by Reid Fitzsimons
by Barry King
Progressive dinosaur Dan Rather penned emotional poetry about tax policy, which as of now has been liked by 80000 facebookers and shared by 50000 of them and commented on by perhaps hundreds of thousands. To see what a post or a tweet is actually doing and how and why, the thing to do is skim the comments, and my skimming of the comments on this one, as far as I got, shows that Rather is reaching only people who already agree with him at a rate of close to 100%
Which means, he is accomplishing nothing toward bridging America's political divide. He is "preaching to the choir" in an echo chamber, which is what he has been doing (and destroying his originally brilliant journalism career in the process) for about the last 20 years of an (at least) 47-year-long career now, and probably longer, I just mention that number because I myself remember reading him since 1972, at which time I agreed with him.
by Reid Fitzsimons
The worldwide annual rate of motor vehicle related deaths is apparently 17.4 per 100,000. The highest rate is in Africa at 26.6, Honduras at 17.4, and the US at 10.6 per 100,000. In general, and the reasons are numerous, there is a higher rate in so-called third world countries than in the “first world.”
So what does this have to do with anything? I know Honduras very well, and can state unequivocally that it is common and typical for any number of people to hop in the back of pick-up trucks and go barreling down the pothole laden two-lane corridors of death which is their national highway system. I’ve done it myself enough times and it is probably one of the worst practices in regards to vehicular safety, but no one bats an eye, including the cops. It is, however, illegal in Honduras to drive while smoking, using a cell phone, and to not wear a seatbelt. For those who know the New Testament this might bring to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:3, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
I am, of course, not privy to the legislative machinations of governments that are perpetual recipients of foreign aid but have a theory when it comes to laws that concentrate on a speck of dust but ignore the gaping eye wound. Somewhere in the comfort of the US or European Union there are politicians or non-profit progressive special interest groups who can’t imagine the entire world doesn’t share their concerns and values, anti-smoking activists for example (what enlightened person doesn’t want to have a group for whom they can show contempt?). While somewhere there is perhaps a legitimate goal of improving health, their focus becomes the means, not the result, and even the most oblique attack on their target is justified. Hence, a well-funded organization can perhaps influence the pertinent foreign policy people and say, “It would be a righteous thing if we could demand other countries pass anti-smoking laws.” Attach a little bit of foreign aid, ostensibly to help enact the law and, Que Bueno, the money goes into some corrupt politicians pocket and there is an essentially meaningless new law just waiting to be broken.
by Reid Fitzsimons
A bit of historical stipulation first. The post WWll era left the US in an incomparable global position in terms of economics and power, having become an industrial and technological titan out of necessity and unscathed by direct destruction by geography. Enormous wealth and its associated leisure were the natural consequences. The generation labeled “Baby Boomers” enjoyed, if you will, this leisure at an unprecedented level, resulting in the first truly widespread separation of survival requirements from life- no more milking the cows by 5 am before heading off to the one-room school house. Perhaps surprisingly, or perhaps not, this opportunity did not always lead to greatness but often to self-indulgence, as exemplified by 1960’s catch phrases, masquerading as deep philosophy, such as “Do your own thing,” “Don’t lay a guilt trip on me man,” and the like.
While as a rule conservatives are disinclined to a worldview based on racial and gender identities we need to be honest and admit that by “Baby Boomer” we’re really talking about privileged white people. People whom, decades later, are clapping their arthritic hands in attempted rhythm with the ancient Doo-Wop stars on PBS fundraisers and thinking Bernie Sanders is "with it." White people in million dollar homes in the Boston suburbs with Black Lives Matter signs conspicuously posted on their well-coiffed lawns maintained by Mexicans who arrive every week or so in the back of pick-up trucks.
by Reid Fitzsimons (note: off to East Africa for several weeks, will complete this article upon return)
The other week I was checking out at the Dollar Tree when the cashier asked, “Do you want to donate a dollar to the Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey relief?” I replied with a resounding, though polite, “No.” What a cheap SOB one might say, to which I am sympathetic. I will, however, justify my lack of charity in this case with two reasons.
