Thursday, December 22, 2011

The End of Unions to Come by January 1?

This is a very striking piece about how corporations and the GOP are fighting the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), over requiring businesses to put up a poster informing workers on what their rights are (to collectively bargain, join a union, etc.) and what actions employers are prohibited from taking against their employees.  In this economy, I believe that most employees are scared shitless and wouldn't dare to do many of these things, poster or no poster.  But for the top 1% to not even want their employees to know what their rights are...  As a coworker of mine would say, "tragic". 

Anyway, a potentially larger story is nearly hidden in the closing paragraphs.  Several articles linked to in the story report on the fact that the NLRB has been under assault for decades by mainly Republicans, in an attempt to undermine their abilities to enforce labor law and to protect unionization.  In the latest development, the Supreme Court ruled last year that the NLRB needed at least 3 members on its board in order to be operational.  Due to Republican filibusters in the Senate to prevent voting on new members to the board, Obama has had to make emergency appointments in order to keep the board active.  After one member's term is up on December 31, there will not be enough members on the board for its rulings to be valid.  The potential of this is huge.  As the New York Times points out in an op-ed,

Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions. 

Do not take this to mean that I am strictly pro-union.  I have my own issues with them, probably the biggest being that their missions to raise wages and benefits for its members, noble as they undoubtedly are, are going to be unrealistic in the new world that we are slowly waking up to.  Peak Everything will affect everyone, and a rising standard of living for union members will no longer be possible, like it was in the mid to late 20th century.  But they are a bulwark for workers, sometimes a shitty bulwark, but a bulwark nonetheless.  I have read and seen countless corporate propaganda over the years, stating that employees don't need unions, that the businesses have an "open-door" policy, that they look out for their workers.  And I can tell you that it's bullshit.  The only goal for business is to make money.  They couldn't give two shits about their employees.  Okay, I'm getting off my soapbox now.  Anyway, I think the best objective for unions, rather than aiming for a higher standard of living for its members, is to protect them from arbitrary actions by their employers, and to ensure that the upper echelons of management aren't being rewarded with wheelbarrows of cash and company cars while the rank-and-file get nothing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

I came home yesterday morning to the news that the brilliant essayist Christopher Hitchens had passed from complications from throat cancer, at 62.  I have spent the entire morning reading tributes and obits to him; there's a helpful Yahoo! article here that contains links to these, as well as a fine tribute all in itself. 

I have not really read a lot of Hitch in recent years, but at the dawn of my political awakening (I have long since fallen back into a proud slumber, hopefully never to re-awaken), I was pretty blown away by a couple of books he had written in the late 90's--early 2000s, dealing with the ethical and moral failings of (then) President Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger.  He had an explosive way with words and was never afraid to offend either right or left.  That is what I'll take away from him, rather than his proud atheism, which is heavily emphasized in the obits.  It's a true gift to possess, when you can write something that polarizes everybody, and can alienate a lot of people, while those same people are still nonetheless impressed by what you are writing and find it worthwhile to read.  I felt that way when he presented himself as an ardent supporter of the invasion of Iraq.  While I did not agree with his position, I still looked forward to reading his views on the matter; I now remember even reading a very small book that was published, that consisted of his essays on the Iraq invasion (entitled A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq).  That would usually be unthinkable, like a staunch leftist reading a tome by Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter, or a dyed-in-the-wool rightwinger reading something by Michael Moore, but again, Hitchens had that gift.  He was such a gifted, informed writer that you needed to hear his thoughts on a particular topic, even if you came away red in the face and mumbling curses after reading it.  

I'm hoping to eventually read more of his works, especially God is Not Great and Hitch-22, his autobiography. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Now Legal

The National Defense Authorization Act is a federal law that has been enacted for the past 48 years to specify the budget of the U.S. Department of Defense.  In this year's budget, which is voted on by Congress, comes a nasty provision that allows indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without due process.  This budget was just passed by the U.S. Senate.  As shown by this list, an overwhelming majority voted "yea" on the bill, including the 2 senators who supposedly represent me as a New York resident, Gillibrand and Schumer.  This has received truly bipartisan support, so for those of you who still think that there's a significant difference between the two parties, this evidence should be enough to prove otherwise. 

We have officially reached the nadir as a country, now on par with the worst proclivities of totalitarian states.   Like in some of these countries, which many of our luminaries still trash regularly for their repression of their own citizens, we too now live in a place where it is possible to be imprisoned indefinitely for little more than your neighbor pointing your finger at you and labeling you as a "terrorist" to the proper authorities.  And this is under a President that has a "D" label following his name.  Bush/Cheney clamored for years to have something of this nature passed, but it took a Democratic president to make it into law.

I think a key factor behind this being able to get passed now, rather than in the Bush years, is the economy is grinding down to such an extent that there is now noticeable public outcry that can no longer be ignored.  I am speaking, of course, of the OWS movement.  Under this bill, an OWSer can be swept up in a police sweep and can be sent to some kind of federal facility (or even Gitmo) under the filmsy pretense of having the potential to inflict violence at some point in the future. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Financial Woes Make it to Scripted TV

I read this article on, and decided to leave a comment on it.  I actually do this quite a bit, and I don't usually post what I write here, but after looking it over, I was a little impressed with myself and the points I made (arrogant, I know).  So I decided to post my comment on the blog as well.  The article is about how the entertainment television industry is finally making shows about working people.  But as I point out, I found this more than a little disingenuous. 

The thing that really turns me off about these kinds of shows, is that the only way the entertainment media seems to be able to reflect the reality of hard economic times and poverty, is to make light of it, to make it into a joke.  It shows how detached from reality the people who greenlight these shows really are.  They see things like people losing their jobs to outsourcing, and come up with an idea for a half-hour comedy about it (there was a comedy on last year called, yes, "Outsourced").  Or young people not being able to gain traction in the job market due to the staggering economy and the crippling student loan debt, and they go "hey, let's make something funny out of that", and you get "2 Broke Girls" on CBS. 

I think the motivating factor is that the corporate media does not want people to think too seriously about these things; this might motivate them to get angry and organized.  So the assertion the writer makes at the beginning of the article, on how the TV industry is finally making shows about working people rather than about cops and doctors, is more than a little disingenuous.  Yes, they are making shows about working people, but these shows aren't seriously addressing the many struggles the working poor face on a daily basis or are carrying a message that many can relate to.  It's taking their misery, their failures to pay their bills and raise their kids, and making it into something for people watching their TVs to laugh at.  The more I think about it, the more disgusted I get. 

Not to say that there aren't serious dramatic works that deal with the subject matter of the economic crisis we're in.  Take the new movie "Margin Call" with Kevin Spacey, the docudrama "Too Big to Fail" with William Hurt and Paul Giamatti, the sequel to "Wall Street", etc.  But the dramas I mentioned aren't about working people; they're about the ethical and moral travails of the top one percent as they navigate through the crisis.  As good as these films are, I can't remotely relate to the characters.  What's the worse that will happen to them, they won't be able to buy that yacht they want?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No Country for Old Men

This is a really, really good post from Bill Hicks about the challenges and perils facing the elderly in the oncoming collapse.  As grim as the future may look for the rest of us, it is really going to bite hard for old people.  At least most of us have the physical wherewithal and mental well-being to possibly adapt to these changing events, as challenging as that process will undoubtedly be.  Plus, we have the advantage of not living our entire lives in a BAU paradigm.  Many of our elderly, unless they were born before or around the Great Depression, have lived their lives in relative luxury, expect to retire comfortably (provided they aren't already) and have a mindset in which economic and social collapse are the furthest thing from many of their minds.  Bill provides many great reasons for why our elderly are in for a rude awakening.  In addition to the reasons you'd expect (insolvency of our few safety nets, especially SS and Medicare), he also points out our decaying transit infrastructure, piss-poor public transit (if it exists at all, and in many parts of the country, it does not), and the atomization of our society (people constantly moving around, and away from their parents). 

Another aspect I'd like to add, although it can be strictly abstract, is the potential for intergenerational warfare.  I think, as resource constraints really clamp down on us, be it within the next year or two, the next decade, or later, younger generations are going to be really fucking pissed off at the generations before them.  We were able to grasp the fruits of these great, energy-rich resources, and pissed them away on structures and activities that had a limited shelf-life, leaving next-to-nothing for the children of tomorrow to hang on to.  In turn, currently, there are a lot of old people who simply cannot relate to the struggles that the present-day young are facing.  They look at our problems in finding gainful employment, and think "what the fuck is our problem?"  This was symbolized perfectly by the presidential candidate Herman Cain, when he was addressing the matter of the Occupy Wall Street movement and remarked that it was "their own fault" that they were not able to succeed.  Many of the Baby Boomers aren't able to grasp that their relative success in life wasn't so much a result of their hard work and efforts, but that they lived in a time of massive abundance, and in which there was plenty for everybody.  As the pie is shrinking, those at the top are still taking their big slice, but this time, there isn't enough for everybody.  And there are a lot more people now than there were then.

