Thursday, June 28, 2012

Well, OF COURSE Obamacare was Upheld

Lots of clueless political observers, especially those who occupy the mainstream media, are furiously scratching their heads this morning wondering just how it could possibly be that Chief Justice John Roberts, he of the atrocious Citizens United decision, sided with the Supreme Court's "liberals" in upholding Obamacare when in fact the answer should be glaringly obvious to anyone who understands how America really works these days. Just like with Citizens United, this was a pro big business decision. Obamacare's hideous health insurance mandate will be a boon for the insurance companies that will do absolutely nothing to curtail the exploding costs of health care. And that is just the way the health care industry wants it. This is an industry after all, which now boasts the highest paid CEOs, higher than any on Wall Street, including one who pulled down an astounding $145,266,971 in compensation during 2010.

Here is Talking Points Memo with some more details of today's historic farcical decision:
The Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that the Affordable Care Act meets constitutional muster and can be allowed to continue its slow process of transforming the nation’s health care system.

Thursday’s historic decision, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, was by no means fait accompli. Though the consensus among constitutional scholars has always been that the law’s insurance mandate did not exceed Congress’ Commerce Clause powers, its opponents erected a counterargument that quickly became an article of faith on the right. In the end, Roberts’ decision upheld the mandate as an exercise of Congress’ taxing power.

The outcome has been a matter of tense speculation, hope and anxiety both in Washington and around the country from the moment President Obama signed health care reform into law.

Complicating matters for the law’s supporters, the administration’s top legal advocate, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, choked in oral arguments before the Supreme Court — out-litigated by the GOP’s star attorney Paul Clement.

And in the days leading up to the decision, a peculiar conventional wisdom took hold — in the media, and among political and judicial veterans — that the mandate, and possibly other key provisions, or the whole statute, would fall.

But during oral arguments, Roberts tipped his hand, and provided the Court a glimpse at his reasoning. And in siding with the Court’s liberal wing, he may have saved the entire law. In the dissenting opinion, justice Anthony Kennedy, writing on behalf of justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia, held that “in our view, the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety.”
In other words, Roberts signaled to the other scumbag conservatives on the court that he would be the one to "sell out" his supposed principles and give them cover to vote against the decision and make it look like the fix wasn't in all along. This was such a beautifully orchestrated bit of political theater that I almost feel like I should stand up and applaud.

Bonus: Might as well learn to live with Obamacare, as now it's the law

Trust Kills

Here is yet another example of just how utterly bamboozled the American public really is these days. That isn't exactly news, I realize, but sometimes it is just stunning to contemplate how bad the problem really is.

One would think that two futile land wars along with the Abu Grahib and Walter Reed scandals would be enough debacles for any nations' military to endure in just one decade...but wait, you haven't heard the worst of it just yet. Here is with the details:
Over the next year, America’s largest fighting force is swapping its camouflage pattern. The move is a quiet admission that the last uniform — a pixelated design that debuted in 2004 at a cost of $5 billion — was a colossal mistake.

Soldiers have roundly criticized the gray-green uniform for standing out almost everywhere it’s been worn. Industry insiders have called the financial mess surrounding the pattern a “fiasco.”
That doesn't sound good. Tell me more:
“Essentially, the Army designed a universal uniform that universally failed in every environment,” said an Army specialist who served two tours in Iraq, wearing UCP in Baghdad and the deserts outside Basra. “The only time I have ever seen it work well was in a gravel pit.”

The specialist asked that his name be withheld because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press.

“As a cavalry scout, it is my job to stay hidden. Wearing a uniform that stands out this badly makes it hard to do our job effectively,” he said. “If we can see our own guys across a distance because of it, then so can our enemy.”

The fact that the government spent $5 billion on a camouflage design that actually made its soldiers more visible — and then took eight years to correct the problem — has also left people in the camouflage industry incensed. The total cost comes from the Army itself and includes the price of developing the pattern and producing it for the entire service branch.
So, pray tell, how exactly did this particular clusterfuck happen, anyway?
The problem, the researchers said, was an oddly named branch of the Army in charge of equipping soldiers with gear — Program Executive Office Soldier — had suddenly ordered Natick’s camouflage team to pick a pattern long before trials were finished.

“They jumped the gun,” said James Fairneny, an electrical engineer on Natick’s camouflage team.

Researchers said they received a puzzling order: Take the winning colors and create a pixilated pattern. Researchers were ordered to “basically put it in the Marine Corps pattern,” Fairneny said.

For a decision that could ultimately affect more than a million soldiers in the Army, reserves and National Guard, the sudden shift from Program Executive Office Soldier was a head-scratcher. The consensus among the researchers was the Army brass had watched the Marine Corps don their new uniforms and caught a case of pixilated camouflage envy.

“It was trendy,” Stewardson said. “If it’s good enough for the Marines, why shouldn’t the Army have that same cool new look?”

The brigadier general ultimately responsible for the decision, James Moran, who retired from the Army after leaving Program Executive Office Soldier, has not responded to messages seeking comment.

It’s worth noting that, flawed as it was, the universal pattern did solve the problem of mismatched gear, said Eric Graves, editor of the military gear publication Soldier Systems Daily, adding that the pattern also gave soldiers a new-looking uniform that clearly identified the Army brand.

“Brand identity trumped camouflage utility,” Graves said. “That’s what this really comes down to: ‘We can’t allow the Marine Corps to look more cool than the Army.’ ”
Un-be-fucking-lievable. I don't know what's worse, the $5 billion dollars wasted, the uncountable casualties that likely resulted or the fact that no one is apparently going to be held responsible for this debacle. This is just so fucking par for the course for a U.S. military establishment that has its head firmly planted up its ass.

Hmmm...I wonder how the American public is feeling about the military these days after ten years of relentless failures, including over 6,500 dead servicemen and women, some of whom might still be alive had they been issued adequate camouflage uniforms. Gallup has that particular story:
Once again, Americans are most confident in the military (75%), which has finished first each year since 1989 except 1997, when small business edged it out. Small business, at 63%, is second this year. The police, at 56%, is third, and the only other institution of the 16 tested in which a majority of Americans express confidence.
In fact, as you can see by the chart above, only 6% of Americans polled said they had very little or no confidence in the military as an institution when it should be perfectly obvious that the military is one of the LAST institutions worthy of public trust. What you see here is the end result of 30 years of relentless flag waving propaganda spewing forth from the American corporate media machine. Joeseph Goebbles would be so proud.

Bonus: "U.S. forces give the's a setback for your country"

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Nation: Some Towns Just Don't Count - Like My Home Town

I'm still on sabbatical, but I just had to comment on an article written by John Nichols posted today in The Nation called, "Romney's Some Towns Just Don't Count Tour," only because the town in question that Nichols highlighted is in fact my own home town. Here is the relevant section of the article:
That’s the problem for Romney. He has been on the wrong side of so many economic fights that it is impossible for him to play the economic populist in communities that could stand with a little populism.

But the real story of Romney’s tour is the towns that don’t count with him.

When Romney made stops in Janesville and Dubuque Monday, he was just up the road from the town of Freeport, Illinois.

But Romney did not stop in Freeport, a town that like Janesville and Dubuque has been hard hit by trade and fiscal policies that encourage corporations to shutter US factories and ship jobs overseas—and that has been even harder hit by speculators who buy up factories, strip the assets and close them.

On the day Romney was busing across the region, employees of Freeport’s Sensata Technologies plant gathered in front of the factory with handmade signs that read:

“Romney! Stop Bain Outsourcing to China”

“Mitt Romney Save Our Jobs”

“Romney: Instead of talking about JOBS, just don’t ship MINE to China”

The Sensata Technologies plant, which has been on the forefront of producing state-of-the-art automotive sensors, was owned by Texas Instruments, and then by Honeywell, before being sold in 2010 to Sensata Technologies Holding, N.V, a firm based in the Netherlands but majority-owned by Bain Capital. Bain, the private equity firm that Mitt Romney helped to develop and that continues to make him a very rich man, has since consolidated ownership of Sensata.

The workers at the plant wanted Romney to make a slight detour on his bus trip and take a look at the devastation being caused by Bain’s machinations at a plant where many of them have worked for more than thirty years.

