Monday, July 25, 2011

Week of 07/25/2011

Whither MSNBC?
15 Years Later, “Phase One” Fails
– by David Matthews 2

It was a little over fifteen years ago this month that something called “Phase One” was launched.

“Phase one” was supposed to be the “next generation” of news, providing cutting-edge technology with the resources of an established national news service. A joint venture between the biggest technology company of the time, Microsoft, and one of the “Big Three” in media, NBC.

That “next generation”… was MSNBC.

At first it was unique. It provided an emphasis on technology as well as current events. It introduced people to the Internet and often directed viewers to their own website for more information on the stories they provided. At the time, that was considered innovative.

Unfortunately, it was a “next generation” that died an early death, and in its place was a cable changeling. It wasn’t even two years into “Phase one” when the executives at MSNBC pretty much abandoned the “tech” side of the equation and put everything they had into the cable news business. Gone were the shows about technology and gaming, gone were the tips and tricks of the Internet and the new generation of devices that would aid society into the 21st century. Gone was everything Microsoft except for the “MS”.

So what did viewers get for the rest of those fifteen years?

They got “All Monica Lewinsky, all the time.” They got the “subject du jour” rehashed over and over and over again until they start checking out the Golf Channel just to break the monotony. They got repeats and rehash of NBC’s news magazine show “Dateline”, only they’d customize it into themes such as “To Catch A Predator” and “Caught on Camera”. It wouldn’t be too bad if those aired only on MSNBC, but these are all shows that would air first on NBC and then repeated ad infinitum-ad nausium on MSNBC.

So… what about new material? Material that would be excusive to MSNBC? Well that seems to be where a lot of their problem has been.

How many show hosts have come and gone on that channel? Dan Abrams, Alan Keys, Pat Buchanan, Mitch Albom, Phil Donahue, former Governor Jesse Ventura, Michael Savage, Rita Crosby, Tucker Carlson, and Ron Reagan Jr. all had shows on MSNBC that lasted anywhere from a couple of years to only a couple of weeks. Keith Olbermann had two shows on MSNBC, and one of them lasted until just recently.

Don Imus used to have his nationally syndicated morning radio show simulcast on MSNBC until a bad joke by his producer (it wasn’t even something that Imus said himself) led to a self-serving crusade to get rid of him. And where did he go? He ended up with the competition.

The only original show that has remained with any real longevity to this day is “Hardball with Chris Matthews”, and even then they rehash his program two hours after it airs.

It seems that the executives at MSNBC want something that is physically impossible… they want to have “firebrands” without the “fire”.

MSNBC media personalities say something inflammatory and they get suspended when someone complains. Ed Schultz goes off on a tirade on his radio show, not even something that he said on his MSNBC program, and he gets suspended from his TV show! Time editor and “Moring Joe” contributor Mark Halprin gets goaded into calling President Obama “a dick” on live TV and he gets suspended. It’s like hiring an arsonist and then getting surprised when the arsonist lights a match.

In the other hand, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, which came out only a few months after MSNBC, soared to the top of the pile, partly because of their firebrands like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and Geraldo Rivera. They even managed to snag Glenn Beck for a few years before his ego became so huge that not even Murdoch’s own money could keep him afloat. Murdoch brought over CNN’s egomaniac Lou Dobbs, and put Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and former Governor Mike Huckabee on the payroll.

In other words, rather than to shy away from the “fire” of the firebrands, Fox News puts them on salary and backs them up, and with the exception of Beck, those firebrands still have a place to do what they get paid quite well to do.

Let’s get brutally honest here… after fifteen years of being on cable, it’s safe to say that MSNBC has been slowly meandering itself into obscurity and eventual oblivion. They have clearly abandoned their initial idea of being the “next generation” and, instead, they have been trying desperately to be a kindler and gentler cable channel with all of the appeal of sour milk.

