Fraysters tussle over Kerik's qualifications for the post.

Fraysters tussle over Kerik's qualifications for the post.

Fraysters tussle over Kerik's qualifications for the post.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
Dec. 4 2004 11:53 PM

Dept. of Homeland Scrutiny

Fraysters tussle over Kerik's qualifications for the post.

The face-off pro and con between Phillip Carter and Fred Kaplan over Bernard Kerik's possible replacement of Tom Ridge as head of the Department of Homeland Security generated additional scrutiny of Bush's pick—and a tad bit of indifference.

furioustote provides this thorough defense of Kerik's record, pointing out the contradictions in Kaplan's criticisms:

Mr. Kaplan … seems to be tending to the left in his appraisal of Mr. Kerik. He neglects to mention Mr. Keriks 3 years in the Army as an MP or his training of Special Forces troops in Ft. Bragg. Both of which bear directly on his knowledge of the war we are in against terrorism.

Mr. Kaplan contridicts himself by saying that Kerik advanced himself:

"not by rising through the ranks ... but through loyalty to Mayor Rudolph Giulani"

but then goes on to say:

"Kerik started his rise to power as a veteran street cop."

Which is it? Political toadie or hard bitten beat cop?

Mr. Kaplan also included a rather flip remark about the NYPD when he characterized police community outreach programs as:

"Saying hello to black people once in a while"

He further fails to mention any of the following of Kerik:

He was commissioner of the Passic County Jail and training officer for its Special Weapons and Operations Unit.

As head of the NYPD he was in charge of the largest municipal police department in the US.

He headed its largest anti-narcotics unit that was responsible for the convictions of 60 Cali drug cartel members

And that Mr. Kerik has won 30 medals while a member of the NYPD.

Is Mr. Kerik the perfect man for the job of Homeland Security chief? Probably not. But who is? Tom Ridge was only the Governor of Pennsylvania and he did just fine. Again not a perfect choice but a good one. Was Mr. Ridges tenure perfect? No, but its easy to throw stones from the safety of the media who are responsible to no one and for nothing.

Kronos adds this to Kerik's list of qualifications: "And he looks like a secret police chief too."

joejoejoe attempts to dredge up some dirt on Kerik with his citation of Deravin vs. Kerik, a complicated lawsuit involving claims of racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Read a summary of the case in his post. Max-de-Winter-2 cites less than glowing reviews of Bush's pick for Homeland Security from other media sources here.

JackD thinks the dispute over Kerik is, in a de facto sense, much ado about nothing: "Given the general attitude of the administration and the Republican Congress to refuse to fund meaningful things like port security, the guy with the title probably doesn't matter."

CovertOutrage asks the more fundamental question behind Kerik's appointment: " Why do we even need Homeland Security?":

I think the entire agency is a wreckless, rather redundant misuse of US tax dollars. There are too many government agencies and contractors designed to serve the same protective purpose, starting with local police officers who are grossly underfunded and inefficiently utilized in the arena of national security.

and describes his one direct experience calling the Department:

The one time I did dial the 1-800-number just to test my connectivity to local Homeland Security, I was thrust into an IVR prompt, which left me wondering what hell would have broken loose had I had something significant to report.

Gives new meaning to the term "first responder." AC8:46 p.m.

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Friday, Dec. 3, 2004

In response to Dahlia Lithwick's discussion of the death penalty and the increasingly overt displays of emotion fanned before jurors in the sentencing phase of capital cases, many fraysters expressed reservations about the appropriateness of manipulating emotions to sway the ultimate verdict in the prosecutors' favor.

fozzy laments the transformation of capital sentencing proceedings into viewer entertainment, a spectacle for public consumption:

I find these types of sentencing hearings to be rather distasteful. It is bad enough seeing, as the article pointed out, relatives/friends of either side acting out like they were on some demented Springer show…

Ultimately, this whole process seems to spring out of the same vein as the "reality show" and "Springer" trends. It's not just the jury, nor the jaded judge, who "needs" to hear the wailing in the courtroom. It is a good show for all of us, and we can justify it by claiming it is "therapeutic" (whether it is or not) for those who do it. Much like a Jerry Springer "paternity special", it is not so much a process to find facts or even to resolve issues as it is a good way to get the screaming/crying/hysterics that are so good for ratings.

JohnLex7 similarly deplores the performative aspect of these hearings:

So, unfortunately, what we are left with is exactly this. Relatives parading to the witness stand, and all of them incredibly emotional. One set, reliving the most horrible moment anyone can imagine, and another set, begging for their loved one's life.

