Saturday, February 28, 2015

Want To Know How, And How Much, The Arts Affect Us?

Here is a National Endowment for the Arts study to answer those questions.  No one who reads it should doubt how necessary the arts are to our society, and to each of us as citizens.

We're No Longer The Envy Of The World

In fact, from the perspective of the rest of the world, we look like fools.

Did You Hear About This?

Probably not.  Because, according to our corporate media, right-wing terrorism doesn't exist.  Except, of course, when it does.  Damnable hypocrisy.

Leave Them There!

Fossil fuels, that is.  We no longer need them.  In fact, it may be better it they stayed put.

An Amazing Aerial View Of New York City--All Of It

And courtesy of a drone.  Take a look.

But I Thought That THEY Thought That THEY Were Worth It!

Fox News, that is, and CEO's and their executive pay.  Turns out that, per Fox, just disclosing the numbers alone is (and these are their words) "slut-shaming."  Well, it's not our fault that American business is led by prostitutes.

There Should NEVER Be Any Ayn Rand!

And, if there were more people like Dick Cavett willing to stand up to cowards like Ayn Rand, who are scared to death of being exposed for the frauds that they are, there wouldn't be any.  Thanks, Dick, and not just for this.

Do It, David!

I'm not a fan of McCarthyism, but I am a believer in balance-of-power politics, so I don't object to a little equal opportunity McCarthyism.  If David Duke wants to expose racism in the Republican Party, it's fine with me.

Yes, Bill, It IS Over To Us

But thanks for the fight, and for the memories.  Hard to believe that Lyndon Johnson had one hell of a press secretary like you.

EVERYBODY Should Be Doing This!

Recycle your electronics.  It's good for the planet, but it's also a good way of ensuring we'll have electronics in the future.

Is Evidence The Key To Promoting Social Programs?

Here's an article by a Bushie who defends Obama's evidence-based social programs.  As a liberal appalled by the Bush Administration's willingness to take us into war without any real evidence to support it, the irony of the article isn't lost on me.  But, as much for that reason as for any other, the last thing liberals should be afraid of is evidence.

Is Imitation The Sincerest Form Of Flattery When It Comes To Gun Control?

Maybe.  Gun nuts have achieved a huge level of success by promoting their nuttiness on a state-by-state level. Now, common-sense advocates of gun regulations seem ready to follow in their footsteps.  Let's hope they enjoy equal, if not greater, success.

For Leonard, My Friend, Who I Never Met

I watched my first episode of "Star Trek" sometime in the early part of 1968.  As it turns out, the episode was "The Trouble With Tribbles," one of the show's most popular episodes, and certainly one of its funniest.  I like to say that having that episode as my first full-scale exposure to the series probably meant that I was destined to be a fan, which I have been, ever since.  But the truth is that I had been intending to watch the show for a long time, and probably for the same reason everybody knew about the show in the first place.  During its first season, if you had gone outside of the show's admittedly small fan base, and talked to people at large, mentioning the title of the show would have, in almost every instance, produced a pause and then a comment along these lines:  "Oh, yeah ... that's the show with the guy with the pointed ears."

In other words, Mr. Spock.  Or the human that portrayed him, Leonard Nimoy.

But, while most people would have had a general knowledge of the character, not even everyone in the show's fan base knew how much of a struggle it was to get that character on the show in the first place.  Keep in mind that this was back in the day when television content was exclusively the product of three national broadcasting networks, and their executives worried almost obsessively about the reactions of audiences (and, therefore, the consumer-driven sponsors whose commercials paid for the programs) to what was put on the air.  And, while NBC liked "Star Trek" enough to order not one but two pilots before greenlighting its production, the network's executives absolutely, positively did not like Spock, on the grounds that his allegedly Satanic appearance would offend religious viewers.  Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, fought back, saying that a space-bound show needed at least one character whose very presence reminded viewers of where the show's characters were and what they were doing.

Roddenberry, of course, won.  And all of us are grateful that he did.  The original "Star Trek" series was never a ratings winner in its three years on the air.  But even the people who didn't watch it knew about "the guy with the pointed ears."  And, despite his presence, there was no mass revolt against NBC by religious viewers.  If anything, there was a mass revolt against the network's plan, during its second season, to cancel the show--one that managed against the odds and ratings to buy it one more year on the air.

