This is Captain America calling ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

See this Vanity Fair piece? "With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever."

Pundits like to talk about the Bush push for "democracy" in the Middle East, but it has always been nonsense, as I argued here back in January 2005. Now personally I'm glad it's nonsense. These Arabs really hate our guts; make those countries democratic and they'd want to kill more of us. I've never thought democracy made much sense absent a middle class and it certainly makes no sense in feudal societies overlaid by centuries of totalitarian dictatorship. But the hypocrisy of both the Bush administration and its publicists in the press is truly breathtaking.

Speaking of hypocrisy: Here's a nice piece on "[h]ow self-censorship works in the empire of Rupert Murdoch." Congrats to everybody who thought it such a great idea to give this man control of one of our last great newspapers.

I was quoted in T.A. Frank's excellent piece, titled "Why Is Bob Herbert Boring?" and I thought the piece illuminating both in the questions it asked and the conclusions it reached, here.

Today's Herbert column is a perfect example of why. Some snippets:

On Thursday, the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Chuck Schumer, conducted a public examination of the costs of the war. The witnesses included the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (who believes the overall costs of the war -- not just the cost to taxpayers -- will reach $3 trillion), and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

Both men talked about large opportunities lost because of the money poured into the war. "For a fraction of the cost of this war," said Mr. Stiglitz, "we could have put Social Security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more."

Mr. Hormats mentioned Social Security and Medicare, saying that both could have been put "on a more sustainable basis." And he cited the committee's own calculations from last fall that showed that the money spent on the war each day is enough to enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start for a year, or make a year of college affordable for 160,000 low-income students through Pell Grants, or pay the annual salaries of nearly 11,000 additional border patrol agents or 14,000 more police officers.

What we're getting instead is the stuff of nightmares. Mr. Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia, has been working with a colleague at Harvard, Linda Bilmes, to document, among other things, some of the less obvious costs of the war. These include the obligation to provide health care and disability benefits for returning veterans. Those costs will be with us for decades.

Mr. Stiglitz noted that nearly 40 percent of the 700,000 troops from the first gulf war, which lasted just a month, have become eligible for disability benefits. The current war is approaching five years in duration.

"Imagine then," said Mr. Stiglitz, "what a war - that will almost surely involve more than 2 million troops and will almost surely last more than six or seven years - will cost. Already we are seeing large numbers of returning veterans showing up at V.A. hospitals for treatment, large numbers applying for disability and large numbers with severe psychological problems."

The Bush administration has tried its best to conceal the horrendous costs of the war. It has bypassed the normal budgetary process, financing the war almost entirely through "emergency" appropriations that get far less scrutiny.

Even the most basic wartime information is difficult to come by. Mr. Stiglitz, who has written a new book with Ms. Bilmes called "The Three Trillion Dollar War," said they had to go to veterans' groups, who in turn had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act, just to find out how many Americans had been injured in Iraq.

Mr. Stiglitz and Mr. Hormats both addressed the foolhardiness of waging war at the same time that the government is cutting taxes and sharply increasing non-war-related expenditures.

Mr. Hormats told the committee:

"Normally, when America goes to war, nonessential spending programs are reduced to make room in the budget for the higher costs of the war. Individual programs that benefit specific constituencies are sacrificed for the common good ... And taxes have never been cut during a major American war. For example, President Eisenhower adamantly resisted pressure from Senate Republicans for a tax cut during the Korean War."

Said Mr. Stiglitz: "Because the administration actually cut taxes as we went to war, when we were already running huge deficits, this war has, effectively, been entirely financed by deficits. The national debt has increased by some $2.5 trillion since the beginning of the war, and of this, almost $1 trillion is due directly to the war itself ... By 2017, we estimate that the national debt will have increased, just because of the war, by some $2 trillion."

It's a shame that people probably won't pay attention to this one either ...

