Saturday, May 20, 2006

Make Them Eat Their Words

Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart regularly uses a very simple and effective rhetorical trick. They play a clip of a public figure making a statement, followed by a clip of the same person completely contradicting himself. After such an undeniable unveiling of hypocracy, Jon Stewart only has to flash his winning smirk to drive the dagger home. Easy, right? Effective, yes?

So why don't mainstream television news shows do it? I have never heard of cable or network news trying this trick. Is it another example of the mainstream press not wanting to be too rude? The press is supposed to be rude! It's supposed to reveal lies, malfeasance and hypocracy. Jon Stewart recently used this trick on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Now Rumsfeld would never appear on the Daily Show, but he would appear on NBC's Meet the Press. Imagine if Tim Russert played for Rummy clips of him saying, "I didn't say we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were" and then "We know where the WMD's are" on the air. Yes it would make awkward television, but it would also make government more accountable, which should always be a chief aim of the press.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Colbert rising

Stephen Colbert recently delivered an expert, methodical flaying of the pretentions of both the Bush Administration and the Washington press corps right to the president's face at the annual White House correspondant's dinner. It was something to see. Then the mainstream media proved one of Colbert's chief points by blacking out the story, only referencing the self-depracating bit at the dinner where Bush gave a presentation along with a Bush-impersonator.

Here's another tidbit about Colbert's speech that the media is dutifully ignoring. I noticed that the Colbert video actually has been topping the iTunes audibook rankings, surpassing even the audiobook version of Dan Brown's record-breaking blockbuster the Da Vinci Code. This is even more remarkable for the fact that it's beating Da Vinci even right up to the premiere of its wildly-hyped movie. What's more, it's even climbing to the top of the "Top Albums" list of all audio downloads. As of now, it's #2 under the Red Hot Chili Peppers' new album.

Embarrassingly, my fellow libertarian bloggers have also seemed to have ignored the Colbert speech. Given that Bush has been a libertarian nightmare, I do not understand why this is so.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Silly parents, don't you realize we know better?

At Wired News we have another example of what happens when customers are thought of a recipients of a public service. New York City parents overwhelmingly want their kids to be able to take cell phones to school for reasons of convenience and, primarily, safety. But the mayor and school officials are responding with an categorical "no." Cell phones would be too much a distraction, they say, and we can't have the little monsters taking phone-camera pictures of each other in locker room.

A customer base almost has universally proclaimed to a service provider, "We want a service that is like X." In any consumer-based, competitive industry their demands would have immediately been satisfied, or the service provider would have gone out of business as their client base is drawn off my more amenable companies. But in the nanny-state, tin-eared, bureaucratic world of public service, a universal demand is met by a smug "Sorry, we know better."

Friday, March 03, 2006

Responsible demagogues

The telegenic and wildly popular Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is talking about slashing city spending and programs to eliminate the city deficit. That's most surprising and impressive. I was wondering what his practical politics would be once he donned the responsibilities of office. And this is a good sign.

It's interesting that in the past few decades populism seems to have actually been the friend of small government. Ever since ancient Roman tribunes played to the mob by increasing the corn dole, populists have been thought to be irresponsible demagogues who use their popularity to increase welfare spending, thus pleasing the masses, and becoming ever more popular (at least until such fiscal irresponsibility bears its fruits). But now that the entire legislative system has become enslaved to pork barrel politics, the only leaders actually willing to tackle spending are the ones whose personal popularity allow them to rise above the fray. Witness Ronald Reagan, John McCain, and even Arnold Schwarzeneggar (who was willing to attempt reform, because of his former popularity, and only failed because the public sector unions managed to destroy that popularity). In a curious twist of political history, it seems that demagogues are the only responsible politicians these days.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dead roaches

I commute daily on the Los Angeles Metro rail line, and almost daily, I see a dead cockroach at Union Station. I saw one today on the ramp leading from the platform and was sickened at the sight. I was highly irritated that my morning must be greeted by such a grotesque visual. Then I walked into the main thoroughfare and thought immediately of the thousands of people who traffic it every day: thousands of potential consumers with nothing presented to them but bleak concrete walls. If the train station were run by a for-profit company, it might have the gumption and liberty to sell ad space on its walls. Not only would ads liven the place up, their revenue could fund basic maintenance: like keeping the station clean enough that roaches wouldn't abound. But like so many other services, rail transport is thought of by the left as too sanctified to be sullied by the market.

