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Sunday, October 26, 2014

How To Fake A Political Issue (And Act "Outraged")... Part 2


First, once again, I must apologize for the length of time since my last posting. As some of you know, I have been writing and publishing a series of safety book related to surviving natural disasters (see the Amazon widget to the right). Needless to say, this undertaking taxes a lot of time. But with the mid-term elections coming up in a week and a half, I thought it was the perfect time to once again discuss the ignorance and selective (short-term) memories of the American electorate.
Some time ago, I wrote a piece entitled “How To Fake A Political Issue (And Act "Outraged")...” This point of focus for that particular piece was an illustration of how effective politicians can be when they manipulate a non-issue for political gain by “adopting” the “outrage” of a particular constituency. In the case of that posting, I discussed how Republicans feigned such manufactured “outrage” over a trip to Cube which rapper Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce took. The faked indignation was supposed to act upon the sympathies of the community of Cuban exiles in Florida, while they continued to perpetuate—via public opinion—the outdated policy of ostracizing a communist government that is fighting both time and inevitability to remain a part of history in the here-and-now (to be sure, Democrats are also given to this political practice).
But, fast forward to Saturday night’s broadcast of HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher.” Now while I don’t always agree with Maher, I find his irreverent brand of biting sarcastic wit is what many Americans need to hear in order to wake them from their self-imposed, ideologically-driven delusions. Well, his most recent segment of “New Rules” pretty much did just that. His rant reflected perfectly illustrated how Americans can be so easily distracted by political non-issues to vote against their own interests, using the example the governor’s race in Kansas. During Saturday night's broadcast, Maher rips into the fact that the race for governor is a near dead-heat based on recent polls--despite the fact that ill-advised tax and program cuts championed and initiated by the incumbent have drained the state's once significant surplus of revenue, and replaced it with a huge deficit ("What's The Matter With Kansas And Its Tax Cuts? It Can't Do Math") In other words, too many uninformed, semi-informed, and just stupid people who make up the American voting electorate can be swayed by the smokescreen of irrelevant non-issues to actually be made to forget what they are voting on.
Watch Maher’s segment on this past week’s “New Rules” and see if his message resonates with you…(Warning: This following video contains strong language)
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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Another Police Blunder - Texas Mother And Children Accidently Pulled Over At Gunpoint


Let’s get this straight from the gate; there are many good police officers out there not only doing their jobs with unquestionable professionalism, but willing to put their very lives on the line in doing so. The problem is that the questionable decisions by many bad officers tend to over-shadow this fact. And given the number of high-profile cases in the news of late, it would be easy by some to conclude that the police are out of control. Personally, I would argue that police professionalism is out of control.
By this, I mean that many of us are so overly-sympathetic to the dangers that police officers face on a daily basis as public servants, we tend to give their overreactions and excessive caution a pass. Indeed, some hard-nosed law-and-order-supporting citizens are quick to point out that [understandable] police mistakes should be overlooked if no one is physically hurt by such actions—wrongful arrests, the stop-and-frisking (and release) of “suspected” individuals, profiling individuals by ethnic and/or racial grouping come to mind.
The problem with such actions is that it’s always easy to ask and or expect someone else to have their civil liberties inconvenienced to make the others feel comfortable. Take for example yet another recent questionable police action, this time from Texas. A young mother and her four children were pulled over by officers from the Forney, Texas Police Department. According to news reports, the officers were responding to an emergency 911 call from a passing motorist reporting that “four black men were waving a gun out the window of a beige- or tan-colored Toyota."
Dashboard video from one of the present patrol cars shows that the mother was taken out of the car at gunpoint, in front of the four terrified children. Apparently, it wasn’t until a 6-year-old was told to exit the car with his hands up that the officers realized their mistake (read the online account of the incident here).  And despite the officers' attempt to calm the children after realizing their mistake, the damage had already been done.  No doubt, the mother and her children will remember this particular experience with the police in nothing but negative recollections.
Now while some might say "no harm, no foul", there are several points of contention with this incident. First, the report indicating that it was 4 black males allegedly waving a gun—not a female accompanied by 4 children. Second, the automobile belonging to the mother, Kametra Barbour, is a burgundy red Nissan Maxima. Lastly, the lack of employing proactive common sense by the officers. Clearly, not all of the information they had received about the reported individuals matched the situation. And commanding a 6-year-old to exit a car with his hands in the air seems—pardon the pun—overkill in the prudence department. Despite these inconsistencies, there is no forthcoming apology from the Forney police department. In fact, “The police department defends the traffic stop saying the officers responded appropriately to what they believed was a dangerous situation” (WFAA News).

