Eric Alterman | The Nation

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

What's the Matter With Wisconsin?

My Think Again column this week is called “The Contours and Context of the Conservative Class War in Wisconsin” and you can find it here

Now here’s Reed: 

America’s Crab-pot Mentality

Last Saturday, as tens of thousands of public employees rallied at the Wisconsin state capitol in what is now a continuing series of impressive protests against Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip them of their collective bargaining rights, a few thousand counter-protesters also showed up to make their voices heard. In the latters’ eyes, the unions’ ongoing occupation of the capitol and state Senate Democrats’ refusal to allow the Wisconsin legislature a voting quorum are not so much an impressive exercise of First Amendments rights as they are a repulsive symptom of a privileged class run amok. And despite the fact that many of these counter-protesters had ridden to Madison on buses organized and paid for by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, they nonetheless stood in the cold, and without any apparent trace of irony, generally accused the public employees across from them of being conceited, un-American money-grubbers.

This paragraph from the NY Times article on last Saturday’s dueling protests in Madison pretty much sums up the political moment this country is having right now:

“‘You don’t care about this country! Shame on you, you’re selfish,’ one supporter of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal told union supporters, wagging his finger as he spoke. Moments later, a union supporter addressed the other side: ‘What’s wrong with you people?’"

I believe this question isn’t merely rhetorical, but a legitimate one worthy of understanding. Indeed, it’s worth understanding just exactly how our country has arrived at a place where poor and middle-class folks willingly engage in internecine class warfare against one another, with one side essentially acting as a cat’s paw for mega-wealthy conservatives intent on undermining every worker protection in existence.

For a helpful illustration of this behavior, consider the crab pot analogy. Place one crab in an open pot (or trap) and it can usually climb its way up and out with ease. But if you add a second crab or even a few more, no crabs will escape. Why? Because as soon as one crab starts to achieve some success in getting out, the others will pull it back down into the pot in a desperate competitive display of every crab for itself. In other words, by viewing survival as a zero-sum experience—where one’s success (or smaller amount of sacrifice) is seen as an unfair punishment for everyone else—these crabs act in a way that ensures that they all perish.

Of course, crabs behave this way because it’s in their nature, we humans don’t have such a convenient excuse. Thomas Frank in his 2004 book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, addressed what he saw as a broad swath of that state’s citizens succumbing to populist, conservative messaging in direct contrast to their best interests. (His conclusions, it should be noted, weren’t without their flaws.) But I see what’s going on now as something different than what he explored—rather than a choice by some in the middle-class to willingly choose self-inflicted wounds, it’s a desire to see others suffer to the same degree. So, what’s driving this zeal for middle-class economic Schadenfreude?

Well, the media for one. Mainstream press coverage and Beltway conventional wisdom have been led by the nose to cover these public employee union stories through a narrow, either-or prism. Rarely, if ever, do you read an article or see a broadcast that provides greater context or digs into the real causes of the proliferating budget deficits that plague statehouses across the country. You just don’t hear about how an unraveling housing market, high unemployment and reckless Wall Street bond bets, rather than public-employee union activity, are much better predictors of which state’s revenues are now in the red. Nor do you get much of a sense that the new cohort of GOP governors are exacerbating their imbalanced budgets with counterproductive measures like slashing corporate tax rates.

Unfortunately, those stories that do attempt a contextual breakdown, by comparing pubic and private employee compensation, are riven with poor data choices and, as analytical tools, do more to misinform than anything. Consider the prime talking-point statistic cited by GOP politicians around the country, courtesy of USA Today:

“At a time when workers' pay and benefits have stagnated, federal employees' average compensation has grown to more than double what private sector workers earn.” USA Today, August 10, 2010

This notion that public employees are basking in a bounty of benefits while the rest of the middle-class in this country is simultaneously struggling is the fuel that fires much of the public sector union resentment. Sure, this aforementioned story does add in some disagreement with the statistical analysis—only in the form of union representative’s protesting, however—and subtle caveats like “The analysis did not consider differences in experience and education.” But what’s dismissed in the story as minor quibbling is really the pointing out of a major analytical flaw, one that is ripe for broad brush misinterpretation and political grandstanding.

In fact, if you start to correct for important salary and benefit impactors—like experience and education and others—the statistics tell a very different tale. For example, in the current case of Wisconsin’s local and state workers, an Economic Policy Institute study found that public employees enjoyed a 5% wage and benefits penalty when compared to their private sector counterparts. And even when the mainstream press does offer an appropriate contextual comparison, as the New York Times did this past Tuesday concerning public vs. private worker salaries in Ohio, it’s buried deep within the story, in this case in the 28th paragraph of a 31-paragraph story. (Incidentally, that article noted that even though state public employees enjoy a 20% higher median salary than private sector workers, when you compare those who are college graduates, “public workers make less than the private sector.”)

Nevertheless, conservative commentators and politicians have seized hold of the “public employees are overpaid” meme and run with it, doing what it is that they do best, unfortunately.

David Brooks, New York Times—public employee unions can’t be trusted to be as ineffective as private sector unions so they need to be weakened:

“In Wisconsin and elsewhere, state-union relations are structurally out of whack...Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.”

Michael Goodwin, Fox News—talking about the “entitlement culture” and how tough it is for today’s high-earning taxpayers, who are suffering under the lowest tax burden in decades, to pay for public employees’ salaries:

“From that willful ignorance, it's perfectly acceptable to demand pay without work, or, almost as insidious, pay and pensions that dwarf those of your neighbors who foot the bill.”

Tim Pawlenty, former GOP governor of Minnesota and budding Tea Party darling—on how the public sector unions are some kind of predatory fifth column readying to overthrow the Republic:

“The rise of government unions has been like a silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions…Government employees today are among the most protected, well-paid employees in the country. Ironically, public-sector unions have become the exploiters, and working families once again need someone to stand up for them.”

Newt Gingrich, former, future and forever potential GOP presidential candidate—sounding very reasonable but, of course, getting everything completely backwards when it comes to the Wisconsin labor dispute:

“In Madison, Wisconsin, we are witnessing a profound struggle between the right of the people to govern themselves and the power of entrenched, selfish interests to stop reforms and defy the will of the people.”

The subtext in all of this is pretty clear when you, respectively, strip away the distinctions without a difference about public vs. private sector unions (Brooks, a myth that Ezra Klein dispenses with here), allusions to old conservative canards about Cadillac-driving welfare mothers (Goodwin), intimations of socialism and unearned job security (Pawlenty), and outright repudiation of public workers as full citizens in our democracy (Gingrich). What’s eating at them and the followers is that public-sector unions have been exercising their political and economic clout and doing a somewhat good job of it. Of course, in reality, many public workers have already had to swallow pay cuts and watch their benefits erode over the past few years, a compromise the teachers and public workers in Wisconsin are willing to accept provided their future organizing rights aren’t gutted in the bargain. And relatively speaking, these unions have maintained some enduring strength as compared to their private sector counterparts—unionized or not—who have seen their real wages stagnate for nearly three decades while average CEO pay has skyrocketed and pay inequity in this country approaches an all-time high, as these eye-opening charts over at Mother Jones show pretty clearly.

So what to do? Why, the answer is temptingly simple if you’re a disgruntled American stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder. Make these unions victims of their own success and, in a bit of political jiujitsu, use their ability to secure relatively modest salary and benefit packages for their members as the primary argument against them. Let’s pull these uppity public employees back down into the unprotected labor pool with the rest of us, whose wages and job security rest in the hands of cold-hearted corporate managers and fickle shareholders. That’ll get the economy cooking again, right? And, if it doesn’t, well, at least the well-off in this country will continue to enjoy a nice life, feasting off all of us poor crabs who ensured we got cooked in the process.

The Mail
Mark Paul
Highland Park, IL

One thing to add to Reed's admirable summary of the prospective NFL lockout is this: despite the owners' claim that they are dedicated to growth of anything more than their own accounts, the NFL is the only league that doesn't have a franchise in the nation's second largest media market. The Rams left for St. Louis after the 1994 season.

To their credit, the Los Angeles municipal authorities have declined to use scarce taxpayer funds to fund a stadium, and there the matter rests.

Paul Minkoff
Rochester, NY

Interesting stuff.

Would have welcomed some data that compares the income and whiteness of the NFL owners vs the players. Richardson has the same scent as the Koch Brothers—did he attend their recent bash in the desert? What if any connection do you see between Richarson's position and the subsequent vertical drop in his team's performance the last 2 years, and I think the loss of their widely respected head coach? Could it be that good ole Jerry is maneuvering to receive a bailout of some kind? Afterall, it turned out well for GM, unless you are like me, a devotee of the 1990s Saturn SL2s.


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Walkouts, Payouts and Lockouts

My new Think Again column takes pity on those poor, underappreciated folk in the tea party, about whom so many in the media are so vicious and hurtful and it’s here.

My Nation column is called “Ronald Reagan Superstar.” You can guess what that’s about. It’s here

And my Daily Beast column this week was about Obama’s awful budget, and that’s here

And here's a video of my appearance on Busboys and Poets, broadcast on CSPAN's Book TV last week

But now here’s Reed:

Walkouts, Payouts, and Lockouts: Why the NFL’s labor dispute should matter to you

Imagine you are a union member at a workplace that had defied the dire economic straits of recent years and instead seen its annual revenue rise by nearly 50 percent in the past five years. Now, imagine if the owners of that successful entity presented you with the following choice: Either sign a new contract that essentially requires accepting a decrease in your share of revenue and an increase in your workload at your (physically ruinous) job or risk being shut out of work and replaced. Oh, and did I forget to mention the part about how the media will do such a poor job of accurately explaining the situation that most of the public will think you went on strike and thus brand you a greedy bastard?

In a nutshell, that’s where the NFL’s labor negotiations stand right now as the owners and players’ union head into the final two weeks of the current collective bargaining agreement. Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, one of the few sportswriters who hasn’t succumbed to the league’s wooing and carefully constructed talking points, summed it up better than I could yesterday:

“[The owners] believe they are entitled to make money every year, even in the midst of disastrous recessions. They think they are owed a living…The core issue is this: Owners resent the fact that a lot of [fans’] money is going into the pockets of players, instead of into their own.”

How much is “a lot” of money, according to the owners? Well, last year, players took home around 53% of the league’s $9.3 billion in annual revenue, leaving the owners with a measly 47% of the cut. Doesn’t seem so unfair to me, especially since the players are the ones, you know, actually playing the games and risking injury.

So what’s behind the owners trying to drive such a hard bargain? Well, total player compensation has doubled since 2003 and, despite a roughly corresponding rise in league revenue, that just doesn’t sit right with management, as Jenkins pointed out. And when she says they “resent” it, she’s being a bit kind.

