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Eric Alterman | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Who's Jailing Journalists?

Roundup:

We've got a new "Think Again" column called "Who's JailingJournalists?"here inwhich we wonder, aloud, why the United States has joined the alleged Axis of Evil in jailing journalists without charge.

And I did a piece for the Daily Beast on "The Death of the Neocons" here.

Alter-reviews: Eric on Madeleine Peyroux; Sal on George Harrison.

Eric: I saw Madeleine Peyroux with Bruce Cockburn at Town Hall lastweek. She is an odd, but beautiful bird. A bohemian style chanteuse whowas born with a voice that somehow combines Billie Holiday with PatsyCline, she has now become an interesting songwriter as well. Her new CD, Bare Bones (Rounder), attempts to move her into the territoryoccupied by Norah Jones with songs co-written by the likes of LarryKlein and Walter Becker, and wonderful lyrics like "I remember what mydaddy taught me 'bout how warm whiskey is in a cold ditch/And one morething about good and evil: you can't tell which is which" She had afine acoustic band with her which sounded like no other band I know andsings in French too, which is always a plus. You can find all kinds ofstuff, including some pretty fun video of her here. Bruce Cockburn warmed her up, solo. He was his mystical, rather than rocket-launcherself. A matter of choice, I suppose, but it wouldn't be mine.

Sal: Writing about the new George Harrison collection, Let It Roll:Songs By George Harrison, is akin, for pathetic critics like myself, toshooting fish in a barrel. Give a Beatle fanatic an opportunity to rant,in an age when he is still watching a Betamax version of Let It Be andlistening to the classic catalogue on CDs mastered when Nina Blackwoodwas the face of music television, is not a good idea.

"Give me love, give me peace on Earth." HA!! Give me something otherthan some hastily slapped together collection of tunes, that everyBeatles fan has heard a thousand times and more and we got ourselves aballgame...except...this collection really works.

Let It Roll, by practical measures should have included the killer,stray single "Bangla-Desh," and explained somewhere in the otherwisebrilliant and moving liner notes by Warren Zanes, the inclusion ofinferior live versions of "Something" and "While My Guitar GentlyWeeps." Those complaints aside, Let It Roll is a joyous occasion. Itplays like the mix-tape that YOU would have made...except for theexclusion of "Bangla-Desh" and the inclusion of...well...see above.

Sal Nunziato
The Eighth Beatle
www.burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com

This week on Moyers:

On the heels of winning this year's Pulitzer prize for poetry, W.S.Merwin joins Bill Moyers for a wide-ranging conversation about language,his writing process, the natural world, and the insights gleaned from amuch-lauded career that's spanned more than 50 years. W.S. Merwin isthe author of 21 volumes of poetry and won his second Pulitzer Prize forhis most recent collection, The Shadow of Sirius.

The mail:

Name: Bob O'Reilly
Hometown: Cambridge MA

In 1972 when I was a senior in high school I read Tragedy of AmericanDiplomacy in an advanced history seminar. It ranks among the mostimportant books I have read in that it provided me with a method oflooking at the actions of the US and many other nations are despite the rhetoric purely national self interest. That economics --expanding foreign trade for us -- drives many of decisions. I recallmuch discussion in the book and in class about the Open Door policyregarding China and the feeling that who said the Chinese had to openthe door to the US and European products. Really didn't they have theright to keep the door closed if they wanted to.

Name: Steve Thorne
Hometown: Somewhere in California

The healthcare "reform" debate will get us nowhere because we'restill thinking in insurance company language. The entire debate isabout "insurance," "payer" and "coverage." I don't want "coverage" or"insurance" when some part of me fails or some microbes go somewherethey're not invited. I want to get it fixed or for those microbes tobe slaughtered (set "slaughtered" in italics) and not risk losing myhouse in the process. Until we change the language used in the debateto something not found in the tiny print of an insurance policy,we're not going to fix the problem in this country.

Name: David K. Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, Al

Mr. Charles Pierce,

I am interested to observe that what is left of what used to be thegreat left wing in this country cannot understand what happened tothe single payer option.

While I have no doubt that 75% of us, including degenerate businessowner, tax avoiding polluters like me, support some form ofgovernment competition, it is hard to imagine the left wing attackingfops like Gingrich and Limbaugh. They are not the problem. Theproblem is all the candy ass politicians you people elected.

Attacking our (choke, gasp) President is not the answer either. Tohave a substantial public option you are going to have to convincethe doctors, nurses and administrators in a mind boggling bureaucracythat they are not worth what we are now paying them. This is a hugeobstacle not even considering the drug cartel, oops, I mean industry.

The continued carping about Obama simply does not address the realissues in the legislature, ie. THE PAYOFFS!

Until then my fellow pope Catholic, you are simply preaching tothe choir.

Name: Ray Lodato
Hometown: Chicago, IL

Hey Eric,

Do you know what we call it in Chicago when there are more votes castthan there are voters?

An election.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman:

I am not going to pretend to understand all the intricacies of thevarying healthcare proposals. But I get upset when I see thesearticles bringing up the failure to fix health care under Clinton,and maybe with Obama's efforts we are seeing deja vu. The articlesusually act as if it was a defeat for Clinton, when in actuality, itshould be a black mark on those who stopped reform from happening.Shouldn't the Democrats have a simple response to any such criticism--we wanted to fix health care over a decade ago. The Republicansblocked it. Since then, health care costs have gone up X-amount, thenumber of uninsured has gone up Y-amount, while profits haveincreased Z-amount. Politics today is about soundbites, and what canbe played quickly on CNN or even tweeted on twitter - wouldn't asimple message of how much worse health care has become say loud andclear that we must act now, and we must do so regardless of anyRepublican scare tactics.

Slacker Friday

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA.

Hey Doc:

"There's a man in old Pawtucket/Sells steamed clams by the bucket/Sowhen I want clams in a bucket, I go to old Pawtucket/ 'Cause I'm ahungry man."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Alright, Alright" (The New OrleansNightcrawlers): How many times do I have to tell Chuck Grassley to gethis thumb out of his ass and twitter to the world how much I love NewOrleans?

Short Takes:

Part The First: I wish the gang at Washington Monthly well withthis rosy impossible dream. You'd have better luck teaching your dog toorder dinner.

Part The Second: Just shut up, please. For my own edification, is there any provision of the 2008 Republican platform that Tom Daschle thinks should be left out of the Democratic health-reform package, now rapidly morphing into the Preservation Of The Greedy Insurance Bastards Act of 2009? School vouchers? Missile defense?

Part The Third: I am going to lose my pundit card behind this, but Ido not know f**k-all about what we should do about the situation inIran. Not a clue. And, not being one of these many sunbathers along the shorelines of the Great Lake Of Fail, I shall not hazard a guess. What I do know is that Not Doing What Rodeo Clowns Suggest is a sound strategy on almost every conceivable question. I wouldn't go for water if Paul Wolfowitz told me to do it while my head was on fire.

Part The Fourth: Thirty-seven years ago this week, someone forgot totake the tape off the door to the stairwell. For a long while, nobody cared except for a couple of Metro grunts at the local daily. Cool stuff ensued. Of course, that was a long time ago, and said local daily has sort of lost its gift for that whole truth-to-power thing, Sad, really.

Part The Last: Ooooooooohhhhh, cooties! Watersheds just ain't what they used to be, I guess. There wasa time, and not so long ago, when a story like this would have been a game-changer in the debate over reforming the nation's healthcare system, if anything as capricious, and vicious, and utterly random as what we have can rightly be called a "system." Executives ofthe insurance companies got up in front of the Congress and said, quitecalmly, that, yes, they would continue to deny coverage to sick people in order to make themselves even wealthier. That should have resulted in sufficientpolitical pressure to infuse a spine even into the members of this Congress. But we no longer are a viable self-governing political commonwealth, and our representatives know that, and truly don't give a damn, and the people in the elite political media could care less. (Hey, Mark Halperin, go clean a bedpan, OK?) It is on health issues where the gulf separating the inside and out Beltway realities swallows up common sense and, in doing so, causes the most material damage. The Schiavo case was a garish and noisy example, but the idea that a Democratic president and a Democratic congress can't craft a health-reform package that contains a substantial public option that 75 percent of the people out there want because the Democrats are overly sensitive to intramural political imperatives is the Schiavo case writ unacceptably large. This is a political class responding only to itself, speaking its own language, operating by its own rules while real people get ground up in a system that everyone knows is a rigged game. Hell, at 75 percent, the president has enough "political cover" to put a single-payer option back "on the table." But he won't. Some corrupt old white man might yell at him.

Mistah Kurtz, Continued

We've got a new Think Again column called "Chiller, Socialist Theater,"about how Obama's turning us Commie, here and my new Nation column is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of William Appleman Williams' Tragedy of American Diplomacy, here.Also, I did an analysis of Bibi Netanyahu's bait-and-switch speech forthe Daily Beast here.

I was genuinely shocked by Howard Kurtz's defense of CNN in a Post chat, not only because of its incredible lameness, but also because Kurtz did not disclose the fact of his being on CNN's payroll. I wrote a short note to Romenesko's letters column, which he printed,but did not make notice of on the site, so I sent a slightly different version of it to Andy Alexander, who recently became the Washington Post's ombudsman. I have to say, I'm impressed with his response, which you can find here. What I like about it is not only that it holds Kurtz accountable, (and is generally friendly to me), but because it raises the larger issue of the Post's unwillingness to disclose its conflict-of-interest policies. This is quite important, and goes to the heart of why large news organizations are losing the trust of readers, etc. But these organizations need to keep their options open to retain their big shots who don't like to follow the rules and so they don't want to codify their policies. (See under "Friedman, Thomas.") Alexander explains that the Post policy is underreview, which is to the good, but let's see if and when they publish it. He writes:

Readers such as Alterman are entitled to know the standards to which The Post holds itself. In a column several months ago, I wrote:

The Post keeps its journalistic policies largely hidden, making it virtually impossible for readers to know the paper's ethical andjournalistic standards. The public should be able to easily access them online. It's not merely right but also smart to be transparent at a time when The Post is trying to hold on to readers.

The column also noted that The Post urgently needs to update its ethical guidelines to accommodate the new age of online journalism. Kurtz' failure to disclose his CNN ties in an online chat, while hardly a major transgression, underscores that.

New standards must be written to cover not only conflict of interestdisclosures online, but everything from how corrections should behandled on the Web, to verification of reader-generated content, toauthentication of links, to ethical rules governing the content thatPost employees may submit to social networking sites.

That task has fallen to Milton Coleman, the longtime Post deputy managing editor who is taking the most recent buyout but will remain on contract as a senior editor. He'll be in charge of a full examination of Post standards and ethics. It's a big job. And the review is long overdue.

I actually interviewed then editor Len Downie on this very question for a Nation column years ago. He said that for a media critic, the conflict was unavoidable and hence, the only issue was disclosure. I disagreed. It is there, for sure, but it can be minimized. Kurtz is compromised not only when he writes about CNN but also when he writes about its competitors and potential competitors. (Bill Wyman notes on this very topic. The issue with Howard Kurtz isn't that he didn't mention the CNN connection in his chat, but that he didn't mention CNN in his Twitter story. My piece on this is here.

How do you write a story on an operation like Twitter and notmention the biggest issue currently on it, which just happens to becritical of the place that pays you? FYI, there's a lot here about how he handled the John Edwards story.

...And more here about how he's been covering Katie Couric.

If the Post does not pay him enough to be their media critic, they should hire someone they can pay enough. But Downie's defense falls apart when Kurtz decides to simply assume that everybody knows and does not bother to disclose at all. The fact that this is an ongoing scandal does not make it any less of a scandal.

