Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Night Music Video: "Happy New Year" by Todd Snider


Smart-alecky hippie singer-songwriter Todd Snider has written a ton of witty yet biting songs over the past couple of decades, the best known of which was his 1994 send up of grunge music, "Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues." But for this last night of the unlamented year 2011, I thought I would link to Snider's appropriately titled snarky tune, "Happy New Year." The accompanying slide show was dated last year, but that doesn't detract from the fun.

Enjoy!

Celebrity One Percenters

image: in case you needed another reason to hate Bono

It's been a relatively slow news week, so to make up for it here is a link to a recent article listing 10 of the world's wealthiest celebrities and their respective net worth. It strikes me upon looking at the list that to reach these heights of wealth as an entertainer you need to be a shrewd business person in addition to doing something for which the public will lavish huge sums of money on you. Or you could just mercilessly whore yourself out.

The story contains details for each one as to how they made their money. Love 'em or hate 'em, these are some truly charmed individuals with more money than a single human being should ever need:
10. Bryan Williams (Birdman) - Estimated Net Worth: $100 Million

9. Gisele Bündchen - Estimated Net Worth: $250 Million

8. Howard Stern - Estimated Net Worth: $500 Million

7. Magic Johnson - Estimated Net Worth: $500 Million

6. Jerry Seinfeld - Estimated Net Worth: $800 Million

5. Bono - Estimated Net Worth: $900 Million

4. J.K. Rowling - Estimated Net Worth: $1 Billion

3. Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Estimated Net Worth: $2.9 Billion

2. George Lucas - Estimated Net Worth: $3.25 Billion

1. Giorgio Armani - Estimated Net Worth: $7 Billion


Bonus: Bill slams artists who sell out (specifically, Jay Leno)

NeighborhoodScout’s Top 100 Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S.

image: Saginaw, Michigan looks more tranquil than the crime statistics would indicate

At the link is an interesting interactive list of the U.S. cities (over 25,000 in population) with the highest crime rates per capita. I have to admit that you could have given me a 100 guesses as to which city would come up at number 1, and I never would have picked Saginaw, Michigan.

The full list is below in reverse order.
100 Reading, PA
99 Richmond, CA
98 Lawton, OK
97 Knoxville, TN
96 Ocala, FL
95 Chattanooga, TN
94 East Palo Alto, CA
93 Rock Hill, SC
92 Sarasota, FL
91 Houston, TX
90 Charleston, WV
89 Lowell, MA
88 San Bernardino, CA
87 Jackson, TN
86 Albany, NY
85 Miami Beach, FL
84 Holyoke, MA
83 Toledo, OH
82 Tallahassee, FL
81 Cleveland, TN
80 Prichard, AL
79 Trenton, NJ
78 Panama City, FL
77 Chicago, IL
76 Fall River, MA
75 Pompano Beach, FL
74 Albany, GA
73 North Miami, FL
72 Hallandale, FL
71 Baton Rouge, LA
70 Columbia, TN
69 Anchorage, AK
68 Brockton, MA
67 Milwaukee, WI
66 Springfield, MA
65 Lima, OH
64 Fort Myers, FL
63 Melbourne, FL
62 Minneapolis, MN
61 Tulsa, OK
60 Little Rock, AR
59 Cincinnati, OH
58 Norristown, PA
57 Buffalo, NY
55 New Bedford, MA
54 Cleveland, OH
53 Hot Springs, AR
52 Kansas City, MO
51 Poughkeepsie, NY
50 Miami, FL
49 Farmington, NM
48 Birmingham, AL
47 Battle Creek, MI
46 North Little Rock, AR
45 Philadelphia, PA
44 St. Petersburg, FL
43 Atlanta, GA
42 Springfield, IL
41 Rockford, IL
40 Homestead, FL
39 Washington, DC
38 North Charleston, SC
37 Lafayette, LA
36 Sumter, SC
35 Lake Worth, FL
34 Alexandria, LA
33 Pine Bluff, AR
32 Inkster, MI
31 Stockton, CA
30 Daytona Beach, FL
29 Baltimore, MD
28 Harrisburg, PA
27 Atlantic City, NJ
26 Orlando, FL
25 Harvey, IL
24 Florence, SC
23 Louisville, KY
22 Newburgh, NY
21 Myrtle Beach, SC
20 Riviera Beach, FL
19 Chelsea, MA
18 Bossier City, LA
17 Flint, MI
16 Fort Pierce, FL
15 Petersburg, VA
14 Detroit, MI
13 Memphis, TN
12 Bessemer, AL
11 Pontiac, MI
10 Oakland, CA
9 Wilmington, DE
8 Spartanburg, SC
7 St. Louis, MO
6 Camden, NJ
5 West Memphis, AR
4 Salisbury, MD
3 Las Vegas, NV
2 Chester, PA
1 Saginaw, MI


Bonus: "Warriors...come out to playyyyyy"

The TDS Top 10 Posts of 2011


When I started blogging regularly back in May of this year, I never expected The Downward Spiral blog to take off the way it has, either in terms of the number of page views (over 155,000 and counting!) or in the number of my own postings. My original intent was to do about a post a day, but as things got rolling I found more and more stories that I wanted to comment on. By November, I was averaging about three posts per day, much to my own surprise as I have never in my life been this prolific with my writing.

I figure I have written about 120,000 words in the past eight months, not counting the excerpts from various news articles. That is an awful lot for someone working without an editor, more than your average novel in fact. Although I can't promise I will always be this prolific, so far it has been a lot of fun, even if the subject matter has been anything but.

In that spirit, I'd like to end the year by presenting a links list to my personal top 10 favorite posts from this past year. They are all like my babies, of course, and it was hard to choose among the 450 or so total posts I've written this year. But these are the 10 that if I were introducing a new reader to TDS I would suggest they start with. Thank you very much for reading, and I hope everyone has a good New Year in spite of all the bad shit that's going down.

So without further ado, the TDS Top Ten of 2011:

1). The CIA Accurately Predicted How Long World Oil Supplies Would Last—in 1978 (May 30) - Also reprinted by The Energy Bulletin. Recalling a newspaper article from my childhood, I did some research and discovered a CIA analyst's uncannily accurate prediction about the future of world oil supplies written 33 years ago.

2). Ten Ways You Can Screw Up Your Life (October 26) - This is the guest post I wrote for Dave Cohen of the outstanding Decline of the Empire blog summing up how people need to change their mindset when thinking about their financial future in the age of peak oil.

3). Friday Rant: A Half-Century at the Local Tire Factory in a Globalizing World (August 12) - I did a number of posts about globalization this past year, but this one about the effects of "free" trade on my own hometown was personal.

4). Fear and Loathing in the Illinois Army National Guard (or How I Managed to Pay My Way through College) (May 29) - My first post about the Iraq War included some personal insight about Bush's betrayal of the military reservists who fought there.

5) Lindsay Lohan: The Perfect Sex Symbol for a Crumbling Empire (October 22) - A rip on celebrity culture and one screwed up young woman who is literally dying for our entertainment pleasure.

6). No Country for Old Men (November 9) - As much as the younger generation is getting screwed, the future will REALLY not be kind for older Americans.

7). Friday Rant: America’s Plutocrats are No Different than the Leaders Who Ran the Soviet Union into the Ground (July 15) - My take on Dmitri Orlov's prognostication that the U.S. will eventually go the way of the USSR.

8). Friday Rant: Unlike in the Movies, in Real Life Americans HATE the Underdog (June 17) - In which I call out Americans for rooting for the rebels in the movies and the Empire in real life.

9). Free Your Mind (December 9) - Those who are peak oil aware think they have taken the "red pill," but how do you know for sure?

