The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, October 31, 2002  

What Kind of an Idiot is Harvey Pitt?

Today while reading about the latest machinations of the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the question that kept arising in my mind was, “What kind of an idiot is Harvey Pitt?” I’m not quite sure I’ve answered that question to my satisfaction, or even whether it could be answered to my liking. That’s because Pitt is either a very special kind of idiot or just a garden-variety idiot, and neither is the type of idiot I would like to see running the SEC right now.

Pitt’s latest official act of stupidity was to force the appointment of former FBI and CIA director, former U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, and Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy partner, William H. Webster as head of the new Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). Pitt selected Webster after having had a temper tantrum over talk that the spot should go to John Biggs, the retiring chief executive officer of TIAA-CREF. The SEC last week approved Webster’s selection on a 3-2, party-line vote as the commission’s two Democrats, Harvey Goldschmid and Roel Campos, complained that Webster lacked the financial experience and accounting expertise needed to head the board.

I too would have preferred to see the appointment of Biggs, or someone else of similar stature and experience, and I thought the selection of Webster, with its heavy emphasis on his past accomplishments in law enforcement, was a strange one. However, I certainly wasn’t disgusted to learn Webster would be taking the job, as I viewed him as a capable administrator and a man of integrity. This is, after all, the Bush administration, and we could do much worse, I thought.

I was surprised, then, to learn that Webster until July was a director at, and the chairman of the audit committee of, U.S. Technologies Inc., a once publicly traded and now insolvent firm that fired its auditor, BDO Seidman L.L.P., in the summer of 2001, after the accounting firm complained of material weaknesses in the company’s internal accounting controls -- not exactly the likely initial response of the highly principled. U.S. Technologies since then has been slapped with numerous shareholder lawsuits alleging fraud arising from inappropriate accounting methods and disclosure policies.

According to media reports, Webster informed Pitt and other SEC staff members, including Chief Accountant Robert Herdman, of the controversy at U.S. Technologies. But Pitt saw no potential problems associated with the legal troubles at U.S. Technologies that arose while Webster was heading the audit committee, a position he held for a year beyond the firing of BDO Seidman. As a result, Pitt went forward with his previously established plan to push the Webster appointment through the SEC.

The SEC’s spokespeople are, at the very least, hinting that Pitt’s conclusion was shared by commission staff members. Compounding the matter exponentially, Pitt in his infinite wisdom or unparalleled arrogance did not inform his fellow commissioners of the controversy, nor did he report the matter to the White House, according to the New York Times. Needless to say, none of these uninformed parties was pleased, nor were leading congressional Democrats who today renewed their call for Pitt to resign.

Resignation is not, however, the type of honorable action that would ever cross Pitt’s mind, at least this side of an indictment, I suppose. Instead, today the SEC chairman asked the agency’s inspector general, Walter Stachnik, to investigate Webster’s selection and the role Pitt played in the process. (Strachnik will be joined in the investigation by SEC General Counsel Giovanni Prezioso.) Despite this move, it appears Pitt views the entire situation as little more than an annoyance; his spokesman told reporters today, “In reviewing the situation with respect to Judge Webster’s service on the audit committee of U.S. Technologies, the commission’s staff identified nothing of concern regarding that service.” [Emphasis added. Note the shifting of blame going on here.] That statement says much about the commitment of the Bush administration to the myriad policies, proposals, and outrage floating around under the general rubric of “corporate reform.”

James D. Cox, a Duke University law professor quoted in the Times, nails Webster’s culpability here:

Even if we find out that Webster was totally passive in this process, it is an indictment on his ability to run the accounting oversight board. To let something like this go shows really bad judgment, and I think is automatically disqualifying. At a minimum, the audit committee had an obligation to investigate. This is exactly the kind of situation that the accounting oversight board is supposed to change, and that the new law creating the oversight board is supposed to fix.

That Pitt could not see this failure for what it is, and thought nothing of continuing to support Webster despite this, demonstrates an unconscionable degree of stupidity and a mindset that is clearly outside the boundaries of normal ethical considerations.

I say that with some trepidation. Time and again I have made the mistake of assuming this or that member of the Bush administration or the Republican Party or the Bush family entourage is stupid, and perhaps by asking myself exactly what kind of idiot Harvey Pitt is, I’m committing the same error again. Maybe Pitt isn’t so stupid after all. His support for, and appointment of, the highly questionable Webster is a major setback for the PCAOB, both to the board’s ability to begin the much needed work of improving public-company accounting practices and financial reporting and to its standing in the eyes of the public. The Bush administration is not serious about corporate reform, and that’s the thought that should have preoccupied me this afternoon.

It’s time, Mr. Pitt, for that phone call to managing partners Peter v.Z. Cobb and Michael Rauch. Don’t by shy, the boys at Fried Frank probably kept your old office open. After all, they knew you better than we did.

ADDENDUM: This entire situation begs the question, why didn’t anyone in the media break this story before the SEC voted on Webster’s appointment last week? I presume Webster’s affiliation with U.S. Technologies was included in the biographical material submitted to the SEC. It should have been known to reporters covering the agency. It was a matter of public record. Did not one reporter there, or at the White House, think to perform even the most cursory of research about the company at which Webster chaired the board of directors’ audit committee? Come on, people, I can’t do this all myself.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, October 30, 2002  

Sullivan Needs a Microscope to Find . . . Democratic Gay-Baiting

Not long ago Andrew Sullivan had us all on the lookout for “left-wing homophobia.” But today, all of the sudden, shamelessly partisan politico that he has become, it’s “Democratic gay-baiting” [“TDD,” October 30, third item] for which we’re searching.

No matter, I’m still not convinced.

As compellingly demonstrated by the always astute, possibly hirsute, and usually hilarious TBogg, Sullivan practically had to use a microscope, along with some creative maneuvering, to find his latest example of “Democratic gay-baiting.”

We should all have so much free time.

Remember . . . when you’re reading Sullivan, always click through to the linked article(s)!

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, October 29, 2002  

What the Smart Kids Are Saying

Tim Dunlop of The Road to Surfdom, known around here as “The Far Better Tim of Australian Blogging,” has performed an admirable service documenting the ups and downs of the Washington sniper story, garnering extra praise for keeping our eyes on the human angle of that seemingly interminable tragedy while all too many others were brazenly exploiting the crisis to support their bizarre ideological agendas.


Jesse Taylor of Pandagon is on a roll lately. Biting political humor, sarcasm, and satire, extremely well done. Don’t miss Taylor’s run down of Montana Republican senate candidate Mike Taylor’s campaign schedule. Among much else on Mike Taylor’s calendar: “10/24/02 - Meeting with Polar Bear Club, where he dons a Speedo and jumps into freezing cold water with twenty other men. When played on the news, he will accuse the Baucus campaign of yet more homophobia and withdraw for three days.”


More humor, this on the PBS line-up, from funny “Poor ManAndrew Northrup. Among my favorites: “3:30 PM – Clifford the Big Red Dog The people who drew He-Man make fun of this cartoon. What are there, seven frames of animation a minute? Is it being drawn in real time? I know this is PBS, but really.”


Of course one can’t discuss blogger humor without bringing up Tom of TBogg. A small slice: “I just checked in on Mickey Kaus and he went exactly 684 words before he mentioned Paul Krugman. On the other hand, Andy Sullivan only made it to 90 (possibly due to a case of premature articulation). This got me to wondering. Since Sully is so proud of his Sontag/von Hoffman awards, should we possibly have a Margaret Ray Award? Just a thought. . .”


Gee whiz, if Avedon Carol of The Sideshow gets any smarter or more observant or more prescient or more articulate, she’s going to get migraines or something.


Similarly, I don’t know about you, but when I stop by Jeanne D’Arc’s Body and Soul, I feel, like, really stupid. (Sadly, she is on hiatus.)


Yuval Rubinstein of the invaluable Groupthink Central alerts me to a phrase I’m surprised I haven’t heard before: “The New Republic is the Jewish Commentary.” And nobody gives it to the much-deserving Martin Peretz better than Yuval.


I sure miss the previously frequent but always succinct observations of Brian Linse, author of AintNoBadDude, even if I couldn’t pick Warren Zevon out of a line-up. (Not that I’m saying that would ever happen. The line-up, I mean.)


Finally, and only slightly off point, don’t you hate it when you can’t make a statement by terminating a service? Earlier today I wrote to So-Long to cancel my “premium” subscription and was breezily informed that at renewal time I would be dropped from the site’s rolls of paying customers. Nope. No refund for all of those password-protected articles I’m not going to read during the next six months. I’ve never before encountered a magazine that didn’t give pro rata refunds. Check the fine print, people. I know I will from now on.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, October 28, 2002  

And Now This One Man Is Gone

I don’t cry when politicians die. When a hyena kills a lion cub on a National Geographic special my eyes tear up and my nose runs, but I don’t cry when politicians die. Until Friday, that is. Friday, the day Paul Wellstone died.

