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Not-so-Slacker Friday | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Not-so-Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column entitled “Economist, Heal Thyself,” here.

And I did a Daily Beast column over the weekend called “No Bounce for Obama,” here.

And the responses to "Kabuki Democracy" continue to come at a pretty fast and furious pace, alas the vast majority of them focus on the very first sentence of the piece and ignore the other 16,990 words in it.

I’ll save any additional responses for the book version. Meanwhile…

A few things before we get to Pierce. First of all, congratulations to the New York Times on the announcement of an ethics trial of my corrupt congressman, Charlie Rangel on twenty-eight different counts of various forms of payoffs and false tax filings. After all, Rangel is not only a liberal but he was a powerful liberal as well as a powerful symbol of black political power. Now, he’s a stereotypical example of clubhouse political corruption, which many racists will interpret as particular to blacks. It isn’t. It’s power, but the fact is, many liberal politicians of color have been given a pass for much of their careers because liberals have been so quick to throw around the charge of racism at anyone who challenges their cozy political arrangements. In 2009, the Sunlight Foundation documented twenty-eight instances in which Rangel omitted assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000 that were either purchased, sold or held from his financial disclosures.

Like the Times, I am sometimes accused of being in the pocket of the Democratic establishment, both by holier-than-thou leftists and right-wing apparatchiks. I’d like to point out that the very first column I published in The Nation after the 2008 election was to call on Obama to repudiate the corrupt hack Rangel. And the most depressing day of the 2008 election for me was the day I received an e-mail from the Obama campaign insisting that I “vote for Charlie Rangel for change.” Read more from Sunlight's Reporting Group, including links to his fundraisers.

Yesterday, I responded to Jeffrey Goldberg’s post about my leaked comments from Journolist. Because they lacked any context whatever, I asked him to link to them on his post, and sent it to him as an e-mail. But he has not done so. Shall I say I’m surprised? I shan’t. But because of Goldberg’s post, in addition to the right-wing hate mail, I’ve been getting a lot of huffy e-mails from people who sound like they think they’re my mother, instructing me on what a disappointment I am to them, and demanding that I respond personally to their concerns about my character. Sorry, ain’t gonna happen. Do your homework, folks. I responded yesterday. Now get on with your lives. (But on the topic of the leaked listserve posts, do see Ezra Klein’s response to Tucker Carlson here)

Too Top Secret

Greetings Altercators,

Reed Richardson here. I’m an Altercator from way back in the MSNBC/version 1.0 days, and have been an occasional contributor over the years, but now I’ll be helping out Eric with the running the blog and posting a bit more frequently myself.

If you haven’t had a chance to read through the Washington Post’s exhaustive and rather frightening series “Top Secret America,” it’s worth checking out all three parts.

Unfortunately, the “Top Secret” series' unnerving revelations were intentionally undermined (when they weren’t being completely buried under the cable-TV frenzy sparked by the execrable Andrew Brietbart’s misleading video of USDA administrator Shirley Sherrod) by a conservative punditocracy intent on a) belittling the reporting as nothing more than clever or b) ignoring the reporting altogether to instead suggest but of course never specify, bias on the part of William Arkin, one of the Poststory’s co-authors, because of his personal political beliefs.

Ably assisting this latter piece of right-wing framing was this unfortunate Politico story, which included this ridiculously unsupported and weaselly statement: “Arkin, according to his Post biography, later did stints at Greenpeace International and Human Rights Watch — activist associations that might not pass the classic standard of journalistic objectivity that has been much debated in the wake of Post blogger David Weigel’s resignation from the Post.” (italics mine).

To his credit, Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli stood up for Arkin’s co-byline role, noting: “Because he had been working with us regularly before this began, and because his previous roles are fairly well-known and transparent, and because they didn’t really play into the research he was doing with this story, we were quite comfortable with his participation.” (again, italics mine). However, compare Brauchli’s level-headedness standard here for Arkin, whose previous criticism of the U.S. military and intelligence communities were part and parcel of his expertise on the subject, to his reasons for accepting Weigel’s resignation last month after that reporter’s impolitic comments on JournOList became public: “Dave did excellent work for us,” Brauchli said. But, “we can't have any tolerance for the perception that people are conflicted or bring a bias to their work. . . . There's abundant room on our Web site for a wide range of viewpoints, and we should be transparent about everybody's viewpoint.”

