Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Night Music Video: "Kill The Poor" By Matthew Grimm & The Red Smear


Matthew Grimm is the former lead singer of The Hangdogs, whose Bonus Army anthem, "Anacostia," I featured here a few weeks ago. Grimm has since moved on with a new outfit whose name I absolutely love. The Red Smear's best song is this little ditty, "Kill the Poor," from the album, Dawn's Early Apocalypse (really!), which rather wears its sentiment on it's sleeve--but is still a catchy tune (and is NOT a cover of the Dead Kennedys song of the same name). The song sounds like it was recorded just for the Occupy Movement, but was actually released in 2005, right at the height of the bubble years.

Enjoy!

The Latest Trend in Metal Thefts: Truck Tailgates


As I have posted here before, metal thefts, especially copper, have been an epidemic even since the beginning of the Great Recession back in 2008 as desperate people do whatever they can to raise cash. Now there is an alarming new angle to this problem, as reported by AOL Autos (warning, annoying slideshow format):
Thieves, especially in a tough economy and high unemployment, have been known to steal seemingly odd things that most people wouldn't think had much value. But the thieves know different. Among the vulnerable: copper pipes from building and vacant condos; freshly planted landscaping; plumbing fixtures from vacant condos. Now you can add tailgates from pickup trucks. Huh?

That's right. Law enforcement in at least eight states this year have been reporting rashes of tailgate thefts. Unlike the stuff you might leave on the seat of your truck, the tailgates are not protected by locks or barriers such as windows. Thieves have become adept at wrenching the tailgates, as well as pricey accessories, off the truck.

What's the take? Tailgates, depending on the model of pickup can sell for between $1,000 and $4,000 on Craigslist.com or out of black-market parts shops. Thieves often sell them for much less, but they can cost that much for the victim to replace through legal means.

Recently, criminals have been targeting truck tailgates across the country. In Marple Newton, PA, a truck tailgate was reported stolen from a local school's bus garage parking lot. Similar thefts have occurred everywhere from Georgia to California in recent weeks.

In Spring, Texas, authorities caught up with a man who specializes in selling tailgates on Craigslist.com. It was pretty obvious that the man, actually advertising himself as "Mr. Tailgate," was dealing in stolen tailgates when one of his victims was looking for a replacement, and spied the perfect tailgate on the classifieds website: it was his own! The thief-turned tailgate seller was lured to a parking lot by authorities where he as apprehended trying to sell the tailgate back to its rightful owner for $350.00.

Harris County Texas authorities had received numerous complaints about heisted tailgates before hitting on "Mr. Tailgate," identified as 35-year old Noel Cabello of Spring. Local deputies later searched the suspect's garage and found some 24 tailgates with a combined retail value of at least $50,000.

Police around the country are warning truck drivers about the rise in tailgate theft and some recommend locking tailgates after hours.

According to police in Oswego, Illinois, six tailgates were stolen from Ford pickups between May 2 and Oct. 14 of last year. Two tailgates were taken off Ford F250s, three from Ford F350s and one from a Ford F450. None of the trucks was more than three years old. One of the tailgates had a rearview camera installed on it, police said.
Anyway, a word to the wise for any of my readers who own or drive pickup trucks.


Bonus: A appropriate track from the dawn of electronica

War Pigs Porn: Pentagon Desperately Plays The Jobs Card While Trying To Avoid Budget Cuts


The Pentagon War Pigs know that they are starting to lose the battle in the court of public opinion. After two lost wars in one decade, it's about time that the average mope citizen woke up to the fact that the biggest reason their government is running trillion dollar plus annual budget deficits at a time in which programs that benefit Americans are being frozen if not slashed is because of the out-of-control, five-sided monster on the banks of the Potomac.

As I've stated repeatedly on this blog, America's level of defense war spending is absolutely insane. Including indirect costs, the total is approximate to what every other nation on earth spends on war. What's more, four of the next six nations in war spending, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, are currently aligned with the U.S. We could slash Pentagon spending by at least three-fourths and still be utterly safe from conventional military attack.

Now the Pentagon is playing the one political card it hopes will carry weight in these difficult economic times: the loss of jobs that would result if the budget cutting deal reached by Obama and the Republicans last year are allowed to take effect. Here is Reuters with the story:
The Pentagon said on Thursday it would expect hundreds of thousands of layoffs across the defense industry if lawmakers did not take action to avert an additional $500 billion in defense budget cuts that could take effect in January 2013.

Frank Kendall, the Defense Department's acting undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the cuts would force the Pentagon to break many hard-won contracts with industry, including a multibillion dollar deal with Boeing Co for development of a new refueling plane.

The Navy's contracts with Lockheed Martin Corp and Australia's Austal Ltd for littoral combat ships would also be vulnerable if the mandatory cuts, known as sequestration, took effect as planned, Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a confirmation hearing to stay in the job.

Kendall said the defense industry would face fairly deep cuts applied indiscriminately, rather than on a targeted basis, given the way the Budget Control Act was worded.

The Pentagon last month unveiled a budget proposal for fiscal 2013 that would begin to implement $487 billion in spending cuts that the White House and Congress agreed to make, spanning the next decade. If lawmakers did not come up with $1.2 trillion in other deficit-reducing measures, the Pentagon would have to cut its proposed funding by another $500 billion.

Kendall said there was a good chance that President Barack Obama would use a legal clause to exempt the personnel accounts from the cuts -- which would increase the burden that would fall on spending for new weapons, research and development programs and upgrades for older weapons.

"A lot of the work that we're done over the last couple of years to try to make more efficient acquisition decisions and get better contract structures would be broken," he said.

Kendall said the cuts would ripple through all tiers of the defense industry, hitting small and medium-sized businesses particularly hard.

He said some of the biggest companies in the sector had already approached him with concerns about having to provide advance notice of potential layoffs given the uncertainty caused by the current budget situation.
Conservatives like to bash so-called "welfare queens" every chance they get, even though the average person on welfare actually receives a tiny pittance compared to what is paid out to defense contractors every year. Right here in this article you can see who the biggest welfare queens of all really are. $487 billion in budget reductions over the next decade represents less than $50 billion per year, or put another way less than 10% of the Pentagon's current annual budget allocation. It's time to cut these fuckers off, whatever the costs to the economy.


Bonus: But of course

Friday, March 30, 2012

Exar Corporation (California) Will Lay Off 120


I found this mass layoff story to be particularly galling. Here is Bay Area Biz Talk with the details:
Exar Corp. eliminated 120 positions Wednesday, bringing the money losing Fremont semiconductor company's total job cuts for the first quarter under new President and CEO Louis DiNardo to 169.

Exar said that the combined cuts amounted to 40 percent of worldwide headcount and would save $21.7 million in annual costs. About 270 employees remain worldwide at Exar, which does contract work for other companies and sells chips and software used in industrial, networking and data storage systems.
If I was still employed by Exar, I'd be polishing up my resume, that;s for sure. but here's the kicker:
DiNardo, who last was a partner at Crosslink Capital but previously was president and COO of Intersil Corp., was appointed CEO in December with a generous salary and stock package following years of significant losses at Exar, which at the time had accumulated a deficit of $236,797,000.

The company has lost another $4.73 million since then on revenue of $29.7 million, which was down from $36 million the previous quarter.
Holy crap! This company's debt amounts to almost a million dollars per remaining employee. And yet they went out and paid top dollar to a new CEO so he could lose even more money. Wish they'd paid me instead as I'm pretty sure I could have done that. Fucking brilliant.


