Category Archives: Media and politics

Deportation, American-Style

Congress will take on immigration reform soon. If the Democrats can’t pass any sort of respectable healthcare bill, they will have to tack right if they wish to save their asses in the midterm elections. It could get very ugly very quickly, and no doubt the birthers and others of their ilk will get a new lease on life.

I will always be the first to come to the defense of immigrants. Most work far harder than the smartphone and screenplay-obsessed buffoons who make up a preponderance of the populace of my hometown Los Angeles. Immigrants are also far more likely to embrace God and family values than those native to the Red States, whose rates of adultery and divorce are so high it’s like watching a Noel Coward play – minus the tuxes and teeth.

Which brings me to a modest proposal: to kick off reform, why not deport some actual American citizens? After all, the notion behind immigration “reform” is to make the country a more livable place, where the people suspected of abusing our notions of fair play are sent back to where they came from – or at least someplace far away from the rest of “us.”

Therefore, I’ve come up with list of the top 10 Americans who should be deported:

1. Joe Lieberman. Lieberman’s alter-ego, Droopy the dog, is adored in France, where it was recently placed on a postage stamp.  Lieberman is widely detested here, mostly for single-handedly killing the public option and his indirect help in getting George W. Bush named president in 2000. He should be placed on a packet steamer.

FINAL DESTINATION: Lieberman considers himself a religious man, even though he treats corporate interests with far more reverence than his constituents. Therefore he should be deported to Yemen, where the locals have demonstrated enormous tolerance for other religions.

2. Alberto Gonzales. Fortunately, neither Gonzales’ grandparents (who migrated here illegally) or his mother and father lived to see him use the office of Attorney General to rationalize torturing other human beings. Or when called to the carpet by Congress, pretending he had the intellectual capacity of the serape-sporting, monosyllabic Mexican Mel Blanc played on “The Jack Benny Program.” The only thing conspicuous by its absence from Gonzales’ resume is prison time. followed by deportation.

FINAL DESTINATION: Back to old Mexico. Gonzales’ fondness for law flouting and waterboarding would make him a fine regional police chief. And the moral indignation he regularly displayed as AG would make it only a matter of time before he crossed the wrong drug kingpin, resulting in the inevitable happy ending.

3. Larry Craig. The former U.S. Senator from Idaho was a notorious gay-basher in public. In private he had a predilection for a wide stance, no doubt the better to take it in the…well, you know. The collision of his private desires with a public restroom brought him down, but still didn’t cause the Republican Party to confront the fact that way too many of its most prominent members have jammed themselves rather uncomfortably in the closet.

FINAL DESTINATION: Canada is too close for comfort. So it’s either Spain or the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage is legal. Perhaps he and fellow closeted former member of Congress Mark Foley can start new lives together. Mark can keep Larry out of public bathrooms, and Larry can keep Mark from little boys. Successful marriages have been built on less.

4. Orly Taitz. Twenty years ago, a dentist turned correspondence-school-educated lawyer who questions the President’s citizenship would have been roundly ignored. In today’s 24-hour news cycle, Taitz has become the Anne Coulter of the birther movement.

Taitz’ legal arguments as to why Obama should be kicked out of office are more horribly twisted than a train wreck. They have been thrown out of virtually very legal venue in the country, and one court – in Georgia of all places – even fined her $20,000 for misconduct. Yet, astonishingly, the California Bar has taken no actions to revoke her law license. But there is some hope: Taitz, unlike Obama, was actually born outside of this country. That makes her a ripe candidate for deportation. Since the U.S. Justice Department did an exquisite job stripping Emma Goldman of her naturalization and shipping her back to Russia 90 years ago, doing the same number on a moron like Taitz should be easy.

FINAL DESTINATION: Taitz’s birthplace of Moldova (she immigrated to Israel as a child) seems too easy. Perhaps being returned to one of Isarel’s neighbors, such as the Gaza Strip, would do the trick. I’m certain Hamas would welcome with open arms a bleached blonde Israeli loudmouth.

