Slacker Friday


We've got a new Think Again column called "Meanwhile, Back in Baghdad," here, and my Nation column is called "These Are Better Days."

I'll be speaking to a small gathering of Jewish students at Yale tonight where I will give your regards to the home of America's first hamburger but not, alas, to the world's best pizza, since it's a dinner thing. Saturday I'm speaking to a gathering of the Ohio ACLU in Cleveland, where I will give all of your regards to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

From LTC Bob:

Hey, 48? 52? Yeah, ummm, c'mere you two, come sit down in the living room. We've got something serious we need to talk to you about, OK?


All right, you know that I'm not really good at speaking. State is, but we both thought that this should be written down, because that helps tamp down emotions. So here you go [handing paper], read this. It's from both of us. We can talk afterwards.

* * *

Dear Family,

OK, well we all know this is a pretty emotional time for everyone. We get it. 52, you're on top of the world right now and feeling really good. And 48, we know you feel like you just got hit by a truck and you want to crawl into a cave. But 48, please remember that 52 felt that way not long ago. THIS time we need you two to get along, ok? Because maybe you haven't noticed, but things are pretty rough around here, especially for us, and things might get even worse before they get better.

Now, 52, I know you want to blame our troubles on 48, and some of that is understandable. But you need to be calm and focused now and let the past rest. And 48, I know that you want to blame our troubles on 52, and some of that is understandable too. But you need to stop the pouting and pull up. We have let you two work yourselves up and vent your issues as much as you wanted up to this point, but all of that has to stop now, OK? It's done. The emotions are understandable, but the time for that is over now. Do you hear us? We need both of you to settle down now and act your age. You should not be acting like this at 232.

Yes, we get it. Emotions are heady things. But the way you two have behaved in the past just will not cut it this time. That time in 1861? That was totally unacceptable. And frankly, the way the both of you acted in 1932 was pretty bad too. As for 1968, I think we all agree that the family is better leaving that behind us. This isn't like the time you wrecked the car and blamed it on "the environment," 48, and it's not like the time you got suspended and threatened to move to France, 52. This is a lot more serious. We are in real, no-kidding trouble, and we need both of you pulling together this time. You understand, intellectually, that euphoria and depression lead to overconfidence and recrimination, which only drive you two further apart, and we cannot have that this time. We just can't.

We want you to know that we love both of you. Yes, you each have your extreme moments and personality traits, but we really do love you both, even some of the crazy parts, and that is what is important. We are a family, but as a family, we need to pull as one team. Do you understand? We need you to stand up now and help us make things right in the neighborhood, because frankly it is just too much for the two of us to carry the load alone now, OK? We are just too worn out and exhausted, and we both need your help.

We're being direct with the two of you because you are old enough now to understand. And we are talking this way because we see that if you two keep it up, if you don't calm down and start seriously working together for this family, the consequences will be a lot more serious than just another grounding.

OK, well, we all understand each other now. Now do the right thing, both of you. And please, when you go outside, remember that the neighbors can hear and see you, ok? No more streaking 52? No more preaching on the corner 48? Just be normal, deal?

We love you,
Department of Defense (LTC Bob) and Department of State (Mrs. LTC Bob)

You can write to LTC Bob at . If you've a message for Mrs. LTC Bob, he can pass it to her as well.

From TomDispatch:

An election campaign season is invariably a time when all Democrats must seem tougher than titanium on foreign policy issues -- and, on North Korea, Barack Obama was. That, of course, was campaign rhetoric, but such rhetoric sometimes has an eerie way of turning into policy, especially for a new Democratic administration which will undoubtedly feel a similar need to seem tough on "security issues." It's often suggested that Kim Jong Il's country is locked in a time warp. That might turn out to be a better description -- as co-director of the website Foreign Policy in Focus and Korea expert John Feffer suggests -- of American policy toward that country. As a key prerequisite for a genuinely new approach to the North, the Obama administration should start, he concludes, by suspending the givens of the last 12 years and simply trying to see that country in a new way.

This Feffer himself does in his latest TomDispatch piece, beginning his new portrait of the North Koreans this way: "Forget the picture you have of a land that time forgot. North Korea is not the world's last Stalinist country or the only remaining communist economy. Not anymore, anyway. The country is very different than it was even a decade ago. For one thing, North Korea is now thoroughly permeated by a spreading market economy."

For an American media that concentrates only on the North's nuclear weapons program and the health of its "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, Feffer paints a startling picture of the development of "red capitalism" in the North -- red, not in the sense of communism, but as in "red in tooth and claw." In the end, he offers a vision of the North -- with a developing technocratic class, new markets, and newly porous borders -- as a China without money.

