Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cut-Rate Country (Responses to Murder (Ban Sale of Semis?) Christina's Civics Lesson (All of Ours) DC Closes Public Buildings) Greenspan 'Disinterest'

(If throwing a contribution Pottersville2's way won't break your budget in these difficult financial times, I really need it, and would wholeheartedly appreciate it. Anything you can afford will make a huge difference in this blog's lifetime.)

I sometimes marvel that I have any readers at all. It's due to my increasing negativity about the outcome of all this mayhem-producing news, of course, but it's also that anyone (as we notice daily) wants to even consider that things are much worse than we have been told. And after the next stock market crash (can you doubt it?) will be almost unavoidable for anyone outside of the millionaires-and-above club.

From Tom at the Dispatch we get to consider Stephen Salisbury's article Extremist Killing Is as American as Apple Pie. (Thanks, Tom! We needed that.)

Murders Grow on the Far Right Four Decades After Martin Luther King

By Stephan Salisbury

The landscape of America is littered with bodies. They’ve been gunned down in Tucson, shot to death at the Pentagon, and blown away at the Holocaust Museum, as well as in Wichita, Knoxville, Pittsburgh, Brockton, and Okaloosa County, Florida.

Total body count for these incidents: 19 dead, 26 wounded.

Not much, you might say, when taken in the context of about 30,000 gun-related deaths annually nationwide. As it happens, though, these murders over the past couple of years have some common threads. All involved white gunmen with ties to racist or right-wing groups or who harbored deep suspicions of “the government.” Many involved the killing of police officers.

Read the article by clicking on the link, please.

You can't get much more graphic than that, can you?

Er, but maybe you can . . . although I pretty much agree with this writer (and forgive me for running his whole article here, but he speaks for me and everyone that I know who has a grain of decency left) that members of Congress would be more successful coming out for "Gay Jesus Day" than for any type of reinstatement of the same type of sane gun control we had after Reagan and Brady were shot up in the 80's (from the Regressive Antidote (emphasis marks added - Ed.)):

Christina Green's Civics Lesson Last week, Christina Green got a lesson in American government and politics.

The rest of us, apparently, did not.

Christina was a nine year-old kid, just elected to student council. She decided to see what government was all about by attending a ‘Congress On Your Corner’ constituent event in Tucson, featuring Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Christina came home from the event dead, one of the greater tragedies imaginable in a national narrative that always has plenty of those on offer. We – American society – mourn for her. And we would genuinely like to make sure that something like this never happens again.

It’s just that we’d have to budge ever so slightly off our bloated, beached backsides, get up and reclaim our government for that to happen. So it won’t.

Right there you’ll find Civics Lessons Numbers One through Three that Christina Green got.

First, that American government does not belong to the American people anymore.

Second, that the public is too lazy to cease being ignorant in order to take it back.

And third, that those societies which are fortunate enough to have been bequeathed the gift of liberty and democracy are not always mature enough to deserve keeping them. And therefore they might not.

Almost everything that is wrong with American politics and government and society can be traced back to these foundational axioms. We are a breathtakingly, astonishingly stupid society – if stupid is defined as bringing unnecessary grief upon oneself – and almost all of our shared tribulations derive from the simple fact that American government does not now exist to serve the public interest, and that we’ve let that happen.

Given that premise, government will do incredibly destructive things, including to you and me. Of course, the interests that own the government could not be less bothered by such externalities and collateral damage (that would be us) if we were instead all minnows, instantly pulverized by the churning propellers of their gasoline-inhaling, pollutant-belching, city-block-long yachts.

Serving the interests of the plutocracy is no longer merely American government’s bias or even its mission. That function has in our time now become its full-on raison d'être, and the government is therefore capable of anything in pursuit of that purpose.

It has created a gigantic military machine, completely out of proportion to any actual national security need.

It has launched an endless series of wars, based on lie after lie.

It has shifted ever greater tax burdens onto the middle, working and under classes, and onto future generations – without, of course, their acquiescence.

It has created and defends a health care system that condemns tens of millions of its citizens – including children – to a lack of health, and to shortened lives.

It built a massive for-profit prison industry, incarcerating more of its citizens than any other country in the world.

It allowed its financiers to deploy every manner of crooked scam imaginable, in a context of almost completely absent regulation, wrecking an entire global economy in the process as these bunkster banksters enriched themselves before, during and after the meltdown they created.

Then it covered their losses one hundred cents on the dollar, using taxpayer funds, even as these private sector privateers continued to flog that very same government as public enemy number one.

