Monday, August 24, 2015

Week of 08/24/2015

Ours Versus Theirs
Mike Buffington, publisher of the local Barrow Journal newspaper, recently did an editorial about how easy it seems to be that local politicians are willing to waste money when that money isn’t “theirs”.  He cites several examples of this, including a recent one in the “city” of Nicholson (there are no towns in the South), where their mayor used SPLOST funds to pave a “road” that was later revealed to be his mother’s driveway.  It supposedly wasn’t his only questionable expense this year either.
DeKalb County’s officials are tripping over themselves and their egos over the preliminary report by former Attorney General Mike “Hypocrite Adulterer” Bowers, who was brought in to assess the county’s corruption problems.  Mister Bowers, who once championed the state’s blue laws in the U.S. Supreme Court, minced no words when he said that DeKalb County government was... and I quote... “rotten to the core”.
Reaction from the county officials?  Jaw-dropping delusional disbelief on the same level as the “Global Warming is a hoax” and “Where’s Obama’s Birth Certificate” crowd.  Interim CEO Lee May – who is still “interim” because the convicted criminal he’s sitting in for still has his job – said that he expected a full report and got nothing but a letter full of innuendo.
This comes after their CEO was convicted in court for extortion, and after a former county commissioner and her husband pled guilty in a lengthy scheme involving embezzlement and kickbacks which is still being sorted out as of this column.  The hornets are still coming out of that kicked nest.  Oh, and let’s not forget the former COO of DeKalb County Schools pleading guilty to theft by taking in a case that involved her sending millions of dollars to her ex-husband’s construction company.  And we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the head of that county’s Board of Ethics resigning after “reprimanding” another county commissioner for a conflict of interest.
Nothing but “innuendo” you say?
Anyway, Mister Buffington uses some of these as examples of the old adage how easy it is to spend other people’s money, especially when that money comes from “us”.
“It’s our money being abused,” he concludes.  “And we ought to be mad as hell about it.”
But here’s the problem... it’s not really “our” money at that point.  It’s “theirs”.
Let’s get brutally honest here... every time you write a check or pay a tax bill or fill out that tax form that allows a portion of your money to go to the government, it stops being “your” money!  It’s “their” money... as in the government’s money.  And you really don’t have a say as to how “your” money is being spent after it leaves your hands.  It’s not like you can say “Okay, I want my portion of the tax money to only pay for police and fire services, but not for the mayor to spend on conventions.”  Reality just does not work that way.  You forfeit any control over that money once you give it to them.
And, yes, they really do see it as “their” money.  Not only that, but they firmly believe that they are entitled to every single penny that you have and then they will decide how much of that money they will “allow” you to keep.
The only way you can really control the money is by controlling who gets elected into government.  But even this has limits.  You’re limited to only your vote, not that of your ignorant, apathetic, incompetent, delusional, and/or possibly corrupt neighbors; you can only vote for the politicians in your “area”; and you really have no control at all over those people that are not elected but are instead appointed by other elected officials.
Yes, you can “control” some of the funds through programs like the Special Local-Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, which imposes a temporary one-percent sales tax, and the proceeds of which must only be used for specific government programs that must be announced in advance before they can be voted on, never mind enacted.  But that didn’t stop the mayor of Nicholson from using those money to pave his momma’s driveway.  And it still relies on voters being knowledgeable enough about what they’re voting for instead of blindly voting for anything put before them.
I know some communities like those in New Hampshire have a more hands-on approach to local governing, in that the public actually votes on the annual budget, line-by-line, item-by-item, and each item must be addressed in a town hall meeting and defended by the local officials.  And, yes, the people in those communities can and have vetoed spending on segments of the local budget that otherwise would be unthinkable. And, really, this is the only way you can have the kind of control over the tax money that people like Mister Buffington think we should have.  But I don’t see that happening, because that takes the power out of the local elites.
And here’s the real catch: it’s not about political parties.  “D’s” and “R’s” are irrelevant here.  Cons and Libs have both been caught with their greedy hooves in the local cookie jar, and neither group can claim superiority in ethics.
The only politically ideological competition in this case is not “conservatives versus liberals”, but instead “libertarians versus autocrats”.  We don’t just need politically-active neighbors, but ones that understand that the only way we can stop government from abusing its power is to stop giving it to them long before we give them our money.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Week of 08/17/2015

Big Corporate Refuses To Accept Basic Reality
You’ve probably been hearing the news as it trickles in these past few months...
