The Sport of Capitalism

Sports fans tenaciously defend the integrity of the game they love by espousing their love of their team’s tradition, the parity of their favorite sport correlating with the excitement of unpredictability and volatility, and the pureness of the game itself with the phrase “for the love of the game.” Can we draw legitimate parallels between creating a level playing field on an actual playing field and our beloved economic system? How would we feel if our favorite team lost more games simply because they had more black players than the rest of the league? What if our favorite team was prohibited from truly understanding the fundamentals and rules of the game because the governing body or league didn’t afford them the resources to educate themselves? What if our favorite team was forced to compete with the players that all the other teams did not want and had no opportunity to employ the most talented and capable athletes in their respective sport? Would we watch? Would we cry foul play? In every major sport in America, we have witnessed measures to combat these potential detriments to the playing field’s equality and the health of the game itself through revenue sharing, luxury taxes, protective free agency rights, draft pick compensation limitations, salary caps, the serpentine draft process itself, and tampering rules. These protocols were implemented to create an environment of parity and one where competition would be more entertaining and legitimate. Who is our favorite team in the sport of capitalism? Are parallel measures being implemented on this competitive playing field to make it more equal and thusly make it more worthwhile and fair to all its participants? The answer is a resounding no.

There is a fixed amount of wealth to be distributed within a society. The disbursement method espoused by capitalism can be summarized by the phrase, “You can have it when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” The profit motive outweighs the moral imperative when regarding capitalism. Wealth is aristocratically protected by generational inheritance which ruins any possibility for legitimate social mobility. The bourgeois are for the most part exempt from significant taxation because wealth itself is not taxed. The truly wealthy do not have income and are being paid to invest their money far more than the rate at which their investments are taxed. In fact, the Federal Reserve bank in our capitalist economic system is a private organization that has its own profit agenda from which we borrow from literally and figuratively. So, in America, the proverbial championship contenders, to use a sports phrase, are always the same. They are always contending for the prize each season (maximum profit) but against what competition?

Ironically, competition is the greatest guise of all when it comes to understanding capitalism. There is no such thing as competition in a market like our own. The more sophisticated and wealthy an economy becomes, the more consolidated and monopolized the society’s capital…The housing bubble bursting in 2008 brought windfall profits for bargain shopping banks and upper echelon investors at the cost of American’s tax dollars, pensions, and mortgages. Lending subsidies were bought and sold (absorbed would be a better word) by mega banks like JPMorgan Stanley while Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup also purchased and traded derivatives of commodified mortgage subsidies that were now insured by the Federal Government (so, long story short? the taxpayer who had their mortgage with a lender, lost their house because of volatile instability in the housing market at the fault of their lender, their lender is purchased by a larger financial institution who is now collecting on their absorbed unpaid mortgages and presenting that bill to the aggregate taxpayer (the same one who is now homeless) in the form of the bailout proceedings) Oh, but they did not stop there. Some institutions purchased defaulting mortgages from failing banks and lenders, packaged the most volatile and risky of those flaming mortgage agreements, sold their derivatives as a security to another institution and or then shorted the security of handpicked failing funds. That is insider trading. It’s a fix. The game was rigged and we wonder why the same team wins every time? Not only that but look at the results. Property, or in this case mortgages, lending capacity, and financial capital were compressed and consolidated into the hands of a few exponentially more powerful banks as a consequence of the housing crisis which fundamentally was a function of the financial institutions’ response to the Federal Reserve’s prime rate at which they lend money to the financial institutions who precipitated the fallout. Ask yourself, Cui Bono, to whose benefit? Not yours and not mine but there was an exorbitant amount of power and capital that was redistributed in this capitalistic disaster and the distribution went straight up…

Mortgage backed securities where the lender gets to pick which mortgages are included in the derivative security is tantamount to a head coach of a football team reffing the game his team plays in and being the bookie who set the spread for the contest. We wouldn’t accept those circumstances for beloved football team, so why do we guarantee this reality for ourselves and those less fortunate than us? Sports is a great example to use in this discussion because they are inherently self interested and competitive. Each team wants to win, each player wants to outshine another and so on. But, as we see in sports, the true success of the product as a whole is competitive balance and regulation. The product of capitalism is riddled with competitive imbalances, based on circumstance (race, socio-economic classifcation), corruption, and barbarism. The poor stay poor in a capitalist society and the rich stay rich. Everyone in the middle believe they are more privileged and more capable of upward advance than they actually are but the lives of those in the middle class aren’t worth the upheaval it would require to provide justice for those who are being oppressed and against those who oppress from the top down. In the sport of capitalism, every team believes they can win and pull the upset but how many times do we have to witness the slaughter on the proverbial field before we realize that that upset is never going to happen?

Finally, once we conclude the level playing field is certainly not evident we ask ourselves how might it be achieved? Herein lies the biggest problem for those who are aware of capitalism’s shortcoming and exploitation. What body is capable of regulating the sport of capitalism in the same way the league office of any of your favorite sports can pass a rule change or a revenue change themselves that will better their game? We are powerless. Congress can’t even pass budgets. Not to mention the fact that Congress and the President are all classified as bourgeois anyway and as the rules of capitalism dictate, there is no moral imperative that can quell self interest so they will do what their post asks them to rather than what the people deserve. When wealth’s distribution is stagnant, every dollar you “earn” is a dollar someone else can no longer have so we are all experiencing the problem of capitalism while we are all simultaneously exacerbating that problem. The system cannot be rectified by a commissioner like the NFL and it can’t be rectified by a powerless politic (we the people) so grassroots are in order. The best place to start? Change your allegiances within the sport of capitalism. Pick a new favorite team. Better yet? Pick a new sport altogether because a game that ensures poverty, celebrates greed, insulates the wealthy from those they exploit, and disenfranchises rational dissent is an unfair contest that is not worth paying attention to because we are intelligent enough to know the score of the game without looking at it. I’ll give you a hint, the score has never been in our favor and it never will be unless we stop playing.