And none of this even touches on Leonard Nimoy's own reluctance to play the character.  He saw himself at the time as a very serious actor, one whose seriousness would be jeopardized by playing someone with pointed ears.  He came very close to walking away from the show for that reason during its early production.  Years after the series went off the air, he felt (not without reason) that the show and the character had typecast him out of a career.  At one point, his resentment ran so deep that he authored an autobiography called "I Am Not Spock."

But none of this explains why the show became a cultural fixture even in its original incarnation, and led despite the failure of that incarnation to later television shows and feature films.  There are a lot of reasons that explain why "Star Trek" has earned that status.  But there's no doubt that Nimoy's own performance was essential to that success.  He found both the logic and the humanity in a half-human, half-alien character in a way that perhaps no one else could have done, and made it work to a degree that stamped him on our collective consciousness.  He found the ability to see Spock as a way to reflect humanity, rather than to repress it.  He underplayed a role that, in one sense, would have been easy to overplay, and made him more real as a result.  In the creation of the Vulcan salute, he integrated his Jewish faith into the portrayal, an illustration of how actors can use different parts of their lives to transform themselves into the characters they portray.  And, in conjunction with William Shatner and DeForest Kelley, he became part of a troika of characters that gave "Star Trek" a framework for mixing philosophical debates with action and adventure.

And, in the process, through the magic of television, he visited the homes of millions of us, and became a friend.  I'm proud to have been one of those friends, Leonard, even though we never met. You and your fellow cast members helped get this pre-"Big Bang Theory" geek, and many others, past childhood ridicule and bullying, and into a future where, like Spock, we could be ourselves.   Perhaps, when I join you in being beamed up to the flip side, I can tell you all of this in person.  In the meantime, for all of us who watched you (and, to paraphrase you from the second "Star Trek" film), you have been, and ever shall be, our friend.  Live forever and prosper.  Baruch dayan emet.

What's The Matter With Minnesota?

Apparently, nothing at all.

While governors in so-called red states have labored to make the impossible Reagan dream of balancing their budgets by lowering taxes a reality, Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota went in a totally different direction.  He raised taxes.  He raised the minimum wage.  He promoted pay equity and online voter registration.  He did all of this despite being himself a 1-percenter working for his first two years with a Republican legislature.  From the GOP standpoint, it was a recipe for disaster.  By now, Dayton should be the Minnesotan equivalent of Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis all rolled into one.  Minnesota should be on life support, correct?


According to this article, everything is coming up roses in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Here are the two paragraphs that break the good news down into numbers:
Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota's economy -- that's 165,800 more jobs in Dayton's first term than Pawlenty added in both of his terms combined. Even though Minnesota's top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent. According to 2012-2013 U.S. census figures, Minnesotans had a median income that was $10,000 larger than the U.S. average, and their median income is still $8,000 more than the U.S. average today.
By late 2013, Minnesota's private sector job growth exceeded pre-recession levels, and the state's economy was the 5th fastest-growing in the United States. Forbes even ranked Minnesota the 9th-best state for business (Scott Walker's "Open For Business" Wisconsin came in at a distant #32 on the same list). Despite the fearmongering over businesses fleeing from Dayton's tax cuts, 6,230 more Minnesotans filed in the top income tax bracket in 2013, just one year after Dayton's tax increases went through. As of January 2015, Minnesota has a $1 billion budget surplus, and Gov. Dayton has pledged to reinvest more than one third of that money into public schools. And according to Gallup, Minnesota's economic confidence is higher than any other state.
I should mention that "Pawlenty" refers to Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor who prided himself on fiscal conservatism and left Minnesota with an economic nightmare.  In contrast, the across-the-board success of Dayton's approach is absolutely staggering.  Touch it where you will, and you will find that it has produced success.  The two numbers that jump out at me the most are the ones on job creation and filers in the top income tax bracket.

We are constantly being told by the trickle-down folks that jobs are created from the top of the economic pyramid, not the bottom.  This is patent nonsense, and should have been refuted decades ago.  No one is going to create a job unless they think there's enough consumer demand to pay for it.  In fact, at the top of the pyramid, no one is going to create wealth at all if they don't absolutely have to.  They will keep it, and spend it, on themselves, especially if government is craven enough to cut taxes for them.  As I have said many times, and will go on saying so long as I have the strength to do it, progressive taxation is the only fair form of taxation there is.  It requires those who have benefited the most from society to pay the most for maintaining it.  It forces them to put their capital to work, in order to make money for themselves as well as for others.  And it prevents them from using it to buy the government and supplant the public interest altogether with their interest.

