It seems the nearer your destination ...


We've got a new "Think Again" column here called "Your Government: Access Denied." Read it and weep.

Me n' Dershowitz down by the schoolyard:

I seem to have a strange power over Alan Dershowitz. I mean, I presume the guy must be intelligent, what with making all those millions of bucks winning appeals and teaching at Harvard and the like. And yet every time my path crosses his, his actions resemble those of a junior high school student. You may recall that I've noted a few times that Dershowitz has out-and-out lied about me to the press, which is not stupid, but he has done so about an incident in which I was holding a tape recorder in his face, which is. I've speculated on more than one occasion that Dershowitz, whom I've actually found to be charming and engaging in person, simply loses his mind when the topic is either himself or the Jewish people. Well, there he goes again. See below in this exchange in the current issue of The Nation:

Cambridge, Mass.

One definition of McCarthyism is to lump people together into a group and then generalize about their personal views. Eric Alterman is guilty of such McCarthyism in his January 7/14 column. He lists a group of mostly conservative Jews he thinks are bad for the Jews. He describes thus: "Most are Bush apologists, most supported the invasion of Iraq and most are sympathetic to the idea of an invasion of Iran." I am a liberal Democrat who was part of the legal team opposing Bush's election. I am as far away from being a Bush apologist as possible. I opposed the invasion of Iraq and currently oppose an invasion of Iran. But because I am a Jew and I support Israel (though I oppose the occupation and favor the two-state solution), Alterman lumps me together in the same group as many with whom I disagree. If this is not ethnic profiling, I don't know what is.



New York City

I am pleased to hear of Alan Dershowitz's political perspicacity on matters relating to the election of George W. Bush, neoconservatism, Iraq, Iran and the like. Alas, Dershowitz doth protest quite a bit too much regarding the rest. In my column, I listed those Jewish commentators who speak out most frequently on the Middle East. Surely Dershowitz cannot object to being included on such a list. After doing so, in the following sentence I described the views of "most" of those listed above. Clearly the word "most" implies something different from "all" and allows, explicitly, for exceptions, including Dershowitz, among others. If Dershowitz wishes to emphasize further what I have already implied in my column, however, I have no objection. His accusations, however, of "McCarthyism" and "ethnic profiling" not only strike me as wrongheaded and inaccurate but are unbecoming a Harvard professor (not to mention a graduate of Brooklyn College), and as such, they are making me more than a little verklempt.


And in the "Oy Vey" department, I see from The Note that Ralph Nader has formed a presidential exploratory committee, and told that he'll run for president if he's convinced over the next month that he can raise $10 million over the course of his campaign, and that he can attract the pro bono legal help he'll need to get on state ballots. His assessment of Obama: "His record in the Senate is pretty mediocre," Nader said. "His most distinctive characteristic is the extent to which he censors himself. He hasn't performed as a really progressive first-term senator would."

I don't think this really requires much in the way of commentary. Anyone who would even consider voting for Ralph at this point is living in a dream world that is beyond mere words in pixels to reach. It's sad about Ralph. I will never forgive him for George W. Bush, but I would feel a little better about him if he would keep buying my books in massive quantities and donating them to journalism students and faculties. That would be totally awesome.

I can't find it, but I remember warning about just this. Oh, wait, check it out, from The Book on Bush (written in the summer of 2003):

In addition, Kean named University of Virginia historian Philip Zelikow as the committee's executive director. Formerly a member of George H. W. Bush's National Security Council staff, as well as a member of President George W. Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Zelikow was also coauthor with Condoleezza Rice of an admiring study of their ex-boss's (and the president's father's) handling of the end of the cold war. Without casting any personal aspersions on Professor Zelikow, who is also a first rate scholar of the Cuban missile crisis, it is hard to imagine that anyone could conduct a thoroughly honest and potentially damning investigation of his friends and former colleagues. In October 2003, a group of families of September 11 victims wrote to the commission cochairs asking that Zelikow recuse himself "from any aspect of national security and executive branch negotiations and investigations" because of his past connections to the National Security Council and to key Bush administration officials. Other apparent conflicts of interest abounded as well.

