Thursday, December 23, 2004

LIberal Fantasies

So, I wonder: do liberals watch The West Wing longingly, thinking about what might have been? There they are: a liberal academic president from the North East, his beautiful, intelligent, liberal staff, struggling to solve the nation’s and the world’s problems in a socially conscientious liberal (and funny) way. On occasion they give voice to conservative viewpoints, and sometimes they’re given serious consideration (it would be easy to just mock those you disagree with all the time). Ainsley Hayes, the republican lawyer who ends up working for the president because “the president likes to surround himself with brilliant people who disagree with him,” was a great television invention—an antagonistic chorus who was smart and funny at the same time. But for the most part it’s all about liberal truths. So do liberals, after getting trounced in the last election, watch The West Wing every week and scream “This! This is the way it’s supposed to be!”

I like to tell myself that I watch it because it is the best written and best acted show on broadcast television, though Desperate Housewives is giving it a run for its money. Both Desperate Housewives and The West Wing are soap operas, and like other great prime-time soap operas—Dallas, Dynasty, the Sopranos—the are clever, witty, and addictive. But might not watching The West Wing be a little bit masturbatory for liberals, a fantasy of the way we want our world to work, which we cling to because the world has really gone all to hell and, just as we are not sleeping with Heather Graham no matter who much we’d like to be, we are stuck with George W. Bush for another four years?

I was watching re-runs of The West Wing yesterday. My girlfriend watches Law and Order (subject of a blog yet to be written) I watch The West Wing. I love it. I want my life to be that clever, that much fun and have that much meaning at the same time. Jeb Bartlet is the finest president we could ever hope for. Too bad he’s not real, and that the script writers are all liberals who make sure his ideas are always the ones that prove to be best. The show’s Jiminy Cricket, Toby Ziegler, spouts off beautifully concise explanations of the liberal position—much more beautiful and concise then John Kerry seemed to manage. President Bartlet eloquently probes all sides of a complex issue and, with a reluctance born only from the knowledge that you control the fates of millions, sets the nation’s course. They fight a hostile congress which launches frivolous investigations of them, they champion gun control and abortion and the environment and women’s rights and gay rights and give out clear, well reasoned and logical explanations as to why they do so—something the DNC is completely lost in attempting. Not only that but their reasoning makes both practical and moral sense. When Toby says “Free trade stops war,” or “FDR took ninety days to build the American Middle Class,” or C.J. cries out “They’re beating the women,” or the President says, hell anything, laced as it will be with references to Shakespeare and Cicero and Lincoln, to explain why the world works the way it does, you have to ask yourself, how can anyone not want to be a liberal. Of course, it’s just a show. The real world doesn’t work that way, does it?

I’ve thought for a long time that the soul of The West Wing is a lot of liberal wishful thinking, but I got a clear example this weekend watching two episodes that I had seen before, and one that I had not. In the first two, Toby tells the president that it is ok the be smart, that his opponent in the general election, Governor Richie from Florida, is folksy and home spun and a regular guy “good for all time zones,” and that the president shouldn’t try to bet him on those grounds. The president is smart, he’s competent, he’s genuine, he’s a Nobel laureate and he shouldn’t pretend not to be. The republicans are going to spin it as real American values versus the North East liberal elite and he, President Bartlett, should let them, because it plays to his strengths. In the second President Bartlett meets with Governor Richie, played by James Brolin in a not very good caricature of George W. Bush, at a production of Henry VI. Richie makes a point of going to a Yankee game instead because “that’s how ordinary Americans get their entertainment.” Bartlett tells Richie he doesn’t have to be so detached, that the country would be served by them having a great debate about the issues of our times, not by throwing sound bites and negative adds at one another. While Bartlett is conciliatory Richie tells the president that he’s a North Easterner, a liberal, an academic, a snob, and that he’s weak, and that for all those reasons Governor Richie doesn’t like him. This is certainly how Red State America feels about me and mine.

The capper here is that in the big confrontation, written two years before the last election, they have a debate (another episode, which I had already seen). As to be expected, Bartlett’s camp wants as many debates as possible, Richie’s camp wants as few as possible, but to get Richie to agree on the format and issues they want to discuss, Bartlett’s people throw a curve ball by proposing only one debate. Bartlett tears Richie apart. He makes him look foolish, ignorant, petty and mean, while making himself look completely presidential. Where he was trailing in the polls going into the debate he comes out way ahead in the polls and wins in a landslide.

Now imagine if John Kerry and George W. Bush had had only one debate. Kerry, the North East liberal elitist snob, made George W. Bush look foolish, ignorant, petty and mean. Pat Buchanan said that if the election had been held after the first debate Kerry would have won. Imagine that.

Democrats are looking at the rich, smart liberal catholic from New England on TV and saying why couldn’t the real rich, smart, liberal catholic from New England win? Hell, he even had some of the West Wing TV writers on his speech writing staff (a great example of the blending of politics and entertainment). Well, the reason is because TV is not the real world, and because Karl Rove is a genius, because George Bush is smarter and more competent then liberals ever want to give him credit for being, and because sometimes the world just doesn’t work the way it should. You pray you could make those red state people understand how wrong they are, but they are out there praying for you as well.

And they won.

Yep, The West Wing is how blue staters see the world. For the red state view watch Jag.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Big Money in Flushing

The dissertation is eating up my time. I haven’t blogged in a month, and I’ve really had a lot to say.

