Archive for February 2009
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Thu, 02/12/2009 – 12:58pm
You lose your job. Many things go through your mind, but you figure one of the easier errands to do is file for unemployment. After all, you didn’t lose your job because you were stealing or committing some other flagrant abuse.
But more and more workers are finding when they get to the unemployment office that their benefits are being challenged — now more than a quarter of workers filing for unemployment.
Businesses can save money if they successfully dispute your benefits. Meanwhile, your bills are going unpaid, and you have to spend valuable time and energy fighting for your rightfully earned money, resources better spent trying to find another job.
This is going beyond those who felt compelled to quit, which in some cases still allows them to collect unemployment. Often, employees are asked to leave without thinking there is a problem, then discover that the employer has said different things to the unemployment agency.
Businesses have a responsibility to pay into the system, so it can be properly utilized when the time comes to dismiss or layoff workers. The unwritten contract (and often written contracts) is violated when businesses smear workers to try and avoid paying the benefits.
As anyone who has gone through the unemployment system can tell you, the design of the system was set up for work almost 100 years ago. Right this second isn’t the best time to change the process. But the new Secretary of Labor (can’t we just get Hilda Solis approved already?) should make the revamping of the unemployment system a significant priority.
Workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own face a number of gigantic challenges. Fighting for what little unemployment insurance gives them shouldn’t be one of those challenges.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Thu, 02/12/2009 – 10:27am
When I was a child, one of the more philosophical questions we asked was “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?”
The answer turned out to be 3. But the quest proves that we are anxious to get to the center. Think about a jelly donut: the jelly isn’t on the outside, it’s in the center. Those fancy chocolates in the box where you don’t know what you are actually eating until you bite it: the center is the best. And pizza lovers would rather have the center than the edges.
But when it comes to Congress, the center is bland with very little flavor and brings the experience down to a basic level. The center of Congress is like having only one ice cream flavor: vanilla. Or like having only one TV network, and Jay Leno is on half the time.
The damage that the center of Congress has done to the stimulus package is appalling. There is the reduction of money. After all, when the House bill is $820 billion and the Senate bill is $838 billion, the compromise is $829 billion, not the actual figure of $789 billion, a difference of $40 billion. This isn’t a compromise; this is a slice from that pizza hitting the ground, topping side down.
This isn’t just moderate Republicans that took unnecessary cuts into this package. Conservative Democrats can take their share of the credit. Watching Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) on television this week was depressing.
Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to the UN Secretary-General and the founder and co-President of the Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger, was one of those smart people on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show last night. Sachs talked about how we have a $2 trillion hole in demand, and how we are trying to fill that hole with a $800 billion (now even less) package. Still leaves a lot of room, probably in the center of our problems.
Especially since school construction was one area where the centrists used their bowie knives and hatchets. We build things that improve our children’s education, and we have a pressing need for this work. That is a good thing, but not to the centrists. And state aid, since virtually every state is several billion in debt — centrists didn’t like that either.
This exercise in malpractice wouldn’t be as bad, except we didn’t have this kind of concern when the Bush people and Henry Paulson came by and said, “$700 billion or else.” Where were the centrists’ knives in that episode? In fact, to pass the damn bill, Congress stepped up and said, “No, we don’t want to spend $700 billion, we want to spend $850 billion.”
We have one bad piece of legislation, knife-free, and add $150 billion in earmarks to make them happy. Then we have a good piece of legislation with no earmarks, and we see the glimmer of light from the reflection of multiple knives.
Then we have the breakdown of the $789 billion: if every penny went to stimulus, to spending, it would meet less than 40% of the overall need. But the $300 million or so in tax cuts, which are not stimulative, introduced as a centrist move, brings the low 40% mark to less than 25% of the overall need.
Democracy experts could argue that sometimes centrists have a necessary role in making sure extreme legislation doesn’t go through. But last fall’s TARP bailout didn’t get that oversight. The economic mess that we are in didn’t get that oversight. When we go to fix the damage caused by this mess, the centrists have to get involved.