10). Once Upon a Time a Peak Oil Aware Candidate Ran for President of the United States
(May 21) - Also reprinted by The Energy Bulletin. In which I fondly recall the 1980 presidential campaign of former Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The U.S. Government Spent Over $400,000 to Study the Effects of a Coffee Enema--Really


That's it, I quit. I'll never try to write another fiction piece ever again. For I now realize after trying to get the knack of it for about three decades the imagination I once thought fertile is in fact as barren as the Mojave Desert. At least it is compared to the bizarre and absurd things reality keeps serving up on an almost daily basis. Here is Russia Today with the details:
Want to know where your tax dollars are going? Washington has a rapid response for that one on the ready: stick it up your ass.

No, really.

A recent report carried out by the Chicago Tribune reveals that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine — a branch of the federally-funded National Institutes of Health — has spent around $1.4 billion since it began 12 years ago on finding out, among other things, that coffee enemas aimed up the butt and into the intestines will, believe it or not, not aid in pancreatic cancer treatment. That messy test, reports the Tribune, was made possible thanks to a $406,000 grant.
Sigh...as an aspiring fiction writer I've been served. So what else you got?
What other scientific breakthroughs were made possible by your involuntary donations to Uncle Sam? Over half-a-million dollars helped scientists determine that AIDS could not be cured with prayer, and it took $374-grand to come to the conclusion that, contrary to popular belief, sniffing lemon juice will not help heal external wounds.

Dr. Wallace Sampson of Stanford University tells the Tribune that real medical wizzes “don't take public money and invest it in projects that are just made up out of people's imaginations." The government, on the other hand, likes to act on instinct. Such was the case with a study that spent $1.25 million to conclude that, “Hey, people with cancer feel better after being massaged.”

Also keen on massages: people without cancer.
It has taken me until middle age to come to this particular self-realization, but I now know. As a writer I truly am not worthy.

Dr. Obvious Reports: Growing Wealth Widens Distance Between Lawmakers and Constituents


I suppose it needed to be said because clearly a substantial portion of the population still, despite all of the mounting evidence in recent years, does not realize how badly they are getting screwed, but this story from the Washington Post should surprise exactly no one who is actually paying attention to the state of affairs in this country:
Though lawmakers on Capitol Hill have long been more prosperous than other Americans, others of that time included a barber, a pipe fitter and a house painter. A handful had even organized into what was called the “Blue Collar Caucus.”

But the financial gap between Americans and their representatives in Congress has widened considerably since then, according to an analysis of financial disclosures by The Washington Post.

Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity.

Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.

The comparisons exclude home equity because it is not included in congressional reporting, and 1984 was chosen because it is the earliest year for which consistent wealth statistics are available.

The growing disparity between the representatives and the represented means that there is a greater distance between the economic experience of Americans and those of lawmakers.
So what is one of the biggest reasons for the increasing disparity? Why, the exploding costs of Congressional campaigns, of course. Thank you, doc.
Another possible reason for the growing wealth of Congress is that running a campaign has become much, much more expensive, making it more likely that wealthy people, who can donate substantially to their own campaigns, gain office.

Since 1976, the average amount spent by winning House candidates quadrupled in inflation-adjusted dollars, to $1.4 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.
So what kind of effect does this state of affairs have on the Congresscritters' empathy for the working and middle classes? It goes down, you say? Doc, you're a genius.
But a person’s financial circumstances certainly affect a person’s political outlook. For example, people identified as lower or middle class have been more likely to see income inequality as a problem and to favor redistribution of income, according to figures from the General Social Survey.
The article is lengthy and includes interviews with actual Congresscritters about how their life experiences influence their politics. Blah, blah, blah, whatever. The amazing thing is that the Post treats this story as if it is actual news, when it should be perfectly obvious to any sentient observer that the system was bought and paid for by the wealthy a long time ago.


Bonus: "Don't give me any of that do goody-good bullshit"

CNN Fail: The "World Wide Leader in News" Runs an Advertisement for the National Retail Federation


Ever since the beginning of the Great Recession, the mainstream media has been relentless in its cheerleading for "green shoots" and the idea that a real recovery is just around the corner. Whether it involves reporting manipulated government statistics without question or simply parroting the positive quotes of clueless politicos, the status quo bias on behalf of corporate America is so obvious that it is not a question open to debate.

Yet another new low may have been achieved recently with how CNN chose to report the recent figures showing that the 2012 Christmas shopping season has witnessed an all time record high in the amount of purchased items being returned by consumers. While serious analysts have rightly deduced that this is yet another sign of the distress being felt by financially strapped shoppers and the recent Sears announcement that it would close 100 or more stores due to poor earnings seemed to back up their assertions, CNN went completely the other direction, choosing instead to essentially take a press release from the National Retail Federation and treat it like a serious news story:
The holidays aren't even over yet and shoppers are racking up returns already.

Whether it's the wrong size, wrong style or just plain weird, shoppers will return $46.28 billion in holiday merchandise, a record high, according to the National Retail Federation.

This year, shoppers are bringing items back even before those presents are wrapped or bows are tied. That's partly a result of record-breaking sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when buyers flocked to stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

"Higher sales will bring higher return amounts," said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the NRF.
The NRF, of course, has a vested interest in convincing people that the huge number of returns are no big deal so they won't feel even more skittish about the economy and hence less likely to go shopping. So you would think that in the interest of journalistic balance, CNN might have gone and sought out a dissenting opinion, especially in light of the fact that the economy has been struggling for a full four years now. Nope, apparently the only relevant names the producer of this story had on his or her Rolodex were those of other cheerleaders:
Some gift buyers are bringing purchases back now to take advantage of additional markdowns retailers are making in the days before Christmas, explained Candace Corlett of WSL Strategic Retail, a New York-based consulting firm.

"Now they can get what they bought three weeks ago for 30% to 40% less," she said.

A surge in online shopping -- and free or return shipping -- also is spurring the trend, Corlett said. Buyers often order more than one size or style before making a final decision on the item they want, then return the rest.
But I thought the whole justification for the asinine idea to begin the Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving evening and lure the drooling consumer zombies out of their houses while their turkey dinners were still digesting is that THOSE prices were supposed to be the bottom of the barrel. And yet now we find out that they have been cut 30-40% more, which if true could only mean that retailers like Sears were getting desperate and damaging their bottom line in the process.

But the prize for trying to put shiny red lipstick on this rather ugly pig comes from the third cheerleader CNN interviewed:
At brick-and-mortar stores, early holiday returns can boost business because it gets shoppers into the store once more.

"If people return something, there's a 70% chance they will buy something else," said Britt Beemer, retail analyst and chairman of America's Research Group.
I wasn't math major, but even I know that if 70% of the returnees bought something else it means 30% didn't. Which also means that even if every one of the returnees who did buy something else spent the full amount of the original purchase price, the store is out 30% for the total of all returned items. I think back to every occasion in which I have ever returned a gift. Rarely has what I bought to replace it ever cost more than a few bucks more than the original item.

The article then concluded with a bunch of NRF blather about how polling statistics show that it's becoming socially acceptable to return gifts, which I won't reprint here because the stupidity of it made my head hurt. Though there has been some stiff competition, this article is my nominee for this year's most obvious piece of business reporter stenography passing itself off as legitimate journalism.

Addendum: also not mentioned by CNN, but reported by the Atlantic Wire, shoplifting in America was also up around $62 million this holiday season:
Hope you have a Merry Christmas, America, because you've been extremely naughty at the mall this year. After surveying retailers in the U.S., the Global Retail Theft Barometer says that shoppers pinched $1.8 billion worth of merchandise during the four weeks leading up to Christmas, reports the AP. $1.8 billion! For context, $1.8 billion is a 6 percent increase from 2010 -- a total of approximately 62 million Tickle Me Elmos at retail. And this is a year when there aren't even any good toys to buy. When stores are offering big markdowns because people aren't spending as much. But that's exactly the point: while there will always be some built-in kleptomania to society, the sour economy drives some people to buy less and steal more. Or at least gives them a good excuse for doing so.


