The Moron Awards 2011

Moron 2011
2011: A Moronic Year

It’s time once again to look back at the highlights and lowlights of the past year. The widespread economic and social problems have meant that, for millions, 2011 has been a difficult, challenging time. But not for MoronWatch! 2011 has one of the most moronic years in modern history. And it’s time to give thanks to all the morons who helped make it happen.

So here’s my attempt to remember just a few of this year’s moronic events, and the morons behind them. I couldn’t possibly cover every piece of moronitude, and I’ve undoubtedly missed some key events and people – feel free to add your favourites below.

Biggest Flop

Those who entertained us by promising to deliver, before completely failing to do so.

Winner: Harold Camping, who predicted the second coming would take place on 21st May, followed by the end of the world on October 21st. He worked it out using numbers. Sadly (at least for morons awaiting Judgement Day), his calculations turned out to be wrong. Jesus failed to show in May, but Harry stuck to his guns and said the world would still end in October (it didn’t, FYI). Honourable mention: the people who believed him.

Runners-up:

Rupert Murdoch and his son James, for breaking British law on a huge scale, with the help of police officers who they’d bribed, and then getting caught, allowing British democracy to strike back against the Murdoch strangehold over our elected leaders.

Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines), a right-wing British blogger who tried (with help from the moron press) to show, via an online petition, that the UK public were clamouring for a return of the death penalty. They weren’t.

Donald Trump, who reignited the birther controversy, demanding Barack Obama produce his long-form birth certificate. With beautiful timing, Obama duly did so, destroying Trump’s presidential campaign (though to be fair, Trump had already destroyed it himself by being Donald Trump).

Christopher Monckton, a man who has profited hugely from selling climate change denial to morons, despite having been repeatedly discredited, opened a Twitter account. After skirmishes with myself and other “fans”, he quickly closed it down again.

The far-right English Defence League (EDL) have continued to keep us entertained with their moronic (and badly-spelled) antics, both online and offline. This year, they discovered that posting online threats to attack the Occupy protesters in London would lead to them being arrested when they arrived in town for Remembrance Day.

Rick Perry, presidential hopeful, had a moronic plan to close entire government departments, but when asked during a TV debate, he couldn’t remember which ones. Oops!

The ever-inventive Tommy Robinson, leader of the EDL, who appears to have invented a beating at the hands of “Pakistanis”.

Michele Bachmann, after showing early promise to be the flag-bearer for American moronism in next year’s presidential election, vanished without a trace (as did several of her moronic competitors).

Global Menace

Who has been doing their best to destabilise world society, and (whether deliberately or accidentally) drive us towards war?

Winner: The Tea Party caucus in Congress for refusing to raise the US debt ceiling until the 13th hour, resulting in a downgrade for the USA’s credit rating. While some “moderate” Republican morons used the debt ceiling increase as a negotiating tool to try to force cuts in spending, the Tea Party, led by MoronWatch favourite Michele Bachmann, were genuinely prepared to force a US debt default, taking the global economy to the brink of panic.

Runners up:

European leaders for repeatedly failing throughout the year to take the actions necessary to stabilise the EU economy. Special mention to Silvio Berlusconi, for clinging to power despite having mismanaged the Italian economy for years, so he wouldn’t face prosecution for – well, pretty much everything. Very special mention to Dave Camoron and his nationalistic, Eurosceptic Tory right, who tried (perhaps successfully) to single-handedly derail a deal that would stop the European economy from collapsing.

Ongoing: The US for its moronic “war on terror” which grinds on, killing civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, pushing those countries steadily towards social collapse and so putting power in the hands of the Taliban and other extremists, who are (in theory) supposed to be the enemy.

Binyamin Netanyahu, who has stopped even pretending to care about peace in the region, and endlessly accelerates Israeli aggression and land theft. Special mention: the moronic pro-Israel lobby in the US who continue to support Israel, regardless of what it does.

