Monday, November 30, 2015

Week of 11/30/2015

The Evils That Big Corporate Do
As I’m coming up to the end of 2015, I had a few thoughts go into my head that I was trying to get sorted out.  One of those thoughts, I believed, would end up being the subject for this week’s article.
But then I realized that they were all pretty much connected.  They all had one thing in common.  They all were the problems we have with Big Corporate.
Now I know someone is going to get all snooty and pompous and say “Well... there’s no such thing as ‘Big Corporate’!”  Yes, there is; and the fact that your self-righteous ego refuses to recognize it does not detract from the reality that the collective of corporations with their greedy, self-centered, self-serving, money-grubbing, predatory practices have been laying waste to the world pretty much since the Industrial Revolution.
First of all, there’s a sub-group of Big Corporate called Big Pharma.  Much like their sister sub-group, Big Medical, Big Pharma are pretty much all of the big drug-makers.  All of those slick ads on TV about various pills that you can take to supposedly make your life easier and more manageable are all from Big Pharma.
Now Big Medical and Big Pharma have been raking in the money for a long, long time.  They have gotten fat and rich and powerful because they’ve been operating behind-the-scenes in the healthcare business, thanks in no small part to the government and Big Insurance.  And they don’t want anything to stop their money train from keeping them fat and rich and powerful.  So when they heard that the government was finally going to do something about healthcare, they threw a fit, they staged national protests, and then they used their friends on K-Street to quietly substitute their own fraud into place which we call the “Affordable Care Act” or “Obamacare”.
It's not what the conservatives and neo-conservatives have been screaming about.  It’s not the fictional “monster” that Fox News and talk radio and newspaper editorials have programmed the masses to think it was.  It’s not even what the liberals wanted it to be.  It was worse.  It’s not “socialism” in any stretch of the imagination, and certainly not “communism”... because if you had a single brain cell in your head that wasn’t pre-programmed by Big Corporate, you’d know the ACA does not fit any definition of “socialism” or even “communism” other than the neo-conservative screed of “I don’t like it, therefore it’s socialism”.  It’s actually corporatism.  Go ahead and look it up.  I won’t hold my breath for your apology when you realize that I’m right.
So while Big Medical has been raking in the bucks, and Big Insurance has been wailing and whining like the spoiled bitches they are, Big Pharma has been doing something very dirty.  They’ve been engaging in raw, naked price-gouging of certain drugs that one company or another has sole control over.
Take, for instance, a life-saving drug.  Let’s suppose the consumer price of that drug is $1 a pill.  Now let’s suppose the maker of that drug jacks the price up to $500 a pill.  You may not think anything of it.  “Free Market” and all that B.S., right?  “Whatever the market will bear”, right?
Yeah, you’ll chant that corporatist gospel until the day you die... unless you’re the one that needs the drug to live, or if someone close to you needs it.  What?  Insurance?  Right.  Unless they tell you they won’t cover it because it’s now “cost-prohibitive”.  And, yes, it’s happened.  A lot of drugs that people need, especially for things like cancer, are now in the “top-tier” of costs, which means the insurance companies aren’t going to pick up the tab for them.
The media has been focusing on the mechanizations of Turing Pharmaceuticals and their slimy douchebag of a CEO, Martin Shkreli, but there have been several other companies that have been doing the same thing.  They acquire the rights to an important drug, then jack up the prices so they can make a blind-stinking profit at the expense of the patients, who now worry whether their insurance providers – which they are forced by law to pay because of the corporatist ACA – will even bother to cover them.
I’ll make it simple, Big Pharma.  Stop.  Just stop right now.
Do you really want the government to come down on you?  Do you really want there to be a legal and political showdown between the Food and Drug Administration and your blind stinking greed?
Sure, your shyster attorneys may prevail in court, eventually.  You may even get to defend it in the Supreme Court.  But between now and then, you’re poisoning the very customer base that you need to make your blind stinking wealth.  And that customer base votes!  Especially the ones that are getting older and older and need those drugs but don’t have the money to feed your greed.
And if you think that your fellow “Bigs” - Big Medical and Big Insurance - will somehow back you up in your price-gouging, think again.  Big Medical doesn’t like hearing that you’re gouging people literally to their deaths, and Big Insurance won’t be able to cover your greed for very long.  And, remember, you’re really not preying on the patients with this greed of yours, Big Pharma.  You’re preying on Big Insurance!
