Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Idiocracy in South Florida: Pythons Are Wiping Out Mammals in the Everglades

Is there ANYONE left in this country who gives a damn about the common good anymore? Hardly a day passes when I don't see at least one story that illustrates just how stupid and short sighted our society has become. I visited the Everglades once about 20 years ago, and was struck by their natural beauty. You would think the will would be there to protect such an important and fragile ecosystem. That the Everglades are environmentally stressed by the rapid development of southern Florida is old news. But, as reported this week by the Atlantic Wire, they now face a new threat that was appallingly preventable:
According to a new study, the introduction of non-native snakes into southern Florida swamps has devastated the population of small mammals, almost completely wiping out some vulnerable species. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the number raccoon and possums spotted in the Everglades has dropped more than 98%, bobcat sightings are down 87%, and rabbits and foxes have not been seen at all in years.

Large snakes, like boa constrictors, anacondas, and pythons, are not native to North America, but are popular among reptile collectors and traders who — inadvertently or not — re-introduced them to the Florida swamps about a decade ago. Since that time they caused a huge disruption to the already fragile ecosystem, threatening wildlife and even some humans. They grow fast, breed rapidly, adapt well to their environments, and prey on small animals that don't recognize them as a threat. They're also great at hiding, which makes them both deadly hunters and difficult to catch.

They will also eat just about anything, even birds, deer, and alligators. (The 162-pound Burmese python pictured above had recently swallowed a gator.) That's why the government banned the import of Burmese and other pythons last year, although (thanks to lobbying by the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers) the reticulated python and the boa constrictor are still allowed to be traded.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the snakes never should have been allowed into the U.S. in the first place, and especially not into an area where they could thrive in the wild. And note how difficult it has been for the government to even close this particular barn door long after the horse has escaped, disappeared over the horizon and become boa constrictor bait. The answer to U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers should have been: thanks to your dumbass membership, there are plenty of the damn reptiles right out there in the swamps for you.

No word yet on whether pythons and boa constrictors actually eat Newts...but we can certainly dream.

Bonus: "Snakes in my bushes"

Rats in a Cage: Talk of Base Closings Angers New England States

Everyone is familiar with the concept of NIMBY-ism, the "Not In My Back Yard" mindset where people adamantly oppose the placing of certain economic development projects, from prisons, to power plants, to wind farms, to sports stadiums, where they will actually have to look at them...and job creation be damned. Now that "austerity" has become the new hot buzz word in the Imperial Capital, and the Pentagon in particular is being forced to reduce its grotesquely bloated budget, we are now starting to see a reverse NIMBY-ism, in which our ever gallant "leaders" are freaking out that military bases in their own states and districts will be on the chopping block.

Here is CBS Money Watch with a recent story covering this newest trend:
Less than seven years after local and state officials, business owners and civic groups beat back recommendations to shut a submarine base in Connecticut and a submarine repair yard in Maine, the Obama administration has again raised the specter of base closings.

President Barack Obama will ask Congress to approve a new round of domestic base closures, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday, although the timing was left vague and there is little chance lawmakers would agree to it in a presidential election year.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, who are members of the House and Senate armed services committees, said in a news release that the proposal has drawn bipartisan opposition and would be "dead on arrival."

Courtney, whose district is home to the submarine base in Groton, called it a weak proposal because the administration did not include the cost of closing bases, which he said is enormous. In an interview Friday, he said residents have been nervous for years, "convinced that it's only a matter of time" before the issue of base closings returns.

To the north, where the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is viewed by some as vulnerable, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine derided the idea of another round of base closings and suggested that the military should look to close overseas bases before targeting domestic bases.

"All I can say is it's preposterous to suggest another base closing round," Snowe told The Associated Press.

The 212-year-old Navy yard that repairs and overhauls nuclear submarines in Kittery, Maine, has survived three reviews from Base Closure and Realignment Commission, including the most recent in 2005.

"The Kittery-Portsmouth shipyard is probably the one facility that has been through the most rigorous scrutiny of any military installation in the country, having been evaluated in three separate base closing rounds. It suggests to me how vital it is for maintaining our submarines," she said.

Snowe, joined by Maine colleague U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, issued a statement saying another round of base closings doesn't make sense either in advancing national security or saving money.
Right there in that last passage you can see why it is so difficult for this country to get serious about reducing the federal budget deficit, let alone the national debt. We can no longer afford our planet dominating military, but that doesn't mean the politicos and their constituents aren't going to fight like hell to keep their piece of the Military Keynesianism pie from being cut. Like I first wrote in my August 1st post from last year, "Rats in a Cage," as things unravel every interest group is going to fight like hell to protect their interests and the common good be damned.

Bonus: "Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage"

Boston Becomes the Latest City to Cut Back Mass Transit; Impose Fare Increases

I've written here several times on TDS about the madness of our nation cutting back on our already fairly limited public transportation services at a time when the need for those services has never been greater. Yes, most such local transportation authorities are deep in the red these days, but that hasn't prevented governments at all levels from stupidly pumping more public dollars into building roads and highways even as the number of total vehicle miles traveled has been dropping due to high gas prices and a sluggish economy and will no doubt continue to drop.

Now from the MetroWest Daily News, comes a story about the the latest proposed fare increases and service cutbacks for commuter rail in the Boston area:
MetroWest residents might soon think twice about taking a Friday night trip to Fenway Park on the commuter rail, or even about accepting a job in Boston. That’s because as part of its plan to get out of the red, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said it will likely raise commuter rail fares about 40 percent and eliminate weekend and late night service.

But local officials and legislators, not to mention commuters, say MBTA cuts and fare hikes will hobble MetroWest and take a sizable chunk from peoples’ pocketbooks.

“I have serious concerns about limiting the access to affordable public transportation and the impacts it will have on the quality of life of our residents and the economic vitality of our region,” said Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland.

The MBTA, $5.2 billion in debt, recently proposed the first fare increase in five years.

“The MBTA is by no means pleased with the prospect of having to cut service, but we are struggling to deal with a $161 million deficit in next year’s budget,” said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

There are two MBTA proposals to reduce that deficit, both of which would eliminate all weekend commuter rail service as well as weekday service after 10 p.m. One would raise fares by 35 percent and the other by 43 percent.
The story goes on to discuss the impact this will have on people's lives:
“I’m thinking about starting to drive to work but that’s expensive,” said Framingham commuter Arun Radhakrishnan last week, stepping off the 6:31 p.m. train from Boston. “I feel I’m stuck with no choice.”

“We certainly understand the important role that the commuter rail plays in many lives,” Pesaturo said.

MBTA data shows that almost 5,000 people commute by train daily into Boston from MetroWest.

According to the state Department of Transportation, commuter rail ridership would drop by 20 percent with the proposed service cuts and fare increases.
And right here is the evidence of just how important this service has become in this era of permanently high gasoline prices:
Overall MBTA ridership increased nearly 6 percent last year, with 1.3 million trips taken every weekday. Matthews said rising turnpike tolls and gas prices have prompted many to turn to public transportation.
So once again we see evidence that collectively our society is not only not choosing to prepare ourselves as the effects of peak oil on the economy continue to mount, but we are actually making counterproductive decisions which are making things even worse. If you want to know why I am so pessimistic that things will start to turn around before we hit the wall, look no further than this story as an all too common example pointing to the contrary.

