Monday, December 15, 2008

Week of 12/15/2008

The 2008 Brutally Honest Awards
– by David Matthews 2

Yes it’s time. It’s been a long year but it’s finally here.

It’s time to reward the good and embarrass the bad with the big end-of-year wrap-up!

And what a year it has been, huh? A whole year full of politics and presidential wannabes and people who thought that they were instrument of destiny only to find out that they were just being delusional. A year of slime and crime and corruption.

And now we’re at the end of it! All we have to do is survive the next few weeks of self-important holiday headaches and it’ll be 2009! A new year, a new president, and a whole new set of problems for us to be concerned about.

So here we go…

The 2008 Brutally Honest Award For The Most Dysfunctional Presidential Campaign: Senator John McCain – Here’s the basic gist of it… here’s a guy who campaigned on a platform of “change” and “honor” and “ethics”, being supported by a conservative base that originally said they would rather vote for Hillary Clinton before voting for him but changed their minds after he named Bizarro-Hillary as his running mate. A party that mismanaged the Iraq War, mismanaged disaster relief after Katrina, and outright dismissed the warnings of economic troubles until they were firmly on our heads, but still said that they needed to stay in office and stay in power “at all costs”. A party that saw nothing wrong with the Bush Imperium but still distanced themselves from it while at the same time campaigning as the continuation of the Imperium.

And then the Republicans were absolutely flabbergasted that they lost!

The Most Foolish Quest for the 2008 Election: “The Quest for 60” – The Democrats weren’t just hoping to win the White House. They also wanted a filibuster-proof Congress to boot. To that end they were obsessed with getting SIXTY Democrats in the Senate.

There’s just one problem with that: the most they could get would be 58, because there are two independent Senators. And only ONE of those two could be trusted! The other one showed up at the GOP convention and accused the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate of being incompetent and was busy campaigning for the GOP candidate!

Didn’t matter, though. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he wanted 60 at all costs. So he caved and let Joe Lieberman keep his cushy chairman seat in exchange for Lieberman’s “support”, even though he cannot be trusted at all!

STILL didn’t matter, though, because getting 60 Senators, even WITH Lieberman’s dishonest support, also meant winning the Senate races in Alaska, Minnesota, and Georgia. They won in Alaska, Minnesota (as of this column’s printing) is still up in the air, but they had no chance in Georgia during a run-off in a solidly conservative state.

In other words, the best they can get is 59, including the support that cannot be trusted.

But even then, it STILL WOULD NOT MATTER, because they CANNOT TRUST LIEBERMAN! What part about that message does Harry Reid NOT understand?

The Most Dangerous Member of the US Senate Award for 2008: Senator Joe Lieberman – Let me come right out and say it… Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is a weasel. He looks like a weasel, he sounds like a weasel, and he acts like a weasel. That putz had the absolute audacity to campaign against the Democrats, and then turn to those same Democrats that he spent six months bad-mouthing and say “no harm no foul”.

Worse yet, because of the sheer incompetence of Harry Reid, Lieberman was given political POWER that goes beyond his seniority and his overinflated committee chairman seat. Lieberman is now treated as the lynchpin for Democratic support in the Senate when, by all rights, Reid and the rest of the Democrats should have cut him loose just like his state’s party cut him loose a few years ago! But because Reid is inept and incompetent, Lieberman now has power over the course of the party’s actions.

The Most Incompetent and Useless Members of Congress in 2008 (tie): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – They could not pass a federal budget by the October 1st deadline, but they found the time to declare a special day for “watermelon lovers”. Not one single appropriations bill could be passed! NOT ONE! But they could declare “dirt” to be a natural resource. They agreed to have ONE hearing on ONE article of impeachment against the Bush Imperium, but only as long as there would be NO VOTE on that article of impeachment.

Is there any bigger reason why Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are, without a doubt, THE MOST INEPT PEOPLE in this whole world?

Worse yet, Pelosi was actually RE-ELECTED! The voters in her district were given a choice; they could have gone with a nationally recognized liberal icon running as an independent, but they said no. They stayed with Pelosi, even after she betrayed everything they were pushing for. Her constituents are just as INEPT and INCOMPETENT as her!

It’s hard to imagine that Barack Obama is even in the same political party as these two idiots, never mind that he now has to work with them to get his programs put in place.

The Most Deserving Victory of 2008: The Presidential Election of Barack Obama – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again… I did not support Obama, and I did not vote for Obama. But even I have to admit that he EARNED his victories.

At the start of 2008, every political consultant and every member of the air-fluffed ego-driven media kept on saying that this would be a New York “subway election” between Republican wannabe Rudy “The Thug” Giuliani and Democratic wannabe Hillary Rodham-Clinton. That was it! Those were the “chosen” candidates! They deemed John McCain’s campaign to be too liberal and weak, and they deemed Obama to be a flash in the pan.

And these so-called “experts” were proven to be WRONG on both counts!

McCain ended up being seen as the more credible of candidates to the primary and caucus voters, even though he almost ran out of money in March and April. And Obama’s pop support, along with some usual campaigns from Oprah Winfrey, Will.I.Am, and “Obama Girl”, managed to beat out Hillary’s political favors and dirty tricks. They each had to overcome their party’s “destiny picks”, but it is Obama that really deserves credit for coming off as the more credible of the two. He EARNED his victory, and that’s a rare thing to say in this day and age of politics.

The Tricky Dick Nixon Award for Dirty Tricks in 2008: Hillary Rodham-Clinton – This award originally was supposed to be shared with the McCain campaign, but the truth of the matter is that pretty much every dirty trick that McCain’s people employed got their start with Camp Hillary!

Hillary was the WORST kind of presidential candidate from day one. She campaigned under the assumption that the party nomination AND the White House were both HERS for the taking. She carried herself and she ran her campaign under the assumption that this was all HERS. It was “HER turn”. She did her time in the Senate, she paid her dues, she waited until the Bush Imperium was on the out, and now it would be HER TURN in the Oval Office. And no matter the gender, any candidate that claims that being in the highest office in the land is simply a matter of paying your “dues” and waiting your “turn” is THE WORST kind of candidate to have.

And when the primary and caucus support started going to Barack Obama, Camp Hillary pulled out the dirty tricks. THEY were the ones that spread the story that Obama wasn’t a native-born American. THEY were the ones that spread the story that he was either a Muslim or a “closet Muslim”. THEY were the ones that linked him to Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers and Tony Rezco. They did everything possible to discredit and dismiss Obama and Obamamania. They wanted to throw out caucus results, because caucuses mostly went to Obama. They wanted to throw out young voters, because they supported Obama. They painted Obama as being an “elitist” because of how he spoke. They claimed that Obama wouldn’t have the experience to handle “the 3am call” even though Hillary’s own experience consisted of picking up the phone and saying “Bill, where are you and who are you doing?” They used convoluted and tortured logic to justify how she “should win” the nomination when the numbers weren’t there, and when worst came to worse, she dropped enough references in the media to suggest that Obama shouldn’t get the nomination because he could end up being another Bobby Kennedy and get himself assassinated!

For all that can be said about John McCain’s campaign, about the dirty tricks that he and his soothsayers and spin-masters employed, I don’t think that ANY of them would even entertain the idea that they would ever link the words “popular support” and “assassination” in their campaign. Their myrmidons, maybe, but not the campaign people. But Hillary did! She did that herself! Not her campaign people, not her surrogates, SHE DID! She opened the door to suggest that people should not support Obamamania because Obama could be ASSASSINATED!

Worst kind of candidate indeed!

The Fake Idol Award for 2008: Governor Sarah Palin – I know the conservatives and neo-conservatives are saying “That should be Obama’s award” but the truth of the matter is that Sarah Palin did very little of what the cons and neocons claimed she did for the campaign. She did not “energize the base”. They did that all on their own. She was not a leader or an innovator of the party. She was a VESSEL of the party and of the neo-conservative campaign. She was their product, their end result of years of propaganda and politicking.

And that was the really scary part about her. This wasn’t an act. Her Jiffy-Pop “Redneck Woman” demeanor and her small-town “Good-ol-boy” approach were genuine. Sarah Palin is EVERYTHING that the conservatives and neo-conservatives could every look for all wrapped up in the body of a former beauty queen. She wasn’t intelligent, but she didn’t have to be. She was just politically savvy to say all the right buzzwords to keep the myrmidons eating out of her hand.

