Monday, March 28, 2016

Week of 03/28/2016

Twenty Years of Brutally Honest Commentary
It’s hard to believe, but this Friday, April 1st, 2016, will mark twenty years of online commentary.
I started my original website on America Online’s server as a repository of articles that were not previously published.  I had hoped to use that to eventually become a syndicated columnist, but obviously that didn’t happen.  Instead, I focused on just doing articles my own online column and hoped that someday enough people would read it and start paying attention to what I had to say.
Well, that did happen to some extent.  I got enough attention to work for two online radio stations.  I picked up some good friends and a few devoted readers in that time.  And I’m glad to have that, even if I wish those numbers were larger by at least four or five digits.
Twenty years gives me an interesting perspective of things both in the online world and in the real world.  I was here doing online commentary before FoxNews and MSNBC even got started.  I was here when Sean Hannity was still struggling with syndicated radio and Bill O’Reilly was doing tabloid TV shows.  I was here when Rush Limbaugh was really the only big name in the conservative media, Dennis Miller was funny, and George Stephanopoulos was a mouthpiece for Bill and Hillary Clinton in the White House.  Come to think of it, I don’t think George ever stopped doing that, which makes him just as much a constant as I am.
I was here fighting for the Internet back when Bill and Hillary Clinton were fighting to have it censored.  I was one of the many plaintiffs that took the Communications Decency Act all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.  Yes, because of folks like me, you can see all of Kim Kardashian she’ll ever share with the world, not to mention all of the trials and tribulations involving her whole extended family.  You’re welcome. 
But going back to George for a minute, it’s funny how some things never change.  Twenty years ago it was JenniCam, and today it’s social media.  Twenty years ago, I was fighting to keep Bill and Hillary Clinton from censoring the Internet, and now Hillary is demanding that the government does just that all over again.  Twenty years ago, I was a single nice guy with the social life of a slug... and today I’m still a single nice guy with the social life of a slug but now with grey hair and even less of a chance to make things right.  Twenty years ago, I was afraid that I was missing out on the American Dream.  Today I know for certain that it not only snubbed me, but that it really is just a “dream”.
I wish I could say that things have been getting better and better in previous two decades, but let’s get brutally honest here... things really haven’t.  If anything, things have gotten worse.
Yes, personal freedoms have expanded to some large extent.  The gay, lesbian, and transgender communities struggled for inclusion and acceptance in our society, and they got it at least in the courts, including the court of public opinion.  Twenty years ago, the masses were petrified that same-sex couples would dare to exist in their neighborhoods.  Today, they enjoy legal recognition thanks to the same judicial body that liberated the Internet.
We’re allowed to see what we want thanks to freedom on the Internet, but at the same time, we’re facing a level of repression that is worse than it was twenty years ago.  Playboy Magazine, the symbol of sexual freedom for several generations, ceased to exist at the end of 2015 and was replaced by a repressive fraud.  Even the infamous mansion is up for sale.  Software apps now come with no-nudity clauses.  Today we hear about “slut-shaming” and “body-shaming” for people who dare to show something sexy.  And those who are deemed “brave” and “stand up to the haters” are the ones that ultimately show nothing that can’t be seen on TV without blurring and pixilation.
Perhaps the biggest example of our “liberated” hypocrisy is that there is not only a cable TV series called “Naked and Afraid” which shows neither, but an “uncensored” version that is still censored!
For all of the talk about bullying that we’ve made in recent years, there’s still nothing that can be done about it.  Bullies still get away with their crimes.  They still hide behind and are protected by the various social institutions.  Worse, anytime you try to do something about it, you’re accused to being the very thing you are trying to stop!
We’ve certainly moved backward as a species, and that is because of what happened on September 11, 2001.  I warned people then that we would go backward socially because of it, and I have been proven right.  The nightmare dystopia from right out of George Orwell’s books is coming true.  We’ve turned “Nineteen Eighty-Four” from a cautionary tale into a political checklist.  The corporate and political elite are our “Animal Farm” “pigs” and the “dogs” are the ones barking on FoxNews and talk radio about “national security”.
We say that “Big Brother can’t watch us like in the books”, but not only is our government doing just that, but we’re welcoming it and demanding even more of it.  Malls and businesses and street corners have security cameras.  Our own cellphones tell people where we go and what we do.  In the name of “convenience”, we’re being coaxed into putting everything we deem personal and important into “the cloud” so we can access it through our phones and our tablets and laptops, except it’s also where hackers and various governments can access without warrants.
Yes, America elected the first African-American President, and that was great, but we’re still a far cry from saying that race relations are any better in America.  We went from a President that was impeached to one that had to be decided by the Supreme Court, to one that was openly insulted on the floor of the U.S. House and challenged on everything up to and including the time of day.
