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Slacker Friday | The Nation

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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, ""Will-ful Ignorance, Round26," and it's about George Will's shameful global warming columns andFred Hiatt's defense of them, and it's here.

My new Nation column is here and it's an argument for newspapers to give up on making a profit, stop pretending theireditorial endorsements matter to anyone and embrace a nonprofit modelfor survival.

I also did a post for the Daily Beast about the impressiveshamelessness--I assume it's that rather than foolishness--of Bushex-flacks Michael Gerson, Karl Rove and David Frum, etc. That's here.

Alter-reviews:

I saw the Flatlanders at B.B. King's last night. It's hard not to love aband of old gray-haired guys that was founded in high school and has aterrific time with one another up on stage, playing roots music thatthey, themselves, helped invent. Their material ranges from ok towonderful beyond words. "Dallas" was rockin' with Joe Ely doing most ofthe vocals rather than ethereal as when Jimmy sings it, as Jimmy singseverything ethereally. They've got a bunch of new material which soundsbetter than their reunion album, but the show is really the thing. Gosee them if you need to be reminded that Texas has plenty to offerbesides America's worst president ever.

Rhino has a new Dead show out, drawn from what I've always thought istheir best period, though it also happens to coincide with myadolescence. To Terrapin: May 28, 1977 Hartford, CT. This showConnecticut's Hartford Civic Center on the closing night of their spring'77 tour. The sound is pristine and among other things, it's gots thebest "Sugaree" I ever heard, and clocks in at around twenty minutes.Plus for three cds, it's really cheap. I suppose it depends on a lot ofthings at this point but if you know what you're getting going in, youshan't be disappointed. Getting even more a workout in my cd player thisweek is Leonard Cohen, Live in London, which was recorded on his recenttour and sounds terrific. It's the single best collection of Cohen'scareer you'll find anywhere, and I do think, song for song, he writesthe best lyrics of anyone alive, including Dylan, because he tries somuch harder to get it perfect. His voice is lower, deeper and moremystical than ever. Really, how can anyone live without this thing?

You can live without Simon & Garfunkel, Live 1969. It's not bad. It'sfine, actually. It's just that they're not really a live band--or ifthey were, it was owing to the intimacy of the music, which would beimpossible to recreate here. This was recorded after "Bridge" on theirfinal tour before breaking up and has lots of great songs that youreally ought to have already and it's up to you whether you want/needlive versions of them. Some of it is acoustic and some of it has a band.It was actually recorded before the album came out so the version of"Bridge" for instance, and "The Boxer" are being heard by the audiencefor the first time.

We've got a new "Centennial Edition" of The Odd Couple film. To behonest, the movie, which is based on the play, is nowhere near as greatas the TV show. But almost nothing is. Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon didcreate a classic with Neil Simon's material, it's just that that classicwas superceded by something even classic-er. So if you haven't seen ityet, you'd better. This release, coming 41 years after the movie cameout features a second disc with the following extras:

Sons Charlie Matthau and Chris Lemmon provide the commentary, offeringreminiscences about their fathers, stories about the film, and reactionsas they watch it. We get also get interviews with the director. Saks,Robert Evans, Larry King and the actors. In addition there's"In theBeginning..." discusses the play, "Memories from the Set" and "InsideThe Odd Couple" discusses the movie, and "Matthau & Lemmon" hasrecollections about the actors.

I also see a "Centennial" edition of the great, To Catch a Thief. Letme tell you all you need to know about this movie. It's directed byAlfred Hitchcock in his glory years. It stars Cary Grant and a luminousGrace Kelly. It takes place on the French Riviera. The screenplay is byJohn Michael Hayes, who also wrote Rear Window. It's not the greatesteffort by any of these people but it's still better than almost anythingelse you're likely to rent. And prettier. Here's what you get on disc 2:

"A Night with the Hitchcocks" (23:20)--The daughter and granddaughterof Alfred Hitchcock, Pat Hitchcock and Mary Stone, respectively, areinterviewed by the Hitchcock scholar, Drew Casper; "Unacceptable Underthe Code: Film Censorship in America" (11:47)--A look at the ProductionCode and its enforcement; plus: "Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief"(9:04)--2002 ; "The Making of To Catch a Thief" (16:53); "Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly" (6:12); "Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation" (7:32); "Edith Head: The Paramount Years" (13:43); "If You Love To Catch a Thief, You'll Love This"--An "interactive travelogue; Original Theatrical Trailer (2:11)--In 1.33:1 aspect ratio and lots of stills.

The mail:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"The man who spurred us on/sits in judgment of all wrong/They decideand the shotgun sings the song."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Night Of The Purple Moon" (Sun Ra).

