Posts Tagged ‘The Daily Show’

Must-Reads of the Week: Nukes, Inconsistencies, Graphing the Economic Crisis, Half-Hookers, Palin 2012, Mailer’s Wife, & Complex Business Models

Friday, April 9th, 2010

1. Nukes. Jon Stewart and Andrew Sullivan both make the same point: Obama’s nuclear policy is the fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s vision:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Big Bang Treaty
www.thedailyshow.com

2. Inconsistencies. Matt Yglesias:

The main difference between left and right with regard to property rights is simply that the right is invested in a lot of rhetoric about markets and property rights and the left is invested in different historical and rhetorical tropes.

… Formally, the right is committed to ideas about free markets and the left is committed to ideas about economic equality. But in practice, political conflict much more commonly breaks down around “some stuff some businessmen want to do” vs “some stuff businessmen hate” rather than anything about markets or property rights per se…

Or if you look at the energy sector, you’ll see that businessmen want to push property rights for the stuff that’s in the ground (coal, oil, whatever) and a commons model for the stuff (particulates, CO2) that’s in the air. You can call that “inconsistent” if you like, but obviously it’s perfectly consistent with what coal and oil executives want! And those industries are the most loyal supporters of “right” politics around.

3. Graphing the Economic Crisis. Ezra Klein puts out some interesting graphs about the economic crisis and nascent recovery including this one:

Klein explains:

This graph is a political problem for the Obama administration (if not, in the short-term, an economic problem). But it is also necessary for all the other graphs. The bank rescue, which added temporarily to the deficit, stabilized the stock market and set the stage for its recovery. The stimulus, which also added to the deficit, helped moderate the job losses and and has contributed to recent gains. You could’ve made the lines on this graph better, but only by letting the lines on the other graphs get worse.

4. Half-hookers. Lisa Taddeo for New York magazine writes about the burgeoning half-hooker culture which exists in a bizarre alternate reality existing so close to our own where celebrities and finance guys get their women:

The general-admission crowds dance, and the table crowds dance a little more woodenly, a little more entitledly, with their finger pads on their tables. The promoters are dancing with the models and the waitresses are dancing with the bottles and everybody finds a place on the floor.

The floor people, they are just to fill the place up. The celebrities and the athletes and the tycoons are the ones for whom this world is zealously designed. A rung below in after-work pinstripes are the money guys, the Deutsche guys and the Goldman guys and the no-name hedge-fund guys—the “whales”—guys like that one over there in a Boss suit and John Lobb shoes, standing beside the table that cost him $3,000. Standing very close to it, like a Little Leaguer who wants to steal second but has never done it before. This gentleman’s not dancing, but he’s thinking about it.

There’s quite a lot to the article. A fascinating piece of reporting.

5. Palin 2012. Chris Bowers makes the argument for why Sarah will win if she runs.

6. Mailer’s Wife. Alex Witchell profiles Norris Church Mailer, Norman Mailer’s final wife, whose story moved me as I read of it:

John Buffalo Mailer [stepson of Norris:] “People are their best selves and worst selves intermittently,” he told me, “and the best marriages navigate that ride over the hurt, which I believe they did right to the end. They both had options, and at the end of the day the life they created together won out over infidelity, illness and hard times…”

7. Complex Business Models. Clay Shirsky:

One of the interesting questions about Tainter’s thesis is whether markets and democracy, the core mechanisms of the modern world, will let us avoid complexity-driven collapse, by keeping any one group of elites from seizing unbroken control. This is, as Tainter notes in his book, an open question. There is, however, one element of complex society into which neither markets nor democracy reach—bureaucracy.

Bureaucracies temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

Read the rest.

[Image by me.]

John Yoo’s Scandalous Affair With George W. Bush!

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Is it okay to laugh at a clever remark by a man who instituted torture in America with his infamous and incompetent “torture memos”? Well, when the line is this – I’d have to say sure. John Yoo as interviewed by Deborah Solomon for the New York Times, as she tries to press him for how close he was to George W. Bush – and he demurs, explaining that he was low-ranking rather than really answering the question:

Q: So you’re saying you were just one notch above an intern, you and Monica Lewinsky?
A: She was much closer to the president than I ever was.

