Monday, May 19, 2014

Reagan Began National Slide in Education/Public Services (Who Said He Got A C In Economics?) , TV Go(o)d (Disengaged Or Nonexistent Organized Left), Golden Age of Television Was When? (Randy Newman Rocks Out)

I love Randy Newman.

I always have.

So, shoot me.

I'm a short person. An irony-deflated, short person.

An educated, short person. Like Randy Newman.

Whenever I hear someone (usually a man-child or a "man!") intone something about "Uncle Sugar" being a soft touch for corruption from the lower classes, I know that he's making his future plans based on it.

Like Barbara Bush said during the Katrina calamity (and I'm paraphrasing due to lack of a precise memory of the comedy bit I saw her do on an improvised TV slot at the Coliseum)  "Well, they're really better off in this nice place, aren't they, I mean paid for by the taxpayers?"

And also, a little later, "Neil (Bush) has some great plans for a new education initiative that will benefit these people," she interjected excitedly.

Even more on ~ Class of 2014: You’re Totally Screwed*

Photo taken at UC Berkeley in February, by jankyHellface

From Master Plan to No Plan: The Slow Death of Public Higher Education

The California student movement has a slogan that goes, “Behind every fee hike, a line of riot cops.” And no one embodies that connection more than the Ronald Reagan of the 1960s. Elected governor of California in 1966 after running a scorched-earth campaign against the University of California, Reagan vowed to “clean up that mess in Berkeley,” warned audiences of “sexual orgies so vile that I cannot describe them to you,” complained that outside agitators were bringing left-wing subversion into the university, and railed against spoiled children of privilege skipping their classes to go to protests.
He also ran on an anti-tax platform and promised to put the state’s finances in order by “throw[ing] the bums off welfare.” But it was the University of California at Berkeley that provided the most useful political foil, crystallizing all of his ideological themes into a single figure for disorder, a subversive menace of sexual, social, generational, and even communist deviance.
When Reagan assumed office, he immediately set about doing exactly what he had promised. He cut state funding for higher education, laid the foundations for a shift to a tuition-based funding model, and called in the National Guard to crush student protest, which it did with unprecedented severity. But he was only able to do this because he had already successfully shifted the political debate over the meaning and purpose of public higher education in America.
The first “bums” he threw off welfare were California university students. Instead of seeing the education of the state’s youth as a patriotic duty and a vital weapon in the Cold War, he cast universities as a problem in and of themselves — both an expensive welfare program and dangerously close to socialism.
He even argued for the importance of tuition-based funding by suggesting that if students had to pay, they’d value their education too much to protest.
It’s important to remember this chapter in California history because it may, in retrospect, have signaled the beginning of the end of public higher education in the United States as we’d known it.
It’s true that when the Great Recession began in 2008, state budgets crumbled under a crippling new fiscal reality and tuition and debt levels began to skyrocket.
It was also in the context of the California student movement that the slogan “Occupy Everything, Demand Nothing” first emerged, in 2009, when students occupied campus buildings in protest against budget cuts, tuition hikes, and staff cutbacks, and were crushed by the same kind of overwhelming police force that was later mobilized against Occupy encampments across the country.
But while university administrators have blamed budgetary problems on state legislatures — and scapegoated individual police officers, like the now-notorious (and former) UC-Davis “pepper spray cop,” for “overreactions” — these scenarios are déjà vu all over again for those with long memories. When Mitt Romney urges Americans to “get as much education as they can afford,” or when university administrators call the police as their first response to student protest, it’s Ronald Reagan’s playbook they’re working from.

