Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Force Protection Plant In Ladson (South Carolina) Laying Off 155

Another mass layoff story from the defense war industry--short, sweet and to the point, from a South Carolina television station:
Force Protection plant in Ladson laying off 155 people. News 2 has learned the plant, that was recently purchased by General Dynamics, is notifying 155 employees this week that they are being laid off.

Force Protection spokesman Tommy Pruitt tells News 2 no other layoffs are anticipated at this time.

He says, "the adjustments are having very little to no impact on production side."
And don't forget the Corporate FlackSpeak:
Following a careful assessment of the operations and ongoing requirements of the business, General Dynamics has determined that it is necessary to reduce the size of our work force at the business formerly known as Force Protection. Employees are being notified this week. Approximately 155 employees are affected. The positions are primarily administrative and professional.

Making this change improves the overall strength and competitiveness of the business. We will continue to employ an estimated 600 employees in the greater Charleston, South Carolina, area.
These assholes are so wrapped up in their business school, MBA mindsets that it never occurs to them just how insensitive it is to tell the world that the employees you just fired were holding the company back from being competitive.

Bonus: Bill's classic bit on the first Gulf War--if he only knew

IBM's Latest Round Of Layoffs To Total More Than 1,000

After several days of rumors about more layoffs at IBM, definitive reports finally came out yesterday. Here is the Triangle Business Journal with the details:
IBM has laid off 1,098 employees in cuts that started Monday, according to union organizer Lee Conrad.

That layoff figure is for the entire company. Conrad, who works for Alliance @ IBM, Communication Workers of America, isn’t sure how many of the cuts were at the technology giant’s operation in Research Triangle Park.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) typically commences layoffs in February or March, Conrad told Triangle Business Journal on Monday. He expects additional layoffs next week.
There was nothing really noteworthy about this story, except that the Corporate Fa=lackSpeak was laughable inane:
Shelton declined to provide an updated local headcount, saying only that the company employed 426,751 people worldwide at last headcount in 2010.

“We continue to believe that IBM is the largest technology employer in the U.S. and world,” Shelton said.
Couldn't you at least go check to find out for sure? Anyway, I'm sure it is a great comfort to the employees you just fired to know that.

Bonus: Just a little nugget from early on in the computer age

Student Loan Debt Is Stifling Home Sales

Today must be the day for posting news articles that confirm previous assertions I have made here before on TDS. Dove tailing with this morning's post about how the jobs now being added to the economy are lower paying and have fewer benefits than those destroyed during the financial crash, here comes a story from Bloomberg Businessweek about how student loan debt is helping to stifle a recovery in the housing market:
Last year outstanding education debt passed credit-card debt for the first time, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, a student loan website. Totaling close to $1 trillion, America’s mounting pile of outstanding student debt is a growing drag on the housing recovery, keeping first-time home buyers on the sidelines and limiting the effectiveness of record-low interest rates.

According to a recent Federal Reserve study, only 9 percent of 29- to 34-year-olds got a first-time mortgage from 2009 to 2011, compared with 17 percent 10 years earlier. “First-time home buyers are typically an important source of incremental housing demand, so their smaller presence in the market affects house prices and construction quite broadly,” Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said at a homebuilders’ conference in Orlando on Feb. 10.

Recent college graduates carry an average debt load of more than $25,000, limiting their ability to qualify for mortgages even if they’re able to land a job in a market with an unemployment rate of 9 percent for 25- to 34-year-olds. Dubbing it a “student loan debt bomb,” the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) warned on Feb. 7 about the effects of rising student debt on recent graduates, parents who co-signed their loans, and older Americans who’ve gone back to school for job training.

“Just as the housing bubble created a mortgage debt overhang that absorbs the income of consumers and renders them unable to engage in consumer spending that sustains the economy, so too are student loans beginning to have the same effect, which will be a drag on the economy for the foreseeable future,” John Rao, vice president of the NACBA, said on a conference call.

People aged 25 to 34 made up 27 percent of all home buyers in 2011, the lowest share in the past decade and six percentage points below their 33 percent share in 2001, according to the National Association of Realtors. “Students coming out of college are burdened with more debt than traditionally they have been, and they are also coming into an economy that is underperforming previous recoveries,” says Rick Palacios, a senior research analyst at John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Irvine, Calif.

Palacios says first-time buyers are key to a housing recovery because they allow current owners to move into larger, pricier homes. “Move-up buyers need somebody to purchase their homes to move,” he says. “You need that first leg in the recovery to materialize.”

Since the overall number of first-time home buyers has fallen, people aged 25 to 34 still accounted for 52 percent of that group last year, near the average since 2005, according to the Realtors group. Still, almost 6 million Americans in that group lived with their parents in 2011, up from 4.7 million when the recession began in 2007, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
That quote from Bernanke really makes my head hurt given that every Federal Reserve policy since the financial crash has been designed to prop up the big banks, and yet there he is admitting that the economy cannot recover unless real people have money in their pockets. The housing market remains deeply mired in the doldrums despite the Fed's Zero Interest Rate Policy driving 30-year, fixed rate mortgages below 4%. Bernanke is basically admitting that the Fed policy has been a complete failure, and yet still no one in authority has called him on it.

Bonus: If you've got the time, here is "Loan Me a Dime"

U.S. Job Quality Crashes During The "Recovery"

I've asserted here at TDS a few times that the quality of the jobs being created during our great and glorious economic "recovery" on average pay less and provide fewer benefits that the jobs that were destroyed during the 2008-2009 timeframe. Now comes the confirmation in a story published this week by Market Watch:
U.S. employment is still down almost 6 million jobs since the Great Recession began, and industry growth has been uneven during the recovery.

A July report from the National Employment Law Project, a New York–based advocacy group, found that while employment losses during the recession were concentrated in midwage occupations, gains during the early part of the recovery were greatest in lower-wage occupations. During the early recovery, there was relatively large employment growth in lower-wage jobs such as retail salespeople and office clerks, compared with losses in higher-wage occupations such as police officers, first-line supervisors, and managers of construction trades and extraction workers.

With almost 13 million unemployed workers, competition is intense, and some workers with new jobs are taking cuts in pay and responsibilities. Henry Farber, an economist at Princeton University in New Jersey, studied employment in the Great Recession, and found that job losers who found new positions earned on average 17.5% less in the new job.
Not one to nitpick there, Professor Farber, but "job losers" is a rather unfortunate term to use when describing these people.

But wait, lower wages aren't the only problem:
Good jobs are associated with good benefits, said Austin Nichols, an economist at the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

“There’s a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots,” Nichols said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, those covered by health insurance declined to 83% in 2009 from 86% in 1999. Over that time period, those with employment-based coverage fell to 56% from 64%...
Given the staggeringly high price of health insurance these days, it is pretty much a given that the 8% of the workforce that has lost its employer provided health care has a lot less money to spend on other things if they are paying the full amount themselves. Or maybe they are not paying at all, which means they are just one serious health problem away from bankruptcy and destitution.

Nevertheless, hope still springs eternal, especially if you are a Harvard economist who doesn't actually have to work for a living:
The economy is just starting its jobs recovery, and it will take years for the full impact of the current administration’s policies to manifest in the labor market in areas such as health care and infrastructure, said Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard University. While Republicans deride President Barack Obama’s record, the economy would be worse without federal stimulus, Katz contended.

“We probably have several million more jobs today than we would have had,” Katz said. “Given the direction that things were going, I think the administration’s policies played an important role in preventing something that looked like the Great Depression. No matter how bad things are now it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
See, all it took was for the country to borrow over $5 trillion it didn't have in just over three years to bring us all the way back to where we are slowly creating shitty jobs with no benefits. Of course, the author of this piece didn't bother to ask the esteemed Professor Katz what will happen when the day comes that the federal government can no longer afford to engage is such wild reckless deficit spending. Being a Harvard economist automatically shields you from ever being asked to come down out of your ivory tower and actually observe how things are in the real world.

So this is where we stand today: an anemic economic recovery purchased with trillions of dollars borrowed from the future that will never be repaid, with skyrocketing gasoline and food prices putting ever more pressure on the poor souls who even if they have been lucky enough to find another job are making far less money than they used to. The Great Muddle continues on, as clueless economists like Lawrence Katz cheerlead for the rearranging of the deck chairs on The Titanic.

