Monday, February 24, 2014

Week of 02/24/2014

A New Correction Is Needed For The Haves
– by David Matthews 2

There is a time when the world of trading would be in the uncomfortable situation of having to purge their investments in a particular market that has become grossly over-inflated in value.  Normally this would be done gradually.  Price of “something” gets too high, people stop buying it, the value of that “something” goes down because there’s more supply than demand.  But when you have hyper-inflated the value of that “something” and to the point where it cannot be sustained, then the value crashes hard.

Way back when, that would be called a market crash.  Today, it’s called a “market correction”.  It seems words like “crash” are just too “negative” for those sensitive people in Wall Street to handle.

Then again, maybe if they still called it a “crash”, they wouldn’t be so prone to have it happen again and again and again.

Think about it… the Savings and Loan failure of the 1980’s, the fall of the Dot-Com businesses of the 1990’s, the corporate failure of the early 2000’s, and then the housing bubble and “Too Big To Fail”… the pattern repeating itself over and over and over again.  Hyper-inflated values, the demand for quick profit, and then the “correction” when reality finally sets in.  The only difference between the Savings and Loan failure and “Too Big To Fail” is that the executives were allowed to get away with their criminal activities this time around.  And in some cases, they got fat stinking bonuses on top of it.

Maybe if it was still called a “crash”, our corrupt Department of Justice wouldn’t have been so eager to honor the banks’ “Get Out Of Jail Free” cards.  It’s a little hard to let corporate criminals get away with their crimes when words like “crash” are still being used.

But, no, we don’t call these things “crashes” anymore.  We call them “market corrections”.

And with these so-called “corrections”, there is the opportunity for those in the market to supposedly “learn their lesson” and make “positive” changes to prevent another “correction” from happening.  In theory, anyway.

Well, there is another “correction” that desperately needs to be made, and that one involves the attitudes of those at the top of our economic heap.

Back at the end of January, venture capitalist Thomas Perkins decided to open up his mouth instead of his bank account and pen a letter to the Wall Street Journal about President Barack Obama’s recent comments about income inequality.  In his little diatribe, he portrayed himself and his wealthy friends as being “poor persecuted victims” and equated it to the actual persecution suffered by the Jewish people in 1930’s Germany.

Right, because the wealthy have had to “suffer” through this Great Recession like the Jewish people did in the 1930’s… by having their stores smashed, by being forcibly evicted from their homes, by being dragged out in the streets, roughed up, and thrown into concentration camps.  Oh, wait, that only happened in “The Dark Knight Rises”… a fictional movie. 

In the real world, not only did the top of the top not suffer so much as a single hangnail during the Recession, but they made off like bandits.  The super-rich got richer and everyone else not only got poorer, but they were told that they only had themselves to blame for it because they supposedly didn’t “work hard enough” or didn’t “save enough”.

Mister Perkins would later apologize for his comparison… sort of.  He was sorry that he used the German word “Kristallnacht”, but he wasn’t apologetic for his sociopathic view.  He was just “sorry” that he used “that word”.

But if Mister Perkins was “sorry”, his friends and associates are not.  The Wall Street Journal – owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox News – followed the neo-con script and doubled-down on the rhetoric.  And, of course, Murdoch’s Fox News hasn’t let up on the Orwellian hate-speak, because it fits right into their own “Non-Conservative Is The Worst Evil In The History Of Human Existence” script.  Even local newspaper editorials are doubling-down on the “poor persecuted rich people” narcissism. 

Just look at how Tom’s buddy Rupert is “suffering” through this “persecution”… after all; he recently had to shell out $57 million to buy a “meager” four-story penthouse in the Upper East Side after leaving his newly-divorced ex-wife with their $44 million home.  Or, one of his homes. He has so many of them around the world.  But I’m sure Tom is consoling his buddy Rupert about the “pain” and “degradation” he’s having to endure as one of the super-wealthy.  He might even make comparisons to the plight of famed author and Nazi victim Anne Frank while he’s at it, since Rupert is now also living in an “attic”.  It just happens to be a bit more “roomy” than the one Anne Frank had to live in with her family.

