Sunday, May 25, 2014

Too many hours, Not enough news

Everyone complains about the 24-7 news cycle. A common complaint is that there isn’t enough real news to justify round-the-clock reporting. Whether its Fox, MSNBC, CNN or any other station, we get the same old news rehashed over and over again, and when even the newscasters can’t stand it anymore, we get stuff that isn’t even news—stuff that a few decades ago would have been called anecdotes, at best.

CNN didn’t so much fill a need, but rather created a product, and little did they know that someday that product would be bigger than Coke—and even tastier. CNN’s initial broadcast began at 5:00 P.M., on June 1, 1980, because even on the first day of 24-hour news, there was only about five hours of news to relate. Today, the airways are saturated with cable news programs.

Some of the people doing the very least in government are making the very most of being heard, telling us, in  short sound bite clips, what they think, which is usually what they think their constituents want them to be thinking about.

But the biggest problem resulting from never-ending news reporting is not that there isn’t enough news. The biggest problem is that for a lot of politicians, getting elected is the endgame. To do any less is seen as failure; to do any more is seen as a non-priority. The best way to get elected is to make the news. And the best way to make the news is to say something outlandish that someone else will hear, record and repeat.

We are told that money is speech, and as with all things money, inflation plays a role real speech. There’s a lot of speech being spent and it is all practically worthless. The key is to say something so worthless that it can only rise in value. Value to who? Value to a news station with 1500 minutes of air time to fill. Sometimes a politician will even have to make a fool of himself but no one ever said politics was easy.

There was a time when men and women went to Washington to do something. People told their representatives what they thought and those representatives put those ideas into legislation—something so rare in Washington these days that Parker Pens is said to be bailouts to compensate them for losses incurred by fewer bill-signings.

To win a national election, an individual might have to run on his record, but a candidate in a gerrymandered district can be elected or reelected by merely catering to his ideological base. Legislation that would please the base is generally out of the question because a nation is bigger than an ideological base—and is, in general, looking for more than a narrow-minded answer to big problems. But that doesn’t stop someone from talking.

It wasn’t that long ago that access to a microphone was limited to big name, recognizable politicians  who could stand on a record of accomplishments.

Sam Irvin had a long Senate career before he became a household name by chairing the committee to investigate Watergate—an actual scandal that resulted in real consequences. The Watergate break-in occurred on June 17, 1972. The Senate Committee investigating it convened on May 17, 1973 and ex-president Nixon was on a plane home by August 9, 1974. That is the definition of getting to the bottom of things.

Today, everything is called a scandal and every so-called scandal is investigated and those so-called investigations are discussed daily on cable news. Why? Why to win the next election, obviously.

James Fulbright was elected to the Senate in 1944. By 1946, Legislation bearing his name established the Fulbright Program to promote cultural education opportunities to over 350,000 individuals, many of whom have gone on to win Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. For over 30 years he was a major force in the Senate. Maybe, if they had 24-hour news shows in those days, he would have been a frequent visitor, but my guess is he would have been too busy doing things.

The Senator getting the most attention today is Ted Cruz (TX), who in two years hasn’t had his name attached to any significant legislation but can be seen daily on the cable news networks. Some of his most newsworthy appearances have him reading a child’s book on the Senate floor. By most standards, he hasn’t done much in the Senate except try to shut the government down, but his supporters love him. One can only assume they love him for what he says on TV and not what he does in the Senate.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have found homes on cable news; and cable news on both sides of the political spectrum have found politicians willing to drop in.

No, 24-hour news is not all it was cracked up to be. It’s either no news, old news or opinion, and worse—opinion that usually coincides with our own opinion. To paraphrase Dylan, listening to them is like listening to me. It is self-serving entertainment—self-serving for the reporters, for those being reported on, and for the listener being reported to; but it’s definitely not news.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cutting Old Folks Some Slack

An 82-year-old sheriff in New Hampshire refers to a black president using the N-word.

A 78-year-old NBA team owner is caught inferring that he doesn’t want his girlfriend bringing black people to his games.

A 67-year-old cowboy in Nevada doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the Federal government, but does think blacks would be better off under slavery.

