Eric Alterman | The Nation

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Slacker Friday

My new Think Again column, " What is Conservatism?" is here.

My Daily Beast piece, on Obama's drilling desires, is here.

Here's Charles:


Hey Doc:

"And Rosemary on the gallows/she didn't even blink/The hangin' judge was sober/He hadn't had a drink."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: Narcotic Prayer (Chris Whitley) : You could lash me to a shiny new oil derrick in the distant Gulf Of Mexico, and I would still know New Orleans was there, and love it.

Part The First:

I would like to congratulate the Georgia state legislature for being not only morons, but also the most graceless public losers since Bob Knight quit coaching basketball. Let's see. So the bill passes. You're pissed. You ask the AG for a lawsuit. He looks at it, decides (rightly) that it's a waste of his time and the taxpayers' money. So your reply is...LET'S IMPEACH THE ATTORNEY GENERAL! And now, stepping up to the mic here on Blockhead Nite at the Chuckle Hut, let's hear it for Lt. Governor Andre (Speed Racer) Bauer of South Carolina. The last time we did this, we threw out the entire system of government and, Andre, you ain't James Madison. Pass. But, in general, geez, all of you go your your happy places. It's nap time.

Part The Second:

No, stop, you guys are killing me. I swear, the RNC is turning into the Second City of political operations. Really, quit it. I can't breathe.

Part The Third:

If Fred Hiatt had a conscience, this would bother it. A profession that can produce Jane Mayer can almost be forgiven for harboring Mark Thiessen.

Part The Fourth:

Hey, Nutsy Fagen. Knock it off, OK? And by the way, as a little dressing atop the endless word salad of Andrew (Time Magazine Thinks I'm Cool) Breitbart, I believe that Garry Trudeau's offer of $10,000 to anyone who saw George W. Bush doing his guard duty in Alabama is still on the table. Which, by your demented logic, would prove...

Part The Penultimate:

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Politically, this is as maladroit a move as I've seen these guys make. (And I wonder how my friends in Shishmaref, the barrier island in the Chukchi Sea that is being eaten away because of climate change, are going to take the notion that we're "studying" some leases in the Chukchi. It's like making a mugging victim pay for the knife.) As energy policy, though, it's not surprising. What we're seeing is a Nixon-In-Reverse. In between subverting the Constitution and regularly taking the rats in his skull out for a walk on audiotape, the Trickster also gave us the EPA. For all the increasingly noxious boilerplate about the "stale arguments of left and right," if you're a Democratic president who's going to try to sell us on "clean coal, " more nuclear plants, and oil platforms off Chesapeake Bay, then you've picked a side. And it's going to be very interesting to watch them try to do this fandango on Social Security one day.

Part The Ultimate:

At this point, it's just getting too easy with this guy, although, I have to admit, blaming the sexual scandal within Mother Church on the permissive culture of the 1970's is a rather new twist. (No ritual denunciation of the free-love 1960's? You know, the decade in which we all stopped humping on Saturday nights long enough to make it to the weekly banjo Mass? Ross, babe, you're slipping.) Look, laddybucks, an overwhelming number of these criminal bastards -- and almost all of the bureaucrats in the red beanies who enabled said crimes -- went to seminary in the 1950's, pre-Vatican II, when there was enough barely suppressed sexuality rumbling in the dormitories at night to light the Vatican every Christmas.

Also, consensual sex, you moron!

Jesus, man, it's The New York Times. Do better than this. Of course, the NYT could replace young Ross, or the WaPo ol' Thumbscrews Thiessen, with this promising rookie pundit. She should now be accepting apologies from the cowards at SNL--and from the morons who shortly thereafter booed her off the stage at Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden. She was right. And she was right early, which is more important. And she'll always have my heart for the way she sings "She Came Through The Fair" on the soundtrack to Neil Jordan's Michael Collins. It was one of my grandmother's favorite songs. But I digress... And good for this guy. Sauce for the goose and all. Ball's in your court, il Papa. That's a figure of speech, by the way.

The Mail:

Name: Stephen Carver

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Regarding your Think Again column, I agree wholeheartedly that Republicans no longer have any moral authority to call themselves "conservative" when it comes to personal responsibility.

Nixon's Watergate fiasco started it when Ford pardoned him; it was furthered by Reagan's Iran/Contra scandal (and Abscam, etc.) during the eighties and continued right through the Bush years (both I and II) until it reached the point where W could actually break American law and get away with it.

I respect conservatives (my parents were both fiscal conservatives) and respect the concept of personal responsibility (I try to live it myself everyday). But the hypocrisy of the current crop of "conservatives" regarding personal responsibility is truly astounding.

You nailed it.

Name: C.L. Patterson

Hometown: Gary, Indiana

Sal Nunziato's post about the TAMI Show did not include a working link on where to buy it. This link would be very much appreciated.

I have been reading your blog since you were at MSNBC and just want to say, please keep up the great work!

Eric replies: You can buy it anywhere. It's in wide release...

Call Me Conservative, But...

My new Think Again column, "What is Conservatism?" is here.

My Daily Beast piece, on Obama's drilling desires, is here.

And if we must play this April Fools, game, my friends at Backstreets get my nomination for both breadth and humorth.

An aside that got cut out of my Daily Beast piece:

On his ABC News blog, Jake Tapper quotes "A White House official" explaining that "the president will also approve a lease sale in Alaska's Cook Inlet, while canceling another lease sale in Alaska's Bristol Bay because of environmental concerns. (Lease sales in Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are essentially being suspended pending further scientific review.) The official says that 'To set America on a path to energy independence, the President believes we must leverage our diverse domestic resources by pursuing a comprehensive energy strategy.'" Excuse me but what the hell kind of journalism is that? Why does a reporter allow a source to go on background if all he is going to offer up is propaganda-style pabulum? If the "White House official" said, "Hey, there's an election coming and we need the oil and gas money. Did you see that Supreme Court decision on unlimited corporate spending?" Then maybe allowing him (or her) to speak anonymously might make sense. But this kind of thing ought to be embarrassing.

This Week on Moyers:

In the months before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had expanded his focus on racial justice to include reducing economic inequality. Now, on this week's 42nd anniversary of King's assassination, Bill Moyers sits down with experts Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander to discuss how far we've really come as a country, how poor and working class Americans have been falling behind and what America must do to fulfill Dr. King's vision. Stevenson is longtime advocate for social justice and human rights in the context of criminal justice and is on the faculty of NYU's School of Law. Alexander holds a joint appointment with Ohio State's Moritz College of Law and Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and is author of The New Jim Crow.


The T.A.M.I. Show

There was nothing like it then and there has been nothing like it since. The T.A.M.I. Show, 1964's cavalcade of stars in concert and long sought after concert film, has finally been released in its entirety. I will go on record as saying, it is the greatest rock and roll film ever.

It's not because it contains James Brown's explosive and now legendary performance, or the show closing, but not necessarily show-stealing Rolling Stones. It's because director Steve Binder managed to bring out the fire in every one of the artists involved. You will find yourself cheering on everyone from Billy J. Kramer to Lesley Gore. I was particularly floored by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. They have become so ingrained in my memory, like every Motown artist, as just a singles band, I forgot they ever played live at all. Seeing Smokey in action, singing at times a bit too flat or a bit too sharp, blew my mind. And The Miracles, with their somewhat haphazard choreography, had the energy of The Ramones on this stage. Though JB's performance is the one everyone talks about, and for good reason, it was Smokey & the Miracles that made my jaw drop.

Still there is more. The Supremes, sleek and sexy, and Marvin Gaye, just as sleek and just as sexy, it's impossible not to get caught up in such rock and roll history. You will be applauding in your living room. Keep repeating, "It's only a movie. It's only a movie."