5. Michele Bachmann. I’m always stunned that this reactionary harridan actually has two law degrees. Every time she opens her mouth I feel the country’s collective I.Q. drop by at least several points – not exactly a phenomenon it needs at the moment. My favorite Bachmann crusade: her call to investigate Congress to see which of its members are “anti-American.” My favorite Bachmann bill: legislation to bar replacing the American dollar with foreign currency. For this groundbreaking work she draws a $160,000-a-year salary. I would gladly be that dumb for just half her pay.

FINAL DESTINATION: Iran. They treat women very well there. They also have no problem investigating their citizens’ patriotism. Enjoy!

6. Rupert Murdoch. Easily the worse Aussie import since “Men at Work.” He initially appeared harmless, only wishing to replicate his network of crude tabloid newspapers. Instead, the father of “Fox News” has done more to coarsen the debate than any native-born American. He also recently sunk his hooks into the Wall Street Journal, where its wacko opinion page is beginning to seep into its news coverage, slowly sinking another great newspaper.

FINAL DESTINATION: Back to Australia. Not the present day nation, but the one of the late 18th century, when the Brits turned it into a penal colony. Minus his wealth and his media empire, he can look at it as a fresh start. Murdoch would no doubt prosper in virgin territory, and pushing the age of 80, I’m certain he would not waste what time was left.

7. Keith Olbermann. He’s witty, but uses his intelligence to be so overbearingly sanctimonious that he makes progressives look almost as bad as the right wingers. Listening to one of his 20-minute editorials is like the Bataan Death March, but without the enjoyment of the outdoors.

FINAL DESTINATION: He can actually stay, just not on MSNBC.

8. Sarah Palin. The New Yorker magazine noted in a recent article that no politician so convincingly erases the line between the governing and the governed. Which is a polite way of saying she’s even dumber than Michele Bachmann, but with an outside shot of actually becoming president one day. That the nation will be paying for the sins of the last decade for the next few decades means this simply cannot come to pass.

FINAL DESTINATION: Roosha. As  I noted in a previous entry, no place treats its citizens with more narrow-minded indifference. She would fit in there – like an iron glove.

9. Dick Cheney. One of the funniest and saddest lines in movie history is from “Dog Day Afternoon,” when Sonny (Al Pacino) asks his dimwitted bank-robbing partner Sal (the late, great John Cazale) which country he wanted to escape to. The answer: Wyoming. “Sal, Wyoming’s not a country,” Sonny replied. That may have been the case in 1975, when the movie was produced, but the state’s most famous son and history’s scariest vice president has proved otherwise. A hard-headed bastard like Alberto Gonzales, but a hundred times smarter and meaner, Cheney lived to undermine the Constitution and torture anyone who might have even looked at pictures of terrorists. Read the amazing tragicomic Wyoming stories of Annie Proulx, and it becomes clear the place is a factory for misfits and psychotics, its motto “The Equality State” the biggest fraud since the Teapot Dome – yet another fine Wyoming product.

FINAL DESTINATION: Cheney is about the only member of the Bush Administration who stuck around in Washington after he left office. Obviously, going home is very painful, so the hardscrabble nation of Wyoming is where he should go. With any luck, Cheney will be misidentified as a charging moose and be shot in the face by a hunter. As Cheney himself might say, do it to him before he does it to us – again.

10. George W. Bush. Jeez, what can I say? The most uninformed, incurious and cold-hearted leader this country ever had made Nixon look like Lincoln. He was just a couple of massive bailouts away from plunging the nation into total ruin. Even so, it will take God knows how long to recover from the frat party trashing left by Dubya and his minions. Fortunately, his thoroughly disgraceful tenure has been followed up by relative obscurity, and I picture him spending his days toiling to color in the books for his presidential library. Nevertheless, if he isn’t kicked out of the U.S. of A, , who should?

FINAL DESTINATION: In 2004, Bush requested funding for a mission to Mars. “We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit,” he said at the time. In his case, I couldn’t agree more. We can put him in one of the shuttles that’s being retired next year, and just hit the “Ignition” button. Don’t let the Earth’s atmosphere kick you in the ass on the way out.

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Rainey’s Precipitation

When I ran the satirical business news blog The Walnut some years ago, I wrote a story about the Wall Street Journal running blank pages to save money on staff.

