Why Occupy?

There is a sickness in our country. A binding and far-reaching disease that has decimated our economy, corrupted our leaders, and left Americans holding the bag. It has been said that the top 1% of people in the country control 99% of the wealth, power, and government; it has also been said that we must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly we shall all hang separately.

Over the past few years we’ve seen the divide between the haves and the have-nots widen astronomically. While investment bankers made billions off the backs of stretched-thin Americans who believed it was their time to prosper as well, corporations were given the go-ahead to channel unlimited amounts of money into political contributions by the Supreme Court. Millions of hard-working citizens lost their jobs, their homes, and their livelihoods while tax money went to bail out the investment banks and the insurance companies that made it all possible.

Always follow the money.

There is one reason our government does not work. There is one reason “our representatives” play politics instead of doing their jobs. There is one reason why even the media we rely on to get our facts and become informed citizens is slanted and processed and mainly just plain hype. It is money. It is greed.

-Corporations and people with money are able to exert influence and control over the American political system through campaign contributions and funneling cash into campaigns and lobbyists.

-Major corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google are pushing for a “tax holiday” in which the TRILLIONS$$ they hold in US BANKS as “overseas profits” (ie what they claim are profits made in business abroad, and thus avoiding having to pay US Taxes) will be transferred into the “US economy” without the appropriate taxes paid. These corporations claim this money will then boost the economy by allowing them to spend it on hiring, creating jobs, etc. However Congress has done this before. In 2004′s “the American Jobs Creation Act,” Congress allowed major corporations to bring home offshore profits at a tax rate of 5.25% – a fraction of the top corporate tax rate of 35 percent.  A two-year study by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that companies involved in the tax break failed to create new jobs and instead boosted executive paychecks.

-Despite bringing in $150 billion at a reduced tax rate, the top 15 corporations actually eliminated more than 20,000 U.S. jobs. They also reduced their research and development spending, despite arguments that the tax break would help companies spend more money on innovation.

-While those corporations whittled away their payrolls, they also spent more money on repurchasing their own stock (to increase its value) and on increasing executive pay. These stock repurchases went up by “16 percent the first year after the tax break and 38 percent the second year. Executive pay went up 27 percent the first year after the tax break and 30 percent the next.” (Carl Levin, US Senator, Argus Press)

-Since 2004, the corporations have dramatically increased the amount of money they keep offshore to avoid paying American taxes.

-At the height of the mortgage crisis in 2008, TARP and the American Taxpayer bailed out the very banks that created the crisis in the first place in order to save the economy from certain collapse. Original criteria and regulation for TARP was rejected by said banks in lieu of a loosely defined executive pay cap instead. Basically the banks that created the economic crisis told Washington that they wouldn’t take the TARP money if there were strict regulations on how they could spend it. That money should have been a solid stimulus for the failing economy, yet here we sit three years later in the midst of the same recession.

We were told we had a chance at the American dream… but came to realize that it was truly, only a dream. We went to college to better ourselves and make something with our lives, only to find the jobs we studied for disappear before our very eyes. We pulled ourselves up by our boot straps only to find ourselves in a race that needed nicer, fancier foot wear in order to compete. In America it is fairly easy to make money if you have it to begin with, but the simple truth is- the poor are staying poor, and the rich are still getting richer.

If you’ve seen the news lately you’ve seen the Occupy Wall Street movement. It started a month ago with a call to action from Anonymous, urging New Yorkers to peacefully, calmly, and democratically camp out in Zuccotti Park. Since that day the movement has not only gained press, but momentum as well. Joining the streaming/blogging/YouTubing protesters we’ve seen US Marines in dress uniform, heads of major labor unions, and celebrities alike… They’ve been corralled, arrested, pepper-sprayed, and yet almost a month later, the movement is spreading… All the while it is being laughed at by the mainstream media who view them as leaderless, left-wing, anarchist burn-outs, who should be looking for work.

Conservatives blast the movement for it’s lack of cohesiveness and singular vision, however is another mission statement what this country really needs? It is time to throw out the buzz words and the paradigms, the press releases and the sound bytes. Occupy has become larger than anyone could’ve imagined a month ago. What started with a protest in Lower Manhattan has steamrolled across the country, gaining momentum and support.

The time has come. The movement is here. They can not ignore it any longer. Use your voice. Use your internet. Use your hands. Do something. The revolution will not be televised.

“Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing a people to slavery.”

