What’s Wrong With America: Americans

The title of this post is the best news you’ve had all day. Why?

Because when I say Americans are a problem, I mean you. All of you. Including the guy writing this post. Why’s that good news?

When you’re problems mostly stem from that jackass in mirror, you often find yourself yelling at the same person in the best position to solve them.

“Okay, Mr. Smart man, how do we solve our problems when the economy is so bad and politicians won’t listen to us?”

Glad you asked that.

First off, you need to give up your pet assumptions, namely that someone who does not share your political beliefs is somehow evil or misguided. In fact, if you use the term “politically challenged,” you are part of the problem. If you think it’s the government’s job to grow your 401k, you are part of the problem. If you believe everything Glenn Beck or Michael Moore tells you is the boogie man, you really are part of the problem. So what’s the solution?

  • First off, stop worrying about the stock market. The stock market does not make anything. The stock market does not provide any services other than the buying and selling of stock. The stock market is a big savings account for investors and a means of raising cash for companies. The economy is driven by two things: Buying goods and services, selling goods and services. Stocks are just an investment vehicle. The only thing the government can do for you there is to make sure those tasked with buying and selling stock on your behalf follow the rules. Here’s a hint for you: Those regulations the SEC enforces? They’re not government regulations. They’re written by accountants. Deviate from them, and…  Well… We all saw what happened to Enron, didn’t we?
  • Turn off talk radio, pundits, and the political blogs. Glenn Beck likes to compare Obama to Hitler not because it’s true. It scares people, and fear, like sex, sells. Likewise, Michael Moore, a man who is about as socialist as JP Morgan, likes to tell you who the big corporate boogie man is this week. Even when it’s not. Consider his movie Sicko. Brits and Canadians, who incidentally don’t want an American healthcare system, giggle uncontrollably when Moore talks about the utopia of their healthcare systems. In reality, they don’t want the American system anymore than they think we should switch to theirs for the very same reason: They only work in the places where they were designed and implemented.  If the man on TV, the radio, or the Internet is trying to scare you, ask him how much he makes per terrified senior citizen. Then go watch something with a little more substance. Like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
  • The housing mess really is our fault. Think about this for a second. We buy cars, houses, and gadgets we can’t afford, working jobs we hate to pay for it all so we can impress people we don’t like. Every economic crash from 1837 onward can be tied back to two things: overextended credit and rampant speculation. That’s right. The need to keep up with the Joneses brings down again and again. Do you want to do your part to save the economy? Whenever Jones buys the latest big screen TV, takes out a mortgage he can’t afford, or buys a flashy car, instead of trying to one up him, just say to yourself, “Fuck Jones!”
  • Learn to say no to your kids. Nita and I have spoiled AJ, but we’ve always told him no, we can’t do some things because we’re a little tight on money or we had an unexpected expense. He does not argue. If anything, he probably knows more about managing his money than you do about yours. And this is a kid without a job. If your kid pitches a tantrum because he can’t have the latest and greatest, it’s called time-out. It worked for my generation. They’ll get over it.
  • Yes, a lot of things are out of our control. That should be a no-brainer. So ask yourself what isn’t beyond your control. What did you do today to make your life better? Or your family’s? Or your coworkers’? What did you do to look for a job today? Sure, unemployment’s still high, but the flip side of that is a lot of jobs are going unfilled. Why? I hate to tell you this, but while you shouldn’t have to settle for bag boy wages to do a skilled job, you also shouldn’t expect to make an outrageous salary for something that probably wasn’t worth that in the first place. You should be able to find a good job. That doesn’t mean you deserve enough to fund a McMansion. Quit chasing Jones. Jones is a moron.
  • Quit complaining that no one wants your service, your skill, or your product anymore. I have no need of a buggy whip or a typewriter. If the world changes around you, change with it. Want to know why India is getting so many jobs that Americans used to do? Guess what. They saw they needed new skills, so they learned them. You should do the same. The world is changing. Look at that as an opportunity, not a problem. It’s not 1948 anymore. We’re not going to be making half the world’s stuff again for a long, long time to come.
  • Fear of change: Yes, it’s natural. No, it’s not productive. Get over it. Embrace change. Move ahead.

What’s Wrong With America: Education

There’s several things wrong with education in this country.

First, there is a disturbing movement by some to actually discourage people from getting a college education. It’s a waste of money, they say. It only builds up debt and overtaxes government programs to fund it. They posit that people should spend this time starting and building their careers. So let me get this straight. You want accountants, engineers, and IT specialists who are wholly untrained in their fields doing these jobs?

From personal experience, I can tell you that every step of my education, an education I should have completed 20 years ago, has brought a marked improvement in skills and career opportunities. It’s insane to suggest college is a waste of time.

