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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Slacker Friday

We've got a new "Think Again Column called "Mice, Playing: The Declineof Skeptical Journalism," and it's here.And I did a post for the Daily Beast on the contretemps over Vanity Fair's profile of Arthur Sulzberger called "Stop Picking on Pinch," here.

I don't think there's been enough talk about how great GershomGorenberg's big piece in the Weekly Standard on why there's never been aPalestinian Gandhi. It's here...

As someone who has immersed himself in the literature of this conflict,it's the best piece I've read in years. I sent it to my friend Kai Bird,who is finishing a memoir of his life growing up in the Middle East andso reading everything about the conflict everywhere and he said the samething. Anyone with even the slightest interest in Israel and Palestinewould not want to miss it.

And the fact that, whatever the circumstances, it is in the Standard isweird beyond words. It's the strangest thing since they published JohnDilulio complaining that Bush stole the election from Gore, though ofcourse it's a far more substantial piece than that.

Things not to buy: I had a gift certificate at Border's and used $40 ofit to buy the audio version of Philip Norman's John Lennon biography.The writing and research were much better than the reviews had led me toexpect. It's quite solid and only a little cheesy. But people, just asnobody told me there'd be days like this, I didn't notice how abridgedthe thing was. Ten cds and still all the important parts are leftout.Who could imagine leaving out when John met Paul and they formed agroup together. Who could imagine leaving out all of The White Album,Abbey Road, Let it Be and the Beatles' break up? Now I have to read the damn book anyway. Lesson is look before thousest leaps, alas.Happy Birthdays Diana Roberta Silver and Eve Rose Alterman!

That's all

This week on Moyers:

The financial industry brought the economy to its knees, but how didthey get away with it? With the nation wondering how to hold thebankers accountable, Bill Moyers sits down with Bill Black, the formersenior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loancrisis of the 1980s. Black offers his analysis of what went wrong andhis critique of the bailout.

Slacker Friday:

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA.

Hey Doc --

"The man says, "Get out of here. I'll tear you limb from limb"/ Isaid, "You know they refused Jesus, too"/ He said, "You're not Him."Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "You Ain't The Only Oyster In The Stew(Fats Waller)--I was just about to ask Robert Gibbs about why he likesto make little Richie Cheney cry but then Chip Reid got up, the bigshow-off, and I was reduced to telling everybody on JournoList how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: My apologies to the extended Alter-family. Therewas some surgery, and then a reaction to the prescribed antibiotics thatleft me crawling around my living room floor moaning like a dog. I mean,David Vitter usually has to pay people to get him to make the sounds I wasmaking. So I was gone for a while. Managed to do some reading, though,which leads us inevitably to...

Part The Second: Well, this explains a lot. All the way from the rugged coldwater flats of The District to...David Geffen's breakfast table! What a grand country itis, mother.

Part The Third: They're losing their minds. And there are a number of reasons--none of which I choose to think much about, thanks--why this is a really bad joke for this particular person to be making.

Part The Fourth: Not that I should expect anything more than thisfrom Ye Olde House Of Mulch For Brains, but this is one of the most disingenuous pieces of offal that has been burped up there for a while. Michelle Obama was never at any point a liability to herhusband's election chances. I was in the hall in Milwaukee when she made the"proud of my country" remark, and I can assure you that the roof nearly cameoff the place. Everybody there knew exactly what she meant and, even whenthe crackpot righties got a hold of it, it never had any legs. The other twothings he mentions don't, you know, actually exist. This used to carrysome significance in journalism, but I guess I just don't understand the newparadigm.

Part The Fifth: Speaking of Wisconsin, this Paul Ryan fellow seemslike a comer. Of course, he's the economic equivalent of a flat-earther,but he's young and enthusiastic about his idiocy, so we'll be seeing alot more of him. I think he's just the ticket for the GOP's glory trainback to power. More Bush economics, but with Grandma eating cat-food, too!The Jack Kemp of the new millennium!

Anyway, Call me Kreskin, but I will guaran-damn-tee you that this "Mark Begich Must Resign" thing will gain traction in the mainstream media, if not over theweekend, but certainly by the beginning of next week. The groundwork'salready been laid. It began when the Senate gave an ovation to Ted(Grabitall) Stevens upon his departure from the floor, and it continued tobe fortified last week when people looked at Eric Holder's decision to letStevens off the hook not as the king irony that it was, but rather as anexoneration of a guy who would steal soup if you gave him rubber pockets.

Now, not only has the Alaskan Republican Party called for Begich to stepdown, but Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods herself has gotten herselfinvolved, and where the Princess goes, people who should know better will follow.Begich seems merely amused by this whole thing and, as has been pointed outby John Cole and others, the whole notion is flatly bizarre. Which is whyit will gain the traction that it will gain. Look at this clown college ofa party. Michele Bachmann (R-Butterfly Net) got thirty co-sponsors on a bill addressing a non-existent threat to the sovereignty of American currency,or some such nonsense. The entire Republican congressional delegationproduced two "budgets" that bordered on self-parody. Because it is contraryto the Beltway media ethos to point out that a major American politicalparty self-evidently is losing its mind in public--not "objective,"doncha know?--we will have these notions taken seriously.