Bonus: This fucking job

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SunCor Development (Arizona) Files For Bankruptcy

image: Abandoned Housing Development. Arizona Desert, 2009

Another major housing crash casualty was reported yesterday by The Arizona Republic:
Pinnacle West Capital Corp. subsidiary and once-prominent local developer SunCor Development Co. has filed petitions in U.S. Bankruptcy Court as a final step toward dissolving the company and its remaining subsidiaries.

Tempe-based SunCor Development's board of directors signed a resolution Friday authorizing the voluntary bankruptcy filing, which includes 17 SunCor subsidiaries.
This was another company that was flying high until the bubble burst, sending it plummeting back to Earth:
Incorporated in 1986, SunCor grew to become one of the Southwest's most prominent developers in the 1990s and early 2000s, developing residential communities, golf courses and commercial-real-estate projects.

At the peak of its success in 2005, SunCor had nearly 800 employees, according to Pinnacle West.

The company ran into serious financial trouble in 2008, after the collapse of both the residential and commercial real-estate markets.
And lo, we see the death of yet another company which had the long term viability of a golf course in the middle of the desert.

Bonus: Dry the rain

George Will Has A Rare Moment of Lucidity On High Gas Prices

Continuing on with the high gas prices theme from this morning's post, here's one for the You Really Can't Make This Shit Up file. This past Sunday conservative scold George Will, the very same guy who once labelled the idea of building more passenger rail service "collectivism," ripped Tea Party dipshit Representative Allen West and Newt Gingrich for blaming Obama for high gas prices. Here is The Raw Story with the set up:
Conservative columnist George Will says it’s “economic nonsense” for tea party favorite Rep. Allen West (R-FL) to blame President Barack Obama for the high cost of putting gas in his Hummer.

Writing on his Facebook page last week, West charged that Obama’s energy policy was “insidious political gimmickry.”

“Here is the bottom line, last night it took 70 dollars to fill the tank of my 2008 H3 Hummer, what is it costing you?” he asked.
And here is Will's exact quote:
“Allen West from south Florida, a Republican, said he was outraged this week because it cost him $70 to fill his car,” Will pointed out. “He drives a Hummer. Newt Gingrich said the American people have a right to demand $2.50 gas. They have a right to demand to lobsters grow on trees. I mean, this is economic nonsense.”
I never thought I would say this, George, but I agree with you completely. I only wish, in light of your own previous "economic nonsense" about collectivist mass transit, that one of the other panelists on your show had asked you exactly what bright ideas you have for addressing high gasoline prices. That would have been entertaining to watch.

Much as the know-nothing West in particular may deserve it, you can take this attack as a pretty obvious sign that the arrogant Will was speaking for establishment conservatives who have officially had it with the Tea Party.

Bonus: Allen West's car probably isn't what Billy Corgan had in mind when he wrote this song--but whatever

So What Happens If Gasoline Hits $5.00 A Gallon This Summer?

You gotta love the mainstream media. For months now the drumbeat has been about how the economic recovery in the U.S. is picking up steam, even though the only two indicators which are in agreement with that assertion are stocks and jobs, both of with are being relentless manipulated by the Federal Reserve and the Bureau of Labor Lying Statistics respectively. Nevertheless, despite the persistant propaganda designed to get the consumers suckers back into the malls and spending freely again, the media just can't resist the temptation to goose its ratings/readership/page views by doing a little scaremongering over rising gasoline prices. Numerous stories have appeared in the last week breathlessly proclaiming that gasoline prices will hit $5.00 a gallon by this summer.

You would think that someone would quickly spot the inherent contradiction here. After all, every recession since the 1970s has been preceded by a spike in oil and gas prices. But, surprisingly, you would be wrong about that, as shown by an article which appeared over the weekend on The title, "8 Reasons Why Gas Will Hit $5 a Gallon This Year," seems straightforward enough, but let's take a closer look at their supposed "expert" analysis. Here are the reasons from the article listed in order, followed by my commentary:
1. Strait of Hormuz
About 20 percent of the crude oil produced in the world is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz, and Iran has threatened to shut down shipping traffic through the Strait. At its narrowest, the passage is 30 miles wide, so there is a realistic case that a conflict could close it. Iran has already been isolated as a trade partner by U.S. and EU sanctions. The regime in the country has made a number of threats about what it might do if its “national interests” were threatened. If Iran follows through with its threats, the period the passage is closed could be very brief if the U.S. Navy, which has a carrier group in the region, moves to reopen the lane. But it is not clear that the American government would make that decision without the open support of allies or the United Nations. A closure of the passage, or any escalation that would make a closure more likely, will drive oil prices higher -- and by extension, gasoline prices.
No argument there. Tensions involving this key oil transportation checkpoint are certainly putting speculative upward pressure on prices. Let's move on.
2. Iran
Iran contributes to a second problem in terms of global oil supply well beyond that of its ability to interrupt supply. Because of the embargo against the nation due to nuclear weapons violations, the U.S. has pressured large oil importers such as Japan to act to isolate Iran by cutting their imports. This puts Japan in a position in which it has to tap even tighter global supply. Japan apparently has agreed to cut its Iranian crude imports by 20 percent. But as the world’s third largest oil importer, Japan indeed will have to get its oil somewhere other than Iran -- which will put more pressure on current production.
Not sure I agree with this one. The sanctions against Iran are laughably self-defeating given that China and India have shown no inclination to join the embargo against Iranian oil, and as long as Persian oil is being bought somewhere, there should not be any corresponding increase in world oil prices as that just means those two countries will buy less elsewhere.
3. Refiners raising prices
Most of the oil refined on the east coast of the U.S. is Brent crude, a type of oil produced from the North Sea. The price of Brent -- more than $124 a barrel -- is almost $16 higher than the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude, the amount most people read about in the media. But because Brent has replaced WTI as the global price benchmark, U.S. refiners set prices for gasoline and other products as if Brent were the only grade of crude used. That allows refiners with access to cheaper WTI to make larger profits.

However, when the prices converge, as happened in the final two months of 2011, WTI refiners lose their edge -- and their hefty profits. “Refiners were losing money in November and December. You can only lose money for so long,” John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, recently said. Many large refineries are owned by public companies that do not have much appetite for posting ongoing losses. To avoid losses, refiners will have to increase gasoline prices.
Can't quibble with this one in light of the recent refinery shut downs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which certainly wouldn't have happened if they were turning big profits.
4. Other geopolitical risks
Iran does not present the only geopolitical challenge to oil production. In Nigeria, which is the 14th largest producer of oil in the world, Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram has continued to attack Christian areas of the country. The Nigerian Army has reacted by attacking Islamists. Militants have continued to attack pipelines, apparently in a move to disrupt the government.
This segment went on to mention Venezuela and other unstable Middle Eastern countries, but I've left that part out for brevity's sake. Again, no argument here.
5. The EU may save itself
For now, Greece has been bailed out again -- a move that should buoy confidence in the region and encourage demand for oil. Even with the Greek bailout, however, the eurozone is not out of the woods as nations continue to implement austerity measures to protect against the risk of default on sovereign debt.
Also edited down for brevity's sake. Can the EU muddle through for another year? Well, it pretty much muddled all the way through last year, so it certainly is possible.

But here is where things suddenly begin to go completely off track and way out into la-la land:
6. U.S. economic recovery
An improved U.S. economy means higher oil prices. U.S. GDP, employment and even housing have all staged unexpected improvements in recent months. Many economists now peg a 2012 GDP increase at more than 2 percent. The new White House budget assumes growth of 3 percent by 2013. An average of more than 100,000 jobs has been created in each of the past six months. And an extension of payroll tax cuts through the end of this year may further aid the employment recovery. An extension of unemployment benefits means that hundreds of thousands of American who would have no income, will have at least enough to consume basic goods and services. The argument that Americans now drive less is not a powerful one for gas and oil demand when a healthy economy also means more consumption of oil for business, petrochemicals and jet fuel. Demand for oil-based products across the entire economy will pick up with any recovery.
Even if you buy the recovery propaganda, how can any rational observer of the economy not realize what will happen to the American consumer well before gas prices hit $5.00 a gallon? Is 2008 really that far in the past that it has been completely forgotten? That year, gas prices topped out in July at a national average of $4.11, and the shock to the system was so traumatic that it helped trigger a deflationary crash across the financial sector. By January of 2009, gas prices bottomed out at $1.61 (figures courtesy of the chart above from Gas Yet we're supposed to believe that prices shooting towards $5.00 wouldn't cause an even worse economic shock this time around?