The first involves the generosity of the Red Cross as it applies to salaries for its upper echelon employees, as old as this argument might be. The IRS form 990 is the means by which tax exempt/non-profit groups report their financial statuses, which is publicly available. Looking at the Red Cross 990 for 2014, there are at least 14 people at the national level who receive well over $350,000 in salaries and other benefits. The three highest are the CEO (Gail McGovern) at $556,772, the President for Biomedical Services (Shaun Gilmore) at $554,236, and the Deputy Chief Investment Officer (Anne Shelton) at $526,685. Hence, a mere three employees of this benevolent non-profit charity receive $1,637,693 in compensation: there is big money to be had in the world of the mega charities. In Dec. 2012, apparently in response to some controversy, the Red Cross released a statement: “The president and CEO of the American Red Cross is Gail McGovern, and her base salary has remained $500,000—without any pay increase—since she joined the American Red Cross in 2008. This is considered well within the range for executives of large non-profits like the Red Cross, a $3.3 billion organization.” I am reminded of my son at 10 or 11 arguing that all of his friends had Nintendo 16s. The cashier at the Dollar Tree could have asked, “would you like to donate a dollar to the Red Cross to cover 1/1,637,693th of the compensation for three Red Cross Employees?”
by Reid Fitzsimons
The political left and right are commonly viewed, incorrectly, as a linear function: the further left or right the greater the separation. More properly it is circular function, i.e. the further one becomes “right” the closer one gets to the “left,” and vice versa. If we compare the historic archetypical right-winger Adolf Hitler with the archetypical leftist, Joseph Stalin, there really was little difference. They both yearned for and largely achieved a totalitarian state in which not just speech was but even thought was controlled. And, of course, countless millions suffered and died in the process.
We can apply this circular concept to the fracturing between right and left we seem to be experiencing today. Though I suspect the pathetic right-wing white supremacists are comparatively small in number despite the media and social media hype, they have a commonality with the progressive left antifa fascist movement in that they are all, to resurrect an apt term from the 70s and 80s, douche bags. While rarely do we see the KKK minded people dressed in the full regalia of white sheets and hoods, which I always thought was tacky from a fashion standpoint, metaphorically at least they are interchangeable with the more stylishly black clad antifa fascists and their jaunty balaclava face coverings.
Neither side can verbalize their goals and aims beyond bumper sticker drivel. As I’m writing this (Aug. 20, 2017) there is a headline, “Atlanta NAACP calls for boycott of NFL, Falcons game over treatment of Colin Kaepernick.” Now there is a goal worth fighting for- take it to the streets to support a whiney rich guy, the beneficiary of a lifetime of “white privilege” who somehow discovered he can grow one heck of an afro, to demand he receive another multi-million dollar contract to play a meaningless game. Actually there is something we have in common- boycotting the NFL out of existence wouldn’t be a bad thing. As for the white supremacists, to the extent they exist, I have no idea what their demands might be.
by Reid Fitzsimons
Bill De Blasio, the 56 year-old mayor of New York City, is a moron, and that’s okay. Many of his supporters are wealthy elite Manhattanites and they too are morons, and that’s okay: what is democracy about if not absurdly wealthy and culturally isolated people voting for their philosophical kin? Bill De Blasio, to those uninformed, is a progressive, perhaps prototypically so. He’s a white guy from a privileged background, Ivy League educated, and rich (net worth around 1.5 million-admittedly not a huge amount in his circle- obtained mostly through “public service”). He’s an environmental crusader/climate change warrior who was discovered last month to routinely take a motorcade to a gym 12 miles from the mayoral mansion. He justified this in part by declaring that some of the SUV(s) involved were hybrids- a Chevy Tahoe hybrid SUV gets 20 mpg in the city- and otherwise by stating the actions of one person are environmentally insignificant. One might reasonably think an exercise bike could be made available at the mansion.
More recently he decided it appropriate to fly to Germany to participate in the anti-G20/anti-capitalist protests/riots. Apparently he was invited to speak by a group called “Hamburg (Germany) Shows Attitude,” which covered the cost of his adventure. It’s always enjoyable to see a rich, privileged, white male celebrity stand up to The Man. One might reasonably think that his jet emitted more than a few molecules of carbon dioxide.
De Blasio, who twice during his adult life had his name legally changed (his original name was Warren Wilhelm Jr.), could well play in a Seinfeld-esque sitcom. How easy it is to envision him sitting in some mid-town ethnic restaurant thinking to himself, “I am a good person, I fight for the environment, I feel for the poor, I’m for affordable housing, I march for social justice, I love transsexuals, etc.”
by Reid Fitzsimons
Now and then the usual suspects of the Republican establishment- the Mitch McConnell’s, John Kasich’s, etc- make meaningful, principled, and at times intelligent statements about any given issue or topic. Hence, it is generally disheartening, though occasionally amusing when, like a dog yanked back on a leash, they have to modify or retract them when faced with the accusations we’ve come to know so well: misogynist, various prefixes followed by “phobe,” and of course racist. One such phrase we have heard for years, usually during faux budget negotiations, is “They want to kill Big Bird.”