In fact, last March, at a private league meeting, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson (no relation!) blasted the terms of the current CBA, despite the fact that, just four years earlier, it had won the owners’ approval in a lopsided vote of 30–2. Regardless, Richardson reportedly drew raucous applause from the assembled owners when he let loose an aggrieved rant that had him sounding more like a laid off Tea Partier waving a Gadsden flag than the owner of an NFL franchise that is estimated by Forbes to be worth a cool billion dollars.

“We signed a shitty deal last time and we’re going to stick together and take back our league and fucking do something about it.”

That’s right, Richardson and the other NFL owners are now suggesting that they were somehow duped by the NFLPA, which has a longstanding reputation as the worst, most ineffective players’ union in professional sports. (Despite it being the most violent of professional team sports, where the average playing career barely lasts three seasons, pro football continues to be the only one without guaranteed contracts.) If only Richardson and his innocent billionaire buddies had had the means to hire a few lawyers so they could negotiate a better deal from those scheming players!

This retroactive contract outrage was also working full tilt this week, after GM announced it would be giving $400 million in bonus payouts to its executives and hourly workers after its “dramatic turnaround” had resulted in significant profits. Right on cue, Fox News turned on the indignation spigot. Here’s a telling back-and-forth between America’s Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum and Fox Business host Eric Bolling:

MACCALLUM: What really steamed me, is that it turns out, surprise, surprise, GM and Chrysler are about to head into union negotiations, okay? And during the whole thing, during the whole bailout, the, you know, everyone, the whole country said, ‘Well, you’ve got to give something back, too, right?’ So they got all the union folks to say, ‘Well, we’ll give back this, we’ll give back that.’ Now they're saying, ‘Well, we want it back,’ right?

BOLLING: Here's what they gave back. They gave back an hourly wage, their wages were here and there's much controversy on what they actually started at. They reduced their hourly wage, now they're going back into negotiation in September, I will guarantee you they're going to want that higher wage. In the meantime, Martha, the UAW, on this deal, on the GM deal alone, not the Chrysler deal, has $4.3 billion of our money that they didn't have before, because they were given ownership of GM. Given ownership.

The nerve! Union employees that took a pay cut to help their employer two years ago now want that “higher wage” restored since the company is profitable again. Don’t they know that’s not how capitalism works? And not for nothing, but I don’t remember a long line of interested investors standing behind the UAW in 2009, wanting to be “given ownership” of a car company that many were saying had no chance of surviving. Again, I guess taking a big risk and then expecting to enjoy a big reward when it pays off only applies to owners not labor.

The NFL owners, it appears, aren’t about to make a similar mistake—the extra $1 billion a year they want for themselves in the new CBA would largely be devoted to building massive, new profit centers stadiums, kind of like the one Richardson is now agitating for in Charlotte. These new facilities are ostensibly about hosting football games, but in reality they are more like giant outdoor casinos, cleverly designed to separate fans from their money at almost every turn, whether through public funding of their construction, the selling of personal seat licenses or exorbitant parking, ticket and concession prices. And if you think NFL owners are above shamelessly milking this “build it and they will come (and pay)” scheme for all it’s worth, I would point out that Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers’ current home, which Richardson is so keen to replace, opened way back in 1996.

OK, you might argue, but why should I really care about a contract dispute between millionaires and billionaires when real middle-class labor battles, like the inspiring public sector protests and teacher walkouts happening in Wisconsin, are brewing elsewhere around the country? First of all, to pick a nit, most NFL players aren’t actually millionaires—the median salary in 2010 stood at just under $800,000. Of course, that's enough to pay a dozen good teachers (and I ought to know, my wife is one of them), but it’s not just players that will be affected if the owners execute a lockout. According to a union estimate, an NFL work stoppage lasting through 2011 could cost each NFL city $140 million in lost revenue and result in the loss of thousands of good-paying middle-class jobs.

But beyond that micro-economic impact is a larger, cultural one. Right or wrong, for many Americans, the current NFL labor dispute represents another, highly visible symbol of the battle between employers and employees, management and union. And it’s importance arises from the fact that the current dispute very clearly demonstrates that even when a business is experiencing unsurpassed popularity and enjoying lucrative profits, that company’s ownership still cannot be expected to share those spoils with its employees without the force of collective bargaining power.

Indeed, the NFL’s increasingly belligerent negotiating tactics, following hard on the heels of what was a wildly successful Super Bowl, in a way, also gives the lie to all the talk of sacrifice being spouted by so many Republican elected officials nowadays. People like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (who seems to fancy himself a modern day Orville Faubus) and Ohio Governor John Kasich try to cloak their draconian public sector layoffs and anti-union legislation as necessary measures to survive these troubled times, but that’s just a convenient excuse. In reality, their fondness for hollowing out collective bargaining power and assaulting real wages isn’t born out of dire circumstances. Instead, these policy choices spring forth from the same old-fashioned conservative mindset that fueled the rise of the Robber Barons more than a century ago and that propels their modern day counterparts in the NFL today—squeezing labor in every way possible, in good times and in bad.

The Mail:
From my old friend and one-time professor, Richard Polenberg:
I’m writing to let you know that I’ll be returning to Slope Radio this semester, and that a video I’ve just done of early Dylan songs will soon be available on Cornell’s cybertower website.

In the video, “Bob Dylan and the Sixties: the Cold War and Civil Rights,” I talk about Dylan in the years 1962 and 1963, and the songs he wrote about racial and economic injustice and the danger of nuclear war. Some songs dealt with highly visible issues that were front-page news at the time, others with problems that were less evident but no less real, such as poverty, violence, and the cruelty of the prison system. I sing and play several of Dylan’s songs – “The Ballad of Donald White,” “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” “Masters of War,” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” and “The Times They Are A-Changing”—accompanied by my son, Michael, who plays mandolin, guitar and twelve-string guitar. My good friend, Annie Burns, joins in on a few of the songs.

The video will be available at http://cybertower.cornell.edu.

My web-based Slope Radio program, “Key to the Highway,” will be broadcast on Wednesdays from 7 to 8 pm, but the shows are archived so you can hear them whenever you wish. All 48 past programs are also available.

You can log on at http://slopemedia.org/radio and click on Key to the Highway. No username or password is necessary.

2011’s first program, “Betty and Dupree,” will be broadcast on February 16. It tells the tale of Frank Dupree, a 19 year old youth who promised his girlfriend, Betty Andrews, a present; so he stole a diamond ring from a store in Atlanta, Georgia, and murdered a detective in the course of the robbery. He was eventually apprehended, tried, convicted and hanged in 1922. I’ll play many of the songs written about the event, from the earliest, recorded in 1930, to one done by The Grateful Dead.

The next program is devoted to Blind Willie McTell (1903-1959), the subject of a superb new biography by Michael Gray. His 1928 recording of “Statesboro Blues” has been covered by Taj Mahal and countless others. I’ll play some of McTell’s recordings made during the 1930s, and a few of the songs and stories that John and Ruby Lomax recorded in an Atlanta hotel when they chanced to meet him in November 1940.

The third program, “Delia’s Gone,” is about 14-year old Delia Green, murdered by her 16-year old boyfriend Moses Houston in Savannah, Georgia on Christmas eve in 1900. I’ll play many versions of the song, from the earliest, recorded in 1923, to the most recent, cut in 2010, and Bob Dylan’s unbelievably great version on his 1993 album “World Gone Wrong.”

I plan to devote other shows to Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins, Hank Williams, and Bob Marley, to the song “Duncan and Brady,” to the music written about the Sacco and Vanzetti case, and to the Lomax-Seeger-Guthrie collection called “Hard-Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People,” and -- well, I’m not sure what else, so if you have any suggestions I’d welcome them.

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All Alter-Review Slacker Friday

My new Think Again column revisits the terrible “problem” of liberal academia, and it’s here.

Bob Kuttner gave Kabuki Democracy a nice review in The American Prospect here.

And the Jewish Journal of LA reviewed it here.

And CSPAN’s Book TV will broadcast a talk I gave at Busboys and Poets in Washington DC this Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 1. More info here.

Live shows: John Doe, Joan Osborne, Cowboy Junkies, “The Music of Neil Young”

Cds: Miles, “Bitches’ Brew Live,” Cowboy Junkies’ “Demons,”The Jayhawks, "Hollywood Town Hall" and "Tomorrow The Green Grass,” Bob Dylan, “Witmark Demos.”

Blurays: Jeff Back House Party

I caught two shows in Lincoln Center’s terrific “American Songbook” series recently, which take place in the Allen Room overlooking the entrance to Central Park at Columbus Circle and always seems to inspire the performer with its power and beauty. The first was John Doe playing the kind of country music that makes his records with the Knitters and the Sadies such a joy. He didn’t have either band with him, but he put together a lovely pickup band that featured his daughter on vocals and did a bunch of originals—some of which were reworked X songs and a few were classics, and one or two may be classics some day. (My vote goes to “Wrecking Ball” co-authored by the great Dave Alvin.) Anyway, it was a pretty relaxed, enjoyable show, in contrast to the Joan Osborne show which also did not suck at all, but was quite a production. Togther with her longtime collaborator Jack Petruzelli began Osborne premiered a new song cycle modeled on Van Morrison’s "Veedon Fleece" and "Astral Weeks." It’s about a love affair that blossoms and then, I think disappears, though I’m not sure, and featured lots of six string players video and a couple of dancers including the evening’s choregrapher, Lily Baldwin. It’s hard to appreciate music the first time you hear it but Osborne is such a strong vocalist and the band found its groove a few times so the evening never dragged. She came back for some plain old Joan Osborne songs, and everybody went home happy, thinking they had seen something special. Anyway, here’s the rest of the season if you’re in town.

A few nights later, I caught a Cowboy Junkies show at City Winery. They’re in the middle of an ambitious four volume “Nomad series” on their own label, Latent Recordings. I don’t actually know why it’s a series, but this album is all songs by the late Vic Chesnutt. It’s a perfect match. The Junkies always sound like the Junkies, but the lush, warm arrangements of Chesnutt’s beautiful compositions all sound new amidst the excellent arrangements, intuitive communication and soothing voice of Margo Timmins and her mispucha. City Winery is the perfect place to relax and immerse oneself in the, um, vibe. And Ms. Margo is an awfully a good-looking fifty, by the way, if I’m allowed to say that. More here

And finally, Thursday night, I was at Carnegie Hall for the seventh annual Michael Dorf-curated tribute to an individual songwiter. Last night’s honor went to Neil Young and the artists included, the aforementioned Cowboy Junkies and Ms. Oosborne along with  Patti Smith, The Roots, J Mascis, Living Colour's Vernon Reid, DeVotchKa, Shawn Colvin, Pete Yorn, Nada Surf, Bettye LaVette, Bebel Gilberto, Keller Williams, Larry Campbell, Ben Ottewell (Of Gomez), Cowboy Junkies, Mason Jennings, Joan Osborne, and Joe Purdy. It was always, very hit and miss. And while Neil Young is unarguably great, he is no Bruce Springsteen, and so he did not show up and play with his people.