Books such as Christopher Newfield’s Unmaking the Public University connect the dots between the post-’64 cultural politics of neoconservative backlash and the rise of Reagan as its standard bearer, but advocates of public education have been playing defense for so long that the vision animating the first century of American public education can be difficult to recall, much less recover or put forward persuasively.
Thanks to the Reagan revolution, in short, we’ve forgotten that the United States was building public schools and universities for a lot longer than it has been letting them crumble.
If we want to tell a different story than the decline of public education—and especially if we want to see it rise again—it behooves us to move past Reagan and the backlash, and to think more clearly about what they destroyed, and what we’ve lost.
For the first half of the twentieth century, the University of California was a nearly sacred institution in the Golden State. Before ever-rising tuition and apocalyptic budget cuts had become a regular feature of the state’s legislative season — now an annual ritual heralding the end of summer — the UC’s public mission was as close to a bipartisan consensus as you could find. 
In the 1950s, it would have been completely uncontroversial to credit the university with playing a critical role in building California into the Golden State:  the UC was where nuclear energy and weapons were first invented and developed, where the foundations of California’s aerospace industry were laid, where the Cold War was being won (and where federal research grants were being soaked up and spent). 
Research done in its labs would make it possible for California wine to compete on the global market and to develop the Central Valley into a regional breadbasket. It was where the establishment sent its children out of choice, and where the rising middle class sent its children to be educated for free. 
This consensus had everything to do with the fact the UC was built by a kind of Republican that doesn’t really exist anymore: the moderate. Progressive Republicans like Governor Hiram Johnson (1911–1917) laid the university’s modern foundations, while New Deal Republicans like Governor Earl Warren (1943–1953) made the university central to the state’s recovery from the Great Depression.
After Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Defense Education Act into law, many millions of dollars in federal research money flowed into universities, and the GI Bill made reintegrating demobilized servicemen a patriotic duty. At the same time, every important political constituency demanded more universities: regional Chambers of Commerce complained of shortages of educated workers, while voters demanded more classrooms, more teachers, more dollars, more students.
Politicians of all stripes were only too glad to comply. For three decades leading up to 1958, the president of the UC was Robert Gordon Sproul, a politically connected Republican with a legendary ability to marshal alumni support at the merest hint of funding cuts. As a 1947 Time magazine article jovially described,

a pack of one-time Berkeley campus big shots come out of hibernation whenever Golden Bear Sproul cries for help. In less than 24 hours as many as 70 bank presidents, manufacturers, brokers, lawyers, and physicians have assembled on call. Once briefed on the crisis, the Bears go back to their plush-carpeted lairs, pick up their telephones and growl at their senators and assemblymen.
The high-water mark for public education in California was the 1960 Donahoe Act, better known as the Master Plan for Higher Education. In its details, the “Master Plan” was a complex and unwieldy piece of legislation, an interlocking set of legislative benchmarks, expectations, funding commitments, and philosophical principles.

But at its heart, it was actually quite simple and intuitive: the Master Plan was nothing more than a blanket commitment from the state to educate all the California students who wanted an education and, in doing so, to facilitate the kind of class mobility that has placed public education at the center of American civic life.
The Plan was masterminded by UC president Clark Kerr and signed into California law by Governor Pat Brown, Democrats who brought to completion much of the work of their Republican predecessors. It was politically contentious, but was far from being a revolutionary document.
Years later, Kerr would recall the early 1960s as an essentially conservative period, in which the development and momentum of the preceding decades were consolidated, systematized, and rationalized.
The Master Plan was meant to sort all college-bound high school graduates into three streams, and to make it possible for a student to move from the bottom tier to the top. The doors of the University of California were thrown open, tuition-free, for the top 12.5 percent of high school graduates. The top 33.3 percent could find a place in one of the California State Universities, which were also tuition-free.

Everyone else, if they so chose, could go to one of the many California Community Colleges, which were open not only to high school graduates but also to qualifying non-traditional students. Perhaps most important, community college graduates had the opportunity to transfer to one of the UCs or CSUs to finish their bachelor’s degree, if their grades were above a certain point.

In theory and to a significant extent in practice, anyone from anywhere in California could, if they worked hard enough, get a bachelor’s degree from one of the best universities in the country (and, therefore, in the world), almost free of charge. The pronounced social and economic mobility of the postwar period would have been unthinkable without institutions of mass higher education, like this one, provided at public expense.