The origin the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and its entities of PBS and NPR extends back only to the 1960s and can be succinctly described as the product of Lyndon Johnson’s conflicted emotions. He viewed himself largely as an unsophisticated hick and, especially when associated with the cosmopolitan Kennedy’s, yearned for acceptance by the elites. From a policy standpoint this translated to a perhaps noble albeit Quixotic goal of “bringing the arts to the masses,” but in reality has meant decades of heavily subsidized entertainment for the educated and wealthy. Since inception tax dollars given to this therapy for Lyndon Johnson’s inner turmoil has probably totaled in the billions- for 2014 CPB alone received close to half a billion in tax dollars.
Not surprisingly, to be “for” tax funding of CPB, etc imparts an aura of lover of the “arts,” broadmindedness, sophistication, compassion, and humanity. To be “against” stigmatizes one as an uneducated right-wing nut who has an unnatural attraction to pick-up trucks and lives in fear of fluoridated water.
I am a little too old to have watched Sesame Street (premiered in 1969) and I’m ambivalent as to whether it has been truly educational without indoctrination or more of a guilt-free way to plop your kids down in front of the TV. One can state with a clear conscience, however, that the Sesame Street franchise has been shamelessly marketed for decades with great remunerative success (from 2003 to 2006, Sesame Street made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales; I not sure if this includes the exorbitant admission price I paid to see Sesame Street on Ice in 1988 when my son was two). Nevertheless, the accusation that “they want to kill Big Bird” recurrently engenders night sweats and tremors in congressional Republicans.
Certainly over 50 years PBS has provided us with some fine upscale programming (though the only time I saw any of Conan the Barbarian was curiously on a PBS station; I think there was some nudity, thank goodness). The issue is not whether they have some fine programming, the issue is who benefits. Let us be honest: people residing in Section 8 housing, various urban projects, and trailer parks aren’t glued to their radios listening to the Splendid Table (“…public radio's culinary culture and lifestyle program that celebrates food and its ability to touch the lives and feed the souls of everyone”) or animatedly guessing the value of that painting found in grandma’s attic on the Antiques Roadshow. The audience and demographic for the vast majority of PBS/NPR programming is certainly composed primarily of the wealthy and educated. Hence, a reasonable question is, are the rich deserving of tax-subsidized entertainment?
Last week I was up in the Adirondack Mountains south of Canada doing some house renovation work and was not well “connected.” On Thursday morning I did check e-mail and news and learned of the very newsworthy shooting of the house Republican Majority Whip and others. Seeking updates in an area of sparse radio coverage I reluctantly tuned in to the dreaded NPR morning programming, with the nauseatingly saccharine timbre, tone, and cadence of the announcers; as obnoxious as any equally saccharine pre-recorded Bible studies one hears on Christian radio. The half hour news summary finally came on and, just 24 hours after the shooting, the lead story was not the shooting but the continuing saga of the Trump/Russia investigation. The NPR editors placed the story of the attempted assassination of the Majority Whip in the second slot and pointedly emphasized authorities were examining possible motivations, failing to even mention the perpetrator wore his leftist progressive angst on his sleeve for all to see.
For NPR News, as with what is collectively called the mainstream media, maintaining the progressive narrative takes precedence over actual news reporting. Therefore it can only be Republicans and conservatives strutting about like Brown Shirts in 1920’s Munich looking to beat down people who look, sound, or think differently from themselves. The minds of progressives are so filled with happy thoughts that Love is Love and Love Trumps Hate that James Hodgkinson certainly could not have been motivated to murder by his progressive politics; there must have been another reason. Needless to say, if the victim had been a Democrat and the shooter politically motivated by right wing leanings, it would have consumed the NPR news cycle, with emphasis on the right wing part.
We’ve entered an unfortunate age where gross slanting of news by organizations traditionally considered objective is common. Nevertheless, subtle slanting- nuanced prioritizing of stories, things deftly said, implied, or omitted so as to obfuscate the facts at hand, etc, remains effective. It doesn’t take great talent to do this but somehow its practitioners are held in high esteem, much like Miley Cyrus is heralded as a “music artist.” PBS and NPR are exceedingly adept at this and understandably so: their biases are shared by their target audience, wealthy and educated progressives, who prefer to remain comfortable in the warm bosom of their cultural and political narratives.
The CPB/PBS/NPR franchise is like the Christian who fornicates on Saturday night then shouts “Praise Jesus” louder than anyone else in church the next morning. It’s not the adultery that is so exasperating per se, it’s the hypocrisy:
The myth that they are commercial free when in fact they run ads just like everyone else, with sponsors including massively wealthy corporations, elite progressive foundations and, depending on the program, local businesses. That they usually run the ads preceding or following their shows doesn’t mean they are not crass commercials, despite always being capped off by the quaint, “and viewers like you."
