Friday, April 17, 2015

The Cult of Cruelty in America

Over the past six years the number of homeless children in America has increased by an incredible 60 percent with 16 million kids now on food stamps. The U.S has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the world, ranking us with Latvia, Lithuania and Romania at the bottom of the list.

How is this even remotely okay in a country that claims to be the leader of the free world, the country supposedly ordained by God to be the example of democracy for everyone else to follow? Every day there’s a new headline about the improving economy, but that supposed improvement isn’t reaching a whole lot of people. 

What do you expect when one of the two major political parties in America believes that the poor are in that condition because they are lazy and dependent on government handouts? In other words, Republicans blame the poor for their poverty, and constantly demean and demonize the most helpless class of people in the country. People like Cruz and Rubio and Cotton are members of a cult of cruelty, blaming the victim and rushing to unravel the remaining safety net that in some cases is literally the difference between life and death.

Poor children don’t vote, so they mean nothing to Tea Party conservatives. Like everything else conservatives believe, their perspective on poverty is supported not by science or data, but by twisted religious beliefs and a reality challenged adherence to the idea of free markets with absolutely no government intervention. In other words, they would prefer a dog-eat-dog world over even the slightest government regulation.

And who suffers the most in this Ayn Randian nightmare of free-for-all capitalism? Our children, of course. They pay the price for conditions they had nothing to do with creating. The cult of cruelty is the result of white elitists in positions of power who want no government regulation over how they make their money, calling any interference with their schemes socialism. Children are not as important as the bottom line, and neither apparently, is our future as a country.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mass Media Hypnosis

How people make decisions interests me. People can look at the very same world I’m looking at and make decisions about things that are the polar opposite of what I would decide. Are they smarter than me? Do they know something I don’t? The 2012 mid-term election is a case in point. It’s true the turnout was low, but people throughout America made a conscious decision to vote into office the very culprits who were responsible for this country’s myriad problems. What seems so crystal clear to me is seen through a completely different pair of glasses by a large chunk of American voters. Why is that?

There is no one answer, of course, but I believe the mainstream corporate media plays a critical role in shaping and contouring people’s perceptions about their country, and how they choose to pull the lever on election day. I’m not breaking any new ground here (See Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent for a thorough, well researched analysis of how the media molds public opinion), but I’m simply trying to understand how and why my own views differ so greatly from those of my fellow Americans.

After all, I grew up in a solid blue-collar home with parents who were loving, but not well educated. My father was an auto mechanic and my mother the stay-at-home parent, a pretty typical household unit in the nineteen fifties, and one that you would suspect would be a fertile breeding ground for conservative ideology. I even went to church regularly as a child.

But there was one important variable. Despite his lack of formal education, my father was a natural born critical thinker and he questioned things that others around him took for granted. He opposed the Vietnam War. He would argue for hours with his sister, a devout Catholic, about the problems with religious dogma. He was a huge fan of Mark Twain, as am I. So something unusual happened during my upbringing, my interactions with my parents and the larger world, that turned me to the left politically at an early age.

It may be my upbringing that has allowed me to elude the siren song of the status quo. The corporate media is a powerful force that has many people captivated and under its spell. Since its infancy, television was a vehicle to sell things, with some entertainment stuck in between commercials to keep eyes fixed on the screen. Pitching products and services is still a primary function of the networks, but it has an additional corporate/government responsibility to de-radicalize Americans and numb them into a state of obedience.

Tens of millions of Americans rely solely on the major networks for their news, so the political spectrum they are exposed to both overtly (i.e. the Sunday news panel shows) and covertly, runs from the far right to the wobbly center. Progressive views are marginalized and rarely heard. The so-called liberal press is one of the great myths of our generation. The media today is a for-profit enterprise that purposefully shapes its news programs to offend as few viewers as possible and support the institutions and ideas it considers “mainstream.” This soft, easy to digest pablum is served up on a daily basis and reinforces already internalized beliefs and biases. It does not challenge, it lulls. It is a form of hypnotism, keeping viewers in a certain state of political obliviousness while at the same time, inciting people to be good little consumers and spend, spend, spend.

