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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Slacker Friday

Weekly Wrap-up:

Our new "Think Again" column, "The Surprising Success of the Right-WingRant," is here. It's an exploration of the weird success of the right'shysterical racist and sexist attacks on Sonia Sotomayor in setting theMSM's agenda for their coverage.

I also did two columns this week for The Daily Beast; one this morningabout Osama's attempts to link Obama to George W. Bush, here and one onthe success of the Christian Right in this country in preventing accessto abortion, even without murdering the doctors who perform it.My Nation column on the campaign to smear Izzy Stone is here with afollow-up in yesterday's Altercation, which is here (after the wrap-up).

Alter-review: The return of the New Riders of the Purple Sage.Last night I had the odd experience of being pretty much the youngestperson at a concert, which hasn't happened since about 1970. That'sbecause when you go a Dead concert, there are at least four generationsthere, including the Deadhead grandkids. For the New Riders, who were abluegrassy offshoot of the Dead that featured Jerry on their wonderfulfirst album, everybody who goes to see them was also seeing them in1975, a time when I was pretty young. Anyway, they were great for awhile in an extremely unpretentious, country-folkish way--you can seethem with Jerry in the newly released Rhino DVD The Last Days of theFillmore--singing songs about loveable pot-smugglers and train-robbers. I strongly recommend that first eponymous record with the beautifulcover and a greatest hits collection.

Members of the band reformed four years ago and are touring now with anew album called Where I Come From. It's not bad, and they are notbad--actually some of the guitar and pedal steel work is pretty great.Seven of the songs on the new record were co-authored with RobertHunter, who helped make the new Dylan album such a success. Anyway,they're on tour; check 'em out here.

Now here's Pierce.

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA.

Hey Doc--

"Here come a man with a paper and a pen/telling us our hard timesare about to end/And then, if they don't give us what we like/He said, 'Men,that's when you gotta go on strike.'"

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "I'm Slippin' In" (Snooks Eglin)--Thisweek, I once again forgot to hire a battalion of trained and hungrypolar bears to visit George Will at his home and, ahem, explain to him theirunique perspective on the global climate crisis and, in passing, howmuch I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: I have to admit that I never quite got theunwritten rule about not criticizing the president while he's overseas. (American politics stops at the water's edge? It does? Tell that to Grenada.)First of all, unwritten rules pretty much suck. Among other things, they'rewhy we have beanballs. Secondly, I have to imagine that this one's honoredmore in the breach than any place else. I suspect, though I cannot prove,that, when it comes to foreign policy, there's just as much covertbackstabbing, agenda-smuggling, and bureaucratic eviscerating done in DC when the president's out of town as there is when he comes back. Why not make itpublic? Particularly when the whole country can, as Sister Marie de Paulused to say, compare and contrast?

Part The Second: With geniuses like this, who needs stupid?

Part The Third: I just finished Sag Harbor,the latest from theludicrously gifted Colson Whitehead. There are now five great childnarrators in American fiction: the Tom-and-Huck entry from Mark Twain,Scout Finch, Louis Benfield from T.R. Pearson's A Short History of aSmall Place,and Ben (not Benji, dammit) Cooper from Whitehead's book, a kidwrestling with all kinds of identity questions, not the least of whichis an untoward affection for the recorded works of Hurricane Smith. Read this soon.

Part The Fourth: Maybe I missed it the first time around, but thePBS American Masters thing on Neil Young--now being pounded into pulpon your local station for the purpose of peddling tote bags--is a nicepiece of work. I forgot what a great cut "Mr. Soul" is.

Part The Fifth: Back in the 1970s, I heard a lot of guff fromanglophilic American columnists on the subject of Irish Americans whowere angered at the tactics of the British military and security apparatus inthe northern part of Ireland. It wasn't our fight. We were terroristsympathizers and so on and so forth. I recalled a lot of that palaverwhen I saw this at Max B's joint.

Not to be too critical while he's overseas or anything, but this statement simply will not do. A murderous rampage in a church is simply not theunfortunate by-product of a national debate gone badly out of control,which is what this statement fairly clearly implies that it is. Theproblem with the abortion debate in this context is not the abandoned wrath ofits rhetoric. It is that one side of the argument regularly has made use ofcriminal behavior, up to and including murder, to advance its arguments.Too often, I've heard about how the murder is not part of the"mainstream" anti-choice movement. Perhaps not. But vandalism certainly is.Harassment certainly is. Trespassing certainly is. The idea that you can employlittle crimes but distance yourselves from the big ones is transparentlydisingenuous. Once the guy with the guns decides that gluing the doorsof a clinic shut, or stalking a doctor's children, or jumping ugly withtraumatized patients, or mailing phony anthrax isn't working, what is helikely to do? Start a blog? Go back to writing impassioned letters tothe editor? Not hardly.

To be sure, the Tiller shooting has the potential to bea watershed moment, but not in the way this statement would have it be.This isn't the time for a prayer that cooler heads will prevail on "bothsides." This is time for the country and its leaders to tell one side ofthe debate to knock it the hell off. Start turning in the vandals andthugs in your midst. Acquaint yourself with your friendly local FBI agent ifsomebody shows up at your meeting with a rosary in one hand and a Glockout in the car. Surely, a president who has proposed the astonishing conceptof preventive detention for people who might one day abet and committerrorist acts can muster up a more vigorous condemnation than this of people who are actually doing it. Barack Obama should have attended George Tiller'sfuneral.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, KY

In a world of limited resources, difficult choices are made orreality makes the choice for you. A soldier is shot through thestomach on Omaha Beach. Another soldier quickly drags him screamingin pain beyond a low hill partly obscured from the automatic gunfirestill raining down on them. The medic moves back and forth along onhis hands and knees checking the soldiers and administering morphine,sutures and bandages. He grabs the wounded man and turns him to seehis back. He immediately cracks three morphine ampoules and strikeseach in the man's thigh, one after the other, and moves on. Hiscolleague grabs the crying man's leg and drags him off the hillsideto make space. The wounded man falls unconscious from the morphineand bleeds out. Later, when the fighting is done, soldiers collecthis spare dog tag and bag his body for shipment. The medic made awise choice, spared the man great pain and probably saved the life ofseveral others who had survivable injuries. This is combat triage.

