Monday, March 26, 2012

Week of 03/26/2012

The Etch-A-Sketch Secret
– by David Matthews 2

Quick! What do magicians, professional wrestlers, and major political candidates have in common?

They each have secrets about their craft that they desperately want kept secret.

It’s one thing to watch a magician “saw” a woman in half on stage and then figure out how they really did it. It is another thing entirely to actually be that magician and to then show the audience how every magician does it.

A few years back, the Fox TV network (not to be confused with their GOP-friendly cable news channel) did a series of specials that revealed many of the most popular magic tricks. They prefaced these specials by saying that the magician revealing these secrets had to wear a mask because to “give away the store” as he did was inviting threats to his own life. Whether or not the threat was true, the danger of making such information public certainly was likely.

For the longest time, the world of professional wrestling was able to get away with calling itself a “sport” until a series of lawsuits forced World Wrestling Entertainment (then the World Wrestling Federation) to call itself “sports entertainment”. The situation was made even worse when Vince Russo, a well-known “writer” for the industry, went in front of the cameras on rival World Championship Wrestling and began to strip away all of the “glitz” of the sport, including publicly using insider terms to the audience like “heels” and “baby-face”. WCW did not last very long after that, but by then the damage was clearly done.

No, professional wrestling is not “fake”, but the outcomes are scripted. And the revelation of that certainly took out a lot of glitz of the industry.

Likewise, politicians have a lot of tricks of their trade that they use to both get elected and then to stay in office until a better job becomes available. They know which groups they have to suck up to, who’s hand they have to shake, who’s meeting that they cannot avoid, and what kind of assurances they have to give in order to get that ever-precious support, especially the financial kind.

You know what they hate? They hate it when those secrets are revealed. Especially when those revelations are coming from someone who should know better.

Last week Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign advisor to GOP Presidential contender Mitt Romney, revealed one such secret to CNN. Fehrnstrom said that should front-runner Romney actually become the GOP nominee, they could then erase all of the conservative messages and start fresh by going after President Barack Obama.

“… it's almost like an Etch A Sketch,” he said, “you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

Now if this was said by one of the many “political consultants” that were employed by CNN or any of the other cable news outlets, or if this was said by myself or any number of commentators looking at the whole political process from the “outside”, then this wouldn’t really be an issue. But this was from someone “inside” an active campaign. Not only that, but an active campaign whose nomination is far from clinched, and with rivals just itching to use any nugget of information to their advantage.

As you can imagine, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were quick to run to the nearest toy store to buy their newest prop in their crusade to knock Romney off his “front-runner” status. To them, this “revelation” is the confirmation of everything that they’ve been saying about Romney from the beginning, namely that his “conservative stance” is nothing but a sham, and should he be the nominee that he will then abandon that stance in a heartbeat.

But for all of their posturing and cheap toy store props, both Gingrich and Santorum are conveniently ignoring two essential truths not only about the GOP, but also about themselves.

The first is that this “Etch-a-Sketch” tactic is something that every successful GOP candidate has done ever since being a “conservative” became an unofficial prerequisite. Senator John McCain, President George W. Bush, then-Senator Bob Dole, President George H. W. Bush, and even President Ronald Reagan have all pandered to “their base” in the primaries and caucuses, and then change tactics and focus after the national convention to appeal to the general public. They know that the majority of people that vote in GOP primaries and caucuses are more “conservative” than the general public. But then when the general election approaches, they know that the key to winning it relies on appealing to those very “independent” voters that conservative talk radio tries to pretend don’t exist.

Then there’s the second truth… the one that both Gingrich and Santorum would never admit to, but would still end up doing anyway.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the cold hard fact is that should either Gingrich or Santorum end up as the nominee, they would have to do the very same thing in order to get elected. They would also have to flip their campaign’s Etch-a-Sketch over, shake it up, and then focus on those “independent” voters in order to win.

