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The Judge Sure Is Funky… | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

The Judge Sure Is Funky…

My new Think Again column is called “What Howard Kurtz Thinks You Don’t Need to Know” and it is here.

My Nation column is called “On the Other Hand... Nothing,” and it’s here.

I have a longish article in this week’s Nation on the Washington Post's conservative blogger problem focusing on the misdeeds of one Jennifer Rubin and that’s here.

I will be speaking about liberalism and The Cause at Bookhampton on Main Street in East Hampton, Saturday, at 8. More information here.

Two things: John Kenneth Gailbraith once proposed a law that every time an economist made a prediction, his or her previous predictions should be published alongside it. I thought of that wise advice when I received this press notice from Time: “TIME's Mark Halperin: "Republicans Look Like A Very Solid Bet To Retain the House…

But remember when, in the run-up to the 2006 Congressional elections, Halperin predicted that Bush would be "back over 53% any day now" and warned "If I were them [Democrats], I'd be scared to death about November's elections." Well don’t feel bad, neither does Halperin.

Also, don’t ask me why, but we are still waiting for The New York Observer to publish a retraction and apology for misleading its readers with this silly column.

Alter-reviews:
Who does this man look like minus ten years and I’m guessing more beers etc., than I can imagine? Also, why is Southside putting out an album with the same title as an album by Steve van Zandt of about twenty years ago? I dunno. But it’s called “Men Without Women,” and when I caught a show by Southside and the Poor Fools at Stephen’s Talkhouse in Amagansett last week, I had—like everyone else there—a great time. The Poor Fools are a ragtagish looking group of excellent and enormously versatile musicians. Four different people played the drums at one time or another. Three played the trombone. The songs were a mixture of old soul standards, some serious deep cuts and a few Southside numbers, including “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” “The Fever,” “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” I got my request which was “Walk Away, Renee,” and a georgous version it was. (Nobody requested “Into the Mystic,” which would have been number two, unfortunately.) We had a nice little talk after the show (with my nephew Adam) and I put up Adam’s slightly doofusy photo of us both wearing orange shirts after the show on Facebook here.

— Oh wait: here’s the answer to the “Men Without Women” question, thanks to Southside’s site on the Intertubes:

You have a new CD coming out. Can you talk a little about that?
There’s a number of things I’m working on, but [the CD] is based on an album that Stevie Van Zandt … put out in the 1980s with [his solo band] Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. He put that out about 25 years ago and I had forgotten that we recorded a number of those songs as the Jukes, but then we scrapped them and didHearts of Stone[the Jukes’ third album, whichRolling Stonemagazine placed in the top-100 albums of the 1970s and ’80s] instead. Then I heard the record for the first time in years and thought, ‘God, this is great,’ so we did the whole thing live [at Asbury Park’s venerable Stone Pony last July] and we’re going to put out the record. Stevie came down and sang some songs, and kind of gave us his approval of the project. We had six horn players and it just sounded so good I thought ‘We might as well put it out.’ I don’t normally think that way because I’m never really that happy with what I do live. I always think it sounds frantic and crazy, but this really sounds good. It’s 10 songs from his record calledMen Without Women— which comes from a compilation by Ernest Hemingway — and then there’s three that Steve and I do.

Let’s all buy it.

And here are Bruce and Southside doing “Talk to Me” in Madrid.

Also, I wanted to put in a plug for Jonathan Franzen’s new essay collection, Farther Away, to which I’ve been listening to on CD. Ok, so I skip a lot of the bird watching part. But my admiration for Franzen’s prose just grows and grows. His musing on the death of David Foster Wallace is tough-minded and soft-hearted at the same time. There’s nobody writing today I’d rather read, and nobody who captures the various psychological complications of our political moment more accurately to my mind, which is why the final cultural portrait in The Cause—the one after the one on Bruce—is on Franzen.

Now here’s Reed.

Odor in the Court
by Reed Richardson
So it is decided—I, like many others, was wrong about guessing the outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. (Which just goes to show that one doubts Nancy Pelosi’s predictions, if not her exact vote-counting skills, at one’s peril.) Three cheers for that and, in this lone instance, two for John Roberts, who didn’t roll over quite as easy as one thinks. In reality, though, that there was ever even a doubt about Roberts’ vote shows how far the discourse, both in this country and in this current Court, has shifted to the right.

Undoubtedly, it is a victory for the president. More importantly, though, it is a victory for the tens of millions of Americans who might have lost or never gained health coverage due to Obamacare’s repeal. This is especially true since the esteemed opposition party has unceremoniously dropped two-thirds of its three-word health care legislative strategy. But what remains clear from this Court’s legal emanations this past week is that it still has the unmistakable whiff of unabashed, right-wing score-settling about it.