The plant’s operations are rapidly skrinking as Sensata moves to outsource work from Illinois to China.

“This used to be a very high-volume plant and now it’s pretty much a ghost town…and by the end of the year it will be a ghost town”, Sensata employee Cheryl Randecker told local reporters.

Had Romney come to Freeport, he would have heard how much Bain’s approach has harmed not just the Sensata workers but Freeport and counties along the Illinois-Wisconsin stateline that have suffered more than their share of plant closings.

“Sensata is moving forward with the process of relocating jobs from their operations in Freeport to China,” explains John Blum, the chairman of the Stephenson County Board.

In addition to the “significant human toll on the more than 140 families that will be affected by this loss of jobs and financial security,” says Blum, “The loss of these jobs will have a tremendous impact on our regional economy.”

That’s a story that Mitt Romney does not want to focus attention on.

So his bus didn’t stop in Freeport.

Perhaps the name of Romney’s bus tour should be changed from “Every Town Counts” to “Some Towns Count.”

But those Americans who really do believe that workers in places like Freeport ought not be left behind should ask themselves whether talk about renewing the American economy is credible coming from a man who continues to profit from the plant closings, the layoffs and the outsourcing practices that are crude byproducts of Bain Capitalism.
I first posted about the closing of the Sensata plant back on January 18th in my post, "Another Globalization Hit to My Home Town." At the time, I didn't realize that Bain Capital was the driving force behind the shut down.

The problem with the Nichols story is that it fails to mention the obvious point that these actions by Sensata are happening under a Democratic president who has not only not lifted a finger to help the working and middle classes, but has also promoted the same kind of free trade agreements as the last last Democratic occupant of the White House. The same free trade agreements that British Financier James Goldsmith famously warned television host Charlie Rose about back in 1994, predicting this very outcome.

But even more to the point, the workers in Freeport have been very much complicit in their own demise. That corner of Illinois has always been solidly Republican, and it pained me greatly back in my high school and college days to watch so many of my fellow Freeporters go completely gaga for Ronald Reagan. So much so, that they even turned their backs on liberal Republican Represenative John Anderson when he challenged Reagan for the presidency in 1980, despite the fact that Anderson was their own Congressman.

So, while I appreciate Nichols calling attention to the plight of my home town, it is too bad that he and The Nation are so steadfastly determined keep wearing their partisan blinders.

Bonus: From my You Tube channel, not a lot of factory girls left in Freeport I'm afraid

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Taking a Break

image: welcome to my nightmare
About a month and a half ago I announced that I was going to reduce the frequency of my posts here at TDS because I was getting burned out. Unfortunately, it didn't work. Since that time, the feelings of burnout have just gotten worse. In the 13 months since I started this blog, I have pretty much said everything that was on my mind when I started it, and nothing substantially new has happened since then. Every day when I peruse my usual news sites, it's like watching the Bill Murray flick, Groundhog Day: a slowly unfolding downward grind with the powers that be playing all the games they can to keep the facade of business as usual propped up as long as possible. Yadda, yadda Greece...yadda, yadda bailouts...yadda, yadda Obama/Romney/Paul/Gingrich/Cain/Bachmann's gonna save us...yadda, yaddda lies damn lies and government statistics,...yadda, yadda The Bernanke...yadda, yadda Vampire Squid...yadda yadda muppets...yadda, yadda austerity...yadda, yadda stimulus...yadda, yadda fuck the hell off already.

How much longer can they keep it up? I don't know the answer to that question, but quite obviously much longer than I can stand to keep writing about it day after grueling goddamn day.

So as you've probably gathered I've decided to take a break from blogging for awhile to see if I can recharge my batteries. I'm not sure right now how long it will be. If something big happens next week, I might even be back then. As always, I appreciate all of the great support my readers have given me these past 13 months. Though my primary motivation in doing the blog was to get a handle on my own thoughts and feelings about our inescapable collective predicament, you are what has really made all of my efforts worthwhile.

Bonus: I've posted this tune before, but this time I'd like to dedicate it to the vast legions of the unaware out there. After all, they piss and moan, but they let the devil in their homes

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Two Americas

Here's a metaphorical news story. What happens when a young American woman driving a BMW meets a young American fast food worker riding her bicycle? One ends up dead and the other tries to avoid responsibility. Here is with the story:
A 23-year-old woman is under investigation, charged in a deadly hit-and-run accident in Massachusetts.

The woman told police she thought she had hit an animal.

Barnstable police responded to the intersection of Route 28 and Pitchers Way just after 2 a.m. Thursday where they found a bicyclist down.

The victim was taken to Cape Cod hospital and pronounced dead.

The victim is 20-year-old Sheila Moreta who had just finished her first shift at Wendy’s. She was biking home when a gray BMW, driven by 23-year-old Angelica Barroso, hit Moreta, dragging her body into the corner of the road, before taking off.

While Moreta’s friend frantically tried to flag down help, Moreta was hit by a second car.

The BMW’s license plates fell off the car at the scene and police were able to track Barroso down. They found her an hour-and-a-half later.

Sgt. David Myett of Barnstable Police said it’s suspicious Barroso left the scene.

Barroso is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

What’s interesting further is Barroso is a home health care aid and she was supposed to be spending the night at her patient’s home but she left the patient to pick up her sister at a bar.

Barroso also has a spotty driving record. She was ordered to take a retraining test but she had until August to complete that.

She pleaded not guilty and is being held on $2500 cash bail.
And with that, I am out of here.

A Guide to America’s Worst Restaurants for Workers

Food service has been one of the few employment bright spots on the otherwise dismal jobs growth front during this period of supposed economic recovery. That's what makes the report referenced below about how many restaurant chains rate at the bottom of barrel as far as treating their workers even more depressing. Here is Gawker with the details:
Since we're on the topic of basic fairness for the working people of America, here is a useful thing: a pro-worker group called Restaurant Opportunities Centers United has produced a handy pocket guide to many of America's most popular restaurants, to let you know exactly how badly their employees are treated. The short version, below.

The guide (referenced in this excellent Mark Bittman column yesterday) ranks restaurants on whether they pay a minimum viable wage to their tipped and non-tipped workers; whether they give paid sick leave; and how much of a chance for advancement their workers have. Here are some of the better-known chain restaurants that received "0" or "unknown" ratings in each of those categories—in other words, that did not achieve a single check mark for minimal standards of worker treatment:

The Worst Restaurants for Workers
Bob Evans
Boston Market
Buffalo Wild Wings
Burger King
California Pizza Kitchen
Captain D's
Carl's Jr.
Chart House
Cheesecake Factory
Chuck E. Cheese
Church's Chicken
Cold Stone Creamery
Cracker Barrel
Dunkin Donuts
Golden Corral
Hard Rock Cafe
Legal Seafoods
Little Caesar's
Marie Callender's
Morton's Steakhouse
Olive Garden
Outback Steakhouse
P.F. Chang's
Papa John's
Pizza Hut
Red Lobster
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse
TGI Friday's
Taco Bell
Uno Chicago Grill
Waffle House

Depressing. There are more bad ones. (And a few good ones.) The full guide is here.
Bon apetite.

Bonus: "Everything that is wrong with America is comment cards"

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hack Journalism Porn: Richard Cohen Demands More Government Lies

Many thanks to my friends over at Gawker for taking down the odious Richard Cohen on his latest outrage to the profession of journalism so I didn't have to:
There's a bit of an uproar in Washington over the White House leaking stories about Obama's kill list. Craven politics? All leaks are good leaks? National security risk? Some other position that is, in some way, intellectually coherent? Washington insider Richard Cohen goes with: none of the above! Watch this progression of thoughts closely:

The leak that troubles me concerns the killing of suspected or actual terrorists. The triumphalist tone of the leaks - the Tarzan-like chest-beating of various leakers - not only is in poor taste but also shreds a long-standing convention that, in these matters, the president has deniability. The president of the United States is not the Godfather.

So. Wait. Richard Cohen is not so much troubled about the fact that the president of the United States is personally approving assassinations as he is troubled by the fact that the president has lost his deniability. Richard Cohen, you see, is the president's personal attorney. Oh, Richard Cohen is a journalist? Ha, that's weird then.