She wasn’t their spokeswoman. She was their spokesMODEL. She was the very definition of a false idol.

So much for that whole “glass ceiling” thing.

The Most Pathetic Presidential Campaign for 2008: Former Senator Fred Thompson – It’s sad, because people were really begging this guy to come in and be the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, and goes ahead and goes in, he has to give up his TV role to do it, and then suddenly he freezes and he just doesn’t recover.

The Biggest Screw-job for 2008: Congressman Ron Paul – Ron Paul was the only libertarian Republican candidate in a batch of con and neocons wannabes. He also stirred up the libertarians in the party and got them to generate a record number of donations in one single day.

It was clear that Ron Paul was a threat to the status quo. And the GOP hierarchy knew it.

So they conspired to shut him out.

The primary debates were quick to silence Paul, focusing on the other candidates. Then the debate organizers shut out Paul along with the others. Even when the number of candidates were narrowed down to three or four candidates, party leaders REFUSED to include Paul in the debates. Paul did not give up, even when he suspended his campaign. He still had plenty of support.

Then, to add injury on top of insult, the Republican hierarchy actively SHUT PAUL OUT OF THE CONVENTION!

He was the ONLY candidate that was NOT allowed to speak. Not only did they NOT invite him to speak, but they actively barred him from even showing up there.

Not only did they shut him out, but they also shut out all of his supporters! Ron Paul actually had convention delegates, but they were prohibited from even getting near the convention center! Paul and his supporters ended up having their own counter-convention just down the street.

That was not only dishonorable and disrespectful, but it was uncalled for! This is the party that CLAIMED to be a “big tent” party, and at a time when they were looking for unity and bringing people together, and at the same time the GOP hierarchy turned to the libertarians and said that THEY were not welcomed.

That is what your pompous partisan attitude got you Republicans.

Speaking of which…

The Spoiled Baby Award for 2008: Conservative Talk Radio and the GOP Myrmidons – This was by far the most antagonistic campaigns in recent history. It’s one thing to disagree with your opponents, but to exhibit out-and-out HATRED was uncalled for.

This commentator firmly believes that John McCain really had no idea just how antagonistic things were until about two weeks before the election, and by then it was really too late to do anything about it.

Now think about this: once the antagonism came out and the media was talking about it, don’t you think that it would have a negative effect on the voters? I mean, on one side you had an eloquent speaker like Obama, and followers that were passionate but also optimistic. Then you have the addled McCain and a bunch of rabid, snarling, angry, myrmidons acting like it was the 1950’s and they were waiting to start lynching someone for drinking from the “wrong fountain”. Don’t you think that may have had an impact on the other voters?

Worse yet, these guys are still claiming that McCain was supposedly “robbed” of his election by liberal groups like ACORN. They also still continue to claim that Obama is not really a native-born citizen, even going so far as to ask the Supreme Court to step in before the Constitutional Convention meets. (Thankfully the justices said no to that request.)

Remember when the Democrats complained about the 2000 Fiasco? What did you call them when they started talking about having a “Shadow Cabinet” and a “Shadow Administration”?

Yeah, you know what you called them. You called them “left-wing nutcases” and “moonbats”. You called them spoilsports and sore losers.

Well now you guys are exhibiting the same actions. So what do you think people are calling you? It’s certainly not “patriots”.

Congratulations… it’s eight years later and the tables have turned.

The Don Imus Award for 2008: Randi Rhodes – I will admit that I HAVE listened to Randi Rhodes on several occasions. I often don’t agree with what she has to say, but she tries so hard to be the anti-Rush that she becomes somewhat entertaining to listen to. I also felt sorry for her when I watched the documentary “Left of the Dial” on the start-up of Air America Radio and how she was treated as the ugly stepchild as opposed to Al Frankin.

Anyway, Rhodes got the Imus treatment after she made a public appearance and called Hillary Clinton surrogate Geraldine Ferarro “a big (f’ing) whore”, and then called Hillary the same thing. For that, Air America Radio pulled her off the air.

But I will give Randi credit for sticking up for what she believed in. She didn’t go sucking up to her bosses. She didn’t ask for her job back. She just turned to them and said “(F) you, you breached the contract, and I’m taking my show to a place where they appreciate my work!”

And now she’s on Nova M Radio in Phoenix, where they air her show along with that of fellow Air America exile Mike Malloy.

Good for you Randi! Worst comes to worse, of course, there’s always Internet radio… I know that ShockNet Radio would LOVE to get your fan base!

The Big Stinking Hypocrite Award for 2008: (former) New York Governor Elliot Spitzer – “Mister Clean”, “Mister Law and Order”, the so-called “sheriff of Wall Street” ended up leaving the Governor’s office in shame after getting caught soliciting a high-priced prostitute. How funny!

The most infuriating part of this story is that he is actually GETTING AWAY WITH IT! The US Prosecutor handing the case has REFUSED to pursue charges against Spitzer, even after making all of those arrangements and all of those deals and after all of the details of his mess were made public. What the hell? The biggest fish in his whole career and he lets it go? I wonder what sort of political wrangling went on behind the scenes for that kind of blunder to happen.

The “Shut The Hell Up and Go Away” Award for 2008 (3-way tie): Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, Governor Sarah Palin, and “Joe the Plumber” – Unlike Sarah Palin, “Joe the Plumber” really is a fictional creation of the Republicans. The guy that plays “Joe” decided to blame John McCain for supporting the Paulson Plan. He also accused McCain for not giving thanks to Palin for her “hard work”, even though McCain did just that just a couple of nights previously on David Letterman’s show.

Uh, Joe? I got some bad news for you, Joe. YOU’RE A TOOL! You’re nothing more than a convenient political prop whose time had long since expired. You are thirty minutes beyond your proscribed fifteen minutes of fame. It’s time for you to sit down, shut up, and figure out what you want to do with your life besides being a political prop.

Palin also just can’t seem to go away. Right after the dirty little diva secrets started to come out concerning her Barbie fashion trends, she gave what was probably the most memorable line in her short-lived national career: “I’ve never asked for anything, except maybe for a Diet Dr. Pepper!”

Riiiiiight… and I’ll believe that just like I believe that you could see Russia from your house.

Look, I’m not complaining about the “Caribou Barbie” fashion scandal… I think it’s hilarious that all of this is coming out. I mean, seriously, do you know how much security would be involved for the whole Palin clan to show up at Wal-Mart? It’s just stupid that she would take the denials to the other extreme.

And then there’s the modern-day reincarnation of Joe McCarthy… Congresswoman Bachman! She who called on the media to investigate who is “anti-American” before the election then turned around AFTER the election and said that she never made such a claim AT ALL! She said it was an “urban legend”, even WHEN the transcripts of what she said were repeated to her WORD FOR WORD! She didn’t claim that it was taken out of context; she flat-out denied ever saying it, even though the actual VIDEO of her saying it has circulated the Internet a few million times!

Okay Congresswoman Bachman, we get the picture. You’re either a pathological liar or else you’re a moonbat. That doesn’t say much about the people who re-elected you, but, hey, the same can be said about Nancy Pelosi’s constituents. Just do us all a favor and sit down, shut up, and hope that you won’t give us another chance to decide which characterization you truly fall under.

The Tom Delay Award for Political Corruption in 2008: Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich – Auctioning off Barack Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder is the lowest of the low. And from news reports I was coming across, this guy is really an abrasive person. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone diagnoses him as being narcissistic. I really hope the state government there does the right thing and remove him from power before he is allowed to pick Obama’s Senate replacement.

The Tom Delay Runners-Up for Political Corruption in 2008: Congressman William Jefferson and Senator Ted Stevens – They each came close. Jefferson got caught with a few thousand in literally “cold hard cash” in his freezer. Stevens was convicted for not reporting several very expensive gifts from an oil contractor. But they got beat out by Blagojevich not only because of the scope of his accusations, but also because the voters then turned around and voted both of these corrupt politicians out of office. Very smart move on behalf of the voters in those areas.

Now, why couldn’t have the voters in Michelle Bachman’s and Nancy Pelosi’s districts do the same?

The Most Pathetic Bumper Sticker Slogan in 2008: “Conservatives in Exile” – Sean Hannity and several others are making this their tagline. They want to claim that they’re now “exiles”.

