It’s All on CNN (Sort of)

I was in Sacramento — California’s state capitol — last week.  I won’t tell you about the conference I went to, because I’m pretty sure nobody is THAT interested in punitive damages, or federal habeas law, or new developments in juvenile dependency law.  Suffice it to say, law geek that I am, I had a wonderful time and came away knowing a lot more about a lot of things I used to know a lot less about.  Plus, I got to watch TV, which is great, because we don’t get any channels on our television.  We just get netflix movies.

Now I’m going to tell you all about what it was like watching television in my hotel.  (Hotel (n):  a place where they make the beds in the morning for you and nobody dumps the contents of their lunch box on your shoes.  Also usually has a big, big TV.)    

Anyway, one night I watched the California legislature work its magic on the budget crisis we’re currently enduring here in California.  You want to know an amazing fact?  My television had a total of FOUR channels on which you could watch the State Senate and the Assembly yammer away about the budget before they basically threw up their hands and came up with the brilliant solution that the way to raise more money to balance the budget would be — are you ready for this?  Okay.  THEY’D JUST GET PEOPLE TO PAY MORE OF THEIR TAX BILL EARLIER IN THE YEAR.  You heard that right.  They’re not going to raise taxes or ask the governor to get a part time job at Starbucks.  They’re just going to punt and have us pay most of our taxes in the first six months and then in June they’re  going to uncover their eyes and see if it all worked out.  I don’t know about you, but that’s just idiotic. Okay.  The truth?  It’s ‘way more complicated than that, which is why it’s a good thing I’m not in the Assembly or the Senate, because it is actually just very hard to balance a budget when you are, basically, broke.     

But I know what you’re really asking, which is this:  Why are there FOUR channels covering the work of the California legislature?  I mean, there aren’t even any ads on these channels, so they’re not making any cash from all those channels (shouldn’t they consider some ads?  I mean, if the Starbucks job doesn’t pan out for Arnold?).  I had some time to think about this because I wasn’t making beds or cooking.  In the end, I decided that our legislature may not know how to anticipate a budget crisis, but they’re all over the need for backup television coverage of their work.  You know, in case of an emergency.  I don’t know about you, but the first thing I’d do in an earthquake is tune into the state assembly cable access channel.  And if one of the channels didn’t work, well, think how enormous my gratitude would be to have another one to go to.  

Anyway, everyone in California knows we have a huge budget problem.  This news is reported in local papers and radio news and also on television (because I watched some of it) in a basically factual way.  The reporting of this news is about as boring as the four access channels.  Still, the people we send to Sacramento to represent us can at least stay awake in the middle of this fiscal crisis, which required that they be alert at midnight the night I was watching.  It’s serious business.  If they don’t solve it, schools, poor people, people with medical problems, to name a few, well, they get hosed.  So, I felt it important that I watch a little of this channel, because it is, after all, MY fiscal crisis.  I learned some basic things about the budget crisis while I was watching.  And then, the next day, I went to a panel discussion in which Darrell Steinberg, who’s going to be the new Senate leader in California, talked about how hard it is to get a budget together when you have no money and a lot of rules that limit how you can spend the little you have and raise any more.  That was good to know.  You can figure that out, you know, if you read a little of the reporting on the budget and watch a little television, because he’s said this before, and so have other people. 

Now, I’d like to talk about the television news.  After spending the day being scintillated by tidbits of information about how punitive damages should be reviewed on appeal, I came back to my room, lolled around on my bed and watched CNN, CNN Headline News (TWO CNN’s!?  Why?  Oh.  Emergencies), all the networks, FOX, MSNBC, and some other versions of news bearing different but remarkably similar combinations of letters.  

At first, I thought what all people who watch TV news for the first time in years probably think:  my god!  Why are these people so RUDE?  Why are they YELLING?  Why are they LYING? Why don’t they have charts up and some professor whacking on the chart with a pointer (but not yelling, because he is a professor and very calm about all this) telling people how the two candidates’ economic plans are not the same at all?  Why are they spending so much time talking about who’s going to win and so little time about what they’re going to DO?  And then I watched reality TV for a while, thinking it would be a good break.  The problem with that?  The news and reality TV are exactly the same — yelling, rudeness, lying.  It’s about your outfit, your hair, and whatever untrue salacious thing you can sling in the direction of the other side.  And then you vote.  In a system that looks like it might not actually be totally fair. 