So there is a huge potential for this facet of collapse to play out, IMO.  The question is whether it'll be limited to cold stares and a few harsh words amongst the generations, or if it'll escalate in a few cases.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Freemium" Gaming

Over the past year or so, I've come to appreciate the game of golf, which I never thought I would do.  No, I don't literally go to the nearest club and hit the links.  I play golf video games.  A lot of them are very accessible to the layman, like the Hot Shots Golf series.  Another one I really enjoy is a series called "Let's Golf" for mobile devices.  I have the 1st one for my iPod and the 2nd one for the Nintendo 3DS.  Between them, they were less than $10 and I was impressed by the replay value.  The gameplay tends to be more forgiving than the Hot Shots series, and the 2nd one has a cool, RPG-style level-up system. 

I had just seen that the 3rd one was now available in the App Store, and even saw that it was FREE!  I figured I stumbled into a limited-time offer; BTW, the reason why I love games on the iPod is that they are usually very affordable and their graphics could rival Nintendo's and Sony's offerings (I think gaming on mobile devices like iPod, Android, cell phones, etc. will be the death knell for Nintendo and Sony as far as portable gaming goes).  So I was excited and downloaded the game.  And then I read the reviews.

Let's Golf 3 has what is called a "freemium" system.  "Freemium" means offering the initial game free-of-charge, and then charging for advanced features, or merely to progress further in the game.  In "Let's Golf 3", you are given a certain amount of "energy", which you use every time you play a hole.  Once you use up the "energy", you either have to wait an hour for it to recharge or pay for more energy using in-game cash (which is utilized either by playing well, or paying for the in-game cash with actual money).

Opinions seem to be mixed, but they're veering towards the negative side of the spectrum.  I must hang my hat there as well.  I'm a lifelong gamer, and am used to paying for games.  When I pay for a game, I am used to having unlimited access to it.  In this case, I'd rather pay the $2 or $5 or $10 for the latest Let's Golf and be able to play as many holes as I please, without having to wait an hour for my "energy" to fill up (or having to pay to fill it up).  I have not tried it out yet, and now am not sure that I will.  I heard that under this model, you can play one hole of golf an hour; that's right, not a round, a hole!

Oh, and to really add insult to injury, Gameloft (the makers of Let's Golf) have removed the first two games in the series from the App Store.  These games were not "freemium" games, they were full-featured games that provided hours of fun for a very low price.  I'm thankful I have the games, and I don't have to wait an hour to play a hole either. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Life Without Electricity

I read a comment that someone made once about electricity and how we have come to know it in our lives.  He/she referred to electricity as society's "central nervous system".  Meaning, that in those rare instances when the grid fails, our collective central nervous systems are hopelessly impaired, to the point where we barely know up from down.  For much of history, societies have not known this level of dependency.  In fact, energy use as we've come to know it (appliances like washing machines and entertainment devices like televisions) did not really come into fruition until the year 1953, approximately.

There are many converging events that should lead to a discussion on our use of energy, like peak oil and the earthquake/tsunami in Japan.  And some people, as evidenced by this Energy Bulletin article, are already pursuing a "non-electric" lifestyle, not by merely living without electricity, but by creating inventions that are variations of appliances that have come to be associated with electricity.  A doctor of engineering in Japan has created a refrigerator and a coffee roaster that do not require electricity. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy America

In the month since my last post, OWS has picked up steam and is now in many cities and towns across the country.  I do feel that I should give a bit of a retraction to my last post.  I didn't mean to imply that taking part in these protests was futile or a waste of one's time.  I guess that was a bit of nervousness in my part, as I'd just seen the videos of NYPD beating down protestors and herding them like cattle.  But if you do decide to protest, be very, very careful of the police.  If they become violent, do not respond with violence, as that is their stock-in-trade and you will lose.

These are a set of very nice photos, taken at the Occupy Austin (TX) protest.  Yes, the Occupy rallies have even spread to Texas.  But I do believe that Austin is considered the "liberal" part of Texas, and it's a very small part.  After seeing photos and listening to a podcast that took place at the event, I am beginning to become inspired to take part.  But I've been working every day lately.  I hear that there is a very strong sense of community at these events.  So, as I said, this system will collapse under its own weight eventually, with or without OWS.  But where OWS might be of use, would be that it would create a stronger sense of community, so that it can be possible for us to weather the collapse.  And if there is one thing we are deeply lacking (I know it's many things), it's a sense of community.  We're so segregated from each other, between our living arrangements in the burbs and while driving our cars.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

I'm embarrassed that I haven't posted anything on this story already.  I've been too tired to blog in the past few days, and was going to post yesterday but dozed off.  Anyway, there have been a series of demonstrations called Occupy Wall Street in NYC, and it has started to spread to other parts of America.  I wholeheartedly agree with their message.  In past days, I'd be very tempted to join them, and probably would.  But I've come to believe that nothing short of full-scale collapse will help tame the beasts of governmental and corporate power.  I feel that all the protestors, noble as their goals are, are doing is putting a big spotlight on themselves, and all that will accomplish is having all the wrong people take an interest in you.  After Gitmo and all this other stuff since 9/11, I believe law enforcement will think nothing of "disappearing" U.S. citizens who make too much a habit of questioning and disobeying them, or being violent and being actively involved in shutting down pieces of the system.  As you can see in the videos posted below, you can get in a heap of trouble just by being there and standing peacefully.  What I would suggest to those who want to rebel and fight the system, as an alternative, is to try to live outside of it to the extent that you can.  Do things like bank at a credit union rather than the big banks, grow a little of your own food and spend less on Big Ag's food, things of that nature.

Anyway, a big concern of mine, and one that I'd meant to post of more often than I have but just never got the chance, was how, especially after 9/11 but maybe before that too, you began to see an increasing militarization of law enforcement.  Things like increased involvement of SWAT teams, even in non-violent (drug-related) incidents, searches and seizures of vehicles from things ranging from terrorism alerts to hunting for drunk drivers, herding protestors into certain areas (free-speech zones).  There are no shortage of incidents that can be used as examples of this phenomenon.  I'm watching a TV series right now, "Battlestar Galactica", and in one episode, Adama (played by Edward James Olmos) makes an astute observation:  "the function of the military is to fight the enemies of the state.  The function of the police is to protect the people.  When you combine the two, the enemies become the people."  I feel silly quoting a TV show, but I think that sums up our state of affairs perfectly.  In these videos, you are looked at as an enemy of the state for merely standing up and wanting to be heard.  And while I do think there are good police officers out there, I think a majority of them, albeit a perhaps slim one, are pretty similar to the ones in these videos.  And even the good ones can only be so good.  It reminds me of that quote, "You can't expect a man to understand something if his paycheck depends on his not understanding it."  So the police are the intermediary between the protestor and the state, and the police are being paid by the state, so whose interests do they think they're looking after?

I'm starting to blabber, which I tend to do sometimes, so I'll end it here.  I just wanted to note something interesting.  JPMorgan Chase recently donated more than $4.5 million to the New York City Police Foundation, to "strengthen security".  I don't think additional comment is necessary.  And a group of inactive U.S. Marines are planning to serve as a barrier between the police and the protestors.  So I'm very interested to see how this turns out.  If nothing else, I think the police will act much more carefully; police attacking military might be so outrageous that even the corporate media won't be able to put a kettle big enough to cover it up. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Dream of a Recession

This week, the Internet was abuzz with a BBC interview that took place with a man named Alessio Rastani, a market trader who was brutally candid on the state of the current market, and what you should do next.  It's the kind of stuff you'd read on sites like Zero Hedge and on the doomer forums that I visit.  There has lately been some news stories on how qualified Mr. Rastani is (like this piece in the Telegraph), but I don't think that many people can argue with the underlying premise of what he's saying.  There is an epic shitstorm coming, and it is possible to make money from that.  And people exist, in Wall Street and in other inner corridors of power, who do not give a shit about people, governments, nations, the world.  All they care about is making profit.  And Mr. Rastani gives a very skillful lecture on this, in a mere three minutes.  And kudos to the BBC for having this; you'd never see this on CNBC.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cash Sales of Precious Metals Banned in France

Soon after discovering the news of our imminent collapse, I was looking to become what they call a "goldbug" (someone who procures and collects gold, or other precious metals, like silver).  This was when I still had some money and gold was relatively cheap compared to where it's at now.  Alas, things happened, I wasn't able to capitalize on the opportunity, and now it's too late.  I have some practical questions as to what the value of gold really is, but that is for another post, if ever. 