You know, I hate to burst your bubble, but you guys have to actually LEAVE THE COUNTRY in order to declare yourselves as “exiles”! You can’t just sit in your cushy jobs on Fox News in New York and claim that you’re an exile.

Remember when you were busy telling your critics to go leave the country? Well payback’s a bitch, and it’s her time of the month! Just remember: Delta is ready when you are.

The Second-Most Pathetic Bumper Sticker Slogan in 2008: “Mister Independent” – This is Lou Dobbs’ tagline. He claimed to be an “independent”. Sorry Lou, but you’re nothing of the sort. At best you’re a populist, and at worst you’re a neo-con.

The Best Political Statement of 2008: The Iraqi Shoe-Thrower – This just came in as the article was being worked on, but it probably was the BEST political statement of the year about the Bush Imperium.

During an impromptu visit to Iraq, President George W. Bush was about to make a speech to the media when one of the Iraqi journalists started shouting and throwing his shoes at Bush. Both of the footwear missed the President’s head by a few inches, and the man was taken down after running out of shoes.

What is not being said too loudly is that in the Islamic world, throwing one’s shoes is the biggest insult you can make to a person.

There’s your legacy, Junior. Still think you’ll be treated kindly when history is written?

And finally…

The “Hate to See You Go” Award for 2008: ShockNet Radio’s “Kick Start” – 2008 witnessed several changes to ShockNet Radio’s lineup. First was the return of “Brutally Honest” to Internet radio, taking over where the “American Heathen®” left off. Then came the “Rock and Roll Diner”. And then was the station’s first morning show, “Kick Start”. It was a fun show, and a full crew on staff and yours truly got to take part in some of the high points.

Unfortunately there were a few problems behind-the-scenes that forced the show to join “Sports Talk on the Juice” in radio limbo. Maybe some day it’ll come back. Maybe.

In the meantime, let’s get brutally honest here… I may not like to blow my own horn, but I’m really excited to see how 2009 will look for ShockNet! Between the debut of “American Heathen® Redux” (with myself co-hosting it from Atlanta) and “Uptown Sound with Andrew Brown”, and the return of “High Instability”, “Rock and Roll Diner” and of course “Brutally Honest”, things look pretty good. Time will tell.

And speaking of which… that’s it for 2008! See you guys next January!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Week of 12/08/2008

On Undermining America
– by David Matthews 2

There’s a popular laundry list of things that usually start out with titles like “If I were a terrorist” or “If I were the devil” and then go over all of the flaws in society and then say that they really wouldn’t have to do anything; that they would just let things go as they should because we’re already headed for disaster.

But I think that we’re just scratching the surface with these cute little lines. Our problems go much deeper than throwing in petty comments about tax breaks and waging war and then sitting back and saying that things are just going to go the way they should anyway. There is more that needs to be done; and right now, with us firmly realizing that there IS a problem, we can actually LOOK at that problem instead of just talking about it.

Here are some of the key problems:

Dilution of Politics: Democrats and Republicans have actively conspired to manufacture this myth that they are the only two political parties out there. They have written the rules, both on a federal and on a state level, that give tremendous advantages to these two parties to the exclusion of every other independent or third-party organization.

This is a system that has allowed graft and corruption to infiltrate the political process, condone outright and blatant acts of hypocrisy, and empower the most extreme fringes of the parties to influence the course of action for the rest. These extreme groups are then referred to as “the base” of the party, and often demand that their candidates pander to them instead of operating on behalf of the bulk of their constituents, which are referred to as “the center” and are quickly condemned by these fringe elements. Both sides accuse each other of voter fraud and dirty tricks, both sides are guilty of doing them, and they are able to continue and profit from these tactics because they know that as long as they have duopolist control of the process that they can continue to play these tricks over and over again. The scathing campaigns of the past few years should be proof enough of this.

The end result is that they have created a zero-sum system whereby people are encouraged to support either one dominant party or the other on the basis of who would be the “better” candidate of the two, not necessarily the “best” one for the job. By the time the election rolls around, both candidates are seen as being equally inept and incompetent, and many voters are so disgusted by the end result that they are encouraged to not vote in the first place.

The solution here is not the introduction of third party groups, because they ALREADY exist. Rather, the solution to this is the elimination of the rules that were set up to neutralize any influence third party groups may have in the process. This will require some courage on behalf of the judicial system to bring about this change, because the Democrats and Republicans have no incentive whatsoever to change a system that THEY have complete control over and see nothing wrong with.

Abusive Government Taxation and Spending: One of the best ways to limit the expanse of government is to limit how much money it has to spend. States like New Hampshire have long proven this by fervently barring the legislature from enacting any kind of state income or sales tax. As such state legislators there have to actually work for a living and are obligated to spend only as much as they can raise through other forms of taxation. They cannot spend more than they can raise, and they know that if they raise taxes too high that it will actually harm the businesses they rely upon.

Most state governments, as well as the federal government, operate under a completely different philosophy. They firmly believe that any and all money is THEIRS first and foremost and that they then get to determine how much money that you should be ALLOWED to keep. Thus they fully fund their own salaries and pension programs, come up with extravagant policies, and then figure out afterwards how they will pay for it all through income taxes and sales taxes and other forms of taxation.

To further manipulate the system, governments large and small have created complex tax structures on the premise that the wealthier individuals and corporations should be “obligated” to pay more in taxes simply because “they can afford to”. Then they provide tax breaks and tax shelters to serve as both rewards and as a way to “encourage” business to not leave.

The end result is twofold.

First, they have developed a system that discourages individual earnings and thus individual savings. By presuming that they are entitled to know about EVERY dollar and EVERY penny that you get and that they are automatically “entitled” to a portion of that money, they actually end up encouraging people to not have money at all.

For instance, let’s suppose you put $1000 into a retirement account. That’s YOUR money. You’ve already paid taxes on it. But then later on you need to take $500 of it out because of some sort of emergency. Before you even see a penny of that money in your checking account, the government taxes that money, even though it had already been taxed before you put it into the account! Why? Because it’s declared “new income”, even though it is being taxed twice.

So why should you save at all if what you save will be taxed again the moment you take it out? It just doesn’t make too much sense. Keep it all in one account and spend it when you can.

Plus the bureaucracy needed to account for every penny paid and thus eligible to be taxed is such that employers are forced to pay a person LESS than what they are truly worth. Your employer may be spending $60,000 per year on you, but thanks to the government, you’re lucky if you see $45,000 of it, and that’s before they even start taxing YOU.

So what happens? Your employer is encouraged to (1) not give you a raise, and (2) see if they can outsource your job to another company or preferably another country where they can pay a cheaper wage and not deal with the bureaucracy.

The second end result is you have a body of government that can spend all it wants to without any kind of accountability as long as they can find some way to get the money. Our current federal government is estimated to be in the hole for some TEN TRILLION DOLLARS. But that is all supposedly okay because every penny of that debt is put into treasury bonds backed by foreign governments such as China and Mexico. That means that our federal government can spend all it wants to provided that foreign countries agree to foot the bill on it and that they don’t demand an immediate return on their investment.

I’ll give you a minute or two for that to sink in…

What needs to be done, of course, is also twofold. First we MUST change the tax system completely from one that taxes INCOME to one that taxes CONSUMPTION. This will balance out the tax system so that the wealthier people will STILL pay more, but it would be at an equal percentage as everyone else. Second, we MUST find a way to require fiscal accountability for our legislators. States do this with a mandatory balanced budget. The federal government may need a little coaxing from the Constitutional Convention, though, especially since previous attempts to legislate such a requirement have been shot down in the courts.

Either way, the latter has to happen soon, because the alternative something that should scare the crap out of people!

Corporate Corruption: Corporations really have done themselves and this country a disservice of late.

First, corporations have been manipulating government regulatory bodies, influencing and infiltrating all levels of government activities. For instance, the recording industry has been allowed to write the royalty fees for the Library of Congress, giving badly distorted and biased structures that penalize Internet broadcasters (mostly individuals and small groups) with huge punitive fees while at the same time making sure that the more lucrative terrestrial radio broadcasters (which are mostly owned by other corporations) don’t pay a single penny in royalties.

