“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” ― Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

Archive for the ‘A Piece of My Mind’ Category

Review: Rendezvous with Oblivion by Thomas Frank

Rendezvous_OblivionRendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society is a collection of essays from 2011 to the present that provides a travelogue of the downward journey of the US. Not that it starts at the top of the hill, because for the bulk of the population that’s been forbidden territory for several decades—only the nobility gets to occupy the castles.

That’s sort of the metaphor used in title of the first set of essays, “Many Vibrant Mansions,” and the subject of the second piece, “The Architecture of Inequality.” Describing his trek through the world of the McMansion, he observes they are “houses that seemed to have been designed by Stanford White after a debilitating brain injury.”

Those unfamiliar with Mr. Frank’s work should consider reading his earlier books The Wrecking Crew and Listen, Liberal! before joining him on this trip. The former answers the question many who only became politically involved during the 2016 election keep asking, which is “What are the Republicans doing?” The latter explains that it isn’t just the Republicans, and why.

In politics, of course, the scam and the fib are as old as the earth itself. Even so, the past decade has been a time of extraordinary innovation in the field…Millions of Americans came to believe that everything was political and that therefore everything was faked; that everyone was a false accuser so why not accuse people falsely; than any complaint or objection could ultimately be confounded by some clever meme; that they or their TV heroes had discovered the made-up argument by which they could drown out that still small voice of reality.

So, the first part describes how we came to accept escalating inequality, encouraged by politicians on both sides of the aisle who lied and obfuscated to ensure we stayed convinced there was really nothing wrong. That if the benefits of the tax cuts and the trade deals and the bank deregulation somehow missed us…well, it was our fault for not working hard enough, or for making bad choices, or not getting the proper education. Supported by news media and TV and movies that bombarded us with the message that the billionaires were the above-mentioned heroes we must needs struggle to emulate.

Meanwhile, the first African-American president, who promised us hope and change, saved the banks and the Wall Streeters while millions of the middle-class lost their homes and/or their retirement funds.

The one percent got the of both [“a brief experience with deficit spending” then President Obama’s “famous turn to austerity”]: not only were they bailed out, but the also chalked up some of their best years ever under Barack Obama, taking home 95 percent of the nation’s income growth during the recovery.

And speaking of not getting the proper education, that’s the topic of Part 2: “Too Smart to Fail.” This section covers the encroachment of neoliberalism on campus, which has led to a decrease in the number of tenured professors and an increase in the number of adjuncts most of whom can’t live on what they’re paid and don’t know from one week to the next if they’ll even have a job. In fact, a writer I know who works as an adjunct had a class he was counting on to pay his living expenses cancelled four days before it was scheduled to start, with no compensation.

And then there is soaring tuition, which more and more goes to pay inflated salaries for legions of unnecessary administrators while services (and those tenured professors) are cut back. Four-year college graduates are re-entering the world carrying a massive load of debt, which is not just stressful but a major drain on the economy both because wages and salaries have stagnated or actually declined in the last four decades and because money that goes into the vaults of lenders isn’t being spent in the economy.

[E]very democratic movement from the Civil War to the 1960s aimed to bring higher ed to an ever widening circle, to make it more affordable. Ours is the generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed it for their own benefit.

Part 3, “The Poverty of Centrism,” traces the path by which, beginning in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan and continued unabated by those administrations that followed him, the rich got filthy rich and the 90% were tricked into believing keeping them that way was good for us

To a Washington notable of the pre-Trump era, a team of rivals was a glorious thing: it meant that elections had virtually no consequences for members of the consensus. No one was sentenced to political exile because he or she was on the wrong side; the presidency changed hands, but all the players still got a seat at the table.

The only ones left out of this warm bipartisan circle of friendship were the voters, who woke up one fine day to discover what they thought they’d rejected wasn’t rejected in the least.

In this section, Mr. Frank also talks about the role the news media have played in enabling this mess. I don’t share his admiration for the Washington Post, but I have to wonder if his informal analysis of the way they undermined Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primaries wasn’t a bit painful. Or even disillusioning. He also seems unwilling to admit the collusion between the DNC and the Clinton campaign and the news media to achieve that goal; he avoids referring to the email leaks that revealed just that, and sadly, he seems to at least partly believe the so-far unsupported insistence on “Russian influence.”

