Friday, October 31, 2014

The Scariest Halloween Story You'll Read Today


(Editorial note: There was a BBC report earlier this week which raised the alarm about world population growth, stating that rather than leveling off at around 9 billion by 2050, as previously postulated by the UN, that the population could instead reach 12 billion by the year 2100. Just prior to the publication of that article, I wrote the post below in which rather than having a team of scientists furiously studying their latest computer algorithms, I just used a simple calculator and a world population counter to come to basically the same conclusion. I've decided not to alter my original post in light of the BBC report, just to show that figuring this stuff out isn't nearly as hard to do as the "experts" would like you to believe it is).

Boo!

As I highlighted at the time here at TDS, on Halloween Day 2011 at exactly 1:48 P.M. the poplation counter site Worldometers estimated that the world had just added its 7,000,000,000th living human. Not to worry, the optimists assured us, birthrates around the globe have been declining since 1960s and it's a well known "fact" that when the wealth of societies increase, women on average start having fewer babies. Some optimists who study these issues have gone as far as to say that world population will level off at around 9,000,000,000 by around the year 2050.

Ahhh...optimists. They are just so much fun to poke with a rhetorical stick. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.

Let's start by reminding everybody where we have come from. The data shows that it was upon reaching the 3 billion mark in 1959 that human population numbers realy began to spiral out of control. From that level the world raced to 4 billion in 1974 (just 15 years later) and 5 billion in 1987 (just 13 years after that). The last two milestones were each reached in exactly one dozen years, 6 billion in 1999 and 7 billion in 2011. Admittedly, the raw numbers DO indicate a slow down in birth rates, but the sheer size of the the current human population has caused the momentum of increase to lumber steadily forward anyway. Already we are in a situation where I, one of the eldest members of Generation X, have seen the human population of planet Earth double in just my lifetime.

In that spirit, let's have a little check of the Worldometers website again today, three years after the adding of the 7th billion person, and see if we can see any signs of a continuing slowdown in population growth. Hmmm, seems the total now is slightly above 7,270,000,000. That means that for the last three years the AVERAGE annual increase in human beings was 90,000,000. At that rate, the world's 8 billionth person will be born in 2022, just ELEVEN years after the previous milestone was reached. Extrapolate out further, and world population at midcentury will be around 10.5 billion, not the 9 billion the optimists were touting.

So why have the optimists apparently been proven wrong? Well, the one big elephant in the room is the fact that the the world economy for anyone who isn't among the elites has pretty much sucked since the financial crash of 2008. So much for the idea of rising prosperity serving as a gigantic prophylactic.

There has rightly been lots of worry about ebola, but to put the epidemic in perspective right now it would have to kill about 90,000,000 people PER YEAR just to level off the planet's population. So, as if we didn't have enough real world events to scare us this Halloween, here's an oldie but a goody that just continues to make calls from INSIDE THE HOUSE.

Boo.

(2nd editorial note: putting aside for a moment the fact that resource depletion will likely not allow continued human population growth beyond midcentury, if the planet did theoretically have the resources and we did in fact reach 10.5 billion in population by 2050, even the BBC report's "pessimistic" assessment of 12 billion humans in 2100 would likely be well off on the low side)


Bonus: Happy Halloween, everybody



Thursday, October 30, 2014

They Hate You--They REALLY REALLY Hate You


The other day I was scanning online through some old year end "Best of" lists from some newspaper websites looking for books to add to my already substantial reading list. That's when I came upon a review of THIS TOWN -- Two Parties and a Funeral Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! in America’s Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich, which was published last year to some excellent critical acclaim. I haven't yet read Leibovich's book, but some of the blurbs from the New York Times review of it were so interesting that I thought I would share them here:
Not to ruin it for you, but: if you already hate Washington, you’re going to hate it a whole lot more after reading Mark Leibovich’s takedown of the creatures who infest our nation’s capital and rule our destinies. And in case you are deluded enough as to think they care, you’ll learn that they already hate you. He quotes his former Washington Post colleague Henry ­Allen: ­“Washington feels like a conspiracy we’re all in together, and nobody else in America quite understands, even though they pay for it.”
It's a conspiracy, all right, if in fact only a loose one among a large group of sociopaths who hate each other almost as much as they hate you and me. The meat of the review, and thus the book, comes with the author's depictions of four major changes that have come to Washington in recent decades:
Lobbying. President Obama’s first year in office was the best year ever for the special interests industry, which earned $3.47 billion lobbying the federal government. Ka-ching — your change, sir. There’s a phrase in journalism-speak called “burying the lede,” which Leibo­vich appears to do by waiting until Page 330 to cite this arresting figure (previously reported by The Atlantic): in 1974, 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. “Now 50 percent of senators and 42 percent of congressmen do.” No one goes home anymore. Cincinnatus, call your office.

