Posted: December 20, 2011 Filed under: 2012 presidential campaign, Baby Boomers, Congress, Democratic Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, income inequality, legislation, Main Stream Media, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics as Usual, poverty, Republican politics, Republican Tax Fetishists, SDB Evening News Reads, Senate, seniors, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics, unemployment, We are so F'd | Tags: Kim Jon Il, long term unemployment benefits, North Korea, payroll tax cut
Poster produced for the WPA, via Library of Congress.
I have a question that maybe you all can help me with. This past week my mother, father and I have been busy hanging up pictures and putting things in their place…yes we are still moving in, but at least it is looking more like home.
In yesterday’s post I wrote about WW2 veterans…this was my grandmothers and grandfathers generation. They are all gone, but our house is full of images and photographs of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, items my grandfather brought back from the War, and even a couple pillowcases he sent to my grandmother while he was in France after D-Day. They all are wonderful memories that hang framed on the wall.
So while we are working on hanging all these things, my brother is in the living room watching his shows. He has TVLand on all day, of course, most of the commercial sponsors of MASH, Bonanza, I Love Lucy, The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son are aimed at the senior citizen generation. You know the ones, AAPR/Medicare, Colonial Penn and catheter ads that used to target people of my grandparents generation. Since most of them have passed or will soon be moving on to greener pastures, it follows that those ads are now produced for the baby boomer generation…
My mom is 64 my dad is 65, my mom’s sister is turning 70 next year…they are the next big focus of future sales for “senior” products. So here is my question, why is it these commercials still use the same patronizing…stupid formula when pushing that Colonial Penn insurance? Isn’t this next generation supposed to be more educated than the last? I just can’t see the former hippie college graduate baby boomer watching these ads and saying, oh yes…I need that funeral life/death insurance policy for just pennies a day. It seems they would be more savvy than that.
I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent, so let’s get down to some newsy links.
Have you seen the latest “lie” reported by Politifact? Paul Krugman had this to say about it:
This is really awful. Politifact, which is supposed to police false claims in politics, has announced its Lie of the Year — and it’s a statement that happens to be true, the claim that Republicans have voted to end Medicare.
Steve Benen in the link above explains it, but let me just repeat the basics. Republicans voted to replace Medicare with a voucher system to buy private insurance — and not just that, a voucher system in which the value of the vouchers would systematically lag the cost of health care, so that there was no guarantee that seniors would even be able to afford private insurance.
The new scheme would still be called “Medicare”, but it would bear little resemblance to the current system, which guarantees essential care to all seniors.
How is this not an end to Medicare? And given all the actual, indisputable lies out there, how on earth could saying that it is be the “Lie of the year”?
Go to the link to see what the answer is…I’ll give you a hint, it has something to do with attempting to be “fair and balanced.”
In other GOP news, Gary Johnson has decided to officially run as a Libertarian. Hmmmm….I wonder what that means for Ron Paul?
Over in the swamp, the Senate is gone for the holidays, leaving those who would benefit the most from the payroll tax cut, and the extended long-term unemployment benefits, up shit creek without a paddle. Capitol impasse boosts chances of tax increase
The Senate is gone for the holidays, the House packed up to leave, and as a result the chances that working Americans soon will see a tax increase jumped sharply.
The Capitol emptied to an eerie quiet on Tuesday, with no signs of negotiations toward a compromise that would save an expiring payroll tax break. As of Jan. 1, the tax cut that has been in place all year is scheduled to return to 6.2% from its current 4.2%, meaning that biweekly paychecks on average will be $40 smaller. Long-term unemployment benefits for some 3 million people also are poised to expire. Doctors face an estimated 20% cut in Medicare payments.
That means things are going to get even worse for many people who have been struggling…and barely getting by.
There was an article in the NY Times this past week about the economy and consumption, it even had a cute graphic that went with a clever title, What Nail Polish Sales Tell Us About the Economy.
Illustration by Oliver Jeffers
Economics is all about consumption. People either spend money now or they use financial instruments — like bonds, stocks and savings accounts — so they can spend more later. A healthy economy is largely a result of a reasonable balance between consumption today and consumption deferred, and it’s pretty clear that balance has been ridiculously out of whack for a while.
