Having already written a serious assessment of the Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate spending on political advertising, the claim by some that it will result in the wholesale purchase of lawmakers got me thinking about what it might be like to have one completely in my pocket.
This will never happen, of course, because I don’t make nearly as much money as Exxon, so the chances are next to zero. But one can dream.
For starters, and to make me feel better about myself, I think I would have him introduce legislation that would declare my birthday, October 29th, as National Robert Garcia Appreciation Day. If this passes, the following year I would go for a National Robert Garcia Awareness Month.
I think it might also be nice to have a bridge or a highway named after me. Many of my tax dollars have already gone toward the construction of such infrastructure so I think it’s only right. But why stop there? I would also want one train station and one airport. And they should be ones that I use, so I would have him propose renaming La Guardia and Union Station. I don’t necessarily expect that resolution to pass, but you have to take a strong initial bargaining position. If we end up with a small, municipal airport and perhaps the tiny little BWI train station, I could find this acceptable.
Then I’d have him introduce an amendment to the omnibus spending bill that would contain a provision that would exempt Robert Garcia from all federal income taxes. How cool would it be to actually keep the gross amount you see on your pay stub?
I also want a farm subsidy. Farmers, you know, are often paid to not grow certain crops. Though I am technically not a farmer, it is a well-established fact that I do not grow corn and I’d like to be paid for that. Because this seems such fertile ground (forgive the pun), going forward, I would point out to my Congressman that there are several other agricultural products I also do not grow like wheat and soy beans.
And then there’s the whole area of research. I would be more than happy to initiate studies on certain important topics like the psychological benefits of attending sports events and concerts. Or perhaps, the effects of sunshine on flies which might require travel to places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico. A few federal grants in the research area would go a long way toward improving the relationship between me and my Congressman.
I could go on and I will. But, regrettably, only in my dreams.
For the past several weeks, writers and editors at various media outlets, wire services, newspapers, magazines and web sites have been busy little beavers, compiling their lists of the big stories of 2009. As a helpful guide, I have superficially scoured the web for some of these lists, point out some of the highlights and offer a few links to make it all convenient for you.
The grand-daddy of them all is the Associated Press list of the top ten stories of the year as voted on by U.S. Editors and News Directors. The #1 story was the tanking and slow recovery of the American economy.
THE ECONOMY: Despite a $787 billion federal stimulus package, much of the U.S. economy continued to sputter throughout the year. The jobless rate topped 10 percent, scores of banks failed, the federal deficit tripled to a record $1.4 trillion, and stocks fell to their lowest levels since 1997 before rallying. Yet investment banks’ profits surged, triggering public anger and efforts in Washington to crack down on Wall Street bonuses.
For the kiddies, Scholastic.com puts the Obama inauguration at the top of the list:
A Historic Inauguration
On January 20, Barack Obama became the 44th U.S. President—and the country’s first African-American chief executive. Obama’s swearing-in ceremony drew a record crowd of 1.8 million people. That made it the biggest event ever held in Washington, D.C. The crowd stood for hours in freezing cold temperatures to witness the event. “We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” the new President told the nation.
The Twitter World
Reuter’s rounds up the top ten “weird” twitter stories of ’09. Topping their list is one man’s compulsive tweeting- including this live, breathless account from his own wedding:
Standing at the alter with @TracyPage where just a second ago she became my wife! Gotta go, time to kiss the bride” is how Dana Hanna kept the world posted between “I do” and that kiss.
Politico.com offers an interesting list of top ten tweets of 2009. At the top, Newt Gingrich’s tweet for which he later apologized in which he called Supreme Court nominee, Sonya Sotomayor a racist:
“White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw,” Gingrich tweeted. He was incensed over Sotomayor’s comment about a “wise Latina” being able to make a better decision than a white male because of her life experience.
But several days later, Gingrich hit the rhetorical “delete” button. “My initial reaction was strong and direct — perhaps too strong and too direct,” Gingrich said in a Web posting. He regretted calling Sotomayor a racist. Gingrich had done a 180 — within 140 characters.
And though not a tweet, Sarah Palin’s famous Facebook entry on health care “death panels,” simultaneously enraged some and caused others great glee:
Here’s the meat of Palin’s post on Facebook: “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.”