The penalty phase of a capital trial is not easy to watch. It's even harder to live through for either side. However, the news media plays this up as the huge competition between the two sides. I swear that they would love to see a brawl between the relatives, the lawyers, and everyone else in the area in front of the judge's bench.

destor23 considers the emotional effects of the penalty phase on the family of the victims:

It can't be good for the witnesses either. Isn't capital punishment a hard enough ordeal for society without forcing a mother to beg for her son's life in front of a jury? Isn't murder a heinous enough crime without forcing the mother of the victim to relive the nightmarish loss?

On the flip side, modicum argues

…there is no avoiding raw emotion entering in when the moment comes to decide between life and death. It seems very appropriate to me that it all spills out in front of the jury. There is no more emotional issue than, "at what cost, death?" That question, outside the court system, is what drives our hopes and fears for ourselves and our families. It is what challenges us to choose between risk and safety in our lives. When to pull the plug, whether to have an abortion, whether to put oneself at risk to save another, whether to send our sons and daughters into battle. Morality plays about life and death fill our fencepost conversations and media. Lithwick suggests that this is all about vengeance, but I have an alternative explanation: it is about us, collectively reexamining our own values through the jury system and the evidence presented.

Pushing the argument further, lysander views the satisfaction of vengeance as an imperative of the State:

When victims say they want "justice," they mostly mean that they want vengeance. They want the bad guy to be punished for what he did, and they want the punishment to be comparable to the harm he caused. Delivering this type of justice is one of the central responsibilities of the state. To prevent citizens from taking matters into their own hands, the state must deliver justice in a manner sufficient to satisfy the populace. You can do away with floggings for theft or a few hours in the stockade for adultery only when the population comes to believe that such punishments are inappropriate.

In so arguing, lysander turns the classic anti-death penalty argument on its head: rather than setting an example of restraint to its citizenry by not applying the eye for an eye principle, the State keeps the peace precisely by indulging the visceral human instinct for revenge.

Natinha also sees no opposition between emotions and justice: "Emotion comes into it because we are all born with a conscience—part of what makes us human. We feel that it is wrong, because that is how we were made."

edithruth, however, disputes the validity of "conscience" as a defining human characteristic:

unfortunatley do not believe all people are born with a conscience and that is part of what makes us human. Sociopathic personalities often lack conscience or the ability to "feel" that something is wrong. They know on an intellectual level by knowing the law or knowing societies norms for behaviour BUT when it comes to feeling it they are short circuited they just don't feel it.

Other fraysters waxed even more philosophical in their discussion of the death penalty. Taking a methodical approach to the question of forgiveness as a mitigating factor, Tracker recaps the following four-step program laid out by "Richard Swinburne (Cambridge Philosophy of Religion Dept Head)":

When someone has intentionally or cognizantly produced serious, unjustified harm to someone else, they must render,

1 Reparation.
2 Apology.
3 Repentence.
4 Penance.

You (1) repair as far as possible for you the damage done to the victim, (2) say you're sorry, (3) turn from the person you were as perpetrator and begin establishing habits of a life devoted to leaving that personality behind, and (4) constitute your apology as sincere by making it costly: when you apologize, offer some sort of servitude, goods, furtherance of the injured's favorite causes, etc., that could not have been required of you before you harmed that person(s).

AdamMorgan makes an interesting point about the moral exceptionality of capital punishment here:

What I find most interesting about the death penalty is that this is the only case, that I'm aware of, where human judgement is considered certain enough to end a life. In all other circumstances, it's not only considered immoral to think so, it's sometimes also considered barbaric.

Consider, for instance, the case of babies born with severe handicaps. A few times a year, in the hospital next to my extragavent office, a baby is born who has such severe handicaps, both physical and mental, it's likely that it's going to live an extremely painful, short life. The parents, also, are going to suffer horribly. Oddly, however, if the parents and doctors wished to end this life, it would be illegal. The doctor would lose his license, the parents would likely be charged with murder, and the hospital might face severe penalities…


In this example, however, it seems that a doctor and a parent's judgement should be sufficient to decide if the baby's life is worth living. These people, certainly, are better qualified to make this decision than a group of randomly selected strangers are, as in the case of a jury. If vengence and revenge weren't the primary motivations of the death penalty, I believe that "expert" judgements on who decides life and death would be more widely applied.

Lithwick gets kudos from Terpfan here and fuschia here for her original approach to a hot-button issue that often produces the same shopworn arguments both pro and con. Whatever one's position might be, one thing is resoundingly clear from Lithwick's analysis: American law as currently practiced no longer subscribes to the Aristotelian definition of law as "reason devoid of passion." AC11:21 p.m.

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Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004

Nothing like Daniel Gross' foreboding analysis of a multinational's apparent demise to whip the moneybox faithful into a fury.