British Invasion DVD box

On the surface, Voyage Media's new British Invasion DVD box set seems to be nothing more than a collection of previously available interviews and TV performances featuring what seems like 4 randomly chosen artists from the 60s. But if you dig a little deeper, or like me, just put one on, you will be hooked immediately. Nicely packaged and packed with music and video, this set contains so many great performances, it really doesn't matter if none of it is particularly groundbreaking.

The Small Faces and Dusty Springfield, as well as the fun, but not quite as interesting Gerry & The Pacemakers and Herman Hermits, each get a full DVD devoted to their beginnings and successes. The interviews with band members and people associated with the artists are pulled from all periods of time, and interspersed with the performances. Or, you have an option to just watch the performances. The Small Faces is of particular interest, as it features the very last interview with bassist Ronnie Lane.

If you don't want to shell out $60, the DVDs are available separately, and I would start with the Small Faces. But that's me. This set really surprised me. I expected nothing, really. I had a blast.

Sal Nunziato

The Mail:

Name: Michael Pizzo

Hometown: Norwich, Connecticut

On Blocking Unemployment, When the unemployment extension is finally passed on the return of The Senate from Vacation (OH, what's a vacation?) I wonder how many people will be left in the lurch of having to refile and find themselves disqualified because of some set of state rules where they did not work enough in the last 5 quarters? Or better yet will see the amount of the check that they receive cut in half or worse? This would be the same people who more than likely on top of getting pay cuts of 25 to 40 percent already. Now we are going to make them try to live on 40% less? Those facing the worst case of those scenarios are looking at a Paycheck of $400 a week getting $160 followed by now getting $92 a week! One can hardly wait for the new crime wave to begin.

Name: J.E. Bernecky

Hometown: Westover, PA

Re: the understated elegence of "What Liberal Media?"

Tobin Harshaw, in his latest NYT Opinionator, quotes Bruce Bartlett saying of David Frum: "Since he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI 'scholars' on the subject of healthcare reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do."

Whatever else that means, it means that Nancy Pelosi, still hiding behind Bart Stupak's pants from both the Catholic Church (who'd give her laurels) and women's rights groups (who'd give her hell), needlessly sacrificed the best of her own, and that she did this not for nothing, now, but, as it turns out, in order to spare Republicans the need to do it.

Name: Michael Green

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Uh, Brother Pierce, I love ya, man, but when you insult Harry Reid, remember who got the health care bill through the Senate.

I also would slightly dispute the point about McCain. He never had the slightest bit of principle, and the media enjoyed him so much, they didn't bother delving into it. Consider that this is the guy who joked about how ugly Chelsea Clinton was when she was a kid, and denied it although it was on tape.

Slacker Friday Night

My new CAP column is called Think Again: Health Care Promises, Predictions, and Propaganda and it's here.

My Nation column is called Will ABC Let Amanpour be Amanpour and it's here.

And I did a really short Beast post on the passage of the healthcare bill here.

From the Huffpo Investigations Fund:

Heather Galeotti was hit by a car and rushed to the hospital, where she lay in a coma in the intensive care unit. Her health insurance company, Kaiser Permanente, told her family that she was covered through her father's group plan. But five months later, they received a letter from Kaiser. Her policy had been retroactively terminated and they owed more than $4 million in hospital bills.

It's a hole in the health care reform bill that was never discussed. The new bill bans retroactive decisions by insurers in policies sold to individuals, except in cases of fraud. However, as it stands the ban would not apply to group policies, such as the one held by the Galeotti family, which cover some 150 million Americans. Why? Because most experts think it can't happen. This case, reported for the first time at the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, shows that -- even in the group market -- people might be vulnerable.

This story came to the Huffington Post Investigative Fund through its citizen journalism project, which seeks to shed light on the inner workings of the insurance industry. Former and current employees at Kaiser responded to the Fund's online requests for help from insiders. Their tips led the Investigative Fund to identify the Galeotti family and obtain records of the case, including internal Kaiser e-mails.

Read more.



Hey Doc:

"You just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day/It's great to be an American."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Deuces Up, Double Down" (Breakestra) -- RIP, Marva Wright, Blues Queen of the city I love more than Eric Cantor loves being the Village idiot.

Abbreviated Slacker Friday post, On The Road With Limited Computer Access Edition -- Back in 1998, I wrote a piece about John McCain for Esquire. Now, 12 years later, I am witness to his final degradation as a serious public person. Granted, this has been a long time in the making, ever since wheneer it was that he decided he wanted to be president more than he wanted to be, well, sane. The 2008 campaign was an extended tour of the swamp wherein reside his various grudges, pretensions, and poisonous ill-will toward anyone who didn't recognize his Green Room-endowed right to run the country. He sold himself to all the people who'd immolated his well-loved 2000 campaign. He violated the campaign law that bore his name. He said that, in retrospect, he wouldn't have voted for the half-sensible immigration-reform law he'd proposed. Then, in his biggest bow to the Nervous Hospital that the base of his party had become, he picked an ambitious, half-bright goober from Alaska to run with him, made her a star to people who should not be trusted to cut their own meat, and then, when her innate clownishness had made her (and him) such a laughing stock that the Republican ticket lost in places like Indiana to a black man whose middle name was "Hussein," he sent his remaining loyalists out to emphasize (anonymously) that his running mate was even dumber than the rest of us imagined.

He then walked back to the Senate and engaged in a prolonged temper tantrum that culminated in his announcement last week that he was so insulted by health-care reform that he would hereafter decline to do his job any more -- a refutation of his old "Country First" slogan that was so obviously hilarious that even Harry Reid noticed. Meanwhile, back home, he was being primaried to within an inch of his life anyway by J.D. Hayworth, a former sportscaster who went on to a brief, Abramoff-enriched career as the dimmest bulb in the congressional chandelier. So, here I sit, today, in Arizona, and not eight miles from this computer. John McCain has flown in Sarah Palin to be the featured speaker at a rally that he hopes will push him to victory over a guy whom even all the other congressional dumbasses thought was a box of rocks. She's endorsing him but, at the rally, HE'S introducing her, and all I can think of is a paraphrase of the late, great Dr. Thompson's memorable vale to the cursed 1972 campaign;

"Jesus, how low do you have to stoop in this country if you want to almost be president?"

Name: Stephen Carver

Hometown: Los Angeles

Regarding your CAP article, the Republicans want nothing less than America to fail. Rush said it first and said it loudest, but that seems to be their strategy. They seem to believe that if we fail as a nation, then they can be seen as the knight in shining armor (which is how they still view Reagan) coming in to save the day and the country. HOW they would do this, what policies they will use, they never seem to have an answer for (except fewer taxes for rich people), but they WILL do it, by golly!

As for Wallace Shawn, the man is a brilliant playwright and humanitarian. He understands modern day motivations for some of the horrible things we do to each other and can portray them in sympathetic and incredibly funny ways. I've been a fan of his for many years now.

Predictions, Predictions

My new CAP column is called Think Again: Health Care Promises, Predictions, and Propaganda and it's here.

My Nation column is called "Will ABC Let Amanpour be Amanpour" and it's here.

And I did a really short Beast post on the passage of the health care bill here.

So today is the 99th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Unions are awfully weak these days, though not nearly weak enough for conservatives like Mickey Kaus and the Wall Street Journal editors, and most of the punditocracy. Among the promises that lay fallow on the floor of the White House Oval Office and the House and Senate Democratic caucuses are most of those made to the unions--card check being the most prominent of these--it's a good time to remember why we need unions and what kind of world we'd be living in without them.


It was beautiful weather here last weekend here in the city, and I was walked back and forth to see movies at the Rendezvous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, now over alas, and listened to Wallace Shawn read his book of essays on my iPod on the way. You can read about it here. I kind of love Shawn as a playwright and an essayist, though I fundamentally disagree with his Noam Chomskyesque view of the world. Shawn has a human side that is lacking in most radical critics of US foreign policy and he makes the case against American power--in any form--in simple human terms that are refutable, though not easily. He is the perfect reader of his own work, though and if you either agree with Chomsky, or don't mind being lectured a bit in Chomskyite terms, this collection is a delight. I particularly loved his thoughts on friendship and on the "value" of theater.

