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Sunday, May 30, 2010

HBO's Strange Bedfellows, 2010


As an exercise in acting, and portraying real life people and news, I suggest "Strange Bedfellows" on HBO, about the friendship between President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. KCRW'sThe Business talks with actor Michale Sheen, who portrays Blair.

Sunday Morning News and Views











Sunday, May 30, 2010

An extensive study points to a reverse bell curve for depression. In our mid 20’s we become less happy. Over all, again a collection of statistics and not for any one individual, we curve down, reverse and increase in happiness until in our fifties we return to close the same level, if not the same, as when we were younger. There are many possible explanations, from the optimism of you to the acceptance of older age and experience, with the disappointments in between. But scientists believe there is a much simpler explanation: genetics. Optimism is needed to take the risk that helped early man, and us, survive. As we grow we learn to survive, but at the same time come to grasp with realities we cannot change, or are difficult to change. Death, disappointment, injury, disease. Our bodies may have a generic preparation for life’s cycle. As we grow older those protections are not needed, as we emotionally and in other ways accept life and find pleasure in just, living, loving and doing what we need to do.


How about a vacation? 

We all say we need one. CBS Sunday Mornings says that while we may say that, increasingly Americans are not taking them. The result is higher stress, higher stress related disease, personal and family conflicts and a decrease in job retention. Workers are taken for granted in the nation with the highest productivity ratio in the world. Meanwhile we become slaves to our jobs, afraid of competition from outside and from coworkers.

By contrast, in Europe vacations vary from three weeks a year to as much as six weeks mandated by governments. Workers in Europe are more satisfied with their lives, despite almost caste like system that lock you into financial strata in many of the countries. They claim to have a better life, greater job stability and far greater job satisfaction than workers surveyed in the United States.

Spuds, Bugs and More.
Brick shaped sweet potatoes? Botanists are working at it to increase the yield and uses of yams and sweet potatoes. They are dealing with shapes that make shipping and use in factories to produce fries, canned and other product costly and far less efficient tan the common spud. In addition, consistent color and taste does not exist between one sweet potatoes and another. Mass use required consistency. Both shape and taste are being engineered into a new generation that may bring the red sweet taste into more common use.

May 16, 1866, 144 years ago today, this nation got its five cents worth (CBS Sunday morning’s script not my words) as the small silver half-dime as replaced with the nickel, made of nickel. Nickelodeons’ and nickel stores became popular as century melded into century. The term “wooden nickel” came from the Great Depression, where wooden nickels were circulated as IOU script. What who can forget “what this country needs is a good five cent cigar?”

May 30, 1902 the man “who launched a thousand voices” was born, Mel Blank. Just a few of the voices he created: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Pepe Le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn, Barny Ruble….he passed away in 1989 at the ager of 81, leaving behind a wealth of Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbara favorites.

The Lincoln Memorial, which I saw in person for the first time a week ago Friday, was dedicated May 30th, 1922.

The World War II memorial was completed in 2004. Rob Cain and I went to the memorial, for the first time for Rob, and were a bit disappointed. It is simple, large and has no statement about the war. Rob’s father is listed on the dedication computer. I would need to go on line and add my dad, but would need to know his unit to do so.

Seventy years ago today Penguin Books gave birth to its children’s division, known world wide as Puffin. While the publisher has been responsible for many children’s classics, they did turn down “Harry Potter” saying it was too long, too contrived and used formula’s that had been over exposed and overused in the past.

Also on this date 70 years ago the Harvard Magenta became the Harvard Crimson, and the Crimson Tide was born.

Fifty years ago today our lives changed. This was the day when the Simulated Emission of Radiation resulted in man made concentrated light beams. The acronym is LASER, now simply written, “laser”. As you know, Lasers are now used to play music, watch movies, communicate with space missions far out in our solar system, target missiles, etch jewelry, cut fine lines in microsurgery, send communications around the world and much, much more. How many adults, much less school children, know that the word “laser” is an acronym and what it stands for?

Weekend Edition Sunday host LeAnn Hanson gave her listeners notice that one year from today will be here last broadcast, as she retires to a home by the sea. She will be off may weeks as she travels the country to visit NPR stations and to do some of her own “bucket-list” of stories in the year ahead.