George Zornick writes: Eric previously noted that Howard Kurtz characterized new Washington Times executive editor John Solomon as "non-ideological" upon his hiring, and here we see that Solomon agrees -- responding to criticisms of his work in an interview with the Connecticut Post (via Greg Sargent), Solomon says: "The blogs point to no factual errors but complain that I highlighted something they didn't care for or preferred that I would have focused on something else."

Leaving aside the dismissive characterization of his critics as "the blogs," even though the list of critics include the Columbia Journalism Review and the ombudsman of The Washington Post, where he formerly worked, we see here a dodge to take note of. Solomon claims that all his facts were correct (actually, that's not true), and that it's just his apparently inconsequential "highlighting" of these facts that raises some people's ire. But therein lies the bias, of course -- what a reporter does or does not decide to report can reveal a great deal of bias, even if the reported facts are per se correct.

For example, Solomon wrote a story trying to link Sen. Harry Reid to the Jack Abramoff scandal. He reported on contacts between Reid's office with an Abramoff-tied lobbyist, facts that are not incorrect. One fact he chooses not to "highlight," however, is the fact that Reid voted against what the lobbyist was advocating. Through this selective reporting, something sinister is implied when nothing really exists. If one were to write a story noting only that John Solomon left his house at 9 a.m., and at 9:20 a.m. a bank that's 20 minutes away from his house was robbed by a white male, most would take away sinister implication and Solomon likely wouldn't be too pleased. But the facts would be correct, so what's the beef?

The Reid-Abramoff deception is certainly a bit ham-handed, but Solomon often pushes this kind of factually "correct" bias more insidiously by electing to cover only certain topics. He enjoys writing about John Edwards' haircut, for example, but we are left wondering what the well-coiffed Mitt Romney pays. The very act of writing at length about candidate haircuts to begin during an important election reveals Solomon isn't particularly fond of informed democratic process, either.

In general, what a reporter chooses to cover -- and not cover -- and what facts (correct as they may be) are, or are not, included in a story reveals a great deal about the reporter's ideology. There doesn't seem to be much question about Solomon's views.

Speaking of the Abramoff scandal, it is important to note that the scandal could not have developed as it did without the use of Freedom of Information Act requests, the topic of our Think Again column this week, linked above. FOIA requests were used to reveal how many times Abramoff visited the White House, and has been a key tool of journalists and the public at large for decades. Recent major uses of FOIA include one filed by MSNBC following the Minnesota bridge collapse last year, when the network demanded and received federal data revealing 17,000 bridges in the United States were not properly inspected. FOIA is also a useful tool for enhancing the historical record, such as when requests to the FBI revealed embarrassing government surveillance of Martin Luther King.

That the Bush administration is trying to effectively eliminate the office that handles FOIA requests isn't as sexy a topic as the destruction of CIA torture tapes or other attempts to limit information about the government, but it's still a crucially important one. For more information, visit the Sunshine Week project, which is conducting a national campaign for increased government transparency.

From Social Research:

Dear Social Research subscribers,

The Endangered Scholars Worldwide website has been updated with the scholars featured in our Winter 2007 issue, with the addition of a new listing of academics who have been denied entry visas to teach or speak at US universities. We are happy to announce that eight of the scholars in our most recent issue have already been released. These include: Mehrnoushe Solouki, who has finally been able to return to Canada following her ordeal in the notorious Edin prison in Tehran and 6 months awaiting permission to leave the country; Emadeddin Baghi, who was released last week on health grounds from the same prison; and all six of the Bangladeshi professors who were still in jail at the time of going to press, but who were pardoned on January 22, along with all scholars and students rounded up after the protests at Dhaka and Rajshahi Universities in August. Unfortunately the majority of the scholars we have featured remain in prison, some facing inhuman conditions. We urge you to support them by writing letters on their behalf to the relevant authorities. Details of the cases, along with sample letters and addressees can be viewed here.

We would also like to inform you of an "Endangered Scholars Worldwide" panel discussion next Thursday (February 7th) from 5:30-7:00pm at The New School in New York City. Panelists include scholars who have faced imprisonment, have been forced into exile from their home countries in order to escape persecution, or were denied a visa to speak or teach in the US. They include Mehrangiz Kar from Iran, Berhanu Nega from Ethiopia, Donny George Youkhanna from Iraq, Adam Habib via videoconference from South Africa, and Akbar Ganji from Iran (TBD). Samantha Power at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy will moderate. The event is free and open to the public and a reception will follow the panel discussion at which the audience will be free to ask questions. Since seating is limited, we are asking interested parties to RSVP at or 212.229.5776 x3121. We hope you can attend.