Bonus: I can't believe I almost got all the way through the holiday season without posting this song

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Survey on "Most Admired People" Demonstrates How Easily Duped Americans Are


In yet another sign of why America is heading down the toilet, a recent Gallup poll of "Most Admired American Men and Women" placed President Hopey-Changey and his warmongering Secretary of State at the top of the list for men and women, respectively. Here is USA Today with the details:
President Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are the nation's most-admired man and woman — again — in the annual USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

Each leads their category with 17% of votes in top 10 lists that favor the most familiar names in global politics, religion, entertainment and culture.

Linda Dinco, 62, of Latrobe, Pa., says she named Obama and Secretary of State Clinton for their "intelligence and their toughness."
Because it takes an awful lot of smarts and bravery to sit in an air conditioned office, surrounded by countless layers of security and order the most omnipotent military force the world has ever seen to wreak death and destruction on some lightly armed, brown skinned people on the far side of the planet. And lest you think I'm being unfair to Hillary by lumping her in with Obama, remember that not only did she vote for the Iraq War, she was the administration's leading hawk calling for the Afghanistan surge.

Things don't get a whole lot better from there as you move down the list. Here are the top ten for each gender:

Most admired men
1) Barack Obama

2) George W. Bush

3) Bill Clinton

4) Rev. Billy Graham

5) Warren Buffett

6-tie) Newt Gingrich

6-tie) Donald Trump

8) Pope Benedict XVI

9) Bill Gates

10) Thomas Monson
Most admired women
1) Hillary Clinton

2) Oprah Winfrey

3) Michelle Obama

4) Sarah Palin

5) Condoleezza Rice

6) Laura Bush

7-tie) Margaret Thatcher

7-tie) Ellen DeGeneres

9-tie) Queen Elizabeth

9-tie) Michele Bachmann
Personally, I would put about half of those people on my respective bottom 10 lists of the LEAST ADMIRED men and women and exactly NONE of them would make my top 1000 let alone my top 10. But then again, I already knew I wasn't exactly marching along in lock step with the program.

Easily Duped and Easily Led - a perfect motto to replace Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

More Housing Crash Porn: America is Becoming a Nation of Renters


This story from MSNBC makes for a pertinent follow up to my post this morning about the continued effects of the housing crash on Kane County, Illinois:
Brian Keith is busier than ever as the architecture firm he works for rushes to wrap up work on a 300-unit apartment complex in Dallas.

The project is one of dozens the firm, JHP Architecture, has on its hands -- a surge of business driven by a rise in demand in the United States for rental properties.

The increased demand has forced JHP to expand, and it expects to keep hiring at least through the first quarter.

"We're seeing overall work come back and there's a backlog of contracts to go through," said Keith, director of urban design and planning at JHP. "There's strong interest in multi-family units and plenty of pent-up demand."

With U.S. unemployment at a lofty 8.6 percent, home foreclosures rising and property prices under pressure, more and more Americans have given up the dream of owning, opting instead to rent, a shift that is remaking the face of the U.S. housing industry.

The percentage of Americans who own their home dropped from a peak of 69.2 percent in late 2004 to a 13-year low of 65.9 percent in the second quarter. It edged up to 66.3 percent in the third quarter of this year.

On the flip side, the percentage of rental properties that are empty fell to 9.8 percent in the third quarter from 10.3 percent a year earlier.

In a recent report, Oliver Chang, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, dubbed 2012 "The Year of the Landlord."

"Rents are rising, vacancies are falling, household formations are growing and rental supply is limited," the Morgan Stanley report stated. "We believe the demand for rental properties will continue to grow."

Groundbreaking for new housing jumped 9.3 percent in November to the highest level in 19 months, fueling optimism that the battered housing market was regaining its footing.

The gains, however, were almost solely in multifamily housing. Groundbreaking for structures with five or more units shot up more than 30 percent from October to now stand at nearly double the year-ago level.
This trend will likely continue for as long as the temporary stabilization of the economy, purchased by unsustainable levels of federal deficit spending, is maintained. Once the economy resumes its free fall, however, people are going to rapidly approach the point where they can no longer even afford to rent. And that is when the slow-motion collapse of the economy will become visibly obvious at street level.


Bonus: Because there really is only one thing you can do when you can't pay the rent

More Housing Crash Evidence: Building Permits Continue to Fall in Exurban Kane County, Illinois


(Hat tip to reader defshepard for alerting me to this article).

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Chicago area, Kane County, Illinois, which lies more than 30 miles from the downtown Chicago Loop, is one of those far flung exurban areas that built up rapidly during the housing boom era when suburbanites fled farther and farther from the city centers in search of a cheap lot on a cul-de-sac in which they could build their dream McMansions. The fact that these artificial communities were even more car-centric and thereby vulnerable to oil price shocks than even traditional, closer in suburbs never entered their minds. Not surprisingly, in most places the subsequent housing crash hit the exurbs the hardest.

It would stand to reason then that if there is ever going to be a recovery in housing it will have take root in the exurbs at some point. As this article about Kane Country from Sun Times Media shows, however, no such recovery is evident:
Building in Kane County is continuing to slide.

In 2011, the county issued 1,335 building permits from January through November, compared to 1,487 for the same period in 2010.

The drop-off is not as extreme as some years have been since the economy started struggling, but the trend continues as the economy continues to suffer, Kane’s Director of Development and Community Services Mark VanKerkhoff said this past week.

“Like everywhere else, we’re probably down from five years ago,” he said.

For November, the county issued 128 permits, compared to 169 in November 2010. The drop is not too significant, but it does continue the trend, he said. The total number of building permits issued annually has been on a sharp decline for about seven years, he said.
Even more telling, however, is this quote:
The number of permits was significantly higher when the county was in boom times for building. The county could typically see between 400 and 500 permit applications to build single-family homes, VanKerkhoff said. As construction came to a halt, those numbers began to dip significantly.

About three or four years ago, the number of building permit applications for single-family homes barely topped 100. Now, they are routinely fewer than 75, he said. This year, they came in with 41 single-family home building permit applications.

Part of the reason for the decline is that the focus of the market has changed. More people are interested in rental units, since they cannot always afford to purchase housing, VanKerkhoff said.
"Can't always" afford to purchase single family housing? Looks to me like it is rapidly approaching the point where NOBODY can afford to purchase single family housing.

There is a very simple reason why single family home construction has virtually halted in places like Kane County. Few high paying jobs are being created, which means there is little expansion in the number of people who can afford to build a new McMansion anymore. But few people understand that basic fact, as evidenced by the concluding paragraphs of the article:
VanKerkhoff mentioned that the building department has spent more time looking at property maintenance ordinances. A county task force was recently formed to look at ordinances on the books, including how the county addresses abandoned construction projects, and the application process. The task force also is looking at ordinances determining how many vehicles can be left on a property.

The task force began to make sure that ordinances designed to protect the county during boom times were not deterring builders from doing business in Kane now that the economy is suffering, task force chairman Mike Donahue said.
I hate to tell you this, Mr. Donahue, but you could remove all of the building ordinances and allow the builders to cut whatever corners they want and it still wouldn't make any difference because they have no customers. If people can't afford to build new houses at a time when a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage is going for 4% interest, weakening a few building ordinances isn't going to change that basic fact.


Bonus: Looks like the exurbs may die before Chicago does

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alabama State Budget Cuts Delay Forensic Tests for Criminal Investigations


I've posted several previous stories about how state and local government budget cuts are causing cutbacks to law enforcement, meaning fewer cops on the streets in some localities. But here is a new angle on that theme that I had not seen previously. Thanks to teevee shows like CSI, most people are familiar with the forensic science aspect of modern law enforcement and how it it used to successfully prosecute criminals who might have avoided conviction in an earlier era. You couldn't do a DNA match, for example, before DNA tests were even possible.

What people don't stop to consider, however, is that such tests are not cheap to properly perform, and that if there is no longer sufficient funding for them they will cease to be a tool in policeman's kit. Here is the Montgomery Advertiser with a story about just such a thing starting to happen down in Alabama:
The funding crisis in Alaba­ma's General Fund budget is be­ing felt in particular by law en­forcement agencies and district attorney's offices with delays in critical lab work results needed to investigate crimes and bring cases to trial.