Why is this stuff more interesting than how you ACTUALLY balance a budget?  Or how you actually keep the economy afloat?  I think the answer is not that complicated, although it is a two part answer, which might make it seem complicated.  But have no fear.  It is not.  

PART l:  It is more interesting to talk about the human condition, i.e, hair, clothes, car and home ownership, past drug use, hunting habits, and the fact that candidates to political office might belong to churches that have pastors who shout stuff from the pulpit that’s crazy, than numbers and details.  Numbers and details?   BORING.  They even bore me, and I am a geek.  

PART II:  It has always been thus.  I have no proof of this at all, and do not feel I need to back this up with anything other than my wide reading in history and literature (okay, just novels) because this is a BLOG.  Still, I do think I’m right.  People have always been distracted by stuff like this, because that’s just the way people are.  I mean, the French Revolution was about being pissed off at clothes and hair as much as it was about fraternity and equality and the third thing I can never remember.  Liberty?  The American Revolution:  think of your favorite beverage.  Then think how you’d feel if, say, Posh Spice said, in a snotty tone of voice, that you’d have to pay more to get it off the boat.  Sure, we hold things to be self-evident.  But we also don’t like being told what to do by people far away.  (And yes, I know she lives in LA.  Still, in my book where she lives is still Far Away.)  And, even though it has always been thus … 

PART III (oops, I need a third part):  I’d also like to propose that people know that this crap they’re yelling about at CNN and MSNBC and FOX isn’t what really matters.  I also think people do have ways of figuring out the stuff that does matter, at least in a democracy.  I know, I know:  If people are watching all this reality tv/television news, then how are they figuring out which candidate has the best ideas about how to make this a better country to live in?  Well, they could ask me, I suppose (the answer is Barack Obama, but then you knew that already, didn’t you?).  But if they didn’t ask me, I do think that most people are exposed to other, quieter sources of information:  a friend who gives them a great article they read in a magazine that’s pretty factual, a local newspaper article that compares a campaign’s statement about what’s true with what is actually true, for example. And many, many Americans watch debates, where the candidates are not actually asked personal questions, but substantive, policy-type questions.


What’s interesting, I think, is that people don’t need a whole lot of information to get to their answers.  For example, if someone lies about something and then does it again, and the news people point that out before they go back to yelling about the polls, and then they read that a candidate can’t even remember the name of the President of Spain (which the average American can’t remember either, but then it’s not going to be their job to remember, is it?), and then maybe makes fun of people who work in the community, like their son, who works for Catholic Charities teaching kids how to read, and then the candidate flubs again and lies a little more — Well, that’s not a person you want to solve a huge economic crisis or a bad war, even if he does promise you he has a plan.  

I also think that people learn from their past voting mistakes (although it can take them a long time to admit they made a mistake, as Marie pointed out in the comments and I made sure to mention up here because she is right about this).  I remember when Bush won last time, Mark Shields said something about how the Republican victory this time around was a phyrric victory — that if we give the country over to this lunatic a second time, the inevitable disasters will befall us (check) and, essentially, it will be a very long time before our country trusts a Republican again.  And I think that’s true.  Yes, I know it’s a close election.  Obama is young, even though he’s obviously really smart.  And he’s African-American and that is a hard thing for some people in our country to accept.  I happen to think he will be one of our country’s greatest presidents.  But I am completely fine knowing that many people will vote for him because they’ve decided that the last two times they voted they messed up and they’d better try the other side this time.  Even if it takes them a couple of election cycles, people do fix some of the stuff they screwed up badly the last times they voted. At least, I sure hope they do!

Now, if you want to know about punitive damages, just ask me.  I’m on a roll.


7 thoughts on “It’s All on CNN (Sort of)

  1. While my husband snores 2 rooms away, Vincent refuses to sleep, so I am up over here on the other coast reading you, and

    1. Me, too, re: netflix. Because when we have TV, my husband is a total news junkie, and CNN et al blather away in the back ground incessantly.

    2. But I LOVE Mark Shields & hope hope hope he is right. Because I don’t actually give that people that much credit.

    3. Because more than we don’t like people telling us what to do, we don’t like admitting we were WRONG.

  2. Very interesting how the latest economic crisis has affected the polls. Maybe people actually are paying attention. Even Missouri is starting to depart from its usually republican position. I am starting to have hope. Too bad about my IRAs, though. Fortunately, I can’t touch them for at least 5 years.

