Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shockingly, Rick Perry Seems to Get One Right


First all let me just say this about Rick Perry, he is the absolute worst form of American politician—a faux populist who uses inflammatory rhetoric to mask his unwavering obedience to his corporate masters. This is a man who holds public prayer meetings in response to a massive drought while loudly rejecting the scientific evidence supporting global warming. The fact that this charlatan so quickly and easily shot to the top of the polls among the Republican presidential candidates not only shows how bereft that party is of any form of leadership, but demonstrates just how utterly broken our entire political system is in the face of the most dire long term crisis this country has ever faced.

That said; this past weekend Slick Rick somehow managed to make what has perhaps been the most truthful statement to come out of any of the candidates’ mouths during this entire sorry ass campaign. Here is CBS News with the details:
Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry continued his attack on Social Security over the weekend, calling it a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie" to younger Americans who should not expect to get back their contributions upon retirement.

"It is a Ponzi scheme for these young people. The idea that they're working and paying into Social Security today, that the current program is going to be there for them, is a lie," Perry said, according to the Houston Chronicle.

"It is a monstrous lie on this generation, and we can't do that to them," Perry told a crowd a The Vine Coffeehouse in Ottumwa, Iowa.
I gotta admit, I almost dropped my cup of coffee right into my lap when I read this, for never in a million years would I have expected any of the presidential candidates, especially Rick Perry, to say a set of words in the same order as they might have come out of my own mouth. The fact is that, superficially at least, Rick Perry is absolutely right about Social Security as currently constituted being a gigantic Ponzi scheme in which no one under the age of about 50 will ever likely see a dime from the program despite all of the money they have paid into it.

In my July 13th blog post “Why We’re Screwed (Part 3), The Social Trust Fund is a Lie,” I wrote the following:
In effect, the U.S. Government has been filling up the (Social Security) Trust Fund with IOUs that can only be cashed in at the cost of increasing the deficit. It’s like raiding your son’s piggy bank to buy cigarettes and leaving a promissory note. Do it often enough and there’s no cash left in there, and your son will be mighty disappointed when he tries to go buy that new toy he really wants.

Now you know why the politicos are suddenly so hot to trot to slash Social Security benefits. The program has gone from being a net plus, whereby they could use its surpluses to mask the size of the deficit, to being a net drain that is now directly increasing the deficit.
Don't worry, despite the truth about the trust fund I’m not going to let Little Ricky off the hook that easily. His words as they are phrased above might be the stuff of fantastic wet dreams for hard core libertarian types everywhere, but they leave unanswered one little nagging question: what exactly does the esteemed Governor Perry plan to do about the many millions of this nation’s senior citizens who currently depend on Social Security benefits to keep them alive?

What’cha gonna do, Rick? Throw Grandma and all of her elderly friends in the nursing home out on the street to freeze to death? I mean, wasn’t it you and your fellow Tea Party travelers who just last year were running around screaming, “Death Panels!!!” during the debate over Obama’s health care plan? Who’s setting up the death panels now, huh Ricky?

Let’s just be clear about one thing. Rick Perry isn’t slamming Social Security because he gives a flying fuck about the young people who will never be able to collect it. He’s doing so because he’s a hand puppet of the same wealthy elites who have been adamantly opposed to Social Security ever since the program was created back during the New Deal era. You see, prior to the 1930s, the vast majority of Americans were either filthy rich or dirt poor. There wasn’t much of a middle class to speak of, and that’s the just way the elites liked it.

But then the greedy fuckers went and crashed the global economy to the point where totalitarian revolutions started breaking out in places like Germany and Spain. By creating Social Security and other social welfare programs to blunt the worst effects of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt saved their sorry asses from the wrath of the masses, and all he got in return was spitefulness and hatred from his own class that has lasted to this very day. For most of that time they had to suck it up and keep quiet, but during the past 30 years they have figured out how to use slick politicians like Rick Perry to get the working and middle classes to vote against their own economic interests.

The real flaw with Social Security as designed, unfortunately, was the assumption that infinite economic growth in a finite world was possible. Now that we are rapidly reaching the point where the economy can no longer continue to expand due to natural limits, the program is doomed along with the rest of the welfare state. By robbing the Social Security “trust fund” to pay other government debts, all the politicos did was hasten the eventual day of its demise.

What this country really needs is leader who is willing to be honest about the need to power down our economy in a voluntary and orderly manner before we hit the brick wall of peak oil and resource depletion. Sadly, we are not likely to ever hear such words uttered by a national politician, and certainly not by the likes of the odious Rick Perry.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Attention Whore Nation

Image: Los Angeles Unified Police Officer Jeff Stenroos

In last Friday’s post, I wrote about how politics in our celebrity-obsessed culture has devolved to the point where fame is the only real qualification remaining for high political office. In the same post, I added:
What it really comes down to is that in modern America, with an imploding economy rapidly eroding the conventional avenues of upward mobility for the working and middle classes, the one remaining route to riches is to become famous. It no longer matters what you become famous or infamous for (just so long as you avoid serious prison time), only that you get people to pay attention to you.
So imagine, if you will, being a frustrated young man with a highly stressful job that doesn’t pay all that well…perhaps you’re a cop working for a big city school district. It’s a steady gig, but you have to put up with a lot of guff from the students and even if you make Sergeant someday it’s not like you’ll be living on easy street or anything. What can you do to get ahead and break out of your hopeless rut? I know, fake your own shooting!

Sound incredible? Well, it actually happened earlier this year out in California, as reported on Friday by the Los Angeles Daily News:
A Los Angeles Unified police officer fabricated a story about being shot while patrolling near El Camino Real High School last January for financial gain and to cast himself as a hero, a prosecutor said Friday.

During opening day in his non-jury trial, Jeff Stenroos was branded as a serial liar who told fellow officers he'd been shot once while wearing a bulletproof vest.

The Jan. 19 incident triggered a 10-hour, $361,000 manhunt in which an eight-square-mile area was cordoned off and nine schools were locked down.

"The evidence will show that the shooting was staged. There was no gunshot, there was no actual shooting," said prosecutor Paul M. Nunez.

Stenroos of Santa Clarita was indicted in May on charges of filing a false police report, preparing false documentary evidence, altering evidence, insurance fraud and workers' compensation fraud -- all felonies -- and a misdemeanor of falsely reporting an emergency.

He faces nearly six years in prison if convicted.

"Jeff Stenroos placed his desire for money and being a hero above the safety of the children he was sworn to protect," Nunez told Superior Court Judge Richard H. Kirschner, who is trying the case without a jury.
Wow. Just think of all the good things that would have come Officer Stenroos’s way had he nefarious scheme actually worked. “Hero Cop Shot While Saving Students from Rampaging Marauder,” the headlines would have read. Certainly, Fox News would have been there in his hospital room to interview him about his brave heroics (and, not incidentally, insinuate how horribly unsafe all those librul-enclave big cities are). Maybe there would have been a book contract. Heck, this being LA, perhaps the story could be made into a movie-of-the–week. Cause everybody in this town knows that once you have your own publicity agent working for you, the sky is literally the limit.

What really strikes me about this case is just how terribly desperate Stenroos must have been to have even tried his scheme in the first place. From the same article, here is the testimony that sunk him:
Woodland Hills resident Michael Brodey testified that he happened upon Stenroos about 9:30 a.m. Jan. 19, when he found the officer "writhing" in the street next to his patrol car, apparently suffering from with a bullet wound his chest.

Brodey said he used the patrol car radio to make an "officer down" call and noticed a .45 handgun and shell casing on the floor under the steering wheel.

"He said he couldn't talk and was having trouble breathing," Brodey recalled. "I made the assumption he had been shot but I didn't see any blood."
Ummm…that might not be the dumbest thing I’ve ever read, but it is certainly high on the list. Really, it sounds like the sort of improbably wild idea that might have been cooked up by one of the high school students Stenroos was supposed to be protecting rather than that of a full grown, functioning adult. The idea that this delusional human was carrying firearms while patrolling the local schoolyards ought to send chills down the spine of any parent of a public school student in Los Angeles.

Yes, for all that you have done, Los Angeles Unified Police Officer Jeff Stenroos, to prove just how low one can really sink in an attempt to achieve fame and fortune in modern day America, I hereby proclaim you to be a Real Attention Whore of Genius.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Half of All Americans Could be Obese by 2030


One of the primary purposes of this blog is analyze America’s near term future by examining current trends and extrapolating them forward. The premise is that the key turning point was the financial crash of 2008, which ushered in the initial stages of what author James Kunstler calls, The Long Emergency. My personal view is that The Long Emergency is going to take about a generation to play out, in other words until sometime in the late 2020s.

