Friday, March 27, 2015

Television Values and Our Worldview

                                                   From The Ramparts
                                                  Junious Ricardo Stanton
                                      Television, Values and Our World View

“Everyday we are exposed to a particular lifestyle portrayed in movies, tv shows, billboards and commercials. We see people dressed a certain way, living life ‘to the fullest’ – in a particular way. Unfortunately, these characters are created to sell products or raise ratings. Often what is portrayed may not be aligned with reality and yet we may feel that…We long to have the kind of life they live. We wish our lives were just as exciting. We wish we had such close relationships and friends. We wish we would run into that kind of luck we see on TV. We wish we can live just as recklessly, perhaps promiscuously without consequences. We wish we could be as happy as the people we see. We wish to look the way they look, have the body shape as they do… Media has a way of creating a longing for things we don’t have, whether or not they are realistic or not. Unfortunately our lives don’t wrap up cleanly in 30 minutes. Unfortunately there is consequences to our actions. Unfortunately reckless actions lead to pain, suffering and life long regret. Unfortunately reality says our life probably will not or maybe will never pan out the way we see on TV. Unfortunately we do have limits in ability, skills, and even physical appearance. Unfortunately the way a particular product brings completely happiness and satisfaction as seen on the joyous beautiful actors having fun is not true to reality. ” Influence of Media and Advertising In Our View of Life