Those in public life called upon for their remarks on the passing of politicians are calling Wellstone determined, opinionated, pugnacious, outspoken, unapologetic, and quixotic. All of these observations are intended as compliments, and to me, as one who is opinionated, pugnacious, and unapologetic, they are that. But much is missing from most of the brief eulogies we have heard in recent days: words like kind, warmhearted, genuine, and humane, even words like angry, disappointed, and disgusted. These are the words that describe Wellstone’s much-disparaged “bleeding heart,” a heart that few seem willing to celebrate and honor even now that it has stopped beating.

I cared little for Wellstone when he first arrived on the national scene in the early 1990s. Another sputtering lefty, I thought; do we really need another Ron Wyden? With his hyperkinetic poses and irrepressible zeal, Wellstone droned incessantly about affordable housing, education, health care, senior citizens, living wages . . . “labor stuff,” “poor-people issues,” the things I cared little to nothing about as an aspiring 20-something and then 30-something professional.

Since then, of course, I’ve grown older and I like to think I’ve matured. In the intervening years I have lived more than a little and observed much, and as one’s life proceeds, things happen. It sounds simple enough, but things happen that you never expect will happen, at least to people you know. I watched perfectly self-reliant and individualistic people become mired in circumstances not of their choosing -- terminal illness, unemployment, family tragedies, crushing debt, lost savings, sudden death. No, life isn’t fair, but it doesn’t have to be so wretchedly unfair. Watching such as these suffer, these smart and successful people with their safety nets of family and friends, sparked wonder at how those truly less fortunate manage in difficult times, the times that make up the entirety of their lives.

And so, eventually, many of Wellstone’s greatest concerns became mine. I cared that too many children grow up in untended squalor. It mattered that too many senior citizens grow older in, well, untended squalor. And those concerns grew exponentially while living in turn-of-the-century New York, a city of unselfconscious class division where the exceedingly rich and even the merely affluent treat clerks, secretaries, waiters, and public employees as their very own servant class, downtrodden and maintained in a permanent state of steerage as if it were God’s plan to exalt this over class, this uppermost rung of society that subsists on -- and prospers by virtue of -- unfettered greed, unrestrained selfishness, and unmitigated gall.

How satisfying, then, to hear Wellstone’s persistent and lonely voice speaking with conviction, determination, and brutal honesty in that most selective of country clubs, the U.S. Senate. Though he was still to my left politically, I admired Wellstone for standing at the edge of mainstream American politics, extending the reach of our all-too-stifled debate over public and foreign policy, not always successfully, and, this being politics, that great game that “ain’t beanbag,” not always with his principles perfectly intact either. But principles he had, and in spades, principles that led to his being roundly outvoted on the Senate floor, at times by a margin of 99 to one.

And now this one man is gone. In an instant American politics, the Senate at least, lost a critical anchor. Who shall -- who can -- maintain and extend this honorable legacy? The body politic has lost its soul to a higher plane. From this some good must come, and so I pray that we are deemed worthy to be so blessed again.

[Note: Wellstone’s book, Conscience of a Liberal, published last year, is available at and better bookstores everywhere. Buy one for yourself and for a friend that this man’s noble mission may live and grow.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, October 25, 2002  

Andrew Sullivan’s Latest Witch-Hunt

In yet another breathtaking display of projection, one that might on its own generate a new field of study known as “devious political psychology,” Andrew Sullivan today attacked his opponents, some named, some not, for lowering the bar on contemporary American political discourse.

In an article written for Salon, “The Bigotry of Belafonte,” one that editor David Talbot strangely chose not to publish as the latest “Idiocy of the Week,” Sullivan worked himself into a lather over “liberal bigotry,” focusing largely on a stray comment about Secretary of State Colin Powell by that most influential of political theorists, Harry Belafonte.

Not content to embarrass himself with all manner of misguided accusations and imprudent conclusions on this subject, Sullivan extended his reach, sleuthing out evidence of something he calls “left-wing homophobia” by observing, “When a gay man can write a column asserting that another man is a ‘nasty faggot,’ it’s hard to think of how much lower the discourse can get,” writes Sullivan. [Emphasis added.]

This sentence would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. The notion that Sullivan, who has debased political discourse every time he placed his fingers on the keyboard of his beloved and much ballyhooed Mac, and with a particular vengeance since Sept. 11, 2001, can self-righteously tag others with his own sins reveals as much about his character as anyone need know, that is, in the unlikely event they hadn’t already discerned the gaping vacuum that constitutes Sullivan’s conscience.

For those not clued in to Sullivan’s roundabout way of not quite discussing what he is discussing, the unidentified “gay man” to whom Sullivan refers in this quote is journalist and author Michelangelo Signorile. Signorile used the phrase “nasty faggot” in an article published in the New York Press on May 28, “Spreading Drudge’s Sludge.” Signorile is, of course, Sullivan’s nemesis, just one of many the British pundit has engendered over the years spent haranguing, taunting, and otherwise slandering anyone who dares disagree with his sanctimonious pronouncements from on high or otherwise errs in crossing his narrow path of self-defined rectitude.

But getting back to decoding Sullivan, “another man,” as he has employed the term here, refers to Matt Drudge, the West Coast web personality best known for his dopey hat and for trafficking in lies, smears, and innuendo, all the while calling himself a “journalist,” a ludicrously unearned descriptive that Sullivan has promoted with obsequious admiration.

With this all too clever construction, Sullivan avoids telling readers that Signorile’s “nasty faggot” comment was not exactly a case of “a gay man calling another man” the pejorative in question, but more accurately an instance of a gay man directing his obloquy at another gay man, namely Drudge, whose existence here on Earth as such is a fact demonstrated and documented by others, including David Brock, to my satisfaction. That Drudge was apparently more offended by the second half of this label than the first, and that Sullivan is too horrified by the whole exercise to portray the incident’s full particulars, is only the latest example of their shared dishonesty and their collective wallowing in still another form of homophobia.

And once again, we have Sullivan here practicing his selective approach to, and disgust with, what is called “outing.” Although not one to “out” Drudge, perhaps for fear of offending their rabid and shared core constituency, Sullivan in the past has thought nothing of performing the same public service upon various members of the Clinton administration.

For a man, gay or straight, to call a straight man a “nasty faggot” is one thing. Were the target a heterosexual man, he might well take offense, though if he were confident in the grasp of heterosexuality on his very being, knowing full well that such status is indeed his birthright, he might not be insulted. Rather, he might be more amused than anything else. (Don’t laugh: The moralistic fire breathers on the right wing, religious and otherwise, despite their protestations of revulsion seem to find homosexuality so appealing they are certain their children and even mature adults will sign on immediately upon their first exposure to it.) But a gay man calling another gay man a “nasty faggot” is a different situation entirely. Sullivan knows this. He’s simply not honest enough or brave enough to admit it.

Although I don’t do so in public forums such as the Review, I’ll call any gay man I want to “a drama queen,” “a theater queen,” “a steroid queen,” “a silly faggot,” or “a nasty faggot,” and I couldn’t care less what Sullivan thinks, even if I were to choose to do so here. Such terms, and much worse, are bandied about with what I have to say is deafening and mind-numbing frequency among gay men and their friends. Sullivan knows this as well, or he should, assuming his social circle is anything like mine, though that perhaps is an unfair assumption given his propensity to knock a few back with the likes of Jonah Goldberg, the proudly self-confessed “you-know-I’m-not-all-that-comfortable-with-the-whole-gays-as-decent-human-beings-thing” editor of National Review Online. That Sullivan is so utterly humorless almost sparks a touch of pity.

Make no mistake: Signorile is not solely at fault in the soiled mind of Andrew Sullivan. “Left-wing homophobia is now having a resurgence -- in Democratic ad campaigns and political discourse,” he writes, offering precious little evidence, indeed none whatsoever, to support the claim. Yes, Sullivan, with all the partisan führer of a charter member of the National Republican Committee, repeatedly has chastised the reelection campaign of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Baucus himself, with “homophobia,” this for the transgression of airing a political advertisement drawing attention to the scandalous past business practices of former beauty-school operator Mike Taylor, the on-again, off-again, oh-so-principled Republican candidate for Baucus’s Senate seat. But saying something -- even over and over again -- does not make it so, and Sullivan has found few, if any, reasonable people, and none of prominence, to join him in his vociferous indignation over this issue.

Beyond the Baucus-Taylor campaign, where is the evidence of the “resurgence” of “left-wing homophobia”? Sullivan provides none because there is none. Readers who make the rounds of the political weblogs likely noticed a few mutterings about “left-wing homophobia” within the last week. I wrote about the subject extensively here on Oct. 19 in a post that has yet to be rebutted by any of those who are so blithely throwing around this newly invented term, one that Jesse Taylor of Pandagon astutely discussed under the apt heading, “Left-Wing Homophobia and Other Things Only Theorized By Lewis Carroll When High.”

