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WE SALUTE DEAN BAKER! Unlike name-callers Kinsley and Robinson, Baker discussed some real issues: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, APRIL 1, 2006

THE 47-HOUR WEEKEND: It might have seemed like an April Fool’s joke—but as we know, it happens twice yearly. Twice a year, various state governments instruct us to conduct sensitive technical adjustments at 2 in the morning! And as usual, the lapdog Post plays along. Here’s today’s front-page “reminder:”
Spring Forward
Clocks should be set forward one hour at 2 a.m. tomorrow.
It isn’t enough that the various state governments give us a 47-hour weekend. They also want us to get up at 2 AM, thereby “murdering sleep.”

We know, we know—Congress passes most major laws at 2 AM; why shouldn’t we conduct business then too? In fact, the slow unraveling of most of those laws helps us see the fact which eludes the Post. Here it is: Many people will be functioning poorly “at 2 a.m. tomorrow.” For that reason, we’ve always believed that it would be wiser to set clocks ahead at a different hour. For example, most folk are alert at 2 PM Friday. Why not set clocks ahead then?

At any rate, we suggest that you make your adjustments at a juncture that suits your own life-style. And that you reject the nanny-state nattering of those who say when this act “should” be done.

Postscript: We’re reminded of an old Charm City Comedy Club tradition (from the 1980s). The game, conducted in the weeks before clocks were set ahead or back: After Saturday night’s shows, performers would sit at the bar at Gampy’s and try to convince other customers that this was the weekend to change their clocks. The one rule: No false statements allowed! You had to gull the unknowing patron by asking leading questions and by making statements which were technically accurate. Sample discussion:

COMEDIAN 1: Is this the weekend when we set clocks ahead?

COMEDIAN 2: Well let’s see, what’s the rule? “Spring ahead—fall back?”

You’ll note that no one has made a misstatement. But this simple “open” is often enough to draw a stranger into discussion. More skill is required after that.

We know what you’re thinking—it’s no “aristocrats” joke! But it does help players appreciate the slick, clever skills which drive much political discourse.

O’REILLY DESCENDS EVEN FURTHER: This Tuesday post by Media Matters deserves to be widely read. Even by Bill O’Reilly’s weird standards, his absurd account of Paul Krugman’s column stands out as a startling act of deception. Indeed, when we read this Matters post, an old question came to mind. How is it that a major pundit can behave this way without a peep from other big pundits? Is there any other professional cohort which engages in so little self-policing?

THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL OF THE LIBERAL PUNDITS: But then, big liberal pundits may have their hands full healing themselves. On Thursday, we were stunned by the lazy name-calling of two big columnists in the Washington Post. Do liberal pundits have anything to say about the current immigration debate? Apparently not, to judge from Michael Kinsley’s lazy name-calling. “CNN's Lou Dobbs—formerly a mild-mannered news anchor noted for his palsy-walsy interviews with corporate CEOs—has turned into a raving populist xenophobe,” he began. Two paragraphs later, the name-game got worse:

KINSLEY (3/31/06): And now on CNN and elsewhere, you can see other anchors struggling to act like human beings, with varying degrees of success. Only five months before anointing Cooper as CNN's new messiah (nothing human is alien to Anderson Cooper; nothing alien is human to Lou Dobbs), Klein killed CNN's long-running debate show "Crossfire," on the grounds that viewers wanted information and not opinions...
“Noting alien is human to Dobbs?” Truly, a remarkable statement—and Kinsley makes no attempt to support or explain it. But then, on the very same op-ed page, Gene Robinson was enjoying some name-calling too:
ROBINSON (3/31/06): Factions within the conservative movement have been engaged in escalating skirmishes over what, exactly, the label "conservative" should mean. This week the fight is over illegal immigration. The nativists and xenophobes want mass deportation and a Berlin Wall looming over the Rio Grande. The cultural determinists lose their studied, academic poise the moment they hear brown-skinned people speaking Spanish or see them waving a Mexican flag. Watch your blood pressure, people, because Cinco de Mayo is just a few weeks away.
Again, those statements are simply remarkable—and Robinson makes no attempt to define or defend them. “The social conservatives...have a kind of immune-system reaction against this unchecked inflow of aliens who look suspiciously like carriers of alien values,” he later says, in another astonishing, sweeping statement which he makes no attempt to explain.

Kinsley and Robinson were name-calling good. Meanwhile, what was missing from their columns? Of course! Any attempt to discuss the real issues involved in this important debate. Dobbs, for example, complains that current levels of immigration damage the interests of low-income American workers. Is that claim true? If so, how much are such workers harmed? We’ve seen conservatives attempting to sort that one out. But Kinsley and Robinson made no attempt to speak to the actual issues involved here. They seemed eager to call some ugly names—and they didn’t seem to have the slightest interest in sorting out the real interests involved.

