We don't need your thought control ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I'm sorry, but if the teachers' unions are paying this guy to write crap like this, then things are worse over there than I imagined. Leo Casey writes:

Eric Alterman has published a surreal response to this post. He writes that he was a target of "character assassination" when we noted that he had adopted a "lefter than thou" attitude toward the electoral strategy of teacher unions, with specific reference to the UFT's practice of endorsing any incumbent, regardless of party, when they had supported positions on education, labor and human rights issues important to us. His objections to teacher unions, he now says, "has nothing whatever to do with political policies." Rather, he says, it rests with "the union's frequent inflexibility and resistance toward what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes to be common-sense reforms." The record tells a different story.

We have been able to find one prior published comment of Alterman that touches on criticisms of teacher unions in over nearly a decade of voluminous published writing. These results follow a number of different Google searches, as well as an examination of Alterman's Nation columns, the portions of his Altercation blog still published on the Internet [here and here], and his posts on the Huffington blog. This blog post condemned the New York Times, SEIU 1199 and the "teachers' union" for endorsing the incumbent Republican Governor, George Pataki, in his 2002 re-election campaign. [Personal disclosure: Alterman and I had an exchange in the comments section of his blog on the issue of the UFT's endorsement of Pataki.]

Eric replies: Perhaps this "exchange" took place, perhaps not. I have no recollection of it either way. He goes on:

This blog post in which Alterman criticizes teacher unions, as well as the exchange between Alterman and myself, are no longer available at the original MSNBC.COM site, as they sent Alterman and his blog packing last fall.

Eric replies: Got a raise, though ... He continues:

However, there still are contemporaneous references to the post available on the Internet, at least one of which quotes a passage which specifically singles out the "teachers' union" for criticism. There are many more references in Alterman's published writings to the New York Times endorsement of Pataki, often citing Pataki's failure to resolve the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. At one point, Alterman himself describes the Pataki endorsement as "kind of an obsession of mine."

Eric replies: The "obsession" to which the gentleman refers was that of The New York Times' endorsement policies, not those of the teachers' union, which, I remind the gentleman, I did not even remember. As I said, for the "liberal New York Times" to endorse the hack Republican over a perfectly competent Democrat, was, in my view, an example of the extremely effective working of the refs by the right wing. The Times threw them a bone, methinks. I have mentioned it many times; it appears in What Liberal Media?; I've brought it up with the editor of the Times editorial page in person. I care a lot about this issue, obviously, and what's more, it's quite clear from the quote in context:

One of the great victories of the right-wing to intimidate the SCLM was the New York Times' willingness to endorse him despite his incompetence, hatred for New York City and contempt for its public school system. (It's kind of an obsession of mine.)

As for the teachers' union, according to this fellow's diligent research, I've mentioned it exactly once before yesterday. Some obsession ...

He continues:

Among the few times Alterman discusses unionism in print, there are a number of instances where he criticized other unions, such as when he objected to a Nation article that criticized Yale University faculty who were seeking to undermine the organizing of GESO, the Yale graduate student employees union, and when he criticized all of the New York City municipal unions for refusing to accept a Bloomberg proposal to diminish their health care insurance. But nowhere could we find another published criticism targeting teacher unions.

Eric replies: On the first point, I remember objecting to the character assassination of my friend and former professor Paul Kennedy, who was criticized in the article, as I recall, for being too dedicated a teacher. I don't write a lot of letters to the editor of The Nation. I try to save them for when a friend of mine has been unjustly treated and I think it important that people know that not everyone at the magazine feels that way. I did not take a position at all on union-related issues, as I recall. On the latter point, yes, guilty as charged. I think there are aspects of New York City municipal unions that deserve criticism even though I am a member of one of those unions who benefits from the generous packages they have negotiated. I see from the PSC website that I am afilliated with:

  • American Federation of Labor (AFL/CIO)
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT #2334)
  • New York State United Teachers (NYSUT)
  • American Association of University Professors (AAUP)

So sue me for caring about the well-being of my city beyond the question of just how generous are the benefits given to members of municipal unions. (I was also unaware that someone who claims to support unions is required to do so in the fashion that, say, Stalin demanded of his politburo.)