Bonus: Sounds to me like this is what Exar is doing if it thinks it is going to be able to get out from under that mountain of debt:

The REAL Lesson From Obama's "Keystone Cave-In"


Last Friday, in the wake of President Hopey-Changey abruptly changing course on the Keystone Pipeline project, Rolling Stone political writer Jeff Goodell wrote a piece called, "Lessons from Obama's Keystone Cave-In," which was particularly notable because it demonstrated yet again that if you don't understand the dire implications of peak oil you are hardly going to learn the right lessons from any energy-related decision made by our so-called "leaders." Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd go through the four lessons listed by Goodell and offer a rebuttal for each of them:
1. "All of the above" = "Drill, Baby, Drill"
Obama talks a good game about developing "green" energy sources, but here he is, doubling down on oil. Although this speech was clearly political theater, I expected him to appease anti-pipeline activists by using his visit to Cushing – the belly of the fossil-fuel beast – to remind Big Oil that not only has he promised to yank away $4 billion in subsidies, but that oil is, as he said the other day, "the fuel of the past." Ha! Instead, Obama offered up a speech that would make Sarah Palin proud, reminding us how, over the last three years, "I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore." And he crowed: "We are drilling all over the place now." And as for pipelines, he bragged that "we’ve added enough new oil and gas pipelines to encircle the earth." Climate blogger Joe Romm rightly called the address "Obama's worst speech ever."
Okay, so Obama seemingly contradicted himself in two different speeches before two different audiences. That happens all the time with politicians. So which time do you suppose he was lying? The time he mouthed an empty platitude about oil being "the fuel of the past," or when he started bragging about his administration's pro-drilling record?

As the old saying goes, Money Talks and Bullshit Walks. In this case, the latter example was money while the former was the bullshit.
2. If Obama gets re-elected, the northern half of the Keystone pipeline is going to get built.
He did not say this explicitly in his speech yesterday, but the political code is perfectly clear. Obama is essentially endorsing tar sands oil production, with all the environmental wreckage it causes, as well as dooming the Midwest to more pipeline spills. It also means that investment dollars will now flow to boosting the production capacity of the tar sands operations, which in turn will pump up the industry's political clout even more. In effect, there’s no stopping the tar sands now. The dirty bitumen is gonna get dug up and refined and piped down to the Gulf and slimed across the world.
It should have been perfectly obvious even before Obama gave his speech that the whole damn pipeline was eventually going to be approved. All along, he was just trying to run the clock out until after the 2012 election and hoping there wasn't another spike in gasoline prices to force his hand before he was safe from ever facing the voters again. Well, the spike happened as you might have noticed, and Obama quickly realized there were more votes to be lost from being seen by Spoiled Rotten Nation to be standing in the way of America accessing another major source of oil (even if it will do nothing to bring down prices in the short term) than he will likely lose in support from environmentalists. Speaking of which:
3. Enviros have no muscle.
When the State Department last year decided to block the pipeline at least temporarily, enviros cheered. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called it "a victory of truth over misinformation," and writer/activist Bill McKibben said "it isn’t just the right call, it’s the brave call." But that bravery wilted quickly in the face of high gas prices and Republican attacks, lame as they have been (the pipeline will have no measureable impact on gas prices in America today, tomorrow, or ever). The unmistakable subtext of this speech was: Tough shit, Frances and Bill and all your earnest followers. Are you really gonna vote for Romney in November?
Of course environmentalists won't be voting for Romney, and that is exactly why Obama was able to make the political calculation I outlined in my response to lesson 2. Yeah, a lot of environmentalists might stay home in November, or they might choose to throw away their votes by casting them for the Green Party, but they WON'T be voting for Romney and that will blunt any political effect their protest might have. Some of them will no doubt even cave in and vote for Hopey-Changey anyway, using the totally self-defeating lesser of two evils "logic."

The real lesson on this point ought to be obvious. The environmentalists, as well as those who believe in economic justice and those who are opposed to America's big business, war and empire foreign policy, DO NOT LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY. In a democracy you have real choices at the ballot box. As non-elite Americans living in a full blown corporatocracy, we most assuredly do not have any choice on issues of real importance that affect the economy or our future other than to throw our votes away on third party candidates who stand zero chance of ever being elected.
4. Obama is still wimping out on climate change.
Duh. But people had hopes. During the 2008 campaign, Obama talked about slowing the rising seas and putting a price on carbon pollution. After the election, he hired John Holdren as science advisor and Steven Chu to run to the Department of Energy, both of whom understand the dangers of climate change as well as anyone. Didn’t help. Today, despite the fact that global carbon pollution is accelerating and extreme weather is becoming the norm (it’s a sad but revealing irony that, as Brad Johnson points out, Cushing has been ground zero for climate disasters in the U.S.), Obama won’t even mention the words "climate" or "global warming," much less demonstrate any leadership on the single most dangerous threat that civilization has ever faced. Instead, he has shifted the conversation to energy independence. That may be a worthy goal, but if it’s pursued without regard to the risks of climate change, it will only increase the danger of future catastrophes.
Obama most certainly is "wimping out" on climate change. Why? Because he is a product of a system that is completely dependent upon never ending economic growth for its very survival, and curtailing the burning of fossil fuels would destroy that system pretty quickly. Obama would have to be politically suicidal NOT to wimp out on climate change, and the world only very rarely ever sees the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev achieving high political office.

Goodell then concludes his piece with this:
In any crass political calculation, drilling for oil will always win more votes than putting a price on carbon. But if I recall what I was taught in fifth-grade American government class, we elect presidents to do more than crass political calculations. Obama wants to be thought of as the president who freed us from foreign oil. But if he doesn’t show some political courage, he may well be remembered as the president who cooked the planet.
Excuse me for being so blunt, but what a childish statement. I don't know how old Mr. Goodell is, but the last president I can recall who didn't make every single decision based upon "crass political calculation" was Jimmy Carter, and we all know how well that worked out for him.

So many environmentalists just refuse to get it into their heads that humanity has painted itself into the tightest of corners. Beginning in earnest about a century ago, we tapped into the greatest energy resource nature could have possibly bestowed upon us. Instead of wisely managing that very nonrenewable resource, we exploited it as quickly as we could and allowed our population to expand in a very short time to well beyond what the planet can possibly sustain when that resource runs out, even if the resulting environmental damage from burning that resource wasn't also a hugely negative factor.

Not only America, but all of humanity is barreling towards the cliff at breakneck speed, and it is likely already too late to put on the breaks. "Leaders" like Obama have been put into place by his billionaire backers in order to pull the wool over the eyes of the masses and keep the game going for as long as possible. That is the real lesson to be learned from Obama's Keystone cave-in, and accepting it is the key to becoming part of the reality-based community.


Bonus: "I believe before the world ever got that bad, I'd be on my knees a-crying"

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Greatest Day in South Carolina?

Hat tip to Satori at Silent Country.

Last September 30th, I posted a Friday Rant entitled, "The Impotence of Positive Thinking," in which I blasted South Carolina's Tea Party Governor Nikki Haley for her asinine directive forcing beleaguered Palmetto State employees to answer the phone with the phrase, "It's a great day in South Carolina." Well, maybe soon that will really be true for every citizen of the state. Here is Palmetto Public Record with the details:
Two well-placed legal experts have independently told Palmetto Public Record they expect the U.S. Department of Justice to issue an indictment against South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on charges of tax fraud as early as this week.

A highly ranked federal official has also privately confirmed rumblings of an investigation and possible indictment of the governor, though the official was not aware of the specific timeframe.

Yesterday, Palmetto Public Record exclusively reported that the Internal Revenue Service has been investigating since March of 2011 the Sikh worship center run by Gov. Haley’s father. At least five lawsuits have been filed against the Sikh Society of South Carolina since 2010, alleging that the group bilked contractors out of nearly $130,000 for the construction of a new temple.

Gov. Haley is reported to have managed the temple’s finances as late as 2003, and our sources believe any indictment would center on what happened to the missing money.
You can bet that if Governor Haley is indicted, those state employees will be saying that stupid phrase as they answer the phone while trying to keep from laughing.

Best Buy Closing 50 Stores


One major retailer that stupidly continued to expand into he teeth of the Great Recession was Best Buy. Yet another one opened a couple of miles down the road from my house just a couple of years ago. At the time I wondered how they could expect to keep making huge profits off of increasingly strapped consumers. Well, it turns out they can't. Here is Forbes with the story:
Best Buy is closing 50 superstores and focusing on mobile in an effort to reduce expenses. But since when is cost cutting to profitability a successful retail strategy?

Since never.

