Those Washington bullets again


Bravo for "Brangelina": This story is really interesting. We read, "When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt negotiated with People and other celebrity magazines this summer for photos of their newborn twins and an interview, the stars were seeking more than the estimated $14 million they received from the deal. They also wanted a hefty slice of journalistic input -- a promise that the winning magazine's coverage would be positive, not merely in that instance but into the future."

But is it true? Time Inc. says, "These claims are categorically false. ... Like any news organization, People does purchase photos, but the magazine does not determine editorial content based on the demands of outside parties." The Times added: "The New York Times recently ran a feature article about Ms. Jolie; there were no restrictions on access."

Way back when, however, according to the article, "People magazine bid successfully for photos and an exclusive interview after she gave birth to her first child in 2006. Those pictures sold for an estimated $4.1 million, a sum that she and Mr. Pitt said they donated to charity."

But I had some questions, and so I sent this to the Times reporter who wrote the article:

Dear Brooks Barnes:

I planned to write a little something about your Angelina story on Monday and I was hoping to clarify a couple of points.

1) Is there any evidence on either side about the deal with Time? We are left with two competing claims.

2) In the past, "Brangelina" have asked for the $ not for themselves, but for charity. I assumed this was the case this time as well. But I saw no mention of that in the article. Do we know whether this is the case?

Thanks for your time,


I asked these questions because I have to say, I'm a big fan of these people. I love the way they lay bare the manipulation of the celebrity media and do so in the services of unarguably good causes. I love the way they separate these rich corporations from their money and turn it over to Cambodia orphans. In the past, I've seen articles where the Times accuses certain celebrities of demanding money without pointing out that they were doing so for charitable purposes. (This happened, I recall, to Dave Eggers.) It's an important component of the story here and I hope it wasn't left ambiguous because nobody thought it important. I'll let you know what, if anything, I hear in response.

I've been participating in a debate on the future of a liberal foreign policy begun by Peter Beinart at the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. The debate begins here, and my contribution, which was inspired by a post by Will Marshall, and with whose direction I found myself somewhat at odds, is here:

Well, I'm all for history informing contemporary debate, but I fear we liberals have already been condemned to repeat it. Will Marshall's post sent me back to my old Huey Lewis and Martha and the Muffins albums, back to the days of intraparty fights over Central America, the nuclear freeze, and Jesse Jackson vs. what he (unfairly) called "Democrats for the Leisure Class."

It's not as if liberals ever settled the question of just how much saber-rattling is necessary to ensure the trust of the American people regarding issues of national security, but presumably it is a great deal less than it was before approximately 67 percent of the country turned against a war that many liberals felt they had to support, regardless of its merits, to meet exactly these charges.

If the "tough-mindedness" of liberals were the central question facing Obama's foreign policy, well, ... the very notion is a logical non-sequiteur (sp?) because Obama would not be president. He was the more dovish of the two final candidates in the Democratic presidential primary and the more dovish of the two candidates in the general election. Indeed, it was this dovishness vis-à-vis Iraq back when it mattered that powered his candidacy and gave him the daylight he needed to run a credible campaign against Hillary Clinton in the first place. It was her "tough-mindedness" back in 2002 that destroyed her dreams of ever being president.

When the issue was faced during the primaries, Obama staked out the relatively dovish position of being willing to speak to our adversaries without apology. Attacked in typical hawk-dove terms by the Clinton campaign, his campaign offered this, to me, quite refreshing refusal to back down or walk away, but reaffirmed his argument from a position of strength. The "white paper" authored by then adviser Samantha Power read: "American foreign policy is broken. It has been broken by people who supported the Iraq War, opposed talking to our adversaries, failed to finish the job with Al Qaeda, and alienated the world with our belligerence. Yet conventional wisdom holds that people whose experience includes taking these positions are held up as examples of what America needs in times of trouble.... We cannot afford any more of this kind of bankrupt conventional wisdom."

My point is not to argue on behalf of "dovishness" per se, but on behalf of dealing with things as they are. Iraq and Afghanistan are miserably difficult problems without adding this unnecessary complication to their already fraught and complicated mixes (respectively). What's more, the most important foreign policy challenges facing the Obama administration do not lend themselves to this kind of dichotomy in the first place. Obviously the global economic crisis is first and foremost in this category as is fashioning a serious world-wide response to the threat of climate catastrophe. Worldwide food shortages, millions of displaced refugees, and festering Israeli-Palestinian problem with the added element of a potential Iranian nuclear threat require a degree of global cooperation that is both historically unprecedented but absolutely crucial to our own well-being and future security.