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Outsourcing Opinion Production: Leave the thinking to the political experts

A primary principle of capitalistic economic theory suggests that efficiency and specialization directly correlate. It gives way to the import and export system- one country, region, area, sector, whatever it may be specializes in the production of a specific good or idea and then becomes an expert. This person or group of people is then able to analyze information or create a good at a faster rate than someone who is not an expert. Therefore, more goods can be produced or ideas thought in less time. I have qualms with this theory, many of which have to do with the definition of efficiency and how much you are willing to accept it as a guise for corruption, but alas that is for another day and another post.

The largest problem that I have with this economic principle is that it is viewed as universal. We took one idea that allowed bananas to be distributed worldwide at all times of the year, in mass quantities and have applied it to our distribution of information and formulation of opinions. We have allowed and even encouraged the rise of information gatekeepers. They specialize in investigating information and relaying it to the public at large. They are “experts” and they have an exorbitant amount of power in dictating what types of issues are discussed or deemed important enough to think about. We all remember the 24 hour looped recaps and rushed conclusions spewed on countless networks after the Boston bombings or the countdown clocks to the governmental shutdown that have risen in popularity over the past few days.

However, not only do we have gatekeepers of information but of opinions too. Not only are we too busy to seek out information for ourselves but to even think about the information that we are given and formulate our own opinion is a hassle. We are constantly bombarded and influenced by buzzwords and convince ourselves that because an opinion gatekeeper is an “expert,” their opinions are the most informed and thus we should adopt them as our own.

People are too busy for politics. It is not their field, their area of expertise, and so they elect someone who they deem to be enough like them to make all of the decisions for them. ALL OF THE DECISIONS. That is really what we do? We watch interviews and debates during election season, hear a slew of vague answers, and decide to vote for the person who is the perfect mix of Ivy League prestige and hometown charm. We elect someone based off of personality and charisma and expect them to represent us equally in all issues that government touches, which are all issues, the environment, gun control, banking, agriculture, healthcare, the list goes on. One person, an expert in all of that? That is ridiculous. And because many people’s political participation stops at elections, they view that fact that Congress is composed of a bunch of goons who think “shutting down the government” ie- refusing to fulfill their largest responsibility of passing a budget, is the voters’ fault. If only we had elected a different person this would not have happened. No. If only one person was not given so much trust and power and blind faith to represent thousands of people for future issues that cannot be foreseen at election time, then we might have different outcomes. They do it without even the threat of getting slapped on the wrist by their employers ie- their constituents. Even though Congress’s approval rate is laughably low their incumbency rate remains high. And we ask- how can this exist?

The answer lies in the opinion gatekeepers, we may see politicians as dirty scoundrels but the Hannitys, O’Reillys, and even the Stewarts (I hate to lump you with them Jon, I’m sorry, I still love you.) are relatable, looking out for the little man and “explaining” the rhetoric and legislative language that politicians use to confuse us. Yet they attempt to find clarity with even thicker rhetoric and incredibly simplistic representations of issues as a means to persuade us to adopt the opinions that they present.

It is insulting. The stereotypical ignorant American is not a naturally frequent phenomenon or at least it does not speak to their inability to comprehend issues but rather their choice not to. People have the intellectual capacity to think logically about areas more complex than what is debated on Crossfire, to see through the asinine blame game of a two-party political system but because it is not their area of expertise, they choose not to. Generally, they are consumed and exhausted by their field- their 9-5 followed by soccer practice carpool- to find the drive to analyze more information. There is a vested interest in making it convenient for these citizens to not have to think and to regurgitate predigested answers to political questions instead. There is a vested interest in keeping people engulfed in whatever area of which they are an expert and to leave the thinking and opinion forming to someone else.

Politics is not an area of expertise, not something you can pass off as a subject matter that you do not wish to understand. It cannot be ignored and left to someone else to digest. Political participation in this country is not just a right but a duty, one that many have been neglecting while simultaneously asking- how did we get into this mess? The dysfunctionality of the political system stems from the apathy of those who control it, the citizens. As long as we remain content with forfeiting our opinions to gatekeepers rather investigating the situation ourselves, we cannot expect anyone to be held responsible. We are just as guilty of irresponsibility. It is time that we stop outsourcing the mass production of opinions. It is time that we resume thinking for ourselves.

Beer: It’s What’s for Sale

As you may have ascertained from reading previous posts of mine, complaining about what frustrates or even infuriates me is an endeavor in which I have taken part. To sometimes appease those visions of red, I cool down with a choice beverage. But, just for your reading pleasure, my pessimism has found a way to infiltrate my beer drinking pastime and has found the topic itself to be worthy of my general disappointment. To be more specific, beer advertisements are so insulting to our collective intelligence, but what’s even worse? They work. There is a catch however: a positive one at that.

Many of you have seen the Coors Light commercial with John Brenkus from ESPN Sports Science and the adoptive “celebrity” spokesperson for Coors, Ice Cube. As seen in said commercial, the premise of their entire ad campaign is that their beer is cold. This ingenious, bastion of marketing techniques that required so much out of the box thinking and university trained sales practices has yielded a lot of success for those who employ it. That is unfathomable. Whether it’s the silver bullet train covered in ice, the two frosted bearded men rappelling in a glacier to remove beer bottle crystals, the “cold-activated” Rocky Mountain features on the cans turning blue when your beer is cold, or the assertion that the beer company’s distribution trucks are kept at a lower temperature than the rest is just so absurd as a way to entice people to buy beer. What do we learn from those infantile in complexity ploys? We want beer, we like it cold, and we don’t care what it tastes like. But, fortunately, American consumers are beginning to shed this dead weight of marketing idiocy rivaled only by the Budweiser horses whose relevance is still beyond me. They are doing so in favor of the growing Microbrewery resurgence in the U.S.

