Monday, November 23, 2015

Week of 11/23/2015

Real Greatness
There’s a scene in the HBO series “Newsroom” in which a news anchor played by Jeff Daniels was asked to sit in on a college panel talking about politics.  One of the students asked a rather softball question about what makes America so great, and while the other two guests gave staged answers, it was Jeff’s character that blurted out “America’s not great!”
Now in the real world, that would be enough to start a mass walk-out, not to mention a thorough social media lynching that would result in the character’s immediate suspension and/or termination.  But, because this is TV-land, we get to see his character explain in rousing and frank detail why America isn’t great.  It used to be, but it isn’t today.
And the thing is... he’s right.  But we don’t want to come out and say it.  We’ve been brainwashed on an Orwellian level into thinking that somehow if we’re not praising America with every syllable that we’re somehow not Americans.  They get upset when someone doesn’t proclaim they support some bogus claim of “exceptionalism”, as if mindless cultish adherence to circle logic was a requirement for existing in the United States.
Yet our political hacks and grifters and shysters, our newspaper editorials, our talk radio personalities, and especially our White House wannabes all make it clear – without outright stating it – that “somehow” America is no longer great.  They don’t say how it happened, and their egos bar them from actually admitting that we’re not, but they imply that somehow this period of “greatness” ended the moment a certain dark-skinned Hawaiian-born Senator from Illinois was elected President in 2008.  And then before that when a certain governor from Arkansas was elected President in 1992 and then re-elected in 1996.  And before that it was when a certain governor from Georgia was elected in 1976.  And before that, when a certain Vice-President was sworn in as President in 1963.
And their solution is always clear, isn’t it?  All that needs to be done is to elect the “right” people.  And, of course, by “right” they mean by party affiliation and political leaning.  It’s all over their political signs and slogans.  They claim to want a “revival”, a “rebirth”, a “renewal”, and they promise to “make America great again!”
What a load of bull they shove down our throats!
First of all, let me reiterate the obvious.  No, America is not “great”.  The only things we are “great” in is how many people we throw in prison, how many different wars we fight, and how much of a pompous ass we can collectively be.
Yes, we were great once upon a time.  We did great things.  We went to great heights.  We put a man on the moon!  We harnessed the power of the atom.  We cured diseases.  We invented things... and I don’t just mean mindless apps on your cellphone.
And let’s get brutally honest here... really, really brutally honest... anyone who tries to convince you that all we need to do to collectively be “great” again is simply to elect a certain person or elect a certain party or elect a certain political leaning is not only lying, but they’re con artists, and they damn well know it too.  I don’t care if you’re a billionaire egomaniac in New York who thinks they can bully their way into the White House, or some pickup-driving goober from Villa Rica listening to nothing but talk radio.  Greatness is not about who you elect or which party they align with, and no one single person or party or political leaning will bring greatness in and of themselves.  That’s just ego-maniacal delusion.
Greatness is a matter of being.  It’s about what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.
The doctor that created a polio vaccine, Dr. Jonas Salk, who then made it available for everyone, was great.
The so-called hedge fund manager that bought the sole producer of a life-saving drug and then jacked up the price five thousand percent because he can, is far from great.  He’s simply an unrepentant money-grubbing douchebag.  And the same goes for all of the other corporate douchebags that are the sole producers of life-saving medications who also jacked up their prices to astronomical levels simply for the money.
The guy that builds homes for the homeless is great.  The corporation that finagles local governments to give them land that would otherwise be used for low-income houses so they can turn around and make high-priced condos for the elite few... far from great.
The corporate leader that freely decided that everyone in the company should be paid the same high-five-figure wage, no matter the position, that’s great.  The corporate executives that threw temper tantrums over that same corporate leader’s decision... not to mention the talk radio hacks that later screamed “socialism” over this decision... are about as far from great as you can get.  Again, they’re unrepentant douchebags.
The New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl in 2002 was great.  Winning the Super Bowl in 2015... not so much.
The young woman that stood up to religious extremists even after they tried to kill her so she can help other young women learn was great.  The young woman who gets all of the media attention simply because she’s related to Kim Kardashian, who’s famous for reasons we have yet to really understand, is far from great.
A group of young people standing up in protest against what they see is a pervasive problem is great.  A group of people waiting in lines for hours just so they can buy the latest cellphone just because it is the latest cellphone even though they already had the most recent version, that’s not even close to being great.  That’s just being stupid.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Real greatness is not a brand.  It’s not a catchphrase.  It’s not a buzzword.  It is a matter of being and doing.  It’s what you do, how you do it, and why you do it.