That a story as important to our democracy as "Top Secret America" can still be published is a victory for journalism no doubt, but the fact that it can be so easily steamrolled out of national conversation by an editorially capricious media, elements of which are even evident at the newspaper that published the same story, speaks to a larger war being lost.

CHARLES PIERCE
NEWTON, MA

Hey Doc:    

"Matthew stood by the wall and watched his love below/Her pale hair came in rings down below her shoulders. 

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Funky Penguin (Part I)": Dennis Lee and the Notables:  If it's OK with the White House political staff, I wouldl ike to say unequivocally that I love, love, love New Orleans, and I don't give a flying fuck what Glenn Beck or Megyn Kelly thinks of that.      

Part The First: Oh, goody. I'd almost forgotten about this manufactured outrage, and who better to bring it back to life than a sick-wife-dumping political failure? If you want to know precisely when political journalism went completely off the freaking trolley, go back and read the coverage of this megalomaniac back in 1994. Now, he's scrambling to keep up with Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods. I hope they both run. The debates between intellectual vacuity and intellectual pretension will be a joy to behold.  

Part The Second: The new PBS American Masters show on Merle Haggardis pretty damn good. I rarely go a week without thanking in my heart James Ryan -- MIT economist, itinerant harp player, and barbecue genius -- for being the person who introduced me to "Mama Tried" on the jukebox of the late, lamented HooDoo BBQ in Kenmore Square, lo these 30-odd years ago. Also, nostalgic shout-out to Lily, Greatest Of All Waitresses.    

Part The Third: And, anyway, game over, kids. If Willie says she's a hero, she's a damn hero, and the rest of you can go to freaking Conroe and argue about it.  And, note to AOL News, there is enough sociopathy inherent in this mess without your having to go out and solicit the opinion of sociopaths long past their sell-by date. Ruth Marcus guarantees that the dinner invites will keep rolling in. (Back in the summer of 1998, I met both Vilsacks at a party and they seemed like nice folks and, truth be told, if Minnesota hadn't gone and elected a professional wrestler, Vilsack's win would have been the gubernatorial upset of the year. When he became such a public wanker eludes me.)  In fact, we've clearly reached the point in the story where it's customary for Andrew Breitbart to throw up in a cab and go home.      

Part The Fourth: You may have missed it while the other sewage was¨reaching high tide, but Tucker Carlson, the least excusable person in public life, has put all that venture capital being sucked up by his little vanity project behind publishing e-mails from the now-defunct JournoList. (Ed. note: I was not a member and, had I been asked, I would have declined on the principle of inclusion first enunciated by Groucho Marx.) What I would like to know from either Tucker or any of the various unemployables on whom he is squandering OPM is whether or not the writers in question actually, you know, wrote about those things that have so exercised the folks at his shiny new wankfarm, or if the folks on JournoList simply bitched about things among themselves. Did any of the Evil Geniuses actually write a piece advocating that the FCC go medieval on Fox News? Did one of them actually call Fred Barnes a racist in print somewhere? If not, here is no news here, not that Tucker ever would notice. Why doesn't he just sit down at a Starbucks on Capitol Hill and copy down what people are saying at the next table?   

Part The Fifth: Can't they just give Dana Priest the Pulitzer now and avoid the rush next spring? Jeebus, what a job she did. Who knew that the intelligence community had so much in common with a public-works program here in Massachusetts? I half-expect we'll see a photo of 12 analysts, standing around a bank of computers, all of them leaning on shovels.    

Part The Penultimate: Great get over at Josh's joint. Only a fool believes anything happens by accident these days. That said, Josh should stop shopping at Ye Olde House Of Horseshit  analogies. Holy mother of god, David Berkowitz?      