One more thing: Let's see if the new Post policy applies to all Post properties. A couple of years ago, Slate's Jacob Weisberg took an AIPAC-sponsored junket and then returned home to write about what he learned on the trip. I noted, on Altercation, who had paid for his trip, and he wrote me back a nasty letter in which he called me a "moron" because he had disclosed the fact that he had been there on AIPAC's dime. Thing is, the Washington Post would never allow a reporter to accept a paid trip from AIPAC while writing about AIPAC-related issues, so why are there different rules for Post-owned news sites like Slate? Ibelieve I queried The Washington Post Company on this but have yet toreceive an answer. My guess is that Slate wants to keep it that way. (And despite Weisberg's touchiness and bad manners, the fact is I don't have a problem with what he did. I'd do it myself. It's the Post's policies that interest me.)

Recycling watch: I spent a few hours with Larry David while writing about Hollywood and politics a few years ago and we were talking about "Curb,"--possibly my favorite show of all time--and I told him that I did not find it credible that he would not sleep with the beautiful and talented Cady Huffman before his premiere of The Producers just because she was a Republican. He agreed, adding, "Hell, I'd sleep with a holocaust denier." It was a great line, and I wanted to work it into the piece. I ran into Larry and Laurie at a book party for Arianna, at the biggest g-d house I'd ever set foot in, one that felt like being in the palace at Versailles--and I told them my only concern so far was that I was having trouble working in that great line. (Laurie was happy about this.) Larry, being an incredible mensch, however, called me a few days later and asked my permission to use the line in his bio on Vanity Fair, even though it was his line. I said ok, and now he's giving it more a workouthere, but toning it down for Conan's audience.

Also in the recycling department, Stephen Colbert, seen most recentlyusing old Harvard Lampoon lines in Newsweek, had Josh Marshall on the other night and asked him if he was a blogger, why wasn't he in his bathrobe. When The Daily Show first took notice of bloggers, they did a set piece that included Jay Rosen, who was asked, "If you're a blogger, why aren't you in pajamas." Once again, I have nothing against this kind of thing. I do it myself. I just want to put them on notice...

Guest blog: 'Conflict Minerals' in Your Cell Phone Are the New Blood Diamonds
posted by John Prendergast

It's time to end the trade in "conflict minerals" from the war-tornDemocratic Republic of Congo, which are sold by rebel groups to purchase arms and serve as a direct cause of widespread sexual violence in that country. These minerals--tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold--are commonly used in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops, mp3 players, video games, and digital cameras. I'm writing this from eastern Congo, where I have seen firsthand during the past several weeks the link between our consumer appetites and immense human suffering that his undeniable.

A Fortune magazine article has described this issue as "The New Blood Diamonds," but nothing has being done to end this problem--until now. The Enough Project has documented this connection in a new report and iscalling on electronics companies to pledge that they will make theirproducts conflict free and open their supply chains to transparentaudits.

Enough doesn't claim electronics companies are themselves knowingly dealing in conflict minerals; nor is Enough calling for a total ban or boycott of Congolese minerals, which would hurt miners. However, webelieve electronics companies should audit their supply chains to keepout illegally-traded minerals from their products. If these companiesshow leadership, they can fundamentally end the trade in conflictminerals, ensuring that Congo's mineral wealth does not contribute toarmed conflict and the continuation of the worst violence against women and girls in the world. We are working with other like-minded groups to begin the conversation with the twenty-one largest electronics companies to help end the scourge of conflict minerals.

Here's a slideshow that illustrates the harsh conditions that I haveobserved Congolese minerals toiling under. CNN just did a segment aboutthis issue, "The Battle for Conflict Minerals."

Why this issue matters: The conflict in eastern Congo, the deadliestsince World War II, is being fueled by this trade in minerals by armedgroups who control many mines, force individual miners to pay "taxes" onthe minerals they mine, and destroy communities through sexual violence.More than five million people have died as a result of the war, andhundreds of thousands of women have been raped in eastern Congo over the past decade. While individual miners earn a pittance--no more than $5 per day--the armed groups that are perpetuating the violence generated an estimated $185 million last year by trading in four main minerals, the "3 Ts" and gold. Getting the minerals out of Congo involves smuggling, bribes, and other illegal activities.

The electronics industry's corporate social responsibility association, Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition, issued a statement last yearrecognizing that they "can influence standards throughout the supplychain and within the wider industry." However, industry efforts have yetto provide the transparency necessary to make a difference for theCongolese people. A bill to encourage better practices was introduced inthe US Senate.

Visit the website of Enough's RAISE Hope for Congo campaign to learn howactivists can endorse a pledge to encourage conflict-free cell phonesand other devices and send a message to the world's 21 largestsmall-electronics manufacturers in support of ending the use of conflictminerals.

As part of YouTube's "video for change" campaign, Enough's Congocampaign has launched a video contest known as Come Clean 4 Congo.Activists around the country are making one-minute videos about theconflict minerals issue, and celebrity judges will determine the winner.

John Prendergast co-founded Enough, the project to end genocide andcrimes against humanity, at the Center for American Progress.

Alter-reviews: Lost seasons 1 and 2, Revolutionary Road

I've been watching the first season of Lost on BluRay. The episodes were digitally remastered for the ultimate in high definition picture and sound. I never watched it the first time, but if any TV show was made for BluRay, this is it. To be honest, I think the show's writing is pretty dumb. But if you put your brain on hold, it really does hold your interest, especially in BluRay, where the sound is actually more impressive than the visual, which, in this case, is really saying something. Bonus features for the first season include: "Welcome to Oahu: The Making of the Pilot," which explores the making of the series premiere episode; "The Genesis of Lost", in which the series' creators discuss the show's conception; "Designing A Disaster," which provides insight into how the look of Lost was achieved; "Before They Were Lost," featuring cast audition tapes, and "Lost: On Location," which spotlights the show's Hawaiian shooting locations. Additional bonus features in the set include Bloopers, Deleted Scenes. For the Season Two BluRay set, whichI've not seen yet, they throw in "The Official Lost Connections," avisual guide mapping out the shocking connections between characters; "Secrets from the Hatch," which lets viewers goexplore the mysterious "Swan"; "Mysteries, Theories and Conspiracies," which reveals the truth aboutThe Virgin Mary, Hanso and Snow Globes; "Lost: On Location," an all-access pass to the show's set; TheWorld According to Sawyer" and "Fire & Water: Anatomy of an Episode," which takes viewers on thejourney from an episode's conception to completion...

Also, over the weekend, I watched the BluRay of Revolutionary Road,which is one of my favorite novels of the past fifty years. The movie isnot the novel by a long shot--you know it's not a great sign when thepress/blurb campaign features Peter Travers up top. But again, it's apretty good argument for BluRay because it is so lovingly filmed by SamMendes and so much work went into creating the periodization. I'drecommend the film, but only if you read the novel first. That way, youdon't have to watch the sad part at the end and can jump right away tothe Richard Yates documentary included in the extras. You also get theusual director's comments and deleted scenes, etc, if you're into thatkind of thing.

The mail:

Name: David Fruehling
Hometown: Denver

From: Idiot America
By: Charles Pierce

"If the country took its obligations to self-government at allseriously, the presence of Sarah Palin on a national ticket wouldhave been an insult on a par with the elevation of Caligula's horse"-- p. 266

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Name: Becky Martz
Hometown: Cambridge, MA

Dear Eric,

I've just picked up my copy of Idiot America by Charles Pierce andI am enjoying it immensely. It's full of interesting facts (readit with Wikipedia and Google on hand to find out more abouthistorical tidbits.)

So many weird things have happened in the past several years thatit's hard to keep track of all of them. This book helps make sense ofhow things have gotten so odd, and reminds me that no, it's not me--it's them.

It's also really funny. I recommend it to all Altercators.

Name: Rene Tihista
Hometown: Bend, OR

I have yet to see a prominent media figure point out the cognitivedissonance of Bill O'Reilly and the other right wing loudmouthsclaiming they never actually said, "Go kill Dr. Tiller." Sotherefore they can't in any way be implicated just for exercisingtheir First Amendment rights to call him "Tiller the Baby Killer"and other violent epithets. Bill O'Reilly claimed he was morepowerful than any politician in America. Disregarding his paranoidgrandiosity, how can he claim then, if he is so important, that hedoesn't influence potential deranged fanatics like the guy whokilled Dr. Tiller. Or how about the guy who walked into thatUnitarian Church in Tennessee to kill as many liberals as he could?O'Reilly's book, along with Hannity's, was in the guy's house.O'Reilly also claimed that his call for a boycott of France for notfollowing Bush/Cheney into Iraq would, "bring down the Frencheconomy." Now that sounds like a lot of influence. A lot of power topersuade people to boycott an entire country. O'Reilly gets paidmillions to influence behavior, i.e., to get people to watch hisdiatribes. So if he is so important and influential doesn't it standto reason that he might influence unstable right-wing fanatics toact out their anger? Seems obvious to me.

Slacker Friday

Wrap-up: We've got a new Think Again column called "Sotomayor andSCOTUS, Captured on a Carousel of Time" about the punditocracyconfirmation hearings here.And I did a post for The Daily Beast on the recent metzora-making of Joe"The Volcano" Lieberman here.

Alter-reviews:

Sal on Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm

Tribute records more times than not, end up being ill-advised failures,like the musical equivalent of a Cannonball Run movie; lots of easy tohire people phoning in uninspired performances. The worst, in myopinion, being This Bird Has Flown: The 40th Anniversary Tribute ToRubber Soul. Here were 14 mostly unrelated artists, who by the sound of their performances, seemas if they never heard a note of The Beatles, let alone Rubber Soul.No need to name names. The damage is done.

Occasionally though, a tribute record makes some sense. There have beensome winners; 1994's A Tribute To Curtis Mayfield and 2003's We're A Happy Family: A Tribute To The Ramones both come to mind. These records had artists who were clearly inspired by theguests of honor and featured some truly winning performances. Anothersuch winner is the just released Keep Your Soul: A Tribute To DougSahm.

The late Doug Sahm was a giant of all things Texan and his records bothsolo and with the seminal Sir Douglas Quintet, encompassed every genreof music from rock to country to mariachi and blues so naturally, it'sas if those sounds never existed prior to his work. On Keep Your Soul, almost every participant has a connection to Sahm, either has a co-conspirator or messenger. Los Lobos, Alejandro Escovedo, Little Willie G., Flaco Jimenez, Dave Alvin, and Marcia Ball with a reuntitledFreda & The Firedogs all turn in truly killer performances. Thehighlight for me is Charlie Sexton's version of "You're Doin It TooHard." It is 4 minutes of relentless rock and roll. Keep Your Soulplays less like a packaged tribute and more like a fully realizedmusical document of Sahm's work thanks to the love of his friends andfamily. Buy this one.

Here's Pierce:

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA.

Hey Doc:

"I'd rather eat my chili beans/At Jim's or Jack's or John's orGene's/Then take my chances eating down at Smokey Joe's Cafe."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Free Yo Mind" (The Flow Tribe) -- Onceagain, it declined to fashion a public option whereby I get paid to goto everybody's house and tell them about how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: For the life of me, I don't know why we keepscheduling these guys,if they're not going to put up more of a fight. I mean, really, ifGeorge were still alive, this would kill him. Please cooperate this weekend,Mets, and we'll see what we can do about those awful Phillies.

Part The Second: Dear John Boehner. You have been warned. Sincerely, The Metaphor Police.

