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Cut the Pro-Life Blather and Come Back to Me When You’re Ready to Talk About Real Life

Bronte Quote

Now the phony outfit which produced one bit of propaganda video smearing the work of Planned Parenthood has released others – albeit without so much fanfare after the first one was thoroughly debunked as beyond heavily edited and well  into the realm of sick fiction.  Sad to say, there’s a market for this stuff.

If we combine religious convictions with partisan politics the result is a rationalized*, but not necessarily reasonable, audience for all manner of propaganda which supports the world view of the anti-choice activist. Further, if we combine a media intent on publishing superficial coverage of policy with an emphasis on the politics of the subject matter and not the substance, then we get the breathless “debates” which pass for discourse in national media.

And the anti-choice activists are playing the media like a cheap tin whistle.  This is relatively easy in a media environment in which facts don’t matter all that much.  The anti-choice activism attracting national attention is as artificial and sensational as it is formulaic.

Step One: Attract Media Attention.  Marches on Washington, D.C. have become rather common place, the one planned by March For Life back in January 2014 was attended by “thousands.”  That would be “hundreds of thousands” if we count attendance at all the marches from 2003 onward.  The event will continue to be on the calendar as long as speakers are ready to sign on, such as Jesse Helms,  Rep. Chris Smith, Randall Terry,  Rep. Patrick J. Toomey,  Rep. Eric Cantor, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy.   However, as this event becomes more illustrative of the close relationship between religion and politics, it doesn’t command attention onto single targets.

Step Two: Make Your Own News.  This is the point at which the phony videos come into play. Planned Parenthood has come under fire before, and as a target for anti-choice activists who seem to be disturbed by the 3% of its medical care in the form of abortions, but also enraged by the “planned” part wherein the clinics provide contraceptive care.  In my opinion, it’s necessary at this part of the discussion to separate segments of the anti-choice audience.

If we look at the Gallup Polling for trends, since presumably they’ve asked the questions the same way over the course of their reporting, the number expressing support for abortion under any circumstances has ranged from about 21% in the 1970s to about 29% today.  Those who expressed the view that abortions should be illegal in all circumstances has never achieved more than a 23% level.  Gallup has been tracking opinions of “single issue” voters, asking if the candidate must share the prospective voter’s views, and in this instance among registered voters only 19% self identified as ‘abortion single issue voters.’

Americans are generally in favor of having a physician inform women of alternatives, but are opposed (57%) to having a law allowing a pharmacists or physicians  to opt out of procedures which could induce an abortion.  61% were reported as opposed (61%) to the idea that a Constitutional amendment should be enacted to prohibit abortions with the exception of an immediate threat to the mother’s physical health.

What these numbers show us is that the anti-choice influence as currently voiced by Governor Scott Walker, is a function of the fringe of the “pro-birth” advocates, a group identified as opposed to abortion in almost every circumstance, and agreeable only if the woman’s health is in immediate danger.

So, how did this this rabid minority grab the headlines?  (1) Television needs pictures, (2) and Television needs to fill air time.  Therefore, the strategy, as practiced by the erstwhile Center for Medical Progress is to create the pictures and edit the narrative to get media attention. It did: on Fox, on ABC, on NBC, and in the Washington Post, among others.

Step Three: Provide a Distraction.  Now we have the confluence of political strategy and conservative social activism.  A Republican Party, currently engaging in intriguing internecine warfare between its establishment and Tea Party ranks, has struggled to get a message out to voters on crucial issues, and has to deal with the Trump’ed Campaign which is long on bluster and short on policy.  CNN polling from this month indicates the top issue for Americans is the economy at 44%. Issues at 20% and below are: health care, terrorism, immigration, and foreign policy.  If the GOP opts for health care then it has to present a full blown policy alternative to the Affordable Care Act; if the GOP opts for terrorism then it has to present a unified vision of exactly who in the Middle East is going to be supported by whom.  If the GOP opts for trailing along with Donald Trump on the immigration issue, then it needs to offer a viable alternative to the Senate comprehensive immigration policy reform bill languishing in House committees.

In short, the anti-abortion issue is extremely attractive as a distraction. The media is enraptured with its latest shiny object “Celebrities talking about something scandalous which can be simply stated and opens the possibility of endless speculation.”   The Perfect News Story.  Let the lambent divagation begin!

Step Four: Enter the Opportunists.  Once the assault was given credibility by a credulous media, the politicians immediately pounced.  For example, Missouri politicians could be addressing the fact that the median household income for that state ranks 44th in the nation. [Census]  However, it’s ever so much easier to launch a state Senate investigation into Planned Parenthood.  Tennessee politicians could be evaluating information about the potential $1.4 billion “Insure Tennessee” could bring to the state, [UTecon] but no, they’d prefer to wail on about Planned Parenthood.  Florida politicians could be addressing how to deal with an influx of people from Puerto Rico’s lamentable economic situation [Orlando] but the publicity seekers prefer to call for an investigation of Planned Parenthood. [NBC2] And, one more example:  Washington state Republican leaders want an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s activities, [King5] instead of discussing further why it was necessary to cut $10 billion in basic services from the state budget? [WABPC]

Step Five: Lather Rinse Repeat.  Once conservative politicians discover that media attention can be drawn by magisterially announcing an Investigation into the Scandal, I Say Scandal!, and reporters chime in by asking those pro-choice politicians What Do YOU think? the great game can continue.  Meanwhile, the Missouri economy can lurch along, the Tennessee insurance options can be put aside in the wonky category, Floridians can contemplate what can go wrong when there’s an influx from the economically devastated  Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and Washingtonians can muddle through a sparse budget while trying to renovate and redevelop waterfront properties.

The unholy alliance of shrill advocates, all too many of whom don’t much care what happens to the child after its birth (No food stamps for you, you little grifter, you’ll just learn to be dependent), combined with a sensationalist and shallow press – not well known for its fact checking, and added to a partisan farrago of opportunistic and camera seeking politicians, yields a recipe for political cynicism at its finest.

Come Back To Me When You’re Ready To Get Serious

Bluntly stated, I don’t much care for this brand of politics, or the attendant perfunctory press which nourishes it. Come back to me when there’s a real scandal – like the 16 million children in the United States who are now living in poverty.  [NCCP] – like the 18,000 children and teenagers who are killed or injured in gun violence each year in this country [Brady] – like, for how many years now have we been discussing the number of children who attend school in substandard buildings? “National spending on school construction has diminished to approximately $10 billion in 2012, about half the level spent prior to the recession, while the condition of school facilities continues to be a significant concern for communities. Experts now estimate the investment needed to modernize and maintain our nation’s school facilities is at least $270 billion or more…” [ASCE] – like, when you want to talk about the 49 million Americans, 15.8 million of whom are children, who are living in food insecure households. [FAO]

Until then, I will continue to hold the opinion that the radical anti-abortion advocates who are adept at playing the Grab the Microphone Game, and the politicians and members of the press who are delighted to play along, are little more than shallow opportunistic attention seekers.  Attention seekers who can’t differentiate between being Pro-Life and being in favor of Forced Birth.