Even so, his criticism of the Democrats was apparently sufficient to get him blackballed by those major news media he tries hard not to accuse of bias.

The final section, “The Explosion” addresses the why of the election of Donald Trump and why it was the direct result of the Democrat Party’s refusal to accept that they could no longer take their traditional working-class and minority base for granted. Which brings us to this year.

Trump succeeded by pretending to be the heir of populists past, acting the role of a rough-hewn reformer who detested the powerful and cared about working-class people. Now it is the turn of Democrats to take it back from him. They may have to fire their consultants.

As I said earlier, I wouldn’t recommend this as an introduction to Thomas Frank’s work. The broad scope of the subject matter is easier to take in context if one has a background in what he’s written at length. For those familiar with that body of writing, these essays are sharp-tongued snippets of the history of the last seven years, with reference to those that preceded them. They do require personal honesty, in that we who allowed this mess to come as far as it has must take the responsibility for not paying attention and staying informed.

Well done, Mr. Frank. May we please have some more?

Review: The Sea Peoples by S. M. Stirling

Sea_Peoples_StirlingI’ve fallen behind on the Change novels, and have clearly missed some important happenings. On the other hand, it’s a good test of a writer’s skill if a reader can pick up the narrative after a few episodes and not be confused. I’m pleased to say Mr. Stirling’s talent for writing a long, complicated series continues unabated.

I try not to include a lot a plot details when I review a book, mostly because no matter how hard one tries, there will be spoilers. So, long story short, The Sea Peoples has one major and one minor plotline, which will be familiar to those who follow this series. The major story line involves a surreal rescue of Prince John Arminger Mackenzie; the minor continues a previous one in which Crown Princess Órlaith Arminger Mackenzie aids her new friend, the Japanese Empress Reiko, battle the Korean hordes. The evil power that has driven most of the villainy in the series hovers in the shadows, this time embodied in the theme of Robert Chambers’s The King in Yellow.

For battle fans, there are plenty of those, both on land and at sea. Not all the enemies are human. That’s all I’m going to say on that score.As someone who has written a fantasy trilogy, I’m very familiar with the difficulty of keeping a multitude of characters, story lines, backstory, history, geography, culture and mythology straight. As someone who has read more than a few longer-running series, I always find it a pleasure when Mr. Stirling takes me back to the world of the Change. Unlike far too many others, he never pads the narrative, leaving the action for the last hundred or so pages, just to drag the conclusion further down the line.

This new episode is no exception. The action is nonstop, and liberally seasoned with humor. The underlying theme of the entire series—that humanity has a huge capacity for survival through cooperation—is one we truly need to hear in these times of chaos when powerful forces seek to divide us into warring tribes.

My one criticism is that the repetition of events from the previous book rather got out of hand. It’s not a good sign when a reader finds herself saying “I got it, already. Move on.” Information is important; redundancy is irksome. Fortunately, most of that happens in the first few chapters, and once we get down to business there’s no stopping for anything except maybe bathroom breaks. Maybe not even those.

The best part of this book for me was the rescue team’s journey through an alternate world slowly being corrupted by a cult of the King in Yellow. There, we observe the development from the villain not from the outside, or even in his own point of view but through the “eyes” of Prince John, whose consciousness travels inside the man’s head. That kind of up close and personal is exceedingly creepy.

Fans of the series won’t be disappointed. Newcomers to the post-Change world should be able to enjoy this book even if they aren’t familiar with what’s gone before and may risk addiction by the time they’re finished. The inevitable unresolved issues at the end, as always, leave the reader anxiously waiting to see what happens next. I may manage to catch up on what I missed by then.

I would personally, as writer and editor, like to thank Mr. Stirling for not referring to the smell of blood as “coppery.” I don’t know who is responsible for starting that particular cliché, but it has become a crutch for far too many writers who apparently don’t have contact with the real thing. And if the reader is a Trek fan, it’s nearly impossible not to wonder whether the dead person was a Vulcan in disguise. But I digress.

The Sea Peoples is another excellent tale from an extremely talented writer who has created a world that looks increasingly enticing to anyone stressed out by the real one. You should buy it. Or ask your local library to buy it.

Standard disclaimer: This review is based on an advanced review copy of the book provided for me by the publisher.

Charlottesville

If you haven’t seen this documentary from Vice News about Charlottesville, take the time to do so.

