Jon Sinton – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Wed, 14 Nov 2018 14:35:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Jon Sinton – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 While You Were Out http://likethedew.com/2013/03/04/while-you-were-out/ http://likethedew.com/2013/03/04/while-you-were-out/#comments Mon, 04 Mar 2013 15:39:41 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=49702 Amusing Ourselves to Death, was coming true. Postman correctly predicted that while we were on guard against George Orwell's Big Brother in the dystopian classic, 1984, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World--the one where entertainment and self-indulgent behavior allows the political class to pull a fast one--emerged into our consciousness fully-formed. We have awakened from our amusements, well, some of us, anyway, to find a world gone mad.]]>

While you were surfing the Internet, consuming video on-demand, texting on your smartphone, chatting on Facebook, or Tweeting about playing Halo 18, Neil Postman’s seminal 1985 work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, was coming true. Postman correctly predicted that while we were on guard against George Orwell’s Big Brother in the dystopian classic, 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World–the one where entertainment and self-indulgent behavior allows the political class to pull a fast one–emerged into our consciousness fully-formed.

We have awakened from our amusements, well, some of us, anyway, to find a world gone mad. A president who lost his voice for four years, and a Republican party that thought it was outsmarting the electorate, only to realize, too late, that it had outsmarted itself. They had gerrymandered themselves into a technically unbeatable congressional majority, but left themselves at the mercy of their own right wing, known as the Tea Party, a sort of sesquicentennial tribute to the Know Nothing Party, that was made up of anti-immigration xenophobes. In 1850, no amount of evidence-based arguing could dissuade them from their beliefs. This may sound familiar to you.

gerrymanderingT

As Ian Millhiser wrote in his article, Grand Theft Election:

In 2012 Democratic House candidates received nearly 1.4 million more votes than their Republican counterparts. Yet Republican candidates currently hold a 33-seat majority in the House, due in large part to the fact that Republican state legislatures controlled the redistricting process in several key states. Indeed, Republicans were so successful in their efforts to lock in their control of the House of Representatives through gerrymandering that Democratic House candidates would have needed to win the national popular vote by more than 7 percentage points in order to receive the barest majority in the House. Republicans aren’t particularly shy about touting the success of their gerrymanders either: The Republican State Leadership Committee released an extensive memo boasting about how they used gerrymanders to lock down GOP majorities in the House.

The impact of the current congressional maps is most profound in six key states…President Obama did win Michigan by nearly 10 points, but Democratic candidates won only 5 of the state’s 14 congressional seats. Likewise, President Obama won Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin—in some cases by comfortable margins—but Republicans dominate the congressional delegations from these states. Notably, all six of these states are currently controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, meaning that all six of them could implement the Republican election-rigging plan before the 2016 election.

(That’s the one where they change the Electoral College rules in their presidentially-blue states so that it is no longer winner take all, but forces each district to cast its electoral votes in accordance with its congressional choice–that is, a rigged, foregone conclusion. It would signal the end of majority rule, and would have allowed Mitt Romney to win the presidency with five-million fewer popular votes than President Obama. You have to hand it to them: only once in the last six presidential elections have Republicans managed to win the Popular Vote; they know the only way to win is to rig the game, and they are okay with that.)

The President and PowerPoint

President Obama found his voice not a second too soon in the Fall election. Now I wonder if he’ll use it to tell the American people exactly what’s going on. I’ve read his books. He’s an excellent story teller. One hopes he will use that gift now when we need it most.

We need to ensure that voters pick their representatives, and not the other way around.What has finally emerged is the indisputable fact that the country is faced with a vocal and vehement minority whose most closely held civic values revolve around self-sufficiency and letting the societal chips fall where they may. They want very limited government intervention, preferring to let the consequences of sickness, unemployment, injury, bad fortune, infirmity and old age play out like a Dickens’ novel. The descendants of those who fought FDR on Social Security and LBJ on Medicare are in full-throated alarm over Obamacare, the Minimum Wage and banking/business regulation.

The last election, be damned; evidence be damned, they will shrink government if not by hook, then certainly by crook.

So I wonder about the President and Power Point. Is it written somewhere that presidents cannot use audio-visual aids? Why doesn’t President Obama use his bully pulpit to outline the starkly different philosophies that are actually behind the gridlock in Washington? Why can’t he say that Tea Party Republicans want a much smaller government where individuals rely on themselves, while Democrats, and not coincidentally, the majority of Americans, want the social insurance programs that have been in place since the Great Depression?

He could then tie these differing philosophies to the importance of redistricting, he could tell the American people that even though the majority of them want Social Security and Medicare, the conservative forces who opposed social insurance since its beginning now control congress through gerrymandering, and will through the remainder this decade.

He could explain the gridlock in this fashion, and show the American people that independent redistricting panels as a national policy enforced at the state level are the only way to ensure that voters pick their representatives, and not the other way around.

If I were he, I would hire the filmmakers and technologists behind Al Gore’s ““>An inconvenient Truth,” and lay out a graphic depiction of where we are and how we got here in a visually appealing animation that fifth graders would immediately grasp. I know that still leaves out wide swaths of the American landscape, but, trust me, enough people would still get it.

Independent Redistricting: Our Only Hope

I feel certain that there is a “State Plan” wherein Republicans long ago recognized their dim national prospects, so began an all-out war to control state houses, senates and gubernatorial races as a way to forward their agenda of electoral “fixes” like voter suppression through rule changes and intimidation and gerrymandering.

The good government group, Common Cause (full disclosure: I chair the Georgia state board, but in no way speak for the national or state organization here), is engaged in a long term battle against both parties to create independent redistricting as they did in California. It won’t be easy, but has to be tried if we’re to restore fair congressional elections in this country. There’s a recent documentary that chronicles the decade-long, winning battle in California. Gerrymandering serves as more than a history, it is a guide for states across the land who wish to restore fairness and sanity to our elections. We simply have to save our democracy from, well, us.

We have outsmarted ourselves. No matter what laws we create, partisans, lobbyists and corporations, given enough time and money, will find ways around and through our best intentions. Only a national plan for independent redistricting strikes broadly and simply enough to make sure there are no loopholes. It is complicated by the fact that we are a nation at play, not a nation at work. Where electoral politics are concerned, we are not a vigilant nation. I’m sure you know how many Twitter followers you have and how many Facebook friends as well, but do you know who your Congressional rep is, and a better question, why?

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The Last Hurrah http://likethedew.com/2012/11/07/the-last-hurrah/ http://likethedew.com/2012/11/07/the-last-hurrah/#comments Wed, 07 Nov 2012 20:29:35 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=43694

Victory Speech Screen ShotOK, excellent outcome. Not a mandate, but clearly a rebuke to Republicans’ misguided belief that hate and division can again pass for vision. Their pundits employed “selection bias,” the phenomenon where you pick the information that suits your argument (Karl Rove, Peggy Newnan, Rasmussen Polling, The Wall Street Journal, Talk Radio and Fox News) rather than the facts (Nate Silver). If you’re scoring at home, that’s Science 1 – Wishful Thinking 0.

The two headlines have to be Science and Demographics. The Obama campaign knew a year ago that twelve counties would decide this. They analyzed the Electoral College rules and knew how, when and where to deploy their assets. Demographics, because the emergent coalition of women, Millennials and minorities meant that no amount of safe white counties would be enough to win.

Still, the campaign was disappointing: substance free, nit-picking the tiny, inconsequential issues while ignoring the critical ones will be its hallmark. Both candidates were afraid to address real issues like global warming or the structural changes to our economy represented by the twin forces of Globalization and the broadly disruptive Internet.

Instead the Republicans invoked dog-whistle racism, and blatant misogynistic rape and abortion hot buttons.

And why did the President play the small ball? This election campaign has turned on taxes, unemployment, the size of government, and economic recovery, but let’s face it, presidents have much less power than we give them credit and blame for. If a president could control gas prices, for instance, would there ever be another one term presidency? Each September of an election year, the boss would just reprice gas at $1.76/gallon and get re-elected. How about if they could control the unemployment numbers? Same story: put Americans to work so the number gets to 5.5% or so, and voila! Congress has a lot more power over the economy than does the president.

What then is a president’s role? Well, for starters, the Commander in Chief is the last word on foreign policy. The president can mobilize the military and decide whom we talk to, whom we trade with, and who we bomb. But bigger still is the president’s bully pulpit, both at home and at broad.

And that, for me, is the big Obama disappointment. Not his foreign policy–for it has been the bright shining light of the Obama presidency–but his inability or unwillingness to tell the story of these years to the American people. Someone said the president is the Story Teller in Chief, and that, more than anywhere else, is where he let us down. Strange, too, because during the 2008 campaign, and right up through the inauguration, Mr. Obama seemed to get that. He’s a superb writer and an eloquent speaker, yet for some inexplicable reason, he stopped telling us what was going on.

Why, beginning with the stimulus, didn’t he lay out his plans, his outreach, and the opposition’s tack? How hard would it have been to let us know that history says when credit freezes and business stalls, government can prop up the economy long enough for it to regain its momentum? And when the opposition–loyal and otherwise–started to lie and obstruct, why didn’t he show us how wrong, spiteful and mean-spirited they were?

We sent him to The White House to fight for hope and change, and this president had the once-in-a-generation chance to re-stripe the field, but he would have had to tell us what he was going to do, and then tell us what he did.

The presidency stands for national leadership. I will grant you that in the Age of Information, when the huge messaging infrastructure represented by Fox News, Talk Radio, and a million Websites and blogs has the discipline to stick to the Heritage Foundation’s daily talking points, you have your work cut out for you.

But you’re the President. Your messaging infrastructure is the U.S. government and the entirety of the news media from serious newspapers to Entertainment Tonight.

So everyday you you call the liars out and recast the story the way it should be told, in truths big and small. They make it so easy, really. As the great American philosopher, Ann Landers, said, “The best dressed lie is never as pretty as the naked truth.” How hard would it have been to stop Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on day three when he said publicly that his primary goal was to see to it that Mr. Obama was a one term president?

