Monday, April 30, 2012

Morning rant

Every day I see crazy right-wing radicals espose their views on the national issues as comments on blog posts, sticking up for every thought Republicans in Congress ever had and bashing every thought Democrats have come up with since (and including) Social Security, all the while claiming to be Libertarian.

I'm sorry, but Libertarian is not a new code word for Conservative. And it's not a new code word for asshole or hatemonger either. And as a TRUE Libertarian, I don't want that to ever be the case.
I guess it's good that Conservatives have reached the point where they know that Conservative is a dirty word, in much the same way that "Liberals" abandoned the term decades ago. They know their thoughts are out of step with the country and have found the need to hide behind a "safer" word.
There's two problems with that, though. First of all, as far as Democrats (or liberals) are concerned, Libertarians are just as dangerous as Conservatives. And in pretending to be Libertarians, the Conservatives are smearing our good name, in my opinion.
In essense, what we have is identity theft on a very grand scale. And I'm sick of it. 
I guess to avoid being confused with the Newt Gingriches and Grover Norquists of the world I could just say that I'm "moderate." Except Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist aren't Libertarian. There's more to being a Libertarian than wanting to reign in spending. And I'm not moderate. I'm radical. I am an extremist. And I know this. 
Truth be told, I've alway been more partial to the left than to the right. While both sides have their flaws, at least I've always felt that the Democrat's flaw was caring about others too much and caring about what others do with their money too much. Republican's flaws, it seems include caring about themselves too much. And caring about what others do with their personal lives too much.
I'm hardly ready to re-register as a Democrat. I'm going to stay a registered Libertarian. But I'd damn sure like it to be known that the douchebags you hear on right-wing radio and read on right-wing blogs claiming to be Libertarian are not. And they either don't know what Libertarians actually stand for because they're ignorant. Or they do know what Libertarians stand for, but want to hide behind that name in order to pretend they're anything less than greedy, selfish pigs.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Superstitions and the power of one

It's funny the little things we do. Some of them are done without really thinking about it. Some of them are very much on purpose. Call them habits. Call them idiosyncrasies. Superstitions, even. But we all have our peculiarites.

I've mentioned before my penchant for stirring Kool-Aid with a wooden spoon and the fact that it never even seemed odd to me until my girlfriend pointed it out. After some research, I concluded that it was a learned trait, as my mother had stirred Kool-Aid with a spoon.

I have other oddities.

I do things in four-counts. For example, if I'm stirring something, I will stir it four, eight, 12, 16, 20, 24, etc. times. I would never stir it 17 times. It's some sort of built in rhythmic harmony that I only just realized about myself. Maybe it's from eight years of playing the trumpet and counting in 4/4. Or maybe I'm just odd.

Milk and sugar has to go in my coffee before the coffee does. I tell myself that this is scientific and that it allows the pouring of the coffee to help mix the ingredients, but I know that it isn't going to matter since I'm going to stir it in perfect measure.

Superstitions and oddities are never more on display that when sports is involved. You see people joke all the time that the Sabres (or Bills or whatever) won or lost the game based upon who was there: "That's is, Martha, you're not allowed to go to any more games. They lose every time you go!"

But that's just joking ... right?

As deeply as you may know that your attendance or lack thereof has no real bearing on how your team plays, you can't help but feel like maybe they would have done a little better if you had gone. Or had you not turned the TV off. Or gone for a bathroom break. I cannot explain, but it's true of me and since I'm a perfect example of humanity, I figure it must be true of everyone.

And it's not just attending/watching the game. You've got to wear the right shirt. And the right hat. And maybe the right pair of socks. After all, who doesn't have lucky socks?

I have no idea if Mitt Romney has lucky socks. But it's my understand that as a Mormon, he has magic underwear. Yes, that's possibly the worst segue in the history of ever, but it's all I've got to switch from sports to politics right now. So stay with me, please.

