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Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.

Left Behind

Left Behind

It has become predictable. The President proposes something, does something or supports something. The conservatives let out a howl, screaming how his actions or proposed actions will destroy our economy, wipe out what little respect we have left in the global community, further erode the Christian values that built this country, and as the late George Carlin might have said, “infect your soul, curve your spine and lose the war for the Allies.”

In fact, it’s something of a joke. Even when President Obama does thing that the right wants, things that they are clamoring for him to do, they find a way to make it an awful, terrible thing he’s done when he goes ahead and does it.

Take the recent exchange of five Taliban members from Gitmo for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, for example. He was the only American prisoner of war being held by the Taliban. Getting him back to the United States was a priority now that we are preparing to withdraw our troops from that country. The United States has always had a standard that nobody gets left behind. Our military lives by that rule and sometimes, dies by that rule. President Obama understood this and his team tried to negotiate a release with the Taliban to get Bergdahl home.

When a proof of life video was received by the military sent off alarm bells as to the deteriorating condition of Bergdahl, the consensus from the Obama administration was that recovering Bergdahl was an immediate and urgent priority and the deal was made.

This did violate the law. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 clearly mandates that all prisoner transfers from Guantanamo Bay require a minimum 30 day notice to Congress, and the President did not do that. The President cited “unique and exigent circumstances” for not complying with the law, feeling that the health and safety of the soldier was more important.

Of course, the right went bananas. Republican congressmen have called for a Benghazi-like hearing on the matter and some voices on the right are calling (again) for Obama’s impeachment. Rather than celebrating the return of one of our own back home, they are instead attacking Bergdahl, questioning whether he had deserted his post and even implying – or saying directly – that he’s a traitor.

First of all, none of this is germane to getting him back home. If he did violate military conduct, then court martial him – but do it here. Let American rule of law apply to American soldiers rather than Taliban law. You would think that the right would be on board with that right?

Wrong. Many have expressed the belief that “Bergdahl got what he deserved” and that he wasn’t worth the price that was given up for him. Some commentators have questioned his father who had grown his beard out as a sign of solidarity for his son and looked somewhat like a mullah. Then again, put a Turban on Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty and so does he.

The hypocrisy here is that we all know that if it was George W. Bush who had engineered the transfer, the right would have been singing the praises of the deal. They would have praised Bush for proving that “America never forgets its own” and praised his strength as a leader. Would the left have raised an outcry in that same situation similar to what the Teapublicans have done? I honestly don’t believe they would have.

We are politicizing everything these days and everything has become if you will excuse the expression, black or white. As in when you’re on the right, everything that Obama does is black and everything that opposes his actions (or inactions) is white. The same cannot be said of the left who are as likely to criticize the president in many cases as praise him.

I don’t think President Obama should have signed the NDAA of 2014. I think he should have sent it back and reminded Congress that in order for a President to be effective, he needs to be able to act decisively when a situation calls for it. However, once he signed the law he should have adhered to it. While I agree that the safety and well-being of our soldiers takes precedence, the President should be censured nonetheless for failing to give Congress notice that he intended to exchange those five prisoners. Certainly, the administration was aware that the Taliban was insisting on those five; in fact, portions of the story broke in mainstream publications including the Wall Street Journal late last year before negotiations broke down. Congress could have been notified that the potential that these prisoners might be exchanged for an American prisoner of war and that when the exchange took place it would of necessity be without a whole lot of time for notification. That would have satisfied the law and if the President so chose, he could have also mandated that criminal charges be leveled against any member of Congress or their staff who leaked the information to the media as it might endanger the life of the American soldier in captivity.

I also find senators who grandstand about “not receiving information” about the situation and call a press conference to complain about it – while skipping a briefing session designed to give them information in order to call that press conference – reprehensible. I’m looking at you, Senator McCain. And while we’re at it, is there some kind of competition for King of Hypocritical Politicians that you’re trying to win? Because you’ve been contradicting your own statements regarding not only the Bergdahl situation but things like gun violence and the VA scandal as well. Try to remember that the things you say are pretty much recorded non-stop – so rather than parroting the party line, try sticking to your guns. However, in fairness, you have worked with Bernie Sanders in getting a bill written that might actually help veterans so I will give credit where it is due.