It gave corporations tax credits for shipping American jobs overseas, decimating the middle class on the altar of free trade.

It stood by silently, permitting banks to throw people out of their homes en masse, based on foreclosure documents that are utter garbage.

It declared corporations the equivalent of human beings, and then used the doctrine of free speech protection to cover for the unlimited political purchasing power those predators employed to buy the government of their liking.

It allowed credit card companies to charge interest rates that would make loan sharks blush.

It made it nearly impossible for citizens crushed under these burdens, and those of lost jobs or medical crises, to seek the refuge of bankruptcy.

It allowed oil companies to run dangerous drilling projects in our commons without the slightest regulation or supervision by the government.

It permitted coal companies to level entire mountain ranges.

It allows factory farms to create massive oceans of animal waste, to inflict astonishingly cruel industrial-scale violence upon the creatures in their maws, and to produce toxic chemical-infused products for the public to consume, leading to epidemic-scale national health disasters.

It permits ongoing destruction of the very environment which makes life on Earth possible – the only such environment, on the only such planet, available to us.

And it regularly beats up on gays and immigrants and women and brown people and foreigners, in order to divert our attention from all of these crimes.

The government of this country has done all these things and much, much more for one simple reason: It serves the overclass, not the people.

And so, if it is capable of doing these things – wars and depressions and mass incarcerations and planetary destruction – and if it is so sociopathically amoral that it is willing to commit these crimes for the mere purpose of enriching the already fabulously wealthy, should it be any shock to us that it can also murder nine year-old little girls?

Or ninety year-old grandpas? Or even members of Congress? Is there really anything surprising about the fact that over 30,000 Americans die every year from gun violence? Do we really have the right to be startled about what happened in Tucson, when a million Americans have perished by the gun since Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were murdered in that same fashion?

And what could be shocking about the death of a nine year-old girl when we live in a society so far gone that it can’t even remove the trade in military-grade assault weapons from the practice of its legal commerce? A society that makes it easier to purchase such killing machines than it is to get a driver’s license? A polity that now has within its borders nearly one weapon for each of the 300 million of us living here? A country in which transparently deranged and dangerous individuals cannot be blocked from possessing weapons of mass destruction?

Jesus Christ, of course Christina Green is dead. What else could possibly be imagined? What else could possibly happen if one were to take – as a sociological experiment – any given society and infect it so thoroughly with the disease of such a vast and murderously destructive arsenal? What if, instead, we had nearly 300 million vials of smallpox distributed among the population? What else besides death on an epidemic scale could possibly happen?

And what else will continue to happen? And what else has already happened, by the hundreds, just in the mere week’s time since this little girl was murdered?

There will be no end to this, because we are too lazy to take ownership of our government, too lazy to cure our ignorance about who actually owns it and for what purpose, and too devoid of the character necessary even just to maintain the democracy that we’re always prattling on about abroad, as we boorishly extol the exceptional quality of our virtues to others forced to listen. Unfortunately, preserving the gifts of democracy and liberty requires a bit more effort than just showing up every four years (or not, for nearly half of us) and taking five minutes to cast a vote for this imbecilic clown as a replacement for that transparent thief. Hence the current sad state of the United States.

So forget it. Sure, it would be great if nine year-old girls didn’t have to die violently, but what about our football games? What about our sitcoms and our ritual self-affirming humiliation-fests otherwise known as ‘reality TV’?

We’re not going to do a damn thing about this child murdered for profit. And she was precisely that, just as sure as if it had been a contract killing. Let’s not mince words. There are people who get rich by injected the poison of weaponry into our society.

Fundamentally, they know this, and they are therefore morally no different from any standard issue contract killer, except by the vastly greater scale of their crimes.

We’re not going to do a damn thing about this child murdered for profit, and in fact we’re so far down the road of our national pathology that none of our elected representatives will anymore even bother with the kabuki dance ritual of yore calling for a change in such transparently destructive gun laws.

They are fully complicit in this murder. They, too, are contract killers, exchanging political office, or money, or the political office that money buys, for 30,000 Christina Greens per year. Every year. Year in and year out.

We are so far down the road of our pathology that we praise our president for giving a supposedly “healing” speech, though he did not ever once discuss the remedies that could actually heal the gaping societal wound of gun violence. Instead he merely talks about how we should talk about our policy issues, if we do. Which we won’t. All of which is code for people like him rolling over for the greedy predator class yet again.

