Eric Alterman | The Nation

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Wrecking Ball

I've got a new "Think Again" column called called "Kevin Jennings, the Mainstream Media, and Right-Wing Target Practice." Read it here.

Also, I'll be doing an event next week on October 8 at Demos with Rich Benjamin, who's just written a book called "Searching for Whitopia" which you can read about here.

I should have mentioned that I was speaking at the Glory Days conference last weekend at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. I had a really nice time meeting Springsteen-interested academics, musicians, and interested parties. We had a really interesting discussion. I strongly recommend the next one. I did not give a formal paper, but I found the one offered by Jim Cullen, which you can find here to be enormously thought provoking and indicative of the excellent quality of many of the presentations. Joe Grusheky, Jen Chapin, Gary US Bonds and many others performed. I was also quite happy to discover a new book of photos and essays called The Light in Darkness which made me painfully, but happily, nostalgic about the 1978 tour, one of the greatest experiences of my life. The photos of the tour are fantastic and while the essays naturally vary in quality, some of them are real gems. "It was like lightning flashing through the darkness and the band was the thunder," writes Ron Wells. "I had never seen any performer so full of energy and joy. He was definitely on a mission. This was not just a gig for him; it was freedom and exhilaration personified." It's on large format 9.25" x 12" EuroArt Silk 200m paper stock and contains more than 200 photographs reproduced from the original negatives and slides. The book is only available online for purchase at: www.thelightindarkness.com. (Bruce is doing Darkness in its entirety Friday night at Giants' Stadium. He did Born to Run last night. It was awfully moving, after all these years. And he wrote a new song just for these shows, "Wrecking Ball." You can see it here…and if you want to hear Bruce discuss the pain of turning sixty, inside the "rap" portion of "Growing Up," that's here.

Now here's Sal on Rhino's new box set: Where the Action Is

Rhino's new (kind of) fabulous boxed set, Where The Action Is: Los Angeles Nuggets, 1965-1968 is a 4 CD stroll through a specific rock and roll scene, or what I'd like to call "My least favorite songs by a lot of my favorite artists." As usual, Rhino Records leaves no stone unturned with both musical content and packaging. But like most sequels, Jaws 2, The Godfather Part III, to name but two, "L.A. Nuggets" may need to be the last time the idea is realized.

Now, don't get me wrong, this set plays really well. And it is indeed a blast. It just wears thin pretty quickly. Songs like "You Movin'" by The Byrds, "Somebody Groovy" by The Mamas & The Papas, "Daily Nightly" by The Monkees, and "Jill" by Gary Lewis & The Playboys are not usually the go-to tracks by these artists. Yes, they are fun curiousities, but nestled among 50 plus other curiousities, like tracks by such heavyweights as Fapardokly, The Moon, The Yellow Payges, Limey & The Yanks and The Sons Of Adam, the playlist becomes monotonous.

There is a reason the majority of the artists here never made it beyond Sunset Strip.

All that being said, I can still recommend this set for its stellar sound quality, beautiful and informative booklet, and the fact that even if the songs are hardly A-list material, it's a wonderful slice of music history.

Sal Nunziato

Sorry, I was not so crazy about the mail this week, so there's no letters…

Slacker Friday

Wrapup: Our Think Again column is called "Falling for the Far Right'sACORN Agenda" and deals with the manner in which the MSM got rolled byright-wing re-working vis-a-vis ACORN. You can find it here. My Nation column this week is called "The House that Irving Built."


Loudon and Charlie again: I wrote this little squib for TBD on the new (and beautifully packaged) Loudon Wainwright tribute to Charlie Poole, High, Wide and Handsome, which Sal reviewed so favorably here a couple of weeks ago here.

I saw the Wainwright/Roche family performance of the material a weekor so ago, and of course it was wonderful, and I sat across a table fromfamed New Yorker scribe, Rick Hertzberg, taking copious notes, and so Ifigured that when he posted something on his prestigious weblog, I couldjust glom onto that without having to do any more work. Alas, thisappears to have been wishful thinking on my part--not for the first orlast time--and it appears that said mixture of whimsy, intelligence andsardonic humor will not be appearing. Nick Loss-Eaton, however, wroteit up here and if it doesn't make you too jealous for what youmissed, get the cd.


Hey Doc --

"The Queen said, we do not lend out our underthings/Just take mebackto Abita Springs."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Keep It Clean" (Charlie Jordan)--Much to the dismay of President Olympia Snowe, I am not going to wait anothermonth to talk about how much I love New Orleans.

Part The First: How in hell does ETL New Republic manage to findyoung people who write like 60-year old lunchroom nuns who need,more fiber in their diets? Look, kids. I know it's cool to walk thehalls and all, but this is the magazine of Stephen Glass, Ruthie Shalit, andMeshuggah Marty Peretz. Let's keep the attitude to a minimum, OK?

Part The Second: Oh, dear Lord, you should pardon the expression.There are so many layers of non-scholarship here that you'd need to blast just to get down to Stupid. Or, in re: thecrack at National Public Radio, you can just call Dr. Google. Research, it's not just for breakfast any more.

Part The Third: Doggone it, I like him.

Part The Fourth: Dear Mr. Fantasy, play me a tune. Also on this week's Revisionist Hit Parade--Andrew wonders, with child-like naivete, "Where have all the cowboys gone?"

Part The Fifth: Take that, Canada and the UK! Best healthcare system in the world, dammit.

Part The Sixth: One more like this and Saletan and everyone else at Slate is going to need a moist towel. He's a lot funnier when he's writing about uteruses that don't belong to him.

Part The Seventh: Lloyd Grove, wingnut boy-toy, rides again. I guess Coulter let him off the leash for a while.

Part The Eighth: Of course, then again, there are people withdeeper, more profound crushes. Why do I believe that, somewhere in the offices of the National Review, there is a three-ring binder with the phrase, "Mrs. Sarah Lowry" scribbled all over the cover?

Part The Penultimate: If you're keeping score at home, it is nowdemonstrably true that, in the vital area of not treating publiclunatics seriously, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post, nor Time magazine, nor all of our television network news divisions--nor, for that matter, theDemocratic congressional caucus and the White House--have the basiccommon sense and courage demonstrated this week by the Board OfDirectors Of The Fredericktown Tomato Show Parade.

Part The Last: Why the Intertoobz are wonderful things. I'm anaction hero. Who knew? And, while I am familiar with the oeuvre of The Dead Milkmen--BTW, it's been far too long since I heard "Bitchin' Camaro"--the Barefoot Mailmen had escaped mynotice.

The horror, the horror. People are talking out loud about race inconnection with the conservative movement--or, at least, its dementedself now bungling all over the landscape. The ol' sobersides in thepunditocracy are assuring us that, while racism certainly exists--although, you will note, they never, ever say where exactly--that it's wrong to assume that racism in the basis for the opposition to the president's attempt to pry a healthcare reform package through Congress. This is, of course, true. Racism is what the folks on the arson squad call an "accelerant." It is that which intensifies and directs the flame. Everyone who opposes the administration on this issue is not a racist. But, I'm sorry, everyone who does so by bleating, "I want my country back!" pretty much is.

More to the point, the fact that this surprises anyone is sad evidence that we don't teach history at all well any more. The accelerant of racism was bottled up for use by the rising conservative movement--and by the Republican party, to whom it pledged itself--as far back as 1964, when the party committed itself to the support of the remnants of white-supremacy for reasons of pure political advantage. Since then, it has been poured out when and where necessary. (Although George Wallace also manufactured his own distilled brand in 1968 and in 1972, which the GOP bought out, like Pabst buying out Schlitz.) It was there when Richard Nixon talked about "law and order," when Lee Atwater dropped Willie Horton on Michael Dukakis's head, and it was there when kindly old Dutch Reagankicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, talking about statesrights, and when he blathered on about fictitious "welfare queens" andwhen his administration went to court to defend the tax-exempt status ofsegregated Southern academies. The difference is that conservatism wasusually careful about how it calibrated the amount of accelerant to pourinto the conflict. It got so good at measuring the amount that it forgotthe simple fact that, sooner or later, the fire can consume the arsonistas well. Now that the national Republican party is solely the province ofmeathead politicians and radio maniacs, there are "sensible"conservatives who are alarmed by what they see. It should be agreed upon in ourpolitics that these people drift into the wilderness for a while and muse uponwhere their movement has led them. But the first thing they all should do isapologize to the nation for choosing to take a course 45 years ago inopposition to the transcendant moral issue of America. They prosperedthrough bigotry, and then through a deft ability to package it, and theymade the ensuing four decades immeasurably crueler as a result.There'snot enough sackcloth in the world for these clowns.

What We Talk About When We Talk About ACORN

Wrapup: Our Think Again column is called "Falling for the Far Right'sACORN Agenda" and deals with the manner in which the MSM got rolled byright wing re-working vis-a-vis ACORN. You can find it here.My Nation column this week is called "The House that Irving Built."

Alter-reviews: Raymond Carver, Thorton Wilder and Big Star.My friends at the Library of America have finally gotten around toRaymond Carver and collected all his stories in, you guessed it,Collected Stories, edited by William L. Stull and Maureen P. Carroll

Based on previous collections such as Will You Please Be Quiet,Please?, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,Cathedral and Where I'm Calling From, Carver established himself as theshort story writer of his moment. That they are all in one place wouldbe reason enough to want this on your shelf--even, if as I do, you havethe paperback somewhere. LOA decided to offer up the pre-Gordon Lishversion of Beginners, the manuscript of What We Talk About When We TalkAbout Love and it's revelatory in the extensiveness of the collaborationbetween writer and editor--one that was a source of both inspiration andanguish to Carver, whom I met once, and struck me as a really decent,albeit sad, man. LOA has also published a bunch of novels and stories byThornton Wilder: The Cabala * The Bridge of San Luis Rey * The Woman ofAndros * Heaven's My Destination * The Ides of March * Stories andEssays, which were edited by J. D. McClatchy. Most of us know Wilder forhis plays (which LOA has also published). These are, therefore, awonderful surprise, and a perfect example of why we need a LOA, lestthey be lost to us if publishing depended purely on profit. Thevolume concludes with a selection of early short stories--among them"Precautions Inutiles," published here for the first time--and aselection of essays that offers Wilder's insights into the works ofStein and Joyce, as well as a lecture on letter writers that bears onboth The Bridge of San Luis Rey and The Ides of March.

Big Star box reviewed by Sal.

Keep An Eye On The Sky, Rhino's new and wonderful four-CD tribute to cultheroes Big Star, might just be a little too much, but the music itselfplays so smoothly one may not notice the repetition. The band led byAlex Chilton and Chris Bell with Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel areMemphis legends, the quintessential power pop band whose influence canbe heard all over records by Cheap Trick, R.E.M., The Replacements, ThePosies and so many more. With only 2 records under their belt, 1972's"#1 Record" and 1974's "Radio City," Big Star managed to secure apermanent place in the annals of A-list rock and roll.

Over four CDs we hear the best of these two records, as well as demos,alternates, tracks from the equally fantastic Chris Bell solo record, "IAm The Cosmos," and live material culled from 3 separate 1973performances. Songs appear 2, 3 and even 4 times, if you count earlyversions with different titles. Many of the alternates are not thatalternate, but the material is so strong, you don't really notice havingjust listened to the same tracks just minutes before. The differencesare subtle, and if "Back Of A Car" wasn't my favorite Big Star song, Imay not have noticed that the version included here isn't the mastertake, but an alternate mix, with the most subtle difference in leadvocals and one extra "doo doo doo" over the bridge.

Both the demos and live tracks sound excellent, so you may not even feelcompelled to use your remote, due to some inferior sounding recordingsthat so often throw a speed bumb into sets like this. This one ispretty great, through and through.

Eric adds: And the packaging is solid and informative, though in a sizethat won't fit easily among the rest of your cds.


