Real Money


Here's Michael Kinsley on the reconstruction of Iraq: "Eighty billion dollars—the size of just the first expense report the Bush administration has submitted to Congress—works out to about $1,000 that needs to be kicked in by each household in the United States. Of course we're putting it all on the credit card, to be paid for in the future, with interest. But it's still real money. If we made a contribution that big to our local public broadcasting outlet, we'd qualify for a CD recording by six, nine, or even 12 tenors. From the Bush administration, we don't even get a tote bag. But at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that we share a $10 trillion economy with some smiling companies that are doing well as a result of the war."

As long as I'm citing people who probably won't, to paraphrase Orwell, have Max Boot sitting on their human faces forever: I finally picked up a copy of the Dixie Chicks' Home this week. It's a fine bluegrass album, several thousand times better than anything Darryl Worley will ever record. Stick a thumb in Clear Channel's eye, and pick up a copy.


NEXT: Losing Control

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  1. I think that DC record stinks.

  2. Semi-bluegrass bands like Nickel Creek get airplay. The Dixie Chicks might have pulled it off, too.

  3. You have great taste Tommy Grand. You are a real connoisseur.

  4. It is very difficult to believe Kingsley seriously credits much of what he alleges, or implies, here…or that any of the anti-war bloggers do, either. Peaceniks routinely call leaders in our society Nazis, fascist and racist simply because these terms are insulting and provocative…they can’t, in context, mean anything.
    When you call someone a bastard, mother-fucker or piece of shit, you aren’t seriously proposing to know anything about their heritage or sex-life, or expressing the delusional notion that you mistake them for a non-human exedue…you are just throwing a fit.
    When a man of Kingsley’s intellect struts out a theory that the great event of our lives swung on a contract Halliburton wouldn’t roll out of bed for, he’s just tossing slander to blow off his pique. Same as a man might call his wife a slut…just to hurt her feelings.
    You see, Kingsley is upset. He really wants to say “Oh, you cad! You bounder! You unspeakable swine!”
    Kingsley is in a snit, because Bush is not nice, Cheney isn’t nice, Rummy’s not nice. Not nice in that Mary Poppins/Sesame Street way you’ve come to expect from Bill, Hillary and Al.
    Just look at ’em, going to war like that…bunch of bounders, all right.

  5. This “Kingsley” fellow may have claimed that the war was fought only to enrich Haliburton. But Michael Kinsley wrote no such thing.

  6. Now THAT’S getting to the meat of it.

    (I’ll proof my Blog notes in future, promise.)

  7. Kinsley questions the U.S.’s motives. But say Bush responds to his every criticism.

    I’m sure Kinsley would feel much better if we gave the reconstruction contracts to (1) small, failing companies (instead of big, highly profitable companies, which only exist to make the rich folk richer); (2) with dubious technical abilities (I’m guessing that the list of companies that know how to put out oil fires and build refineries is a short one, and Joe Blow, the local plumber, isn’t on it); (3) which are run by people that hate the United States (the French), or at who at least hate Bush?

    Remember how the big Enron scandal lost steam, due in part to the fact that the cohabitation between business and politics is bi-partisan? If you really want to start digging into the companies that will rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure, I would argue that you will find a lot of FOBs (Friends of Bil) as well.

  8. Do I get fries with that? Or a genuine Mesopotamian cultural artifact?

  9. That corner of the left that hates and can’t understand markets, the government, and the interface between the two never fail to astonish me.

    Kinsley et. al. are just SHOCKED to discover that huge reconstruction contracts are going to huge construction contractors. The shame!

    Why, the Bush administration would have us believe that we’ll personally benefit from this pork! But we know it’s not true! We know how these capitalist big-dogs and their fat-cat pals in government really work! We won’t get a dime of those contracts!

    Here’s a little secret: The purpose of those defense contracts is not to enrich the little guy. The purpose is TO FUCKING REBUILD IRAQ. That’s IT. That’s how it works. How in God’s name can anybody be shocked or disappointed that reconstruction won’t consist of mailing thousand-dollar treasury checks to every working-classb man, woman, and child in the country?

    What the hell did you expect?

  10. Oh, I dunno maybe FREE MARKETS, the nom des plus of Reason?

  11. Now there’s a name for a band: Brainless, Pansy-ass Sucker Punches

  12. I’ve been a bluegrass fan for decades, Geo, and I’ve long thought the Dixie Chicks were a couple cuts above most other current pop-country acts.

