A detailed parsing of the frames, spins and lies perpetuated by the two right-wing columnists in The New York Times. Updated whenever either posts a column.
November 27, 2005
Heroes Abroad, Unknown at Home

Capt. Christopher Ieva comes from a military family. His grandfather won a Bronze Star in World War II and his father served during Vietnam. Throughout his boyhood in Bensonhurst and then North Jersey, Ieva wanted to be a marine.

On May 8, Ieva found himself leading a Marine assault in western Iraq. U.S. forces were in the midst of Operation Matador, an effort to clean out the insurgent safe havens in the towns along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Ieva and his men were to help bridge the Euphrates River and attack insurgent strongholds to the north. But as they got to the river, they began taking mortar fire from the town of Ubaydi, about three-quarters of a mile away. Ieva's superiors decided they wouldn't cross the river that day; they would take Ubaydi.

Ieva crawled up to a hillside and, as he told me, surveyed the town "Civil War style." Ubaydi is a densely packed grid of concrete town houses in the middle of the desert.

Ieva decided to take two armored vehicles and, as a feint, make a flamboyant charge across the desert on the southwest corner of the town. Two platoons would flank around to the left and launch the main attack. Others would go off to the right to prevent the insurgents from escaping. It was a maneuver Ieva and his men had practiced each Friday after hikes.

Ieva's armored vehicle took off across the desert, and he saw a blaze of muzzle flashes from the walls of the town ahead. The machine gun bullets made a constant "ding-ding-ding" as they hit his vehicle, and the rocket-propelled grenades made loud cracking noises.

As he approached the town, Ieva was looking into the backyards of the first row of duplexes. The two platoons on the left were coming in from the side. Those men had to sprint across 75 yards of open ground under fire to get to a protected building. "Aggressiveness and speed got them into the city," Ieva says.

From there, the marines began house-to-house fighting. They would blast holes in the walls and charge in - as Ieva joked, like Starsky and Hutch - or they would climb roof to roof, throwing explosive devices into houses before they entered. One building had insurgent snipers on the roof, but a bomb, timed to go off just above, killed them.

Ieva's men came across a fortified terrorist stronghold, where one of his men, Lawrence R. Philippon, was killed.

Hold it! Back up a second. Brooks has suddenly replaced the word "insurgent" with the word "terrorist." This isn't a slip.  It's a fallback on the old Administration dodge that the insurgents aren't Iraqis, they're al Queda members from elsewhere --- which is simply not true. It's estimated that 90% of the insurgency is composed of Iraqis. This is not the last time Brooks pulls a fast one in this column.

At another stronghold in that town, according to a gripping piece by Ellen Knickmeyer of The Washington Post, insurgents had built a crawl space under the front door; they lay on their backs and shot upwards through the floor with armor-piercing bullets at marines who came through. The marines needed five assaults and 500-pound bombs from an F/A-18 attack plane to finally take and destroy that house.

I don't have space to describe how Ieva and the other marines fought on that hot spring day, but by the end, about 75 insurgents had been killed and 17 captured.

Nothing here of how many marines or civilians were killed. That's no accident. An accounting of dead Americans, or mention.of "collatoral damage" will have readers, in very stark terms, questioning the very nature of the operation itself, and of the war.

Brooks later complains the American press isn't reporting heroism. If so, what was Ellen Knickmeyer in the Washington Post doing?

Two points are worth making. After the Marines took Ubaydi, they didn't have the troops to hold it, and it again became a terrorist safe haven. Over the past two weeks, the Marines have been back in Ubaydi for more bloody fighting. This time they have enough trained Iraqi forces to hold the area, but why weren't there enough troops last spring? Every time you delve into the situation in Iraq, you come away with the phrase "not enough troops" ringing in your head, and I hope someday we will find out how this travesty came about.

Actually, that's not what comes to my mind. What comes to my mind is Vietnam, where marines would fight for a hill, win, go to the next hill, and find the first hill Viet Cong territory again.  Also, we know exactly why there weren't enough troops to hold Ubaydi. His name is Donald Rumsfeld and this is his policy. Brooks knows that.

Second, why aren't there more stories about war heroes like Christopher Ieva? The casual courage he and his men displayed is awe-inspiring, but most Americans couldn't name a single hero from this war. That's because despite all the amazing things people are achieving in Iraq, we don't tell their stories back here.

That's not true. During the first year of the war, that was all we heard about from the mainstream media, safely embedded with the troops. When there weren't enough heroes, Jessica Lynch's story was invented to add to the myth. But then the war dragged on and on. There was Abu Ghraib. There were other reports of torture. There was the demolition of Fallujah. There was Pat Tillman, whose name was abused by an Administration searching for something to rally its fading support. This Administration has had years of velvet coverage from the mainstream press, which is finally waking up and examining what went wrong and why. What should Americans do, concentrate on the gladiators and avoid looking at their sponsors?

More sleight of hand here as well. He's conflating "amazing things" with heroic action in battle. "Amazing things" conjures images of all kinds of Iraqi-American success stories, NOT soldeirs fighting a war.

Now comes some armchair conjectures from Brooks, every one of which avoids the real issue, which is that the war was waged under false pretenses, and Americans, citizens and press alike, are fed up.

That's partly because in the post-Vietnam era many Americans - especially those who dominate the culture - are uncomfortable with military valor.

Again with the sleight of hand. The comment about "those who dominate the culture" is a reference to the old "liberal elite" idea, which has been mostly discredited outside of Fox News and its minions. Now that journalists are actually reporting on the Bush Administration, rather than cheerleading, you'll probably see a lot more about "the liberal elite" than we've seen for quite some time. For more information on the liberal elite ploy, check out Eric Alterman's "What Liberal Media?" and Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?"

That's partly because some people don't want this war to seem like a heroic enterprise.

Here we go again. Whatever heroism comes from soldiers has nothing to do with this being a heroic enterprise. He's conflating individual heroism with the war itself. Brooks is also saying the omission is a kind of anti-war propaganda. One could argue, however, that to tell these stories, over and over, without context, takes them out of the the realm of news and into the realm of pro-war propaganda.  Besides, heroic stories at this juncture obscure the real news, which is all about the Bush Administration's phony build-up to war.

And it's partly because many Americans are aloof from this whole conflict, and couldn't tell you a thing about Operations Matador and Steel Curtain and the other major offensives.

Because they've been lied to, once too often. It's hard to get worked up over another city destroyed and more people killed, all in the name of a winning a war that has no definition of "winning."

There's something else here, though. Yet more sleight of hand. In tandem with Brooks' last column, the Thanksgiving "satire," he's continuing to go after those Americans who no longer buy into his social, political and moral philosophy. That makes Americans "aloof," self-centered, negative, and far too pacifist.

Captain Ieva, who is now serving at Camp Lejeune and has earned his own Bronze Star, has it right: "We're always painted as victims. But we assaulted them." This is a culture that knows how to honor the casualties and the dead, but not the strength and prowess of its warriors.

Extolling warrior virtues is a nationalist exercise used to greatest effect in totalitarian states. The American soldier, on the other hand, has traditionally not been a warrior known for strength and prowess but rather the common man, who in the cause of liberty says goodbye to family and friends to fight for truth and rightness. He isn't Hercules or Achilles. He's GI Joe, and he doesn't need extra strength or prowess or even medals. He's there for freedom, for family and for the American way of life, and that's enough.

Addendum: We see here that Brooks is moving away from criticism of the Bush Administration and falling back into talking points propagandist mode. He is, to paraphrase Dumbledore in the latest Harry Potter movie, not doing what is right, but doing what is easy.

November 26, 2005
Big Store, Little Town


If you've seen the anti-Wal-Mart documentary playing at churches and colleges and union halls, you have learned about the people here in Amish farm country who couldn't stop Wal-Mart from ruining their simple way of life.

Someone at Wal-Mart must have gone through the documentary with a fine-toothed comb and found a huge discrepancy. Would that the mainstream media had been as diligent in the events leading up to the Iraq War. But then giant mega-corporations really do have the money to fight back, witness the use of lawsuits by Disney against small businesses.

Fact is, there aren't a whole lot of people who would defend Wal-Mart. Their hiring practices and the way they destroy community businesses is legendary. You've got to find a true believer in not merely the power of the market, but its ultimate truth and goodness, to defend soulless box stores.John Tierney is such a man.

The film, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," focuses on H & H Hardware, a family-owned business in this small town in northeastern Ohio. Its anguished owner explains that he needs a loan to survive, but complains that the bank has refused him because Wal-Mart's pending arrival has depressed the value of his property.

He shows a rack of booklets being distributed by an Amish customer: "How Wal-Mart Is Destroying America." But there is no stopping the giant. The film shows a headline, "Wal-Mart Descends On Middlefield!," followed by bulldozers in action.

Accompanied by the mournful twangs of a guitar, H & H slowly goes out of business. An Amish horse and buggy is shown passing the moribund store, followed by images of empty shelves and the lights being turned off.

It's a sad story. But it's not exactly the one you hear if you talk to the Amish customers now shopping at Middlefield Hardware, the new store in the same building where H & H operated. They will tell you the new store is a big improvement over the old one.

This says nothing about Jon Hunter, the owner of H&H Hardware. It doesn't negate his complaint. His bank refused him a loan because Wal-Mart's pending arrival depressed the value of his property.

The store was opened last month by Jay Negin, a local resident who bought the building despite the new Wal-Mart. He told me that the building's appraised value, rather than being hurt by Wal-Mart's opening in May, is higher now than it was last year.

The bank appears to have been wrong, at least for now, but that didn't help Hunter.

He scoffed at the notion that Wal-Mart put his predecessor out of business, as did some former employees and customers of the old store.

Wal-Mart did not put his predecessor out of business. The bank put him out of business by turning down his loan, and Hunter knew he needed the loan to compete.

They told me that the business had been floundering for years because of management mistakes. It actually closed three months before Wal-Mart opened, a fact not made clear in the documentary.

Without the loan, Hunter took a look at Wal-Mart, and gave up. For a dedicated free market zealot like Tierney, this guy deserves everything he gets. Of course, fighting your way in a small store against a mega-corporation with the wherewithall to undercut you on all fronts could cause a lot of people to turn tail. Wal-Mart and other box stores do more than destroy small businesses. They also destroy communities and the people in them. But they do have great prices, and one stop shopping.

The former owner, Jon Hunter, while insisting to me that Wal-Mart had hurt his prospects, also said that he had been losing customers well before Wal-Mart because he had made bad decisions and couldn't afford to keep his shelves stocked.

But he remained open. No one objects to poorly run businesses going down the drain. An independent or franchise hardware store across the street could have put Hunter out of business. Maybe Negin would have come along and put Hunter out of business. But it wasn't Negin, and it wasn't a franchise. It was Wal-Mart, and it was the bank.

The new hardware store is doing fine, Negin told me. "Am I concerned about Wal-Mart?" he asked. "Not really. If you're a struggling business, they can hurt you. But as long as you listen to your customers and give them the products and service they need, they'll stay loyal."

Negin's been open a month. A spanking new store on the premises of the old poorly-run town hardware store? People will definitely come. But what happens in another month, two months, a year, when Wal-Mart decides to put the pressure on Negin by lowering the price of Negin's products to below wholesale in order to force the new store out of business?  It's true that some stores do survive the chains. There are several independent bookstores that have survived Borders and Barnes & Noble. But there are a larger number that have not. Negin's been open a month. How much you want to bet Tierney won't go back in a year and see how the new store is doing.

He's hardly the only optimist in Middlefield. John Bruening, an optician who appeared in the documentary fretting about Wal-Mart, got so much unexpected business that he has decided to open a new store.

Which will do fine until Wal-Mart opens its new discount optician center.

When I mentioned these inconvenient facts to the filmmaker, Robert Greenwald, he acknowledged he might not have chosen the best examples of Wal-Mart's victims. He urged me to look at the "macro" issues - at the overall revenue lost by local merchants and the other social costs of Wal-Mart.

Greenwald found the most visually stimulating scenario and filmed it. A small traditional community overwhelmed by the box store, a business forced into the cold. In retrospect, as he says, he might not have chosen the best examples. But let's look a little closer at the time line.

February 2005: Hunter is forced to close because he can't get a loan.
May 2005: Wal-Mart opens.
October 2005: Ray Negin opens a new hardware store on Hunter's premises.