This includes tests to de­termine if something found in a car or on a suspect is an illegal substance like cocaine or marijua­na or contains legal ingredients like talcum powder or pencil shavings. Also being delayed are tests to determine how a person died and those that show if ar­rested drivers were under the in­fluence of alcohol or drugs.

State Forensic Sciences Direc­tor Michael Sparks said his agen­cy's funding has been cut 33 per­cent in the past three years and there are 27 fewer employees than in 2009.

He said the funding shortfall is causing backlogs, particularly in drug tests and on toxicology tests that determine cause of death.

The agency has long suffered from budget shortfalls, but Sparks said they had $14 million to spend three years ago and the agency had eliminated most back­logs. Then the recession hit and in the past three years, Sparks has watched the agency's budget drop almost $5 million a year. Labs have been closed and some key services have been dropped, such as providing transporta­tion to ship bodies to labora­tories.

"We have to investigate everything that is brought to us," Sparks said. "If someone is found dead, they want to know what happened."

Blount County District At­torney Pamela Casey said quick results on a toxicology test can mean whether a case is successfully prose­cuted.

"I can't prosecute cases until I have a toxicology re­port in my hands," Casey said.

She said the delays are causing grand jury proceed­ings to be delayed, slowing down how long it takes for indictments to be brought against suspects.

Casey said she had a drawer in her office in Oneonta that contains about 700 cases that need to go be­fore a grand jury.

She said in many of those cases the laboratory work has not been completed.

She said the state's district attorneys have already been told more budget cuts are coming in the session of the Legislature that begins in February.
Of course, law enforcement was already dealing with the so-called "CSI Effect," as explained by Wikipedia:
The CSI effect, also known as the CSI syndrome and the CSI infection, is any of several ways in which the exaggerated portrayal of forensic science on crime television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation influences public perception. The term most often refers to the belief that jurors have come to demand more forensic evidence in criminal trials, thereby raising the effective standard of proof for prosecutors. While this belief is widely held among American legal professionals, some studies have suggested that crime shows are unlikely to cause such an effect, although frequent CSI viewers may place a lower value on circumstantial evidence. As technology improves and becomes more prevalent throughout society, people may also develop higher expectations for the capabilities of forensic technology.

There are several other manifestations of the CSI effect. Greater public awareness of forensic science has also increased the demand for forensic evidence in police investigations, boosting workloads for crime laboratories.
Increased demand has run smack dab into budgetary realities. So in other words, you could say that we are now reaching the point of Peak Criminal Forensics.

The Smoke and Mirrors Agreement: Debt Ceiling to be Lifted by Another $1.2 Trillion


Remember just last summer when Congressional Republicans and the White House brought the nation to the brink of debt default before passing a "compromise" to lift the federal debt ceiling? Oh, how it seemed as though there was a real possibility they might fail to reach an agreement, and then all hell was going to break loose in the financial markets. What a load of crap. The fix was in from the very beginning.

Our so-call "leaders" made a big show of creating the deficit reduction "super" committee, which then failed, as nearly every sane commentator predicted it would. So back to the drawing board, right? Nope. Just more business as usual, in fact, as reported by Reuters:
The White House plans to ask Congress by the end of the week for an increase in the government's debt ceiling to allow the United States to pay its bills on time, according to a senior Treasury Department official on Tuesday.

The approval is expected to go through without a challenge, given that Congress is in recess until later in January and the request is in line with an agreement to keep the U.S. government funded into 2013.

The debt is projected to fall within $100 billion of the current cap by December 30, when the United States has $82 billion in interest on its debt and payments such as Social Security coming due. President Barack Obama is expected to ask for authority to increase the borrowing limit by $1.2 trillion, part of the spending authority that was negotiated between Congress and the White House this summer.

Under the agreement struck in August during the showdown over the government's debt limit, the cap is automatically raised unless Congress votes to block the debt-ceiling extension. Lawmakers have 15 days within receiving the request to vote, which is largely symbolic because the president can veto it and Congress would be unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority to override it. Moreover, the U.S. House of Representatives also is in recess until January 17.

The deal called for raising the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion to serve the nation's borrowing needs into 2013 and also included mandatory cuts to the federal budget deficit. Since then, the extension has been increased twice by a total of $900 billion.

The debt limit currently stands at $15.194 trillion and would increase to $16.394 trillion with the request.
And since most of the largely cosmetic mandatory cuts were backloaded until late in this current decade, everybody got what they secretly really wanted, the ceiling will be raised until after the next election with no real pain being inflicted upon the electorate or, more importantly, their campaign contributors. Just another typical day in Spoiled Rotten America.

As I Predicted Back in May: If It Ever Looked Like Ron Paul Could Win They Would Crush Him

image: as the old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."

Sometimes, I hate being right. Back on May 27th when TDS was still in its infancy I wrote a Friday Rant about politics called, "Thinking of Making a Presidential Campaign Contribution? If So, You’re an Idiot," in which I stated the following about Ron Paul:
I’ve said before on this very blog that I like the good doctor. He hates America’s war and empire foreign policy every bit as much as I do. But it is precisely BECAUSE he hates it that Ron Paul is NEVER going to be the nominee of the Republican Party let alone President of the United States. The Republicans tolerate Ron Paul the way a family tolerates a slightly deranged senior citizen uncle, mostly because he helps keep many libertarian types within the party fold. But if it ever looked like Ron Paul could actually do anything more than sit at a picnic table during the family reunion holding a deep conversation with the potato salad, the corporate forces who underwrite the party’s national campaigns would conspire with the party leadership to squash him like a stink bug that had gotten into their living room.
And lo and behold, as soon as enough of the other Republican contenders had shit the bed, leaving Paul elevated to near the top of the polls, the long knives came out in force. Of course, Paul himself didn't help matters any. Whether he wrote the more incendiary quotes included in his old newsletters or not, they were published under his name and hence it is appropriate to ask him what the hell he was thinking in having them published. In fact, Paul denying he wrote or even knew about them just makes him look like one more full-of-shit politician rather than the straight shooter he claims to be.

Just for the record, from Talking Points Memo, here is a handy list of the worst of the quotes from the newsletter so that any reader who hasn't yet seen them can judge their appropriateness for themselves:
1. “Order was only restored in LA when it came time for the blacks to collect their welfare checks. The ‘poor’ lined up at the Post Office to get their handouts (since there were no deliveries) — and then complained about slow service.” -Report on LA riots, June 1992

2. “I’ve been told not to talk, but these stooges don’t scare me. Threats or no threats, I’ve laid bare the coming race war in our big cities. The federal-homosexual cover-up on AIDS (my training as a physician helps me see through this one.)” -Direct mail ad promoting Paul’s newsletters, written from Paul’s perspective, 1993

3. “It is human nature that like attracts likes. But whites are not allowed to express this same human impulse. Except in a de facto sense, there can be no white schools, white clubs, or white neighborhoods. The political system demands white integration, while allowing black segregation.” -‘The Disappearing White Majority,’ January 1993

4. “I miss the closet. Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities. They could also not be as promiscuous. Is it any wonder the AIDS epidemic started after they ‘came out of the closet,’ and started hyper-promiscuous sodomy?” -June 1990

5. “Whether [the 1993 World Trade Center bombing] was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly a retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little.” -‘The New York Bombing,’ April 1993

6. “An ex-cop I know advises that if you have to use a gun on a youth, you should leave the scene immediately, disposing of the wiped off gun as soon as possible. Such a gun cannot, of course, be registered to you, but one bought privately (through the classifieds, for example).” ‘Blast ‘Em’, October 1992

7. “The opposition will do its best to provoke some precipitous action on on our part to discredit us and our cause. Follow the orders of Captain Parker at Lexington: Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” -Militia’s 10-point advice to other militias, January 1995.

