Follow that dream ...


On TNR's blog The Plank, here, Jamie Kirchick writes:

Dept. of Corrections

I recently wrote that that J Street, the "political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement," backs "the Right of Return" and "unconditional territorial concessions by Israel." The group doesn't. I also mistakenly imputed that position to several bloggers -- Eric Alterman, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. I now know that none of them have explicitly endorsed either unconditional territorial concessions or the right of return. I was wrong to imply that they did.

To be clear, I continue to think that the policies promoted by J Street are dangerous and naive. And I'll return to this debate again soon. But my serious disagreements do not excuse these inaccuracies, for which I apologize.

I appreciate the correction but do not accept the apology, as I dispute the notion that Kirchick claims to "now know" that his statements were false. He knew it when he wrote them here, as there was never any evidence whatever to support his allegations. And as they were already discussed and debunked here and here and here, he certainly knew it when, upon being corrected, he attempted to evade responsibility with more wild allegations here.

And there is no mention in the above of his slanderous lie about me regarding Andrew Sullivan that I have now been forced to correct three times, including this rather lengthy letter and finally again here.

So, thanks, but I have to wonder about how many people and institutions Kirchick has purposely slandered who do not have the resources or knowledge of how to call these slanders to the attention of his editors. Remember, Jeremy Ben-Ami was on vacation when I informed him of what had been written. Will they continue to be at the mercy of his dishonesty? Or will adult supervision finally be supplied before the damage is done? (The assumption here is that because Kirchick is Marty Peretz's personal assistant, and is representing Peretz's interest in attacking those writers and critics of TNR to whom Peretz lacks the courage to respond himself, the young man's employment status, alas, is untouchable.)

P.S. The first commenter on Kirchick's apology writes, "I think at the time you wrote your sneering piece, many commenters pointed out these 'inaccuracies' -- as they always do, whenever one of your pieces appear. It's good that you have acknowledged these -- there may well have been letters exchanged between lawyers to get you there -- I just hope that you have learned something from this, the same thing that many of us have been saying for a long time: distortions, sneering and sarcasm are not proper journalistic techniques." For the record, there were no lawyer letters from me nor, I feel certain, from Matt or Ezra. We relied on the editors of TNR to deal with the issue, however belatedly, on their honor.

I don't generally lift my media criticism opinions from Variety, but I do like their headlines, and this story, "Rupe's paper chase: Wise or wacky?" arguing that Murdoch has yet to destroy those aspects of The Wall Street Journal that make it a great newspaper, is undeniably true.

Evidence of that greatness appears in this page-one story ($) titled, "Companies Tap Pension Plans To Fund Executive Benefits: Little-Known Move Uses Tax Break Meant For Rank and File" by Ellen. E. Schultz and Theo Francis, which ought to be a key issue in the campaign, as it illustrates the consequences of unfettered capitalism during a time when things are going bad. The top 10 percent of Americans enjoyed virtually all the gains from the recent run-up in the economy, and now they are throwing the workers overboard when things turn sour. But if it is to happen, it will be in spite of, not because of, the MSM, who are not merely much more interested in trivial "celebrity" issues but also reflexively right-wing when it comes to issues of economics.

Remember Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos -- both of whom are paid in the millions -- both badgering the Democratic candidates for even more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, when they weren't whining about flag pins and the like? Meanwhile, stories like this one will never make ABC, NBC or CBS. The authors write:

In recent years, companies from Intel Corp. to CenturyTel Inc. collectively have moved hundreds of millions of dollars of obligations for executive benefits into rank-and-file pension plans. This lets companies capture tax breaks intended for pensions of regular workers and use them to pay for executives' supplemental benefits and compensation.

The practice has drawn scant notice. A close examination by The Wall Street Journal shows how it works and reveals that the maneuver, besides being a dubious use of tax law, risks harming regular workers. It can drain assets from pension plans and make them more likely to fail. Now, with the current bear market in stocks weakening many pension plans, this practice could put more in jeopardy.

How many is impossible to tell. Neither the Internal Revenue Service nor other agencies track this maneuver. Employers generally reveal little about it. Some benefits consultants have warned them not to, in order to forestall a backlash by regulators and lower-level workers.


The result, though, is that a majority of the tax-advantaged assets in Intel's pension plan are dedicated not to providing pensions for the rank and file but to paying deferred compensation of the company's most highly paid employees, roughly 4% of the work force.