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Police dashboard video of the Forney, Texas police stop of a mother and 4 children.

Now to be honest, something inside me “told me” that the family involved would be either black or someone belonging to an ethnic minority group before I researched this story. Sadly, ethnic minorities seem to be those expected to accept the business-end of questionable police practices with an understanding nod.
Granted, they have a job that requires caution when dealing with the public in general, and criminals in particular. But as we saw a couple of weeks ago in Ferguson, Missouri, mistakes without employing professional prudence can lead to a loss of faith in our public servants, as well as—possibly—a regrettable (and unnecessary) loss of life.
As I have said on many occasions, police departments across the country really need to reassess their training and procedures, and individuals wishing to serve the public as law enforcement have to think more about their actions before reacting out of base caution and unthinking reflex.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri – Enough is Enough!

Last night, for the sixth straight night, the predominantly black city of Ferguson, Missouri exploded in violence. These nightly confrontations between the police and protesters are the result of community-fueled rage at the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old unarmed African-American man, Michael Brown. The last 2 nights of violent confrontations came after a lull in the civil disruptions when elements of the Missouri State Police had taken responsibility for crowd control and response to previous protests. The decision to hand over law-enforcement duties related to the protests to the state police was evidently due in part to the barrage of public condemnation (from those on both the political left and right (See: "Rand Paul and Ted Cruz Criticize Ferguson Police" for example) from all across the country) of the Ferguson Police Department’s forceful to protests on the first few nights.
(Both protesters and rioters confront police in Ferguson, Missouri last night amid clouds of teargas)

In most of the cases, the protests started out as peaceful, with those participating adopting a stance with their hands in the air and shouting, “Hands up…don’t shoot!” But as with almost any level of mass protests in America, a small element among the protestors opted to take advantage of the relatively disruptive atmosphere to create trouble. That’s when the looting, gunshots, and flying rocks began to replace the responsible protesting of the shooting. Both community leaders and Brown’s parents have made public appeals for peaceful protesting of the shooting, and an end to the violent confrontations that have taken place in the area.
We all familiar with the issues—race, social stereotyping, profiling, high crime, poverty, individual bad choices, the lack of personal responsibility as well as empathy for the community one works in, and unprofessional policing. These are issues are nothing as they relate to questionable police actions; I have written about them here in other high-profile cases (see: “Here Comes The Fuzz!,” “Another Police Beating Caught On Tape (…or, “Your Tax Dollars At Work.”),” and “The Law, Lies, and Videotapes.”). Additionally, there is the oft-overlooked phenomenon of what I call the “Zimmerman-effect.”
This is the psycho-social mindset among suburban and rural whites—particularly but not exclusively male—to demonstrate their Constitutional right to "bare" (read: carry) and in some cases, use guns in the public based on the perception of a non-existential threat of violence that might occur.  In instances when guns are used by these individuals to neutralize a perceived threat, the "threat" is often found to be either minimal and/or non-existent in retrospect (e.g., The George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin shooting, The Florida theater shooting, the Jordan Davis/"Loud-Radio" shooting, etc.).

Some of those who possess this mindset tend to be members of local law-enforcement departments--no doubt there are some on the 54-man Ferguson police force.  The irrational aspect of this psycho-social thinking is that in many of the moderately- and high-crime communities where these particular police officers patrol, many residents--including those who qualify legally to carry firearms (myself included)--don't carry them.  But those who live in areas where crime is relatively low or occurs at negligible-levels seem to be obsessed with carrying firearms, ostensibly as an exercise of their "Constitutional rights."
But enough is enough!
It’s time for the unruly among the protesters to properly honor the memory of Michael Brown by protesting his questionable and tragic death in substantive and meaningful manner—one that doesn’t tarnish the message of a unified community expressing discontent with its public servants.
It’s time for the city of Ferguson to make aggressive moves to bring in some “new blood” in the form of officers who reflect the demographics of the community. I’m sure if the city wanted to, they could advertise across the country, making efforts to target areas and/or groups, colleges, or organizations whose members have a passion for public service.
It’s time for police agencies across the country to stop taking in every gun-ho, overly testosteroned male seeking an outlet for his perceived manhood to set the bars higher for their standards. Training should include mandated sociological—and maybe psychological—college-level courses in order to broaden their perceptions of the communities they chose to work in (I would go so far as to require at least an associate’s degree in these and related fields).