Recommended Reading and References:

*Dissertation: University of Iowa, “The Violent Transformation of a Social Movement: Women and Anti-Abortion Activism,” Karissa A. Haugeberg, 2011.  Iowa Research Online. JSTOR: “Movements, Counter Movements, and the structure of political opportunity,” American Journal of Sociology, Meyer & Staggenborg.

Media Matters for America: “Factcheck.Org debunks deceptively edited video smearing Planned Parenthood,”  July 22, 2015.  “Unspinning the Planned Parenthood Video,” FactCheck.Org, July 21, 2015. “Second Heavily edited Planned Parenthood Attack Video is Also A Big Bust, Slate, July 21, 2015. “Debunking the Planned Parenthood Video Hoax,” RH Reality Check, July 20, 2015.  “What the Planned Parenthood hoax really proves: Right Wing Extremists have no qualms about destroying people’s lives, “ Salon, July 16, 2015.  “Here’s how the anti-abortion movement plans to modernize its approach,” Huffington Post, January 22, 2015.

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Planned Outrage and the Right Wing Smear Machine

PParenthood

Yet another “undercover” sting operation has targeted yet another organization which does good work for good people, and it’s high time this stopped.  The Center For Medical Progress, which appears to have no other visible function than to attack Planned Parenthood, launched it’s O’Keefe style assault with pathetically predictable results.  These attacks are no accident, and the ways they are used are not coincidental.  Let’s review.

The ACORN Example

Nothing so engages the attention of the powers that want to be as an organization which promotes voting rights, civil rights, community action, and advocates for living wages.  And ACORN did just that.  For its trouble it was vilified for “voting irregularities” although the organization flagged its own suspected forms, and was only in trouble with Nevada law because it paid its temporary employees to gather forms – not because there were any real actual voting irregularities  involved. [NYT] Then came the deluge, the O’Keefe “videos,”  and the myth of the ACORN pimp.  In both instances, which ultimately led to the organization’s demise, the story was picked up and slathered all over Fox News. 

Then conservative voices bellowed that the story wasn’t being covered by major broadcast networks because they were “librul.”  This scene was followed by another in which conservative members of Congress called for investigations! Defunding! Running out of town clad in tar and feathers!  And… then members of Congress and other politicians who had supported voting rights, civil rights, community action, and living wages were asked to “respond to the comments from conservatives.”  The grand finale consisted of smearing those progressive and liberal politicians with “ACORN supporter” labeling.  Members of Congress were so enamored of their fight against organizations promoting voting rights, civil rights, community action, and living wages that they voted in 2014 for a budget defunding ACORN – an organization which by that time didn’t even exist. [HuffPo]

There they go again!

This time it’s Planned Parenthood, the object of fury for the fringe anti-abortion crowd.  The fact that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services involve abortions doesn’t faze this batch of whackies.  They’ll not be pleased until every abortion provider is out of service, every pregnancy is carried to term no matter how dangerous, every progeny of rape and incest is born –wanted or not.  It’s the “not” part which is problematic.  They frankly remind me of the men who brag about their virility in terms of the number of children they have fathered … not necessarily the number of children they have raised.

But, here we go again… a sting video – heavily edited, which doesn’t match the transcript, which doesn’t even match reality, and even less conforms to the laws and regulations surrounding fetal tissue handling and fetal tissue research – which is picked up by Fox News and treated as if it were a real story,  and then the peanut gallery chimes in demanding, I say Demanding, that Democrats respond – I say Respond – to the “damning video.” The peanut gallery has already sounded off in Virginia. [WaPo]  Nothing could be more blatantly political.   All that remains to repeat the cycle are the “calls for investigations,” and the public pillorying of those who support the medical services provided by Planned Parenthood clinics.

Enough!

Here’s some unsolicited advice.

  There is no need to respond to the allegations in a video which doesn’t match its own transcript. [MSNBC] [Politifact] Or, is so edited as to obscure the fact that what the organization is doing is perfectly legal, heavily regulated, and in many cases essential to important medical research.   All that may be necessary is to say, “I understand that the video is highly suspect, doesn’t present facts, and uses statements taken not only out of context, but out of realityIt’s anti-choice propaganda and should be treated as such.”

  There is no need to take Fox News seriously.  It is not a news organization, it is simply a propaganda outlet.  There is also no reason to join in the Fox litany of complaints merely because they bring up specious topics.  Let them say, “We cover it here because no one else will.”   There’s a perfectly sound reason no one else is carrying some of their stories – they aren’t news. Some are manufactured “poutrage,” [Latte Salute] others are simply allegations with no factual support, [Did Scientists manufacture climate change data?]  and still other examples  are merely hyperbolic hypocrisy. [Bergdahl flap]

The Problem Won’t Go Away

The right wing conservative pattern of attacking organizations and agencies which seek to help Americans in need isn’t going to disappear unless the ‘real’ news organizations stop being duped by what appears to be superficially interesting and later turns out to be either a nothing-burger or actually embarrassing – remember CNN and the dildo flag?  Here’s a suggestion: How about doing just a bit of research about the origin and intent of those who make “news items” available before hitting the air?

Nor will the problem of misinformation be alleviated until the media understands that click-bait isn’t the reason for its existence.  Besides the latest shark encounter, there are news stories which aren’t being covered very thoroughly on American television and in American newspapers.  Might we suggest: Refugee problems in Austria; or the issue of Uber in Spanish courts; or political trouble in the Transnistria region (anyone heard of that one?); or European funding of illegal logging in the Central African Republic?

Unfortunately, while cable news is infatuated with sharks and sting videos, the refugee issues in Europe could be reaching crisis proportions; new business models like Uber raise significant legal and economic questions; Transnistria could be the next European breakaway state; and, why do European corporations need to fund illegal logging in culturally, politically, and environmentally fragile areas like the Central African Republic?

We don’t even have to list under-coverage in international news to see the problems – there are gaping holes right here at home.

Meanwhile:

SatNews seems to be one of the few places we might learn “the 2014 Satellite Communications Strategy Report did not identify the appropriate future mix of military and commercial SATCOM; rather, it outlined a plan that, if successful, may allow DOD to do so at a later time. Second, the 2014 Mix of Media Report based its predictions of future SATCOM requirements and demand on DOD’s SATCOM Database, which DOD officials acknowledge lacks comprehensive usage and demand data.”  In short, might it not be useful to know that we really don’t have much of a handle on the mix of military and commercial demand for communication?  Esoteric as this might seem it could have implications for everything from national security to movie broadcasts. Just asking?

Then, there’s the issue of how drugs given a “340B” discount may be over prescribed.  The GAO says this is possible, and the hospitals fired back saying the GAO methodology was flawed and this isn’t the case.  The GAO report came out on July 5, 2015.  I fancy myself a fairly good consumer of news reports – but I can’t say I’ve heard word one about this issue in any cable or major news outlet – although it has a real bearing on health care costs in the United States.

And, while we’re speaking of the GAO, the agency just released its report on the DoD integration of the Armed Forces by gender opportunities.  That report indicates the military is expanding combat opportunities for women, but there is a need to monitor long term progress.  This didn’t make the headlines this morning. However, there is a connection between combat service and promotion in the military and that alone should have alerted someone somewhere in media-land to this report.

