Down And Out on Paradise

Sticklers for detail will notice this is the Strip and not actually Paradise, a few blocks East.

Things are tough all over.

I do hope nobody is surprised to learn that poverty in the United States is even higher than expected. After all, some 15% of our population is on food stamps — and that’s according to the freaking Wall Street Journal! And it is worse than average here in Vegas, where the “recovery” you lucky souls in other parts of the nation have been experiencing the last 2 years has passed us by like some angry Santa:

There’s a newer version of this chart right here. Add to that the fact that Vegas is still the reigning foreclosure capital of the nation, and it shouldn’t be any shock that we have a problem with homelessness and “food security” — a fancy term for “no food and/or no money for food.” Please remember that no matter what you may think of the work ethic of people in these situations, some of the people effected are children. There are mighty few jobs available to children that will pay the family’s bills, and most of them are worse than mere hunger.

Maybe if Wall Street didn’t sell us a pack of lies about how we can run our economy on lattes and cheap imports, we could change things. Even Starbucks is trying to create jobs outside the Latte Economy.

In Closing: is police use of a GPS really different from tailing them (uh, yeah); whites use more drugs, but blacks get sent to prison more (huh, could the War on Drugs possibly be racist??); even a broken clock is right twice a day; Americans would rather have government bureaucrats than insurance company bureaucrats (who could know these things?); amen; and right on, Rick.

Unmade in America

A couple of weeks ago I read this Forbes article called “Why Amazon Can’t Make A Kindle In the USA.” I was looking for the two tired and mostly false arguments that usually get trotted out:

  • Greedy American workers want outrageous things like a living wage, regular hours, decent benefits, and a safe workplace.
  • We have so many onerous regulations and taxes, that it just isn’t practical to do business here except of course to suck the money out of our wallets.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that instead, the article focused on the fact that too many of the components of high-tech gadgetry aren’t available from American suppliers, therefore we can’t really put together the whole product here. It’s a problem that has gotten worse over the years as Americans have shifted from a manufacturing economy to an information economy to the Latte Economy.

So then I didn’t really know what to do when I read about a little problem over at Gibson Guitars. It seems that federal agents raided Gibson, confiscating millions of dollars worth of woods such as ebony and rosewood, instruments, and electronic records. Apparently this was done in violation of the law: “US officials have actually refused to tell Gibson what it allegedly did wrong, and why the raid was conducted. The company was never notified of any potential violations prior to the raid, and no official charges were ever filed. By all appearances, the government simply decided one day to unlawfully storm the company’s manufacturing units with loaded weapons, and is now attempting to destroy one of the last honest American manufacturers in existence.”

Such heavy handed — and potentially politically motivated — enforcement of the law could leave legitimate owners of antique instruments in deep doo-doo too.

But wait! This gets even messier! Apparently, there would be no problem with this wood having been imported if it had been finished by workers in India. So let me get this straight: the feds would rather that wood was finished by poorly paid laborers in India — possibly child laborers — than finished by highly paid craftsmen in Tennessee. And moreover, if it wasn’t legal to import this wood in the first place, how did it make it through customs in the first place? For the first time, I wonder if it is practical to make guitars in the United States.

Make no mistake. I am for reasonable regulations that protect the world’s resources and prevent tyrants/terrorists from profiting on the suffering of their people. But clearly we have highly arbitrary regulations when it comes to some products: Does finishing a piece of ebony mean anything about how it was harvested? Does finishing a diamond mean no warlords made a profit? Or does the regulation just protect the profit of the plunderer? These regulations have been handed down from both Democratic and Republican administrations — go ahead and read that link about diamonds if you don’t believe me — so it is clear that neither party has any respect for American workers. And since our economy is currently creating no jobs, that’s just despicable.

There’s clearly more to the Gibson story. So if you have information to add, please put it in comments.

