Monday, October 27, 2014

Week of 10/27/2014

“Once” And The Myth Of The Happily Ever After
I don’t know about my readers, but I’ve come to enjoy a little series on ABC called “Once Upon A Time”.
“Once” is basically all of the fairytale characters come to life in a little town called “Storybrook”.  Since it’s being produced and aired by Disney, you should expect some of the Disney fairytale characters showing up along with classic fairytale characters Snow White, Captain Hook, Rumpelstiltskin, Robin Hood, and the Seven Dwarves.  Currently the town is being visited by the cast of “Frozen”, but previously they were visited by the Wicked Witch from the land of Oz, Ariel from “The Little Mermaid”, and Mulan. 
Anyway, what came to my attention was the angst of “The Evil Queen”, Regina.  Well, the “former Evil Queen”.  She’s changed, right?  She’s not supposed to be a villain anymore.  She’s supposed to be good now.  Oh, and she’s not a “Queen” anymore… which, in the case of Storybrook, means the town mayor.
But she doesn’t “feel” like a hero.  Heroes not only win the day, but they also get their “Happily Ever After”.  Snow White did.  She married Prince Charming.  She got to have not one, but two children, and she’s a grandmother without even looking a day older than her daughter!  And she’s now the mayor!
Regina, on the other hand, doesn’t have her job.  She doesn’t have her “son” (who is really Snow’s grandson).  And she doesn’t have the love of her life, namely Robin Hood.
The abbreviated version goes like this: Snow’s daughter, Emma Swan, ends up back in time with Captain Hook.  They accidentally prevent her parents from meeting and falling in love, so they had to make things right before they could return to the present.  In the process, Emma frees a young woman who was in the dungeon with her who was slated to be executed by Regina (who, back then, was every bit the “Evil Queen”).  They come back to the present, with the young woman in tow, only to find that she was really Maid Marian, Robin Hood’s wife and mother of her son.  Marian lives again and the two are re-united, leaving Regina out in the cold and not feeling very “good”.
After some well-needed angst over her situation and the unfairness of it all, she doesn’t really blame Emma for what happened.  She can’t blame Marian or Robin either.  Do you know who she blames?  She blames the “Storybook”!
Yes, she blames the “Storybook” for her situation.  After all, “the book” says that she’s still the “villain”, and “villains” don’t get a “Happily Ever After”.  So now she’s going to go after the people who write “the book” and have it changed so that the “villains” will get their “Happily Ever After”.
Well, I have something to say about that…
First of all, Regina hasn’t “lost” everything.  She still has her “son”!  Yes, it’s really Emma’s biological son and Snow White’s biological grandson, but they didn’t raise him.  Regina did!  And he still calls Regina “Mom”!  On top of that, he’s willingly on her side and wants to help her get her “Happily Ever After”.  That’s not something that a “villain” would have going for them.  Or, at least not without some evil curses and some memory wipes being involved.  The point is, she still has someone who sees her as a hero, even if she doesn’t feel like one.  That, in and of itself, is a huge win for her.
But, more to the point, you know what?  The idea of the “Happily Ever After” is really overrated.
What is a “Happily Ever After” anyway?  For Regina, that apparently is being with the man she loves, namely Robin Hood.  But is that really it?  That’s pretty narrow-minded and short-sighted.
Here’s a scary thought for anyone to consider… what if he isn’t Regina’s real “true love”?  Snow White had that problem at one point, where Prince Charming ceased to exist and Snow eventually found someone else for a little while.  So how does Regina know that this guy is “the one”?  Maybe her actual “true love” is still out there and she hasn’t met him yet.  Maybe everything that she’s gone through, including “losing” Robin Hood to his wife, was done to lead Regina down the path to meeting her eventual “true love”.  Ever consider that?
Now think about this: not everyone in Storybrook are able to get their “Happily Ever After”.  Ask “The Mirror” if he’s enjoying his “Happily Ever After”.  How about the Seven Dwarves?  All they seem to do is work and complain.  Some “ending” they get!  How about Red Riding Hood?  How about the Huntsman?  Oh, wait, Regina killed him back when she was a villain.  So much for his “Happily Ever After”.