Let’s make a deal, centrists. Do your annoying magic all the time or none of the time. Be constantly involved or get out of the way.
Originally published on MediaPutz.com on February 12, 2009
Privacy is cherished, even if we can’t always agree on where the line should be drawn. We also generally agree that those in the position of power might have less privacy than regular folks.
Then there is the Bill O’Reilly standard for privacy. For Bill O, privacy is valuable unless you disagree with him: then privacy gets thrown out the window.
O’Reilly says: “the right to privacy is a basic Constitutional tenet, and that is not ridiculous at all.” Apparently this applies to celebrities, not people O’Reilly doesn’t like.
Jon Stewart’s take this week on “The Daily Show” (see above) was a culmination of a long-standing quest on O’Reilly’s part to invade the privacy of people with whom he disagrees. In typical O’Reilly cowardice, he does not do this work himself, but leaves the tacky, invasive behavior to lesser-paid producers.
O’Reilly sent his producer to chase down and invade the privacy of Columbia Journalism Review Editor Michael Hoyt. Why? Because Hoyt wouldn’t appear on O’Reilly’s show.
O’Reilly is clearly in favor (sometimes) of a Constitutional right to privacy, but may now know of the freedom of association: the individual right to meet with other individuals. By correlation, there is a freedom not to associate with people as well, as in Hoyt does not want to associate himself with Bill O’Reilly.
This is not an isolated incident: O’Reilly and his minions have done this numerous times over the years.
The bizarre nature of O’Reilly refusing to acknowledge the privacy of Americans with whom he disagrees is one thing, but his fascination with protecting celebrities from paparazzi — in direct hypocrisy to his otherwise opinion on the subject — is mind-boggling.
Stewart ends the segment by noting that O’Reilly thinks Angelina Jolie has a right to privacy, except when there was speculation that Jolie had banned FOX News from a movie premiere. Then O’Reilly sends a producer to go after Jolie. Or as Stewart put it, “For those of you at home who are studying law, America’s right to privacy is less than O’Reilly’s need to know.”
This anti-Bill Web site suggests any American whose privacy is invaded by one of O’Reilly’s peons to mention Andrea Mackris to ensure the video will never air. Mackris accused O’Reilly of more than one type of sexual harassment.
There are ways to find out information from people, even if they disagree with you. Respectable ways, decent ways. But O’Reilly has a different method: intimidation and invasion of privacy. And a lack of respect for constructive dialogue. For his continuing antics to degrade those with whom he disagrees and for the hypocrisy behind it all, Bill O’Reilly wins the Media Putz of the week award.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Wed, 02/11/2009 – 10:47am
The Barack Obama show Monday night was a smash hit. When you combine the eight outlets (4 English broadcast networks, 3 cable news channels, and Spanish-language Univision) that carried the program, there were 49.5 million viewers, more than watched the inauguration. Of the four major English broadcast networks, there was a combined 36.9 million viewers.
And those numbers are even stronger when you consider that a number of people watched the press conference via the Internet.
But before the press conference, the networks were whining about the prospect of blowing off prime time programming for a presidential press conference. After all, George W. Bush didn’t have too many conferences, and they are concerned that Obama’s plans will throw off their schedules.
Normally, February would be a horrible time for the networks to lose prime-time programming since February is a major sweeps month. The Super Bowl, Grammys, and Oscars are just three of the major programs that are specifically designed to air in this sweeps period. After all, the Super Bowl used to be in January and the Oscars were in early April. But this year, due to the planned transition from analog TV to digital TV, the period isn’t as significant as usual.
Let’s look at the networks’ concern: they complained about having to blow off prime-time programs. FOX pulled an episode of “House”; ABC postponed its reality series “True Beauty”; NBC pre-empted “Chuck”; and CBS moved “The Big Bang Theory” in at 9:30 p.m. EST, replacing another comedy, delaying two comedies for a week.
Now, the networks cry that they lost money as a result. But that is a slight exaggeration: those episodes still exist. They can show them later, and somewhere down the road, a rerun might get bumped.
