Slacker Friday

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

We've got a new "Think Again" column called "The Crisis from Nowhere," here.

Things to read:

1) Luke Menand on Lionel Trilling. (Luke is probably the closest analog we have to Trilling in these benighted times, so read it with that in mind.)

2) Alan Wolfe on C. Wright Mills. (I would say this essay is almost as good as Marty Peretz's essay on the Rosenbergs is bad, but I imagine even Alan Wolfe would have to agree, no essay could be that good.)

3) And speaking of whom, this is really not a parody: "John Bolton, Right As Usual," by Marty Peretz.

From TomDispatch:

Just as the Bush administration is preparing to socialize a skyscraper's worth of private financial indebtedness on the backs of taxpayers, Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, award-winning filmmakers and experts in the privatization of water supplies and systems, suggest that the most basic public services that once gave meaning to the government now stand in danger of going "private" -- not just in the developing world but in the United States. This is a startling tale that the American public knows remarkably little about.

Snitow and Kaufman begin:

In the last few years, the world's largest financial institutions and pension funds, from Goldman Sachs to Australia's Macquarie Bank, have figured out that old, trustworthy utilities and infrastructure could become reliable cash cows -- supporting the financial system's speculative junk derivatives with the real concrete of highways, water utilities, airports, harbors, and transit systems.

The spiraling collapse of the financial system may only intensify the quest for private investments in what is now the public sector. This flipping of public assets could be the next big phase of privatization, and it could happen even under an Obama administration, as local and state governments, starved during Bush's two terms in office, look to bail out on public assets, employees, and responsibilities. The Republican record of neglect of basic infrastructure reads like a police blotter: levees in New Orleans, a major bridge in Minneapolis, a collapsing power grid, bursting water mains, and outdated sewage treatment plants.

Snitow and Kaufman then offer a dramatic account of how some of these corporate entities have moved in on desperate local or state governments and privatized local water supplies -- and how the American public has fought back. Using the city of Stockton, California, whose water was indeed privatized and then faced a citizen's revolt, they lay out the full process. And they suggest that, in the near future, "a Anew stage in the water privatization wars beckons as Goldman Sachs, Macquarie bank, huge pension funds, and billionaire investors hop on the infrastructure bandwagon."

Alter-reviews:

Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way they Do - by Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman is a prodigious number-cruncher, displaying his skills at places like, well, this blog on occasion, but also at Columbia University, where he is a professor of statistics and political science. He has a new book, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way they Do, released by Princeton University Press. It attempts to mathematically bust myths about the infamous red/blue line in American politics -- do the rich really vote based on economics, and poor people based on "Gods, Guns, and Gays"? (No, Gelman says.) It's an interesting read that's thoroughly backed up -- Gelman actually has a team of coauthors here: David Park (George Washington University), Boris Shor (University of Chicago), Joseph Bafumi (Dartmouth) and Jeronimo Cortina (University of Houston). More information is here.

Rocking the Cradle: Egypt '78 - Grateful Dead

I actually went to Egypt 18 months after the Dead did -- I took the first Egged bus from Tel Aviv to Cairo and when we got to the pyramids, the guys there were still talking about the Dead show, and if I wasn't mistaken, still doing some of the drugs they left there. Anyway, this is my favorite period of the band, and while I think they didn't think they were very good, it sounds very good to me, plus you get a DVD. Once again, my only question with this release was what took them so long. Oh, and by the way, on the day of the last show the Camp David peace agreements were signed. I don't think there was any connection, but man, what a party they might have had. Anyway, the sound is good and the DVD is, as a 10-year-old I know would say, totally awesome (although she might not say it about this), if you don't mind Jerry's hair in a really girly arrangement and the fact that I'm pretty sure that the camera guys were all doing tons of acid. (The sound is good, and the Deadheads are dancing, etc. ...) Also I love the pop-up art in the packaging. More information is here.

Slacker Friday:

Hello Altercators, LTC Bob Bateman here again with a small dose of history.

My e-mail has been overflowing of late, with some panic-stricken folks worrying about the destruction of the Posse Comitatus Act. I must admit, at first I was a bit boggled. Then I tracked down the source of the panic. Once again it was Glenn Greenwald.

