An Open Letter to Rep. Shelley Berkley

Dear Representative Berkley,

My name is Joshua Ellis. I’m a writer and web developer from Las Vegas. You may or may not know who I am — I was a opinion columnist for many years for the Las Vegas CityLife and I’m also somewhat well-known for co-authoring a series of articles about the homeless people living in the storm drains under Las Vegas.

I’m writing you because I understand that the current budget proposal submitted by the Republican factions in Congress which completely removes the $430 million budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) network of television channels.

Representative Berkley, I sincerely hope you agree with me that this is a deeply disturbing and ludicrous proposal. The value of NPR and PBS in both childhood and adult education is immeasurable; I imagine that like me and my wife and my five-year-old sister, your children grew up learning about the world via the irreplaceable magic of TV series like Sesame Street and The Electric Company; and perhaps your family, like mine, enjoy and benefit from programs like Nova and the late Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, as well as radio programs like This American Life and All Things Considered.

NPR and PBS serve an important role in American media: by being funded by the people — unlike commercial media outlets — they are not subject to the whims of advertisers or subscribers. (While it is true that corporations and other commercial outlets often sponsor NPR and PBS programming, it is my understanding that they have no editorial say over that programming.) By removing public funding, CPB will become simply another television network like ABC or CBS, controlled by the people who hold the purse strings…or, even worse, it will simply be commercially unviable and cease programming altogether. That, I believe, would be a terribly tragedy for the American people.

Fiscal conservatives often quote President Coolidge’s statement that the business of government is business. I disagree. The government of the United States is not a widget factory or a retail outlet, despite every attempt by PACs and SIGs to the contrary. The business of the government is to serve the needs of the citizens — all of the citizens, not merely the ones who write the biggest checks.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me, Representative Berkley, that it is not your job to turn a profit. You are not some shabby little accountant. Your job is to do what’s best for the people of your district and, in a broader sense, the American people in general. Part of that, I believe, is recognizing that there are certain things that the federal government puts money into with no expectation of a monetary return on investment. When it comes to public media, the return on investment can be measured by looking at the face of every man, woman and child whose world is expanded by the programming therein.

When children watch commercial programming, they learn that the most important thing in the world is to buy whatever toy the network is hawking during this particular half-hour, that it’s important to pay lip-service to individuality, but that it’s more important to conform. They are taught to be nothing more than good consumers.

When children watch Sesame Street and other public media programming, they learn to count, to use their language, to think critically, to share with others, to value peace and comfort, that people who look and speak differently than they do are friends, not enemies. They learn that the world is a huge and amazing place, and they learn that they are capable of doing whatever they dream of in that world.

In that sense, our investment in public media is really an investment in our future; in building a future America that is not full of bright, capable, curious, pro-active citizens.

It is, in other words, priceless.

And so I hope, Representative Berkeley that you will vote against the cutting of public media funding from this new budget. (Not to mention the cutting of library and educational funding, of course, but I don’t feel that’s even worth discussing; any representative of the people who believes in reducing library funding is a dangerous scoundrel.)

By doing so, you will display that you possess much farther vision than many of your peers; you will be making an investment that will pay off millions of times over in the long term of America’s future. And you will be, as the theme to The Electric Company used to say when I was a kid, helping to bring the power to the people who desperately need it.

Thank you for your time.

All my best,Joshua Ellis

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