Education under attack
Teachers are under attack. The Tea Party feels they are paid too much. More and more parents are giving up their own fault and responsibility by blaming teachers and “bashing teachers” blaming them for their children’s education level. The Obama administration is retooling “no child left behind” but in some ways blaming teachers even more. Republicans blame it all on teachers unions. Budget cuts due to the recession are hitting teachers harder than any other group in the “public sector.” Privatization and “public-private partnerships” are catchwords used as if there was a magic solution.

Community colleges, at the same time being cut back in budget and forced to limit admission and charged with helping to retool the work force and make up for deficiencies in the K to 12 system, are being studied and copied overseas, where they are looked upon as an alternative to the formal university systems that still follow the European roots of academia.

94-year-old Hazel Soares is among 500 students who picked up diplomas during commencement this May at Mills College in Oakland. She says earning the degree took her so long because she “has had a busy life.”

News

6 to 5 Blackhawks over Philly. Lead change 5 times. The Blackhawks have not won th Stanle Cup since  1961.

At least 17 people are dead in an explosion at a mine in China.  Dynamite stored in the coal mine exploded, causing toxic gas that killed the miners, reports say instantly.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that we will know by the year’s end if the NATO offensive in Kandahar, Afghanistan is successful.

At least 25 people are dead in classes between protesters and troops in Thailand. The government says the crack down and resulting violence is needed to rid the “Red Shirt” protesters of “terrorists” and “criminals.” The government is rejecting pleas by the UN, Red Cross and other organizations to cease their violent attacks and go into open mediation, as requested by anti-government protests leaders.

An overflow crowd of tens of thousands of worshipers, usually seen only at Christmas and Easter, filled St. Peters Square to show support for Pope Benedict over the clerical alleged sexual abuse scandals. The Pope called the crowd a “beautiful and spontaneous show of faith” as he again denounced  “sin” inside and outside of the church. Pope Benedict said that “forgiveness does not exclude justice” and that “justice” is needed to “wash the stain of sin” from the church and out society.

It is interesting that the BBC and AP counted the crowed at “tens of thousands” and “sixty thousand” where NPR called it “several thousand”. Media bias?

Scientists now say the Gulf oil spill from an off shore rig is at least thirty times greater than had been thought or acknowledged by British Petroleum, operators of the rig. The scientists have identified four large plumes of undersea oil depleting oxygen and potentially devastating both deep sea and surface marine life. All attempts to stop the leak, including the forced plug, have failed. Next robots will attempt to cut a pipe, attach a second “tube” to the surface” and force it onto the leak.

An update later morning put the estimate of the spill at 80,000 to as much as 120,000 gallons a day, or minimum of 15 times the amount originally estimated. These are based on images from robotic probes this morning and thermal imaging from the surface and subs.

Two years ago Dina Titus defeated the first even congressmen to hold the new 3rd US Congressional District, John Porter. Now polls show that state senator Joe Heck is well ahead of three other candidates in the upcoming Republican primary and would be neck and neck with Titus in the General election.

On the brighter side, Harry Reid is not statistically even with any of his top three potential opponents. I cannot understand how a state could toss out having the second most powerful Democrat in government, and one of the top leadership positions in Washington out in favor of a rookie from the minority party.

UNLV football star, 16-year NFL high profile winning Quarterback Randall Cunningham, has returned home to Las Vegas, where he is the pastor of the Remnant Ministries, an Interdenominational Church. The Review Journal visits with Cunningham in its front-page story this morning. Of course the story did have one aspect that rubs me the wrong way, the inference and closed-minded attitude that Catholics are not Christian.



Crime Shows and Ratings
The top shows on television are mostly crime shows. There are more detective programs on the air around the world than any other type except reality. For the most part the higher production costs do not impact the equally high popularity and profitability of a well done detective yarn…but there needs to be murder and mayhem, interesting characters and a sense of humor for it to all work.

CSI runs in every country but 6, all major anti-US countries. The show runs every second somewhere in the world. CSN Miami is on 3 times a week and is the second rated show to “NCIS” in Syria.  Murder and crime drama has universal appeal. NCIS remains the number on show in the world, with CSN number 2 and Law and Order number three (despite its cancelation in the US).

Watching good guys win has a universal appeal around the world, where in reality crime is often unanswered and violence, war and hatred are unavoidable.