This week on Moyers (who is on vacation):

With a leaked memo, delayed decisions and calls for more troops inAfghanistan, there's a growing public demand to know what directionPresident Obama has in mind for the war-torn country. Journal guesthost Lynn Sherr sits down with Rory Stewart, who shares his vision for asustainable policy that could benefit both the United States andAfghanistan, which he has called "the graveyard of predictions." RoryStewart is director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy atHarvard University. In 2003 he was appointed as the CoalitionProvisional Authority deputy governor of two provinces in Southern Iraqand in 2005, he moved to Afghanistan where he founded the TurquoiseMountain Foundation, an NGO dedicated to Afghan traditional crafts andthe regeneration of the historic commercial center of Kabul. Then,Sherr talks with Kavita Ramdas, president and CEO of Global Fund forWomen, on women's human rights initiatives around the world.

The Mail:

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

I read Navasky's letter and the two responses, and I realize thatwhen Barack Obama says he wants an intelligent discussion of theissues, he has enough trouble getting it from those with at leastsome degree of intelligence. How can we then expect it from peoplewho think Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh offer the revealed word? AnneAppelbaum and Martin Peretz couldn't win a pre-school debate, muchless one with the eternally brilliant and penny-pinching (bless you,Calvin Trillin) Mr. Navasky.

Since I'm in the history biz, I think, well, the rhetoric andreporting were bad when Lincoln and Douglas were debating slavery.That Douglas clearly lied about Lincoln can be easily proved; howmuch Lincoln lied in that contest is far more debatable. But evenwhen they were demagougic, at least they were more literate thanthis crowd.

Name: Karl W.
Hometown: Connecticut


As a lifelong Nutmegger, I can't count the number of times someonethought the "trump card" in a racism discussion was telling me that Iwas "too young, suburban and Northern" to have a real-world opinionon the subject. (The patting of my head was understood to be virtual,not actual.)

The unspoken argument was that I'm too educated, liberal, andunmugged to have experienced their "real world". Yet my opinions areclosely mirrored by a octogenarian who was raised in the agronomic,Jim Crow South and had to win at least some of their votes to becomeGovernor, and then President.

Fancy that. And go, Jimmy, go

Name: Jim Celer
Hometown Omaha

Great news! David Brooks saw white people buying stuff from blackpeople, without calling the black people names or injuring them.Therefore, no criticism of Obama is racist.

I am so relieved!

Glad also that he pointed out that, in contract to the "mostly white"tea baggers, the participants in the Black Family Reunion were"mostly black".

Name: Ed Tracey
Hometown Lebanon, New Hampshire

Professor, it would appear that the Hatfields and McCoys had nothingon the feuding Dassler brothers--who split-up a successfulsportswear business sixty years ago to form the rival Adidas & Pumacompanies (in post-war Bavaria).

Well, this past Monday the CEO's of the two (now quite international)firms decided it was time to end the feud. And they did so (a) insupport of the organization Peace One Day and (b) by organizing asoccer match on that organization's annual Peace Day of non-violence.But not featuring Adidas vs. Puma - instead, with teams made of ofplayers from both firms, symbolizing the end of the feud.


Name: Burl Stubblefield
Hometown: Whitesboro TX

Georgia is drying out from severe flooding, 9 or more people are dead and Governor Sonny Perdue say's the state is broke and can't pay to rebuild. Would his asking for federal disaster funds by chance constitute Socialism? Hope those conservative Georgia folks stand fast and reject those funds. People should be able to take care of themselves right?

Name: Karen Paolini
Hometown: Oakland

Tim Kane's post, 'Old White and Angry' rang a HUGE bell in my head.My 84 year old mother-in-law, a former Kennedy liberal, now swearsthat Obama is running a 'shadow' government whose mission is tosubvert the constitution. When my father-in-law was alive (he passedaway 10 years ago), he would always call her on her nonsense, but nowshe gives free rein to the crazy. At the same time, she's showingother signs of dementia - saying unkind things to her children,mostly about politics, being less careful about hygiene, etc. Andyes, huge doses of Fox news all the time

Thanks, Tim, for the wake-up call.

Name: Charles Hinton
Hometown: 32937

Tim Kane has a nice theory that the old are angry because they have been suckered in by the lies and distortions of Fox news. As a man who grew old in the business of serving older people, I can tell you it is a common event for people suffering from dementia to change from sweet to angry. As you deteriorate you begin to lose all those qualities that made you human, and that can be hard to accept by a person still able to reason.

Name: Gary Amstutz
Hometown: Lake Isabella, CA

We have a little blue grass band here that also plays Beatles tunes.Everytime we get one nailed down I go back to the recording and amamazed at how much more there is to learn and play. Those guys werereally good.

Name: Scott Sackett
Hometown: Springdale, Arkansas

Frank Lynch Hometown: Really Not Worth Archiving - "Hi Eric, withFriday the 18th being Samuel Johnson's Tricentennial....."

Tercentenary is the word - New Jersey had one while I was a kidliving there.

Name: Pat Healy

Re: Beatles! (yay!) and Beck (not so much)

I enjoyed Sal's comments, and agreed with them to the extent I could.(Alas, 'tis not in my budget to pop for the stereo AND mono boxes,and my heart will always gravitate towards the former, not to mentionthat it was tres cheaper.) However, to my ears, one big factor in theimproved sound that Sal omitted was the lack of compression.

Prior to this year, the main attempts* to present Beatles music in aremastered form were "The Beatles #1s" compilation and the "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" (which included all of the songs used in themovie, unlike the original soundtrack.) Both presented cleaneroverall sound, but the amount of compression used barely let themusic breathe.

This years models, stereo at least, provide a massive amount of spaceto let the sound stretch out. In addition to the overall cleanersound of the tracks, the sonic distance between the instruments,vocals, and effects is beautiful to behold. And that's just in theversions reduced to iPod size; I can't wait to spend some time athome with the CDs, the stereo, and my good headphones.

*The soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil's "LOVE" is excluded from thispoint, since it's virtually impossible to compare those deconstructedversions of the Fabs' output to the canonical versions. However, evenif it's not all you need, "LOVE" is brilliant, particularly in themulti-channel DVD mix.

Slacker Friday

I've got a new Think Again called "The Conspiracy Nuts Take Over," whichcompares media coverage of "truthers" vs. "birthers" and you can find ithere.

Also, my old friend and history professor, Dick Polenberg is continuingto host his web-based Slope Radio program on the blues and folk music.Called "Key to the Highway," it's back at its old time slot: from 7 to8 pm on Wednesdays. The shows are archived, though, so you can hearthem whenever you wish. All of the past programs - more than thirty ofthem--are also still available and I think they are our kind of thing.

You can log on at the following site. No username or password isnecessary.


He writes: "Last spring I concluded with programs about the music ofJohn Lee Hooker and Django Reinhardt. This season's first program --Episode 32 -- is devoted to Dinah Washington, who began her recordingcareer in 1943 at the age of 19. She later released an album calledDinah Sings Bessie Smith, and one of her last albums, which appearedin 1963, was fittingly entitled, Back to the Blues. Future programswill deal with the famous Anthology of American Folk Music compiled byHarry Smith in 1952, with songs written about the sinking of the Titanicin 1912, and with musicians such as Cassandra Wilson."

Now Shana Tova, and here's Pierce:


Hey Doc:

"White House said, put the thing in the pool room/Vatican said, no,it belongs to Rome/Jody said it's mine, but you can have it for $17million."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Rocks In My Bed" (Ivy Anderson)--Iam perfectly willing to stand in the well of the House and apologize toeveryone there for how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: Sometimes, you just have to admire theirlateral quickness. I mean, honestly, this makes the old Soviet approach to history look positively scholarly. Don't go to the opera, W.

Part The Second: Holy hell. It turns out that Waldo The DrunkSecurity Guard, who may be familiar to the readers of these dispatchesfor being constantly derelict in his duties at Salon, has a drunken brotherwho seems to have landed a job guarding the studios at NPR, with predictable results.

Part The Third: Oh, Michele, don't worry. As I have said repeatedly since you first burst on the national stage, you can just eat me, OK?

Part The Fourth: Not to harsh Andrew's mellow beyond how badly it'salready been harshed, but what in the hell is he on about here? Does he honestly think that the "small-government, balanced-budget" element of last weekend's Orc Cotillion is any less nutty than the Christianists are? That people who believe that hollering "socialism" every time Olde Country Buffet runs out of tapioca are the route back to political legitimacy? That supply-side economics is really less detachedfrom empirical reality than the Birthers are? Andrew, laddybucks, thewhole conservative movement always has been about fifty bulbs short of being achandelier. You ran with the pack once. Deal with it.

Part The Fifth: This was nice comic interlude. Howie The Hackmarvels at how crazy conservatives have become. David Brody demonstrates what he's talking about. Sam Tanenhaus plugs a book and pretends this all started last weekend, andCeci Connolly is brought in to see how fast they all can kill poor BobSomerby.

Part The Sixth: I'd like to say, for the record, that it is trulyan honor to be called a "clod" by this sweaty third-string unemployable. The above essay, of course, will be included in the upcoming anthology, Cahiers du Pantloade.

Part The Seventh: Bookmark this sucker.Yeah, they said nice things about the book. Whatsit to ya? But Texasliberals are always worthy of support. And what can you say about a sitethat helped me find this whichabsolutely, 100-percent, solid-gold made my week?

Part The Eighth: Thanks to Glennzilla for pointing this out. I have no doubt that The Atlantic's method for compiling these rankings is at least as credible as that used by, say, the BCS. More's the pity. Look at this incredible parade of omadhauns. Numbers 2, 7, and 11 are complete radiorodeo clowns. Number 10 is indictable. Number 13 believes in MagicDolphins and listens to the tiny little Reagan in her head. Number 26 is atoe-sucking charlatan. Your mileage on most of the others may vary. Weare so screwed. I swear, someone should write a book.

Part The Penultimate: Yeah, I was happy to see THIS, too, but at the risk of going all Howler on everyone, this line right here--"--noDemocrat ever shouted "liar" at W. when he was hawking a fake case forwar in Iraq--" is meaningless unless followed by the phrase, "Not that youdid either, sweetie." It's moments like this when it's useful to rememberHarvey Keitel's advice from Pulp Fiction as to what it is not yet time todo to each other yet.

Part The Last: It's finally on this Sunday at Pairc an Chrocaigh. And, not for nothing, but mygrandparents came from the place represented in Dail Eireann by the Up The Kingdom!

p.s. -- I'd just like to thank the redoubtable Amanda Marcotte for the kindones, and tell her that, the next time I'm in Austin, the first plate of ribs atStubbs is on me.

Last week, through serendipitous circumstance, I found myselfstaring down the very nasty gun-barrel of the despicable way we do "healthcare"in this country. The details are unimportant, but I can say that it hadsomething very much to do with this Kaiser Foundation study that EzraKlein limns here. This concentrated my mind wonderfully on the current dilemma. I came to the not unreasonable conclusion that most of the politicians involved in this business--up to and including the lemon in the White House--don't care about the simple fact that this country is going to allow people to sicken and die because they can't afford to do anything else. Period. Everything else is dumbshow, a WWE card covered by people engaged in a really bad form of sportswriting--people, I might add, who could careless themselves that this country is going to allow people to sicken anddie because they can't afford to do anything else.

Does anyone honestly believe that this White House has acted ingood faith? With its allies in Congress? With its constituents? Hell, withits own campaign promises? Does anyone honestly believe that, say, ChuckTodd gives a rat's ass how many people out in the country slowly sicken anddie as long as Chuck can tell us who's up and who's down, and what'spolitically feasible and what's not, and that he can still get a goodtable at the Palm? Never in my long career as a professional cynic have I seenan spasm of Beltway bubblehood so far removed from the actual concerns ofpeople's lives--so far removed that, last weekend, we had a gatheringof the politically halt, lame, blind, and crippled in Washington, gatheredfor the sole purpose of petitioning various oligarchs to keep screwing themwith their pants on. Never in my long career as a professional cynichave I seen a spasm of Beltway bubblehood so far beyond even the limits ofIrish Smartass to describe it. The political class in this country--politicianand journalist, lobbyist and legislator, Republican and Democratic,Executive and Legislative -- has made a collective decision to protectthe profits of one of the least popular industries in the history of theRepublic, to preserve the iron grip of corporate bureaucrats over thepractice of medicine in America, and to refuse vitrually without seriousdiscussion to adopt measures favored by 77 percent of the voting public.It is to be in awe, is what it is.

