Neither time nor God ... is on our side ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new "Think Again" column, here, called "Iraq: The Sequel?"

So Rudy's running, here. Someone ask him about this, from What Liberal Media?

On [the December 23, 2001, edition of] "Meet the Press," Tim Russert inquired of first lady Laura Bush whether she thought her husband had become president due to divine intervention. To her everlasting credit, Laura Bush declined to credit the Almighty with inspiring the likes of Katherine Harris's and Antonin Scalia's anti-democratic escapades. But Russert persisted, and his other guests, Rudy Giuliani and Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of the Archdiocese of Washington, took the bait. The former mayor responded, "I do think, Mrs. Bush, that there was some divine guidance in the president being elected" while the latter, a presumed expert on God, chimed in, "I don't thoroughly agree with the first lady. I think that the president really -- he was where he was when we needed him. And he's still there where we need him now."

Time Political Columnist Statistics, February 26 edition:

Columists appearing:

1) Joe Klein

2) William Kristol

3) Niall Ferguson

Number of Time political columnists in the February 26 edition who had the good sense to oppose the Iraq war: 0

Number of Time political columnists in the February 26 edition who not only did not have the good sense to oppose the Iraq war, but have impugned the intelligence and integrity of those who did: 2, minimum.

Number of Time political columnists in the February 26 edition who not only did not have the good sense to oppose the Iraq war and have impugned the intelligence and integrity of those who did, but cannot even bring themselves to admit they did not have the good sense to oppose the Iraq war: 1

Number of Time political columnists in the February 26 edition who not only did not have the good sense to oppose the Iraq war and have impugned the intelligence and integrity of those who did, but also, believe it or not, cannot even bring themselves to admit that this was a colossal mistake, even in retrospect: 1

Matt is right (again) in his dispute with David Greenberg regarding Greenberg's dispute with Alan Wolfe, who is also right, though it almost goes without saying in Matt's dispute with Jeffrey Herf and Andrei Markovits in their dispute with John Judis (who is also right). The sad fact is that Israel did commit war crimes in Lebanon. Calling anyone who points that out anti-Semitic -- as all of the above who are wrong have accused both Human Rights Watch, led by the very Jewish Ken Roth, and Aryeh Neier of being -- is morally, intellectually, and politically unacceptable. (And let's leave aside for a moment the problem of doing it in a publication owned and edited by a vicious anti-Arab racist ...)

Meanwhile, I haven't looked into this, but it wouldn't surprise me:

A Bush administration request for $86 million in U.S. funds to help train and equip Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces is being blocked by a U.S. lawmaker who has concerns about how the money might be used.

"Early last week, I placed a hold on the $86 million," Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, told Reuters on Tuesday. "It is imperative that we have a fuller understanding of exactly what the funding is for and what the situation is on the ground," said Lowey, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, which controls U.S. funding for domestic and foreign projects.

While Lowey said she had acted to hold up the money before last week's deal between Abbas and Hamas leaders to form a unity government, that agreement "raised additional questions."

Lowey said she has asked the State Department to provide more information on how the $86 million would be used.

Richard Silverstein adds:

And lest you think this might be a one-off thing for Lowey, she seems to be a serial offender on the issue of blocking Palestinian aid according to Eric Alterman.

So let's explain how it goes. AIPAC worries that Condi may use too much force against the Israeli position in the talks; that she may, for example, consider ending the U.S. siege on Gaza and the PA. So it sends a shot across Condi's bow by bottling up the $86 million the Bush Administration has allocated to support Mahmoud Abbas and his political position among the Palestinians. The message is: if you dare to cross AIPAC's position on any of this we'll twist your Mideast policy in knots.

It's all pretty pro forma and SOP for AIPAC. Of course, it is a vapid, bankrupt response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's simply stonewalling for stonewalling's sake. So tiresome and yet so familiar.

And proof that Lowey's action is mere grandstanding lies in this closing sentence from the article:

Neither Lowey nor aides specified what information she wants from the State Department to convince her to lift her hold on the $86 million.

This is actually pretty useful, dammit.

As much as I envy someone who sold roughly 900,000 more copies of a book than I did merely, as he says, "by adding professional jokes," I know Al Franken, Al Franken is a friend of mine, and while I don't endorse candidates, I will say Al is a truly great guy. Envy and a few small political disagreements aside, I'd count myself incredibly lucky to be represented by him, anywhere, but particularly in the United States Senate.

My city:

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see a Q-and-A (open to the public) with Tom Stoppard, the world's greatest living playwright -- just edging out Tony Kushner, IMNSHO. He is spending the year in residence here at Lincoln Center while also preparing the Russian version of The Coast of Utopia, which I'll write about this week in The Nation -- the Lincoln Center version, not the Russian version. (My guess is that The New Yorker will have to do that for you.) Hey, Vaclav Havel, perhaps IMNSHO, the world's greatest person who also happens to be a playwright, is also spending the year here, but at Columbia. I ran into him at the Wainwright/McGarrigle Christmas concert where he was there to see his friend Lou Reed, um, "sing." A couple of weeks earlier, I saw them together at the opening of Part I of Coast, but nobody had the bad manners to bother either one of them.