Two centuries ago, this country was an artisan beer market. Many German immigrants had traveled here and used similar hops and barley on their new American farms as they had grown in Bavaria and the regions their families inhabited overseas. The abundance of fresh water running through virtually every rural hillside and valley led to the popularization of home brewing and distilling. As a result, when the industrial revolution took shape in America, many factories were created to produce beer and would qualify today as microbreweries. Americans consumed an exorbitant amount of alcohol in that time period which eventually led to the period of Prohibition which resulted in the closure of many of these family owned breweries who could then not afford to reopen after the repeal of Prohibition due to high costs of registration, licensing, and a growing emphasis on health and safety regulations in factories. America lost a lot of its beer brewing heritage which was not revitalized post Prohibition until recently. In fact, the only reason why MIller, Budweiser, Coors, and a few others are popular today is due to their incessant advertising campaigns combined with growing sophistication of bottling practices and the beer containers themselves.

America’s big names in beer, responsible for 99% of our Super Bowl commercials are all lager producers. In fact, 90% of the American beer market is lager. They are lighter in color, thinner in body, watery in taste, low in flavor, and extremely low in alcohol content (so you drink/buy more and it’s cheaper to produce). Microbrews are bringing back into the market a higher quality, higher alcohol by volume product with more flavor, complexity, and greater opportunity for specialization than in the American lager market. Hopefully, this trend will continue and we can reject the supposed appeal of a beer company whose unique characteristic is the beer’s temperature.

Here are a list of some breweries that are worth your attention.

Terrapin Brewing Company

Favorite Offering: Hopsecutioner-American style IPA

Founders Brewing Company

Favorite Offering: Breakfast Stoudt

Dogfish Head Brewing Company

Favorite Offering: 60 minute IPA

Troegs Brewing Company:

Favorite Offering(s): Perpetual IPA and Pale Ale

Flying Dog Brewery:

Favorite Offering(s): Raging Bitch-Belgian IPA and Doggy Style-Pale Ale

Trimming the Fat: The Right Wing Agenda to Curb Excess Spending by Cutting the Grossly Unimportant Food Stamps Program

Have we lost our collective mind? Am I a communist because I used the word collective? The recent news outlining a 10  year proposal in the House to cut Food Stamps spending by $40 billion over that period provides a wonderful case study in the absurdity that is American Politics. The democrats are outraged because placing this program on the chopping block signifies a ruthless approach from the opposition to cut any program that funds Obamacare and that a staple of American social programs is negotiable in the first place. The republicans argue that the system is being schemed by lazy, undeserving omnivores looking to skip out on the grocery bill. I am outraged because people need to eat dammit. This is not a political bargaining chip, nor should it be a contentious issue from which Americans find themselves hopelessly divided. Approximately 4 million Americans will now lose their qualifications for food stamps. Luckily, says Speaker of the House Boehner, it will allow us to better manage our growing deficit-a masterfully manipulated scare tactic to justify any cost cutting (fat trimming) agenda item. People need to eat dammit. We can approach this issue from varied perspectives. We could prioritize what other programs or initiatives would be more justifiable pieces of meat of which the house could trim its fat, or we can discuss the implications that stem from this action’s justifications in the political and social sphere. Because our congressional leaders have approached this issue from neither of those two standpoints, we shall do both.

Get out your butcher’s knives and let’s slice up some spending.

DEFENSE SPENDING:  The United States spent nearly $700 billion in defense and military spending in 2012. That makes up 39% of all the military spending on a little place called PLANET EARTH. We spent more than four times as much than the number 2 on the list, the People’s Republic of China. When considering per capita figures, the average American (or on his or her behalf) spends 16 times the amount an average Chinese person spends on their government’s defense and military expenditures. The $4 billion a year that the House desires to cut from the Food Stamp program which would affect 4 million Americans is a mere .0057% or around half of a percent of annual defense spending. Hey military industrial complex…can you spare some change? America is hungry.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE and CONTRIBUTIONS: It’s seemingly very important that one must be elected before one can vote to take away American’s food stamps so how does this happen? Well, they raise a truckload of money. So much money that food just seems so microscopic in importance by comparison. The unlimited nature of election contributions and campaign financing leads to corporate and individual elite involvement on a scale that the average voter cannot comprehend. The process, in fact, belies the election process to that voter who doesn’t realize his vote is simply being bought and sold. Furthermore, that money infiltrates decision making and a lot of decisions are made based on the mantra of fat trimming and governmental efficiency. However, no one seems to be able to comprehend that that idea would lose an enormous amount of popularity as a campaign slogan and law making justification if the money that was poured into buying candidates and elections was available for the government to use to potentially…feed and care for its people.

CORPORATE TAX LOOPHOLES: The person working for a multinational corporation “earning” minimum wage is paying their fair share of taxes and still can’t afford to eat (especially not anymore) and qualifies (or used to) for Food Stamps so their bosses are paying their fair share too right? Inexplicably wrong. A report detailing the prevalence and immense scale of corporate tax loopholes estimates that the U.S. will lose over $620 billion from 2010-2015 in potential tax revenue lost due to those moneys being qualified as tax expenditures (which is a bogus term used to describe loophole’d funds). Some popular examples include:

Deferral of Income from Controlled Foreign Corporations where Multinational Corporations hide profits in foreign countries deferring U.S. taxes and paying foreign taxes at preferential rates which will cost an estimated $172.1 billion over that aforementioned five year period,

Accelerated Depreciation of Machinery and Equipment: Corps can claim depreciation on equipment immediately which acts as an interest free loan from the Federal Government for the use of machinery and equipment corporations would be using anyway in order to make profit. This has an estimated 5 year cost of $51.7 billion in lost tax revenue.

