Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Nickeled and Dimed

We all feel like we're treading water.  Especially if we compare a lives to our parents' or grandparents'.  It's rough.  They had to worry about rent, utilities, maybe a mortgage.  They bought their car outright, maybe used.  Most people didn't bother with car insurance.  TV and radio were free.  A college degree was a sound investment.  Modern day tinkers repaired broken TVs, radios, toasters, lawnmowers, etc.

A single person's income could pretty much support a family.  Good union jobs spread the money around.  The average CEO's salary was less than twenty five times the lowest paid worker.

Civil construction jobs helped as well.  Great civil projects like dams and tunnels, along with the interstate highway system, helped both the national and local economies.  The upper classes paid a great deal in taxes, but invested in both America and innovation.  Our economy seemed unstoppable.

And then we hit a bobble.  A hiccup.  Suddenly the Keynesian economic philosophy that had given us the most profitable, productive era in our history was revealed to have a flaw.  Rather than attempting to tweak it, which would have been the liberal response to such a discovery, the new administration not only stripped the solar cells from the White House roof, but also hooked American bankers, corporate executives, and Wall Street traders to an insidious new economic drug called "voodoo economics."

The idea that giving the rich perks by way of tax breaks might sound good on the surface.  Maybe they'll reinvest their extra money in their communities.  Except, not so much.  What voodoo economics kindled was a lust for more.  Always more.  A reasonable amount of profit wasn't enough.  It wasn't enough to be successful... now you had to be wildly successful.  We were turned onto the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  Greed was made good.

This isn't really opinion.  This all happened.

Since my parents' day (and for the record I'm on the leading edge of Gen X, as my parents were of the Boomer generation) much has changed.  Rent and mortgages are often half a person's monthly salary, requiring multiple incomes just to keep a residence.  Things that were free--television and radio--are not quite so free.  Cable costs a lot, and much of that cost is transferred to the consumer because our government didn't see fit to subsidize cable as they did in many other countries.  The companies own the lines.  We have very little leverage.  Added to the fact that the cable companies themselves are beholden to the television networks, and the monopolies that own them, we find ourselves paying dearly for what was once mostly free.

Then there's the internet.  That's extra.  Utilities?  Depends on where you live.  But fuel costs are higher, so utilities are higher.  Plus utilities are also an investment.  Some of that money goes to pay stockholders.

Cars are bought piecemeal, with expensive loans from banks.  Gone are the days we could trust a cheap car and a backyard mechanic to keep it running.  Fuel costs are staggering.  Insurance is required.  We have to buy tabs every year, get emissions tests every other year.

We pay sales tax.  Property tax.  Income tax.  Payroll taxes.  Scheduling fees.  Overdraft protection.  Credit card payments.  Student loan payments.  Car payments.  Car insurance.  Health insurance.   Co-pays.  Cable.  Internet.  Cell phones.  In a world in which parents are often busy, they need to feel connected to their children, to know where they are all the time.  Kids need cell phones... not for themselves, necessarily, but for their parents peace of mind.  People do GPS, and e-books.  I-tunes and Amazon Prime.

Apple's development model is planned obsolescence at an obscene rate.  To modify the newest product to be slightly better than the last one, even if the technology exists to make it considerably better.  Every upgrade makes them money because people stand in line to buy the newest one.  Consumerism has overtaken capitalism.  It's no longer about building a product people want to buy, it's about convincing them that the product they already have isn't good enough... even if it is.

We buy cheap Chinese crap at discount stores because they're cheap... even if we know that every item we buy represents a lost American job.  We use self-service checkouts at the supermarket, even though every one of them probably represents a handful of American jobs.  We cheer the dismissal of public employees, even if they add to the line at the unemployment office.

We're convinced that money is speech, and public assembly is terrorism.  We're convinced that it's socialism to ask a billionaire to pay a 20% tax rate, or to ask government to intercede with the insurance companies so people can get health insurance.  That public education is socialism, and evil.