But I'd say that this is further evidence that the collapse is real and that governments are becoming increasingly concerned and looking to make it more difficult for the average Joe to procure PM's.  France has just enacted a law mandating that any purchase of metal (including gold and silver) over 450 Euros ($600 USD) must be paid via credit card or bank wire transfer.  It is no longer legal to pay over that amount, in cash.  

I know that in tenuous times, the holding of gold becomes increasingly viewed upon by the proper authorities, like in the Great Depression, when FDR signed an Executive Order forbidding the hoarding of gold.  This appears to be in the same pattern, although in a more clandestine and preemptive way (the French's primary motivation in passing this law, at least officially, was a result of increased thefts of metals like copper and steel, from phone poles and places of business).  As the article closes, "How long before the US Congress, as a result of the rise in metals thefts here in the United States, uses this same excuse as a pretext to follow in the footsteps of the French?" 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The End of One of the Best Bands Ever

As you've probably all heard, the other day, REM broke up after 31 years.  Such a great band.  I had the pleasure of seeing them live in concert back in '99, when they were playing Jones Beach.  I'll never forget it.  I sat six rows from the front, and rocked out to every song.  I waved a bunch of times, and Michael Stipe always waved back to me, or maybe that's how I liked to have viewed it.  Either way, it was an incredible experience, and will rank as the best concert I'd went to. 

I can't really say that I'm surprised that they broke up.  Creatively and commercially, I'd say that they peaked with "Automatic for the People".  Although many of their albums were very good after that, they just weren't able to match that or their earlier offerings.  Also, I think Bill Berry's departure was a blow that they were never able to recover from.  Above all, I hold the commercialization of music responsible.  It has led to acts that appeal to the lowest common denominator (I'm talking to you, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Maroon 5, the list goes on and on) while leaving pioneering rock bands like REM in the dust.  I read that their last album only sold around 50,000 copies.

I wanted to close this post out with "Find the River", from "Automatic for the People".  I hear it's the last song that Kurt Cobain listened to before he took his life.  BTW, "Nevermind" just had its 20 anniversary.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Striking Photographs from Japan, Six Months After the Disaster

The Atlantic has some great photos of Japan, from shortly after the double whammy of a tsunami & earthquake, and six months later.  Did you know that this past Sunday was not only the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, but also the six month anniversary of what happened in Japan?  Neither did I.  But the Japanese probably did not oversee that day.  I am no expert, but I was impressed by how much the Japanese were able to accomplish, judging on the before/after photos.  While it's still obvious that a major calamity occurred, this was met with major cleanup efforts, and a lot of the mess and the debris in the "before" photos is not present in the "after" photos.  I wonder how these same locales in the pictures will look, say, 10 years from now.  It will be interesting to contrast a "10 years after" compilation of photos from northeastern Japan with photos from the WTC site (which still has not been replaced) or photos from post-Katrina New Orleans. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Let the Uninsured Die

As I've expressed, 2008 was my last election.  I have no plans to vote in next year's election, or any beyond that, unless the state of our politics takes a radical paradigm shift (or I may not be able to vote at all, since it's easy to visualize the shit hitting the fan with such force that it won't be possible to have elections, or for them to simply not be allowed).  However, let me tell you a brief story behind my reasoning in the last election.  I registered to vote in 2000, right before the presidential election of that year.  Nader had engaged me on such a level, that it was easy to vote for him.  I also voted for him in 2004, as well.  But by 2008, it was obvious that our country was undergoing pretty significant changes, and not for the better.  I had still planned to vote for Ralph, partly based on what many people simply cannot seem to grasp or think through.  I not only believed in his message, but I also live in New York, which is not a so-called "battleground" state.  It is a safe Democratic bastion, and so it's easier to vote for a third-party candidate, even if the general election is slated to be close. 

I had written off Obama as a corporate-backed bullshit artist, who was admittedly very good at communicating with the masses and saying all the right things.  However, I did not realize how radical and bat-shit crazy the Republican Right really were, until I saw a clip of them at a McCain rally.  They were saying that if Obama was elected, "they (black people) would take over".  Another said that "he looks down on us like we're trash".  Several were calling him a "nigger".  I was pretty fearful on seeing these people, and really did not want to see them, or anyone like them, near the levers of power.  Well, there was also the matter of this election being an especially historical one since it could end up with our first black president.  So I caved and voted for Obama.  I lived to regret it.  I wasn't expecting anything special, but if he was a tad better than Bush, I'd have been partially satisfied.  But since then, I've learned about peak oil and economic contraction, and have come to look upon politics and elections as irrelevant.  These guys probably couldn't do shit about our problems even if they actually wanted to.

Anyway, I do think it's important to pay scant attention to politics, if only because it offers us a glimpse into the state of things, and how people respond, as we continue our long slide downward.  This latest incident also gave me a valuable insight into why I reneged on my political beliefs last time and voted for Obama.  It's an easy thing to do when you see how bad the other guys are, at least in comparison.

At the last debate, Wolf Blitzer spoke with Ron Paul about a hypothetical healthy person who suddenly falls ill and is not insured.  Blitzer asks Paul, "should that person die", and some in the audience resoundingly shout "YES", with laughter and cheers soon following.  A big part of the collapse that is in progress will be more and more moments like this, that show how nasty and vicious people can be.  In better times, this behavior would be expressed behind closed doors, or in whispers.  But now, this behavior is being expressed more openly.  The motto of these people, the Tea Partiers, should be, "I've got mine.  Fuck you".  That's basically their philosophy, in a nutshell. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pipeline Expolosion Rocks Kenya

At least 120 people have burned to death in Kenya, as a result of a fuel pipeline exploding.  At the time, the pipeline was leaking fuel, and people were gathering to collect it when the pipeline burst into flames and engulfed at least some of those people, as well as the tin-shack houses in the surrounding area. 

What makes this story significant for me is that I often think of peak oil as a calamity that is going to visit the western world.  But what I don't often think through is that in many parts of the world, it has long since passed.  If anything, there was never any matter of "peak energy" for countries like Kenya, because they have always been poor nations.  So scrounging for things that we just take for granted, and buy at a store, or a gas station in the case of fuel, is nothing new to them, unfortunately.  Scooping fuel from a leaky pipe is a very dangerous thing to do, but these people were likely going to use any recovered fuel for buying essentials like food and medicine.  In any case, in the long run, addiction to oil and other fossil fuels is a global problem, not merely an American or western one, and that tide is not longer to change.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Prince Charles Warns of Extinction Event

It's always eye-opening when a public figure comes out and speaks of the dire consequences of climate change and other man-made activities and its effects on biodiversity.  The latest is Prince Charles.  As much as I liked what he had to say, I was about to dismiss him as being in the vein of Al Gore, who has raised a lot of attention to climate change but hasn't seemed to walk the walk in his own life (by using private jets and owning large homes).  But I'd read that Charles has done a lot of work in making his palaces and other properties "ecofriendly", and a lot of them are used for farming. 

I especially liked this: 

“History will not judge us by how much economic growth we achieve in the immediate years ahead, nor by how much we expand material consumption, but by the legacy for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.  We are consuming what is rightfully theirs by sacrificing long-term progress on the altar of immediate satisfaction. That is hardly responsible behavior."

Friday, September 9, 2011

When There is No Dentist

This is a good article from a very good site I didn't know existed called Armageddon Medicine (it deals with solutions to diseases and medical aliments when care is scarce), about the lessons learned from the experiences of POWs during the Vietnam War in terms of dental care (hint: there wasn't any).  The results are actually mixed, or, not totally awful.  On the one hand, for most of the men afflicted by teeth problems, the tragedy was that they were often able to get excellent dental care, but neglected the importance of it until it was too late (being shot down behind enemy lines and captured).  Being in solitary conditions, against their will, and adding a bad toothache into the mix was a sure recipe for psychological distress, that would last until their freedom was reclaimed.  But on the other, for those whose teeth were relatively healthy upon capture, they overcompensated and took above-average care of their teeth.  In addition to the cheap toothbrushes they received, they fashioned toothpicks and floss out of bamboo and bone.  Toothpaste was made from charcoal, soap and salt. 

This article provided a fascinating glimpse at human ingenuity when people's backs are against the wall.  But I shudder to think of a future without ready access to dental care.  I knock on wood that I haven't had any serious dental problems, but I have been slacking; my last dental visit was almost a year.  I also have no willpower when it comes to staying away from sweets.  Anyway, I'd better brush my teeth. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Iraqi Children Shot in Head by U.S. Troops

First, I've never talked about this, but had been wanting to say, bless Wikileaks.  Julian Assange and the others behind this organization have gotten into the sights of very powerful governments and corporations, not the least of which being the U.S. government.  And their crime?  Releasing information deemed to be "highly classified" by governments and entities everywhere, into the hands of everyday people around the world.  If we live here and pay taxes, shouldn't we have the right to know as much as possible about what goes on in our government?  I think it's obvious what my answer is. 