Remember all that flap and flutter about the SEC’s Reserve Fund and how that might be used under the terms of the Dodd-Frank Act?  Probably not, since it didn’t get much play initially outside of the general squealing about putting too much burden on investors and letting the SEC have a fund Congress couldn’t sequester – however the SEC’s Inspector General’s report came out on July 6, 2015, and the IT modernization at the SEC seems to be kosher. Crickets.  There was some more good news from the IG report on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the “prudential regulators,” saying the coordination was good, and could be better if they’d develop a standard process for notifying regulators of federal consumer finance law violations by institutions with $10 billion or less in total assets.  More crickets.

Okay, there’s no blood on the floor with any of these topics.  However, since all too much blood has been spilled in Charleston and Chattanooga recently someone in the editorial offices might have noticed the GAO report issued on June 19, 2015:

“Nationwide, estimates using 2008-2013 data indicated that approximately 17 percent of low-income, uninsured adults (3 million) had a behavioral health condition, defined as a serious mental illness, a substance use condition, or both. Underlying these national estimates is considerable variation at the state level.”

Think we might want to pay some attention to this news? Or, in retrospect at least to this July 16, 2015 report: “DOD Should Improve Information Sharing and Oversight to Protect U.S. Installations?”  Chattanooga was bad, and we certainly don’t need a repetition of Fort Hood.

I should live so long to see the major news outlets in this country print and broadcast news which actually informs our population, and see them leave the shark attacks, politically pandering pundits, idle speculation, silly polling stories, and sting videos to Fox Noise.

Do they even wonder why more people are now getting their news from the Internet?

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Filed under abortion, conservatism, media

Venus Rising?

girls soccer One of the ESPN documentaries which deserves another look now is “Venus Vs,” the 2013 film narrating how Venus Williams took on the titans of tennis – the financial titans – and won.  It took until 2007 for women to receive the same prize money at Wimbledon as men, and it required Venus Williams to draw the line at what was acceptable in her Times op-ed.  Now, the parade for the US Women’s National Team is over, and presumably the cake’s been eaten and the ceremonial key to the city handed over. However, when the debris from the parade is cleared the economic prospects for women will be essentially the same as they were before the ride through Manhattan began.  Nor are we close to training and coaching the young people we need to develop the talent required to maintain our rankings.  We could use another Venus rising.

We’re Number One!

The disparity in men’s and women’s financial support in athletic endeavors is in too many ways illustrative of our perspective on sports in general: We expect to win, but we really aren’t all that excited about financially supporting youth development programs.  The parsimonious way in which we support after-school activities in general (for both boys and girls, academic and athletic) contrasts sharply with our expectations of the national teams which later represent us.  Since we’re speaking of soccer, let’s look at those statistics.

In 1974 there were 103,432 youngsters enrolled in youth soccer programs, and as of 1995 there were 2,388,719.  55% of that number were boys, 45% were girls. [usyo]  Somewhere in that 2209% increase in participation were members of the 1999 World Cup winning women’s national soccer team.  Further, if we drill down we find the members of that trailblazing crew came from collegiate programs – including Portland, UMass, Cal, Notre Dame, Central Florida, Stanford, and of course UNC.  Title IX worked.

As of 2014 there were 3,055,148 youngsters participating in youth league soccer, and we’d have to guess the breakdown was close to the 2008 reporting – 52% boys, and 48% girls.  Again, from this group came the ladies who enjoyed the parade in NYC.  School programs, youth/community programs, and collegiate programs contributed to the talent pool from which this team was drawn.

TV commentary made much of the “16 year drought” since the ‘99 World Cup match in women’s soccer, and when the US men’s basketball team placed 3rd in the Seoul Olympics (1988) one might have expected the sky to shatter at any moment – a problem corrected by sending the Dream Team to Barcelona the next round.  When the 3rd place finish repeated in Athens (2004) the response was to send in the Big Guns again in 2008.  We expect the national men’s team to excel, to win, – to crush opponents. We expect the women’s soccer teams to rank in the top five – and we expect to win.

However, we don’t necessarily DO what it takes to expand the talent pool from which we derive these teams.

Penny Wise Pound Foolish

We’ve left some after school programs in general languishing on the vine, both for academic and athletic interests:

“In the Afterschool Alliance’s 2012 survey, although a majority of afterschool program providers revealed that their program’s budget is inadequate to meet the needs of the students and families in their community, this number is even higher among Latino majority programs and African-American majority programs.  Additionally, African-American majority programs and Latino majority programs were more likely to report that their funding is down from three years ago.” [asall]

Not only is funding strained for after school programs but we’re not addressing a crucial factor for African American and Latino youngsters, safe transportation to and from program venues.

“Transportation, safe transport in particular, is a significant hurdle to enrollment in afterschool programs in African-American and Latino communities.  African-American parents and Latino parents were both much more likely to cite that their children did not have a safe way to get to and from afterschool programs as a barrier to enrollment than parents overall.  Additionally, approximately half of African-American and Latino parents of kids not enrolled in an afterschool program indicated that transportation to and from afterschool programs factored into their decision not to enroll their child, compared to less than two-fifths of parents overall.” [asall]

All too often we’re pleased to lecture parents on how their children need more exercise, more academic assistance, more Story Hour, more Anything After School – but we’re obviously not willing to invest in the transportation which would enhance those enrollment figures.   If we drill down to athletic activities, the money issues become ever more evident.  Consider the implications of the following ESPN graphic:

Age entry sports graph The single largest factor in establishing when children start participating in youth activities is whether or not the parents are earning over $100,000 per year.

Here’s another ESPN graphic which sheds a bit more light on the subject.  Whose children are more likely to participate in a variety of after school exercise/athletic activities?

most likely playing on teamsIf you noticed “Suburban/Affluent” across the “most likely groups” and urban/low income across the graphic for “least likely groups,” you’ve gotten the point.

Should we continue to constrict the talent pool to suburban/affluent families, to those families which can afford transportation, to those families which can come up with the cash for equipment and other necessities, then we’ve artificially constrained our own cohort of prospective talent – and yet we still demand that the outcome in world competition be the same – we crush opponents in soccer and basketball.

Was Title IX supposed to fix all this, especially in women’s sports?  The law itself can’t fix the disparity in resources illustrated above.

“Most importantly, Title IX hasn’t managed to extend the enormous social and health benefits of sports to all girls equally. In 2008, a national survey of third- through 12th-graders by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that 75 percent of white girls play sports, compared to less than two-thirds of African-American and Hispanic girls, and about half of Asian girls. And while boys from immigrant families are well-represented in youth sports, less than half of girls from those families are playing.*The gender gap is also worse in urban schools and among kids from low-income families.

These disparities in youth sports persist at the collegiate level. African-American women are underrepresented in all sports except Division I basketball and track and field, and Latinas make up just 4 percent of female athletes in the NCAA. As Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, an Olympic gold medalist in track and field, recently explained to the New York Times, “[I]n the grand scheme of things, Caucasian girls have benefited disproportionately well, especially suburban girls and wealthy Caucasian girls.” [MJ]

The disparities we find in programs for very young children continue through collegiate competition.  And, here we go again – the gap is wider between the affluent suburbs and the urban, less affluent communities of color.

Thank you from a grateful nation….