Ongoing: most world governments for their endless execution of the utterly failed War on Drugs, which swallows endless billions of dollars and millions of lives, and results in more people taking more dangerous drugs.

Terrorism

Terrorism is becoming ever-more fashionable, especially among those who claim to be fighting terrorism. Here is my selection of the year’s top terrorists.

Winner: President Assad of Syria, for the mass-slaughter of his own people in the streets of Syrian cities. Of course, like all good state terrorists, Assad says that his victims aren’t civilians at all, but are themselves terrorists working in behalf of Syria’s enemies. No doubt, Syria has its own population of morons who believe him.

Runners up:

Barack Obama, for drone strikes on Pakistan that kill civilians on a regular basis. Obama fans may point out that it’s actually the Pentagon or the CIA carrying out these attacks, but if we blamed Bush’s wars on Bush, let’s be consistent and lay the blame for post-2008 terrorism on Obama. It’s only fair. And by the way, it’s probably about time Obama returned his prematurely-awarded Nobel Peace Prize.

West Bank extremist settlers for their barely-reported campaign of “price tag” terrorism against Palestinian civilians. Their strategy is to endlessly provoke the Palestinian population by ripping up crops, sabotaging irrigation systems or damaging mosques, then shooting people who protest. If the protests get too big, they go running to Mummy (aka the Israeli Defence Force) who shoot or arrest and torture Palestinian civilians.

Mystery winner: somebody, probably Israel or the US, carried out a terrorist attack on an Iranian military base, and quite possibly other attacks we haven’t heard about. If Iranians protest or retaliate in any way, it just shows how unreasonable they are. Honourable mention: Western media and politicians who ignore these attacks and continue to beat the drums of war against Iran.

London’s Metropolitan Police, who executed Mark Duggan, a young black man, in North London, based merely on the suspicion that he might be carrying a gun. Immediately after the shooting, the police lied to journalists, saying an exchange of fire had taken place – it hadn’t. The shooting triggered an uprising in Tottenham which led to the UK summer riots. Notably, this is the second time a riot has begun in Tottenham after the police killed an unarmed person. Special mention to the poorly-named Independent Police Complaints Commission, who are never independent and always ignore complaints. As ever, they came down on the side of the police.

The Inhumanity!

While it’s useful to understand motivations, some people are just plain evil.

Winner: “Pepper Spray Cop” – the policeman in Berkeley, California who was videoed casually spraying peaceful, seated protesters in the face with pepper spray. He was just one of many US police officers who took part in violent attacks on peaceful Occupy protesters this year, showing that free speech isn’t as much an American value as we might have hoped.

Runners up:

The US state of Georgia, who executed Troy Davis, despite strong evidence that his trial had been rigged.

Ugandan MPs, who have repeatedly tried to introduce laws making homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Special mention also to Ghana, Malawi and most other African countries, which have continued to make life as hard as possible for homosexuals.

The US, for using their UN veto to block the legal right of Palestine to be recognised as a state, a result that will simply encourage Israel to do whatever it likes, however brutal or illegal. As usual.

Supporters of presidential candidate and libertarian, Ron Paul at a debate. Paul was asked about his “libertarian” approach to healthcare: what should happen to people with no health cover if they were to fall ill? He confirmed that they should be given the “freedom” to die. At which, the audience applauded heartily, yelling “Let him die!”.

Hypocrisy

Everyone loves a little hypocrisy. Well, MoronWatch does, anyway. Here are some of the highlights.

Winner: Joint prize to The UK, France and the US for attacking Libya, to “protect civilians”. Strangely, their newly-found morality hasn’t been applied in recent years where civilians in their thousands (or tens of thousands) have been persecuted, slaughtered, raped or driven from their homes in various countries including Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Bahrain. Did I mention Libya is a major oil producer?

Runners up:

The British Royal Family, who invited Bahraini royals to the royal wedding while protesters were being shot dead in the streets back home.

