Miss America: Auditioning for Center Stage

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH     

      

Tucked between the New Hampshire primary and Ground Hog Day, and directly competing against an NFL playoff game, is Saturday night’s annual Miss America pageant.

Although the headquarters is still near Atlantic City, where it originated in 1921, the pageant—don’t call it a beauty contest—has been a part of the Las Vegas entertainment scene for eight years. Apparently, the Las Vegas motto of “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” wrapped itself around the pageant as well, with TV viewership dropping lower almost every year.

ABC-TV divorced Miss America in 2004, claiming irreconcilable differences. Viewership had fallen from a peak of 26.7 million in 1991 to an all-time low of 9.8 million, barely enough to keep a prime-time show on the air. The pageant’s CEO, trying to preserve what dignity was left, stated “We needed to find a better partner, one that better understands our values.”

Apparently better understanding Miss America’s values was Country Music Television (CMT). However, that marriage didn’t last, and Miss America then hooked up with the The Learning Channel (TLC). By 2007, only 2.4 million viewers tuned in to watch who would be the next beauty queen to want world peace, save the whales, and “do her country proud.”

Treating its demotion to the minor leagues as a chance for rehabilitation, the pageant made a few cosmetic changes, began playing with new ways of scoring, including viewer participation, and slowly brought its ratings back to about 4.5 million in 2010.

That’s when ABC-TV and Miss America, after a six-year divorce, fell in love again. Apparently, CMT and TLC “values” (and money) weren’t as good as a major network’s. Promising eternal faithfulness—as long as the ratings increased—the two lovebirds were seen by about 7.8 million.

Now, it may seem that only TV executives and advertisers should care about ratings, viewer demographics, and selling fluff. But the contestants are well-trained actors in the made-for-TV show, complete with celebrity judges, most of whom are there solely because they are—well—celebrities.

About one-third of all contestants say they want to go into communications. As in almost every pageant for the past four decades, several want to go into television. Miss Delaware and Miss Nevada both want to be talk show hosts. Miss Louisiana wants to anchor the “Today” show; to get to that lofty goal, she plans to first get a master’s in health communication. None of the contestants wanting to go into journalism have expressed any interest in first covering city council meetings, the courts, police, or Little League games. They plan to take their beauty and pageant poise, make up their hair and face, and stand in front of a camera to emphasize the reality that broadcast journalism has diminished to the point of style over substance.

Miss New York wants to be the editor of a fashion magazine. Miss Idaho wants to write for a health and fitness magazine. Miss Hawaii wants to be a film director; to do that, she plans to first get an MBA. There is no evidence she plans first to be an actor, set designer, writer, cinematographer, or in any of several dozen crafts.

Miss Utah says she wants to be an interpersonal communications presenter (whatever that is) and also a college dance team coach. Miss New Hampshire, who probably dressed Barbie dolls in corporate suits, says she wants to “own a large and prestigious advertising firm.” It’s doubtful she’ll want to modify the gibberish of the organization that, with all seriousness, says it “provides young women with a vehicle to further their personal and professional goals and instills a spirit of community service through a variety of unique nationwide community-based programs.”

A few contestants say they want to be “event planners,” as if there already aren’t enough people wasting their own lives by planning the lives of others.

Not planning to go into communications is Miss California who is earning a degree in something called “social enterprise.” That could be anything from learning how to use Facebook to mixing the drinks at upscale parties. Miss West Virginia says she wants to go into the military, and then become secretary of state. Perhaps one day she might work for the 2011 Miss America, whose goal is to become president.

Several contestants plan to get MBAs, but almost everyone wants to use that degree to go into—prepare yourself!—a non-profit social service agency.  It sounds good, and maybe they all mean it. But, dangle a six-figure salary, stock options, extensive perks, and a “golden parachute,” and most of them will run over the Red Cross so fast it’ll need blood transfusions.

Mixed into the career goals are some contestants who plan to be physicians, pharmacists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and others in the caring professions.  

Miss America doesn’t have to worry about a job or college for a year. Along with a paid chaperone, she will tour the country to sign autographs and give inspirational speeches about whatever her platform is—and, of course, to promote the Miss America Organization.

