Archive for August, 2011

Labor Day Won’t Be the Same

August 30, 2011

For 45 years watching The Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon was what millions of families did on Labor Day. The Telethon was to Labor Day what fireworks were to the 4th of July and a turkey dinner to Thanksgiving.

This year the Muscular Dystrophy Association has decided to replace this holiday tradition with a television show on Labor Day Eve. The 6-hour program will still be called a telethon, but Jerry Lewis won’t be there and it won’t be live for most viewers unless MDA has different programs for each time zone. The program will start at 6 P.M. local time in each time zone and end at midnight. Perhaps even the Eastern Time Zone will get a taped broadcast.

I hope the new approach works, but I doubt that a 6-hour program can do what the event did.

The old telethon was an event with activities throughout the day. Families would turn the tv on when they got up to see how much money had been raised. They would see if there were any fund raising activities they wanted to participate in. Perhaps they would go to the Mall or take advantage of a special offer at a local restaurant.

In some homes kids would tell their parents “I want to go out and collect money for Jerry’s Kids.” After they collected the money their parents would take them to the tv station or other location to turn the money in and possibly be seen on television while they were doing it.

Many of today’s parents had celebrated Labor Day in this manner since they were kids.

The daytime format allowed for people to participate in more fund raising events. The new format will limit the number of outside fund raising events because the program is so late in the day. Most of the program will be on after dark, making it difficult for people to decide what events to attend with their children. By the time they learn of the events on the program, it may be too late to get to the event and back home. It’s unlikely children will be able to go out and collect money to take to the station.

A major advantage of the old time choice was that people who worked during the day didn’t regularly watch any daytime programs so they didn’t have to miss a favorite program to watch the telethon. This year’s prime time program will have to convince viewers of regular programs like “60 Minutes” to watch the telethon instead. Other competition includes “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and, for Texans, a football game between Southern Methodist University and Texas A & M.

Many potential viewers attend church services on Sunday evening or engage in other evening activities. I suspect one reason the old telethon got so many pledges late in the telethon was due to those who had spent the weekend at the lake or beach returning home on Monday afternoon. People who are at the lake Sunday evening probably won’t watch the telethon although they might record it.

The decision to go with a prime time variety show ignores the fate of prime time variety shows. They have trouble attracting viewers unless the show includes a contest like “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars”. Even Jay Leno couldn’t attract viewers in prime time. The telethon used to start in prime time on Sunday night, but, at least on WGN and KAKE (Wichita), the start had been broadcast on a delayed basis.

Although the stars listed on the website can qualify as superstars, even superstars have trouble attracting a broad audience in today’s musical entertainment world which makes it difficult for variety shows to attract a large prime time audience. . The musical world is fractured into various genres. Paul McCartney is one of the few superstars left from the 60’s when many singers had a broad popular appeal. Most who could appeal to a variety of audiences, like Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, are dead.

I don’t know about other viewers, but one aspect I liked about the old long telethon was the opportunity to see performers who weren’t likely to appear on other shows. We had the opportunity to hear or see new performers as well as the established performers.

For many of us the stars weren’t the only reason to watch the old telethon. Those with MD who appeared over several years became like neighbors or members of the family. I remember a couple of kids on the Wichita telethon with a non-fatal form of MD who grew up in front of our eyes. I watch the WGN satellite station as well as the Wichita station to keep up with Romania’s “perfect 10” gymnast Nadia Comaneci and her husband, American gymnast Bart Conner.

A major advantage of the old live format was the ability to show how much money had been raised. People could watch the amount build. That won’t be possible with the new format because the show will be ending in the Eastern Time Zone long before it does in the Pacific Time Zone. One possible reason for late donations on the old telethon was due to concern it might not raise as much as the previous year and potential donors didn’t want to disappoint Jerry.

The MDA Telethon became a national institution in large part because Jerry Lewis was one of the greatest entertainers of the mid-20th Century. Jamie Foxx is the only younger performer who is currently in the same class as Lewis, although some others might eventually achieve that status.

MDA would have been much better off if Lewis had headed the first program in the new format. Many would have watched just to see his last MDA appearance. Some would have donated more to provide him with a good send off. The failure to explain why Lewis isn’t going to be on this year is likely to cause some to skip this year’s telethon because many assume the worst when explanations aren’t provided.

I suppose it’s too late for local stations to decide to go ahead and have a local Labor Day telethon without the benefit of a national show, but if they can do so they should try to. Alternatively, they should consider starting their telethons early in the afternoon to encourage people to participate in fundraising events.

