Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Justice Denied

Yesterday a grand jury failed to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of the unarmed Michael Brown.

If you haven’t kept up with the myriad accounts of the incident in the media and you’re unsure whether justice was served, I can help you understand the problem with this decision in one brief statement:

Anne Coulter, Ted Nugent and Laura Ingraham enthusiastically endorse the outcome.

The end.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Is the key to a Democratic resurgence in repackaging our arguments or simply having the courage to make them in the first place?

There’s a lengthy interview in today’s Salon with a writer and intellectual I admire, George Lakoff. The title of the article is, “Progressives need to frame their values.” In the piece, Lakoff argues that progressives have to learn how to tie truths to values; to frame their arguments so that they better connect with voters’ values. It’s something that conservatives almost instinctively know how to do, but on the left end of the spectrum, we tend to offer laundry lists of intellectual solutions that are not connected to the voter’s values. Progressives need to do a better job of framing their political language to appeal to people’s deep-seated beliefs.

As someone who has worked in marketing most of my life, I do understand the importance of “framing” your appeals to consumers. You have to understand your audience and make your argument relevant to them. Where I work now, we are all about “behavioral economics,” and how to truly engage consumers to the point that they are not merely purchasers of your product, but brand advocates who champion your brand.

So I don’t necessarily disagree with Lakoff’s arguments about framing, but my question is this — Is the issue really about “framing” an argument correctly or is it about conveying progressive ideals, which are inherently about values, openly, enthusiastically and without apology, something too few Democratic candidates seem willing to do? Lakoff admires Elizabeth Warren and her ability to convey the values behind her progressive policies, but is Warren framing her argument or simply espousing progressive ideas clearly and confidently?

In other words, is the core problem for Democrats a marketing issue or more simply about finding their political courage? Again, I look at Al Franken’s recent campaign. Franken is a liberal, but during his tenure in the Senate, he has emphasized his work for Minnesotans and the value he’s brought to the state. In other words, he rarely gets on a soapbox to simply espouse liberal causes, but tends to link them with the needs of Minnesotans, and that has won him two elections. His Republican opponent used all of the “framing” arguments in the conservative playbook against Franken, but they didn’t work.

I am hoping that after the mid-term debacle, Democrats will stop reflexively running to the center, and begin to take their lessons from Warren and Franken and Sanders and other proud progressives. It’s important to understand “framing,” but I think success will really be achieved when Democrats find the courage to speak from their hearts and proudly convey their progressive beliefs and how those beliefs can help this country be far more successful and prosperous than it is today.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Too big to fail is an ugly reality

For anyone who still doesn’t think the economy is rigged against the common American citizen, statements by William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, should put your doubts to rest. During a recent grilling by the Senate Banking Committee, the top economic dog admitted openly and unambiguously that the Fed did not go after big banks it knew had committed crimes because they feared it would lead to economic instability. Too big to fail is not a loony conspiracy theory but a hard, cold reality.

Of course, Dudley says that the Fed has “gotten past that,” but why should anyone believe him? The very financial institutions that the Fed is supposed to oversee play a large roll in who gets on the regional Fed boards. It’s a very cozy and incestuous relationship that for all intensive purposes is the banks regulating themselves. For their part, Democratic Senators sounded tough in the committee meeting, but only time will tell if their actions match their rhetoric.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Santafication of Christmas

As the Christmas season quickly approaches (well, at Costco it’s been the holiday buying season since September) there seems to be a new trend among super Christians to stop fighting and start merging. For most Christians, Christmas is a nominally religious holiday where friends and family get together, exchange gifts and share a feast. There might be a yearly trip to church, but the emphasis is on gift-giving, gatherings, kids and the magic of Santa.

Uber Christians have always been conflicted by Christmas and have been fighting for decades to put the emphasis more on the birth of Christ than Mr. Claus, but this is corporate America, and it’s been pretty much a losing battle. So the Christ cult leaders are changing tactics. Instead of berating the materialistic aspects of the holiday, they are working hard to find religious justifications for the fun side of the holiday. I call it the Santafication of Christmas.

All of this may have actually begun with Bill O’Reilly’s War on Christmas tirades that have been going on for the past few years. It’s Merry Christmas, Goddamnit, not Happy Holidays. There is no war on Christmas, the Fortune 500 would never allow it, but it may have nonetheless been the spark that lit a fire under Kirk Cameron and Glenn Beck.

Cameron released a movie recently called “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas.” Beyond the egomaniacal title is his lonely battle to save the true spirit of Christmas and, at the same time, keep the fun stuff. At a family Christmas gathering, Kirk is confronted with a bah-humbug brother-in-law and proceeds to “save” Christmas with ludicrous historical inaccuracies surrounding Christmas traditions so that somehow, it’s all about Christ again. It probably goes without saying that movie critics have given it a universal thumbs down and it’s at rock bottom on Rotten Tomatoes and still falling.