It’s time for African-Americans to take charge of our communities and eliminate counter-productive activities and mindsets, such as the infamous (and often celebrated) “thug mentality” and the “don’t snitch” attitudes that breed both apathy and high crime. It’s time for individuals to stop making idiotic criminal decisions that feed and fuel negative, often race-related stereotypes that lead to shootings like those that occurred in Ferguson last Saturday afternoon.

It’s time for individuals to stop making idiotic criminal decisions that feed and fuel negative, often race-related stereotypes that lead to shootings like those that occurred in Ferguson last Saturday afternoon. It’s time for parents who make the time to create a child to take the time to raise them properly, with an appreciation for education, and respect for authority.
And it’s time for communities, groups, and individual Americans to take responsibility for our own actions—right or wrong. That’s what responsible people do.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Smokers Suing Tobacco Companies & The Blame Game!



At times, the dissonance, ignorance, and audacity of Americans is a marvel to behold. Sure, this applies to both political and social issues that I often talk about. But what I’m speaking of this time around is our propensity to perpetuate America as a blame-oriented society. The latest ballsy—and utterly irrational—high-profile event to cement this sad aspect of our country’s thinking is last month’s $23 billion dollar trial court judgment in favor of the widow of a 20-year smoker who died at the age of 36 from lung cancer. According to reports, Michael Johnson Sr. died in 1996, 20 years after he had started smoking as a 13-year old. If my math is right, that would have him starting smoking around 1976—long after it was established that smoking was a health hazard. Now I remember being in elementary school during the 1970s, and I also remember being taught how bad smoking was in school. But there is some part of me that wonders how is it that the parents of a 13-year old boy missed the obvious signs of such a high-profile habit—particularly in the 70's when parents were considerably more responsible than they are today? Johnson knew the health risks of smoking, even after he could grasp them as an adult—they were printed right on each pack of the cigarettes he’d purchased. And since apparently he was a chain smoker, that means hr had to have read the Surgeon Generals’ warnings at least once a day for 20 years. His widow had to have known this too. Yet, she initiated what amounts to a frivolous lawsuit against the tobacco company, ignoring her ex-husband’s free will decision.
At any rate, what this episode reveals is our continual obsession with the need to blame something or someone—anyone—for misfortunes that befall us (or our loved ones). Someone must be at fault whenever bad things happen. We’ve grown too quick to not only assign blame for our misfortunes or personal decisions, but we love to sue, as if to punctuate who we assign blame to. We have to blame someone or something other than ourselves. We blame teachers because our children aren’t learning, as we seek to further overburden them with even more duties and responsibilities—with none of the authority. Or if our kids don’t learn, we blame some imaginary malady or invent some new alphabet soup “syndrome" to explain away their “inability” to learn. We blame the politicians we elect for non-functioning government—but insist that they be beholden to our partisan beliefs, which causes the gridlock we see. If someone takes a gun and shoots up a school full of children, it must be the fault of greedy gun makers…or some “mental disorder” that “told” the shooter to do so (except if you’re black…then it’s just a genetic predisposition to engage in criminal activity). If our cars crash, it must have been some manufacturing defect (admittedly, in some cases this is true). If someone says something that “hurts” our widdle-bitty feelings, we sue for slander, libel, or whatever imaginary slight that the law recognizes as a “remedy” for such “offenses.”
The social and economic consequence for our “need” to find fault and place blame for misfortunes is a society that simply cannot function at optimal capacity. Disruptive children in already crowded classrooms are allowed to rob their fellow students of environments conducive to learning, as schools systems, teachers, and officials fear being sue by their parents (because somehow, it would ‘violate” the “rights” of disruptive students to be held accountable for their misbehaviors or removed for the greater good). Parent’s therefore do not parent to the best of their ability, knowing they can always take [their] children to a clinician and have them designated as somehow “impaired” (rather than accept that parents are the ones who tend to be impaired…in their ability to parent productively).
We now have a generation of young people who have no appreciation for life, or seemingly a major understanding of how serious the consequences are for taking a life. These youngsters are reckless, thoughtless, and impulsive. In fact, both children and adults in America are prone to doing impulsive things; and why not? We can always place the blame on the company that produced the item that we decided to use unsafely and/or irresponsibly. And that is why manufacturers have to put warning labels on everything, alerting customers to the obvious hazards in order to avoid the inevitable lawsuit meant to assign blame to their products rather than the users. And liability insurance that companies are forced to counter the threat of a lawsuit drives up prices for the products we use.
And we dare not look to our politicians for any kid of remedy for “irresponsible companies” that make “shoddy” products. They are too busy tugged and pulled in one direction or another by a fickle voting electorate that is too busy pointing fingers of blame at opposing political parties, ethnic/minority groups, and ideologies for why the country is in such a sad state of affairs.
Blaming others is why someone can win a declarative court judgment for spilling hot coffee on themselves and get away with blaming the preparer for “making it too hot” (rather than simply waiting until it cooled in an attempt to drink it). Or why 23 billion dollars can be awarded to the widow of an adult who chose to engage in an unhealthy behavior—that has been widely known to be a potential threat to health and/or life for going on 50 years.
This country will not get better until people—adults, youngsters, black, white, male and female—begin ownership of their decisions and the consequences.  We need to learn that not every event is foreseeable, or is worthy of blame.  We have gotten away from a certain level of fatalism --that often, bad things happen to good people (and vice-versa) that keeps us grounded in reality.  We cannot control everything, but we also need to accept that we are responsible for our own actions. Attempting to find and/or place blame for the calamities that befall robs of the understanding that we are mortal, and that our time here on this mortal coil is limited.  Some things that happen to us are of our own design, while others are an act of God (or fate). Some of us make sound financial decisions, while others make financially irresponsible decisions--both of which impact our lives for better or worse.  When we drive on the nation's highways, we are taking the same chance as we do when we walk out in the rain during a storm.  Lightning strikes some, and ignores others it's the same with smoking or anything else--you take your chances, and you accept the consequences, not blame others for them.

