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"

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

No One Wants to Host the Olympic Games Anymore

image: the ruins of the former Olympic Village, Athens, Greece

File under: Nobody Could Have Predicted.
Who's going to host the Winter Olympic Games in 2022? We're down to two finalists and this is all so exciting!

Exciting, that is, until you find out the two finalists are the last ones standing because no other city in the world wants to host the games.

Oslo, Norway announced yesterday that it was dropping its bid to host the 2022 Winter Games. Oslo was the third city — after Krakow, Poland and Stockholm, Sweden — to submit a bid and later cancel it after either public opposition or an inability to secure the combination of public and private funding necessary to stage the event. St. Mortiz, Switzerland and Munich, Germany both considered submitting bids, but the people of those cities voted against it in referenda.

So instead of taking place in a snowy, mountainous country packed with some of the world's greatest winter athletes and ranked No. 1 on the United Nation's Human Development Index, the games will be held in either Almaty, Kazakhstan or Beijing, China — two nations known for their poor records on human rights, free speech, and corruption. Beijing doesn't even have ski mountains.
Gee, and might there be another reason so many bidders are pulling out?
How we got here is pretty simple: Hosting the games has become such a massive, expensive, and unpopular chore that it's getting harder to convince anybody to do it.

Who really wants to deal with the massively unpopular International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Switzerland-based governing body that's notorious for its corruption, general awfulness, and insistence on being treated like royalty through the bidding and hosting process? Andrew Jennings of the Nation called its 100-or-so members "ideal candidates for a perp walk" and "a foul band reeking of corruption" that's overseen an Olympic bidding process that functions like an elaborate, bribe-tainted courting ritual.
So, with an utterly corrupt bidding process, potential bidders being financially strapped, voters in (still nominally democratic) countries firmly opposed to the huge costs involved, who among the world community might still be interested in hosting the Olympics?
...it's possible that we're moving toward a state of Olympic affairs in which the most eager bidders and biggest spenders are autocratic and oligarchic nations. For them, the Olympics offers a convenient way for the wealthy to further enrich themselves, for the powerful to consolidate their power, and for governments and leaders to parade their influence and relevance in front of their own citizens, and the world.
Berlin 1936 anyone...anyone? That worked out pretty well as I recall in tamping down Germany's growing lust for another major war.

But don't worry, Olympics fans, there is at least ONE major world capital interesting in hosting the 2024 Summer Games:
The effort to bring the 2024 Olympics to the Washington, D.C. region took another big step Thursday.

Local nonprofit DC 2024 launched its public website around 8 a.m. The site is one of the first public efforts to build widespread support for the Olympics bid.

"Today's announcement that a leadership team has been formed for Washington 2024 means that our region's bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic games has kicked into full gear," said Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette. "...We agree with Washington 2024 that this is an historic opportunity for our region to be part of the Olympic Movement."
That's right folks, it's YOUR imperial capital! Which, come to think of it, fits the definition quite well of an oligarchic city looking for "a convenient way for the wealthy to further enrich themselves, for the powerful to consolidate their power, and for (the) government and leader to parade their influence and relevance in front of their own citizens, and the world."

I really can't wait.

Bonus: Sorry, Lola, you can't run fast enough to escape this fiasco

Monday, October 6, 2014

The (Almost) $18 Trillion Question: Does it Really Matter?

Happy New (Fiscal) Year!

Yep--the calendar on the wall may still say it's 2014, but to the friendly folks who run YOUR United States Government, Fiscal Year 2015 is already upon us. Break out the party favors and the champagne, we gots lots to celebrate. Or maybe not.

Actually, I figured this would be a good time to resurrect one of my old hobbies, namely checking in with the federal government's own Debt to the Penny website and see how our national indebtedness situation is doing. Hmmm, not so well actually. As of the beginning of the new fiscal year, America now has an imbalance of $17.875 trillion, around $1.1 trillion more than it owed exactly one year ago.

But does it really matter?