Let's reduce this to simplest possible terms.  Progressive policies work--especially tax policies.  Minnesota certainly isn't suffering.  It has more workers and more 1-percenters.  It couldn't be more win-win if it tried.  So why is the economic thinking of this country still stuck in the '80s?  It's time to let that thinking go the way of mullets.  In fact, its long past time.

All we can do now, though, is wait, pray, and work for the next election--which, hopefully, will lead to fewer Kansases and more Minnesotas.

It Would Cost A LOT More Than $50.3 Billion

The Center for American Progress has gone to the trouble of costing out what the U.S. government would have to spend in order to appease the Tea Partiers and remove the nearly 5 million undocumented human beings who would benefit from President Obama's executive orders on immigration.  If you have not already clicked on the link above, $50.3 billion is the ballpark figure that the Center has calculated.  In the context of a total budget that approaches 4 trillion dollars, $50.3 billion probably wouldn't seem like all that much, even to the Tea Partiers.  If they haven't already done so, they've probably figured out that a few less subsidies for Obamacare would easily pay for the deportations, and then they'd be halfway to their goal of an illegal-free America.

But we're talking about Tea Partiers.  Like their compatriots in the larger conservative movement, they excel (if at all) at finding short-term rewards while ignoring the long-term price tag for those rewards.  And, as it turns out, the long-term price tag is a considerable one.

To begin to get some idea of how big a price tag that might be, I invite you to take a look at this study, which examines and estimates the potential impact of the President's orders on California and, specifically, the Los Angeles area.  The key finding, as it relates to the estimated cost of deportation in the CAP estimate, is this:  $76.6 billion dollars of gross domestic product in the state, including $24.6 billion in the Los Angeles area, is a direct result of the presence of individuals who could apply for relief under the President's orders.  Those individuals number about 1.6 million in California alone.  Taking the results of the study, and multiplying its results by a factor of 3, to match the estimated number of potential beneficiaries in the entire county, those beneficiaries contribute nearly $230 billion toward the GDP of the nation as a whole--more than four times the cost of deporting them.

We are constantly being told, by people who bring nothing to the debate but bigotry, that immigrants are a drain on our economic resources.  This study is merely one among many that consistently demonstrate that the opposite is true.  Immigrants today, both documented and undocumented, are the backbone of our national and international prosperity.  We would be cutting off our economic nose to spite our multiethnic face if we seriously attempted anything like the mass deportation contemplated by CAP.

And, in any case, we would be hypocrites.  We have profited off the labor and economic output of these people for decades, often not caring a thing about their "status" so long as they were helping us to build the consumer economy we crave.  We looked the other way while they lived in the shadows, always faced with the prospect of arrest and deportation, not wishing to return anything in exchange for all that they have given us, and secretly fearing that they would somehow make our nation less "American" by making it less white, less Christian, less European.  We failed to remember that all of us have ancestors who have walked in the steps of these same people, building our cities, our farms, our roads, our schools, our armed forces, and everything else that makes America worth celebrating and protecting.  Yes, many of those people were documented, but many were not--and all of us have, directly and indirectly, enjoyed the fruits of their labors.
(And, unless you've done your homework, never be too smug about your own family tree.)

Yes, it would cost a lot more than $50.3 billion to "get rid of those illegals."  It would cost us a financial fortune.  And it would cost us our national soul.  In neither case is it worth it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Nation Of Promoters Runs Out Of Things To Promote

This item from today's New York Times struck me as having implications that go far beyond the issue of who deserves credit for Monopoly, the Parker Brothers board game that allows each of us to embrace their inner 1% for the duration of the game (which, as anyone who has played it knows can go on forever).  Briefly, the article describes how the game was created not by Charles Darrow during the Depression, as is popularly believed, but by a woman named Elizabeth Magie Phillips many years earlier.  In her version of the game, there were two ways of playing:  an "anti-monopolistic" version, which taught the rewards of shared wealth, and a "monopolistic" version, which rewarded players who focused on their self-interest.  Darrow created his own take on the "monopolistic" version, and sold it to Parker Brothers, which also purchased the rights to Phillips' game as well to protect themselves from lawsuits.  In the end, however, her version of the game faded into obscurity, and Darrow's version went on to become a fixture in American households up to the present.

