Radio Nowhere

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

On connecting dots:

I can't keep spending my time swatting at gnats like Brendan Nyhan, who apparently unironically carries an endorsement from Wonkette atop his blog as if he's proud of it, but I am happy to explicate further on my statement that George W. Bush vetoed the SCHIP extension because of his "preference" that poor children get sick and die, as opposed to encouraging what he calls "socialized medicine," as Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan have seized on it and I imagine others of ill will will do so also for the purposes of confusing people of good will.

Look, ladies and gentlemen, either medical care saves lives and prevents illness or it doesn't. I'd argue that it does, and I think even George W. Bush might agree. Granting that, poor children who have access to it are less likely to die from serious sickness and less likely to contract various preventable diseases and maladies if they do have access to such care. If they don't have such access, they will more likely "get sick and die." This strikes me again as a statistical certainty and again, if you could get Mr. Bush to give a straight answer on the question, I don't see how he could disagree either. Now, given that we know what the result will be of refusing to allow states to cover more poor children with health care -- and remember, these are the children who are most vulnerable to sickness in the first place -- that there will be more sickness and death on the part of these same uncovered children, just what are Mr. Bush's own stated reasons for vetoing the program? They can be found in Bush's own words, here and here, and they all involve the prevention of what he fears will be a slippery slope to "socialized medicine" to which he objects entirely and unashamedly on ideological grounds.

Note that I do not claim and never said that George W. Bush wants poor kids to get sick and die, per se. I don't think he does. I said only that he prefers this to signing the SCHIP bill, and in doing so, demonstrated his commitment to his own stated (but rarely followed) ideology. In other words, Bush has "a preference for allowing poor kids to get sick and die for his own ideological obsession." I suppose one might quibble with the word "obsession," but the rest of it strikes me as a clear statement of fact, albeit the kind of fact from which the mainstream media traditionally tend to whitewash, the same way there is virtually no coverage of Iraqi casualty figures even though those are the obvious and unarguable result of Bush's decision to bomb the hell out of the place. Again, am I saying Bush wants to bomb Iraqi civilians for the fun of it? Are you an idiot: (For the record, I don't personally think Nyhan is an idiot; I think he just plays one -- in this case, a useful one for Rush Limbaugh's campaign against Media Matters and the political accountability it demands for his inflammatory words -- sometimes for effect.)

In any case, the unwillingness of the MSM even to consider connecting dots in such cases undermines, in my view, its reason for being. "Facts" are not useful in isolation and hardly anyone who is not a professional in some way has the time or expertise to place them in the complex context in which they operate. This is what Walter Lippmann meant when he spoke of the gap between "the world outside" and the "pictures in our heads," something with which his most important and influential critic, John Dewey reluctantly concurred.

Finally, the Public Editor blog makes the obvious in response to Sullivan, here, and without any reference to my response to Nyhan, which I reprint below. He writes:

It might sound like Alterman is just being shrill, calling Bush a child-killer or something such, but actually his statement is completely right. When Bush announced his veto, he explained it by saying that he doesn't believe public healthcare is a good thing, and that privatized healthcare is the way to go. He is depriving children of healthcare due to his obsession with privatizing everything. You could certainly and truthfully characterize that as a preference for private healthcare at all costs. No, it doesn't mean that he desires that children get sick and die, but it does mean that privatized healthcare is more important to him.

It's an odd world in which we live where it is somehow more objectionable to describe these phenomena accurately than it is to allow it to happen in the first place. But there we are ...

I know you are but what am I? (Reprinted from yesterday's HuffPo)

In "The Irony's Getting a Bit Thick in Here Department," Brendan Nyhan woke up the other morning and apparently decided it would be a good idea to join in Rush Limbaugh's campaign of vilification against Media Matters. Thing is, he didn't have evidence on hand, or at least didn't want to bother to try to find any. So he went through his files and found an item he calls "Eric Alterman: My Enemies Are Evil," here.

Unfortunately, this gets a little funny in the "Get this man some help" category, he picked an example of my work that proves only that Nyhan can be a bit clueless at times and appears to be proud of it. What's more, he denies his readers the opportunity to see the items in context and appraise that cluelessness for themselves.

Assuming he is in fact sincere, Nyhan fails, in both of the cases he mentions, to understand the difference between my alleged imputation of intentions to Bush, Cheney, etc, and my description of the results of their actions. His only link is to a throwaway phrase I used late last week regarding Bush's veto of the SCHIP bill, rather than to the earlier item two days earlier, in which I quote not only from Bush's own justification for his veto, but also from the conservative movement's ideological and historical justification for such positions, in the form of arguments by George F. Will and Milton Friedman. (And Friedman, being more honest than Bush, would have pronounced this position proudly, rather than, as Nyhan insists, with some imputation of "evil." He told me once he thought it fine if poor kids never went to school.) Judge it for yourself here. As for Nyhan's accusation that I do this "on a near daily basis," well, the one additional example he does provide, and for which he provides no link, context, or date, proves again that he cannot distinguish between intentions and results. Here, too, he adheres to Limbaugh-like standards of argument and evidence. (Really, if I were going to invent an adversary as a plant, I could hardly do much better than Mr. Nyhan....)