So it was with interest that I read a recent article in Business & Health about obesity in America and the likelihood that if current trends continue, half of all Americans could be obese by the year 2030—in other words right around the time that The Long Emergency is winding down. Here is a quote:
America is getting fatter: Half of all men and women in the United States could be obese in 20 years, according to a study by the Journal Lancet and reported by the Los Angeles Times. This could lead to 65 million more Americans being classified as obese.

Between 2007 and 2008, 32 percent of men were obese in the United States, while 35 percent of women hit the obesity benchmark. Using 20 years of Body Mass Index data, the researchers note that approximately 50 percent of men could reach obesity and between 45 and 52 percent of women could reach that point.
So what might all of this have to do with economic collapse? The article goes on to state:
What could the rise in obesity mean? An increase in obesity could mean 8 million more cases of diabetes, 500,000-plus cases of cancer and 6.8 million cases of coronary heart disease in the U.S., the Times reports.

The ever-expanding waistlines could lead to higher healthcare costs, the study notes.
In my August 3rd blog post, “Spending on Medicare and Medicaid is Absolutely Out of Control,” I cited a recent USA Today article showing that annual Medicare and Medicaid costs have exploded by over $200 billion in just the past three years, and at their current rate of increase would top $2 trillion by 2021, or almost 100% of what the federal government took in from taxes this past year. With this article, we can clearly see that the obesity epidemic is one of the primary factors pushing up health care costs at such a rapid rate.

Putting aside for a moment the individual lifestyle choices that cause so many people to become obese, I think it is actually more illustrative to examine from a big picture standpoint WHY this is happening. Quite simply, it is because fat and sick people are more profitable to corporate America than are healthy ones.

Cheaply produced prepackaged food contains immense amounts of corn syrup and other fattening ingredients produced by agribusiness giants like Monsanto that are immensely profitable. Mega fast food chains like McDonalds, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s whole business model revolves around selling convenience (and hence obesity) to the public. As for the health care industry (which author Charles Hugh Smith refers to as the "sick care" industry), it makes far more money by treating the people who eat the garbage produced by the food industry than it does those who try to stay healthy.

I often tell people that if you want to know why anything in American society is the way it is, particularly if it’s screwed up in some way, you need look no further than who is getting paid. Sure, the government has its silly little ineffectual campaigns encouraging people to eat healthy and to exercise. In fact, this issue seems to be of particular interest to our current First Lady.

But such messages are then completely drowned out by the 24/7 advertising barrage on teevee relentlessly pounding corporate America’s message that it is better to eat and consume all you can today and tomorrow be damned. Oh, and we’ll also sell you the medications that help deaden the unpleasant side affects of all that overconsumption. Plop, plop; fizz, fizz.

I suspect, however, that America will NOT in fact see the day when half of its citizens become obese. As the old saying goes, if a trend appears to be unsustainable, it probably is. The advent of peak oil, closely followed by peak phosphorous, means the impending end of the “Green Revolution” in modern industrial agriculture that enabled world population to double since the 1960s but conversely was a major contributor to the bloating of America’s waistlines. The likely sharp decline in agriculture production over the next two decades means that rather than obesity, by 2030 many Americans are instead going to be worried about where their next meal is coming from.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Casino Massacre in Monterrey Shows that the Effects of the Failed War on Drugs in Mexico are Spreading


Most Americans don’t realize it, but there is a full-scale war going on just across our southern border. The latest atrocity was the gasoline bombing of a casino in Monterrey last week that killed at least 52 people. Like much of Mexico’s recent catastrophic drug-related violence, the attack appeared to make little sense. Sadly, as reported by Antiwar.com, American taxpayers are underwriting this awful conflagration:
The attack comes as the New York Times reports yet more American involvement in the Mexican government’s military attack on drugs. The US has allowed Mexican police to launch raids into Mexico from US side of the border, but says it doesn’t participate.

The US often has drug suspects extradited to stand trial from across the Americas as part of its various deals with Colombia and Mexico, and the Times also recently revealed that the CIA, DEA, and their contractors were operating inside Mexico.

These efforts have only served to ramp up the violence; some 42,000 people have been killed since the $1.4 billion Mérida Initiative began in 2006. Mérida funds the Mexican government to stop the flow of drugs into the United States, the Americas’ primary illicit-drug consumer.
As reported by Reuters, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is finally beginning to lose patience with the American-funded effort:
Lashing out at corrupt officials in Mexico and "insatiable" U.S. demand for drugs for fomenting the violence, Calderon urged Congress to stamp out drug consumption and stop illegal trafficking of weapons across the border into Mexico.

"We're neighbors, we're allies, we're friends, but you are also responsible," a somber and angry Calderon said to the United States in a speech after meeting his security advisers.
So why, after five years and tens of thousands of his own citizens being butchered is this American stooge finally beginning to get his dander up? Reuters goes on to report:
The casino attack is particularly bitter for Calderon because the victims were mainly well-to-do civilians with no link to the conflict, in an area that has traditionally been a electoral stronghold for the business-friendly PAN.

Monterrey, which lies about 230 km (140 miles) from the Texas border, is a relatively wealthy city of about 4 million people and is home to some of Mexico's biggest companies. It was for many years seen as a model of economic development but it has been ravaged by the drugs war over the past two years.

When it was merely poor and working class Mexicans being slaughtered on the streets of Juarez, as had primarily been the case to date, President Calderon was happy to take all that American largess despite the awful human cost of waging the War on Drugs. But as soon as the violence hits home and begins to affect his own well-to-do supporters, suddenly he finds his backbone and starts criticizing the U.S. policy.

It is absolutely pathetic that so many Americans insist upon blindly waving the flag and proclaiming that they live in The Greatest Country in the World, while their government engages in such despicable activity right on their own doorstep. It’s also telling that during the recent federal debt ceiling debacle none of the politicos suggested that maybe, just maybe, this counterproductive policy should be ended once and for all. Instead, funds that go to help average people continue to be on the chopping block, while money earmarked for more violence and destruction remains untouchable. It’s just another sad example of an empire in terminal decline, and for the Mexican people caught in the crossfire its demise can't come soon enough.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

NOVA Irene Update


Well, I don't particularly hate Irene. Locally, she's been nothing more than a mere annoyance. We've had light-to-moderate rainfall for about 10 hours now with an occasional wind gust. If you hadn't turned on a teevee for the past week, you might be inclined to think that it was merely another stormy night.

Looks like the East Coast and particularly New York City dodged The Big One this time around, but that's not to say there won't be a lot of unpleasantness for the coastal communities. Weird week in these parts, with first the Earthquake and then the hurricane. All told, it could have been a LOT worse.

I hope everyone stays safe, and I'll be resuming normal blogging tomorrow.

A Hard Rain’s-a-Gonna Fall


Like everyone else who lives on the East Coast, I am bracing myself for the impact from Hurricane Irene. Fortunately, where I live in Northern Virginia is well inland and not even near the tidal Potomac River. The last time we went through this was with Hurricane Isabel in 2003. That time we lost power for a day-and-a-half at my place and had to boil water for a few days after that. Isabel, however, tracked much farther inland than this storm, which is looking to severely impact the coastline from the Carolinas northward. Though initially more powerful, Isabel was also a much smaller storm. Irene is monster-sized.

Back in 1999, I happened to be on a work trip down in Georgia when Hurricane Floyd roared up the East Coast. That time I had the unfortunate experience of getting caught up in the largest civilian evacuation in U.S. history as much of the state of Florida bugged out before that monstrous storm, only to have it make a last minute turn and slam into the Carolinas instead. Such is a reminder that, even with all of our modern forecasting technology, these things still have quite an element of chance to them. For me it was an awful 14-hour drive to find a hotel room in North Carolina, only to wake up the next day with the storm bearing down on me anyway.

I hope everyone within the path of this monster stays safe. Don’t take any foolish chances out there this weekend. Subject to the power going out or the Internet going down, I’ll report back in with the effects as we experience them here in the DC area. As of right now, it looks like the first rain bands are a couple of hours away.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Rant: They Made a Biographical Movie About Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Christine O’Donnell – Back in 1995


“You aren't really anybody in America if you're not on TV. On TV is where we learn about who we really are. Because what's the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody's watching? And if people are watching, it makes you a better person.” – Nicole Kidman as Suzanne Stone Maretto, To Die For (1995)

There are certain movies that were way ahead of their time. Back in the 1970s, for example, the Academy Award winner, Network, predicted not only how the news media would become completely sensationalized, but also how big corporations were going to essentially erase national borders in their quest for global economic domination. Three Days to the Condor, meanwhile, predicted with great accuracy the extreme lengths that the U.S. government would go to in order to secure oil supplies during an era of encroaching resource depletion.

There are numerous other examples I could cite, but today I’m going to focus on such a film that often gets overlooked—Nicole Kidman’s 1995 acting tour-de-force, To Die For. Featuring easily the best performance of the Australian actress’s career, the movie uncannily predicted the rise of vacuous, attention-driven American politicians like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Christine O’Donnell.

