Ideology is a Mind Killer

Ideology is a Mind Killer

Friday, January 30, 2015

People as Corporate Commodities - Where Do We Draw the Line on Free Enterprise?

By Mel Carriere

I'm not the world's most enthusiastic liberal, I suppose.  I am not exactly certified for doctrinal purity on all leftist political tenets of faith, and one of the issues that separates me from the hard core reds (funny how the color red has now been co-opted by the red-state right, isn't it?) is that I believe free enterprise serves human society as long as it is recognized that we the working people, as the most essential means of production, have the right to negotiate our own price.  I mean, the guy who supplies the steel to the mill gets to haggle over how much the factory pays him, so why shouldn't the people who provide the labor to that mill also have the right to negotiate how much they will be paid, through the process of collective bargaining?  To me this is not radical politics, it's just basic economics.  We the working people are the most important means of production, and we deserve to be compensated accordingly with a living wage.

On the other hand, I believe there are certain areas in which free enterprise is utterly unsuited to fairly and efficiently allocate resources; one of these being mineral resources on public lands.  For instance; should corporations be allowed to pump oil out of publicly-owned tracts without giving a significant portion back to the American people that it belongs to?  A detestable example of corporations fleecing the American public in this fashion occurred in the late 1800s, when the companies that built the transcontinental railroads across the country were given enormous swaths of territory by the government.  To demonstrate their gratitude for this public largesse, the railroads then literally shook down small farmers for transportation fees, which shows you exactly what happens when corporations are left to their own devices, without regulation.  Instead of operating according to the principles of the free market they deliberately drive up prices through corruption, graft, collusion and monopolization.  A "level playing field" only applies to the little guy at the bottom.  The fat cats on top buy off politicians and drive competitors under through extra-legal means in order to suck all of our bank accounts dry.

I also do not think that corporations should be allowed to treat human beings as commodities either, but apparently this is exactly what is happening in the senior care industry.  The very fact that "senior care" should have the word "industry" affixed to it seems an abomination to me, but that is exactly what it has become.  In the pre-industrial revolution era societies used to take care of their elderly collectively.  Not only was there an altruistic sense of duty to tend to the needs of the loved ones who had paid their dues caring for us in the past, but the notion also existed that the hard learned wisdom of older, experienced people could be a great benefit to society.

But nowadays the elderly have been reduced to commodities that are traded on the Dow Jones, just like oil and transportation are.  Yesterday while driving to work I heard a report on KFI Los Angeles that made the little hair I have left stand on end.  The news item was relating that when senior citizens living in elder care facilities can no longer make rent payments, the nursing homes often go to the court to claim guardianship over the defaulting resident.  The court often grants power of attorney rights to the care facility, who in turn uses it to gain complete control over that elderly person's money.

This happened to a woman named Lilian Palermo in New York, and you can read the revolting details by following the link at the bottom of this article.  In summation, after her husband Mr. Palermo complained about increased co-payments and living conditions at the facility, the nursing home obtained a court order that granted them the right to seize Mrs. Palermo's assets.

I understand that a nursing home is a business with exorbitantly high operating expenses, and like any business it is survives by producing black ink on the bottom line.  I understand that a business does not exist only to perform altruistic deeds, and as such the elder care industry has to coldly calculate revenues and expenses to produce a profit.  But is it right and proper that we as a society have turned the well being of our elderly over to the unfeeling, uncompassionate hands of corporate care?  Instead of adding a trillion dollars in debt bombing Iraq into oblivion with no readily apparent benefit at all to the American people, couldn't we have taken half, a quarter, or even a tenth of that money and put it to use taking care of those among the elderly who can no longer afford to take care of themselves?

These are the remnants of the "greatest generation" we are talking about here, folks.  I regularly engage in conversation with them on my mail route, but sadly enough there are fewer and fewer every day to talk to.  These citizen heroes include the soldiers, sailors and airmen who manned the trenches and tank turrets to take down Hitler and Tojo, as well as the "Rosie the Riveters" on the home front who built  the tanks, ships and planes their men overseas required to defeat tyranny and evil.  