Are we educating our children to be learned men and women, or simply cogs in a corporate machine?  Do we want them to think for themselves, or be simple fodder for those who would buy and sell people like products if given half a chance?  We've gone from a society in which anyone who aspired to learning could get a grant and go to school into a society in which they're required to hock ten years of their lives for the privilege.

What do they plan to do once they drain us dry, these parasites?  These bloody leeches?  Once they have swallowed everything we have, and given us back the least they can, what will they do?  They ask everything of us, our productivity, our loyalty, our respect, and they give us back pennies, and pay politicians to deny us the right to organize or request better pay.

I'm tired of knowing I'm being robbed.  All these avenues exist for the already rich to get richer.  But fewer and fewer avenues exist for the average man or woman to become wealthy.  Or even comfortable.  Because even at that point they know there's a long fall to the ground.  And with certain people intent on picking apart the safety net, that fall could easily prove a fatal one.

The answer from the right is MORE of the supply-side, trickle-down, voodoo economics that has put us in this situation.  More easy money for the already addicted.  I say it's time for an intervention.  The zombie of voodoo economics needs to be put back in the ground... where it belongs.

Monday, September 03, 2012

More like China

I ended up in a bit of a disagreement with someone on another author's page today because of his assertion that the thing driving companies out of the United States is, according to him, over-regulation.

I love this idea that we need to compete with countries like China to bring manufacturing jobs back here to U.S.  Their environmental regulations are all but non-existent.  Their worker protections, even less so.  The notion that we can somehow compete with them by eliminating regulations that protect both the worker and the environment is absurd.

We cannot compete in this way with a country that thinks virtual slave labor is okay... that sees people as disposable.  And make no mistake... they do.  This is a country that had a machine culture before machines even existed.  People were their machines, trained to operate like clockwork soldiers in the Forbidden City.

Don't get me wrong.  There are a great many things I admire about China.  But their current political and economic system is not one of them.  I am not a communist.  (I know this might confuse conservatives who believe that all liberals are hidden communists).  I am not one who sees any value in trying to compete with a country that can do this.  That can afford to do this.

We cannot.  We cannot entice them by lowering regulations to the point where we can compete with China directly to bring jobs home.  The idea that we can, or that we should, is ludicrous.

Instead we should take a page from China's notebook on another matter.  Tariffs.  Yes, I'm actually talking about what they laughingly call "protectionism."  I say this because China imposes a great many tariffs on foreign goods, but throw a fit when we attempt to reciprocate.

I say we tell U.S. based manufacturers than they can build their widgets wherever the hell they want.  But to bring them into this country, they will have to pay the difference between what they paid to manufacture them over there and what they'd have to pay Americans to build them.

Another option, of course, would be to offer tax incentives to have them build here, pay decent wages and offer competitive benefits.  The other way, however, might end up bringing in revenue instead of sacrificing it.

The "Most Favored Trading Partner" status should never have been used to allow American companies to do an end run around human rights and human dignity, nor should it have been used to in order to destroy our manufacturing sector.  Had the dismantling of our manufacturing sector been done to cripple us militarily, it would have been an act of aggression and treason.  Since it was done in the name of profit, it's merely business as usual.

Well... fuck business as usual.

My salute to Labor Day

Every year, as Summer approaches, we are reminded that Memorial Day is meant as a way to thank the troops that have died protecting our freedoms from outside encroachment.  But the powers-that-be, particularly on the right, would prefer to pretend that Labor Day, the holiday that book-ends the summer on the opposite side, either doesn't exist or doesn't mean what it does.

Troops aren't the only ones who've died for our freedoms.  You like the weekend?  Thank Labor.  You like a forty hour work week?  Thank Labor.  Overtime?  Labor again.  People DIED for these things.  That's what people seem to miss about the whole thing.  They didn't give us these things out of the goodness of their hearts.  People fought and died to give us these ubiquitous freedoms.

Oh, to us they may seem like freedoms, but to the owners they're the next thing to unconstitutional and immoral.  They feel as though these things take away from their ability to manage their business, and to hire people willing to do anything to earn a few scraps of bread and broth for soup.  You hear the right wing echo these sentiments on a regular basis.