But part of their position comes from a very real problem. Colleges are lagging behind what American businesses and government need right now. We don’t train enough engineers. Technical schools teach technology that’s three to five years old, leaving students to have to fend for themselves. And we graduate too many IT geeks without a clue as to the business processes they support. Add to that the sheer neglect humanities and sciences have to endure, and you have a recipe for decline. Don’t like engineers from India taking all the job openings? Quit whining that your kid has to do math, turn the friggin’ TV and Facebook off, and knuckle down. And schools need to adapt. Fast. The programming I’m teaching myself today is going to be obsolete in a couple of years. Schools are further behind on this. It needs to stop. Now.

The worst part, however, is our attitude toward education in general. Taxophobes like to attack schools for waste and overspending with a zeal that makes the most radical gun rights advocate look apathetic to his own cause. As a result, we’ve developed a collective attitude that the people we pay to teach our children and prepare them for the adult world are treated with less respect than the bored kid at the McDonald’s drive-thru.

All I can say is you get what you pay for.

What’s Wrong With America: Conspiracy Theories

You hear them all the time. Obama is really a plant by some secret socialist Islamofascist cabal. The oil companies are trying to squash the electric car. The Twin Towers were detonated, not hit by planes. What do all these have in common?

They all require setting aside 50 IQ points to actually believe. Let’s leave Obama and the oil companies aside and look at the Twin Towers for a moment. We keep hearing all sorts of explanations of how jet fuel could not possibly have collapsed the towers or questions as to why WTC #7 went down hours later. (Um… Because the foundation was severely damaged by two big ass towers collapsing about 100 yards away?) What people who keep insisting that this is an issue never mention is that the demolition theory of the Twin Towers fall drives real demolition experts up a tree. Not a single demolition expert I’ve heard (and even talked to) believes that you could lace a building with that much explosive at all the proper stress points without anyone noticing. Not. A. Single. One. They would have had to gut the buildings first. New Yorkers tend to notice such things when they loom over their skyline.

So why does this persist?

Because we, my fellow Americans, are a nation of control freaks. As a people, we are pathologically incapable of understanding one of the most fundamental and inescapable laws of the universe: Shit happens. It’s even in the Bible. Go look it up. Luke 13:1-5.

Part of the problem is our greatest strength as a species, the very thing that has kept the robot apocalypse from happening: Pattern recognition. Pattern recognition has driven technology, religion, science, philosophy, and economics since the days when the first humans learned to communicate in something more than a few well-placed grunts, possibly even earlier. After all, language is a pattern, so we had to have the talent to recognize them before we could apply it verbally. Pattern recognition led to understanding that the Earth orbits the sun. It told us when the seasons would come and go. It let us circumnavigate the globe. Unfortunately, we’re so good at this that we see patterns that aren’t there.

Or if they are there, our inner control freak wants to read more into it than is really there. Take, for instance, that old bugaboo about America being little more than a Freemason conspiracy. In the 1700’s, the Freemasons were the great fraternal organization of the day. If you wanted to get anything done in life, you joined. If Star Trek had existed in 1774, and the Founding Fathers were all fans of it, the government buildings all over the country would be plastered with the Starfleet logo and IDIC symbols while the Prime Directive would be written into the Constitution. Since they were Freemasons (and clearly not living in their mothers’ basements), we get the Freemason symbol and the Eye of God on our buildings. What I want to know is what the conspiracy is. Does anyone really put together an organization with the sole intent of “making sure bad shit happens all through history.” (Usually followed by a Dr. Evil laugh.) Terrorist organizations do this, but terrorists generally all have the same mission statement: We’re pissed off, and we’re going to make everyone else miserable for it. Last I checked, the Freemasons were not a terrorist organization. In fact, King George III was a Freemason. What? They had a meeting and told him, “Sorry, George, but we’re going to take away your American colonies and hold the world hostage for… One hundred billion pounds!”? (Again, cue evil laugh.)

Let’s apply Occam’s razor to this. What’s more likely? The King of England agreed with a Super Secret Society™ that’s been scripting history since it plotted the extermination of the Neanderthals? (Had to wipe them out. They smelled and made lousy margaritas.) Or that the citizens of the British Empire on America’s Eastern Seaboard get so infuriated with Parliament ignoring them while sticking its collective hand in their pockets that they spit in the face of the most powerful nation on Earth to go their own way? Let’s see. Today, we have the Tea Party up in arms over taxes and Occupy wanting to bring down capitalism’s worst offenders. Yeah, that’s got Freemason conspiracy written all over. Never mind that most Tea Partiers and Occupiers aren’t big on Freemasonry.

The problem with the conspiracy theory mentality is two-fold. It only fosters paranoia. And it shirks personal responsibility. Paranoia is not good. The old saying goes “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there’s even a “they.” Ever notice that “They” is always in the shadows? “They” is more often than not unnamed or underground, hidden. The hallmark of any really good conspiracy theory is a villain whose existence cannot be proven. If you’re an atheist into conspiracy theories, this really makes you look stupid, since you’re already a proponent of not believing in something that can’t be proven.