The Republican Party, who desperately fight for tax cuts for the rich, while proving decidedly reluctant to extend a tax cut for working Americans. Not only is this morally suspect, it’s also economically moronic: tax cuts for people on low and average incomes feed back into economic growth far more effectively than extra money for the wealthy.

Western conservatives, who enjoy using the words freedom and democracy incessantly but who, when faced with Arabs demanding democracy, proved decidedly lukewarm about the idea.

Just Plain Moronic

Awarded for general acts or statements of stupidity.

Winner: The British Public, for rejecting a modest improvement (the Alternative Vote, or AV) to our democratic system that would help weaken the current Labour-Conservative duopoly on power, open the door for the creation of fresh new political parties, and revitalise our democracy (as had already happened when AV was adopted in Australia). The newspapers (which mostly support the Tories or Labour) had largely come out against AV, and since most of the public pay no attention to politics, they voted as the press barons told them to. Thus proving that referendums, though seemingly democratic, are not in practise.

Runners up:

UK Prime Minister Dave Camoron for publicly giving the advice that people should pay off their debts. Although this advice is sensible, unfortunately our current economic system isn’t. A widespread shift from spending to saving, at a time when the economy is already struggling, would make the situation worse. By the end of the day, Dave was forced to reverse his advice. People are supposed to keep spending, and paying down their debts, even as the majority of them become poorer. How will that work? It won’t.

All-round weird moron Donald Trump, for suggesting that the US should take Libya’s oil as “payment” for “liberating” Libya. It’s almost like the good old days of Empire. In fact, I think it is the good old days of Empire.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, for his wonderfully simple (in every sense of the word) 9-9-9 economic plan, under which corporation tax, income tax and sales tax would all be pegged at nine percent. The tax would result in the poor paying more, the top 10% doing pretty well, and the top 1% doing fantastically well. Cain proved incapable of explaining how it could possibly work, just as he proved incapable of explaining anything at all, from foreign policy to why a series of women would accuse him of sexual harassment.

The delightfully named, but not at all delightful, Eric Pickles, Tory government minister, for the most pointless spending exercise of the year. Councils across the UK have been encouraging recycling by providing households with recycling bins and reducing general waste collections from weekly to fortnightly. Although this is sensible and desirable, the British press and public did what they do best: moan about it. So Pickles threw £250m at restarting weekly bin collections, thus managing to waste huge amounts of cash and reverse years of progress towards recycling, all to win a few moron votes. Not only was the idea moronic, but most councils have rejected the cash anyway.

Fox “News” presenter Megyn Kelly, following the “Pepper Spray Cop” attack on Californian protests, said it was no big deal, as pepper spray is basically a food. However, she ignored social network calls for her to eat some pepper spray live on air.

The US state of Oklahoma, for banning Shariah law, despite only 0.4% of its population being Muslim (and none of them having asked for Shariah anyway). Special mention also to France, which passed a law banning women from covering their faces, in a spiteful act of bullying against a few hundred women.

The British government and media, for creating a new moral panic about Sexualisation, an imaginary problem designed to scare parents that society had become too sexual, and was threatening their children – and hence laying the foundations for future legislative attacks on sexual freedom.

And finally, just so I haven’t missed anyone:

People all around the world, who got suckered by an Apple PR campaign that transformed Steve Jobs, a highly capable CEO, into a hero and saint who had improved the world for everyone (rather than what he actually did, which was to launch some rather nice electronic equipment).

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Celebrate Heroes, Not CEOs

Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai photo by Martin Rowe

I had a moment of genuine shock when I woke up on Thursday, picked up my iPhone and read the headlines, to discover that Steve Jobs had died. Of course I already knew he was ill and that he was standing down, but the severity of his illness had been kept quiet, meaning that news of his death came to most of us as a surprise. After my Wow moment, I carried on with day as normal. Shock number two came when I logged into Twitter and Facebook to find tributes to Jobs liberally posted. Jobs’ death seemed to have become what we call in the UK a “Diana Moment” – an outbreak of apparently inexplicable mass grief for a personality only known to most through the mass media. People I know who never follow business or technology events were swept up in the tide of tributes. The sayings of Jobs were being shared with the same reverence as quotes from Jesus or Gandhi.