Of course, we have always known that the president, as commander in chief and all of that, is where the proverbial buck stops. But for the longest time, a polite fiction distanced the president from what, after all, is murder, and it helped somewhat in protecting him. Deniability is always a fiction, but it provides some space between the president and his orders, and does not plaster the presidential face on an act of extreme - and possibly illegal - violence. Presidents need protection from retaliation - not just in office, but for the rest of their lives. After all, the poor man's drone is the suicide bomber.

Someone with a finer ear for the vagaries of language help me out here, please—is Richard Cohen being sarcastic? I genuinely hope so, but I cannot tell, because Richard Cohen is known to do this sort of thing. That is, to embarrass himself and the rest of us by bemoaning the death of the "polite fiction" that protects powerful politicians from the consequences of their actions. Richard Cohen quite explicitly hates justice, as well as journalism. I appreciate any explanations that anyone out there can provide on what this really means.

Killing is a serious matter. The death of an American citizen (Anwar al-Awlaki) is deeply troubling (the government asked the government if it was legal, and the government said it was). For this as well as other assassinations, there could be blowback.

Assassination by drone has its charms - it has severely degraded al-Qaeda - and war, after all, is war. But I wonder if those presidents who knew war - a Truman, an Eisenhower, a Kennedy - would themselves boast about killing or let others do it for them.

"Kill away outside of the rule of law, US presidents, but please, be sure to lie to the public about it."—a man employed by a journalistic institution.

Is he kidding??? Serious question.
No, sadly he is not kidding. And what's worse is that he is what passes for an icon in the supposedly "liberal" media these days. The only reason why the Washington Post would continue to employ such a thoroughly discredited hack is so it can laughably claim to have "balance" for the legions of warmongering neoconservatives who regularly appear on its op-ed page.

Bonus: Just remember kids, when the president does it that means it's not illegal

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Massive Newspaper Layoffs in New Orleans and Alabama

There was an update yesterday to the recent story about the New Orleans Times-Picayune cutting back to three days per week...namely that the axe has now fallen on one-third of the newspaper's staff. Here is the Atlantic Wire with the details:
Despite earlier reports that about half of it journalists would be cut, the dust has settled and the Times-Picayune newspaper has said it has laid off about one-third of its staff--about 201 of its employees.


The Gambit's Kevin Allman (via Jim Romenesko) reports that the severance packages cap out at one year, and fired employees will accrue 1.5 weeks of pay for every year of service. "At least three very familiar newsroom names, including award winners, have said they intend to take severance and/or don't expect to be invited to join NOLA Media Group," writes Allman. Romenesko is also reporting that half of the news staff is being let go.
Not to be outdone, newspapers in Alabama are laying of 400 of their own staff members. Here is the Birmingham Business Journal with that sad story:
Three of Alabama’s largest daily newspapers, including the Birmingham News, will lay off about 400 employees as they cut back their printing schedules and increase their focus on digital.

According to, the laid-off workers will have a chance to apply for 100 or more positions at two new companies, Alabama Media Group and Advance Central Services Alabama.

The 100 vacant positions will be posted at later this week.

It's not clear how many employees will be impacted at the Birmingham News or at each specific paper, but a report from The Poynter Institute cited an unnamed source saying 60 percent of the editorial staff at the News would be affected.

Cindy Martin, who will head the new Alabama Media Group, said she’d been in meetings this morning to let employees know if they will be laid off, but couldn’t confirm which employees or the total number impacted.


The layoffs are part of a series of changes at the newspapers, which will begin publishing only three days a week instead of daily this fall.
I would gather that three-day-a-week newspaper service will soon be the norm for the industry...and that even that won't be enough to save it from eventual oblivion.

Bonus: Before anyone comments about it, I realize this is the wrong Birmingham. Tough shit, I like this song.

Generational Storm Porn: Baby Boomers Losing Inheritances Because of Aging Parents

I guess this is the week for stories about America's long term demographic problems. As someone who sincerely hopes that his father spends his very last dime on the day he departs from this world, I have a hard time working up too much empathy for these people. Here is the Atlantic Journal with the details:
The Wall Street Journal has some news for you, Baby Boomers: Not only have you suffered financially in the recession, but that inheritance you're counting on from your parents, well, you might not get it after all. This is because today's grandparents are probably going to live a long time, long enough to spend their money for themselves. You might actually have to take care of them. Curses! According to Anne Tergeson:

As a group, boomers likely won't be getting as much of an inheritance as they hoped. Even worse, far from receiving a bequest, a growing number are tapping some of their own savings to help their cash-strapped parents make ends meet.

For families, the result is often a lot of scrambling, dashed dreams, and conflict and angst as parents and children try to come to grips with the lean new reality—and divide up a smaller pie.

The growing aging population in the U.S. is a real thing, not to be scoffed at. Tergenson gives us the numbers: "a 65-year-old man has a 60 percent chance of living to age 80 and a 40 percent chance of reaching 85. For women, the odds are 71 percent and 53 percent, respectively." This means that seniors aged 85 and older are actually the quickest growing portion of the population. Which means, best case scenario, hooray: Our parents and grandparents will be with us for a long while! But not everyone has planned, financially or otherwise, to live that long—and even if they have, the money they've saved may not be enough to cover it, particularly if they become ill and need medical treatment. And living so long, who won't? As Michael Wolff wrote in New York magazine in May, the parents of adult parents are living longer and longer, even past the point some would describe as actually "living," instead being kept only basically alive by doctors and medical technologies. This is a real issue.

But the way The Journal covers it, as if children are sitting around waiting for their parents to drop dead so they can collect the cash, seems a little...odd. Are so many baby boomers really counting on their parents' money? Is it really so awful to assume that you might need to help your parents financially, should they live into their 90s? This article seems to say yes.

"Due to the new realities of longevity, adult children—who have rightfully assumed they would inherit something substantial from their parents and have lived their lives accordingly—can no longer count on that," says Lillian Rubin, a sociologist, psychologist and author.

It's that "rightfully" that's so strange: Suddenly, that sense of entitlement we judge in Millennials and, for example, the character of Hannah in Girls, who allowed her parents to support her in her twenties, appears to stem from a far more established source, i.e., the Baby Boomer. Is it worse to expect cash from mommy and daddy when you're 20...or 60 years old?

It's one thing to point out that the set of circumstances—each generation tending to do better than the proceeding, and passing along their economic successes for the next to improve upon—may have changed in recent years. This has changed still from situations longer ago, in which aging parents were never expected to live anywhere but with their children, who probably supported them, too. But Rubin's point about rightful expectations is held up by the stats. According to Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, "baby boomers and their offspring could inherit as much as $27 trillion over the next four decades, with the progeny of the wealthiest pocketing much of the windfall." There is money there, it's just not going to go to everyone.

We hope, anyway, that the inheritance-expecting are outnumbered by the adult kids reflected in a quote from 63-year-old Gary, who told the Journal, "An inheritance would help, but I am not looking forward to it. I don't want an inheritance if I have to lose someone I love." Or, as commenter Bill Scurrah wrote, "I can't help but be bemused by this article. As the son of parents of very modest means, and a person of modest means myself, I never expected to inherit anything but a few sticks of furniture and a photo album. If it had not been for Social Security and Medicare, and the 60K we got from selling their town house, my mother, who survived my dad by two years, would have had nothing to live on and no way to pay her medical costs (which, by the way, were quite modest compared to some of the estimates I come across for old age care). There are millions of people who simply do not operate in the realm of inheritances, investments, expensive retirement facilities, etc. For us, articles like this describe life on a different planet."
I know it would never be allowed to be enacted, but I would favor a 100% inheritance tax on every estate after all debts have been paid off. If you really want to bust up the great concentrations of wealth in this country and the power that the 1% have over the rest of us that would be the way to do it. Plus it would be a great boon to the economy as all the rich old fuckers try to spend all of their wealth before the government can get ahold of it. Truly, a win-win all around.

Bonus: What a way to go

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Computer Crash Cripples Jefferson County (Alabama)

So what does a large municipal bankruptcy really mean? Chaos. Here is with the details:
A server that runs Jefferson County's financial software system has crashed and halted financial activity in a number of county departments, officials said Thursday.

Since Tuesday, the hardware problem has slowed or stopped transactions in the finance, treasurer and purchasing departments, preventing vendor payments and deposits and delaying preparation of the fiscal 2011 audit, according to county officials.

