Monday, March 30, 2009

Week of 03/30/2009

Leave The Teleprompter Alone!
– by David Matthews 2

It was a moment of Internet insanity… an effeminate MySpace celebrity named Chris Crocker turned on his webcam in September of 2007 and started screaming about the criticisms of Britney Spears after her abysmal public appearance on MTV.

“Leave Britney Alone!” he shouted with tears running down his face.

Some people think that he was staging an act, that his hysterics were just part of a satiric comedy performance. But whether or not his tantrum was genuine, it certainly generated plenty of publicity and parody as others began impersonating Crocker and begging that they leave HIM alone, along with a growing list of other train-wrecks that needed to be “left alone”.

Well I think we need to have a repeat of the mascara-running shrill voice in front of ever conservative and neo-conservative talk show host, and have him screeching a new message…


In their eternal quest to find some way to denigrate and condemn President Barack Obama, conservative and neo-conservative talk show hosts have decided to focus their efforts on Obama’s eloquence, and specifically on the tool that speakers both public and private have been using for years.

As a former stage actor, I know the biggest fear in any kind of performance is forgetting your lines. In public speaking, this is even more so, because it is all about what you say and how you say it.

And Obama’s chief asset is his eloquence. This is a tremendous difference from the condescending drawl from Bill Clinton, or the shrill tones from Hillary Clinton, or the fumbling, bumbling Texas redneck buffoonery from George W. Bush, or even the grandfatherly tone from George H.W. Bush. In fact you have to go back to the late Ronald Reagan to find someone as eloquent as Obama.

So the cons and neo-cons have decided to pick at Obama’s use of the teleprompter. They have accused him of having a love affair with the teleprompter. They have accused of him of being nothing BUT a teleprompter. They have even CALLED him a teleprompter! Rush Limbaugh, the unofficial boss of the Republican Party, now refers to Obama as the TPIC, or TelePrompter-In-Chief.

And I have to wonder… is this the only thing that the cons and neo-cons have LEFT? Are their stances so pathetically abysmal that they have to resort to picking on the fact that Obama uses a teleprompter? What’s next? Picking on what kind of tie he wears? Counting the number of pinstripes on his jacket? Critiquing on the color of his dress shirts? How about how he has his hair done? The brightness of his smile? These were the same losers that were throwing fits during the campaign as to whether or not he wears a flag pin!

You would think that they would be spending their time going after the particulars of Obama’s programs, wouldn’t you? Maybe questioning how tax increases would help the economy, or perhaps trying to question how his programs would spur job creation?

But no… we have to hear the constant nagging about how Obama uses a teleprompter, as though he was the first president to have ever used the device.

Then again, for a political faction that has nothing left to offer but bitter divisiveness, the cons and neo-cons have found a relatively easy target in the teleprompter. After all, picking on the teleprompter doesn’t require any kind of persuasive argument or proof to back up. It’s like complaining that President Obama is breathing air.

Plus, the teleprompter doesn’t get paid for what it does. Not unlike speechwriters and political advisers, the teleprompter is there 24-7 without any kind of coffee breaks or vacation leave.

But more importantly, the teleprompter doesn’t have anyone to come to its rescue. It has no special interest groups that can badger the media and browbeat members of Congress to condemn what the cons and neo-cons are doing. There’s no fear of retribution going after an inanimate object like the teleprompter. It’s probably the safest target for them to attack. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Had the cons and neo-cons attacked the speechwriters or the political consultants that create the speeches that President Obama would be reading off the teleprompter, they would be soundly condemned in the media for picking on the helpless people working diligently behind the scenes. They might even face a backlash from their own speechwriters and consultants. Instead, like schoolyard bullies, they go after the things that don’t fight back.

Let’s get brutally honest here… if this is the best that the cons and neo-cons can offer right now, then they have really lost it.

Sure President Obama sounds more eloquent with the teleprompter than without it. Everyone does. That’s not a classified secret. It’s something that politicians and members of the media have used for years. Yes, even the air-fluffed ego-driven members of FoxNews, the beloved channel for cons and neo-cons alike, use a teleprompter. But it’s not like Obama can’t speak without it. His recent town-hall meetings are proof of that.