In Closing: so we can give them expensive drugs; expect your health insurance premiums to be exactly 9% higher next year; and science fiction timeline.
Thanks to Jukkou-san for some of the links above. Credit where credit is due.

Cyrus: Shorties of a Serial Killer

8 Years: Somehow I managed to overlook my Blogiversary.

Next time you have a hard time getting through to your doctor’s office: Remember that the Feds are tying up the line trying to figure out how hard it is for you to get an appointment.

He’s just so nice: Matt Damon is trying to find ways to help African people get clean, safe water. And he’s good looking, and he can act.

On Fitness: Ladies, please ignore the fact that it comes from a publication called “Men’s Journal.” The Truth is unisex.

Let’s Get This Out of the Way: Everybody knows that yet another appeals court says there’s no Constitutional problems with the Affordable Care Act, right? Ok, moving on then.

In other news, Bill Gates Doesn’t Understand Capitalism: Ignoring the diseases of poverty isn’t a failure, it’s a sign that there’s no money in it. That’s why it’s called “poverty.”

Shut up and get back to work!: Yeah, it sure would be nice to have paid sick days. I have no idea how you’d do that for those of us who are self-employed.

Professor is Correct Again: Cutting the budget deficit won’t put a single person to work. In fact, it will put some government employees out of work. It will also reduce GDP — which by definition includes government spending. Who are the President’s economic advisers? The ghost of Herbert Hoover? A least he understands that there is no way to balance the budget without taxes.

Computer Security: Don’t stick strange memory sticks in your computer! You don’t know where they’ve been! Stupidity makes hacking possible.

Missing Cute White Girl of the Week Club: Why it’s bad for all of us. Amen, brother.

Senator Bernie Sanders: Speaking Truth in a place where it has been lacking.

To those of you who just got out of medical school: Sage words of a Dinosaur.

Too Big To Fail: Simply must be Too Big To Exist.

Sahara: The sign is going to be at the Neon Museum.

Most expensive used car ever: A painstakingly restored 1963 Volkswagen Microbus.

Looking forward to it: Shatner‘s latest film is a documentary wherein he interviews all 5 actors who have played a Star Trek captain.

Speaking of documentaries: Everything you know is probably wrong.

Screw Infrastructure: Apparently it is more cost effective to build a bridge in China and have it shipped here. We won’t have any lasting recovery until we get away from the Latte Economy.

Tomorrow, I’ll have some exciting news for you. In the meantime, stay cool.

Stop Lying about the Economy

Judge Judy had a little saying which I’m sure wasn’t original: “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” Well, by my way of thinking, The Experts who compile and release data have been peeing on our heads and telling us what a good thing golden rain is!

When Wal-Mart’s CEO says their shoppers are running out of money, things are bad. Seriously. Wal-Mart, for pity sake.

Unemployment is a serious problem. In fact, there’s one job for every 4 unemployed job seekers. That means that even if by some miracle we were able to fill every job vacancy with someone currently unemployed, we still couldn’t get unemployment down below 7%. And more people file for unemployment every week. Nevertheless, instead of doing anything that might create desperately needed jobs, Congress is hell-bent on slashing the deficit created by the Bush tax cuts. Never mind that creating jobs would be creating employees who earn an income and pay income tax.

Over a quarter of renters are paying more than half their income on housing — a number that should alarm anyone with a passing familiarity with the rental industry. This is despite the fact that “multi-generational housing” — double-speak for “I had to move in with the kids/parents” — is “hot.”

So now GDP growth has “slowed.” I still contend that if inflation were calculated fairly, we wouldn’t have had much in the way of “growth” in a decade. How can we have “growth” when so many people are jobless, underemployed, not even looking for work anymore, losing their homes, losing their savings, losing their retirement plans, not even having enough money to shop at Wal-Mart anymore? I bet it has a lot to do with companies like Exxon, Pepsi, and Microsoft having great earnings. These are large, multi-national businesses that earn money — and have workers — in many countries. Offshoring jobs is only part of the story. Remember, earnings season is just starting, so expect a lot more of these happy-Wall-Street stories.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the trade deficit. Granted, that’s already figured into GDP, so you can’t blame it for manipulating GDP, only causing a decline. That $45 thousand million dollars represents money that used to be in America, that is now in other nations, raising their standard of living. In one month! And do not forget that this number is as high as it is because here in America, we no longer make many things more durable than a latte.

