(Still) listening to the border radio ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Whatever meager credibility I have on the question of immigration derives from two facts: one, I spent a week, a while back, riding around with members of the INS in San Diego chasing illegal immigrants and trying to understand their lives; and two, like most upper-middle-class Americans, I exist in a web of endless exploitation of them, sometimes knowingly, often not, though with the single exception of the two (sisters) I've tried to help with legal issues, I never actually ask about their status. And even if I were to insist that everyone who worked for me had legal papers, I could hardly control the practices of say, the people who deliver my takeout or come over to fix my stuff when it breaks.

My point is that the current system implicates (and corrupts) all of us. I think many liberals are no less woolly-headed and simple-minded about illegal immigration than they were (and still sometimes are) about welfare. Yes, the yahoos exploit the issue. Yes, there's plenty of racism involved in the opposition. And yes, the victims are often the people with the least amount to say in the outcome, but that hardly makes the current system worth defending.

Personally, I support a fence. The current system encourages the horrific abuses that take place against immigrants attempting to sneak in. Naturally, I support allowing generous numbers of immigrants into this country, but I support doing so legally, first and foremost. I also think it encourages contempt for the law, which is a net negative in any society. (I also support the legalization of pot for the same reason.) And certainly any nation has the right to determine to whom it wishes to grant citizenship.

If a fence is the best way to enforce those choices, well, then, why not? For symbolic reasons? I don't care about "symbolic reasons." I care about reality. Present conditions invite the abuse of the poorest, weakest element of the system -- frequently by unscrupulous coyotes and, far less frequently, by nefarious or simply overtaxed law-enforcement types -- in order to further enrich those of us who can afford to pay higher wages and, more significantly, wealthy corporations at the expense of people getting a fair wage for their labor, as well as the ability of American unions to organize labor to resist conservative class warfare (which, if you haven't noticed, folks, is winning across the board).

Why are lefties who complain about enforcement of the law so eager to ally themselves with exactly the same position embraced by the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal? And why do you think lawyers and doctors, for instance, are so good at getting laws written to prevent immigrants from employing their qualifications achieved abroad to compete with them here, while unskilled American workers must see their wages depressed by an overcrowded labor market? Once again, it's the wealthy who benefit from the exploitation in the current system and the poor who pay for it. Julia Preston of the Times has a rundown of who benefits and who doesn't from the current compromise here. I'm going to stay away from the details, except to say, I support the end result, whatever it is, because ultimately, I believe in a society of laws, and because I'd rather see the poor and exploited at the mercy of the law enforcement officers with whom I drank and traveled in San Diego than the people who are doing the exploiting now.

And by the way, as the grandson of three immigrants, I know from whence I came. When I wrote my last Nation column, inspired by Schocken's publication of The Jewish Writings of Hannah Arendt, I was hoping to have room to give a shout-out to Norton's publication of A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward edited by Alana Newhouse, here. I didn't, so I will here. It's a beautiful book and, of course, an important document. One could quibble with some of the choices, but to have it all in one place and so elegently and respectfully presented deserves a massive ma'azel tov from anyone with an interest in immigrant history.

Jonathan Chait, here, takes apart Matthew Continetti's extremely silly article about liberal hawks in The Weekly Standard, here. Chait demonstrates that it's built on a fallacy. What I found so odd about it is the fact that he never comes close to acknowledging that it was the arguments of the magazine in which Continetti is writing -- and for which the magazine has never admitted error -- that have caused this horrific situation to come about. (Maybe some of the liberal hawks figured out how foolish they were to entrust something like this to Bush and the neocons in the first place and believe the best thing to do is to try to extricate ourselves with a minimum of further death and destruction ...) But in any case, my question would be, naturally, why care what the liberal hawks or the conservative hawks think anyway? Why not listen to the people who got it right?

(And by the way, last time I saw Norman Podhoretz write about Iraq, he thought -- like Dick Cheney and Dinesh D'Souza and possibly George Bush and Fred Barnes, but just about no one else in the entire world -- that everything was going great. So now that he wants bomb Iran, you can guess that it's going to go just about as well ...)

If owning The Wall Street Journal remains such a deep public trust for the Bancroft and Ottaway families, why have they allowed the paper's intellectually dishonest editorial page to stain the entire news operation? Read more here.

Yesterday when I wrote about how much The Note manages to suck as much as it ever did at a fraction of its old length, I quoted its quotation of Jake Tapper's report on Al Gore's. The quotation proved my point about how crappy The Note now is -- see yesterday for all the appropriate adjectives -- but what may have been unclear is the fact that Tapper's piece was nowhere near as crappy -- again, see above -- as his colleague Rick Klein made it appear to be. I'm not saying it's great; it's not. But it is nowhere near as awful as Klein's short excerpt made it appear. You can read it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: http://dailyrevolution.net

Prof. A: You know these people better than I do, so maybe you can answer this question. What is Dowd's problem with Al Gore, and why do these lefty pundits insist on cavorting in the same mud puddle of gossip, rumor, and the obsession with appearances as the worst of the far right? This woman showed no evidence of having read even the Time excerpt, let alone Gore's book, and the whole piece descends into a petty rant about fat and weight control. We've got a slim President, and he's bloated the people of this nation with desolation and depravity.