On the Medical Front
The Harvard Medical School’s top story for 2009 is about a story that has turned out not to be a story- the H1N1, Swine Flu pandemic:
After the first several weeks of uncertainty, most of the news about the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic has been reassuring. Much of that has to do with the nature of the H1N1 virus itself, which spreads easily and makes people sick, but so far rarely in a life-threatening way. And the word pandemic is misunderstood: a disease is considered pandemic if it has spread globally and affects a larger-than-usual proportion of the population. The disease needn’t be severe.
But a major reason for the calm has been the measured public health response. Plenty of information has been made available (this is the first Internet-age pandemic). A vaccine was developed and put into production, although shortages are a serious concern. Health officials gave us simple, concrete things to do to protect ourselves and others: cough and sneeze into your sleeve, wash your hands often, get vaccinated with both the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines, stay home if you’re feeling sick.
This wasn’t the flu pandemic that the experts were expecting. For years, they’ve eyed the H5N1 bird flu virus circulating in Asia to see if it would mutate and become transmissible among humans. Instead, H1N1 emerged in Mexico with a complicated quadruple pedigree: two strains of swine flu, a human strain, and a bird one. Hospitalization and death rates from the new virus have been high in healthy young adults and quite low in people older than 60. One explanation for that pattern is that older people may have some immunity left over from exposure to a previous version of H1N1.
In the World of Sports
The Los Angles Times’ #2 sports story of the year was Tom Watson’s improbable bid for another British Open title, which really was a nearly-great moment in sports history:
Jack Nicklaus was home watching — for the first time in his life, he says — an entire round of golf on television. Tom Watson was watching the flight of his eight-iron land right where he wanted it to on Turnberry’s 18th green . . . and then inexplicably keep rolling and rolling until it eventually trickled off the green. He putted down the slope from the collar and was left with a putt that would have made him the oldest player to win the British Open . . . by 11 years. He missed and lost a playoff to Stewart Cink. “It tears at your gut,” Watson said, but quickly told crestfallen reporters, “This ain’t a funeral, you know.”
The New York Daily News’ top three sports stories were Tiger Wood’s infidelities, Alex Rodriguez’ steroid admissions and, of course, the New York Yankees 27th World Series title.
Computer World’s #2 story is Microsoft’s launch of Windows 7, the new computer operating system that replaces the atrocious Vista OS:
Microsoft launches Windows 7 — we can all move on now
On Oct. 22, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage in downtown New York at the lead event for a somewhat — for the software giant — soft-edged launch for Windows 7. Ballmer presided over a day of speechmaking and sales promotions in cities worldwide. But the events were on the whole smaller than the usual major Microsoft launches. The scaled-back hoopla and the marketing mantra of “simplicity” fit Microsoft’s characterization of the new OS — above all, faster and more straightforward to use than its predecessor, Vista. That much-maligned OS was plagued by hardware compatibility problems, slow performance and annoying system alerts. The older Windows XP, as of the Win 7 launch, was still being used by more than 70 percent of computer users. Microsoft, no doubt happy to turn the page on an embarrassing chapter in its history, says Win 7 is being adopted faster than Vista.
Celebrities and Wannabe Celebrities
E-online has a first place tie for its entertainment stories of the year. It’s Tiger and the death of Michael Jackson.
Something called TVSquad.com has a list of the top TV reality show scandals of the year. Balloon Boy was #1 and coming in 4th and how could anybody’s list be complete without them- the notorious White House party crashers, Michaele and Tareq Salahi.
Special Bonus List
Saving the best and most lascivious for last, HuffingtonPost.com lists and has a gallery (that shows nothing, by the way) of the top sex tapes of the decade (excuse me- but how 1990’s):
Paris Hilton wins top honors.
Tomorrow…helpful links to lists of the best stories of the decade of which the above item was but a mere tease.
♦ The week starts off with a bang that quickly becomes a whimper. President Obama invites the heads of American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo to the White House for a stern lecture on how those who have received so much from the taxpayers might want to start thinking about actually giving back a little. Three of the executives miss the meeting because the NY-DC Shuttle is fogged in at La Guardia. So much for respect for the Presidency. Couldn’t they have spent the night before in Washington? I understand Amtrak has a fine train service from Penn Station to Union Station. They did call in, though. How considerate.