When I went to bed on Wednesday, Jobs had been a hugely successful business innovator who’d turned Apple from a near-failure to a dominant brand in technology, and then in media and entertainment. By Thursday, he’d apparently devoted his life to furthering the development of mankind. Waves of mass hysteria are rarely spontaneous; nor could Jobs’ death have been a surprise to Apple, who must have prepared themselves with great care. Thursday’s wave of grief and love for a CEO was a brilliantly orchestrated PR campaign, and many smart people I know were drawn into it unquestioningly.

I’m a technologist, and fully aware of the immense achievement of Steve Jobs in turning Apple into the powerhouse it is today. I’m also (as you many have noticed in the first line of this article) a fan of some Apple products. Jobs has done for Apple what Bill Gates did for Microsoft, and what was previously done by IBM: achieve a position of power and dominance over the technology market. But more than that, the rise of Apple coincided with the rise of digital media; so Apple didn’t just get to rule the technology roost, but has also taken a dominant position in the retail of music, film, TV, software and books.

Apple hasn’t been shy in exploiting its stranglehold over these markets; any media owner wanting to reach iPod, iPad and iPhone users now must pay Apple handsomely for the privilege. App developers may create a unique piece of intellectual property and even find a market for it, but the only way their audience can access their product is by paying Apple for it. Apple arrived in an open, standards-based technology world and stifled the openness for profit.

Sure (you may say), but Apple is a business. It exists for profit, not to improve people’s lives. And you’d be right – Jobs and Apple created well-designed, timely products, coupled with a smart and ruthless strategy to bring themselves control and power over people’s products, work and media consumption. That’s what businesses do (or at least, try to). But does it make Jobs into a hero? Certainly not – any more than Bill Gates was a hero for forcing the dominance of Windows, and holding back technological development for perhaps a decade before the openness of the Internet swept him away. Apple’s dominance is crushing competition, which will hold back technology, not enhance it.

But Apple’s story is darker than just control of supply chains. Apple’s enemy in its dominance of digital media is the open Internet, with its free speech and lack of censorship. Apple is a ruthless censor of online content. Create an app containing nude imagery? Sorry, the censors at Apple don’t approve of that. Political satire? Sorry, the Apple thought police say No. You thought you were buying a phone? Actually, you were buying a good, clean, Christian way of life.

Apple’s use of cheap labour working in ugly conditions has been well documented. This is hardly limited to Apple, nor can the company be severely criticised for taking advantage of globalisation – if you don’t use Chinese labour to make your product, you’ll go out of business. The solution to that problem is growth in the Chinese economy coupled with transparency in the West. But can Jobs in any way deserve his new status as some kind of a saviour of mankind? I don’t think so – chalk up a huge win to Apple’s PR company. Do I blame Apple for turning Jobs into a hero so that some of the shine would rub off on its products? Not at all – they’re a business and that’s what businesses do.

I blame the ordinary person-on-Facebook for being so unselective in his or her choice of heroes. Only a couple of weeks ago, a Kenyan woman called Wangari Maathai died, also of cancer. Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her political and environmental work. She had been persecuted, abused, beaten, for standing up against political and corporate power. She made this sacrifice, not for financial gain or power, but because she felt it was right. The suffering of other people mattered to her more than her own safety and well-being. Do you remember two weeks ago how Facebook was filled with tributes to this great woman when we heard news of her death? Of course not. Maathai had no huge PR operation. The corporate-owned media don’t celebrate the lives of their enemies. She didn’t create that greatest God of Capitalism: Profit; indeed, her actions undoubtedly threatened profits.

Heroes still exist – they always have done. It’s just that the mass media would rather we didn’t know about them. Instead, they give us corporate heroes, CEOs, men who change the world – but not necessarily for the better. We need to be more selective about who we hero-worship. The power to write real heroes back into history is in our hands.