-Thomas Jefferson

LA Noire: First Impressions

Rockstar Games has consistently provided some of the most original, ground-breaking, and just all-around-good-times video gaming in the last decade. Did you know the Grand Theft Auto series alone has sold over 124 million copies? Since Grand Theft Auto III dropped on the Playstation 2, 10 years ago this October, the concept of the “sand-box” game has reached a pinnacle of graphics, gameplay, and story with LA Noire. Gone are the free-floating weapons, the killing-sprees are reserved for off-screen, and this time, Rockstar takes us into the mind of a straight-laced gumshoe circa 1947.

Los Angeles in 1947 was a beautiful place, a land of hopes and dreams, Hollywood promised fame for every boy and girl that stepped off the bus from where ever… however more often than not those promises we only weighed with blood, sweat, and tears. From the first scene we are placed in the perfectly shined shoes Officer Cole Phelps, a war “hero” who was a Lieutenant in the Pacific theater, and now believes he must atone for his sins in the war.

Now, believe me when I say, that Team Bondi (the Rockstar division responsible for this iteration) has faithfully recreated the Los Angeles of 1947. I’m talking, exact model here. Robert Spence is a photographer who in his 50 year career, took over 110,000 aerial photographs of Los Angeles. Team Bondi used Spence’s photographs to  recreate traffic patterns, public transport routes, and the locations and conditions of every building in the greater LA city boundaries. These are the mean streets, truly. Whether you choose to play the game in black and white mode, or regular color, it is simply amazing to drive around this town (even though our camera angles for driving are now firmly constricted to behind-the-car irritability… some of us need to drive from inside the car, like normal!).

One of the longest complaints about video games’ “sense of reality” is the lack of distinction when it comes to the face. Recent games have managed to make some of the greatest characters, levels, and beautifully drawn landscapes in history, so why haven’t they been able to nail the face?

Well that’s all history now, LA Noire brings the face. Not only can you tell when a shifty gaze means a suspect is hiding something, but most importantly the mouths match the dialogue. You could really turn off the sound and read lips (if you knew how) in this game, it’s almost on par with anything going on in Hollywood. While it would take an Avatar budget to get Avatar-like animation, this game really gets it right when it comes to motion-capture… Grand Theft Auto IV and the penultimate Red Dead Redemption have brought something new to the video game arena: reality.

In fact, it’s hard for a player with a large amount of imagination not to simply fall into the game. Especially in GTAIV, with it’s immaculate recreation of New York City in Liberty City (on the whole, and in my belief) is the greatest character ever created in a game. From the skyscrapers down to the pollution-filled rivers, the burroughs to Times’ Square, Liberty City is flawless. I have started GTAIV many times with the intention of completing a few missions, only to get lost in the scenery… watching drivers crash, get out, and have screaming matches, homeless street-preachers spouting an endless tirade of biblical paranoia… It’s enormous.

Officer Cole Phelps is easy enough to navigate through this alternate reality of 1947, you can feel his weight when you push the controller’s stick, he doesn’t “spring,” he leans. If you push the stick, he’ll begin to walk, then trot, then run (if you hold R2)… as the characters in GTAIV do… the realism is there.

As you guide Phelps through his career, he’ll encounter many people, places, and things that he can interact with. Whether it’s interrogating a suspect, questioning a neighbor, or interviewing another policeman… running after an assailant and finally being able to pull your gun (no draw-and-shoot capabilities here, you’ve got to wait for the computer to draw your gun for you) everything a cop can and will need to do in the line of duty is mapped out in LA Noire. Through the cunning use of a notebook Phelps keeps clues, locations, suspects, and information organized for each case.

The interview process is heavily mapped out, and despite initial feelings that I was going to botch an investigation due to ineptitude, it’s thankfully idiot-proof. If you mess up a line of questioning too bad or accuse someone without proof, you’ll hear about it, but it won’t change the final outcome of the case… it’s going to get solved.

In fact that might be one of the biggest downfalls of the game: that even if you blow every question in an interrogation, ultimately the case will be solved. I think it would’ve been better to simply fail the case and have to start over than be poked and prodded along through police work. There’s no way to change this either.

All-in-al my first impression of LA Noire is amazing. It’s not as much fun as GTAIV or Red Dead Redemption, simply because it’s too much fun to kill the innocent and destroy the environment around you. So as a square policeman, life can be dull in Los Angeles. The ability to answer any police call while driving, is fun… stopping off to chase down perps or shoot it out with bank-robbers keeps things fresh… but I simply haven’t played enough to see what the world is like post-homicide cases (I’m still mid-way through solving some of the most gruesome murders LA has ever seen).

Rockstar and Team Bondi have brought us another winner though, I can tell you that. LA Noire is addicting, clever, well-written, and well-acted. Pick it up and check it out for sure.