There are several views about the mass media, to some they are merely a means to sell products and keep the economy afloat; to others the media is an insidious promoter of crass materialism and narcissism while others believe the media is a Trojan Horse and we bring the values contained within it, a particular view of the world, modeling behavior and telling us what to think and believe into our psyches. All three views are correct; together they reveal how pervasive, influential and ubiquitous mass media has become.
For example, the Fox Television Network was cofounded in 1985 by international media tycoon Ruport Murdock and after a series of bold programming moves has ascended to both the top network and cable news rating spots. Fox scored big by putting animated series in their prime time line up, snatching Sunday NFL from CBS and creating programming for a younger more diverse demographic audience. This year Fox scored another coup with its new series Empire.  Empire shot to the top immediately and is the mega hit of the 2015 season. Many industry insiders are saying Empire has revitalized network television viewing!
Fox began promoting Empire during the latter stages of the NFL season, when the program debuted a few weeks ago it caught on instantly. When I think about it, Empire is nothing more than a variation of New York Undercover which ran on the Fox TV Network from 1994-98, but with a twist. Both shows have a Hip Hop flava but instead of just showing recording artists at the end of the show in scenes in the night club owned by one of the character’s father in New York Undercover; Empire incorporates Hip Hop, R&B and the entertainment industry into the show itself. Show business is an integral component of the show. However unlike New York Undercover which was a gritty in the Hood action police series, the characters and artists in Empire are nestled around the opulent and decadent lifestyles of the main characters played by Terrance Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Gray who are cast as music industry icons. The Empire series even had Malik Yoba who starred in New York Undercover as a prime character but he was killed off in the season finale.
While Empire debuted much later than the Showtime series Power, which is very similar in theme to Empire, Empire became an instant hit. Black people flipped out over it and praised it to the heavens on social media and it caught on in record fashion! Now everyone is talking about it even within the industry, “Another impressive aspect to Empire’s early success is its ability to reach large numbers of viewers while also over performing in certain demographic groups. Last week’s episode, for example, will end up reaching over 15 million viewers once a week’s worth of DVR data is tallied, putting it among the top ten most-watched shows on broadcast TV this season…  Women are certainly helping to drive tune-in for Empire, with ratings among female audiences about two times the size of the male viewership. But that’s actually not a huge gap, at least relative to many other hits. NBC’s Wednesday dramas (and its hit reality show The Voice) also perform about twice as well with women versus men, while ABC’s The Bachelor attracts three female viewers for every one dude. As for the ethnic makeup of Empire, the show’s majority-minority cast has paid off in a big way. Last week’s episode was by far the No. 1 English-language show on broadcast TV in homes with African-American and Hispanic heads of household — and by a huge margin. Among Hispanics, Empire out rated its nearest scripted broadcast rival (Fox’s Backstrom) by a 2-1 margin. And in addition to making it into one out of every three black homes, as noted above, among African-American women between 35 and 49, the show is literally the equivalent of a Super Bowl. Last Wednesday’s episode scored a 40.6 rating and 76 share in that group (including three days of DVR replays) — a number exceeding the rating of some NFL championship games this century.” Empire Is A Massive Hit, Here’s What It’s Success Could Mean For The TV Business, by Josef Adalian
When I first saw the promos I decided to watch Empire just to see the images and content it was going to propagate. Unfortunately it lived up to my worst apprehensions. Empire like Power promotes the theme that the recording industry specifically and Black business in general is undergirded and financed by crime.
I’m not naïve, I know organized crime was intricately involved in the music industry in the past, that organized crime controlled the juke boxes in retail stores and determined which records got into them, but both Power and Empire make it seem like the only way to make it in business is to have a criminal background and an illicit cash flow!
 I know from writing about Black businesses and entrepreneurs for twenty five years, that capitalization and lines of credit are major obstacles for most Black entrepreneurs; but most of the people I’ve interviewed over the years used sweat equity, their savings, family and friends support and in a few rare instances bank loans to start their businesses. But if you believe what you see on shows like Empire and Power, you think the only way to make it in business is to be a thug, drug dealer and a sociopath.
Before you tell me to lighten up, it’s only a TV show, and fantasy; or that some rappers did start out as street thugs or drug dealers; remember the role media plays in shaping values, perceptions and our view of reality. “People are often influenced as much by artistic, media, and pop cultural representations as they are by personal experiences. Most of what is known about the world comes from symbolic rather than experienced reality, particularly in advanced media-saturated societies like the United States. According to Ray Surette (1998), foremost researcher in the area of media and crime, what you know comes from ‘all the events you didn’t witness but believe occurred, all the facts about the world you didn’t personally collect but believe to be true, and all the things you believe to exist but haven’t personally seen’ Youth (and adult media junkies) tend to be more influenced by pop culture, are more technologically savvy, and are more likely to weave information from media sources into their worldview than older people. Children and adolescents largely rely on symbolic reality they draw from popular culture to form their cognitive scripts.” Jacqueline Helfgott Criminal Behavior Typologies and Criminal Justice, Chapter 10 The Influence of Technology, Media and Popular Culture on Criminal Behavior Coypcat Crime and Cybercrime
Empire reinforces three specific negative stereotypes: to be popular as a Black musician you have to be from the streets, inner city entrepreneurs have to be underwritten by criminality and murder and viciousness are how you make it in this world.
 Think about it, Terrance Howard’s character is a talented murderer; Taraji P. Hensen’s character “Cookie” is a street smart convicted felon who went to jail because she was a drug dealer! Plus Terrance Howard’s character denigrates all three of his sons because they are not street tough.
 Are crime and criminality a reality in the Black community? Certainly, but it is not the primary ethos of our people despite what the monopoly media says. The fact is the vast majority of us aren’t sociopaths and we don’t engage in illegal activities. But Hollywood doesn’t care about that.
The irony is the United States is a criminogenic society to its’ core; it exists because of its crimes against humanity, genocide, slavery and imperialism, and we see the criminality of the ruling class and their minions every day. Daily we are shown that US sponsored violence, war, plunder and rapine are okay, that massive Wall Street rip offs and malfeasance will go unpunished, that bribery and graft are legitimate ways to advance your career/business and the police can shoot and maim citizens with impunity.
The monopoly media promotes incivility, rudeness, personal aggression and hostility as well as greed, materialism and animus. The TV program Empire promotes these values also. The show’s co-producer, Lee Daniels, is aggressively pushing the envelope and venturing into uncharted waters for African-American program content by exploring story lines about homosexuality and mental illness. The show also makes success in the entertainment industry seem easy, like all you need is talent to make it. We all know that’s not true, innate talent must be nurtured and it takes hard work to make it and making it is not guaranteed.
 But we don’t have to be bamboozled, no one forces us to watch TV, to stream media nor does anyone hold a gun to our heads.  In the US we are given an almost unlimited choice of what to watch on TV, cable and the Internet. Just as Cassandra warned the people of Troy not to accept the Greek’s gift of the giant horse, not to take it into their city, I’m warning you not to consume too much TV.  Hopefully unlike the people of Troy you will heed my advice. If you are going to watch television and/or streaming media do not be a passive media consumer. Become a critical thinker and a skeptic about what you see, read and listen to.



