Your lips move, but I can't hear what you're saying ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

That seven-year-old essay on David Broder of mine is here. It occurs to me that roughly half of it has never been published before, since whomever published it didn't do more than 3,000 words.

Scary Movies: Reading Around:

Newsweek publishes a Web-only piece by Christopher Dickey -- it's too true to go in the actual magazine -- that should not get lost in the sauce: Here is a bunch of it:

Maybe you remember what President George W. Bush had to say about those folks. It tells you a lot about why the United States has so few friends left in the world; why its political allies have been weakened, deposed or defeated and why the public in Europe, especially, is unwilling to believe almost anything Washington says.

This is from the White House transcript of Bush's remarks on Feb. 18, 2003, three days after huge protests in Britain, Spain and Italy -- and one month before the bombing of Baghdad: "First of all, you know, size of protest, it's like deciding, well, I'm going to decide policy based upon a focus group," Bush told reporters.

A focus group. Sure. Why not compare millions of people of good conscience gathered to exercise their civic duty to handfuls paid for their opinions about the marketing of new soft drinks or campaign slogans? Why would Bush or his acolyte, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, listen to a vast sampling of public concern when the two politicians knew in their hearts they'd already taken the right decision about launching the war.

The rest of the president's remarks that day are chilling, not least because they sound exactly like what his administration is saying now about Iran. "War is my last choice," he told reporters. "But the risk of doing nothing is even a worst [sic] option as far as I'm concerned."

The backlash brought on by what we've seen since then runs so deep today that even reasonable policies become political poison once they're branded pro-American. Thus bitter memories of lies and insults undermine legitimate efforts to restrain the Iranian nuclear enrichment program. They discredit efforts to encourage democracy, inevitably branded by dictators as an American import. They continue to weaken a staunch American friend like Blair, whose brilliant career has now entered a sad twilight because of his faithful service as Bush's "poodle" or, perhaps better said, attack dog.

The latest example of blowback from the Bush administration's cynical hypocrisy and bad judgment was the fall of Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government in Italy over keeping troops in Afghanistan. You'll recall that Prodi's predecessor, the flamboyant Silvio Berlusconi, was a charter member of the "coalition of the willing" that trailed into Iraq behind Bush. The reward reaped by the Italian public for that commitment was casual contempt by the Bush administration. In 2003, even as antiwar protests were mobilizing in Rome, the CIA allegedly sent a large team to Milan to kidnap an Egyptian-born Islamist known as Abu Omar and ship him back to the tender mercies of the secret police in Cairo. In 2005, U.S. troops in Baghdad opened fire on a car carrying a major general in Italy's military-intelligence service, killing him and wounding Giuliana Sgrena, the journalist he'd just freed from kidnappers. Both cases are now before the Italian courts, but naturally the Americans have no intention of handing over the U.S. personnel indicted in absentia.

Prodi's left-wing coalition won its thin majority nine months ago partly because of popular resentment against Berlusconi's pro-American policies. But Prodi took the statesmanlike position of honoring past commitments: remaining part of the force in Afghanistan and agreeing to the expansion of a U.S. military base at Vicenza in northern Italy. (As for Iraq, even Berlusconi decided last year that it was high time to get out, and did.)

But Prodi soon discovered that statesmanship is hard to sustain when dealing with the Bush administration. The Italian premier's fragile coalition started to come apart over the Afghan deployment.

It's all here.

That was by way of introduction. When you think about how incompetent, ideologically extremist, and dishonest this administration is in everything it does and touches, then Sy Hersh is here to scare the hell out of you, again.

Not scared yet? They're making up stuff about Iran the same way they did about Iraq.

As unpopular as Bush and Cheney are, Americans remain unaware of how many Iraqis Bush and company have helped to kill, by a factor of at least a thousand, and this piece too underestimates that figure.

But not to worry:

According to a survey of more than 200 Wall Street professionals who took home at least $2 million in cash from their 2006 bonuses, respondents are spending 11% of their payouts, on average, on watches and jewelry. For even the lowest-paid bankers in the survey, that's a bling budget of more than $200,000.