There's plenty to talk about and even debate in Gore's book, and obesity's an issue in this country -- but do we need to hear about the encounter with the clam dip now?

Name: George L Merkert III
Hometown: Los Angeles

I saw Al Gore in conversation with Harry Shearer this evening at The Wilshire theatre in Beverly Hills. It was his first stop on a book promotion tour for his new book, The Assault On Reason. What an uplifting experience! Gore is warm, funny, entertaining and, best of all, supported his ideas with evidence. His responded to Shearer's probing questions with an encyclopedic knowledge of the issues of our day but used metaphors, while acknowledging to his audience that they are only metaphors, to make his ideas understandable and persuasive. He convinced me that I should buy his book. He also convinced me that he should be president of our country.

Name: Bill Chappell
Hometown: Indianapolis

I believe the statements referred to by Mr. Donnelly-Heg are from Lt. Col. Bateman in the May 1 column: "The problem is that after 30 years of Saddam and the Ba'ath Party, the educational system in Iraq was a fraud ... Adding to that is a broader culture which not only disdains labor in common maintenance (and here I speak of a culture which stretches from North Africa, across the Levant, and throughout the Saudi Peninsula and Mesopotamia), but one which actively seeks to avoid such work ..."

Name: Glenn May
Hometown: Crawfordville

I think Mr. Heg didn't realize that the quote about the Iraqi educational system and work ethic came from Colonel Bateman rather than you. It's from the May 1 column and includes the following:

I have watched Iraqi construction efforts, dozens of them, and they are not pretty, or even sound. The problem is that after 30 years of Saddam and the Ba'ath Party, the educational system in Iraq was a fraud. Literacy, in 2003, was 50 percent. What the Iraqis would (and do) call a "university trained engineer" is 95 percent of the time the rough equivalent of an American high school graduate who specialized in mechanics and shop classes, at best. Adding to that is a broader culture which not only disdains labor in common maintenance (and here I speak of a culture which stretches from North Africa, across the Levant, and throughout the Saudi Peninsula and Mesopotamia), but one which actively seeks to avoid such work. The result: Millions of wasted dollars.

I wondered too whether there was any truth to the assertion as I've always thought that it made more sense to use Iraqi firms and personnel to rebuild the nation's infrastructure rather than US-based firms and personnel.

Name: Martin Donnelly-Heg
Hometown: Albany, NY

Apologies to the good professor are in order. Upon searching through MM's archives to find the language that got me in such a tizzy, I discovered that the language is not attributable to Mr. Alterman, but rather was posted by the Lt. Col. on May 1st 2007. The posting is in quotes below:

"In other news, this story (here and here) is an example about the real difficulty we are facing in Iraq. Buying generators, and other high-tech things, in Iraq is apparently just stupid. It is frustrating in the extreme, and is only worsened when you give money directly to the Iraqis to build something themselves. I have watched Iraqi construction efforts, dozens of them, and they are not pretty, or even sound. The problem is that after 30 years of Saddam and the Ba'ath Party, the educational system in Iraq was a fraud. Literacy, in 2003, was 50 percent. What the Iraqis would (and do) call a "university trained engineer" is 95 percent of the time the rough equivalent of an American high school graduate who specialized in mechanics and shop classes, at best. Adding to that is a broader culture which not only disdains labor in common maintenance (and here I speak of a culture which stretches from North Africa, across the Levant, and throughout the Saudi Peninsula and Mesopotamia), but one which actively seeks to avoid such work. The result: Millions of wasted dollars. "

Again, I apologize for the mistake. It seems I should direct my queries to the Lt. Col. Bateman, but of course, he's entitled to his opinion, and I don't hold him to the same high standard that your position and work have so justly earned.

The message of mine that was originally posted was generated more out of frustration at a lack of response to my initial queries, rather than out of any animosity. But it was also a response to this posting of 5/17/07: "It is also somewhat educational to read how the Palestinian fratricide is reported in the Arab media. Since Sunday 43 Palestinians have been killed by other Palestinians, but the front page of Al Jazeera, well, they lead with something else. (Link as of 17:11 Mecca Time, Thursday)."