If you haven’t seen this visionary flick, let me just give you the synopsis right out of the Internet Movie Database:
Suzanne Stone (Maretto) knows exactly what she wants. She wants to be a television newscaster and she is willing to do ANYTHING to get what she wants. What she lacks in intelligence, she makes up for in cold determination and diabolical wiles. As she pursues her goal with relentless focus, she is forced to destroy anything and anyone that may stand in her way, regardless of the ultimate cost or means necessary.

Ummm…I haven’t wanted to sacrifice the number of brain cells it would take to slog my way through Palin’s hideous Going Rouge, but were you to just change the name in the above quote, that description sounds like it ought to be right on the damn dust jacket. At one point during the movie, Suzette even says, “It's nice to live in a country where life, liberty... and all the rest of it still stand for something.”

The scary part is that when I first saw To Die For in the movie theater back in the mid-1990s, I was chilled by Kidman’s portrayal of Suzanne but comforted by the thought that she was so transparently and ruthlessly ambitious that she could have only succeeded in a world of cinematic make believe. Well, here we are a mere decade-and-a-half later and one of Suzanne Stone Marretto’s spiritual heirs was the most recent Republican Vice Presidential nominee while another was just placed on the cover of Newsweek and is being treated as a serious presidential candidate. In an even more uncanny parallel, Palin herself was a sportscaster before she became a politician, while O’Donnell cut her teeth as a media figure by on appearing on MTV and as a frequent guest on Bill Maher’s old ABC show, Politically Incorrect.

What it really comes down to is that in modern America, with an imploding economy rapidly eroding the conventional avenues of upward mobility for the working and middle classes, the one remaining route to riches is to become famous. It no longer matters what you become famous or infamous for (just so long as you avoid serious prison time), only that you get people to pay attention to you. We’re a culture that gives out prime time television gigs to the likes of Snooki and Kate Gosselin while elevating manufactured musicians Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga to the top of the pop music charts. People with real talent and creativity need not apply.

Regrettably, this slavish celebrity worship has spilled over from the entertainment world into our politics thanks to an electorate that puts more thought into who should win each season’s American Idol than who they are going to vote for in November. As a result, we’ve taken the next step down from the nepotism that allowed George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton to become national political figures, which was bad enough, to the point where fame itself is the only qualification you need to run for a major elective office. I mean seriously, I like Matt Damon, too, but I was appalled to read last week that he was being touted as a potential presidential candidate by people who weren't laughing their asses off when they suggested it.

I’ve written before about how the late author Joe Bageant used to refer to our media as The American Hologram, used by its corporate masters to keep the masses fat, dumb and complacent while the predatory elites steal their country right out from under their noses. It strikes me that the Hologram has now done its job so effectively that a vast majority of the population really believe, as Suzanne Stone Maretto said so memorably in the quote at the top of this page, that if people are watching you it makes you a better person.

With that lament, I leave you with an appropriate lyrical excerpt from the song “Go On Home,” by the greatly underrated singer-songwriter Chris Knight:
I don’t go online
I don’t watch tv
‘Cause I know all I’m gonna see
Is something stupid going on

Stupid’s in the water these days
They’re gonna drink it up anyway
‘Cause they don’t know right from wrong

Laugh if you want to
Call me a backwards fool
But I ain't taking this ride

You all just go on ahead and go
Leave me out by the side of the road
'Cause all I wanna do is go on home

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Payless, Stride Rite Closing 475 Stores


Yet another sign that our consumer economy is slowly imploding was an announcment reported today in the Dayton Business Journal:
The parent company of Payless and Stride Rite shoe stores is planning to close 475 of its more than 4,000 stores and will consider putting itself up for sale, the company announced Wednesday.

The Associated Press reported the company posted a $35 million loss from second quarter results on Wednesday.The news of the store closings and potential sale of the company came as part of the larger news of its second-quarter results.
The article does not mention how many employees stand to lose their jobs, but a safe guess would be in the thousands. I wrote in my August 21st post, "The Drip...Drip...Drip...Begins for Sears" that I believed the recent market crash was likely to soon be followed by another wave of retail bankruptcies and store closings as companies that had been treading water waiting for a real economic recovery to begin finally succumb to the reality that no such recovery will be forthcoming. With this story, we are seeing more evidence of exacly that happening.

Funeral for a Colleague

Earlier this week, I had the sad experience of attending a funeral for a professional colleague who finally succumbed at age 65 after a two-year bout with lung cancer. I worked with this guy, whom I’ll call John, for about a decade until his illness forced him to retire last fall. John’s passing is in and of itself pretty unremarkable, after all thousands of people die of cancer in this country each year. But it was the circumstances of his life in the waning days of his professional career that I found to be particularly depressing.

In many was John was an ideal colleague. Never the most outgoing or personable of individuals, he was nevertheless a proud man who was very dedicated to his job. John was as even keel as they come, perhaps because he was a veteran of that awful war in Vietnam who later served long enough to actually retire from the Army. Nothing over-excited him or could get him terribly upset. He typically met the occasional professional setback with stoic resignation rather than wasting his time getting angry.

Unfortunately for John, he made a serious financial error six or seven years ago when he and his wife purchased a large new home in one of DC’s outer suburbs, paying $800,000 for what could only be described as a typical McMansion. It was to be their dream home, but sure enough when the bottom fell out of the housing market they quickly found themselves upside down on their mortgage.

The problems then started to mount when John’s wife was transferred to another city right around the time he received his unfortunate diagnosis. They couldn’t afford to sell the house, which had plummeted in value to less than a half-million dollars, so she moved to the Gulf Coast while he remained behind and continued living in the house alone.

For nearly a year, John tried desperately to keep working so he could afford to keep making those mortgage payments. As I said, he was a proud man. Even if anyone had suggested that maybe he ought to just walk away from his burdensome financial obligation, there is no way he ever would have done so.

It was painful for those of us who worked with him to observe his physical decline during that last year. John was always a snappy dresser; favoring selections from a batch of colorful suits he bought years ago while stationed in Germany. Not many men can pull off such a look, but with his upright, dignified bearing John was able to do so. As his lungs deteriorated to the point were he needed an oxygen inhaler, however, his distress became obvious.

It got to the point where he could not even walk to the restroom without having to pause and lean against the wall to catch his breath. He also had to have been very much missing his wife, but he would never confide that to any of us. The thought of him going home alone each night to that big empty house but not wanting anyone to know about it or worry about him was heartbreaking.

Eventually, John ended up hospitalized for a week and shortly after that was forced to do what he had been trying to avoid doing—retire. At least he then was able to rejoin his wife, where he spent his last days before the cancer finally claimed him. I do not know what became of the big house—that’s not the sort of question you pose to the widow of a professional colleague at his funeral.

Sadly, it is the very pride of people like John, determined as they are not to default on their debts even when they have been saddled with unconscionable financial obligations by the predatory elites, which helps keep our thoroughly corrupt financial system afloat. There is no way that a middle class family should have had to shell out nearly a million dollars for a home, but that happened routinely during the housing bubble era when rampant fraud encouraged by Wall Street caused home prices to rise to levels far above what was remotely sustainable.

Some might blame John for his predicament, saying he never should have taken out that gigantic loan to buy such a large house. I would argue, however, that all he was doing is what Americans are conditioned to do by our corporate media—always buy the biggest and the best you think you can afford and tomorrow be damned. He probably also listened to that lie about how home prices only go up, which was repeatedly told by realtors and mortgage brokers all throughout the bubble era. President Bush himself spent much of his tenure in office blabbering on about the “ownership society,” and along with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his Zero Interest Rate policy effectively made getting people to buy bigger and bigger houses official U.S. government policy.

John was the kind of guy who believed in his country, even after it sent him off as a young man to fight in a futile war. He would have had no reason not to have faith in what everyone from the President on down was saying. So you can wag your finger at his poor choice if you want. As for me, I’ll instead wag mine at the financial and political predators in our society who so richly deserve it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When You Slavishly Vote for One Party, This is What You Get


Image: By giving taxpayer money directly to rich sports team owners, DC Council Member Jack Evans proves that he REALLY IS a bobblehead

It ought to obvious by now to anyone who is paying attention that our political system at all levels of government is thoroughly corrupt. As a political office holder, about the only thing you can do these days that will get you thrown out on your ass is to engage in some kind of sex scandal. Otherwise, you’re pretty much free to rape and pillage the taxpayers at your convenience without fear of ever being held accountable.

Every now and then, the system will hang a nominal scalp on the wall, like it did with the utterly buffoonish former Gubbner of the Great State of Illinois, the epic hairpiece in a stuffed suit, Rod Blagojevich. But that’s mostly just for show. Blaggo had become such an embarrassment and a liability to the “legitimacy” of the system that he HAD to go down.