Bonus: I've never seen a teevee ad extolling the virtues of public transportation, but if there ever was, they ought to use this song as the background music. It's a ready made commercial jingle if there ever was one

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Scum Also Rises: The 50 Most Powerful People in Washington

Once again, GQ Magazine has put together its list of the 50 Most Powerful People in Washington (other than Obama and Biden). The article is a slideshow with details on each person listed and why they were chosen, but I've reprinted the actual list below. Even though I think some of the choices are a bit daffy (the list includes Washington Nationals pitcher Steven Strasburg, but not Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi...WTF?), it really is all you need to know to know why we're screwed.
1. Eric Cantor: Virginia Representative, House Majority Leader

2. Mitch McConnell: Kentucky Senator, Senate Minority Leader

3. David Plouffe: Senior Advisor to the President

4. Leon Panetta: Secretary of Defense

5. Hillary Clinton: Secretary of State

6. Ben Bernanke: Chairman, Federal Reserve

7. David Petraeus: Director, CIA

8. Kevin McCarthy: California Representative, House Majority Whip

9. Peter Rouse: Counselor to the President, the White House

10. Tom Donohue: President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

11. Tim Geithner: Treasury Secretary

12. John Boehner: Ohio Representative, Speaker of the House

13. Karl Rove, Steven Law, Ed Gillespie: American Crossroads & Crossroads GPS

14. Tommy Boggs: Chairman, Patton Boggs

15. Dan Pfeiffer: White House Communications Director

16. Gene Sperling and Jack Lew: Director, White House National Economic Council & New White House Chief of Staff

17. Chuck Schumer: New York Senator

18. Grover Norquist: President, Americans for Tax Reform

19. Chuck Todd: Chief White House Correspondent, NBC News

20. David Rhodes & Ben Rhodes: President, CBS News; Deputy National Security Advisor and speechwriter

21. Paul Ryan: Wisconsin Representative

22. Denis McDonough: Deputy National Security Adviser

23. Heather and Tony Podesta: Heather Podesta + Partners; Podesta Group

24. Chris Van Hollen: Maryland Representative

25. Paul D. Clement: Partner, Bancroft

26. Jim DeMint: South Carolina Senator

27. Kathy Ruemmler: White House Counsel

28. Joe Pounder: Research Director, Republican National Committee

29. Tim Scott: South Carolina Representative

30. Nancy Hogan: Director, Presidential Personnel

31. Brian Deese: Deputy Director, White House National Economic Council

32. Arne Duncan: Secretary of Education

33. Jake Sullivan: Director of Policy Planning, State Department

34. Ezra Klein: Blogger, The Washington Post

35. Rob Nabors: White House Director of Legislative Affairs

36. Bill Daley: (Former) Chief of Staff, White House

37. Patty Murray: Washington Senator

38. Capital Weather Gang: Bloggers, The Washington Post

39. Liz Cheney: Co-Founder, Keep America Safe

40. Mike Allen: Reporter, Politico

41. José Andrés: Restaurateur

42. Svetlana Legetic, Jayne Sandman, Barbara Martin: Party planners

43. Marco Rubio: Florida Senator

44. Jeremy Bernard: White House Social Secretary

45. Charles Krauthammer: Syndicated Columnist

46. Chris Dodd: Chairman, Motion Picture Association of America

47. Stephen Strasburg: Pitcher, Washington Nationals

48. Jack Quinn: Chairman, Quinn Gillespie & Associates

49. James Alefantis: Restaurateur and Bon Vivant

50. Bradley Graham & Lissa Muscatine: Owners, Politics & Prose

Bonus: Imagine how much better off we'd all be if Washington's very own Fugazi topped the list instead

MSNBC Shocked, SHOCKED to Learn that CEOs Rake in Huge Sums When Their Companies Go Bankrupt

In a properly functioning market economy, when a corporation is forced into bankruptcy the top management of said corporation would pay a very large financial penalty in terms of their pay and benefits. That is the whole foundation of our supposedly risk-reward capitalist system. Not in modern day America, however. Instead, we have evolved into a crony capitalist system in which it has become virtually impossible for those at the top to fail, however bad their decisions may be. What's more, this is true even in industries that don't receive massive government bailouts.

But wait, Bill, I hear you asking. Isn't that the case only in the Too Big To Fail sectors?

Sadly not, as reported this past weekend by MSNBC:
When companies go bankrupt, the misery is shared among many: Bond holders are wiped out, retirees see their pensions and benefits vanish, and employees lose their jobs.

But some feel no pain at all: CEOs and other top executives of companies that go through Chapter 11 receive robust compensation in the form of salary, stock grants and other benefits.

In some cases, they earn even more money than they did before the filing, even while other stakeholders suffer. It's the most unlikely fast-track to a fat payout ever, and it goes on in spite of federal legislation meant to crack down on corporate honchos feasting while everyone else fights over crumbs.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the wake of corporate catastrophes such as Enron, Congress passed legislation aimed at preventing companies from paying retention bonuses to executives at firms going through Chapter 11.

"You can't pay someone for just staying at a bankrupt company," said Robert Jackson, an associate professor at Columbia Law School at Columbia University, and former advisory to senior Treasury officials on executive compensation during the financial crisis. "But that's different from paying them from doing well at a bankrupt company," he said.

That distinction has become a loophole. Since the law allows performance-based incentives, huge executive payouts have morphed over the years to be little more than retention bonuses by another name, according to critics who say executives net outsized payouts even when they negotiate agreements that leave stakeholders out in the cold.

"There seems to be no sense of accountability at this level," said Steven Kropp, a professor at Roger Williams University School of Law. "In most of these cases, the unsecured creditors aren't being paid back in full, employees are being laid off, and in addition, they're finding their health insurance and pensions diminished." An investigation by The Wall Street Journal found that median compensation of CEOs at 21 companies that filed for bankruptcy was $8.7 million, just $400,000 less than the median compensation earned by CEOs at healthy companies.
Taking off my shoes and socks to do the math on that last data point reveals that the CEOs of bankrupt companies on average are paid just 4.5% less than those at non-bankrupt firms. Obviously, driving your company into the ground, usually in pursuit of a short term boost in revenue that can be used to pack your golden parachute, has virtually no negative ramifications to CEO pay anymore.

So how does this shit happen?
Companies are required to go to court and argue their case for big bonuses with the bankruptcy judge, explaining why the CEO deserves the set level of compensation and what targets they must meet in order to earn their bonus. The problem is that often the bar is set so low that even lackluster performance will be measured as success.

"It's all fine and well to say you're going to pay people for performance, but the key is what kind of performance," Jackson said. "It's very hard for a judge to know if an earnings target is easy or hard to hit. Are they just window dressings?" To make this determination, the court has to rely on evidence from the company's executives and lawyers, who may have an incentive to give themselves easy assignments.

Judges also have to rely on the input of compensation experts — also hired by the company — to know if the bonuses being proposed are appropriate for the industry and the task at hand, which also raises the prospect of manipulation.
In other words, it is a completely incestuous system from top to bottom. But wait, I hear you protesting. Why don't the shareholders object? After all, aren't they the ones being most negatively affected?
He said key stakeholders want a "bankruptcy guru," and they're willing to shell out enormous sums for the services of a CEO they think can pull the most money out of a troubled company. The catch is that this slate of decision-makers increasingly includes big creditors, negotiating with the kind of clout once limited to shareholders. What a creditor sees as the best return on its investment may very well be a bloodbath for the company's rank-and-file.
In other words, once again we see the "heads they win, tails you lose" dynamic at work. The system has become so totally gamed by the elites that it no longer matters to them whether a troubled company survives as an ongoing concern. If the company ultimately fails due to impossible market conditions created by peak oil, or the relentless off-shoring of decent paying jobs by corporate America, or because the CEO has never worked in that particular industry and has no fucking clue as to what they are doing, it doesn't matter at all to the big money boys. They'll just strip away the assets and leave a hollowed out husk...and then move on to the next ripe, juicy target. So while it was nice of MSNBC to treat this as a news story, it really shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone.

Bonus: "You get your money for nothing...and your chicks for free"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Potomac Supply (Virginia) Files for Bankruptcy

Looks like we have another housing crash victim. Here is the Northern Neck News with the details:
After announcing its temporary closing two weeks ago, Potomac Supply has now filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Under Chapter 11, Potomac Supply will attempt to reorganize its business structure to pay off creditors and reopen the business. The company filed for bankruptcy last Friday.

“All options are on the table that are afforded by this petition,” said Bill Carden, CEO of Potomac Supply. “Our goals remain to find solutions that will benefit our employees, creditors, community, shareholders and our bank.”

The petition will have to be heard in a bankruptcy court. Any creditors that Potomac Supply may have will be allowed to make a statement in the court and a judge has the final say in approving any reorganizational plan Potomac Supply develops in the Chapter 11 proceedings.

County officials have also been working with Potomac Supply since August in an effort to help the county’s largest employer keep its doors open.

