We are the frogs…

•May 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s often said that if you drop a frog into boiling water, he’ll jump right out. If you, instead, raise the water temperature slowly, he’ll never notice, stay in and be cooked. We are the frogs.

Writers speculate about why the Germans, prior to the Second World War, did not stop the Nazis. Simple. They were frogs. From the 1933 electoral win for Hitler to the beginning of hostilities in 1939, it was a slow boil. The early victories in the war from ’39 to’43 simply added spices. If you were one of the groups benefitting from the policies, why would you complain? And if you were one of those adversely affected, who was listening? The Germans had suffered a terrible defeat in World War I, a humiliating and bankrupting treaty in Versailles and someone was going to make them great again.

Sound familiar?

The declared wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, the undeclared war against the middle class and, let’s face it, white America, and the crushing blow of the 2008 financial crisis all left America looking to be called great again. The rich and the politicians continually use the rhetoric of the “free market” to convince, coerce or confuse the people into inaction.

American and European citizens have stood by while our ‘safe’ jobs – the ones that provided good wages and a dependable retirement, were cannibalized and sent to foreign lands. If you weren’t directly affected – i.e. lost your job – what you saw was cheap products. How could outsourcing be a bad thing if you could buy a new shirt at Old Navy for six bucks? The new 50 inch HDTV was less than $500. As long as you still had your job, life was great.

The water temperature rose.

Steel and manufacturing jobs left, but if it wasn’t yours, all you noticed was your new dryer was actually cheaper. Your Nike Air Jordan shoes were cheaper. Where jobs couldn’t be sent out of the country, corporations did one of three things: they cut the job and brought in contract workers. Or they made full-time into part-time workers. If you work 29 hours a week or less, no benefits, cheaper labor. In some cases,  they made you train your own replacement. Someone on a H1B or other visa. Even government jobs have been outsourced. Some cities no longer have city employees. The Army and Marines fight alongside private contractors.

Truth is, the middle class, in the form of well-paid, skilled but not college educated workers, has only existed since the World Wars. Before the early 1900’s, the middle class was a combination of small business owners and skilled workers, not the group of factory, service and governmental folks of the past three generations. Keep in mind the factory wasn’t even an entity until Ford and it didn’t pay good wages or offer a retirement until the end of WWII. Nevertheless, it’s gone. The group everyone could join if they were willing to work hard and trade the dream of riches for the reality of security, has been gutted.

Little bubbles form on the bottom of the pan while fleeting tendrils of steam drift by, unnoticed.

The rich exploit every method of creating wealth for themselves possible. Banking, at least lending, was becoming difficult with interest rates so low. There are the well-played games of stock, bond and commodity price manipulation. Those were becoming more challenging with the elimination of high paying jobs that require little post high school training, many couldn’t afford the basics. The unplanned but incredibly profitable and popular housing scam crashed the world economy. A decade later, most are still digging out while the rich try to restart the gravy train.

The water becomes increasingly hot, but people do not revolt. They rarely protest. They seldom march. Why?

Many lost their way of life – in which case they are involved in the struggle for shelter, food and other basics. Perhaps they joined the underground economy and deal drugs or commit crimes, or simply work under the table. In any event, they either don’t have time or the inclination to protest. Drug dealers, gang members and unlicensed contractors don’t carry signs or write their representatives.

Or they are still ‘in the game’. Some believe there’s still the slimmest chance to jump the line and become one of the privileged. Capitalism has that seductive side. Like the Germans, if you benefitted from the changes (or had avoided them), you didn’t complain. If you had been crushed by them, you weren’t heard.

When the water finally boiled in 1945, it took all the Germans. All the frogs boiled.

America and the West is not Germany in 1945, however. Times are different. Borders mean more if you’re not wealthy and nothing if you are. If the water becomes too hot and you have the means, you take your yachts and jets to where the water is still fine. If you don’t, you stay and boil or take to the road or the sea and hope for those greener pastures.