Part The Third: If there's a reason why Dave Neiwert hasn't been on my TV screen in heavy rotation over the past month, I'd like to know what it is, particularly since the scrambling andass-covering on the right seems to have at its center a certain large and worthless pile of papier-maché erudition. And, in the light of the events of the past few weeks, I think it's helpful to remind us all about what the Great Compiler Of Footnotes once said when Dave called him for not seeing the fascists for the trees:

"Here's my grand theory about this guy (Neiwert). He's made hiscareer hyping the terrible threat from the Posse Comitatus, AryanNations and American Nazi Party and so like the bureaucrats in Office Space whothink TPS reports are the most important thing in the world, he can'tseem to grasp that they're pretty trivial. In other words, he came to hisunderstanding of fascism by following bands of racist white losers inthe Idaho woods while using some Marxist tract or other as a field guide toidentify the various species he encountered. In other words, he'sinternalized every cliche and propagandandistic talking point I set outto demolish in my book. Moreover, his career depends on maintaining hisversion of the fascist peril. So, he's banging his spoon on hishighchair a lot because my book undercuts his whole reason for being."

Pretty trivial, indeed.

I swear, if he were more of a tool, you could use him to spreadmulch.

Part The Fourth: I just spent a couple of days in Chicago and thecity is awash in Olympic fever; Chicago's the US finalist for the 2016Games. I would not wish the Olympics on a city full of my worst enemies but, if Chicago insists on throwing thecivic treasury into the lake, I sincerely hope that Rod Blagojevich is out ofthe slam in time to get in on the deal. F**king golden, I tell you.

Part The Last: Oh, for Gawd's sake. And the Bills still suck.

So I get up early to fly home from Chicago, and I flip on MSNBC.(Why, you ask. Shut up, I reply.) And there's Willie Geist talking abouthow "both sides" are politicizing the shooter from the Holocaust Museumand, in addition to wondering whether or not it's too late to filecharges at The Hague against whoever it was that invented Morning Joe, I also wonder quite seriously what purpose this kind of transparent nonsense issupposed to serve. The shooter was a critter of the modern Americanrightist fringe. It does nobody any good to try to construct a"centrist" narrative by which he belongs nowhere on the political spectrum. (Chris Cilizza tried this on Hardball and Chris Matthews, who seems to have the bit in his teeth over this, shut him down.) This is bipartisan fetishism taken to its lunatic extreme.

Ronald Steinberg
San Francisco, CA

Eric,

Quit complaining about how much things cost. You're giving a bad nameto other Jews unlike you who aren't cheap.

Timothy Barrett
Louisville, Ky

I am closing on a new house today. I'm told that in my area, the homemarket for houses over $400,000 is dead. It's not that people can'tget credit, it's that they already carry significant mortgages andare scared to death that after borrowing thousands more to buy thenew house, they won't be able to sell the current one.

Professionals, medical students, business owners and well-salariedworkers who want to live close to downtown in this quite lovely parkdistrict, populate my neighborhood. The houses date back to the1920's with pockets of postwar subdivision of elder estates and nolonger needed pastureland. One realtor told me that St. Matthews is"still gold". But today I see many more "for rent" signs than "forsale" signs.

Unemployment here is still under 9% and although growing, the pacehas slowed. My unemployed friends have passed the nine-month markand are fast upon the dreaded one-year anniversary. You can fudge aresume by listing jobs from year to year, i.e., worked from 2000 to2008. But a year long blank can cost you even that preliminaryphone call.

They have also dumbed down the resume as much as they can. Lastyear's resume listed all the management positions, graduate degreesand publications. This year's resume stops at the liberal artsschool and employment at Target or Morton's Steakhouse. A recentAssociation of College and Employers survey says that just 19.7% ofcollege graduates have jobs this year as compared to 26% last yearand 51% in 2007.

That's a lot of newbies to compete with for the remainingopportunities. Employers who are adding people are certainlyjustified in hiring pliable young single people with low salaryexpectations and much smaller, and less bruised, egos. Maybe, if I'mlucky, one of these kids will want to buy a house. After all,mortgage interest rates are at an all time low.

John McElroy
Pittsburgh

Dr. A,

If you are me, and live in Pittsburgh, the most livable city inAmerica, and 29th most livable in the world, (see this week's issueof The Economist) then last night you had the opportunity to seeBooker T at the annual Three Rivers Arts Festival for FREE. Granted, Elvis wasn't in town and the Clapton/Winwood tour is not stoppinghere. That being said, residing in the most livable city (home of the Super Bowl Champions and soon-to-be Stanley Cup Champions) and having the opportunity to see a towering figure such as Booker T for free, is awesome.

Keep up the great work Doc!

Calling Mr. Colbert

We've got a new Think Again column called "Sotomayor and SCOTUS,Captured on a Carousel of Time" about the punditocracy confirmationhearings here.

And I did a post for The Daily Beast on the recent metzora-making of Joe"The Volcano" Lieberman here.

Now this...

An Open Letter from "Altercation" to Stephen Colbert:

Dear Mr. Colbert,

I hope you and your staff are having a nice time yukking it up inBaghdad. I really enjoyed tiny portions of your Newsweek issue.Actually, it was all downhill from the letters page. Actually, it wasall downhill from the first letter on the letters page. After that funny one, I came acrossthis one:

Dear NEWSWEEK, I never thought this kind of thing would happen to me. Iwas at the library making last-minute edits to The Dartmouth Review whenMiss Shimock, the young librarian, walked up to my table wearing nothingbut a copy of Atlas Shrugged. She made a strong case that it was in myrational self-interest to take off my pants...Wait, I think I'mwriting this letter to the wrong magazine.

Stephen Colbert, Hanover, N.H.
Sept. 18, 1984

Hey, buddy, you know I love you, but you (and whoever wrote this letter)also know that this is a total ripoff of a letter that appeared in theHarvard Lampoon parody of Newsweek in approximately 1982, if mymarijuana-addled memory serves. Back then, in a letter entitled"Newsweek Forum," the junior at the small Midwestern university wasstudying alone in his room, when hearing a knock on the door, and whoshould appear but UN Permanent Representative Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick. Itwent something like this: "After briefly discussing totalitarian vs.authoritarian regimes and agreeing that the former were so much morehorrible than the latter, Jeanne said she'd be more comfortable sittingon my lap."

I will refrain from making the obvious aesthetic comparison, but if youwere plagiarizing yourself, twenty seven years after the fact, wellthen, buddy I salute you. If someone on your staff did it, well, I havea nephew graduating college who needs a job...

Alter-review: Booker T at Joe's Pub last night by Eric

If you were me, and lived in the Greatest City in the World, then lastnight you had a choice between getting your sorry self out to Jersey foran expensive opportunity to see Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood inJersey--even though you saw pretty much the same show at the Garden lastyear, also expensive, and recently saw Clapton with the Allman Brothersfrom like, the second row, two nights in a row at the Beacon, or ElvisCostello also at said Beacon, which is lovely, beautifully redone, andwalkable to boot, or, the dark horse third choice, take a couple ofsubways downtown to see Booker T and his band at Joe's Pub which is alsolovely and tiny and has wonderful soft couches.

I picked the latter, as you may have guessed, based on the fact thatClapton/Winwood would be a rerun, cost a fortune, and has been capturedon Blu-Ray, which is fantastic, and I've seen Elvis more times than I cancount, but I've never seen Booker T. Like Sal, I love the new albumPotato Hole, and I also loved the lengthy interview he did recently withTerry Gross, (whom I have also come to love of late).

It was a great choice. He did not have Neil Young and the DBTs as hisband, but the music was wonderful, and the dignity and bearing andeloquence of the man who founded Booker T and the MGs when he wasseventeen was downright inspiring. I loved the way he gave us thehistorical, psychological and musical backgrounds of the songs theyplayed and loved, loved, loved the lengthy version they did of "Time isTight" which kicks "Green Onions's" proverbial posterior any day of theweek. As a historian, I felt I had a more complete understanding of thedevelopment of the Memphis Stax/Volt sound and of the man who as much asanyone, was responsible for creating it. Plus it was just a lot of fun.Get the album. Trust me. Listen here.

The mail:

Name: Michael Bartley
Hometown: Fort Collins, CO

I would add Mattie Ross to Pierce's list of great child narrators.True Grit, the novel not the movie, by Charles Portis remainscriminally under-appreciated due, I suppose, to the dukification ofthe film. John Wayne's Rooster simply overwhelms every character.Give your head a couple of hard shakes to remove his big blusteryimage from you brain pan and dig into a novel that is a subtlewonder. Mattie Ross is one of the great characters of Americanliterature. This is a book that belongs in our schools alongside Tomand Huck and Scout.

Name: Jeff Stivers
Hometown: Richmond, CA

Not to step into the whole California budget/bond mess, but...

Our problem stems from the infamous Prop 13, which did two things*,one of which was to require a 2/3 legislative majority to raise (orinitiate) any tax at both the state and local levels. This waspassed in 1978.

You can just imagine how far out of sync our revenues are with ourcurrent fiscal needs by now. Thirty years of normal inflation withoutrevenue increases would be sufficient to put a serious hurt onthings. Add to that the $9 billion that went to Enron when they gamedCA (still floating around as unpaid bonds), and the current demandsfrom the "Bush boom," and that puts us $20+ billion in the hole (someclaim $40b).

Now we're held captive by Jurassic supply-siders and proto-Reaganites, who will not allow any taxes to be raised--no matter what. I imagine they're smiling inwardly as their dream of destroying government comes to pass.

(* The other thing it did was decouple property taxes from educationfinancing. This drove public education in CA from the top 20 inthe country to the bottom 20.)

Name: Bob Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI

So nice of Charlie Pierce to recognize T.R. Pearson's A Short Historyof a Small Place. I've always thought of it as an unsung masterpiece,so I'm glad someone is singing of it.

I once heard him at a reading say that Mark Twain was a majorinfluence (he complained that people "keep throwing Faulkner" athim), so I'm sure he'd be pleased that Pierce put him in the samesentence as Mr. Clemens.

Name: David K. Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Dr. A,

Just because I haven't weighed in with my right wing, neo-fascist,business owner, morally degenerate, polluter opinions recently, do notfor a minute console yourself with notion that I may not be readingevery word. I know you will lose a lot of sleep thinking about that!

I am getting nauseous with the Sotomajor thing. This able andobviously qualified person will be confirmed no matter what theloopier element of the conservative wing of the republican party--lower case intended--tries. Yes, yes there will be some obligatorygrilling at the hearings. After which she will be easily confirmed.

The only thing the looney left is getting out of this is morepunching bag time with wing nuts already thoroughly discredited.

A pleasure to be able to talk with you again.

From the Red States,
Dave Richie

P.S. to Pierce: Ray Nagin wrote a very nice thank you letter to thepeople of Birmingham for our support during the recent unpleasantness. 'Twas a little looney in the Nagin tradition but a very nice gesture from the city you and I love.

Name: Roger H. Werner
Hometown: Stockton, CA

Hi Eric,

I read your ThinkAgain column and while I agreed with virtuallyeverything you say, there is one very important point I think youignored. The right-wing windbags who pontificate with sickeningregularity don't have much of an audience beyond that 28% who stillcling to a dead GOP agenda. Whether Gingrich-Limbaugh-etc. like it ornot, I am not aware of very many people who pay the slightestattention to what these people have to say. I do understand that the "Inside the Beltway Mentality" people remain breathlessat every word the punditocracy says, but in the real world few peopleare paying any attention. Inasmuch as Sotomayor has already beenapproved by the Senate twice, she is very likely to pass muster onceagain and if she does not, those blocking her nomination are going tobe viewed with disdain since there's no justification for such anaction beyond politics and ideology. From where I sit, the citizensand voters of this country are sick to death of both. In any event, Ienjoyed your thoughts on this important matter.

