A failure to communicate ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

We've got a new Think Again column called "White Open Spaces, Owned by Us," and I wrote a short appreciation of Paul Newman for The Guardian, which you can find here. Also, I've got a new Nation column, "Reality Bites," here.

Oh and an Alter-Correction: The great Edgar Doctorow informs me that he was not, in fact, a partner of Paul Newman's in his laundry business at Kenyon College back in the day. He was merely a patron. But he also points out that patrons were given a free glass of beer when they brought their laundry to his shop. We apologize.

I don't have strong feelings about the bailout, though I lean "yes" in large measure because of my own self-interest, and so I've not said or written much of anything about it. And I never really noticed The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein before. I knew he existed; I just never paid particular attention. But yesterday, perusing Romenesko, I came across this:

The left wing bloggers are out in force on this one -- they see this as a seminal issue, like the Iraq war vote and the vote on warrantless searches. But other than not really understanding the problem and not really having studied the proposal, you guys are doing just great! Thank God there is a mainstream media out there that actually does reporting and has people who understand thing [sic], because if the flow of information and news to the American people were left solely to bloggers, we'd be in a big mess.

And so I clicked on the washingtonpost.com discussion, and came across this:

This is not a bank bailout, in the sense that you use that term, meaning a bailout for its shareholders and its top executives. Nobody has been more critical of the practices of banks and Wall Street and brokers than I have, probably long before you were even focused on this issue, so I certainly don't owe you any apology on that one. If you want to check, you'll see I won a certain prize for that. We have already passed legislation to "bail up," several months ago, using an idea that I was one of the first people to push (refinancing involving a reduction of principal in return for equity stake in the house).

And I thought to myself, "Oh, damn. Not only is this more work for me but it's the kind of work that makes enemies of people I don't know and have never met, and so 10 years from now, I'll be introduced to the guy at some function, and he will still remember this and I won't even remember who the heck he is -- which in my line of work -- and advancing age -- happens more than most people could imagine.

One of the great things about going to bed early -- there is not much to do in Ithaca at night as a grownup beside drink, apparently, which I can do in my room, thank you very much -- is that bloggers who stay up later than you might do your job for you while you're asleep, saving you, not only work, but said awkward moment with Mr. Pearlstein. So take it way, Glenn Greenwald:

Just today, in Pearlstein's own paper, Jonathan G.S. Koppell and William N. Goetzmann of the Yale School of Management argued that a far preferable solution is to have the government pay off all delinquent mortgages -- which would transform the toxic waste into solid instruments and would prevent people from having their homes foreclosed -- the very plan Pearlstein's reader advocated which provoked such snotty scorn. Many other ignorant, ill-informed morons have had the temerity to argue that other proposals were superior to the bailout, including George Soros (recapitalize the banking system) and Actual Economist Brad DeLong (nationalize under-capitalized institutions). One of the leading blogger-opponents of the bailout has been Duncan Black, an Actual Economist with a Ph.D. in Economics from Brown. And Actual Economist Dean Baker wrote earlier this week:

How do we go about getting the banks in order? Almost every economist I know rejects the Paulson approach and argues instead for directly injecting capital into the banks. The taxpayers give them the money and then we own some, or all, of the bank. (That's what Warren Buffet did with Goldman Sachs.)

There's a lot more and Pearlstein's earned every word of it. I expect this is going to be one of those "And it's not his town" and "Suck on this" comments that will likely live forever.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Parker got some nasty mail for speaking some uncomfortable truths -- for her side, anyway -- about Sarah Palin. She writes: "Allow me to introduce myself. I am a traitor and an idiot. Also, my mother should have aborted me and left me in a Dumpster, but since she didn't, I should 'off' myself." These were randomly selected from thousands of emails she received in response to her column.

Parker then goes on to explain that the "public discourse has[] deteriorated," and that "[t]he mailbag is about us, our country, and what we really believe" and that "[e]veryone's to blame." Wait there's more: "The picture is this: Anyone who dares express an opinion that runs counter to the party line will be silenced. That doesn't sound American to me, but Stalin would approve. Readers have every right to reject my opinion. But when we decide that a person is a traitor and should die for having an opinion different than one's own, then we cross into territory that puts all freedoms at risk. (I hear you, Dixie Chicks.)"

Thing is, the only people Parker quotes -- indeed, the only ones who've abused her as far as we know -- are conservatives. What's all this about "the discourse" and the "country" then? How about putting the blame where it actually lies?

