I would like you to dance...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I did an election coverage post for The Guardian that was posted at 10 p.m. on January 11, so you might have missed it, here. I also wrote an op-ed for Newsday here that grew out of an Altercation post, also on the topic of crappy election coverage.

Speaking of which, I'm taking my birthday off today. In the meantime, consider, for tomorrow's homework, based on this week's Torah portion, two questions:

(1) How is Exodus 10:1 like the American decision to drop a bomb on the city of Hiroshima?

(2) How is Exodus 10: 26 like the terrific opening scene in The Godfather Part II between Michael Corleone and the Nevada senator?

Also for extra credit, here's a long piece on Hannah Arendt's body of work on Israel, Palestine, and Jewish politics:

Now, back to the fact of it being my birthday. I realize I forgot to ask for holiday presents from you people back when you had your charity wallets out. So I'm asking today: If you want to say thanks, or "Happy Birthday" or just feel good about yourself for a day, please help me honor my dear friend and personal hero, Loring Henderson, who, you may recall from past birthday appeals, is both the day and night (!) time director of the Lawrence Community Shelter in Lawrence, Kansas. It is the only facility in the city that is willing to take people in even if they have substance abuse problems -- in other words -- if nobody else cares what happens to them, and most of us can only dimly imagine what a hard job it must be and what courage and fortitude it must take for the people who work there to keep it going. (You can imagine how popular it must be in the neighborhood.) You can read all about them and donate my present via PayPal or credit card here.

Also this:

Musicians On Call is pleased to announce that their charity auction goes live at charitybuzz.com on January 22.

Some of the most coveted items will be up for auction. Here are just a few:

A meet-and-greet with headliner Seal; a one-on-one piano lesson with Gavin DeGraw; autographed tennis shoes from Ellen DeGeneres; and autographed guitars from Tim McGraw, John Mellencamp, Bon Jovi, Sting, Maroon 5, Daughtry, Nicole Kidman & Keith Urban and Bruce Springsteen's Autographed 1952 Reissued Telecaster -- comes with case.

Additional items will be up for auction during Musicians On Call's annual charity event on January 29 at New York's Hard Rock Café.

From TomDispatch:

TomDispatch regular and professor of religion Ira Chernus offers a new way of looking at a presidential campaign in which even Hillary Clinton has a "Faith, Family and Values" team on her staff, while John McCain claimed on the campaign trail that he thought the Constitution had established a "Christian nation." And that's just for starters.

Chernus begins:

It's a presidential campaign like no other. The candidates have been falling all over each other in their rush to declare the depth and sincerity of their religious faith. The pundits have been just as eager to raise questions that seem obvious and important: Should we let religious beliefs influence the making of law and public policy? If so, in what way and to what extent? Those questions, however, assume that candidates bring the subject of faith into the political arena largely to justify -- or turn up the heat under -- their policy positions. In fact, faith talk often has little to do with candidates' stands on the issues. There's something else going on here.

Considering the history of religion in American politics, Chernus suggests that the danger to American democracy lies not in religion itself, but in "faith talk" that pursues "certainty" in the political arena -- and that this tendency has been on the rise: "In a time," he writes, "when the world seems like a shaky place -- whether you have a child in Iraq, a mortgage you may not be able to meet, a pension threatening to head south, a job evaporating under you, a loved one battling drug or alcohol addiction, an ex who just came out as gay or born-again, or a president you just can't trust -- you may begin to wonder whether there is any moral order in the universe. ... Words about faith -- nearly any words -- speak reassuringly to such fears, which haunt millions of Americans."

In the end, however, the quest for certainty, for an immutable moral order in a democracy always, he suggests, invariably leads to the quest to control the acts and passions of others -- attempts, in short, to take away the freedoms of others.

