Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Not-So-Free Market

How many times must it be said? You cannot, and should not, be penalized for refusing to participate in commerce, or likewise restricted in doing so. We have already seen, and continue to see, this argument play out most recently in the courts concerning the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”). Free-market capitalism depends on this dynamic in order for it to work as it should in creating a competitive environment.

On a more general level, apparently businesses that refuse to do business with a customer now warrants fines and penalties. Not saying it is right, but it is a business' right to refuse to do business with a customer for whatever reason in a free-market economy. Same as customers have the right never to do business with them again. I mean, why would you even want to do business with someone who is discriminatory toward you? I certainly would not want to give my business to them. That is the part I never understand. If a business in some way makes a customer not feel wanted or appreciated, guess what most normal people do? Take their business elsewhere, because it is a free-market economy with plenty of other businesses more than happy to have it.

Imagine, if you will, a person who does not want to associate with someone because of their differing beliefs and values. I think it is safe to say that a majority of people have come to that crossroad at least once in their lifetime. As such, you probably would be okay with that individual making that decision, right? Now imagine that "person" is a it still ok? Or no? See, the argument is not whether it is right or wrong for anyone - or in the latter case, any entity - to deny the association, but rather if we, as a collective body, have the right to dictate right or wrong over whom one chooses to associate. We do not have that right, equally as much as any individual or business holds the right, if they so choose, not to engage in commerce with a particular entity or group of customers. While that might seem antithetical to the basic tenets of capitalism, it is their choice to conduct themselves in such a manner.  

On a personal level, apparently being a faithful, albeit casual, eBay seller with a stellar performance rating for over a decade means squat. Currently, I am trying to sell a prized collectible of high value, but the company instituted a “seller limit” a few years ago. Whatever is meant by that anti-capitalism sounding restriction. Meanwhile several people with less years and less items sold but similar rating as me have the exact same item for sale at the similar amount that I wish to list. Thus, I requested an increase to my limit to match their same level; they refused, based on a case-by-case determination that they could not relent on. In essence, they are hindering my ability to engage in free-market commerce because I am only a casual seller who has not reached their mandated arbitrary plateau. 

My dad - like Jack Lemmon's George Kellerman in the movie, Out-of-Towners - always maintained a figurative “little black book” of businesses that pissed him off, and then never did business with them again. I have become the same way (sans black book), but more people should learn that lesson. 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Friday, April 17, 2015

'Historic'? More Like Disheartening

The meeting between United States president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raúl Castro has been described as a historic one between Cold War adversaries. Personally, I am thrilled that relations between the two countries hopefully are moving beyond one of antagonism. Nevertheless, as a Cuban-American whose grandfather was born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba - never to return even to visit after Fidel Castro’s takeover - and whose family and relatives suffered at the hands of the Castro regime, I am less enthusiastic. [For more on the subject, read my personal narrative, Echoes From An Unexamined Life.] While communist Cuba may no longer have the wholesale support of the former Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.), it is still an oppressive adversary that is the antithesis of liberty and justice. And the U.S. president - so-called “leader of the free world” - met and shook hands with one of its architects, who has sworn to maintain the Communist Party of Cuba that reflects his hardline socialist stance. For several years, there has been speculation Castro wishes to reflect a variant of the communist China model in order to preserve it, which leads to my next point...

Despite what President Obama and his advisers may believe, the Cold War is anything but over. He was wrong during the 2012 debates, and he is still wrong. Go figure, his reality not matching facts. At the very least, it went on hiatus - but only as concerns the former Soviet Union. What is forgotten, and hardly ever mentioned, is that there were always THREE players in the Cold War: the United States, the U.S.S.R....and China. While the U.S.S.R. collapsed, China is still communist and adversarial economically, militarily and politically toward the United States. Sorry, Mr. President, but they didn’t get the memo about the Cold War ending. Honestly, relations between the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. really only thawed rather than warmed throughout the 1990s, as the new Russian Federation reformed and stabilized in its wake. Lest it be forgotten too, up until September 10, 2001, U.S. policy both politically and militarily still was geared toward a Cold War mentality; that only changed to an anti-terrorism focus following the September 11 attacks. Hardly the 1980s calling, Mr. President. Yet, despite this shift in focus, Obama continues to refuse acknowledgment of the continuing threat of terrorist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc, which leads me to my next point...

