Wall Street’s Risk Addiction?

A revealing interview with MIT finance professor Andrew Lo on the PBS Newshour.   The area of the brain that is stimulated by high risk investment he says,  is the same area stimulated by cocaine.    He also points out that any systemic failure has both winners and losers.  Explains a great deal, doesn’t it?

Jogger KIlled By Wolves In Alaska

The LA Times reports that a 32-year-old special education teacher was killed and partially eaten by a pack of wolves in Chignik, Alaska.   The paper reports that Candice Berner, was listening to an ipod while jogging on a deserted road.

A native of Slippery Rock, PA, Berner was a relative newcomer, arriving in Alaska in August.  According to a report in the  Telegraph.co.uk, Ms. Berner was 4 feet 11 inches tall.

I’m writing about this here because of the rarity of people being attacked by wolves (my initial reaction was that the story might be a mistake) and because this is sure to open the floodgates for Sarah Palin supporters, saying she was right in promoting the hunting of wolves from aircraft.

Another Whitman Campaign Misstep?

Evan Halper and Michael Rothfeld are reporting in the Los Angeles Times that some of Meg Whitman’s investments (she’s said to be worth around 1.2 billion) could pose a conflict of interest should she win the election for governor.  Beyond that, she appears to be taking advantage of the current “credit crisis,” something the opposition could spin as an attempt to profit from the hard times non-wealthy regular folk are going through.

“Billionaire GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has invested her vast wealth in firms that sought to profit from the country’s credit crisis, in venture capital and hedge funds open only to the wealthy, and in oil, gas, healthcare and other concerns seeking to influence state policy.”  -LA Times

That being the case, you would expect a peremptory strike from the Whitman campaign, by way of an announcement that she will be putting her money in a blind trust to eliminate any potential conflict of interest problem.    But that’s not what they are saying.

‘”Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said the candidate would “likely” move her holdings into a blind trust if she is victorious “and will scrupulously avoid any conflicts of interest.”‘-LA Times

Why is it just “likely?”  Isn’t she sure?  First they build a reputation for slamming the door on the press and now this.  And Whitman is billing herself as a super-exec?

At the same time, the Whitman campaign appears to be spending a ton of money on  attack ads, with only a few coming back at her from the  Poizner Campaign.

Meantime, old political dog Jerry Brown seems to be lying back, probably with a smile on his face, while his Republican opponents spend their money tearing into one another. It could be progressing differently in different media markets, but that’s the way it looks here in L.A.

 

Senate Puts Another Band Aid On The Problem

The Senate has passed an emergency relief package.  According to a release from Senator Dianne Feinstein-

“The bill will offer much needed relief to the 2.26 million out of work Californians who are relying on unemployment insurance and COBRA health benefits to tide them over until they can find a good paying  job – by extending those vital safety net programs through the end of the year.

This provision could assist an estimated 200,000 Californians who could become ineligible to receive benefits once the current 30-day extension expires.  For unemployed California families, the average monthly COBRA premium is $1,107.  The COBRA premium assistance reduced this cost to $388 per month, and without this benefit, unemployed Californians could lose $720 a month.”  –Sen. Dianne Feinstein

This is great news for the unemployed.   Still, you have to wonder if the good folks inside the beltway understand how much $388 a month is to a family with no regular income.

It also remains painfully obvious that the august and honorable body that just passed this emergency legislation is the same millionaire’s club that’s so cozy with the insurance industry that meaningful  healthcare reform will be nearly impossible to achieve.   Unless that’s done, we will all eventually go broke paying for the ever-escalating cost of healthcare, with or without a “good paying job.”

Question:  Is that 39% rate hike by Anthem/Blue Cross still going to take place here in California?  The one that’s gonna jack up rates to around 800,000 of us here in the Golden State?  Can you guys take a reality check break and get a public option back on the table?

I almost never agree with Glenn Beck, but I am in total agreement with him when he says our house is on fire.   The Senate will have to do more than hit it with a squirt gun.

More Millionaires In The U.S.

Things must be getting better?  Euronews reports on a jump in the number of millionaires here in the U.S.

“Last year there were 16 percent more millionaires households; an estimated total of 7.8 million. That was still way down on the record 9.2 million in 2007.  The numbers of ultra high net worth families – those worth at least five million dollars – also jumped 17 percent last year.  The ranks of the rich were considerably thinned by the recession and dropped 27 percent in 2008.”-Euronews

Based upon the unemployment numbers in California, Michigan and elsewhere, I have a feeling this improvement isn’t being shared all that much by middle and lower-income Americans.

 

Conan O’Brien Taking His Act On The Road

Conan O’Brien is opening a 30-city tour with Andy Richter and the former Tonight Show band.  It sounds like he’s basically doing the same show he was doing for NBC.