The Journal had just gone through a round of layoffs (a relatively mild one compared to the blood-letting that goes on now). The absurdity of publishing white space was meant as a jab in the eye at the bottom-line at all costs mentality.

But in the case of James Rainey, who writes the L.A. Times’ “On The Media” column, it may not be a bad idea.

Rainey has been with the paper since 1984, mostly as a cityside reporter. He seems to have been handed a plum column last year as either a reward for lasting so long, or because there’s no one else left standing to do it. Neither is a particularly compelling reason for doing so. As a result, you get – I guess, er, I suppose – what you’re sort of willing to pay for.

Indeed, Rainey expounds with an irritating spinelessness. A recent column began condemning The Washington Post’s ethical lapses in promoting a series of pay-for-access events to its editorial staff. It concluded with him stating newspapers should hold pleasure cruises to promote readership. He came close to pummeling Sandra Tsing Loh for the nauseating hypocrisy of using her family for book and broadcast material while cheating on them, but inevitably pulled his punches and declined to contact her husband for comment.

When Rainey actually did perform a full-body slam of L.A. Weekly News Editor Jill Stewart for allegedly biased coverage in an advocate tabloid, it ran just days before The Weekly beat the Times 5-2 in awards from the L.A. Press Club. It was a competition judged by editors from out-of-town publications, making Rainey’s own judgment on the local talent look particularly foolish.

Stewart is as close to a street brawler in L.A. journalism circles as one gets, but she barely had to pop the switchblade to cut her opponent to shreds. “Rainey did not contact me for his wrongheaded column,” she wrote in a rebuttal published in the Times. That pretty much summed it up: passive-aggressive laziness practiced by someone far more familiar at this stage of his career with burnout than scorched earth.

So it almost makes sense that Rainey switched his sights to someone who really can’t defend herself: local TV personality Jillian Barberie Reynolds. Rainey’s beef: she lacked sufficient empathy for her 95 colleagues at Fox 11 News who recently lost their jobs.

Barberie Reynolds is one of several largely empty-headed pinup-wannabes who have relied far more on sexiness than talent (Sharon Tay, Elita Loresca, et al) to build a career. She’s never profound, mostly harmless, occasionally entertaining and completely self-absorbed. In other words, as predictable as an atomic clock. That’s why she’s been perennially marooned on the tropical island of “Good Day L.A.,” where the audience wants perky and little else.

Yet Rainey sees her as the devil incarnate, calling her the “Medusa-haired, wailing siren who epitomizes the noxious celebrification of what we once called news.” He also was displeased with her talking about her sex life on Howard Stern’s show, and suggested that an abusive past had something to do with her behavior.

L.A. Times media critic James Rainey acted as if Jillian Barberie Reynolds had just been anointed the next Walter Cronkite.

L.A. Times media critic James Rainey acted as if Jillian Barberie Reynolds had just been anointed the next Walter Cronkite.

It would be appropriate for Rainey to have a bug up his ass about Barberie had she been anointed primetime anchor in the wake of such bloodshed. But that’s never going to happen. She will continue to be morning eye candy until her looks hold on, and she may host an occasional dumb sports show or another resurrection of “Blind Date.”

And again, Rainey didn’t try to interview his subject. Instead, he called her”representative,” who predictably declined comment. Doesn’t Reynolds have a phone line at Fox 11, or at least voicemail? Or couldn’t have Rainey gotten out of the office and spent a couple of hours camped out to interview Reynolds when she got to her car? Nor did he bother to interview a mental health professional to try and bolster his amateur(ish) diagnosis.

Instead, he padded out his column with some comments made by one of Reynolds’ colleagues, John Schwada. His blog noted that the layoffs affected young up-and-comers and that seniority rules meant those who “can be seen several times a day playing solitaire in your edit bay, have boozy breath and are operating on autopilot” were retained.

Another irony that sailed by Rainey’s head: Schwada had been the star city hall reporter at the L.A. Herald-Examiner when it folded 20 years ago. The Times immediately snapped him up, then promptly banished him to the bowels of the Valley bureau when some staffers grumbled he hadn’t paid his dues. I can only wonder what role Rainey – then five years into his now way-too-long stint at the Times – played in that decision.