But wait, it gets even more absurd:
7. Summer
In the U.S., summer vacation driving has historically boosted demand for gasoline. Over the past three or so years, however, that boost has been small, if present at all. In 2011, U.S. traffic volume decreased year-over-year in every month except January and February. But that was last year. So long as the U.S. economy continues to improve, more drivers will be on the road this summer.
Right here we see the blind spot of every economic commentator who uses the raw jobs figures to back up the claim of economic recovery. Are there more jobs now than there were a year ago? Undoubtedly. Are most of those newly created jobs the kind of stable, good paying positions which would allow their holders to take a couple of weeks off this summer and take the family out for a long driving vacation? Unlikely. It seems like many of those who get paid to write articles like this one in the mainstream media think that everyone who has a job is as comfortable and well off as they are.
8. Supply risk
In December 2011, OPEC members produced nearly 31 million barrels a day, cutting the cartel’s spare capacity capability from 3.18 million barrels per day to 2.85 million. Saudi Arabia accounts for 2.15 million of those daily barrels of spare capacity.
Again, edited down for brevity. Maybe Saudi Arabia has that spare capacity. Maybe it doesn't. No one outside the desert kingdom really knows for sure. But at least the article ends on a more sensible note.

To sum up, there are a lot of very good reasons to believe that oil and gas prices are going to rise higher in the coming months, but reasons six and seven listed above are absolutely laughable in their absurdity. The fact that they were included in an otherwise relatively astute analysis shows just how powerful the propaganda spewed forth by the Hologram really is.

What will happen if gas prices hit a nationwide average of $5.00 a gallon this summer? Personally, I think that absent a war with Iran we're not going to find out. Because while the economic free fall we experienced in late 2008 and early 2009 was halted by the enormous increase in federal deficit spending and the loose monetary policies of the Federal Reserve, the economy is far too fragile withstand prices surging to that level. Almost certainly, another financial market crash will short circuit the rise in gas prices well before they reach those lofty heights, at least for this year.

Bonus: "Putting out the fire with gasoline"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Casa Gallardo To 200 Missouri Employees: GTFO, We're Shutting Down

I think it was around last year at this time, before I started blogging here at TDS, that the Perkins restaurant chain shut down a bunch of its locations so abruptly that the wait staff actually had to kick some of the customers out in the middle of their meals. Well, here comes a story from of another chain shutting down locations almost as abruptly:
More than 200 Casa Gallardo employees are in shock after going to work Thursday only to learn it was their last day. All four restaurants in our area closed abruptly.

More than 200 people left work stunned. Employees of Casa Gallardo restaurants were told by corporate officials the restaurants would be closing for good, just minutes before the shutdown.

"They told us to call last call for alcohol and to tell our customers we were shutting down forever," said former employee Jessica Nickel.

That's how Nickel found out she was losing her job as a bartender with Casa Gallardo.

Thursday evening corporate officials from parent company "Real Mex Restaurants" flew in from California to shutdown the locations. Two hundred employees and 16 managers are now out of work.

Nickel has been at the Bridgeton location for about a month, and is three months pregnant.

"It was hard. A lot of us were crying, so, it was definitely difficult," she said.

Corporate officials say the decision to close the restaurants came about one week ago. Workers weren't informed until around 5 p.m. Thursday, just minutes before closing early.
Stay classy, assholes. And maybe someday it will be you escorted out of your comfy corporate offices with no fucking warning. At least, I hope so.

Bonus: "That's the way that it goes...when you're down here with the rest of us"

Newt Gingrich Calls For The U.S. To Leave Afghanistan

Okay, I realize that pointing out the many hypocrisies and inconsistencies of Newt Gingrich is a bit like casting a fishing line in a goldfish bowl. The man has proven time and again that he is capable of saying pretty much anything in his never-ending quest to pander to whatever audience he is standing in front of at that particular moment. Nevertheless, his recent criticism of Obama for apologizing after some of our servicemen burned a bunch of Korans over in Afghanistan was really pretty stunning in its implications.

First, lets set the stage. As reported by Reuters, the Afghans are just a little bit honked off by the Koran burnings:
Seven U.S. military trainers were wounded on Sunday when a grenade was thrown at their base in northern Afghanistan, police said, as anti-Western fury deepened over the burning of the Koran at a NATO base.

Despite an apology from U.S. President Barack Obama, riots raged across the country for a sixth day on Sunday against the desecration of the Muslim holy book at a NATO air base at Bagram. Some protesters hoisted the white Taliban flag.

The Afghan Interior Ministry identified one of its employees as a suspect in the fatal shooting of two U.S. officers in its headquarters a day earlier, an attack that prompted NATO to recall its staff from ministries.

One civilian was killed, 15 more were wounded and three policemen injured in riots near the NATO base in northern Kunduz province, where the blast that wounded the Americans took place, regional police chief Samihullah Qatra told reporters.

NATO confirmed there had been an explosion outside one of its bases in northern Afghanistan, but declined to comment on casualties.

The protests have killed 30 people and wounded 200, including two other U.S. troops who were shot dead by an Afghan soldier who joined rallies in the country's east.
Sure is funny how you can occupy a country for over a decade and wantonly drop drone missiles and otherwise indiscriminately bomb its citizens for years, but it isn't until you burn a bunch of holy books that the population begins to rise up en masse against you. However insincere Obama's apology obviously was, he really had no other choice than to at least try to calm things down.

But that isn't how the Angry Little Attack Muffin sees it. Here's the story from Russia Today:
Gingrich responded to the president’s attempt to qualm anti-American sentiment by insisting that Obama is in the wrong for trying to make peace with people whose religion has been ridiculed by US troops. Americans official are calling the Koran incident inadvertent, and, nonetheless, Gingrich says there is no point in the president saying he’s sorry.

“There seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama’s attention in a negative way and he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States period,” Gingrich told supporters during a campaign stop Thursday in Washington State.
Blah...blah...blah. So typical of Gingrich, a man who was great for his party when he was a sniping backbencher in Congress, but an absolute disaster when he was elected Speaker of the House and had to, you know, actually run things. But the real stunner came in this next series of quotes:
"It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around,” said the speaker.

“And, candidly, if Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, doesn’t feel like apologizing then we should say good bye and good luck, we don’t need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money on somebody who doesn’t care,” he added.
I never could have imagined that anything would ever pop out of Gingrich's stinking pie hole that I could agree with, but damn if didn't finally happen. Not the part about Karzai apologizing. That I couldn't give a shit about. It's the "we don’t need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money" part that is true now and has been true for more than a decade ever since President George Bush the Lesser became impatient with the Osama Bin Laden manhunt and misdirected the military's attention towards Iraq instead.

Obama should jump at the political cover he was just given by the Newster and announce that since Karzai hasn't apologized to the United States, all NATO forces will be immediately withdrawn from Afghanistan. And when the Republicans shriek in horror and try to call Obama an appeaser, he can then say that he is merely following the wise and sage advice of one Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Paperback Bookstore Chain (Maine) To Close

I've covered the travails of the publishing and retail book industries here enough times that I really don't feel like rehashing it again. Here is the latest such sad news, from the Bangor Daily News:
Mr. Paperback, a bookstore chain that has been a fixture in Maine for 50 years, will be closing and its sister company, Magazines Inc., will be bought out, an owner of the companies said Friday.

Mr. Paperback’s 80 employees and Magazines Inc.’s 40 employees will be laid off, co-owner Penny Robichaud said. The companies notified their staffs on Wednesday.

“Business is not great. It seemed like it might be a good time to get out,” said Mr. Paperback General Manager Jim McCree. Both companies will cease operation by the end of April.

Mr. Paperback has 10 stores in Maine, with locations in Augusta, Bangor, Belfast, Caribou, Dover-Foxcroft, Ellsworth, Farmington, Presque Isle, Skowhegan and Waterville.