If Chris Matthews isn't doing a show on the Alaskan senate "controversy" by themiddle of next week, I'll eat his desk. Someone will have to present bothsides of the "debate," and more poisonous bullshit will be injected intothe national dialogue right at the time we don't need it.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, Ky

In his most recent presser, President Obama answered a ratherpointedly politicized question about the effect of his income taxproposal to limit charitable deductions for taxpayers earning over$250,000 to the 28 percent marginal tax rate rather than the 36 percent rate; a tax increase for wealthy givers. The question included whether he wantedto rethink punishing charities in his budget. Obama denied thatcharities would be hurt, saying that people don't give for taxpurposes in general and that what would help charities most is animproved economy with people getting back to work. Naturally, Iapplaud his answer, but is it accurate?

For the first time charitable giving in 2007 broke through the $300billion mark, with a total of $306.39 billion contributed byindividuals, foundations, and corporations. Individuals continue tocontribute the lion's share of all donor dollars - more than $229billion for 74.8 percent of all donations. Adding to the individual total isanother $23 billion in bequests (gifts by Last Will), bringing thetotal of individual giving in 2007 to $252 billion plus or 82.3 percent ofthe total. Individual giving actually increased by 2.7 percent from 2006 to2007. No figures are available for 2008 yet, of course. (Through theRoof! Trends in Philanthropy for 2008, by Joanne Fritz, About.com)

In a report published by Giving USA Foundation, written andresearched at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University andfound in Giving USA Spotlight, Issue 3, 2008, total giving hasincreased in every year, but one, since recording began. However, thepercentage of income gifted falls during every recession by 2.5 percent to5.3 percent (defining recession according to The National Bureau of EconomicResearch). This was true for two very big recessions in 1970 and 1974where individual giving fell off by 3.9 percent and 5.3 percent respectively. Wecan compare these to the 2001 recession when individual giving alsofell 3.9 percent.

Why is this important? Because in 2001 the highest marginal incometax rate was 39.1 percent for earnings starting at $297,350 and theeffective capital gains tax rate was 18.2percent. In 1970, the highestmarginal tax rate was 70 percent on income starting at $200,000 and theeffective capital gains tax rate was 15percent. But, let's be fair, in1970, you only needed an annual income of $45,750 to equal thespending power of $250,000 today. Okay, the marginal tax rate in 1970on $45,750 was 50 percent. (See TheTaxFoundation.org) This example is fullysupported by Indiana University's research; if you need more proofsee GivingUSA.org to purchase the report.

So, even considering inflation, higher taxes don't affect thepercentage of charitable giving like a recession does. The best thingObama can do for charitable giving is, indeed, to lead us toward animproved economy and get our people back to work. Targeted taxincreases as a component of his recovery plan and in future annualbudgets will help.

Name: Steve Nelson
Hometown: Seattle

Why We're Liberals is out in paperback huh. Even in the currentfinancial climate I have no excuse and will now have to pick up a copy and assuage my guilt of free loading on your blogs.

Eric replies: It's here

Name: Richard Paddock
Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC

I recall that, especially as portrayed in Shakespeare, it was commonfor the jester to be immune from retribution for "speaking truth topower" to coin a cliche. Now Stewart and Colbert are funny, so that'swhy they get a pass. Limbaugh is not; the only thing that saves himis that he is the jester to the Right, and the Left apparently doesnot believe in capital punishment (at least for self-styledcomedians.)

Name: Steve Snyder
Hometown: Dallas, TX

Uhh, Victor Archer is wrong, way wrong, on Obama being the second-youngest president.

First, since Jack Kennedy wasn't the youngest, an error made by manyAmericans ignorant of the youthful Teddy Roosevelt. Second, you don'tneed to go back even that far to prove Lynch was wrong. Without a bitof Googling, I knew Clinton was younger when he took office.

And, with a bit of Googling, it turns out Grant was younger too.

And, although not quite as young, four other presidents assumedoffice before turning 50.

So, let's quash that little bit of Obama hagiography.

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown: Portland OR

Just a big shout out for the fine interview on TPM. Not enough beingsaid about this critical issue, not only to the US and Israel and thePalestinian population, but to the western world. Your comments werespot on and I really appreciated your endorsement and support of theyounger journalists coming up.

Name: Jim Peale
Hometown: Swanzey, NH

Doc:

Was it just the first year of "Paper Chase" that didn't work for you,or the entire series? I was a contemporaneous law student and we usedto watch it in order to laugh at the mistakes and pretensions. Inhindsight, they actually did a pretty good job of passing along whatsomeone once described as the combination of arrogance and depressionendemic among law students.

Please, please, please keep throwing us an occasional Slacker Friday!

Name: Corky Bucik
Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Eric,

Steve McCrady of Philadelphia wrote that if Hillary Clinton werePresident "she would probably be on her third Treasury Secretary!"Well, I think that may be true that she'd be on her third Secretaryby now but only if the Treasury Secretaries were women.

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