This week on Moyers:

In the week of the State of the Union address, Bill Moyers Journal goes beyond the rhetoric and examines the reality of waste and abuse of power in Washington with a look at the investigations being conducted by Congress Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "If no one thinks they're being watched and being held accountable, they think they can get away with anything," says Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), the committee's chairman. Also on the program, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, one of the nation's leading experts on media and campaigns, on the events of the week.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Kurt Weldon
Hometown: Los Angeles

"So who does Edwards' departure help, Clinton or Obama?"

I can only speak for myself, and maybe one of my more pliable cats. My first reaction is: "Dammit -- I'm gonna vote for Edwards anyway!" I'm used to casting symbolic votes in the California Primary. Usually the nomination is already sewn up, so I vote for the candidate whose message I hope will somehow be carried on. (That tends to be someone other than the nominee.) And I very much want Edwards to be listened to by whoever wins the actual nomination.

My second reaction is: I really don't want to see the highest office in the land see-saw between the same two families for 24 to 28 years. It makes me think of Lancaster and York. It smacks of aristocracy. And I think we've done enough lately that smacks of aristocracy to last us for quite awhile, thank you.

So I suppose if push comes to shove, I'd have to go with Obama. I do believe his election would be more genuinely transformative than Clinton's. But I was really looking forward to voting for the message I support wholeheartedly. Instead, one way or another, it looks like I'll be voting based on what I would like to prevent. I'm really getting tired of feeling that way.

Name: Daniel Schensul
Hometown: Brooklyn

Dear Dr. Alterman,

After Bill Clinton's comments in New Hampshire and South Carolina, I was seriously questioning whether I could vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election (and wrote to you saying as much). Then I saw Hillary apologize on CNN the night of the Florida primary (here). All I can say is, thank you Hillary. Being strong and at the same time willing to admit you were wrong, and take responsibility for it, is, as we've learned in the last 7 years, both essential and all too rare. I feel SO much better. I will now vote for her if she gets the nomination.

Name: Kathy
Hometown: Los Angeles

I gotta disagree with the strategy of running against McCain as a future doddering old guy. I'd be all for it but for one thing: Florida.

Name: Bill Dunlap
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon


You wrote, "Should Democrats run against McCain as too old to be president?" As you said, they should. The other day, my wife, her near-80 mother and I caught McCain in a campaign spot on TV. I said, "He reminds me of that old comedian, I can't remember his name." My mother-in-law quickly said, "Tim Conway," and that's who I meant. McCain looked fragile, like Conway used to when he took mini-steps shuffling around the stage. I hope Conway is a Dem who will do some impressions of McCain, at least for YouTube.

Name: richard
Hometown: Los Angeles

I would disagree with your opinion that Edwards was the most electable of the candidates and waged the best campaign. His positions on foreign policy were pure pablum -- he had nothing to say of any substance whatsoever. And although his poll showings against the Republican candidates were slightly better than Clinton or Obama, I believe that this was because nobody gave his candidacy much thought and were sure to come down once the real campaign began. He impressed me, and many others, as a lightweight -- an excellent trial attorney but not someone who I would like to see as President because he wouldn't be up to the job. I don't think the Democratic electorate rejected his candidacy because of negative press coverage -- I think they rejected it because there wasn't enough substance behind that ever present smile.