* * * 
The first thing to change was the price tag. Within living memory, all public universities in California were nominally free (fees were assessed, but were comparatively quite low). Today, California colleges and universities are comparably priced to their private competitors. 
Reagan began the process of privatization in 1969, convincing the state to relax its restrictions on the level of fees that could be assessed. By 2011, when UC officially switched from a system of fees to an explicitly tuition-centric model, it was simply admitting what had long been obvious; so-called “fees” were already high enough to constitute a tuition system. 
And as UC Faculty Association president Bob Meister pointed out in a widely circulated 2009 online open letter, “They Pledged Your Tuition,” the UC finances its many construction bonds by pledging the revenues it collects and plans to collect from tuition as collateral, effectively using its power to raise tuition indefinitely as a surety for its debts (of which it has many), and thereby ensuring that it will. 
When we talk about the decline of public higher education systems such as California’s, however, rising tuition is only part of the story, and maybe not the most important part. Along with pushing instructional costs onto students, for example, the state of California has made it easier for state universities to balance their budgets by accepting more out-of-state students (and thus, fewer and fewer Californian students). Out-of-state students pay much higher tuition rates, but under the Master Plan, state funding was contingent on enrolling a minimum number of in-state students.
As the state has withdrawn its commitment to fully fund its universities, it has progressively detached what funding remains from these kinds of commitments. Governor Jerry Brown may have put the final nail in the coffin when, in June, he vetoed specific enrollment targets for the UC from the annual budget.
Moreover, since 2007, the extra $20,000 in tuition money that out-of-state students pay has gone directly to the schools enrolling these students—rather than reverting to the UC as a whole — perversely incentivizing each campus to take on fewer California students.
This gradual retreat from enrollment quotas only adds to a problem that has plagued the California system since its inception: too many applicants and too little space. Over the last three decades, the state has given up on increasing the total institutional capacity — the classrooms, dorms, and new campuses — that a continuously growing university-age population requires. This shortfall is not as immediately visible as red lines in planning documents, as politically explosive as enrollment targets, or as sharply felt by stretched family budgets.
But the fact that the state has stopped keeping up with the demand for more higher education points to a slow but fundamental structural change underway in higher education as a whole.
Public colleges and universities have historically absorbed the bulk of this country’s college-educated population — perhaps three-quarters of the total — but it was only a massive postwar expansion of affordable public education that made a bachelor’s degree so broadly attainable in the United States, such that a college degree could come to seem more or less a prerequisite for middle-class life.
Private universities absorb a relatively small percentage of the total demand for higher education in the United States — a percentage that has remained steady over the course of decades, even centuries. It is only because and to the extent that they built new colleges and universities that states like California were able to outpace population growth and increase the percentage of their citizens with advanced degrees. In the decades after the Second World War, the state of California built new facilities, campuses, and even entire universities at precisely the speed judged necessary to keep pace with student demand.
Today, the University of California is an eleven-campus system, but as late as the 1950s it had two campuses, in Berkeley and Los Angeles. Only as the movement to rationalize and revamp the system gathered steam in the late fifties did the university reach something like its present size and shape, with the establishment of six more general campuses in a single period of furious growth. In 1958, Santa Barbara College was upgraded to full university status and chartered as the UC Santa Barbara. In 1959, the UC Citrus Experiment Station was expanded to form the new UC Riverside campus, and the Northern Branch of the College of Agriculture was converted into what is now the UC Davis general campus.
In 1960 the Scripps Institute of Oceanography gave birth to the UC San Diego. And in 1965 the UC Irvine and the UC Santa Cruz were built out of nothing at all. Each of these universities was a world-class institution almost out of the gate, making it possible for one-eighth of California’s high school graduates to receive a world-class education. Something like the same expansion occurred in the California Community College and California State systems during this period. Between 1957 and 1965, California established eight new CSUs — out of an eventual twenty-four — while more than half its present complement of 112 community colleges was built in the period between 1957 and 1978.
California essentially stopped building new colleges and universities at that point, and shows little sign of starting again, even as the demand for higher education is becoming more and more acute.
The United States is one of the few major economies with a growing college-age population, and employers will need a more educated workforce in the future. A recent report by McKinsey & Co. projected that, by 2020, the United States will need an additional million students a year to remain economically competitive.
Yet since 1965, California has built only one new campus for the UC system (in Merced) and three new campuses for the CSU system. Much more tellingly, it built only two new community colleges in the years between 1978 and 2000.
The CSU system — the largest single university system in the country, with more than 400,000 students — has frozen its fall admissions cycle until after the November elections and has cancelled its spring 2013 admissions altogether.
Indeed, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where, rather than expanding to meet new demand, universities built to educate the public, at public expense, begin to go under.
Two specific developments in post-Reagan California help to explain why this is happening: in 1978 California passed the infamous Proposition 13, greatly restricting the state’s capacity to raise revenue through property taxes; and in the 1980s it began one of the great prison-building booms of our time, or what historian Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls the “Golden Gulag,” expanding the incarcerated population in California by 500 percent between 1982 and 2000.
While Proposition 13 dramatically limited the total revenue in the state‘s coffers, the prison boom diminished the percentage of total funds available for higher education. The portion of the shrinking general fund that could go to expanding public institutional capacity has decreased from around 17 to 10 percent since the late 1970s.
For every $1,000 of personal income in California, the state invested only $7.71 for higher education in 2008, about 40 percent below the $12.86 invested as late as 1980.
If the mathematics are simple, the policy implications are complex. What has succeeded the Master Plan is no plan; instead of committing to make room for all students, the state now educates only those it has room for.
When supply of a good or service is capped, economists expect first to see price increases and then to see rationing. And although the skyrocketing price of higher education has been most widely felt, the rationing of classes that teach necessary skills may prove to be just as much of a challenge.
As the New York Times’s Catherine Rampell has reported, state colleges and community colleges are cancelling or otherwise limiting enrollment in technical, engineering, health-care, and nursing programs that are relatively expensive to teach.