Now compare that to his predecessor… the man who kept comedians entertained for years with his running gaffes about how ticket counters fly, how human beings and fish could co-exist, how struggling parents put food on their families, and how OB-GYNs practice their “love” with women. George W. Bush was a walking-talking justification for the use of teleprompters.

Never mind the one time when Bush Junior really USED the teleprompter and talked about how the Iraqis were trying to buy Uranium yellow-cake when they weren’t. The infamous “16 words” that shouldn’t have been in the State of the Union speech but still somehow ended up on the teleprompter. What then, guys? Did you blame the teleprompter then? Oh, wait, you didn’t. You attacked the people that questioned what the teleprompter said. After all, if it was on the teleprompter and the president said it, then it MUST be true, right?

The conservatives and neo-conservatives have one thing in common with Chris Crocker’s “Leave Britney Alone” rant, and that is that their public rantings come off as petty and childish. Perhaps that is what President Obama truly meant when he said in his Inauguration that we need to get rid of our childish things.

This is supposed to be a game played by adults. Let’s keep it at that level.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Week of 03/23/2009

Bonus Question: The Inevitable Corporate Regulation
– by David Matthews 2

Is it wrong to ask for and get payment for services rendered?

Absolutely not! That is the essential nature of work.

And if you do exceptional work, shouldn’t you be rewarded for it if your employer so desires?

Of course! That sort of incentive encourages more exceptional work.

But what about when you do a mediocre job? What about when you do a job that sinks your company so badly into debt that it needs the federal government to bail them out? Do you think that deserves to be rewarded in the same way as exceptional work?

Probably not.

And yet corporate executives do just that.

The very concept of a bonus - to reward exceptional action in order to encourage more of it - has long been bastardized by big business. They have used it as a form of secondary income, especially so for their executives. They get a regular “base pay”, for tax purposes of course, and then they get their “bonus pay”, which they count on just as much as their regular paycheck.

And that has led to the political embarrassment we know today as AIG.

The taxpayers were forced by operatives of the Bush Imperium to take 80% ownership of AIG. We were told that this is because AIG had grown so big that we could not afford to have it collapse. Even worse, this came at a time when we were also forced to bail out a whole bunch of banks, using the same fearmongering arguments that the Imperium used to shove the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq War down our throats. (Isn’t it nice to know that we can be so easily manipulated by even the inept of morons?)

And then it all came out, didn’t it? The bonuses, the perks, the extravagant and wasteful spending on things like luxury jets and Superbowl sponsorships, and the junkets to luxury resorts and Las Vegas.

And all of that is being picked up by the American taxpayers.

Why the surprised look, o-great and powerful masters of the universe? Why are you surprised that the American people would be outraged at this sort of stuff? They’re losing their homes, they’re losing their jobs, they’re losing control over any kind of semblance of a life, they’re being screwed over by the credit card companies, and by the insurance companies, and then they’re being told that THEY have to foot the bill for the abusive practices of the very institutions responsible for screwing them over. It’s like getting gang-raped by an army, getting a sexually-transmitted disease from it, and then getting a bill from said army for expenses and “services rendered”. Which part of that kind of outrage don’t you understand?

Now we’re fixated on AIG’s excesses, because we’re hearing that these executives were getting bonuses even though they were driving that company into the ground. These bonuses were being given regardless of actual good work!

Worse yet, we’re finding out that our government, the very entity that FORCED us to bail these bad companies out and FORCED us to take 80% ownership of AIG, not only KNEW about these bonuses, but sabotaged any effort to BLOCK the bonuses.

Unfortunately there’s nothing that we can really do about the AIG bonuses. The die was cast on that sin a long time ago. These bonuses were part of a contractual agreement signed long before the bailouts were needed, and breaking that contract would actually cost the taxpayers DOUBLE. The only way that the contracts could have been broken and the bonuses stopped would be if the company filed for bankruptcy liquidation, which, thanks to the Bush Imperium and members of Congress, never happened because they were bailed out.

It is not good to be an executive in AIG right about now. There are actual TOURS of the homes of AIG executives being held by protesters. AIG employees claim that they’re now getting death threats because of where they work. The tours are amusing, but the death threats are not. And all of that is coming out of the anger and frustration of people when being told that there are those that are prospering off the misery of others.