“We are limited in what we can do since it is a private business,” said County Administrator Norm Risavi. “We’ve put them in contact with other organizations that may be able to help.”

Some of those organizations, Risavi said, are the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development and other small business groups.

Risavi said that even though the county cannot provide financial assistance, it does have a stake in the future of Potomac Supply.

“They are a big taxpayer in the county,” Risavi said. “That would have an impact on the county’s resources.”
Irritatingly, I had to do a Google search on the company to find out a little bit more about it (and get the above photo):
Potomac Supply Corporation in Kinsale, VA is a private company categorized under Lumber-Treating. Our records show it was established in 1946 and incorporated in Virginia. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of $23,500,000 and employs a staff of approximately 200.
Hmmm...66-year old company that is the largest taxpayer (and probably employer) in its home county. Yet another sad tale of the collapse of small town America.

Modesto Manufacturing Plants to Close, Ending Over 700 Jobs

I've noticed that the food industry has been taking a lot of hits lately. Here the Modesto Bee with the latest:
Dawn Food Products will close its three Modesto manufacturing plants in March, which will cost 265 workers their jobs.

Dawn officials say the closures are part of their corporate plan for "enhancing manufacturing operations and increasing efficiency."

The Michigan-based Dawn and its predecessor, Bunge Foods, have been making frozen cakes, cake mixes and other dry-mix bakery products in Modesto since 1996. Dawn leases 125,000 square feet in three buildings in the Beard Industrial District.
Again, the business reporter fails top ask the corporate flacks the question of how closing factories "enhances manufacturing operations" or "increases efficiency." An idled plant is a subtraction to the bottom line and there is no efficiency to be had. But these particular flacks didn't stop there:
"Dawn will work with our Modesto team members in the coming weeks to provide useful information, tools and resources that will help people move forward," said Michelle Fehr, Dawn's senior vice president of operations for U.S. bakery products. "We remain extremely grateful for the hard work and commitment of all our people during this challenging transition."
Since the business reporter won't do their job, allow me: Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit and more bullshit.

At least the story does attempt to draw somewhat of a bigger picture:
Losing those manufacturing jobs is another blow to Stanislaus County's already weak economy.

Stanislaus' unemployment rate tops 16 percent, and another big food processor, the Patterson Vegetable Co., announced that it planned to go out of business next month. The Patterson closure will eliminate 489 jobs.
Sounds like yet another community that's been pretty hard hit as the slow downward grind of the economy continues.

The Truth is in the Housing Sales Numbers, Not the Stock Market

It should be evident by now to any observer who has more than two brain cells to rub together that the stock market has for nearly three years been pumped up by the Federal Reserve in order to create the illusion of an economic recovery that just does not exist in reality. But while the Fed's easy money policies have given the big banks and Wall Street the liquidity they need to drive up the price of stocks (and other asset classes) from their March 2009 lows, what they haven't done is put money back in the pockets of working and middle class people. Consumers may still be whipping out the plastic to buy cheap crap from China in order to make themselves feel more prosperous than they really are, but when it comes to the biggest ticket item of all, housing, as the chart above from Calculated Risk shows, the country remains mired in a deep depression.

In fact, here are a couple of very telling quotes from two different posts Calculated Risk made on the subject last week:
2011 was the worst year for new home sales since the Census Bureau started tracking sales in 1963. The three worst years were 2011, 2010, and 2009 - and 2008 is also on the worst ten list.
But wait...there's more:
In December 2011, 21 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). This was the weakest December since this data has been tracked, and was below the previous record low for December of 23 thousand set in 1966 and tied in 2010. The high for December was 87 thousand in 2005.
That's right, we just had the worst year ever for new home sales, and December, despite all of the hype regarding holiday retail sales, was the worst month of the worst year ever. And this happened, we must remember, at a time when rates for a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage have fallen BELOW 4%.

Buying a home has always been, and remains, at the very heart of the American Dream. If people could still afford to buy real estate, especially at these mortgage rates, they would. The fact that they are not speaks huge volumes about the real state of the economy, despite the rise of the manipulated stock market.

The media has been hyping up the fact that the weekly unemployment claims numbers have fallen and that the monthly jobs data has shown a steady, if still sluggish increase in employment over the last year. The question they never ask in following up is: what kind of jobs are these that are being created? Are they higher paying jobs that provide the employee with a ticket to the middle class which will allow them to live the dream and buy their own home? Or are they menial, near minimum wage paying retail and service sector jobs that keep one on the edge of poverty and buying a house well beyond their means? The housing sales statistics seem to strongly indicate the latter.

Unless and until we start to see a real and sustained upturn in the number of homes being purchased, I think we can safely say that the rhetoric about economic recovery is nothing more than lies and propaganda spewed forth by a media machine of behalf of it's ever increasingly desperate masters.

Bonus: "I'm homesick for the home I've never had"

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Night Video - The "Stand Up Economist" Explains American Politics and the National Debt

If you are not familiar with his work, The Stand Up Economist is Yorum Bauman, an actual PhD Economist who decided a few years ago to try stand up comedy as a side gig. In the video below, he does a brilliantly funny bit on American politics and the real reason why the national debt is out of control.

Choice bit: "If you don't know the difference between a communist and a fascist, you're probably a swing voter."


Bonus video: I'm not sure where this is, but someone just recorded out their windshield as they were driving around in a very dilapidated neighborhood. There is no commentary. The images very powerfully speak for themselves.

Jane Addams's Hull House Charity Closes; 300 Employees Laid Off

One of the sadder stories to arise from the ongoing slow motion economic collapse was reported Friday when it was announced that the Hull House, the 19th century charity formed by the famed Chicago icon, Jane Addams, is closing down. Here is the Washington Post with the details:
Hull House, the Chicago social services organization founded more than 120 years ago by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams, closed Friday after running out of money.

The agency said the poor economy resulted in more demand for its services but also made it harder to raise money to cover its costs. Hull House has been providing child care, job training, housing assistance and other services for 60,000 people a year in the Chicago area.

The agency had announced plans to close in the spring, but Friday’s shutdown was unexpected, striking some 300 employees with a devastating and unexpected blow. They received layoff notices and final paychecks and then spent the day packing their belongings and saying tearful good-byes. Many said they were startled to learn their insurance ended almost two weeks ago.

“It’s been my life,” said Dianne Turner, who spent 25 years teaching families in Chicago housing projects how to break the cycle of poverty. “It wasn’t about the pay. It was about seeing a family go from feeling hopeless to being hopeful and feeling like they can do things.”Chicago’s Hull House, founded by Jane Addams, closes doors after more than 120 years

Turner said she knows what it’s like to live in the projects and dream of something better. She got her first job as a teenager through Hull House and said the organization helped teach her the value of education, how to save money and how to be a leader.

Founded in 1889, Hull House was the best known of the 400 settlement houses in the United States in the early 1900s. The settlements were designed to provide services to immigrants and the poor while uplifting them through culture, education and recreation. At its peak, Hull House served more than 9,000 people a week, offering medical help, an art gallery, citizenship classes, a gardening club and a gym with sports programs.
Of course, the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression is about the very worst time for this to happen. And note, too, the completely shabby way that the employees were treated. Jane Addams must be rolling over in her grave. The fact that this happened the same week as Obama's State of the Union speech in the very city he calls home could not be more fittingly symbolic.

Education Management Corp, a For Profit College, Lays Off 400

Of all the various bottom feeders picking at the carcass of what was once a vibrant American economy, for profit colleges are among the lowest of the low. I've post stories on TDS before about how these so-called "institutions" of higher learning will admit anyone who can fog a mirror and fill out a student loan application. A huge percentage of the students never finish the curriculum, but are still stuck with whatever debt they accumulate. Those who do manage to earn their degree often find that it is of little more value than high school diploma when it comes to fining a decent job. All in all, for profit colleges are a perfect example of what happens when predatory corporations are allowed to exploit well intentioned social programs and reap large profits form them.

That's a long winded introduction for this story below from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review about one such august institution now laying off staff:
Education Management Corp. today began laying off as many as 400 workers from locations in the Strip District and in Arizona, as a result of a recent review of its operations.
A, B, C, easy as...oh fuck, what was the rest of it again?