Of the probable causes of Wal-Mart's decline cited by Gross, the saturation model won out resoundingly among fraysters over the "limits of cheapness" theory. modicum lays out the issue in detail here:

It is not obvious that WalMart's limits to growth are inherent in the discounting model; they may have simply reached the limit of the superstore model.

Figure a typical WalMart Supercenter store at 187,000 square feet draws from a 25-mile radius. That's a tad under 2000 square miles per Supercenter. There are just under 1500 of them in the US. If those stores don't overlap territories, they collectively can cover 3,000,000 square miles. There are just over 3,500,000 square miles in the US, including forest and parkland. In practice, there are overlaps in more densely populated areas, and there are still some untapped places in the US for Supercenters, not least California, which has none, but the point is still obvious: WalMart has to focus on smaller stores and foreign stores in order to sustain long-term growth.

Similarly, baltimore-aureole disputes Gross' contention that Wal-Mart is "failing due to the 'limits of cheapness'":

actually, walmart is failing because of market saturation. everyone now lives within convenient driving distance of a walmart. everyone knows that you can get inexpensive kids clothes, lawn furniture, dog food, toasters, and batteries there.

but the market for people who want to buy unbranded housewares is finite. just as the market for ford explorers, nokia cell phones, and sony tvs is also finite. at some point everyone who wants one of those already has it, and you're just talking about replacement items . . . and sales growth plateaus.

anthropologo supports baltimore-aureole with this anecdotal account of his recent visit to

…relatives in East Texas; small towns, sparse populations, desultory economies. The nearest Wal Marts are 15 to 20 miles from most of these.

However, in every one of these very small towns (pops. 300 to 1000) there is either a Dollar General Store or Family Dollar store and their parking lots were relatively packed.

Could it be that the mega Wal Mart is also being threatened by smaller, more nimble retailers that offer much of what Wal Mart does at prices that make the drive to Wal Mart uneconomical?

Delivering a further blow to the limits-of-cheapness theory, ohthehumanity does his own price check on Wal-Mart here, thereby confirming his status as a human cnet.com. Yet elsewhere he also admits that "the only purchase I have ever made in a Wal-mart was … in Buhl, Germany, just outside Baden-Baden -- and that was over 3 years ago." Do the Germans pronounce it as a 'w' or 'v'?

In his aforementioned post, baltimore-aureole gets Hegelian on us with his reference to the Sears-Kmart / Wal-Mart trio as "thesis and antithesis becoming synthesis." Drawing on a bit of Marx, inthecenter denounces Wal-Mart's business model as " 21st cent. Feudalism," while RealMassLibertarian sees in Wal-Mart " proof capitalism leads to communism":

Lower prices, cheap labor, and an invasion plan which destroyed many a small pharmacy chain, retail store chain, or main street specialty store allowed Wal-Mart to be a case-study in good capatalistic performance.

But what happened? Well, with no more competition, the prices arent the lowest-why be lower when you have few other choices? And the labor? McDonalds pays more than Wal-Mart, thus when the person in the blue smock seems a little distant or even unsympathetic, remember their paycheck barely paid for the gas to get them to work.

So why the comparison to communism? Well, we have no real choices left without the big trip to the city do we? Sure, you can get a membership to a wholesale club or travle to the closest major city, but Wal-Mart did a great job of putting the small town business out of business. Now is capitalism one choice? Last I heard it wasnt.

And what did Marx predict? He said that the sustinance wages (not enough to pay your bills) would eventually anger the workers to the point of rebellion. In America, the middle class represented a major barrier to communism because it meant you had a realistic possibility of making a good living working for someone else. With the gap between rich and poor rising and the middle class rapidly shrinking, the conditions Marx decribed are becoming the sad reality-low wages, few choices, and the reality of the middle class quick becoming a dream...

EarlyBird begs to differ with RealMassLibertarian's understanding of capitalism here.

Are we really seeing the chinks in Wal-Mart's corporate armor, or like Twain, have reports of its death been greatly exaggerated? suggestion and baltimore-aureole duke it out in this thread.

To those hungry for more analysis, Simon Head has an excellent article in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books about Wal-Mart's place in the history of American capitalism and the current economic marketplace. AC10:24am

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Thursday, Nov. 25, 2004

An excellent exchange in BOTF on gun control and the Second Amendment may or may not be attributable to Emily Yoffe's account of how, in the course of just two weeks, a self-proclaimed member of the Volvo-driving, NPR-listening élite learned to love her Beretta AL391 Urika.