Granted, the cable channel has just changed corporate hands from General Electric to Comcast, but that doesn’t mean that they should remain as the media milquetoast that they have become. If they want to survive, they need to make some serious changes to how they operate.

For starters, if they’re going to be like Fox News, then they need to go to bat for the talent they hire. Firebrands are hired to say inflammatory things. That’s how they get and keep their audience. If the network executives are not willing to back that kind of media personality, either as a host or contributor, then they have no business bringing them over, period.

Second, they need to ditch the rehashed news magazines, or at least make the decision about whether or not they should air them on either NBC or MSNBC, but not both. As long as MSNBC gets NBC’s hand-me-downs to fill up the schedule, there’s no incentive to come up with or to support anything new that would set them apart from the other cable channels.

Third, MSNBC executives really need to come up with and support something new and unique that makes them stand out instead of trying to be like either Fox News or CNN. Once upon a time, they really had that something new with their mixture of news and technology. Granted, they abandoned that edge for “All Monica all the time”, but that doesn’t mean they can’t go back to it, and it is something that has pretty much been abandoned in the past few years.

Once upon a time, CNN was the only news channel on cable. They haven’t really changed in all that time, even when MSNBC and Fox News came about. Fox News soared to the top without trying to imitate the competition. The executives at MSNBC need to stop trying to emulate the competition or serving as the hand-me-down recipients of their “mainstream” sibling channel. They need to shine on their own if they want to celebrate fifteen more years. It’s long since time for MSNBC to go from “Phase One” to “Phase Two” instead of falling back to “Phase Zero”.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Week of 07/18/2011

Atlanta’s Education Disgrace
– by David Matthews 2

There’s an old joke about a company CEO who wanted to see how smart his people were, so he went through the various departments to ask them what two plus two equaled. Every department, in their own unique way, would each say “four”. Then he went to the accountant, who closed the blinds, locked the door, turned off the recording devices, and then whispered into the CEO’s ear “What do you want it to equal?”

That, unfortunately, seems to be the new response to the Atlanta’s education system.

For the past few weeks, there have been a series of reports here in Atlanta about how school systems changed student tests, rigging the results so certain schools would appear to be performing better. And this supposedly wasn’t just recent. According to one report, this went back ten years, and despite warnings in 2005 that this was going on, the school system either did nothing or destroyed evidence of the cheating.

The allegations are sickening. Teachers being pressured by principals to make changes and so-called “test-changing parties” being held to alter the tests submitted by students is nothing short of disgraceful. Former School Superintendant Beverly Hall was even named “Superintendent of the Year” in 2009, in the midst of the cheating scandal! Forty-four out of fifty-six public schools in Atlanta were supposedly involved! Over eighty percent!

Great… we’ve gone from “Johnny can’t read” to “Waiting for Superman” to a really bad joke about Corporate America.

Bear in mind that the students themselves had nothing to do with it. As far as they are supposedly concerned, they did everything expected of them. They actually believed that they were doing better than they really were. But think, for a moment, about the student whose test answers were changed… if that student has a serious learning problem, nobody would know.

You know, once upon a time there was at least the PRETENSE of messing with a student’s education for the sake of some greater good for that student, such as a college scholarship and a potential future in professional sports. But here the teachers and principals can’t even pretend that they’re doing this for the students! This was done purely for themselves.

And now the big discussion is supposedly… what to do with the teachers and administrators responsible.

That should be obvious, shouldn’t it?

Let’s get brutally hones there… what was done was more than just “cheating”… this was a case of FRAUD to an extreme degree. The material gains in this case came in the form of promotions and government grants. Those involved were rewarded for gains that were not theirs to begin with. That fits the definition of FRAUD.

In other words, firing those involved should be the LEAST of punishments involved. There needs to be CRIMINAL charges as well; certainly for the most blatant instances of cheating, such as the ones involved in the “changing parties”.