Economists believe that what we feel about the state of the economy is best revealed not through what we say in surveys but rather through what we buy and exactly how much of it. There’s a lot of data available, though none come with a prepackaged psychological narrative attached. So analysts do the best they can, combing through our national shopping lists hoping to uncover clues. Sometimes they find remarkably helpful information in very unlikely places.
They also uncover plenty of cute facts that mean little. Consider this: 2011 was a banner year for the sale of insanely expensive fine wines at auction. Someone at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong, for example, bought 12 bottles of 1985 Romanee-Conti for a bit more than $150,000, or about $600 per sip. And the grand lesson this teaches us about the overall economy is . . . absolutely nothing. There’s some meaning in this anecdote about how the superrich — especially the newly superrich in China — are doing far better than the rest of us.
So what are some of the “shopping-based indicators” saying about Americans and the US Economy?
The results were mixed, but we did uncover some ominous signs. Lipstick sales used to go up when the economy went down, perhaps because women were searching for a cheap pick-me-up or an edge in a job interview. For reasons nobody quite understands, the lipstick indicator doesn’t hold up anymore, though nail polish sales now seem to reflect the economy very clearly (albeit inversely). A rise in nail polish sales indicates that we’re searching for bargain luxuries as the economy craters — and sales of nail polish are way up right now. Women’s underwear sales are down, which historically suggests intense frugality and more rough times ahead.
But we were encouraged by the number of optimistic indicators we uncovered. There is good news in cemetery plot sales. They seem to have peaked a couple years ago when desperate families were unloading unused holes in the ground (though cremation numbers are rising). Sales of cardboard boxes, because everything from electronics to clothing is packaged in them, should also be a strong indicator of economic rejuvenation. (Current production — enough to paper over the entire state of Maryland — portends recovery.) Sales of men’s underwear, one of Alan Greenspan’s favorite metrics for predicting growth, are also up. Sales of cheap spirits, which soared during the worst of the recession (people need an affordable way to self-medicate), have now stabilized, meaning, at the very least, that people can now afford better liquor.
Of all the indicators we looked at, one of the most consistently accurate was Champagne sales. The amount of French Champagne that Americans consume has predicted — with nearly 90 percent accuracy — the average American income one year later. Apparently, when we pop a Champagne cork, we know that good times are ahead (see chart). Champagne sales hurtled upward twice in recent history — at the peak of the Internet bubble in 1999 and during the heyday of the housing bubble in 2007. These were both followed by slowdowns as fewer people found reason to celebrate.
I realize that we have an amazing resident Doctor of Economics here on Sky Dancing, and Dakinikat always explains all things Economics so well…but I just thought these shopping indicators were kind of funny, because most of the folks (oops, sorry Pat) that live in my redneck of the woods still can’t afford the high price booze, or electronics in their cardboard boxes…and most of the men in Banjoville have holes galore in their underwear. (My dad says poor people have holes in their socks, and rich people have holes in their cheese…)
My point being that things are still bad, and with this payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits both parties are determined to do away with, it is going to get worse.
I wanted to end on an up note, so here are a few items about North Korea that should make you laugh.
Well, after seeing this obvious South Park inspired cartoon, it reminded me of a movie called Team America, that South Park creators made a few years ago.
If you did not see it, the entire movie is done with puppets…which are quite impressive.
Here are a couple of clips from the movie, staring Kim Jong Il, I hope you enjoy them.
Have a lovely evening!
This is a scene from the movie Team America, when Hans Blix from the UN comes to inspect Kim Jong Ils palace to see if he has weapons of mass destruction.
And here is Kim Jong Il singing…I’m so lonely!
Posted: December 5, 2011 Filed under: 2012 presidential campaign, Anti-War, Central Intelligence Agency, Congress, Corporate Crime, corruption, cyber security, Diplomacy Nightmares, Domestic Policy, Domestic terrorism, Drone Warfare, Foreign Affairs, Global Financial Crisis, indefinite detention, Injustice system, Iran, Israel, K street, Main Stream Media, MENA, Middle East, Pakistan, Palestine, Psychopaths in charge, SDB Evening News Reads, seniors, U.S. Economy, U.S. Military, U.S. Politics
Today was a busy news day, as far as the number of unread feeds in my reader…However, for tonight’s evening reads I am going to stick with Iran, Israel and the US.