What’s odd is that surrounded as Sullivan is -- as we all are -- by vicious, hateful, and influential right-wing homophobia, and worse, actively anti-gay agendas pursued by right-wing politicians, political parties, lawmakers, interest groups, and churches, even the mildest of this insanity warrants nary a nod from the Bishop of Adams-Morgan, even when he places himself within the very heart of the beast. For as we all have recently learned, though not from Sullivan himself, who has been uncharacteristically silent on the matter, Sullivan last week became the house homosexual of the Washington Times, the unselfconsciously right-wing and rather happily anti-gay newspaper of the nation’s capital.

The decision by the Washington Times to hire Sullivan or at least to print his material -- regardless, Sullivan is making money on the venture -- is inexplicable on so many different levels I scarcely know where to begin. Notably, though, the right-wing watchdog group Accuracy in Media certainly did. Upon learning that Sullivan would appear regularly in the Times, AIM’s chairman, Reed Irvine, quickly denounced the paper for “endors[ing] sleaze.” Irvine called Sullivan “an HIV-positive homosexual who supports gay marriage” and someone “who is often presented as a conservative homosexual,” abruptly, and in my opinion without cause, denying Sullivan his hard-earned and well-deserved right-wing bona fides.

Taking things a step further, as is his wont, Irvine added some choice words about a recent unpleasant episode surrounding the public exposure of certain details about Sullivan’s personal life, coincidentally the same episode that made Signorile a marked man of the Princess of Provincetown. About this outrage, this outburst of what those in their perpetual state of high dudgeon should properly consider homophobia, albeit “right-wing homophobia,” Sullivan has been, again, uncharacteristically silent.

The inevitable, and only honest, conclusion is that Sullivan is out on nothing more than a witch-hunt, and not his first, I might add. Perhaps when he actually finds a practitioner of “left-wing homophobia,” this newfangled form of voodoo, and I mean finds one, not invents one, he will actually take the time to provide his readers with the details needed to make their own decisions. Until then, he’s just our own little Joe McCarthy and he deserves to be treated as such.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Welcome Home, Mr. Sullivan

I couldn’t believe it when I first heard the news, but it’s true. Andrew Sullivan really does have a weekly column on the op-ed page of the Washington Times. Every Friday. Well, at least today and last Friday, so far.

Appropriately enough, it’s called “The Weekly Dish,” and preciously decked, “Tidbits from a broad range of political and cultural topics.”

More accurately, the Times might wish to characterize the piece as “A rehash of Sullivan’s fulminations already available for the taking at his vanity site.”

Today’s topics: “Racial profiling in reverse,” “Campus anti-Semitism watch,” and “[v]on Hoffman award nominee.”

At last, Sullivan has found his rightful home.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, October 24, 2002  

Hey, If I Had an Intern, These Would Be Complete Articles

I love it when Arianna Huffington gets all feisty and stuff as in her recent, much-commented-upon article for Salon, “An Ad George Bush Should Love.” What this woman was doing with that drippy wet blanket of an ex-husband of hers, I’ll never know.


This piece from the New York Observer, an interview of sorts, is for whoever there may be out there who cares what Andy Rooney, 1978’s “It Boy,” thinks about anything.