After Baghdad has been reduced to rubble many times over, isn't there anything at all left over for these people, or are we going to continue to allow corporate raiders fretting over the daily ticker tape to bilk the last few dollars out of their pockets?  Where have we come as a society, when even the people who loved us and cared for us in the past are reduced to tradable, disposable commodities? 

Read the New York Times Article on this Subject

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Watered Down Commercial News Radio - What's the Agenda?

By Mel Carriere

For Christmas my youngest son gave me a phone charger for my car.  I actually asked Santa for this gift so at first I was very pleased to get it, but was a little disappointed the first day I plugged it into the cigarette lighter of my clunky 2001 Honda Civic and it produced a horrible whine on all the AM stations I listen to, a shrill high pitched buzz that is intolerable to the ears.  Since my favorite radio station is KFI Los Angeles AM 640, or should I say was, this was very disappointing.  Not being able to live with that torturous head-splitting hum gave me two choices; to either not charge the phone in the car or change over to FM, where the phone charger for some technical reason that is above my head doesn't cause that horrible sound.

Lately my phone battery barely lasts through a day of low activity, so because this online writing gig requires constant vigilance over my email and social media accounts I think it is pretty important to  maintain a good charge.  But the fact is I'm just not much of an FM radio guy.  I like music quite a bit but for some reason when I'm driving in the car I like to be yakked at, I don't like to bang my head or shake my booty.

Out of desperation the charger situation made me decide to renew my relationship with NPR, National Public Radio, a program that is broadcast out of our local KPBS station.  Several years ago I was an NPR buff, even contributing to their annual fund raising drive, but because the disc jockeys are a bit stuffy, monotone, and lacking in passion, shall we say, I found myself nodding off behind the wheel.  In order to not drive into the Sweetwater River I switched back to AM, and thought I was pretty happy at KFI Los Angeles.  KFI leans a bit to the right but at least provides a credible news report, or so I thought.

I think I thought wrong.  Since switching back to NPR I've discovered that a lot has been happening in the world that has been suppressed from the radio listening public on the corporate-owned AM channels I have been listening to.

I understand that as a commercial enterprise under the corporate umbrella of I-heart radio, KFI exists to make money for I-heart's stockholders.  The same is true for other corporate-owned radio stations.  Since most radio listeners rolling down the road at drive time are indifferent about the news, to put it lightly, what dominates the corporate wavelengths are traffic reports, local-topic sound bites, a bit of national news compressed into very tiny, tasty, highly chewable sound bites, followed by social media and movie star buzz.  A lot of social media and movie star scandal buzz.  This is apparently what people like to listen to; this is apparently what sells advertising time.  This is also pretty much what passes for news on corporate-owned radio.

Since renewing my love affair with NPR I have been reminded about a lot of things that I either forgot were happening in the world or quite frankly did not know about in the fog of all that movie star and social media buzz.  Driving home Sunday, for instance, I listened to a report about a massive terrorist attack in Nigeria that was completely overshadowed by the Charlie Hebdo affair in France.  Just now, on my way from work to Starbucks I heard an engaging lengthy discussion about child soldiers in Uganda.  The corporations long ago became bored with the war in Ukraine, and because I haven't heard anything about it for so long I just assumed it was over.  Since I plugged in my buzzy charger, however, I have also found out from NPR that this conflict is a long way from over.  In listening to NPR one learns that a lot of things are surprisingly not over.

I wonder why NPR is so roundly criticized by mostly right-wing corporate radio as being a liberal propaganda machine?  Just because the announcers all sound like garment-rending Utopian socialists doesn't mean that NPR actually has a left-wing agenda, at least none that I have been able to detect, unless simply reporting the truth in depth is a left-wing agenda.  It could also just be that Rush and his pals don't like the competition and want to destroy public radio by discrediting its impartiality.