Everybody should be reading Frank Rich’s column right now. He can be found at (unfortunately, you have to pay at the Times for back articles). He is writing much more eloquently then I can about this family values nonsense. Also check out this great article in the UK Guardian, and wonder why main stream American supposedly “liberal” press hasn’t been covering this story. I checked it out: it’ real. It’s also real scary.,11710,1369643,00.html

But I am getting so tired of politics right now! The best comment I’ve seen on the last election came from Michael Moore, who was asked on Leno (I never watch Leno, but I was flipping past and I saw a well groomed Michael Moore in a suit, so I had to stop) “What do you think happened in the election?” Moore replied “I think George Bush got more votes.” You can’t really sum it up any better then that. Move on,

So if we are going to skip politics and the media for awhile, what is left? Well, we can’t avoid the whole Red State/Blue State thing completely. It is too dominant a theme. But today and today we’ll take a break. Let’s talk about sports.

Particularly lets talk about sports, media and money, and let’s pose a simple question: Are athletes overpaid?

Pedro Martinez, a man with a questionable brain but a killer fastball, just signed a four year, $53M deal to pitch for the New York Mets. To put that in perspective, that is almost twice the growth domestic product of the island of Montserrat ($29M). It is only one-one hundredth of the GDP of Martinez’ native Dominican Repbulic, but in a nation of 8,833,634 that’s a lot. The per capita GDP is only $6,000.

And Martinez isn’t the highest paid athlete at all. Not even close. Alex Rodriguez’s ten year contract, signed in 2000, is worth $252M. Mind you, that’s only about $21M a year. A pittance among high priced athletes. But still, $252M is a chunk of change and gives A Rod a lot of purchasing power. He an Manny Ramirez each made $22M in 2004. breaks it down for you, as does this article from sports illustrated: Michael Shoemacher, the Formula One driver, is paid $40M a year by Ferrari. Add in his $40M in endorsements and he makes a cool $80M, putting him almost up there with Tiger Woods, who totals $80.3M.

What could you do with $80 million dollars? What could your school do? Your fire department? Your library? I’ll bet the Library could buy a whole bunch of new books that the kids from the school can check out, which can then be burned by their outraged parents in a bonfire that the fire department will have to put out. But I digress.

Of course in the case of American athletes it is not a moot question, because We the People end up with about half the money they are supposedly paid once their tax bills come round.

$80 million dollars. Wow.

The average baseball salary is $2,555,476. According to Congressman John J. Duncan, of Tennessee, “while the average salary in the United States is around $37,000 a year, that figure is very much skewed by the top one-tenth of one percent. The true average salary is closer to $25,000 a year.” In other words the average big league ball player makes a little over 100 times what the average American makes. However, there are only 1200 players in Major League Baseball out of a total US labor force of 140.3 million workers, so slightly fewer then one out of every 100,000 people in the US plays major league baseball. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it?

But are they worth it? Let’s go back to Pedro. The money he gets comes out of the very deep pockets of team owner Fred Wilpon. Wilpon, like all other baseball owners, gets his money primarily from television, secondarily from licensing team jerseys, caps, little pencils and coffee mugs with the Met’s logo, that sort of thing. The national television contract for Major League Baseball, which is entirely controlled by FOX, is $416.7 million over six years, or roughly $13.8M per team per year. Under baseball’s complicated revenue sharing formula, in which teams with the highest revenue share the spoils with the teams with the lowest revenue, over $200M was redistributed in 2003, and the Mets, predictably, were on the giving end, to the tune of $21M.

In other words, they can afford it. The Mets total payroll was about $96M in 2004, down more then $20M from 2003, when it was $117M. I guess that’s what happens when you clean house. Their payroll is obviously going up this year. I was unable to find their revenue for some reason (though obviously that $21M payment was calculated somehow), but lets say it’s around $190M (the Yankees revenue is $217M, so that’s probably not far off). That’s almost double their payroll. How many businesses keep their labor costs to around 50% of their revenues? Think about it. Of course the players union fights to prevent a salary cap, because that’s what they are supposed to do, look out for the interests of their members. Of course the owners (other then King George) want a salary cap, because they want to be able to compete for players on a more or less even footing. And of course they fight it out. That is what collective bargaining is all about.

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the players’ fault that they are so highly paid. It’s not the owners’ fault either. It’s yours.

Baseball has all this money because people watch baseball on TV, go to ball parks and buy licensed merchandise, and they shell out all this cash on the Boys of Summer willingly. Nobody puts a gun to their heads. Ticket prices are high because that’s what the market will bear. FOX pays $416.7M for the baseball contract because Murdoch figures he can make more then that selling advertising during games and—baring a strike or a lot bigger fallout from the steroid controversy then is brewing now—he’ll get it. It’s a big pie and everybody wants a piece of it. The players’ agents negotiate the best deals possible for their clients because that’s how they make their own money, and the owners dole out the cash because they know a player like Pedro Martinez means higher ticket sales right off the bat and, hopefully, success in the post season which translates to more ticket sales and more TV revenue. It is simple economics. Ray Ratto, commenting on the record breaking salary of Glen Robinson in his rookie year, said (using Robinson’s famous nickname) “Big Dog is worth whatever Big Owner is willing to shell out of Big Wallet.” As far as I’m concerned, that closes the book on the subject.

I get most of these stats by going to Doug’s Business of Baseball weblog, and then following the links. It’s a great site.