SYNDICATED COLUMN: How I’d Spend My Powerball Winnings

Musings of a Wannabe Newspaper Warlord

Asked how they’d spend the $293.7 million they won in November’s record Powerball lottery, a Missouri couple told reporters they planned to buy a Camaro. They plan to travel to China. They might adopt a second daughter. They’ll up their grandkids’ college tuition. OK, so that leaves $293.6 million.

They obviously have absolutely no idea how much money $293.7 million is.

Mark and Cindy Hill seem like an average couple in their early 50s. Working class. Salt of the earth.

But man, what a waste of money to give all that loot to them! $200,000 would have been more than enough to change their lives. Not really knowing what to do with such a massive sum, the Hills will likely waste most of it on America’s self-perpetuating charity industry, which says that spending up to 35% of donor money on six-figure executive salaries and other luxuries is perfectly acceptable.

It is, of course, the Hills’ quarter-billion-plus to spend/squander. Not mine. I get it; I grew up under capitalism.

Let’s get something straight. I’m not jealous. I can’t envy the Hills because there is no way I could have won. This is because I don’t buy tickets. Whether I play or not, I figure the odds of winning are basically the same.

However, I do know how I’d spend their money.

Like the Hills, I’m a Midwest boy without fancy tastes. I’d pay off my mortgage and credit cards. My mom loves the beach; I’d buy her a house over the ocean. My car is eight years old; I’d buy one of those new Challengers.

Which would leave me $293.4 million.

Lottery winners always talk about helping their families. What about their friends? I have friends whose lives would be instantly transformed by $5 million checks. Brilliant cartoonists who could quit grueling day jobs and focus on developing their careers. Ailing writers who could finally get medical care for chronic conditions. Aspiring entrepreneurs who could capitalize their great ideas. People who are stressed out because work is scarce or nonexistent and are having trouble making ends meet. I have a couple dozen of friends like that. Helping them out would cost me about $100 million. Money well spent.

I want to help transform the media. That’s my big dream. Unfortunately, I will never realize it because I don’t have access to the kind of capital necessary.

The disintegration of print newspapers and the failure/refusal of digital media to deeply invest in serious journalism and smart commentary and satire is making Americans stupider, allowing evil corporations and corrupt, lazy politicians to thrive.

Warren Buffett is a smart man, picking up newspapers at rock-bottom prices. Personally, I’d buy The Los Angeles Times now that its parent, the Tribune Company, has emerged from bankruptcy. Experts guesstimate you could pick the Times for $185 million or less.

(Full disclosure: I draw cartoons for the Times.)

Aside from the fun of running a major metropolitan daily newspaper—12 pages of full-color comics!  Hire a kick-ass investigative reporter to infiltrate government for a year or two and then cough up all the dirty secrets! Create an editorial page that runs no one to the right of Mao Tse-Tung!—I think the Times would be a fab investment.

People say newspapers are dying. Specific companies are hurting, many are dying, but the dead tree form is here to stay. They said radio was dead after TV came along, but radio is bigger today than ever. TV killed old-timey radio—plays, variety shows. New formats—album-oriented rock, news talk—emerged. Old-fashioned fat lazy newspapers basically minting money from gigantic office towers in the centers of major cities are on the ropes, but as long as print can do something that digital can’t, it will survive and thrive. TV can’t replace radio because you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) watch TV while you drive. Similarly, an iPad or a Kindle can’t replace a print newspaper’s awesome disposability, portability and—an advantage that people are just starting to become aware of—memory retention.

Print magazines and newspapers will get their groove back when they understand what they are for. The Internet is for short updates. The Web and apps tell you what happened and who won the game. Print is for long-form analysis. Print tells you why you should care about what happened, walks you through how the game was won and how the season is shaping up.

We need serious analysis. But no one wants to read 15,000 words on a smartphone.

These days, the clueless barons of print are screwing up big time; Tina Brown just closed Newsweek after using the glossy to try to out-Internet the Internet with full-page photographs, vacuous “charticles,” and more lists than you can shake a Daily Beast at. The publications that are doing okay are those that are embracing in-depth feature stories, like the Economist and Vanity Fair. Publishers are going to figure out that that the destiny of print is more, longer, smarter, edgier content.