Now it’s one thing to have special interest groups like corporations INFLUENCE government decisions, but the corruption in government is such that these special interest groups have essentially WRITTEN THE LAWS THEMSELVES and then just submitted them to their purchased politicians to rubber-stamp into effect, like what the recording industry has done with music royalties.

Abuses of issuing visas has also become an issue, with major corporations being allowed to get a whole multitude of special visas to bring in foreign workers. This while domestic unemployment has been on the steady increase.

Banks have also become big corporations. Big banks have bought out smaller banks and become mega-banks. Ditto for insurers and mortgage companies. So now they have become so big they are deemed “too big to fail” according to the White House and Congress and these branches of government are now falling over themselves to give them billions and billions of tax dollars to bail them out because of their reckless actions.

Worse yet, corporate executives have become so disjointed from reality that they will give themselves huge raises and bonuses while at the same time laying people off, shutting down factories, outsourcing jobs overseas, and causing a caustic work environment where customer service and quality are in the toilet. Granted most of these bonuses and perks are written into buddy-buddy contracts to automatically take effect regardless of the health of the business, but the very people that should know better really don’t give a care in the first place because they have no personal stake in the business anyways. It’s just a huge piggy bank for them.

The end result? Big corporations have developed a lack of any kind of meaningful accountability for their actions. Corporate executives no longer care about the health of the company, but instead care about appeasing their investors, which are executives of OTHER corporations. And if they fail? If they screw up? Well they can then turn to the government and get billions in free money.

What needs to be done here is hard but probably necessary… first, government needs to purge itself of the stink of corporate influence. Easier said than done, I know (see the next section), but it must happen. The other thing that is equally hard is that a few of these “too big to fail” companies need to do just that. They NEED to fail! Once insolvent and dissolved, they must then be dissected like Enron and WorldCom were in 2002. The aftermath of that investigation would scare the other corporations to clean up their own act.

Lack of Government Accountability: This is something that I’ve been complaining about for a long time now. In addition to a lack of fiscal accountability in government, politicians and other operatives of the government are also protected from any OTHER kind of accountability as long as they can claim they’re operating on behalf of the government.

Here’s a good example. Police break down your front door and force you to the floor with their guns drawn and dogs barking over your head. They rip up your home, trash your furniture, smash personal items, tear apart the walls, and even kill your pets outright. They claim that they’re looking for drugs, but they don’t find any. They arrest you anyway and seize anything of value, claiming that you’re “harboring a fugitive”. Then it turns out that not only was the address on the warrant wrong, but the person who supposedly “accused you” was lying through his teeth about the whole thing. The prosecutor goes to you and offers a deal where you plead for a misdemeanor charge and he’ll move to purge your record after six months of probation. Mind you, this is even though you have done NOTHING WRONG and the police clearly screwed up! But if you refuse this “sweetheart deal”, he’ll not only prosecute you with what little they have, but he’ll use the system to tie your case up for years, forcing you to run out of money and accept a much punitive deal for something that YOU NEVER DID!

Now I’m sure you’re thinking that somewhere along the line someone will step in and realize what a HUGE mistake the government made on this hypothetical case and put a stop to it all, right? WRONG!

The police department will REFUSE to admit to any wrongdoing. The same applies even more so for the prosecutor. Even if the truth comes out and the charges are dismissed, the officers involved with the arrest will probably NEVER be prosecuted for their malicious actions. Your home will still be trashed. All of your belongings will still be destroyed. Your pets are still dead. You’ll STILL have an arrest record on your name, which could be used to disqualify you for loans and certain jobs. Oh, and good luck getting back the valuables that the police seized when they arrested you on those phony charges. Even if you’re vindicated, the police will fight you tooth and nail to return those things, never mind even raise a finger to repair the damage done to your home.

That is probably the most blatant of government abuses that most of you might be forced to deal with. Even more commonplace are instances where local government uses zoning and other regulatory powers to get rid of businesses they find “objectionable”, or when state prosecutors force businesses to adopt “voluntary standards” so they won’t get prosecuted on trumped-up charges. Or when you have local government adopt laws that they know are blatantly unconstitutional but they out-and-out say “to hell with the Constitution!” These are all actions that, if carried out by private citizens, would lead to charges of blackmail and racketeering! BUT because they’re done by members of THE GOVERNMENT, it’s okay.

And of course we have the various acts that the federal government does that may or may not break the law. Even if they are clearly in the wrong, nothing happens to them.

Here’s the problem: government operatives are protected by “sovereign immunity”, which operates under the delusion that the government can do no wrong! Whatever the government does is okay BECAUSE it’s the government! The only way a person in government can actually face justice for their actions is when those actions are for personal gains. A city councilor can use his power to kick people out of their homes and turn those homes over to a developer to be turned into overpriced condos, and that’s okay. But if he then gets promised one of those overpriced condos to live in for free, then that’s supposedly a crime.

So you have a government that believes that it can do no wrong, even when it IS wrong, and they know that they can get away with it by just telling people that they’re acting on behalf of government. And then we expect these same politicians to be able to watch out for themselves, even when they clearly demonstrate that they can’t!

What needs to be done here is simple… the whole principle of sovereign immunity needs to go away. Government officials need to be held accountable for their actions, especially when those actions cause harm to others. And again this is something that can only be done through the judiciary.

The Death of Private Property: Once upon a time, private property was very sacred. Your home was your castle. Remember that? Well that’s all that it is right now… just a memory.

You can blame the racketeering laws of the 1980’s to starting the domino effect. That allowed the federal government to seize any kind of property that they just THINK may have been gained through illegal means. That meant that the government could seize homes, cars, personal possessions, even large sums of money, without a warrant, and sometimes without even actual charges!

Got a new sports car? All some cop has to do is say “I think you got it from selling drugs” and suddenly your new car is now the property of the local police department to either sell off or use for their own purposes. In fact suddenly any kind of drug-related charge was upgraded to include “with intent to distribute” just so they could seize anything and everything of value. And even if the charges are thrown out, the property is still theirs. They don’t give it back.

If you’re one of those folks that only deals in cash, then you might have a problem with the government, because all they have to do is accuse of being involved with drugs and your cash is gone. That’s even harder to get back than physical items.

And the terrorist rules of 9/11 have made it such that you can be searched at the airport for any reason, and your phone calls and personal correspondence can be searched and screened without you knowing it.

Homes and businesses have been subject to ever-intrusive zoning regulations and covenant agreements which have given government agencies and private citizens the power to seize control of your property without any kind of accountability.

And of late, the court system drove the final nail into the coffin of private property when they ruled that governments had the power to take any property they wish and turn that property over to other private entities. So your house can be taken away from you to be turned over to a rich developer to build a mini-mall, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

The end result of all of these things is that there IS no such thing as “private property” in any real sense. What you have can be subject to search and seizure at any time by any group for any reason. Your home, your “castle”, is no longer yours anymore. Your home is now the property of your neighborhood homeowner’s association, and the sole purpose of you living there is to maintain the overall property values of your neighbors. And should a rich developer have plans for your property, your local government has every right and authority in the world to take that land right out from under you and turn it over to the developer, because he wants to use it generate even more money for himself and for the local government.

And it’s not going to get any better! Once you lose your right to own property, it’s not that far from losing any other rights you may have. And forget having the Constitution protect you… lest you also forget the previous segment about the politicians that say “to hell with the Constitution” with complete impunity.

The solution here once again is in the hands of the judicial system. The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court made a constitutionally-flawed decision and only they can correct it. The legislature can only go so far to fix this, and that’s only if they are determined to have it passed and not let themselves get swayed by those special interest groups that have plans for your stuff. Remember, realtors and developers have MONEY, and they’re not afraid to spend it on government if it can help make them even MORE money.

And finally… the biggest thing that is undermining America…

The Death of Production: Let’s get brutally honest here… America has gradually become a nation of consumers, not producers! Where once we used to be the innovators and inventors, there really isn’t much that is being invented that is new or original. TV shows are getting rehashed and redone. Classic movies are being remade. Comic book publishers are rehashing old plots… and sometimes pulling out overused and really BAD plots such as the ones involving zombies and monkeys. (Don’t laugh, or else they’ll churn out a special “zombie monkey” miniseries!)