Just today Eric Cantor used the opportunity to recognize the contributions of managers and business owners, not the people who actually do the work.  Let me clue you in on something, Cantor.  No managers died to give us forty hour work weeks.  No steel magnates stood on the front lines and fought to make sure we got overtime, and a chance to spend time with our families.

For a party that proclaims "family values" at the top of their lungs, the Republicans sure don't seem to do anything to actually support families.  They'll help arrange things so you need to have two jobs just to survive, then talk down to you because you're "not there for your children" when they do something wrong.

What a crock.

So, as the corporate media insists on missing the point, and as most people go about their day with no awareness of what this holiday is actually memorializing, I'd just like to take a moment to thank these forgotten heroes.

I take every break to which I'm entitled.  People died for that break.  If I work overtime, I insist on payment for that overtime.  People died for that overtime.  When I take my vacation (short as it is compared to every other industrialized nation on Earth) I thank those people who fought to make it a reality.

You know why, in the end, they were forced to pass all this legislation to protect the worker?  Because they were afraid that if they didn't the Communists really would get a toehold in America.  Because beaten, worn down workers are a sure source of resentment.

Don't let your HD color TV convince you that the fight is over.  The fact that you can go home after a day's labor and fall into a chair in front of the television to be transported worlds away doesn't mean you're home free.  Quite the opposite.  If you fail to realize what labor has done for you and your children--consider that they're allowed to go to school rather than forced to work in a factory for sixteen hours a day--you are betraying sacrifices made on your behalf.  In a way it's like pissing on a military emblem.  Except we've been taught in this country to idolize the military and discount and disparage labor.

Don't.  Just don't.  If you're injured at work, you are entitled to compensation.  Why?  Because someone fought to give you that.  If you lose your job through no fault of your own, you're entitled to unemployment insurance.  Don't think for a second that this isn't important.  It's probably kept more families solvent than just about anything else we've ever done as a country.

If you honor the soldiers that died in the service of this country and ignore those who died in service to their fellow Americans, you just might be missing the point.

I'm not.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Why I'm voting for Obama

So we're coming down to the wire in the next Presidential election.  Americans are going to have to choose between Barack Obama and Willard "Mitt" Romney.  Many people see this is as being something of a horned dilemma.  Many people are disappointed in Obama, but see Mitt Romney as no kind of improvement.  Some have actually put forth the notion that they should "vote their conscience" and go third party or not vote at all.

I can, at least to some extent, understand being disappointed with Obama.  There were a few promises he made that turned out to be politically impossible to fulfill since his election.  Particularly once certain groups sat out the 2010 elections and helped usher in the Tea Party era.  Between the Tea Party candidates, neo-con Republicans, and the Blue Dog Democrats, Obama has had a tough hill to climb.

Even given that he's accomplished several notable things, including the creation of an agency designed to police the finance industry.  Though it's been rendered mostly toothless by Republican obstructionism, it can also be seen as an introduction to Elizabeth Warren.  We need that woman in Congress.  'Nuff said.

And while Obamacare is not what I'd have chosen, given that I don't think it went nearly far enough in regulating the insurance industry, it's a damn sight better than what we had.  Which was nothing.  Believe me, the Republicans wouldn't be so dead set on dismantling it if it weren't helpful to people they disdain.

I'm not going to convince the haters.  Raising the dead wouldn't convince the haters.  That's fine.  But don't lie to yourselves, or to us, in your quest to find something with which to skewer the failed hero.

He was handed two wars and given no effective way to end them.  He's nearly accomplished drawing us out of Iraq.  I'm sure he's looking for an exit strategy for Afghanistan (despite very loud Republican protests).

The recent Republican convention has revealed precisely to which lengths they will go to win.  The sheer mendacity of Paul Ryan's speech, not to mention the piece of performance art that was Clint Eastwood's rhetorical spanking of a wayward President.  A President that, in truth, in no way resembles the construct they've made of him.  They have erected a effigy of straw to represents a completely fictional  man, a radical Muslim Socialist who wants to institute Sharia Law, make their children marry gay people, outlaw Christmas, and take away their guns.

