Slacker Friday

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new Think Again column here called, "Now You Tell Us ..."

I would have had a bloggingheads dialogue with Jon Chait in which we discussed McCain, David Brooks, and the legacy of neoliberalism. But there were technical difficulties and it disappeared into ether, alas. I want credit for taking the time, anyway.

Impeach Bush ... it's for the children ...

I was playing foosball with an 8-year-old the other day, and the score miraculously changed while I was answering the phone. We had a talk about cheating and how the reputation of being one can ruin a person's life, and she replied: "But what about George Bush? Everyone knows he's a liar and a cheater and he has a great life."

Though the disaster of Iraq's "reconstruction" preceded it, Hurricane Katrina was the Brownie-heck-of-a-job moment that revealed the reality of the Bush administration to most Americans. The various privatization-style lootings and catastrophes since then have all been clearer for that. Katrina, in fact, has become -- as, for instance, in the recent Walter Reed scandal -- a catchword for them.

As Rebecca Solnit so eloquently reminds us in her on-the-scene report from New Orleans, however, Katrina isn't simply some comparison point from the past; it's an ongoing, never-ending demonstration that we have been changed from a can-do to a can't-do society (except perhaps at the neighborhood level). Katrina, the hurricane, was then; Katrina, the New Orleans catastrophe, is right now and, given what we know about the Bush administration today, that "right now" is likely to stretch into the interminable future.

Solnit begins by reminding us of exactly what New Orleans is recovering from -- not just physical devastation, but social fissures and racial wounds in a situation that started as a somewhat natural disaster and became a socially constructed catastrophe. She delves into stories, including the literal blocking of flight from the city for its African-American poor, that have yet to be adequately investigated or reported.

But, as TomDispatch's historian of hope, she also offers a vivid description of how the inhabitants of New Orleans, at every level -- in the face of the militarization of the city and labyrinthine federal and state bureaucracies, seemingly determined to offer less than no help -- have nonetheless tried to repopulate the city and rebuild their shattered homes and lives. Solnit concludes:

The recovery of the city from this one mega-disaster could do much for the longer disaster that has so long now been part of our national lives -- the social Darwinism, social atomization, the shrinking of the New Deal and the Great Society and the attacks on the very principle that we are all woven together in the fabric we call society. If New Orleans doesn't recover, we aren't likely to either.

We all owe New Orleans and those who suffered most in Katrina a huge debt. Their visible suffering and the visibly stupid, soulless, and selfish response of the federal government brought an end to the unquestionable dominance of the Bush administration in the nearly four years between New York's great disaster and this catastrophe... The deluges of Katrina washed away the mandate of the administration and made it possible, even necessary, for those who had been blind or fearful before to criticize and oppose afterwards.

More on Iraq's private army, here.

From our sponsors: More on the Times' war on Gore.

Alter-reviews:

Irma Thomas is the "Soul Queen Of New Orleans," yet just about everywhere else she is a blip on the soul screen. Singing for close to 50 years, Miss Thomas had a respectable run in the early '60s with a string of classic Allen Toussaint-penned hits such as "It's Raining," "Take A Look," and "Ruler Of My Heart," not to mention of course "Time Is On My Side," later stolen by Mick & Keith. She continued making records throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s, most not so good, suffering mostly from the lack of solid material, although the long out-of-print Something Else: The Muscle Shoals Sessions is amazing and worth tracking down. For me, Irma Thomas is what Aretha is to most everyone else, even with the lack of solid material for ... well ... most of her career. I just adore her voice.

Still, when her recent release on Rounder Records, After the Rain, hit the streets, I was a bit trepidacious. I did NOT want another "Soul legend meets studio musicians for casual walk through the park." Irma still has the chops, but her recent work for Rounder has been less than exciting. I was pleasantly surprised to hear what is now one of my favorite albums of 2006.