Normally I prefer to ignore such accusations because I find all this catfight crap is a diversion from the work I try to do here and elsewhere. It cannot help but appear a bit defensive, and the substance is often lost in the focus on personality. What's more I literally cannot imagine a single individual of semi-average intelligence or good will reading it in context and finding it convincing. But in the real world, Nyhan's cluelessness is aiding and abetting a campaign led by Limbaugh and others to delegitimize Media Matters and the careful work it does. See, for instance, here. One cannot depend on either the intelligence or the good will of those in the MSM and conservative media not to use Nyhan's nonsense for the purposes of further manipulation and misrepresentation. There is a campaign by GOPBloggers and others flooding the Internet with an argument that the group's work is somehow "illegal" and should be prosecuted. See here. Nyhan's evidenceless character assassination, to which Glenn Reynolds has already linked, must be viewed within this context. And regardless of what one thinks of my work, I find that extremely disturbing.

And for the record, I take great pains to try to never to do what Mr. Nyhan says I do "all the time." I don't know how many examples of his inability to understand irony, results, blogosophere shorthand etc, he thinks he has -- again, he listed none -- but the fact is, I often argue strenuously against this kind of thing because I think intent is impossible to know. For instance I never insist that any individual American Jew or non-Jewish neocon is acting on behalf of hawkish Israeli interests rather than American ones. Personally, I believe this to be true in more than one case, but I never say so in public about any one individual because how can I know for sure what's in a person's mind? I prefer to let the evidence speak for itself.

Given that I've published six books so far and written many thousands of articles, columns and blog posts over the past 25 years, I'd not be surprised if Nyhan could find a few examples where I've failed to live up to my own ambitions in this regard, should he bother to do the work he should have done in the first place. But he hasn't and whatever the reason, he's decided instead to join in support of the anti-Media Matters jihad by Limbaugh, the GOP, and others, going so far as to ape their tactics. Why he wishes to dishonor himself by lending support to so nefarious an enterprise ... well, I don't like to speculate ...

It's not only FISA, by the way: Democrats cave on fair taxes for hedge funds. Thank goodness that waitresses and maids will have to pay a higher tax rate than people making a hundred million bucks a year. (No, I'm not supporting Nader, but...)

Novak's lying. Surprise, surprise.

Roger Cohen: Mike Tomasky=Josef Stalin. (I'm jealous.)

Just for your information:

In the 13 consecutive years that the Yankees have played postseason games, 1995 through 2007, they have spent just short of $1.6 billion on their payrolls -- $1,589,672,681 to be more precise. Putting the Yankees' payroll expenditures in another perspective, the Atlanta Braves spent $917 million in winning an unparalleled 14 consecutive division championships. Salaries were lower in the first few years of the Braves' run in the early 1990s, but the Yankees' total nevertheless dwarfs theirs. ...The Yankees' $1.59 billion expenditure during the last 13 years is, not surprisingly, well ahead of the runner-up spenders, the Red Sox at $1.15 billion, the Dodgers at $1.04 billion and the Mets at $1.01 billion. Here.

From TomDispatch:

With a bow to Isiah Thomas, Marion Jones, and the drug-injectors of the Tour de France, TomDispatch Jock Culture correspondent (and former New York Times sports columnist) Robert Lipsyte launches a new season of sports and politics by considering the major sports scandals that distracted us from all those other scandals of the summer. In his typically irrepressible way he covers the scandal landscape -- from the cheatin' ref of the NBA to the tainted Bonds home-run record, from the way New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick went from resident genius to resident evil when his spycam was spotted at a Jets game stealing defensive signals to the fall of Michael Vick and all his dogs. In SportsWorld, it was a summer from hell -- and diverting as hell. ("What chance did troop numbers in Iraq have against Barry's home-run numbers? Forget about death and dismemberment abroad, we have some dead dogs in Michael Vick's Bad Newz kennel!")

So diverting, in fact, that no one in the sports media (and few in the rest of the media) even noticed the real "sports" scandal of the summer -- an Associated Press bombshell report on the pattern of bullets that, at close range, went into the head of Pat Tillman, the former NFL football player in Afghanistan, a pattern that clearly implied the shots that killed Tillman weren't friendly -- but most unfriendly -- fire, even if from an American gun.

Quote of the Day:

"The fact is that in our national discourse, at least in DC, you're still considered 'not serious' if you were right about Iraq. And you're also considered extreme and shrill if you were right about Bush." -- Paul Krugman.