How's your city doing?

Alter-reviews:

Albums by new (?) bands I actually kinda like:

1) The Good, the Bad and the Queen

2) My Chemical Romance

Other new albums I also like by people who are new to me, but perhaps not to you. Feel free to chime in:

New Patti Griffin

New KT Tunstall

Old Amy Winehouse

New Charlotte Gainsbourg

Old Willie Mason

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Sean Burn
Hometown: Boston, MA

It seems to me the most glaringly ignored aspect of the whole Iraq debacle is the question(s) of what will happen to US and world financial markets if we withdraw forces?

Most likely, as history shows, Iraq will nationalize its oil industry (I would guess Venezuela is a likely model in many ways) and in so doing will cancel many foreign contracts. So I'm guessing there is much foot-dragging being done by those in the administration and congress by those beholden to the energy industry and Wall Street.

Can you point me to any reading regarding this avenue of approach? Is there anyone from the financial or energy sectors writing realistically on the subject?

Eric replies: Actually, no. Anybody else?

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego

Frontline aired the first of their multi-part series on the press last night (News War: Secrets, Sources, and Spin), and while it was commendable for them to admit their own mistakes regarding covering of the leadup to war, they seemed to have fallen for the same spin regarding the Plame story:

The leak of Plame's name was in and of itself a crime.

They showed journalist after journalist (inlcuding Miller and Woodward) wringing their hands over the question of reporter's privilege and the right to keep a source confidential, bringing up issues of press contacts in the Black Panthers, whistleblowers, etc. and not once did they bother to make the distinction that what separates the Plame affair from, say, Earl Caldwell's sources in the Black Panthers or Josh Wolf's videotaping of a protest is that the act of reporting by Caldwell and Wolf did not make them accessories to a crime.

Suppose I'm in organized crime. I let you, as a reporter, know that the recently deceased was the victim of a hit by one of my associates. Your reporting on that, keeping my name out of the story, is not a crime because you were not involved in the murder.

But the release of Plame's name, due to the fact that she was a CIA operative under cover, was a crime. To pass it on was a crime. To receive the name makes one an accessory to the crime. And thus, if you obstruct the investigation of that crime by refusing to reveal your sources, that is a crime as well. No privilege is absolute.

On and on they went around this question of privilege, all the while ignoring the entire reason Miller went to jail: She was an active participant in a crime.

Now, I have great respect for the work that Frontline has done, but it seems that they still want to wring some sort of verdict of innocence with regard to the press and have fallen for the spin that Miller was sacrificing herself for some constitutional principle. No. She and all the other reporters who received Plame's name and refused to assist the prosecutors are accessories to a crime.

Parts 2 and 3 of the series will be coming up soon. It will be interesting to see if they're still reluctant to watch the watchers.

Eric replies: Well, I think the point is correct morally, but legally, it's more complicated. The criminal statute is written in such a way that state of mind matters a great deal. My guess is that the "crime" aspect is unprovable. Morally, however, these SOBs are guilty as hell.

Name: Rich Procter
Hometown: Sierra Madre, CA

My fave Ross Thomas books:

1) If You Can't Be Good -- A thriller that still thrills

2) The Fools in Town Are On Our Side -- As close as Thomas came to writing an "epic"

3) Briarpatch -- Crackjack plot

4) The Porkchoppers -- The politics of a labor union election. Brilliant

Every one of these books is brilliant. Stephen King is a huge Ross Thomas fan -- so is Bill Clinton.

Name: Derek Lessing
Hometown: Philly

You could do worse than any of the historical novels of Gore Vidal. Lincoln, in particular -- politics gets interesting when the survival of the Union is at stake. An erudite President who wrote a lot (hard to imagine these days) means there was a lot of source material for Vidal. And hey, Lincoln spent his formative political years in your hometown of Springfield!

Name: Eric Rauchway
Hometown: Davis, CA

Dear Eric,

My nomination for best political novel is Edwin O'Connor's The Last Hurrah, a fine fable about the demise of the old-time city boss, and his replacement by a load of telegenic hairdos minded by professionals:

For this television campaign, experts had been consulted; the results were programs which were staged and handled with imagination and skill. ... [N]ight after night and day after day, with camera and microphone tastefully concealed, the candidate was revealed to the voters: a tall, plumply handsome, well-turned-out young man, with neat sandy hair, large earnest eyes, and a boyish smile. ... [He] and the associate by his side played the television game of question-and-answer.

Guess what hard-hitting questions he gets: "How do you feel ... ?"

A fine, fine book.

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