Instead of encouraging critical thinking, the news media emphasizes group think and constantly reinforces the importance of “fitting in” to be cool, sexy and hip. By ignoring critical voices and a truly comparative analysis of the political candidates’ positions, viewers are left with little substantive information, and revert to picking the candidate that most closely mirrors their personal values, with little understanding of his or her record or policies.

Look into my giant eye. You are getting sleepy, very, very sleepy….

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Messing with Texas

Is it just me or is Texas full of the looniest people in America? The news seems to be filled daily with stories about Texans acting and talking crazy. From Tea Party darlings in Washington like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Louie Gohmert to the marketing CEO (a female) who says a woman can’t be President because of hormones and Biblical sound reasoning to the Texas mother who objected to the regular visits to her son’s public school of “Bible Man.” Her complaints about overt Christian proselytizing in a public school were met with death threats and a photo of a house burning down. She said, “We just can’t get over how much hate there is in their loving, Christian hearts.”

George Bush is a Texan. And let’s not forget the ever-quotable governor of Texas Rick Perry, the man who never lets anyone forget he hates Obama, guberment and gun laws. His positions include eliminating the federal income tax, ending the direct election of U.S. senators and allowing states to opt out of Social Security and Medicaid. He has also suggested that Texas might secede from the United States.

How bad is Texas? Here are a few indicators:

  • Texas is 43rd in graduation rate
  • Texas ranks 50th in adults with a high school diploma
  • Texas ranks 46th in SAT scores
  • Texas ranks 49th in teacher pay
  • Tax Expenditures per Capita 47th
  • Percent of Uninsured Children 1st
  • Percent of Children Living in Poverty 4th
  • Per Capita State Spending on Mental Health 50th
  • Teenage Birth Rate 7th
  • Rate of Incarceration 9th
  • Texas ranks 38th in funding per pupil
  • Texas ranks 43rd in voting age population that is registered and 45th of voting age citizens who actually vote!
  • Texas is the biggest polluter in America, according to the EPA
  • Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the country

    Sure, every state has its issues, but Texas seems to breed a particularly virulent strain of wackiness. Everything’s bigger in Texas, including its problems.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2015

    Hillary’s campaign logo: An unfortunate early misstep

    As someone who has spent a career in the marketing/design world, I’ve seen some great logos and some ghastly ones. One thing about creating a logo is you have to think long and hard about all of the possible connotations of your image, because it’s going to be scrutinized by everyone and their mothers. Here are two examples of logos that somehow got through the approval process without the appropriate amount of scrutiny:

    At the top of the page is the logo for Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign. Maybe it’s a subject I’m too close to, but I don’t know how anyone can look at her logo and not be reminded of the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. I understand the intent of the logo, moving forward, progress and all of that, but it boggles the mind that no one on her team said, “Hey, doesn’t that remind you of the World Trade Center buildings?"

    Symbols are important communications tools both in their obvious connotations and the deeper, subconscious meanings that they convey. Think of the power of the simple cross or a swastika. The popular Da Vinci Code books and movies were all about the age-old mysteries of symbols. It’s unfortunate that Hillary’s campaign team missed the troubling implications in her logo. Not the best first step on the road to the White House.

    Monday, April 13, 2015

    The Republican Clown Car Bound For Washington Has a New Passenger

    The Buffoon Brigade of Republican candidates running for President increased by one over the weekend as the first-term Florida Senator Marco Rubio selflessly offered his un-asked for services to the country. During his announcement to donors, he said that there is a real choice in this election between the past and the future. I assume he considers himself the future, which can be chalked up as the first ludicrous statement of many, many to come during his campaign.

    As a Tea Party zealot, you don’t have to do any research at all to know what Rubio stands for: Tax cuts for the wealthy; war everywhere; privatize everything; demonize gays, blacks, immigrants; theocracy, anti-science, etc. There is no meaningful difference between Rubio and Cruz and Walker and Carson when it comes to their political beliefs. They all want to turn back the hands of time to some golden era of American conservatism that never really existed.