The electronics chain announced it would shutter 50 stores and concentrate on smaller stores selling mobile electronics. There will be 100 more of these locations by the end of this year and two markets — San Antonio, Texas and the Twin Cities — will receive remodeled superstores dubbed “Connected Stores.”
Judging by the snarky attitude in this piece, I take it Forbes doesn't think much of this strategy. But of course, Best Buy's CEO thinks his own farts smell like the finest French perfume:
In order to help make technology work for every one of our customers and transform our business as the consumer electronics industry continues to evolve, we are taking major actions to improve our operating performance,” said Brian J. Dunn, CEO of Best Buy. “As part of our multi-channel strategy, we intend to strengthen our portfolio of store formats and footprints — closing some big box stores, modifying others to our enhanced Connected Store format, and adding Best Buy Mobile stand-alone locations — all to provide a better shopping environment for our customers across multiple channels while increasing points of presence, and to improve performance and profitability.
But Forbes has his number:
In so many ways, it feels like a shell game. The kind that companies use to deflect negative attention by waving their arms and yelling, “look over here!” Changing things up, reducing its footprint and getting out of too large or otherwise unfavorable locations is important and probably needed to be done long ago. But these changes look more like an olive branch to the financial community: a restructuring to reduce costs.
Ha! The first two sentences right there sound a lot like something I might have written, actually. Closing stores isn't Best Buy's only change, however:
Management estimates a $300 million savings from the store closures and another $300 million in corporate reductions — Best Buy is also laying off 400 people at its Minneapolis headquarters.

Cost cutting its way to profitability.
Which has pretty much been par for the course in corporate America ever since the recession officially (if not actually) ended three years ago.

Sharks Eat Shark Porn: Amazon & Costco Devouring Walmart


I love the smell of Schadenfreude in the morning. Smells like...Walmart biting the dust. Here are the gory details from DailyFinance:
Walmart revolutionized consumers' lives for decades. It built a successful retail empire across the country, powered by its low prices.
Hold on for just a minute. Wally World built its successful retail empire by running mom and pop stores into the ground and destroying the social fabric of communities all over the country, not to mention perfecting the business model of using precious resources to have cheap shit built in China and shipped halfway around the world using more cheap resources. It changed people's lives all right, but hardly for the better. The company is a scourge upon the Earth, and when in finally goes belly up, I for one will be dancing upon its grave.

But anyway, please continue:
But Walmart has failed to keep up with the innovation, and now other companies are successfully changing consumers' behaviors in a way that is slowly killing the world's most famous retailer.

Want proof?

Look no further than its most recent quarterly earnings report. Although it marked its second full quarter of positive same-store sales growth (albeit a measly 1.5%) after nine consecutive quarters of declining same-store sales, overall earnings still declined 13%.
Bwahahahahahahaha. So their margins are getting squeezed. Excellent! Couldn't happen to a bigger or more deserving bunch of scumbags.

So if Wally World is in a funk, who is picking up the slack?
Amazon's low prices (thanks to its low overhead expenses and no sales tax in most states) and unbeatable selection (thanks to the acquisition of companies like Diapers.com and Zappos), combined with the convenience of online shopping, have attracted a growing fan base of customers -- stealing more and more customers away from Walmart.

Even Jeremy King, the chief technology officer of Walmart, admits Walmart.com is "playing a catch-up game" with Amazon. And yet it's pretty clear that any attempts to compete with Amazon online will be futile.

That's because Amazon's reach will only continue to expand as it builds out its Kindle platform. The ease of purchasing with just one click from virtually whatever device you choose (your computer, phone, Kindle, or even Apple's iPad) will continue to attract a growing number of consumers -- again, spelling bad news for Walmart.
And how about those not going online to shop?
On the physical front, the most revolutionary Walmart killer is Costco.

Costco, a members-only warehouse chain, targets a more affluent demographic than Walmart but similarly prides itself in offering heavily discounted items. Even though Walmart has a similar arm of its business, Costco is light years ahead of Walmart's Sam's Club.

Costco's charm permeates many levels.

Markups on products are heavily controlled. Items can never be sold for more than 15% of cost (whereas supermarkets will mark up items by 25%, and department stores mark items up by as much as 50%). This means consumers always know they'll find unbeatable bargains. And that keeps them coming back for the majority of their shopping needs.

Stores require little upkeep. They are bare bones in design, meaning they require less maintenance capital than its more posh (by comparison) competitors. Plus, Costco only stocks around 4,000 items. Walmart's stores, by contrast, often carry more than 100,000 different items, which constantly need shelf attention.

Shopping is easier. The smaller scope of products makes the purchase decision easier for customers. But it also generates higher sales volumes, which enables Costco to sell items quicker than they have to pay their suppliers for them -- and allows them to negotiate even lower deals with these suppliers.

Costco has a secret ingredient. The stores have an additional element that Walmart will likely never be able to replicate: the "treasure hunt." Costco constantly stocks shelves with new items available for just a short time. Customers return excited to see new offerings, and they often leave with items they hadn't intended to purchase.

Returns are never a problem. Even if shoppers later decide their impulse buys were unwise, Costco has the most consumer-friendly return policy out there, accepting returns on most products without a receipt and with an infinite timeframe.

Given all this, it's little surprise that Costco's retention rate for members hovers around 90%. This means that once a customer gets a taste for the savings -- and experience -- Costco offers, he or she will likely be a customer for life. Again, bad news for Walmart.
Ummm...there are a lot of words I might use to describe Costco, but saying it has fucking "charm" isn't one of them. The downside to this story is that Walmart's woes are not being caused by consumers finally wising up to the horrific societal costs of cut rate, cut throat retailers. In fact, all it really means is that the O.S. (Original Shark) is now getting devoured by two even more ruthless sharks. But nevertheless, it is fun to contemplate the possibility of Walmart's rapid demise and that soon all of its stores will look like the one in the picture above.


Bonus: "That place is huge and fucking horrible"

Generation FAIL: Baby Boomers Suffering In The Great Recession


I'm actually not one who puts very much stock into generational stereotypes. It seems to me that arbitrarily grouping a set of people born over a two decade period who come from the full spectrum of backgrounds and experiences to make generalized statements about their attitudes and behaviors is not terribly valuable. When considering the Baby Boomers, for example, the formative experiences of someone born right after World War Two who spent their college age years either fighting in Vietnam, protesting it or getting deferments going to business school, and someone born the year after Kennedy was shot who didn't come of age until Reagan's first term were about as different as digging the Beatles versus Duran Duran. Not to mention that a suburban kid raised in a big house on a leafy cul-de-sac was always going to have very little in common with a black or Hispanic kid raised in an inner city high rise housing project, even if they happened to be born in the exact same year.

I wrote the disclaimer above because the article I'm excerpting below from the Toledo Blade leans heavily on such generational stereotypes. Despite that flaw, it is still quite enlightening:
For most of their lives, baby boomers knew an America ascendant, a nation that incited their occasional fury but rarely let them down.

Fueled by new ideals and rock and roll, they created a counterculture, protested the Vietnam War, and marched for civil rights.

Through it all, the boomers radiated optimism, and why not? After swelling the college ranks, they moved up with each new degree and contact, becoming the yuppies who laid the foundation of the business world.

Then came the Great Recession, a calamity emerging as another defining moment for a fabled generation.

The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression hurt young and old, but it saved its harshest slights for the children of the baby boom, the demographic bulge of Americans born from 1946 to 1964.

Seemingly overnight, members of a generation once called forever young have been made to feel overpaid, overexperienced, and overaged. Baby boomers suffered layoffs and setbacks at record rates in recent years.

Many will never fully recover, having lost too much too late in life.

That collective sigh gathering in Ohio and other graying states comes from a vaunted generation suddenly fearful and bewildered.

Unemployment spiked for all age groups in the recession, and it remains highest for young workers. But displaced baby boomers face their own special purgatory. Once they are unemployed, older workers are out of work longer. And the older they are, the harder it is to get back to hard-earned careers.

Many a Woodstock alumnus has slipped into the era's most dreaded classification: long-term unemployed.