And I hate to personalize this, but one of the prime Democraticwaffle salesmen throughout this whole unholy mess has been Senator MarkUdall (D-Colorado) Now, as it happens, I spent half of 1975 and almostall of 1976 working to get Mark's pappy--Mo, of sainted memory--electedpresident. In the course of my duties, I handed out--or arranged tohave handed out--about eleventy bajillion of these handbills. I handed them out at diners in New Hampshire, and hung them on people's doors in Massachusetts. I sent people out at 5:30 in the morning to distributethem at factory gates in Wisconsin in the middle of February. I even broughtthem (briefly) to the land of the Amish, where nobody votes and fewpeople own telephones. Looking at the old flyer now, I am struck by thispassage right here:

Why in America, with our immense wealth, should the poor getsicker and the sick get poorer? We have been promising ourselves a systemofnational health insurance for a quarter of a century. I am tired ofapologizing year after year as we fail to achieve it. We have put apremium on conversation instead of coverage. America is the only industrializednation in the world which does not provide basic health service as auniversal right. As President, I will make sure that we do.

I didn't freeze my cojones off in front of the Allis-Chalmers plantso Senator Udall one day could calculate a half-dozen good politicalreasons why some people simply have to die. I didn't nearly get killed on a darkroad outside Manchester in the snow so Mark Udall could come along thirty-threeyears later and quibble about which insurance company gobbler can suck up thebiggest bonus this year. Jesus, Mark, if you won't listen to the peopleout there, at least listen to the spirit of the great man who was yourfather.

Name: Steve Thorne
Hometown: Somewhere in California

I'm guessing that the reasons we're using contractors to guardembassies in dangerous places instead of Marines is that: a) We're alittle short of Marines right now with all the deployments they'reon and b) Marines would be such tempting targets for any knuckleheadwalking or driving past the embassy that we'd lose them for no goodreason and c) Marines receive medical and VA benefits and havemilitary honors rendered to them if they're killed whilecontractors' families get insurance checks and no press coverage atDover AFB or Arlington and d) losing a Marine pisses off more peoplethan losing a "contractor" and might lead to losing more Marines inthe attempt to get even.

The Marines have worked very hard to make their uniform a symbol ofthe might and power of the United States and that has someunfortunate side effects in hostile nations.

Protecting Americans from their foreign policy mistakes is a "teamsport." Here in "Somewhere" there's a lot of Marines about. And whileit is my duty as a Soldier to give them as much shit as possible, Ido respect that they're too important to the "team" to lose just forlooking sharp outside a building located someplace we probablyshouldn't be in the first place.

Name: Steve Nelson
Hometown: Ket, WA

While much of this story is anecdotal I totally agree. My mother-in-law livesby herself and watches TV a lot. Between Mariners games and soapoperas she used to watch a lot of news (mostly FOX). Over time wenoticed a huge difference in her outlook. She was becomingincreasingly depressed and paranoid to the point we were worried thatshe was on her last legs. With a stroke of brilliance my wifeconvinced her to stop watching so much news and the few times she didthen she should try other news stations than FOX. Voila, within amonth she was back to her old self.

Name: Chuckie Fitzhugh
Hometown: Chandler, AZ

Regarding Tim Kane's email about Fox and right-wingnut radio preyingon the elderly, I never previously thought about the possibility, butat first blush it would seem to make a lot of sense. I have neverbeen able to comprehend how they get the HUGE mid-day radio ratingsthat they do, but if you think about it, it makes some sense. Who islistening to radio during the middle of the day (beyond thebackground noise of an isolated office-cube or two)??

Their message is always simple, and repeated ad nauseum... Who doesthis vitriol and animosity appeal to? I would imagine that evenconservative "thinkers" like to break-down a topic and discuss inmore detail than you'll ever hear on Hannity or Beck, or any of thoseloons. Simple, repeated messages, and the occasional reference to"back in the day when America was great"; all joking aside, I alwaysthought it required some diminished mental capability to find theirdrivel entertaining; sadly, maybe the elderly actually are their intended target-audience.

Name: Frank Lynch
Hometown: Really Not Worth Archiving -http://www.samueljohnson.com/blog/

Hi Eric, with Friday the 18th being Samuel Johnson's Tricentennial, I don't mind weighing in with some thoughts on the great man. And beingan amateur Johnsonian with a highly recommended Johnson web site (andwho wishes to be in England right now but is not), perhaps some ofthe following might be interesting to slip in to the mix...

1. Conservatives love to claim Samuel Johnson as one of theirs,thanks to his love of country and his respect for the established forms of government and religion. But they also love to claim Edmund Burke as one of their own, and while Johnson had the utmost respect for Burke's intellect, he detested his politics. In fact, it would appear that Johnson's famous line "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" was provoked by a discussion of Burke and others in the 18th c patriot movement. (In Boswell's journals, the sequence is a discussion of Burke followed by the quip; in Boswell's Life of Johnson Boswell switches the order and puts them in differentparagraphs, presumably to spare Burke.) Johnson's essay "The Patriot"is full of disparaging comments about the practices of Burke's party.

2. Johnson was a great example of how someone could love his country without blindly loving everything the country does. In an explanation of the events leading up the Seven Years' War, Johnson compared the way the British colonists treated our Native Americans to how the French did, and found the British dishonest and opportunistic. "No people can be great who have ceased to bevirtuous," he wrote.

3. Although Johnson adhered to the established order, he did notbelieve that mere tradition and history were significant. He wrote anessay arguing for leniency in punishment (forgery and robbery werecapital crimes in those days). He also took the side of women,writing on the need to provide them with better education, as well associal forces which can drive a woman to prostitution.

Johnson also understood the plight of the poor, and would load hispockets with change before he went out, in order to give it to thebeggars he encountered. At a dinner party, when some said it waswasteful to give money to the poor (they would only spend it ontobacco or gin), he upbraided them for wanting to deny them eventhat: "Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow withoutgilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, andare not ashamed to shew even visible displeasure, if ever the bittertaste is taken from their mouths."

I have nothing but the highest admiration for Johnson, and wish hewere better known.

Best always, Frank

You Say You Want a Revolution...

I've got a new Think Again called "The Conspiracy Nuts Take Over," whichcompares media coverage of "truthers" vs. "birthers" and you can find ithere. (Mickey is a former student of mine at Brooklyn College).

That's all I did this week, but do take a look at Victor Navasky'sletter (in and about TNR) heretogether with the two pathetic responses it generated, and muse for a moment, on the relative moral merits of each publication as represented by Mr. Peretzand The Nation's publisher emeritus.

Now here's a post by Reed Richardson, a former military officer who was once my student atColumbia and my intern at The Nation.

"We Live in a Political World"

Greetings, fellow Altercators. Reed Richardson here. As a former studentand Nation intern of Eric's, he has been kind enough to lend me the keysto the Altercation store today to talk about a subject near and dear tomy heart. You see, I'm a big fan of this American democratic experimentwe have here. In fact, at one point in my life, I swore an oath to giveup my life, if necessary, to support and defend this country'sConstitution, so I find it more than troubling when some choose towillfully abstain from exercising their right to vote or, worse yet,make it harder on others to exercise their full political freedoms. Andyet, as a journalist, I find myself working in a profession that, whilecritical for the proper functioning of our democracy, has becomeincreasingly antagonistic toward its individual members participating init. Over at the Harvard University journal Nieman Reports, I've writtenan essay arguing that the traditional American media's growing antipathytoward public political activity within its ranks is counterproductiveand that a more open, transparent journalism model would be better fornot only readers and the press, but, in the long run, our country aswell. If you have a few moments, check it out here, as I'd be interestedhearing thoughts/comments.

As I note in the essay, our press' dedication to impartial, objectivereporting has long meant having to deal with an uncomfortable dilemmaregarding the imperfect, subjective nature of its practitioners. Toresolve this dilemma, a few notable journalists in the Washington presscorps have gone so far as to publicly swear off their politicalfranchise in a pious attempt to remain politically chaste. Forgive me,though, if I don't see how not casting a ballot helps any reporter fightfor the truth or an executive editor oversee better coverage,particularly when these contorted standards lead them to make bizarre,Orwellian claims such as "I like everybody I cover, and I dislikeeverybody I cover, and I try to do it in equal proportion" or "I didn'tjust stop voting--I stopped having even private opinions aboutpoliticians or issues, so that I would have a completely open mind." Asto how well this works out, I'll let you decide. (And while no one iswithout journalistic sin, at least some of these same folks'colleagues/successors haven't sanctimoniously abjured their civicresponsibilities along the way).

Some of this political antipathy is rooted in a supposedly widespreadapathy within the press, which was summed up in a brazen "everybodyknows"-type generalization that David Broder, the so-called dean of theWashington press corps, gave to the good doctor some years ago here, butwhich wouldn't pass muster in the first week of high school journalismclass. Within the past few years, but especially in the midst of the twomost recent presidential campaigns, this idea that "journalists have noplace on the playing field of politics" has become further entrenchedthrough the promulgation of increasingly strict ethics policies,masthead memos, and editorial pronouncements which solemnly intone the"sacrifices" that all journalists (as well as, implicitly, theirspouses) must now make to remain objective in the eyes of their readers.That this zeal for purging any public political activity amongstjournalists has already shown signs of going too far, running afoul ofstate laws and union contracts, is, to me a good thing. Unfortunately,the fear and uncertainty that pervades most newsrooms today still has apowerful effect that even well regarded journalistic institutions thatmake no claim to pure objectivity can succumb to it. According to formerNew Yorker staff writer Dan Baum, that's exactly what happened in themidst of the 2004 presidential campaign when the magazine unexpectedlykilled his feature story on Teresa Heinz Kerry, the circumstances ofwhich he describes here.

This is not to single out the New Yorker, but simply to say that thereflexive self-censorship on display here is, unfortunately, a commonresponse. Perhaps the best encapsulation of this conventional wisdom isthis 2007 MSNBC.com story, which served as something of aself-flagellating shot across the bow of the media during the earlystages of the most recent presidential campaign. (In this story, by theway, New Yorker Editor-in-Chief David Remnick is now singing a differenttune about his staff's political advocacy.) And if you dig deep enough,you'll find that the rationale for these draconian policies bends moreand more toward avoiding the appearance of bias or conflict of interestinstead of sussing it out or preventing it from seeping into the contentof actual reporting. Just a look at the exchange I had with New YorkTimes standards editor Craig Whitney during an interview for the Niemanarticle. (Whitney, by the way, is taking email questions from readersthis week, here.) See if you can follow his logicalcircumnavigation as to why journalists can vote for someone they cover,but not make publicly disclosed political donations to the samecandidate:

RR: So does politics rise to a level where it gets different [ethical]treatment in the newsroom?
CW:I think it's the most visible and visibly contentious area ofjournalistic activity, absolutely.
RR: And at that level, do perceived conflicts of interest rise to thelevel of, or become more important than, actual conflicts of interest inthe reporting?
CW: No, I wouldn't say that. An actual conflict of interest would be areporter who had written a check to [Michael Bloomberg's electioncampaign] covering Michael Bloomberg at City Hall. That's a realconflict of interest and not a perceived one.
RR: But a reporter who voted for Bloomberg and then covered him is not aproblem?
CW: You don't know he voted for Bloomberg. How does anyone know whom areporter or editor voted for if the reporter or editor doesn't advertiseit?
RR: Then the real test is what's in the reporting, I guess?
CW: Exactly, you've got it, absolutely.
RR: So a hidden bias is fine, but a publicly disclosed one is not?
CW: Sorry? No, if you're writing without bias there's no hidden bias.Isn't it possible to write without bias even if you have an opinionabout something?
RR: So why can't a reporter who has made a campaign donation write anunbiased article?
CW: Because it's impossible to avoid the accusation of conflict ofinterest if you have visibly, actively worn a campaign button or writtena check to a political candidate. I really think we've exhausted thissubject.