But there were some standout performances—too many to mention—and some that were carried by the prettiness of the song. The band, which was led by Larry Campbell, almost made the catastrophic decision to end with a singalong of “Ohio” which veered on an SNL self-parody, but then saved itself with a rockin’ version of “Hey, Hey My, My.” I learned to like a bunch of new artists last night but most of all it would be great if people took a look at these terific, and terribly important organizations: Fixing Instruments for Kids in Schools, Church Street School for Music & Art, The Pinwheel Project, Music Unites, The American Symphony Orchestra and Young Audiences New York.  and gave ‘em some dough. There are few more important causes than music in the schools.

Columbia Legacy just dropped a new single record of MilesDavis' Bitches Brew recorded live based on two performances—one nine months before the release of Bitches Brew, the other four months after the album came outThe set from July 1969, played at the Newport Jazz Festival is available for the first time and really shows off this incredible band of Davis, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Wayne Shorter. The later set, from the Isle of Wight, adds Gary Bartz on sax and Airto Moriera on percussion shows how far the music still had to go before it became, in this view, the dividing line between Jazz that depended on melody and Jazz that depended on tonality. I’m kinda mad about the turn it took, though Coltrane is at least as responsible as Miles. But this is still pretty good stuff.

I took a look at the bluray of Jeff Beck’s Rock'n'Roll Party: Honoring Les Paul. It’s a fun romp, featuring the Irish vocalist Imelda May, with Beck and appearances by Brian Setzer and Gary U.S. Bonds, covering the 1950's Les Paul and Mary Ford records like How High The Moon, Mockingbird Hill, Tiger Rag, all of which takes place in front of a start-studded (as the saying goes) audience at Irridium, the club where Les Paul maintained a residency until his recent passing at age 95. There’s not a lot of Beckish guitar soloing in the show, it’s mostly just fooling around with oldies, quite a few of which deserved to stay in the museum in which they were found. (“Rock Around the Clock” anyone?) But it’s fun, and by the way, it’s also cheap.

 By Sal:

Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass are considered to be The Jayhawks' classics. Fine albums they are, and they certainly put the band on the map. Personally, I'm a bigger fan of the two records that were released after Mark Olson's departure. But with the recent rerelease of the aforementioned records in remastered and expanded form, I revisited and reassessed. I still think Sound Of Lies and Smile have bigger tunes with better melodies, but there's a lot to be savored on Town Hall and Green Grass.

The oft-bootlegged Mystery Tapes, a collection of demos from 1992, has been tacked onto Green Grass as a bonus disc, while a few b-sides and rarities have been added to Town Hall. Olson and Gary Louris's voices together often sound the same in that Phil & Don sort of way, and that is just too hard to resist. The Jayhawks sounds like a lot of people--Gram Parsons, The Byrds, CSN & occasionally Y, even Tom Petty and The Beatles. Still, they've managed to carve a niche that many bands have tried, but have failed to do themselves. Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass are great places to start with The Jayhawks, and are both welcome addtions to the Legacy reissue series.

Bob Dylan's Witmark Demos is a collection of publishing company demos that has been widely bootlegged over the years. The recent 47 track release from Sony Legacy, also the set's first official release, includes 15 previously unheard songs, and it is indubitably the way to go. I read one reviewer who said, "The sound quality ranges from pretty awful to sort of awful." NO, it doesn't. I'm not sure what she was expecting. This isn't "Aja." It's an early look at familiar songs by the greatest songwriter of our time. It's Dylan and his guitar. Maybe it's not essential, as most of these songs hadn't changed much in their finished form. And unlike Dylan's debut, and just about any subsequent acoustic dylan recording of the 60s, there isn't a sense of urgency in the performances. It seems like Zimmy had a job to do and he did it. Nonetheless, it's the usual top-notch package from Legacy when Bob is involved, and it's a great "official" addition to your collection.


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And They Called It...

My new Think Again column revisits the terrible “problem” of liberal academia, and it’s here.

Bob Kuttner gave Kabuki Democracy a nice review in The American Prospect here.

And the Jewish Journal of LA reviewed it here.

And CSPAN’s Book TV will broadcast a talk I gave at Busboys and Poets in Washington DC this Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 1. More info here.

Lotta reviews tomorrow, but now here’s Reed:

Inflation and Puppy Love: The House Committee Circus Comes to Town
By Reed Richardson

And so it begins. The new Republican majority has settled into control over the House and started holding hearings. And if yesterday’s proceedings are any indication, it will be a long two years for the White House and the American public.

Over at the House Budget Committee, Rep. Ron Paul kicked off the proceedings with what looked to be a libertarians-only kaffeeklatsch, scheduled under the oh-so-subtle question of “Can Monetary Policy Really Create Jobs?” And just to make sure he got the answer he wanted, Paul brought in from the dusty corners of the academic world some guy named Thomas J. DiLorenzo who mainly has a beef with Abraham Lincoln but who has also referred to our central banking system as “the Fed and its legalized counterfeit operations” and characterized TARP as “appointing the U.S. Treasury Secretary as the nation’s first financial dictator.” Welcome to the new reality of Capitol Hill. 

But that was merely the undercard to the main event, a separate panel where the rest of the GOP Budget Committee members got to hector Fed Chairman Bernanke and try their darnedest to inflate the inflation boogeyman again. All of it as part of their quest to undermine the Fed’s quantitative easing program, which, sadly, passes for the only kind of economic stimulus left to the administration in the current political climate. Of course, this fear-mongering just doesn’t resonate as well when recent business news headlines about US inflation read thusly:

“U.S. Consumer Prices Excluding Food, Fuel Record Smallest Gain on Record”

Undaunted, new Committee Chairman and purported GOP wunderkind Paul Ryan wasn’t about to let a little thing like core inflation standing at historically low levels stop him. He just knows that inflation is too sneaky to be trusted, so he’s advocating that we pre-emptively attack it now, sort of Bush Doctrine-style, before it’s too late and “the cow is out of the barn.” (Uhhh, cow?! Typical Midwestern elitist, can’t even get his farm idioms straight.)

To further prove his point, the Cassandra-like Ryan waved a copy of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, which featured the ominous headline “Inflation Worries Spread.” Never mind that this little piece of theater was just that—the article underneath the headline actually focused on inflation concerns in emerging markets overseas and noted that “in contrast to emerging markets, inflation in the U.S. remains low.” But good luck reading about that disconnect in the news recaps of the hearing. Even the Journal ended up burying this nugget in a photo caption in this morning’s story

Not to be outdone, GOP Congressman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma actually verbalized his concern that the economic recovery might arrive too quickly for Bernanke to pull back the inflationary reins in time. I guess he didn’t get his party’s talking points about all the economy stifling and job killing going on right now thanks to Obama’s “socialist” policies?

Of course, if the conservatives on the GOP Budget Committee actually got their way, the odds for that fast-moving recovery would disappear faster than a moderate Republican’s chances of surviving the 2012 primary season, replaced instead by a likely slide back into recession. Kind of like the austerity-driven economic slump that the Tories have inflicted upon the UK right now. But according to Ryan’s principles, suffering through a few extra years of painful economic stagnation would be worth it if it meant we will have avoided a fractional devaluation of the dollar, a supposedly grevious sin that he puts in what he thinks is the proper context by saying:

“There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens than debase its currency.”

Really? I’ll admit I’m no history expert, but I would submit that, though the Weimar Republic’s runaway prices were bad, the regime that followed it pretty conclusively proved that hyperinflation is not the most insidious thing a country can do to its citizens. But hey, Ryan’s probably right, because everywhere I turn I read that he is a smart guy, a thinker and a voracious reader; it’s an embarrassing outpouring of intellect fluffing that, for some reason, always brings to my mind this classic exchange from A Fish Called Wanda:

WANDA: You think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?

OTTO: Apes don't read philosophy.

WANDA: Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it.

But wait there’s more! The House Energy and Commerce Committee met yesterday as well, and it too had no truck with administration personnel trying to do things and help people and whatnot. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson bore the brunt of it, as several GOP Congressman, including Committee Chairman and man-made climate change skeptic Rep. Fred Upton, castigated her agency’s finding that elevated carbon dioxide levels are endangering the public and, thus, should be regulated. The gall. At times, the back-and-forth got so contentious that today’s New York Times story on the hearing noted:

Jackson was subjected to more than two hours of questioning, some of it hostile, about proposed limits on emissions from factories, refineries, power plants and vehicles.

What’s interesting is that the original version of the Times story, posted online yesterday, characterized the questioning as “hostile and disrespectful” (italics mine), but was subsequently changed to read as above without an explanation or an acknowledgment. (The original version of the story’s first few paragraphs still can be found here.) 

So some Times editor had second thoughts and pulled his or her punches on the “disrespectful” thing. But why? Is it a fear of pissing off the new majority in the House or because, in the Beltway press calculus of Capitol Hill sins, disrespectful ranks above the polar opposites of hostile and obsequious?  Certainly all three were on display in the committee room yesterday, sometimes within the span of a few minutes, as this exchange, captured in the Times article, demonstrates:

A third Republican questioner, Representative Lee Terry of Nebraska, asked Ms. Jackson facetiously if she liked puppies. She started to answer that she did, provided that they were properly housebroken. Mr. Terry sharply interrupted, saying he was only mocking the gentle questions that Democrats were asking to elicit rehearsed answers.

Asking a snide, off-topic question about puppies (and then not even having the decency to listen to the full answer!) seems, to me, to take a pretty hostile and disrespectful attitude to both Jackson and the public, whose time he wasted. But then for a seven-term Congressman to try to excuse this stunt as a protest of what has to be a 200-plus-year tradition of asking friendly, leading questions of ideologically compatible witnesses is more than disingenuous, it’s stupid.

Not as stupid, perhaps, as the GOP-run committee calling on Sen. James Inhofe to testify as an expert witness on the climate, but, unfortunately, that’s the level of policy seriousness we can expect over the next two years. And it’s important for both the public and the media to grasp that. The oncoming whirlwind of similar House committee skirmishes won’t really be about helping the American people or looking forward to fix problems. Instead, it’s going to be all about pompous grandstanding and reflexively probing White House decisions to find any soft spots in the administration’s armor that can be exploited for political gain. In short, a circus, but now more than ever, the last thing our country needs is to be run by a bunch of clowns.