Whatever.  I would rather jab my eyes out with a spork than watch the Mr. and Mrs. Howell show.  Fuck them.

For all their caterwauling about what they think he's done wrong (mostly I think he's done the right thing, or tried to), they are awfully quiet about what they think the right thing might be.  Other than cutting taxes and eliminating regulation.  Hate to say it, but that's always been their prescription.  And it's never worked.  Well, it's worked pretty well for them, but not so well for the rest of us.  For examples please research Victorian (Dickensian) England.  You might try watching the new show Copper for some reflections of how nice it was to be poor in those days.  Or not, depending on your ability to empathize.

Their long-term political strategy seems to be instituting vote-limiting laws in Democratic areas, convincing very gullible Christians that greed and hatred are family values, and lying their lily-white asses off.

Yeah, I'm voting for Obama.  Happily, at this point.  The alternative is unthinkable.  Give me a man who is willing to make mistakes over a man who can't make decisions because he's afraid of making mistakes.  And one thing I do know about Obama as compared to the last yahoo?  If he makes a mistake, he's capable of admitting it.

Of course I'm voting for Obama.  Do I look like an idiot?



Monday, April 09, 2012

Wish it were different, but it's not.

We read it all the time.  The comment "both the parties are the same," and, "they're all crooked."  These may be the most commonly used terms of endearment aimed at our admittedly restrictive duopoly of partisan political organizations known as "parties," despite the fact that no one looks like they're having any fun at all.

Except maybe Bill Clinton.  And Newt Gingrich, perhaps, though one might question whether he is actually capable of HAVING fun, being the dried-up old lemon he is.

But I digress.

Gawd knows I've not been Obama's most ardent supporter.  I knew from the beginning that he, much like Hilary Clinton, would govern as a status quo politician.  And from a strictly Democratic standpoint (not a liberal or progressive one, but that's another tune altogether) he has.  The most positive things this administration has accomplished has been in the spirit of compromise that has dominated the Democratic Party for the past few decades.

There is nothing radical about the Democratic Party.  I've made the comment that in trying to fix the problems caused by reckless fiscal policies and financial regulation, the Democrats appear to be trying to slap a band-aid over a spurting arterial wound.  The Republicans simply want to stab it again.

Some people accuse the two parties of playing good-cop bad-cop with our political process, and in fact honestly owing their loyalties not to the people who voted them into office, but instead the people who provide the financial backing necessary to run for office in the first place.  I believe there is some degree of truth in this point of view.  But I believe that in many cases the way the process corrupts those who are inducted into it is not with the Grand Temptation, as Satan allegedly tempted Christ on the mountain, but instead by a series of minor compromises in which one is induced to lose sight of that point one will not go beyond.

In other words, I don't think they're all owned outright.  Many are simply held on lease.  They come up with their own rationalizations for bending to the status quo, for not standing up quite as strongly for the the things they deep down know they should.  I imagine many of the women in the Republican Party are asking themselves some soul-rending questions right about now.  Of course, I might be wrong about that.

The Republican Party is hopelessly corrupt by any intelligent standard, its policies not set by people with rational perspectives, but by rampant ideologues working for so-called "think tanks," talk radio shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh, and the rabid occupants of the single American so-called "news" agency that has gone to court for the right to lie and call it "news."

So, again, please spare me the "both parties are the same," bullshit.  They're not.  And for all the good reasons to gripe the Democratic Party gives us, the only way we're going to change anything within the party is to do what the right wing loons did beginning in the early to mid-eighties.  They infiltrated the Republican Party at every possible level, and began building a power structure with which to shake the establishment to its core.  And at the end of that chain of events we see rise to (albeit short-lived) power the loose-cannon, ideologically "pure" members of that particular religious and political sect.  Those who loathe the very notion of actual democracy and hide behind the words "Republic" as if their own P.R. doesn't say that we are in the business of "Spreading Democracy" to otherwise blighted lands.

They only like "Democracy" if they can twist it to mean what they want it to mean.

So, yes, I'll be voting for Obama again.  And along with Occupy and Moveon and other Democratic, liberal, and progressive organizations, I will campaign to increase transparency in government, advocate justice in the courts, demand reason in the legislatures, and publicly disdain hypocrisy where I see it.