And here we return to the money question.  If we can expand the talent pools for our national teams, and if we can get more youngsters involved in healthy activities at earlier ages, and if we can get more young girls involved, and if we can get more young girls from less affluent neighborhoods – what happens?

“This year’s (World Cup) tournament featured a generation of American women who have not lived in a world without Title IX and did their jobs elegantly and professionally: They won the game, defeating a longtime rival in Japan; and as they did during the 2012 London Olympics, they won with high-caliber athleticism, class and sports-womanship along the way.

Yet the total payout for the Women’s World Cup this year will be $15 million, compared with the total for the men’s World Cup last year of $576 million, nearly 40 times as much. That also means that the Women’s World Cup payout is less than the reported $24 million to $35 million FIFA spent on its self-aggrandizing fiction film, United Passions.” [Politico]

Yes, and two members of the USWNT were living with Jeff Van Gundy and his family because the salaries paid in the professional leagues make finding accommodations a real problem. [USAT]  The salaries in the US for women players range from a measly $6,000 to $30,000. [STFAnother graph may tell part of the tale:

Air timeAt this juncture we have a Chicken and Egg argument of sorts – do we have to have air time before people get engaged sufficiently to attract more corporate and advertising sponsorship? Or, if we have more corporate and advertising sponsors will the women’s side of the ledger get more public interest? What will crack the egg or chase down the chicken?

“Most of us have been socialized to accept men’s sports as dominant, and somehow automatically more interesting. The problem is that once society has internalized this falsehood — and let’s face it, it’s a falsehood that’s millennia in the making — it’s not so easy to correct it. Women have been fighting for decades, centuries, to be seen as equals to men both on the playing field and off of it.” [BusInsider]

There are some glimmers of hope on the horizon.  EA Sports will include women’s soccer in its products, Fox Sports did a good job of broadcasting this latest World Cup tournament and was rewarded with high ratings for the final game, and advertisers dipped their toes in the water – even Clorox got into the act. Nike sold jerseys, and no doubt other firms will find ways to capitalize on the market.  However, it may not be all sexism and short attention span theater issues, there’s also the problem of longevity.

As long as investors in women’s sports leagues continue to demand immediate returns there will be problems – just as there are with short-termism in other markets such as our financial ones.  Even a league as formidable as the NBA has had its problems – remember the original Denver Nuggets? Few do. Or, the end of the ABA in 1976? Or, the much traveled Hawks from Moline, to Milwaukee, to St. Louis to Atlanta?  Or, the struggles and travels of the Philadelphia Warriors and the Syracuse Nationals?  Obviously,  some patience is required.

Now What?

While it would be nice to have some powerful voice like that of Venus Williams championing more compensation for female athletes, we probably can’t afford to wait for that day.  Instead, if we truly want to see continued top level, world class, performances by our players and teams we need to:

  • Invest in after school activities for young people, and not just those in the affluent suburbs, with attention to such quotidian problems as transportation for the children so they can participate safely.
  • Encourage the development of youth programs, both academic and athletic for urban and rural youngsters, and be willing to staff and maintain these efforts.
  • Encourage and invest in programs for youngsters from ethnic minority groups – leave No Child’s Behind Left on the Couch.  To accomplish this we’ll need to invest in creating safe public spaces for kids to play on safe grounds with adequate and up to date equipment.
  • Get over the idea that a game between East Deer Breath State’s men’s team and the Wolverines of Western Boonie U. will automatically be more interesting than a match between the University of Connecticut and the University of Notre Dame’s women’s basketball teams.  Or, South Carolina? Or, Tennessee? Or, Stanford? Or, UCLA? Or LSU?
  • See some heavy-duty marketing campaigns establishing a positive brand for women’s teams in local and regional areas.
  • Develop some patience – no league (or any other enterprise) will yield immediate returns.

Finally, it will be a fine day when we stop perceiving children as an “expense,” and start visualizing them as “investments.” Every after school activity, every sports team, every youth league, every school extracurricular activity, every neighborhood playground, every city park, every local library is an investment in healthier more productive future citizens.  Yes, kids are expensive – but they’re well worth it.  We have proof of that in the eloquent words of one Venus Williams on June 26, 2006:

“I believe that athletes — especially female athletes in the world’s leading sport for women — should serve as role models. The message I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling. My fear is that Wimbledon is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message: 128 men and 128 women compete in the singles main draw at Wimbledon; the All England Club is saying that the accomplishments of the 128 women are worth less than those of the 128 men. It diminishes the stature and credibility of such a great event in the eyes of all women.” [Williams]

We can add some stature and credibility to our interest in athletics by adding a few more blows to that glass ceiling, and allowing more youngsters to dream of playing at Wimbledon, at Maples Pavilion, at BC Place, or Madison Square Garden….

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Filed under basketball, football, media, sexism, Title IX, Women's Issues, youth

How The Networks Lost Me on Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning Shows

It didn’t happen all at once, but my “appointment” for Sunday morning with the network press shows was broken, and it’s probably irrevocable.  Once it was a habit: Get the coffee; Turn on the TV; Grab the crossword to play with during the commercials; and Listen to the broadcasters… no longer.  The appointment was broken for the reasons Jonathan Bernstein set forth in his piece for Bloomberg News last March.

“In the era of three-network television, the Sunday shows were useful because there were few other venues to hear the parties talk about important issues. And politicians didn’t have many ways to send up trial balloons, or to engage in public, high-profile bargaining.” [BloombergNews]

No longer.  Jason Linkins expanded on the problem:

In short, the subtle work of partisan dealmaking was served. But those days are over. Now, the Sunday shows simply serve as a venue for prestige arbitrage, where having regular access to deemed-to-be-important people is an end in itself. And so these shows have slowly morphed into salons for the powerful, where one can only get so adversarial before a plum booking is put at risk. [HuffPo]

Did Chuck Todd admit the sad and sorry truth?  If those seeking to increase their prestige are annoyed, then the bookings are over?

“We all sit there because we know the first time we bark is the last time we do the show,” Todd explained. “There’s something where all of the sudden nobody will come on your show.” [RS]

It looks like it. And there was the admission affirming my distaste for the Sunday morning fare.  Worse still, merely serving as a venue for “prestige arbitrage,” the shows have become formulaic.  That’s been in evidence for some time now. Not so long ago the formula was (1) present an issue (2) the “guest” would answer questions, and (3) during the other Sunday shows other “guests” would answer the same questions… over and over again.  Nothing so improves a person’s performance on cross word puzzles as a television show which is profoundly derivative, utterly unoriginal, and all but devoid of actual news.  But the cross word puzzles couldn’t mask the predictable boredom for long.

What could a show, in which the “guests” are determined to make their talking points without challenge, be if not boring?  The Sunday morning offerings descended into a morass of selectable sound bites suitable mostly for derision on comedy shows later in the week. Why be bored silly with the original broadcasts when I can catch the comedy show later – getting the same inane talking points served up with a side of reality, challenge, and context?

Thus, what is the point of getting up to watch a Sunday morning show if it will be nothing more than the recitation of talking points, and the fulminations of pundits?  When the object isn’t “deal making” or even the launching of “trial balloons,” then we’re left with the politics of personalities, not usually a very interesting affair.  This transformation yielded another formula, no more informative than the old repeated questions format.