And taxpayers are on the hook in other ways. When deferred executive salaries and bonuses are part of a pension plan, they can be rolled over into an Individual Retirement Account -- another tax-advantaged vehicle.

Intel believes that its practices "feel consistent" with both the spirit and letter of the law that gives tax benefits for providing pensions.

Intel may be a model for what's to come. Many companies are phasing out their pension plans, typically by "freezing" them, i.e., ending workers' buildup of new benefits. This leaves more pension assets available to cover executives' compensation and supplemental benefits. A number of companies have shifted executive benefits into frozen pension plans.


Generally, only the executives are aware this is being done. Benefits consultants have advised companies to keep quiet to avoid an employee backlash. In material prepared for employers, Robert Schmidt, a consulting actuary with Milliman Inc., said that to "minimize this problem" of employee relations, companies should draw up a memo describing the transfer of supplemental executive benefits.

This is exactly the kind of story that we will lose once we lose most of our great newspapers. Where is the profit in it?

On the other hand, Ezra's right again, here. The Politico is a financial failure; seems like the only good business idea so far regarding journalism is, sadly, to refuse to pay for it.

And speaking of ABC News, everyone's talking about Glenn Greenwald's piece in Salon, here. (Though when I say "everyone," I should note that I've not heard anything about it from ABC News ...)

What can be done about the current sorry state of the economy? Nothing, according to the Financial Times' conservative columnist, Clive Crook, here. There's nothing left to do, as Crook explains:

It is worth remembering where the blame for this neutering of fiscal policy lies: squarely with the Bush administration. At the start of this decade, the budget stood in surplus to the tune of 2.4 per cent of GDP. On unchanged policy, this was expected to grow to a surplus of 4.5 per cent of GDP by 2008. This year's actual deficit of 3 per cent of GDP therefore represents a worsening of more than 7 per cent of GDP, or roughly $1,000bn. Almost all of this deterioration is due to policy: to tax cuts, spending increases, and their associated debt-service costs.

That projected surplus was a priceless gift to the White House. It offered the Bush administration ample scope for outlays on homeland security and other unforeseen priorities, and moderate tax cuts as well, all within a budget balanced over the course of the business cycle. Instead, the administration knowingly opted for outrageous fiscal excess - adding insult to injury with its phony tax-cut sunset provisions, designed for no other purpose than to disguise the long-term fiscal implications. Eight years on, this startling record of fiscal irresponsibility has all but taken fiscal policy off the table as an available response to the slowdown.

The US economy had better have luck on its side. Luck is about all it has left.

George Zornick writes: "Campaigns' Iraq Stances Seem to Hit a Middle Ground" -- that's the headline to Karen DeYoung's article in Friday's Washington Post. Here's the key explanatory graf:

In recent days, McCain has said he could support withdrawal over 16 months -- the timetable proposed by Obama -- provided "conditions" were right. Obama has said that he would "adapt" his withdrawal timeline should "things drastically worsen as we're drawing down."

Both advocate leaving a residual U.S. force in Iraq, although neither has specified the size of such a force or where it would be based.

This is pretty crazy to say the two plans here are actually at all similar. Essentially, Obama has long been calling for a withdrawal that would be planned upon his taking office, and executed within 16 months. He added an obvious caveat that, sure, if everything hit the fan at some point therein, plans would change.

McCain -- well, who knows what his real plans for Iraq are. As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out, he's gone from calling for hundred-year engagements to literally budgeting for victory by 2013 to, as DeYoung's article notes, saying he might consider a 16-month timetable if "conditions" were right.

But even President Bush has called for withdrawing troops if "conditions on the ground are right." The catch has always been -- what conditions are "right," and who defines that? That's the catch with McCain too, and that's what a probing and well-reported story would have attempted to get an answer to - under what specific conditions does John McCain want to leave Iraq, and when does he reasonably estimate that will happen?

But simply saying that the two plans are reaching a middle ground is really odd. If one person says, I'm going to move out of my apartment today, unless my van catches fire, and another person says, I may move out today as well, but maybe next week, or maybe in two years, all depending on some "conditions" -- well, that's not the same.

Last week, I wrote about people who annoyingly use anti-blogger caricatures to bludgeon legitimate writers and journalists with whom they disagree. The trick is that they have nothing against bloggers at all - and frequently praise them, when they do work that's in line with their politics or beliefs.

