Friday, August 04, 2006

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

My sons (16 and 14) get all of what news they get from the Jon Stewart show and the Colbert Report, on Comedy Central. They often bring up something that was said there, as if it were simply true.

All I know about Stewart is his famous "confrontation" with Crossfire talking head Tucker Carlson, where Stewart said: "No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey." And Stewart also said, about his show and why people watch it for political news, "We have civilized discourse."

And, of course, Stewart ended his petulant school-marm-grabs-little-Tuckie-by-the-ear lecture with this exchange:

CARLSON: What's it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?
STEWART: If I think they are.
CARLSON: I wouldn't want to eat with you, man. That's horrible.
STEWART: I know. And you won't. But the thing I want to get to...
BEGALA: We did promise naked pictures of the Supreme Court justices.
CARLSON: Yes, we did. Let's get to those.
BEGALA: They're in this book, which is a very funny book.
STEWART: Why can't we just talk -- please, I beg of you guys, please.
CARLSON: I think you watch too much CROSSFIRE.
We're going to take a quick break.
STEWART: No, no, no, please.
CARLSON: No, no, hold on. We've got commercials.
STEWART: Please. Please stop.
CARLSON: Next, Jon Stewart in the "Rapid Fire."
STEWART: Please stop.
CARLSON: Hopefully, he'll be here, we hope, we think.

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
We're talking to Jon Stewart, who was just lecturing us on our moral inferiority.
Jon, you're bumming us out. Tell us, what do you think about the Bill O'Reilly vibrator story?
STEWART: I'm sorry. I don't.
STEWART: What do you think?
BEGALA: Let me change the subject.
STEWART: Where's your moral outrage on this?
CARLSON: I don't have any.
STEWART: I know.

Oh, snap! What a cool guy! Gag me, please. I actually don't think
anyone was confused, Jon: Crossfire was an entertainment show, professional wrestling for wonks. Your little lecture was sad, and you are a pathetic, preening poseur.

Anyway, I did decide to see how Stewart and his boy, Colbert, were doing on the moral outrage front. Since Stewart wants more moral outrage, I mean.

So, I watched the Thursday, August 3, 2006 edition of both programs at 8 pm EDT (yes, those are reruns of the 11 pm live version from August 2; sue me).


I have to admit, I did also know this, going in:

4-01-2004 -- Fake and scathing 1, fair and balanced 0. CNN and MSNBC have gotten used to losing to Fox News. But during the Democratic primaries, an unexpected foe stole the ratings crown from all three. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, a mock news program airing on Viacom's (VIA) Comedy Central, attracted more viewers at 11 p.m. than any of the cable news channels in the last two weeks of January, outdoing Fox by 20 percent even as the news network was running live campaign coverage. Stewart's fake news show has won ever-growing audiences with help from real politico guests like John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards.

So, I'm not so sure he can really leave the moral outrage to others.

Anyway, my "review" of the Aug 3 8 pm EDT showing:

1. He said "fuck" four times. It was bleeped out, but his lips said it clearly, and it wasn't really bleeped out very effectively. Saying "fuck", for a comic, is a lot like calling your opponents Nazis in a debate. It means you aren't very smart, and don't have any real things to say.
2. There was also a graphic, up nearly constantly, that showed "10th fucking (something or other" that was supposed to have significance for fans.
3. He said shit once, that I caught.

Remember, this is on standard cable, at 8 pm. I am glad to let the boy be potty mouth, if he wants, but why does he have to pretend to be a real news show, and then work as hard as he can to make it seem like the concept of news itself is boring unless you say "fuck" a lot. Well, and "shit."

The first segment was about President Bush, being fat. Stewart called him a "fat fuck," facing full on into the camera. It made me proud to be an American. I'm glad that my sons get to be exposed to such an enlightening display.

Why would we expect civility in discourse, which Stewart says he wants, when tomorrow's generation of voters are being told the President is a fat fuck?

The second segment was a montage of interviews from Florida. Excellent stuff, very funny, I did laugh out loud. Just letting people be themselves. The Republican congressional hopeful from Florida who sang the rap sang about gays, and cocaine, was excellent. And the lap dancer...and the woman who wants to ban Satan. Nice television. One thumb up, at least.

The final segment was Chris Paine, and his omni-present "Who killed the electric car?" movie promo. Still, the questions were fine, and Paine is a smart guy. I have to give Paine credit, he noted that independent carmakers could produce electric cars, and would as soon as it was truly economical to do so. Still, I wondered why he (or Mr. Civility, the host) didn't announce they were starting a new electric car company. If it's that easy to do, and you could make money, why not do the free media thing and announce it on the show? Maybe it is NOT that easy? Maybe the fact that no one has produced a commercially successful electric car means something other than a grandiose capitalist conspiracy. Still, Paine has some good points, and I'll probably see the movie.

