Slackerish Friday

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new Think Again column here called "Jena, Finally," and a new Nation column called "The Coming 'Stab in the Back' Campaign." And don't miss Boehlert on Rather and CBS and Rosanne Cash on her dad if you happened to earlier this week. ("Nothin's better than blood on blood..." )

I dropped by the Obama rally early last night, but after 25 or so years of this stuff, I just can't stand canned campaign speeches. Well, I can, but not endless introductions to them by people I've never heard of, which is what I was hearing. So instead, I went to a party a block away for Naomi Wolf's new book, which is called The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot and which I will mention here neutrally, just in case I read it and don't agree with it. After that, I went to a screening of Help!, which is about to be re-released by Capitol on DVD and is much funnier and cleverer than I remember, and looks and sounds wonderful in color and, my God, what a blessing those boys were. Almost makes you believe in God.

Your tax dollars at work.

One good thing about media concentration that rarely gets mentioned is that if your friend and former assistant works at Bravo, he might have an office with a big window overlooks where the bands play for the Today show, which is owned by the same behemoth. One bad thing about terrorism that rarely gets mentioned is that security guys dressed like cops won't even let you open up a go**am window anymore.

The View from Eli's Window (Photos by a hookey-playing, security-guy-evading Eve Rose Alterman):

GMA1

GMA2

GMA3

Anybody got a ticket for me for tonight?

Quote of the Day:

Bruce Springsteen:

This is a song called Livin' In the Future. But it's really about what's happening now. Right now. It's kind of about how the things we love about America, cheeseburgers, French fries, the Yankees battlin' Boston ... the Bill of Rights [holds up microphone, urging crowd to cheer] ... v-twin motorcycles ... Tim Russert's haircut, trans-fats and the Jersey Shore ... we love those things the way womenfolk love Matt Lauer.

But over the past six years we've had to add to the American picture: rendition, illegal wiretapping, voter suppression, no habeus corpus, the neglect of that great city New Orleans and its people, an attack on the Constitution. And the loss of our best men and women in a tragic war.

This is a song about things that shouldn't happen here happening here.

So right now we plan to do something about it, we plan to sing about it. I know it's early, but it's late. So come and join us.

Marty Peretz Quote of the Day:

Marty Peretz, 2/4/07:

The rhetoric now shows itself to be empty, the rhetoric -- Edward Said's rhetoric -- about the nobility, the delicacy of "the children of stones." The Palestinians were so more civilized than the other Arabs. So much more advanced. But how much can you prove by sending the one pathetic, sad Sari Nusseibeh -- his pathos being his cachet -- around to Harvard and Oxford to show that the thugs have their betters?

This is cold comfort to the Israelis. Their enemies can still maim and kill. It is entirely preferable for the Palestinians to have their rump and run it as they will or can. But, please, enough about how civilized they are. They are on their way to being Iraqis.

Posted by M. Duss.

From TomDispatch:

As the presidential election season heats up, Republican candidates have opted for "Guantanamo-forever" policy positions. Retiring Republican Senator Chuck Hagel recently complained that the notorious detention facility -- once the proud public face of the President's attempt to move incarceration and mistreatment offshore and beyond the reach of American courts -- has bizarrely enough become "a Republican litmus test." At a Republican Presidential debate in May, Mitt Romney typically offered the following: "Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo."

Karen J. Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University and co-author of the highly praised book The Torture Papers, responds directly to him in her latest piece. "Take a breath, Mitt," she begins, "Whatever you may think, your bravado statements about doubling the size of Guantanamo -- part of your bid to lead the American people faster and farther into the Global War on Terror -- are by no means completely off-the-wall. True, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Gates have both stated that closing Guantanamo might be the best way out of the legal limbo we've been in ever since that facility opened five and half years ago as the crown jewel of the administration's offshore network of secret prisons. But forget what they say. Check out what they're doing. The closing of Guantanamo -- and a winding down of the administration's detention and interrogation policies -- may be farther away than most of us think. As elsewhere in this administration's record, casual talk of refashioning a failed policy masks an inflexible commitment to 'staying the course.' "

In the rest of this short, sharp piece she explains just what's really happening to George Bush's offshore detention network -- almost everywhere, including Guantanamo, it's actually undergoing expansion. And she concludes: "So, Mitt, relax. Guantanamo (and everything it represents) is alive and well. The administration's loose talk of change only conceals its stubborn commitment to a wholly discredited path. Guantanamo, a prison in no way ready to close, is at the heart of a conversation that almost no one seems willing to open."