Now think about this… how many people in the real world – in other words, outside of Storybrook and “The Book” – will never have their “Happily Ever After”?  How many people live lives that would consider them to be “heroes” or at least “good” only to find that they will never get their “Happily Ever After”?  Yours truly is certainly one of those people.
Speaking of those who get their “Happily Ever After”, how about Snow White and Prince Charming?  How are their “Ever After” so far?  Not so “Happily”, is it?
Well that’s because there’s a simple truth when it comes to “Happily Ever After”.
Let’s get brutally honest here… there is a reason why “Happily Ever After” is there at the end of the story, and that is because there is no more story to tell after that.  Period.  The End.
In fact the very last words after “Happily Ever After” are quite literally “The End”.  The.  End.  Period.  As in nothing more to tell.  As in there is nothing left to have happen.  The story is done, the adventures are finished with, and there is nothing more to see or do with them.
That’s why Snow and Charming aren’t really experiencing their “Happily Ever After”; because there are still plenty of stories left for them to experience.
This is the key reason why relationships are doomed in soap operas.  If the relationship isn’t illicit or secretive, if it isn’t complicated by a rival or a stalker or manipulative parents, if it isn’t stained by abuse or addiction or simple stress, if it isn’t anything other than happy and content, then the couple is irrelevant.  They’re pushed aside or out of the scene altogether.  There are no happy couples in soap operas unless they’re old supporting characters that show up only for holidays and special occasions so they can give some corny sage advice or remember some detail from way back when.
Do you get it yet, Regina?  “Happily Ever After” is the kiss of death for you!
So don’t yearn for something you don’t really want!  Learn what it is to be the hero of the story and continue the adventures.  Earn the respect of the town, from all of the people that still consider you to be the villain.  Actually become the well-loved and well-respected leader of Storybrook you once saw yourself as.
And then you will have really re-written “The Book”.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Week of 10/20/2014

McDonalds: If You Need To Make It Harder, Then Why Bother?
So, as of this column, McDonald’s is in the middle of their annual Monopoly contest.
This is a contest that has been going on since 1987, and I remember when it first started.
Oh, I remember those days quite well!  Every opportunity I got when I was in college, we went to McDonald’s just to get game pieces.  We never really won anything serious.  We always got a handful of those common spaces, but never a complete set of them.  Every so often we’d win a free small fries or a burger.  But we’d still try, and we’d still come back to get more game pieces.  And then, when the contest was over, we’d eat a little better someplace else.
Of course there was a lot about going to McDonald’s back then that really doesn’t exist today.  The food portions used to be larger, the hot apple pies used to be hotter, and the contests used to last longer than just a month.
Yes, this year’s “Mickey-Dee’s” Monopoly contest is a little over a month long.  Get the pieces while you can because it will be over before you know it!
And while you’re at it, make sure you get the right food stuff to get the game pieces.  Once upon a time pretty much anything you ordered at McDonald’s would have game pieces on them.  Now they don’t.  Now you have to find out which items have game pieces on them, and some of them have double the pieces.  So if you want to get the maximum number of game pieces, you have to order a specific combination of sandwiches, sides, and drinks.  You can’t just order the “meal” package either.  That would make it too easy.
You would think that the individual restaurants would have the menu items listed that would have game pieces on them so you would know in advance what to get, but, no, they don’t.  You have to ask the cashier which ones have game pieces, and sometimes even they don’t know and have to check with their manager.  That really screws up their turnover time.  And that’s for walk-in customers; imagine having to do that in the drive thru!
All of which makes me wonder… why even bother having a contest at all?
Let’s get brutally honest here… if you’re having to intentionally make a contest complex and complicated for people to take part in, then you really have no business having one at all.
I understand why McDonald’s would want to limit the game pieces to only a certain number of menu items.  They want people to buy those items more than they currently do.  Why else order a Fillet-O-Fish sandwich, large fries, and medium drink?  But it would only work if people knew in advance before they place their orders.  And – news flash – not everyone has a web-capable cellphone; so you can’t simply tell them to check with the website while they’re waiting!
So if you’re not going to give all the menu items at least one game piece, you should at least make it very clear to customers which menu items have game pieces.  And I don’t mean “very clear” if they ask.  They should not have to ask.  You want them to take part in the contest, right?  Then you, McDonald’s, you have to actually take the steps needed to help them take part, such as putting signs up in the restaurants and the drive-thru that point out which menu items have game pieces.  You need them, McDonald’s execs, not the other way around.