Sure, they could choose to remain “true” to their “conservative base” in the general election, and keep the same rhetoric that they’ve been using these past few months, but that would almost certainly guarantee that President Obama would be re-elected in the general election. Obama didn’t have to worry about a primary/caucus challenge, so he doesn’t have a “base” to “flip-shake” over.

In fact it could even be said that Santorum has already done that himself during the primary. When he first started, he focused his campaign on economic issues. But as soon as the media began to focus on so-called “social issues”… flip-shake… suddenly he’s mister “Family Values”, and he’s not talking about the economy anymore.

Same with Gingrich. Gingrich was once Mister “Tea Party”, the “resistance leader” from the 90’s. But once gas prices became a serious issue… flip-shake… and now he’s Mister “Two-Fifty-Per-Gallon”.

And here they are both, with toy props in their hands, loudly condemning what they themselves have done and no doubt would do should either of them survive the convention. The only difference being they didn’t have a fool in their employ announcing it on CNN.

It’s questionable whether or not Mister Fehrnstrom will still have a job when the primaries and conventions are through. Certainly if his employer is smart, he’d be kept as far away from a TV camera as possible for the time being. There is no place on the political stage for a magician’s assistant that takes the “glitz” of the trick away, even if the audience already knows how it is done.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Week of 03/19/2012

It’s Time To Kill The “Epidemic”
– by David Matthews 2

Every year, dictionaries add hundreds, if not thousands, of new words and phrases. If you come up with a word or a phrase and enough people use it in their regular dialogue, then dictionaries will add it. Then we turn on the news and we find that some really stupid phrase has become part of the average vernacular and we’re wondering just where in the evolutionary process we veered off that would allow us to call a heart-symbol a word.

Sadly, we don’t really hear about the words that get dropped off, probably because just when you think any given word has been forgotten, some columnist or media personality would dig it up from the dustbins of obscurity and put it back into use; encouraging others to look up its meaning and possibly even use it themselves.

There are words that we use rarely, words that we use often, and words that we use to the point that they no longer have any kind of importance.

For instance, women have learned to not yell “Police” or “Help” when in trouble. Instead, they yell “Fire”, because they know that people will come running for that.

Then there are words that are not only used to the point of no longer having kind of importance, but words that desperately need to be purged from human vernacular because of it.

Now I’m sure that some of you would think that I’m referring to certain explicit four-letter words; such as one that begins with “f” that involves reproductive parts, or the one beginning with “s” and references biological waste, or even the one that starts with “c” that refers to a part of the female anatomy used in the word that beings with “f”. Maybe you would think racial or ethnic slurs would be on this short list of words that desperately need to be purged.

But, no, I don’t mean any of those words.

The word in question is otherwise considered a sound medical description. It was once a word used rarely to describe something legitimately serious, such as a viral infection, or a biological attack. Today, the word in question is a pathetic joke.

The word in question is “epidemic”.

“Epidemic” comes from the Latin word “epedemia”, which means a sudden and unexpected outbreak of a disease or virus beyond current means of control. It was traditionally reserved for medical diseases, like the Bubonic Plague, or AIDS, or Swine Flu.

Unfortunately, around the 19th and 20th Centuries, we made the mistake of thinking that the ills of society could be treated in the same way as a biological organism. This was the period of Positivism, which gave us our juvenile justice system, family services, not to mention a few of the political “isms” that conservatives love to scream about. It also explained why those programs would ultimately fail. It was this idea that society itself was not unlike an organism that allowed both liberals and conservatives to use medical reference to impose government control over an issue.

Want to ban alcohol? Get alcoholism and public drunkenness declared an “epidemic”. That justified Prohibition. Same thing with marijuana. Remember “Reefer Madness”? In the 1950’s, comic books were being blamed for causing an “epidemic” of juvenile crimes, with so-called “experts” like Dr. Fredric Wertham leading the way. Find a subject, get a “doctor” to sign off on it, hype it up in the media, call it an “epidemic”, and then you can literally write your own legislation.