See also:  "What Suing Subway Reveals About Us"

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Liberal Vs. Conservative--What's In A Label?

Recently during one of my sleepless nights, I found myself doing what so many other Americans doing—flipping through television channels. I stopped when I came across political pundit Lawrence O’ Donnell’s show, “The Last Word.” on MSNBC.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking: Liberal nonsense from a left-leaning propaganda cable channel. Now, if you decide to stick around for the rest of this piece, such thinking is exactly my point; political labeling. “Liberal.” “Conservative.” Depending on which particular ideology you embrace, the other will invariably draw the ire of those who believe that their particular beliefs are what’s good for America. However, in recent decades, the word “liberal” has been so successfully painted and maligned with such negative connotations by conservatives that even liberal themselves will avoid claiming the label—unlike conservatives who will not only proudly brag about being “severely conservative,” but will even argue amongst themselves who’s the most conservative adherent to their ideology’s principles.  This is the point that O’Donnell was making on his piece…how labeling can be so effective in politics that our very thinking orbits their manipulated meanings, and equates their “truths” on a level with the very laws of physics themselves.

(See:  Talking Points Memo.com for the story behind the image).

I took the liberty of uploading O’Donnell’s piece, whereby he so eloquently articulated this dynamic of our polarized thinking in modern America. Please take a moment to view the monologue in order to get the gist of the point--that labeling can and has been so effective in modern American politics that our very thinking orbits their manipulated meanings, and equates their “truths” on a level with the very laws of physics themselves. We tend to take the tenets of liberal and conservative doctrine to the point where to argue against any leftist or right-wing-leaning point is tantamount to religious heresy worthy of an automatic rebuke (one usually based on blind adherence rather than a critical analysis of the issues).
I took the liberty of uploading O’Donnell’s piece, whereby he so eloquently articulated this dynamic of our polarized thinking in modern America. Please take a moment to view the monologue in order to get the gist of the point.
video

For those of you who missed it, the point is not that one is bad while the other is good. It’s that we here in America are often too quick to believe of associate with one party, ideology, or level of thinking simply because we identify with the labels that [supposedly] represents them. The inherent problem with this practice is that it make up highly unlikely to question any wrong decisions and/or policies based solely on labels rather than their intent or effectiveness is eliminating a problem. What’s more, it prevents us from engaging in actual critical thinking about social and/or political policies based on—you guessed it—the labels we attach to them.
With respect to the consequences of political labeling, I will leave it to funnyman Chris Rock’s observational humor to punctuate the point (below) in 60-seconds pure reason (Warning: Contains a liberal use of profanity).
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

What's Wrong With American Politics?