The water roils beneath and around us – peak oil, health care that seldom cares about anything except money, a pervasive and invasive surveillance state, a population that is increasingly difficult to feed, house, and keep working. A massive divide between those in power and with nearly unimaginable wealth and… the rest. A clash of beliefs with all sides scrambling to aquire the means to send everyone to their individual maker. And leaders and governments and the wealthy with no plan and less interest in those deeper in the pot.

Make no mistake. We are all in the pot, however.

We are all frogs.

Parenting in the age of Devices

•April 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A brief departure from our usual political rants, if you don’t mind.

The ‘digital revolution” has been nothing short of that – a revolution. From destroying – sorry, disrupting – business models and entire industries to changing and enhancing our way of life. After all, without ‘devices’ you wouldn’t be reading these words right now. While it can be argued that it’s given voice to many (including this page) who would not otherwise have any medium but a soapbox, it has taken that personal voice we used to have.

In particular, the dynamic of the parent-child relationship. It was never as people would want to believe. It never was the “Leave it to Beaver” family for everyone. Oh, there were and are families just like that. Yet, in most households, even before television, there was a disconnect. When TV arrived, it added not only a full-time sitter, but something “the whole family could enjoy” – albeit without ever interacting. It began the silencing of the family.

It was the advent and rise of ‘devices’ – smartphones and tablets – that severed the family bond almost completely. Parents who might have talked to kids on family car trips now strap in the young ones and turn on the DVD player or hand them, even toddlers, their own device. The only conversation heard is that of the youtube videos playing.

When the digital family visits friends, mom and dad enter the house already looking at their phones. The adults crowd around the table, phones in hand, all together lost in their own worlds. A cat video is shown around, a comment in a FB thread is voiced. Distracted voices chuckle about it. The kids? They have their devices and of course, the nanny TV. The parents act like it’s a relief to have ‘real time’ to spend on their phones while the kids, well, who knows what the kids are doing?

“But I have my kids in baseball and karate and vocal groups!” the parents say, half-interestedly as they post a picture to Instagram. Yup, they take ’em there, all right. And as soon as that kid is out there (or well before), that parent is on the phone. Oh, look at that ATV crash! Hey, let’s post on rants and raves! “My kid did what? Yeah, kid!” No one shakes their head and thinks ‘poor kid’ because they are all too busy on Snapchat to have noticed.

Parents faced an uphill battle being parents before the Internet. They had an hour, maybe two, broken up through breakfast and morning getting-ready and then homework time and dinner. That was the time for parental influence. That was the time when family was established. When morals and values and ideas and ideals were passed along. They were against the great unwashed masses that had the other hours.

Now, kids wake up to an iPhone alarm and go get breakfast in a family group where everyone is watching their device. School work is finished on devices and no dog eats any homework. Weekends might mean a family dinner out – where every member has a phone in their hands. Even two year olds.

Parenting seems to end the minute a doctor yells “it’s a girl!” After that is a series of social media worthy posts. Memories. Facebook even reminds you of posts you made on their anniversary. “Look Johnny! dad says. “It’s Jimmy” says Jimmy. “What?” “Here’s your fourth birthday! Remember that?” Jimmy opens his FB and looks through the pictures. “Oh yeah. That’s the day we posted about my cake and presents.” Fun.

We don’t have family time at dinner, but we do have FaceTime! We don’t have chats with our kids, but there is Snapchat! We don’t see gram, but she can see Instagram. We’ve been upgraded.

Right?

The Next Exploit

•January 31, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The rich and influential have spent all of history exploiting situations at the expense of everyone else. Often, that ‘everyone else’ includes other rich and influential. We’d like to believe this is a condition of the modern world or even just the Western world – it’s not. Regardless of religious or political landscape, the powerful have always done everything to remain just that.

In America, the same has been true since the founding. A quick Google search will show you as many examples as you can stomach. Real estate and labor were traditional exploits. As the world has ‘progressed’, so too has the range of exploitable situations. American history, unless you wish to research a bit (which most don’t), tends to paint a picture of inequality being a recent problem. It’s not, of course. From land to railroad barons (railroad stocks collapsing caused a depression in the late 1800’s that dwarfed the Great Depression), the wealthy have found ways to exploit most everything.