While it is true that the past few years the annual federal deficit has fallen by about one-third from where it stood during the depths of the financial crisis, the government is still borrowing more than twice as much every year as it did in ANY year prior to FY-2009. In fact, since 10/1/2008, the national debt has risen by almost $8 trillion, so even with another two years of no increase in the annual deficit we'll still have managed to double the total amount of the national debt in just eight years (or the length of Obama's presidency) and THAT comes after we had already doubled the national debt during Bush's presidency.

But does it really matter?

Another interesting factoid that comes right from Debt to the Penny is who holds our debt. This is divided into two categories. The first is Intragovernmental Holdings, which is defined thusly:
Intragovernmental Holdings are Government Account Series securities held by Government trust funds, revolving funds, and special funds; and Federal Financing Bank securities. A small amount of marketable securities are held by government accounts.
In other words, largely Social Security. The second is so-called Public Debt:
The Debt Held by the Public is all federal debt held by individuals, corporations, state or local governments, Federal Reserve Banks, foreign governments, and other entities outside the United States Government...
The reason I bring up the difference is that there is something quite interesting about the additional $8 trillion we've racked up since 2008--namely, it has nearly all accumulated in that second category. Whereas the two types of federal debt were nearly even six years ago, Public Debt now exceeds Intergovernmental Holdings by approximately $7.7 trillion.

So why is that important? Well, consider for a moment who it is buying all this federal debt. According to National Priorities.org, approximately 46% of all U.S. debt, amounting to about $8.2 trillion or two-thirds of all Public Debt, is held by either the Federal Reserve or "International Investors," i.e. the central banks of other nations.

Collectively, the world's central banks are literally propping up the finances of the USG, and without that support the entire house of cards would instantly come crashing down. Yet the U.S. blithely continues to "borrow" more than a trillion dollars each year, even as it shakes a scolding finger at "deadbeat" nations such as Argentina.

But does it really matter?

I keep asking that question because many have predicted that America was going to strangle itself with debt--that borrowing a trillion plus dollars each year is unsustainable. Heck, I'll admit I've said it myself plenty of times. Never would I have believed four or five years ago that this country could keep borrowing at such a frantic rate and, not coincidentally, manage to keep interest rates at effectively zero without the whole thing blowing up on us long before now.

And yet, somehow it hasn't. Why? Well, if I knew the answer to that one, I'd be a one-percenter's one-percenter and wouldn't just be some obscure blogger sitting on his basement couch, screaming into the wilderness.

So does it matter? I'm going to have to throw up my hands and say, no, I guess it really doesn't.

Until the day finally comes when it does.

Bonus: "Fuck you, pay me"

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Waving the Flag While Circling the Bowl

Has anyone else noticed just how obnoxious flag-waving has become in America these past few years? Plastering flags everywhere first became a huge fad right after 9/11, which should not have been unexpected under the circumstances. Those were the days when it suddenly became impossible to spot a politician anywhere out in public who wasn't sporting a flag pin on their lapel, and in which lots of people actually bothered to learn the words to the Star Spangled Banner so they wouldn't have to fake-lip sync it anymore. Even the Pledge of Allegiance and God Bless America came back into vogue, and to hell with them Atheist types if they didn't like the religious overtones of those two archaic gestures from times gone by.

The quest to make anything and everything seem patriotic got so ridiculous that the lyric "Some folks are born, made to wave the flag" from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Fortunate Son" and the refrain from "American Woman" by the Guess Who were used in patriotic-themed commercials DESPITE both songs being anthems of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Such overt public expressions cooled somewhat a few years later as the Iraq quagmire deepened and then the Bush economy finally imploded. One might have then thought that with the American military having to again ignominiously pull out of yet another guerrilla war and unpopular foreign occupation, that flag waving gestures and other expressions of mindless patriotism would have gone completely out of style, but that is not what's happened. In fact, it seems to be getting worse than ever.

One habit of your average American consumer that I personally have not been able to break is watching professional and college athletics, particularly football and baseball. Now, it's a well known fact that sports fans and athletes tend to be more conservative than your average American. The days when the likes of Muhammad Ali and pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee openly questioned the status quo are long over. Your modern athlete is far more interested in getting endorsement deals than promoting social justice.