A 2009 Purdue University study says that people who watch a lot of crime shows overestimate the seriousness and amount of serious crimes in the world, including murder. There is a paranoia that crime shows can generate.

Most people surveyed think that the technology of today can work miracles, and that CSI and the lab in NCIS are real and work that quickly. Neither is true. People want security and faith.

Indiana University test subjects enjoyed non-violent versions of 24 and other shows more then test subjects who were shown the television version and far more than the more graphic DVD or foreign release versions. Yet without the violence a consistent week-to-week audience does not return.

Robin Hood and Actors
The latest big screen incarnation of Robin Hook premiered at Cannes this month, with mixed reviews. It is destined through its star, Russell Crowe, its action genre and its scope to be a work wide hit no matter what critics and Robin Hood purist may think.

Robin Hood seems to never die out, but also is ever changing.

There was no real Robin Hood who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, or who went on the crusades with the King. But there are two men who the character may be based on. Only one was described as “a good man”, which is as far as it goes toward supporting the legend.

The character was born and lives on in books, plays, bed stories and word of mouth. On film a crafty animated fox from Disney, two of the greatest swashbuckler stars of modern film and superstars have brought very different versions to the screen. In 1922 the silent version starred Douglas Fairbanks, followed by the talking antics of Earl Flynn in 1932. While there have been many others my favorite is an older Robin played by Sean Connery in the 1976 film “Robin and Marion.” Of course in 1971 came Kevin Coster playing opposite an actress who I shared a stage with in high school, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. For an entire generation the 1950’s TV series in the US defined Robin, while a continuous series of Robins’ graced the British small screen. Comedy took its toll on Robin in 1973 with Mel Brooks’ “Men in Tights”. And now a re-imagined character with a less than familiar story as Russell Crowe takes on the role under action director Ridley Scott. Interesting enough the original script for this version had the Sheriff as the main character, showing his side of the story in a sympathetic light. Needless to say that side is lost and the Sheriff remains evil and heartless.

Dennis Hopper was featured on the BBC. CBS and NPR this morning. His influence was that great. When he did Apocalypse Now his disjunction, rambling reporter character was inspired by and played by a very high on drugs actor. He had his ups and downs, on and off drugs, producer, writer, actor, painter, sculptor…Gone at 74 of prostate cancer.

Actors can be shy. Bebe Neuwirth, who played Lilith on “Cheers” and “Frazier” and is currently starring in “Adams Family” on Broadway, is really shy. She says cocktail parties freeze her in her tracks that she is uncomfortable meeting new people and scared of answering questions wrong or being perceived as something other than what she is.

Finances and Business
Richard Berstein of Berstein Capital Management says credit problems are spreading to the east across Europe and Asia and in time will hit the US with the second major blow of the recessionary battle. Corporate profits are being hit by countries defaulting in Europe, while our GDP is slipping against China and Asia. The US may not dominate for long, possibly slipping behind Asia by 2030.

President Bill Clinton met with Maria on Wall Street Journal Report.  Speaking on the Clinton Global Initiative, the former president says the business community is coming back in America. Even smaller banks have the capital to make loans, but have held back due to risk associated with the recession. Clinton says it is time to make lending easier to small businesses, the backbone of America.

On the BP oil rig spill, he says most Americans know that there is a great deal of offshore drilling that is safe. What was learned is that the further off shore you push the drilling the more difficult it is to explore, drill, guarantee safety. We need to reexamine the technology.

On health care Bill Clinton says that it will cost more to provide insurance for the people who do not have insurance, but purchasing cooperatives for small business and individuals should lower the cost for everyone. Administrative costs should go down dramatically.

We have to stop the cost increases in health care, for Medicare if not for everyone else.

Clinton says we are borrowing half of our deficit spending from foreign countries. We are mortgaging out of autonomy. We need more tax payers and people paying their fair amount. He feels that immigration should be made easier and those people who come here turned into taxpayers. He also believes in a “value added” system.

Wall Street journal Week featured Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on the May employment outlook for job creation. April was the best percentage month in five years, but much of it was temporary labor including census workers, emergency relief and season adjustments. 290,000 jobs were added but unemployment rose to 9.9%, allegedly because more people entered the work force and is looking for work. Meanwhile the stock market continues to trend down, following the spike down and back up in fifteen minutes earlier this week.