So sure, the economy is great if you are a large corporation, or wealthy. To the rest of us, that golden rain is just someone else’s pee.

In closing: taking personal responsibility to it’s illogical extreme; better apply for that passport now; amen, CSM; on nutrition; Ezra comes >< this close to blaming the media for the Birthers; how come if ObamaCare is so bad, Republicans want to dismantle Medicare in favor of something just like it?; being poor is hazardous to your lifespan; you never know when you might spot something new; let me save you some time; more on student loans; and yeah, that will help.

Didn’t Even Need Scooby Doo

Ladies and gentlemen, the reason that GDP looks fine while to the rest of us the economy looks like a rusted out Ford Escort with a leaky power steering pump and a transmission that slips now and then: A typical hedge fund manager, in just one hour, “earns” what it would take you or I 47 years to accumulate. And at the end of the day, he doesn’t even make anything as useful or durable as a latte. After all, he did not cause the money he “makes” to come into being, only to come into his pocket. Even better yet, if you were to close one simple tax loophole, the top 25 of them would pay an additional $4,400,000,000 in taxes.

When even the IMF notices that we’ve got an income inequality problem in this country, you know it’s really bad.

In Closing: even Republicans think it’s a bad idea to slash Medicare; yeah, that could be why they’re fat; truly sad; stereotype theatre; I notice that sunshine and fortified milk are not on this list; the long version; riffing on a theme; caffeine!; oh yeah, that‘s gonna help; truth; incompetent photoshop tricks; better than it could have been; just in case you ever wondered what they ate; soldier fitness; have a Koch and a smile.

The Girl who Played with Shorties

And They Wonder Why the Peasants are Revolting: Even the market news pundits at Marketwatch get it: “In one America, one in 10 of those able to work are unemployed. In the other, Wall Street’s America, bonuses are set to increase.”

Social Security Round Up: I thought about doing a Social Security post, but so many people have already said what needs saying. To whit, most of us have small enough “savings,” “home equity,” and/or “market gains” that we expect to depend at least partly on Social Security (some people depended on it before they even fully appreciated what it was). Social Security needs to be the issue in November, because “saving,” “privatizing,” and all those other words mean nothing more than “destroy.” All those people talking about how “broke” Social Security don’t understand how it works and have an ulterior motive for “reforming” (again, synonym for “destroying”) it. Don’t look at Chile without seeing the whole picture.

Speaking of the Reid vs. Angle race: If this weren’t a race with truly nationwide implications, I wouldn’t spend so much time on elections in an entire state with a population lower than the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. But Senator Reid is the Majority Leader, and Sharron Angle is one of the highest profile teabaggers running. The press is rightfully all over it. Anyway, it’s a tight race.

The Party of Personal Responsibility: Oh! And our other Senator is blaming a “liberal organization” for his woes: namely that he had an adulterous affair and then tried to cover it up by making sure his mistress’s husband was, ahem, taken care of monetarily. Right. ‘Cause his “can’t keep it in his pants” problem? That’s totally the fault of liberals.

Everybody has seen this by now, right?: How dare unemployed people not accept low paying jobs or opportunities that require them to move halfway around the world, ungrateful wretches. Meanwhile, first time unemployment insurance claims are up.

China Knows Better: They know they can’t make do with a Latte Economy. There’s more to a vibrant economy than egg rolls and laundromats. They build stuff, and when they don’t know how to build it they make the West teach them how.