Maybe there is something to be said for dictatorships as a form of government. Things have a tendency to get done…fast. The passage of laws—even if they are by decree—makes gridlock a non-factor. There is no partisan wrangling between competing political parties or branches of government. And there is none of the upheaval that has come to symbolize what politics in America has come to.
President Obama’s approval ratings are at an all-time low for his tenure in office. The Mississippi Tea Party is in an uproar after its U.S. Senate primary candidate lost to mainstream Republican opponent Thad Cochran—who in turn appealed to a non-traditional base of African-American voters to beat the T-Party’s candidate. Democrats are set to use populist wedge-issues—immigration and a potential raise in the minimum wage—to beat back predicted Republican gains, while walking on broken egg shells on other issues to protect endangered Democratic candidates. And the list goes on…
What can I possibly say, reveal, or speak to in terms of the broken state of politics in contemporary America that most clear-thinking individual don’t already know? The political—as well as the voting—process has been corrupted by the influence and infusion of money; we know this. The ideological and political gulf between opposing belief-holders has never been wider…much to the detriment of the legislative process. The disdain that many of us Americans have for our political leadership finds most of us ranking their appeal generally somewhere between toilet film and a root canal. And the few optimists who remain loyal to one side or the other are more adherent to party-lines, talking points, and platforms than to rational thinking and objectivity. Why is the American political apparatus so broken?
To list a complete analysis of why politics in America is at such a level of unproductive impotence would take bandwidths of terabytes of Internet bandwidth; even a summary would take volumes. However, the conclusion—as painful as it might be for those wishing otherwise—is that America’s system of politics is broken because we are a nation moving toward an oligarchy rather continually engaging in the ”great experiment” of (a) democracy. What’s more, the basic reasons for the emergence of government by the powerful (and not in fact, “We the People”) can at least be listed inasmuch as those with clearer minds would be open to considering both their reality and validity.

The Voting Electorate. 

I will be blunt here; the American voting electorate is pretty dumb. This is to say that we are very uninformed as a people responsible for picking and choosing our leadership. Most of us do not bother to engage in objective research on the issues in any given election…and those of us who do bother to do what passes for research only look up “facts” that support already-held positions. Those who identify with Republicans (or conservatives) will usually refer to Fox News, The Daily Beast, The Drudge Report, The Bible, or any number of “objective news” sources, while liberals (i.e., Democrats) will go to Mother Jones, The Huffington Post, NPR, or other similar news sources considered “unbiased.” Most American voters start our approaching any issue with a liberal or conservative foundation, and then “research” the “facts” from that point. The problem is that most of these “sources” are little more than platforms for ideological talking points and/or already established beliefs. In other words, most Americans obtain their beliefs of certain issues from propaganda rather than objectivity. We don’t seem capable of suspending our preconceived beliefs and ideas to approach an issue based on the merits rather than their ability to support our individual political ideologies.
What’s more, there are simply too many nuts running loose in our country who lack psychiatric supervision. This is to say that many of the things that “informed voters” believe are beyond the pale. September 11th was a government conspiracy. Abortion is part of a planned genocide against the black community. The female body has mechanisms to “protect against that sort of thing.” Obama is not an American. Political correctness reflects “cultural sensitivity.“ There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Global warming is a hoax. Money is “Free Speech.” The Constitution protects abortion.  Universally affordable health care is akin to slavery. …and these are the “rational” thoughts. We believe anything our elected “leadership” tells us, no matter how insane, how irrational, or how counter-intuitive to reality. These virtual lunatics on both the political left and right share the same voting booths as you and I, and are able to pass themselves off as part of the “informed” electorate, who share the responsibility for putting into office other such “rational” individuals who are only too happy to polly-parrot these extreme beliefs in the name of voter support (just listen to the things that come out of the mouths of Michelle Bachmann or Barney Frank).
We’re also fickle to no end. We have a “Mac-Mentality;” we want “solutions” hot, fast, and now…forgetting that it took years for many of the issues facing the country to make themselves known. We are quick to overlook the fact that our politicians are not magicians…they cannot fix any problem as fast as we would like. Because of this, we will vacillate between election-year political party candidates as often as we change underwear. And quite understandably, our politicians don’t know what issue to support or where people actually stand on a given issue—unless said issues are being spoon-fed to the voting electorate. So they too bounce back and forth between “for” and “against” certain policies. Our political leadership’s inability to stand on one particular aspect of an issue may be irritating, but it’s also a reflection of our own ability to stand still on an issue in a realistic sense. We tend to take sides, as if either side wears the white hats. As I’ve often said on so many occasions, we are too quick to attack the other guy, and reject the worst possibilities of our own political affiliations.