    That out of the way, I’m also glad to support them with my dollars at a time when the Liberty Cabbage Brigade is boycotting them. Maines’ off-the-cuff comment was not an “idiotic slur.” She said she’s ashamed that the president is from the same state she’s from. That’s not stupid at all — and though it’s an insult I’m not sure it rises to the “slur” level.

    Her critics, meanwhile, argue that it’s somehow wrong to express such sentiments while not on your own country’s soil. Now *that’s* idiotic.

  13. you liberal pieces of shit disgust me.

  14. IUt’s amazing how easy it is to sklip bias into something. simply by showing the burden by household, and not by individual the perceived cost can be ratcheted up.

    The time period to spend that $80B was also not stated. 1 year? 2 years? 5 years? That also makes a big difference in how much it is perceived to cost.

    $1,000 out of my pocket right now, or $53 a year for the next five years. Big difference.

  15. Michael Kinsley is making a point about Halliburton as a “Mixed Economy Parasite.” If you have not read “Atlas Shrugged” or “Capitalism:the Unknown Ideal” the term means a private business that makes money through political connections. How else to define Halliburton, Bechtel and similar companies.
    Of course, profits for Halliburton was not the only reason for the war. There are those MWD’s that have not been found, and the connection with Al Qaeda that doesn’t exist.
    At least Halliburton is a real company.

  16. Way to completely miss the point, Byna.

  17. Congratulations, Byna — you’ve just justified absolutely every government expenditure, for anything, anytime. Spread it out long enough, and it’s just “pennies a day”!

    Was it the PBS analogy that inspired you?

  18. A quibble with the throwaway paragraph: As someone who really did stop listening to the Dixie Chicks after Maines made her comments, I’m sick of people acting as though this is strictly a ClearChannel issue. I was offended (as were however many other people) because the comments were asinine, not because some corporation told me to be offended. Reason (especially after some really good articles debunking various myths about advertising) is the last place I would have expected someone to gloss over this.

  19. People decide on their own to be offended, Matt. But the radio programmers decided on their own to yank the songs from airplay, which was gutless at best and censorious at worst, depending on whether you think they were responding to listener demand or trying to stir up a tempest in a teapot. Anyway, my aside about Clear Channel had more to do with my general distaste for that company than with any Adbusters-style belief that it’s engaged in mass mind control.

    (Yes, I know: A private, non-governmental ban is not literally censorious. You know what I mean.)

  20. Gene Berkman:

    Unfortunately, Rand was unwilling to admit the EXTENT of this “mixed economy parasitism.”

    Most of the corporate oligopoly sector of the economy (and I think Murray Rothbard agreed) is state capitalist. And the regulatory state apparatus that Rand condemned as “anti-business” was in fact, as Gabriel Kolko and Bill Domhoff showed, created at the behest of big business to cartelize the economy. The “progressive” rhetoric of useful fools like Art Schlesinger was just packaging to sell it to working people as something other than a fascist corporate state, which it was.

    Ayn Rand, on the other hand, wrung her hands over the “oppressed minority” status of big business, and condemned the military-industrial complex as a “pernicious myth.” But in fact, there are a shitload of James Taggarts in the corporate economy, and virtually no John Galts.

  21. “my aside about Clear Channel had more to do with my general distaste for that company…”

    Yes, evil, censorious Clear Channel, sponsor of the current Pearl Jam tour which concludes with Vedder attacking a photo of President Bush, Capt. Kurtz-style.

  22. Yes, shop for spite. In your face, Capitalist Pigs!

  23. My friend, until you’ve worked for country radio you’ve no idea the backlash the Chicks received for the comment Natalie Maines made about our president in front of a *foreign* audience. Yes, it’s about free speach… the country music listeners spoke and program directors were forced to pull the Chicks’ music. Their music is great, but even ClearChannel isn’t dumb enough to ignore hundreds of thousands of angry calls and emails to its program directors.

  24. You can distrust/dislike Bush, and still be a Capitalist. (Even genuinely like bluegrass, like myself).

    Yes, post for spite on a libertarian site- In your face, Liberals!

    (an aside, the Daily Show’s Louis Black regarding people protesting France by buying their wine and pouring it down the drain- “Men named Rene are LAUGHING AT YOU!”)

