Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rewriting History

Sixteenth-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to posit that the Earth revolved around the sun—and not the church.

To say this was a dangerous idea at a time when the church wielded absolute control is underscored by the fact Copernicus was branded a heretic after the publication of his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (which works out to On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in English).

After his death in 1543, the great astronomer spent the next four-hundred sixty-seven years in an unmarked grave, guilty of free-thought in an age that demanded unblinking allegiance to the prevailing religous dogma.

But last Saturday, Copernicus was re-buried as a national hero in his native Poland.

It is the graceful re-write of history we see far too little of; a bishop in the same Catholic Church that had accused Copernicus of heresy initiating a search for the astronomer’s remains, determined that his discoveries receive the acknowledgement they deserve.

In an era where changing one’s mind is perceived as weakness, seeing the Roman Catholic Church reverse its stand on this great scientist is extraordinarily refreshing. It is a giant step forward.

But Newton's law states that for every action, there is a separate and opposite reaction.

And for that, we need only look to the Texas School Board, and the tantrum they’re throwing over the content of the state's history books.

Conservatives on the board have concluded that media manipulation is not enough; that indoctrination of American youth must begin in the public school system.

In the version of American history they propose for Texas schoolbooks, the slave trade is euphemistically referred to as the Atlantic Triangular Trade. The founding fathers didn’t demand a separation of church and state.

And that an essential component of children’s education is understanding the critical role right-wing propagandists at the Heritage Foundation played in shaping our nation’s democracy.

And God forbid we forget these touchstones of American history: Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, the marketing tool known as the Moral Majority and misogynist-with-breasts Phyllis Schlafly.

What—no history of Fox News?

All of which would be fine if Abbie Hoffman, the Weathermen and the Chicago Seven were getting equal time. But I have this nagging and persistent suspicion they won't be.

While the church illuminated a truth, conservatives seek only to institutionalize ignorance.

Like the great man said, one step forwards, one step back.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flip-Floppin' with Bobby Jindal

If there’s an amusing aspect to the sordid goings-on in the Gulf, it’s the specter of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal pleading for aid from the federal government.

That would be the same Bobby Jindal who made such a show of declaring his unshakeable belief in personal responsibility, small government and state sovereignty following President Obama's 2009 State of the Union address.

The same Bobby Jindal who made such a show of decrying the stimulus package. And every other piece of legislation enacted during the reckless and socialist Obama regime.

But when faced with an environmental tragedy, who does Governor Tea-Bag turn to? That's right, the federal government. The same evil and invasive federal government who wantonly trampled his state’s sovereignty and forced unwanted stimulus cash down its throat.

John Kerry isn’t the only one who knows a thing or two about flip-flopping, is he Governor?

I'll tell you what, Bobby. I would hate to compromise your ideology by imposing federal aid on you—not after you made such a compelling argument against it last year.

Why don’t you ask your corporate pals for help? You know, remind them what you said about accountability. About the importance of keeping government out of our lives.

What’s that? They’re tied up in legal? Oh. Sorry.

This isn’t situational ethics—it’s situation comedy. One we need cancelled as soon as possible.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Baby Needs a New Pair of Choos

It’s a sign the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are upon us when you discover that women’s high heels which light up and sell for $2,495.00 a pair at Jimmy Choo boutiques in New York are sold out.

The punch line here is that the battery dies after only one-hundred hours and cannot be replaced. But you have to admit that $24.95 an hour is a bargain for proof that wealth and taste don't always intersect.

I have to confess to being deeply disappointed they're named 'Zap' and not 'Menken'. This because it was H.L. Menken who said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

But at least Florida isn't gouging its conspicuous consumers.

The state legislature there has decided to cap the sales tax on yachts at 18K, or less than the purchase price of the average family-sized sedan. This realizes a savings of 42K for every million spent by beleaguered yacht-buyers.

It was healthcare—not wealthcare—we debated last summer, correct? The batteries in the Florida state legislature's hearing aids must be running low. I wonder if they can be replaced?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Corporate Accountability (With Strings)

Now that we’ve accorded the rights of the individual to corporations, I’m wondering if perhaps we shouldn’t extend the liabilities as well.