Getting back on point however, let’s just remember a few things – the soldier we’re talking about is an American citizen who volunteered to go and serve his country. Whether he was the worst soldier ever or a Medal of Honor winner, his country still owes him a debt and the least we can do is everything in our power to bring him home alive. If Bergdahl violated his oath, if he walked away from his post, let him suffer the consequences of it but let those consequences be determined by a military tribunal, not a politician or political commentator to leave him with the Taliban to rot. That is a distinctly un-American thing to do.

Regurgitations

Regurgitations

There is a Peter Gabriel song called “We Do What We’re Told” which seems to pretty much capture our modern society. Considering all the information we have at our fingertips, we seem more inclined to regurgitate things that other people say rather than do the research to find out if we’re being told the truth.

I will cop to being that way myself. I tend to find my information from Rachel Maddow, Mother Jones and other liberal sources. Once in awhile I’ll drop by a conservative website but generally I find the ones that I’ve been steered to so virulent in their diatribes against the President that you wonder if there really is an element of racism to the complaints. I’m quite sure my liberal friends will find a similar elitist bias going on at the sites I tend to visit; if I am being honest, a lot of liberal sites tend to characterize conservatives as redneck anti-intellectuals who are not only uneducated but distrust anyone who went to college. Strictly speaking, that’s not true. While there are certainly some conservatives who fit that description, there are an awful lot of college-educated conservatives who are pretty sharp thinkers. I’ve heard some things even out of Jim Boehner’s mouth that have given me pause for thought.

Which makes the recent Republican strategy all the more incomprehensible. Shutting down the government and risking defaulting on our bills? We are playing with the possibility of creating an economic crisis that will make the 2008 financial meltdown look like a cherry bomb on an atomic testing range. I understand the hatred of the Affordable Care Act; after all, they’ve attempted to repeal the damn thing more than 40 times. However, holding the entire country hostage essentially until the President and Senate Democrats agree to defund it? Did they honestly think that this kind of strategy would be successful?

Polls show that the popularity of the Republican Party right now is lagging just behind having a root canal without Novocain. It is at the lowest that it’s been since polls began to ask about the popularity of specific political parties, roughly about 40 years ago. Mostly it is the work of Tea Party Republicans who in their reactionary zeal have dragged their entire party near to if not over a precipice. Less radical Republicans like Peter King have called for a vote to end the shutdown and give up on this fool’s errand. Even John McCain has stated that Obamacare is the law of the land and that to attempt to defund it would be fruitless.

There are some pretty smart people on the other side of the aisle – not every thinker is a blue state liberal. I get the sense that now that the Republicans have achieved their aim of shutting down the government, they’re not quite sure what to do next. Some of the things coming out of their mouths tell me that they don’t have a real understanding of just how bad things have gotten and how much worse they’re going to get. Some deny that the debt ceiling will have any effect on our economy at all – a point of view nearly every respectable economist disagrees vehemently with. Some are saying that the country is actually better off without so much government and that they haven’t noticed much of a change.

Of course, we have to remember that these are wealthy people who don’t rely on government programs to feed their children. They aren’t members of the military whose family relies on the paychecks and services that the government issues. They aren’t families of soldiers who have made the supreme sacrifice who aren’t receiving death benefits so that they can go collect the remains of their loved ones and arrange for their funerals. Instead, they prefer to lament about the national parks and monuments that are closed because of their own actions and blaming the whole thing on the President.

The last I heard, nobody put a gun to their heads and asked them to shut it all down. As far as I know, they came up with that pointy-headed little idea all by their lonesome. The least they can do is nut up and take ownership of their actions but instead, alarmed by the poll numbers and seeing their strategy backfire, they’re trying to shift blame like the cowardly weasels that they are. They may well have damaged their own party for years to come; certainly if this ship can’t be righted people are going to be much more critical at the ballot box.

It’s time to stop regurgitating the same old party line and do the right thing. At least keep the lights on while intelligent, meaningful debate on the budget goes on. I get that there are some issues which aren’t resolved and I get that there needs to be negotiation. However, it doesn’t need to be done under the barrel of a gun. Our government has lost the ability to govern responsibly; if we can’t trust our elected officials to do that, what the hell is the point in even having a democracy? Why not find some tin can dictator who may be despotic but at least will keep the government running efficiently? Of course I’m exaggerating but our democracy is plainly broken. Fixing it is going to take more than repeating memes that while sounding good in sound bytes do little to fix the fundamental problems that need serious attention from the governing bodies of this nation.