The relationship between Phillips and Darrow in the birthing of Monopoly is an example of a dynamic that reoccurs throughout American history--one person creates something new and valuable, and another person finds a way to sell it to the public.  This dynamic is what interested Stephen Sondheim so much in Addison and Wilson Mizner, the brothers whose role in the Florida land boom of the 1920s led Sondheim to work for decades on a musical version of their lives, one which finally made it to the stage first under the title "Bounce" and later as "Road Show."  Sondheim, as an artist himself, had more respect for Addison than Wilson, and the show (which I saw in its incarnation as "Bounce") very much reflects that respect.  One doesn't have to go back that far in our history, however, to find that dynamic:  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates embody it just as well.

The problem with this dynamic, however, is that it is typically the person who promotes, not the person who creates, who by virtue of their focus on money to the exclusion of everything else reaps the material rewards of the creation.  This was certainly the case in the creation of Monopoly; Darrow got a royalty agreement with Parker Brothers that made him a millionaire, while Phillips made next to nothing (and even less than that, if legal fees are counted). It's also significant that, although Phillips two-faced version of the game, with its emphasis on the pros and cons of pursuing wealth, had been around for decades before Darrow came along, it was Darrow's focus on the monopolistic side of the game that allowed him to sell it to Parker Brothers and made it a hit with the public.

The fact is that we are a nation of suckers, willing to be sold anything as long as we can be convinced it benefits each of us, and no one else.  We don't want to worship the people with talent, because talent is a kind of aristocracy.  You can't buy or make talent.  You can't even steal it.  But you can come close to it when you steal someone's idea, which surely is the case in Darrow and Parker Brothers' conduct toward Phillips.  They knew how to take what she had created and make it popular and profitable, even though Phillips had given birth to the idea as a kind of morality play.  Darrow and Parker Brothers, sadly, had a better understanding of Americans; they pay lip service to values, but prefer the kind that fold up in wallets and purses.

That is why the people we worship the most are not talented people, but salespeople.  To be sure, we pay lip service to talent, but the ones we really like are the ones that we think will help us make money.  This goes a long way toward explaining why the legend of Charles Darrow lives on, while Elizabeth Magie Phillips has faded into near obscurity.  As the Times article states:
Roughly 40 years have passed since the truth about Monopoly began to appear publicly, yet the Darrow myth persists as an inspirational parable of American innovation. It’s hard not to wonder how many other buried histories are still out there — stories belonging to lost Lizzie Magies who quietly chip away at creating pieces of the world, their contributions so seamless that few of us ever stop to think about the person or people behind the idea.
I find myself wondering whether this has something to do with the decline in creativity within our own country.  Why invent something, if someone else will reap all the rewards of its creation?  And especially why create now, at a time when the resources of our country are controlled by only a handful of people, who are in a position to demand all the rewards--in return for nothing.

As I said a moment ago, we are a nation of suckers, and the salespeople who service them.  Unless we can find ways to truly reward the innovators, unless we give the Elizabeth Magie Phillipses of the world a chance to shine, unless we can come to terms with the idea that talent is the only justifiable way in a democracy to have any aristocracy at all, we may not be much of a nation for very long.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Yet Another Theater Than Needs To Be Saved

Presenting the Loew's Canal Theater.  If only it can enjoy the happy fate of the Loew's Kings in Brooklyn.

Is There Really A Blue Wall Protecting Us?

One GOP analyst seems to think so.  Let's hope he's right.

Why The Rich Do Not Deserve Our Blind Trust

Because, among other reasons, they don't understand that liberal policies are as good for them as they are for the rest of us.  Take the case of the Florida businessman who was going to fire people if Barack Obama reached the White House.  Well, Obama did get there, of course, and look at what the businessman actually did.

O Canada, For What Do You Stand Guard?

Not for the environment anymore.  For shame.

Ask Folks In Anchorage What They Think About Global Warming

At the very least, they'll tell you that last year, the temperature was never below zero.

A New Book Challenges Our Understanding Of The Second Amendment

Take a look.

Is The GOP The Enemy Within?