The future of newspapers in the United States will look a lot like Europe, where nations have a few big national newspapers, each of which serves a particular political orientation or interest, like sports or finance, and individual communities are served by hyperlocal outlets and, possibly, regional ones that would go to, for example, people in the Southwest.

We already have a few big national newspapers. USA Today was first, but it lost its way before it found one. The New York Times is our big national paper of news and high culture. The Wall Street Journal, of course, is the national paper of finance. (Under Rupert Murdoch, the Journal is muscling in on the Times’s territory.) The Washington Post should be the big national political paper, but its management doesn’t get it, so there’s an opening there. Anyway, there should be a big national newspaper focused on entertainment—video games, film, music, I’d also include books—and the logical candidate is the Los Angeles Times. They have the contacts, the location, and the brand recognition to pull it off. What they need is for someone to point them in the right direction.

Imagine if it worked! Not only would you make a killing, you’d establish a template to revive American journalism. Don’t forget, over 90% of all news stories originate in newspapers.

Which would leave me with about $8 million. Call me the man who would be king minus the panache of Sean Connery, but the salary of a soldier in the Afghan national army is about $2000 a year. The Taliban pay closer to $4000. So I could hire 2000 badass Afghan mercenaries for a year for my spare Powerball change and take over a province or two after the U.S. pullout and the civil war heats up. I’m not exactly sure whom we’d fight. Maybe Turkmenistan because, well, why not? Perhaps we’d just sit in the Hindu Kush and shoot at pictures of Arianna Huffington while reading back issues of the Los Angeles Times. I’ve always wanted to test-fire an RPG.

I may never win a Pulitzer, but no one can ever take having been a cartoonist-columnist-newspaper-baron-warlord away from you.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

10 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: How I’d Spend My Powerball Winnings

  1. Ted,

    Two thoughts.

    “USA Today was first, but it lost its way before it found one. The New York Times is our big national paper of news and high culture.”

    First, I think that USA Today “lost its way” because the path it was trying to find simply didn’t exist — and couldn’t exist. Like trying to find the way to Middle Earth from Boise, Idaho. USA Today is a newspaper put through the Reader’s Digest treatment. Reader’s Digest used to be a pretty interesting magazine. And they cost-cut the fuck out of the poor thing until now it’s just a sad little ghost of what it used to be. USA Today took all the artisanal qualities out of the newspapering by putting it through the RD filter. A McDonald’s burger tastes the same from Seattle to Savannah. A USA Today paper offers the same bland uniformity to every hotel room denizen. Talk to some old-timers, they all say the same thing: reading the newspaper used to be fun because each one had a character to it. All that’s gone now. Efficiencied away.

    Second, the Times is not the national paper of news and high culture. America has a sufficiently large enough population to support dedicated publications that focus on high culture. Most people who are opera aficionados or gourmands who eat one table over from Nero Wolfe at Rusterman’s do not require publications to tell them how to focus on their high culture leanings; they pick them up at the polo club and the boarding school, not hunched over a copy of the Times while they shovel a Subway sandwich into their faces on lunch break. They are the idle rich, and that’s what the idle rich do, go to operas, ride horses, eat tiny little meals that cost more than my rent.

  2. Yessir Alex, the paper newspapers are on their way out. The world and all the lame social networks are replacing them in short order – I haven’t bought a paper in years – I get most of my news off the old papers’ websites, and my homepage is Google News. And, you are right again about where one can find info about high culture, but, you are wrong about the idle rich – because they are anything but idle.
    Many of them are wildly active – as compared to the rest of the populace. They spend their time running marathons and getting out, keeping contacts, building their power because that’s how they got there – and while they do eat meals that cost more than your rent – it is because they can, and the meals are not always specks on a plate – they are very filling, awesome and tasty. So, you can continue with whining about “da rich”, or get off your butt and do something. My bet is that you can’t get off your butt and do anything except whine on blogs.

  3. rikster,

    Put down the Ayn Rand and step away!