♦ The Climate Change conference in Copenhagen gets crazy as developing nations quarrel with developed nations, protestors get rowdy and consensus on much of anything begins to melt like the polar ice cap.
♦ The global consulting firm, Accenture, ends its six-year relationship with Tiger Woods saying he’s no longer “the right representative” for them after the events of the past couple of weeks. Gillette begins backing away too.
♦ Something’s fishy at the Waterbury and Wallingford, Connecticut Post offices; seems managers there are so overwhelmed by the amount of holiday mail they’re being inundated with- that they’ve taken to hiding it. Workers get caught stuffing letters, cards and packages into closets and unused rooms. The problem has now been corrected.
♥ The Sun newspaper publishes an exclusive photo of Elin Nordegren (Mrs. Tiger Woods) filling up an SUV at a gas station. There’s something missing. The wedding ring on her left hand.
♦ The Medicare buy-in dies an ignominious death. Independent Connecticut Senator, Joe Lieberman, says he won’t support it even though just three months earlier he had been taped by a local news organization in his state as saying it was a reasonable alternative to a public option. He tells the New York Times he began to get suspicious of the plan when liberal, Democratic NY Congressman, Anthony Weiner, said he loved it. Note to liberals: next time there’s legislation you need passed through the Senate, pretend you hate it.
♥ President Obama, campaigning for tax credits people can get for weatherizing their homes, declares that insulation is “sexy.” I suppose that can be true depending on who’s doing the insulating and what they’re wearing.
♦ Uh-oh. Can it possibly get any worse for Tiger Woods? The New York Times reports the doctor who treated his bum knee last year is under investigation for giving human growth hormone to some of his patients. Tiger’s agent tells people to back off- he’s never used performance enhancing drugs. Apparently, the doc visited Tiger’s home on four different occasions to perform a procedure in which a patient’s own blood is put through a centrifuge to separate out the platelets that are then injected to an area of injury to promote faster healing. The PGA backs Tiger and releases a statement saying that they’ve seen nothing in the reporting that would indicate he’s been in violation of their anti-doping policies.
♥ Considering the consensus that Tiger really would be finished if it turns out he used PED’s, finally, some welcome news for Woods. He is now tied to mistress #14. Yawn.
♦ Time magazine names Federal Reserve Chief, Ben Bernanke the Person of the Year for saving the American economy. Millions crowd the streets as the chanting starts out quietly at first, then into a full roar, “Bernanke, Bernanke Bernanke!” Kudos to Time, though. Instead of picking somebody interesting like Sarah Palin or Tiger Woods or Joe Lieberman, folks who might actually sell magazines- they go for the one guy guaranteed to put you to sleep at the mere mention of his name. Readers be damned- who needs ‘em!
♦ Politico.com reports that New York Democratic Senator, Charles Schumer, called a flight attendant a “bitch” as the DC to NY shuttle was about to take off earlier this week. Seems he was delaying the pull-back from the gate by talking on his cell phone. Obviously, the stewardess had no idea who she was dealing with. There is not a human being alive who has ever succeeded in getting Charles Schumer to stop talking.
♦ The Associated Press names Tiger Woods- Athlete of the Decade.
Thursday, December 17, 2009:
♦ New polling is out from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. The basic results- A pox on both their houses. Support for Democrats has plummeted but the numbers are not translating to Republican gains. What an opportunity for a legitimate 3rd party candidate. Lou Dobbs- take out the hair spray and straighten that tie.
♦ And the numbers show Americans aren’t so thrilled about health care reform either. Only 32% say it’s a good idea; 47% think it’s a bad idea.
♥ A new poll also finds 42% of Americans now have a negative view of Tiger Woods. Clearly, we are in need of a new 3rd party golfer of some kind. What’s Ron Paul’s handicap?
♦ The heavyweights begin arriving at the Copenhagen Climate Change conference. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton says the U.S. will participate in the creation of a $100 billion global fund that poor countries can use to adapt to climate change. It’s predicated on China presenting plans on how they will cut carbon emissions. The Chinese agree to a dialogue. The first glimpse of progress. Nations are now talking about talking in the future.
♦ Lots of news from the NFL. Sad, great and weird. Cincinnati Bengal’s wide receiver Chris Henry dies after falling out of the bed of a pick-up truck in an apparent domestic dispute. The Washington Redskins get rid of an inept General Manager and hire the son of the legendary George Allen. The St. Louis Rams cancel practice as numerous players come down with the H1N1, Swine flu virus.
