Self: What have I done?

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Police-State Update:

Yes, there's that shrillness again. I read in today's Times, here, that the Supreme Court will not "hear an appeal by a German citizen of Lebanese descent who claims he was abducted by United States agents and then tortured by them while imprisoned in Afghanistan. Without comment, the justices let stand an appeals court ruling that the state secrets privilege, a judicially created doctrine that the Bush administration has invoked to win dismissal of lawsuits that touch on issues of national security, protected the government's actions from court review."

What does this mean in practice? It means the U.S. government can kidnap at will and arrange for the torture of anyone in the world (though the status of U.S. citizens in these instances remains unclear). Even to write those words makes the idea sound outlandish, but the fact is, that's just what they do. They are accessories in kidnapping and torture and, while I suppose they think they have the best interests of the country at heart, they are so deluded, so incompetent, so-self-righteous, and so extremist in their beliefs that they really do constitute a danger to humankind. And now we learn there's nothing in our legal system to stop them. And they don't even have to face and there's no prospect of impeachment and hence, I'd say our political system has truly gone off its rails. Once again, the genius is you can't keep up with all the scandals. You'd have to be outraged, all the time, about almost everything. And who wants that?

If the Turks did not commit genocide against the Armenians, then it's hard to know what the word means. And yet the White House, supported by Abe Foxman's Anti-Defamation League, which purports to care about human rights, would refuse to label it as such because they find it politically inconvenient. I actually think there's an argument against such a resolution, or at least in terms of timing, given that bad relations with Turkey could lead to an invasion of Kurdistan and even more chaos over there. If I were president, I might do what Bush (and Clinton) before him is doing. That's realpolitik, and it's part of the job. But I wouldn't go around parading my morality all the time. And if I ran an organization called the "Anti-Defamation League," and collected money for the purpose of protecting human rights and preventing genocide, well, then, I would voluntarily go out of business and give the money to someone who really wants to do that kind of work. If you want to read more about Turkey, by the way, I'd go here.

Speaking of "shrill," congrats to Paul Krugman for getting the following into The New York Times: "Now, as they survey the wreckage of their cause, conservatives may ask themselves: 'Well, how did we get here?' They may tell themselves: 'This is not my beautiful Right.' They may ask themselves: 'My God, what have we done?" But their movement is the same as it ever was."

Count the word "seem" here, and then count the discussion of the actual issues involved. That's what elite MSM political coverage is today.

Conservatives of Conscience: I am always looking for them and usually come up empty-handed. The single one whose record, I think, turns out almost always to be impressive regarding personal and professional integrity is someone I've never met, John DiIulio. He wrote an article in The Weekly Standard denouncing Bush v. Gore and resigned from the Bush administration over its hypocrisy, exploitation of people of faith, and refusal to take policy seriously. He's got a new book called Godly Republic, published by the University of California, and I'm sure it's worthwhile. Read all about it in these links.

Alter-review:

I saw Bruce and the E Street Band last night at the Meadowlands. Really good show ... you can find the set list here. I know the statement is unsupportable by anyone, but in my own experience, not only is Springsteen the greatest performer in the history of rock 'n' roll, he's a better rock 'n' roll performer than anybody has ever been at anything. Yeah, it sounds silly, but it has to be true of someone, and after about 125 shows during the past 31 years, this is my nomination.

Anyway, aside from the new material, which is so much better live, the high point was "Thundercrack," which used to close out shows in the days before "Rosalita," (and perhaps electricity). An Alter-history moment: The first time I heard the song was New Year's Eve 1975/76, when I was waiting to hear whether WNEW-FM voters would pick Born to Run or Blood on the Tracks -- perhaps the two best albums of the 32 years -- as the number-one album of the year. Guess what? They tied. (I had a real loser life in those days and I was actually home, waiting ...)

I almost forgot to mention: Tonight is the "Music for Youth" benefit devoted to to the music of Elton John. They've got Aimee Mann, Shawn Colvin, Phoebe Snow, David Broza, Roy Ayers, Joshua Radin, Roger McGuinn, Jill Sobule and Lloyd Cole, Raul Malo (The Mavericks), Pernice Brothers, Ryan Shaw, Howard Jones, Buddy, Lizz Wright, Kristina Train and Page McConnell (Phish), and the cause is as good as it can be. Go here for info and here for tickets.

Dylan Quote of the Day:

Name: Michael B
Hometown: Warsaw IN

In light of Bush's veto of SCHIP, especially within the context of his spending preferences, I suggest the following Dylan Quote of the Day:

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Henry
Hometown: Baltimore

The objection to your statement that Bush prefers that poor children get sick and die reminds me of Vietnam war supporters who objected that they are not "pro-war" because no one likes war. The obvious reply was that no one said that they like war; they just, at the time, prefer it to what they fear would be the consequences of not having war. Similarly, those who support capital punishment do not like the fact that innocent people die as a result of it, but, because innocent people's dying is inevitable, they prefer that innocent people die than that we accept the consequences of abolishing capital punishment.

