Walt Whitman heard America singing. His famous poem describes various American workers — a carpenter, a mechanic, a shoemaker — creating a kind of song of labor in the land of the free. But if Walt were to put his ear to the streets today, he might hear a new verse in that tune. “I want it all, I want the Powerball…”Last week, eight meat packing plant workers in Nebraska (Whitman failed to weave “meat packing” into his poem) shared the largest lottery prize ever awarded in U.S. A $365 million Powerball prize melted down to $22 million for each of eight workers in on a ticket purchased by one of their gambling group, a Vietnamese immigrant. After taxes and agreeing to a one-time payout, each of the eight is about $15 million richer. The presentation of the oversized cardboard checks was made by Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, who took time from his busy schedule to be there and thus endorse gambling as a means of advancement for the citizens of his state. The big event was a boost to state sponsored lotteries everywhere, and it was apparently a boon for news channels as well.CNN devoted nearly an hour to live unedited coverage of Nebraska’s gambling celebration. True, you don’t get a human interest story that plays out with big numbers and life-changing consequences like this every day. But has CNN yet dedicated this much time to, say, one-on-one interviews with administration officials about handing over our ports to Dubai?No, because that kind of news coverage wouldn’t have the emotion and comedy hijinks of the Powerball show. One of the new millionaires was asked, “Are you married?” Huge laughs. Answer: “I’m single.” Bigger laughs. See, that person won’t have to share the easily gotten gains with anyone else. And that’s hilarious to a room filled with media people who’d rather spend the morning functioning as the tools of government gambling programs than to get in the van and go looking for actual news. But aren’t state lotteries good, in that they generate millions for schools? In fiscal year 2002/2003, revenues from our own California Lottery generated $124 per pupil, or $1 billion total and supported over 8.1 million students in California’s public schools. Sounds good. But it’s a mere two percent of all education funding. Of a dollar spent on a California lottery, 34.8 cents goes to schools. 52.2 cents goes to winners. Jackpots. Life-changing cardboard checks.Still, a billion bucks ain’t hay and there might be no grounds for carping if there were a clear pattern of lottery prizes bringing joy and positive change into the lives of the winners. The connection between cash windfalls and sustained human happiness has yet to be established. Nor is there’s any solid evidence that winning millions inevitably causes hardships never imagined by the winners as they stand in the glare of camera flashes. Although we’ve all heard those stories.We do know that 38 U.S. states have gambling programs, and we can see with our own eyes that national and local media cooperate in painting a Cinderella scenario for those who might jump into the game. Verna V. Gehring of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland posits that lotteries are a swindle on two levels: They’re “not a prudent personal investment strategy” as state advertising might imply, and the claim that they advance worthy social goals can be problematic.Last week, CN’s Daryn Kagan exuded enough excitement for cynics and gamblers alike when she quickly interrupted live coverage of the Powerball winners to identify CNN at the top of the hour. Kagan, breathless: “These are the Powerball winners. Let’s listen!” She might as well have said “Lottery Fever. Catch it!” This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz1) Bush called last week’s Iraq strifea) “a moment of choosing” for Iraqi people.b) “a moment of moments” for all people.c) “a moment longer than a minute.”d) “a big moment with small moments inside.”2) Lawyers for “Scooter” Libby said Libby will a) use the “Twinkie” defense. b) subpoena reporters and news groups. c) change his nickname to “Flossie.”3) Newly found remains indicate that mammals a) played a greater role in Jurassic times. b) played banjo at prehistoric pizza huts. c) played “hosts” on “The 700 Club.”Answer Key1) (a) “If you call bombings “strife”…”2) (b) “Anything to make this longer.”3) (a) “It’s called a “Rabbitsauraus.”
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