A North Carolina community college has a waiting list to get on the waiting list for nursing classes at a time when there is a severe nursing shortage in the country. Half of California’s teachers are educated in the CSU system. What if there is no fall incoming class?
* * *
If not in the public sector, where will tomorrow’s college students be educated? Not at nonprofit private universities. Most are comfortable taking in more or less the same number of students they have historically educated, responding to rising demand by making admissions more selective and raising tuition. 
They’re neither capable of nor willing to absorb students left behind by a collapsing public college system. This was a crucial reason for the growth of the UC system in the first place; in 1899, the president of Stanford argued that “if the State makes no provision for higher education there is no other agency on which we can depend to supply it.” 
Future students will instead be increasingly educated in the for-profit sector, whose enrollment grew by 235 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 3 to 9.1 percent of all enrolled students.
From 2005 to 2010, over 75 percent of newly accredited colleges and universities were for-profits. Lavishly funded in global capital markets — even as state budgets remain tight — for-profits now make up over 25 percent of all post-secondary institutions in the United States, and they show no sign of slowing.
It is worth taking a minute to understand how abysmal the numbers on the for-profit college industry really are. They show what a poor substitute for-profit education is for traditional public higher education, especially community colleges.
This isn’t surprising: in addition to leading to price increases and rationing, conventional economics would suggest that capping the supply of quality higher education results in a type of “fake supplyor in attempts to mimic the supply at a lower quality.
Studies find graduates of for-profits leave with worse employment prospects than their peers at community colleges, in large part because these companies spend less on instruction than they do in pursuit of profit margins.
Recent investigations found that for-profits have ten recruiters for every career services staff member, and several of the leading for-profits have no career services at all. If their programs lack accreditation for a specific occupational field, they often acknowledge this in fine print or other obtuse disclosures.
For-profit schools are also more expensive than their peers, with bachelor degree programs roughly 20 percent more expensive than at a flagship public university, and associate degree and certificate programs roughly four times the cost of a comparable community college.
It therefore isn’t surprising that graduates of for-profit schools have the highest student debt loads, averaging $33,050 in 2008, compared to $20,200 for public school graduates and $27,650 for private nonprofit grads. Even with high dropout rates, 96 percent of for-profit students take out a student loan.
Government spending still structures the higher education market, however; for-profit schools get most of their revenues from federal funds.

They also receive a disproportionate amount of student aid: while only educating about 10 percent of post-secondary students, they receive around a quarter of all Pell Grants and student loans.
A recent Senate study found that “the 15 publicly traded for-profit education companies received 86 percent of revenues from taxpayers.” This sector couldn’t exist if the federal government didn’t provide this funding, and couldn’t thrive without a shortfall in state revenue.
The for-profit industry that we understand today is much different from the small, local certification programs that used to compose the industry. As of 2009, more than 75 percent of students at a for-profit college are attending one owned by a private equity firm or a company traded on a major stock exchange.
Modern concerns with for-profits’ potential abuses — both in duping students and exploiting federal programs — didn’t begin until the expansion of GI benefits for higher education in the period following the Second World War.
In the early 1990s, for-profits were subject to a series of Senate investigations.
Georgia Democratic Senator Sam Nunn noted that students were “[v]ictimized by unscrupulous profiteers and their fraudulent schools” and “have received neither the training nor the skills they hoped to acquire, and instead, have been left burdened with debts they cannot repay.” Nunn said this after the committee learned about an Ohio repair school operating out of a fruit stand and recruiters who targeted welfare offices and housing projects for enrollees.
Current recruitment practices are just as bad, if not worse. According to internal documents recently made available by a Senate investigation committee, recruiters at the for-profit college ITT were given diagrams of a “pain funnel,” with a series of questions designed to “poke the pain” of potential recruits. A Kaplan document told recruiters that their interactions with potential students should be “all about uncovering their pain and fears.”
The hearings in the 1990s led to a series of for-profit sector reforms and regulations. One key regulation required that at least 50 percent of students be enrolled at a physical campus in order for a program to be eligible for federal student aid.
A 1998 pilot program allowed some schools to go below the 50 percent threshold and still receive federal aid, in order to study the effects, but it was the George W. Bush administration that sought to comprehensively remove regulations unfavorable to the industry.
A former lobbyist for the (for-profit) University of Phoenix, Sally Stroup, became Bush’s assistant secretary for post-secondary education at the Department of Education and led a successful effort to remove restrictions on for-profit schools, including the 50 percent rule, and to grant them greater access to federal funding. The legislation was only several lines long, and was sneaked into a massive spending bill, but it opened the door to an expansion of the industry beyond what most people could have imagined at the time.
* * *
The standard political criticism of the for-profit industry is that it exists only to vacuum up government subsidies; that it is a problematic byproduct of government actions. This diagnosis is perfectly in line with the Reaganite complaint against government interference in the workings of the market. If we look at California, however, we see that this critique has it backward.
For-profit education flooded the market only after the state began to abandon its responsibility to create sufficient institutional capacity in the public system. The problem is not government action, but inaction.
As the government gave up its Master Plan responsibility to educate California students, the for-profit sector expanded to fill the demand.

