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I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues… | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues…

We've got a new Think Again here. It's called "Cable News Blues." My Nation column, comparing Jon Stewart with yes, Edward R. Murrow, is here, and I did a post about Obama's press conference for The Daily Beast, here. Oh and I did an interview with TPMTV about the Israel Lobby here. Oh, and if you didn't make it into the Nation column, here is the key line:

PS: Don't tell my publisher, but Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals is out in paperback

The Beast piece comes up in this interview with CNN's Jack Cafferty here:

MACNICOL: There's an article in the Daily Beast today by Eric Alterman that, sort of, suggests that Obama has a tendency for long term thinking, which, I think we saw in the press conference last night. And the press is so trained to report on, sort of, snap judgment that they're not equipped to report well, sort of, on how he's thinking and the big picture.

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know if it's the press. We're a nation of people who are very impatient. This is the only country in the world where you stand in front of your microwave oven and say hurry up. You know, we have no patience when it comes to almost anything. We expect the answers to our problems yesterday and we don't want to be bothered with the fact that it might take some time and require some hard work. And the media simply are a reflection of the way people think about these things. It's- I'm not so sure it's the media. That's convenient for everyone to say, "Well, it's the media." But the fact of the matter is the American public is an impatient group of people and always has been.

What I find so funny, and so revealing about Cafferty's statement is that he is just making shit up. When he says "You know, we have no patience when it comes to almost anything. We expect the answers to our problems yesterday and we don't want to be bothered with the fact that it might take some time and require some hard work. And the media simply are a reflection of the way people think about these things." He offers nor presents a shred of evidence and yet for him the question is solved. The quality of cable news sucks, his colleague Ed Henry asks a series of stupid questions of the president which, if taken seriously, would make it impossible for anyone to govern this nation correctly, somehow it's our fault. In fact, polls demonstrate that Americans are a great deal more patient with Obama's efforts to fix the mess he was left by the Bush administration than is anyone with cable mike, but Cafferty's got it all solved on the basis of…um what?   Even scarier is the fact that, as Matt Yglesias points out, these guys think they're doing a great job. One silly gotcha after another and not one question about Iraq, Iran, Pakistan or Afghanistan; only the guy from AFP asks about the Israeli Palestinian issue and the guy from Univision asks about Mexico and here, these guys are doing advanced yoga to pin a bunch of medals on their own backs. It would both sad and funny, were it not dangerous.  And it's one more reason that "our" Ed Murrow is a comedian, not one of these so-called "journalists."

From Danielle Ivory, American News Project

Upwards of 39,000 contractors may have unauthorized access to military bases, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On March 12, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Rep. C. W. "Bill" Young (R-FL) of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense grilled army officials about a recent audit by the Inspector General at the Department of Defense, which found that contractors had been granted Common Access Cards (CACs) after undergoing inadequate background checks. 

The IG reported that checks did not comply with Homeland Security standards, which require all contractors seeking access to military installments to have at least the equivalent of a National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI).  KBR hired Kroll Background America, Inc. to perform background checks on some contractors deployed to Southwest Asia.  In most cases, these contractors were not subjected to an FBI (or equivalent) name check, or even asked to provide police or employment records.  And they received CACs anyway. 

The DOD insisted this wasn't a serious problem, and told ANP that all contractors were fully vetted (paper worked, fingers printed, eyeballs scanned, and so forth) by the military.

But Pratap Chatterjee, author of Halliburton's Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War, told ANP in an email exchange that thoroughly vetting most contractors in Iraq would be a difficult task, regardless of whether the job is outsourced to KBR or performed by the military itself.  For one thing, there are so many contractors, "It is important to note that the government simply does not have the capacity to do this anymore even in the US," Chatterjee wrote.  "Today it would be impossible for the government to do this without nationalizing the company or canceling work worth hundreds of millions of dollars and hiring thousands of new workers.  Or they can tighten up the contracting rules, auditing and oversight."

During the past decade, the Department of Defense has more than doubled its spending on contractor services, promising about $200 billion for the fiscal year 2008 alone. As of October 2008, the DOD estimated that there were more than 230,000 contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, far exceeding the number of military personnel stationed there and still growing.  And while the number of contractors has exploded to more than three times what it was eight years ago, the number of contractor oversight officers has remained constant. 