The first exploit to truly affect American citizens in large numbers was the railroad stock speculation bubble. There was nothing special about this exploit – all exploits follow the same pattern. An arbitrage situation is created or discovered, then through collusion it’s exploited. In the case of railroad stocks, as the railroad exploded in importance across the world and new companies struggled to survive and expand, they began to offer stock. Wealthy investors bought stock to fuel growth, then sold stock to realize profits. That is never enough.

Investors are folks looking for more reward and along the way accept more risk. Speculators are those simply betting on the outcome of an investment. The next step of the exploit is investors becoming speculators.

Now, investors buy stock on margin – obtaining loans from banks in order to leverage their investment and increase the profit. The borrowed money flows into the markets, raising prices further. It becomes a cycle, higher prices drive more investment, more investment drives more leverage. In normal times, investors can have as little as 10-20% in real money invested. The rest is the public’s money, loaned from banks. During bubbles, however, that leverage can increase to as much as 100-1. The speculators have as little as $1 invested for every $100 worth of investment. In the case of the 1873 crash, the investments were railroad stocks.

Where does that other $99 come from? You – the worker depositing your hard-earned money into the bank to keep it safe – and earn a little interest along the way.

When customers deposit their money into a bank, the bank then lends that money to borrowers. The bank pays depositors interest derived from the loan payments. The bank charges, if they wish to remain in business, more from the borrowers than they pay to the lenders – the depositors. The difference becomes the bank’s profit. Provided the banks makes prudent loans, the depositors can go in and get their money back out and everyone is better off.

In bubbles, banks make loans that are not prudent. They risk the depositor’s money on riskier and riskier investments. That continues till the bubble bursts.

In the 1873-79 railroad stock collapse and the 1929 general stock market collapse, leverage was often over that 100-1 mark. Speculators had one dollar of their own money invested and 100 of the bank’s dollars. That is, the depositor’s dollars. The mom and dad who worked every day and kept their earnings in the bank instead of the mattress had unknowingly lent speculators money to buy stock. When prices are only buoyed by the existence of another buyer, investing becomes pure speculation. As soon as the buyers decide prices are too high, the entire exploit falls apart.

It’s often said that something is only as valuable as long as there is someone who wants to buy it. That is the truth. Few items have true intrinsic value: food, shelter and, where needed, warmth. Gold means nothing if no one wants gold. If faced with eating or a gold ring, food becomes valuable. Gold becomes a metal. Most stocks do have an intrinsic value. The railroad stocks had locomotives and track and cars and real estate. The problem was that the intrinsic value was far less than the speculative value.

Investors add together the intrinsic value of the investment (that part of the price supported by something tangible) to a future value. The future value is what they expect the value of the investment to grow to over time. That is the idea of investing – buy low, sell high. Buying a railroad stock of a growing railroad is an investment.

Speculators take a growing – not always, witness the internet bubble of the late 90’s for an exception – and add ‘buzz’. That buzz moves the price of the investment up much quicker than just the intrinsic and time values alone. Speculators aren’t investing – they are betting.

The result in 1873 was the complete meltdown of the worldwide economy. Insomuch as they had joined the world economy, countries that had money invested in US stocks lost much of their value. The depression created lasted over 6 years and put millions on the street. The stock market exploit repeats every other generation or so. 1929 and the Great Depression. 1990’s and the aforementioned internet bubble.

But stocks aren’t the only exploit. Arbitragers are always seeking that next exploit. That difference between what something is selling for and what they can sell it for. Since the 1980’s, those exploits have included commodities like food, lumber and of course, the grandaddy of them all, oil. The result is higher prices for every consumer and massive increases of wealth for speculators. Enron created a ‘market’ for electricity and, to a lesser extent and impact, internet carrying capacity. The electricity market never worked, but it did result in many markets deregulating prices, resulting in vastly increased prices to the consumer and destroying the once-safe haven of utility stocks. That, in turn, has resulted in utilities, previously heavily restricted and regulated, speculating and investing in exploits rather than in infrastructure.