And this commentator notices that a lot of emphasis has been placed on the teachers, but what about the school administrators that pushed for this? There’s been very little word about the principals and assistant principals that gave the order to change the test results. They would be the ones that would “crack the whip” on this kind of operation, so why isn’t there any talk about what’s going to be done about them?

This scandal has widespread implications for the public school system in general. Already conservative and neo-conservative forces have been doing everything they can to dismantle public education, herding as many children as possible into private schools. They’ve been able to do this on the theory that private education would actually give students an edge. With the Atlanta Public School System now known for cheating on the very standardized tests that would either prove or disprove this theory, the conservative and neo-conservative argument essentially wins by default. They can now use this as the justification to dismantle public education even further. After all, how can public schools prove they’re capable of doing their jobs when they have been caught cheating?

Atlanta Public School System teachers and administrators, all funded by taxpayer money, are now stained by this mess, and it would be extremely hard to trust them or the quality of their work in the immediate future because of this. But they’re not the only ones affected by this mess. The students whose results were changed will never know how good they really are. The few public schools that did not participate in the systematic cheating will be tarred with the same brush as those that did. And those within the APSS that did not participate in the cheating will also have their careers scrutinized from this point forward. And the taxpayers themselves, the people who are financing all of this, are now going to start to wonder if the public school system itself is worth keeping.

Right now the numbers don’t look good for them, and, this time around, they can’t rig the results.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Week of 07/11/2011

Mala Ultionis: Trading Justice for Revenge
– by David Matthews 2

According to my old college and high school education, there are two kinds of crimes in society.

The first is called “mala en se”, which is Latin for “wrong by itself”. Crimes like murder, rape, theft, and fraud are pretty much self-explanatory. Anyone with a thinking brain will know that these kinds of activities are wrong.

The second kind of crime is called “mala prohibita”, or “wrong by legislation”. These are activities that are deemed wrong for no other reason than because a legislative body DEEMS them to be wrong. Things like breaking the speed limit, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, or going on a boat without a life vest are all considered “wrong” because the legislature DECLARED them to be such.

But of late I’ve come across a THIRD kind of crime in society, and some may consider it to be an off-shoot of “mala prohibita” since it is also only considered “wrong by legislation”, but their motivations behind it are somewhat different.

I call it “mala ultionis”.

“Wrong by Revenge”.

These are the kinds of crimes that are put in place to AVENGE some kind of past activity. For instance, if a bank robber is wearing a mask when he or she commits the crime, the legislature could later on make it illegal for one to wear a mask inside a bank. Obviously the law cannot be used to go after the bank robber, because that’s considered after-the-fact, but it WOULD be done to punish other people.

But… what if you take your child to the bank on Halloween and your child is dressed up in costume and wearing a mask? Well then you and your child could be facing some serious penalties, wouldn’t you?

Yes, it doesn’t make sense, but then again laws that are “mala ultionis” are not about making sense. It’s about trying to satisfy that blinding demand for REVENGE.

After John Hinkley tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, liberals immediately screamed for strict gun control legislation. They couldn’t stop Hinkley, so they wanted to make life miserable for other people who either have guns or wanted to get guns. And pretty much every kind of gun control legislation that has come up since then has been based on similar kinds of tragedies. Every school shooting and workplace shooting in America has resulted in new pushes towards restricting gun ownership and gun use. Those laws are all “mala ultionis” laws. They could not be used to STOP the tragedies that inspire them, but rather they are used to punish OTHER people to satisfy that obsessive NEED for REVENGE.

Likewise, when Hinkley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, there were waves of proposals to re-write the legal system to either eliminate the insanity plea completely or else to neutralize it so someone would STILL be held to account for their actions even though they would be considered insane. Again, those are proposals that would be considered “mala ultionis

You know those laws that are written in memory of someone who was a crime victim? They don’t have to be a murder victim. They could just as easily be someone who was kidnapped. Those are usually “mala ultionis” laws. They’re written to make other people pay the price for the crime that the victim endured.