We have a president that tells a fearful nation that the best way to combat the scourge of terrorism… is to go shopping! And if they don’t want to shop? Well, he’ll give out some money to help them! Go, spend, spend some more, and then spend still more. Go into debt if you have to! We’ll help you do it! Don’t let the terrorists win! Spend like there’s no tomorrow!

And it was easy to do that back when banks were lending money like there was no tomorrow. Bad credit? No references? No means to pay off the loan? No problem!

We complain about the holidays becoming too commercialized, but we’ll still show up at 4am on the day after Thanksgiving for that “door-buster” sale. We’ll even shoot someone standing in line, or trample an unfortunate worker just to get in!

As mentioned earlier, corporations bring in thousands of workers from other countries instead of hiring from the current job pool. They have no qualms hiring illegal immigrants if it can get around paying the taxes. They’ll outsource jobs and shut down factories while at the same time rake in huge bonuses for “bringing down costs”. And if they go broke? There’s free bailout money for the groups deemed “too big to fail” but nothing for the people that work for a living and are “too small to bail”.

We don’t make the goods that we’re told that we “need” to buy. They all come from China and Mexico and India, and some of them are designed to not last a whole year. America has a huge stinking trade deficit, but nobody seems to care about that. No, just get your ass to Wal-Mart and get the latest flick out on Blu-Ray Disc. And while you’re at it, get a Blu-Ray player. And a new HDTV. And get a home theater system. And you probably should upgrade your cable package while you’re at it. And have you though about signing up for our new line of credit?

Seriously, though, how do people expect to pay for all of these items when all of our jobs are getting outsourced and cut? And then of course the government – on behalf of the corporations, which includes the banks – changed the banking and bankruptcy laws on us back when the times seemed good (albeit on paper), so now in addition to losing our jobs and losing our homes, we have no way to free ourselves from the debt we’ve been saddled with. And then we’re expected to bail out the very corporations that helped screw us over… with tax money that we don’t have and we now have to put our country further into debt to other nations.

You would think that somewhere along the line someone… besides myself of course… would connect all of these dots and figure out what’s going on.

Sadly, to resolve this particular problem requires a combination of things. We need to resolve some of the other issues first. We need to change the tax system so that the emphasis is on taxing consumption instead of income in order to encourage savings. We need to let reckless businesses fail and make sure that the incompetent executives take the fall for their actions. We need to do the same thing to our elected grifters and shysters and hold THEM accountable. We need to restore the concept of private property if we are every going to put any value to it. And then, while we’re doing that, we need to go back to being doers and makers and producers for this country first and foremost. China may make it cheaper, but we should be able to make it BETTER and make it so it lasts much LONGER.

The issues that are undermining this country are monumental, but they are only insurmountable if we chose to not deal with them. We certainly cannot afford to sit back and play games about what you would do if you were “a terrorist” or “the devil”, and we absolutely cannot afford to ride out the great punchline of “but then again I really don’t have to do anything.”

Monday, December 1, 2008

Week of 12/01/2008

The Need For A New Scrooge
– by David Matthews 2

There was a scene in the movie “The Blue Lagoon” that was somewhat sad. It involved the two teenagers that were alone on the tropical island and their attempt to remember some profound celebration. They had checked their calendar and realized what day it was. They raced out to the little display they had set up for the season and they tried to sing songs about it, but they didn’t remember the songs, and they didn’t even know why this particular day was so important anyway.

It would be the last time the two characters celebrated Christmas.

It is with that in mind that I wonder if the same thing has happened to the spirit of the holiday season.

The holiday season seems to have devolved into this dysfunctional mix of rampant consumerism along with overly religious symbolism serving as a substitute for actual faith. Obviously it didn’t get this way on its own. It had to have some help.

On one hand we have the rampant consumerism. Or perhaps a more fitting description is “rabid” consumerism. We already had three people killed on “Black Friday”, with one of them being trampled to death by hundreds of rabid shoppers just as the doors opened. They were so obsessed with getting into the store first to buy the insanely-low items for sale that they didn’t care what it took to get in. They literally ran over a man and killed him, and then when the store tried to close its doors so the police can investigate the matter, those same rabid shoppers got outraged because they believed that they were ENTITLED to be there!

As times get bleak, we have robberies and thefts and outright frauds on the rise. And not only is the economic situation bleak, it’s actually become hostile to many families. For many families, the greatest gift they can get is to not get foreclosed for the next few months. There are families that are living at or beyond the breaking point, and yet they are told that they have to consume and travel and spend even more money in order to “be in the season”.

Of course “Seasons” to them is more than just the ones in December and the start of January. Let’s not forget “Christmas Creep”, their insistence that seasonal sales start earlier and earlier into the year. First the decorations come out just before Thanksgiving. Then it’s Halloween. (That explains the “Halloween lights” I’ve been seeing of late.) Then it’s Labor Day. At this rate they’ll be racing to compete with Easter.

Then on the other side of the equation, we have the rampant religious symbolism, and no I don’t mean all of the Christian references and church hymns. I’m talking about the attitudes of certain groups that the holiday season is EXCLUSIVELY THEIRS and their extremist insistence that ANY attempt to mention or contemplate anything outside of THEIR symbols and THEIR messages is a crime against humanity itself.

Yes, I’m talking about the religious extremists and their supporters in the conservative-dominated portions of the media. I’m talking about Fox News and the talk show hosts and Focus on the Family and their annual fraud called “War on Christmas”, which is nothing more than the continuation of their WAR on the rest of society and using Christmas as their seasonal symbol.

You see… according to these extremists, the holiday season is about one thing and one thing only… CHRISTMAS. As in CHRIST’S MASS. They don’t recognize anything else. They don’t recognize Hanukkah. They don’t even recognize the New Year! They only care about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And they REFUSE to allow you to say “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays”! No, according to them, there are no “seasons” or “holidays”! There’s just ONE “season” and ONE “holiday”, and that is CHRISTMAS!

Even worse, these extremist groups have gone so far as to hassle franchise stores to get a firm promise IN WRITING that they will say “MERRY CHRISTMAS” instead of “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”! They have an ongoing “Naughty” and “Nice” list of stores that accommodate their whims, and they work on that list as early as six months before the first seasonal supplies show up on the shelves.

And there is no middle ground with these extremists! You can’t just put up a picture of a snowflake or hang a wreath. No-no, it’s all-or-nothing with these extremists! You can’t make reference to Santa Claus without buying into the WHOLE package according to them! It’s a package deal as far as these extremists are concerned. Mall Santas and snowmen and “Winter Wonderland” and seasonal sales are ALL part tied into THEIR theology according to them. You support one, you HAVE to support them ALL!

Oh, and they’re not that comfortable with the commercialism. It sort of detracts from their agenda. They’ll work with Big Business… but only as long as Big Business understands that it does so with THEIR permission.

There you have it, folks. The two extremes of the holidays, and they’re doing their damndest to pull us all apart.

It makes you wonder if people forgot the true reason for the season, and, no, it’s NOT to celebrate someone’s birth or to herald a short period of discount sales.

Once upon a time there was a story that did that. You’ve probably heard of it too. It was from the British writer Charles Dickens and it was called “A Christmas Carol”. It told the story of a miserly old fart by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge and how a visit from four spirits changed his ways and his views about Christmas.

Unfortunately, like so many things, the real message itself has been diluted through time. The basic fallacy is that Scrooge was just a miserable old fart because of his greed and all he had to do was to give up some money and he would lighten up. Other people would claim that it was the fear of death that made him change his ways, as emphasized by the final spirit resembling the Grim Reaper.

Both views are wrong.

Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” as a condemnation of the changes going on in Great Britain at the time, which was at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th Century. He wanted to show how the cold and mercurial demands of the Industrial Society conflicted with basic human compassion and how someone born of that society would turn out.

To that end, Dickens created the character Scrooge to be the embodiment of the Industrial Society. A man that was ripped apart from any connection of family or friends, and someone for whom the surest thing he could ever count on is money. The man had no life outside of work. The people he counted on as friends were nothing of the sort. And all of the tragedies that befell him came on Christmas Day!

Dickens wanted to show how the human spirit along with human compassion triumphed over the demands of the Industrial Society, and to that end he succeeded.

Sadly, though, the same cannot be said for the troubles that befall us today concerning the season.