Defending the President

Taking potshots at the president is as American as fast food franchising. Regardless of the party of the Commander-in-Chief, whoever is in office can be assured that those on the opposite side of the aisle are going to find fault with whatever he does, no matter how beneficial it may be. The only exception is in cases of national tragedy, when solidarity is the word of the day – and the politically astute thing to do.

After all, the office of President is fundamentally a political office, although in many ways, it is becoming more and more of a business than an office. Think about it; another way of referring to the president is as the Chief Executive. In every way, the president is the CEO of America, Incorporated.

I am all for criticizing the actions and policies of the president; in fact, it is one of the basic rights of this country, one which separates us from a lot of other countries on this rock where criticism of the person in charge can land you in a very nasty prison cell for a very long time. Here, that kind of thing can get you a talk show on Fox News.

As far as our sitting president is concerned, I am not fully satisfied with the job he’s done. I truly believe that he has compromised too much and tried to win friends on both sides of the aisle. He’s bent over backwards to try to give concessions to the conservatives, who have responded basically by blockading all of the legislation he wants enacted.

The president’s job is not to please the other side of the fence; his job is to get things done, to make the country a better place for its citizens. How he goes about doing that as well as his definition of a better place has more to do with his political philosophy – that’s what we vote on. It’s also what we expect him to act on once he gets elected, and my main criticism of President Obama is that he hasn’t gotten the job done on really anything; yes, some groundbreaking legislation has been passed but the reality is that the healthcare plan he put in is a mishmash of compromise and concession that pleases nobody fully, although it is better than nothing. I didn’t vote for him to give us better than nothing.

Likewise, the economy remains in shambles. His jobs bill has helped but he obviously has a long ways to go; people are still hurting. The economy needs stimulation, and the best way to do that is to promote new technologies. Alternative renewable fuel sources and environmentally friendly products would seem to be the way to go right now; incentive programs for businesses and universities to research and develop these things should be a major priority.

I do like some of the things he has done; I believe ending the combat mission in Iraq is the right thing to do at this time. We have been there long enough and further military presence there seems to me to be non-productive. It is time for the Iraqi government to stand on its own two feet and begin the business of being their own country; not that we shouldn’t render them the assistance they need in terms of resources or manpower to restore their infrastructure, but I think that the Iraqis need to be on their own to develop their nation the way they see fit. It’s like a teenager having their parents looking over their shoulder; they act differently when we’re around than they do on their own.

I also agree that the commercialization of space should be the way to go rather than funneling everything through NASA. NASA should be all about exploration and science; getting business up there will further stimulate the economy and give us new products, new technologies and most importantly, new jobs. I’m hoping within the next quarter century we’ll start seeing significant commercial presence in space, from manufacturing facilities to research and development labs to hotels for tourists.

So I guess it’s fair to say that my opinion of President Obama’s performance so far is mixed at best. However, I must say that my blood boils when I read posts from people talking about him being a Muslim as if that should disqualify him from the presidency. That kind of thing is just American ignorance. Folks, let’s get one thing straight – the people who want to tear this country down are the entire Islamic faith, just a few hotheaded extremists. There are plenty of Muslims on this planet who are believers in peace and prosperity for all. Not everyone who believes in the Koran wants to put women behind veils and party like it’s 999.

There are people who talk about the deficit like it is entirely the doing of Barack Obama. Once again, these are people who apparently slept through the Bush presidency (the second one). George W. Bush had a major surplus when he came into office; when he left we were nearly $6 trillion in debt according to the Office of Management and Budget. Ahhh, some conservative political pundits might say, but in Obama’s first year of office alone the debt soared to $7.5 trillion and is expect to near $10 trillion this year.

Let’s understand a few things about that debt. One of the biggest contributory factors to the debt was the war in Iraq. It was the largest single expenditure that the government was making. Let’s not even get into the spurious reasons that we got into that war in the first place, the phantom WMD and the excuse for Big Oil to raise their prices through the roof; that was a war that Obama opposed and that Bush initiated. That aspect of the debt is all Bush’s, even that which was spent during the Obama presidency. Many of the bail-out programs that also contributed significantly to the debt were initiated by the Bush presidency as well.