  3. Ms. HMH: Yes, I know. It would be better if Obama could get elected without a major meltdown of our economic system to prove to people who stupid it is to continue on with the same policies. Still. And I am sorry about your IRAs — although a lot can go right in five years and I will be crossing my fingers that that happens.

    Oh Marie — I hope this post didn’t put you to sleep. On the other hand, maybe if you read it out loud, very, very slowly, it might have put Vincent to sleep. I am more optimistic than is probably good for me; and there is so much truth to what you have to say.

  4. Punitive damages! We always have that option, right, if the Republicans get in for a third term and hack everything up worse than before, right, and the Hank Paulson “I’m Rubber You’re Glue” bailout plan deprives us and our children and our children’s children of our very futures, right, we still can, like, sue for punitive damages, right? Sue? The administration? Treasury? Fox News? Right?

    Or would the implosion of democracy be, um, our fault?

    I think the only way to handle this is to do away with anonymous ballots. If you vote stupid, there should be consequences.


  5. Too bad we live in representative democracy where we ALL get to experience the results of the stupid voting. In the last election I was gobsmacked that the Shrub was able to win a second term. Look how well that turned out for us.

    Bloglily, I console myself with the knowledge that as long as I don’t sell any of my IRA shares, I will still have the same number of shares, they just aren’t worth as much. And I thank heavens for the financial advisor who steered me towards funds that are old and stable so they aren’t likely to disappear during the crisis. Still, it is unnerving to see the value drop so precipitously! Intellectually I know all I have to do is wait, even the great depression ended eventually, and the people who held on to their shares of stocks wound up well off. I just wish I had about ten grand I could invest right now!

  6. I know this isn’t really the point of this entry but I loved it…when you say this is a blog and you don’t have to support everything with what you say with details, facts and a bibliography in APA format.

    People get so carried away when you write your opinions. I beleive if more people had a real kiwi (Carrie Fisher reference to a real conversation, as in ‘as exotic as a kiwi…’she is not just princess laia, laya?)SO, if people had real conversations versus just reading, at your own leisure, in your underpants (yea, so what? I just woke up..) and had access to google, you could argue with just about anyone/anything.

    If it were face to face, you would only have to rely on your wits and current brain power. This internet/kiwi thing makes me sad for how inflatedly intelligent some people think they are because they can ramble on with ‘facts’.

    So, long windedly, I like that you say this is a blog. Nice reminder and true. We read you dear Lily, betuz of that. We like YOU. Your ideas. Your writing.

    I am glad you have ‘just’ a blog.

  7. I look in from time to time via “Simply Wait.” I have been seeing the news about California’s budget “crisis.” I know nothing, of course, about the details of California’s budget, and very little more than nothing about the budget of Florida, where I live. Nevertheless, I have as much right to wonder as others do.

    California apparently wants a “bridge loan” from the feds (meaning all the taxpayers in the whole nation, including those who dutifully pay taxes in the other 49 states besides California). Apparently, the Golden State is like some folks who get paid (poetic taxpayer license here), once a year, but spend all the money before the year is up, and borrow to eat in the interim and pay (or at least promise to pay) the friendly lender back when payday arrives. Usually with folks of this ilk, the day they run out of money comes sooner and sooner, and the period over which they need to live on borrowed money gets longer and longer.

    Here’s how to avoid a budget crisis if you are a State: make a careful and honest calculation of intended revenue; budget in line with that revenue. It ain’t much simpler than that, is it?

    I understand Californians have voted in recent years for some measures which reduced taxes. Well, if that means a decrease in State services, that’s a tradeoff they made, isn’t it? So the nearest firehouse is 10 miles away instead of 2. So prisons have to release felons after half their sentences instead of 2/3. So public schools have classes of 50 instead of 22. You get what you can afford to pay for, and, within your means, decide to pay for. A wish list is not a way to make a budget, is it?

    This is no slap at Califonia. We reduced our property taxes in Florida last year (or was it this year). Local governments immediately started whining because of budget “shortfalls.” This means that instead of 7 lazy bums in some useless office, maybe only 5 will work there doing an amount of “work” which should only occupy 1 or 2 workers.

    I seem to be waxing long here. All the best to you.

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