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Posts Tagged ‘greed’

Mary Wollstonecraft, an acclaimed 19th century writer and activist, once said, “No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness.” In everyday life, I believe this is largely true. We give in to the yearnings of either lust or money (and, really, there is very little difference) and Hell follows. A few years ago, one of the richest men in the United States was interviewed after throwing a magnificently overdone party which cost more than most Americans earn in a year. He was so wealthy, and had been for so long, that he had lost track of what he owned, forgetting cars, houses, jets, entire businesses… When asked what he could possibly still want, he answered simply, “More of everything.” Now, I don’t consider that evil – offensive and nauseating, but not evil per se – but I think it is that kind of runaway greed and self-indulgence that leads to evil things.

So why all this talk about evil? Well, I believe evil begets evil. The more bad stuff that’s going on the world, the easier it is for even more bad stuff to happen. A negative feedback loop, if you will, where the situation gets progressively worse with every trip around the loop. Or, say, sun. But it’s an intensely difficult system to change, not one you can easily knock off balance once it has some momentum. And momentum, unfortunately, has never been the problem.

Humans are easily manipulated, panicked, frenzied. A few well-placed hoorahs can put a man in power, or leave him dead in the street. We have quick tempers, long memories for grudges, and a lust for vengeance. But we are also quick to forget treacheries that did not involve us directly, and we easily swallow lies as long as our standard of living remains acceptable. We have the intelligence to fabricate fantastic weapons able to produce the heart of a star on the surface of our own planet … but not enough intelligence to accept peace. We are an interesting but dangerous species, classified as a mammal but with all the trademarks of a virus. What we need is a vaccine.

A vaccine does not kill a virus. Instead, it prepares the host for the potential of a battle with a virus. It posts guards and rallies the troops, if you will. Then, if the virus later infiltrates, the host is prepared and the virus is controlled before any damage is done. The battle is averted. The war is won, essentially, before it’s begun. And the trouble-making virus isn’t really destroyed. It is incorporated into the host, becomes a peaceful part of it, and its antibodies survive as long as the host lives. That way, if another faction of the virus invades, it can also be quelled before war breaks out. This is exactly what we need. The trouble, with humans and vaccines, is that they only succeed on one issue at a time.

As a species, I’m not sure where we’re headed. The utopian society envisioned in the early 20th century never materialized. The Jetsons are as far away as ever. As long as we keep focusing on material goods and indulgent comforts, it will probably stay that way. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with wanting a decent house, a reliable vehicle, or three squares a day. But it’s hard to work toward political stability, reduced international tensions, and peaceful resolutions when all you can think about is “more of everything.” It’s important that we not let the pursuit of perceived happiness lead us down the wrong road, toward decisions with irreversible consequences and no redeeming outcome in sight.

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Perhaps I should note, right up front, that I am not equating Barack Obama to a douche. Or more accurately, I am, but not in the spirit of meanness. South Park fans will understand immediately. For the rest of you, let me explain. After major elections overseas and several state primaries, my thoughts turned to voting and the process of election. A friend, discussing similar topics, brought up episode 808 (#119) of the well-known satiric TV series South Park, wherein a new school mascot must be decided by vote and the two choices are anything but ordinary: a turd sandwich and a giant douche.

To cut a complex story short, a boy who is told he must vote refuses, citing that he doesn’t agree with either of the candidates and it is a pointless exercise anyway. After heavy pressure from family, friends, and community members, including threats of bodily harm, he relents. But before doing so, he is advised by the leader of a nationwide activist group that “every election is between a Giant Douche and a Turd.”

So we have our foundation. And I am inclined to agree with Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators and principal writers of the South Park series. Most elections do seem to come down to the choice between between a douche and a turd. It is one unfortunate result of a two-party system. As much as we tout the wide variety of choice in political preferences, it really comes down to Democrat or Republican on the ballot. Though a few shudders of revolt have been felt from the Independent and Tea factions, most candidates elected to major offices still carry an (R) or (D) by their names. (Is it a mere coincidence that douche begins with (d) and turd contains an (r)? I wonder.)

So what should one do, when faced with the choice of selecting between a turd and a douche? How can one determine the lesser of two evils? Either way, the populace effected is sure to lose. Yet not voting – refusing to choose – is seen as an insult, not only to the nation as a whole but to the many who fought and died to bring the nation to where it stands today.