The effects of a Wal-Mart are sometimes instantaneous, sometimes not. If a business is floundering, sure, a box store will drive it under quickly. But again, those stores will die from any competition. The real question is, what happens to the well-run stores? What happens to the community? Six months is certainly not enough time to tell.

I'll grant him that some businesses do suffer because of Wal-Mart. And yes, there are larger issues, like Wal-Mart's wages and benefits, that are worth considering in another column. But as long as we're in the town that Greenwald chose as a symbol of Wal-Mart's oppression, let's consider some of the macro effects here.

There still may be Amish activists passing out booklets against Wal-Mart, but they seemed to be vastly outnumbered by the Amish who tie their horses to the posts outside the new Wal-Mart.

Yes. This is why Wal-Mart has been so successful. It's a giant box store, with great prices  --- at least at first --- and everything under one roof. That maybe certain books aren't stocked, or certain CDs: well that's not really relevant, is it? One-stop inexpensive shopping is how Wal-Mart became successful. But it's the side effects that hurt, and it's hard to combat them when you're dealing with Amish on horses who get good prices under one roof.

"I wasn't too happy about Wal-Mart coming," said Ada Schlabach, who was browsing through the plain-colored fabrics that Wal-Mart stocks for Amish customers. "I didn't know what it would do to the community - would it make it more citylike? But I was surprised. It's kind of nice now. I like shopping here."

Ada thought Wal-Mart would make the community more citylike? She was misinformed. Cities have lots of small businesses and frequently enough population to keep them around despite the existence of box stores. No one ever complained Wal-Mart was urban. Ada is discovering the joys of a large store.

Ben Yoder, an Amish carpenter who is 24, was there with two of his four children. "We get all our diapers and wipes here because it's cheaper than anywhere else," he said. He and most of the Amish shoppers said the Wal-Mart was especially welcomed because they could reach it by horse, unlike the one more than 20 miles away.

Whoa! Wait a sec. There's another Wal-Mart a half hour away by car? No wonder Greenwald chose to highlight this one. You don't open a Wal-Mart so close to another Wal-Mart unless you're trying to put local businesses out of business. Someone high up figured there's bucks to be made in the horse-and-buggy trade, and presto, there it is. Wal-Mart is cheaper than anywhere else. A young carpenter with four small children must look for the best prices, and Wal-Mart can undercut everyone else through wholesale discounts and extremely cheap labor. Tierney's argument that people go because Wal-Mart is so great is facile. They go because of predatory pricing,

"Wal-Mart isn't really a big issue with our people," said Eli Miller, who runs a sawmill. "At first some were upset because they were scared by something new. But now they like being able to get everything here - your name brand, your off brand, all in one place. I think of it as simple shopping."

Simple shopping. Right. And over time, they'll notice more and more local businesses throwing in the towel and more and more people out of work, with the lucky few employed by the store unable to make ends meet and unable to find prospects for a better future. That's because before they know it, the only real business in town will be Wal-Mart. Which is precisely Greenwald's point..

November 24, 2005
The Real Thanksgiving

And so in the year of our Lord 1620, the Pilgrims did depart from all kith and kin in the town of Leiden and ventured forth across the ocean to seek a new Jerusalem and a new Eden.

The voyage was hard and long, for the Pilgrims could find passage only on The Nation magazine's summer cruise and Gore Vidal hogged the Jacuzzi. Yet onward they ventured, across the vastness of the ocean until finally the infinite wonder of the New World came into view, and the passengers of the Mayflower realized here they could raise their children and their children's children to be snooty and the subjects of John Cheever stories.

Brooks made a name for himself with his book "Bobos in Paradise," which defines the new American boomer elite as the merging of the bohemian and the bourgeois (hence "Bobo") into a egalitarian generation of consumers. He mocks them but then serves as an apologist.

Flak Magazine puts it best:

"Brooks' reportage and analysis don't mix  he derides Bobos for being silly and superficial, and then inexplicably turns around and praises them for this. After 49 pages of caricaturing ridiculous Bobo consumption practices, he has the gall to write: "we take the quintessential bourgeois activity, shopping, and turn it into quintessential bohemian activities: art, philosophy, social action." The possibility of the opposite  that art, philosophy and social action have been co-opted by the Bobos' selfish desire to consume more and more without the accompanying guilt  never seems to occur to Brooks."

Nor would it. He doesn't recognize the contradiction because ---- he just doesn't care. This is a new morality, one in which consumption and narcissism go hand in hand with the old moral virtues of self-reliance and stoicism. Compassion, of course, plays no role whatsoever.

They were greeted at the shore by a tribe of native peoples, led by chief Massasoit and his lobbyist Abramoff. The Pilgrim leader William Bradford spoke first: "Behold! We have come to drive you from your land and fill it with sexually frigid white people!"

Brooks is not being particularly original here. Most of the juxtapositions are cribbed in various ways from Woody Allen's film "Love And Death." Imagine reading the rest of the column in Woody Allen's voice, and you'll see what I mean.

And it came to pass that Massasoit was relieved by this declaration, for at least the strangers had not come promising to spread democracy. In exchange, all he asked was that he and his people be allowed to open casinos where David Brenner's career would never end and where Celine Dion would play Saturday nights.

Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought to a safe land, the Pilgrims did proceed to build a shining city on a hill, though it made their legs tired and the driveway was hard to shovel in the wintertime.
Declaring themselves the first Americans, they set out to become mortgage brokers and conference facilitators, and each began refinancing with the other.

Woody Allen. Get it?

But the Lord did not smile upon their endeavors, and by midwinter the food had run short and there was starvation across the congregation, especially for those on low-corn diets. The Pilgrims found they did not have enough to eat, and even when there was food, they couldn't get seated at a good table.

But what was most sad and lamentable was that in two or three months' time, half the company had died, Internet service was slow, and the Lord's favorability ratings began to decline. In the midst of these hardships, many did find spiritual succor by returning their attention to the Holy Book (even though parts of it were now behind a firewall as part of ScriptureSelect).

Finally, at least, one of the columnists takes a jab at TimesSelect. Too bad it had to be this one.

Others reacted to these difficult beginnings with murmurings of mutiny and discontent. It was said that Miles Standish had brought the flock to the New World on the basis of faulty intelligence, while others claimed the pilgrimage had been ruined by the religious right.


But as winter turned into spring, the forests came alive with animals and meat. There were deer in plenitude, as well as geese and turkeys, all of it free range. The ponds and rivers yielded forth clams, oysters and other trayf, and the mischievous little cabernet they had brought from Europe was finally ready to uncork. And so a great feast of Thanksgiving was announced (dress code: frilly but puritanical). The great Indian chief Massasoit, who was by this time really into kabbalah, brought 90 warriors to the feast, each bearing scented candles and dim sum.

Kabbalah? Celine Dion? David Brenner? Cheever's been dead for years. This guy needs to read Entertainment Weekly to keep up. If you're going to mock the present, then mock the present. It sounds like he hasn't checked on show biz since the Clinton years. Too busy, I guess, being a Bush apologist.

As it turned out, the first Thanksgiving was a little anticlimactic because it followed five days after the first bat mitzvah, with guest singers Ashanti, Ja Rule and the Backstreet Boys.

The Backstreet Boys? Ashanti?

Nonetheless, there was great merriment amongst the gathering, as well as several surprise winners of the Pilgrims' Choice Awards.

The dinner was delicious, no matter what some people wrote later in Zagat, and after the football game, Miles Standish brought forth Jonathan Edwards, Puritanism's leading motivational speaker, who energized the crowd with his famous talk, "Cower Before God's Wrath, Ye Slimy Pusballs of Sin!"

And Governor Bradford reminded his flock that all honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, which must be overcome with answerable courages, and all ignored him because "CSI: Salem" was on. But all Americans owe much to those brave folk who supped that day.

Now we're getting to Brooks' real point, and the purpose of this column: "All honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, which must be overcome with answerable courages." This is the basis of Brooks' right-wing philosophy. This homily sounds perfectly fine, and impossible to argue with, but it does not replace community, love of the planet, community, or simple decency (or, as I stated above, compassion). It's a one-trick pony by itself, and an ugly one at that.. 

For it is from those Pilgrims, the last WASP's to truly look good in black, that we have inherited the essential elements of the American character - our ability to look honestly at ourselves and find other people less intelligent; our ability to endure moments of amazing hardship before resorting to litigation; our ability to build this nation, so broad and strong, which the Chinese will one day be proud to own.

If the right-wing revolution fails, it's because Americans fail. It's not Brooks' philosophy that's at fault. No. It's people. Hey, David, get a clue.

November 22, 2005
That First Thanksgiving

(portions only)

Depending on when and where you went to grade school, you've probably heard one of these versions of the first Thanksgiving:

1. After a kindly Indian named Squanto taught the Pilgrims to grow corn, the Pilgrims invited the Indians to a meal to celebrate their friendship and mutual desire to live in harmony.
2. The Pilgrims held a feast to thank God, the real hero of Thanksgiving, who had earlier arranged for Squanto to be kidnapped, brought to Europe, taught Christianity and then miraculously returned just in time to help the Pilgrims.
3. The Indians, vicious barbarians awed by the Europeans' technology, sought an alliance with the Pilgrims to get access to their steel tools and enjoy the protection of their guns.
4. The Native Americans, a peaceable people who practiced sustainable agriculture and lived as one with nature, innocently befriended the Pilgrims without realizing these imperialists would destroy their lands and wage genocidal wars.

The problem with all these versions, even the last one about the saintly Native American proto-environmentalists, is that they don't do justice to the Pilgrims' guests. One way or another, the Indians come off as primitive patsies embracing the powerful invaders.

The Indians who greeted European colonists may have seemed like barbarians - or, in later mythology, like Noble Savages - but that was only because their societies had been decimated by epidemics brought by earlier Europeans. Before then, the Americas may well have been more populous than Europe, and in some ways more advanced.

Tisquantum (the full name of Squanto) came from the Wampanoag confederation, which had long traded with the Europeans while forcibly preventing them from settling on Cape Cod. Their leader, Massasoit, welcomed the Pilgrims only because so many Wampanoag Indians had died from European diseases that they were in danger of being conquered by other Indians.

This shrewd politician probably sought the alliance not so much for the Pilgrims' guns, Mann writes, but because his enemies would be reluctant to attack a group of whites for fear that it would complicate their own relationships with white traders. And his emissary, Tisquantum, far from a simple, kindly Indian, had his own plan for using the Pilgrims to become leader himself. Shortly after that first Thanksgiving, he tried unsuccessfully to trick the Pilgrims into attacking Massasoit.

"Tisquantum was to the Pilgrims what Ahmad Chalabi was to the Americans in Iraq," Mann said. "At a time when the Pilgrims were really clueless, he introduced them to his society and provided valuable information, but he definitely had his own agenda." Some Pilgrims remained clueless, attributing their survival to God and their guns, but others were more savvy.

"The Pilgrims figured out within a year they were dealing with a complex, fractured society they had to understand in order to survive abroad," Mann said. Some of their descendants in Washington aren't such quick studies.

The Chalabi analogy may have been appropriate when Mann wrote that portion of his book, but it's not appropriate now that we understand Chalabi did far less for Americans than Tisquantum did for the Pilgrims. Not merely did he have his own agenda, but he fooled the neocons into believing Iraqis would welcome Americans with open arms.

In that last sentence, is Tierney talking about the neocons or the anti-war folks? Or both? I think he's talking about the neocons (from the previous quote about Chalabi) but maybe he's also talking about the wave of people in Congress who want to pull out of Iraq. It's this lack of clarity that makes Tierney so inferior to his predecessor, William Safire. Safire, the language junkie, would never end a column without the reader knowning exactly what he was thinking.

November 20, 2005
The Importance of Staying With Iraq

On one level, Jack Murtha is right. The American presence in Iraq does incite violence. The American presence in Iraq does lend popular legitimacy to the terrorists that they would not otherwise have. All things being equal, it would be a good thing if we could reduce the American presence in Iraq.

But when Jack Murtha calls for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, he is not mostly right. For while the American presence is a catalyst for violence in Iraq, it is not the main catalyst.

Actually, it is the only catalyst. If there was no American presence in Iraq, there would have been no war. Saddam Hussein would still be in charge, and sectarian violence would not exist. Brooks isn't even pulling up the old "you broke it, you fix it" argument. He's using the frame of U.S. as Daddy and Iraqis as children, and it's Daddy's responsibility to keep the kids from killing each other. No mention of the fact that Daddy gave them the weapons.  