There are a number of sanctimonious standout “formers” in Leibovich’s Congressional hall of shame, but just to name a few exemplars who gleefully inhabit ethical no-worry zones and execute brisk 180-­degree switcheroos on any issue, including the Armenian genocide, so long as it pays: Dick Gephardt, Evan Bayh and Tim Pawlenty. (Christopher Dodd, late of Connecticut, is another beauty. Disclosure: he beat my uncle out of a Senate seat, but judge for yourself if he isn’t loathsome for other reasons.) My own modest proposal is that the media stop referring to these scoundrels as “strategic consultants” or their other camouflage titles and call them what they are: influence peddlers. I know — good luck with that.

The other major change took place pari passu with lobbying: the arrival of big money in Washington. “Over the last dozen years,” Leibovich writes, “corporate America (much of it Wall Street) has tripled the amount of money it has spent on lobbying and public affairs consulting in D.C.” Alongside this money comes the tsunami of dollars from presidential campaigns. He reports that during the 2012 contest, the so-called super PACs and megadonors pumped “upwards of $2 billion . . . into the empty-calorie economy of two men destroying each other.” He refers to a datum courtesy of The Huffington Post, which reported in the spring of 2012 that, so far, “the top 150 consulting companies had . . . grossed more than $465 million” during the campaign.

All of which has given rise to another unlovely development: political consultants and their concomitant celebrity. This breed has, Leibovich says, essentially replaced the old-style political bosses. One might ask: is it a bad thing that we now have the omnipresent James Carville and Mary Matalin and their ilk? Aren’t we better off for this “celebrity-industrial complex” instead of the smoke-filled rooms of yore? Over to you, but at least the boys in the smoke-filled rooms didn’t yap at us on TV on the Sabbath and endorse Maker’s Mark bourbon. (Honestly, James and Mary. They’re also doing the safety briefing voice-over for Independence Air. Is this a great country or what? Meanwhile, on “Good Morning America” tomorrow, George Stephanopoulos’s guests are. . . .)

Bringing us to the fourth change: Pandora’s (cable TV) box. The rise of cable television and the 24/7 news cycle, as well as Facebook, Twitter and the rest of social media, have provided all these people with heretofore unimaginable influence. “Suddenly,” Leibovich writes, “anyone without facial warts could call themselves a ‘strategist’ and get on TV. Or start an e-mail newsletter, Web site or, later, blog, Facebook page or Twitter following — in other words, become Famous for Washington.”

It has also enabled journalists to turn themselves into pundits, with all the glittery and greasy emoluments of that lower trade. “Punditry,” he writes, “has replaced reporting as journalism’s highest calling, accompanied by a mad dash of ‘self-branding,’ to borrow a term that had now fully infested the city: everyone now hellbent on branding themselves in the marketplace, like Cheetos (Russert was the local Coca-Cola). They gather, all the brands, at . . . self-­reverential festivals, like the April White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, whose buffet of ‘pre-parties’ and ‘after-parties’ now numbers more than two dozen — because a single banquet, it is clear, cannot properly celebrate the full achievements of the People Who Run Your Country.”
I spent most of my career prior to my recent retirement inside the Beltway, but I was as far away (metaphorically if not literally) from the glitz and glamour of "official" (read: "political") Washington as I'd been when I was still growing up in Illinois. You're either in what the late George Carlin described as "The Big Club" or you're not, and I most decidedly was not.

Nevertheless, what I've witnessed since arriving in the DC area a month before Bill Clinton won his first term in office is how the money pump, which has always propped up the world's largest "company town," has in the years since the start of the War on Terror and particularly since the insane federal borrowing and spending in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, almost literally paved the streets of the city and its immediate suburbs with gold. This incredible surge of wealth, most of it going to the lobbyists, lawyers and "Beltway Bandit" contractors, can be seen everywhere from the countless new suburban McMansions and upscale shopping malls to the many regentrified DC neighborhoods that have changed the demographic makeup of the so-called "Chocolate City" so dramatically that it no longer has a black majority population. Washington as a workplace is no longer a locale for citizens who really believe in public service (as I once did), but has instead become a gold rush city where the greedy and power hungry come to strike it rich.

And all of this, of course, is enabled by Americans who are either ignorant, stupid or willfully blind enough to believe it still matters what party label the sociopathic social climbers who come to Washington to make their fortune wear. The real truth is personified by former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who after his recent "stunning" primary defeat almost immediately signed on as a lobbyist making 26 times the average annual household income of his former Virginia district.

Of course, for all of their bluster and preening these people are still just puppets dancing on the ends of strings held by the billionaires who pay the bills. And the system that supports both them and their paymasters is getting more brittle and creakier by the year. Someday, the whole (ahem) house of cards is going to come crashing down, and those who have so come to disdain their fellow citizens are going to get a rude awakening in just what it means to be the objects of their collective hatred.


Bonus: "They still call it The White House, but that's a temporary condition"


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Earth’s Vertebrate Wildlife Population has Halved in 40 Years


And that doesn't even include members of congress (bada-BING!).

Actually, this story from The Independent makes me very ashamed of my own species:
The world’s wildlife population is less than half the size it was just four decades ago, with unsustainable human consumption and damage from climate change destroying valuable habitats at a faster rate than previously thought, a new report has warned.

The number of vertebrates, which make up the bulk of Earth’s visible animals, has dived by 52 per cent over the past 40 years. Biodiversity loss has now reached “critical levels”, the report warns.

