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Predictions, Predictions | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Predictions, Predictions

My new CAP column is called Think Again: Health Care Promises, Predictions, and Propaganda and it's here.

My Nation column is called "Will ABC Let Amanpour be Amanpour" and it's here.

And I did a really short Beast post on the passage of the health care bill here.

So today is the 99th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Unions are awfully weak these days, though not nearly weak enough for conservatives like Mickey Kaus and the Wall Street Journal editors, and most of the punditocracy. Among the promises that lay fallow on the floor of the White House Oval Office and the House and Senate Democratic caucuses are most of those made to the unions--card check being the most prominent of these--it's a good time to remember why we need unions and what kind of world we'd be living in without them.

Alter-reviews:

It was beautiful weather here last weekend here in the city, and I was walked back and forth to see movies at the Rendezvous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, now over alas, and listened to Wallace Shawn read his book of essays on my iPod on the way. You can read about it here. I kind of love Shawn as a playwright and an essayist, though I fundamentally disagree with his Noam Chomskyesque view of the world. Shawn has a human side that is lacking in most radical critics of US foreign policy and he makes the case against American power--in any form--in simple human terms that are refutable, though not easily. He is the perfect reader of his own work, though and if you either agree with Chomsky, or don't mind being lectured a bit in Chomskyite terms, this collection is a delight. I particularly loved his thoughts on friendship and on the "value" of theater.

I'm also happy to see that my friends at Concord are unveiling another new/old 24-bit remastering series of jazz classics following on the Rudy Van Gelder Remasters Series of classic Prestige recordings. What they're calling the "Original Jazz Classics Remasters" begins with:

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at Oberlin

Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section

Sonny Rollins: Way Out West

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

Joe Pass: Virtuoso

They all have plenty to recommend them (with new liner notes to help you appreciate why). If you bought the complete Monk/Coltrane sessions last time around, you don't need this one, as that was already remastered. The others are brand-new versions as far as I can tell. Sonny Rollin's Way Out West is the most essential of the bunch; a kind of breakthrough imagining of what a jazz album could be in its time. And the live Dave Brubeck album, recorded at Oberlin is interesting because it's pre Take Five and because it was one of the first jazz shows done on a college campus, though Oberlin was an obvious choice. Joe Pass' album Virtuouso is certainly well named, though an entire album of solo guitar demands more concentration that I can usually muster. Aside from that, however, you'd have to be mighty strange not to enjoy any one of these, and hey, they're awfully cheap. Read all about them here.

The Mail:

Name: Robert Carrick
Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO

As a recently retired high school principal and retired Marine LtCol I have to ask, "What parents?" Today that term rarely applies. I dealt with grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and even foster parents. If I dealt with the actual biological parent it was more often than not a single mother working her butt off to keep what was left of the "family" afloat. In many cases the "parents" were as disfunctional as the kid if not more so. One student actually left his own home/family at 14 to seek refuge from the drugs and violence with friends. I was always amazed at the resiliency of the kids. They would get up, get dressed and come to school and do their best when, if I was in their shoes, I'd be running wild as a March hare. People have not a clue what schools deal with since most of it takes place behind closed doors protected by privacy acts. In almost all cases your heart would ache for not only the kid but, in many cases, for their parent(s) who loved them and were trying to do their very best against overwhelming social and economic odds. Finally, here's to all those loving and caring teachers who are there every day for those kids. God Bless them!

Name: Mike Dickenson
Hometown: Bluff City, TN

It would be nice if a national news program would compare our health plan against other ones.

I'm in my mid 50s and would like to retire one day. I played by their rules. I saved in my 401k even though I didn't know what I was doing on Wall Street. I couldn't tell which funds were good so I mainly stayed with index funds. My 401K is roughly the same size it was 10 years ago.

Even though I may have enough funds to retire modestly, I can't because I need health insurance. The only way to get that is keep working. My insurance has gotten more expensive over the years. I see people saying they love their insurance. If they lose their jobs, they don't see that insurance is virtually unaffordable for joe citizen. That's why it is so important to make private insurance affordable to anyone.

Name: K. Castro
Hometown: The Left Coast

Pierce's column on 3/18, specifically, musing on whether the "insurance companies would simply devise another plan by which they would deny coverage to those same people"...well, out here on the Left Coast in earthquake country, I can tell ya that's exactly what the property insurance drones did in the aftermath of the '94 Northridge Earthquake. We had full coverage on our house, which was virtually destroyed in that 6.7 magnitude rock 'n roller, and Allstate, bless their pointy little heads, just kept writing us checks for damages. However, in the aftermath, after talking up what at the time was the costliest natural disaster in our nations history (since eclipsed by Katrina, and the nightly explosion of Glenn Beck's head), to the tune of over $17 billion, the masters of the insurance universe took stock of their eroding situation, and decided that they had woefully underestimated just how much an earthquake might cost them should one occur in a hugely populated urban center with hundreds of freeway over-passes and tens of thousands of suburban homes.

First they cut deals with CA State Insurance Commissioner Chuch Quakenbush (yes folks, that was his name...), allowing them to avoid paying millions in fines for denying coverage. Old Quakenbush paid for this faux pas with his job, but somehow avoided prosecution: the idiot is now a deputy sheriff in Florida. Then, forbidden from simply dropping customers (by a quirk in state law that I can't quite recall), they turned around and made their product virtually unusable, by creating a labyrinthine checklist of deductibles. So instead of the $5K blanket deductible we had prior to the quake, which at the time paid for "full coverage," the insurance gods in their wisdom created thirty or so different deductible categories, outling damage to plumbing, electrical, windows, carpet, foundation, ed naseum, each carrying with them a hefty deductible, thus creating a scenario wherein the total amount of the deductible payments would therefore exceed the value of the house! How positively creative of them. Instead of admitting they didn't have a clue about how to provide adequate insurance coverage, they circled their wagons and stuck it to their policy holders, and many, like me, had to just drop the earthquake coverage, because it wasn't economically feasible to keep or use it. Tens of thousands like me did just the same. It will not surprise me in the least if health insurance companies do the same, because they are indeed, as Pierce cites, among "the greediest and most soulless bastards on the planet..."