George Zornick writes:

If the What Liberal Media? audiobook ever comes out with one of those fancy, commemorative 2-CD packages -- you know the ones, larded up with all the bonus tracks, updates, behind-the-scenes (me at my desk!) photos -- I think Rudy Giuliani's conference call with the national media yesterday would be a hilarious and useful addition.

On the call, the former mayor of New York decried "the media double standard" for the GOP, according to Time's Mark Halperin. Giuliani said that had Sen. Joe Biden, who has committed gaffes, been a GOP candidate, "there would be entire specials devoted to" them; Giuliani also criticized the scrutiny of Gov. Sarah Palin's foreign policy expertise, asserting that Sen. Barack Obama has never faced the same level of questioning.

Following his remarks, the McCain campaign opened the call up to questions. According to The Huffington Post, "[o]nly three people were called upon." The first was a Townhall.com blogger, who asked about the Wall Street bailout. The next was someone named Chuck Pardee, who runs a site called NewsBull.com and is a maxed-out McCain donor. He reportedly asked:

Thank you Mister Mayor. Some of these comedians like Tina Fey and some of these journalists that are out there seem to actually be making a living embellishing the facts. Do you think embellishing the facts is actually what the concerned voter is after? And specifically, Joe Biden seems to embellish and forget facts just to kind of impress people but when you take Sarah Palin she seems to impress others with her quick study without embellishing the facts. In other words do you think people want a straight shooter or do they want the stuff and fluff?

The final question was from "Sherry" of an unidentified outlet, who actually took issue with something Giuliani said about Obama not having any business experience -- Sherry helpfully asserted that Obama did, in fact, serve on a community board with former radical William Ayres. "Isn't that a huge point to bring up?" she wondered.

One is left to presume this is the balanced standard of journalism to which Rudy was hoping that horrible liberal media could conform to. This, or the Hugh Hewitt interview with Sarah Palin yesterday, where he asked questions like "Governor, your candidacy has ignited extreme hostility, even some hatred on the left and in some parts of the media. Are you surprised? And what do you attribute this reaction to?"

But of course Giuliani's not a dumb guy, and he couldn't expect the mainstream media to really be like this. No, the complaints are just a strategy to get a little slack from mainstream journalists -- as former Republican Party chair Rich Bond once admitted, "There is some strategy to it [bashing the 'liberal' media]. ... If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.' Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one." (And let's not forget Bill Kristol: "I admit it," he told a reporter. "The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures.")

The unreality of conservative complaints about "the liberal media" and their supposed idea of "balance" are most surreal in this hilarious conference call. (By the way, Halperin never noted any of this in his blurb about Giuliani's call, just his comments. Does Halperin mind taking a back-seat to the editor and founder of NewsBull.com?)

This is a pretty interesting project: a Web documentary by the historian Kenneth Hughes based on the Nixon tapes called Fatal Politics, "which contrasts the adulatory media treatment of Nixon and Kissinger in their Opening to China days with the declassified record." It also has:

1. Leading Democrats accusing the Republican president (also the Republican presidential nominee) of offering the nation an endless war in defense of an experiment in nation-building.

2. A declassified transcript of Henry Kissinger's secret talks with a foreign premier that proves the Democrats wrong. How? Kissinger provided assurances that if the enemy held off a year or two after the president withdrew the last of our troops before overthrowing the government they fought to defend, the United States would not intervene. It's not 2008, but 1972, and the Republican president and candidate is Richard Nixon, who turns out not to have been committed to South Vietnam's survival but to concealing his own failure to win the war.

This episode is in two parts: here and here.

From TomDispatch:

Nearly four years ago to the week, right-wing bloggers were basking in the glow of their CBS Memogate caper. Today, the same bloggers are almost unrecognizable in terms of their shrinking clout and the almost complete un-seriousness with which they operate. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Read more here.

"In 1932," begins TomDispatch regular, American historian, and professor of religious studies Ira Chernus, "in the midst of a disastrous economic meltdown, Franklin D. Roosevelt made 'the forgotten man' the centerpiece of his presidential election campaign. Far more than we suspect, this year's election may turn not on a forgotten man, but on a forgotten war in a forgotten country."