A recent national survey found that job seekers 55 and older had been out of work a numbing 56 weeks, which is 20 weeks longer than the average furlough for younger job seekers. More than half of older job-seekers were considered long-term unemployed, having been out of work six months or more.

Throw in plummeting home values, diminished 401(k) plans, and threats to Medicare and Social Security, and it's no wonder many baby boomers now look warily toward retirement and question what happened to their world.

"We find ourselves at the vortex of a perfect storm," said Frederick Lynch, a sociologist who forecasts a contentious future for boomers in his book One Nation under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security and America's Future.

Anticipating steady labor and a comfortable retirement, Mr. Lynch said, his generation met globalization, outsourcing, game-changing technology, and a preference for younger workers.


As they face layoffs and rejection, some older workers blame age discrimination. Others cite simple economics. Experienced workers tend to make higher salaries and put stress on the company health-care plan, making them fatter targets for downsizing employers.

Older workers are also, according to the stereotype, slower to embrace new technology and new ways of doing things. That can make landing a job far tougher for an unemployed 50-year-old, especially with younger generations swelling the crowd.

Dallas Davis, an unemployed sheet-metal worker in Cincinnati, took computer classes while looking for work and touted his new skills at job interviews. "But the job market is so different now," Mr. Davis, 53, said. "Instead of being one of five people, you're one of 100, or one of thousands going for the job."

For many of the nation's 78 million boomers, retirement planning has been replaced by crisis planning. Those without jobs are scrambling to find one. Those with jobs are hanging on tight.

"I think we're going through this huge fundamental change," Mr. Lynch said. "We thought we would have our parents' lives. Then came this earthquake that many people still don't see."
The article continues on with a number of interviews with different hard up Boomers who have been slammed by the economic crash, but you get the idea.

Putting aside the silly generational stereotypes, there is one important observation that needs to be made about those Americans who were born between 1946 and 1964. These are people who had the amazing good fortune to be raised and come of age within the greatest period of economic expansion ever seen in human history. Yes, some were born into abject poverty, but during this period climbing up the ladder out of destitution was also less difficult than at any other historical time and place.

My point is that even the youngest Boomers had approximately a quarter-century of working adulthood during this time of unparalleled plenty. The fact that so many of them have become destitute so quickly now that the debt fueled bubble has popped for good speaks huge volumes about the average person's ability to prepare, plan and, yes, save for the future.

Please realize, however, that I'm not singling out the Boomers as if they are at all inferior in character and judgement to those who came either before them or after them. I'm sure that given another 20 years of such prosperity my peeps, Generation X, wouldn't be any better off on average were the crisis to hit as we are getting ready to retire. Though most Boomers will never recognize the fact, they won the generational lottery, and the prize was that they got to live most of their lives during a time of fantastic cheap oil fueled abundance the likes of which the world has never seen nor will ever see again. That so many of them squandered that great gift...well, chalk it up to human nature, I guess.


Bonus: Yes, Boomers, now it really is the beginning of a New Age, just not the one most of you were expecting as you reach your golden years

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

American Ordnance Laying Off 500 at Milan Arsenal (Tennessee)


Another defense war industry layoff announcement came early this week, as reported by the Jackson Sun:
One of the largest contracts Ram Jack general contractors ever received came from American Ordnance for construction work inside the Milan Army Ammunition Plant.

It is unlikely that will happen again.

Jacob Bolton, co-owner of the Ram Jack franchise in Milan, said the days of large contracts for work at the arsenal have likely ended as American Ordnance prepares to halt production of ordnance for the U.S. military and reduce its presence at the arsenal.

Bolton and other Milan business owners fear some businesses will lose thousands in annual revenues and may have to cut employees after American Ordnance lays off hundreds of workers by the end of this year. The losses won’t only come from a drop in business at the arsenal but from a tightening of the local economy as a result of the job losses at the arsenal.

American Ordnance employs nearly 650. The company has told workers it will lay off 400 full-time and 100 part-time employees by the end of this year, as it moves manufacturing of rifle-fired grenades, mortars and other military ordnance to its plant in Burlington, Iowa.
And of course, this will not be good for the local community:
“It is anticipated that there will be a $30.1 million negative impact on Carroll and Gibson counties together,” said Brad Hurley, president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. “That deals with everything from housing, to entertainment, to gifts to charities.”
That's the portion of these stories that too often gets overlooked.


Bonus: A stirring little tune from Tennessee's own, The V-Roys

10 Million Americans Lost Employer Sponsored Dental Benefits in 2010


I know we have an awful lot of Anglophiles living in the U.S., but this is ridiculous. Here is the San Francisco Chronicle with the details:
Employer sponsored dental benefit enrollment declined by 5.7% in 2010, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. It's the first drop in dental enrollment since 1994, the year NADP began tracking enrollment. The Value Dental Plan, which hopes to capitalize on the decline in employer sponsored dental insurance, is not traditional insurance but rather a program providing significant discounts to its members with over 50,000 participating dentists across the US.

The "2010 Dental Benefits Enrollment Report," issued by NADP and Delta Dental Plans Association, revealed that only 166 million Americans (54%) were covered by some form of dental benefit through group or individual plans in 2009.

The 5.7% dip reflects about 10 million fewer Americans with dental coverage, compared to 2008 figures. Still, enrollment from 2006 through 2008 increased in line with U.S. population growth, remaining steady at 57%, according to the research.

"While total enrollment significantly declined in 2010, the number of employer groups offering dental benefits remained consistent, compared to the previous year. Based on data submitted for the report and other industry studies by LIMRA and NADP," says Evelyn F. Ireland, executive director of NADP. The recession and a stalled economy contributed, in part, to decreased enrollment. "The reduction in subscribers in some employer groups in 2010 most likely reflects family financial constraints and layoffs.
Dental insurance for many has never been all that great. My own health care plan, which is quite good otherwise, only covers a very small percentage of my dental care. On the flip side, there doesn't seem to have been nearly the explosion in dental costs like there has been for other areas of health care. I had a crown put in last year that probably only cost about 20% more than one I had put in 15 years ago. There's a lesson there somewhere.


Bonus "Dental plan....Lisa needs braces...dental plan...Lisa needs braces"--The remix

Converging Trends Porn: Few U.S. Cities Are Ready For Aging Baby Boomer Population


The realization that America faces a dire demographic crisis in the 21st century as the bulge in population known as the Baby Boomers reach retirement age is hardly new. It was most dramatically spelled out in the 2004 book, The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know about America's Economic Future, by Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns. So what has Spoiled Rotten Nation done to prepare itself in the eight years since Kotlikoff and Burns's dire warning? Jack shit, of course. And now, even the befuddled mainstream media is starting to notice, as shown by this article from USA Today:
Few communities have started to think long term about how to plan and redesign services for aging Baby Boomers as they move out of the workforce and into retirement.

Even more troubling, dwindling budgets in a tight economy have pushed communities to cut spending on delivering meals to the homebound and shuttling folks who can no longer drive to grocery stores and doctor's offices.

These cuts, advocates for older Americans say, are coming when the services are needed more than ever. And those needs will grow tremendously over the next two decades.

The nation's population of those 65 and older will double between 2000 and 2030, according to the federal Administration on Aging. That adds up to one out of every five Americans — 72.1 million people.

Just eight years from now, researchers say, a quarter of all Ohio's residents in half of the state's counties will be 60 or older. Arizona and Pennsylvania project that one in four of its residents will be over the age of 60 by 2020.

"The bottom line is, the Baby Boomers are hitting," Chuck Gehring of LifeCare Alliance, an agency serving seniors in central Ohio, told The Columbus Dispatch. "Are communities prepared for this? No."
The whole article is fairly lengthy and worth reading in its entirety, but I thought I would just jump right to the punch line:
"There are a lot of communities that recognize they need to do something but haven't done it yet," Sandy Markwood, the group's chief executive officer, told the Associated Press.

Some of the changes cities can make include offering training to help older people drive more safely, installing road signs that are easier to read or creating ride-share programs, said Jo Reed, who oversaw the latest survey.

The biggest reason why cities have made little progress is the economy.