You probably didn't notice it on TV, but when Teddy Kennedy threw out the firstpitch at Fenway on Tuesday afternoon, there I was behind him, writing onthe infield grass how much I love New Orleans.

Part The First: Speaking of which, I saw a special showing of thisastonishing film on Tuesday nightat Boston University. It strikes me as odd that President Barack Obamahas not yet made a visit to New Orleans as president. (He went downthere as a candidate in February of 2008) I mean, Istanbul's nice, and things seemed to go well at the G20, but a great American city is still dying at its heart, and it might be worth a look-see.

Part The Second: A further update on the subject of Ye LamentableTragedye Of Waldo The Drunk Security Guard. On duty the other night atSalon HQ, Waldo fired down 19 beers, a shot of Jager, and attached a dripbottle of Sterno to his right arm. As he sailed off into the Land BeyondThought, a crazy person dropped out of a heating duct and typed something that was just inches from English-As-Translated-From-The-Original Urdu. A sample: " Barack the Magic Negro" was a song parody by a longtime contributor to the Rush Limbaugh Show, Paul Shanklin, whom I consider to be one of the mostbrilliant satirists of our time."Next week, why Allan Sherman beats MarkTwain like a red-headed stepchild. I think it's time for Salon to considerinvesting in a couple of pitbulls for backup.

Part The Third: Well, they're still going nuts.I wonder if Rep. Bachus has any children who fancy a nice game ofsolitaire.

Part The Last: These are not good times at the day job, for a numberof reasons, most of which The Landlord has discussed hereabouts. Therearen't many people who have been as critical as I have of people whom Ibelieve have debased a craft that means a great deal to me. But, I'm sorry,this and this are examples of what John Peter Zenger would've called, "just being a prick."

I admire what Markos has accomplished. But, despite his pale and worthless disclaimer late in that first post--Spare us your pity--if this isn't gloating, I'd hate to see what he thinks gloating would be. A few points:
a) this is minor, but handing along a pivotal anecdote aboutthe behavior of a "star columnist" without naming that columnist is what wein the old media refer to regularly as "chickenshit," and setting thatstory at a place where recently a couple of hundred people lost their jobsis graceless and cruel;
b) regardless of the columnist's behavior, most ofthe comments attached to the bottom of newspaper stories are pretty muchsubstantively worthless and some are simple poo-flinging;
c) Are you reallyseriously offering to trade, say, the national political staff of the NYTfor The Politico(!) Charlie Savage for Roger Simon? Really?
d) I wouldlike an explanation, in detail, of how much the people who work for thevarious "organically sprouting" news operations, both locally andnationally, actually will get paid. I know the HuffPo doesn't pay itscontributors, and I'm willing to bet that nobody at A Better Oakland makesenough to live on, either. Is this the new business model for the newparadigm? Don't pay the reporters and writers?

Geez, Louise, I wonder whynobody ever thought of that before. I have been a working journalist for 30years now, in one way or another. I have made a living and raised threechildren that way. I'm one of the lucky ones. There are thousands of peopleall over the country at newspapers large and small, people who cover sewercommissions and city councils and high school football, and who do sobecause they believe in the importance of newspaper journalism as a life'swork, and even though they realize at some level that they might be workingin the buggy-whip industry. I am not unaware of the problems in myprofession. I frequently rail against them. But it is still a professionand, I believe, an honorable and important one, and one at which peopleshould be trained and paid what they're worth. It deserves to be aprofession at which people can make a living. It deserves more than to bethe Lawn Tennis Association, where amateurs, talented and untalented, getto play for the fucking honor of it. It deserves better than glib contemptand fake piety. If that's the new age, it's going to have to learn to dobetter.

And, Markos, your sports site is a sillyconglomeration of sweaty fanzines. SB's pregame account of Thursday night'sgame at Fenway ended with the phrase, "Go Sox!" That really blows. Askaround.

All of that being said, if there's anyone doing more valuable workthese days than Glenn Greenwald, I don't know who it is. His bulldogging ofthe inexcusable behavior of the Obama administration over the variousExecutive branch atrocities of the previous bunch is beginning to developtraction within the political classes as well. (Hey, Russ Feingold. Callhim back, OK?) It has been said -- most recently by Parson Meacham atNewsweek -- that "anger can only take us so far." OK, if that's the case,then how about we determine exactly how far it can take us? Throughout thecampaign, if there was one thing that the Obama people either missed, ordeliberately chose not to engage, it was the fond desire of a considerableamount of people for someone's head on a stick. And a startling amount ofthat had to do with what the collection of thugs, mountebanks, and shystercastrati in and around the national-security bureaucracy were up to doing.People were mad about that -- not in the carny-barker sense of Glenn Beck,but deeply, profoundly disturbed because their beliefs in what theircountry was supposed to stand for had been thrown into disarray. They arestill angry. Most people are. The Obama administration is going to have torecognize it, and channel it, and placate it with more than vagueassurances of what good people they are and what good people we are. Onthis issue particularly, I wonder if the president and his people aren'tvaguely disappointed that the national Republican party has grown too crazyto surrender to. In any case, the salutary effect of a head stuck on LondonBridge is very much underrated.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown Louisville, Ky

