Monday, October 29, 2012

Week of 10/29/2012

Living Near Empty
– by David Matthews 2

So… how much gas do you have in your vehicle?

It’s a weird question, I know, but if you think about it, it’s probably a better question to ask when it comes to measuring the economy than anything the politicians and the media will come up with.

The politicians and the media operate under quite a few fallacies when it comes to measuring the economy, and quite frankly, those fallacies have been slowly killing the United States.

For instance, they will assume that Wall Street is synonymous with Main Street.  If Wall Street does great, then Main Street must also be doing great.  If Big Corporate is thriving, then Main Street must be thriving as well.

Basically it’s the corollary to the “Trickle-Down Theory of Economics” that says that as long as those up top are doing great, then the rest of the country should follow.  So for the past ten years we were told that as long as big corporations were posting profits, then the economy should be doing great. 

Never mind that real wages did not keep up with the cost of living.  Never mind that Big Corporate was outsourcing jobs to other countries during that time.  Never mind if consumer spending was done on credit.  Never mind that some of that corporate profit was just on paper through a cleaver series of Rube Goldberg programs held together by force of personality.  Pay no attention to the flim-flam-man behind the curtain; just shut up and give Big Corporate your money and call it a “robust economy”.

Even today, financial institutions and politicians and pundits one and all use whatever barometer they can to get the results that they want.

Unemployment numbers, for instance, have long been manipulated, since they only measure the number of people who are claiming (and receiving) unemployment assistance.  They cannot measure the actual number of people who are out of work and either cannot claim benefits or those that have already exhausted their benefits.  If you’re still getting severance pay, then you don’t count as “unemployed”.  If you applied for unemployment assistance and your claim was denied, then you don’t count as “unemployed”.  If you are on disability, then you are not “unemployed”.

So if you deny more claims and you cut the length of time for those benefits and you disqualify more people, then you will see the “Unemployment Figure” go down. Ta-Da!  “Recovery” without a single job being created!

But people still need to eat.  They still need to pay bills.  They still need a roof over their heads and gas in their cars.  Political sleight-of-hand tricks can’t change those things.  Redefining “job creation” to being “jobs created or saved” instead of actually creating new jobs does nothing to help people get food, pay their bills, keep a roof over their heads, or put gas in their cars.

And what happens when money is tough for us?  We have to cut back on the things we can get.  We don’t go out for movies; we’ll buy the DVD and a bag of microwave popcorn instead.  We don’t get the latest gadget; we’ll make do with what we have or buy it when it is on discount.  We won’t go to the restaurant; we’ll learn to cook or buy microwave meals.

And we don’t fill our gas tanks, do we?  No, we’ll only get as much as we need and as much as we can afford.  If it means driving close to empty, then we’ll do it.  We have no choice.

Now we think that this is just temporary.  We’ll put up with these sacrifices because we believe that it’s just for a little while, and then things will get better.

But what if I were to tell you that this is really “the new normal”?

Many of the jobs that were lost at the start of the Great Recession are gone.  They will never come back.  They are either on the other side of the world or else they have been written off completely.

Our government found it easier to strike a deal with the banks than to hold them to account for the crimes they committed.  Take the “fine” (which is the equivalent of tossing pocket change), agree to some bogus “program” to help those that need it, and then declare the whole matter closed.  But those foreclosed homes are still empty.  Those families that were thrown out of those homes are not going to be getting new homes anytime soon.  Whole neighborhoods are ghost towns.  And those that remain are losing their ever-precious “equity” because of forces beyond their own control.

Jobs that are gone that will never come back.  Homes that are empty and will not be filled, owned by banks that just don’t care about the effects of their actions because they know they can buy their way out of trouble.

And now add to this the predatory philosophy of plunder that Corporate America has embraced.  A philosophy that demands profit at all costs.  A philosophy that demands cutting operations to the bare bones to meet those ever-precious profit margins.  A philosophy that says “you will make do with less and you will like it; and the next time around you will make do with even less than that so long as you give us our precious profits.”

This is what I mean by “the new normal”.  America is being told to make do with less with no end in sight.  There is nothing “temporary” about this “new normal”.  Any prosperity goes to profits first, higher benefits for the top-ranked people second, and the other employees dead last.