Big Money Influence 

In the last few years, Supreme Court decisions have all-but eviscerated the notion that the voting public effects both legislation and voting rights. Rulings like Citizens United have opened the floodgates for the infusion of endless amounts of cash “donations” into the political process by both private and political interests seeking to influence who makes the laws and how they are made. Under the veneer of “Free Speech,” connected political, financial, and organized private interests groups—those usually tied to business—are now able to purchase public policy (and/or its handlers). Private and moneyed interests are not able to shape and mold a government virtually according to their own design.
And since most of us, the voting electorate, tend to accept and heed the talking points of our political affiliations rather than reason and individual thinking, we buy into this dynamic. Too many Americans—who we only have our votes as an instrument of gaining a say in the political process—are too quick to defend the Big Money interests who have more sway over our lives than we like to think because they can influence how our legislators think and behave. We are literally voting and supporting a status quo that works against our self-interests when we protect and defend the infusion of [the] obscene amounts of money into the political process. This is true whether it be in the legalized form of bribery we call “lobbying,” or when we allow shadowy political groups to throw tons of money into campaigns that call for voting for an issue or candidate that we support simply because it reflects our political affiliations.


The startling takeaway is that we as American citizens now have little impact on governmental and legislative policy by way of our voting. The only exception to this is when highly organized and motivated individuals like those in the partisan Tea Party movement are able to affect a small number within a larger party. But the effect of the Tea Party’s ideological intransigence is also part of the problem in why our politics have become so dysfunctional—they are too wedded to the belief that they are right in what and how they believe government should function. To this effect, many of the movement’s supporters and candidates have often invoked the phrase “no compromise” when it comes to getting legislation passed. This in turn creates the gridlock that stymies current system of governance —such as it is—and destroys any chance for passage of any form of legislation. We now have a system where private, moneyed, and politically-connected interest groups, as well as their lackeys in the various levels of legislative halls, are a law unto themselves. Simply put, the majority doesn’t rule. I know that special interests do not have my interest at heart when they lobby (i.e., pressure) my Congressman or state legislator to either think or vote on their behalf. I’m still waiting to the rest of my fellow Americans to catch up to this fact…but I won’t hold my breath.

The Changing Economy 

Oddly enough, when America had a stable Middle Class, and when we were a nation that actually produced manufactured goods, we had a stable voting electorate. There were fewer socioeconomic and political divisions by which our politicians could drive a wedge through to exploit for personal gain. In fact, quite the opposite; we were more willing to overlook both the political decisions and indiscretions of our elected leaders because the effects of either didn’t seem to have an overt consequence to the public at-large. Iran-Contra didn’t turn into a general clamor for impeachment (except from the extreme Left). Former Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry’s conviction for drug use during an FBI sting—one caught on video—didn’t affect his eventual re-election to that same position. And despite his allusions that his contentious congressional confirmation had racial overtones, Clarence Thomas was eventually confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.
Our tolerance for decisions weak and/or questionable political decisions was far greater, relegated to the “all politicians lie,” or the “It doesn’t affect me and my family” ethos. As long as gasoline was cheap, jobs that actually paid the bills were still available, financial institutions were not overtly greedy (and corrupt), and our economy was still the envy of the world, why would any of us have complained…much less organize enough to take sides. But along the way, the economy and our political sensitivities started to change. While good-paying manufacturing began moving offshore in an effort to compete with the invasion of cheaper foreign-made products, a lower-paying service-based economy took over. Organized labor—unions—was assaulted from two points; the reduction in their numbers due to the off-shoring of jobs, and an assault on laws meant to protect union practices by business-friendly Republicans. This assault included curtailing laws that made it easier for Democratic-leaning to fund Democratic candidates and worker-friendly legislation. With unions (and their political money) weakened to historical levels, a supportive money supply to the Democratic Party was dried. This forced the Democrats into bed with the same kind of Big Money and private interest groups that the Republicans had cozied up to years earlier in order to raise party fund money (see: Lobbying Spending By Sector). Although many of those supporting legislation responsible for weakening organized labor will usually make references to “election fairness,” “economic concerns,” accusations of union “corruption” as justifications for doing so, make no mistake about it—attacks on unions were more about securing political advantage for benefitting political parties (and candidates), and not for the greater good (although one would be hard-pressed to deny that denials of such provide for the most elegant of rebuttals).
What's worse, many rank-and-file Americans have started to buy into the political narrative (put forth in part to defend the actions of those jockying for political fund-raising advantage) that "union greed" is what was responsible for the transformation of the American economy rather than the natural and inevitable drive by manufacturers to drastically find a way to increase profits in the face increasing global competition. We have forgetten that it was the labor-friendly demands of unions—higher wages, benefits, and reasonable hours to name a few—that helped to create a stable Middle Class in the first place.  This leads into the final factor contributing to our sad state of politics in America...