It's in this context that he considers the disaster of Bush's North Korean policy -- both the attempt at regime change and the attempt at negotiations over its nuclear program. "If the Obama administration proves capable of looking at North Korea with new eyes," he suggests, "it will see that economic engagement with the country is likely to encourage all these important, if still nascent, changes" instead of simply focusing only bargaining chip the impoverished North now has, its nuclear program.

In this rethinking of American policy, Feffer urges the new administration to engage the North economically and suggests just how this might be done to everyone's benefit. He concludes: "If Obama and his advisors look at North Korea clearly, they can resolve the longest-lived conflict that the United States currently has with another country. That wouldn't be change around the edges, but a fundamental step forward in U.S. relations with the world."

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"Here's to you/Raise a glass to everyone/Here's to them/underneath the burning sun."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "I Ate Up The Apple Tree" (The Original Pinstripe Brass Band) -- Matt Lauer's coming over tomorrow. We're going to make moose etouffee and talk about how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: The Bateman/Pierce ticket was sadly mistaken in its belief that the Nation was ready for either one of us. We are gearing up for 2012. I'm fairly sure I can still work less hard.

Part The Second: More thoughts on The Great Cover List: to wit, what to do with Rod The Mod? He's something of a giggle in his dotage, thrashing around with Gershwin and all that but, in his younger days, he was a cover machine, starting with the tremendous "I Ain't Superstitious" with The Jeff Beck Group. I would include as exhibits for the Plaintiff the following: a) the backwards-arranged "Street Fightin' Man" from The Rod Stewart Album; b) the stellar pair of Dylan obscuros, "Only A Hobo" (Gasoline Alley) and "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (Never A Dull Moment); c) the pulverizing "(I Know) I'm Losin' You" from Every Picture Tells A Story and the sloppy-great "Twistin' The Night Away" (NADM), d) the moving "People Get Ready" that he did with Jeff Beck, and, my own personal favorite, his masterful reworking of my personal collegiate anthem, "What Made Milwaukee Famous (Made A Loser Out Of Me)." (Jerry Lee's version of the Charlie Rich tune was a jukebox staple at the late, lamented Lenny's Tap on the corner of 18th and State.) As far as I know, for years, the cut existed only on the cassette version of Never A Dull Moment. It now can be found on a couple of Mercury anthologies.

Part The Third: Anyone who doubts that Garry W. Tallent is the most underrated player in rock and roll need only listen to the vintage "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" that's going to be all over the radio for the next month and a half. He runs that bass into the choruses like Duck Dunn hitting his mark on the live versions of "Try A Little Tenderness."

Part The Fourth: It really is only a matter of time before Shep Smith goes over the wall, isn't it? C'mon, Shep. That car's idling in the dark outside the studio!

Part The Fifth: Bravo has brought back The West Wing for two episodes every weekday morning. It's remarkable in the early shows how deeply DLC-Moynihan Stockholm Syndrome afflicted the Bartlet-Sorkin White House. (Yes, Lawrence O'Donnell, you're a good man, but I am indeed looking at you. And at Caddell.) There's an ungodly amount of flinching going on, and the show already feels as conspicuously dated as The Defenders or Carter Country. Still smart writing, though, and what a horrible loss John Spencer was.

Part The Sixth: It's over! It's all over! In a shocking development, the preseason favorite quit on his stool, and the title of Biggest Knob In Knoxville passes to the challenger in a shocking upset. Heh, indeedly-deedly-do!

Part The Last: God love Dr. Maddow for at least pointing out the other night that a great deal of the reporting on the Obama transition is a bubbling goulash of agenda-pushing, guesswork, wishful thinking, and complete bullsh*t.

Just when you thought there might actually be a bottom to scrape in the barrel of cable television news, we have the unprecedented coverage granted to Princess Dumbass Of The Northwoods. Remember, if you would, that in 2000, we had a genuinely controversial election the results of which were dubious on their face, and then delegitimized even more by a comically corrupt Supreme Court decision that might as well have been handed down in a plain brown envelope. Throughout the extended unpleasantness, all we heard from the punditariat was that the dispute had to be settled quickly and smoothly, none of those messy constitutional requirements to tangle us up, because The American People were hankering for a solution. This was, of course, arrant nonsense. Most of the people spreading knew as much about The American People than they did about Giant Mole Rats On Mars. The extended recount was inconveniencing them. That was the problem. Nevertheless, once the Nine Old Burglars handed down their nakedly accessorial opinion, we were all told to move on. Al Gore was sent on his way in a hail of condescension and ridicule. (Read now the reaction to the thwacking speech Gore gave prior to the launching of the Iraq War. People should have been fired for what they wrote and said.) We were also told that, because of the connivance through which he'd been put in office, George W. Bush undoubtedly would be forced to govern in a moderate, bipartisan fashion. And, of course, apres le merde, le deluge.