Exclusion of Interest on State and Local Bonds: Companies are given tax credit so as not to pay double and state and municipal bonds in which cases they are involved in producing something for public consumption or benefit such as a stadium or a hospital at an estimated tax revenue loss over 5 years of $59.8 billion.

These examples show the rampant corporate impulse to withhold taxable profits from the government through the manipulation of loopholes in the corporate tax code. Closing or lessening the incentive to exploit these loopholes could feed many hard working slaves, I mean employees, of these multinational corporations that might lose their access to food stamps over the next 10 years.

Alright, so clearly there are other funds that have fit waiting to be trimmed that should have been addressed long before the Food Stamps program, but that was not the case and there are implications for this reality. Our political leadership has told us that two things: we cannot afford to pay for our citizens to eat, and that too many undeserving individuals are manipulating the system and ruining it for those who do need the help. The first implication is a moral one being framed in a political way which is outrageous. As I stated earlier, using this issue as a political bargaining tool is inhumane and that is precisely what is occurring here. The republicans have sent a message to the democrats just as they will with all Obamacare related legislation and that message is telling Americans that some of them do not deserve help to eat today. Digest that….

The second implication that needs to be discussed is the idea that there is always a moocher that is ruining the party for everyone else. I hate this antiquated fearmongering tactic because it doesn’t make any sense. If there really is a person who is going through a few LOOPHOLES (sounds familiar) in order to barely qualify for food stamps, would you trade places with him? The cast of the Kardashians is not forging paperwork so they can get free food. It’s just so absurd to believe that nonsense that hungry people who have no money and are trying to avoid homelessness or unemployment and can afford maybe a meal a day don’t deserve assistance. Beyond that asinine sentiment is the illogical nature of the idea that that perceived freeloader is ruining it for those who really need the help. How? We clearly can afford to do more and cut more in order to do so, so if you truly believe that someone is unjustly receiving food stamps assistance how can the appropriate response be to slash spending for the program entirely when you are admitting that there are those who truly need its help. In that case, which is the case in reality, the republicans are just shifting blame to imaginary people who are supposedly exploiting loopholes and drying out the food stamp well when actually, lawmakers are the ones that chose to drain that well in the first place. Making a dry well more shallow is not going to yield more water my friends. So, before we debate who should go hungry and who shouldn’t, why don’t we collectively trim the fat from the true freeloaders (the corporations), the morally malnourished (Congress), and the morbidly obese defense contracting subsidiaries. So next time you hear someone say, but what about the national debt? You say to them, “People have to eat, dammit.”

The Cultural Impact of Grand Theft Auto V

I’ve written a review on the gameplay and how much fun Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V is, and what I liked and didn’t like about it. But now, we have to examine the impact this game has on our current culture. And it’s going to have an impact for certain.

In the first 24 hours of being on sale, GTA V sold 13 million copies. 13 million. According to the 2010 Census, the United States has 308 million people in it. That means that roughly one in twenty-four people living in America bought the game within its first day of release. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that two million of those people (a liberal estimate) live outside of America. Still, that would mean that exactly one in twenty-eight people bought the game within this country.

Now let’s break it down via age demographics. Again, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that out of people age 45 and over, only 500,000 people bought this game on the first day. Countrywide, citizens age 45 and over make up 120 million members of the population. That decreases our ratio to 10.5 million copies sold, against 188 million. Which, is practically one in every eighteen people bought the game so far. Then, we’ll take out the youngest demographic. There are 74 million legally defined children (under the age of 18) in the United States. If split evenly, that means there are 4.1 million humans per each year. Again, we’re going to assume that kids age 0-10 did not buy this game at all, which amounts to another 41 million. We’re down to 10.5 million copies per 147 million, which is a ratio of 1 to every 14 people. Even though the game is rated “M” for Mature, and you are supposed to be over 18 years old to buy it, I’m allowing the age bracket of 11-18 because of the irresponsibility of parents and the greediness of companies to want to sell the game. So far, in America, one person in every fourteen (of the age bracket 10-44) has bought the game Grand Theft Auto V in its first 24 hours of release.

To break it down even further, we’re going to throw gender into the equation. Male-female ratios in the United States are very close according to the Census (49.2% males to 50.8% females), so we’re going to call it a 50/50 split, so 73.5 mil for both guys and gals. Let’s say, one sixth of girls ages 11-44 bought the game, which turns out to be 12.25 million, or 12% of the total 147 million. Which according to the ratio, means that 12% of the 10.5 million copies were sold to females ages 11-44. or 1.26 million. To finally simplify that ratio, it means that there are 9.24 million copies left to the 73.5 million males aged 11-44. Basically, that means one in every eight males aged 11-44 in the United States bought Grand Theft Auto V in its first 24 hours of being on sale.

Granted, this is based on A LOT of assumptions, and numbers/percentages that I personally made up. However, I don’t think these figures are terribly far from the truth. I do not believe that I concocted unreasonable numbers for the sake of creating “controversy”. These numbers are based on Rockstar Games revenue numbers of $800 million of sales generated in the first day, which generally equates to 13 million copies sold. I could calculate for margin of error, but I’ve done enough math in a blog post for the day. Of course, these numbers assume that all copies of the game sold for $60 a piece, as the Special and Limited editions were put on sale for $80 and $150 each, however these versions, as the title would imply, are limited.