Last year, Wall Street bonuses jumped an average of 15% to 20%, meaning that the senior bankers with the title of managing director received average pay of between $2.2 million to $3.8 million, according to the Options Group, a New York consulting firm.

The bankers spent an average of 6% of their bonuses on personal services -- such as nannies, maids, tutors, cosmetic surgery and spas, according to the Prince survey. Despite media reports of bankers rushing to Ferrari dealerships, the survey showed they spent a relatively small 3% of their bonuses on luxury cars. (That's still $149,000 each, based on the average payout.)

The richest bankers are the most lavish spenders -- deploying a larger proportion of their take toward homes, cars and luxury goods. Roughly half of the survey's respondents took home bonuses of more than $5 million last year; this group spent 16% on watches and jewelry and socked away about 9%. By comparison, the other half of respondents -- those who received $2 million to $5 million -- spent only about 7% on baubles and put 23% into savings.

And despite the notion that the really rich give more to charity, the rule didn't seem to apply to the bankers in this survey. Respondents gave about 4% to charity. Those receiving bonuses of $5 million or more gave the same proportion as their poorer peers. Says Mr. Prince: "This is not an especially generous group."

That is all here ($).

Speaking of money, we Jews are a smart tribe.

Curioser and Curiouser: The Smart Boyz at The Note credit "Sen. Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT) -- flexing in a(nother) Wall Street Journal op ed today -- [who] challenges Democrats to give the surge a chance to work through the summer, creating the patina of bipartisanship the Republicans need." Does someone need to tell the Smart Boyz and their many minions that, um, Lieberman is not a Democrat. Hence, no "bipartisanship," patina-like or otherwise ...

Dear Americans of Both Coasts (including especially, but not exclusively, those of you decadent coastal elites): Andy Sullivan hates your guts if you happen to go to the movies. Money quote: "I can't stand movie theaters any more or the people who go to them."

Me, I can't stand people who can't stand people who go to the movies ...

If there's anything more pathetic than going to the trouble to try to look like a smarty-pants by fact-checking Gwyneth Paltrow and screwing up by a factor of a thousand, perhaps Brendan Nyhan might like to look into it ...

Lovely essay on W.H. Auden by James Fenton, here.

From the Benton Foundation:

(A rare cheer for massive FCC fines from yours truly:)

RECORD FINE EXPECTED FOR UNIVISION [SOURCE: New York Times 2/23, AUTHOR: Stephen Labaton]

When Univision began broadcasting a show three years ago about the misadventures of 11-year-old identical twin girls who swapped identities after discovering they had been separated at birth, it characterized the episodes as educational programming for children. That decision is expected to cost Univision, the nation's largest Hispanic network, $24 million in what would be the largest fine the Federal Communications Commission has ever imposed against any company. The penalty is also expected to send a strong signal to broadcasters that they will be expected to meet their required quota of shows that educate and inform children, after years of permissive oversight in this area. The commission has decided to impose the heavy fine -- disclosed by FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin in an interview -- as a tough rebuke to Univision for claiming to meet its obligations to broadcast educational children's programs by showing the Latino soap opera "Complices al Rescate" ("Friends to the Rescue") and other so-called telenovelas. The penalty represents an unusually aggressive enforcement of the 1996 regulations that interpreted the Children's Television Act. Those regulations, adopted
after some broadcasters characterized cartoons like "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons" to be educational programs, imposed more substantive requirements on the networks as they comply with the mandate to broadcast at least three hours a week of programs of intellectual value to young people. Although some television critics say it is common for stations not to comply, only a handful of complaints have been filed. An even smaller number have resulted in modest penalties of several thousand dollars for stations found to have violated the rules.

I say, "Go git 'em...."