About a year and a half ago, while working at Individual Investor magazine, I wrote a column recommending that investors short-sell the common stock of Edison Schools Inc. I’ll bet you wish you were listening.

~~~~~, of the Twin Cities, Minn., area last week carried a hatchet job on the anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, Paxil. I’m still researching possible connections between CityPages and the paranoid-schizophrenic, but prescription-drug-free, Church of Scientology.


Those wacky Finns are giving cell phones to seven-year-olds. I know Nokia is regarded as a national treasure and all, but really.


Yes, I realize everyone else already has linked to and commented upon Paul Krugman’s masterful New York Times Magazine article, “For Richer,” but go read it again, just to tick off the already over-agitated Axis of Envy.

[Addendum: J. Bradford DeLong, Ph.D., professor of economics, University of California, Berkeley, and author of the essential Semi-Daily Journal, among much else, this afternoon raised substantial doubt about the presumed credentials of the latest, though as always anonymous and/or unidentified, “economist” to join former New Republic editor turned amateur weblogger Andrew Sullivan in the latter’s perpetual anti-Krugman resentment-fest. It seems that if Sullivan’s letter-writer is an economist, he’s not keeping up with the literature. Par for the course over there, I suppose.]


This site -- Blind Item Rehash -- is pretty cool. It helps you decipher those “blind items” in the better gossip columns.


William Safire took Monday off and let pal “Arik Sharon” write his New York Times column. And why not? Sharon’s already writing our foreign policy.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, October 23, 2002  

The Rational Emotional Response We Call Fear

This is the first post at the Review since Sunday, an unexplained absence of almost 72 hours that I’m certain was causing considerable anxiety among regular readers. Or not. I wish I could point to an interesting explanation for this -- a last-minute speaking engagement at a small Nebraska college or a panel discussion on John Dos Passos at the New School -- but I’m afraid that’s not it, nor would I be likely to tell you about that if it were (Why would you care?). Frankly, I’ve just been “off my game” for the past few days. Few of the topics in the news this week have gripped me with an impulse to write and those of even passing interest haven’t sparked much original thought. It happens to everyone at least occasionally, I suspect, and I elected during this time to spare you what otherwise might have been tedious pabulum.

Beyond that, however, I have watched, or read, with considerable interest and dismay the ongoing controversy, for lack of a better word, surrounding the decision by Weblog Central to feature Little Green Footballs as one of the best weblogs currently published. As I wish not to be drawn into the matter, in large part because my visits to LGF have been limited in both number and duration, that by virtue of my disgust at the vulgarity, hysteria, immaturity, and racism so brazenly displayed by too many participants there, I will only draw your attention, as several others have, to the stirring, passionate, and commendable essay published today by Anil Dash, the blogger who had the misfortune of becoming the subject of an orchestrated, or semi-orchestrated, campaign of harassment, intimidation, and debasement by some of the lesser minds that populate the discussion areas of LGF. Dash’s essay was superb, even sublime, and he assuredly handled and expressed himself with greater composure and equanimity than I could ever dream of mustering were I to find myself in the same circumstances. Despite his achievement, I have been fighting a lingering sense of demoralization at the petty vindictiveness of the entire episode, this despite my considerable distance from the battle. But we must forge on, as Dash clearly has done, and so I now move to the business at hand.

The Daily Howler and the Logic of Fear

It’s rare that I find myself in disagreement with what Bob Somerby writes for his excellent site, the Daily Howler. However, today’s piece, at least that part dealing with the Fox News Channel’s coverage of the media’s treatment of the Washington sniper, was disappointing and, I believe, fell quite wide of the mark.

Somerby today noted with appreciation the discussion of the sniper and the risks presented to area residents on last night’s edition of Special Report, a Fox News program hosted by Brit Hume. “The ‘news’ networks love to play ominous music. And they love to flash their BREAKING NEWS logos,” Somerby wrote. “They love to keep their viewers worked up about stories that bring them big numbers. The [Washington,] D[.]C[.,] area is in a frenzy about the wave of sniper killings. But Special Report did a service last night, actually trying to put the matter in some sort of larger perspective.”

How so? By bringing on John Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute specializing in the study of guns and crime. Lott’s contribution to putting the sniper’s attacks “in some sort of larger perspective” was to emphasize that the “normal murder rate” in the counties where the shooting have taken place (it would appear he has excluded the District of Columbia, the site of one attack, from his calculations), averages 34 killing each month. With 10 dead at the hands of the sniper in a period of three weeks, according to Lott, the toll remains far below the “normal murder rate,” and below the average of 24 deaths each month from traffic accidents. Thus, Lott said, in a conclusion supported by Hume, a resident of one of the affected counties has a greater chance of being killed in the normal run of area murders and traffic accidents than being taken out by one of the sniper’s well-aimed bullets.

Granted, there is a level on which those statistics are reassuring, at the very least from the uncommonly encountered standpoint of an ordinary citizen seeking to dodge seemingly random sniper fire, though I might add those figures also are alarming given how little attention is devoted to such tragic issues as gun violence and traffic fatalities. But to hammer the point home, it’s no surprise that Hume, with the apparent concurrence of Lott, turned to the analogy of lottery drawings, noting that one’s chances of being blown away by the sniper are roughly equivalent to those of winning the lottery, though neither Hume nor Lott provided statistics to substantiate this comparison. Hume then asks, “[I]t doesn’t seem the chances [of being hit by the sniper] are very high and yet we have this reaction. To what do you attribute the strength of this reaction? Is it the randomness? Is it the fact that it can seem to happen anywhere, what?”

At this point Somerby leaves Hume and Lott talking amongst themselves in order to make a larger point, which I will discuss presently. This was unfortunate, because Lott immediately thereafter made a valid point regarding the fear this particular serial killer has engendered in the Washington suburbs, namely, that the neighborhoods in which the sniper has taken victims are safe and quiet, the kind of places where little happens that makes the evening news. “[T]he people who die in murders are a [smaller] set of the population than you’re going to have who are going to be shot here,” Lott observed. “You may have people more likely being involved in gang activity or drugs or something like that, not as much people who are buying gasoline at a gasoline station.” Granted, this is not the height of eloquence, but TV interviews rarely are. Lott’s point is that the odds of a law-abiding resident of one of Washington’s better suburbs being slain by a stranger’s gunfire as he or she goes about his or his daily routine, that is, without the concomitant factor of a simultaneous crime such as robbery, burglary, or rape, is next to nil. The fear, then, if not the threat, is new, unfamiliar, unsettling, terrifying. And it is real.

Somerby’s grand point, one I find wholly unconvincing, is that the general public’s “irrational” reaction stems from the purported fact that TV news operations “love ominous music -- and the ratings that come with the creepy-crawly songs they love to play[.]” That’s certainly one hypothesis, one left unexplored as Somerby proceeds to say, “[T]he human mind is poorly equipped to understand the numbers involved. . . . TV news orgs [sic] could help put the facts in perspective, as Hume and Lott tried to do last night. But that might hurt those wonderful ratings. And, if people were less hysterical about the killings, maybe news types would be forced to return to those boring old topics, like should we wage war in Iraq.” Quite a leap, that.

Yes, the randomness of the sniper’s attacks, the wide swath of his field of operation, and the population density of the Washington suburbs dramatically reduce one’s odds of being a victim of his fire. In the most coolly rational of worlds, Washington-area residents would go about their daily business and send their children out on their merry ways in the morning without fear of being felled by a bullet fired from long distance without warning. Ours is not, however, a coolly rational world; instead, ours is a world governed by a combination of the rational and the emotional. This is in fact the very nature of our being: our propensity, indeed our ability, to look at the world around us armed with keen logic while also filtering our experiences with the power of our emotions.

The very same randomness that excites those who buy lottery tickets -- “Someone has to win. It could be me!” -- sparks fear among those whose daily existence puts them in at least the theoretical range of the sniper’s gun sites -- “Someone may be shot today. It could be me!” To act without fear in such circumstances would itself be illogical, defying, as it would, our instinct to protect ourselves, our families, and our community. The progress of the human race, after all, has relied, pace Ayn Rand, on our ability to approach problems and challenges with reason as well as our ability to react to those same problems and challenges with emotion, out of instinct, if you will. Both faculties are worthy of our respect.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Sunday, October 20, 2002  

Sex Columnist Gets Really Nasty and Aggressive and Manly

Dan Savage, foul-mouthed sex columnist and self-professed admirer of “tighty-whities on a boyish and slim and hairless man,” recently signed on with the war on Iraq crowd.

Make no mistake, Savage is not actually signing up to fight, or to enlist in the military, or to join the reserves, or anything real like that -- precious few of our roughhousing wannabees advocating an endless war in the Middle East are willing to go that far -- he’s just going to be cheering from the sidelines, joining the chorus of shrieking testosterone-laden harpies desperate for validation of their masculinity from the likes of über-Menschen Gary Bauer, Jonah Goldberg, Rod Dreher, and Christopher Hitchens.

Clearly drifting far out of his field of alleged expertise, Savage recently had this to say about war and terrorism: “To stop Islamo-fascism, we’re going to have to roll back all of the tyrannous and dictatorial regimes in the Middle East while simultaneously waging war against a militant, deadly religious ideology.” [Emphasis added.]

All of them? Every single one of them? How, pray tell, will we do this? How long, Dirty Dan, will this take? How much, Diaper-Changing Dan, will this cost? Will we still be at it when your son turns 18?

Amazing, isn’t it, how these newbie warmongers can make such outrageous blanket statements and have their logic questioned only by a select critical few, a few that, I have no doubt, will in a moment be labeled “homophobic.”

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Republican Deficits and Republican Lies

Whenever a friend, acquaintance, colleague, co-worker, or even a perfect stranger tells me he is a Republican and quickly follows that admission by adding, “I’m a liberal on social issues, but I’m a conservative on fiscal and economic policy,” I laugh. Well, actually I laugh, but I cry a little too.

The ability of the Republican Party to cast itself in the public mind as the party of fiscal responsibility, let alone of fiscal restraint, is one of the most amazing accomplishments of modern politics. The propensity of otherwise intelligent people to fall for this lie, to accept unthinkingly the premise of this joke, is no less astonishing.