Not that long ago, I advanced the idea that John Boehner and his Republican colleagues in Congress could be considered guilty of treason for inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu to speak to a joint session of the House and Senate--without consulting the President before they did so. I did so reluctantly, in part because there is no more serious charge that could be leveled at any American, whether in public office or not.  But I suspect that my reluctance stems from a simple, all-too-convenient desire to not have to believe it.  If one branch of government is actually working in such a way as to undermine the functioning of one of the other branches, in particular the one directly responsible for our national security, then none of us are truly safe.

But, along with the rest of us, I may have to overcome what little reluctance I have left to face the truth.  It's not as if I'm alone in reaching the conclusion the the formerly Grand Old Party has at last devolved into the enemy within; as this illustrates, others have already arrived at that conclusion.  But two recent incidents have pushed me further toward agreeing with them.

The first was Senator John McCain's dismissal of protesters objecting to the appearance of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  The protesters demanded that Kissinger be arrested for war crimes and, while they waived handcuffs, made no attempt to harm Kissinger in any way.  McCain wasn't impressed; he had the Capitol Police escort them from the room, and verbally denounced them as "low-life scum."  Later, he justified his characterization of the protesters on the grounds that they had physically threatened Kissinger.

There's so much absurdity going on in all of this that I scarcely know where to begin.  The protesters weren't armed.  They never touched Kissinger.  The handcuffs were offered symbolically, rather than with the intention of putting them on Kissinger.  And the protesters conducted their protest knowing that they were at the mercy of the formidable security that Congress enjoys.  If McCain really thinks that these people were so dangerous, or so lacking in integrity that they deserve to be denounced as "low-life scum," then he's clearly forgotten who he's supposed to be working for.  And I won't even get into the irony of the fact that, had it not been for Kissinger's efforts to expand the Vietnam War into the rest of Indochina, McCain might never have been a POW in the first place.  As for McCain's judgment about who should be a heartbeat away from the presidency, or his membership in the "Keating Five," the less said the better.

McCain's arrogance, in its own obnoxious way, betrays an attitude about public service that pops up elsewhere among Republicans.  We don't serve the public, they serve us.  Given the post-Citizens United purchase of the party by billionaires, that shouldn't be surprising.  But it does support the treason accusation, in its own way.  If you have no ability to tolerate differences on issues, you have no real respect for democracy, and no interest in seeing it function.

But McCain's lack of tolerance toward the Kissinger protesters, in illustrating how far down this road the GOP has gone, is as nothing compared to Boehner's defense of the House-approved bill to extend funding for the Department of Homeland Security while undermining President Obama's executive orders on behalf of undocumented immigrants.  Speaking at a news conference, Boehner challenged Senate Democrats to "get off their ass" and stop insisting on a clean bill (i.e., one not tainted by legislative blackmail).  Some of his colleagues went further, either challenging the patriotism of Democrats who objected to the House bill, or otherwise saying that they wouldn't entertain any debate on it.  (You can read all about it here.)

The problem, of course, is that legislatures are designed for debates.  This is all the more so the case when a legislature consists of two houses, both of which have to approve a bill before the President can sign it.  Neither the House nor the Senate has any kind of a mandate, constitutionally or electorally, to get 100% of what it wants.  And the real flaw in the House defense of its bill, the one that Senate Democrats have already exposed, is patently obvious.  Why not have both chambers vote on a clean funding bill AND separately vote on the President's executive orders?  Why not have more debate, rather than less?

The answer to this is equally obvious.  Republicans know that, 2014 elections notwithstanding, they don't have the people behind their backs.  They know their proposals can't survive direct up-or-down votes.  So they rely on hitching them to must-pass spending bills, in the hope that they can muscle then into reality.  It's bullying.  It's cowardly.  And, when it threatens the continuous funding of our national security, it couldn't be more treasonous if it tried.  Worst of all, it's not even the treason of the majority; it's the treason of a tiny minority that cloaks itself in the imagery of our Revolution but functions more like George III.  How bad is it when even the Wall Street Journal can't stand it? Pretty damn bad.

As for the rest of us, we no longer have any choice but to regard the GOP as the enemy within.  As such, they must be opposed.  By any means necessary.  I don't use those last words lightly, and I pray that the worst will not happen.  But we may already be beyond the point at which even prayer can stop the American dream from becoming the American nightmare.