One of the cables made public by Wikileaks shows evidence that around 10 Iraqi civilians were shot, execution-style, by U.S. troops, then an airstrike was called in to destroy the evidence.  This occurred back in 2006, when a civil war was brewing between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.  One of the reasons why we should all be thankful for Wikileaks, is that stories like these used to be the domain of the media.  Now, the media was never perfect, but during Vietnam, there was some reporting of atrocities committed by our military.  The story of the war in general received more coverage than the Gulf War and our current occupation of Iraq.  The kind of coverage has also changed, to the point where our media serve as cheerleaders.  This was during the initial phase of the invasion, nowadays, it seems like the war/occupation is rarely covered at all, especially in the television news media.  The government learned from Vietnam to keep a lid on the media in future conflicts, and that strategy has worked spectacularly well.  Hence the need for individuals, such as the ones behind Wikileaks, to endanger their freedoms and lives to access and release the truth behind what's going on for the rest of us.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Quitting Facebook

I don't remember the day I created my Facebook account, but it was awhile ago, probably shortly after it became a household name.  Before that, I had a Myspace account (which is still active, I believe, I just haven't bothered to log in for a very long time, and rightly so, as it's irrelevant at this stage).  And somewhere along the line, I came to the realization that social networking just wasn't for me.  However, I will say, it is addictive.  That's what made me rationalize keeping Facebook for as long as I did, even after I realized that it was counterproductive to stay active in it.  Today, I finally gathered the strength to "deactivate" my account (even this is a half-measure, short of deleting it.  My account is still there, but it's currently in a deactivated state). 

I will try to explain this, and make it sound meaningful, considering I have not slept since getting home from work.  Anyway, probably a big part of it was that I had 68 friends, and by the time I deactivated, I had hidden most of their posts from view.  I did not "unfriend" them, but this is the next best thing, as I can decide that I don't want to read drivel without hurting other people's feelings.  All most of these people talked about were what their kids did or said today, or where they were eating, or their plans to get drunk and party tonight.  Worse yet, these posts would get animated reponses, along with "likes".  Many of my posts there were similar to the ones I make on this blog, of a "current events" and commentary nature, although much, much shorter, obviously.  Due to my newfound interest in cooking, I would share what I made as well.  Further down the line, I will admit, I was not above the trivial and largely pointless status update myself (for example, shortly before quitting, I said that I could not sleep and would watch "Curb Your Enthasium" and "Entourage").  But I tried to make my posts thoughtful, with proper grammar.  And in response, what I would see is the cyber-version of tumblin' tumbleweeds.  Usually zilch in the way of responses, and the only people who might respond half the time would be one of my two sisters. 

I don't want to make it seem like I'm a needy person who seeks verification or approval of everything that he says or does, but, I guess that's what it seems like, and that's probably what it is.  I've always been socially awkward, and when I have tried to break out of that shell, it's always met with astounding failure.  So most of my life has been spent in, for lack of a better term, a kind of obscurity.  And when I say or do something and it's met with indifference, yeah, it hurts.  It's something that you'd think that I would get used to somewhere along the way, but there are some things you never get used to, and that's probably one of them.

I remember a long time ago, I posted on this blog about taking a break from posting for the same reasons, that no one was commenting back and that I felt like I was in a virtual echo chamber, basically talking to myself.  A really cool guy from Indonesia, Adel (I hope you're still reading, Adel), responded and pointed out that just because no one is commenting doesn't mean that they're not reading.  So I kept at it, and while I don't have the numbers of eyes that I want starting at my blog (which I have come to realize is next to impossible, considering the numbers of blogs in existence), I get a comment now and then, showing me that people do come by and read it, and feel compelled to respond to what I have to say.  I hope that continues.  

Anyway, another big reason why I decided to leave Facebook, and this probably hits closer to the heart than my other reason, is that a significant portion of my "friends" are people I went to high school with.  Now, I was not what you would call a "popular" kid in high school.  Hell, I wasn't even on, what would be called in Hollywood, the C or the D list.  Yeah, I socialized and ate lunch with people, I wasn't one of those people who always sat by himself, but that's pretty much where it ended.  I didn't have any close relationships.  And yet, a lot of people who "friended" me were people I went to high school with, and who, I don't remember us exchanging two sentences.  I also wonder how many of these "friends" would recognize me if I walked down the street, or I, them.  If I was in a really bad jam, for example, looking for some place to crash, how many of these "friends" would step up to the plate and actually offer a hand?  Not one, I'd wager.  I remember a co-worker at an old job, this was back when Myspace was the big thing, telling me that the only thing that counted was how many "friends" I had.  So their value as people, or their willingness to help you (and you, them) did not really count, it was just being able to say "I have XXXX" number of friends on Myspace/Facebook/Friendster" that counted, and could make the difference between acceptance and failure in whatever social circle, virtual or actual.

What I find very, very depressing, is that a lot of these people (friends on Facebook) have wives (or husbands), families, what seem to be steady positions, some kind of career, they probably own their own houses.   I have been stuck in neutral since graduating high school.  Yeah, I went to college and got my B.A., but who cares, it didn't translate to any kind of career.  I still live at home, I've long given up on meeting someone and starting a family (not that I'm really looking to do these things, especially have kids, but just the fact that it isn't even an option, that pisses me off) and I open boxes for a living.  So logging on to Facebook, and seeing how great things are seemingly going for a lot of people, that just got very depressing.  I remember one day, this guy I went to school with (he's actually a great guy, we chatted a few times and exchanged emails), posted that he was now a "homeowner".  I got into bed and stayed there for almost 2 hours.  We went to the same school, I don't think he even went to college, so I ask myself, "where did I go wrong, and these people went right?" 

I post a lot of stuff on this blog about the collapse of America, about peak oil and the crumbling economy.  So I spend a lot of time frequenting "doomer" websites and forums.  I'm convinced that my misfortunes have very little to do with the decisions I made, and are just a product of circumstances in general, like how companies are slashing people left and right, and how we have the worst job market since the Great Depression, things of that nature.  On the other hand, I see these "friends" on Facebook, living seemingly normal lives, with the things that I covet.  Hard times apparently have not touched them at all.  So, I'm wondering, should I trust the former option, in which exterior events are affecting my life in decidedly negative ways, or are things really not as bad as they seem, and the "doom" is just helping me rationalize why I've come up short where it matters?  I don't know, and I hope I figure it out.  In that respect, I hope that quitting Facebook serves as a start. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wild Animals in the Long Emergency

When thinking about the times we live in, and the road that I believe we are heading down on, one of the things I think about most are the fate of my pets.  My family has a dog, but I'm really not too attached to him.  Not that I don't care for him or love dogs, his personality is just totally at odds with mine.  He is very loud, and easily ruffled.  But I love my cats though, especially Lucky, who is an American Shorthair.  It would kill me if we were faced with not having enough food for them; I couldn't imagine setting them loose, especially since they are declawed and would be defenseless in the outdoors. 

Here is a good pair of articles from someone who is a trapper and lives off the land.  He believes that when the proverbial shit hits the fan, people in the cities (and I presume the suburbs as well, although he only mentions cities), will let their animals go.  These animals will meet up with other animals and form packs of anywhere between 6 to 100.  He offers an elaborate and detailed synopsis of animal psychology and pack mentality that is really quite fascinating.  His general point, and one that the most squeamish or those who love animals will probably want to avoid, is that these animals will number in the tens of millions and must be dealt with in a collapse scenario.

In this case, a worry of mine would be that a significant portion of these animals would carry rabies.  Obviously, vaccinations would be limited or completely unavailable, so rabies would be easy to spread among other animals and humans, until each eventual carrier would die.  It's kind of a zombie-lite scenario, although it would be very fitting in an economic/social upheaval.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

House Majority Leader Kicks Jobless Out of Town Hall

These days, I usually do not pay much attention to our political system or its representatives, although otherwise, I do follow current events rather closely.  I've decided that 2008 was the last election I will take part in (the only election that I care about at this point is the annual library budget), and that any political activism is futile.  However, I do think it's key to pay some attention to our political system, however scant, because its response to events, both in terms of individual representatives and the collective, can give important clues as to how far we are in our path to collapse. 

A few nights ago, something called an "Advisory Council Meeting" was called by Eric Cantor, who is the House Majority Leader.  A counter-rally was held in the same building by Cantor's constituents, who were not invited to the Council Meeting.  This rally was already scheduled with the Holiday Inn.  However, due to some bullshit reasoning of there being "conflicting events", the activists holding the counter-rally were asked to leave, and they were forced to rally in the parking lot of a Toys R Us across the street.

