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Slacker Friday, Jumbo Edition | 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, Jumbo Edition

I've got a new "Think Again" column called "TheDHS Report: Torturing theTruth" here and I'vegot a new Nation column about the New York Times Company, theBostonGlobe and the craziness of the current situation in the newspaperbusiness called "The NewspaperBiz: More Poison Please?" here

Also, here on the Daily Beast, I criticize a Timesstory that pretendsto be about Obama selling out but in fact is about the fact that theTimes chose to put a story on its front page that has a theme butabsolutely no substance. And in this piece I refute yet another round ofsloppyand misleading charges thatIzzy Stone was a spy.And today I did this column about William Kristol and the art of failingupward in conservative American for the Guardian, and it's here.Oh, and the finalists for theMirror awards for covering the media wereannounced this week and my work appeared in two categories: Best SingleArticle--Traditional for "Out of Print" (The New Yorker), andBest Commentary--Digital for a series of columns on the legacy of the Bushwar against the press for the Center for American Progress, which are here. All of the nominees can be found here.One of the many fun aspects of an extremely fun job--that of New YorkTimes op-ed page pundit--is the ability to just say stuff that mayor may not be true but which you are under no obligation to demonstrate assuch. Given the temptation, almost all pundits yield to this,and--surprise, surprise--not only does much of what they claim turn outto be false, but it also, by coincidence, matches almost exactly their ownstated political prejudices. Is David Brooks the worst offender? Icouldn't say. But I would say that you can't get away with this soeasily in the blogosphere. Brooks would have to link to his sources,which I'm guessing, are either misread or imaginary. For instance thismorning, he writes:

"There is little philosophical backing for a government as activist asthe one Obama is proposing. Middle-class voters are not willing to handover higher taxes in exchange for more federal services. The public issignificantly to Obama's right on economic matters and needs constantevidence that he is not trespassing on personal freedom and individualresponsibility."

Well, according to my research, this is exactly wrong. I researched thequestion rather carefully for Why We're Liberals, and based on the data available then, I discovered exactlythe opposite of what Brooks claims, without evidence, to be true. Here's a bit from that:

We now have a situation in which not just majorities butmassive supermajorities of the public tell pollsters that they hold views wellto the left of what their political system produces: the very samepositionsironically espoused by some of America's most famous and allegedlyout-of-touch liberals... To offer just a few examples of thisliberal-in-all-but-name attitude regarding economic and welfare policy,according to the 2006 survey, released in March 2007, roughly70 percentof respondents believe that the government has a responsibility "to takecare of people who can't take care of themselves"--up from 61 percentin 2002. The number saying that the government should guarantee "everycitizen enough to eat and a place to sleep" has increased by a similarmargin over the past five years (from 63 percent to 69 percent).Two-thirdsof the public (66 percent)--including a majority of those who saythey would prefer a smaller government (57 percent)--favorgovernment-fundedhealth insurance for all citizens. Most people also believe that thenation's corporations are too powerful and fail to strike a fair balancebetweenprofits and the public interest. In addition, nearly two-thirds(65 percent) say corporate profits are too high, about the same numberwho say that "labor unions are necessary to protect the working person"(68 percent). When it comes to the environment, a large majority(83 percent) supports stricter laws and regulations to protect theenvironment,while 69 percent agree that "we should put more emphasis onfuel conservation than on developing new oil supplies," and fully60 percent of people questioned say they would "be willing to pay higherprices in order to protect the environment." Regarding so-called socialissues, only 28 percent of respondents agree that school boards shouldhave the right to fire teachers who are known to be homosexual, while66 percent disagree. A 56 percent majority opposes making it moredifficultfor a woman to get an abortion, while 35 percent favor thisposition. These findings reinforce previous polls like that in 2004 byNPR,the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University, which asked voterswhether "the federal government should fund sex education programsthat have 'abstaining from sexual activity' as their only purpose"or if "the money should be used to fund more comprehensive sex educationprograms that include information on how to obtain and use condomsand other contraceptives." The condom/contraceptive optionwon the day by a margin of 67 to 30 percent. Unsurprisingly, a similarnumber (65 percent) said they worried that refusing to provide teenswith good information about contraception might lead to unsafe sex,while only 28 percent were more concerned that such information mightencourage teens to have sex.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Americanseven tend to side withliberals rather than conservatives in their attitudes toward religion.Accordingto a 2006study sponsored by the Faith and Progressive PolicyInitiative of the Center for American Progress and conducted by thefirmFinancial Dynamism, 67 percent of voters believe that religious freedomis a "critical" part of their image of America, compared to less thanthreein ten who believe the Judeo-Christian faith specifically is criticalto thisimage. Only 20 percent of American voters approve of leaders using thepolitical system to turn religious beliefs into action. In terms of therolethat religious and moral teachings should play in public debate aboutkeyissues, American voters do not focus on the issues of abortion, gaymarriage, and the kind of topics that so exercise conservative Christianleaders, but would prefer to see their churches lead on issues such asalleviating"poverty and hunger" (75 percent), "homelessness" (61 percent),"government corruption" (58 percent), "terrorism" (56 percent), "theenvironment"(54 percent), and "health care" (52 percent). Americans specificallyreject the conservative Christian desire to suppress science intheservice of religious dogma. Eighty percent of those questioned agreethat"faith and science can and should coexist. We can respect our belief inGod and our commitment to the dignity of every human life by using ourscientific knowledge to help those who are sick or vulnerable." The sameoverwhelming number endorses the view that "stem cell research can bea force for moral good rather than a moral failing."