Daniel Trotta, Reuters, reports that Kevin Phillips, economist andauthor, is predicting runaway inflation because of the recentineptitude in handling the financial crisis. Trotta writes that ayear ago, Phillips "warned of a the pending explosion of a 25-year"multibubble" that started in the 1980s, when the financial sectoraccounted for 10 percent to 12 percent of the US economy hadstarted metastasizing into an "arguably crippling" 20 percent to 21 percent by the middle of this decade. Overleveraging and easy creditwas bound to create disaster."

Who does Phillips blame for not avoiding the calamity and formishandling the crisis? Former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson,Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his predecessor, AlanGreenspan. Trotta writes: ""What you're seeing Bernanke do is he'strying to create a bailout reflationary bubble, which he can'tdescribe as a bubble, just as Greenspan couldn't describe the housingmortgage bubble as a bubble. What we're seeing by Bernanke is acovert attempt to rebubble." Moreover, a commodities cycle probablystarted early in this decade and is only being masked now byrecession, Phillips says, presaging a repeat of 1970's styleinflation."

You'd have to be at least 45 years old to recall 1970's inflation ashigh as 14 percent. President Ford gave his famous "Whip Inflation Now"speech to Congress in October 1974 and laid out his agenda forrecovery. It included familiar themes in favor of a comprehensiveenergy policy, to start drilling in California and Alaska, and todevelop clean coal technologies. He vowed to expand the money supplyand ease credit, start a federal job creation program, and give taxrelief for low-income families while raising taxes on corporateearnings. He also called for increased domestic food production andto monitor commodity pricing.

The parallel doesn't stop there; President Ford inherited the worsteconomy since the Great Depression. The creation of OPEC with it'ssubsequent oil production limits and skyrocketing prices, and theUS dismantling of the Bretton Woods monetary system, bothcontributed to global consumer fear. The subsequent mishandling ofthe financial crisis created stagflation where the wages and consumerprices battled in a lengthy upward spiral for years.

We face another financial crisis brought on not by an artificial oilprice bubble and its resulting scarcity, but by an artificialfinancial bubble and its resulting contraction. Now we hear credibleevidence that the Fed has, at best, been incompetent, and at worse,been overly protective of Wall Street. Obama's administration isstruggling and the answers sound very familiar. The last time it tooksix years until steady economic growth led the way out of thewilderness and into the GOP embrace of trickle-down economic theoryunder Reagan.

It all seems so familiar. A GOP presidency ends in disgrace fromyears of illegal activity, Democrats inherit a terrible financialcrisis, financial geniuses mess up the recovery, and then the GOPsuccessfully courts a recovering nation with a bold vision forAmerica. They seem at a loss for ideas now, but just give them sixyears of tough economic times. They break, we fix, they take credit.I called it here first!

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

I second your motion in calling for the piling-on Arthur Sulzberger,Jr., to end. First, the article rehashes his childhood to explain himright now, but I don't see where it draws a connection to majorbusiness decisions. Second, his father would tell you he was noreporter, but his son actually did all right--not the next Sy Hersh,but who is? Third, that he made mistakes in the business end is clearenough, but the tone suggests that only he would have made them, andI think it's safe to say that Sulzberger is hardly alone. Fourth,many of the criticisms about him, and sometimes worse, were alsodirected toward his father, who became publisher younger, underdifferent circumstances, and without the same kind of broad training,but now is held up as a guiding genius. Since Talese is mentioned inthe article, perhaps the author should have re-read some of Punch'smore dubious moments--and I don't say that as a criticism of thesenior Sulzberger, who had to deal with a financial crisis at TheTimes in the 1970s and managed to overcome it.

Like you, Dr. A., I sometimes get mad at The Times. But then I readmy local paper and marvel all the more at what The Times accomplisheson a daily basis. It truly is The Daily Miracle.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, Ky

The Center for American Progress Action Fund has published a reportat AmericanProgressAction.org, entitled Lessons from Medicare forHealthcare Reform wherein Marilyn Moon highlights many instructivepolicy decisions that have made Medicare a shining example of afederal program that exceeds its mandate and provides a criticalsafety net for "some of the sickest and frailest of the USpopulation, along with a substantial number of disabled Americans."