    If any of the current Republican candidates wins the White House, it’s match, set, game over for America. These are people who believe the world is literally going to end soon, so who really gives a shit about anything anyway? In fact, there are those among their ilk who want to hasten in the end times and are willing to take drastic action to see their delusional prophecy fulfilled. Tell me again you want this person to have the codes to our nuclear weapons.

    It remains to be seen how badly Americans have lost touch with reality and common sense. Will they send a certified lunatic to the White House? Stay tuned.

    Sunday, April 12, 2015

    Hillary Clinton: The Stop-Gap President

    Hillary Clinton announced today she’s running for President. I have mixed feelings about it, but they’re mostly negative. Yes, it would be a giant step forward in many ways for this country to have a woman in charge, and I am looking forward to that day. Beyond the fact that Hillary is a woman, however, there is little to cheer about.

    Mrs. Clinton is the establishment Democrat. She voted with conservatives to start the Iraq war and has been a consistent hawk on military issues her entire political career. She has deep roots in both Washington and Wall Street and is a veteran of backroom negotiating. The biggest issue I have with Hillary is that I don’t see her halting or overhauling any of the Bush/Obama policies such as mass surveillance, the perpetual war on terror, the use of drones or our insanely large expenditure on national defense.

    One thing I know for certain is how Clinton will campaign. As the primaries draw closer, Hillary will start courting the Left with much talk about helping the middle class, taking on the financial elites and fixing our broken economy, all hot button issues for liberals and progressives. Once she has the nomination, the rhetoric will shift to the right, to appeal to the broader group of voters resting in the middle of the political spectrum. Should she win the election, we would see her surround herself with Washington insiders and Wall Street veterans and she would move back to the middle/right where she naturally resides.

    With no fresh ideas or bold initiatives, Bush’s corrosive policies will live on in a Clinton administration and America will continue its gradual slide into oblivion. Isn’t Hillary better than a Ted Cruz or Rand Paul? That depends. If you’re anxious to get the nightmare over with quickly and have a President who will put America out of its misery quickly, go Republican. Want some extra time? Vote for Hillary.

    Saturday, April 11, 2015

    “Take our country back” is Rand Paul’s confusing campaign theme

    The Huffington Post is airing a new cable show called…wait for it…The Huffpost Show. Brilliant. Anyway, I caught a few minutes of it and the subject of the day was a phrase that Rand Paul is using in his stumbling, bumbling campaign for the Presidency: “We’re going to take our country back.” The two hosts were like “from whom?” and then a singer did a satirical song about it.

     Since the phrase is a center point of his campaign and, from a brief clip they showed of a Paul speech, very popular with his supporters, it seems fair to me to exam it a bit more thoroughly.

    “We’re going to take our country back” implies that there was a time in the past when America was a conservative utopia and it exemplified the basic tenets of conservative ideology. Okay. When, exactly was that time?

    Perhaps America’s golden era was as recent as the Reagan years where Ron and his band of neocons began the destruction of the Middle Class, made a secret pact with Iran to keep the American hostages until after Carter left office, illegally sold guns to the Contras and left this country in an economic mess when his term was up.

    No? Well, we can definitely rule out the sixties. Maybe they really like the fifties, when taxes on this country’s richest individuals was as high as 80 percent, teen pregnancies were at the highest level they’ve ever been, Jim Crow laws still applied, and American citizens were persecuted if rabid officials eve thought you were a communist. It was, however, the Golden Age of television, that fictional world where father always knew best and children apologized if they disappointed their parents.

    How about the thirties and forties? What? Turn back the clock to the New Deal and all of FDR’s socialist programs? No thank you. The twenties and thirties? The stock market crash, the Great Depression, prohibition, the Dust Bowl, etc. etc. The turn of the century? Robber barons, Tammany Hall, Native American genocide? Pre-Civil War? 1200 B.C.?

    Obviously, there is no “back” to go back to for Conservatives. Whatever utopia they have in their fevered minds is a delusional blend of Ayn Rand, fifties sit-coms and racist dreams of a time when white people lorded over everyone without question.

    What a minute. Hold on. Maybe the phrase “take our country back” actually means, “take our country backwards,” in which case I apologize and give Paul kudos for his brutal honesty.