Now, I know some of you like him. I do not read his stuff myself, except when he incites panic. So my opinion may be skewed. But it seems to me that every time I find myself reading this guy he is either a) twisting history, b) misinterpreting the military, c) misportraying the military, or, most often, d) all of the above. Now it is not always Greenwald at fault, I'll grant you. In the past couple years I have periodically had to calm people down for a host of things that combine these factors. Remember the e-mail/blogging sensation that had people convinced in 2003 that "the government" was about to re-institute the draft in June of 2004? (Using, ironically, a de facto anti-war bill proposed by Charlie Rangel, D-NY, or the completely normal, and annual, funding for the Selective Service apparatus, as "evidence.") How about the massive wave of conviction that swept through in 2006, when a host of people were writing about how we were absolutely just about to attack Iran, most probably in (insert summer month here). Of course, that one came up again this year as well. As I said, Greenwald is not responsible for all of these, but he is about the most paranoid of the lot in my opinion.

This time he has managed a trifecta. In a single passage he manages to mangle history, misinterpret (at best) or deliberately misportray (at worst) a law, and elicit fevered fear of the military ... again.

So that we can be clear, here is the passage he wrote about history which annoys:

For more than 100 years -- since the end of the Civil War -- deployment of the U.S. military inside the U.S. has been prohibited under The Posse Comitatus Act (the only exceptions being that the National Guard and Coast Guard are exempted, and use of the military on an emergency ad hoc basis is permitted, such as what happened after Hurricane Katrina). Though there have been some erosions of this prohibition over the last several decades (most perniciously to allow the use of the military to work with law enforcement agencies in the "War on Drugs"), the bright line ban on using the U.S. military as a standing law enforcement force inside the U.S. has been more or less honored -- until now.

I will deal with the historical idiocy of this passage in a moment. Let me get to the hysteria inducement first. This is how he closed that essay:

Still, what possible rationale is there for permanently deploying the U.S. Army inside the United States -- under the command of the President -- for any purpose, let alone things such as "crowd control," other traditional law enforcement functions, and a seemingly unlimited array of other uses at the President's sole discretion? And where are all of the stalwart right-wing "small government conservatives" who spent the 1990s so vocally opposing every aspect of the growing federal police force? And would it be possible to get some explanation from the Government about what the rationale is for this unprecedented domestic military deployment (at least unprecedented since the Civil War), and why it is being undertaken now?

OK, let us start with that section first, then I'll get to the history.

I know, I know, Greenwald has never been in the military, apparently has never studied any military history, and effectively knows nothing about the military. But even so, he should understand the stupidity of the "permanently deploying" line. Where the hell does he think most of the military has been for the past 200 years? Since the end of WWII we have ALWAYS had, no less than a bare minimum of about 600,000 federal military forces "permanently" stationed right here in the United States. When you are stationed in the United States, however, you are not "deployed." What, does Greenwald think all of those Army forts (Benning, Bragg, McPhereson, Hood, Drum, Knox, Schofield Barracks, etc) are empty?

And the "under the command of the President" bit? Is he just daft? Who else does he think is the commander-in-chief? When President Clinton was in office, or former Naval officer Jimmy Carter was in office, were they not in "command?" Were the hundreds of thousands of U.S. forces in the regular military establishment not "under the command of the President"?

And where does he get the idea that one is only referring to a single Army brigade, out of the 10-15 currently here in the States, and the 500,000 USAF, USN, and USMC forces here in the States, is an "unprecedented domestic military deployment?" He mentions only Katrina. Did this guy never hear of Hurricane Andrew? Hurricane Iniki? (I was the ops officer who coordinated flight ops for about 500 of the thousands of federal troops who deployed to the Hawaiian island of Kauai for that one, by the way.) The Rodney King riots? The thousands upon thousands of federal troops that are deployed to fight fires and prevent looting every year during the wildfire seasons out west? Every year, mind you. The multiple deployments of federal troops to things like the racial riots of the 1960s. (One alert Altercator pointed out to me that the 82nd Airborne Division had an entire Brigade in Detroit during the 1967 "12th Street Riot.") Or, if he is ignorant of all of those things, was he unaware of Franklin D. Roosevelt's deployment of U.S. troops to Detroit in 1943 and Philadelphia in 1944? Oh, hey, how about Roosevelt's use of federal troops to seize North American Aviation in 1941-42?

And heck, I'm not even back to the '30s yet.

The fact is that one could measure the uses of federal forces in the hundreds. Yet Glenn "Chicken Little" Greenwald is either completely ignorant of this social, labor, racial and military history of the United States ("unprecedented" Glenn? Really? Are these hundreds of deployments not precedent? They were all ordered by the Presidents at the time...), or he is deliberately pretending that he did not know about it in order to raise a hue and cry.