There’s no rule against presidents using Power Point is there? For four years I’ve wondered why the White House didn’t hire the people who made Al Gore’s Oscar™ winning movie “An Inconvenient Truth” to make a few slides depicting the wanton off-the-books spending of the Bush Administration, the structural nature of current unemployment that began in the Bush years, or the painful truth that trickle down economics has not resulted in income or job growth for the Middle Class.

To our detriment, both sides forwarded deluded “plans” to restore an economy that is so significantly changed by Globalization and the Internet that it will never return to the Industrial Revolution model we have relied on for a hundred years.

Women, Millennials, Latinos, African Americans, and GLBT minorities emerged in this election. It was their first election as the majority. All of this “take our country back” and social imagineering of a return to the 1950s Hollywood back-lot America is the last gasp of the WASP majority. They are anti-immigrant for good reason: they don’t want to lose their majority standing. This was their last hurrah.

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To A Friend in Need http://likethedew.com/2012/09/07/to-a-friend-in-need/ http://likethedew.com/2012/09/07/to-a-friend-in-need/#comments Fri, 07 Sep 2012 12:51:50 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=42041 A friend was getting abused for her liberal thinking. Facebook “friends” were relentless in their bullying, minimizing her relevance, and denigrating her personally. She ultimately made a more peaceful existence online by un-friending them. She is a wise and good person. A college professor with a huge heart, and intellect to match. This was truly upsetting to her, and she decided to let it go and live in peace, while noting that they treat me differently. It is not just because I give as good as I get. I try to be reasoned, respectful and logical. Here’s how I answered her:

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A friend was getting abused for her liberal thinking. Facebook “friends” were relentless in their bullying, minimizing her relevance, and denigrating her personally. She ultimately made a more peaceful existence online by un-friending them. She is a wise and good person. A college professor with a huge heart, and intellect to match. This was truly upsetting to her, and she decided to let it go and live in peace, while noting that they treat me differently. It is not just because I give as good as I get. I try to be reasoned, respectful and logical. Here’s how I answered her:

Trust me, I get my share, although it comes from the pros like Hannity and Boortz, not former classmates. Because I work in politics and study this stuff, they are afraid to challenge me. My theory is that they know deep down that theirs is an id-driven compulsion to repeat lies that attempt to hold women and minorities down and build themselves up. Frankly, I can understand the fear that old white guys have–the world really is changing. It’s the women Tea Partiers that I don’t get. Maybe it’s just to scary to contemplate a world where men don’t have to take care of you.

Romney pulling a rabbit out of a magicians hatThere is no reasoning with them. As you can see //www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPsl_TuFdes

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//www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPsl_TuFdes

, I showed them the video evidence of one of their supreme leaders calling for voter suppression, but they couldn’t hear it. I have a friend here, Drew Westen, who is a neuro-scientist at Emory, and is the author of a marvelous book called The Political Brain. He says open-minded people are few and far between, and that we will always stretch to believe ideas that support our closely held positions. Frankly, it’s pretty damn depressing. It is a willful ignorance that makes them think they can depress the vote and call it fraud protection, or say the president is letting welfare recipients not work. They know very well the depths of their lies. If not ignorance, it is worse: wishful, even magical thinking.

On an up-note, I’m just back from Charlotte where I saw Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton speak, and I am fairly well convinced that this last gasp of good ol’ boy (and girl) power will lose to the new demographic coalition of youth, color and ethnic and sexual diversity. As the young woman said to her father when he asked how she could possibly vote for a black president in 2008, “Oh, Daddy, he’s only half black, just like your grandchildren will be!”

This is not to say they are not armed and dangerous. The Secret Service knows it. You should see the security in Charlotte.

So, forget the closed-minded morons, this is their last hurrah. The world is moving on without them.

Regarding the IndieGoGo ask for Progressive Voices, it would sure help if you’d share it on FB and send it to your email list. My worst fear is that we are too late, and talk radio and Fox News will poison a new generation’s minds. We must not let that happen.

Lots of Love,
Jon

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NN12: Happy and Sad; Good and Bad http://likethedew.com/2012/06/19/nn12-happy-and-sad-good-and-bad/ http://likethedew.com/2012/06/19/nn12-happy-and-sad-good-and-bad/#respond Tue, 19 Jun 2012 20:49:01 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=40155 The mood was sour last week at Netroots Nation 2012, the seven year-old gathering of progressive political activists who have come together, and come of age, online.

Two days before they arrived for the four-day conference in Providence, Rhode Island, Wisconsin voters opted to keep Scott Walker, the embattled Republican governor who laid waste to collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters and cops. His victory was aided by enormous amounts of out of state money, the result of 2010’s Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision that said corporations are people...

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The mood was sour last week at Netroots Nation 2012, the seven year-old gathering of progressive political activists who have come together, and come of age, online.

Two days before they arrived for the four-day conference in Providence, Rhode Island, Wisconsin voters opted to keep Scott Walker, the embattled Republican governor who laid waste to collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters and cops. His victory was aided by enormous amounts of out of state money, the result of 2010’s Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision that said corporations are people, so they have First Amendment rights to unfettered free speech (which in practice means they can spend huge sums anonymously through Super-PACs).

Netroots Nation 2012
AFL-CIO’s Rich Trumka; the Agenda Project’s Erica Payne; Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman and Ai-jen Poo, National Domestic Workers Alliance director. Moderator: Demos’ Heather McGhee

Adding to the gloom, President Obama told a news conference that “the private sector is doing fine.” Predictably, Republicans were outraged. That did nothing to cheer the Netroots Nation.

The heroine of the ninety nine percent, and architect of the new Consumer Protection Bureau, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, had lost her voice by the time she spoke Saturday. She went through the motions, but was largely uninspiring. She was obviously tired and her voice was hoarse when she gave a paint-by-numbers stump speech. It was cotton candy: sweet and filling, but completely without substance. The crowd wanted more.

Luckily, Van Jones was there. This guy is Superman. Except, there’s not a phone booth big enough to hold all his uniforms. Civil- and eco-rights activist, attorney, best selling author and former adviser to the president on the emerging Green Economy, Jones is quintuple threat. But, mostly he’s a realist. And somehow, he managed to cheer this group up.

He told them that he was obviously raised wrong, because his parents taught him that police officers, firefighters and teachers were heroes, not villains. He was surprised to learn they had caused the economic crisis and were being punished by having their pensions–and the ability to collectively negotiate any new contracts–cancelled.

And he told them to pick their eyes up off the ground, and to stop complaining about the Wisconsin loss and a president who isn’t as progressive as they’d hoped. He said you have to get in the game. You can’t stay out of Wisconsin where the governor outspent his opponent 30 to 1, and just wish the outcome was different. You have to be there on the ground. He said, memorably, “Democracy is not an app.” You have to get your head out of Facebook and actually participate. I thought he was a pretty good forward thinker in 2005 when he co-founded the African American online advocacy group Color of Change. I wasn’t surprised when President Obama picked him to spearhead their Green Economy initiative. And I wasn’t surprised when the Right went after him and he graciously resigned rather than making the White House fight for him. I was sure about him when he founded Green For All, the non-governmental agency “building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.” My only surprise came this weekend when I–and about 3500 other people–learned how personally he takes the success of all our people and our country.

The other person who always cheers up a gathering is former Congressman Alan Grayson. He’s the guy who famously said the Republicans already have a healthcare plan: “Don’t get sick.” His website isn’t “CongressmanWithGuts.com” for nothing! They beat him in his Orlando district in 2010, when Democrats lost everywhere, but the polls say they won’t beat him this November.

I ran into him as he was being interviewed by one of the best progressive talk show hosts on the radio, Sirius XM’s Matsimela Mapfumo-Mark Thompson, who was midstream in his nightly Make It Plain show. It was the Congressman with guts and the talk show host with heart (and plenty of guts) talking solutions and hope at a time when seemingly everyone else was talking despair.

Thompson, by the way, is a uniquely American voice: schooled as a pastor, he has a preacher’s cadence and patience. Usually slow and sweet with his callers, he is also fully capable of switching identities without a phone booth. One caller who thought Thompson “paranoid” for wondering if/when he and his 10 year-old son would be stopped and frisked by NYC police near their Harlem home, got more than he expected. “Wait a minute. Wait a minute, fool,” the host protested with more than a little edge in his voice. “Y’know paranoia is a deluded mental condition. You’re closer to that than I am.”

By Saturday night, NN12, as they call it, was winding down and the rag tag coalitions that make up the 99%, the multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural stew, was bubbling with hope again. They just needed to get together, and get back to their roots.

© 2012 Jon Sinton Progressive Agenda LLA

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How Liberals Think http://likethedew.com/2012/05/05/how-liberals-think/ http://likethedew.com/2012/05/05/how-liberals-think/#comments Sat, 05 May 2012 19:01:19 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=39105 I recently served on a panel at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs that was titled “How Liberals Think,” a question I’ve pondered as long as I can remember. Beyond the classic dictionary [New Oxford American Dictionary] definition, open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values; favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms; and (in a political context) favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform,” let’s address it as the more fundamental question: Which side of history do you want to be on?

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The Liberal Thinker

I recently served on a panel at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs that was titled “How Liberals Think,” a question I’ve pondered as long as I can remember. Beyond the classic dictionary [New Oxford American Dictionary] definition, open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values; favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms; and (in a political context) favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform,” let’s address it as the more fundamental question: Which side of history do you want to be on?

I want to be on the side of the American Revolutionaries. Not the conservatives who sided with King George.

I want to be on the side of Lincoln and the abolitionists. Not the conservatives who were willing to spill their countrymen’s blood to preserve their ability to enslave their fellow man for economic gain.

I want to be on the side of the 21st Amendment that repealed Prohibition, not with the conservatives who passed the 18th Amendment that created it.