But some populations of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians have suffered much bigger losses, with fresh water species declining by 76 per cent since 1974, according to the Living Planet Report by the conservation campaign group WWF.
There's not really a whole lot I can add to this awful report other than to say you're either a person who actually gives a fuck about the problem or you're one that doesn't. And even if you reside squarely in the former camp, there isn't really fuck all you can do about any of it.

Reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible? Yes, absolutely. Just living below your financial means, which is a smart thing to do anyway if you are able, will help in that regard. But never believe it will add up to anything so much as a cure for what we human beings are doing to the natural world.


Bonus: "Come closer and see...see into the dark"




Friday, October 24, 2014

America's Middle Class Knows it Faces a Grim Retirement


Per yesterday's post, I guess it isn't just the young'uns who know they're screwed. From the L.A. Times:
More than a third of middle-class families aren't saving anything in a 401(k), IRA or other vehicle, the survey found. For those 50 to 59 years old, it's 41%.

"Nearly a third (31%) of all respondents say they will not have enough money to 'survive' on in retirement," the bank says. "This increases to nearly half (48%) of middle-class Americans in their 50s."
Ahh...that younger segment of the Baby Boomer generation. Guess it really is better to die before you get old.

There was another quote from this article that I found particularly horrifying:
There's little new in these findings. They echo the findings of last year's installment in the Wells Fargo series, when more than a third of respondents said they expected to work at least until 80 to have enough to retire on.
Yikes! That's not "retiring," that's called "dying in the saddle."

I had a discussion recently with my brother-in-law. He hasn't made the best decisions in life. He failed to use his bachelor's degree to get a good paying white collar job despite residing in the high cost of living New York City area. After having four kids he dumped his wife for a fellow divorcee who has a young child of her own, and then they had yet another child before the two of them even got married. Now his oldest are reaching college age and are enlisting in the military partly to escape what has become a depressing family situation, but also for the tuition benefits. BIL was reflecting on the fact that I was able to take early retirement (due in large part to the cancer) because, among other things, my wife and I lived frugally and paid off our house even before I got sick.

"I'll retire on the day I die," he stated to me rather matter-of-factly. Problem is, he works a blue collar job that takes a fair bit of physical effort, so I wonder if he won't begin to physically break down long before it is time for him to shuffle off this mortal coil.

As for me, even if I hadn't gotten sick the idea of working until I'm 80 fills me with horror and dread. It's not that there aren't plenty of things that I could do until I'm that old (especially writing), it's just that none of those I enjoy doing are likely to pay me anything resembling a living wage. I'm very grateful to have been able to leave the rat race at a relatively young age, but in my case it remains to be seen if the hangover effects of my cancer battle will prevent me from doing many of the things I had hoped to do in retirement.

But enough about me. Let's finish the discussion of this article with another interesting tidbit:
All this points ever more strongly to an inescapable solution to Americans' retirement quandary: expanding Social Security. The program is immune from market influences, operates with rock-bottom administrative costs, and forces workers to place saving for retirement front and center.

Those who claim that increasing benefits is unnecessary because America's retirees are secretly rich -- a notion recently bandied about by independent benefits consultant Sylvester Schieber and Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute -- may need to get out and meet middle-class workers more. They would learn very quickly that middle-class Americans aren't laboring under the same misconceptions about their retirement prospects.
Forgetting for a moment that the Social Security program has its own long term financing problems, note the sheer fucking arrogance of these two assholes from the American Enterprise Institute. Do YOU know anyone in your social circle who is "secretly rich?" No, I don't either despite having a number of friends and acquaintances who are solidly upper middle class. The fact that these these two billionaire mouthpieces can get away with publicly saying such utter shit and not be tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail is a big part of the problem in this country.


Bonus: "All your hope is gone...and it's not that funny, is it?"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shockingly, Millennials Are The Most Cynical Generation Ever


Tying into to yesterday's post about the plummeting popularity of President Hopey-Changey, who would have thought that America's coming-of-age generation could get so cynical? Don't take my word for it, here's the scoop from MTV News:
Generation Y grew up in the shadow of a decade-long war and an economic crash both caused by authority figures’ filthy lies faulty assumptions, so it’s no surprise that skepticism of government and corporations is running high — but researchers are now warning that young people’s cynicism toward social institutions and even fellow citizens is at unsustainable levels.

A new study from the University of Georgia compared 140,000 millennials’ responses to previous generations’ attitudes. Between 2000 and 2012, millennial approval of Congress plummeted from 49% to 22%. (Compare that to the 30% of baby boomers happy with Congress during the Vietnam years.) In the same timespan, millennial approval of corporations dropped from 54% to 33% — and the results are similar for organized religion, upper education, police departments, the media and…hmm, that about covers it?
I have to admit, I made it to almost 40 before I got to the point where I started to assume that just about EVERYONE in some position of authority was completely full of shit. Who says kids these days are just mindless consumers who are out of touch with what's really going on? But it gets even worse:
Just as troublingly, the Associated Press reports, only 16% of millennials believe that “most people can be trusted” today, versus half of Americans back in the 1970s. All age groups feel more cynical than they did 10 years ago, but the under-35 crowd is the most pissed off and paranoid.
Now those are numbers of a society that is splitting apart at the seams. There's no way any sense of "community" can be built in a country where nobody trusts ANYBODY. Now, we're just 318,000,000 isolated little islands out here...and that's EXACTLY the way those in charge want us to be.