The server runs SAP, the accounting software system the county uses to track financial activity.

"The SAP functionality is so diminished that it does not allow us to do the day-to-day financial operations of our county," Commissioner Jimmie Stephens said. "It's the financial backbone of the county. It's the language that we use to communicate with all of our vendors and all of our financial contacts throughout the county. And to have it go mute to where we can't communicate is a tremendous problem."

County Manager Tony Petelos said all of the servers that run the SAP program have outlived their useful life, and of the 16 servers in the Information Technology Department, only one has any life left.

"The rest of them are outdated and they need to be replaced," Petelos said. "When one server crashes it causes the whole system to go down. I've said this over and over again: The county has to reinvest in its infrastructure, and this is only one key example."

Workers were able to restore the server but are looking for a way to load SAP programs and data, Petelos said. "If successful, SAP should be available within 24 hours," he said. "If unsuccessful, a complete rebuild of the system will be required and could take up to five days."

Stephens blamed the problem on staff reductions and decisions to reduce maintenance contracts to save money.

The cash-strapped county laid off hundreds of workers last year to conserve cash until a fix could be found for a shortage of general fund revenue. Wayne Cree, director of information technology, has said his department lost approximately 30 budgeted positions in the past year because of layoffs, retirements, transfers and resignations.
But here is the "money quote," so to speak:
Stephens said contracts countywide have been either terminated or reduced to save money, and the toll is mounting.

"You do away with people and you do away with outside maintenance contracts that take care of that proprietary equipment, and you're left with the inability to operate government," Stephens said.
Consider this an early warning of things to come all across the country.

Bonus: "'ve got a weight on your shoulders that's breaking your back"

Unemployed Early Social Security Claimants Putting More Pressure on the Program

This is a good companion piece to yesterday's post about raising the retirement age and why it won't work. From the New York Times, nobody could have predicted:
This retirement oasis in the desert has long beckoned those who want to spin out their golden years playing golf and sitting by the pool in the arid sunshine.

But for Clare Keany, who turned 62 last fall and cannot find work, it feels more like a prison. Just a few miles from the gated estates of corporate chieftains and Hollywood stars, Ms. Keany lives in a tiny mobile home, barely getting by on little more than $1,082 a month from Social Security.

“I would rather be functioning and having a job somewhere,” said Ms. Keany, whose pixie haircut, trim build and crinkling smile suggest someone much younger than her years. “I really don’t enjoy living like this. I’ve got too much to do still.”

Even as most Americans are delaying retirement to bolster their savings accounts, the recession and its protracted aftermath have forced many older people who are out of work to draw Social Security much earlier than they had planned.

According to an analysis by Steve Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, about 200,000 more people filed initial claims in 2009 and 2010 than the agency had predicted before the recession and he said the trend most likely continued in 2011 and 2012, though that is harder to quantify. The most likely reason is joblessness.

Ms. Keany had always expected to work into her 70s and add to her retirement cushion. But after losing her job as an executive assistant at an advertising agency in 2008, she searched fruitlessly for full-time work and exhausted her unemployment benefits. For a while, she strung together odd jobs and lived off her 401(k) retirement and profit-sharing accounts. Then, this year, with her savings depleted and no job offers in sight, she reluctantly applied for Social Security.

Gazing out the window where the Santa Rosa mountains rise behind the mobile home park, she said, “It just seems a waste of a life, to be honest.”
It makes you wonder just how many millions of other people there are out there who are a couple of missed government checks away from homelessness and starvation. Yet, as the story goes one to demonstrate, so many people still have completely screwed up priorities:
Finally, in January, she gave in and filed for Social Security. Her monthly check covers the $336 mobile home park fee plus utilities, her cellphone bill, insurance and a satellite dish. She is also paying $100 a month in credit card debt. To save money, she has canceled the data plan on her BlackBerry and cut back on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Notice that despite having been essentially unemployed for four years, Keany still insists upon paying satellite teevee and cell phone bills and only recently cancelled her Blackberry data plan. In fact, having the damn television and cell phone is apparently more important to her than even eating properly.

The article also mentions that she is not married, does not have children and was earning $64,000 per year before she got laid off. Not to be too much of a dick about it or anything, but there really was no excuse for her to be running up her credit card balances and not having saved a lot of money for a rainy day while she was still working.

Keany's example is why I am always torn when I read these kinds of articles between feeling empathy for those who are hurting yet shaking my head at their obvious stupidity. Most importantly, in these examples we see people who will not survive long when the day finally comes that the government checks stop coming.

Bonus: "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"

Monday, June 11, 2012

SHAME On Steven D. Levitt (or Freakonomics THIS)

The second edition of The Exiled's new S.H.A.M.E. (Shame the Hacks Who Abuse Media Ethics) project is out, and this time they have their sights set in Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt:
Steven D. Levitt

Named one of Time magazine's "100 People Who Shape Our World," Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, is generally assumed to be a harmless, quirky pop economist for trivia nerds. However, Levitt has a history of attacking teachers' unions, advocating for the privatization of prison labor, defending online gambling and occasionally crossing over the fringe-right line by promoting climate change denialism and, some have argued, racial eugenics. A dyed-in-the-wool Milton Friedman neoliberal from the same “Chicago Boys” network that brought you the "shock doctrine," Levitt’s idea of economics Utopia is a world in which "the market" solves all our problems and government is restricted to protecting property rights.
The rest of Levitt's depressing profile is at the link.

Bonus: "Don't tell me about politics when all the problems are economics"

Why Raising the Retirement Age is No Solution to the Pension Crisis

American International Group Inc. CEO Robert Benmosche created quite a stir last week when he suggested that to alleviate the growing crisis caused by lack of adequate funding for pensions in America and Europe the retirement age needs to be raised to 70 or even 80 years of age. Benmosche’s “reasoning” was that doing so would “make pensions, medical services more affordable” and “keep people working longer and will take that burden off of the youth."

Once again, we see a prominent business “leader” who is spewing nonsensical gibberish because he doesn’t understand that we have entered the Age of Limits. Benmosche’s mistaken assumption is the same one being made by politicians and economists all across the political spectrum—that sooner or later exponential growth is somehow going to return to the western economies and allow us to keep our unsustainable economies functioning as they have indefinitely.

Are pensions and government old age benefit plans like Medicare and Social Security in a dire financial crisis? Certainly. Is supporting the older generations in retirement one of the biggest financial burdens facing young adults these days? Absolutely. But here’s the problem that Benmosche seems completely blind to: if you raise the retirement age and force older adults to work longer, there will be even fewer decent paying jobs available for the younger generations.

I’ve made reference several times before to Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns’s prophetic 2004 book, The Coming Generational Storm, in which the authors warned that the shrinking of the ratio between working age adults and retirees was going to cause a long term financial crisis in public and private retirement programs of every type. The book was published during the height of the go-go housing bubble years when for most people the idea of such a looming fiscal crisis was incomprehensible. A mere eight years later, thanks to the financial crisis of 2008 combined with the effects of peak oil and resource depletion, the Category 5 generational storm is coming ashore much faster than even Kotlikoff and Burns anticipated.

In America, the total number of jobs peaked in December 2007 and remains several million below that figure after a couple of years of anemic job growth. Even if the phony “recovery,” propped up by the insane easing and interest rate policies of the Federal Reserve and the unsustainable levels of federal government deficit spending, allows the economy to remain in its current state of aimless malaise and not crash again, it will take America many more years just to get the number of jobs back to where it was four-and-a-half years ago. Moreover, many of the newly created jobs pay far less and have fewer benefits of those that were destroyed during the financial crisis.

In the Age of Limits, raising the retirement age and reducing the number of jobs available for young adults would have a negative ripple effect all through the economy. Most importantly, the younger generation will not be able to afford to buy houses, thus placing even more downward pressure on an already cratering housing market. The young adults also will not be able to afford to buy much in the way of consumer goods, which is really bad news as the basic marketing strategy for most companies is to get consumers hooked on their products when they are young and make money off of them throughout their working lives. Even more ominously, already falling birthrates will become even more depressed as young adults, particularly the college educated, defer marriage and childbirth, meaning that an already critical demographic crisis will be exacerbated and the ratio of those of working age to retirees will fall even more dramatically in the future.