And this “new normal” extends to the public sector as well.  State and local governments are obligated to make do with less as there is less and less tax revenue available.  And revenue continues to get bleaker as Corporate America insists on getting more and more tax breaks and more and more leniency from regulatory oversight.

But agencies still need to be funded, right?  Schools still need to be funded so children can learn.  There still need to be police officers and fire fighters and paramedics.  Jails need to be staffed to keep the bad guys locked up.  And they all want to be paid, right?  They still have to have a roof over their heads and food on the table and bills to be paid. 

Someone needs to pay for all that.  And guess who ultimately does?  It’s not Big Corporate; their costs are transferred to their customers as part of their overhead.  When all is said and done, we end up footing the bill for it somehow.  That’s another cost that we have to deal with.

We tell ourselves we’re doing okay, but let’s get brutally honest here… we’re really not.  We’re paddling against a maelstrom, and the maelstrom is winning.  And as long as the people behind the root causes of this maelstrom are allowed to continue unchallenged, our struggle against it will have to continue, or else we succumb to it like so many others have.

And it’s not just in America.  Look at Europe.  Look at the so-called “Austerity” programs being foisted on their citizens.  The same problems there are affecting us here.  And you’ll notice that the source of their misery is also the same.

No amount of political spin from the two dominant political parties can change this.  Political promises don’t put a roof over our heads, food on our tables, money to pay our bills, or put gas in our cars.  That will require a fundamental shift in mindset from the one group that has done everything they can to avoid accountability while reaping all the benefits of our pain.  The very people convincing the politicians and the media that everything is doing just fine, that this is just “temporary”.

And, as you can imagine, those at the top of the heap are the only ones that don’t have to worry about how much gas is in their cars.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Week of 10/22/2012

2012 Is Still Obama’s To Lose
– by David Matthews 2

I’ve been holding off on saying this, but I really can’t wait anymore.

As much as the GOP and their spin-doctors and their proxies on Fox News and the talk radio trained parrots will not like me saying this, the 2012 Presidential Election has been and continues to be President Barack Obama’s to lose.

I’ve been doing online commentary for over sixteen years now.  I was here when President Bill Clinton was seeking re-election.  I was here for the prefabricated spin and the hype that was being generated by the GOP in 1996.  I know that the GOP has to convince people that their chosen champion will prevail no matter what.

And I know that the prepared GOP script will say that 1996 is not like 2012.  After all, Bill Clinton had a growing economy on his side.  The world supposedly was not under that “heightened state of alarm” - in other words, we were told to “be afraid” instead of actually “being afraid”.  Gas prices were cheaper then than they are today.  But we still had Iraq to worry about.  We still had domestic terrorism thanks to people like Tim McVeigh and Eric Robert Rudolph and Paul Hill.  The federal debt was still an issue then.  Petty squabbling between the Congress and the White House was still an issue. (Remember Newt Gingrich’s supposed “Air Force One tantrum”?)  Regulations were still a big complaint then; so were taxes.

The only real differences between now and then?  The economy and the “police state” tactics.

And the scary part is that neither candidate will really address these in a way that will truly help out the American people.

Oh sure, Romney said in the previous debate that he would create “15 million new jobs”, but then he ended the same debate by reciting the GOP lie of “Government doesn’t create jobs”.  Which is it Mister Romney?  Either you’re going to create them – and thus take the credit for them – or you won’t.

We’ve seen how Obama has handled “Too Big To Fail”… with bailouts and sweetheart deals.  Millions of Americans were swindled out of their homes in robo-signing foreclosure scams.  But the perpetrators of this widespread theft will never spend a day behind bars.  They won’t even lose bladder control over it.  They’ll just fork over some pocket change, which gets sent to the states, which they then spend on their own pet projects instead of giving it to the victims of these criminal acts.  In other words, the victims get nothing!

But what would Mitt Romney do that would be any different?  We won’t really know, because he’s too busy attacking Obama over what he said concerning Libya and whining about an “apology tour” that never happened. However, given how Romney has already proclaimed that “corporations are people” and some of those “people” are among his chief campaign contributors, this commentator finds it hard to believe that Romney would be willing to hold his “people” to account for their actions.