And it would also help if you once again made the contest last longer than just one month.  This is supposed to be the corporate chain’s biggest and best time of the year.  You wouldn’t have kept it going this long even after the whole fraud scandal if it wasn’t profitable.  So don’t treat it like this is a burden, and certainly don’t let your franchise restaurants treat it as such either.
The whole reason why a big corporate restaurant chain like McDonald’s would have a contest in the first place is to get people into their restaurants and buying their meals.  That reason gets forgotten when the contest gets complex and complicated.  I understand that big corporate mentalities tend to lose track of little pesky things like that, but they’re the ones that ultimately lose out when those little pesky things cause their customers to not bother with the contest.  Because if big corporate McD’s fails, there’s always Burger King or Hardees or Chick-Fil-A or any number of other places ready and willing to pick up the slack.  And they don’t need a contest to win over those customers.  They just need to deliver what the customers want.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Week of 10/13/2014

Checkbook Justice: Eric Holder’s True Legacy
You probably missed the big announcement amidst all the fear-mongering concerning ISIL and Ebola…
Attorney General Eric Holder is on the way out the door!
Yes, the first African-American top prosecutor announced his resignation this past September.  He’ll stay on until his replacement can be selected, which will probably be soon seeing how the Democrats are panicking before the November elections.  I’m sure his boss doesn’t want to have that “ideal” successor be shot down by the black-shirt GOP.
Oops!  I’m sorry, I meant Holder’s other boss.  His “official” boss, otherwise known as the President of the United States, probably doesn’t give a care right now because he’s only got two years left in his tenure.  Yeah, it would be nice for Barack Obama if he didn’t have to worry about the Senate screwing over his choices, but I get the feeling that he’s not really caring too much at this point about it.
But I’ll get back to that “other boss” thing in a minute.
I’m supposed to be “overjoyed” by the news of Holder’s departure.  After all, I’ve been calling for his resignation since March of last year!  I’ve repeatedly mentioned that Holder needs to go.  That he’s the albatross around Obama’s neck.  So now he’s actually leaving, and I’m supposed to be “happy” about it.
But I’m not happy about it.  Not in the least.
Because Eric Holder is leaving on his own terms.  He’s not being forced to resign.  He’s not leaving under a cloud of scandal and shame.  And because of that, the Washington script has already been cobbled together to paint him as being this great “civil rights” saint.  A modern-day Thurgood Marshall, minus the judicial robes.  But the script-writers also see that as being next on Holder’s schedule.
Yes, the cons and neo-cons are even getting ready to start screaming bloody murder and to throw their usual “Screaming Brat in Wal-Mart” hysterics over the possibility that Saint Holder could become the next Supreme Court Justice.  Even though they already held him in Contempt of Congress… which in and of itself is hypocrisy at its worst because Congress has shown contempt for the rest of the nation for quite some time now… they never really did anything more than that about him.  Nobody there called for him to resign like this commentator has been doing.  Nobody there called for an independent prosecutor to go after Holder for the various things they accused him of doing.  It’s all been staged and orchestrated.  It’s like Gene Wilder’s title character in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” when he says in a deadpan voice “Help, police, murder”.
So if the script follows through to that conclusion and Holder is being groomed to become a future Supreme Court Justice, the GOP in Congress really have nobody but themselves to blame for it.  And they damn well know it!
There’s a lot that should have been done about Holder.  He’s far from being the “civil rights champion” that the goddamned script paints him to be.  Sure he refused to defend “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, but that didn’t stop the freedom-hating bible-thumpers from continuing on their own to defend their especially-crafted policy.  Sure he didn’t go after some of the states that are in the process of legalizing marijuana, but that didn’t mean he ended some of the other raids in states like California that allowed medicinal use.  And it doesn’t stop his successor from resuming those raids.
Let’s not forget Holder’s continued expansion of the police-state in the name of “national security”.  Edward Snowden did America a monumental favor by opening up this can of unconstitutional worms, and what did we do to thank him?  Fox News brands him a traitor and Holder chases Snowden all the way into the loving arms of Russia.  Here we have a whole District of Columbia full of career politicians who took an oath – proudly sworn on their own bibles – to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”, which they hold up on their own political pulpits as being almost as sacred as the Ten Commandments, and yet they desecrate that very document while Holder violates the Fourth Amendment right in front of them and they have done nothing to stop it.