This is the same president who believes the most recent Iran deal is a good one toward the abject failure that is “peace in the Middle East.” The number of times I have heard that phrase over my lifetime, only for it to sour time and again. This current incarnation is no different. Iran - long-time backers of Hamas and Hezbollah - seeks no less than to reformulate a Cold War of its own making in the region...and, again, has been doing so since the 1980s, Mr. President. For four decades, Iran has sought to become a nuclear power. One would think that the constant taunt of annihilating Israel - an historically close ally that Obama consistently throws shade at, but eagerly will meet with the likes of Castro - coupled with “Death to America” chants would raise some alarms. Not with the Obama Administration though, who, like Neville Chamberlain with Germany before the Second World War, has handed Iran everything they have ever wanted in a deal that gives nothing in return except their continued support of terrorist groups and blind trust that they will not build nuclear weapons. (At least with Iraq, useless weapons inspectors stood ready to uselessly inspect Saddam’s secreted weapons cache that he vehemently refused them to properly inspect. We know how that turned out.)

‘Historic’ meeting(s)? Hardly. More like disheartening, and dangerously naive.

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stanley Cup or Bust

Four months ago, at the midpoint of the NHL 2014-'15 regular season, I expounded upon the St. Louis Blues chances of winning the Stanley Cup. They haven't been in the championship game since their inception in the late 1960s, with their last best chance coming during the 2000-'01 season with an appearance in the conference finals (which they eventually lost to the Colorado Avalanche). Now, as the 2015 playoffs begin and despite a few personnel changes since that post, I feel even stronger in the sentiment that there will be a parade on the streets of St. Louis in June...because if not this team, then when?


©2015 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Day of the Cryptids: Mecha-Bigfoot vs. Chupacabranado

In the late 1970s, Mecha-Bigfoot was a clandestine U.S. government program designed to flush out the “real” Bigfoot. After several failed attempts to initiate and establish any contact, it was abandoned. Some critics, like Dr. Reginald Parsons, cryptid researcher and skeptic, regarded the program to be the original source for the Bigfoot “myth” in the first place. One embarrassingly blurred video that some believed to be true evidence of Bigfoot’s existence only exasperated the situation. Then, in unspecified near-present future date, people and animals start disappearing after strange cyclonic-like activity begins occurring in an unnamed-yet-typical Midwestern town. They are found miles away drained of their blood! Nathan Binford, special adviser to U.S. president Martha Goodhart, believes the best option is to revive the long-dormant Mecha-Bigfoot program to investigate. (Aah, didn't see that coming, did ya?). After several awkwardly tense moments and melodramatic debate, the president agrees.

It is not long before Mecha-Bigfoot comes face to face with its foe - the Chupacabranado!!! As typical in such feral confrontations, an immense battle immediately ensues between the two fearsome creatures! Grrr, raawwhhrr, ends in a draw, as Chupacabranado hastily scampers away in a cloud of whirling dust and scattered foliage. A trail of bright greenish-brown blood and trampled forest the only evidence of the fight, Mecha-Bigfoot stares after it in pyrrhic triumph. Meanwhile, Dr. Parsons, secreted in a surreptitious hiding spot, has blurrily recorded the entire encounter! In an attempt to vindicate his theories on government culpability in the Bigfoot myth, his (self-)leaked video immediately goes viral around the world! Soon enough, news crews scour the area for the latest updates in an attempt to be first with breaking coverage of any Bigfoot exploitation and sensationalism!

Meanwhile, hidden in a cave not far away, a pair of gigantic eyes look out from the darkness. Who, or what, is it??? Is it the “real” Bigfoot??? Or something more…cryptid???

[April Fool's...the Mecha-Bigfoot program was never abandoned!]

©2015 Steve Sagarra