I want to be on the side of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, not the conservatives who opposed it.

I want to be on the side of scientific fact, not with the conservatives who, 85 years after the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, just passed legislation in the Volunteer State weakening the teaching of evolution.

I want to be on the side that advocated entering World War II, not the conservative isolationist obstructionists who delayed it.

I want to be on the side of The New Deal that created social insurance so we would never again face bread lines and destitution, not the conservatives who opposed Social Security.

I want to be on the side of the Interstate Highway system, not the conservatives who opposed infrastructure spending.

I want to be on the side of The Great Society, which expanded social insurance to create Medicare. Not the conservatives who opposed it.

I want to be on the side of the Environmental Protection Agency, not the conservatives who opposed protecting our air and water from pollution.

I want to be on the side of self-determination, not the conservatives who traded guns for hostages to sidestep Congress and fight an illegal war in Central America resulting in the Iran Contra Scandal.

I want to be on the side of welfare reform, not the conservatives who would allow the poor to starve in the richest country in the history of the world.

I want to be on the side that opposed the Iraq War, not the conservatives who lied and ginned up evidence to push us into Iraq.

I want to be on the side of Ben Franklin who said, “Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.” Not the conservatives who created The Patriot Act.

I guess all that makes me an Eisenhower-Nixon Republican/FDR-LBJ Democrat. Eisenhower built the freeways, and warned against the military/Congressional/industrial complex; Nixon opened China and created the EPA. FDR saved the world (despite the isolationist Republican Congressional and business leaders who wanted no part of WWII), and created social insurance; LBJ fought for civil rights and enhanced social insurance with the creation of Medicare.

Republicans used to be communitarians like Reagan and Eisenhower, but neither of them  could get through primaries now. They’re not doctrinaire enough. I don’t even recognize the Party of Lincoln, and wonder what a life long Republican thinks of what has become of the Grand Old Party.

Here’s what Thomas Mann, of the nonpartisan Brookings Institute, and Norman Ornstein of the very conservative American Enterprise Institute write in their new book, It’s Worse Than You Think

However awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become a insurgent outlier, ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

By the way, I don’t have much patience for the Democrats as a party either. I guess I am an independent.

The entrenched, monied interests in Washington prosper when they keep us yelling at each other instead of at them. It is a great diversion. If we ever discover that so many of us who think we disagree actually agree, the game will up for them. But in the meantime, they promote the bickering and sniping, and hope they can keep us thinking the other side is unreasonable and even evil. The fact is we are mostly a centrist country whose common interests greatly outweigh our differences, but don’t tell anybody.

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An Immigrant’s Tale http://likethedew.com/2011/11/16/an-immigrants-tale/ http://likethedew.com/2011/11/16/an-immigrants-tale/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2011 07:18:11 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=32701 Martin was fourteen years old when his father first walked him to the United States. From the poor little Central Mexican village of San Miguel, the walk should take seven days. Sometimes, it took only six. Once, it took 11 days. And the time it took 15 days - they were lost - the party of itinerant workers ate snake (“Not very good, but you will eat it if you are hungry enough”), and armadillo ("Better than pork!"). They were happy not only to have food, but to have tasty food. The armadillo was charred on the outside, owing to a very hot cooking fire, but was quite juicy on the inside. Martin felt the juices running down his chin. It wasn't until the next morning when he looked at his father in the daylight, that he realized how undercooked the armadillo really was and that he, as well as the rest of the party, was also covered in armadillo blood.

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Martin was fourteen years old when his father first walked him to the United States. From the poor little Central Mexican village of San Miguel, the walk should take seven days. Sometimes, it took only six. Once, it took 11 days. And the time it took 15 days – they were lost – the party of itinerant workers ate snake (“Not very good, but you will eat it if you are hungry enough”), and armadillo (“Better than pork!”). They were happy not only to have food, but to have tasty food. The armadillo was charred on the outside, owing to a very hot cooking fire, but was quite juicy on the inside. Martin felt the juices running down his chin. It wasn’t until the next morning when he looked at his father in the daylight, that he realized how undercooked the armadillo really was and that he, as well as the rest of the party, was also covered in armadillo blood.

Counting his father and himself, there were eleven workers walking to Texas. When they crossed the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass, Seco’s truck was waiting for them. Along the road to his ranch, Seco stopped three or four times and sold all but four of the Mexicans to other ranchers. (The workers pay was typically garnished in total until they had repaid the ranchers’ outlays.) They would spend about three months driving cattle, mending fences, shearing sheep, etc. Seco’s father had taken Martin’s father under his wing many years before. When Seco inherited the ranch, he also inherited Martin’s father as a seasonal cowboy.

In those days, there was virtually no immigration or border patrol presence. Still, Seco was concerned that Martin would attract unwanted attention to the ranch because of his age. The government may not enforce immigration laws, but they were sure to enforce child labor laws. As a result, each day Martin would stay behind in the bunkhouse and be bored by local afternoon television, his light gardening chores done for the day.

One day, when there was no gardening to do, Martin talked his father into letting him ride out with the rest of the cowboys. In the mid-day, Seco stopped by the bunkhouse as was his habit. He expected to see Martin watching TV, and was alarmed when he didn’t see him. After quickly checking the grounds around the house and stables, Seco rode to where he knew the cowboys were working that day. He dreaded having to tell Martin’s father that he could not find the boy. Out on the range, Martin’s father feared Seco’s reaction when he saw that the boy was on horseback, working. To their great surprise, Seco, seeing how innately Martin handled the horse, through caution to the wind and gave Martin his blessing. From that point forward, Martin rode the range with the rest of the cowboys.

They made the walk from San Miguel to Seco’s ranch a couple of times a year for three years running. Martin mastered the art of the cowboy, and loved the life of a rancher. But when he was seventeen, a slightly older friend in the village convinced his father that Martin could make a lot more money working construction in Los Angeles. The walk to the California border at Mexicali in the Baja took ten days. From there they got in a coyote’s van and rode in windowless seclusion to Tarzana where Bill lived.

Martin, who spoke no English, fell in with the other construction workers. He was small for a 17-year-old and was the brunt of Bill’s derision, although he didn’t realize it at the time. He had not yet put together the idea that the word “idiot” was the English version of “idiota.” All he heard was what he assumed must be a nickname. It was “idiot this” and “idiot that.” Bill, who in later years would be like a father to Martin, did not suffer fools gladly. In fact, it was Bill’s grandson who pulled Martin aside and said, “Let me apologize for my grandfather. He’s just not a very nice man.” It became clear to Martin that until he learned to speak English, he would make small mistakes and Bill would call him out on them. But Martin was a fast learner, and as he picked up a little English, he was able to hold his own.

 It didn’t take him long to fall in with the guys. Their habit most days after work was to go to the 7-11, buy a six pack of cheap beer and a couple of frozen tacos, and go back to Bill’s house where they would eat, drink and watch TV. Martin learned to curse in English from his fellow construction workers, the rest of what he needed to know he learned from television. On Friday nights, they went out. At 17, Martin was not old enough to drink. And while the other workers drank, smoked marijuana, and snorted cocaine when they could find and afford it, they were not stupid enough to get caught driving under the influence. Martin was the designated driver on the Friday night excursions to the Tarzana dance hall.

 The dance hall girls offered big smiles, their mother tongue, and overpriced drinks in exchange for dances. The boys drank and danced and held the girls close, but there was no sex. Pedro, Martin’s older brother, was a smooth talker. Before long he was dating one of the dance hall girls. The other boys idolized the charming Pedro because his girlfriend got him in without the cover charge, and arranged dates for the older boys that Martin and Pedro worked with. These girls were also illegals. They were the immigrant equivalent of the boys working construction. All worked hard, and all sent the majority of their money back to their families in Mexico.

The dance hall girls weren’t there for sex, but every once in a while a van full of prostitutes pulled up in front of Bill’s house. Over the next 10 years as Martin came north to work construction when the economy warranted, the prostitutes in the van were a staple. The young man who arranged the prostitutes’ visits never had to pay. Neither was he particularly modest. One evening, when the boys had chosen their girls and disappeared into the kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, utility rooms, etc., the young man who made the arrangements found himself in the living room with one of the girls, and nowhere private to go. They simply slunk down behind the sofa and made the other boys in the living room step over them as they went to the kitchen for beer.

In English: Caution! Do not expose your life to the elements. There is no potable water. It's not worth it!

Although peopled by coyotes, drug addicts, and cholos (Mexican-American street gangs), Martin’s passage at Mexicali was generally untroubled. He did hear disturbing tales, though. It was not uncommon for the coyotes, most of whom had drug habits, to lead their charges directly to the cholos who would rob the men and rape the women. It was no skin off the coyotes’ noses, because they were not paid by the immigrants, but by the American employers on the other side. An immigrant usually gets across the border and to his safe house without spending a peso. They can’t leave the safe house until their new employers pay their freight.

It was also not uncommon for coyotes to separate the young women from the rest of the immigrants, and tell them that they could provide protection from the robbers, rapists and cholos. Having gained these girls’ confidence, over the course of a few days walking, they would convince the girls that they were in danger, and that in exchange for sex, the coyotes would make sure they got to the safe house. The coyotes also promised that in exchange for sex, they would pay all the fees associated with the girls’ passage. The naïve young girls never realized that there is only one cash transaction, and that it takes place at the very end of the journey. So, when they would say to the safe house operator, “My passage was paid for by your cousin Jorge, the coyote,” the safe house operator would simply laugh and say, “I have no cousin Jorge,” and demand their usual fee from the family member or new employer who showed up to take the girls.

Martin married in his twenties and had five children with a girl from the village. At thirty, after thirteen years of crossing the border to work in the United States, Martin decided he would stay home with his family. San Miguel was becoming an art colony with tourist traffic and a little money. His mother had a large house near the town square. Martin and his wife lived there with their five children, his brother, his wife, and their seven children. In time, the inevitable sibling rivalries as well as the fights among the young cousins forced Martin and his wife to make their own home. For nine years, Martin found good work in the village as a driver and interpreter. He remained in close touch with Bill in Los Angeles. One day Bill called and asked Martin to fly to Tijuana where he was to meet up with coyotes and make the trip to Los Angeles. Bill suddenly had houses to build and needed his trusted foreman.