As for the continuing encroachments of our freedoms, the GOP script says that Romney would support the PATRIOT Act, continue to have people detained in Guantanamo Bay, and use “enhanced interrogation tactics”.  Not to mention he would continue to exercise that “lone superpower” image that the GOP has been using since the days of Bush Senior.  In other words, it appears that Romney would continue to do everything that Obama is doing now, which is continuing everything that Bush Junior did. 

Oh, and I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud because the truth might harm the “fragile feelings” of these partisans that have been so worked up in a froth over supposedly “being different”.

So… how is that being an “alternative” to what we already have going on?

That’s really the GOP’s problem.

Despite their claims of a “clear difference”, despite their rhetoric, despite their spin, despite their lies, there is very little that differentiates between Obama and Romney in terms of how they would truly affect the American people.  Romney would essentially run the GOP script; repeal Obama’s healthcare reform so the insurance companies can continue to play their games, put in place something that would resemble Paul Ryan’s economic plan, and pretty much let the economic screwjobs continue.  Obama would continue with what has not worked out for the American people.  The GOP would still obstruct, the Democrats will spinelessly surrender, and Obama will continue let the economic screwjobs continue.

Again, not much of a difference.

And that actually works in Obama’s favor. 

There are no big surprises with Obama; only failures, letdowns, and half-hearted attempts.  The public knows that he tries; they know that the GOP will make life miserable for everyone, and they know that nothing gets done.  They’ve gotten used to that orchestrated incompetence. 

With Romney, people don’t know what to expect.  Which Romney will they get?  The moderate Romney from 2008?  The “not-as-extreme-but-still-conservative” Romney from January?  The “Power-suit” Romney with the London Olympics blunder feature?  The Romney with his Etch-A-Romney “flip-and-shake” political attachment?  The Romney with Kung-Fu Grip?  We’ll only find out which Romney the American people will end up with should he get elected, and by then it would be too late.

Here’s a little tip: you can’t expect the masses to remember what Obama promised in 2008 and at the same time forget what Romney was campaigning as back then.

Let’s get brutally honest here, GOP… You’re right in that Mitt Romney of 2012 is not like Bob Dole of 1996.  But that doesn’t mean that the results won’t be the same.

The key words here are “clear alternative”.  Walter Mondale didn’t have it in 1984.  Bob Dole didn’t have it in 1996.  John Kerry didn’t have it in 2004.  All they had on their side were politics.  They lost because they couldn’t offer the voters anything different that would help them.  Changing the captains on the Titanic doesn’t stop the ship from sinking if all they’re doing different is deciding which of the “elite” passengers will get the lifeboats.

Let’s also remember that the GOP wasn’t really happy with the candidate they got.  “Anyone but Romney” was their battlecry at the beginning of the year, and Romney didn’t really win out the base as he simply spent enough SuperPAC money to out-spin the competition.  It also didn’t help that the GOP bosses themselves pompously declared that certain candidates in their own party weren’t worth considering even before a single primary vote was cast.  The GOP bosses should seriously re-think that idea should their champion lose this November.

There’s one other element that really isn’t being discussed too much, and that is the role of the Electoral College.  Remember, the voters don’t really have the final say in choosing a president.  The members of the Electoral College have that final say.  The folks at the Huffington Post know this, which is why they have an Electoral Map on their website.  You may want to take a look at it.  The magic number of Electoral Delegates to win is 270.  Mitt Romney has not scored anywhere near it since they started tracking it.

Obama doesn’t have to win in every state.  He just has to win in “enough” states to get that Electoral edge.  So all the claims about a national “poll” giving either candidate “the lead” is ultimately nothing more than political BS.  It’s the states where it matters, and even then it’s having enough of the “right” states to guarantee that magical number of 270.

Keep in mind that I’m saying this as a real political independent.  Neither of those candidates have earned my vote; and I know that, no matter which one wins, America is still going to get screwed over.  But for a political party that claims to despise entitlement programs, the members of the GOP have certainly been parading themselves around as though they are entitled to win in November.  And of all of the so-called “entitlements” in politics to complain about, the entitlement of presumptive arrogance should be the very first one cut from our system.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Week of 10/15/2012

The Incredible Lessons Learned From Soap Operas
– by David Matthews 2

Okay, guilty pleasure confession: I am a fan of “Days of Our Lives”.