And some shows don’t do well in reruns. As an example, ABC announced it would temporarily remove “Ugly Betty” from the schedule, since reruns of the nighttime serial do quite poorly.
Networks also have little to complain about since they are programming fewer new episodes, especially shows that are actually written by someone. NBC has already announced that it will run five fewer hours a week of scripted programming to produce a rehashed Jay Leno show, essentially duplicating his current show in prime time 5 days a week.
The major reason networks shouldn’t be complaining is that they don’t own the airwaves with which they broadcast their shows: we do. Without us, the taxpayers and citizens of this country, giving them the airwaves, they wouldn’t be able to make boatloads of money.
News, and presidential press conferences fall in this category, qualifies as serving the public good. Networks get the right to make tons of money provided that they serve the public good. In theory, this is why we have a FCC. Though if you’ve tried lately to get a license revoked because a station is not serving the interests of the public, you know it’s virtually impossible.
And even with their harsh criticisms, President Obama’s numbers were actually pretty good: ABC (3.1/8), NBC (3.1/8), CBS (3.0/8), and FOX (2.2/6). (The first number is the rating, the second number the share.)
Let’s be fair to Obama: he ended right around 9 p.m. EST, so networks could go straight to their programming. The networks did a hurried reaction to the press conference because they were frantic to start entertainment programming.
The programs on NBC and FOX airing immediately after the press conference at 9 p.m. EST only did slightly better than the conference itself. In fact, Medium on NBC at 10 p.m. EST drew worse numbers than Obama.
Now, some of those numbers are thrown off since while the press conference aired live across the country, only the Eastern and Central time zones saw the conference in prime time. Prime time for viewers in the West wasn’t affected by the press conference.
Clearly, broadcast networks still have an important role in providing events such as this. Despite the influx of cable news channels and the Internet, 75% of those who watched the press conference Monday night on a television did so on an English over-the-air broadcast station. Even with cable as an option, the networks are the destination.
But there is a solution that might make everyone happy. Networks want to broadcast their shows, people want to watch presidential press conferences on broadcast TV, and citizens want to make sure democracy thrives on public airwaves that they own.
Digital TV allows you to broadcast on at least 4 different signals. So using an example in Chicago, the ABC station could broadcast the reality show “True Beauty” on 7-1, and the Barack Obama presidential press conference on 7-2. Cable companies should be required to carry all secondary digital signals as part of the basic cable package (though most probably do this right now).
If broadcast stations were encouraged, or perhaps even mandated, to utilize more of their airwaves for news and information, while still being able to show their crappy prime time programming, then all tastes are being satisfied.
Right now in Chicago, CBS and FOX don’t air a secondary channel. Perhaps the situation is better in smaller markets, but the broadcast stations would have to step up to pull that off. As far as the network’s profit margin, once they have multiple digital TV channels, running a presidential press conference costs them pennies and provides the people so much.
With analog TV, television stations had this quandary over entertainment vs. news programming. Now with digital TV, they don’t have to make that choice. And we get a choice: news or entertainment. Sounds like a much more democratic way to utilize our public airwaves.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Tue, 02/10/2009 – 10:54am
The president of the United States was in Elkhart, IN, and he wasn’t a Republican. That is news.
Unfortunately for Elkhart, the city was picked for its alarming jump in the unemployment rate — 15.3%, having more than tripled in the last year. And the bad economic news for this small city just east of South Bend has a telltale story for the rest of the country.
Elkhart is the RV capital of the world. With a housing crisis and people losing their homes, you would think the RV business would be booming, since people would need to live somewhere. Instead of tents in the Dust Bowl days, maybe we’d see a circle of RVs.
But the sharp uptake in unemployment is tied to problems in the RV business, and the credit crunch.
I have a soft spot for Elkhart and that entire region, having grown up not too far away in nearby Southwestern Michigan. I was in that area in May, covering the Indiana primary in nearby South Bend and Mishawaka.