The big exploit that nearly caused the world to fail was the housing bubble. Investors, then speculators took that safe haven of home ownership and used it to not only increase housing prices, but convince the world to spend trillions of consumer goods. Governments got into speculation at the behest of firms like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Charles Schwab. They created speculation vehicles that did no more than speculate on other speculations! Apparently believing their own hype, firms like AIG created insurance products insuring that speculators wouldn’t lose their bets when the whole thing exploded.

The result was the devastation of the collapse of 2008. Entire countries failed. Greece, Iceland and Ireland all found themselves insolvent. The US and EU began programs of spending taxpayer money to bailout institutions that were ‘too big to fail’. Companies that should have known better but bet and created bets on other bets and then leveraged those bets – all with mom and dad’s retirement and junior’s college money. Families weren’t too big to fail and did so in enormous numbers. Millions lost homes, retirement funds and lives. Jobs left. The world is still feeling the effects and will for generations.

Despite an attempt to ‘return to normal’, in other words restart the housing bubble, most markets have not and never will recover. For the first time in US history, owning real estate has been a losing proposition for many over the past ten years. The rich? Oh, they were bailed out by the rest. Some $80,000 was borrowed from each and every American family to bail out the corporations that also bankrupted those same families. Incredible.

Looking back, each exploit bubble increased the effect felt on the world when the bubble burst. Countries that never before had put themselves in debt are now negotiating the debt they incurred in the housing bubble so that their great-great-grandkids will still be paying off the result. Paying off the government debt that occurred when the government gave money to the corporations that caused the whole thing.

So what’s the next exploit? What will the rich find to bet on? Most of our necessities are already priced at the max consumers can stand, so those are played out. Housing is regulated by lending and banks aren’t lending to house buyers without a lot of security. Water? Don’t kid yourself – most of the water is already ‘owned’ by someone. Try capturing the water falling on your property and keeping it for you in many states. You’ll find that’s not your water. A car dealer in Utah set up rain capture systems to use to wash his cars. The state sued and forced him to release that water. Keep in mind that the same government that approved and gave him the permits to build the system then told him he couldn’t use it.

Air? Every day deals are made between government and polluters over how much, when and where they can pollute. So they are already making deals on your air.

Think about it. What will, what CAN the wealthy exploit next?

Are We Making Progress?

•January 28, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Politicians and corporate leaders (the two being entirely interchangeable) speak often of progress. Politicians offer as examples a more ‘inclusive’ societal model. Corporate leaders add to that additional methods of creating profit. Corporate leaders often point to political leaders as the barrier to that progressive profit – which is why they often become politicians to eliminate those barriers.

Progress itself implies a measure of movement. An ‘increase’ in some metric. A society that is more ‘tolerant’ of outlier citizens becomes more ‘inclusive’ and increases the number of people in the norm. That should offend everyone. It states that some are not normal and society’s rules must be changed to ‘tolerate’ those living outside current norms. That type of statement and those types of beliefs are what create the ‘us’ and ‘them’ paradigm to begin with. Still, if progress equals increase, then inclusion through tolerance can be considered progress.

Progress should be viewed as making things better. That is also a form of increase but a more specific one. So creating a product that does more is progression. Creating one that lasts longer is progression. Both from the consumer point of view. From a corporate/profit view, creating a product whose perception is improving or is positive – regardless of the quality or features of the actual product itself – is considered progress.

If these are the metrics of progress, how are we doing? How much progress have we made in the past half century? Strike that – how much progress have we made in the past year?

If progress involves inclusion – and that word could take ten blog posts alone to define since it can mean anything from acknowledgement that others exist to desire to make them part of your family to (most desirably) not even noting a difference between groups – then 2015 was a breakout, standout year. Gays went from being PC to being perhaps part of that ‘not even noticing the difference’ category. Muslims, especially “migrants” from war-torn areas, have jumped the broom. Groups from every part of the ‘difference’ spectrum have been recognized by most Western countries. So if the measure of progress is inclusion, 2015 was a banner year.

Despite the fact that a wide number of groups have joined (?) the ‘norm’ (the phrase ‘new normal’ is used so often it’s become cliche), the truth is that the divisions which separate the groups have become more pronounced than at any time since the Civil Rights movement began.