Bonus: "You ask me what you need...hate is all you need"

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Incredible Shrinking President


Six years ago on election day I was working in an office building in Arlington, Virginia, a stone's throw from the Potomac River that separates the Old Dominion from Washington, D.C. Arlington is a fairly liberal city to start with, and where I worked happened to be a mere one metro stop from George Washington University as well as a brisk walk across the Francis Scott Key Bridge from Georgetown University. Which probably explains what I saw that election day, namely dozens of college age young adults standing on every street corner at every major intersection holding up (mostly hand lettered) Obama signs, waving and clapping at every car that passed. I could see them from my office window, and despite it being quite cloudy and chilly they were there all day and were still at it when I left work around sundown. It was the fifth presidential election held while I was working at that address, and I'd never seen a literal outpouring of support like that--not even when Bill Clinton was on the ballot.

"Those kids are going to end up being mightily disappointed," one of my middle-aged colleagues said to me that morning as we were looking out the window.

This was about six weeks after Senator Obama had enthusiastically helped ram the hideous $700 billion bank bailout known as the TARP law down Congress's throat, and as much as I wanted to argue with him, all I could do was nod in agreement. Before going in to work that morning, against all of my instincts to the contrary I had waited in line to vote for Obama myself. As of this writing, it was the last time I've ever participated in the sham that is American "representative democracy."

It's so easy to forget now because Obama sold his supporters down the river so quickly just what an amazing tidal wave of enthusiastic support he rode into office on. Except for hardcore Republicans, people were SO sick of Chimpy Bush that pretty much ANYONE would have been greeted with at least SOME level of excitement. None of the so-called "million man (or woman) marches" on the Washington mall have ever had in reality nearly that many "boots on the ground," except for perhaps for his inauguration two months later.

So, it hasn't even been six full years since election day 2008, how's it going for President Hopey Changey on the popularity front these days? Worse than even what my colleague had envisioned, as reported by Reuters:
Most candidates from his party have been wary of appearing with him during their election races because of his sagging popularity.

Not so Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown of Maryland, who is running for governor, and Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois, who is running for re-election. Obama plans to appear at an event for Quinn later in the evening.

"You've got to vote," Obama repeated over and over at a rally for Brown in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, near Washington.

Democrats have a history of not turning up to vote in midterm elections.

"There are no excuses. The future is up to us," Obama said.

A steady stream of people walked out of the auditorium while he spoke, however, and a heckler interrupted his remarks.
Most amazingly, pictures from the event show that the crowd was overwhelmingly black, which would not be surprising as the event was held in Prince Georges County, Maryland, which has a nearly two-thirds black majority population. If Obama can't even appear there without being heckled and having people walk out on him, then there really isn't anywhere he CAN appear in public anymore without resorting to the type of heavy-handed audience screening tactics Bush's team used to use during his second term.

What's interesting about Obama's deep unpopularity is that, unlike Bush, he hasn't been such an OBVIOUS disaster while in office. He hasn't fucked up two imperial wars and crashed the economy like his predecessor did. In fact, the stock market has more than doubled in value since he took office and his wars have mostly been of the air-and-drone variety that don't get the legionaries soldiers killed.

Instead, he's lost many of his supporters, some of whom are no doubt those same college kids I saw waving those signs back in 2008, simply by turning his back on everything he purportedly would do once he became president to cure all the ills of the Bush years. Nevermind that all the signs of a sellout were already there, including his backing of the TARP law and naming the credit card companies' best friend in Washington to be his VP, well before the polling began six years ago.

It should be evident now to anyone who is even remotely paying attention and isn't still wearing partisan blinders (of EITHER shade) that Obama is the creature/puppet of the big business and Wall Street interests who gave his campaign a billion dollars or so for his reelection in 2012, just as Romney would have been had he been elected instead. And of course, most of the major players donated to both campaigns so they'd have all their bases covered. As the current value of the DOW shows THEY were the true "winners" of campaigns 2008 & 2012.

So what we're stuck with now is a prolonged national malaise that still has two years to run until the next election that will convince at least part of the population that there is still hope that things can change despite all the evidence to the contrary. I suspect, however, that with the Citizens United decision allowing the big money to lock up the presidential nominations even easier than ever, that the percentage of those who will truly believe in the possibility of hope and change and that their vote actually matters will be far, far lower than it was back in 2008. And I'll be very surprised if on election day 2016 I see any young people standing on the street corners all day joyfully waving their handmade signs.


