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  They are applying outdated solutions to this problem, and they are doomed to fail.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.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Power of Suggestion

This is a fascinating little video from a lecture by science writer Simon Singh.  I don't want to divulge too much, so let's just say he takes a very well-known song and uses it as a vehicle through which we are shown just how susceptible many of us are; we can very easily believe something that actually isn't real, just based on our prejudices and expectations.  These are emotions that manifest themselves every day in how we feel about things, and I think viewers of cable news programs are especially conditioned via methods similar to that used by Mr. Singh here. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Latest Jobs Report: A Real Kick in the Balls

I usually don't keep track of this stuff, only because I don't trust government statistics as far as I can throw 'em, but the media is abuzz with the latest jobs report, which is pretty dismal.  I think that they were forecasting around 100 thousand new jobs created or thereabouts; only 18 thousand were actually created according to the report.  Unemployment is now up to 9.2% (which is very conservative; the actual number is much higher). 

I am confused as to why anyone in the halls of power (be it Washington or Wall Street) would expect that there would be any robust job creation whatsoever.  I guess they have such a vested interest in believing their own bullshit or something.  Between quantitative easing (creating money from thin air), the stimulus and all this other stuff, it is pathetic to think that this is the best that could have been done.  I think that this is a big confidence killer for business, and for the population in general.

More than one person I've read of has compared these economic times to the Five Stages of Grief (the Kubler-Ross Model, which consists of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).  For a long time, most of us have been in the "denial" phase.  A lot of people I talk to about this always think that "things will get better"; I'm guessing it's based on the fact that we have had recessions before and have always bounced back, so we will just do the same this time.  I see that starting to change, as more and more people begin to see that there will be no "recovery" coming for them, and then the anger phase sets in.

Along with the dismal jobs report, the corporate news media is talking about industries in which there is demand for workers.  I strongly believe that this is another scam.  Their goal is to trumpet these "growing industries" to the unemployed, get them to go back to school (taking out huge loans in the process), and create a glut of workers in that industry, which lowers the wages in that field.  

This also ties in with all the bedlam concerning the "debt ceiling".  If the ceiling isn't raised, or some deal is struck to significantly cut the deficit, many jobs in the public sector will be lost, making the unemployment problem much worse.  But on the other hand, continued borrowing at the magnitude that we have been borrowing will lead to continued price shocks in energy and food, causing even more pain to the working class.  I do think these two issues in tandem (debt ceiling and unemployment) will be a gamechanger.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Few Notes

It was my day off, so I spent it in my usual way, by going to the heart of Patchogue and visiting the library, the coffee house and the gym.  On my way home, I noticed a couple of things:

The old 112 Video location, which has been abandoned for a few years now, is once again for rent (112 Video is an independent video store; it's still operating but has moved down the road into the next town, Patchogue.  It has survived Blockbuster, pay-per-view on demand and appears to have survived Netflix, but will it survive the new form of Netflix, which is streaming video?  Only time will tell, I guess.)  Anyway, since it vacated its former premises on Route 112 in Medford, it has been rented out by businesses that have come and gone.  It was a cabinet company, first, I think it might have lasted a month.  Then, it was some kind of Turkish grocer and finally, it was a pool lounge.  The latter two did not even open for business before they crumbled.  I have seen this in other places, signs saying that a new business would be "COMING SOON", only to not come at all.  I'm guessing that it's due to the ramifications of the economic crash of '08.  Aspiring small business owners are likely finding it extremely difficult to get financing to open their businesses.  They probably get an initial line of credit, enough to rent out the building and to make up signs, but further lines of credit to buy the other essentials peter out and they end up going bust before making their first dollar.  It's a shame, especially that the billiards place did not come in.  I'm becoming enamored of the game, playing it via video games and would like a place where I could learn it further. 

Another thing I noticed as I was walking home on Horseblock Road (a decidedly unfriendly road for pedestrians, with nothing but ugly strip malls and big-boxes lining the landscape) was that there was a fender bender that appeared to be relatively minor.  It was the side I was headed home on, so I had to cross.  I was looking at it, and saw no less than 2 police cars and 2 emergency vehicles on the scene, for what looked like a typical fender-bender.  This disproportionate response to minor accidents is quite the norm in my community.  I wonder how we will be able to keep this going as our municipal finances keep circling the shitter and as oil prices continue to soar.  I hope that as they do so, our local authorities and safety officers moderate their responses to incidents accordingly, only pulling out the big guns when lives are at stake.