For those that do not know, “Days of Our Lives”, or DOOL, is an afternoon soap opera on NBC.  It’s one of the longest running daytime drama shows still in existence, and the only one left on NBC’s schedule.

I can only blame my mom for starting this, since she was watching this series back in the 1970’s.  Back in the days before the “Super-Couple” concept and the “Rock Star” actors.  Back in the days when there were only three major networks and they all had on nothing but soap operas in the afternoon.

We were watching DOOL before the Brady family existed.  Before a certain mob boss from Italy showed up.  Before some super-secret spy organization called the ISA reared its ugly head.  Back when the worst enemy was a mass-murderer that killed a noted radio psychiatrist’s twin sister and started real-world riots in mental asylums across the country.

Ah, those were the “Days of Our Lives”!

Having spent some time thinking back, I’m sort of glad that I had other shows that I could watch in between episodes; because I would have been pretty messed-up if that was the only glimpse I had of what being an adult was like.  Yes, soap operas are fictional, and were initially designed to sell soap products – hence the name.  But to say that soap opera writers take a few “literary licenses” is like describing a hurricane as being “a little windy”.

Soap opera writers have to take some huge literary leaps to be able to tell their tales.  After all, how else can they have a “night of terror” start in July and end just before Thanksgiving without anyone batting an eyelash or wracking their brains trying to figure out what happened to the months in-between?  You’re starting the night with fireworks and you wake up “the next morning” in time to put up the holiday decorations.

And of course aging is such a beast in the world of soap operas.  Kids grow up incredibly fast… from infant to teenager in five years, from teen to adult in two years, and then they’re popping out kids of their own two years after that.  Meanwhile their grandparents are still in their thirties!  You really want to know their beauty secret?  It’s called “writers”!

So I thought maybe this is the time for us to go over some of those “incredible life lessons” that soap operas teach their viewers.  Because… let’s get brutally honest here… some of these “life lessons” can be rather dangerous if some of these things end up being duplicated in the real world.

Let’s start with the biggest of them…

* Dead is not necessarily dead!  Thanks to the world of soap operas, we now know that death is really not a permanent situation, at least when it pertains to “important” people.  People don’t really “die”; they are cloned, frozen and revived later, substituted with exact lookalikes, or rescued from the “very brink of death” and come back to a full recovery later on. 

If someone you know is dead, just wait a few years and they’ll be back like nothing ever happened!  And if it’s someone that you really hate, someone that is truly despicable, then they’ll be back in a year or two.

* Heaven and Hell are real!  Not only are they real, but people go there and then they come back regularly.  Demons can possess people, angels can visit loved ones, dead villains can return to torment their still-living victims, and dead parents can have discussions with their still-living children even decades afterward and nobody thinks they’re going crazy.  There are so many “miracles” in soap opera world that they could come up with their own New-New Testament.

* Love can “solve” everything!  This goes along with the “Heaven and Hell are real” thing.  Demonic possessions can be so powerful that trained exorcists and even angels themselves will fail to stop them, but somehow “the power of love” will send demons away.  It’s a pity that this same “power” can’t save that relationship from ending a year or two down the line.

And it’s funny, because this leads right to the next one…

* All relationships are doomed!  There is no such thing as a “happy couple” in soap opera world.  You can have a “perfect relationship”, meet your “soul-mate”, be “destined” to meet and fall in love with that “perfect person”, have the perfect wedding, and you’re still going to be doomed for divorce or annulment if one of you are not killed or declared dead first. 

You know why?  Because soap opera writers love weddings and infidelity, and if they’re not starting marriages, then they’re busy breaking them up.

* Blondes can get away with everything!  This one apparently is unique to “Days”, because they have a gaggle of blondes that seem to be able to get away with anything they want without accountability.  And if a female character in that soap is about to get into some serious trouble, then all you have to do is look at her hair color.  If it starts to turn blond, then she’ll escape accountability. 