The main source of violence in Iraq is the sectarian war between the Sunnis and the Shiites. The main source of violence is that the Sunnis think they are the majority and can't accept the possibility that the Shiites, whom they consider as almost subhuman, should be allowed to run their own affairs.

The Shiites were second-class citizens under Saddam Hussein, secular Sunnis were in charge. There was a violent and ugly war between Iraq and the Shiite regime of Iran. Now suddenly the Shiites have power worthy of their population. What the hell would anyone expect? This is nothing new. Anti-war Americans understood the dynamic sufficiently to figure out that when Saddam Hussein was removed, a Civil War was virtually inevitable.

And what also drives violence in Iraq is that the Shiites have responded to Sunni supremacy by turning ultrachauvinist themselves. In the vacuum of security caused by the botched American occupation, these ethnic tensions have turned into a low-grade civil war.

Notice the phrase "botched American occupation":

If the U.S. withdraws, that would not eliminate the irritant that plagues Iraqi society. Instead, it would eliminate the one source of authority that prevents the country from imploding.

Even if we accept the U.S. as Daddy, this could mean a permanent presence for the United States. Is Brooks arguing that Americans must permanently be prepared to send their soldiers to die because of a failed foreign policy adventure culminating in a "botched occupation"?

If the U.S. leaves, Iraq will descend into a full-scale civil war. The Iranians will come in on the side of the Shiites. The Syrians, Saudis and God knows who else will be tempted to come in on the side of the Sunnis. The Turks will be tempted to come in to take care of the Kurds. We might be looking at the Middle East version of World War I.

This is the most damning indictment I've read by a conservative concerning the entire concept of invasion. He is mouthing exactly what the anti-war movement was saying before Bush invaded.

In his heartfelt cry of agony, Jack Murtha didn't stop to consider the consequences of an immediate U.S. withdrawal. But this is where his policy leads. If the Democrats become the party of withdrawal, this is what they will have to live with. Are they really going to become the Come Home America party of George McGovern once again?

Now he's pressing the hot buttons. George McGovern was creamed in the 1972 election. Do we Democrats want this to happen again? Like we're going to believe any claptrap from Brooks.

The comparison between McGovern and Murtha isn't valid. Nixon was a foreign policy specialist. He'd made peace with China. He may have been a raging fruitcake, but he was larger than life. Bush is a rodent. At the time of McGovern, the Vietnam War had been in full swing some seven years, and 20 times the number of Americans had died. The war was played to Americans as an invasion from the North, and as a surrogate for the Cold War. Fighting it, for many Americans, had a point. Here, what's the point? To keep a bunch of crazies from killing each other? Even Brooks can't grapple with that one.

There's another level on which Jack Murtha is partly right. It is true that some in the American military have concluded that the war in Iraq is unwinnable. But here again, Murtha is not mostly right.

What does winning mean, Mr. Brooks? Please let us know.

As a survey by the Pew Research Center suggests, most journalists and most academics think the war is unwinnable, but 64 percent of military officers believe the U.S. can prevail. Re-enlistment rates are high because most American troops believe they can create a better Iraq.

Whatever "prevail" means. Hard to say, because nobody has ever defined it clearly. Like "winning."

Adam Gopnik told me a couple of weeks ago he'd been working on a profile for The New Yorker and had gone to West Point for interviews. At the same time, he spoke with several people at the Academy."The military men I've spoken to," Gopnik said, "generally have the opinion, they have an awareness of the modesty of military power. That is, military people know that an army is very good at one thing: destroying other armies, but it can't do symbolic work. An army could do rebuilding, but it's not what it's good for. Armies are good, as General Sherman said, at killing things. Sometimes that's a necessity. They can't repair the national pride. They can't revenge the national injury. And when we ask them to do symbolic work, to show the flag in that way, they always fail. And they know it. They have the wisdom to know it because they've studied their own history well enough. And that's what I hear from them."

Brooks obviously has not studied military history. This is stuff he doen't want to hear..

When you talk to serious, nonpartisan experts with experience on the ground, you find that most think the war is at least a 50-50 proposition. Everyone I've spoken to, given the consequences of bugging out, believes that it is therefore worth struggling on.

A lot of people have heard very different things. But what does a 50-50 proposition mean? 50% chance of civil war, 50% chance of what? Peaceful co-existence between Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds? Rain?

Furthermore, almost all the experts believe that after 18 months of incompetence, the U.S. is getting its act together. Zalmay Khalilzad, the best representative the U.S. has had in Iraq, has created a semifunctional political process. Condoleezza Rice has exerted control and has laid out a much more comprehensive and energetic anti-insurgency strategy than anything Donald Rumsfeld ever came up with.

"18 months of incompetence:" "Semifunctional political process"? That's not even damning with faint praise. You go, girl.

As for the new Iraqi success story: This was today's headline in the Times: "At Least 35 Iraqis and 5 GIs Are Killed in Attacks, including a Bombing at a Funeral".That's progress? What about the day before? Suicide attacks on two mosques, a bombing of a Baghdad Hotel favored by Western journalists. October was the 4th deadliest month for Americans since the invasion in March 2003

Most important, the training of Iraqi troops has been going well. Authoritative investigators like Jack Keane, the retired Army general, report that the Iraqi troops are becoming effective fighters and their morale is high.

Frank Rich reports that "as James Fallows confirms in his exhaustive report on "Why Iraq Has No Army" in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly, America would have to commit to remaining in Iraq for many years to "bring an Iraqi army to maturity."

Why does Jack Murtha want to give up just when it might be possible to reap the benefits of these belated accomplishments? Why does he want to give up just before an election, when Sunnis and Shiites might begin to form the sort of national institutions that are required to rebind the two communities and calm the slow-boiling civil war?

Murtha's policy is incomprehensible and it is incomprehensible that so many Democrats are shifting toward accelerated withdrawal.

What's incomprehensible is how Brooks and company can get away for two years with talk about "winning" without once telling us what "winning" actually entails. How can the U.S. "prevail" when Sunnis and Shiites have been at each other's throats for decades, at least? For the preening fop David Brooks, to criticize a former hawk with 35 years of military experience as holding an "incomprehensible" position on war, is laughable.

There's one area, though, where I completely sympathize with Jack Murtha. I sympathize with his frustration. On Feb. 23, 1942, Franklin Roosevelt asked Americans to spread out maps before them and he described, step by step, what was going on in World War II, where the U.S. was winning and where it was losing. Why can't today's president do that? Why can't he show that he is aware that his biggest problem is not in Iraq, it's on the home front?

Because it's in Iraq. 

Besides, this president is incapable of adequately explaining anything, and he lies through his teeth whenever he tries.

Since the president doesn't give out credible information, it's no wonder Republicans are measuring success by how quickly we can get out; it's no wonder many Democrats are turning the war into a political tool to bash the president; and it's no wonder that people like well-meaning but weary Jack Murtha have simply given up.

Murtha's about-face is extremely damaging because, as a respected ex-Military man, he could have easily continued to support the war. He chose not to, and he knows what he's talking about. If the best Brooks could do is use terms like "botched" and "incompetent" to describe the occupation, and if he calls the Bush Administration's last and best democratic hope "semifunctional", then he is himself throwing in the towel. This column, because of that, is remarkable.

November 19, 2005
Computing the Cost of 'Acting White'

Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist, has done a couple of very clever things. First he devised a mathematical technique for identifying the coolest kids in school. Then he came up with a surprising answer to a tougher question: If a black student does well in school, will his black friends shun him and accuse him of "acting white"?

Interesting. Fryer, an economist, has devised a sociological study? Why? How is that within his expertise? Who is putting him up to this? Tierney is careful to avoid saying so at this point.

Social scientists have been fiercely debating this question since it was raised nearly two decades ago by a study at a high school in Washington. Researchers have found that when minority students are asked to give examples of "acting white," they list taking honors classes along with speaking standard English and wearing clothes from the Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch (as opposed to Tommy Hilfiger or Fubu).

Some conservatives argue that this attitude reflects a self-destructive sense of victimhood that holds back blacks who could succeed if they weren't pressured by their peers to fail. Some liberals reply that it's not the fault of minority students - that they're creating an "oppositional culture" as a way to cope with racism and other obstacles that would keep them from succeeding if they tried.

And many social scientists have argued that the "acting white" phenomenon doesn't really exist. They point to surveys showing that black students value academic achievement as much as white students do, and that black students who get good grades report having just as many (in fact, slightly more) friends than other blacks.

Fryer, though, didn't trust students' reports of their own popularity. What did their classmates say? For his study, which appears in the Hoover Institution's journal Education Next, he looked at a nationally representative sample of 90,000 students from seventh through 12th grade who were asked to list their friends.

Now we find out who is sponsoring this study. The Hoover Institution is not so much a "think tank" as a right-wing propaganda mill. You can bet that any study done at the Hoover will not be unbiased in its outcome. We can assume the outcome will reflect one of the following: (1) affirmative action is a mistake; (2) school vouchers are the answer; (3) the problems are personal or endemic to a particular subculture, rather than societal; (4) forced busing is a mistake.

Notice also how Tierney goes directly from concerns about students "acting white" to a study of student popularity, as if that were the sole criterion for popularity. What's the relationship between "acting white" and popularity anyway. And what's the relationship between "acting white" and class achievement?

To compute your popularity, Fryer wouldn't just count how many friends you claimed to have. He'd check all the other students' lists to see how many named you as a friend. Your popularity rating would depend on how many other students listed you, and also on whether those friends of yours were themselves very popular with the rest of the students. The mathematics is complicated - but then, so are teenage social networks.

It's very complicated, particularly when you're gaming the statistics to come out with the outcome you desire.

By comparing grades with popularity, Fryer showed that "acting white" seems to be a real problem, but not one affecting all minority students.

Minority students with good grades at private schools don't become less popular. Nor do students at predominantly black public schools pay a social price for higher grades.

That result, Fryer says, shows that there isn't a pervasive bias among blacks against achievement, or an "oppositional culture" created in response to white racism.

But at integrated public schools, minority students face a special problem, according to Fryer's study. Unlike their white classmates, whose popularity steadily increases as their grades go up, minority students with higher grades end up with fewer friends. For blacks, this effect is noticeable among B-plus and A students. For Hispanic students, the drop in popularity is even more pronounced, affecting students who average at least C-plus grades.

It could also be, of course, that at integrated public schools, the data collection is less reliable because minority students are less honest with adults who are "acting white." It could also be that there are other reasons why students in integrated schools lose popularity as their grades rise. It could also be that the questions Fryer creates are designed to create these results in integrated schools.

Fryer, who is black, says he saw this problem himself in the integrated public schools he attended - although he adds that his grades back then weren't high enough to be worth stigmatizing. "I was the one accusing other people of acting white," he said.

Clearly in the days before he became published in a right-wing think tank journal.

Why would minority students with better grades end up with fewer friends at integrated public schools? Fryer believes it's more a class problem than a race problem - something that arises when a group comes in contact with another group whose members have historically been higher achievers.

Looks like we've narrowed it down to affirmative action or busing.

"Groups around the world face the same tension," he said. "When there are inequalities in society and you have a group that has been fundamentally disadvantaged, there's a tension between wanting to excel in the outside world and being loyal to your own group. If you're in an all-black school and you get good grades, that's not a signal you're being disloyal. But in an integrated school, it can be a signal that you're being disloyal by joining the other group."


As a result, Fryer says, minority students face a cruel choice at precisely the kinds of integrated schools that are supposed to be eliminating their disadvantages. "When blacks are forced to pay a social price for getting good grades," he said, "there are going to be some black students who won't achieve their full potential."

In other words, Tierney is presenting an argument for a return to "separate but equal" schools and an end to forced busing to achieve integration. You have to ask: What role does Fryer's own views on integration play in the collection and interpretation of data? Did any impartial sources corroborate the data or the conclusion? Why was this study done in the first place, particularly by an economist? What axes did he have to grind?

But let's take this in another direction. Let's assume that Fryer has it right: that blacks in integrated schools are less popular as their grades go up. Is the answer, then, separate schools? Or should we look instead to the ways in which blacks are treated (as opposed to whites) in integrated schools by teachers and administrations, and how that treatment affects the way in which academic achievement is assessed by black students. Maybe the problem isn't amongst black students, but instead is an institutional one that is part of America's educational system. This isn't what Tierney, or the Hoover Institution, wants us to think.

The fact that the Hoover Institution published this study, rather than an impartial education journal, says more about the study than anything else. By being a consistent source of right-wing punditry, the Hoover Institution has achieved zero credibility as a scientific think tank

What Palestinians?