Corporate news radio doesn't like depth.  It doesn't like detail. It wants to make us believe that we are being given the news while mostly reminding its listeners that what's her name, that Kardashian lady, is more important than 43 student protesters murdered by the government in Mexico.  Giving us too much detail and depth would be a bummer.  The true agenda of Corporate America is to keep our lives simple, superficial, and untroubled by detail; to remind us that we are ultimately consumers that have to follow trends and fads that the boardrooms on Wall Street have decided are good and safe for us.

As it turns out, it looks like I've been living in a protective cocoon for the last few years.  I guess plugging my phone charger into my clunky Honda electrical system sort of unplugged me from the Matrix.  Sometimes bad technology can be good.  In a way, I've sort of plugged my brain into that little cigarette lighter too. 

NPR logo from:

I-heart logo from:   "IHeartRadio logo" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Politics and Religion, One and the Same?

By Mel Carriere

When I was in High School I had a friend who was a Catholic.  At that time I was not one.  I eventually converted to Catholicism, but at that moment of my life I was pretty much an annoyingly vociferous evangelical who liked to thump the poor little lost souls of my friends over the head with my Bible.

Every time I would broach the subject of religion with my friend he would try to ward me off with the old adage "There are two things you should never talk about; politics and religion."  It might have been three things, actually, but I can't remember what the other thing was.  At any rate the tactic would not work.  I just wouldn't shut up.  I'm surprised we stayed friends as long as we did, but he eventually moved back to Texas and not surprisingly I have not heard from him since.  

At any rate, I've been thinking a lot lately about the bold proposals President Obama is making in the waning days of his presidency, all of which I agree with.  My problem is the timing of these measures.  Where were these ideas 6 years ago, when he had a friendly Congress that could actually pass them?  Does he really think the Republican majority in Congress we have now is going to enact a higher minimum wage, a guaranteed seven days paid sick leave per year, or family medical leave?  In his defense I guess one could say that he was busy with Obamacare in the early stages of his Presidency, but if he had really wanted there were a lot of things he could have shoved through at that stage; throwing his Presidential weight behind them.

But referring back to my opening story about my Catholic friend who told me not to talk about religion, I am hesitant about opening up President Obama to any sort of criticism here because I am afraid of offending anybody's religious sensibilities.  Excuse me Mel, I'm sure you mean political sensibilities, don't you?  No, I mean exactly what I said, because people are sometimes so devoutly, fanatically blind in their choice of political heroes that they defend them with a fervor that borders on the religious in its level of zealotry.

People's pet politicians become like gods to them; gods who are above reproach and criticism.  When things go right they bow and thank their gods for their bounty and generosity, even though the good times may only be due to the current cyclical upswing and the gods have little or nothing at all to do with it.  Conversely, when things are bad perish the blasphemous thought that we rebuke our gods; the demonic forces in the other party are most assuredly to be blamed for these calamities.

I expect to be shouted down at this point by the ranks of the militant acolytes who have ignored everything I have been talking about up until now and are going to instantly pulverize me with the reminder that the Satan worshipers on the other side of the aisle are even more fanatically devoted to their absurd, pernicious cause.  In fact, our side is completely open minded about everything.  We always just look squarely at the facts, and the facts tell us that our wonderful leader is above reproach; he can walk on water, every jug of toxic, polluted, BP oil tainted H2O that he lays hands upon turns to the sweetest of wines at his touch.  

I know there are crooks and criminals on the other side of the aisle, believe me I know.  I have written about them time and time again until the "c" key on my computer I use to write "crook" and "criminal" has now been completely worn away by my greasy fingerprints.  I mostly agree with what the "left" proposes simply because it makes more sense, but this dogmatic reverence we give to politicians just because of their party affiliation has to stop.  It clouds our minds to the true benefits and downfalls of their plans.  As my banner above reads, such dogmatic devotion is "mental murder," and is the reason why nothing ever gets done in Washington that does anybody any good.

I hope my Texas Catholic friend is reading.  If so I apologize, and I hope the Bible I beat you with as a youngster didn't leave any permanent bruises on your skull.