But we say, “Wonderful job, Barack! Such soothing bromides! Such warm and fuzzy platitudes! Such touching tropes! Thank you for making us feel better and less guilty. And thank you, especially, for not calling upon us to get up and actually do anything. Or even think about doing anything. Or even think.”

Let’s face it, we are so far down the road of our own pathology that we only even noticed Christina Green’s death because she happened to be alongside a member of Congress at the moment she had her fateful reckoning with the insatiable greed of the American plutocracy. Who would have known, otherwise? Even being a senselessly murdered little girl isn’t enough to make national headlines these days.

And imagine if instead this had been the story of a forty year-old, a man – worse, a minority – murdered alone on a street corner somewhere, with no dignitary or celebrity anywhere nearby. Would Barack The Great National Healer have gone to his funeral? If so, he’d be a very busy president, since over 80 gun deaths occur per day in America, every single day.

For the money.

Which is the same reason nothing will be done, nor even seriously discussed. So successful have been the purveyors of the guns-for-profit trade that even suggesting a sensible gun control policy in this country – for example, one like that employed by most every other country in the world, the folks who have radically less gun violence than we do – has been delegitimized into some sort of nefarious communist plot to destroy the Constitution.

Not to mention having become guaranteed career suicide for our political class. Members of Congress might as well come out for making Gay Jesus Day a national holiday for all the traction they’d get addressing this epidemic, even if they were only doing something as ridiculously sane as trying to ban assault weapons.

If planetary destruction is not sufficient to move the government to curb even slightly our aristocracy’s relentless imperative toward greed, what chance do murdered nine year-old girls have of doing so?

The answer to that question appeared this Friday on the front page of the New York Times. There was a photo of Christina Green’s parents at her funeral service, looking stone-faced and drained, their bodies present but their grievously wounded spirits somewhere else, perhaps hunkered down in a fetal position of self-preservation within some emotional bomb-shelter, somewhere far away.

Not so Christina’s brother, however, who sits next to his parents and openly weeps in grief.

And then, just under the photo, lurks the headline to a related story. It says, “Sadness Aside, No Shift Seen On Gun Laws”.

Not even any surprise. And one more little note of no real surprise anymore (from the Associated Press, January 16, 2010):

The capital is a city of magnificent front entrances that people can't access. On Constitutuion Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill, sweeping marble staircases, sculptures, manicured gardens and ornate doors beckoned citizens of the past. Now most stand empty and sealed.

The Supreme Court has become the latest to shoo people from its front steps, to the displeasure of several justices who think it's wrong for an open society to close its most majestic portals.

Across the street, the U.S. Capitol now guides visitors into an underground center, clearing steps that the public once climbed.

The vanishing welcome of Washington's front doors is evident along most of Constitution Avenue, a thoroughfare and parade route lined on one side by the monuments and grounds of the National Mall and on the other by the headquarters of federal agencies and national or global institutions.

Who can be surprised? We're frightened for our lives (and certainly the members of these instutions are).

A final note about the economy and Alan Greenspan's interest level prior to the "panic" (and I'm just sharing some of the things that cross my email desk with my best friends on this most auspicious day):

I usually don't follow closely the few economic releases that were out this week: industrial production and capacity utilization were both up, but we've had a fairly steady rise in those numbers & and 18 month run in positive ISM manufacturing numbers without impacting factory employment, so until those numbers start to indicate more than potential corporate profits, they're nothing to get too excited about

. . . retail sales were up slightly to a new record, but since it was driven by double digit increases at Tiffany's, Saks Fifth Ave, Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom and other high end retailers, punctuated by increases of 35% in sales of cadillacs and 29% in porsches, it appears that was all driven by the same top 1% who will be getting the big obama tax cuts . . .

QE2 or other monetary policy options arent even being discussed or defended anymore . . . and only one area where fiscal policy might be impacted garnered much ink, that being the artificial federal debt ceiling, which most expect will be exceeded about March . . . incoming House freshmen, having campaigned on cutting spending, are rumored to be planning to hold the country hostage, hoping (to) negotiate some non-specific cuts . . . some were worried about the US defaulting on its debt, but it's become clear that the worse that could happen is some vendors may not be paid on time, some benefit checks may be held up, and maybe the troops in afghanistan would have to go without ammo for a while; certainly there would still be enough revenues to pay the interest on the debt and forestall a default