Another column by Brooks that stays away from current American politics. Brooks has said that if someone had paid to discredit conservative beliefs, they couldn't have done a better job than the Bush Administration. Of course, you have to wonder how much that has to do with the Administration's actual policies, or its poll ratings. Is Brooks sincere, or just simply deserting a sinking ship, trying to save his valuables before it goes down.

The swallows fly to Capistrano; I go to the Middle East.

Every few years I fly to Israel and Palestine and I get out my notebooks, and every time I go the experience is the same. Some world leader will have proposed a peace plan. Some set of lines on a map will be debated. Some elaborate procedure to get both sides to the table will be in the process of being hammered out.

Over the years, the Shultz plan begat the Oslo process, which begat the Mitchell plan, which begat the road map. Even though the names may change, the grievances are the same, the intensity is the same, and the addictive three-dimensional chess game we call the Middle East peace process is fundamentally the same.

No argument thus far.

As for the rest of the column, I don't actually know if Israel is that much safer today, or if Israelis actually see themselves as disengaging, or if in fact they are disengaging. For the purpose of my comments,.I'm working within Brooks' general frame, and the frame itself may be completely out of whack. I'm no expert on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, far from it. But it strikes me that Brooks is building a strawman here, then knocking it down. So working from his premises and what I do know, these are my comments.

Until this year.

I just got back from a Saban Center conference that took me once again to Jerusalem and Ramallah, and I discovered the most amazing thing: the Israelis have lost interest in the chess match. They have become desensitized to the thoughts and actions of their dysfunctional neighbors, the Palestinians, with whom they used to share such an intimate feud.

The second intifada, coming on the heels of Yasir Arafat's rejection of a deal at Camp David, cut some visceral bond that used to join the two peoples. The Israelis are separating themselves from the Middle East emotionally and psychologically, and with a security barrier.

The dream of peace has been replaced by another dream, the dream of disengagement. Until I spoke to people here, I thought the Gaza disengagement might lead back to the peace process, but now I realize it's a replacement for that process. It's a step toward a new (and even more illusory) dream: the dream of disengaging Israel from its geographic and historical situation.

Yes, it's a disengagement. But it isn't necessarily one that disengages Israel from its geographical and historical situation. The sense I got late last year in an interview with Amos Oz is that Israelis are tired. They're tired of fighting and they're tired of fear. If some sort of way could be found to de-escalate the situation, many Israelis seem ready to grab it. Brooks can't see that because he's living in his head, in some rarified world, where real concerns and real emotions just don't penetrate. This is why he sees education as a way to create economic cogs in order to compete with totalitarian regimes like China. Or why his entire conservative philosophy is based on stoic acceptance, rather than emotional realities.

The security barrier has not only reduced suicide bombings; it has also helped change the nation's psychology. On the Israeli side of the barrier, there is increasing safety, prosperity and normalcy. Jerusalem's streets are crowded again. People no longer choose restaurants by how good their security arrangements are and no longer avoid tables by the windows.

Well, yes.

While the barrier makes the Palestinians seem farther away, the Internet makes the rest of the world seem closer at hand. Israel is in the midst of a tech boom, fueled in part by the brainpower of Russian immigrants, and the nation is proud of its ties to Silicon Valley. The economy is thriving (even while income inequality soars), and Israel is developing closer bonds with China, Turkey and the world.

Over there, on the other side of the barrier, Mahmoud Abbas, a new sort of Palestinian leader, promises to impose order and defeat terror. But Israelis don't seem to feel their destiny is intertwined with his success, and they have not helped him deliver the tangible benefits he needs to have any chance of victory.

It was tough enough getting out of Gaza and unilaterally finding ways to calm things down. This is obviously a first step. See what happens, then move on. However, if Brooks understood that, then he wouldn't have a column.

Israelis have, as I say, disengaged.

Given recent history, no one can blame Israel. The Palestinians richly deserve to be left behind.

Of course, one could argue that Palestinians have their own very legitimate grievances. As Amos Oz points out, the problem is not that one side is wrong, but that both sides are right.

Even now they expect Israel to allow Palestinian trucks to cross its border, even though both sides know some significant portion will contain bombs designed to kill Jews.

And yet, despite it all, I wonder whether the Israelis know in their hearts that disengagement is not a long-term option.

What is so wrong with changing the dynamic so that neither side wants to fight and kill? It's easy to pontificate when you're sitting in your armchair in the United States, and boy, Brooks loves to pontificate. Maybe the problem has been that everyone has been looking for the "long term solution" instead of understanding that at present none is at hand, and the best one can hope for are extended periods of relative peace. We see this in Northern Ireland and Cyprus and several other hot spots around the globe. Is the answer what happened in Bosnia and Serbia? Forced migration and genocide?

It's not an option because while Israelis may no longer be dependent on the Palestinians, the Palestinians remain dependent on them. Today, Gaza is spiraling into the abyss, cut off from Israeli markets and abandoned by the Arab world. When Gaza sinks, the West Bank will surely follow, and if Palestine turns into Somalia, Israel will not survive untouched. The Israeli Arabs, if no one else, will see to that.

So Brooks is predicting that first Gaza, followed by the West Bank, will sink into total anarchy, and that only Israel can save them. Of course it's also possible that the de-escalation and disengagement will allow the two sides to come up with solutions that work for both down the road. It's rather hard to negotiate when your populations want to kill each other.

Disengagement is not an option because America will not allow it. Americans still believe in the peace process and in democratizing the Arab world, which is the opposite of disengagement.

That's really worked well in Iraq, hasn't it? Maybe it's time for "Americans" to understand that their view of the world isn't necessarily the right one, or the appropriate one. Maybe it's also time for "Americans" to consider democratizing themselves, and throwing Diebold and ES&S out on their Republican ears.

The U.S. will always pressure Israel - as it did so forcefully this week - to re-engage with Palestine, to open up trade and movement.

Assuming that the neocons will continue to force their policies down everyone's throats. .

Finally, unilateral disengagement is no option because the Israelis will never do it well. Driven by normal self-interest and by the bitterness of war, Israelis will grab too much land, and impose too much pain. A nation of philosopher-kings could impose a just unilateral solution, but no such nation exists. Unilateral action is bound to be unjust and thus unstable.

The sad fact is that no matter how long and futile the chess game sometimes appeared, someday it will have to start up once again.

And who says it won't? In the end, what we've got here is a straw-man argument. No one expects the recent Israeli moves to end the conflict, or that building a wall and retreating from Gaza is a permanent solution. But, as Brooks points out, people in Israel can now shop and eat in restaurants and live normal lives. And people in Gaza don't have to live with Israeli soldiers breathing down their necks and pointing guns in their faces every moment of every day. Isn't that worth it, if only for a while?

November 15, 2005
The Mansion Wars

In the town where I live, a once-placid Washington suburb, the mayor has just sent out a letter asking the natives to stop throwing eggs at each other's homes. Such is life on the front lines of the anti-mansionization war.

Until recently, I didn't know that "mansionization" was a word, much less that there was a growing national movement against it. I didn't fully appreciate the menace of big houses. I live innocently in one of the many small houses in the Town of Chevy Chase, Md. (not to be confused with our tonier neighbor, the Village of Chevy Chase, which for some time has tolerated palaces).

Essentially, this column is in favor of homeowners associations that band together to create stringent laws for home expansions, color, landscaping and architectural designs. Tierney pays lip service to libertarianism, but then backs off. Since this isn't government, but private proeprty owners, he's okay with whatever restrictions the homeowners associations create. 

You have to wonder then, about Tierney's "libertarianism" and how far it extends beyond giving corporations the right to despoil the environment. Is it okay for a homeowners association to start restricting the neighborhood from Blacks, Jews, gay people? Tierney doesn't go there, of course, because then he'd actually have to take a stand either for or against the tyranny of the majority.

In any event, it's another column stepping away from current events and dealing with the trivial. With Bush on the ropes, neither Tierney nor Brooks feel compelled to mouth any Republican talking points. Brooks goes into weird philosophical screeds, and Tierney goes underground.

November 13, 2005
Psst! 'Human Capital'

I've noticed something about Brooks and Tierney that's rarely true of the other Times columnists. When they have nothing to say about politics per se, they tend to go off on these weird side trips, like Tierney talking about luggage, or this --- a combination of truisms, bits of conservative philosophy, and incoherence. I'm just posting excerpts.

Help! I'm turning into the "plastics" guy from "The Graduate." I'm pulling people aside at parties and whispering that if they want to understand the future, it's just two words: "Human Capital."

If we want to keep up with the Chinese and the Indians, we've got to develop our Human Capital. If we want to remain a just, fluid society: Human Capital. If we want to head off underclass riots: Human Capital.

As people drift away from me at these parties by pretending to recognize long-lost friends across the room, I'm convinced that they don't really understand what human capital is.

When commissions issue reports, they call for longer school years, revamped curriculums and more funds so teachers can transmit skills and knowledge. But skills and knowledge - the stuff you can measure with tests - is only the most superficial component of human capital. U.S. education reforms have generally failed because they try to improve the skills of students without addressing the underlying components of human capital.

These underlying components are hard to measure and uncomfortable to talk about, but they are the foundation of everything that follows.

When Brooks finally explains "Human Capital," we discover it's a combination of traditional schooling, virtues learned at home, a frisson of ambition, business smarts, and the ability to interact with others. Some of this can be learned in the classroom, some at home, and some in society. This stuff is not only obvious --- particularly from someone with a conservative philosophy who takes points away for artistic creativity, mad genius and anything that smacks of social unacceptability --- but also rather damaging in that it reinforces every cliche we've ever heard about how to be "successful," either in society or as a human being.

I think in parsing this column, which requires several re-readings, Brooks is saying that schools, by virtue of focusing on book learning, do not teach societal values, particularly the ability to function as "human capital" in an economic sense. Better educational institutions, he argues, would do this. Nowhere, though, does he talk about fulfilling artistic potential, learning critical thinking, or discovering ways to have a satisfying life. It's all about being cogs in the world economic machine.

...There's moral capital: the ability to be trustworthy. Students who drop out of high school, but take the G.E.D. exam, tend to be smarter than high school dropouts. But their lifetime wages tend to be no higher than they are for those with no high school diplomas. That's because many people who pass the G.E.D. are less organized and less dependable than their less educated peers - as employers soon discover. Brains and skills don't matter if you don't show up on time.

Silly paragraph. Is it possible that one of the reasons GED people drop out in the first place is because they're less organized and less dependable than their less-educated peers?  He's putting the cart before the horse. Also, one wonders if Brooks ever misses deadlines, and then must scramble at the last minute putting together some incoherent tripe...

...The only things that work are local, human-to-human immersions that transform the students down to their very beings. Extraordinary schools, which create intense cultures of achievement, work. Extraordinary teachers, who inspire students to transform their lives, work. The programs that work touch all the components of human capital.

This is funny coming from one of those people who doesn't believe in the public education system.

Anyway, if Brooks started this kind pontificating around me at a party, I'd drift away too.

November 12, 2005
The Troll on the Tracks

Amtrak's president was fired this week, which was good news for those of us who love trains and want a reformer in charge of the railroad.

Like Brownie?

Yet members of Congress along the Northeast Corridor immediately denounced the firing.

These members of Congress are saying, as we discover at the bottom of the column, that the reason for the firing is because Bush Administration would love nothing less than to shut down Amtrak, which, like the Post Office, is a public utility masquerading as a private corporation, or a private corporation masquerading as a public utility.

One obvious reason is that these politicians are indebted to Amtrak's unions, which want no part of reform.

When in doubt, bash the unions. Good hot button.

But there also seems to be a more baffling reason. Northeastern politicians actually like the railroad the way it is. After being held captive for decades by Amtrak, they're suffering from the Stockholm syndrome.

Or maybe they see something more sinister and want to save it.

Before he was fired, David Gunn ran Amtrak according to the same principles of his predecessors. Amtrak was created to be a for-profit private corporation, but it instead went into the red by running unprofitable long-distance trains while stinting on service and maintenance for the Northeast Corridor, the route that makes the most economic sense.

Okay, now we get to Tierney's argument, which is based on the assumption that the Bush Administration really wants to improve Amtrak.