He continues:

When an author as prolific at [sic] Alterman publishes nothing on what he now tells us are his criticisms of teacher unions, when his published criticism of teacher unions focuses on an electoral endorsement which is a self-avowed "obsession," and when he then offers one line comments that "I don't like teacher unions," it would seem more than reasonable to conclude that his longstanding objections were to our electoral strategy. But reasonable does not seem the operative word in this exchange. When citing the published record becomes "character assassination," we have entered into the world of Alice and the Looking Glass.

Eric replies: Actually, bub, maybe it means that you simply (purposely) misread what I said in the first place. See above. And if you had bothered to check the discussion in question, you will see that I was defending auto workers' unions at the time of the debate against Mickey Kaus' argument that they are the cause of Detroit's decline. It obviously had nothing to do with the silly teachers' union endorsement of Pataki, which I remind you, I didn't even remember at the time. (Though I still find it kind of hard to believe. Did they happen to endorse Bush, too? Are they backing Pataki for president too?)

Eric concludes: Really, this is beyond stupid. We are talking, after all, about a throwaway in a debate with Mickey Kaus. I'm being forced to correct a whole host of false -- and, frankly, hysterical -- statements that will circulate throughout the 'net forever. Look, bub, I would like to be able to support the teachers' union. I support teachers and I support unions. I am a member of a teachers' union in good standing. I send my daughter to a public school. And for the record, I was one of the original members of the small but dedicated committee of academics that organized the pro-union teach-in at Columbia a few years back, and this was before I even was an academic. And as I've written over and over, I see no possibility of a rejuvenation of progressive politics in this country that is not built on a foundation of a strong (and smart) labor movement. And yet somehow, I'm the enemy. (And this from a union that endorses people like George Pataki....) This kind of behavior is the stuff that turns liberals into neocons. I'm not going to let that happen, of course, but it won't be because of this fellow's want of trying.

P.S. And hey, look: "In 2006, 12.0 percent of employed wage and salary workers were union members, down from 12.5 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of persons belonging to a union fell by 326,000 in 2006 to 15.4 million. The union membership rate has steadily declined from 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available. The union membership rate for government workers (36.2 percent) was substantially higher than for private industry workers (7.4 percent)." Here. So now's a great time for the unions to be spending their money attacking their friends for ideological deviationism, right?

Good for Obama for freezing out Fox. It's not a news organization; it's a propaganda outfit. Would that his contenders went along, we might teach them a lesson about the meaning of honest journalism.

Quote of the Day: Obama is "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." -- Former presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Patti Cohen is one of my oldest friends, but she never reads this blog, so I'll must mention this important piece of hers on Jewish McCarthyism and the American Jewish Committee without making too big a deal about it. Matt's being better behaved about it.

Let's hear it for Teddy Wayne, who posed as six unfit-for-service would-be soldiers and called U.S. military recruiters to see how manipulative they'd be in (and how far they'd go) to meet their enlistment quotas. The results, alas, are kinda funny and kinda scary, here and here.

Times Style Question: In today's paper, Zbigniew Brzezinski is "Dr. Brzezinski," but Alan Wolfe and Tony Judt are just "Mr."s. And this is on the same page. What's up with that? Someone want to contact the Public Editor?

From Our Sponsors:

The press reported that Sen. John Kerry cried tears of regret last week when he announced he wasn't running for president in 2008. The facts are a little less dramatic.

Timeline of a smear, here.

From TomDispatch:

Chalmers Johnson, in a new piece, "Empire v. Democracy," lays out the most essential choice Americans face -- though one that is, as yet, not part of mainstream national discussion. The American people obviously voted for change last November -- and the opinion polls tell us that that sentiment has only strengthened in the intervening months -- but the question is, how much change and of what sort? Are our dreams imperial or are they democratic?

In a preview of his new book, Nemesis, The Last Days of the American Republic, Johnson considers the fates of other imperial lands that had to choose between empire and republic, or empire and democracy -- and in the process, lays out the daunting obstacles ahead of us, especially the possible imperial bankruptcy of an economy that has become increasingly dependent on the military-industrial complex and on "the kindness of strangers" -- in this case the central banks of China (with $853.7 billion in reserves) and Japan (with $831.58 billion in reserves).