And for a whole nation to be recognized for being “great”, we need to be encouraged to do great things.  You’re not going to get that by electing one candidate, or one party, or one political faction, especially when that faction is better known for fear and intimidation.
Real greatness comes from us.  It doesn’t come from fear-mongers and thugs seeking public office.  We have to be great and do great things for us to once again say that the United States is the greatest in anything other than delusions and prison.  And then maybe we can look back at that HBO series and ask what the hell that fictional anchor was talking about.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Week of 11/15/2015

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
So it’s happened again.
Here I was early on Friday evening getting my thoughts together for this week’s column, getting ready to rip the bible-thumping freedom-haters over their annual seasonal temper tantrums and their token targets of opportunity, when it happened.
The ultimate in freedom-hating religious extremism has struck again, this time in Paris.  Six violent incidents at the same time, over 160 people dead, over 300 injured, and all attributed to the so-called Islamic State group.  Paris is under siege, again.  The world is in shock and in mourning, again.
And my first thought was “Well there goes my ripping the bible-thumpers over Starbucks!  I can’t rag on bible-thumpers and Fox News and Talk Radio over their artificial orchestrated temper tantrums about Starbucks and their plain red holiday cups with what’s happened over in Paris!  That just isn’t right.”
And, on the onset, it does seem petty to rip the bible-thumpers over their protests about plain red Starbucks cups when you compare it to Koran-slamming extremists with their bombs and guns.  Orchestrated pompous self-serving outrage versus orchestrated self-righteous self-serving death and destruction... yeah, the two things are far from interchangeable.  The former seems downright petty when compared to the latter.
But then I had a revelation of sorts.
No, these two things are not comparable in and of themselves.
But they are cut from the same cloth of extremism.
Let’s get brutally honest here... while the methods of self-important fury are different, the Christians and their Starbucks-hate have some things in common with the so-called “Islamic State” extremists.
Both groups strongly believe that they are entitled to create a religious state.  The only difference here is technical: Christian vs Islam.  They both strongly believe that they are entitled to force others to live under their particular interpretations of religion.  The only difference here is the method: Christians prefer to have the government they control to force it, while Muslims bypass the middlemen and do it themselves.  They both falsely believe that they are being continually “persecuted” simply because their views and interpretations are not universally accepted.  In fact, they continually feed off that phony feeling of “persecution” as a way to keep their myrmidons in a siege mentality so they will accept anything they’re told needs to be done without question.
And, yes, I have seen Christian extremists go the way of the Muslim extremist.  We all have seen it.  Eric Robert Rudolph bombed the 1996 Olympics because of it.  Clayton Lee Waagoner sent fake Anthrax threats to women’s clinics because of it.  Doctors and clinic workers have murdered in cold blood for decades by Christian extremists who claim they are entitled to dish out death and destruction because of their beliefs.
And before some Christians chime in with “well, those people aren’t really Christians because Christianity is about love and forgiveness”, I challenge you to read that Bible you clench so tightly like it was a life preserver.  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” said the carpenter’s son in the Book of Matthew (10:34).  “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”   Does that sound like love and forgiveness to you?  And that’s just one passage of many in that book that are used to justify violence.  And the fact that you decide to cherry-pick which parts to ignore and which ones to latch on to makes you “not really Christian” as well, not to mention it makes you a hypocrite.  You don’t allow the Muslims to use your excuse when it comes to their extremists, so why should anyone in this world afford you that luxury?  I seem to recall a certain carpenter’s son had a parable about splinters and planks for just such an occasion.
Now consider this: ten years ago, we found out that not everyone in “Gay Paris” were all about “liberty, equality, and fraternity”.  There were enclaves of Muslims, mostly from other countries, that refused to mix in with the general populace.  They kept to themselves and fed off their resentment and feelings of persecution, and they found themselves getting angrier and angrier.  That anger finally erupted in violence and rioting that lasted for weeks.
Does anyone really think that this kind of malignant anger and frustration would just be turned off like a light switch?  It didn’t boil overnight, and it certainly can’t be turned off as quickly.  And then you add to it a whole batch of new refugees from the Middle East coming in by the tens of thousands, chased away by extremists like the Islamic State group.  It was only a matter of time before that pot started to boil again.