Remember the good old days when railroads were considered a utility? When public transportation was for the public? Tierney, in his free enterprise mania, seems to have forgotten that. Because of the myth that government never does as good a job as commercial enterprises, the railroads and the Post Office both went corporate. The result is that the national public transportation fell apart, and the Post Office can't do its job cheaply. If Amtrak closes everything except the most profitable lines, and the airlines close everything except the most popular lines, then affordable transportation in this country ceases to exist. But Tierney doesn't care because he's a true believer. As Willie Brown said when San Francisco's MUNI system didn't work, "Let 'em ride limos."

When the White House or Congress balked at covering the annual losses, Gunn and his predecessors resorted to extortion. They ritually set a date and threatened to shut down Amtrak at midnight if the ransom wasn't paid.

Gunn fought back. Bully for him.

It has always been a powerful threat, but not because the nation depends on Amtrak's trains. They're about as vital to America's transportation system as horse-drawn carriages are to New York's. Amtrak's share of the intercity travel market has been falling for half a century and is now less than half of 1 percent.

Due in large part to the failure of Amtrak as a for-profit corporation. Railroads don't make sense as a for-profit enterprise. They make sense as a national policy of public transportation. Gunn and company were trying to do two things at once, which was impossible. Amtrak is impossible, but not for the reasons Tierney suggests.

No, what makes the threat powerful is the chokehold that Amtrak has on other railroads. Commuter trains, which carry nearly 20 times as many passengers as Amtrak does, would be crippled by an Amtrak shutdown in the many cities where they use tracks and stations owned by Amtrak, including New York and much of the Northeast, as well as Chicago and San Francisco. Thanks to its power to strand hundreds of thousands of commuters, Amtrak is the troll on the tracks.

Los Angeles and Boston used to be hostage to Amtrak's annual threats because it operated their commuter trains, but they had the sense to free themselves by switching to other operators. You'd think Northeastern politicians would yearn for similar relief, but they've rebuffed the White House's offers.

Probably because they're afraid the Bushies would sell off the profitable routes to other operators (Halliburton Rail Company?) and let everything else die.

The Bush administration proposed disarming Amtrak by giving away its tracks and stations in the Northeast Corridor to a new public agency, run by the states. While Amtrak stuck to running trains, this new agency would get money from Washington to rehabilitate the tracks neglected by Amtrak, and then the tracks would eventually be open to other railroads, too.

A classic bait and switch.

This is hardly a radical idea for transportation. The Northeast Corridor tracks, instead of being an Amtrak fief, could be like a highway or an airport: a regional public facility used by a variety of public and private carriers. Amtrak and other railroads would compete to run passenger trains, maybe with the help of further subsidies from taxpayers, although an efficient railroad might well be able to operate profitably.

There you go. Private carriers. Closing down the smaller lines. Selling the Washington-New York run to the highest bidder? So much for PUBLIC transportation.

It's difficult, of course, to imagine Amtrak ever turning a profit at anything.

In his rewrite of history, Tierney seems to have forgotten that it was people like him who created Amtrak. The whole concept, like the Postal Service, was wrong-headed to begin with.

Even though it has a captive audience of customers for meals and drinks aboard the trains, it collects only $1 in revenue for every $2 that it spends on its food service, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. The report forecast that the railroad's operating losses would increase by 40 percent in the next four years.

Gunn, brought in as a turnaround expert, was fired by Bush appointees on the Amtrak board. They criticized him for inept management and reluctance to pursue their plan to make the Northeast Corridor an independent entity.

That's hilarious. Bush appointees criticizing others for inept management. Good one, John.

The firing was immediately questioned by senators like Tom Carper of Delaware and Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer of New York.

Carper called the firing "further proof that the Bush administration doesn't want Amtrak to succeed." Schumer made the same point: "The policy difference is that the board wants to kill Amtrak, and Gunn wants it to prosper. It's that simple."

Well, he's right about it being a simple policy difference. The Bush administration, in an unexpected bit of benevolence toward voters in blue states, is trying to rebuild the Northeast Corridor, improve service and remove Amtrak's power to shut down the system.

Ha ha. Another funny one, John. You actually believe this stuff? No you don't. You're just parrotting the company line.

The senators along the corridor are focused strictly on protecting Amtrak. They've been held hostage so long they can't imagine life without their captor.

Well, no. What they're saying is not that they're hostage to Amtrak, but that the Bush Board wants to kill Amtrak. Two very different things.

Another column where Tierney avoids discussing what's really going on. That Republican talking points website must still be down.

From Thomas Friedman's November 11, 2005 column:

Most seats are now reserved (in Congress) for one party or the other. And when that happens, it means that in each of these districts the real election is the primary, where Democrats run against Democrats and Republicans against Republicans. And when that happens, it produces candidates who appeal only to their party's base - so we end up with a Congress paralyzed between the far left and far right.

This is the kind of crap centrist pundits like to say. The problem is, it's not true. Where are the far leftists in Congress? Sure, there are a handful, but only Berkeley's Barbara Lee voted against Bush getting a free hand after 9/11, and a lot of Democrats voted for the Iraq War. A host of Democrats voted with their extreme right-wing counterparts on the other side of the aisle on such issues as the credit industry-sponsored Bankruptcy Law, tax cuts for the wealthy, an end to the estate tax, and various other so-called "reforms". I don't think the leftist base is strong enough to win too many primaries. Is Friedman insisting that Howard Dean, a moderate when it comes to most domestic issues, or Edward Kennedy, a traditional Liberal Democrat, are both from the extreme left of this country? I guess that would have made Hubert Humphrey a Communist, and God knows what it would have made Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Sometimes I think Friedman, who still refuses to take responsibility for promoting the Iraq War, and Kristoff,  who buys into every Republican frame he can find, are almost as bad as Brooks and Tierney. The latter, at least, are working their own agendas when they parrot the lame conventional wisdom (so often instigated and repeated through the right-wing echo chamber) coming from the Beltway.

November 10, 2005
Gangsta, in French

After 9/11, everyone knew there was going to be a debate about the future of Islam. We just didn't know the debate would be between Osama bin Laden and Tupac Shakur.

Yet those seem to be the lifestyle alternatives that are really on offer for poor young Muslim men in places like France, Britain and maybe even the world beyond. A few highly alienated and fanatical young men commit themselves to the radical Islam of bin Laden. But most find their self-respect by embracing the poses and worldview of American hip-hop and gangsta rap.

One of the striking things about the scenes from France is how thoroughly the rioters have assimilated hip-hop and rap culture. It's not only that they use the same hand gestures as American rappers, wear the same clothes and necklaces, play the same video games, and sit with the same sorts of car stereos at full blast. It's that they seem to have adopted the same poses of exaggerated manhood, the same attitudes about women, money and the police. They seem to have replicated the same sort of gang culture, the same romantic visions of gunslinging drug dealers.

So is that much different from the way French film directors in the 1950s and thereafter expropriated American symbols of the gangster film? Or French students in the 1960s the American ideals of the hippie movement? Just checking.

In a globalized age it's perhaps inevitable that the culture of resistance gets globalized, too. What we are seeing is what Mark Lilla of the University of Chicago calls a universal culture of the wretched of the earth. The images, modes and attitudes of hip-hop and gangsta rap are so powerful they are having a hegemonic effect across the globe.

Yes, David. But this isn't anything new. The sixties saw a similar "hegemonic" effect of youth culture around the world, which predated what we now call "globalization." The hegemony of American film culture, fast food culture, clothing culture, and soft drink culture is also well known. It's the Americanization of the world, and it works on many levels.

What's also important is understanding the role of capitalism here. Rap music sells, rap images sell, rap clothing sells. In a sense, the "culture of resistance" is subverted by making money on its popularity, which then may or may not be subverted by the idea of resistance itself. One can see, in a couple of years, commercials for Pepsi featuring images of French gangsta Muslim youth, with the slogan "Rebel Against Authority. Drink Pepsi!"

American ghetto life, at least as portrayed in rap videos, now defines for the young, poor and disaffected what it means to be oppressed. Gangsta resistance is the most compelling model for how to rebel against that oppression. If you want to stand up and fight The Man, the Notorious B.I.G. shows the way.

There's also a great deal of rap and hip-hop that is not violent, and is not Notorious B.I.G. Brooks waits before acknowledging that fact, thus setting up "American rap" as the bad guy. As we'll see below, he tempers his statement after he sticks in the knife.

This is a reminder that for all the talk about American cultural hegemony, American countercultural hegemony has always been more powerful. America's rebellious countercultural heroes exert more influence around the world than the clean establishment images from Disney and McDonald's. This is our final insult to the anti-Americans; we define how to be anti-American, and the foreigners who attack us are reduced to borrowing our own clichés.

Garbage. People drink Starbucks in London and Madrid. They wear Levi's jeans everywhere. McDonald's is omnipresent. American commercial music is heard everywhere. People all go to American movies. Besides, a great deal of commercially exported American culture these days is gangsta/rap related.

So why the hyperbole? Because the right-wing ---  who control all three branches of American government, plus the ownership of American radio stations, plus the ownership of much of American newspapers -- don't control Hollywood, and certainly do not control those aspects of American pop culture, like gangsta rap or certain alternative musics. They want it all. So they're blaming all that's bad on that which they don't control. That Hollywood and the music scene relies heavily on the capitalist free market to make its choices is irrelevant here. So they'll blame the Hollywood liberal establishment. They'll blame gangsta rap. They won't blame the marketplace.

Besides, American cultural and American countercultural hegemony are the same. It's American hegemony. Who makes money from the counterculture? If a Hollywood "countercultural" film makes $400 million overseas, who is raking in the dough? The counterculture, or the corporate world? And what makes McDonald's image so clean? Clear cutting rainforests in Brazil for cattle? America controls a great deal of the world's communication apparatus. So it's American images that get seen on CNN, that get heard through CDs and DVDs. Good and bad, however you want to define those terms.

One could argue, when looking at France, which is constantly fighting American hegemony, that if the French establishment hates the way Americans control the culture, and the teenagers are rebelling against France and French culture itself, what better way than to adopt American gangsta imagery?

When rap first came to France, American rappers dominated the scene, but now the suburban immigrant neighborhoods have produced their own stars in their own language. French rap lyrics today are like the American gangsta lyrics of about five or 10 years ago, when it was more common to fantasize about cop killings and gang rape.

Ah, now the caveat. It isn't current American rap that's the rage in suburban immigrant communities. It has been appropriated to create a specifically French version of gangsta rap. So we're not really talking about imitation. We're talking about the French use of American symbology, which as I say above, is not unusual at all.

Most of the lyrics can't be reprinted in this newspaper, but you can get a sense of them from, say, a snippet from a song from Bitter Ministry: "Another woman takes her beating./This time she's called Brigitte./She's the wife of a cop. " Or this from Mr. R's celebrated album "PolitiKment IncorreKt": "France is a bitch. ... Don't forget to [deleted] her to exhaustion. You have to treat her like a whore, man! ... My niggers and my Arabs, our playground is the street with the most guns!"

The French gangsta pose is familiar. It is built around the image of the strong, violent hypermacho male, who loudly asserts his dominance and demands respect. The gangsta is a brave, countercultural criminal. He has nothing but rage for the institutions of society: the state and the schools. He shows his own cruel strength by dominating women. It is perhaps no accident that until the riots, the biggest story coming out of these neighborhoods was the rise of astonishing and horrific gang rapes.

Is Brooks stating a connection between American gangsta rap and gang rape in France? Not really, but he's sure insinuating it.

In other words, what we are seeing in France will be familiar to anyone who watched gangsta culture rise in this country. You take a population of young men who are oppressed by racism and who face limited opportunities, and you present them with a culture that encourages them to become exactly the sort of people the bigots think they are - and you call this proud self-assertion and empowerment. You take men who are already suspected by the police because of their color, and you romanticize and encourage criminality so they will be really despised and mistreated. You tell them to defy oppression by embracing self-destruction.

Of course, when a culture denies any visibility to a particular class or substratum of society, eventually that class or substratum rebels, any way it can. Brooks is making the startling statement, which is typical of fascist regimes, that the best way to contain rebellion is to deny any outlet for rebellion. If that means limiting external cultural influences, so be it. It's never the fault of the society or government. Rather, it's the fault of evil people influencing the downtrodden to rebel.

In America, at least, gangsta rap is sort of a game. The gangsta fan ends up in college or law school. But in France, the barriers to ascent are higher. The prejudice is more impermeable, and the labor markets are more rigid. There really is no escape.