Today, we practice similar triage under the cloak of fiscal policyand administrative practices, not on a battlefield but under the coolflorescent light of day. Resources are limited by money, rather thancircumstance, time and risk. Given enough money, every ill personcould be given the most effective treatment known to man, regardless of the patient's age and other factors affecting mortality. But noone would reasonably expect a health system to meet this standard. Sowe all agree that the value of human life is limited, but by whatmeasurement?

I may think that there is a better alternative for our resources thanto provide a 95-year-old with a heart transplant, to continue to house and feed a comatose woman with repeated flat line EEGs for over a decade, or to deliver a fetus in the 28th week whose tests leave no doubt that severe abnormalities will either kill the infant or render her a burden to her parents for life. You may not agree. You might say that saving every life is a noble goal and worth fighting for. Reality will choose for you. A younger person will die for lack of a heart, tens of patients will sicken for lack of nutritional consultation and basic care, and a family will bury an infant rather than a fetus while anguishing over the medical bills left to be paid.

Dr. George Tiller was murdered. He was not a murderer. He was noteven a lawbreaker. He ran an ethical medical practice within thelegal requirements of a very strict statutory standard. He was theonly domestic choice for patients facing terrible decisions. And nowhe is gone and these people have one less option. In this case,reality was a conservative "pro-life" kook with a gun and one twistedrationalization.

Anti-choice proponents like to make the argument simple, life v.death. But it's always been so much more than that. For manyanguished parents it was death v. worse than death. And yet theystill suffer from the decision they made. They deserve respectfulcompassion, not straw man criticism and self-serving simplification.

If you believe in God and that any abortion is murder, then don'thave one. Our country is a secular representative constitutionalrepublic based on democratic principals, not a theocracy. Medicalchoice, including pregnancy termination, is legal andconstitutionally protected. It's a private matter and should remainso. You don't want the state making your personal health decisionsand I don't want your God making mine

Name: Ed Tracey
Hometown: Lebanon, New Hampshire

Professor, an Australian national Jewish sports authority calledMaccabi Australia has reversed a decision to require its teams to drop their (relatively few) non-Jewish athletes by year-end.

Interestingly, this decision stemmed not from legal problems (asAustralia allows groups to discriminate to preserve a minorityculture) nor as a result of protest from the general public.

Instead, criticism largely came from within Australia's Jewishcommunity, concerned about the message it sent, that led to thereversal.

Name: Cindy Morgan
Hometown: Irvine CA

Hi. It's me again about California props 1A-F. Mr. Meranze commentedabout my response to these props and yes, some of the things he saysare correct but if he looked at the props a little closer he wouldhave seen the long term outlook which is not very good.

"Regarding spending, while the measures could make it harder toapprove spending increases in some years by restricting the access torevenues, it would not cap the total level of spending that could beauthorized in any given year if alternative revenues were approved.""The fiscal effectsof Proposition 1A are particularly difficult toassess." "Consquently, the measure's effect's may be very differentfrom one year to the next." The only way to put more money in theBudget Stabilization Fund, the Special Fund for EconomicUncertainties and Economic Recovery Bonds is to increase taxes. Howmuch do you want to bet that these "temporary" tax increases wouldhave been made permanent by 2012? The legislature will spend moremoney then they have and then they'll find another way to extend theincreases so we have to vote for them in another special election.

Sure, I don't know how they calculated what is acceptable to thelegislature but I do know that I can't afford to live here muchlonger. As long as I have lived here I don't think California has hada year where they did have a balanced budget on time with any extrarevenue. They find ways to spend every last dime and then some more.My personal taxes and the increased sales tax along with theincreased fees are killing me!!!

Okay, after reading the Lottery prop, 1C, again I see your point.They wanted to change it so the profits for the school system, whichis what the lottery was created for, not go to the school systemanymore. That was just brilliant thinking on the government's part!!

Prop 1D, children's services, temporarily redirects a significantportion of Prop 10 funds to achieve budgetary savings and makespermanent changes to state and local commission operations. In otherword,"County borrowing of First 5 Funds" which means a countycontroller can borrow local commission funds for that county'sgeneral fund, unless the transfer would interfere with localcommission activities. "The reduction in state and local First 5commission funding could result in other costs to the state and localagencies. This would occur to the extent that some children andfamilies rely on other health and human services programs instead ofthose now provided under First5." These children need all the helpthey can get and I for one am not going to take it away from them.

1E is an equivalent reduction in Prop 63 funding. "State and localgovernments could incur added costs for homeless shelters, socialservices, medical care, law enforcement and county jail and stateprison operations." This one I refuse to give up.

Why doesn't the government of California just learn to live withintheir means and stop putting these stupid props up for a vote everysix months? And don't even try to tell me it's because people areasking for more then they can afford. Every one of the bonds (which Idid not vote for) I know I pay for with my home taxes every year andwhen the people vote to pay for services to help the needy cut aprogram that doesn't. The legislature needs to stop working for thelobbies, and yes they are, start working for me again.

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