Tag Archives: politics

Why I think it’s a crummy idea to stop funding public radio

Like U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), I have deep misgivings about our federal spending. Unlike him, however, I think it’s a weak idea to right our ship by cutting funding from National Public Radio.

I happen to think NPR is one of our country’s most trustworthy and consistent sources of information. You can disagree. Certainly, its firing of Juan Williams for remarks about Muslims raised concerns about how politically correct (read: “ultra-liberal“) the organization really is.

And I understand: A news source that spends a percentage of its coverage on the arts can’t help being perceived as “a little too intellectual” (read: “elitist liberal snobs“). If you don’t like the arts, or people talking about the arts, or people talking about the arts on government-supported radio, then NPR is probably going to chafe your hide sometimes.

Let’s put those disagreements aside and just boil the matter down to what commercial versus non-commercial news coverage really means:

There’s a palpable difference, yes?

It’s not like NPR is any stranger to commercial slumming. In addition to program sponsorships, corporate partnerships and pledge drives, you can even see that Android found a way onto the NPR home page. But what’s important to note here is one news provider is giving us what we want, while another is giving us what we need. That’s the legacy of non-profit news versus news for business.

Is NPR an imperfect news source? Sure. Pure objectivity in news is an unattainable perfection, no matter the organization. And I’m sure it has at least one interview in its archives where yet another celebrity dishes about something vapid.

But while not perfect, NPR is pretty damn good. It’s thorough, reasoned, thoughtful — and in an increasing rarity, calm. It reaches everyone, with news from local to national to international, entirely for free if you choose to partake of it that way. No cable package or newspaper subscription necessary — just a pocket radio. Forcing NPR to stretch out its hat even further reduces our chances of maintianing a truly “fair and balanced” news source.

And if you still don’t buy that, consider this: Fighting over public radio funding will be a contentious slog that would result in almost no perceivable improvement in our budget crisis. Even Colin Powell agrees: Want to fix the problem in a hurry? Trim the fat in the Big Cost Centers, like entitlements and defense. There’s more than enough debate in those two nouns to fill a session or three of Congress.

Anything else is a mere drop in the bucket — and could result in more front-page coverage of reality TV judges … interviewing inconsequential personalities … about fading talk show hosts. If only that Piers Morgan/Howard Stern headline had contained an off-hand Sarah Palin reference, it would have completed its death spiral to triviality. And in times when most Americans are choosing  CNN and Fox News as their most trusted news sources, I’d rather not give up the fight for careful thought.

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The art of the con: How fearmongering money-grubbers honed in on my dad with dementia

My father has some mild dementia. He’s still himself in all the important ways, but he exhibits strange habits and deficiencies, and most notable among them: He is utterly powerless to resist the siren call of the political action groups who send him letters with brilliantly worded requests for money.

These smooth talkers are absolute masters of whipping up urgency around their issues and hastening action (meaning: money) from their audience. It’s a clinic in persuasive writing. In my days as a catalog copywriter, I could have used a dose of this kind of motivational magic — too bad I wasn’t capable of such crass or exploitative behavior.

Their plights are desperate; they are going to be honest with me, things are looking grim at the moment; they are reluctant to ask more from Americans at this time, but the threats to liberty are just too dire; they must hear from me as soon as possible because THE FATE OF OUR COUNTRY HANGS IN THE BALANCE.

And oh, that fearsome pixie dust has worked wonders on my father, who has given money to just about all of them before his children stepped in to protect his dwindling bank account. Of course, it’s a little too late: once you get hooked by just one money-hungry organization, your name gets around to all the others. It’s like the Politcal Action Committee version of having your name Sharpied on a bathroom wall. For a good time, mail your solicitation to …

Mailman's bane.

That pile in the upper left is all "guaranteed winner" sweepstakes notifications. Just send $10 to collect your prize -- which could be up to $2 million! Wowzers!

Here’s the full contents of my father’s mailbox in August, carted from his apartment in heavy-duty bags and piled high on my dining room table: more than 250 pleas from solicitors, panhandling of the basest, most typographically invasive kind.