Backing Miss Thomas for this session are some of the greatest New Orleans musicians alive: David Torkanowsky, James Singleton, Stanton Moore, and Sonny Landreth (look them up and buy whatever they are on). And even though the songs all seem as if they are Katrina-related, all involved claim that this record was conceived and recorded before the storm. Personally, I don't believe it.

What makes After the Rain so special is its warmth. It is NOT your usual plastic production from producer Scott Billington. This time around, he finally gets it. Whether inspired by the storm that "had not happened yet," or the amazing New Orleans musicians who have the ability to inspire the coldest personalities on earth, Billington sets the perfect table for Irma and she delivers on every cut.

It's a spiritual record with simple gospel numbers like "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor" and "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free." It becomes a personal record as we listen to Irma deliver on songs like Doc Pomus' "I Count the Tears" and "Stone Survivor." And of course, we get the typical "Let's look adversity in the face and have some fun" from the great people of NOLA with romps like "Another Man Done Gone" and "These Honey Dos."

After The Rain has since won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues album, here, and this past weekend in New Orleans, Miss Thomas' homecoming at the House Of Blues was special. I was fortunate enough to be there to see her accept the "key to the city" and put on a wonderful show. She could have easily phoned this performance in, as legends like Al Green are wont to do. But instead, Irma Thomas rocked the house with "real" versions of all her '60s hits and a good portion of After the Rain. With 2-3 dozen trips to New Orleans under my belt, this was the first time I got to see Irma Thomas live. It was certainly worth the wait.

-- Sal, NYCD

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

"Tuesday evenings with your harlot and on Wednesday it's your/charlatan analyst. He's high upon your list."

How's life amid the angry undead?

Don't be too impressed with Junior Sununu's public outrage about the AG. He's a Republican senator up for re-election in 2008 in a state that now has a Democratic governor and two Democratic congresspeople. Also, the notion that fake GOP allegations of "voter fraud" are at the heart of a lot of this chicanery has got to put a few stalagmites on Junior's mitral valves, since three people have gone to the hoosegow for election-related crimes on behalf of Junior's senatorial campaign back in '02. He's got the gallows in his eyes, is all.

So last week, I get to go Hardballing to talk about Senator Chuck (Watch Me Make 'Em Jump) Hagel. (Short Expert Answer: I'm as baffled as you are.) I get the cool, professional David Gregory instead of Matthews, so I probably over-trained. Nevertheless, I was sitting there in my little studio right at the end when my fellow panelist Andrea Mitchell burbled the stunning bafflegab that most of America wants Scooter Libby pardoned. To that point, I'd seen no data on the question one way or the other, but it sounded wrong. (I don't think this administration could get a majority of Americans to support its initiative to give us each $1,000.) Lo and behold, while we were all chatting, CNN posts a poll that shows that a whopping 18 percent of Americans support a pardon for Mumia abu Beltway, which puts the notion down there with cholera, mange, and Dick Cheney. We were out before I could make the point that Andrea just doesn't understand. This is one pissed-off nation right now. People want answers, but they also want somebody's balls on a popsicle stick, and if Scooter's are the only ones available, they'll do. (This, I hate to say, is something that Barack Obama seems not to understand, either.) The country understood the Libby trial better than any of his pals did. It was the first chance anyone got to put someone away behind the shabby lies that are at the heart of almost everything this administration has done to a country that deserves so much better than the weasels that have governed it. He'll do, Scooter will, until somebody, please god, puts an even bigger liar on the spit.