In light of the recent acquittal of Casey Anthony in Florida over the death of her child, there is a new wave of similar revenge-based laws being proposed to “avenge” what happened to Casey’s child Caylee. Sixteen states are now either pondering or enacting laws that would criminalize parents for not reporting a child missing within as little as twelve hours, or failing to report the death of a child.

Mala ultionis”. The state couldn’t punish Casey for Caylee’s death, so they’re going to punish anyone else they can get.

I’m sure some people that this is just a matter of fixing the barn door after the animals have left, but let’s get brutally honest here… these kinds of laws are NOT going to do what they are intended to do. Worse yet, these kinds of customized “in the honor of the victims” laws can lead to even worse abuses.

Let’s suppose some state passes one of these “Caylee’s Laws” and charges parents that fail to report a child missing as felonies. What is to stop some vindictive parent or relative from using that law to accuse their ex-spouse of “failing to report” when they claim that they couldn’t “communicate” with their child? How about if a pregnant woman has a miscarriage and her abusive bible-thumping anti-abortion husband declares it to be murder? Hey, she didn’t “report it” in time, therefore it’s a felony.

Politicians tend to consider these to be “unintended consequences”, but that excuse only applies if they actually put some serious THOUGHT into these laws instead of just blindly passing what’s put before them like the paid lemmings they are. Instead, they’re considered “feel-good” laws to appease the emotional masses yearning for some kind of legislative response to a tragedy.

It should be noted that there ARE some forms of “mala ultionis” that have beneficial purposes. For instance, the Bill of Rights, the limitations placed on government, were all created as a result of past abuses of power. Same with the laws that came up after Watergate. In instances where government abuses its power, restrictions are put in place that essentially punishes future politicians from repeating those abuses. Unfortunately, those kinds of “mala ultionis” laws are few and far between. Politicians can dish them out, but they obviously can’t take them.

Substituting revenge for justice doesn’t make up for past wrongs. It only serves to create more misery by making others pay the price for actions they had no role in.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Week of 07/04/2011

The American Delusion
– by David Matthews 2

The late George Carlin once said it best when it came to the “American Dream”… he said it was called that “because you have to be asleep to believe it”.

I know that there are many that bristle when they hear that kind of talk. To them, the American Dream isn’t just a goal… it’s a cult-object. It’s yet another pseudo-religious symbol for them to prop up and worship at the church of the status quo. And they don’t like hearing ANYONE speak ill of it or to say what the rest of the populace are discovering the hard way… that it’s all just a façade.

The problem is that for the longest time, we did just that. We WORSHIPED “the dream”. We propped it up on a pedestal and we sold ourselves into the belief that WE ALL could have this!

We were sold on the belief that WE ALL could have our own little Wisteria Lane… our own little suburban paradise with the white picket fence and the two-car garage, the nearby schools and churches, so we could live our own little “Desperate Housewife” existence; raising our tax deductions so they can do even better than us when they become adults.

That’s the other half of the “dream”, isn’t it? It’s not enough that WE have to do better than our parents; we also have to make sure that our tax deductions, our precious children, do even better than us.

We were sold the idea that we ALL could have this “dream”, that there would be groups that help us make this “dream” a reality. They’d work their magic and make the numbers work for us so that we too could live that “dream” that we see on TV.

And for a while, we had that. We thought we were living “the dream”.

But that “dream” isn’t there for most people anymore. It’s gone. We’ve had to wake up and discover that we never really HAD what was being promised us.

We are waking up to a reality that is dying all around us.

We have an infrastructure that is collapsing all around us. Roads and bridges need repairs, essential government services are being shut down, public schools are being told to make do with less, police and firefighters are being furloughed, and there’s nothing that can be done about any of it because the money just is not there. Legislators are either unable or stubbornly unwilling to raise the tax money needed to pay for those basic services. There are too many people that NEED help and there’s NO help to give.