  25. “each household in the United States” can’t print their own money tho.

  26. Ah, forgot, liberals can’t poke fun at other liberals…

  27. Jesse – first off, the link you provided states that the US plans on spending $60 billion over three years (not $80 billion). This works out to about $250 per household per year for three years.

    Secondly, the Kinsley article displays a stunning lack of basic economic insight. If he can’t see why the US economy is better off having the reconstruction contracts going to American firms, he may need to take some remedial macro classes.

    Beyond that, the Dixie Chicks album is OK, but their bluegrass music wasn’t going to get radio play anyway (“Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” sold huge volumes, but never got any radio time).

  28. Rebuilding Iraq sounds like quite a project. Will there be advance notice of times and dates when public hearings for Iraqi resident input will take place? What’s the time limit per speaker? Will there be neighborhood workshops organized by professional facilitators? What a great opportunity to introduce our ideals to the Middle East.

  29. The longer this goes on, the more it appears that the main benfactors of the American taxpayer will be, as usual, large corporate donors to the republican party.

    When the dust has settled over Iraq, we will see the true answers to the question: “who benefits?”.

  30. The whole business philosophy of Clear Channel is premised on the idea that you don’t program the music that will attract listeners; you program the music that’s least likely to drive them away. This isn’t just miles away from freeform radio — my own favorite style, but by all accounts a minority taste. It’s miles from the old Top 40 format, which mixed genres and was constantly trying, despite the limits on the playlist, to break the newest hitmaker.

    The result is boring radio that doesn’t offend anyone but doesn’t really interest anyone either. Dropping the Dixie Chicks from rotation because someone might be offended by a mild political comment one of the musicians once made is what happens when you take that programming philosophy to an extreme. It’s gutless the way the company’s entire approach to radio is gutless.

    Clear Channel can run its stations however it pleases, of course. But I’m not going to say I like it. Especially when there are all these legal entry barriers standing in the way of upstart stations that might be more willing to experiment.

    And yeah, Mark, they still play Pearl Jam on their rock stations. I didn’t know they were sponsoring the band’s tour, but I’m not surprised to hear it. That doesn’t mean their approach to the country audience is any less gutless and/or censorious; it just means it’s more cynical.

  31. I can’t see ClearChannel as being any more gutless than other corporations. Presumably, they were simply responding to demand, which is what any other company has in mind when it appears to us to be selling out. My assumption is that they’re in business to make a profit, not a point. I don’t think the anti-Dixie Chick campaign will last too long, though. It was never based on anything other than an understandable, in-the-moment frustration. I’m sure it was quite unsettling for some fans to have their first introduction to Dixie Chick politics be a cheap shot like this (factoring in the audacity of a Hollywood limosine-liberal claiming to speak on behalf of Texas.)

    Anyway, perhaps calling the remark an “idiotic slur” is more colorful than it is to-the-point. Also, Maines may be a scholar of remarkable depth, I really have no idea. Still, though I think it’s perfectly fine for her to feel however she pleases, I can’t muster a lot of respect for her chosen mode of expression in this case. I’ll guess that I’m not the only person to feel this way, since Maines has a big interview with Diane Sawyer coming up next week, which must be meant to be some kind of damage control. Stay tuned. I probably won’t watch personally, since I’m already disgusted with the amount of time I’ve wasted on this whole deal, it being practically a non-issue in the grand scheme of things.

  32. I see you’re passionate about radio issues, I just don’t buy that it’s anymore gutless than what capitalist entities usually do (i.e. doing the least for the most profit), just with more money involved than usual.

    I get virtually all of my music from mp3s now, personally, except for classical, for which radio is still good.

  33. I guess I’m in agreement with you, Jesse. It is gutless of them to yank the DCs. I just don’t think it’s any more gutless than not playing Bela Fleck and the Flecktones because they think people won’t like it. You’re right, but I’m not sure why you’re especially upset about this.

  34. If the Dixie Chicks’ Home is “a fine bluegrass album,” then The Byrds “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” is, too.
    Get real. Rock is rock, pop is pop, and country is country. What the Dixie Chicks sing is increasingly pop-rock masquerading as country.
    And you fail to recognize that freedom of speech doesn’t include freedom from consequence.
    When the US government bans the Dixie Chicks, I’ll start buying their albums. Until then, they can go commiserate with k.d. lang.