And I grew up in and around a city with a chronic unemployment rate — Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Unfortunately, bad economic times bring politicians to the Midwest. So if they are there, you probably know someone who lost their job or you are without work.
Obama wasn’t in friendly country: though Obama won the state, Elkhart wasn’t one of those places. And there were negative questions asked of the president, a welcome sight.
But the politicians who would have felt at home in Elkhart — the Republican leadership in Congress — were the ones missing from the event. They needed to hear first-hand of the suffering these people are experiencing. The irony is while GOP politicians are very welcome in these parts, they have been deaf to the economic issues afflicting this area long before this current economic downturn.
There was one potential ray of hope: one Republican Congressman was part of the Obama party in Elkhart: Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). Upton’s district runs alongside Elkhart just across the Indiana-Michigan border. Obama did the right thing in inviting a Republican Congressman to be part of the group, and Upton has been around for a long time in Congress (1987).
It should be noted that Upton used to be my Congressman, though it was a long time ago. And he is still my mother’s Congressman. And neither of us has been very impressed with his work. But at least he was in the room when people were expressing dismay over their current economic status. The question remains as to whether he was really listening and can go back to convince Boehner, et al. of the need to do something for these people, who are hard-core Republicans.
The fear is that politicians use trips to this part of the country to further some agenda and not really help these people. But President Obama seems to be using these people as a way to tell GOP leaders in Washington that people are really suffering — people who self-identify as Republicans. Funny how it took a Democratic president to convey that message.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Mon, 02/09/2009 – 3:30pm
There is a lot of money at stake in the “Main Street Job Creation Act” to improve the financial status of states: Money to help states pay their bills, plus projects to improve a state’s infrastructure.
With a few exceptions on both sides of the aisle, Democrats are in favor of a domestic stimulus package and Republicans are against this idea.
But that is where things get interesting. Turns out that the states that voted for John McCain in 2008 by and large get way more money in federal outlays than they pay in taxes.
The Tax Foundation broke down the fiscal 2005 numbers and ranked the states based on federal outlays vs. how much tax money was sent to Washington.
While New Mexico, a blue state in 2008, ranked first, the states that finished 2-9 are all states that voted for John McCain: Mississippi, Alaska, Louisiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama, South Dakota, and Kentucky.
By contrast, the bottom 10 states (in order from 41-50) — Colorado, New York, California, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Nevada, and New Jersey — all voted for Barack Obama. In fact, all but one of the states that pays more tax than receive in outlays — Texas (35) — voted for Obama.
Virginia (10) and Maryland (18) do get more money due to significant federal employment. But the only other blue states in the top 20 were Hawai’i (12) and Maine (13). The red states rounding off the top 20 were Montana (11), Arkansas (14), Oklahoma (15), South Carolina (16), Missouri (17), Tennessee (19), and Idaho (20).
The Tax Foundation points out that the numbers aren’t perfect since money may go to a company in a state, and then later, some of that money goes to another state. But the contrast is so daunting that clearly there is a discrepancy.
No wonder that Republicans are happy with the status quo. Southern “red” states make up 5 states in the top 10 and half of the top 20. Given that McCain won 22 states, 15 of those states finished in the top 20.
The states that voted for Barack Obama clearly have been neglected when it comes to federal funds vs. taxes sent to Washington. This stimulus package can do a lot toward making those numbers a bit more balanced. And the ones who are already getting the money are standing in the way.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 02/06/2009 – 11:00am
The last three presidents have admitted to smoking marijuana (Al Gore, too). The previous president’s life was saved by hemp (George H.W. Bush’s parachute in WWII was made from the plant). George Washington grew hemp.
The use of marijuana in these leaders was identified as youthful indiscretions (not to be confused with Henry Hyde’s affair in his 40s).
So now we have one of the most popular Americans, a true American hero, suffering significant damage — not from the plant itself — from using marijuana.
Michael Phelps lost a major sponsor (Kellogg’s), and got suspended from competition for three months by USA Swimming. The organization also cut off its financial support to Phelps for the same three-month period.