Of course, Obama could have acted earlier to stymie both of those hemorrhagic costs, but he didn’t and so spending went through the roof. Now, he has a healthcare system which is due to take effect in 2014 that will be a major expense; however, I put it to you that I’d rather spend money saving lives rather than taking them. I’m kind of funny that way though.

Some people are downright psychotic when it comes to Obama, on both sides of the fence; Obamanauts who think he can do no wrong, and their opposition who think he can do no right. The truth is somewhere in the middle; he has done some good things, some not so good things but in the end I tend to support his viewpoints more than I did Bush’s which I thought were ruinous to the economy and tarnished our image around the world. Can we ever take the moral high ground again after we willfully tortured prisoners from Iraq? That didn’t happen under Obama’s watch, my friends.

There is certainly some who are judging the current President based on the color of his skin. I don’t think disagreeing with President Obama makes you a racist; however, it can also be said that some of those who disagree with the President are racists. In fact, there is no doubt about it; the vitriol of the hatred directed at him indicates to me that these people are the same sorts who in years past would have worn a hood and burned crosses. Maybe some of them still do.

But I wouldn’t tar everyone with that same brush. Some Obama-haters do so because they really think his policies are ruining this country and turning us into a socialist state. Frankly, I think that after years of rampant capitalism to the point of abusiveness, we could use a little socialism to balance out the big business gone wild kind of atmosphere we have now. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the individual citizen who needs protection from the excesses of corporate greed that helped start the economic meltdown in the first place. My problem with Obama is I’m not sure he’s been the protector of the citizen I would like him to be; big business needs to be reined in and regulated since they have proven beyond any doubt that they cannot regulate themselves, and the President hasn’t shown any signs that he’s willing to do that. If he doesn’t, conditions will pretty much continue the way they are indefinitely.

To think that Obama is in some sort of conspiracy to destroy America is absolutely ludicrous and absurd. There is absolutely no evidence of that other than the sorry manufactured factoids that rightist bloggers and pundits have formulated, scare tactics to alarm those who are looking for an excuse to find fault. I wonder if we had elected a white president with the exact same policies would we be hearing the same types of things. Probably to an extent we would – as I said, taking shots at the President is an American tradition, but I bet that there would be no Hitler comparisons on billboards if he were white. That’s just disrespectful, not just to the man but to the office. At least let’s agree that if you don’t like the man, you respect the office and act accordingly.

Bits and Pieces 2

This week, in honor of Larry King’s announced retirement I thought I’d do a different kind of blog; rather than a single topic, just a collection of random thoughts, observations and complaints. Okay, mostly complaints.

Is it just me or do the cars with the loudest engine noises tend to have the worst drivers? Is there some kind of relationship between mufflers and driving skills? Or is it just that people who can be counted upon to make bad decisions behind the wheel are required to announce their presence to the world by gunning their engines? Personally, I think that if a driver gets enough traffic tickets, their cars should be outfitted with a special light or buzzer that informs the rest of us that a bad driver is approaching so we can take the proper precautions.

While we’re on the subject of driving, what is the deal with rap music? I get that those who are really into the music love to “feel” the bass line but I personally get tired of sitting at a red light minding my own business listening to my own music suddenly having it drowned out by some a-hole who pulls up to the light in a Z28 or some other crap car with rap blaring from speakers that are probably more expensive than the vehicle they’re driving. I think it should be legal to take a baseball bat to their speaker system and to the driver as well. Of course, that’s a bit extreme I know; perhaps it would be more humane to weld headphones to their ears that play a constant stream of Henry Mancini and Perry Como so that they can get an idea of what it’s like to be forced to listen to music you can’t stand.

I love stand-up comedy. I honestly do. I’m not so fond of going to stand-up shows. Not because of the comics – they’re doing what they do best. It’s because of the idiots who go to the shows and think they’re as funny as the guys and gals onstage. Newsflash – you’re not. Shut the hell up. And while you’re at it, don’t try to be funny after the show either; you got no game. To the rest of you, you’re welcome.