The economy isn’t doing too well.
Oh, sure, the fans of President Obama – and, no, I am not one of them – will tell you that things have been great!  Unemployment is “down”, jobs are “up”, corporate profits are out-of-the-ballpark, gas prices are dropping like a rock, the U.S. Dollar is holding its own, Wall Street is making out like gangbusters...
Well, the last part is certainly true, thanks in no small part to the previous Attorney General aiding and abetting those Fortune 500 criminals by letting them pay pittances in “civil” fines instead of criminal charges like the common people would face.
But the rest of it... well if you were to believe what the Obama White House is telling us all, then the United States would be in the greatest economic boom since the Dot-Com craze of the 1990’s, or the mega-mergers of the 1980’s, or the housing bubble of the 2000’s.  Except that each of those hypes also ended with horrible economic failures.  Dot-Com Boom ended with the Dot-Com Bust, the mega-mergers ended with the Savings and Loan disasters and the mini-recession that sank George H.W. Bush’s re-election hopes, and, of course, the housing bubble facilitated the Great Recession, which Obama’s former AG aided and abetted the getaway of those criminals.
The truth, however, is out there; in plain daylight if you know where to look for it.  You just need to ignore the political spin and the TMZ diversions that have been carefully orchestrated to keep us distracted.  But it is out there.  And that truth is not good.
You’ve been hearing what’s been going on with Greece.  Their problems are more extreme than ours, but the overall causes are still the same.  They need private sector jobs, and they’re not getting those.  The Greek government has been trying to make do by creating state jobs, but it’s been like a Band-Aid trying to cover a near-amputation.  You can only do that for so long, and Greece recently went for their third bailout.  Oh, and they’re not the only ones in economic trouble.  Poland’s economy is teetering.
China’s economy is in a free-fall.  They’re devaluing their currency to keep inflation in check.  They have whole cities that they’ve built, but their own people can’t afford to live in them.  This is supposed to be the “new great economic superpower”, and they’re still treating their own people like a second-world society.
Yes unemployment is supposedly “down”, but those numbers are a bold-faced lie.  What we consider to be “Unemployment” figures are really all the people who currently get Unemployment Insurance payments.  It’s not a true representation of the people out of work because not everyone can get those Unemployment Insurance payments, and those payments are only for a limited period of time.  Once those payments have been exhausted, that’s it.  That person no longer gets counted. 
The actual lie – and yes, this is a criminally libelous lie if anyone decides to take the Department of Labor and the media to court over it – is that hundreds of thousands of Americans simply “drop out” or “give up” finding work.  It is a bold-faced criminally damaging lie because it assumes that those who stop getting payments also stop looking for work. 
The truth is that these Americans did not “drop out” or “give up”, they were given up on.  They were forsaken!  They were negligently abandoned by politicians and by Corporate America.  But it’s “easier” for those in power to claim that those Forsaken Americans simply were losers than to admit that they’re the real villains.
Real wages have not kept up with the cost of living for well over a decade now.  Yes, Corporate America has reaped record profits, but none of that has translated into more money for anyone except for the 1%.  We hear the modern-day Yorkshire Men and their sycophants on Fox News and talk radio scream like the spoiled babies that they are about the push to get the minimum wage raised to $15 an hour, but the truth is that this is not only a symptom of the overall problem with real wages, but as a concept it is also just another Band-Aid trying to patch another near-amputation.
Here’s a really simple question: if the economy is supposedly so successful and so strong, why has the Federal Reserve been keeping interest rates at near-zero since 2009?  “Near-Zero” is supposedly the Fed’s emergency brake, and we’ve been riding that emergency brake for over six years now.  The business world has supposedly been begging and pleading and waiting with badly-baited breath for the Fed to raise rates for the past few years, and every time the Fed chairperson (and there have been two now) says they can’t because the economy is still “too unstable”.  That doesn’t match up with what we hear from Wall Street and the Obama White House.
And... you have been hearing about this recently as well.  There have been more announced layoffs.  Time Incorporated, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, American Apparel, J. Crew, HSBC... even the United States Army is laying people off!  The Army!
Now folks, when I’ve seen these signs before, I’ve correctly predicted that an economic downturn is just over the horizon.  And my track record has been far better than the so-called “experts” that you see on the news.  So when I say that you should get ready for things to get worse, then that means that (1) things will, and (2) the so-called “experts” will lie and try to convince you otherwise.
