Take the Money and Run for Office

If you’re not a regular listener to This American Life (I’m not), you still need to hear their program from last weekend, Take the Money and Run for Office.

Produced by the people behind the essential Planet Money podcast, this is a rather depressing hour about how US congress critters spend their time raising money to run for office (more time, in many cases, than on their actual jobs) and what it buys for those contributors.

That flow of money traded for influence has long since moved from the exception to the rule.

That’s our system. If a congressman went in front of a town hall meeting and said, for $5,000, I’ll sit down with anyone of you and have breakfast. You can tell me exactly how you’d like me to vote. He’d be booed off the stage.

But that’s the case for pretty much everybody in Congress. They don’t even have to say it.

I think the worst part of the hour, however, was listening to the incredible hypocrisy of John McCain, co-author of the last major piece of legislation to address campaign finance, as he whined about a situation he continues to wallow in.

Anyway, spend the time to listen and then pass it along to friends and family. If you teach US Government or American History, play it for your students and ask for their responses.

Now, I’m not naive enough to believe one public radio program is going to change anything. But it would be nice if more people paid attention to this crap instead of naively believing the old Schoolhouse Rock version of the legislative process is still the way things work.

The Rubber Room

Act 1 of a recent edition of This American Life is a story about some very scary places deep inside the New York City school system that most people, even in the City, are completely unaware of.

The thirteen centers are called the “rubber room” (more formally: Employee Reassignment Centers) and it’s something like detention.

Except that it’s teachers who get sent to one when their principal or someone else thinks they’ve screwed up and where some of them stay for a whole lot longer than a couple of days.

Go listen to it and see if you don’t find it frightening as well.

Then go check out the even more disturbing information on the web site of a group of filmmakers who are making a documentary about the rubber rooms and who co-produced the TAL segment.

Looking for Information (and Sanity)

Anyone else confused by all the economic news? No? Well then I guess it’s just me.

Most of the news outlets I’ve seen and read don’t do an especially good job of explaining the situation, especially how we got here, and, more importantly, how all those supposedly smart people running the show are going to fix things.

As for the 24-hour (minus infomercials) talking heads channels, they’re all about staging fights between he-said on one side and she-said on the other.

Fortunately, there are a few places to go for actual information, ideas, and some sanity.

And one of them, of course, is the Daily Show.

Over the past couple of months, Jon Stewart and his writers have done an excellent job of pointing out just how badly the so-called experts have been screwing up.

A great example came from the first block of a DS show earlier this week in which he illustrated precisely why no one should be paying attention to anyone on the financial channel CNBC, especially Jim Cramer.

“I have to say, I find cheap populism oddly arousing.”

However, if you’re still looking for real information about this financial mess, you can find some in that wonderfully sane little corner of public radio known as This American Life.

The creators of The Giant Pool of Money and Another Frightening Show About the Economy, two outstanding and unfortunately still relevant TAL episodes from last year, are back to explain the banking crisis with The Bad Bank.

Grab the show today while it’s still free. Listen to the others online (or pay a buck each to download).

Three hours of your time (give or take an underwriting message) that offer more information about the current financial situation than you’ll find in an entire year of watching the “experts” on commercial television.