She notes, appropriately, that the low administrative costs foradministering Medicare (less than 2% of total spending) isattributable, in part, to the special relationship the Medicareprogram has with the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSAadministers retirement, disability, survivor and SupplementalSecurity Income programs under the Health and Human ServicesDepartment, whose Secretary holds a cabinet level position. It alsosigns up the eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. According to thelatest OMB report, SSA accomplishes its goals while keeping itsadministrative costs at about 1.5% of total spending. You need tovisit HHS.gov to see just how well your tax money is spent.

Why should we care about this? Because the conservative media wouldhave you believe that a single payer system for American healthcarecoverage is socialism and that the private sector does everythingbetter and with less waste than the federal government. The above-mentioned programs are the direct result of the New Deal legislationmade effective in 1935. The success of such programs in providing forAmericans health, safety and welfare is unparalleled. In a world ofwant, despair and inequity, any so-called First World Country mustprovide services along these lines, and they all do, some withgreater success than ours.

The term "socialism" has been bandied about among ignorant punditstoo often as the 20th century boogieman and it may well be theundoing of real progressive advancement in this century, too. As amember of our self-described "Christian Nation", you have to askyourself whether your comforts are more important than your fellowcitizens health and wellbeing. If so, you are more likely to voteagainst a progressive agenda, like universal healthcare, because youview the costs as prohibitive and even unnecessary. You may need toget out of the country club more.

The progressive agenda has no similarities with socialism. It is infact, a necessary part of capitalism in modern times when the weak,uneducated and disenfranchised among us pose our greatest risks forfailure. The costs of care, disruption, turmoil, and non-productivityare becoming increasingly apparent on a global scale.

We have ample evidence that the 130,000 or so government employees atDHHS and SSA are up to the job of administering a competitiveprivately insured universal healthcare program that currentlyprovides some 43 million people with appropriate and affordable care.Why we aren't simply opening it up to all 305 million of us isludicrous. Recall, that Obama's plan would allow you to opt out offederal coverage if you want to stay in the current failing system.It's all the more ridiculous, when we are being told that the reasonto dismiss universal healthcare is that an adherence to a false senseof capitalism is more important. But don't expect yourrepresentatives, or the media, to educate you, they are the ones mostblinded by their misguided ideology.

Name: Vicki Cheikes
Hometown: Boca Raton, FL

Regarding the issue of taxation and charitable deductions, what istotally overlooked is the potential impact that elimination orsubstantial reduction in estate taxes would have on charitablegiving. Right now, there are only two deductions which can eliminateFederal estate taxes, the marital deduction, for estates going tothe decedent's spouse, and the charitable deduction for estatesgoing to charity.

Were the Federal estate tax to be either eliminated or substantiallyreduced, there is a great likelihood that the very wealthy wouldleave their vast estates to their children or other relatives (otherthan spouses), rather than to charity.

It needs to be repeated (over and over) that the real (actually thesole) beneficiaries of estate tax repeal or material elimination arethe children and grandchildren of the very wealthy. This is why Icall estate tax repeal the Paris Hilton Welfare Act. But, I am just atax attorney, so no one listens to me.

Name: Greg Panfile
Hometown: Tuckahoe NY

The past coupla weeks, with light blogging from Eric and no Pierce orLTC Bob, I started to think, why is this bookmarked, why do I checkin here and follow this guy... he writes nothing and likes*Springsteen* after all. Then I read the bit on Stewart and it waslike oh, I remember, that's why...

Speaking for the hoi polloi we'd love to read more LTC Bob ASAP, OK,as in PDQ. To Charles we send best wishes for a speedy recovery withno attendant attempt at humorousness because writing anything snarkyat a superior scribe violates the Croce principle about Superman'scape and windward urination; it is best not contemplated, and ifthought about, left undone.

Name: Martyn Luberti

Eric,

Thought you might enjoy this also. Another even rarer Leonard Cohensong, and you will probably understand the lyrics better than Iwould. It's called "Un as Der Rebbe Singt" recorded live in Viennawhen Leonard, you, and I were much younger.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPvpXg7pPXM

Name: Larry Cowan
Hometown: Temple, TX

Dr. A,

We saw Bruce in concert last night and as my cousin said, "He's stillgot it." Despite Austin's laid back demeanor and a heavy audienceshift to "Boomers", the place was rockin' to the rafters. From Bruce's first appearance at the Armadillo World Headquarters in 1974 until now Bruce has been "The Boss" in Austin. The repetoire was a nice mix of old and the not so old. Imagine that, strong music and a message from the heart. The E Street Band was just as powerful as thiry-five years ago. This stop was early on a long tour so the energy met all expectations. President Obama would be well advised to appoint Bruce as a Special Secretary of Energy. Get in soon, you won't bedisappointed.

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