Education expert (and UC Berkeley scholar) John Aubrey Douglass has found a similar pattern in countries such as Brazil, Korea, and Poland, which modernized too fast for the public sector to keep up with demand.
The for-profit sector absorbs and even monopolizes the very subsidies that were intended to foster mass education, while providing poorer outcomes than the public sector.
But whereas this problem, referred to as the “Brazilian Effect,” arises in developing countries as they seek to build a public higher education structure from scratch, the United States suffers instead from decay.
Under the neoliberal public policy regime of the past thirty years, the United States has moved from providing public goods directly toward providing coupons for the purchase of those goods in the private market.
The private market encourages choice, competition, and innovation, its proponents say, especially compared to the gray, static, and inefficient public sector. Government grants, subsidized loans, and tax breaks would unleash market forces and use them to tackle the problems of higher education.
Such an approach would work only if high-quality private universities increased the amount of students they were willing to educate — if, in other words, the supply of good education were “elastic,” stretching to meet the demand of additional students.
Instead, students are finding an inelastic market with collapsing public provision. They face skyrocketing prices and the rationing of quality education, with for-profits purveying counterfeit goods to make up the difference.
Sometimes policy failures are accidental. Sometimes there is a trail of breadcrumbs. In the case of California higher education, it is hard not to notice that policy failures have meant big business for the for-profit industry. And in some cases, that trail of breadcrumbs leads directly to the men and women who run the UC.
UC Regent Richard Blum, for example, is not only the largest shareholder in two for-profit universities, Career Education Corporation and ITT Educational Services, but also, as Peter Byrne reported in a 2010 exposé, oversaw investments for the UC’s $63 billion portfolio at a time when the UC invested in the very same two for-profits.
* * *
The problem isn’t anything as simple as pure corruption, but the decline of the public university is corporate capital’s gain, and investment firms like Blum Capital Partners know this quite well. The educational infrastructure of the future — and in many ways, of the present — is being built out of the very same crumbling public sector that men like Richard Blum have been entrusted with stewarding.
Ronald Reagan may not have seen this coming when he first set out to destroy what he saw as the creeping communism of master-planned and state-funded public education. His vision at the time was essentially negative, reactionary. But the conservative project he put in place in California in the 1960s remains with us today.
Reagan was the trendsetter in making higher education into a problem to be solved with fee hikes and police. Other governors approached this problem in different ways, but the decision Reagan made to begin the destruction of the Master Plan hangs over all of them. Today, we can clearly see the results. Limiting the ability of the government to plan for the education of its citizens has left us with the worst of both worlds: students and families with too much debt and too few options.
(Aaron Bady is a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and a blogger for the New Inquiry. Mike Konczal is a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute and writer of the Rortybomb economics blog.)

I despair when I see what has happened to American universities in the 45 years since I got my B.A. degree.  I live in a town that is home to a large state university with more than 30 thousand undergraduates.  Looming over the campus is a gigantic football stadium that seats about 75 thousand people.  Right next to it is a basketball arena that seats about 15 thousand (the university is known for its nationally ranked basketball team).  Recently, renovations costing tens of millions of dollars were poured into the football stadium and the university has announced a fundraising campaign to raise about 50 million dollars to renovate the basketball arena.  Both the football and basketball coach are being paid salaries of several million dollars per year.