Quixote sent me this link earlier this evening.
Iran explosions prompt speculation of secret attacks | McClatchy
This is where the article takes an expected turn, as Dakinikat has speculated early last week, there are suggestions that Israel is behind these explosions.
The second such incident in as many weeks cast doubt on Iranian claims that these were “accidents” and “coincidences,” and it set off speculation of a coordinated attack by Israel, whose officials long have threatened a strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli officials denied direct involvement, but the growing number of mysterious or unexplained blasts and deaths has many suspecting an official program of sabotage.
Israeli newspapers declared last week that Israel’s war with Iran already had begun, but that the Jewish state, rather than launch massive airstrikes, had decided on a method of covert action in cooperation with other groups. Statements by current and former Israeli officials were being parsed for clues but did little to clarify the issue.
Tell me if these responses don’t give you pause…
“There aren’t many coincidences, and when there are so many events there is probably some sort of guiding hand, though perhaps it’s the hand of God,” said Israel’s former head of internal security, Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: “We are not happy to see the Iranians move ahead on this (program), so any delay, be it divine intervention or otherwise, is welcome.”
Divine intervention…or did the dog do it?
It just seems like relations in the area have gone from bad to worse. This possible coordinated attacks from Israel may explain Panetta’s harsh language a few days ago:
Panetta to Israel: ‘Get to the Damn Table’ for Peace Talks « VOA Breaking News
The top U.S. defense official is warning Israel it cannot afford to further isolate itself from Arab neighbors in the Middle East.
During a forum in Washington late Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Israel needs to start by getting back “to the damn table” and negotiating peace with the Palestinians. He also called on Israel to mend its fraying relationships with traditional partners like Turkey, Egypt and Jordan.
Some Israeli leaders have viewed the Arab Spring, and uprisings like the one that toppled long-time Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, as a threat to regional stability as well as to Israel’s security. But Panetta urged Israeli officials to reject that way of thinking.
Panetta said Israel has no choice but to take some risks to ensure a safer future, starting with resuming peace talks with the Palestinians, a process that Panetta said has “effectively been put on hold.”
In this Reuters India link, they published a bit more of Panetta’s comment to Israel:
Panetta: Israel must get to damn peace table | Reuters
Panetta, addressing a forum in Washington, also made one of his most extensive arguments to date against any imminent military action against Iran over its nuclear program, saying he was convinced that sanctions and diplomatic pressure were working.
“You always have the last resort … of military action. But it must be the last resort, not the first,” Panetta said.
He said Israel needed to take risks, including by breathing new life into moribund peace talks with Palestinians. When asked by a moderator what steps Israel needed to take to pursue peace, Panetta said: “Just get to the damn table.”
“The problem right now is we can’t get ‘em to the damn table, to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences,” Panetta said.
Panetta said the United States would safeguard Israel’s security, ensure regional stability and prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — a goal Tehran denies having.
“Israel, too, has a responsibility to pursue these shared goals — to build regional support for Israeli and United States’ security objectives,” Panetta said.
“I believe security is dependent on a strong military but it is also dependent on strong diplomacy. And unfortunately, over the past year, we’ve seen Israel’s isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow.”
Also heating up the already tense situation, is the recent US drone spy plane that was “brought” down by Iran…not by shooting it down, it looks like Iran was able to “hack” the drone. Reports are that Iran is in possession of the super secret spy plane.
Military sources confirmed that the Iranians have the RQ-170 drone, which is so advanced that the U.S. Air Force has not distributed even a photo of it. However, they did not say that the Iranians shot down the spy plane, as was reported by Iran’s official IRNA news agency.
I realize that link goes to Fox, but JPost.com and Reuters are reporting this news as well.