"Well, if you don't oversee a contract properly, you will have problems," Chatterjee wrote. "In any case, it would have been impossible for KBR to do security clearances of most of their staff as they were from countries where police records are non-existent.  No military agency could have done this and hired 40,000 third country nationals."

In other words, doing a thorough background check can be tricky when there's no official background to check.  The bulk of KBR's contractors are third country nationals, recruited from places like India, Sri Lanka, and Fiji, where police records aren't always dependable.  So, even with strict rules (or even a biometric scanning policy, which the army has claimed to enforce), vetting potential workers is a problem.

"If you have impossible rules, like you can only hire someone who has a five year police record, you are inviting fraud," Chatterjee wrote.  "Anyone from India can pay $20 to get a clean police record."

To view the multimedia ANP/Huffington Post story by David Murdock and Danielle Ivory, click here.

In case your wondering what not-blogging leaves time for, here's a recent list of this not-blogger's activities, in this, alas, the greatest musical week of my life, or at least since 1979 when I took a week off from school, and saw two No-Nukes shows, the Who and the Clash.

My Musical (Nine-day) Week:

Thursday: Clapton, Allman Bros, Beacon, Row D
Friday: Clapton, Allman Bros, Row C
Saturday: (Nephew's Bar Mitzvah in DC, DJ,)
Sunday: (asleep by nine on account of having to be at nephew's bar mitzvah in DC early in the morning, having seen Clapton and the Allmans the night before)Monday: Neil Diamond at a benefit at NYU
Tuesday: Bruce in Asbury Park (!), 3000 seat hall
....
Saturday Allman Brothers with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Row A

(P.S. Does not include Fleetwood Mac at Nassau, previous Friday, which was ok, but only because I'd never seen them before. You can save your money on that one if you want my recommendation.)

Want to see some setlists? Here is what Clapton and the Allmans did Thursday night:

11. Key To The Highway w/ Eric Clapton, guitar & vocals
12. Dreams w/ Eric Clapton, guitar
13. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad w/ Eric Clapton, guitar & vocals
14. Little Wing w/ Eric Clapton, guitar & vocals
15. Anyday w/ Eric Clapton, Susan Tedeschi, vocals
Encore: 16 Layla w/ Eric Clapton, guitar & vocals; Danny Louis, piano

For Friday substitute "Stormy Monday" and "Elizabeth Reed" for "Anyday,"

Here is what Bruce did Tuesday night:

Badlands
Outlaw Pete
My Lucky Day
No Surrender
Out in the Street
Working on a Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Good Eye
Darlington County
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom of Days
Lonesome Day (with Jay Weinberg)
Radio Nowhere (w/ J.W.)
Born to Run (w/ J.W.)

* * *

Hard Times
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Neil Diamond sang "I am, I said," "Sweet Caroline" and one other song I forget.

Ok let's see what's in the Alter-review file.         

Depending on the kind of person you are, I'd say it's a close race between the release of the expanded Collector's Editions of the first three Radiohead albums by EMI and the release of the first season of Rhoda from Shout! Factory. Radiohead is the best band of the nineties and while you should already have the non-collectors' editions of these albums--Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer--the extras are particularly generous in each case. Pablo Honey's "Collectors Edition" features the original album on disc one, and demos, rarities, live performance recordings and a 1992 BBC Radio One session on disc two. The "Special Collectors Edition" DVD adds four promotional music videos, the band's 1993 debut Top Of The Pops performance, and nine live recordings from their May 1994 London Astoria concert. The Bends' "Collectors Edition" features the original album on disc one, and EPs with rarities and a 1994 BBC Radio session on disc two. The "Special Collectors Edition" DVD adds five promotional music videos, 1995 and ‘96 TV performances from Top Of The Pops, Later with Jools Holland and 2 Meter Session, and eight filmed performances from their May 1994 London Astoria concert. OK Computer's "Collectors Edition" features the original album on disc one, and EPs with rarities and live recordings and a 1997 BBC Radio One "Evening Session" performance on disc two. The "Special Collectors Edition" DVD adds three promotional music videos and a May 1997 TV performance from Later with Jools Holland.