Oh, but that wasn’t all from the upper colon of Thomas Perkins.  He also decided that being wealthy should also give them more voting power than those “ungrateful masses”.

This is what he recently said“The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes...But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?”

So, in his mind, “taxes” are like stock.  Funny, because I seem to recall that the über-rich hate paying taxes.  They’re always demanding tax breaks and tax exemptions and screaming bloody murder like horror-film virgins should anyone even remotely suggest that they pay even one red penny in taxes.  They’re the ones that passionately equate “taxation” with “theft”, and now they should get more voting power because of it?

As you can see, Mister Perkins has a problem thinking things like that through.  Makes you wonder how he became so wealthy in the first place.

To borrow from the late Texas Governor Ann Richards: poor Mister Perkins; he can’t help it.  He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

But he’s not the only one with that problem.  In fact, Mister Perkins’s colon-scented narcissism is just one of many.

Then there’s aged rocker, avid gun nut, and political spewer Ted Nugent.  In his latest diatribe against the current White House occupant, Nugent called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel”.  He would later apologize for “using the term”, but only after several Texans, including U. S. Senator (and latest GOP savior) Ted Cruz and Governor Rick Perry, cried foul on the terminology.

But, just like Perkins, Nugent would only apologize for “using the term”, not for the attitude that spewed it.

And it is that very attitude that is at the core of our problem.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the “haves” have a serious attitude problem that needs to be corrected, and it needs to be fixed now before it goes too far.

Those up on top, the über-rich, the super-wealthy, the one-percent and even the one-percent-of-one-percent, have long insulated themselves from the struggles that the rest of us have had to deal with.  They throw about words like “persecution” when they have no actual concept of what persecution really is, and they have convinced themselves that they are somehow superior to the rest of the world simply because of where they are now.

And this is not mere speculation on my part.  This has actual science behind it.  In a 2013 TED convention, Paul Piff demonstrated how a rigged game of Monopoly, where one player was given fundamental advantages over the other simply through a flip of a coin, showed how their attitudes about that rigged game changed in just fifteen minutes of play.  The ones given the advantages didn’t just get more money, they also became more arrogant, ruder, and they began to feel self-entitled.  They actually believed that they somehow earned those advantages when in fact it was through a rigged game and a random coin toss.  And all in just fifteen minutes!

This is what is behind the unashamed arrogance, the sociopathic narcissism that you see in people like Perkins and Nugent.  Any talk of “income inequality” is treated as a personal attack.  Wealth is considered an entitlement.  Trying to fix a broken system to help those that truly need it is condemned as being “socialistic”.  And that arrogance and feeling of self-righteous self-entitlement has been getting progressively worse and worse as it festers and stews through the continual script rehashed through Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal and through talk radio and local newspapers.

Much like the Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980’s, much like the Dot-Com craze of the 1990’s, and much like the housing bubble and the “Too Big To Fail” ways of the 2000’s, the attitudes of those at the top have become hyper-inflated beyond their own true value.

It also doesn’t help when their “friends” in politics and the media make promises on their behalf that they themselves refuse to honor.  Cut taxes for the rich, they claimed, and there will be more jobs.  Cut regulations, they claimed, and there will be more jobs.  Done and done, only to be told that there weren’t any more jobs.  That the market was just “too unstable”.  Oh, and Obama is in the White House?  Well then all bets are off because he’s a “tax and spend liberal”, don’t-cha-know, even if he’s still giving them everything they want.

And where does it end?  It ends where it has always ended historically; in chaos and violence.  Look at the American Revolution.  Look at the French Revolution.  Look at the first Russian Revolution.  For that matter, look at the fall of the Soviet Union.  Look at the more recent incidents in Egypt and Ukraine.  Those that have been insulated by wealth and power ultimately laid the foundation for their own downfall.  A “correction” of sorts, only this one is not economic.  It’s social.  And there is more that is lost in these kinds of “corrections” than just money.

The thing is… it doesn’t have to be this way.