Brian Williams Isn't Enough

You can color me completely unsurprised by the downfall of Brian Williams, now NBC's erstwhile evening-news anchor, as a consequence of his complete "inability to remember" whether or not he was blown out of the sky during the Iraq war.  You can also put me down as saying, as I now do, that Williams will never work in journalism again; the six-months-without-pay "suspension" NBC has given him is, in all probability, a grace period that will allow him to transition to some other line of work.  I have no idea what that "other" line of work will be for him.  Maybe he can go work for Fox, where credibility is more of a liability than an asset.  Or perhaps, as has been suggested, maybe he should take over Jon Stewart's job at Comedy Central, now that Stewart has (tragically) decided to leave it.  Williams was rumored to covet the "Tonight Show" hosting job; perhaps replacing Stewart would be the next best thing.  But more on Stewart later.

I have never liked Williams.  In part, it's precisely because of the fact that he sought out celebrity status in a way that can't help but to undermine his pretensions to be a journalist.  But it's also because that showboating managed to work its way into his actual journalism.  I'll never forget the time Williams conducted an interview with Mel Brooks, not long after Brooks' wife of decades, actress Anne Bancroft, passed away.  Williams tried to bring up the subject of Bancroft's death in an awkwardly direct, almost confrontational way, and Brooks responded by shutting the subject down.  "No," he said, visibly upset, "we're not going there."  To which Williams responded, "Why not?"

Why the hell not do you think, Brian?  The man just lost his wife!  It's not as if that's the only topic you could bring up, or that it would even be necessary to bring up the subject of Bancroft if she were still alive.  What Williams was angling for was transparently obvious.  He wanted to amp up the emotional impact of the interview, complete with footage of Brooks grieving.  And Brooks wouldn't give it to him, for which I give him major props.  And Williams' question only underscored how pissed he was at not getting his "moment."

That's why I'm not surprised that his Iraq dissembling was outed, or that, as it turns out, Mr. "NBC Nice Guy" turned out to have very few friends at the network.  When your career is based on showboating, and not on actually doing the job you're being paid millions of dollars to do, it's only a matter of time before you're hung on the scaffold you've built for yourself.  But that's not to say that Williams is completely without defenders, if not friends.  One person who falls into both categories, as it turns out, is Stewart.  Along with Cenk Uygur in The Huffington Post, Stewart put Williams' fibbing into context, namely, the complete failure of legacy media to accurately report ANYTHING about the Iraq war, beginning with the run-up to the actual war itself.  Not exactly a defense, of course, but a point worth making.

Brian Williams is not an isolated case.  Rather, he is the product of a decades-long effort to reduce American journalism to the level of tabloid journalism--an effort, I am sorry to say, that has been almost completely successful.  Profits before public service, personalities ahead of the public's need to know, scandals instead of serious investigations, stories long on short-term heat and short on long-term implications--keep all of that going long enough, and you'll chase away every reporter with any serious interest in damn-the-consequences digging for the truth.  Watergate would have flown completely under the radar of today's "media coverage."  Which is why we now have scandals worse than Watergate, and politicians worse than Richard Nixon.

Yes, Williams has to go.  But so does the corporate control of the Fourth Estate.  NBC is a particularly bad example; it's owned by General Electric, Ronald Reagan's former employer, which transformed itself during the Reagan years from a please purveyor of consumer electronics (remember how they would "bring good things to life"?) into one of the biggest, if not the biggest defense contractors in the country.  Do you doubt for a minute that they had, shall we say, a pecuniary interest in having their network promote the march to disaster that became the Iraq war?

What needs to be done?  Stop watching.  I'm serious.  If that means getting all of your news from the Web, so be it.  I haven't watched legacy media (except for election nights) in years.  And it hasn't hurt my ability to keep up with things.  Stop giving them viewers, and there's just maybe a chance that the powers that be will give up using the press to spoon-feed us misinformation.  Maybe then, we'll once again have real journalists reporting real news, without fear or favor.  Maybe then, the Brian Williamses of the world will be a thing of the past.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Case Of Right-Wing Economics Becoming Left-Wing, And Abandoned By Conservatives

Milton Friedman's negative income tax was tried in Canada, and worked.  And was later abandoned by a conservative government.  Maybe it worked too well for the taste of Canadian conservatives.

Maybe that proves conservatism isn't really about making the lives of people better, but about power.