So just knock off the attitude, knock off the greed, and get your heads out of your asses.
The second “Big Corporate” issue in my wheelhouse right now deals with an event that has been in the media for years now: Black Friday.
The ultimate problem is the corporatist takeover of the Holiday Season and the over-extension of it well beyond the traditional time from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day.  I’ve complained in the past about how Big Corporate and their quest for more and more money have stretched the holiday sales pretty much into the Fourth of July.
But Big Corporate’s Christmas Day has always been Black Friday; the supposed time when they can make up for all of their perceived losses from the rest of the year and be in the financial “black”.  It’s always been on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  That’s why you see Santa Claus – the secular icon of the holiday – at the very end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  It officially marks the start of the Holiday Shopping Season.
Unfortunately for us, the consumers as well as the store workers, Big Corporate have been stretching this time as well.  First it’s the start of business on Friday.  Then it became 6am.  Then 3am.  Then right at the stroke of midnight.  Then Thanksgiving night.  Then Thanksgiving afternoon.  Then Thanksgiving.  And now it’s a day or two before Thanksgiving.  There are “pre-Black Friday” sales to tempt the shoppers.
So now it’s happened.  People are sick of Big Corporate’s B.S. over this time of the year and they’re doing what I’ve been trying to do for years: stay as far away from the stores as possible.  Attendance at these orchestrated mob gatherings is lax in many places this year.  Stores are complaining that there’s more merchandise than customers.
Some stores made the decision on their own to keep their doors closed on Thanksgiving and let their employees enjoy the day with their families before taking part in the madness.  A wise move on the part of those store owners.
This leaves people to ask the inevitable question: is Black Friday doomed?
And my answer is this: no.  Not by a long shot.
Yes, Big Corporate is being called out for being extremely greedy, but let’s get brutally honest here... having one lax shopping period is not a sign of doom for the whole concept of Black Friday, as much as we’d hope that it would be.
The rest of Big Corporate certainly kept up the insanity this year, and some of the masses still were very much asses when it came to those “doorbuster sales”.  And don’t think for a minute that this mob sickness wasn’t planned!  Getting people wound up for a really great “sale” and then putting an extremely limited supply for the mob to fight over is nothing short of Big Corporate’s form of “Bread and Circuses” entertainment!  The Romans had lions.  Corporate execs have stupid people fighting for big screen HDTV’s at cutthroat prices.
And let’s not forget that Corporate America has harnessed the power of the Internet as well.  So even if Black Friday is a bust, it doesn’t stop the millions and millions of shoppers from hitting the online stores for their holiday deals.  After all, who do you think created the whole concept of “Cyber Monday”?
You want to know just how crazy Black Friday deals are?  The people behind “Cards Against Humanity” gave the ultimate in raw deals for Black Friday.  You give them $5, and they give you... nothing.  And I don’t a special pack of something they called “nothing”; I mean you don’t get a single thing for your $5!  They keep the money.  And they were completely honest in their intentions.  They minced no words and told no lies when they said “Give us $5 and we will give you nothing in return.”
Do you know how much they made from that one-day deal?  Over $70,000!  That’s a lot of nothing!  That’s how gullible the great unwashed are, thanks in no small part to Big Corporate.
Listen, despite the wailing and moaning in the media, Big Corporate isn’t going to go broke because of a mediocre Black Friday.  And they sure as hell won’t cancel it anytime soon.  After all, there are still going to be plenty of people who either don’t trust the Internet, don’t have the access, or simply like the experience of actually getting the item in the brick-and-mortar store and taking it home instead of doing all of that waiting and worrying.
It’s your choice if you want to play Big Corporate’s games during this time of the year.  Just remember that its by their rules.  It is, after all, the real “reason for the season”.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Week of 11/23/2015

Real Greatness
There’s a scene in the HBO series “Newsroom” in which a news anchor played by Jeff Daniels was asked to sit in on a college panel talking about politics.  One of the students asked a rather softball question about what makes America so great, and while the other two guests gave staged answers, it was Jeff’s character that blurted out “America’s not great!”
Now in the real world, that would be enough to start a mass walk-out, not to mention a thorough social media lynching that would result in the character’s immediate suspension and/or termination.  But, because this is TV-land, we get to see his character explain in rousing and frank detail why America isn’t great.  It used to be, but it isn’t today.