Bonus: Sorry kids, but "Walking around with your head in the clouds makes no sense at all"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Macy's Thanksgiving "Fuck You" to its Employees


If there is one major retail outfit that defines the Thanksgiving holiday for many Americans, it would have to be Macy's. For nine decades, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade has been a staple of the holiday with its amazing floats, legions of dancers and musicians and huge inflated balloons. But now, Macy's has come to define the Thanksgiving of 21st century America--one in which rampant corporate greed and mindless zombie consumerism has gotten completely out of control:
Macy's recently announced that it will be opening its stores at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving as opposed to 8 p.m. last year, further cutting into its employees' holiday.

According to USA Today, Macy's is trying to get a head start on the Black Friday weekend, and said the earlier hours are "in response to the significant, sustained customer interest in last year's opening on Thanksgiving."
When I last wrote about this issue back in 2011, the big controversy was that retail stores were pushing their Black Friday openings into late Thanksgiving night, specifically to 11:00 P.M. that evening. At the time I wrote a prediction that reading it now startles even me:
And if the economy continues to get worse, no doubt next year the big box stores will be open at 8:00 on Thanksgiving, or 6:00. Or hell, why not just open them at noon? That way you can take your Thanksgiving dinner with you in a picnic basket to eat while you are waiting in line. That's a win-win if I've ever heard one.
Heck, as it turned out I was only off by two years. And while it would be a stretch to say the economy has gotten worse since 2011, AT BEST it has been running in place, especially for most of those in the working and middle classes.

So what is Macy's official justification for this move? For that, I will take you back to the original article:
However, The Wall Street Journal reported last year that "retail spending over Thanksgiving weekend dropped for the first time in at least seven years" even though "retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Macy's Inc. kicked off sales earlier on Thanksgiving Day."
See there's the problem. It wasn't that cash-strapped consumers just don't have as much money to throw away frivolously around the holidays anymore. Nope, the problem was that the stores just weren't open long enough to accommodate all the buyers. That's management "logic" for you in 21st century America. Not surprising, when they are paying money for advice from the likes of this fucking moron:
"Consumers have started to accept that shopping on Thanksgiving is a growing habit," Steve Osburn, director of the management consulting firm Kurt Salmon, told USA Today. "With consumer acceptance comes more people shopping."
Well, obviously not if sales are DECLINING despite the stores being open longer.

Even more despicable is how Macy's is trying to defend itself against charges that it is ruining its employees' Thanksgiving holiday:
Macy's says that most of its work shifts for Thanksgiving Day have been filled voluntarily by employees.
Even if that's true, it's pretty damn sad because what it really means is that the employees in question need the money so badly that they can't even afford to take one Thursday off.

As for the citizens consumers idiots who will be voluntarily leaving their families on Thanksgiving night just so they can go get into rugby scrums over toaster ovens and stand for hours in long lines under cheap fluorescent lighting to save a few bucks buying shit they don't need because some smarmy commercial campaign bored its oh-so-clever message into their tiny pea brains: fuck them all. I hope all that cheaply made shit breaks before they even get it home from the store.

Bah humbug.


Bonus: "This was an important place in their lives"

Monday, October 20, 2014

Two-Thirds Of America's Biggest Retailers Are Worried About Flat Wages


(editor's note: I currently have a small backlog of posts and aim to have one up every day this week--so be sure to check back frequently!)

You really have to laugh about this one, lest you not begin to cry. It seems the same asshole American retail companies who pay their employees shit wages are now quite concerned that their bottom lines are being negatively affected by employees being paid shit wages. Here's Huffington Post with the story:
Sixty-eight percent of the top 100 retail companies in the U.S. -- a group that includes, Walmart, Apple, McDonald's and J.C. Penney -- say the country's stagnant wages pose a major threat to their bottom lines, according to a new report by the Center For American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

Researchers analyzed the most recent SEC 10-K filings of the largest 100 retailers in the country and found that more than two-thirds of these corporations issued warnings to investors that profits could be hampered by flat wages, high unemployment and low consumer spending. The trend is hammering companies that target high-income customers, like Whole Foods and Dillard's, and those that market to low-income shoppers, like Dollar General and T.J. Maxx, according to the report.
So, do you suppose this concern is enough to get these companies to actually raise their employees' salaries to a decent living wage? Of course not. Apparently, all the other companies BUT them are supposed to do it:
But even as two-thirds of the companies in the study pointed to stagnating wages as a source of their problems, many of them have opposed or stayed silent on any proposed wage increases. There are a few notable exceptions. Gap promised to institute a $10 per hour minimum wage by next year, and Costco's starting pay is already $11.50.
Oooh, those Gap and Costco employees are living large aren't they? Just for the record, $10 bucks an hour equals a full time annual wage of just $20,800--assuming they are allowed to work full time. How much disposable income do you suppose a head of a household is going to have on that kind of miserly salary? The article goes on, but you get the idea.

It's too bad so few Americans know anything about their own history. If they did they might recall that Henry Ford, when he was in the process building one of the world's largest automobile companies, recognized that there wouldn't be anyone able to afford to buy his product unless he paid his own employees a decent wage. Other companies followed suit, and it was these actions that were businesses' historical contribution to creation of the American middle class.

So what happened? Well, it seems that builders like Ford who knew their every little facet of how their companies operated were eventually replaced by greedy MBA assholes who'd never spent a day actually doing the work of those companies, and didn't give a shit about anything but the short term bottom line and their own pay, stock options and golden parachutes.