So now the worst fears of conservatives and neo-conservatives are coming true. Not only is the government moving to tax 100% of those bonuses (or as close to it as they can), they’re talking about regulating ALL bonuses, not just for the banks and other institutions getting bailout money, but ALL financial institutions.

And the cons and neo-cons, much to their dishonor and embarrassment, can only recite their pathetically empty mantras about how businesses should be able to use bonuses to “retain top talent” and that regulating how private entities do business can only spell doom for capitalism. They sit there in their lofty studios and foundation offices, churning out the same Ayn Rand-style screeds of blasphemy from the cult of capitalism.

And in doing so, they forget some key points:

First, the system is already broken. Atlas has already shrugged. The American people are being forced to pony up to support institutions that should have DIED in a normal capitalist setting. You can thank both Democrats and Republicans for that.

Second, the mantra that failing companies should use bonuses to “retain top talent” defies the utter reality that if your executives are the ones behind the failure of those companies, then maybe THEY’RE NOT TOP TALENT! I know that little nugget of reality hurts the ego, but it is the truth.

Third, the very idea that bonuses should be awarded regardless of actual good work defies the purpose of giving that bonus. If you’re not giving it as a reward, but merely as a matter of contractual agreement regardless of performance, then it’s not a bonus. It’s just another form of regular pay.

And fourth, as much as the cons and neo-cons refuse to understand this, the groundwork for this kind of regulation, as well as even more restrictive measures, was set down seven years ago.

Remember the “War on Corporate Fraud”? Remember Enron? Remember WorldCom? Remember Arthur Andersen? Remember all of the big corporate failures? Remember Ken Lay and Martha Stewart?

How did the government respond? They responded with regulations. They responded with an intrusive and annoying law called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. And who imposed those things in the business world? Who forced corporations to succumb to regulatory oversight? President George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress did!

How much of a stretch would it be, then, to have liberal Democrats follow through with the pattern set forth by their political counterparts? Not much indeed.

Let’s get brutally honest here… once again corporate executives have nobody to blame but THEMSELVES for the actions and reactions from the masses. They were the ones that pushed the system beyond the breaking point as they sat there and sipped champagne with their con and neo-con friends in complete oblivion to the consequences of their actions. They were the ones that gamed the system, and they continue to game the system and spit in the face of the great unwashed, and for that the masses are getting angrier and angrier by the day.

They are essentially INVITING the government to come in and regulate the crap out of them. They’re acting like drunken Spring Break partiers picking fights with the police, DARING them to either be arrested or shot.

The problem is that for the longest time banks and corporate executives have pretty much used business as their own personal piggy banks. They didn’t care about PRODUCT, they just cared about PROFIT, and how much they could get out of the deal. The rules that normally apply to most hard-working people didn’t apply to them, because they were the ones that pretty much wrote the rules and thus enforced them. So a CEO who stays at a company for two years, no matter how well off the company really does, gets a reward just for being there. And if anyone asks? Well, it’s in the contract! Granted, it’s a contract that they wrote, but that shouldn’t matter.

Yes, in the great scheme of things, the question of bonuses seems trite, but it goes to expose the overall corruption that exists today with big corporations and the influence they wield in government. They suck, they know they suck, and we know they suck, and the only way that any of this will change is when those in the financial world and corporate world wake up from the drunken party stupors and get their act together.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Week of 03/16/2009

Where CNBC (and others) Just Doesn’t Get It
– by David Matthews 2

It was eight minutes of absolute clarity. The utter realization at that point that the emperor really had no clothes on.

And it came from a comedian.

If there is one thing that Jon Stewart has really been very good at doing, it is being able to take a serious subject and get it across to the masses by making it funny… even when the subject itself is far from funny. Stewart manages to bypass the political firewalls of liberals and conservatives because his nightly show on Comedy Central is supposed to be a JOKE. It’s supposed to satirize the nightly news. And yet more people watch it than the shows that are designed for the “serious” material.

“You’re on CNN,” he once told the hosts of the now-defunct CNN show “Crossfire”. “The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls!”