There is an opportunity for those at the top to take a look where they and their brethren are heading and realize that it is up to them to change their attitudes.  They don’t have to make the mistakes of their predecessors.  They can actually heed the warning signs and take a step back.  They can either ease the bubble of arrogance and ignorance gradually and on their own terms, or deal with the consequence when the “correction” occurs.  It’s entirely up to them.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Week of 02/17/2014

You Are Not Your Cellphone
– by David Matthews 2

In the middle of movie “Fight Club”, Tyler Derden gives one of his little memorable rants when he says “You are not your job.  You are not how much money you have your bank.  You’re not the car you drive.  You’re not the contents of your wallet.  You’re not you (beep)ing khakis.  You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”

I’ll add one more…

You are not your cellphone.

In an earlier article, I commented that I really didn’t have a “smartphone”, but rather a “scam”-phone, because aside from the most basic of features, every other app on it would demand money in some way.  It was a cheap phone, provided for me by my cell provider at a really low price, and it gives me precisely what I needed, not what I wanted. 

But that, in a way, was a good thing, because I wasn’t fixated on those apps and on using the phone for a whole lot of things.  If I want apps, I have a tablet with a WiFi connection so I’m not using a data package that I don’t have and paying extra for it.  And, yeah, I’ve done a few of those fun apps with the tablet.  It was fun for a while, but then I got bored and moved on to better things.

And I’m beginning to understand that the real reason for many of those apps is so that you will use up your allotted space in your data plan so that you will have to pay more money to your cell provider.  After all, you really don’t know how much you’re spending until after the bill comes in.  Besides, you’re too busy trying to get to the next game level, or viewing that cute cat video, or checking Facebook to see who liked your latest comment, or uploading some cute picture on Instagram, to care about how much it will cost you when the bill comes in.

And that, I believe, is by design.

Not too long ago I went to a certain big-name brand appliance store in search for a certain new movie and printer ink.  Once upon a time, I used to be able to go to this big-name brand appliance store find these things with ease.  But not now.  Not only did they not carry the ink, but the video shelves where the certain new movie would be found were all empty.  Not only that, but I had to search to find this video, where previously new releases were displayed prominently when you walked through the doors.

Yes, once upon a time, this certain big-name brand appliance store used to be known as a place where you would find all sorts of movies and games and music, and would have these things right in the middle of the store.  All you had to do was walk through the front doors and there were the new releases, ready for you to purchase.

Do you know what is in that prestige store location now?


All sorts of cellphones, cellphone accessories, and provider packages.  Not to mention all sorts of help.  In fact there were more employees in that little section of the store than there were either at the registers or any place else outside of customer service.  All of whom were tripping over themselves to get anyone interested in a new cellphone and/or a new provider package.

I’m not talking about tablets or Apple products, although the associates in the computer section were also tripping over themselves getting people set up on a new iPad or tablet.  In fact they were more determined to help someone get set up on an iPad than they were in finding that printer ink I was looking for.  When you have three people helping with setting up an iPad and later only one person looking for ink, that’s a case of severely misplaced priorities.

I’m sure some people are thinking that this big-name brand store (whose favorite color is blue) is simply placing manpower where the greatest demand would be. And yet, when I was in that store, all of the customers were everywhere except in the cellphone section.  They weren’t looking for a new cellphone or a new cell package.

Then again, I don’t think those associates get a commission or a bonus for selling the latest Blu-Ray movie, do they?

And it’s not just that big-name brand store either.  Earlier that day I went to another certain big-name brand store (whose favorite color is also blue) on the hunt for the same two items.  Again, empty shelves in the movie section and on the shelf where that particular type of printer ink would normally be found.  But plenty of cellphones and cellphone accessories and provider packages galore to chose from!  And all right in front of the department desk where all of the associates congregate.

One store doing that can be considered a case of bad management.  Two different stores doing that makes you wonder if this is more of a deliberate pattern.

And that brings us back to the earlier proclamation about you not being your cellphone, because let’s get brutally honest here… cellphones have become the new crack cocaine for people, and the preferred drug to be dispensed by corporate dealers just salivating to suck up as much money from you as they can.

Take a look at all of those ads promising that you can upgrade your cellphone to the “latest-greatest” instead of having to wait until your contract has expired.  Look at all of the offers to pay for the “early termination fee” so you can switch to their service.  All to feed this man-made addiction that makes corporations richer and the masses poorer.