However, try to do so with an open mind, which I know is asking a lot under the circumstances. Much is being made of the fact the supremacists came prepared for battle. As much as I detest them and all their works, and stating unequivocally that the terrorist act the left one dead and many injured, in both body and mind, is unacceptable, I also have to note that there are places where I can’t tell one faction from the other.

There is scientific support for the statement that nonviolence is a stronger method of protest and has longer-lasting positive effects than violence. Yes, the neo-Nazis came prepared for battle, but why did those opposing them have to provide it?

Please withhold your outrage for just another moment. That is in no way, shape, or form to be understood as a condemnation of all those brave souls who stood in opposition to the terrorist rally being held in their midst and against their wishes. It’s an expression of my fear, based on what I saw in the ’60s and ’70s, that this movement, too, will be co-opted to violence. If that happens, we’ve lost, and the country we were taught to love for its freedoms and honor will be lost as well.

The fact is, the states that are falling in line to pass open-carry laws are aiding and abetting the thugs and racists, and given most of them are run by the GOP it’s almost impossible not to believe that action is deliberate. They WANT us to react in anger and outrage, and we just can’t give them what they want.

While we were watching the video of the car slamming into protestors, the White House issued an order elevating the US Cybercommand Unit to independent status, and may separate it entirely from the NSA. The purpose of the unit, said Reuters, is “to develop cyber weapons, punish intruders and tackle adversaries.” In the past week, the CEO of Blackwater petitioned the White House to turn most of the military activities in Afghanistan over to private “security” companies. Which have private armies. And private air forces. And the same weapons as our official military.

If you can consider that and not be terrified, then we really have no basis for discussion.

Self-defense requires an actual, physical threat of bodily harm, not the fear of it. The urge to attack when you’ve suffered years and decades and lifetimes of evil is overwhelming, but we live in a culture that is being operated behind the scenes by people much more dangerous than the Wizard of Oz. It’s up to us to decide whether we’ll allow them to pull our strings and use us to further their goal of turning the US into a neo-feudal plutocratic oligarchy by becoming those we hate. It’s up to us to refuse to be turned into those we despise.

Yes, we are at war. We have been for a long time; we just weren’t aware of it because the enemy was using guerilla tactics. If we resort to using their playbook, we’ve already lost, because they already have their private armies in place to put down resistance. All it needs is one order from their employees in DC declaring martial law, and I don’t doubt for a moment they would get it.

There is a new narrative being propagated whenever the request for nonviolence arises, one that’s targeted at young people. It purports to show that nonviolence alone isn’t enough by citing the violence in India that occurred while Gandhi was protesting, and the Black Panthers during Martin Luther King’s. The narrative is carefully constructed to seem sensible, but it takes both those examples and any others it uses out of historical context and ignores facts that counter the message that sometimes you have to fight with the weapons the enemy uses.

No, you don’t.

There are a great many people who are gearing up to prevent the alt-right/white nationalist/neo-Nazi groups from having a forum to spew their rancid bigotry. That, too, is a natural reaction. It’s perhaps even more so given that so few people seem to understand that free speech doesn’t mean “as long as I agree with/like what you say.” Blocking them completely is the last thing we should do. So long as they’re spewing their poison in public, we know who they are and where they stand. We can peacefully speak up to counter their narrative. Silence them, and they will simply crawl into their lairs and distill their poison in the dark.

The Gray Lady’s Underwear Is Showing

You will hear from those enamored of the corporate media—the people whose lives are just fine, thanks, and who therefore embrace the “resistance” narrative propagated by the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN with unquestioning enthusiasm—that those sources are the last bastions of responsible journalism. They repeat every bit of the latest “news” with absolute certainty they are in possession of the facts, and anyone who dares disagree is clearly the pawn of right-wing/Russian/conspiracy theorist propaganda.

As the guy in that old TV commercial used to shout, “Bunk! Don’t you believe it!”

As proof of this, I offer the following screenshot, taken the morning of 11 June 2017 after Bernie Sanders spoke at the second annual People’s Summit in Chicago and said essentially that the Democratic Party can either listen to the people or be made redundant. I will just note as an aside that CNN couldn’t even manage to note in its article where Mr. Sanders was speaking. Indeed, it referred to the conference as “an audience of nearly 4,000 mostly dedicated “Berniecrats.” I mention it in case the Times headline doesn’t make the utter disrespect the media have for you and me sufficiently clear.