And the “beauty” of this tactic is that you can keep coming back to this equation over and over and over again, because ultimately the “solution” will fail. The “crisis” will continue, and the “experts” will once again proclaim that we are still in that “epidemic” and that we need to do everything we can to “cure” ourselves of this perceived “disease”.

If that sounds like a scam to you, then pat yourself on the back for finally getting the punchline to this sad charade of politics.

The most recent abuser of the “epidemic” tag is the U.S. Surgeon General’s office. SG Regina Benjamin recently proclaimed that teens are smoking more than ever, and that it is now an “epidemic”. And by “smoking” she means tobacco, not marijuana. And they’re also chewing tobacco. Oooh… horrors!

And why are they doing this? According to Ms. Benjamin, it’s because the tobacco companies are… and I kid you not… “marketing to children”.

Excuse me Ms. Benjamin, but do you know what year we are in? If you don’t know, it is the year Two-Thousand-and-Twelve. The only ads for tobacco that this commentator has seen have been in magazines clearly designed for adults. Maybe you can recall some time when Phillip Morris was sponsoring some boy-band concert? Maybe they were handing out samples at a recent “Twilight” movie release? No?

Oh, wait, Wolverine of the X-Men comics and movies smokes doesn’t he? Yeah, but those are cigars and he’s supposedly over a hundred years old. You’re claiming that teens are smoking cigarettes, not cigars.

Seriously, someone needs to call BS on this! There has been an ongoing agreement for over two decades between the tobacco companies and the federal government that says that what the Surgeon General is claiming cannot happen. So someone’s lying, and good money says that it’s the Surgeon General’s office.

But more importantly, this is the latest scam being played on the American people using a word that has long since lost its significance.

Let’s get brutally honest here… it is high time that we purge any use of the world “epidemic” that doesn’t involve an actual catastrophic condition. Much like shouting “police”, the word “epidemic” no longer has any meaning simply because it has been overused by every so-called “expert” looking for a microphone and their unwarranted fifteen minutes.

Let’s use the TV series “The Walking Dead” as an example of the kind of seriousness that would warrant an actual use of a word like “epidemic”. Is the perceived “crisis” on the same level of seriousness as an army of zombies roaming the area looking to kill living people on sight? No? Then you don’t get to use the word “epidemic” to describe your pet issue.

Just to show you how badly the word has become overused, freedom-haters like GOP Presidential contender Rick Santorum skipped past the word “epidemic” when promising that he would wage a “War on Porn”, referring to it instead as a “pandemic”. That has become the new “foreboding crisis word” for social grifters. They know that people have toned out “epidemic” and have ratcheted up the quack-speak to the next serious-sounding word.

The real problem is this: we have too many self-professed “social experts” looking to cash in their “snake-oil solution” by over-exaggerating the seriousness of their preferred “specialty”. Even worse is the fact that they are doing so at the expense of dealing with truly legitimate problems. I don’t know about you, but having millions of Americans systematically forsaken by the business community is a little more serious than whether or not they’re watching the Victoria’s Secret lingerie special.

Let’s save the emergencies for when they really are such, and let’s leave the “Positivist” doctor-think in the last century where it belongs.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Week of 03/12/2012

Memo To Olbermann: Stop Acting Like A Democrat!
– by David Matthews 2

I have a real simple request for Current TV’s Keith Olbermann.

You remember Keith, don’t you? He used to be on ESPN. He used to be on NBC and MSNBC. He used to be the thorn in the side of FoxNews and News Corp. Then he lost his job when Comcast bought out NBC and MSNBC. Apparently the folks at Comcast rightly saw Olbermann as their “Howard Beale” and wanted him gone before he sounded off about the new owners.

Since then, Keith’s been busy working with Al Gore’s Current TV cable channel, trying to keep his show going without the MSNBC draw. Operative word being “trying”. Being the “premiere face” on Current TV is a little bit like being the “premiere voice” on ShockNet Radio. In other words, Keith, welcome to my world.