And yet... this is one upcoming downturn that did not need to happen!
Let’s get brutally honest here... America has been treading economic water ever since the Great Recession.  In fact, we have not stopped treading water!  Yes, some folks who lost their jobs got new ones.  Some folks had to get and are still working two or three jobs just to keep the bills paid.  And hard-working Americans can only tread water for so long before they start to falter, and that is what we are seeing right now.
But we’re not “seeing” this because we’ve all been fixated on one thing: corporate profits!  The White House and the Congress and the state and local governments and certain the media have all latched onto this myth – and, yes, it is a myth – that as long as companies are raking in big profits, that everything else will just fall into place.
The cons and the neo-cons in the GOP have been singing this myth like it was a Christmas Carol for decades now!  Just let Big Business make all the profits and that they want and they’ll put that money back into the economy in terms of jobs and promotions and raises.
Only they haven’t followed through on their part of that agreement, have they?  No, they haven’t.  We, the great unwashed, have to tighten our belts a little more and go without a little longer and swallow a little more austerity, but CEOs have enjoyed raises and bonuses and more and more money, and corporate investors have used the profits to fatten their own accounts.
What’s going on is quite simple.  Big Business, corporate or otherwise, and those that have sold their souls to Big Business, and, yes, that includes the media and talk radio and cable TV channels and all of those so-called “experts”, have all forgotten one simple and basic reality when it comes to the economy.
It’s not about profits.  It’s about people.
You want the economy to truly succeed?  You want economic prosperity?  Then you need to focus less on profits and more on people.
You want to whine about countries like Greece creating public jobs to keep people employed at the expense of their own tax monies?  Then the private sector needs to get off their duffs and actually create those private sector jobs over there!
You want to quell the call for raising the minimum wage?  Then businesses need to be putting more into wages for the rest of the employees and not just rewarding their CEO for his or her continual frugality.  That is, after all, what your mouthpieces in the media have been promising you guys would be doing.  Remember that?  That whole “re-investing the profits back into the infrastructure” song-and-dance your friends in talk radio and CNBC and Fox News continually mention.
It is one thing to be frugal with money when times are tough, but when you’re reaping record profits and you’re still penny-pinching the general payroll and telling your underpaid workers that they need to be doing more and more for less and less, then you are the reason why the economy fails!
It’s funny, because if you watch shows like “American Greed” on CNBC, you continually hear the message that anytime you hear a promise of reaping continual profits regardless of the economy, that it is a scam.  And yet this is precisely the thing that Big Business demands now from their employees!  They demand continual profits at all costs, even if the market cannot provide it.  They simply call it “being aggressive” instead of it being a scam on the rest of the world.
I understand that this is not a new problem.  This mentality of putting profits ahead of people has been going on for quite some time, and it’s not going to go away anytime soon.  But it does need to change, because you cannot have the general populace suffer at the expense of your largesse without there eventually being consequences.  And the next time that consequence won’t just be some “Occupy” protesters.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Week of 08/10/2015

Preacher Is Wrong: Need More Me To Counter Joneses
No matter which news station I turn to here in the South, it seems I just cannot avoid the occasional religious commercial.  And it’s usually the same preacher paying to get his quickie sermon.
Every so often, this minister has something optimistic to say, and, of course, it has the same theme: “turn to God and everything will be okay”.  Of course it is implied that he is referring to the Christian version, not just any old “God”, but he makes it just generic enough to not appear to be an out-and-out plug for his ministry.  That part comes at the very end of his commercial.
So not too long ago this minister was talking about “Keeping up with the Joneses” and how people feel compelled to spend and spend and spend into debt and misery simply to keep up with appearances with the neighbors.  He blamed this on too much “individualism” and a culture of “greed” and “envy”.  His solution?  “Turn to God”, of course!  Stop thinking about “me” and start thinking about “God” and what “God” wants of us.
Sadly, this minister couldn’t be more wrong.
The idea that we need to “keep up with the Joneses” is really nothing more than an artificial demand imposed on us in society.  It’s designed to keep us spending money and keeping the economy going at all costs.
Why did we buy certain vehicles when they were “trendy”?  Why did we buy the Saab or the BMW when they were “trendy”?  Yes, the minivan was practical, but why, then, did we switch to the gas-chugging urban assault vehicles... aka the SUV?  Because we saw our neighbors drive one.  Because the subtle push in the media told us “we need to get an SUV”.