I argue that refusing to choose is not an insult to the nation but a measure of the abuse the political system is experiencing. Without strong figures of reason and credibility to vote for, what impetus is there to cast a vote? Why mark the box for a turd if a turd isn’t wanted in office? It becomes a catch 22: the only candidates with enough political savy and sway to reach levels of importance are all douches and turds, so only douches and turds can be elected. Which I believe is the point made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And for the more patriotic, who see refusal as a dismissal of the battles that gave us the freedom to vote, I can only ask if those same battles were fought so that we would only be able to choose between two corrupt, greedy, unappealing, unwanted, money- and power-hungry candidates. I don’t believe that was what any of those men and women fought for. I don’t believe that is what men and women the world over continue fighting for.

I whole-heartedly support the right to vote. 1,000%. It was meant to be our greatest freedom, our most powerful weapon of peace and justice against our own government and political system. I value that right beyond words and will defend it to my last breath. With force, if necessary. But it has been so misused. It has become such a pitiful shadow of what it could and should be. It’s the 21st Century. We are surrounded with technological and biological marvels. And yet we vote as though we are still in the Dark Ages, ignorant, apathetic, afraid. James A. Mishener once said, “An age is called dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.” Well I see it, or at least the potential of it, and I refuse to vote for darkness. I refuse to vote for turds and douches and rampant liars and unconscionable thieves. Not when we, as a nation, are capable of so much better.

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Amber Waves of Gain

Let me preface this statistic-rich post by noting the following: 1) most of these numbers were derived from two online sources, so if they were incorrect then I am also; and 2) if you are caught genuinely breaking a law, you deserve to be fined, ticketed, booted, or otherwise reprimanded as defined by local law (with a few exceptions, which may or may not be discussed below). Now, on to the good stuff (it’s long, but it’s worth it).

If the preface didn’t spill the beans, let me do it here by stating that this is a post about our city governments and parking violations.

For instance, in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, New York City brought in revenues of $624 million from parking infractions alone. Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2001, the city has hired nearly 800 new “traffic enforcement agents” to help maximize this revenue opportunity, and 200 of those new agents were hired this year. These agents write, on average, 40 tickets per shift (according to an MSNBC news article), which equates to roughly 40,000 new tickets written every week. If the amount fined averaged $20 per ticket, that’s an additional $800,000 every week, per shift, for the city’s piggy bank. Not bad, eh? And that doesn’t account for extremes, like the super-agent who wrote 227 tickets in a 5-hour period on Black Friday 2007, when 41,000 citations were issued across the city in one day.

Boston visitors and residents face a rise in fines, a 75% increase on parking more than a foot from the curb and an increase of more than 112% for parking on a crosswalk. In similar fashion, Sacremento tacked an $8 surcharge onto its parking fines with the express intention of collecting an extra $1.5 million … or more … to ease a budgetary shortfall. Meanwhile, Seattle implemented a camera ticketing system which issued 58,000 tickets in its first three months, totaling some $5 million in fines to be collected. And last year in Colorado, Denver’s ticket revenues jumped $4 million, to a total $20 million from parking violations. Is it me or does this seem a bit extreme?

In cities like Louisville, Kentucky, a minimum of two outstanding parking violations will get your car booted. Boots are usually removed by police at their discretion … after you pay your fines, of course. But if you’re in a hurry and happen to be in Montgomery County, Maryland (just outside Washington, D.C.) or in Baltimore, you can use your cell phone to unlock the boot … after paying your fines … and a $115 fee, apparently for the convenience of a quick de-booting. (The system isn’t confined to Maryland; it is used in a dozen cities, including New Orleans.)

Some cities have begun using a camera-equipped system that allows meter agents to drive at normal speeds and simultaneously scan license plates for outstanding parking violations. Nifty, huh? Nab two birds with one stone and boot previous violators for extra money even if they are currently legally parked. But that’s just the beginning. Have you heard about the new parking meters in production? They text message local police as soon as your flag goes up. (Better hope there’s not a meter agent in the area.) And several large cities have issued electronic ticketing machines to their agents, allowing them to ticket 30% faster. Oh good, their antiquated tools and multi-million dollar annual revenues had me concerned about reduced productivity. Whew. That’s a real load off my mind.

One New Yorker said he’s seen drivers get ticketed for double-parking while waiting for someone to pull out of a space on the street, an almost universally accepted act especially common in areas of concentrated population and limited parking. In a similar stretch of the law, an attorney was ticketed for parking “somewhere between one second and 59 seconds too soon” in an alternate-side violation. He fought the ticket and won; the citation was dismissed by a judge. Which brings us to a whole new sub-topic: how many of these charges are legitimate?