Magazines Inc., which distributes magazines and newspapers in the state, is based in Bangor.

Mr. Paperback and Magazines Inc. are separate companies, but are owned by the Foss family — Robichaud and her siblings Ralph Foss and Pamela Williams.

Robichaud said they are still in negotiations to sell Magazines Inc. to Hudson LLC., based in Worcester, Mass. The company would take over Magazines Inc.’s clients, and move distribution to a Gorham facility. Hudson LLC has no interest in taking over Mr. Paperback, she said, so the bookstores will be liquidated.

“We’re all just wrapping our heads around this this week,” said Robichaud.

“It’s painful,” said McCree. “Over the years we’ve had an extremely dedicated staff — smart people, faithful people. I can tell you it’s been extremely hard on the Foss family.”
A sad tale, indeed. But check out one of the reasons cited for the closures:
Robichaud said changes in the book industry and finances were the reasons for closing.

“It’s due to gas prices and a changing industry — Amazon, the Internet, Kindle — people don’t need the printed materials as much as we used to,” said Robichaud.

“Most of us know that the book business and anything in print is not a particularly healthy place to be,” McCree added.
There it is--gas prices. Sure there are strong headwinds in the industry from those other factors, but somehow I'll be that bookstores would not be shutting down with quite such rapidity if gas were still $1.30 a gallon. Call it a hunch.

Bonus: Terry Tate sez, "reading is fundamental." And you better listen to him, sucka

"Socialist" Chamber of Commerce Pressures Republicans Over Stalled Transportation Bill

Question: if you run a business that would be out of business if it didn't get government contracts, are you really a business person or just another "parasitic leech" on the body politic? I ask the question because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that organization of alleged defenders of American capitalism, is pulling out all the stops in order to force reluctant Republican Congresscitters to pass a quarter-trillion dollar "socialist" infrastructure boondoggle. Here is Bloomberg with the details:
Business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are spending more than $500,000 on advertising to press Republican lawmakers, on recess this week, to back a stalled transportation spending bill.

The Chamber, the largest business lobby, and other organizations are running ads this week in the districts of some Republican holdouts while members of Congress are home. House Speaker John Boehner last week delayed a vote on a five-year $260 billion bill, which many members of his party opposed.

“This is an end run around conservative organizations who are opposed to the bill, by going to the constituents of these lawmakers directly and making an appeal that it will help the infrastructure in their district,” Ron Bonjean, a Republican political strategist who isn’t involved in the effort, said in a phone interview. Bonjean is a partner in Singer Bonjean Strategies, a Washington-based public affairs firm.
Yep--same old story, one man's "socialism" is another man's pork barrel project. What's even more astonishing about this initiative is that it is specifically targeting the Tea Party:
While the ads are running, coalition representatives are holding media events with local chambers of commerce and business groups “to heighten the voice of the business community and express our desire to see a surface transportation bill,” Maldonado said by phone.

Those events are scheduled for Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Louisville and Fort Mitchell, Kentucky; Houma, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; Atlanta; Topeka, Kansas; Omaha, Nebraska; Boise, Idaho; High Point, North Carolina; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Maldonado said. They are scheduled through Feb. 24.

“They’re going after bastions of the Tea Party,” John Feehery, a Republican strategist, said by phone, referring to the movement that favors less regulation and government spending.

“They’re trying to win the intellectual argument that you need to have investment in infrastructure,” said Feehery, president of Quinn Gillespie Communications in Washington.
And here is where the rhetorical question I wrote at the top of this article comes in:
“Our message on these events is ‘here’s how much construction unemployment has declined in this metro area and one of the ways you can help do something about that is passing a surface transportation bill’,” Turmail said.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association, which is also part of the Chamber-led coalition, is pushing its members to meet with their elected representatives or senior staff to press the case to move forward, group president Pete Ruane said by phone. ARTBA is the Washington-based group for transportation design and construction firms such as Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) and Martin Marietta Materials Inc. (MLM)

In six months, member companies may have to fire “thousands and thousands of people” if Congress fails to act, Ruane said. “That’s something I don’t think any of these people want in their districts.”
The official TDS position is that the only transportation projects which should be funded in the twilight of the cheap oil era are those for mass transit. But since most of this hideous abomination of a bill is to continuing building and repairing highways, it deserves to go down in flames.

There seems to be little doubt, however, that the Chamber of Commerce's commercial campaign will succeed. So, the next time you hear anyone from the Chamber of Commerce, or any Republican "leader" who votes for this colossal waste of borrowed taxpayer funds get up and attack Obama for being a "socialist," you will know that it is yet another example of the pot calling the kettle (ahem) black.

Just par for the course in this Spoiled Rotten Nation.

Bonus: One of the best highway songs ever recorded

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Appelton Papers To Lay Off 330 Ohio Workers

Once again, your job is only of value to the company as long as they can't figure out a way to do things cheaper by replacing you. Here is the Dayton Daily News with the details:
The 400 employees at Appleton Papers Inc.’s plant in West Carrollton were not prepared Thursday for the news that three-fourths of them stand to lose their jobs following a $3 billion deal with a Canadian supplier.

The workers were “flabbergasted, heartbroken, taken by surprise,” said Jim Allen, president of Local 266 of the United Steelworkers, which represents plant workers. “We were knocked down.”
I'll bet. So what was the reason behind the decision?
Appleton plans to let go of 330 workers and cease making paper at the West Alex Bell Road plant following a 15-year deal with Domtar Corp., based in Montreal.

Domtar will supply Wisconsin-based Appleton with most of the uncoated base paper it needs to make thermal, carbonless and other specialty paper products, negating the need to make the base paper at the West Carrollton plant.

About 100 employees would remain at the plant to run its thermal paper coating operations, Appleton said.

Mark Richards, Appleton’s chairman, president and chief executive, called the move a “competitive necessity.”

“Our employees have never wavered in their dedication to excellence and to serving our customers,” Richards said. “What has changed is the economics of the industry in which we compete.”

“Nonintegrated” paper mills — mills that don’t produce pulp from logs or wood chips gathered on site — are “distinctly disadvantaged and no longer competitive,” the Appleton release added. The local mill must purchase pulp and recycle waste paper.

The idea that nonintegrated mills are less efficient is not new. But Van Dan Brandt said the cost of pulp, driven by worldwide demand, is higher than ever.

Since 2005, 25 nonintegrated mills in the U.S. have closed, including four in Ohio, Van Den Brandt said.
NAFTA - the gift that just keeps on giving.

Bank Of America Will Freeze Employee Pension Plans

Bad news for Bank of America employees. Here is CNN Money with the details:
Bank of America announced plans Thursday to freeze pension plans, effective in July, and increase its 401(k) contributions instead.

Eligible employees will keep the pension benefits that they've earned to date but will not receive additional benefits, Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) spokesman Scott Silvestri said.

The company will instead begin making an additional 2-3% annual contribution to employees' 401(k) accounts, on top of the existing program that matches employee contributions up to 5%.

"Making these changes simplifies our offerings, gives employees control in managing their retirement savings and ensures our retirement benefits remain competitive," Silvestri said in an email.

U.S. companies are increasingly moving away from traditional pensions and toward 401(k) plans in an effort to save costs and minimize funding uncertainty. Last week, General Motors announced that it had shifted its senior salaried workers away from a traditional pension plan to a 401(k) plan.
Of course, this is yet another reason why the Federal Reserve has been so desperate to pump up the stock market. It would be far less palatable for companies to be able to dump their pension plans and go to a 401(k) only system if the DOW were still bouncing around near its March 2009 lows. It also creates a condition where unless the stock market continues to rise robustly forever and ever, the employees will be facing poverty and destitution after they retire, assuming the economy does not crash long before then.

Bonus: Better hope you die before you get old

OMG! Americans Overwhelmingly Drink Shitty Beer!

It's always amusing whenever someone who hasn't yet taken the Red Pill suddenly realizes an important truth about just how relentlessly mediocre our corporation-dominated mass culture really is. As an avid drinker of good beer, I was initially attracted to this story by a writer who calls herself Jennn (not a typo) Fusion listing the top 10 bestselling beers in America in the same way I might be unable to avoid gawking when passing by a wreck on the highway. Then I saw that the author of piece apparently just woke up and discovered that she is completely surrounded by people who don't give a shit about quality in any aspect of their lives:
I'd like to think (hope) that, as beer-drinkers, we've matured to something a little more pleasing to the palette.