Solis says last April we were losing more than 500,000 jobs. Now jobs are being added each quarter, and the gross domestic product is trending up. Professional and business development is the top growth area, due to the stimulus plan.  There are only 65,000 census workers, but 230,000 jobs created were in the private sector, many at higher paying levels than in the first part of the recovery. Public confidence is up, supported by other areas.

We lost over 8 million jobs since the recession began, with that number unlikely to be met in new jobs for a period of years. It all depends on the private sector and reinvestment in American instead of overseas.

Pay “Czar”, the man appointed to oversee compensation at bailed-out banks Kenneth Feinberg.  His title is actually “supervisor of compensation practices. The process of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (CARP) is that the top 25 compensated individuals at each company must be monitored and reported to the government. The review starts now with 90 days of review. He has no enforcement authority under the law, but he can deal with Congress, use the Bully Pulpit and work with companies on very real political and public relations issues. The argument that the government has no role to play is a tough argument to make, since the American people are creditors of these companies that survived only due to tax dollars.

Corporate Government Reform is an issue for companies to deal with on their own, unless they take large amounts of tax dollars. However the congress and government can oversee and manage in the public interests, using a menu of proposals and ideas. If you look at the entire menu of initiatives designed to reign I pay you come to the conclusion that the government is really trying to do something.

The court has mandated his role in overseeing and auditing several companies.

“The public is particularly angered at financial institutions. “

PIMCO CEO and Co-CIO of PIMCO Muhamed El-Erian on the danger and fears over Greek Debt and how it is impacting the world. Thursday has a one thousand point plummets before recovering. Greece may have contributed to the quick drop, mostly fueled by the entirely automated NASDAQ while the New York Stock Exchange put a 90 second brake on some key stocks.

Greece represents massive volatility in Europe, with 2010 being the year of public financing in industrial countries in question due to tax changes and post-recession (or current recession) impact on how governments are financed. Any recovery will not be seen in governments, form states to countries to regions. There is cereal contamination going on in balance sheets around the world.

What is happening in Greece tells you that debt and deficits matter, they can impact very quickly, and you need flexibility to respond. There is small silver lining for the US in that a great deal of capital that may have gone to Europe will look to go elsewhere. The US is the cleanest dirt shirt, less of a risk than China and emerging markets in a time of risk aversion.

Fiscal adjustment is important. We need to take advantage of whatever growth there is in the world and slow down spending in other areas, so that we can have a balance between growth and fiscal adjustment, fueled by positive growth.

Universal Investments LP Principal Nassim Taleb discussed whether the US now has an ”all clear” from Europe and the markets can finally return to recovery mode. Author of “The Black Swan”, which predicted the market crash and recession, says that what you think are the causes are not the causes. If a bridge collapses you do not look at the trade that causes the crash, but at the structure of the bridge. What is under what happened, what actually caused it?

There is massive fragility in the economic system today. Five times the debt we should have in the western world. Internet interaction is too fast, so that the ability to forecast is crippled.

Too much information and interaction from globalization, computers and the Internet. If you have debt you have to be accurate in your forecast. Most people did not see housing prices falling, job losses, and illness. Governments have the same problem, as do corporations. If they do not plan one change can cause a cascading effect.

We are putting Novocain on when we should be doing surgery.

The US does not have anyone to backstop of buoy us up. We have no one to bully us or make us do things. The government spends too much. When you can’t see the future you cannot borrow. The problem is debt.

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns is the first African American woman to rise to the top of major S&P 100 Corporation. She was raised by a single mom in an urban housing development to one of the “captains of industry”. On America’s economy she says “we are seeing signs of hope with significant improvement in Russia, China and developing economies.” Europe is slower but it will follow suit in time.

She is an engineer and an entrepreneur. She landed in a good place, after 30 years working for Xerox. The company said that her street smarts and her education were the combination they wanted. They asked her not to change but to use her assets, at the time a progressive attitude.

Her mom told her “where you are is not who you are.”

“This is a neighborhood that looks horrible, people are poor here in spirit and soul. This is not were you will be…When you get there remember that if you are in an exalted place that does not mean exhausted…for her it was about education to be a contributor and of value for the world.”