Eric Carmen for One Night Only

All By Myself - Eric CarmenMy sister was somehow texting me while working in her backyard. She wrote, “Yep it’s nice out here. All by myself. U know the song. It’s kind of a boring one. But oh so true.” That’s right, my older sister uses “U” for “you” and now she is using “K” for “okay.” What can I say? Cultural decline starts in the home. Anyway, I thought, “Oh, yeah! Eric Carmen!”

Now Eric Carmen is a very talented guy. Really. He’s an enormous talent. But I don’t much care for him. He’s always seemed a lot like Harry Nilsson, but without the charm. Still, you have to give the guy credit. He had a long and successful career writing and performing songs that if you were honest, you would admit you must have loved back then. But unlike the band America, you can still see the appeal — the craft and even the brilliance.

Like so much that is good and yet nausea producing, Carmen came out of Cleveland. As the man said, it is a city of light and magic! He got his start in the late 1960s with the popular local band Cyrus Erie. This band eventually merged with The Choir to form hugely successful Raspberries. In 1972, they had a top ten hit — With a bullet! — “Go All the Way.” Admit it: you like it more than you want to admit. But I’ll bet you don’t know that it is actually about a couple deciding to stay celibate until they marry. Oh, just kidding! It’s about exactly what it sounds like. At the end of this video is a quote from my hero Lester Bangs who wrote, “‘Go All the Way’ leaped onto the charts by stapling together stock riffs from The Who, middle Beatle-mush, and what else? I forget, but it sounded staple too. It was regurgitated and reprocessed mush. Yum.” He’s right, as usual. But it is a great compliment to be insulted so accurately by Lester Bangs.

After five years with the band, during which time they were really very dependable doing that kind of “power pop,” Eric Carmen left the group. It was always pretty clear that he was the sentimentalist of the band, even if he did have a powerful voice and had no problem writing about sex. With no one to hold him back, he got his treacle one with the number two song on the Billboard Hot 100 — With a bullet! — “All By Myself.” In it, he managed to make me hate Rachmaninoff more than I already did. It tells the story of a man who has reached maturity and self-sufficiency in life. Oh, just kidding! It’s a man whining about how he wants a girlfriend.

He continued to find success with similar songs. And then the great tragedy of popular music happened: New Wave. People have different ways of defining New Wave, but basically, it was monetized punk with all the soul ripped out of it. And even the good songs of that period are made almost un-listenable by synthesizers, most especially the Yamaha DX7. What is remarkable is that Eric Carmen managed to thrive in this environment — a third phase of his career. Here’s a shameless video for “Make Me Lose Control,” which actually references his previous hit “Hungry Eyes.” This song actually went to number one — With a bullet! — on adult contemporary. But given how bad the music was at that time, this song is kind of a triumph:

And what has Eric Carmen done since then? Not that much. And I think that’s admirable. I get sick of artists who have gobs of money continuing to put out pop dreck because they can’t think of anything better to do. In 2008, Carmen was arrested, so he is doing what I think is the number one most important thing for the rich to do: drink. He got sentence to thirty days in jail all by himself. After that, he didn’t wanna be all by himself anymore.

The Problem With “Terrorism”

Eric FreinI hate the words “terror” and “terrorism” and “terrorist.” They have lost all meaning. And even when the word “terrorist” had meaning, it was deceptive. Early in his career, Menachem Begin used terrorism as a tactic to achieve his political goals. Does that mean he was a terrorist when he signed a peace deal with Anwar Sadat? That is a conversation I’m willing to have. The problem is, that isn’t a conversation anyone in the mainstream media is interested in having.

So these words are just used as a kind of generic insult against people we don’t like. And, of course, it is generally a racial slur. Some would say it is a religious slur against Muslims. But the truth is that most Americans can’t tell the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh and a Hindu and even a radically nonviolent Jain. Truly, Americans are even likely to mistake Orthodox Christians for Muslims. It’s all “those” people — those foreigners who hate us for our freedoms.

Eric Boehlert over at Media Matters provided a good example of the problem with the word “terrorism,” A Cop Killing And A Beheading: How Fox News Picks And Chooses Its “Terrorism” Targets. It deals with the huge amount of coverage that murder suspect Alton Nolen has received on Fox News. Nolen was fired and then apparently committed a grisly murder, decapitating someone he had worked with. Nolen was also a Muslim, so Fox News has been all over it, calling the murder Islamic terrorism. Thus far, the FBI has found no evidence that it was an act of terror.

Alton NolenLet’s be clear here: terrorism is a military and political tactic. It isn’t just any heinous crime. The young man who shot all those kids and others at Sandy Hook was not a terrorist. He wasn’t trying to terrorize the region for some larger purpose. People do all kinds of terrible things without it being terrorism. On the other hand, Hamas’ generally impotent rocket attacks on Israel is terrorism. It is intended to create a climate of fear. (Note: I don’t think terrorism is necessarily any more reprehensible than the more “just” wars that wealthy peoples wage.)