Now we may think that phony outrage over a cup here in America is nothing, but in truth, it’s all part of the same game that has been going on for years.  Fox News has been generating this phony “War on Christmas” every year almost since they first started broadcasting.  Every year they target companies that say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.  They go after schools that cancel Christmas plays and ban references to the Christian elements of the season.  And lately they’ve morphed it into a general phony “War on Christians”, so they can play the phony persecution game year-round.  Just like the Muslim extremists do.  All the while, stirring the pot, building the anger and the resentment, and hoping that it just won’t boil over like it did in Paris in 2005. 
It’s a dangerous game they play, knowing that if it backfires, all they have to do is say “it was just a bunch of isolated nutcases that have no connection whatsoever to the message of peace and love that we provide.”
And you know what?  We’ll let them get away with it too.  Lest we be accused of “stifling their freedom of religion”, even if their religion is stifling all of our freedoms in the process.
We say “it’s just a cup”, but the religious extremists here in America say “Today, it’s a cup.”  And tomorrow, they’ll find something else to target to keep their followers pissed off.  It could be a newspaper cartoon or a rock concert or a book.  Because that’s what they do, and they’ll be the first to tell you that at least they’re not acting like the Muslims extremists in Paris.  At least... not today.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Week of 11/09/2015

Why Liberals Continue To Lose
So (as of this column) we just had another election.  And I’m sure the vast majority of Americans didn’t know and/or didn’t really care about it because it was an “off-off” election, which meant that pretty much most of the “big” offices like President or Senate or Congress were not up for grabs.  There were a handful of states that had something big like a governor’s job on the line, but for the most part this was about local issues.  Stuff going on in your neighborhood.
Think about it... if you didn’t give a care enough to vote, then you apparently don’t give a care about what’s going on in your own community.  These are the things that affect you directly more so than anything that President Obama or the GOP-controlled Congress could ever do on a national level.
And there were some measures in this “off-off” election that would affect people.  Ohio voters, for instance, had the opportunity to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use, like the folks in Colorado did.  Citizens in Houston, Texas, had the opportunity to support or repeal a city ordinance outlawing LGBT discrimination.
Both these measures failed by the few people who bothered to vote.  Pot is still illegal in Ohio and rednecks can once again discriminate against LGBT people with impunity.  Worse yet, Kentucky’s version of Donald Trump, Matt Bevin, won that state’s governor’s race as a GOPer in a state that normally votes for Democrats.
And that has some people in the media scratching their heads.  How could this happen?  How is it that liberals continue to lose to the GOP?
Well, I could give you the Donald Trump reason: “Because they’re losers!  That’s why!”  Then again, he calls everything he hates “losers”.  It’s his thing.
But in truth, there are some simple reasons why liberals and the progressive ideas they champion lose out to conservative and neo-conservatives and their borderline-fascistic concepts.  And while I spend a lot of time going after cons and neo-cons for their crap, I’m far from a fan of liberalism.  While cons and neo-cons will goose-step towards fascism, liberals fumble and bumble about with ideas that sound good, but ultimately fail in execution.  But that doesn’t matter to liberals at that point, because then it just becomes a matter of keeping power at all costs.
So why is it that liberals have a hard time getting people to support their ideas?  After all, they supposedly have the “liberal media” and Hollywood and academia on their side, right?  It should be a cakewalk for them.  So why isn’t it?
Well here’s the problem in one word: salesmanship.
Let’s get brutally honest here... liberals don’t sell their messages.  They expect the rest of the world to simply accept their ideas as truths.  Legalize pot?  Of course!  Accept same-sex marriages?  Why isn’t it done already?  Healthcare-for-everyone?  Shouldn’t even be a question!  Clean air and water?  Naturally!  Better living conditions?  Absolutely!  End bullying and discrimination?  Should’ve been done a long time ago!  Discuss it?  Why should we discuss it?  Everyone knows these things to be true and good already!  So just put our people in and it’ll all be done!
Except it’s not that simple.  First of all, a lot of what liberals propose goes against decades, even centuries, of fixed mindsets and dogma, not to mention generations of conditioned human nature.  You’re fighting whole institutions that have gotten fat and wealthy and powerful keeping what they have going at all costs.  Even if it means the actual destruction of the planet and the complete extinction of the human race.  That is how entrenched their egos and their power-base are.
And the cons and neo-cons have spent a long time selling their messages to the masses.  They have Fox News and talk radio and newspaper editorials and the business sections and a whole bunch of lobbying groups and think-tanks that have also gotten fat and wealthy and powerful keeping everything where it is.  They have spent decades infiltrating the halls of academia to counteract the so-called “liberal scourge”.