“The “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour” begins April 12 in Eugene, Ore., and concludes June 14 in Atlanta. It will visit theaters in at least 20 states and two Canadian provinces. Additional dates may be added.” -AP

The late great Steve Allen, said the only reason people would watch anybody doing the Tonight Show is because it’s on tv.  I think Steve was probably right.  I also think O’Brien will draw a crowd in the theaters as he has a cult following thanks to his Tonight Show gig.  Be interesting to see how he does.

Local TV News In The Public Interest? Are You Kidding?

Picked up from LA Observed:  A new study has been released by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism entitled “Local TV News in the Los Angeles Media Market: Are Stations Serving the Public Interest?”

 ‘“When it comes to local news, more people” – 68% — “say they get that news from local
television stations than any other source,” says a recent Pew poll1. Internet news is rapidly
gaining consumers, but independent city-specific Web sites mainly link to stories from local TV
and newspapers; they rarely report original hard news (only 3.6% of the time, according to one
study)2; their audience is often in the thousands, compared to the millions watching TV news;
and that audience “is very transient, stumbling upon the site once, and never returning.”3 That’s
why, despite the rise of blogs and citizen journalism, the quality of local TV news remains so
important to democracy.”‘ -The Anneberg School Study

My first reaction was the thought that no study was needed.  Is this really a question anymore?   However, I’m surprised and a bit dismayed to see that so many people are still turning to local tv news, which has become a mix of demographic sensitive promotion and advertising driven mush combined with a heavy dose of the daily crime blotter.  I thought more people had turned to the Internet, or were getting no news at all.  Which is what they sometimes get, if they’re depending upon local tv news as their only source for news and information.

Years ago, Walter Cronkite conceded that television news is a mix of entertainment and journalism by virtue of the fact that reporters appear in front of a camera.   However, in years gone by that mix was weighted heavily in favor of journalism.  It was rumored that Cronkite wouldn’t put a major breaking story on the CBS Evening News until he had seen it in The New York Times.  I have no idea if that’s true but I do know that most of us on the tv side were trying to be as good as the papers.  We weren’t, generally, but we were trying and sometimes we succeeded.  In the early days, quite a number of the reporters seen on television (like Cronkite) came from print and their influence had an impact.

With the advent of consultancy, deregulation and the pressure of ad dollars being drained away by satellite/cable and the Internet, the mix has shifted to where it is now weighted heavily in favor of entertainment and mostly meaningless crime.   Frequently, all the stations lead with the same nearly meaningless crime story with a reporter standing in the dark at a location where nothing is happening.  That’s entertainment, and our society is the poorer for it.

Tribune CEO Bans 119 Words

Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels, has issued a list of 119 words that cannot be uttered on WGN Radio.   The list includes:  “seek,”  “youth,” “folks,” “diva,” “motorist,”  “alleged,” “guys” and “campaign trail.”

I understand what he’s doing.  I would prefer that some words and phrases like “white stuff” and “wet stuff”  never be uttered again.  Anywhere.   Years ago, a news director told me people won’t identify with someone who doesn’t use the same language the folks (sorry) out there use in their everyday conversations.   I get it and agree, up to a point.

Issuing a list of 119 banned words might be taking things a bit too far, particularly for a company trying to get out from under a bankruptcy.  Why can’t these guys (oops) just hire people who know what they’re doing and then leave them alone and let them do their jobs?   Click here for more.

How Not To Treat The Press

 Meg Whitman

             photo: wiki commons  

The following blurb from Carla Marinucci in the San Francisco Chronicle, is a classic example of how not to treat the press when running for public office.

“GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who has been criticized for sidestepping news reporters’ questions, took heat Tuesday after she called the media to an “open” campaign event – then barred reporters from accompanying her on a tour of Oakland’s port and refused to take their questions.

Whitman appeared at Union Pacific Railroad’s office in Oakland after her campaign invited reporters to cover a “discussion” of her views on trade, jobs and the economy. A media advisory said the event for Whitman, which was to include a tour of Union Pacific’s intermodal facility, was “open to the media.”

Instead, reporters were herded into a holding room while Whitman toured the facility. Sarah Pompei, the candidate’s spokeswoman, said they were not allowed to accompany the former eBay executive on the tour because Union Pacific officials “did not want that to happen” and had barred the media.

Pompei invited reporters to listen to Whitman’s discussion with rail officials on “how she can be helpful as governor” on issues like jobs. But Pompei said reporters would not be allowed to ask questions because the candidate was pressed for time.

A Union Pacific spokesman, Aaron Hunt, appeared to contradict Pompei – telling The Chronicle that the company had always expected media to attend Whitman’s tour – and in fact, welcomed coverage.”-SF Chronicle

So they said the event was open, only to confine reporters to “a holding room” (oh, that’s a beauty) and then blamed the railroad when, apparently, it wasn’t the railroad’s idea?

If that’s what happened, then the campaign achieved a double-whammy of both alienating the press and leaving execs at the Union Pacific scratching their heads wondering why the Whitman campaign left them holding the bag for a bad decision they didn’t make.   I’d say it was impossible if I hadn’t been in similar situations myself, although at this moment I am having difficulty remembering anything quite so misguided.