I'm also happy to see that my friends at Concord are unveiling another new/old 24-bit remastering series of jazz classics following on the Rudy Van Gelder Remasters Series of classic Prestige recordings. What they're calling the "Original Jazz Classics Remasters" begins with:

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at Oberlin

Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section

Sonny Rollins: Way Out West

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

Joe Pass: Virtuoso

They all have plenty to recommend them (with new liner notes to help you appreciate why). If you bought the complete Monk/Coltrane sessions last time around, you don't need this one, as that was already remastered. The others are brand-new versions as far as I can tell. Sonny Rollin's Way Out West is the most essential of the bunch; a kind of breakthrough imagining of what a jazz album could be in its time. And the live Dave Brubeck album, recorded at Oberlin is interesting because it's pre Take Five and because it was one of the first jazz shows done on a college campus, though Oberlin was an obvious choice. Joe Pass' album Virtuouso is certainly well named, though an entire album of solo guitar demands more concentration that I can usually muster. Aside from that, however, you'd have to be mighty strange not to enjoy any one of these, and hey, they're awfully cheap. Read all about them here.

The Mail:

Name: Robert Carrick
Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO

As a recently retired high school principal and retired Marine LtCol I have to ask, "What parents?" Today that term rarely applies. I dealt with grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and even foster parents. If I dealt with the actual biological parent it was more often than not a single mother working her butt off to keep what was left of the "family" afloat. In many cases the "parents" were as disfunctional as the kid if not more so. One student actually left his own home/family at 14 to seek refuge from the drugs and violence with friends. I was always amazed at the resiliency of the kids. They would get up, get dressed and come to school and do their best when, if I was in their shoes, I'd be running wild as a March hare. People have not a clue what schools deal with since most of it takes place behind closed doors protected by privacy acts. In almost all cases your heart would ache for not only the kid but, in many cases, for their parent(s) who loved them and were trying to do their very best against overwhelming social and economic odds. Finally, here's to all those loving and caring teachers who are there every day for those kids. God Bless them!

Name: Mike Dickenson
Hometown: Bluff City, TN

It would be nice if a national news program would compare our health plan against other ones.

I'm in my mid 50s and would like to retire one day. I played by their rules. I saved in my 401k even though I didn't know what I was doing on Wall Street. I couldn't tell which funds were good so I mainly stayed with index funds. My 401K is roughly the same size it was 10 years ago.

Even though I may have enough funds to retire modestly, I can't because I need health insurance. The only way to get that is keep working. My insurance has gotten more expensive over the years. I see people saying they love their insurance. If they lose their jobs, they don't see that insurance is virtually unaffordable for joe citizen. That's why it is so important to make private insurance affordable to anyone.

Name: K. Castro
Hometown: The Left Coast

Pierce's column on 3/18, specifically, musing on whether the "insurance companies would simply devise another plan by which they would deny coverage to those same people"...well, out here on the Left Coast in earthquake country, I can tell ya that's exactly what the property insurance drones did in the aftermath of the '94 Northridge Earthquake. We had full coverage on our house, which was virtually destroyed in that 6.7 magnitude rock 'n roller, and Allstate, bless their pointy little heads, just kept writing us checks for damages. However, in the aftermath, after talking up what at the time was the costliest natural disaster in our nations history (since eclipsed by Katrina, and the nightly explosion of Glenn Beck's head), to the tune of over $17 billion, the masters of the insurance universe took stock of their eroding situation, and decided that they had woefully underestimated just how much an earthquake might cost them should one occur in a hugely populated urban center with hundreds of freeway over-passes and tens of thousands of suburban homes.

First they cut deals with CA State Insurance Commissioner Chuch Quakenbush (yes folks, that was his name...), allowing them to avoid paying millions in fines for denying coverage. Old Quakenbush paid for this faux pas with his job, but somehow avoided prosecution: the idiot is now a deputy sheriff in Florida. Then, forbidden from simply dropping customers (by a quirk in state law that I can't quite recall), they turned around and made their product virtually unusable, by creating a labyrinthine checklist of deductibles. So instead of the $5K blanket deductible we had prior to the quake, which at the time paid for "full coverage," the insurance gods in their wisdom created thirty or so different deductible categories, outling damage to plumbing, electrical, windows, carpet, foundation, ed naseum, each carrying with them a hefty deductible, thus creating a scenario wherein the total amount of the deductible payments would therefore exceed the value of the house! How positively creative of them. Instead of admitting they didn't have a clue about how to provide adequate insurance coverage, they circled their wagons and stuck it to their policy holders, and many, like me, had to just drop the earthquake coverage, because it wasn't economically feasible to keep or use it. Tens of thousands like me did just the same. It will not surprise me in the least if health insurance companies do the same, because they are indeed, as Pierce cites, among "the greediest and most soulless bastards on the planet..."

Name: Maureen Holland
Hometown: South Venice Beach, FL

I know you wouldn't want the day to pass without one of us noting the wonderful news that today is the seventh birthday of Shock and Awe.

They grow up so fast.

Name: Steven Gabai
Hometown: Fair Lawn, NJ


I always read the emails you get because your readers are an intelligent bunch. I only wish policy discussions in Washington were as thoughtful, enlightened and practical. But Thursday's emails made me laugh, out loud.

Charles Pierce got me going by calling Rep. King a "twit." I laughed again when I read what King called for and thought "yea, it's stuff like this that makes me proud to be an American." Mr. Pierce then described the POS health care bill as a POS, but noting that he'd vote for it anyway (I agree with him btw).

That said, after spending more then a year bumping into each other on one side, and angry chants of "death panels" coming from the other, to come away with a POS bill and then being forced to push that POS bill over the goal line--legislation that probably won't do much other then force insurance companies to find the smallest of loopholes in the finest of fine print--it struck me as the epitome of our illustrious government: "politicians always do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons."

And then I got down to Robert Moskowitz's email. I chuckled when he said, "In any battle of wits, the Right would basically be unarmed." Then he got me going when he said, "liberalism and leftist talk radio fails because...No one in the audience has much in the way of facts, information, and evidence to contribute. And almost no one in the audience gives a shit about any of that stuff, anyway..."

And then he almost had me on the floor when he said that right wing talk radio "has nothing whatever to do with facts, information, and evidence. The hosts don't care about that stuff, and neither does the audience. All those righties just...gas about whatever weird ideas get through their aluminum foil hats and rattle around in their heads. And the other righties love hearing about enemies, and victimization, and the coming apocalypses while waiting for their next turn to gas about their own crazy ideas."

I don't think Mr. Pierce or Mr. Moskowitz meant to be funny at all. They were serious. Cynical but serious. But for those of us smart enough to know what's going on in the country, it goes to show that our cynicism is all we have. And with the bar set so darn low, and pulled lower every day by the GOP, the tea baggers, the "aluminum foil hatters," the media and neanderthals like Sarah Palin, it can only make you laugh. And more cynical.

But without bold, honest, intelligent, progressive leadership, and what that void is doing to the country, it should make us on the left angry. Very angry.

Name: T. O'Dell
Hometown: Port Angeles, WA

With all due respect to Pierce, it takes 67 votes in the Senate to over-ride a veto. This smart guy over at Think Progress points out that if they won every single Democratic-held seat that's up in 2010, and held on to Ohio, New Hampshire, and Missouri the Republicans would be up to 59 Senators...

P.S. anyone who is as outraged as I by the miserably petty efforts of the Stupak block might want to contribute to his ouster by supporting his primary opponant. Just sayin.'

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Ewa Beach, HI

On Ralph Nader and his "Obama is Uncle Tom" remark, I said this in 2008 and I will say it again, Ralph Nader...Undercover Brother. Who knew?

On illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank: this is one crazy idea for a Palestinian response. Please discuss if you think it's feasible. The two viable state solution is dead. AIPAC et al have fended us off long enough that the Israeli settler movement has managed to eat the cake that was supposed to be negotiated. Sadly, all that has happened seems to vindicate Christopher Hitchens' remarks on the problems with a State founded on one particular Religion's principles. My proposal will no doubt be painful to those still holding out hopes for the ideals of Zionism, but if the alternative is Jewish apartheid...

So maybe the Palestinians should try the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" (and vote the racist bastards out of office) strategy. Many have observed that a two state solution is essential to Israel retaining its character as a Jewish majority State. So the reasoning goes that current demographic trends will result in more Arab/Palestinians living in Israel and the Occupied Territories than Israeli Jews within 20 or so years. Perfect. The Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories should immediately drop any and all armed struggle plans, renounce any intent to form a separate Palestinian State, and demand their full civil rights as Israeli citizens. The Palestinian refugees living outside of the Israel and the Occupied Territories should similarly demand the right to return and become Israeli citizens. Then, everybody goes to the polls and elects so many Israeli-Arab members of the Knesset that no government could possibly be formed without including at least some of the Israeli- Arab Parties.

Because I'm a fair-minded, liberal idealist, I would also recommend that the new Israeli-Arab Parties run on the platform of abolishing government policies that favor one particular religion (i.e. Judaism), and turning Israel into another secular democracy with a separation of Church and State. That would certainly get them all the support the South African anti-apartheid movement was able to get, and make the moral issue on this REAL CLEAR if the current Israeli government tried to marginalize Israeli-Arab political power. I'd expect we could get some of our wealthy Arab allies to help pay for what will no doubt be a very expensive program of resettling returning Palestinians into decent communities.

Fundamentally, I think the appeal of this approach should be clear. After 60+ years of bloodshed that has left both parties poorer, brutalized and bitter, stop trying to out-fight the Israelis; out- breed them, out-vote them, and legislate out of existence Israel's most odious policies. You can even change the official name of the country to Palestine-Israel if you want.

OK, now you can tell me why I'm mishigas.

Eric replies: You payin' me?

Slacker Friday

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

A few statistics:

(From Juan Cole)

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

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

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

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

(From Eric Eckholm in the New York Times)

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

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

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

Now read this story:

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

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

The mail:

Name: Frankus Brockerman

Hometown: Toms River, N.J.

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

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

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

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

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

Name: J.E. Bernecky

Hometown: Westover, PA

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

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

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

Name: Paul-Andre Panon

Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.

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

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

March 14, 2010


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

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

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

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


New York

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

Slacker Thursday

I've got a new Think Again column called "Mission Accomplished? Really?" and it's here.

Now here's Pierce a day early, and some more of the regulars...

More tomorrow, I hope.



Hey Doc:

"And big Jim Dwyer, the man of wire, who was often heard to say/I'm a freeborn man of the USA."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Irish Blues" (Maura O'Connell) -- I love the way the shadows fall between the hills of north Kerry, where my family's from, but I love New Orleans just as much.

Part The First: Come back, Ted Turner. I'm begging you. What happened here? Did CNN balk at the contract demands of a guy sleeping on a steam grate somewhere? Did they guy who collects tinfoil and makes it into a huge ball have a tough agent? Did the insane cat lady want her own show? Explain yourselves, morons.

Part The Second: This twit is a member of Congress. Vaclav Havel should come to Washington and beat him to death with a copy of The White Album. Alexander Dubcek should come back from the dead and eat his face. Do they really believe this stuff, or do they believe it's a surefire way to win votes, and which of these two alternatives is worse for the country. Discuss.

Part The Third: I don't care what you think of the healthcare bill, this is the kind of thing that everyone should applaud. Watching the White House navigate the complete shitstorm that this is going to provoke from the usual shitstorming class is going to be instructive.

Part The Fourth: Oh, no, you're not. Replacing Moyers with a foof like Parson Meacham? And this makes sense to someone, how? I can hardly wait for the Very Special Episode -- Karl Rove: Tears On The Hatchet, or for Newt Gingrich's weekly spot, Really Smart Stuff I Learned Once. Still, PBS still has marginally better hiring policies than CNN.

Part The Penultimate: No, Kevin. This is really only half an answer, and that's if I stipulate that, by next fall, the Republicans won't have the votes to override a veto of their attempts to repeal the oncoming POS. (I make it slightly worse than even-money that they won't, and that's if I don't factor in the number of terrified surviving Democrats.) But, regardless, the "20 or 30 years down the line" argument is still threadbare speculation. Both Social Security/Medicare parallels were federally-operated programs right from jump. In the current POS--which, as I've said, I would vote for, and then immediately repair to the Tune Inn for whiskey and self-loathing--the deep involvement of the for-profit insurance industry guarantees has created within the structure of the system being created a powerful constituency that would oppose any moves toward a real public option or, dare to dream, a single-payer system. This is an inherent obstacle that renders the SS/Medicare parallel, at best, inapt. The other night on one of the pundit shows, Ezra Klein, who's forgotten more about these matters than most of us will ever know, looked a little bumfuzzled on the issue of the ban on pre-existing conditions. The host--O'Donnell, I think, but I could be wrong--asked him whether or not he thought that, banned from denying coverage on that basis, the insurance companies would simply devise another plan by which they would deny coverage to those same people. I have no doubt that they will, since they are the greediest and most soulless bastards on the planet. Give them until 2014 and they'll come up with something.

Part The Ultimate: This is the real shiz-nit, as Snoop Dogg once said to Herbert Spencer. This is what I'm talking about. (I may have a new conservative crush.) It's past time for the NYT to send its struggling phenom back down to Double-A for some more seasoning. And this part;

"From Mark Twain's "Gilded Age" and Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men" to their more recent imitators, our novelists have never been terribly interested in the actual challenges of political life. Instead, Lehmann suggested, they usually cast the entire mess as "a great ethical contaminant and task their protagonists with escaping its many perils with both their lives and their moral compasses intact."

...is almost perfectly stupid. It is a stupid point, repeated stupidly, in order to make stupidly an even more stupid point. All The King's Men wasn't "terribly interested in the actual challenges of political life"? Has Douthat ever read the book? Hell, has he ever met anyone who has? Hell, in his delicate, cosseted young life, has he ever met anyone from Louisiana? Can Douthat's argument reasonably be said to apply to any of the three greatest political novels of the last century, which would be ATKM, Edwin O'Connor's The Last Hurrah, and The Gay Place, Billy Lee Brammer's criminally overlooked fictionalized portrait of LBJ?

(It says something, although I don't know what, that the politicians fictionalized in the three greatest political novels of the last century are also the subjects of, arguably, three of the greatest political biographies of that same period--T. Harry Williams's masterpiece on Huey Long, Jack Beatty's marvelous The Rascal Kingabout James Michael Curley, and Robert Caro's monumental ongoing achievement on Lyndon Johnson--and that all the characters, fictional and non-fictional, are Democrats.)

Those books reek of the "actual challenges" of the unique political fauna present in, respectively, Louisiana, Irish Catholic Boston, and Texas. That many of those "actual challenges" are venal--and, in the case of The Last Hurrah, almost comically so--is beside the point entirely. And who exactly are "the protagonists" in these novels, anyway? Are they the outside observer/narrators, or the outsized figures being observed? If it is former, then it's a considerable stretch to say that ATKM's Jack Burden, or Adam Caulfield from The Last Hurrah, escape with their ethical compasses intact. And, if it's the latter, then the argument is self-evidently ludicrous. Good Lord, man, do better than this.

The mail:

Name: Michael Green

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

As usual, Brother Pierce provides much food and fodder for thought. Here goes.