This is especially the case with Sami Brady, played by Allison Sweeney.  I have nothing against the actress.  I’m sure she is a wonderful young woman.  However, the character she plays on “Days” is so narcissistic and is allowed to get away with everything – even murder (and I am not kidding about that) – that I’m surprised that the name of the soap opera hasn’t been changed already to “Days of our Sami”.

* Anyone can change a DNA test through a computer.  Apparently DNA testing in the world of soap operas is so painfully easy that anyone can change the results simply by getting their hands on a hospital computer.  Any hospital computer!  It doesn’t matter what kind of computer as long as it is in a hospital.  Even the toy computers in the hospital day care center will do.  They don’t really need to know any passwords, they don’t need to know how DNA testing really works or what the results show, all they really need to know is they can change a name and nobody apparently is the wiser.

Again, Sami Brady knows all about this since she messed with DNA results on more than one occasion.

* Anyone can succeed in “business”!  “So, what sort of work do you want to do here in soap opera world?” 

“I want to work for a multi-million-dollar corporation.” 

“Doing what, precisely?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  Something.” 

“What sort of education do you have?”

“Well I went to college for a few months but I never went to class, never took any tests, and never really graduated.” 

“Congratulations!  You’re our new Executive Vice-President!  Here’s your corner office and company laptop, and here’s your desk where you’ll have plenty of office sex on!” 

“Great!  When do I start?” 

“You already have.  Oh, and next year we’ll make you CEO just for kicks.” 

“Okay, unless maybe I decide to become a cop or a doctor.”

Again, this is funny because it leads right to…

* Nobody really works.  This is the twist in soap opera world.  Anyone can start a “business” and get promoted, but you don’t see too many people actually working.  Yes, doctors will operate when the story calls for it, but they aren’t being burdened with too many operations… or too many patients for that matter.  Cops do “stakeouts”, but only for the “extra-special cases”, and they’re not having to go to trial for any of those arrests they make.  Farmers don’t really “farm”.  Fishermen don’t really “fish”.  Waiters and waitresses aren’t busy busting their butts dealing with every customer that comes into their restaurants or cafes.  People seem to have all the leisure time in the world in soap opera world.

In fact, it’s amazing that DOOL can have a major university hospital and a “free clinic” and only be staffed by the same two or three doctors.  There are maybe five police officers in the Salem PD.  They have “Joe Izuzu” as the District Attorney.  They had a mayor once… once.  Nobody delivers the mail.  Do they even have a TV or radio station or a newspaper anymore?  They used to have all three, but now we don’t know because nobody works there anymore.

Let’s go back to Sami Brady… she’s supposedly the CEO of a “major cosmetics company”, but she has yet to show up in the office.  She’s spending all her time at home, or on the run with her fugitive sometimes-boyfriend sometimes-enemy sometimes-lover sometimes-rapist sometimes-confidant sometimes-blackmailer, or trying to hook up with her many former husbands before dumping them for her sometimes-boyfriend sometimes-enemy sometimes-lover sometimes-rapist sometimes-confidant sometimes-blackmailer, or out-and-about talking about how precious her children are, including the now-grown-up gay son who is as messed-up as she is.  I really hope that the business is doing well without her there guiding it.  I shudder to think how long it would last if she actually did her job.

* Driving at night leads to accidents!  Whatever you do, don’t ever be seen driving in soap opera world.  Especially at night!  Something bad always seems to happen to people whom you see driving in soap opera world.  They get run off the road, they get into accidents, they run over people, they get stopped by the police, they get carjacked, they get stabbed or shot… it makes you wonder why they would even be allowed to drive.

Maybe this is why nobody complains about how bad the traffic is in soap opera world, because nobody drives!  Unless it’s on a motorcycle!  Then the chances of an accident are 50-50, but you look really cool either way.

* Ugliness is curable!  You have to love soap opera medicine!  Amputees can be healed.  Paralyzed people can eventually walk.  Disfigured people can be restored to their original look, or even better, with an “experimental procedure”.  You can even have open-heart surgery, even multiple heart transplant surgeries done in less-than-optimal environments, and somehow not have a single scar to account for it or have to change their lives one iota afterward. 

That reminds me, there is someone I know that would really like to speak with the soap opera doctors about that last little detail.