Stay tuned for Jon Stewart’s interview of Yoo tonight. Given how Stewart has taken on the architects of the Iraq war when they appeared on the show, there seems little doubt he will go after Yoo regarding his extraordinary legal justifications for the expansion of the powers of the executive branch, and most specifically, for the torture memos. Yoo, for his part, seems as if he will try to dodge the questions with cute one-liners as he did in this interview – which he does rather well I would say.

[Image by sixes and sevens licensed under Creative Commons.]

Jon Stewart Analyzes What Makes Republicans Cry, “Tyranny!”

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Baracknophobia – Obey
comedycentral.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis Political Humor

Jon Stewart takes on Santelli and the Stock Market

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Yesterday, I tried to take on some of the opposition to Obama’s handling of the financial crisis. I think I did a fine job – but I’m certainly no Jon Stewart. Pointing out that the stock market tanked after Ronald Reagan became president and after we won World War II, he takes on this farcical idea that the stock market is some sort of  rational indicator of economic conditions:

(I’ll post full links when TDS posts them.)

The stock market isn’t a rational creature – it is subject to panics and irrational exuberance and sour moods and churlishness and massive misjudgments. To judge whether an economic plan is working or not requires time and wisdom – neither of which are found in the daily results of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Of course, Stewart founds some time to mock Rick Santelli on the way:

Humor makes it all go down so much easier.

There’s no denying the inchoate anger, not fully formed, matured, directed, or realized, that some seek to target Obama with. The problem is that these Santellis and these Limbaughs and the rest of them have no more to offer than the mythical Howard Beale of Network - whose famous rants clearly inspired Santelli’s on-air persona:

Watching this famous clip today is eerie – as it echoes into our own time – and makes Santelli’s performance seem all the more post-modern. 

In the end, it comes down to this:

As a nation we have a choice to do nothing, to let Obama implement his plan, or to come up with a better one. In my opinion, Obama’s opponents have yet to offer a serious alternate plan. Which is why I’m sticking with him on this, at least for now.

(more…)

The Detroit Investment Group

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Jon Stewart pointed out against last night how non-constructive the political debate regarding the bailout of the Big Three Automakers has been:

Clearly, politicians are applying a double standard. But I think the hypocrisy is worse than Stewart suggests – because the product financial companies are supposed to be creating is profit with the risks associated thoroughly managed and quantified. Their product has proved to be far more defective than the cars produced by the Big Three, as the financial products have not just malfunctioned, but acted as a virus spreading the failures around to everyone.

Stewart previously pointed out how the first story regarding the bailout of the Big Three focused almost exclusively on the method of transportation used by the CEOs of the auto companies to get to hearing instead of any substantive issues. The real controversy has barely been discussed:

Corporations, whose primary purpose is to amass wealth by any means available for their owners (and who always manage to simultaneously amass wealth for the managers) cannot be trusted with public money. There is no public purpose to such profit-making. The public value of a corporation comes from it’s incidental activities – the means by which it is able to amass it’s profits. By bailing out General Motors, the government would be giving it’s money away for no public purpose. But the government does serve a public purpose by keeping General Motors’ factories churning out cars – by keeping people employed, by providing stability, by keeping the economy going and producing usable items.

Within that distinction lies the difference between outrageous abuse of taxpayer funds and a valid public purpose. The more difficult question is how to avoid the abuse while serving the purpose. [edited slightly from my original]

Which is why I think a bailout should be postponed – to attempt to find the least worst of all the options – rather than to cause great problems with hasty solutions. If the automakers won’t survive without an instant cash infusion though, the government needs to step in one way or another.

Michael Moore described his common sensical solution to this whole mess earlier this week:

1. Transporting Americans is and should be one of the most important functions our government must address. And because we are facing a massive economic, energy and environmental crisis, the new president and Congress must do what Franklin Roosevelt did when he was faced with a crisis (and ordered the auto industry to stop building cars and instead build tanks and planes): The Big 3 are, from this point forward, to build only cars that are not primarily dependent on oil and, more importantly to build trains, buses, subways and light rail (a corresponding public works project across the country will build the rail lines and tracks). This will not only save jobs, but create millions of new ones.