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

"Obscenity? Who really cares?/Propaganda, all is phony."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click -- "Heard Somebody Say (Who-Na-Nay)" (Golden Comanches): Once again, I have forgotten to find within the clay tablets containing the original Epic Of Gilgamesh a secret Sumerian code that explains how much I love New Orleans. Hey, Sal. Pass the word for me, OK?

One of the most charmingly naive arguments mustered by conservative critics of the Avignon Presidency's laughably bloated sense of its own constitutional prerogatives is to ask other conservatives how they will feel if these expanded powers fall into the hands of, say, President Hillary Clinton. The answer to this is very simple -- no Democratic president ever will be allowed to use them. Almost immediately, a Democratic president who tries even the most tepid exercise of these alleged powers will be pilloried on the Right as the lineal descendant of Heinrich Himmler. Recent criticisms -- almost entirely ignored by the mainstream press in real time, while the Bushies actually were feeding the Constitution into the woodchipper -- will suddenly be given new life as examples of liberal -- or, to use C-Plus Augustus's favorite term of art, "Democrat" -- hypocrisy, a master narrative beloved by the cocktails-on-Nantucket crowd. I do not doubt the good faith of conservative scholars like Bruce Fein on these issues. They have been brave and true. But they either misunderstand, or don't care to engage, the profound bad faith in which movement conservatism engages all questions of public policy. Those people have no compunction about acting upon principles wholly at odds with the principles they earlier have espoused most vigorously. Indeed, that is the most essential tactic they have. Consider the case of uber-charlatan John Yoo, who is what Alexander Hamilton would be if Hamilton had the constitutional knowledge of a ferret. Here's an interesting example. I assure you that this dynamic will be at play for the entire eight years of a Democratic administration. It will be obvious and shameless and an awful lot of people in my business will pretend not to see what is plainly in front of them.

(Note: This is just an exercise. I am not advocating that a Democratic president behave like an authoritarian yahoo. In fact, one of the many reasons I'm lukewarm on HRC is because she hasn't spoken out hardly at all on these critical issues, which leads me to believe that, of all the Democratic hopefuls, she's the most likely to have a sweet tooth for these powers when she takes office. Only Edwards and Kucinich seem to get it. )

Hey, Russert, you know what happens if you torture a guy to tell you when and where the bomb's going off? He tells you that it's in Cleveland, and you rush all the response teams there, and then the bomb goes off in Raleigh and Republicans blame Bill Clinton. Jeebus Christmas, what a putz. And questions about the national drinking age, and a national smoking ban, and a parochial issue regarding gay themes in textbooks in a Boston suburb? While people are dying and the Constitution's on life support? When did this turn into a race for freaking alderman? I would have voted immediately, and often, for the candidate who slapped Russert around for, say, his role in the Valerie Plame case:

"Tim, will you make a solemn promise to the American people that you will never again out of sheer sycophancy to power enable a Republican dirty-tricks operation against the national security?"

Rosanne's tribute to her father's TV show got the room very dusty. Those of us devoted to The Master recall his appearance with Johnny Cash as the first nationwide evidence that he'd survived that mysterious motorcycle accident. (There were serious rumors that he'd been rendered comatose, as I recall.) Watching that clip, and watching the affection the two of them pour into "Girl From the North Country" -- in Johnny's case, I figure that meant Kentucky -- you can see "Blood on the Tracks" coming, as well as Dylan's latter-day folk exercises and Cash's wonderful career coda with Rick Rubin. God bless you, Rosanne, your music and your memories.

Wait a second. Bill O'Reilly -- Bill O'Reilly! -- walked into a crowded restaurant somewhere in the United States of America and nobody in the place looked up at Bill O'Reilly and said, "motherf***er"?

I weep for our nation.

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: The Yankee fan section of Charlottesville, VA

Eric:

Admit it. You knew all along the Yankees were going to come back from a billion games behind Boston to scare the crap out of them and (still hoping) perhaps topple them from the AL East perch. At least you knew they would be a playoff team all along, right? All that whining about the NYTimes coverage had be a front for your incessant visions of Yankee greatness that would envelop your sports media world come October.

Now, I have been meaning to write to you about this Times baseball coverage thing. Look, it's just plain silly to even care what the Times does with its sports pages. Who the heck reads the Times for sports? It has had the worst sports section in America since Teddy Roosevelt tried to outlaw football. A section like that, with some of the dumbest sports columnists and most boring reporters can't possibly matter to anyone. Geez, most of the country (including, sadly, me) does not even get east coast night scores in their Times every morning. All the standings are a day behind in the national edition.