♥ ABC News quotes sources as saying Elin will 100% divorce Tiger.
Friday, December 18, 2009:
♦ President Obama addresses the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. This was the site of the humiliating experience when Chicago was turned down as the choice for the 2016 Olympic games.
It is now the site for the humiliating experience of no significant action he is seeking being taken to address global climate change. I confidently predict it will be a long, long time before Obama humiliates himself in Copenhagen again. There is a late update on this story. No legally binding agreement- but some headway made as the President literally burst into a meeting of Chinese and other international leaders and forced them into at least an agreement that recognizes there’s a problem to be dealt with and prompts what amounts to voluntary agreement to reduce carbon emmissions. Not a total humiliation after all. But I still don’t think he’s going to back to Copenhagen any time soon. Too many painful memories.
♦ Avatar hits the theatres; all 2 hours and 40 minutes of it. Good reviews abound. More details emerge on what a ground-breaking film it is; 15 years in the making and involving the invention of new technologies like facial recognition cameras that enable human emotions to be uncannily portrayed by animated characters. A 3-D experience that immerses audiences into a completely foreign and highly textured world instead of the usual stuff-coming-at-you-from-the-screen-making-you-feel-like you-need-to-duck approach. It’s long hyphenated sentences like this that doomed my career as a film critic.
♦ Finally, I completed my Christmas shopping! My son, Charlie Garcia, arrives in New York for the holidays next Tuesday and I have just been named head of the Newscast division for National Public Radio, starting in February. Merry Christmas, Charlie- Daddy has a job.
They’re finally getting called to the woodshed. The heads of American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo meet with President Obama today at the White House. It occurs to me that this is not all that dissimilar to something that occurred 47 years ago when John F. Kennedy when toe-to-toe with Big Steel. Sometimes the power of the Presidency can do wonders to reign in greed.
Back then, of course, it was a different world. Steel prices were a very big deal because the nation was still in post-World War II expansion and steel was the key behind the development of the interstate highway system, the auto and airline industries and the growth of the housing industry, then in the process of building America’s great suburbs.
In a nutshell, the Kennedy Administration had spent a great deal of time and effort mediating a major dispute between the steel industry and its labor unions in an effort to hold down the costs of steel. The Labor Secretary of the time, Arthur Goldberg, used his considerable influence with labor to help hammer out a deal in which there were no wage hikes and only modest increases in fringe benefits.
Three days later, the major steel producers announced a 3.5% across-the-board increase in prices. It was a slap in the face to the White House- as if to say “government has no role to play in the private sector, stay out of our business.” And of course, they had just benefited from the government’s intervention in their own labor problems to hold down the cost of union contracts. Do you see an analogy building here?
The U.S. saves the banking sector by offering huge tax-payer bail-outs and how do they respond? Just like Big Steel did in 1962. Only in this case the slap in the face wasn’t a mere price increase. Banks got intensely tight-fisted with their lending. They hiked interest rates on credit cards to loan-shark levels. While the nation’s unemployment rate spiked above 10%, thanks to government bail-outs, they prospered and Wall Street went right back to handing out huge bonuses.
Here’s what Kennedy did when he took on the steel industry:
1) The Justice department swung into action and announced it was investigating possible price-fixing.
2) The Pentagon announced it would enter into contracts only with steel companies that had bucked U.S. Steel and other big companies and kept their prices low.
3) The President held a news conference to explain why the steel companies were not acting in the public interest.
“The pubic interest.” Now that’s an interesting phrase. It implies that hand-in-hand with the raw and necessary capitalistic impulses of making profits, there might also be a sense of responsibility to the nation. Big Steel capitulated in less than a week and rolled back the price increases.
Likewise, the message is beginning to seep through to Big Banking. Even they are beginning to sense how disconnected they are from their customers. On 60 Minutes Sunday night, President Obama did the equivalent of JFK’s Big Steel news conference.
I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street. They don’t get it. They’re still puzzled why it is that people are mad at the banks. Well, let’s see. You guys are drawing down ten million, twenty million dollar bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it’s gone through in decades, and you guys caused the problem.
Well, what do you know? Politico.com is reporting this morning that banking leaders will tell the President today that they are ready to “step up.”