As for personal responsibility, this is the part where you need to look really hard into the mirror. Are all your problems the fault of Barack Obama or Exxon or Super Secret Society™? Nope. Here’s the bad news. Most of your problems are your fault. Go yell at the guy in the mirror. And those things you can’t control, that aren’t you fault? Life is random. Bad things happen. Sometimes, spectacularly bad things happen. Everything people do affects everyone else. You’d go insane trying to fathom it all. You can only face it head on if it impacts you negatively.

Besides, as Dennis Miller once said, if there is an All-Powerful They, what makes you think they give a damn about you?

What’s Wrong With America: The Media

OK, we’re nine days into 2013. Time to roll up our sleeves and put the nation back on the rack for some long overdue maintenance. For starters, we need to take a look at the media and how we get our news.

It’s no secret that America’s political dialog is more polarized today than at any time since the Red Scare of the 1950’s. Much of it has to do with the 24-hour news cycle. In the olden days, when are cars were powered by Hi-Test and hydramatic transmissions, and we all gathered at Ye Olde Drug Store for a grape Nehi, news came from one of three networks, four if you counted radio’s Mutual network. ABC, NBC, and CBS ran a half hour of national news every night. So Frank Reynolds and Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor had only thirty minutes, eight of which went to commercials, to get it right. And they had to wait until your local affiliate ran the local news. If you wanted something more in-depth, you had 20/20, 60 Minutes, and a host of Sunday morning talk shows that generally made sure all sides got a fair hearing.

Underpinning all this was something called the Fairness Doctrine. The airwaves don’t belong to the networks. They belong to the public, and the networks pay license fees to use them. It’s your electromagnetic spectrum. If someone needs exclusive use to a narrow band of it, why shouldn’t they have to pay? Anyway, it said if you were going to take a political stance on the air, you had to give equal hearing to the other side. It wasn’t perfect. Witness George Takei’s run for office when his opponent declared that every rerun of Star Trek featuring the man who would become the Coolest Gay Person in America one day was free advertising and wanted an hour of free air time for every episode aired. I know it’s bullshit, and you know it’s bullshit. George definitely called bullshit, and his opponent did not care if it was bullshit. Legal parsing – which could be a blog post in and of itself – always leads to abuse of even the best-crafted laws.

The Fairness Doctrine went away in the 1980’s, and I’m not so sure that was a wise idea. For it gave rise to that bane of AM talk radio, the political talk show. In the beginning was Rush Limbaugh. And I will admit, I thought he was pretty funny in the beginning. After all, the New Deal coalition, which passed its sell-by date shortly after Watergate, needed deflating. Rush was just the guy. If you looked at him as a humorist in those days, he actually served a purpose.

Then Rush started taking himself seriously as a pundit. And clones started popping up. G. Gordon Liddy, a man so crazy he scared Nixon’s inner staff, and he was one of them, had a show. Soon you had a spate of burned-out ex-disk jockeys like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck declaring themselves the moral guardians of American political thought. The liberals, not to be outdone, attempted to balance this with Air America, featuring mostly comedians who had stopped being funny long before the network went live, a wine critic (Tom Likas), and a washed-up ex-sportscaster (Keith Olbermann). You know what?

Substitute left-wing rhetoric for right-wing rhetoric, and it still sounds exactly the same. These people don’t take a stand. They stir up fear. They point to boogey men who do not exist. Or when a real one pops up, they still point to boogey men who do not exist.

Worse, we, the people, keep giving these pinheads power. We don’t listen to opposing viewpoints, take them seriously, and rethink our positions. No, we want someone to echo our beliefs and tell us we got it all figured out and demonize others who haven’t come to the same conclusion. Then we call it “sticking to our principles.” Bullshit. These jackals sell us on that idea when really all they’re selling is fear. Wait for the next crisis to come. I’m writing this on December 29, as the Fiscal Cliff (There’s a myth if there ever was one) approaches. I’m pretty sure in the intervening ten days, something blew up, went bankrupt, or got shot up, and your favorite pundit is fairly frothing at the mouth blaming illegal immigrants or the one percent or whatever new boogey man one of them invents.

It doesn’t help that the 24-hour news channels all stake a position. Look, if your job is news, you’re not entitled to a position. Your job is to report the facts, even when they contradict your worldview. If you got that backwards, you failed.

The basic problem with media in America is that they sell us on this idea that we serve our beliefs. In reality, our beliefs should serve us.

But that requires a little thought. Which would make the commercials they run a lot less effective, wouldn’t it?

What’s Wrong With America: The Electoral College

Hanging chadAs of this writing, the most likely scenario is that Obama will be reelected, but Romney will win the popular vote. Now, you might think this would make me happy as I stated early I’d be voting for Obama. It doesn’t.

As in 2000, this situation would be wholly repugnant to me. Why? Because the Electoral College serves no useful purpose. Why go through the entire process of a popular vote only to have to add a step that, if the election is close enough, might reverse the popular vote.

Part of the issue is the way in which electoral votes are generated. Basically, when you vote for a candidate, you actually vote for a slate of electors who then commit to voting for the president and vice president when the electoral vote is taken about a month after the election. In most, but not all, states, the winner of the popular vote wins all electoral votes that state has to offer. And as we wind down our election season, you’ll notice I live in the state that quite likely will decide who will be president on January 20, 2013. You’re welcome.

