Friday, March 16, 2012

Public Service Announcement / Kurt Vonnegut



My government’s got a war on drugs.  But get this: The two most widely abused and addictive and destructive of all substances are both perfectly legal.
One, of course, is ethyl alcohol.  And President George W. Bush, no less, and by his own admission, was smashed or tiddley-poo or four sheets to the wind a good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was 41.  When he was 41, he says, Jesus appeared to him and made him knock off the sauce, stop gargling nose paint.
Other drunks have seen pink elephants.
And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs?  They invented algebra.  Arabs also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which nobody else had ever had before.  You think Arabs are dumb?  Try doing long division with Roman numerals.
We’re spreading democracy, are we?  Same way European explorers brought Christianity to the Indians, what we now call “Native Americans.”
How ungrateful they were!  How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad today.
So let’s give another big tax cut to the super-rich.  That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he won’t soon forget.  Hail to the Chief.
That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with Democracy as the Europeans had to do with Christianity.  We the people have absolutely no say in whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous debt that you’ll be asked to repay.
Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you, because they have disconnected every burglar alarm in the Constitution: The House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been embedded, has forsaken the First Amendment) and We the People.
About my own history of foreign substance abuse.  I’ve been a coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me over the edge.  I did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable.  It didn’t seem to do anything to me, one way or the other, so I never did it again.  And by the grace of God, or whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes.  I take a couple of drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight.  But two is my limit.  No problem.
I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes.  I keep hoping the things will kill me.  A fire at one end and a fool at the other.
But I’ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match.  That was when I got my first driver’s license!  Look out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut.
And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was powered, as are almost all means of transportation and other machinery today, and electric power plants and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.
When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any more of those.  Cold turkey.
Can I tell you the truth?  I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it?
Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.
And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.
This appeared in Crossing the Rubicon in 2004 but it is originally from a book by Richard Duncan, called The Oil Crash and You in 2001.
Kurt Vonnegut, the legendary author, WWII veteran, humanist, artist and smoker, was an In These Times senior editor until his death in April 2007.  His classic works include Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions and Cat's Cradle, among many others.
Indiana will forever be proud to call him a native son.  RIP, Kurt.

Women's rights, Student Protests, Native American uprising / OWS Week 03-14-2012

Press TV's new program; 'OWS Week' highlights 7 days of the protest movement's happenings as viewed from American protesters' eyes. 

The program also examines the wide range of social issues addressed by the 'occupy' movement in the US. 

Episode 8 sheds light on the 99 percenters struggle as expressed through Sacramento student protests against high education fees, Women's rights rallies and the Native American dissenters.  Plus the OWS interview of the week, with journalist Gabrielle Price of The Refreshment Center.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Guest Post : Broken Promises: Pensions All Over America Are Being Savagely Cut Or Are Vanishing Completely