Nearly 21,000 times last year, drivers for the Licking County Aging Program in Ohio took elderly residents in communities east of Columbus to medical appointments. The gasoline bill has more than doubled in the past four years, topping $7,000 a month.
Uh-oh...Houston (and everywhere else), we have a problem.

As the article explains in great detail, local communities all across the country are woefully unprepared to provide services to a rapidly aging population. Just like Kotlikoff and Burns warned years ago, government at all levels is having a very difficult time wrestling with this issue at a time when the ratio in the number of workers paying taxes to the number of retirees is quickly shrinking. But there was one very important factor they neglected to consider in their book that is dramatically illustrated by the section of the article I bolded above: the hugely negative economic impact of high energy costs.

Kotlikoff and Burns estimated that this problem would reach crisis proportions by around 2030. I think it is pretty clear, however, that their calculation is going to be off by at least a decade or so on the short end. Not only are governments at all levels under pressure from high energy costs, but young adults are finding it increasingly difficult even with a college education to land the kind of secure, good paying jobs that will allow them to pay taxes at a rate which will support the expensive programs for retirees. In the past four years, the federal government has papered over this crisis by increasing its annual deficit spending by nearly a trillion dollars per year. When we finally reach the point where it can no longer borrow such insane amounts of money, it is pretty obvious that the programs retirees are counting on to support them will quickly collapse.

Like other reality based prognosticators going all the way back to the 1970s, the warnings of Kotlikoff and Burns went largely ignored as Spoiled Rotten Nation covered its ears and continued partying like there was no tomorrow. Well, tomorrow is just about here, and there are going to be literally tens of millions of older Americans who are going to be very sorry that they didn't listen.


Bonus: "Live your life like there's no tomorrow...that's what they tell you, right? What they don't tell you is what to do when you're not dead tomorrow...that's when you've got problems"

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

U.S. ‘Pink Slime’ Factories Shut Down Amid Outcry


I'm posting this story for anyone who thinks that all I do is wallow in negativity on this blog. If you'll recall, back on March 7th I posted about the use of so-called "pink slime," a horrifically nasty beef based food product, in U.S. school lunches. Well, proving yet again that you can get away with pretty much anything until you involve the kiddies, the resulting public outcry from that story has effectively killed the industry. Here is the Raw Story with the details:
Three factories that made so-called “pink slime” beef filler have shut down since public outcry about the ammonia-treated substance began last month, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Beef Products Inc. spokesman Craig Letch told AP that only one factory in the country, located in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, is still producing the stuff. Three others, in Texas, Iowa and Kansas, have reportedly been shut down.

The product, known as “lean, finely textured beef” to industry insiders, is comprised of connective tissue and other less-than-edible pieces of cows, which are mashed into a slimy, pink substance and treated with ammonia gas to kill off bacteria.

It is then added to ground beef as filler, to increase the product’s weight and, thereby, it’s price.

The goo was nicknamed “pink slime” by a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) scientists who blew the whistle once regulators in the Bush Sr. administration began allowing it in the human food supply. It was previously only considered suitable for products like dog food.

A public outcry over its use began after the U.S. government was revealed to have purchased tons of the stuff for use in school lunches. Soon thereafter, USDA whistleblowers alleged that “pink slime” had become so prevalent that it existed in up to 70 percent of ground beef sold in the U.S.

Since the outcry began, several major fast food chains have said they would no longer use the meat filler in their food products, and the USDA has lifted rules that required schools to use it.
See, I can be positive on those rare occasions when good news happens. You're welcome.


Bonus: Speaking of Pink, "One of these days I'm going to cut you up into little pieces"

Guess What, "Hunger Games" Fans, You Actually Live In "The Capitol"


In a rare example of keeping up to the minute with our mindless pop culture, I actually spent this past Saturday night at a screening of The Hunger Games. Normally, I steer well clear of such mass produced tripe, and am actually proud to say I've never laid eyes upon Avatar, Titanic, the second Star Wars trilogy or any of the Harry Potter or Twilight flicks. But the wife has read the entire set of Hunger Games novels, and sometimes you do what you have to do to maintain domestic tranquility.

That said, I didn't hate the movie as much as I thought I might. It was actually better made than most of the garbage that comes out of Hollywood these days. My two biggest quibbles with it were that the supposedly hungry denizens of District 12 actually looked pretty well fed, and the violence was far too tamed down for such a horrific premise. Yeah, I know they needed to ensure they didn't get an R rating so that the teenyboppers could flock to see it. Mission accomplished in that regard, I guess. At least I saw it at my local art house theater, which meant that the audience was not all teenagers and that there were no blaring advertisements on the screen for the 25 minutes we sat waiting for the previews to start. At this point, I'll take any small favors I can get.

The plot of the film has become culturally omnipotent, so I won't rehash it in great detail here. It involves a future dystopia in which The Capitol long ago won a war and now subjects the 12 outlying districts to its will through brute force. The outlying districts are forced to provide the resources which allow the denizens of the The Capitol to live in decadent luxury. Every year in order to reassert The Capitol's authority, The Hunger Games pit 24 teenagers (12 boys and 12 girls) chosen by lottery against each other in a brutal fight to the death as part of a Survivor-on-steroids type reality show.

It's not surprising that this theme would have great appeal to American moviegoers, since the plot is not substantially different from that of the original Star Wars. The Capitol is the Evil Empire, and even though there is not yet a rebel alliance (to be formed in the inevitable sequels, I gather) the main character, Katniss, is a scrappy, tough and resourceful rube from the provinces just like Luke Skywalker.

The theater itself was sold out for my show, and the audience not surprisingly seemed to eat up what was on the screen. As a culture, we just never seem to tire of watching the underdog overcome long odds in a battle against the forces of evil. Yet the thing I couldn't help but wonder as I observed my fellow patrons, especially as we were filing out after the film was over and half of them already had their eyes glued to their cell phone displays, is that none of these people seem to realize that in the real world it is THEY who are the spoiled, easy living citizens of The Capitol, reveling in a seeming cornucopia of luxury in a world plagued by mass deprivation, and ironically distracted from reality by so called reality television shows.

In a Friday Rant I posted last June 17th entitled, "Unlike in the Movies, in Real Life Americans HATE the Underdog," I wrote:
...it’s in the international arena where America most behaves like the Evil Empire, to the cheers of domestic Star Wars fans everywhere. The empire’s legions roam the globe, dropping drone missiles on top of any goat herder’s wedding party in countries where the locals are unfortunate enough to be living on top of vital energy resources and actually have the audacity to insist that they should be allowed to live their lives free of American meddling. You’d think, given our alleged love for the small fry, Americans would be outraged at this injustice and demand that our military stop butchering civilians in our name, but you would of course be wrong. Instead we plaster yellow ribbons on the back of our cars, drape an American flag on anything that doesn’t move quickly enough and warble “Proud to Be an American” at top volume during every ball game.
I was at the time, of course, thinking about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. And now, here comes The Hunger Games, which could very easily be taken as a sharp commentary of how globalization and neoliberal economics, enforced at the point of a drone missile if need be, are designed to ensure that much of the the many Districts' (read: world's) resources continue to flow to the decadent Capitol (read: America). The Hungry are actually those billions of the world's poor living a subsistance-level existence in countries where the economy largely functions either to extract the raw materials or build the cheap consumer products so loved by those queued up in line to watch The Hunger Games.

Granted, the movie has been given such a slick Hollywood sheen that it is really difficult to take seriously as anything other than mere popcorn entertainment. Nevertheless, it just continues to amaze me how the American populace is collectively so lacking in self awareness that it cannot apparently even sense the inherent contradiction of always rooting for the cinematic equivalent of "terrorist insurgents" to overthrow the Evil Empire.


Bonus: "Lay down your money and you play your part...everybody's got a hungry heart"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lockheed Martin Plans To Lay Off 132 At FBI Site In West Virginia


Just another reminder that federal government "austerity" means increased unemployment. Here is the Charleston Daily Mail with the story:
Lockheed Martin Corp. plans to lay off 132 workers at the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services site in Harrison County.