Our host introduces a topic such as the President issued an executive order to _____(fill this in with whatever might be at hand). The “guest” from the opposition is invited to comment _____ (fill this in with the opposition talking point of the day.)  The background of the issue is rarely if ever explained in any detail, the nature of the problem is assumed, and the discussion devolves into the political ramifications of the action and the perfectly expected opposition.  There is, at this point, very little difference between the scripted prime time melodramas and the scripted Sunday morning chatterati speculation.  I prefer my shows with members of Actors Equity playing their roles, the writing is generally better and the presentations more professional.

Now that the appointment has been broken I am free to find other channels and other forms of entertainment.  And, I have — evidently there are others who are now finding news from other sources than the networks.  However, it may be a sorry thing to admit that even a news junkie can be lured away from a news program by cable broadcasts of FA Cup soccer on Sunday morning – who would have guessed that Manchester United defeating Yeovil Town 2-0 could be more interesting than “Meet The Face Of The Nation This Week?”

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The Gordian Knot of Democratic Politics

Gordian Knot 2 Yes, Democrats – there’s a problem.  A party which can haul out voters during presidential elections is having an obvious problem getting the citizens out during the off-year elections.   The GOP, which did an “autopsy” of its 2012 efforts and then proceeded to ignore the results, did quite well.  It probably did so by offering the ideologues what they wanted —

The Philosophical Knot

At the risk of getting a bit philosophical,  “political zealots are people who are  over-indulging their emotional need of hatred.”  And, “men adopt ideas, not because it seems to them that those ideas are true, or because it seems to them that those ideas are expedient, but because those ideas satisfy a basic emotional need of their nature.”  (Bruce Montgomery)

If one’s “basic emotional need” is to have someone or something to blame for one’s anxiety then the GOP offered up a veritable gourmand’s banquet of targets.  The Appetizer:  Demonized Democratic leadership – Don’t you want to hate those people like Senator Harry Reid? Representative Nancy Pelosi? President Barack Obama?  The Soup: A Beltway Press club which once having determined its preferred narrative is loathe to give it up even in the face of stark evidence to the contrary.  “The President won’t work with the Congress,” for example, as if the Republican congressional leaders didn’t meet in a D.C. restaurant in 2009 and determine that theirs would be a strategy of obstruction throughout the President’s term.   The Fish or Chicken:  Well publicized Republican whines when their positions weren’t adopted completely, re-defining what the term “compromise” initially meant.  The GOP got nearly everything it wanted in the Affordable Care Act, including the adoption of a proposal originating with the Heritage Foundation, and then voted solidly against it, after which they  whined to the gates of glory about the provisions.  The Palate Cleanser:  The careful packaging of otherwise radical Tea Party candidates so that their rough edges were camouflaged, see incoming Senator Joni Ernst.  The Main Course: Fear! Ebola!  — all one case of it. ISIS! Some 33,000 terrorists who would really like to kill Americans – the U.S. population is about 317 million.  The Salad/Fine Vegetable:  A lovely diversion from real issues and a delicate scattering of pure inventions such as the Democrats are going to take your guns, or Democrats are going to promote abortions.  And finally, the Hot or Cold Dessert:  The Republican assumption that they’ve worked the refs sufficiently, and ginned up the base enough to make Democrats run away from their own leadership, see Grimes in Kentucky.   There are ways to make this dinner come to an end.

The Structural Knot

There’s the predictable grousing about the efforts of DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  However, few have commented on the structural issues about her position.  She’s wearing two hats and both of them represent  full time jobs.  Did she not “do enough” in the last election – or was running her own campaign, running the DNC, and trying to represent her constituents just a bit too much to ask.  One way to untangle the leadership thread of the structural knot would be for the Democrats to employ a full time chairman.

Independent leadership is fine in concept, however there must be something to lead.  A national party which allows state and local organizations to wither won’t be national for long.  [DB

The Media Knot

How where the Republicans able to keep their seven course gourmand banquet going well into election night?  This strand has been long entangled in American politics.  The corporate media represented by the beltway journalists have used the cable news outlets to broadcast some well known and recognizable narratives.  There must be two sides.  Not when we’re talking about the implications of global climate change.  Not when we’re talking about the decimation of the American middle class.  Not when we’re speaking of the need to fund infrastructure elements in America. Not when we’re addressing the need to adequately fund taking  care of our veterans.

The national media has not served this nation well.  This frustration is altogether too common:

“Finding clear information about issues and candidates in this midterm was difficult, and I certainly didn’t find it on cable television. Lots of times I went and dug it out myself. Sometimes I relied on alternatives. It was often frustrating to have to dig around in the universe of silos that exist today on the Internet, particularly when those siloes are loaded with hate talk on the right side of things.”

To adopt the notion that there are two sides to every question means that both sides should be presented.  However, the cable news outlets are content to state the Democratic position, and then allow Republican/Libertarian critics air time for commentary after commentary after commentary to present their talking points.  This isn’t “both” sides – it’s purely corporate sponsored, corporate presented propaganda.  It’s especially not “news” when there is little attention paid to issues.

Chart News Issues

65% of what the viewing public got was “political speculation,” and they’d have to be lucky to turn on the set when the 35% appeared, to inform them of related issues.  Untying the media knot will require coordinated effort, based on an intelligent analysis of the current situation.

Little wonder the author of the excerpt above  on media news is frustrated with the silos.  The sources are drying up.  The number of black journalists working for daily newspapers has dropped by 40% since 1985, and the number of white journalists working for daily papers is down 34%, the number of Hispanic journalists is off 16%, and the number of Asian-American journalists is down 2%. [Pew]   What do they all have in common? Down.  How about the number of reporters covering state politics and governance?  Since 2003 the number of persons employed to cover state governance has declined by 35%. [WaPo]  In the interest of “shareholder value” we have accepted a diminished press corps from one end of this country to the other.   It is almost as it we’ve decided that the “product” created by the press should be “share value” and not “news.”  There’s always been tension between the business side and the production side in journalism, and it appears the business side has won.

What makes the problem a double whammy for American citizens is that while the number of people employed to cover state and national news is declining, the cable TV system still provides most of the national coverage of major national and international issues.  The American Press Institute explains, including the chart below:

Cable News Source

Note: People are going to the cable news outlets for an explication of news about foreign, international, national government, social, business and the economic issues, and they aren’t getting it!

Not only will Democrats have to calculate the best messages in order to reach voters they are going to have to figure out how to get those messages broadcast to the general public, in the face of business-referenced cable news decisions.   If the cable news networks aren’t the answer, will social media make a difference?  The answer is still a large “maybe:”

“…social media appears to be largely adding to, rather than replacing, other ways that people get news. At the same time that 4 in 10 now use social media, more than 80 percent of Americans say they also got news in the last week by going directly to a news organization in some manner—and that was consistent across generations.

Even for the youngest adults, age 18-29, social media and the web in general have hardly replaced more traditional ways of getting the news. Nearly half of the youngest adults also read news in print during the last week, 3 in 4 watched news on television, and just over half listened to it on the radio.” [API.org]

While the expressed hope that social media will help resolve messaging issues for younger voters who lean Democratic, it’s still important to incorporate a media strategy which includes a more robust use of cable television broadcasting.

