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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Slacker Friday

My new Think Again column called "Mission Accomplished? Really?" and it's here. I also did a post about the "delusional left" and the health care bill for the Beast, here.

A few statistics:

(From Juan Cole)

Of all the income growth of the entire country of the United States in the Bush years, the richest 1 percent of the working population, about 1.3 million persons, grabbed up over two-thirds of it.

From 1999 to 2009 health insurance premiums increased 132 percent for the companies paying most of the costs of coverage to their employees.

Average private health insurance premiums for a family of four in 1999 were US$5,485 per annum or 7.2 percent of household disposable income. 2008 premiums were estimated at US$12,973 per annum or 14.8 percent of average household disposable income.

By Bush's last year in office, food insecurity among American families was at a 14-year high. About 49 million Americans, one in six of us, worried about having enough food to eat at some points in that year, and resorted to soup lines, food stamps, or dietary shortcuts. Some 16 million, according to the NYT, suffered from '"very low food security," meaning lack of money forced members to skip meals, cut portions or otherwise forgo food at some point in the year.'

(From Eric Eckholm in the New York Times)

In the recession, the nation's poverty rate climbed to 13.2 percent last year, up from 12.5 percent in 2007, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Census Bureau. The report also documented a decline in employer-provided health insurance and in coverage for adults.

The bureau said 39.8 million residents last year lived below the poverty line, defined as an income of $22,025 for a family of four. In another sign of both the recession and the long-term stagnation of middle-class wages, median family incomes in 2008 fell to $50,300, compared with $52,200 the year before. This wiped out the income gains of the previous three years, the report said. Adjusted for inflation, in fact, median family incomes were lower in 2008 than a decade earlier

Continuing an eight-year trend, the number of people with private or employer-sponsored insurance declined, while the number of people relying on government insurance programs including Medicare, Medicaid, the children's insurance program and military insurance rose.

Now read this story:

But many of the nearly 1,200 workers who process some 1.4 billion gallons of New York City sewage every day say they can handle those indignities. What disgusts them, what has tested sobriety, credit ratings and marriages more than any stubborn stench, is the fact that their salaries have not budged, in some cases for as long as 15 years... Sewage-treatment workers earn an average of about $42,000 a year, a figure unchanged since 2001. Los Angeles pays a starting salary of $71,000 for similar work.

This is a pretty easy thing to joke about, but it's really not funny. We live in a society whose distributive priorities are just plain impossible to defend. And a big part of the reason for the crazy noise you hear coming out of Fox and talk radio is to avoid addressing that fact.

The mail:

Name: Frankus Brockerman

Hometown: Toms River, N.J.

Re: Pat Healy's comment about parents being the biggest problem in K- 12 education.

I totally agree. However, how do we go about fixing that? The biggest issue is: who teaches parents how to be parents? No one. They copy what their parents did, who copied what their parents did who copied....and the sins of the father are begotten upon the son.

We hear all the time about how poorly parents are raising their children, yet we do nothing about it. Then again, I can only imagine the howl of protest if it were suggested we teach parenting in school, yet that's exactly what we should do.

School should not just be about Cassiodorus' liberal arts anymore. An updated and expanded concept of what education is is needed. Memorizing facts and figures and trying to cram as much of that into their heads belongs in the Middle Ages. As a college instructor, I see first hand, young adults who cannot put a sentence together and have no concept of rational, critical thought and analysis, or what making $35,000 a year actually means.

What does it mean to be "educated" in 2010? Can we have places of learning that teach how to balance a checkbook, have a full-time job, raise a family, and see all the similarities between the U.S. and the Roman Empire, all at the same time?

Name: J.E. Bernecky

Hometown: Westover, PA

Re: Charles Pierce's 3-18-10 "Part the Third," concerning the promise of Goodwin Liu.

What would Pierce do if Liu, as a member of the Supreme Court, were more liberal (more appreciative of claims of injustices made by those imprisoned at Guantanamo) than Pierce, or Matthew Duss ("Attack of the Cheneys"), or even President Obama himself had imagined?

What if it's the case that those imprisoned in Guantanamo (or others like them, who experienced extreme rendition) were kidnapped? What if the fact that they were kidnapped--kidnapping being a crime punishable by death--is the only reason that none of those individuals (all of them being spoils of war, their internment providing justification for jobs-training programs, etc.) is the only reason they were never brought into the US to begin with?

Name: Paul-Andre Panon

Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.

Sorry Eric but it looks like the link I provided in my comment got broken on its way to the printers yesterday. Perhaps some auto-formatting gone awry.

The below is a letter that was published in The New York Times Book Review

March 14, 2010

LETTERS

Illegitimate Politics To the Editor: In his review of Ken Gormley's "Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr" (Feb. 21), Richard Berke slips a major historical distortion into an other wise fair-minded piece. Berke writes: "In retrospect, it is tempting to see the Clinton impeachment as having ushered in the feral reality of politics today. . . . In reality, the case belongs on the continuum that began with the toppling of Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court, continued through the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill fracas and was followed by the contested 2000 election."

In other words, the Democrats are to blame for the ugliness of recent years -- the Clinton impeachment; the thuggish mob atmosphere during the attempted Florida recount; the poisonous, violent rhetoric of some of the recent Tea Party protests -- all of them Republican or conservative phenomena.

Here Berke is lazily accepting what is little more than a Republican political talking point devoid of any real historical substance. Of the 151 nominations between this nation's founding and the present, 28 nominations, nearly 20 percent, have been rejected, withdrawn or postponed in the face of opposition. The Senate's responsibility for exercising "advice and consent" on Supreme Court nominees is a constitutionally mandated responsibility and one it has always exercised. Some nomination fights (like Bork's) have hinged on ideological conflicts, as was the case when Republicans in the Senate mounted a filibuster to prevent the liberal Abe Fortas from becoming chief justice. Other fights (like Thomas's) have centered on the lack of judicial qualifications, as was the case with Clement Hayns worth, whom Nixon named to replace Fortas on the court. To suggest, as Berke does, that the Bork nomination was an unprecedented event that led naturally to the Clinton impeachment is a plain historical falsehood.

The Clinton impeachment was a tear in the national social contract, something closer to a coup d'etat, an attempt to unseat an elected president and, as Berke correctly points out, an event that almost certainly cost Al Gore the 2000 election. It represented something entirely different and troubling: the denial, on the part of one-half of the country, of the essential legitimacy of the other half to hold power, even if it does so with a clear majority. Despite the very real doubts about the justice and accuracy of the 2000 presidential election, Democrats, starting with a statesmanlike Al Gore, never questioned George W. Bush's right to govern, and while deploring many of his policies never challenged his right to pursue his legislative agenda. The current wave of right-wing populism -- the "birthers," the modern-day secessionists, the Tea Partiers who espouse "nullification" (the right to disregard and oppose, even with violence, laws they consider unconstitutional), the conspiracy theorists who insist that President Obama is plotting to destroy the American system (a belief Republicans have done much to foment and little to discourage) -- are based on that same fundamental denial of the legitimacy of elected leaders with whom they disagree.

ALEXANDER STILLE

New York

The writer is the San Paolo professor of international journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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