But Schwada’s tenure at the Times is in the past. Rainey’s is not. Someone in charge over there – if there is anyone left – needs to take a closer look at what he’s been doing. And begin the debate as to whether a few column inches of white space a couple of times a week might be more soothing to its ever-diminishing readership.

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It’s Bad…It’s Bad?

When there’s little to look forward to next week than the autopsy photos of Michael Jackson surfacing in the tabloids as inevitably as oil globules from an ambushed battleship, one would conclude we’re in a pretty grim run.

Indeed. I’ve seen little over the past few weeks of encouragement. The media has hung onto to the exploits of a freakish family of 10 where the micromanaging mother is obviously insane and the milquetoast father understandably wants out. A U.S. Senator who cuckolded a member of his own staff. A governor who tried to turn down stimulus money for his beleaguered state but was more than eager to use taxpayer bucks to visit his mistress in Argentina, then lie about it.

The economy bobs a little up one week, but down the next. Pundits have been guessing whether it’s hit bottom for seven months now. It might be going somewhere – in two years. But no one’s taking any bets.

I wonder what Walter Cronkite, the one remaining symbol of post-war rectitude, might make of all this. However, he’s apparently on his deathbed.  Ensconced in the next life, he might have the opportunity to ask Jacko what the hell happened. However, celebrity interviews were never his forte.

We could ask Walter Cronkite what he'd make of this, but it's probably too late.

We could ask Walter Cronkite what he'd make of this, but it's probably too late.

On the microcosmic level, things aren’t much better. I’ve been all but berating clients to pay me so I can keep up. A dear friend, my daughter’s godparent, just underwent surgery for cancer that’s proven to be nearly as tough as he is. Given I am what Southern author Walker Percy would refer to as a lapsed Jew, I’m not buying into the power of prayer pitch. But I am beginning to comprehend why gentiles drink so much.
Yet despite the grimness, I feel there is a spark of optimism. Maybe all this mayhem, Jon & Kate Disintegrates, the King of Pop as Elvis redux, is the beginning of the end of obsession with celebrity, a tacit acknowledgement of how toxic it actually is. The fact that the savings rate is up for the first time in nearly two decades is astonishing to me – an apparent overnight reversal of the spend-now, pay-later culture we’ve been buying into forever.

And the bleak circumstances also forced me to rethink my business. I’m now focused more on publishing than piecework. It’s an odd thing, having spent 20 years as an obscure writer, suddenly doing graphic design, compiling mailing lists, and “dialing for dollars” from potential investors and advertisers. It may not work, but I suspect it will. If it does, it will put my family and myself in decidedly more stable finances in the long run. And like the rest of shell-shocked America, we’re no longer going to be snapping up every bauble that bewitches our vision.

“No man can ever truly be secure until he has been forsaken by fortune.” That’s from Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, the early Medieval work that every English major is forced to read when studying Chaucer. Yet the major themes of the work resonate today: good luck and bad luck comes in cycles. You only have to last long enough for things to change.

The Boethian worldview and changes of fortune was the bulwark of another Southern author, one who wrote in an absurdist/comic vein much like Walker Percy. But he was not nearly as prolific as Percy, primarily because he killed himself when he couldn’t find a publisher for his first novel. Years later, the author’s mother all but stalked Percy to get him to read the dog-eared manuscript. The novel, “A Confederacy Dunces,” brought author John Kennedy Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Price. He should have tried to hang around a bit longer.

My family and I spent today driving out the country, where we picked cherries. They’ll be used tomorrow in the dessert we’re cooking for visiting relatives – the kind of relatives we actually like. They’re little things. But they’re enough to make us want to hang around, knowing that it can’t stay this way forever.

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Trigger Mad

Everyone wants to make a mark in America, but few actually get the chance. Yet we’re still the land of opportunity: if you shoot everyone within sight, you’ve got a decent chance of making a front-page exit.

There used to be just one or two insane mass shootings a year. Now they’re every few days. The one that stuck most in my consciousness was at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, California in July 1984. Twenty-two were slaughtered by a loser named James Huberty. He had eaten there earlier in the day with his family, and no doubt decided it would be a great place to go out in a blaze of glory.