The Messaging Issue

The Republicans have made a conscious decision not to play the role of a minority party in the traditional sense of the term.  Where Democrats played significant roles in the adoption of “no child left behind” and the Bush tax reforms, that dinner at the Washington D.C. restaurant the night President Obama was Inaugurated in 2009 left no doubt about GOP strategy:

“If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority,” said Keven McCarthy, quoted by Draper. “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.” [VF]

The call to Gridlock was as clear as Great Paul in London.  The strategy was simplicity itself.  Create gridlock, guarantee nothing important was done for Middle Class Americans, veterans, the infrastructure, employment, etc. and then blame the President “He won’t schmooze with us,” when nothing was accomplished.   The DC Press Corps dutifully picked up the narrative and ran with it, ignoring the fact that Boehner and the GOP were “frequent no-shows” at White House events.  Republicans refused to attend the “Lincoln Screening,” and turned down invitations to state dinners for Great Britain, South Korea, Germany, Mexico, and India. Senator McConnell even turned down an invitation to a White House event celebrating Kentucky and the UK NCAA basketball championship. [NJ]   So, of course, the DC Pundits declared the President to be “aloof.”

If the analysis of the media situation demonstrates it’s difficult to get the Democratic message out, then perhaps some adjustment needs to be made in the message itself.  For the sake of easy examples we might explore two possibilities.

Adjusted Messages

Democrats are for the Middle Class.  This should be easy because it’s true. Democrats are for increasing the minimum wage. Democrats are for organized labor. Democrats are for limiting corporate powers and for the regulation of banking institutions.  Perhaps not to the extent some on the left might require, but they are certainly more supportive of these issues than the Republicans of the Business Roundtable.   If the Republicans can attach the word “feckless” to every comment about the President, then why not have Democrats attach the term “economic elitist” to every comment about the GOP agenda?

Only an “economic elitist” would oppose the increase in the minimum wage. Only an “economic elitist” would oppose regulating the banks. Only an “economic elitist” would support repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Republicans have expended every energy defining the Democrats as a coalition of minorities – there’s nothing that says they can’t be defined, in turn, as supporters of a truly small minority in American life – the 1%.

Democrats aren’t afraid.   Democrats elected the man who got Osama Bin Ladin. Democrats aren’t afraid of a virus which really hasn’t done much in the U.S. Democrats aren’t scared of a few fanatical terrorists in the Middle East. Democrats aren’t afraid of spending some money on veterans, on our infrastructure, and on jobs for Americans.   Republicans are so busy being afraid of their own shadows – The Deficit (down) The Debt (down) The Terrorists (confined to the Middle East), Muslims (the bogeyman du jour) and every other issue – why not include “fear” in the running commentary.

Only a true Wet Pants Dancer is afraid of ISIL?  Only an obvious coward would be scared into a Hazmat suit over Ebola? Only the truly squeamish would be so frightened of The Debt that he couldn’t support more services for veterans, and only one so terrified of his own shadow couldn’t vote for more funding for infrastructure – want to be afraid of a real problem – think about most of the bridges in this country that are more than 60 years old. Our parents and grandparents weren’t afraid of spending for infrastructure, what’s the matter with us?

Another element which has been commented upon by those much wiser than I is that Democrats have allowed the Republicans to create the narrative, and the Democrats have acceded to the position of playing Defense.  There’s nothing wrong with going on offense, indeed, it would be helpful in sending the Not Afraid message.  For example, we KNOW the deficit has been reduced. However, how many Democrats talked about deficit and debt reduction in the last election?  Not enough.  But why was it a major topic in the first place? Because the Republicans decided it would be. 

Pew described “major” issues in the 2014 elections as: Terrorist Threat, Budget Deficit, Economy, Immigration, and Health Care.  We couldn’t make a list more in tune with GOP manufactured issues.   What was missed was the polling which showed 54% agreed with the statement: “The Democrats are more concerned about needs of people like me.”  What was also interesting is that the news organizations which sponsored polling also selected those issues to investigate. [TPP]   What would happen if some Democratic leaning organizations, not tied to the corporate media, would commission polling on the state of veterans’ services? Infrastructure projects? Civil rights? Banking reforms?  In short, the Democrats need to create their issues – not merely wait for the GOP to set the public agenda.

Or, to put it less elegantly – the Democrats can stop tying themselves in Gordian Knots trying to respond to the Republican obstructionist/fear based agenda and concentrate on what George H.W. Bush once called the Vision Thing.

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Who Are We?

Sorrow So, we have the usual post mid-term election gnashing of teeth and rending of fabrics, and while I’ve assiduously avoided the Pundits, there are some ordinary types who  have some insights which deserve a mention and more.

Messages and Media

For example, there’s this excerpt from the comments section of the previous post:

“It isn’t so hard to realize what we need to do — but I’ve been saying this for five years straight. We need to run against REPUBLICANS, not the one Republican that is our opponent. We need to put Republicans on the defensive, instead of letting them define the situations so we are too bust defending ourselves.”

There are two kernels of useful insight illustrated here. First, that Democrats have to define their agenda more clearly and succinctly for public consumption.  The first element leads to the second: Democrats need to adopt the time honored rule of election campaigning – define your opponent before he or she defines you.

What ARE we for?

Economically speaking we’re FOR increasing the prosperity of the 99% of the citizens in this nation; those who are not members of the exclusive set of 1%’ers  whose income is primarily obtained by investment.  Or, in a shorter version – we’re the party for Middle Class Americans.

Socially speaking we’re FOR liberty and opportunity for all. We respect the rights of every single citizen in this nation – white, black, young, old, male and female, gay and straight.

Politically speaking we embrace diversity.  There are fiscally conservative Democrats who are socially liberal.  Socially liberal Democrats who are economically more conservative,  and we want every one of them to believe that the right to vote is essential for one and all.

We can distill this down even more finely: We are the party for the vast majority of Americans, and those who want everyone to participate in our democracy.

Who ARE they?

The Republicans are the party of the 1%, a party which embraces the interests of Wall Street and the financial sector.  They oppose increasing the minimum wage; they oppose equal pay for equal work; they oppose any proposition to make health insurance more affordable, and any plan to allow students to refinance student loans at more affordable rates.  They oppose any regulation of the financial sector, in the face of the Enrons, World Coms, Lehman Brothers and similar debacles.  Ye shall know them by their works.

The Republicans are the party of exclusion.  “Some people” ought not to be included in ‘their America;’  while they speak of divisive politics in sneering tones,  it was their idea to peddle the notion that both white and black Americans receiving social services were ‘stealing from the pockets’ of hard working people.  While they speak of the politics of division, it is their adherence to the idea that America is a Christian Nation – in spite of large numbers of non-believers, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and non-evangelicals among us.    The only way their Politics of Complaint works is via the ideological buttress that they are a Persecuted Majority – a more illogical concept is difficult to imagine.