Yet, according to beer sales, our collective tastes have swayed to...


Bud Light: 19.2% market share
Budweiser: 12%
Miller Light: 8.6%
Coors Light: 7.8%
Natural Light: 4.2%
Corona: 4%
Busch: 2.8%
Busch Light: 2.8%
Heineken: 2.4%
Miller High Life: 2.3%

Are you utterly flabbergasted!?

It makes me throw up in my mouth just a little bit. It’s not even like we’re trading up for beer with higher alcohol content! We’re just trading one old watered-down, tin-flavored beer for another!

Shame on you, America! Shame on you!

I’ve always said that people who say their favorite beer is Coors Light are really saying they don’t like beer at all. The fact that it’s #4 in market share literally horrifies me.

Interesting how Budweiser is both “most loved” and “most hated.” Well, “The King” has a longer way to fall… what can I say? People are still talking about those stupid fucking frogs..
Okay, from what I see in the article, I kind of like Ms. Fusion. She actually has a little bit of spunk, which is refreshing in this day and age. So I'll try not to be too hard on her. Heck, I won't even mention the fact that America has a LOT more to be ashamed of in recent years other than the fact that Budweiser remains our top selling brand of beer.

Believe me, Jennn, it's nothing personal when I say that, no, not only am I not utterly flabbergasted (or horrified or throwing up in my mouth), I think it is pretty silly that you seem to be. Have you really taken a good look around you lately? What exactly do you see? Have the masses of your fellow citizens suddenly stopped flocking into "restaurants" like McDonalds, Taco Bell, Applebees and TGI Fridays and started patronizing fine French cuisine? Have teevee viewers suddenly shut off American Idol, Dancing With the Stars and the Kardashians and instead tuned into Shakespearean dramas on PBS? Have moviegoers begun avoiding comic book adaptations, teen vampire garbage and lame romantic comedies in favor of serious documentaries about the condition of the world we live in? Because if so, I must have missed the memo.

Let me give you some advice, Jennn, that will lower your blood pressure and make it easier for you to accept depressing factoids like the one you wrote about in your story: just let it go. Instead of getting all worked up about the inability of most of your fellow citizens to make choices beyond those the media relentlessly pounds into their skulls every day of their lives, relish in the fact that you retain at least some ability to think for yourself despite the onslaught. Any ability to not be a completely brainwashed, drooling consumer zombie elevates you above the vast majority in this society.

Yes, someday this whole mess is going to come crashing down on all of our heads in part because the inability of your fellow man/woman to think for himself/herself. But there isn't fuck all you can do about it except to sit back and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Just remember, this shitty Bud is for the dopes who are going to get blindsided by what's coming. Believe me, you'll be much happier if you stop getting worked up about their bad chices, and you'll enjoy your quality brewskis even more so in the meantime.

Bonus: I wanted to use Neil Young's awesome rip against corporate advertising, "This Note's for You," for this post, but it was "embedding disabled" on You Tube. So instead here is a great beer drinking song by the criminally underrated alt-country band, The V-Roys

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Night Music Video: "Save the Rich" by Garfunkle and Oates

If you were looking for a great tongue-in-cheek song and video mocking the current state of economic affairs in America sung by two very attractive young ladies, don't worry--I've got you covered. If Americans had any sense left whatsoever, this little ditty by the musical comedy duo Garfunkle and Oates would be a Number One hit right now.


When It Comes To Labor Disputes, There Are No Happy Endings In America Anymore

It's been a constant wonder of mine as I've covered these relentless plant closings/layoffs stories here on TDS--why don't more working people get angry and at least protest when their livelihoods are being destroyed? Perhaps its because they know that at the end of the day the effort will be futile. That point was driven home this past week, as reported by the Chicago Tribune:
A group of about 65 workers who occupied a Goose Island window factory in 2008 have once again locked themselves inside the plant in a desperate move to save their jobs.

California-based Serious Energy said Thursday it is closing the plant's doors and consolidating operations in Colorado and Pennsylvania.

"Ongoing economic challenges in construction and building products, collapse in demand for window products, difficulty in obtaining favorable lease terms, high leasing and utility costs and taxes, and a range of other factors unrelated to labor costs, have compelled Serious to cease production at the Chicago facility," the company said in a statement.
What makes this story particularly depressing is that this is not the first time these workers have been down this particular road:
The layoffs come more than three years after a group of about 200 workers from Republic Windows & Doors organized a six-day sit-in demanding vacation and severance pay after being laid off in December 2008.

The battle drew national media attention. After three days, a settlement was reached. Each union worker received a check for about $6,000 just days after Republic Windows filed for protection under Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Serious Energy bought the 268,000 square foot plant in 2009 with the promise of hiring back the former Republic workers. Leah Fried, a spokeswoman for UE Local 1110, said that the new company never hired back more than 75 of the workers.
The lesson here is quite simple, in an age when labor is cheap and disposable, workers have zero leverage and no hope of saving themselves when bosses decide their jobs are no longer profitable enough. Take heed, because we are rapidly reaching the point where this could happen to any one among us who works for someone else.

Bonus: "We're the first ones to starve, we're the first ones to die...the first ones in line for that pie in the sky"

Police Armored Vehicle Purchase Causes Uproar in New Hampshire Town

image: Keene, New Hampshire, don't need no stinkin' tanks for its police force

Here is a story from the Huffington Post with multiple storylines, all of which are indicators of just what is wrong with America these days. First up, you have the ongoing unwarranted militarization of local police forces:
"We're going to have our own tank."

That's what Keene, N.H., Mayor Kendall Lane whispered to Councilman Mitch Greenwald during a December city council meeting.

It's not quite a tank. But the quaint town of 23,000 -- scene of just two murders since 1999 -- had just accepted a $285,933 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to purchase a Bearcat, an eight-ton armored personnel vehicle made by Lenco Industries Inc.

But those plans are on hold for now, thanks to a backlash from feisty residents. Resistance began with Mike Clark, a 27-year-old handyman. Clark, who said he's had a couple encounters with Keene police and currently faces a charge of criminal mischief, read about the Homeland Security grant in the newspaper. "The police are already pretty brutal," Clark said, claiming he was roughed up in both his encounters with local police. "The last thing they need is this big piece of military equipment to make them think they're soldiers."
Then you have municipal governments who often conduct their business in almost complete secrecy because of public apathy:
Clark's father, Terry Clark, is on the Keene City Council, and so far the only council member to publicly oppose the Bearcat. But Mike Clark said he knows how the council works. "They can pass these things without any public discussion," Clark said. "And you don't hear about them until they've already passed. But if you collect enough signatures, you can force them to reconsider the motion." Clark did just that, collecting more than 500 signatures opposing the Bearcat.
Throw in a federal government that has run up over five trillion in additional debt during just the past four years alone somehow still giving out massive amounts of money for such boondoggles:
Since the 1990s, the Pentagon has made military equipment available to local police departments for free or at steep discounts. This, along with drug war-related policies, has spurred a trend toward a more militarized domestic police force in America. Law enforcement and elected officials have argued for years that better-armed, high-powered police departments are needed to fight the war on drugs.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the war on terror has accelerated the trend toward militarization. Homeland Security hands out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns, many specifically to buy military-grade equipment from companies like Lenco. In December, the Center for Investigative Reporting reported that Homeland Security grants totalled $34 billion, and went to such unlikely terrorism targets as Fargo, N.D.; Fon du Lac, Wisc.; and Canyon County, Idaho. The report noted that because of the grants, defense contractors that long served the Pentagon exclusively have increasingly turned looked to police departments, hoping to tap a "homeland security market" expected to reach $19 billion by 2014.
Shake well, and when you're done you'll get one of the most hateable statements from a contemptable Corporate Flack I've read yet:
Jim Massery, the government sales manager for Pittsfield, Mass.-based Lenco, dismissed critics who wonder why a town with almost no crime would need a $300,000 armored truck. "I don't think there's any place in the country where you can say, 'That isn't a likely terrorist target,'" Massery said. "How would you know? We don't know what the terrorists are thinking. No one predicted that terrorists would take over airplanes on Sept. 11. If a group of terrorists decide to shoot up a shopping mall in a town like Keene, wouldn't you rather be prepared?"

