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GELFAND’S WORLD--The Super Bowl sucked. It was 4 hours of mediocrity, two quarterbacks who couldn't get the job done, and offensive lines who wouldn't think of giving offense. Everybody knew that Peyton Manning was at the end of his road. He plays like a guy with multiple long-term injuries, but still knows enough to throw the ball away half the time. The bigger story was the failure of Cam Newton to dominate the game. A team with 15 wins and 1 loss should have some ability to score, even against a good defense. Perhaps there should have been a least valuable player award given to the Carolina offensive line. 

Things have changed. The league and the CBS television network hyped the fact that this was Super Bowl 50. We were shown a few clips of the first such game. At the time (1967), it was actually a football game rather than a multiweek spectacle. Tickets were offered to the public at reasonable rates, that being a time when the NFL was one entertainment medium competing among others. 

But one thing hasn't changed. It's the insatiable NFL greed that causes it to go overboard whether it is the first or the fiftieth. The first interleague championship game now known as the Super Bowl (but called something different at the time) was played at the Coliseum here in Los Angeles. The NFL enforced its television blackout rule, which forbade local television if a game wasn't sold out. In a town that was used to seeing the Rose Bowl and to viewing USC vs. UCLA, this was not only a surprise, it was taken as an insult. 

The result was that lots of Angelenos stayed away. It wasn't quite a formal boycott, but it was a well recognized expression of municipal disgust. There was just a hint of this historical reality allowed to come through on Sunday, when one veteran mentioned the first Super Bowl game being played in a half-empty Coliseum. Records show that the Coliseum was actually one-third empty, at 61,000 attendance. The first Super Bowl game couldn't outdraw USC vs. UCLA. 

This year's game didn't suffer from any lack of greed. On the few occasions in which one team scored (typically a field goal), the network went to commercials. That's commercials in the plural. Then we saw a kickoff. Then the network went to more commercials. It's not all that excessive to point out that scoring in modern American football is one play surrounded by ten commercials. 

There's one more little irritant that the modern television networks have foisted upon us. We used to hear comments and statistics by announcers. Vin Scully has built a whole career on making baseball fascinating by providing interesting stats. We used to get something of the same thing in televised football. But now, every microscopic element has a commercial sponsor. To give you an idea of how excessive this has become, we had statistics presented by Mercedes. We had a half time show presented by Hyundai (I think it was Hyundai -- feel free to set me straight here, because I couldn't keep up with the deluge of corporate names) and Toyota got in there somewhere, maybe for the postgame show. 

And then there were the much-hyped commercials. Last week, CBS went as far as to do a tv special on commercials from previous Super Bowls. There was a countdown to number 1, which was about a man and a horse. Other top-50 commercials included puppies and more horses. 

When it came to Super 2016, the commercials didn't seem to come up to snuff. They were just plentiful, not moving. I would go so far as to say that they weren't even sappy, which is at least some kind of emotion. We had cars, cars, and more cars. 

I watched the pregame show at a local restaurant. Everything seemed to go in slow motion, as we were introduced to 4 dozen previous MVP's, a combined chorus that sang America, and a pop singer (Lady Gaga) who sang the national anthem. By the time we got to home of the brave, a woman at an adjoining table remarked, "I could have had a hysterectomy in less time." 

That remark certainly beat anything said over the next 4 hours by the retired jocks who cover as football announcers. 

I wonder if I'm alone in guessing that professional football has hit its peak. This year's Super Bowl is the best evidence yet. There just isn't anything more to add in terms of pregame hype or biographical sketches of the participants, and adding a lot more commercials would be noticed even by football addicts. 

The CBS television network did everything possible to bring in the viewers, but what actually showed up on our screens was boring. It wasn't even shocking or offensive. The game was just sullenly, dully boring. You might say that it was merely boring. 

Mind you, this boredom wasn't for lack of trying on the part of the network. The television directors used a dizzying series of shots for almost every down. In the old days, there would be a camera which was stationed along the sideline and which showed the play from beginning to end. Television directors also had the use of one or two other camera positions so they could show a replay from a different angle and thereby add a little spice to the mix. But nowadays, from the moment the whistle blows on one play, we are subjected to a rapid series of camera angles and moving shots presented in frantic succession. 

When I see this kind of technical and reportorial overkill, I always suspect that the network executives and directors don't trust the audience to maintain interest in the sport itself. They realize that they need to add a lot of filler and a lot of tricky editing in fear that the modern audience couldn't sit still for a televised showing of the game itself. 

Perhaps the game itself is just too dull to hold the attention of a modern television audience. After all, if the game were fascinating by itself, the extraneous stuff would be an irritation. 