How can both be true? How can we, as a society both have become more diverse and more divisive? As mentioned, the word inclusion has a wide interpretation. While gay marriage may now be the law of the land for many countries, it is often just words. Many conservatives consider it an affront and have not accepted the concept, no matter what the law states. This is the truth for many of the groups that now make up the ‘new normal’. They are included and tolerated, but far from accepted.

France is proud that their census includes no mention of race. They are all one…in theory. The flip side of that fact is that no official numbers are kept about racial equality. So while all Frenchman are simply men, the fact remains that few of those who are included but not traditionally “French” are in positions of authority. The egalitarian approach both promotes inclusion and hides exclusion. Tricky.

The truth beneath the veneer is that while progression is being made, it’s as it’s always been – slow. The ‘new’ generation is more accepting of folks outside what older generations would consider normal. The next one will, too. The media, especially social media, is the instructor to this generation and it’s reasonable to accept that will be the same for their children. As the media continues to portray as normal the inclusion of different races and relationships, it will become normal.

Two things: one, this is the same method used by the National Socialists in the 30’s and 40’s to create the image of the evil Jew and the same used now to make cigarette smoking an evil activity. Behavior modification is also known as brainwashing. Two, what’s the next ‘new’ normal?

With morality being a constantly changing ideal, one has to ask who is determining what is moral and for what reason. If neither normal nor moral are fixed concepts used for judging behavior and ideals – where do we as a society say ‘no more’ and what do we base that on? How do we determine if we are making ‘progress’ if the goals are constantly changing?

(Un)Civil War 2.0 (part 1)

•March 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

There have been several points since the “Civil War” (in Axl’s words “What’s so civil ’bout war, anyway?”) when the country seemed poised on the precipice, ready to enter a conflict pitting American against American. While historians and other groups dispute how close we came, the simple fact is that we’ve been right on the edge. Whether it would pit race against race or class against class, the concept of civil war has followed the American people for the past 150 years. Each time it was averted.

The last time the country was this riled, this divided, this awake was the civil rights and Vietnam movements of the late 1960’s. Again, historians and other learned authors have debated just how close we were. But mass riots and cities burning speak louder than the words of those who were toddlers during those years ever could. And there were certainly riots. And certainly cities on fire. Of all the times, that period pitted the most diverse groups against each other. On one side, the “establishment”, on the other, just about everyone under 30.

Of course, anytime someone makes a statement like that, they instantly prove themselves wrong. The two groups referred to in the last example were nowhere near that clear cut. There were many young people appalled at the actions of their peers. There were large groups of disaffected “older folks”, that is, anyone OVER 30 who had been dissenters to the direction of the country – and thus the establishment – long before (and for other reasons) the civil rights movement. The point, however, is made.

The Peace Disrupted

We’ve had two, perhaps three, decades of relative quiet in America. Yes, even with 9/11. Even with Oil Conflict 1.0 of the early 90’s. Even with the years of runaway inflation, interest rates and corporatism. Not that there wasn’t an undercurrent of dissent. Even the Swiss have their malcontents and to all appearances, they live in (a slightly cooler version of) heaven. Why? Because of the economy, stupid. No matter the complaints, enough of our countrymen were advancing in economic terms. They were, in very cliched terms, living the American Dream.

That was all brought crashing down by the economic destruction of 2008. The reasons for the event fill hundreds of books and thousands of blogs and its effects were not constrained ‘from sea to shining sea’ and it’s safe to say that many countries fared far worse than our own US. The basis for the entire thing was the desire to finance US debt at next to zero rates. What happened from there is classic (and expected) a case of unintended consequences fueled by ingenuity and greed. The result is a world ripe for – change.

Since the Meltdown, no less than a perfect storm of circumstances have brought us to the precipice again. This time the lines are along several lines. Racial, class, just about every distinction is represented. While most Americans have very, very short memories particularly when bad memories are involved, the fact is that things are ripe for, as Jefferson put it ‘the tree of liberty’ to be watered with ‘the blood’ of combatants. Sure, butchered and paraphrased, but the truth. The Meltdown has been felt in most every household – worldwide. Subsistence farmers aside, just about every modern family living below the billionaire status, has felt the effects.