But it should not be that way anymore than New Hampshire and Iowa should hold that much sway over who becomes the nominee for each major party. If I’m voting for president, I want to vote for the candidate, not some guy who commits to voting for the candidate.

There are those who point out  that the Electoral College is not bound to the popular vote. Technically, that’s true. There have been so-called “faithless” electors in the past, but they are few and far between, and the consequences to the person who bucks the vote he committed to in order to earn the position are generally severe. The last serious faithless elector was in 1976, when an elector refused to vote for Gerald Ford and voted for Ronald Reagan instead. A more recent example was the guy who voted for the wrong vice president as the president and vice president ballot separately when the electoral vote is taken.

But why even have an electoral college when the net effect is to confirm the popular vote. Some would say it’s the only power remaining to the states. However, the states no longer choose our senators (except upon the death, removal, or resignation of a senator, when governors generally appoint a replacement). We do. The last thing I want is a state making a decision for me when my experience with state governments, specifically Ohio, has been roughly akin to watching monkeys try to learn how to use tools.

But let’s back up a bit here. The whole primary process is a sham, as are the caucuses. Local news anchor Ben Swan ran a series of exposes on the Republican Party’s handling of Ron Paul and the process that named Mitt Romney the standard bearer for the party. If the rules had been properly followed in several states, Mitt would have had to endure several ballots before securing the nomination, something we haven’t seen since the 1970’s. The conventions were intended to choose the party’s nominee, not function as the choreographed pieces of stagecraft they are today.

Instead of the primary system, which is joke anyway, let’s try this: In January of election year, we have a cattle call for candidates. Anyone who wants to be president runs. You vote in that race regardless of party, since parties have nothing to do with the Constitution anyway. There’s nothing that says we can’t have political parties, but there’s also nothing obligating us to preserve them. If the top four candidates garner, say 10% or more of the vote, those four have a run-off in June of election year. Those four, and only those four, can run in this election. If only one candidate gets that much of the vote – Let’s say he or she gets 95% of the vote (100% or even 99% is so statiscally unlikely, we should not even consider it) – then the closest runner-up is the only one that survives. There is no June run-off. We just have the November election. On the first Tuesday of the first full week in November, we pick either from those two or the two top vote getters of the June run-off.

Think about that. We could have two black candidates, two female candidates, two Republicans, two Democrats, or even two non-major party candidates. It happens in mayoral elections all the time. My favorite example is when Cleveland City Council President George Forbes, a black man and a Democrat, ran against State Senator Mike White, also a black man and a Democrat. All of the sudden, race and party were stripped from the election. White won and was mayor for three terms, but Forbes could just as easily done the same.

The point is the Electoral College serves no real purpose anymore other than to send a bunch of campaign workers banging on my door to try and elect a guy to vote for president on my behalf. As often as not, that person will vote for someone I did not. All perfectly legal.

But not right at all.

What’s Wrong With America: No Metric System

Let’s take a look at how we measure things, shall we? In America, 0 degrees is based on some chemical reaction Daniel Fahrenheit used in his laboratory. Water freezes at 32 degrees and boils at 212. Length is measured in inches, which is based on someone’s thumb back in the Dark Ages. Twelve inches make a foot. Three feet make a yard. There are 1760 yards in a mile. Unless it’s a nautical mile, which is about 2025 yards. Roughly. Weight is in ounces and pounds. None of it makes sense until you reach tons. Sort of.

The rest of the world uses the metric system. Everything base 10. You have to be dumber than a rock not to get it once you learn it. And it’s base 10. Monkeys can figure this out. A kilometer? That’s a thousand meters. Kilograms are are a thousand grams, which, while tinier, make a hell of a lot more sense than ounces, don’t they?

They once tried to convert the US to metric. Then some idiots afraid of change started whining, calling it communist or some stupidity. So we got stuck on an antiquated illogical system. Know what that got us?

A crashed space probe.

This isn’t American exceptionalism. This is stupidity masquerading as tradition covering up fear of change.

What’s Wrong With America: Campaign Ads

It’s that time again. That time when the guy who wants to run the country and the guy running the country accuse each other of the most egregious things: Like one guy’s a Mormon and the other guy’s black. Oh, wait. They save that for after the conventions.

But it’s not just the presidential campaigns. Every year, some of the states pick governors. Every two years, all of the House and one third of the Senate is up for grabs. There are primaries and general elections. Added to all this electoral goodness are municipal elections and various issues for school levies and casinos and what have you.

And in each and every case, there’s a campaign manager whose job is to lie, slander, and terrorize.

I’m of the firm belief that we should make room for immigrants by deporting these low-lifes. Unfortunately…

They’ve been with us since the dawn of the republic. And they’re an import from Europe. Go on. Ask any Brit who knows their history about “rotten boroughs.” It’s an early forerunner to the Chicago ballot system that polls the Chicagoland’s cemeteries.