Someone might choose to argue that this is just the condition of the modern generation. But all you have to do is take a look at a couple of counterexamples. NBA Basketball seems to do pretty well without all the extra bells and whistles. Even college basketball manages. At a different level, we have the television show Jeopardy, which has added a few technical gimmicks over its half-century run, but is basically the same show. 

There was one new element that spoke ominously to current football audiences. The announcer explained that one player was staying out because he had failed the concussion examination. The audience members who happen to be parents and future parents might think about this. They might usefully consider that perhaps half of the players they were watching will end up with long-term brain dysfunction. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net) 

-cw

EDITOR’S PICK--The “invisible tsunami” of natural gas that has been spewing from a broken well in the backyard of an affluent Los Angeles suburb has caused illness and losses to businesses, and driven thousands from their homes. With their lives turned upside down for more than three months, residents continue to wait for the gas company to stop the leak once and for all.

The rotten-smelling air in and around the Porter Ranch community will begin to clear when the well is permanently sealed. And Southern California Gas Company, which operates the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility where the leak originated, says it expects to have the leak stopped this month. But the effect that the natural gas’s main component -- methane -- has had on the atmosphere doesn’t simply vanish when the well ceases operation.

The well has released more than 91,000 metric tons of methane gas into the air, according to Environmental Defense Fund, but the exact toll it has taken on the environment isn’t immediately clear. In part, that’s because the gas can only be seen with a special infrared camera, making this an invisible catastrophe in California -- there are no oil slicks in the clouds above Los Angeles, no wildlife covered in crude. But make no mistake: The volume of methane that has been ejected into the air is massive, and its effect on global warming is real. (Now, click here. We’ll help you visualize it.) 

-cw

SUBSIDIZING WALL STREET-Reversing climate change and addressing income inequality are the twin challenges of our time. Solving them both means a safer, more stable future for generations to come. 

If we don’t stop and reverse climate change, our environment and our economy could collapse. If we don’t address the growing gap between rich and poor, our political structures and our economy will continue to fray, robbing us of both the funds and the political will to address climate change. 

These challenges are irreversibly linked — and we can’t solve one without solving them both. 

That’s why progressives, labor leaders and everyone who cares about addressing these twin threats should oppose the California Public Utilities Commission’s recently proposed decision to require poor utility customers to subsidize richer customers and the new Wall Street-funded quasi-utilities serving these wealthy customers. 

The CPUC’s decision is on a technical issue called Net Energy Metering: the system that provides subsidies for the installation of residential solar systems by forcing utilities to buy surplus energy generated on rooftops at an artificially high price. For a long time it made sense to provide these very generous subsidies — we all benefit from a robust solar industry. Some of us closest to the economics of solar thought it made more sense to subsidize larger solar installations, which are up to three times more cost-effective than residential solar systems. But broad adoption of solar and renewable power is a goal we must all support. 

But what is happening now is that Wall Street has figured out how to game the system. And what usually happens when Wall Street financiers and speculators get involved is happening now in solar — the rich are being subsidized by the poor. 

Net Energy Metering allows wealthier solar customers to sell the power they produce back to power providers at retail rates. Solar customers might think they are “off the grid,” but their lights still go on at night or when the sun isn’t shining because they are using the electric grid as a giant free battery.

But they don’t pay for it, others do. And “others” are renters and homeowners without the funds to install solar. 

Solar customers are by every measure wealthier and whiter than traditional power customers. That’s because it’s expensive to install rooftop solar (between $12,000 and $40,000, even with the generous tax credits), and because you generally have to own your home in order to install the panels. What’s more, the panels are typically leased to the homeowner by a company like SolarCity. Those companies then bundle the leases and sell them to investors (sound familiar?), and it is not the customer but the investors who receive both the tax credit and the benefit of the Net Energy Metering subsidy associated with the panel. 

Traditional power customers also include CARE customers — low-income families who earn less than 200 percent of the poverty level — who are particularly impacted by this decision. There are nearly 1.5 million CARE families across California, taking home an average of $40,180 a year — and they receive a 30-35 percent discount on their electric and natural gas bills. By comparison, there are only 200,000 solar customers, and they earn more than double that amount — about $92,210 each year. 

The CPUC’s proposed ruling would force CARE customers to pick up the tab for the high cost of Net Metering, eating into the discount those families need. That would very plainly divert money intended for low-income customers to Wall Street and wealthier Californians. That’s not right, and the proposed decision has been roundly criticized by ratepayer advocates and others across the state. 

California is moving towards a green energy future, and that’s a positive thing. But we need to be cognizant of how we get there. Forcing low-income people to subsidize Wall Street will only exacerbate the growing income inequality that is gnawing at our communities. 