8. “When the New Money is imposed, every American family must have a Survival Kit of highly liquid, small-denomination silver and gold coins for hand-to-hand use. The Ron Paul Survival Kit — now an industry standard — comes in an official World War II US Army ammo holder.” -Ad for ‘The Original Famous Ron Paul Survival Kit,’ undated

9. “[Martin Luther King, Jr.], the FBI files reveal, was not only a world-class adulterer, he also seduced underage girls and boys…And we are supposed to honor this ‘Christian minister’ and lying socialist satyr with a holiday that puts him on par with George Washington?” -December 1990

10. “It turns out that the brilliant [Bobby Fischer], who has all the makings of an American hero, is very politically incorrect on Jewish questions, for which he will never be forgiven, even though he is a Jew. Thus we are not supposed to herald him as the world’s greatest chess player.” -November 1992, background on Fischer’s “politically incorrect” views (which include Holocaust denial) here.
Yes, it was two decades ago that these quotes were written, but there is no way around the fact that they come off like the ravings of a loon, and a bigoted one at that. The only quote that is even defensible is Number 8, but even in that one the phrase "new money" comes off sounding paranoid rather than a sensible precaution that people should invest in hard assets instead of expecting fiat currency not to be devalued.

But I didn't write this post with the intention to dog pile on Ron Paul. The mainstream media is doing a very fine job on behalf of its corporate masters and using the newsletter quotes to utterly destroy his credibility. They don't need any help from me in that regard.

What I actually find most telling about this controversy is the timing. It's not like these newsletters were a secret or anything. In fact, one mainstream media source has had possession of them for a long time now, as TPM reported:
The New Republic, which first obtained the archives during the 2008 campaign, have recently posted images of several issues of the newsletters.
So the New Republic has been in possession of this material since the last time that Paul ran for president, and yet they and the rest of the media essentially sat on it until the Republican Party's disarray got to the point where he actually appeared to have a sporting chance of winning the nomination. That right there tells you all you need to know about how the system works.

You also have to wonder how serious Paul himself has ever been about his presidential campaigns. He has been in politics long enough that he had to know, or should have known, that being associated with such writings would destroy his chances if he ever got too close to the brass ring.

Sadly, I've known some Ron Paul supporters and have read articles and posts by quite a few others who clearly are sincere people who do not subscribe to the radical positions that appeared in the Ron Paul newsletter in the early-1990s. The really depressing part in all of this is that Ron Paul's best policy positions--anti-intervention, anti-militarism, anti-War on Drugs and anti-Federal Reserve--are now going to be tarred in the media by his having been one of their most prominent advocates. In that way he has proven himself to be a perfect stooge to help the elites ensure that those ideas never gain the widespread acceptance they deserve. Yet another political Mission Accomplished.


Update: I wrote this post before I saw the new article quoted below from Talking Points Memo about Newt Gingrich's attack on Paul. I despise Gingrich probably more than any other politician in America. The man is a rank opportunist, a hypocrite, a liar and a fraud. You could say they all are, but Gingrich is particularly skilled at it. But that still doesn't change the fact that he also considered by the media as a respectable politician and a voice of the mainstream.
Newt Gingrich on Tuesday lit into Ron Paul over extremist newsletters he once published, saying that he would not vote for him if he were the Republican nominee.

Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about tough attack ads Paul has been running against him, Gingrich slammed his rival, who he said “disowns ten years of his own letter, says he doesn’t really realize what was in it, had no idea that he was making money on, that it was racist, anti-Semitic.”

“He’s attacking me for serial hypocrisy and he spent ten years out of earning money off a newsletter that had his name that he didn’t notice,” he said. “He’s got to come up with some very straight answers to get somebody to take him seriously. Would I be willing to listen to him? Sure. I think the choice of Ron Paul or Barack Obama would be a very bad choice for America.”

Gingrich flatly said “no” when asked if he would vote for Paul himself.

“There will come a morning people won’t take him as a serious person,” Gingrich said, saying he was a “reasonable candidate” as a protest vote.

“As a potential president, a person who thinks the United States was [responsible] for 9/11, a person who believes, who wrote in his newsletter, that the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 might have been a CIA plot, the person who says it doesn’t matter if the Iranians have a nuclear weapon — you look at Ron Paul’s record of systemic avoidance of reality, his ads are about as accurate as his newsletter.”
Note the sentence I highlighted in bold. Right there, Gingrich is shrewdly tying Ron Paul's anti-interventionism with his old newsletter quotes as if they are all one in the same. By attacking the messenger, Gingrich discredits the message in the eyes of the average voter. It's one of the oldest political tricks in the book.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Illinois Subsidizes Navistar's Indiana Layoffs With Tax Incentives


We're used to sports team owners holding cities and states hostages by threatening to move to a different city in order to get new taxpayer-funded stadiums. But less well known is that other corporations often extort those same governments to get taxpayer incentives and subsidies as well.

It's one thing when it happens to prevent an employer from moving out of state. But what if an employer uses the incentives in order to open a new facility so it can the fire higher paid, unionized employees in another state? Think that can't happen? Well it just did in Illinois, according to this report:
WBEZ has learned that some new jobs Navistar promised under an Illinois incentive agreement are coming to the state at the expense of unionized workers in Indiana.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced the Navistar incentives last year after the company threatened to pack up its headquarters in west suburban Warrenville and leave the state. The deal committed Illinois to a $64.7 million bundle of tax credits and job-training subsidies for the company. It committed Navistar to moving the headquarters to Lisle, just a couple miles east, and to adding 400 full-time Illinois employees.

Navistar’s first report to the state about the jobs isn’t due until next year, so it’s hard to tell how many positions the company has created thus far. Employees confirm that dozens of new engineers and designers are working at the Lisle facility.

Navistar is creating those jobs as it phases out its Truck Development and Technology Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, just three hours southeast of Chicago. The latest Fort Wayne cuts came December 2, when the company laid off 130 employees, mostly engineers and designers who are United Auto Workers members. Before the layoff, some of the Fort Wayne workers had to help train their Lisle replacements.

“They’ve rewritten the job descriptions so the people that used to do the work here — the union folks — don’t qualify anymore on paper,” said Craig Randolph, a Navistar design engineer laid off after 15 years at the Fort Wayne center. “So they’re eliminating the high-seniority, older employees like myself and replacing them with nonunion college kids — guys fresh out of school. And the taxpayers in Illinois are subsidizing the whole thing.”
Okay, that's bad enough, but the Corporate FlackQuote is just priceless:
Asked for a response, Navistar spokeswoman Karen Denning called it unusual for engineers to have union representation in the first place, a claim disputed by auto industry experts. Denning also sent a statement that said the company’s decision to shift the Fort Wayne jobs to Lisle was “based solely on our desire to compete in the global economy.” The statement added that Navistar has allowed many Fort Wayne employees to relocate to the Chicago area and stay with the company.
Because Illinois is just full of sophisticated, well refined workers, don't you know, while those troglodytes over in Indiana have not yet even evolved opposable thumbs.

In summary, lower paid Illinois workers are benefiting from higher paying jobs being transferred from Indiana, while the nearly bankrupt Land of Lincoln loses even more tax revenue it can ill afford to lose. Meanwhile, the top management at Navistar pat themselves on the back for being such shrewd businesspeople while laughing all the way to the bank. And yet people still want to blame the unions for making "unreasonable" demands as being the reason why so many companies are having trouble being competitive.