So now they’re making 3D televisions, and apparently this is the next serious thing in home entertainment. Having a plain old television isn’t enough anymore; first you had to have HD because apparently the difference in clarity was sooooooooo pronounced – NOT! Then we had to get Blu-Ray instead of DVD because the picture and sound are sooooooooo much better. Now, we have to have 3D because that makes the experience so much more realistic. Does anybody really need to see “Two and a Half Men” in 3D? I mean, I like Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen as much as the next guy, but do I really need a third dimension to really appreciate them? Two dimensions aren’t enough for us anymore?

I used to think Roger Ebert was a bit of a curmudgeon because he constantly railed that 3D is unnecessary in films and even though the technology is better, it remains more of a gimmick than an intrinsic part of the storytelling process. I have repented, however, and publically apologize for doubting you Roger. I should have trusted you. We have become such sheep that we will pay an extra $3-$6 per ticket in order to add that lovely third dimension that in most cases don’t do anything for the story or the experience. The studios and the theater owners rake in the cash and we fork it over without a word. I wonder sometimes if some alien farmer showed up to harvest us for food in some sort of “Twilight Zone” alternative reality if we wouldn’t just meekly walk into the slaughter house because we were told to do it. I know theater owners wring their hands and complain about the cost of updating their facilities with digital projection equipment and the 3D equipment, and the cost of purchasing those lovely, stylish 3D glasses which after paying extra to see the movie we don’t even get to keep. Baaaaa.

It’s not just the theater owners and studios who are doing this to us. Have you noticed we’re being nickeled and dimed on every little thing these days? Everything we do, we get charged for the privilege of doing it. We purchase airline tickets for ourselves and now, we have to purchase them for our bags as well. If you want to use your credit card or debit card to pay for gasoline, why that’s two to five cents per gallon extra because, after all, taking your money costs. The list goes on and on.

 I blame this way of thinking on banks. For years, the banks have charged us for every little thing we do. Want to withdraw your money? There’s a fee. Want to transfer your money to another account? There’s a fee. Want to purchase money orders with your cash? There’s a fee. Want to convert your money into a different currency? There’s a fee. Want to pay your mortgage early? There’s a fee. Want to pay it late? There’s a fee. Want your transaction to be handled by a teller? There’s a fee. Want to do your transaction at an ATM? There’s a fee. Want to do it over the phone? Fee. Want to do it over the internet? Fee. Want to think about your money? Fee. Fee. Fee. Fee. Fee.

It’s time to take back our lives. I have a modest proposal and President Obama; I’m talkin’ to you now. Let us enact a new Consumer Reciprocation law. Basically my idea is along the lines of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander; any policy enacted by a retail institution, financial institution or any sort of business that interacts with a consumer must also be reciprocal. If a bank charges a consumer fees for them to withdraw their cash, the consumer should be able to charge the bank for holding it, and I’m not talking about interest. If a doctor charges a patient a cancellation fee for changing an appointment, the patient should be able to charge the doctor if that doctor keeps them waiting more than half an hour for their appointment. If an airline charges a passenger a fee for their bags, that passenger should be able to charge the airline a fee for misplacing that bag. It seems only fair.

Any business that charges a late fee for payments should then be charged a late fee when they don’t process refunds in a timely manner. Don’t you get tired of doing business with companies that charge you late fees if your payment is a week late, but then tell you that the refund they owe you will take six to eight weeks to process? Me, I think businesses should be held accountable to the same standards they hold their customers to.

The same thing applies to governments. If I have to jump through hoops to get a permit to open a business or remodel my home, then the government should have to jump through hoops to get my tax money. You want my taxes? I’m sorry, you’ll need to fill out Form 854-A in triplicate, then send it to my business office. After that, there will be a 30 day waiting period while I do absolutely nothing, after which time I will deny your request out of hand. At that point, to appeal you’ll have to fill out forms 631-ZZZ, 282-4/Y, 4,802,396-QZR and form 65,266,945,782,389,631,442-XFVR/Y-@91!3 in blood on a Tuesday and submit them while standing on one leg in the front of my home so I can laugh at them, at which point I’ll set it aside for three years until suddenly sending them their check without explanation.

Finally, on a more serious note, what is all the big deal about gay marriage? Why are so many people so passionately against it? The most common explanation I hear on the subject is that a marriage exists as a commitment between two people whose goal is to raise a family. Now, I don’t have a problem with that if there’s a standardized definition of a marriage as an institution whose purpose is to nurture children and create a home. However, there are a lot of gay couples who want to do just that. There are also plenty of heterosexual couples who don’t want children at all.