The reason creatures like Blaggo exist in the first place is due to the failure of a stupendously lazy and criminally uniformed electorate to do even their basic homework as to whom it is they are voting for each November. This problem is widespread across the country, but is particularly bad in locations where one of the two major parties holds electoral dominance over the other. In such locations, elections for the utterly safe incumbents have become merely an inconvenience as well as an excuse to raise gobs of campaign cash.

Few areas of the country have as big a problem in this area as does the District of Columbia. The local populace typically votes about four-fifths Democrat. The city has never elected a Republican mayor, and only rarely does the GOP even win a city council seat. This has led to spectacular embarrassments like the return of Marion Berry to the mayor’s office in the mid-1990s, just four years after the “bitch” so memorably set him up and he was sent to prison for drug possession.

Another long time DC politico is City Council member Jack Evans, a Democrat who has sat on the council for 20 years now, and has been regularly returned to office with around 80% of the vote. He is the very definition of a career politician who, because of a complacent partisan electorate, scarcely needs to lift a finger to win reelection. Perhaps that very arrogance and complacency is what led to an incident reported in the Washington Post this past weekend. Here’s an excerpt:
D.C. Council member Jack Evans has paid $135,897 for professional sports tickets over the past decade using money from his constituent services fund, renewing calls for tighter restrictions on the accounts, which are meant to help city residents.
The article goes on to state:
Local elected officials have said that they use the funds — also known as citizen service programs — to help needy constituents with rent and utility bills as well as unexpected expenses, such as funerals.

The records show that Evans spent $135,897 — about 31 percent of his total spending during the period — on tickets to the Washington Nationals, Washington Wizards, Washington Kastles and through the Washington Sports and Entertainment organization. By comparison, The Post identified $101,564 that Evans directed toward charitable organizations, neighborhood associations, arts groups or charitable activities, such as buying trophies for Little League teams.

Evans defended the spending. He said that he has bought season tickets to athletic events for years to help local sports franchises and that he gives away most of the tickets to Ward 2 residents and local schools and charities.
Just amazing. Evans gave more taxpayer money to the wealthy local sports team owners than he did to charity despite the fact, and I can attest to this as a local area resident, that there are a few needy residents who reside in the District as evidenced by the large number of homeless people you see on the streets. Even more amazing is that there are absolutely no rules in place to prevent Evans from doing this.

Evans’s excuse couldn’t be any lamer. Are we really to believe that the city's sports franchises can’t give out unsold tickets for charity without taxpayer money being involved? The answer, of course, is yes; apparently we are expected to be just that stupid. And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that the sports teams play in taxpayer-funded stadiums in the first place. Essentially what Evans is doing is giving even more taxpayer money to the wealthy sports owners, who I'm sure are happy to invite him to the owner's box during the games for a little wining and dining in grateful appreciation.

Now, is this the worst example of political corruption we’ve witnessed in America just in this past year alone? Not hardly, of course. Rather, this example is illustrative because it is in fact so routine and is not even against the law. I will also bet that similar examples of petty corruption occur nearly every single day somewhere in America.

If the voters of Evans’s ward were at all paying attention, he would rightfully be resoundingly defeated for reelection next time around. But I guarantee you they aren’t and he won’t be. It’s a tired old cliché in America that everyone hates the politicians. And yet, miraculously, most of them somehow manage to get reelected despite routinely engaging in disgraceful shenanigans such as this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Colleges are Charging Huge Tuition Fees—Because They Can


As you know, I am pretty rough on the mainstream media for the lies and obfuscations it perpetrates daily in support of the status quo. But once in awhile I am pleasantly surprised to see a glimmer of truth shine though the grey clouds of celebrity worship and slavish obedience to corporate America and it’s craven political hand puppets. Such an article appeared this weekend in a Gannett newspaper from Indiana called the Boiler Station, which examined the reason why college tuition costs have exploded these past 20 years. The article’s conclusion? Universities charge ever higher tuition because the can. Here’s an excerpt:
The reason tuition has been on such a steady upward march can be found in the most basic lesson of an entry-level econ class: supply and demand.

Tuition goes up because it can -- because there currently are no market forces or legislative controls to curtail it.

"That is exactly how people in the major research universities behave," said Vance Fried, an Oklahoma State professor and author of "Better/Cheaper College: An Entrepreneurs Guide to Rescuing Undergraduate Education."

"Because there is a demand, you can raise tuition ... and people still come."
The article goes on to explain just how out of balance tuition cost increases are with the rest of the economy:
Since 1990, tuition has gone up an average of 6 percent each year -- from a low of 3.6 percent in 2000 to a high of 16.4 percent in 2003, a year when many campuses began to charge additional student fees as well.

From 1989 to 2011, Purdue University's main campus in West Lafayette has raised tuition 395 percent; Indiana University in Bloomington, 370 percent; and Ball State, 356 percent.

In that same time, the Consumer Price Index has increased 81.9 percent, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator. If Purdue's tuition increase had matched that Consumer Price Index increase dollar for dollar, the 1989 tuition of $1,916 would be $3,487 -- as opposed to the $9,478 Purdue students will pay during the 2011-12 school year.

That's even more staggering when you consider Indiana's median family income rose just 33 percent during that time.
As that last sentence states, those statistics really are staggering. It’s bad enough that tuition has been increasing at nearly four times the rate of inflation, but even worse is that it has been increasing at a mindboggling TEN TIMES the rate at which incomes are increasing. Granted the article only covers Indiana, but I would bet these numbers are fairly reflective of the country as a whole.

The article goes on to cite several reasons for the increases, from reduced state funding to huge salary increases for university professors and administrators. There are also plenty of anecdotes about families and students struggling to pay these huge costs.

Of course, this being a mainstream media article, there was still one big elephant in the room that they managed to ignore—the role that the student loan industry plays in helping to jack up tuition costs. Though nominally issued by private institutions, student loans are in fact guaranteed by the federal government, and as such are generally not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Because the lending institutions are thus fully insured against taking any losses, they have no hesitation about freely giving out whatever insane amount of money the student needs to cover their tuition nut.

This means that the real culprit in the out-of-control tuition increases is the federal government. Without student loan guarantees, there would be a natural, market-driven force holding tuition down—namely the actual ability of the students to pay back the loans. The sad fact is that the student loan program, however well intentioned upon its original creation, has become yet another corporate welfare program that sticks the bill on the taxpayer.

All of this would not be a complete disaster if the students taking out these ever-higher loans were still able to secure high-paying jobs upon graduation. More and more, however, recent college graduates, especially those in the fields of liberal arts and the humanities, are finding that they are graduating with a huge debt load into an economy with few good jobs available to them. I wrote about one such unfortunate young woman in my June 21st post, “$100,000 in Student Loan Debt—Can’t Find a Job.”

Though none of our political “leaders” will ever admit it, a sea change has taken place within the American economy since the market crash in 2008. The days when young people could spend four years self-actualizing while studying something "fun," and then still find a cubicle-dweller position somewhere that pays the bills after graduation are over.

Sadly, because there is still so much money to me made by everyone involved in this scam—from the professors, to the administrators, to the financial institutions—the truth is not being told to these kids. Instead, they will continue to be turned into debt slaves before they even are allowed a chance to get started in life by a thoroughly corrupt system that will not change its ways until that long overdue day when it finally and deservedly collapses.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Layoffs Increasing as Stimulus Money Runs Out


The most frightening aspect of the renewed market crash here in the U.S. is the realization that if we see a repeat of 2008 there will soon be another massive spike in unemployment as financially distressed companies again shed workers to try and ride out the storm. The problem is that during the first go-around three years ago the federal government had not yet spent itself to the brink of disaster. Regrettably, most of the increased deficit spending back then went to bail out the big banks and Wall Street. The only real help Main Street received was Obama’s $700 billion Recovery Act, which is now running its course just as the economy is apparently about to enter the second dip of the recession.

While the stock market carnage garnered all of the headlines late this past week, two news stories that appeared on Friday that tell the tale of the effects of the expiring economic stimulus from the Recovery Act. The first, from the Tacoma Tri-City Herald, is about layoffs at a radioactive waste cleanup site along the Columbia River:
The Department of Energy has authorized its environmental cleanup contractors at Hanford to lay off up to 1,100 more workers in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

That's in addition to up to 1,985 layoffs already announced this year, the majority of which will be Sept. 29.

The layoffs announced earlier this year are mostly linked to the end of federal economic stimulus money. Hanford received $1.96 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money that should be mostly spent by Sept. 29.
The second story is out of Ohio from Columbus Business First:
As many as 700 Ohioans who worked to weatherize homes with stimulus funding could be laid off as the federal dollars run out, the Dayton Daily News reports.