Now my deeper problem here is that his history is messed up about Posse Comitatus. Greenwald links to a single, moronic, source as his historical basis for Posse Comitatus. (And this dude is a lawyer? Are you kidding?) This, from his source, is how he believes the act originated:

The Posse Comitatus law was passed in 1878, not only in response to some of the abuses committed by federal troops during the Reconstruction period in the South after the Civil War, but more specifically after many suspected that federal troops influenced the election of 1876, in which Rutherford B. Hayes was chosen by the Electoral College and federal troops ran some polling places in the South. Specifically, Hayes won the disputed electoral votes of South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida, states where President U.S. Grant had sent troops as a posse comitatus by federal marshals at the polls if deemed necessary.

Hello?! Are you freakin' kidding me? "Abuses committed by federal troops during Reconstruction ..." -- did you just sleep through that section of your high school history class? The "abuses" were the fact that the United States Army, my own 7th Cavalry in particular, but other regiments as well, was chasing the effing Ku Klux Klan! THAT was the "abuse." And the white, racist Southerners who wanted to disenfranchise the newly freed slaves did not like the fact that they could not run the polling stations and beat the hell out of and/or lynch African-Americans who had the temerity to effing vote!

"Influenced the election of 1876..." Hell, yes -- by not allowing violence at the damned polls. Specifically, at the polls in the South. The "disputed" votes (20 of them) in the Southern states were ceded by white Southern racist politicians in exchange for the Posse Comitatus Act and the withdrawal of U.S. troops such as the 7th Cavalry. What followed was Jim Crow laws, an explosion of lynchings of former slaves, the enactment of poll taxes, an explosion in the Ku Klux Klan, and the open and deliberate use of violence against former slaves (and then their descendants) for about 100 years. That was the origin, and the reason, for the "Compromise of 1877" and the resultant Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Not a fear of a coup. Not a fear that the military was taking over. No, it was a compromise demanded so that Southern whites could enact, de facto if not de jure, slavery once again.

And Greenwald is not aware of this?

Glenn, for your education, please go to Amazon.com. Find the book The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1877-1945, by Clayton Laurie and Ronald Cole. It will help your legal education. You might especially be interested to learn about the Revised Statutes of 1874, specifically S.R. 5297, 5298, 5299 and 5300. At the same time, you might learn a little history. I highly recommend it before you write about history (or the law, now that I think about it) again.

(By the way, Glenn, your back and forth here is just bizarre. You sound exactly like Victor Davis Hanson did when he got pissed off at me for calling his history crappy. Get a grip, dude. Tune in to the fact that the candidate in this election who had received the most money from military donors (as of April, anyway) was Barack Obama. Your anti-military paranoia is a wee bit misplaced.)

Would like to see some Altercators swing by Intel Dump and comment as you like. (Open format) I am there every day of late. Here's my latest.

You can write to LTC Bob at R_Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com.

P.S. On an unrelated note, my friend Nir Rosen has an interesting article about folks in Lebanon here.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"Sometimes my burden's more than I can bear/It's not dark yet, but it's getting there."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "My Man O'War" (Lizzie Miles): I am suspending my campaign for vice-president in order to fly to Washington and tell those bastards on the Senate Finance Committee how much I love New
Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: The best interview of the week came on Wednesday night, when Rachel Maddow talked to Lawrence O'Donnell, who explained quite lucidly why John McCain would have f**k-all to do once he came to Washington in the freaking Batmobile or whatever to save the day. I knew O'Donnell a long time ago in Boston, when he was working for his father, who was a lawyer you did not want at the other table, especially if you were a murderous cop. Clip's here. The Jon Tester point is a good one.

Part The Second: I would like some media critic or some economist to explain to me the essential difference between the pundits who work here and the pundits who work here because, these days, I'm not seeing it. And the CNBC touts don't even get to go here, a big slice of heaven on earth.

Part The Third: RIP to one of the true giants. For further details, please see.

Part The Fourth: Oh, for pity's sake, get off the couch, Mary. Honestly, some of these people.

Part The Fifth: I'm no expert, but this headline made me nervous.

Part The Sixth: A terrible sadness fell over the Altercation Interim Sports Desk when this hard result came in. It was a rough, badly officiated game in which the Kingdom lost its s**t in a big way right before the half, and then again right at the end of the game. In other sporty news, it looks like Glenn Reynolds may well soon be campaigning unopposed for the title of Biggest Yutz On Campus in Knoxville. And, don't worry, folks, I'll tell everyone in the postseason y'all say hello.

