Big Bird, PBS and NPR



Big Bird, PBS and NPR

"I like Big Bird", said Gov. Mitt Romney in his first debate with President Barack Obama. Well, Governor, so do I and so do a lot of people and if you killed him a lot of children - or those for whom Big Bird was a big feature in their long ago  lives - would be unhappy. Happily, Big Bird who is 54-years-old and still 8 feet two inches tall, is not endangered and not even on the endangered list.

  Wait. I'll explain. Gov. Romney never threatened to kill him, he just talked about no longer feeding him federal dollars. Some listeners were agitated. A puppet or some such group march is scheduled sometime in protest. That, I'm sure, will really be effective. It's all so important to our national psyche and maybe security. Oh, those dastardly, evil, heartless, cruel Republicans.

  Actually, it's all much ado about nothing, yet much ado about something. The nothing first. Ol' Big Bird doesn't need federal dollars. It, he, she or whatever, and buddies at Sesame Street long have been self-sufficient, even wealthy. The Carnegie Foundation plus some other foundations and some government dollars got Sesame Street started in 1968 and federal funding went away in 1981, according to Wikipedia which sometimes isn't so accurate, but I think is in this case. No, Sesame Street, the Muppets and all that have done well on their own even surviving an hilarious, if somewhat obscene, satirical Broadway spoof called "Avenue Q".

  Now, about that something. That something is the federal government's penchant, through our elected federal representatives, to be free with other people's money. We'll call in "OP's". Cigarette smokers know the phrase: " My favorite brand is OP's". Anyway, what Gov. Romney was talking about was stopping the funding for public broadcasting, specifically National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. They've been funded partially by the federal government since Lyndon Johnson time in the 1970s.

  How much? The 2012 figure is around $445 million. Not much, "all things considered" (joke: that's an NPR show). However, considering that it is only .0445 per cent (.000445) of this year's deficit (not the budget, but the deficit), it doesn't amount to much. If applied directly to that one year deficit it would take 2247 years to pay it off. So, it doesn't make any difference. Or, does it?

  That's the argument used for spending OP's money every time for every and any constituent and/or federal representative's cause. And there are literally thousands - or maybe more - such "good" causes supported and espoused by thousands all over this country of 305 million people. Hey, don't worry about my cause. It's just a drop in that big ol' bucket. That big bucket, however, is filled with little ol' drops.

  Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen (1898-1969) famously noted, when talking about federal spending, "a billion here, a billion there - pretty soon you're talking about real money". And that was 1969. So, laugh if you want about how little would be gained from cutting funds for such things as PBS and NPR, but all those little things add up. By the way,  $445 millions a pretty good chunk of money when it's spent locally.

  Then there's the issue about what it is spent on. Should we subsidize television and radio? Don't the broadcasting companies have enough of their own money? And, hey, what about newspapers? They're having a hard time these days and there may be a time when you can't get one delivered to your door, or even get it printed. Won't that be a big cause: "Save the newspapers. They're historic. They do the real reporting. They cover the local communities" and so forth. No, they'll either make it or not even if they're call "newsdigis"

  A bit of a clarification. I personally supported financially NPR in the Pittsburgh market. I made annual contributions to both the Pittsburgh NPR and a college broadcasting operation under the same banner. I liked the jazz and classical musical programming and thought I should share the cost even though I also paid through the government. And, yes, I do recognize how liberal the programming is. But, enough of that.

  The point is that little things add up to a lot. It is no coincidence that get-out-of-debt programs advise clients to pay off the little stuff first. Take care of the little things. I think of quotes such as one attributed to Ben Franklin: "a penny saved is a penny earned"; or, another, from whom I don't know: "save a penny and the dollars will follow". It's not the impact of the singe penny. It's the impact of the idea. It's worth paying attention to, particularly when it is OP's money.