Community action agencies writing to the state said the layoffs would take place by Oct. 31, adding that more than 250 of the 700 already have been cut. Ohio received $267 million in June 2009 under the federal stimulus program for weatherization and more than 1,000 workers were trained to update homes, the paper reported.
The Recovery Act was a typical Washington boondoggle, designed to throw massive amounts of money at a problem with little thought as to whether the taxpayers were going to get a good value for what was being spent in their names. It greatly contributed to the enormous imbalance in the nation’s budget that helped lead to the recent debt ceiling debacle in Congress.

All of that said, there’s also no denying that the program DID help arrest the precipitous downturn in employment that followed the 2008 market crash. As these two stories demonstrate, some Americans WERE put to work using Recovery Act funds whom without it would now likely be “99’ers” just falling off of the long term unemployment rolls.

We will likely know by the end of the year whether this new crash is going to lead to another massive bout of unemployment. If we start seeing the monthly jobs report printing at -500,000 or more again like it was during the first half of 2009, things are going to get really ugly out there, and given the current political climate there likely will be no second Recovery Act to help arrest the fall this time around.

It looks entirely likely that we are going to head into the presidential election year with the economy having resumed its free fall. The consequences of that happening, given how infantile the rhetoric coming out of the campaign has already been to date, can only be imagined.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Why is CNN Still Interviewing Christine O’Donnell?


The liberal blogosphere was all atwitter on Wednesday with the news that failed Republican Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell, she of the anti-masturbation crusade and the “I am not a witch” campaign advertisements, became angry during an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan and stormed off the set in a huff. Here’s Talking Points Memo:
Former Delaware senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell just walked out on an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan.

"Ms O'Donnell wasn't happy about me quizzing her re views on withcraft and sex," Morgan tweeted. "But really flipped at gay marriage Qs. Ripped mike and fled."
Editor’s note: it was Morgan’s typo misspelling “witchcraft.” All I did was copy-and-paste the story.

Oh look, everyone, let’s have another hearty laugh at the expense of the wingnut attention whore who is so clueless that she doesn’t have the good sense to just go away after she’s been resoundingly defeated. HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa…that bimbo is certifiably nuts, even if she is (ahem), you know, kinda HOT.

Sigh. When the hell are people going to wake up to the fact that the so-called “Worldwide Leader in News” puts this kind of garbage on the air as a distraction? Let’s examine for a moment who Christine O’Donnell really is…a three time loser for elective office from one of the smallest states in the union who has never received more than 40% of the vote in any of those contests. Any other politician with that kind of a sorry ass record would be completely ignored by the mainstream media. To put it in even better perspective, CNN barely pays attention to Ron Paul, despite the fact that he has won TEN congressional elections during his career and, whether you agree with him or not, actually has an idea or two in his head that aren't completely crazy.

What possible “news” value is there in broadcasting an interview with Christine O’Donnell at this point? It was maybe, perhaps excusable at this time last year when she was the nominee of one of the two major parties for the U.S. Senate. Once she was resoundingly defeated, however, she should have been shuffled off of the public stage and back into obscurity where she so rightly belongs.

Worse still is that the interview played out EXACTLY how I imagine that O’Donnell would have wanted it to. Had alleged “reporter” Morgan just sat there and asked her bland old questions about politics, the sound of teevees being switched off all across the nation would have been audible even in the studio and THAT wouldn’t have helped O’Donnell sell any copies her cheesy book.

Nope, by rehashing the tired old witchcraft stuff and goading her about sex issues, airhead Morgan gave O’Donnell an excuse to storm off the set. Suddenly, a routine interview that would have passed virtually unnoticed became “news” and O’Donnell’s wingnut fans who despise the so-called “liberal media” with every fiber of their being were no doubt fired up and motivated to go buy her version of Going Rogue even though none of them will ever likely read it.

So laugh it up, liberals and progressives. Pay no heed to the fact that your shrill mocking of Christine O’Donnell means nothing to her except money in the bank. She is Sarah Palin-lite, not because she has any real desire for power, but because like Palin what really matters to her is attention, fame and the money that comes with it. Instead of demonizing her, you should be directing your ire towards a media machine that insists upon presenting such idiotic spectacles in place of real stories examining just how the entire country now finds itself teetering on the edge of the economic abyss.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Rant: Hey, Senator Inhofe, It's HOT Outside


There are a lot of cretinous scumbags running around in Washington these days, which is pretty obvious given just how fucked up things are. Few, however, are in a league with the utterly contemptible U.S. Senator from the great state of Oklahoma, James Inhofe, who is perhaps the leading voice of Climate Change denial in Congress. Here's a little tidbit from Wikipedia to give you an idea of what this alleged human being is all about:
In a 2006 interview with the Tulsa World newspaper, Inhofe said regarding the environmentalist movement, "It kind of reminds... I could use the Third Reich, the Big Lie... You say something over and over and over and over again, and people will believe it, and that's their [the environmentalists'] strategy... A hot summer has nothing to do with global warming.
In addition:
Inhofe had previously compared the United States Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo and he compared EPA Administrator Carol Browner to Tokyo Rose.
There he goes again with those completely inappropriate Nazi comparisons. Can we please, once and for all, put to rest the comparing of anything in modern American life to Hitler, the Nazis and/or the Holocaust? Because it is often painfully obvious that people who invoke such comparisons have little actual understanding of Nazi Germany beyond what they may have seen once on the History Channel.

Since Senator Inhofe clearly falls into this category, let me take a moment if I may to 'splain a little something to him. "The Big Lie" was in fact told in Nazi Germany by Josef Goebbles and his minions in the Propaganda Ministry, who had a total MONOPOLY on the entire German media. There was no ability to dissent from The Big Lie, and if you were foolish enough to try they hauled your ass away and threw you into a concentration camp. Just the fact that you, Senator Inhofe, are free to open your big fat ignorant yap about there supposedly being a "Big Lie," in connection to global warming without being bundled up and sent off to Guantanamo proves rather conclusively that IT DOESN'T EXIST.

(Deep breath) Sorry, I was getting a little hot under the collar there, if you'll pardon the pun. Back to the topic at hand.

So, according to the above quote by the "Honorable" Senator Inhofe, Global Warming doesn't cause a hot summer. Hmmm...I guess that would also mean that a cold or snowy winter wouldn't necessarily prove that Global Warming DOESN'T exist, either. Am I right? Only seems fair, doesn't it? So maybe Senator Inhofe would care to explain this little item that was published by CNSNews.com on February 10, 2010:
The family of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) had some fun at former Vice President and global warming spokesman Al Gore’s expense over the weekend after record snowfall blanketed the nation’s capital.

The family spent Saturday and Sunday building an igloo near the U.S. Capitol building, and the Oklahoma senator posted photos of their handiwork on his Facebook page. They added signs to the snow dwelling that read, “AL GORE’S NEW HOME!” and “HONK IF YOU (LOVE) GLOBAL WARMING.”

The Inhofe family, including the senator’s daughter and grandchildren, built the igloo after a large storm system dumped more than two feet of snow on the Washington, D.C. metro area on Friday and Saturday. The National Weather Service measured a record 32.4 inches at Dulles International Airport. Another 6 to 16 inches are predicted to fall on the capital on Tuesday and Wednesday.
HaHaHaHaHaHaHa - what a card that Senator Inhofe and his bunch of over privileged, snot-nose little progeny are. Don't they just sound like the kind of people it would be great fun to hang out and get an ice cream cone with?

Pay no attention to the fact that more moisture in the atmosphere, causing greater and more powerful storms, is one of the key indicators of Global Warming--nor to the fact that after each of those mammoth snowstorms, the temperatures in the DC-area rebounded into the 30s rather than plunging down into the teens and single digits like they used to do after such storms. Irrelevant trivia, all of that noise.

But hey, the troglodytes had their fun a year-and-a-half ago, and goody for them. Now it's time for me to have mine. This past week, I happened to run across a news item from the website The Extinction Protocol with this little quote:
Sweltering may have reached a new record last month, as Oklahoma racked up the country’s highest monthly average temperature ever. That’s the highest average temperature, for any month, for any state, associate Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus said. According to automated weather recording instruments, the state’s average for July was 89.1 degrees. That tops an average of 88.1 set in July 1954, McManus said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Monday reported that last month was the fourth hottest July on record for the U.S. and that Texas and Oklahoma had their warmest months on record. “We’ve been beating temperature records left and right, from the 1930s Dust Bowl drought and the 1950s drought,” said McManus, who admitted that’s not the kind of record you put on a Chamber of Commerce promotion.
So to recap, Okalahoma's record for the highest monthly temperature ever recorded was just smashed by an astonishing one full degree Fahrenheit. And yet, there was nary a peep about it from the esteemed Senator Inhofe and his merry band of inbreds.