So what is the solution to all of this? The only way we could even hope to address this crisis is if everyone—young, old and middle aged—recognizes that we have entered the Age of Limits and that we all need to lower our expectations and greatly reduce our level of consumption and energy usage. At this time, however, I see no evidence that such a realization is ever going to take hold among any more than a very tiny fraction of the population. As a result of this lack of awareness and refusal to acknowledge reality, the generational storm is going to continue to increase in ferocity, and by the time it finally passes decades from now it will have completely washed away our unsustainable fossil fuel based way of life.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How A Teenager With A Fake Escort Service Duped Darren Rovell And CNBC

This story is just too damn funny. Want to know why the mainstream media so thoroughly suck balls these days? Maybe part of it is because it hires "reporters" who do things like base their stories on Twitter conversations. Here is Deadspin with the details:
An 18-year-old high school senior named Tim was bored one day last November when CNBC's sports biz guy, Darren Rovell, sent out the following tweet:
If you are losing a paycheck/business because of the NBA, I want to tell your story. Email me at

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) November 17, 2011
The NBA lockout was still on, and Rovell was looking for a new angle. Tim decided to have a little fun with him. He created a fake email account with the name "Henry James" and the handle He sent a note to Rovell's Gmail:
I run an escort service in New york, mostly for away teams players after games but I get some knicks and nets players also. They are the high rollers and im not getting the constant business that I need to stay running.

Rovell was into it, according to their email exchange, which Tim has kindly sent to us. Rovell replied:
I can keep you quiet but can you at least give me financial details — how much do players pay typically? what do they get?


Ya I appreciate you keeping me quiet. Some girls are few hundred dollars an hour, some can be a few thousand dollars per hour, they get anything and everything, especially the younger guys. They mostly have their people contact me to arrange it so I rarely deal directly with players.


what percentage of your business is nba then? and how much money would say you're losing? what cut do you then get?

Well its a high profile operation so I get a lot of athletes depending on the season but between entertainers, athletes and just wealthy people 30 percent roughly is NBA related during NBA season. This far into the season ive probably lost 25,000 dollars maybe more, its hard to tell because were working with lower profile clients in replacement for less money. I take anywhere from 65 to 80 % of the cut depending on how long the woman has been working for me.

this is so fascinating to me. so it's either players or people who come into town to see games that the business is coming from. is there virtually no replacement or you are so tapped into the nba players and their managers that it's harder to get other business because you've done it for so long?

one more thing, typically what is the cheapest woman and what is the most expensive woman? i assume it's by the hour and what is the typical # of hours?

There are replacements but they aren't as consistent and not nearly as high paying. Cheapest girl is around 350 or 400 an hour most expensive is 4,000, anywhere from 2 to 6 hours usually

Are you doing a report on this?
He was indeed. The 18-year-old's gag made its way into Rovell's report a few days later:

A 30 percent decline seems to be the magic number, even for Henry, who runs an escort service in New York that he says charges between $400 and $4,000 an hour, depending on the woman.

Henry says he takes between 65 and 80 percent of the total cut to match the players and other high-profile fans, who are with the client an average of four hours.

"There are replacements but they aren't as consistent and not nearly as high paying," Henry said.

Where did Tim come up with these prices? "I came up with that completely off the top of my head," he tells me. "I didn't even Google it." The 30 percent figure, he adds, was "made up and it turned out to be the magic number!"

Rovell used the escort story as Twitter bait:
The real stories of the NBA Lockout including NY escort service whose biz is down 30%

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) November 21, 2011
The story took off. Business Insider picked up the escort angle and turned it into a post of its own. So did Yahoo, Slam, Pro Basketball Talk, and many others. (Somehow, we missed this one.)

On Monday, Tim sent us an email, explaining what he'd done. Why had he waited all these months? He says he had forgotten about it, until a friend had texted him out of the blue and told him to send it to us. And what did his friend say?

"He said he's just such a douche on twitter all the time he just got fed up," Tim says in an email, "which I agree with."
Gee, this almost makes me want to join Twitter, given how easy it is to fool the fools whom the bigger fools in the teevee audience actually think know what the fuck they are talking about.

Bonus: "Turn off the's killing us, we never speak"

WTF Sunday: When the Going Gets Weird the Weird Turn Pro

One of the dangers of writing a blog like this is making too much out of any one individual story and extrapolating it out as if it is some kind of sign that the final crack up boom of our decadent and depraved society is imminent. Nevertheless, in sifting through my usual Internet haunts this past week it sure seems like there have been far more than the usual number of, Holy Mother of Christ What the FUCK? stories appearing as of late. More than just the face eating "zombie" down in Miami, although that was fucking mind blowing enough even to me...and I've got a pretty damn twisted sense of humor.

Anyway, as a little departure on what is normally the quietest blogging day of the week, I thought it might be fun to link to some of the weirdest stories I've recently run across that haven't received as much attention as the South Florida Face Muncher. Most of these were courtesy of Gawker and Fark, two sites I make sure to peruse nearly every day. Like I said, I've got a twisted sense of humor.

Dumbass Twitterers Make Threats to Kill Scott Walker
On Tuesday night, millions of people on Twitter were talking about the recall election in Wisconsin, in which Republican Governor Scott Walker beat his Democratic challenger Tom Barrett. Some were gleeful; some were despondent. And some were violent: "KILL SCOTT WALKER KILL SCOTT WALKER KILL SCOTT WALKER KILL SCOTT WALKER KILL SCOTT WALKER KILL SCOTT WALKER! Ole Bitch Ass Pig Ass Nigga!!!!" tweeted a fellow named @__SupaMcNASTY__.

@__SupaMcNASTY__ has since deleted his Twitter account; I have no clue if he was contacted by the police. But at least one other Twitter user says he did — @SeXXX_Symbol_, who wrote that "Somebody need to Abe Lincoln Scott Walker cave frog lookin ass."

But where @SeXXX_Symbol_ garnered attention, and apparently a visit, from the police, @DomoSoloDolo, or "FatBitchess&GoodWeed," author of the tweet "I wanna kill scott walker so fucking baddd!!!!!" seems to have been left alone. So was @Prototypeisgame, who wrote "Please somebody kill Scott Walker." (All have deleted their offending tweets. Neither @SeXXX_Symbol_ nor @DomoSoloDolo responded to my questions about the police.)
Teen ‘Proves’ Manhood By Shooting Self in the Head After Challenge from Web Chat Instigator
"His manhood or his ego was challenged and he said something along the lines of ‘I'll show you'," Gallagher told the local Daily News. "He thought he was clowning around, trying to shock the other party on the Internet site."
America’s Criminals Now Relying on Yahoo! Answers for Murder Tips
...according to police, while Mensch was sleeping on the floor of Ayers' rented room, Okrzesik was using her phone to Google how to kill her.

At 3:09 a.m. on March 24, Okrzesik (or someone using her phone) sent a text that said "she's laying on my floor LMAO."

At 3:36, she sent another text asking another friend if he knew anywhere to get crack. (The friend responded "what hell no.")

3:38 -- Google search for "chemicals to passout a person"

Yahoo! Answers page opened: "What kind of chemicals make people sleep/pass out?

Yahoo! Answers page opened: "Whats on those rags that make people pass out?"

3:39 -- search for "making people faint"

Wikipedia entry opened: "Suicide methods"

Wikipedia entry opened: "Murder-suicide"

3:40 -- Google search for "ways to kill people in their sleep"

3:41 -- forum entry opened. Police documents say the title was "could you kill someone in their sleep and no one would think it was murder," but the only forum entry I could confirm was "could you kill someone in their sleep and no one would think it was you."

3:42 -- article opened: "The 7 Most Insane Things People Have Done While Sleepwalking."

Blog post opened: "Ways to Kill Someone With Your Bare Hands"

3:43 -- Google search for "how to suffocate someone"

3:44 -- Google search for "how to poison someone"

3:44 -- Blog post opened: "Thirteen ways to poison someone"
(The only web page I can find that corresponds to "Thirteen ways to poison someone" is "Thirteen Ways to Poison Someone... On Paper," which is a post containing tips to aspiring authors about how to get rid of characters in their stories.)