Name: CNW
Hometown: Philadelphia

Eric:

David Brooks' column today is the latest in a long line of blown predictions and unsupported analysis concerning the situation in Iraq. Check out the following quotes that I found from his previous columns in about 15 minutes time:

"Some close advisers suspect the violence may not abate in Iraq until early next year, and it will be interesting to see whether Americans can sustain their morale over that time. Still, as Bush makes these pivots, I'm reminded of the way Ronald Reagan made his amazing policy shifts at the end of the cold war, some of which outraged liberals (Reykjavik) and some of which outraged conservatives (the arms control treaties with Mikhail Gorbachev). Presidents tend to be ruthless opportunists, no matter how ideological they appear. Even as he announced his strategy on Sunday night, Bush left open the possibility that he might be compelled to shift again and send in more U.S. troops if circumstances warrant." -- 9/9/03

"The good things that are happening in Iraq are taking place far below the level of grand strategy. On Sunday, 18 bankers and civil servants from 11 central and Eastern European countries came to Iraq to describe the lessons they had learned in moving from tyranny to democracy. Every day, U.N. humanitarian workers, far removed from the marble halls of the Security Council, risk their lives to feed and clothe Iraqis. Every day, U.S. military officers spend millions of dollars building schools and tackling neighborhood issues. That's the work that gives Iraqis hope. Seventy percent of Iraqis expect their lives to improve over the next five years, and two-thirds want coalition forces to stay for at least a year, according to a recent Zogby poll." -- 9/23/03

"There's no way the Iraqis can resolve these issues [social issues, oil, Sunni leadership, democratic literacy] within six months, the deadline Colin Powell once set. But this process is the ballgame. Washington will continue to get distracted by microscandals about leaks and such, but the Iraqi constitutional process is the most important thing that will be happening in the world in the next year. If it succeeds, Iraq really will be a beacon of freedom in the Middle East. The Americans who have died in Iraq will have given their lives in a truly noble cause." -- 10/7/03

"Somehow, over the next six months, until the Iraqis are capable of their own defense, the Bush administration is going to have to remind us again and again that Iraq is the Battle of Midway in the war on terror, the crucial turning point where either we will crush the terrorists' spirit or they will crush ours." -- 11/4/03

"The fact is that unlike the Congressional pork barrel machine, the federal procurement system is a highly structured process, which is largely insulated from crass political pressures. The idea that a Bush political appointee can parachute down and persuade a large group of civil servants to risk their careers by steering business to a big donor is the stuff of fantasy novels, not reality." -- 11/11/03

I e-mailed these quotes to David Brooks today and asked him why anyone should pay attention to anything he says about Iraq. I encourage your readers to do the same.

Keep up the good work, Doctor A.,

Name: Steve Milligan
Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO

In this week's Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria qualified Reagan's Latin American policy as being "on the right track" and that he supported "human rights and democracy" in Latin America. I must be living in a parallel universe -- I remember the contras, a.k.a. "freedom fighters" in Nicaragua and the death squads in El Salvador. Is this how one provides "historical context"?

Name: James
Hometown: Pittsburgh

Eric,

I agree with you about Brooks, but I think there is more to be said. (I can claim no originality for this line.) It seems likely that Bush's passionate commitment to the surge isn't even a case of principled wrong-headedness. It's less a reaction to the ongoing nightmare in Iraq than to the US election results last year. The Democratic victory was a clear repudiation of the war. Bush couldn't just carry on pretending that all was going well (the insurgency in its last throes, much good news if only the wicked liberal media would report it blah, blah blah ... you know the drill.) The surge was the only plan to hand that didn't involve a concession that Bush was wrong on any major point--it's a mere change of tactics. It's purpose, one suspects, is just to postpone, once more, the day of reckoning and hand off the problem and the unbelievably hard work of digging us out of this hole to the next administration. Contra Brooks, far from
being an act of--possibly foolhardy and misguided--courage in the face of popular disapproval, Bush's adoption of the surge is an act of cowardice, in this case of a coward afraid to face the facts, especially the facts about his own actions and their consequences.