When Martin found the coyotes in Tijuana, they told him to leave his food and water behind. Instead of the typical three-day trip, they had made arrangements for a van, and needed only to walk about three hours into the desert to make the rendezvous. The party was twelve people altogether, including coyotes. Some of the migrants were experienced with the border and others were not. All were in better shape than Martin, who had allowed himself to grow fat driving the tourists around San Miguel. He had taken a week or so before embarking on this trip to get himself into shape, but his long walks in the cool high desert were not enough to prepare him for what awaited.

After following the coyotes through the desert outside of Tijuana for three hours, Martin became suspicious. He asked the coyotes where the van was. They told him that they were certain they would find it very soon. Night fell, and the coyotes, who had not allowed food or water to be conveyed, insisted on continuing to move through the desert. Martin knew better. They needed rest. He knew that the desert was unforgiving. Being fat and out of shape, he had shed his jacket in the oppressive heat of the day. By nightfall he regretted that, and wished very much for something to cover himself with, for the desert had chilled quickly. The coyotes showed no interest in rest. It seemed that they were cocaine addicts and were far too high to stop. They didn’t appear to need food or water, but their charges did.

By noon the next day, Martin had fallen hopelessly behind. Wracked with exhaustion, and without food or water, he was dizzy and beginning to hallucinate. At some point, having lost sight of the immigrants and coyotes in front of him, Martin collapsed near a very minor county road in what he assumed was by now the Arizona desert. He awoke delirious, with two Chicanos standing over him. They were willing to give him water and a sandwich, but nothing more. They feared the Border Patrol would arrest them on suspicion of being coyotes when they were simply ranch hands. Martin found that he was so sick that when he took a swallow of water, and it came right back up. So did the sandwich. His internal organs were shutting down, and the Chicanos were refusing to help him further. Martin threw himself on their mercy, and cried, “I have a wife and children who depend on me. You cannot leave me here to die. I could be your brother.” They discussed the situation and one of the men was dead set on leaving him. The other prevailed, however, and they lifted him into the back of their truck. They would take him to the nearest highway intersection and no further. Martin lost consciousness in the back of the truck, and when he came to he was on the ground sprawled next to a paved road that had a little traffic. Soon enough, the Border Patrol rolled up in an SUV. They helped him up. He’d never been so happy to see law enforcement officers, and prayed that they were taking him to jail. The agents did not want to do all the requisite paperwork for one immigrant, so they flagged down a taxi. The driver, seeing the rough shape that Martin was in, declined to take him. The agents tried to get Martin to drink water but he could not. They stopped at a convenience store and got him a sports drink, which was exactly what he needed. The glucose and electrolytes brought him back pretty quickly. The agents drove around with Martin in the back of their vehicle for few hours until he was finally well enough to be put on a bus bound for Tijuana.

Still feeling horrible, Martin checked into a familiar hotel at the border where he was able to bathe, sleep, and finally hold some food down. He reflected on the difference between Mexican immigration and American immigration. The Americans were likely to throw your food away so you’d have to turn around, but they respected your being and basically left you alone. The Mexican immigration officers preyed on Central Americans making their way to the U.S. border. They would beat them and steal their money. Martin thanked God that his troubles had arisen on the U.S. side of the border.

Later that day, outside the restaurant at the hotel, Martin ran into a coyote that he knew. The coyote seemed shocked to see him.

“Martin, I’m so happy to see you alive.”

“Why?”

“Because the people you were with the other day were all found dead. They wandered around the desert as they collapsed one by one and died.”

Martin, recognizing that the fat around his middle had saved his life, called Bill and told him that he would not be coming to LA.

A monument for those who have died attempting to cross the US-Mexican border. Each coffin represents a year and the number of dead.
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Talk Radio Must be Careful with the OWS Movement http://likethedew.com/2011/10/27/talk-radio-must-be-careful-with-the-occupy-wall-street-movement/ http://likethedew.com/2011/10/27/talk-radio-must-be-careful-with-the-occupy-wall-street-movement/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2011 16:56:25 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=31900 The knee jerk reaction of many, if not all, right wing hosts was to vilify and minimize a rather ill defined but decisively moral movement. While making fun of stuff we fear (or don't understand) never loses its charm, this is a loose movement that many in our audience relate to positively. I think Limbaugh and Hannity were far too quick to tease and stereotype the protesters as vagabond hippies. In actuality, it's teachers, fire fighters and cops upset by layoffs and the loss of collective bargaining rights, families distraught over upside down mortgages after their tax dollars bailed out the very banks who won’t loan to them and are trying to foreclose on their houses, and college graduates with big student loan liabilities and no job prospects.

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Sean Hannity and Rush LimbaughThe knee jerk reaction of many, if not all, right wing hosts was to vilify and minimize a rather ill defined but decisively moral movement. While making fun of stuff we fear (or don’t understand) never loses its charm, this is a loose movement that many in our audience relate to positively. I think Limbaugh and Hannity were far too quick to tease and stereotype the protesters as vagabond hippies. In actuality, it’s teachers, fire fighters and cops upset by layoffs and the loss of collective bargaining rights, families distraught over upside down mortgages after their tax dollars bailed out the very banks who won’t loan to them and are trying to foreclose on their houses, and college graduates with big student loan liabilities and no job prospects.

As Charles M. Blow noted in the New York Times, “[OWS] has energized two groups who are notoriously apathetic and lacking in civic engagement—the young and the poor—and has done so outside the existing architectures of power and politics.” The Oct. 9-10 Time Magazine/Abt SRBI poll of 1001 Americans is decisive: 86% think “Wall Street and lobbyists have too much influence in Washington,” and 79% think, “The gap between rich and poor is too large.” Seventy one percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted.”

I know everybody thinks they’re one lotto ticket away from needing tax protection, but last year the median wage in America was $26,000 while the average S&P 500 CEO made $11 million. You have many more accountants, cops and teachers in your audience than S&P 500 CEOs. At least Dave Ramsey made an effort to find the truth by interviewing participants rather than judging them prior to investigation. I remain uncertain how he treated the matter as time progressed. I have only heard second hand reports that he also ultimately ridiculed the protestors, but the source was unreliable, in my estimation, because it was a conservative host who clearly had an agenda.

And that raises the most fundamental question of all: why does talk radio exist? Is it to inform? Is it to entertain? Is it to forward a political agenda? In the beginning it was just to generate ratings and therefore, revenue. Some really old school folks might say it is to serve the public interest by informing and enlightening, or maybe by supplying the platform for meaningful social and civil discourse.

At some point, the outrageous opining that offered more heat than light caught on and fueled a ratings bonanza. Old school talk was cast aside as unexciting, and a full-blown political propaganda machine was ignited. Ultimately–inevitably–we arrived at this moment, where the core audience is significantly older and less diverse than the population at large, and expects Talk Radio to defend its sensibilities, even as those sensibilities become obviously out of step with mainstream American thought.

Is it lucrative, wise or entertaining to be perceived en masse as the voice of the privileged one percent? Is it worth Talk Radio’s future to obstinately defend a position that will pretty clearly put talkers on the wrong side of history? When the primary season is over, Republicans will creep back toward the middle, hoping average voters didn’t notice their yearlong romance with hate, exclusion and derision. Can Talk Radio afford to take the same chance?

There’s a pretty good chance that the obstructive “get Obama and the Democrats at any cost” mentality will backfire on the Republicans, and that is their problem. I suggest that mentality no longer serves the ratings, revenue or public interest missions of our medium.

Can Talk Radio escape from the corner it has painted itself into?

©2011, Progressive Agenda LLC

 

 

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Why a Progressive Media Universe? http://likethedew.com/2011/08/16/why-a-progressive-media-universe/ http://likethedew.com/2011/08/16/why-a-progressive-media-universe/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2011 07:19:43 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=29091 There is more opinion masquerading as fact in the 24/7 cable "news" world than is good for our culture. It's really profitable, and it drives a political agenda. Money and power are not strangers. They usually appear together, like peanut butter and jelly, or Penn and Teller.

And the folks who work for Fox news, as well as the big radio talkers, have so cowed the mainstream ("lamestream," thanks, Sarah) media that they have lost a lot of the courage that made them great, once upon a time.

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A couple of weeks ago, I did a Wall Street Journal Radio interview about our new smartphone app, Progressive Voices. I explained the importance of  a progressive media aggregator that puts written, aural and video content in one place online, since the right wing media outlets like Fox News Channel and Talk Radio dominate their platforms. This isn’t a treatise  about their fantasy of an overwhelmingly liberal media. I think the concept has been fairly thoroughly debunked everywhere from a simple format analysis of broadcast outlets, to the rigorous academic work presented by Eric Alterman in his 2004 book, What Liberal Media? Still, the masters of the Right Wing media machine, led by Fox News Chairman, Roger Ailes, have done, and continue to do, a great propaganda job on the subject. They want our pity. They want us to know that they, the majority, Christian, white, wealthy males who run the media establishment, are victims of terrible media bias. (Victims? Seriously?!) But they have good messaging, consistency, and incredibly good message-discipline, so their complaint isn’t ever far from their lips, and it is always uttered in the same precise way because they understand the human brain: repetition = credibility.

An early question was, why does the world need another politically ideological media silo? Isn’t it just that kind of divisiveness that sets us against one another? I’ve gotten this question a lot since we started Air America Radio in 2004.

First, as always, I said that I wish it weren’t necessary, but it is. We cannot let lies told so convincingly, and told so often across so many platforms, to so many people, go unchallenged.