I don't have to like everything being done by our government or even the Obama administration to understand that it could be much, much worse.  And given any feasible alternative other than sticking my head in the sand and trying to pretend that the battle between the two dominant political ideologies in this country doesn't have the potential to save or doom the world, I think I'll choose to remain engaged.  Even if it does prompt me to spend entirely too much time sharing links and making snarky comments on Facebook when I could be writing something more lucrative.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Game Review: Batman: Arkham City.

Before I got my PS3, the last game system I owned was a NES.  Yes, the video game equivalent of a stone tablet and a bronze chisel.  I know.  But over the course of the last couple years, I've discovered the joy of console gaming with such titles as Assassin's Creed, Uncharted, Demon's Souls, Skyrim, and now Arkham City.

I prefer games that involve some thinking and problem solving.  Pure combat games, like God of War, bore me to tears.  I bought the game thinking I might like it and within a day I was back at the game store trying to get as much as I could from it.  Thanks, but no thanks.  If it's just about jerking a joystick and mashing buttons, count me out.  There has to be more than that.

I've been a computer gamer for years, and a table-top gamer before that.  Right now I'm waiting for the release of Guild Wars 2.  I played GW 1 for years and enjoyed it immensely, though one could say that my computer gaming experience started with such things as Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights.

I also introduced my wife to the first Dragon Age, which we got for the PC and then the PS3.  Both of us were relatively disappointed in DA 2, though for somewhat different reasons.  She wasn't as amused by the dialogue and I thought the gameplay was far too simplistic.  The PS3 version of the original game was far easier than the PC version.  Seems a waste to me.

I LOVE the Assassin's Creed universe, but I have to say I think I actually like Arkham City better, game-wise.  I have a feeling that will change once I get the chance to play Assassin's Creed 3, coming out this Fall.

I love the three dimensional nature of the game.  That the sky is literally the limit.  Soaring over Arkham, watching for minions, and taking them down in a flurry of blows and using an assortment of Wayne Tech gadgets.  What fun.

I just picked up the Catwoman DLC as well, partly because her primary weapon is a whip and I'm writing a story in which the main character also uses a whip--not only as a weapon, but as a means of transportation.  I wanted to study the mechanics of it.

I won't include any spoilers here.  Suffice to say that if you like the movement of the Assassin's Creed or even the Uncharted series, you should love Arkham City.  The freedom of movement can't really be described, it must be experienced.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Book Review: Darius Logan: Super Justice Force

Title:  Super Justice Force
Author: D.F. Walker
Published: March, 2011
ISBN: 978-09833557-0-0

I grew up reading comic books and will usually pick up a comic-book influenced book in a heartbeat.  In a few cases, I've ended up disappointed.  This is not one of those cases.

Darius Logan is an orphan, a victim of what is popularly known as "The Attack."  In an attempt to create protectors to keep the Earth safe from alien invaders, the government accidentally created a menace over which an evil mastermind was able to take control.  Thousands died, including Darius's parents.

It hasn't been easy for him, shifted from foster home to foster home.  He's gradually slid into the wrong side of the law and, in a single incident, landed himself in seriously hot water.  But thanks to the intervention of one of the most powerful superheroes on the planet, he's been given a second chance.

The heroes don't see prisons as being agents of rehabilitation.  In fact, they see them as quite the opposite.  They believe that early intervention may help people like Darius, and they mean to use him as the test case to prove it's possible.

Thus he's inducted into the Second Chance program, one that's already been successful in reforming even some of the worst super-criminals.  The Second Chance program gave former prisoners jobs involved in running the day-to-day operations of the Super Justice Force's headquarters.  For those who tested well, they could even eventually end up in positions of authority within the organization.

When Darius discovers that his best friend inside, and the uncle of his love interest, used to be a major villain, he's a bit nonplussed.  But over time he develops a friendship and then a feeling of kinship with these people.  For the first time in his life since his parents died, he feels part of something.

