My new Nation column is called “The Proud Liar Mitt Romney Said Today…” (and don’t miss the Barney Frank story at the end).
My new Think Again column is called “Pearl Harbor, Another (Unhappy) Anniversary” and it’s here.
And I’ve got a new Forward column called “Israeli Theocracy vs. Diaspora Democracy,” though I don’t know if it’s up yet, but it begins thusly:
“It is becoming increasingly obvious that a break is coming between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, particularly its American variety. The reason for this is that Israel is slowly but inexorably becoming a conservative theocracy while the Diaspora is dedicated to liberal democracy. The strategy of the “pro-Israel” camp among American Jewish organizations and neoconservative pundits has so far been one of avoidance of unpleasant facts coupled with unpleasant insinuations about the loyalties of those who insist on taking them seriously.”
Remember that when you read the Politico discussion below, please.
Politico published a particularly nefarious article this week, in which reporter Ben Smith gave free reign to a bunch of hawkish supporters of Israel’s right-wing government to cast aspersions on anyone who thinks Israel would be better served by offering more humane treatment of the Palestinians and less emphasis on its own far-right government’s ideological obsesions. The purpose of the attack, which was not coincidentally timed to the Republican Jewish meeting in Washington, was to cast aspersions on the good name of the Center for American Progress and Media Matters regarding the Middle East and hence, on Democrats generally. The article, which unthinkingly reinforces the meme that the meaning of “pro-Israel” is to encourage it to continue an endless occupation of the Palestinians and destroy its own democracy in the process, has been proven innacurate with regard to the views of CAP, as Think Progress’s Ken Gude and Faiz Shakir demonstrates here, though of course it is being celebrated by those on the racist, violence-inciting far Jewish right, like the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, whose journalistic malfeasance I have discussed here, here, here, and here, as well as by Fox news and Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism site. Furthermore, the piece, which required extensive additions and corrections after the fact closed with the quote “"What is actually happening is that the discourse that a lot of people in the Palestine solidarity community and activists have been engaging in is starting to break down the walls of the Washington bubble,’ said Ali Abunimah, a longtime activist and the co-founder of the site Electronic Intifada.” This strikes me as entirely false. In fact it’s the increasingly unafraid assertion of many of the Jewish community to refuse to be cowed by the narrow (and to this view) counterproductive insistence that the only pro-Israel position is a hawkish pro-Israel position, and again, that dangerous (to Israel, and to the world) fiction is reinforced here, for the purposes of smearing CAP.
Of particular concern to yours truly, now that the hate mail has started flowing was the fact that in the original piece Smith allowed former AIPAC flack Josh Block—who is now, inexplicably, employed by the Progressive Policy Institute, once a thoughtful, centrist think-tank that has now apparently fallen on hard times both financially and in terms of the quality of its hires—to smear me as a “borderline” anti-Semite without bothering to get in touch with me for reply. When I was sent the piece early Wednesday morning, I could hardly believe it. I know Politico puts a premium on speed and dealing exclusively with insiderdom, but I would have thought that its editors and journalists would have learned the lesson of McCarthyism which is that just because someone makes an accusation against a political opponent, that doesn’t mean it has any basis in reality.
As I wrote Smith yesterday morning, Block’s accusation is ludicrous. Here is my response: “The idea that my opposition to AIPAC’s radical, right-wing agenda for Israel and the United States somehow constitutes "borderline anti-Semitism" is beyond ludicrous. My CAP colleagues can speak for themselves. As for me, I am a columnist for The Jewish Daily Forward, and formerly one for Moment magazine. Neither one, I think we can safely assume, is in the business of hiring anti-Semites. I am also, for the record, a member of two separate regular Torah study groups, a university teacher of two recent courses on Jewish American culture and history at Brooklyn College and CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College (which I would have been teaching had Mr. Smith tried to reach me yesterday afternoon), a frequent university lecturer on Jewish topics, and the proud author of my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony this past May. I am so happy to describe myself as a "proud, pro-Zionist Jew," and have done so on many occasions. AIPAC and its allies have long employed the type of character assassination present in Mr. Smith’s article to those of us who love Israel but worry about the destructive path that its putative Neoconservative supporters have consistently pushed it down. Its greatest asset in silencing those opponents has been the fear that these McCarthyite tactics inspire in its victims. Well, those days are over and these shameful, unsupportable accusations are the apparent result.”
