Monday, September 26, 2016

Tonight’s Debate Is A Clash Between Concepts of Reality, Not Merely Ideology

On the morning of the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, my overburdened in-box is filled with subject lines like, “Nate Silver says it’s a dead heat,” and “Hillary’s losing.” Behind all of the hyperbolic fear mongering is the never-ending quest for donations, but back in the real world, the race is far, far closer than it should be. I don’t doubt for a second that Hillary is sitting backstage somewhere or on a plane wondering for the millionth time why she isn’t fifty points ahead of Trump in the polls. We should all be wondering that.

A portion of the blame goes to the corporate media. If the presidential race isn’t a close one, viewers will become bored and tune out, so it’s in their best interests to continuously sell the drama of a neck and neck competition. A second issue is the successful demonization of the Clintons, and especially Hillary, among the right wing media over the past twenty-five years. They’ve accused her of every crime from witchcraft to murder and in the echo chamber of the wing-nut nation if a Clinton is involved, it has to be true.

Most discouraging of all, however, is that there exists in this country of public education, twenty-four seven news and the vast information resources of the Internet such a large group of voters who are unable to discern fact from fiction, reality from ideology. I’ve watched interviews with Trump supporters and while they’re often intended to be humorous, it strikes me as tragic that adults in America in 2016 would lack the basic, almost childish, intellectual skills needed to see that Donald Trump is completely unfit to be President of the United States.

I’d like to think that the debates will be a game-changer, that Hillary will decimate the woefully inept Trump and put his ignorance on display for all to see, but we know that won’t be the case. Trump could stand at his podium and not say a word for an hour and his supporters would declare him the winner. If he walked over and punched Hillary in the nose, his people would anoint him a god. The Clinton/Trump battle isn’t a competition between two ideologies, it is a fight between two versions of reality.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Don't Rent Apartment 118

I've posted a new short scary story called Apartment 118. If you think your neighbors are odd, check out Cliff's story at "Two-Minute Tales of Terror."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Politician Finally Stands Up And Fights For The Majority of Americans

For all of the failings of our politicians in Washington, D.C. over the years, I just finished watching a video of Senator Elizabeth Warren grilling Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, and for one brief shining moment, I have to stand and applaud a member of Congress for actually doing the job for which she was elected. Like a bird watcher catching a glimpse of an extremely rare New Caledonian Owlet, I witnessed a Senator calling one of the most powerful bankers in America to accountability for not stopping employees from opening bogus credit card and bank accounts costing unaware customers millions of dollars. It was a beautiful and uplifting sight to see Stumpf try and explain why 5,300 low-level employees were fired over the scam, while top executives, including Stumpf, continued to receive salaries and bonuses worth tens of millions of dollars.

At the basis of the Wells Fargo fiasco is the concept of “cross-selling.” Not something new, cross-selling is a long-practiced technique of getting customers who bought one thing from you interested in buying something else. A recent experience of mine serves as an example. I walk daily and needed a new pair of walking shoes. I went to a nearby upscale running store (my mistake) to get a good quality product. I did find a pair of shoes that worked for me, but while I was there, two employees worked on me constantly, trying to cross-sell me expensive socks, an additional pair of shoes, a VIP membership and on and on. In the banking world, cross-selling involves selling customers additional accounts beyond a checking and savings account. Wells Fargo was giving its employees bonuses for cross-selling accounts, which as it turns out, got completely out of hand.

Why the emphasis on cross-selling? Selling more accounts to customers helped the bank profit each year, and this pleased the bank’s board and shareholders, who then rewarded CEO Stumpf and others at the top of the food chain with salary increases and huge bonuses. So customers became a means to an end. No one involved in the scheme cared whether the customer needed another account or credit card, it was all a matter of numbers. Sell more, get more. And this is, of course, the major flaw of capitalism itself.

Capitalism has no moral imperative. It is an economic system driven by one thing and one thing only, profits. If you run a business, you either make a profit or you go under. As a business owner, you must do whatever you need to do to keep your company profitable, weather that means massive layoffs, moving your business overseas or selling customers things they don’t need. There is no room in the capitalist system for mercy, kindness or generosity when the bottom line is in danger. Sure, you’ve probably read an article here and there of the employer who did this nice thing for his employees, but these people are the exception by far, and not the rule. Capitalism is a system that rewards greed, especially at the top, and as government restrictions and regulations have been curtailed over the last thirty years by money-hungry politicians, the fattest of the fat cats like Strumpf couldn’t be happier.

We need Elizabeth Warren and many more like her if we are to ever hope for a more equitable economic system in this country. Income inequality is the worst it has been since the Robber Baron era at the turn of the 19th century. Today’s economic bandits like Strumpf will only stop gouging the little guys when they are held accountable for their actions, and have to pay for their crimes. Thank you Elizabeth Warren, for doing your job.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Two-Minute Tales of Terror

I've started a new Facebook page featuring my short scary stories. Every few days I'm posting a new story on "Two-Minute Tales of Terror" for your deranged delight. Most of these have appeared on Reddit in the past and many of them have been made into Creepypastas on YouTube (search for "minnboy"). Perfect bedtime reading!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Bloated Vestige of the Past, the DEA Struggles for Relevancy

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) website, when the agency was established in 1973, it had 1,470 special agents and a budget of less than $75 million. Today it boasts over 5,000 special agents (which doesn’t include what must be tens of thousands of support staff) and a budget of $2.03 billion. That’s a sizable organization and one with a long reach into the various branches of government and the military.