Part The Seventh: Eeeek! Something's eating my hometown.

Part The Last: The Law of Unintended Consequences whacks around some more innocent bystanders.

It seems to be dawning on TV people outside of the Olbermann-Maddow Fortress Of Liberaltude that John McCain's campaign pretty much blew itself up this week. Between pissing off The New York Times (bad idea), every TV network (worse idea) and David Letterman (absolute bats**t-crazy worst idea of all time), he tried to finesse a power play in the middle of what we are told is a national crisis, and wound up hitting himself in the face with a pie every 15 minutes. His campaign manager was accused in the NYT (told you it was a bad idea) of taking payments essentially to put President McCain on layaway. His vice-presidential candidate put on a performance in front of Katie Couric that made her performance in front of Charlie Gibson look like Webster's Reply To Hayne. (Watch the second half of it. She completely stops using verbs about halfway through.) TV correspondents are sliding from skepticism into outright derision they way they did during the worst of Hurricane Katrina. (Even Dana Bash looks like she wouldn't buy an apple from that campaign at this point.) My guess? The coverage of the debate will represent an attempt at getting back to "balance." As long as McCain doesn't show up dressed like Charley's Aunt, we'll hear a lot about how he "regained his footing after a tough week."

Name: von bargen
Hometown: Raymond Chandler''s Bay City (Santa Monica)

As I read your comments about Jim Lehrer's self-perceived role as a debate moderator it suddenly occurred to me. Why the heck do we need to have the debates moderated by people from the media at all? I realize they aren't really debates in the strict sense, but they also aren't news interviews as Lehrer points out. Why not have people like Paul Krugman, Uwe Reinhardt, Anthony Lewis or even Max Boot ask the questions and "moderate?" (I have no particular bias toward Princeton. CUNY could be represented, too.)

Name: Jesse Kornbluth
Hometown: NYC

Eric


You absolutely nailed it: these are not debates, these are volleys of stump speeches. Worse, they're televised radio, two suits talking. I had some ideas for modernizing and democratizing the debates. Find them here.

Name: Jordan
Hometown: Seattle

Eric,

Anderson Cooper of CNN and his guests Gloria Borges and Ed Rollins join the "On-the-One-Handism" crowd last night. After playing this, Anderson, clearly embarrassed as they all are, ultimately falls back on the well trodden dismissal "no one is really paying attention to what Sarah Palin says anyway," Gloria chimes in with "Joe Biden has made many such gaffes," which Anderson quickly confirms with "we've seen the same from Joe Biden many times" [all quotes paraphrased]. Maybe Senator Joe is prolix, but the comparison is pure on-the-one-handism when a fair analysis would be to question the irresponsibility of McCain's decision to place this woman one heartbeat from the presidency.

Arguably the show was saved when Paul Begala called Bush a "high performing moron" (that's a direct quote).

Name: Ian
Hometown: Los Angeles

You can color me stupid, but I don't get it. Days have elapsed since President Paulson, sorry, Secretary Paulson, went to the Sunday news shows an announced the sky was falling -- but to date, the sky hasn't yet fallen. Mr. Bush, assuming his best prince of darkness pose last night, tells us disaster is imminent, but no disaster this morning. Banks aren't calling in every loan, revoking every mortgage. Yes, it's tough to get a loan but still possible. Foreclosures are running around 2% of all mortgages -- a lot of houses in the absolute but a tiny tiny percentage of the total. I have a lot of questions.

Where is the urgency?

Where is the $700 billion dollar figure coming from?

Why aren't we talking about a figure more commensurate with the 2% default rate?

Why are we discussing a top-down solution that seems to have little accountability, throwing billions at people who already have billions rather than taking the burden off those homeowners whose homes might yet be saved from foreclosure?

Why is there no accountability in the bill?

How did the Bush team get a bill assembled so fast?

Why have they been saying everything's fine for months and suddenly it isn't?

And perhaps the most important question, why are the Democrats jumping to do something as if pulled on a string?

I suspect the answer to a lot of these questions are very similar to other "crises" we've faced through the last 8 years of the Bush administration. A manageable situation has been allowed to become a crisis. The people who will profit from the crisis are the ones who least need the money but most strongly support the administration. The bill was not assembled overnight but has been worked on for months so any talk about things being fine was lies and cover. The Democrats are jumping because they feel as if they're seen as doing nothing they'll lose the next election. All of this plays perfectly as it always has to Mr. Bush's grand design.