Second, in today’s post-mass media world, there are no more hit records we can all sing; no more hit TV shows we all watch; and, no more news broadcasts we all see. For better and worse, public opinion is no longer shaped by a shared media experience. There’s no Walter Cronkite reaching tens of millions of Americans every night. Now there are many outlets on many platforms and the Right has a lock on the two biggest.

There are great journalists working at the broadcast television networks, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, the New York Times, The Atlantic, and many more newspapers and magazines. These journalists are truth seekers and are not attached to the outcome of their work. If one reads a few different papers every day, hears credible news radio, and watches a little national broadcast network news (don’t get me started on the culture of chalk outlines and house fires on local TV news), one can get a fair view of the happenings in our world. But, the reality is most people haven’t got the time or inclination to sample a number of sources. They find a comfort zone; a place that reinforces their world view, and that’s all they watch. People tend to cocoon in a comfortable media silo.

As a result, there isn’t much unbiased journalism consumed by average Americans. Certainly, there is more opinion masquerading as fact in the 24/7 cable “news” world than is good for our culture. It’s really profitable (Fox News Channel will throw off north of $800 million this year–that’s a fifth of parent News Corp’s profit), and it drives a political agenda. Money and power are not strangers. They usually appear together, like peanut butter and jelly, or Penn and Teller.

And the folks who work for Fox news, as well as the big radio talkers, have so cowed the mainstream (“lamestream,” thanks, Sarah) media that they have lost a lot of the courage that made them great, once upon a time. “False equivalence” is a term we hear more and more. It refers to the cowardly way many news organizations now reduce their exposure to criticism from Fox and Limbaugh. When reporting on the Holocaust, why is it necessary to give a Holocaust denier equal time and status? It’s a false equivalence and you will not find it in any journalism textbooks. It is pure CYA. Despite objective economic studies to the contrary, polls show Americans think the 2009 stimulus didn’t work, thanks largely to Conservative Talk Radio and Fox News. We might hope that the mainstream media would fill the breach and effectively tell the real story, but because they’re intimidated by the right, they give a U. S. Chamber of Commerce propagandist a chance to obscure the truth with unchallenged lies and suppositions. Ah, mainstreamers, we liked it better when you were all about telling the truth, not providing a platform for prevarication.

Rachel Maddow and Frank Rich (and I) will tell you that we think the Left tries to tell the truth more than it tries to shave, shape and persuade. We try not to game the system or use tricks to fool or persuade. Meanwhile, the Right is conniving. It has slogans intended to re-chalk the field: “Fair and Balanced” is a masterpiece of cynical marketing. It was originated to reposition a nonpartisan journalistic entity, CNN, as left wing, thereby conferring centrist status on Fox. “We report, you decide” is a subtle enlistment of the viewer. It says. “We’re not trying to persuade, we’re just presenting facts and letting you arrive at the truth.” It’s marketing gone mad. You have to tip your hat to that kind of demonic brilliance.

If you have only one news source, you are likely under-informed, misinformed, or uninformed. If all you do is watch Fox News, you’re all three.

Just this morning on Neal Boortz I learned that there have been race riots and black on white wilding in Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., and Chicago that the mainstream media isn’t covering. After detailing how black “flash mobs” had accosted only whites in those three cities, Boortz went on to helpfully explain that it is happening because Barack Obama constantly fans the flames of class warfare. Then Boortz went on to explain, (again, so helpful), that the president has purposely killed the economy so he can more effectively redistribute the wealth (what?!?). The only media outlets I could find that support Boortz’s theory are StormFront, a neo-Nazi site, and TheBlaze, Glenn Beck’s oracle of truth and rational thought.

So, I answer the question by saying that in this climate, even though it runs the risk of further division, there has to be a Progressive Media Universe to balance what Progressive Talk Radio host Stephanie Miller so aptly calls “Right Wing World.” They own the television and the radio. We can’t let them own the emerging Mobile Internet too.

 

 

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Art for Art’s Sake, Music for Humanity’s Sake http://likethedew.com/2011/08/04/art-for-arts-sake-music-for-humanitys-sake/ http://likethedew.com/2011/08/04/art-for-arts-sake-music-for-humanitys-sake/#respond Thu, 04 Aug 2011 21:57:38 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=28599 When musicians in the '60s and '70s spoke about social issues through song, we listened, and we acted. They didn't care if it sold records. I'm not going to go all Tilty McGillicuty on today's vapid, formulaic and gimmicky reality "stars." That's not the purpose here. Mostly they will be one-hit wonders, while a few, like, oddly enough, Lady Gaga, have important social messaging in their music that may stand the test of time. Primarily today's stars are famous for being famous, and writing about fame without achievement seems hardly worth the electrons.

I remain hopeful that the next new song I hear will the best I've ever heard. I am neither closed off to the new, nor overly nostalgic for the old. But this short post wishes only to explore how music once moved a generation to political action.

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When musicians in the ’60s and ’70s spoke about social issues through song, we listened, and we acted. They didn’t care if it sold records. I’m not going to go all Tilty McGillicuty on today’s vapid, formulaic and gimmicky reality “stars.” That’s not the purpose here. Mostly they will be one-hit wonders, while a few, like, oddly enough, Lady Gaga, have important social messaging in their music that may stand the test of time. Primarily today’s stars are famous for being famous, and writing about fame without achievement seems hardly worth the electrons.

All-Star MUSE Benefit Concert Supporting Disaster Relief in Japan and Non-Nuclear Groups Worldwide to Feature Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Jason Mraz, The Doobie Brothers, Tom Morello, John Hall, Kitaro, Sweet Honey in the Rock, an AUGUST 7 EVENT AT SHORELINE AMPHITHEATRE   Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2011/08/02/3319501/all-star-muse-benefit-concert.html#ixzz1U9jZJuaC

I remain hopeful that the next new song I hear will the best I’ve ever heard. I am neither closed off to the new, nor overly nostalgic for the old. But this short post wishes only to explore how music once moved a generation to political action.

It was before the mass media fragmented into a million out-of-context parts, and before the partisan wars were fought so viciously on the twenty-four hour “news” networks. The music was all we had. It was the sound track to our lives. Our parents had television. We had radio. Our heroes were trying to stop an unprovoked war, an unjust execution or a dangerous and, as Bobby Kennedy liked to say of nuclear power, unnecessarily expensive way to heat water.

Seemingly, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were always in it. Whether it was “For What It’s Worth,” “Long Time Gone,” “Military Madness,” “Ohio,” or “To The Last Whale,” They sang with urgency. While they weren’t necessarily trying to sell records or tickets, guess what? That’s exactly what happened, because when you speak authentically from the soul, people know it and are naturally attracted to it.

Amazingly, they’re still at it. This Sunday (8/7/11) they’re joining back up with their No Nukes cohorts (Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, John Hall, The Doobie Bros., et. al.) in NoCal to sing for the benefit of the people of Japan in a No Nukes / MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) concert.

Here’s a link to Harvey Wasserman’s (leads No Nukes; coined the phrase in the ’70s) excellent blog on safe energy, and on the right, the “video of the week,” which is Crosby, Nash and their all star band singing James Raymond’s (David’s son and keyboard player) “Don’t Dig Here.” You won’t hear a more powerful song (these freakin’ guys are almost seventy!), or watch a more moving video.

All of which goes to show that great performances of great songs move minds and hearts, and cement fan relationships with artists. Authenticity and excellence are the best predictors of longevity and prosperity in the music business.

http://progressivevoices.com/2011/08/green-music-again-confronts-atomic-power/

Support Progressive Media by downloading the non-profit Progressive Voices App at iTunes Store and Android Market.

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Progressive Media Marches On http://likethedew.com/2011/07/05/progressive-media-marches-on/ http://likethedew.com/2011/07/05/progressive-media-marches-on/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2011 18:29:26 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=27181 Almost nine years ago, my once and future business partner, the effervescent (that is certainly the nicest thing anyone, his dear departed mother included, has ever called him) talk show host, Mike Malloy, called to inform me of two things. One, in spite of his surprisingly high ratings, he had just been fired from WLS, the 50,000 watt, clear-channel ABC owned and operated AM radio station in Chicago, and two, I was about to get a call from some well-heeled listeners who wanted to put him on the air nationally.

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Almost nine years ago, my once and future business partner, the effervescent (that is certainly the nicest thing anyone, his dear departed mother included, has ever called him) talk show host, Mike Malloy, called to inform me of two things. One, in spite of his surprisingly high ratings, he had just been fired from WLS, the 50,000 watt, clear-channel ABC owned and operated AM radio station in Chicago, and two, I was about to get a call from some well-heeled listeners who wanted to put him on the air nationally.

I was naturally disappointed that despite our best efforts — getting him the Chicago gig was not easy, and he and his producer/wife, Kathy, had worked really hard to carve a successful liberal niche on a right wing outpost — it had all come crashing down. The general manager couldn’t stand the heat, or Mike, for that matter. Malloy stood out like an erection at a sorority party. Daytime listeners to Rush and Hannity hated Malloy even more than his boss did. Nighttime listeners kept the station under siege during business hours, for they had a righteous hatred of the right-wingers.

This, by the way, was not my first brush with ABC. A few years before Malloy took the wild Chicago ride, I had gotten a national berth for former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Jim Hightower, a kind of latter day Will Rogers. I used up a bunch of favors to get Hightower Radio on the ABC Radio Networks, never a bastion of liberal thought. Hightower, who has famously observed that the washing machine’s agitator is what gets the dirt out, did what he does: he agitated. I have to laugh when I hear about the “liberal media.” Having consulted all the alphabet media companies at one time or another, it is my experience that they are all quite conservative. Michael Eisner and the Walt Disney Co. board, we were told, did not find Hightower’s public criticisms of them entertaining in the least. I was instructed to have him keep his head down. I reminded them whom they were talking about. The likelihood of Hightower toeing anybody’s line was pretty slim. We were fired in fairly short order. Malloy made liberal talk 0-2 at ABC.