Undeniably they have at times aired excellent programs, including child oriented shows such as Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and perhaps Sesame Street. While I admittedly have not had success researching PBS/NPR demographics (one related stat I found is interesting- Thomas Corley, author of “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits Of Wealthy Individuals,” found only 6% of the wealthy watch reality shows, while 78% of the poor do), it is doubtful the ostensible targeted audience- the masses- are significant consumers. Rather, support and occasional watching or listening to PBS/NPR has become essentially a litmus test for progressive acceptance.
While our cultural mindset is that receiving government funding somehow imparts legitimacy, PBS/NPR should be able to stand on its own or be fully propped up by its vocal and wealthy proponents. Let’s not fool ourselves- rich people, including the many who refuse to acknowledge their wealth, like to spend money on Self, generally to the exclusion of Others. The tax monies received by the CPB are not insignificant but could easily be replaced by its supporters, if they really believed in action versus utterances, and we could blessedly be free of this tedious funding debate. What the heck, if we finally end government funding I’ll make a pledge at the $60 level, and they don’t even have to send me the Kings of Dew-Wop CD collection.
It is a fantasy that CPB/PBS/NPR, being “non-profits,” are operated by benevolent people who are willing to sacrifice their material wealth for the greater good of their mission. Like televangelism, there is serious money to be had in the world of “non-profits.” Rather than taking the effort to place financial stats in prose form, I simply end with a listing of some examples of salaries-
Gary Knell, recently made the CEO of National Geographic, first began working for Sesame Street Workshop in 1989, became the COO in 1998, and CEO in 2000 until 2011, then CEO of NPR until 2013. In 2008 he was paid $956,513, and according to the 2013 IRS form 990 $743,575 for the covered year.
The form 990 for 2014 shows the CEO of the CPB was compensated with $418,574 during the pertinent year. Additionally, there were at least 15 other CPB officers that made at least $200,000 per year.
The PBS CEO was paid $962,594 for the period covered by the 2013 990.
Note these are compensation amounts at just the national level. There are hundreds of affiliate stations paying generous salaries: the 2014 990 for the Detroit PBS local shows the CEO making $378,343 and the Assistant Secretary $215,823; in 2010 or 2011 14 employees at the Boston affiliate WGBH made more than $200,000.
Lastly, a headline from the March 20, 2017 edition of USA Today:
Could Trump's 2018 budget kill Sesame Street's beloved Big Bird?
by Reid Fitzsimons
I spend a fair amount of time outside of the US, though less so than in prior years. In May of 2016, upon returning from 7 weeks in a rural area in Central America, I learned in the Atlanta airport that Donald Trump was assured the Republican nomination. I must say I felt a mix of disbelief and dismay, having never thought it was possible. Nevertheless, his opponent in the general election was so unappealing personally, politically, and philosophically that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy made voting for Trump tolerable.
I am admittedly an unabashed conservative and in general am pleased that Trump seems more inclined to support conservative positions than I envisioned. It is perplexing, however, that instead of offering cohesive arguments in a thoughtful manner and walking a straightforward path toward achieving policy goals, he meanders about needlessly kicking dogs and placing his hands wasp nests. Somehow he never learned the wisdom of thinking before opening his mouth.
by Reid Fitzsimons
Several years back there was a mediocre/better than most crime drama called Cold Case, i.e. the crack detectives solved murders committed in the past but shelved away at the time. One episode involved the murder of a young woman/mother who had been the victim of domestic abuse. In one flashback scene the scummy abusive husband, who didn’t prove to be the killer, was sitting at the kitchen table angrily contemplating the bowl of cereal his wife placed in front of him. She was busy trying to get herself off to work and their child off to school when he erupted, “I don’t want my breakfast to come from no g*ddamn box!!” As she meekly tried to apologize and quickly fix him a more substantial meal, he reached his limit of tolerance and began smacking her around. This guy had it all: poor hygiene, no job, wearing one of those sleeveless T-shirts sometimes referred to as a “wife beater,” etc, seamlessly fitting our stereotype of domestic abuser.
As Americans rarely are we more content than when holding on to our narratives. It makes us comfortable in our confusing and meaningless world of excessive wealth and materialism, and substantiates our sense of righteousness. Our stereotypes are frequently confirmed via popular entertainment, the news media, and the like, and the circle is unbroken. Indeed law and policy are often based on popular stereotypes of the moment, and large sums of money and resources expended in our quest for feelings to trump thoughtfulness. Of course there is a downside to embracing stereotypes, as evidenced by Ku Klux Klanners and their cousins the Black Lives Matter activists. This is not to say that stereotypes are innately incorrect- many likely have some basis in reality. Recollecting the movie White Men Can’t Jump and observing that 23% of NBA players are white, the stereotype suggested by the title has a statistical rationale.