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Sunday, February 22, 2009

And the culpable media

Brief conclusion to two prior posts on HB 1 as it has been cast to include so much "pork" and "wasteful spending".
Much, much more could be added showing that, while there may indeed be unnecessary inclusions in the bill, one shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water.
But I'm determined to move on to the MEDIA. Especially the cable news outlets, FOX, MSNBC, and the CNN channels. (I largely omit C-SPAN from this diatribe since they mostly avoid the "me-too-ism" of the others.)
Why and how have the culprits listed above devoted so many hours of programming to regurgitating the objections to the Stimulus Bill voiced by partisan Republicans whose positions are set in cement? Why the mind-numbing recitation of the supposed evils of the bill? And why do all four (or more) of these different cable stations mimic each other in their approach?
I'm not sure I know. One can surmise that their internal research and analysis leads them to believe their ratings wars with each other demand this "race to the bottom".
Some of the channels mentioned above (CNN is particularly bad about this) show a 2-hour loop of the same drivel over and over. Does this mean their cost/profit margin is so slim that they can't afford to send reporters across this vast, diverse planet and report on all the events we really need to hear about? They must fill airspace with completed pieces, mostly talking heads parroting Republican drivel, over and over because those are cheap to rerun??
The one tiny exception to this I might mention (in the interest of fairness) is MSNBC, which tries at times to stray from the ongoing Republican talking points. Most of their energy devoted to this, though, flows through just two shows, Olbermann and Maddow.
But back to my broader diatribe: When's the last time one of these stations produced a piece worth watching on the worldwide economic meltdown from the perspective of the Europeans, or the Indians, or the Chinese?? How well have these media geniuses attempted to explain to us the ramifications of Chinese monetary policy or intellectual piracy? As a mere consumer, my answer is NEVER, or at least not in memory.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stimulus Thoughts Continued

I kinda quit midthought. Pickin' it up w/o too much rehashing:

The bridge in MN over the Mississippi River needed to be repaired/replaced. In its own way, it demanded, yea required attention. It ultimately didn't matter if the decision-makers who write the checks or let the contracts for the repair had yet decided they could squeeze it into their budget. Once its time was up, that was it.

Years ago there was a great commercial slogan by Fram Oil Filter where the announcer or repair mechanic explained that, "You can pay me now, or pay me later." If one chooses not to perform preventive maintenance, then the repair costs will inexorably follow. What amazes me, though, is how such expenditures included in the Stimulus Bill are labeled as optional or wasteful. The timing of them may be optional. The ultimate payment is NOT. In fact, what's wasteful often is the myopic decision to deny "paying me now".

One could go down the list of projects included and nitpick individual ones as to how inevitable it is that they be done or the original investment/service forfeited. And we all understand how my pothole is urgent and yours is discretionary. Those debates, though, would just represent different perspective.

My next installment I may go back and tackle the issue of the self-serving, narrow minded media.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Preliminary Thoughts on the Stimulus Bill

The pundits and the Republicans just don’t get it. I know they think they get it. I know they sincerely think they are being level-headed looking out for the long-range concerns for the nation. I know that they suspect that secret, hidden supporters of those who have been “have nots” are trying to slip inappropriate items into the monolithic economic “recovery plan”. And they are sure that these items would never get approved independently. The Republicans believe and have convinced the pundits that what has happened is both myopic and insidious to the economic health of the nation, yea even the world.
This comes as no revelation that Republicans would take this tack. Much of what is involved in the stimulus plan and the bank recovery plan amounts to a repudiation of what Republicanism has wrought over the last decade, and perhaps even dating back to the Reagan era. What? The “free markets”, left unencumbered by “stifling” overregulation, could produce a meltdown of the overall economy? They would hide true costs and “leverage” the danger of national bankruptcy to the notion that profits can be made to rise steadily and without pause?? Say it ain’t so, Joe.
But how and why do the 24-hour cable TV experts climb aboard this train without asking where it’s going or what the fare is? What is going on with the news analysts who society tolerates in hopes they’ll help us analyze complicated issues?
The motivations and actions by both Republicans and media analysts are worthy of a full in-depth discussion. But at the moment I’m more intrigued by an aspect of the overall debate which is generating no intelligent discussion or consideration. It involves pondering what turns given expenditures or categories of expenditures into “pork” or “wasteful spending”. For this is what all of the anecdotal remarks and examples offered by Republicans and picked up by the media focus on. Millions for this or billions for that have been “slipped into” the bills or “rammed through” over the objections of suddenly thoughtful, prudent conservatives. But how do we know these projects are porky or wasteful? The implied answer is that they must be wasteful. Otherwise the previous administrations would have already championed them. These projects must not be vital and urgent. Otherwise the ruling body politic would have stepped up and addressed them.
They must be optional. We haven’t bothered to fund them, and we’re still here, aren’t we?
So, fixing a huge pothole on a heavily traveled road is considered “wasteful spending” if peoples or governments that could have funded its repair have demurred. It remains relegated to the status of “wasteful spending” until it becomes responsible for a fatal accident. Then we all of a sudden have “crumbling infrastructure”.
President Obama proposed spending billions rebuilding crumbling public schools. (Would these be schools in lower income inner cities and poor rural areas as opposed to wealthy suburbs?) WASTEFUL! But wait. We needed the president to tell us that many school buildings constructed 60+ years ago and not lovingly maintained are a worthy infrastructure expenditure?? Had local constituents of school districts voted repeatedly over the years to maintain low tax rates rather than support those buildings and their maintenance? And if so, do these collective local decisions translate into a fair declaration that the expenditure is “wasteful”?