The article concerning this is very good, so I'll keep it short today.  But I'll say one thing.  After the counter-rally was effectively crushed, police officers were summoned to the hotel to check cars and ask if the person was a part of the "advisory committee" or the counter-rally.  I find it outrageous that police officers were used in this way, in a purely political endeavor, to "vet" people for this scumbag's committee.

Oh, and here's a clip of him speaking.  He comes off as unbearably smug and arrogant.  See the shit-eating grin coming out of the side of his mouth as he speaks?  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Hurricanes

This is a funny article from Forbes about the different reactions to Hurricane Irene in the Bahamas, from people living in the Bahamas and from tourists hailing from the United States.  The Bahamas natives were playing it cool, just getting their precautionary measures in order, while Americans were bailing for the taxis to get to the airport.  Of course, not every Bahamas native was calm, nor was every American panicky over Irene, but I feel that the author's account is likely accurate.  As he also points out, our media certainly does not help matters.  They never pass up an opportunity to stir up mass panic and hysteria, or an opportunity to get people to spend money, as the Weather Channel was urging people to get "survival kits" (available for both humans and pets). 

Now, I come down on the side of people who are prepared for any disaster; my puzzlement is when people scramble during every event like this for essentials that they should already have (like flashlights, just to give one example).  But I think it has become pretty obvious that the media exaggerates the severity of these events, at least just a tad, to get people to panic spend, and thereby help make money for their advertisers.  I imagine that Home Depot, Walmart and all the other big-box stores received a nice shot in the arm for the escalated business in their stores in the days preceding Irene. 

The ancedotes closing the article, of what some of the news reporters were saying, is also telling.  One reporter slipped by referring to the weakening of Irene as a "setback".  Another said that if "you have family, friends in the Bahamas, you must tell them this is a very dangerous situation!"  The gall and chutzpah of such a statement!  That's like me somehow being able to contact a random U.S. soldier serving in Iraq or Afghanistan and telling them, "hey, be careful, an insurgent might be aiming for your head!"  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nuclear Nightmare Continues in Japan and Around the World

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, it's important to remember that any natural or man-made disaster continues to impact many lives in various ways, long after the clean-up crews and the news vans leave and move on to the next event or the next story.  This is a pretty shocking and compelling piece on what is still going on in Japan after the earthquake/tsunami that hit earlier this year.  Not only is the nuclear plant still leaking, but estimates are that radioactive cesium that has been leaked from the plant into the atmosphere is equal to 168 of the atomic bombs being dropped on 1945 Japan.  That's around one nuclear bomb every day since the initial disaster occurred. 

Something that frustrates me about our media is its attention deficit disorder.  When a big event, such as the Japan earthquake/tsunami or the Deepwater Horizon explosion/oil rupture, first occurs, we see the "breaking news" graphics and around-the-clock coverage.  But in a matter of days, after receiving "assurances" from government and corporate officials that everything is under control,  and also due to its ADD, the media moves on to other stories, typically of the "light" variety.  And the coverage of the event/disaster doesn't merely decrease, it seems to disappear completely, like it never even happened. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene

It is now 20 past 7, the supposed eye of the storm is supposed to hit us soon, but at 1:30 AM, a huge tree in my front yard fell down, and hit part of my house, front of my neighbor's house, it's snagged in phone wires.  Amazingly, no one was hurt. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene: Beware of Scammers

First, just wanted to express the general and predictable, although necessary, message of "stay safe" in the day or two to come.  Do not go out unless you absolutely have to, and try to batten down as best you can.  With that said, here is a good article from MSNBC on how these disasters often bring out the worst in humanity along with the best.  You might not only be hearing stories of exceptionally brave people, but also stories of pranksters and scammers seeking to benefit from the disaster at the expense of those who believe in giving to the less fortunate.  So, just be careful of who you trust. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

When the Realm of Celebrity Invades Our Political System

Bill Hicks talks about the 1995 movie "To Die For", with Nicole Kidman, which I saw a very long time ago, and views it as being a movie ahead of its time.  In the movie, she plays a woman who is determined to become a TV newscaster at any cost.  As the plot summary says, "what she lacks in intelligence, she makes up for in cold determination and diabolical wiles".  I thought it was a good movie when I saw it, but I'd really like to see it again, for, as Bill says, this can easily describe people like Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. 

The deeper trend here is that in this day, in this nation, it is no longer possible to get fame and fortune for engaging in hard work or coming up with an invention or an idea that is really creative (if it ever was possible to start with).  The only road to riches left is to become famous, being "talked about" on the news, or better, entertainment programs or blogs.  It doesn't matter if you lack talent or engage in questionable moral practices, you just have to get people to notice you.  A favorite example of mine is the right-wing author and talking head Ann Coulter, who you see all the time on television and in the print media.  She often makes these outrageous, totally out there remarks.  And then people take to the blogosphere and talk about how batshit crazy she is, apparently without realizing that they are playing right into her hands.  I don't believe that she even believes half of the shit she says, but it gets a response and a lot of attention, so she keeps riding that gravy train.  

A lot of our programs and print media are devoted to celebrity worship.  I find it funny how the most popular magazines in this area have titles that strongly imply that celebrities are regular people just like us, hence the titles of magazines like "People" and "Us".  Just once, I'd like to see a regular working American, who people can look up, on the cover of those magazines.  Like a doctor, or even better, a real blue-collar guy like a garbageman.  Unfortunately, it probably wouldn't sell.  A large number of people find hard work depressing.

And now, we are seeing this celebrity worship spill over into the world of politics.  Until reading Hicks' column, I did not know that a group of people suggested that Matt Damon run for president.  I'm guessing they got that idea from watching "The Adjustment Bureau", where Damon plays a politician running for Senate.  In any event, the current crop of people taking front and center on our TV screens, like Palin, Bachmann, and a few others, often say uninformed things on a regular basis (like Bachmann saying that the USSR was a military threat) that should be enough to prove that they are terribly unqualified at running a country.  But because they are easy on the eyes and carry that folksy charm, this carries with it some sense of legitimacy.   

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Social Security Disability on Verge of Bankruptcy

I was of two minds after reading this story.  On the one hand, I do believe in a safety net for those who are in danger of losing it all and totally falling through the cracks.  I am.  What consists of a safety net in this country, let's face it, was never very sturdy and durable to begin with, and it has been weakened significantly, particularly in the past 10-30 years.  But after reading this, it made me think of the cheats that I know of out there, who have made a lifestyle of gaming the system, and as a result, have helped pushed this system to insolvency, and have made it that much more difficult for people who are actually disabled and suffering to get a helping hand. 

I think many of us know the type:  someone who claims to have a "bad back" to get put on disability, and then he's spotted doing things like picking up large bags or doing roofing.  I happen to have a cousin, who I have not seen or spoken to in a very long time, who made several bad choices when he was younger, got hooked on drugs, had some kind of mental breakdown, and then went on SSI (Supplemental Security Income, which means he didn't have a long job history).  This was many years ago, and he is still on it, to this day.  I know of another person, who I used to work with.  She could only work so many days a week (around 2 or 3), and a friend of hers explained to me one day that this was because she was on some kind of state aid (I'm assuming it was SSI) due to some kind of mental problem.  My question, unasked to her friend of course, is that she is capable of working, and is working.  Why is she being supplemented with a subsidy from the state?

Of course, there are many, many other reasons why Social Security is in big trouble.  Probably key among them is that our legislators have been using it as a piggy bank for years to fund other things, while never putting the money back into the program.  It's said by many that the Social Security trust fund contains nothing but a vast array of IOU's.  But at the same time, there are other systemic problems such as this one.  It's even being considered, according to the article, that they will transfer funds from regular Social Security to the disability program to buy some time, meaning that working retirees will get less. 