But for some reason, as our national malaise has slowly worsened during the tenure of President Hopey-Changey, superficial patriotism is actually on the rise, especially in the sporting world. These days, it is not enough to merely have the National Anthem sung prior to an NFL game, but it must be accompanied by a field-sized flag held up by dozens of service members while a formation of fighter jets buzz the stadium (all at taxpayer expense, no doubt). Meanwhile, the singing of God Bless America has invaded baseball's 7th inning stretch along with countless in-game tributes to "the troops." Some teams like the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds even go so far as to wear "camouflage" uniforms on occasion. I'm so old that I recall a time back when I served during the dark ages (the 1980s) that military people would get greatly offended at seeing any civilian wearing any outfit that remotely resembled "THE uniform." Not anymore, apparently.

Nevermind too, that unlike in previous generations none of the young millionaires on the field are ever going to be at risk of having to actually go fight in America's countless imperial wars. Nope, no modern day Ted Williams will ever lose four of his prime playing years while in uniform. Heck, the one NFL player who put his money where the league's supposedly patriotic mouth is and volunteered after 9/11 managed to get himself killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Other players may call Pat Tillman a hero, but none of them have seen fit to emulate his example (the volunteering part, not getting killed that is).

Then, just when it seemed there was no limit to how far a sports team (and the apparel companies who dress them) could go with their mindless military fetishism, the Northwestern University football team came up with the abomination pictured above. Nope, I didn't photoshop that picture, that's a (supposed) Northwestern player wearing a flag-themed uniform splattered with fake blood. Incredibly, that uniform was supposedly worn to help raise funds for the Wounded Warriors project, which is kind of like a cancer charity selling tee-shirts depicting a full blown metastatic tumor.

Just as disgusting is that the uniform in question replaced the players' names with the words representing seven supposed "core values," to include: courage, duty, integrity, honor, country, service and commitment. None of which, I might add, have anything whatsoever to do with the disgusting and hypocritical world of big time college football.

In fact, it's gotten to the point where when I see any one of those seven terms used in the media, or other words such as "freedom" or "liberty" I automatically assume they are being used perversely in a way diametrically opposed to their true meaning. This is what happens when an empire teeters on the brink of collapse. Instead of recognizing what's really happening and trying to stave off catastrophe, the vast majority of its denizens shut their eyes and wave their flags harder and harder as if the resulting breeze will somehow cast away the boogeyman at the door.

Bonus: "I don't need your war machines...I don't need your ghetto scenes"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Happens When Big Corporations Become Immune to Bad Publicity?

Poor Tracy Morgan. Many working class people in America have already been figuratively run over by the predatory practices of big corporations like Walmart, that ever since the go-go 1980s have been driving down their wages and offshoring good paying jobs even while conning them with "low prices" they have had to pay for in so many ways they are unable to see. Morgan, however, had the misfortune of getting literally run over by a Walmart, specifically by an 18-wheeler piloted by a company driver who'd apparently been no-dosing it for about 24 hours.

Given that Morgan is a popular entertainer with a large fan base, you'd have thought that the smart thing for Walmart to do would be to quietly settle the civil suit filed by Morgan and the family of his companion who was killed in the crash. Well, you thought wrong, Natch:
Walmart's attorneys said yesterday in a court filing that it doesn't owe Morgan and his fellow passengers anything because they should have protected themselves by buckling up. The company further denied any responsibility for how long the truck driver, who Morgan's lawyers claim was sleep-deprived at the time of the accident, had been awake.
Understandably outraged, as any right-thinking person should be, Morgan responded:
"After I heard what Walmart said in court, I felt I had to speak out. I can't believe Walmart is blaming me for an accident that they caused. My friends and I were doing nothing wrong. I want to thank my fans for sticking with me during this difficult time."
Morgan didn't call for his fans to boycott Walmart, but it's probably just as well that he didn't. Citizens Consumers Idiots in this country have become so inured to corporate malfeasance that even having one of their favorite entertainers struck down like road kill likely wouldn't be enough to get them to change their shopping habits. Then you have the morons who, every time someone calls for a boycott in a situation like this, immediately rally to the company's side and call for an anti-boycott.

