Holiday Hypocrisy

I write about this topic every year, so I’ll keep this short and let the video I posted tell the story. I find it amazing that on Thanksgiving Day we (society) sit around a table with twice as much food as we can eat and talk about all the things we are thankful for. I’m thankful for my friends, my family, blah blah blah. Now, I’m not saying that everyone in the world is faking it, but I truly believe many are. The day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as “Black Friday” is the perfect example of how much society cares about consuming as much as we possibly can. Just remember, Christmas is a holiday to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ.

Is this how Jesus wants us to celebrate?

Killer Video Games

In Connecticut, a man was shot outside of a Wal-Mart and rushed to the hospital. In California and Wisconsin, retail customers were trampled in a riot outside Wal-Mart doors. At a Wal-Mart in Kentucky, several customers were shot with a BB gun. And in Pennsylvania a man was robbed at gunpoint immediately after he walked out of the store. What do all of these scenarios have in common? Other than that lots of shady stuff happens at Wal-Mart… all of this violence was over a toy, Sony’s Playstation 3. When CNN and Fox News picked up these stories, Americans were led to believe that this was going to be the hottest holiday item in history and demand for the PS3 was through the roof. In reality, PS3 demand is not high, it is not the hottest gift of all time, and all of the violence was committed for virtually nothing.

So you’re probably wondering how I can possibly say that demand for the PS3 is not high… so let me explain the context of the Playstation 3 launch. When economists refer to supply and demand, the term “demand” refers to how badly consumers want to consume a good. For example, I could say that demand for gasoline is high because people really want to buy it to run their cars or the demand for Pepsi is up because people want to drink it. The problem with applying this interpretation of demand to the Playstation 3 scenario is that consumers weren’t buying the game because they wanted to play the thing; they were buying it because they wanted to resell it for a profit.

I’m going to distinguish two types of demand. I’ll call “gamer demand” the demand by consumers who want Playstation 3 to play it; and I’ll call “seller demand” the demand by consumers who want to resell it. What everyone was seeing on TV and reading about in the newspaper was seller demand. How do I know?.. because I was there. I stood in line to buy these super hot holiday items so I could make a buck on eBay, and I know that many of my fellow line-standers were resellers as well. Additionally, the night before the PS3 launch, Action 19 News visited a suburban Best Buy to interview the people who had stood in line for up to 72 hours. This particular Best Buy was selling 8 PS3s at launch and 7 out of 8 of the customers who were buying one planned to resell it on eBay. Seller demand may have been through the roof, but gamer demand was still unknown.

Sales on eBay over the next few days proved that gamer demand was actually low. Many resellers expected to turn around and sell their system for $2500 or more; they were lucky if they got $1200. I suppose their expectations were fair, especially after the XBOX 360 launch last November, when consoles were selling at 300%-400% of their retail cost on eBay.

There are a few key differences that fooled many good intentioned entrepreneurs, and these distinctions have to do with what economists call the “substitution effect.” When XBOX 360 launched last year, it was in a league of its own; none of the other video game systems of the time could live up to its glory. The Playstation 3, on the other hand, has two perfect substitutes, the 360 and Nintendo’s Wii. Consumers who can’t get their hands on a PS3 will simply switch to one of the other systems and be just as happy. In fact, I’ll contend that right now the other two systems are not only perfect substitutes… they are superior products. The PS3 has very few games and definitely no blockbusters. Nintendo Wii is launching with quite a few more games including the extremely popular Zelda; and XBOX 360 already has tons of games available including the famous Halo. And not only do the substitutes have more too offer, they are a better value. Wii is selling for $250 in retail stores and $350 on eBay; and the 360 runs for $300-$400. It is no surprise that gamers don’t want to pay 600 bucks for a video game system with less to offer.

I’ll be the first to admit I was sucked into the hype. I didn’t lose any money and will probably come out a few hundred dollars ahead; but was it worth the effort on my part? Probably not. And was it worth starting a riot or killing someone over? Definitely not.

Blood For Oil

First they told us we were going to get rid of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. When they couldn’t find any, they told us we were there to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. When it became clear how miserably that was failing, President Bush has finally admitted the real reason we’re in Iraq: oil. Now that Americans have decided that single-party rule isn’t working in Washington and we need to change course in Iraq, Bush is desperate for ammunition, arguing that leaving Iraq would severely disrupt our oil markets. According to Bush, if we don’t use our military to protect Middle-Eastern oil, we would be handing over our oil to terrorist insurgents, who would use that valuable resource as a weapon against the US and other countries.

Speaking in Colorado on last week, Bush lectured, "You can imagine a world in which these extremists and radicals got control of energy resources, and then you can imagine them saying, 'We're going to pull a bunch of oil off the market to run your price of oil up unless you do the following. And the following would be along the lines of, well, 'Retreat and let us continue to expand our dark vision.' " In Misouri, Bush told Americans that handing Iraqi oil over to terrorists would drive the price up to $300 or $400 per barrel.