I want you to ponder that headline for just a few moments, and then, for those who haven’t already recognized just how toxically slanted and screamingly ironic it is, I will explain.

(Tick…tick…tick…)

Let us begin with the notion the Democratic Party as it now exists is split. As was clearly demonstrated last year, that thesis doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The party establishment was sufficiently of one mind to ensure their anointed candidate, who had been promised the nomination in exchange for allowing Barack Obama to be chosen in 2008, received her due. This was exposed when Wikileaks published the purloined DNC emails, followed shortly thereafter by the ones obtained after John Podesta fell for a standard phishing scheme.

They have since set in place as their party chair a man who is a loyal Clintonite partisan, shunning the one that “base” clearly preferred. A man who, while on the road touring with Bernie Sanders in the name of “unity” was utterly tongue-tied when confronted by those demanding to know what the DNC plans to do about single-payer health care, raising the minimum wage and getting all that dark and corporate money out of elections.

This brings us to the next part: “The Base Wants It All.” Notice how that wording makes “the base” sound like a bunch of greedy toddlers throwing a tantrum? It’s condescending, dismissive, and essentially suggests “the base” is incapable of understanding you can’t have all those nice things because it’s not realistic. Never mind that every other first-world country has those nice things and has had for decades.

And now that last part, which is by far the most hilarious. “The Party Wants to Win.” The implication being, of course, that standing for all those nice things will never get anybody elected because the Democrats need to win over the moderate Republicans who hate Donald Trump as much as they [pretend] to. To achieve that, they must continue their message of neoliberal center-right economics. You know—the policy that has sent half of all the revenue from the so-called “recovery” to the top 1% of the population. Yeah, that one.

They’ve been using that excuse for becoming the GOP-Lite since Clinton the First. In particular, they have used it over and over since Obama was elected. As a result, the Republicans now control both houses of Congress and the majority of state governments. Even where the occasional Democrat has managed to win a governorship, he or she usually has to contend with a Republican-controlled legislature.

Any sensible person would take note of that and say “Hmm, maybe we should try something different. What if we, you know, listened to the progressives and did a 180? What if we started supporting candidates running on platforms of helping the majority instead of the top 10 percent?” Not our good friends at the DNC. Nope. They poured $6 million into the campaign of Jon Osseff in Georgia, who is running ahead of his GOP opponent on that platform that’s lost them all those earlier elections. However, they couldn’t manage to find $20,000 for a progressive in Kansas who also had a good shot at beating the Republican; and the $60,000 they finally agreed to send to the progressive in Montana was too little too late.

Need we say it’s a given that if Mr. Osseff wins, the Democratic Party establishment will have a big mutual back-patting circle and shout for all the world to hear that see—they were right. That’s how you win.

Except when it isn’t. The dismal record of all the Osseff-like candidates who ran in 2014 on that same corporate-friendly “pragmatic” platform far outweighs one success. And he’s running in an upscale district full of more than a few of those 10-percenters and likely a slew of 25-percenters. In other words, not the kind of voters who got behind Jim Thompson in Kansas and Rob Quist in Montana.

I noted on implication in that headline. Here’s another one: the Democratic Party has become so self-satisfied and arrogant those running it seem to be under the mistaken belief that, in the end, that “base” they have no respect for will vote for whatever candidate is offered. The fact that so many members of that base stayed home last November because they were fed up with being told they have to vote for someone because that someone isn’t as bad as the other guy is lost on them.

And in that single headline, the New York Times—all unwittingly, one suspects, because its editorial board is as self-satisfied and arrogant as the Democrats—makes it clear just how little respect We the People get from our public servants and those who are supposed to represent us in choosing the ones we have to vote for. We exist, so far as they’re concerned, to do their bidding and settle for whatever crumbs we manage to glean from their table once the election is over.

I don’t know about you, but I hate crumbs. And I’m tired of being told I have to eat them while the people telling me to do so are schmoozing with bankers and billionaires at $5000-a-plate dinners. As for the Democrats, if they truly do “want to win,” I suggest they listen to General George S. Patton.

“Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.”

Those not with us are against us

In the February 5, 2016, debate, Hillary Clinton rebutted the accusation she was influenced by the huge sums of money donated by corporate and Wall Street financiers. Proudly, she shouted down Sen. Sanders with the affirmation that she represented “my constituents,” with the implication “despite all the money I received from Wall Street.” It wouldn’t occur to most people to pause and consider that, as the Senator from New York, Wall Street financiers were her constituents.

