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

Archive for the ‘A Piece of My Mind’ Category

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?


All the News that Fits

The role that modern media have undertaken–or in the opinion of some, not taken–with regard to ensuring that the people in the United States are kept aware of the things that they should be kept aware of seems to have moved from the dissemination of actual useful knowledge to providing a barrage of what has come to be called “infotainment.”

All sorts of conspiracy theories have been offered to explain this journalistic dereliction of duty, but having spent nine years as a journalist, I think I can safely say that there is no great conspiracy to keep the American public stupid and ignorant. The thing is, a great many journalists already believe the American public is stupid and ignorant, that there’s no point in providing them with anything remotely resembling balanced facts because they don’t care enough about what’s going on to bother reading them.

Anyone who has ever spent any significant amount of time in your average modern newsroom quickly becomes aware that those who are occupying it consider themselves intellectually superior to the vast majority of the people for whom they’re writing. Oh, it’s nothing overt—they don’t stand around the water cooler plotting how to mess with the rubes today—but there is nevertheless a pervasive undercurrent that the reporters and editors just know so much more than the bulk of their readers.

That this supposed breadth of knowledge is largely imaginary doesn’t lessen the effect of their belief in it. Their obsession with the Tea Party, for example, has nothing to do with the political, social and cultural implications of the movement and everything to do with the belief held by those observing them that they’re all a bunch of morons. That’s why there’s been so much attention paid to misspelled signs and so little to the very real impact this political movement has already shown it can effect.

I don’t say this attitude is deliberate. It’s of the sort fostered by any closed community—a case of media ivory-tower syndrome, if you will—engendered by rules established with the intent of avoiding the appearance of bias. Emphasis on the word appearance, because it’s the rare human being who can actually divorce himself or herself from their own ideas and beliefs completely. It’s ironic that all these rules really do is so isolate those compelled to observe them from the grass roots of their communities that the aforementioned sense of superiority is inevitable.

Exacerbating this is that the bottom line when it comes to modern journalism is, sadly, the bottom line. It’s not about keeping the public informed; it’s about making money. Since advertising has become a losing proposition—for the most part, anyway—they have no choice but to focus on selling as many copies as they can, and they decided the way to do that is to avoid writing about anything that might require their customers to do anything more than enjoy themselves.

The really sad thing is, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Those who actually want factual information so they can make informed opinions have long since abandoned the newspapers in favor of the Internet and other sources. So, the only ones who continue to purchase newspapers–or so, it seems, those in charge of today’s newspapers believe–are the ones who are more interested in knowing the latest adventures of whatever pop star has crashed and burned this week.

I think you can see how it vicious circle quickly develops in this kind of situation. The newspapers aren’t providing the public with the information it wants in the fair and balanced way they’re supposed to, so the portion of the public that wants that information stops buying newspapers. When the latest scandal erupts, the people who may not otherwise buy newspapers do so, with the result that those who make the decisions decide the best way to keep selling newspapers is to keep reporting on scandals. And if there aren’t enough of those happening, it’s not that hard to make a mountain out of a mole hill, at least not when your tools are words.

So, if you really want to know where to place the blame, in part we have to blame ourselves, and in part we have to blame the fact that our media–news and otherwise–are largely in the hands of huge corporate entities whose only concern is that their stockholders and their executives make lots of money.

Joseph de Maistre wrote, in 1811, that every nation has the government it deserves. That applies equally to this situation. If we who deplore the current state of what passes for news these days continue to support it by paying for it, even if only to add more fuel to our criticism, we have to shoulder some of the blame for the existence of that which we’re criticizing.

Fortunately, the role the mainstream media has abjured is being assumed by bloggers. Unfortunately, many of these are as lacking in their willingness to work at providing actual balanced information as their mainstream peers. That those mainstream peers have chosen to be one-sided doesn’t mean it’s acceptable journalism, and any news blogger who truly wants to be taken seriously as a journalist knows this and acts accordingly. I, for one, appreciate every one of them who does.