Twenty years ago I warned about religious extremism, only it wasn’t Islam that we should be worried about.  Today, that same extremism is doing everything in their power to shove their faith down America’s collective throat and up its collective rear.  Christian extremists used to quietly control the GOP.  Today they are the very vocal backers of one of the major contenders for President of the United States, and are busy shoving their crusader laws into effect in towns, counties, and states all across America.
The Jim Crow laws are coming back, only now instead of legalizing race-based discrimination, it’s religious-based.  Georgia has been pushing for their falsely-named “Religious Freedom Act”, which is – as of this column’s date – on Governor Nathan “Raw” Deal’s desk.  North Carolina railroaded in their own Jim Crow law this past week.  Last year a Kentucky clerk violated her own oath of office and even spent the weekend in jail because she refused to follow the law concerning same-sex marriages, and the Christian Dominionists not only cheered her on, but are doing everything they can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
But... we’re not supposed to be concerned about these things, are we?  No, because Islam is supposedly “worse”.
Political fascism is coming back into vogue after almost a hundred years.  And just in time too, because the people that remember what Mussolini and his friends did in Europe are dying out, or else are too senile to recognize the wheel turning back around. 
Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Have you met Donald Trump?  Be careful about what you say around him and his supporters.  You might get sucker-punched for it and then be blamed for “starting it”.  The only thing missing from his group are the black shirts. But I can see Trump seriously owning that idea too, especially since black would make the gold-colored “Trump” brand stand out even brighter.
And just when you think we couldn’t bring Germany’s sins back, let me introduce you to Senator Ted Cruz, the other GOP contender for President, who wants to put Muslim neighborhoods under a police state for “our own good”.  Oh, and that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to that slimy weasel-faced Canadian-born hypocrite from Texas.
Twenty years ago we reviled at the demise of the Cold War.  Today, we’re pretty much war-wacky and we want to start it all over again.  And it’s the same players too... Russia, China, North Korea... only now we’ve substituted a whole religious sect for Cuba.  And all in the name of votes.  All in the name of military appropriations.  All in the name of political power and media attention.
And in case you’re still unconvinced that we are regressing socially in the past two decades, then I want you to look at our economy.
Twenty years ago, the United States entered a technological boom with the Internet.  Yes, venture capitalists were spend-crazy with investment money, and, yes, it would take about twenty years before some of the pie-in-the-sky ideas of that time would come true.  But even with the economic bust following the bubble, there was still a sense of optimism about our economic futures.
But during that time, I’ve also noticed a change in our economy.  The unwritten agreement between corporations and its employees was being violated.  Instead of raises and bonuses for employees that would keep up with the cost of living, corporate execs gave less, kept the difference as higher profits, and then gave themselves obscene raises and bonuses as a reward.  And they relied on the banks to give “cheap credit” to the masses as a financial opiate.  Buy a house, refinance, use the equity like an ATM.  Spend like there’s no tomorrow “or else the terrorists win.”  And if it all falls apart?  Well it’s not “their” fault that you’re so reckless, is it?
We’re still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, despite the claims from the current White House tenants that it’s over with.  One dominant party want to pretend that it’s over with, and the other dominant party wants us to do it all over again.  Remember that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  And nobody wants to discuss a third option that has always been there.  Because that would break the doublespeak the two dominant parties have been using to lord over us.
You can understand, then, why I’ve gotten a little more bitter in these past few years.
As an online commentator, I see the world changing, and it’s been for the worse.  And I know that there is still a part of me that hopes that things will get better.  There’s just that little bit that says that things always get worse before it gets better, like the old songs go.  It was that sense of optimism that led me to become an online commentator in the first place.  I just hope it won’t take another twenty years before we get to it... because, quite frankly, I don’t think a lot of us will be alive by then to see it.
And that, by the way, is not an April Fool’s Day joke.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Week of 03/21/2016

Local Stagnation Gets Ignored
While we hear organized religion forcibly resurrecting the ghosts of Jim Crow to legalize their self-serving putrid discrimination against those they find “offensive”... while we hear the news reports of yet another fascist abuse of power by those seeking the highest office in America... while we hear the endless BS from a gang of sociopathic constitutional hypocrites as they justify failing to fulfill their own constitutional obligations concerning the Supreme Court... something rotten has been seeping into America.
Stagnation.  Economic stagnation.
Oh, sure, the numbers being thrown about from the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton’s fantasy record make the economy look absolutely rosy.  Record corporate profits.  Incredibly low unemployment numbers.  Companies “hiring”.  All of these jobs supposedly “created”.
But a lot of what you hear from them is smoke and mirrors.  Profits are what the companies keep, not what they spend.  Unemployment numbers only measure the people who are receiving unemployment assistance, not those that have exhausted that assistance and have been rendered persona non grata.  Countless millions have been taken off the rolls that way, and not because they found jobs.  And how many those actual jobs were handed to people from other nations that are in America through H1B visas?