Now, more than a year and one catastrophic defeat later, it appears avid Clintonites are still incapable of seeing through obfuscation. As a result, the quickest way to be accused of being a “Trump supporter” is to suggest:

  1. There are more important issues than obsessing over every ridiculous thing our new president says on Twitter.
  2. The President of the United States can neither make or eliminate laws, and any executive orders he issues have to be backed by established law; in other words, he can only choose how those laws will be implemented, not change them arbitrarily.
  3. No one is required to say who they voted for last November, and demanding they do so or be accused of the above is a violation of their right to cast a secret ballot. To assume by their refusal they voted Republican violates the rules of logic, in that correlation still doesn’t prove causation.
  4. Declaring people had no right to vote for a third-party candidate or to choose not to vote at all if there are no candidates for whom they can do so in good conscience is a violation of the Constitution. Worse, it’s dictatorial and condescending.
  5. People who did vote Republican may have had good reason, in their estimation, for why they chose to do so, which is precisely what the Constitution intended.

In addition, mentioning any of the above in conjunction with invoking item #3 will automatically label one a “Hillary hater” if, at the same time, one suggests that (a) there were very real reasons why she was a toxic candidate and (b) insisting people should have voted for her anyway because Trump is as totalitarian as what the GOP has in store for the country.

And then there are the ones who attack any woman who dares to say she sees no purpose in marching through the streets wearing a pink hat when there is so much that needs to be done. And just for the record, I find it painfully ironic that those who purport to be protesting women’s inequality choose to do so wearing the color the culture has dictated belongs to girls. I would think equality of the genders would have been better served by purple.

I suspect I shouldn’t be surprised that it appears most of those who engage in the above behaviors are rarely among those actively engaged in fighting the current regime in whatever manner possible. One never finds them on social media groups for activist organizations. One never sees them talk about what they’ve done or plan to do about changing the status quo. When, after having gone into defense mode at the drop of anything that contradicts their cognitive bias, they are presented with sources to support the contradictions, their invariable response is to ignore the information in favor of repeating their assumption one is a “Trump supporter.”

Thousands of little Neros, fiddling the corporate media’s tune while the GOP and the New Democrats burn the Constitution and raze the republic to the ground.

I do understand. The economic disaster that caused so many voters to flip from Democrat to Republican last November doesn’t impinge on their comfortable existence. Yet. They either never knew or have conveniently forgotten what it’s like to be so poor you have no idea whether you’ll have a place to live or food for your kids next month, or whether the water will be shut off because the car broke down and you needed to get it fixed so you could get to work. Sadly, not even calling them out for their classism does any good; the only “-isms” they acknowledge are racism and sexism.

The stubborn unwillingness of too many people to break away from the media manipulation that’s a constant stream 24/7/365 and understand the dire consequences of keeping on with what has gone before is a danger to everyone. We can no longer afford willful ignorance, and it becomes increasingly clear there is plenty of that on both sides of the discussion. The committed Trump people are convinced the disastrous measures he and his keepers in Congress are undertaking will fix what they think is wrong with the world. The other side is committed to believing the Russians ruined their anointed’s chance to continue the policies of the Obama administration, which the aforementioned media have convinced them were a rousing success. One individual I respect highly posted a graphic of Obama in a cape a la Batman to her Facebook timeline, along with a worshipful comment worthy of any fan.

Again, for this kind of cultist, telling them people who actually understand what happened over the last eight years know the Obama administration was, by and large, a disaster for anyone but the plutocrats, mitigated only slightly by a hugely popular health care law, is pointless. And that delusion will allow the New Democrats, who over the last eight years have all but made it possible for the states controlled by the same Republicans who want to resurrect the Articles of Confederation to call for a Constitutional Convention by pushing corporate shills for candidates, to continue doing so.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of people who have seen the corporate media propaganda for what it is, and who either ignore it or actively resist the narrative. They do so with the full understanding they could be in danger as the oligarchy our country has become moves closer and closer to fascism. They don’t have time to waste checking to see what the Tweeter-in-Chief posted this morning, and they understand even one shared issue is enough to embrace people who otherwise may be our philosophical and political opposites.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have remarked after the Declaration of Independence was signed that “If we do not hang together, we will surely hang separately.” The men who wrote that document differed widely in ideals and goals, but they understood they had no choice but to set their differences aside to achieve freedom from what was, ironically, corporate tyranny. Those who continue to condemn anyone who chose to vote against Hillary Clinton, or who chose not to vote at all, or who they simply decide voted against her because they don’t adhere faithfully to the establishment narrative, are like the colonial loyalists who were certain revolution was unpatriotic and economically unsound. At best, they are something to work around. At worst, they are likely to undermine the efforts of those who understand the republic is crumbling, and only We the People can fix it.