It’s called entropy. Stagnation. It’s the slow and steady rot of a community.

Things are still working, but not as much as they used to. Stores are still open, but not as many as there once were. Businesses are still working, but with fewer people and less pay for more work. Prices are slowing going up, but not the money needed to pay for them. Everyone is expected to do more with less, and the longer it goes on, the more the burden on us all increases.

It’s a malicious cycle with no end in sight. The longer this goes on, the worse things will be.

And yet the ILLUSION is still going on, isn’t it? The DREAM, the FICTION, the FANTASY is still being sold to us. It’s still going… full steam ahead. That’s the “message” that we’re still getting. The increased burdens on us continue because we’re told that “the danger” is over with. We’re in a “recovery”. Corporate profits have never been better, so if Corporate America is doing so great, then the rest of us should follow suit, right?

Oh, we’ll HEAR that “the dream” is in danger, but it’s supposedly all the fault of the people in office today. It’s “in trouble” because the “wrong people” got elected. Never mind the circumstances that put them in office… no, it’s all POLITICS. Our malaise just “magically happened” because the “wrong people” got elected and it would be fixed once the “right people” get put back in power. It’s yet another LIE on top of the current LIE that we refuse to accept.

Meanwhile we are being preyed upon by groups that deem themselves to be “too big to fail”. Groups that have all the money and all the power and all the influence to get anything and everything they want. And they’re not being held to account for their actions, even WHEN they are proven to have done wrong. These are the people that could resolve our dilemma TOMORROW if they so choose; and the reason why this continually progressive ROT is going on is because these same groups CHOOSE not to do the right thing.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the “American Dream” is no longer a goal for most Americans, viable or otherwise. It’s a FANTASY.

And this wasn’t something that just “happened” in the past two or three years, either. This delusion, this fiction, this out-and-out MALICIOUS FRAUD perpetrated on us all, and the stagnation that came with this FRAUD, has been YEARS in the making. YEARS.

It started with a little white lie that says that as long as Wall Street prospers, then so too will Main Street. Don’t worry about the “little guy”; just focus on the “fat cats”. Keep Corporate America happy and they’ll take care of the rest. That was the promise. That was the deal.

Only they didn’t live up to that deal. They took their profits and sent their jobs overseas to make even more profit. They were given thousands of H1B visas so they could bring in foreign workers instead of hiring people here. Downsized, right-sized, re-sized, outsourced, re-sourced, anything to make more profit.

But we were still being told that this was okay, because as long as Corporate America is making a profit, they’ll still find a way to help out Main Street… somehow.

And then the banks came in with their snake oil offers and their too-good-to-be-true schemes. “We’ll put you in a house. We’ll help you get that new car that you want. We’ll get you that big-screen TV you’ve always wanted. We’ll help you get new furniture and help you fix up your home and make it more marketable. Don’t worry about the numbers; we’ll make it work for you. Just sign your name on the dotted line and all your dreams can come true.”

Only they didn’t come true for most of us. We got pink slips from our workplaces. We got foreclosures from the bank. We were told that we had to tap into the reserves that we were saving for our retirement.

And now, over two years later, things haven’t improved. There are plenty who still cannot find work, that have been literally FORSAKEN by the rest of the world. They’re not even being counted anymore. Their money is gone but the bills still remain. No jobs mean no way to pay the bills or pay the mortgage or to buy new homes. No jobs and no homes mean no tax revenue for governments large and small to pay for those needed services.

And this isn’t a dream. This is REALITY. There is NO FUTURE for these people to dream about. They can’t strive to live a better life if there is no place for them in the here and now, never mind have hope for their children.

Yes, there are still plenty of people that continue to believe that “the dream” still exists. They have the luxury of taking advantage of everything that this country has to offer and then some. The rest of us, though, are forced to deal with a much harsher reality. It’s a reality that says that even this country’s own citizens are no longer welcomed here, and that the only goal for us is not to prosper, but to just survive.