Name: Ann Donahue
Hometown: Shelburne, VT

While I agree with everything Charlie Pierce says about Obama'sresponse to Dr. Tiller's murder, the author of Idiot America (terrific, by the way) should know the so-called dialogue on abortionput forward by the media and our legislative bodies has alreadycreated an equivalence between the violence perpetrated by the anti-choicers and the legal right of women to decide whether or not tohave a child. Abortion itself is regularly described by the anti-choicers as violent and murder and the media and legislators havenot been slow to promote the reasonableness of this absurd position.When legislators vote to interfere with a decision that properlybelongs to a woman and her doctor--whether by restricting late-termabortions, requiring doctors to describe graphically every detail ofthe medical procedure and show a woman pictures of aborted fetuses,or allowing pharmacists to refuse dispensing legal drugs (are vegansallowed to get jobs in delis and then refuse to make thesandwiches?)--they are promoting the argument that abortion is a formof violence and creating a moral equivalency between physicians whoperform a legal medical procedure and those who break the law toprevent it. Obama's attempt to condemn Tiller's murder in the contextof "our [profound] differences as Americans over difficult issuessuch as abortion" unfortunately furthers this meme.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric--

Charlie Pierce may be right about the child narrators he mentions,except in one instance: Twain's child was Huck and only Huck. TomSawyer never narrated anything.

Name: Richard Sattler
Hometown: Missoula, MT

I have to disagree in part with Pierce (always an intimidatingprospect). It is not merely enough to "tell one side of the debate toknock it the hell off." It is long past time to minimally chargegroups like Operation Rescue with aiding and abetting terrorist, justas we have done with a number of Muslim groups. Even better would beto directly classify them as known terrorist organizations. Dr.Tiller's assassin is quite simply a domestic terrorist andorganizations like these are at minimum giving them aid and comfort.Indeed they are directly inciting these terrorists to action, if notgiving them direct support and assistance. We can no longer pretendthat this is an "honest difference of opinion" when one sideroutinely resorts to acts of intimidation and violence.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles

Overall, I am truly amazed by the political insight and execution ofthis particular trip overseas.

1. He visits Saudia Arabia, spiritual home of Islam and meets withthe King, protector of the two most holy Islamic sites (Mecca andMedina). They meet at the King's ranch... shades of Bush bringingstate leaders to his ranch?

2. Visits Cairo, hotbed of radical Islam, home to the proverbial Islamic "street" and one of the oldest continual civilizations onearth, and gives a major speech at a university known for its secularviews, in which he asks the three major parties to peace (Muslims,Jews and Christians) to get over themselves and find common ground.The speech is met with both positive and negative reviews (asexpected), because he knew he wouldn't make everyone happy.

3. The next day he visits Buchenwald with Elie Weisel and the GermanChancellor, reminding everyone that the Jews (who don't like beingblamed for anything going on in the Middle East) are victims in allof this, too. He also confirms his statement of a day before that notonly does Israel have the right to exist, but that the Israelipoliticians, understanding and having lived through holocaust, needto bring real compassion to the table with the Palestinians, not justtheir overbearing arms superiority.

Political masterstroke, and a very Christian thing to do. Blessed bethe peacemakers for they are the sons of God.

I get the feeling watching Obama that he's at least two steps aheadof everyone else. The world is seeing the political skill of the manwho beat the Clinton machine; and Hillary is now at his side.

Brilliant.

Slacker Friday

Weekly Wrap-up:

Our new "Think Again" column, "The Surprising Success of the Right-WingRant," is here. It's an exploration of the weird success of the right'shysterical racist and sexist attacks on Sonia Sotomayor in setting theMSM's agenda for their coverage.

I also did two columns this week for The Daily Beast; one this morningabout Osama's attempts to link Obama to George W. Bush, here and one onthe success of the Christian Right in this country in preventing accessto abortion, even without murdering the doctors who perform it.My Nation column on the campaign to smear Izzy Stone is here with afollow-up in yesterday's Altercation, which is here (after the wrap-up).

Alter-review: The return of the New Riders of the Purple Sage.Last night I had the odd experience of being pretty much the youngestperson at a concert, which hasn't happened since about 1970. That'sbecause when you go a Dead concert, there are at least four generationsthere, including the Deadhead grandkids. For the New Riders, who were abluegrassy offshoot of the Dead that featured Jerry on their wonderfulfirst album, everybody who goes to see them was also seeing them in1975, a time when I was pretty young. Anyway, they were great for awhile in an extremely unpretentious, country-folkish way--you can seethem with Jerry in the newly released Rhino DVD The Last Days of theFillmore--singing songs about loveable pot-smugglers and train-robbers. I strongly recommend that first eponymous record with the beautifulcover and a greatest hits collection.

Members of the band reformed four years ago and are touring now with anew album called Where I Come From. It's not bad, and they are notbad--actually some of the guitar and pedal steel work is pretty great.Seven of the songs on the new record were co-authored with RobertHunter, who helped make the new Dylan album such a success. Anyway,they're on tour; check 'em out here.

Now here's Pierce.

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA.

Hey Doc--

"Here come a man with a paper and a pen/telling us our hard timesare about to end/And then, if they don't give us what we like/He said, 'Men,that's when you gotta go on strike.'"

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "I'm Slippin' In" (Snooks Eglin)--Thisweek, I once again forgot to hire a battalion of trained and hungrypolar bears to visit George Will at his home and, ahem, explain to him theirunique perspective on the global climate crisis and, in passing, howmuch I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: I have to admit that I never quite got theunwritten rule about not criticizing the president while he's overseas. (American politics stops at the water's edge? It does? Tell that to Grenada.)First of all, unwritten rules pretty much suck. Among other things, they'rewhy we have beanballs. Secondly, I have to imagine that this one's honoredmore in the breach than any place else. I suspect, though I cannot prove,that, when it comes to foreign policy, there's just as much covertbackstabbing, agenda-smuggling, and bureaucratic eviscerating done in DC when the president's out of town as there is when he comes back. Why not make itpublic? Particularly when the whole country can, as Sister Marie de Paulused to say, compare and contrast?

Part The Second: With geniuses like this, who needs stupid?

Part The Third: I just finished Sag Harbor,the latest from theludicrously gifted Colson Whitehead. There are now five great childnarrators in American fiction: the Tom-and-Huck entry from Mark Twain,Scout Finch, Louis Benfield from T.R. Pearson's A Short History of aSmall Place,and Ben (not Benji, dammit) Cooper from Whitehead's book, a kidwrestling with all kinds of identity questions, not the least of whichis an untoward affection for the recorded works of Hurricane Smith. Read this soon.

Part The Fourth: Maybe I missed it the first time around, but thePBS American Masters thing on Neil Young--now being pounded into pulpon your local station for the purpose of peddling tote bags--is a nicepiece of work. I forgot what a great cut "Mr. Soul" is.

Part The Fifth: Back in the 1970s, I heard a lot of guff fromanglophilic American columnists on the subject of Irish Americans whowere angered at the tactics of the British military and security apparatus inthe northern part of Ireland. It wasn't our fight. We were terroristsympathizers and so on and so forth. I recalled a lot of that palaverwhen I saw this at Max B's joint.

Not to be too critical while he's overseas or anything, but this statement simply will not do. A murderous rampage in a church is simply not theunfortunate by-product of a national debate gone badly out of control,which is what this statement fairly clearly implies that it is. Theproblem with the abortion debate in this context is not the abandoned wrath ofits rhetoric. It is that one side of the argument regularly has made use ofcriminal behavior, up to and including murder, to advance its arguments.Too often, I've heard about how the murder is not part of the"mainstream" anti-choice movement. Perhaps not. But vandalism certainly is.Harassment certainly is. Trespassing certainly is. The idea that you can employlittle crimes but distance yourselves from the big ones is transparentlydisingenuous. Once the guy with the guns decides that gluing the doorsof a clinic shut, or stalking a doctor's children, or jumping ugly withtraumatized patients, or mailing phony anthrax isn't working, what is helikely to do? Start a blog? Go back to writing impassioned letters tothe editor? Not hardly.

To be sure, the Tiller shooting has the potential to bea watershed moment, but not in the way this statement would have it be.This isn't the time for a prayer that cooler heads will prevail on "bothsides." This is time for the country and its leaders to tell one side ofthe debate to knock it the hell off. Start turning in the vandals andthugs in your midst. Acquaint yourself with your friendly local FBI agent ifsomebody shows up at your meeting with a rosary in one hand and a Glockout in the car. Surely, a president who has proposed the astonishing conceptof preventive detention for people who might one day abet and committerrorist acts can muster up a more vigorous condemnation than this of people who are actually doing it. Barack Obama should have attended George Tiller'sfuneral.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, KY

In a world of limited resources, difficult choices are made orreality makes the choice for you. A soldier is shot through thestomach on Omaha Beach. Another soldier quickly drags him screamingin pain beyond a low hill partly obscured from the automatic gunfirestill raining down on them. The medic moves back and forth along onhis hands and knees checking the soldiers and administering morphine,sutures and bandages. He grabs the wounded man and turns him to seehis back. He immediately cracks three morphine ampoules and strikeseach in the man's thigh, one after the other, and moves on. Hiscolleague grabs the crying man's leg and drags him off the hillsideto make space. The wounded man falls unconscious from the morphineand bleeds out. Later, when the fighting is done, soldiers collecthis spare dog tag and bag his body for shipment. The medic made awise choice, spared the man great pain and probably saved the life ofseveral others who had survivable injuries. This is combat triage.

Today, we practice similar triage under the cloak of fiscal policyand administrative practices, not on a battlefield but under the coolflorescent light of day. Resources are limited by money, rather thancircumstance, time and risk. Given enough money, every ill personcould be given the most effective treatment known to man, regardless of the patient's age and other factors affecting mortality. But noone would reasonably expect a health system to meet this standard. Sowe all agree that the value of human life is limited, but by whatmeasurement?

I may think that there is a better alternative for our resources thanto provide a 95-year-old with a heart transplant, to continue to house and feed a comatose woman with repeated flat line EEGs for over a decade, or to deliver a fetus in the 28th week whose tests leave no doubt that severe abnormalities will either kill the infant or render her a burden to her parents for life. You may not agree. You might say that saving every life is a noble goal and worth fighting for. Reality will choose for you. A younger person will die for lack of a heart, tens of patients will sicken for lack of nutritional consultation and basic care, and a family will bury an infant rather than a fetus while anguishing over the medical bills left to be paid.

Dr. George Tiller was murdered. He was not a murderer. He was noteven a lawbreaker. He ran an ethical medical practice within thelegal requirements of a very strict statutory standard. He was theonly domestic choice for patients facing terrible decisions. And nowhe is gone and these people have one less option. In this case,reality was a conservative "pro-life" kook with a gun and one twistedrationalization.

Anti-choice proponents like to make the argument simple, life v.death. But it's always been so much more than that. For manyanguished parents it was death v. worse than death. And yet theystill suffer from the decision they made. They deserve respectfulcompassion, not straw man criticism and self-serving simplification.

If you believe in God and that any abortion is murder, then don'thave one. Our country is a secular representative constitutionalrepublic based on democratic principals, not a theocracy. Medicalchoice, including pregnancy termination, is legal andconstitutionally protected. It's a private matter and should remainso. You don't want the state making your personal health decisionsand I don't want your God making mine

Name: Ed Tracey
Hometown: Lebanon, New Hampshire

Professor, an Australian national Jewish sports authority calledMaccabi Australia has reversed a decision to require its teams to drop their (relatively few) non-Jewish athletes by year-end.

Interestingly, this decision stemmed not from legal problems (asAustralia allows groups to discriminate to preserve a minorityculture) nor as a result of protest from the general public.

Instead, criticism largely came from within Australia's Jewishcommunity, concerned about the message it sent, that led to thereversal.

