Archive for the ‘The Economy’ Category

St. Andrew's Cross, The Scottish Flag

St. Andrew’s Cross, The Scottish Flag

First, I know Scotland is having the big VOTE for independence today and I want to wish them luck.  I know a lot of respected economists are saying it isn’t a good idea BUT my heart says I hope they vote Yes and they can work out the details later.  I seriously doubt that England will shoot itself in the foot by refusing to let them continue to use the British pound for their currency.  If they do, it will be colossally stupid and destabilizing for both countries.  My opinion is definitely colored by my Irish heritage.   Even though Scotland has a longer history of being part of the U.K. than Ireland, it doesn’t change the fact that it originally occurred as a matter of conquest.  I only wish that a united Ireland could do the same.

Second, I’m so very tired of hearing the constant negative press against the President.  It’s like the American media isn’t in touch with reality any more.  They’re just so dead set on being against the Administration (Faux News, I’m looking at you) or they’ve wed themselves to the idea of appearing centrist (even NPR drank the kool aid on this nonsense) that they won’t report what’s really going on.   Here’s what they’re not telling Americans.

Pesky facts about how President Obama has actually improved things in the U.S.

Pesky facts about how President Obama has actually improved things in the U.S.

Do you see the difference in Deficit % of GDP, that’s frigging huge!  And that’s not disputable….it’s a fact.  But try to tell a conservative that the president has reduced the deficit and they will have a hissy fit.  It doesn’t fit into their narrative so it couldn’t possibly be true.  Ht to @BlueNationUnited for the graphic

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Game of Thrones last episode, “First of His Name”, not only reached record levels of cable subscriber viewers surpassing even The Sopranos but it is also setting records for illegal downloads [ht for both links to WinterIsComing.net].  Well, I’m not crying any crocodile tears for cable providers because THIS  is how I feel about them:

I moved a couple of weeks ago. In my old house I had a bundled package through CenturyLink (formerly Qwest) for DSL internet (60Mbps download) and DirectTV for HBO (and a thousand other useless stations). We didn’t actually get 60, but we sure as hell paid for it. And their service dropped all the time. At the new house the max download speed that CenturyLink could offer was 5Mbps–this is in a newer neighborhood, built after fiber optic was being installed automatically. Forget about the kids using their Xbox while you watch a movie via Netflix…that ain’t gonna happen….hell I couldn’t work from home using that kind of download speed!

So we had to get rid of CenturyLink, which means we had to get rid of DirectTV–remember it’s a bundle–separate the things are impossibly expensive. Now DirectTv wants over $300 as a penalty for canceling with them which we wouldn’t have had to do if CenturyLink didn’t suck so much. DirectTV said ‘well you can keep us and use Cox for your Internet‘.    No, I can’t because it will cost me 3x’s as much per month if I go that route. I can’t afford over $300 a month–that truly is insane. To put it into perspective, that’s more than I pay for health insurance every month!!!

The ONLY other option for Internet connection at the new house (or anywhere else in central AZ for that matter) was Cox Communications–who has the absolute worst customer support I have ever had the misfortune to encounter in all my years of consumer spending (I used to have them when I lived in the Central Phoenix corridor). There was no other choice, so I signed up with Cox.

In order to get near the same speed I am now paying slightly more per month than before AND they forced us to get a phone line and sign a 2 year deal. I haven’t had a plug in phone in years and I still don’t. I refuse to put a phone in so telemarketers can bug me 24/7. Screw em. So now I’m paying for phone I don’t need AND a thousand channels I don’t watch so I can access the Internet and watch HBO.  In a year or so if I need to move again, what if the house to which I’m moving doesn’t have access to Cox Cable.  I was thinking about buying a house.  Do I have to restrict my house search to only ones that allow Cox Cable?  The whole thing is just absurd.

Why are these companies allowed to control every point of access we have to streaming content? They don’t allow monopolies in other industries but this one seems to be A-Okay with Congress. It boggles the mind.

The following news stories actually make me not only wonder if our species will survive for much longer but also if we deserve to survive our own stupidity and neglect.