The causes are universally conservative — if it mentions Hillary, the death tax, or the United Nations, my father most assuredly sent $10, $15, $25. Never mind that Hillary is not the president, or that his particular assets will never be subject to a death tax, or that the UN has yet to gain access to my larder and steal my baby formula.

I’m sure there are liberal fearmongers, too, but they’re not lurking in my father’s mailbox. The only species I’ve observed in the wild is the Shamelus republicanus, and as I say, they are supremely skilled at juking old folks out of their cash.

That’s right, Mr. Scott! At a time when we are drowning in a sea of debt, threatened by Swine Flu and other new infectious diseases from Mexico, and overwhelmed by an invading army of illegal aliens … the Obama Administration is quietly advancing the construction of a massive “Superhighway” that will all but obliterate our borders with Canada and Mexico.

— Americans Against U.N. Control

These God-hating liberals want to take the cross off public land? Why don’t THEY get “crossed off”?! Let’s “cross off” the God-hating liberal groups who want to attack decent people like you and me at every turn.

–In God We Trust (The Rt. Rev. Council Nedd II, honorary national chariman)

Dear Fellow Christian,

I firmly believe that Hillary Clinton hates you.

— Christian Voice, a program of American Service Council

Not long before a census worker was hanged in Kentucky with the word “Fed” scrawled across his chest, my father received this thoughtful lecture in the mail from a group called the Southeastern Legal Foundation:

Because when the full extent of Obama’s power grab over the 2010 Census becomes known to the public, I believe the American people will be up in arms.

As you know, the 2010 Census is a source of unrivaled power … it will decide the fate of thousands of political offices and TRILLIONS of dollars in government money … and Obama is making an outrageous bid to manipulate it to guarantee a permanent liberal takeover of America.

It doesn’t take much imagination to picture an excitable Kentuckian getting this same piece of mail, and deciding to keep that “source of unrivaled power” out of the hands of … well, with such unsubtle lynching symbolism, it’s hard not to guess who. That murderer’s message was directed a little higher up the federal chain than Census Bureau worker Bill Sparkman, don’t you think? Not that race has anything to do with it, of course.

My father made me his power of attorney a few years ago, so with some firm encouragement from my siblings and me (as well as flat-out taking away his checkbook and canceling his high-limit credit card) we’re making strides in stemming the outflow of dollars. When he reported that he couldn’t “mentally face the task” of dealing with his mounds of mail, I began hauling it away and trying to find a way to respond.

At first I took to venting my frustration by using snark. When the “Friends of President Bush and the Agenda for America” sent him two one-dollar bills with a desperate plea for him to send it back (plus a little extra, of course), I pocketed the greenbacks and used the postage-paid envelope to reply:

Thanks for the 2 bucks. Keep ’em coming!

When Sen. Mark Wallop (R-SD), sent my father an “emergency NO OBAMACARE petition” (i.e., request for money), I replied:

I have bunions. What will your plan do for my bunions?

But these were empty gestures. I can’t really hope to out-frustrate these jackals with barbs and sarcasm. So I’ve adopted a new tactic. I’m opening every letter. If there is a reply envelope (usually there is), I include a piece of the solicitor’s own mail bearing my father’s address, circle it, and staple this note just above:

“My father has dementia, and would gladly give away the last of his savings to anyone who asked. PLEASE remove him from your mailing list at once and leave him in peace. Since most solicitors send repeated mailings, I’ve noted your address and will be watching.”

Which is true, too. Before I mail back the letter, I note the return address (and any P.O. Box, just to be thorough) so if future mail comes in from those addresses, I can send back slightly more strongly worded demands of decency. So far, I’ve got a list of 108 names and address of offending organizations, from the vague (“Americans for Prosperity”) to the thoroughly bonkers (“White House Watch” — who sent a “Petition for Impeachment” because of, you know, birth certificates and Fascism and Obama “representing the interests of our enemies”).

If it works to reduce my father’s mail, it won’t be much of a victory, really. It’s just a quiet retreat, not a retort of blistering rhetoric that these jackals deserve. But when the enemy is this…

There all ways shure to keep it faire and ballanced!!1!