Now, folks, I’m not a bean-counter, which means that I don’t measure a show by how many viewers it has and how much ad revenue it brings in. And I don’t use bean-counter numbers to justify that an idea is “right” like some of Rupert’s people do. Being “number one” does not excuse you for being wrong about something. Just ask Dan Rather if you don’t know what that means. I measure a show and their host by their content, not on their audience draw or their ad revenue.

So what I have to say to Keith now will seem a bit strange, but I hope that it will make sense to everyone by the time I’m through.

Keith, please stop behaving in the same way as the Democrats.

You know how Democrats work, right Keith? You have them on your show regularly. They have a lot of ideas. They talk a lot about vision. They try to gain broad support, they try to be inclusive, and they try to make things work.

But when push comes to shove, what do Democrats do, Keith? They fold. They back up and retreat. Their push for common ground and inclusiveness compels them to negotiate with the very people that are trying to sabotage their efforts at every turn.

Guess what happens to those ideas and that vision? Well, you know what happens to those ideas, Keith. Those are the first things put up for sacrifice.

If Dems say something like “two plus two equals four”, then the GOP would cry “class warfare” over the word “equals”. Fox News would accuse the Dems of using “fuzzy math”. The conservative talk radio hosts would condemn the Dems for being “intellectual elitists” by “pompously proclaiming that two plus two MUST equal four”. The theo-conservatives would accuse the Dems of promoting some “deviant lifestyle” by putting “two” and “two” together. And then six weeks after the Dems back down, the GOP would then issue their own declaration, saying that “in the name of heritage and culture, four is just four,” and then claim ownership of the whole discussion.

This is the game that the conservatives and their various sub-factions do, Keith, and you’ve seen the Democrats fold every time they are put to the test. You’ve seen this first-hand, and you’ve reported on it in your broadcasts.

You saw this with President Obama’s healthcare reform plan; the very campaign that you championed following your father’s declining health. You watched, with disgust I might add, as key reform tenants such as single-payer were sacrificed from day one by mealy-mouthed cowards. I watched you spend every single day on the air to promote and encourage and needle elected officials to make reforms possible. I watched you castigate the president and the Congress for the abomination that was substituted for real reforms.

You saw the political cowardice with the Democrats failing to challenge every filibuster, every procedural hold being placed by the GOP just to score political points. The debt ceiling, budget extensions, every nomination that would be held up, every deadline that would come and go, putting millions of Americans on the edge simply because the GOP wanted to play games and the Democrats would back down.

You’ve seen this cowardice and you’ve said on the air that this is wrong. You wondered where the spines were in the Democratic Party and why the GOP has been able to roll over them.

So why are you making their mistakes, Keith?

Recently, political troublemaker Andrew Breitbart was the frequent subject of your “Worst Persons” segment, using the rehashed mix of his verbal meltdown at a recent “Occupy” rally with various scenes from movies like “Planet of the Apes” and “Network”. And it wasn’t just one time. It was day after day after day for about two weeks straight, and always declared the “Worst Person in the World”.

Then, suddenly, he’s dead, and you’re silent, Keith. There is no special comment about Breitbart being dead. There is no dancing on his grave or mentioning that Karma is a bitch. There is not even an acknowledgement that the frequent star of your “Worst Persons” segment will not be around anymore to provide misery and video mashing. Why is that?

Remember what Breitbart said when Senator Ted Kennedy died? He wasn’t at all silent about it. He didn’t ignore Kennedy’s passing. He danced on Kennedy’s grave, digitally urinated on it, verbally defecated on it, and yet Breitbart was given a pass from you when he died. Why is that, Keith? Karma demands that he be treated no less in his passing than how he treated others in theirs.

And that brings us to your “Worst Persons” segment, Keith. This is the very reason why I watch your show. It’s what dragged me in, and twice now you’ve suspended it from your program.

The first time was because Jon Stewart somehow lumped you in with the talk radio venom and you suddenly felt self-conscious that an actual comedian would mistake you from anything that the talk radio segment regurgitates. And now you’re suspending this segment because some neo-cons are playing the false-equivalency game and comparing your words with those of Rush Limbaugh.

What the hell, Keith? Why are you playing the same game as the Democrats?