2. You could buy ALL the common shares of stock in General Motors for less than $3 billion. Why should we give GM $18 billion or $25 billion or anything? Take the money and buy the company! (You’re going to demand collateral anyway if you give them the “loan,” and because we know they will default on that loan, you’re going to own the company in the end as it is. So why wait? Just buy them out now.)

3. None of us want government officials running a car company, but there are some very smart transportation geniuses who could be hired to do this. We need a Marshall Plan to switch us off oil-dependent vehicles and get us into the 21st century.

Moore’s solution seems like what was done with the railroad industry in the 1970s – when it was taken over by the government, revamped, and then privatized again. I think Moore’s almost got it right. But not quite. Moore’s solution seems very 20th century – like India’s Five Year Plans or other centralized, government-sponsored attempts to solve large problems. Instead, I think Moore could take a lesson from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the philosopher, economist, and former hedge fund manager who has been explaining the underlying weakness of our financial markets since he made a killing in the 1987 crash. Taleb understands that if you put a bunch of geniuses in charge, you might get something great. But as he points out, the truly game-changing developments happen by accident. The computer, lasers, the internet – all of these innovations have accidentally changed the world in a way that could not be anticipated. He refers to this type of game-changing development as a Black Swan.

And a Black Swan is exactly what Michael Moore, Barack Obama, and the rest of us know we need to jump start the green energy industry. The best way to catch a Black Swan in Taleb’s parlance is to tinker.

In that spirit I propose to create a government-affiliated entity, the Detroit Investment Group (DIG).1  DIG would be a modern-day government intervention in the market that would take inspiration from the Tennessee Valley Authority (especially it’s regional focus), the Manhattan Project (it’s think tank aspect), NASA’s moon shot (in the specificity of it’s goal and it’s timeline), and the Department of Defense (in how it creates incentives for inventors to create new technologies with the promise of contracts.)

Government intervention is necessary as the marketplace has failed to invest in the long-term development of green energy. This tendency of the market to focus on short-term profits over long-term projects has certainly been revealed to be a significant flaw in our current economic structure, as, for one common example, corporate managers seek instant profits which lead to huge bonuses and leave before the long-term effects of their actions hit. Not knowing how to fix this tendency to focus exclusively on the short-term, a government agency can create incentives within the market to focus on long-term issues that are essential to our nation’s security and stability. This would be the purpose of DIG – to supplement the market rather than to impose it’s own hierarchical structure.

DIG would be given goals and rules rather than a typical bureaucratic organization. It’s goals would:

  1. To spur the creation of new green technologies and a green energy industry in America; and
  2. To rejuvenate Detroit and the surrounding areas.

To accomplish both of these goals, DIG would make Detroit the place to go for green industry – the way Silicon Valley is for computer technology. DIG would not have a specific method of encouraging green industry – but would use an infusion of cash and people to tinker and innovate and generate solutions. It would need quite a number of tools to spur this growth and innovation:

It would need the authority:

  • To offer government contracts to license green technologies or buy green products;
  • To sponsor a think tank of top experts in various fields to come up with technologies;
  • To offer prizes for creating products that meet certain benchmarks or accomplish certain ancillary goals;
  • To have input into a cap-and-trade program not managed by DIG;
  • To buy companies with worthwhile technologies or resources (including General Motors for example) and continue to operate them.

The point is – DIG would try everything. It’s task would not be to follow certain procedures, but to achieve it’s goals. It would be structured in such a way as to create market incentives and to centralize planning – on two alternate tracks – and let each influence the other. If this problem is fixable, then DIG would unleash the money and human resources to find the fix – and it would be agnostic about the ideology of it’s solution.

It is, in short,  a very Obama-esque approach to the problem.

  1. Dig.gov is not being used by any government agency at the moment. []

How the Media and the Politicians Failed to Understand the Detroit Bailout

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Al Gore, in his book, Assault on Reason, described a media and political focus on “gotcha” journalism, on gaffes, on irrelevancies and personal scandals, on the Freak Show – rather than a focus on long-term issues, on character, and on principles as one of the major factors that has led to our current crises. “News” coverage is dominated by questions of whether this or that politician has a mistress (he probably does) or whether this or that entertainer is secretly going out with this or that sports star. Our news has become tabloid.