First off, reactions to Yoffe's guinea pig experiment (and apparent conversion experience): She gets  kudos from G_C_, another gun-toting liberal who finds it "refreshing to read about someone willing to approach the issue of guns with an open mind," while ScottStock proclaims "With firearms, like anything else … education is enlightenment. drandy expresses similar sentiments here.

On a complimentary note, Marine2006 extends an olive branch to Democrats he feels have demonized gun owners in the past. info also offers thanks for this humanizing portrait of NRA members.

In BOTF, Diogenesnow speaks of what he calls a "values gap" among conservatives on the issue of civil liberties and gun control:

As I've noted from time to time elsewhere, I'm a moderate on gun control. On the one hand I oppose letting people carry handguns around, because I don't think vigilanteism is beneficial to the maintenance of either public order or public ethics. On the other hand, I think the Democrats are wrong to fight against possession of long arms in one's home, because a) hunting plays a useful role in animal population control; those on the left on environmental and animal rights ought to recognize that shooting some animals is less cruel than leaving a larger number to die slowly of overcrowding and starvation, and b) an armed populace is a legitimate deterrent to undemocratic machinations by tyrants both foreign and domestic.

You might think that this puts me, by and large, in the same camp as the gun rights lobby. I might have thought so too, at one point, but every day I become more and more disillusioned in this regard.

I believe strongly in the value of the Second Amendment, precisely because, as many gun rights activists note, it is a vital guarantee of all the other Constitutional Amendments against encroachment by the government or foreign powers. So I value the Second Amendment, but I see the right to bear arms as a pragmatic right, not a moral right. The right to bear arms isn't God-given (unless you worship Ares or another deity of war) and it is not morally good to bear arms. Bearing arms is a morally neutral means to the end of protecting those rights which actually are moral rights, such as freedom of speech and religion, and the right to due process.

Then the Bush administration began to do some things that people who love our Constitutional liberties should find objectionable…

When September 11th happened, we got the Patriot Act and various other administrative measures which whittled away at the right of habeas corpus, the right to an attorney, the right to a trial by a jury of one's peers, and the right to privacy. But the gun owners had their guns, so they were happy and loyal to Bush…

If the gun rights activists really cared about defending Constitutional liberties, they would, at minimum, have voted against Bush, if not actually risen up in collective protest for the resignation or impeachment of the President.

But they didn't. So I guess that there is a values gap between us. I value my liberty; they just value their guns.

Bob_W has this retort to Diogenesnow's a) and b):

I think that b. is ludicrous in this day and age, where the average citizen or even "well regulated militia" of citizens could never amass the weaponry to take on the might of the world's only remaining superpower or any foreign power. So, the 2nd Amendment is no longer useful for protection against foreign or domestic tyranny.

As for a., I think hunting is a valid undertaking, but the 2nd Amendment makes no mention of it, so hunting is not a right under the Constitution. Hunting weapons of all types should be registered and hunters and others using guns should be trained and licensed.

There is also no inalienable right to keep and bear arms purely for protection of persons and property, other than against forces of tyranny. Again, such weapons should be registered and owners should be trained and licensed.

In all, the 2nd is badly out of date and should be repealed.

For TheAList, the proof is in the wording:

The Second Amendment does not grant a personal right to bear arms absent a connection to a "well regulated [State] militia." That supposed conservatives - "original intenters" (as Bush might say) choose to ignore this fact should be all the indication you need that the gun lobby is not philosophically or politically consistent.

This invocation of Constitutional language generated familiar quibbles with the meaning of this clause, with Demosthenes2 contributing his interpretation here and Diogenesnow a historical primer on the Second Amendment.

Finally, SourMash_PLH wonders what all the fuss is about and accuses liberals of having a gun…

Fetish: "#2 An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence: made a fetish of punctuality."

That pretty well describes the liberal obsession with guns. To me a gun is a mechanical devise which makes hunting easier than if I were forced to use a sling. It also makes home defense a bit easier than If i had to wrestle an intruder. To liberals the gun seems to mean more, to be more than it is, as if the gun itself is the same as power. Liberals accuse their "gun-nut" characters of finding a power in their firearms, yet the only types I've ever heard of who really get any type of ego-boost from a gun are 1) John Lennon in "Happiness is a Warm Gun", and 2) People on movies, which were probably written and directed by liberals.

So the gun isn't just a phallus; it's a fetish. Something more for Freudian analysts to chew on. Happy Thanksgiving! AC7:45 p.m.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

martingreen's thorough interpretation of Rita Dove's beautiful and difficult poem, " Ta Ta Cha Cha" merited a juxtaposition of the text and his exegesis:

One, two—no, five doves
scatter before a wingtip's
distracted tread:
Lost, lost,
they coo, and
they're probably right:
It's Venice, I'm American,
besandaled and backpacked,
sunk in a bowl of sky
trimmed with marbled statuary
(
slate, snow, ash)—
a dazed array, dipped
in the moon's cold palette.

