Monday, January 30, 2012

Week of 01/30/2012

It’s Not “The Best We Got”
– by David Matthews 2

Like some of you, I’m working with computers that are far from being the “latest-greatest”. They’re still running on Windows XP. Even my security program doesn’t like working with the “latest-greatest”, even though pretty much every software program I use screams that I should get drop everything and get that “latest-greatest” computer system.

Unfortunately, even with prices going down, getting the “latest-greatest” isn’t in the cards for me right now. I wish it were.

But if I were to tell you that any of the computers I have is “the best we have”, I’m sure you’d look at me funny and wonder what year I think I’m still in. I mean, yeah, my computers were “the best”… back in 2007. But this is 2012! Certainly there’s something better available today.

And yet, we give that same excuse when it comes to systems that clearly are falling apart or otherwise are not working the way they’re supposed to.

Around Thanksgiving I heard a discussion on ESPN about the college bowl system and how the ranking system is set up for college football. The gist of the discussion was that even if a certain school loses the so-called “championship bowl” game, that school would still end up being declared the “winner”. So the question was why even bother to have a “bowl” game if the overall winner was determined by factors that had nothing to do with the game.

One of the participants and the host both conceded that the system was clearly messed up, but that this is the system they have and it’s “the best system we got”. This prompted the third person in the discussion to then jump in and say “no, I’m sorry, but it’s not. We say that same line every single year and it’s just not true.”

And he’s right. I have heard that same excuse be used year after year after year. Even members of the United States Congress tried to get involved with fixing the system by which the college “championship” would be decided, and they couldn’t come up with a way that everyone would agree on would better reflect the efforts of the college teams. Instead, everyone just throws up their hands and say “meh; it sucks, but it’s the best system we got”.

They’re not the only ones doing that, though.

Our tax system is a mess. There is no other way to describe it. It’s a mess. We have multiple-tiered systems of taxation depending on income and marital status, compounded by taxes on certain kinds of purchases, not to mention the various tax deductions and tax breaks that we get. Every time we talk about fixing it, some special interest group butts in and says that it’s not “fair” that certain groups would end up be paying more in taxes while others will pay less. They don’t want the system changed in any way that takes money or power away from themselves or their friends, and they certainly don’t want the system “fixed”.

So rather than actually doing something to fix the system, we all throw up our hands and say “meh; it sucks, but it’s the best system we got”.

It’s not, but we’ll excuse ourselves of doing anything about it by saying that it is.

Our economy is a mess. What the conservatives and neo-conservatives claim is “capitalism” has been slowly transformed into a predatory philosophy of plunder; one where “supply and demand” are more fiction than fact, and often that fiction is the same grade-Z horror material seen on the SyFy Channel. Millions of otherwise hard-working Americans have not only been forsaken by the private sector and the government, but they’ve also been blatantly slandered against by the conservatives and neo-conservatives, and done so with impunity. Millions of Americans have lost their homes, their fortunes, their life savings, because of the mechanizations of those on Wall Street, and it’s all supposedly “their own fault” according to the very criminals that have shielded themselves from any accountability and then pay talk radio personalities to paint them as “risk-takers”.

And forget about trying to fix any of this! No, any kind of steps to hold these criminals accountable for their actions are instantly branded as being “job-killers”. And when the chief law enforcer for the nation and his assistant have resumes that include defending those same financial institutions, then you probably guess that their first priorities are to make sure their former clients get away with their acts with just a pittance of a fine. It’s a done deal as far as they are concerned. We’re not even allowed to protest about this as all the protesters are being slandered by Fox News and conservative talk radio hosts, and law enforcers are pulling out tactics from “Soylent Green” to shut down the protesters.

So instead of demanding justice or trying to fix the system in any meaningful way that doesn’t screw over the nation yet again, we are all expected to just throw up our hands and say “meh, the system sucks, but it’s the best system we got”.

Our political system is a mess. The two major political parties that run it are grossly incompetent, pompous, self-serving, and corrupt to the core. And pretty much everyone involved with the political system or reporting about the political system will tell you that it’s been this way for whole generations. It’s always been a “good ol’ boy system”, it’s always been “who you know”, it’s always been about money and power and ego-gratification, and supposedly there is nothing in this world that can get either party to change things for the better.

So the answer should be for people to turn to a third party. That’s what all the polls continually say, if you were to believe them. But the problem is that America has had a third party, and a fourth, and a fifth, and so on and so forth. There are over one hundred different political parties in America besides the Democrats and the GOP. Look it up over at Project Vote Smart if you don’t believe me.