Oh, yes, we tortured people.  Holder admitted to it, and then refused to hold the criminals to account for it.  “Sovereign Immunity”, of course!  He jailed reporters by invoking a 100-year-old law and earned the ire of the very liberal bastions that previously supported Holder’s boss.
And yet the script still canonizes him as he prepares to leave the Department of (In)-Justice.
But the worst and most destructive part of Eric Holder’s true legacy is his allegiance to his “other” boss.  The very boss that he worked for before he became the top prosecutor.
I’m talking, of course, about “Too Big To Fail”.
Yes, Eric Holder used to defend “Too Big To Fail” before he became the top prosecutor, and he never really stopped defending them afterward.  Not one banking executive was ever held to account for their criminal activities.  Not one.
We took down Charles Keating and exposed the corruption of the U.S. Senators in the 1980’s with the Savings and Loan failures.  We went after the executives of Enron and WorldCom and even jailed Martha Stewart in the 2000’s.  But, to this day, Eric Holder refuses to hold one single bank executive to task for their out-and-out criminal actions which led to the illegal theft of millions of homes during the Great Recession!
Instead of criminal charges, Holder let the banks get away with their criminal actions by simply paying a fine as part of a “civil action”.  Millions of Americans forced out of their homes.  Trillions – yes, trillions – of retirement monies vanish.  Taxpayers forced to subsidize “Too Big To Fail” with bailouts, which they then use to screw over Americans even more while giving themselves huge bonuses.  And Holder lets them get away with paying a modest fine and a mealy-mouthed promise of “doing better”.
Let’s get brutally honest here… this corrupt idea of checkbook justice is Eric Holder’s true legacy!  The idea that the rich, the one-percent of the world, can get away with out-and-out criminal activity by simply paying a pittance of a fine is the very definition of a kleptocratic government.
This is no different than if you were charged with a causing a serious accident that clogs up a major highway for hours and causes injuries and you tell the judge “Tell you what, I really don’t have time for jail, so, how about I just give you a few bucks that I was going to spend at Starbucks and promise that I’ll try not to do it again.  That work for y’all?”  And the judge and the prosecutor actually agreeing to it!
Because that is precisely what Eric Holder has allowed the banking executives – his “other” boss – to do! 
And he’s been allowed to get away with this checkbook justice because of the size of the “pocket change” involved.  $13 billion may seem a lot of money to you and I, but JPMorgan Chase – the ones paying that amount to get away with their criminal activities - budgeted $23 billion long before the deal was even struck.  And they got paid $30 billion from the taxpayers through the 2008 bailout.  You do the math.  Either way, it’s all just pocket change to them.
In addition to aiding and abetting the criminal activities behind the Great Recession, A.G. Holder has, through his actions, reversed his own department’s policies concerning going after corporations.  The very policies which justified going after the executives at Enron and WorldCom and for throwing Martha Stewart in prison are now meaningless because of Holder’s actions.  The next Bear Sterns or the next JPMorgan Chase or the next Bank of America know that all they have to do is flash some money and make some meaningless promises to “do better” and they can literally buy their way out of trouble.
This is your real legacy, Eric Holder.  You have demonstrated that the Department of Justice is for sale, albeit with a price tag that only the 1% can pay.  You should be very proud of yourself for that.
This is why I am not happy that Holder is leaving.  Because it is on his own terms.  He’s not leaving under a cloud of shame.  He’s not being hounded out in fear of his freedom for his actions.  He gets a cushy retirement plan thanks to the taxpayers while he decides what he wants to do next; knowing full well that he can literally write his next job.
Worse, because he is leaving on his own terms, he knows that the next group of people that fills his chair will make sure that none of his precedence-setting trends are reversed.  Because the one thing that you do not do in Washington is reverse the policies of your predecessor if they left in good standing.
William Black, the man that exposed the Keating Five and the abuses of the worst of the Savings and Loan failures in the 1980’s, recently told Bill Moyers that Washington has created the incentives for an even larger disaster in the future.  This commentator firmly believes that it is just a matter of time before this becomes reality.  And when it does, we can thank Eric Holder’s system of checkbook justice for making it happen.