Accountability on TV
As funny as the confrontation between Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" and Jim Cramer of "Mad Money" was -- and it was a killer -- the tragedy is that it took a comedian to make it happen.
The real issue isn't that CNBC's "financial experts" missed the biggest economic tsunami in 75 years. It is the lack of oversight that the incident pointed out. Most people still feel that if something is on television, it is probably true -- that someone must be screening it to protect the public.
That is not the case. Corporate-owned CNBC's only real goal is to garner high ratings so it can make more money. It allows its "experts" to say anything they please, as long as it won't get them sued.
What Stewart really pointed out is that it's time to rein these guys in.
Stewart, who I generally think is great, made two indictments against Cramer. The first was, "Leave the entertainment to me. You report the financial news." But it's as ridiculous to tell Cramer that he can't mix entertainment with finance as it is to tell Stewart that he can't mix politics with entertainment.
By this reasoning, Chris Rock, Will Ferrell and other comedians who so brilliantly bring to light our political foibles should all stay away from politics. And we would all miss out.
Stewart's second indictment against Cramer was, "You didn't predict the financial Armageddon, so you're responsible for it." Yes, it's true that Cramer didn't predict the meltdown. But who did? Did Warren Buffett? Do you hear Stewart railing against him? If Stewart is genuinely concerned about our politics and our economy, then it is he who should move to a political or finance network like CNBC -- rather than hawking his "snake oil" on a channel that disguises his political maneuvering as "comedy."
I was struck by this in your front-page story: "It was not the first time that Stewart, unencumbered by the restraints of mainstream journalism, has been lauded for his skills as an interviewer."
The implication is that these "restraints" are what caused mainstream journalism's failures in recent years. But exactly what restraints encumbered mainstream journalists from writing about securities based on subprime mortgages, credit default swaps and all the government-issue baloney of the last eight years?
Financial junkies and others who listen regularly and often to CNBC and Cramer can testify that the bulk of CNBC's programming and Cramer's unique style of presenting financial information are in the best interests of investors.
Stewart's casting of CNBC and Cramer as snake-oil salesmen and blaming them for investors' woes and the economic downturn is like blaming the sun for letting the Earth get dark at night.
Rising seas may sink us all
The notion that California can protect itself from rising sea levels by erecting dikes reminds me of the drills we did in school to "duck and cover" in the event of nuclear attack -- ludicrously naive.
If global climate change proceeds to the point of raising our sea levels 55 inches, as some predict, we will have far more urgent concerns than protecting the property values of billionaires in Malibu. We will have global crop failures and famine, disintegration of civil authority, abandonment of cities and epic migrations of displaced humans around the planet.
If there is anything we should be doing, it's depopulating the coast, reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases and preparing our children to survive in a vastly different and very bleak landscape.
El Salvador vote
Thanks for exposing Republican attempts to intervene in El Salvador's presidential elections. Perhaps House Republicans were feeling threatened by evidence that the new administration has respected the right of Salvadorans to choose their own president.
A group of Democratic representatives led by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) issued a letter to President Obama asking him to commit to U.S. neutrality in El Salvador's elections. The State Department issued a public statement that said: "The U.S. government will respect the will of the Salvadoran people and will seek to work constructively with whoever wins that election."
Even though he has a white-collar job, a master's degree and a single lifestyle, Gustavo Arellano says his parents are better positioned to withstand this recession than he is.
What drivel. Contrary to his arguments, housing was not easier to buy in the 1980s, and a mortgage (which Arellano despises) is a 30-year commitment that starts out hugely expensive for all first-time buyers. His parents' mortgage is now affordable because they've been paying it off for a couple of decades -- without home-equity lines of credit, I imagine.
Arellano could and should be in a better financial position than his parents, but evidently the possibility of forgoing his current lifestyle is unthinkable. He should compare his lifestyle with that of his parents to understand why he can't afford a down payment.
Arellano says he has few tools to cope with economic despair. Maybe his parents should have worked a little harder to give him a house in addition to his college education and white-collar job.
Arellano is not alone. What he describes is the plight of young people in expensive areas of the U.S. who cannot buy homes or start families because of the high cost of housing and the stagnant pay of most jobs.
However, in many regions it is possible for young people to live what used to be called the American dream. That is why so many young, educated people are leaving California for Texas and other Sun Belt states. It is simply a myth that "working class" jobs such as teacher or police officer are low-paid. In almost every part of the U.S., those jobs pay adequately to support a middle-class lifestyle.
Lisa See attempted to soothe an acquaintance's anxiety about the looming depression by reminding her friend that the situation will improve. Her acquaintance retorted: "But it took 70 years! I'll be dead then."
For those who have minimal historical perspective, it's known that by the 1950s -- just 20 years after the Depression -- the economy was booming. The '70s were slow, but the 1980s were tolerably prosperous, especially for the rich. The 1990s gave us the dot-com technology boom.
See's acquaintance's historical ignorance reflects our society's failure to educate people well. This same ignorance permitted people to believe that real estate prices could spiral upward forever and that the voodoo economics of cutting taxes for the rich would assure that prosperity trickled down for all.
Ignorance is not bliss: It is dangerous.
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