From TomDispatch: At 10:16 p.m. on March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office. "My fellow citizens," he began, "at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger..." Almost four years later, on a careful reading of our President's latest speeches and statements, Michael Klare has noted that an actual list of charges against Iran, a case for war, has already essentially been drawn up -- one remarkably similar to the pre-2003 administration case against Iraq. In other words, the talking points for war, the charges in any casus belli, are already in place and available to the President's speechmakers, making it easy enough to imagine that at 10:16 PM on some night not so very distant from this one, from that same desk in the Oval Office, the President of the United States might again begin, "My fellow citizens, at this hour ..."

Klare writes: "Sometime this spring or summer, barring an unexpected turnaround by Tehran, President Bush is likely to go on national television and announce that he has ordered American ships and aircraft to strike at military targets inside Iran. We must still sit through several months of soap opera at the United Nations in New York and assorted foreign capitals before this comes to pass, and it is always possible that a diplomatic breakthrough will occur -- let it be so! -- but I am convinced that Bush has already decided an attack is his only option and the rest is a charade he must go through to satisfy his European allies. The proof of this, I believe, lies half-hidden in recent public statements of his, which, if pieced together, provide a casus belli, or formal list of justifications, for going to war."

Alter-reviews:

Friday night I went to see David Bromberg do a solo show at Joe's Pub. You would find it remarkable what a terrific guitarist Bromberg is, if you didn't know about his new solo acoustic album, which is his first CD in 17 years. His work is a remarkable combination of talent, good taste, musical integrity, and archival attention. While his persona is about as un-rock star as is humanly possible, he teaches and entertains at the same time in almost equal proportions. Try the record.

Afterwards, I caught the second half of John Huston's Red Badge of Courage at MOMA, where Susan Morrison was interviewing Lillian Ross about her book Picture afterward. Can there be a higher compliment to a nonfiction writer to have people reading and discussing her work 56 years after its original publication? And the old girl is still going -- as lucid and eloquent as ever, writing "Talk" pieces and drinking and partying late into the night. I once stayed up till about 3 -- which I hate doing -- because I was having dinner with Lillian and I left her at the restaurant.

Saturday, I saw this totally excellent little movie that just opened called Starter for Ten, which everybody ought to go see, and then got to catch an American Songbook performance by Jane Monheit at the Allen Room, the world's most beautiful performance space. Jane is a Long Island girl and oddly, does not try to hide it. Her performances are not as cerebral as some of my favorite cabaret singers like Andrea Marcovicci, Maude Maggart, and the late great Bobby Short, but she's got chops and adds her own imprint to the material with impressive brio and imagination. The highlights were a trio of Jobim songs and a transcendent "Over the Rainbow."

Sunday, I caught the new print of Renoir's Rules of the Game at Symphony Space; which everyone should rent right now -- unless you live near Symphony Space -- as it really stuns as an accomplishment for its time and thrills even today. (No good prints were available for a really long time.) I had planned to skip the Oscars to go to a lecture at Columbia on "Zionist Utopias" but thought that I would learn more by staying at home and -- speaking of Zionist utopias -- watching Hollywood Jews engage in what Catholic League head William Donohue ensures me is their hatred of Catholicism and love of anal sex. I'm sure it was there somewhere, but it got too boring and I switched to TCM's showing of A Man for All Seasons, but since it was about Christians, naturally, I hated it. When are we going to get rid of Christmas already? What the heck is the point of controlling the media if we can't get rid of Christmas?

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Rebecca
Hometown: Nokesville

As someone who suffered from PTSD after a terrorist attack on a US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, I can tell you that the US Government -- and many people in general -- do not want to hear about mental health issues and do NOT want to take responsibility for any share they have for our suffering. Especially since the illness can manifest itself in behaviors that are often uncomfortable and messy when the disease is not properly treated. In the case of government entities, they also do not want to be responsible in any kind of monetary way. And finally, our puritanical society just wants us to "pull ourselves up by the bootstraps," and "get over it." Luckily there are more and more medications that are being developed to help PTSD victims and more and more people who are starting to understand about this disease and the stigma is not as bad as it used to be.