And the thing is... he’s right.  But we don’t want to come out and say it.  We’ve been brainwashed on an Orwellian level into thinking that somehow if we’re not praising America with every syllable that we’re somehow not Americans.  They get upset when someone doesn’t proclaim they support some bogus claim of “exceptionalism”, as if mindless cultish adherence to circle logic was a requirement for existing in the United States.
Yet our political hacks and grifters and shysters, our newspaper editorials, our talk radio personalities, and especially our White House wannabes all make it clear – without outright stating it – that “somehow” America is no longer great.  They don’t say how it happened, and their egos bar them from actually admitting that we’re not, but they imply that somehow this period of “greatness” ended the moment a certain dark-skinned Hawaiian-born Senator from Illinois was elected President in 2008.  And then before that when a certain governor from Arkansas was elected President in 1992 and then re-elected in 1996.  And before that it was when a certain governor from Georgia was elected in 1976.  And before that, when a certain Vice-President was sworn in as President in 1963.
And their solution is always clear, isn’t it?  All that needs to be done is to elect the “right” people.  And, of course, by “right” they mean by party affiliation and political leaning.  It’s all over their political signs and slogans.  They claim to want a “revival”, a “rebirth”, a “renewal”, and they promise to “make America great again!”
What a load of bull they shove down our throats!
First of all, let me reiterate the obvious.  No, America is not “great”.  The only things we are “great” in is how many people we throw in prison, how many different wars we fight, and how much of a pompous ass we can collectively be.
Yes, we were great once upon a time.  We did great things.  We went to great heights.  We put a man on the moon!  We harnessed the power of the atom.  We cured diseases.  We invented things... and I don’t just mean mindless apps on your cellphone.
And let’s get brutally honest here... really, really brutally honest... anyone who tries to convince you that all we need to do to collectively be “great” again is simply to elect a certain person or elect a certain party or elect a certain political leaning is not only lying, but they’re con artists, and they damn well know it too.  I don’t care if you’re a billionaire egomaniac in New York who thinks they can bully their way into the White House, or some pickup-driving goober from Villa Rica listening to nothing but talk radio.  Greatness is not about who you elect or which party they align with, and no one single person or party or political leaning will bring greatness in and of themselves.  That’s just ego-maniacal delusion.
Greatness is a matter of being.  It’s about what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.
The doctor that created a polio vaccine, Dr. Jonas Salk, who then made it available for everyone, was great.
The so-called hedge fund manager that bought the sole producer of a life-saving drug and then jacked up the price five thousand percent because he can, is far from great.  He’s simply an unrepentant money-grubbing douchebag.  And the same goes for all of the other corporate douchebags that are the sole producers of life-saving medications who also jacked up their prices to astronomical levels simply for the money.
The guy that builds homes for the homeless is great.  The corporation that finagles local governments to give them land that would otherwise be used for low-income houses so they can turn around and make high-priced condos for the elite few... far from great.
The corporate leader that freely decided that everyone in the company should be paid the same high-five-figure wage, no matter the position, that’s great.  The corporate executives that threw temper tantrums over that same corporate leader’s decision... not to mention the talk radio hacks that later screamed “socialism” over this decision... are about as far from great as you can get.  Again, they’re unrepentant douchebags.
The New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl in 2002 was great.  Winning the Super Bowl in 2015... not so much.
The young woman that stood up to religious extremists even after they tried to kill her so she can help other young women learn was great.  The young woman who gets all of the media attention simply because she’s related to Kim Kardashian, who’s famous for reasons we have yet to really understand, is far from great.
A group of young people standing up in protest against what they see is a pervasive problem is great.  A group of people waiting in lines for hours just so they can buy the latest cellphone just because it is the latest cellphone even though they already had the most recent version, that’s not even close to being great.  That’s just being stupid.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Real greatness is not a brand.  It’s not a catchphrase.  It’s not a buzzword.  It is a matter of being and doing.  It’s what you do, how you do it, and why you do it.
And for a whole nation to be recognized for being “great”, we need to be encouraged to do great things.  You’re not going to get that by electing one candidate, or one party, or one political faction, especially when that faction is better known for fear and intimidation.
Real greatness comes from us.  It doesn’t come from fear-mongers and thugs seeking public office.  We have to be great and do great things for us to once again say that the United States is the greatest in anything other than delusions and prison.  And then maybe we can look back at that HBO series and ask what the hell that fictional anchor was talking about.