Bonus: I wonder if R. Dean Taylor used to work for Navistar

As Predicted Here on TDS: Sears Takes the Next Step in the Downward Spiral


I don't make a lot of specifically timed predictions here on TDS because that's a good way to seriously undermine one's credibility. Instead, I call out trends in the economy as I see them. Back on August 18th, I posted about one such trend using a title that was self-explanatory, "The Drip...Drip...Drip... Begins for Sears," in which I wrote the following:
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.
Well, as reported by Zero Hedge today, the train isn't quite here yet, but it has become obvious that those are headlights in the distance:
That retailer Sears, aka K-Mart, just preannounced what can only be described as catastrophic Q4 results should not be a surprise to anyone: after all we have been warning ever since the "record" thanksgiving holiday that when you literally dump merchandize at stunning losses, losses will, stunningly, follow. Sure enough enter Sears. What we, however, are ourselves stunned by is that as part of its preannouncement, Sears has decided it would be prudent to provide an update on its credit facility status as well as availability. As a reminder to anyone and everyone - there is no more sure way of committing corporate suicide than openly inviting the bear raid which always appears whenever the words "revolving credit facility" and "availability" appear in the same press release. Just recall MF Global. And here, as there, we expect shorting to death to commence in 5...4...3...
Zero Hedge, of course, is interested from a stock market perspective, whereas I am more concerned about store closings and people losing their jobs. From the Sears announcement:
Close 100 to 120 Kmart and Sears Full-line stores. We expect these store closures to generate $140 to $170 million of cash as the net inventory in these stores is sold and we expect to generate additional cash proceeds from the sale or sublease of the related real estate. Further, we intend to optimize the space allocation based on category performance in certain stores. Final determination of the stores to be closed has not yet been made. The list of stores closing will be posted at www.searsmedia.com when final determination is made.
In other words they are now cannibalizing themselves in order to try and stay afloat. Just like I predicted back in August.

Spoiled Rotten Nation: Fretting Over Losing the Payroll Tax Cut


I have to admit that it's been a lot of fun watching the Republicans senselessly tie themselves up in knots over extending the payroll tax cut for mere two months. It's just more proof that the party has collectively completely lost its mind.

That doesn't mean the Democrats are much better. President Hopey-Changey originally pushed for the payroll tax cut last year at this time to provide a temporary economic stimulus at the expense of accelerating the insolvency of the Social Security program, which is supposedly his party's signature accomplishment.

The public, of course, largely excoriated the Republicans for "raising their taxes," by initially scuttling the deal to extend the cut. In the face of overwhelming outrage, the Republicans then ran scurrying away with their tails between their legs, in the process essentially guaranteeing that the payroll tax cut will never be rescinded. At the height of the debate last week, this story from Bloomberg was pretty telling:
Some say they'll spend less on groceries. Others expect to cut back on travel. For many, there would be fewer meals out.

Across the country, Americans are bracing for another financial hardship: smaller paychecks starting in January, if Congress doesn't break a deadlock and renew a Social Security tax cut.

The tax cut, which took effect this year, benefits 160 million Americans -- $1,000 a year, or nearly $20 a week, for someone making $50,000, as much as $4,272 or $82 a week for a household with two high-paid workers.

The tax cut is set to expire Jan. 1. If lawmakers don't renew it for 2012, analysts say the economy would slow as individuals and families looked for ways to spend less.

"Of course, it changes my plans," said Craig Duffy, an information-technology worker from Philadelphia and new father of twins. Duffy said his family already has tightened spending, so "we'll have to find a way to cut back."

That might mean canceling a planned trip to visit the twins' grandparents in Wisconsin, Duffy said.

The tax cut is part of legislation that would also renew benefits for the long-term unemployed. If the unemployment benefits aren't renewed, starting in January nearly 6 million people would lose weekly checks averaging about $300 -- the main source of income for most of them.
The article then continues on for about another two-dozen paragraphs. I could have posted the rest of it, but you get the idea. It was basically one long screed about how "raising" the payroll tax would "hurt" American consumers in hard economic times. There was not one single sentence included about how the lost tax revenue is going to harm the Social Security program or increase the federal budget deficit.

The reason the payroll tax cut is causing bigger deficits, of course, is that all of the money in the so-called Social Security "trust fund" was placed into government securities, i.e. debt, meaning that money has already been spent and the trust fund itself is nothing more than an accounting gimmick. So now, having already raided the retirement system's piggy bank, we've decided to reduce the amount of money we're putting into the piggy bank in the first place. All of this in a desperate attempt to try and prop up our consumer economy. Having already saddled future generations with more than $15 trillion in debt (and rising) they will never be able to repay, we are now rapidly bankrupting our own retirement system just so people can buy more shit they don't need like the latest Air Jordan basketball shoes, or maybe some Kardashian products made in Chinese sweatshops, and keep the game going a little longer. We are truly a spoiled rotten nation.

Selfishly, I guess, I should hope that Obama does get his way and the payroll tax cut is extended indefinitely. I won't be eligible to collect Social Security benefits for another 16 years, and fully expect the system to be completely bankrupt well before then. Every dollar I don't pay in payroll taxes now is another dollar in my pocket that I can invest to prepare for what's coming. But as a lifelong believer in the idea of the common good, I will take absolutely no joy in doing so.


Bonus: We have truly become a nation full of Veruca Salts

Monday, December 26, 2011

Assholocracy


I don't know who Geoffrey K. Pullum is, but he recently wrote a fantastic blog post in response to the efforts of Donald Trump to play kingmaker in the Republican presidential nomination contest. I would argue, of course, that it is not just Trump and not just the Republican candidates who are card carrying members of the assholocracy, but also Obama, every member of his administration and nearly every sitting member of Congress. Throw in 50 state governors, most of the state legislative members and every mayor who sicced their thug cops on the Occupy protesters, plus every investment banker on Wall Street and nearly every large corporation CEO and you have a pretty clear picture of who the assholocracy is.
Somewhat to my surprise, the Wall Street Journal didn't merely report that "Donald Trump wants a say in who gets the nomination, so he's hosting a presidential debate, holding out the prospect of his endorsement and threatening an independent run" (i.e., behaving like a kingmaker who expects to be honored and courted by the rival candidates); it even quoted candidate Jon Huntsman's remarkably lewd comment about why he's not going to attend the Trump "debate": Huntsman said, "I'm not going to kiss his ring, and I'm not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy."

That vivid and rather gross remark reminded me of how right my extremely cool son Calvin is about the word he wants to see win the American Dialect Society's Word of the Year contest. I had been talking to Calvin one day about the ghastly crew of obnoxious multi-millionaires who dominate the newspapers, and how they keep threatening to achieve success even in the political arena. Calvin pointed out to me both that we need a new political term for the concept of being ruled by such men, and that there already is such a term. We are living, he observed, in the age of the assholocracy.

He's right, you know. This relatively new word is really useful. Even if we ignore the whole scandal of modern banking, and the rigged election in Russia, and all the scandals in Italy (by the man who The Economist dubbed "the man who screwed a whole country"), and all the disgusting behavior and political clout of of the Murdoch press empire, there is so much else. The contest for the Republican presidential nomination illustrates as well as any other arena.

Donald Trump is famous here in Scotland. Famous for his cruel treatment of the ordinary people he has tried hard to oust from their homes so he can get control of their land, which adjoins the golf resort he is trying to build north of Aberdeen. (There is an excellent documentary on his unpleasant dealings: You've Been Trumped. The capacity crowd in Edinburgh the night I saw it broke into applause, and it was not for the Donald.) To see Trump trying to play a decisive role in choosing the next Republican presidential candidate even as he threatens to split their vote by running against them as an independent really interests us over here. It should be even more interesting to those of you who are on the left hand side of the Atlantic.

The thought of Trump having political power and influence convinces me that assholocracy is going to get my vote at the American Dialect Society's voting session. It's not just to make sure we don't find some stupid compositional phrase winning (I shudder at the thought of having to battle against my good friend Ben Zimmer over such a thing, but you can already see the way he's leaning on the phrase issue), no; it's because assholocracy is a terse and valuable addition to the vocabulary.
I've hereby added an "assholocracy" tag here at TDS and will be using it in the future, no doubt quite liberally.


Bonus: The Asshole Song

Celebritard Porn: Kardashian Products are Made In Chinese Sweatshops


Remember back in the 1990s when white bread America was scandalized that Kathie Lee Gifford's line of cheap ass clothing sold at Walmarts throughout the land was being produced by Guatemalan sweatshops? In the wake of the resulting outcry, Gifford at least had the decency to act horrified by the revelations, apologize and then lobby against such activities. It was in so many ways a much more innocent time back then.