The country was shocked; front-page coverage went on for days. McDonalds tore the restaurant down. There were documentaries made about Huberty’s demons.

There have been so many shootings since then that I can only remember locales: churches, nursing homes, schools, etc, The jumping-off point was probably a couple of years after the San Ysidro shooting. A part-time letter carrier named Patrick Sherrill killed 14 of his co-workers in rural Oklahoma. Sherrill’s act inspired the term “going postal.” When it became a joke, people told themselves they no longer needed to pay attention.

When Patrick Sherrill's rampage coined the term "going postal," a lot of people stopped taking gun massacres seriously.

When Patrick Sherrill's rampage coined the term "going postal," a lot of people stopped taking gun massacres seriously.

For last week’s mayhem in Binghampton, N.Y., the New York Times published a tremendous headline: “13 Shot Dead During a Class on Citizenship.” It’s the Gray Lady’s version of “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.” Welcome to America; prepare to die.

Certainly no one is paying attention to the fact that anybody who is angry or sick enough to see other human beings as mere objects can obtain a gun far easier than counseling. Angry high school students? Columbine. Angry college students? Virginia Tech. Angry politicians? Dick Cheney. Angry immigrants? Binghampton. Hell, an 8-year-old in Arizona killed his father and a neighbor a couple of months ago. He was probably curious to see what would happen when he pulled the trigger.

Yet anytime someone who actually doesn’t need a gun to command attention mentions this insanity, the other set of angry objectifiers who run the National Rifle Association begin their banshee wails about their rights. The day after the Binghampton shooting, the ticker on the NRA Website had the following headline: “Gun control advocates misfire with statistics.” Did some newspaper misreport how many people were killed? No, one of the nation’s most politically powerful lobbies felt it appropriate to put up a link to Rob Port, a far-right blogger whose home page says his favorite television show is “The Sporanos” (sic). I should get Tivo.

Certainly by this point the two or three sports hunters and cops who might stumble across this are rolling their eyes. Another schmuck who wants to take away something he’s never owned himself! Well then. I had my first rifle when I was 6. I scored my first bullseye on a firing range when I was 7. I loved the Beretta .380 I owned in early adulthood not because I could actually hit a target with it, but someone as clumsy as myself could take it apart and reassemble it in only a minute or two. I could have probably been an Army sharpshooter if I had any respect for authority, or bagged a helluva lot of deer if I had less respect for life.

I only gave up guns when my I moved in with my now-wife, a sort of hammer-and-sickle type who didn’t want anything to do with them. In the mayhem of early ‘90s L.A., it was position that was difficult to argue with. I haven’t owned a gun for nearly 20 years now, and I don’t miss them.

Most gun owners are responsible. Yet 30,000 people in the U.S. lose their lives every year to gunfire. That’s still about 15,000 less than what’s claimed by automobile crashes, but close enough to consider regulating them in the same manner. I’m definitely up for it now given that gun sales have soared some 40% since Obama was elected.

So, here’s what I’m proposing:

•    Licensure, including physical and written tests, to own a gun. Annual testing if you’re over the age of 70. A point-based disciplinary system. Score three points in a year, you lose your license. Cheney’s no doubt would have at least been suspended.

•    Mandatory annual registration fees, set by each state Legislature. In California, it costs a minimum $150 a year to register a car; if you’re a gun nut, it would really cost you.

•    Mandatory insurance for every legally-owned firearm. A minimum of $300,000 liability, medical and property damage coverage required. No insurance, you lose your license.

We all hate the cost of car ownership – I probably spend close to $10,000 a year on my vehicles, and I own them outright. But those costs – and the fear of what would happen to my insurance premiums – make me think twice before I consider doing something stupid with them.

My proposal would also create a job bonanza for both state governments and the insurance industry. But no doubt the open-minded souls at the NRA would shoot this down before it even got debated. The only thing that might open them up to debate is if one of those nutcases opened fire at an NRA chapter meeting (or better yet, the national convention). An odd wish, but I’m an odd man. Thank your stars I don’t own a gun.

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Clichéd unemployment reporting now underway!