But let's try to understand the motivation of Times sports editors. We all know that journalists are trained to follow the best story, regardless of real-world implications or relevance. So what's the best story in New York from April through October? Better bike lanes on 9th Avenue? Floating swimming pools off the Brooklyn waterfront? No. It's the yearly turmoil and drama of the Yankees, the early-season domination by Boston, followed by the annual post-All-Star-Game Yankee surge, the questions about whether Joe Torre still has it (answer: damn right he does), the brilliant personnel moves by GM Brian Cashman, and the inevitable clutch heroics of one Derek Sanderson Jeter. We all knew those things were going to be part of the plot. Why not cover it better than the frustrating hiccups we are hearing from over in Queens?

Oh, and I am sorry and surprised about the prospect of seeing the Mets choke away a season-long lead to, ahem, Philadelphia. I sincerely thought that Willie Randolph would bring some of his Yankee character across the TriBoro Bridge. But, come to think of it, Joe Torre played for the Mets for years and that has not seemed to detract from his performance in the Bronx.

Down here in Virginia, I have had the worst time getting out-of-region games on television. Neither DirectTV (a Rupert Murdoch-owned nightmare with the worst customer service of any company in America -- even worse than USAir) nor DishNetwork (a better company with pathetic sports options) can get me either Red Sox (for the wife, of course) or Yankee games with any regularity. They both offer both NESN and YES, but -- get this -- black out the baseball games! As if there were any other reason to watch NESN or YES! I can't get Comcast Cable to serve my house because it is recent construction and their computers don't believe that my house exists.

So here I sit, an American, with money ready to spend, living in an age of hyper-fast digital communication, and I cannot get anybody to sell me all the services I want. I want to see the Patriots and the Bills every Sunday (I know: why would anyone WANT to see the Bills this year). I want my Texas Longhorns on Saturdays. I want to see the Yankees and/or Red Sox every night. I want to see The Simpsons every Sunday and The Office every Thursday.

DirectTV will get me NFL and MLB if I pay for the premium subscription packages. But it will not let me see any local channels or network feeds. I am not making this up. They blame the FCC. I don't really understand.

DishNetwork will get me local network channels, but it does not carry either the NFL or MLB packages.

And Comcast would get me the baseball and the local, but not the football. Well, that's if they could ever find my house.

Why won't these companies take my money?

Now, I know that with 45 million Americans living without health insurance and thousands of soldiers serving way too long over in Iraq I should hardly be whining about this situation, but do you see where I am going with this? The market does not provide because the FCC does not force the market to work. In too many areas of American life, especially in media, our government facilitates sweetheart deals, exclusive contracts, and fails to insist that utilities compete fairly. Broadcasting is bad. But mobile phone service is worse.

I hope the next administration takes media regulation seriously. There is much more at stake here than sports.

Meanwhile, at least the Yankees will clinch the division against Baltimore this weekend. I get all the crummy Orioles games down here. And I get all the games with that team with a W on their red caps from the league where they let pitchers hit. Sigh.

Oh, and as far as the Yankees' amazing season, to quote Stephen Colbert, I accept your apology.

Eric replies: I admit that I expected the Yankee "surge" deep down, just as I expected that Bush would escalate the war after the country voted in 2006 to end it. As goes Bush and the Republicans ... (In fact, I think the Yankee payroll would just about cover the escalation costs ...) As for the Mets, well, I am indeed without excuses. It's a great game when a team can brag, "Never before has a team that was up seven games with only 17 to go did not make it to the go**am playoffs."

Name: Bob Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI

Eric,

Sean Wilentz has got some work to do. Greil Marcus wrote a whole book on one Dylan song, and Wilentz has only an article on a whole album -- and a double album at that. But what an article! Thanks for the link (and it serves as a reminder to pick up the Oxford American music issue). I have listened to Blonde on Blonde hundreds of times over the past 40 years, and learning of the care and work that went into it only adds to my enjoyment of that masterpiece.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman --

How long until the mainstream media reports about Mitt Romney's ties to Blackwater? Can you imagine if this was Hillary Clinton? Not only would the right-wing noise machine be going crazy, but the so-called liberal media would be running segment after segment. I can envision front page stories in the Washington Post and New York Times, and probably even the Senate voting to condemn Blackwater and specifically blaming the person with ties to Clinton. But it is Mitt Romney, and I have not seen it at all.

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