We've been told over and over and over again that "the consumer is the driver of the American economy." But when the consumer gets squeezed to the point that they no longer have any discretionary income, sooner or later the big corporations will have succeeded in killing the geese that lays their golden eggs. For nearly two generations now, American business has been operating under the mantra that "greed is good," and as a result now it isn't geese but chickens that are coming home to roost. And those are some sorry-ass, scrawny-looking chickens at that.


Bonus: "Got an 'L' on my forehead...and a stupid uniform."


Friday, October 17, 2014

Music Review: CSNY 1974


They don't make rock'n'roll "supergroups" anymore. Come to think of it, they never let any musician who has anything remotely important to say anywhere near the Top 40 anymore either. In many ways the quartet of David Crosby (originally of the The Byrds), Stephen Stills (originally of Buffalo Springfield), Graham Nash (originally of The Hollies) and Neil Young (Stills's Buffalo Springfield bandmate, but a remarkably prolific solo performer alone and with his own band, Crazy Horse) personified the medium in America at the very height of its power. They first came together at Woodstock, streaked like a meteor across the rock landscape in the late 60s and early 70s, fell apart amid bickering and backbiting as the latter decade wore on--and then reunited several times as a bad caricature of their former selves (mostly without Neil Young, who despite soaring ups and downs in the ensuing decades unlike the others remains a vibrant and relevant artist to this day).

In 1974, the quartet hit the road for a string of stadium shows just as Richard Nixon (whom the band had lambasted on its most memorable song, the Kent State shooting protest scorcher, "Ohio") was preparing to resign (and in fact, after Nixon did his memorable helicopter exit from the White House lawn, Neil Young wrote a quick casual ditty called "Goodbye Dick," which is included here). CSN&Y recorded nine of the shows with the intention of producing a live album, but the tour descended into such a morass of drug-and-sex fueled hedonism (backstage anyway) that bad feelings kept the tapes of the shows under wraps for nearly 40 years.

Fortunately for us aging rock'n'rollers who haven't yet died even as we are getting old, the creme de la creme of the recordings from that tour have now been released as "CSNY 1974," which contains 39 portions of pure classic rock goodness. For whatever excess the band members may have been engaging in while producing this fine music, it never spills out onto the stage (at least on those tracks that were released).

Particular highlights for me include a soaring nine-and-a-half minute version of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Immigration Man", a song which is still topical four decades later, a rollicking version of Still's solo hit, "Love the One You're With" and a hard driving seven minute version of Crosby's anthemic, "Almost Cut My Hair." But one truly interesting moment comes during the group version of Nash's virulent antiwar tune, "Military Madness," when the band gets the audience, who presumably were nearly all (then-young adult) baby boomers, to chant along as they repeat over and over "no more war!" It's ironic that Nixon ended the draft in 1974, and knowing they were now safe from being sent to die in Vietnam a vast majority of that same audience was about TO cut its hair and go to work for "the man," if they hadn't done so already.

There are many debates about when "the 60's" as a cultural phenomenon actually ended. Some say it was at Woodstock, some say Kent State. But an argument could be made that the forced resignation of Richard Nixon represented the real high water mark of "people power" that would not be seen again in this country. And as it so happened, just as Tricky Dick was galavanting off into the history books, four musicians who represented the political opposition to him as much as any did expended what remained of their group relevancy in one last blast of glory--the likes of which would also never be seen again in this country.


Bonus: Unfortunately, "Military Madness" is unavailable on You Tube, so here is the blistering version of "Ohio" instead



Extra Bonus: "And if you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with"


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

American Households are Getting Wrecked by Medical Debt


But don't just take my word for it, here's the "scoop" from Yahoo Finance:
When Deanne Overvold’s husband, Lee, started complaining of back pain late last year, she thought the painkillers his doctor prescribed would be the end of it. Five months later, a round of lab tests would reveal that Lee, 60, wasn’t just suffering from a backache — he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a fast-moving bone marrow cancer.

“You never realize the cost of catastrophic illness until you’re in it,” says Deanne, 60. “It’s rather devastating to go from being able to pay the bills to wondering how you’re going to take care of the next month."

In their 30 years of marriage, the Overvolds had each taken on traditional household duties — Lee worked and managed the finances, while she cared for their two sons at home. At the time of his diagnosis, Lee earned $120,000 a year working in sales for an energy company in their hometown, Fontana, Calif. The rigor of his treatment regimen forced him to leave his job on disability, which cut the family’s income by 40%. Very quickly, his hospital bills consumed their emergency savings and the couple began drawing on his retirement benefits much earlier than expected.

“At least five of his cancer specialists weren’t covered by our insurance,” Deanne says. “And one day the hospital would charge $300 for one drug and the next day it would cost $750. It’s like it just keeps coming and you can’t stop it.”

Lee died in August, less than six months after his diagnosis. Deanne was left with more than $100,000 in hospital and physicians’ bills, she estimates -- an amount far too inadequate for her savings to cover. Six years away from reaching full retirement age herself, she’s begun looking for full-time work for the first time in more than two decades. On the recommendation of a friend, she enlisted the help of a financial advisor who specializes in helping widows and widowers.

