“Civility” & The Press

inflammatory news storiesSo, how much responsibility does the press hold for keeping civility alive?

Does having a free press – which is a  cornerstone of American greatness – include a “no holds barred” approach to news reporting, printing/airing pretty much anything?  Or with great power, does great responsibility as well reside?

Take “reverend” whathisname who got the press in his pocket with his threat to burn the Koran.  The question afterward – How far would that situation have gotten if the press chose to ignore him? – was asked indignantly but never answered.  It’s well known that more stories are not reported than those that are, so we turn to the criteria for choosing one situation/comment/behavior, over another, thus considering it more “newsworthy”…

We’ve also known… for decades… of the ever-increasing needs of a starved 24/7 media system more intent on trumping the competition for 60 seconds than it is on the nation’s greater good…which both sides of the media aisle (“liberal” or “conservative”) claim as their motivation.

So: Is it the media’s responsibility to opt to report only the less inflammatory items in the best interest of improved national discourse aka not stoking crazy people, or is it our responsibility as media consumers to refuse to support such presentations by tuning out rather than droolingly tuning in when they go for the jugular to get better ratings?

They claim to be simply providing what the public wants; the public decries violent rhetoric that almost killed a Congresswoman yet continues to seek out blood in the water; Congress responds by considering a movement back about 150 years to the Wild West & takes a 2 minute break from name-calling; no one shows a modicum of true determination to end their part in this vicious cycle.

Here’s the real and most important question: If the media were to take their responsibility far more seriously, eg take the higher and more journalistically pure road, refusing to report nonsense as “newsworthy” or vitriol as verity, would it help make us a tad more “civil”?  Follow-up questions: would that be the end to the 24/7 news cycle, and the closing of more newspapers?  Is it a worthy price to pay for a nation ever more torn by extreme, and therefore extremely easily stoked, anger and personal dissatisfaction?

Once you’ve answered for yourself, we’ll have ourselves a start down the road of either less, or more, civil discourse.

Let’s Cut Through the Media’s Political Histrionics

Sheesh.  In our hearts and the back of our highest-on-the-food-chain thinking caps, we know that desperate 24 hour news stations, and newspapers with declining sales, will resort to any attention-pulling concept to stay afloat.

But really, how many more times are we going to fall for it?  Fool me once…twice…you know the adage….what is the exponential consequence for “fool me for the umpteenth time…”?

The latest is the tarot-card-reading interpretation of the Massachusetts senate race results.  They forbode any or all of the following:

  • A full referendum to oust every Democrat in the House & Senate
  • Total disgust with health care reform, or anything put forward by Democrats for that matter
  • Complete dissatisfaction with anything thought about, uttered by, or having to do with Barack Obama

I expect the tea-partiers will glom onto all they can to keep the party hopping.  Same goes for the far left.  But the rest of us (which is the majority of us) are capable but perhaps not willing to take that needed step back and see the facts over the hyperbole.

As with the Governor’s race in NJ, the Senate race in MA was lost by the Dems more because the candidate was weak if not a tad goofy; a strong, well prepared, somewhat more middle-leaning candidate might well have won.  Are folks steamed because the party in power is concentrating more on their own agenda to get healthcare reformed before addressing our economic woes (after all, only 1% of us go uninsured, while 9-12% of us remain unemployed)?  You betcha!  But that is no better…or worse…than the Republicans creating the economic mess in the first place.

I think (I hope) that we more tempered, thoughtful, non-berkenstock-wearing/tea-throwing types understand that one party is not better prepared to make the best decisions on our behalf than the other.  So I think (hope) that we would not continue to ping-pong to & fro from one to the other and back thinking that will somehow change things.  The definition of insanity is doing the same dysfunctional thing repeatedly and expecting different results.  I think, and really hope, that we as an electorate are not insane.

Equally disproportionate is the whole 60 seat supermajority “mandate” self-imposed by the Dems to pass health-care reform (and the real reason they took this on right away in the first place…).  Beyond the fact that the party has shown itself incapable of getting the thing accomplished with such a majority, our legislative process has become so indolent that it has been abandoned on the doorway of political expediency to feed the beast of re-election.  Both parties would, and have, done the same thing.