As I mentioned last fall, I established a Facebook group to which I post articles, blogs, and other information either overlooked or under-reported by the corporate media. The content is public, so one needn’t join the group to read it. I won’t pretend I don’t have progressive bias, but I do endeavor to stick to facts, and when I can’t I identify opinion for what it is.

It’s one way I can try to keep the sleeping giant Bernie Sanders stirred up from falling back under the hypnotic sway of the mainstream narrative.

I’m tired

I’m tired of hearing that poor people wouldn’t be poor if they’d just work harder.

I’m tired of knowing millions of people are one serious accident or illness away from bankruptcy.

I’m tired of people telling me rich people with more money than God shouldn’t have their taxes increased because they worked hard for money most of them inherited. And then used the inherited money to make more money.

I’m tired of wondering whether my grandchildren will have a world left by the time they’re grown.

I’m tired of seeing black and brown children cheated out of a quality education so hedge-fund managers and billionaires can make millions in the name of “school choice.” I’m tired of seeing children turn from eager-to-learn to overstressed, school-hating zombies because people who know nothing about education have declared themselves experts in the subject.

I’m tired of watching people who haven’t suffered a day in their lives turn their backs on men, women and children who barely escaped some war zone with their lives. I’m even more tired of war zones cropping up like poisonous toadstools.

I’m tired of those who are supposed to provide me with the truth instead being used to brainwash people into being terrified so the powerful can destroy their rights in the name of protection from an amorphous threat dressed in racist clothing.

I’m tired of being told I shouldn’t complain because there are people in other countries who don’t have all my advantages when there are people of color in my own country who lack those advantages simply because my complexion is paler.

I’m tired of hearing from people who are so insecure about their own sexuality they can’t stand it when someone is different. Seriously—what other reason can there be for having the arrogance to define who people have to be?

I’m tired of having to fight against power-hungry people who try to pit one generation against another as a way of keeping their power. I’m also tired of those  who let them do it.

I’m tired of hearing that yet more and deadlier weapons have been sent to further US policy while in those same areas people are dying for lack of food and medicine.

Mostly, though, I’m tired of seeing people who seem to have forgotten how to dream, who have surrendered all hope of anything getting better because “they” are running things. “They” is just a pronoun. We can be “they,” if we have the courage and the commitment and the willingness to say “I’ve had enough of being tired. The only thing your way has accomplished is to make people feel helpless and frightened and ready to take what crumbs you let fall from your table.”

There are more of us than there are of them, and the secret they don’t want you to know is that they are the ones who are frightened. They’re frightened we’ll discover they aren’t invulnerable. They’re frightened we’ll gather up that courage and commitment and willingness and use it against their schemes and their propaganda and their arrogance.

I say we go for it.

The Business of Pleasure

(UPDATE: PayPal has announced they are retreating from their position on this matter, which has those who have been calling for their destruction congratulating themselves. However, a careful reading of their statement, quoted in today’s business section of the Chicago Tribune, the real reason for the change of heart appears to be that Visa and Master Card provided a more detailed explanation of their policies, which were what had prompted the PayPal action in the first place. Note that this had been offered as a likely reason for the policy change by several sources.)

The people at Amazon must be breathing a sigh of relief these days–there’s a new villain in the gunsights of those who confuse freedom of expression with the right to write what they please and sell it anywhere they want.

Recently, possibly because the credit card companies that allow them to act as a merchant account provider threatened to raise service fees, PayPal contacted customers who sell erotica and ordered them to clean up their wares. They were told to remove material that used rape, bestiality, sex with juveniles, and/or incest, including sex between step-parents, stepchildren and/or step-siblings as an erotic element. The alternative is losing their PayPal services.