Sorry, I got distracted. Please continue:
At least 70 people who were let go worked at the Pittsburgh company's Online Higher Education business located in the Strip District, according to several workers. Those laid off were escorted from buildings along Penn Avenue late this morning.
Ouch, that's cold. Gee, it sounds to me like they were expecting trouble from those they fired. That usually only happens when the workforce already has shitty morale and they're afraid someone might go postal on them. So what do the corporate flacks have to say for themselves?
A statement from Education Management, which owns and operates for-profit colleges, including the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, said the layoffs would affect fewer than 2 percent of its 20,000 workers, or as many as 400 people.

The moves were "not anticipated to have any impact on students," the statement said.
Other than to greatly reduce the number of positions that might be available after graduation, of course. Because often the best chance the attendees of these schools have to get a job after graduation is to go to work for the institutions themselves. Much as I loathe the way these schools operate, I do feel sorry for those who get conned into attending them. The words "education" and "corporation" should be mutually exclusive (just like the words "news" and "corporation," incidentally).

I've also said before on this blog that the student loan business and higher education in general form yet another unsustainable economic bubble. Might this story represent the first indicator that the bubble is starting to pop? Time will tell.

Bonus: Sing it, Alice

Friday, January 27, 2012

UPS Closing Warehouse in Kentucky, 433 Jobs Lost

The "Tightest Ship in the Shipping Business" just got a little tighter. Here's a local Kentucky radio station with the story:
(Hebron, Ky.) - More than 500 people will lose their jobs after UPS closes a warehouse in Boone County.

UPS notified the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training on January 18 it will issue layoffs at its Supply Chain Solutions Building K warehouse at 1505 Worldwide Boulevard in Hebron by April 1.

The move will affect 542 employees according to the WARN notice submitted by the company. About 430 of the workers will be offered separation allowance or another position if it becomes available, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
So what was explanation?
UPS says the move is due to losing a major account at that distribution center. The company said that account was Zulily, a Seattle-based online store, WCPO-TV reported.
So what can Brown do for you? Fire your ass if business is slow, of course.

Briggs & Stratton Shutting Plants, to Cut 767 Jobs

Readers might wonder if reading through so many layoff notices ever gets tedious. My answer to that would be: not really, because while the media's bigger picture economic stories are often full of spin and obfuscation, these types of articles often contain little snippets of the truth. For instance, there is this story from the Seattle PI about big layoffs coming to small engine manufacturer Briggs & Stratton:
Engine maker Briggs & Stratton Corp. on Thursday said it will close a plant in Tennessee and shift the work to Georgia, eliminating about 690 jobs in the U.S., as it adjusts to a changing market for outdoor equipment.

The company is also closing a plant in the Czech Republic, which will result in 77 job cuts there. It is shifting that work to a Kentucky factory.
So far, so good. But here's the rub:
The moves reflect sharp declines in demand for U.S. lawn and garden products. Briggs & Stratton said the market has declined more than 33 percent since 2004.

"This significant and prolonged market decline is unlike any other this industry has seen in decades," said CEO Todd Teske in a release. The actions "will better align our production capacity to the markets we serve."
That was actually quite a refreshing bit of honesty there from Briggs & Stratton CEO Todd Teske. Maybe we need a new Lawn and Garden Products sales index to measure the real state of the U.S. economy. It would be a far more accurate indicator than any of the numbers produced by the Bureau of Labor Lying Statistics these days.

Newt Gingrich: The "Leader" America So Richly Deserves

The already chaotic race for the Republican presidential nomination was thrown into even more disarray last Saturday when Newt Gingrich destroyed Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary. The last time a politician from Massachusetts got beaten that badly by a South Carolinian was in 1856 when abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner was left for dead on the Senate floor by pro-slavery Representative Preston Brooks. Just when it appeared that Romney was clearing the field on his way to securing the nomination, the Everybody Hates Willard conservatives shook things up by rallying around the standard of the bomb throwing huckster from Georgia with the Stone Mountain-sized chip on his shoulder.

It remains to be seen whether the Newtster can capitalize on his Palmetto State victory and pull the upset over the plodding and clueless Bay State oligarch the Republican "leadership" had grudgingly settled on as their preferred standard bearer. Personally and perversely, I am now rooting for Gingrich to move in for the kill. No other politician today so perfectly embodies the rot and decay that has slowly gripped our political system over the past 30 years as America has descended into unrepresentative corporatocracy. The man will say and do ANYTHING to achieve and maintain power. Just look at how he was willing to play the populist card to attack Romney's Wall Street record despite the traditional slavish Republican support for big business.

Gingrich actually combines the very worst elements of so many other recent national Republican politicians. He has Nixon's thirst for vengeance against his political enemies and contempt for the rule of law, Reagan's ability to connect with "values" voters despite being a divorcee and a moral train wreck, Cheney's neoconservative belligerence and desire to assert American hegemony throughout the world, George Bush the Lesser's open contempt for the Constitution of the United States and Palin's ability to pull the emotional chords of his dimwitted followers and masterfully play the victim in the media. Add it all up and you have the man who most clearly resembles author James Howard Kunster's "Corn Pone Hitler" for America.

The ever feckless Democrats are, of course, cackling with glee at the idea that the Angry Little Attack Muffin (as conservative pundit Peggy Noonan has so memorably labelled him) could actually snatch the prize right out of Willard's jaws and end up being President Hopey-Changey's opponent this November. Indeed, the so-called "smart" money in Washington is now betting overwhelmingly on Obama being reelected. Democratic "leaders" around the country are no doubt giddily blocking off days in their appointment calendars for the middle of next January in anticipation of attending another series of tiresome inauguration parties.

All I can say to those prematurely celebrating Democrats is: be careful what you wish for. I absolutely agree that if the administration can manage to kick the can representing the next inevitable crash in the financial markets past November 6th, Obama is a shoo-in to be reelected. It might get a bit ugly with massive Occupy protests at the Democratic convention in Charlotte this summer, and his base will be supporting him more out of fear of a Republican victory than because of any enthusiasm for the way he has repeatedly kicked them in the nuts during his first term, but under the current economic conditions the race is his to lose, however much he deserves to.

But what if the administration miscalculates? After all, the previous occupant of the Oval Office also tried to keep things propped up past election day to help the prospects of his party's nominee to be his successor but ended up falling about two months short of that goal. In the wake of John McCain's disastrous campaign, we tend to forget that right before the September 2008 market crash he was surging in the polls and had almost drawn even with Obama. Would the cranky curmudgeon from The Grand Canyon State have defeated the Mighty O had stocks waited a few more months to make like Lindsey Lohan's acting career? We'll never know for sure, but there was at least a decent possibility.

If the market crashes again in 2012, the Occupy protests will reach a fever pitch and the outrage across the country is going to turn white hot. Tens of millions of voters will be looking for someone to punish, and Obama will be the most visible target of their ire. It won't matter then how flawed Newt Gingrich is as a candidate. His greatest advantage will be in being "not Obama." A number of pessimistic stock market watchers believe the next crash will take stocks below their March 2009 lows. The political mathematics of that scenario playing out are really very simple: Dow 6000 = President Gingrich (or Romney if the latter manages to hold on).

So what would a Gingrich presidency be like? Well, for starters if you take him at his word from some of the more ominous things he has been saying on the campaign trail, war with Iran and massive economic chaos from a disruption in Middle East oil supplies would seem to be an inevitability. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives has also said he would ignore Supreme Court rulings he doesn't agree with and would purge "politically unreliable" federal government employees in direct violation of the Hatch Act. In other words, he has already openly stated that he is going to ignore the rule of law and govern as a dictator.

And just who is going to stop him? Congress? After 30 years of gradually ceding its power to the executive branch? Please. If John Boehner couldn't get up the courage to do anything more than whine about Obama's thumbing his nose at the War Powers act over Libya, it is very difficult to believe that the institution would do much of anything to check a president who was determined to test the limits in pushing for dictatorial powers.