Fearing that the American choice will indeed be empire, even if conceivably a failing one, Johnson concludes:

So my own hope is that -- if the American people do not find a way to choose democracy over empire -- at least our imperial venture will end not with a nuclear bang but a financial whimper. From the present vantage point, it certainly seems a daunting challenge for any President (or Congress) from either party even to begin the task of dismantling the military-industrial complex, ending the pall of 'national security' secrecy and the 'black budgets' that make public oversight of what our government does impossible, and bringing the President's secret army, the CIA, under democratic control. It's evident that Nemesis -- in Greek mythology the goddess of vengeance, the punisher of hubris and arrogance -- is already a visitor in our country, simply biding her time before she makes her presence known.

From the Benton Foundation:

BUSH IS NOT ABOVE THE LAW [SOURCE: New York Times, AUTHOR: James Bamford]

Last August, you may recall, a federal judge found that the president of the United States broke the law, committed a serious felony and violated the Constitution. The ruling was the result of a suit brought against the National Security Agency by the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a response to revelations by this newspaper in December 2005 that the agency had been monitoring the phone calls and e-mail messages of Americans for more than four years without first obtaining warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Laws are broken, the federal government investigates, and the individuals involved -- even if they're presidents -- are tried and, if found guilty, punished. That is the way it is supposed to work under our system of government. But not this time. To allow a president to break the law and commit a felony for more than five years without even a formal independent investigation would be the ultimate subversion of the Constitution and the rule of law. As Judge Taylor warned in her decision, "There are no hereditary kings in America.

Alter-reviews by Sal and Tony: NYCD:

THE BEE GEES -- REMASTERS. Many of you had doubts when we raved about the Bee Gees box that came out in November. Now, you have the opportunity to buy their first three albums (Bee Gees 1st, Horizontal and Idea) individually, without shelling out the big bucks for the box. Same 2 CD remasters, same great bonus tracks, same rave reviews from us. If you have to pick one, we recommend starting with Horizontal, but they're all great. Remember, this isn't the disco stuff, but lush, hook-filled '60s pop.

GRATEFUL DEAD -- LIVE AT THE COW PALACE: NEW YEAR'S EVE 1976. Apparently popular in their time for playing long live shows and eating jam, these "hippies" still have quite a following. This live document is their 933rd live record, but only the 874th to feature "Playing In The Band."

VARIOUS ARTISTS -- THE GOLDEN AGE OF ELEKTRA RECORDS (Box Set). A 5 CD compilation from what David Fricke calls "the greatest rock n' roll label ever." We'd like to call this new set a 5 CD compilation from "one of the greatest rock n' roll labels ever, and also a very good folk label." This has it all -- Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs, The Doors, Love, Queen, Judy Collins, Paul Butterfield, and last but not least, Bread. You wouldn't know it from what we just wrote, but it really is a damn good compilation.

AL GREEN -- THE DEFINITIVE GREATEST HITS. For those of you who still don't own an Al Green compilation, this new set is quite good. 21 remastered tracks featuring all the hits right through his most recent releases on Blue Note, plus a bonus DVD with six performances both old and new. Everyone should own at least one Al Green album, and this is as good as any.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Arthur Goldstein
Hometown: New York City

Dear Mr. Alterman:

I'm an ESL teacher in New York City, where I've been working for almost 22 years. I also teach nights and summers at Queens College and travel around NJ and PA playing bluegrass fiddle weekends. I've never really been able to support myself on my teacher salary, though I will reach maximum soon, and I may soon be able to claim otherwise.

But, it's taken 22 years.

I've been watching Mr. Casey complain about you for some time, and while I think Mr. Casey is a thug and a coward (he will not engage in debate with me, The Help), I think you are mistaken if you feel the UFT is inflexible.

