Hey Mitt: PBS is Vital Infrastructure

Before I go to the polls today, I want to quickly fire off a rebuttal to what Presidential Candidate, Mitt Romney said about PBS not being worth borrowing money to pay China for. I could point out that The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s entire operating budget is less than $500M ( http://current.org/wp-content/themes/current/archive-site/pbs/pbs1110budget.html ) which is is stark contrast to our defense budget: $530 Billion (source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/factsheet_department_defense/ )

I’m not saying defense is not important, I’m saying that there are things tapping our resources much more than PBS. But I’’ll get be to my defense of PBS since many people seem to think that social programs drain the GNP. Many do not, and many help it, indirectly by lifting US Citizens from the slums and ignorance that would befall them without someone footing the bill so that we all have an opportunity to be intellectually and financially equal.

Default Unfairness Doctrine

Mitt said he would cut funding for PBS because the United States borrows money from China to fund it, and it is not worth the cost. PBS is the last bastion for actual objective journalism since President Ronald Reagan killed the FCC’s fairness doctrine Just one look at what this has done to TV news and opinion programming, and one can see why it was in place. Facts are not checked, and one-sided puppet news stations that would be labeled propaganda if it were state sponsored exist in abundance. Instead of being forced to present two sides of a debate, most of these news shows only show one side with an occasional half-hearted argument presented only to be discounted with no legitimate reason or built upon enough flaws that people such as Bill “Tide comes in: tide goes out… no one knows why.” O’Reilly can spot the holes (we call this the straw man argument).

These shows are seemingly innocuous to any person that can think for themselves and spot the bullshit, but rife enough with pseudo-intellectual bullshit that those less intelligent will simply nod along thinking they are getting enlightenment from a mouth piece of the people that run the world. Had Bill watched any science shows he would know that the tide is caused by the sun and moon’s gravity pulling on the Earth’s mass. I could have told you this by the age of 8 thanks to — you guessed it — PBS. Don’t believe me? Look it up!

Seeds of Interest, Motivation & Progress

PBS is vital infrastructure in forming our current and future society. It plants the seed of intellectual curiosity in science and technology. The children that watch it grow up to be more interested in finding out why this or that works. When no one knows, those kids that keep looking for the answers into adulthood become scientists. And those kids that grow up to make things no one knows how to make become engineers. Without them, I would not be able to tell you this, because I would not have a sophisticated enough computer to draft, redraft, edit and post this fast enough (about 2 hours from start to second draft). Nor would you have a computer to hook up to the Internet to read this, because none of it would exist. I am not saying PBS made this possible (it hasn’t been around the century it would have needed to in order to influence all the creators of the current “techniverse” [SIC]), but this was the work of people who were curious.

PBS encourages interest in non-navel gazing activities: science, literature, art — things that create lasting self-worth and positive attitudes. All it takes is one passion in something that cannot be discounted (fads or appearance) nor taken away (like possessions) such as music, art, education, etc. for a person to feel connected and give themselves meaning. Why is this? Well for one thing, advertising trains people from a very early age that possessions, appearance and what others think of you are the root of all happiness. “My parents didn’t buy me [insert new iOS device]. FML!” “I hope this guy likes me. I better do whatever he wants.” “Good moms buy this cereal!” etc. No, your parents were too busy providing food and shelter to afford this luxury. No, he better treat you as he wants to be treated, if he wants you to like him. No, Good moms  (and dads) teach their children what they can by equipping them with he ability to protect themselves, see through deception, and protect them until they can do it for themselves.

Let’s not forget Great Performances which sometimes features full concerts by the biggest music stars actually performing live, uncut, no commercials. FrontLine for 60 Minutes style journalism. Independent Lens is one of those things you have to see to believe. (Oops! got sidetracked by that link to Great Performances and Independent Lens…)

Privatization Centered on Profit 

Mitt also believes the private sector is best at creating things. The Private Sector has come close to the TV the Children’s Television Workshop has produced for decades once (Muppets directly spun off from CTW) or twice, but never as enduring nor pure as the programming the CPB has funded. Why? Because they are insulated from the pressure to follow the private sector’s driving force: profit. Take the financial incentive out of something, and you see what it really is, and what people really are capable of.

This is the catch of the private sector: unless something has a guaranteed payoff, within 5–7 years, they simply do not see the point, and attribute no value to “wasting money on it.” In fact, low payoffs are also discarded. Only an entity as far-sighted as the government (that built the national transportation system and the Internet) has the guts to invest in the future. This is why we need it.