Honestly, if you want an objective opinion of how Obama has done, or how Romney might perform, you’re going to have to do something the campaign managers don’t want you to do: Read the news.

I don’t mean those idiotic blogs that only massage your ideological leanings. Obama’s getting the worst of it, partly from pure racism (and don’t deny it. You know the cowards are out there.), but mainly because he’s the sitting president. Romney’s a newer flavor. It’ll be well into September when all the black helicopter chasing and frustrated Weatherman wannabe morons come up with rumors slightly more credible than Elvis sightings, UFO theories, and anything that comes out of a Kardashian’s mouth.

It frustrates me to no end to watch campaign ads that bear less resemblance to the person being slammed than they do to the work of James Callender. Who’s that?

This genius made a living telling the world that John Adams wanted to be the King of America, sell the US out to the British, and quite possibly eat your baby. James, however, ran afoul of the Alien & Sedition Acts. While unconstitutional and regretted by Adams, His Rotundity nevertheless decided that, before Congress corrected that mistake, to use them on Callender. When his patron, Thomas Jefferson, did not pardon him, Callender emerged from his prison sentence to spread rumors about the author of the Declaration of Independence. The story of Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemings proved true – almost two hundred years later – the rest of Callender’s tripe bore about as much resemblance to reality as I do to Rita Hayworth.

Fast forward about 40 years, and we have the campaign staff of William Henry Harrison painting Martin Van Buren as a rich aristocrat while Harrison is a brawling frontier cabin dweller. Never mind that Van Buren clawed his way up from poverty while Harrison was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and lived on a sprawling Ohio River plantation.

The fact is every election cycle, we have to put up with this garbage. And they come in all stripes. You have the ones that skew statistics. You have the ones that manage to use footage of a candidate to misquote him. (Neat trick, but bullshit is bullshit.) Then there’s the series of commercials I refer to as “The Bitch.” You’ve heard her. The woman who comes on in a soft, but worried voice, who fears the end of civilization itself because this issue is done by people who only want to do you harm. I don’t fault the woman doing the ads. It’s a sweet gig if you can get it.

I fault the campaign managers. If I am said to be an unrepentant bigot toward any group, then I proudly call myself a campaign manager bigot. These are people who lie. They distort. And they destroy the democratic process. Worst of all, they use fear to get you to change your mind.

One such douchebag, Ken Blackwell’s manager for Ohio governor, suggested in one breath that maybe Ted Strickland is gay and in the next said his job was to win a campaign by any means necessary. Incidentally, Strickland won – by a landslide, and Blackwell’s party nominated current governor John Kasich, who generally does not sound like an idiot.

There are other stupid campaign tricks that bug the hell out of me. Not lowering taxes is a tax hike? (No, stupid! It’s not a tax hike. It’s not anything! I took math in high school.) The anti-casino ads talking about all the out-of-staters taking jobs and the economic drain casino towns. (The casino towns in Indiana found these hysterical as the only out-of-staters hired were from Ohio and Kentucky. You know. Locals. They also had a drop in crime and a rise in their economy. Don’t pitch statistics reality won’t backup.)

I’d like to say I have a solution, but I don’t. By November, gays, Muslims, corporate executives, and Christians will be pointed at as boogiemen that one guy or the other (or even both) is completely and totally behind. The only suggestion I have is to use campaign ads as your cue to hit the john, get a beer, or even change the channel.

What’s Wrong With America: Banks

In early 2007, I bought my first home. Our mortgage officer, who raised the bar for a profession that makes a habit of dropping it, often in the gutter, explained to me why he didn’t sell the once common variable rate loan. He said they’d become quick and easy commissions that were sold to people who could not afford the adjustments. That was the tip of the iceberg America rammed into in 2008. He told us about liar loans (no-income verification or no-asset verification) loans, originally designed for people the IRS wishes they didn’t have to deal with: Waiters, cab drivers, call gir- er, um, escorts. They were for people who make a lot of cash that, even if you were inclined to report it, would be difficult to verify.

Some of the dimmer bulbs on Wall Street thought, “Hey! We can rake in a lot of interest by selling these things! And then turn around and sell the loans as investments! Win-win!”

So you sell loans to a lot of people who don’t know any better and can’t pay them off. Let’s do some abstract math here. You’re charging high interest to people who can’t afford it. Sell those to enough people who can’t afford it, and what do you think is going to happen?

Lehman Brothers, a Confederate company that survived the Civil War, vanished overnight. What the Union Army could not do to it in four years of the bloodiest combat in American history, stupid mortgage brokers managed to do in a fraction of the time. And more banks followed. They wanted a bailout.

The problem with banks is they are like the one brother-in-law every family has: Kind of stupid, squanders his money, and causes more financial problems for the family than any hospital stay or car breakdown. But if you don’t bail out your brother-in-law, Thanksgiving is a little quieter this year. If you don’t bail out the banks…

Yeah, that’s the guy holding your wallet. The thing is, they pay themselves bonuses even when they lose the gross national product of a small European nation. Notice I said Europe. You have to be pretty wealthy to go as spectacularly broke as Greece.