An article in today’s Washington Post brings this issue to mind once again. There readers will find a depressing story by Mike Allen about the Republican Party’s confidence with respect to the upcoming mid-term elections, “Republicans Planning for Full Control Of Congress.”

Not content with the reckless damage the tax cut passed last year already has done, and will continue to do, to the federal budget deficit, mindless and ideologically driven Republicans, armed with what passes for economic analysis among the “give it to me in 100 words or less” crowd, are planning, or at least hoping, to accelerate provisions of that law and make the tax cuts, otherwise scheduled to expire in 2010, permanent.

Also under consideration, according to Allen’s article, are a reduction or complete elimination of the capital gains tax, elimination of the so-called double taxation of corporate earnings, a flat income tax, and a value-added tax, the last being easily the most regressive form of taxation possible.

“Business lobbyists [Ed.: A perfectly reasonable pseudonym for “Bush administration officials.”] said their wish lists include substantial nationwide limits on the amount of damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases, plus a major overhaul of the tax code to reduce the burden on corporations,” writes Allen.

“One administration official said Bush is more likely to take a ‘rifle-shot’ approach that might include simplifying the allowance for depreciation -- the yearly loss in value of machinery and equipment -- and reducing the incentives for corporations to move their headquarters overseas,” the Post reports.

Yes, yes, by all means, we must simplify the depreciation allowance! “Quick, Mr. Republican Congressman, tell me what’s complicated about the depreciation allowance!” Well, um, uh, you see . . . “Mr. Republican Congressman, is there something about the depreciation allowance that corporate finance departments and the major accounting firms don’t understand?” Well, um, uh, you see . . . “Mr. Republican Congressman, are corporations filing returns filled with errors resulting from confusion about the depreciation allowance?” Well, um, uh, you see . . . “Mr. Republican Congressman, will simplifying the depreciation allowance add to or subtract from federal revenues?” Well, um, uh, you see . . .

For crying out loud, we’re not that stupid! We know, or at least those of us paying attention know, that “simplifying the depreciation allowance” is code speak for cutting taxes paid by corporations.

“A House leadership aide said one of the first measures to be passed by a Republican-controlled Congress would be a permanent version of last year’s phased-in, $1.35 trillion tax cut, scheduled to expire in 2010. The aide said Republicans would try to build support by dividing the package into pieces, so Democrats would be forced to go on record for or against specific taxes, including the inheritance tax,” reports the Post.

Ah yes, the inheritance tax, a tax the Republicans with stunning disingenuousness refer to as “the death tax” in their effort to gain support for repeal of the measure from the general public, and most important from their base of affluent, but not wealthy, and completely misled and misguided suburban voters, without owning up to the fact that a repeal of the inheritance tax would benefit, according to most honest estimates, a grand total of 10,000 Americans, very few of whom are among the previously mentioned affluent, but not wealthy, and completely misled and misguided suburban voters.

Middle-class tax relief? Well, it’s clear that’s not on the agenda. And why should it be? No change there, of course, since it hasn’t been on the agenda at any time during the Bush administration, no matter what President Bush, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, OMB Director Mitch Daniels, and dizzily spinning politicos Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, and Mary Matalin say.

And why should they care? It’s not the Republicans’ fault a wide swath of middle class voters have swallowed the administration’s propaganda about tax cuts. If we’ve learned anything in the last two years it’s that all too many middle class voters devote as much energy to worrying about falling into the lower class as they do to imagining they are part of the upper middle class.

The socially liberal fiscal conservatives have made their choice: fiscal conservatism, or the constantly broken promise thereof, is more important than their personal freedom and civil rights. If such as these wish to continue to be shafted by the Republican Party, by its insane economic theories, its ludicrous fiscal policy, its deranged social agenda, and its psychotic drive to erode even the most reasonable protections of civil liberties, that’s their decision. I only wish they wouldn’t drag the rest of us down with them.

ADDENDUM: Dwight Meredith of P.L.A. has the hard numbers.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


If This Were “Jeopardy” They Would Call It “Potpourri”

Whatever happened to “Democrat wars”?


Don’t cry for them, they’re laid-off investment bankers.


Ah, diplomacy. Does this mean the Bush administration is planning to “appease” North Korea?


I never thought Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was all that anyway. It’s scary, though, to learn how much he relies on the advice of the Pentagon’s most rigid ideologues.


There are times when some people in the media need to be reminded that the media is not, in and of itself, the story.


Norah Vincent is back, out with a piece she wrote for the city’s new shopping rag, the New York Sun. Apparently Vincent has been hired to write a regular column about “The Academy,” a task for which she will no doubt draw upon her extensive experience therein. From the bio: Norah Vincent, B.A., Williams College, 1990, . . . Oh, that’s all. Sorry, I thought that was going somewhere, but it isn’t.


Paul Harvey is still living. He really is. I just heard him on the radio at the corner bodega. I had no idea.


Someone needs to tell Cindy Adams it’s possible to walk from her Upper East Side home to Saks Fifth Avenue. And if Miss Adams finds the prospect of such a trek to be too great a physical challenge, she can pull out her copy of Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures and work on this illusion.


George Will, a white gentile, pours fuel on the lingering embers of hard feelings between African-Americans and Jews.


Neal Pollack talks to the Philadelphia Inquirer, in advance, about The 215 Festival he didn’t attend.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Saturday, October 19, 2002  

A Sorry and Unnecessary Search for Scandal

The other day I encountered a surprising observation at the eponymous weblog Charles Murtaugh:

By the way, am I the only one who’s noticed that Andrew Sullivan’s recently increased visibility has provoked the emergence of a new left-wing homophobia? [Oct. 10]

My initial reaction to Murtaugh’s question was one that might best be characterized as dumbfounded, given that I had not noticed Andrew Sullivan’s visibility increasing recently nor was I familiar with the phenomenon of “left-wing homophobia.” Consequently, I inquired directly to Murtaugh regarding this post. Being the most impatient sort and not having yet received a response, on Thursday, Oct. 17, I asked the Review’s readers for help in my efforts to grapple with Murtaugh’s remarks.

Fortunately, the very next day, Murtaugh graciously informed me via e-mail that he had responded to my question at his site. It is from that point that I begin today.

As noted, Murtaugh is saying two different things: First, that Sullivan’s visibility has “recently increased,” and second, that this has “provoked the emergence of a new left-wing homophobia.” I mention this not out of any desire to score points by inflating two patently untrue statements but because one flows out of the other.

I’ll begin with the question of Sullivan’s visibility. Murtaugh writes:

Rittenhouse first wants to know what I mean by Sullivan’s “recently increased visibility,” which he [Rittenhouse] calls “an observation of recent trends that runs counter to all empirical evidence.” I assume he refers to Sullivan’s dumping by TNR and [t]he New York Times, which I discussed back in May. I guess I shouldn't have used the term ‘recently’; let’s just say, post-Sept. 11. Pre-Sept. 11, not that many people I know had even heard of Andrew Sullivan, and now he seems to be pretty well known.

I’m not quite sure what to make of these remarks as they are quite alien to my perception of Sullivan’s visibility, prominence, and status in the media and the culture writ large. I can honestly say that I cannot think of anyone I know, at least among my gay or politically aware friends and colleagues, who had not heard of Sullivan before Sept. 11, indeed well before Sept. 11. That may be a function of my having lived for 11 years in Washington, D.C., home also, for most of that period, to Sullivan, and a city where politics is of considerable interest even among many with only a peripheral, if that, professional attachment thereto. It may also reflect my having worked for the last nine years in a few obscure corners of the media, an environment where the comings and goings and sayings and writings of the likes of Sullivan are part and parcel of industry gossip. Murtaugh’s profession, which I assume is in the field of the life sciences, may explain the unfamiliarity of his friends and colleagues with Sullivan’s name and career, but that is a subject Murtaugh is far better equipped to address than I.

Continuing, Murtaugh says:

Yes, [Sullivan]’s sabotaged himself by going off the rails one to[o] many times on his site, and his star may be fading, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that so many left-of-center bloggers still focus so much attention on the man. Is this the mark of an irrelevant figure?

With the first half of this statement, I agree. Sullivan has gone “off the rails” at his site on any number of subjects, something that has occurred with greater frequency since Sept. 11. In fact, before then I was a regular reader of because I found his pieces to be, more often than not, interesting, provocative, considered, reasoned, and thought-provoking.

Sadly, as many “left-of-center bloggers,” along with many other readers, liberal, moderate, and conservative, to say nothing of editors, producers, commentators, and politicians, have noticed, this is no longer the case. Sullivan has become doctrinaire, rigid, tiresome, predictable, caustic, thoughtless, vindictive, and indeed vicious. His endless complaints about Howell Raines and the New York Times are embarrassing, not only because they sound like so many sour grapes but because they reveal an astonishing ignorance about how news organizations generally, and newspapers specifically, actually work, a subject I have discussed in the past. For the life of me I cannot figure out why Sullivan doesn’t realize how foolish he appears while engaging in this infantile and thoroughly unprofessional behavior. I can only assume that he receives much appreciation for the effort from a segment of his readers.

I would also concur that Sullivan’s star is fading, as Murtaugh suggests. The New York Times dropped his magazine column and his appearances in the New Republic have declined substantially. He continues to write for The Times of London, but that paper, while highly regarded, carries little influence here in the U.S. He has been seen commenting on politics much less frequently in the broadcast media and I can recall precious few columns outside his normal venues.

I don’t presume to know the reasons behind the developments at the New York Times or the New Republic, though it is safe to say that media reports vary significantly from the stray comments Sullivan himself has offered. I would add that I take no particular joy in these developments, except on those occasions when Sullivan and his pals, including Mickey Kaus, express their smug self-satisfaction upon hearing each bit of rumor or gossip about the financial difficulties of rival journals, most notably the American Prospect, a book that for reasons not clear generates substantial bile among the terrible twosome.