… it’s hard to put much faith in a battle of logic … or a war of wits.


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The best Obama poster spoofs

How great is Shepard Fairey’s famous red-and-blue Obama poster? So lasting an image it is, that the only natural response from the world at large is to spoof it mercilessly. The original image really has now left Fairey’s hands and has been wrapped in the warm swaddling cloth of Common Culture. History owns it now.

Here are the best variations on the theme I’ve seen to date:

Tim Doyle:

by artist Tim Doyle

The Audacity of Joke, by James Lillis:

The Audacity of Joke, by James Lillis

University of Illinois grad student Mike Rosalek:

By Mike Rosulek

21st Century Filth:

by 21st Century Filth

Joe D.:

by Joe D.; technically, this makes Obama Mr. Fantastic

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Frontline explains the 2008 financial meltdown

“They had to throw their principles out the window and save the economy.”

God bless Frontline. This PBS show consistently tackles the most pressing issues of the day, the critical stories we should know more about, the complex ones we feel guilty avoiding. And did we ever get an essential delivery from them last night.

If you are confused about what happened to the financial markets last year, or angry about the government’s response, last night’s rebroadcast of the Feb. 19, 2009, episode (“Inside the Meltdown”) is 50 minutes of essential viewing for the conscientious citizen. (View the episode online here).

Frontline, Feb. 19, 2009

Backed by the confident narration of Will Lyman (he could call a round of bingo and make it sound imperative), Frontline cuts snicker-snack through the confusing events and decision tree of our near-miss financial collapse. Frontline’s producers excel at interviewing smart, articulate people and tying together their statements into a narrative that is easy to follow, from the first signs of trouble, to the decision to bail out Bear Stearns, to the decision not to bail out Lehmann Brothers, to at last, the rickety mine cart of the economy racing out of control through the markets, over the public, and across the desks of Congress.

The Sept. 18 powwow where Bernanke dropped the "global financial epic fail" bomb on Congressional leaders.

The Sept. 18 powwow where Bernanke and Paulson dropped the "global financial epic fail" bomb on Congressional leaders.

What’s clear now is how close the global financial markets came to utter ruin. After Lehmann’s failure had begun to drag down markets at top speed, top Congressional leaders met in Nancy Pelosi’s office on Thursday, Sept. 18. According to Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, they were told by Hank Paulson (Treasury secretary) and Ben Bernanke (Federal Reserve chair) that, “unless you act, the financial system of this country and the world will melt down in a matter of days.”

Global meltdown.

The fix, said Bernanke, was for the government to make a massive investment in our banks. “If we don’t do this tomorrow, we may not have an economy on Monday,” he said reportedly.

No economy on Monday.

“There was literally a pause in that room when the oxygen left,” said Dodd. Well, no wonder.

Frontline doesn’t begin to approach the issue of blame: Is it the financial institutions who were engaged in risky — but perfectly legal — investments and swap schemes? Is it the homeowners who borrowed as much as their lenders said they could? Is it the unregulated free market which has created so much much wealth for this counry and others?

But what Frontline does do well is chronicle the decisions that Paulson and Bernanke faced and how they fit into the context of the moment: Why save Bear Stearns but not Lehmann? Why save AIG and the banks? It’s clear the two felt they had run out of options for curing the “contagion” the markets had developed, and that most of Congress agreed. Though both men rose to power as staunchly conservative proponents of the free markets, as one commentator said, “they had to throw away their principles to save the economy.”

I admire them for facing the hard choices and making the calculated risks. Economist Paul Krugman hypothesized what Paulson must have been thinking after he refused to throw Lehmann a life preserver: “You may have just made the decision that destroyed the world.” Can you imagine going to bed with that on your mind?

Frontline’s coverage of the story is even more impressive when you visit its site at pbs.org. In addition to the online playback of the entire episode, they complement their content with an interactive timeline as well as supplementary material from many sources, paired up with specific moments of the video playback. It’s a thorough and astounding interface, and it ensures you can dive deeper where you wish, or look over their shoulders as a fact checker.