Gays, Muslims and illegal immigrants also aren't likely to fair too well under a Gingrich presidency given the things he has said about those groups, but also at risk would be the Occupy movement and anyone else who might be thinking of taking to the streets in protest of economic injustice. Gingrich has made it perfectly clear that he has no respect for Occupy, and he is the type of personality who wouldn't hesitate to use the recently authorized presidential powers to order the military to detain protest leaders indefinitely as potential "terrorists."

Having said all of that, Gingrich would nevertheless be the president this Spoiled Rotten Nation with its Me First politics so richly deserves. For three decades the citizenry has stood passively by with their collective thumbs up their asses as their economic livelihoods and constitutional rights have been gradually stolen out from under them by the craven political class working on behalf of their Wall Street puppet masters. Gingrich himself is a man-child on ego steroids who gives not a single flying fuck about anyone but his own bad self. It would be quite fitting if the dark political path we started down with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 ends at his front doorstep. For he is potentially our Nero, the unhinged ruler who will set America ablaze and then unconcernedly play his violin as everything burns down around him.

Bonus: It doesn't take Johnny Smith to see who Newt Gingrich really is

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Abbot Laboratories Lays Off 700, More to Come

More problems in the health care industry, as reported this week by Market Watch:
Health-products maker Abbott Laboratories has laid off about 700 workers, primarily in manufacturing operations, and plans to eliminate several hundred additional positions over the course of the year.

The company attributed some of the layoffs to the impending mid-2012 expiration of Abbott's contract to supply the artery-opening stent Promus to Boston Scientific Corp. Boston Scientific is shifting to a new version of Promus that it will manufacture internally.

Orders for Promus have slowed ahead of the contract expiration, said Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel.

In addition, the layoffs affect some workers in Abbott's diagnostics and pharmaceutical manufacturing operations, Stoffel said.
So tell me again how the stock market keeps rising?

Defense Contractor AAI Lays Off 184 Workers

Defense War spending is still rising, albeit at a slower pace than in recent years. But that is not enough to avoid defense contractors making layoffs because of reduced revenue. Here is the Baltimore Sun with the latest:
AAI Corp., the Hunt Valley company known for its Shadow spy plane, said Tuesday that it is laying off 184 workers from its Baltimore County location.

Workers were to be notified Tuesday. Before the layoffs, AAI employed more than 1,600 workers in Maryland.
Golly, sounds like wee need another war to get things moving again:
The move comes as the defense contracting dollars from the federal government are expected to dwindle. The overall national defense budget rose only slightly this fiscal year, and military leaders say they're taking a hard look at contracts for cost savings.
So less war = more layoffs. What a grim corner we have collectively managed to paint ourselves into.

Bonus: I guess it's good for keeping people employed, if nothing else

"I Made $80 Million Playing a Kid's Game, and Now I'm Broke and Have No Friends"

In my January 17th post, "Extreme Makeover: Reality Edition," I highlighted a story about an Arizona family who was given a million dollar home by the reality teevee show and was unable to keep it. In the post, I asserted that there are a lot of people who just can't handle prosperity. At least some of the blame for that can be placed squarely upon the media, which relentlessly glorifies narcissistic celebrities who live extravagantly lavish and foolishly wasteful lifestyles.

Very few sports figures in recent years have come to personify this phenomenon as much as NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens. To put it bluntly, for well over a decade while he was in his prime Owens perfectly exemplified everything that is wrong with modern professional sports. He was a selfish, me-first attention whore of a ballplayer who hogged the spotlight and thumbed his nose at his coaches while always blaming his teammates for his own shortcomings. Along the way, Owens completely ignored the old mantra that you should be careful how you treat people as you're climbing the ladder lest they shit all over you when you're on the way back down.

So I have to admit to having experienced a considerable amount of schadenfreude when I read the story below from ABC News:
Terrell Owens, the former NFL star receiver who has signed to play for and co-own an indoor football team, is friendless and nearly broke, he told GQ magazine. “I’m in hell,” Owens, 38, said he tells people who ask about his well-being.

After the Cincinnati Bengals did not renew his one-year, $2 million contract last year, Owens has been suffering from his financial shortcomings, including ventures gone bad and child support for his four children, he said.

The $80 million or so he had made in his career is almost gone, he said, but not because he lived a lavish lifestyle.

In a profile story in GQ’s February issue, Owens said his financial advisers lured him into risky investments such as an Alabama entertainment complex that cost him $2 million. He later learned the venture was illegal in the state and violated the NFL’s policy of prohibiting players from investing in gambling, he said.

He also owns a slew of properties that he thought he would be able to rent before the housing market tanked, he said. He has a home in Los Angeles that cost him $499,000 and a multimillion-dollar home that is for sale in Atlanta. The home in New Jersey for which he paid $3.9 million was sold in late 2010 for $1.7 million, he said.

Owens also pays $44,600 a month in child support for his four children, ages 5 to 12. Three of the four mothers have sued him.

The football player laments about losing trust in people and friends. When people text and ask where he is, he answers, “I’m in hell.”

“I don’t have no friends,” he told GQ. ”I don’t want no friends. That’s how I feel.”
It's time we stop, children. What's that sound? It's the sound of me, playing the world's smallest violin for Terrell Owens. No one should feel ANY sympathy for a pathetic excuse for a human being who, because of the utterly skewed values of our society, is handed $80 million merely for playing a kid's game and manages to blow the whole roll by the time he's 38 years old. If I saw the fucker out panhandling I wouldn't waste a wooden nickle on him.

Back when Terrell Owens was still a star in the NFL, there were plenty of idiot sports fans who stupidly looked up to him as a role model. But I would argue that he is actually a much better role model now. Kids everywhere need to be shown his example and taught that he is exactly what they should aspire NOT to be, on the field or off.

Bonus: I'd like to dedicate this song to Terrell Owens. "I guess you ain't worth a damn, when you're broke"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Wars Come Home: Violent Sex Crimes Committed By Soldiers Have Almost Doubled

If you still need proof of just what a long term disaster America's war policies of the last decade have been for the country, consider this recent article from Reuters:
Violent sex crimes committed by active U.S. Army soldiers have almost doubled over the past five years, due in part to the trauma of war, according to an Army report released on Thursday.

Reported violent sex crimes increased by 90 percent over the five-year period from 2006 to 2011. There were 2,811 violent felonies in 2011, nearly half of which were violent felony sex crimes. Most were committed in the United States.

One violent sex crime was committed by a soldier every six hours and 40 minutes in 2011, the Army said, serving as the main driver for an overall increase in violent felony crimes.

Higher rates of violent sex crimes are "likely outcomes" of intentional misconduct, lax discipline, post-combat adrenaline, high levels of stress and behavioral health issues, the report said.
And here is proof that our top military brass can challenge any CEO in their ability to talk engage in FlackSpeak:
"While we have made tremendous strides over the past decade, there is still much work to be done," Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli said in a statement.

"Many of our biggest challenges lie ahead after our soldiers return home and begin the process of reintegrating back into their units, families and communities," Chiarelli said.
Not to be insubordinate there, General, but it doesn't sound like you've made any fucking strides at all. In fact, it sounds very much like you are backsliding. Might this be because you and your general officer buddies care more about your own perks and cushy retirement gigs with defense war contractors than you do about the health and well being of the troops who follow your insane orders to go invade other countries who pose exactly zero military threat to America? Perish the thought.

So just how bad is this problem?
Violent sex crimes committed by U.S. Army troops increased at a rate that consistently outpaced the national trend, a gap that is expected to continue to grow, the Army said.

The top five violent felony offenses committed by soldiers in 2011 were aggravated assault, rape, aggravated sexual assault, forcible sodomy and child pornography.

Soldiers suffering from issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, and depression have been shown to have higher incidences of partner abuse, according to the report.

Soldiers with PTSD are up to three times more likely to be aggressive with their female partners than those without such trauma, the report said.
Let's also knock off with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder bullshit. As the late George Carlin once pointed out, it's called "shell shock." That's how you describe the condition in such a way that gets the point across. The initials PTSD actually sound like they are describing a form of venereal disease that needs not be taken seriously. Which is probably part of the reason why the military is able to get away with not taking it seriously. Thus the damaged soldiers are often left untreated and end up passing on the damage to the ones they love.