By contrast, we offer Krugman’s Friday column. But omigod! Even Krugman started out with a remarkable statement:

KRUGMAN (3/31/06): For now, at least, the immigration issue is mainly hurting the Republican Party, which is divided between those who want to expel immigrants and those who want to exploit them. The only thing the two factions seem to have in common is mean-spiritedness.
Remarkable! Everyone in the GOP wants to expel or exploit? By the end of his column, Krugman is considering the motives of John McCain and Ted Kennedy, who have, of course, co-sponsored an immigration bill. But omigod! Although their names sit atop the same piece of legislation, McCain’s motives are assumed to be bad, while Kennedy gets a semi-pass.

Krugman’s motive work is weak and disappointing. But after his remarkable opening paragraph, he does what Kinsley and Robinson don’t; he discusses the real effects of current practices on a range of real people. “[L]ow-skilled immigration depresses the wages of less-skilled native-born Americans,” he writes at one point, echoing the claim made by Dobbs. “And immigrants increase the demand for public services, including health care and education.” Krugman seems to think that these problems are less severe than Dobbs does. (“All of these effects, except for the gains for the immigrants themselves, are fairly small,” he writes.) But Krugman devotes the bulk of his column to the actual issues involved in this debate. Kinsley and Robinson name-call wildly—and don’t seem to give a good g*damn about doing much else. By the way, who’s more right about this—Krugman or Dobbs? We don’t know—and, most likely, we’ll never find out from reading Kinsley and Robinson.

“[R]eal people, not statistics, are at the center of the immigration debate,” the high-minded Robinson piously tells us, letting us know how superior he is to the “social conservatives” he has trashed. But Robinson makes no attempt to debate the way “real people”—real people like those low-income workers—are affected by current practice. To be honest, we see no sign that Robinson and Kinsley care enough about those people to engage in real debate. And sadly, this helps explain why so many debates are driven today by conservatives.

On Thursday, several major conservative pundits published columns on these issues. And uh-oh! They were much more involved in the actual issues than Kinsley and Robinson were one day later. The contrast between these two sets of columns was clear—and it helped lay out the reason why conservatives, for good or for ill, keep driving the American discourse. Why do we get stuck with the slackers who—let’s say it—don’t seem to care?

WE SALUTE DEAN BAKER: On last night’s NewsHour, Dean Baker deigned to discuss the “real people” mentioned in passing by Robinson. (We weren’t surprised.) Here’s his first exchange with Ray Suarez:

SUAREZ (3/31/06): Dean Baker, it's a commonplace in President Bush's speeches that illegal immigrants take jobs Americans will not do; is it true?

BAKER: Well, you have to add one more clause to that: at the wages that are being offered. If you look at the situation of less-skilled workers, workers with just a high school education, particularly those who are high school dropouts, their wages have gone nowhere over the last quarter-century.

And part of that story is because they have to compete with immigrants coming in who are willing to accept those jobs at much, much lower wages. A lot of people may not be willing to take jobs at the minimum wage or a little bit above, but they would certainly be willing to take the jobs in the meat-processing factories, in restaurants, you know, go down the list of occupations where we see a lot of immigrant labors.

If those jobs offered $15, $20 an hour and paid health care, you would have lots of native-born workers who are very happy to take those jobs. So the story has been that we've seen the wages depressed in a large number of jobs, so, yes, native-born workers aren't willing to take those jobs anymore. But we have to get the wages up; that's the key.

We suggest that you read the whole discussion. For ourselves, we’d like to be able to judge the way current practice affects a range of “real people.” But like an increasing number of people, we won’t look to Kinsley or Robinson for that. From them, we get names—little more.

SMILE-A-WHILE—MONTY’S REVENGE: Many e-mailers wrote to insist that there is a counterintuitive “Monty Hall problem” of the type we discussed yesterday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/31/06). We haven’t had time to review this in detail, but:

We didn’t dispute that there’s some such effect—an effect which the Kaplans describe in their book. What we said is this: Whatever that counterintuitive “Hall effect” might be, the Times review doesn’t seem to describe it. We’ll persist in our statement about the situation as described in the Times review: In that situation, it just isn’t true that the contestant would gain an advantage from switching his guess. We’ll grudgingly try to sort through the matter. But what a bad time for this storm to reach land—on a weekend when tyrannical guvmint allows us just 47 hours.