That blog post was the last activity on Okrzesik's phone for the rest of the night. Police say Mensch was killed "minutes" later.
Octomom Porno Movie Sadly Still On
Luckily for someone I'm sure, Suleman's spat with the strip club won't impact her solo porn film, which was recently picked up for distribution by Wicked Pictures.

"I owe a lot to Wicked Pictures contract star Jessica Drake," Suleman said in a statement. "She opened up my eyes to a whole world of self-pleasure that I could never have imagined." Thanks a lot, Jessica.
It Took Taco Bell Ten Weeks to Sell 100 Million Doritos Locos Tacos
Taco Bell announced last Friday that its Doritos Locos Tacos — that's a taco with a nacho cheese-flavored Doritos shell — has been sold over 100 million times in the last 10 weeks, becoming the company's most successful product launch ever.
Worst Dad Ever Abandons Daughter After Math Grades Don’t Meet Expectations
The Pennsylvania man reportedly ordered his 16-year-old daughter to pack some clothes and a blanket and then drove her to the intersection of Cheltenham Avenue and Washington Lane in Cheltenham where he left her without a cellphone to fend for herself.

"She was devastated. She wandered quite a ways looking for help. Fortunately, she encountered a minister who stayed with her and called police," said Assistant District Attorney Cara McMenamin, who described the teen as "soft-spoken, extremely serious" and an aspiring classical pianist.
Dear Barack Obama, Please Fire the Cop who Arrested Me for DUI
Yesterday, (Amanda Byrnes) was officially charged with a DUI and since she sideswiped a cop car, attempted to flee the scene, and refused to take a breathalyzer, she can face a maximum of up to 6 months in prison. But since she’s famous, I mean there is “jail overcrowding,” she’ll probably go to jail for a couple hours and then do some handiwork at the County Morgue. Probably.

Anyway, this scared the crap out of Bynes and so she turned to the only law enforcement figure she knew of: The President.

Tuesday evening, Amanda wrote on Twitter, “Hey @BarackObama…I don’t drink. Please fire the cop who arrested me. I also don’t hit and run. The end.”
Over 100,000 Public Elementary School Students To Get Bible Lessons On Killing Unbelievers
In a May 30, 2012 story in The Guardian, journalist Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children reveals that next Fall over 100,000 elementary school students in American public schools will receive explicit coaching on the scriptural justification for killing unbelievers, every last one – drawing on Old Testament scripture that, according to Pennsylvania State professor Philip Jenkins, author of Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses, has historically been used by the Pilgrims to justify slaughtering Native Americans, by Catholics and Protestants to justify slaughtering each other, and during the early 1990s in Rwanda, to justify killing Tutsis.

The genocide lessons – which emphasize that divinely-mandated instructions to kill unbelievers must be carried out thoroughly and without reservation, will be taught next year in “Good News” clubs in over 3200 public schools across America, by the Christian fundamentalist ministry Child Evangelism Fellowship.
School District Proposes Selling 200 Year Old Trees for Harvesting to Raise Money
On Monday night the DeWitt school board decided to take another look at a proposal that would cull huge trees, some that could be 200 years old, in order to plug a $43,000 hole in the district’s budget. The issue will be discussed at a budget hearing June 11, starting at 7 p.m. in board building, 2957 Herbison Road.

Even with the profit from selling the trees, DeWitt schools will still face a $777,000 deficit next year, according to finance director Rob Spagnuolo, and must balance the budget by June 30.

Superintendent John Deiter said after the meeting that, although he saw thinning the trees as a “conservation approach” that will “benefit the overall health of the area,” the budget deficit played a role.

“Our budget definitely is a factor in our decision,” Deiter said. “We’re a people business (and want to make) wise use of natural resources to benefit the most people for the longest time.”

The trees, already marked for removal by a licensed forester with whom the district has signed a contract, stand in the tree lot nearest the school board building.

“These trees are absolutely unique in the state of Michigan, larger than those at Fenner Arboretum or MSU,” retired teacher Larry Arbanas told the board. “Please reconsider cutting them down for the price of a school bus.”

Phil Harner, also a retired teacher, said the tree lot is integral to DeWitt hands-on science classes and cautioned that loss of the canopy provided by the tallest trees will greatly affect everything that grows underneath.
Man Shoots Mama Bear, Tries to Sell Her Cubs at Gas Station
Fish and Game officials in California's Nevada County were alerted by passers-by to a man allegedly attempting to unload a pair of bear cubs at a local gas station in North San Juan Wednesday afternoon.

"I've never seen anything like this in the State of California," remarked Department of Fish and Game spokesman Patrick Foy.

Chris Puett told investigators the cubs' mother had charged toward him on his property and he was forced to shoot her.
North Carolina Woman Arrested for Castrating Man With Her Bare Hands
A 35-year-old North Carolina woman was arrested last weekend for allegedly castrating a man with her bare hands, according to the Shelby Star.

The woman, Joyce Maxine Gregory, is accused of forcibly “squeezing a man’s testicle out of his scrotum” after the two got into an altercation early Saturday morning. The 59-year-old man told police he went outside to call 911, at which point Gregory came after him and grabbed him by the scrotum so hard it resulted in castration.

Police summoned to the scene found Gregory inside the home where the altercation had occurred, and immediately arrested her. Once inside the police car, however, Gregory reportedly removed her pants and urinated on the backseat.
So, what will NEXT week bring? Stay tuned.

Bonus: All aboard

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saturday Music Videos: Crime Music

For tonight's Saturday Night Music Video feature, I thought I'd do a theme. From Chris Knight and Stacey Dean Campbell, here are two harrowing first-person narrative folk songs about street crimes as seen through the eyes of the perpetrators.


Some Good News for a Change: Greenpeace Punks Shell Oil

Many thanks to reader johnnyboy41 at the Hubbert's Arm discussion forum for alerting me to this story.
Genuine good news stories seem to be few and far between these days. But here's one from the Huffington Post:
Greenpeace, the Yes Lab, and members of the Occupy movement are claiming responsibility for a set of actions that have focused intense attention on Shell's Arctic drilling program.

"This experience shows that a few energized people can compete with the billions that Shell spends on advertising and lobbying," said James Turner from Greenpeace, who posed as an advertising executive at the event. "As people find out how this oil company is exploiting global warming to cause yet more global warming, thus endangering everyone, they won't allow it, no matter how many billions Shell has in its war chest."

The centerpiece of the action was a lavish party in the Space Needle, in which a model of an Arctic-bound oil rig "accidentally" spewed liquid in the face of the rig designer's "widow"—actually 84-year-old Occupy activist Dorli Rainey, well-known for having been brutally pepper-sprayed in the face by Seattle Police during Occupy protests last fall.

A one-minute video (see below) of that "malfunction," shot by Occupy "infiltrator" Logan Price, quickly reached the top spot on Reddit and the #2 spot on Youtube, with a half-million views in less than 24 hours.

"We know that climate change is putting the entire planet at risk," said Rainey. "It's our duty to stop companies like Shell from using fossil fuels as a lethal weapon—even if it means being sprayed again and again in the face."

As Shell denied, with disappointing blandness, having had anything to do with the party or the "malfunction," the Yes Lab sent out a press release on Shell's behalf, threatening anyone who reposted the video and attacking also the activists' brand-new website, which includes a social media ad generator and a dangerously addictive children's video game called Angry Bergs. The fake Shell release generated additional media coverage.

Earlier this year, Shell obtained a legal injunction stopping any Greenpeace activist from coming within 1km of any Shell vessel. To thank the company, Greenpeace teamed up with the Yes Lab to plan a promotional advertising campaign for Shell's Arctic drilling efforts, which Shell prefers to keep quiet. Besides the ill-fated ceremony and the website, the campaign includes a number of other elements that will shadow Shell's summer Arctic destruction campaign.

The device which sprayed Rainey's face was a model of Shell's drill rig, the Kulluk, which is set to soon depart Seattle for the Arctic. The Kulluk was built-in 1983 by Mitsui, the same company that, two decades later, built the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon. Earlier this year, Mitsui paid out $90 million to the U.S. for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Q: What Happened to the Economic Recovery? A: There Never WAS a "Recovery"

Sometimes the stupidity that spews forth regarding the economy is so strong that it literally makes my head hurt. Case in point was a story published on Thursday by Talking Points Memo with the title, "What Happened to the Economic Recovery?" I should have ignored it and just gone about my business as I no doubt would have been happier that way, but because TPM is a opinion and investigative journalism site that represents mainstream liberal and progressive "thinking" I just couldn't help myself.