After which, we had considerable back and forth, for while Smith included a sentence in reply drawn from the above, for some reason, he repeatedly refused to identify me as a columnist for The Forward, which I think pretty much demonstrates the insanity (and nefariousness) of this Block fellow’s insinuation. At first he said that I “wrote for Jewish publications,” which strikes me as pretty meaningless. Then, after a bunch more emails from me, pointing out that “columnist for the Forward” was more accurate, he changed it to “is a columnist for Jewish publications” as if there were some blanket ban in Politico from mentioning “The Forward” in its pages. One would think that after a reporter allows a source to libel someone in a story without asking for a response, he would be eager to try to make amends. In this case, something else was clearly at work, though I have no idea of what.
Now as part of my “pro-Israel” credential, I could have mentioned that in the context of the Nation readership and many of its writers and editors, I am often attacked as no better than AIPAC and some sort of Zionist fifth-column. And to be perfectly honest, I find myself a little bit shamed by the fact that I rolled off my credentials as a Jew in response to the attack, though I did so as a time-saver. (In a pinch, I can still recite my haftorah if need be.) The fact is my colleagues at CAP who are not Jewish have the very same rights to criticize Israel regardless of whether they have the ethnic standing I happen to enjoy. And I’ve been, I admit surprised, but admiring that CAP has been willing to try to expand the envelope on this issue. It’s a tricky thing. I wish J Street had endorsed Palestinian statehood at the UN, though, it might have meant that it had no hope of being a meaningful political actor in the near future. But look, these people are bullies. And the only way to stop bullying is to stand up to it and hope that others join in. My tsoris aside, it’s a shame that Politico allowed itself to be used this way. To be honest, aside from Mike Allen’s daily email, and the occasional investigative piece, I tend to avoid Politico on purpose because I think it’s furious focus on process-driven, up-to-the-minute minutiae is part of why American politics has become so insane of late. So I can’t say whether this is typical of Smith’s work. I assume it isn’t as I noticed he was celebrated in the stellar 50th anniversary issue of Columbia Journalism Review recently and in some extremely distinguished (and much older) company. Clearly, however, this piece deserves a great big “dart.” (Further thoughts on the Politico piece can be found here from Harold Pollack and by all means read this Salon story about who this Josh Block fellow really is and what he and his comrades are seeking to accomplish.)
I saw Ryan Adams the other night at Carnegie Hall. I only kinda like Ryan Adams and mostly because of Whiskeytown. I live with someone who loves the guy, however, and here is her report. “It was a warm and affectionate performance for a crowd that returned that affection. He appeared with no band, alternating between accompanying himself on piano or guitar, with a mouth harmonica. Responding to a request from the audience that he misheard as ‘Howard is beautiful’ he made up lyrics and a tune spontaneously with a set of really funny lyrics, all about Howard’s quirks and oddball qualities. He played selections from his new album ‘Ashes and Fire,’ interspersed with work from throughout his career — earning his biggest applause when he played an old Whiskeytown tune ‘Everything I Do.’ But the crowd responded to new and old stuff with the same enthusiastic applause. Between songs, his patter is witty and knowing–a set of in-jokes and social observations by a crowd that thinks like he thinks, likes what he likes, makes fun of their younger selves as he makes fun of his younger self. But the often ironic patter in which he assumed a pose at a distance from himself, was betrayed by the earnest and passionate emotion in his voice and in his lyrics, particularly as his sang from his new album.” After getting that back from her, I replied, “Say something about the record (‘Ashes and Fire’).” She replied: “It’s stripped down, spare, beautifully composed and performed album – as always his lyrics, even running over the well-worn territory of love and break-up, are savvy and sometimes surprising.” You can read the Times review of the show here.