All of this almost makes me wish I lived in Oklahoma. During July I would have had this very strong desire to go find Senator Inhofe's house, wait until about four o'clock in the afternoon, and then break open a couple of eggs and fry them right on his front walk. Then I would have held up my own sign for all passersby to see: "Pray for Cooler Weather...Maybe that Will Help."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Michelle Bachmann Thinks the Soviet Union is Still a Military Threat


I swear, you just cannot make this stuff up. Here is RT.com, which might have a reason to take this story personally:
Even with Osama bin Laden out of the picture, America still has some big problems to worry about abroad. For one, there is still that looming threat of the Soviet Union. That’s what Michele Bachmann thinks, at least.

In an interview conducted today by Christian radio host Jay Sekulow, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann offered up her latest and perhaps funniest flub. According to the congresswoman, the USSR still poses a pretty big threat to the USA — even if the Union disbanded, oh, 20 years ago.

When asked on-air about what different people from coast-to-coast are telling Bachmann on her campaign trail, the GOP hopeful said that jobs and economy are obviously a big concern among Americans. That’s not all that’s on their minds, however.

“What people recognize is that there’s a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline,” said Bachmann. “They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward.”
And yet this is an individual to whom Newsweek magazine lent it's "credibility" by putting her on its cover as if she were a serious presidential candidate. Memo to Newsweek magazine: Your dead tree rag business model is all but finished. You're a dead magazine walking. And I for one look forward to the day when I can spit on your grave.

The Drip...Drip...Drip... Begins for Sears


Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for one of America's longest running retail concerns. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Sears will close a hardware store at 1715 Wisconsin Ave. in Grafton In December as part of a nationwide shutdown of 29 stores.

Sears Holdings Inc. announced the store closings as part of the company's second quarter financial report Thursday. Sears lost $146 million in the quarter ended July 30.

I reported earlier on the closing of the Kmart store in Burlington in November as part of the same national reduction of stores. The 29 stores include 10 Kmart stores, three Sears stores, 12 hardware and appliance stores, two Sears Auto Centers and two Great Indoors stores.

Sears also will convert 14 Sears Grand stores to Kmarts, and will close seven product repair centers.

In addition to the jobs lost to the closings, the company will eliminate 250 support positions.
At one time Sears was the most prominent retailer in the United States, and for many years its catalog was an American icon, bringing availability of the latest consumer products to isolated communites all over the country back in the days before the Internet, television or even telephones. In recent years, however, its catalog business became a vicitim of the Internet era, and Sears became just another store, with nothing particular to differentiate it from any other mid-market retailer.

Unfortunately for Sears, the company is now following the same pattern as the recently defunct Borders...closing down underperforming locations in the wake of declining revenues in a desperate attempt to regain profitability. Any sentient observer should know how this story will play out. Sears will close some stores, then lose more money, then close more stores, then lose more money...continuing along the downward spiral that will eventually lead to bankruptcy and the nationwide going out of business sale.

It's inevitable. A substantial portion of Sears's customer base is either losing their jobs or seeing their pay and benefits reduced. They are also faced with declining home values, meaning that the great home equity ATM has been forever shut off as a source of spending to maintain the illusion of prosperity.

Sears will do what so many other retail chains have done before them, try to hang on until the economy "recovers." At some point, however, the company will come to recognize that the light at the end of the tunnel is in fact an onrushing train.

Hillary Clinton Would Have Been Better than Obama? You MUST Be Joking


Many liberals and progressives were rightly outraged when Obama caved in to the Republicans and abandoned tax increases for the wealthy as part of the deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. Some called for a progressive challenger to take on Obama in the Democratic primaries, which is a reasonable response even if there is no chance that such a challenger could steal the nomination from President Hopey-Changey. Still others completely lost their heads and bemoaned that it was too bad Hillary Clinton didn’t win in 2008 because she knows how to stand up to Republicans.

The first problem with that assertion is these delusional fools have somehow failed to notice that the former first lady is an even bigger creature of Wall Street than is the Mighty O, and has been an insider for at least a couple of decades longer. Hillary’s record of cozying up to the big money boys goes all the way back to her 1978 sweetheart commodities trades that netted her a cool $100,000 back when that was still real money.

But if that isn’t enough to convince you, here’s a quote from a report that appeared on Tuesday in The Raw Story:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Tuesday against budget cuts that could force an abrupt pullout of the US security presence in the Pacific at a time when China's power is rising.

The debate over reducing the US debt "does cast a pall over our ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America's interests," Clinton told officers at the National Defense University.

"We need to have a responsible conversation about how we are going to prepare ourselves for the future and there are a lot of issues that are not in the headlines but are in the trendlines," she said.

"We are asserting our presence in the Pacific. We are a Pacific power. That means all elements of our national security team have to be present," the chief US diplomat said in a conversation with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

"And we can't be abruptly pulling back or pulling out when we know we face some long-term challenges about how we are going to cope with what the rise of China means," she said in the conversation moderated by CNN television.
So suck it up, plebes, and don’t complain about those proposed cuts in entitlement spending. The Queen Bee of the Washington establishment has proclaimed that you will no longer be safe in your homes to live your pathetic little lives unless insane amounts of borrowed money can continue to be heaped upon the Pentagon in order to keep those vast Chinese hordes at bay.

Hillary’s statements clearly show once again just how out-of-touch with reality our so-called “leaders” really are. In my July 30th post, “Top Military Brass Cry Like Spoiled Children Over Proposed Cuts,” I wrote the following:
According to Wikipedia, America’s direct military spending in 2010 was $687 billion. That means we could slash such outlays by 75%, to $171 billion, and still be way ahead of the world’s number two nation, China ($114 billion)
As I also stated in that same post, the Chinese barely have a navy, let alone a gigantic invasion fleet ready to descend upon California the moment we let our guard down. So what Hillary is doing is nothing more than slavish Pentagon fear mongering—yet another version of the tired old argument that “we have to fight them over there or we’ll have to fight them over here.” Quite a change of heart for someone who was supposedly an antiwar hippie back during the 1960s, wouldn’t you say?

Once again, the biggest threat to America’s national security isn’t China; it’s peak oil-induced economic collapse. The day is coming in the not too distant future when an utterly bankrupt America will no longer be able to financially support our out-of-control military industrial complex. That by her statements Hillary Clinton shows no public awareness of this basic fact, she is either clueless or a liar. Either way, she has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that had she defeated Obama and won the presidency instead, the nation would be just as screwed as it is today.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Earth: 2050 (10 Reasons Why We’re Doomed)


Sometimes it’s hard to keep the doomer faith in the face of the relentless cheerleading and obfuscation pumped from the mainstream media machine every day at the direction of our corporate overlords. Every time it seems like reality is about to pop the bubble of delusional faith in the system held by the vast majority of Americans, The Powers That Be somehow manage to pull out another magic trick that resets the Hologram and keeps the façade of business as usual firmly in place. Yes folks, the truth is out there, but it’s as lonely as the guy who established the “Drag Queens for Michelle Bachmann” political action committee.

In these times of enforced normalcy, looking beyond the immediate horizon can help one regain one’s bearings. Hard to believe, but the middle of the 21st century is now less than 39 years away. The Beatles broke up longer ago than that. It’s a date well within the expected lifetime of anyone under the age of 40 today. Newborn babies and toddlers will be just approaching middle age. In short, it is a time frame that ought to at least occupy your thoughts at some point, especially if you have children.

The United Nations has predicted that world population will reach nine billion souls by that time; up from the seven billion mark we are on track to pass later this year. From a purely demographic standpoint, this is actually an optimistically low number. If population growth were to continue at the current rate, the number of humans occupying planet Earth will actually top 10 billion by that time.

Unfortunately for anyone of a humanitarian bent, there are a whole host of reasons to believe that even the lower estimate is actually wildly off on the high side and that world population may actually end up being far LESS then than it is today. So many factors are converging to put downward pressure on the current number of approximately 80 million in net population growth every year that it is difficult to keep track of them all.

Internet readers seem to love lists, as they pop up repeatedly on many of the most high traffic sites. So in that spirit, here’s a handy list of 10 current trends that are sure to go from being statistically ominous today to wreaking mass havoc by middle of this current century:

1). Peak Oil - Conventional crude oil production peaked in 2006, and total production including non-conventional sources has only slightly increased since then. Oil producers are pulling out all the stops to increase production where they can, and yet are only barely managing to overcome the depletion of older oil fields. Simply stated, there is no other energy source that can replace oil as far as density and ease of use. By 2050, the world will likely produce only a tiny fraction of what it does currently, with dramatic consequences to our modern industrial civilization.