We need to fight climate change. We need to fight income inequality. We don’t need a subsidy for the wealthiest and Wall Street that makes income inequality in our state worse.

 

(Tom Dalzell is the business manager and financial secretary of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245. This piece was posted earlier at Huffington Post and Capital and Main.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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EDITOR’S PICK--Today, Indian telecom regulator TRAI reaffirmed the principles of net neutrality by banning discriminatory pricing on the basis of content, including so called “Zero Rating” schemes like Facebook’s controversial Free Basics program. The decision marks a major victory for grassroots activists in India and around the world who have been calling for such a ban, and a setback for companies like T-Mobile and Verizon, who have been pushing similar practices in the U.S., claiming that they do not violate net neutrality.

Fight for the Future, a U.S. based digital rights group that played an instrumental role in last year’s net neutrality victory at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and who have vocally opposed Zero Rating programs/offerings including Facebook’s Free Basics program, issued the following statement, which can be attributed to campaign director, Evan Greer:

“Today’s decision is a major victory for free speech and for Internet users everywhere, no matter what Mark Zuckerberg’s well-paid public relations team might tell you. It’s worth noting that if T-Mobile were operating in India, these new rules would ban their BingeOn throttling scam.

The basic principles of net neutrality are what have made the Web into what it is today. Zero rating schemes and discriminatory pricing are just another tool to favor some applications over others. They allow ISPs to pick winners and losers, and create the same harms as fast lanes and slow lanes. They give Internet Service Providers too much power to shape Internet users’ online experience, and open the floodgates for potential censorship and abuse.

The same arguments of course apply here in the U.S.. The FCC should move quickly to explicitly ban similar practices by Internet providers in the United States who have been misleading customers and breaking net neutrality principles with Zero rating schemes.”

Fight for the Future has been active in defending net neutrality in the U.S. through a series of high profile campaigns including the Internet Slowdown protest, which drove three quarters of a million comments to the FCC in a single day. Previously they worked with Popular Resistance to organize an “Occupy the FCC” encampment outside FCC headquarters, making national headlines.

This year, Fight for the Future has focused on exposing and opposing T-Mobile’s BingeOn scheme, which violates net neutrality by throttling all video streaming by default. They also signed on to an Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg, demanding Facebook stop using their platform to mislead Indian users about the Free Basics program. In the coming weeks, Fight for the Future and other groups plan to continue pressuring the FCC to enforce net neutrality rules in the U.S. by stopping these Zero rating practices.

(Fight for the Future is dedicated to protecting and expanding the Internet's transformative power in our lives by creating civic campaigns that are engaging for millions of people.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--As a Californian and presumably a normal sort of person, I find it strange that Ted Cruz finished first in the Iowa Caucuses. The political experts tell us that his fellow Senators hate him and that the Republican Party fears him. And he looks like Grandpa Munster. Why would so many supposedly loyal Republican voters support him? 

A good question with several answers. It turns out that one of those answers is negative for Cruz's hopes of winning the Republican nomination. 

For all of their phony pretentions to legitimacy, the Iowa Caucuses destroyed last week's political foundations and created a new world. It reminds you a little of the world wars. Donald Trump, last week's Mussolini, got knocked off the winner's stand and had to settle for second place. Ted Cruz took first place by 4 points. 

You have to admit that it's strange. There's just something about the guy that infuriates people. Let's start with a joke making the rounds. 

Why do people take an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? 

Answer: It saves time. 

But the Ted Cruz enigma remains. He managed to win a Senate seat in a major state and has now knocked off the one person who was picked to finish first and who gets more press coverage than any two or three of his opponents combined. 

Here is an article by Caroline Bankoff in New York magazine that takes a swing at the question. In essence, he is for himself even when this violates party loyalty, and he doesn't know how to be a team member. This has put some of his fellow Republican senators on the spot as Cruz has played games about shutting down the government once again. There is also an inkling of a more far reaching explanation from one of his college classmates. Cruz seems to have come to college politically formed. The beliefs he expresses today haven't changed from when he was a teenager. 

But that doesn't seem to be quite enough to explain why so many of his fellow Republicans are actively trying to undermine him. After all, the rule in politics is to go with the winner if he's on your side. Republicans and Democrats alike have put up with sleaze and downright corruption when it provides the winning edge, both in D.C. and in Sacramento. Republicans understand that Cruz as president would provide a solid conservative brand of leadership, yet they still dislike him. 

Like I said, Cruz is an enigma to the rest of the normal people around the country. 

So what else does the Iowa result tell us? 

First of all, it probably means that Ted Cruz won't get the Republican nomination, much less win the presidency. This is simply a matter of recent history. Iowa Republicans seem to vote for the most right wing sorts. They also seem to limit their choices to those who wrap their campaigns around evangelical fervor. The fact that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are recent winners tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Winners in Iowa are too far right to win nationally. 