So, putting this past week’s events in a more rational perspective,

  • MA Dems were aburdly overconfident and that’s why they lost
  • Dems still have an impressive majority in both national legislative houses and could continue work on/eventually pass a well-designed healthcare reform package but will panic nonetheless and pass one that is so weak as to make it relatively meaningless…a year wasted, while simultaneously tackling the jobs/economic reforms issue (if they can still do two things at once…
  • President Obama is human after all (who knew?), has done some good things and made some mistakes, cannot fix our country’s woes in one year and/or all by himself, and has proven himself to be much more middle-of-the-road (rankling folks on both ends of the spectrum) than he is being portrayed as a whole, and
  • Each party has its tome of evils, just different ones – one is no better than the other, each’s ability to do right by us continues to deteriorate as they concentrate evermore on re-election rather than legislation.

What we, the electorate, do from here will determine the direction this country will take over the next few years.  Volleying back and forth from one party to the other will get us nowhere.  Holding those already in office to handling our best interests over their own, will get positive results.

But that requires continuous effort on our part beyond showing up at a polling station every couple of years (and so few of us even do that…); staying abreast of the facts, regularly communicating our expectations to our representatives, pushing for more than just 2 parties from which to choose, and, of course, voting en masse.  Thus far we have shown ourselves far less willing to do these effective nation-fixing things than we are willing to believe the media’s rantings.

It would seem the indolence is actually ours.

RE: "An Open Letter to Obama" by Lou Pritchett

This letter, originally written to the NYTimes by businessman & author Lou Pritchett, but not printed there, has been recently picked up by bloggers in search of material to keep their base “mobilized” and as a result, email-forwarders…which is how I learned of it. 

So…here is my take in the hope of providing some needed perspective, on Mr. Pritchett & his letter.

On Mr. Pritchett’s “living legend” status:

Lou Pritchett did write a very successful book, and has made a fortune as a result, but that doesn’t make him the “living legend” he is purported to be.  By all accounts by the giants of commerce, the true legend of American innovation and business management is Peter Drucker, known as the “father of modern management” – to support this:

“The world knows he was the greatest management thinker of the last century,” Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric Co. (GE ).

“(Drucker) was the creator and inventor of modern management,” said management guru Tom Peters. “In the early 1950s, nobody had a tool kit to manage these incredibly complex organizations that had gone out of control. Drucker was the first person to give us a handbook for that.”

Adds Intel Corp. (INTC ) co-founder Andrew S. Grove: “Like many philosophers, he spoke in plain language that resonated with ordinary managers. Consequently, simple statements from him have influenced untold numbers of daily actions; they did mine over decades.”

Now, on to Pritchett’s fears:

You scare me because after months of exposure, I know nothing about you.

A simple search on Webcrawler brings up 3 pages in information on Obama the man, the Senator, the Pres, etc. – much more w/a basic Google search – and that doesn’t include two well published books he wrote about his life & beliefs, which no other modern President did prior to holding office – the only thing missing is an invitation to dinner…there is just as much, actually more, information about Obama as there is/has been for any other President, living or dead – so we all know no less, and in fact more, about Obama as we did other Presidents

You scare me because I do not know how you paid for your expensive Ivy League education and your upscale lifestyle and housing with no visible signs of support.

Go to http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/money.asp for all the information you want on how he paid for everything;

You scare me because you did not spend the formative years of youth growing up in America and culturally you are not an American

The first 6 years of his life (considered to be the most formative by any psychological standard) were spent in Hawaii; he spent 4 years (from age 7-11) in Indonesia, and the rest back in Hawaii – Hawaii is still a State in our Union last I heard…in comparison, John Quincy Adams spent 8 years in France & Russia with his father, Barry Goldwater was born in an AZ territory that at the time was not part of the US, & John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone Y there has still been no resolution as to whether that makes him a “natural born citizen”.

You scare me because you have never run a company or met a payroll.

Neither did Ronald Reagan…

You scare me because you have never had military experience, thus don’t understand it at its core.