In contrast, the last leg of my journey to work, an 18-floor elevator ride, is much more pleasant. Every elevator in my building is equipped with a small screen that receives real-time news updates and (horrors!) advertisements. Far from making the elevator feel like a carnevale of depravity and greed, it provides a nice little read for me 2 or 4 times a day. And the management can use the revenue from the ads to keep the building nice (nary a roach is to be seen).

Why can't a train station be as nice of a walk as an outdoor shopping mall, with pleasing movie posters of Reese Witherspoon and bold, artsy Apple Computer ads gracing the walls in clean glass cases? Instead we get surly public-sector train staff, dreary station walls, and dead roaches.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hamas is in power. Good

So Hamas is in power in Palestine now. I for one think that's a good thing. The responsibility of being part of an elected government has very positive effects on violent movements. Not only does it give them a non-violent outlet for their aims, but it makes them responsive to the desires of the people (which generally includes peace and stability). This is evidenced in the recent evolution of the IRA. Others would use the continuing beligerance of the revolutionary government in Iran as a counter-example. But that is a weaker comparison, because the theocracy in Iran came to hold power through a revolution, not an election, as did the IRA and Hamas.

Another development is that the U.S. is probably going to eliminate aid to the Palestinian government now that Hamas is in power. Although the U.S. government's reasons for this run counter to my opinion that the ascent of Hamas is a good thing, I find this to also be a positive development. Foreign aid, like all kinds of free money, has a corrupting effect on governments, as was evidenced by the sleaze-ridden PLO (which just was knocked from power by Hamas).

If Hamas is indeed moderated and reformed by being democratically elected, perhaps the U.S. will look more optimistically upon the prospect of democracy in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In these places, the U.S.-supported governments have squashed freedoms, leaving the only place to vent frustrations in religious fundamentalism. And though at first take, a more popularly elected government in these places will have a more Islamic bent, so long as their rise to power is democratic and they remain accountable to the people, the resultant government will look a lot more like the Islamic but liberal administration in Turkey than the raging lunatics in Iran.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Nobody likes a liberal

One of the most confusing words in politics is "liberal". It means so many different things to different people. But the one thing all of its definitions seem to have in common is that they are unpopular. In America, "liberal" is associated with the further political left. Practically everywhere else, "liberal" retains its classic 19th-century definition, and is largely used to refer to free-market ideology and the espousal of individual rights associated with the political right. Apple OS X's dictionary has 4 definitions of "liberal". The first one is "favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms : liberal citizenship laws." The fourth one is "(of a person) giving generously : Sam was too liberal with the wine. These two definitions are the ones that politics is mostly concerned with. The best synonyms I can think of for these words are "non-coercive" (the first definition) and "generous" (the fourth definition). In Europe a "liberal" government is non-coercive, in the home and in the marketplace. In America a liberal person is deemed "generous". But not really. If you think about, an American liberal wants to be "generous" with other people's money (their taxes), and that cannot be true generosity.

The sad coincidence is that both meanings of political liberalism are unpopular in their respective homes. "Liberal" is an insult in Europe and Latin America (it's often termed "neo-liberal" in the latter). It is seen as neglecting the social good in these places. Liberal is also generally an insult in America, where the public dole is unpopular among many. In America it has the secondary definition of moral permissiveness, which is also unpopular. Oddly, the two main definitions would be quite popular if they were to just switch places. Europeans and Latin Americans who are still very much attached to their welfare state, would be proud to be called liberal, if it meant generosity with the public dole. And Americans who love freedom and individualism would quite like the classic definition of liberalism, if they would just learn to use it. I wish they would. It is more specific and accurate than "conservative" and more elegant and catchy than "libertarian".

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