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

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The Chutzpah Hall of Fame

Elliott Abrams holds the remarkable position—second only to Henry Kissinger perhaps—of playing a role in the undermining of democracy in three separate regions: Central America, North America and the Middle East. The fact that he thinks himself qualified to lecture the president on this very topic deserves to put him in the Chutzpah Hall of Fame, as soon as it is founded and built. Read all about it, here.

My Nation column this week is called "The Conservative Class War, Continued."

There’s a video up of my conversation at CAP on Tuesday with its COO, Neera Tanden, here.

Also this: If you’re around, please join The Nation Institute for a public conversation with Eric Alterman, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Stanley Crouch and Tom Edsall in honor of the launch of Eric Alterman's new book, Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama, on Tuesday, February 8th at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York City beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Now take a look at this, and part II, which is actually better, here though as regards Led Zep, he's wrong, they sued Little Roger and the Goosebumps for their classic recording of Gilligan's Island to the tune of Stairway, which is shame, because it’s a better song.


I fear that Martin Scorsese is entering a Woody Allen phase. Gangs of New York was one of the worst movies of all time and I had no interest at all in seeing that Shutter Island thing. (Woody’s last movie was the first one I ever skipped seeing in a theater.) The Dylan documentary was great, but seriously, it’s been a while since that “genius” moniker showed up in the work.

If you are unaware as to why people love the guy’s work the way they do, the first movie you need to see is Goodfellas. The second, though many people would probably reverse this order, is Raging Bull, which, if I’m not mistaken, won a film critics poll as the best American movie of the 1970s. (I’d have picked Manhattan, alas. And while I’m starting an argument, for the 80s I’d pick Diner. For the 90s, Groundhog Day. I have to think about the 00s.) But anyway, the thing is out now in a bootiful new bluray edition, and you can find out a lot about what’s on it, and why it’s so great, here.

Its main selling points, aside from the terrific transfer and the corrected ratio for those of us who have seen it many times already are:

Three commentaries: Director Martin Scorsese and Editor Thelma Schooonmaker, cast and crew, storytellers

Four new featurettes: Marty & Bobby; Raging Bull: Reflections on a Classic; Remembering Jake; Marty on Fockers

Cathy Moriarty on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, March 27, 1981

Raging Bull: Fight Night—four-part

The Bronx Bull—Behind-the-scenes featurette

De Niro vs. La Motta—Shot-by-shot comparison in the ring

La Motta Definds Title—Vintage Newsreel Footage

Now here’s Reed:

Groundhog Day

Cue alarm clock, get up, listen to weather report and watch Fox News try to once again spin the news about the latest blizzard as proof that man-made climate change isn’t real. Just like it did last winter. And the winter before that.

Bonus déjà vu moment from yesterday: when Fox News meteorologist and serial misinformer Joe Bastardi (and no, I’m not making that name up) throws in the requisite dig at Al Gore and his patient explanation of how, in fact, heavier snowfall is directly related to man-made global warming. Here’s Bastardi’s carefully considered scientific rebuttal to Gore, offered to Fox & Friends co-host and reflexively repetitive Roger Ailes sycophant Steve Doocy:

“What it is is the atmosphere is beginning to cool, that creates more clashes. You know what this is like with those folks? I don't mean to demean you, but Dooce, you used to wrestle. It's like the more your opponent scores, the more points you get. The fact of the matter is these guys are sitting here—is there any answer they don't own? Four, five years ago, we're hearing no winters, lots of hurricanes, everything else. When the opposite happens, they say well, we're right about that.”

To be fair, Bastardi isn’t the only one at the network stuck in this rut. Fox News science columnist Gene Koprowski apparently wants to get in on the action as well, as evidenced by the not so fair and balanced APB he put out late Tuesday night for outside sources willing to trash Gore:

“Former Vice President Al Gore told Bill O'Reilly that: ‘A rise in global temperature can create all sorts of havoc, ranging from hotter dry spells to colder winters, along with increasingly violent storms, flooding, forest fires and loss of endangered species.’ We need comments from someone who can point out the ridiculousness of his argument, even if you accept the somewhat-implausible argument.’”

This morning, Koprowski churned out the predictably muddled column, replete with lines like “bickering among scientists” and “So why can’t scientists agree?” that only serves to sow doubts and confuse readers rather than provide any real context about the true scientific consensus. For my money, I’m a bit surprised by it. Not that the science columnist at Fox News would so unabashedly carry water for the climate change deniers. After all, this is the same cable news network where Washington DC managing editor Bill Sammon penned a memo ordering all news staff to inject a false sense of controversy and ambiguity into every story on global climate change. My surprise comes from the fact that Koprowski couldn’t get anyone over at the Heartland Institute to join in this hatchet job. I mean, a quick search of the Fox News archives reveals that Heartland, with its “free market solutions” approach to environmental policy has become Koprowski’s go-to think tank when he needs someone to criticize the latest report from the IPCC or data dump from NOAA.

In fact, in the past year, either someone from Heartland or a white paper of theirs has been quoted or included in nearly every climate-related column Koprowski’s written. (For proof, go here, here, here, here, here and here.) Read these columns and a clear picture emerges, one that leaves little, if any, space for the overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject and instead launders, unchallenged, climate change skepticism from the same few sources again and again and again. (Three of his column’s headlines even feature the dubious construction, “Scientist says,” which is a tired journalistic trick only worthy of The Onion.)

Now, the innocuous-sounding Heartland is more than just a plucky little libertarian non-profit agitating for deregulation. It has a long history of functioning as a policy front group for a host of corporate and conservative donors, like Philip Morris and ExxonMobil as well as foundations run by likes of the Kochs and Scaifes. (The Union of Concerned Scientists noted Heartland’s role in helping ExxonMobil with its climate change denying efforts in this 2007 report.)

As far as assessing the current intellectual rigor of the Heartland Institute, well, the organization’s Environmental & Climate News home page does prominently include a “Featured Video” of some guy in a black wig and another one holding hockey sticks singing an awful, amateurish Monkees parody called “I’m A Denier.” (If the presence of hockey sticks as a prop seems inexplicable, the background on their symbolism to climate change skeptic can be found here.) And it’s worth pointing out that the managing editor over at Heartland’s healthcare policy site—where you can read the latest right-wing talking points about the president’s healthcare reform law—is none other than Ben Domenech. If you don’t recognize him from his Heartland bio, it’s because he left out some pertinent details, like his abrupt, disgraced departure from the Washington Post after numerous instances of his past plagiarism came to light. In defense of his serial intellectual theft, Domenech said:

“Frankly, if I had been less of a sloppy writer…this wouldn't be a problem."

Frankly, if there were a lot less people out there willfully misinforming the the public and distorting the truth about climate change, addressing one of the most serious issues facing our country and our world wouldn’t be a problem. But if we don’t do something, here’s a prediction, courtesy of Groundhog Day, of what that world will look like.

The Mail:

Stephen Carver
Los Angeles
Re: Dreyfuss

While I sometimes agree with Robert Dreyfuss’s points, I have always considered him to be something of a blowhard. Well done take down, sir. 

David Drasin
West Lafayette IN
Concerning your Slacker Friday column last week (I have read you for many years, and in many ways am unhappy that your list of good internet sites has absorbed so much of my time).

You refer to the criticism that the "President’s statement about “strengthening Social Security for future generations." Here, the AP’s counterpoint suddenly veers off on this non sequitur: “THE FACTS: With that comment, Obama missed another chance to embrace the tough medicine proposed by the commission for bringing down the deficit.” Um, no he didn’t, because...

It seems another important response to that is that there was no 'Commission Report' since there was no consensus position which the required number of members would support.

But all your points are fine, too.

Thanks for your work, and now that I am semi-retired, maybe I won't complain about too many good blogs.

Eric replies: Thanks, but that was Reed, not yours truly.

Andrew Milner
Bryn Mawr, PA
For all the gossip about Marty Peretz's sexuality, the nugget from the NYTimes profile which has been largely ignored is Peretz's testifying on behalf of Stephen Glass before the California bar. Thirteen years after Glass permanently stained TNR, its honcho is still bowing and scraping before him. Meanwhile, Gary Webb made a few relatively venial errors in his CIA-crack cocaine story of the mid-1990s, and the entire industry blackballed him and drove him to suicide.

"By the way, the ex Mrs. Peretz is not, as is reported everywhere, an heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune. She is an heirless (sic) to one of the lawyers for Singer, who, apparently, shared in the wealth of one of its key patents."

That would make Anne Peretz a member of the Clark family, the local gentry of Cooperstown, NY, who have overseen the creation and development of the Baseball Hall of Fame. They also own the Dakota Apartments in NYC.

Eric replies: Excellent points all, and you are correct, she is a Clark, though I did not know the rest of the information about the family you provide. And insofar as it matters, Christopher always used to say tell this story with the third love of Marty’s life being Gene McCarthy. Still I feel uneasy about this stuff. The only point that makes sexuality pertinent in this context is that fact that were it not for his marriage to Anne Peretz, none of us would ever have heard of the guy (though perhaps he would have found yet another heiress…)

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Slacker Friday: 'Scurrilous, Tendentious, Bellicose, Egregious' Eric Alterman Edition

I’ll be in Washington next week. I’m giving a lunchtime talk at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday, February 1 at noon, but you have to rsvp. Details are here. That may be full already, though, but I’ll be giving another talk the same night, February 1, at Busboys and Poets at 14th and V at 6:30.

I’ve got a new Think Again called “Craven News Network” about CNN and Ms. Bachmann’s address, and that’s here.

Also, I did a piece overnight on the final throes of the Marty Peretz era at The New Republic and that’s here.

Oh and, there’s an interesting review of Kabuki Democracy, here.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Main Event:


Happily, I don’t teach instructional journalism classes any more, but if I did, I would use Robert Dreyfuss’s post on thenation.com entitled “Alterman Backs Act of War Against Iran” as an example of “how not to.”

In just a few hundred words, Dreyfuss offers a veritable master class in the use of journalistic weasel words for the purposes of McCarthyite insinuation. My column, which by the way, was an attack on those neocons who tried to pressure the US into supporting an Israeli attack on Iran, he insists, “resonates with the same bellicose rhetoric of the neoconservatives that he denounces.” Thing is, the only example he offers is my mention of the “Iranian leadership's anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying circles.” Does Dreyfuss deny that Iran’s leaders—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in particular—are either anti-Semitic or holocaust-denying? Not that I can tell, but apparently saying so makes one a bellicose neocon.

Dreyfuss continues that an “act of war” has been committed against Iran whose leaders “have committed no aggressive act against either the United States or Iran’s neighbors.” I have no idea if a computer virus constitutes an “act of war” or not, though if it does, an awful lot of hackers working on behalf of say, WikiLeaks, better watch their backs. As for Iran’s alleged benignity, this is naïve in the extreme. Does Dreyfuss think that the arming, training and funding of terrorists does not constitute a form of “aggression”?