Part The Ultimate: Don't talk about class in this country. Ever. Joe McCarthy wrung those issues out of the national political dialogue 50 years ago, and they haven't managed to seep back in to any great extent. To intimate that this is a class-based society is to undermine the pious bullshit of both parties. To admit that this country is perfectly willing to make peace with intractable poverty -- and that it's coming to be perfectly willing to make peace with chronic unemployment edging toward double figures --  is to inject spiders into the cotton-candy of ournational county fair and to contribute to the harshing of various mellows all up and down the mean streets of Georgetown. Worse, though, is to point out that poor and struggling white folks have more in common with poor and struggling black folks than they do with the wealthy and successful white folks who play them perennially for suckers. That's the truth that so much of the country's institutional racism was designed to crush to earth every time it rose. (The best history of it that I know is Diane McWhorter' luminous and magisterial Carry Me Home, about how the Birmingham gentry ginned up hate and fear among poor white people so that the latter would do the real dirty work as regards to fighting against integration.) On that field, pointing out that poverty and economic exploitation are admirably biracial in who they victimize, you are dead -- quite literally in the caseof Martin Luther King, Jr., who was working that territory when someone shot him in the throat.    

That's also the part of Shirley Sherrod's story that's getting lost in the meta media hooley that's broken out in the last week. That was very clearly the subject of the talk she gave that started the whole thing rolling. (It is far more about class divisions and reaching across them than it is a personal narrative of racial reconciliation, though it is that, too.) Hey, she is telling them -- and now, us -- we're all stuck in ¨rigged game, and it's not getting any better. It's getting worse, the watery new financial-regulation bill notwithstanding. "Stop being such easy marks," she tells us. "Stand with each other, like we did, like I am doing now." She doesn't want her job back. Now that's she's got everyone's attention, she'd like to see some changes made. Good for her. My god, to borrow a line from Jack Nicholson, did these people fuck with the wrong Marine.

P.S. -- This one goes out to Tom Vilsack and Jim Messina, which latter I liked better when he was singing with Kenny Loggins.

The mail:

Greg Panfile
Scarsdale, NY 

The disappointment in Obama is not caused by a flaw in his character but by two things: money and Connecticut. You can't pass bills without votes, and those votes depend on fundraising, and that fundraising is corrupted, ergo the votes are corrupted.  You can't pass any of these bills without the execrable JoeMentum Lieberman, who represents, in this order: 1. a foreign country 2. insurance companies 3. defense contractors 4. his own ego 5. his citizen constituents.  The system is garbage in, garbage, out, and it is not Obama putting the garbage in. He can't be FDR because it's 10% (or 15%) unemployment, not 25%, and people aren't selling apples in the streets.  The votes are not there, not yet anyway, hopefully it won't get so bad that they will be!  In the meantime, scoring his presidency a year and a half into it, with two wars, a deep recession, and the lovely parting gift of an open gash in the earth spewing forth ancient liquid carbon... well, it is a tad premature.  The government never had people capable of stopping oil leaks a mile below the ocean just sitting around waiting to be deployed by Obama, leaving 'writers' like MoDo to complain he wasn't doing a good job channeling Robert Young in 1954.  Well excuse me, as Steve Martin might say.  You don't read much about how wonderful the Prez is now that the leak is stopped, though. Scoring this election in July, given Obama's essentially hoopster operating system, is also very premature.  The action will be in the fall when real people with real lives, as opposed to residents of the vast cable chatter wasteland and the farther precincts if Blogistan start paying attention to Congress.  At that point it is fairly certain that Obama and the Dems will pay much more attention to job creation and helping the unemployed, trapping the Republicans into either going along with that (and defusing it as a political issue) or blocking it, and taking the heat.  Y'all need to take the summer off like in the old days and pay attention when the kids are back in school and the leaves start to turn.  If the Prez et al stay passive then, yeah, they're toast.  But the score only counts when the clock runs out; till then it's just a temporary state of affairs.  The Republicans have played themselves into exhaustion and foul trouble and lead by four points at halftime.  Two three pointers and it turns around.  Just you watch. 

