Studs Terkel passed on October 31, 2008. Published last month, this somewhat hard-to-locate pamphlet (Feeney Publications, $8.00; email seneca321 at yahoo.com) ostensibly contains the final Q&A with the late, great American journalist and storyteller, conducted by British journalist Peter Devine. Indeed, it's titled The Final Interview. Length: 22 pages. Review length: 10 words.

Lucky timing, huh?
Terkel is always a hoot
Wanted: editor

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TV Talk

Two pieces of TV news today.  First, Alex Tabarrok is puzzled by the bizarrely high price of HDMI cables for Blu-Ray players:

Why don't any stores stock cheap HDMI cable?  I knew cables were a ripoff yet I could not find reasonably priced cables at Best Buy, Radio Shack, Target or even Wal-Mart.  Ordinarily, we would expect competition to push prices down but in this case it seem as if the mere existence of Monster is anchoring high prices everywhere but online.

My best guess is that this is an unusually strong version of the hidden fee model of Laibson and Gabaix.  In that model, firms overprice one aspect of service — such as a hotel charging exorbitant rates for telephone service — as an idiot tax.  Crucially, the idiot tax is matched by an IQ-subsidy; the price of the hotel room is lower than it would be without the idiot tax — so the idiots don't know to shop elsewhere and the high-IQ types are, in fact, drawn to stores with an idiot tax.  Thus, buy your blu-ray player at places such as Best Buy which sell a lot of expensive cable as well as massively overpriced extended warranties.

Maybe so.  Another possibility is path dependence: back when I managed a Radio Shack store (about 30 years ago), 10% of my store's sales came from stuff like cables and electronic parts.  However, they accounted for upwards of 50% of the store's profits because the margins were fantastically high.  We got away with this because the absolute prices were so low: people will shop around for the best price on a stereo or a computer, but they just don't care about saving a few dollars on stuff like cables and batteries.  The same thing is true for USB cables, which are bizarrely overpriced in places like Office Max or Staples, or high-tech razor blades at your local supermarket.  My guess is that even now, when the price of things like cables and razor blades is high enough to make it worth shopping around, inertia keeps everyone thinking that this stuff is basically cheap and not worth hassling over.

But I admit that the lack of competition is still surprising.  For a few stores to overcharge is understandable.  Maybe even for most stores.  But all of them?  Last year I made the rounds of every retail store in the area after I got annoyed at the price of a simple Cat-5 network cable, and there wasn't a single place that sold them for a reasonable price.  Not one.  It was almost like there was a cartel or something.  (And the cartel worked!  I didn't feel like waiting the few days it would take to order online, so I went ahead and bought an expensive one.  Their fiendish strategy turned out to be remarkably effective.)

And the second piece of TV news?  Something that's close to my heart: broadcasters have promised Congress that by September they will have standards in place that prevent commercials from being wildly louder than the TV programs they're embedded in.  Hooray!  It's only taken them 40 years to finally address this.  "We get it," an industry flack told Congress about loud ad complaints. "As a matter of pure economics, we do not want to lose viewers."

The bad news, however, is that the industry's sweet talk has convinced Congress to halt work on legislation to force broadcasters to address this.  Too bad.  Like the Do Not Call list, this is one of those things where ideology plays no role for me.  I don't care if this is liberal, conservative, libertarian, or anything else.  I just want it to stop, and I don't care a whit whether or not it's a justified interference in the free market.  JUST MAKE IT STOP!

Easton, Maryland is a summer spa for yuppies from Washington and a popular retirement destination for former law enforcement officials. It is just down the road from St. Michaels, site of Dick Cheney’s country estate and a spread purchased not long ago by Donald Rumsfeld. For some years Easton was also home to James von Brunn, who has now been formally charged with the murder of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday. A look at his history in Easton makes it clear that von Brunn's racist outbursts had taken on violent overtones before, although locals tended to look the other way.

Ben Smith relays that Bermuda, which is taking four Uighurs off our hands, is getting nothing in return:

A spokesman for Bermuda Premier Dr. Ewart Brown, Glenn Jones, emails that Bermuda got "nothing" from the negotiations with the United States, which he said began last month.

The country "believes this was the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective," he said.

The Bush administration eventually determined the 17 Uighurs it held in Guantanamo Bay for nearly a decade were innocent (i.e., not terrorists). But it couldn't release them because they would face arrest and possible execution if returned to China. America often offers asylum to people who face persecution in their own countries. It would be nice if we could let the Uighur detainees live in the US, near the pre-existing Uighur community near Washington, DC. Unfortunately, our politics are too screwed up to allow us to try to even begin to make up for the years that the Uighurs have spent wrongfully imprisoned.