All in all, this is a 7 out of 10. Without the hypocrisy about civilized discourse, I might even have thought the "fat fuck" bit was funny. But if you go on other entertainment shows and give them lectures about morality, you have to have standards yourself.


I was really prepared to hate this, a lot. The guy who went looking for Mr. Goodwrench, doing political comentary? He is such a gut-wrenchingly horrible guy.

Starts with a bit about the empty chair for Senator Lieberman, and a box of Cocoa Puffs. And some sort of running gag about milk, and nausea. Then a skit about the "on-notice board." This was as bad a skit as I have ever seen on TV. Saturday Night Live would not have run a skit this lame even if Regis Philbin were the host and they were looking for philler.

Then, the segment on "The Word," apparently a regular feature. Pretty darned funny. Quick, witty, clever. Excellent stuff.

Then, some calls from "listeners." I assumed an outbreak of lameness was imminent, but it was great. Colbert is actually a good actor, as long as he gets to shtay in his shtick, and the callers did a good job, too. Way better than such a lame concept should have been. Nicely done.

Finally, a guest "interview": Linda Hirschman, flogging her book on why woman should work outside the home. It's called, GET TO WORK. Colbert actually does this bizarre, anorexic Benny Hill dance on his way over to the interview table, and then does a moderately serious interview.

Hirschman actually said, at one point, that all of western philosophy was on her side, and that women should work because if you read western philosophy that's what it says. I'm paraphraising, but that's pretty close. Well, my own reading of Aristotle (for example) would say that "Silence is a woman's glory." (Politics, Bk I, pt 8). Linda H didn't really take THAT part of western philosophy very seriously. Hirschman was incredibly sure of herself, and her own ability uniquely to dictate right and wrong to other women. But to give her credit, she made some valid points, and was brave, given the atmosphere. She summarized her claim this way (again, not quoting exactly): we need to move toward the middle. Men should feel free to spend more of their time on children, and women should feel free to spend less on children, and more on work outside the home. Except she didn't mean it; Hirschman clearly thinks that if women only work inside the home, then a squad of long-haired men and short-haired women should visit and reeducate them.

Colbert did ask some pretty pointed, but useful questions. His best shot, which was exactly right, was: You just want others to have to want what you want. Why can't they want what they want? Why isn't staying home and raising children a perfectly valid choice? (Full disclosure: my wife is an attorney, full time, and has been straight through except for two maternity leaves. I am the cook in the family. So I agree with Hirschman, at least to the extent that I want women to have the OPTION of working outside the home, and I agree also that husbands are obliged to accomodate that choice if that is what the wife wants).

But Colbert also just made fun and constantly interrupted Hirschman, and made me much more sympathetic to her personally than I was to her totalitarian arguments.

Still, you know what this reminded me of? One person trying to score debating points, and another person interrupting and making fun of them? It was just like....Crossfire.

I have expected the moral authority of the universe, Jon Stewart, to come in and lecture Colbert on the importance of civility. But for some reason it didn't happen.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Minimum Wage Follies

One has to laugh at the jabber about the minimum wage. I don't think that raising the minimum wage does much harm, so maybe it's not a big deal. But it is offensive that nearly all the harm falls on those who the measure is supposed to help, the economically marginal.

And nearly all the benefits accrue to union workers, and people who make high wages, because now their pay is not so out of line, and they are better substitutes for unskilled workers.

Some points:

1. Very few workers work at minimum wage. I never did. I often worked two jobs, to pay for college. Construction, unloading timbers at a lumber yard, laying sod, working in orange groves. And if you work at minimum wage for more than a year or two, without getting a raise, you have other problems (productivity, attitude, attendance difficulties, etc). It is not clear that raising the minimum wage is the best way to help such desperately marignal people.

2. Job loss, job gentrification

From the EPI site, propaganda arm for white middle class union workers who are the actual chief beneficiaries of the minimum wage increase:

There is no evidence of job loss from the last minimum wage increase.

A 1998 EPI study failed to find any systematic, significant job loss associated with the 1996-97 minimum wage increase. In fact, following the most recent increase in the minimum wage in 1996-97, the low-wage labor market performed better than it had in decades (e.g., lower unemployment rates, increased average hourly wages, increased family income, decreased poverty rates).

Studies of the 1990-91 federal minimum wage increase, as well as studies by David Card and Alan Krueger of several state minimum wage increases, also found no measurable negative impact on employment.

New economic models that look specifically at low-wage labor markets help explain why there is little evidence of job loss associated with minimum wage increases. These models recognize that employers may be able to absorb some of the costs of a wage increase through higher productivity, lower recruiting and training costs, decreased absenteeism, and increased worker morale.

A recent Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) study of state minimum wages found no evidence of negative employment effects on small businesses.