Lockheed's Information Systems & Global Solutions provides operations and maintenance support for the FBI center.

Company spokeswoman Lindsay Wilson tells The Exponent Telegram that the company didn't win a follow-up contract to provide the services. The existing contract will be completed at the end of the month.
And so it goes.


Bonus: A little ditty about West Virginia

Austerity Porn: Feds Consider Closing 60 Court Facilities In 29 States


Let's be clear about something right up front. Despite the deficit reduction deal agreed to by our great and glorious "leaders" this past summer, the federal government has yet to meaningfully reduce its spending. The total number of cuts to date scarcely even represent a rounding error on the deficit, let alone the overall budget. Keep that in mind as you read the excerpt from this story that appeared last week in Newsmax:
The federal government is considering closing dozens of courtrooms across the country, many located in small, rural communities, as part of an effort to cut costs.

The Associated Press obtained documents showing that 60 federal court facilities in 29 states could be on the chopping block. Most of the courtrooms are in buildings that house other federal agencies including in post offices and many are located in remote areas. Critics say closing them could make it more difficult for people to get to court proceedings.

Six of the 60 court sites that could be closed are located in Arkansas. Texas and Georgia have five courts each on the list of possible closures. Officials are even considering shuttering the location where judges hold federal court in Alaska's capital city, Juneau.

There are 674 federal courthouses and facilities around the country, according to David Sellers, a federal courts spokesman. The 60 sites being considered for closure do not have a resident judge. Instead, judges based in larger cities travel to these smaller locations as needed.
As I said, this action is NOT the result of actual budget cutting:
"The federal judiciary is going through an aggressive cost containment effort because the money Congress has provided for the operating expenses for the courts has been essentially frozen the last three years," Sellers said in an email.
That's right, the budget for the federal courts has been FROZEN, not cut. What that tells you is there is increasing cost pressure. What's more, that increasing cost pressure is likely due largely to increased energy costs as the salaries for federal employees have essentially also been frozen the past two years.

So what is going to happen when the federal government DOES finally have to start wielding the budgetary axe as the reality of our out-of-control deficit spending hits home? I don't think it really strains the imagination.


Bonus: A little courtroom humor

AccuWeather's Excuse For A Horribly Blown Seasonal Forecast: The Tsunami Did It


If Rick Santorum were to get his way, private company AccuWeather would no doubt replace the "socialist" National Weather Service as the nation's primary forecaster of weather. So what is the problem with a corporation doing on a for profit basis what the government already does for "free?" Just that you know damn well that a private company won't give predictions that its clients don't want to hear, such as telling an oil company that yes, Virginia, climate change is both real and manmade.

But the other problem is that corporations are always motivated to provide a service at the lowest possible cost, which mean the products they produce often suck balls. And AccuWeather just recently proved how badly it can actually suck balls. Here is the Chicago Tribune with the story:
A meteorologist for AccuWeather — the forecasting company that predicted a winter so bad, "people in Chicago are going to want to move" — has a theory for the recent Midwest heat wave: Japanese tsunami debris.

AccuWeather.com made headlines last fall, you may recall, with breathlessly apocalyptic predictions for the season ahead.

Five months later, winter 2011-12 is in the books as the ninth warmest on record, punctuated by a stretch of historically high temperatures over the last week, and the Chicago area remains remarkably populous.

"We're wrong sometimes; we can admit it," meteorologist and AccuWeather.com news director Henry Margusity said. "It was not exactly the best forecast."

Specifically, AccuWeather said we were in for a fifth consecutive winter with more than 50 inches of snow. In reality, just 19.8 inches of the white stuff has fallen, according to WGN chief meteorologist Tom Skilling, not only well below AccuWeather's prediction, but also 14.3 inches below the yearly average.
And of course, the company's excuse for blowing the forecast so badly is a real doozy:
Margusity was a good sport about AccuWeather's swing and miss, even offering up a retroactive long-shot theory for the warm winter and recent heat wave — the drifting debris field from last year's devastating Japanese tsunami seems to be sending warm air aloft above the Pacific Ocean, which could be contributing to warmer temperatures here, Margusity said.

"If you match up where that debris field is right now with where the warmer-than-normal water temperatures are, they match up perfectly," he said, also citing what proved to be a weakening La Nina pattern last fall and the lack of expected so-called Greenland blocking.
Oh sure, that makes perfect sense. Nope, it couldn't possibly have been the result of a rapidly changing climate...you know, the same factor that likely greatly contributed to Chicago experiencing nearly two full weeks of 80 degree temperatures this March. The same city which averages only one 80 degree March day EVERY 14 YEARS. Perish the thought. The tsunami did it. Must have been all of the radioactivity from the Fukushima accident that got dumped into the ocean that somehow warmed up the air or something.

Oh, and not to be a contrarian or anything, but you AccuWeather guys do know that the tsunami happened six months BEFORE you made that ridiculous forecast, right? So how come you didn't think of the "tsunami effect" at the time? Bit of an oversight, I'd say.

The good news is that the aforementioned Santorum, who in the past has received campaign contributions from AccuWeather's president, is seeing his presidential campaign slowly sinking beneath the waves (ha! a tsunami pun!). The bad news is, as I posted on March 16th, that the National Weather Service is already experiencing budget cuts that will no doubt hamper its effectiveness going forward. But hey, take comfort. AccuWeather is now predicting a "warmer than normal" summer, so maybe given the company's track record it won't be as bad as everybody is expecting after the unprecedented March heat wave.


Bonus: "Well, there's gonna be a snowstorm...and the teevee is going wild. They got nothing else to think of...and they're letting me go home"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

CenturyLink Laying Off 1,300 Nationwide


I guess things are not going to well in the telecommunications business these days. Here is the Seattle Times with the story:
CenturyLink said Thursday it is laying off about 177 Washington employees, or about 8 percent of its state workforce.

Most work in the Business Markets Group, which is being absorbed nationwide by another division in a companywide initiative to streamline business-sales marketing, spokeswoman Meg Andrews said.

She couldn't say how many of the jobs are in the Seattle area. Nationwide, staff is being trimmed by about 1,300, she said.
Got some Corporate FlackSpeak? Lay it on me:
She said the reductions are part of a continuing effort to "align costs with resources," and will take effect within 30 days.
In other words you are either losing money, or not making enough to keep your CEO well supplied with gold back scratchers.

Eastern Research Services (Texas) Abruptly Closes, 150 Laid Off


Some layoff stories are actually more heartless than others. This is one of the bad ones, as reported by a local Texas television station:
A west El Paso research company shut its doors for good Thursday, which left 150 people out of work. Employees said the layoffs happened overnight and with no warning.

The employees of Eastern Research Services said they walked into work Thursday morning and were immediately called into a meeting to be told they were being let go. After being escorted out by security, a group of employees gathered outside to break the news to their co-workers.

"We were at work yesterday. We had extra hours," said P. Haji Rivera.

Just 24 hours later.

"We're working one day and today we're out of work," said Rivera.

Rivera said some were notified of the layoffs when they called the employee hotline.

"ERS is permanently seizing operations and shutting down all of its offices," said a recording on the hotline.

Other employees of the company said when they showed up for work managers told them all ERS offices across the country were closing their doors for good.

"The company has been losing money for some time and no longer has the ability to continue operating," the recording said.

The company based in Pennsylvania does polling and market research for many agencies.

"We were hoping that they give us at least a notice, like a week notice that they're going to be closing down, not just overnight," said Rivera.
That's the problem with the recent trend to change over from having "Personnel" to having "Human Resources." When you are merely a resource, they think they can treat you like just another piece of furniture.


Bonus: I guess all we can do for El Paso is play you a song

The “Gun Nuts” Finally Went Too Far


Let me start off this post by reassuring my readers that I am neither a gun control advocate, nor do I hold any animosity towards people who feel they need a gun (or several) for their personal protection. Given that the main theme here at TDS is the likelihood of economic collapse, which by definition would include a collapse of law and order, it would be silly for me to advocate any attempt to restrict the rights of responsible, law abiding citizens to own guns. I’ve handled and fired about every type of firearm there is, from revolvers, Colt .45’s and 9mm semi-automatics to shotguns and even M16A1 rifles for the U.S. Army. To me, a gun is a tool that can be used for good or bad, but anyone who owns one has an obligation to train themselves to the point where they don’t become a danger to themselves or others while using it.