He also spends a great deal of time arguing that an American attack on Iran under Obama was not imminent, but fails to notice that the column was entirely devoted to an Israeli, not an American operation. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I chalk this up to sheer sloppiness, rather than the time-honored anti-Semitic trope of refusing to distinguish between US and Israeli actions as if the two nations were somehow indistinguishable. (Come to think of it, I can think of a few neocons who have that problem as well…)

Ultimately, what is most impressive, however, is the deployment of weasel words to attribute to me thoughts and feelings for which Dreyfuss cannot muster a single syllable of evidence. He writes, for instance, “While the Obama administration—and, I assume, Alterman—seem to think that economic sanctions are working…” In fact, I’m pretty sure that in the thousands of articles I’ve written since first publishing in The Nation twenty-eight years ago this March, I have never once mentioned economic sanctions against Iran, which by the way, I oppose. He writes also, “are assassinations of Iranian scientists, according to Alterman, something else that ought to bring 'joy' even to the churlish, international law–supporting left. (Alterman doesn’t praise the assassinations in his column, but it’s not clear why not, since like Stuxnet they’re presumably, too, joyous events, in his view.)" Again, note the use of the weasel word “presumably.” Though I quoted Jeffrey Goldberg—someone with whom I tend to disagree almost always—bringing up the question of assassinations, I personally said nothing about them one way or another, and I certainly don’t profess to know who carried out the ones to which Dreyfuss refers. Just how Dreyfuss can be so certain about my view of these in particular remains a mystery, alas, but while my memory is not what it used to be, I cannot recall ever calling anyone’s assassination a “joyous event” anytime anywhere. But never mind that either, folks.

I see that the first comment on Dreyfuss’s post reads, in part, “I hope Iran gets all the weapons it wants and needs to contain Israel but in the meantime, I'm laughing my rear off at the hysteria of the zionists these days. They're all but toast and they know it.” Would it be correct to say that “presumably” Dreyfuss shares these views too? Mr. Ahmadinejad has said, speaking of anti-Israel violence, “the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain [Israel] from the Islamic world,” and repeatedly called for “the elimination of the Zionist regime.” Referring to the Holocaust he has said, “The Zionist regime is seeking baseless pretexts to invade Islamic countries and right now it is justifying its attacks with groundless excuses," and, “Today the reason for the Zionist regime's existence is questioned, and this regime is on its way to annihilation." Can I also “assume” that Dreyfuss supports this too, given his “bellicose rhetoric” toward yours truly?

I think not. Then again, I’m no Robert Dreyfuss….


The New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center, something to which I always look forward, Zionist/imperialist that I am, wrapped up yesterday with a wonderful little film called “The Matchmaker,” which I’m sure will be seen in reasonably wide release soon. It’s a post-Holocaust coming-of-age story set in Haifa with a charming cast and considerable emotional resonance. Among the other highlights I caught were Mahler on the Couch, an Austrian/German film, directed by Percy Adlon, about the composer's relationship with his wife and his consultations with Sigmund Freud, and Joseph Dorman’s touching and thoughtful documentary on the life of Shalom Aleichem. I was not so crazy about the filmed version of A.B. Yehoshua’s A Woman in Jerusalem, The Human Resources Manager, and had strong mixed feelings about the combination documentary/drama Eichmann’s End, though I learned a great deal from viewing it. Luckily, just as I was mourning the passing of another year’s films, I got the announcement about the coming Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, which starts March 3 with Francois Ozon's POTICHE, starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu on opening night. How are things in your city?

Now here’s Reed:

Stating It Doesn’t Necessarily Make it So

Long, catchall lists are in this week, it seems, so here are a few examples of the above:

Mitch McConnell: It’s time someone introduced the Senate Minority Leader to Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, so he can explain to McConnell that the word bipartisanship does not mean what he thinks it means: “If the president is willing to do what I and my members would do anyway, we're not going to say no.”

Bill Wolff: MSNBC’s Vice President of Primetime Programming might want to consult a bit with his regular viewers, as well as his boss, MSNBC President Phil Griffin, before he tries insulting the intelligence of both: “MSNBC does not have a political agenda. The idea that we’re beholden to one side or the other is ridiculous.” Funny thing is, his network seems to like flaunting the ratings success of its overtly left-wing political shows in beating shows on CNN, a network that, coincidentally, tries so hard to follow Wolff’s line of thinking.

Bill Keller: Before publicly criticizing the source of his next major scoop—long after he's sold a lot of papers, I might note—in the same manner that he did Wikileaks founder Julian Assange this week, the Times’ Executive Editor might do well to remember how some of those same words he used—“arrogant,” “thin-skinned” and “oddly credulous”—have also applied pretty well to his own newspaper recently. Plus, anyone who has the temerity to seriously believe this statement has his own personal issues of credulity and self-denial to deal with: “Julian tended to see American news organizations as not observers but as actors and advocates. When things happened that he didn’t like, he tended to see a conspiracy behind it.” Yeah, because the American press has never, ever coordinated its release of national security scoops with the federal government or bowed to self-censorship and killed important stories altogether, right?

Fox News: It was noted this week that the network’s long, strange romance with the intentionally deceptive and propagandizing phrase “homicide bomber” may finally be coming to an end, but I’m not holding out much hope for their many other ridiculous catchphrases, like the Managing Editor-mandated term "government option" or the similarly obtuse phrase "death tax."

Associated Press: Unfortunately, [Wednesday's] “fact-check” article on the President’s State of the Union address had a few doozies in it.

On Obama’s assertion that the recently enacted healthcare reform would reduce the deficit, the AP wrote: “THE FACTS: The idea that Obama's health care law saves money for the government is based on some arguable assumptions.” Last time I checked, arguable assumptions aren’t really facts. Analysis maybe, or added context, sure. I mean, I could make an arguable assumption that the reporter who wrote this was either too lazy or too rushed by a deadline to notice this disconnect, but that doesn’t make it a fact. The president’s claim may turn out to be true or it may not, but to bring it up in a “fact-check” article is to insinuate he’s being careless (and intentionally so) with the truth when that’s not the case. And you know the fact-checking is of dubious value when the very next sentence in the article starts off with the time honored journalistic CYA qualifier: “To be sure…”

Then there’s this curiously passive phrasing about the President’s mention of finding common ground on medical malpractice reform: “Obama has expressed openness before to this prominent Republican proposal, but it has not come to much. It was one of several GOP ideas that were dropped or diminished in the health care law after Obama endorsed them in a televised bipartisan meeting at the height of the debate.”

Why didn’t it “come to much"? What went wrong with this compromise? Not worth mentioning, according to the AP’s logic. But for a big hint as to the real reason, see Example #1 of this post.

But what’s really shameful is the article’s sleight of hand when it comes to the President’s statement about “strengthening Social Security for future generations." Here, the AP’s counterpoint suddenly veers off on this non sequitur: “THE FACTS: With that comment, Obama missed another chance to embrace the tough medicine proposed by the commission for bringing down the deficit.” Um, no he didn’t, because, as it must be pointed out for the umpteenth time, Social Security has contributed absolutely nothing to the federal budget deficit! The president and Harry Reid realize this, even though the author of this article, most of the mainstream media, and some of Obama’s own entitlement-hating Fiscal Commission appointees apparently do not. And to then assert that Social Security “will run out of money in 2037 without changes” is to be recklessly imprecise and further a popular right-wing myth. In fact, if nothing is done, the Social Security Trust Fund’s surplus will run out.

Barack Obama: His State of the Union address’s vague, equal-parts-encouraging-and-worrisome quote about strengthening Social Security left a lot of dangerous wiggle room to say one thing and do quite another. The AP article made clear what the Beltway conventional wisdom believes will “strengthen” Social Security: “slashing benefits,” “partially privatizing the program” and “raising the retirement age.” The American people, on the other hand, overwhelmingly disagree with those choices. As well they should, since the solution to closing Social Security’s long-term shortfall is pretty straightforward.

And finally, Michele Bachmann: If she is to argue that her seven-minute diatribe of half-truths and blatant fearmongering late Tuesday night was not necessarily a formal response to the State of the Union address, in the future she might not want to distribute to the press advance copies of her speech entitled: “Bachmann’s Response to the State of the Union.” But it was her speech that was perhaps the most fitting in a week of political theater. While she kept her body turned toward the news pool TV camera that would broadcast her speech to the traditional media, Bachmann nevertheless fixed her gaze toward a different camera, one meant strictly for her devoted Tea Party audience. The effect, besides being particularly creepy, was a perfect metaphor for our political state of the union. Her non-response response wasn’t about engaging in a dialogue with her ideological opponents or even about winning over the public at large, instead it was simply about stoking outrage among a rump minority of this country that, if the right person states it, just might believe anything.

The Mail:

Cheyenne, WY
Best vocalist list without Raul Malo? Really?

Eric replies: Excellent choice, As I said, I did it fast. But who to eliminate? Mr. Winwood? Tough call.

John Brennan
Fairfax Station, VA
Hi Eric,

I share your extremely low opinion of Marty Peretz, so I was very surprised to find myself feeling vaguely sympathetic feelings for him while reading that most recent NYT profile. "My god, what a sad, unhappy man," was all I could think. I was also shocked by his attitude towards Israel's Orthodox Jews. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought I was reading an Onion article in which his ugly rants about Arabs and Muslims had undergone some word substitution for satirical purposes.

As to the matter of whether or not he's gay, I remember seeing an article about MP a number of years ago in which he was quoted as saying that as a college freshman he'd fallen in love with both the State of Israel and his roommate. Sorry, can't remember where or when that was published. I also remember Gore Vidal referring to him as "Israel's uncrowned queen" in an interview. I believe that appeared in Vanity Fair, and the questioner was Christopher Hitchens, still a Vidal fan at that point, so it's been a while.

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Dan Bell, RIP

I’ll be in Washington next week. I’m giving a lunchtime talk at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday, February 1 at noon, but you have to rsvp. Details are here. That may be full already, though, but I’ll be giving another talk the same night, February 1, at Busboys and Poets at 14th and V at 6:30. Come say hello. US News did an interview with me for the book here.

Ok, back to work. I’ve got a new Think Again called “Craven News Network” about CNN and Ms. Bachmann’s address, and that’s here.