Chuck is Right: Seriously, he’s just a tweak more conservative than I, but this is spot on: “If the number of illegal aliens in this country is something like 20M, you can be real sure that drugs and other criminal activities isn’t what needs addressed. The job picture is what needs [to be] addressed. Enforcement of the pissant employment laws is virtually non-existent, employers know that the chance of getting caught out is tiny and the fines small enough to cover with their illegal hire profits.” Fewer fences, more crackdowns on employers who like workers that don’t stand up for any rights.

They like to call it an “Emergency Department” now: At least there are fewer uninsured people showing up in the ER.

Oh just come out and call Abe Lincoln a damn Liberal: “The genius of Lincoln — and it’s really the greatest historical legacy of the Republican Party — is that all individuals were to be treated based who they are, not who their parents were.” The 14th Amendment is brilliant in its simplicity. It does not need to be repealed, revised, or “interpreted“. Speaking of which, screaming over Anderson Cooper on national television is not a way to be taken seriously.

Priorities: when you think Jimmy Carter outranks Tim McVeigh, the Rosenbergs, John Wilkes Booth, and Benedict Freaking Arnold as worst person in American History, you have some truly messed up ways of thinking. Where’s Lee Harvey Oswald? Oh right, he killed a liberal so that makes him a hero I guess. I’m guessing the criteria included that they be American, which is why Osama and Emperor Hirohito are left out.

This one’s for you, JP: Hal Turner is guilty.

Popularity Counts: Over 25 most popular things. Take it for what it’s worth. I’m glad my car isn’t a “popular” color. I had a devil of a time finding that silver Civic on a parking lot!

I don’t intend to discuss Ground Zero again: Barbara lays it out.

What were they thinking?: No, you can’t legally prevent people from talking to one another at the mall.

Listen up, Ladies: a new “morning after” contraceptive is now approved by the FDA, and is good up to 5 days later.

Things are tough all over: Kroger is expanding their selection of store brand beauty products.

Blame the GOP: So says a Reagan Insider!

Are… Are World Leaders Supposed to Look Like That?: The caption makes the image even stranger.

I Blame Paula Deen

I remember it was probably over a decade ago, I first saw somebody make a monte cristo sandwich on TV.  The chef might have been Emeril. It was the most decadent thing I had ever seen: a ham and cheese sandwhich, made with thick, egg-drenched slices of french toast. This made eggs benedict seem tame.

Time passed, and stuff like the KFC Famous Bowl came out, described by one blogger as “like throwing up in reverse.” But that wasn’t enough! Since then we’ve had KFC’s Double Down, Friendly’s Mac and Cheese Quesadilla, IHOP’s cheesecake filled pancakes, thousand calorie burgers (before the fries!) marketed as “healthy“, and a bunch of other things that look like somebody was trying imagine what they would submit to a Top Chef Most Calories with Stuff Already Here Quickfire Challenge.

Today’s entry:

That thing is a grilled cheese sandwich, made with melted American cheese and 4 deep fried mozzarella sticks, on sourdough bread. Served with marinara sauce and of course a heaping helping of fries. Available at Denny’s for a mere $4. Nutrition information is not yet available. It probably replaces the 650 calorie 3 Cheese Melt, which had been at least served with a choice of soup or salad.

I’ve got to agree with the Awesomer on this: Why didn’t they deep fry the whole thing? But remember, it’s only “culinary terrorism” if you actually eat it.

In Closing: it’s better than nothing; families spending less — or nothing — on back to school, bodes ill for Christmas; “Trade deficit inaction” means no new jobs in the Latte Economy, and that means a double dip recession is coming (assuming you think we ever got out of the recession); teenage wasteland; if we created 10 million jobs, Social Security wouldn’t have a shortfall this year; a less than cheery August thought, student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt; everybody heard about the guy who had a pea plant growing in his lung, right?; banks only follow the laws they want to follow; as the debate about tax increases/cuts continues, remember that you only pay taxes on money you make, and businesses only pay money on their profits; on the middle class; and finally, exactly how bad do you want it?