Let’s get brutally honest here… by suspending key segments which help to define your show, you are validating the false-equivalence being perpetrated by the cons and neo-cons!

Look at your friend Bill Maher. Does he suspend his HBO show because some pinhead from FoxNews wants to play the false-equivalence game? No! He doubles-down and calls them out on their BS! In fact, he did just that this past week and he did it quite well.

Has Rush Limbaugh backed down from his rhetoric? No. Has his friends in the conservative and neo-conservative media backed down on their attacks on Sandra Fluke? Absolutely not! In fact, they have since doubled-down on the rhetoric! They have continued on their attacks of Ms. Fluke and others like her. They have turned the outrage into a temper-tantrum far worse than anything Veruca Salt could ever exhibit. If they can’t have it their way, then they will take all of the toys and go home. Not just their toys, but everyone’s toys.

This is what they do, Keith. You know that as much as I do. Their arrogance is such that they will never admit to being wrong about anything, especially when they know that the target of their venom would fold. And they do expect you to fold, Keith, which is what you’re doing.

Not only that, but you are giving these people the means to eventually silence your show once and for all. If they know that they can silence your “Worst Persons” segment by invoking the False-Equivalence argument, then what is to stop them from eventually using it to also shut down your “Special Comments”, or “Time Marches On”, or even your “Fridays with Thurber”? All they have to do is point to the tone or the subject or the stance and say “A-Ha! Hate speech! You’re no different that Rush! Why are you still on the air?”

The sad truth, Keith, is that there is a stark difference between your show and the Democratic Party. The Democrats have the luxury of believing that people will eventually turn to them no matter how badly they perform. They just have to appear to be not as bad as their GOP counterparts. That is something that you, as a broadcast commentator, do not have.

When people are digested by Fox News, they don’t have to switch to Current or MSNBC or CNN. They can opt to turn to the other 495 channels, download a movie to watch, or find something else to spend the time. Maybe they will even tune in to an Internet radio station like ShockNet Radio, where they can hear views from people willing to speak out against the “False-Equivocation”.

Maybe things were different when you had NBC bosses to answer to. Big corporate media executives are always fascinated with political fire but are deathly afraid of getting burned by it. But this is supposed to be your own playground, Keith. If you aren’t willing to defend your own segments against the conservatives and neo-conservatives, then how can you expect anyone else to?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Week of 03/05/2012

The “Predatory State” Is Already Here
– by David Matthews 2

In his regular column in the Barrow County News here in Georgia, Ray Newman reiterated the usual comments being made when it comes to gambling; namely that it “preys” on the community in general and that there are “other ways” that state and local governments should be able to generate needed revenue. Mister Newman even brought up a quote from Warren Buffet - one of the few “one-percent”-ers that actually admits that he doesn’t pay “enough” in taxes – and called state-sponsored gambling a “tax on ignorance” and that he doesn’t like the idea of government getting their money by “hoodwinking citizens”.

Sadly for Misters Newman and Buffet, governments large and small have been doing just that for many generations now without resorting to lotteries. Has anyone tried to make sense out of the tax code lately? Politicians have been “hoodwinking citizens” on a continual basis by making promises of change that end up profiting the wealthy and screwing over the needy. Politicians have earned every inch of scorn, every ounce of revulsion, and every drop of bile, through their actions and the actions of their predecessors in facilitating these never-ending con games

If anything, a lottery system is far more honest than anything that Misters Newman and Buffet would call “acceptable” sources of revenue. The odds are not hidden in mice-type and befuddled in lawyer-speak. Yes, the odds are astronomically high. One would have a better chance being hit by lightning than winning the grand prize. But at the same time, one can still win a little money when played wisely. There are people that get their income from playing the lottery, and nothing but. They are rare, but they do exist.