The defensive crouch adopted by both Remnick and Whitney is what I referto in my essay article as the "siege mentality" that grips manynewsrooms today. But this aversion to all but the most anodyne ofdisclosures has done nothing but alienate readers who know better whiledevaluing actual reporting as well as the American political franchise.

So reporters and editors don't get to fully exercise theirconstitutional free speech rights; who really cares, right? But as thismindset that journalists should be somehow apart from or above politicsfurther infects newsrooms, our news coverage suffers accordingly. Itfeeds a kind of professional groupthink, one that sees politics as moreof a game to be scored--who's up, who's down, who yells the loudest, whohas the snappiest soundbites--rather than a process by which ourdemocracy functions. And a press that further contorts itself to proveits political neutrality gradually becomes less self-aware of its owncrucial role, doing a disservice to both its readers and itself. NYUjournalism professor Jay Rosen, on his blog PressThink, noted thepernicious, sobering effects of this myopic self-delusional approacheight months ago:

The press does not permit itself to think politically. But it doesengage in political acts. Ergo, it is an unthinking actor, which is notgood. When it is criticized for this it will reject the criticism out ofhand, which is also not good.


For the Benefit of Mr. and Mrs. Kite (among others)....

You know you've been waiting for it. Ladies and gentleman, Sal on theBeatles re-releases. (He does not mention it, but the individual cds arebeautifully packaged and I don't think that is going to last, so buywhat you need now, methinks.)

If you've spent most of your musical life listening to your Beatlesalbums and CDs without ever tiring of these wonderful songs, this reviewis for you. If you bought The Beatles' 1's because "it has all theirhits," I suggest you find something else to read.

While there may be subtle differences between the stereo and mono mixesof this impressive catalogue, the difference between the 1987 releasesand the 2009 Stereo Remasters is earth-shattering. You need not be anaudiophile or music nerd to appreciate that the most important body ofwork in pop music, which is over 40-years-old with the earlier recordspushing 50, sounds bigger, brighter and fresher than ever.

Let's do this first:

Rubber Soul
Sgt. Pepper
The White Album

Please Please Me
With The Beatles
A Hard Day's Night
Beatles For Sale
Magical Mystery Tour

Why? Well, all of the albums now benefit from a bigger rhythm section.Paul and Ringo sound as if they had gone back into the studio andrerecorded everything. The drums are no longer lifeless and the bass nowfills the room. This is noticeable on both, but so wonderfully apparenton the Stereo versions. Listen to "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You,"from my third favorite Beatles' album A Hard Day's Night. Ringo soundslike John Bonham AND the added percussion now rattles your windows. Goneis the thin, hissy mix of the twenty-two year old mastering.

The first four albums had originally been released in mono in 1987, sohearing them remastered and in stereo for the first time is arevelation. Rubber Soul, specifically songs like "You Won't See Me,""Nowhere Man," and "I'm Looking Through You" all benefit from not havingthe wide separation in sound. I prefer not hearing the vocals on theleft and the instruments on the right, and to my ears, it is the mostjarring on the stereo Rubber Soul. Like every Beatles record, I havelistened to Sgt. Pepper and The White Album so many times I canplay "air" everything. So, when I hear Paul's harmony on the chorus of"I'm So Tired" at about 49 seconds in as loud as John's leadvocal--something that you do not notice on the stereo "White Album"--Iget a thrill. There are many of these differences that pop up on themono versions. I felt as if I was discovering something new with eachsong.

PHASED VOCALS on "Lucy In The Sky"
BRIGHTER STRINGS on "She's Leaving Home" (The mono version is also pitchedslightly higher)
SHORTER AND MEANER version of "Helter Skelter"

The White Album overall is just a different record in mono.

It's difficult for me to review each album separately. My oneall-encompassing review is simply, "F***ing amazing!" Do I like somerecords better than others? Of course I do. But with the exception ofthe George Martin score on Side 2 of Yellow Submarine, and theoccasional clam--"Don't Pass Me By, "Good Night," "All Together Now,"and my least favorite "good" Beatles song "Run For Your Life"-- there isnothing I don't want to hear at anytime. Any Beatles record is betterthan anything else.

Some other fun discoveries thanks to the new remastering:

FRENETIC BONGOS now louder on "You're Gonna Lose That Girl"
MORE GRUNTING on "Piggies"

And the discovery that made me smile the hardest:

Listening to the stereo "Rock & Roll Music," a song that was never ago-to from Beatles For Sale, my second favorite Beatles album, youcan hear every instrument as if the band was playing in your livingroom. The chunky acoustic guitar in the right channel, the castanets whenyou "hear them play a tango," the Jerry Lee Lewis piano, and John'sraving lead vocal, all come to life for the very first time. I reallycouldn't believe it and was smiling like a mental patient as each versemoved on.

I'm somewhat over the moon about these boxed sets and with good reason.This isn't some reckless repackaging job. It is big news on the level ofa new Beatles album, only it's fourteen new Beatles albums. Believe thehype.

(In case you were wondering, my fave is Revolver, but isn't iteverybody's?)

Sal "The 7th Beatle" Nunziato

Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: Old, White and Angry...

Your the first person I thought I would pass this on to.

My father is 79 or 80. He was once a true gentleman: conservative,yes, but kind, considerate, circumspect, and had great judgment,reasoning skills and temperament. Everyone who met my father lovedhim. He always put others first. These days, though still functional,he's suffering from dementia.

My mother says he's becoming a mean and angry man. After giving itsome thought, I realized that it was because he watched Fox Newsand/or listened to their conservative confederates on talk radioall the time.

I posted this on some blog site talking about the 'Old, Angry andWhite' people showing up at the wing-nut rallies. A surprising numberof people jumped on and said "oh my God, this is happening to one ofmy parents too." In some cases, the people described their parents tohave been life long Democrats, or even liberals.

A great salesman once told me, all 'buy' decisions come down toan emotion.

When people get old, often their reasoning and judgment facilitiesdecline. That's why phone-salesmen, some con-artist, prey on oldpeople. In fact, old people are like the very young in this manner,which is why your parents told you not to talk to strangers. There arereasons why we put age limitations on a whole range of things, inorder to be able to participate. There are peak years of mentalreasoning capabilities. The young and the old have trouble readingbetween the lines.

In the political sphere, it appears that Fox News and its talk radioconfederates are the political version of con-men, who happen to bevery successful in hooking elderly people whose facilities havedeclined (and some young peoples whose facilities areunderdeveloped). The hook of course is the emotion of anger.

In the case of my father, you have a man who was never angry or mean,walking around being angry and mean. Because of his dementia, hedoesn't know or remember why he's angry.

Now a big question is, how much of this phenomena is going on (#1),and (#2) how conscious of it is Fox and the Conservative PolitBureau? Is Fox purposely trying to "con" elderly people and the like,using anger, the way the guy who calls my parents trying to sellthem the Brooklyn bridge does? To what extent are they guilty of this sortof thing? If so, what can and should be done about it?

It seems to me that this is a call for a doctoral thesis type ofstudy. Since this is your sphere, I am passing the idea on to you.

It has real implications on perhaps millions of people's lives.People should spend their declining years in peace, enjoyingfamily and friends, not mean and angry. Some of that is bound tooccur, no doubt, but it shouldn't be inflamed by what should beresponsible adults.

You might consider posting a query to see how many people haveexperienced a similar phenomena with their parents. I think theresults will be surprising. Many people will tell you that Fox andthe like have stolen their parents. Others will say they madetheir parents lives miserable when they should have been peacefuland joyful.

This is the price we pay for a conservative movement driven by therich and powerful. They need numbers, and as I sat watching TheGrapes of Wrath last night, I realized they don't really care aboutthe consequences their greed has on other people.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,

I enjoyed reading about your interview with E.L. Doctorow. It remindedme that after watching the Criterion DVD of Grey Gardens in 2001,Iwrote to director Albert Maysles and asked him if he had ever thoughtabout the parallels between the relationship of the Beadles and thatof Homer and Langley Collyer. Albert confessed that the comparisonhad not occurred to him, but the idea intrigued him and he planned toask "Little Edie" Beadle about it. She surely was familiar with thestory of the Collyer brothers, as it had been front-page news forseveral weeks in all of the New York papers in 1947. Alas, "LittleEdie" died before Albert had a chance to discuss it with her.

Name: Carl Cole
Hometown: Muscle Shoals, AL

My brother is a partner in an engineering firm and has argued foryears that universal health care would be a boon to his company.Negotiating health care for his employees is a competitive item whenhis company bids for contracts. If another company has been moresuccessful in negotiating health care coverage, their costs will belower. He is an engineer, not a health care or insurance expert, andtherefore, feels vulnerable on this point. Universal health care willgo a long way to level the field.

Another businessman, who operates a car repair shop, told me that hissources estimate that health care costs for his business may rise 8percent if universal coverage is enacted. These sources failed tomention that his competitors that don't currently provide coverage—almost all of them—will be much more closely aligned with his coststhan they are currently. Overall, his business should benefit.

Another irony is that many medical and dental providers provide nocoverage. I suppose the current system is too expensive for themalthough it seems to provide a pretty good living.

Our AM radio band down here has at least a half-dozen stationsscreaming that Obama is a socialist 24-7. What is dishearteningis the number of people that drink this swill and who shouldknow better.

Name: Maureen Holland
Hometown: South Venice Beach, FL

Boy do I miss you! I know life is busy and you can't writeeverything. So I've floundered looking for my daily dose of moralcompass. Sometimes I find it; sometimes I don't. The world outsideAltercation is like that. And as my years get shorter, and I don'tget wiser, the loss is a serious matter. If I'm allowed to whore inthis space, I've taken myself to one of these blog thingees where Iseek and rant and ponder getting old and bemoan the media and bragsometimes about lil ones. I won't push the envelope with a link, butif anyone cares, the name does the walking.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Got this in my Wolfgang's Vault feed last night, and it'sworth revisiting. Even I had forgotten what a great band it was thatformed the core of the Blues Bros. act—this was so much more thanan SNL comedy routine. Amazing musicians led by Letterman music-manPaul Shaffer. And imagine being at that concert on New Year's Eve:the BB's opening (opening!) for the Dead.

Bad Brown Acid

I've got a new "Think Again" column, called "Why Can't the Media ExplainOur Woes? (and Why Other Countries Don't have Them...). It's acomparison of healthcare systems in the United States and Europe and amusing on why our media fail to communicate these essential differences.And you can find it here.

My new Nation column is called "Harvard Heal Thyself (Why JournalismMatters)." It's about the Times excellent reporting of the HarvardMedical School scandal, and it's here.

On The Daily Beast this week, I did an interview with the great E.L.Doctorow about his new novel, Homer and Langley here and a discussion of the stakes ofObama's speech, here.

Hey look at all the trouble Pierce is causing, here.

This week on Moyers:

With a landmark speech on health reform behind him and tensions risingin war-torn Afghanistan, Bill Moyers Journal looks at President Obama'snext big fights. Global health specialist and incoming president ofDartmouth College Dr. Jim Yong Kim shares his expertise in publichealth. And, the Journal takes a hard look at the state of affairs inever-divided Afghanistan with McClatchy DC Pentagon correspondent NancyYoussef.