As a result of the 2005 UFT contract, my prep time has been halved, and I now spend one period a day patrolling the halls. Also, we come in in August for two days, giving us the longest school year in the area. Most of my colleagues now teach six, rather than five, classes. One of them contains up to ten kids, and is called "small-group tutoring." The others contain up to 34, the highest in the area. In schools like mine, at 250% capacity, we simply extend our 5 classes and teach more.

Also, if my large overcrowded school is broken into five small overcrowded academies, I am no longer guaranteed employment elsewhere in the system. I can be placed into an "Absent Teacher Reserve," which would make me a permanent sub, albeit at full pay. How long do you suppose it is before that institution is attacked and dismantled? Would anyone in the public support it?

Mayor Bloomberg has recently planned to have money follow kids rather than teachers, making it even more unattractive to hire experienced teachers. Who wants older teachers? They can be a pain in the neck. A recent commenter on my blog wrote:

"...in my experience as a new teacher at a new school, without enough vets around, no one knows what the administrators are allowed to do or not do, and we all end up getting screwed over. Most new teachers won't stand up to the principal or AP even if they have proof in the contract that we don't "have to," and new teachers are more likely to fall prey to my school's special brand of motivation: "If you really CARED about the students you'd [work more for free/ do all this crap for us / take on an unpaid extra class / put self-contained special ed. kids in your class and not whine]."

If you do a little research on the 05 contract, you will find that Mr. Casey's UFT gave the sun, the moon, and the stars, and did not even get cost of living in exchange. The fact is that things like the UFT transfer plan were bought with zero percent increases, and I've often met teachers with 10 fewer years of experience earning 10 more thousands of dollars.

Teaching in the city is a very rough job, and the only thing that concerns Leo Casey, aside from scribbling his ponderous missives on my dime, is perpetuating the UFT patronage mill. They've even bought off the most prominent opposition party, New Action, with UFT patronage jobs and second pensions.

Very few of my colleagues, even those who are otherwise well-informed and articulate, have the remotest notion how dirty UFT politics are. Do you think it's a coincidence that the UFT is buying time for commercials on Law and Order and the Today show right before the election? Was it a coincidence when they did it last time?

I've long admired your work. But as far as Mr. Casey goes, there's far less than meets the eye.

Name: Pennant
Hometown:

Hi Eric,

Given your lead story, I think After The Fire's "Der Commissar's in town" might have been a little more appropriate.

As for LTC Bob Bateman's comment regarding the left failing to expose inaccurate negative reporting in Iraq, he's got a point. However, to be fair, the mainstream media repeated the positive messages of the administration on Iraq rather uncritically in the first few years of the Iraq war, which seemed to underplay the seriousness of the situation (as witnessed by the steadily deteriorating security situation in spite of constant rosy statements by the White House press secretary, Secretary of Defense, VP, and President). The result is an expectation from the general public that the reality in Iraq is actually worse than portrayed in the reported news and greater willingness to place faith in negative reports.

It's a perceptive inertia, similar to the continuing myth of a "liberal media" caused by years of liberal reporting, even which persists when most major media outlets are now controlled by editors and publishers with right-wing agendas.

When confronted with biased information that doesn't match reality, people will develop a compensating bias in the other direction. It's the nature of the human beast and the neural networks that form our brains.

Name: JRoth
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

I don't see how a self-described "news junkie" like LTC Bateman could say something as odd as, "But the versions are supposed to build upon each other. The FACTS are not supposed to change." That is precisely false in the case of breaking news. Unless Bob thinks that initial reports of 6,000 dead at the WTC somehow call into question the reality of that event, why does he think the AP revising "destroy" (in a single, first-30-minute report) into the (as Malkin herself proved) more accurate "firebombed" before a single story was printed reduces their credibility?

The Malkin position was, no Hussein, no fire-bombed mosques. So the Iraq gov't announces that they have Hussein in custody, and Malkin publishes a picture of a fire-bombed mosque. And LTC Bob still believes the AP looks bad on this one?

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,

LTC Bob appears to be correct about the original wording of the disputed Associated Press story. I have found a version of the AP story which includes the words "blew up":

"In Hurriyah, the rampaging militiamen also burned and blew up four mosques and torched several homes in the district, Hussein said."