  35. Jesse,

    Why on earth do you consider it “gutless” if Clear Channel is responding to listener demand? They are a business for pity’s sake. Their only obligation is to make money and decisions of playlists are always made on that basis. What actually IS gutless is Natalie Maines playing up to a foreign audience with a comment that we all know she wouldn’t have made at a performance in the US (much less in Texas). That kind of pathetic cowardice shouldn’t be rewarded (especially in the name of petulantly sticking it to Clear Channel).

    Incidentally, does Michael Kinsley now support a flat fee tax system? Where each household actually would pay an equal amount? If not, then his article is propagandistic nonsense, since we all know the bulk of the bill will be paid by “the wealthiest 1% of Americans.” If James Taranto premised an argument on something this stupid, you guys would be all over him, instead of cheerleading it.


  36. It doesn’t really matter if there is any benefit to anyone else – the basic fact of the matter is that there will be a massive transfer of our tax dollars to some select corporate entities. Didn’t it used to be a tenet of journalism – “follow the money”?

    The trick of a good politician is to attach a broad public good to a specific private goal of his own.

    Sure – we may get some good out of this (Saddam has gone etc.). How is it then that:

    1. At at time when the call on the public purse has never been heavier – the rich and the corporations are getting tax breaks?
    2. The same corporations are now to benefit from the public purse in reconstruction?

    If anyone tells me this is the free market, I’ll puke.

  37. Have you listened to the album, D.S.? It’s clearly in the bluegrass tradition, and it’s way more country (and way better) than 98% of the stuff that’s gotten played on mainstream C&W radio since the new traditionalism receded in the late ’80s. Sure, it’s not as good as Tift Merritt or Steve Earle, but they don’t get any airplay.

    I checked out your site, and I like most of the artists you link to. But Alan Jackson? Not bad for a hat act, I guess…

  38. It’s Free Market.

    (I just did that to make him puke).

  39. Since when do government projects have anything to do with the “free market?” BTW, din’t Bechtel help run the construction at the “Big Dig” in Boston? And weren’t they the firm that helped the project go into billions in cost overruns?

  40. Alan Jackson “a hat act”? Now you have angered me.

    But I’ll ignore your obvious attempt to goad me, and say I agree that the Dixie Chicks’ album, Home, is better than 98% of the crap they currently play on “country” radio. But favorably comparing a moron to an idiot doesn’t make the moron a genius. Though it might make him a Nashville record producer. I’ll give you that.

  41. Yeah they’re the guys that perpetrated the Big Dig. (Hoover Dam too, I believe.) I just drove through the new tunnel and over the new bridge today on the way to see my grandparents. (Friggin’ awesome ride, by the way, though I’d already gone over/through them when they opened them to foot traffic.) According to our Dear Leaders, it’ll eliminate our traffic problems till the 3450 AD. And if we believe that, they’ve got a bridge they want to sell us… oh. crap.

  42. >>The result is boring radio that doesn’t offend anyone but doesn’t really interest anyone either.

  43. FYI, it was Cumulus Broadcasting that banned the Chicks on a corporate level, not Clear Channel.

  44. Tim: Clear Channel usually gets the rap because (a) a bunch of CC-affiliated stations were very noisy about their boycotts/bans, and (b) they’re part of the one radio chain that everyone’s heard of.

    RadioHead: First of all, it’s not my role as a consumer to like something just because it exists in the marketplace. I never said that no one is listening, just that I don’t care for what they’re listening to. I have a right not to like whatever I please; that’s part of the free market, too.

    That said, a lot less people are listening. According to those mighty rating books, the percentage of Americans who listen to the radio has been declining more-or-less steadily since the end of the ’80s. Industry profits increased during most of that time — basically until the recession began — but that doesn’t mean the programming was increasingly popular. Satellite radio aside, commercial stations are in the business of selling audiences to advertisers, not programs to audiences. There are ways to make money doing that even as your actual audience shrinks and the remaining listeners grow less passionate about their favorite stations.

    Do I think I could do better? Maybe I could, maybe I couldn’t — it depends on what you mean by “better,” I suppose. (And for the record, while I’m all for challenging audiences, there are also ways to break with the programming philosophy under discussion without ceasing to feed your listeners candy.) But it’s difficult to do what you suggest — to buy a station and launch a radically different approach to programming — because the artificial scarcity of licenses has made those stations a heck of a lot more expensive than they’d be in a real free market. (Though on the AM band, the prices are coming down — in some markets, they’ve come way down. If there’s a renaissance of radio experimentation in the near future, it’s more likely to happen on the AM band than on FM.)