Things started off on the wrong foot right out of the gate in the first paragraph:
For several months starting late last year, it looked like Morning in America was finally back upon us. Unemployment claims were dropping dramatically, businesses were adding hundreds of thousands of jobs, and it looked like the country was in the midst of a self-sustaining economic recovery.
Morning in America? Even putting aside the recent zombie hysteria, the last four years have looked to anyone who is actually paying attention to be closer to Dawn of the Dead. It's been a "zombie recovery," propped up by the insane loose money policies of the Federal reserve combined with an unsustainable level of federal deficit spending.

So why the laughable reference to the tired old Reagan campaign bromide?
Some economists saw a boom coming. They believed years of depressed economic activity had created a huge pent-up demand for automobiles, housing, and other major purchases. The spending dam was about to burst. This is the business-cycle theory of how recessions end on their own. Eventually, stuff needs to be replaced.
I guess "some economists" missed the rather glaring data which has shown that American households literally lost trillions of dollars in home equity and stock values in the wake of the 2008 crash, and that overall employment levels remain mired well below the December 2007 peak. The basic rule is so simple that I can't believe I have to say it: people can't spend money if they don't have money to spend and are not creditworthy enough to borrow it. No doubt the brief boomlet probably represented some still employed people making previously deferred purchases, but quite obviously there are not enough such people to make the "recovery" sustainable.

So, who are these "some economists" and why did they blow this call so dramatically?
But the surge didn’t last, and just as quickly as the economy grew, it slowed back down again.

Now one of the forecasters who publicly predicted a sustainable recovery says a combination of economic headwinds and poor timing pre-empted a turn toward high growth. More importantly, he no longer believes the ingredients for swift growth exist to turn the country around quickly.

“The factors are still there but my confidence that they’ll come together and burst into a big ramp up and drive the economy into equilibrium — I’m much less sure about that now,” said Karl Smith, an economist at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government, and author of the blog Modeled Behavior in a Wednesday telephone interview.

A few months back, Smith believed the economy was poised for a breakthrough. Rents were soaring, as were used car prices — both signs of pent-up demand — and that presaged a simultaneous boom in new car sales and apartment development. It didn’t quite sync up.

“What I think I missed was how fast multi-family housing would be able to ramp up,” Smith admits. “it was at a much gentler pace than I thought … So that’s been delayed. We’ve seen maybe a 60 or 70 percent rise, but we’re not back to the level we were before the crisis despite the huge number of renters we have.”

But to really make the transition from slow to rapid growth, many economic waves have to crest simultaneously.
Excuse me, but RENTS were soaring and USED car prices were rising? THAT'S what led dimwitted economist Karl Smith to predict a strong recovery? Has this moron been asleep for the past 30 years? Americans don't rent apartments and buy used cars when they are feeling flush, they BUY HOUSES and BRAND NEW CARS, preferably McMansions and big ol' gas guzzling Minivans and SUVs. Instead of these trends portending a recovery, they more likely indicated a segment of financially stressed but still employed workers, perhaps those that found lower paying jobs after having been laid off and spending time on unemployment, permanently lowering their expectations. And THAT doesn't signal a recovery but much more trouble ahead for the economy.

But don't worry, Smith has a handy set of excuses for why he was wrong:
Outside forces didn’t help. State and local government worker layoffs continued, the crisis in Europe re-emerged, and Fed officials signaled weak commitment to fostering the recovery.

“As things started to pick up in the beginning of the year, [Fed officials] started talking about how they may have to raise rates earlier,” Smith said. “That did give a sense to people in the financial markets that credit could really start tightening. That could be part of the reason why housing and apartments had a harder time finding financing. I don’t think everything was going to be great if that hadn’t happened, but they contributed another headwind. It was shockingly unhelpful.”

Absent some new catalyst, Smith says it’s hard to imagine the economy will jumpstart itself.

“The European situation is only going to be a headwind in the opposite direction, so we’d need a bigger kick.”
I realize that as a lonely blogger sitting on the couch in my basement I am but a mere pimple on TPM's ass, but nevertheless I would like to offer them some advice. The next time they decide to do an article about the state of the economy, they might be much better served if they didn't completely rely on an interview with a supposed expert who just admitted that he doesn't have a clue as to what the fuck he's talking about.

Bonus: The real morning in America

Friday, June 8, 2012

Spoiled Rotten Nation: Infrastructure Must Be Paid for Somehow

Every once in awhile, a news story comes along that perfectly illustrates the concept of what I call, Spoiled Rotten Nation: people want government services, but they don't want to pay for them. Here is a Las Vegas television station with the story of citizen outrage at having been asked to pay for the services they actually use:
Clark County Commissioners got an earful today from people who got huge water bills in May thanks to fees meant to pay huge bills for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

At the emotional meeting, non-profit groups, small business owners and residents said they can't afford new fees for services they once got for free.

Homeowner Mary Jo Aldeman said, "I feel as though we're being raped."

Commissioners, sitting as the water district board, claim the public was informed about the new fees approved in February. But, it was clear from the impassioned outpouring that while most were aware of the five dollar hike for residential customers, many were not aware of new fees for fire lines and fire meters until they got new, huge bills.

Brian Aldeman, with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce said, "You're seeing a bill go from zero to 660 dollars if you have a 10 inch fire meter. That's a tremendous impact"

Small business owner Leslie Dunn said, "This new business that we're opening up? We've already had to cut one new position simply because of charge. This added four hundred and something dollars to the bill."

Matt Frady of Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada told the commission, "We have projected that our costs for these first three years will be 300 percent of our current water bills."

Water authority head Pat Mulroy said she understands the sticker shock, but the agency is stuck too.

According to Mulroy, "This isn't an extraordinary charge.Cities across the country charge for fire lines. They have to. It's too much of an infrastructure burden"

Fire lines and fire meters used to be covered by connection fees. Those fees disappeared when the economy tanked.
But small business owners and non-profits say, their businesses will tank, and some residents fear they'll lose their homes, if they're forced to pay the water authority's $3-point-3 billion dollar bill for infrastructure costs, including a third intake pipe at Lake Mead.
To all those who are upset about receiving these bills, you really have a simple choice: pay them or stop receiving municipal water. Good luck with drilling a deep enough well out in the middle of the desert.

Providing you with the water costs a lot of money, and who else would you recommend pay on your behalf? You should actually feel grateful that it is your local government providing you the water at cost rather than some private corporation at a profit, because then I guarantee your bills would be a LOT higher than they already are.

Bonus: "There ain't no water here to be found"

Nazi Germany’s Example and the Future of America (Part 4): Arthur Nebe Vs John Yoo

Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler’s favorite architect and later Armaments Minister during World War Two, has often been described as “The Good Nazi” because he was intelligent, charming, was not directly involved in any of the genocidal policies of the regime and actually tried to save Germany from Hitler’s insane destruction orders issued while the Russian tanks were closing in on the Fuhrerbunker in the spring of 1945. Speer’s biography makes for fascinating reading because it is pretty obvious that had he been born 30 years later he no doubt would have become one of Germany’s leading lights instead of ending up a convicted war criminal serving two decades of his life in Spandau prison.

Speer’s example begs a question: is it advisable for someone who retains at least some sense of ethics and humanity, but serves a regime hell bent on destruction, to remain in power believing that if they resign whoever takes their place will be worse? Or does it really not matter either way? Speer himself, while there is no evidence of his direct complicity in the Holocaust, did give orders as Armaments Minister that resulted in the horrific torture, abuse and deaths of many slave laborers the Nazis were forced to use to keep the war machine running in the desperate days after the Battle of Stalingrad.

For purposes of this discussion, however, I would like to focus on a German official who was actually a bit farther down the food chain. SS Gruppenfuhrer Arhur Nebe is another fascinating case of a man, unlike many of the notorious thugs who served the Nazi regime, who had he lived at a different time would have likely borne a far more positive posthumous reputation than that of a mass murderer. Nebe was a professional law enforcement officer, and he was good enough at it that he was installed as Berlin Police Commissioner in 1924 when he was just 30 years old.