Woodstock--40 Years on Boxed Set

I was sick of Woodstock by the twentieth anniversary. But once you've seenthe movie a few times, this is the best way to experience it. Certainlylet's all stop reading about it, talking about it, (I'm pretty surewe've all stopped getting high to it.) As I've been arguing of late, themusic is really the only excellent thing to come out of the sixties thatwould not have happened anyway without "the sixties." Here we get a77-song, six-CD collection , sequenced in chronological order ofperformance, featuring 38 previously unreleased recordings, includingthe Grateful Dead, The Who, Tim Hardin, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe& The Fish, and others. The set's co-producer Andy Zax did yeoman'sresearch, explaining: "The way we approached all of the material was asif it was a cinema verité documentary -- the raw record of the event,"Zax says. In addition to the music, the set offers considerable amountof ancillary, sometimes annoying announcements throughout including theidiotic rant of Abbie Hoffman, before getting clobbered by PeteTownshend. Thanks to its rigorously chronological sequence, it's a finework of history with a good book and plenty of photos, set lists, etc.,which turn out to be pretty surprising. And the sound's been nicelycleaned up, all things considered.

Patty Duke and Mr. Ed's first seasons: My friends at Shout! Factory areputting out The Patty Duke Show: The Complete First Season, with 36episodes on a 6-Disc DVD set. Bonus features include a look back at ThePatty Duke Show with cast interviews featuring Patty Duke, WilliamSchallert, Paul O'Keefe, and Eddie Applegate Guests include stars suchas Frankie Avalon, Charles Nelson Reilly and Jimmy Dean and PhilFoster. I really enjoyed the episodes I watched and the kid was OK withthem, though I find getting over the black and white barrier with thelikes of eleven year olds. In a few weeks it will grace us with MisterEd: The Complete First Season on four DVDs which includes 26 episodesfrom the first season and bonus content including interviews and audiocommentary on the pilot episode with Mister Ed stars Alan Young andConnie Hines! Marking forty-seven years after Mister Ed first premiered on CBS, and now available for the first time, with guests you'll recognize fromother shows. It doesn't fair as well as the identical cousins -- anincredibly intellectually audacious notion that. Your call...

The mail:

Name: Bill Dunlap
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon

Eric: Your insightful piece in the Daily Beast concludes with theobservation that "Every other democracy in the world, save SouthAfrica, manages to provide decent care to all its citizens. . . ."Isn't that interesting. What else do the United States and SouthAfrica have in common? Well, there's a history of racism, overt atone time, more subtle today, but still there. I sincerely believethat racism is at the root of the U.S.'s poor status in key healthcare measures internationally and of the majority's unwillingness toget behind taxpayer-funded, single-payer, universal insurance. "I'mnot paying for them to have health care," they say. We all know who"them" are, don't we?

Name: Jim Reuss
Postal: Silt, Colorado


I was just skimming over an article about the security staff debaclein our embassy in Afghanistan, and saw in this scandal another clearillustration of the failure of privatizing diplomatic securityservices (Blackwater in Iraq being the other glaring example).

It seems to me that US interests have been and are compromisedthrough use of private security contractors. Their behaviors aregenerally unconstrained by the State Department, and their mercenary,good ol' boy, Dick Cheney, shoot-'em-in-the-face attitudes andoutlook toward performing their tasks damages any efforts towardbuilding positive relations with other societies. Though this groupof men was fired and the company's contract dropped, who is going toreplace them after all - the trained, crowd-control killers atBlackwater? I'm thinking it's way past time to put the marines backin the embassies. They would cost the citizens far less money, andthey would do a far better job.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

The remarkable recent epiphanies of war-cheerleaders like George Willand Tom Six-Month Friedman re. Afghanistan (aka Obama's Vietnam)reminded me of the one paragraph from your Y-WR-LIBS that stuck in mycraw. You know, the part where you celebrated the fact that 70% oflibs are/were for invading and occupying a nation that has been the"graveyard of armies" for countries such as Persia, Great Britain(twice), and of course Russia.

Those of us who have been in the 30% liberal club for 8 years now onthis issue suddenly have some very strange bedfellows. As I mentionhere, it's time forthe President to listen to his VP (as Herbert urges); and if notthat, his progressive base; if not that, to the military experts likeAstore at TomDispatch; if not that, to history.

I don't expect him to listen to the majority of the American people,because I've given up on any politician attending to that lonelyvoice. But I think it's safe to say that I am now no longer a memberof the "30% Liberal Club."

Name: Jordan
Hometown: NYC

Eric, To Steven of The Swamps of Jersey--"Right Arm!" And as for thepathetic Democrats who are afraid to stand up to the NRA--it's not byaccident that Steven did not list his last name or even his hometown.The politicians, the Secret Service and, as Steven from The Swampsaptly demonstrates, all of us have been intimidated by the NRA andthe insane gun culture it foments.

Name: Victor Estrada
Hometown: Carson, CA

This is the problem with "democrats" they lack a vertebrae , alwayscowering to the vocal bully of the rightwing. when are we going toexperience a leader who will stand up to these people will there everbe another harry truman? when 77% the people polled want a publicoption our president continues to ignore the mandate (asupermajority) . this shows that he too has become a man of thecorporate powers and not the people who elected him. if things don'tchange soon any support for him that dwindles will be justified, ishe taking his cue from joe lieberman.

Slacker Friday

Wrapup: I've got a new Think Again column called "Ted Kennedy, inSubstance" which deals with the personalistic, rather than substantivecoverage of the senator's life and career, as well as some of those thatdid. That's here.

Also, I've got a new Moment column called "Hiding Truths from theGoyim--and Ourselves," here. I see they start sorta similarly...

Now here's the man:


Hey Doc:

"I found out my downfall, from nineteen and thirty/I'm tellin' allof my friends, I'm not fattenin' no more frogs for snakes."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Boogie Disease" (Doc Ross, TheHarmonica Boss)--Four years on, and it still fights to be what it always was,God bless it, and I still love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: He's tanned! He's rested! He's ready! (OK, he'salso now an ex-con.) One of my favorite politicians is back, beeyotches!

Part The Second: Always nice to hear from this blight again. If I'd found a doctor that gave me the bullshit medical excusethat kept my ass out of Vietnam, I'd like this system, too.

Part The Third: My lord, this reached the Fourth Level Of Suckitude in near record time. And Tucker (Show Killer) Carlson calling Matt Taibbi a "phony"? Tucker Carlson?This Tucker Carlson? The mind, she reels.

Part The Fourth: I think I speak for the entire class when I say,"Don't let us stop you, honeybun."

Part The Fifth: And you thought it was impossible simultaneously tothink with your dick and talk out of your ass.

Part The Penultimate: And there I was, thinking that this was in Kentucky.

Part The Last: Sam's coming home this year. And, listen, boyos. No taking the last 10 minutes off the way you did last year.

To every camel's back, there is a final straw. Sooner or later, we've taken all we can stand and we can't stands no more, and we pass over the Popeye Line. For me, it came sometime last weekend when I heard Richard Cheney, the pre-eminent moral and physical coward of the era, explain once again the Mulligan theory of national defense by which every president gets one free mass casualty attack that doesn't count toward "keeping us safe." (Note to Dick: by this standard, every two-term president kept us safer than you guys did. You were the worst at it. Scoreboard!) And I realized that, by all the standards of objectivity I was taught in journalism school--the most basic of which was that, if you saw a man walking down the street with a bird on his head, you could report it without finding someone else to tell you that, no, what you actually saw was a bird walking down the street with a guy on his ass--there is no longer any reason to take the Republican party seriously. It has become a festival for fruitcakes. The political movement that powered its ascension has become publiclydemented. Sam Tanenhaus can plug his book all he wants, but the fact remains that it was American conservatism that spent three decades throwing open thedoors to the monkeyhouse--starting with the Goldwater campaign in 1964,moving along through the Reagan campaigns of 1976 and 1980, the NCPAC campaignsof that same era, the marriage of convenience with theocratic crackpottery,the Buchanan campaign against the first President Bush, the variousexercises in lunacy aimed at Bill Clinton, the half-mad banality of NewtGingrich, and the cult of personality that sprang up around the secondPresident Bush. It's a little late for delicate conservativeintellectuals to ponder how it was that all that monkey poo ended up on the walls.

The serious people don't lead in that party any more, and the leadersof it -- Hello, Michael Steele -- are not serious people. It is a majorpolitical party run now as an elaborate radio talk-show and completelyin thrall to the maniacs who run actual radio talk-shows. Goddammit, theSpartacists are more intellectually honest and the Hemp Party folks area helluva lot more fun. Why do serious political journalists take thiscareering clown car seriously, ignoring the evidence plainly in front oftheir own eyes? Why does a Democratic president, and an overwhelminglyDemocratic congress, both elected at least in part because the countryhad determined that the Republicans had gone completely mad, care what thesepeople think about anything? Why does a party led by people who thinkthe president is going to hypnotize schoolchildren with his magicKenyan-Socialist spinning eyeballs scare the living protoplasm out ofputative tough guys like Rahm Emanuel?

The perfect should not be the enemy of the good? Maybe not, but thegood has many actual enemies. Evil is the enemy of the good. Greed isthe enemy of the good. Ignorance is the enemy of the good. Cowardice is theenemy of the good. How's about, just once, somebody worries about thoseenemies of the good, all of which are amply in evidence in the campaignto make sure we never reform the criminally negligent and morallyindefensible way we deliver healthcare in this country?

Instead, we get this. One thing we learned this week--Stephanopoulos is Greek for "Stockholm Syndrome". Jesus wept.

P.S. Oh, hell. They've even started selling their alibis already. Watch this unfold. The D's will sign off on some nutless POS and then have to run in 2010 on their support for a massive giveaway to theinsurance companies, a group of institutions whom everyone I know hates.The elite press then will ponder earnestly why the administration couldn'twork with "serious conservative voices" on a "bipartisan" plan, asthough any of the former even exist. The Beckite "Socialism! Fascism! Soup!"crazoids will go zipping down the memory hole. Call me Kreskin.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

Just finished reading your article, "Official Evidence vs. GutHatred," where at the end you make note of Senator Kennedy's voteagainst the invasion of Iraq.

It reminded of of the article in The Boston Globe on Thursday8/28/09 by their conservative columnist, Jeff Jacoby.

Jacoby actually used Kennedy's no-vote on the Iraq invasion asevidence that Kennedy was "wrong about most of the great issues ofour time." Jacoby wrote that Kennedy was "willing to consignmillions to Saddam Hussein's tyranny," by voting against the "2003liberation of Iraq."

Amazing, isn't it? You write that all these reporters who trumpetedthe war have suffered no harm to their reputation. But one of thereasons is because many, like Jacoby, won't admit they were wrong,and the main stream media is either too afraid to be called liberalor too busy protecting their own to call them on it.

These conservative reporters learned what to do from the Bush administration--never admit to a mistake. Once you admit it, that is the end of the debate, and people can just judge your errors. But be defiant, keepinsisting you were right, keep grasping at straws to defend yourview, keep trying to pound that square peg into the round hole, andthat way you will never have to be known for being wrong. To someonelike Jacoby, who says they were wrong? They certainly won't admit it,so why then would their reputation suffer.

It is of course the height of arrogance to use your colossal erroragainst someone else. But if we have learned nothing since the adventof Fox News, it is that those on the Right are more concerned withprotecting the Right, then in actually being right themselves. Andfor all their talk about loving America, country clearly takes a backseat to party, even though it is their policies that created the messwe now find ourselves in, and it is their tactics that are stoppingthe president now from getting us out.

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown Portland OR

Dear Eric,

Kudos on your Think Again column "Gut Hatred" re: those in power andpress who "wrote history" vs those cowardly pinheads who paidattention to the facts.

Pierce's and your reference to Senator Kennedy's opposition to theIraq invasion bears more than compliment; it demands our attentionNOW. We all know Obama is a far better president in his sleep thanhis predecessor was on his best day, but why are we not challenginghis escalation of the three empires old failed venture in Afghanistanand widening the war (against "terrorists" of course) in Pakistan.