Having dispensed with the disclaimers, let me also define what I mean by the phrase, “gun nut.” A gun nut is not synonymous with someone who is lawfully allowed to own and carry firearms. A gun nut is instead an unbalanced individual who, rather than dispassionately looking at guns as a tool to be handled responsibly and carefully, loves them a little TOO much. I’ve had the unfortunate experience to be around people like that and frankly they scare me. They are the people for whom gun ownership is a fetish akin to a fundamentalist religion, and are also the ones who give gun owners in general a bad name among those who don’t like guns or would like to see them banned.

Obviously, I don’t know George Zimmerman and have never met him. Yet I think it is safe to say from the evidence released to date of how he took it upon himself to accost Trayvon Martin, who was doing nothing more sinister than walking alone along a public thoroughfare, and then shoot him down that Zimmerman had an extremely unhealthy attraction to the power that carrying a handgun seemingly bestowed upon him to uphold his twisted view of “law and order.” Yes, Zimmerman's lawyer now claims that the shooter was injured during his confrontation with Martin. Doesn't matter. Zimmerman was the aggressor, even after being told by a 911 operator to stand down, and the unarmed Martin is dead as a result.

But I’m not writing this post to rehash the facts of the case against Zimmerman, or to speculate whether the shooting was racially motivated. That is being done in plenty of other quarters. Instead, I’d like to point the finger of blame at those individuals, even though they may not have actually pulled trigger, who are at least partially responsible for creating the conditions that led to young Martin’s death: the gun nuts who pushed for passage of Florida’s insane “stand your ground” law.

Just for the record, the law states that any individual who is in a place where he/she has a legal right to be, and who is “not engaged in an unlawful activity...has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” It does sound reasonable at first glance, as many awful laws do when reduced down to legalese, but there’s a hole in there that you can drive truck through. Very simply, how in the hell can anyone determine whether a shooter acted properly if there are no eyewitnesses to what happened? Simply put, this is a license to commit cold blooded murder, just so long as you can ensure no one is around who can contradict your story. Heck, maybe you can even shoot the witnesses and claim they were attacking you was well.

The brilliant legislative minds who sponsored the Florida law are now backtracking by trying to claim that it does not in fact immunize George Zimmerman and that he should be prosecuted. To which I would very pointedly reply: bullshit. If Zimmerman is successfully prosecuted in this case, it will only be because there was enough evidence subsequently collected to demonstrate that he initiated the confrontation which ended in Trayvon Martin’s death. But the fact remains that the local police who responded to the shooting were so confident that Zimmerman was within his rights under the law that they did not even arrest him or initially make any attempt to verify his version of what happened. Had Zimmerman not had the “bad luck” to shoot a “good kid” instead of a gangbanger under the exact same circumstances, a kid whose family is now rightfully demanding that justice be served, this marauding thug would have literally gotten away with murder. Moreover, had the police not felt they were handcuffed by the law, instead arresting Zimmerman and conducting a thorough investigation, this likely would have remained a local (if still regrettable) story.

So who was responsible for lobbying to push through this hideous abomination of a law? Why, the National Rifle Association, of course. Specifically, it was NRA lobbyist Marion P. Hammer, whom you can read more about at this link. Hammer appears to be living proof an old saying of mine, which is that there is nothing worse than a zealot, even if you happen to agree with whatever it is they are zealous about. In fairness to Hammer, she is hardly the only one, and the NRA has been pushing for the passage of such laws all over the country.

Again, I’m not criticizing the NRA because it is pro-gun ownership. I’m criticizing it because it is yet another out-of-control lobbying group that uses scare tactics to raise money from its membership while pushing a radical, self-interested agenda greatly detrimental to the common good. Which is pretty much par for the course among lobbyists in Washington these days.

The NRA’s biggest problem is that it has been TOO successful. Except for a few minor setbacks such as the Brady Law and the assault weapons ban, the political climate in America these past 30 years has been squarely in favor of the gun lobby. You would think the NRA would acknowledge this fact and pop the cork on some expensive champagne in celebration. But no, that’s not what keeps those many millions of dollars in membership contributions coming in. Instead, you have to rile up your members, get them thinking that the evil, dark skinned socialist commie in White House is personally coming over to their house to confiscate their weapons cache despite the fact that Obama has scarcely lifted a finger to curtail gun ownership. We’ll fight Obama and his gun confiscating minions for you, just be sure to send in that nice, fat check.

But what can NRA lobbyists do when the politicians have become so cowed that there is no longer any realistic threat of serious gun control legislation being enacted? After all, they’ve grown accustomed to the cushy perks and expense accounts that come with their responsibility to wine and dine legislators. If there no longer is any realistic legislative threat to gun ownership anymore, they might just be out of a job. So instead they look around for ways to pass laws enhancing the rights of gun owners. And with each success, they become more emboldened and cocksure. Until before you know it they are pushing for extreme measures like the “stand your ground” law.

Only this time, it looks like the gun lobby finally went too far. Popular revulsion against the shooting of Trayvon Martin is mounting quickly, and may represent the NRA’s “Rush Limbaugh” moment, in which average citizens who don’t give a damn about guns laws one way or the other finally wake up recognize what a hideous, bullying, out-of-control beast the gun lobby has become. Responsible gun owners would be well advised to get out in front on this issue and support repeal of “stand your ground” laws wherever they have been enacted. It would be a great way to separate those law abiding citizens who own guns and respect the awful power they have from the gun nuts who give gun ownership a bad name.


Bonus: A song about a justifiable self-defense shooting that didn't need a stand your ground law.
See your reflection in the blue steel
and it's too late to run
The romance was gone with that first bruise
See cupid don't shoot arrows out the barrel of a gun
and love don't make the ten o'clock news

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Night Music Video: "Gather" by Jay Farrar


Singer-songwriter Jay Farrar is best known for his work with Jeff Tweedy in the groundbreaking Alternative Country band, Uncle Tupelo, and in his own long running band, Son Volt. For a brief period early in the past decade, Farrar was out on his own as a solo artist, and recorded "Gather" for the soundtrack of the indie film, The Slaughter Rules. As it turned out, it was one of the most haunting songs of his long and storied carrier, as evidenced by these lyrics:
Rhetoric of fire
The common bonds unfurl
Never must we learn, Never must we learn
'Til we gather

May the common past
Free the common will
Never must we learn, Never must we learn
Until we gather

Day of damage is carried
Still they survey the cost
Never must we learn, Never must we learn
Until we gather

Enjoy!

Briggs & Stratton Laying Off Another 210 Employees (Missouri)


I last posted about Briggs & Stratton back on January 27th when the company closed a Tennessee plant. This time it is Missouri's turn to feel the pain, as reported by a local television station:
The Briggs and Stratton Corporation announced layoffs Thursday at its Poplar Bluff plant.

The company says effective April 12, 2012 approximately 210 employees will lose their jobs.

The Poplar Bluff facility manufactures small engines for the worldwide outdoor power equipment industry.
And just like in that last announcement, the company doesn't mince words on the real state of the economy:
"The economic environment and levels of consumer spending on outdoor power equipment continues to be challenging particularly in Europe, " said Dave DeBaets-Vice President North American Operations. "We will adjust production schedules to better align with decreased market demand. Although the decisions are difficult, evaluation of our manufacturing footprint is an ongoing process as we consider productivity and efficiency gains along with the changes in the markets we serve."

The Poplar Bluff plant also saw layoffs in 2011 in which 202 employees were laid off in October.
At least one worker appears to "get it," even if her statement is a little garbled:
Sue Sinclair is a 13 year employee and is not among the laid off workers. She expressed concerns for her co-workers and the city of Poplar Bluff as a whole.