Bonus: "American have a lot of trouble dealing with reality"

McDonald's Discovers That Their Customers Are Just Not That Into Them

I rarely ever describe a story as "laugh out loud" funny, because let's face it, most of the things the LOL tag gets attached to are just not amusing enough to elicit even an audible chuckle. Maybe it's because I'm a cynical old meanie, but I actually DID laugh out loud at this story from the Springfield State Journal-Register about McDonald's recent ill fated Twitter campaign:
When McDonald's began promoting the #McDStories hashtag Wednesday on Twitter, the idea was to get people talking about their experiences with the fast-food giant. And in that sense, it was a rousing success: The phrase exploded in popularity as Twitter users across the country shared stories of their visits to McDonald's.

Unfortunately, McDonald's learned a harsh lesson in social media marketing: When you encourage people to talk about your company, they're not always going to say nice things.

While McDonald's own tweets on the topic tended along the lines of "When u make something w/pride, people can taste it," actual customers were less inclined to toe the company line. "I haven't been to McDonalds in years, because I'd rather eat my own diarrhea," read one top tweet by @Muzzafuzza. Another user, @Jetsonjetsonjet, referred readers to a viral video of a mouse crawling through a bag of hamburger buns.

Meanwhile, animal rights activist @michellevegan tweeted that "@McDonalds scalds baby chicks alive for nuggets," and linked to a site run by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It was retweeted more than 100 times.

Yes, it appears McDonald's lost control of the narrative here.
And no, as much as I'd like to claim the credit, it wasn't me who Tweeted the message I highlighted in bold above. In fact, I don't Tweet at all. But if I ever did, I'd retweet that bad boy as many times as I could.

Hey, McDonald's, I know you and I haven't been on speaking terms since I got that mild case of food poisoning at one of your horrible restaurants a decade ago, and I realize that you are probably offended that Super Size Me is one of my favorite documentaries, but let me give you a little bit of friendly advice here. People generally don't flock in to buy your Big Macs, McNuggets and McMuffins because they are able to taste the alleged pride by which your minimum wage earning staff thaws that shit out, heats it up and sticks it in a bunch of garbage dump filling wrappers. They buy that crap because it is cheap and convenient, and we're a culture that has come to value cheapness and convenience at the expense of nearly everything else.

So just go with the flow and embrace the suck. After all, it is exactly that which has made your company so insanely profitable in the first place.

Bonus: "I think I'm going to have to go Super Size!"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Swap-O-Matic: A Vending Machine Based on the Barter Economy

On the one hand, the media keeps telling us our consumer-based economy is is getting better, then on the other hand they report individual stories which prove exactly the opposite. Here is the latest such story from MSNBC:
There are about 7 million vending machines in America. And what do the vast majority of them sell? Sodas and sodium- or sugar-heavy snacks (which aren’t good for you), packaged in plastic or PET and shipped around the country (which isn’t good for the planet). We’ve all used vending machines. But despite their convenience, they certainly aren’t a solution to humanity’s problems.

Or are they? The Swap-o-Matic, created by the New York City-based designer Lina Fenequito, is a vending machine that lets you “recycle things you no longer need and get things you want — all for free.” You create a Swap-o-Matic account by entering an email address on the machine’s touch screen. You’re then issued three credits. You can earn more credits by donating items to the machine and spend them by getting items in the machine that someone else has donated.

Fenequito, who worked for Americorps before earning an MFA at Parsons School of Design, says the project is about promoting “a shift in culture away from an emphasis on unconscious consumption towards a more sustainable way of life through reusing and trading.”

The Swap-o-Matic is currently migrating around New York City. You can look up its location on the project’s website and, if you’re in New York, drop by to donate or peruse what’s available. Soon you’ll be able to see what’s in the machine online as well.
Before I continue, let me just say that I think this is a great idea--one that is long overdue, in fact. Hopefully, these machines will catch on and spread quickly around the country.

As an economic indicator, however, it is yet another sign that there has been a sea change. Modern America is a throwaway society. Use it up quickly and dump it in the landfill. That's the very mantra of consumerism.

Few except the downtrodden and the small percentage of people who consciously do not play the consumerist game actually seek out used goods, even though it more than makes sense from a personal finance standpoint. The fact that a business such is this is starting up and seems to have bright prospects is a very telling indicator.

Bonus: The Boss understood the consumerist dream - "Mister, on the day the lottery I win, I ain't ever gonna ride in no used car again"

$100 Million in Increased Profit = 172 Layoffs

Sometimes the CEOs of big corporations will try to sugarcoat the fact that they are actually laying off their employees out of sheer greed. At other times, however, they will simply extend a big middle digit to the workers and communities they destroy in order to line their own pockets. As reported by the Hartford Courant last week, one unfortunate Connecticut town is about to experience the latter:
RR Donnelley & Sons, a $10.6 billion global printing company, is closing its Windsor location in March, putting 117 people out of work.

In a press release that same day, the CEO told investors that 2011's cash flow would be better than previously projected — instead of having $600 million in profits (not counting capital expenditures, taxes and debt service), it will have $650 million to $700 million.

In its third-quarter earnings report, the company said profits tripled from the same time last year, and sales increased 8 percent.
So what did the CEO have to say for himself about the layoffs?
"We continue to have success in the marketplace, winning new work and expanding customer relationships. Given the challenging global economic environment and sluggish financial markets activity, we are pleased with our results," said Thomas J. Quinlan III, RR Donnelley's president and chief executive officer. According to Forbes Magazine, he was paid $2.64 million in 2010, and owns $6 million in stock in the company.
There you go, Occupiers. If you need yet another corporate poster child scumbag to highlight why you are doing what are doing, R.R. Donnelley President and CEO Thomas J. Quinlan III just gave you the perfect gift.

Bonus: "I never understood why the people of France cut off Marie Antoinette's head. Now I fucking GET IT"

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Get Your Ass Down Here, Prime Minister Harper!"

Holy crap, what's this? The mayor of a city not taking lying down the gutting of a local factory's workers' pay and benefits after the foreign corporation which owns it was granted huge tax breaks? Not to mention that same mayor is also excoriating the nation's leader for favoring corporate interests over those of the workers? Fabulous! Too bad it is only happening north of the border, as reported Saturday by Digital Journal:
"Get your ass down here, Prime Minister Harper!" bellowed Joe Fontana, mayor of London. In 2008 Harper visited the city's EMD plant, announcing corporate tax cuts to increase job security for Canadians. Now, EMD workers are locked out by their U.S. owner.
So what exactly has the mayor all up in arms?
Since the start of the year, about 425 unionized Electro-Motive Diesel workers in London have been locked out by Progress Rail, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc. The highly profitable, global company shocked many by demanding London workers take a 50 percent drop in pay, accept deep cuts to their benefits, and stand by as their pension plans were gutted.
Yeah, that's pretty bad. I can see why people might be pissed off. And I found these quotes to be particularly delicious:
Stop, ask a pleasant looking older woman why she is there. You learn her son has worked at EMD for years and his reward is being locked out, put onto the street in January in the middle of the Canadian winter. "Tell Harper to get the money back . . . It's our money he gave to those bastards!" She spits out the words with venom.

Everyone hears the personal story of the Jones family when Brianna Jones and her father, Ian, take centre stage. Brianna made her contempt for the giant American company clear. Without unions she said, "We'd all be living in the slums. They don't care." She continued, "Our family's budget will be slashed in half." Brianna is attending university in Windsor and plans on going on to earn her doctorate. A crumbling family budget would hurt.

"It is morally wrong to call (my father's) life's work unskilled," she says talking about her dad. Brianna is proud of her father. "We should not have to inherit a society where greed trumps morality." The crowds loudly chants, "Greed. Greed. Greed."
Oh, and here you see the lingering effects of the Occupy movement:
But it was not only private and public-sector labour unions that were attracted to the rally; It also drew non-labour supporters as well. Sister Sue Walker of the Sisters of St. Joseph in London warned, "The social contract is breaking down." She said, "Wealth is trickling upwards" and this is "tearing at the fabric of society. Now is the time for the 99 percent to stand together."
The biggest question I have every time I read the latest story about a factory being shut down so that production can be moved to China, or workers being laid off by CEOs who are still paid tens of millions of dollars is: where is the outrage? Every time this kind of shit happens in America, the workers just meekly take it and don't ever protest. Why not yell and scream and make your voice heard? Ultimately, it might not save your job, but it might serve to finally wake people up to what is really going on in this country.