Brooks doesn't get it. This doesn't have to do with exported culture. It has to do with the culture at hand, that is to say, France and its relationship to its own citizens. If Gangsta Rap did not exist, these youths would have found some other way to express themselves. But if it is the establishment culture's fault in France for the riots, then it is also the culture's fault in America for gangsta rap itself. That cannot be. The right wing utopia that Brooks and company want to present, this idealized state of stoicism and acceptance as elucidated (at least in Brooks' mind) by Marjorie Williams and her cancer, cannot be blamed. It's something else, something external.

Jeez. It's always something else, something external. For Republicans, who babble on and on about accepting responsiblity for oneself, they sure love to pass the blame.

November 11 addendum: The riots have abated as the French government is coming to grips with a wide variety of failed policies, all of which point to years of institutional negligence. Students too poor to buy lunch, a homogeneous curriculum that fails to acknowledge students who can barely speak the language, and overt racism are among the problems that must be addressed, Some critics of the present system point to the necessity for some sort of affirmative action and special treatment for ethnic minorities to help ameliorate the present problems. No one is blaming American rap music or culture, except of course David Brooks.

November 8, 2005
The Idiots Abroad

If President Bush wants to know what went wrong on his trip south, I recommend a book by three Latin American journalists. Their "Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot," a best seller when it was published nine years ago, remains indispensable for understanding phenomena like Diego Maradona.

It looks like it might be a column critical of Bush, but as we shall see, it's nothing of the kind.

Maradona, born in a shantytown near Buenos Aires, became the world's most famous soccer player in the 1980's after he left Argentina to play for teams in Spain and Italy. Besides collecting his $5 million salary in Europe, he played exhibition games in Arab countries at $325,000 per appearance and made $10 million annually in endorsement contracts with corporations based in at least four continents, companies like Puma, Fuji-Xerox and Coca-Cola.

And what did he learn from this international rags-to-riches tale? During Bush's visit to Argentina, Maradona took time out from his busy schedule (he now has a television show) to help rally tens of thousands of people against that horrible modern scourge: free trade.

Okay. We know Tierney loves free trade, so a little bit of sarcasm here is understandable.

He was one of the headliners at the rally along with Hugo Chávez, the socialist president of Venezuela, who is determined to prevent a free trade agreement among Latin American countries and the United States.

Tierney, of course, doesn't mention that the Bush Administration has overtly and covertly tried to overthrow Chavez, a democratically elected leader of another country.

"We are going to stand against the human trash known as Bush," Maradona told the crowd, between puffs on a cigar given to him by one of his heros, Fidel Castro.

A socialist whose hero is Fidel Castro: Must be a bad guy. Nothing like pressing a few hot buttons, and completely ignoring why Chavez and Maradona might be against free trade and responding to those reasons, whatever they might be. This column is not about convincing anyone free trade is good for Latin America. It's about how "big government" and socialistic thought are bad for everyone..

To be fair, this sort of idiot exists on other continents, too. But what distinguishes the Perfect Latin American Idiot is his persistence.

So being against free trade and Bush makes one an idiot. Tierney is suggesting here that either position is utterly untenable for anyone with a brain. That's rather excessive, one would think, particularly for someone who has no problem reinventing history in broad strokes.

No matter how far the continent falls behind the rest of the world, its populists cling to the same beliefs in socialism and big government, the same distrust of capitalism and free trade, the same conviction that Latin American poverty is the fault of the United States.

Given that the United States has consistently meddled in the affairs of Latin America, one can certainly understand why Chavez might distrust this country. Not to mention Bush's endorsement of the coup against him (Notice how Tierney calls Chavez a socialist, but not a democratically elected one. Republicans have a hard time with democracy, unless its outcome is in their favor).

Is Tierney actually suggesting that it is "socialism and big government" that has caused Latin America to fall behind the rest of the world? Rather than, say, the excesses of the ruling classes, augmented by American involvement? This is, as I say, a reinvention of history.

"Maradona embodies the wonderful possibilities of globalization, yet he does everything in his power to deny people poorer than himself to participate in that world," said one of the "Perfect Idiot" authors, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian journalist (and son of the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa). "Everything Maradona and Chavez stand for has been tried before. These populists are repeating the mistakes of the Mexican Revolution, of Brazil in the 30's, of Argentina in the 50's, of Peru in the 80's."

Argentina in the 50s, the Peron Era, was considered populist, but Peron's populism was not left-wing or socialist, and was probably closer to fascism. The leftist Peruvian government of the '80s was leftist in name only, attempting to elicit reforms while at the same time keeping the revolutionaries and the right-wing military (which really controlled everything) at bay. Is Vargas Llosa arguing that Fujimori's regime was better? Quoting the scion of a right-wing Peruvian politician (Vargas Llosa, the novelist) speaking from the perspective of his own class is not exactly like quoting a real expert.

The new wave of populists are led by Chávez, who's been using the recent windfall in oil revenues to expand government and solidify his hold on power. But even while $100 million in oil money pours into Venezuela every day ($60 million of that from those terrible gringos north of the Rio Grande), the poverty rate has risen above 50 percent.

Which, if true, suggests that Chavez is, like many Latin American populists, not really a socialist at all. But then, if he's not a socialist, Tierney shouldn't be calling him one. If by "big government," Tierney means a larger police state, then he's not talking "big government" as people up here mean it.But if he's talking expanding the range of the welfare state, then it's not a question of whether the poverty level is higher or lower, but whether people are actually better off. Tierney would never address this, because if people were better off, it would be a slap in the face to his conservative philosophy.

Meanwhile, the poverty rate has declined sharply in Chile, to about 20 percent (compared with about 50 percent in the rest of the continent). Chile has become South America's economic success story by embracing capitalism and making its own free trade agreements with the United States and other countries, most recently China.

Chile is one of the few Latin American countries to have a thriving Middle Class. This is a really bad example.

Bush went to the Latin America summit meeting hoping to persuade the rest of the continent to follow Chile's example - the right message but the wrong messenger and the wrong place. Any American president, especially one as unpopular as Bush, makes too easy a target for the populists and rioters who turned the meeting into their own photo opportunity.

"Nothing has ever emerged from a Latin summit," said José Piñera, the Chilean reformer who started the first private-account social-security system,

which the American right-wing has been touting as the prototype of what our system should be. Paul Krugman said on Monday that Chile's system "has a lot of problems."

and then helped introduce similar systems in two dozen other countries. "Real change blossoms from good internal public policies. President Bush should not attend and dignify these weapons of mass distraction."

The phrase "weapons of mass distraction" was the title of an HBO film of 2003. Pinera was not being original. What Tierney is saying here is that Bush shouldn't even make an effort to come to an economics conference. What should he do then? Unilaterally force free trade down Latin American throats??? Ah no. See below.

The best American strategy, as Alvaro Vargas Llosa says, would be to do less in Latin America. Instead of publicly pressuring the whole continent to sign a free-trade agreement, quietly make deals with the countries that want one. Instead of denouncing and plotting against Chávez, ignore him.

In other words, do it by stealth. Yes, this is a Republican strategy. Cut private deals, and then find statistics that show how your private deal, conceived in back rooms, is really good for the people.

And instead of fighting a drug war in South America, surrender. The war has been utterly ineffectual at stopping the flow of cocaine, which has actually gotten cheaper on American streets. But by infuriating communities in the Andes, the war has created a political base for populists running on anti-American platforms. They may be economic dunces, but in this case the perfect idiots are the drug warriors in Washington helping to elect them.

The drug war is responsible for anti-American feelings? Not such events as the Chilean coup of 1973, nor support of the Contras in Nicaragua in the '80s, nor the excesses of companies like United Fruit for decades in Central America, nor Mafia control of Havana prior to 1959, nor Bush's support of a coup against Chavez last year, nor the American placement of its puppet Noriega in Panama, nor American support of military coups throughout Latin America, year after year after year. No. It's the drug war, and only the drug war.

Sheesh. Do people actually believe this shit?

At the end of this column, Tierney offers some reading matter. I offer a couple of books right back: "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Autumn of the Patriarch" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Chavez and Maradona, contrary to Tierney, don't necessarily believe poverty in Latin America is solely the "fault" of the United States, but given America's record there, it's damn close.

November 6, 2005
Courage in Cancerland

A perfect example of how conservatives view the human condition. Marjorie Williams was raised in a bad household, she triumphed over the odds to become a famed interviewer. When cancer hit, she pulled herself up by her bootstraps and wrote a realistic, blow-by-blow memoir. Joan Didion, on the other hand, is an example of a liberal: she never had to raise herself up by her bootstraps, and when tragedy hit, she freaked. Of course, it really isn't all that simple.

"I was raised in a family full of lies - a rich, entertaining, well-elaborated fivesome that flashed with competition and triangles and changing alliances," Marjorie Williams once wrote.

"If your sister was becoming anorexic, no one mentioned it. When your father's ubiquitous assistant came along on family vacations year after year, and sat at picnics with him thigh-to-thigh, no one named the strangeness of it. That my parents divided me and my sisters up between themselves and schooled us in scorn for the other team: that was certainly never acknowledged. But it married me for life to the inconvenient argument, the longing to know what was real."

And so Marjorie Williams became a realist.

It served her well in journalism. She became famous for deep-drilling portraits in Vanity Fair and elsewhere of people like Barbara Bush, Vernon Jordan and Richard Darman. She wrote with piercing perceptiveness about the messy human beings lying beneath the portentous personas of great Washington figures.

She didn't even publish one of her best pieces. Her husband, Timothy Noah, found it after she died. It was about her own mother, whose mastery in the kitchen masked a growing self-suffocation: "Some time during my adolescence, the mother I loved had vanished into the faultless form of giving that ruled her orderly kitchen. You could eat at her table every night and never once taste the thing that you were really hungry for."

Cancer was detected in 2001, when Williams was 43. As the sonogram revealed mysterious blobs throughout her abdomen, she asked her doctor, "Is there a case to be made against my freaking out now?"

And yet, as she describes the course of her disease in an essay in her posthumous book, "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," she never did freak out. She chronicles her disease with the same relentless realism - the same unblinking ability to confront unpleasant facts - that marked her best journalism.

She kept her face turned toward the likelihood of death. There is zero melodrama in her account. There is not even talk about God or seeing her children again in heaven. There is mostly the struggle against the disease, the confrontations with doctors, the small weird decisions (like telling her dentist not to bother with expensive dental work because she wouldn't be needing her teeth much longer), and, above all, the effort to provide her children with as normal lives as possible during the final years they would have with their mother.

"I am now, after a long struggle, surprisingly happy in the crooked, sturdy little shelter I've built in the wastes of Cancerland," she wrote in a journal. "Only a moral idiot could feel entitled, in the midst of such a life, to a complete exemption from bad fortune," she wrote at another.

Williams's book comes out just after Joan Didion's celebrated memoir, "The Year of Magical Thinking." The two books, side by side, remind us how different human beings can be from one another.

Didion suffered her own different blows - the deaths of her husband and daughter. But where Williams was realistic and almost clinical about her inner state, Didion found her mind deranged by grief.

In her fragmented, impressionistic narrative - so unlike Williams's matter-of-fact tone - Didion describes a year in which words lost their meanings, in which insight came in flashes of dreams, in which everything that had seemed solid became fluid. Didion bobs on the waves of her grief and loses any fixed sense of marriage, children, sanity and memory.

Didion is emotive while Williams was stoical. Didion is postmodern and magical while Williams was a realist.

While it appears Brooks is just talking about two different cases, both individual, this column is really a metaphor. We know this because conservatives deride bleeding heart emotion; conservatives deride postmodernism --- the latter is virtually a buzzword for all that's wrong in America. Of course, the problem here is that postmodernism and emotionality are contradistinctive to one another. Didion is generally a postmodern writer, but it's hard to be postmodern when you're reeling from personal disaster. Brooks must get his jab in anyway.

Brooks also doesn't mention that Williams is a journalist by trade and Didion an artist. From Didion, whose stock-in-trade is brilliant --  though often elliptical  -- analysis, one wouldn't expect dry reportage. From a reporter like Williams, one would.

Many people will find themselves more attuned to Didion's sensibility, judging by her book's rapturous reviews. But what is heroic about Williams's story is that despite the vicious trick her body played on her, she fought to preserve her own agency. While losing control of her health, she fought to control what she could control, most importantly her mind and her home. She was perpetually active, pushing against obstacles, using her talents to assert power and preserve dignity, losing strength at certain moments but then recovering it later on.