But at the same time that Fox News and other right wing media outlets have been aggressively pushing the Nolen case, they have been mostly ignoring the case of Eric Frein, an anti-government extremist who shot two police officers (killing one), and who is still at large two weeks later. We can’t say for sure if this is an act of terrorism, but it is much more likely to fit the definition than what Nolen did. Boehlert described the man:

“He made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and to commit mass acts of murder,” state police commissioner Frank Noonan warned the public at the time. Another official noted the shooter has a “longstanding grudge against law enforcement and government in general” dating back to at least 2006.

A friend was even more explicit. “He was obviously a big critic of the federal government,” a friend name Jack told CNN. (The friend did not give his last name.) “No indications of really any malice towards law enforcement in particular. Most of his aggression was (toward) the federal government.”

Sounds like homegrown, anti-government terrorism, right?

On that last point, I can’t really say. I know the type. It is the same kind of thinking that we saw from Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. I’m not really sure what it is that they are trying to accomplish. But there is no doubt about this: these acts are seen by their perpetrators as primarily political. So even if the intent is not meant to terrorize a population, it is a political act that does terrorize a population. Boehlert again:

Considered “extremely dangerous” and possibly armed with an AK-47, officials were forced to close local schools in fear Frein might attack again. Lots of businesses in the area were ordered to stay dark, and some US mail deliveries were suspended out of fear postmen might be exposed as possible targets for the shooter.

The point is that in the right wing media, a terrorist is (At best!) any Muslim who does or says something violent. Right wing extremists are almost never referred to as terrorists. Even the Oklahoma City bombing tends to be reduced to a horrible act perpetrated by bad people. If pressed, those on the right will admit that it was a terrorist act. But that’s an extreme bar. When white Christian guys kill 168 people, there is the reluctant admission that it is terrorism. But when a disgruntled ex-employee who is Muslim kills someone, it is terrorism until proven otherwise.

John Cochrane Denies Inequality and Reality

John CochraneIt seems that über-conservative economist-like substance John Cochrane gave a little speech at the Hoover Institution last Friday. He made the typical argument that inequality isn’t bad. And just like the good conservative that he is, he spent a fair amount of time arguing that the poor are poor because they are morally inferior. He didn’t put it that way, of course. He said, “A segment of America is stuck in widespread single motherhood, leading to terrible early-child experiences, awful education, substance abuse, and criminality…”

What’s interesting about this is that this is exactly what the aristocracy has always said about the poor. The fact is that they’ve pretty much always had causation backwards. Poverty creates all kinds of problems. It rarely works the other way around. Drug addiction is far more likely to be the result of living in poverty rather than the cause of it, although clearly there is a feedback loop. Cochrane wants to dismiss the plight of the poor by calling them unworthy, as if he were Yahweh, passing judgement on the people of Sodom. It doesn’t seem to ever occur to Cochrane that maybe he had an advantage in life; maybe he’s a professor at the University of Chicago because his father was.

Regardless, Michael Hiltzik does an excellent job of crushing Cochrane’s arguments. And I do mean arguments, because he isn’t really making a case. He’s just throwing everything out there. Everyone’s getting ahead, so inequality doesn’t matter! The poor in this country are doing better than the poor in the Central African Republic, so inequality doesn’t matter! African Americans are living longer, so inequality doesn’t matter! I highly recommend reading Hiltzik’s article, Watch a Conservative Economist Try to Wish Income Inequality Away.

I was most struck by one things that he mentioned early in the speech:

Suppose a sack of money blows in the room. Some of you get $100, some get $10. Are we collectively better off? If you think “inequality” [Note the scare quotes! -FM] is a problem, no. We should decline the gift. We should, in fact, take something from people who got nothing, to keep the lucky ones from their $100. This is a hard case to make.

Hiltzik dismisses this because he says that income inequality is not about how a windfall (Literally!) is divided. That’s true. But there is a more basic problem here. This is a false analogy. Over the last four decades, we have seen a wind blow through the economy. Some people have picked up a whole lot of money, most people have picked up nothing at all, and some people have seen the the money they had blown away. This is the same thing I discussed regarding Milton Friedman in, Rich Kid Guilt. In the documentary I was discussing, Friedman said that inequality didn’t matter because all people were getting richer. I wondered what Friedman would say if he were alive today to see that the rising tide is most definitely not lifting all boats.

At that time I had thought that he would use his remarkable mind to come up with excuses. And one does see this a lot with conservative economists, pouring over the numbers to show that, in fact, the middle class really has seen a tiny increase in incomes. The fact that it is open to debate shows just how rough that argument is. But there is no question since 2010, during which time the median income has decreased while the mean has increased: that means those at the top have seen their incomes go up, those in the middle and bottom have seen their incomes fall.