* You too can own a whole nation!  Never mind owning a company or owning a boat or owning a small island… some soap opera characters can actually own a whole country named after themselves.  But don’t bother trying to find it on a map.  It’s supposedly a really small country, even though it would be large enough to have a castle, a seaport, and a major international airport.  All of it owned, lock-stock-and-barrel, by a soap opera character that, of course, has full diplomatic immunity from all accountability and never has to worry about being expelled from the United States for their actions or even risk war from neighboring countries.

I guess Mel Brooks got it right… it’s good to be the king!  Or Duke, or Count, or Countess, or whatever the title may be in soap opera world.

* Lastly… We’re all related in really weird ways!  For a dramatic series that claims to emulate the virtues of good clean wholesome Christian family values, “Days of Our Lives” certainly has more than its share of strange bedfellows and twisted family ties.

There’s Bill Horton, the family horndog.  It seems there’s no end to the number of legitimate and illegitimate “children of Bill” that exist in soap opera world.  It could be safe to say that half the populace of Salem was sired through him in one way or another.

Sami Brady has four children, including fraternal twins that are each from a separate father!  Go ahead and try to figure out the logic behind that one.  But she’s just the tip of the genetic-soup iceberg here.

Then there’s John Black, who was once Roman Brady (Sami’s father), who was once Forrest Alamain (from the fictional country Alamainia), who was once John Stevens, who was once Father John, and who apparently is a member of both the Brady family and the DiMera crime family.  Oh, and his former wife was the daughter of the head of a certain Greek crime family, and one of his former girlfriends is both the adopted mother and adopted sister of Sami’s sometimes-boyfriend sometimes-enemy sometimes-lover sometimes-rapist sometimes-confidant sometimes-blackmailer who is also the son of the DiMera crime leader, and thus makes him John’s nephew and almost step-father.

Got a headache yet?  Good, because thankfully the sponsors have something for that.

But then again, that’s the joy of the soap opera world.  Yes, it’s confusing.  Yes, it defies all logic and reason, not to mention the laws of physics and the laws of time and space.  But it does the only thing that matters: it gets the viewers coming back for more.  No matter how many times it makes you want to smack your head in frustration, you keep coming back to find out what happens next.  That, apparently, is the only reality that keeps their “Days” going.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Week of 10/08/2012

Romney’s Secret Weapon: Jingoism
– by David Matthews 2

Did you know that until at least 2006, Americans were still paying for the Spanish-American war?

Even though it was ended over a century ago, the tax that was enacted on us to pay for that war continued until people started speaking up about it.  It was “supposed” to end in 1902, but it really didn’t. The government simply re-purposed the tax to justify other things.  World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, all became the justification for this tax.

Most of you saw this tax on your phone statement as the “Federal Telephone Excise Tax”, and you probably didn’t realize what it was originally for.

But why were we really in the Spanish-American War in the first place?

Part of the reason had to do with tragedy.  The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in 1898 off the coast of Havana was seen as the reason for war, but even today it cannot be determined that it was because of Spanish aggression.

In truth, though, the reason why we went to war was because we were driven to it by politicians and members of the media and a little mindset called jingoism.

Bear in mind that the latter half of the 19th Century was a period dominated by overbearing and unchecked evangelism.  Concepts such as “manifest destiny” and “American Exceptionalism” became the justifications for naked aggression, be it against ourselves over slavery, against supposed “savages” in the western expansion, or against other nations.  Nationalistic songs were created during that time to merge God and Country into one marching hymn for simple-minded “righteous” people to follow without question.

This mindset didn’t limit itself to the United States.  Indeed, the word “jingoism” came from Great Britain.  The “jingo” in jingoism is an old British reference to “Jesus”.  So the mindset isn’t just one of belligerent political extremism, but a specifically Christian form of belligerent political extremism.

Okay, so what does a century-old mindset have to do with 2012’s Presidential Campaign season?

Well, pretty much everything.

I was perplexed as to how die-hard evangelical conservatives within the GOP would be quick to flip-flop on their support of former Governor Mitt Romney from a position of absolute disgust and revulsion to one of absolute adoration.  Keep in mind that as recent as the beginning of 2012, evangelicals were swearing that they would do everything in their power to keep Romney from being the GOP nominee.  And, yes, part of that “passionate opposition” apparently had to do with the fact that Romney is a Mormon and they clearly are not.