I never met Williams, but what this book reveals is a woman who was incapable of being a victim. She lived in the modern world of Halloween costumes and working mom quandaries, but the story she tells is straight out of Greek literature - of a person cheated by fate, but facing reality unflinchingly and asserting personal honor despite it all.

While ostensibly a column praising Williams' book, this is also one highly critical of Didion and ergo, the liberal mind-set. The reason why most people are more attuned to Didion's story is because people aren't stoic, magical thinking in the face of personal disaster is a common condition, and emotions are messy. But really, you don't need to contrast Williams and Didion. Williams used her abilities to create a journalistic memoir. Didion used hers to create something very different. Brooks' contrast is an ugly and inappropriate one given how he praises Williams and damns Didion.

Oh yeah, isn't it interesting that without any good news --- or even ways to spin the bad --- to report from the Bush Administration and the conservative front, both Brooks and Tierney go off on tangents.

November 5, 2005
Camilla's Heavy Baggage

Before she and Prince Charles leave our shores, Camilla owes the American people the truth: how many dresses did she pack?

So far, she and British officials have refused to comment on tabloid reports that she packed 50 dresses for the eight-day trip. Perhaps she's trying to be diplomatic. She may know of the great modern American taboo against "overpacking," which is now defined as anything that can't be lugged onto the plane and crammed into the overhead bin.

An entire column about packing for a trip, neither funny nor interesting nor even exasperating. You go get 'em, John.

November 3, 2005
The Harry da Reid Code

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m., writing important notes in crayon on the outside of envelopes. It's been four weeks since he launched his personal investigation into the Republican plot to manipulate intelligence to trick the American people into believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Since Brooks has made his position clear --- Libby was a lone wolf, there was no attempt to manipulate opinion through the use of false intelligence, the Bush Administration never lied about reasons for going to war, Fitzgerald has exonerated everyone except Libby --- then Harry Reid and the Democrats who protested the Republican whitewash are all open to ridicule. This continues the frame we've seen in the past few columns. Whether it has a link with any reality is beside the point. Brooks wants us to start with his own belief system, and go from there.

Reid had heard of the secret G.O.P. cabal bent on global empire, but he had no idea that he would find a conspiracy so immense.

More ridicule. Actually, Reid knows exactly who is in the cabal, mainly because it's no secret who was in the White House Iraq Group. He also knows Republicans have been stonewalling any examination of Bush excesses in almost every area (save torture) since 2001.

Reid now knows that as far back as 1998, Karl Rove was beaming microwaves into Bill Clinton's fillings to get him to exaggerate the intelligence on Iraq. In that year, Clinton argued, "Iraq still has stockpiles of chemical and biological munitions ... and the capacity to restart quickly its production program and build many, many more weapons."

Here's where Brooks first mentions 1998. He will mention 1997 and 1998 later in the column as well. The Senate Democrats all say the manipulation began AFTER Bush took office. Prior to that, no one denies that the U.S. and U.N. were afraid Saddam Hussein could be building or storing weapons of mass destruction.

These comments were part of the Republican plot to manipulate intelligence on Iraq.

The Republican manipulation of intelligence, as David Brooks surely knows, would not have begun until the Republicans actually came to power, when it become clearer that Saddam Hussein was not harboring weapons of mass destruction.

Reid now knows that in the late 1990's, Dick Cheney and other Republican officials used fluoridated water in the State Department and other government agencies to brainwash Clinton administration officials into exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

In 1997 Clinton's defense secretary, William Cohen, went on national television and informed the American people that if Saddam has "as much VX in storage as the U.N. suspects" he would "be able to kill every human being on the face of the planet."

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright compared Saddam to Hitler and warned that he could "use his weapons of mass destruction" or "become the salesman for weapons of mass destruction."

Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, warned that "Saddam's history of aggression, and his recent record of deception and defiance, leave no doubt that he would resume his drive for regional domination if he had the chance. Year after year, in conflict after conflict, Saddam has proven that he seeks weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, in order to use them." These comments were also part of the Republican conspiracy to exaggerate and manipulate intelligence.

Brooks is making quantum leaps here, assuming that Reid means nobody felt there might be WMD prior to 2001. This is a study in Manipulation 101, putting words into your opponents' mouths. What's interesting here is how Brooks has to lie in order to get his point across. Apparently the truth isn't enough..

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m., writing important notes in crayon on the outside of envelopes. It has been four weeks since he began investigating this conspiracy and three weeks since he sealed his windows with aluminum foil to ward off the Illuminati. Odd patterns now leap into his brain. Scooter Libby was born near a book depository but was indicted while at a theater. Karl Rove reads books from book depositories but rarely has time for the theater. What is the ratio of Bush tax cuts to the number of squares on a frozen waffle? It is none other than the Divine Proportion. This proves that Leonardo da Vinci manipulated intelligence on Iraq and that the Holy Grail is a woman!

What? No mention of the secret code Bush uses to talk with his fundamentalist allies? What "compassionate conservative" actually means, why he referred to "Dred Scott" in the debates with Kerry. No, Brooks cannot mention that because....well...then he'd be coming close to the truth. Also, of course, no mention of the top-secret torture chambers the CIA has been running in countries around the world, as the Washington Post has reported. That would imply conspiracy, and we can't have that.

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m. He knows now that seven centuries ago at a secret meeting of the Bilderberg Society-Trilateral Commission-American Enterprise Institute, the six High Lords of the Secret Order of the Neocons decided to implant alien life forms into potential Democratic officials that could be activated in case there was a need to manipulate intelligence on Iraq.

This is why in 2002 Al Gore declared that Saddam Hussein "has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."

...based on intelligence manipulated by Republicans, but Brooks seems to have forgotten his timeline here.

This is why in 2001, a Clinton assistant secretary of state, Robert Einhorn, said at a Congressional hearing, "Today, or at most within a few months, Iraq could launch missile attacks with chemical or biological weapons against its neighbors."

This is why the Clinton National Security Council staffer Kenneth Pollack has written, "The U.S. Intelligence Community's belief toward the end of the Clinton administration [was] that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program and was close to acquiring nuclear weapons."

These assertions were all part of an elaborate Republican conspiracy to manipulate and exaggerate intelligence on Iraq.

Brooks continues to manipulate timelines and history. Once we move in 2001, as official manipulation began and Clinton officials saw the cooked intelligence and bought it, then of course they'd talk about Iraq's nuclear capability as fact. .

In fact, there's so much anecdotal evidence that the Bush Administration manipulated the intelligence in order to strengthen its case for war that it takes lots of chutzpah to simply deny all of it. Not only do we have the work of journalists like Seymour Hersh and so many others, but several former Bush officials, including Paul O'Neill and Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, have stepped forward with their own knowledge of Administration invasion plans and possible conspiracy. And we're not talking the Illuminati here. We're talking Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld --- the usual gang of suspects.

Now if you want to talk conspiracy, we can discuss the possible manipulation of the entire 2004 election by Republican officials in cahoots with a few select folks at Diebold and ES&S, but let's not go there. This one, though --- hell, what's a conspiracy when it's so public and blatant?

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m. Odd thoughts rush through his brain. He cannot trust the letter "r," so he must change his name to Hawwy Weed. Brian Lamb secretly rules the world by manipulating the serial numbers on milk cartons.

Reid realizes there is only one solution: "Must call a secret session of the Senate. Must expose global conspiracy to sap vital juices! Must expose Republican plot to manipulate intelligence!"

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m.

David Brooks sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m. The Republican Administration is falling apart around him. Policies set in motion by belief systems like his are crumbling around him. The emperor has no clothes, and people are beginning to catch on. Journalists are perhaps waking up to their job of actually doing investigations instead of sitting back and copying press releases. He has to do something. Quick, another pot of coffee. He gets it! He'll write an extremely heavyhanded satirical column. His friends will love it.

Oh, RATS! His friends won't read it. No one will. Damn that Times Select! Must be a liberal conspiracy.

NOTE: My good friend Jerry Beach, who has been involved in cognitive studies for the past few years, and has been working his way through the works of George Lakoff with regard to metaphors and framing, has this to say about today's David Brooks column:

David Brooks is brilliant here in evoking a new - and useful - cognitive model.

Since I've noticed of late that many liberals are using the word "frame" much more loosely than it was intended by cognitive linguists -- i.e. frame misconstrued to mean spin, distortion, opinion, lies, etc. -- I will use the phrase "Cognitive Model" (CM) instead.

New CM: Harry Reid is a crackpot.

In the next days & weeks, If you see Harry Reid -- in any way -- defending himself with some version of "No, I am not a crackpot." or "I have perfectly logical reasons for insisting on the hearings." or if other Democrats find themselves in a position where they need to defend him with "Harry Reid is making a perfectly sane request to have the WMD intelligence looked at..." then it means two things:

1) The Republicans understand framing very well and have successfully evoked a new cognitive model which people will begin using unconsciously to reason about the subject domain. I'm talking about people's unconscious thought processes relating to anything connected with Harry Reid and, by association, the Democrats in congress.

2) The Democrats have not yet appreciated what framing is, and are falling into a trap. There is also a larger model -- Liberals are paranoid, emotional reactionaries, prone to conspiracy theories, not smart, not logical.

The danger is, if people start making public arguments like the ones you've made above, they will inadvertently be reinforcing the new model. So, I'm very curious to see whether it gets ignored, re-framed, or argued about.

November 1, 2005
Let's Have a Big Hand For ...

Whatever you think of Samuel Alito Jr. for the Supreme Court, you have to give President Bush credit for great timing.

No, you have to give Karl Rove credit for great timing. This is typical of the Bush Administration. If Bush didn't have a Supreme Court Justice to nominate, we'd have another terror alert.

Just when Americans couldn't bear one more look at the Wilsons mugging for the camera or Scooter Libby hobbling on crutches, he's given TV viewers a new face and a new battle.

Here we've got a story that involves the Vice President's office and potentially high crimes and misdemeanors, and Tierney assumes we're all oh so tired of the Wilsons and Libby. What he's actually doing here is praising the American people for having the attention span of a cockroach with ADD. The Libby story had exactly one week to supplant the Miers story, and now it's over. Jeez.

But before we get too deep in the mud of this new fight, we should pay a parting tribute to the veterans of the last one. Only now, after the special prosecutor has revealed how little criminal material they had to work with, can we fully appreciate their achievements. The envelopes, please:

As per David Brooks, the fact that the investigation continues and that all Fitzgerald said was that Libby had lied so much he couldn't get to the truth of what happened, is irrelevant. Tierney says NOTHING HAPPENED. The Great Leap of the right-wing pundits continues.

Best dramatic performance before a grand jury Scooter Libby, for his soliloquy describing his conversation with Tim Russert in July 2003.

By this time, according to the indictment, Libby had discussed with at least seven different people the fact that Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked for the C.I.A. Russert testified that her name didn't come up, but Libby testified that Russert brought it up - and that it was news to him:

"And then he [Russert] said, did you know that this - excuse me, did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the C.I.A.? And I was a little taken aback by that. I remember being taken aback."

Tierney mocks Libby for the sheer stupidity of the lies. But if Libby's such an idiot, what does it say about the Vice President that this moron was his Chief of Staff for so long, and what does it say about our entire Iraq policy if this numbnuts was one of the principle architects behind it?

E.J. Dionne offers a different perspective, one that makes a lot more sense. Had LIbby testified honestly in October 2004, Fitzgerald would have been able to wrap up his investigation before the November Presidential election, and the names of Libby, Rove and Cheney would have been splashed across the headlines at a time when Bush was fighting for his political life. So the best way to slow things down was not merely to lie, but to lie in ways that would involve journalists, who could then fight back citing First Amendment rights, extending the process well into 2005 and beyond. It's possible also that had Bush's popularity not nose-dived, the Administration might have been able to fire Fitzgerald at some point, thus ending Libby's liability.

Best nickname Judith Miller, for calling herself Miss Run Amok.

Worst nickname I. Lewis Libby's father, for dubbing him Scooter. Although this may seem an obvious choice, there was strong dissent on our panel from judges who argued that Libby's father, presciently realizing that his son might need to be tough enough to survive in prison, was following the "Boy Named Sue" theory of child development.

Judy and Scooter are now officially hung out to dry. Couldn't happen to a nicer pair, but still...

Murkiest crimes Perjury and obstruction of justice. To the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, they're serious crimes that are prosecuted "all the time," but that's not how Washington veterans view them. It all depends on who's accused of the crimes - Bill Clinton or Scooter Libby - and whether he's in your party.