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Rita Dove is the writer. The text presents the thoughts of the character. If that person does not know the difference between a dove and a pigeon, then that is to be accepted. That the poet may be playing with her name is possible. The first stanza is like a Fellini movie, cinematic, atmospheric, focussing on one of those silly American tourists, in love, always.

The speaker does not tell us who and what she is; she is defining herself: "I'm American, / besandaled and backpacked, / sunk in a bowl of sky / trimmed with marble statuary (slate, snow ash)-- / a dazed array, dipped / in the moon's cold palette." It this overwritten? Hardly. It exactly articulates the ga-ga state of this woman (19, 24, no, surely older), who might start to sing at any moment, and begin to whirl about, as though the focus of a fashion shoot.


Who, you? No. But here,
lost from a wing, drifts
one pale, italicized
answer. I pick it up
as the bold shoe
continues conversation
(one two) with its mate,
and the nearest scavenger
skips three times
to the side, bobs to pluck
his crackerjack prize, a child's
dropped gelato cone.


The second stanza, equally as lush (or overwritten, if you continue to dismiss who is speaking, and in what condition), begins with what some must think a painfully poetic, truly excessive, reference to a pigeon feather, "lost from a wing." She bends to pick it up (stooping to conquer?), as one of the bird's colleagues plucks "his crackerjack prize," "a child's dropped gelato cone." Sure, much too much, but extacy is just like, just too much. (You see how much better it is if you don't take a tour, and are crowded in with twenty people, all about to have to return to the bus, garishly painted, recognizable at any distance?)

Tip, tap: early warning code
for afternoon rain. Gray
vagabond, buffoon messenger
for grounded lovers—where to?
Teach me this dance
you make, snatching a sweet
from the path of a man
who because he knows
where he's headed, walks
without seeing, face hidden
by a dirty wingspan
of the daily news.

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Oh the first sound of rain, no doubt forseen. Tip, tap. "early warning code for afternoon rain." But who cares, it is Venice, and where shall we eat?

It is painful to read the end of the poem, because the person speaking is alone, and lonely, and will probably have to eat and sleep alone. Some man walks right by her (she must be thinking touch me, feel me) "who [because he] knows / where he's headed, walks / without seeing, face hidden / by a dirty wingspan / of the daily news." Some people can even drive while reading the newspaper.

Ta, ta? Bye. Cha Cha. She's been to the dance of Piazza San Marco, and now is still alone. The last two lines are a brilliant way of saying "he's in the V fold of his newspaper." Again, he "walks without seeing, face hidden by a dirty wingspan of the daily news."

Brava, Rita Dove.

MaryAnn has a distinctly different take on the narrator's relationship to the man reading the newspaper:

In the third stanza, the narrator asks the bird for help ("Gray / vagabond, buffoon messenger / for grounded lovers – where to? / Teach me this dance you make…" You were able to rescue the gelato cone before the wingtipped man stepped on it. Unfortunately, instead of noticing the day and the woman, all the man wants to do his read his newspaper ("a dirty wingspan / of the daily news"). So teach me a dance, specifically the "Ta Ta Cha Cha," because I'm leaving this guy.

In the same post, she rounds out our knowledge of Dove's œuvre with references to two other poems. MaryAnn further outlines her disagreement with martingreen's interpretation here.

L_Painne fleshes out a fuller psychological portrait of the man:

The wingtips and the newspaper are symbols of the other partner in this strange pair. He is all vanity and practicality. Worldly concerns, while not overly concerned with the here and now. He reads his paper to find out what is going on in the world, but totally misses the immediacy and unique nature of what is right in front of him.

Initially unconvinced of the poem's merits, islandtime declares: "I've decided to like this poem" with the positive reviews of fellow fraysters. Special thanks to islandtime as well for a more inspiring column title.

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This taxonomic assist comes from TheBrewMaster: "Rita's doves are almost certainly Columba livia, the 'rock pigeon' of Europe. Another common name that has been used for the species is 'rock dove.'" Additional definitions are provided here.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Doggiedeville offers up this poem by an unknown author, which hopefully for copyright purposes has fallen into the public domain.

Safe travels to all. AC9:22pm  

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Saturday, November 20, 2004

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Owen West and Phillip Carter's examination of the various issues surrounding NBC video footage of a Marine shooting an unarmed Iraqi prisoner created a firestorm of mixed emotions.