There was a time not all that long ago when America had a fairly aggressive Fourth Estate which investigated corporate malfeasance, and when caught the companies in question instantly scrambled to do everything they could to at least give the appearance that they were setting things right. In recent years, of course, the so-called "free press" has been taken over by a few giant conglomerates, so it takes some really spectacular fuckups like poisoning half the Gulf of Mexico or having a speed-addicted truck driver crush a teevee star under his wheels to get the media to pay any attention at all.

And yet...British Petroleum continues to do business in the United States as if nothing ever happened off the coast of Louisiana, and Walmart continues to rake in massive profits despite suffering one public relations black eye after another. Truly, we have reached the point where there is no longer any real incentive for big corporations--who have had their so-called "personhood" etched in stone by the Supreme Court--to act as "good citizens."

The Ayn Rand-following, knucklehead libertarians have expended so much energy convincing their fellow citizens consumers idiots that big government is a threat to them. It isn't until they end up like Tracy Morgan, roadkill splattered all over the pavement, that they begin to realize that big business is every bit as responsible for creating our onrushing 21st century dystopia as any NSA spook.

And by then it's too damn late.

Bonus: A very special tune dedicated to Walmart

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Six More Years!

Despite its proximity to the nation's power center, the Commonwealth of Virginia is actually something of a political backwater. The federal freakshow in Washington seems to suck all the air out the state's politics, and as a result its "leaders" are largely ignored, except when they engage in some spectacular assholery (I'm looking at YOU, Erc Cantor, George "Macaca" Allen and Governor "Jailbird" McDonnell). Though the Old Dominion is known for the incredible array of Presidents who hailed from the state in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the days when dinosaurs like Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe walked the land are long over. The last national politician of any real stature to hail from Virginia was that cretinous old liberal interventionist, Woodrow Wilson, and he hightailed it to New Jersey long before his political career began.

In other words, Virginia politicians have to work extra hard to get noticed at the national level, so when one of them starts to get the stirrings in his loins aspiring to higher office it might just be worth paying attention to the man. I'm referring, of course, to our illustrious senior Senator, Mark Warner, aka "the Senate's richest man." Warner, you may recall, or likely not if you don't live here, first won his senate seat in 2008. Running alongside the "commie socialist Nazi" Obama he manage to score 65% of the vote, sweeping most of the Commonwealth's counties in the process except for a few Appalachian backwaters in southwest corner of the state. Warner's stature a rare popular southern Democrat secured him a spot delivering the keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention that, of course, nominated Obama.

Given that he remains the most popular politician in Virginia, that Virginia's former Republican governor was just convicted in a tawdry corruption scandal and that the GOP is basically conceding the race by putting up a lame Washington insider to run against him, you'd think Warner would be content to cruise effortlessly to his second term. But that's not what's happening.

Starting right after Labor Day, Warner's campaign has been flooding the airwaves with teevee ads. That's not so unusual in and of itself, except for the content of those particular ads. Instead of touting his record in supporting Democratic initiatives, Warner has been trumpeting his efforts at "deficit reduction" (read: screwing benefits for the middle and working classes) and also just how great he is at "crossing the aisle" and working with Republicans. Never mind that most elected Republicans these days are either bug fuck crazy, or have to act that way to appease their constituents. Nope, in Senator Warner's estimation, it's his own enfeebled party that has a bad case of the cooties. Heck, whenever he sees Harry Reid coming down the sidewalk towards him, Senator Warner makes sure he crosses the street lest he be accused of hanging out with his own Majority Leader.

So what's really going on here, anyway? Warner has to know that such a campaign is perfectly designed to turn off his liberal and progressive supporters. So why is he doing it?

Because, dear friends, Senator Mark Warner is not really running for 2014 but for 2016. You see, when Hillary Clinton accepts her belated coronation from an ungrateful Democratic Party that should have bowed to her supreme highness in 2008, she's going to need a running mate to "balance" her ticket. And who better to do that than a "moderate" southern senator who routinely wins over 60% of the vote and will work hard to ensure the vital "purple" swing state of Virginia stays in the Democratic column.

But first, in order to ensure he gets queen Hillary's blessing, prince Warner must ensure he scores that plus-60% election victory once again. So his political advisers, cynical bunch that they no doubt are, are betting that their strategy will win more votes among the both disaffected Republicans and independent librul hating yokels than they will lose by turning off his base voters, who, after all, will have no other choice (other than staying home).