I am not much on democracy promotion given our record and given how difficult it is to do in the first place, and given how ambivalent I am about the true democratic yearnings of the many millions of people in the Arab world who hate us and would like to overthrow their (relatively) US friendly governments and install ones far less friendly. I would like to see us invest in strengthening the peace and security of the millions -- or is it hundreds of millions of people -- who lack it. Let us help create the conditions for middle-class life in their nations and a far more stable form of democracy will eventually take root, to say nothing of a much healthier global economy.

One area where I would invest heavily, however, is in the education of women. That strikes me as the single best investment a liberal foreign policy can make, and would naturally lead to fewer babies being born and far better conditions for those who are. I think Hillary Clinton is the perfect person for the job of Secretary of State in this respect. And I note that that dustup about talking to our enemies turned out to be not such a big deal after all, since well, she appears ready to take the job working for the guy who insisted on it.

"It's Mark Halperin's lips moving but Karl Rove doing the talking" Quote of the Day:

"Media bias was more intense in the 2008 election than in any other national campaign in recent history. It's the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war," Halperin said at a panel of media analysts. "It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage."

That's here.

From TomDispatch:

In 2005-2006, Nick Turse wrote at a "fallen legion" series, a kind of "wall" of honor for all those government officials honorable or steadfast enough in their duties that they found themselves often smeared and with little alternative but to resign in protest, quit, or simply be pushed off the cliff by cronies of the Bush administration. Now, in the last moments of this dishonored administration, Turse returns with a fitting -- and moving -- capstone piece for the honorably fallen in Washington. Think of this post on how Colin Powell's former chief of staff became a public truth-teller both on the realities of the Bush administration and on the horrors of a distant period in his life, his years in the Army fighting in Vietnam, as the last of TomDispatch's "fallen legion" series, a kind of memory piece -- lest we forget.

"Nations in flux are nations in need," begins Nick Turse's latest. "A new president will soon take office, facing hard choices not only about two long-running wars and an ever-deepening economic crisis, but about a government that has long been morally adrift. Torture-as-policy, kidnappings, ghost prisons, domestic surveillance, creeping militarism, illegal war-making, and official lies have been the order of the day. Moments like this call for truth-tellers. For Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. For witnesses willing to come forward. For brave souls ready to expose hidden and forbidden realities to the light of day. Lawrence B. Wilkerson is such a man."

The rest of the piece is the striking tale -- based on in person and email interviews -- of how Wilkerson, in 2005, began revealing the inner workings of what he called "a secretive, little-known cabal" in the Bush administration, making key national security policy -- and as well, the story of how the 31-year military veteran spoke out before Congress about his Vietnam years, including the killing of a Vietnamese girl in a "free fire zone" that has never left his conscience.

Wilkerson has been a genuine truth-teller for the American people, but also for American soldiers deployed into combat in counterinsurgency wars. Turse concludes:

"In speaking out about his Vietnam experience, Wilkerson has, indeed, added to the long record of civilian suffering as a result of America's wars abroad -- offering a stark lesson for U.S. troops yet to be deployed overseas. And for troops who have already served in America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has set an example of the ways in which they can continue to serve the United States by speaking out about all aspects of their service, even the dark portions that Americans often don't want to hear. The only question is: Will they have the courage to follow in his footsteps?"

Honoring our truth-tellers is an important act as a period of infamy ends.

Alter-reviews: Brian Wilson live, and Rosanne Cash and Joe Henry live

Bob Dylan was playing uptown on Friday night but I headed downtown to catch Brian Wilson. It's pointless to compare the two old warhorses -- each of whom did their breakthrough work approximately 42 years ago -- one thing you can be sure of is that a Brian Wilson show is going to put you in a good mood. A Dylan show, well, it's pretty much up to you, since it's never clear whether Bob is even really there. Brian, meanwhile, is always in a good mood. (Maybe it's the meds ...) It was the fourth time I've seen Brian in about four years. Each of the past three times, he had some big excuse for being there. The first time, was well, the first time. Then it was Smile, finally. Next came Pet Sounds. Each of these were not-to-be-missed events. This time, the focal point was Brian's new album, That Lucky Old Sun, which is much better than people would expect it to be. While the lyrics are sorta silly, the music is sophisticated and engaging. Brian and his terrific band, the Peppermints, did 50 minutes of Beach Boys stuff -- including my two favorites, "Do It Again" and "Marcella," before taking a break and them coming back and playing the entire album, followed by about another 40 minutes or so of stuff like "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Help Me Rhonda," etc., and a beautiful closer, "Love and Mercy." The hall was only two-thirds full or so, owing to the under-rating of the wonderful new record, but everyone there felt lucky to be so. More about That Lucky Old Sun here, and more about Brian here.