I saw Part II of HBO's John Adams last night. It's magnificent in its ability to combine honest history with witty writing and great acting. In his review, however, John Leonard refers, here, to "the equally estimable Abigail Adams and Laura Linney." Perhaps he thought it just a cute phrase, but dude, did you really write that? I bow to no one in my lust for Ms. Linney, but to compare her to a figure of greatness of the stature of Abigail Adams is to equate a talent for acting with one for vision, courage, literary eloquence and human bravery. It's a symbol of our cultural craziness that a smart guy like Leonard would write such a thing, even as a throwaway. (Had he tried it with God's most perfect creation, Ms. Natalie Portman, I might not have been so upset.)

Here's Natalie, by the way: "I would love to see a government that made demands on Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement. Ultimately, it has to come from the people themselves, though. No one is going to like an externally imposed solution."

George Zornick writes:

John Solomon Watch: Widely noted in the blogosphere were new style guidelines proposed by Washington Times editor John Solomon. They included no longer referring to illegal immigrants as illegal aliens, and not putting quotes around the term gay marriage. Commendable first steps away from making the newspaper seem like a print version of The O'Reilly Factor, but with every wildly unfounded story they continue to print, the paper takes two steps back. We see, here, that the Times reported Sen. Barack Obama received a discount on his house, by way of Chicago businessman Antoin Rezko. No other outlet has reported this discount, so this would be a pretty big scoop: except for the fact there is no evidence supplied by the Times about the discount, and nobody from the paper has yet explained how they know about this supposed shady dealing.

Also, the paper printed a story on the front page last week claiming that, when it comes to Obama, the military "fears an unknown quantity." The paper at least had the decency to offer some support for this claim -- but it came via a retired Air Force lieutenant general who doubles as a Fox News analyst, and two unnamed "officials" and "industry executives." Mr. Solomon may want to now turn his attention toward reporting and attribution guidelines, as well.

This story in the Chicago Tribune about the world of graft and kickbacks surrounding Iraq War profiteering didn't get nearly the attention it deserved; it's a stunning account of greed run wild, much to the detriment of taxpayers and the war effort. It should be read in tandem with Jeremy Scahill's recent reporting in The Nation about the various plans by presidential candidates to curb the influence of private companies in war zones.

From Media Matters: "On Meet the Press, host Tim Russert ignored Republican strategist Mike Murphy's reference to Sen. John McCain's acceptance of an endorsement by evangelist John Hagee. Russert did not identify Hagee by name or mention Hagee's statements denouncing or disparaging homosexuality, Islam, Catholics, and women. By contrast, during the last Democratic debate, Russert persisted with questions to Sen. Barack Obama about Louis Farrakhan's support of Obama, despite Obama's repeated denunciations of Farrakhan's statements."

Is it simply that there was no easy "gotcha" with McCain, because he courted the endorsement, and stood out on stage with Hagee? It's impossible to know why Tim avoided this ripe line of questioning, and it's also impossible to know how he remains impervious to consistent, reasonable questioning of his reporting abilities.

President Bush has spent 452 days on vacation while in office; that amounts to roughly 17.4 percent of his presidency; or, an average of 63 days per year. I think, given the standard being set by our leader, it's time I talk to Eric about my vacation schedule...

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA

What was Hillary thinking when she said that she took Barack Obama at his word when he says he's not a Muslim? (Answer: she wasn't.) What part of "membership in the United Church of Christ" does she not understand?

Name: Terry
Hometown: Cheyenne

I think there's a further fortune to be made in books by self-hating women for self-hating women, and I missed it. Darn.

Name: Jim
Hometown: Colorado

Tina Fey, the person, not the character, said that her character's line about voting for McCain was based on her own feelings: "Ms. Fey, who wrote that line, said it was semi-autobiographical, a way of "admitting I have a lot of liberal feelings, but I also live in New York, and I want to feel safe, and I secretly kind of want Giuliani."

I posted a question about this -- how, exactly Giuliani's Bush squared foreign policy was going to keep NY safe -- in the Q&A they were supposed to host on that article, but I never found it.

As for Lorne Michaels, I was curious and searched his donor history. He's maxed out to McCain, but was an even bigger donor to Chris Dodd. And Al Franken.

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