Every CEO that’s participating is ready to a) listen and b) step up,” said an industry executive familiar with plans for the meeting. Everybody’s goal is to come out of the meeting with actionable, constructive and measurable things that the industry can do to spur recovery.
The bankers do make a legitimate case that they cannot return to the crazy drunken lending they offered to unqualified subprime mortgage customers that helped screw the economy in the first place. But, surely, even they have to realize the difference between that kind of lending and, say, small business loans. There will always be risk. But some kinds are manageable and some kinds are not.
Let’s hope they’re smart enough to figure out the difference and that the White House and the little people continue to hold their feet to the fire. Our jobs and our way of life are dependent on it.
Remembering the week’s events so you don’t have to!
♦ The week starts off with welcome news for millions of parents. Zhu Zhu pets will not kill their children after all. Over the weekend, a California product-rating web site had claimed the hit toy of the Christmas season contained high levels of a fire retardant called antimony that can cause heart and lung problems with chronic exposure. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issues a statement saying- nuh uh (paraphrasing). Turned out GoodGuide had conducted faulty testing that failed to meet government standards-the antimony levels were fine. Officially, parents are cleared to return to not finding the toys at stores. The loveable furry rodents that are supposed to sell for $10 a piece continue selling online for $100.
♥ Tiger Wood’s wife reportedly moves out of their Florida home.
♦ The Gallup polling organization’s daily EKG of the President’s approval ratings drops below 50%. He is now down to 47%, among the lowest approval numbers for a new President in modern history. Pundits with White House connections say Obama advisors liken the situation to the Reagan administration’s first term when the nation was in the deep recession that effectively ended the hyper-inflation of the Carter years but at a high cost to millions of newly unemployed. The economy eventually recovered and so did Reagan’s initially bad poll numbers. Fox News trumpets the Gallup figures with serious fervor. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs responds that the White House pays no attention to poll numbers unless they’re good. Ok, he didn’t really say that last part.
♥ The number of women reported to have had affairs with Tiger Woods reaches seven.
♦ The big Climate Conference is underway in Copenhagen. “Climategate” enters the public lexicon in a big way as tens of thousands begin wondering why all scandals have to be named “gate.” Stolen e-mails and files from a British climate research center suggest temperature data may have been unethically manipulated. Representatives from a country with only a small stake in the debate over limiting carbon emissions officially raise the issue at the conference. Delegates from oil-rich Saudi Arabia declare the scandal raises serious questions about the basic premise behind the theory of global warming. Go ahead; take a moment to connect those last two sentences.
♥ Photos of Tiger Wood’s mother-in-law being wheeled into an ambulance on a stretcher at 2:30 in the morning becomes breaking news on all the cable networks. Quickly scrambled reporters breathlessly note the incredible irony that she has been taken to the same hospital where Tiger had been treated after his single-car accident. She was released the next day. For some reason, she had been experiencing stress.
♦ The Transportation Security Administration messes up big-time. Employees post TSA manuals online as part of the contract solicitation process. Not ordinarily a problem, except that sensitive details about airport security procedures that were supposed to be redacted- weren’t. Turns out the TSA employees thought they had hidden the classified stuff by covering the words in black. They should have actually deleted them. Apparently, clever, tech-savvy whiz kids can see right through the blackened segments in PDF files and soon the sensitive material makes its way onto the internet. Among other things, we now know what a CIA security credential looks like, that TSA workers don’t inspect wheelchairs or prosthetic devices, and that when it gets really busy at airports they only have to look at 20% of checked bags for explosives. This is why I take trains whenever possible.
♦ Monster waves hit Hawaii and surfers go nuts. San Clemente, California’s Greg Long, rides what is described as a massive, jaw-dropping 25-footer to a perfect score of 100 winning $55,000 at the prestigious 25th anniversary Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contest on the North Shore of Oahu.
♥ The number of women linked to Tiger Woods reaches 10.