And forgive me, but I neglected to tell you all how terrific the show that Rosanne and Joe Henry did a couple of weekends ago at the Rubin Museum was. While the two performers don't sound similar, they share a sensibility and a critical intelligence that demands that each song either one writes or performs, must be taken to its lyrical and musical limits. I reviewed a show a few months ago at the Allen Room where Joe Henry, backed by an amazing band featuring Brad Muldau and Don Byron, did an incredible set that featured this amazing song he's written about running into Willie Mays going shopping for a garage-door clicker. It's a brilliantly oblique protest song, and he credited Rosanne with inspiring him to finish it. Last week at the Rubin, Rosanne credited that show -- which was the first time she'd been out to hear music post-brain surgery -- with inspiring her to want to write music again. So while Joe demurred when it came to playing that amazing song, these two musical soul siblings did an amazing, unamplified set that made all of us feel incredibly lucky to be there. Rosanne Cash's genuine official website is here, and Joe Henry's is here. Oh, and look, he's playing with Rosanne's ex of late. And Rosanne's Times blog is here.

What's going on in your city?

Correspondence Corner:

Name: mexluver05

Dear Mr. Alterman,

I just want to say Im sick and tired of your criticism of Ralph Nader and his running in the 2000 election. he had every right to run and Im glad he ran in 04, 08, and I hope in 12 he runs again. Im non-partisan but I am a libreal however I am shocked that you by in to this two party duopoloy and by your critisizims of Mr. Nader just proves that like most of the media you don't care if the people of america have a true democracy. Because of Ralph Nader your alive and well, let me put it that way to make a long story short, you think any of your democratic buddies give a fuck about me or you?? no, they don't and they never will. Excuse my language but somone needs to put your in place he has every right to run and keep running and I hope he does.

Name: Mike Knight
Hometown: Indy

Hey Doc,

I think by now there's been enough reporting about the Big 3 and the reasons to bail them out (or not). But I haven't seen too much (anything?) about what happens if we don't bail the fools out (that is, what is the very large ripple effect we should likely expect, and is it the better of the two devils). There's a good article here that glances on the issue, but I suspect there's plenty more story to be told before we cut them loose.

PS: A late thanks, but I, like others, could not have made it through the last 8 years without the insight and sanity found at both your old MSNBC site and this one ... really.

Name: BoogerP
Hometown: Brighton, MI


For your consideration:

Be forewarned, the information shared is both wide and deep in breadth and scope, here.

As a former (contract) GM employee, I'd like to see America's Big Three automakers survive.

The reaction(s) on Wall Street gives credence to the sense that Wall Street has declared war on the middle class, regards "bail out money." Wall Street investors get the money, no questions asked. Not so for the automakers. Politicians appear to be kissing the asses of those that created this mess. They would deny help for these American workers.

Name: Jeff Borden
Hometown: Chicago

About the Palin video -- what the turkeys are being placed in is actually a large funnel, which allows the bird's head to poke out the bottom. The worker then cuts off the head, letting the turkey bleed out into the trough.

If this operation is like other live poultry shops I've seen, a worker will attach a set of metal clips to the turkey's feet and dunk it into a tank of scalding water to soften the feathers. After a brief soak, the bird will be dangled over a large metal cylinder outfitted with squared off spikes, which quickly pull out the feathers.

Once that step is complete, the bird is ready to be butchered, wrapped and sold.

Name: Susan
Hometown: Raleigh, NC

Hi Eric.

Reader of yours for many years ... and your books ... but a question about music, here.

Do you know why Bruce dropped "Long Black Veil" from his Seeger Sessions Tour?

It's a great tune and I was disappointed it wasn't out on his CD.

Do you know why? It's an incredible "rootsy/earthy" folk song that always reminds me somehow of those of us who want Bush/Cheney and their enablers.

Eric replies: He moves in mysterious ways, alas.

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