What does this mean for our society? GTA V is an amazingly well done game. It was created with piles of talent, time, and money, at an award-winning studio known for quality products. Quality aside, it’s fun, and extremely addicting even without its amazing critical components. The world that Rockstar has created is simply fantastic, as evidenced by its amazing reviews and insane sales. My only hesitation here is the content. It’s a game that although there are a million PG things to do, there are a lot of R or NC-17 or X things you can do. Getting into an SUV and running over pedestrians, engaging the police in gun battles, or going to strip clubs are things that you can do very easily, and that everyone who plays the game does. Is it better that gamers are doing this on a virtual reality than in reality? Obviously. But anyone who would claim that playing this game for in effect, multiple days, does not affect them, is a complete liar. On some level, all of these negative (albeit, fun in virtual reality) acts, studies have shown, do compromise the human brain. And as my statistics cite, there are going to be a lot of boys of all sorts of ages (some more impressionable than others) that are going to be playing the crap out of this title.

Another accusation heaped upon games like this is that it desensitizes people to things such as meaningless violence and frivolous sexual encounters. And although this is true, you have to look at the current definition of sensitivity. With the day and age that my generation is surrounded in, the definition of what should and shouldn’t affect you on a personal level has changed. We are exposed to so much more information, mostly on the television and the internet, in ways we cannot avoid in basic daily lives. Because the world is a broken, rotten place, the things that are going to make headlines and that are going to sell are criminal acts, violence, and tragedy. We no longer live in an age where we hear about news via word of mouth, or read about it in the Sunday paper. It’s right in front of us, accessible, and forceful in our daily lives. Living any sort of normal “American” life is impossible, if you make an out-and-out attempt to avoid the main sources of desensitization. We have to re-examine our definition of sensitivity for our generation. To the generation of my parents or grandparents, yeah, I agree that we’ve completely built up a resistance and a commonplace demeanor toward sex, crime, and violence. But to my generation? This is simply normal, this is life. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s the way it is and is going to be. Unless you choose to live (and then die) in a bus in Alaska, you are going to be exposed to major forms of desensitization in everyday life.

I know for myself, that this game and others that I have played have affected me to some degree. Does this mean I’m going to go on a grand theft mission, or a shooting spree at a strip club? Personally, no. I can speak for myself and know what I am and am not capable of, and am in enough of a control of my actions to never do such a thing, especially when you see the consequences not just in the news, but in the game itself. Can it affect others though, who have more volatile or impressionable personalities? I think so, and it has. There have been numerous thefts and murders in the past, where the accused cited Grand Theft Auto as to where they learned or got their inspiration for their deeds. Does that make Grand Theft Auto evil? I don’t think so, at least not inherently. The same argument could be made that The Dark Knight franchise is evil for inspiring the Aurora shooting. Although extremely critically acclaimed, like GTA, it inadvertently caused irreparable harm on a bunch of human lives.

Which brings me to the bottom line. Grand Theft Auto V is a GAME. It sold a stupid amount of copies, and it’s scary how many young males will have the game according to my assumed statistics. It needs to be recognized however, that it is simply not reality, and something fun to do. You get together with your friends and have fun while playing online, but you have an actual life outside of the game. Go volunteer, play a sport, go to work, hang out with your friends or family, sleep, go out to dinner, just don’t let this game consume you, and you should be fine. Don’t model your life after this game, and take it at complete face value. You aren’t one of the games characters, so don’t try to be. It’s going to be criticized, and there are going to be people who commit dastardly deeds thanks to its influence, and it really is a shame. The fact of the matter is, a game called Homeless Shelter Volunteering isn’t going to be as fun as Grand Theft Auto because in GTA you do things which in normal life, you aren’t allowed to do. Let’s just be thankful that some people express their disobedience for the law through virtual reality only. Take the game for the fun it’s worth, and have a real life outside of your gaming console, and then maybe, just maybe, we can have some fun without anyone getting hurt.

The Land of Opportunity?

We all know them.  The stereotypical, cliché sayings about America.  Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, The Great Melting Pot, A Land of Opportunity.  These sayings stir national pride in most Americans.  However, are these just old, crazy sayings that we say in order to hearken back to some bygone age of glory and nationalistic fervor? Is America really a place where an individual can come and be free?  Do we really cherish the sacrifices made by our heroes, here and abroad?  Does America really embrace diversity?  Do we as a nation celebrate each other for our differences?  Is America the place that provides equal opportunity for its citizens to succeed?  I think that these are very valid questions, not only for the nation as a whole, but for us personally.  I want to beg you not to misread me here.  I am not saying that I hold disdain for the many freedoms that I have under the Constitution.  Moreover, I am definitely not saying that I do not appreciate the sacrifice that thousands of men and women make daily so that I can enjoy these freedoms. I’m simply asking questions about how America really works.

Now, through the process of reaching my dream of making it big (in social work) (sarcasm), I have constantly been challenged to think on these questions.  Social Justice is one of the main Social Work Core Values.  Thus, in relation to this post I am rather biased on this hot button issue for myself, because I think that this is an important issue that should be talked about on all levels.

America.  This brings up a lot of different things for a lot of different people.  Should it ever be thought of as cruel, oppressive, or unfair?  I personally don’t think so.  Personally, I think that America should be thought of as a beautiful country, one that provides a level ground for individuals looking to better themselves.  A place that one can come to and find security and refuge from any circumstance.  It should be thought of as a country that takes care of its own.

