, run by George W. Bush. As part of the deal, Bush was put on the corporate board and also paid as a consultant. He was as well given loans by Harken at cheap rates so that he could buy company stock, which, as noted, he later used to secure more loans from a bank at which he was a director to invest in the Texas Rangers. (After the corporate meltdown of 2002, he called for a ban on these same kinds of sweetheart loans to insiders.)

He eventually sold his stock in Harken on June 22, 1990, sixty-three days after receiving a memo from Harken's president about the company's "liquidity crisis," thirty-five days after receiving another memo from Harken's executive vice president on the "negative repercussions" of a failure to extend corporate loans, fifteen days after receiving a memorandum from Harken's president describing the company as "in jeopardy," eleven days after an audit committee meeting discussing the devaluation of two Harken subsidiaries, and seven days after receiving a letter from Harken's attorneys warning about selling stock based on insider information . . . but a few weeks before the company publicly released bad financial news, causing the stock price to plummet. He then conveniently failed to file notice of these sales with the SEC for eight months. Bush has claimed on different occasions that the SEC lost the forms or that his lawyers forgot to send the forms, finally throwing up his hands in a July 8, 2002, press conference, saying, "As to why the Form 4 was late, I still haven't figured it out completely." The SEC briefly investigated George W. Bush over a decade ago. True to form, Bush produced few documents, and those he did submit to the SEC, according to the SEC report on the Bush investigation, "provide little insight as to what Harken nonpublic information he knew and when he knew it." Nevertheless, although investigators never interviewed him, the SEC halted the investigation without absolving him but without bringing any formal charges.

The day after it closed the investigation in August 1991, the SEC received documents from Bush that detailed the warning that Harken's lawyers had given to the board on June 15, 1990, a week before Bush's June 22 stock sale, about selling stock after hearing bad news. This letter suggests that Bush had reason to worry about the impropriety of selling his stock at that time and that the SEC presumably could have used this evidence before ending its investigation. The document, appropriately titled "Liability for Insider Trading and Short-Term Swing Profits," addressed the solution to the above-mentioned "liquidity crisis." On May 17, 1990, Bush attended a board meeting in which he was told that Harken was three days away from running out of cash. A few days later, Harken spun off two troubled divisions in a deal financed by the Harvard Management Fund, an institutional investor that manages Harvard University's huge endowment. The deal was publicly announced on May 22, 1990, but the rights offering was not priced until October 1990.

Following the May 22 announcement, Bush asked Harken for advice on selling his stock. Harken's law firm, Haynes and Boone, responded with the missing document, which warned: "The act of trading, particularly if close in time to the receipt of the inside information, is strong evidence that the insider's investment decision was based on the inside information. ... Unless the favorable facts clearly are more important than the unfavorable, the insider should be advised not to sell." However, according to the Boston Globe, Bush told the SEC during its investigation of his stock sale that "Haynes and Boone informed [Bush] that they had met internally to consider the issue and, based upon the information they had, they saw no reason why Bush could not sell his shares."*

(*Harken's losses, and Bush's profits, could very well have been monumentally worse without this divine intervention from Harvard. While the group denies its investments were motivated by the presence of Bush on the Harken board, its first investment took place within a month of Bush joining Harken and escalated to $50 million in June 2000, as the company faced dire financial trouble and Bush sought to sell his own shares. At that time, Harken, a small troubled company absent from the ranks of the Fortune 1000, represented Harvard's seventh-largest stakehold. According to William Black, a top federal bank regulator during the Reagan and first Bush administrations, "[T]his is beyond nuts from an institutional investor's standpoint. You don't see the Harvards of the world doing things like this." Black told the Boston Globe that "he did not investigate the Harken partnership for political reasons.")

In a press conference eleven years later, on the day before the president's Wall Street speech on corporate accountability, the following exchange took place:

Q: Mr. President, you've said that you didn't know, when you sold your Harken stock, that the company was going to restate its earnings. As a member of its audit committee, how could you not know that its earnings had not been properly accounted for?

THE PRESIDENT: Because that fact, that fact came up after I sold thestock. And the SEC fully looked into this. All these questions that you're asking were looked into by the SEC. And again, I repeat to you, the summary -- which I think you've seen -- I hope you've seen it; if not, we'll be glad to get it to you-said that there was no case there.

While Bush said the lawyers' letter flashed a green-for-go signal, in fact the letter-arriving after the SEC investigation-flashed a red-for-stop signal. But Bush didn't. Also, an October 1993 memo from the SEC states that halting the investigation "must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result." And does it need to be said that Bush's father was the president at the time and had appointed four of the five SEC commissioners, including the chairman, or that the general counsel at the SEC was the James Doty who represented Bush in his purchase of the Texas Rangers a few years before?