He concludes: "In itself, faith in politics poses no great danger to democracy as long as the debates are really about policies -- and religious values are translated into political values, articulated in ways that can be rationally debated by people who don't share them. The challenge is not to get religion out of politics. It's to get the quest for certitude out of politics."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John Ruffier
Hometown:
Orlando, FL

While I'm sure Michael Gould-Wartofsky's "Repress U, How to Build a Homeland Security Campus" is a good read, if it relies on the "Don't Tase me, bro!" incident to suggest that the University of Florida is some sort of anti-free-speech police state, it's a poor example. If you actually watch more than the clip of the incident, you'll discover that the Tased bro skipped to the front of the line (ahead of students who were politely waiting for questions) and then kept asking questions without allowing Senator Kerry to respond. He was purposely disruptive, hoping to be dragged off and make a scene to post on his website -- I'm sure the Tasing was an added benefit to his manufactured story (which, of course, was posted on his website).

Coincidentally, this also explains why students didn't rise up to defend their "bro" -- they weren't apathetic to heavy-handed police tactics; rather, they were glad to have the stunt-pulling moron shut up so a real dialogue could take place! Go Gators!

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown:
Stratford, CT

Eric,

I'm with Mr. Pierce.

Especially if one is a conservative or a libertarian, isn't the very first test of a statute that there be objective evidence that there is a problem needing to be/capable of being addressed in the first place?

The correct heart of libertarianism is that whenever government acts, it takes away freedom and takes your money to do it. Thus, the burden must always be on the government to prove that: there is problem; a law can fix or improve it; and that the "fix" will do more good than harm (as well as be within the Constitution).

Name: Jeff Sommers
Hometown: Vancouver, BC

Note to Pierce: Tucker Carlson is technically correct on this (but only just). Although Stokely didn't found the Black Panthers that Carlson means here, he was involved in the name, in a roundabout way. In Taylor Branch's sweeping history of MLK and the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s, he devotes a lot of pages to SNCC's involvement in the formation and operation of an independent 3rd party in Lowndes County, Alabama -- then perhaps the deepest and most feudal part of the Deep South and the place where Stokely spent a couple of years organizing. Alabama law then required that the ballot include a symbol next to the party name and the black panther was the symbol that the new party's members agreed to use. Apparently, this was eventually appropriated by the California founders of the Black Panther Party to which Carlson refers.

Name:
Hometown:

Charles Pierce writes:

"I don't want to give the Obamaphiles any more reason to throw rocks, but I would point out that Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito -- To say nothing of Tony (99-0) Scalia -- both represent the triumph of Broderian bipartisanship. (The Great Compromise, remember? In which the Democratic senators reached across the aisle to maintain their right to filibuster by agreeing never to do so.) Is this the kind of healing we need? Is this the kind of bipartisan good faith through which we once again become a great nation?"

In comparing Obama to Broder, you fail to understand that a distinction can be made between these two forms of national politics. Broder's politics blow according to the political winds, as this site often points out. Obama is doing something different: He is attempting to actually bring the country somewhere more unified. He cannot engage in flaming rhetoric and also succeed at his goal. But he is no lightweight.

Personally, I support Hillary Clinton for reasons of the economy. But one stands pressed to deny that this country is going to get anywhere on questions of such complexity as the economy and foreign policy if we can't all stop shouting and allow for some sincere quiet.

Thanks,

Mark.

Name: Rick Kane
Hometown: Locust Grove, Virginia

Hi Doc:

I think the president's speeches on his Middle East trip should be of more than passing interest for those of us fearful of his ability to cause more mischief. The words that caught my attention was his identification of Iran "as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism" and called on Arab allies to help his administration curb the threat "before it's too late." Most have thought that since the last NIE came out, that the threat of war against Iran by the United States had pretty much lost its rationale. Now, I think it is becoming a distinct possibility again, especially since President Bush apparently has a need to be seen as relevant and to have a "legacy," and is not inhibited if his policies lead to the deaths of thousands since he is always advancing "right." We apparently have a fanatic in command of the most powerful military in the world and there is little we can do to stop him if impeachment is off the table.

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