Our latest corporate disaster, the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling project, presents a perfect case in point.

As a job-seeker, I am repeatedly told that cardinal sin number-one is overstating your abilities and credentials. It is grounds for no-questions-asked termination.

Yet the two failed attempts at shutting down the fountain of oil that is spewing a quarter-million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day clearly indicate that British Petroleum wildly overstated its capacity to deal with a problem of this magnitude.

Requiring them to absorb the cost of the clean-up and make restitution to the afflicted parties would seem to be the most-obvious solution.

Unfortunately, the guardians of the corporation that we pretend are our elected representation have limited oil company liability in these instances to just seventy-five million-dollars, or the rough equivalent of one day’s income for a company that earned six billion-dollars in the first-quarter of 2010.

Further proof of how deeply the corporate virus has infected the government of the United States would be that big oil was awarded this cap in exchange for an eight-cent-a-barrel tax on the oil they produce.

When was the last time the government asked you what concessions you needed in order to absorb a new tax? A couple of days? Months? A year or two ago?

Or never.

Publicly, BP has said all the right things. But per usual, actions speak louder than words. And BP has already begun to divest itself of culpability by insinuating that the cause of the spill lies with the out-sourced manager of the rig, Transocean Ltd.

I’m guessing BP’s squadron of highly-paid legal counsel has already begun to outline its defense strategy. And that victims won’t get paid if BP doesn’t get paid.

This ongoing tragedy will have repercussions far beyond the duration of the oil’s flow from the Gulf floor.

Most tragic is the persistent belief that allowing oil companies to drill within the United States somehow protects the United States from its dependence on foreign oil. This is the “Drill Baby, Drill!” crowd’s favorite argument.

Unfortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to ask them why they believe oil drilled in the United States will (or even must) be sold in the United States. The naiveté is staggering.

For those blinded by the right, businesses only allegiance is to profit. Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum don’t care where the oil came from. Only where they can sell it for the best (i.e. highest) price.

There is no law which demands that oil drilled or refined in the United States must be sold in the United States. In other words, you’re not guaranteed an endless supply of gasoline for your GMC Yukon XL because it was drilled off the coast of Louisiana.

Is that plain-enough for you? Do you get it now?

So. While individuals are responsible for the claims they make, corporations with the rights of individuals have liability caps to protect them in the event their propaganda is shown to be something less than true.

God bless the Corporate States of America. I am so very thankful I have never had to defend them in war.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

This Modern World

Aside from Dilbert, the best cartoon out there is This Modern World. It appears in free alternative weeklies like the Albuquerque Alibi and the Milwaukee Shepherd-Express.

Like all great cartoonists, creator Tom Tomorrow is blessed with the ability to render the complicated into the simple via a drawing or two.

This Modern World regularly exposes right-wing politics, conservatives and big business for the selfish and self-serving crap they are.

This week's strip takes on Wall Street. Beyond that, I've posted two old favorites for your amusement. Should you desire more (and you should), please visit www.thismodernworld.com for seconds.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

It's My Life

It’s spring in Milwaukee. You know this only because the calendar says May.

It’s cold and wet, which are climatic conditions considered ideal inside a beer bottle. But you don’t live in a bottle of beer—at least not yet. Looking on the bright side of things, you have no fear of melanoma. This is because there is no sun.

Each new day presents multiple opportunities for miracle-making. Shall you part Lake Michigan? Walk on it? Or find a job? Decisions, decisions.

Spiritualist that you are, you attempt to find meaning in your ongoing failure to land employment. You make a robust attempt to see this as life somehow protecting you from another bad job, and saving you for a good one. It doesn’t work.

Someone sings that if it weren’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. This is true of you, also. You are on a hot streak. You sizzle like Canada in January.

There is the brief flirtation with telecommunications giant AT&T. You pass yet-another hundred-question personality inventory. Then you’re one of a handful of applicants to pass a performance audition, which asks you to perform the job before being hired for it.

