We're tryin' to make them go to rehab ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I wish MSM journalists would stop making comments like this one: "I don't intend to blame the plight of the newspaper business on George Bush. He did not invent our great disrupter, the internet. (That, you recall, was Al Gore.)" It's extremely distasteful.

Speaking of settlements, Amos Elon, an Israeli, writes the following in the current New York Review of Books:

The three main impediments to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement are the settlements, control over Jerusalem, and the Palestinian demand for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and/or compensation for their loss. Of these, however, the problem of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem seems to be the most difficult to resolve. Taken together, these settlements are a huge, intentionally created obstacle that affects hundreds of thousands of lives. And for what? In the best case, the settlements extend the Israeli border to the east by a few miles, a distance devoid of serious strategic meaning; in the worst case, they could perpetuate the hundred-year war between the two peoples indefinitely. Yet there are now so many settlers -- over 250,000 in the West Bank -- that it may turn out to be impossible to dismantle communities created with the precise aim of precluding a repartitioning of the country. Too many lives, too many political careers and real estate interests -- i.e., too many people and political factions within Israel -- may depend on it. On the occasion of President Bush's recent visit to Israel, the lead editorial in Haaretz blamed Bush for being an "accomplice after the fact" in the illegal, constantly expanding Israeli settlement project in the West Bank.

That's here.

Here's my question: How is it that the "pro-Israeli" position in the U.S. media is to ignore the settlements as a cause of violence and an impediment to peace, when so many Israelis feel that way as well? Of course, you don't get automatically branded an anti-Semite for speaking of the settlements, but why can't opposition to the settlements, which are ruining Israel's hopes for peace, be considered the pro-Israel position?

Here's a related question from James Q. Wilson:

The evidence about evangelical attitudes is clear. In 2006, a Pew survey found that evangelical Christians were more favorable toward Israel than the average American was -- and much more sympathetic than either mainline Protestants or secularists. In another survey, evangelical Christians proved much likelier than Catholics, Protestants, or secular types to back Israeli control of Jerusalem, endorse Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and take Israel's side in a Middle Eastern dispute. (Among every religious group, those who are most traditional are most supportive of Israel. The most orthodox Catholics and Protestants, for instance, support Israel more than their modernist colleagues do.)

Evangelical Christians have a high opinion not just of the Jewish state but of Jews as people. That Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal doesn't seem to bother evangelicals, despite their own conservative politics. Yet Jews don't return the favor: in one Pew survey, 42 percent of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists. As two scholars from Baruch College have shown, a much smaller fraction -- about 16 percent -- of the American public has similarly antagonistic feelings toward Christian fundamentalists.

That's here.

I've addressed this before, but here it goes again. It's my hypothesis that conservative Christians love "the Jews," but are not so crazy about your average Jew. In France, by contrast, they may not be so crazy about "the Jews" but they seem to like this or that Jew just fine. At least that's been my experience. So it's fine with me for American Jews to be wary of conservative Christians, particularly since they want to convert us and see Israel's triumph as a checkpoint on the road to both conversion and the return of Christ to earth. And all this vilification of France is beyond ridiculous.

And can someone over at TNR tell Marty that the Old Testament is not history. The fact that it tells him that "the patriarch Abraham purchased land" in Hebron does not make it true. There is also not much evidence of the stuff about the burning bush, etc, either, though perhaps, he might be able to get (his first paying) job on the Huckabee campaign.

Want to hear what self-confidence sounds like? It sounds like Gustave Courbet about his own amazing painting, "L'Origine du monde": "You think this beautiful...and you are right.... Yes, it is very beautiful, and listen, Titian. Veronese, THEIR RAPHAEL, I MYSELF, none of us have ever done anything more beautiful...."

Read all about him, and see the painting perhaps, here.