We never got this stuff with the Beatles--at least not officially, and these extras more than justify the cost of these cds. I guess the folks at EMI are more generous--or more desperate foryour cash--than they were in the days of the FF.

As for Rhoda, well, there was not enough of her on MTM; here she moved back into the city and helped bring funny, Jewish to America decades before Seinfeld--not as funny, just as Jewish…) This first season won Golden Globe Awards for Best Comedy Series and Best Actress in a Comedy. Valerie Harper won the Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy that year. And she's waited too long to come back. It has the typical featurette extras and the like but the show itself is the real attraction. SF! Has also brought back the first season of The Paper Chase which did not work for me at all, and a bunch of shows I've never heard of. They must be expanding their operations in a big way. I had hoped to review the three DVD set of Pete Townshend's "Other Ball" concerts but they've not shown up yet. You know what is great, though, speaking of that? The Who's 1977 show at Killburn, wherever that was. The show was one of Keith Moon's last and filmed for the movie The Kids Are Alright but it's much better than the movie. I got this on blueray and got rid of all my old Who DVDs. This was the only one I needed.

Also, Cassandra Wilson has released a collection of her pop covers called Closer to You. It's genuinely sublime. The range this woman has is breathtaking.

The mail:

Name:    P-A Panon
Hometown:  Vancouver, BC

Hi Eric,

I don't know if you've read Dan Conover's thought on the future ofnews journalism. While I appreciate and agree with your assessment ofthe need in a democracy for an effective and accurate news-gatheringfourth estate, Dan comes up with some interesting prognosticationsbased on the economic realities facing new reporting. I'd beinterested to know if you'd read his musings and what comments youmay have regarding his observations.

http://xark.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/03/news-futures-a-whats-next-overview.html

Regarding your less frequent updating, while I'm also disappointed,I'm not too surprised. While there's certainly plenty happening inthe news, there's probably less egregious yellow journalism andExecutive constitutional violations that need to be exposed. For atleast the next little while, the abysmally poor reporting on the Bushadministration's activities has led to an American populace that isfinally somewhat more skeptical of what they read in the mainstreampress. Some of the MSM finally realize that their "trustiness" fundwith the public is badly over-leveraged and are trying to improve their balance sheets. I won't be doing any more crying over any Rupert Murdoch properties than I did over Lord Convict Black.

Name:    Corky Bucik
Hometown:  Atlanta, GA

Eric,

I was extremely surprised to find out that you write Altercation forfree. I thought for sure you would have to pay The Nation something.

Name:    Stephen Carver
Hometown:  Los Angeles

Dr. A,

I don't worry about you being lazy when you're not being paid forwriting. Hell, we're all lazy when we're not getting paid. However,you always bring an insightful view to the issues of the day, andthere are many of us who appreciate your insights. If I could pay youfor them, I would, but you're waaaay too expensive for me.

Name:    Terry
Hometown:  Cheyenne

Is there a way you could have a subscription situation going on thatwould be lucrative enough to sustain your writing here? I think thereare a lot of us who would support it.

Eric replies: I've gotten a lot of mail of this sort and I very much appreciate it. The truth is, I never really considered trying to restart Altercation on my own. Even if I could raise enough money to justify the time--which I frankly doubt in this economic atmosphere--the fact is that I am burned out on this blogging thing.  I did it virtually every day for six and a half years, and while I miss the money, I'm much happier person not to have a deadline breathing down my neck every single day. I also think the rest of my work--my columns, my books, my teaching, and I suppose my parenting--suffers from trying to do everything at once. And I'd like to smell a few more roses--or at least go to a few more movies in the afternoon. Anyway, in addition to what I've been doing, I think I'll be contributing a post or so a week to the Daily Beast from now on, so that will fix me for whatever is burning in my gut and pay for a few Bruce shows on this tour. I'll keep doing AC once a week, to round things up, review stuff and, I hope, provide Pierce (and others) with the platform for the excellent readership I've accumulated over the years. But again, thanks for caring. 

Name:    Timothy Barrett
Hometown:  Louisville, Ky

I am compelled to talk about Fox News, and this troubles me greatly.I have watched many more interviews lately that elevate playgroundtaunting than ever before. Laura Ingraham of Fox Business News (apathetic affair in every way) is a coarse and horrid person. Sherecently interviewed Caroline Murray, whom Ingraham described as a"Washington activist". Murray is actually much more than that. She isa bona fide community organizer.