  • The City of Detroit found 11,000 rape kits that were abandoned and never tested.  After testing less than 7% of them they identified 100 serial rapists and 10 convicted rapists.  So if that pattern holds and they test the rest of them, they can expect to discover several hundred more of these scumbag.  ht mistermix at Balloon Juice
  • The AZ legislature is pushing a bill that would allow people to carry guns into building even if it’s forbidden (if they don’t have lockers available you can ignore the ban).  They’ve also advanced the idea that some gun owners can carry even if there are lockers and ban.  And to make it truly impossible for local governments to forbid guns in their government buildings, they’ve approved and forwarded a bill that says any local government who enforces local ordinance over state law can be fined.  This is like the trifecta of stupid.  They’re begging for someone to go into government buildings and commit mass murder.  I certainly will be avoiding those buildings like the plague if this crap passes.  ht JM Ashby at Bob Cesca
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, back when he was a prosecutor, let a child slaver off easy so that he could take down a political rival.
  • Pat Robertson, TV Evangelist, told a woman that having cancer was her own fault for not forgiving her abusive father.  Okaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy
  • A new law went into effect in Michigan that says businesses and individuals who purchase private insurance must take out a separate rider to cover abortion care.  Essentially, if a woman needs an abortion for ANY reason and if she doesn’t have  a separate rider for it, she will have to pay out of pocket for the cost of that care.  So if I lived there, had a miscarriage and needed a D&C to shorten the process  and suffering so I could get back on my feet sooner, I would have to pay completely out of pocket for it.  Likewise for women who have become pregnant as a result of incest and rape.  That’s insane.  The real kicker is that there is not a single private insurance provider in the marketplace that provides this insurance.  This could not only bankrupt women and their families, it in effect nullifies Roe v. Wade, and will force women to seek out cheaper and more dangerous care for such things.  I hope the women in Michigan enjoy being second class citizens because it looks like the state is on target to vote the same politicians who’ve created these laws back into office.
  • Billionaires in the 1% are getting their panties in a twist and crying lots of salty tears because the rest of us are tired of having the economy manipulated while they gamble with our money and take what little wealth Americans have managed to accumulate over the last few decades.  The 99% have had the temerity to exercise their Freedom of Speech and the Right to Vote in more progressive candidates.  However, so far as I know there have been no lynch mobs or guillotine lines nor any proposed by anyone of significance in any “likely to happen” fashion.  The 99% are simply using the peaceful system of governance and the wonderful mechanisms given to us by the Founding Fathers.  However, reading some of the recent comments by the 1% (here’s a few examples here and here) might make one think that we are in the midst of a communist peasant uprising (or fascist style takeover depending on which historical example they erroneously choose).  Truth is, if we were in such a state, their heads would already be on pikes.  In reality nothing is happening to them and that’s the stupid thing.  We should be curtailing their almost godlike power over our economy and our elected officials. Their message gets broadcast loud and clear.  We hear about their perspective 24/7 on Fox News, read their whining on major websites and news sources (in addition to reading about their phenomenally ignorant take on history), and suffer under the vagaries of the worldwide economy which they essentially control.  As Jon Stewart said the other day, they make money regardless of how the economy fares.  So why should they give a crap about us? They don’t and the majority of Americans haven’t yet grasped this fact and what it will mean for this country, and indeed the world, in the long run.  Until Americans decide to stand up and pull up our pants, they’ll be back there having their way with us and complaining that its hard, nay dangerous, to be a billionaire.

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show sometimes gets on my nerves with his “both sides do it” tendencies, but in a recent segment absolutely decimates Eric Bolling and Fox News coverage of food stamp fraud.  Video here:  http://www.hulu.com/watch/608697

For those “over the pond” folks who cannot access the video, here’s a summary.

Jon shows Eric Bolling calling him out.  Tape of Bolling saying he is going to take Jon “to school”.  After making fun of Bolling for this ridiculous call out, Stewart walks through their hypocrisy step by step.  He points out that one hippy (who was used as THE example of food stamp fraud on 6 different Fox shows) does not represent the millions of poor Americans.  But okay, we don’t have to argue that point.  Let’s address how much fraud there actually is.  So he show that food stamp fraud is about $3 billion annually and is not anything to sneeze at.  Jon then compares that to the amount of money not paid by corporations due to loopholes in the U.S. taxes every year, which amounts to about $4 billion a year.  Then he shows a clip of Bolling saying that the money lost due to unpaid corporate taxes of “$4 billion is a pittance, a pittance!” in the larger scheme of things.  So $3 billion lost in our effort to feed poor Americans is too much but losing $4 billion to corporations every year is a pittance.  Hmmmmm……

Stewart then asks why do they, meaning Fox and conservatives, think this?  He shows clips of them talking about corporations being “job creators”.  He then shreds this next point like a master.  JP Morgan was instrumental in causing the recent Great Recession that affected the entire world.  They sold sub-prime mortgages and derivatives as triple A investments and the bottom fell out.  They created a whole lot of poor people. Did you know that JP Morgan Chase also administers the food stamp EBT program for 24 states making hundreds of billions a year on that contract alone?  Did you know they get paid per customer?