Massery said Keene's anti-Bearcat citizens deliberately mischaracterize how the vehicle would be used, and pointed to incidents he said have saved police officers' lives. "When you see some Palestinian terrorist causing problems in Jerusalem, what do you usually see next? You see a tank with a cannon show up outside the guy's house, and the tank blows the house to smithereens. When a Lenco Bearcat shows up at a crime scene where a suicidal killer is holding hostages, it doesn't show up with a cannon. It shows up with a negotiator. Our trucks save lives. They save police lives. And I can't help but think that the people who are trying to stop this just don't think police officers' lives are worth saving."

Keene residents opposed to the Bearcat point to a video Lenco uses to market the vehicle to police departments. (See below.) The video doesn't stress negotiation, but shows the vehicle being used aggressively. The video viewpoint is similar to that of a shooter role-playing game, set to the AC/DC song "Thunderstruck." Cops dressed in camouflage tote assault weapons, pile in and out of the vehicle, and take aim at targets from around and behind the vehicle. They attach a battering ram to the front of the vehicle, break through the front door of a house, then inject tear gas. The Keene city council barred Clark from showing the video at the February committee meeting, and LENCO has since removed the video from publicly-accessible pages of its website.

"That video is totally irrelevant," Massery said. "We used some Hollywood effects and slick marketing to promote our product. So what?"
But hey, it's "free," right? So what the hell?
Some city council members have said that because the vehicle will be paid for by a federal grant, the town would be foolish not to take it. O'Meara doesn't buy it. "They try to say it's 'free.' Well it isn't free. Taxpayers are still paying to put this militaristic thing in our town. And it isn't about the money, anyway. It's about what kind of town we want to be."
And, after all of that, we get to the real problem afflicting not just Keene, New Hampshire, but the entire country these days:
The Keene city council will take up the issue again next month. Massery predicted opposition from Keene residents will ultimately be in vain. "We have Bearcats in 90 percent of the 100 or so largest cities in America," Massery said. "This is going to happen. It has already happened. To resist now would be like saying police officers should scrap the Glock and go back to the revolver. It's a fantasy."
Yep...when it comes to a battle between corporate profits and democracy these days, corporate profits always win. That's the part of the whole "personal liberty" equation rigid-minded Libertarians like Ron Paul never seem to get.

God Bless America, and be sure to bow down in welcome for our new corproate overlords when the jackboots and their fucking tank coming marching down your street.

Bonus: Dedicated to Lenco Government Sales Manager Jim Massery...I think we now know who the thieves are in this case

Friday, February 24, 2012

Credit Suisse To Lay Off 109 Workers In New York

Okay, normally I do try to be sympathetic to people who are losing their jobs because of the economy. But I have to admit that right now I'm playing the world's smallest violin after reading this story from Huffington Post Business:
Wall Street keeps shrinking.

Credit Suisse will begin laying off employees in New York the second week of March, according to a company filing with the New York State Department of Labor and an item on the website Dealbreaker on Friday.
But...but...but, I thought we were in a rip roaring bull market. How can Wall Street be SHRINKING? Tell me more.
The fresh layoffs at Credit Suisse -– which is Switzerland’s second-largest investment bank behind UBS -- comes amid a broader contraction among Wall Street banks, as top dealmakers at Goldman Sachs begin to make an exit, and as other financial institutions shrink departments (such as proprietary trading) that brought in considerable amounts of money during the boom years.
Zero Hedge has been reporting repeatedly how all through this recent amazing market levitation that volume has been at an unprecedented low. I guess these investment banks don't need a huge staff to just borrow money from the central banks at zero percent interest and pump it into the stock market. Turn the volume up on that fiddle for me, will ya?

Bonus: Tell me this scene doesn't resonate even more today than it did 20 years ago. Mr. Pink could have been an investment banker. World's smallest violin, indeed

500 More Blockbuster Stores Down The Crapper

Having finished lopping off all of its extremities, the honchos currently in charge of dying movie rental chain Blockbuster Video have started hacking at the torso. Here is Reuters with the details:
Dish Network will close 500 underperforming and unprofitable Blockbuster video stores in the coming weeks, accounting for about a third of its stores.

The announcement came as the company announced its fourth quarter profits increased 24 percent to $313 million in the fourth quarter. It reversed subscriber losses to pick up a net 22,000 subscribers thanks in part to its new Blockbuster-branded services. It acquired Blockbuster last year.

The closures will occur in the first quarter of this year, the company said. The company will try to expand its Dish Services offerings in remaining stores. It currently sells Dish Network sales in about 150 stores.
Oh well, no big deal. Yawn (scratches self, reaches for the remote). Just another few thousand people out of work. What time is American Idol on, anyway?

Bonus: store memories from the very dawn of the Internet age

It's Layoff Notice Time For Local School Districts Again

It's usually around this time of year that school districts around the country facing budget deficits start issuing layoff notices to teachers and other school employees in anticipation of some of them losing their jobs before the next school year. None this year have been as dramatic as the announcement by the Woonsocket, Rhode Island, school district, as reported by
The Woonsocket School Department is considering issuing pink slips to all 700 district employees.

The school committee will discuss the possibility at a special meeting Wednesday night.

The move would give the district more flexibility to handle anticipated budget cuts.

The Woonsocket Teachers Guild plans to challenge the plan. They're urging residents of the city to stand up for the teachers, saying that the termination notices would disrupt the quality of education for their children.

"While not all educators receiving notices would actually be let go, giving termination notices to all teachers and paraprofessionals sends the wrong message to the community about the city's commitment to public education," said Teachers Guild President Jeffrey Partington in a statement.
Ummmm, actually, Mr. Partington, you and your membership may not like it, but the move is actually sending a message that you and the community desperately need to hear: business as usual as you and everyone else in this country has known it their whole lives is over. It's time to adjust to the new realities. If your membership wants to save their colleagues' jobs, everyone needs to take a pay cut. It sucks, but there really isn't much of an alternative. Even soaking the rich with much higher taxes (a move I strongly favor from a basic fairness standpoint) would only serve to kick the can on this problem down the road for a short time before it becomes inevitable anyway as state and local government revenues continue to collapse.

If it is any comfort to you, Woonsocket is hardly alone. Check out these other school layoff headlines around the country from the Daily Job Cuts website for just this month alone:
The Elk Grove Unified School District CA - 100+ Layoff Notices

Update: Long Beach Unified School Board CA - Approves 308 Layoffs

Saugus Union School District CA - 80

Paradise Unified School District CA - 31 Job Cuts on Board Meetings Agenda tonight

The Temecula Valley Unified School District CA - Vote Tuesday on 120 Layoffs

Saugus Union School District - 84 Layoff Notices

Portsmouth RI Schools - 29

East Providence RI - Layoff Total reaches 37

Lakota Local Schools Ohio - 69 Proposed Layoffs

West suburban Indian Prairie District 204 IL - Considers 100 Layoffs

Canton Central School District NY - 44 Layoffs Possible

San Lorenzo School District CA - 133 Pink Slips to Temporary Teachers

Virginia Beach Schools - Budget Cuts Could Mean Layoffs

Utica NY Schools - 150 Job Cuts Next Year, Worst Case

Philadelphia School District - 90

Paradise Schools CA - 31 Layoffs Approved

Staunton (Virginia) Schools - 42

Athens School District PA Considers Closing Three Elementary Schools
And I'm sure there will be plenty more to come during the next couple of months.

Bonus: Someday this will be the only high school left

Will the Culture War Soon Turn Hot?

Perhaps the most galling trend to yet take hold of the obscene clown show that America’s national politics has become is the sudden widespread assault against women’s reproductive rights. Abortion has been always been a hot button issue going back to the days of Rowe vs. Wade, of course, reflecting the religious right’s frustration at being unable to overturn the ruling despite the country’s rightward political shift over the past four decades. But until recently, most Republican politicians with national ambitions were smart enough to be content with merely pandering on the issue, knowing that actually repealing abortion rights and returning the country to the days when scared young women routinely died in illegal back alley clinics was a political loser.