We needed to take on the pathology of he-who-shall-not-be-named butwe cannot be deterred from standing against another misdirected warno matter what we personally feel about its commander.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Two thoughts on Brother Pierce's lovely tribute to Ted Kennedy andexcoriation of Robert Bork.

First, when Bork's nomination was defeated, who got the gig instead?Anthony Kennedy. At the time, a conservative friend of mine chuckledthat we had unloaded an overweight smoker for a physical fitness nutwho figured to serve longer. It turned out that while Kennedy isconservative, he isn't so all-out crazy as Bork and the Four Horsemenof Reaction. Think of how little of the Constitution would be leftover from the meat grinder if Bork had gotten on there.

Second, I encourage everyone to go to You Tube, type into thesearch line "Swedish Chef Muppets," and see why Ronald Reagan'sfirst choice to destroy the Constitution didn't make it. There wasno way the Senate could confirm anyone whose name reminds us of theSwedish Chef.

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Charles Pierce,

The Good Dr. A was good enough to post your January, '03 articleabout the then Senior Senator from your state.

It was a wonderful recap of the man's forty years to that point inthe so-called "greatest deliberative body.." The memories are notfresh, but not so old so as to be forgotten.

It did reminded me of a time in my liberal youth when stirring wordscalling for truth, justice and the American way seemed to emanatefrom only progressive voices. Yes, I voted for the Happy Warrior,George McGovern and even Jimmuh Cahwtuh...once.

And, yes, the accolades coming from all sides seems a bit overdoneright now. But he is, afterall, just gone. The partisan rancor soeasily dismissed by the Senator will be back in full swing , as yousuggest, by the weekend. The catterwalling by The Nation for Obama tofollow Kennedy's lead is a bad joke that will be laughed away.

But he did leave an enduring, compassionate legacy. All of us willmiss him, warts and all.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles

Really enjoyed both the Think Again ("Official Evidence vs. 'GutHatred'") and The Nation ("Novak Without Tears") pieces.

Both I think, illustrated very well the nature of what modernjournalism seems to have become: getting to be a power broker on theinside. It's not even about getting the story anymore, it seems tohave become about getting to the people who have the story, hangingout with them, oh...and then maybe writing a piece about the subject,usually in which the "reporter" takes some sort of starring (if off-screen) role.

I live in LA and have had my share of run ins with celebrities, forboth good and ill and the people who are drawn strictly to thecelebrity aspect of the film or television industry have such hugeegos. It seems that more and more "reporters" have more screen timeand fewer bylines, so more ego-driven reporters (Novak used to be theexception and became the rule, I think) are in the mainstream.Instead of having journalistic integrity to make a career, all oneneeds nowadays is a strong opinion and a pretty face. No journalisticskills required.

Name: Steven
Hometown: The Swamps of Jersey


When you asked why they're "letting idiots bring guns to places wherethe president is speaking," you answered your own question. Obamaand the Democrats are terrified of the NRA and the gun issue. Iwanted to go into more detail.

Unfortunately, gun control isn't an important issue, even amongliberals. It seems they're more concerned about minimum wage and gayrights. So without any pressure from the base, Democrats haveignored it.

But the main reason why Democrats never challenge the NRA and take onthe gun issue is the same reason why the media caves to theGOP/conservatives: intimidation. The NRA and its members arepugnacious, hostile and enraged. Just mentioning "gun control," andyou'll be shouted down as a Nazi. Even the "liberal lion" himself,Ted Kennedy, who certainly could have made gun control the issue itshould be, was silent.

When Democrats are forced to comment on guns - at a debate forinstance - they immediately put themselves on the defensive bybragging how much they "support Second Amendment rights" and "supporthunters and sportsman," as if they have to apologize for supportinggun control; as if either has anything to do with gun control (Iwonder. When was the last time a "pro-life" Republican showed similarempathy towards a womans right to choose?).

I'd say the Democrats are pathetic on the issue but that's being tookind. They've not only allowed the NRA to hijack, distort andrewrite the Second Amendment, they've actually taken their side.Consider what Democrats have done, just since last fall: 1) Sen.Chuck Schumer, who was behind the assault weapons ban (now expired,and Democrats too afraid to re-introduce it), got New York Gov.Paterson, another Democrat, to select Kirsten Gillibrand, a pro-gun,pro-NRA congresswoman as Hillary Clinton's replacement in theSenate. Obama said he'd clear the primary field for her. 2) When thebanking/credit card legislation went through Congress last spring,it did so with a provision allowing guns in federal parks. Obamadidn't even threaten a veto and signed the bill. 3) To break aSenate filibuster last month, legislation that would allow thosewith "right to carry" permits to bring their guns into any state got58 votes. Fifty-eight votes! (Gillibrand voted against it because of"states rights" issues.)

The "right to carry" legislation and the one allowing guns infederal parks were ostensibly brought up to force Democrats in redand purple states and districts to go on the record. If they votedagainst them, the NRA would have made sure they got a primarychallenge...from the right.

Before the election, Obama said he agreed with the Supreme Courtruling that struck down Washington DC's hand gun ban. Of course hedid. He thought he had to because no one stands up to the NRA. Ever.And after he was elected, the NRA returned the favor by circulatingfears that Obama would "ban guns" and "take your guns away." So gunsales have skyrocketed; so much so that there's now a shortage ofbullets. But not a word about this insanity from the White House orDemocrats; not even from the liberals (next thing you know, they'llsay that Obama's going to send a government bureaucrat to the home ofevery senior citizen and ask them how they want to die).

This has gone so far in the wrong direction, that gun laws are beingdismantled across the country (dismantling the banking laws sureworked for worked out well for Wall St., didn't it?). Arizona, forinstance, recently passed legislation and the governor signed, thatwill allow guns to be brought into bars.

So maybe the reason why they're "letting idiots bring guns to placeswhere the president is speaking," is because if they were arrested -or heaven forbid, had their guns taken from them - it would become"news." And I could see the headlines on Fox "News" now: "Obamaprotester denied his First and Second Amendment rights." And thenyou'd see a long line of NRA hacks turning up on Fox "News," andelsewhere, saying, "You see? Obama is going to take your gun away!"

So let the record show that instead of standing up to the gunnuts, even the Secret Service has been intimidated by the NRA andits members.

The inmates are running the asylum. They got the keys to the gunlocker a long time ago. They're getting closer to the President. Andno one gives a shit.

Slacker Friday

Wrapup: I've now a new "Think Again" column called "Official Evidence vs. 'Gut Hatred'" here.

It's about the derision those people who were right about Bush and Iraq continue to experience from those who were wrong, inspired by Tom Ridge and Marc Ambinder. (And P.S., we recall that Ted Kennedy, we are reminded by our friends at Thinkprogress.org, called his vote against authorizing the invasion "the best vote I've made in my 44 years in the US Senate." We could not agree more.)

My Nation column, here, is called "Novak Without Tears." You can guess what that's about.

Regarding yesterday's A (Very) Short Story About a Photograph , if you missed the one with the actual photo, it's up now, here.

Here's Pierce.

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"Times right now ain't nothin' like they used to be/Well times rightnow ain't nothin' like they used to be/ You know I'll tell you all thetruth, won't you take my word from me."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Color Me True" (Sly And The Family Stone)--The work goes on, the cause endures, the dream shall never die, and Istill love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: 'FI were king of the forest, I would read Oklahomaout of the Union until the people there elect themselves one senator whoisn't a complete dickhead.

Part The Second: It goes without saying--"So don't say it!" Sorry.--but there are people asking for spare change on the steam grates outsidethe Boston Public Library who have far more essential dignity, and who arefar more worthy of my respect and my financial report, than thissuppurating mound of blubber.

Part The Third:--Oh, look! A Facebook page.

Part The Fourth: Oh, Lord, Joe, Was this ever not a piece for you to write. Even if we declare the whole Anonymous things out of bounds--which nobody ever should, but no matter--you are still theguy that got this fiasco into print, and I say this as one who had a rare old time laughing at it. Why do editors print rubbish? Because famous writers write rubbish.

Part The Fifth: The lads 'n lassies at Da Cornah had a time with thepassing of The Senior Senator. There was Pantloadian flummery--Yeah, Reagan's name hasn't been used for a single political purpose since he died--and Pantloadian keyboard-flexing. Don't make him get tough on you. Ohhhhh, no. And of course, from a woman who'd earlier posted that Edward Kennedy had done things contrary to the Catholic faith, there was this out-and-out lie. Ego te absolvo, you silly hack. And, for pity's sake, Ye Olde House Of Mulch For Brains, try not be be such tools.

I swear, modern conservatism is the only political movement in historymade up entirely of people with little birdies flying out of their ears.

Part The Penultimate: Unless he is talking about a Massachusetts ofwhich I am unaware, Peter Roff pretty much has eaten a bug here.

Part The Last: Anyone who's covered golf at any point is familiarwith the post-round press conference, in which PGA star Billy Ray Amanahattakes us through the round, shot by shot. ("Par-4. Driver. Three-iron. Twoputts.") Those of us lucky enough to be on the e-mail list for the WhiteHouse Pool Report were treated this week to a shot-by-shot description ofPresident Obama's time at the links on the Vineyard. Which brought nothingback more clearly than the response of the great Dan Jenkins to someone whowas boring him with golf talk: "Stud, if I'm going the whole 18 here, I'mgonna need caddy fees." And, not for nothing, but great cheers to RyanMoore, who won at Greensboro last week, and was the first golfer in recentmemory to win a Tour event without carrying a single corporate logoanywhere on his person. This, of course, will not last.

It is almost beside the point now to mention that The Senior Senatorleaves behind a pair of shoes that most of his Senate contemporaries coulduse for swimming pools. (Harry Reid, come on down!) His maiden speech wasabout the poll tax and one of the last issues he took up was that ofgenetic privacy, which pretty much covers the waterfront as regards thesecond half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st. Startclicking them off--Webster-Clay-Calhoun, bing-bang, all at the same time,and then LaFollette, Lodge, Vandenberg, Taft, Lyndon. Maybe Robert Wagnerand/or Hubert Humphrey. And the Senior Senator. That's the ballgame rightthere, and there's nobody still in the Senate who comes close.

I pretty much emptied the bucket on what I had to say about him sixyears ago.

But, if Martin was right, and the arc of history really does bend towardjustice, the Senior Senator didn't miss many chances to give it a littlepush along the way. For example, if it weren't for the Senior Senator, anauthoritarian extremist named Robert Bork would now be in his 22nd year onthe United States Supreme Court. Conservatives are still weeping aboutthis. Tough. A country with a Robert Bork deciding on the issues of itsliberties would be a smaller, more vicious place. The Senior Senatorstopped that from happening. What'd your senator do today?

P.S. My wife and I waited about three and a half hours at the JFK library last night to pay our respects. The line snaked out through the parking lots for about a mile and a half. There were older women who looked like they'd been mad for Jack back in '46. There were dozens of extraordinarily well-behaved children. There were two guys with guitars. It was an altogether remarkable gathering. I am glad that I did it. There was a lot of low talking, but there also were not a few good old Dorchester wisecracks. Two of the Kennedy daughters came out and worked the line, doing the double-handed handshake thing and thanking people for coming. The TV stands were long gone quiet by the time we made it in through the doors. That long, extended, respectful peace beside the dark harbor is going to be a good bulwark of memory to have when the smugness and the vicious ignorance and the nearly bottomless banality that usually encrusts our politics reasserts itself, probably by Sunday. Amen.

The Mail:

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

One of the ironies of Ted Kennedy's ironic life is the current healthcare debate.

Kennedy once said that the perfect should not be allowed to becomethe enemy of the good. That is worth remembering right now as mybrothers and sisters of the left assault some Democrats for notordering others to vote a certain way.