Jon then supposes that JP Morgan must put that money back into our economy by creating jobs…that’s what conservatives and Fox News claim.  Turns out that is not the case.   To handle the customer support calls on the food stamps program, JP Morgan hired offshore operators who get paid $3.50 an hour.  That’s right–the job creators are creating jobs alright, just not in the frigging U.S.    So no matter what happens, corporations win if the rest of lose and they always make sure we lose.  After all, it’s in their best interest, which is making a profit.

Stewart sarcastically explains this business model for us:

“But don’t think of it as JP Morgan shorting homeowners.  Think of them as going long on hunger.”

He follows that massive wallop with another as he ends the segment.  He says:

So what I’m getting from Fox is this….Exploiting government largess while reprehensible and morally corrupting for an individual is a-okay for corporations.  

Then there appears a picture behind Stewart of a little girl and carton of milk and he says:

So, maybe this will help.  Don’t think about food stamps and head start and programs like that as feeding and helping a small child.

As the milk carton disappears from the picture, Stewart finishes with:

Think about it as investing in promising start-up with a liquidity problem.  

It was an absolutely brilliant takedown.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother;
–William Shakespeare, from Henry V

In my mind, the part that says “sheds his blood with me” should be “sheds his blood for me”. See in modern warfare everyone doesn’t fight in wars–at least not in the U.S. We have the luxury of having standing armies. But that doesn’t relieve us as fellow citizens of our obligations to those who do fight. Apparently U.S. Senate Republicans have forgotten that.

Senate Republicans voted down a VA spending bill.  Only Democratic Senators and two Republicans voted for the bill. The opposed Republicans argued that 1) it’s borrowed money and that’s bad policy, 2) the VA is wasteful so why extend its mission if it’s already failing, and 3) they wanted new sanctions against Iran tagged onto the bill because they couldn’t get it to the floor for debate any other way.

There’s so much there to lambaste….where to start. I’ll try to keep it simple.

1) Borrowed Money BS: The GOP has the nerve to bitch about borrowed money when they supported TWO wars and borrowed money to fund them. Hell they didn’t even budget for them until Pres. Obama came into office and insisted that we put the expense on the books and start paying for them. You, know, to do the grown up thing. Both wars cost us $4 trillion with tens of billions wasted and ended up lining the pockets of big corporations like Halliburton and Xe. You know Halliburton the company that Dick Cheney used to run and Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, who provided soldiers for hire when we ran out of troops.

So now these same guys are now refusing to pass a bill that would take care of the very veterans that fought in those wars because it would cost us $21 billion over 10 years. Now realize this new bill restores pension money that was previously promised to veterans and upon which many military familes were planning on having upon retirement. Congress only recently took a part of their pension away–so they could give it back–they never should have taken it in the first place. The bill also sought to expand benefits like caretaker stipends. You know for all those soldiers so wounded from IED’s that they need constant care while their beleaguered spouses have to now work just to survive. Did you know that the military spent $103 million on food stamps in 2013, which was a 5% increase from the year before, and that the usage of food stamps by military families has quadrupled since 2006? That’s because base pay for a soldier with a wife and one kid is $20,000. That’s nothing in today’s economy.

2) VA failing in its mission: Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) actually said “If the VA is already failing to meet its obligations to veterans, is it wise to extend its mission even further?” Oh, do you mean like we were losing in Iraq and extended what we were told would be a “get in, get out” kind of thing? Like when Pres. Bush declared mission accomplished but the war actually lasted 10 frigging years and the country is still experiencing chaos? The hypocrisy is so thick, you could cut it with a knife.