But John Cochrane doesn’t even make that argument. He just lies: everyone is better off! And note that he is one of the great conservative economic thinkers. And he’s totally immune to evidence. And he will never be embarrassed, because he tells the power elite what they want to hear. Of course, real economists just laugh at him. But that won’t stop him from helping to destroy our republic.

Conservative Thinks Constitution Means Something Different Because “They Should Have Used” Different Language

Russell PearceWhen the Fourteenth Amendment was written, it was written to give credit to the African Americans, recognize them. The way it should be. It was after a terrible Supreme Court decision, called the Dred Scott decision, that did not recognize them as humans virtually — it was outrageous. Well the Republican Congress said we’re not putting up with that. And it was written “born, naturalized, for whom we have jurisdiction.” It’s been hijacked. We have a path to citizenship and it’s not breaking into the country. The Fourteenth Amendment was never intended to be used the way it’s used. It was intended for those… Did you know that when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1866 and ratified in 1868 it did not recognize the American Indian as citizens? And reason was because they were born on a reservation and members of a tribe and they were concerned about that jurisdiction language of the Fourteenth Amendment…

That was written by the same Congress that wrote the Civil Rights Amendment in 1866 that was a response to the Dred Scott decision. And then that same Congress that wrote the Civil Rights Amendment 1866, which has similar language but a little different that makes it very clear, and they should have used that same language. That same Congress that wrote the Fourteenth Amendment because they wanted to give the Civil Rights Amendment Constitutional protection, which I think was the right thing to do. They made it very clear in the debate on the floor.

—Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce
John King USA

Jimmy Carter, a Better President Than We Deserve

Jimmy CarterIt is hard to believe, but Jimmy Carter is 90 years old today. Like any president, he is a mixed bag. For one thing, he was the proto-New Democrat. He was very good on most issues, but when it came to the economy, he was pretty conservative — at least for that time. Now conservatives would have to come up with new ways to describe them. “Double plus bad communist double socialist plus plus Marxist”?

But he still has a bad reputation — especially among conservatives. About the worst thing a conservative can say about a Democratic president is that he is like Carter. This is a remarkable thing and shows the total lack of knowledge among conservatives. In terms of foreign policy, he negotiated that little Nobel Peace Prize winning Camp David Accords. This not only has kept the peace between Israel and Egypt for 35 years, it is also the last really helpful thing we’ve done in the region. Of course, he also did things I don’t like. He ended Nixon’s détente policy and revved up the Cold War. Conservatives should love this, of course. But they don’t, mostly because they don’t even know about it.

On the economy, it was Carter who appointed Paul Volcker to the Federal Reserve and it was Volcker’s policies that ended stagflation. It also was a major factor in making Carter a one-term president. And the end of those policies was what cause “morning in America,” which pretty much everyone alive thinks was due to Ronald Reagan’s policies. (In fact, Reagan’s policies made the economy worse.) Carter also deregulated the airline industry. Again: this is something that I think was a mistake, but something that conservatives should love.

One thing that everyone should love is that Carter is a man of integrity. While it is true that during the early part of his political career, he was less than forthright about his beliefs against segregation, it is hard to fault him. An increasing percentage of Republicans are just fine with segregation. And as president, he was quite good. And since being out of office, he has often acted as the conscious of America. He has been very clear of his criticism of Republican and Democratic administrations — and rightly so. I don’t remember him ever being far off the mark.

Jimmy Carter

In the end, conservatives especially, but everyone generally, tends to give Carter less respect than he deserves. And it is really all because he didn’t win a second term. There is also this feeling — which is totally ridiculous — that if only the smiling Ronald Reagan Action Hero™ had been president, there would have been no oil crisis (even though it started under Nixon), there would have been no stagflation (even though it was going strong under Ford), and there would have been no Iranian hostage crisis (even though it was the result of decades of bad American policy in the country). I am so sick of all of this.

Above all, I’m sick of how ignorant Americans are about their history. If you want to hate Carter, then hate him for what he actually did and not how you remember feeling during his presidency. The same thing happens to Reagan in the opposite way. People felt so great in 1983 when the economy was booming because of Paul Volcker that now they “know” that Reagan was a great president. Well, he wasn’t. He was one of the worst president in the last century. Carter was one of the better ones. Yet as we head straight into climate catastrophe, I still hear conservatives scoff at the solar panels that Carter put on the White House and how cool it was when “manly” Reagan had them taken down. As I watch the American empire fray and disintegrate, I can’t help looking at us and not thinking we don’t deserve it. I can’t say that Carter was a better president than we deserved in in the late 1970s, but he is certainly a better president than we deserve now.

Happy 90th birthday Jimmy Carter!

See also: Jimmy Carter Is Not Dead