When the supposedly monied-left called from Chicago, I patiently explained that the reason Malloy didn’t work out for WLS was the same reason he wouldn’t get any traction in a national syndication scenario. They were persistent, and at their behest, I flew to Chicago to discuss the idea further.

It was there that I met another guy they had invited, a fellow from Vermont named Thom Hartmann. To digress ever so briefly, it must be said that Thom is an intellectual tour de force. Everyone who knows him agrees that he is preternaturally smart and uncannily well informed on what can only be described as a too-wide variety of subjects. In addition to having owned a travel agency in Atlanta years ago, Thom and his wife, Louise, have started two schools for educationally challenged kids. Thom wrote, among his sixteen books to date, the first authoritative book on attention deficit disorder. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Shadyac have made movies based on Hartmann books. As I said, the smartest guy in the room. Always.

Meanwhile back in Highland Park, our hosts, Shelley and Anita Drobny, have Thom and me talking about syndicating Malloy nationally. I say I think it will be difficult to sell syndicators and stations on a liberal talk host. The national companies were making a bundle on right wing talk, so you would think they’d jump at a chance to placate the left with their very own shows. For a multitude of excuses that boil down to broadcasters’ fear and a rather disturbing lack of imagination, you’d be wrong. I said there was no way short of buying up a few hundred million of dollars worth of stations to get Malloy on the national radio. Hartmann explained that it was like Classical stations not playing Led Zeppelin. It just didn’t fit.

I had been a music radio programmer and consultant for twenty years, so I felt like a dope when Thom said that. In our consultancy we always touted “formatic purity.” It was so simple: delight the listener with surprising choices, but never color outside the lines. Garth belongs to Country. R.E.M. belongs to Rock, etc.

(For those who are students of media theory, this late 1970s format fragmentation was the beginning of the end of mass media. Cable television came along and added a hundred channels to our twelve music formats. Then satellite radio subdivided our dozen into a hundred channels, each with a narrow base, but a lot of depth. Now we have the Internet, the ultimate tool for fragmentation. Duly, broadcast TV has seen its last 60 million household, mass audience hit show (excepting the Super Bowl), and broadcast radio has seen its last multi-format crossover hit song—we could all Sing Along With Mitch, but no one can sing along with the Dawes).

I took Thom’s observation to heart and told the Drobnys that with enough money we could start a fully formed, 24/7 format, “Progressive Talk,” and in that way, get Malloy on the radio nationally. They had done well in the market, but not that well, so they began to send me around to their rich friends and big-budget institutional organizations.

Around this time I harkened back to a project I had created for CBS Radio with the Mayo Clinic called “The Mayo Minute.” It was a great show featuring interaction between patients and the leading docs in a given field. The problem was we had an unknown physician host it. Why is that a problem? Because, according to radio, he wasn’t a famous physician. One major market programmer told us he’d run the show if we could get Marcus Welby to host (this was pre-ER and Grey’s Anatomy). So the next ingredient had to be star power. The Chicago Drobnys had spread a lot of money around Democratic circles, so they were able to introduce me to the Clintons and the Gores, who in turn introduced me to Al Franken. Al needed time to decide if he wanted the responsibility of a daily radio show. He was teaching at Harvard and writing the “Lies and Lying Liars” book, so it took the better part of a year to convince him, but he ultimately became the anchor talent around whom, with Malloy, Hartmann, Marc Maron, Rachel Maddow, Randi Rhodes, Lizz Winstead, and many other talented folks, we built Air America Radio.

I’ll spare you the rest of the Air America story, or at least save it for another day, because the points I want to make here are, it takes time and money to start a conventional, mainstream media business—Rupert Murdoch had spent $300 million before Fox News made a penny; the mainstream media is run by unimaginative executives motivated primarily by fear of failure rather than hope for gain, thus they play it safe and are not creatively inspired; and with fragmentation being driven so hard by new platforms and technologies, conquering mainstream media is, at this point, a Pyrrhic victory.

That’s the bad news for those of us who would like a place to get all manner of progressive news and programming. The good news is there is now another way.

First, I must acknowledge that we were twenty-five years behind the conservatives in talk radio, who had all the beachfront property by the time we got there. I also note that MSNBC doesn’t program 24/7 progressive content. Until now, the very limited number of radio broadcast licenses and the extremely high cost of starting a cable network have ensured the incumbents’ monopoly. Rather than chase their enormous leads and try again to start an old technology radio or cable business, it’s our goal to get in front of the next platform, the Mobile Internet.  Consider the numbers: there are already more than 100 million smartphones and tablets, growing to 1 billion by 2013, when no one will make anything but smartphones.

So, on behalf of my partners, Reed Haggard and George Vasilopoulos, I’m happy to announce the launch of the Progressive Voices Institute, Incorporated, a non-profit corporation whose first project is the Progressive Voices App. The PV App aggregates all things progressive (text, audio, video, etc.), and delivers them to the Mobile Internet.

PV App delivers news headlines, links to all progressive organizations, plays video of everyone from Jon Stewart to Rachel Maddow, and carries all the progressive radio talk show hosts live. We are particularly enamored of the way the Mobile Internet and smartphone combine to create the contemporary correlative of the transistor radio of the 1950s: they both cut the cable and liberate content. No more being tied to a computer to read, see or hear the progressive content you’re looking for. It’s right there in your pocket, on your smartphone.

If you’re interested in seeing (and hearing) it work, here’s a link to the Apple version of the App.

You’ll find the Android version of the App here.

And we have a Web presence at www.ProgressiveVoices.com.

The app provides a user feedback screen that we hope you’ll use to be in touch with us, and to help us keep it growing and getting better all the time.

The time is nigh for a Progressive Media Universe! I hope you’ll join us in building it by downloading the app and telling your friends, enemies and relatives, assuming those are not all one and the same.

 

 

 

 

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Journalism’s Growing Pains: Olbermann Edition http://likethedew.com/2010/11/08/journalisms-growing-pains-olbermanm-edition/ http://likethedew.com/2010/11/08/journalisms-growing-pains-olbermanm-edition/#comments Mon, 08 Nov 2010 22:36:53 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=13018 Let’s discuss the MSNBC suspension of Keith Olbermann for making campaign contributions, and thereby relinquishing what claim to impartiality he, and by extension, his employer, might otherwise have been able to claim this election season.

Before the advent of media outlets like Fox News Channel, The Drudge Report, The Daily Kos and many others, there was no discussion necessary. Everyone who worked for traditional news agencies knew the rules: no endorsements, no contributions, and no public discussion of your political proclivities.

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Let’s discuss the MSNBC suspension of Keith Olbermann for making campaign contributions, and thereby relinquishing what claim to impartiality he, and by extension, his employer, might otherwise have been able to claim this election season.

Before the advent of media outlets like Fox News Channel, The Drudge Report, The Daily Kos and many others, there was no discussion necessary. Everyone who worked for traditional news agencies knew the rules: no endorsements, no contributions, and no public discussion of your political proclivities.

The problem is especially vexing to MSNBC, which, unlike other news operations, benefits from the shared resources of a traditional news organization. No one at NBC News would consider making a political contribution. In fact, some people there are quite wary of being associated with an opinion-driven cable channel, even after acknowledging that it is worlds apart from the doctrinaire, made up “news” of a Drudge or Fox News Channel. I’ll stop here to say that the Evil Genius, Fox News creator Roger Ailes, did journalism no favor by supplying the cynical artifice that is at the core of FNC: “Fair and Balanced.” It is a marketing device intended to deceive viewers into thinking they are watching impartial news. Unfortunately, it invites comparisons to generally upright organizations like MSNBC that honor the truth above agenda, even though they express opinion.

There is great tension between the traditional “Just the facts, Ma’am” journalism, and its newborn cousin, opinion-driven journalism, where Op-Ed leads instead of being a walled-garden. As we saw in the NPR/Juan Williams mess, trying to live in both worlds is a recipe for disaster. As yet, there is not a fully formed vision of what the new world needs to look like. Consequently, many are grasping at straws. MSNBC’s response is an example of a work in progress. Joe Scarborough, it is reported in today’s New York Times, was able to make political contributions in 2006 because he had sought and received permission from the network. MSNBC executives say they tightened the policy subsequently, from which I infer they would have denied permission since.

It is worth noting that Rachel Maddow commented on the Olbermann affair Friday night by saying the difference between Fox and MSNBC is that Fox has no rules and is an active fundraising, endorsing, political machine, while MSNBC, a news organization, is not, a fact witnessed by the Olbermann suspension. Still, the tension exists because suddenly, whole organizations are what just the last two or three pages of big newspapers “A” sections are: opinion and editorial. The Wall Street Journal, pre Rupert Murdoch and News Corp, was able to build a wall high enough to satisfy ethicists. The Op-Ed pages were full of fire-breathing conservatives, but the journalism was never attached to a specific outcome. Murdoch’s ownership has made at least the appearance of that big wall less opaque. When sister business Fox News Channel is outwardly cheerleading and allowing its hosts to be fundraisers, and when the parent company gives $1M to the Republican Governors Association, that appearance of impartiality is called into question.

And as the newspaper changes editors and evolves from a sedate financial report to a sexy general interest paper, it’s once un-reproachable objectivity is suddenly suspect. And what of the other distractions attending this circus?

  • Cokie Roberts works for both ABC News and NPR. True, but she is an editorial voice for both, a hard news writer for neither. (The Juan Williams/NPR problem was that he was a news analyst for them and was bound by their ethics rules, which he repeatedly violated in his FNC appearances.)
  • GE, NBCU’s parent company, makes political contributions. True, but GE is a multinational industrial company for whom the media business is a balance sheet dalliance. Pending regulatory approval, Comcast will soon own the NBC Universal properties and GE will be back to its core businesses of building clock radios, medical imaging devices, jet engines, toasters, nuclear weapons, and other products that bring good things to life. Besides, and probably more to the point, NBC has its own long standing rules—pre-dating GE ownership by many decades—that disallow political affiliation and contributions.