Name: Alan
Hometown: Fremont, CA

Why anyone continues to be surprised at the antics of Brendan Nyhan is a mystery to me. Years ago when he was running his "spinsanity" web page he clearly demonstrated how far he would go to prove -- absolutely prove -- he was a truly unbiased and objective commentator.

I guess we can thank him for the example of how stupid you could look when your only motive is to appear more reasonable than anyone else.

Name: Davis X. Machina
Hometown: Maine

Nyhan's been in love with pox-on-both-your-housesism since his Spinsanity days. It made him what he is today, it pays the rent, and he's sticking with it. The actual asymmetrical distribution of pox seems not to bother him.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,

The problem with your complaints about the payroll of the New York Yankees over the past 13 years is that you ignore the fact that over that period the Yankees players have deserved to be the highest-paid in baseball.

The Yankees $1.59 billion expenditure on payroll is well-deserved, considering that in the past 13 years the team has appeared in the World Series six times, winning four of them. During that same period the Red Sox players have been paid about 72% of what Yankees players have earned, but the Red Sox have (as of this writing) only one World Series appearance and one World Series win. Mets players have been paid just 63.5% compared to the Yankees, but the Mets have produced just one World Series appearance and no wins. The L.A. Dodgers have even less to show for what they have invested in salaries. The $1.04 billion paid by the Dodgers has resulted in just one playoff appearance, none since 1995.

It seems to me that based on productivity alone the Yankees players have deserved to be paid 35% more than what the Dodgers players have received. One can reasonably pose the question whether the Yankees have been good because they have been paid so much or whether they have been paid so much because they have been good. You would argue the former, no doubt, but should not excellence be rewarded?

It also strikes me as a bit silly to look for logic behind someone's support of a professional sports team. Most people, I suspect, make those decisions long before they are old enough to judge the character of their favorite teams. When I was seven years old, just before the start of the 1956 baseball season, my older brothers told me that I had to decide which team I was going to root for -- the Giants, the Dodgers, or the Yankees. I recall that I chose the Yankees because they had the most colorful logo.

My father, who was raised in Astoria and went to Columbia University, was a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. I'm not sure if he ever set foot in Chicago, but when he was a young boy his friends decided that it would be fun if they rooted for different baseball teams. My father picked the Cubs out of a hat, and his loyalty to the Cubs never wavered -- even if it never made any sense.

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Stranded on Third Base somewhere

Eric,

As your friend, I am obligated to point out that your obsession with the Yankee payroll is troubling. Does Steinbrenner owe you money or something? What do you care what any team pays anybody? Why do any of us care? Would you be happier if Steinbrenner pocketed all that money (like most owners) rather than paying market price for labor? What kind of liberal wants the rich to hoard their money rather than have it circulate among immigrants and African Americans, generating a beneficial multiplier effect and substantial tax revenue? The Yankees' micro-economy is a Keynesian dream.

The playoff payroll division you cited on Tuesday is troubling as well. Once again, you did not account for the small market payrolls the Yankees pay for via the luxury tax. And you did not account for the $10 million per year that the Texas Rangers are paying A-Rod so he does not hit all those home runs in Arlington.

But most troubling, you seem to think that dividing the Yankee payroll by the number of playoff games in recent years reveals something interesting. Just for fun, try dividing the Mets' payroll by the number of playoff games they have played this decade. Oops! You can't divide by zero!

As a Yankee fan, I have to assure you that the large Yankee payroll and all your quips about it do not trouble us in the least. So you are not really striking any blows here. Why not bring up Joe Torre's mistake of pitching Wang on Monday night? Or Jeter's sudden and severe October cold-spell? Or the fact that hordes of Lake Erie flies disturbing Joba Chamberlain in game two was some sort of sign of divine (or Satanic) intervention that just about assured the Yankees of a short playoff run? Why not hit us where it hurts?

At least we know that the Yankees will be in the mix again next year. We do indeed live in a great nation.

For now, Go Tribe!

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

I thoroughly enjoyed the "60 Minutes" interview with Bruce Springsteen, and would love to hear your thoughts on it. It was clear to me that even at 58, he is one of the hardest working singers in show business, and couldn't imagine a life without a guitar in his hands. I really doubt that he would be very happy in retirement, and I foresee him singing until the day he dies.

Name: B0b
Hometown: Kansas City, MO

As a fan of Lucinda Williams, you may be interested in giving Eliza Gilkyson a try if you've not already done so.

I think her voice is not as limited as Ms. Williams', but it's just as evocative in my opinion (humble, of course.)

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