The Political Class

When I talk about the political class in America, what I am generally speaking to are not only career lobbyists, but career politicians, elected members of both major political parties, 501 (C )(4) political organizations (associated non-disclosed donors), and regular corporate economic entities—all of which/who form what can be unarguably considered the new ruling oligarchy in America. This is the say that these groups and individuals are so politically active and themselves informed about the inner workings as well as the mechanics of the legislative process that they can literally shape laws that benefit each entity and individual within this ruling political class. Our politicians are merely a means to this end. In most cases, these people and/or groups can be recognized by their constant presence in politics, their last names—especially in the cases of political “dynasties” (e.g., families that constantly produce career politicians)—and the influence they wield in affecting the legislative process.
Regardless of political party affiliation, most of the ruling oligarchy tends to be mainstays in the halls of power in this country, with some 50% of retiring or electorally defeated Congressmen taking up with lobbying firms in continuing to influence the legislative process on behalf of the highest bidder.
Even in the case of the few who aren’t as personally motivated by monetary gain, they are too beholden to their ideological (and by extension, their political party’s) beliefs to be effective legislators. This means that they tend to embrace party-lines and baseless thinking in order to appeal to their respective bases and remain in power for the sake of careers in “public service.” This is why climate change deniers, race-baiters, proponents of immigration “reform,” and those who think all taxes are “bad” tend to maintain their popularity among their respective supporters. This means that many of our elected leadership will literally say and promise anything in order to protect their political positions. Many have conned the American voting electorate into thinking we actually have a choice—via our votes—over which direction our country should go when it comes to the legislative process when in reality, the politically-connected ruling oligarchy makes these decisions.


Admittedly somewhat cynical, our American oligarchs have designs to pull the strings of political system in order to suck as much wealth as possible from the nation (and its people) by ensuring cheaper labor, government subsidies, and other favorable legislation that ensures greater profits and the free flow of capital among and between each other. Additionally, political oligarchs in this country seek to hoard the wealth they collect by saving money in the form of tax cuts and favorable tax rates. To enable these designs, political oligarchs employ a army of lawyers, image consultants, and public relations too sculpt favorable images of politicians who work to protect the wealth of their fellow oligarchs.
Politicians and other members of the political class all-but crippled the Middle Class by sucking all the wealth and promise out from it via usurping the political and legislative process. And without a strong middle class, America cannot offer its citizens a chance to improve their lives, to maintain the infrastructure required for commerce and growth, or support those citizens that need a safety net thanks to lower-paying employment (See: “How the Middle-Class Got Screwed”). The political class cheats the system as it was meant to be in order to steal the wealth of our nation and hoard it for themselves.
But in order to keep attention off of themselves and their designs, oligarchs will often sow the seeds of dissent among competing groups of Americans. Liberal vs. conservatives. Immigrants vs. native-born citizens. Ethnicity vs. ethnicity. We blame each other for “ruining the country,” while the political class benefits. The fact is, when you look at the military, you will find both liberals and conservatives in uniform. I would like to believe that both liberals, conservatives, as well as those in between love that the American Constitution is supposed to reflect the will of the people, not the special interests, and certainly not the interests of the political (and economic) ruling class in America. However, as much as we would like to believe that our vote counts, it seems that our country is being controlled and manipulated by the moneyed and politically-connected elite—and not We The People!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Tragedy Of Iraq (...or "Iraq Is Burning!")

First, I would like to thank those who continually read Beyond The Political Spectrum in attempting to keep up with important events in the news. At the same time, I would like to apologize to those same regular readers for not routinely posting in the last several months on a regular basis. Some of you might know that I have been working to publish a series of crisis-themed books meant to serve as a comprehensive source for disaster planning for both individuals as well as organizations. With that having been said, with so much news and so many associated issues regarding this news, it would simply make sense to just touch on the most relevant item in the news currently.



Sunni insurgents linked with a more radical offshoot of al-Queda driving through Mosul, the second largest city in the country.