During his tenure on the Harken audit committee, Bush voted in 1989 to approve a deal in which Harken sold an unprofitable subsidiary called Aloha Petroleum to an "independent" subsidiary, turning real losses into fake profits and propping up the stock price at the same time. Sound familiar? For both Harken and Enron, hiding these kinds of losses required a rapidly growing cash flow that was difficult to maintain. The Aloha deal allowed Harken to record a profit on the deal of $7.9 million dollars, which in turn enabled it to claim losses for the year of only $3.3 million. Alfred King, former managing director of the Institute of Management Accountants, commented on the Aloha transaction that "the people at Enron could have gone to school on this thing." An SEC investigation of the sale forced Harken to restate its earnings-that is, admit that it had been lying all along, bringing Harken's losses for 1989 up to $12.6 million. Before news of the restatement hit the press and before the stock price dove, Bush cashed out.

Although Bush sold his stock in the nick of time, he absurdly maintains that, despite his seat on the audit committee, he didn't know about the coming bad news. He also claims to have voted against the offshore tax shelters in the Caymans, despite the records of the board meetings that are available, which show that he actually voted for the offshore shelters. When he is pressed further on the subject, Bush says he doesn't remember, yet he refuses to ask the SEC to release records of its investigation, referring the press to Harken for records of its directors' meetings. Harvey Pitt, President Bush's chosen head of the SEC during 2002, said publicly that he would release the SEC records if Bush asked, but Harken has said it won't release the records at all. When pressed on the subject at his July 8 press conference, the man who is proud of his moral clarity when it comes to evil abroad could only ambiguously answer that "sometimes things aren't exactly black and white when it comes to accounting procedures."

Will Arnold Schwarzenegger make the world safe for universal health care? Strange as it sounds, the answer may be "yes" -- at least according to Jonathan Cohn's latest article at TNR.

Joe Klein: Still frothing, screeching, and vitriolicizing after all these years, here (from our favorite Klein) and here (from our Black friend) and here (not my favorite Isaac, alas).

On Heschel at 100.

From our sponsors:

Good Morning America turns blind eye to Beck's smears, hires him as regular commentator

On January 9, the Associated Press reported ABC News' announcement that conservative talk show host Glenn Beck will soon join Good Morning America as a "regular commentator." "Glenn is a leading cultural commentator with a distinct voice," GMA senior executive producer Jim Murphy told the AP. "At times, he is the perfect guest for many of the talk topics we cover on morning news programs." But as Media Matters for America has extensively documented, what often distinguishes Beck's "voice" are his inflammatory and controversial comments regarding Muslims, Arabs, Mexicans, and other minorities. For instance, during a November 14, 2006, interview with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who recently became the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, Beck said: "I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.' "

This too: Kristol's first Time column contradicted by Time's own reporting.

From TomDispatch: This month, TomDispatch is focusing special attention on the Pentagon, militarization, and the imperial path. Last Sunday, Nick Turse laid out Pentagon plans to fight crucial future battles in "Baghdad 2025" and the mega-slums of other global cities. Today, Frida Berrigan of the Arms Trade Resource Center considers a range of multibillion-dollar Department of Defense weapons systems slated to come our way somewhere between tomorrow and 2040. If that's not ownership of the future, what is?

From Lockheed's high-tech, radar-evading stealth plane, the F-22 Raptor, whose only enemy is its predecessor, the F-16 (which Lockheed sold to scads of other countries) to the Common Aero Vehicle (or CAV) which will bristle with weapons it can launch from space and deliver anywhere on earth within two hours, the future, as the military sees it, is simply filled to the brim with multibillion-dollar American weapons systems of a sort that were once relegated to sci-fi novels for spacey boys. Now, they are the property of spacey generals, strategists, military planners, and corporate CEOs.

Berrigan concludes: "As engineers and physicists at Lockheed Martin and the Air Force dream up new weapons -- shaping bombers out of polymer and pixels -- politicians and Pentagoneers imagine the threats those super-bombers of the future will blast to bits. Only the money -- billions and billions of dollars -- is real..."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

All of the surge analysis remains focused on the strategy of the Iraq war. At this point, it's no longer appropriate to be debating strategy; the policy was wrongheaded from the beginning, and there's no strategy that will salvage a policy so woefully misconceived. And yet as long as Bush keeps people talking about strategy, he dodges the more crucial questions: How did we ever let him draw us into such a failed policy? Why should the country continue to grant any legitimacy to a discredited policy; and more pointedly, why grant any authority to a leader discredited by such utter failure?