"I hope it's because of the economy," said Sue Sinclair. "If people aren't bringing in money they can't be buying lawn mowers, and leaf blowers. I can understand that for sure and hope it turns around quick because it could hurt really bad."
Sadly, Ms. Sinclair, but it's going to hurt very bad.


Bonus: "This trickle down theory...has left all these pockets empty"

Spoiled Rotten Nation Not Sure Who To Blame For High Gas Prices


This is a good companion piece to my post the other day about a recent public opinion survey on energy issues that demonstrated how clueless the public really is. Spoiled Rotten Nation doesn't understand why gas prices are skyrocketing, and Spoiled Rotten Nation is plenty pissed off about it. Spoiled Rotten Nation just does not know who should get the blame, as this story from Yahoo Finance points out:
Families canceling vacations. Fishermen watching their profits burn up along with their boats' gasoline. Drivers buying only a few gallons of gas at a time because they can't afford to fill the tank.

From all corners of the country, Americans are irritated these days by record-high fuel prices that have soared above $4 a gallon in some states and could top $5 by summer. And the cost is becoming a political issue just as the presidential campaign kicks into high gear.

Some blame President Barack Obama. Some just cite "the government," while others believe it's the work of big, greedy oil companies. No matter who is responsible, almost everyone seems to want the government to do something, even if people aren't sure what, exactly, it should or can do.

A Gallup poll this month found 85 percent of U.S. adults believe the president and Congress "should take immediate actions to try to control the rising price of gas." An Associated Press-GfK poll last month showed 71 percent believe gas prices are a "very" or "extremely" important matter.
Once again, we see how meaningless public opinion polls are in regards to energy issues. It may come as a shock to 85% of the American public, but there isn't fuck all the president and Congress can realistically DO to reduce gasoline prices. The COULD repeal the federal excise tax on gasoline, which would lower the price by a whopping 18.4 cents per gallon. State legislatures, which the president and Congress do not control, could also help out by repealing all state gasoline taxes, which vary by state but average around another 18 cents per gallon. And that is the grand total of what the government could do, lower the price of a gallon of gas by less than 10% in the short term.

But then, guess what? There goes all of that tax revenue governments at all levels are expecting will help pay to build and maintain roads and highways along with running public transportation. Let America go a year or so without any road or highway repairs, and let's see how quickly the entire transportation grid collapses.

But Spoiled Rotten Nation doesn't want to hear it:
"When I go out to change the prices, they honk their horns and yell at me," said Siroub whose station's cheapest grade of gas, regular unleaded, was selling for $4.44 a gallon earlier this week. "The other day one person even gave me the finger."
Boy, you gotta love the visual image of an enraged driver flipping the bird to a gas station manager because he is forced to raise his prices just to stay in business. What is that fucker going to be like when gas finally does rise to $5.00 or $6.00 a gallon or ever more? Worse yet, what will he be like when gasoline starts to become unavailable at any price? Something tells me he isn't going to handle it too well.

The last guy they interviewed for the article does make an accurate statement in the middle of his cluelessness:
Shrimpers in Louisiana and lobstermen in Maine complain that high fuel prices are cutting into their profits. Craig Rogers, who burns through 50 gallons of gas a day tending his lobster traps along Maine's rocky coast, blames commodities traders, though he questions whether politicians are doing enough. He said politicians are too well off to really grasp what ordinary people are going through.

"They can say they feel for us, they can say they understand us, but when you have that kind of money, there's no way you can truly understand what we're feeling," he said.
No, Mr. Roberts, they don't understand what you are feeling. More importantly, they don't give a shit even if they may act like they do. But even if they did give a shit, there really is very little they can do. Yes, they've been lying to you about our energy predicament for 30 years, ever since Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter after the latter tried to tell the country the truth about peak oil. You and everyone else who is now whining about high gasoline prices didn't want to hear it then, and now you're all butt hurt about it.

As the saying from the old Fram oil filter commercial used to go: "You cay pay me now, or you can pay me later." Well, later has arrived and now reality has showed up at the door of Spoiled Rotten Nation waiving a huge bill in its hand, and it isn't going to go away until it gets satisfaction.


Bonus: How fitting is it that this commercial came out in 1981?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Northwest Community Healthcare (Illinois) Lays Off 104 Workers


More bad news from the health care industry. Here is Crain's Chicago Business with the details:
Northwest Community Healthcare laid off 104 employees this week after the Arlington Heights-based system lost $13.2 million on operations in 2011, the third-straight year of losses.

The job cuts represent about 3 percent of the workforce, said Jackie Speckin, Northwest's director of strategic marketing, who confirmed the layoffs.

Employees were laid off on Monday and Tuesday, she said. Most of the jobs were eliminated at the 496-bed Northwest Community Hospital, where average occupancy fell to 67 percent during the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, from 70 percent during fiscal 2010.
Nothing terribly remarkable there, but check out this passage:
Ms. Speckin blamed the performance on industry trends.

“We're experiencing what every other hospital nationwide is experiencing, and that's a decrease in the amount of inpatient volume,” she said.
A decrease in inpatient volume, eh? Given that the population continues to both grow and the average age is gradually increasing with the graying of the Baby Boomers, why do you suppose that would be? More people losing their health insurance who can't afford hospital stays?

That would be my guess.


Bonus: In light of this story, here is a good sentiment from the late, great Warren Zevon...too bad he didn't manage to avoid it himself

Startup Company Converts Plastic To Oil


I'm always wary of any energy related story put forth by National Propaganda Radio, but this NPR article on a company that has apparently figured out a feasible way to make oil from plastic waste is interesting:
Only 7 percent of plastic waste in the United States is recycled each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A startup company in Niagara Falls says it can increase that amount and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil at the same time.

It all starts with a machine known as the Plastic-Eating Monster. Thousands of pounds of shredded milk jugs, water bottles and grocery bags tumble into a large tank, where they're melted together and vaporized. This waste comes from landfills and dumps from all over the United States.

"Basically, they've been mining their piles for us and sending them here," says John Bordynuik, who heads his namesake company, JBI Inc. He invented a process that converts plastic into oil by rearranging its hydrocarbon chains.
So how much does the process cost?
Each barrel of oil costs about $10 to produce. JBI can sell it for around $100 through a national distributor. The young company is already producing a few thousand gallons of oil a day. It has signed lucrative deals to set up operations next to companies with large volumes of plastic waste.
So what's the bottom line here?
"We don't make a synthetic 'other' product that has problems," he says. "We make an in-spec fuel like everyone else. If anything, the word 'alternative' has a stigma attached to it, more so because of prior attempts."

If JBI has its way, plastics will become a significant source of domestic fuel that reduces the U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But just how "green" is JBI's recycling, when it produces a fossil fuel that pollutes just like any other?

"To enter themselves into this industry, I think that they've all bought into the idea of producing a fuel," says Carson Maxted of Resource Recycling, the plastic recycling industry's trade journal.

Maxted says he's not sure whether converting plastic to oil can be considered recycling, or even environmentally friendly. But he says JBI's methods can co-exist, and even complement, current recycling practices.

"They're getting value from something that would otherwise go to the landfill," he says, "because the plastics most of them are looking for, the plastics that are not easily recycled, they're of low quality or mixed-plastic types, or they're dirty — things that wouldn't be accepted into a recycler."

And because there's no lack of waste-plastic supply, and no lack of demand for oil, Maxted says the technology has the potential to transform both industries.
Some issues that were not addressed by the article that I wish they would have covered are: exactly how much plastic does it take to make a barrel of oil? Are there significant environmental impacts to be considered should this technology become widely used? How does the energy density of a barrel of this oil compare with a barrel of crude oil? How scale-able is this technology, really?

On the one hand, it is gratifying to see that someone may have successfully figured out a way to put those mountains of plastic garbage to good use. On the other hand, the fact that we are considering mining our own landfills to get more oil just shows how desperate we really are. It will be interesting to see if this company continues to be successful whether this process becomes touted by the media as the latest great technology that is going to "save" our happy suburban, consumerist lifestyles. If so, it will become yet another pipe dream pumped out by the Hologram to keep the masses thinking that everything is going to be just fine.


Bonus: "Everything is going to be all right...rock-a-bye"