Iran is still sticking with the “shot down” story for now, there is also a warning from the Iran military, from FARS News Agency: Fars News Agency :: Iran Warns of Wider Response to US Spy Missions
“Given the flagrant violation of our country’s borders, the electronic and operational actions of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Armed Forces against the enemy planes will not be limited to the country’s borders,” an Iranian official told FNA.
The official had also informed FNA on Sunday afternoon that the country’s forces had downed a US RQ-170 Sentinel drone over the Eastern parts of the country.
“An advanced RQ-170 unmanned American spy plane was shot down by Iran’s armed forces. It suffered minor damage and is now in possession of Iran’s Armed Forces,” a military official told FNA on Sunday.
In similar remarks, military sources told Iran’s Arabic language Al Alam television that Tehran will intensify its response to the United States’ spying operations.
“The Iranian military’s response to the American spy drone’s violation of our airspace will not be limited to Iran’s borders any more,” a military source told Al Alam, without giving details.
After a day of silence, both Pentagon and NATO officials acknowledged the shooting down of their Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in eastern Iran, alleging that the aircraft with a mission to fly over western Afghanistan had gone astray.
The drone had been downed with help from the Iranian military’s electronic warfare unit.
The military official warned of a strong and crushing response to any violations of the country’s airspace by American drone aircraft.
Then there is this bit of news from The Telegraph: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards prepare for war – Telegraph
An order from Gen Mohammed Ali Jaafari, the commander of the guards, raised the operational readiness status of the country’s forces, initiating preparations for potential external strikes and covert attacks.
Western intelligence officials said the Islamic Republic had initiated plans to disperse long-range missiles, high explosives, artillery and guards units to key defensive positions.
The order was given in response to the mounting international pressure over Iran’s nuclear programme. Preparation for a confrontation has gathered pace following last month’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that produced evidence that Iran was actively working to produce nuclear weapons.
The Iranian leadership fears the country is being subjected to a carefully co-ordinated attack by Western intelligence and security agencies to destroy key elements of its nuclear infrastructure.
Recent explosions have added to the growing sense of paranoia within Iran, with the regime fearing it will be the target of a surprise military strike by Israel or the US.
Now, I realize the Telegraph and Fox News have their particular bias…but the story from FARS shows that relations between Israel, Iran and the US are getting more heated.
Of course, I have not mentioned the recent attack on the British Embassy in Iran. It all just makes me very uncomfortable…and also at the heart of all this mess…is oil. Iran, Facing New Sanctions, Warns of Oil at $250 a Barrel – NYTimes.com
Alarmed by the possibility of new Western penalties that could abruptly reduce or even halt its oil exports, Iran issued a warning on Monday that crude oil prices could more than double to $250 a barrel if such sanctions were given serious consideration.
The warning, issued by the Foreign Ministry, appeared to be part of an attempt by Iran to intimidate its adversaries as tensions grow. Western nations stepped up their efforts to isolate Iran diplomatically after mobs stormed and vandalized Britain’s diplomatic facilities in Tehran less than a week ago, evoking stark images of the United States Embassy takeover after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The assault was widely criticized, even by some of Iran’s friends.
The price of oil today did not “jump” because of this threat…there was little change in trading today.
Iran is the third-largest exporter of oil, after Saudi Arabia and Russia. Its biggest customers —China, the European Union, India, Japan, and South Korea — together account for two-thirds of total Iranian oil exports, according to an analysis published by the Energy Information Administration in the United States. Reduced orders from just one of those customers could be disruptive for Iran, where the economy is already suffering from the accumulated effects of other sanctions.
After the assault on the British Embassy, European Union ministers said they would give serious consideration to an oil embargo at a meeting in January, and the United States Senate voted 100 to 0 for legislation that would penalize any foreign bank that does business with Iran’s central bank.
The Senate measure, meant to use access to the United States market as leverage in isolating Iran, is not yet law and could be modified. But analysts said that such a measure, if enforced, could wreak havoc on Iran’s oil industry, because the central bank is the main conduit for receipts from oil sales.
“At some point, sanctions become an act of war,” said Vali Nasr, a professor at Tufts University and an expert on Iranian affairs. “If you cut Iran out of the oil market, this is no longer economic pressure.”