According to The Valley Advocate's Maureen Turner, Murray is aveteran community organizer, the executive director of Alliance toDevelop Power, a member of the Center for Community Change, andinvolved in United for Hire. All these organizations promoteeconomic justice and push for national policy changes in areas likeaccessible health care, immigration reform and economic equality.They are apparently based in Springfield. Ma. What Ingraham thinksshe has to do with Washington must be related to her recent workwith the Obama administration. Personally, I just think Ingrahamlinks people with Washington because she perceives that to be anegative with her viewers.

To Murray's credit, she had a purpose and was not going to allowIngraham to control the conversation. Ingraham apparently had heragenda and was not going to let Murray even speak. It was a mess ofparallel conversation with Murray trying to state her positions andIngraham rubbing her forehead in faux exasperation while sheconstantly interrupted Murray with contemptible non sequiturs.

Another horrible interview was held by Fox News Megyn Kelly whoinsulted ACORN spokesperson, Scott Levinson, by continuouslyconflating individual voter registration fraud by ACORN employeesseeking to pad production with fake registrations. About 20-30individuals in several states, independently and in collusion, whichare paid per registration, created false registrations to pad theirproduction. It has been widely documented that this voterregistration fraud involved no actual voters or actual voter fraud.Yet Kelly couldn't help conflating voter fraud, which involves actualcast votes, with this much more minor, and completely unrelated,criminal activity.

The real issue for me, since conservative news mistreatment of ACORNis well documented, is her treatment of Scott Levinson. She talkedover him constantly, taunted him with outrageous questions andthreatened to cut his mike when he insisted on answering the questionshe asked while she, apparently, was more interested in simplylisting misleading questions without his input. It was obvious shejust wanted her viewers to hear her abuse him.

Why anyone would want to go on Igraham's or Kelly's show with its mind-boggling bias and open contempt is beyond calculation. Why anyonewould want to watch a program featuring such interviews is equallychallenging. Murray and Levinson are veteran spokespersons thatwelcome all opportunities, but is going on Fox News really helpingthem get out their messages? All reasonable people should boycott Foxand all the other networks should speak of it only in terms of itstrue nature. We know this! Why the hell do we keep forgetting it?

Name:    Ben Miller
Hometown:  Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

Am I the only one bothered by all the news about President Obama'sresponse to CNN's Ed Henry question. Not the question, or theresponse, but the response to the question and the response. Inparticular, CNN.com putting up a story with Ed Henry's reaction.

Really? You are a reporter. You aren't supposed to be the story. Itwas a single question, and a single response. I don't really believe that warrants a response, let alone nearly 700 words.

Is there any journalistic integrity left anywhere. If someone elsewants to write about this, fine. I don't really think it is a story.But I don't think a journalist should ever be writing an articleabout reaction to his own one question. These networks and companiesare so desperate for ratings, that they will jump all over anything.Journalism ethics be damned.

Name:  Ed Tracey
Hometown:  Lebanon, New Hampshire

Professor, when you linked to that 2008 article in the New Yorkerabout the financial empire of former Met/Phillie Lenny Dykstra: I wasstruck by the part about the thriving car wash business he founded(due to the "automobile-centric culture in California, and because itwas a business that couldn't be replaced by a computer chip."). Ifound it suspicious that - for a business that he noted could not beoff-shored--"he recently divested, owing in part to a rise in theminimum wage".

Now, according to a former New York Post sports photo editor that he hired for his magazine....the wealth that he seemed to flaunt may nothave been entirely his, and his social attitudes may have been asretrograde as one could be.

  New Yorker link

  GQ link

Name:    Tim Burga
Hometown:  Dallas, TX

Please explain to Dr. Zuckerman the difference between a diagnosisand an insult. I'm reasonably certain that Mr. Pierce wasn'timploring the "sociopaths" to take medication and get better; he wascommenting rather forcefully on their antisocial, sometimesinexplicable behavior. And that's why we love him so.

Name:    Brian Clark
Hometown:  Ames, IA

I must confess I am still waiting for one Mr. Charlie Pierce topublicly eat some crow over his abysmal Slate piece decrying thesupposedly unworthy Arizona Cardinals.

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