And OK, I’m sorry, but these Tea Party types are idiots. Bachmann, above, is the worst. (How ironic that they profess to reify the constitution when the woman they appoint as their spokesperson doesn’t know a damn thing about what’s in it. Ended slavery? I guess that’s true if you don’t include black people. And lookit Sarah Palin: The Soviet Union collapsed because the Soviets spent so much money winning the space race and no serious person should take them seriously. And now take a look at these know-nothing congressmen, pawns of the NRA, who won’t even allow research on the incidence of gun deaths to take place.)

And these—many of the same people, who won’t allow the CBO to run honest numbers on the cost of healthcare reform and its repeal. These people are proud of their ignorance. No wonder Fox is so popular with their fans and CNN so salivates after their numbers. What could be easier than to make money catering to peoples’ ignorant prejudices? You can fire the entire reporting staff and just make stuff up.

* * *

I mourn the loss of Daniel Bell, the very archetype of a committed liberal intellectual who kept his head about him when so many were losing theirs, and who managed to hold onto the friendships of people with whom he stridently disagreed, something I admire enormously but do not always pull off. I got to know him a bit late in life and was deeply proud of his interest in my work, critical as he could be. And while I am undoubtedly a better liberal for his work, it’s fair to say I might not be as committed an anti-Communist were it not for his patient conversations with me about why anti-Communism, at this late date, mattered at all, particularly to liberalism.

He told me, as he told many people, that he quit Public Interest, the journal he co-founded with Irving Kristol, because of the latter's drift to the right, and Bell’s belief that friendship was more important than politics.

In the same journal, he wrote, “The Public Interest began as a journal that was anti-ideological, with the hope that a public philosophy would emerge out of reasoned discourse; it is now enlisted in an ideological campaign against liberalism.” “The Revolt Against Modernity,” The Public Interest, Fall 1985.

My sympathies to his family.

* * *

So if you thought the world did not need yet another long, mournful profile of Marty Peretz, how wrong you were. This piece in the Times magazine is even better than the excellent one that ran in New York like fifteen minutes ago. It makes Marty appear, if anything, even less attractive than the guy who’s been spilling bile in the pages of TNR all these years (though it does at least hint at the reason he’s been able to retain the brilliant, mercurial Leon Wieseltier at New Republic pay rates after all these years: he mentions that Peretz is rumored to have purchased a house for one of his senior staffers…). What is missing in both of these excellent profiles, however, is a discussion of the long-term significant damage Peretz and his various mini-Peretzes over the years  did both to liberalism and to liberal Judaism as the result of ability to speak in the name of what was once America’s flagship liberal journal of opinion. I deal with that aspect of his career here and here and in a bunch of other places, like for instance here and here. There were any number of times during the past two decades when I thought I was doing more to preserve the honor of TNR than those who defended it.

Anyway, the Times piece has apparently inspired a discussion over the fact that Peretz is gay, but prefers not to discuss this publicly. I have no problem with this. People’s sex lives ought to be their own business, barring extraordinary circumstances, none of which are at play here. But Gawker ran an item demanding to know why there was no talk of Peretz’s sexuality in the piece and Romenesko picked it up. That led Tablet’s Mark Tracy wrote this item. It also led to this on Gayagenda.com that read: “Seriously. Take him back. Put this bigot back in the straight category. We don't want him on the team.”

Actually, if you go back through the history of Marty and TNR, you can find lots of hints. The late Henry Fairly referred to the atmosphere of TNR in the seventies as not unlike a Greek gymnasium in Vanity Fair, and other stories abounded for those who could read between the lines. When Mickey Kaus published the purloined discussion of JournoList, he, um, jumped on the one where, for some reason, TNR’s Jonathan Chait was called to task for announcing, apropos of nothing, Marty’s sexual preference to its 400 members or so, “off the record” of course. Interestingly Mickey, who had no trouble publishing these conversations replete with people’s personal emails, edited the discussion, but since the entire conversation was about Peretz that was pretty pointless for protecting his identity or his sexuality. The hypocrisy that this issue inspires is actually what’s most interesting about it. For instance Andrew Sullivan, the Sybil of American political punditry, thinks that public people do need to be honest about their sexual identities, at least when he suspects someone he doesn’t like of being gay. So he wrote of the press's hesitance to ask Elena Kagan about her sexual preference, ”The NYT's bizarre profile of Kagan, which plumbs every minute aspect of her most intimate and private life while saying nothing whatever about her emotional relationships, home, dating or indeed anything that might even touch upon her sexual orientation, gay or straight, is so contrived in its avoidance of the obvious it is almost comic." I have no idea if Kagan is gay or not, and I don’t care, but Andrew was at ground zero of this conspiracy of silence and kept quiet about it. So does the principle only hold for people to whom Andrew is not indebted or does not like? Anyway, of course there is no shame in Peretzian circles in being gay, per se. But I can imagine that it is a little embarrassing for someone who owes every ounce of his public prominence to his exploitation of his (now) ex-wife’s inherited fortune to admit such a thing, as it would undoubtedly inspire lots of clucking about the “real reason” for the marriage.   (By the way, the ex Mrs. Peretz is not, as is reported everywhere, an heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune. She is an heirless to one of the lawyers for Singer, who, apparently, shared in the wealth of one of its key patents.)

Even so, it was his right to keep quiet about it and so I adhered to this rule whenever I wrote about Peretz. And if you were wondering when the cancer of the Spine would finally be lifted from TNR’s pages, it finally happened, here

Oh and speaking both of Public Interest and TNR, if you haven’t noticed yet, even though he is a bit—just a bit—of a Neocon, Adam Kirsch has quickly developed into our most valuable book reviewer in my opinion. Here is a typically sharp and original review of Irving Kristol’s most recent posthumous collection. (And speaking of posthumous, did you notice that the author of Bell’s obit was also, um, deceased? Happens to all of us, I guess…)

Congrats to Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy, a finalist in for Miss Canada, and the first person in the world to gain a masters degree in the Beatles.

And too bad about the loss of Charlie Louvin, too.

Two things I want to get off my chest.

Thing one: Spirit Airlines. I never heard of Spirit before I booked a cheapo flight to Cancun on Travelocity shortly after the New Year. One word: “Don’t.” It’s the worst airline upon which I ever set foot. They charge you for every little thing. The seats are tiny. And they couldn’t care less if you don’t make your connection. Our flight left Cancun for Fort Lauderdale only nine minutes late but because of the slowpoke customs there, we did not make our connection to New York. Spirit didn’t care. They told me they had no room for me on another flight until 24 hours later. And what a nasty bunch of people they had at their flight desk, all of whom acted as if it were our fault for missing the flight. Luckily, I’m not poor, so I could afford a nice hotel and a perfectly pleasant extra day of vacation in Florida while my city was still getting snowed in. But if I had to be home for any important reason, or if my resources were in worse shape, booking Spirit would have resulted in catastrophe. I contacted the public affairs office to see if they could defend their terrible treatment of their customers and those people couldn’t give a shit either. Whatever money one saves booking Spirit, isn’t worth it.

Thing two: If you’re an Upper West Sider (particularly a Jewish Upper West Sider with kids), you probably order in from Ollie’s Noodles. Yesterday when I walked past my branch, I was handed a flier from the IWW explaining that Ollie’s uses Pur Pac which illegally fired workers for demanding that their boss comply with federal wage laws and refuses to comply with a court order to pay back illegally withheld compensation. OK, great. I’m perfectly willing to hassle Ollie’s corporate parent to have them drop these jerks. But nowhere on the flier does it tell me how to do that. I see no point in calling up the person who answers the phone at one of the branches, and does not speak great English in the first place, and hassling her. What good is that? What is the matter with the IWW or, in this case, something they call “Brandworkers International” that they don’t want to empower Ollie’s customers to actually help make their campaign a success?

Andrew and Alfred: Just saying.


I saw Greg Allman and his band at the Bowery Ballroom the other night. It was a rare club show to celebrate the release of Low Country Blues, the T-Bone Burnett-produced album of Allman-sung classics backed up by a first-rate band made up of Doyle Bramhall II on guitar, upright bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellerose, horns arranged by trumpeter Darrell Leonard, with Dr. John on piano and some Warren Haynes (who also showed up at the gig). The songs were classics picked from choices offered to Gregg by T-Bone and were written and recorded back in the olden days by Muddy Waters, Skip James, Little Milton and Sleepy John Estes. It’s a near perfect record. The material works perfectly with Greg’s incomparable voice and the arrangements and musicianship rocks, swings and blends in equal measure. The whole thing was done in a few days and the result is a minor masterpiece; far less complex than the musicianship that you witness when the entire ABB is assembled on stage but just about—not quite but just about—as rewarding.

I’ve also seen three fine shows at City Winery in the past few weeks. The Fab Faux did a wonderful set in the immediate aftermath of the blizzard, which without the usual horns, strings and theme, allowed you to focus on the unique genius of the music while at the same time, the sheer fun that the Beatles catalogue offers. (Seriously, I give up trying to say something new about the Beatles’ music.) Also, Teddy Thompson (son of Richard and Linda) has developed into quite a songwriter, guitarist and bandleader and he has been doing an extremely well-received residency at CW in anticipation of his new release, Bella, which, for obvious though perhaps unfair reasons, puts me in mind of the excellent recent record by Justin Townes Earle. Funny guy, though, in addition to the smart, inventive musicianship. And finally, I celebrated my birthday with a show by Rhett Miller, whose band the Old 97s has a fine new record, The Grand Hotel, Volume 1 that puts one in mind of some of the smartest stuff from Wilco, Whiskeytown and the Jayhawks. Miller writes funny, often knowing songs, and had the audacity to rewrite “Desolation Row” and make it about Champaign, Illinois.

More Argument Starters:

On Facebook, Pierce asked for a list of one’s favorite vocalists off the top of one’s head.

Sam Cooke
Frank Sinatra
Greg Allman
Bing Crosby
Billie Holiday
Mick Jagger
Don Henley
Louis Armstrong
Patsy Cline
Stevie Winwood
Levi Stubbs
George Jones
Merle Haggard
David Bowie
Bruce Springsteen
Elvis Presley

And I asked an admittedly dumb question: “If you could only listen to the career output of one band for the rest of your life, you know, like on a desert island...” I was forced, by the reaction, to add this note: “This is a special category and has to do with musicianship, creativity and versitility. If I could ony go to one concert, it would obviously be Bruce. If I were asked for my favorite artists period, I’d include, Bruce, Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, the Clash, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, etc. You’d get tired of any vocalist methinks.”

1) Clapton
2) Dead
3) Allmans
4) Miles up to Bitches Brew
5) Coltrane through A Love Supreme
6) Sonny Rollins
7) Pink Floyd
8) Traffic
9) Tuna
10) Stan Getz

The mail:

Bill Keihorn
Professor Alterman,

I always read your columns in The Nation, and I like them and for the most part I agree with them. I am from Oregon however, and I wish you would reconsider your views about our disproportionate representation in the US Senate.