Name: Cindy Morgan
Hometown: Irvine CA

Hi. It's me again about California props 1A-F. Mr. Meranze commentedabout my response to these props and yes, some of the things he saysare correct but if he looked at the props a little closer he wouldhave seen the long term outlook which is not very good.

"Regarding spending, while the measures could make it harder toapprove spending increases in some years by restricting the access torevenues, it would not cap the total level of spending that could beauthorized in any given year if alternative revenues were approved.""The fiscal effectsof Proposition 1A are particularly difficult toassess." "Consquently, the measure's effect's may be very differentfrom one year to the next." The only way to put more money in theBudget Stabilization Fund, the Special Fund for EconomicUncertainties and Economic Recovery Bonds is to increase taxes. Howmuch do you want to bet that these "temporary" tax increases wouldhave been made permanent by 2012? The legislature will spend moremoney then they have and then they'll find another way to extend theincreases so we have to vote for them in another special election.

Sure, I don't know how they calculated what is acceptable to thelegislature but I do know that I can't afford to live here muchlonger. As long as I have lived here I don't think California has hada year where they did have a balanced budget on time with any extrarevenue. They find ways to spend every last dime and then some more.My personal taxes and the increased sales tax along with theincreased fees are killing me!!!

Okay, after reading the Lottery prop, 1C, again I see your point.They wanted to change it so the profits for the school system, whichis what the lottery was created for, not go to the school systemanymore. That was just brilliant thinking on the government's part!!

Prop 1D, children's services, temporarily redirects a significantportion of Prop 10 funds to achieve budgetary savings and makespermanent changes to state and local commission operations. In otherword,"County borrowing of First 5 Funds" which means a countycontroller can borrow local commission funds for that county'sgeneral fund, unless the transfer would interfere with localcommission activities. "The reduction in state and local First 5commission funding could result in other costs to the state and localagencies. This would occur to the extent that some children andfamilies rely on other health and human services programs instead ofthose now provided under First5." These children need all the helpthey can get and I for one am not going to take it away from them.

1E is an equivalent reduction in Prop 63 funding. "State and localgovernments could incur added costs for homeless shelters, socialservices, medical care, law enforcement and county jail and stateprison operations." This one I refuse to give up.

Why doesn't the government of California just learn to live withintheir means and stop putting these stupid props up for a vote everysix months? And don't even try to tell me it's because people areasking for more then they can afford. Every one of the bonds (which Idid not vote for) I know I pay for with my home taxes every year andwhen the people vote to pay for services to help the needy cut aprogram that doesn't. The legislature needs to stop working for thelobbies, and yes they are, start working for me again.

'Smearing Izzy Continued,' Continued…

Our new "Think Again" column, "The Surprising Success of the Right-WingRant," is here. It's an exploration of the weird success of the right's hysterical racist andsexist attacks on Sonia Sotomayor in setting the MSM's agenda for theircoverage.

I also did two columns this week for The Daily Beast; one this morningabout Osama's attempts to link Obama to George W. Bush, here and one on the success of the Christian Right in this country in preventing access to abortion, even without murdering the doctors who perform it.

Regarding my Nation column here, the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square puts me in mind of the death of I.F. Stone, which happened right around the same time. It was one of Izzy's charms that it is entirely believable that, while in a hospital in Boston where hewould finally give out, he awoke briefly from a lengthy period ofunconsciousness to ask his doctors about the fate of the youngprotesters there. (His opposition to Chinese Communist oppression wasof a piece with his brilliant exposes of the abuses of Soviet psychiatryat the end of his six days career. These do not of course "make up" forthe mistakes he made defending Stalin half a century earlier, but theydo provide context for those who would paint his politics asmonochromatic.)

This is yet another column about the attempts to smear Izzy'sreputation. I've written about him quite a lot during the pasttwenty or so years beginning with a profile in Mother Jones back inJune, 1988, which you can find here. I've also done some first-hand investigation of the nature of the charges against him, which I described hereand hereI was a close friend of Stone's during the final decade of his life and so I was pleased when Tina Brown asked me to take a look at charges on the day that theyappeared for her website, The Daily Beast. I was amazed at thedisconnect between the inflammatory language employed by the authors andthe skimpiness of their evidence. That is here.

In my Daily Beast post I also admitted that if the notes wereaccurate, they did require some adjustment of the historical record,noting that Stone must not have been proud, in retrospect of this partof his life, because he never mentioned it to me. I attributed hisreticence to my own strongly voiced anti-Communist sentiments that cameup in our discussions. Consistent with the sloppy tactics of theanti-Stone smear campaign I described in my column, the one-timehistorian-turned right-wing polemicist Ronald Radosh misread mycomment--whether for reasons of stupidity or cupidity I honestly cannotsay--and claimed both here andagain here that I had argued that Stone could not have been a spybecause he never mentioned it to me. This self-evidently phony occasionwas then repeated elsewhere in the blogosphere, including by Michael C.Moynihan on the website ofReason magazine. It is clearly an almost perfect misreading of what Iwrote but Radosh was so careless that he repeated it twice and whetherMoynihan even bothered to read what I wrote before endorsing what Radoshwrote one cannot say. (The above example of the care Radosh puts intohis work is unfortunately representative of much of what he writes. Hewas once a respected historian. But in recent decades, he has chosen toally himself with David Horowitz--whom even the Iraq hawk and Stoneaccuser Paul Berman calls "a demented lunatic"--and Pajamas Media, andbecome just another Neocon ranter in the style of not only Horowitz butalso Martin Peretz, Norman and John Podhoretz and their acolytes on theblogs of The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Commentary and National Review.)

As I note in the column, the only intellectually responsible reaction tothe The Vassiliev Notebooks is one of modesty. The Cold WarInternational History Project has done us the favor of posting them here and to get a fix on just who this fellow is, I urge you to read Don Guttenplan's review of the book here. (Todd Gitlin's review is here and Myra McPherson's is here). And so it was odd that both the Wilson Center and the CWIP agreed to provide a forum for the series of wild allegationsleveled by their authors. Radosh was actually invited to chair a panel.And panelist Max Holland speculated that Stone had received KGB fundingboth for the publication of I.F. Stone's Weekly and his book on theKorean War, again with absolutely nothing in the way of evidence. Otherpanels, including one on the Hiss-Chambers controversy and one thatdealt with Robert Oppenheimer were similarly stacked. (Martin Sherwin,who co-authored a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on Oppenheimer withKai Bird, was not invited to be a panelist even though he lives rightthere in Washington.)

The controversy among historians will continue in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Cold War Studies, edited by Mark Kramer at Harvard University, but as it will apparently contain not only yet another attack by JohnEarl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, but Holland's baseless speculation, andan essay by Eduard Mark, who made some egregious statements during hispanel about historians who happen to disagree with him on the Hiss case.One can therefore hardly be optimistic about the degree to which thescholarship on these issues will actually be advanced, particularly inlight of these authors desire to place their own personal and politicalagendas above and beyond where any careful historian would go based onthe available evidence.

And so this sad saga continues....

Alter-reviews: Sal on new cds by Dave Matthews and Elvis Costello.

About halfway through the new Dave Matthews Band record, Big Whiskey &The Groo Grux King, I realized just what it is that I don't like aboutthis band. Every song is a slice of pizza with everything on it; anexercise in showoffiness that rarely relents. It leaves you with amouthful of mess, with no opportunity to savor the core of it all. Ifit is to be argued by the throngs of DMB fans across the globe thatMatthews himself is a songwriter worthy of your time, at no time doesthe band allow you to wrap your head around his lyrics or melodies. It'skitchen sink production at its worst. And this is something I've beenhearing in their music for years.

Now before all of you DMB fans start violently pelting me withhacky-sacks, let me say that I do indeed recognize many good songs onthis new release. Unfortunately, the band is a distraction on almostevery song, with drummer Carter Beauford being the worst offender. Hejust never stops playing. Even the greatest drummers in the world, BuddyRich & Art Blakey through Keith Moon and John Bonham, all stopped atsome point to just groove while the rest of the band played behind theleader.

On "Groo Grux," songs like the upbeat "Funny The Way It Is," and theSting meets Coldplay ballad "Lying In The Hands Of God," both have somuch going on at all times, they resemble a dysfunctional family allshouting at the same time over Thanksgiving dinner. In the drummerBeauford's case, there is this constant beating that at best sounds likea drum machine gone awry, and at it worst sounds like someone throwing arefrigerator down a flight of stairs. It is too much and it isdistracting and annoying when someone is trying to sing, especially aballad. Beauford's a fine player, but even the notoriously loud TonyWilliams waited for Miles Davis to finish before he soloed.

My favorite tune on the record is the incredibly infectious "Why I Am,"with its killer riff and great sing-along chorus. But the DMB changestempo and time signatures so many times, and to my ears, pointlessly,you are out of breath for all the wrong reasons. "Squirm" suffers aswell. Drums, too many drums, then horns, then strings. Louder andlouder. Seriously, this band makes Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound soundlike folk music. It is an unnecessary assault on your senses. It is notuntil "Time Bomb," which does indeed explode in its second half, thatthe band just flat out rides with some simple four on the floor rock androll. Too bad it's a weak track overall.

I maintain, there are some great songs on Big Whiskey & The Groo GruxKing, and the boys in the band have some excellent chops. But everyonce in a while, a slice of pizza with nothing on it is the betterchoice. I'd love to hear "Groo Grux Light." I bet it'd be a betteralbum. Then again, Dave himself okayed it all. Ironically, the onerecord I liked from the get-go was "Stand Up," widely thought of as adisappointment by DMB fans.

On a Much Lighter Note

Another record and another direction from the always surprising andrarely disappointing Elvis Costello. Recorded in just 3 days withproducer-extraordinaire T-Bone Burnett at the helm, and some Nashvilleheavyweights such as Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, and Dennis Crouch onvarious stringed instruments and vocals, Secret, Profane & Sugar Caneis Bluegrass Noir. Similar in feel, but not necessarily style as thebrilliant King Of America album from 1986, Costello proves yet again,there is no genre too daunting, and no song he is incapable of writing.He revisits two songs that appeared elsewhere, "Complicated Shadows,"which appeared in a much more raucous state on "All This UselessBeauty," and "Hidden Shame" which was written for and recorded by JohnnyCash on his 1987 release Johnny Cash Is Coming To Town. Most of therest are new to record, but not to Costello fans who have been hearingthem live for years. There is a definite, Nashville round table,campfire feel here that makes this collection all the more special.Really a fantastic record.

Sal Nunziato
www.burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com

The mail:

Name: Michael Meranze
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Dear Eric,

I wanted to write to correct one of the letters in your latest"altercation blog." Proposition 1A was not a permanent tax increase,instead it was a temporary tax extension of taxes passed this year(making the taxes go on from 2-4 years) and proposition 1C was not atax on lottery earnings but a way to borrow money based on thestate's presumed lottery profits. Many people voted against thesepropositions precisely because they would not have helped much withthe present budget crisis (with the exception of 1C although thatwould have increased borrowing down the road). And 1A had thepotential to lock in government spending at a level that would simplybe insufficient for the future. , 1D and 1E would have shifted moneyfrom those who need it to to others who need it but would not havegenerated any new revenue) Given that the press out here has donelittle to combat all of the myths about government spending andtaxation it is not surprising that people are confused.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, Ky

Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing will most certainly spotlightthe ignorance of the esteemed panel of elected officials who willset about questioning her. We can all agree that our educationsystem has failed so many, but to have the media constantlycelebrate its own ignorance by smugly elevating childish snarkinessabove actual knowledge ought to enrage its listeners, if they onlyknew enough to see it. But the people of the US deserve to be muchbetter informed.