    What options, exactly, do I have? I have no power, I have no influence, I have no money. I can save and scrimp for decades, and I will still be a handful of popcorn thrown against a tank wall. That isn’t whining, that’s stating facts. But the rich — and their eggsuck lickspittles — rebrand it as whining. Why? Because language is power. If you can make it so that people don’t complain about getting the short end of the stick over and over again, you can take even more of the stick away from them.

    Every rich person I’ve ever heard about did it through a combination of two things:

    1. They were born into wealth.
    2. They achieved wealth off the backs of thousands of other people.

    I’d love to play you in a game of Monopoly one day. I’ll get everything except Baltic Avenue and the Electric Company, and we’ll play a fair game. Oh, and please, no whining.

  4. Hi Alex, I have never read much by Ayn Rand, so that comment is kind of lost on me. I put her in the same class as a lot of crap i was supposed to dig into in college and university along with Dostoyevski and a bunch of other classics and contemporaries ( I loved Bulgakov) – but the crib notes and condensed versions served to let me know if it was overwritten crud or whether it could espouse a principle or concept in less than 100,000 words.
    I could, but don’t really want to spend any time commiserating with you about what you have “heard” about rich people – Some of what you have heard is true, but you tend to generalize. I know them. Yes – there are plenty who have simply inherited a bundle, and there are those who have ” earned it off the backs of thousands of people” – sometimes it has been earned “off the backs of millions of people”.
    You are missing a giant point here. Some of the richest people in the world came from poor beginnings, and hilariously, without Phd’s and massive educations, simply latched onto a good idea, worked hard, and made it. I know – that’s not you or me, but like yourself, I am not going to devow it. It’s true. In fact, it’s really true for a lot of the rich people around the world.
    You have to move past these negative ideas and fascination for what was wrong in the past.

  5. Hi Alex, I have never read much by Ayn Rand, so that comment is kind of lost on me. I put her in the same class as a lot of crap i was supposed to dig into in college and university along with Dostoyevski and a bunch of other classics and contemporaries ( I loved Bulgakov) – but the crib notes and condensed versions served to let me know if it was overwritten crud or whether it could espouse a principle or concept in less than 100,000 words.
    I could, but don’t really want to spend any time commiserating with you about what you have “heard” about rich people – Some of what you have heard is true, but you tend to generalize. I know them. Yes – there are plenty who have simply inherited a bundle, and there are those who have ” earned it off the backs of thousands of people” – sometimes it has been earned “off the backs of millions of people”.
    You are missing a giant point here. Some of the richest people in the world came from poor beginnings, and hilariously, without Phd’s and massive educations, simply latched onto a good idea, worked hard, and made it. I know – that’s not you or me, but like yourself, I am not going to devow it. It’s true. In fact, it’s really true for a lot of the rich people around the world.
    You have to move past these repetitive negative ideas. You can decise to steadily whine, or you can do as Ted and others have suggested: boycott products by Corps that are hurting the US – support and buy US products when possible – and if you can spend this much time typing at me, then send a few letters to your State legislators and tell them what you are telling me. It doesn’t cost anything, and believe me, you will feel better after having done it.

  6. You are missing a giant point here.

    Pot, kettle.

    Some of the richest people in the world came from poor beginnings, and hilariously, without Phd’s and massive educations, simply latched onto a good idea, worked hard, and made it.

    This is a meaningless statement.

    Some of the richest people in the world, through no immediate fault of their own, worked hard and lost their fortunes, becoming poor. What does this prove? Nothing. These are nonsense statements. Worse, they’re wholly negative and destructive ideas, which makes the comment —

    You have to move past these repetitive negative ideas.

    — decidedly ironic.

    Now, that said, I think Alex is wrong to to imply that there’s little that can be done in general. (If he’s implying that; if he’s not, I apologize. If he’s saying there’s little to be done by way of consistently becoming rich, not only is he right, but that point is backed by any legitimate economic data you care to review and saying otherwise is drinking-draino-level-stupid.) The problem is that altering a corrupt political establishment is one of the most monumentally expensive and taxing things you can do, and the (financially) poorer you are, the longer it takes for your efforts to show fruit. But difficult and expensive != impossible.