It's god damn depressing.

Name: Bill Strachan
Hometown: Enfield, CT

In the past (Johnson/Nixon Years) the press was really hot on the idea of a "Credibility Gap". As we have all observed over the past AT LEAST 7 1/2 years there has not been ANY mention of such a thing in the MSM.

With all that has happened, WMD in Iraq, Saddam/Al Qaeda Connection, Cakewalk war, Treated as Liberators, the Surge, Greenspan, Bernanke, Paulson, Cheney, Wolfie, Rumsfeld, Gonzo, etc. ad nauseam, why hasn't the press solidly identified this clear credibility problem?

Probably because they would have to admit that they bought it ALL hook, line and sinker.

Now, and only NOW are they coming to the realization, amidst the worst Wall Street crisis on many generations, that the whole house of cards was a monumental con job that used them as the ad brochure.

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

To Altercation --

This column wrote off the Mets three weeks ago, which I thought was premature . . . but I guess Altercation knows his team better than I do. The Mets may still pull out a playoff spot this weekend, but if they don't -- what a way for Yankee and Shea Stadiums to go out, not with a World Series or even playoff bang, but with a couple of whimpers . . . and with all that talent.

Name: Ken G.
Hometown: Cherry Hill, NJ

I was one of the lucky ones to see the Clash on that same tour with the Who in 1982 at the late, great JFK stadium in Philadelphia. Alas, as is so typical of Philly fans of just about all stripes (and, to be clear, I am one of them so this pains me), they can have pretty severe tunnel vision. 100,000 people were there to see what was then believed to be the Who's farewell, nothing more and nothing less. As a consequence, a scorching set by the Clash ... and, mind you, I was at the far end of stadium and it still knocked my socks off ... was cut short by obnoxious fans who hooted and booed from the start and eventually starting throwing things at the stage. It seems this was a classic rock show and, in 1982 to 100,000 Philadelphians, the Clash were the exact opposite of "classic rock." Now, I am not taking anything away from Pete and Roger (who, for the record, were awesome in their own right that day), but I can't help but wonder how many people at JFK that day would trade just about anything for another chance to spend a beautiful early fall day watching the only band that matters.

Name: Mickey Ehrlich
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

On Tuesday, to prepare us for Friday's presidential debates, The New York Times ran a pair of stupid, shallow articles to compare Obama and McCain's strengths and weaknesses as debaters. The first three paragraphs of each piece were on the front page (the part most people will read). The writers, Katharine Q. Seelye and John M. Broder, each give us a string of meaningless, imprecise, unattributed platitudes and equivocations.

We learn that John McCain has "a track record as a scrappy combatant and the instincts of a fighter pilot, prepared to take out his enemy..." The writer startles us with metaphor without telling us whether this makes McCain a good debater or not. Broder makes the bold statement that Obama "has shown himself at times to be a great orator." I defy Broder to explain the difference between a person who "has shown himself at times to be" a great orator and a great orator. He labels Obama's "debating skills" "uneven." In contrast, Seelye asserts that John McCain is "fairly consistent."

Let's bring this discussion down to earth and pretend Seelye and Broder are two students in my freshman composition class at Kingsborough Community College. These two young writers show a fundamental grasp of the mechanics and conventions of Standard American English, and so my feedback can focus on weaknesses of style and argument.

I expect an essay to begin by taking a stand and stating a thesis. Then I look for evidence that supports that thesis both logically and thoroughly. In these two pieces, I take issue with the weak evidence offered and constant equivocation that has undermined the thesis.

Let us begin with Seelye's thesis, which I will summarize as "John McCain is a consistently tough and successful debater." Seelye complicates her thesis by adding that McCain "is most comfortable" talking about foreign policy. She now has to show us three things: how McCain is tough, how he is successful, and how he has shown that he is most comfortable talking about foreign policy.

We learn that McCain "gets higher marks" than Obama "as a potential commander in chief." I have heard this before from pollsters, but Ms. Seelye chooses not to cite or explain her assertion, and unattributed facts can't be tolerated at the college level.