Stephen Carver
Los Angeles

"Context matters."  Truer words have never been spoken (regarding politics). It's amazing how I agree with you when you say it, yet disagree with Glenn Beck when he said the exact same thing on his show regarding the Shirley Sherrod incident on July 20 or thereabouts.Not only does context matter, but the veracity of the person speaking (or writing) the phrase also matters.  Needless to say, you beat Mr. Beck hands down on this one.As a proud liberal who grew up in the Buckle of the Bible Belt (Austin, TX), I completely understood your comment regarding the "NASCAR" folks after the Obama election.  While not a huge fan of NASCAR (I find it pretty boring to watch), I do enjoy country music, fireworks on the 4th, and some flag waving.  ("The Star Spangled Banner" usually makes me cry with pride.) As I used to argue with my very conservative father: my liberalism is based in the concept that we can make this country better.  It's good as it is; in many ways, it IS the best country on the planet, and in other ways, it needs to be improved.  Equality for all is essential if we are to call ourselves one people. Discrimination of any form needs to be eliminated.  Religious tolerance must be the goal for all religions, even for those who don't have a faith.  Looking out for the less fortunate among us, whether it be through disability, financial hardship, or personal failure, is essential to a compassionate country.That is what people like Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter and their ilk don't get.  It's not about "middle America" versus the coasts.  It's about ALL Americans being equal.  Those conservative elites (and almost all elites are conservative) are just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of every "true-blooded" American...while they steal us blind.

MJ Roberts
NYC 

Okay: 1) They ARE fucking retards, and 2) Goldberg is a worm.I especially like his bullshit about how he loves NASCAR and "I have not run into racists, anti-Semites or conspiracy-mongerers at NASCAR events, either." I'm sure this will entice hordes of the oil-stained to his ridiculous site where they'll encounter a million topics that they'll find more or less incomprehensible.

Frederic B. McNally
Philadelphia, PA  

Let us face the facts that if a corporate controlled media isn't supporting the most far right people, then they haven't attended a training session in how to bust unions, pay the lowest wages, use unpaid interns, misclassify people as salaried to avoid paying overtime, and pollute with impunity until caught when their lawyers bargain it down to a small fine as the cost of doing business. Always socialize the problems and keep the profits when times are good. Declare bankruptcy to stiff your suppliers and praise the concept of a new beginning as a limited liability corporation. I'd rather see Lloyds of London forced onto corporations so if money is lost, the shareholders must pay into the corporation to cover the losses. If you make money you profit but if you lose money you only pay if the shareholders are wiped out completely? General Motors is too big to fail, so wipe out the old shareholders and now ask the money managers to invest in the stock of the new General Motors. I'd love to see the Biblical Jubilee every seven years to wipe out my debts. 

Aaron Perhach
Forty Fort, Pennsylvania  

Dear Dr. Alterman,

What a thrill it is for me to be thoroughly vindicated! Despite the fact that you called me a "jerk" for politely asking you to apologize for writting "What Liberal Media?" 7 years ago, its obvious now that the basic premise of your book has been completely discredited. Ezra Kline's "Journolist 400" has become your Waterloo. 

Yours truly, 

Aaron Perhach 

Forty Fort, Pennsylvania 

Eric replies: “What a jerk…”

T. ODell Langley
British Columbia

Imagine being by the water, an inlet of the Salish Sea, Eagles soar overhead, snowcapped peaks frame the cityscape. Seven stages of musicians from around the world perform ten hours a day for three days. Luckily I didn't have to imagine it -that was the Vancouver Folk Festival last weekend. That's Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada for the geographically challenged. A couple of highlights for me: Bob Brozman  - a guitar god! Utah Phillips meets Rev. Gary Davis on steroids. Self-described migrant worker from a dying empire, he segues from Hawaian to ragtime to Madagascaran to delta blues with a few bars of Purple Haze thrown in for humour. Don't miss him if you get a chance. Peatbog Faeries are a world folk fusion ensemble from the Isle of Man (Scotland). Bagpies and fiddles plus banjo, electric bass and horns create a sound like no other. Finally and most satisfying were the many times various acts sharing the stage invited each other to jam. Sometimes for the entire set. Wow. If you are a world or acoustic music fan, add this festival to your bucket list and I hope you make it this lifetime.

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