Yes, I am touting the benefits of education in a patronizing elitistfashion. But, because I actually study constitutional law and carehow the sausage is made, I can't help myself when I am forced toendure media blather like "activist judges", "policy making courts"and "courts that legislate from the bench". None of these idiotpundits could tell you the difference between the common law andstatute, between judicial precedent and dictum, between law andequity, or between de novo and appellate hearings.

They don't understand that prior to the explosion of Congressionalpower, brought about by the Supreme Court's rulings that greatlybroadened the scope of the Commerce Clause and the Necessary andProper Clause, Congress passed few laws affecting an individualstate's authority over its citizens. How Congress all but wiped outthe judge-made law, developed and administered by US state courtssince the early settlements and taken from English common law. Theycan't explain the nuances of how that tension continues today withstate laws on marriage and federal laws like the Defense ofMarriage Act.

Pundits can't take the time to tell you how the Supreme Court battledin the early years to become the final arbiter of constitutional law,a position not actually envisioned by the drafters of theConstitution or entirely agreeable to members of the early Congressor Executive.

Over the years everything changed from the beginnings of the SupremeCourt. The six member court was first in New York City. The justiceseach traveled a circuit hearing local appeals. Each justice wouldwrite his own opinion in every case. Then the Marshall Court's earlymajority opinions soon established the independent power of theCourt. The Taney Court further limited the power of Congress tocontrol the Court's reach and scope. The White and Taft Courts began the process of applying the Bill of Rights to state action. These decisions weren't made in 1776 they stretched across 130 years! The Warren Court fashioned most the individual rights we all talk about today when we discuss civil liberties, including the right to privacy that is the benchmark for protections for parental, reproductive and sexual autonomy.

All of these Supreme Courts wrote opinions that altered theconstitutional interpretations of the time. They were activistcourts. They reviewed the policies set by the federal Appeals Courts.They legislated from the bench. These are all things we want thecourts to do so that our Constitution, laws and regulations remainrelevant to the present and the ever-changing future. It's a shamethat any newly minted naturalized citizen knows more general civicsthan the typical media pundit or, more sadly, college graduate.General ignorance is the reason Americans are so easily distractedfrom what really matters and why they so often vote and act againsttheir own self-interest.

Blues for New Orleans

We've got a new Think Again column called "Cheney's Post Presidency" here and I did a "Welcome to Washington" post for Mr. Abbas for The Daily Beast thismorning here.

(And while we have your attention, don't miss the great Charles Pierceon the great Steve Earle singing the music of the great Townes van Zandt here.Pierce and the rest of the mail will be here tomorrow and don't miss thedocumentary Bill Moyers is showing this weekend, listed below. And if Iwere you, I'd also catch the PBS showing of the Clapton/Winwood concertat the Garden tonight, unless you're planning to buy it, as I did.)

In the meantime...

This Week on Moyers:

Award-winning producer Sherry Jones presents a comprehensive documentary--more than eighteen months in the making--that examines America's detentionand interrogation practices in the "war on terror." Bill Moyers Journalpresents "Torturing Democracy," which examines how coerciveinterrogation methods were used by the CIA and migrated to the UnitedStates military at Guantanamo Bay and other locations as well as thecharges that these interrogations became "at a minimum, cruel andinhuman treatment and, at worst, torture," in the words of the former-General Counsel of the United States Navy, Alberto Mora. It carefullypresents the evidence that the Bush administration promoted thesemethods and developed legal justification for the practice. The filmfeatures in-depth interviews with senior military and governmentofficials who fought the policy and former Guantanamo detainees whoexperienced it, and uncovers the origins of the tactics the White Housecalled "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Sal on Allan Toussaint and Marcus Roberts; Eric on new RVG releases

When I first heard of a new Allen Toussaint/Joe Henry collaboration ofstandards I had mixed feelings. Henry is currently my favorite producerand Toussaint is well... a rock and roll icon. What bothered me was theword "standards." I just don't want to hear them "revisited" anymore. Ican thank Rod Stewart, Cyndi Lauper, and countless others for that. But"The Bright Mississippi" the fruit of Toussaint and Henry's laborcouldn't be more perfect. It is not your standard collection ofstandards. With the help of some of the greatest names in jazz, DonByron, Nicholas Payton, and Marc Ribot, Allen Toussaint delivers acollection of songs that more or less shaped jazz music in the earlydays of the genre.

Composers like King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, DjangoReinhardt and Duke Ellington all get representation on sweet, soulful,and absolutely joyous takes of some of their most beloved material. Mostof the arrangements don't stray far from traditional, but thanks to JoeHenry's brilliant ear and respect for the music and the same simple anddry production that he presented on soon-to-be legendary records likeSolomon Burke's "Don't Give Up On Me" and Bettye Lavette's "I've Got MyOwn Hell To Raise," there is new life in oft-played songs like "St. JamesInfirmary," "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," and "West End Blues."

I caught last Friday's early set at the Village Vanguard, with basicallythe same stellar band as the record, including the wonderful rhythmsection of David Piltch on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums. But thehighlight of the evening was Nicholas Payton's absence. Nothing againstthe marvelous trumpet player, but to see Christian Scott, the NewOrleans prodigy and nephew of Donald Harrison Jr. who was there in hisplace, wow not only the sold out crowd, but the veterans sharing thestage, was something extraordinary.

The band covered most of "The Bright Mississippi," extending the songsjust enough to give the band some room. My favorite moments came wheneach of the main players were given their chance to shine on duets withToussaint; Christian on "Dear Old Southland," Don Byron on "Day Dream,"and my single favorite song of the evening, Marc Ribot's gorgeousacoustic take on "Solitude."

You can listen to the entire performance from Wednesday, 5/27, in theNPR.org archives. I highly recommend it AND the CD, The BrightMississippi.

Another record with a similar idea and approach is the (not so) newrelease from the Marcus Roberts Trio, New Orleans Meets Harlem. Onthis record, recorded in 2004 and sold as a limited edition at Roberts'live shows, but only now released somewhat commercially--I cant find iton Amazon--Roberts and his killer rhythm section of New Orleans' greatsRoland Guerin on bass and the otherworldly Jason Marsalis on drums,reach back to that same jazz-shaping era of the 1920's, and deliver aScott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, & Fats Waller repertoire, with a littlebit of Monk for good measure.

The playing is wonderful, and with the New Orleans rhythm section behindhim, Roberts' handling of such familiar melodies gets an additionalbounce that only makes what could have been another "tribute" recordsimply good, instead of great.

www.burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com

Eric adds: This week also saw the release of three more classic cds fromConcord's Rudy Van Gelder's Remasters series : There are earlyrecordings from Miles and Coltrane from their Prestige Days--Miles wenton to Columbia and Coltrane, to Atlantic and Impulse!--entitled Miles:The New Miles Davis Quintet and Coltrane respectively, which havebeen around for a while on box sets but are now nice and clean for asingle CD release and one that's new to me, Eric Dolphy at the Five SpotVol. 2, from July 1961. A wonderful document and a great friend to havearound, with some terrific Mal Waldron piano. Look 'em up.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, KY

Paul Waldman describes at the American Prospect website this weekexactly what galvanized the conservative opposition to PresidentClinton's healthcare reform plan back in 1993. It's a familiarperspective that reiterates that the drumming the Clinton plan tookwas a purely political hit job. Essentially, William Kristol, setabout marshaling conservatives to not simply oppose the Clinton planon a policy basis but solely because its success would mean afundamental political defeat that would echo across the electionfrontier for years to come. Waldman quotes a Kristol memo, "[thisplan] will revive the reputation of the party that spends andregulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-classinterests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blowagainst Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraininggovernment. The first step in that process must be the unqualifiedpolitical defeat of the Clinton health-care proposal."

Waldman goes on to describe how this same political hit job is beingimplemented against the Obama plan by the likes of Frank Luntz. Onceagain, Waldman, as a political correspondent, advises the Obamaadministration to drop the rope-a-dope and come out swinging, "Theoutcome of the health care reform battle will turn on whether theadministration is prepared to overcome the opponents of reform – notreach out to them, not listen to them, not understand them, notcompromise with them, but overcome them."

It is clear that the conservatives have gambled their fortunes on therancorous exploits of the likes of Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich andRush Limbaugh. The media are happy to pit the opinions of three ofthe most dishonorable pundits working today against the likes ofsitting Congresspersons and even the current President, as if thereis no difference between them. Perhaps this is the most appallingpart of it all. Forget that the Republican Party is only driven byits lust for power with no shame that it hasn't a clue what good it would do with it. And forget that its revulsion at all things Liberalhas become an unhinged catalyst for unwarranted and inexplicableattacks, both figuratively, and unfortunately now, literally by a nutjob protecting his perceived right to his guns by killing people withthem. Perhaps the worst part of it all is that the media willfully celebrates this mania as directed by its unscrupulous owners and forits own self-promotion.

In any case, it is clear, Obama is on notice that we elected himbecause we want real healthcare reform (read: national single payeroption) and anything less is not a compromise, it's a capitulationand a failure. Don't tell me that getting the votes is like herdingcats. Obama's overarching campaign promise was to be nothing lessthan the chief cat whisperer. And we gave him majorities, to boot.

Name: Edward Furey
Hometown: New York, NY

I'm afraid you gave too much credence to Andrew Roberts' absurdcolumn in the Daily Beast, in which he actually admits there is noevidence for his charges beyond a sort of Eric Idle-esque "wink,wink, nudge, nudge, need I say more" from anonymous sources.

In fact, the Double Cross System was used to turn captured spies, notPOWs. In wartime, spies are not covered by the Geneva Conventions orany others. It is the common usage of war to simply kill spies. Thisis accepted practice of all nations. George Washington, who refusedto abuse British POWs, nevertheless had Major Andre executed as a spyin the Benedict Arnold business (he was caught out of uniform). Ofthe eight Germans landed at Amagansett, NY and Florida from U-Boats,six were executed -- the others were spared by agreeing to turninformant. There is no record that any were tortured.

The Germans did not expect to hear any further from their POWs;spies, on the other hand, were expected to report, usually by radio.The British found it useful to turn them in case their handlersacross the Channel recognized their Morse code "hand." As Bogart saysin Casablanca: that made it even more official. And credible.

When the spies were captured by the British they were given twochoices: "Work for us or die." They were told they would be tried insecret, convicted in secret and executed in secret. No more"persuasion" was required. Every spy knows the penalty, if caught, isdeath. Most agreed to turn their cloaks. Especially by 1943, when itwas increasingly clear that Germany was losing the war, what withthe rout in North Africa, the Allies in Italy, the defeat at Kurskand subsequent Soviet advances, and the round the clock bombing. By1944, the former spies were singing like canaries, with tales ofPatton's non-existent First Army massing in Kent, in preparation tocross to Calais.

Roberts has been described as George Bush's favorite historian,continues to defend him as a great president, and seems to have drunkthe right wing Kool-Aid with respect to torture. However, includingimputing it to Winston Churchill without producing any actualevidence is more than a bit much. As Carl Sagan liked to say,extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Roberts offersno evidence at all.

Name: Greg Panfile
Hometown: Tuckahoe, NY

Musical merits aside, and conceding Charles' point that bigotry canpoint at anything, isn't it going to be time, when the scandalouschild abuse report on Ireland surfaces, to re-evaluate what SineadO'Connor did? Haven't we seen enough evidence that women and youngboys as classes have a fairly legitimate beef, so to speak, withthe Church hierarchy? There is a North African saying about sex:Women for children, boys for pleasure, melons for ecstasy. Perhapsalong with the red cap we can issue new bishops a case ofcantaloupe. And those Dylan fans who booed her off the stage at thetribute concert should be added to "American Pie" as another case ofwhen the music died.