But when government forces you to buy insurance, be it for a home, an apartment, a car, or (coming soon) for healthcare, what are the chances that you will make any money over what you put into it? The odds are next to zero, because insurance companies are gambling that you will not need their services, and if their odds on you needing it go up, then they will penalize you to make up the difference. Insurance companies gamble with their customers on a regular basis, and they almost always win, and yet their parasitic nature is considered “acceptable”, but playing a scratch-off game where you could win back a portion of what you spend is considered “wrong”.

Speaking of gambling, how about Wall Street and their manipulative games? The same kind of confusing games that brought down companies like Enron in 2002 nearly brought down the rest of the economy in 2008, and yet to this day that is still considered far more “acceptable” than any game of chance.

But I’m really not here to talk about the pros and cons of either a lottery system or to legalize gambling. What I am here for is to open Mister Newman’s eyes when it comes to the idea of a “Predatory State”.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the “predatory state” is already here, and it really has nothing to do with lotteries or scratch-off tickets. It has to do with corporate attitudes and how businesses see local residents.

We have watched as businesses have taken manufacturing jobs out of the area, out of the state, and even out of the country. Jobs that used to be the lifeblood of communities. Jobs that gave whole generations the financial stability to buy those homes, to buy those cars, to buy those appliances, and to spend their money in local businesses.

Who can afford to buy those homes and those cars and those appliances and to otherwise spend their money in local businesses when the jobs that paid for those things are no longer there?

When a factory worker goes from working fulltime at $20-an-hour to working part-time at the local big-box store for $10-an-hour, they just don’t have the money to spend like they used to. How can they be expected to “jumpstart the economy” when they have to choose between keeping a roof over their heads or putting food on the table? They’re not going to buy that big-screen HDTV in the big-box store. They’re not going to buy that new car at the local dealership. They’re not going to buy that $5 cup of coffee that they used to get every morning on the way to work. They won’t be looking at that new dining room suite in the furniture store. They cannot invest in the local businesses like they used to when they worked for that factory that paid them $20-an-hour.

When that factory is gone, and with it all the jobs that kept the rest of the community sustained, what happens to the businesses that remain? They try to continue, sure. But like frogs in a pot that is slowly coming to a boil, they have no idea that the environment around them is toxic.

I’ve been there, Mister Newman. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I have seen a local community here in Georgia succumb to entropy when their big employers gut the workforce in the name of higher profits. You watch as one-by-one little stores shut down for lack of revenue. The local mall gets emptier and emptier. Soon those franchise stores pull up stakes and head on out. Neighborhoods start emptying out. More and more houses are on the market. Streets cannot be maintained. Police and fire departments get shut down. People get desperate when they find out that they can’t rely on local services like they used to. Any of this sound familiar?

When the bank still presumes that you can keep paying your mortgage with only half the revenue, and the local cable company feels justified in jacking up rates, and your water and sewer and electric rates go up, and the oil industry decides to jack up the price of gasoline, and your healthcare and auto insurer both decide to raise your premiums and cut your benefits, then you are already in a “Predatory State”.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, their life savings, even their homes, and some of them have been deliberately and systematically written off by Corporate America and our government. We’re not talking about a handful of people either. We are talking millions of Americans. Millions. The very people that would otherwise be turning the economy around have been intentionally forsaken!

But the perpetrators of our misery have yet to be held to account for their actions. Instead they get trillions in bailout money, post record profits, give themselves obscene bonuses, and then proceed to impose new fees on the very customers that bailed them out and wonder why anyone would complain about it.

And you want to sit there and worry about whether or not we “would be” in a “predatory state”? Well then worry no more, because we’re already here. In fact we’ve been here for quite some time. Where have you been?

These things did not come about because of some lottery system. These things came about because Corporate America has stopped treating the rest of us as customers and instead have regarded us as a resource to plunder and exploit. Bringing in the lottery or to legalize gambling is an alternative to doing what really needs to be done, which would be to frog-march the real predators straight to prison. You know which ones I’m talking about; the very predators that run the businesses you deem to be “acceptable”.

And if that’s asking too much, we can always follow Nevada’s lead and legalize brothels. Corporate America already regards our governments as such anyway, so why should they be the only ones to have fun?