Your reward is an actual job interview. A smiling businesswoman in a tailored suit and fashionably-coifed hair shakes your hand and schedules it for April 7th. You stride confidently through the cold March air and permit yourself to feel good.

On April Fool’s Day the phone rings. The interviews have been postponed. You are disappointed, but relieved they said 'postponed' and not 'cancelled'. You feel the difference is significant. One month later, you wonder if the difference is significant to AT&T as well.

Then there is the census-taker debacle.

You are convinced Lewis Carroll was inspired to write Alice in Wonderland after seeking employment with the federal government. It is akin to being inside an M.C. Escher drawing. It is the definition of labyrinthine. Surprisingly, no one has a recipe for upside down cake.

You successfully negotiate this lunacy. But state governments present a new set of hurdles.

One of the 3,416 requirements for this position is a current, state-issued driver’s license. You possess a current, state-issued driver’s license, but it’s for another state.

Your austerity program unfortunately does not allow for new, up-to-the-minute driver’s licenses, not with several years left on the current one and an acute shortage of cash.

But the promise of a paycheck has you aflame, so you make a leap of faith and visit the local Division of Motor Vehicles facility. All goes well until after your picture is taken.

You are informed that the driver’s license facility is unable to produce your license at this time. This despite the facility having seen sheaths of documents that confirm your existence, the various locales wherein that existence occurred, and the receipt of several hundred dollars.

You ask why. You are told that random licenses are assigned for processing in the state capital, and will arrive by mail “in two to three days.”

You err critically at this juncture and fail to ask “Two to three days from when?” Because a week after your visit, you remain bereft of the state-issued driver’s license with photo necessary for consideration for employment with the federal government.

You discover the state's telephone system successfully prevents interaction with other human beings. Visits to the Division of Motor Vehicles facility provoke only shrugs. And e-mails go unanswered because they do not conform to the topics listed on the division’s web page.

In a symphonic crescendo to this collision of lucklessness and bad-timing, Friday’s mail brings nothing. Ditto Saturday's. The deadline has expired. This feels like punishment. What was your crime?

As a child, you went to horror movies to get scared. Now, you need only get out of bed.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Private Rewards, Public Expense

I’m an idiot. Let’s get that straight right off the bat.

A pure, two-plus-two-equals-three moron. If I were anything else, I’d be rich. Or at least well-off. Because in America, the perception is brains equal cash. And since I’m broke, well, it couldn’t be more clear: I am a retard.

This is likely the reason I don’t understand business.

In contrast to their twentieth-century counterparts, twenty-first century executives seemingly exist only to eliminate jobs. Shut down factories. Close offices and distribution centers. Freeze salaries.

Business calls it cost-cutting. Belt-tightening. And my favorite, restructuring. They use the royal ‘we’. A lot. But what is rarely made clear is whose belt will be tightened. (Hint: Look down.)

As a random, out-of-the-blue example, Wausau Paper CEO Thomas Howatt serves nicely. Ol’ Tom scored a nifty 80% pay raise last year, something I doubt very many people did in 2009. "How?" you ask.

First he eliminated 1,000 jobs. Then he froze salaries (which is a tad ironic when you consider his). Then he sat back and waited for the cash tsunami to roll in.

When asked about the questionable impact enormous executive pay raises have on workforces where salaries (where they even still exist) have been stagnant, and about being rewarded for tossing thousands onto public relief rolls, crafty Tom sniffed “I probably look at it a bit differently.”

Like I said, I’m an idiot. But shouldn’t we expect just a little bit more of our extravagantly-compensated captains of industry than payroll slashing? Do we really want to reward this behavior? Especially in a consumer-driven economy?

I have nothing against wealth. We all need our carrots, don’t we? What I have a problem with is rewarding job cuts. Isn't this is the kind of short-sightedness that has made fortunes for our national optical chains?

I think it's great that America’s CEOs have a new revenue stream to frolic in, especially with summer approaching. But I would warn them not to become too accustomed to it.

Because what happens when the only job left to slash is theirs?