Friday, March 20, 2015

Pension Insecurity

                                                        From The Ramparts   
                                                     Junious Ricardo Stanton
                                                      Pension Insecurity

“It's no secret that pension plans around the country are in trouble. The old-fashioned defined benefit plans in both the public and private sectors face funding shortages, and some radical solutions have been proposed to fix them. The trouble extends to so-called multiemployer pension plans that provide benefits -- or promise them -- to more than 10 million union members, including those of the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and the National Electrical Contractors Association. Some are running alarmingly short on money, prompting a coalition of union officials and industry executives to put aside their differences and hammer out what they hope is a potential solution that involves compromises from all involved, including existing retirees.” The Fix for Multiemployer Pension Plans Jennie L. Phipps
It’s no secret but it is not something the monopoly media talks about regularly because they don’t want workers to know what’s happening. The US pension system both the private and public sectors is in deep trouble. Current private and public pension systems are severely underfunded and face humongous shortfalls that will impact both future and current retirees. One estimate says private pension funds are underfunded to the tune of $343 Billion. “For many investors, last year's stock market gains helped make up for the heavy losses inflicted by the 2008 financial collapse. But it turned out to be a lousy year for private pension funds, which lost ground on their funding levels. After gradual progress rebuilding the funds they need to pay retirees, the average private pension fund held about 80 percent of what it needs to cover those payments, according to a report by benefits consultant Towers Watson. That's down from 89 percent at the end of 2013 and represents an overall deficit among large corporate plans of about $343 billion, nearly double the shortfall a year earlier. Much of the shortfall came from an increase in liabilities (or the amount they now expect to owe beneficiaries). Even as companies have pared back their defined-benefit plans—the ones that pay a guaranteed check for life—the cost of keeping that promise has increased. There are two big reasons: lower interest rates and longer life expectancies.” Private Pension Fund Levels Fall Behind John W. Schoen
Things are so bad for private pension funds employers and unions are coming together to resolve the crisis but their solutions do not bode well for workers and retirees. The workers many of whom are members of trade unions are going to be asked to work longer and take reduced benefits and some current retirees maybe asked to take cuts in their benefits. “The National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, a coalition of unions and companies that employ union workers, has released its report, ‘Solutions Not Bailouts,’ which recommends taking these and other drastic steps: raise retirement ages in line with those of Social Security. Allow trustees of the most troubled pension plans to suspend some benefits and even cut benefits that current pensioners already receive. Create new types of plans, such as variable annuity plans in which the benefit would rise or fall depending on investment performance but provide a minimum ‘floor’ using conservative return assumptions. This would reduce employers' liability.” The Fix for Multiemployer Pension Plans Jennie L. Phillips
The owners/employers are pushing for changes that will allow the ones who underfunded the programs in the first place, themselves, to suspend and or cut benefits for current retirees and workers. Keep in mind the government has a type of insurance fund that was created to cover the shortfalls when private pensions go belly up. That’s the good news. The bad news is the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp (PBGC) is experiencing a cash shortfall itself! “The latest annual report from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation makes for some very uncomfortable reading. The deficit in PBGC’s multi-employer program quintupled in 2014, soaring to $42.4 billion from ‘only’ $8.3 billion in 2013. That massive deficit is problematic for millions of workers who now stand to receive mere pennies on the dollar in promised pension benefits. It’s a huge headache, too, for federal taxpayers, who could be charged with bailing out underfunded private-sector pensions that were never intended to become public liabilities.” As The Pension Agency Falters Who Gets Stuck With the Bill? Rachel Greszler