The Power of Words

Earlier this week, I posted a note to Twitter that pointed out to the news media that their constantly poking fun at the errors made by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party is preaching to the choir. And that this wasn’t helping matters at all.

To no surprise, I was almost immediately hailed by one political Tweeter who I gather assumed I was defending said Tea Party. I say “to no surprise” because one of the general characteristics of the group is a notable lack of a sense of irony. It’s why more than a few of them believe Stephen Colbert really does agree with them.

I don’t support the Tea Party. They’re a mob on its way to becoming a cult. Mobs are always dangerous, and ignoring that threat in favor of calling attention to their lack of grammatical and spelling skills is a one-way ticket to disaster. It’s a slick way to walk the fence if you’re afraid of being labeled a part of the “liberal press,” but it does a serious disservice by allowing the voices of ignorance and anger to take precedence over those of sense and fact.
The only news organization those who support the Tea Party trust is Newscorp. Another irony, since the Murdock empire and Fox News have been manipulating them from day one, using them to pursue the corporate political agenda and keeping the Tea Party members’ righteous anger alive using a steady stream of misinformation and outright lies. What’s needed isn’t snark, but a careful contradiction of their propaganda over and over and over. Only that’s not happening.

The sad thing is, I’m not surprised at the way the mainstream news media behaves. Having worked in that industry for nearly 10 years, I can vouch for the fact that their much-vaunted lack of bias is mostly something they hold up whenever someone criticizes the way they do their jobs. That’s not to say there aren’t any truly unbiased reporters out there, but you know what? They’re at the mercy of their editorial boards, and I haven’t yet seen an editorial board that didn’t have an agenda.

True story: when I worked for a small-city daily, my main beat was health care, including the local hospitals. My city editor had a jones against said hospitals for reasons that were purely personal. One of the hospitals had pulled itself out of major debt, and I wrote a story about how they had accomplished that. The editor rewrote my lede–without consulting me–so that it read as if they were still in major debt. And then expected me to take it on the chin when the people who had trusted me to tell the truth went ballistic.

And that was 20 years ago.

If you have any knowledge of balanced reporting, it’s shocking to read stories in major newspapers–and yes, I mean the New York Times–where the reporter and/or editorial bias is so blatant it makes one cringe. A sensational headline is followed by a story clearly intended to evoke an emotional response, and often contains totally incorrect information. This is especially true of stories about the Tea Party. They all have a kind of “look at how idiotic these people are” tone–and yet the facts that contradict their misinformation is either buried at the very end of the story or not included at all.

See what I mean about preaching to the choir? These stories are written with the assumption the reader will already know that the misinformation is not to be taken at face value. What the reporters and editors fail to grasp is that many, if not the majority, of their readers are not like them. It’s the same kind of blindness that makes user manuals provided by software companies almost impossible for anyone not deeply knowledgeable about technology to understand.

There was great furor when MSNBC suspended popular journalist Keith Olbermann after it was revealed he’d made small donations to three Democratic candidates. This was a violation of company policy, a policy all news media have that prohibits staff from engaging in anything that might reflect negatively on the appearance of their being unbiased. The operative word there being appearance. As a result, reporters are kept isolated, like plague doctors in biohazard suits. The suits protect the doctors from infection. The ones news staffers wear protect them from reality.

One has to learn to truly lack bias, to be able to look at something and see both sides of it. Modern education, with its emphasis on passing skills tests, doesn’t teach that much anymore. This is why you have newsrooms full of college-educated reporters who are going to apply their own personal viewpoint to any story featuring people not like them no matter how many policies you put in place to ensure balanced reporting. I think it’s clear that the Americans who make up the Tea Party are as unlike many of those reporters as you can get.

News media: If you know someone is lying, isn’t the correct response to contradict that lie–and make sure the focus of your rebuttal is on the truth? Because based on what I’ve read over the last year, that ain’t happening. And because it isn’t happening, the propaganda machine is winning, as the midterm election results clearly show.