Monday, March 27, 2017

Week of 03/27/2017

The Sad Truth About The Sharing Economy
You’ve heard of the services: Uber, Lyft, Airbnb
They’ve certainly made the news of late, although mostly negative.  Governments have been trying to ban them or regulate them or limit their impact on local communities.  Uber certainly has gotten its share of bad press these past few weeks with claims of sexual harassment and the resignation of its president, Jeff Jones.  But even with the bad press, you can’t deny that these services have made a significant impact on society, not to mention the economy.
Taxi and limo services now have to compete with ordinary people driving their cars around.  Want to party without getting busted for DUI?  Hire a driver to drive you to where you want to go to get your drink on and then hire another one afterward to drive you home. 
Hotels and motels now have to compete with ordinary people putting up their homes and apartments and guest rooms on the market for a limited period of time.  Going to be away for a week on vacation?  Don’t pay to have someone watch your house, have someone pay you to stay there for that time.
They call it the “Sharing Economy”; the idea that there is a boatload of money to be made by people “sharing” what they already have with others in need.  Just develop an app to connect these two groups, and you’re set for life.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!  You can rent your pets to someone who will take care of them while you’re away.  Have a trade you’re good at but you don’t want to make it a full-time job?  You can actually rent your trade to someone who needs services done.  Not using your bicycle?  You can rent your bike to someone who will use it.  You can rent out your WiFi access.  You can even rent your clothes and appliances.  Not sell, rent! 
There is even a service in Japan that will let you rent friends and even rent families!  No joke! Lonely overworked businessmen needing “friends” for a function or “family members” so they don’t feel left out at events can rent those things. What was once a dumb plot-point to the comedy movie “We’re the Millers” is now an actual business.
And the business world is busy churning out a script that says that these are all great and wonderful things and a sign of the “new normal” for society.  The idea that anything and everything can be rented out…
Wait.  Scratch that.  There is still “one thing” that we’re not allowed to “rent out”.  I’ll get back to that.
Anyway… the idea that almost anything and everything can be rented out by ordinary people thanks to technology is supposedly “the way of the future”.
Except that it is not “the way of the future”.
Women have long been able to rent out their wombs as surrogate mothers.  It’s a complicated procedure spanning several months and not exactly something that you can put on a phone app, but it has been there.
Crowdfunding?  Micro-lending?  Not new.  Remember Depression-era Wimpy from the Popeye cartoon?  “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
Thrift stores and consignment shops have long allowed people to buy and sell used items, except that now it has become trendy to hit up these places instead of getting them off-the-rack at those “named” stores.  Book and movie exchanges have been going on for a long time in certain neighborhoods and workplaces.  Remember video rental stores like Blockbuster and Movie Stop?
But there is a sad truth that is not being told about the “sharing economy”, and it is one that desperately needs to be acknowledged.
This is not supposed to be normal.
Let’s get brutally honest here… while business wonks can praise the “sharing economy” as a business opportunity for both mobile software developers and ordinary people, it also serves as a counter-productive placebo to the global problem of income inequality.
Sure, it’s okay for people to do a little side-work for some extra money, but in these post-Recession times, it can also be used as another justification to not pay people for what they are worth.
A certain “big box” chain has been notorious for telling its workers how they can apply for food stamps and welfare to supplement the meager wages that they are being paid for the hard work that they put in.  It’s no stretch of the imagination to picture those same company managers telling their employees that they should sell themselves out as Uber and Lyft drivers to help make ends meet on top of working those long hours for said low wages.
Taking part in a “sharing economy” out of the goodness of your heart is one thing.  But when you’re forced to do so just to keep your bills paid and a house over your head and food on your table, that’s a sign of desperation.  It’s no different than if you’re selling blood or reproductive material.
Plus there is also something else that is sacrificed in the “sharing economy”, and that is the sense of true ownership.
You see, that car that you own, that’s not really “yours” anymore, because now you have to share it with others as a Lyft or Uber driver.  Your time, your insurance policy, your gas and maintenance charges, they all go into a service that has you in the service of others.  And if someone gets sick in your car, that’s on you to clean it.  Your home, your talents, your appliances, your tools, even your clothes are not really “yours” anymore. 
It would be one thing if you sell it outright, because then it wouldn’t be your problem anymore.  But when you rent your guest bedroom as an Airbnb, it’s still yours in name and responsibility.  You still pay the taxes and the insurance and you still have to maintain it.  And if you have bad renters, the neighbors don’t complain to them; they complain to you.  Because it’s still yours.
That’s another thing that people are finding out when they take part in some of these “sharing economy” services: even if the local laws allow them to share their cars and homes, their insurance providers don’t.  They’ve been busy re-writing policies so that if they find out you are working for Uber or Lyft or Airbnb or any other kind of “sharing” service, your policy prices could go sky-high or else said policy could be cancelled on a whim.  And you wouldn’t know it unless you look carefully at that legalese fine print that they love to shove at us, knowing full well that we won’t read it.