2). Peak Phosphorous – This one is far less well known but just as serious as Peak Oil. Phosphorous is a key ingredient in the production of fertilizer, without which modern industrial agriculture would not be possible. Phosphorous production is expected to peak by the year 2030 and begin to decline thereafter. Once it does, the world will no longer be able to increase the production of the grains that are vital to feeding many billions of people and once decline sets in, yields will drop accordingly.

3). Peak Fish – Fish stocks in the world’s oceans are already beginning to crash due to overfishing. At current rates, it is expected that the world’s oceans will be nearly devoid of animal life by mid-century just at a time when agricultural production is also plummeting due to Peak Phosphorous.

4). Peak Water – Hundreds of millions of the world’s poor already do not have access to clean drinking water, and supplies are going to be even more strained as populations continue to grow. In the United States, the Ogallala Aquifer that irrigates the Great Plains is depleting rapidly from overuse and could be effectively dry by mid-century, returning the middle of the country to the days of the Dustbowl and rendering a vast swath of irrigated agricultural land utterly useless.

5). Peak Tin (hat tip to Dave Cohen of Decline of the Empire blog) – tin is a key component of all electronic items that are produced. Production of the element is just now reaching its peak at a time when sales of such items have become a vital part of the world’s economy. Take away all that ICrap and world GDP would take a significant hit. Given the disposable nature of manufactured products today, by 2050 most electronic devices will likely have become useless relics.

6). Peak Coal – China’s voracious appetite for coal to feed its booming economy is depleting what was once thought to be a couple of centuries' supply much faster than expected. Like with oil, most of the easy to extract and high quality coal reserves are already gone, increasing the cost over time for every unit of energy mined. Concurrently, increased burning of coal also exacerbates climate change (see below).

7). Peak Infrastructure – The United States alone has tens of thousands of miles of paved highways, many more secondary roads and thousands of bridges. Much of this infrastructure is aging and in need of repair and replacement. The high cost of asphalt (made out of oil) and declining tax revenues are causing a big slowdown in fixing and replacing it. By 2050, the nation’s transportation grid will likely be in an advanced state of decay, eventually making travel as difficult as it was before the age of the automobile.

8). Climate Change – Whether you believe global warming is man made or not, the general scientific consensus is that it is happening and getting worse more rapidly than expected. Droughts, heat waves and more powerful storms such as hurricanes and tornadoes are becoming more frequent and sea levels will rise more rapidly. By mid-century, many low lying coastal areas will likely be inundated, former agricultural areas will be decimated by lack of rain and huge areas of storm-related destruction will likely be left unrepaired because of economic collapse.

9). Nuclear Contamination – Many of the world's 400+ nuclear power plants are rapidly aging and nearing the end of what was originally thought to be their useful life span. In the United States, the decision has already been made to keep them operating far longer than originally intended, greatly increasing the risk of a major accident. Additionally, spent fuel rods are stored in facilities that require a power source to keep them contained. Within the next few decades it seems inevitable that serious accidents and breaches of containment will happen with greater frequency as electric grids break down, covering large swaths of the planet with massive amounts of deadly radiation.

10). Peak Economy – the great financial crash of 2008 was the first major peak oil-induced economic shockwave. The crash was brought on because the previous “prosperity” was purchased through enormous amounts of public and private debt that can only be serviced if the economy continues to grow. The economy can only continue to grow if energy supplies continue to increase. Peak Oil and peak other resources means this cannot happen and that additional and larger economic shockwaves are inevitable before the neoliberal, globalized world economic model collapses in a heap.

Add it all up and it doesn’t portend for a very positive future. In fact, it seems likely that a mass dieoff of the world’s population will be underway by the by the middle of the 21st century. I take no joy in reporting any of this. Obviously, the suffering that results will be of a scale far beyond anything previously seen in human history. I would be positively delighted to be proven wrong about what I’ve written above. But I don’t think I am.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Ten Most Hated People in America


Last week, the results of a national poll were released in which Americans were asked to name the ten of their fellow citizens whom they most hated, and the results were really quite pathetic. Here they are in all of their contemptible glory:

1. Casey Anthony
2. Spencer Pratt
3. Nadia “Octomom” Suleman
4. O.J. Simpson
5. Jon Gosselin
6. Levi Johnson
7. Jesse James (the celebritard, not the historical outlaw)
8. Paris Hilton
9. Heidi Fleiss
10. Howard Stern

Boy is my finger not at all on the pulse of America. It strikes me when looking at this list that rather than feeling any hatred towards the individuals named, my reaction is that I just don’t give a flying fuck about any one of them. It’s incredible that of the ten people upon whom Americans choose to direct their greatest ire, only two have actually been involved in committing any form of serious crime. The others are just total attention whores, who clearly have been quite successful in getting those who obviously have nothing else better to do to give them EXACTLY what it is they crave.

Where the hell are the names of the reprehensible cretins who actually ARE destroying America? For example, how about our two most recent Presidents, each of whom is responsible for the deaths of countless thousands of innocent civilians overseas as well as many American soldiers in the mindless pursuit of the big business war, and empire agenda? Where are the names of Wall Street titans like Lloyd Blankfein, whose insatiable greed crashed the economy and caused many millions of Americans to lose their jobs? Where are the names of the corporate CEOs who have been transferring American jobs overseas for more than 30 years in pursuit of ever larger profits? Where are the names of the forever preening and posturing Congressmen and women who do nothing but pass legislation enabling the transfer of the nation’s wealth from the working and middle classes to the wealthy? Where are the names of the central bankers who are devaluing our currency and causing food and energy prices to explode just to save their Wall Street buddies?

What this pitiable list shows is just how effective the American Hologram has been in distracting the masses from noticing who is really destroying their livelihoods and utterly wrecking that which so many of those same masses proclaim is “the Greatest Country in the World.” At this point, I don’t know what it’s going to take to wake people up to the fact that it is not Howard Stern, or Octomom or Paris Hilton whom they should be angry at.

Instead, it’s the same sons-of-a-bitches whom they go to the polls to vote for along with the elite scumbags who underwrite the campaigns. And while recent polls have also shown historic disapproval of Congress, that likely won't stop over 90% of the incumbents from being reelected next time around, just like they always are.

It’s no wonder Americans aren’t taking their anger to the streets like people are in so much of the rest of the world. Even if they did, they’d only be howling for the blood of conveniently created scapegoats rather than the real culprits who are screwing them every day of their lives. Unless the day comes that the results of a poll like this includes names like Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, Harry Reid and John Boehner, there is NO chance that any form of positive change will come to America before its too late.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thousands in Georgia Line Up for Free Dental Services


In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a poll showing that nearly two-thirds of all Americans could not even come up with $1000 cash in case of a personal emergency. In the post, I focused on the high costs of home and automobile repair. Even more challenging for many people, however, are unanticipated medical expenses. The uninsured are at particular risk, but even many who are lucky enough to have health insurance often find they have holes in their coverage that can easily lead them to being out of pocket by many thousands of dollars.

This is particularly true for dental care. I am one of those fortunate enough to have decent health insurance, and yet the dental coverage of my plan is virtually non-existent. Alas, I am just now reaching the age when the old filings I received as a child are causing my teeth to start breaking. Next week, I will be going in for the third time in the past two years to get a broken tooth replaced by a crown. The cost for each one of these procedures has been about $1500, and that’s without needing to have root canals, which would elevate the cost far higher.

So it was with great interest that I read an article that appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution this past Friday about this very subject. Here’s a snippet:
Thousands of people stood in line for free dental services Friday at a church in Woodstock.

The two-day clinic at First Baptist Church of Woodstock on Hwy. 92 is being sponsored by the Georgia Dental Association and its Foundation for Oral Health.

"The line went around the building, all the way through the parking lot and around a warehouse," said Dr. Richard Smith, who practices in Atlanta. He estimated the line at 2,000 yards and said that at its peak, 4,000 people were in line.
The article went on to say:
Dr. Michael Vernon of Augusta said he was moved by the patients' response to the massive effort.

"Two the first three patients that I saw actually sat in the chair and cried because they were so appreciative of what we're doing here and it just made me feel good about being here," he said.
First of all, let me give a big thumbs up to the church that arranged this charitable event in which around 300 dentists took part. It serves as a good reminder in these days when religious charlatans and haters like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are running for President that there are still plenty of Christians out there who actually take Jesus’s teachings to help the poor and downtrodden seriously. Bravo to everyone involved.

I think we can all attest that there are few things in life less enjoyable than having a chronic dental problem. The pain can literally be debilitating. Sadly, like everything else in the health care industry, the costs of dental care have skyrocketed to the point where even the most basic treatment is now beyond the financial means of a substantial portion of the population. It would be nice to see events such as this one become far more commonplace.