Congrats to my friends in the WGA for their victory in their struggle for a fair contract and for the solidarity they demonstrated in doing so. (And thanks for winning in time to allow me to go on Stephen Colbert March 17, on the evening of the new book's pub date, an honor I feared I was going to have to decline.)

From TomDispatch:

Today, perhaps 4.5 million (or one of every six) Iraqis is either a refugee in another country or an internally displaced person. If the Iraqi refugee crisis, the worst on the planet at this moment, were recomputed in terms of the U.S. population, an unimaginable 50 million Americans would have either streamed across the Canadian and Mexican borders or be out of their homes but still inside the country. This is the essence of what the Bush administration let loose with its invasion and subsequent occupation policies in Iraq.

It has yet to get the sort of attention it deserves in this country. In fact, Michael Schwartz, author of the upcoming book War Without End: The Iraq Debacle in Context, has just written the first history of this crisis to appear (as far as I know) anywhere. It is a monumental effort, laying out the three great waves of Iraqi displacement and dispossession: The first of these came in 2003 with the American occupation's policies of massive de-Baathification of the Iraqi government, demobilization of the Iraqi military, and the shutting down of Iraq's state-owned industries (combined with the rise of a widespread business in kidnapping); the second came when, in 2004, the U.S. military began to attack and invade insurgent strongholds, as they did the Sunni city of Fallujah, using the full kinetic force of its massive fire power; the third came with the rise of a Sunni/Shia civil war and campaigns of ethnic cleansing, especially in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad (helped along by the U.S. "surge strategy").

Schwartz lays out the staggering, "tsunami"-level numbers involved, analyzes the disproportionate number of people with professional, managerial, or administrative backgrounds who fled the country ("... whereas less than 1% of Iraqis had a postgraduate education, nearly 10% of refugees in Syria had advanced degrees, including 4.5% with doctorates..."), gives a sense of the pain and deprivation inflicted, and above all suggests what it means for the future of a country like Iraq to have had such a "brain drain," such a largely irreversible loss of "human capital."

He concludes:

From the vast out-migration and internal migrations of its desperate citizens comes damage to society as a whole that is almost impossible to estimate. The displacement of people carries with it the destruction of human capital. The destruction of human capital deprives Iraq of its most precious resource for repairing the damage of war and occupation, condemning it to further infrastructural decline. This tide of infrastructural decline is the surest guarantee of another wave of displacement, of future floods of refugees. As long as the United States keeps trying to pacify Iraq, it will create wave after wave of misery.

Alter-reviews:

Rauchway and I went to see Joe Henry last week at the Allen Room as part of the American Songbook series at Lincoln Center. It was quite a performance. I mean the guy basically sings complicated folk songs, and he had Brad Meldau and Don Byron in his band. And though he's best known as a producer for people like Solomon Burke, Aimee Mann, Ani DiFranco, and Bettye LaVette, and as Madonna's brother-in-law -- and he wrote my favorite song of last year: "That's my daughter/in the water/everything she owns/I bought her" -- his new album, Civilians, on Anti- Records, here, it's pretty durn good in an understated way. It's got a beautiful song about watching Willie Mays buy a garage door opener at Home Depot, which reminds him of how much Bush and Cheney suck, and he dedicated it to our friend Rosanne Cash, who was out for the first time since her brain surgery, which we are really happy to report as well. Henry's songwriting gets compared to Dylan, Elvis C and Tom Waits, and it works better and better the more you listen to it, though Rauchway liked it and he hadn't heard it before.

I'm not getting to see Tift Merritt when she's in town, but getting her second album, Another Country, sent me out to get her first album, which is on Fantasy. She wrote the album living alone in a little place in the 10th arrondissement, according to the album notes, which might be considered by some to a weird place for a sorta-country, sorta-Americana, sorta-Lucinda-esque singer/songwriter to find her muse, but in fact, it's not. I can't say which album I like better, this one or the first one, but I don't think you'll be angry at me for suggesting that you start with either one.