The religious extremists would tell you that Scrooge’s problem was a lack of religion, and that in the end it was both the fear of death and his visiting a church that supposedly lightened his heart. Sorry, but the story makes little reference to religion, and in fact many of the symbols of the story, including the spirits themselves, were embodiments of the original Yuletide celebrations, which had nothing to do with Christianity. Spirits that are condemned to travel the land wearing chains and lockboxes does not mesh with the Christian concepts of the afterlife.

The business world would tell you that Scrooge’s problem was the lack of spending, which they would resolve by having a blue-light sale that would “scare the Dickens” (pun intended) out of the Scrooge in all of us. Again, it wouldn’t work. A miserly person the likes of Scrooge wouldn’t be tempted by any price short of “free”, which goes against the very dogma of the business world. In fact, someone like Scrooge would probably OWN one of those businesses, and why would they want to spend money on such a sale if they knew the truth behind it?

Worse yet, charity in today’s world is done more for tax purposes than for human compassion. We may give, but we want a receipt for it so we can put it on our tax forms.

Neither group would get it right.

Indeed, neither group could GET it right.

Let’s get brutally hones here… it is clear that we need a new story that shows the embodiment of the holiday season. One that emphasizes the true meaning of the season, which is to highlight the human compassion towards their fellow man.

We need a new Scrooge.

It’s not enough to simply re-do “A Christmas Carol” with updated references. It’s been done before, and no matter if it is played by a true Shakespearian actor like Patrick Stewart or done in computer animation featuring a talking duck, all they’re really doing is going through the motions. The true meaning of the story has become lost in the imagery and the changes made in society from the past 150+ years.

Sure there are some other holiday stories, but most of them capture a slice of life instead of conveying a certain message. “A Christmas Story” spends more time dealing with the utter humiliation of a young boy than with the spirit of the season. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” spends more time magnifying the 1950’s illusion of the holidays to an absurd level than in actually conveying the spirit of the season. Indeed, these movies are more about SURVIVING the holidays rather than enjoying them.

There needs to be a balance between religious symbolism and commercial consumerism; one which puts both groups in their proper perspectives and in their proper place in society, which, by the way, is NOT at the head of it. This is a time for compassion and kindness, not for pompous posturing and mercenary attitudes. This is a time when we need to show the BEST in humanity, not the worst.

And maybe if we can find that happy medium, then the two extremes can find it as well. That is, after all, the only way that we would be able to remember the holidays for what they are supposed to be.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Week of 11/24/2008

Is It Too Much To Ask?

As I sat in my hotel room pondering what I should write about for this week’s column, a single thought kept on creeping into my head:

Is it too much to ask that a hotel deliver what they promise?

This week I’m out visiting relatives. I don’t like to travel, but I was convinced to go up north and visit family. So I did, and all the while I kept on insisting that my hotel room have Internet access. I was told that every room has it.

So I get here and sure enough… no Internet! The front desk apologizes profusely and says they’ll have someone over in the morning to fix it. Later that day, still no Internet. Again they apologize profusely and says they sent someone over to reset their access point, only they can’t “find it”.

It’s not rocket science we’re talking about. Resetting an access point is about as simple as turning the device off and then turning it back on. And if they can’t “find it”, then either the person they sent had no idea what to look for – which is an easy fix too – or the device itself has been stolen. The latter of which would require a police report and replacing the device at a tech store just down the street.

But, seriously, if you promise a service and it isn’t in that room, why not just offer to change rooms with one that HAS it? (That is what they ended up doing, by the way.) Bear in mind that this was my ONE requirement. If I knew going into it that they didn’t have Internet access, I would have gone elsewhere. It’s that simple.

Is that too much to ask? Seriously. Is it?

Then again, that seems to be par for the rest of the business world.

Look at the airlines. We bailed their sorry asses out after 9/11, and if anything their treatment of the very customers that paid for that bailout has gotten far worse.

Everything on that previously “insanely-low” fare costs extra. If you bring luggage, that costs extra. If you want the little thimble of soda, that costs extra. You want the plane to land? That costs extra. You want a seat? That costs extra.

And that is on top of being held hostage in the plane with super-long delays from the airport, going through a police zone that rivals most maximum security prisons, being bumped because of overbooking, and, oh yeah, if you wear something that the flight attendants find “offensive” they can kick you off the flight as well.

You know, guys, it just makes you want to take the train… or take a bus… or even hitchhike. You’ll probably even get there faster.

Is it REALLY too much to ask that the airline have just ONE COST for everything? JUST ONE! Luggage, flight, plane, wings, wheels, takeoff AND landing, fuel... we can tolerate a few delays and the surly joyless prudes that call themselves flight attendants as long as they stop serving as our fashion police. Remember, we’re the ones that are paying for your bailout, and you are currently giving us NO REASONS whatsoever to continue to support you!

Is that too much to ask for?

Phone companies love to push all of these different features on cellphones. Now cellphones can take pictures, hold video, save music, surf the Internet, play games, send text message… but they still haven’t done anything for the annoyances we have to put up with. They continue to sell our personal information to private companies without our permission and then tell us afterwards that we need to opt-out if we don’t want them to.

Sure they offer all sorts of programs to “help” us, like caller ID and voice mail, but at the same time they REFUSE to deal with the problem concerning telemarketers and junk fax senders. They offer you the ability to block SOME numbers, but then the phone company says that you can’t block the 800-numbers that telemarketers use, or they can’t block any number not in your “calling area”. And the telemarketers use devices to spoof phone numbers to get around Caller ID.

The solution here is crystal clear. Give US the power to block ANY NUMBER we wish and to forbid any spoofing of caller ID numbers. ANY number. Doesn’t matter if they’re in our calling area or not. Normal number, long distance, toll free, ANY NUMBER. And don’t limit us to only a handful of numbers because there are too many telemarketers for the phone companies to start playing that game. That will take care of both telemarketers AND junk fax senders.

Is that too much to ask? Seriously. Is it?

Lenders are advertising for cheap credit. No down payments. No credit history. They are running ads with some dork in a tie rubber-stamping loan applications like crazy. And then they turn around and they beg the federal government for bailout money! What’s wrong with this picture? Or they advertise it and then give you a hard time when you actually TRY to get it. You know, what normally would be prosecuted as FALSE ADVERTISING.

Hey, here’s a novel concept: how about not running the ads telling people that you’ll give money to anyone if you’re really not going to? How about that? Is that too much to ask?

Is it too much to ask that companies that get bailout money from the federal government NOT take their execs on a posh luxury retreat? Or give themselves fat stinking bonuses? This is especially true when these executives turn around and tell the employees that they can’t afford so much as a holiday get-together, oh, and they may or may not be able to pay for the pension fund.

Is it too much to ask? I mean, it’s not like you’re losing your mansions and yachts, right?

Here’s an eternal question I ask of stores…

Is it too much to ask that they hold off on dragging out the holiday material until Thanksgiving? Or even just around Thanksgiving? It doesn’t have to be ON that day.

I go visit the local store, be it Wal-Mart or Target or any of the other big names, and while they may have Halloween items up in the seasonal section, they have the Christmas trees and ornaments just lurking around like a crouching mad dog, just WAITING to pounce on you when you least expect it.

Yes, we know that the Holidays are your big money-making season. We know that you LOVE the Holidays because it means that you get to make up for the crappy sales for the rest of the year… or at least in theory. (We’ll see if that holds true this year with our current economy.) But do you really have to stalk us like that? Do you have to have the Christmas Creep around Halloween? Yes we KNOW it’s just around the corner… but you don’t have to physically demonstrate it to us.

Worse yet is when they DO put up the holiday stuff right after Halloween and they crank up the holiday music. I live in Atlanta; it JUST got cold enough for the heat to come on. Why do I need to hear “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” when I’m still walking around in short-sleeves and the leaves are just starting to turn?

Is it too much to ask that you guys wait a few weeks? Seriously. Is it?

Here’s one that I find really annoying… computer support.

Is it too much to ask that a support person NOT take you through the chain of processes if they know the problem is on their end? Let’s your Internet service goes down. You call support, asking about whether or not there is a local problem with the system. It worked before, but it’s not working now. They go over their laundry list of things for you to do thinking that the problem is on YOUR end, and that usually takes about an hour to go through. Shut down, unplug, reboot, check again, check one more time, dig here and dig there. It’s only after they have exhausted the list that they do a quick look up and they say “Oh, sorry, we found out that your area is having problems and they’re working on it.” Well then why didn’t you SAY SO in the first place? That would have saved me an hour of wasted time plugging and unplugging and rebooting and checking every setting that I had already done three times BEFORE I made the call!