Of course, we could go to town on the bankers. I don’t think there’s a bank CEO employed in 2008 who did not deserve to do some jail time. Many of these institutions should not have been bailed out. They should have been taken over. If I, the taxpayer, have to spend $700 billion to keep the Great Depression from repeating, I think a few hundred bank executives should have to move into trailers and live on cat food for a while, since they should have their assets taken away from them. Hey, bud, you wrecked the economy. You pay for it. I think several banks should have been stripped for parts and sold off into smaller bite-sized pieces. I think there should be a rule that, if you make up a certain percentage of the economy, you have to start spinning off units so your bad management – because all companies eventually get bad management – doesn’t mean I’m filing for unemployment when I have nothing to do with banking.

But alas, we are a hands off society. Let the market do what it will. Look, I love capitalism. I love the idea that anyone, anywhere can take an idea and make a buck. But it has to have safeties on. That’s a point I will not debate you on. The banks whine about Adam Smith’s invisible hand whenever new regulations are passed to keep them in check. The trouble is banks keep the invisible hand in cuffs. Capitalism without competition is not capitalism. It’s feudalism. Pure and simple.

We need banks. That’s fundamental economics. But right now, banks need to be treated like the guy who just got out of prison for stealing huge sums of money. No one should trust him. No one should treat him with the respect due a normal citizen until he earns his place back at the table like everyone else.

Funny thing is most ex-cons I’ve known do this without really thinking about it. I’m not holding my breath about the banks.

What’s Wrong With America: The Two-Party System

If you read this space regularly, you know I have no love of the two-party system in this country. It is, frankly, an embarrassment. On the one hand, you have the Democratic Party that can’t ever agree with itself about what it wants to be when it grows up. On the other, the Republicans are so rigid in their solidarity that, if driving off a cliff, adherents will go over the edge together rather than be the one who betrays the party by doing something disloyal like, maybe, putting on the brakes or diving out of the car.

Someone please tell me how this represents reality. And you are not allowed to use the words or phrases “lies of the liberal media,” “vast right-wing conspiracy,” “socialist,” or “rethuglican.” All those generally are worth twenty-five point deductions in your IQ if you use them. No exceptions.

Since no one can do that without using those words and phrases, it’s pretty clear the two-party system in the United States has passed its sell-by date. You only have to witness Barack Obama’s dealings with Congress since his inauguration. The Democratic Congress he was handed in his first two years was so wimpy that it panicked every time someone said boo to their razor thin supermajority. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Democrats cannot find enough people who agree on anything within its own ranks to field a softball team.

The Republicans are the exact opposite. Point out that they’re wrong, and you’re a socialist Islamofascist who hates America. Never mind if we’re talking about gravity. If they’re against gravity, then you’re stubborn refusal to float above the Earth’s surface for the good of the party is a sign that you want to bring our country down.

The problem with both parties is identical. Everyone on either side is trying to force fit incompatible ideologies under one tent. Since the Democrats consider obsessive-compulsive disorder as something to be medicated, they have the stronger claim to the “big tent” concept. The problem is if you’re a fiscally conservative Democrat, it’s like you farted inside the big tent.  The Republicans consider OCD a form of patriotism, you have libertarians shotgun wedded to social conservatives. Last I checked, they don’t like each other very much.

People, this is not any way to run a nation, especially a big one like ours. It’s time to take the two-party system out to the woods with a shotgun then come home and tell Hannity and Olbermann that it ran away from home. Oh, the shotgun? We were taking it out to be cleaned.

Really, the Tea Party does not represent the GOP that Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, or Reagan belonged to. Hell, they don’t even represent the Republicanism espoused by Nixon, unless it’s the paranoid fear-mongering part. And Nixon considered that a campaign tactic. He also had a few concerns about healthcare and stinky air and, oh, Mr. Brezhnev, let’s not blow each other up. That’s a shitty way to end a Cold War. Hmm…

There are evangelical Christians who would love to be Democrats. There are gays in the Republican Party. Not every Democrat wants to make you drive an electric car at the point of a sword. Not every Republican is scared of Muslims. But our antiquated, binary mode of political thought in this country requires you to be one or the other, and you have to take the whole package. All or nothing.

Here’s my philosophy. If I’m either for you or against you, get lost. I don’t have time to revolve my universe around you. There’s nobody representing me because there’s no platform that truly represents me. Time to break up the Party of Jackson and the Party of Lincoln. They’ve overstayed their welcome by about 70 years.

That’s not going to happen, though, until they’re overthrown from the bottom up. You won’t kick them out of Congress or the White House or even your state capital until they’re kicked off every county commission and city council in the nation, until they are pushed out of every school board and township board of trustees in America. And even then, probably not until a few Libertarians get elected secretary of state in a few states. Why?