When Stewart appeared on “Crossfire” and said that memorable line, along with his on-air assertion that he wouldn’t be their “monkey”, it pretty much sounded the death knell for that show. “The Daily Show” stayed, “Crossfire” was toast.

Now Stewart can add CNBC to his list of “emperors” proven to have no clothes on.

And again, he did it with laughs.

Following CNBC’s Rick Santelli backing away from his scheduled interview on Stewart’s show, Stewart ran the eight-minute segment that he wanted to air prior to the interview anyway. It was originally designed to make Santelli uneasy, especially after his tirade on the floor of the Chicago Exchange. The clip contained eight minutes of predictions and interviews by CNBC’s so-called “experts” and how each of them would be proven to be wrong.

And there wasn’t an embarrassing moment that he didn’t cover either! AIG, Bear Sterns, Bank of America, the subprime mortgage meltdowns… lofty predictions followed by failures and buyouts and bailouts.

And then there were scenes of CNBC’s “experts” interviewing CEOs and so-called “financial gurus” on fluff matters and asking the leader of a company accused of running a Ponzi scheme what it’s like being a billionaire. The network that prides itself as knowing the pulse of the financial world, and they’re shown as being nothing more than the Ryan Seacrest of Wall Street.

Understandably, CNBC’s star Jim Cramer took exception to some of the characterizations, but even after Stewart corrected the information from one of the clips, Cramer continued to hit back for the network.

Then came the March 12th appearance on the “Daily Show”.

A different Jim Cramer appeared on Stewart’s show then. Somewhat subdued, no longer boisterous, somewhat humbled, and that was even before clips were played of Cramer talking about some of the tactics going on in the market, like spreading false rumors and short-selling.

Indeed, Jim Cramer, CNBC’s most animated and boisterous and entertaining of financial “experts”, had all the appearance of a schoolchild being sent to the principal’s office, with Stewart holding the yardstick ruler. He was ready to take his licks on behalf of his bosses.

But as Stewart himself pointed out on more than one occasion, this really wasn’t about Jim Cramer!

Indeed as the air-fluffed ego-driven media and even White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs all declared Jon Stewart the winner in the non-debate between two entertaining media personalities, the ultimate message was STILL lost!

This was NOT about Jim Cramer!

It was not about Jim Cramer making wacky sound effects and throwing animated bulls from between his legs or his wild predictions which were proven to be wrong, or even the tactics that that he advocated to generate greater returns. It was not about Jim Cramer showing up on the Today show to call Jon Stewart a “comedian”, which was about as insulting as calling Dora the Explorer an “animated character”. It wasn’t even about Cramer’s pledge to “do better”.

It wasn’t even Jim Cramer’s battle! HE should not have been the one going to the Daily Show woodshed. That should have been Rick Santelli in the hot seat, because he was the one that started the rhetorical dominos falling. It was Santelli that was complaining about homeowners getting help from the government while speaking on an exchange floor that was flush with billions in bailout money. Santelli was the one that put a face to the Marie Antoinette attitude and the great disconnect that exists between Wall Street and Main Street.

And perhaps if Santelli did show up for the March 4th interview this whole matter would have been a non-issue. Take the lumps, take the pie in the face, and let it go. But Santali’s scheduling turnaround was supposedly under orders from CNBC executives, who simply wanted the matter to go away. They probably should have first talked with Senator John McCain about the folly of doing that. But in doing so, CNBC executives opened up the Pandora’s Box of trouble for themselves and their fellow members of the air-fluffed ego-driven media.

The truth, my friends, was that this was not about Rick Santelli either.


It was about CNBC serving less as journalists and more like cheerleaders for the Wall Street elites. They prided themselves in having “access” to the big corporate CEOs and the self-described “masters of the universe”. But while Wall Street was heading for a fall, CNBC was more worried about marijuana, and the Westminster Dog Show. They fretted about eBay, and the only high-end hookers that they worried about were the ones that worked in the bedroom, not in the boardroom or the halls of government.

It’s only AFTER the various houses of cards started to collapse that the hard questions get asked. It’s only AFTER the Bernard Madoff scam is revealed and arrests were made that CNBC started asking what happened.