On attorneys: I had the privilege of conducting the oral history of a Nevada attorney and politician, Ralph Denton, whom a judge once appointed to represent a man who killed four people in a bank vault. Ralph said as he came into the courtroom, spectators would hiss at him. He wondered how they would feel if THEY needed representation and how they could know so little about our system of justice. In an ideal world, Liz Cheney would be accused of a heinous crime (besides her libel and slander, and what I believe is treason to the ideals of the Founding Fathers) and need an attorney.

On Jane Hamster, as I like to call her: Agreeing or disagreeing with a health care reform bill is fine. But knowing what you are talking about matters far more. I read her commentaries until I realized how little she actually knew about government and politics, and realized that I could better spend my time staring at the wall and watching paint dry. The problem is, she does indeed reflect a view peculiar among the far left and far right that rules and individual opinions don't matter. Just do what they tell us to do.

On the health care reform bill: Someday, historians will say that the greatest bit of legislative legerdemain by any congressional leader since Lyndon Johnson was when Harry Reid got his entire caucus of 60 senators to back a bill that none of them liked but that improved the nation's health care system.

Name: Pat Healy

Hometown: Vallejo, CA

As the spouse of a high school teacher (and someone with a long enough memory to recall that I was, in fact, the kind of student teachers dread when I was in high school), I cannot emphasize this enough: Parenting (more specifically, the lack of it in the classical sense) is probably THE major problem in K-12 education today.

I constantly hear stories from my wife about parental behavior (when they are confronted with the fact that their spawn is, in fact, an unmotivated, disruptive, and impertinent piece of shit) that rarely fail to surprise me, even keeping in mind the previous stories from our years together. I am always reminded of the fact that, "in my day," my parents were usually inclined to take the teacher's word over mine, unless I had sufficient evidence (usually supplied by other students with better reputations) to warrant further investigation. While I cannot say that this approach appealed to me at the time, I must confess that, in hindsight, it was probably correct.

Today's problem parents, based on my vantage point, seem to regard schools as an all purpose babysitter/custodial guardian, with the alchemical ability to transmogrify lumps of lead into gold, preferably with as little bother and expense to them as possible. No, not all parents act this way; it's not even a majority. But they are numerous, onerous, and, in their effect on the system, dangerous.

This is, admittedly, a one-sided view of the issue. However, while I can see many problems with the teachers' unions and the current typical system for hiring and retaining teachers at American schools, teachers and their unions are not any more important a factor in "fixing" schools than are the economic realities that send both parents out to work, thereby, understandably, giving them a greater reliance on schools to provide what they are unable to furnish. And addressing those realities would have far wider-reaching benefits than going after the teachers' unions could possibly provide.

Name: Thain Marston

Hometown: Des Moines, IA

"Am I to believe that, gifted with a federal mandate requiring people to buy their products, the insurance companies will drop over time their resistance to the kind of health-care system that exists everywhere else in the industrialized world? " Actually, yes. The main type of health-care system used in the developed world is called the Bismarck Plan after the German chancellor who introduced in 1883. It features strongly regulated private-payers and private-providers. In addition to Germany, this type of plan is also used by Japan and France, the latter often considered to have the best health care system in the world. And, of course, it is the kind of system being offered in the Senate HCR bill. So there is no reason based on international experience to think it can't work. I think the key to getting good, cost effective universal health care is not the kind of system used (there are at least three basic types plus mixtures used in the developed world) but in having good administration and regulation to implement it. For example, single-payer systems are relative rare and as we have seen with our own Medicare can fail to achieve cost control if hampered by the lawmakers.

Name: Dan Garfinkel

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Regarding right-wing radio: one must not underestimate the power of radio hosts who are willing to lie, demonize, and misrepresent our country's most precious documents. Their success is directly related to the failures of our public school systems to produce educated voters who actually understand the meaning of democracy. The challenge in fighting the extreme right is that they do not play by any rules: Dishonesty and hypocrisy are meaningless terms. It's just how they roll.

Name: Don Hynes

Hometown: Portland, OR

Charles, you know I love your style, but in the bastardized Nicholson version of Updike's classic, the Devil asks the duly shocked Sunday wasp congregation: "When God created (health care) did He make a mistake or did He do it on purpose?" He might be asking the same question about no public option to the Dems Congress but Glenn Greenwald says it so much better here:

The Democrats' scam becomes more transparent.

Name: Robert Moskowitz

Hometown: Santa Monica, CA

I agree that there should be more liberal/progressive talk on the radio. But the problem is literally that the medium is part of the message, and psychological studies have shown that conservative/libertarian points of view and talking points are more likely to find an audience on radio than liberal/progressive POVs and TPs.

Poorly recalled and restated by me, the reasons involve the fact that conservatives are likely to get greater pleasure from hearing their enemies' arguments belittled, debunked, and refuted -- even if the arguments are weak and illogical -- compared with liberals/progressives. Both camps like to see their opponents' strongest arguments defeated by strong rebuttals, but only the conservative/libertarian group gets the same amount of pleasure from the kind of tripe that Limbaugh, Beck, O'Reilly, and the other right-wing noise makers are regularly putting forth.

That's a big part of the reason why Fox is raking in the big bucks and Air America went belly up.

I remember The Advocates, a PBS TV a series in which actually well-informed left- and right-wing debaters made intelligent points against each other and a slate of partisan witnesses, trying to establish and support their two opposing points of view. The show was very stimulating and educational. But intelligent argument does not attract the kind of multi-million person audiences that a strategy of shouting, insulting, and making fun of others seems to attract.

There may be a format that works for liberal/progressive audiences on for-profit radio stations, but no one has discovered or popularized it yet.

There's another point: I'm not sure any of the conservative/liberal POVs or TPs contain enough factual content or sensible analysis to stand up in even the simplest and dumbest debating/arguing format. I mean, how hard is it to refute the notion of "death panels" or to call out the Republicans for linking Obama's policies to the stock market when it went down, but not when it went back up?

In any battle of wits, the Right would basically be unarmed.

So I think you'd have a hard time getting anyone on the Right to agree to participate in a fair fight on a level playing field.

There's another reason--that I haven't heard anywhere else before--why lefty talk radio fails: one person brings in some actual, factual information about existing scientific research and what it shows that might be important; after that, everyone totally ignores that input and talks about other stuff, except for those few who respond by offering their own unscientific, unsupported theories.

So there you have it: liberalism and leftist talk radio fails because it's all about facts, information, and evidence. No one in the audience has much in the way of facts, information, and evidence to contribute. And almost no one in the audience gives a shit about any of that stuff, anyway, and would much rather bloviate about their own anecdotal experiences and personal theories.

This also explains why right-wing talk radio is so popular: it has nothing whatever to do with facts, information, and evidence. The hosts don't care about that stuff, and neither does the audience. All those righties just get to gas about whatever weird ideas get through their aluminum foil hats and rattle around in their heads. And the other righties love hearing about enemies, and victimization, and the coming apocalypses while waiting for their next turn to gas about their own crazy ideas.

So far, when people have tried to do leftist talk radio, they start off on the wrong foot by concentrating on the issues, and they make it worse by bringing up relevant facts, information and evidence. Boring.

Rachel Maddow is the exception that proves the rule.

Name: Paul-Andre Panon

Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.

Something interesting to ponder is that up to and including the 1st half of the 20th century, it apparently was fairly common for young sons in large families to enter the catholic church as brothers or priests. Now consider the relationship between fraternal birth order and homosexuality and it seems pretty likely that the catholic church had a much high proportion of latent homosexuals in its order as compared to the general population. It's not inconceivable that the church may have deliberately demonized homosexuality to make the world a more hostile place for that population group so that they would turn to the church to deal with their "inner demons". It's also interesting that as family sizes in Western democracies have shrunk and homosexuals have been more accepted, the church has had more difficulty recruiting men for the priesthood. Keep in mind that Asia, where large family sizes and homosexual criminalization is still common, is one of the few places where the church isn't having problems recruiting priests. Now. while homosexuality is not normally associated with predation, it's quite possible that some of the homosexual men in the church, unable to be honest about their sexual urges, and perhaps psychologically twisted by church doctrine about their "perversion", might succumb to exploiting their position when given clerical authority over younger men. The temptation to give in to their "inner demons" might have been too much.