I was wondering when my local paper, the Los Angeles Times, would dust off the most shopworn of journalistic practices during a recession: visiting the local unemployment office. Such articles do little more than assay the desperation of the people using the services, and throw in a quote or two from the office staff about how busy it’s been. They provide little a dwindling pool of newspaper readers doesn’t already know.

Then they all rolled in at once: Times columnists Sandy Banks and Steve Lopez published essentially the same stories over the weekend, visiting California Employment Development Department (EDD) offices in the San Fernando Valley. Although the Times just announced plans to axe its local/California section, the city editors may have already departed.

The same might be said for the copy desk, given this doozy of an observation by Lopez: “I feel for the first time in my life that most of us are one piece of bad news away from the abyss. As I write this, another round of layoffs is being announced by my employer, and a cloud that never moves too far away has darkened another day.”

staring down an abyss, or another deadline?

Steve Lopez: staring down an abyss, or another movie deal?

Lopez’s Points West column is mostly rock-solid, and is arguably the most visible and popular feature in the Times. That’s supported by the fact the paper regularly runs ads showing him in a crosswalk just yards from his office, appearing to stalk either eternal truth or a Frappuccino. In April, Lopez will be portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. in “The Soloist,” which is based on his reporting about a homeless man who is a Juilliard-trained musician (Jamie Foxx).

If your paper’s marketing campaign is designed around you and you have a movie coming out based on your work that’s packed with Oscar-winning and nominated actors, a personal abyss is unlikely unless you commence smoking crack or molesting children. It would have been more intellectually honest had Lopez acknowledged that reality in his column, but then he wouldn’t have been able to file prose as purple as an eggplant.

Banks’s column wasn’t much of an improvement. She reported the recession was hitting the middle-class very hard, but inextricably tied its plight into the recent murder-suicide of a local family committed by unemployed x-ray technician Ervin Lupoe, who gunned down his wife and five children.

“His predicament – deeply in debt, jolted by job loss, despondent over his family’s future – is becoming a familiar story,” Banks wrote. This description is at odds with her own newspaper’s reporting that the Lupoes’s financial situation “did not appear particularly dire” and that their credit card bills were paid up. Banks also filled many, many paragraphs before getting around to mentioning that Lupoe and his wife lost their jobs with Kaiser Permanente not because of the economic environment but because they falsified documents to obtain discounted child-care. Derangement, not despondency, was Ervin Lupoe’s operative emotion.

Banks is more on point when she describes the pricey vehicles many of the office’s patrons were driving. But then she recalled the unemployment her late husband suffered during the 1981-82 recession. Even though he eventually segued out of social work and into a more lucrative career in sales, Banks noted the experience “exhausted our savings, strained our relationship and stole our youthful optimism.” Oy.

Sandy Banks, some 28 years removed from youthful optimism.

Sandy Banks, some 28 years removed from youthful optimism.

Both stories were acutely lacking in analysis. Lopez ticked off the former occupations of the job-seekers: construction, sales, animal hospital receptionist, Wal-Mart clerk, waiter, telemarketer, managing director, etc. He didn’t note that most of those positions are held by people without a college education, and are therefore going to have a tenuous economic toehold during both busts and booms. He ended the story on a slight up-note, discussing how a frequent EDD patron had come up with a great idea to help his fellow unemployed, but added a snarky remark on how the man can tell a growth industry when he sees one.

Neither Banks or Lopez bothered to ask any EDD employees what the impact will be when their offices are closed two days a month and they will suffer a corresponding pay cut part of a cost-control measure undertaken by the State of California.

The one upside to these stories is that they tend to blossom during the trough of a recession, meaning some brighter news may well be ahead. Some are even informative: in a dog-bites-man twist, the Wall Street Journal reported in mid-January on how the unemployment offices in New Jersey have become a source of jobs for people out of work.

The Vancouver (Wash.) Colombian is more typical. It reported on the glitches the unemployed have experienced with Washington State’s mostly automated system to obtain benefits (the second-most shopworn element of this story is to report on the troubles people have getting their payments – and, indeed, the Times chimed in with this piece on Monday). The Colombian noted that at a state-mandated session to counsel the unemployed, “a line of 20 had already formed outside the door” by 7:45 a.m. However, it didn’t confirm whether this is a typical occurrence. It also had its share of interviews with those left despondent by their job losses, and the omniscient overview quote: “This is going to be the longest recession since the Great Depression,” says a regional labor analyst.