3) Iran sanctions: Do you hear that loud drum beat? That’s the war hawks in the Republican party pounding the drum for war in Syria and/or Iran. They think if they appear to be “strong” then it will make the President look “weak” in comparison. It’s why we’re seeing so many conservative articles online comparing Pres. Obama and Vladimir Putin and praising Putin for his “direct” approach. It’s a two pronged strategy: make him look weak and deny him any peaceful foreign policy solutions. And voila, we’ll have a very profitable war–profitable for them and their ilk but not so much for our military, our national budget, or well for anyone other than the warmongers and the companies that grease their palms. They are so desperate to deny Pres. Obama any political successes that they want to sabotage the already working negotiations with Iran. So they want to sabotage the peaceful solution we are currently engaged in and willing to risk a boots on the ground war with Iran for the sake of getting over politically on the President. Weren’t these the same assholes who demanded that liberals put country first any time we criticized the previous administration? Yes, yes they are.

The problem here is that Americans aren’t paying attention. They aren’t hearing this hypocrisy, at least for the most part. I certainly hope that military families are seeing and hearing the BS coming from the GOP, because if they don’t, these idiots will be voted back into office at the next midterm elections. Wake up America.

Sources:

http://www.brendan-nyhan.com/blog/gop-dissent-attacks.html

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/370782/value-putin-victor-davis-hanson/page/0/1

http://thinkprogress.org/world/2014/02/04/3244781/rohrabacher-mccain-graham/

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/why-soldiers-are-increasingly-relying-on-food-stamps/

http://item.liveleak.com/2/view?i=e4e_1393543001&comments=1

http://www.kcet.org/living/food/food-rant/a-reminder-military-families-use-food-stamps.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal_government/senate-rejects-far-reaching-veterans-affairs-bill/2014/02/27/1d10801c-a001-11e3-b8d8-94577ff66b28_story.html

Did you know that…

  • The six members of the Walton family of Walmart own more wealth than the bottom 41% of Americans (127,000,000+ people).
  • The bottom half of the world’s population (about 3.5 billion people) owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
  • Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
  • In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95% of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90% became poorer.

But U.S. conservatives don’t want to talk about “income inequality” and are shedding big crocodile tears about so-called class warfare.  Funny how saying the rich should pay more causes conservatives to cry “class warfare” but when they hate on the poors and the browns they’ll claim that’s just how our fine capitalist system works.  The President has been hammering away at “income inequality” these past few months calling it the “defining challenge of our time”.

The problem is that alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years.  A child born in the top 20 percent has about a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top.  A child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top.  He’s 10 times likelier to stay where he is.  In fact, statistics show not only that our levels of income inequality rank near countries like Jamaica and Argentina, but that it is harder today for a child born here in America to improve her station in life than it is for children in most of our wealthy allies — countries like Canada or Germany or France.  They have greater mobility than we do, not less.

I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it…poverty begets poverty down the generations. The further we’re down in that hole the harder it is to climb out.  I believe we have a moral obligation to our fellow citizens to correct this problem and that the government is the ideal means of doing so.  Conservatives will tell you to wait for the benevolence of the wealthy.  Just give them tax cuts and it will trickle down.  We’ve been trying that since Reagan and it simply doesn’t work.  What the wealthy do is simply hoard it and live off the interest.  They don’t hire more people, take bigger risks, spend more…they just keep it and they keep it out of circulation.

Some of the solutions are simple:  raise the minimum wage, provide free meals to kids at school, and make healthcare affordable (the ACA is a start but a Single Payer system would be better).  Others are harder to accomplish like creating more opportunities by investing in emerging technologies and markets that will grow in future like renewable energy.  It’s not a matter of IF we should do these kinds of things, it’s a matter of WHEN we should do them.  And we should have done it years ago if we want this country to not only survive but thrive in the new global economy.

ht to Betty Cracker at Balloon-Juice

Sources:

http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bp-working-for-few-political-capture-economic-inequality-200114-en.pdf

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2012/jul/31/walmart-family-wealthier-40-percent-united-states/

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/12/obama-income-inequality-100662.html#ixzz2sYzBTMoR

A couple of days ago Gov. Brewer of this fine state abolished an entire state government agency: Child Protective Services. She replaced it with a new one called “Child Safety and Family Services” and put a guy by the name of Charles Flanagan in the director’s position, current head of the AZ Department of Juvenile Corrections. This change by the Governor is most likely bad for Arizona although one could also argue that things couldn’t have gotten any worse.

The tipping point for the Governor, beyond CPS’s well known longterm underperformance, was the fact that a review of their caseloads discovered that 6,000 cases that originated from the official hotline had not been investigated. This sounds horrible and it is. It is also illegal because AZ laws says that those cases MUST be investigated. Nevertheless, what the news media is not reporting to the public is the context in which all this occurred.