As reported last week by Radar Online, reality teevee stars, the Kardashian family, have now conspired to make Kathie Lee Gifford look like Norma Rae Webster:
In a stunning world exclusive exposé Star magazine is reporting that the Kardashian family are endorsing and selling fashion products manufactured in foreign sweatshops, where workers, some as young as sixteen years old, are abused and virtually imprisoned.

The allegations about Kardashian products in this post have nothing to do with their products sold at Sears.

A prestigious human-rights watchdog organization has launched an investigation into America’s top TV family, with officials imploring the Kardashians not to profit from what amounts to “slave labor.”

“The Kardashians are in bed with some pretty bad people,” Charles Kernaghan, the executive director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, tells Star. “Not only are celebrities like the Kardashians taking advantage of these workers, they are holding hands with a government that spits on democracy and women’s rights.”
So how bad are the factory conditions? About as bad as you would expect:
Shockingly, the impoverished workers earn just a paltry $1 an hour, slaving away in factories in the Guangdong region of China, which Kernaghan describes as being "like minimum-security prisons."

The region is a “scary place,” Kernaghan continues, where the peak summer season is “brutal,” with temperatures inside non-air-conditioned factories soaring to over 100˚F. Workers in the region can come out with as little as $15 a month once rent and food debts have been paid to their bosses.

“You can’t talk during working hours,” Kernaghan adds. “You can’t listen to music; you can’t stand up and stretch. You can’t even put your head up and look around, or you will be screamed at. If you get permission to use the toilet, you get four minutes. If you’re highly specialized, you cannot even go to the bathroom.”
And right here we have the "No shit, Sherlock" quote of the year:
Li Qiang, the executive director of China Labor Watch, says that the reality stars are turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, for the sake of their bottom line. “People like the Kardashians are producing their products in China because they will get more profit, since the labor cost is so low compared to the United States and other countries,” he tells Star exclusively.

The sweatshop workers live in squalid factory-run dormitories filled with the stench of sewage while toiling up to 84 hours during seven-day work weeks to produce some of the goods that helped Kourtney, 32, Kim, 31, Khloé, 27, mom Kris, 56, and the rest of their family earn $65 million last year.
I'm going to have to take issue with that last passage and say that it is NOT in fact the factories themselves that allow the Kardashians to make such an obscene profit from virtual slave labor. It is instead the drooling consumer zombies in America and elsewhere who worship celebritards like the Kardashians and unthinkingly run out to buy their hideous merchandise without giving so much as one moment's thought to the human costs that are enabling this abomination. Seriously, just how addled does your mind have to be to not only be entertained by the antics of such utterly vacuous no-talents, but then to open your wallet or purse and actually spend your hard earned money on their lines of overpriced, cheaply made shit?

It's easy to hate on the Kardashians because they are, in fact, so utterly hate-able. But doing so is just a cop out that absolves everyone of responsibility who continually seeks out the lowest price or the latest utterly useless fad item with no concern as to the larger societal or global consequences. The original article for this story appeared in a tabloid rag, and will no doubt cause its dimwitted readership to feel all superior to those awful Kardashians, even as the latter laugh all the way to the bank. At the end of the day it is our mindless consumer culture, and not JUST the Kardashians, who so richly deserve to be demonized.


Bonus: Here's a little song about what I'd rather do than spend ONE SINGLE MINUTE watching the Kardashians

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!


Though I am not a religious person, I've always made it a point to spend time with family during the Christmas holiday. This year will be a little more special as I will be seeing my brother, who has finally started to show improvement from the long illness that was at one point misdiagnosed as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

I hope everyone has a terrific and safe holiday, and here is a little Christmas video for all you Calvin and Hobbes fans.

Enjoy!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday Night Music Video - "It's Christmas So We'll Stop" by Frightened Rabbit


I'm not really a big fan of Christmas songs. Not because I'm not a religious person, but rather because most of it just isn't all that good musically. There are a few exceptions, however. For instance, this haunting little nugget from Scotland's very own, Frightened Rabbit.

Enjoy!

The Money Tree is Out of Money, Declares Bankruptcy


As reported this past week by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Money Tree is declaring bankruptcy, shutting down half of its locations and presumably throwing all of the workers at those locations onto the unemployment line. Just in time for Christmas.
The Money Tree Inc., a Georgia-based provider of small consumer loans, and several of its subsidiaries have filed for bankruptcy protection, citing the economy and customers’ inability to repay loans.

The Bainbridge-based lender, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in Alabama on Friday, said it would restructure its business and close half of its 92 locations across the Southeast.

The company has 28 locations in Georgia, including branches in Buford, Conyers and Forest Park, according to its website.

The Money Tree was founded in 1987 and expanded into Alabama, Florida and Louisiana in the 1990s. Hurricane Katrina and the economic downturn that began in 2007 were significant setbacks for the lender, the company said in its bankruptcy filings.
You'd think it would be pretty hard to spin this announcement positively, but damn if Money Tree's president didn't try:
Bradley Bellville, the company’s president, said in a news release that the filing was made with “great regret.”

“However, this filing allows The Money Tree to enhance its short-term liquidity while we confront this historically difficult environment for our business,” he said.

Bellville did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
I'll bet he didn't. And a big "bah, humbug" to you too, sir.


Bonus: Here is a completely inappropriate song dedication to Money Tree President Bradley Bellville

Washington State Laying Off Nearly Half of its Park Rangers


If you are an outdoorsy-type who enjoys visiting parks, I've got some bad news for you. In what will no doubt soon become a national trend, the state of Washington is drastically cutting back on park rangers and other park employees as it struggles to balance its budget. Here is the Olympian with the details:
Pink slips are expected to roll out between Christmas and New Year’s at state parks, where 83 of the state’s 189 full-time rangers stand to lose their current jobs.

To stay on, most would have to take a major pay cut and work as little as five months of the year in one of 63 new seasonal jobs being created. During the cold months, the state’s 116 parks will likely outnumber the rangers who help keep them running.

The scaled-back, seasonal approach is prompted by slow sales of the parking pass for state lands and was signaled by layoff notices earlier this month. The downsizing is proceeding despite a plea from a dozen lawmakers to hold off.

“I appreciate them saying ‘Hey, wait,’ but to me I think it would be irresponsible to wait and spend more money,” said State Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Joe Taller of Olympia, a former legislator and state budget director. He said each month of delay costs $750,000.
Of course, the next step after de-staffing the parks is selling the land altogether to raise revenue. There, I just gave you tomorrow's headline today. You're welcome.

Up to a Half Billion Trees Killed by the Texas Drought


The reports just keep rolling in about effects of the hellish drought Texas suffered through this past year. Here is Reuters with yet another horrible story:
The massive drought that has dried out Texas over the past year has killed as many as half a billion trees, according to new estimates from the Texas Forest Service.

"In 2011, Texas experienced an exceptional drought, prolonged high winds, and record-setting temperatures," Forest Service Sustainable Forestry chief Burl Carraway told Reuters on Tuesday. "Together, those conditions took a severe toll on trees across the state."

He said that between 100 million and 500 million trees were lost. That figure does not include trees killed in wildfires that have scorched an estimated 4 million acres in Texas since the beginning of 2011. A massive wildfire in Bastrop, east of Austin in September that destroyed 1,600 homes, is blamed for killing 1.5 million trees.

The tree loss is in both urban and rural areas and represents as much as 10 percent of all the trees in the state, Carraway said.

"This is a generational event," Barry Ward, executive director of the nonprofit Trees for Houston, which supports forestry efforts, told Reuters on Tuesday. "Mature trees take 20 or 30 years to re-grow. This will make an aesthetic difference for decades to come."

He said the loss will affect the state in many ways. For example, there is increased fire danger because all the dead trees are now fuel, Ward said.
There's little doubt that should Texas suffer a series of summers like this past one that the quality of life, to say nothing of the ability of the landscape to support life, is going to plummet fast. And yet hope still prevails:
Forest Resource Analyst Chris Edgar said that trees and forests are amazingly resilient.

