The Worship of Sports in America

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How The Middle-Class Got Screwed (Video)

A most simplistic explanation of how the economic problems of the middle-class has become an actual threat to their well-being.

Why I'm Not A Democrat...Or A Republican!

There is a whole lot not to like about either of the 2 major political parties.

Whatever Happened To Saturday Morning Cartoons?

Whatever happened to the Saturday morning cartoons we grew up with? A brief look into how they have become a thing of the past.

ADHD, ODD, And Other Assorted Bull****!

A look into the questionable way we as a nation over-diagnose behavioral "afflictions."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Nation of Whiners - Part 1

Nearly two Thursdays ago—for better or worse—President Barack Obama made an appearance on NBC’s Tonight Show with host Jay Leno, the first sitting commander-in-chief to make such a late night television appearance. And as with any give-and-take involving a sustained level of tongue-in-cheek conversation, the humor tends to become subjective at times. Such was the case with Obama’s appearance on the late-night talk show.
During one exchange with the reigning king of late-night T.V., Obama joked, comparing his abysmal bowling skills to that of a Special Olympics athlete. And predictably, some complained about the “insensitive” nature of the remark, which was meant to be taken as self-depreciating humor. As a result, the president was forced by a growing chorus of political-correctness-inspired catcalls to issue a personal call to the chairman of the Special Olympics and apologize for the quip.

President Barack Obama & Jay Leno on NBC's Tonight Show (March 2009)

So, at the risk of being similarly labeled “insensitive,” I’m going to speak my mind and say that America has become a nation of whiny, limp-wristed, sissified girly-girls. There. I said it. If you’ve noticed, the sky failed to fall, the space-time continuum didn’t collapse in on itself, and (unless you’re the individual who draws the short straw of fate), the sun will tomorrow. Now check your pulse…heart still beating? No cuts, abrasions or bruises? That’s what I thought.
My point is that those of us who grew up in a certain era remember the old childhood declaration that “Sticks and stone can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” However, we Americans seemingly take every joke, innocently-meant statement, or off-the-cuff remark as a slight against some group, oppressed minority, or individual—no matter how innocuous it was meant to be. This almost universal level of sensitivity has forced many to engage in a burdensome degree of self- or institutional censorship; many, like myself are forced to speak in measured tones for fear of offending some whiny crybaby who hasn’t gotten over the fact that he or she must now grow out of the “need” to continue suckling from their mother’s tit (yes, I said it and it felt damned good).
As you read this, you may have already have adopted one of two possible positions; you may think that this overall assertion is nothing more than subjective hyperbole on my part, or that I myself am insensitively na├»ve as to the power of words to hurt. Both conclusions contain a level of validity, depending on your perceptions. However, for every Don Imus-like remark about “Nappy-headed hoes,” there seem to be a dozen or so instances where the social mandate to speak in only politically correct terms reveals that people have simply become too thin-skinned. It seems that many of us have a gripe about some impending “hurtful” statement already cocked and loaded, and we’re ever-ready to pull the trigger of condemnation faster than you can say either “oppressed group” or “insensitive remark.” In short, we have become a country of PC crybabies that even French late-night comedians can now joke about as being as weak and surrender-prone.

To Be Continued...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Politics & The Art of Bullsh...

As I was watching the various Sunday morning talk shows, I was struck with an unexpected feeling for the appreciation of the humor I often find in politics. Indeed, if not for the way politics impedes the passing of practical legislation based on the needs of the people rather than ideology-peddling and power-politics one-upsmanship, I would find the “process” to be downright hysterical. Take for example the aforementioned Sunday morning talk shows.
As I was watching CBS’ Face The Nation, it was kind of difficult to keep a straight face as the White House’s National Economic Director Lawrence Summers struggled with host Bob Schieffer’s query as to how insurance giant—and the recipient of taxpayer-funded bailout money—American International Group (AIG) could justify its intent to distribute $165 million of the money in bonuses to its employees, both past and present. The individual bonus amounts varied, with payouts ranging from $1,000 to a single $6 million “bonus.” And as if that were not insulting enough to the American taxpayer, 11 of the bonuses recipients are no longer employees of the industry pariah.
The overall bailout of individual financial institutions was part of both former President Bush’s and current President Obama’s plan to deal with the meltdown in the lending and financial industries. But as this latest outrage of financial company excesses came to light, it was obvious that the Obama Administration has been forced to put a spin of justification on AIG’s actions. According to Summers,

"If we simply throw up our hands, refuse to deal with any of this, we'll have the kind of financial catastrophe that we saw after what happened at Lehman Brothers,…[Treasury] Secretary Geithner has negotiated very forcefully with AIG. He has done everything that is legally permissible for the government to do to limit the payment of bonuses. But where there are contracts, binding contracts that were entered into long before the government put any money in to AIG -- we're not a country where contracts just get abrogated willy-nilly."

