Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday's Notes

Caught on TV: "I like the organic industrialism of this piece." Organic industrialism? Is that like industrial farming?

Electronic media seems to turn everything into a circus. The Beer Summit. The woman who called police, the black officer who witnessed the arrest of Skip Gates, relentlessly and unfairly vilified, both sound hurt and both look like they've been run over by a steamroller.

Trenchant commentary on the subject by the Brown professor Rachel Maddow had on first. But the comment that will stay with me was made yesterday by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist (and black man) Eugene Robinson, after host Howard Dean tried to make it sound like all this was just a mistake all around. Robinson said that he did not know a black man who doesn't believe race was a factor in Professor Gates' arrest.

On the circus: Chris Matthews, while decrying such loud liars and amplified morons as the Birther people, also complained that Obama's press conferences were too dull. He said so to the tune of very loud background music, and it may have been during his "Politics Sideshow" segment. Someday he might put it together: it's news as entertainment that empowers and amplifies the lunatics and liars, and by complaining about substantive news conferences, he's encouraging the media atmosphere that gives the idiocies he decries their aura of legitimacy.

Despite the hoohaw about Obama poll numbers, the Gallup poll headline is Obama Gets High Marks on Leadership and Empathy. And while other numbers are down from the stratosphere, Pres. O and the Democrats still do significantly better than the GOP/ White Supremacist Party.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Farm Team

Way back when I was wearing the New York Times uniform, I had a one-on-one conversation with the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was telling me about his impossible problems: shrinking revenues in a market hemmed in by geography and population declining within it. The message was the struggle to keep the Pirates competitive. It was kind of shocking at the time, because it was 1980, and the Pirates were the reining World Champions.

But the Pirates had their last competitive team in 1991, when Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke patrolled the outfield, and they came within one out of winning the pennant. All three were soon gone, and the Pirates haven't been a first division team since.

In recent years they've been notable mostly for supplying contenders with star players, and this season they've outdone themselves, capping it all by trading away their last two good players in one day: today.

Not just good to great players, but fan favorites. When I was in Pittsburgh in June, the Pirates were so desperate to get people to games that they expanded their free-game-on-your-birthday promotion to include anybody who has a birthday all year. "Basically if you've been born, you can get a ticket," the TV announcer explained.

Now just why the Pirates can't compete in the same city that is home to the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the World Champion Pittsburgh Penguins is something more subtle minds will have to explain. All I know is that the suggestion I made almost a decade ago--that the Pirates stop pretending, and just officially become a minor league team--is coming true, although the pretense is still there. After all, most of their players now are minor leaguers, and they are clearly a farm team for competitive teams in the Major Leagues.

Maybe they should concentrate on food and drink (they do seem to be doing that) and putting on a good show in that great new ball park, maybe have a ticket lottery with the winner announced during the seventh inning stretch, and a live band on the field between innings. A Ferris Wheel in the outfield and a tractor pull in the parking lot. While playing other farm teams.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

California's Inept Deal with the Devil

The LA Times has a revealing story on how the California budget was passed in the state legislature:

" The power of Sacramento lobbyists was only one of several factors threatening to bring the Legislature to a halt. Steinberg turned aside the proposal from Intuit's representatives. But lobbyists for major interest groups were present throughout the night, seeking to influence the process. With hundreds of pages of legislative language passed with little time available for review, few knew what the fine print might contain.

Early proclamations that the cash crisis had forced lawmakers to transcend pettiness and partisanship devolved into hallway deal-making. Over and over, legislators with designs on higher office balked at measures that could be used in campaigns against them. Legislative leaders, inexperienced in their jobs, repeatedly found they could not deliver the votes of their caucuses.

Term limits have made this batch of lawmakers among the most inexperienced in decades, and many legislators, their attention focused on their next elected office, spent the night watching the moves of real or prospective opponents in upcoming primaries."

All this sordidness might be excused if they had passed a sane budget, with sane cuts and sane revenue increases. But even though they saved posh Santa Barbara beaches from oil rigs and maybe let localities fill some potholes this year, the budget forced on this hapless legislature by the cunning and shameless macho image-making of the Terminator will cost the poor, the sick, the old and the young in suffering as well as dollars, as well as stop any sort of economic recovery in the state for the forseeable future.

For this temporary respite (a few weeks vacation before they have to work on the next budget in October) they will reap the whirlwind: multiple lawsuits, costly court judgments and possible if not likely strikes by various public employees.

First stop: a spike in California's unemployment and a further decline in consumer spending, as the effect of state layoffs and income cuts ripple out. Count on it.

Coming soon: two crippled state university systems, damaging California and the United States' ability to compete economically, as well as consigning more students to dead end futures.