    Becoming rich shouldn’t need to be the goal of any decent human being. We seek to become rich because we want the legitimate benefits of being rich — health care, freedom to do a job you love, physical and social mobility, minimized logistical concerns, no petty financial concerns, just governmental influence — or, because we’re an asshole and want the illegitimate benefits — being above the law for most petty infractions, social privilege, unjust control of the government. Here’s the wacky part: nothing in the first category should even require being rich. And saying citizens can become rich when they generally can’t is a vile obfuscation. So this Horatio Alger bullshit is not only a lie, as proven by economic data since the U.S. began, it’s also a distraction — hence my comment about negativity, above. The goal isn’t to enable citizens to become rich, the goal should be to make citizens competent and powerful.

    And to do that, one needs, among other things, a unifying sense of tribe that crosses geographical and petty social barriers. People in the same demographic (a.k.a., “not rich”) need to see themselves as being part of the same tribe, and selfish or quisling members of that demographic have to be explicitly rejected by its other members. In order to have a revolution, you have to have clear sides. If you have a worldview that you hope to spread to others to create such a tribe, honing it on the internet isn’t the worst way to go about it. It may not be the most immediately effective, either, but it’s definitely under budget for many.

    O’course, buying a newspaper would be better.

    (Personally, I’d spend a good chunk of the main post-mentioned’s powerball winnings on the following, iterated process: buy a small house, give it to a willing homeless person, and provide him/her with enough health (physical and mental) care and employment to integrate them back into the middle class. If the subject swings over to my political persuasion: bonus. Rinse, repeat. Encourage small business in a small neighborhood and use this method and you could probably revitalize a community — an excellent start towards creating a new, needed political tribe, while being obviously ethical.)

  7. I think buying a newspaper would be a great use of powerball winnings. I think it’s sad that the big lotto winners often don’t have the creativity or drive to turn their winnings into productive businesses we can all benefit of all of us.

    As for the argument here: So what if some rich guys made their money without following the rules (getting a PhD, etc). Doesn’t change the fact that they probably could have stood to pay their employees a bit more. It also doesn’t change the fact that there is absolutely zero reason for our country to allow anyone to inherit enough money to live as a member of the “idle rich”. Zero reason.

    As for the idea of buying houses and giving them to houseless people. THat sounds like a terrible idea to me. If you are going to give houses to people for charity give them to the poor SOBs that are working two jobs and are propetually three months behind on rent. No way will you revitalize a community though. Not a few NBA players have tried that move in rustbelt cities and all any of them got to show for it were nasty articles making fun of them for blowing all their money.

  8. @rikster

    Ah, yes. The argument that the poor would not be poor if they just worked hard enough.

    For every Michael Moore or Roseanne Barr who earned their wealth from nothing, there are at least a thousand or more who inherited their wealth from their parents. Please do not taunt Alex with imaginary wealth that he hasn’t a chance of acquiring.

    And I will echo Alex in saying that you need to put down the Ayn Rand, even if you’ve never read her as you claimed. You’re clearly peddling her ideas, whether you are aware of it or not.

  9. Are those hypothetical NBA players were backing business ventures. WTF else besides creating jobs will fix an unemployment problem? Andy, I have no idea what you’re on about.

    And favoring working families over the homeless just sounds like being an asshole. You have no economic or social reason for your distinction, so it just sounds nasty from this side of the screen. Are you going to make it a trifecta and favor only non-immigrant whites?

    Finally, I didn’t suggest charity. Fuck charity. What I suggested was a combination policy model and the building of political infrastructure. The people you’ll have to employ to improve the lot of just one homeless family are core constituents in a cross-tribe political movement.

  10. @Susan – I did not suggest that people would not be poor if they just worked harder, and I think most of the people here can understand it – but being a troll, you just have to twist other’s words so you can lambaste them. My point was that a lot of rich people have come from poor beginnings by working hard at opportunities – opportunities that may have never presented themselves or been recognized by Alex or myself. In fact, some people have become wealthy by sheer luck or by doing something at just the “right time”. Now please pop open anothe diet soda and go back to playing with your pet rock or combing the hair on your troll dolls.