On Friday, we got another example -- a real beaut. Witness the rant:

But in their new role as bloggers, the paper's editors seem to have all the intelligence and reason of the average Daily Kos diarist sitting at home in his mother's basement and ranting into the ether between games of dungeons and dragons.

Pretty standard. The author of this anti-blogger broadside? Sen. John McCain's official campaign blogger!

Here's a question. MSNBC has taken a lot of heat from the right for perceived liberal bias. What would be the reaction if say, Keith Olbermann, Dan Abrams, and Chris Matthews all had on a guest that claimed with a straight face that Sen. John McCain was pro-infanticide? Background here.

If anyone's life resists easy summary, it is that of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Good of the Times to give him 5,800 words, here. I'd read them all.

And while we're talking about the Times, what's up with the fact that Bruce Springsteen sells somewhere between 165,000-180,000 tickets in three nights for the biggest shows of the summer and it does not rate a review or even a human interest story? I mean, hell, editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal was sitting in my row on night three. Couldn't he have taken a few notes? Was he too busy thinking of more great columnists for the paper to hire?

From ANP:

Women serving in the military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than to be killed by enemy fire. Congress takes on the Department of Defense in the first oversight hearing held this year by the subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs on sexual assault in the military. Dr. Kaye Whitley, Director of Sexual Assault and Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) failed to show at the hearing despite being subpoenaed. Her "no show" left some members accusing the DOD of a cover up. The American News Project attended the hearing.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Roger Stude
Hometown: NYC

Just read your column in Think Again regarding the Shield Law for Journalists, and coincidentally, had just finished reading Glenn Greenwald's Salon article about ABC News' reporting during the anthrax scare, where it seems that ABC's source for leaked info that erroneously linked the anthrax to Iraqi strains, just happens to be the same facility that employed the now late Bruce Ivins.

It really makes me wonder where the shield law ends and aiding and abetting begins.

Name: Rajesh
Hometown: Cherry Hill, NJ

It is really a good thing that the media are pre-occupied with important questions such as whether Barack is similar to Britney and Paris, or whether Barack is a racist, or if he is a socialist. Were it not so, trivial facts such as these might grab someone's attention:

"How free market ideology backfired, sabotaging capitalistic democracy":

  • Fed and U.S. Treasury adopted Enron accounting tricks
  • Deregulation creating new socialist housing system
  • Trade deficits outsourced more of America's wealth than jobs
  • Banking system in meltdown, minting penny stocks
  • Ideologues preach savings, but still push spending
  • Inflation and dollars: Is Zimbabwe the new model for the U.S.?
  • Free-market health care failing 47,000,000 Americans
  • Conservative free-market policies inflated oil 300%!

Shh. Don't tell anyone (and stop whining).

Look everyone: Barack is too thin to be president. What a latte drinking, arugula eating, thin elitist (though he is clearly eating more arugula than drinking those fatty lattes to maintain his effete and elitist physique).

Name: Paul Goode
Hometown: Redmond, WA

I'm sitting here listening to "Katrina" -- Dr. Michael White's brilliant jazz dirge -- and pondering the McCain campaign's accusation that Barack Obama introduced race into the campaign with a "negative, abhorrent, nasty, vicious comment."

Now, race has been an issue one way or another in every American presidential campaign since the Constitution artificially boosted southern political power by counting slaves as three-fifths of a person at the same time that it disenfranchised them. Exploiting white resentment toward blacks has been a central tenet of Republican national ambitions since 1968, a strategy that they've honed and refined ever since. As recently as 2000, the presidential election came down to a choice between between two members of the southern aristocracy (even if one was a bit of a carpetbagger).

The MSM has taken McCain's part by reporting the matter narrowly, as if it were a matter of McCain personally raising the issue of race in the first place. The Republicans have become adept at using surrogates -- witness the Willie Horton and Swift Boat campaigns -- to do their dirty work for them, but the MSM doesn't bother to examine this. Instead, pundits focus almost gleefully on the possibility of McCain successfully appealing to white resentment.

The very fact that white resentment is there to be exploited proves the enduring power of racial demagoguery in this country. After all, affirmative action and welfare -- the two lynchpins of white resentment -- have largely been gutted. And yet the resentment abides.