It's time for Bush and Cheney -- as well as McCain, Kristol, Kagan, and anyone else who continues to bruit the virtues of failure -- to be treated with the same contempt as that which Rumsfeld has earned.

Enough.

Name: Jen Pitz
Hometown: Cuyahoga Falls, OH

Dr A,

I didn't see that you wrote about Sunday's security scare at the Port of Miami, but I'm going to put my two cents out there about Fox's coverage of it. First, on at least two occasions, I heard their "reporter"/talking head explain why this was important and it came out to be along the lines of "the Democrats want to cut Homeland Security spending". I had decided it couldn't be much of an issue if they stopped the truck at 8:00 a.m. and didn't call for a bomb squad until 2:00 p.m. To find out later that it was mostly miscommunication was funny.

But then, hours later as I channel surfed I landed on Fox again. This time their coverage was over the top. Their lead-ins generally made it seem a full-blown terror plot had been uncovered. It was only after you watched the first few minutes of the story that they admitted it was only miscommunication.

Finally, I've been looking for a forum to start my campaign to ban the use of the term "mastermind" in relation to terrorists. I know it takes a lot of work and planning to pull off a terrorist attack, but the term mastermind puts me in mind of someone who comes up with a totally original plan and pulls it off. Originality doesn't seem to be the strong suit of terrorist planners. Besides, sheer overuse should be enough of a reason.

I'd start on my dislike of using the word "tapped" when the President appoints or nominates a person to a position (what is this, duck-duck-goose or government?), but I'd come off as a bit obsessive-compulsive, wouldn't I?

Name: Royce Kallerud
Hometown: Kirksville, MO

Eric: You get so much right I feel comfortable saying you got the rules of blackjack absolutely wrong with the Bush metaphor. If you doubled down on two tens one of two things could happen: You could get an ace for 21 or you could bust.

Bush is more like like a guy who's dealt two tens against a dealer 9, splits 'em, draws a 9 to each hand, and proceeds to double down. That'd be close to the best way to lose the most money, most quickly, and least intelligently.

By the way, there's a great joke about splitting tens in Frederick and Steven Barthelme's thoroughly entertaining Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss (it's on p. 78 and a bit blue). The Barthelme brothers play blackjack as poorly as Bush, but they know it and they aren't running the country.

p.s. I, by the way, once saw someone get an ace on two tens at the Luxor and beat the dealer's 20 (she showed a ten). Not sure what moral to take from that ...

Eric replies: Yeah, I did that too quick. Give the dealer a 9 and everyone else my apologies.

Name: Steven Elworth
Hometown: Brooklyn

I agree with Jeff Weed about the nonperformers and agree with all of them. That Tom Dowd was seemingly not pushed by Ahmet is awful. How many engineers are credited in a fiction film, Ray, as allowing Ray to become his own Raylettes through multichannel editing and splicing? His work as co-producer, then producer include so many great, great records from Aretha to Dusty in Memphis, Derek [and the Dominos], Rod Stewart's Tonight the Night, and of course the Allmans, whose tickets for March at the Beacon just went on sale. He really, really deserves it. The documentary about him, which is on DVD, is a must.

If I agree with Eric about Van Halen sucking. I do want to make a crucial caveat that with David Lee Roth (another Jew in the hall!!!), they were fun with great guitar from Eddie. The awful thing is that with Sammy Hagar they went from fun to dreadful, and now that totally talentless loser is going into the Hall.

The Ronettes raise an interesting paradox, their records are wonderful and every American should have their Back to Mono box right next to their Star Time. The problem is that the key to the records in Back to Mono and the artist on the spine is Phil Spector, and he is in the Hall.

Name: Mike V
Hometown: Miami

Eric,

I've been reading Altercation for years now and I agree with 90% of your reviews on rock bands but seriously, Van Halen with DLR is rock royalty while your boy Springsteen and the E Street Band is just a poor man's Bob Dylan -- minus his genius.

Eric replies: Tell me how does it feel ... to be such a loser, bub?

Name: arbitraryparameters
Hometown: Louisville, KY

A rock Hall of Fame without the Stooges is like a Cubist Hall of Fame without Marcel Duchamp. The Ramones would never have even considered becoming a band, much less loving teenaged lobotomies, if not inspired by the Stooges; without the Ramones, no punk rock as we know it. Travesty.

Eric replies: Too bad the music sucked ... (Save your letters, Stoogites and Iggyistas. It's my weblog.)

Name: Jim Carlile
Hometown: Burbank, California

When it comes to great, now forgotten Townshend, don't forget Rough Mix, written during the same era as Who Are You and By Numbers. It's worth it just for the cover alone.

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