Henry Kissinger recently posted something online that was in the same vein of things I have seen popping up all over social media.  These posts have been addressing our current Welfare system and how, in essence, they are sick and tired of having to pay for “takers”, individuals who use the system to support themselves when they are fully capable of getting a job.  This is such a fascinating perspective.  The assumptions that fuel this line of thinking are mostly based on personal experiences.  Whether these are people that we know/heard of that “use” the system, or simply just our life experiences and how we have seen life work.  Usually I would be like, “hey that’s your opinion and that’s cool,” but it really isn’t.  Webster defines greed as “the selfish desire to have more of something (usually money)”. People don’t like the “takers” because it’s their thought that they are having their money, time, or whatever, taken from them just for people to leech off the system. I do not think that this is an inherently bad quality to have the ambition or hunger for more, but it definitely is a slippery slope to desire things for personal gain at the expense of others. (In broad historical scopes, see Jackson and the Cherokee, Napoleon, Hitler, Cortez, Escobar, etc.)

As a white, middle class, male who lives in a suburban/rural area, my life has been pretty easy.  There was nothing really standing in my way of the things that I wanted to do with my life.  Even when I was in middle school, college was just a given.  That is what you do after high school.  And when we take a look at my primary and secondary education it was pretty darn good.  The teachers were all well-trained and we had fantastic learning materials: new books, mobile laptop carts, Smart boards with projectors in almost every classroom.  I mean our school was decked out with some pretty sweet things that made learning fun and interesting.  The staff of the school was fantastic, really loved doing their jobs and had a passion for the students.  This education really prepared me for what I would experience when I eventually attended college.  If this was the same across the board for every American, then yes Henry, it would be unfair for you to pay to support those who have had the same amount of chances as you, in similar circumstances.  Unfortunately for everyone, this is not even close to reality.

The fact of the matter is that we all know of schools where we would never want to send our kids, neighborhoods in which we would never want to drive through, let alone live in.  And we all know the “kind of people who live in those neighborhoods, and go to those schools.  And they deserve it, don’t they?  If they would only get a job, then they could move out to the suburbs, and then their kids could go to better schools.  And then I could finally stop paying for their housing, food, health insurance, addiction, etc.  Since they do not contribute, then they should bear the full weight of their incompetence, why should we that work, and work hard, pay for their laziness or petty wants?  If they actually wanted to be contributing members of society, then they should have their basic rights to survival, correct?

I want to take us back to the questions in the beginning, is everyone starting from the same place?  Let me set it up for us.  You live in the city, and we aren’t talking Upper Manhattan here. For those of you Susquehanna Valley’ers, think Reading or Altoona or Allison Hill in Harrisburg.  You have been born into a family without money.  So naturally your apartment complex or project is not adequate for your, or anyone’s needs.  Over-crowded, poor maintenance, “bad part of the neighborhood”, the odds are stacked against you.  Your mom works two minimum wage jobs in order to support your family, because your dad walked out on your family before you were born.  Your mother also had to drop out of high school when she was pregnant with your older sibling, thus limiting her potential job opportunities.  Even though she works two jobs it is still not enough to pay for everything, so you have to stand in a different line than your friends in school for your lunch.  Because your mom does not have time, you have never applied for a Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  So, when you get sick you don’t go to the doctor and have to miss extra days of school.  Because of your tardiness, due to lack of transportation, and persistent inability to focus, you are tracked as needed extra support.  As a result of this you then are separated from your friends in school because you have to attend special programs and classes, so that your school does not lose their already scarce funding.  Little does the school know, your lack of attention in class is a result of never having enough to eat.  The embarrassment of being the “poor kid” that gets the “unfair” free lunch is too much for you, your friends mean the world to you.  The school is so concerned about test scores and funding because they are already working with textbooks that are over 10 years old and in poor condition, and their class sizes average 40 or more students.  The teachers are usually either right out of college or those that other schools do not want, so dealing with “problem children” is usually not high on their priority list.  (There are still some great teachers that work in inner-city school districts) Because of your age and wanting to fit in, you begin rebelling as you grow up.  You get mixed up in the “wrong crowd” and your school work suffers even more.  Your home life is as volatile as ever.  Your mother is doing what she can but she is not around enough to really be a contributing part of your life and your older sibling wants nothing to do with you because you are not cool enough to hang out with them.  As a result you begin to look for love in other places.  Because of your ignorance regarding safe sex and inability to obtain contraceptive devices, you start a family as a teenager.  Rinse and Repeat the whole process.  Is this your fault?  Really?

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re not wrong.  This is a completely fabricated story and there are a lot of things that might not be true, as this point is only made for the sake of argument.  But there are a lot things that are more common than we think.  And the bottom line is when we see someone, do we ever really know what they have had to deal with to be in the place that they are.  The answer is no.  This story is an example of how it may be out of someone’s control, or capability to really and truly “pull themselves up by their boot straps.”

This brings me full circle.  Do any of us pull ourselves up by the boot straps?  I mean the only person that I can think of that truly did this would be like, Abe Lincoln, who wasn’t as underprivileged growing up as we are led to believe, and he was still white.  The rest of us receive immense help from the government.  Public Schools, tax breaks, subsidies for big business, banking and SEC regulations, etc.  Does that mean that because you were born into a certain family, you are better than others?  Is that what it comes down to?  Because your family makes more money, you’re a better person?  Because your school was funded properly, you get to judge?  Because you have white skin, you get to discriminate?  Because you were given what you need to succeed, you can expect success from those who weren’t?  I think that we need to check ourselves as a nation. We need to think to ourselves, have I really thought about, researched, or talked to anyone who has had a different experience in life than I have?  What if the tables were turned, would I want to be judged and discriminated against for things that are outside of my control? How can I really know how I would react in the same scenario without actually being placed in it?