Remember those are pre-Crash figures. If anything they are even morecompelling now then before. Or at least that's how I read thisexhaustive study by my colleagues at CAP. Read all about it here.

CHARLES PIERCE
NEWTON, MA.

"First, I cut him with my Barlow/Then I kicked him in the side/Istood o'er him laughin' while he wallowed up and died./Judge, judge, goodkind judge, send me to the 'Lectric chair."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "The Return Of The Prodigal Son" (RayBryant) -- Dick Cheney doesn't love vicarious sadism as much as I love NewOrleans. True fact.

Part The First: Thanks to Digby for this amazing clip. And a big hoddy-toddy--Ole Miss joke--to Shep Smith who, I swear, one finemorning, is going to take an ax to his workplace.

Part The Second: Does Stephen Breyer have a daughter? ( A wife? A mother? Is he acquainted with anyone possessing breasts? If there is a just god, Breyer eventually will lock himself outside his house, naked, at high noon on Easter morning. How Dahlia keeps from hurling Jujubes at these people at moments like this remains a mystery to me.

Part The Third: This is an intriguing premise by Tom Ricks. I will leave the military implications of the notion to my former running-mate. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that, if Ricks's proposal is enacted, Notre Dame is unlikely ever to win another football game.

Part The Fourth: Happy birthday to the presiding publican of one ofmy favorite joints along the docks of Blogistan. And I ask him, sincerely, was it about a bicycle?

Part The Last: Ah, The Future fires back.

Scroll down, as the kids say, for his response to this thing.

Attentive readers will note that, right there at the top, I expressed myadmiration for what The Future has done. I was critical of his unseemly--and fundamentally gutless--tendency to gloat as thousands of people losetheir jobs, all the while denying that he's doing it, but that's hardly"Shooting The Messenger." (Note--I said the HuffPo contributors don't getpaid, which they don't. If you tell me the reporters get paid, I'll believeyou, but I'd love to know if it's enough to keep a rat, as my grandmotherwould have said.) There's the usual pouter-pigeoning about the new age; "I'm not the reason people are deciding to take more direct ownership oftheir media production and consumption." Wowser. Aux armes, citoyens! Jesus,nobody said you were. Who are you when you're at home, as my grandmotheralso used to say.