I want to close with a story, of someone I used to work with, and of why I am so conflicted on this issue.  He, supposedly, injured his arm one day and tried to go out on worker's comp.  While his claim was working its way through the system, he was still supposed to work.  With his arm in a cast, he was next to useless, but at the same time, I guess the state didn't want to give him a total free ride.  So he goes to work, he was never very popular to begin with, and no one talked to the guy.  Totally shunned him, felt that he was a bullshit artist, a goldbricker, etc.  And they were probably right.  But that got me to thinking.  In this day and age, with good paying jobs with a bright future for people being a thing of the past, and the current slate of jobs in which people are not paid enough to make ends meet, there's next to no chance of advancement (outside of middle or low-level management), no appreciation, everyone's expendable, when I take these things into context, I cannot harbor too much animosity towards the guy.  Maybe he worked 20 or so years (this guy was way into his 40s, at least), at these dead-end jobs, saw a way out, and he decided to take it.  You can "retire" 15 years earlier or so, on full SS disability, and make more in the end than if you worked until your retirement age.  So, on top of that imperative, this powerful motivation that is built into the system for people of questionable character to cash out early and for more money, you also have a meltdown in progress that is slamming working people hard.  On top of that, globalization has shifted well-paying jobs to the far east, and has replaced them with dismal service-industry jobs that are low-paying and have questionable working conditions.  There is already a segment of Social Security Disability that is suspectible to fraud by lazy people and hucksters.  But now, I think you have an additional component of people, who at one time were loyal and hard-working, before their jobs was outsourced or downsized, and who are now well into their 30s, 40s, or 50s, who are saying, "fuck it.  Wall Street got theirs, my bosses got theirs, my neighbor went out on SSI and got his, now it's my turn."

Of course, this is my opinion; I could be wrong.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


This is a good blog entry from Bill Hicks about the continuing escalating costs of a college education.  He sources an article from an Indiana newspaper that actually isn't that bad in listing some of the causes, from reduced state funding to higher raises for administrators and professors.  It also gives some knockout statistics, specifically that in the past 22 years, while the Consumer Price Index has risen by 81.9 percent, college tuitions in the state of Indiana have spiked by at least 300 percent.  Mr. Hicks then raises an important point that the newspaper excises, and that is the role of the student loan industry.  Since they are protected by the federal government, and students with debt typically can't file for bankruptcy, market forces that would push tuition prices down are disabled.

How people are still buying into the dream of a college education, 3 years after the financial collapse (and even before then, it was starting to look more than a little wobbly), I cannot comprehend.  I guess that dreams of a better life and a good job die hard, and can persist even in the face of significant events to the contrary.  From my own personal experience, a college education has provided diminishing returns over time.  I graduated with my B.A. in 2006, and started applying for jobs.  Even then, my phone wasn't ringing off the hook, but at least I was picking up interviews now and again.  After deciding I needed a more refined vision of what I wanted to do, I went back for a one year program in Paralegal Studies.  I got the certificate in 2009, and have not had one job interview in three years.  So, with a deeper resume and with an additional certification under my belt, I have seen far less action in terms of job offers or interest than I did with just a Bachelor's Degree in 2006/07. 

I think this culture of higher education has had many unintended consequences.  A real tragedy is that due to the gutting of our manufacturing industry, most high school graduates have little choice but to go to college, even if they are not cut out for it.  I would say that, based on my experiences in school, three-fourths of the students I went to school with should have been nowhere near the place.  And I'm not saying that to denigrate them or to question their intelligence.  Not everyone is cut out for taking tests and reading long, tedious textbooks.  But that's the hole many have been crammed into since good-paying factory jobs are no longer available. 

Student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt in this country; assuming that the general economy does not collapse first (and judging from the action on Wall Street and the grim news in the business pages, that is a mighty big "if"), I strongly believe that higher education will be the next bubble to burst.  I find it to be in a similar vein to real estate.  As a result of the gutting of our manufacturing industry, more & more people applied to colleges, and the budgets of these schools soared to accommodate them all.  With no market forces to impede them (thanks to loan programs backed by the protection of the federal government), prices soared out of control, and with no basis in economic reality, far outpacing inflation in other areas. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Postal Service to be Insolvent

In a matter of weeks, the USPS will have to default on a health benefits payment, after reaching its borrowing limit of $15 billion and after losing over $3 billion in the past quarter.  The postal service has asked Congress to make several major changes to the postal system, including eliminating Saturday service. 

The USPS has been having problems for years now, and many people are quick to point to the rise of e-mail and the Internet, as well as the growth of UPS and FedEx as primary causes for this.  I agree, but I believe there are a couple of other reasons that are at least, just as important.  One is rising fuel prices.  As peak oil starts to hit us harder, many governmental services (as well as private companies) will be more and more unsustainable, since they were built and organized under the assumption that cheap, accessible fuel would never be an issue.  Say what you will about rising stamp prices, but 44 cents to deliver a first-class letter from one end of the country to the other is still a bargain, especially in the age of $4 gallon gasoline.

Another reason brings me to something that, until around a week ago, I never knew.  The USPS is a federal service in name only.  Their revenue consists of the sales from postage and other products.  They receive no federal funds.  The Postal Reorganization Act, which turned the USPS from a cabinet department into a quasi-independent agency, was signed in 1970.  So, this is an example of free market worship run amok, and you can't blame the usual culprits for this (Reagan), since this goes back even earlier.

I think that postal service is an essential service of the government, right up there with providing defense.  It was even written in Article One of the Constitution.  But, as we all should know by now, the "free market" surpasses everything, even the Constitution.   

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Good Video from Jon Stewart on "class warfare"

I see that from this video, the spokesmen of the elite are doing their "woe is me, being crazy rich" routine in the media, especially Fox News.  This is partly due to a statement from Warren Buffet that the top 5 percent should have to pay more in taxes.  Stewart calls them out on their ridculous name-calling (of course, anyone who suggests that they give their fair share is a "socialist" and waging "class warfare"), and shows an eye-opening chart on how far down we rank in terms of income equality (we barely pass by Uganda, and finish behind many other countries, including Iran and Cameroon). 

What really got me was the end.  He shows a segment of spokesmen and talk show hosts, each spouting off about how higher tax rates on the wealthy will not get us out of this fiscal hole that we are in.  This is likely true.  However, what if higher tax rates on the wealthy get us 10 % out of the hole?  Or 20%?  That's something, isn't it?  Combined with other reforms, like closing corporate tax loopholes, among many, many other things, significant progress might be possible.  But many rich do not love their country, the only thing they love is making more money.

Bill Maher had a great closing monologue on his show a couple of months ago.  He showed a recent front page photo in The Wall Street Journal that was titled "The Ultimate Sacrifice".  It was of a soldier who got gravely injured in combat, with an artificial arm, and he was being presented with a medal (whether it was a Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, etc., I don't know) by Mr. Obama.  The irony was that such a photo, and its captain of an "ultimate sacrifice", is so vastly at odds with the people who publish the Wall Street Journal and many who read it.  The ultra-wealthy will not budge on tax cuts or anything else.  Their way of life is non-negotiable.  When the wheels fall off the global economy, and governments begin to unravel, they will continue to eat while we starve.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Someone's Ideas on Managing Our Fiscal Crisis

I came home from work this morning, opened the paper and saw that the government's credit rating was downgraded by S & P from AAA to AA+.  AA+ is still the 2nd best credit rating, and I've been reading more than a few people say that, if anything, S & P did not go far enough.  It's clear that our credit rating is more along the lines of an "F", as in total garbage.  But this is a major story, and to me, the biggest indicator so far that, to quote Dubya, that "this sucker is going down". 

Anyway, I post contributions from people on message boards that I read from time to time, and this is a good entry by someone with the screenname of Nergol from Dan Carlin's website, on how to manage our fiscal crisis.

The "Big Three" of budget items are Social Security, Medicare, and defense. Someone of a libertarian bent might classify all three as "welfare" programs of some kind or another, but the first two fit by virtually any reasonable definition. The problem with them is that they're simultaneously huge such that any talk of serious deficit/debt reduction is utterly moot without serious adjustments to one or all of them, and that all three have been regarded for decades as essentially untouchable for political reasons. We are now at a point where something has to give, and give in some very serious ways. We will now make deep cuts to one or more of these items, or they will bankrupt us, one way or the other.

My preferred approach would start with the following: I would turn the de facto Empire Department back into something that could honestly be called the Defense Department. I would close all military bases not on US soil, scrap the carriers, and send perhaps 2/3 of the active duty military home with honorable discharges and VA benefits. I would raise the Social Security eligibility age to 70, and enact strict means tests so that only the truly needy will receive benefits. I would restrict Medicare to US citizens only - legal aliens will have to be gainfully employed to the extent that they can receive coverage from their employers, and illegal aliens get nothing. Similarly, I would deny any government-funded benefits of any kind to illegals - sorry, we can't even afford to take care of our own. The only exception would be for emergency medical care - meaning roughly that we won't let you bleed to death in the street if you get hit by a bus, but if you get pancreatic cancer that will require half a million dollars worth of treatment, you'd better head back where you came from to get it. Is that harsh? Yes - but again, we can't even afford to take care of our own now, much less taking care of anyone who can power their way across the Rio Grande.

Beyond that are the relative small potatoes - I would, for example, kill agricultural subsidies, foreign aid, public broadcasting, the NEA, and the Departments of Education (which runs no schools and teaches no students) and Housing and Human Services entirely. Grifter "social organizations" like La Raza and Planned Parenthood - who prove without a doubt the validity of what Eric Hoffer said about what big causes degenerate into - would get zip. And no more corporate bailouts - of anyone, ever.