What do you all think? It is making me a little nervous. With tensions escalating in Pakistan, and the Afghani president talking about resurgence of the Taliban…
The United States is vacating an air base in Pakistan at Islamabad’s request following a NATO attack that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter told Pakistan’s Waqt TV on Monday that the United States is leaving Shamsi Air Base in Balochistan Province southwest of Quetta. U.S. drones have taken off from the base and refueled there for operations against Islamic militants, according to sources familiar with U.S. drone operations in Pakistan.
The order to clear out of the base comes in the aftermath of a November 26 incident in which a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani troops.
The Taliban could make a comeback and take over Afghanistan again, Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned on Monday at the Bonn Conference. “If we lose this fight, we are threatened with a return to a situation like that before Sept 11, 2001,” Karzai said.
There has been progress in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in the wake of the hijacked plane attacks on the United States, he said. But, he warned: “Our shared goal of a stable, self-reliant Afghanistan is far from being achieved”.
Seems like all the “alert” messages are being sent.
And what does the US Main Stream Media have to say about all this drone business…Don’t worry…the drone fell to earth from such a high altitude…it must be in little, tiny pieces…so Iran can’t get much insight or information from that. Experts: Iran capture of stealth drone no worry – CBS News
“This is a high-flying unmanned aircraft that malfunctioned and then fell to earth. It’s likely to be broken up into hundreds of pieces.”
“Are we going to stop flying them? No. Was it a secret we were flying them? No,” said Pike. “Did Iran shoot it down? Probably not. Because Iranian air defenses are not very good, and it is a good stealth vehicle. And did Iranian hackers hack into it and bring it down? No. It’s just too hard to do.”
So say the “experts.”
This is a serious situation, and I worry it will be just another reason to step up the US military presence in the region, especially now that we are winding down in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 2012 election is also in the back of my mind…the timing seems to be one of the key coincidences in all this. We also have the triggered spending cuts that should be cutting into the military budget, so again my thoughts go back to the timing.
Timing is everything.
The European Union and its growing money troubles, austerity and cut backs…the US Economy and the corruption of back room secret deals…people are going to need something to make them forget the elected (and not elected) people and corporations that got us into this mess.
But what do I know, I am just someone who lives in a small town in the American South. I see all the things going on in the world from my laptop…things that I know are wrong or corrupt or manipulated to get the planned responses. Whether it be a rise in fear, so that more military spending is accepted, or the planned trillion dollars in bailouts, both public and secret, that “pay off” all those fat cat campaign contributors….or the possible terrorist attacks that bring about the acceptance of security measures so that more 85-year-old grandmothers can be striped search. (Yes, that now brings the total to three old women getting stripped searched at the same JFK terminal.)
Every day I feel more and more dejected and despondent and depressed. What makes it even worse is the feeling of abandonment from politicians and elected officials that are supposed to act in our best interest…like sheep being led to slaughter, we are just wandering down the turnstiles and being directed which ever way the controlling class and media want us to move.
I wish I could have a better post for you tonight, that link Quixote sent was a good one, and I fear that I did not do it justice.
I’m just a silent sheep in Banjoland, no expert in foreign policy or military matters…and Iran and Israel are half a world away…but from the screen of my laptop, I see the problem growing…and I see all the ways it can be manipulated and used for other people’s advantage, and that makes me a little more concerned for what is coming…and my fear is that it will be something big.
Posted: November 15, 2011 Filed under: Austerity, children, Economy, hunger, income inequality, poverty, seniors, unemployment | Tags: austerity, children at risk, Poverty Tour, seniors
We are not Afghanistan. We are not Haiti or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are not any of the 3rd world nations that are sometimes callously referred to as the ‘black holes’ of the world, where national incomes range between $700-900 annually, where human assets in nutrition, education, health and adult literacy are the lowest of the low. Nor do national fluctuations in agriculture production, instability of import/export services or economic smallness define us.
We are decidedly not one of the least developed nations on the planet. Quite the contrary. We are the richest, most powerful and technologically advanced nation the world has ever known.