Tragically for Nebe, he joined the Nazi party and Heinrich Himmler’s SS in 1931, two years before Hitler even came to power. One might have inferred from his not having been a “March Violet” (those who joined the Nazi Party immediately after Hitler’s ascension to power) Nebe was an ardent National Socialist and vicious anti-Semite, but he in fact seems to have been motivated more by career enhancement than any inherent malevolence. At any rate, Nebe started to sour on the new regime as early as late 1933 after he was ordered to liquidate Gregor Strasser, Hitler’s rival for power within the party as the head of its “Socialist” wing.

At that moment in time, Nebe had a choice to make: resign from his post in protest or continue to work within the system. He fatefully chose the latter option, and by 1941 found himself serving as the commander of one of the SS’s notorious Einsatzgruppen units on the Eastern front in Belorussia, directly carrying out mass exterminations of Jews, communists and other “asocial elements.” Even more appallingly, Nebe’s unit was among the first to experiment with the use of poison gas to exterminate prisoners, a tactic which helped greatly inflate the final body count of the Holocaust.

However horrified Nebe may have been at performing this duty, and there is evidence that he actually attempted to reduce the total number of killings by his own men, by the time he returned from the East to become the President of Interpol in 1942 his hands were indelibly stained with the blood of his many victims. Nevertheless, Nebe subsequently joined in the conspiracies against Hitler, and was part of the plot to assassinate the Fuhrer in July 1944. Shortly after the failed attempt on Hitler's life he was arrested and eventually executed in March 1945 as the war was drawing to its conclusion.

So what does Nebe’s example mean for those of us who are concerned about the direction in which America appears to be headed as a nation? Nebe was born and raised in Imperial Germany, and began his career as a police officer during the Weimar Republic. There is nothing in his early history to indicate that he would so flagrantly depart from the ethics of his chosen profession under the Nazi regime. Yet despite his growing private opposition to Hitler, he countenanced ever more flagrant abuses of power until such time as he himself became complicit in committing history’s most notorious genocide.

Now compare Nebe’s example to that of John Yoo, who while working in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2001-2003, according to Wikipedia:
...played an important role in developing a legal justification for the Bush administration's policy in the war on terrorism, arguing that prisoner of war status under the Geneva Conventions does not apply to "enemy combatants" captured during the war in Afghanistan and held at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, asserting executive authority to undertake waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" regarded as torture by the current Justice Department. Yoo also argued that the president was not bound by the War Crimes Act and provided a legal opinion backing the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program.
In fairness to Yoo, he is not the only attorney who has given such advice to presidents in the wake of 9/11. Even today, lawyers for the Obama administration have been providing the legal cover for his drone missile bombing and assassination campaigns. Yoo and the others are highly educated Americans, among the best and brightest one might say, who graduated from our top universities and law schools. And yet, in their quest to have a seat at the table in the inner sanctum of power they have been perfectly willing to cast aside any notions of professional ethics or even basic human decency. How many of them have qualms about what they are doing, but justify it based on the idea that if they don’t do it somebody else will? We may never know.

Of course, it is a huge leap from authoring Bush’s notorious “torture memo” to actually becoming the commander of a death squad as Nebe did. As I pointed out in my previous essays on this subject, however, the Holocaust didn’t happen overnight, but was a nearly decade long decision making process in which the repression against the Jewish population of Europe worsened along with the larger political tensions and then the widening of the world war. When one has started down the road of considering that a “leader,” be they a president or a dictator, has the legal right to indefinitely detain, torture or kill anyone who is perceived as a “threat,” one has created the conditions that make possible a gradual increase in the repression of the general population. In Nazi Germany, the terror eventually turned on its own (non-Jewish) citizens as it become obvious that the war was lost. There is no reason to believe something similar will not happen on our own shores as the economic crisis generated by peak oil and resource depletion continues to worsen and it becomes plainly apparent that our “way of life” is not only negotiable, but completely unsustainable.

How many Arthur Nebes and Albert Speers do we have living in America today, who will keep the faith in what they are doing long past the point when it should be obvious that the regime they serve is increasingly becoming out of control? There is no way to know for sure, but I would bet that such men (and women) are more the rule than the exception.

Previous: Nazi Germany’s Example and the Future of America (Part 3): The Hologram Vs. The Propaganda Ministry

Nazi Germany’s Example and the Future of America (Part 2)

Nazi Germany’s Example and the Future of America (Part 1)

Bonus: "Don't be stupid, be a smarty...come and join the Nazi Party"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Strauss Discount Auto Shutting Down All 46 Stores

From North
Strauss Discount Auto, the 93-year-old company founded in Newark, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the fourth time, closing all 46 of its stores, including 24 in New Jersey.

The troubled auto-parts retailer formerly known as R&S Strauss abruptly shuttered its retail outlets - including two shops in Wayne, and others in Bergenfield, East Rutherford, Lodi and Passaic - and filed its petition in federal bankruptcy court in Newark Tuesday. The company also dismissed 580 employees, according to the Chapter 11 filing.

On Wednesday afternoon at the Strauss Auto store on Route 23 in Wayne, two signs on its doors said, "This store is closed." The signs also advised customers with inquiries to call 800-787-4554, Strauss's regular customer-service line.

The recording didn't mention the Chapter 11 filing. It merely said, "You have reached Strauss Auto ... We are on the line right now attending to other calls, but want to address your issue." It then asks customers to leave a message.

In Wayne, where the parking lot was empty and no one was inside, the signs also advised store managers to contact their "DM," district manager, and for store associates to contact their store manager.

In addition to its New Jersey shops, Strauss Discount Auto closed 19 stores in New York City metro area and three in Pennsylvania, according to the filing. Strauss president Joseph Catalano also explained some of the reasons for the company's latest financial woes.

"Increased power, gas and fuel costs have caused consumers to delay vehicle service and replacement expenditures," Catalano said in a filing. "Mild winter weather also resulted in a disappointing 2011-2012 winter selling season and a subsequent decline in spring business due to a lack of winter driving conditions."
One would think that with people not being able to afford to buy as many new cars and keeping their old ones longer that car repair would be a booming business. Not so much, however, if drivers are becoming financially tapped out. It's scary to think that many people are putting off vital maintenance and that their cars may thus be more likely to break down in heavy traffic. Chalk it up as yet another dire example of our crumbling transportation infrastructure.

Bonus: From my You Tube channel - another little ditty about driving

New "Reality" Show Treats Evictions As Entertainment

If you read my blog on a regular basis, you might get the impression that I hold out no hope of our sick civilization managing to save itself. You would be right in that assumption, and from the Raw Story, here is yet another reason why:
A U.S. cable channel best known for featuring mixed martial arts fighting and video games is preparing to launch a show based upon another, decidedly less visible American contact sport: evictions.

“World’s Worst Tenants” will feature crazy-but-true stories, as recounted and apparently acted out by professional evictor Todd Howard and his team of… other evictors. Just don’t call them thugs.

“Howard and his team take viewers behind closed doors into the most heated, high-stakes disputes between landlords and their tenants,” the show’s website explains. “Each mission documents the process and procedure that allows this no-holds-barred team to operate within legal guidelines to resolve each case on behalf of their clients.”

Don’t call it a “reality” show, either. “The series showcases the most compelling stories in his career through reenactments of many of the actual confrontations that Howard and his team have experienced over the years,” the site adds.

Evictions and home foreclosures have become a hot-button political issue since the 2008 economic crisis engulfed Wall Street firms that had leveraged too much risky debt. Protesters with the “Occupy” movement in the U.S., and other groups in countries around the world, have taken to staging sit-in demonstrations during foreclosures and evictions as a way of not only protecting their neighbors, but also making a point about economic fairness and income inequality.

It’s not clear why Spike TV decided to go with reenactments of actual evictions as opposed to a “Dog the Bounty Hunter” style ride-along show. Spike TV producers did not respond to Raw Story’s request for comment.

Spike TV will air the first episode of “World’s Worst Tenants” on Tuesday, June 12.
So what next? Maybe we can send a camera crew into mental hospitals and film the patients having psychotic episodes and seizures. Won't that be great for a fucking laugh?

Bonus: "Kill your television"