How hard is it to check the status board to see if there is already a problem before going through the laundry list of activities with the caller? It takes you thirty seconds to check. It can take a person up to five minutes to completely shut down and reboot their computer, and you’re having them do that at least twice!

I know we’re dealing with people from third world nations and they’re reading from a prepared script, but how hard is it to include in that script a quick check to make sure that the problem isn’t regional? “What sort of problem is it? Let me check really quick to make sure this isn’t on our end.”

Is it really too much to ask?

Let’s get brutally honest here… a lot of these little things are seemingly little or petty but they go towards the general perspective of how businesses treat their customers. They continually treat customers as fools, idiots, mindless myrmidons that will do whatever they are told to do.

And sometimes they do get away with it. Sometimes we the mindless masses really do live up to the stereotype. We do mindless things. We buy things because some advertiser gave us a cute jingle or catchy slogan or because they stuck a flat-belly model in front of it. Sometimes we aren’t looking where we throw our money towards. But that doesn’t mean that we do so ALL of the time!

Do you know what the secret to a really great con is? It’s making them feel like you really DO care about them. It’s about giving them the little things that makes them feel like they matter. As long as they feel like they matter, they won’t think that they’re being taken for a ride.

So the next time someone comes up with a little suggestion and they ask “Is it too much to ask”, you better make sure that the answer is “no, it is not” and then work on getting it done. It could quite literally spell the difference between a bad sale and a good one.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Week of 11/17/2008

Our Fickle Economy
– by David Matthews 2

“Luck be like a lady”, as the old Vegas song goes.

Unfortunately more often then naught, luck IS very much like a lady… and a fickle one at that. Fickle, cranky, self-absorbed, and scornful when feeling neglected. Gracious at first, but vindictive and manipulative once she gets to know you. That’s why gambling addicts run into a mean losing streak. Luck is gracious and generous at first to them. But then luck is fickle and vindictive and makes sure that you lose more than you gain so you can never get back to those early times when you were prospering.

Even sadder still, our economy is the same way. When propped up and supported, our economy can be very generous. But when feeling used and manipulated, our economy is a real bitch.

The biggest fallacy being made by those in government is that they are responsible for all of the economic good times that occur. That of course is far from the truth. They do have some influence, and they can manipulate certain environments that can have a positive or negative effect on the economy, but they are far from being the MASTERS of the economy. If that really were the case, then they would be doing everything in their power to make sure there are no economic down turns, especially at the end of a president’s tenure.

The President of the United States and the men and women that make up both house of Congress are not solely responsible for the rise or fall of the economy, but they are responsible, along with governments large and small, for creating environments that can either foster economic growth or hinder it.

Let’s look at what’s been going on with our economy in recent years.

The best way to describe our economy over the past eight years has been “forced”. The mini-recession of 2000 and 2001 started in 1998 when the economy tried to recover from the excesses of the “Dot-Com” boom. The Federal Reserve started cutting interest rates to try to offset the loss of jobs and business opportunities, but it didn’t work.

The Bush Imperium thought that handing out money would kick-start the economy, so they did that, and they gave tax cuts to the upper-echelons and told them to invest. 9/11 forced even more money being spent to bail out the airlines and to encourage us to spend like there was no tomorrow.

But during that whole process, there really wasn’t any effort to fix any of the underlying problems with the economy.

Job growth didn’t keep up with the demands of the economy. Real wages crawled compared to the profits of corporations. Companies didn’t create jobs. Instead they outsourced their jobs to other nations. Even the corporate failures of 2001 and 2002 with Enron and WorldCom and the others didn’t address the underlying problem with corporate priorities.

Mergers happened. Big banks became mega-banks. Mega-banks became monopolist banks. Big corporations bought out their competition instead of trying to outdo them in the market.

And the government saw nothing wrong with any of that as long as they reported record profits. “Do what you want,” they told Big Business, “just don’t go under.”

Yes there was a surge in housing prices as well as a surge in new houses built, but that was a forced situation. Lenders took advantage of low interest rates and the elimination of banking rules to talk people into refinancing their loans to the kind that would later hurt them. Sure, defenders of the subprime loans would tell you that they allowed loans to be made available for more Americans that would otherwise not have the opportunity to get their own homes. But what they do NOT tell you is that many of the people who ended up getting talked INTO those subprime loans were already eligible to get NORMAL loans. In fact it came out that realtors were encouraged by lenders to steer their clients towards getting subprime loans, even if they could afford normal ones.

That set up a dangerous situation with the banks, and there were plenty of people that warned that it would happen. All it would take is a little time and the rising of interest rates for the trap to be sprung. And that’s exactly what happened.

The push to build new homes and reinvest and increase one’s home value through expansion and home improvements created a price bubble that local governments and realtors and lenders foolishly believed could go on forever and ever. It didn’t.

Here’s the problem: developers were buying huge plots of land, stripping them down, and having builders build homes and shopping centers and office complexes, thinking that the buyers would just show up and buy them. And local governments approved them blindly, envisioning the oodles of property tax monies that would come into their coffers. They didn’t think that there would be a saturation point to all of that growth.

What happens when people stop buying the houses being built? Or when they can’t afford to make the mortgage payments? The bubble bursts.

Even worse, THIS was the truth source of the “growth” in our economy. The so-called “happy days” for Americans in these Double-O’s came through the housing bubble. It allowed them to take loans out on the overinflated values of their homes and used that to supplement their income. It was a short-term fix that was doomed to fail because there was nothing else sustaining it. It was the market’s version of cocaine; a quick rush but then a hard fall awaits.

But what else went unfinished? Our energy resources were being abysmally managed. You can thank Enron for some of that, because they lobbied Congress to give themselves more and more power and more and more control over energy resources and influencing market prices. Futures speculators now outnumber actual energy companies in the stock market by a ratio of two-to-one! Now FEAR is the major factor in energy prices.

But there was more than just market fear-mongering. Nobody did anything to better manage our resources. No new refineries, no replacement of pipelines, no new places to drill, and no drop in the amount of oil from foreign sources. In fact, if anything, we continued to get more and more oil from places that don’t really like us. That GAVE the speculators reasons to panic and drive the prices up even higher. The automakers didn’t pay attention to the rising prices either, and now they’re in a freefall.

We have poor management of the airlines. Rising energy prices added to their financial problems. More flights at crowded airports, incompetence and mismanagement at the airports over those added flights, and then poor service to go along with it. Now we have airlines that can’t afford to fly you from Point A to Point B without tacking on a fee for EVERYTHING, including the luggage you have, AND possibly postponing you from leaving through excessive delays, if they don’t first bump you from the flight because they overbooked it or kick you off the flight for wearing anything they find offensive.

And I cannot forget to mention the changes that were made to banking rules and to bankruptcy rules, both of which were done at the height of the forced “growth”, and without too much thought put into the consequences to making those changes.

We were encouraged to spend beyond our means. We were encouraged to put more and more of our lives on debit, taking our lead from our own government. And then once they have us hooked, then they started putting the screws to us until we broke.

Let’s get brutally honest here… ALL of those things contributed to the state of the economy we are in right now, with unemployment and foreclosures soaring, and everyone wanting and needing a bailout.

So what will it take to get out of this mess?

Well for starters, we need to give this economy some time to be miserable. The bleed has only just begun. There will be more foreclosures and more failures and more layoffs. I wish it were otherwise, but it needs to happen before we can move on.

The government can help with the subprime mortgages, but they have to convert them to NORMAL mortgages; they can’t simply let the banks continue the bad practices. They also have to step in and reign in the abusive practices of the banks.

Companies need to be encouraged to invest in their employees again instead of treating them as hostile participants or parasites. Stop the outsourcing, especially to foreign nations. The government can step in and stop the abuse of the visa system that has allowed corporations to bring in cheaper workers into this country.

Our resources need to be better managed. The loophole that Enron created to give themselves power and wealth needs to die like its CEO did, suddenly and in disgrace. But the actual resources that we have now need to be better managed as well. We need new refineries, new pipelines, more domestic production, but also we need to get the alternatives implemented and marketed. The time for talking and for researching has long since expired. We need these alternatives moved into production NOW.