My bottom line is that Mr. Olbermann should have known better, and management was right to enforce their well-conceived and correct rules. I want to know that news + opinion (which is how I look at MSNBC), just like the pure news I consume, is uncomplicated and uncompromised by money.

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Is That A Tree Growing Through The Sewer Line, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me? http://likethedew.com/2010/11/05/is-that-a-tree-growing-through-the-sewer-line-or-are-you-just-happy-to-see-me/ http://likethedew.com/2010/11/05/is-that-a-tree-growing-through-the-sewer-line-or-are-you-just-happy-to-see-me/#comments Sat, 06 Nov 2010 00:52:41 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=12809 We’ve lived through the deluge of TV ads, robo-calls and inane horse-race coverage. Election 2010 is behind us. My question is: will the slash and burn fervor prevail across the board, or will some really important things get done? Here’s a big one: Infrastructure. We can put a bunch of people back to work and improve our national capacity for production and quality of life in one fell swoop. I found some stuff that will blow your mind. Read on.

This is a test of our politicians and media to answer a wake up call. Thus far, they have failed ...

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We’ve lived through the deluge of TV ads, robo-calls and inane horse-race coverage. Election 2010 is behind us. My question is: will the slash and burn fervor prevail across the board, or will some really important things get done? Here’s a big one: Infrastructure. We can put a bunch of people back to work and improve our national capacity for production and quality of life in one fell swoop. I found some stuff that will blow your mind. Read on.

This is a test of our politicians and media to answer a wake up call. Thus far, they have failed.  The test began in 2005 when the decidedly unsexy American Society of Civil Engineers last issued a report grading the nation’s infrastructure. Overall, the stuff that makes our society tick got a D. In 1997 the grade was D+. Our landfills and recycling effort made the best grade, a slightly better than average C+. Our navigable waterways, sewage treatment facilities and drinking water nearly failed with D minuses.

Don’t remember either of those reports? Me neither. Maybe we would have heard about them if a drunken celebrity had delivered them abusively to the arresting officer during a late night car stop.

But that didn’t happen and the media refused to connect the dots:

  • The Northeast goes dark, exposing the electric grid’s fragility.
  • Despite the warnings from civil engineers, known substandard levies collapse swamping a great American city.
  • A recently inspected steam pipe explodes wiping out a block of Lexington Avenue in front of the storied Chrysler building in New York City.
  • Fully-laden aircraft sit on tarmacs for ten and twelve hours because the airlines and the airports have not built infrastructure to keep up with demand.
  • An ancient high-pressure natural gas pipeline explodes taking more than 50 homes in San Bruno, California with it.

The best reporting in years on our crumbling infrastructure appeared—of all places—on the magazine Popular Mechanics’ Website, where author Stephen Flynn’s editorial “A Brittle Nation” appeared shortly after the Minneapolis tragedy. Mr. Flynn points out that we are like spoiled grandchildren who inherit a beautiful mansion but party every night with no thought to maintenance and upkeep. He notes that the nation’s infrastructure was built in two bursts, one in the Twenties and Thirties and the other in the Fifties and Sixties. Since then, it has essentially been ignored. It’s a little like Christmas where the shiny-new trump the boring-old.

Here’s a case in point: The Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, vetoed an eight billion dollar infrastructure bill, so the legislature went back to work and cut it in half. Still, the governor vetoed it saying the state couldn’t afford such “over reaching,” but somehow he found a way to use public money to fund a half-billion dollar baseball stadium. Get it? Shiny new toy vs. rusty old bridge.

Ronald Reagan rings in my ears: “Government is not the solution,” he said in his inaugural. “Government is the problem.” His political descendants, the Grover Norquists of the world, want to starve government until it is “small enough to drown in a bathtub.” Their legacy is the squandering of our inherited infrastructure. Refusing to raise taxes for anything—not even war—and dedicated to privatizing the pivotal underpinnings of society. Yet it takes a tragedy the proportion of a freeway bridge collapse in a major American city to get our media’s fleeting attention. A troubling and absurd conversation we will now have is whether we should privatize the public infrastructure. This, of course is one of the Neo-Cons’ goals, but the underlying politics are rarely explored in news coverage. The dollars are calculable; but the long-term effect of having for-profit companies running everything from prisons to roadways is not, and you would think that is the story, but as it does with political campaigns, the mainstream media will cover the superficial horse race rather than the issues that define it. The public will only hear whether they have the votes—not whether it is good policy.

The infrastructure is largely out of sight, both figuratively and literally. It resides underground as sewers, water and gas pipes and electrical conduits. It is the roadway we drive, the water we drink, the power we consume, the control system for our airways, the safety net for our food and medicine. It is so omnipresent as to be invisible.

In 2009 we had the most-delayed summer in the history of commercial air travel; a deadly ruptured steam pipe; a multiple-fatality bridge collapse—these are the sorts of things you’d hope would get a Congress moving. By summer 2010, the midterms were in full swing and little notice was paid to the infrastructure, even when lives were lost in San Bruno. Now that the elections are over, let’s put the heat on our policymakers before the next hurricane, the next major power outage, the next pipeline erupts or the next bridge collapses.

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NPR: Most Recent Casualty of the New Journalism http://likethedew.com/2010/10/26/npr-most-recent-casualty-of-the-new-journalism/ http://likethedew.com/2010/10/26/npr-most-recent-casualty-of-the-new-journalism/#comments Wed, 27 Oct 2010 02:45:29 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=12049 It’s highly fashionable right now to appear in the opinion pages of  newspapers and on cable TV with outraged cries for an end to government funding of NPR in light of what critics call the unfair firing of Juan Williams. Mr. Williams (now) famously expressed what some are gleefully calling a politically incorrect opinion regarding his rising fear factor when Muslims board airplanes with him.

There are actually two issues in play here, one small: public sources of NPR funding, and one large: whether it is improper for a news analyst to express personal opinions on an opinion-driven network.

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It’s highly fashionable right now to appear in the opinion pages of  newspapers and on cable TV with outraged cries for an end to government funding of NPR in light of what critics call the unfair firing of Juan Williams. Mr. Williams (now) famously expressed what some are gleefully calling a politically incorrect opinion regarding his rising fear factor when Muslims board airplanes with him.

There are actually two issues in play here, one small: public sources of NPR funding, and one large: whether it is improper for a news analyst to express personal opinions on an opinion-driven network.

First, NPR’s funding, which the right loves to say comes from the government. (I got a particular kick out of my former Congressman, Newt Gingrich, who veritably spat out in disgust the demand that NPR be de-funded because, after all, the real public radio is Rush Limbaugh! When I speak of this, I like to point out that, presuming Newt’s yardstick is audience size, NPR has more listeners than Rush.)

But I digress. For the sake of two things I like to think Wall Street Journal readers demand, intellectual honesty and clarity, NPR is funded thusly:

Stations 42%

Sponsors 23.3%

Grants 11.1%

Distribution 7.5%

Endowments 6.3%

Other 6.5% (this is the federal government line and represents <2% of total funding)

Major Gifts 3.3%

•source http://www.npr.org/about/support/

The member stations that contribute 42% of NPR’s funding are themselves funded 10.1% by the Congressionally sanctioned Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and 5.8% by other federal, state and local governments. So, about 16% of the money NPR collects in station fees originates with the government. That’s sixteen percent of 42%. Not a make-or-break proposition.

Still, I am not here to defend NPR. I just like facts to be separate from opinions, and that brings me to the large issue: we now live in a world with two types of journalism. This is a relatively new fact and, judging by the hubbub surrounding the Juan Williams firing, takes some getting used to. With the exception of the very young, everyone reading this grew up on fact-based—not opinion-based—mass media. (Yes, I know there are those on the right who think this a fantasy, but that’s what makes horse racing.)

In the old days, you might have thought you knew the political mind of many journalists, but it was not necessarily so. They were quite careful not to imbue their reporting with their personal biases. If they didn’t they tended to get fired in much the way Mr. Williams was by NPR.

Call it wishful thinking or a bias of unfounded conceit, but it is human nature to ascribe our personal perspective to those we watch, hear or read. At least it is until they give us incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. I thought a few former ABC, CBS and NBC correspondents were liberals like me until they took up with Fox News and denounced their former employers. (I’m not sure if it was wishful thinking or conceit in my case, but I’m leaning toward the latter.)

Spurred by the emergence of talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh in the 80’s, opinion became profitable. Then Roger Ailes’s particular genius saw that one could parade opinion as fact, and Fox News, a sister product to The Wall Street Journal in the News Corporation panoply, was born, signaling in turn the birth of a new, at least on a mass market scale, brand of journalism that wears its heart on its sleeve. Sure, specialty publications like The Nation and The New Republic have been around for years, but their subscriber base has always been rather modest when compared to the millions of viewers for Fox News Channel and more recently—and less grandly—MSNBC.

Viewed through this lens, the moment where a reporter or analyst for a news agency that has strict and specific rules about its employees’ conduct in the public square was bound to come. NPR says they had already warned Mr. Williams that his opinion-driven appearances on FNC constituted a breach of those rules, and had requested that his NPR affiliation not be noted in on-screen descriptions. He knew very well that he could not stand with one foot in the fact-based world of journalism and the other in the opinion-based world. This day was bound to come. There is a new line and the ethical implications are just dawning.

Jon Sinton, a serial media entrepreneur, was the founding president of Air America Radio

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Retirement Rock Rejuvenates Old Guard http://likethedew.com/2010/08/29/retirement-rock-rejuvenates-old-guard/ http://likethedew.com/2010/08/29/retirement-rock-rejuvenates-old-guard/#respond Sun, 29 Aug 2010 12:22:12 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10836 Loosely Tight: The Dukes of September featuring Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and Donald Fagen in concert at Verizon Amphitheatre, Atlanta, August 26, 2010.

While it lacked the precision of a Steely Dan concert, the laconic sway of a Boz Scaggs concert or the drive of a Doobies Bros. concert, The Dukes of September was a steady entertainment that probably heralds the next big thing in Retirement Rock, but more on that in minute.