Willard "Mitt" Romney, as you surely know, will be the GOP nominee for the presidency. Come November we will all have the opportunity to vote for him, Barack Obama, and a variety of other people, the vast majority of whom we've never heard of before.

But if historical data is accurate, fewer than six in 10 of us will actually vote. There seems to be this theory that one vote doesn't matter — or that voting doesn't matter — despite historical evidence to the contrary. Every single election going back 150 years could have had a different outcome had those who didn't vote cast votes for the losing candidate. Every single one.

So I can't help but wonder, why are we all so willing to wear old socks and dirty shirts to "help" our team win when we won't even go take part in a game that we've actually been invited to play? Why do we feel so powerless in a system designed to be powered by us? And what can we do to change that?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Economic safety net needed

There will always be people that have. And there will always be people that have not. That’s just a fact of life.

Even if you took all property in the world and divvied it up evenly amonst its 7 billion inhabitants, there would be people that would fritter theirs away and people that would end up with more. It’s human nature.

That said, everyone should at least have a chance at some form of equality. And there should be some level of fairness in the world. Unfortunately, humanity has proven time and again that left to its own devices, we are a selfish breed. 

Selfishness can be good. It inspires us to try harder, work harder, learn more, do more, build things. It could be said, actually, that selfishness makes the world go ‘round.

But at whose expense does that spinning occur?

Recently, friend and fellow columnist Bob Confer opined that the minimum wage should be abolished because it actually keeps the working man down. 

Bob said, “Over time, competition collectively creates higher wages because all employers must provide the average or best in order to be successful at the next level of the economic equation — the end product.”

The Libertarian in me wants to agree with Bob. The pragmatist in me, however, can simply see this is not the case. not historically. Not now. 

The free market does ebb and flow. There are times when it works out well for the common man. And there are times when the common man gets lost in the shuffle. During rough economic times, the working class will cannibalize itself simply to provide basic necessities for their families. We see that going on now.

While Fortune 500 executives argue to their boards of directors that they deserve multi-million dollar bonuses despite their companies’ declining profits, values and output, there is a class of people doing odd jobs to get by. Or treating their skilled professions as if they were odd jobs.

An entire generation of white-collar worker went to college to get degrees they can’t pay for off the wages they’re paid. Now you could say that it was simply a bad choice on their part. They should have all been investment bankers. But to quote Judge Smails, “The world needs ditch diggers, too.” We can’t all be investment bankers.

In the past few years, there have popped up a wide variety of websites which allow people to compete for freelance-type jobs. Many of them automatically give the job to the lowest bidder. These are skilled jobs being performed for pennies on the dollar. 

There are so many people scraping to get by that enough of them will do a $100 job for $20 just so they can buy groceries. In essense, the free-market value of things has been reduced to “how much do I absolutely need to survive this week?” No one will ever get ahead this way.

In a thriving economy, supply and demand will force salaries upward as (workforce) supply and (employment) demand is nearly equal. With the double-digit unemployment we’ve had for the past few years, potential workforce outnumbers employment greatly. And companies could — and (without minimum wage) would — pay next-to-nothing to employees. 

Bob contends that people would be making more if it weren’t for minimum wage. It seems apparent to me, however, that without the safety net of minimum wage, the haves would take advantage of the have-nots. 

As a civilized society, we need to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