I will concede that the weblog,, has introduced Sullivan to a wider audience, but that does not contradict Murtaugh’s own observation that Sullivan’s star is fading. Nor does the fact that many bloggers comment on, or criticize, Sullivan’s work. I’m quite sure the typical reader of “The Daily Dish” is not a major player in the media or publishing industries and I doubt his site is the topic of much discussion in the editorial meeting rooms of major newspapers or magazines. Moreover, the criticism of Sullivan by the blogging community largely centers on the aforementioned predictability and viciousness of his pieces. Sullivan rarely offers bloggers, let alone mainstream commentators, much of substance to work with. It is not easy to engage in a substantive debate with someone whose typical response is a name-calling rant. Sullivan’s star has faded because he has so little of interest to say. And while his site generates considerable traffic, it’s fair to ask how many visitors are stopping by for its sheer entertainment value.

Strangely, Murtaugh’s evidence of something called “left-wing homophobia” is scant to the point of being non-existant. Pressed for details, Murtaugh can point only to two displays of the elusive phenomenon: the first, a post by Atrios, author of the highly regarded and widely read weblog Eschaton, that drew notice to an earlier piece published at the gay news and discussion site Data Lounge summarizing that site’s readers’ suggested titles for Sullivan’s next book.

It’s true that some of the suggested titles referred to aspects of Sullivan’s private life that he and others, including me, would prefer not to hear more about, but I am mystified as to why we should be surprised that Data Lounge’s readers, many of whom have been living with or actively fighting AIDS, or watching their friends get sick and die from the disease, for the past five, 10, 15, or 20 years should be chastised for expressing their disgust for the hypocrisy revealed by Michelangelo Signorile in the pages of LGNY on an issue that had only recently exploded in the gay community. And I am compelled to ask what exactly about the post in question was “homophobic”? Apparently we are once again being directed to suppress any admission that gay men have sex lives for fear that doing so is per se homophobic. Some of the details at hand are embarrassing and spark considerable discomfort, but simply discussing the issue, or drawing attention to those who are doing so, is hardly “homophobic.”

Furthermore, to charge Atrios with homophobia is simply ludicrous, indeed Coulteresque. I cannot and will not let this smear, since picked up and irresponsibly propagated, albeit slyly, by Professor InstaLinker, go unchallenged. As a self-professed admirer of Atrios’s work, surely Murtaugh knows he was pulling just one post from Atrios’s many thousands since April, of which dozens I would wager, if not more, are explicitly or implicitly reliably supportive of the civil rights and human dignity of gay men and lesbians. Moreover, I have had the good pleasure of maintaining a cordial and lively e-mail correspondence with Atrios for the past several months, and earlier this week enjoyed the company of Atrios and his wife at dinner. The very notion that this fine scholar is “homophobic” is ridiculous on its face. Indeed, one is far more likely to counter homophobic comments at than at Eschaton.

As for SullyWatch and an explanation of his or her use of the term “Blog Queen” in reference to Sullivan, I direct you to that site as he or she has discussed this subject in the past and today posted remarks about Murtaugh’s initial comments about Sullivan and his response to my inquiry on the subject.

Even if we were to take Murtaugh’s contentions at face value and apply to them the most negative of interpretations, we would be left with very little evidence of “left-wing homophobia.” With what have we been presented? Two widely read but anonymous bloggers, one referring once, obliquely and through a link to another site, to Sullivan’s personal life, the other doing so with considerable regularity as part of a larger effort to counter Sullivan’s errors, misstatements, and dissembling. Forgive me for saying that this doesn’t have the characteristics of a budding political or social movement.

Now, how does this stack up against the manifestation of homophobia among the leading lights of the American right wing? Where shall I start and how much time do you have?

How often do we read snide, intolerant, misleading, biased, and yes, bigoted, remarks about gay people in such popular and respected publications as National Review, Commentary, Human Events, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard, the National Catholic Register, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere?

Where are the left-wing counterparts to the sneering, smug, and self-righteous right-wing pundits and activists who cannot keep themselves from attempting to score rhetorical points at the expense of gays and lesbians, or who cannot resist the temptation to justify their purportedly superior moral standing by casting aspersions on the gay community? For heaven’s sake, the list is endless: Cal Thomas, Mona Charen, Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes, William F. Buckley Jr., Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Mary Eberstadt, R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., Ann Coulter, Rod Dreher, Jonah Goldberg, Linda Chavez, John Derbyshire, Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Gary Aldrich, Laura Ingraham, Paul Weyrich, Hilton Kramer, Beverly LaHaye, Brent Bozell, Larry Elder, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Charles Krauthammer, Oliver North, Robert Novak, Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Tony Snow, George Will, Michael Medved, John Podhoretz, Joseph Sobran, John Leo, Pat Robertson, Louis P. Sheldon, Laura Schlesinger, James Dobson, Maggie Gallagher, John Simon, Don Feder, James Kilpatrick, Andy Rooney, Fred Phelps, Wesley Pruden, Donald Wildmon, Armstrong Williams, John Schmitz, William Bennett, Ralph Reed, D. James Kennedy, Richard Viguerie, Jim Woodall, Paul Cameron, Lou Mabon, Reed Irvine . . . Need I go on?

And what of our elected politicians? Who can Murtaugh name among liberals or on the left that has any affinity with, or could in any way be compared with, the likes of Jesse Helms, William Dannemeyer, Dan Burton, Phil Crane, Strom Thurmond, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Lauch Faircloth, Robert Dornan, Phil Gramm, Bob Barr, Don Nickles, Bob Smith, Evan Mecham, Robert Bork, Helen Chenoweth, Henry Hyde, William Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas, and so on, ad infinitum?

Please, Mr. Murtaugh, spare us the hysterics. We both know conservatives are in a scary league of their own on this issue and assertions to the contrary, no matter how hedged, are their own kind of sorry and unnecessary scandal.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Bush Administration Raids SEC Budget

Now we know how the Bush administration plans to fund the war on Iraq: by cutting back on previously authorized federal spending, even spending targeted at critically important issues and on programs for which the administration has loudly trumpeted its virtue for political purposes.

“Less than three months ago, President Bush signed with great fanfare sweeping corporate antifraud legislation that called for a huge increase in the budget of the Securities and Exchange Commission to police corporate America and clean up Wall Street. Now the White House is backing off the budget provision and urging Congress to provide the agency with 27 percent less money than the new law authorized,” reports Stephen Labaton in today’s New York Times (“Bush Seeks to Cut Back on Raise for S.E.C.’s Corporate Cleanup”). [Emphasis added.]

“Administration officials say their proposed increase is enough and that other budgetary needs, like the military and security against terrorism, make it impossible to afford more,” Labaton reports.

Democratic lawmakers and SEC officials argue the decision “reflects the administration’s calculation that corporate scandals have begun to recede as a political issue. They say that the administration’s more modest increase will not be able to pay for the expanded role of the agency, bring salaries up to levels at other financial regulatory agencies, finance the start-up costs of an accounting oversight board and significantly expand a staff that is already overwhelmed.”

In other words, the SEC won’t be able to launch or complete the additional investigations and perform the oversight functions expected to result from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to at least try to prevent a recurrence of the great corporate scandals of the past two years.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, signed with ersatz bravado by President George Bush, authorized a 77 percent increase in the SEC’s budget. However, all funds authorized during the federal budget process must subsequently be appropriated, a second step that allows lawmakers of the unscrupulous sort, that is, the type that populate the current administration, to back track from previous decisions while escaping the close scrutiny associated with the authorization process. In this particular case, the Bush administration is asking for appropriations for the SEC that would increase spending by just 30 percent, less than half the increased authorization in the bill, according to the Times.

Even SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt is publicly complaining that the lower level of appropriations would make it difficult for the agency to undertake important initiatives in the area of technology and enforcement.

How bad are things at the SEC? According to the Times, “nearly a year after those corporate scandals began with the collapse of Enron [Corp.], commission officials say that they have struggled to keep up with their growing number of responsibilities and cases. Senior agency officials say that they are still unable to open many of the investigations that they want and that, as cases near trial, they will be stretched thin. The agency’s computer systems have not been updated in many years. The agency is unable to review the vast majority of corporate documents filed every day. And one investment house alone, Merrill Lynch, has more professionals in its legal and compliance departments than the commission’s entire enforcement staff.”

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) called the White House position “disheartening,” adding, “I can’t understand why they are taking this position. We didn’t pull the $776 million out of a hat. The costs of increasing pay, hiring new staff and increasing the volume of their business presents a case for a higher budget that is overwhelming.”

Says Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Securities and Investment: “My sense is this is a White House that is sensing some political relief that this is no longer the issue on the table so they can take a political pass on this. They touched the critical issues last summer and now it’s gone. Now the issue is Iraq all the time. I think they are politically mistaken and also dangerous substantively. You have to have the resources and do the job. You need the right cops on the beat to get it done.”

With all due respect, Sen. Dodd, I believe that’s the point of the exercise. Is there any doubt, at least among rational, thinking people that the administration is thrilled to be impeding the SEC’s ability to perform its statutory obligations with respect to corporate accounting, reporting, and governance? The administration finds funds for the war on Iraq through what I would generously call non-traditional methods, and gets to trash Sarbanes-Oxley in the process. And I thought these guys were stupid.

And here’s a surprise: “The White House has put Mr. Pitt in the awkward position of having to choose between Congressional Democrats who want a larger budget and administration officials who want less,” Labaton reports.

Well, of course they have. And what is Pitt to say or do in response? He has no independent political base and no credibility, and the Democratic leadership is calling for his resignation. Pitt badly needs White House support right now as he faces questions about his past work for America Online Inc. and AOL Time Warner Inc. and criticism regarding his cavalier approach to establishing the accounting oversight board.