So how could die-hard conservatives, neo-conservative, and theo-conservatives be so passionately opposed to Mitt Romney in January, condemn his faith as a “cult”, and then pull off a complete 180 flip-flop by July?

And it wasn’t just Romney.  Glenn Beck – who still has a syndicated radio show even though he outlived his welcome on Fox News – is the same way.  Fundamentalists still adore him even though he is a Mormon.  This is apparently one of those rare times when extremists really do hate the “sin” (specifically being a part of another religion) but love the “sinner”.

So I took a look at what these two have been doing, and this is where the secret comes out.

Both Beck and Romney have been using simple ultra-patriotic messages.  Country first.  Security first.  “Belief” and references to “God” but not specifically pointing to any one religion.  Constantly painting the image of a nation under attack from “foreigners”, be it China or North Korea or Islamic terrorists or illegal Mexican immigrants, and then demanding immediate and aggressive responses to these “threats”.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the great secret behind Mitt Romney’s sudden conversion of his previous adversaries over to his side was made possible because of Romney’s use of jingoistic messages.

And it’s no big surprise that that it works so well for the GOP when you consider that both jingoism and the GOP both came to be at roughly the same point in history.  No matter if it as for “liberal” positions like ending slavery or the die-hard “conservative” stances of today, they were able to worm their programs in thanks in no small part to the herd mentality from the evangelicals.

The beautiful part for Romney’s camp is that they don’t have to do any kind of heavy lifting.  They just have to be subtle and play up what has already been established by others.  The continual paranoia, the persecution complex, the idea that America is “besieged by foreigners”, even Romney’s continual lie that President Obama is “apologizing to the world” were all established by other people.  All Romney had to do is play up on it.  Give some vague references to “God”.  Pledge that he would “spare no expense to support the troops” and “defend the nation”, despite the fact that there’s supposedly “no money”.  And he’ll pledge to support everything that Obama doesn’t and condemn everything that Obama supports.

And it doesn’t even have to make sense!  That’s probably the most infuriating part of the whole thing.  Remember: this is the campaign that declared that they will not be subject to fact-checking! That’s because jingoism is not about reason; it’s about evangelical passion.  It’s all about that “old-time religion” and the feelings that go with it.

The really sad part is that this is all that Romney really has to offer the voters.  He is the token “Anti-Obama”.  He rides the waves of GOP anger and resentment that are already there thanks to talk radio and Fox News.  And all he has to do is say “I won’t do what Obama is doing now.”

But what happens after that?  I don’t think that’s something that has been explored too much. 

If Romney loses the election, then he can fade away into obscurity like so many others before him.  He doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of all of those conservatives, neo-conservatives, and theo-conservatives that have been riled up.  He wasn’t even the one that riled them up in the first place.  Other people did that.  He just rode on their coattails.

But what happens if he wins the election and becomes the next President?  That wave of jingoism doesn’t go on forever.  At some point the voters are going to wonder what they hell they just voted for, and I really don’t think they will like what they see.

Jingoism is the political equivalent of methamphetamine.  It gets people wired, but the after-effects are devastating.  Look at how long we ended up “paying” for the Spanish-American war.  And the question we all need to be concerned with is what will the “addicts” do next to keep the “fix” going?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Week of 10/01/2012

I Wish I Could Be Funny
– by David Matthews 2

I really wish I could be funny.

Not “clown” funny or “slapstick” funny or even “Jackass” funny.  I’m not talking about the kind of funny that would require me to put on makeup or outlandish costumes or drop my pants or do anything that would require me to go to the Emergency Room.

I mean the kind of funny that would be both witty and insightful.

I wish I could be the kind of funny that cable television would pay big money to air on a regular basis.  The kind of funny that could take a look at the human condition and be able to disassemble it to expose all of the insanity and mental conditioning and yet have even the biggest critics look at it and admit that I was right.

I wish I could be funny enough to be able to deliver that one quip, that one remark, that one observation, or to be able to ask that one question that doesn’t have a retort.  The kind of question or comment that gets re-posted over and over again on Facebook and becomes the basis of You Tube videos and gets the honor of honors… it becomes a meme.