Very few modern people have any desire to go through the hell of war in a foreign land, even fewer to participate in the destruction of their own way of life. Yet that seems entirely within the realm of the possible. Since so few Americans have memories (or any idea of what happens outside their own little worlds), few remember that, in the early 70’s, Americans were experiencing and exploding as many as five bombs a day – in America. Don’t remember that? Point made. What has kept full-fledged civil war from becoming a reality was the economy and the American Promise: that each generation would live better than each previous one. That’s not been the case for a couple of generations now.

The Promise and The Dream – Shattered

Americans have been kept in line with decent jobs, lots of beer and entertainment and fast food. Argue if you will, but that’s the long and short of it. The 80% that keep a country going ask not much more. Throw in that aforementioned ‘American Dream’ (which differs from the “Promise” by mostly being a hope rather than an expectation) of good retirement, white picket fenced house and 2.1 kids and most folks don’t want to upset the apple cart. The Meltdown began the undoing. What has happened since has nearly completed it.

Economically, the Dream has largely been shattered. Most good middle class jobs, those involving a decent life in exchange for 8-10 hours a day of hard work, have been outsourced. It’s expensive to provide people with security – not impossible, just expensive. The Dream and Promise involve two largely incompatible things: a good middle class life (Dream) and living better than your folks (Promise). To keep prices down to allow for the Promise, the Dream has been sacrificed. It turns out that it was the more important of the two. There are very very few secure middle class jobs anymore. Some small, highly encapsulated and jealously controlled industries remain and in truth, automation and outsourcing are destroying even those last bastions of security.

Perhaps it is Franklin’s words come to life: ”Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.”

The Meltdown has allowed differences that slowly simmered under the lid of Dreams and Promises to boil over. Racial tensions. Political Correctness. Authority. The Occupy movement brought it to the surface for a moment. Snowden’s revelations have pushed the lid up and got it rattling. The events in Ferguson, New York, Boston and Nevada have pushed the liquid out onto the stove.

The actions of the ‘Establishment’, which now instead of all those over 30, is comprised of the Government and the wealthy (or the 1%). The news media, an endangered and desperate group, are fanning the flames under that melting pot by insisting that individual events like those in Ferguson, are representative of the overall situation in the country. (This could be true, too.) They tell us every night about the numbers of “inequality”. The amount of the income disparity. The growing influence of the 1%. The growing dissatisfaction and reduction of influence and importance of the 99%. This is true, too.

But these aren’t new events. These are issues that have been present, front and center, all along the American experience. Promises and Dreams kept the truth hidden. Promises and Dreams kept those in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s working and believing until they were no longer important – over 50. Once there, those people both realize that the Promise and the Dream were lies – but they are too worried and focused on the rest of their lives, along with being marginalized by the youth-centric and focused media – to do anything. No 60 year old wants to ‘disrupt’ the world to ensure the 20 year olds get a fairer shake. That has kept the masses quiet.

More and more, however, the 20-40 group isn’t believing. Therein lies the foundation for the new civil war.

Charlie Hebdo and Free Speech

•January 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Much of the non-Muslim world is focusing on the fact that the attacks on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo were precipitated by the numerous cartoons featuring the Islamic prophet, which, as we all know now, is something that is forbidden by Islam. The commenters then go on to talk about freedom of expression and speech and how these cartoons are covered by those concepts. It’s doubtful many (at least, many non-Muslims) would disagree with that point. Besides being protected, does depicting anyone warrant or justify a response of murder? Does the Koran say that those involved in such actions must be killed? There’s not been much mention of the prescribed punishment for such depictions.

This author is not an expert of the Koran – or the Torah, the Bible or Dianetics. It’s possible that all of the above state very clearly that adherents to the faith are obligated to kill all those who poke fun or insult the founders. One of the Ten Commandments does say something about false idols, though it is vague on the punishment to be exacted should worship occur. There exists the possibility that further readings – or interpretations of readings – would show that violence is the required response. History is full of stories demonstrating that believing in or defending one’s religion results in killing those that don’t agree, so perhaps it is written.