CPS has, like most other state agencies, been purposely starved by the Republican Governor and Republican-led legislature. Arizona is a conservative state and prides itself on low tax rates. Combine that with revenue plummeting due to the Great Recession that started in 2008 and from which we are just now recovering and we ended up with very few funds for a lot of services. We are recovering thankfully. Experts are saying that Arizona revenue will have grown by 3.5% in Fiscal Year in 2013 and are predicting 5.3% in Fiscal Year 2014. In the end, we get what we pay for and Arizona doesn’t pay for much.

However, even when times were good, state services were dismal. Here is just one example*. In 2006, the state had approximately 5% of the population living with serious mental illness and on average spent $157 per capita and assisted only 18% of the adults in need. In addition an unusually low percentage of the money budgeted for mental health services, 7%, went to state hospital care. The national average is 70%. This means that if you’re mentally ill in AZ and need assistance from the state you aren’t likely to get any and if you happen to end up homeless and mentally ill, there are no hospitals for you. This again, follows a conservative trend to deinstitutionalize mental health treatment . This trend began in CA when Reagan was governor and when he was elected President he spread that policy nationwide with ramifications we are still feeling today. Suffice it to say, it’s part of the Republican strategy to starve government so that it will fail. And when services fail, because they’ve made it inevitable, they can say, “See government doesn’t work so let’s just do away with it.” Even now Arizona is projected to have a budget surplus but Republican state legislators are still preaching austerity. Here’s what Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills**) had to say back in October 2013 a couple of months before the most recent scandal.

Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said a more realistic snapshot would build in extra spending requests in the coming years, especially since the state has had a recent run of surpluses.

“A lot of people are asking for more spending,” Kavanagh said, ticking off requests he’s seen for Child Protective Services, wildfire management and roads.

If lawmakers spend even $150 million more a year over the state budget’s baseline for the next three years, he said, the deficit could balloon to $1.4 billion by June 2017.

That’s just theory at this point. Many involved in the budgeting process caution it’s hard to reliably predict revenue and spending more than a year ahead of time.

The point is that CPS was set up to fail. Having worked in law enforcement myself I am very familiar with how child protection services are supposed to work and the incredible burdens the very underpaid, under appreciated and over worked social workers have to contend with. I thought my caseload as a Probation Officer was bad until I found out about the social workers and what they had to deal with. At least with my active caseload of 150 felons in the community, which was about half of their active cases, the likelihood that anyone’s life and mental health really depended on what I did or didn’t do was low. That’s not the case with CPS. Many of the kids’ lives and mental and physical health are directly dependent upon CPS employees every single day. Needless to say the turnover for their employees is extremely high because morale is naturally horrible. High turnover rate means more down time and increased costs for training making CPS even more expensive to run than other agencies.

Of the 6,000 cases that were ignored, 125 were found to be actual cases of abuse and none of those were reported as fatalities. That’s about a 2% rate of actual abuse from Hotline cases. Ultimately this latest scandal is simply further proof that CPS could never have succeeded. This kind of agency faces enough of a challenge in our society without the extra burden of being starved financially. So the Governor can create a new agency all she wants but it will still have the same mission, still have to draw from the same pool of underpaid and disillusioned social workers, and still have the same caseload pressures as before. Furthermore, the fact that she’s putting someone who has been involved with locking up kids and not saving them doesn’t bode well either.

In the end, the people that suffered and will continue to suffer are first and foremost the kids and second the overwhelmed CPS employees. I’m sure the Governor and the state Republican controlled legislature feels their hands are clean and on the surface it may appear they are lily white. Right now it appears that Gov. Brewer is sweeping in to save the day. That’s because they are willing to let that all roll downhill like they always do and the local news media and the voting public will let them get away with it yet again. For what it’s worth, at least some of us know the truth.

________________

*Another somewhat related example are the approximately 400 felony cases, some of which were sexual in nature and the victims were children, that went uninvestigated in the city of El Mirage. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was paid to investigate the crimes except they never were. Funny how Joe is still in office….why is MCSO even allowed to exist if CPS isn’t under the same circumstances? Why hasn’t El Mirage sued the holy bejeebers out of MCSO for unrendered services, fraud, theft, something….anything? Typical Arizona bullpucky to which the voters turn a blind eye.

**Fountain Hills is a VERY wealthy community to the East of Snottsdale where Sheriff “I serve green bologne to my inmates and have one of the highest correction death rates in the country” Arpaio happens to reside.