Meanwhile, the university's entire language department -- every single language that it teaches -- is housed in a building the size of a five-bedroom house.  The university library has an extensive collection of French literature, but oddly, it has no new additions to its collection after 1968.  It's as if the Francophonic world had ended at about the same moment that the Beatles peaked.

My guess is that the university's other liberal arts academic departments are in the same state.  Diminished, neglected, insignificant, and frozen in a 50-year old time warp.  There's been a lot of debate recently about the extent to which education is the key to preserving and/or expanding this country's middle class.  If this university is typical -- and I think that it is -- we can pretty much forget about our future  being secured by our system of higher education.

On the other hand, the skill sets of our football and basketball players may continue to improve.
@stevieboy  One word can be used to sum up the cause behind the incredible array of near-disasters that this country faces right now: GREED. From our paralysis over climate change to the for-profit scam that has become our university system, our horrific healthcare system to our total inability to maintain our country's physical infrastructure, the incredible, insatiable American greed underlies everything. 

@stevieboy A college education has become the equivalent of job training. That's why French literature takes a backseat to the engineering department.
45 years ago college was still what it traditionally used to be: class training. A college-educated man sent his son, and sometimes his daughter, to college, primarily to teach them how to behave in the class system that the family belonged to. It wasn't the knowledge that they absorbed that would lead to the better career options, it was the connections they made at school that would define their future income status.
I teach university in South Korea. It is alarming to me how my students ten years ago all spoke about hopefully attending an American university someday as second-degree or graduate students, and how so few now have that goal. Those of my students who now want to study abroad talk about Norway and other European countries with better programs, lower tuition, and less-hostile visa arrangements. This assumption, held as almost axiomatic by Americans, that "we have the best universities in the world," is no longer universally held by outsiders. Thanks for the article.
@Moldyrutabaga After graduating for UC Santa Barbara, my son attended University of New South Wales which has a decent world ranking, and got two master's in policy studies, and the other in Urban Planning.

He is staying in Australia working for a suburb of Sydney in (gasp) Urban Planning.   He is geographically positioned to have a career with a future, in a country which both civil....and civilized.

Speaking of countries with sparkling futures . . . we need to begin asking the right questions about our "knowledge" bearers - the news media . . . and soon. Otherwise, will we also be left to the devices of others to discern exactly who is who and what is what? Robert Parry helps us lift the veil (again).

Ukraine's 'Dr. Strangelove' Reality

Is there an actual organized Left in the U.S. today? Or any type of Left left?

Would we know anything about it at all if it were relegated (left) to the mainstream media to report truthfully on its policies and actions?

Many people suffer under the media-propagated delusion that MSNBC provides an informed leftist viewpoint amidst the MSM swamp of right-wing, sweaty, crazed, shouty know-nothings on any issue that might possibly benefit the poor (or the at least ex-middle class).

A new book "Medium Blue" attempts to define exactly where the U.S. is in its swirling down the drain under the ruling mis-information circulating about what's really happening in the Ukraine/Crimea (and all the rest of the uneasy ground under the drone bombers).

Did MSNBC ever try to disrupt anything important, like a drone war?

Perhaps even more to the point, as "Medium Blue" argues with more than enough documentation, the question is whether MSNBC as a corporate entity wants to disrupt anything meaningful to the country as a whole. MSNBC’s history looks like rather inchoate groping to disrupt the cable news ratings, but not much more.

As Arria argues, MSNBC programming predominantly reflects the conventional wisdom of the permanent government on “fundamental issues that impact our world … trade policy, nuclear disarmament, the World Bank, IMF, WTO, the private prison boom, the ‘War on Drugs,’ corporate welfare, Israel, Cuba, drone policy, the global assassination program, etc.”

"Medium Blue" does not attempt a comprehensive analysis of every program and every host on MSNBC, and such an exhaustive approach would likely be exhausting, and could never be timely.

Arria’s book went to press in August 2013, and so inevitably misses more recent MSNBC performances such as under-reporting on Ukraine and over-demonizing Vladimir Putin, both of which inhibit rational understanding. But "Medium Blue" is rich with incidents from recent years that encourage the inference that the network’s inadequate coverage of Ukraine fits a dismal pattern that seems unlikely to be broken any time soon.