The office of secretary of state serves only two purposes. First, keep the sitting secretary’s party in power. Second, keep the job safe for an opposition party successor. Third parties need not apply. So if a Libertarian is elected secretary of state in a few state capitals…

Now, is a multiparty system more efficient? No. But you stand a better chance of electing someone who either better represents you, or at least can take a position you can understand. And it’s better than a one-party system, something China won’t admit they want to be rid of. (Communist Party is such a misnomer for China’s ruling class that Karl Marx’s estate should sue.) And it’s better than the no-party system.

“Wait. You’re against the no-party system?”

Oh, if we could function without these oversized versions of a home owners association, it would be utopian. But utopia is a fantasy. Why?

A little history. Way back when in 1820, America entered into what was known as the Era of Good Feeling. There were no parties worth mentioning. James Monroe was elected unopposed to a second term, one token electoral vote cast for someone else on principle. The trouble was that, in 1824, when John Quincy Adams squared off against Andrew Jackson among others, the campaigns became cults of personality. There was no organizing purpose behind them other than Adams was the son of one of the editors of the Declaration of Independence, Jackson kicked a lot of British ass, Crawford was a rich white dude, and Henry Clay was America’s first metrosexual candidate. Yippee. Enter Martin Van Buren. Van Buren improvised much of how modern parties function so that the campaign could be more issue and less personality oriented. Oh, sure, you had Federalists vs. the original Republicans. And the ideology was cleaner back then, mainly because America still needed to know what it wanted to be when it grew up. In Van Buren’s time, politicians were drifting dangerously close to Napoleon-like status when rallying supporters.

Trouble is these parties coalesced into the modern Democratic and Republican Parties who came to stay in the Antebellum Era and didn’t have the same courtesy as Britains original Tories and Whigs, who faded into history when their time passed. And really, do not the Greens do a better job representing the far left in this country than the Democrats? Shouldn’t the Tea Party be an actual party? Shouldn’t Occupy?

It’s time for the two big parties to go. If you’re Barack Obama or John Boehner, they’re what keeps you from doing your job.

What’s Wrong With America: Political Discourse

If you’re on the right, you probably won’t like this post. Then again, I heap equal amounts of scorn on a couple of lefties. Why?

Let’s put it this way: Sean Hannity = Michael Moore. They are the left and right hands of the devil. Different dogma. Same bullshit. If the target of your scorn doesn’t do enough bad things to make your point, lie about them.

This, my friends, is political discourse in the twenty-first century. Where else can you get reasonable people to tell you with a straight face that Obama is a socialist. (If you don’t believe how monumentally stupid that belief is, go ask an actual socialist. The comment makes them giggle and look at you like the poor stupid bourgieosie* pigs you and I are.)

But why is it like that? And were there ever good ol’ days when people were more civil to each other?

Nope.

And before you whip out that old chestnut of what the Founding Fathers would think, let’s look at the dawn of the republic, shall we? The only two presidents to run uncontested are George Washington, who probably won the election of 1788 back in 1775, and James Monroe, who was reelected during a brief, shining moment in American history when we had no political parties worth mentioning.

Starting in 1796, things got nasty. John Adams was accused of wanting to rejoin England or elevate himself to king. Then we come the the election of 1800, when not only was the man who screamed the loudest for independence called a monarchist and an Anglophile, but the author of the Declaration of Independence also found himself slandered, eventually his relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings brought to light by opponents. The things these men’s surrogates said in the name of politics would get you fired from any of the twenty-four hour news networks before they could get the first sentence out. And it only got worse. If you read the partisan newspapers of the Antebellum Era, you’d swear the Civil War started fifteen years earlier.

There was a period of time in the twentieth century when the FCC was more concerned with keeping private companies from curtailing free speech in this country and less concerned that your kid might see boobs or hear words you pretend they haven’t already heard on the playground, there was the Fairness Doctrine. If you stated an opinion on television or the radio, you needed to give the opposing side equal time. This is why William F. Buckley thrived. On his show, he used to pummel his liberal opponents intellectually, but he also would not tolerate a whack job who held the same conservative views he did. Buckley, his stoner fellow conservative PJ O’Rourke, and most liberals of the era got that it was about the debate, not demonizing all who didn’t agree with you. Besides, segregationists and red baiters did a bang up job demonizing themselves.

Then the Fairness Doctrine went away, and along came Rush Limbaugh. At first, he was funny. After all, there came a point where the New Deal coalition running the country got a bit full of themselves and forgot what, exactly, FDR and Truman were trying to do. Frankly, they needed someone to poke a few holes in them to let out the hot air.

But…

Somehow, Rush’s formula merged with that of Morton Downey, Jr., the chain-smoking loudmouth who was the Jerry Springer of his day. And then Rush began believing he was somehow a rebel of PJ O’Rourke’s caliber (Um… No. O’Rourke wrote for Rolling Stone and National Lampoon, saying, “No, establishment, some of us on the right think you suck, too!”) and a pundit of Buckley’s towering intellect (Buckley would have kicked your ass for saying “feminazi.”) And then he multiplied. Suddenly, it was better to be angry and blame the other side for all of society’s ills and defend some of the worst human traits as “rugged individualism.” Not that the left was left out of the fun. West Coast wine aficionado Tom Leykis doubled as sort of a liberal Rush Limbaugh up until 2009. (Sadly, as we’re rid of Glenn Beck, they’re bringing back Leykis this year. So you get callouses in your other ear now.)