There's one other lesson from Iowa that I call wolfpack ethics. In a series of debates leading up to Iowa, a series of Republican wannabes took shots at Donald Trump. They were swatted down by Trump, much as the pack leader swats down rambunctious cubs. The sorriest cub was Jeb Bush, who took such a beating that Saturday Night Live made him into an ongoing political joke. That's the way of the wolfpack. The alpha wolf defines the leadership role. 

But the alpha wolf is always a potential target to be replaced. It's not a matter of if, but of when and by whom. It wasn't last month and it wasn't Jeb Bush. Ted Cruz was careful to avoid a definitive tangle with Trump in the early going.  

By Wednesday of this week, everything had changed. We've all heard by now about Trump's polite concession speech on Monday night, followed by his attack on Cruz as cheater and stealer of the election the very next day. At the risk of mixing metaphors, we have Trump going through the stages of grief, this stage being denial, while Cruz gets to try out his new role as alpha wolf. You could tell that Cruz had decided that this is his moment when he pulled out the new term Trumpertantrum

There is an old rule that applies to attacking alpha wolves. If you are going to try to replace the alpha, the one thing you must not do is lose. Cruz is taking a chance in coming back at Trump just a few days before the New Hampshire primary election. If Trump should win, then he will be in a position to retake the alpha position. 

Trump has deftly set this situation up by claiming that the Cruz victory in Iowa was fraudulent. We can expect that come Tuesday night in New Hampshire, a victorious Trump will remind television viewers that this time, justice has triumphed. If Cruz should manage to pull off a miracle and beat Trump on Tuesday, then we can expect Cruz to give us an even louder wolf howl. 

And then there were the Democratic caucuses in Iowa. It's hard to call this anything but a dead draw. That might be enough for Hillary to call it a victory. It might also be enough for Bernie to call it the beginning of a political revolution. Whatever happened in Iowa is probably of little consequence in New Hampshire this time around. That's because New Hampshire voters have a strong propensity to vote for governors and senators from their neighboring states. Vermont is right next to New Hampshire, for those who didn't know. If Hillary runs close, that would signify a near-defeat for Bernie. If Bernie wins big, it's still a race.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

 

JUST SAYIN’--In her speech at the end of the Iowa Caucus, Hillary Clinton said, "I am a progressive who gets things done for people. I am honored to stand in the long line of American reformers who make up our minds that the status quo is not good enough, that standing still is not an option."

That same night Sanders, who rarely uses the word "I" in his speeches, proclaimed, "It is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics. The American people are saying 'no' to a rigged economy. They no longer want to see an economy in which the average American works longer hours for lower wages, while almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1%." 

While disappointed by the disingenuous Chelsea Clinton proxy attack that claimed a Sanders presidency would dismantle the Affordable Care Act, I've moved quickly past the distractions and histrionics of the political hardball being played against Clinton, as well as Sanders, to draw some conclusions at this stage of the Democratic Presidential Primary.

Small steps to the left by Clinton on key issues like the Trans Pacific Partnership seemingly in response to Sanders' long held positions on this and other issues, is not enough. I am not willing to settle for promises of incremental progress that largely maintain the status quo while the working poor and middle class are locked in the iron grip of economic and environmental inequality, typically carried out by legislators whose campaigns are largely funded by Wall Street. 

Bernie Sanders is running a campaign funded with $75 million coming from small donors; people who are donating $27 on average, under the banner of revolution. This provides a distinct contrast to every other competitive presidential candidate, all of whom are receiving millions of dollars from some combination of super PACs, Corporate America and America's richest 1%.

Income is not equal in the United States, but our voices should and can be a powerful force as the people of Iowa proved in showing that this revolution is real. Not because Sanders is promising that he will do this alone, but because he is calling upon the providence of the American people to stand up for what benefits our country as a whole:


"No president, not Bernie Sanders, not anybody else, will be able to bring about the changes that the working families and the middle class of this country, that our children, that the seniors, our seniors deserve.” Sanders continued, “No one president can do it because the powers that be, Wall Street with their endless supply of money, corporate America, the large campaign donors are so powerful that no president can do what has to be done alone. And that is why -- and that is why what Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution."

This is not a commitment by Sanders to seek incremental progress. It is a promise to fight for fairness as the sword and shield of the American people in the war against inequality.


As Americans, revolution is in our blood going back to our Country's origins. Today we are witnessing a political revolution of the people, by the people and for the people versus establishment money and politics. 

I stand with the Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

 

(Jason Gardea-Stinnett is the Former Executive Vice President AFSCME District Council 36.)   Photo: CNN. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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