Predictably, Summers defended the “right” of bailout fund beneficiaries to use the money pay contractual obligations by citing that such a practice was a way for American companies to retain the “best, brightest, and most talented” employees. Yeah…I too thought that was quite the humorous (if not ironic) defense of such an unethical move considering that these “best and brightest” made incompetent decisions which, in addition to driving AIG to near-liquidation, resulted in the company’s recent posting of the largest quarterly loss ever recorded by a company.
What Summers obviously didn’t want to admit is that there were two distinct possibilities underlying the decision were at work here. First, the ball was dropped when it came to crafting regulations regarding the use of the bailout money given to recipients. One has to ask where was the foresight to attach stipulations to the bailout money that would have prohibited any recipient from doing what AIG had decided to do (these bonuses were paid out this past Friday, by the way). Such requirements wouldn’t be all that unusual in the grand scheme; bankruptcy judges modify and even abrogate altogether contracts in the name of repaying creditors. And all of the major automobile makers are currently in negotiations with the United Auto Union, attempting to re-negotiate the terms of their contract in order to save both American jobs and the companies staffed by union members. But in a logical defense—and setting aside the cynical observation that in politics, nothing happens without reason or purpose—it was hard to imagine that any American company would have the brass pair to even considered doing what AIG has done. And this leads to the second possibility that given the signs that AIG and other financial institutions were in trouble due to their greed in trying to capitalize on the open-season atmosphere of the housing bubble, was the possibility that AIG would use taxpayer money to pay out undeserving bonuses known by those who made the decision to prop up the insurance giant? I didn’t envy Summers’ job of administration spin doctor for one second; how could I when I was having so much fun watching him sweat out a defense for the legality of AIG’s actions in front of millions of people?
Going from the ridiculous to the sublime, I decided to flip over to NBC’s Meet The Press, preparing myself this time for some serious political discourse. Imagine my surprise when the theme of trying to make the ridiculous sound sane continued on the network famous for its peacock. In one of those great universal ironies, CBS’ network competitor had a representative of the opposing party on the hot seat. This time, it was Minority Whip and Republican Eric Cantor (R-VA).
Cantor and many Republicans have complained about the cost and the level of spending anticipated by the recently passed and implemented financial stimulus package championed by the Obama Administration. Particularly, they’re concerned with how much such spending will add to the growing federal budget deficit. Many point out the many earmarks stuffed into the stimulus plan inserted by lawmakers from both parties in order to fund pet projects in their local districts as examples of “out of control” deficit spending. Granted that pork spending has always been a concern (and should be outlawed), what I found amusing was the timing of this sudden “concern” about fiscal conservatism.
As host David Gregory rightfully pointed out, Republicans who voted along party lines for former President Bush’s military spending during the early period of the nation’s military action in Afghanistan and later in Iraq had no such qualms about ballooning the deficit then. Consider this exchange between Gregory and Cantor:

MR. GREGORY: Where was all the concern about fiscal conservatism and reining in spending from you and your Republican colleagues during the Bush years?
REP. CANTOR: Well, well, listen, David, if you're asking could we have done better, absolutely. If you're asking us did we blow it in terms of restoring fiscal sanity into this system, absolutely. But that doesn't give now the Democrats in power in this town to go in and repeat the mistakes that perhaps we may have committed in the past. You know, you look at this budget, how can it be that they claim that they're balancing the budget when they are doubling the debt, when they are increasing the deficit to record levels of a trillion, seven hundred billion dollars this year? How is it that, that that is a fiscally sane plan? We've got to remember...
MR. GREGORY: Did you oppose President Bush's budgets that increased the deficit or the debt?
REP. CANTOR: Well, David, we were in a time where I think the priority then was to make sure that we could deliver the money for our troops. And I joined along with Democrats on, on the other side of the aisle as well as my colleagues on mine to say the most important thing we needed to do at the time was to support the efforts of our military to insure our national security.
MR. GREGORY: So it was OK to, to support deficit spending at wartime, but it's not OK now during an economic crisis, when Warren Buffett calls that the equivalent of Pearl Harbor?

Such policy flip-flopping occurs all the time in realm of politics, and such talk shows provide the forums by which astute and politically savvy individuals such as Summers and Cantor attempt to paint themselves and their political persuasion as the guys in the white coats, while maligning their ideological opposites' stances. And sadly, political independents, aligning themselves with neither ideological pole, stand idle and accept such transparent politicking as the way of things. If not for realizing the earnest consequences resulting from this verbal three-card Monte, I would have broken out in full laughter watching.
The problem I have with this weekly airing—nightly if you’re addicted to such shows on CNN or the Fox News Channel—of such ideological smoke and mirrors tends to, without fail, obscure the facts behind the issue(s) at hand. And in a nation of time constraints, where individuals are forced to rely on political bullets and soundbites for their information on important issues, that makes for a dangerous combination. Moreover, the large numbers of politically apathetic and individuals too lazy to research an issue affecting their lives from all angles is what drives these political monsters. Knowing this is how the dynamics of political disinformation works, politicians have a moral responsibility to put aside such politicking and inform the public along the lines of facts, not ideologically-driven rhetoric; if they were true statements rather than opportunistic, power-driven ideologues, they would make the effort.
Citizens too are complicit as cogs in the political bullsh** machine. People must take it upon themselves to both make themselves informed electors, and to insulate themselves from such issue-obfuscation (In fact, a strong argument can be made that part of the reason that so many printed newspapers are folding is because people don't take the time to buy a daily paper and inform themselves of issues which affect their lives).
People love to complain about their government and the officials we elect to represent us. But too often, they wilfully allow the selfish ambitions and ideological agendas of those same representatives to be the sole motivations for the legislation they impliment in our names.
Whether they succeed or not in this endeavor, we cannot continue to complain about self-serving polticians and policies until we start making better choices in who we elect, whether we choose or not to hold these individuals to a standard of accountability, and how much we choose to inform ourselves to the facts of the issues.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Will Ideology Block Possible Economic Assistance?