And a big congratulations to our buddy Steve Earle for his much-deserved Grammy for Washington Square Serenade. Steve is on tour now so catch him somewhere. You'll like Allison too, I'm guessing.

Also this, from our friends at Backstreets:

TIVO ALERT: SEEGER DOC ON AMERICAN MASTERS

After a limited theatrical release last year, and no DVD imminent, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song comes to public television later this month. Featuring Bruce Springsteen and other contemporary artists on Seeger's legacy, this authorized biography of the folk legend was directed by Jim Brown and is airing as part of the PBS series American Masters.

The official broadcast premiere is Wednesday, February 27, at 9 p.m.; visit PBS.org for more information and to check your local listings.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Josh Silver
Hometown: www.freepress.net

Hi Eric,

They say a web video tells a thousand words, and this week we came across a couple that are pretty stunning. (And dispel any lingering doubts about the importance media reform efforts.)

EXHIBIT A: Sam Zell, the new owner of media giant Tribune Company dropped an "F-bomb" on one of his journalists when she asked him about the balance between profitmaking: cranking out cheap-to-produce stories about things like "puppies" vs. investing in hard reporting like Iraq coverage. Here.

EXHIBIT B: During the taping of a talk show produced by AT&T, the control room shut down production moments after a guest criticized AT&T's plans to filter Web content. Fortunately that guest, Joel Johnson of the blog Boing Boing, had a friend secretly videotape the segment from the audience. Here.

So there you have it. Sam Zell doesn't want anything like journalism to get in the way of Tribune Company's profits. And AT&T keeps telling us that Net Neutrality isn't needed, that we should just "trust them" not to censor the Internet. But they won't even allow someone to raise the issue on their show.

We have arrived at a unique time in the history of media, where traditional gatekeepers to information are threatened by a revolution in communications. Big Media's reaction is the same they have taken for decades: shut down discussion, dictate policies, increase profits, and maintain control.

There is lots of activity expected next week on these issues. We're anticipating the introduction of a bill in the House that would make Net Neutrality permanent, and we expect the Senate to introduce a "resolution of disapproval" that would reverse the FCC's December 18 vote to loosen media ownership limits.

Stay tuned, I'll report back on those issues next week.

Name: Bart Motes
Hometown: Redland, Florida

I don't understand why anyone would oppose the DNC's proposal for Michigan and Florida to hold caucuses to determine delegates from those states. Michigan and Florida get to be back in the limelight, the candidates can campaign and compete for votes, and everyone gets to avoid the appearance of disenfranchising voters or making it look like the fix is in for Hillary.

What am I missing?

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

To Altercation,

Kudos for your estimate of a McCain victory over Hillary. Not enough liberal pundits are willing to make predictions that contradict their own preferences. But isn't it likely there will be real bitterness and division in the Democratic Party no matter who wins? The Party is clearly breaking into its class, gender and ethnic constituencies, and the Clinton-Obama race is demonstrating the remorseless contradictions of identity politics.

Aside from that, the Democratic Party has chronic problems assembling a majority of the vote in presidential races. Only once since FDR died has the Democratic candidate won more than the 50.7% that Bush, running an unpopular war in a sluggish economy, rang up in 2004. Voters have rejected all five northern Democrats nominated since 1968. McCain is going to be very difficult to defeat no matter who wins on the Democratic side.

Name: mike
Hometown: miami, fl

I open by admitting I'm a registered Republican. I quickly follow by saying I will cheerfully vote for the Democratic nominee, whomever that may be in November.

I really hope they can salvage a page or two of the Constitution from the Bush/Cheney shredder before it's too late....

Name: B. L. Webb
Hometown: Edmonton, Canada

Hey Doc --

Great to hear you're taking up the six string -- the world can never have too many guitar players.

I know you're a Neil Young fan, so I thought I'd share Neil's favorite chord progression -- A minor to F major -- with you.