Yet poverty exists and is rising. American poverty is a fact, a condition defined not by 3rd world standards but by the standards of who and what we are as a premier Nation among all nations.
No sooner had the Census Bureau come out with its findings on poverty–the first report in September, followed by a supplemental report in early November—the naysayers lined up reminding us that the findings were misleading, that many of the so-called poor had cars and TVs, that children of the poor sported Xboxes. And my God, a goodly number actually have air conditioning! I suspect many have heating, too.
The arguments are that unless a family or individual meets a 3rd-world definition of poverty then even the mention of rising American poverty levels falls into the category of gross exaggeration. This in a time when unemployment is the top concern of the American electorate, when unemployment sits ‘officially’ at 9% but, in fact, has reached nearly 20%, when from 2001-2009 42,400 American factories closed their doors to traditional middle-class jobs. This is also in a time of historical corporate profits and obscene CEO salaries in the financial services industry that through casino betting, accounting fraud and governmental bailouts brought this country and the world to its knees. And continues to do so, eg., MF Global headed by former NJ Governor Jon Corzine.
The old canards are being taken for a rerun as well: poverty is a symptom of lazy minds and an entitlement generation or an unwillingness to work hard and save money. Many will recall the Welfare Queen stories of the past, imagined always as a black woman with a dozen children, driving idly around town in her brand new Caddie. Living life high on the hog, the hysterical claims insisted, bilking government largesse [ otherwise known as taxpayer money]. But as Ralph B. noted in an earlier thread, there’s nary a word about corporate/millionaire welfare, where companies and even individuals skate on Federal taxes through loopholes and accounting maneuvers and government handouts
Let’s get real. The fallout of 2007-2008 hit many average families between the eyes, this after wages had been stagnating for three decades with a beginning upswing in the 90s, wage advancements quickly lost since 2000. Prices, however, have continued to rise, commodity prices in particular, those base products— gas, foodstuffs—that we all rely on to survive. Medical costs/premiums have gone through the roof. Is it any wonder seniors, who face a disproportionate share of medical problems and costs, have gotten caught in the old trap of choosing food or drugs? Children are caught up in the economic whirlwind, too, as parents lose jobs and homes, scramble for low-paying, part-time positions, work that frequently is not enough to ensure adequate food and/or nutrition on a consistent basis. Should we be surprised then at the increase of American children now classified as ‘food insecure?’
Here’s what we know:
49.1 million Americans have fallen into poverty, 16% of the population or 1 in 7 Americans.
Nearly 20% of that number are children; nearly 16% of the indigent are 65 years and older.
21.5% of American children have been classified as ‘food insecure.’
1 in 15 Americans are classified as the ‘poorest of the poor, which in 2010 translated to $5570 or less for an individual, $11,157 for a family of four.
The Census Bureau’s Supplemental report issued earlier this month takes into account governmental assistance—food stamps, the earned income tax credit, school lunch programs etc—without which the statistics above would be even worse.
From a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report:
Six temporary federal initiatives enacted in 2009 and 2010 to bolster the economy by lifting consumers’ incomes and purchases kept nearly 7 million Americans out of poverty in 2010, under an alternative measure of poverty that takes into account the impact of government benefit programs and taxes. These initiatives — three new or expanded tax credits, two enhancements of unemployment insurance, and an expansion of benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) — were part of the 2009 Recovery Act. Congress subsequently extended or expanded some of them.
Hence the total number of persons in poverty would have been even higher last year if not for the six government initiatives.
Btw, the link above gives a rather shocking comparison between the poverty rates in the US and Brazil. Not pretty.
Yet, Michelle Bachmann’s prescription as well as many of her Republican colleagues is based on the old saw: self-reliance, an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. This in a time of record unemployment and rising poverty in the general population.
How many statistics, comparisons, articles and images are necessary to convince the disbelieving that American poverty is on the rise, that it is not the result of coddling, laziness or lack of self-reliance? Or perhaps we must admit that there is also a poverty of spirit and reason running rampant through country, blinding those who would blame fellow citizens for the dearth of employment and opportunity without offering any workable solutions to an ever growing, bleak reality.