That brings us to the question that Big Corporate would rather you not ask yourself: why do you really need that cellphone?  If you think about it, if your cellphone already gives you everything want you want it to do, and it’s not broken, then you really have no need to get a new one.  Is your ego that fragile that you cannot go on without having the “latest-greatest” just for bragging rights?

A cellphone is a tool; and a pricey one at that.  The true cost of that tool is not just what you pay for the phone but also in the regular bills that you pay to your provider so you can use that phone.  The cellphone makers and the cell providers have been very careful in keeping that part as muddied as possible so they can rake in as much money as they can from you on a continual basis.

That last part fits the technical definition of a pimp.  So if the cellphone companies and their providers are pimps, what does that make you?

Or would you rather be seen for something more than just the things you buy?  If so, then just remember this little mantra:

You are not your job.

You are not how much money you have in the bank.

You are not your car.

You are not the contents of your wallet.

You are not your (beep)ing khakis.

And you are not your cellphone.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Week of 02/10/2014

Why, Superbowl, Why?
– by David Matthews 2

(This is an “open letter” to the various entities – both individuals and corporations – that made up the 2014 Superbowl event, otherwise referred to here as simply “Superbowl”.  While not entirely serious, it certainly expresses the frustration this commentator and others experienced.)

Why, Superbowl?

Why did you have to suck this year?

I mean, you had the largest audience to date this year!  One-hundred-eleven and a half million people, and that’s not counting the addition four million that joined in for the halftime show!

You set plenty of firsts, including the first open stadium played on Astroturf, and the first Super Bowl event hosted by multiple jurisdictions.  You had celebrities and politicians in attendance.  And you charged four million dollars per commercial spot!  Four million dollars!!

And yet… the Superbowl… sucked!

Why, Superbowl?  Why did you have to suck?  You really had no reason to!

It’s not how the game itself turned out that made it suck.  The ego that is the Denver Broncos needed to be popped, and it got popped in the best way possible.  Besides, it’s not like it was the worst lopsided game.  Remember Superbowl XX?  I do.  That game sucked (yeah, I’m a New Englander all right), but that Superbowl was still one to talk about.

This one?  No.

Why, Superbowl?  Why?

I think a part of it had to do with the halftime show.  Bruno Mars and the Red Hot (pre-recorded) Chili Peppers with their Guitar Hero props made sure the show was cleaner than detergent.  Okay, cleaner than detergent if that detergent was in a gas station bathroom.  Granted it wasn’t the first time the performers pretended to perform, but it didn’t even look like they were trying here!

I’m sorry, but if I wanted to see a bunch of shirtless dudes playing Guitar Hero on TV next to some pretty-boy pretending to be Fabian, I’d change my gender and orientation.

Hey, whatever happened to showing the cheerleaders?  They get paid to put on a show too.

There was always the pre-game chest-beating and faux-patriotism indoctrination.  After 9/11 and going into the Iraq War, I can sort of understand the Orwellian desire of people to chest-beat and prove just how much they “love” their country.  As a true freedom-lover, I can’t condone it, but I can understand why they do it.  But now we’re over ten years into this and it has become yet another boring routine.  It’s like the singers that over-soul “America the Beautiful” and the National Anthem until it becomes this acoustical mush that nobody can understand.

Seriously, Fox executives and the National Football League; when George Orwell wrote “Nineteen Eighty-Four” in 1948, he did so as a cautionary tale, not as a to-do list!

I can also point to the failed “controversies” that were manufactured for the sake of trying to build the Superbowl up into something it wasn’t.  The whole “Richard Sherman controversy” was just a load of crap!  That is all that it was.  A player trash-talked another player immediately after the game over what was said by the other guy during the game!  It is contrived crap coming from the sports world and from the media, and the people behind it should be looking for something else to do with their lives.

But, you know what I really thing caused you to lose it, Superbowl?  The real reason why people watch you in the first place… the commercials!