Whitman, it appears, needs to sit down with her staffers and work things out.

Limbaugh Says He Will Leave

Rush Limbaugh, says he will leave the country if the health care reform bill passes.  Where will he go?  Costa Rica, he says.

Here’s the quote:

“I don’t know. I’ll just tell you this, if this passes and it’s five years from now and all that stuff gets implement, I am leaving the country. I’ll go to Costa Rica.”

There appears to be no rationale to what Limbaugh says because Costa Rica already has nationalized health care, but if it gets him out of the country who really cares?  Of course Rush Limbaugh says a lot of things, so maybe it’s too much to hope for.

(late add – 3/10) –  According to a piece in  The Huffington Post, Limbaugh now says he didn’t really mean it.   Makes you wonder how his listeners are supposed to differentiate between what Rush means and doesn’t “really” mean?   It’s problematic you see, because it wouldn’t be that tough to think Limbaugh was serious, as Costa Rica is supposed to be a pretty darn good place for Americans to go when they retire, what with the dollar going further and their excellent public health care and all…

Fox And MSNBC – Heavy On Commentary, Light On Reporters

 Terry McDermott writes in his piece “Dumb Like a Fox” in the Columbia Journalism Review-

“The perceived problem is not that Fox’s straight news is relatively bias-free and its opinion programming overwhelmingly conservative. The problem is that the news portion is very small and the opinion portion very large. It would indeed be like a traditional newspaper opinion-news division if the ratios were reversed.

Fox has a reporting and editing staff about one-third the size of CNN’s. Fox has many fewer bureaus, both domestic and international (again, about one-third CNN’s total). From personal experience covering news around the world, you almost always run into a CNN crew or stringer. You almost never run into a Fox reporter, and never one from MSNBC.” -CJR

On “Weaponizing” Dogs In Britain

 pit bull

 photo: tatiana sapateiro
The Brits are hashing out a move to force dog owners to implant microchips and take out insurance policies on their animals following complaints that bad guys who lack guns and knives are using dogs a weapons.

“The government’s proposals are aimed at tackling the growing problem of aggressive canines being used to harass, attack and even kill. In a country where guns are tightly controlled and even carrying a kitchen knife can result in a prison sentence, animal rights experts and politicians say street thugs have turned to dangerous-looking dogs to cow their victims.”– AP

Interesting.  Here in the U.S. the bad guys have all three, guns, knives and pit bulls ready to pounce.

Dave Bryan, Anderson Cooper, Anne Garrels Honored By L.A. Press Club

l.A. press club logo

‘”CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, NPR Senior Foreign Correspondent Anne Garrels and CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Dave Bryan will receive the Los Angeles Press Club’s highest honors at the 52nd Annual Southern California Journalism Awards on Sunday, June 27.Cooper will receive the President’s Award, for his impact on the media. He was the first American TV reporter on the scene in Haiti, following the devastating earthquake in January. Since the launch of Anderson Cooper 360° in 2003, Cooper has covered nearly all of the major news events around the world, often reporting from the scene.

Bryan, a TV reporter for more than 30 years at KTTV and now at CBS2/KCAL9, will receive the Joseph M. Quinn Award for lifetime achievement.

Anne Garrels is the 2010 recipient of the Daniel Pearl Award for courage in recognition of her selflessness in pursuing difficult, often dangerous stories over the years around the world. The award will be presented by Judea Pearl, father of the late Wall Street Journal reporter killed by Pakistani extremists in 2002.

“It’s a great lineup for a great night in Southern California journalism,” says the new Press Club President Will Lewis, a public radio veteran based at KCRW-FM. “It proves the point that outstanding journalism continues despite unprecedented difficulties for all news media.”’ -LA Press Club

Congrats to all three recipients, and particularly my buddy Dave Bryan, a real reporter’s reporter of the old school.  A broadcast journalist who understands that the story is more important than he is.

The Backstory On The Lady In Purple

Here’s the backstory on the lady in purple who rushed in to hog the mic from Roger Ross Williams at the Academy Awards.

“Elinor Burkett, the redhead who seemingly flew in from the eaves clad in a purple Snuggie, had pulled out as producer of Roger’s short doc Music by Prudence over creative differences last year. After nominations were announced, however, she changed her mind about being associated with it.” -Laurie Pike / Los Angeles Magazine

If you need more, there are interviews with Williams and Burkett in Salon.com.

Along with many others, all I could think of as I watched Burkett charge the microphone, was the Kanye West incident at the MTV Awards.   I couldn’t help but wonder what’s happened to what used to be a common standard for politeness in our society as opposed to the utter disrespect so many people now show for one another.  Particularly with people of considerable achievement.   These people are supposedly near the top rung of our societal ladder.  When something like this happens it makes us all look like buffoons.