♦ Hump day is a busy news day, indeed. The President delivers a speech at the Brookings Institution in which he outlines tax cuts and other incentives to help small businesses both hire and invest. Since small businesses hire two-thirds of the American work force, some people see this as a good thing. The loyal opposition, which usually supports tax cuts for small businesses, objects loudly because the White House wants to pay for it with bank bail-out money that has been paid back faster than expected. They argue the $200 billion should go toward paying down the huge deficit. I pull out my handy calculator and put on my old-fashioned green accountant visor-thing. Let’s see, divide the $200 billion by the national debt which is currently $12,086,118,896,943. Convert to percentage. <Insert sound of fingers busily pressing calculator keys> Ah ha! Instead of tax cuts for small businesses so they can hire more people, we can take that money and reduce the deficit by 1.65%. Only 98.35% to go! Good deal!
♥ It is reported that national television ads that featured Tiger Woods have vanished from the airwaves and have not been broadcast since November 29th.
♦ The upper Midwest is hit hard by a massive winter storm that dumps one to three feet of snow and then moves eastward, eventually hitting New England. Buffalo gets buffaloed as it gets both the initial storm and then lake-effect snow later in the week.
♦ Five workers with the Transportation Security Administration are put on leave while an investigation is conducted into how they could be so clueless. See Tuesday, 12/8.
♥ A CNN/Gallup poll is released that finds Tiger Woods’ unfavorability rating has gone up from 9% to 25%. No one seems to notice that a married guy with two kids implicated in ten adulterous relationships still has a higher approval rating than the President of the United States.
♦ Sarah Palin writes an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post citing climategate, argues there is no consensus on global warming and concludes the President should boycott the Copenhagen conference. Liberal activists and some scientists criticize the Washington Post for publishing the article. They apparently have not heard that nobody actually reads newspapers anymore and that Sarah Palin’s Facebook friends list exceeds the paper’s total circulation. Sarah Palin has 1,097,360 Facebook friends. The Washington Post’s daily circulation is 637,180. On Sundays, it’s 890,163. I checked.
♦ Senate Democrats reach agreement on health care but nobody can quite figure out at first whether a public option is in or out. Turns out the compromise proposal would allow people to start paying for and getting Medicare coverage two years from now; minimum age-55. Since I am 53, I think, “Wow, how cool is that?”
♥ The number of women associated with Tiger Woods reaches 11.
♦ Barack Obama becomes the first sitting American President since Woodrow Wilson to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. It is widely accepted he’d been given the honor as a largely symbolic gesture for the change he represents rather than for anything he’s accomplished in a mere 11 months in the oval office. Awkward. But not really, because Obama starts the speech by openly admitting the accomplishments of previous recipients like Nelson Mandela dwarf anything he’s done thus far in his young Presidency.
He also accepted the PEACE prize one week after committing 30,000 additional U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan. Awkward. But not really, because the President deals with the issue head-on in his much lauded speech in Oslo, Norway. He reminds his largely European audience that the non-violent movement would not have defeated Nazi Germany and that you can’t sit down at a table and negotiate with Al-Qaeda terrorists. He concludes sometimes you have to make war to find peace. Amazingly enough, the speech receives positive reviews from Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin. To underscore his point, the President later reminds attendees of the ceremonies that the founder of the Peace Prize, Alfred Noble, invented dynamite.
♦The Russians finally fess up. An amazing and slightly creepy light display over the skies of pre-dawn Norway on Wednesday were not the harbinger of an alien invasion. Turns out it was a Bulava missile test-fired by the Dmitry Donskoi submarine in the White Sea that failed spectacularly. What startled residents of Norway were seeing was the rocket spiraling down to earth through a haze of leaking fuel, resulting in an awesome and scary viewing experience. For the record, the Bulova missile is one of the most pathetic in the annals of modern rocketry. It has failed in 9 of 13 launch attempts. It occurred to me this would make a great pyrotechnic device for a truly memorable fireworks celebration. Until a friend pointed out that an exploding missile might hurt people. This confirms I would have made a horrible event planner.
♥ Tiger Woods’ attorneys go to court to pre-empt the publishing of nude pictures of the world’s greatest golfer/most questionable decision-maker.
♦ The first reviews are in from pre-screenings of the new movie Avatar that is officially released a week from today. The epic, whose characters took 15 years to develop and whose total production and marketing costs exceed $350 million- is apparently pretty good. KTRA movie critic, Sam Rubin predicts at least three Oscars including a Best Picture nomination. That would be about $116 million per statue.
♦ It’s reported Democrats are poised to vote to increase the national debt ceiling by $1.8 trillion before the end of the year so they can get it out of the way and not have to vote to raise it again before the 2010 elections. What an outrage! Why you could produce and market 5,142 Avatar’s for that amount of money.