Why did you buy that big flat-screen HDTV?  Because they were cheap?  Probably not.  You bought one because your neighbor bought one and loves the high-definition quality.
And how about the continual changes with HDTV?  First we had HDTV, then “smart” HDTVs, then 3D (and what a big scam that truly is), and then 4K, and now it’s all about “curved” 4K.  Never mind that the entertainment content for that ultra-mega-super-dog-dare-times-infinity-high-definition can’t even catch up.  Never mind that you’re paying upwards of five or six thousand dollars for something that will last maybe five years and will be outdated in less than one year.  It’s all about getting it.  It’s all about having it.  It’s all about bragging rights to your friends and neighbors.
Oh, and it’s not enough to have the ultra-mega-super-dog-dare-times-infinity-high-definition that is so large that it takes up the whole wall and you can count the pimples on the cute weather girl’s face that are hidden by makeup.  You also have to have the super-duper-ultra-quality sound system to go with it so you can hear that cute weather girl’s breathing and hear the producer’s voice in her earpiece telling her what to say next.
Look at all of the mindless myrmidons that line up at Apple stores to buy the latest i-Product.  And then Samsung does the same thing.  And then Sony cranks out the newest PlayStation game system, and Microsoft follows suit, and then Nintendo.  And the myrmidons line up like zombies for them so they can have it the minute it shows up at the stores. 
Why?  Just “because”.  Because it’s “hip” or “trendy” or “cool” to have the “latest thing” right as it comes out.
Can’t afford it?  Not a problem!  That’s what credit is for!  And the bank executives have gotten obscenely fat and obscenely rich with issuing you lines of credit so they can literally own you in perpetuity.
All of it is fake.  All of it is artificial and designed to get us in the stores often to keep the economy going.
And it’s not a recent trend.  This goes back over a century.  Mark Twain talked about this in “Corn-Pone Opinions” when he talked about how the “Smiths” see a new play and like it, so the “Jones” go see it and like it as well.  In fact, some people think this is where the whole saying “Keeping up with the Joneses” came from.
Even worse, some of this demand to “keep up with the Joneses” is required.  Zoning regulations and covenant neighborhoods require you to keep your homes not only maintained, but also pretty much identical to every other home in the neighborhood.  That means your house can’t have a shocking color.  You can’t have sculptured hedges in the shape of animals or letters.  Want that brightly-colored mulch that will make your home stand out?  Forget it.  Some places won’t even allow you to put up a flagpole so you can hoist Old Glory, never mind the Jolly Roger or the flag of your alma matter.  And it’s not even done for your sake, but for the sake of the precious property values of your neighbors.
But here’s the thing: what the minister thinks is “greed” or “envy” or “selfishness” when it comes to this idea is really just the opposite. 
It’s actually about the lack of self.
Let’s get brutally honest here... what we see with this idea of us “needing” to get the latest, greatest, hippest, trendy thing simply to keep up with others is not a sense of self, but an artificial substitute of true individuality in the name of conformity.
Ask yourself this question: What are you outside of the things you own?  If you lost your job, lost your home, lost your precious-precious credit, forced to rely only on what you can pay for in cash, and have to make do with what you have instead of simply getting the “latest-greatest”, is there still something that you can say is completely you?
And the minister’s assertion that we need to “turn to God” for those answers and think about what “God” wants only makes things worse.  How do we know what “God” wants?  Quite often the “answer” to that question involves you mindlessly dedicating yourself to others, which is no different than you mindlessly buying stuff to keep the economy going.  You’re just substituting the beneficiary of the items from yourself to other people.  That’s really not helping you.  Funny how religious people manage to pull off that little slight-of-hand so easily.
Here’s a good question to ask yourself: why do you really “need” that thing?  It’s one thing to get a new cellphone because the old one is broken or falling apart, or if it is so outdated that it’s incompatible with your current provider.  But why do you really need to get the newest version if you already have the previous one and it already does everything you want it to do?  Who are you really getting this new thing for?  Is it for yourself?  Or is it because someone else or something else expects you to?
Having a true sense of self is not about materialism or about how much of yourself you give away to others.  It’s about being able to answer that question of “why” in a way that best reflects who you are instead of feeding some corporation or some religious institution.  Having a true sense of self means the things you acquire reflect you instead of define you. 
You can understand, then, why big business and organized religion don’t want you to know that... because it means you have the power to tell them the one word that they don’t want to hear: “No.”