On the revenue side, I'd withdraw from NAFTA, GATT, and most other free-trade agreements, and enact sky-high tariffs against Chinese-made goods. What are they going to do - stop buying legitimate copies of Microsoft Windows? Fuck 'em. And fuck American CEOs who want to save money with labor arbitrage, too - let them open an iPad factory in Ohio instead of Shenzhen. And while I'm on the subject of labor arbitrage - I'd enact a fine of $25,000 per day, per offense, on any business that hired illegals, with half the money going to whoever reported it, and I'd allow unemployed Americans to sue companies that employed illegals in civil court for using illegal means to deny them employment. That should put some more Americans back to work. As for corporate taxes, the problem in America is not the rate (which is relatively high, by world standards), but the loopholes. Big corporations pay slick accountants to find ways to pay zero taxes. What Reagan did for income taxes in the 80s, I'd do for corporate taxes - lower the rates, but close the loopholes so they actually pay what they should. I'd enact an 95% tax on any income (not profit - gross income) made by any credit institution on loans (including credit cards) made at an interest rate over 10%. I'd legalize and tax drugs. I'd enact a modest national sales tax, and make up for it by eliminating capital gains taxes entirely.

Anyhow, that went longer than I intended, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

1 Million New Robots to Enter Global Workforce

Foxconn has announced a plan to replace a portion of its human workforce with up to 1 million robots.  Foxconn is the Chinese company where there has been a spate of employee suicides amidst slave-like conditions; it's also where many iPhones and other electronic devices are manufactured.  This is what globalization and "trickle-down" economics consist of.  A large portion of Americans used to be employed in manufacturing.  When they got too expensive and uppity, they were replaced by Mexican labor, then the cheap Mexican workers were replaced by the even cheaper Chinese, and now, the Chinese are beginning to be replaced by robots.  Robots don't need housing or health care or food, and will never complain about rights or take breaks (although it'd make a neat plot for some sci-fi film).  I sometimes think that a population shortage is in the offing not just because of resource scarcity, but also because of the marginalization of low-level jobs to the automation. 

I will end this with a personal story that will hopefully highlight the potential absurdity of automation.  I was with my brother at Lowe's last week; Lowe's is a chain big-box hardware store, like the Home Depot.  Lowe's has several "self check-out" counters, which I see is a growing trend in many stores.  My brother got a few gloves, and upon seeing the lines at the human check-out lanes, goes to the self-check out counter.  He scans and pays for the stuff, and all the while, there is an employee feet away from us, just looking at us to ensure that we aren't stealing.  The point of automation is to cut down on labor costs, yet I'm assuming that for every self-check out lane at Lowe's, there is an employee who is detailed to observe the people who are using it.  So what's the point of self-check out?  Why not just use that employee as an extra hand to check people out?  

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Debt Ceiling

I really wanted to make some post about the debt ceiling, but I feel that this other blogger said a lot of what I wanted to say, so it'd probably be suitable to post that instead.  I will say a few things.  Ever since reading Kunstler's book and finding out about peak everything, I have obsessively been following the issue of economic collapse through blogs and message boards, and have posted about it almost exclusively.  But I always viewed it as something abstract.  Don't get me wrong, I'd say that I have felt the effects of a gradually worsening economy.  I have not had a job interview in 3 years, I still live at home and do not see any reason for that to change any time soon, at least not a good reason.  The degree(s) I have put immense time and money into are worthless.  These circumstances, in one way or another, are tied to a collapsing economy and society.  But in many ways, I'm pretty comfortable.  I eat my three squares a day, I come here to blog, I just cooked a delicious pasta yesterday, I play video games, the bills are getting paid, etc.  So, again, "doom" is something that I know exists, and is bound to hit all of us at some point, likely in our lifetimes.  But until now, I have not stared down the barrel at it.  But this is different. 

Many would say that we are already in a state of default, regardless of how this pans out.  The act of "QE", restlessly printing money (or typing in a few more digital zeroes), is just one example of this.  But the government acknowledging that there is no money to pay its bills, is pretty much making it official, no?  I could see the points of both the conservatives and the liberals in Congress; the conservatives that we can't just keep borrowing money, and the liberals that a fast collapse and a default would lead to a mercilessly quick chaotic situation.  But as Bill Hicks says, they are either ignoring, or are just completely clueless, that the rules of the game have changed.  Economic growth just is not possible where you have hit a wall in energy resources.  You may print money, but you cannot print oil, land, water, or any other natural resource.  They are applying outdated solutions to this problem, and they are doomed to fail.  Hicks knocks down a lot of liberal columnists who are writing misinformed articles on how to fix the debt crisis.  Many involve just throwing money at the problem.  But to this point, the various stimuluses and QE's we've had have only, at best, kept the economy level and prevented it from going into freefall.  No growth has been made as a result of these magic tricks.

To close, I do not know what the final result of this will be.  I thought this was just political theater (to an extent, I still do), designed to scare us so that massive cuts would be made to SS and Medicare, but the radical right (in the form of the freshman Tea Party congress) is persistent that there will be no more spending, no matter what.  Either way, I think this will damage us further in the eyes of the world, and will hasten our demise.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jaywalker Faces 3 Years in Prison; Hit-and-Run Murderer Gets 6 Months

This is a story that struck close to my heart.  A mother lost her child to a hit-and-run driver last year.  She is now facing charges of reckless endangerment and improperly crossing a roadway, as a result of that incident.  The hit-and-run driver who killed her son served six months of a five-year sentence.  Now, I imagine most people who have read this story will look at this as yet another example of how broken our judicial system is and how badly it needs to be reformed.  I don't disagree, but I think they'd be missing the much larger point of this story.  That point, to me, is that in this country, unless you own and drive a vehicle, you are something less than a person, and will be treated accordingly so in our courts, as well as in the eyes of the public. 

Raquel Nelson, the mother whose son was killed, does not drive a car.  She lives in Marietta, GA, which is located in the Atlanta metropolitan area.  Atlanta, like many parts of the country, are nearly uninhabitable to pedestrians or cyclists.  Their urban planners designed the entire landscape to center around the motor vehicle.  Ms. Nelson uses public transportation so that her and her kids can get around.  On April 10, 2010, the day this happened, Ms. Nelson got off the bus with her kids after nightfall, the nearest crosswalk being third of a mile away (why the crosswalk wasn't right by the bus stop shows the obsessive closed-mindedness of Atlanta's urban planners).  Her son let go of her hand, thinking it was time to cross, and got plowed by Jerry Guy, the piece-of-shit driver who then fled the scene.  (Picture of the street here)

Nelson, a black woman, was convicted by an all-white jury.  But, additionally, she was a pedestrian who was convicted by a jury of people who drive cars, and who cannot hope to have any understanding of what someone without a car must go through to live in this country.  The mere act of walking, in many places, is akin to putting one's life in their hands.  You are struggling to negotiate with traffic who will see you as a nuisance, and who very often will not stop when they see you trying to cross the street.  I deal with this regularly in Patchogue's Main Street, where I do use the crosswalk.  Even with a big electronic sign above, with big words saying that pedestrians have the right-of-way, and with a sign on the ground, cars just blow by as I am crossing.  I live in Long Island, which is similarly unfriendly to walkers and in which the urban planners have also designed the towns around the car.  There was just a cover story in Newsday last week about how cyclists face the most accidents here than anywhere else in the state. 

This reminds me of a book whose existence I stumbled upon online, and had meant to read.  Unfortunately, it's one of those scholarly books that are hard to find at the library.  I even forget what it was called, but it was about how when the car first came into existence and started to see sporadic use here and there, it was seen as a menace by most of the populace, who still walked to get to most places.  When someone was killed by a car, the person driving the car was blamed.  But as the car played a bigger and bigger part in our lives, the blame started to shift from the car to the walker, or the cyclist.  You can see this in this case.  Not just the fact that she was not judged by a jury of her peers (the jury being white and who all get around by motor vehicle), but that there was an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shortly after the incident, with the headline "Jaywalkers Take Deadly Risks".  So when something like this happens, it's not the fault of relentless, impatient drivers, or the fault of urban planners who have a warped, out-of-touch view of how people behave and carry themselves, but the person with no car, who's just trying to cross the street to get home?  Yeah, it's their fault, they're taking a "deadly risk" by crossing the street. 