Neither did Clinton (who the military loved…),  Roosevelt (FD) Hoover, Coolidge, Harding, Wilson, Taft, Cleveland, VanBuren, JQAdams, and John Adams, the man without whom we would not have attained American Independence when we did.

You scare me because you lack humility and ‘class’, always blaming others.

I’m guessing, then, that your fellow corporate CEO’s/CFO’s etc., like the Enron & Countrywide guys, also scare you, as they became famous for passing the blame and some of the classiest are now in prison or dead…

You scare me because for over half your life you have aligned yourself with radical extremists who hate America and you refuse to publicly denounce these radicals who wish to see America fail.

John Adams was considered a radical extremist by his fellow representatives in the Continental Congress, for having the audacity to insist on American Independence…

You scare me because you are a cheerleader for the ‘blame America’ crowd and deliver this message abroad. 

Humility, which includes admitting mistakes as Obama has done, is difficult for most of us, but here’s a few folks you’ll recognize who believe doing so is not only right, but expected by our highest power:
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
(Matthew 23:12)
Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.
(Proverbs 27:2)
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
(Matthew 5:5)
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
(Matthew 23:12)

You scare me because you want to change America to a European style country where the government sector dominates instead of the private sector. 

In fact, the only Western European country that has a government dominating all commerce (socialism) is….none…Eastern European countries rely much more on the old socialist style left over from their communist days, but they too are quickly changing to a Western (starting in Western Europe) economic system, based in capitalism.  Having a government run healthcare system, as does England & Canada for instance, does not logically translate to all commerce being government run….

You scare me because you want to replace our health care system with a government controlled one. 

That’s funny!  Adding to the humor of this one is that many of those polled who are against any health care plan under government control are on…Medicare…a “socialist” government controlled health care plan…or happily took (or will take) advantage of the GI Bill that offered government stipends & “unemployment funds” – government run…

You scare me because you prefer ‘wind mills’ to responsibly capitalizing on our own vast oil, coal and shale reserves.. 

It surprises me that someone who is known for thinking progessively, changing the way corporate America operates and which even more ironically is about change management, is holding onto energy producing technologies developed in the late 19th Century.  Taking carbon from the ground, and ultimately placing it in the air, makes as much sense as smoking, or inhaling fumes from a burning building – this is why people can kill themselves by turning on the car in a closed space…and waiting… The virtue of these energy sources (oil/coal/shale) is none more than “it’s how we’ve always done it” which not only flies in the face of his corporate thinking, but shows an unfortunate desire to stick with “technology” founded during a time when they also used mercury and lead to “cure disease”…

You scare me because you want to kill the American capitalist goose that lays the golden egg which provides the highest standard of living in the world. 

When he wrote this, we were in the thoes of the worst financial/economic melt-down since the Great Depression as a result of unregulated corporate shell games founded in greed that left millions losing their homes and jobs… and this is telling coming from a man who is a member of the 1% of the population for whom that goose lays those eggs (according to the most frequently used gauge of income distribution, the Gini coefficient, the top 1% of Americans take in 22% of all income, that figure was 7% in 1976; between 1967 & 2007, the lowest earners’ income increased approxmately 25%; the highest earners’ increased approximately 43%; the middle class fared the worst with an increase of approximately 24%).

The problem is not captalism, but captialism run amok, which is what Obama has stated clearly he wants to fix – this does not constitute elimination of it.

You scare me because you have begun to use ‘extortion’ tactics against certain banks and corporations. 

See “capalist goose” above

You scare me because your own political party shrinks from challenging you on your wild and irresponsible spending proposals.

Gee, didn’t we say this about the Republican party when they were in power…which is why they were ousted by a majority of the US electorate?

You scare me because you will not openly listen to or even consider opposing points of view from intelligent people. 

Not considering and not agreeing are two very different things…he clearly considers…unless you include in this group of intelligent people the “birthers” and the “tea-baggers” and then most of us tune out, too…  In fact opposing points of view are aired and considered regularly, which is why the HC reform package did not go through when Obama wanted it to, too much opposition from both the Republican & “Blue Dog” Democrat representatives, and if you follow the progress of the bill closely, you will see the numerous changes made to the bill as a result of listening to these opposing views

You scare me because you falsely believe that you are both omnipotent and omniscient.