In his fine book Grant and Twain: The Story of an American Friendship, Mark Perry points out that both men abhorred racism at the same time that they couldn't see it in themselves. When a man doesn't see himself as caught up in a problem, he can resent the idea that it exists or that he has any responsibility for addressing it.

In the convoluted psychology of white resentment, some whites will see voting against Obama because he is black as a blow for racial equality. That's what the McCain campaign wants to tap into with its overheated rhetoric. We can only hope that they are preaching to a small enough choir. Otherwise, Dr. White's dirge is for all of us ...

Name: Bob Wenning
Hometown: Chicago

This article from Jack Shafer in Slate reflects the obsession the MSM has with its definition of 'balance" -- in that, anything positive about a candidate MUST be balanced by something negative (or something positive by one candidate must be balanced by something positive from the other, etc.).

The article's complaint seems to be that nothing "sticks" to Obama. It might just be possible that there is nothing substantive that should stick. The critical items cited in this article were hardly that -- the Hertzberg item describing "flip-flops" explained that they were hardly that (other than FISA). The Dickerson article hyperventilates that Obama will become another Bush because he will not admit error (if anyone knows of any presidential candidate who admitted error during a campaign, please let me know).

We are now seeing the blowback from the positive coverage of Obama during his overseas trip -- right now the theme seems to be arrogance.

They have to find something negative to offset the prior positive coverage. I'm sure Obama will provide material for criticism during the remaining course of the campaign. But it is not necessary for the MSM to feel compelled to make criticisms just for the sake of 'balancing' its positive coverage of last week.

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

Clearly almost no one in the MSM cares anymore that the Bush Administration has chosen to treat every position within the federal government as a political appointment, illegally of course. Perhaps they don't want to draw attention to the fact that they've ignored probably dozens of potential scandals from the current administration while campaign contributors sleeping legally in the White House were a BIG deal during the Clinton years.

These clowns have crippled the government for years to come, as Altercators Debra Beller and Dr Steve B understand. Leonard Pitts takes it a step farther. This isn't about differing philosophies about how best to serve the people. This is about criminals taking control of our government and using it to their own ends.

Name: Brendan Malloy
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

I wonder if it would be possible for the DOJ to open all positions that were on the Goodling lists for new interviews without precluding the current holders of those positions from applying and interviewing (this time legitimately per federal civil service standards) for their jobs.

The legitimacy of that process, of course, would be dependent upon a high degree of transparency that, in turn, seems to be dependent upon an Obama win in November or congressional oversight of some kind (cough*joke*cough).

But it seems like a reasonable way to mitigate the charges that would surely come from our more conservative friends that something politically untoward is going on in the Justice Dept. were Republicans holding career positions to be summarily dismissed (oh, the irony). It also might help to ease any political flack a new President Obama or newly energized Dem congress would have to navigate.

If any of these folks really are the best candidate for the job they should continue to hold the position, otherwise they should be shown the door.

Name: Eric Vaughan
Hometown: Akron, OH

The Dark Knight discussion is properly over, but I had to ask if it occurs to anyone that the surveillance technology used by Batman not only found the Joker but literally blinded him from the Joker's attack. Additionally, the first person Batman attacked as a result of the surveillance was an innocent hostage. Furthermore, Batman had to fight the police off to protect the hostages from the SWAT team attack as a result of hasty actions in the face of incomplete intelligence.

I am perfectly willing to go with elements of the WSJ op-ed assertions in that illegal surveillance puts all us regular folks in danger and can make the efforts of even superheroes ineffective in the actual fight against terrorists.

Name: Jim Celer
Hometown: Omaha

Bruce covered a Manfred Mann song? An homage to the homager?

It's weird. Wednesday I heard "Do Wah Diddy" on the radio for the X-billionth time,and thought how nice it would be to hear "Pretty Flamingo," a song I hadn't heard in 40 years.

There's another thing that's wrong with radio today. It's rendered songs like "Do Wah Diddy" incapable of evoking memories, since we hear them constantly.

Name: Stu
Hometown: NYC

Sorry, Virginia, but "Jerry Springer, The Opera!" played two nights at Carnegie Hall, the best concert hall in the world, a couple of months ago. It's nice that it finally made it out to D.C., though.

Eric replies: Actually, the Allen Room is now the best concert hall in the world, but no sweat, it's just two blocks up the street and one block over.

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