The Republicans are the party of Big Daddy Government.   Hey, African American citizen or Hispanic American citizen – know your place, and it’s not at the precinct polling station.   Hallo, Little Lady – Father knows best. You should have that transvaginal ultrasound procedure, whether you want it or not.  Your employer will decide if you can get affordable contraceptive prescriptions.  Hello, little man – we’ll tell you all those things of which you should be afraid.  Don’t fret, while you’re worried about your job being off-shored to some Asian manufacturing base, Big Daddy will protect you from ISIS, Ebola, the IRS, the Homosexual Agenda (whatever that might be?) and Big Government.

We’ve seen Big Daddy on the silver screen, he was Burl Ives in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.  He’s white, he’s rich, he’s large. He’s a fetishist of the first water.  He will have what he wants when he wants it.  He’s Entitled to what he wants when he wants it.  Not a very appealing character – but he was never meant to be; he’s beyond caring about being acceptable, he’d rather simply be obeyed.

Media and Messages

Forget about seeing the corporate media independently reveal the elitism, or the exclusionism, or the innate authoritarianism of the Right.  Corporations are people, with shareholder value to consider, ratings to gain and advertising to sell.   Witness the disdain with which the chatterati observed the Occupy Movement.   Witness the decline in the popularity of broadcast and print media as sources of news.  It’s in the interstitial  spaces where opportunity lies.

There’s room in the use of one of the oldest axioms of political life: All politics is local.   However, in this world there are two kinds of local: Your neighbors, friends, and physical community; and your social media friends and followers.   Thus far both parties seem to be clutching  a rather old fashioned view of social media – both my e-mail inbox, and the inbox of a Republican friend were overflowing with Send Money Messages (attached to precious little substance) during the last campaign – who’s going to be the first to fully capitalize on the power of social media to DEFINE the opposing party? The opposing party’s candidates?

There are spaces in and among interest groups.  During the recent election I received three glossy mailers opposing a tax increase to support the Nevada Distributive School Fund – all three contained massive misinformation, and all three came from the same source – a combine of Real Estate Interests.  There was precious little tie-in between candidates and the tax issue on display in this little segment of the world.  There should have been. Who should have told me that a combination of corporate interests and Republican allies were opposing more money for schools?

Big Money groups, a product of the highly unfortunate but ultimately predictable decision in Citizens United,  can only drive a message so far. And their range can be constrained by defining them as antithetical to local interests.  For example, a pro-NRA candidate won the Arkansas election for Senator, BUT Washington state voters overwhelmingly passed I-594, an initiative requiring background checks for firearm sales. [MMA]

“[Washington voters] showed that while the gun lobby can intimidate politicians in Washington, it’s a lot harder to intimidate America’s voters,” former US Representative Gabby Giffords said in a statement last night. “This victory for responsibility in Washington State sends a clear message to the other Washington that if Congress is not ready to act to reduce gun violence, voters in states around the country can and will take the matter into their own hands.” [The Nation, 11/5/14]

There’s a message here.  The Big Money NRA took a position antithetical to local interests.

There’s also another space into which the message can be inserted: All politics is national.   There are some newly elected Republicans who could come to symbolize the state of the party. Do your friends and neighbors, physical and social media, relate to this comment from Joni Ernst (R-IA)

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere. But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”  [HuffPo]

Then there’s newly elected Representative Crescent Hardy (R-NV4) opining on the situation with the standoff between Federal officials and the ‘sovereign citizen’ domestic terrorists on the Bundy Ranch:

“But Hardy also claimed that the BLM and federal park rangers had no right to enforce laws on the property in question. Asked about that odd statement, Hardy cited the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, which he said were ‘part of the Constitution,’ although he acknowledged he couldn’t immediately identify a passage to support his contention.”  [LVRJ]

And who could forget Senator Ted Cruz and his government shutdown, except that he’d very much like to have everyone forget he was for it before he was against it. Remember the headline, “House Republicans Credit Ted Cruz As Government Shutdown Looms?”   He’d very much like for us to forget this, unfortunately for Cruz and the Republicans – it’s still out there.  Who would like to be associated with these three? Some will, and the rock bottom base of the GOP will cling to these characters like quagga on a row boat – the great American middle?  Perhaps not so much, especially if Democrats are capable of defining their opponents before the opponents define them.

A modest example: What might happen if some party activists, or some interest group, or just a small group of independent citizens, put together a Top Ten List of Great Republican Quotes periodically, and sent them to everyone on their “mailing” list – to be forwarded to everyone on the recipient’s “mailing” lists… Or how about a nice Viral Video?  These activities are relatively cheap and depend more on relationships than money – things could get interesting? If a single person shipped off a Famous GOP Quote to everyone on their e-mail list even if it’s a modest five person collection and each recipient forwarded the message to another five … it doesn’t take long to get to some 625 people, 3125 people….

Here’s hoping the Democratic Party in Nevada, and elsewhere, is not depending on the Big Draw of  a Presidential election to create an atmosphere conducive to the Democratic agenda for 2016.  I hope that the candidate recruitment process is going on NOW. That the messaging process is being calculated NOW. And that the penultimate strategy is we have nothing to fear from Republican candidates other than fear itself.

Democrats have a party the leadership of which: Produced 63 consecutive months of economic growth; we have 54 straight months of increased private sector employment; the unemployment rate has dropped from 10.1% in October 2009 to 5.9%; the federal deficit has been reduced by 66% since October 2009; the rate of federal spending increases is the lowest (1.4%) since the Eisenhower administration; 95% of Americans pay lower taxes than at any time in the last fifty years; 7 million Americans have health insurance they could not have afforded before the ACA; and the rate of health care spending increases has been less (1.3%) than any year since 1965. [pdf]

Cutting through the Crap from the Noise Machine

No regular viewer of the Faux News Machine is going to believe anything in the previous paragraph.  There is a non-productive tendency to want to answer everything tossed out by the Noise Machine when in fact it may better serve Democrats to let them indulge in their regular tantrums and merely enjoy the ludicrous irrationality.

Perhaps we’d be better served by a narrative about fear – as in we’re tired of being afraid.  When did this nation become such a country filled with shrinking violets that we can become frightened of ONE case of Ebola infection in our entire territory?

When did this nation become so afraid of our own neighbors that we must arm ourselves to the gunwales and tremble before the prospect – highly unlikely – of a home invasion?  (the rate is about 0.42%)  When did we become such a troupe of Wet Pants Dancers that we, all 319,000,000 of us,  don’t think we can stand up to 33,000 wacky terrorists in Iraq and Syria?

When did we become so afraid of “debt” that we can’t even consider improving our physical infrastructure, building schools and libraries, expanding our parks, employing more high school counselors, increasing the capacity of our community colleges and technical schools, improving medical and social services for veterans, investing in medical and scientific research….   There are issues here. Positive, practical issues.  We could use some new voices – voices that aren’t afraid – voices telling us we are the strongest, most productive, richest, and most vibrant nation on the face of this planet – and it’s high time we acted like it.

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Curmudgeon Junction: Short Term Thinking Long Term Losses

Halloween Pumpkin Want something to be afraid of this Halloween week?  No, it’s not Ebola, nor is it ISIS, nor is it that some undocumented person will cast an “impersonation ballot” at some polling station… it’s Short Term Thinking.  Today’s rant from Curmudgeon Junction is a general grouse about the lack of foresight intrinsic in our economic and political institutions. 