Now, though, we have the vice-presidential candidate of a ticket that lost from one end of the country to another being treated as though her every halting grammatical atrocity is inherently newsworthy. This past week has been simply astonishing. If the past campaign revealed anything, it revealed that Sarah Palin has the breadth of knowledge suitable to a small-town mayor and the syntax suitable for running the Slurpee machine at some logging-trail convenience store. She seems to have learned English backwards. She helped doom the ticket all by herself. Yet, there are important people in the television news end of my business who seem completely incapable of saying no to this dim woman. How is she not yet yesterday's news? Don't hand me that she is somehow a vital figure in the rebuilding of the Republican brand. The jury is still way out on that. (If that were really the case, I'd be seeing a lot more of Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels than I'm seeing of Herself.) Yes, I know people watch NASCAR to see car wrecks, but they don't watch to see the same car wreck, over and over again. What is wrong with you people? Butcher's Bill Kristol thinks this woman's smart. Isn't that enough? Yeesh.

Name: Steve Milligan
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Dr. A.

I also saw "Boogie Man" the other night. I thought it was fascinating. What continues to puzzle me is that folks like Atwater and Rove are constantly described as "genius" or "brilliant" when it seems to me that their only true distinction is their enthusiasm for shredding all standards of decency and all regard for the truth. Does this make political operatives who display a modicum of probity "uninspired" or "less brilliant?" As bad as it is, what would the quality of our political discourse be like if our fora were populated exclusively by such "geniuses?"

What was conspicuous by its absence in the film was the highlighting of the media's role in pimping themselves out as willing, better yet enthusiastic conduits for the swill that these "brilliant" operatives churn out with such depressing regularity.

Keep up the good work.

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

I've been thinking for the last couple of days how to say what Tom Engelhardt says better here. Barack Obama can only do what we're sending him to Washington to do if we write to our representatives insisting that they do the right thing, that we complain to the media when they repeat lies or hold him to an impossible standard. If "We, the People" do this right, it can be the start of an ongoing Liberal enlightenment in the United States. If we just let the man suffocate we won't get another chance to straighten things out for a long time. That's a guarantee.

Name: John Brennan
Hometown: Fairfax Station, VA

With regards to the claims of phony blogster/ersatz McCain adviser Martin Eisenstadt being taken so credulously by so many MSM outlets, you'd think they'd realize that anyone claiming to work at something called the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy was staging an elaborate prank. The moment I saw the name of that supposed think tank I realized it was a goof. The only question in my mind was whether the Harding referred to was Warren or Tonya.

Name: Denton Randall
Hometown: Louisville, KY

Hey Doc...

I can't recall an election cycle when so many folks continued wearing their (winners) badges, wrist bands, T-shirts, etc., after election day.

Reminds me of David Crosby; "I feel like letting my freak flag fly."

Name: Jim
Hometown: Swanzey, NH

I'm a fan of Simmons, probably because I'm also a fan of Boston teams. That's been Simmons' shtick from the beginning, being a fan who writes rather than a sportswriter. He's always hated Shaughnessy (named "The Curly-Headed Boyfriend" by Carl Everett, who was ranking out Peter Gammons at the time) for his ridiculous reliance on the "Curse of Babe Ruth" story. It's likely he's picking on Berman for his equally ridiculous and inappropriate boosting of the Bills.

Name: Ken Hughes
Hometown: Presidential Recordings Program, Miller Center, University of Virginia

Dear Eric,

"South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway," President Richard Nixon told National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger on August 3, 1972, by which time he had spent nearly four full years telling the American people the opposite. "I'm just being perfectly candid."

Nixon had publicly promised to bring the troops home from Vietnam only when the South could defend and govern itself, but he privately recognized that that it probably never would be able to. He could have withdrawn the troops when he first realized this. And gone down in history as a president who lost a war. And gone down to defeat in the 1972 election.

Instead, Nixon secretly timed military withdrawal from Vietnam to the election, bringing enough troops home to bolster his claim that his training program for the South Vietnamese military was succeeding, while leaving enough there (until the politically opportune moment) to conceal that it wasn't. And he secretly proposed a "decent interval" exit, letting Hanoi know via triangular diplomacy that he would not intervene if it overthrew the Saigon government after he got out -- as long as the Communists waited about 18 months. Enough time so that Saigon's fall looked like Saigon's fault, not Nixon's.

Episode five of Fatal Politics shows how Nixon's secret diplomatic strategy began to bear fruit in 1972. The Chinese accepted the "decent interval" concept, then urged it on the North Vietnamese. The last US combat troops came home. Nixon rode sky high in the polls.

Almost twenty thousand American soldiers had died during his presidency (one-third of all who died in our longest war). They had been told they were fighting for South Vietnam's independence and freedom, not for a decent interval before North Vietnam won. "We've got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two," Kissinger told Nixon. "After a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January '74 no one will give a damn."

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