Archive for Politics
In Part 1, I outlined a very valid reason why voting in a U.S. Presidential election is an utter waste of time.
You can readily think of why you show up for your job, at your favorite restaurant, at your friend’s party. But showing up at a polling station to vote for the President produces no measurable return for the average voter.
Contributing cash or volunteering time and then voting is more of a waste.
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An American citizen can’t legally order alcohol at a bar Stateside until he’s 21; but by age 18, as a legal adult, he has the ‘right’ to vote.
Most of those young ones find the alcohol imbibing privileges the more meaningful of the two. So do plenty of older folk like myself.
Am I being overly simplistic and droll? Voting might yield personal rewards for the scads of local elections that don’t make the news , for positions like county treasurer, president of the city council, or precinct committeeperson. Even then, most of the local voting public probably derive more joy from choosing what beer or whisky to drink.
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The world was larger when I was growing up. Or it seemed that way. Long distance phone service was costly. Airfares weren’t deregulated, so people didn’t travel as much or as far. For those of us who didn’t live in the big cities, it was rare to meet people who looked or talked differently than oneself.
My family was taking a road trip later when I was about six, and at a stoplight, our car pulled over at an intersection next to a car driven by middle-aged black man. I rolled down the window and chatted amicably with the first black man I’d ever met face to face. As the light turned green, and he pulled away past the light, I shouted after him, “Bye bye, Chocolate Face!”
Did this make me a six-year old racist?
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Talk of American stupidity is nothing new. When I took my first big world trip in 1994, Europeans loved to bring up, for no reason whatsoever, how dumb Americans are. After George W. Bush was elected, twice, the subject of American intelligence was ripe for more potshots . Jay Leno, the talk show host, regularly mocks American stupidity. He has an unscripted segment called “Jaywalking” talking to ‘everyday’ Americans, asking exceptionally simple questions that the respondents answer incorrectly. On his Fourth of July segment, he posed questions like “Who did America gain its independence from?”
The European slams, the Jaywalking segments, and even the simplified American worldview map above are not very thorough justifications for American stupidity. The United States is a large country. Most Americans have neither the time nor the money to venture off their home continent and obtain a broader view of the world. These are the people European travelers to America encounter. The Jaywalking segments document some serious idiocy, to be sure, but it’s being played for comedy. Any people providing Leno with correct answers aren’t shown on the segment.
It wouldn’t be very difficult for me to amass video footage of French or German or Spanish ignoramuses failing to answer easy questions about their home countries; data on low IQ elected European politicians; or produce North American and Asian maps in which European schoolchildren cannot ascribe the proper state or country names.
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Pretend you’re in the market for a new car. You head over to the car dealership across town. The lot is already occupied by salesmen hungry to make you a deal. Who would you prefer to sell you your new car?
A) Lenny, a used car salesman stereotype, a fabricator of facts on the spot who offers promises he’ll never keep
B) Dale, the well dressed professional salesman who appears polished , suave, and concerned about your needs, but who, in the end, is still out to screw you by selling you the car at the highest possible price that’ll earn him the greatest commission, not the car best for your personal situation
I don’t know about you, but my vote is with Lenny. I already know he’s a liar and can filter everything he says and does through that lens. Dale, on the other hand, could well fool me with his pseudo-honesty, possibly gain my trust, and then fully exploit it.. Both are crooks. Lenny, however, is the more honestly dishonest. For now, we’ll consider that a compliment.
I was in high school at a time when the world was split in two. On one side you had the democracy/capitalist camp, represented mainly by the Western nations but with a few prosperous Asian and Latin American ones thrown in for good measure. On the other side, you had the dictatorship/communism club, headed separately by the Soviet Union and China and their hangers on. Democracy/capitalism, we were taught, was good. Dictatorship/communism was bad. U.S. President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire” and the conflict between democratic and dictatorial nations as “the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”
Well, my friends, it was all a load of rubbish, and I mean ALL of it. When I look back on it all now, I see the Soviet Union was Lenny. It was clear, both to the USSR’s citizens and to the rest of the world, that the leaders there didn’t represent their people. The USSR never bothered to provide an illusion of choice. As for Dale, he looks a lot like big Western democracies, particularly the United States.
The United States is considered the Land of the Free, and Americans do enjoy ample freedoms. They can pray as they please – to Jesus, to Buddha, to the toilet or to a pagan — or be atheists. Travel within the country and abroad is unrestricted. Freedom of the press is tolerated to some degree. No one’s going to jail for making fun of a political leader.
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In Economies of Obsolescence, I discussed how the Formula 1-like speeds of change we all face in the twenty-first century are sending us rapidly towards obsolescence. Blue collar workers got the chance to be the first in line, but skilled workers whose jobs can eventually be done by overseas penny labor will be joining their blue collar brethren eventually. I personally watched as an upper tier manager of a major vacuum-cleaner manufacturer in my hometown saw his job dive into the Chinese abyss. His job didn’t dive in alone.
One thing you can be sure of is that the politicians will never be made obsolescent, as they seem to operate in a world immune from the yardsticks the rest of us are forced to measure up to. They are truly masters of defying reality. In the real world, someone or something is made obsolescent when someone or something better comes along. ‘Better,’ in this case, can have several meanings: less expensive, more powerful, easier to work with, safer, more value.
By these definitions, politicians should be obsolescent. Compared with politicians a hundred years ago, today’s politicians are:
- More expensive. In 1900, an American senator earned $5,000/year (about $120,000 in today’s money) The same senator today earns $174,000. Presidential salaries have fallen in real terms. Factoring in inflation, Jimmy Carter earned more in 1980 ($200,000/year) than Barack Obama earns today. But Presidential benefits packages are better than they’ve ever been and no one can ignore the lucrative speaking circuit and memoir-writing racket a recent ex-President like Bill Clinton has pocketed millions of dollars from.
- Less powerful – that is, less powerful in what they can or will do for the people they represent. They’re actually more powerful in what they can do for themselves. 40% of all American senators as of 2003 were millionaires.
- Harder to work with. I am talking about working with and for the people they represent, not working with big business to facilitate corporate and personal gain.
- More dangerous. In the Soviet Union at least, everyone knew the guys in government didn’t represent them. The stooges standing in as representatives for most Western democracies are actors playing civil servants.
- Worse value. That’s what you call people who get paid more for doing less.
The politician’s ability to defy reality is not limited to the United States. The basic salary of a British member of parliament (MP) is £64,766 plus a generous expense account. MP’s from constituencies outside London can claim up to £24,222 in mortgage interest, rent, utilities, and furnishings and have access to another £100,000 per year to employ staff and hire office space. This a huge jump from 1900. Until 1911, British MP’s earned nothing, and even then, they were still expected to support themselves with another job.
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