As for me, once I have this latest broken tooth replaced, I know I have about six more that are also at risk and will go the same way eventually. I’ve resigned myself to the need to be proactive and get them all fixed now while I still have the financial means and modern dental care is still widely available. So there will be a lot more $1500 charges in my immediate future. Nevertheless, for me it’s money well spent.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nearly Two-Thirds of All Americans Can’t Afford a $1,000 Emergency Expense


As I wrote on June 29th in my post, “High Gas Prices Are Changing People’s Behavior (Again),” I recently purchased a new car having traded in the old Ford Explorer I drove for nine years. Because I kept the old car for several years past the date in which the original warranties expired, I am well aware of the cost of auto repairs these days. Granted an Explorer is more expensive to fix than cheaper models and I live in a high cost of living area, but it seems like any major repair these days is at least $1000. In fact, the reason I finally decided to dump it despite enjoying having no car payments was because it needed two more major repairs and keeping it was no longer economical.

I’ve also noticed the same thing when it comes to major repairs around the house. Unfortunately, I’ve never been Mr. Fix-It, possessing the opposite of whatever the equivalent of a green thumb is for a handyman. It seems that when a major appliance gives up the ghost, or the roof needs to be repaired, or you need a new furnace, or whatever else $1000 is often the minimum amount needed to get the item fixed or replaced.

Keeping that in mind, I was rather distressed to see this story from CNN Money on Wednesday:
When the unexpected strikes, most Americans aren't prepared to pay for it.

A majority, or 64%, of Americans don't have enough cash on hand to handle a $1,000 emergency expense, according to a survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, or NFCC, released on Wednesday.

Only 36% said they would tap their rainy day funds for an emergency. The rest of the 2,700 people polled said that they would have to go to other extremes to cover an unexpected expense, such as borrowing money or taking out a cash advance on a credit card.

"It's alarming," said Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the Washington, DC-based non-profit. "For consumers who live paycheck to paycheck -- having spent tomorrow's money -- an unplanned expense can truly put them in financial distress," she noted.

That's the case for Allyson Curtis, 35. "I think about it every day," she said.

Curtis was unemployed for only three months last year, but in that time she accumulated $5,000 in credit card debt that she's now struggling to pay down. In the case of an emergency, Curtis said she would likely postpone other payments and pile on additional debt.

She is already putting off $450 in dental work and a car inspection due to a crack in her windshield, which will cost $300 to replace, she said.
I’ve seen numerous other recent news stories indicating that financially strapped Americans who have no savings have been using their credit cards to make ends meet. Obviously, they are also using the plastic whenever they incur emergency expenses. The fact that nearly two-thirds could not come up with $1000 for such expenses is yet another very troubling statistic. Cleary, tens of millions of people, even ones who are still lucky enough to be employed, are financially hanging on by the skin of their teeth. It wouldn’t take a very severe economic shock to knock them into poverty and destitution.

This is what happens when the economic policies of our “leaders” are designed to encourage consumption and discourage savings. For most of my lifetime until the past few years, you could place your money in a savings account and receive a decent if not spectacular return on your money. I distinctly recall back in the mid-1990s having a couple of thousand dollars stashed into a two-year Certificate of Deposit at my credit union at a whopping rate of 7% interest. Nowadays, thanks to the Federal Reserve’s Zero Interest Rate policy and other efforts to suppress rates so that the federal government can service its insane debt load, you’ll be lucky to pull down a percent and a half on a CD.

As a result, Americans ran out and did what they were being conditioned to do by the Hologram—spend, spend, spend—and the future be damned. Well, now the future is here and they are waking up to one hell of a hangover. It’s yet another example of Mission Accomplished by the clowns sitting in the driver’s seat who are pressing down on the accelerator as we collectively hurl ourselves towards the gaping abyss.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Federal Budget Deficit Tops $1 Trillion for Third Straight Year


For the third straight fiscal year, the federal budget deficit has exceeded (cue Dr. Evil) One...Treeeeelion...Dollars. Here's the Huffington Post with the story:
The United States' budget deficit has topped $1 trillion for a third straight year, adding pressure on Congress and the White House to make more progress on a long-term plan to shrink the growing imbalance.

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the deficit through July totaled $1.1 trillion. Three years ago, that would have been a record high for the full year.

This year's deficit is on pace to exceed last year's imbalance of $1.29 trillion. But it is likely to fall short of the record $1.41 trillion set in 2009.
To put this in perspective, never before Fiscal Year-2009, which began on October 1, 2008, just as the financial markets were imploding the first time around, had the federal deficit exceeded even a half-trillion dollars on an annual basis. Fiscal Year-2008, which ended on September 30th that year, was actually a record at the time--a paltry $455 billion.

Those who argue that "deficits don't matter"--from Dick Cheney to Paul Krugman--never acknowledge that the federal spending of the past three years has been absolutely unprecedented in our history. We've never tried borrowing money at a rate of over $4000 per person, per year, with no end in sight, so we really don't know what the long term effects will be.

Okay, scratch that. If you're reading this blog you likely have some idea, or at least more of an idea than do Messers Cheney and Krugman. The U.S. economy is now utterly dependent upon these insane levels of deficit spending. Take it away, and collapse would come fairly quickly. Of that there is little doubt. The question remains, as I've asked several times on this blog, when exactly will that day come?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Rant: A Half-Century at the Local Tire Factory in a Globalizing World


image: downtown Freeport, Illinois, circa 2007, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

For most Americans who were alive at the time, 1963 was a traumatic year that saw the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the abrupt ending of the 1000 days in the White House known as Camelot. Despite that tragic event, that year in my small Midwestern hometown there was great cause for optimism. The Goodyear Corporation was finishing construction of a brand new tire factory just beyond the city limits. Over a thousand good paying jobs were being created in a community that had just over 20,000 residents. Good times would surely follow.

One of the people who benefited immensely from Goodyear’s decision to build that plant among the cornfields was my father, who was recently married and had just been discharged from a two-year stint in the Air Force. The timing of the plant’s opening allowed him to return home and earn the kind of living that would enable my parents to raise a family in the place where they both grew up.

Being a college graduate, my father quickly worked his way up into middle management and became a personnel officer in charge of recruitment. In the 1960s, he used to caravan around the Midwest searching for workers to become tire builders at the plant. It was actually not an easy job. Many workers my father recruited would decide after a week or so that the physical demands of tire building were not for them. Employment was so plentiful back then that quitting wasn't a problem; they could easily find another job somewhere else the very next day. The local union was very powerful because of the strong economy, and was able to win numerous wage and benefit increases from the corporation.

My father’s service at the plant allowed my parents to live the middle class American dream. They bought a starter house in a brand new subdivision on the outskirts of town, and then traded it up for a larger model in town a decade later when the third of their three sons was born. Growing up in the 1970s, I was educated at good public schools and spent the long summers playing outside with the neighborhood kids. No video games or cable teevee back in those days.

My father’s career flourished for more than 20 years. He never aspired to the senior management ranks, but was loyal to the company and content with his lot in life. But trouble was to strike in 1986 when, in a scenario right out of the movie Wall Street, Goodyear was subject to a hostile takeover attempt by British financier James Goldsmith. The corporation managed to survive intact, but at the cost of $90 million being extracted from the company’s coffers.

The extreme financial distress led to a huge round of temporary layoffs, including my father. The company brought him back after the affair was over, but at a level of considerably reduced responsibilities. He hung on for another decade before taking early retirement in the mid-1990s, but his previous loyalty to the company had been virtually extinguished. Working at the plant became just another God Damn Job.

During the next ten years after his retirement, the plant slowly reduced the size of its workforce, and the local economy gradually worsened. A new Walmart was built on the outskirts of town, and the formerly vibrant downtown business district slowly withered and died. By the time I graduated from college it was evident that, unlike for my father, there were no good jobs available for me locally anymore, so I ended up starting my own career two hours away in Chicago.

Goodyear finally sold the factory to another corporation in 2005, severing its ties with my hometown after more than 40 years. Flashing forward to this past Christmas, the remaining work force at the plant, now reduced to about a fourth of its previous size, was locked out by management for two weeks until the union caved in and agreed to wage and benefit concessions. Management made it very clear that without the concessions the plant would be shut down for good. My father could only watch sadly from afar as these events transpired.

Meanwhile, the economy of my hometown was already in a state of virtual collapse long before the financial crash of 2008. A year before that event, there were two drive-by shootings in broad daylight downtown as gang bangers fought for control of the local narcotics trade. The previous home of my best friend from high school became a crack house and was raided by law enforcement. My own former home was boarded up and put on the HUD auction block for the pitiful sum of $22,000, and it was no longer safe to walk the streets of my old neighborhood after dark.

Many of those who are Peak Oil Aware constantly speculate as to what the future collapse is going to look like. I would argue that for a long time it is likely going to look a lot like what has been happening in my hometown for the past 20 years; a long, slow decay in which daily life just continues to get worse for most people as the jackals count their earnings from the dismantling the remainder of our industrial economy.