Talk to your friends about this.  Talk to people who think different from you about this.  Talk to everyone about this.  Think about these things, and keep an open mind. Because someone else has had a different experience and opinion than you, doesn’t mean you should slam the door shut on them. To wrap up, how do we make America the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,  a true and celebrated Melting Pot,  a place where everyone can experience the Land of Opportunity? I personally don’t have the answer to this, but through open-minded dialogue and taking appropriate action, I think we can strive toward this perceived goal.

Hernandez: A Lesson in Separating Athletic Ability and Celebrity Worship

The sickening obsession with celebrities in this country is both unfathomable and inconsistent. Unfathomable because these people do nothing to make the world a better a place and inconsistent because we assign different celebrities different attributes they should embody solely based on their occupation. For example, Reese Witherspoon should be a wholesome, pure person in “real life” because young teenage girls look up to her and enjoy her on-stage portrayals. And, Ray Lewis should be an inspiration to young boys aspiring to learn life lessons from their favorite football players  because of his religious overtones and humble beginnings. NO. Why? These people are entertainers at best, pawns in a celebrity crazed culture at worst. Your ability to deliver bone rattling hits to get our attention doesn’t necessitate the country listening to your stories of inspiration and motivational speaking. The recent Aaron Hernandez saga has given a unique perspective on an absurd issue in American sports culture.

The evidence is mounting against the former New England Patriots tight end. But, as we saw in the Zimmerman case, there is no point in surmising about the verdict until the case is resolved. So, for the purposes of this discussion we should analyze what his alleged involvement has done to tarnish his ascribed position as a role model. We knew next to nothing about him, his personal life, his community involvement, and so on which is perfectly fine. However, upon learning of the murder investigation, the same tale was told of how we should protect our kids from learning of actions like these and hold our athletes accountable to be better role models. That approach is so asinine. The entire perspective we should gain is simple. Athletes and celebrities are the worst role models you can imagine because we know their public identity only due to the fact that they play a sport or sing a song or act in a movie. That is meaningless. Why do we want our kids to want to do that later in their lives? They have a lot of money as a result of their jobs, so that forces us to take interest in their personal lives, religious and political views, or scorn them for going out to too many clubs? Come on. What kind of puritanesque double standard have we created?

Aaron Hernandez is a shady character. He has made judgments about who he associates with and how he handles situations in a different way than most of us would. He also catches a ball for living which is also incredibly different than most of us. Ray Lewis probably murdered or caused the death of another man a decade ago, but would that violent behavior truly surprise you from a man who made his fortune by tackling and pummeling opponents in a testosterone driven vortex of alpha males? I mean, this is ridiculous. I don’t care what happens to Hernandez and wouldn’t have a problem if he were still on the Patriots roster because it makes no logical difference. We like to watch him play football. We don’t like to watch him stand for a murder trail. So draw the line where it should be drawn.

The broader obsession with celebrity athletes that this case manifested yet again is our fault. It is easy to make the assertion that the problem is that these young, rich, and arrogant athletes are making poor judgments and creating a bad example for our kids. But, that conveniently puts the onus on them instead of us. The bad example we are setting for our kids is perpetuating the culture that allows and encourages interest in the lives of these people, these “heroes”. Because they can play a game with a ball? Because they can have their voices synthesized on auto-tune? Because they look pretty on stage? Not only should we not try to emulate these people, we should know how to separate the entertainment value they provide from who they are as people because the latter part does not matter and it really can’t be known because their persona is what we like not them. If you followed the Hernandez case and said that you are disappointed in him for setting a bad example for your kids than your kids have already been irreparably damaged by being taught to think that someone like Hernandez means anything at all in his or her life. It’s preposterous but indicative of the growing celebrity worship epidemic sweeping through American culture which has to be squashed by reason and logic which beg for us NOT TO CARE!

George Zimmerman Trial Coverage

I’m having a hard time understanding the current status of the George Zimmerman case with regard to its presentation by the media to the general public. When the initial news of Trayvon Martin’s slaying was publicized, the country seemed to be in an uproar over racial profiling, personal gun responsibility, and the legal interpretations of self-defense. However, as the case winds down in the next few days, the immediacy and sensationalism of the 24 hour news cycle has created a reality television series out of the televised court proceedings. Viewers are captivated by the Law and Order style drama that is being analyzed and tweeted about in real time. But, what does our seemingly visceral desire for punitive justice bring us? It serves as a polarizing distraction from the reasons that angered us in the first place. Racism is still persistent and deadly regardless of the Zimmerman verdict, gun ownership is still an issue for which the American people have clamored for more restrictions with no avail relative to Congressional action or even discourse, and in fact, the self defense claim the Zimmerman camp is toting is being marketed as a justification for increased gun ownership across the country. In other words, what drew our attention last February remains unchanged no matter what George Zimmerman’s fate becomes. We should not lose sleep necessarily over his impending freedom or imprisonment, but embroiled within the greater plot of this case are important talking points in American life that have now been completely clouded by the reality T.V. coverage of the trial.

As I watched CNN’s daily live coverage of the saga, I found myself feeling as if I was at a legal sporting event where the Defense represented the hated New York Yankees and the Prosecution was the underdog Boston Red Sox. Everyone is rooting for one side or the other, but at the end of the day, after the game ends we all go home. That is sickening. This isn’t a sport, this is an opportunity to ascertain truth and exercise justice where merited. Over makeup-ed anchors praising the “lawyering” from each “team” and “experts” weighing in with their previous experience concerning the ins and outs of pandering to juries, discrediting witnesses, or massaging facts so as to illuminate a different “truth” that supports your desired verdict is meaningless. The soap opera will continue until the series finale ends, or the 9th inning concludes, with a verdict. But, what will have changed in America?