Anti-war activists adamantly accused the Bush administration of using our soldiers and our military to secure oil reserves overseas, and all along they were right. Moderates who once supported the war (under the assumption Saddam had WMDs) are now furious about the huge cost the war has imposed on our great country. But Bush’s concession that the war in Iraq is about oil is most upsetting to people like me, who are disgusted by the fact that we can spend so much money, and give so many lives for something like oil. Can you imagine what we could have done if we would have invested the cost of the war (350 billion dollars) in alternative energy in this country? Government continues cutting taxes and spending like crazy, but are cheap as hell when it comes to subsidizing alternative energy. And let’s not forget that America has given almost 3000 young lives to this war, and Iraq has given approximately 50,000 lives. If you don’t think this war was worth it for the oil, just remember what Donald Rumsfeld told us before the start of the war, "It has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil."

Black Box Voting

When I wrote about libertarians a few weeks ago I didn't expect to receive so much criticism from self-proclaimed libertarians. But if there is one thing I think we can both agree on is this: the election system in our country is completely jacked up and is violating our most basic liberty. The problem is complex and will be even more complicated to correct; here is a bried overview of the problem… many states have switched to Diebold electronic voting machines in time for the 2006 election. Computer experts unanimously agree that there are serious security holes; in fact, one even said that the Diebold election software is easier to hack than a 1996 version of America Online. But our government isn’t exactly helping either. Giving contracts to Diebold and dodging vote recounts in close elections is definitely not helping to ensure that every vote gets counted.

Aside from the issues relating to electronic voting machines, the election infrastructure in the country is seriously flawed. I am able to walk into my voting precinct in an east-side suburb of Cleveland and walk right up to one of five machines to vote. On the other hand, many voters in urban Cleveland are forced to stand in line for hours before getting a chance to vote on their precinct’s single voting machine. And lets not forget about the new ID requirements in a lot of states… you now have to present a drivers license, passport or utility bill in order to vote. Can anyone say poll tax? I thought we made those illegal a long time ago.

The implication to all of this goes well beyond skewed voting results. When people learn about the problems with our system, ask their leaders to fix them, and nothing happens (or it gets worse) they start to lose faith in the democratic system. Even I, who has and will vote in every major election, am seriously concerned that my vote won’t even get counted this year. Our government is supposed to be by the people for the people, but that’s becoming less and less true. I might not agree with Libertarians on a lot of issues, but when it comes to this issue, they’re my best friends.

Danger Polls

If you think Bush's approval ratings among Americans are low... you'll be interested to know what our friends around the world think about The United States. Of course, those bastards in France all hate America, but they're idiots and don't know anything about world security... or so the saying goes. But thank God for Britain, Isreal, and Canada for supporting us in the Iraq war, they know whats good for the world. Well... notsomuch. These statistics, based on research conducted by the British newspaper The Guardian, will definately make you think twice.

Those who think US policy has made the world less safe than 2001:
Britain: 69%
Canada: 62%
Mexico: 57%
Israel: 36%

Those who think the invasion of Iraq was unjustified:
Britain: 71%
Canada: 73%
Mexico: 79%
Israel: 34%

So our friends aren't exactly our biggest fans. But the most outrageous thing about how bad our image has gotten internationally is based on who the British think is the biggest threat to world peace. When asked the question: does this leader pose a threat to world peace?.. here is how the numbers came out:
Osama Bin Laden: 87%
George W. Bush: 75%
Kim Jong-Il: 69%
Hassan Nasrallah: 65%
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 62%

Although he might not be quite as dangerous as Osama, President Bush outranks the leader of North Korea, leader of Hizbullah, and president of Iran. I thought those guys were supposed to be the bad guys! When you really think about it, the United States is probably the only western state where a nut like George Bush can get elected leader of a nation. Sad, very sad.
Censorship, blanket racism, persecution, cracking down on freedom of speech… sounds like Iran, China, and Venezuela, right? Wrong. According to the BBC, 67% of Americans believe the English Al-Jezeera television station should be banned in the United States, and 53% believe it shouldn’t even be launched at all. True, Al-Jezeera is very critical of US policy… but why is that so bad? What happened to freedom of speech and freedom to make decisions based on the information presented? What is so difficult about changing the channel or turning off the TV if you don’t like what you’re seeing? It’s one thing for Americans to look the other way while our government shits on the constitution and the Geneva convention; but its entirely another to ask the government to censor our news and control our information.

Freedom of speech in this country has turned into the freedom to hear what we like to hear. Watching Fox News makes me laugh because of how ridiculous most of the “news coverage” is, but it would be even more ridiculous for me to ask my government to yank it off the air. Does anyone remember the controversy earlier this year when Google agreed to cooperate with the Chinese Communist Party to sensor internet access in the PRC? “How dare those filthy commies tell the Chinese people what to read and what to think!?” screamed angry Fox News anchors. Now, those same ideological clowns are begging our government to stop English Al-Jezeera from infesting the minds of Americans. God forbid the proletariat find out that the United States may not be the savior to the world; after all, we’re the freest country on the globe!