Well, it’s the start of a new month, and hopefully, the start of warmer weather and political tidings in Washington…the kind of potential issue that Beyond The Political Spectrum was created to explore. However, my suspicions are that last night’s piece on CBS’ 60 Minutes about Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal—a rising star of the Republican Party—will portent the usual amount of acrimony in national political discourse that we’ve seen over the years.
Why do I say this? Because Jindal, along with the governors of South Carolina, Idaho, Alaska, Mississippi, and Texas all question whether or not the nearly $800 billion earmarked for the economic stimulus plan championed and signed almost 2 weeks ago by President Obama will work to stimulate the country’s ailing economy. For this reason, most of these same governors say (ostensibly) that they will not accept [some] portions of the stimulus fund money. Although this is a valid concern, avoiding anything short of full compliance with implementing the plan smacks more of politics than statesmanship by these governors, especially given the unprecedented nature of not only the country’s current economic situation, but those of the very same states where these governors serve the interests of the people.

Rising political star among conservatives, Republican Govenor Bobby Jindal of Lousiana, along with others opposes the stimulus plan

What can it hurt to support the stimulus plan? If it fails, opponents can justify their stance without the taint of trying to sabotage it by choosing not to accept all of the financial assistance the money is intended to provide; the president and his supporters would be forced to eat crow, and Republicans could then ride another 1994-like wave back into power and show us how the economy should be dealth with. If it succeeds, then the country is better off, and the people can get on with their lives of the living-by-credit and paycheck-to-paycheck status quo that was the reality prior to the now 15-month long economic downturn.
A cynical analysis would conclude that these governors—all Republicans—are putting their political party’s ideology, along with possible political aspirations of a 2012 White House run in ahead of the immediate needs of the people of their respective states. This cynicism could be supported, in a sense by Jindal’s revelation in the 60 Minutes interview, that he considers the late former President Ronald Reagan to have written the book on creating a healthy economy, ideologically speaking. And when pressed about his future aspirations as to a potential White House run, Jindal simply answered “I have the job I want (as governor).” In political parlance, that translates to “I’m leaving my options open…but I don’t want to telegraph my intentions just yet.” Sounds somewhat justified.
And aside from their beliefs that the stimulus plan may fail are their individual arguments. For example, Texas Governor Rick Perry’s concern “is there’s going to be commitments attached to it that are a mile long.” As my teenager nieces would say, “Well, duh…” What money from the federal government doesn’t have some strings attached? How much more different is this aspect of the stimulus package than other federal funds sent to the states? If any of these governors “sees” any difference between the attached “strings” of the economic stimulus package and other funds distributed by the feds to the states, then it is as surely as an ulterior motive in politics to be a perspective that is politically inspired. This is especially true considering that built-in provisions in the stimulus package allows for state legislatures to accept any money that their governors reject; these governors could reject the money and still look like staunch conservatives in front of their core ideological constituents.
It seems that upon simply examining possible options, any reservations that the governors of the various states in questions have do not stand up to the yardstick of impartial or justified concern. Consider Mississippi’s Haley Barbour’s contention that accepting unemployment dollars offered up by the stimulus package would “force his state to eventually raise taxes when the stimulus money runs out.” Is it too difficult for a state’s legislature to enact fiscal policies tied to spending any stimulus-related money that wouldn’t interfere with its mandated use and distribution? Come on…what happened to the thinking and problem solving acumen that conservatives were supposed to be so noted for?
So, as a public service to those of a particular ideological bent who do not want to appear to be (irresponsibly so) putting their personal aspirations or petty dogmas ahead of the needs of their constituents, I have a simple suggestion for those governors even thinking about not accepting any money from the president’s economic stimulus package…simply give your portion of it to the other states which are experiencing similar economic issues. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind taking it…just offer it up to states with economies on life support like Michigan and California. Just simply ignore the fact that your own state economies are pretty much in the same crapper as those of many other states who could benefit from your generosity and selfless philanthropy. Only then can I and others across the country accept that your reservations are devoid of selfishness.