Eric: One is distressed by all references to 'Bibi' Netanyahu. Can wenot all insist that grown men who assume positions of graveresponsibility adopt adult names? It should not be permitted, forexample, to head a country with nuclear weapons and be called Bibi,nor to be the Chief of Staff of a torture-promoting Vice Presidentand be called Scooter. The mind boggles to imagine if this paradigmhad more historical roots... 'Chancellor Butch Hitler... First LadyMuffy Roosevelt...' At such people's swearing-in ceremonies, theyshould be required to find some sort of mature appellation toassociate themselves with. Should they refuse, in tribute to thecomic genius of the late William Frawley, they should all be called,by common consent, Fred, or Bub.

Name: Steve McGaughey
Hometown: Champaign, IL

Thanks so much for including the OU-Texas game as a possible site forthe gun-toters to bring their toys. I was planning on going this yearbut now that you've given them the idea... no doubt unanimous votesfrom both state legislatures will be forthcoming. Seriously, I alwaysenjoy your writings, especially (being a former journalist) yourtakes on the slow death of the newspaper industry.

Name: Cindy Morgan
Hometown: Irvine, CA

I know everyone has an opinion about California and why we areshooting ourselves in the foot. Since I am a Californian I would liketo explain to everyone why the props that were voted on this weekwere so wrong.

Number one they were permanant tax increases to give the state moneyto play with (Prop 1A). Prop 1B was to give the money back to theschools that never should have been taken in the first place. If Isee one more prop about schools I'll scream!! Every single electionhas a prop about school services, smaller classes, more new books,and every time there is a budget crisis that is the first place thegovernment goes to cut programs and borrow money. Prop 1C was a wayto tax Lotto winnings in the future. I don't care about this onesince I know I won't win the lottery. 1D was a way to take moneyfrom women and children's services to balance the budget but doesn'tsay how it will be repaid or if it even will be. 1E was to take awayservices from mentally ill people that need more help then anyone.1F was to freeze elected officials salary, which was the only onethat passed.

So before anyone talks about how we are wrong to not approve thiskeep in mind these are really bad propositions to bail out agovernment that doesn't know how to govern itself. And yes, everyelection I will not vote for any incumbents because they are so badat this they don't deserve my vote. Somehow they keep getting back in.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC

Dr. As far as history of the 50's books go, check out New York in the Fifties by Dan Wakefield.

Many have the impression that the 50's was just a Happy Days rerun inblack and white consisting of somnambulant masses liking Ike whiledriving tail-fined monsters out of Detroit. Wakefield focuses thecultural upheaval of the era within the city namely The Bohemians,New Journalism as well as the New York jazz scene by interviewingsubjects as diverse as a pre-Negro Problem Norman Podhoretz to the beat poet Alan Ginsberg for their takes on the decade.

Slacker Thursday

Our new Think Again column is here. It's called "Blogosphere to MSM: Get off the Bus (and Walk a Mile in OurShoes...)" It's about the degree to which the Maureen Dowd flap inspireda look at how much the MSM is learning from the blogosphere, rather thanvice-versa. This week's Nation column is called "Do "Better" with Less"here and it's about some unhappy trends in journalism. Earlier this week, I did a "welcome"piece on Bibi Netanyahu's visit to the Oval Office for The DailyBeast here and then I published a review of an excellentnew book about AIPAC for the Forward which is here.

This week on Moyers:
Reforming healthcare. Washington's abuzz about healthcare, but whyisn't a single-payer plan an option on the table? Bill Moyers speakswith advocate Donna Smith about how our broken system is hurtingAmericans, and then with Public Citizen's Dr. Sidney Wolfe andPhysicians for a National Health Program's Dr. David Himmelstein aboutthe political and logistical feasibility of health care reform.

Alter-reviews by Sal:

Sinead O'Connor's career has been uneven to say the least. After theone-two punch of her debut "The Lion & The Cobra" and the monsterfollow-up, "I Do Not Want What I Do Not Have", Miss O'Connor seemed tohave hit the rum candy a bit too often. Reggae records, Celtic records,religious controversies, a very loose tribute to Peggy Lee, some randomPope abuse, "Do I like men or women?", O'Connor's meltdown was subtle,but she has survived, albeit retired from music. (Some would say thatretirement took place right after the second record.)

Speaking of the second record, a new remastered and expanded version hasjust been released, and while some of the music hasn't aged well, theremastering is excellent and the material, at times, is quite strong. "I Do Not Want What I Do Not Have", of course, boasts the hit,Prince-penned single "Nothing Compares 2 U," but also has such greattracks as "Three Babies", "Black Boys On Mopeds", and the super-catchysecond single "The Emperor's New Clothes". The bonus disc collects justabout everything Sinead recorded right around the release of the record.While it's great, if you're a fan, to have all this material in oneplace, Disc 2 doesn't offer a very smooth listen, as say, some of thoseexcellent Sony/Legacy reissues that offer a full live show. Unreleasedmaterial like covers of Gregory Isaacs' "Night Nurse" and John Lennon's"Mind Games" are fine, but not when a 5 minute version of "Silent Night"is smack dab in the middle. Still...a nice package.

Sal "Wants What He Doesn't Have" Nunziato
Burning Wood

Slacker Thursday:

Charles Pierce
Newtown, MA

Hey Doc:

"For the sea refuses no river/ Remember that when the beggar buys around."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "The Creator Has A Master Plan" (PharaohSanders)--Once again this week, I failed to hijack the script of 24 inorder to have Jack hold a gun on the bad guys until they admit how muchI love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: I got seriously hooked on this show. I admire the kids. I admire the program. But--and I ask this of any actual poets we may have in theAlter-hizzle--isn't writing and reading poetry supposed to look morelike, well, fun than this? I mean, good lord, even Yeats goofed aroundsome. And that's not even to mention the great Jem Casey, Poet Of the Pick. This seemed all about ripping out your spleen and hurling it in bloody chunks across the stage--closer to method acting lessons than writing. I'm very curious as to why I might be wrong here.

Part The Second: Young Ron Reagan seems a bit perturbed. Yoicks.

Part The Third: Is Harry Reid just going to stand there until someone on the congressional custodial staff comes by to dust him? My favorite wingnut argument in defense of the Bust A Cap In Yogi's Dome Act of 2009 is that, now, gun owners have the same rights inside a national park as they do outside a national park. Wunderbar. Tell you what, let's now make sure they have the same rights inside the Capitol--or the Statue Of Liberty, or the Oklahoma-Texas game--as they do outside.

Part The Fourth: I find myself generally in agreementwith this, and genuinely sorry that John Edwards--who, as we have seen, is far less of a mensch than he portrayed himself to be--got so a'skeered of an open sewer like Bill Donahue that the two bloggers had to leave the campaign. But is the author seriously arguing here...

"Of course, the concern in the case of the faux scandal involvingmyself and Melissa was that Edwards would get tagged as tolerant ofCatholic bigots, which is a ridiculous suggestion, because it startswith the idea that there is such a thing as someone who is "bigoted" againstCatholics like you would be against a non-mainstream group, as opposedto merely critical of church dogma."...that, prima facie, there can be no such thing as anti-Catholic bigotry? If so, I would like to introduce her to thePaisleys of Ballymena, one of whom has always been welcome at American institutions regularly frequented by prominent American elected officials. I accept for the record that Ms. Marcotte is not a religious bigot but, rather, a person badly used byreligious extremists. But to call "ridiculous" the notion that one canbe bigoted against a specific religion--apparently just because thereligion in question is a big one--leads me to believe that she really needs toget out more.

Part The Last: Jeebus Christmas, Jack Shafer's settingthe bar low these days. Not forplagiarism per se--this is not a hanging offense, and MoDo should send JoshMarshall a bottle of the good stuff for his birthday in gratitude for his havingpointed that out--but for "plausible--if a tad incomplete" bullshitalibis. A friend ate my homework? Please.

Back when I was a young reporter for an alternative weekly, Massachusetts passed a referendum by which property taxes in a specific municipality could not exceed 2.5 percent of the assessed value of the property therein. Prop 2 1/2, as it was called, and is still called today, was the east coast franchisee of the California "tax revolt" that began there with Proposition 13 in 1978. The basic attitude behind Prop 2 1/2 was summed up best for me by one of its authors who, when asked what would happen when the law forced local libraries to close, replied that it didn't matter because paperback books never had been cheaper. Well, we're nuts here but not that nuts. We stopped with this little bit of initiative distemper. California, it seems, has rendered itself utterlyungovernable by taking every ounce of the philosophy behind the campaign forProposition 13--government by initiative, anti-tax phobia etc. etc.--and turningit into the very structure of government itself. It threw out Gray Davisand installed a comical buffoon in his place who seems to be unstrung by theactual job of being a governor. And, now, the voters of California havegathered themselves together again and produced something best describedby an observer of Andrew Johnson's impeachment--"a towering act ofabandoned wrath." I thought about the libraries when this happened this week andcame to the realization that the basic philosophy behind this is that thereis simply no such thing as a political commonwealth, that we, as a people,own nothing in common, nothing for which we have to be responsible to ourfellow citizens, rich or poor, but especially the latter. This is whatlibraries were--common spaces, where people could gather and read--andsurf the 'net, too--and places that we could be confident belonged tous all. They were examples of a lost idea in American life. California hasdetermined, in a hundred different ways, that it will be ruled by theessential political dynamic of the drivetime talk-radio program. This isin no way a good thing.

Name: Jim Celer
Hometown: Omaha

Is the issue the morality of torture, or is the issue who knew theUS was using torture? This should help, on MSNBC.com this morning,from Dan Balz of the Washington Post:

"But in attempting to defend herself, Pelosi took the remarkable stepof trying to shift the focus of blame to the CIA and the Bushadministration . . ."

Shifting blame for Bush administration policy executed by the CIA tothe Bush administration and the CIA is a "remarkable step". The GOP--and evidently, some of the MSM -- hope that Pelosi becomes theissue. But we showed in November that we won't fall for theirdiversions any more. Didn't we?

Name: Barbara Swalm
Hometown: Portland, ME

Just One question. Where were the Republicans when it became apparentthat Bush had been Misled by the intelligence community re Iraq andnukes and 9/11? They were tsk tsking about what else could Bush do--since they were confirming the beliefs? But Nancy Pelosi couldn'tpossibly have been misled by the CIA, that's just stupid? Hmmmmm. Idon't care what Nancy knew, it wouldn't have made a bit ofdifference, but why doesn't the press ask the republicans why theyweren't so uppity about Bush?

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Love ya, Charlie Pierce, but you're wrong, way wrong on Obama.Here's the deal: he doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate. And evenwhen Al Franken is seated, he won't be guaranteed 60 votes in theSenate. Not just because Darlin' Arlen will be spinning like aweathervane to keep Pennsylvania Democrats happy, but because everysenator is, believe it or not, an individual with individual views.I have tried several times to use a Spockian mind-meld to make themall vote together, but it doesn't work (although I'll add as a LasVegan that proof of how good Harry Reid is as majority leader is howoften they do all stick together, and how surprised so many are whenthey don't).

So, that forces Obama to pay attention to Republicans, even when theyare as undeserving as Lindsey Graham (or insert 39 other names) is ofthe respect of anyone in the civilized world.

But since the Lincoln comparisons were so big for so long, I'lltell you as someone who's studied the even taller guy from Illinoisthat Obama is almost exactly like him, maneuvering between what wewould describe today as the liberals and conservatives, seekingconsensus, and even moving on his own toward a consensus on oneside or the other.