If there was some message that if you smoke pot, you can win 14 gold medals, that might not come across well. But does anyone really think this was anything more than an isolated incident?
Olympic athletes get drug tested all the time, much more than any regular person. We would know if Phelps had an issue with marijuana use.
Some of the problem is linked to the preponderance of cameras at parties these days. Cellphone cameras, flip-cams, and regular tiny digital cameras are much more prevalent in the youth of today. We see more photographic evidence of what young people are up to. Imagine if we had pictures of George W. Bush during his “wilder” days.
We literally know that Phelps did this because someone took a picture. Things such as this happened 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, but without as much evidence.
Allowing our young people to get “indiscretions” out of their system in their youth makes them better people in the long-term. President Obama’s youthful drug use allows him to be more sympathetic to the horrors of the “war on drugs” we fight on our own citizens.
Phelps is still a hero, but as we have found out, he’s also a human being. This is a guy who works very hard to make him the hero we worship and put on cereal boxes. In a moment of discretion, a real human being at a party took a hit on a bong. And someone took a photo. It doesn’t change who he is, just some people’s perceptions of a person.
We know marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, yet the misguided “war on drugs” and our Puritanistic streak forces us to hide who we are. If Phelps had been caught with a drink, oh that’s right, he did plead guilty to drunken driving and got 18 months probation in 2004. Yet it seems like Phelps is being punished more for a bong hit than a DUI.
Let’s see if we have this straight: a Republican politician has an affair in his 40s (youthful indiscretion) and that’s okay; a prominent swimmer gets a DUI with no loss of sponsorship or suspension, and that’s okay; that same prominent swimmer lose a sponsor and get suspended for a picture of a bong hit (after winning 8 more gold medals in between), and that’s not okay. An American hero getting swept up in Puritanic hypocrisy: oh so sad.
picture of the “controversial” bong hit
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 02/06/2009 – 9:25am
See how many Bush Administration screwups you can find in this sentence:
“Kentucky Emergency Management officials are getting Kentuckians another source of prepared meals after the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that some meal kits might contain contaminated peanut butter.”
You should have counted at least two screwups: 1) FEMA was passing out potentially contaminated food, and 2) lax regulation didn’t uncover a salmonella-ridden food plant.
The unsexy part of government, the parts few think about have come home to roost in the Kentucky ice storm disaster.
And this is on top of the suffering electrical grid in the state even before the storm arrived, while money was literally wasted in Iraq.
President Barack Obama has been in office for slightly more than two weeks, and some people are wondering why FEMA hasn’t been completely reformed. Seriously.
FEMA is still screwed up because it takes time to clean up a screwed up system. And the work of the FDA (spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter, et al.) speaks for itself.
Hopefully, you live in a part of the country that can wait until the Obama Administration tries to fix a damaged domestic government setup before a natural disaster hits your area.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Thu, 02/05/2009 – 2:23pm
With 6.5 million people on the line, Congress has voted to delay until June 12 the full implementation of digital TV. The previous deadline was February 17.
The list of ways the Bush Administration screwed up this process could fill a 52-inch HD TV set in 8-point type. And like many other messes, it comes down to the Obama Administration to clean it up. But is this delay truly necessary or is it just political convenience?
The potential political disaster of people turning on their TV sets and finding snow would certainly come at a bad time, days before the Academy Awards and weeks before March Madness (NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament). And by June 12, the NHL finals should be done and the prime time TV season is over, though the NBA finals could get caught in the timing.
But how many of those 6.5 million people are going to actually get help and assistance between now and June 12? You will still have people on June 12 who won’t be ready. It is the American way.
Psychologically, quite a few of those people are waiting for the $40 coupon to go buy a converter box. What they may not realize is that the boxes sell for $60-$70, so they will have to reach into their wallets and still pull out at least a Jackson ($20 bill) to get the box.
There are people who are struggling, but an extra $40 is not so bad in light of the idea that cable or satellite can eat up that cost in about a month. Of course, if the coupons hadn’t been offered, perhaps the boxes wouldn’t be as expensive as they are.