No one in government—including President Obama—has the political and moral courage to do right by these people. So we're relying on Bermuda and Palau to clean up our mess—and leaving the Uighurs to start new lives on remote islands where they will have very little, if any, contact with their culture and traditions.

Update: Oh, how I overestimated politics. Bermuda Premier Ewart Brown didn't consult the British or other Bermudan politicians before deciding to accept the Uighurs. They're all throwing a fit. Well, at least Brown has some moral courage on this issue, even if some other Bermudans don't. He's way ahead of Obama on that front.

China's Economy

The United States needs to reduce its trade deficit, but arithmetic being what it is, that can happen only if other countries reduce their trades surpluses.  That means Germany and Japan, but most of all it means China — and as the chart on the right shows, China's exports are indeed down.  Good news?  Not really: as Brad Setser has pointed out in the past, this only produces a declining trade surplus if imports also go up — or at least decline at a slower rate than exports.  Ed Hugh delivers the bad news:

The decline [in exports] was the biggest since Bloomberg data began in 1995. And more to the point as far as Brad is concerned China’s imports dropped 25.2 percent last month, compared with a 23 percent fall in April. Hence China just one more time ran an increased trade surplus (up to $13.4bn in May from $13.1bn in April), and it is no clearer to me than it is to Brad how a country running a trade surplus can be leading a surge in global demand. Indeed this months data, far from prodiving evidence of an accelerating “recovery” continues to point towards ongoing weakness in global demand, just like the evidence we are receiving from Germany and Japan.

Ed has more at the link, including some detail about China's imports that provides even more cause for gloom, but the bottom line is that there's not much hope in the short term that China will be leading a global recovery.  Their economy isn't rebalancing, it's just falling.  No green shoots here.

Whether David Letterman owes an apology to Sarah Palin for joking about her daughter or not, he sure should send her and her conservative comrades one big thank-you.

The Letterman-Palin tussle has been under way since the late-night comic cracked that Palin's daughter got "knocked up" by A-Rod on a recent trip to New York City. He also said that Palin had to keep her daughter away from Elliot Spitzer. Since then, conservatives have been demanding Letterman's head. Todd Palin accused him of joking about rape. Michelle Malkin has branded Letterman a misogynist and called for CBS to get him a therapist. Team Sarah, a conservative outfit that fancies Palin, has pushed for boycotting Letterman's advertisers. ("The continual presence of personal attacks on both Governor Sarah Palin and her family indicates that she remains a threat to the liberal political establishment," huffed Team Sarah cofounder Jane Abraham.) And on Friday morning's Today Show, Sarah Palin said Letterman ought to apologize to young women across the country. (Letterman offered a jokey explanation, not an apology, after the Palins first complained.)

Today's photo is from Iraq.Stephen Colbert takes a photo op with servicemembers at Camp Victory's Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, Iraq on June 5. (Photo courtesy army.mil)

David Sanger, a 26-year veteran of the New York Times, and the paper's chief Washington correspondent, has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes. His eye-opening book on the state of the world that Obama inherits was published in January by Random House. It retails for $26.95 ($32 in Canada). Book length: 464 pages. Review length: 74 words.

Part I
Bush was distracted
Iran took full advantage
Got all they needed

Part II
A false Marshall Plan
Jihadists without borders
Pray for the Afghans

 

 

Part III
Prez backed the wrong horse
Are their nukes under control?
Musharraf played us

Part IV
Kim won't use his bombs
He sells to the Syrians
"Let's Eat Two Meals!"

Part V
Partner or rival?
Chinese talk green, export smog
We're reasonably screwed

Part VI
Three scenarios
Loose nukes, germs, cyber attacks
Defenses feeble

Takeaway Message
These are scary times
Can Obama save us all?
Shit or get off pot

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In case you missed it, last week we interns started a Frog Blog to compete with Kevin Drum's catblogging. This week, we decided to overhaul our little fellow's tank. One side effect of the Great Recession is that people are realizing how expensive it is to be pet owners. Thus, we were able to find a ten gallon tank complete with filter, a castle, artificial plants, eight pounds of gravel, a piece of driftwood, large rocks, a net, cleaning solution, food, and six fish that needed adopting—all for $30 on Craigslist. 

frog-1.jpg (JPEG Image, 300x200 pixels)

Yesterday, we added six snails to the mix to keep the tank squeaky clean. Only after introducing the snails to their new frog neighbor did we realize that we'd accidentally acquired a stowaway fish as well in the water-filled pet store bag, bringing our grand tank total to seven.

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As for the long-awaited naming results...After much consideration, we decided to stick with the traditional "Smart, Fearless Journalism" theme...With that, we introduce MUDRAKER.

It's not every day you get a chance to go on television and call Rush Limbaugh a fool. But on Thursday night, I was asked on Hardball to comment on the big-mouth's claim that James von Brunn is a "leftist." So what choice did I have?