So if we define marriage strictly as a means of creating and raising children, should couples who choose a lifestyle that doesn’t involve children be allowed to marry and receive the same tax benefits as those who choose to have a family? And then shouldn’t same sex couples who meet the same criteria of a heterosexual marriage reap the same benefits?

It boils down to prejudice, folks, plain and simple. The people who say that gays are second class citizens and shouldn’t be afforded the rights that straight people get are the same sorts who thought that African-Americans shouldn’t get to vote or attend the same schools as white people. Denying same sex marriage is tantamount to the state telling an individual who they are allowed to love, who they are allowed to make decisions for them when they are incapacitated and who is allowed to inherit their estate when they die. It’s unconstitutional, plain and simple and for those who believe same sex marriages should be disallowed on moral grounds, for one thing I’ve known same-sex couples who have FAR more morality than a lot of heterosexual couples and secondly, the last I heard there was a separation between church and state in this country so check your goddamn religious beliefs at the door of the state house.

It’s also hypocritical to my mind for someone who follows Christian philosophy that at its core teaches us to love one another to spew such hatred and venom to people who only want to love who they want to love. Sure, I get irritated when I see a raging queen on a TV reality show acting catty – for one thing, I hate perpetuating stereotypes but also I find that behavior in straight women just as irritating as in gay men – but by the same token I get far more irritated when I see a self-righteous jerk telling me that the raging queen is a lesser person because he doesn’t conform to Christian religious morality.

Screw that – I believe that we show compassion to EVERYBODY regardless of their beliefs or their lifestyle. That’s what Catholic education taught me, that we are all of us God’s children, owed the same respect as we would want to be treated with ourselves. If a right doesn’t extend to everybody, it is meaningless. It is time we give up our prejudices, lift our ape knuckles from dragging on the ground and evolve.

Bread and Circuses

As a species, humans tend to be easily distracted. This isn’t a new fact; even the ancient Romans knew that if you gave the people bread and circuses, they would pretty much be satisfied with anything, no matter how despotic.

We are in much the same boat today my friends, except we’re getting Big Macs and digital entertainment. Our lives have been made so easy with gadgets and devices mean to give us instant gratification that we have become complacent and lazy. In the meantime, we have abrogated our rights to special interests, corporate lobbyists and other unscrupulous sorts.

From time to time we’re aroused from our stupor, particularly when our pocketbooks are impacted. Taxes go up? We take notice. The economy takes a header? We demand change. Yet we sit idly by while the financial institutions that we entrust our money to act irresponsibly in the name of chasing profits, while our climate is done irreparable harm and while our rights are eroded with legislation that on the surface is meant to “protect us.”

Most of us probably couldn’t name our congresspersons or local representatives. Only a very few of us are probably more than peripherally aware of their voting records. Fewer still are aware of any legislation out there other than the most controversial bills. A surprising number of the people who live in the United States are more than generally aware of how their government works.

It’s understandable why we got to the place we are. We have to work harder and harder to make ends meet; it takes energy and commitment to keep up with politics and the things that affect us. Energy and commitment are largely limited to young people, which is why the vast majority of political activists are under 40. After all, you can’t feed your family on a volunteer’s salary.

At one time, the newspapers (and to a certain extent radio, newsreels and television) were watchdogs on Washington and our local state capitals (and Ottawa and our local provincial capitals – insert your nation here). As the media has largely become corporate-owned, the media began to swing more in the direction of protecting corporate interests. Today it’s very rare for the mainstream media to do any investigation into things that don’t sell advertising.

The Internet is, in many ways, the last great hope for keeping the citizenry informed but unfortunately it has devolved into something of a shouting match where people on both sides of the aisle promulgate dubious facts which eventually begin getting circulation as gospel truth. How many people actually believed that Obama’s Health Care Reform would include death panels whose only job was to weed out the elderly?

Our political knowledge tends to be informed by 60-second soundbites we see on CNN or in political ads. Conservatives worship at the altar of Sarah Palin and her teabagging cronies; Liberals get their marching orders from Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. It’s like nobody has a mind of their own anymore.

And yet we all have our own causes. Some of us are passionate about animal cruelty; others are pro-life to the core. Some people are big supporters of gay marriage while others think that our borders should be protected more vigorously. Left, right and center, we all have opinions on things that matter to us.