“We had planned to retire at 67 and we had everything planned out,” Deanne says. “Now, there is no plan.”
Sadly, "there is no plan," describes this country's collective response to this crisis. Despite all of the Obamacare wankery that the idiot Republicans shriek about as if it is the end of the world, the program hasn't even done what President Hopey-Changey promised it would: make health care affordable for all.

As the chart above from the article shows, health care debt is now the number one form of debt collected from Americans, trumping mortgages by an astounding ratio of 38-to-1. For that kind of cash, one would think that Americans would enjoy an immaculate level of medical care rather than be besotted with an Orwellian, broken system that works great for rich people and those lucky enough to have good insurance but is an absolute nightmare for everyone else:
Medical debt triggers more than 60% of bankruptcy filings in the U.S. According to a September Bankrate survey, 44% of consumers making less than $30,000 a year say they have more medical debt than emergency savings.
As I stated in my recent posts about my battle with cancer, I am one of those fortunate enough to have "good" health insurance. And yet, even for me the co-pay I have to make for every office visit or procedure has increased in the past decade from $10 to $30 dollars, which is just a TAD higher than the rate of inflation. Still not that big a deal for me, but for someone making less than $30,000 a year per the above citation, that's not an insubstantial amount of cash, especially if they have a chronic illness that requires frequent attention.

During my cancer battle, I have hit the so-called catastrophic limit of $5,000 for each of the past two years, meaning that only about $10,000 of the roughly $500,000 my care has cost to date has been out of pocket. Sounds good, right? But even if that person making less than $30,000 a year was fortunate enough to have the same level of coverage I do (unlikely), that still represents more than 16.7% of their yearly GROSS income. To make matters worse, according to the article the amount of out of pocket expenses patients will have to pay are expected to increase by about THREE TIMES the rate of inflation over the next ten years.

So why is this problem just continuing to get worse? I've written here before about the staggering pay received by health care CEOs, but what it really boils down to is that health care has been turned into a commodity in this country. But it's a commodity in which the "consumer" has no real choice when they need to purchase it. It's either buy the hideously overpriced product, or live with the pain and discomfort of their illness if not die from it.

To make matters worse, there is ZERO chance our hideously broken political system will address the issue. Republicans and Democrats will continue to scream back and forth about the non-solution of Obamacare, the debate over which will serve its purpose of being a gigantic distraction for the masses as the those who rake in the obscene profits off of their fellow citizens' sickness and misery laugh all the way to bank.


Bonus: "You cannot run...and you cannot hide...from the wreck we've made of our house...from the mess inside"


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Run Bernie Run!


Great news everybody! The one supposed political "socialist" U.S. politician of any stature, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, is running for president in 2016:
While Democrats quietly wait for Hillary Clinton to declare her presidential plans, Sanders has publicly made it clear that he plans to challenge the party’s heir apparent from the left, tapping into a growing wave of populism among liberal activists upset about issues like income inequality, climate change, and corporate cronyism. Already he’s making moves that threaten to complicate Clinton’s presumptive White House bid, popping up at events in Iowa and New Hampshire, on Meet the Press, and at progressive rallies like last month’s Climate Change March to build support for a grassroots “revolution” that he sees as a progressive response to the Tea Party movement.
Sure sounds good, doesn't it?

Oh, don't get too excited, because I'm about to tell you why this development isn't all it's cracked up to be. Personally, I would love a chance to vote for Bernie Sanders who, now that Russ Feingold and Dennis Kucinich have given up the good fight, is one of the very few remaining American politicians I have any respect for whatsoever. There's only one little problem--Bernie's got a snowball's chance in you-know-where of upending Queen Hillary as the Democratic nominee, and if all he's planning to do is tilt at that particular windmill then he might as well just forget about it and not waste everybody's time.

Not only will he not be the nominee, but Bernie knows WHY he could never be, even if he's if willing to blow smoke up his supporters' collective skirts about it. In the interview linked above, he discusses the Citizens United Supreme Court decision:
Q - Do you think it’s possible that Congress would pass a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United, or is that just a pipe dream?

A - Well, as you know, although it didn’t get much media coverage, we debated that issue a few weeks ago in the Senate, and every Republican voted against proceeding to a legislation that would overturn Citizens United. I think that the overwhelming majority of Americans—Republicans, Democrats, and independents—understand that Citizens United is a disastrous decision that is having a profoundly negative impact on American democracy. I believe that if we are capable of mounting the kind of strong grassroots effort that we need, which means getting state legislatures on board, city councils on board, millions of people on board, then yes, I do believe we can overturn it.
Really, Bernie? In order to overturn a Constitutional Amendment, as you yourself no doubt realize, it takes a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress to pass the amendment and then it has to be approved by three-fourths of all 50 state legislatures. In other words, IT ISN'T GOING TO HAPPEN, not by 2016, not bloody likely ever. No matter how unpopular the law may be or may become going forward, all the billionaires have to do is keep a small minority of the politicians in their pockets. In other words, child's play for the group of assholes who can flush just about any obstructionist's political career down the toilet while hardly breaking a sweat.