Local stations will have to do extensive advertising that emphasizes the new time. Regular viewers may ignore reminders to watch the show if the ads don’t prominently state the show will be on Sunday night instead of being a Monday telethon. Frequent stories on newscasts would be desirable. Many viewers may not discover the new time until they turn the tv on late on Sunday night. Some who go to bed early on Sunday night may get up Monday morning and wonder why they can’t find the telethon.

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S & P’s Decision Appears Justified

August 17, 2011

Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade the U.S. debt rating appears justified because of the inadequacy of the U.S. response to the debt issue. Allowing the U.S. to keep the top rating would falsely indicate the U.S. is doing the best it can to correct its debt problem. American voters are choosing politicians who lack the ability or willingness to deal realistically with the U.S. debt problem.

I waited to write about Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade the U.S. debt rating because I wanted to think about it for awhile instead of taking a knee jerk reaction.

Dealing with a major crisis requires a strong experienced president. Unfortunately, Barack Obama is the weakest president since Gerald Ford. Obama’s only apparent skill is an ability to read a teleprompter.

A smart president would have recognized he couldn’t change the minds of House members and ended the debate early so he could prepare for a return match later.

Obama won the election because neither the voters nor the media understand the qualifications for an effective president. The President is the chief executive officer of the most powerful country in the world. Electing an president without executive experience makes no more sense then asking a high school quarterback to play quarterback in the Super Bowl.

Too many voters will support someone who promises to do “this, that and the other thing” even though the candidate has never demonstrated an ability to deliver on his promises. It’s easy to make promises, but delivering on those promises can be difficult. Any quarterback can say he will win the Super Bowl, but very few are capable of doing so.

Unfortunately, many Republicans want to make the same mistake the Democrats did. These Republicans support Michele Bachmann who is just as inexperienced and unprepared for the presidency as Obama was.

The deficit debate was what we used to call the game of chicken. Two cars would approach each other in the same lane. The driver who veered off first was “chicken”. Both sides seemed more interested in scoring political points than in conducting a serious discussion of the issue. They reminded me of the old beer commercials in which one side yelled “less filling” and the other side yelled “great taste”.

One editorial cartoonist suggested the old Looney Tunes cartoon debate in which Daffy Duck says “Rabbit Season” and Bugs Bunny says “Duck Season”. Bugs eventually gets Daffy to say “Duck Season”, but Obama doesn’t have Bugs Bunny’s ability.

Too many members of Congress are either incapable of understanding the nature of the deficit crisis or don’t care about dealing with the deficit in a realistic manner. Fixing the deficit will require an increase in revenue, preferably a tax on those with surplus income.

Cutting spending won’t reduce the deficit as much as some expect because the federal government gets a kickback in the form of Social Security and income taxes from those it employs or from businesses government, and its employees, purchases from. Money given to welfare recipients goes to those they purchase goods and services from who in turn pay taxes.

If unemployment increases due to spending cuts, the next Congress may feel it needs to spend even more borrowed money to stimulate the economy.

Republicans and their supporters seem incapable of understanding the fact that it is not the amount of money someone has, but the financial status of the United States that is important. The financial health of the U.S. determines what its money is worth. For the rich, taxes are an investment in the financial health of the United States. Reducing the deficit would improve the financial health of the U.S. and make the money the rich have worth more.

There is a danger if the “rich” have too much money. Money can be addictive. As people obtain a certain amount of money they start wanting more and more. Like alcoholics they need more and more money to be satisfied.

When the “rich” obtain too much money a boom psychology can develop in which investors ignore the possibility of risk. They don’t think they can lose money. They may think the stock market can only go up as many believed in the 20’s.

The crisis of 2008 occurred because the rich had too much money and had bid stock prices up too high because too many expected everything to go up “forever”. Many invested money in garbage like mortgage derivatives or gave it to crooks like Bernie Madoff who promised to make them even richer. If they had invested it in taxes, the country’s financial health would be better today and many of them wouldn’t have lost so much.

Talk about defaulting on debts incurred in the past raises concerns that the U.S. might default on newer debts. Those who started working 40 some years ago were told the Social Security taxes they were paying were for a pension program. They were loaning money to the federal government in return for a promise to provide them with retirement income. Congress may have handled Social Security funds like the program was a Ponzi scheme, but “investors” (Social Security taxpayers) were told they were investing in a pension plan.

Social Security and Medicare are debts, not entitlements. Benefits go to those who have paid in advance for them.

If the current Congress decides to default on the promise of Social Security payments to those who will be retiring in the next few years because the program was poorly administered by previous Congresses, how can those who purchase U.S. government securities today be sure that a future Congress won’t decide to default on that debt because Congress in 2011 was not borrowing responsibly.