Thursday, May 26, 2005

The best news show on television

My favorite journalist now has a show on PBS. Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria | Where America Meets the World is just as smart and suave as the host himself. Zakaria is an editor at Newsweek, is a regular guest on This Week with George Stephanopoulis, and was Editor-in-Chief at Foreign Affairs. He also wrote the book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad which should be read by anybody who believes in liberty (or doesn't yet).

It's odd, yet refreshing to see interviews in which the host is smarter than the guest experts. The show is like a TV version of an article in The Economist; it has great depth and breadth, yet it's brisk and polished. Television journalism desperately needed something like this. Most national news shows on TV fit one or more of the following categories:

1. An excuse for a pig-headed conservative and a strident, whiny liberal to yell at each other (O'Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes, Crossfire).
2. An excuse for newsmakers to swing at thoughtless softballs (Larry King)
3. An excuse for policy makers to get their message out (Meet the Press, Face the Nation)
4. Lowest-common-denominator attempts to exploit the fears and worries of "average Americans" (Dateline)
5. An excuse to air whatever the most eye-grabbing footage of whatever the day's biggest headlines are (Nightline)

Even the News Hour, which was probably the best until Zakaria's show came along, is quite flawed. It's very dull, and often falls into the #3 problem above.

In Foreign Affairs with Fareed Zakaria, the arguments are strong, but the tone is civil. The show credits the viewer to be someone who can comprehend complex points. At the same time it has some serious production value, without being garish like Fox News. This show finally proves that you don't have to be dowdy to be smart, and you don't have to be simple-minded to be accessible. I hope young people especially will tune in to this show. And I hope more TV news shows will try to emulate it.

All 8 of the weekly shows broadcast thus far can be seen on the web site (see link above).

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Slay the gerrymander

It's all falling apart.

Arnold Schwarzeneggar, believe it or not, seemed to be our best hope for making California’s government work. But now our dysfunctional system looks like it's going to chew him up and spit him out.

Here's the way the system currently works. Legislators get to decide where voting district lines are drawn. Naturally, they form the districts in such a way that picks and chooses populations they know will vote for their party. This is called gerrymandering. So what we have is a bunch of districts that are either strictly Democrat or strictly Republican. Since it’s a foregone conclusion which party is going to win each district, the real battle isn’t in the general election; it’s in the primary election. So politicians only have to appeal to the base of their party to win, and they don't need to moderate their positions. This gives us a polarized legislature comprised of far-left Democrats and far-right Republicans, which doesn’t accurately represent the majority of Californians who are proudly centrist. It's no wonder the legislature can't get anything done. And it's no wonder Californians have to go through the flawed initiative process to accomplish anything. Think about the last regular election for governor. Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican, who could have easily defeated Gray Davis, couldn't get past the far-right Bill Simon in the primary. The only reason the moderate Schwarzeneggar was able to win was because he skipped the primary through the initiative process.

Schwarzeneggar has a lot of new ideas in his initiatives. Some of them are really good, and would have been tried already if we didn't have such a polarized government. But he's getting so much flak from the far-left unions who have sway over the far-left legislators, that he might not get them passed.

So Californians who care about reform need to focus their efforts, not on the symptoms of the problem, but the cause. We need to fix redistricting and kill gerrymandering. If Schwarzeneggar can get this one goal accomplished, it will do more good for the future of California than any number of other reforms. Like the gift that keeps on giving, it would be the reform that keeps on reforming.

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