To be clear, I don’t have a leaning on the case because I haven’t been able to learn enough about the facts despite attempting to follow the broadcasts. My concern, however, is that every sensational and fantastic piece of news that surfaces is following the path that this case has. We are upset because a teenager was killed, or because people were injured on the streets of Boston, or because a cop killer was loose in California. But, then what? Do we parlay the energy we direct toward the invocation of anger or fear or empathy to learning from the events so that the nation becomes a better place as a result? I fear that we have become so paralyzed by the circus of news media that we are no longer able to think with any kind of meaningful perspective or logic about “big” events in our daily lives. We prefer to watch the events unfold and be the passenger seat driver about the meaningless aspects of the events and it causes us to lose focus on the potential to have an important discussion about what needs to change in order to avoid these events in the future. Trayvon Martin’s legacy has the potential to be one that helped us gain perspective on how big of an issue racism continues to be just as George Zimmerman’s legacy has the potential to be one that aided us as a cautionary tale about responsible gun ownership. When this case ends and the fanfare ceases concerning the ultimate verdict, we are kidding ourselves to think that we as a people have progressed any further by remaining glued to the courtroom feed of this trial. This is not reality T.V. Cases like this one could mean something if we had the conversations that allowed them to instead of remaining subservient to the sensationalized, ratings driven “news” from our media sources.

Snowden: Traitor or Hero?

The assumption that the title of this post is a feasible or fair debate is preposterous. Edward Snowden has certainly achieved fame and celebrity while proportionally drawing the ire of the U.S. government. But, let’s simplify this discussion while attempting to tone down the sensational status it has achieved in the 24 hour news cycle. First, it is paramount to explore the operational definitions of the charge of traitor along with the appropriate conceptualization of a heroic act. Secondly, and most importantly, what is national security? Do we have that internal debate in our households or on our congressional floor? Has it become an easily digested buzzword such as terror or freedom or patriotism. We will keep it short, but keep it brutally honest. We will keep it nationally focused, but individually driven. After all, we are the people and the government serves us.

A traitor is one who betray’s another’s trust. Alternatively, a traitor is a treasonous actor. Treason’s roots are found in monarchical England where the necessary and sufficient conditions for the charge consisted of three criterion: prohibited levying war against the king, adhering to his enemies, or contemplating his death. The paternalistic derivation of this legal clause is inherently understood and implemented from the perspective of maintaining central power in the king’s capacity. In America’s case, the intelligence community is the king of knowledge regarding the PRISM program and knowledge is, in fact, power for it is the most effective way to centralize control. So, Edward Snowden did in fact commit treason, but not against a free democracy, but rather, against a streamlined power structure of intelligence. That community, in which Snowden briefly participated, did have its trust betrayed by Snowden. However, that trust was betrayed in the interest of committing treason against a king who maintained absolute power over liberty and individual rights. Snowden is levying war against that unjust king, but the battle he desires to fight is similar to a type of revolution that our American heritage celebrates dating back to 1776. In that era, a group of treasonous individuals gathered to create the U.S. Constitution and are now referred to as the Founding Fathers, not traitors. Snowden was also adhering to the king’s enemies in this case-us, the people. How can this whistleblower be called a traitor when, in order for that definition to apply, he would be betraying Americans when, in fact, it was the rights of individual Americans he was hoping to preserve?

Because I drew a parallel with Snowden’s actions and those of the Founding Fathers then he must be considered a hero if he is a not a traitor. This assertion however is almost more unsettling than the ignorant suggestion that he is a traitor against the American people. The reason being is that this program is so unconstitutional and so absurdly illegitimate and unjustified that his choice is the intuitive and rational one. He is not a hero because heroes do extraordinary things that others are not capable of. We are all capable of recognizing the atrocities the NSA was committing against our personal freedoms. We are all capable of channeling the indignation he felt that led him to leak this classified information. His actions have taken a lot of courage and unfortunately might very well lead to harsh consequences in their wake, but his rationale is logical and simple. When something is wrong, fight it, when something is unjust, bring it to justice, and when something needs to be shared so that the centralization of power over information can be made accessible to each individual, leak it.

But, of course, Snowden’s actions have compromised national security. False. A nation’s security is only as solid as the foundation laid by its people’s trust in government. Security requires individual rights and protections more than it requires hacking skills or nuclear warheads. National security cannot be accepted as a quantifiable spectrum because those who are in charge of its maintenance are simultaneously in charge of defining and redefining its essence. We experienced an incredibly similar devolution of rights concerning terror following 9/11. We were told to fear terror by the same information sources (the government) who were responsible for educating us on what terror in fact was. That is an unacceptable relationship between government and people because it is tyrannical relative to the censored flow of information. National security and terror are words connoting fear. Fear, from the individual perspective, is truly manifested in a situation where the government no longer serves the people by no longer respecting their rights.

Snowden is not O.J. Simpson in the White Bronco on T.V. where the manhunt is as captivating as the purported crime. His actions were meant to provoke a meaningful discourse about individual freedoms and the government’s role in controlling information. However, it is our responsibility to engage in that civic duty. Instead of turning on the Evening News to see where Snowden may be flying to tonight, think about what caused him to take the risks he has taken. National Security was not compromised, our rights were compromised and the government backlash against this leaker is out of embarrassment for their actions. It does not represent an about face on their programs which have spanned over both a Republican and Democratic administration’s reign. Snowden was not treasonous to the American people, nor did he draft a new Constitution to base our political and legal lives after. Instead, he acted as all Americans should when in his unique situation. He should be applauded for doing what I hope all of you would recognize is necessary and just, he should not be vilified or extradited. Snowden: Traitor or Hero? No, he is an individual who is willing to risk suffering consequences to protect his individual rights-all American’s individual rights.