Iraq is, of course, that forgotten war and surge "success" has, in recent months, consigned it to the inside pages of our papers and largely pushed it off the TV news. And yet, that war, Chernus suggests, moving in two powerful riptides just below the surface of American politics, may still decide the election.

Chernus then traces those two currents -- Barack Obama's war, the realistic disaster that most Americans have already rejected, and John McCain's war, the symbolic success story that so many Americans still wish was the reality. As he points out, "The eclipse of the war -- which was supposed to be Obama's winning issue -- is one big reason that he has, until recently, remained stuck in a statistical tie with McCain in the opinion polls."

This is a canny account of an unpredictable set of forces, set loose in this year's presidential campaign, and, even out of sight, sure to affect it deeply. Chernus concludes: "Amid all the confusing crosscurrents, one thing is clear: No wave of symbolism can stop the flow of empirical realities in Iraq. No matter who moves into the Oval Office on January 20, those harsh realities and their fallout around the world will be waiting on his desk, piled high and deep. They may, unfortunately, still be there when that president ends his first (or only) term in office four years later."

From ANP:

Recently, it was reported that the rate of carbon dioxide emission during the last seven years exceeded even the IPCC's worst-case scenario. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have offered their support to global warming legislation in the past, but climate legislation continues to stall, as it has for more than a decade. Why? In large part, because of an expensive, prolonged propaganda campaign waged by producers of big oil. And what did they look to for inspiration? Big tobacco.

Does Sarah Palin believe in the Antichrist? Does she believe true Christians will be whisked up to heaven sometime in the near future? Does she expect Jesus to come back to Earth in our lifetimes and battle the armies of Satan? Would biblical prophecies about Armageddon influence her foreign policy positions on Israel and Russia? These are urgent questions the media have failed to ask. According to Chip Berlet, a leading expert on the Christian right, mainstream reporters tend to view apocalyptic fundamentalists as a "silly little side show" in American political life, when, in fact, one of their own may soon be a heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the world.

This Week on Moyers:

In a week chock-full of breaking news and historic moves -- from proposed economic fixes to record-breaking market flux to vice presidential debates -- how did the media fare in informing the public? Bill Moyers Journal takes an in-depth look at the news of the week to sort out the media-frenzied information available from what the public still needs to know. In wide-ranging interviews with economic and political experts as well as media analysts, the program looks at what's at stake in the proposed bailout package and explores the key messages from Thursday's vice presidential debate. Also, Bill Moyers looks at the headlines you may have missed.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Hometown: Capitol Hill

John Emerson puts me in a curious position. In the past, when I have laid into Rush Limbaugh for saying something stupid about the military, or when I ripped Victor(y) Davis Hanson for his shoddy scholarship and misrepresentations of the historical record, or indeed at any time when I have taken up the cudgels on topics relating to military history, accuracy, and the military... just about everyone here on Altercation has seemed quite happy.

So long as I only call out those who abuse history on the right side of the aisle.

Folks, Eric has never asked that I limit myself in that way. History is history, and while everyone is entitled to their own interpretations, they are not entitled to their own facts. Greenwald, by either deliberate omission, or just simple ignorance of the history of one of the major laws of the nation, put forward his own "facts" in order to advance a rhetorical position. I hate it when Limbaugh, Rove, or Hanson does that, and I hate it when Greenwald, or somebody like Zinn, does it.

There is nothing about "military honor" in there. His misuse of terminology ("deployed"), his misrepresentation of what is, essentially, an administrative preparatory relationship, was designed to elicit fear.

Folks on the left cry "foul" when they see the right trying to whip up American's fears of the "other" (to use the academic concept). Fear-mongering and hyper-simplification were exactly what Jon Stewart was complaining about with the now-famous diatribe on CNN's Crossfire.

Please do not expect me to hold a double standard. When I see deliberate (or just stupid) misuses of history, for the intent of whipping up unreasonable fear, I call BS.

And I think you should too.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Ewa Beach, HI

Dr. A,

I'd like to add a couple of thoughts to the Bateman-Emerson conversation. I happen to know a thing or two about this as I was the Head of Operational Law in the Office of Counsel at U.S. Transportation Command from 2000-2004, and I attended a conference sponsored by U.S. Northern Command on homeland security. First, at least through 2004 (and I suspect longer), Posse Comitatus is alive and well. In fact, DOD has for a long time extended its limitations by Regulation beyond the scope of the Statute. The original Act applied only to the Dept of the Army (and by extension, to the Air Force when it was separated from the Army); however, Regulations have extended its limits to the Navy and Marine Corps.