In the Bronx, a dozen residents accused a traffic agent of falsely citing them for double-parking, some arguing they were not even in the United States when the tickets were issued (at the time of the article, no charges had been filed against the agent, who the city defended and who remained on duty). A retired Navy veteran said he was ticketed while dropping off his wife in a bus zone. One reader commented that he was sent a parking ticket, complete with late penalties, without having been in the city for twenty years. (Despite the two decade absence, ownership of a vehicle that did not remotely resemble the ticketed car, and a letter he sent to authorities with a copy of his registration, the ticket is unresolved.)

Another reader said, “the New York City parking signs have purposely been made so confusing that even police officers cannot tell you if it is okay to park.” He went on to note that many signs were damaged, illegible, or missing altogether but agents still ticketed in the effected areas. In some areas, he also shared, “we have Muni-meters, where you have to park your car then walk to the meter several yards away to buy a receipt…to place in the windshield. Meter people will watch you walk to the meter and give you a ticket before you can get back to the car with the receipt. This is NYC government-sanctioned mugging.” Posters from other cities shared stories of similar abuses and I have no doubt that thousands more could easily be included, everything from unlawful ticketing and conspiracy to purposefully mass-ticket all the way to outright harrassment.

And not just in New York City. People from Columbus, Ohio, and Santa Monica, California, share the same stories, as do citizens from Fort Worth, Texas, and Portland, Oregon. Obviously, these are not isolated incidents but a general trend among cities with the primary goal of raising funds. By any means necessary. Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, it makes no difference, and the more tickets written, bogus or otherwise, the more revenues will increase. (For a disgustingly blatant example, visit my previous post, “Holy Jericho”.)

I will take this opportunity to reiterate that those legitimately breaking the law deserve to be fined … but only those breaking the law, and they should not be fined unreasonable amounts.

I’ve had three parking tickets over the years and I paid every one of them without complaint. Even though the last two were tenuously legal at best, I paid, took my receipt, and walked away without a word. Because it wasn’t worth fighting. For $40 I retained the ability to work a full schedule instead of missing days to fight the tickets in court. I retained anonymity and did not bring down the wrath of meter maids and law enforcement everywhere I went. (If you think that’s not important, you’ve never lived in a smaller town.) I avoided the costly unpleasantness of hiring a lawyer. I learned when and where I could push the law, and when and where I couldn’t. I learned that legality has absolutely nothing to do with decency, common sense, or common courtesy. And all for the low low price of only $40.

I’m not denouncing parking tickets. I am denouncing the growing practice of manufacturing falsities and extorting money out of a populace to fund government greed and idiocy. And so should you. It makes me wonder … what else are they falsely accusing us of? How many innocent people are being ruined by similar practices in other disciplines? Like taxes, for example. If the IRS came calling, could you prove your financial statements to their specifications? There is no statute of limitations; what if they ask for files from a decade ago, or two? Or how about the Department of Homeland Security accusing you of terrorist activity, seizing your property, and denying you trial? It’s perfectly legal and they can sell any seized property for profit without ever formally charging you. Local police have the same authority for drug-related activities and can gleen millions annually from the sales of seized items. Why? The short answer is money. But, really, is that all? Is that why are our freedoms are being pared down to nothing while government payrolls balloon and hoover up any dollar they can find?

These are questions we should be asking.
These are questions we should be asking every day, because this country is feeling less and less like ours.

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This morning I accidentally caught part of ABC’s morning show The View, whose hostesses including Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters. I’m not a big fan, even of the network itself, but I happened to see Dolly Parton on the couch while channel surfing and stopped to see what she had to say. Apparently a Broadway musical had opened, based on the popular 1980 movie Nine to Five which starred Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda and Dolly was on The View to speak up for the musical and her related album. I’m also not a big fan of musicals so my attention drifted to how disconcerting it was that Dolly Parton and Joan Rivers are beginning to look more and more alike. Then something perked my ears up again.

I think it was Joy Behar who made the remark, something about the major record labels not picking Dolly up for her latest album. “What?” I thought. “She’s Dolly Parton … how do you not sign Dolly Parton?” Granted, I’ve never bought one of her albums and think her best days were spent with Porter Wagoner (and yes, I realize a staggering number of readers will not recognize the name of Porter … a shameful thing in and of itself) but Dolly is music royalty. She was there when the foundations of modern country music were being laid down and put in more than a few good bricks of her own. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2001. She’s won several Grammy Awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song … twice. Her voice has been on the radio since 1955 and her recording career spans five decades … but she’s not good enough for Columbia? Arista wouldn’t have her? It’s ludicrous. And since no major music recording label would sign her, she started her own: Dolly Records.