Shorties Lake

Latte Economy Revisited: It turns out that more Americans think it is important to create jobs — and specifically manufacturing jobs — than worry about the deficit. Dave doesn’t think we have a Latte Economy; he thinks we have a “Cake or Death” economy.

Education Researchers Don’t Need Statistics: A real scientist looks at the “good kindergarten teachers will help your kids earn more money” study. Unfortunately the figures don’t add up.

Left of Center, Maybe: Great quotes. “If we were a right-of-center nation, you could win an election by saying you planned to eliminate Medicare and Social Security. After all, this would be an effortless way of leaving the unprecedentedly bloated defense budget intact while still cutting big ‘gubment.’ Instead such a proposal is grounds for getting you burned in effigy.” Also, “The reality: the majority of Americans are actually progressive whether or not they call themselves that. Poll after poll finds when Americans are asked how they feel about issues like the minimum wage, protecting the environment, gay rights and even gun control – the majority agrees with the Left.”

Follow up: Dipak Desai’s competency hearings are beginning.

You’ve got to read this and pass it on!: Ok, if you’ve been reading me for a while you probably know all this, but MoveOn’s got the top 5 Social Security myths. And they’re delightfully blunt about the motives of the people who keep spouting them.

Speaking of which, talk to Granny about where she gets her information on the health insurance reform bill: It turns out that a lot of senior citizens are very misinformed.

Funny Thing, Most of Us Get Fired for Not Doing Our Jobs: Five years ago I said “If you have moral problems with doing your job, you must quit. Today. Otherwise, you are saying your morals only matter when they inconvenience others. A vegan waitress knows she will have to serve meat unless she works in a vegetarian restaurant; a recovering alcoholic realizes he should probably not go to bartender’s school; pacifists normally don’t enlist in the armed forces.” This week a judge said yeah, you don’t have a right to only do the parts of your job that you like, and you don’t have the right to re-write your professional guidelines to suit your moral qualms.

It had been months since I linked Pandagon and now I’m doing it twice in one post: Some conservatives are in a tizzy that President Obama is sitting down to an interview with Barbara Walters and a few of her friends… on her daytime show aimed at a mostly SAHM audience. Here’s a little secret — it turns out that women have had the ability to vote since 1920, and the sort of women who can take the time to watch daytime TV have the time to get to the polls.

Fine, how do YOU want to measure it??: 10 key indicators show that yes, global climate change is real. That’s what most scientists call global warming these days so freak snow doesn’t confuse the small-minded.

It sure would have been nice for someone, like say the news media, to have pointed this out in 2002: Hans Blix on the fact that he found no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq because there were none.

How nice for somebody, I guess: Health insurer Aetna made more money last quarter — even though they had less revenue — because of lower costs (that is to say, less paying for actual health care).

And finally: an interview with Isaiah Mustafa, “The Old Spice Guy.” Turns out he’s got some acting parts that involve wearing a shirt. Also turns out he’s a P90X guy.

The Latte Economy

Please bear with me as some issues are simplified for clarity and length.

The American Economy has evolved a lot in the 234 years since the Declaration of Independence. We’ve been an agrarian economy. At times our economy has been driven by various commodities such as gold or steel; in fact, it is still widely thought that Nevada became a state because the Union needed a source of silver (and electoral votes) during the Civil War.

By the end of the 19th century, the ground was laid for the United States to become a real economic superpower. Instead of relying foodstuffs and commodities that were in some ways an accident of being a physically huge nation, worked by a growing workforce with plenty of ambitious immigrants buying into rhetoric of a “land of opportunity”, manufacturing came to the forefront. At the same time, the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Age; the standard of living rose for the working class not because the Tycoons were philanthropic, but because workers demanded things like living wages and the 40 hour work week that some of us still enjoy today.