From the “toddlers and tiaras” stage to the stage at the Planet Hollywood Casino, beauty contestants are told how to look, act, and talk, even what to say or not say. The Miss America Organization—which makes the Mafia look like a second rate fraternity—doesn’t tell contestants they must attend college. But, every one of the state winners plans to be a college graduate.

There is a definite bias against those who don’t think attending college is important at this stage of their lives. And so, we don’t see talented actors, singers, dancers, and musicians who are bypassing college to attend specialized non-degree-granting schools and enter their professions. We don’t see contestants who, although beautiful and talented, are planning to be plumbers, electricians, or firefighter/paramedics. We don’t see contestants who want to be gardeners, floral arrangers, or chefs. And, we most assuredly don’t see women who are bypassing college to be part of major social movements.

[Walter Brasch, who attended several beauty pageants, although as a reporter and not as a contestant, is a social issues columnist and book author. His current book is Before the First Snow: Tales from the Revolution, available at www.amazon.com or www.greeleyandstone.com]

 

 

Can We Give “Job-Killing Regulations” a Rest?

Politicians love to go for the easy applause line and lately, in Washington, that has meant decrying “job-killing regulations.”

Republican candidates for president have all gone for this crowd-pleaser.

  • Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has promised to “tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed on the economy.”
  • Texas Governor Rick Perry claims he would halt all regulations and impose a sunset so that they would automatically expire.
  • Herman Cain claims that eliminating regulations would provide “an immediate boost for our weakened economy.”

Even President Obama has at times appeared to buy-in to this notion, ordering every agency to review its existing regulations to eliminate burdens on business, even though such analysis would have been completed when the regulation was first written.

It may be a crowd-pleaser, but it turns out that it simply isn’t true that regulations kill jobs. The Washington Post talked with some of the country’s top economists and experts on the relationship between job creation and regulations. The conclusion?

“Overall impact on employment is minimal.”

The truth is that regulations can impact jobs but don’t have much effect when it comes to employment. That means that a particular regulation might reduce jobs in one industry but create them in another. For example, a clean air regulation might reduce jobs at a dirty coal-fired power plant and create new jobs at a clean-burning natural gas plant. But, looking at the big picture, employers report that only 0.3% of layoffs are due to “government regulations/intervention.” That’s small potatoes compared with the 25% of jobs lost due to reduced demand for products and services in our weak economy.

While they may not have a big impact on jobs, regulations do have a big impact in a lot of other areas, namely in protecting workers, the public and the environment. So, let’s put “job-killing regulations” to rest. If our politicians are looking for new descriptions, how about “life-saving, people-protecting, society-benefiting regulations”? It’s not so catchy, but it has the benefit of being true.

Obama's Jobs Plan in 90 Seconds

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On September 8th, President Barack Obama introduced his plan to create jobs and curb unemployment; The American Jobs Act.

A tough road lies ahead for the American Jobs Act, with Republicans lining up against it and some conservative Democrats publicly expressing concerns. But behind the political chatter there is a bill and whether you like it or not it is important to know what's actually in it.

You've got 90 seconds, so please check out this week's episode. And as always, more information below the fold.

 

There's more...

Obama Reclaiming the Frame?

On the policy side of the President's jobs plan and "Buffet Tax" address this morning, reactions are mixed.  At FireDogLake, David Dayden likes the move away from the "grand bargain" territory and what appears to be an early goodbye to the super-committee, while John Walker sees the door to Medicare cuts still open.  Yglesias sees an open door with a line in the sand: not cuts to Medicare without revenue increases.  Aravosis thinks tying increases to even a hint at Medicare cuts is just dumb.  And Ezra Klein thinks the White House has learned it's lesson on chasing the "Compromiser in Chief" title: the public "gives no points for effort," they want results.

But the stand out moment for me was the change in frame in the address.  Bipartisanship/compromise/balance got the obligatory mentions, but overall the speech elludes to a wiser WH.  Via Josh Marshall:

I hope President Obama will keep hitting what I think was his strongest point in his Jobs Act speech. That is, either/or. We can have no new taxes ever for wealthy people or we can save Medicare. But not both.

Either/Or.