If, as the drafters of our Constitution believed, a well-informed citizenry is essential to the proper functioning of any nation, then our nation clearly cannot be functioning properly.

This lack of good information, this focus on the trivial over the significant, was evident when the CEOs of Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors went to Washington to beg for handouts. As Jon Stewart sagely observed in a pox-on-all-your-houses bit:

Unable to understand the actual problem, Congress seizes on tangential details for grandstanding purposes.

[Cue tape of various Congressmen expressing various types of outrage in semi-novel ways regarding the fact that each CEO flew to Washington in a separate private jet.]

The media coverage did manage to convey a few things:

  1. All these big shot CEOs travel by private jet.
  2. The Big Three automakers support, directly and indirectly, some 2.5 million American jobs.
  3. These American car companies made a big mistake by focusing on gas-guzzlers on the assumption that oil prices would remain low indefinitely.

Everything else was clouded in some confusion – not all of which is the media’s fault. Many economists asserted that they would normally want the government to avoid bailing out these automakers, but in this economy, believed the government must act. Some opinion-makers blamed the automakers troubles primarily on union-negotiated legacy costs – on the various deferred wages and other forms of deferred compensation the automakers entered into contracts to provide. But what seemed lacking from either the Congressional hearings or the media coverage was any serious and sustained attention to the problems themselves.

Confronting Another Architect of War

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Yet again, Jon Stewart asks the questions no one else does and confronts another architect of the War in Iraq, the noted British liberal and former prime minister, Tony Blair.

Tony Blair: None of this is easy…

Jon Stewart: Look I know, and I do appreciate even having the conversation. No one believes they took the decisions lightly. The only point for me is: nineteen people flew into the towers; it seems hard for me to imagine that we could go to war enough to make the world safe enough that nineteen people wouldn’t want to do harm to us. So it seems we need to re-think a strategy that is less military-based and more [unintelligible].

This exchange comes towards the end of the interview with Blair, which overall, I don’t think was not one of Stewart’s best.

But the catharsis that comes when Jon Stewart confronts these powerful men and speaks common sense to these once formidable powers – it’s hard to describe. Somehow, it is as if he is doing more than anyone to hold the men and women who made the disastrous decisions that led to war in some way accountable.

Part 1 2 of interview with Blair

Part 2 1 of interview with Blair

As I wrote about Stewart confronting Douglas Feith earlier this year:

I’m not sure if it should be so cathartic to see one of the planners of this misbegotten gamble scolded by a comedian. But it was.

(more…)

Obama, the Lion King

Friday, August 29th, 2008

While Rush Limbaugh thinks the best way to make fun of Obama is to appoint a black man to be the “Official Obama Criticizer” – and allow him to make racially insensitive remarks and “talk ‘hood” – Jon Stewart knows better – and last night, with his show pre-taped but scheduled to run after Obama’s big speech, his show ran this pitch-perfect Obama introduction telling the story of Barack Obama, “which begins 180 million years ago”:

Jon Stewart Defends the New Yorker

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Jon Stewart backs the New Yorker and their cover 100% – showing more guts and – that highly valued quality that I’ve been harping on lately – perspective than most journalists or other opinionators. But that apparently is what Jon Stewart is here for.

Jon Stewart issues what Obama’s response should have been:

Barack Obama is in no way upset by this cartoon that depicts him as a Muslim extremist. Because you know who gets upset about cartoons? Muslim extremists, of which Barack Obama is not. It’s just a f****ng cartoon

Confronting the architects of war

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Jon Stewart to Douglas Feith:

Just because your intentions are good and noble and you believe it to be the right move for the country doesn’t make this honesty. And I’ll why i think why – because you remove the ability for the American public to make an informed decision.

And once you have removed that then you no longer have the authority, because what you have done is you have told us what part of the argument you think it is appropriate for us to know about.

(Begins at about the 5:55 mark in the video.)

Thank God for Jon Stewart. I’m not sure what other media outlet would broadcast such a respectful yet challenging interview with one of the architects of this war, this national nightmare.

I’m not sure if it should be so cathartic to see one of the planners of this misbegotten gamble scolded by a comedian. But it was.

Now what’s next?

(more…)