Monday, June 22, 2015

It's not National. It's Local.

I was at lunch the other day, where a friend tied up a waiter while perusing the menu for life-threatening entrees. Does this one have gluten? Are there any artificial colors in that one? How much MSG is in that one? Does this have red dye? What about sugar? High-fructose corn syrup?  It went on and on until the waiter wisely determined his order wasn't going to be worth the tip.

I looked at my pal. He was a wreck. Totally consumed with issues that didn't really concern him, but were destroying his life anyway.  This is a well-educated guy who's a total media victim.  Completely helpless when it comes to discerning which news he should listen to and which he should ignore.  The stress of dealing with all the valueless news is making him ill.  He's not alone.

Take note of today's date, because years from now -- maybe even weeks from now -- much of what you read here will be forgotten, nudged out of the headlines by other stories. I, on the other hand, will likely be remembered for being insensitive, out of touch or just plain ruthless.

I don't care. This is too important to simply ignore. 

This is more important than the stories currently consuming the United States of America.  It's more dangerous and more harmful to you, your families and your physical and emotional welfare.

At this writing, the country is focused on the bizarre shooting and murders of nine church members in Charleston, South Carolina.  A sick, twisted kid stormed into a church and blasted away.  Around Dannemora, New York, two brutal murderers are still on the run after escaping from one of New York's most heavily secured prisons. After almost two weeks on the run, nobody knows where they are. And throughout the country, every single media outlet is updating and over-analyzing these stories as if they're vital to the country's -- and your own -- survival.

But they're not vital to your survival, because these are local stories happening in places where you don't live.  Without detracting from their sadness, danger and tragedy, the fact is that the shootings in Charleston affect a very tiny community and touch a few hundred lives at most.  It's their tragedy, but it's being treated as if it's a national issue. It's not.  And don't start with the old, "it's part of a larger issue" argument.  Just because a local story is reported by national media doesn't make it a national story.  It's simply a local story promoted for its sensationalism.  Every day, unfortunate people fall into threshers or off building ledges. Banks are robbed and cars are stolen. People get murdered as a matter of course, but we don't hear or read much about those because they happen in places to people we don't know.  They're local stories. 

National stories are issues that genuinely affect an entire nation. Who's running for president? What country is threatening us? Should we put a man on Mars? How should we change the Federal tax system? What's the solution to American poverty? Is the bird flu a real epidemic?  Should the internet be regulated?  Those are national issues, because they affect everyone, everywhere.

Back in the Neolithic Age, journalism reported the news by classification. Television, radio and print divided their stories into International, National, Regional, Local and Human Interest. No matter how sensational the item, it was placed in the proper context for more accurate reporting.  Today, that's no longer the case.  Like AYSO soccer, where every kid gets a trophy simply for showing up, every local story is now thrust into national prominence regardless of its relevance to the rest of the country.  The result is that people misconstrue local events as national in scope. They worry about it.  They stress over it, for no rational reason at all.

A crazed killer in one small city is not justification for unleashing fear and stress on an entire country.  Race-based police conflicts, hand-picked and broadcast 24/7 does not equate to an all out, national police-driven race war.  Two escaped convicts in New York won't be holding the country hostage any time soon.  But when reported as national news, these local stories might seem to do all that and more.

They're not national stories. They're local. And because they're local, each comes with its own causes and effects specific to its local community, so it would be a huge mistake to assume that simply applying the lessons of one local story to an entire nation would be helpful, let alone appropriate.  Yet that's exactly what's happening today.  Right at this moment, pundits and politicians and legions of Facebook quarterbacks are deciding their futures -- and possibly yours -- based on isolated events that have no bearing on where you or the rest of the country lives.

That's what happens when the media confuses nationally-reported local stories with legitimate national news.  Cancer doesn't happen to everyone. All cops aren't out to kill you. Live a little more. Fear a little less.

Screw the cholesterol. Order the steak.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Political Brands 2016: Bernie Sanders, Rainmaker

Take a look at this photo. Do you recognize it? Don't worry, these aren't people you'd know. Then again, if you know your American history, you'd know who these people are.  Not who they are, but maybe what they are.  If you don't recognize them, they're Dust Bowl farmers. And if you don't know what the Dust Bowl was, allow me to explain:

 In the 1930s, the American Midwest was ravaged by drought and winds that blew away thousands of square miles of topsoil from America's farmlands. The country was still reeling from the Great Depression and what came to be known as the Dust Bowl pretty much eliminated any hope of farmers making a living. Banks foreclosed on family-owned farms, rendering good, hard-working people homeless.

You may have read about the Dust Bowl in John Stenbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It's a depressing story based on even more depressing facts. It was during this time that a peculiar character appeared throughout the drought-stricken region: The Rainmaker.  Roaming from town to town, the Rainmaker gathered up the down-trodden Dust Bowl farmers and convinced them that for a fee, he could make it rain. The rain would tease their crops out of the ground and all would be well.

While this may sound fantastic to you and me, to a group of gullible, desperate, trusting men and women, the Rainmaker seemed like their one last hope. So they paid the fee with the very last money they had and looked toward the skies.  The Rainmaker proceeded to do whatever he did and rode out of town, promising rain within a few days.  Of course, the rain never came and the farmers lost their farms.

It's a sad story.  You'd think people would learn from it. But the temptation of easy, simple solutions is almost impossible to resist when you tell desperate people what they want to hear. And thus we have Bernie Sanders, running for President of the United States.

Read any social media platform and you're sure to find someone, somewhere posting a meme about Bernie Sanders, the self-avowed Socialist from Vermont. Usually, it has something to do with taking the money spent on a foreign war and spending it on jobs here in America. Or cutting military spending in favor of giving everyone a free college education.   I'm pretty sure his most ardent fans like his proposal of raising taxes on the wealthy and simply giving the proceeds to everyone else.

Like the Rainmaker, Sanders' pitch sounds pretty cool, especially to young people who have nothing to show for themselves yet: free stuff for everyone at no cost to anyone.  But when you look a bit closer, it becomes apparent that Sander's proposals hold just as much water as the Rainmaker's.

To the desperately poor and unemployed, anything is better than nothing -- and they live with plenty of nothing. No doubt, it's very difficult for many people to live, even with the so-called "economic recovery" that nobody seems to be enjoying.  So Sanders tosses out remedies that have no basis in reality.  Take cutting military spending, for example.  To the uninitiated, it sounds great.  After all, who's really going to miss one or two stealth fighters? 

I'll tell you who: the people who want employment.  Here's how it works:

Every jet fighter is composed of hundreds of thousands of parts. Each of those parts has to be designed, created, manufactured, inspected, tested, shipped, billed, accounted, assembled, tested again and delivered.  And that's just for a stealth fighter.  That's not even a complete list.  Every step of the way, people are paid to do those jobs. You cut delivery of those jets, tanks, missiles, aircraft, launchers, guns, bullets, drones, avionics and everything else, you're actually going to create more unemployment, not less.

Free college educations? To whom? For what? America is already flooded with college graduates whining about their student loans which they can't pay back because their college degrees didn't deliver the jobs they assumed they would.

Starting to get the picture? It doesn't matter what the Rainmaker promises. All he cares about is getting his fee so that he can move on to the next group of suckers. Sanders is branding himself as the patron saint of the working man.  And they're desperate enough to believe him.

Unfortunately, this Rainmaker will leave them high and dry, too.