All I did was ask the perfectly legitimate question of whether or not--in the new media age that The Future has helped bring upon us--anybodywill be able to actually make a living at a craft to which I've devotednearly 35 years of my life. In response, I get this remakable admission: "For Charlie Pierce and many of his journalism friends, this debate is abouthow they continue to get paid. For me, I don't give a shit who gets paid orhow much, but whether people get the news they need to make informeddecisions in a democracy. If people get paid in the process, great! If theydon't, but people still get good information, then great!"

I would argue that there are a great number of people in a greatnumber of professions having a great number of conversations about how theywill continue to get paid. Auto workers come immediately to mind. I give ashit about all of them, including the people in my profession. I wouldargue that giving a shit about whether or not people should get paid adecent wage for an honest day's work is what progressive populism used tobe about. I don't recall any legitimate progressive determining on his ownwhich work is worthy of having a shit given about it. I would argue that myfriend in Chicago, who was a decent and honorable sportswriter with twoyoung kids and a mortgage, and who was laid off this week because theChicago Tribune is owned by a vicious vandal named Sam Zell who needs tohave his balls in the mouth of a shark right about now, is worthy of havinga shit given about him. I would argue that the cafeteria workers, securityguards, printers, drivers--and the newsroom staffs--at the newspapersin Seattle and Denver that went under are worthy of having a shit givenabout them. Here, from the invaluable Ms. Jane's place, is a story aboutwhich The Future, by his own admission, probably doesn't give a shit.

Of course, I do not understand the new world of progressive activism, wheresome professions are unworthy of having a shit given about them. I weep atmy ignorance, of course.

You will note, for the record, that there is nothing in that previouspassage that can be reasonably interpreted as having "attacked themessenger." The message, yes, but not the messenger. Were I to go on andpoint out that, for someone who doesn't give a shit whether people get paidfor gathering and disseminating the news we need to make informed decisionsin a democracy, The Future seems to be making a pretty tidy living his ownself, and were I to go on to point out that making yourself comfortable whileconvincing the suckers to work for the honor of it is a business plan thatwould make Sam Zell green with envy, and were I to point out further thatthe great Australian phrase, "I got mine, Jack" seems now apropos to thediscussion, that would be "attacking the messenger." I hope this clears upany confusion on the matter.

It seems fairly plain now that the torture story has the kind of legsthat neither this administration, nor, certainly, the previous one, wishthat it had. The question of whether there will be an investigation is nowoff the boards. There will be a number of them, official and unofficial.There are now too many people talking for anything else to happen. The career military and the FBI are pretty pissed and, sooner or later, the CIA lifers are going to push back and pin the whole thing on the political apparatchiks inside the Bush White House.That the apologists now seem to be simply rooting for another attack, afterwhich they plan to gloat themselves back into power, is demonstrationenough that they perceive the moral bankruptcy of their own position, andthat they sense a very strong tide turning against them. The oddest thingis how seriously the rising outrage seems to have wrong-footed the ObamaAdministration. They had to know this was coming, even though torture--and the theories of executive power from which the atrocities sprang -- wasnowhere near the issue during the campaign that it should have been.They'vebeen stumbling around for two weeks looking for some way to spin this intothe message of "Change" without actually doing anything about it. The bestthing they can do is let the investigations -- all of them, official andunofficial -- continue to gather steam and see where the whole thing leads.Events are in the saddle now, and I don't think the president iscomfortable with that, but there isn't anything else he can do about it. Awhile back, in response to some tut-tutting by the insufferable ParsonMeacham, I suggested that, while anger might not take us very far, as hesuggested, we should see how far it would take us anyway. I suspect we'reabout to find out. I didn't believe this for a long time, but I do now.Somebody's going to jail behind this stuff.