But then some Republicans--and, to be fair, Democrats--have lamentedthat his presence would have ameliorated the partisan rancor. ThoseRepublicans include John McCain, whose presidential campaign did agreat deal to fan the flames that are now billowing upward from right-wingers at town hall meetings, like the meeting he had the othernight. Can a party in thrall to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, for whomWanda Sykes's words are hardly good enough, actually claim with anyseriousness that Kennedy could have reduced the partisanship?

So, we are left to ponder what Kennedy might have been able toaccomplish on this bill, and to cherish what he did accomplish forhis country. And we are left to ponder what might have been after anevent that Murray Kempton described so aptly--and so much betterthan I will--when he said that Kennedy would always be excoriatedfor doing something that many other men might have done and handledjust as badly.

Name: Daphne Chyprious
Hometown: Springfield, Ill.

Terry from Cheyenne's story reminds me of my own experience. Yearsago, I came upon a pickup truck in a parking lot with a huge printedsign in its back window: " Burn my flag, I'll burn your ass."Scrounging up a sheet of scratch paper from my glove compartment, Iscribbled: "If I burn my own flag, will you burn your own ass?" andstuck it into his dashboard. No word yet on the truck owner'sreaction, but my local paper did oblige me by printing my letterabout the incident.

A (Very) Short Story About a Photograph

I've now a new "Think Again" column called "Official Evidence vs. 'GutHatred'" here.

It's about the derision those people who were right about Bush and Iraqcontinue to experience from those who were wrong, inspired by Tom Ridgeand MarcAmbinder. (And p.s., we recall that Ted Kennedy, we are reminded by ourfriends at Thinkprogress.org, called his vote against authorizing theinvasion "the best vote I've made in my 44 years in the US Senate." Wecould not agree more.)

My Nation column, here, iscalled "Novak Without Tears." You canguess what that's about.

A (very) short story about a photograph: Back in January 2007, I tookmy kid to Washington to enjoy the festivities surrounding theinauguration of the first ever female speaker of the House, togetherwith a (mostly) Dead reunion that night. Before the concert, I stoppedoff at a reception for my good friend and favorite Congressman, JimMcGovern of Massachusetts. As the kid and I were walking in -- she waseight by the way -- we were joined at door by the senior senator fromMassachusetts. We said hello and he did that thing that politicians dosometimes in front of kids, which is act like they are thrilled to meetthe great man who is their dad, which was nice given who he was, andall, but even better, he asked us to turn around and go back to his vanso he could introduce the kid to his dog, who was waiting there. We didand then he asked me if I would please take a photo, since this was suchan exciting moment for him. It's a crappy photograph, as you can see,but one this family will always treasure.

Now, if you have not already, go read this seminal piece by the greatCharles Pierce.

Like everyone else of sanity and decency -- this does not mean you, Mr.Limbaugh -- I'm pleased that Ted Kennedy got to die in bed of somewhatnatural causes. There's a letter below about the issue of peoplebringing guns to healthcare rallies where the president speaks. I'vebeen thinking about this. Remember the Bush folks had people arrestedfor wearing unflattering T-shirts or driving with anti-Bushbumper stickers. I used to live near the Washington Hilton, where thepresident always spoke. One day, I was coming back from the gym to myapartment, and the secret service would not allow me to pass the hotelwhile the president was entering. I thought this was annoying, and so Iasked under what law he was allowed to prevent an American citizen fromwalking down the street, unarmed to his own apartment. He said he couldshoot me if he wanted to and so I decided to sit tight.I investigated it a bit and he was right. The secret service are almostall powerful if they are protecting the president. So why are theyletting idiots bring guns to places where the president is speaking justbecause it is not against the law in that state? My guess is that Obamaet al do not want to rile up the NRA for the next mid-term election. NRAhysteria is, more than anything, what caused the Democratic debacle of1994. Of course, this is pure speculation. If anyone actually knows theanswer to this question, please send it along.

Gene Krzyzynski noticed this on WashingtonPost.com:

Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz is a contributor to CNN andhostof its weekly Reliable Sources program, which is part of Stateof theUnion.

Changed to:

Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz is a paid contributor toCNN andhost of its weekly Reliable Sources program, which is part ofStateof the Union.

Curious, huh?

If there is a sadder fate for a newspaper in this world than to belectured, accurately, by Gawker on journalistic ethics, I'm unaware ofit. Congrats to the editorial page of Rupert Murdoch's Wall StreetJournal for this signal achievement.

This week on Moyers:

Produced by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the DarkSide,Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) and based on Maggie Mahar'sacclaimed book of the same name, Money-Driven Medicine revealshow aprofit-hungry "medical-industrial complex" has turned healthcare into asystem where millions are squandered on unnecessary tests, unproven andsometimes unwanted procedures and overpriced prescription drugs.

From The HuffPo Investigative Fund:

This weekend, the new Huffington PostInvestigative Fund reported that one of the nation's mostwidely-used herbicides has been found to exceed federal safety limits indrinking water in at least four states, but water customers have notbeen told and the Environmental Protection Agency has not published theresults. Records that tracked the amount of the weed-killer atrazine inabout 150 watersheds from 2003 through 2008 were obtained by theInvestigative Fund under the Freedom of Information Act. An analysisfound that yearly average levels of atrazine in drinking water violatedthe federal standard at least ten times in communities in Illinois,Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas, all states where farmers rely heavily on theherbicide. In addition, more than 40 water systems in those statesshowed spikes in atrazine levels that normally would have triggeredautomatic notification of customers. In none of those cases wereresidents alerted. In none of those cases were residents notified. Infact, the brochures in their water bills - reviewed for thisreport--contained misleading lower numbers.

Today, the Investigative Fund followed up with a story,revealing that many water utilities across the country are ineffectiveat removing the herbicide from drinking water -- and also lack thecapability to filter out other organic material like plasticizers(phathalates), pharmaceutical compounds, PCBs, and alachlor. Utilitiescited the financial crisis, and about 57 are currently planning to suethe makers of atrazine, Syngenta, to recover the costs of removing theweed-killer from their water.

The Investigative Fund has posted the EPA's five years of raw atrazinedata on their website, here. To watchreporter Danielle Ivory discuss atrazine, the EPA, and how all of thiswas perfectly legal on Democracy Now, click here.


Did you know that The Simpsons is the longest running animatedseries intelevision history? I think it's also the longest running comedy showever. And it's still great. Season 12 just came out on DVD. The kid andI are pretty into it this summer. We really liked the episode at the bookfestival, painful as it was for Mr. Updike. And the one where the Whoplay "New Springfield." And those are like in the first three. And wealso love the packaging, which mimics the fine comic book products soldby the overweight, over-opinionated and under-bathed retailer ComicBook Guy. Special features, if that's your thing, include: anintroduction from Matt Groening; audio commentaries on every episodewith Groening and The Simpsons executive producers, writers,actorsand directors; deleted scenes; animation showcases; original sketches;special language feature; featurettes and more.

New Loudon Wainwright and Radiohead re-releases by Sal:

"Charlie Poole didn't write the songs he performed and recorded -- theywere the popular, sacred, and standard tunes of his time. Charlie maynot have written the songs, but he certainly "owned them -- that is tosay, made them his own."

This is how Loudon Wainwright III introduces his new CD on page one ofthe beautiful accompanying booklet to High Wide & Lonesome: TheCharliePoole Project, 2 CDs conceived by Wainwright and producer DickConnetteas a tribute to the hard drinking, hard living charmer of theDepression era, Charlie Poole.

This absolutely wonderful set of music is a real tribute indeed.Wainwright, along with many other Wainwrights, Roches and friends ofboth families, run through thirty tunes, each with its own grippingstory filled with black humor, genuine sadness, lost hope, as well asplenty of booze and women. There are old timey string arrangements,acapella gospel tunes, and simple voice and guitar, all leaving room forLoudon Wainwright's love of the material to shine. I've always lovedLoudon, but I didn't expect to love this set as much as I do.

On Another Note:

One of the most overrated bands in the history of music, Radiohead, seesits self-indulgent, experimental, tuneless and boring post-OKComputerrecords get expanded with even more depressing, droning, twaddle. KidA, Hail To The Thief, and Amnesiac all now feature a seconddiscwith b-sides and live tracks. Now I realize that is a bit unfair, andthe truth is, I don't hate Radiohead. I happen to think The BendsandOK Computer are two of the best records of the 90s. But I dobelievethese three CDs would have made ONE fine CD. Forgive me.

Sal Nunziato

Eric chimes in: Sal is right about Loudo, of course. I'm reallyenjoyingthe record and I'd recommend listening to Terry Gross's interview withthe guy which ran last week and was a lot of fun. My comrade couldhardly be wronger, however about Radiohead, which I maintain is justbelow U2 and at least tied with REM as the greatest band of the 90s. Iactually think OK Computer is their weakest album. These two are allthree totally excellent, particularly Kid A, which is kinda PinkFloydish. They've not only got b-sides and live tracks but also DVDs andthese demonstrate the thought and care that went into these greatalbums. And Pablo Honey is also great, he didn't mention that.Greatband, Radiohead; closest thing to what the Beatles would have been ifthe Beatles had been in the 90s. (I know Bono says that about U2, buthe's wrong. U2 were way different than the Beatles; much better live,I'm guessing, and also much more explicitly socially concerned.) Anyway,if you don't have the remixed versions of these records, I'd stronglyrecommend all of them -- with the possible exception of OK Computerwhich is a little too noisy for my taste.

Name: Tim Burga
Hometown: Dallas, TX

Dr. A,

In your Daily Beast column you said, regarding Obama reaching out tothe GOP on health care, that "the problem with this strategy is thatit rests on the widespread realization that the Republicans are notserious about governance."

Based on the polls it seems the public *does* realize this, whichmakes it all the more confounding that Democrats are not in full-onmessaging mode to reinforce this self-evident state of affairs. Whyare Sen. Grassley's stunningly frank admissions about the bad faithwith which the GOP is operating in the health care debate onlycovered on left-leaning blogs and not in press releases and op-edsfrom the White House?

Despite all the progress and transformation within the DemocraticParty in the last decade, it unfortunately seems the leadership isstill playing checkers at a chess match.

Name: Bill Doyle
Hometown: Valparaiso, IN

Hi Eric,

I love your Daily Beast stuff, and I think (and hope) you may beright about the President's strategy. For the past few weeks, I havebeen boring my friends with my theory that the time to get real is inConference Committee next month.

I have to comment on the frightening article in which the WhiteHouse accepts the fact of assault rifles being brandished atPresidential events. I sent a letter to the Chicago Trubune aboutthat, but they had used up their liberal comment quota for themonth, so no dice there.

This weapons parade is lunacy. The Secret Service should extend theweapons free zone around the President to a full one mile. And thenCongress must make it a federal offense to carry any weapon of anykind to a public event, demonstration or meeting connected to anyappearance by the President, a Member of Congress, or any of theirdesignates.

Congress can do this. There are already thousands of weapons freefederal zones across the country, and it is the federal function, notthe specific building, that gives the feds this preemption. Just trystrapping on a weapon and going into a VA hospital. Better yet, oneof these bozos should try entering a US military post or an FBIoffice. If they are not shot, bail will be very high.

The biggest reason we have to do this, though, is that it is only amatter of time before one of these weapons is discharged, and somecitizen--possibly a child or a Grandma--is killed for the crime ofexercising her First Amendment rights. Why shouldn't we the peoplehave the same right to a weapons free First Amendment zone thatMembers of Congress enjoy in their Capitol office space, or federalemployees have at their workplaces? The NRA and their paid minionshave no right to trample on "...the right of the people peaceably toassemble, and to petition the Government for a redress ofgrievances."

I simply do not understand why the White House does not understandthis basic concept--that free speech is not free if it is inherentlydangerous, and that civilian weapons do not belong in any crowdedplace, especially when children are part of the crowd.