If government never existed, most of us would still be serfs living outside castle walls, fearful of greedy marauders sacking our village. The problem is the marauders have become sneakier. They now own the corporations and use them and their power to legally strip people of rights and rob people. Now they have set their sites on our government by making the false claim that private equity can do a better job. If that were truly the case then private equity and for profit corporations would have everyone clothed, fed and educated. But the thing about education is that the more educated a person is, the less easily manipulated. So, as Reagan got rid of objectiveness on TV new, Mitt now wants to get rid of objectiveness in television altogether, and he’s going after the next generation under the guise of “saving America.”

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is one of those entities that has far reaching positive effects by way of education that can take decades to reap the rewards of, but it is the most difficult to credit, unlike the obvious advantage of paved roads and quick communications. If the rulers of the GOP had their way, the only people to get an education would be the people who were fortunate enough to be able to afford it. So, little Mitts and little GOPers could continue their unbated reign.

The Private sector has had decades to produce shows that both enlighten and entertain, but often they go for the lowest common denominator because of mass appeal of simple, non-threatening people or ideas. Also, informed people, watching shows that enforce the better values, and tough choices of real life make people more aware of their and their neighbors’ true opponent.  This explains the glut of low brow, vapid “reality TV shows” (that are mostly staged, cheap to produce and make tons of money). Think of it: no set, no professional actors, just camera, sound the producer and someone stupid enough to think they are the “talent.” (And get paid the wage stupid talent does.) PBS has its own version of reality shows though: Antiques Road Show, P.O.V. and the PBS NewsHour. In these shows a person can actually learn something besides the day’s latest catch phrase.

My TV

So, a fellow ADN person, I follow and agree with most of the time posted an article on Television on the Alpha Efficiency Blog. It makes the flawed assumption that all TV is a waste of time, and all use degrades ones ability to get things done. I disagree, and know all TV is not a waste of time. My favorite shows are a mixture of comedy, satire, sci-fi and intrigue. But I also still watch PBS’s Nova. I sent a message to him that I think it isn’t TV, but people inability to self-regulate the amount of TV they watch that degrades efficiency. My rescuetime.com stats are still often 10%–15% above what the average is. (Once I got over 100% efficiency, but I think it was a glitch.)

But of course I have had decades to watch TV: I grew up with it in my room at the age of 2. Before I could go to school, I would watch cartoon as my mother made me breakfast before she left for work. Once the cartoons were over, I would switch over to the local PBS affiliate, KQED 9 and watch whatever was on until around noon. I got a health dose of Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. (Don’t laugh Fred was a decorated marine that saved Captain Kangaroo’s life in the war. He could kick your ass while putting on his sneakers — this is something a friend told me that I thought was funny. It is obviously not true. It makes a good story, and when am I going to mention Mr. Rogers again?) I also watched a lot of science and technology shows. My sisters used to call me the human encyclopedia.

I gained an inherent ability to notice camera count and angles, see the advertising tease, blatant distortions, see what worked and what didn’t by the time I enrolled at SF State for their impacted Broadcasting Communications degree program. I also learned to construct the illusions on TV, and learned how to construct everything onscreen quickly including how to chose and its purpose. I was taught how to shoot, light, mix sound, direct, technical direct, write, etc. Some professors could tell I knew exactly how TV was made thanks to thousands of hours of exposure. Once, after the first take I directed, instead of telling me what I did wrong, as he did to every other student, my professor asked me what I did wrong. I replied, I did [this], [this] and [this]. He said, “okay, go again.” All the other student in the control booth noticed that immediately.

Conclusion

Just because something cannot be directly correlated to a financial gain does not mean that it is a waste of money. It is the things that cannot be directly correlated to financial benefits that create true value in society. Remove all creative twists and intellectual advances and what do we have? A lot of pretty numbers and no actual value. CPB, through its funding on the Children’s Television Workshop and production of unadulterated shows such as Sesame Street and Nova are a foundation level of infrastructure in the United States. No one notices the floor until its gone.

BTW, one last factoid: The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) budget is about $8 Billion. Defense Budget 1000 times larger than CPB. Prison Budget: 16 times larger than CPB. What would you rather spend money on? Locking away future generations or keeping them out of prison by backing robust social programs that give children a chance to grow up in a decent environment? PBS is one such environment: Elmo never capped anyone (but I am not sure about Cookie Monster ;).

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