Okay, so there’s a need for third party intervention, and there are plenty of “third parties” to choose from. So why aren’t people flocking to them? Because supposedly those parties “can’t win” and nobody wants to supposedly “waste their vote” by voting for a party that they firmly believe “can’t win”. They have been brainwashed into believing that the very alternative they demand just cannot solve the problem.

Thus… instead of doing the right thing, people just throw their hands up in the air and say “meh; the system sucks, but it’s the best we got.”

No, I’m sorry but it isn’t. And I’m tired of lying to myself or to other people to pretend that it is.

Let’s get brutally honest here… there is something inherently wrong in stating that any kind of system is badly flawed, in desperate need of repair, and then to excuse trying to fix it by simply saying “it’s the best we got”. That goes beyond ignorance. That’s negligence by hubris.

If we know that a system, a program, or an institution is in desperate need of repair, and we throw our hands up in frustration and fail to fix it, then by its very nature it is far from being “the best” at anything. We know that can be better than it is now. We know that it needs to be better than it is now. So the question shouldn’t be why it isn’t truly “the best”, but rather it is why we are unwilling to make it really be “the best”.

Much like that ESPN panelist, it is high time we stop dismissing doing the right thing with continual lies and excuses about how a failed system could be anywhere near “the best we got”. If it is not working, then admit that it isn’t. If it needs to be fixed, then fix it. But stop lying to ourselves and to every one else about how it is “the best” at anything, because if anything, that excuse only serves to show us at our worst.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Week of 01/23/2012

It’s The Abuse, Not The Use, That Is The Problem
– by David Matthews 2

“Nothing in this world is black-and-white,” I was told growing up.

Unless you’re involved in politics. Then it seems like the whole world is reduced to those two colors.

One of the reasons why the extremist position is so appealing to certain people, especially when it comes to political discourse, is because it is absolute and zero-sum. It’s easy to explain. You’re either “with us” or “against us”. It’s “all” or “nothing”. In a global medium where one’s conversation is reduced to ten-second sound clips, extremists are the only ones that can clearly give their positions.

In the early 20th Century, temperance activists firmly believed that alcohol abuse was so pervasive in society that the only way to stop it was to outlaw alcohol completely. That is precisely what they did when they strong-armed the United States Congress to pass the Volstead Act and then to ratify the accompanying Constitutional Amendment to prevent their laws from being overturned in the courts.

Unfortunately for those extremists, human beings, being what they are, don’t like being dictated to by a bunch of pompous, self-righteous prudes. Because of Prohibition and the crackdowns that followed, alcohol abuse went from being a public nuisance to a private crisis. And if you thought that the admitted drunk was a problem, then I’m sure those prudes would love trying to deal with the drunk that refused to admit that he or she even had a problem. And that is precisely what happened to the problem of alcohol abuse. It didn’t get better. It got worse.

None of that mattered to the extremists, though. They didn’t care that people would rather become hardened criminals than to kowtow to their demands. They didn’t care that organized crime was getting obscenely rich by giving the masses what they wanted, regardless of what those self-righteous self-serving prudes wanted. All they cared for was that their will be done, and it was.

History showed that Prohibition was a huge stinking failure. That was the chief reason why it was eventually repealed, along with the Constitutional Amendment that shoved it down our collective gullets like a bad batch of political moonshine.

But even today, almost a century after the “Great Experiment” began, the extremist position is still appealing to the new post-Prohibition neo-Temperance activists because it solves the perceived “problem” with a simple zero-sum sound-byte-friendly statement: “Just cut it off.” There is no middle ground with them. There is no moderation. Just cut it off, shut it down, get rid of it, period; end of story.

The same can pretty much apply to anything that certain groups deem to be a “menace”, an “epidemic”, or even just a “problem”. Fast foods, online gambling, adult material, drugs, television, social networking, smoking… the extremist solution is always to simply “ban” it. Don’t regulate it. Don’t push for moderation. Just outlaw it and be done with it. Why? “Because we said so, that’s why!” Simple, easy to express, record it, print it, roll it, and put it on a bumper-sticker.

Likewise, the other side of the discussion when trying to contain or control such excesses is to accuse the other side of having that extremist position. So if you’re taking part in or making your money off such items, your position is most likely to presume that you should have free and unlimited ability to do whatever you want with the subject. The sky should be the limit as far as you are concerned, and any attempt to moderate or minimize any potential damage is immediately painted as being an out-and-out extremist ban.