The incident left many meditating on the acceptable standards of self-defense for a soldier operating in an insurgency zone under extreme mental duress. LinB, whose father was a combat veteran in WWII, focuses on our unreasonable expectation that a soldier's emotions function like an on-off switch:

The number one thing dad told me is that you don't go from being in the middle of an adrenaline slamming battle where you're terrifed that every second is going to be your last to standing down and rounding up or doing recon. people's emotions don't shift that fast, and a boy (he calls anyone under the age of fifty a boy) that's hopped up on adrenaline is unable to shift gears that quickly and that it's very likely that this marine was unable to switch fast enough between beief and disblief, and that the young man may have believed that unless the insurgent was killed the unit was in danger.

On a similar note, reconcharlie1 comes to the Marine's defense, invoking his personal experience:

Personaly I have been there and done that. I myself, would have done the same as that Marine… In a close group. A Marine's sole purpose in a combat zone is to kill the bad guy, These marines were not there on a humanitarian mission, they were there to weed out the insurgents.

Sam00Spade is willing to give the soldier the benefit of the doubt:

Personnally, I appreciate the security they give us no matter what country they are in. Considering the hostile enviroment they are in and forever facing death, I think it is very easy for us to judge what is right and what is wrong behind the comfort of our keyboard and monitor.

While sentiment skewed in the Marine's favor, there was no by means consensus regarding his conduct. kekena tags his defenders "American Apologists," while slepngbear praises Sites for his "journalistic honesty."

Much of the scrutiny, of course, was not directed at the Marine for his questionable actions but at the news media for the perceived bias in its coverage. Gordo56 had this reaction:

From the moment I first heard about this I have been angry with the media for presenting this in the way that it was done. It was like taking it out of context and immediately showing this without us being able to see what all of the circumstances and the environment around the Marine were. I say take the reporters out of the embedded positions. We do not need this stuff displayed in our living rooms. There has been absolutely no fairness in this whole matter.

Imhorrified2 faults the reporting of the incident at all, calling it a traitorous attempt to "to turn [us] against our own." frski34 fears that the footage itself may act as an incitement to more violence against our troops. Barschmidt considers the mere presence of embedded reporters an "additional stress" upon soldiers.

The intentions of NBC reporter Kevin Sites came under particular fire. SabbySweet thinks the footage looks accidental:

Wonder why the shots are waist level. Looks like someone was just carrying a camera and forgot to shut it off. I wonder if that's what this jorunalist did all through his march with these soldiers... waiting for weeks for something, anything that would get him some kind of recognititon.

Indeed, accusations of the reporter's opportunism abounded. Criticism of the media reached such a feverish and censorious pitch that juanito87105 felt compelled to intervene with this remark:

Roughly 85% of the messages posted on this board within the last 36 hours have advocated silencing the media. It has become an epidemic.. the Pres dumps Cabinet members who won't say Yessir, and the electorate wants to silence unpopular or embarrassing or thought-provoking news.

un-impressed makes a related plea for an active and engaged press, asking:

Why is it that the biggest supporters of the war are always the first people willing to deprive themselves and others of the values and rights which form the underpinnings of their moral superiority?

The sheer rapidity with which the video footage was disseminated around the world, along with the relentless blame heaped on "the left-wing media kooks," leads MrTrout to ruminate on warfare in the age of technology here:

For those of you talking about WW2 and Vietnam, welcome to the new world. Imbedded press has changed everything. This controversy isn't about a liberal press, it's about a video camera. A video camera in a war zone was bound to show such a tragedy.

Also, a liberal press won't be judging this soldier. The military judges it own, as they should. We trust our military to protect us, so I think we should leave it to them to decide the proper punishment.

The supposedly "objective" documentation of the soldier's conduct by the camera did little to make the shooting at Fallujah a cut-and-dry case in the eye of most fraysters. Interestingly, the reactions focused as much on the footage itself as the perceived agenda behind the airing of the footage in the first place. In some respects, palpable crisis of confidence in—and widespread skepticism toward—the media could be detected on both sides: those who feel we do not receive enough unfiltered coverage of the violence in Iraq and those who feel our exposure to such images could only have political motivations came away equally unsatisfied from this unfortunate incident. AC7:10pm

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Recent announcement of the $11 billion merger between Kmart and Sears sparked a new wave of interest in Daniel Gross's profile of the elusive real-estate tycoon Steven Roth published last Thursday. According to Gross, Roth's corporate strategy for "saving" the ailing retailer has paradoxically been to destroy and dismantle it bit by bit; in other words, to "sell off or lease out many of its prime locations to other retailers" while essentially allowing the growth of core business operations to stagnate.

modicum approves of this new strategy and warns against the erosion of corporate brand identity here:

Absent distinctive products, Sears has waffled over what its brand means. Savings? Sorry, when I'm worried only about cost I'll go to Costco. Image? You're no Saks, either. Convenience? Not if you don't carry the products I actually want to buy, which, by trying to jam only two of every category on the planet into a single store, you fail too often to achieve. Service? Don't make me laugh. Not big enough to be a WalMart, not diverse enough in any one category to be a Circuit City, not small enough to be everyplace like Radio Shack or Ace Hardware. JC Penny with fewer clothes so there's room for appliances and hardware. Home Depot with fewer tools and no building materials.