Do you know how to destroy a sense of ownership?  You minimize the benefits of having it while either maintaining or increasing its responsibilities and obligations.  And that’s exactly what happens when we trade off the pleasures of ownership for some added money without lessening any of the burdens.
And remember what I said about how we can put almost everything up for rent?  Well we supposedly can put our homes, our cars, our clothes, our appliances, our talents, our friendships, even our pets and families for rent… but not our intimacy.
But if you think about it, what is prostitution anyway?  It is the limited sharing of our intimacy for money.  The “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” for the night, or for a couple of hours.
Now consider this: we can prostitute our car and driving skills, prostitute out our homes and rooms, prostitute our talents, prostitute our pets, prostitute our lawn mower and power tools, prostitute our clothes, prostitute our bicycles, prostitute our WiFi access, prostitute our blood and organs and reproductive material, even prostitute out our friendship and sense of family... but only the sharing of our “intimacy” for money is considered illegal.  We can put everything else that defines ourselves as individuals on the market, and nobody is batting an eyelash over it, but even remotely suggest making the “world’s oldest profession” legal and people cry foul.  Now that is a double-standard worthy of the late Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight”.
Look, I have no problem with new ways to bring commercial transactions to the great unwashed.  And I understand that the world of business has an obsessive fixation on squeezing every drop of blood from us turnips.  But the idea that almost everything in our individual lives should be up for sale with the right app should be something taken very cautiously.  While necessity may be the mother of invention, it’s also the father of exploitation, and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Lyft or lust, the exploitation of anything involving the human condition should be wrong, not just the stuff that excites our “naughty parts”.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Week of 03/20/2017

America, Stop Trumping Yourselves!
There is a term that was little used when it was needed in the 00’s.  That term was called “Bushwhacked”.  It meant the act of being screwed over by the mechanizations of President George W. Bush.
The best example of being “Bushwhacked” was in the summer of 2005.  Remember when gas prices were going up and up with no legitimate reason for it other than naked corporate greed?  We all begged and pleaded with our re-elected President to do something.  And he did.  He told us that there “was” a solution that was being stalled in the Congress, and that all we the masses had to do was to get it moving and get it to his desk to sign, and our problems would be over.
And we did that.  We put pressure on Congress to get Junior’s energy bill out of limbo and through both houses and right to his desk for his signature, which he did sign.  And then right afterward he told us that, first, he was grateful for us doing it; and, second, while it will speed things up for Big Oil to make more money, it also won’t do anything for us, the people that have been getting screwed over by Big Oil.  At least not in the immediate future.  But maybe down the road, in the year 2020 or so, it might help us.  Maybe.
And bear in mind that this was just a few months before Hurricane Katrina would rip through the Gulf Coast and really screw things over for America from sea to shining sea.  And that in and of itself was yet another case of being Bushwhacked.
Sadly, though, “Bushwhacked” really didn’t get too much traction when it was needed.  Partially because we were still being knee-jerked around by the neo-cons and their perpetual war machine and their neo-Orwellian tactics.  It’s a little hard to get angry about being screwed over when the fear-mongers in the Bush Imperium would conveniently jump out from under their rocks and scream “Terrorist chatter” and then watch as we panic.
And by no means was Barack Obama’s White House tenure any better!  He screwed over America too, especially when it came to the “Too Big To Fail” banks by giving them a free pass instead of rounding the criminals up and frog-marching them right to prison.  There is a reason why I spent most of the previous eight years referring to Obama’s tenure as the “Obama Fail”.  Because it was.  “B” for effort, “D” for results.
But now Obama is out and we have a new guy in.  A narcissistic self-promoting clown act whose sales pitch comes straight out of the CNBC series “American Greed”.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the long-running cable TV series and look for all of the people that engage in pyramid schemes and listen to what they have to promise.  The only things that separated those people from our newly-elected President of the United States are a hair coif and bad spray tan.
And so we have a new term named after him…
Trumped: the act of being screwed over by the mechanizations of President Donald J. Trump.
And the wonderful thing about this term is that it doesn’t necessarily have to involve Trump directly.  It can come from his cohorts, his acolytes, his soothsayers, his allies, his “basket of deplorables”, or from anything concerning Trump.
For instance, when Candidate Trump talked about a huge wall all along America’s border with Mexico and getting the Mexicans to pay for it, and then President Trump suggests it could be a fence in some places and that America will actually be paying for the wall, but he would somehow get Mexico to reimburse us afterward.  That’s being Trumped.
Or when President Trump first promised in January of this year that everybody would be covered under his new healthcare plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, but as of yesterday his own people are saying that it won’t.  That’s being Trumped.
But there’s another screwjob being done that Trump is involved in, but it has little to do with Trump and more to do with our own delusions.