Alternate Quote of the Day:

"I guess I would say that what I do is I try to chart the distance between American ideals and American reality. That's how my music is laid out. It's like we've reached a point where it seems that we're so intent on protecting ourselves that we're willing to destroy the best parts of ourselves to do so." -- Bruce Springsteen.

Marty Peretz Quote of the Day:

Marty Peretz, 9/21/06:

Some 2 percent of the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza are Christians. Not so long ago they were roughly 15 percent of the Arab population. The rest are Muslims, all Sunnis. What explains the decline? Birth rates, of course. Christians are better educated than Muslims (all over the Middle East), and they know that if you want to raise a productive, truly loving, and educated family, you'd be wise to raise fewer children and give them all more attention.

The other reason that so many Christians have gradually abandoned Palestine is that their living among Muslims was a frightful experience. (Christians began decades back in deserting Iraq, too--at least, those who were not slaughtered.) Now, many Christian clergy have lined up against Israel, because they know that the Jews will not harm them. Moreover, they don't want to and have no reason to. The Christian authorities in the territories (and in Jerusalem) try to pacify the Muslims by joining the ugly chorus against Israel. Although they have been playing this appeasement game for nearly a century, it has done them no good.

Posted by M. Duss

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Joel Rosenberg
Hometown: Watertown, MA

Apropos Roger Cohen's absurd NY Times op-ed:

As a liberal who supported American and NATO involvement in Bosnia and Kosovo, but vigorously opposed the present Iraq war, I'm puzzled by Roger Cohen's apparent inability to know the difference. He also seems to find some kind of moral equivalence between the systematic and cynical stigmatization of liberals that has afflicted this country for the past twenty or thirty years and the legitimate grievances that many of us have against the Bush-Cheney White House (including, but not limited to, the "neocons" among them) and their sympathizers in the press and the Congress.

The stigmatizers of liberals have behind them powerful special interests that want to roll back the New Deal legacy, Social Security, a progressive tax structure, restraints on executive power, protection of Constitutional freedoms, and judicious, restrained use of American power abroad based on a preference for diplomacy over force -- all (when sincerely applied) elements of bi-partisan public policy for much or most of modern American history.

Quite apart from its outlandish strategic unwisdom, I opposed the Iraq war because its real purpose was to create perpetual war, foster an atmosphere of fear, and suppress dissent. Anyone who didn't already see that in beholding the demagoguery that flourished in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 is going to continue to ignore the drift of this country toward proto-fascism and South American-style dictatorship. I couldn't care less about the red herring of the term "neocons." It's what neocons are connected to that worries me.

Name: rmwarnick
Hometown: Salt Lake City

TomDispatch compares Iraq to the famous Star Fleet Kobayashi Maru simulation. I saw Star Trek II, and IMHO the way to win is to stay the hell out of the Neutral Zone, thus not violating the peace treaty with the Romulans and not getting the Enterprise into a no-win battle. The fake distress call from the Kobayashi Maru was a ruse designed to lure an unwary starship captain to his doom.

Name: David Dennie
Hometown: Norfolk, Virginia

Eric,

This is a small but nonetheless worth-bringing-up point, I think: on Friday you described going to see Lucinda Williams perform her 1988 eponymous album as part of her current retrospective "album-a-night" series of shows, and in your review you described "Lucinda Williams" as her "debut" album.

Well, as Lucinda fanatics (you, surely?) know, that's not really true: eight years before that breakthrough record, she had released two LPs on Smithsonian Folkways. The first ("Ramblin'") was all blues and country covers, but the second ("Happy Woman Blues") was all original songs. Not up to the dazzling brilliance of "Lucinda Williams," to be sure ("Passionate Kisses", "Crescent City" and "Side of the Road" all on the same album... holy s--t!), but still pretty good, and worth searching out, especially for True Believers.

And, yes, I will now concede your point: this is certainly one case (these "album-a-night" Lucinda shows) where I bitterly regret not being in, or close enough to, NYC to be able to take advantage of its frequent cultural glories. (Although I can claim to have been one of the privileged few to have seen Lucinda during her breakout 1988 tour, back in the cramped-and-sweaty "old" 9:30 Club in D.C.!)

Eric replies: I thought I made it clear in that short review, and if I didn't I should have, that while it was treated as if it were a debut record, it wasn't really one. I have both of those albums, They are OK, but the artist who made Lucinda Williams feels like a completely different person, and I rarely put them on.

Name: Flora
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Dear Dr. Alterman,

Once again I have failed to hire a skywriter to fly over the Super Bowl at halftime announcing my undying love for Charles Pierce. The man is a national treasure -- and so are you, of course.

I love the Rush versus Someone/Anyone Reasonable idea. It will never happen, but the idea of seeing him sweat buckets on the same stage with Wesley Clark is enough imaginary schadenfreude to make my day anyway.

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