♥ The Sun newspaper reports exclusively that Tiger Woods tells his wife, Elin that he will do “anything” to keep their marriage together. She has reportedly agreed to do so for the sake of the children. Just one condition. He would be on the shortest leash in the history of leashes. No more golf tour unless Elin can come along and until the kids are old enough to tag along too. The first-born, Sam, is 2. The new kid, Charlie, is 10 months old. Looks like Tiger is going to be taking a few years off. Things should die down by then. Perhaps.
Robert Garcia tweets at garciamedialife.
Sometimes it all goes by so fast that by Friday you forget what happened last Monday. Then when you successfully navigate all the clutter in your brain and finally remember what happened Monday…bam…Tuesday’s now been erased. Here’s a helpful guide that won’t tax what’s left of your brain cells and updates some of the week’s noteworthy events:
Monday, November 30: We all returned to reality after the Thanksgiving holidays and after four days off, it was a slow and grudging return to work (or return to looking for work as the case may be). Some of us got through Black Friday, Black Saturday and Black Sunday relatively unscathed. And we thank you for spending. Preliminary sales figures show the retail madness in 2009 was slightly better than it was in 2008. This, of course, was that imaginary Cyber Monday thing and you spent the whole day listening to the media tell you were supposed to follow your brick-and-mortar shopping with excursions to Amazon.com and LL Bean online. You forgot to do it (9 in 10 don’t according to Mastercard research) but that’s ok, because you know you still have about three more shopping weeks left.
Tuesday, December 1: It was a day for the silly and the serious. News coverage was split roughly 50/50 between the President’s impending speech on his new policy in Afghanistan and the saga of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple who had crashed the White House state dinner the previous Tuesday. The day started with the Salahis showing up on the Today show, insisting they had been invited to the function. The week ended with an e-mail trail you’d have to be slightly nuts to take as an invitation to the White House. Plus, a trio of Secret Service agents is on administrative leave and in trouble for letting the Salahis in. The White House admitted it played a role in the security breech but also invoked executive privilege in refusing to allow the social secretary to testify before congress.
After no doubt high-five-ing their way through all the glory and media attention, the Salahis also conclude the week under investigation by the State of Virginia for the way they run a charity polo event that some are claiming is pretty much a Ponzi scheme. This proves there is an important addendum to Andy Worhol’s rule that all Americans will eventually receive 15 minutes of celebrity status. It could be followed by 10 to 15 in the pokey.
Wednesday, December 2: It was a day filled with reaction to the President’s war plans for Afghanistan and as one administration official after another marched up to Capitol Hill, it quickly became evident that everyone hates the plan and further proved the old axiom that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Liberals think nation-building starts at home. Conservatives disliked the timetable that starts a withdrawal process in July, 2011. The week ends with the White House being highly uncertain about the specifics of the withdrawal date, further angering the left, but not enough to appease the right.
Oh, and God help us- it was Tiger Day. The greatest golfer of all time, who we all apparently thought was a candidate for the Papacy- turned out to have been very naughty and participated in a slew of infidelities which are yet to settle at a final number. Perhaps the most notable coverage of all this was the animated recreation of Tiger’s now infamous single-car accident produced by a Japanese media outlet. There was also the voice-mail Tiger left, begging one his mistresses to take her name off her phone greeting message because the wife was going through his phone contacts and apparently making systematic calls. The week ends with one of Tiger’s ladies abruptly canceling a news conference leading to the biggest flurry of conspiratorial conjecture since smoke was seen rising from the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza 46 years ago.
Thursday, December 3: The White House holds a “Jobs Summit.” Various wise men and women, media moguls, newspaper columnists and policy experts, truck on over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to share their innovative thinking. The President makes it quite clear Uncle Sam is tapped out and that job-creation is going to be the task of the private sector. Of course, there are things the government can do to help the private sector do this but those specifics will apparently come later.
Friday, December 4: The day is young and unfolding but rest assured Matt Drudge stands ever vigilant to find any innocuous thread of fact to prove there is no global warming, starting the morning with a large headline that screams: “Houston May See Earliest Snowfall Ever.” Well, that seals the case. Especially when you put it together with his various headlines over the summer about it being cooler than usual in some city or another. Apparently, unless the oceans are boiling over there is no threat to the planet from carbon emissions. Tell that to the polar bears and walrus clinging to a shrinking North Pole ice floe as we speak.