In addition to the avoidance of scandal, it would certainly explain why the church hierarchy's private reaction to abuse by priests would have been so different from their public posture: to shuffle the priests around rather than expose and punish the guilty parties. If a substantial part of that hierarchy was homosexual, they would have been fighting their own "demons" and had substantial empathy for those who had lapsed and fallen prey to their "base urges".

I had this thought years ago when the scandals were still limited to North America, and so this comes more as a confirmation than a surprise. I expect that most of the iceberg is still submerged.

Name: Paul Corrigan

Hometown: Lexington, MA

Doc, have you see what's #1 on the NYT Bestseller list for Hardcover Nonfiction?

NO APOLOGY, by Mitt Romney

One of my neighbors (we live on the most left-wing street in Lexington, MA) was a partner of Romney at Bain. To my horror, when he first ran for Governor of Massachusetts she supported his candidacy and then pleaded ignorance once he showed his true colors.

Bill Maher now refers to Mitt as a "shapeshifter" due to his penchant for changing political positions. Alas, Romney is no myth and his candidacy in 2012 will not be a fantasy. While other Republicans self destruct, Mitt is ready to look good, spend and lie his way to the White House.

Just like the Republicans did to Gore, the time to assassinate Romney's character is before he even runs for office. We can do it with the truth, and the shapeshifter analogy is the perfect way to expose Romney's hypocrisy.

Slacker Friday

"Think Again" column about how important right-wing talk radio is to the politics of this nation and what a mistake liberals make by failing to pay attention to it. That's here.

Nation column, "Money for Nothing," about how networks are looting their news divisions to carry insane celebrity salaries for their hosts and anchors.

Daily Beast column on the failure of Biden's trip to Israel and the need for an imposed solution, here.

Here's Charles:



Hey Doc:

"Now, little boy lost/ he takes himself so seriously/He brags of his misery/ he likes to live dangerously."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Danzon Boogaloo" (Los Po-Boy-Citos): I frackin' love New Orleans.

Part The First:

This governor is a Democrat. Thought I'd point that out. (As far as federal tax dollars go, is Wyoming a Taker and not a Giver? Of course, it is. The last Democratic politician who signed something like this was probably Jefferson Davis.)

Part The Second:

Uh-oh. Il Papa's brother seems to be in some deep schiess of a very familar kind. Hey, Catholic politicians. When the US Council of Catholic Bishops starts meddling in secular politics, remember that a) this is the guy they all work for, and b) the US Council, by and large, doesn't have a huge constituency within the American church, and probably should have been broken up on a RICO case 15 years ago. These are not people of whom you have to be afraid.

Part The Third:

Oh, god, this is as good a takedown as they get. Why the elite press thinks the opinions of a bedwetting birther like Andrew McCarthy are worthy of anything except scorn is hard for me to fathom.

Part The Penultimate:

I have become a connoisseur of the destruction being wrought by Parson Meacham over at Newsweek. In last week's episode, he unleashed Evan Thomas, chronicler of Great Men and perhaps the nation's only collector of John McCloy memorabilia, on America's schools. The result, unsurprisingly, was an assault on the people who teach in them, and the unions that protect them, many of whom make (horrors!) $75,000 a year which, unless I miss my guess, probably pretty much amounts to the annual bill for the car service that transports Mr. Thomas to the various Green Rooms of his life. Read this piece of alleged journalism very carefully. Do you notice what's missing? C'mon, kids, you can do it. That's right, class, there is not a single quote in it from an actual schoolteacher. Not one. Not a word. A couple of think-tankers, and a writer of A report. But not one person from the trenches. Even if you agree with some or all of it, this isn't journalism. This is a gussied-up blogpost, and Parson Meacham should flog himself for an hour for putting it on the cover.

And, no, one quote in a sidebar doesn't count, and neither does a contrived faceoff between the head of the AFT and our latest education Madonna, Michelle Rhee, whose work I will leave to the estimable Bob Somerby passim.

Part The Ultimate:

I am not unsympathetic to the arguments made by Kevin Drum or Matt Y. here, even though I think the opprobrium heaped on Jane Hamsher is wildly disproportionate. (Does anyone really think Rahm Emanuel isn't as much of a bully and a dope as she maintains? Really? And it's past time for John Cole to stop being a snarky creep on the topic.) Ask me what I'd do, and I'd probably vote for the ongoing POS that is the Senate bill. However, I would like both Kevin and Matt -- or John -- to explain the "stepping-stone" argument to me. Why , precisely, should I believe that, that once we pass the POS, any opportunity to improve it, largely by the process of political evolution, will remain? Am I to believe that, gifted with a federal mandate requiring people to buy their products, the insurance companies will drop over time their resistance to the kind of health-care system that exists everywhere else in the industrialized world? That they will desist from the practice of buying enough legislators to eviscerate any subsequent attempts to reform the new system to the advantage of their consumers? Why would they do this? Please show your work.

After all, it's unlikely that the new system proposed in the ongoing POS will become so wildly popular, and so seriously armored by public approval, that there will be a substantial political risk to having opposed it in theory, or to opposing it in practice. Not by next autumn, anyway. How will the political calculus be so changed by the passage of the POS this April that, by November, opposing it will endanger anyone's chance of holding onto a congressional seat, or winning an open one? Why shouldn't the Republicans run on a promise to repeal the new system, and then follow through by doing exactly that? We are dealing with a political opposition made up of nihilistic vandals who want to roll back everything Theodore Roosevelt passed. I doubt that these people will be intimidated by a new baby quasi-entitlement that has yet to affect anyone in any real way. Can somebody explain to me how the surviving Democratic politicians, even if they hang onto their majorities, will muster the will and skill to move toward "further reform in the future," as Mr. Drum puts it, given what we've seen of their performance with overwhelming congressional majorities? (You will note that, in the Jon Chait piece that started all the current ruckus, these questions remain unanswered. Again, everyone, please show your work.

The mail:

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

"Money for Nothing" brought to mind former CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Tom Fenton's fine book, Bad News. He said that Tom Brokaw told him he offered to give back some of his salary to help cover costs and was told no, the money would go straight back to the network, not to the news division. Fenton said he mentioned that to Dan Rather, who said he wouldn't provide details, but he could tell a similar story.

That the networks pay these anchors so much is insane. That the networks don't see that a good news department only helps them in the end--even helps the profit margin if viewers like a network's news coverage enough to give other programming a chance--is criminal.

Name: Jackie Baker
Hometown: Overland Park, Kansas

"Teachers can be fired for any or no reason for three years. Shouldn't decent administrators notice who can't teach in three years? Sorry for the rant; feel free to trash."-Joe Gallagher from Prairie Village, Kansas

I'm from Joe's area and he has hit the nail on the head regarding how we treat teachers nowdays. We've tied their hands ,then we blame them because the children they are paid to teach have crappy parents who refuse to look past their "little angel's" tarneshed halo's. i have friends who "were" school teachers but because of the bull shit politics with the "School boards" they have since chosen different professions. We live in a affluent area where the parents harp on the teachers because they're afraid "little johnnie" or "sweet suzie" won't get into Harvard or Yale all because this "mean" teacher is trying to make them "earn" their grade. Hats off to you Joe-I totally agree with your point of view!

Name: Michael O'Connell
Hometown: Seattle, WA

Once again, David Broder is an idiot, with lots of company.

Radio, Radio

I co-authored my "Think Again" column with Danny Goldberg this week. It's about how important right-wing talk radio is to the politics of this nation and what a mistake liberals make by failing to pay attention to it. That's here.