I’m talking about the delusions of liberals and progressives and everyone else that didn’t vote for the orange-skinned-wacky-man that somehow Trump’s tenure would be short-lived.
This delusion began shortly after the election that Hillary Clinton lost.  Well, that must have been some kind of mistake, right?  We just need a recount.  Except the political mechanism in place wouldn’t allow that.  Remember the Florida Fiasco of 2000?  Not the first time that a “sure thing” lost.
Then the talk turned to the Electoral College.  Well those electors that could go “faithless” will do that, right?  I mean, who would want a genital-groping blowhard elected President, right?  Well, apparently all of those nepotistic-appointed electors do.
Oh, but don’t worry, they say, Trump won’t be in the White House for very long.  He’ll embarrass the nation enough times, and then at some point the GOP will step up and remove him from office!
Except they’ve become Trump’s enablers and myrmidons.  Sure you have plenty of GOP people that spoke out against Trump during the campaign, but once he became the nominee, the party ranks closed in and all of those people that promised to “keep him honest” are now towing the party line of “dance with the one who brought you”.  The same line, by the way, that liberals sung when it came to President Bill Clinton during the whole intern scandal.
Well, that’s okay, right?  I mean all “we” have to do is have Trump impeached.  There’s that whole thing with Russia and hacked emails and Trump’s people engaging in clandestine meetings with Russian officials that may or may not have violated the Logan Act.  All we need is a special prosecutor and some articles of impeachment and Trump is out, and we may even get Vice President Pence out too!
Right.  If only there was a mechanism in place that would allow a special prosecutor be appointed that didn’t have to go through the possibly-tainted Attorney General’s office.  Oh, wait, there was.  There was an actual law in place that would have required that.  It was put in during the Clinton years!  Except that the law expired during Bush Junior’s tenure and nobody thought about extending it or putting it back in during the eight years of Obama.  Oops!
As for “impeachment”… you mean getting an article of impeachment about a sitting GOP president through a GOP-controlled legislature, whose committee and subcommittee heads have a proven track record of re-writing the rules on a whim, if not outright violating said rules without any concern for the consequences, and have no incentive otherwise to go against their own party?  Tell you what, why don’t you just get a lottery ticket, because you’ll have a better chance of winning that than in getting the GOP to go against their own, even if that one happens to be a TV personality with a marginal grasp of reality.
Oh, but there’s still the media, right?  They’ll keep Trump in line!
Right, because Trump has such “respect” for the media… or at least the media that kisses his ass and sings his arias.  The rest of it he condemns as “the enemy of the American people”.  (No joke or exaggeration.  Google it if you don’t believe me.)
Well you may have noticed a softer tone coming from the media Trump hates.  It’s subtle, but it’s there.  This comes after Trump quietly met with the owners of said media and told them that their outlets weren’t “treating him fairly”.  You’ll find eventually that a lot of those “enemies of the American people” will become more “fair” for Trump.  And by “fair”, of course, we mean they will kiss his ass and sing his arias just like Fox News and Breitbart and talk radio have been doing.
Remember, folks, that the air-fluffed ego-driven corporate-owned media is part of the establishment, and, no matter what, they will protect said establishment, even if the person at the top of said establishment is an admitted genital-groping self-promoting TV personality with a filthy habit of having 3am Twitter-tantrums without any accountability.
Let’s get brutally honest here... you liberals and progressives and other non-Trump people are just Trumping yourselves if you cling to this delusion of yours that you can somehow make Trump’s tenure end sooner rather than later.  Baring a complete and utter mental breakdown that leads us to the absolute brink of unprovoked thermonuclear Armageddon, you need to accept the fact that Donald Trump will be our president at least until the end of 2020, if not longer if you guys can’t get your own act together by then.  To cling to the fantasy that somehow we can rid ourselves of Trump anytime sooner than the next presidential election is nothing more than sheer political pornography.
Don’t get disgusted by it.  You’re not the only group that engaged in said poli-porn.  Don’t forget that the conservative and neo-conservatives were churning out their own poli-porn fantasies about Obama for the whole eight years he was in the White House.  The whole birther thing was out-and-out political pornography from a bunch of prudes that claim to hate the real thing, and they continually churned out fantasies of them being able to impeach Obama for crimes that they couldn’t even fabricate.  The only things missing from their fantasies were Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy and a box of condoms.  Or maybe they wanted to do the impeachment fantasy vote bareback.  Hey, who am I to judge, right?  To each their own.
Like it or not, folks, we’re stuck with Trump for at least the next three-and-three-fourth years.  He’s going to be here, dishing out crazy at every opportunity, pissing everyone off with his Twitter-tantrums, mocking everything that doesn’t pander to his ego, and Trumping the whole world just because.  Accept it.  Deal with it.  And then ask yourself what needs to be done not just in the short term, but until his first term expires.  Because as long as you cling to your poli-porn fantasies of him being removed by some “higher force”, then we all will be Trumped.