Last week, Petey and I went to see Bob Seger at Madison Square Garden. First things first: After just two songs, Bob said the single greatest three words anyone can say at a concert, “Mr. Bruce Springsteen!” Bruce came out, guitar in hand, did a verse, a chorus and a guitar solo on “Old Time Rock n Roll,” and split. It was over so fast it was kind of like a dream. But it was also kind of a blessing on the whole night, which by the way, was terrific. Bob Seger writes first rate rock n roll songs and sings them, looking like Paul Bunyon or maybe Walt Whitman, with verve and passion. It’s a lot like a John Forgerty concert in that respect, in that it’s just one great song after another, with about at 10-1 ratio of really good songs to klunkers and about a 2-10 ratio of really great, classic songs (“Night Moves, “Against the Wind,” “Rock n Roll Never Forgets” etc.) to just really good ones. Impressive that after all these years, he can still sell out Madison Square Garden, but also heartening. And now is an awfully good time to stock up on Bob, because, as I recently mentioned, not only is there a new double greatest hits, but a remastered version of the early live classic, “Live Bullet” and also the later, once he was a star, “Nine Tonight.” Read all about the man here. Here they are last week, and here, thanks to Youtube, they are thirty years ago.
And speaking of the past not even being past, I’ve mentioned a few times that Hot Tuna has completely rejuvenated itself with the terrific musicianship not only of Jack and Jorma but the incredible Barry Mitterhoff, a surprisingly excellent new album—possibly their best (not including “Quah”), after a 17 year recording hiatus called “Steady as She Goes” and a bunch of guest appearances by just the kind of people you want to see with Hot Tuna. This weekend, they’re doing two nights at the Beacon with charlie Musselwhite, David Bromberg, Larry Campbell, and ye old reliable G.E. Smith. I’m going Friday, trimmed and burning.
Reed is travelling this week, and so here is:
Re Rockpile–Glad to see some live material from this band finally surface in an "official" release, but the sound quality of the set is disappointing (Nick Lowe’s voice is really buried in the mix), and by the time they performed at Montreux, there were fewer Lowe songs in the set. I was lucky enough to see the group a year earlier at the Academy of Music in NYC, and they were terrific. Anyway, below are three live Rockpile performances (with very good sound) that you might enjoy, all from YouTube: A high-energy version of Lowe’s "Heart of the City" and "They Call it Rock" from a British music show hosted by Peter Cook. A fine take of "So It Goes" from the Midnight Special series. And finally Carlene Carter singing with Dave Edmunds/Rockpile on "Baby Ride Easy".
Eric replies: I was at that Academy of Music show too, I think. The one I saw had Rockpile plugged in between Mink Deville and Elvis C. The most amazing Rockpile show I ever saw though was when I was visiting student at the London School of Economics in 1980 and they were booked to play a noon concert in the auditorium. Nick and Dave said that what, with the time, they hadn’t really had much time to discuss what they would play and so if we called out the songs and they knew them, they would play them. It was a great show. A week later, Tony Benn spoke in the same room. Those were the days, my friend.
You mentioned the Stones SNL performance in 1978 (after the Some Girls tour) as a lousy performance. My friends and I who saw the performance STRONGLY disagree. Yes, Mick’s voice was shot by the time the tour ended, and he sang raspily that night. But the band (particularly Keith and Woody) were smoking. You couldn’t be more wrong.
Eric replies: Yes, Matt, they were smoking, though I think literally, as well as snorting and shooting, etc. But that’s besides the point. You are free to disagree alas, but I “couldn’t be more wrong”? Really? First of all it’s obviously a matter of opinion. Second, how’s this. “George W. Bush was a great president.” Now what, Matt, are you smoking? Also, did you poll your friends? Maybe they were just being nice. Maybe you forgot. Maybe you were all under the influence … I still say it sucks.
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