The Economics of Myopia

The whole artificial edifice of Shareholder Value would collapse in a heap if the Management Interests would take a longer view of their corporate health.  When one’s interests are aligned with quarterly earnings reports, and the effect on stock market prices, then what we will get are executives who place cost cutting measures above the long term interests of the corporation.  It will be necessarily more important to lay off expensive workers than to promote long term corporate loyalty.  It will be necessarily more important to engage in stock buy backs than to allocate resources to research and development.  It will be necessarily more important to invent ever more exotic tax treatments and financial products than to invest in corporate expansion.  It will be necessarily more important to conflate the interests of trade with the interests of financial markets.  It will necessarily be more important to accumulate a profitable financial product revenue stream than to invest in modern plants and equipment.  And, this is a recipe for a witch’s brew for short term “results” and long term losses.

What U.S. steel industry?  Yes, U.S. Steel is still in business, but it’s no longer producing 67% of this country’s steel. [USX] Did anyone notice when U.S. Steel was removed from the Standard and Poor 500 Index? [NYT] Yes, the company has diversified, but it also moved in and out of some very risky propositions in the process, and simply surviving isn’t a particularly impressive item in comparison to actually thriving. 

VWonder Bread is back on the shelves, but why did the process have to be such a mess?  Let’s start with what financial writers are pleased to call a “highly leveraged capital structure with little room for error.” [Forbes]  And, we can add in an obsolete line of products – where was the investment in product research and development? And,  we can add in relatively high labor costs – which were cut in return for a promise (unkept) that the management would allocate resources into more efficient plants and equipment… So, the Twinkies got the axe, (rather later than perhaps that product line should have in the face of changing consumer trends), and the whole jerry-built private equity backed operation couldn’t take the strain of having to turn a mismanaged company around in the face of immediate capital needs.

Chevron made much of its prowess in developing alternative energy, it even created a renewable power group (CVX) and then shut the lights down.

“In January, employees of Chevron’s (CVX) renewable power group, whose mission was to launch large, profitable clean-energy projects, dined at San Francisco’s trendy Sens restaurant as managers applauded them for nearly doubling their projected profit in 2013, the group’s first full year of operations. But the mood quickly turned somber. Despite the financial results and the team’s role in helping launch more than a half-dozen solar and geothermal projects capable of powering at least 65,000 homes, managers told the group that funding for the effort would dry up and encouraged staffers to find jobs elsewhere, say four people who attended the dinner.” [Bloomberg]

The renewable power group created a net profit of $27 million in 2013, well above the $15 million target, so why did Chevron pull the plug? 

“When you have a very successful and profitable core oil and gas business, it can be quite difficult to justify investing in renewables,” says Robert Redlinger, who ran a previous effort at Chevron to develop large renewable-energy projects before he left in 2010. “It requires significant commitment at the most senior levels of management. I didn’t perceive that kind of commitment from Chevron during my time with the firm.” [Bloomberg]

Translation: OK, the renewables were making money just not enough money to get the attention of top management.  More translation: the Renewables group wasn’t making enough money in the short term to get management support in the long run.

How many investments banks are there in the United States? If you guessed Zero you got it right.  None, zilch, zip. We now have Bank Holding Companies, as the former high flyers on Wall Street sought the protection of the Federal Reserve to avoid financial oblivion in September 2008. [MotleyFool]  After running, ever so willingly, into the arms of the government in their debacle of 1002-2008, the bankers now want to revert to playing by their own rules – Repeal Dodd Frank – and re-engage in the same short term behaviors which brought on the collapse of the financial sector in 2007 and 2008.

The Politics of Myopia

There’s never been a shortage of self-serving myopia in politics. Ever.  Nor has there been a surfeit of times in which there was less costuming going on in political campaigns than there were little goblins out seeking confectionary items to put in their pillow cases.  However, turning the politics of fear into an art form, is to emphasize the fear and trivialize the long term prospects of hope.

So, we have politicians ginning up fear of a virus – of which we now have ONE case in the entire country  of 330 million people – to secure short term votes based on “Did the administration do enough?” Has the administration been strong enough?”  Probably – given that we have ONE case in a population of 330 million.   Notice, we’re not talking about (1) What should U.S. funding priorities be for the research and development of vaccines for relatively rare viral diseases which occur primarily in third world nations? or, (2) What should be the U.S. contribution to world wide efforts to eradicate viral infections?  Those would be long term questions – and we seem to have the attention span of fruit flies when it comes to politics.

The Media and Myopia

While we’re on the topic of viral diseases – has it occurred to anyone in the management end of public media that Wolf! is not to be carried to extremes, or have we missed that point from the kindergarten reading list?  How many times have we been told that Swine Flu!  Avian Flu! West Nile Virus! MERS! SARS! was going to be the End of Humanity! Or, close to it.   Now, it’s Ebola – and the media circus begins once more.  Has it not taken hold in the imaginations of media management that there may come a time when something like the Spanish Flu – a real pandemic – may creep up on us and because the “Wolf!” cry has been offered up so often and in such a dramatic way, that health care professionals will have trouble convincing the public that “This time it’s REAL?”  Are the monthly, or weekly, ratings really so important in the short run that we’d take this risk in the long run?

How many editors across the nation are assigning people to cover stories for which the reporter is simply unqualified?  That’s not ‘on’ the reporter.  If a reporter turns in a story about race relations in a mid-western city based on impressions made during a few nights of protest, with little or no background knowledge of the historic context, do we blame the superficiality of the reporting on the writer – or on the management which decided to cut back on the number of writers in order to “increase shareholder value?”  How many media outlets retain the services of several persons with a background in economics or finance to craft articles about our economy?  How many media outlets hire individuals with a background in history/sociology to write about race and ethnic relations?   How many can afford to?

It’s one thing to blast the banality of much political reporting – and another to remember that national pundits aren’t reporters.  The pundits are time fillers.  It’s expensive to send reporters to New Hampshire, Colorado, or Nevada. It’s more expensive to send them to Ukraine,  Burkina Faso, and China.  It’s cheaper to keep a pool of reporters in central locations and send “teams” out to cover events – whether or not the team members have any expertise in the regions to which they are sent.

In return for short term economies we get a long term prospect of sensationalized reporting on the dramatic and very little contextual information about subjects of greater long term impact ( such as, the efforts of Middle Eastern nations to come to terms with the historic impact of post World War I boundaries).  Are we hearing about what mega-studies of student learning models tell us about how children actually learn, or are we getting packaged news about how children in one city measure up against children in another on a high stakes standardized test?

Are we hearing about how most bridges in the United States are designed to last 50 years, and the average age of bridges in this country is 43?  Do we know that in just ten years one out of every four bridges in this country will be over 65 years of age, that would be some 170,000 of them. [BridgeReport pdf] Or, do we wait until another one collapses and more lives are lost? 

And so it goes. We’ll shove more and more eye-catching events with less and less context into the great maw of 24 hour news cycles until the information is granulized into particles about which the Time Fillers will offer interminable speculation because that’s what they’re paid to do – speculate. In the short term it’s entertaining – in the long run it isn’t conducive to a well informed electorate.

Worse still, we’ll probably keep doing this until the old song lyrics are true: “I get all the news I need from the weather report.”

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