But if they were truly reading “the pulse” of the marketplace, they should have REPORTED what was going on before it became a problem!

It’s not like it was a secret! CBS did an interview with the man that was sounding the alarm bells FOR YEARS about what Madoff was doing. The Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating this company numerous times. It’s not like this just dropped out of the sky.

THIS is what Jon Stewart was pointing to. THIS is what he was talking about when he talked about money manipulation being treated as a game and why people are upset about it. And then to top it off, you had Santelli pull his impromptu Marie Antoinette act about struggling homeowners, using lines that could have been pulled straight from a GOP talking-points memo.

Let’s get brutally honest here… CNBC made the classic mistake of selling their integrity for access. Their executives made the decision a long time ago that it was more important to suck up to the corporate CEOs than to ask them the really hard questions about the stability of their business or in the folly of handing out excessive bonuses for non-performance. They stopped being journalists and started being nothing more than glorified freelance PR agents.

Of course it’s not entirely their fault. They’re simply doing what other news services have been doing for a while now. They’re not reporting the news as much as they are informing and entertaining the masses. They don’t have reporters or economic “experts” as much as they have media personalities that just HAPPEN to be reporters or financial advisors.

Yes it’s easy to say that CNBC doesn’t give a damn about the common man, but then again, that’s really not their target audience. They’re playing up to the people on Wall Street! They’re looking at the SERIOUS investors… the ones with the seven-or-eight-digit bank accounts. The people that can read that scrolling mess of numbers and letters and know what all of it means.

And that’s where the great disconnect really is, because the average person has no idea that all of these games are being played on Wall Street. They’re just being told that this is where they can put their money in and not worry about it. And now on top of worrying about losing their jobs and discovering that they’ve lost most or all of their life savings are gone, they’re being told that they have to foot the bill for billions in bailout money, AND that “too big to fall” corporations like AIG are still shelling out bonuses. And while all this is going on, networks like CNBC are sucking up to the people at the top, asking them about partying with Kid Rock and how fun it is to be a billionaire.

Jon Stewart’s slam was directed at the network executives at CNBC that decided that sucking up to CEOs and so-called “masters of the universe” was more important than reporting the news. And unfortunately that was the message that got lost, not just by CNBC, but also by other members of the media, especially online media. They still saw this as being a battle of media personalities, when it really is a call to clean up their act.

In Medieval times, the jester was one of the most influential people in the kingdom, more so than any so-called “trusted adviser”, because he could say with a smile what generals and nobles would not dare say to the king with a straight face. When Stewart dredges up footage of CNBC screwing up, he may be doing it with a smile, and the audience may be laughing, but when you hear the audience react, you realize that it’s an uneasy laugh. It’s the kind of laugh that usually precedes a cry. And for the media, whose integrity is on the line, it’s not the kind of laugh that they want to hear.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Week of 03/09/2009

Is Brokered Justice Broken Justice?
– by David Matthews 2

There is a very sad and disturbing trait showing up with the Obama Administration, and it’s one that people should pay close attention to.

Federal prosecutors are supposedly working out a plea deal with suspected Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff that would bypass a grand jury and involve pleading guilty. He has already waived the grand jury, so the guilty plea is usually the next step.

Let’s recap here for a minute… this is the guy that supposedly was given $50 billion to invest, and instead of doing that, he was accused of keeping the money. And nobody asked any questions about it because of WHO he was and who his friends were. This is, after all, the former chairman of NASDAQ! He should KNOW better, right? RIGHT? Especially after EIGHT separate investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission! You would think at some point he would be saying “Gee, maybe I should be INVESTING some of this money that I have just sitting around.”

But, no, instead he gets house arrest… and by “house” I mean electronic surveillance in his $7 million penthouse in Manhattan. Shades of Martha Stewart, anyone?

There have supposedly been some sticking points with any kind of plea deal, though. The $7mil penthouse is supposedly off the table. Ditto for some $62 million that Madoff claims wasn’t involved and actually is owned by the wife separately. That leaves maybe $1 billion that prosecutors can TRY to recover on behalf of the victims, some of whom were investing in this supposed scheme for DECADES. That’s 1/50th of the amount stolen.