Paula Kerger, president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting System, estimates that the delay will cost public broadcasters $22 million, mostly stemming from the costs of running analog and digital signals for four extra months.
Some of the people who have made the run for a converter box have been disappointed about the reach of digital TV signals. Digital TV signals travel shorter distances than current analog signals, though TV stations may be able to boost power once the analog signals go away. But we won’t know until that happens.
No matter when the ultimate deadline will be, there will be a transition of sorts. And some will suffer in the process, no matter what you do to lead up to that point.
And the sooner the analog shutdown comes, the sooner we can force the hand of the stations to bump up its digital TV options. One perk to digital TV is that a station can multi-cast, show more than one signal at once. For example, in Chicago, the NBC owned-and-operated station broadcasts its primary signal on 5-1, a weather channel on 5-2, and Olympic highlights on 5-3.
But right now in Chicago, the CBS and FOX stations don’t even offer a second channel. And the CBS station (again owned by the network) has had loads of trouble offering even one digital TV signal. By contrast, the primary PBS station in Chicago offers four channels, one of them in Spanish.
Broadcasters can have the option of running a breaking news story on one of its signals, while leaving network or regular programming on another signal. For example, during the Rod Blagojevich impeachment trial, the ABC station showed the coverage on one of its digital signals while running soap operas on its regular channel. Anything that increases the legitimate news content from over-the-air broadcasters is a plus for democracy.
And all it “costs” is the money for a converter box.
Originally published on MediaPutz.com on February 5, 2009
Often, children can get caught up in stereotypes since they may not have learned that reducing people to caricatures is a mean thing to do. And then they hit puberty.
Matt Drudge must still think he’s in elementary school, with his juvenile take into bad Asian stereotypes.
For Secretary of State Clinton’s upcoming Asian trip, Drudge took a picture where Secretary Clinton is squinting and used this caption: “Feeling Japanese: Clinton eyes Asia for first trip abroad.”
Now some of the blame goes to the person who wrote the AP headline, which actually read “Clinton eyes Asia for first trip abroad.” “Eyes Asia”? Really? Drudge, though, supplied the photo and the Japanese reference.
Not that Drudge and his Report have been purveyors of tasteful, carefully researched, perhaps even sometimes accurate content since the inception. What is more amazing than the fact that anyone takes him seriously is that the MSM relies on him for “information.”
And this isn’t the first time that we have seen Drudge wallow in racial stereotypes, such as the picture of President Obama in Somali dress.
Unfortuantely, it’s not just Drudge who thinks making fun of Asian eyes is acceptable. There is a picture of Miley Cyrus and four other friends, all pulling their eyes into a slant. The only one in the group not pulling the face is an Asian-American.
What Drudge and Cyrus don’t realize is that we’ve come a long way from the days of Charlie Chan movies, racist World War II propaganda (see above), early stereotypical TV commercials, and “Ancient Chinese secret.”
Born in Taiwan, Elaine Chao was in the Bush cabinet. The Obama Cabinet has two Asian-Americans: Steve Chu (Energy) and Eric Shinseki (Department of Veterans Affairs). And Obama just nominated IL Department of Veterans Affairs director Tammy Duckworth to serve as an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Secretary Clinton’s Asian trip plans to encompass China, Japan, South Korea, and likely somewhere in Southeast Asia. Clinton has said she was particularly interested in visiting Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country and, of course, the place where Obama spent some of his childhood.
Given where the Bush Administration (friend of Drudge) did to America’s reputation worldwide, Secretary Clinton and the entire Obama team have a lot of damage to clean up. It doesn’t help when someone with whom the MSM lends legitimate credence speaks up in such horrible racial stereotypes.
Yes, Matt Drudge is a lying, gossip-ridden, right-wing biased snoop. While he isn’t the only one, he does stand alone (at the moment) in contributing to recycling horrible racial caricatures that weren’t funny 65 years ago. And for that, Matt Drudge wins our Media Putz of the week award for the very first time.