Oregon has resources which have value that may not be appreciated by people living in other states. Our deserts are an example. They have tremendous beauty and fragile ecosystems, yet more numerous remote city dwellers might consider a wind farm more important than saving a desert. We who live here know differently and we need our extra power in the Senate.

Of course, any citizen is free to move here if they choose and exercise enhanced senatorial influence. Then at least they will understand better what the trade-offs are.

In my view, it is not unreasonable that physically large states have two senators.

Eric replies: This is a union of the people, by the people for the people. It is not of, by and for the dirt and trees. I’m all for responsible stewardship of the land, but goodness, where does it end? Should we take away the vote from apartment dwellers?

Mark Paul

Hate to quibble about anyone's Best of list, but that's what they're there for.

Reggie, Fran and Billy all had well-established careers before they arrived in NY. Plenty of alternatives to round out the 20. Starting with John McEnroe.

Take the A Train is spot on.

And while we're talking lists, Obama's SOTU was the best explication of liberalism I can remember from a sitting president. Not perfect, but the best.

Cheyenne, WY
You nailed it with Palin, but you might wish to know that Wyoming is the least populous state in the United States, unless you have census data of which I'm not aware. Not that it matters. The politics of both states are pretty much at the nadir of the American experience in our times.

Eric replies: I knew that when I wrote Kabuki Democracy. Silly.

Bev Cubbae
San Francisco
Dr. Alterman: My own lack of respect for the so-called liberal media dates from those dark days when the President of the United States was so obviously seriously impaired, and nobody had the guts to cover what everyone in America could clearly see. Nobody had the common decency to tell us who was actually running the show. I have long thought that this epic fail is the real basis for the hostile relationship between institutional media and the general public.

Joe Raskin
Brooklyn, NY
I like your saying the '69 Rangers. As grateful as I am to Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and the other guys for 1994 (and I still get chills from that season), it will always be a sad thing for me that people like Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle do not have their names on the Stanley Cup. What a wonderful team that was.

I sat next to Rod Gilbert on a cross country flight a few years ago. A lovely man. The topic somehow turned to the parties that he and his friend Joe Namath threw when both were single. Oy.

Steve Davis
Harrison, AR
Lists of bests that include Athlete and do not immediately continue 1) Muhammad Ali are not worthy of respect.

Surely there can be no doubt that The Greatest could have excelled in any of the children's stick-and-ball games that have given us our current class of multi-millionaires. With that hand speed, a 100mph fastball would have looked like a stationary pumpkin. As for the admittedly ferocious Mike Tyson, at their respective peaks (surely the only fair measurement), Tyson would not have landed a glove, unless you believe that intelligence is no advantage in sports.

Do not pretend that a man with your grey is too young to remember Ali.

Eric replies: Silly me. I thought it was a list of the greatest New Yorkers. But I guess someone’s taken a few too many punches to read it that carefully….

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Slacker Friday

The new book is here.

I’ve got a new Think Again column on Sarah Palin and Blood Libel here, called “The Gift Who Keeps on Giving.”

And my Nation column is called “A “Worm” in the Neocon War Plans?” and that’s here.

For the Daily Beast I did “The GOP’s Health Care Kabuki” and that’s here.

I got kicked off Parker-Spitzer last night apparently for Ron Reagan, who writes in his new book that his father probably had Alzheimer's while president. In 2000, the great Charles P. Pierce published a book called Hard To Forget, which was about both his father's Alzheimer's, and how all four of his siblings eventually succumbed to it, and about the history of the disease and the researchers who were fighting it at the time. In it, on page 59, he wrote this, in part:

I will believe this until I die—for at least four years, the United States was governed by a symptomatic Alzheimer's patient. I believe the people near him knew that and I believe that they covered for him in a hundred ways, large and small...I do not envy them their dark miracle or their consciences.

The Reagan people reportedly were furious at Pierce for having written that. (The Alzheimer's community is a talkative one.) But he felt confident in writing because, almost to a person, everyone he talked to in the research community believed it. At a conference in Japan, Pierce told me he was talking to Dennis Selkoe, one of the top guys in the field and mentioned that there was one episode in particular that made him think that Reagan had become symptomatic, and Dennis, without missing a beat said, "The first debate with Mondale." There were always hints. Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus wrote a book called "Landslide" that begins with a young WH lawyer being tasked to research the presidential disability provisions of the 25th amendment. Every memoir—from Lawrence Walsh's to Ollie North to Lesley Stahl's—has at least one instance of Reagan being utterly vacant. John McCain told Pierce that he had seen one in the WH. Many Alzheimer's patients have a catastrophic episode—Reagan had a few, and these were evident during his testimony during the Iran-Contra scandal…among others.

For reasons I cannot imagine, New York magazine didn’t ask me to contribute to this, but this list making stuff is fun. Here’s mine. (For reasons of honesty and expertise, I decided to limit myself to people and events I was old enough to actually experience.)

Mayor: Lindsey
Senator: Moynihan
Governor: Mario Cuomo
Congressperson: Bella Abzug
TV Show: The Odd Couple
Honorable Mention: Mad Men, 30 Rock, All in the Family, Saturday Night Live, The Honeymooners, Dick Van Dyke
Worst: Friends, Seinfeld, Sex in the City
Movie: Manhattan
Honorable Mention: Dog Day Afternoon, Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Taxi Driver, Wall Street, The French Connection, Do the Right Thing, 25th Hour, Inside Man, An Unmarried Woman
Musical: Guys and Dolls, revival (because it’s my favorite musical, not because the revival was so great), Hair (because the revival was so great), Two Gentlemen of Verona (both the original and revival)
Drama: Angels in America
Song: “Take the A Train”
Honorable Mention: “New York State of Mind,” “Incident at 57th St,” “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” “Sugar Hill Rap,” “The Message,” 
Worst: “New York, New York”
Novel: Catcher in the Rye
Honorable Mention: Goodbye Columbus, Mr. Sammler’s Planet

1)    Walt Frazier
2)    Joe Namath
3)    Tom Seaver
4)    Willie Mays
5)    Yogi Berra
6)    The rest of the 69 Knicks
7)    Mickey Mantle
8)    Derek Jeter
9)    Mike Tyson
10) Tug McGraw
11) Reggie Jackson
12) The ’69 Rangers
13) Phil Rizzuto
14) Dwight Gooden
15)  Gil Hodges
16) Buddy Harrelson
17) Ron Darling
18) Thurmond Muson
19) Fran Tarkenton
20) Billy Martin

Columnist: Murray Kempton
Honorable Mention: Pete Hamill, Sydney Schanberg
Worst: A. M Rosenthal
Sportswriter: Roger Angell
Worst: Dick Young
Theater critic: Frank Rich
Music critic: Robert Christgau
Honorable Mention: Gary Giddins
Host of SNL: Steve Martin
Concert: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Madison Square Garden, August 21-23, 1978.
Honorable Mention: The Clash at Bond’s, 1982
Concert I was too young to see: John Coltrane at the Village Vanguard, 1961
Honorable Mention: Allman Brothers, final show at the Fillmore,
Refugee: Larry David
Immigrant: John Lennon
Hedline: “Headless Body in Topless Bar”
Carpetbagger: George Steinbrenner
Annoyance: Donald Trump
Disc Jockey: Vin Scelsa
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Schwartz, Alison Steele
Archtypal New Yorkers: Walt Frazier, Woody Allen, Miles Davis, Patti Smith, Lillian Ross, Jason Epstein, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Tina Fey, Paul Simon, Spike Lee, Bobby Short, Nora Ephron, Martin Scorsese, Robert Caro, Ahmet Ertegun,Tony Randall,

The mail:

Yisrael Medad
Shiloh, Israel

About that Dalal girl and hospital treatment.  Can't she also go east, to Jordan?  Why is it always the seemingly exclusive responsibility of Israel to provide medical facilities and treatment?

Maureen Holland
South Venice Beach FL

"BIRTHS: Sometime between 1948 and 1960, Maureen Dowd"

With that line alone, you may rest on your laurels for the balance of this new year.

Merrill R. Frank
Jackson Hgts, NYC

Who would think one of the beneficiaries of Sargent Shriver’s noble legacy would be none other than Sarah Palin and her family. Due to his advocacy regarding special needs kids her special needs child at least gets a shot at a decent life and is not sent off to some institution to wallow. Her grandchild benefits from the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. If she only knew the value of his liberal legacy, how the many have benefited from it and somehow conveyed it within her wordy jumble. Then again she probably would decry these progressive reforms as socialism or have credited Reagan for their success.

William Miller
Mill Valley, Calif.

“Layla”?  “Layla”?!  Why not just pick “Stairway to Heaven” and be done with it?  Hell, there are at least two songs on Stephen Stills’ first album that are better than “Layla”, and that’s just 1971.

I’ve never understood the whole “Layla” thing.  You want Clapton at his best?  Try “Rain” from Eric Clapton or “Sleepy Time Time” from Live Cream.  Allman?  Please.

Eric, I thought you knew these things.

Eric replies: Dude, you don’t get it so it’s not true? You noticed maybe that "Layla" has an Allman on it too? I maybe could have gone with “Why Does Love Got to be So Sad?” particularly the version I saw (twice) by Clapton with the Allmans, but absolutely nothing at all by Cream touches either one. I like "Let it Rain," who doesn’t, but the above is just silly. I sense a bustle in your hedgegrow, and I’m alarmed now. And the Stephen Stills almost is only ok…

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Palin Drones

I’ll be on Dylan Ratigan around four, on MSNBC and Parker Spitzer on CNN around 8 tonight, by the way. The book is here.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a new Think Again column on Sarah Palin and Blood Libel here, called “The Gift Who Keeps on Giving.”

And my Nation column is called “A “worm” in the Neocon war plans?” and that’s here.

For the Daily Beast I did “The GOP’s Health Care Kabuki” and that’s here.

I'm about finished with my history of postwar American liberalism, at least the first draft of it, and if someone asked me, who, over the past six or seven decades, displayed the best judgment, morally, politically, intellectually and in policy terms of any of the politicians I've studied, I think I'd have to say, in historical order, "Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Sarge Shriver..."

This is really interesting from Time, Friday, Jan. 03, 1964: “Man Of The Year: Martin Luther King Jr., Never Again Where He Was.”

More reasons I could not imagine life without TCM. “Screen Directors Playhouse.” Never heard of it before they showed ten of them on Tuesday night. Almost all were wonderful. There was a even a John Ford/John Wayne show that nobody’s seen in over fifty years. Incredible stuff. And perfect productions values, far better than those kinescope dramas released a year or so ago, because, I’m guessing the sponsor Eastman Kodak wanted to show off its stuff. Anyway, the whole thing is first rate and given that none of us knew about it before, a little bit thrilling. I watched all of them as I was doing my reading and writing yesterday.