As I watch my beloved newspapers struggle to stay afloat, journalism like Frontline’s looks more and more like a national treasure akin to the Smithsonian or that Nic Cage movie about stealing the Declaration of Independence. Even if you don’t choose to watch the “Meltdown” episode, I hope you consider checking in on Frontline from time to time. As the future of news delivery looks to be come self-selected — as in, we’ll only click on headlines that appeal to us rather than reading a story because a newspaper editor placed it before us — it’s critical we turn our attention to places like Frontline that tell the stores we need to know. Especially if we didn’t know we needed to know it.

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“Frost/Nixon”: Brits defeat U.S. 230 years after 1st attempt

Tired of watching the interview? Watch people watching the interview!

Three quick thoughts after watching Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon”

1. My God, does history repeat itself. It’s almost enough to make you cry.

FROST: And Cambodia, an invasion that everyone advised you against. All the CIA and Pentagon intelligence suggested it would fail, so why did you do it?

NIXON: Well, first of all, as a result of our incursion into Cambodia we picked up 22,000 rifles, 15 million rounds of ammunition, 150,000 rockets, mortars — that’s all belonging to the North Vietnamese which would only otherwise have been directed right onto American soldiers.

FROST: But one of the principle justifications you gave for the incursion was the supposed existence of the headquarters of the entire communist military operation in South Vietnam, a sort of Bamboo Pentagon, which proved not to exist at all. And by sending —

NIXON: Now hold on —

FROST: And by sending B-52s to carpet bomb a country, wiping out whole civilian areas, you end up radicalizing a once-moderate people, uniting them in anti-American sentiment and creating a monster in the Khmer Rouge that would lead to civil war and genocide.

NIXON: …I remember the construction worker in Philadelphia … and he said “Sir, I got only one criticism of the Cambodia thing. If you’d gone in earlier, you might have captured the gun that killed my boy three months ago.” So you’re asking me, do I regret going in to Cambodia? No. I don’t. You know what? I wish I’d gone in sooner. And harder!

The historical parallels are uncanny. Just add the arrogance, the self-delusion, and the retroactive justification for the invasion of a country, and you’ve got me wondering: When will W get his public Frosting?

2. What a horrible job Universal did marketing this movie!

In any trailer you saw, did you ever get the notion that this was all about one big, hard-nosed interview that made Nixon bark and sweat and admit he was naughty? That’s sure what it looked like. But that’s only part of the story — and truly the less interesting bit. The real story is about a battle of wills between a darkly charismatic and manipulative ex-President and the seemingly out-of-his-league talk show host whose soft approach is in danger of exonerating Nixon, not convicting him.

Though it likely exaggerates for the sake of storytelling, this film spends far more time dangling Frost’s fat over the fire. His prep time suffers as he tries to maintain his debutante lifestyle while struggling to find funding for the expensive interview. His research team is full of attack dogs who lose confidence in him as the president manhandles Frost on soft and hard questions alike. Will this interview actually make Nixon look sympathetic?

That’s so much more compelling that a film simply about Nixon leaning into the camera and harrumphing “If the president does it, it’s not illegal!” while Frost gives his stiff butler’s delivery, “I’m sorry?” Pardon me, old boy. Be a good chap, would you, and repeat that droll bit about the legality, eh? Yes, quite.

,A tense shouting match in the garage? Did you know there would be a tense shouting match in the garage? No, you didn't, because Universal made sure the trailers showed a movie about talking heads under hot Klieg lights, rather than something, you know, compelling like political headhunters on the trail of the all-time biggest prize, armed with an empty box of ammo and a wet flintlock. Now THAT is interesting.

A tense shouting match in the garage? Did you know there would be a tense shouting match in the garage? No, you didn't, because Universal made sure the trailers showed a movie about talking heads under hot Klieg lights, rather than something, you know, compelling like political headhunters on the trail of the all-time biggest prize, armed with an empty box of ammo and a wet flintlock. Now THAT is interesting.

3. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have almost redeemed themselves for The Cat in the Hat. Almost.



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