You know, the saying goes that Caridiologists think they’re God, Neurologists and Bankers KNOW they’re God; from the economic facts before us with which we “common folk” must now live, it was in fact Pritchett’s fellow Corporate folks, particularly bankers & insurance company execs, who thought of themselves as God-like, making broad and dangerous decisions for us all, the price for which we all now pay dearly with our homes and incomes

You scare me because the media gives you a free pass on everything you do. 

I guess Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, The Free Republic, and the Washington Times, to name the 4 most recognizable outlets of the 34 most read/heard outlets (e.g. there’s many more on local levels, such as WGUL in Tampa Bay) don’t count as media…?

You scare me because you demonize and want to silence the Limbaughs, Hannitys, O’Relllys and Becks who offer opposing, conservative points of view. 

Wait…I thought the news media gives him a free pass?  And last I saw/heard, all of these individuals were soundly viewed/heard daily on their respective shows; Obama has spent little if any time speaking about these folks.

You scare me because you prefer controlling over governing. 

There is no such thing, as Republicans learned the hard way, as “controlling” much legislatively, particularly for the President – our Founding Fathers saw to that.  And Obama has a long way to go to match let alone surpass truly controlling behaviors like we see when health insurance companies refuse treatments just when folks need them, or cancel policies because a person has gotten an expensive diagnosis.

Finally, you scare me because if you serve a second term I will probably not feel safe in writing a similar letter in 8 years. 

Finally, given the flack he is receiving from the extreme right (see “non-existent conservative media sources” above) after just 8 months in office, if Obama wins a second term, Mr. Pritchett and folks who agree with him will know clearly that their notions are not sustainable, so will have no need to write something like this…again.

Lou Pritchett 
Terri Benincasa

Do We Owe Our Progeny an Apology?

According to some featured graduation speakers as reported by the Wall Street journal (& commented on by Rita Robinson of the Seattle Press -reprinted here), we most assuredly do:

“Is it necessary for baby boomers to apologize to younger generations for their excesses?

When I was reading The Boomer Blog, I found an article in The Wall Street Journal called “Boomers to This Year’s Grads: We Are Really, Really Sorry.”

These are among the quotes in the article:

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 60 years old, told the graduating class of Butler University last month that boomers have been ‘self-absorbed, self-indulgent and all too often just plain selfish.’

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, 55, told Grinnell College graduates in Iowa that his was ‘the grasshopper generation, eating through just about everything like hungry locusts.’

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, at 44 barely a boomer himself, told seniors at Colorado College that the national creed of one generation standing on the shoulders of the next was at risk ‘because our generation has not been faithful enough to our grandparents’ example.’

The article said the collective advice of the speakers for the class of 2009: Don’t be like us.

What do you think of these apologies?”

I’m glad to hear ’em – and my hope is we’ve just begun, at last, to recognize the damage we’ve done as a generation over the last 25 years, when we started with such promise.  Remember when we fought against “the man” and all his excesses, his polluting ways, his corporate greed, and his disdain for anything but his own bottom line?  So we changed the world for the better w/civil rights, environmental controls, and the uncovering of corporate shenanigans?  We were good!  Then we went bad….

Robin goes on to say that Gen Y/X experience their share of excesses, so it’s not just us…but gee, who raised them?  She states that there were/are those of our parents’ generation who have as well lived lives of excess….in contrast to ours, they were in the minority – and it was not a generational past-time to live beyond their means & consider themselves worthy only if they had more things, as it was ours.

Finally she says: “I know boomers who are environmentalists and live a simple lifestyle. Not all boomers practiced instant gratification.”  Yep… all three of them.

Then, there’s this from Harry Dent of the Miami based HSDent research firm as reported in the Newark Star Ledger, about how Boomers are the prime cause of this recession (as he predicted would be the case back in the ’80’s) – but this time for the opposite reason of the apology:

“Q: You said years ago that the spending habits of the Baby Boomers will eventually cause the economy to crash. Why?