Name: Don Solomon
Hometown: Boston, MA

"I think the source of the president's timorousness lies in the factthat, for all his new-politics bombast, he's pretty much decided thathe's a critter of the respectable Beltway center. We should have seenthat coming..."

We did see it coming. We saw all those things, the FISA voteperhapsbeing the worst of the bunch. And we held our noses because we alsothought we saw (a) an FDR-like figure who would say "Make me do theright thing"--as Obama has done--and (b) a Kennedy-like figurewho, despite caving to the Right on national security issues, wouldinspire so many good people to get into government that we might atleast inject some honor into the bureaucracy.

I think we were right and that Obama still can be moved by publicopinion from the left. It's worth noting that when Lyndon Johnsonstuffed civil rights down the throat of the South, he also killedoff the Democratic coalition for 40 years. When we win, we make thesame mistakes the Gingrich crowd makes when they win. Obama seemsto be trying a different approach. On policy issues, let's see ifhe makes it.

On justice issues like torture, he has to be reversed -- perhaps bythe courts, every president's convenient scapegoat, or perhaps by hisown US Attorneys, who as far as I know don't need his permission toindict war criminals.

Slacker Friday

Our new "Think Again" column is called "Sex and the Single Justice" andit can be found here.

(It also contains an update on George Will's environmental reporting...)

1959: It was a very good year.

I came this close this year to writing a book about 1959, which is funnybecause Fred Kaplan actually did, even though we never talked about ituntil my publisher decided that I wouldn't be. I planned a chapter onBuddy Holly, one on Goodbye Columbus; one on "The Tragedy of AmericanDiplomacy," one on Twilight Zone; one on Kind of Blue and one on "Shape of Jazz to Come." I forget what else, though I remember the politics(Cuba, Vietnam, the Commies in Disneyland, etc).

Anyway, it turns out itwas an even better year than I knew, jazz-wise, and Columbia Legacy istaking advantage of that coincidence by following up its massive Kindof Blue with Legacy Editions of Dave Brubeck's Time Out, Miles Davis'Sketches Of Spain and Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um. They'll be out in a couple of weeks and feature two CDs and a DVD for the Brubeck, includinga new 30-minute documentary on the making of Time Out, and an entiresecond disc of previously unreleased live recordings from the NewportJazz Festival from 1961-'64. Sketches Of Spain was recorded in '59but not released until 1960, has a second CD of alternate takes whichyou have already if you have Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The CompleteColumbia Studio Recordings, but not, if you don't. There's also the onlyever live performance by Davis with Evans, "Concierto De Aranjuez"performed at Carnegie Hall on May 19, 1961. And the Mingus releasegives you two seminal albums on the same not just Mingus Ah Um but alsoits Mingus Dynasty, and four bonus tracks/alternate takes.

Booker T. Jones-Potato Hole

It's been a long time since we've heard a Booker T. record; fifteenyears since the last MGs record and over 30 since his last solo release.But 2009 sees the Memphis legend back in action with Potato Hole.Jones, along with southern country grungers, the Drive-By Truckers and aguitarist from up north, Mr. Neil Young, has taken his signature organsound and the grooves that he no doubt invented, and created a brilliantcollection of real Memphis grease. (Booker T. & MGs toured with Neil inthe early 90s, so this collaboration is not that weird.)

From the opening Stones-inspired power chords of "Pound It Out," Jonessets the table for a twelve-course meal that is all meat and no filler.There are some choice covers alongside Jones' originals including theslinky strut of Tom Waits' "Get Behind The Mule," and a fun take onOutkast's "Hey Ya!". But the centerpiece of "Potato Hole" is the titletrack, a funk workout with a pocket so deep, you'll need help climbingout. Buy this record now and throw a party! It's THAT good!

A Slightly Gushing Sal
Burning Wood

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"Now Christ had twelve apostles/and three he laid away./ He said 'Watchfor me one hour, while I go yonder and pray.'/ And tell me who's thatwritin'?/John the Revelator."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "How Blue Can You Get?" (Jeff HealeyBand)--Once again this week, I failed to hack into the Interpoldatabase and send out a worldwide alert on the subject of how much Ilove New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: To break the tie, I am inclined toward the Landlord'sposition. This is the loosest and most engaging work by The Master inyears. (I even forgive him the alliance with Robert Hunter, and theimplied connection with the most overrated--non-Jim-Morrison-employing--band in the history of the known universe.) One of the tremendouslyoverlooked facets of The Master's genius is how damn funny he is. Thatis what puts "Went To See The Gypsy" from New Morning--Tell it, Sal!--on all my top ten lists of his individual songs. ("He did it in LasVegas and he can do it here!" cracks me up every time.) And, on the newone, "My Wife's Home Town" checks in as his best little picaresque inabout four albums. He's doing it in Milawaukee and he can do it here.

Part The Second: The only rational explanation for this is that everything is a talk show now. All that matters is phony outrage, the more the merrier,and the more people complain about giving a contract to thisbloodthirsty apparatchik, the more firmly convinced will be the peoplewho hired him that they have succeeded.

Part The Third: Yes, the new one is more fun than playing stickball with a Regulan bloodworm. Be advised,though. Apparently, there's going to be a helluva lot going on in Iowacome the 24th Century. We're going to have to determine whether Vulcanscan vote in the caucuses, I think.

Part The Fourth: The Further Adventures Of Waldo The Drunk SecurityGuard, Part XXIX: The management team at Salon scoured the offices,looking for the hiding places in which Waldo secreted his nightly supplyof Sterno, but Waldo was too smart for them. He hung it outside thewindow by a rope, like Ray Milland did in The Lost Weekend. After theyall went home, he hauled it up and, sitting down on a sofa, he hadd ahigh old time. Alas, he passed out and crazy people from the alleyslipped in through the heating ducts again. Why, it was just last March when the crazy woman from the alley was sticking up for a giant of thetalk-radio genre against the attacks of the president and his fellowfrat-boys. Now, though, she's shocked, shocked that the genre itself is a festival for fruitcakes. Butnot so deeply that she couldn't dig real deep and come up with a shinynugget-like nutball. "The degree to which Obama is or is not a stealth socialist remains to be seen." Yes, and the degree to which I am or am not the answer to Maggie Gyllenhaal's prayers remains to be seen.

Part The Fifth: Gaze in awe at the single dumbest thing ever said by a sitting United States Senator. (Please recall this clown's lofty rhetoric duringthe Great Fellatio Hunt of '98 and be prepared to bust a gut.) WhySenator Huckleberry seems to be pleading the case, not only of DickCheney, but also of the Spanish Inquisition, is something best left forDan Brown to ponder, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had some curiousbranding somewhere on his torso, not that I'm eager to find out.

And this is the kind of person to whom President Obama regularlydefers because Huckleberry is alleged to be one of the "sensible ones."Good Screaming Christ In A Camaro, what has the Republican party donesince January that would make any thinking human being accord it thetiniest smidgen of a modicum of respect? Laugh at them and then do whatyou want to do. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Presidentof the United States is something of a political coward. The flip-flopon the Rumsfeld Porn Collection is just the most recent example. He'swalked back much of what he said during the campaign on rendition and onthe Military Commissions Act. Gitmo is still open. His Department ofJustice is pleading state secrecy. He has lifted not an obvious fingerto put pressure on anyone to get qualified people like Dawn Johnsenconfirmed. (LBJ would have had Harry Reid hanging by his entrails in theMural Room by now.) Even when his administration does somethingcorrectly, it turtles in the face of hissy-fits tossed by adiscredited political movement adhered to by less than 30 percent of thepublic.

I think the source of the president's timorousness lies in thefact that, for all his new-politics bombast, he's pretty much decidedthat he's a critter of the respectable Beltway center. We should haveseen that coming when he supported Weepin' Joe Lieberman over Ned Lamontor, at least, when he took that ungainly dive on FISA and the issue oftelecom immunity. His financial team is straight out of the Retired WallStreet Hiring Hall, and his complete disinclination to call crimes whatthey are bespeaks an unseemly lust for a middle ground that liesomewhere between Oz and the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Politicalcowardice has many sources, and its effects are not always uniform orpredictable. Lyndon Johnson was brave enough to stuff the Voting RightsAct down the gullet of American white-supremacy, but he lost his nervewhen confronted by a bunch of Harvard intellectuals with a jones forSoutheast Asia. It took a great deal of courage for Barack Obama to getto the White House last January, and a great deal of courage to want thejob at all during this period of history. It's too bad he seems to haveleft that courage back in Iowa some place.

Name: Jordan Weltman
Hometown: Seattle, WA

Eric, Did you see here from Nate? Chart didn't copy, but it'sfascinating.

Richard Posner has a fascinating read:

My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it isnotable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largelyby emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectualgroundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largelyfailed in execution, and are political flops is thereforeunsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in theelection and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure ofmilitary force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanityof trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

Now, take a look at this chart; this is the share of the vote of those with post-graduate educations won by Democrats:

The 1980 figure is extrapolated based on Jimmy Carter'sperformance among all college graduates. Carter won only 35percent of college graduates in 1980, but Democrats have generallyperformed better among those with postgraduate educations thanthose with "just" a college degree; we estimate Carter's share ofthe postgraduate vote was 40 percent. Other figures are taken fromNew York Times exit polling.

Obviously, this data is far from perfect: Having attended theUniversity of Chicago, where there are plenty of booksmart peoplethat you wouldn't consider particularly bright, I can tell you thatthe correlation between intelligence and educational attainment isconsiderably less than one-to-one. Still, Republicans have graduallybeen losing the egghead vote. I wonder how that translates into theirability to recruit strategists and "thought-leaders" who can work onthe campaign, policy and media sides and help to lead them out oftheir current slump.

Name: Steve Gregoropoulos
Hometown: Montecito Heights, CA

Re: "the repetitive accordion riff of 'If You Ever Go To Houston'makes the 5:49 song about two minutes too annoying"--just which"Bob Dylan" has Sal been listening to for the past 40 or 50 years?That's the most classic part of the album (from the guy who, as Irecall, did stuff like "Desolation Row" and "Sad Eyed Lady of theLowlands," right?)

Name: Debra Beller
Hometown: Chapel Hill

I misread this line from your May 7th 'Altercation': "...thetelepathic abilities of conservatives to discern Obama's realintentions to destroy America with his pick." I added an 'r' to thatlast word--and then realized that I was actually spot on--that'sexactly what conservatives are most afraid of. Morons.

Name: Arthur Swalley
Hometown: Santa Barbara

Eric, at the end of your fine (yet tedious because it seems no matterhow many times or how nicely it's explained the punditocracy stillwon't get it) Supreme Court column, Reagan said "Facts are stubbornthings..." The correct quote actually fits your column better.

As an aside, my Republican friends won't even try to talk politicsanymore. Couldn't shut 'em up till the financial meltdown. They aresmart enough to realize that account balances are factual.

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

Just when you thought they couldn't dig any deeper into the cesspoolof disgraced former political operatives, last night Fox brought outCol. Oliver North to froth at the mouth about the closure ofGuantánamo. Hannity showed a Republican scare ad in its entirety withno comment (well, maybe he said "if that didn't scare you, maybe thiswill, bringing on the Colonel"). Then North raved about how some detainees are going to be released (to attack us again?), how they were all al Qaeda trained suicide bombers and other nonsense. It would be hilarious if they weren't so serious. Not to mention the irony of a guy like North criticizing anyone for anything.

Funny spam department:

Name: Mihnea
Hometown: Bucharest

My house from Bucharest was robbed again by the romanian GYPSIES, socalled "ROMA" or "ROMANI population" and one of my beloved watch doghas been murdered : first beaten to death, and second poisoned withsome local salami called PARIZER! I do hope the State Department willnever lift US VISA for ...THE ROMANIAN GYPSIES!!!

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