On TV in general, I never thought watching TV caused me too many cognitive problems as a young woman (okay, maybe all that golf didn't really help - you know how addicts are . . . and my parents' house always had the golf game on most weekends as background mood music), but that's because I didn't watch much of the Idiot Box (as my father called it with no tongue in his cheek), although my Mom will find a way to sneak in the comment that you shouldn't have tried to get in between me and the TV set when the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." came on (and that was only because I looooooorved Ilya Kuryakin - yeah, you know the drill).

TV as an activity during my growing-up years was considered a luxury that was available to increase either your knowledge of serious intellectual pursuits or enjoyment of high art (at least in my kinship/social groupings). Not exactly the Idiot Box of today, although "Lucy" did exist as a guilty pleasure (okay, and "The Honeymooners" too).

"Brian Rose, a professor of media studies at Fordham University in New York who lectures on TV history, said that while the characterization “golden” is a bit generous given the spottiness of the live-drama anthologies, “There’s no question that the period from 1948 to the late 1950s was a distinctive era in American television.”

I do have a few thoughts, though, whenever I hear someone carrying on about the "Golden Age of Television" as being right now (or last season?). The age of TV that was golden was during the 50's (to most adults who remember back that far) when news coverage was serious and meant for the audience's intellectual edification, and events were provided meaningful historical context and not ever as primarily entertainment. Plays, drama and serious-topic journalism reigned under the guidance of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and the producers of Actor's Studio, Philco Television Playhouse, Playhouse 90, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Kraft Suspense Theater, and the Chrysler Theater. Some of these TV theater shows continued into the 60's.

In my mid-teens I started to intuit TV was causing me problems, both with schoolwork and more generally with my ability to make sense of the world. When I eventually found my way to the then-standard critiques of television, it was revelatory.

The arguments rested on multiple pillars: the political economy of the networks; the way that political economy leads to content designed to reinforce the status quo in often subtle but effective ways; the impact of advertising; the medium’s structural limitations and psychological effects; and, most important, how all of this interacted to shape the potential for mass organization and social and political change. It wasn’t called the Idiot Box just because “Hill Street Blues” wasn’t written as well as “The Wire,” or because there were no shows where Nation and Mother Jones writers could talk about their work.

You could trace the lineage of these critiques back to guys like Marx and Adorno (the first asshole to brag about not owning a TV) but it wasn’t necessary. There was no shortage of popular books that modernized and developed the old ideas about culture reflecting and reinforcing society’s underlying economic relations — books like Jerry Mander’s “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,” Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” and Bill McKibben’s “Age of Missing Information,” to name a few.

Less than a generation ago, the essence of these books could be found on ringed-binders, skateboards and first cars, distilled to that three-word battle cry, Kill Your Television, which captured a truth that has yet to be upended by TiVo, streaming, HBO or Chris Hayes.

That truth, then as now, is this: Staring at images on a little screen — that are edited in ways that weaken the brain’s capacity for sustained and critical thought, that encourage passivity and continued viewing, that are controlled by a handful of publicly traded corporations, that have baked into them lots of extremely slick and manipulating advertising — is not the most productive or pleasurable way to spend your time, whether you’re interested in serious social change, or just want to have a calm, clear and rewarding relationship with the real world around you.

But wait, you say, you’re not just being a killjoy and a bore, you’re living in the past. Television in 2014 is not the same as television in 1984, or 1994. That’s true. Chomsky’s “propaganda model,” set out during cable’s late dawn in “Manufacturing Consent,” is due for an update. The rise of on-demand viewing and token progressive programming has complicated the picture. But only by a little. The old arguments were about structure, advertising, structure, ownership, and structure, more than they were about programming content, or what time of the day you watched it. Less has changed than remains the same. By all means, let’s revisit the old arguments. That is, if everyone isn’t busy binge-watching “House of Cards.”

It’s been something to watch, this televisionification of the left. Open a window on social media during prime time, and you’ll find young journalists talking about TV under Twitter avatars of themselves in MSNBC makeup. Fifteen years ago, these people might have attended media reform congresses discussing how corporate TV pacifies and controls people, and how those facts flow from the nature of the medium. Today, they’re more likely to status-update themselves on their favorite corporate cable channel, as if this were something to brag about.

None of this could be happening at a worse time. According to the latest S.O.S. from climate science, we have maybe 15 years to enact a radical civilizational shift before game over. This may be generous, it may be alarmist; no one knows.

What is certain is that pulling off a civilizational Houdini trick will require not just switching energy tracks, but somehow confronting the “endless growth” paradigm of the Industrial Revolution that continues to be shared by everyone from Charles Koch to Paul Krugman.