Oh but don’t worry, the judge overseeing this says that any kind of plea deal will STILL involve having the victims face the guilty party in court. And the people can recover SOME of their money thanks to a private securities investment insurance fund… as long as it’s under $500,000 per person.

Let’s recap here… up to $50 billion stolen over a period of several decades. Maybe $1 billion could be recovered directly from Mr. Madoff, and another $500K per person could be retrieved from an insurance fund. Madoff would keep his posh home along with a few million… you can probably forget about any prison time, even at ultra-light Club Fed. And all of it in exchange for, what? An opportunity for Madoff’s victims to calmly and politely tell him how he ruined their lives and destroyed their finances? Does that sound like any kind of reasonable measure of justice? This was one of the contributing factors behind the financial meltdown these past few months, and everyone is supposed to accept him saying “My bad”?

But that’s not the only kind of deal wiggled out from the Obama Administration.

Quite recently we had the “breaking news” come in across the cable news services that, after numerous months of outright refusals, former Bush Imperium players Karl Rove and Harriet Meyers would be testifying to Congress about their suspected involvement in the firings of federal prosecutors for purely political reasons (which, by the way, is against federal law). This comes after TWO YEARS of stonewalling and out-and-out refusing to answer subpoenas.

Two years of thumbing their noses at any measure of accountability, testing the legal limits of executive privilege, suddenly these two inner circle players have changed course and have agreed to answer questions. Why? A sudden and miraculous change of conscience for two tried-and-true diehard Imperium cheerleaders? Unlikely.

No, their sudden concession came after some serious deal-making between them, members of Congress investigating the Imperium, and key members of the Obama Administration.

And all of this wouldn’t be done out of the “goodness” of anyone’s hearts, so you can probably guess the kind of concessions that would have to be made. For instance, no contempt charges. (These two did, after all, ignore a federal subpoena, which is against the law.) There probably were a few more promises of no criminal charges for the information they provide. Just give out the details, answer the questions, and then move on, and if anyone was harmed in the process, too bad. Nothing personal, it’s just politics.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Does anyone find it the least bit coincidental that the Obama Administration would suddenly be airing all of the dirty little secrets of the Bush Imperium at the same time as Congress changes its tune regarding its investigations into the Imperium’s actions? Gone is any talk of indictments or charges of illegal activities. Now we have talk of a “Truth and Reconciliation Committee”, with the only supposed purpose being to get at “THE TRUTH”.

Has anyone noticed a marked absence of any mention of JUSTICE when it comes to the Obama Administration?

Someone steals $50 billion over a period of several decades. There is gross ineptitude from the agency that is supposed to monitor the system to prevent this from happening. And THE MOST that people can expect to get in return is a FRACTION of what they invest and an opportunity to politely tell the person directly responsible for stealing their money how hurt they are by it.

Gross breaches of trust are made, abuses of government power discovered, and nobody is punished for it. No charges filed, no prison time served, and if there is any harm done, those harmed would be lucky to just get an apology.

Let’s get brutally honest here… what we are seeing happen is a gross INJUSTICE on society! Crimes are being committed, and the people behind them are being allowed to get away with those crimes in exchange for providing “the truth” about what happened.

That’s not justice! That’s called AIDING AND ABETTING A CRIMINAL!

If I were to rob my neighbors over the span of several years, sell all the things that I stole from them, and live comfortably off the money that I get from those stolen things, and I’m finally caught, would my neighbors be content with me just explaining how I stole from them and give them the change in my pocket? That’s essentially what federal prosecutors are looking to do with Bernard Madoff. He is essentially being allowed to get away with what he did in exchange for him not drawing out any kind of criminal trial and exposing the gross ineptitude by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Even worse is what the Democrats, along with those in the Obama Administration, are planning on doing with the crimes and sins of the Bush Imperium. Before the 2006 mid-term elections they wanted impeachment hearings and subpoenas, and more importantly they wanted JUSTICE to be served. But once they got into positions of power, all of a sudden all of that talk became muted. Now they don’t want justice. Now they just want “the truth”. And if anyone WAS harmed by the actions of the Imperium? Well it’s a crying shame but at least they know that “THE TRUTH” is out, and isn’t that more important?