For the first time in a long while, Obama today at least hinted at an unwillingness to move his goal-posts closer to where Boehner has set his.  He grabbed the popular position, drew his base line a little more to the left, and reinforced it with a veto threat.  Baby steps.  Not shooting for the moon, but after 1 yr plus of reinforcing the GOP talking points on deficit reduction instead of focusing on jobs, this may be the only way out of the woods for the WH and what's left of the middle class.

I'm still skeptical the goal posts won't be moved a thousand times, especially if the possibility of having debt-ceiling circus redux months before the election scares them off the "either/or" theme (Joan McCarter: it shouldn't!), but today's speech was at least refreshing.

Also, Erica Payne and The Agenda Project, way ahead of them:

 

President Obama's Decision on Ozone: Bad Policy and Bad Politics

I’ll admit it. I was originally a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2008. I liked then-Senator Obama’s passion but I was comforted by Clinton’s experience in what I felt was a tumultuous time. After Obama became the victor from the primaries, I enthusiastically got on board.

Now, I feel like sucker.

Last Friday, President Obama forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set aside a measure to reduce smog. If you breathe, this should be a big deal for you. The new smog rule would have prevented up to 12,000 premature deaths, 5,300 heart attacks and tens of thousands of cases of asthma attacks and other serious respiratory illnesses each year.

This is a decision that was solely in the President’s court. He ignored the EPA and the recommendation of the agency’s outside science advisors to side with polluting industries.

Why is the President now siding with polluters? He has taken strong environmental stands in the past. We saw the President push what was effectively the largest clean energy legislation ever passed as part of the initial stimulus bill. We stood with him as he pushed the climate bill in that first year. More recently, we saw the White House put us a road to reducing carbon pollution by making our cars cleaner.

But a number of recent moves are going in the opposite direction. The White House gave tentative approval to offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The Administration continues to move forward on steps to approve the Keystone pipeline. And now it is backing away from smog rules.

Why? The White House claims clean air protections would be too expensive. But this is a farce. Letting the polluters off the hook won’t save lives, won’t create jobs and won’t fuel innovation. It will, however, endanger the health and lives of children and seniors.

In fact, as NRDC’s Frances Beinecke said late last week, “clean air investments yield enormous returns. The smog standards would generate $37 billion in value for a cost of about $20 billion by 2020. Taken together, Clean Air Act standards generated approximately $1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits in 2010 alone for a cost of $50 billion. That's a value worth more than 9 percent of GDP for a cost of only .4 percent of GDP. The ratio of benefits to costs is more than 26 to 1.”

Why the White House is running away from this story is beyond me. This shouldn’t be about the economy because these safeguards will create jobs. And this retreat certainly isn’t going to get him any votes. In a June poll of likely voters commissioned by the American Lung Association found that 75 percent supported the EPA's effort to set stronger smog standards and 66 percent believed that EPA scientists-- not Congress -- should establish clean air standards. Is he is hoping to attract a few votes from right? Unlikely if you consider that only 24 percent of moderate Republicans and 7 percent of conservative Republicans think he is doing a good job according to the the most recent Gallup polling.

Color me confused. The only thing that makes sense is that the White House made a political calculation that it couldn’t win the message war against the Tea Party. The Tea Party has made “regulation” a dirty word when in fact regulations help keep us safe.

Environmental and public health regulations are what keep that industrial mill from dumping its toxic chemicals in the lake you fish in each summer. Regulations have been cleaning our air for decades.Regulations on buildings ensure that your home and office be built to withstand foreseeable natural disasters. Long gone are the days when machinery regularly maimed employees thanks to labor regulations. And a lack of regulations can lead to disaster – just look at the Wall Street crash and the part that lax regulations played in that disaster. The word “regulation” is really a synonym for “public safeguard.” When did that become a bad thing?

President Obama should reconsider this misguided move and redouble his efforts to protect clean air. He is going to have many opportunities in the coming days to right this wrong. The House will be voting as early this month to try to overturn the clean air standards the White House has moved forward with. But if we don’t weigh in, the Tea Party will set the agenda of this White House.

Where is the hope and change that we were promised in 2008? I suspect that a lot of people who walked precincts and stood in long lines to cast a vote for the President Obama in the last Presidential election are asking themselves the same question.

 

 

 

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