From Small Towns To Malls To ... Small Towns?

I wrote just a little while ago about the de-aggregation of cultural life in the Internet age, in my post regarding the death of Joe Franklin.  As this post about the death of White Flint Mall and the planning for its replacement shows, the Internet age may have some positive effects in de-aggregating our commercial life.  It may help us to transit from an era of the same 20-30 stores at mammoth Everywhere Malls back to an era of small-town commerce, with the Web serving as a way to link small business nationally and internationally even as they serve customers locally.

Your thoughts?

Are We On The Road To Chile?

Or rather, to the violent overthrow of democracy there in 1973?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But, as this article outlines, there are some very disturbing parallels between Chile in 1973 and the U.S. today. We ignore those parallels at our peril.

For progressives, the answer is not compromise, but conviction--and the courage to act on it. Hopefully, we will always be able to do so.  It would help if we remember one thing:  ultimately, all of our struggles are the same struggle.  There are signs now that we are beginning to relearn this. Hopefully, that will grow and not fade at the first whiff of smoke.

Proof Than You Shouldn't Trust The Corporate Media

And it comes from an expert in corporate media whoredom:  Chuck Todd.

Is The Laffer "Free Lunch" History?

Or, to put it another way, are even Republicans now willing to admit that tax cuts DON'T pay for themselves?

Maybe.  This offers some hope.  We'll see.

And, just in case they get weak-kneed, give them a small does of Paul Krugman.

Think You CAN'T Do Anything About Corporate Power?

Think again.  Take a look at this, and see what a small town in California was able to do against the third-largest corporation in America.

The age of capitalism truly is over.  If we want it to be.

Joe Franklin And The Closing Gateways To Talent

In the relatively young industry of television, there are many pioneers.  But Joe Franklin, who passed away just over a week ago, still stands out among them.  For an industry that thrives on a steady supply of new talent, Franklin provided a gateway for much of that talent, through his pioneering TV talk show and the dozens, if not hundreds, of imitators that followed him.

What was unique about Franklin, however, and what separated him from his many imitators, is the fact that he would give almost anyone a chance to make his or her claim to 15 minutes of fame. And he did this on television for over 40 years, and continued to do this on radio after his TV show ended. Perhaps what he did was best put into perspective by Al Pacino, who once asked Franklin, "Joe, why don't you interview me now that I'm somebody?  You interviewed me when I was nobody."  That quote can be found in the linked article, which also mentions some of the other "nobodies" that Franklin took a chance on, such as Bruce Springsteen, Woody Allen and Dustin Hoffman.

Of course, part of the value of Franklin's show is the now-greatly diminished power of broadcasting in the age of the Internet.  Perhaps it's not a coincidence that Franklin's television show, as also noted in the article, went off the air in 1994.  That was about the time that the World Wide Web, with not a little help from Al Gore, began its march to world-wide media supremacy.  And it is in part because of that supremacy that a show like Franklin's, with its talent range and audience reach, is probably no longer possible.

The Web is a world in which anyone and everyone can not only create content, but distribute it as well.  It is therefore one in which there are as many consumers as their are producers.   And, in such a world, it becomes harder and harder to find an audience, because there is no longer any such thing as a mass audience--or even, for that matter, sizable audiences that get their fill of various forms of content from a handful of sources.  The closest things we now have to shows like Franklin's are search engines and so-called "aggregator" Web sites, such as Broadway Stars for theater folks like myself.  In this regard, it's worth noting that much of legacy print and broadcast media still plays a role in organizing Web content through their own Internet sites.

But a quick click on a Web link is not the same thing as sitting down for 30 minutes or more with Franklin and his unpredictable series of guests, and actually seeing and hearing them talk and perform.  Broadcast television, for all of its faults, was a medium that demanded more patience, and a greater investment of time and attention, than the Internet, with its wow-me-in-five-seconds-or-I'm off-to-the-next-link structure and pace.

For that reason, I suspect that there are a large number of talented artists--actors, filmmakers, singers, songwriters, sketch artists, and so on--as well as other potential figures of public interest who may never get that 15 minutes or more that they deserve.  In many cases, even if they do get it, the road to success in an age of fractured audiences and shortened attention spans may be far longer than it was in Franklin's heyday.  It took the late Robin Williams only an episode or two of "Mork & Mindy" to become a superstar; it may take us a lot longer to find the next Robin Williams. Or for that matter, to find a way in this day and age to promote talent effectively, both for the talent and their potential audiences.