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snsh disagrees, calling Sears "closest thing we have to service leader." Interestingly, even though Kmart has acquired Sears, the merged corporate entity apparently plans to retain the Sears name: this could be read either as an acknowledgement of the latter's residual prestige or as a choice between the lesser of two evils, given Kmart's dismal reputation in many areas.

Did Sears surreptitiously implant a corporate spokesperson in the fray to come to its defense? run75441, your game is up! You be the judge here.

Soren_Nilsson attributes the decline of Sears to the shrinking middle class:

Fifty years ago, American consumers fell into three general categories: high-, middle- and low-end shoppers. The low ender shopped at various discount stores (before the ubiquitous Wal Mart empire.) High enders shopped at Saks, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales. The middle class went to Sears and Montgomery Ward.

Now the middle market consumers are being squeezed by stagnant wages and increased costs for largely non-discretionary items, such as home heating, food and health insurance. Increasingly, they are turning to Wal Mart and others discount outlets to stretch their dollars…

Political scientists are fond of saying that the First World and the Third World are part of the same system and cannot survive without each other. The discount consumers and the affluent buyers are also part of the same system, even if Wal Mart and Nordstrom are located at opposite ends of town.

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And if earnings reports don't confirm it, we needn't look any further than popular culture to confirm the decline of public esteem in Sears. cynicdave jumps in with this funny movie reference:

in the recent teen girl flick Mean Girls, the main antagonist (who had gained some extra weight during the course of the plot), futily attempting to fit into a formal dress, inquires the salesperson if a larger size is available. the salesperson snootily replies, "i'm sorry, we only carry sizes 1, 3, 5-- you may wish to try Sears"

How things change. This is a far cry from the 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want, in which Mel Gibson's character—a chauvinistic advertising executive—attends a brainstorming session in which the slogan "come see the softer side of Sears" is hailed as a stroke of corporate branding genius for its appeal to the female demographic.

It's also paradoxical how big-box and mall-based department stores, the culturally homogenizing forces that they are in America, are somehow expected to burnish distinct identities in the public consciousness. AC8:02am

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

In this exchange inspired by Jason DeParle's recent book American Dream, an "account of the journey of three Milwaukee women in the wake of the 1996 welfare bill," Jonah Edelman, Mickey Kaus, and Ron Haskins take a retrospective glance back at the successes and shortcomings of the law, and argue over what more can be done in the future—or what might be done differently.

Edelman stakes out the most liberal position, calling for massive government investment in health care and education for the working poor. Kaus strikes a more moderate tone, with general approval of the law's consequences tempered by recognition of its inadequacies. Haskins is the most conservative, skeptical of the efficacy of additional government spending and a strident advocate of marriage for welfare recipients.

afaderman begins by criticizing this dialogue as a " festival of agreement" that fails to account for voices on the left who might actually argue against the reform's core principles:

This is a rather odd dialogue. A book that generally approves of welfare reform comes out, and to discuss it, slate selects three people who...generally approve of welfare reform. There's some quibbling about the details, perhaps--Edelman seems to think welfare reform is going a bit too fast, and Haskins seems to think it isn't going fast *enough*--but nobody seems willing to argue that welfare reform was a step in the wrong direction.

This can't possibly represent a complete consensus among commentators and experts that welfare reform was a good thing. All three panelists take a moment to rail against writers from the "left" who defend welfare as we knew it. I don't think these people are a myth, and I certainly don't think they're all idiots with nothing interesting to say.

No one quite responds to afaderman's invitation to argue that welfare reform was a wholesale bad idea. ssrdatta enumerates a laundry list of quibbles. The closest thing we get to a thoroughgoing critique is from tigercrane1, who draws the inevitable comparison to Europe's extensive social safety net. He also singles out Kaus here for "using the left" as "that iconic straw man that he sets up, only to knock down later" and further rails against the moralistic tone of the debate:

Most everyone loves to hate and judge welfare recipients, as though a safety net system put into place to make sure that no one goes hungry or homeless, especially children, creates a quid pro quo of charity in exchange for self-righteousness.