Anytime it is asked if Charlie Hebdo was publishing those cartoons in bad taste or if the publishers bear any responsibility for the outcome immediately bring the cries of “Free press! Freedom of expression!” and while the speech itself is protected, that isn’t the question being asked. Those asking that question are not questioning the right to criticize the actions and beliefs – and the consequences – of Muslim extremists and to do so is certainly within the purview and even responsibility of the press. Charlie Hebdo reports using satire, so the images and words are not outside the scope of how they would report on such things. Using satire to illustrate the absurdity of the actions of the terrorists could inform some who would not otherwise read about these issues. Whether or not it should be done in this manner is what is being asked. Where is that line between journalistic responsibility to inform and using journalism to justify expressing opinion? Who decides?

It’s generally acknowledged that within freedom of expression lies responsibilities. Like Spiderman said (although it could have come from someone else and he was just repeating it. Probably should Google it and see…) “with great power comes great responsibility”. So it’s fair to ask: were they being responsible? (If your knee-jerk reply is to scream ‘freedom of…”, please, refrain.) It’s established that they have the right. But is it the best way, the only way, the right way to get your point across? Many states in America now support the Castle Doctrine and/or the Stand Your Ground law. In the first, you have the right to defend your home against intruders pretty much as you see fit. (In California, the force used to defend must be equal to the force used to attack. You can’t shoot someone armed with a dead fish.) In the second, the stipulation that you must avoid conflict when possible has been replaced with a sort of preemptive strike rule. If someone is going to attack you – or you have good reason to believe they will – you can defend yourself. (The only problem is that since they’ve not attacked, you’re not certain what they were – if they were – going to attack with. So you shoot the guy who was going to cuss you out. Or, if you’re poor at interpreting body language, point that your shoe was untied.)

That brings up the first question: Just because you have the right or freedom to do something – does that mean you should do it? Should you shoot the noise in the garage because you’re allowed to defend your castle? Should you ‘stand your ground’ and pop a cap in the old guy in the hat standing next to you cause you took his spot in line and he doesn’t look pleased about it? Should you put cartoons on your magazine cover to show your contempt or anger or frustration with members of a group? And should you do it again the week after the previous artists were gunned down for doing it before? (The “Should you” question doesn’t have to be philosophical. It could be existential.)

The next question is not as universal in scope – America is one of the few FWC exempt from this question, since it does not have the restrictions. Charlie Hebdo has attacked Catholics and Christianity, lambasting them for the pedophile scandals and their stand on gay marriage. They have, quite obviously, attacked Islam for a number of things. It seems all are fair game. Except one. Anti-Semitic speech is forbidden in France and much of Europe. Not all speech about Jews is forbidden, the press can comment favorably. Charlie has done covers with Jews on them, even in a negative light. The fact remains though that Jews are specifically protected from the ‘rights’ of free speech.

So, question two would be: Does France have free speech? If the answer is no, then perhaps all those claiming they are defending free speech and freedom of expression need to rethink what they are defending.

The last question applies not to the events in France but rather the concept of free speech. Universally, there are some restrictions on the concept: one can’t yell ‘fire’ in a theater and expect to use the freedom of expression defense in a court of law. That’s the concept of responsible free speech and while philosophers and anarchists may argue that point, most accept it. The fact is that there exists – sometimes codified in law, sometimes in being polite, most often embodied in the concept of political correctness – restraints on what one can say. Given these two restrictions, what is ‘free speech’? What is it those defending it are defending?

These questions are important for several reasons. The first and third questions are universal – can we say anything we want and have no responsibility for the outcome? We know the answer – no. The second is more specific, but not really if we accept the answer afforded to the two other queries.

If there are restrictions and responsibilities attached to free speech, what exactly are the French marching around about?

The opinions expressed by Charlie seem to be less an expression of free speech or an attempt to inform than they are attacks on Islam hiding behind the concepts. Ones that, expressed more honestly, wouldn’t be tolerated by the PC restrictions normally put on speech. The same reporting, if it featured Jews, might not just fall afoul of PC restrictions but legal ones as well.

