Thursday, September 17, 2009

140. American capitalism is broken

Although I will, I don't need to see Michael Moore's new movie on capitalism to suggest what I already know: the American version of capitalism is broken.

What has become increasingly clear. . . the one common link to most problems in this country, from the banking industry and Wall Street, to the mistreatment of animals on farms, outsourcing of American labor, political corruption, the war in Iraq, illegal and legal immigration, and, yes, healthcare, is the corruption of capitalism.

Self-interest, greed, corruption and oppression have become capitalistic principles rather than abuses and exceptions.

It is amazing that people remain unable to make the connection. Opposed to American jobs being shipped to China-that's capitalism. Upset that the Indians had to trade C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, declaring bankruptcy because you can't afford your medical bills, or think it's unfair that illegal aliens are here taking American jobs-that's capitalism. Think that the college football "Bowl Championship Series" is absurd, compassionate enough to think animals should have room to turn around in their cages, or had to close your small business because Wall-Mart moved to town-well, that's capitalism too.

One percent of the population continues to own as much as the bottom 95% of Americans combined; CEOs make 550 times that of their lowest paid workers. Yet, the American dream is sold to the public and its people, who ferociously defend the system. It is a system, as presently applied, that keeps the very wealthy, well, very wealthy.

Somehow, people who make $50,000 or $100,000 think this is a great economic system, they think they have "made it," that thanks to capitalism their "hard work" has paid off. The top one percent must just sit back and laugh when they see these people at town hall meetings fighting against "socialized medicine" or "entitlement programs." They are fighting their battle for them. They have been successful in marketing capitalism as patriotic as baseball and apple pie.

Not only have the very wealthy succeeded in balancing that fine line that gives the middle class just enough to keep them from uprising, they have succeeded in convincing the middle class to defend the system that allows this to happen.

Pure capitalism can work, and should work. However, it needs to be just that, pure. Capitalistic interest must be removed from our political system. Lobbyists and political contributions must be dismissed as a controlling influence on our political officials. Government rules and regulations have thus far been a pathetic attempt to curtail abuse-the wealthy are adept at finding loopholes. Bailouts should be unconscionable interference, however, capitalistic endeavors have put the country's fate in the hands of a few mega-corporations-whose failures would ruin the lives of millions of Americans.

In the current debate, it is the blatant failure of capitalism that provides the basis for the consideration of government-run healthcare. Any discussion on health care reform must start here. Insurance companies, Wall Street and corporations have nobody else to blame but themselves. They are the ones that have established the current system of healthcare in this country-one that is obsessed with profits and greed. It is a system that denies coverage to millions, one that is laden with fraud, theft and millions spent on self-preservation.

However, even today, they are the ones laughing as fiscal conservatives fight their battle. They are smoking cigars and toasting those who have been obsessively distracted by things such as deficits, illegal aliens, tort reform, abortion, and government inefficiencies. It's not that these things are not important, or don't matter, because they are very important. It is that people are acting on behalf of the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and other interested parties-and their arguments are smoldering in hypocrisy.

I learned all about shareholder wealth, market economies and the other arguments for capitalism while I was earning my MBA. However, I stopped drinking the Kool-Aid to see things as they really are. Maybe, someday, Americans will also put down their drink. Pure capitalism can work; our system is corrupt and oppressive. Unfortunately, that is no longer just an opinion.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

139. Express yourself in 140 characters

I often wondered why anyone would care what I was doing. Unable to answer that question, not only for myself, but nearly everyone else, I did not understand what was so exciting about "Twitter," one of the latest technological phenomenons. My opinion was somewhat confirmed by SuperNews!, who satirized Twitter as an addiction to "constant self-affirmation" and said tweets were nothing more than "shouts into the darkness hoping someone is listening." This addiction has even lead friends to ask each other to stop twittering things like what they had for lunch.

Still, I thought there must be something to it. Like MySpace, Face Book. LinkedIn and the other social networks, it had caught on like gangbusters. The only thing that even offered a semblance of making sense was the fact that I noticed that most people, within a moment or two of answering their cell phone, ask the caller, "Where you at?" It later became a slogan for one of the cell phone companies, and now is at least somewhat related to the twitter question, "What are you doing?"

So, I wandered over to the website, signed up in three easy steps, and answered the question, "What are you doing?" At the time, I was on my way to my niece's graduation party, and answered the question appropriately and honestly. But I again thought...who really cares. For although I was quite excited about her party, most anyone that would care what I was doing-knew what I was doing, because, well, they were doing the same thing.

The premise of twitter is not only to "tweet" what you are doing from time to time, but to also "follow" those people that you might care to know what they are doing. In fact, this is the reason that most people join- to follow their friends, the news, social organizations, sports teams or famous people.

In that respect, Twitter is more than just, "What are you doing?" It is a combination instant/text messaging and email-available by computer or phone-to potentially millions of people. Moreover, these people, these followers, have decided that they want to hear your tweet (rather than the random folks I bother with emails).

Twitter is now used by newspapers and media to provide updates of new events; it is also used as a news reporting system-as we saw in the election in Iran. It is also used for political news; it is regularly used by Sarah Palin- and Barack Obama used to it to announce his Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Biden. For those who like stars, many actors and actresses use twitter, most famously Ashton Kutcher-who has over two million followers. Athletes use it, including the Cavaliers' Mo Williams and Shaquille O'Neal, to communicate with their fans. Finally, it is used by advocacy organizations, and even scientists. In fact, Richard Dawkins (or his people) send regular messages with links to very interesting scientific articles.

It is short and quick, no more than 140 characters, about the size of a text message. It can be powerful, imagine immediately communicating with millions of people. It can be funny or sad. It can also be informative and interesting. One thing for sure is that it is up-to-date.

In continuum of writing, twitter offers short offbeat comments or opinions, blogs offer about 200-400 words of thought, columns are usually about 500-700 words and usually include some background, and, of course, books are as long as necessary and provide in depth detail.

So check it out; it is quick to sign up, easy to understand and simple to use. It works well with either a phone or computer. In just a couple of moments a day, you can find out all sorts of things, from all sorts of people and all kinds of sources. If you try it, look me up: If you have read my column before, you know that I always something to say.