My Nation column is called "Money for Nothing" and it's about how networks are looting their news divisions to carry insane celebrity salaries for their hosts and anchors.

I did a Daily Beast column on how the failure of Biden's trip to Israel indicates that the only solution that's even thinkable anymore is an imposed solution. That's here.

I could not help but notice in this Jonathan Chait column attacking the "Delusional Left" for its opposition to Obama's healthcare bill, the entire "left" for Chait's purposes consists of one Jane Hamsher. Now Chait is not stupid. He knows that Hamsher represents a tiny, minority sliver of the left and that almost everyone of significance among liberals supports the health care bill albeit reluctantly in many cases. But he is dishonest in exactly the manner that appears to infect TNR writers and editors with surprising consistency through the years. Can it be a coincidence, for instance, that the very same magazine has made a practicefor decades now of the deliberately and dishonestly misrepresenting the position of those on its left for the purposes of pretending that the Neocon view of things like Regan's war in Central America, Joe Lieberman's presidential hopes, the war in Iraq, whether criticism of Israel is evidence of anti-Semitism, etc is actually the only legitimate "liberal" view.. Hence the famous phrase "Even the liberal New Republic...." Now here's Chait doing exactly the same thing. He could not defend his equation of Hamsher with the entire American left. But neither have I seen him apologize. I guess he's hoping nobody, except his boss and apparent role model, Marty Peretz, bothers to notice. Sorry, but we here on the health care reform supporting left, can't help it....

The Mail:

Name: Joe Gallagher
Hometown: Prairie village, KS

I realize this is an inappropriate forum, but could someone please explain to me what has happened to Newsweek? In 1970, I got married and started a nearly 40 year consecutively maintained subscription. The marriage will last longer than the subscription because I am canceling it, obviously giving up on something I once believed in. From the expanses of white space to the just awful and unfair stories (two examples: the Harvard/religion/let's trash Stephen Pinker one to the current blame the teachers for all that's wrong) I have just had my fill. If I had any forum, I would lead the boycott. I am so steamed about the current cover story. Now, no one want s poor teachers to keep working, well, almost no one, but to blame a problem that is virtually 100% socio-economic on teachers is beyond the pale. No one wants to hassle those teachers in those well-funded suburban schools, where, not so coincidentally, the parents care about their kids education, but when young inexperienced teachers cannot overcome the lack of support endemic to too many families, they are to be fired. You know, most public school teachers do not technically have tenure as the word is properly used, although it is true it is not easy to fire them. In Nebraska, where we taught for nearly three decades, teachers can be fired for any or no reason for three years. Shouldn't decent administrators notice who can't teach in three years? Sorry for the rant; feel free to trash.

Name: Ed Tracey
Hometown: Lebanon, NH

Professor, while I never met Doris Haddock it seems many here in the Granite State speak of the late Granny D as if she was their grandmother (which, I suspect, wouldn't have troubled her a bit).

But to understand why a 90 year-old would trek across America to support campaign finance reform, get arrested for reading the Declaration of Independence at the Capitol and run for the US Senate at age 94...well, it began in her youth. She attended Emerson College in Boston for three years but was 'asked' to leave for the crime of...getting married...in 1930 (although they gave her an honorary degree seventy years later) So in terms of her following convention...why start now?

Eric replies: We appeared together somewhere once, in Asheville, come to think of it, and stayed at the same out of the way Inn. A delightful and inspiring lady...

Slacker Friday

My new "Think Again" column about the proliferation of right-wing politicians being hired by network news and cable news networks to beat up on liberals, who when hired, also tend to beat up on liberals. It's occasioned by Bush adviser's Matthew Dowd turn as the host of ABC's "This Week" and it's here .

And I did a Daily Beast post this morning about that crazy Republican fund-raising memo which, if you haven't seen, you really must. It's here.

Finally, my new Moment column is on the web and it's called "Is Judaism Becoming Less Appealing to Men?" and that's here.

Now here's Charles.



Hey Doc: "It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day/I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Oh, You Pretty Woman" (Washboard Rodeo) -- I love New Orleans a lot more than New York ever loved Harold Ford. Just sayin'.

Part The First:

Just shut up, you FOOF. Nobody likes you Harold. Outside of the MSNBC Green Room, you have no constituency. Your ideas have even less of one. Go run for Mayor of Scarborough.

Part The Second:

The Landlord does a nice job at The Daily Beast with that completely predictable--if unutterably bizarre--RNC strategy memo. Of course, I have to give its anonymous author credit for one thing--as a political term of art, "visceral giving" is a goddamn keeper.

Part The Third:

Sometimes, I genuinely fear for the sanity of the people at Media Matters. This is a collection of quotes from a genuinely influential person in our national dialogue. Here is Pierce's First Law Of The National Dialogue: "Nobody should be taken seriously if he regularly says things on television that would cause you to move away if you heard him say it on a crowded subway car." Yes, Newton was pithier. I'm working on it.

Part The Fourth:

If the Academy wants to give Jeff Bridges his Lifetime Achievement Oscar for "Crazy Heart", it's OK by me. Movie's not bad. Maggie G. (sigh) is superb. The rehab ex machina final third drags a little. I wish there had been more love given to "In The Loop", especially to Peter Capaldi's spectacularly profane political fixer. Still the most fun I had at the movies this year.

Part The Penultimate:

OK, so my moles in Arkansas tell me a few things about this Bill Halter guy who's decided to primary Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Footdragging) down in Arkansas. He's talks pretty on TV and he's certainly rolled out his campaign in a superbly professional manner. However, he apparently has what Woody Allen once called "a losing personality." He's alienated most of the Arkansas political establishment, not because of his stalwart defense of progressive politics, but simply by being something of a dick. In other words, he's not going to get a lot of help, even by those people who are disgusted by the fact that, on any issue worh a damn, Blanche Lincoln is pretty much a pillar of Maypo. (Added bonus - Lincoln is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. And even though she's so tied into big agri-business that she should be resting in a coop owned by Tyson Foods, that's still a pretty decent amount of pork -- literal and figurative -- available to a pretty small state. She loses and away it goes.) What the hell, I don't think either one of them beats whatever shoeless Christian yahoo the Republicans throw up there, anyway.

Part The Ultimate:

I was interested in reading that John Patrick Bedell, the guy who shot up the Pentagon yesterday before being shot and killed himself, turned out to have the same kind of free-floating, label-defying political motive as the one that drove Joseph Stack to fly his airplane into the IRS building in Austin. Bedell apparently was a Truther, but his conspiracy theories went back beyond 9/11, through the heart of the overheated pursuit of Bill Clinton in the 1990's, and all the way back to the escapades of the Reagan Administration in Central America.

According to the AP, which was quoting a post on an Internet site, someone calling himself JPBedell was "determined to see that justice is served" in the death of Marine Col. James Sabow, who was found dead in the backyard of his California home in 1991. The death was ruled a suicide but the case has long been the source of theories of a cover up.

Colonel Sabow's suicide happens to be one of the deaths cited in several iterations of the infamous Clinton Body count, the massive conspiracy theory promoted avidly by, among other people, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Sabow's death was linked to the alleged drug-running at Mena airport in Arkansas, one of the many branches of the various Clinton conspiracies that became articles of faith among the loopier of the anti-Clinton conspiracy crowd, and that became useful to mainstream Republicans of the time as low-level background noise with which to bedevil a Democratic president, but a branch that swept away, among other sensible people, Christopher Hitchens.