But this all seems eerily familiar. For the last decade of his life, Johnny Cash was shunned by major record labels. A living legend in his own right, John had written over a thousand songs, released dozens of albums, been on the top of the Billboard charts more times than anyone could remember … and no one wanted to sign him. In typical Johnny Cash style, he gave them the finger and signed with Rick Rubin at American Recordings, a small label better known for hard rock and rap. From 1994 to 2002 (and one posthumously in 2006), John released five extremely successful albums with American, winning Grammies, other music awards, and gushing critical acclaim. They are among his best-selling albums.

It seems to me there are several similarities here. I’m not saying Dolly’s albums would be as successful as John’s but to shut the door in her face seems … petty. And greedy. And just plain wrong. Well after P. Diddy and 50 Cent are forgotten, long after the Jonas Brothers go the way of Hanson and the Pussycat Dolls make like Spice Girls and split, the name of Dolly Parton will be going strong. That’s something to be harnessed and capitalized on, not shoved aside and ignored.

And ask yourself this … would those same companies have turned down Cher? Did they pull the rug on Michael Jackson or refuse Madonna? Same stature, different genre, and the only difference is money money money. Madonna is a proven cash cow. Jackson was, too. And while Dolly will likely never hit those heights of dividend for her label, I could never be convinced she would lose their money, either. At any rate, it’s the big recording companies who will lose in the end. It’s just a shame that some of their listening base will lose, too.

On an aside, it was at the Grand Ole Opry, while still in her teens, that Dolly Parton first met Johnny Cash. And he encouraged her to go where her heart took her, and not to care what others thought. For John and George and Loretta and Porter and all the other great voices of our musical past who are overlooked and often outright forgotten … go Dolly.

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My fellow Americans, and other readers from around the world, I believe something very strange has happened to us. An author named Robert Heinlein once wrote a book called Stranger in a Strange Land, and while I’ve never read said book I feel the title is all too accurate in describing my little corner of the world. I do indeed feel like a total stranger in a very strange land.

I used to think I had a pretty good handle on this world, and pretty well knew my place in it. But things change, don’t they? Oh my, yes, how things change. The kicker, of course, is that it’s really only my perception of things that has changed, not the things themselves. There was always deception and dishonor, corruption and cowardice, only now I really see them. Everywhere.

Does anyone else find it ridiculous that this country spent sixteen years under the thumb of two lying, cheating, self-serving men who left nothing behind but a wake of death and destruction? Or how about the fact that the popular vote in the last two presidential elections was completely ignored by the electoral college, the supposedly “representative” group of men and women who ultimately choose which candidate will rule the nation? Is it just me or has inflation made the prices of goods and services skyrocket while wages have only slowly crept upward? And isn’t this the same inflation that Washington still refuses to acknowledge while it prints fiat money as fast as it can?

Do these things make sense to anyone? Am I taking crazy pills or something??

Because they seem as wrong as wrong can be to me. It seems unfathomable to me that politicians now speak of “trillions of dollars” as if it were only millions. That Barack Obama is hailed as a saviour when so far his works have only driven us deeper in the ground. (Hey, buddy, we were already six feet under … isn’t that enough?) I find it hard to believe that China wants to drop the dollar when ten years ago a college professor explained to me how ludicrously unlikely it was that America would ever fail. How nonsensical that a major city should ever drown on the inaction of its leaders and the entire conglomeration of local, state and national governments; that the uncontrolled spending of large banks should bring the economy to its knees worldwide; that the Democratic platform and the Communist platform should differ on only two points.

I know that these things are true, but I have a hard time understanding them. It’s as though I’ve slipped into a parallel dimension, or, like Rip Van Winkle, somehow awoken to a future where little of the world I knew remains. Where corruption has infiltrated every facet of our legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government at every level, from small-town council to the president himself. Where corporate and political greed has nullified the needs of the American people. Where anything is for sale if the price is right and to hell with the consequences.

Welcome to the Strange Lands. It looks like the Dark Ages are back.

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“All the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America.” – Jimmy Carter

“A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” – Gerald Ford

“When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Why shouldn’t the people fear the great? The liberties of mankind were never destroyed by any other class of men.” – Abraham Bishop

“America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” – Alexis de Toqueville

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