Those first to receive the injunction were the major independent ebook retailers like Smashwords, All Romance eBooks and Bookstrand; Amazon and B&N may have gotten notice, too, but they don’t share company business. Not long afterwards, independent ebook publishers, many of which rose to success selling erotic romance and erotica, received similar notice. Nearly all of these publishers, be it noted, state they will and do refuse material containing the aforementioned tropes in their guidelines.

The furor that resulted buried the incipient protest generated the previous week by Amazon’s removal of ebooks received through the Independent Publisher’s Group from sale, which was in turn generated by collapse of negotiations between Amazon and IPG over pricing. On a discussion group for independent digital publishers, requests were made for viable alternatives to PayPal. There aren’t any, really. There are lots of wannabes, but none so far has developed the necessary infrastructure to handle international financial transactions with the ease PayPal offers for reasonable fees.

What has gotten lost in that furor are a few basic points. First, although you wouldn’t know it to hear some of the protests, everyone got the same email. In other words, PayPal issued a generic statement to all its clients who fell under the updated policy. You know: as when your bank tells their customers they’ve decided not to continue free checking unless you maintain a minimum balance. No one was “targeted,” except in the sense that the policy was applied to those most likely to be offering the material PayPal referred to.

At Zumaya, we have used PayPal since it was first created. It’s not perfect, but as a service it has improved greatly over that decade or so. We use it because we don’t do enough online retail selling to justify the considerably greater expense of maintaining a regular merchant account. We know, because we did have a merchant account for a while. PayPal also has the advantage that it’s easy for people who don’t have credit cards to use for online purchases.

Second, PayPal, like any other business, has to make money. They do this in a number of ways. One, of course, is through the transaction and currency exchange fees they charge. Another is collecting interest on balances. This is why a transfer of funds to your bank account takes 3-4 business days; PayPal is earning interest on those funds while you’re waiting for them. Annoying, but necessary, and your bank does it, too, when it requires a period of time after you deposit funds for them to appear on your balance.

In order to accept credit card payments, PayPal must enter into agreements with the credit card companies–AmEx, Visa, Master Card, Discover–just like any bank or other middleman. They are subject to the fees those companies charge. Those fees increase in any instance where the credit card companies anticipate a high level of chargebacks. One such instance is the porn industry.

Now, those folks I mentioned in my first paragraph might–no, are almost certain to–shout that what they are writing and selling isn’t porn. Unfortunately, many, many people would disagree with them. Yes, they have every right to produce it. They have every right to sell it. But no service, PayPal or otherwise, is obligated to help them do it.

This is what far too many people seem to be losing sight of these days. No business is obligated to do anything except obey the law. Have some online businesses acquired a disproportionate share of the goodie box? Yes, by virtue of (a) having gotten a huge head start on everyone else (Amazon) or (b) doing it so much better than anyone else (Google). That doesn’t change the fact that they are businesses, not charities, and that they are entitled to decide, within the limits of the law, how they will operate.

And if they are put on notice by some other business on which they depend that a policy change is required, they have the same choice those complaining about PayPal do: change the policy or find an alternative source for the service or product they require.

PayPal is making lots of money from online retailers like Smashwords and the independent publishers. Given that, what sense would it make for them to arbitrarily decide they didn’t want to do business with those people and issue a fiat that would drive them to another provider? Successful businesses don’t stay that way by driving off major revenue sources, figuratively shooting themselves in both knees.

Yet if you listen to the protests now being issued, that’s what PayPal has done. They are, we are told, waging war against their business partners and freedom of expression by requiring material most people would find offensive no longer be sold using their service. How dare they?

They “dare” because they have made a policy decision and enforced it, which is entirely within their rights. It may have been their own choice, or it may have been driven by pressure from outside, but PayPal has made a decision they are perfectly entitled to make.

If you consider the arguments being offered as to why PayPal is wrong to do this, the corollary is that I have no right to reject a manuscript I receive that contains the banned material because by doing so I’m interfering with the author’s freedom of expression. And yes, people, there is a difference between one of the banned topics’ being used as a literary tool and its being used specifically to arouse one’s libido.

No one is preventing the authors of the material in question from writing and selling it, which actually would constitute censorship. They just won’t be able to do it using PayPal. Right now, women and children are being raped and murdered on a daily basis in real life in Africa and elsewhere, and are being sold as sex slaves right here in the US, and I’m supposed to get all worked up because a business made a business decision that makes it hard for people to sell bestiality fantasies?

Not.