Sunday, June 3, 2012

Can we get there from here?

What do you write when you have too many unanswered questions going through your mind? I call it blog soup. Hopefully, you’ll find these pithy chunks appetizing and easy to digest.

Our younger son is headed out of town to work a great job for a Chicago law firm for the summer. We thought a train might offer the most affordable way to get there with a lot of luggage. You can fly for $28.00 but the baggage fees will kill you. Now, you can ride Amtrak from Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Birmingham or Royal Oak for about $52 one way. But you can only bring two carry on bags, because there is no checked baggage service. However, drive one hour to Toledo, Ohio and you can check three bags to Chitown, up to 50 pounds each at no extra charge, plus two carry on pieces. If you’d like, you can check up to six bags, and pay only $10 each after the first three. What a deal!

My question: why do I have to drive an hour to Toledo? Detroit isn’t a big enough hub to have checked baggage service? During these times of high gas prices and tight budgets, affordable transit is a must.

“Taken for a Ride” was the 1996 PBS documentary that chronicled the demise of urban mass transit under pressure from the American car industry. According to the producers, GM put the squeeze on big city governments in the 1930’s to swap streetcars for yellow buses the car company manufactured. Who’s preventing us from getting checked baggage service at the Amtrak train station in Detroit? Is it the airlines lobby? Will the high-speed rail from Detroit to Chicago offer full baggage service?

On Mother’s Day weekend, we were tied up celebrating with our older son and his lovely new fiancé. So I ran out of time to blog. My topic would have been “Look, Mom … No Job!” Economic signals remain crossed four years into this recession. Why can’t we gain employment momentum, while car companies report record sales and consumer confidence was up in April’s University of Michigan Survey of the U.S.? One reason is companies are exploiting the job shortage to maximize productivity at no cost.  More and more grads and even those with advanced and professional degrees are forced to take internships at no pay.  Plus, in the advertising and marketing business, there’s a whole class of young professionals who are paid low wages and subsidized with vendor perks like free dinners, complimentary cocktails at swank clubs and tickets to must-see events. Unfortunately, they can’t pay their bills with those gratis gifts and swag. That’s what a college education buys you today.

More than 30 years ago, I did two back-to-back internships with ABC-TV, but there were rules. I was getting college credit, a grade and my professor required a supervisor’s evaluation. I had to submit a journal of my experience and meet with my professor twice during the term. In fact, I had to beg my prof for permission to do a second internship, because the TV station was predicting they’d have a job for me if I could hang on for another few months. I did and they made me an offer two days before graduation. What’s happening today with college grads is a lot like what happens to illegal aliens desperate for work. They’ll take anything, even toil for free, rather than atrophy on the unemployment line.

There’s another key point in this story; when I did my internships, my four-year scholarship at Wayne State University was valued at $4,800.00. At the time, my brand new 1977 Chevy Monte Carlo set me back $5,700 cash. Try going to college today for the price of a midsize car.  Despite all these inequities, we’re soon going to hear cries for a tax amnesty program so big American businesses can bring their enormous offshore profits home without paying the piper. If they don’t get the tax break, will corporations continue to hold jobs hostage?

Meanwhile, the presidential election is coming. What should we believe about the race? I’m going to make a prediction. Regardless of what actually happens, we will continue to hear that the polls are tight. It’s in the best interest the TV and radio networks. There are billions of dollars in ad revenues at stake. Both political parties have huge war chests, and with the U.S. Supreme Court designating corporations as citizens with full freedom of speech, this election will be the most expensive in American history. The tighter the race the more money the media will make.

On Friday, Bloomberg TV interviewed Matthew Dowd, the former campaign strategist for President George W. Bush. His analysis was that in election years, voters actually make up their minds in May, June and July and spend the rest of the time rationalizing their vote for president. So, the money that pours into advertising is designed to prevent you from changing your vote. News organizations face a significant conflict of interest. Report the facts, or muckrake for billions.

Here’s a question for the Supreme Court: if a corporation owns a TV or radio network and it runs a free ad in favor of a candidate, under the equal time clause, is it required to do the same for the other candidate? Just asking.

Gas prices are falling as the summer vacation season heats up. Despite sanctions on Iran to help diffuse their nuclear aspirations, the supply of petroleum is rising with a surprise source filling the gap. Iraq is back and pumping millions of barrels a day and their capabilities are growing. Without the Iraq war, would the U.S. have seen $4 per gallon prices in recent years?

The good news is America has diversified its energy resources and continues to pursue greener options like incredibly abundant natural gas. Even utility companies in coal country are converting their power plants to burn natural gas instead of coal. What special interest is stepping up and attempting to derail our new found trend toward energy independence?

There are answers to all these questions. Do we have enough real journalists with the courage to ask them? I’m still waiting to find out.

No comments:

Post a Comment