Fox and NFL charged advertisers four million dollars per spot!  Four million!  For that much money, you would expect something epic.  Something exciting.  Something that the viewers would remember for the rest of the year.

And you didn’t deliver that, did you, Superbowl?

No, you didn’t.

No devastating previews of future movies.  Only bland ones.  No truly comedic promotions for Doritos.  Only bland ones.  Sure Budweiser had a couple of touching spots.  The “Dober-wawa” commercial was funny, but it was really the lone stand-out in comedy.  Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream were nothing like the “Go Daddy” commercials of the past, so their “controversy” was again nothing more than contrived BS.  Coca-Cola’s commercial was only “controversial” to the same rednecks that get upset when you show them a globe to prove that the Earth is round.

And it’s not like you were blindsided by this, Superbowl!  You had the final say as to whether these four-million dollar spots would air, so you knew what the viewers would see before they did. 

So let’s get brutally honest here… if there is anyone to blame why you sucked this year, Superbowl, it’s you.

You’ve become too complacent.  You’ve gotten too comfortable having the only real event going on that week.  You’ve had no reason to validate the attention you get.  You simply assume people will watch whatever you put on because you’re the Superbowl!  You assume advertisers will pay any fee you demand and bend over backwards to accommodate your standards because you’re the Superbowl!

And maybe we need to find something else to watch, Superbowl, because clearly you’re letting us down.

Understand this, Superbowl: while I cheered for the Seattle Seahawks to trounce the Denver Broncos, they weren’t really my team.  And you’ll find a vast number of people who tuned in or paid for your overpriced tickets to watch in the stadium really weren’t rooting for their own teams either.  It’s up to you to give us a reason to root for the teams that do make it, and to give us a reason to keep paying the money you demand.

You need us, Superbowl.  You wouldn’t be this media monstrosity without us. 

So stop letting us down.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Week of 02/03/2014

Atlanta’s Snow Hysteria Problem
– by David Matthews 2

Even though I am a New Englander at heart, I can honestly say that I have lived in the greater Atlanta area longer than anyplace else.  So I know from experience that people here do not know how to handle snow.  At all.

And it doesn’t matter if they are a native-born resident or a “transplant”; people here in Atlanta will pretty much respond the same way when it comes to snow.  The local media will turn two snowflakes into “Winter Armageddon”.  People will rush to the stores to hoard bread and milk… which in and of itself defies logic and reason.  And then they’ll rush home as though the snowflakes were radioactive fallout.

The snow hysteria is laughable to a point, especially for a “transplant”.  Having seen what real snowfall is like, it is pure schadenfreude to see some people here panic over what ends up as a light dusting.  As one of my aunts recently told me, “Come up here to Canada and talk to me about snow.”

And yet, the recent snow here in Atlanta has put that hysteria on its ear.

You’ve probably seen some of the footage of the infamous “Ice Storm 2014”, of cars and trucks either abandoned or otherwise stuck on the highways.  Of students sleeping in their schools because they couldn’t get out in time.  Of schools and workplaces shut down for one-to-two days.  Of the whole area just shutting down until people can get home again.

Yes… all of it over “one inch of snow”!

Okay, let’s get something out of the way for those who don’t live in the area.

The reason why people here cannot handle driving in snow and ice is because they don’t have the equipment for it.  Snow tires and tire chains are as foreign to folks here as collared greens and fried okra are for the rest of the world.  It just doesn’t snow frequently enough for them to be prepared for it.  It’s like tornadoes, and earthquakes, and hurricanes.  Sure they can happen here, and they have actually happened here, but not frequently enough for people to plan ahead for them.

Speaking of snow tires and tire chains, you would think that Atlanta’s biggest and heaviest travelers – the truckers – would have taken precautions on their own, right?  How many thousands of big rigs come through Atlanta on a daily basis?  How many of those drivers had the brains or the forethought to maybe put those tire chains on?  There are some people that are saying that a good portion of the pile-ups and road shutdowns during the storm would have been averted if those trucks had tire chains on them.

This, I think, should have been common sense.  They should not have waited for the local government to require it.  If you know the weather is going to be bad, then you have an obligation to either put on those tire chains yourself or else pull that rig off the road and park it until it is clear enough to drive again.