Simply put, Pitt has no choice but to go along with the White House on this issue, so don’t look for much noise from the SEC as its prospective budget is gutted.

Amazingly, this news appears in the Times on the very day the Bush administration is trumpeting its new plan to protect the integrity of 401(k) plans. “Feds Order 401(k) Crack Down,” blares the headline at CBS MarketWatch, which helpfully reports, “The announcement was met with skepticism by Democratic lawmakers, who said Bush was obligated to initiate such a reform under an already passed bill by Oct. 15. ‘The President’s announcement today is a non-announcement,’ Rep. George Miller, D-Calif, said in a statement. ‘It is merely his latest attempt to appear to be concerned about the plight of investors in decimated 401(k) accounts while he continues his non-stop, cross-country fundraising trips.’”

Day after day after day the Bush administration reveals an extraordinary, indeed unconscionable, degree of deceit and dishonesty, and an audacious disregard for the intelligence of the American people. And the White House press corps, together with nearly every segment of the media, looks the other way while leading Democrats cower in supine submission.

Hell, even the author of the Times article allows presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer to weasel around the issue. Pressed for an explanation of the Bush administration’s plans for the SEC, Fleischer said the major accomplishment of the end of the last session of Congress was that lawmakers left Washington without increasing spending. “Typically, when Congress leaves, they pay an exit fee, where spending is increased above and beyond what the Congressional budget authorized, and the taxpayers are always the victims. This year, the chain was broken,” said Fleischer, in remarks that would appear to have been intended as a response to a different question entirely.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


SEC Chairman Creates His Escape Hatch

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt yesterday came clean, or at least came as clean as one can expect a Bush administration official to, about his past legal work for America Online Inc. and AOL Time Warner Inc.

According to today’s New York Post, Pitt acknowledged yesterday that he worked on at least three matters for AOL Time Warner and attended to personal legal matters for the company’s chairman, Steve Case.

As reported previously, “Pitt originally denied he personally did any work for AOL, but later amended his story when confronted with a statement from AOL confirming that he had,” the Post reports. “A source told the Post that Pitt not only advised AOL in the late 1990s but played an informal advisory role in helping structure the accounting for marketing deals that have come under scrutiny by the SEC. The source described Pitt’s role as a liaison between AOL and the SEC to affirm the accounting for numerous deals in the 1990s.”

Today we hear another denial. “Pitt denies that,” the Post reports. “But an SEC spokesperson added that ‘we really can’t talk about the details of the chairman’s prior practice.’”

Oh, okay, well, I guess that clears things up. Never mind. Sorry we bothered you. Back to what you were doing. We’ll show ourselves out.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post yesterday reported Pitt “has not decided whether to participate in his agency’s probe of the accounting practices at AOL Time Warner Inc.”

Pitt’s defense is classic Republican truth-aversion: “On a hypothetical basis, if a matter is something I gained personal knowledge of, or had personal involvement in, then I wouldn’t want to be involved.” He added, “If it is a matter that doesn’t involve anything I worked on for a former client, I don’t have to recuse myself. But even in those areas, I will review the situations carefully and make a case-by-case decision.”

I think I can read through this. Hell, a seventh grader could read through it. What Pitt is saying is that, hypothetically, of course, if he actually worked on the AOL matters under investigation at the SEC, which he claims he didn’t, he would have to recuse himself from participating in the probe.

However, a recusal in such circumstances would amount to an admission by Pitt that he has been lying about what he did for AOL while an attorney in private practice at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson.

We can’t have that happen, of course, so Pitt gives himself an out: he might recuse himself anyway if, after a careful review and a “case-by-case,” or better a “case-by-case-by-Case,” analysis, he concludes he should do so.

This ultimately gives Pitt four options: (1) Stay on the case because he in fact didn’t do any SEC accounting-related work for AOL (this assumes the AOL employees who say otherwise are mistaken); (2) Stay on the case denying he did any SEC accounting-related work for AOL (thereby sticking with the lie); (3) Recuse himself because he did SEC accounting-related work for AOL but publicly lied about it (in which case, at least during a normal administration, he would have to resign); and (4) Recuse himself because he thinks it’s the best thing to do in this case, no other justification or explanation needed (this is the escape hatch).

It’s a sure thing he won’t choose option number three. I’ll bet he goes with option four. It’s called covering your ass, Bush administration style. And do you know what? He’ll probably get away with it.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, October 18, 2002  

Further Jottings From The Reading Room

Neal Pollack. Now.


Out to prove she can still lose someone else’s money faster than anyone in the business, former Talk and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown says, “The big, traditional, commercial magazine launch is a very antediluvian beast. If I was [sic] to do Talk again, I would do it on the Web.”


Hilton Kramer’s New Criterion notes the passing of William Phillips, a founding co-editor of Partisan Review. Just above that, some ritualistic Susan Sontag-bashing.


Daniel Schorr discusses developing democracy in Iraq, in today’s Christian Science Monitor:

Until recently, the Bush administration had been divided about what a post-Saddam governing authority should look like. The Pentagon was working on a plan for seizing a piece of territory before or during an invasion and installing exiled groups as an interim government.

It is far from clear, however, that exiles returning from the diaspora would be welcomed by the long-repressed people. I remember post-World War II in Europe where people who had suffered during the Nazi occupation did not warm to returning exiles who had not shared their experience.


Getting cranky with the Europeans, neoconservative style, by Victor Davis Hanson, in the October issue of Commentary.


Brought to you by FrontPage Magazine, Tammy Bruce gets all soft and cuddly, almost giggly, over her “.38 snubnose Smith & Wesson.”


Diminutive media mogul David Geffen has put his New York apartment up for sale, the New York Observer reports. The Fifth Avenue co-op has just one bedroom, but it also boasts 5,000 square feet of 17th-floor living space, designed by Charles Gwathmey, that includes “a 60-foot-long living-dining-entertaining space with views high over Central Park.” Bonus: Denise Rich lives just upstairs! Asking: $20 million.


New at |||trr|||! One Hundred Things About ME.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Forward Speaks Up and Speaks Out

As expected, the news that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to former President Jimmy Carter drew reflexive howls of protest and derision from all of the usual quarters, most of the criticism ornery and spiteful, virtually none of it reasoned nor respectful. The “War Now on Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Anyone Else We’re Forgetting at This Moment” crowd was particularly and predictably nasty, though it appears the gang’s paroxysms of rage and vituperation finally have abated.

Before this moment passes, no doubt to be repeated when President Carter accepts his award, it’s an appropriate time to consider the remarks of more level-headed observers. To wit, below is an excerpt from an editorial published in The Forward (Oct. 18), “Nobel Values,” offered without comment as it more than speaks for itself:

By giving the esteemed award to former president Jimmy Carter, the [Nobel] foundation was asserting the urgency of the Middle East conflict and the continuing value of seeking peace through reconciliation. The award committee’s statement noted Carter’s ‘decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts,’ but it focused especially on his mediating role in the 1978 Israeli-Egyptian peace accords at Camp David, “in itself a great enough achievement to qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize.” . . .

What the committee didn’t say was that Carter should have shared the 1978 peace prize with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, but was left out over a technicality. This year’s prize was meant to correct the error before it’s too late. The Nobel rules don’t allow posthumous awards. It was time to do right by Carter.

Sadly, Carter’s achievement has been beclouded by an ugly little squabble over Iraq and President Bush. The chairman of the prize committee gracelessly told reporters that picking Carter was intended as a swipe at Bush. Another committee member promptly insisted it was no such thing. The award statement itself was ambiguous. “In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power,” it said, “Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible [our emphasis] be resolved through mediation and international co-operation.” That’s a position Bush himself can and does endorse. Carter and Bush disagree on whether the conflict with Iraq can be resolved without war. There are people of good will on both sides of that argument. It does not diminish Carter’s achievements at Camp David or since.

Some of the grumbling, we suspect, comes from a larger argument over Carter’s philosophy of conflict resolution. There’s a school of thought, traditionally identified with the far right but lately more widespread, that says the proper way to end conflicts is not to resolve them but to win them. It’s a line of thinking that’s become popular in some segments of the Jewish community, partly because of the Holocaust, partly because of Israel’s troubles. To those folks, splitting the difference with your enemies means compromising with evil. They see every foe as Hitler and every confrontation as Munich. They’d like to see the Nobel committee adopt their way of thinking and use the peace prize to reward toughness.

But that’s precisely not the point of the peace prize. The Nobel has stood for a century as a symbol of hope, of faith in the value of peacemaking. It excites the world’s imagination because, even after the Holocaust, most of us still believe in those ideals.

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“Oh, You Mean That AOL!”

This is great. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt, formerly a partner with the law firm of Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson and whose agency is investigating past accounting practices at America Online Inc. (Now AOL-Time Warner Inc.), “represented AOL as a private lawyer in two accounting fraud cases,” according to the New York Post.

“Pitt first denied this, but an America Online official confirmed Pitt’s involvement in representing AOL in the cases in the late 1990s, before its merger with Time Warner,” reports Tim Arango in yesterday’s Post (“AOL ‘Pitt-Falls’”).

“It is my understanding that Mr. Pitt’s law firm had done work for AOL in matters relating to SEC investigations relating to AOL twice in the 1990s, and that Mr. Pitt had been part of the team that advised AOL on these matters,” America Online spokesman John Buckley told the Post.

That wasn’t Pitt’s original story when contacted by the Post. Through a spokeswoman, Christi Harlan, Pitt said he never personally represented AOL and declined to say whether Fried Frank had done so. Pitt’s representative said the SEC chairman could not “talk about any work done for a former client.”