The Obama Administration is doing this nation a HUGE disservice by brokering deals for those at the top of the food chain. Every time they do, they abandon the concept of “justice for all” and instead embrace the continual accusation that there IS a double-standard when it comes to the rich and powerful. That’s certainly not the kind of standard that the Obama Administration would want to be publicly associated with.

There are three elements to a successful crime. The first is planning it. The second is carrying it out. And the third is getting away with it. As long as criminals in positions of power can broker some sort of deal to escape justice, then they will ALWAYS get away with their crimes.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Week of 03/02/2009

How About Having the Gamer-Haters Grow Up?
– by David Matthews 2

They just HAD to do it, didn’t they?

Rockstar Games just HAD to come up with a brand new “Grand Theft Auto” game, didn’t they? And it couldn’t be about cute little bunnies and sweet-smelling flowers, could it? No, it had to be about violent street gang action in the fictional city of Liberty City.

And they couldn’t pare down the violence, could they? Maybe show clean-cut decent people helping old ladies cross the street? Or Girl Scouts selling cookies? Or decent WASP people going to church? No, they had to have gritty bikers and drinking beer and using things like pipe bombs and shotguns and broken pool cues.

Okay, in all fairness, this isn’t really a “new” game. It’s an expansion of the original “Grand Theft Auto IV” game. That means you have to have the original game to use the expansion. And you can’t buy it in any brick-and-mortar neighborhood store. It’s something that you have to actually purchases through Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE online store and then download to your Xbox 360 game console.

Oh wait… online? Download? That’s… bad… right?

Yes, you remember the last GTA “download” don’t you? The one where you could unlock a certain “hot coffee” scene for “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” that was built into the game? Sure it was of the softcore Eurotrash-quality, but people added mods that made it a little more “descriptive”. Boy did the parents groups throw screaming temper-tantrums over that nonsense! Some even sued Rockstar Games because they were so mind-numbingly STUPID to believe that a game that was already rated M for MATURE would be safe for their precious-little tax deductions!

Oh, but that was then, and this is now. And now we have GTA IV, already getting flack for the violence and the cop-killing and allowing users to get their character drunk and then handling vehicles drunk. Oh, and they still show strippers… clothed (never mind the “live nude” signs). And you still have the main character getting some in-car action with the streetwalkers (complete with car bouncing)… clothed of course.

But the “Lost and Damned” expansion episode goes one step further. It has a cut scene featuring actual NUDITY!

And not just nudity… MALE NUDITY!

Oh the horrors!

Never mind that you can kill anyone you virtually want to. Never mind that you can drive as drunk as you virtually want to. Never mind that you have mind-numbing virtual carnage. Never mind that you have booty-bouncing bump-and-grinding streetwalker fun. Now we have some dude showing his junk for our virtual agents of chaos!

And even before the outrage can build to a crescendo pitch, we have the purists and prudes going on about how gamers need to “grow up” and, to quote Pat Benatar, “stop using sex as a weapon”.

At least MSNBC’s “Citizen Gamer” Winda Benedetti got a few things right about the subject.

“If all was right with the world, depicting sex and sexuality in video games meant for adult players would raise nary an eye brow,” she writes. “After all, adults in the real world have sex. Adults in movies have sex. So why shouldn’t adult characters in video games get it on or, you know, appear in their computer-generated birthday suits?”

On that part of the article, I’m in complete agreement. But then Winda goes off on her tangent about how game designers show scantily-clad bodacious women carrying on with actions that would cause serious chafing or uncomfortable wedgies in real-life. You can’t have bodacious women wearing metal bikinis engaging in sword-fights and drawing blood!

I take it that Ms. Bernedetti has never heard of the legendary comic book character “Red Sonia”, who travelled the countryside fighting evildoers and monsters with… yes… a chainmail bikini and a sword. In fact the concept of a scantily-clad bodacious female warrior has long been the romanticized subject of fiction, even if it’s restricted to just descriptions on the printed page and a suggestive book cover.

But I would dare suggest that maybe the wrong groups are being told to grow up.

For far too many years now, a dirty little secret has been kept from the general public. And it’s one that game designers and game promoters have known for a long time.