Henry Ford, racist and antisemitic man that he was, did have a flash of genius when he decided to pay workers enough that they could buy his product, and enough time off to enjoy using it. Not only did it increase the number of potential buyers, he found that employee turnover plummeted. Other employers and competitors had to follow suit, and America now had quality finished goods to export.

At some point, “American” manufacturers realized that they could have their products made in countries with lower labor costs, put it on a boat to the United States, and still make more money selling it here, even if they had to discount the price a little bit! They could pull this off at least in part because even if they were paying a wage that was above the local average, it was still cheaper than American labor as they weren’t paying for retirement benefits or health insurance plans, they weren’t paying any payroll taxes or workers comp insurance on those employees, and things like environmental laws or worker protection laws were almost non-existent. To top it all off, desperate third world nations were sometimes willing to make financial incentives to build a factory and create what they saw as jobs of the future. International treaties such as NAFTA sped this process along. The best part of this was that the people at the top made more money, which in turn gave them more power.

But don’t worry about the factories closing, American students were told, you don’t really want to work in a dirty, smelly, dangerous factory all day, do you? No of course not! There is a future for you in information and service! See all these new computers? Somebody has to run them, and write programs in languages like COBOL or FORTRAN for them. Somebody has to figure out where all this information we are creating is, so there will be a need for people like research librarians and file clerks. And hey, worst case scenario, somebody still has to flip burgers and sack groceries.

Of course the problem with a lot of that “information economy” work is that it can even more easily be farmed out overseas. You don’t even have to get a finished product shipped back; just upload it to the server and it doesn’t matter whether it was compiled in San Francisco or Calcutta. Sure there are issues that come up with language and cultural gaps. Oops and I guess they don’t really have even similar data protection laws. But hey, it’s cheap.

And producing cheaper goods and services, we are told, is just the only way they can compete and give us the low low prices the American consumer demands. Of course there’s little talk about the reason the American consumer demands it: his wages just don’t go as far as they used to go.

So we don’t produce very much in the way of goods anymore, very little of the stuff you use every day is “Made in America, even if you wanted to buy American made products you can’t, the only thing we really export is money, at times we don’t even have a trade surplus in foodstuffs anymore, industrialized nations are busy plundering Africa for diamonds and rare minerals, construction is off sharply due to the real estate crash, and even those high-tech information jobs we were promised were the future are really some other country’s future.  That leaves us with what is cheerily called a “service economy,” because “service” is the only thing you can’t do just as well from a thousand miles away.

And some unknown portion of this “service economy” is actually an underground economy of work performed at below minimum wage, with little thought to workplace safety, often by undocumented immigrants who fear deportation if they speak up. Frustratingly, in addition to some “conservatives,” even some “liberals” and “progressives” say we “need” these laborers. After all, they tell us, who do you expect to mow our lawns, pick our produce, and clean our floors, duh.

What does that leave for Americans who want a “living” wage at a legal job? A short list of “opportunities” such as the small number of professions that can’t be done from overseas (e.g., doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher), selling goods imported from overseas, the grocery business, the hospitality industry, and food service. So I call the “service economy” more of a “latte economy”; at least Starbucks has employee benefits.

The thing is that we can’t really sustain a whole economy on that. We can’t run a country on selling one another lattes and Chinese made shoes forever. To have a vibrant and durable economy, we have to make something tangible that won’t all too soon be gone.

To get out of this economic mess, we must make things in this country that last, that people want, that people can afford, and that people in other nations might conceivably want. Somewhere out there are Americans with ideas about what those could be, but they are stymied by a lack of funding, and a system rigged against production and anyone who wants to play by the rules. But it’s going to take more than some tax breaks; that only helps when a business is profitable enough to owe taxes already. And it’s going to take more than lip service about government contracts; you have to be big enough to complete such a contract before you can get one. It’s going to take a leveling of the playing field so that start-ups can get working capital, develop products, and compete.

The Latte Economy must be replaced by something sustainable if the United States is to continue as a viable country. We can’t continue to export our money forever; at some point we will run out.