Pitt backed away from his earlier denial after learning that AOL had gone on record confirming that he did indeed perform legal work for the Internet service provider. Harlan, who earlier maintained Pitt couldn’t discuss his past business, said, “He did represent AOL in his previous life,” which I’m assuming refers to his tenure at Fried Frank and not to some prior existence, material or spiritual.

Harlan denied Pitt was involved in structuring any deals at AOL -- the issue under investigation at the SEC -- contradicting what other sources had told the Post, and emphasized that AOL’s relationship with Pitt and Fried Frank was disclosed during his confirmation hearings.

“The representation was years and years ago,” -- actually, it was as recently as five years ago -- “and AOL continued to be a client of the firm, as I understand, and he had the disclosure in publicly available documents that AOL was a client of the firm,” said the spinning Harlan.

Citing sources, the Post reports that Pitt in 1997 helped AOL settle a claim with the SEC that resulted in a $7 million reduction in reported earnings. “The case centered on shoddy bookkeeping, with AOL booking some revenue too early from a deal with long-distance provider Tel-Save,” writes Arango.

Pitt also apparently helped AOL reach a settlement with the SEC after the agency accused the company of improperly capitalizing certain advertising expenses in 1995 and 1996, an accounting maneuver that can boost reported earnings (or minimize losses). AOL paid a $3.5 million fine to settle this matter.

Oh, and today the Post is reporting that Pitt personally represented AOL Chairman Steve Case on certain legal matters. Repeating past practice, Pitt’s spokeswoman “would not describe the work the SEC chairman did for Case personally,” according to the Post, this time “citing attorney-client privilege.”

So what goes through the mind of someone like Harvey Pitt at a time like this? “This is nothing, just some piddley crap that they’ll forget about tomorrow.” Or, “They’ll never find out what really happened.” Or, “Nobody will understand the significance of this and I can just go back to business as usual.” Or, “Screw it, President Bush will protect my lying ass. He’s as much as said so already.”

Take your pick. I know none of them makes me particularly happy.

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Thursday, October 17, 2002  

Obscure Weblog Comments Poster: 1, Bush Administration: 0

“And this news that North Korea told them 12 days ago and they were so stunned they just couldn’t inform the Congress before they voted is one of the most despicable examples of crude, dishonest power politics we’ve ever seen in this country. How anyone can continue to defend this sorry excuse for an administration is beyond me. After all, we’re only talking about nuclear war, global terrorism, and the rule of law. It’s not as if we need to worry that our foreign policy is completely incomprehensible.”

Also sprach Digby . . . einer der vielen intelligenten Kommentatoren bei Eschaton.

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Blogger Goes Snipe Hunting

Charles Murtaugh asks, “By the way, am I the only one who’s noticed that Andrew Sullivan’s recently increased visibility has provoked the emergence of a new left-wing homophobia?”

Well, I would wager to say yes, but that’s only because I haven’t the slightest idea what Murtaugh is talking about, despite having inquired to him about this very subject. And I say this respectfully, as any visitor to Murtaugh’s site will notice immediately that it’s a place for thoughtful consideration of a wide range of current topics, with a particular emphasis on hard science.

Nonetheless, if any of the Review’s readers can help me get to the root of Murtaugh’s question, I would appreciate it.

Oh, and by the way, I’m referring to the question in its entirety: both “Sullivan’s recently increased visibility,” an observation of recent trends that runs counter to all empirical evidence, and “the emergence of a new left-wing homophobia.”

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Justice At Last

I’m not exactly quick on the draw with this but Ira Einhorn this morning was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1977 murder of his girlfriend, Bryn Mawr College graduate Holly Maddux.

Einhorn, who skipped town before his first trial and spent some 20 years “on the run,” including several years on a quaint farm in the French countryside where he enjoyed skinny-dipping with his Swedish girlfriend and enjoyed, at least temporarily, the protection of his host government, received an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.

“The defendant stood stern-faced as the verdict was read. After hearing his fate, he blinked his eyes rapidly and brushed them with his hand,” report Jacqueline Soteropolous and Terry Bitman of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He declined the judge’s offer to address the court.” Naturally, defense attorney William Cannon, he of the lesbian obsession, said he would appeal the verdict.

The jury deliberated for two and one-half hours, according to media reports, a time span that I wouldn’t doubt included at least two hours of holding out just to put a good face on the deliberations. Notably, the jurors did not deliberate long enough to get lunch, a detail the significance of which will not be lost on anyone who has served on a jury.

“Judge William J. Mazzola had harsh words for Einhorn after the verdict was read, calling him ‘an intellectual dilettante who preyed on the uninitiated, uninformed, unsuspecting and inexperienced people,’” which is assuredly a great overstatement of Einhorn’s intellectual capacity.

It’s a shame Holly’s father did not live to see this day. Fred Maddux, filled with grief and ensnared by depression, committed suicide in 1988, a time when Einhorn was frolicking about Europe.

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Chomsky as “Easy Mark”

To: The Rittenhouse Review
From: Donald Johnson
Date: Oct. 14, 2002

I’m not in agreement with Noam Chomsky on a number of issues, but it seems to me that his fundamental point is correct: the United States government has been complicit in terror on a massive scale and one simply can’t say anything sensible about our foreign policy that doesn’t take this into account. His other fundamental point is that his first point is generally ignored by the mainstream press and commentators, including the liberals.

I won’t bore you with a list of American crimes but one seems particularly relevant today--the deliberate destruction of water treatment plants in the Gulf War. The New York Times reported on Oct. 6 that the Geneva Conventions might be modified. One of the possible modifications would include outlawing the deliberate destruction of water treatment plants, something I would have though already covered in the sections outlawing attacks aimed at the civilian population.

I’m going to list another in the same vein. On my own I never would have discovered that Human Rights Watch had put out a detailed study of Turkey’s brutal treatment of its Kurdish population during the mid-90s, and the American support given to that campaign. Chomsky mentioned it in a book attacking America’s Kosovo intervention. I found the study online after looking for it on the HRW website. I don’t have to agree with Chomsky about Kosovo to be grateful to him for telling his readers about America’s role in supplying weapons to Turkey to kill Kurds.

Even when he’s wrong he brings up issues that his critics prefer to ignore. Chomsky was right to point out that the U.S. government had ordered Pakistan to cease food aid to Afghanistan immediately after Sept. 11. It was reported in the New York Times. Chomsky was right to repeat the warnings of the relief organizations that a prolonged war could cause a massive famine. In fact, before the Taliban suddenly crumbled, Donald Rumsfeld said the war might drag on for as long as 23 months (i.e., just under two years). Even as it was, the cutoff in food probably caused an increase in deaths in the low tens of thousands, something you can learn from reading the Guardian (May 20, 2002), but not any American paper.

Chomsky was guilty of using overheated rhetoric (like the word “genocide”), but given America’s record in casually supporting the Iraqi sanctions without concern for the people, it was understandable. I think the war did more good than harm, even for the Afghans, but for the most part the U.S. press is too cowardly to fully discuss the costs.

Chomsky isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. But until the mainstream press and the pundits start dealing honestly with the harm that America sometimes inflicts on innocent people, I will continue to read every book and every article he puts out.

Donald Johnson

Jim Capozzola responds:

Nothing is more certain to spark correspondence from readers than a less-than-awestruck mention of Noam Chomsky, except perhaps a disparaging remark about Gore Vidal. The reasons for this I have not been able to determine, but it certainly makes for some interesting reading: some of it angry and nonsensical and some of it thoughtful and intelligent. Mr. Johnson’s letter falls into the latter group, for which I am grateful.

Now that I’ve been writing The Rittenhouse Review for six months, I should know that while the nature of this work generates quickly written takes on the events of the day, readers expect a degree of precision that is not always foremost in my mind at the moment. Such is the case here.

In a recent post about the Weekly Standard, I wrote, “[David] Brooks takes a few shots at Noam Chomsky, but who hasn’t? Frankly, I’m no fan of Chomsky, and despite his reputed brilliance, I think he’s an easy mark.”

The larger point I hoped to make with these two sentences was that Brooks had fallen into the conservative formula, or trap, of using Chomsky as the front-line whipping boy in his attack latest against liberals who oppose a war upon Iraq. This is standard fare on the other side, for Chomsky is the right wing’s great bogeyman. All a conservative writer need do is mention Chomsky’s name and the huzzahs go up from one coast to the other, from the Heritage Foundation to the Hoover Institution.

But does placing Chomsky front and center in a debate over the Bush administration’s foreign policy reflect the reality of political discussion or the debate that should be taking place? I don’t think so. Conservatives who engage in this maneuver do so first, I think, out of laziness, but more so in an attempt to write off anyone who disagrees with them. “You see,” they say, “this is the liberal viewpoint,” when it is nothing of the kind. Brooks is a consummate practitioner of this tactic, quoting, as he did, Susan Sontag and Tony Kushner, rather than taking on real-world politicians or even the academicians specializing in foreign policy and international relations, a group of men and women with greater credibility among those of us who discuss policy outside the framework of the Modern Language Association and The Militant.

Chomsky is an extremist and I have little doubt he is happy to be regarded as such. Extremists play their own particular role in politics, defining the edges and establishing the broadest parameters of debate. And while you are correct that Chomsky raises issues American policy makers, and indeed Americans, would like to ignore, his overblown rhetoric (some of which seeps into your letter), his propensity to exaggerate, and his predilection for serving as prosecution, judge, and jury has undermined his value as a critic of American foreign policy. It is all too easy to find “gotcha” quotes from Chomsky that, either within or taken out of context, make him sound like a demented clown with a soft spot for Third World tyrants. “He speaks truth to power,” or some other similar formulation, is often put forward in Chomsky’s defense. Well, that’s one way of looking at it. “He speaks his truth to the choir” or “He speaks his truth to the wind” would be others.

I wish you the best in your effort to continue reading “every book and every article he puts out.” I can’t help but wonder, however, if that includes Chomsky’s work on such topics as syntax, semantics, bare phrase structure, and generative grammar. After all, some of that stuff is pretty tough going.

Thank you for visiting the site and for writing to The Rittenhouse Review.

Yours truly,
James M. Capozzola

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