Extremism is more than just a position. There is a negative image associated with those kinds of factions. They are always seen as being a marginalized minority, unwilling to compromise, unable to moderate their position even one iota. It automatically writes them out of the discussion.

So when it comes to protesting the excessive abuses of Big Corporate, we have both applications of this measure of extremism at play.

On one hand, you have selective elements of the “Occupy” crowd which are protesting about corporate profits in general, firmly believing that any kind of profit is evil, especially given the vast income difference that exists in general between the elites and the hard-working Americans. Some of these people - but clearly not all of them - are driven by the communal idea that any wealth should be shared.

And then we have the evangelical extremist supporters of Big Corporate - led by the paid whores in conservative talk radio and Fox News - that want to brand the whole “Occupy” crowd as being socialists, communists, Marxists, anarchists, and any other “ists” that they don’t like (nor can they differentiate). To them, the protesters aren’t complaining about corporate abuses, but rather about “capitalism” itself, even though what they themselves are defending is anything but “capitalism”.

The problem is that both the actual extremist position and the perceived position being thrown about are inherently wrong.

First, let’s get brutally honest here… this issue is not about capitalism itself. This is about a parasitic philosophy of plunder that has been slowly taking over the business world and has been causing harm to millions of Americans. A philosophy that treats customers as objects of plunder; that puts profits ahead of people; and presumes a company to be above not only the laws of man, but even above the laws of reality. That’s no more about the virtues of capitalism than claiming that the Octomom is the paragon of virginity.

There is a natural economic balance that has been upended in America. Thanks to outsourcing and an excess of work visas, businesses don’t have to invest in the community to be prosperous. The banking industry’s games destroyed whole neighborhoods, and, thanks to their friends in the federal government, they are being allowed to get away with their games with a wink-and-a-nod. These are the reasons that created the “Occupy” movement in the first place, and as long as the paid whores of Big Corporate continue to fraudulently claim that this issue is about “capitalism” in general, these matters will continue to fester and destroy America.

And by the way, for those that want to continue to claim that this issue is about “capitalism itself”, I wonder how many of you “economic evangelicals” would be singing the same tune if the business in question was an adult bookstore. How hypocritical it is that the same political faction that demands repressive laws and regulations to stifle commercial radio and television and to outright outlaw commercialized adult activity then is allowed to turn around and demand the exact opposite for the rest of the business world. For a bunch of “capitalistic purists”, some of them really aren’t that “pure” to begin with.

That brings us to those within the “Occupy” crowd that think that profits are evil. To put it bluntly, you’re not helping your cause with this kind of a stance.

Yes, it is wrong that Wall Street got the bailout goldmine and the left the rest of America with the shaft. It’s wrong that the elites in this country continue to make money while everyone else suffers. But the key thing that brings people to your side is focusing not on the ends, but on the means being applied to those ends. It’s that parasitic philosophy of plunder that you need to condemn. It’s by focusing on how those profits are made that get people on your side. You focus on the misery, the foreclosed homes, the evicted families, the shattered dreams of millions of hard-working Americans. The minute you lose sight of that, the minute you focus ON the money instead of how it is made, that is when you lose credibility. That is when you lose a sizable portion of that “99%” that you claim to represent.

The elites in this country have been playing a very subtle con game on the American people of division and deception. They convinced the Middle Class that they can be rich like them. They put homes and cars and home theater systems and vacation packages in front of us and told us all that we could have them. And like lonely men in a strip club, the Middle Class bought into the seduction hook-line-and-sinker, only to find themselves at the end of the night out of luck and out of money. It’s not the seduction of wealth that needs to be dealt with; it’s the con game itself. It’s the lie and deception, the false promise of inclusion, the unattainable goal that must be shut down, and the perpetrators brought to justice.

And by the way, that promise of sharing those profits that I mentioned earlier is no different than the promise made by the so-called “Reagan Republicans” when they promise to “spread the wealth” in their “trickle-down economic” plans. The plans that are still being touted today. What do they really promise? They say “you let us get rich, and then we’ll share that with all of you in terms of more jobs and more businesses.” You tell me: doesn’t that promise sound like one of those “-ist” group platforms that you cons and neo-cons claim to despise? And how is it that making the promise is considered “conservative” but being called out for not following through suddenly an “-ist” group platform?

Maybe it’s easier for the extremist to make their stance known in a medium reduced to a bunch of painfully short bumper-sticker-friendly sound clips. But if the extremist faction is the only one that is able to get their message out, then it’s high time that we all find a new medium.