More tomorrow. Now here’s Reed

Speaking of Kabuki Democracy

My apologies to the good doctor for appropriating his new book’s title, but that is exactly what our House of Representatives wrought last night’s vote, a legislative tale told by you-know-whats full of sound and fury signifying nothing, a reality that even Fox News had to acknowledge, calling the vote a “symbolic move.” Still, freshly minted Speaker John Boehner seemed undaunted by the prospect of clearing the hurdles of a Democratically-controlled Senate and a sure-fire presidential veto in the next two years, throwing out a boilerplate quote about how:

“Congress can do better in terms of replacing Obamacare with common-sense reforms that will bring down the cost of health insurance and expand access for more Americans.”

Being all for commonsense, I wandered over to the Congressional Republicans’ website to read more about all these neglected health care reform policies that will comprise the second half of their two-stage “repeal and replace” strategy. Thankfully, right there on the Health Care Solutions page I found a prominent link to a summary of the House GOP’s proposed replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act. If you like, you can go directly to it here. Don’t worry, it won’t take long to read.

Yes, that’s right, as of today, it is a link to nowhere. As far as symbolic moves goes, I think these beat last night’s conservative dramaturgy on C-Span hands down. “Give us a break, we’ll get around to it this spring,” seems to be their excuse. Of course, one could easily argue that promoting the wholesale repeal of a comprehensive law that addresses perhaps the most pressing problem facing our society with nary a peep about specific alternatives isn’t a serious attempt at governance. But, in a way, it does makes sense—dare I say, commonsense?—since Republicans’ plans to replace the Affordable Care Act with anything approaching full, affordable health care access for all Americans are, in effect, nonexistent. (And no, malpractice reform and a couple hundred billion more in tax cuts for the rich doesn't qualify.)

Admittedly, the incredulous tone of the media coverage of this pseudo-event was a bit better than I expected, although few news organizations made more than a passing mention (if they mentioned it at all) of the noticeable absence of any concrete alternative proposals by the Republican House leadership. And now, take a breath, but I have to give due credit to Fox News.com. Not only did this article make a point of calling out the “death panels” bromide as the lie that it was and is (and, by extension, define Sarah Palin as an “extreme case”), it did a better job than many other news outlets in spelling out the specious reasoning behind the Republicans’ claims that full implementation of the ACA will result hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. Keep this up (for a loooong time), and they just may lose their title of Most Distrusted Media Outlet in America.

To be completely fair, however, the GOP isn’t all talk and no policy walk on this issue. In 2009, the Republicans were shamed into at least taking a crack at crafting a health care reform plan. How’d that go? Well, here’s a refresher:

“According to CBO, the GOP's alternative will shave $68 billion off the deficit in the next 10 years. The Democrats, CBO says, will slice $104 billion off the deficit. The Democratic bill, in other words, covers 12 times as many people and saves $36 billion more than the Republican plan.”

According to Republicans, the major problem wasn’t that their healthcare reform plan was exposed as an embarrassingly ineffective policy failure, it was that the analysis by those government bean-counters over at the CBO—lacking in commonsense, no doubt—were either biased or just naive. In fact, the Republican response to the CBO’s stark judgment two years ago was to skew and/or ignore its findings to suit their political needs in what might be considered a Congressional Republican’s version of “Whatevs!” In fact, just today, the House GOP’s website reinserted the text of this woeful bill as a placeholder on its Health Care Solutions page (24 hours earlier, that link was dead as well.)

Turns out, that bashing and distrust of the CBO was merely a coming attraction. Nowadays, it seems like the most popular parlor game among conservatives. During the buildup to last night’s vote, there were the by now requisite slings and arrows of “unconstitutional,” “socialism” and “tyranny,” to describe the ACA, but also littering the debate were new entrants—supposedly damning phrases like “discretionary spending,” “implausible assumptions,” “double-counting” and “doc-fix,” all of which are an effort to purportedly unravel the CBO’s dastardly double-dealing over the GOP’s costly plans for repeal. (If you’re so inclined, Ezra Klein, over at the Washington Post, provides a good blow-by-blow fisking of many of these GOP talking points.) And at the risk of maligning the good, honorable people who actually pick cherries for a living, I’ll just say that it won’t take you three guesses to figure out which governmental budgeting office the Republicans turn around and repeatedly cite for their claim that the ACA will kill 650,000 jobs. 

When the Democrats managed to successfully thread the legislative needle by meticulously (or arduously, take your pick) passing a healthcare reform law that levels the insurance playing field to a large degree, provides a pathway to healthcare for pretty much every American and lowers the deficit—three public policy goals that both parties, at least rhetorically if not practically, support—the Republicans were left with a choice. Debate, on the merits, the elements of the law that do need fixing (as is invariably the case in such a large undertaking) or engage in a full-throated repeal campaign that demagogues the ACA as a “government takeover.”

The rhetoric during the recent mid-term elections made clear the GOP’s choice, but last year’s lame duck session showed the depths of their intransigence on even those parts of the ACA where there is bipartisan support for improvement. And it is of a piece with the GOP’s preference for rolling back financial reformreinstating DADT and returning non-discretionary spending to the pre-stimulus levels found at end of Bush’s second term. In short, it’s a broad-based attempt at undoing the last two years of Obama’s presidency, while he’s still in office.

But this attempt at what I call The Great Regression is simply governance by spite, pettiness masquerading as principle. For House Republicans to spend the next two years operating in an alternate reality that says the best way forward is to simply take our country back to the swarming crises of 2008 is to demand a willing suspension of disbelief among Americans that ultimately harms our democracy. After all, for most of the past decade we watched this theatrical production unfold on Capitol Hill and the White House and the ending, we know, is tragic.

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Slacker Friday

My new Think Again column is called “The Hate We Tolerate," and it’s here.

And I did this short piece for the Beast called “Was the Arizona Shooter an Anti-Semite?” and that’s here.

So, what about today in history? Let’s see:

1990 “Simpsons” premiered on Fox-TV
1978 Sex Pistols’ final concert
1914 Henry Ford introduces assembly line, for T-Fords
1784 Revolutionary War ends; Congress ratifies Treaty of Paris

1957 Humphrey Bogart
1898 Lewis Carroll


1948 T-Bone Burnett
Sometime between 1948 and 1960  Maureen Dowd
1960 Me. So buy the book, here. And there's an excerpt up from the media chapter on Dissent's website, here.

Also, the alleged best song of the 1970s here, though I think I would have picked “Layla.” And my friend Susannah Heschel on “blood libel” here.


Hear Me Howling! is just the kind of thing for which I’m always looking, but almost never find. It’s a history book, a photo book and a  four-disc box set with four hours and 40 minutes of music, 72 tracks altogether of which 38 are previously unreleased. Everything you could want. Would have made a perfect birthday present, but it’s too late. Anyway, apparently this fellow, Chris Strachwitz, created Arhoolie Records in 1960, having spent the previous six years (and the next eleven) in the Bay Area, and recorded all these excellent people for his label pretty much under the radar, of which this is a history. (Great record store, too.)

Who, you ask? Well, first and foremost, Lightnin' Hopkins. But also Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Skip James, Big Mama Thornton and Big Joe Williams, Mance Lipscomb, Lonnie Johnson, and Sonny Terry. Some rockers too, well sort of: Country Joe & the Fish, Bob Neuwirth, Joy of Cooking, the Hackberry Ramblers, Rev. Gary Davis, and zydeco master Clifton Chenier. What are you waiting for? It’s here.

And while we’re on the topic of valuable historical studies of blues archivists, Viking has just published, or is about to publish, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World by John Szwed. I’ve not read it but there’s a review in the Guardian by Sean O’Hagen, who thinks it’s great. I’m going to read it, particularly after reading this view, but also because I’m pretty sure it’s ridiculously well-edited.

This just in from Gershom Gorenberg

I am trying to help a three-and-a-half-year-old Palestinian girl from the West Bank who suffers from CP get essential care at an excellent hospital in Jerusalem. The girl's name is Dalal Rusrus. According to Dr. Eliezer Be'eri of Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, if Dalal is treated, there is even a chance that she might eventually be able to walk. If she is not treated, she will not even be able to use a wheelchair.

The Civil Administration is refusing to give her parents permission to enter Jerusalem, which makes it impossible for her to receive care. You can help by contacting the relevant spokespeople and asking why they aren't getting permits. If the authorities know the world is interested, there is a reasonable chance that they could grant the permits to avoid the embarrassment. Please note: The girl needs to get a permit by Monday. So send an email today, and take ten minutes when you get up Sunday to make a phone call or three.

The Israeli hospital wants to help her. Israelis and foreign donors have contributed for her care. Instead of letting this humanitarian cooperation take place, the military bureaucracy is standing in the way.

After Dr. Be'eri examined Dalal in the West Bank in October, Alyn hospital invited her to come for a full examination. Two appointments were canceled because her parents could not get permits. Finally, her mother was given a permit and Dalal was given a multi-disciplinary examination on Dec. 20. 

Now Dalal is supposed to go to Alyn on Monday, Jan 17 for a preliminary treatment, and then be hospitalized on Jan 23 for two weeks. In order for the treatment to happen, permits are needed for her parents, especially for her father. The mother is caring for a 9-month-old infant and it would be extremely difficult for her to be the one to accompany Dalal. The family has no immediate relatives in the area who would be able to help out.

So what you do is write or call both of the spokespeople below and the Civil Administration health official, say that you are writing a story, and you want to know if the Osama, Sunya and Dalal Rusrus have received permits to enter Jerusalem and if not, why not. The name of the spokespeople link to their email addresses. You should include the ID numbers of Osama, Sunya and Dalal, which you will find below.

IDF Spokesman's Office (Foreign Press Branch): 
Lt.-Col. Avital Leibovitz: 972 2-5485807/2, Fax: 972 2-5485825, Mobile: 972 57-8186248

Civil Administration, Judea and Samaria:
Capt. Amir Koren: 972 2-9977372, Fax: 972 2-9977341, Mobile: 972 50-6234081 

Civil administration health coordinator:
Dalia Basa: 972-2-9977084, or 972-2-9977022, Fax: 972-2-9977041 

Here are the ID numbers:
Osama Rusrus 909512386
Sunya Rusrus 903627057
Dalal Rusrus 420037004

You can find more information on her story at these links: 

Haaretz: Twilight zone / The long road to treatment

South Jerusalem: Saving Dalal

The American Prospect: Crossing Borders

For all further info to build the story, you can contact the B'Tselem human-rights organization's fantastic health staffer, Suhair Abdi

Warmly, Gershom

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

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