Name: Kim Viner
Hometown: Laramie, WY

Tom Engelhardt's piece on the increased reliance of air power in Iraq was illuminating. He brought to light information that has not been well publicized. However, as one who was against the Iraq war before it even began, I have to say that his comparison of 100,000 lbs of bombs dropped on a farming area to what the Luftwaffe did to Guernica prior to WWII is over the top. Engelhardt has provided no evidence whatsoever that there was any intent on the part of the United States military to intentionally target and terrorize the civilian population of Arab Jabour. Nor does he report any major damage to the civilian infrastructure (three fourths of which was destroyed at Guernica). While the theme of the report, that air warfare is not the sanitary operation reported on the evening news, may be correct, his use of Guernica to support that theme is off the mark.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Pearl Harbor, HI

Dr. Alterman,

I'd like to respond to excerpt from Mr. Engelhardt in yesterday's post (and his full length article for which you provided a link). I'm not saying any of his remarks are factually wrong, but I think the point he is trying to make relies on an assumption that not many people share. Mr. Engelhardt regards any civilian casualties that result from air attacks as being the moral equivalent of intentionally targeting and killing civilians. In his article, he highlights the international revulsion the German Condor Legion caused at Guernica, and he also notes that Times of London reporter George Steer, "made clear in his report that this had been an attack on a civilian population, essentially a terror bombing." [Emphasis in original.] However, Mr. Engelhardt attempts to compare recent U.S. attacks in the Arab Jabour region and the German attack on civilian population of Guernica with only two superficial facts: (1) both attacks used approximately 100,000 pounds of explosives, and (2) there were civilians present in these areas during the attacks. No where does Mr. Engelhardt attempt to consider what measures U.S. forces may have used to target legitimate military objectives, or to avoid/minimize civilian casualties. It seems that his opinion, any air attack is the same as the Condor Legion intentionally targeting civilians.

For those who are interested in the current state of the law of war on targeting only legitimate military objectives, and minimizing civilian casualties, this independent web site discusses the law of war in general. This article by Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Holland, a Judge Advocate General officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, discusses the law of war and targeting.

In the U.S. Armed Forces there are two safeguards. First, the Commander issues rules of engagement, which guide the use of force to ensure compliance with the law of war. Second, staffs planning air operations routinely use a targeting board to evaluate the intelligence on proposed targets and make considered decisions on whether to attack or not attack these targets, and the means and methods used. This is fundamentally different from the egregious war crime committed against the civilians of Guernica.

In contrast to Mr. Engelhardt, some critics of U.S. use of airpower have made the argument that Iraqi civilian casualties from these attacks are so heavy that the attempt to minimize civilian casualties has been ineffective. This is more relevant to the law of war as it exists today. Mr. Engelhardt is entitled to his opinions, but they are not terribly useful for evaluating the current conflict in Iraq.

Name: Tom Fischer
Hometown: Buffalo, NY

Dear Doctor,

You make some excellent observations about the Edwards campaign. The one that astounds me most is The New York Times -- "How can you care about poor people when you're so rich?"

Isn't that like asking a doctor, "How can you care about sick people when you're so healthy?" Furthermore, if you follow that most ridiculous premise to its end, you would be left thinking that poor people are best qualified to care for the poor. However, should a poor person have the chance on a national level to raise the issue of poverty, it's always branded class warfare.

It's clear that certain pundits, fearful of the progressive movement, used twisted logic like this to marginalize and ultimately derail his campaign.

Name: Dan V
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

I will second M Wetzel's comments. The recession which some feel started back in November is needed to rebalance this economy. With people, corporations and the government spending $1.20 for every dollar they earn and with debt skyrocketing, consumerism is heading for a bust. But what does Wall Street want??? More cheap credit!! This is exactly the same thing Greenspan gave them in 2001 and 2002 which led to the housing crisis and the current recession.

I'm afraid that the Fed only listens to Wall Street and we'll see another 50 or 75 point drop in the Fed rate. If it doesn't happen, look for a good 1,000 point drop in the Dow as punishment. If it does happen, look for a new round of debt based spending by corporations which will make the eventual crash even worse. Cheap debt is like a drug. Once you start getting it, you can't stop craving it until the whole system just collapses around you. We'll see this week whether the Fed is aligned with Wall Street or with Main Street.

Name: Larry Epke
Hometown: Richton Park, IL

Robert Earle wants the 1929 Packers included in the list of unbeaten teams. But if you're going to go to the earlier era of football, you must also include the 1923 Canton Bulldogs (11-0-1), the 1922 Canton Bulldogs (10-0-2) and the 1920 Akron Pros (8-0-3 in the APFA, the NFL's predecessor league). And then let's include the 1948 Cleveland Browns of the AAFC, who were 14-0; no ties. All from Ohio, I might add.

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