Name: Maureen Holland
Hometown: South Venice Beach, FL

I know you wouldn't want the day to pass without one of us noting the wonderful news that today is the seventh birthday of Shock and Awe.

They grow up so fast.

Name: Steven Gabai
Hometown: Fair Lawn, NJ

Eric,

I always read the emails you get because your readers are an intelligent bunch. I only wish policy discussions in Washington were as thoughtful, enlightened and practical. But Thursday's emails made me laugh, out loud.

Charles Pierce got me going by calling Rep. King a "twit." I laughed again when I read what King called for and thought "yea, it's stuff like this that makes me proud to be an American." Mr. Pierce then described the POS health care bill as a POS, but noting that he'd vote for it anyway (I agree with him btw).

That said, after spending more then a year bumping into each other on one side, and angry chants of "death panels" coming from the other, to come away with a POS bill and then being forced to push that POS bill over the goal line--legislation that probably won't do much other then force insurance companies to find the smallest of loopholes in the finest of fine print--it struck me as the epitome of our illustrious government: "politicians always do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons."

And then I got down to Robert Moskowitz's email. I chuckled when he said, "In any battle of wits, the Right would basically be unarmed." Then he got me going when he said, "liberalism and leftist talk radio fails because...No one in the audience has much in the way of facts, information, and evidence to contribute. And almost no one in the audience gives a shit about any of that stuff, anyway..."

And then he almost had me on the floor when he said that right wing talk radio "has nothing whatever to do with facts, information, and evidence. The hosts don't care about that stuff, and neither does the audience. All those righties just...gas about whatever weird ideas get through their aluminum foil hats and rattle around in their heads. And the other righties love hearing about enemies, and victimization, and the coming apocalypses while waiting for their next turn to gas about their own crazy ideas."

I don't think Mr. Pierce or Mr. Moskowitz meant to be funny at all. They were serious. Cynical but serious. But for those of us smart enough to know what's going on in the country, it goes to show that our cynicism is all we have. And with the bar set so darn low, and pulled lower every day by the GOP, the tea baggers, the "aluminum foil hatters," the media and neanderthals like Sarah Palin, it can only make you laugh. And more cynical.

But without bold, honest, intelligent, progressive leadership, and what that void is doing to the country, it should make us on the left angry. Very angry.

Name: T. O'Dell
Hometown: Port Angeles, WA

With all due respect to Pierce, it takes 67 votes in the Senate to over-ride a veto. This smart guy over at Think Progress points out that if they won every single Democratic-held seat that's up in 2010, and held on to Ohio, New Hampshire, and Missouri the Republicans would be up to 59 Senators...

P.S. anyone who is as outraged as I by the miserably petty efforts of the Stupak block might want to contribute to his ouster by supporting his primary opponant. Just sayin.'

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Ewa Beach, HI

On Ralph Nader and his "Obama is Uncle Tom" remark, I said this in 2008 and I will say it again, Ralph Nader...Undercover Brother. Who knew?

On illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank: this is one crazy idea for a Palestinian response. Please discuss if you think it's feasible. The two viable state solution is dead. AIPAC et al have fended us off long enough that the Israeli settler movement has managed to eat the cake that was supposed to be negotiated. Sadly, all that has happened seems to vindicate Christopher Hitchens' remarks on the problems with a State founded on one particular Religion's principles. My proposal will no doubt be painful to those still holding out hopes for the ideals of Zionism, but if the alternative is Jewish apartheid...

So maybe the Palestinians should try the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" (and vote the racist bastards out of office) strategy. Many have observed that a two state solution is essential to Israel retaining its character as a Jewish majority State. So the reasoning goes that current demographic trends will result in more Arab/Palestinians living in Israel and the Occupied Territories than Israeli Jews within 20 or so years. Perfect. The Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories should immediately drop any and all armed struggle plans, renounce any intent to form a separate Palestinian State, and demand their full civil rights as Israeli citizens. The Palestinian refugees living outside of the Israel and the Occupied Territories should similarly demand the right to return and become Israeli citizens. Then, everybody goes to the polls and elects so many Israeli-Arab members of the Knesset that no government could possibly be formed without including at least some of the Israeli- Arab Parties.

Because I'm a fair-minded, liberal idealist, I would also recommend that the new Israeli-Arab Parties run on the platform of abolishing government policies that favor one particular religion (i.e. Judaism), and turning Israel into another secular democracy with a separation of Church and State. That would certainly get them all the support the South African anti-apartheid movement was able to get, and make the moral issue on this REAL CLEAR if the current Israeli government tried to marginalize Israeli-Arab political power. I'd expect we could get some of our wealthy Arab allies to help pay for what will no doubt be a very expensive program of resettling returning Palestinians into decent communities.

Fundamentally, I think the appeal of this approach should be clear. After 60+ years of bloodshed that has left both parties poorer, brutalized and bitter, stop trying to out-fight the Israelis; out- breed them, out-vote them, and legislate out of existence Israel's most odious policies. You can even change the official name of the country to Palestine-Israel if you want.

OK, now you can tell me why I'm mishigas.

Eric replies: You payin' me?

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