Iraq 
If one were attempting to sum up the lowest point in the American involvement in Iraq—2006 and 07—in terms of the political, military, and religious upheavals, the best word would be “quagmire.” Currently, the best word that could most accurately describe the current situation in terms of the military gains of the radical Sunni Muslim insurgency on the march toward the Iraqi capital of Baghdad—as Iraqi government military forces deserted the field of battle en masse—is “tragedy.” Tragedy was in fact the best description from the start of the ill-advised decision of the U.S. to invade the country in the first place in 2003…under the erroneous assumption that its former leadership harbored “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD’s).
Tragedy is the way proponents within the American government attempted to social engineer post-Saddam Hussein by imposing regime change. Granted, Hussein was not the most stable of individuals, his presence did create level of stability that kept any indication of sectarianism from manifesting as anything but occasional unpleasantries between individuals from opposing religious sects. Maybe the late dictator actually knew something about the intra-religious dynamics of his own country that American “experts” didn’t (and still don’t). Maybe a brutal strongman or a heavy hand in governance is all that stands between order and the chaos of ethnic and religious divisions played out in the realm of violent confrontations. We saw this play out in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, when the artificial political boundaries created after WWI ignored these human divisions in favor of creating recognized nation-states. Like in Iraq, pre-2003 oppressive rule managed to lightly smother the true inter-ethnic feelings and differences under the surface. That is, until the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-dominated central government all-but disenfranchised the Sunni population in the country…the same Sunni who some have taken up with the insurgents. Before the current crisis, ethnic and religious fighting was unheard of as a result of tough rulership. Tragedy too, is the result of not heeding the lessons of history.
Tragic still is the fact that we Americans are so ethnocentric, so self-assured that our way of form of governance and viewing the world that we couldn’t—and still can’t—stop to think for a single moment that Western-style democracy doesn’t work for everyone. This is especially true when tribal identities are more potent than national identities. This is why the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgency seeks to impose strict Islamic law in Sunni state carved out of parts of both Syria and central Iraq—a stated that ignores national political borders.
Currently, the only bright spot in Iraq—a region of relative calm and political stability—is the Kurdish Regional Government in the country’s northern border region. The ethnic Kurdish government, taking advantage of the instability in other parts of the country, has seized nearby lands abandoned by Iraqi government forces in what seems to be a move reflective of an intent to become more autonomous from Baghdad (these lands contain some of the country’s oil production resources). Kurdish stability seems to be the only non-tragic aspect of this chaos.
Finally, tragedy is the best way to describe accusations and finger-pointing toward President Obama being the “reason” for the devolving situation in Iraq…the same Obamawho voted against the invasion of Iraq as Senator Obama back in 2003. Tragedy is the denial by supporters of that action to accept complicity in the creation of this monster. Ultimately, Iraq is a Frankenstein that could have been avoided being created in the first place if we Americans were not so arrogant to believe that everyone in the world will great us with flowers, so ignorant of other (the divisions among) peoples in the world, and blinded of our own sometimes insanely-held ideologies and political alliances that we cannot accept responsibility for the problems we create.

video


Correction (06/16/14):

I stand corrected on the president’s voting record, but his opposition to the war has been documented on record before becoming either a Senator or the president (see, some of us can admit being wrong).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Question Of The Day - Raising The Minimum Wage?

Given all of the recent talk about growing economic inequality, the gap between real wages and what these wages can buy, the cost of living, and the effects of long-term unemployment, (I thought it was necessary to put the question of what the American people think about the idea of raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.


In responding, keep the following perspective in mind:

-Congress, our "esteemed" federal legislative body, 50% of which are millionaires whose better-than-decent retirement plan WE taxpayers pay for can vote THEMSELVES a pay raise...
-Athletes who WE pay to watch (in one form or another) can earn millions of dollars a year...
-Corporate officers/CEO's/CFO's of companies WE work for can earn million-dollar salaries and golden parachutes severance packages --ALL because "they earned it."

But WE hard-working Americans can't have a minimum wage in line with the cost of living because it will "destroy jobs?" Some politicians apparently "care" about Americans having "jobs," just not well-paying ones.


Should The Federal Minimum Wage of $7.25 hr. Be Raised?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Voter I.D. -- A Motive In A Snapshot!

Just a little something to think about is rejecting the narrative that new voter identification laws "protect the integrity of the voting process" (funny how the voting process "integrity" wasn't threatened until recent times).