. . . associated with that debate, there were interesting results when two major news organizations, Reuters & CBS, polled the public about what should be done; they "overwhelmingly opposed" raising the debt limit even at the risk of raising borrowing costs, moreover, the people also opposed spending cuts to the benefit programs that account for half federal spending, and also opposed any tax increases to balance the budget...foreign aide, at 1% of the budget, was the only cut most people were willing to make

. . . there were some interesting revelations from the release of old transcripts of the Fed's FOMC meetings in 2005 . . . of what I read, I was struck by Greenspan's disinterest in anything that spoke of crisis, often attempting to deflect it with inappropriate jokes that everyone had to laugh at, as he was, after all, the maestro chairman at the time; for instance, in talking about Greek interest rates, he asked "Can we borrow from the Greeks?", or joking about the condition of Bear Ste(a)rns and Lehman well before they precipitated the crisis

. . . at one FOMC meeting hearing where the Fed was being warned about the bubble by the Atlanta chairman, who talked about people flipping houses in florida, greenspan abruptly cut him off by calling for a coffee break. . .

the Fed is planning to conduct another round of bank stress tests relating to their ability to withstand more real estate related writedowns, but plan on keeping the results secret this time

. . . several reports are out that the banks have a lot to worry about with the Ibanez decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision of last week that returned foreclosed homes to the delinquent owners

. . . Moodys also reported that CMBS delinquencies rose 79% in 2010, and commercial loan delinquencies continued to increase

. . . RealtyTrac reported that there were 2.87 million foreclosure filings in the year just ended and opined that properties receiving foreclosure filings would have easily exceeded 3 million in 2010 had it not been for the fourth quarter drop in foreclosure activity due to the robo-signing scandal and associated foreclosure moratoriums; nonetheless, 9% of all homes in Nevada and nearly 11% of the home in clark county (las vegas) already had a foreclosure filing this past year

. . . one blogger broke out labor participation for men by age group (see chart) and found that it had fallen below 80% for men aged 25-34, and was a dismal 45% for men under 24; furthermore, only one in three young black men have been able to find work

. . . of the jobs that have been created since the recession started, 60% were in the low paying catagories of temporary help, liesure trade, retail, and temporary help

. . . state budgets solutions again provided a study in contrasts this week, with california closing a $25 billion budget gap by cutting a number of programs, including welfare cuts to the university budgets, and offloading other programs on the counties, leaving LA county in a $2 billion hole, texas dealing with their $27B gap by laying off 8000 workers and cutting medicaid & education, and illinois raising their personal income tax from 3% to 5% and their corporate rate from 7.3% to 9.5% to close a $13 B budget deficit deficit; contrast that with new jersey and florida who both cut corporate taxes even while cutting programs

. . . Governors of both wisconsin & indiana both responded to the illinois increases by inviting illinois businesses to cross state lines to take advantage of lower taxes

. . . with the end of the stimulus program that gave the states interest-free loans to pay unemployment benefits, the states will now have to start paying interest on their massive unemployment borrowing, and in another hit to the cash-strapped states, the ending of the build america bond program bond led mutual fund giant Vanguard to scrap plans to roll out 3 new muni funds and forced new jersey to cut a planned bond offering in half, and caused a wisconsin debt issue to cost 3.75% instead of 2.24%

. . . AAA muni-bonds topped 5% for the first time in two years . . . commodities were in the news again this week, especially food & energy, elements which the Fed believes it can ignore in the measures of inflation they track when setting monetary policy

. . . the headline news that drove corn and soybean prices to new cycle highs was a report out of the USDA revising the estimates for the feed & grain crops in the US & worldwide; prices of both jumped 4% when the report was released, with corn futures up 94% from their lows, soybeans up 51% and wheat up 80%

. . . the worldwide supply deficit of wheat, already impacted by the russian fires and pakistani floods this summer, has gotten worse, as virtually the entire winter wheat crop in australia was destroyed by widespread flooding over most of the arable part of the continent. . . there were food-price related riots in tunisia, algeria, morrocco & mozambique, and the Indian cabinet met in a special session to consider how to deal with the rising price of onions (much to my surprise, ive learned that two previous indian goverments were toppled by unrest over onion prices; similar situations exist in sri lanka with dependence on coconuts, and indonesia with chili peppers) the Financial Times is covering the global food crisis in depth with dozens of articles, but since FT is a pain in the butt to copy ill just link to it here

the energy price rises were attributed to cold weather, as heat(ing) oil ended the week at a 27 month high and brent crude in europe touched $99 dollars, but possibly contributing was the shutdown of the aleyska pipeline, 12% of our domestic supply, due to a leak. . . riots over fuel prices were reported in bolivia & chile, with two deaths in chile