However, other versions of the AP story omit the phrase "blew up":

"The militiamen attacked and burned the Ahbab al-Mustafa, Nidaa Allah, al-Muhaimin and al-Qaqaqa mosques in the rampage that did not end until American forces arrived, Hussein said."

Of course, one could still question whether in the context of the story the words "blew up" were intended to be synonymous with "destroyed" or if they merely meant to convey that the mosques were damaged.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL

I'd just like to add a word to that of my colleague LTC Bateman. I wish that all the critics who would like to crucify him for citing Michelle Malkin as a source (personally, I'd trust her about as far as I can throw an Abrams tank, but that's beside the point) would think through their critiques of his broader message. He's saying we should notice when the mainstream media changes the basic facts of their story, and notice why. Golly, what a reactionary point of view, proposed by all sorts of questionable individuals, like oh say...Dr. Alterman. Do you think the "right" wing echo chamber could get away with "workin' the refs" if we called the MSM when they pulled a fast one? Don't we want the general level of professionalism in reporting to improve to the level LTC Bateman and Dr. Alterman advocate? Trust me, if the MSM was subject to intellectually honest fact checking, progressive points of view would do far better than conservative.

I'll admit, the good Colonel committed an egregious tactical error by saying anything even remotely favorable about that libelous harpy Malkin in this forum. But for goodness sakes, folks, think through what you are saying!

Name: Mitchell Freedman
Hometown: Poway, California

Eric,

I don't know if you heard about Dershowitz's response speech to Carter at Brandeis last week. In the course of the speech, Desrshowitz said he would pay $15,000 to anyone who showed him a "prominent Jewish leader" who "equated" "legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism."

I emailed Dershowitz and noted a few examples, starting with Abe Foxman at ADL calling Carter's book "bigoted," which is a general term for "anti-Semitism." I also noted Leon Wieseltier's October 27, 2003 essay in The New Republic where he said Tony Judt had offered an "anti-Semitic notion" in feeling guilty about Israeli soldier conduct in Jenin. I further provided him the recent example of Deborah Lipstadt, in an op-ed for The Washington Post, had said Carter, in defending himself from attacks on his book, had resorted to "anti-Semitic stereotypes." She said later she was describing Carter's conduct, not his personality trait (which, if she was on the receiving end of an op-ed in The Washington Post saying what she said was "anti-Semitic," I doubt she'd accept such a distinction). And I then said Dershowitz himself had called Carter's book "bigoted" -- which again is a general term that would include "anti-Semitic."

Since writing about this at my blog, MF Blog, a commenter informed me about Shulamit Reinharz, the head of Women's Studies at Brandeis (also the wife of the president of Brandeis), who has conflated anti-Zionism, criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. Her comments were contained in an interview with her from the Boston Globe last week. Professor Reinharz has now written an article in the Jewish Advocate (Jan. 27, 2007) where she even says Richard Cohen of The Washington Post is both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitism and that anti-Zionism is a "form" of anti-Semitism (she has, quite obviously, a rather wide definition of the definition of anti-Zionism).

Do you think you can come up with more examples to show Dershowitz how the real world works in American corporate owned media -- and what I have personally heard from prominent Temple leaders in Temples around the nation -- which includes stuff like "The LA Times is anti-Semitic" or "The NY Times is anti-Semitic"?

As I have stated in my two blog posts on the subject, Dershowitz may reasonably attempt to wiggle out of paying people on his bet by saying the speaker is not either "prominent" or a "leader" or by declaring what is or is not a "legitimate criticism of Israel." However, if the terms are ambiguous, he must live with the ambiguity he created under common contract law.

Also, Dershowitz's defenses along these lines would be parsing to a point where his bet is revealed as cynical. For in his statement immediately preceding his bet, he was trying to convince his audience that people who criticize Israel in the U.S. don't face personal attacks. That of course is utterly wrong.

Please consider offering, at your blog, further examples for Professor Dershowitz. Perhaps he will wise up and revoke his bet. Since he won't apologize to Carter, I figure that's the least he can do.

Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM

Hello Eric,

Old Navy guy here now writing from the land of enchantment. I'm currently on an Andrew Sullivan rant. Apparently not only does noting that Hilary Clinton giving you "cootie vibes" get you an occasional spot on Chris Matthews but being wrong about the Iraq war and generally libeling everyone that disagrees with your position also gets you a high profile position at the Atlantic Monthly. I kid you not. A gushing letter from James Bennet on the Atlantic website states that Mr. Sullivan "will help shape the site and the print magazine, and he will be writing for the magazine as well." I couldn't help wonder if the notice was written with at least a smidgen of irony since Mr. Bennet asserts that Sullivan follows the Atlantic's original declared purpose of "Freedom, National Progress, and Honor, whether public or private" and that as "a thinker and writer, Andrew is, as that same founding statement declared, "of no party or clique." I sent a letter to Mr. Bennet asking him which of Sullivan's various statements caused him to admire his new employee "for almost 20 years." Could it have been the statement labeling liberals as "essentially pro-Saddam"? Or perhaps when he publicly questioned whether the supporters of Al Gore could be counted on in the post 9-11 world. Better yet, I bet it was his statement equating global warming concerns with Dick Cheney's discredited WMD claims and the 1% doctrine. I guess cootie slander is rewarded with jobs on the staff of one of the country's most respected (up to now) journals. I suspect that we'll soon mourn Atlantic as we do the late great TNR.

Name: Jim Celer
Hometown: Omaha

Could you possible receive better news than "With a love like that, you know you should be glad"? No, you can't. Best rock lyric. Period. Contest over.

Name: Mark Sullivan
Hometown: D.C.

Ha. I don't follow popular culture hardly at all, so I had to click to figure out that the woman who went on a shopping spree at Sundance wasn't Judith "Miller"!

Name: Reed Richardson
Hometown: Ridgewood, NJ

I admit to watching pretty much every episode of Studio 60 (and I was an early fan of Sorkin's SportsNight years ago), but more often than not I find the show sagging under the weight of trying to be arch, wholesome, and lowbrow all at the same time. It's frustrating because there are, undoubtedly, flashes of brilliance at times, but I'm not sure I can stick around much longer if the writing continues to tend toward predictable moments of self-parody akin to this.

Name: Andy Glassberg
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Is it possible that Andrew Sulllivan has a problem with women? Just asking.

Name: Nate Roder
Hometown: Portland, OR

Hey, Doc -- it's never a mistake to go with a Ramones lyric. Very nice.

Not sure if it was in honor of this, but Joey Ramone's mom, Charlotte Lesher, died this week at 80 years of age. She was very active since he died in 2001, starting the annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bash in NYC, as well as a foundation for lymphoma research. If anyone misses her or Joey and wishes to honor their memory, here's where to go - you know what to do.

Joey Ramone Foundation for Lymphoma Research
P.O. Box 1107
Cooper Station, NY, NY 10276

Name: Richard Taylor
Hometown: San Antonio, TX

Eric,

I had the pleasure of seeing Bob Seger in a concert in 1973. It was at a tobacco warehouse in Bowling Green, KY (Western Kentucky University). Seger was the opening act and he was touring for his Beautiful Loser LP, which became the basis for the next year's Live Bullet recorded at Cobo. He opened for (in order bottom to top) Cactus (Mike Pinero and Carmine Appice), Bloodrock, and the headliners were Goose Creek Symphony. All are obviously well known (see tongue in cheek).

The thing about Seger, especially for those of us from the midwest/mid-south was that we KNEW he had lived the situations he was singing about at the time. Specifically, the song "Turn the Page" resonated highly because most all of us had the experience of walking into some resteraunt, bar, whatever, where we caught the mutterings and thinly veiled hate because we had the audacity to wear our hair a little longer (oh, would that I had that hair today!).

Anyway, my $.02.

Name: Luke
Hometown: Largo, FL

I don't know if Reggae lyrics are admissible in the Rock lyric contest, but some of the best lyrics of all time follow:

Most people think, great God will come from the sky.
Take away everything, and make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth.
So now you see the light. Stand up for your rights.

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