Category Archives: Ideas and Issues

No Venues, No Sales, No Money

busking pandemic the arts artists venues
March 1, 2021

New Orleans      One week, we have the southern end of the polar vortex. The next week, it’s spring, while I’m still hacking away at freeze-damaged night-blooming jasmine, bougainvillea, and the rest of the dead and dying in the yard. This is also the season when my inbox fills up with touring musicians trying to book time at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse during the “festival season” in April and May at the tail end of Mardi Gras. We have the Jazz Festival in New Orleans only blocks from our location along with the French Quarter Festival and one event after another. This is when we all start to break even and, in a good year, actually make some money.

Not this year; Mardi Gras was cancelled. Last year the festivals were cancelled. This year, they are hoping to schedule dates in October. Maybe that will happen. Maybe it won’t.

Regardless, the intrepid and increasingly desperate musicians that reach out to try to schedule, hoping for a chance to debut a new record or build their audience, only get my reply that we’re still only open until 1pm in the afternoon, and barely hanging on ourselves. New Orleans is in Phase 2 modified, which only means a bit higher percentage can sit in the coffeehouse and not the patio. Truth to tell, in this long year of the pandemic, few brave souls sit inside now, regardless of the order. We’re not alone in New Orleans. In Atlanta, Starbucks was takeout only. In Little Rock, McDonalds was takeout only. Maybe we’ll make it to the fall, maybe we won’t. It’s hard to believe that we won’t have to close during the summer, but for a few hours a day.

We’re lucky compared to these young musicians trying to get started and trying their luck at making a career from their passion. I’m flooded by these same folks while managing radio stations as well. If they can’t travel, they hope they can get heard on the air. What are the odds? Narrow and none. In mainstream radio, only the established get the play. In non-commercial, we pass them over to our hosts, but that’s a heartbeat, not a living.

Authors with books coming out during the pandemic face the same conundrum. Social Policy Press has been afraid to publish. Colleges without classes, groups not meeting, how does one sell new books when you can’t meet people? Zoom doesn’t work well except for the most established.

The Arts sections of the big papers are still full of hype for the known and the well-connected, and they try to put the best spin on the situation. On the ground, these passion professions are not damaged, but dying. Unemployment might have worked for a minute, but as the pandemic lingers, and these folks are in the last batch for shots, many just aren’t going to make it. This is cancelled culture as an ecosystem, not as a political act. The pipeline has dried up, and the alternatives have disappeared. There’s no “new normal” waiting.


When You’re Starving, Half a Loaf Could Still be a Great Deal

bread line affordable care act nixon family assistance plan stimulus bill Biden

February 28, 2021

Pearl River     The Biden stimulus bill won’t deliver on a minimum wage increase, nor will it correct all of the defects in the Affordable Care Act or bring world peace in our time, but it has many benefits, and I can hardly wait. At the same time, in these areas and many others, there is more work that needs to be done, and while we all put our shoulders to the wheel for a full loaf, it’s worth thinking about how to get as much as we can while the opportunity still exists in this interregnum before the next election.

I’m confused by some Congressional spokespeople who argue that they made a promise of $15 per hour and are duty bound to deliver it. Sounds good to me, but reality does intrude. It’s not an individual commitment, but a collective responsibility, and that means winning more elections at all levels from local to state legislatures to Congress itself. Reportedly, there is discussion in Washington of a Plan B on $15 per hour that would require Fortune 500 companies to pay that sum as a minimum rate. That’s interesting, although I have no idea whether it’s legal, and would bet there will be lawsuits that linger through much of Biden’s term. It’s still worth remembering that many states and companies, including huge number of employers of essential workers numbering millions, are stuck at $7.25. President Biden has indicated he could live with $12 per hour by 2025. Some Republicans have come close to that figure. In Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and the like, $12 per hour sure sounds good. There needs to be a Plan C that starts to put together the coalition to finally raise the federal minimum wage to that level. Remember, it’s a minimum, and nothing will stop cities and states, where it is possible, to scaffold up from these levels, in fact it would be easier to do so.

On the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus reportedly would make it possible to add 1.2 million people in coverage by increasing subsidies and even allowing more middle-income families to buy into the marketplace. Sounds like a good start. The filibuster rule will prevent wholesale improvements, but what is the chance for a Plan B there that puts a cap of some kind, darned near any kind, on deductibles that would make the cheap plans companies with more than 500 workers are able to pay worth a worker’s purchase? Pretend compliance by these companies is a farce. We’ve seen deductibles in the $5, $6, and $7000 level. The Massachusetts model under then Governor Romney had a cap. Where’s the deal that can be made there?

I can still remember, painfully, the Obama majorities and our failure to get anything through on immigration on “the nothing but the full loaf” strategy. Heck, I can remember our failure to make a deal on Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan, which has meant millions sentenced to abject poverty while we insisted on “Adequate Income Now” at $5400 for a family of four.

Speaker Pelosi famously dissed former Freedom Caucus representative Mark Meadows when he was serving as Trump’s chief of staff about his years of obstruction resulting in his not knowing “how to make a deal.” While fighting to move the country forward, I hope that we are working to help a bunch of people in the House and Senate behind the scenes to make the deals that might not raise all boats in one great flood, but could pull a huge number of us over the water line to economic safety.