. . . the US Dept of Energy forecast that gasoline could top $4 gallon again this summer; curiously, this all followed an forecast early in the week by the US EIA that oil would hit $99 by the end of 2012 . . . after the year just past saw the worst heatwave in russian history, once in a century heatwaves in a dozen other countries, and once in a century flooding in pakistan and elsewhere, both NOAA & NASA released data showing that it was indeed the wettest year in history, and tied 2005 for the hottest year ever . . . meanwhile, the once in a century flooding in australia continued with more heavy rains this week, and an area of the country bigger than texas and california combined was declared a disaster . . . there was also once in a centruy flooding in brazil, with a death toll well over 500 making these rain caused mudslides brazil's worst weather related disaster in history

. . . an international study concluded that a meltdown of greenland is now close to inevitable, and a canadian study predicted that the results of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere would result in warming that could not be reversed for centuries . . . the european crisis looked like it was heading for a replay of the ireland bailout with germany and france pressuring portugal to accept aid from the EFSF at the beginning of the week, with portugal facing a major refunding with interst rates over 7% and rising, and rising costs to insure greek, irish, belgian, & portuguese debt pushing an index of western europe swaps to a record high . . . but the ECB (euro-Fed) stepped in and started buying portuguese debt, and following commitments by both china and japan to also buy euro debt, the portuguese bond auction was successfully completed at it's just a matter of seeing how many of such successes they can take, as european attempts to raise the funding of the EFSF (financial stability fund) are still being blocked by germany...a few links are included here, or you can get the entire blow by blow at the end of this weeks blog post...according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, China has now overtaken the US by purchasing power parity; but similar measures by the CIA & the Economist Intelligence Unit still have the US as #1 . . .

Giffords Opponent, Jesse Kelly, Held June Event to “Shoot a Fully Automatic M16″ to “Get on Target” and “Remove Gabrielle Giffords”

Told you it was depressing. Especially when you stop to realize that none of this is especially surprising to those in charge of the money. Nope. Get prepared for another Paulson/Geithner run on the people's bank.

How much louder do we need to hear "Get Organized!"?

And speaking of getting organized . . .

OBAMA'S REAGANOMICS ON STEROIDS: “Entitlement Reforms” a/k/a Back-Stabbing of Middle & Lower Income Americans

have just read a distressing article on Obama’s toxic Reaganomics sensibility by Eric Laursen in the indypendent.

The ever-hurtful coalition of what Laursen labels deficit hawks and free-market conservatives are having a field day during these dark and dirty Obama years. Obama and his administration amiably talk the talk of bipartisanship as they ruthlessly continue the Reagan and Bush devastation of the non-elite classes. Laursen calls out Obama for engineering us into a fatal economic direction that will damage Social Security for decades to come.


During this time of economic suffering, it shouldn’t have been impossible to win the battle for public opinion by emphasizing that Republicans were holding the tax cuts of ordinary Americans hostage to gain tax breaks for billionaires. But Obama ducked that fight before it began, and it appears many Democrats will follow the same path of least resistance.

At that rate, the program would be well on its way to irrelevance for a great many Americans. On the road to extinction, that is.

Laursen paints a grim picture:

Social Security Works, a research and advocacy group in Washington, calculates that under Bowles-Simpson [Catfood Commissioners], a 25-year-old worker who retires in 2050 at age 65 with a career-average wage of $68,934 would see her Social Security benefit cut by more than one-third.

Social Security is not that generous a system to begin with.

and this:

Bowles and Simpson go even further. Besides eroding Social Security’s inflation protection feature, they would gradually raise the retirement age. The objective is partly to lower the long-term cost of Social Security — the later you retire, the smaller your lifetime benefit — by motivating Americans to keep working past retirement age. But it wouldn’t be that simple. More elderly are staying in the workforce already, because the value of Social Security benefits is eroding while the cost of healthcare for seniors skyrockets. But many employers shun older workers, fearing they will demand more money and possibly boost health insurance costs. Those who can find jobs frequently have to settle for low-wage, temporary, often physically demanding positions. The net result is to swell the ranks of the minimum wage and casual workforce, helping keep wages low.

So there's that . . . too.



The Blog Fodder said...

Another truly cheery picture. and Snowbrush gave me hell for picking on the USA.

Suzan said...

So sad.

Continue to pick. We need intelligent critiques!

Love ya!