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Read Mel's latest Hub Pages article honoring MLK

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

News Flash to Terrorists - Violence doesn't work, try something else

By Mel Carriere

A couple of times a week I try to get up a little extra early so I can hack out a few lines before I go to work.  The bad part of being a writer is the isolation and loneliness that comes with it, which is of course self-imposed.  In order to get anything done you have to exile yourself on some dark, lonely, quiet little island  where nobody with any sense is going to keep you company at 5:30 in the AM.

While editing an article I eventually sent away to Bird Watcher's Digest this morning, my bleary eyed wanderings through cyberspace somehow led me to a story on Google News.  I'll put a link to it on the bottom, but first you're going to have to slog through my exhausting rants.  The article was about the recent terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in France.  In case you are living in self-imposed news exile on your own island, Charlie Hebdo is a weekly French magazine whose offices were attacked by gunmen on January 7th.  12 innocent people were killed in the attacks, and in the process of carrying out these acts of barbarous violence the militants have now made Charlie Hebdo a household word everywhere, whereas prior to this it was relatively unknown outside of France.  Instead of getting people to denounce the publication for its rather irreverent treatment of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, Al Qaeda has now made certain that everyone who is not a militant Muslim is a fan of Charlie Hebdo.

I do not enjoy denigrating or disrespecting other people's religion, but to show my solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and their right to freedom of speech I have posted one of their magazine covers on top of this blog.  In doing this I am throwing caution to the winds.  Come and get me terrorists.  I'm a bad-ass mailman armed with a can of pepper spray and half a dozen surly dogs that will have my back in a crisis (Most, unfortunately, are only Chihuahua size or less). So bring it on!

I'm not sure what this cartoon says, my French is really not that good, but I'm pretty sure it is mocking the prophet Mohammed.  Charlie Hebdo has made a living poking fun at the prophet, and Muslim extremists have not taken kindly to this.  In 2011 Muslim militants made their first attack on this magazine, firebombing the offices after the publication took a few unappreciated liberties with Mohammed.

So after two deadly attacks, the editors and staff of Charlie Hebdo are cowering in fear, right, just like Sony Pictures did after they were threatened with acts of terrorism prior to the release of The Interview.  The creators of this magazine have got religion, admitted their wrongdoing, and are probably right now cowering in fear in one of those French caves with the bulls and stick figures carrying spears painted on the walls, right?

Wrong.  Instead of cowering in fear, reversing their position, and vowing never to desecrate the Prophet again, they have instead announced that their upcoming edition will once more feature a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.  3 million copies of this magazine will be published.  If the terrorists intended to suppress what they interpret to be disrespect toward their Prophet, they have miserably failed.

The fact is that terrorism doesn't work, and it is awful surprising to me that nobody has figured this out yet.  70 years of terrorist attacks against Israel have failed to dislodge the Jewish state from Palestine.  The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center did not cause the United States to back away from meddling with the Middle East either.  Instead, we invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, and such was the depth of outrage after the deeds of that horrible day that I'll bet Americans would have willing to march all the way to Mecca to get revenge.  Folks tend to get upset when you murder innocent people in their own front yard; even those who may have started out sympathetic to your cause distance themselves and start calling for heads to roll.

A recently released movie named Selma gives an example of a tactic that does work, one that has been tested time and time again, and this technique is known as Civil Disobedience.  

The film's title comes from the town of Selma, Alabama, which was a key battleground in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  Only one percent of black people were registered to vote in the South at that time, and to combat this outrage the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (Note the inclusion of the term Nonviolent in that title, please), being inspired by the ideas of passive resistance advocated by Martin Luther King (successful), who had been inspired by Gandhi (also successful), carried out protests against the white supremacists in that Alabama town.  Americans watching at home on TV were appalled by scenes of peaceful protesters being billy-clubbed, attacked by dogs, and sprayed down by firehoses.  Shortly thereafter The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law, guaranteeing the right to vote for every American, regardless of color.  Peaceful resistance won the day.

Based on the success of inspirational leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi, one would think Arab leaders would take a look at a page in the Civil Disobedience Manual, tug on their thickly whiskered chins a bit, and conclude that "Hey dudes this stuff really works!"  Then, in order to counteract the editorial policy of Charlie Hebdo, instead of using suicide bombs and flying airplanes into buildings they might organize a boycott, march in the streets, or stage a sit-in in front of the Charlie Hebdo Offices.  Sit-ins and boycotts are embarrassing and bad for business, and they just might have been enough to make the magazine pull the offending pictures of Mohammed.