Name: Kyle Childress
Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Hello Dr.,

Pardon my attempt at a two-fer. Of course, you are right about Nader and his idiocy, but one thing I have not seen discussed in all of this wailing is the opportunity that Nader and the Green Party missed in 2000. Imagine yourself being the nominee of a 3rd party in the US and you are sitting on 5% of the vote (and obviously you aren't going to win). What would you do, considering that in 2000 this country had something of a democracy? You go to Al Gore and say something akin to "I'll withdraw and asked my constituency to support you provided that the Green Party gets a cabinet seat (e.g., Interior)." That simple deal would have given Gore the White House and the Green Party a level of legitimacy that is now forever out of reach. Like you say, Nader's an idiot.

As to Novak and his ilk, can't Clinton sue him for libel? I'm a lawyer, so I completely understand that for a public figure like Clinton winning a libel suit is like pulling hen's teeth, but last I heard even a public figure could win if it can be shown that the publication knew of the falsehood and published it anyway. These right-wing freaks continue to push lies that are debunked over and over. Someone should sue 'em.

BTW, it's about 70 here in SF today with no wind and high blue skies. Your NYC is certainly a great city, but today, the City is kicking its ass.

Eric replies: Only if you're going outside ...

Name: Matt
Hometown: NYC (where else?)

If they had put out one more album, let's say in late '70, early '71, full of the material from their first solo records, it arguably would have been the best Beatles album ever. We're talking John's Plastic Ono Band, Paul's "Cherry" album, and George's All Things Must Pass, the three best Beatle solo records by a long shot. I see a double album, 2 sides of George and one side each of Paul and John with some of the best songs the three have ever written. Oh well ...

Eric replies: Dude: It would have been a great album, true. But as for the best three solo albums, Band on the Run and Venus and Mars are better than McCartney, though I really like the latter, and the minor songs cherry-picked the other night by the Fab Faux made them sound even better. (All this raises the question: Why has Paul sucked so much for the past, oh, 20 years?) Meanwhile, Ringo is up there with all of them save All Things Must Pass, which, if you exclude the filler, is almost in the top rank of any Beatles album. I hope we can all agree, however, that Plastic Ono Band is way superior to Imagine.

The Chronicle of Higher Education ($)
The Chronicle Review
From the issue dated March 16, 2007

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

A Candidate Who Was Unreasonable

To the Editor:

As we approach Year 5 of the Iraq disaster and Year 7 of uninterrupted glacial melting, lamebrained diplomacy, inequality of Gilded Age proportions, and all-around know-nothing bravado, it takes breathtaking faith to exalt the virtue of Ralph Nader, as Michael Nelson does, echoing a new exoneration film, An Unreasonable Man ("Giving the Left Somewhere to Go," The Chronicle Review, January 26).

To give his fatuous gambit an empirical gloss, Nelson refers to an article by the political scientist Barry C. Burden that, Nelson writes, "refuted empirically the oft-made charge that Nader focused his efforts on swing states where the Democrats were especially vulnerable." I have just read Burden's article. Burden assumes that "candidate appearances are perhaps the most instrumentally rational form of presidential campaign activity." (Love that "perhaps.")

But suppose that indeed, as Burden concludes, Nader's goal was strictly "maximizing votes, not throwing the election," and that "Nader's campaign travel plans were developed with no real regard for the closeness of the race." Is Nader to be congratulated for "no real regard"? How resplendent was his acumen when he insisted that Bush and Gore were Tweedledee and Tweedledum?

Nelson recklessly disregards facts that disturb his composure. He neglects to mention that, the morning after Election Day 2000, Nader appeared at a press conference, exultant. If Nader's sole goal had been to pile up votes on his way over the 5 percent threshold to win federal funding for the Green Party, he had failed - failed badly. Yet he rejoiced. Nelson does not wonder why.

Here is a hypothesis: Nader was thrilled to have punished the Democrats. If his travel schedule didn't entirely match up with his emotions, credit the recklessness of his emotions and his irrationality in pursuing them.

Nelson maintains that "Nader ran for president ... to give the left somewhere to go." He succeeded. The left had somewhere to go, all right -- to idiocy.

Todd Gitlin
Professor of Journalism and Sociology
Columbia University
New York

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