Name: Frank Lynch
Hometown: http://www.samueljohnson.com/blog/

Ah, Tom Ridge... I remember an early 80's lyric from Utopia:

"Here are your leaders, come on take a look They lie and cheat andsteal and sell the rights to the book"

The problem with Tom Ridge's account of the pre-election daydecision is that while the preceding events argue for guilt,the fact that there was a tape from OBL is enough to cast areasonable doubt. If there were conversations before the tape'sarrival about "wouldn't it be nice" and OBL's tape were thecatalyst, that would be one thing, but on this singular event thedecision process so far seems in the grey area. And I am noBush defender, as you know.

(I speculated at the time of the tape that there had been somegamesmanship being played regarding the tape: that OBL really didwant Bush re-elected because he was good for recruiting, and dumpedon Bush's overreactions in the tape in a bit of reverse psychology(Americans would reject his mocking of Bush). Ron Suskind's Cheneybook later revealed that the CIA and State also felt that OBL handedBush the reelection with that tape.)

But aside from the pre-election pressure Ridge felt, the prior eventsthemselves don't make Ridge look good. While he claims to have heldback against capricious color raises in the alert levels, he didn'tdo that often enough. He could have determined that the intelregarding attacks on the financial centers was stale, and he didn'thave to interject praise for Bush as he did so. I, for one, have gottensick and tired of the claim of "he kept America safe," when Suskindpointed out that a major attack on NYC's subways was aborted not becauseof anything Bush had done but because Al Qaida didn't think that thebloody plan was bloody enough.

Tom Ridge gets no partial credit, in my opinion.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Brother Pierce hit it out of the park when talking about the latedevelopment of conscience among Bush administration members who mightfind life interesting before a war crimes tribunal. Especially ColinPowell. Indeed, one of the little treasures in the history ofAmerican popular culture was in "Mars Attacks!" Paul Winfield playeda general sent to greet the Martians. En route, he calls his wife tosay he always knew he would be given something important to do if hejust kept his mouth shut. And that was nearly five years beforePowell became secretary of state!

Now, for a TV review. Sunday night's 60 Minutes was one of theworst in that broadcast's mostly distinguished history. The tributeto Don Hewitt was well-intentioned, but by the fifth or so time thathe was shown saying the key is to "tell me a story," I realized theyhad no idea how to tell his story. Instead, they had three separatereports that were largely repetitive and suggest just how much thebroadcast misses Hewitt.

Also, they missed a couple of his innovations. For example, thegraphic "matte" at the bottom of the screen, and the "double-projector system" that enables a correspondent to do a voiceoverwere, I believe, his work when he produced the CBS evening newscast.But it was more fun for 60 Minutes to show, over and over, Hewittyelling in the control room and walking down the hallway. And CBS isclaiming Dan Rather wasn't up to the standards of 60 Minutes? If Imay invoke my hero, Barney Frank, what planet do they live on?

Name: Terry
Hometown: Cheyenne

Dear Eric, While I trying to understand the White House need toappear all stately and bipartisan, (which never works, btw) I wasconfronted with a new bumper sticker on a van at of all places, ourlibrary in "Idiot America," er, Cheyenne today. While I remain of thetree-hugging, liberal, let's-communicate-and -not-hate persuasion, Idid react. The sticker read "Does not play well with liberals." Ihappened to have a post-it note, so I stuck this atop: By all means,celebrate your bigotry and intolerance. It's a free country. True,not the Woody Allen/Annie Hall recommended response of "let's getsome bricks and baseball bats and deal with these neoNazis," butsomewhat satisfying.

Sure was fun to see the latest video of Mr. Pierce expounding in.

Name: Jordan Scott
Hometown: Seattle

Eric, Unfortunately, you're not right. Obama "gave in a little on thestimulus?" Just like he gave in a little on prosecuting torture or,as a Senator, on telecon immunity. I'm no psychologist, but I suspectit has more to do with, like Clinton, being raised by a single motherand always wanting to please than some brilliant political tactic.Start reading some Pierce and buck up, will ya' buddy. Obama invitedyou to dinner--the rest of us need you guys who have access to thepeople in power to follow the instructions of "I agree with you, Iwant to do it, now make me do it," rather than being an enabler ofuseless attempts at bipartisanship. As you point out, the strategy isnot working and the lies are winning. Obama needs to be reminded ofhis own definition of insanity. person that's going around of late.:-)

Name: Steve Gabai
Hometown: Fair Lawn, NJ


I was watching New Jersey's Networks (NJN) news broadcast tonight andthey had a report on Rep. Frank Pallone's town hall meeting. Theanchor introducing the story, as well as the reporter covering it,used the word "controversial" in regard to the public option. What isso controversial about the public option (was George Bush's Iraq war"controversial?")?

This town hall meeting, like the rest we've seen, had it share ofenraged screamers. So by describing the public option as"controversial," they actually gave credibility to this mob, as ifthey actually had something to scream about.

This report was no different from the rest of the coverage we've seenthis month, network or cable. Little attention has been paid to thereasonable and practical side of this "debate." Instead, the mediahas focused, mainly, on the angry side who are enraged at this"controversial" health care legislation. Why?

Ironically, what's made this health care "debate" so controversial,are these town hall mobs. But the way the media has handled it, you'dthink it was the other way around.

Would be asking too much for our illustrious media to treat thepublic option seriously, not as a controversy, and give it roughlythe same amount of air time they do these town hall screamers?

Unfortunately, yes.

Name: Don Appel
Hometown: Riverdale,NY

Where the heck is LTC Bateman??? Will his photo soon be on the sideof milk cartons?

Name: Billy Ralph Bierbaum
Hometown: Waxahachie, Texas

Re: condensed journalism.

If someone could write me a fucking nut graf on all this healthcareshit, I'd really appreciate it. More especially, a nut graf on whyObama and the Democrats collapsed like that cake left out in the rainin MacArthur Park. I apologize for my tone and my language, but fuck,if I'd wanted a bunch of rubbery retread refried defrosted still feckless Clintonoids to run this ball (and I'm looking at you, Rahm),I would have voted for a fucking Clinton.

Slacker Friday

Wrapup: My new "Think Again" column is here. It's called "That Doggone Librul Media, Caught Again... " Also, I did a Daily Beast post this morning trying (hoping) to explain the strategy behind Obama's apparently unwavering commitment to bipartisanship. I'm OK with it, as long as I'm right.


Hey Doc:

"She said if you're from Texas, son/Where's your boots and where'syour gun?/ I said, I got guns no one can see."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "If You Want me To Stay" (Kermit Ruffins)-- Once again, this week, I failed to properly arm myself before goingdowntown to convince people how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: My Congressman is better than yourCongressman (). Just sayin'.

Part The Second: Oh, goody. Loser U. has a new has-been for the fall term. What on earth could Norm F'n Coleman teach anyone about anything?

Part The Third: Good on the great Mr. Wolcott for publicizing the greatest Boston movie ever, which was made from thegreatest Boston novel ever written. And it has the best opening line of anynovel ever written about Massachusetts, Moby Dick included: "Jackie Brownat twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get someguns."

Part The Penultimate: Sooner or later, this wholewe-are-all-Americans-reach-out-and-touch-someone's-hand-Have-A-Coke-And-A-Smile pablum that the Obama people have been peddling since the beginning oflast year's campaign is going to reach that stage where it becomessomething that we generally associtate with the thinking of people incults. sooner, I think.

Part The Last: Go ahead. Pick sides in this one. I dare you.

I have grown just a touch nauseated over the past couple of years bythe tendency of former Bush administration officials to take theirvestigial consciences out for a walk now that's far too late to matter atinker's curse to anyone. The most recent example, of course, is good ol'Tom Ridge, who has a book to peddle and who may still seek to stake out thedwindling element of his party fairly characterized as Not Insane. Thisweek, to the surprise of absolutely no sentient entity on the planet, Ridgeadmitted that the adminstration he served had jacked around with thecomical "Terror Alert" system for political purposes. (All together now,"Unpossible!") Of course, in 2004, when the revelation might have helpedswing the election and save us from four more years of incompetence andvandalism, Ridge wasn't half so brave. Before him, we had LawrenceWilkerson--about whom Dr. Maddow and I will have to have a chat some day--who came out and talked about what a cosmic, existential bummer it wasto have to sit there and listen to Colin Powell sling bullshit at the UNfor the purposes of justifying an illegal war of aggression. (And let usnot even get started on General Powell his own self, who could have thrownsand in the gears with a single press conference, but chose instead hislifelong default role as a reliable apparatchik.) Wilkerson said this, ofcourse, as the 2006 midterms were gathering speed and it looked as thoughthe country was going to be rendering a fairly harsh judgment on peoplelike, well, him. Now he is applauded by people who should know better assome kind of whistleblower when in fact he's not risking a goddamn thing.

All of these guys could have quit on principle at the time. None ofthem did. (I guess, early on, Paul O'Neill came as close as anyone did.)Even James Comey, who came out of the whole torture debacle as what passedfor a hero, couldn't quite pull the trigger.

He wrote a letter. Forgive me, but big honking deal. He stayed aboard. Thecriminal nonsense continued. And the ex post facto courage that has beendemonstrated since has been an insulting farce. Nobody who worked in thatadministration ever should be allowed within three city blocks of agovernment job again. Let them all go work at Fox.

Name: Dave Zimny
Hometown: Oakland, CA

Dr. A: Your Daily Beast post on Obama's persistent bipartisanship was a very interesting analysis. You argued that he was simply using the same strategy to govern as he did in campaigning, that voters were tired of hardball politics. I hope you're right about that, but experience tells me that the odds are against you. George W. proved that, while tolerance and compromise may sound good in a campaign, they don't look very good in a president. Bill Clinton said it best: "The American people would rather have a president who's strong and wrong than one who's weak and right." If Obama keeps extending the hand of friendship to the Republicans and seeing it bitten off, he'll begin to look indecisive and wishy-washy, exactly the kind of president that the public doesn't want to see. I hope you're right and I'm wrong, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

I am a great admirer of Dan Rather in a lot of ways, but the story to which you linked mentions CBS wanting him to have the "emeritus" role that Walter Cronkite had. Here's the irony. When Cronkite retired, he expected to be on the air a great deal. But CBS kept him off the air. Why? Rather!

In a way, it made sense. As Cronkite's successor, Rather needed to establish his own identity, and Cronkite appearing constantly on the evening news wouldn't have helped that. Fair enough. But the network never made proper use of Cronkite. Here was a man with incredible contacts and perspective, and he ended up on cable TV and NPR. In terms of CBS News, that's criminal.

Throw in that this comes up as 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt dies. Hewitt basically invented the evening news (as producer first for Douglas Edwards and then for Cronkite) and the television news magazine as we have known them. But two points about him have been missed in the obituaries:

1. Hewitt did a lot, unintentionally, to destroy broadcastjournalism when he made 60 Minutes so good and, in theend, profitable. It meant the networks wouldn't view theirnews divisions as loss leaders kept around for prestige, butas moneymakers to be sucked dry of any creativity, perspective, and usefulness to the public if profits somehowfell. And, ironically, Hewitt and Rather were there when CBSNews was gutted.

2. Hewitt knew what was going on with his network. In 1985, Charles Collingwood, one of the legendary and brilliant Murrow Boys who covered World War II, died. His funeral was nasty--the then- president of CBS News was urged to stay away, Bill Moyers stalked out as Rather paid tribute to Collingwood's loyalty to CBS. Shortly thereafter, Hewitt made a phone call to a top CBS executive and offered to buy CBS News from the company, in tandem with several of the news superstars. He had realized, as I suspect they had, that just as Clemenceau thought war was too important to be entrusted to the generals, CBS News was too important to be entrusted to CBS. And he was right.

Name: Jim Peale
Hometown: Swanzey, NH


Re your "Think Again" piece, at Fox News and other right wing "news" outlets, everything they do is seen and evaluated through an ideological prism (remember, they're conservatives first and journalists second!). Their almost laughable presumption is that even a soulless corporate media outlet like NBC acts in the same manner. Since they're not true-believer conservatives, they are automatically "liberals."

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