From politics in 2012 to family at Easter

As if you weren’t already sick of the race to the White House this year, last month, The Washington Post had a bracket-style poll for potential candidates for the presidency four years from now.
In the end, “voters” picked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over Florida Sen.Marco Rubio by a 59-41 margin. What I found most interesting was that there were three New Yorkers in the poll’s version of the Elite Eight: Cuomo, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. It’s funny how much political pull we seem to have in hypothetical scenarios. Of course, when it gets down to it, we don’t really have that kind of sway.
I thought that our primary vote would matter this year, but as it turns out, the GOP race is over and everyone but Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul seem to know it. Even if the numbers do play out to a brokered convention, Mitt Romney seems to have gathered enough support that he’ll be the candidate. 
So it’s come down to Romney and Obama. Ugh. I’ll be pulling the “none of the above” lever again this year. Just like I did in 2008. And 2004. Admittedly in 2000, I voted for Al Gore. I may be somewhat ashamed about that, so don’t tell anyone
Now that we’ve reached the centrist pandering portion of the race, we’ll see just how little these candidates actually believe in. “Saturday Night Live” did a great skit this past weekend with Romney speaking before a variety of organizations and buttering them up for their vote. If you missed it, try to find it on YouTube or watch it online. It was a great bit.
Speaking of SNL, I can’t help but wonder if Jason Sudeikis — who has played Romney this primary season — is hoping for a Romney win to practically ensure four more years of employment. Or if he’s hoping Obama wins so he doesn’t get stuck on the occasionally-great-but-often-just-sort-of-lackluster show.
I think we all remember a time when SNL was better. And for each of us it’s a different time. But even in the bad years, it’s nice to know that it’s still there for those of us who are more likely to stay home on a Saturday night than to go out.
I did go out this past Saturday, though. I went to my cousin’s birthday party. It was very nice, but it’s always somewhat daunting seeing the extended family. My clan is fairly large and mostly disconnected. Everyone knows we’re all related, but no one seems to be sure exactly how. As such, every conversation begins with, “OK, so who are you?”
Nonetheless, a good time was had by all, and I got to see my favorite cousin and my favorite aunt. And the following day (Easter) I spent time with my favorite mother and my favorite uncle. Plus my favorite daughters and my favorite girlfriend (I only have one, mind you).
In other words, this past weekend, SNL wasn’t the highlight. And at 37, that’s saying something.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Take a look at us now

I’m not sure why, but we seem to have a tendency to romanticize the past and fantasize the future. We look around at the world and think, “this must be the low point.”

Just think of American history. We idealize the founding fathers, placing them up on a pedestal of perfection, thinking that they knew exactly what they were doing and they did so perfectly, righteously and with complete disregard for self interest.

We look at our lying, cheating, philandering politicians and wish we had the kind of politicians that existed decades ago. You know — the lying, cheating, philandering kind.

The truth is, humanity is humanity. And the type of person who wants to be a politician in 2012 was exactly the same type of person that wanted the be a politician in 1812. They cut back-room deals, had affairs, and lined their own pockets. It’s just that now there’s television cameras around 24 hours a day so they get caught a lot more.

Think of your family history. Grandma and grandpa will tell you that the world was a much better place when they were younger. Smarter. Safer. Nicer. Cleaner. And great grandma and great granpa would say it was even smarter, safer, nicer and cleaner before grandma and grandpa were born.

You don’t even have to go back that far. Just go to your own youth. How many times growing up did you say “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” Probably a lot. And yet, looking back, you don’t remember boredom. You remember pickup hockey games, catching crayfish and long walks through the field behind your house — or whatever your equivalent may be.

The world is the world. And people are people. Truth is, things haven’t changed that much since great grandma and great grandpa were doing their thing. Maybe it was cleaner, though.

Of course, we imagine that our lives will get easier. Next year will be better. You’ll eat better, excercise, have more money, get the girl, whatever.

Oh, and society is going to figure out what ails it next year, too. We’ll get rid of the jerks in office, have sweeping changes to make sure we never get taken advantage of again, invent flying cars, cure cancer and end world hunger.

My daughter and I were discussing the other day how much English has devolved from Shakespearean time to the American Revolution to now — and how much further it’s devolved because of text messaging. It made us wonder how much worse it will be in 200 years and what society is going to think 200 years from now looking back on today. I joked that in 200 years, Jersey Shore may be high brow. I certainly hope not. 

The beautiful thing is, of course, we don’t live in Shakespearean times. Or during the revolution. Or 200 years from now. We live now. And when we look back on now, we’re going to remember that it was the best time ever.