But that was only a part of the mess.  Granted, it was a huge part, but it wasn’t the only reason why Atlanta looked like a scene out of “The Walking Dead”.

Another reason: really bad timing.

I have lived in the Greater Metro Atlanta area for almost twenty years now, from the north-west to the north-eastern parts.  I know from experience that traffic in the northern parts of the area is a mess when school is in session, because you have idiot parents that rush their kids to school in the mornings and then they rush over to work.  I have seen this demonstrated year-in and year-out and quite often it seems like this commentator is the only one that notices it and has actually made the connection.

So now let’s have snow that starts around noontime, and you have businesses that decide to shut down early and let their workers go home, and you have schools that do the same thing at roughly the same time.  These last two things are bad enough without the snow and ice.  And now, just to make things fun, let’s toss in those aforementioned big rigs going through without tire chains.

Is it any wonder why traffic came to a halt?  I guess we should just be lucky that there weren’t even more fatalities because of it.

And here it’s hard to pin the blame on any one group for the mess.  Blame the forecasters?  Depends on where you got your information and whether or not that information was up-to-date.  The storm actually got worse the night before it arrived in Atlanta.  The Weather Service updated their warnings, but I’m told that some in the media didn’t.

Blame the politicians?  Which ones?  Governor Nathan Deal (who is running for re-election, by the way) is claiming “the buck” stops with him (I thought it stops in his campaign coffers), but fingers are being pointed at his underlings for dropping the ball.  Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed took some heat for the mess as well, even though he was also unfairly linked to things going on in the parts of the area he couldn’t control.

Here’s a little tidbit for those outside of Georgia: there are several cities in the Greater Metro Atlanta Area.  It’s not just Atlanta.  So blaming Mayor Reed for what goes out outside of the city limits is like blaming U.S. President Barack Obama for what happens in Canada.

Then we have all of those people that were stupid enough to abandon their vehicles in the middle of the road.  I’m sorry, but I have little sympathy for those that did that.  You helped to make an already difficult situation even worse, and you really have little to complain about if your car ended up being towed because of it.  Just eat the towing fee and be thankful you still have a car after you gave it up.

Still, there was some good that came from the winter adversity that needs to be recognized.  Carroll County leaders were smart enough to cancel school that Tuesday morning, long before the snow came; so they didn’t have to go through the nightmare that other school systems had.  Some schools where children were stranded had teachers volunteer their time to keep the children warm, fed, and safe until they could go home.  There were store owners that let some people stranded in the snow in so they can wait it out.  There were Good Samaritans that came out to those still in their vehicles to give gas and food.  While many in local government came up short, regular people stepped up, and that needs to be pointed out and commended. 

So now comes the aftermath; the finger-pointing and the plans on top of plans headed by committees designed to supposedly “make things right the next time around”. 

And you know what we’ll get out of all of that?

Not a damn thing.

Let’s get brutally honest here… there is no doubt that local officials dropped the ball on so many levels when it came to this winter storm.  But so did a good portion of the general public.  Truck drivers dropped the ball when it came to the tire chains.  School officials dropped the ball when they didn’t cancel school before the storm.  State officials dropped the ball when they didn’t send the trucks out to sand-and-salt the roads before the storm instead of after it.  And we all failed when we all decided to go home at roughly the same time, which helped to clog up the roads, and then we compounded that by abandoning the cars in the middle of those roads.

So guess what that means?  When “everyone” is at fault, then “nobody” really is!  It’s the magic of politics!

Sure you may see some policies change.  You may see some officials be a little more skittish when it comes to the next call for snow, and maybe have them err on the side of caution.  If we’re lucky we may even have a few career politicians decide to step down. 

But, for the most part, you’re really not going to see anything different the next time around.  The media will continue to panic about snowfall and come up with even more asinine End-Of-The-World nicknames for it.  We will once again hoard bread and milk seemingly for no reason whatsoever.  And no matter what steps are taken, they will either be not enough or an overreaction.

Because, after all, this is Atlanta we’re talking about, and we can’t handle snow. 

That’s more of a “Yankee” thing.