The recent crumbling of the restraint on the part of the Republican Party, however, has been shocking in its breadth and scope. No longer content with just the occasional demagoguery on the issue, Republican controlled legislative bodies around the country have launched an all out assault in various ways, politics apparently be damned. What’s worse is that they have also felt emboldened to go beyond just attacking abortion to even going after birth control. It’s as if the party which a generation ago was still almost universally represented by white males has decided that now that it has plenty of prominent women in its highest ranks, those women and all others should go back to the days of being perpetually barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

This insanity taking hold of the Republican Party was dramatically illustrated yet again during the most recent presidential debate. Here is Talking Points Memo with the details:
On Wednesday, contraception became the latest topic to raise the ire of conservative debate goers.

During a CNN-sponsored Republican presidential debate in Arizona, the crowd booed wildly at the mention of birth control.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used the opportunity to attack the moderators as he had done in almost every other debate in this campaign cycle.

“Not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide,” Gingrich complained.

CNN moderator John King neglected to note that several organization have debunked the claim that President Barack Obama ever supported a so-called “infanticide” provision in an Illinois measure that would have required doctors to administer medical treatment to fetuses that survived an abortion.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called the Obama administration’s decision to have all health plans cover contraception for women an “attack on religious conscience.”

“I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we’ve seen under Barack Obama,” the candidate explained.

For his part, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum defended his earlier remarks about “the dangers of contraception.”
“The crowd booed wildly at the mention of birth control.” Just like when, in earlier debates, they cheered at the idea of letting a comatose man without health insurance die, or cheered at the idea of U.S. soldiers pissing on the bodies of dead Afghans, or cheered Rick Perry’s reckless execution record in Texas, or cheered the removal of restrictions on child labor, or cheered the idea of Americans waterboarding prisoners.

By now a pattern is emerging that should make any thinking person’s blood run cold. As the real economic conditions in this country have slowly deteriorated, the mood on the far right of the political spectrum has been gradually turning darker and meaner.

Many mainstream pundits would no doubt say that the bad temper of the right wing is similar now to how it was during Bill Clinton’s first term in office, which saw the rise of the militia movements around the country. They would no doubt add that all it took was one shocking event (the Oklahoma City bombing) and a rapidly improving economy from 1995 forward through the rest of the decade to largely defuse that anger. There have been periodic bouts of right wing demagoguery throughout our history, they would additionally assert, but in the end American politics always corrects itself and sanity eventually returns to our public discourse.

As a student of history, I completely agree with that as an interpretation of history. Even Joseph McCarthy was eventually dethroned and discredited for taking his attacks too far after politically terrorizing Washington for the first half of the 1950s.

But, and here is the rub: it isn’t 1956 anymore, or even 1996. The difference between the bout of extreme right wing anger we see today and those of previous generations is that there will be no economic recovery to create the conditions that will allow a restoration of that supposed sanity to our national politics. The beginning of the long era of permanent economic contraction means that the root cause of this explosion in right wing fury, severe economic distress, is just going to be exacerbated from this point on as people continue to lose their jobs and gasoline prices soar to previously unknown heights.

Those who dismiss the idea that true fascism could ever take hold in the United States point out that our representative democracy has far deeper roots than say, Weimar Germany, in which democracy was artificially imposed on an authoritarian culture in the wake of a massive military defeat. This is, of course, yet another accurate assessment of history. The problem with putting too much stock in history, however, is that sometimes it does NOT adhere to the old cliche and repeat itself, but instead begins to write its own new narrative, such as when the Bolsheviks seized control of Imperial Russia.

The end of economic growth in not just the United States but the entire world is a crisis unprecedented in human history. There will be no eventual return to normalcy this time. How exactly it will all play out is anyone’s guess, but this writer’s guess is that one thing we may well see in the near future is America’s long running culture war begin to turn hot, erupting into widespread violence which will then threaten to engulf us all.

Bonus: This little ditty from the dawn of the culture wars describes the forming battle lines remarkably well. Too bad it was recorded by a guy who eventually switched sides

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Mexico Republican Whines About Layoffs At Los Alamos Due To Obama Budget Cuts

Last year in my post, "Rats in a Cage," I used that graphic metaphor to describe how as America's economy slowly implodes every interest group is going to fight like hell to try and protect its share of the remaining booty. What's more, this will be every bit as true for so-called "austerity" loving Republicans as it will be for Democrats, as demonstrated yet again in this story by a local New Mexico television station:
On Tuesday Heather Wilson, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, released a statement in response to a voluntary lay-off at Los Alamos National Labs.

According to the release, 400-800 jobs will be lost at Los Alamos as a result of President Obama’s budget cuts.
Oh boy, this ought to be good. Lay it on me:
“400-800 jobs lost at Los Alamos will affect a lot of families and businesses in Los Alamos and Rio Arriba County,” Wilson said. “I'm afraid it is only the beginning. I expect there will be hundreds more jobs lost unless we change direction.

“A little over a year ago, President Obama made a commitment to modernize our nuclear weapons complex in order to maintain a safe, reliable nuclear deterrent at lower levels of forces. That commitment included replacing a 60-year-old facility at Los Alamos for handling plutonium. In his new budget, however, President Obama has broken that commitment. And as a result, an estimated 1,000 jobs will be killed for 10 years in Los Alamos.

“One of the best ways to provide for our defense needs would be to reduce excessive red tape from Washington and move more of the budget into programs. The President's budget includes almost $500 million a year in National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) administrative costs. We would be better off as a nation if most of this money were moved to programs like CMRR at Los Alamos. Having helped create the NNSA as a semi-autonomous agency attached to DOE, it is now clear to me that the change did not take hold. The priority should be science — not paying for layers of bureaucracy.

“I believe we need a handful of people who will steward our nation’s defense even in a time of peace. New Mexico needs someone who will fight for our laboratories — someone who understands our state's unique contributions to national security. I intend to stand up for New Mexico and fight for our labs when I am elected to the U.S. Senate.”
Memo to New Mexico Republican Senate candidate Heather Wilson: Go Fuck Yourself (seems like I have been saying that a lot lately). You and your party are all about supposedly cutting government spending--just so long as it is someone ELSE'S government spending. The Department of Energy, in particular, has been a particular target of your party--one that Rick Perry said he wanted to eliminate on those rare occasions when he could actually remember what it was called.

Well, guess what? ALL government spending needs to be cut, but the first to go ought to be the completely unnecessary and wasteful defense war programs like the ones at your precious laboratories. If they want to stay in business, let them retool themselves and do something that actually benefits mankind for a change.

Bonus: "So long mom...I'm off to drop the bomb"

Gallup Poll: Iran Rated As "America's Top Enemy"

Proving yet again that public opinion polls are largely meaningless in a nation in which 25% of the citizenry don't even know which country we declared our independence from, according to the latest Gallup poll, nearly one-third of Americans consider a country that poses exactly ZERO military threat to the United States as our "top enemy." Here are the sad and sorry details:
The 32% of Americans who name Iran is the highest reading Gallup has measured for that country, and is up from 25% last year.

More Americans mention China as the United States' greatest enemy (23%) this year than at any point in the 11-year history of the question, likely reflecting at least in part Americans' concern over China's global economic influence. Last year, China tied North Korea for second place, but mentions of North Korea have declined, leaving China alone in second place in 2012.

Also, over the last two years, Americans have been modestly more likely to mention Afghanistan as the nation's greatest enemy than in years prior, perhaps partly because U.S. attention has turned away from Iraq. Mentions of Iraq have dropped significantly since 2008.
Pathetically, a total of 12% still name either Iraq or Afghanistan, the two countries where we spent the last decade fighting brutal and completely unncessary wars of occupation, to still be our top enemy. I guess we didn't kill enough Iraqi civilians when we had the chance, or something. Those two, along with the aforementioned Iran, China and North Korea, were the only countries to register above 2% in the poll.

Sadly, only 1% of the respondents got the question right: given that we spend as much money on defense war as the rest of the countries on the planet combined, are wantonly destroying our own civil liberties, and we seem bound and determined to run our economy into the ground due to sheer greed and shortsightedness, the United States itself is without a doubt its own worst enemy.