Bonus: Which side are you on?

J.C. Penney to Eliminate Thousands of Jobs

In the wake of the big store closing announcement by Sears, comes a similar story today about long time rival J.C. Penney. No store closings annocement as of yet, but the comapny's new CEO is apparently planning to eliminate "thousands of jobs," which would seem hard to do without closing at least a few locations. Here is Bloomberg with the details:
J.C. Penney Co., run by Apple Inc.’s former retail chief, will cut thousands of jobs as part of a plan to overhaul the company, the New York Post reported.

Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson is eliminating positions that involve re-tagging merchandise and putting up temporary signs and displays, the Post said, citing people it didn’t name. The reductions will affect employees at almost all of J.C Penney’s 1,200 stores in the U.S.

The job cuts are part of a strategy to replace the company’s traditional sales and clearance events to offer everyday low prices, the newspaper said. J.C. Penney is holding an event on Jan. 25 to announce Johnson’s plans.

The Post said Johnson is being encouraged to cut jobs by J.C. Penney’s largest shareholders, William Ackman and Steve Roth.
Like Sears, J.C. Penney is an iconic American retailer that has been around for more than 100 years. Also like Sears, the chain has in recent years lost all of the qualities and connection to local communities that once made it special. No doubt this action is just the first step that will eventually lead to the chain's demise. And you can bet that vultures Ron Johnson, William Ackerman and Steve Roth will extract every dollar of value they can before they bury the corpse.

NAFTA's Latest "Free" Trade Gift: Carrier Plant in Tyler, Texas, Moving Production to Mexico

Probably no other state in the U.S. has been as staunchly supportive as Texas of the politicians who have been firmly in the back pockets of big business and enacted the globalization policies which have wrought devastation upon working and middle class Americans. Nevertheless, as a staunch opponent of both big business and "free" trade (Once again, it's only free for the elites who profit from it and is paid for by those who lose their jobs) I still take no satisfaction from seeing the policies they have consistently voted for now devastate their livelihoods.

Among other things Tyler, Texas, was once home to a Kelly Springfield tire factory that was a sister plant to the one in my hometown where my father served his whole career as a middle manager. That plant closed in 2008, and now, according to a local television station, it is being joined by another factory from the Carrier corporation, which is shutting down to move production across the border to Mexico:
More than 400 employees at Tyler's Carrier plant were told this morning that the Carrier plant in Tyler could be closing. The company has proposed the closure but it is subject to a collective bargaining agreement with the union.

If they choose to close, the company will continue operations through the end of 2013.

Carrier tells CBS 19 they are proposing the closure after a review of business and market conditions.

"I thought it was a shame that again we're losing jobs to a foreign country," Carrier worker Darren Hawks said about the possible closure.

He's worked at Tyler's plant for close to 20 years.

"I don't know what I'm going to do because I'm right in the middle of an age where I don't want to be looking for a job. There are a lot of unemployed people out there who are a lot younger than me so I'm just curious what job I'm going to find," he said.
At least one worker knows what the real story is:
Carrier spokesperson Michelle Caldwell says The shutdown is pending a collective bargaining agreement with the sheet metal workers union.

"We go under negotiations starting next week for severance packages and whatever we can get for employees who lose their jobs,"Local Sheet Metal Workers Union manager, Blain Strickland, said.

Strickland says the jobs are headed to Mexico.

"They're wages are like $4 an hour. American companies can't compete with that," he said.
Well, not since NAFTA anyway. But you have to ask yourself this: in a few years when nearly all of America's good paying blue collar jobs have been destroyed by globalization and the economic effects of peak oil, who is going to be left to buy Carrier's products? Because the low paid Mexican workers sure won't be able to afford them.

The idea that poorer Mexicans, many of whom used to live on subsistence farms and have been driven off their land by plunging grain prices that were a direct result of NAFTA and the subsequent flood of American agriculture products into the country, are somehow better off working long hours for crappy wages in the shitty factories that have been built to replace the ones in the U.S. is laughable. Does anyone really think that the surge in illegal Mexican immigrants to the U.S. looking for work after NAFTA was passed was just a coincidence?

Mr. Strickland also took his soon-be-ex-employers task for their excuses:
Carrier said there decision came down to the numbers. They said since 2005 housing starts are down 71 percent and non residential construction is down 59 percent. Carrier said it was those numbers that affected their market decision."

Strickland disagrees with that explanation.

"Since 1992 carrier has closed 6 manufacturing plants in the United States," he said. "There is no other reason than cheap labor."

In the last decade, Tyler's Carrier plant has slowly shrunk its workforce from 1250 to just over 400. A blow to the economy.
No doubt the housing crash was a big factor in the declining profit margins for Carrier, but that still doesn't explain the previous rounds of layoffs and closings during the boom years.

Ultimately, however, despite the unrelenting bad news, hope somehow still springs eternal:
"Next two years you never know what will happen things might go skyrocket high," Stewart said.
Or things might crater to as yet unseen depths. And quite frankly, the latter scenario seems far more likely than the former given that there is no driver for the creation of good paying jobs in America these days.

Bonus: Linda and Emmylou sing a melancholy Bruce Springsteen tune about crossing the border

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mayville Products Corp. To Close Wisconsin Plant - 130 Jobs Lost

This plant closing/layoffs announcement from The Business Journal was quite straightforward as these things go:
Mayville Products Corp. plans to close its factory in Mayville in Dodge County, leaving 130 workers without jobs.

The layoffs are expected to occur between March 19 and March 30, according to a plant closing notice filed Thursday with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

The sheet metal fabricating plant, 403 Degner Ave., is expected to permanently close on March 30.

“We are very sorry that business conditions have forced us to take this action,” the notice states.
Gee...no bullshit spin, no lame excuses for off shoring jobs to China--just a plain, simple, "business sucks, we're outta here." That was almost perversely refreshing.

Monaco RV to Close Oregon Factory, Lay Off 272

Not surprisingly RVs, those big, lumbering behemoths of the American road beloved by many pensioners, haven't been selling well in this era of permanent $3.00 plus gasoline. Here is a local Oregon television station with the latest bad news to hit the industry:
Monaco RV will be ceasing production of motorized RV's permanently at its Coburg manufacturing plant. While the company is not ceasing all operations at the facility, the company anticipates that about 272 employees will be terminated over the next six months.

The first terminations will occur in March 2012.
It has been a common fantasy among many of those in the middle class to retire, buy and RV and go hit the road to see all the sights around the country they didn't have the time to visit while they were working. Most of those who still harbor this particular fantasy need to recognize that expensive fuel costs are soon going to render the option unaffordable for most people if they haven't already.

Bonus: "Vacation...all I ever wanted"

Just Another Sad Tale of Small Town America

Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, Veep candidate Sarah Palin got a lot of mileage by hyping up "small town values," and insinuating that people who live in the rural areas of the country are somehow more American that those who reside in and around the big cities. As someone who grew up in a small town and have lived most of my adult life in urban areas, I found that line of reasoning particularly daffy. Beyond the offensiveness of questioning the patriotism of people just because of where they live, it was also incredibly dumb from a politics standpoint. For there is no quicker way to consign yourself to the dustbin of history as a politician than purporting to stand up for a constituency that is rapidly dying out.

Unless they are lucky enough to be located in or near a big tourist destination, America's small towns and cities have been slowly decaying for a couple of generations now. My own hometown of Freeport, Illinois, reached peak population in the 1970 census and has been slowly losing ground since then as college educated young people like me have deserted the place because there were few good jobs to be had. I often wonder what my life would have been like had I been able to secure a decent job back home after college. As much as I have enjoyed the excitement of residing first in Chicago and then just outside of DC, and having the opportunity to travel to more than two dozen foreign countries, the long dead ideal of small town living does still hold some appeal for me.

As a result, the recent article below from a local television station in my home state struck a particular chord with me:
There was a time when the general store was the beating heart of the rural American town. Friday, another town lost its heart. Huebotter's Store closed for good.