We rarely do anything about them however, beyond voting on bills that support or threaten those causes near and dear to us and even that only when we feel motivated to. Until 2008, more people voted for the American Idol than for the American President in any given election year. Somewhere along the line, our priorities went haywire.

That’s because it’s far easier on our psyches to spend our energy on things that don’t require much thought. Thinking is really hard work. It’s much easier to navigate the headwaters of celebrity gossip rather than the often conflicting arguments behind financial reform. It’s easier to have our opinions handed to us rather than to formulate one of our own; if your family has always voted for one political party, you’re going to tend to believe in the precepts that party espouses.

I was like that too. My father was a staunch Republican and so was I, for quite awhile. However, there was always a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that I was fighting for the wrong team, and after my father passed away I did some soul searching and figured out that what I really felt strongly about were of a more liberal nature than the Republicans believed in. For the longest time, my political philosophy had been not to argue with my Dad, which was a shocker to someone who had always thought of himself as relatively intelligent. Like most human beings, I was prone to dancing to the tune that was being played for me.

At one point, it became obvious that following the herd was not as preferable as following my heart, so I broke with my dad’s beliefs and followed my own. We all do that to a certain extent – how many times have you said to yourself “I am not my parents”? – But we usually do that when we’re young. It’s much harder as we get older to change our way of thinking, particularly if it’s the way we’ve done things since we were young. Once you’re comfortable in your own skin, changing it is a tall order.

But you can teach an old dog new tricks, contrary to belief. Change is a matter of will, and we all have at least a dollop of willpower. It comes down to how badly we want things to change, and how willing we are to make that change happen, for change often involves sacrifice.

Sacrifice is sorely missing from our lives, the willingness to give up something we want for the betterment of others. My parent’s generation had it. My grandparent’s generation had it. Even the Flower Power generation had it. Somewhere between Woodstock and Live-Aid we lost that crucial element of our make-up. We’re far too busy texting and playing Mafia Wars on Facebook to take a look at the things that truly affect our lives. We act as if we’re living in a hotel, and whatever mess we make will be cleaned up by the housekeeping service.

Except it is our children who will have to be housekeepers and the mess we’re making may soon become too much for anyone to clean up. We have a responsibility to our kids – even if we don’t have any yet – to be caretakers for our planet and our society. I’m very anxious that the freedoms that I have always taken for granted be passed on to my son and his children someday; there’s a very real possibility that he won’t have the same rights and privileges that his mom and I have now.

We have to get off of the couch and switch off the television. We need to step away from the laptop and turn off our cell phones. We need to open our eyes and look around us. We have been seduced by bread and circuses. The trouble with that is that it only worked for a short while in Rome, and then Rome fell. I don’t want my children or grandchildren to see our civilization fall as well.

Money Talks

What motivates us? What inspires us to get out of bed in the morning and begin our day? It can be a lot of things. Some of us look forward to each and every day for the challenges and joys that they bring. Some of us have someone in our lives that we can’t wait to wake up and be with.

For many however the thing that motivates us more than any single factor is…money. That’s right, filthy lucre, the root of all evil. We have become in so many ways a society enslaved by money. The gain of it has become the be-all and end-all for many corporate entities; it is what prompts them to bypass ethics and morality and go straight on into greed.

Our current global economic crisis was precipitated by the greed of financial institutions, mainly banks that put the short term gains of lucrative fees over the long-term health of the society that they serve. And make no mistake; even though I’m stating this fact in terms of “institutions” and “banks,” these decisions were not made by machines or impressive facades, but by people. People just like you and I, who get up in the morning, make themselves a cup of coffee and ponder how they are going to bring more revenue into their corporate coffers and by doing so, incur larger bonuses and perhaps advancement in the executive structure.,

There is no doubt that banks and financial institutions have lost their moral compass. Mortgage lenders who are supposed to be assisting homeowners who are in need of it are not only dragging their heels (claiming that their phone lines are being “swamped” by people looking to save money on their mortgage who don’t really need the help as an excuse) but in some cases, turning down those who have applied for re-modifications that are desperate to save their homes and are qualified under federal guidelines for the program. Keep in mind, this isn’t even their money folks; this is money they received from the federal government for the purpose of slowing down the runaway freight train of foreclosures that is sweeping the land.