A: This Baby Boomer generation is massive — the largest we’ve seen in a couple hundred years, probably since the American Revolution. They’ve been entering the work force, getting married, raising families, buying houses and earning more money since the early ’80s.

…We said 20 years ago, “Hey, there will be an end to this.” They’ll peak in their spending cycle after they buy houses, raise their kids, get them into college and all that good stuff.

Now, they’re just doing predictable things as they age. In other words, they’ll become savers, not spenders. They don’t need a bigger house. They don’t need more cars. The kids are gone. That’s what happening. They’re going to spend less and the economy’s going to get slower and slower.”

To Mr. Dent I say…”yeah…right…apparently you’ve not been keeping up with your fellow Boomers spending habits…”  We may down-size some things like our home space (although many are actually up-sizing as they “retire in place” and make room for children and/or parents to move in w/them), but we are not down-sizing our willingness to spend for things that keep us feeling good about ourselves. From ultra-expensive “cosmeceuticals” to high-end vacations, our penchant for instant gratification and determination to halt the aging process will well make up for any “savings” we embrace in other areas. 

And please prove me wrong, my fellow Boomers, but once this econonic crisis passes, and our portfolios make a come-back, too many of us will go back to our old ways.  We will be the first generation to leave less for our children (inheritance) than we spent on ourselves.

But all is not lost, says she who has so far filled this post with a quite curmudgeonly “bad Boomers!” diatribe.

I always have faith in my generation, it is faith in ourselves that I fear we lack.  We still don’t recognize the enormous power (for good or ill) we wield (lost track of that once we moved from our youth to becoming “the man” in adulthood), and the immense changes for the better of which we are capable if we put our collective will to it.

If we make driving small, fuel efficient cars the thing to do, they will sell like pork-barrel projects in Washington!  If we make it a priority to hold our legislators accountable for their behavior, we will have far better government leadership.  As the current corporate leadership, if we move from an emphasis on gluttony to one of benevolent leadership (as we demanded of those in this same position in our youth), we will change the face of corporate America.

So, Boomers, as has been the case for the past 40 years, the proverbial ball is in our court.  Will we use our collective might to fix what’s wrong today, and leave a legacy perhaps not equal to but near that of our parents’, or will be continue to ignore our power and by doing so remain destructive?

You tell me.

 

A sign of the Times

You know, when I was younger I would curse the bevy of advertisements throughout our newspaper… “Annoying…!” I would mutter to myself. “Look at this, a full page just for an advertisement…disgraceful!” I would exclaim aloud.

Now, I thank every ad-salesperson on my paper’s staff, and every savvy business buying it.  They keep that paper coming to my door every morning, and I am extremely grateful.

Because how happy would we be if our newspapers go away…victim of younger generations’ apathy for the written word held in one’s hand?  With the prospect looming for giants like the Chicago Tribune and LA Times, this is not as far-fetched as we wish it to be.

I teach businesses how to reach the Boomer buyer, as many companies still cling to the last century trend of marketing to the 18-45 crowd (begun, by the way, in the ‘70’s to reach, you guessed it, Boomers…) and then wonder why they’re struggling.  Boomers have the highest levels of disposable income with the greatest willingness to use it, we represent almost 45% of the consumer market, larger than all the other individual market cohorts combined, and we spend a whopping $2.3 trillion annually on goods & services…that’s $400 billion more than any other age cohort.

And it is we Boomers who are the primary subscribers to newspapers/ magazines; the last generation to get our buying information from traditional media (papers, radio, and TV). 

So to you smart companies advertising in the newspaper, you’re doing exactly what it takes to reach us.  Keep it up.  And to my fellow Boomer readers, I ask you to join me in doing the smart thing and spend with these businesses.  We can simply complain that our newspapers are either disappearing or becoming a shell of themselves, or we can help bring them back. 

As a generation we brought the nation civil rights and the world human rights, to name just a few of the society-altering fixes for which we fought and won – we can handle this one easily.

Hang in there, print news…with we Boomers behind you, you’ll be just fine!