Originally, I was going to entitle this post “When Nino Met Sammy” for two reasons. First, it was to honor the passing, this week, of a great writer. Although I can’t say I was a huge fan of Ms. Ephron’s films, I still have a soft spot in my heart for this hilarious, spot-on scene of hers (“TRI-NI LO-PEZ?!”), one of the few redeeming moments in “Sleepless in Seattle.” But mostly my title's play on Ephron's most famous movie made sense because history will mark the beginning of this current Court’s hard-edged lurch to the right as that moment in 2005 when Samuel Alito joined with Antonin Scalia on our nation’s highest bench.

I mean, just look at what else we got from the Court this past week.

On Monday, we were treated to Justice Scalia’s fire-and-brimstone, anti-Obama rant about the Arizona SB 1070 case. You know, the one where he found salient the 19th-century emigration patterns of freed blacks and appeared convinced that our country was still governed by the Articles of Confederation.

A more modern twist on Scalia’s backward thinking came in the form of Justice Alito’s icy oral dissent(via Pierce) in a case about the propriety of sentencing juveniles to life without parole. That’s the one where Alito complained that the 14-year-old complainant was too sympathetic and not typical of the many murders being committed by "thrill-killing" 17-year-olds, the grisly statistics of which he was all too willing to fearmonger with. That neither of these arguments didn’t win the day in those particular cases are welcome news, but it wasn’t all legal peaches and cream for liberals.

For good measure, the Court’s five usual suspects summarily imposed their money=speech Citizens United dictum onto the states this week and, in that decision, Scalia’s vociferous defense of state’s rights and the Tenth Amendment, somehow, didn’t come into play. To be fair, the conservatives on the court might have been a flummoxed by that case, as it pitted two of their favorite causes against one another. In the end, though, they kept their anti-democratic streak intact by siding with corporations instead of the state legislature of Montana.

Though Roberts has drawn much of the spotlight in recent big cases as the swing vote and author of the majority opinions, Jeffrey Toobin deftly explained a couple of weeks ago in the New Yorker that the Citizens United case became the landmark ruling that it is thanks to the seeds planted by Scalia during oral arguments. Long known for his pugnacious style in grilling respondents, Scalia’s tone has been amped up since like-minded colleague Alito replaced moderate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Then, in the last few months, Scalia has surpassed even that, transforming into something like the Court’s unchecked conservative id, spewing right-wing radio talking points and not so subtly signaling to potential conservative litigants that his ‘originalism’ is nothing but a pretense and his vote for their pet causes is all but assured.

Ordinarily, one would expect this kind of raw partisanship to draw plenty of opprobrium from the Beltway crowd, but since Scalia is a) a conservative, b) on the Supreme Court, and c) enjoys a reputation as a ‘brilliant’ mind, the likelihood of him getting called out for his naked intellectual dishonesty was low. Fortunately, I was wrong again this week.

Indeed, something seems to have gotten into the water over at the Washington Post. Before executive editor Marcus Brauchli gave a mighty stiffarm to the Romney campaign’s mewling about a story on Bain Capital’s fondness for shipping jobs overseas, it was putting some much-deserved rhetorical screws to Scalia. First, liberal Post columnist E.J. Dionne, not known as a bomb-thrower, went all-in on the Court’s reactionary justice. (The no-beating-around-the-bush headline: “Justice Scalia Must Resign.”) Then the Post’s editorial page got into the act, noting that Scalia’s recent “sneer[ing],” “muddled riffs,” and “lapses of judicial temperament,” serve to endanger “the legitimacy of the high court.” Sure, the Post is just playing catch-up to the American people here, but it’s heartening to see nonetheless.

My only fear is that the Roberts Court’s ruling on Obamacare will lull the press back into complacency. But to dismiss Scalia’s increasingly political approach to jurisprudence as the mere rantings of an often-harmless eccentric Justice is to underestimate his broader influence—which he exerts even in cases where he’s in the minority. Scalia is playing to win a long game in the Court in an almost unprecedented way, and which no liberal Justice is trying to match. For the media to go back to blithely ignoring this is to for it be asking to be caught by surprise once again, when, for example, the “Constitution in Exile” folks start taking on the policies of the New Deal. Perhaps most ominously, Scalia has one particular fan whose appreciation for his judicial style could end up re-aligning this nation’s social compact forever. His name? Mitt Romney.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

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