In the meantime, rest in peace, Joe, and thanks for being a gateway to talent.  One hopes, hopefully not in vain, that someone else will find a way to be a 21st-century version of you.

A Modest Proposal For Immigration Reform

No, this is not a tribute to Jonathan Swift; I'm not proposing that we serve immigrant children up to the 1 percent.  Rather, it's a tribute to the alleged difficulties Congressional Republicans and their friends in the press have with reading allegedly lengthy bills.

Some of you may recall that, back in 2013, when the U.S. Senate was still occasionally working for the people of the United States, it passed S. 744, the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," a genuine bipartisan attempt to provide comprehensive immigration reform.  No sooner was it passed by a majority of more than two-thirds of the Senate that a great hue and cry emerged among the chattering classes of the vast, right-wing conspiracy regarding, of all thing, the length of the bill.

True, the bill clocks in at 1198 pages.  But that's because it's comprehensive, everybody.  It was intended to resolve the fate of 11 million stateless people, and to otherwise provide for a right regarded in this country as fundamental--the right to travel.  It was intended to unleash the economic power of millions of travelers from around the world, seeking to fit into the complex economy of a nation of more than 300 million people.  It was designed to affirm the better parts of our history and heritage as a nation of immigrants.  That's hard to do in the Post-It note fashion by which we now communicate with each other.  And while the PATRIOT Act, which most Republicans surely regard as a great accomplishment, only clocks in at 131 pages, that merely proves that it's much easier to destroy than it is to create.

Anyway, the objections concerning the length (and other details) of the bill were heard by House Republicans, who saw the bill as a threat to their right to hold office and do nothing.  So they did nothing with it.  And, today, the aforementioned 11 million souls are still waiting.

Now, as someone who was expected by one of his college professors to read "David Copperfield" in a single afternoon, I'm not particularly impressed with the whining of Congresspeople who, after all, have staffs (paid by the taxpayers) to help them read, digest, and advise regarding the pros and cons of all legislation, lengthy and otherwise.  Too, our elected representatives spend quite a bit of time in three-hour lunches with their contributors; maybe it would help if they shaved them down to two-hour lunches.

Never let it be said, however, that I have ignored the groaning of Congresspeople, burdened as they are to actually do the job they were elected to do.  Herewith is my proposed text for an immigration reform bill that, although not comprehensive, gets at the heart of our failure to move forward on a national priority of paramount importance.  It fits neatly onto one page, so that not even the dullest Congressperson can complain about the length:
Sections 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) and (II) of the Immigration and Nationality Act are hereby repealed.
That's it.  Those sections refer to the three and ten-year bars from reentry to the United States by foreign nationals who have been present in the United States for more than 180 days (or, for the ten-year bar to apply, one year) without being documented. All I'm asking Congress to do is to make the U.S. Code just a little bit tinier by taking those two subsections out of it.  Because those two subsections, more than any other reason, are the reason 11 million stateless folks are with us today. If they could "self-deport" without losing all prospects of ever returning to the U.S., where many of them have U.S.-citizen families, and many others have a wide range of U.S. connections--friends, jobs, other business and cultural interests--I can almost guarantee you that the "problem of all those illegals" would solve itself overnight.

The undocumented would be free to put themselves out of harm's way from the U.S. government, and to then justify their ability to return to the U.S. on a lawful basis, which most of them had done in the first instance.  They could then be re-evaluated by said government on a case-by-case basis, to weed out the criminals from the family members, the employees, the artists, the (dare I say it) job-creators we so desperately need.  They would stop being seen as just a "blob" of "illegals," and could actually start being treated like what they are--human beings.

And it would be win-win on the political side as well.  Republicans would get the self-deportations they crave; Democrats would get the human-rights relief they crave, and everyone could then focus on solving other problematic aspects of immigration, such as border security, visa availability and processing times for immigration petitions.  Dare we dream?  We might even actually have comprehensive reform at some point.  And yes, in the interests of full disclosure, I'll note the economic stimulus this would provide for my colleagues, and those of my wife's, in the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

There would be no losers, only winners.  And it takes less time to read my proposed bill than it takes to read the PATRIOT Act (or this blog post, for that matter).  Get with it, Congress.