With that, and a few other chords, you can play a good portion of his catalogue, especially the electric stuff.

Keep on rockin' in the free world!

Name: Geraldo
Hometown: Winnipeg, Canada

So now that the Romney lads are no longer doing the most important job in America -- helping Mitt get elected -- I expect they will be signing up for the military to come help us out in the War on Terror. We are especially looking for people to come to Afghanistan...

Name: Kevin B
Hometown: Seattle, WA

Your Nation column was a pleasure to read. Kennedy didn't run from the word "liberal." I keep thinking, it would be nice to hear questions like, "Are you a liberal?", answered with "Well, yeah. Liberals defend liberty. You don't have anything against liberty, do you?"

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle

Rush blasting McCain is the best thing that could happen to him in the general. Rush saying, "He's not a conservative," is a damned lie, and people are falling for it. OK, in the traditional sense, nobody in the Republican Party is conservative -- in terms of balanced budgets, a modest foreign policy, unintrusive government, the Republican Party might as well be Mao-ist -- but in the Bush-ian sense, McCain is extremely conservative. War war war war war!

One of the great, self-defeating liberal myths is that the plutocratic wing of the Republican Party is lying when they say they'll support the initiatives of the theocratic wing. Of course, they *are* lying about their opinions about abortion, accepting gay people, and evolution, but the point of being a plutocrat is being so rich you don't have to care -- and they don't. And so they put theocratic liars like Alito and Roberts on the Supreme Court, because if their daughter has to have an abortion, they can afford to fly to Switzerland; if the public schools teach nothing but Creationism, their children are already going to private schools anyway; if their children are discriminated against in the workplace because they're gay, they can get them appointed to some other high-paying job.

The great con of the 2000 and 2004 elections was that Bush wouldn't cave to the theocrats on social issues -- "he's compassionate, he's really a moderate" -- and that he'd be good on security and the economy (or at least on taxes). The exact opposite proved true: He's caved every step of the way on social issues, and he's been horrific on security and terrible on the economy.

McCain would be exactly the same.

Rush is a shrewd operator. "McCain isn't a conservative; McCain is a maverick." Pushing that lie is the only chance they got.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman - I know there is a difference between real life and TV, but isn't the 2008 presidential election shaping up very similar to the presidential election in the final seasons of The West Wing. The moderate (or at least in reality, the media created moderate) Republican wraps up the Republican nomination fairly early, while the democrats battle it out for weeks and months. In The West Wing, the young, charismatic, minority candidate won the nomination in the end against the establishment, more centrist candidate. Did Aaron Sorkin know something in 2004?

Name: Nick Sullivan
Hometown: Upper Darby, PA

Mr. Alterman: I love Pierce. But it's very discouraging to see his willful misunderstanding of Obama. I don't believe he is talking about making nice with the GOP Congress ... but moderate and independent VOTERS ... in order to make the Republican mouth-breathers have something to fear. By that I mean, cornering themselves even further as a regional party of whack-jobs. If Obama can win 54-55 percent, good things might actually happen. Those assholes are never gonna play ball with Hillary, who, if she wins, will squeak. So why does Pierce keep slamming the O-Man? I just don't get it. Will she bop them over the head with her shoe, while Obama will kiss them? It's nonsense.

Name: Todd Kehoe
Hometown: Saratoga Springs, NY

One of your letters noted the demographic problems with a fanciful McCain vs. Dem TBD poll. Oddly, the national media seems almost mum on the fact that Democratic primary turnout is far surpassing Republican primary turnout. Louisiana, a Bush state twice, it was more than 2-1 for the Democrats. Colorado, a purple state, 2-1 for the Democrats. Even in Florida and Michigan -- with no Democratic delegates on the line -- the turnout was almost even. Is McCain really going to keep a hold on independents while rallying the 30-percenters of Bush's base that aren't voting now? Even with the media's generous help, I'm thinking he's got more problems than just age and economics right now.

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