Timothy Barrett
Louisville, KY

Dick Cheney personally authorized the torture of enemy combatants and wants the Obama administration to continue to torture. Here is Cheney, consolidated from two recent interviews, "I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it. It's been a remarkably successful effort, and I think the results speak for themselves. One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is that they put out the legal memos... but they didn't put out the memos that show the success of the effort." When asked if in hindsight he thought the tactics went too far, "I don't."

Cheney must be prosecuted for his role in defying U.S. law and International Treaty because "robust interrogation" really means torture. Walid Bin Attash, who lost a leg in Afghanistan, was subjected to a torture technique once eagerly employed by the Nazis, who referred to it as "pfahlbinden." He was stripped naked, had his wrists handcuffed to a metal bar above his head in a darkened cell, and was forced to remain there for the better part of two weeks. "After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain," Bin Attash told the Red Cross. "Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position. The cuffs eventually cut into my wrists and made wounds."

Other detainees told the Red Cross they were routinely beaten, waterboarded, forced into coffin-like boxes while naked, bleeding and wounded, given enemas, and exposed to loud music, cold temperatures and frigid water. "I was never threatened with death. In fact, I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the 'verge of death and back again.' "

And Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others at Fox think this is funny. Apparently, real "torture" inflicts immediate obvious permanent harm, like pliers to fingernails, scalpels to thumbs, drilling into a healthy tooth (since they like fictional accounts better than real ones). Simply beating someone bloody, throwing them into walls, pouring water over their faces so they can't breath (3 times a day!), freezing them naked for weeks at a time, or boxing them up with scurrying insects is fairly harmless because people heal. It's also ineffective since people will say anything to make it stop. I guess Hannity gets all his expertise from the TV show 24.

The people behind torture and this media frenzy defending it have relinquished their right to call themselves decent and honorable, if they ever were. We refrained from such outrage when the Soviet Union posed an actual existential threat with nuclear missiles. But these people argue that a terror group that must resort to car bombs and crashing planes to kill our people is a mortal threat to America's very existence. I don't buy it. I say they believe our economy is driven by big defense spending and have seen that people will complain less about domestic problems when a scary enemy is presented. The fools on TV are either too stupid to understand this or just don't care whose water they carry as long as they get paid. Limbaugh, Beck and Hannity are the willing puppets of lawless and inhumane opportunists. Dick Cheney is one of these criminals.

-- Jennifer Rauch, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Journalism
Long Island University
www.brooklyn.liu.edu/journalism

Hi, Eric-

I'm a journalism professor at Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus, doing some research on why and how people use alternative media that you might be interested in. I'm including a link to the online survey below, with the hope that you'll participate in the (anonymous) study.

I'm also trying to spread the word to anyone who uses alternative media, including readers or writers of The Nation....

Warm regards,
Jennifer Rauch

Dear Alternative-Media User,You're invited to share your ideas about mainstream media and why we need alternatives. Go to http://tinyurl.com/altmedia to complete the online questionnaire; it takes about 15 minutes. The first 100 people to complete the survey can enter a drawing for a $50 gift card for Amazon.com. Your identity as a participant will remain confidential. Thanks for helping with this project!Jennifer Rauch, Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus

David Durham
Chattanooga, TN

Regarding great 'Dead' performances, one era I see being sort ofskipped over is the early '90's. Bruce Hornsby really gave the banda new spark, particularly Jerry. You could see him look at Bruce andthere'd be this twinkle in his eye and this little smile on hislips, he was being energized! Listen to Greensboro '91, there's asecond set (of course) full Dark Star that's really beautiful. Itwas the second night in Greensboro after an impressive Eyes of theWorld on the first night that clocked in at almost thirty minutes.Their shows at Madison Square that year were great too. The most funwas had at Boston Garden right after those New York shows thoughwhen they blew everyone's mind with a Help-Slip- Fire one night. Iwas already dancing to Franklin's Tower before I realized theyweren't playing it.

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