Now here we see another case of Republicans telling Democrats that Libby's lie is equivalent to Bill Clinton's. But that's simply not true. Clinton lied about an extra-marital affair. Libby lied about committing a crime.

To legal scholars, these crimes are like tax evasion: deplorable and widespread but unlikely to be punished, especially when the perpetrators are not celebrities or public officials. "Perjury is extremely common," said Sam Gross, a professor of law at the University of Michigan. "Perjury prosecutions are incredibly uncommon."

This is another reiteration of the Republican talking point that lies and obstruction of justice are peripheral crimes, and not really crimes at all. He must be forgetting all those ponderous statements during the impeachment about how Clinton's blowjob lie was a sufficient high crime and misdemeanor to warrant his removal from office. As Gore Vidal reminds us, this is truly the United States of Amnesia.

'Our Man in Havana' prize Joseph Wilson, for being even more persistent than the White House in hyping prewar intelligence. While administration officials now admit their pre-war ignorance, on Sunday Wilson sounded as confident as ever on NBC's "Dateline" when he was asked whether his 2002 trip to Niger had proved that no uranium from that nation had been sold to Iraq.

"Absolutely," he replied. "After eight days in Niger, I determined that it did not happen and could not have happened without a lot of people knowing, and there was absolutely no evidence that such a transaction had taken place or even had been contemplated."

How could anyone have known that so definitively after spending a few days in a country and sipping tea with dignitaries? Why would anyone expect officials in Niger to suddenly reveal their secrets to a visiting U.S. ambassador?

What Wilson actually found was very little, according to a bipartisan Senate committee that investigated. The committee said that most of the analysts who heard Wilson's oral report in 2002 concluded that the scant evidence he brought back, if anything, bolstered the theory that Iraq had been seeking uranium.

What Wilson discovered was that the papers were a forgery. Why Niger? Why not Chad? Why not the Dominican Republic or Iceland? There was absolutely no reason why Niger would stand out if not for the forged documents. Without the documents, there was no reason why Iraq would have gone to Niger to buy the uranium. Should he have kept investigating at that point? Why??

Austin Powers international person of mystery award Valerie Wilson. Could a former U.S. ambassador's wife, working at C.I.A. headquarters, really be a deep-cover spy? Then why did she represent the C.I.A. in meetings with other agencies, and why, after her name was printed, did she further out herself by posing for Vanity Fair?

Insofar as I know, she was known as Valerie Wilson at CIA Headquarters; her NOC name was Valerie Plame. By the time she was outed, it didn't matter any more. Why does this one sound as if it comes from Rush Limbaugh's playbook?

Most thoughtful media analysts The lawyers who wrote the amicus curiae brief for three dozen media organizations opposed to the special prosecutor's subpoenas of reporters.

The brief, filed seven months ago, said there was "serious doubt as to whether a crime has even been committed" in revealing Valerie Wilson's status. Arguing that the C.I.A. had been "cavalier" about protecting her identity and had been criticized for "ineptitude" in sending her husband to Niger, the brief suggested that "the C.I.A. may have initiated this investigation out of embarrassment over revelations of its own shortcomings."

Not mentioned by Tierney, of course, is the fact that Judith Miller was a shill for Scooter Libby and a whore for the Bush Administration, and the entire brief, in as much as it discussed journalism, ignored that the journalists being questioned were in bed and being used by the Bush Administration. Miller played her fellow journalists, and the lawyers, and everyone else.

Most shocking revelation The "I" in I. Lewis Libby is for Irve.

So, was this just a clever little column, or is Tierney actually doing something here? For one thing, because he needed to write the column before the official Republican talking points were disseminated on Judge Alito, he couldn't talk about the most current event. How can you stay on message if you don't know what the message is? More importantly, now that we're about to move on, Tierney wants one more shot at the old talking points we've been hearing for a while (The investigation is over and revealed nothing; there should never have been an investigation, Scooter LIbby was a lone wolf, Scooter Libby was an idiot, etc). You almost wonder why he didn't mention how politics was being criminalized by the investigation, but apparently that one fell to the wayside in the wake of the new set of talking points.

October 30, 2005
The Prosecutor's Diagnosis: No Cancer Found

On March 21, 1973, John Dean told President Nixon that there was a cancer on his presidency. There was, Dean said, a metastasizing criminal conspiracy spreading through the White House.

Thirty-two years later, Patrick Fitzgerald has just completed a 22-month investigation of the Bush presidency. One thing is clear: there is no cancer on this presidency. Fitzgerald, who seems to be a model prosecutor, enjoyed what he called full cooperation from all federal agencies. He found enough evidence to indict one man, Scooter Libby, on serious charges.

This is the second column in a row in which Libby is being portrayed as a lone gunman in an innocent administration: the "rotten apple" frame. Actually, the one thing that ISN'T clear is that there is no cancer in this presidency. Fitzgerald indicted one man for so much lying and obstruction of justice that he couldn't even get close to the truth. In addition, the investigation goes on. What's interesting now is how Brooks has taken one indictment and turned it into an exoneration.

But he did not find evidence to prove that there was a broad conspiracy to out a covert agent for political gain.

That's not true. All we know is that Fitzgerald did not find SUFFICIENT evidence that there was a broad conspiracy. But the investigation goes on.

He did not find evidence of wide-ranging criminal behavior.

Fitzgerald made it clear he was following a very narrow path rather than fishing around, like Ken Starr. Again, he did not find SUFFICIENT evidence to indict. This says nothing about finding evidence.

He did not even indict the media's ordained villain, Karl Rove.


And as the former prosecutors Robert Ray and Richard Ben-Veniste said on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," he gave little indication he was going to do that in the future.

Fitzgerald is notoriously tight-lipped. He would not have given indication one way or the other. Brooks is reading tea leaves.

Fitzgerald went as far as the evidence led him. the time before the Grand Jury was set to expire.

In so doing, he momentarily punctured the wave of hysteria that had been building around the case.

The Bushies were sure running scared, weren't they? Brooks is right in the sense that Rove could breathe a bit of a sigh of relief. But most of the "hysteria" was in the Washington echo chamber and in top right-wing circles. It's also true that there were sufficient leaks prior to the announcement that Libby would be the only one indicted. So the hysteria had been punctured a while ago.

Over the past few weeks, oceans of ink and an infinity of airtime have been devoted to theorizing about Rove's conspiratorial genius and general culpability - almost all of it hokum.

This is pure spin here. All it means is that in the Plame case, Rove may not be culpable, depending on future investigation. We have no idea how far-ranging Fitzgerald took things, or what he concluded privately.

Leading Democratic politicians filled the air with grand conspiracy theories that would be at home in the John Birch Society.

It wasn't a Democratic politician who blew the whistle on WHIG. It was Colin Powell's Chief of Staff, which Brooks conveniently ignores. Also, leading Democratic politicans have, as usual, been mostly pussycats here, as they are with everything else. Also, notice the equation of the Democratic Party with the John Birch Society. Brooks must have been giggling hysterically at his own joke, shedding tears of laughter all over his laptop.

Senator Frank Lautenberg assented that Rove was guilty of treason.

The phrase was "Yes, I think so," and was made last July on Air America. Gee, turns out the culprit was Libby, not Rove. So today, Lautenberg might "assent" that Libby was guilty of treason. Right crime, wrong suspect. Maybe.

Howard Dean talked about a "huge cover-up."

The investigation continues. My guess is that Fitzgerald is still looking to see if there was a conspiracy to cover up. If he finds insufficient evidence, he will not indict. That doesn't mean a conspiracy did not exist. The problem here lies with conversations involving national security between high-ranking members of the Bush Administration which will not be revealed in a court of law or to a grand jury. The result is probably that WE WILL NEVER KNOW EXACTLY WHAT WAS SAID.

Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York said: "The C.I.A. leak issue is only the tip of the iceberg. This is looking increasingly like a White House conspiracy aimed at misleading our country into war.

"There is mounting evidence," Nadler continued, "that there may have been a well-orchestrated effort by the president, the vice president and other top White House officials to lie to Congress in order to get its support for the Iraq war."

One may wish it, but that doesn't make it so.

Colin Powell's Chief of Staff said this was the case.  That's not a wish: it's from an on-the-record statement followed by an article.

We do know that the White House lied about who was involved in calling reporters. But as for traitorous behavior, huge cover-ups and well-orchestrated conspiracies - that's swamp gas.

No, it's reported by Wilkerson directly, and by many reporters in their research. Brooks is very good at cherry-picking to make his arguments. 

As it turned out, Fitzgerald's careful and forceful presentation of the evidence was but a brief respite from the tide of hysterical accusations. Fitzgerald may have pointed out that this case is not about supporting or opposing the war; it's about possible perjury and obstruction of justice. But the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid immediately ran out with some amorphous argument intended to show that this indictment indeed is all about the war.

When the Vice President's Chief of Staff is covering up involvement in ruining the career of the wife of the man who discredited evidence for the build-up to war, it IS all about the war. If it's not all about the war, what is it all about? The revenge-obsessed lone gunman?

Ted Kennedy, likening Fitzgerald's findings to Watergate, insisted, "This is far more than an indictment of an individual," before casting his net far and wide.

Kennedy can say this because the investigation goes on. If it were only about the indictment of an individual, there would be no more investigation.

And Howard Dean, who doesn't fly off the handle but lives off it,

Oh, Brooks loves to make Howard Dean the whacko bad guy.

grandly asserted that Fitzgerald's findings indicate that "a group of senior White House officials" ignored the rule of law.

This, of course, falls outside Brooks' "lone gunman" frame, which Fitzgerald neither proves nor disproves. Dean's frame is that the entire White House is corrupt this way. Two competing frames.

The question is, why are these people so compulsively overheated?

Because this is the most corrupt and vile Administration in American history? Because the philosophy behind it all is corrupt and vile? Could have something to do with it, but I'm just guessing.

One of the president's top advisers is indicted on serious charges. Why are they incapable of leaving it at that?

Because they don't buy the "lone gunman" frame. Fitzgerald doesn't buy it either, which is why the investigation continues.

Why do they have to slather on wild, unsupported charges that do little more than make them look unhinged?

Because we've had an "unhinged" Administration for the past five years which lives in a world of revenge and secrecy. If the Bush Administration were transparent, such "wild, unsupported charges" would be as unhinged, as, say, the Whitewater charges against the Clintons.

The answer is found in an essay written about 40 years ago by Richard Hofstadter called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Hofstadter argues that sometimes people who are dispossessed, who feel their country has been taken away from them and their kind, develop an angry, suspicious and conspiratorial frame of mind. It is never enough to believe their opponents have committed honest mistakes or have legitimate purposes; they insist on believing in malicious conspiracies.

Sometimes paranoids actually are right. There is NOTHING in the Bush Administration's actions, and certainly nothing in the actions of WHIG, as stated by Wilkerson, to indicate such cabals do not exist within the Bush Administration. Watching Rumsfeld in action, or Bush's various press secretaries, or all the spinmasters at work babbling Republican talking points, it is clear conspiracy exists. It may not be a criminal conspiracy, but it is a conspiracy to obfuscate and lie about the Administration's actions over the past five years.

"The paranoid spokesman," Hofstadter writes, "sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms - he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization." Because his opponents are so evil, the conspiracy monger is never content with anything but their total destruction. Failure to achieve this unattainable goal "constantly heightens the paranoid's sense of frustration." Thus, "even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes."

Sounds like Whitewater to me.

The problem with Brooks' statement is, again, the conspiratorial nature of the build-up to war, plus (as per Keith Olbermann, mentioned in Frank Rich's column today), the way the terror alert system was used whenever the Bush Administration encountered difficulties, the continued reliance on Halliburton, and so on and so forth. 

So some Democrats were not content with Libby's indictment, but had to stretch, distort and exaggerate. The tragic thing is that at the exact moment when the Republican Party is staggering under the weight of its own mistakes, the Democratic Party's loudest voices are in the grip of passions that render them untrustworthy.

So amazing. The Republican pit bulls can go off their rocker on a continual basis, and Brooks is silent. Whenever the Democrats do anything but roll over to get their bellies scratched, Brooks calls them to task. Of course, if the Democrats always do roll over, then Brooks can say the Dems' problem is that they have no cojones. Dems lose either way. Nice bit of logic, that.

On Friday we saw a man, Patrick Fitzgerald, who seemed like an honest and credible public servant. What an unusual sight that was.

Well, yeah, mostly because he's a Republican.

-- Richard Wolinsky
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