Where Cameron’s effort is pretty straightforward, Glenn Beck takes the Christmas train into Crazyland. Beck’s movie company is releasing a film called The Immortal. Now bear with me here. In the movie, “Santa” is a conflicted superhero/hunter/warrior who is immortal, lives to see Jesus crucified, is converted by the Sermon on the Mount, serves as a bodyguard for Jesus, then, a thousand years or so later, befriends and mentors a kid named St. Nicholas.

That’s a lot of insanity to absorb, so I’ll give you a minute…. The Santafication of Christmas is essentially an attempt by Super Christians to have their cake and eat it too. They’ve had to concede that Christmas is just too darn fun and economically important to stop, so they are now putting their efforts into merging Jesus and Santa together into one holly Jolly messiah.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ignorance, nationalism and greed have broken America

Sometimes it’s hard to take reality seriously. We live in the computer age where just about anything you might want to know is only a few keystrokes away.  We’ve harnessed human knowledge and wisdom in a small machine and you can tap into it any time you want. Despite this, despite having all of the information we need to make informed decisions, we still have people governing us who live in the Dark Ages when science was black magic and it was believed God controlled people like pieces on a chess board.

Instead of honoring and elevating intelligence, our current crop of leaders shun it, deny it and run from it to hide in the warm buxom of their corporate masters. How can any country last when its leaders celebrate superstition and rule under the illusion that their magic is more powerful than science? They think God has blessed them and their ambition, when in reality these true believers are merely useful idiots for the elites who are willing to buy them a seat in Congress as long as they toe the company line.

Their faith doesn’t inform their lives. It’s just the opposite. They’ve cobbled together a set of beliefs that justify lying, cheating and stealing under the guise of doing God’s work.  They don’t answer to God or the American people. They answer to the Fortune 500 CEOs and greed-blinded billionaires who have become so twisted and perverted by money they are willing to leave their children a poisoned, dying planet. The only thing our leaders are highly skillful at is spewing platitudes and code words that draw ignorant, angry white voters to the polls like flies to dog crap every two years.

We will fall as a country under the weight of our willful ignorance, blinding nationalism and tolerance of greed. History tells us over and over again that any country that extols superstition over science, that allows its wealthiest citizens to control the government, that believes perpetual war is the optimal state, cannot survive. Our empire is already crumbling and, without real change, collapse is immanent.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our war on terror is the definition of insanity

In the “Tell-me-something-I-don’t-know” category, the title of today’s Washington Post Wonkblog piece is, “After 13 years, 2 wars and trillions in military spending, terrorist attacks are rising sharply.”

Research findings from the Institute of Economics and Peace demonstrate clearly that our war on terror, just like our war on drugs, is not only failing in its primary mission, it is exacerbating the problem. Every bomb we drop, every soldier we send to the Middle East, every puppet dictator we support breeds new militants. Our actions are making the world less safe than it was before 9/11.

Let’s take a look at what we have to show for all of our efforts to stamp out terrorism: A significant increase in terrorist activity worldwide since 2000, a politically destabilized Middle East, the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, trillions of dollars sucked into a black hole, a national surveillance state that is out of control, a drastic rise in the number of Middle Eastern refugees, and a diminished standing in the eyes of the rest of the world. Check, check and check.

So, of course, Obama wants to double the number of troops that are now on the ground in Iraq.

(Forehead slap)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Americans don’t have a clue about income inequality

There’s an interesting and disturbing article in today’s Salon on income inequality in America. A recent study found that the United States has by far the largest gap in income inequality in the developed world. The current gap in this country between what CEOs make as compared to the average pay of workers in their factories is a whopping 354 to 1. To provide some perspective, in 1965, the gap between CEO pay and workers was 20 to 1. On the list of developed countries, the second country below America is Switzerland, with a gap of 145 to 1. The pay gap in the United Kingdom is 84 to 1.

The article points out how clueless Americans are when it comes to income inequality in this country. The survey asked people what they thought the actual wage gap was, and the answers averaged out to 36 to 1, and this was across ages, demographics and political affiliation. When asked what they thought the gap should be, respondents said about 7 to 1. How is it we have such a poor understanding of the wage gap and income inequality in this country?

The author points out a number of reasons for our rose-colored view of income inequality, including the lingering belief among Baby Boomers that we’re still living in the Post-WWII boom, the reluctance of Republicans and Democrats to address the issue and the Ayn Rand/Tea Party propaganda that those at the bottom of the economic ladder are lazy and not working hard enough.

The one culprit the article leaves out is the corporate mainstream press. Is it in the economic interests of the small cabal of media giants to make an issue out of income inequality? Absolutely not. Scaring consumers with stories about how much more their bosses make than they do could lead to all kinds of unfortunate circumstances, like people saving more and using credit cards less; letters to representatives demanding more income equality; citizens actually marching in the streets demanding things. The horror! FOX News is only the most vocal corporate shill, but it is by no means alone.

Breaking down existing beliefs about income inequality will be difficult, but necessary. If nothing is done, our ruinous trend will continue to push the 99 percent down and lift the .01 percent up and further enhance the political power they already enjoy.