The fellow in charge of security there at the headquarters, on the other hand, has it in for Darius, and does his level best to get him kicked out of the program.  He doesn't believe in rehabilitation and sees Darius as a threat to the status quo.

In the end, Darius's loyalties are put to the test, and he has to decide between following the rules and doing the right thing.  At least he understands that there's a difference.


Monday, January 09, 2012

Yeah... not buying what they're selling. And neither you should you.

KYFHO.  It's an acronym for "Keep Your Fucking Hands Off."  It's from a novel by Dr. F. Paul Wilson called "An Enemy of the State."  So before anyone accuses me of not understanding Libertarianism, please take the time to go fuck yourself.  The word is tattooed on my left shoulder.  As far as it goes, I still mean it.  You lay your hands on me without permission, you risk injury.

That said, I believe the philosophy of Ayn Rand and her followers is morally and intellectually bankrupt.  And, yes, I'm about to explain why.  Sit tight.

"Ron Paul will end the drug war."  Yep.  You're right.  Or, at least he'll try.  He'll order the federal agencies to stand down, citing whatever part of the Constitution he needs to cite in order to justify it.  I'm all for this--even though I don't really recommend the inhalation of certain substances.  Even so, the drug war is an expensive failure that's done nothing to curtail drug use and managed to disenfranchise a growing percentage of our minority population.  The problem with this is that there will be no money forthcoming for drug treatment.  None.  The onus would land on the states, who can't keep up with current obligations.  So the only people who'll get drug treatment are the ones who can pay for it up front.  How nice for them.

"Ron Paul will bring the troops home."  Yep.  And resist intervention anywhere else with every bone in his tired old body.  That's great.  I'm actually FOR an end to wars and our involvement in them.  Hope no one particularly anti-social gets rambunctious.  Because we won't intervene.  Good thing most of the real threats have been eliminated.  North Korea isn't likely to get particularly ambitious in the near future as the new ruler takes stock of his circumstances.  And Iran?  Not really a credible threat despite its saber rattling.

Good thing.

People scream about the corruption of the federal government (and gawd knows there's good reason for this) but then recommend Libertarian ideals as a way to counter this.  I've said it before... the smaller a government entity, the easier it is to corrupt.  It's a lot easier to pay off a town council, the police chief, and the mayor, than it is to buy a Congresscritter.  This is pretty obvious.

His supporters say that he'd give power back to the states, and allow them to do anything that didn't contradict the U.S. Constitution.  Not that there'd be any way to enforce that.  A conservative state could far more easily modify its own Constitution to, say, take away peoples right to marry someone of a different race, and the U.S. Constitution would not only not stop them, even if it did the feds would have no power to intervene.

They will also say that Libertarians would not allow pollution, would even be harder on it than liberals. So how does this work?  The local factory is churning out toxic waste and paying people to bury it somewhere beyond town.  It seeps into the ground water and the people can do--what?  Take it to the local Sheriff, whose beholden to the factory for his job?  Take it to the state, which has every reason not to aggravate a local employer?  And can't afford the funds to investigate it even if they wanted to?Right now they can take it to the feds, who have people who investigate this sort of thing, and labs for them to work out of.  You think the locals--half of which who are employed by said factory, have the money to hire scientists and labs to do the work determining the source of the toxin?

Good luck with that.

"It's not the government's job to subsidize intellectual curiosity."  This is a Reagan quote, but it typifies a conservative few of government.  It's in everyone's interest to have an educated populace.  The founding fathers--many of whom they claim to revere--believed that the only way to have a functioning democracy was to educate the populace.  They'll argue that the only reason college tuition has gotten so high is because it's subsidized by the government.  I say it's because we allow bankers to use our young people as a cash crop with which to grow even more money.  They say the federal government doesn't have any business in education at all.  But I say that universal standards are a good thing, and one of the problems we have now is that educational requirements vary so greatly from state to state.  NCLB notwithstanding.  That remains a kind of sick joke.  What it doesn't do is improve education.

Yeah.  I don't trust these people.  If you do, that's fine.  You're entitled to your own opinions.  But don't pretend we're crazy for not buying it.