And the cons and neo-cons have the laziest and most powerful argument in the world on their side.  Like Bruce Hornsby sung it: “That’s just the way it is; some things will never change.” 
As long as the cons and neo-cons have that as the high-ground, you can’t expect the rest of the world to simply accept anything else on face-value.
So liberals have to fight, and fight hard to get their message across.  They have to sell it to the American people for them to support it.  They cannot assume, even for a moment, that the great unwashed simply “get it”.  I’ve got news for you liberals: they don’t “get it”.  You have to sell it.  You have to actually convince them to accept it.
But it’s more than just selling the message.  You have to have a message to sell.  A lot of the Democrats have been running for office – and a few have won – simply because they’re seen as the “safer” of the two dominant and domineering parties.  Not because they have anything to offer but because the other side has been shooting themselves in the foot.  (And that’s not hard to do when you’re the party with support from the gun lobbying group.)  Now if you have the masses that firmly believe that the status quo is messed up and needs to be changed, you can’t expect them to buy the idea that you’d be their candidate if your strongest argument is that you’re more in-tune with the status quo.  People will buy into the lunatic if that lunatic promises to rock the power-base to the ground and looks crazy enough to pull it off.
Look at the wannabes running for President in 2016.  Look at the GOP clown car and what they represent, and then look at what the Democrats are offering in rebuttal.  Now ask yourself which clown car would you want to see drive into the Washington Circus Tent, center-ring?
And, by the way, it doesn’t help your cause when what you propose sabotages the very idea you’re trying to sell.  Remember that marijuana legalization referendum in Ohio?  That measure had a few conditions to it, like giving a small group of businesses monopolist control over whole process.  That’s why it failed.  Not because of the idea, but because of the fine print. 
If you look at Obama’s prized Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”, there’s nothing in it that provides healthcare-for-all.  It’s the forced purchase of a corporate product under the legal “pretense” of it being a tax.  It’s corporatism, plain-and-simple.  But the liberals allowed the cons and neo-cons to brand this as “socialism” because they weren’t paying attention to the fine print and instead were chanting the idea as a mantra.
There’s one more thing that liberals need to do when selling their message.  It has to appeal to the masses on a personal level.
Remember the whole scare about AIDS in the early 1980’s?  People were scared about AIDS and HIV back then.  They treated it as the Black Plague of the 20th Century.  I’m not kidding, folks, I was there.  I saw the hysteria over it.  I remember when people were panicking over drinking fountains and toilet seats and whether someone with AIDS and HIV was breathing the same air as everyone else.  But within a decade, the hysteria died down.  Part of that was because of advances in treatment, but also because more people came out, and there were people that we could identify with.  And, no, the world didn’t come to an end because of this.
Same-sex relationships were unheard of twenty years ago.  So much so in fact that we bought into the fear and hysteria of the bible-thumpers and had laws passed to outlaw even the suggestion that same-sex relationships could get government recognition.  What changed?  More people came out.  Celebrities and sports figures.  People that we could identify.  People at work or in your community.  The idea of same-sex relationships slowly worked their way into our media.  It wasn’t in-your-face, but it also wasn’t a taboo topic.  But the idea was sold to us gradually on a personal level as something that was not to be feared.
Look at the recent focus on police abuses.  When it was simply about police abuses, there was tremendous support for the victims.  But as soon as it became “Black Lives Matter”, the support started to evaporate.  When it was just about police abuses, that was something that affected people on a personal level.  The idea was that this could be any of us.  Any one of us could have a bad encounter with a police officer.  But as soon as the talk went to “Black Lives Matter”, that turned off everyone who wasn’t African-American.  It wasn’t about “us” anymore, but about a specific group.
Oh, one more thing... stop boasting about how many people you’ve “registered to vote”!  Registration is nothing!  Liberals here in Georgia were crowing about how many people they “registered” in 2014.  The problem was that none of them bothered to show up to the polling places come November.  You want to impress me?  Get all those people you registered to actually vote on Election Day.  Otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
The truth of the matter is that liberals and conservatives have pretty much ruined America with their petty games, and either one or the other side needs to go away.  The cons and neo-cons are playing for keeps, so unless liberals are ready to cede the game and turn what they have over to my libertarian friends - who will eagerly accept that challenge – then the liberals need to stop assuming that we automatically agree with them and to start selling the masses on why we should listen to them again instead of the cons and neo-cons.