Warner's campaign also fits hand-in-glove with the way Hillary has been positioning herself by running to right of Obama, blasting the president for not having a more belligerent foreign policy. Never mind that the warmongering policies she endorsed as Madame Secretary effectively destroyed the nation-state of Libya and helped lead to the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. More guns, more bombs, more drones, more killing, more state inflicted terrorism--THAT'S what the Middle East really needs.

And you know what? Unless the economy completely craters during lame duck Obama's final two years in office, it's going to work. Queen Hillary will be coronated on January 20, 2017, and there is a very good chance that the former richest senator, who wants to slash any sort of program that helps anyone who isn't a telecom mogul like he is, will be standing by her side, one heartbeat from the top job. And thus will America get six MORE grueling years of what it has been getting ever since the Supremes elevated court jester Bush to the throne nearly 14 years ago.

May (you own favorite deity) help us all.

Bonus: Here's fellow Virginian David Lowery and his band Cracker (and the Drive by Truckers' Patterson Hood) with a little ditty that may or may not (but probably doesn't) apply to Hillary and Warner

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Half Million Dollars Could Save Your Life

There's a really dumb old adage that goes something like, "a liberal is really just a conservative who's never been mugged." I'm going to flip that little bit of "logic" on it's head by saying, "a conservative is really just a liberal who has never faced a life-threatening accident or illness sans good health insurance."

One thing I've been quite thankful for during my battle with cancer is that I at least have good health insurance and didn't face the additional awful stress of worrying about being financially ruined by the disease. In fact, given how close run this thing was (and still is, frankly) that would likely have been the literal death of me. Though I've lost track of the precise amount, to date the total cost of my care the past two years has easily topped $500,000. One shot alone that accompanied each of my twelve chemotherapy treatments and is designed to help regenerate white blood cells cost $10,000 apiece (yeah, HOL-LEE SHIT is exactly what I thought, too). How many people do you know that have that kind of cash sitting around in their rainy day fund? Yeah, I don't know many either.

It happens so often these days that you hear of someone who has cancer for whom their friends and family have put together a big charity drive that we don't even think anymore about how stressful it must be for the patient. One of the best gags on the otherwise darkly brilliant teevee show, Breaking Bad, even has Walt laundering his drug money through a charitable website set up by his son.

Since I do have good health insurance, I make a point whenever I am discussing my disease with someone of mentioning this cost and how lucky I've been not to have been bankrupted by my ailment. It's my little way of trying to raise awareness of our totally broken health care system without being overbearing about it or starting an argument (though I do notice that as a cancer patient I get far more deference when raising controversial topics than I used to get before I got sick). Sadly, it seems to go way over most people's heads, though I did get one conservative coworker of mine to admit that MAYBE everyone ought to at least be entitled to catastrophic coverage (though who would determine exactly what constitutes a "catastrophic" condition he didn't say).

Had I not had the insurance, I would have faced two stark choices when I was diagnosed: pay up or die. And considering how unlikely my survival was at the start (pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of less than 10%), I might well have chosen the latter to spare my wife from losing the entire nest egg we have built up over the last 20 years. Had we had children, the choices would have been even bleaker--them losing their father versus the loss of any chance that their parents could have helped provide for their future. Strictly on an actuarial basis, treating my cancer made no sense whatsoever.

So why is it exactly that real national health care was a non-starter from the get-go, and how exactly did we end up with an Obamacare abomination that has done little to alleviate the problem? Because, quite simply, there is virtually no empathy left in American politics these days. The vast majority of the people who vote in this country have divided themselves up into two tribes: one who couldn't give a shit about the less fortunate, and one who turns a total blind eye to any injustice just so long as it is being perpetrated by politicians who have a little "D" after their names when they appear on teevee.

But there is one little way that I take solace in all of this. Up until two years ago, I used to joke that being in such good health my whole adult life meant that my health insurance carrier was making out like a bandit on me. As it turned out, however, the joke was on them.

Bonus: "Every life comes with a death sentence"