The minimum wage increase in the late 1990s was during one of the greatest economic booms in human history. Basically no one was making minimum wage, and so it is hardly surprising that there was no measurable job loss. It was really hard to find workers even at higher wages.

The Card and Krueger analysis is discredited. They themselves recanted, no one claims that specific industries go one way or the other, and the minimum wage increase differentially harmed mom and pop pizza shops, and helped McDendy's and Taco Hell: franchises face more inelastic demand, because of advertising. And, fast food prices in New Jersey (home of the C&K mythology) rose much faster than in surrounding states over the study period.

Finally, the unemployment rate among African-American teenagers is approaching 30%. In many parts of the nation, the unemployment rate among adults (if you count people who have given up looking for work, and account for the fact that we jail people for minor crimes that wouldn't be committed if they had more economic opportunities) is not much lower. If you have no job experience, and no sense of the need to show up for work on time, dressed properly and with an attitude that customers are your boss, you won't EVER have a job. The unemployment rate only measures people who have LOOKED for a job in recent past. Minimum wage increases mean that search is hopeless for anyone who would have been employed at $5.15, but not at $7.25. What is the effect on the measured unemployment rate? Zero! That poor teenager never even bothers to look for a job. We can always build more jails, though. (A screed from the OTHER EPI)

So, anyway, I really don't mind the minimum wage increase. We should just call it the "Legislation To Increase the Salaries of Middle Class White Union Workers Who Contribute Big Bucks to Ted Kennedy." Then, at least we would be honest about who is benefitting.

(you might check the very nice WSJ article by David R. Henderson, which got me thinking about this. Yeah, it's for subscribers. Waddya want for nothing, rubber biscuit?)

UPDATE: Dirty Davey makes a good point: restoring the real minimum wage is different from actually raising it. I worked on this a bit over at Div of Labour.

It's hard to leave when you can't find the Doha

Danny D eulogizes, but does not bury, Doha.

And a nice post on WTO and Doha from PKK.

His conclusion:

In total, a number of countries must share responsibility for the breakdown. Brazil and other Third World food exporters probably were too ambitious on behalf of the developed countries, India refused to accept more competition in its comparatively weak industries, and the US position remained opaque while the country for too long hid behind the protectionist positions of other member states. However, the bottom line is that the main culprit - the member bearing most of the responsibility - is the European Union. The problem continues to be that the official policy of the union is controlled by Southern European countries with strong agricultural lobbies - and the policy is therefore rather clearly dictated by Paris. French top politicians have throughout the negotiations ‘protected’ French farmers against cuts in tariffs or support measures - Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin both went on air in national media to ensure their voters that France would veto any liberalization - which makes the country the Global Public Enemy Number One. Yet, another part of the story that needs to be told is that other EU members also made an indirect effort. The EU as a whole and traditionally liberalist countries such as the UK and Denmark in particular are all accomplices. We are guilty of both crimes and misdemeanours but the worst crime of them all is that we are actively preventing poor countries from gaining extra opportunities to lift themselves out of deep poverty. If justice exists in this world, future historians will not look kindly on today’s political letdown.

(just so it doesn't drive you crazy, song snippet in the title is from Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good to Me". I bring it up because that song has one of the very best list of misheard lyrics. Hilarious).

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Imports are always a good, by definition

Mercantilist thinking lives on, 230 years after it should have died.

The Flemish Beerdrinker lays out the truth.

Adam Smith had it right:

Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation. The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver, the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a very distant part of the country! how much commerce and navigation in particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers, must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners of the world! What a variety of labour too is necessary in order to produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen! To say nothing of such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner, the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the feller of the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the smelting-house, the brick-maker, the brick-layer, the workmen who attend the furnace, the mill-wright, the forger, the smith, must all of them join their different arts in order to produce them. Were we to examine, in the same manner, all the different parts of his dress and household furniture, the coarse linen shirt which he wears next his skin, the shoes which cover his feet, the bed which he lies on, and all the different parts which compose it, the kitchen-grate at which he prepares his victuals, the coals which he makes use of for that purpose, dug from the bowels of the earth, and brought to him perhaps by a long sea and a long land carriage, all the other utensils of his kitchen, all the furniture of his table, the knives and forks, the earthen or pewter plates upon which he serves up and divides his victuals, the different hands employed in preparing his bread and his beer, the glass window which lets in the heat and the light, and keeps out the wind and the rain, with all the knowledge and art requisite for preparing that beautiful and happy invention, without which these northern parts of the world could scarce have afforded a very comfortable habitation, together with the tools of all the different workmen employed in producing those different conveniencies; if we examine, I say, all these things, and consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we shall be sensible that without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided, even according to what we very falsely imagine, the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated.

If someone else can provide you with stuff you want more cheaply than you can make it for yourself, it makes you better off if the government allows you to buy it from that other source.