Airlines need to be better managed. The fees need to end. The abusive treatment of the passengers, either in waiting times or in service, needs to come to an immediate end. And if it means that airlines have to collapse, then so be it. Let them fall.

Our government needs to abandon the concept that ANY business is simply “too big to fail”. Businesses need to succeed or fail on their own, no matter how “big” they are, so they will know what works and what doesn’t.

In short, folks, if our economy is like a lady, then we need to treat it like a lady and not like a whore.

If that analogy seems shocking to you, then understand that it is precisely how our government and how the business world has treated the economy, as well as treated the workers and the customers. They have treated all three like a bunch of cheap whores that will take care of them come rain or shine without any hesitation, and that is simply unacceptable.

Changing players in government is but a start to weathering our economy back into its good graces. There needs to be a chance in attitude amongst those in the business world as well. Instead of finding new ways to use and manipulate us, the business world needs to earn back our trust and our confidence before we will give them a second chance.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Week of 11/10/2008

Palin the Scapegoat
– by David Matthews 2

Hey, did you hear the latest joke about Governor Sarah Palin?

Sarah Palin is so dumb she didn’t know that Africa was a continent and not a country!

She’s so dumb she thinks that NAFTA is some kind of European sports car!

She’s so ignorant she thinks that Katie Couric was still host of the Today show.

She’s so vain she probably thinks that this song is about her.

She’s so…

She’s so…

Okay, I’m going to stop right here because it’s just not funny anymore.

Alaska’s governor and new VP wannabe Sarah Palin has gone back to the tundra after a few weeks of living the dream of possibly becoming the second most powerful person in America. And following her like the flu is a sea of misery coming from those that used to sing her praises.

Ever since the Republicans lost what they themselves have painted as an extremely caustic presidential election, they have been looking for a solid reason WHY they lost. They’d like to blame it on voter fraud by groups like ACORN. They’d like to blame it on the liberal media for refusing to focus on what THEY told the media to focus on. They’d like to blame it on the voters for being too stupid or too brainwashed to know any better.

But when they have exhausted all of the external reasons why they lost, and they can’t obviously blame THEMSELVES, they need a scapegoat. They need someone to take the fall for their own incompetence, so why not just blame it on the new girl?

Thus we have all of these scandalous stories about Palin as being this political pop diva that cares more about clothes than the campaign. Witness some of these juicy tidbits worthy of the gossip columns:

* Palin supposedly didn’t know that Africa was a continent and not a country. Palin reportedly asked if South Africa was just part of the “country” of Africa.

* Palin supposedly didn’t know the countries involved with the North American Free Trade Agreement (US, Canada, and Mexico).

* Palin supposedly didn’t prepare at all for her interview with Katie Couric in which she fumbled on some really simple questions such as what newspapers she reads and which Supreme Court decisions she has ever heard about other than Roe v. Wade. Earlier that year, Palin had issued a statement objecting to the Supreme Court decision concerning the Exxon Valdez disaster, but somehow she forgot about that in the CBS interview. Palin then blamed her staff for her perceived lack of intelligence.

* Palin was supposedly prone to tantrums when faced with negative press coverage, and her tantrums reportedly drove her staff to tears.

* Palin’s shopping spree, described by one GOP member as “Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast”, was supposedly far worse than the media reported it to be, with the Governor’s whole family getting new duds, and that she had forced low-level staffers to make purchases on their credit cards, which she had the GOP reimburse. This was all supposedly kept from Senator McCain for fear that it might drive him to an early grave.

* Palin supposedly decided to use the William Ayers attack long before the campaign officials signed off on the tactic, and that McCain himself had opposed the tactic, believing it would backfire on them just as the earlier attacks on Reverend Wright had failed.

* Palin and McCain reportedly had very little contact with each other during the campaign, and she had reportedly wanted to issue her own concession speech, but it was vetoed.

* GOP lawyers were reportedly dispatched to Alaska to seize all of the clothes purchased by the Palin family during the convention, making good on the announced promise when the story first broke that all of the expensive clothes purchased would go to charity.

* And finally, the juicy 1-900-style story in Newsweek that said that Palin had reportedly greeted McCain thinkers Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter during the GOP convention wearing nothing but a towel. And for more juicy details of that steamy two-on-one encounter, please have your credit card ready along with proof of age. Just kidding. That towel-thing was supposedly as “naughty” as it got.

Boy that just makes you wonder what the Republicans were thinking when they tapped her, huh? Or… did they even think at all? Maybe they just were hoping that Ashton Kurchter would come out from behind the corner to tell them that they’ve just been “Punk’d”.

But, you know, I can’t help but feel sorry for Governor Palin, and I mean that in all sincerity. Here’s this Generation-X woman who was essentially given a Cinderella opportunity by a political party notorious for backing old rich white guys. She gives it her all, she tries her darnedest to help her guy win, and then as she tucks tail and heads back to Alaska there are all of these really nasty things that have come out about her that, even if they are false, she really can’t defend against.

And worse yet, they’re coming from people who were supposedly on her side! I mean, hey, I may have my disagreements with Governor Palin. I may contribute to the “Caribou Barbie” jokes and be willing to watch all those spoofs about her (including the salacious ones that do require proof of age), but I’m doing so from the outside. My disagreements are made in public.

According to one source, many of the nasty behind-the-scenes moments were being leaked to the media by McCain Campaign workers that previously worked for former governor and presidential wannabe Mitt Romney. And the reason behind this alleged “scorched party” policy is to discredit Palin’s credibility for a 2012 or 2016 campaign and thus increase Romney’s chances of securing the future nomination. If it is true, then not only are these attacks petty, but they’re done for equally petty reasons.

Let’s get brutally honest here… if I didn’t already have even a modicum of disgust for the Republican Party for what it has become prior to this 2008 Election, they eagerly earned it today with their post-election antics and with making Sarah Palin the scapegoat to their failures.

John McCain’s campaign had plenty of flaws to it, with many of them coming from his surrogates… the very support people who are now throwing Palin under the proverbial bus. How can we not forget the time when a McCain surrogate tried to claim that the Senator was responsible for the invention of the Blackberry? Or when McCain’s “trusted friend” and economic advisor called America a “nation of whiners”? Or when another surrogate tried to claim that Barack Obama wasn’t fit to run a company, and then made it sound like McCain was also not fit to run a company? Do these all sound like people that have their bearings straight?

Let’s not forget that McCain’s whole campaign was on the verge of insolvency from the start of the primary season, and he was almost forced to bow out if not for the fact that he started to win in certain states and the more popular candidates started to bow out first. Does that sound like a “flawless” campaign to you?

And how about the “crème de la crème” of boneheaded arguments: that women who supported Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign should switch parties and support the McCain-Palin campaign just because Sarah Palin is a woman! Come on! How pathetic is that? How DESPERATE is that?

Then there are the flaws that McCain himself made. The whole “Bomb Iran” moment, the suspension of his campaign to supposedly “fix” the economy, his flip-flopping on showing up at one of only three debates, his assertion (thanks to his “nation of whiners” advisor) that “the fundamentals of our economy are sound” while the nation was thinking otherwise, not knowing how many houses he owns, and even catering to the moralists while at the same time showing up at Sturgis and offering to enter his wife in a biker beauty contest that is often rated NC-17.

All of these things, and that’s not even mentioning “Joe the Plumber”, contributed to McCain’s Election Day loss, and they are things that his people certainly cannot blame on Sarah Palin, because she wasn’t even around for most of them! So stop trying to act like she was the sole reason why the campaign failed, because it obviously was flawed long before anyone in the “lower forty-eight” ever heard about her, never mind thought that she would be good for something other than being a charming companion for moose hunting.

The truth of the matter is that John McCain and his merry band of “Straight Talk” experts, surrogates, and advisors was the gang that couldn’t shoot straight in this election. The stories of the actual “Straight Talk Express” bus either running out of gas or getting involved in an accident were perhaps more than just ironic; they were a harbinger for what the campaign itself was going through. And rather than wasting time spilling the beans about what the new girl in the game was doing, both the campaign participants as well as the whole damned Republican Party in general need to take responsibility for their own failures and work to correct them before the next election. Only then can they begin to redeem themselves in the eyes of the voters.