There is a vicious Class War going on in America and workers in the private and public sectors are under attack by the corporate owners. Since Ronald Reagan decertified the Air Traffic Controllers Union all unions have been under an unrelenting attack from both the Republicans and Democrats. There is a bi-partisan class war being waged by the millionaires in the US Senate and Congress on working folks. While Congress did move to infuse more cash into the PBGC by raising the premiums employers pay into it, these increases have not kept pace with the cost of living due to sub par returns on the investments and a failure to maintain the premiums in accordance with pension plan benefits and actuarial liabilities. So now Congress has to come up with another plan but don’t think they are going to give the tab to the people who bribe them with campaign donations. “The latest assault on private pensions may be coming from the U.S. Congress. Lawmakers on Wednesday were finalizing a deal to shore up the government's pension insurance fund with provisions that would raise premiums and allow troubled pension plans covering more than one employer to cut retiree benefits. As of midday Wednesday, the reform provisions, which drew loud opposition from unions and other groups representing retirees, were not included in the latest version of a massive, $1.1 trillion spending bill, according to a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee. The measure may be voted on as an amendment in the Rules Committee, she said. Payments to backstop these so-called multiemployer pension plans have run to hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. has warned it may run out of funds unless Congress implements reforms.” Congress Eyes Move To Cut Pension Benefits  John W. Schoen
Current and future behavior can easily be predicted by looking at past behaviors.  During bankruptcies by the airlines and steel industries in the early 2000’s the owners were allowed to file bankruptcy, renege on their pension fund obligations and dump their obligations onto the PBGC which was both overwhelmed and underfunded! “Legislation enacted in July 2004 relaxed funding standards across the board and specifically allowed two distressed industries, airlines and steel, temporary additional underfunding. If this legislation represented a massive bet for the government, then the Pension Protection Act of 2006 could be seen as doubling down on this bet. The new law generally requires plans to reach full funding over a seven-year transition period, with longer periods specifically allowed for airlines. If the funding levels do not recover over time, the PBGC will be forced to take on plans that have become even more severely underfunded. With the PBGC itself already severely in the red, the prospect of allowing any employers to further underfund their plans may come back to bite the agency with a vengeance.  Recent legislation was driven by the fact that the airline and steel industries, already financially weak, were particularly hard hit in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. United Airlines terminated all its DB plans, dumping an additional 120,000 employees into the system with a projected cost to PBGC of over $5 billion. This follows the distress termination of the US Air’s pilots’ pension plan. As one airline after another dumps pension plans on the PBGC, the temptation for the remainder increases. The industry is highly competitive, lacks pricing power, and suffers from overcapacity; established airlines are being undercut by start-up ventures with lower operating costs. Cutting costs by dumping pensions may be the only way some carriers can survive. Unfortunately, the U.S. taxpayer may end up paying the bill.”
            The goal of the one percent is to fleece the rest of us and to put us on the hook for their failures. So don’t be surprised if there isn’t a push to get taxpayers to bail out the PBGC sometime in the not too distant future! About twelve years ago Kelly Patricia O’Meara an investigative report with the Washington Times informed me about his situation when I had her as a guest on my Internet radio program. At that time the PBGC was insolvent. Since then Congress pumped more money into it but as the 2014 report indicates, PBGC is again facing major problems which will negatively impact employees in the larger unions like the Teamsters.
            The public sector   doesn’t have PBGC to bail them out, usually it is the taxpayers who are forced to step in and pony up the money to shore up the severely underfunded public pensions. “State and local pension plans are currently underfunded by $4.7 trillion, up from $4.1 trillion just last year.  Worse, just 36% of what is owed is now funded — meaning taxpayers at the state level will be asked to either pony up the taxes to pay for it or cut benefits sharply. All told, State Budget Solutions notes, the liability across the U.S. is over $15,000 a person. But not all states are equal: Three big, heavily unionized, mostly Democratic states account for 30%, or $1.4 trillion, of the pension underfunding — California, Illinois and New York. Because of chronic mismanagement and the power of public sector unions in these and other states, millions of citizens face a grave financial risk they might not even know about… A big problem is underfunded pensions aren't included in state budgets right now. So they're largely invisible. But $4.7 trillion is a lot of money, and as time goes on and the underfunding remains, states will be forced increasingly to raise taxes, cut services and/or add to their debt to make good on extravagant promises made by union-supported politicians to public employees.
The magnitude of the red ink has been carefully hidden by faulty and in some cases downright dishonest accounting. Many states routinely overestimate returns on pension investments, while underestimating the payouts. The State Budget Solutions report bluntly calls this a ‘betrayal’ of both retirees and taxpayers.” States In Danger As Pension Underfunding Of $4.7 Trillion Threatens Their Fiscal Health
            Unionized workers in the US are being fleeced and the politicians are siding with the one percent. Their goal is to decimate unions and return the nation to the gilded age of the robber barons. Tax breaks for the rich and corporations, pension cuts for workers. Don’t say you weren’t warned.