Bernie then gets even more daft (or willfully deceitful) when discussing the fact that billionaires give money to the Democrats as well as the Republicans:
Q - Democrats have also been able to get plenty of billionaires donating on their side. Does that present similar issues? Or is it a case of Good Billionaires vs. Bad Billionaires?

A - Let me respond in two ways. I think the media has said, “Both sides are getting money from the very rich.” The answer is yes and no. The truth is that the Republicans are receiving a lot more money from the very wealthy, from the Koch brothers alone—who I understand will put $400 million into this campaign—not to mention many other people. So it is not a question of equivalence. One side is getting far, far more from the very rich than the other side is.
Here Bernie drags out those great progressive boogeymen, the Koch Brothers, but fails to mention that President Hopey-Changey got at least as much support from Wall Street and the billionaires in 2012 as Romney did--and if he hadn't he wouldn't still be president. But there's another issue here, the 600-pound gorilla in the closet, if you will. Who you 'spose is going to going to get all of Barry O's wealthy donors THIS time around. Why, that would be Queen Hillary, herself, of course, which is why the 2016 Democratic nomination is already locked up tighter than fish's sphincter.

But there is a way, Bernie, that you could actually do some good during the upcoming presidential election fiasco--forget running for the Democratic nomination and go the third party route. Heck, I'm sure the Greens would love to have a nominee of your stature, and then you wouldn't have to be burdened with the necessity of getting enough signatures to get on the ballot in all 50 states.

Would you have any chance of winning that way? Heck no, but you could possibly steal enough votes away from Queen Hillary to deny her the presidency she's been so desperately lusting for ever since she agreed to stick with Bill after the cum stain on the blue dress became public knowledge.

But Bill, I hear Bernie asking, wouldn't that just hand the election to the Republicans? Quite possibly, and they'd likely also have a majority in both houses of Congress as well. Then, the American people could watch as they finally get what so many of them have so sorely wanted since the election of Bonzo Ray-gun in 1980. They get to watch as the party of fundamentalist whack jobs and cretinous troglodytes burns the fucking house down out of sheer spite. If there is one thing the disastrous final months of the Oval Office tenure of Chimpy Bush showed, it's that the elite assholes who pull the puppet strings aren't nearly as much in control of events as they think they are. And THEN, after the citizens consumers morons have had their collective noses rubbed in the ashes of the ruins they so willfully helped create, MAYBE the dumbfucks will be finally ready to hear your message, Bernie.

Well, perhaps not even then. But a lonely blogger can dream, can't he?


Bonus: "What did you do about it? You stunk up a park for almost a year!"

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Irish are Revolting


You can say THAT again...(bada BING!).

I wanted to highlight this story from Vice.com because it has a little bit of everything. Let's start with massive protests over IMF-inflicted austerity measures forcing people to pay through the nose for a commodity they literally cannot live without:
After years of passivity in the face of austerity, anger in Ireland has finally spilled over into public protest because people are going to have to start paying for their water.

Yes, Ireland is set to become one of the few countries in the world with mandatory water meters. This means its residents will be paying more than most Europeans do for water, whereas before it was paid for by taxes. It wouldn't be quite so outrageous, people say, if Ireland's water didn't routinely fail testing by the country’s environmental watchdog, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In some places, the water is so unsafe that drinking it will see you expelling it out of one of your orifices at high velocity for days. So people aren't too keen to pay for the privilege. Demonstrations are being attended by crowds who park their cars and bikes in front of proposed sites for water meters, and the police have been guarding workers who are installing the hated things.
Workers who are watching as their prosperity slowly slips away who can't afford to pay:
The charges—which will average out to an annual charge of €278 ($355) for a family of four—were a condition of the EU-IMF bailout to Ireland in 2010...The "What’s Left" tracker carried out by the Irish League of Credit Unions found that 1.8 million people in Ireland—close to half the population—have less than €100 ($127) left every month after paying their bills.
Oh, and you can toss in a little enriching the oligarchy at the expense of everyone else:
The contract to provide the expensive and mandatory process of metering was given to a company called Siteserv, despite Siemens offering to do the job for free. Everyone found this pretty baffling. Siteserv is owned by Irish media mogul Denis O’Brien, Ireland’s third-richest man. He has a history of dodgy dealings—a tribunal found "beyond doubt" that he had made payments to a former communications minister, who then influenced the bidding process for mobile phone licenses that O’Brien’s company, Esat Digifone, then purchased. So he's also pretty unpopular, and the assumption is that the meters will further enrich him.
And finally, like a cherry on a shit sundae, the slow collapse of aging infrastructure:
Many Irish people have to boil their water before they drink it so it doesn't make them ill. For those, Irish Water has promised a whopping 50 percent discount for the first three months, which obviously hasn't done much to silence the outrage.

Oh, and almost half of water in Ireland is wasted in transit as it leaks out of pipes.
Goddam, Ireland, sounds like you've got a Downward Spiral perfect storm on your hands.


Bonus: "No mercy, no quarter...they'll pay for their sins"