The list of old folks making fools of themselves and throwing their careers down the drain is endless—Al Campanis, Helen Thomas, Clint Eastwood. What are we to do about old people?

Obviously our nation is in a place it has never been before because old people, on average, have not been this old before—or talkative. Today, in this great nation of ours, there seems to be an old person standing on every corner and a young person sticking a microphone in his face.

Old man talking is the new dead man walking. It’s embarrassing the way we treat old people simply because they can’t talk and make sense at the same time.

Of course, old people are not entirely blameless. If they’re not going around the block for the first time—and they insist they aren’t—then perhaps it’s not too much to ask that they know something about the block. Just because they were born in the megaphone age doesn’t justify brain freeze when a microphone is placed in front of them.

The question, “What do you think about…?” is really implying, “As a thinking person with your long and varied experiences, what do you think about…?” There’s simply no excuse for saying the first thing that pops in your head. Even a five-year-old, caught in the act of misbehaving, and asked what he or she is doing, will pause to consider the consequences of the answer they are about to give.

If we are to believe the Bible—and it seems to be pretty cut and dry—Methuselah lived to be 969 years, and then he died. In all that time, again if we are to believe the Bible, he apparently said nothing worth recording—at all, good or bad, but most importantly, he said nothing bad. Methuselah should be a model for all old people. Don’t make waves. I mention waves only because there are some theories that Methuselah was still around at the time but didn’t survive the great flood.

It would be interesting to know why but apparently none of the other old folks were talking either.

The question for today’s youth—and by youth I mean anyone who is not already old—is what do we do about old people speaking their mind? My suggestion is we cut them some slack. We don’t send their rants out over the airwaves making it necessary for them to explain themselves even more; because I think we all know where that is going.

We simply nod our heads, ask them if they’re warm enough and would they like some tea. Ask them what they like best about growing up without television and what, “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey,” actually means. They can do this and would welcome the opportunity.

And my advice to the old folks, who I know won’t take it, but I’m offering it just the same. Take a lesson from Old Man River, He don’t say nothing. He must know something, but he just flat out, no matter how many times you ask him, won’t say nothing—at all.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Who's to blame when nothing trickles down?

From Sunday's Virginian-Pilot. This started out referencing Hank Williams' "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It." No matter how you slice it, someone isn't getting his fair share, whether it be beer or wages.

Capitalism under President Obama has fared better than ever before.

Corporate America is sitting on between three and five trillion dollars of cash reserves stashed in American banks and overseas accounts.

The top 1% of the top 1%—that’s .01% have done even better in the last thirty years. This group of the top 400 billionaires, plus those billionaires left over who couldn’t quite break into the top 400, what I like to refer to as the poorer billionaires, sit at the head of America’s corporate boards. In 1979, there were about three billionaires.

At first glance, the country seems to be doing pretty well under its first Socialist president. Certainly better than anyone would have guessed. Corporate taxes are lower than ever, corporate incentives—they don’t like the term loop holes—are higher than ever at $92 billion, and corporate profits are going through the roof.

The only aspect of Capitalism that isn’t working, as luck would have it, is that aspect that actually affects the workers—the trickle-down.

Apparently—and you would have to ask the CEOs why this is—but apparently nothing is trickling down. It appears as if everything is being sucked up. In 2013, the average CEO salary was $13.9 million, a 9% increase over 2012 while the average minimum wage worker took home about $15,000, the same as he did in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009.

Half of the workers earning that minimum wage were over the age of 25. They weren’t teenagers earning movie money.

Investors have done as well as CEOs. Apparently, raising their tax rates a few points hasn’t discouraged them to the point where they don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning. That’s a good thing because America does need investors. These so called job creators do have a role to play in the free market.

Job creators are important. But job creators are not more important than the people doing the jobs.

While the right wing attacks Socialist America and the left wing attacks Capitalist America, maybe common sense America should be leading the charge against the real culprits—greedy America.

Everyone from Reagan to Roosevelt, Carry Nation to Tea Party Nation, Rand Paul to Paul Ryan to Paul Bunyan should know what greed is. Greed is what’s doing the country in. No defender of Capitalism should be a defender of greed.