That is the kind of funny that I wish I could be.  The kind of funny that you can’t dismiss or ignore.

The late George Carlin was that kind of funny.  Sure he was, in every way, the classic liberal.  And he had no qualms playing up on the stereotype and using the lingo.  But he also wasn’t afraid to attack the so-called “pillars of society” and go after our supposed “sacred cows”.  He played up on our stereotypes and mocked our beliefs, and while we all had a good laugh at our own expense, he also made his point.  We would have to look back at what he said and then honestly tell ourselves “you know what?  He was right!”

Think about it!  The “Fox” people wouldn’t get anywhere going after Carlin.  What was the worse they could say about him?  “Oh, he’s just a long-haired tie-dyed liberal hippie from the 60’s.  He’s always stirring things up to get a cheap laugh.”  Ooh… scathing!

Sure there were some things that I didn’t agree with him about, such as his idea that somehow not voting absolves you of the responsibility of who gets elected.  But more often than not, his observations on society, on the abuses of power, on the hypocrisy of organized religion, they would all be pretty much spot-on.  And even if you didn’t like the message, there was little that you could refute about it.

I wish I could be that kind of funny.

Take a look at what passes as “funny” nowadays.  Talk radio personalities that operate as unofficial spokespeople for political parties.  They mock and rip into other people and spread lies and slander without a care in the world of the consequences.  Why should they care?  After all, they have big corporate money backing them up.  And then, when they are called out for their actions, they laugh and just say that they’re just “entertainers”.  It’s all “for show”, don’t you know?

Or there are the media satirists.  The comedians that spend their time giving the illusion of being part of the mainstream news and doing so good of a job of it that their audience and even media critics will actually think that they are the real thing.  When Jon Stewart showed up on a Headline News commentary show to be asked about his supposed “journalistic ethics”, they did not want to believe the truth, no matter how many times he reminded people that he was a comedian performing on a cable channel dedicated to comedy.  Even today, people would rather believe Stewart than any of the supposed “mainstream media” sources. 

That’s not meant to be funny.   That’s actually quite insulting to both journalists and to us.

Compare that to someone like George Carlin.  Nobody operated under the mistaken impression that Carlin was a pundit or a politician or a newscaster when he would tell the truth on stage.  Even when he pretended to be a news reporter, we knew it was just part of his stage act.  When he talked about worshiping both “the sun” and Joe Pesci as part of his rant on organized religion, nobody talked about starting up a “Church of Pesci”.

I wish I could be that kind of funny… because we really need it today more than ever before.

Let’s get brutally honest here… we are so hyper-critical and politically polarized that we attack people mercilessly if they are not flawlessly perfect in what they say.  People send lies to their friends and associates without a care in the world and then dismiss those that reveal the truth.

When a representative for a presidential candidate honestly says that their campaign would not be subject to fact-checking, and they’re actually applauded for it instead of being laughed out of politics, then we have a serious problem.  When our supposed “acceptable” choices for the highest office are either an incumbent whose failure is touted as a success, or a man that thinks that airlines should have windows that roll down, then we have a serious problem.

I’m going to let you guys in on a little hint: when my predecessor, H.L. Mencken, predicted almost a century ago that at some point the people would elect a moron to the highest office in the country, he wasn’t saying it as a good thing.

I wish I could be the kind of funny that we really need.

Human misery has become the latest form of TV entertainment.  We’ve gone beyond the “Jackass” funny.  We’re now following around the people who repossess cars and evict families from their homes.  We’re showcasing hoarders and people in jail.  We’re auctioning off other people’s “stuff” as a form of competition and treating it as though it can be a profitable business to pursue.

I wish I could be funny… because we need better alternatives to what is passing as “entertainment”.

The really sad part about what I do is that I’ve been doing online commentary for over sixteen years, and yet it seems like the material that I get complimented on the most is the stuff that is done for laughs.  When I try to be serious, it’s casually dismissed; unless I’m shouting my head off in frustration, and then people wonder why I’m so serious.

I wish I could be funny, though; because of late there have been far too many things that just aren’t funny.