Seelye also brings up military credentials, which reveals one of the two major holes in her thesis. She has told us that McCain wants to talk about "foreign policy," but Seelye only refers to McCain's repeated reversion to his war record and his support for the surge. Seelye has reduced "foreign policy" to issues that are, at best, tangential to foreign policy. What she should have said in her thesis was that McCain likes to talk about his war record and his support for the troop surge. If she wanted to make a point about foreign policy in general, she should have offered some examples of him bringing up foreign policy in the debates. There is no logical link between the writer's claim and the information she uses to support it.

Seelye has also failed to support her thesis in the section that is supposed to cover McCain's weaknesses as a debater. She doesn't want to obviously contradict her claim that he has been "consistent," so she uses a word that sounds different from "inconsistent" but means the same thing: "uneven." She has set a logical trap for herself.

Suggestions for revision: Ms. Seelye, you have a strong thesis statement and you support it particularly well in the final section when you refer to McCain's tough side. McCain's toughness is central to your initial point, and you make that clear. On the other hand, some of your evidence is either too weak to support your claims, or there is a direct contradiction. I would cut the first paragraph. I know you feel like you have to have a snappy lead, but it tells us nothing about the candidate and does little to advance your argument. If you want to explain that McCain is a capable but imperfect debater, you should make that clear in your thesis. If you want to say that he is consistent then cut "fairly." "Consistent" is not such a hyperbolic word that it needs qualifying. Finally, you have to be careful not to equate "foreign policy" with McCain's war record. If you want to say in your thesis that he likes to bring up foreign policy, then you should give us examples to support that. Don't be discouraged, and good luck on your revisions.

Mr. Broder's article is less successful than Ms. Seelye's. His writing is imprecise, and his thesis statement is directly contradicted by the support he offers.

Broder gets to the point in the first paragraph: Obama's "debating skills" are "uneven." This is a weak way of saying that Obama is a weak debater. Broder calls one of Obama's "significant vulnerabilities" "a tendency to ... lecture." Broder would do well to begin by saying what he means. If he has watched Obama debate and thinks that he is weak, boring, and long-winded, then he should say so.

Broder's next offense comes in the third paragraph, when he writes that Obama "exudes disdain" for sound bites. I don't know how a person can exude an opinion. Broder doesn't say, "Obama expresses disdain," because he would have to prove that. This is a poor effort to show that Obama's long answers to questions are ineffective and make him a loser. Broder writes that Obama "tends to the earnest," implying that people prefer candidates who "tend to" the insincere.

The writer makes the mistake of referring to "last month's forum at Saddleback Church" as evidence of Obama's uneasiness with debating. But the "forum" was not a debate, so Broder shouldn't use it as proof of Obama's poor debating skills. A quick Google search led me to CNN.com, which reported that "McCain and Obama appeared briefly onstage together, shaking hands and posing with Warren between their one-hour interviews." Broder uses his lie as evidence, which makes him subject to City University disciplinary policies on academic honesty. I would be within my rights to stop marking the paper at this point, but I will continue for posterity's sake.

Broder's language gets murkier: "those who watched his debate performances during the long primary season say he improved markedly from a fairly shaky start but never really mastered the form." Verbs and adjectives are weakened by qualifiers: "improved markedly," "fairly shaky," "never really mastered." He follows these wishy-washy claims with a quotation from Howard Wolfson, a top Hillary Clinton adviser, who contradicts Broder by saying, "[Obama] learned to give shorter, crisper answers." Wolfson has presumably "watched his debate performances during the long primary season" and doesn't say, "Obama has sort of experienced cognition that he should give kind of less long answers." Wolfson says that Obama learned, in opposition to Broder's claim of incomplete mastery.

Broder fails the assignment when he cites Obama's policy as evidence of his weak debating skills. Broder says that Obama said that he would meet "without preconditions with the leaders of hostile states." If we believe Obama said this in a debate (Broder offers no direct quotation), and if Obama actually "went on the defensive," all we have learned is that Obama favors a policy that nameless "rivals" used "as evidence of his naïveté in foreign affairs." The writer may disagree with Obama's position, but he fails to explain why it is evidence of "uneven" debating skills. Again, Broder is dishonest, because he has claimed to be evaluating rhetorical ability and has actually made a value judgment on content. Now I breathe and put down my red pen.

Suggestions for revision: Mr. Broder, while I am deciding what course of disciplinary action to take, I suggest you take some time to thoroughly research the topic you have chosen for your paper. You offer evidence that opposes the conclusions you draw from it, and you intentionally lie to your reader because you are apparently too lazy to do research. With knowledge of your topic, you can be sure of your claims; you won't have equivocate or apologize.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.