So, when this collapse of ours finally plays itself out, assuming I survive it, I will miss a lot of things about our culture.  I will miss my newfound love of cooking, I will miss blogging, and many other things.  But I will not miss this horrible, abhorrent car culture that was forced on us by our government, Corporate America, and the many short-sighted urban planners across the country.  I will be glad to get from Point A to Point B without putting my life into my hands (at least, not from the car).  I will be following this case, and hope that Ms. Nelson gets off very lightly, or better yet, completely. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Turnabout is Fair Play

A Colorado woman was arrested and faced sexual abuse charges after groping a female TSA agent in Phoenix Airport.  However, one attorney general felt the facts didn't merit the felony charge, so now it has been downgraded to a misdemeanor.  Hopefully, she won't be charged at all. 

The TSA has been violating the Fourth Amendment rights of many Americans since 9/11, through their pat downs and their body scanners.  This has only been at airports, but I hear it might be coming to train stations and bus depots as well.*  I'm sure a lot of people who endure this experience may not like it, but they sure as shit don't do so much as audibly vent in front of TSA agents.  This woman went one step further, and gave one of them a taste of their own medicine.  I do fear that the TSA will really bear down, since they have stated, in the wake of this incident, that they "won't tolerate assaults on its employees". 

*I do believe heightened security measures have been implemented in many other public places as well in the wake of 9/11.  I know that when I go to Citifield (and Shea Stadium before it), we must open any bags as well as get patted down by stadium security.  I am not even a baseball fan, and do not like going for this very reason, but what we do for family.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fortress America

This is a new piece from Chris Hedges, one of America's best journalists and truth-tellers.  He has been front and center in sounding the klaxon for the very serious potential of America becoming a real dystopian police state. 

I have read many articles like this one before, particularly as Bush II was concerned in his authorization of extreme interrogation methods (torture).  What I think made this a different experience for me this time around, was the timing.  This debt ceiling debate has instilled a degree of insecurity and maybe even fear among people who otherwise don't really think about current events all that much, other than when it affects their pocketbook, which national debt certainly does.  And while an American default probably won't happen (not to say that continuing on our current course is sustainable either), the chances of a default or some other calamity happening is significantly higher than it should be (10% to 20%, maybe).  

So many things are happening.  I'd say that, for the short term, we'll probably be okay, but in the next 5-10 years?  I'm not as enthusiastic.  There is an anger among the populace about our economic situation (both individual and collectively) and the extreme wealth disparity that exists.  As our economic downturn becomes more and more pronounced, and as bailouts keep happening, that anger will start to carry over into more visible ways, such as protests or riots for example.  And then, you are going to see the same system that Hedges describes in his article, the system that is being used as a steamroller to run over Muslims and undocumented immigrants, applied towards more and more Americans who try to stand up to their government.  I think that we came pretty close to fascism after 9/11, and some of us think that we did indeed become a fascist country on that day, if not before.  But if some disaster, economic or otherwise, came about, I think that we will run off the rails into clear, unmitigated, fascism.  

Sadly, I do not think that Bush, his administration, his lawyers or his commanders in the armed forces, will ever be held to account for their crimes.  Bringing such powerful people to trial is a huge hurdle in and of itself, but you'd need a working legal system in order for that to even be possible.  This, we do not have.  Our legal system is fraught with corruption and internal ideology.  You'd have to fix that first before having a crack at prosecuting these people, and if that were to occur, they will all likely be dead.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Google Effect

There is a new saying around called "the Google Effect".  Coined by researchers, the "Google Effect" means that if you do not have the luxury of being easily able to access information at a later time, that you will have a better chance of remembering it when you first learn it.  With Google, and technology in general, many of us don't have much of an incentive to make a real effort to tie down the information that reaches our brains for a prolonged length of time.  If we forget any piece of information, we can just hit up Google. 

I remember that for awhile, I had trouble remembering our home phone number after we had it changed.  This wasn't really an issue, only when I called the pizza place to put in an order, and they'd ask for the home number, and I'd stammer or give out the old number.  My brother had to step in and give me the correct number.  When I initially got the new number, I just put it into my cell phone, and when I need to call home, I just hit a number on my phone and it automatically calls home.  But until not too long ago, if someone had asked me for my home phone number, my brain would not be able to access that information.  And if I did not have my cell phone, and was in a bad place, I might well have been in some kind of predicament. 

So, I think it's possible that The Google Effect can go well beyond not bothering to remember fairly trivial facts or data, but you can forget things as essential as your phone number.  If you're not exercising your brain and your memories regularly, the consequences can be unexpected.  I can easily imagine a day where people might need a GPS to just remember the rights and lefts of simple trips to the mall, for example.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Casey Anthony

I have been very reluctant to blog anything regarding the very well-known trial of Casey Anthony and her subsequent acquittal by a jury of her peers on the charges of first-degree murder and assault of a child.  It has been the subject of literal 24/7 coverage by our news media (Headline News being the most flagrant offender amongst them) and as you should probably figure out, I abhor coverage of stories like this.  Not least because it takes up valuable screen real estate at the expense of much more pressing topics, but I guess that's the corporate media way, isn't it?  To keep us ignorant and clueless by engaging in sensationalist, mental and spiritual junk food like this Casey Anthony trial.  I tried to make this point to my brother, and he tried telling me that the reason why this case got so much coverage was that it was so "compelling" and that people were so "intrigued" by it that the media was just giving them what they wanted.  I think it's the other way around.  I believe that the media looks for stories like this (again, to distract us from real issues that do need to be covered and discussed; FYI, my definition of "real issues" includes, but is not limited to, peak oil/peak everything, the economic downturn/collapse, climate change, Middle East/North Africa, stuff of that vein) that can be easily packaged to Americans and that can rake in vast amounts of advertising revenue (something I think the Anthony family deserves a piece of; I know they're deplored, but the media has made shitloads of money off of them).  To see how ridculous people have gotten over this case, check out this video (I call it the "stampede").  They are running throughout the court trying to get a seat to observe the trial, at 5 AM, and you won't see a retiree among them.  

Anyway, I know much more about the trial than I'd wished to, because my family (mainly, mother and brother) have obsessed over every detail.  I could not help but be an unwilling observer to countless discussions over the dinner table, as well as footage on television by such first-class luminaries of journalism as Nancy Grace and Jane Velez-Mitchell.  I have also been subjected to postings by my Facebook buddies about it.  But what finally opened my eyes to this case was the verdict.  Ms. Anthony was found "not guilty" by a jury of her peers.  This flew into the face of the plainly visible bias of the media, for one thing.  They had long before declared her guilty in the court of public opinion, and I did not see much in the way of dissenters.  So it was, in a way, satisfying to me to hear that "not guilty" verdict, just so I could see these very same talking heads get to eat a big bowl of shit.  And after the trial, I decided to read a few articles concerning the case, just to get a feel as to whether justice was served or not.  I was surprised to find just what a weak-ass case the state had against this person.  It basically consisted of a Google search for "chloroform" on the family computer (note, not even her computer), a "weird smell" coming from her car, and pictures of her partying mere weeks after her kid's death.  At most, the latter proves that she wasn't a particularly good parent, but it hardly proves that she murdered her kid.

But, it seems that the only people in this country who felt that Ms. Anthony wasn't guilty of what she was accused of, were those 12 people on that jury.  Everyone else is convinced, to the point of lunacy.  I have heard talk of hopes that she "gets hers", that someone will take "justice into their own hands" and string her up.  Her legal team and the jurors have also received threats.  The American people have been whipped up into a frenzy, and for that, I blame the corporate media.  These people were only told what the corporate media, and its employees, wanted them to hear.  They were not privy to all the evidence and the expert testimony that the jury were.  It has reached the point where people who look like Anthony are being attacked for looking like her.

To close, I suggest reading the above linked article as well as this other one from the same blogger.  He says many things that I am in full agreement with.  To add a little, I have heard that the state has incurred untold costs in providing extra security for the trial, as well as its aftermath.  This is obviously due to the media's incursion into the region of Florida where the trial was held, as well as the threats against the jurors and the Anthony family.  I imagine that Florida's finances are in dire straits (like most states) and this is an extra cost that they could ill afford.  All while the media gets to walk away with the ad revenue that they pocket from the coverage of this case.  This is a perfect example, to me, of how corporations privatize their profits while socializing the costs of their actions.  In a just world, the media would have to share the costs of providing the extra police and guards in the Florida courtroom where the trial occurred.

Also, I hope this case makes our courts reexamine the issue of whether cameras should be allowed in the courtroom.  In theory, it sounds like a great idea.  Who doesn't want openness in any statehouse or courthouse?  But in practice, it has proven a debacle, due to the reasons above.  The media is not going to devote extensive coverage to, say, any modern-day variants of a Scopes Trial or a Sacco & Vanzetti, or any other case where a valid legal question is posed.  The coverage will go to cases that scrape the bottom of the barrel, and in which our basest, worst instincts as human beings will come out, and possibly manifest themselves, in violent fashion.