The dialogue produced a number of noteworthy testimonials from fraysters who had themselves been on welfare at one time or found themselves in impoverished circumstances. Their contributions brought the debate over welfare reform out of the public policy realm and into the domain of lived experience. texmom, formerly a single mother,  describes eschewing welfare support and instead turning to a church to help her get through. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, mauielf talks about getting by on the minimum wage, while PKS1305 provides this account as a worker in Milwaukee's child welfare system:

Two years after the W-2 program started there was a huge influx of children into the foster care system and to this day we see children living in unsafe conditions as people who can't get health care, especially for mental health conditions, or who receive $120 or less a month in food stamps after making $650 bucks a month working for McDonalds or as a CNA and paying $550 a month for roach infested hovels where I wouldn't kennel my dog just can't afford to care for even one or two kids, placing them at risk for losing their children, possibly forever.

The system is utterly broken when people who work hard are at risk like this. With the way public education is falling apart in Milwaukee and the lack of supports already available, I don't know how we as a society can leave things the way they are and claim we care about children. Work requirements are fantastic but as long as we have such poor supports in health care, education and child care the system is utterly unworkable for the vast majority of honest, hardworking people.

The corollary topic of marriage figured prominently on the message boards, as this was also the constant refrain of Edelman, Haskins, and Kaus. As Kaus notes, the Bush administration has actively promoted marriage programs as part of its offensive against poverty. Two-parent families, the logic goes, would ensure higher household incomes and the most stable environment in which to raise children. BenK wonders whether "people will behave according to financial incentives, or whether there are other issues at hand." destor23 denounces these marriage programs as the worst form of " government paternalism." Ripley makes an interesting point about conservatives' conflicting views on the role of women with regard to welfare reform: 

The truth is, conservatives have a schizophrenic attitude about welfare and working moms. They HATE welfare, believing everyone should work for what they get. But they dislike Moms working outside the home, too, hence the belief that marriage will solve everything.

modicum takes issue with the punitive moral attitudes toward welfare recipients, such as those expressed by Elweydoloco here and RANGER82 here. Personally in favor of welfare reform, he ends with a common-sense plea to break through the left-right ideological divide:

You can be conservative as easily as liberal and conclude that our present system lacks a focus on outcomes and is, instead, a mishmash of well-intentioned ideas that don't add up to a coherent whole. And that society would benefit from keeping people from sliding into poverty, then removing impediments to their getting back out of it if they slip through anyway. That isn't left or right, it is basic common sense. Whether one's perspective is a moral one (keep the children from starving, provide a safety net for people who make mistakes or are unlucky), or a practical one (maximize productive capacity of our society, minimize societal costs), the solutions are the same. Help those who are genuinely trying to help themselves by removing impediments to their success: child care, health care, and education… At the same time, provide strong disincentives to not take advantage of the opportunities to help themselves, the core idea of welfare reform. These are ideas that complement one another, they are not in opposition.

This is supposed to be what "compassionate conservatism" really means, helping people to help themselves by removing obstacles to their success.

Opinionvsauthority addresses the following questions to Edelman, Kaus, and Haskins:

You gentlemen speak from the position of learned men "looking on" instead of experienced persons "hands on".

I don't fault you for any of the bromides or opinions which you set forth. After all, that's what conversation is about. I can't help but wonder though, what real experience you have with the subject upon which you opine? I'm sure you must have educational degrees, and governmental experience, and have read and studied and ingested reams of statistics and maybe even have discussed the welfare trap with someone having first-hand knowledge who has educated you on the facts of the disenfranchised. I am asking - what is your hands-on experience with poverty? Have you been there? Have you ever been in a position in your life when you had to contemplate or seek welfare for your own life or that of your children? Have you ever known the rotting of the soul, the loss of self, and the despair of worthlessness it heaves upon those caught in the trap of that kind of poverty and shame?

To be fair, Haskins does attest to his "personal involvement with the programs and with those who have carefully studied these couples." This, however, for me encapsulates the problem of discussing welfare in the abstract, or even by way of the three case studies of Milwaukee women profiled in DeParle's book. The gap between experience and theory is impossible to bridge in advance; the causal links between government policy and social change are never totally verifiable either. Indeed, the debate is strikingly empirical in its emphasis, with each contributor marshalling myriad facts and statistics in support of his own future vision of the program. Perhaps this is the greatest surprise: resigned to welfare's continued existence, conservatives have essentially embraced it as a potentially valuable tool for social engineering and conduit for moral values, while liberals continue to view welfare as an extension of government's redistributive economic function. Not even Haskins is arguing for a return to the pre-Great Society era. Looks like the devil (or as Reagan might have said, the welfare queen) is now in the details. AC9:58pm