Yet today there is an article in the Huffington Post in which the author seems befuddled by the recent efforts of the DEA to place the rather benign herbal supplement Kratom into Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act along with heroin, cocaine and crack. The author correctly notes the softening trend nationwide toward marijuana prohibition, and wonders why the DEA would be taking such a Draconian stance against an herb that has little potential for abuse and that many people use for help with various medical ailments.

The obvious answer to the Kratom conundrum is found in the first paragraph. The DEA has become a huge, bloated bureaucracy over the past 43 years that is now fighting for its survival. The change in attitude toward marijuana and drug prohibition in general has the agency running scared, and it is now grasping at straws to try and retain its relevance. We saw this just recently when it refused to take marijuana off the Schedule 1 list despite the mountains of data and research attesting to the drug’s relative safety and proven medical benefits.

The question is, what do you do with a large government agency that history has passed by and is now doing more harm than good (if it ever did do any good)? In Washington, you plug your ears and sing “Na, na, na” for as long as you’re able so that you can hopefully hand-off your expensive White Elephant to the next administration. Not long ago, Obama appointed a new head of the DEA who is only a slightly less maniacal drug warrior than his predecessor, indicating that this president isn’t going to walk into the political minefield associated with downsizing the Pentagon of the drug war.

Not surprisingly, there has been no indication from either Trump or Clinton that their administrations will take a more reasoned approach to drug prohibition than Obama. So the prognosis is that our government will spend more billions of tax dollars and keep increasing the prison population for base political reasons. And people are upset that an athlete won’t stand during the pledge of allegiance.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Native American Protesters in North Dakota Are Showing Us The Way

In just two months, Americans who bother will cast their votes for a new president.  If you believe the media, it is now a close presidential race between serious representatives of two traditional political visions for the future of this country, conservative and liberal. Trump is the boisterous, always entertaining and even scandalous outsider, ready to bring his dynamic personality and business acumen to bear on the country’s social and economic problems. Clinton is the sharp, experienced political insider who knows how to get things done in Washington, and the first serious female candidate for the nation’s top office. This is the narrative the mainstream media is weaving day in and day out, and it is, of course, pure fantasy.

The national train wreck we are all watching in slow motion is a match-up between a narcissistic, racist madman and a calculating corporate puppet. The winner will sit at the helm of the superpower that is, or tries to be, the world’s enforcer, sticking its corrupt capitalist tentacles into countries far and wide, toppling left-wing leaders, supporting right-wing dissidents and buying or stealing the planet’s natural resources. All of this is bad enough under a fairly benign president like Obama, but when you consider who will replace him….

Yet here we are, helplessly watching our own demise. Unlike the 1960s, there is no national effort to try and stop us from self-destruction, no passionate youth, no peaceniks, no one with the energy or will to stand up to our military/industrial/media masters. Sorry Ike, but your warning went unheeded and they have won control of this country, and their greed and disdain for democracy is pulling us down like a tin statue while we are distracted watching Dancing with the Stars.

It’s time to face the music, America. The national popularity of Donald Trump is the dead canary in the cage. It is the clearest indication of our imminent destruction as a world power. Our once envied public education system has been decimated, the mainstream media is nothing more than a corporate mouthpiece, elections are completely controlled and manipulated, and those people who actually run America are unaccountable elites who work behind the curtain.

While progressives seem content moaning and wailing on obscure online news sites, the country is collapsing. The only people I see today who have the courage to stand up for their rights are the members of the Native American tribes gathering in North Dakota to stop the construction of a pipeline through their land. Their collective efforts have resulted in at least a temporary victory. We must pay attention, because they serve as an example we progressives should be emulating across the nation; peaceful collective protests. It’s really all we have left.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Tomorrow’s Headlines Today

Trump Campaign Hires North Korean President Kim Jong Un as Campaign Advisor. Public Executions Promised.

Experts Baffled by Sudden Extreme Spike in Trump Polls

Mexico Agrees to Pay for Wall to Keep Trump Out

Kaepernick Admits to Sitting On Toilet and Not Standing Until Done. FOX News Explodes With Indignation.

DEA Refuses Once Again to Remove Flintstones Vitamins From Schedule I Drug Category.

Vice President Nominee Mike Pence Blames Ice Cream-induced Brain Freeze For Moment of Clarity and Compassion

Citing Immigration Restrictions, Jesus Cancels Return Indefinitely

Melenia Trump On Why Clinton Unfit to Hold Top Office: “No one who dresses like my grandmother can president.”

New NC Voter ID Law Requires Genealogical Evidence of “White Purity”

Crazed Fan Stabs Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards Twenty-seven Times, Sets Him On fire and Throws Body Into Grand Canyon. Doctors Say Guitarist Will Continue Touring Within Days.