If you want a real measurement of the economy, you have to look at it at the local level, not on a national one.
The old saying is that all politics is local, but what about the local economy?  Sure we can talk about overall wages and overall corporate profits, but all of the wages and profits in the world ultimately mean nothing if you can’t go down to the local store to buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk.  Saying that there are jobs doesn’t mean that there really is “a job” for you or for your local area.
Big-Box giant Walmart announced back in January that it was shutting down 269 of their stores all across America.  This includes all of their so-called “Express” stores, which were put in as a “test” program to compete with discount “dollar” stores.  Unfortunately, the majority of the closures are regular Walmart stores that were put in to compete with and ultimately replace the local mom-and-pop businesses.
Think about it, folks.  Walmart shows up in your town.  They compete with and overtake the local mom-and-pop stores that you used to do business with to get all of your shopping needs.  They drive those local mom-and-pop stores into bankruptcy, so you now have no choice but to rely on Walmart for all your shopping needs.  And then Walmart decides that those stores aren’t “successful” enough for their tastes and just leave you with an empty building and a longer drive to get what you need.  Those local stores don’t just come back once Walmart leaves.  They don’t have the wherewithal to do it at that point.
Walmart isn’t the only company cutting back either.  Staples is merging with Office Depot/Office Max, which means a lot of stores that used to compete against each other will be shut down.  RadioShack went bankrupt last year, so a lot of their stores have been closing up and shutting down.  Kohl’s is shutting down several stores across America.  McDonald’s is shutting down 500 restaurants.  McDonald’s!  Barnes and Noble, American Eagle Outfitters, Walgreens, Ovation Brand Restaurants, all have announced closings.  All of those hard-working Americans will be joining the ranks of the unemployed through no fault of their own.
Now what happens when a store is closed in your community? You have an empty space and nobody to pay property and business taxes on.  You have people who need work, who aren’t getting paid so they’re not contributing to the local economy.  They’re not able to look ahead, so they can’t plan for things like vacations or getting new cars or new clothes.  Forget retirement.  Forget healthcare.  Everything they have is put into treading financial water.  Just enough to keep the bills paid, keep food in the fridge, and to keep a roof over their heads.
And even if there are jobs for that person, those jobs usually don’t pay as much as the ones they lost, so there’s more financial treading water going on as they try to get back into their comfort level.  But, again, that doesn’t happen overnight.
And they don’t want to hear FoxNews and FoxBusiness and CNBC talk about “job creators”, because they know that is a bold-faced lie.  Calling corporate executives “job creators” while they kill jobs is like calling child molesters “relationship councelors”.
The local newspapers may tell you when jobs are “coming” to the area, but how many of them will tell you when a business closes?
There have been several businesses here in my area that came in with very little fanfare and then left in the dead of night.  No word in the local papers of them opening, and certainly no word of them closing.  Two of them were restaurants that served pretty good food, and yet they simply declared bankruptcy and shut down and moved out, leaving the residents with nothing but yet more empty buildings and “For Lease” signs.
Have you ever seen a whole community in stagnation?  I have, and it’s not pretty.  You don’t see mom-and-pop businesses move in.  You see more title pawn shops and “We Buy Gold” stores.  Every so often you’ll see some local church take up a closed-up store, but they don’t pay taxes, so the community can only count on them filling the space, not the local tax coffers.  And you can only have so many of those kinds of businesses in any given community.
Now it’s one thing if this was something that could be discussed openly as a problem that needs to be addressed.  But let’s get brutally honest here... this is going on despite all of the claims being made in the media and by the blowhard politicians and the wannabe presidential contenders as to how “great” our economy is!  And the more this is being whitewashed and swept under the rug, the harder it gets for those communities to keep going.  They can’t keep treading economic water forever.  Eventually the money runs out.  Just look at Detroit.
These are the people that have become disillusioned by the political “establishment”.  These are the people that have been left out from the corporate profit orgy and left behind from the so-called “recovery” that Obama’s people continue to tout as a “success story” that only exists on paper. These are the people that look at a Donald Trump or a Bernie Sanders, simply because Trump and Sanders seem to acknowledge that there is this problem that is not being addressed.
It’s high time that we acknowledge that, just like all politics is local, all economies are local as well.  We can’t get behind trade deals if those deals end up with us out of work and in fear of our own security.  We can’t support a bailout of a big corporation or a big bank if they turn around and screw us over.  And we certainly can’t get excited over a “recovery” that only exists for the one-percent crowd when we’re worried about whether or not we will still have a future to look forward to.  And maybe then we can deal with the other political games going on in the meanwhile.