And finally, a sliver of unexpected good news today; unemployment dropped from 10.2 to 10% last month. It’s just possible we may have hit bottom. The Dow Jones is
very happy about this at the moment (oops- now selling off- forgot how Wall Street loves high unemployement). I think we should all be extremely impressed that the White House “Jobs Summit” produced such lightening fast results!
As America becomes more and more a nation of haves and have-nots; as the great middle class continues to shrink and the U.S. begins looking increasingly like a developing nation with rich and poor and little in between, the White House holds its big jobs summit today. Is it anything more than a photo-op? The answer to that question won’t be forthcoming right away. We need to watch closely to see if anything comes of this over the next couple of months.
The political need for this summit is obvious. The administration fears looking AWOL on this critically important issue as its attention gets diverted daily by health care reform and prosecuting multiple wars overseas. With deficits skyrocketing, there is no more White House appetite for additional government stimulus that creates what some argue are just temporary jobs anyway. Enter the Best and the Brightest from private industry as well as a few Nobel laureates to help lead the Obama administration out of the woods.
Presumably, someone at the White House has the guest list (and given recent events- will watch it carefully) but they’re not sharing it. We know Disney Chief, Bob Iger will be there as will Comcast’s Brian Roberts (how many folks will he be laying off in a year and half after the expected merger with NBC). Google’s Eric Schmidt will offer guidance as will newspaper columnists Paul Krugman (NY Times) and Alan Binder (Wall Street Journal). According to some conservative media outlets, we also know who won’t be there; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Neither has been friendly at all on issues like cap-and-trade and health care reform.
The Track Record on Summits
Do we have a guide on how idea talk-fests like these succeed? Not really- but I’m not optimistic. For example, did you know that Vice President Joe Biden is the guy in the administration who is in charge of the whole issue of the shrinking American middle class? He heads something called the Middle Class Task Force. On November 4th, The Vice President hosted a big forum on the issue at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that served as the incubator of progressive thought during the exile of the Bush years. Here’s the White House.gov report on how that all went:
On Thursday at the Center for American Progress in Washington D.C., Vice President Biden moderated an in-depth discussion focusing on the long-term, structural challenges facing middle class families in today’s economy. Joined by a panel of policy experts, the group focused on broader issues such as the overall labor market in recent decades; shifting gender roles and the need for work-life balance in today’s economy; economic inequality and mobility; the increased gap between productivity and wages, and much more.
I like the “and much more” part. The White House promised there would be follow-up with the policy experts that took part. There’s no way to know at this point if that’s happened or not. It’s only been a month so I kind of doubt it.
The Middle Class is Vanishing
But as if you needed one- here is the most recent wake-up call on what is happening to the American middle class.
It comes from Elizabeth Warren, Chairperson of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the banking bailouts. How’s this for chilling:
Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street.
You remember how in the 1950’s, Dad went to 3-maritini lunches and brought home the bacon while Mom took care of the kids, baked apple pies and took valium? Well, that stereotype got busted wide open in the 1970’s and 80’s when economic pressures forced families to produce dual income-earners. With Mom and Dad both working, the joint incomes gave the appearance all was well- and affordable. But it has now caught up with us. Two incomes don’t cut it anymore. And increasingly, because of the jobless situation, the stresses increase exponentially when two incomes become one income or none at all.
Call to Action
We are in crisis here, folks. Middle Class Task Forces and Jobless Summits are not bad things. Ideas need to be discussed. Traditional orthodoxies, both liberal and conservative, need to be challenged. Tax cuts and hiring incentives for small businesses that end up employing most of America should be considered. We should think about reducing payroll taxes to give people a larger chunk of their own paychecks. Maybe Paul Krugman is right when he argues that the national deficit as a percentage of the total economy is actually quite small and that there is room for more government stimulus.
But at some point, the talking has to end and action is required. It is called leadership. If it’s true that the economy has changed to the point that many of the jobs that have been lost are never, ever coming back, then I can’t think of a single more pressing issue affecting the core of what people used to consider a prosperous nation. It had a name: the American Dream. Somebody, please, step up to the plate before that dream becomes completely unattainable for most of our citizens.