We all know about the right’s collection of whack-jobs-for-hire – Limbaugh, Hannity… I still seethe with rage whenever I walk into a bookstore that’s giving shelf space to Ann Coulter that might go for someone more deserving who admits they write fiction. Let’s start with James Patterson and work our way from there. But the left, as I’ve already pointed out, has no shortage of self-righteous asses who get paid to tell you someone else is a bad person. Recently, I watched the movie Game Change, about John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. McCain couldn’t help himself. He kept watching the opinion shows, and the director used actual clips from Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. Keith Olbermann came on and said something really pithy and stupid about McCain that he would not say about Barack Obama even if it was true. I couldn’t help shouting at the TV “Keith, shut the fuck up!” (And then my wife looked me like I was insane, and I said, “Now you know why I quit listening to AM radio.”)

Or let’s take Michael Moore, who, when the facts don’t fit the point he’s trying to make, will outright lie about it even when contradicted in his own movies. My personal favorite was when he was promoting Sick-O and responded to any criticism of the movie with, “Well, your sponsors are pharmaceutical companies.” Still, like the office wingnut who tells you the British and Canadian healthcare systems are little better than those of Third World nations, Mike didn’t really care for Brits and Canadians pointing out that, while they preferred their systems over ours, they were anything but the utopias Moore portrayed them as in his movie. In fact, more than a couple of people from the UK and Canada said their systems would not work in America, nor could the UK and Canada swap systems. Mike’s been silent on that point. Like Glenn Beck, he doesn’t like those pesky facts.

It goes back to my earlier post about left vs. right. We do have an annoying tendency to be tribal and binary about things. Everything is us vs. them, which is a concept I’ve long since rejected out of hand. Moreover, there has never been a shortage of people who want to turn honest differences of opinion into war because it profits them. Some, like Glenn Beck, really don’t believe a word they’re saying. They just say it because the outrage helps them sell books or foot powder or gold-buying schemes. Most people see anxiety as something to deal with, sometimes something to medicate if it gets out of hand. Most of these jerks see it as a revenue stream. Fear, my friends, sells better than sex. But I don’t pay for sex. And since I have a perfectly functioning pair of amygdala, I reserve fear for when the car skids on ice, when that pain in my back starts in my chest, or that someone, somewhere is secretly plotting to kidnap me and force me to watch Showgirls over and over until my eyes bleed. Beyond that, my most irrational fear is heights – stupid, but useful when you consider gravity can be painful at the end of a fall, especially those longer than two stories. So if I want fear, I can think about pancreatic cancer or a remake of Showgirls, all for free. Beyond that, I try to filter fear from my politics, from my financial decisions, and from pretty much the rest of my life.

Many people don’t, but many people don’t realize it. Because we all worry about our kids, about illness, about money. Where the merchants of fear come in – and let’s be honest. They’re selling fear – is when find ways to exaggerate normal fears. Remember the swine flu scare? Glenn Beck should have had his ass tossed in jail for outright lying about the vaccine on his show. Why didn’t he just run into a movie theater and scream “Fire?” It’s the same goddamned thing. But that’s the formula they use.

“So, Jim, what do we do about it? And why so wordy?”

I’m wordy because I’ve developed a seething hatred of pundits. Most of them are gutless jackals sucking up shelfspace and airtime and bandwidth. As to what we do…

  • For starters, quit buying their books. Quit going to their web sites. Quit watching their shows. Quit listening to them on the radio.
  • Stop confusing the news shows with the opinion shows. Sean Hannity is not a news correspondent. He’s an asshole with a microphone. There’s a reason Cronkite was only on half an hour a night. Walter was all about that’s the way it is, not the way things oughta be.
  • Whenever someone uses the phrase “politically challenged” or advocates assassination or talks about vast conspiracies, write that person off. They’re not telling you anything worth repeating.
  • And when their response to criticism is “They’re out to get me!”, it’s probably a sign you didn’t need to take them all that seriously to begin with.

Sure, there are people in this world who need to sound the alarm and be shrill about their politics. But keep in mind that, if you live east of Beijing or west of Damascus, it’s not likely someone’s going to shoot you for it. You are overmortgaged, overworked (or unemployed), but not exactly living in a war zone. (Sorry, but even our worst ghettos are slightly less scary than your brakes failing. You might die. Odds are, you’ll just go home and watch Idol.) So the demonization that’s being fed to us by the media serves no legitimate purpose. None.

Unless you’re a gold broker or own a foot powder company. But I’ve bought Gold Bond without any prompting from Rush Limbaugh, so thanks, guys, but it was itchy feet that sold me on the product, not black helicopters.

*Yes. I had to look that up. And people wonder why socialism never really caught in America.