Beginning during the Reagan presidency and continuing through the presidencies since then, regulations governing the behavior of banks and other financial institutions have quietly been struck down or rendered irrelevant. The results have been that banks have been free to pursue greater profits at the expense of their clientele.

I have always believed that financial institutions are there to provide a service; not only to safeguard our savings but to be a means of doing commerce; a means for us to make purchases, pay bills and so on. For these services, the banks made money on fees, charges and penalties. In post-Depression America, that always seemed to be enough. Banks thrived, made plenty of profit and grew accordingly.

However, it apparently wasn’t enough. Lobbyists for the banking industry were successful in getting Reagan and his Republican congress to strike down banking regulations that kept banks from certain practices that have become commonplace in the 21st century. Smaller banks, attempting to make inroads into their communities have been gobbled up by larger banks.  Mergers and acquisitions have reduced the number of viable banking choices to a very few; Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, to name a few, have swallowed up entities like Nations Bank, Washington Mutual and hundreds of regional banks. Merrill Lynch, the largest stockbroker in America, is owned by Bank of America. That simply sends chills up my spine.

It isn’t in the best interests of the people of America for the banks to control so much of the economy, and there is nothing to keep the bankers from doing just that. Without further regulation, the banks will be free to continue gobbling up the competition until there are only a few international superbanks remaining, controlling nearly every aspect of our lives, entities so powerful that no government on earth can withstand them.

Sound Orwellian? It’s a reality that is coming to pass, folks. The good news is that it hasn’t happened yet and there is still time to make sure it doesn’t.

We need to start holding our politicians accountable. Our votes are valuable commodities; it is time we started leveraging them in our favor. Write your congressman and urge them to author legislation that reinstates the protections that once kept greedy banks in check. Urge President Obama to lead the charge in this regard. Tell him it is time for him to back up his promises and bring America back from the brink.

Jobs are a good thing in and of themselves, but creating millions of new jobs may get the economy stimulated short-term but that won’t stave up economic ruin long-term. We have to hold corporate America accountable. Business has a responsibility to its shareholders to maximize their return on their investments; after all, that’s how businesses attract investors. However, they also have a responsibility to insure that their long-term investments are viable. If nobody can afford to buy anything because their money is tied up in mortgages with obscene interest rates and paying off credit cards with obscene interest rates (notice a theme here?), the economy collapses.

Greed is, in fact, not good. Greed is bad. Greed causes us to inflict harm on others for our own benefit. That’s the definition of immorality in my book, and there is far too much of it.

The greed doesn’t stop at the corporate level, though. There is an awful lot of it at the consumer level as well. Many of our own decisions are based on economic self-interest. If there is an issue that involves the raising of taxes, we’re against it. Our education system has been slashed to the bone because we won’t pay for it. So many of our citizenry have taken the attitude that if they don’t have children (or if their children are grown), they shouldn’t have to pay for schools.

You get what you pay for folks, and what we’ve paid for is a woefully inadequate educational system that falls further and further behind the rest of the world with each passing year. Education is an investment that insures the continued prosperity of our country and if we’re going to continue to compete with the rest of the world in technology, in culture and in economics, we are going to have to make that investment a priority. While I agree throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it per se, we need to become more involved in our educational process. We need to demand excellence from our public schools and give them the ability to purchase the tools needed to achieve it. We need to promote education with our young people and while you can’t make education compete with the allure of a good videogame or an online chat room, we can at least make it less of a chore by exploring alternative learning methods.

We are at a crossroads in history and our generation will be judged by what we do next. We can continue to do what we’re doing – taking the easy way out, numbing ourselves to the issues that are now so overwhelming we can’t ignore their presence – or we can take action. We need to make demands of our political system that they are forced to respond to. Those politicians who continue to act against the interest of the American people and the future of the American nation in favor of short term financial gain should be voted out of office. Examples need to be made.

It is time to kick butt and name names. We have an obligation to our children and their children to take back control of our lives and turn away from our own greed. We need to embrace higher ethical standards; to do what is right rather than what is easy, to embrace what is beneficial to the larger picture over what is beneficial to ourselves. It is time to demand accountability of our institutions, political, educational and business. We deserve it, but only if we’re willing to get off our behinds and make it happen. If we don’t, we deserve the consequences of our own shortsightedness.