Gee, I’m glad I haven’t heard something like that before.

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Sink Big?

‘‘I wonder what it would be like if we went into another depression,” a friend wondered aloud in his arch baritone voice. The question was floated over lunch some six months ago, when the economic climate seemed uncertain but not yet unsteady.

I said there would be no sequel to the Great Depression. The shrill fear and catastrophic war it spawned made governments much more responsive during fiscal crises.

Indeed, the Treasury is currently a blur, bailing out lenders and insurers; the Federal Reserve Bank is all but throwing money out its office windows. The incoming administration may well approve another stimulus package as early as inauguration day.

The end result remains to be seen. Some of the actions will work, some won’t. However, the mere act of acting will prove far better than what was done during the first one-third of the Great Depression: virtually nothing.

Despite this flurry of activity, you would think we’re partying like it’s 1929. The Los Angeles Times recently ran a graphic in its business section of a once middle-class family standing in a soup line. A New York Times columnist sourly joked that we’ve all taken up squirrel hunting as a new vocation. Many such dark musings appear daily in the media.

My friend and I had both worked as journalists, and we’re intimately familiar with how the skeptical nature of the profession drives tough questions and astute analysis. However, it also tends to generate a worldview of gallows humor bordering on apocalypse. Has it reached the point of whistling in the cemetery?

The fourth estate has been in a depression of its own for years now, having been ravaged by ceaseless rounds of layoffs and buyouts. Indeed, the L.A. Times graphic ran the day before its parent company filed for bankruptcy. So I’m concerned – but not surprised – when I hear or read that the economy is “tanking” or “cratering” rather than sluggish or in recession. Or that loans and mortgage-backed securities are “toxic” rather than underperforming. Although the comparisons to the 1930s have moderated in recent weeks, they remain persistent enough that I’m surprised we’re not all living in jalopies, our hollowed-out eyes shaded by tattered, plaid caps.

Even relatively good news is often delivered in funereal tones. For example, Southern California real estate sales have been consistently up in recent months. That the majority of these sales are of foreclosed homes is considered grim news by its messengers, even though it means the local real estate market is self-correcting in a relatively quick fashion. It would be frightening if these homes sat empty for years, but they’re not.

Some might mutter that my head is stuck in the sand. Indeed, my head has been stuck – in the books of historian Robert S. McElvaine, author of a number of well-regarded books on the Great Depression. They contain some truly astonishing numbers, such as the fact that gross business investment in the United States plummeted 98 percent between 1929 and 1933. I looked up the most recent Fed data: Gross private investment is down about 10 percent from its 2006 peak, while government investment is up about 15 percent. Total net decline thus far: less than 1 percent. The Fed would print money on its office copiers to keep it from falling even 5 percent.

Current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, himself an expert on the Great Depression, recently observed that the economic conditions of 75 years ago are no comparison to what is going on today. His comments were broadcast on NPR – one of the very few news organizations whose audience has grown over the past decade. As far as I can tell, it was repeated nowhere else.

I’m the last person in the world who wants rah-rah news if it’s not justified. I just want it delivered appropriately, accompanied by solid analysis. Every time Chris Matthews turns grim and hesitant as he suggests the current economy may go “beyond a recession,” or a print story suggests that retailers became ghost towns immediately after Black Friday (they’re not as crowded as in recent years, but nor are they deserted), it dents our collective psyche. Such rhetoric makes the roughly 90 percent of the workforce whose jobs are safe put off a purchase they could afford. Or it goads talented entrepreneurs to skip what could be a crucial networking event because they didn’t think it was worth the bother. Psychology to economics is what pitching is to baseball – about 70 percent of the game.

My hopes of moderation may be overmatched by the hyperactive demands of the 24-hour news cycle. But I do know that no journalist worth his salt wants to become part of the story he’s covering. When that’s in danger of happening, the best ones step back, take a closer look at all the facts, and work even harder to put everything in perspective. More of that would be useful now.

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