Embedded In America defends no religious group but it does defend the rights of all of them to exist and express their beliefs. EIA supports free speech and acknowledges the responsibilities inherent in such freedoms. The authors do feel that in this set of events, specifically the opinions of Charlie and the responses of the Muslim extremists, there exists a fair amount of…bullshit. On top of that, some of those yelling about ‘free speech’ are those who belong to a group protected against such speech – which is also bullshit.

Abstraction from truth and real motives and using defenses created for completely different scenarios are the real problems here. The extremists know the cartoons are no justification for killing but it gives a defense to acts that have no defense. The cartoonists and publishers hide behind freedoms created to ensure truth can be printed, even or especially uncomfortable truths and then cry foul when the responsibility part of the freedom comes calling. The people hide behind claims of the same freedoms when everyone – the publishers, the bloodthirsty killers and the public themselves know what is really going on. PC ensures this little dance keeps happening.

What good is free speech if no one speaks honestly?

West says to Islamic Militants: “It’s OK to to kill – if you kill Muslims”

•January 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

If actions speak louder than words, then the title of this post is correct. While 16 French victims stopped the presses and were the topic of every news program in the western world this week, in Nigeria a multi-day attack by the terrorist group Boko Haram left an estimated 2,000 dead. Did you see that on the news? No? Surprising. Boko Haram is muslim terrorist group who feel that many muslim don’t live an oppressed enough lifestyle and are determined to ramp it up.

Nothern Nigeria is largely muslim and, while the south is primarily Christian and seemingly a better target for muslims according to western beliefs, the terrorists chose to attack their own people. This is in addition to the hundreds of children kidnapped (and according to reports, forced to march miles through the desert, killing and eating their friends) by the group last year. That story did make headlines, but because they are children. Apparently mixing children with adults renders the story uninteresting.

These would be major stories if the victims lived somewhere other than Africa or if muslim-on-muslim violence was unusual. Of course, it’s not.

Most western news media will carry the story – after the killing has stopped. While news about the Hutu vs Tutsi massacre of 1993 did eventually leak through in our one hour (split between 6pm and 11pm in half-hour, easily digestible or ignored feedings) of ‘news’ featured per day. However, once the killing had stopped – 100 days (you know, 3.3 months) later, we all saw the shocking statistics and images: 800,000 killed. In 100 days. For months, young men went to bed, slept in their houses, then got up in the morning, had breakfast and beer, grabbed their machetes and went out to kill their neighbors. If they slacked off or let people go, their comrades in arms yelled “DO YOUR WORK!” like a McDonalds manager over his fry cooks. For more than three months, the radio extolled the killers to ‘kill the cockroaches’ and their supporters. And at the nearly unfathomable rate of 8000 a day, they did.

Yet there was surprisingly little coverage outside of the countries directly affected. Fleeing refugees swarmed out of Rwanda’s killing fields into the surrounding countries. Those radio stations carried the news. American stations – not so much.

When they did, after the massacre slowed to a trickle, they did it in a head-scratching way. Why did this happen? Even a cursory examination of Rwandan history would show it’s been happening for quite a long time and the numbers are far from unique to this particular session.

Of course, the same is true when considering the Congo, where it is estimated some ten million died. True of how many South American countries?

Some of these news outages are because the audience is not truly interested. There are other reasons. In Africa, many of the ongoing wars are because the western powers carved up the continent (where the millions of residents had already established their own divisions) according to their whims and needs. They told Africans that, instead of the tribes they’d belonged to for generations, they now had new lines – and handpicked leaders. Since many of the tribes were longstanding enemies, this has not gone over well. Western media might exclude these reports since the west is largely responsible for their origins.

Some, like many in South America, are not reported because we had a more, say, active role in the incidents. We supported the regime instead of just creating it. Or some of our guys were behind the triggers.

The rest could be that the land is too far away, the conflict too old and complicated and the people doing the killing and dying just too unfamiliar for some bleach blonde in high heels reading from a teleprompter to explain in 90 seconds. Besides, it really doesn’t affect the audience anyway, right?

The title here should be: West says to anyone not in the west “It’s ok to kill so long as you don’t kill westerners”.