Guest post from the Economic Collapse Blog
How would you feel if you worked for a state or local government for 20 or 30 years only to have your pension slashed dramatically or taken away entirely?  Well, this exact scenario is playing out from coast to coast and in the years ahead millions of elderly Americans are going to be affected by broken promises and vanishing pensions.  In the old days, things were much different.  You would get hired by a big company or a government institution and you knew that the retirement benefits that they were promising you would be there when you retired in a few decades.  Unfortunately, we have now arrived at a time when government institutions and big companies have promised far more than they are able to deliver, and "pension reform" has become one of the hot button issues all over the nation.  Many Americans that have been basing their financial futures on their pensions are waking up one day and finding that their pensions are either gone or have been cut back dramatically.  According to Northwestern University Professor John Rauh, the latest estimate of the total amount of unfunded pension and healthcare obligations for state and local governments across the United States is 4.4 trillion dollars.  America is continually becoming a poorer nation and all of that money is simply not going to magically materialize somehow.  So where is that 4.4 trillion dollars going to come from?  Well, either pension benefits are going to have to be cut a lot more all over America or taxes will need to be raised dramatically.  Either way, we are all going to feel the pain of these broken promises.
There simply is not enough money out there to keep all of the pension commitments that have been made.  Something has got to give.  In the end, millions of elderly Americans will likely be plunged into poverty as pensions disappear.
Some local governments around the nation are already declaring bankruptcy and are either eliminating pensions or are cutting them very deeply.  Just check out what just happened in Central Falls, Rhode Island....
For years, city officials promised robust union contracts and pensions without raising revenue to pay for them. Last August, the math caught up with them. Central Falls was broke, its pension fund short $46 million. It declared bankruptcy.
"My daughters grew up here, went to school here. It's all gone," said Mike Geoffroy, a retired firefighter.
He said he could not make the payments on his house after his pension was cut by $1,100 a month.
When will the math catch up with the city where you are living?
For years and years most of our state and local politicians have been ignoring this problem.  But eventually a day comes when you simply cannot ignore it any longer.
Check out what Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said about the situation in his city recently....
"When our annual pension liability is more than our yearly property tax revenues, we have to do something"
Keep in mind that taxpayers don't get any new services for money spent on pensions.  It is money that goes straight into the pockets of retired workers.  State and local governments are desperately trying to pay retired workers what they are owed and fund ongoing government functions at the same time, but many have reached the breaking point.
All over the country, state and local governments are going broke.  The following is from a recent article by Duff McDonald....
Alabama's Jefferson County has actually gone bankrupt. Stockton, California is all but ready to do the same. And all you have to do is look to Detroit—or any of the nearby auto towns named after a Buick model of one sort or another—and you see fiscal crisis playing out right now. Look in your own backyard—or at the potholes on your neighborhood roads—and you will likely find the same.
Things are so bad in Stockton, California that they are actually skipping debt payments....
The city of 290,000 that rode the wave of the housing boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s now finds itself littered with foreclosed homes, saddled with pension, health care and other obligations it can't afford, and unable to pay its bills.
The City Council voted last month to suspend $2 million in bond payments and begin negotiations with bond holders, creditors and unions.
And did you notice what is being blamed for the financial problems in Stockton?
Pension and healthcare benefits.
Sadly, we are seeing pension nightmares erupt all over the nation right now.
For example, check out what is happening to the Public School Employees' Retirement System and State Employees' Retirement System in Pennsylvania....
PSERS had an accrued unfunded liability of nearly $26.5 billion, the amount of money the fund is short to cover existing retirement benefits. That hole is expected to grow to $43 billion by 2019. SERS is $12.5 billion in the red, and that shortfall is expected to climb to nearly $18 billion by 2018. Unless the stock market makes giant sustained gains, taxpayers will have to refill those funds.
That doesn't sound good at all.
In California, the Orange County Employees Retirement System is estimated to have a 10 billion dollar unfunded pension liability.
How in the world can a single county be facing a 10 billion dollar hole?
This is madness.
The state of Illinois is facing an unfunded pension liability of more than 77 billion dollars.  Considering the fact that the state of Illinois is flat broke and on the verge of default, it is inevitable that a lot of those pension obligations will never be paid.
In fact, there are going to be a whole lot of broken promises all over the country.
Pension consultant Girard Miller told California's Little Hoover Commission that state and local government bodies in the state of California have $325 billionin combined unfunded pension liabilities.
That comes to about $22,000 for every single working adult in the state of California.
So where is all of that money going to come from?
But at least most state and local government employees are still covered by pension plans, even if they are failing.
In the private sector, pension plans are vanishing at lightning speed.
According to the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, the percentage of workers in America covered by a traditional pension plan fell from 62 percent in 1983 to 17 percent in 2007.
That isn't just a trend.
That is a tidal wave.
And many of the private pension plans that still exist are massively underfunded.  For example, Verizon's pension plan is underfunded by 3.4 billion dollars.
So what should Americans do in light of all this?
Well, the number one thing to realize is that the pension plan you have been counting on could disappear at any time.
We live in an economic environment that is extremely unstable, and about the only thing you can count on in this environment is rapid and dramatic change.
Do not plan your financial future around a pension plan.  If you do, you are likely to be bitterly disappointed.
Americans that plan to retire in the coming years should do their best to try to fund their own retirements.
Unfortunately, most Americans are not putting away much of anything for retirement.  As I have written about previously, one study found that American workers are $6.6 trillion short of what they need to retire comfortably.
Ouch.
Over the next 20 years approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers will be retiring every single day.
A lot of them are going to be blindsided by empty pension funds and broken promises.
We are facing a retirement crisis of unprecedented magnitude, and there is not much hope in sight.
And if there is a major stock market crash, things are going to be much, much worse.
Most pension funds and retirement plans are heavily invested in the stock market.  If we were to see a major financial crisis like we saw back in 2008 it would be absolutely devastating.  Millions of Americans could see their retirement plans wiped out in short order.
Once again, please do not place your faith in the system.
If you do, you are likely to end up holding a bag of broken promises.
A gigantic tsunami of unfunded pension obligations is coming.  A lot of state and local governments are going to go broke.  A lot of promises are going to be broken.
If you hope to retire any time soon, you better plan on being able to take care of yourself.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Public Service Announcement / "It's the OIL, stupid."

"When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. 
They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. 
When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land." ~ Desmond Tutu


Data courtesy of www.fromthewilderness.com

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Matt Taibbi on Bank of Bank of America F29 | Occupy Wall Street Video

On February 29th in Bryant Park, NY, journalist Matt Taibbi [of Rolling Stone] has a 'teach in' talk with Occupy Wall Street activists about Bank of America and the mortgage crisis.  He speaks with a colorful flair seldom seen since the days of my personal Rolling Stone hero, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
Good on ya, Matt.