According to most research on the subject… the median age for video game players is 29.

Not nine or even nineteen… TWENTY-NINE!

In other words, you’re dealing with full-blown and matured ADULTS!

Not kids. Not teenagers. Not even college-bound frat-boys. ADULTS!

Adults that work hard and actually earn their own money instead of getting an allowance or starting up a lemonade stand. And many of those adults (including this writer) have grown up with video games around them.

And yet that “dirty little secret” about the age of most game players conflicts with the myth being spun by members of the media and by self-righteous moralists. It’s the myth that says that all video games are meant for little children. Never mind that the military uses games like Quake to train their soldiers, or to recruit young adults into their ranks. This is all supposed to be just for those precious little tax deductions, and if some silver-haired woman is buying “Grand Theft Auto”, then it OBVIOUSLY must be for her precious little grandchildren and not for her own entertainment.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the reason why video game designers have used sex and sexual imagery is because they are TRYING to appeal to that median age! They’re trying to come up with games FOR ADULTS!

And every time they do, they encounter Mafia-style hostility from self-righteous moralist groups that DEMAND that not only retailers NOT sell the game AT ALL in their stores, but actually threaten GOVERNMENT ACTION against any distributor that DARES to release it!

When the hidden “Hot Coffee” scene was revealed, the self-righteous groups pressured Congress to sic the Federal Trade Commission on Rockstar Games. They also threatened to target any store that continued to have the game on their shelves until Rockstar Games could re-release it without the hidden feature. Do you really think that game retailers (whose median age is actually younger than those of the game-players) would want to risk arrests and lawsuits? Most of them have a hard enough time keeping the bills paid, never mind take on the jihadist mentalities of the moralists.

So game designers and developers package their games using scantily-clad buxom women. They tease without please. That’s really no different than what TV network executives and romance book publishers do on a regular basis. In fact, your typical romance book is probably more explicit than any scene in the whole “GTA” series, and that’s with the “Hot Coffee” scene included.

And speaking of TV, it doesn’t help when you have alarmist groups like FoxNews blatantly exaggerating the content of games like “Mass Effect” simply for the sake of ratings. This was a matter that Electronic Arts VP Jeff Brown took FoxNews to task over in 2008. Their over-exaggeration of the content in “Mass Effect” was tantamount to an act of slander, and apparently all just to promote a psychiatrist’s new book.

Clearly the WRONG groups are being told to “grow up” here.

For starters, the parents groups need to get an adult life and stop trying to bowdlerize the rest of the world to their stunted child-like mentalities.

The truth of the matter is that these games have ratings and warnings in place that clearly specify that they are for ADULT participants. The content is clearly marked, and if anything, the content descriptions are sometimes overly sensitive almost to the point of hysteria.

The ESRB labels are not there for show. Nor are they written in cryptic indecipherable code. They’re there to do precisely what parents groups have been complaining about for years: give them the knowledge of what that program has so they can decide for themselves what is or is not appropriate for their children. But, as with all other tools, it does not absolve parents of their inherent responsibility of actually BEING parents.

Members of the ego-driven media also need to grow up and recognize that the average age of game-players ARE adults, and that they have every right to buy and play video games designed FOR adults. That means content that includes violence, gore, blood, offensive language, and, yes, even sex and nudity. They also need to put to end this asinine assumption of their that just because an ad for a mature-rated game appears on the TV in the middle of prime time that somehow that ad is being “targeted for children”.

Do you know who needs to grow up as well? All of those prudes that complain about the fact that sex still sells, even when used to advance the sale of video games. The only reason why sex is a potent selling mechanism is because it has been so vilified and condemned by the very moralists that those in the media give credence to.

This columnist would certainly look forward to the day when there can BE a video game release FOR adults, that contains material clearly designed FOR adults, and not raise a single hackle amongst the dysfunctional elite or their willing accomplices in the media. Unfortunately, to do so would mean getting rid of a lot of self-promoting and mutually-appreciative chatter from said groups, which they would never be willing to do on their own.

The true measurement of maturation is NOT in the use of mature content, but rather that it can be used in its proper context without needless fanfare or complaints. In that regard, we all have a lot of maturing to do.