As it happens, Colonel Sabow's family long has had serious doubts about the official verdict on his death. (And, I have to admit, I never thought I'd be writing even tangentially about Danny Sheehan and The Christic Institute ever again.) But those doubts somehow got lifted from the saga of government drug-running into the fanciful pursuit of Bill Clinton and now to a guy at a subway stop outside the Pentagon, opening up on passersby. The level of unmoored political lunacy in this country is getting dangerously high. The Republican party--and the movement conservatism that fuels it--seems quite willing at least to flirt with encouraging it for political gain. There may not be a place within the left-right, Red-Blue spectrum in which to place these murderous crackpots, but there is one side of that spectrum that seems to have a unique sweet-tooth for their kind of rhetoric

P.S. -- Browsing the magazine rack down in the library at the day-job, I came upon the March 8 issue of National Review, which spent a lot of time back in the day defending the underpinnings of apartheid here in America. Anyway, the cover shows Lady Liberty -- and she is a very white lady -- holding the flag under the very large headline, "DEFEND HER." This is ostensibly to plug a defense of "American exceptionalism" written by Rich (Sparkle Pants) Lowry and Ramesh (I Meant Party Of Death In The Most Civil Way Possible) Ponnuru. Apparently, Barack Obama is a threat to American Exceptionalism as defined by these two brainiacs. And American Exceptionalism is represented by a very white lady whom we need to "DEFEND" from our African American president. And, no, you don't need the Enigma Machine to decode this baby.

Say Goodnight, Chuck

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column about the proliferation of right-wing politicians being hired by network news and cable news networks to beat up on liberals, who when hired, also tend to beat up on liberals. It’s occasioned by Bush adviser’s Matthew Dowd turn as the host of ABC’s “This Week” and it’s here.

And I did a Daily Beast post this morning about that crazy Republican fund-raising memo which, if you haven’t seen, you really must. It’s here.

Also I am one “ridiculous” Jew. Read on.

Shall we do a few more links?

So Charlie Rangel is finally being forced out of his egregiously inappropriate position as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, in charge of writing the nation’s tax laws, in light of the fact that he has no interest in following the nation’s tax laws. I wrote a column, an unusual one for me, back in December 2008—right after the election—calling on Obama to ditch this corrupt old hustler. That’s here. I said back then:


But while Schumer's bequests to billionaires may be morally objectionable and politically poisonous, nobody has so far questioned their legality. Rangel, by contrast, has demonstrated a clear contempt for the law as well as his constituents. What's more, he has all too effectively played the part in which conservatives have typically cast big-city liberals for decades: corrupt, hypocritical, concerned only for their own comfort and providing for their families at the expense of a gullible and exploited public. Need I repeat that this is the man who sits atop the most powerful tax-writing committee in Congress? It is almost as if the Republican Party had commissioned a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein to create a monster designed to undermine Barack Obama's claim of "change."


Yay, me, but more importantly, congrats to the New York Times which owned this story both from a news and an editorial perspective. Today the editorial page wonders, if Charlie Rangel is telling the truth about offering to resign way back when, why the hell didn’t Nancy Pelosi accept? My guess is that Rangel is not telling the truth. Also, it’s sad to say but it’s been an awful week for New York’s black politicians. Rangel and Paterson have both proven corrupt (thanks again to the Times for its fine reporting there too; in both cases reminding us why we need newspapers.) And while it’s not New York’s fault, Harold Ford made a jerk of himself too--like Sarah Palin--he drove his own poll numbers way down the more people got to know him. And a big boo to Barbara Lee of the Congressional Black Caucus for raising the false specter of racial discrimination regarding Rangel, here. Now there’s an organization that has really lost sight of its mission and become a blight on the people it pretends to represent, spending more money on junkets and parties for its members than it does for scholarships for worthy black students.

Ok, guess who’s on the cover of Time as America’s most influential historian? You got it, Tom Hanks. What an odd coincidence, I must say, that Hanks is plugging a new ten part gazillion-dollar HBO series, “The Pacific” and is owned by the same media conglomerate that owns Time Magazine.

Myra's Friend

Ever see “Drunk History?” This is Part Three and boy is it funny. I don’t know about the rest

Want to see Loudon Wainwright III play “The Krugman Blues” in The New Yorker’s offices? It’s here. Personally, I was offended for Loudon when the magazine’s profile of Paul Krugman cited some other crazy other guy’s Paul Krugman YouTube song. And yet like a good sport he shows up anyway. Whatta guy…

Also, I almost forgot this wonderful piece by the college-age daughter of a friend of a close college friend of mine. (Got that?) Anyway, read it. It will put you in a good mood even if you’re not a Bruce person.

Thumbing through Vanity Fair, I looked in the back to see what my favorite celebrities were reading.

Goldie Hawn?

You guessed it. “Remembrances of Things Past.”

You heard it here second.


Sal on the new/old Hendrix:

Jimi Hendrix's posthumous releases have for the most part been more than listenable. Dating back to some of the earliest ones soon after his death in 1970, albums like War Heroes, Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning, though doctored a bit by studio musicians, have offered fine glimpses of Jimi's genius. They never seemed hastily slapped together. The most recent release, Valleys Of Neptune is no different. Actually, it's damn good.

Recorded after 1968's Electric Ladyland, and featuring Billy Cox replacing Noel Redding on bass, these sessions are a transition from the Experience to the Band Of Gypsys, which would feature Buddy Miles replacing the otherwordly Mitch Mitchell on drums, who absolutely shines on these recordings. You will be familiar with most of the tunes, but not necessarily these versions. "Stone Free" and "Bleeding Heart" sound better than ever, while unreleased tracks like "Crying Blue Rain," Lullaby For The Summer" and the title track are revelations for those like me, who never delved too deeply into Hendrix bootleg waters. The rerecord of "Fire" is the only track that slows things a bit. I see no way to improve on the original.

On the other side of the Hendrix coin is the umpteenth reissue of his first three records. This time by Sony/Legacy who now owns the catalogue. Repackaged in fold out digipaks and now including bonus DVD documentaries, they look nice but seem unnecessary if you have any one of the last 2 upgrades.

Sal Nunziato,

The Mail:

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

The Washington Post's descent into hackery and David Broder's descent into senility have long saddened me. Remember Broder "reporting" the Democratic caucus would unload Harry Reid, then every member of the caucus signing a letter to the editor saying no, then Broder saying that didn't mean anything? Sigh.

The Post once had a publisher, Phil Graham, who was very much part of the school that the media and the establishment went hand in hand--tight with JFK and LBJ. But as I recall the story, Time was interviewing him for a cover story and he was asked why he kept a right-wing columnist, George Sokolsky, and he replied that every paper should have "one shit columnist."

OK, I am all for diversity of opinion. It's even permissible, in my opinion, for someone to be consistently wrong in making predictions. But when you are consistently caught in outright lies, whether you are a corrupt, conservative fool like George Will or a relentlessly moderate Alzheimer's victim like David Broder, you shouldn't be writing. The editor who publishes their work is best described by paraphrasing a conservative Bostonian named Charles Emerson Winchester III, as in MASH: that editor is an inflamed boil on the buttocks of journalism.

Name: Ben Vernia
Hometown: Arlington, VA

Harry Binswanger (The Mail, Feb. 26) perfectly, if unintentionally, captures what's wrong with Ayn Rand's half-baked theories.

He takes a phenomenon--altruism--which one can readily observe on a daily level (e.g., the merge lane), and proudly recites Howard Roark's paean to individualism as the proper basis for society's need for cooperation.

Look at Roark's proudly self-centered nonsense; however, an architect, he says, "needs clients but does not subordinate his work to their wishes;" anything less is a master/slave or victim/executioner relationship. Now isn't that a bit hyperbolic? Even within the tiny little worldview that is libertarianism, that speech is mind-blowingly unrealistic.

It's this kind of thinking that got us the Great Recession, courtesy of that other great Randian, Alan Greenspan.

Libertarianism's one virtue is its recognition of the powerful role of self-interest in human affairs. Its biggest vice is its utter failure to likewise acknowledge that the "better angels of our nature" exist or that altruism and community interest can and should be encouraged.

Although libertarianism casts itself as a (or the only) realistic philosophy, its failure to actually observe and integrate how humans actually interact with each other results in a politics which is ultimately faith-based.

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