Name: David Piccioli
Hometown: Springfield, IL

Well, Broder was great for many years, but he lost me as a fan when he joined the "get Clinton" crowd, quoting GOP attack dogs and never saw he was being used. He has slid into delusional trivia, writing about process and politeness while 3,000 kids die and 12,000 are missing arms, legs, eyes or part of their brain.

The past 6 years under Bush has been an embarrassment, a classic case of an old man who not only doesn't know his time is past, but fails to recognize how his "respect" for Washington traditions was being used to manipulate him by Bushco, and further, fails to see the true character of the Bush crowd, the sociopaths who mock Broder for being too stupid to recognize the lies they knowingly peddle to him.

Name: Donald Koelper
Hometown: Honolulu, HI

We really can't do much about David Broder's sycophantasmic musings on behalf of some of his friends in the GOP. But I'm going to throw this idea out to you anyway, with the expectation of perhaps advancing some serious dialogue about the corrosive role the Washington press corps has played in our recent national political discourse.

In the immediate wake of the Scooter Libby trial, it has become all too readily apparent that a number of prominent celebrity journalists, i.e., Judy Miller, Matt Cooper, Tim Russert and even Bob Woodward, have clearly lost any proper sense of personal perspective in covering this administration and the GOP-led Congress.

As a result, such journalists became players -- inadvertent or otherwise -- within their own respective storylines about the Iraq War.

I would think that this would give cause to ask some hard questions about the naturally deteriorating objectivity of those mainstream journalists who've in some instances worked the D.C. beat for the better part of several decades. Therefore, isn't it time that the management of mainstream media give serious consideration the idea of regularly rotating assignments for their Washington press corps - not just within the Beltway, but throughout their respective worldwide networks?

I fully realize that reporters sometimes invest years in developing their sources to the point of reliability and effectiveness. However, I would also argue that such reporters also run a significant risk of identifying too closely with their purported subjects and attendant issues, leaving them vulnerable to manipulative operatives like Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, etc., as well as unscrupulous politicians like Dick Cheney, all of whom played these Miller, et al., like a piano in a saloon.

I'm probably generalizing about D.C. journalists when I shouldn't be doing so, and it's perhaps not the right long-term solution, but it's certainly some food for thought.

Anyway, I'd sure appreciate hearing your own perspective on remedying this troubling issue of media bias amongst certain significant and long-entrenched elements of the D.C. press corps, which aims to appease the Beltway's currently prevailing political status quo.

Aloha.

Name: R.T. Tihista
Hometown: Sisters, OR

Eric: A marvelous essay. I have pretty much abandoned watching or reading "Insiders" like Broder or Sauerkrauthammer or Will, in favor of the blogs. These "pundits" now seem fatuous, biased and lack credibility. And Broder seems fanatical in his attempt to see bi-partisanship where it isn't though he wishes fervently for it. I agree with you, he should retire already.

Name: John Hand
Hometown: Harlingen, TX

Doc: Your comments on how Kanan Makiya so captivated Peter Beinart took me back to those days when Makiya was a fairly regular spokesman for a "free Iraq." I remember watching a Makiya address a group on C-SPAN somewhere in 03, and how taken I was with his articulateness and passion. I e-mailed either Josh Marshall or Eric Margolis, and asked him (I can't remember which one, nor can I find the e-mail) for his take on Makiya. As I remember the response, it was that he was a long-time spokesman for a free Iraq, but not really an important player because he neither grasped the current situation nor had a strong following in Iraq. If I could do just a little digging, enough to sort of place Makiya in the scheme of things, why couldn't Beinart? I'm not the journalist.

Name: Christian Haesemeyer
Hometown: Champaign, IL

So TNR changes its publication schedule. And how does Kit Seelye describe it in The New York Times: "The New Republic, the thinning left-leaning weekly...". Unbelievable. Left-leaning? Yeah, right. The article also fails to mention the clear truth, namely that Marty Peretz has run the magazine into the ground.

Name: Maria
Hometown: Chicago

Wow, Eric, a Jethro Tull reference?

... was that "Bungle in the Jungle"? You are too cool for school.

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