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Loosely Tight: The Dukes of September featuring Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and Donald Fagen in concert at Verizon Amphitheatre, Atlanta, August 26, 2010.

While it lacked the precision of a Steely Dan concert, the laconic sway of a Boz Scaggs concert or the drive of a Doobies Bros. concert, The Dukes of September was a steady entertainment that probably heralds the next big thing in Retirement Rock, but more on that in minute.

First, to the matter at hand: how do three unwilling rock stars, famous for flying under the radar while compiling complex catalogues and decades of remarkable music, create one headlining event that showcases not just their hits, but their roots? The answer is haltingly. This because their reluctance to just play their own hits potentially means a bored audience and crummy word-of-mouth about self-indulgent musicians. But balanced against the artists’ boredom with playing their own hits for the ten thousandth time, the compromise is to mix in a lot of relatively deep, obscure blues and rhythmic oldies. Their stated case was to play the songs that inspired them as impressionable young men. So we got Ray Charles’, “Tell the Truth” and David Ruffin’s “My World Ended” along with some better-known stuff like the OJays’ “Soul Train.”

It’s a compromise, usually a dread term in music, but it works, at least as far as it goes. Their greatest stated fear, voiced in pre-tour interviews by Michael McDonald, was that they would have a great time, but the audience might get lost in the weeds. I think that result has been—barely—averted.

Anyone in attendance would have been happy to let Donald and company lay down the jams till the girls said when, but with only two hours in which to cram forty years of music, something had to give. Boz treated us to the “Lowdown” done to elegant perfection. Mike McDonald got the most individual microphone time and acquitted himself of the obligation to perform “What a Fool Believes,” “Takin’ it to the Streets” and “I Keep Forgettin’.” The solo disappointment might have been that Fagen only did “Green Flower Street,” a fairly obscure mid-late Steely Dan number, and the huge crowd pleaser “Reelin’ in the Years.”

I know, it wasn’t a Steely Dan concert (although the nine-piece band has been the touring Dan band for most of the decade, and Donald is the putative leader of this ensemble), but there was room for more Steely Dan in the show. It was very cool that the back up singers, jazz aficionado fave Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery and Catherine Russell were both given solos. It may be Donald’s thing, but it is very democratic. So much so that there’s a Band/Levon Helm tribute where each of the principals sings a Helm song. It was fun, but for the audience’s sake, not the artist’s (that balance-of-interests thing again), the time would have been better spent on their own material. But just when things were getting too obscure, “Help Me Rhonda,” the tireless Beach Boys classic, shows up to lighten the load.

All told, who wouldn’t love spending an evening with these pros, no matter what they played?

The most interesting aspect of the event, however, was the fact that it was there at all. The smart money says that after endless rounds of diminishing returns with “farewell tours,” Retirement Rock has figured out a winning new angle. The aging boomers are recombining in new touring alliances that hint at the old, but are not obligated to play the catalogue ad nauseum. This summer, economically the worst in the modern touring industry’s history, has seen high ticket/service prices run headlong into under-established acts. The result has been cancellations and lame excuses for weak sales. While acts and promoters are re-thinking how many seats mid-size youthful acts and American Idol can sell, the Boomers are buying tickets. James Taylor is selling out every venue in his nostalgic tour with Carole King. Elton John and Billy Joel have been sharing coliseum stages for a few years now. Tom Petty has brought Crosby, Stills and Nash along to good effect. Eric Clapton has re-engaged with Steve Winwood for some new-old Blind Faith, as well as with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker for some fresh Cream. Robert Plant and Alison Krause made a hit record and toured together. And last summer Elvis Costello, perpetually bored and stretching his chops, was on the road with Emmy Lou Harris.

It’s actually exciting out there again, so I will take a little obscurity and forgive Fagen and McDonald for not reprising their Steely Dan hit “Peg,” so long as it amuses them enough to do it again tonight.

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The Selling Off of Air America http://likethedew.com/2010/06/16/the-selling-off-of-air-america/ http://likethedew.com/2010/06/16/the-selling-off-of-air-america/#respond Wed, 16 Jun 2010 10:49:09 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=9995 The sell off of Air America's assets and the ensuing discussion, including the observation in Radio-Info.com (see below) Monday that "the air is out of Air America," followed by Jerry DeMink's incisive and rather damning comments Tuesday have me thinking. I realize that as the founding president of Air America, whatever I say sounds self-serving, but Jerry really raises a larger question about the radio industry and what motivates the people running it ...

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Note: this is a little “inside baseball.” For context, read the two short paragraphs from Tom Taylor’s Radio-Info.com that follow.

The sell off of Air America’s assets and the ensuing discussion, including the observation in Radio-Info.com (see below) Monday that “the air is out of Air America,” followed by Jerry DeMink’s incisive and rather damning comments Tuesday have me thinking. I realize that as the founding president of Air America, whatever I say sounds self-serving, but Jerry really raises a larger question about the radio industry and what motivates the people running it. I will not defend my vision or debate hiring non-radio folks like Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo for the thousandth time. Nor will I defend raising and spending nineteen million dollars to get it started. Rupert Murdoch spent twenty times that before Fox News turned a profit. I’ll only say that building a new national media brand is expensive, and we got off to a rough start from which we could never recover.

When a key backer turned out to be a fraud, Janeane told me not to fret because we had kicked down the door for other progressive outlets. Indeed, Progressive Talk is alive and well with the likes of Thom Hartmann, Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Bill Press, Mike Malloy, The Young Turks, Laura Flanders, and Ring of Fire to name a few. But more to the point, Progressive Talk is a viable business. Unfortunately, due perhaps to the parochial nature of the radio industry, Progressive Talk is a better business on television and online with Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, The Huffington Post and The Daily Kos.

George Bernard Shaw said, “All great truth begins as blasphemy.” It’s easy to dismiss as failures people who take big public risks and try to do things differently. Most of the criticism typically comes from people who honor the status quo at the expense of their own future. “That’s the way things are done in radio,” isn’t just a sad commentary on the state of an industry, it is a death sentence. The fact that Progressive Talk leap-frogged radio onto the Internet and cable television is emblematic of a larger lack of imagination, innovation, and sense of history within the ranks of radio’s leadership.

We must ask ourselves why as an industry radio waited so long to engage a robust multi-platform strategy. We must ask why the best and brightest are not drawn to radio, but choose to ply their art online. It is true that new media always steal the content of the legacy medium they supersede. Books supplanted oral storytelling. Hollywood supplanted vaudeville. Television supplanted radio. But in each instance, the legacy medium reinvented itself. Radio, for instance, started playing records only when television stole its dramas and comedies. Unfortunately, that was one of radio’s last innovative moves as a medium.

Restricted competition and high gross profit margins robbed the industry of its creative hunger, and over the decades it became staid and predictable. That was fine until the law of supply and demand kicked in. Government-enforced scarcity of radio signals held down the supply of content, and allowed stations to sell ads at high prices. Then came the Internet, which, famously, destroys scarcity. Content exploded. Suddenly there were commercial-free music competitors at every turn of the browser. The conservatism—and, frankly, downright cheapness–of the powers-that-be, allowed them to bury their heads in the sand as the industry stagnated and the online world grew bold, omnipresent, and powerful.

Soon, over radio’s impotent objections, Congress will impose a music royalty on the nation’s stations and they will bristle at the idea of paying for content. Many of them will abandon music formats that no longer seem so lucrative and adopt the soon-to-be less expensive talk formats. That is when you will hear lots of Progressive Talk on FM. If you’re still listening.

©2010 Jon Sinton for Progressive Agenda, LLC

Radio-Info.com

by Tom Taylor | tom@in3media.com |

Monday, June 14th, 2010

No air left in Air America

Air America’s March 25 auction of equipment and other assets grossed about $170,000.

The intellectual property went for $20,000 and the email list for $46,000. There were probably bargains in the large quantities of studio and office equipment auctioned off by David R. Maltz & Company. Sony and Shure lavalier mics went for $75 apiece. Several Moseley STLs sold for $1,400 each. Some computers went for 50-75 bucks. But many pieces of office furniture were marked down as “no bids”, and in the end, the physical contents of Air America at 641 6th Avenue in Manhattan are now scattered among a couple of dozen buyers who don’t care what it once represented. Air America, which went on the air in the Spring of 2004, is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation overseen by Gregory Messer. One of its fundamental problems was that it overspent in the startup phase, and that’s evident in the list of items up for auction. Air America’s believers can at least say that the progressive talk venture lasted years longer than its detractors predicted. But ultimately the critics were right – it didn’t survive. We’re still waiting for the books and/or magazine articles about the onetime lightning rod. Several staffers were reported to have been making regular notes and at least thinking about a book. You can certainly imagine a juicy Vanity Fair story about the failed lib-talk network.

And reader Jerry DeMink’s response published in Radio-Info.com:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

“Air America did fail…but who won the war?” Reader Jerry DeMink asks “Is this a business or an ideology? ”The former CNN Radio executive and TRI reader hit the “send” button after reading yesterday’s lead story about “Air America running out of air” and selling off its assets in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation. Jerry says “Yes, Air America did fail. So its detractors won the battle. But who won the war? And why the animus against Air America, anyway? Is this a business or an ideology? Talk radio is a business. Any good host or exec will tell you that they are in the audience acquisition, retention and expansion business, to maximize the value of their spots. How does attracting listeners with a political perspective opposite of the majority of stations hurt the industry? Sure, Air America came on the scene with a lot of hype, bluster and attitude. They got noticed. The talk establishment, though, was almost universally negative. Why? To protect existing franchises, stations, hosts and business models? Obama won the election (like it or not). Why shouldn’t radio go after his voters? Why not go after an under-served audience? There are more visible liberal talk hosts now than ever before. Air America may be a memory, but its legacy lives on.”

Radio-Info.com passages used with the kind permission of Tom Taylor and in3media.com

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