Second, the crucial distinction for the Armed Forces under Federal Service is that they provide support to law enforcement, but do not have actual arrest authority. It's worth emphasizing that the lead Federal agency in these scenarios is NOT DOD, but usually FEMA, DOJ, or some other Agency with primary responsibility in a given situation. It takes a substantial amount of people and supplies to mount something like hurricane relief or to manage the consequences of a weapon of mass destruction.

One opinionated Lieutenant Commander's opinion: I think many people look to DOD for help in this area because (1) we are organized to communicate and follow orders rapidly, (2) we can defend ourselves in chaotic situations, and (3) unlike some government activities that have been sabotaged by small-government conservatives and libertarians, we are staffed, trained, and equipped to actually be able to complete a mission. Third, do not become overly concerned about military organizations planning for certain contingencies. That is how they are able to perform missions on short notice. You do realize that responding to something like Katrina requires more planning that drawing up a street football play in the dirt, don't you? Fourth, I can understand Mr. Emerson's concern about victims of a disaster being perceived as a crowd control problem. He has a point, but with respect to less that lethal force, would he prefer that the on-scene commander have very few options other than deadly force if threatened? That is a recipe for Kent State.

Quite frankly, I'd prefer that commentators like Mr. Greenwald take a moment to learn a bit more about what they hear before they go immediately to the worst possible alternative. Their lack of experience and understanding of the Armed Forces shows rather clearly.

Name: Eric
Hometown: Chapel Hill

Prof. A-

I read your Guardian piece with interest. One thing that I have been thinking about the debate is that Obama had no business being too hard on McCain in the first debate. Look what happened to Bush/Kerry four years ago. Kerry wiped the floor with Bush in the first debate, and the bar for Bush was immediately lowered for the other two. He did not actually have to do well, just well enough. Kerry, on the other hand, suffered for not being able to repeat his performance from the first night. We all know that the press loves narratives, and I can only imagine the stories about McCain picking himself off the mat again had Obama been too hard on him. Now, in the third debate, Obama should be able to go all in, if he wants to. However, he may not have to.

We'll see.

Name: Susan Abe
Hometown: Portland, Ore.

I agree that the term "high-functioning moron" is a slur... but not against President Bush. The bigger problem is that Begala is almost surely not qualified to render such a diagnosis -- if he were, he would know that the scientific community now rejects that classification.

Name: Barbara
Hometown: Portland, ME

Hey Eric,

Read your Think Again column and was musing on that and the financial crisis. I have been in banking for 28 years and am amazed at the scale of this failure. I am not really certain though, if anyone truly understood the interrelatedness of those pesky mortgage-backed securities. Apparently, the accounting rules allowed several institutions that "touched" these lovelies to show them on their financial reports, so that several institutions claimed them as assets... which overinflated their statements, plus others.

What I do know is that not one business reporter (whether magazine or newsprint) followed the mortgage-backed securities to see where they landed. I am really disappointed in that. Accounting rules have become so murky over the years that companies can hide stuff (remember Enron?), however surely some reporters keep up with them to understand whether some CEO is feeding them crap.

As to the "bail out": I have no faith in it. I remember back in the early '90s with RTC, so many banks ate underperforming banks and put assets into RTC that were performing and made big bucks out of defrauding taxpayers. I strongly believe that they should be allowed to fail. The small to midsize regionals may be hit hard because of their investment in Freddie/Fannie -- WSJ covered that today, so we will see a number of our "local" institutions devoured by others.

'Course this time around maybe there will be a no-bid contract to operate the bailout and Halliburton can run it... Cheney will be available to take over as CEO soon.

Name: Dave Higgins
Hometown: http://www.quantumage.org/

As Jacquie Mardell noted, a common theme in the media these days is that Obama's temperament is "too cool." Interestingly, about a year ago, the media was full of similar stories about this guy. As I recall, they changed their tune dramatically a few months later.

Name: Gab
Hometown: Philly

I've got the number for a good doctor who can teach the Mets' coaching staff how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on their players. Lord knows they're not doing anything else to stop them from choking...

Hey at least Mr. Springsteen is playing the Super Bowl. Now there is something to look forward to until February! Well, that and the end of the Bush era. Wow, I can't wait for that to happen...

Eric adds: The rest of this letter has been censored.

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