    Whew! That’s quite a lot of verbiage for a comment on my own blog post, so I think I’ll stop now. Those of you who enjoy reading me rant about radio are advised to pick up my book.

  45. Enough about the radio stations already.

    Kinsley’s squawking about the “cost” of reconstructing Iraq is the real outrage.

    I don’t recall Kinsley complaining about the massive cost of years and years of domestic social welfare spending and useless federal depts like HUD, EEOC and HHS. These programs have cost the taxpayes TRILLIONS of dollars. We are all still paying for them and will be for many long years to come. Neither Kinsley nor the rest fo the liberals are the slightest bit concerned about that, in fact they never miss a chance to try and increase the load. Federal spending on defense is only about 18% of federal outlays – it’s dwarfed by the amount spent on domestic giveaway programs.

    If Kinsley’s SO concerned about this expense, I’ve got a perfect source of funding for it that won’t add a cent to the national debt. Just cut some of those boondogle domestic programs and divert the money to Iraq reconstruction.

  46. Kinsley’s writing was always better than his TV work.

  47. B. O’Reily: AM is up because of conservative talk stations.

    Jesse: Couldn’t resist the plug couldya?

    At any rate, I was thinking more about this today, and it occured to me that the seeming homogenization of radio today must surely be due to the internet. People are finding, with the advent of the internet, that radio was never as free and open as they would have liked. This is really all about choice, and radio doesn’t offer the most choices anymore, and it never offered much flexibility. Perhaps the opposite of bad radio isn’t good radio, but rather mp3s, which offer choice and flexibility both. Perhaps this didn’t cause the downfall of good radio directly, but it might just keep it from rising again.

    It does seem likely that AM could spawn some new clever/quirky stations a la some old UHF tv channels, but it can’t just be about the music anymore. They will have to have some kind of outlook, opinion, or way of doing things that is uniquely appealing. In other words, free[market]style.

  48. B.: I was talking about radio listenership overall; AM is included in that, but as you note it has its own patterns. It’s generally acknowledged that the one uptick in overall radio listenership in the ’90s came because of the talk radio boom, which was overwhelmingly on AM; that subsided, relatively speaking, but it’s obviously still a big part of the radio landscape. Need I point out that talk radio is a format that does *not* follow the programming philosophy I was criticizing earlier?

    Gilbert: Kinsley is one of the few liberals (whatever “liberal” means these days) who *has* been critical over the years of taxes and spending, though obviously not to the extent a libertarian is. He was taking on Social Security when it was still a third rail. Not exactly a Hubert Humphrey type.

    Geo: On the topic of radio and the Internet, you might like this old article of mine. Be forewarned: I obviously misjudged the record industry’s willingness to reform the DMCA.

  49. >> years and years of domestic social welfare spending and useless federal departments like HUD, EEOC and HHS. These programs have cost the taxpayes TRILLIONS of dollars. We are all still paying for them and will be for many long years to come.

  50. Jess Walker, maybe you’re talking about FM radio here:

    >>> . . . a lot less [fewer] people are listening. According to those mighty rating books, the percentage of Americans who listen to the radio has been declining more-or-less steadily since the end of the ’80s.

  51. >>: First of all, it’s not my role as a consumer to like something just because it exists in the marketplace. I never said that no one is listening, just that I don’t care for what they’re listening to. I have a right not to like whatever I please; that’s part of the free market, too.>That said, a lot less people are listening. According to those mighty rating books, the percentage of Americans who listen to the radio has been declining more-or-less steadily since the end of the ’80s. Industry profits increased during most of that time — basically until the recession began — but that doesn’t mean the programming was increasingly popular.

  52. This has fallen off the main Hit & Run page now, so if you want to continue the conversation you’ll have to e-mail me directly. I agree with some (not all) of what you just wrote, and have actually written about a fair amount of it in the past. (For some strange reason, I give more detailed arguments in my articles than in my blog comments.) I also think you misconstrued my meaning in a couple of places, but that’s neither here nor there. See you in the mail.

  53. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/19/2004 07:57:40
    The professor makes the syllabus, not you.

  54. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 03:14:35
    People are just smart enough to not be happily ignorant.

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