Instead, everybody who reads French is going to want to read Charlie Hebdo now, and a few people who flunked French in High School are taking remedial glasses so they will be ready when this issue comes out.  The last part might be a little poetic license on my part, but you get the idea.  The point is that whatever the terrorists intended to do by attacking the offices of Charlie Hebdo has completely backfired.

Look up at the Scoreboard, fellas.  Civil Disobedience is kicking butt, terrorism is losing badly.  It's not even close.  Time to change the playbook.

Voice of America article can be read at:

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Does Stephen Colbert really have to be "One or the Other?" Can't Colbert just be Colbert?

By Mel Carriere

Driving home from the post office in the afternoon I try to get a sampling of what is going on in the news by listening to KFI 640 coming out of Los Angeles.  I'll be the first to admit that we here in San Diego are just the poor country cousins of the mighty megalopolis up the coast, and we like it that way.  Unfortunately, the quality of our drive time radio is not quite up to par with what they have to offer up in tinsel-town, which is why I listen to KFI in spite of the station's notable list to the right.

Of course, news being produced by a corporate radio station these days doesn't really mean news at all in the classic, old school sense.  Outside of sound bite snippets about who killed who and which politician took bribes this week, the "news" mostly consists of discussions about popular culture, meaning which megastars had a "secret" sex tape hijacked this week, and what topics are trending on You Tube and Twitter.  Want real news about world events or even domestic politics? Don't yawn and plug up your ears or you'll miss it.

Some of these snippets about popular culture are interesting nonetheless, and I have to confess my curiosity was piqued this afternoon by a report about Stephen Colbert, currently the outrageously offbeat and hilarious host of the "Colbert Report."  Stephen Colbert is taking over for David Letterman on his CBS Late Show in May.

For some incomprehensible reason, the discussion about Colbert's upcoming move to CBS I was following this afternoon did not center around whether he has the comedic talent to supplant Letterman, but instead was concerned with what his politics are and what this means.  Democrats fret and rend their garments wondering if Stephen is liberal enough to fill Dave's legendary two left shoes, whereas Conservatives raise their hands in the right side of the peanut gallery, pump their fists and shout "There, you see!  He makes jokes about Democrats sometimes, so he can't be that bad!" as if this is absolute proof of Colbert's affinity with the right side of the spectrum.

Why are Colbert's politics important at all?  Can't we just the watch the show and laugh, even though he sometimes makes us chuckle at ourselves and our pet philosophies?  Does partisanship really have to extend to the living room?  Can't we just go home and chill in front of the TV without adjusting the blue tint or the red tint to conform to whatever particular dogma we subscribe to this week?

Some people are so intertwined with their political canons of faith that they can't seem to find an identity for themselves outside of whatever the doctrinal purity police of their party declare to be orthodox.  If the Tea Party suddenly avers Colbert is no good those tea baggers might still secretly watch him, but they'll make sure they close the drapes so no one will find out.  Or if the leadership of the Marxist book club says Stephen is a reactionary pawn for the capitalist oppressors you can bet a few reds will still tune in but say it was just for research purposes - "you gotta know your enemy," even as they are laughing their proletariat beer right out through their noses.

Why does everything and everyone need a label these days?  Why does everything and everybody need to be quantified and categorized into some fail-safe index card system where nothing and no one, including comedians, slips through the cracks?

Comedy should be the great equalizer.  Lefties and Righties alike laugh at the same jokes. Whether you voted for Romney or Obama in 2012, when you watch the Hangover you get a good belly laugh. There is no shame in this.  We shouldn't have to rush to change the channel if Sarah Palin or Harry Reid suddenly walk into the room.  The freedom to laugh is part of freedom of speech.  Let Colbert be Colbert, I say.  Stop fretting about what his politics are and let's just this once laugh together, for crying out loud.

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