Now many are wondering how they can pump life back into their town.

Things are done the old-fashioned way at Huebotter's.

"I'm noticing that small-town America seems like it's drying up," said Guy Inman.

People here buy just what they need.

"We kept holding off, praying that we would not have to close," said Candace Ellis.

For years, Ellis helped her mother-in-law Joyce order groceries for the store. Joyce's father Paul Huebotter opened the store back in 1928.

What's inside shows all the history there, pieces of a simpler time, a different life. And for those here, Huebotter's is their community.

"The store is viable. It made a living. But there's nobody here to take it and put their heart and soul in it and run it," said Robert Inman.

Inman is a local farmer. He said he will soon have to drive about 30 miles to the nearest store, making small-town living a thing of the past.

The decision to close came about three weeks ago but the concerns had been around for a while.

The store wasn't making the money to stay open.

"Joyce has been here literally her whole life, ever since she was born and her father started it," said Ellis.

With a heavy heart Joyce Ellis sat, watching the time tick by, unable to talk about the doors closing Friday.
Just to recap, this store survived the Great Depression, World War Two, the Cold War, the oil shocks of the 1970s and well into the Internet age. And now it's gone, along with the traditional American small town lifestyle in general.

But beyond just my own stuffy nostalgia, a question that needs to be asked is what are people who will now have to drive 30 miles just to get their groceries (and perhaps their mail when the post office closes) going to do when gasoline becomes unaffordable in a few years? As I wrote back on January 13th in my post, "Riding the School Bus May Be About to Become a Thing of the Past, Part 2," those who live the farthest from the main centers of population and government services are the ones who need to do a crash course on becoming self-sufficient. Because the day is soon coming when they are simply not going to have any other choice.

Bonus: Sorry John, but that world doesn't exist anymore

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Night Video - Patton Oswalt Skewers KFC

KFC announced this week that there will be layoffs at the company's corporate headquarters, as reported by Courier-Journal.com:
Burdened by lackluster results in its U.S. business, KFC Corp. laid off an unknown number of employees on Thursday at Yum! Brands headquarters in Louisville.
Being one of America's biggest purveyors of obesity and death, you just knew this particular corporation would be well versed in corporate FlackSpeak:
“We made the difficult but necessary decision to reorganize KFC to reduce cost, maximize efficiencies and better reflect our current business needs,” said Karen Sherman, senior director of communications at KFC Corp. “While we have increased investment in some positions, we also have eliminated others at our corporate offices and in the field.”
But wait...there's more:
“We are doing everything possible to help support those affected by the reorganization in their transition,” Sherman added in her emailed statement.
Yeah, I'll bet.

Actually, I have to hope that if someone at KFC is getting laid off, it will be the diabolical genius who invented the KFC Famous Bowls. Though I've never had one, their absolute sheer nastiness was brilliantly captured a couple of years ago in a very funny bit by comedian Patton Oswalt.

"Just make me a failure pile in a sadness bowl."


Weather Shield to Close Window and Door Plant in Wisconsin

Sorry, Wisconsin, but even if your attempted recall of your idiot governor is successful, as reported last week by Woodworking Network, it isn't going to help these people:
MOSINEE, WI -- Weather Shield's factory dedicated to vinyl window and door production here in Mosinee will permanently close by Aug. 31, putting more than 500 people out of work.

Workers, many of them members of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, were informed of the decision by Schield Family Brands to shutter the plant last month. Layoffs are to begin Feb. 7 and continue through the summer as operations are scaled back and then ceased. Schield of Medford, OR, is parent company to Weathershield, SNE Enterprises and Peachtree Doors and Windows.

Central Wisconsin Business reported that Schield cited the ongoing housing crisis and refusal of union workers to extend its current contract, including accepting a pay freeze, as major factors in deciding to close the plant.
And the housing crash carnage just keeps on piling up, even as the mainstream media acts as if it is yesterday's news. You residents of The Badger State should stop worrying about that largely meaningless political kabuki theater show going on in Madison and instead look around at what is happening to your economic livelihoods. Scott Walker may by a psychopathic asshole who hates unions, but even so he wasn't the one responsible for closing this factory down. The corporate flacks are trying to blame the union, but ultimately it is the economy that's responsible.

DSC to Lay Off 130 in Roanoke, Texas

image: DSC is "ready for anything," except the continuation of the economic downturn

Texas has been getting hit pretty hard with layoff notices lately. Here is the Dallas Business Journal with the latest bad news:
DSC Logistics plans to lay off 130 employees at its Roanoke facility.

The Des Plaines, Ill.-based company told the Texas Workforce Commission that it notified employees about the layoffs on Wednesday.

Verlyn Suderman, DSC vice president and general counsel, told the commission in a letter that a “significant loss of business affecting the facility” prompted the layoffs.
Hey, at least DSC Vice President and General Counsel Verlyn Suderman didn't try to sugar coat it. Business is bad, which is the reason for the firings. There, now was that so hard?

Bonus: "Is it any wonder I'm not a criminal? Is it any wonder I'm not it jail?"

New Navy Minehunter Ship Can't See or Stop Mines

Despite having massive and unsustainable federal government deficits, we just CAN'T cut the Pentagon's budget...or the Red Chinese hordes will descend upon upon us and um, eat our babies, or something. That's what the many Congresscritters who are bought-and-paid for appendages of the military-industrial complex want a gullible public to believe so they have an excuse to keep lining those defense contractors' pockets (and hence keep the campaign cash a-flowing). Meanwhile, as reported this last week by Danger Room, the Pentagon continues to waste that taxpayer money in massive quantities:
It’s bad enough that the Navy’s newest ship has had wicked problems with corrosion, missed out on the latest naval wartime missions and is generally something of a Frankenstein’s monster. Now the Pentagon’s top weapons tester has found problems with its abilities to find and withstand mines — which is a big problem for a ship that’s supposed to be the Navy’s minehunter of the future.

That’s the assessment of the director of the Operational Testing and Evaluation office, summing up a year’s worth of trials for the Littoral Combat Ship, the Navy’s cherished — and expensive — next-generation ship for warfare close to a shoreline. Little wonder that defense analysts think the ship is headed for the budgetary chopping block, even though the Navy wants 55 of the things and only has three.

The report finds that the Littoral Combat Ship’s systems for spotting mines, the AN/AQS-20A Sonar Mine Detecting Set and the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System, are “deficient” for their primary task. That deficiency, if uncorrected, will “adversely affect the operational effectiveness” of a ship that’s already “not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment.
And here is what a military blogger had to say about this latest boondoggle:
So, we have a warship design that is not expected to fight and survive in the very environment in which it was produced to do so. Poorly-armed, poorly-protected, with an over-abundance of speed that will eat through a fuel supply in half a day.

Yet, the Navy leadership on whose watch this abomination was delivered is hypersensitive to criticism of either their performance or the LCS itself. That such a questionable and limited capability will cost taxpayers UNDER $500 million per copy is a seeming source of pride for them.

Warships remain the single most expensive combat system a nation can buy. Has been so since the beginnings of the iron warship. Those who run the United States Navy (not just NAVSEA) are entrusted with billions of this nation’s treasure. And this is the result. A half-billion dollar counter-drug and counter-piracy platform.

Combat in the littorals is characterized by fierce and unexpected engagements, from small and fast surface vessels, submarines, shore-based weapon systems, missiles, mines, and aircraft. Putting US Navy Officers and Sailors on a platform such as LCS borders on criminal. It is an act of sheer folly, or one of desperation.
Actually, you left one out. For what it really is represents is an act of sheer greed on the behalf of the defense contractors who build these expensive-but-useless pieces of shit and don't care that they are ripping off the taxpayers in the process. Moreover, the Navy is hardly alone in such fraudulent procurements. The war machine marches on, devouring around one-trillion dollars in direct and indirect federal spending every year because it is profitable to everyone involved in getting these projects approved. If this country still had any common sense, the defense contractors are the people we'd been hauling off to Guantanamo, for they are doing far more collective damage to America as a nation than the terrorists ever did.

Bonus: "Listen son, said the man with the gun, there's room for you inside"