Bonus: "Look away across the bay...Yankee gunboat come this way...Uncle Sam gonna save the day...Come tomorrow we all going to pay"

Big Banks Charging Unemployed Debit Card Fees For Unemployment Benefits

This story really belongs in the, You Have GOT To Be Fucking KIDDING Me, category. The very same banks whose financial shenanigans crashed the economy and created massive unemployment are now being allowed to charge debit card fees on the unemployment benefits of the unfortunate souls who lost their jobs thanks to their perfidy. Here is the Worcester Telegram & Gazette with the details:
Rhonda Taylor had never been on unemployment until she was laid off from her information technology job in 2008. When she received the debit card she’d use to access her unemployment benefits from the state, she assumed it worked like any other bank card.

But after a month using the card, the North Providence resident noticed she was being charged a fee every time she checked her balance at an ATM. Every time she used her PIN to make a purchase. Every time she tried to withdraw cash. A dollar here, $1.50 there. The fees added up. Twenty dollars a month matters, she said, when you’re unemployed and relying on the state.

The fees come from JPMorgan Chase, which the state selected in 2007 to operate Rhode Island’s debit card system. The state Senate voted last week to ask Gov. Lincoln Chafee to review the fees.

“Why is my state part of a system that charges the unemployed a fee for an out-of-state bank?” Taylor asked. “Why is money that’s supposed to go to the unemployed going to a Wall Street bank?”

Like most states, Rhode Island contracts with a bank to provide unemployment benefits through a debit card. JPMorgan Chase agreed to operate the system at no cost to the state — if it could charge fees to those receiving unemployment benefits.

In many cases, JPMorgan Chase charges fees that traditional bank cards don’t have. There’s a $1.50 fee if a user withdraws cash more than once per benefit deposit, plus a fee of up to $3 for using a non-network ATM to withdraw funds. A 50-cent fee every time the user checks the balance. A dollar fee for denied transactions and a 25-cent fee for debit purchases that require a PIN.

“Anything you do you pay a fee; it’s how Morgan is making their money on it,” said Sen. William Walaska, a Warwick Democrat who is pushing for more information on the fees. “These people can’t afford these fees — obviously — because they’re unemployed. But the state pretty much says, ‘We don’t want this to cost us any money, so banks, you figure out how to make money.’ ”

JPMorgan Chase won’t say how much it collects in fees or whether it would be open to reducing them. Spokeswoman Jessica Francisco said the company doesn’t publicly discuss its fee policies.

More than 40 states use bank cards to disburse unemployment benefits and almost all charge some fees. A report last year by the National Consumer Law Center compared systems and determined that Rhode Island “has one of the more problematic fee structures.”
So we bail the fuckers out with taxpayer money and then we turn around let them prey on the jobless. At the very least, these parasites should be providing the debit cards for free. Are there ANY public officials left in this fucking country who have not been completely bought and paid for by the big banks and Wall Street? Anywhere? Can someone please alert me to an example?

And yes, I am using the word "parasites" to describe them as a deliberate fuck you to any Randian conservative assholes who might be inclined to use the term instead against the unemployed. For contrary to their twisted worldview, it is the big banks that are the OPs (Original Parasites). President Andrew Jackson knew it, which is why he issued his famous veto of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States back in 1832. Too bad that in our post-Citizens United dystopia, in which psychopathic billionaires can donate as much money as they want to boils on humanity's ass like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and, yes, President Hopey-Changey, no one with Old Hickory's sensibilities stands any chance of getting elected to major public office ever again.

Bonus: "The planet Earth from way up there is beautiful and blue...and floating softly in a rainbow. But when you touch down things look different here"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Broke Buffalo School District Provides Free Plastic Surgery To All Teachers

You can't explain this. No, I mean really, you can try all day and you will never come up with an explanation for this story from a local Buffalo television station that makes any sense whatsoever:
As thousands of teachers face layoffs across the country, teachers in Buffalo, New York are getting lipo? Yep. And nose jobs and whatever else they want. All on the taxpayers' dime. How is this happening?

This Buffalo plastic surgeon has a lot of happy patients. Dr. Kulwant S. Bhangoo says, "Let's just suppose I was a woman weighed 300 pounds, and I lost 150-160 pounds."

Indeed, that's what happened to Buffalo school teacher Valerie Akauloa, but it's not just the results that make her happy, it's the sweet deal that she gets.

The sweet deal that all the 3,400 teachers in Buffalo are eligible to get under one of their insurance plan options, they are billed nothing for any plastic surgery procedure, such as botox, liposuction, tummy tucks, and there is no deductible.

Linda Tokarz teaches second grade and says she gets regular treatments. She says, "I think its great for us. I wouldn't want to see it taken away."

Dr. Kulwant Bhangoo has been a plastic surgeon in Buffalo for almost four decades. He says, "I feel the teachers have paid their dues and it would be wrong to take it away from them."

While he does have plenty on non-teacher patients, Dr. Bhangoo does say three out of every 10 are Buffalo teachers and the school district's insurance covers every single penny. They will come in for hair removal on their face, liposuction, breast enhancement, and rhinoplasty.

Dr. Bhangoo is one of many plastic surgeons who advertise in where else the teachers union newsletter.

Last year, Buffalo's schools spent $5.9 million on plastic surgery which is also known as a cosmetic rider. And Buffalo teachers have had this rider for nearly four decades.

Now you might think Buffalo's school district must be flush with cash to be offering perks like free plastic surgery, right? Wrong. Louis Petrucci, the president of the Buffalo Board of Education says he is projecting a $42 million deficit in next year's school budget.

You don't have to be a brain surgeon to know that a plastic surgeon or a teacher would like this policy more than the typical taxpayer. But the teachers will tell you there is more to the story. They say the teachers contract with the city expired nearly a decade ago negotiations for a new one have failed.

And they add they are woefully underpaid.
That last sentence might be true, but its hard to feel any sympathy for a group of people who didn't long ago demand that this utter frivolous benefit be dropped so that maybe they could get a better pay raise. The story doesn't explain it, but I would really like to know what brainiac thought providing free plastic surgery to the teachers was a good idea in the first place.

Bonus: This video is dedicated to the Buffalo public school teachers

Psychiatric Patients With No Place to Go But Jail

A few days ago, I posted a story about how because of draconian sentences, America's prisons are being turned into retirement homes. Well, now comes a story from The New York Times about how, thanks to state government budget cuts, they may also be being turned into psychiatric wards:
The sounds of chaos bounce off the dim yellow walls. Everywhere there are prisoners wearing orange, red and khaki jumpsuits. An officer barks out orders as a thin woman tries to sleep on a hard bench in a holding cell. This is a harsh scene of daily life inside what has become the state’s largest de facto mental institution: the Cook County Jail.

About 11,000 prisoners, a mix of suspects awaiting trial and those convicted of minor crimes, are housed at the jail at any one time, which is like stuffing the population of Palos Heights into an eight-block area on Chicago’s South Side. The Cook County sheriff, Tom Dart, estimated that about 2,000 of them suffer from some form of serious mental illness, far more than at the big state-owned Elgin Mental Health Center, which has 582 beds.

Mr. Dart said the system “is so screwed up that I’ve become the largest mental health provider in the state of Illinois.” The situation is about to get worse, according to Mr. Dart and other criminal justice experts. The city plans to shut down 6 of its 12 mental health centers by the end of April, to save an estimated $2 million, potentially leaving many patients without adequate treatment — some of them likely to engage in conduct that will lead to arrests.

“It will definitely have a negative impact on jail populations,” said Mr. Dart, who noted that the number of people coming into the jail with mental health problems was already increasing. “It will have direct consequences for us in my general jail population and some of the problems I have here, because a lot of the people with these issues act out more, as you would expect, so that’s a direct consequence.”

It costs an estimated $143 a day to house a typical detainee in the Cook County Jail. The cost to house someone with serious mental health issues is two to three times that amount. Mr. Dart said that prisoners with mental health problems are in a disproportionate number of fights and make more suicide threats, and managing them takes more resources.

“And then there’s the humane side of it,” he said. “Not treating people with mental illness is bad enough, but treating them like criminals? Please, what have we become?”
Indeed, Mr. Dart, what HAVE we become? I ask myself that question nearly every single day.