This posting also generated my question re why you are raising the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, when you have expressed your desire not to discuss the topic. It may interest you to know that after reading this posting, I clicked on Google news and pretty much every news outlet was leading with the same story. So I don't think Al Jazeera's editors were acting out of bias or turning a blind eye to the Hamas/Fatah fighting, but rather acknowledging that the importance of a new dynamic to the Gaza fighting. But I do acknowledge that my message was shrill, snarky and aggressive, and for that I also apologize. Again, I truly enjoy your work, and if I didn't respect your Nation column so much, I wouldn't have wandered onto your blog (and caused all this nastiest) in the first place. I hope you entertain my mea culpa in the spirit it was intended.

Eric replies: Apology accepted. To clarify: in The Nation, I wrote I try to avoid all face-to-face discussion of the Palestinian conflict. I do. The day before yesterday, I attended a lunchtime speech by the Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and a group of journalists who were, if anything, even more hawkish than he was. I ate my food quietly and left. I write about the Middle East. I don't (by and large) talk about it. That's seems pretty clear to me.

Name: David Dennie
Hometown: Norfolk, Virginia

Hey Eric,

I would like to take mild exception to the tone of your comments re: "Mountain Stage," the folk/country/blues/bluegrass/etc. "live" music public radio show.

Yes, host Larry Groce (he of "Junk Food Junkie" fame, for those with long memories) does have a predilection for that oh-so-sooooothing public radio voice, and, yes, he does tend to lapse into overly obsequious cornpone radio business, but all of that is more than worth tolerating for the quality of the music one gets from the show -- the one you attended (Nellie McKay, The Roches, David Bromberg, Joan Osborne, etc. -- holy cow!) being a prime example. "Mountain Stage" often features the absolute top rung of folk/etc. music -- people like Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Bruce Cockburn, John Prine, and on and on.

And they do it all, as you alluded, while based in Charleston, West Virginia -- my birthplace (as well as that of Charlie Peters of The Washington Monthly), but admittedly not exactly a bustling media capital.

As for having to sit through all the radio-show "business," well, having been to several show tapings in Charleston, I'm fairly sure that they make it clear in advance that that's exactly what you'll be doing, so I don't think there's a basis for complaint there.

It's hard enough to get this kind of quality music on the radio anywhere (unless you want and can afford satellite), so anything of the calibre of "Mountain Stage" feels like a port in an uncivilized storm -- I only wish it were actually broadcast in my area so I wouldn't have to follow it via Web (consider this a Webcast appeal for more NPR stations to pick it up).

So, c'mon Eric, how about a real cheer for "Mountain Stage"?!

Eric replies: Well, yes, I told you we were spoiled here in the big city. And yes, it sounds like they have a pretty great lineup, do a pretty great job and deserve our gratitude for it, even if it means sitting through that god-awful public radio patter. So ... Cheers.

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: utopianturtletop.blogspot.com

Monday Monday, can't trust that day.

I don't like the public radio "voice" either. The detached, superior-sounding tone of most of the NPR reporters was part of what made charges of "liberal elite" stick. Fortunately, "liberal elite" seems to be a disappearing term.

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA

I think Bob from Providence is stretching things a bit. Yeah, Bud has been a disastrous baseball commissioner (don't get me started on the sale of the Nats). But not showing up when/if Bonds breaks Aaron's record because of friendship with Aaron is a bit silly. Aaron won't show up whenever Bonds breaks the record! Selig won't show up because of the at least 2 seasons that Bonds was obviously juiced on steriods. His home run season record of 70 is a fraud. And I wish more pitchers would throw high and inside to Mr. Bighead, to back him off the plate. Selig won't admit to performance enhancing drugs in baseball (and therefore kicking Bonds out of baseball), so the only thing he can do is not show up.

Name: Daphne Chyprious
Hometown: Springfield, Illinois

My impression of the difference between The Note and Kurtz -- and I never seek out either but let bits and pieces of their respective columns come to me -- is that while the former deliberately shills for bigshot insiderism (which translates into Republican spin regardless of who's in power) the latter really believes he's playing strictly down the middle.

Name: John S. Ransom
Hometown: Carlisle, PA

You cannot do everything as a parent, but sometimes you get lucky. Recently my son noticed that Elvis Costello and the Imposters would be playing at the 9:30 club in Washington, DC, Friday May 18. As it happened, that's the weekend he is graduating from George Washington University. My son knew I liked Costello and urged us to get tickets as part of the graduation celebration. We went and Costello was a revelation all over again. My wife and I have seen so many Costello reincarnations that it seemed almost miraculous to hear him again in full form, belting out hits from Trust, My Aim Is True, Armed Forces, and Get Happy. We first saw Costello at Forest Hills in Queens, New York, around 1990. I cannot improve on the cliche: He was awesome. I never thought I'd see anything like that again, but Friday night at the 9:30 club got close. Best of all my son was completely won over -- previous attempts to guide him into Costello land had always produced the blank stare of adolescent incomprehension, but now, just as he is leaving college, and thanks to a lucky evening of back to basics from Costello, he is enlightened. I could almost rest.

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