"Loss of trees due to adverse weather conditions is something that is a part of the natural process of the forest," said Edgar, who works for the Texas Forest Service.

One of the worst areas of die-off occurred in the part of east Texas known as the Piney Woods, he said. That is one of the country's leading producers of wood and paper products. It is still unclear what the long-term damage may be to that industry, which is one of the largest agricultural employers in the state.

Carraway said that what Mother Nature has damaged, Mother Nature can repair.

"Assuming the rainfall levels get back to normal, I certainly see the forest being able to recover," he said.
That's an iffy assumption at this point, Mr. Edgar. I hope for the sake of you and everyone else living in Texas that you are proven correct. But I sure wouldn't invest in any money in Texas woodlands right about now.


Bonus: Seems like an appropriate time for this song

Friday, December 23, 2011

Black Friday Redux: Air Jordan Release Sparks Violence


As it turned out, Black Friday was not the most out-of-control display of mindless consumerism in America this year. That honor now goes to today, Black Friday Redux, and the accompanying violence and senseless behavior over the latest release of sneakers endorsed by a washed up has-been who hasn't played a game in nearly a decade. Here is BBC with the details:
There was disorder from California to Georgia as shoppers vied to buy a retro version of a classic Air Jordan model.

A new pair costs about $180 (£115), but they are already being listed on eBay for as much as $605.

The ugly scenes recalled the violence that broke out in the early 1990s on streets across America as the shoes became popular targets for thieves.

In the early hours of Friday, police used pepper spray on about 20 customers who started fighting at a mall in suburban Seattle, Washington state, as they waited in line to buy the black-and-white Air Jordan 11 Retro Concords.
Gunfire

One man was arrested for allegedly punching a police officer.

"He did not get his shoes. He went to jail," Officer Mike Murphy said.

He added: "It was not a nice, orderly group of shoppers. There were a lot of hostile and disorderly people."

In other disturbances:

At least four people were arrested after customers broke down a door at a store selling the shoes in Lithonia, Georgia

There was an attempted robbery on a victim who was mistakenly believed to have just bought the shoes in Stockton, California

About 100 shoppers forced their way into a shopping centre in Taylor, Michigan
A gunshot rang out as shoppers queued in Richmond, California, although no injures were reported

Disorder were also reported in Charlotte, North Carolina; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Omaha, Nebraska
How many of these people do you suppose were also putting themselves even deeper in debt just to buy a pair of these overpriced pieces of shit? What a sad, sick culture we live in. Frankly, when it finally collapses I won't miss it one damn bit.

RoomStore Furniture Seeks Court Approval for 25 Store Closings


It is hard not to see the perverse humor in a doomed retail chain trying to stave off the inevitable by chopping off an arm and a leg as it goes through bankruptcy proceedings:
The RoomStore is seeking U.S. Bankruptcy Court approval to close 25 stores and sell their inventory and other assets at an auction next month.

The company, which filed documents seeking to close the stores last week, asked to have bids submitted at auction on Jan. 4.

No stalking horse bidder was named, but the company said it reserved the right to name one before the auction date.

The RoomStore said the underperforming locations were chosen prior to its bankruptcy filing during a review of operations.

The majority of the closings affect stores in Texas, with 16 occurring in the state, including five locations in San Antonio. One location is described as the El Paso Distribution Center in court documents.

Three locations in Virginia and Maryland, and one each in Pennsylvania, Florida and Alabama, also will close.

In addition, the retailer is seeking authority to designate up to 15 additional stores for closure by Jan. 31, 2012.

The RoomStore operates 64 stores in eight states and has five warehouses, bankruptcy court documents said.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection on Dec. 12 with assets of $56 million and debts of about $52.5 million, including 13 unsecured furniture industry creditors owed $3.8 million.

The retailer said declining sales and depleted cash due to repaying much of a revolving loan this summer, led to the filing.
Sales which, due to the continued cratering of the housing market, are never going to recover. But just like Borders books, RoomStore is apparently determined to thrash about in its death throes for as long as it possibly can even though it should be perfectly obvious that if few people are buying houses, they also aren't going to be buying a whole lot of furniture.

Public Transportation Service Cuts/Layoffs Coming to Buffalo


As the peak oil era stretches on, and high oil and gasoline prices become the norm, one would think it should be obvious that the last place state and local governments should be making budget cuts is in public transportation. Sadly, that is not the case, as this story out of Buffalo shows:
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has approved a budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Cuts in state aid and dwindling revenue from NFTA owned properties have left the transportation authority with a 15 million dollar budget gap. To fill that hole the Board of Commissioners has approved several deep cuts in personnel and service routes.

- 50 positions are being eliminated. 20 of those positions come from the NFTA's police force.
- 81 bus service routes will be eliminated.
- 14 other routes will see reductions in service.
- Metro Rail service will be eliminated on Sundays after 8:00 pm.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown was at the budget meeting and addressed the Board shortly after the vote. Brown says up to 80 percent of the NFTA's bus customers are city residents and many rely on the bus system as their only source of transportation. Brown added that he has reached out to the state legislature, the Governor's office and the New York Power Authority for assistance. The NFTA will be holding several public hearings on the budget cuts in the coming weeks.
At least Buffalo's mayor is cognizant of the negative effects these cuts are going to have on the citizens who have to ride the buses to get around. The scary thought is contemplating what is going to become of these people when the day finally comes that the buses stop running altogether.


Bonus: looks like the boys from ZZ Top may be waiting for the bus a bit longer

Congress Ending 2011 With Worst Approval Rating Ever


Gee, who would have ever thought that a group of individuals led by contemptible scumbags like John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Eric Cantor, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell might be historically unpopular, especially in light of the latest debacle involving the payroll tax?
In his biography of American iconoclast Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine quotes the noted author referring to the U.S. Congress in a less-than-congenial manner: “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself,” he famously said.

No matter how much times have changed since Twain’s death in 1910, there’s one thing that remains a seeming constant in the U.S.: then and now, we hate our political class. But more than at any point in history, a new Gallup poll out this week shows more Americans today are dissatisfied with Congress than ever before.

The governing body is now set to end 2011 with the lowest one-time approval rating in its history: 11 percent. Their annual average for 2011 came to a whopping 17 percent, which is also the lowest ever recorded.

Overall, Gallup found that the nation’s 112th Congress had an 86 percent disapproval rating by the end of December, 2011: yet another record-breaking statistic.

Independent voters were the most dissatisfied, Gallup found, holding Congress in such contempt that it earned just 7 percent approval. Republicans and Democrats were both similarly cynical, with just 14 percent of Democrats approving of Congress, and 12 percent of Republicans.

The numbers come at the end of a highly contentious year that saw the government nearly shut down twice when Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on a budget due to squabbles over tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. Most voters want to see top-tier tax rates increase as budgets for things like food stamps and unemployment insurance are cut, but most Republican lawmakers are opposed to that step.
Wow...normally it is impossible to get 86% of the people to agree on ANYTHING. Yet right now they all agree that Congress sucks balls. Sure sounds bad for the Congresscritters, huh?

Yet I'll make a prediction right now, and you can feel free to come back here next November and call me out for being full of shit if I'm wrong. My prediction is that despite these awful poll numbers, over 80% of congressional incumbents who choose to run for reelection next year will win. Even 20% defeated would be a veritable tsunami of failure as historically the reelection rate is well above 90%, so I feel pretty confident in my prediction.

Sadly, despite the above numbers, the same poll showed evidence that a majority of Americans still have their heads shoved far up their asses when it comes to understanding the political system:
Fifty-five percent also agreed that “the political system can work fine, it’s the members that are the problem,” while just 32 percent felt like the system had broken down entirely.
Yep...despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, even now slightly less than one-third of the population understands that it is the system itself that is the real problem. Until that number rises to become a substantial majority, there is little hope that any genuine change is going to come about in this country.


Bonus: Bill's classic bit on politics, "Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control."