We face very long odds in just getting our heads fully around our situation, let alone organizing around it. But it will be impossible if we no longer even understand the dangers of chuckling along to Kia commercials while flipping between Maher, “Merlin” and “Girls.”

One of the effects of watching so much TV is we start to confuse it with reality. In extreme cases, this can lead to ratings wars as a form of politics. As in, “Ha ha, more of the 25–54 year-old viewers prized by advertisers are sitting in front of a box watching my favorite television personalities than are watching your favorite television personalities.”

Let’s skip by the fact that the fantasy abuse on “Game of Thrones” gets as much attention as abuse in our prison system, and go right to the aircraft carrier loads of type dedicated to parsing the representation of young women and feminism on cable shows. Last week, the front page of the Guardian website featured a column called “Genius TV,” in which Ann Friedman gushed that the Comedy Central show “Broad City” was “a huge step forward,” if not for equal pay, then for her crowded viewing schedule.

She sent up a loud “Amen” to the words of Grantland’s Molly Lambert, who wrote: “I [once] dreamed of a world on the screen … populated with chill women who refer to everyone as ‘dude.’ ‘Broad City’ is that world. May it run forever.”

Dare to dream, Molly.

Louder “hallelujahs” are often expressed about Stephen Colbert, the quickest-witted TV host since Groucho and with better politics. The problem starts when we forget he’s just a TV personality, and that his show is burdened with the same baggage as every other. The fact that his (and Jon Stewart’s) coverage of current events is often the best around was once seen as a condemnation of everyone else. Now, as Colbert takes over from Letterman, it is just as likely to be seen as a justification for watching more TV.

Earlier this month, Salon’s Joan Walsh wrote about Colbert the way a previous generation might have written about a major labor organizer or investigative reporter. Citing his ability to get under the skin of Bill O’Reilly, another TV personality, Walsh wrote, “[Right-wing] bullies see Colbert clearly as an ally to progressive causes and a threat to their privilege.”

Much respect to you, Joan, but only two people feel threatened by Stephen Colbert, and their names are Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. The closest Colbert has ever come to real politics, as opposed to making satirical points, was his mushy cool-in on the Washington Mall. He had nothing to do with the biggest blip of real street politics since the televisionification of the U.S. left. That was Occupy, which was loud, aggressive, smelly and under no illusions about Comedy Central’s interest in televising the revolution.

One of the best things about Colbert’s show has always been its length: 22 minutes, four days a week. It’s a sign of the times that so many of his fans will now transition to watching him five nights a week for a full hour, more of which will be devoted to commercial breaks and interviewing celebrities like Seth Rogen. The right-wing bullies must be quaking in their wingtips. Not that the powers that be were all that worried about the 22-minute version. The last time I streamed Colbert on the Viacom server, I enjoyed four beautiful Boeing ads featuring its new line of laser-guided missiles.

Why would Boeing underwrite this “progressive threat”? While the left has forgotten the substance of the old TV debates, the Fortune 500 has not.

Maybe a few missile commercials are a small price to pay for all this great programming. This is the view of our best-paid media critics, whose ranks have enjoyed boom times in the last decade. Reviewing a book that promised TV’s “golden age” will last forever, New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum wrote in 2012, “If you happen to be feeling frustrated by the current state of television — fearing that the economic model won’t hold up, or biting your nails about whether ‘Homeland’ can actually pull off the high-wire act of its second season — [this] collection will cheer you up.”

More recently, a few days after Nielsen released its 2014 numbers (the average American watches more than five hours a day) New York Times media reporter David Carr wrote a piece mock-complaining about all the boob tube bounty. His weekly viewing schedule contains 11 shows, you see, and Carr is worried that “Broad City” might tip the waiter’s tray. As for dialing back his viewing, this is not an option, because people might think he’s a fuddy-duddy.

“The idiot box,” writes Carr, “[has] gained heft and intellectual credibility to the point where you seem dumb if you are not watching it … Even at the Oscars, TV seemed like the cool hipster at the party … All these riches induce pleasure, but no small amount of guilt as well. Am I a bad person because I missed ‘Top of the Lake’ on the Sundance channel?”

No, Carr, you’re not a bad person for missing “Top of the Lake,” whatever that is. What you are is an exceptionally shallow media critic, if you think the problems with television ever had anything to do with the quality of the scripts.

(Alexander Zaitchik is a journalist living in New Orleans.)

And as a finale, my favorite guys (musicians)!

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