Catastrophic Umbrella Failure

The news claimed that today’s storm would be mild. I took this to mean that my Saturday walk to the coffee shop could be safely undertaken with a jacket and an umbrella. The news reporter got it half right, the wind proved to be much stronger than my protection.

My 12 dollar umbrella was not up to the task of withstanding the wind.  It blew inside-out several times and one of its supporting struts was dislodged and hung menacingly in front of my eyes. I was concerned that a gust might render me blind or worse if the thin piece of metal suddenly became wind-driven.

My catastrophic umbrella failure got me thinking about how I live beneath symbolic umbrellas every day.  My umbrella is supposed to give me with shelter from wind and rain. In a similar way my paycheck, my benefits, my retirement accounts, my health, my relationships, are all protection from discomfort in a stormy life.

Just as the protection of my umbrella failed me this morning, my life umbrellas are just as susceptible to strong winds of a storm. My job can be lost in a heartbeat and suddenly there’s no paycheck.  My benefits and retirement accounts can be decimated by a weak economy.  My health can change in a single moment of diagnosis. My relationships will all end, either with me departing or with others departing ahead of me. My umbrellas are real, yet fallible protection.

The people of Japan must be feeling vulnerable beneath their umbrellas at the moment. Their perceptions of security were literally shaken to pieces.  I watch Japan and I know there is a lesson in their tragedy for me.

Hiding myself under life’s umbrellas – secure shelter, relationships, jobs, health – is illusory because they can be torn by a strong wind, just as my umbrella was unfolded and broken this morning, all in a series of gusts.

Faith in God is the only umbrella that winds of fate cannot blow away.

Internet Frauds, Liars, and Pickpockets

The Global Marketplace The Internet is populated by pickpockets, thieves, scheisters, and rubes.

I suppose I should not be surprised at this point in life that they’re all out there, it’s just that I’ve done my best to avoid the places where they congregate until now. The Internet is not avoidable, it’s a necessity, and they all know it and they’re swarming all over the Internet like piranhas.

Doing business on the Internet is like stepping in dog poop every day. You get bombarded with poop offers from phony companies run by shitheads.

In example, I am working on backlinking to a web site. So I was looking at the backlinks of a competitor and contacting the backlinks to see if I could get my foot in the door there too. I emailed one asking if we could be added to their list of resources.

This is the response I received, “Thanks for your email. However, I saw very little free information on your site that we do not already offer but more promotional material for services you company offers for a fee. If you wish to advertise on our site I would be happy to discuss that option with you. You may also want to view: (their advertising rates, the rats).”

I know a fraud in my field when I see one. Aside from the fact that he can’t write in standard English., this schmuck claims to be a non-profit expert but lists no clients because he’s never served a nonprofit client. He provides no stats on what he’s done for his clients because he has no clients; I checked him out, he has a bottling company. He built a large web site based on links to other people’s web sites and based on his serving on Boards for nonprofits in the past which no doubt happened because he has money and the ability to donate to them. He’s using his Board memberships as evidence that he’s a nonprofit expert. That’s it…he can afford donate, so he’s an expert, and he’s selling himself as a nonprofit consultant when he really just runs a web site that sells nonprofit advertising.

Holy crap, what a fraud this guy is. Like I said, the Internet is populated with pickpockets, frauds, thieves, liars, scheisters, and cheats. I’m not sure if this dude is all of those things, but the fact that he’d pitch me by insulting me tells me he’s a fraud.

Poverty is the Real Danger

Think about an Egyptian or a Libyan scale uprising here in the good old USA. What would it look like? What would trigger such a revolt?

A picture of bullets.I’ve been thinking about that question lately.  There is at least one HUGE difference between the US and Libya: our citizens own guns and ammunition.  If a month from now, a million people were starving and out of work and really angry about that, we could be in for BIG trouble because a lot of people are heavily armed in this country.

We have limited restrictions on owning guns. You can go to a gun store and buy a 50 caliber gun, a miniature cannon. I’ve seen them in the past.  They are formidable weapons and frightening.

So I worry about this country for a few reasons.

1. Our governments (state and federal) are broke and need to cut deeply to stay afloat.  This will create increased unemployment and decreased economic activity at a time when we can afford neither.  Yet, both are unavoidable from what I can see.

2. Global credit could get tighter and more expensive causing our government to spend more on interest in its massive borrowing and less on the people.  I.e., less spending, less employment.

3. What will we the people do in the face of such adversity?  Who will rise up to lead us through this storm? I do not hear anyone even preparing us for a storm coming. I like to watch the weather on TV so I know if I should bring an umbrella along to work. Where is our economic weather man?  I do not hear all the so-called experts predicting the economic weather for us at all. It makes me VERY nervous.

I hope I am playing the role of Chicken Little in this post.  But I wonder and I worry. I have little faith in the government when I see a continuation of the bitter,divisive, partisanship that has dominated the politics and prevented real answers in this country for decades now.

If justice is blind then where is the accountability for the Wall Street Pirates who plundered the people twice, once in mortgages and a second time in the government bail-out? I fear their accountability for them. I fear that it is coming. I fear it will be a reckoning we all should fear. 

When the establishment does not resolve broad and far-reaching wrongs, the people often take matters into their own hands in history. Let them eat cake indeed, but Marie did not have to answer to a mob armed with AK’s and Ouzis.

Congress is holding hearings on Muslim terrorists at the moment.  I wonder if that’s not missing the point of the world entirely, that it’s poverty that causes people to go to extremes. Often the poor are led and manipulated by the false promises of wealthy and deviant people.

Where is the Bob Dillon of this generation?  Where is Carol King?  Where are the Simon and Garfunkel of these difficult times?  I don’t understand why someone has not emerged yet in the role of popular poet as we saw in the 1960’s. Surely the times are calling for a new folk singer who can present the emotion of the times. We need someone to express what we’re feeling in song before it’s expressed in some other way.

Cranky Republicans on The Road to Perdition

Great post today by Bob Edgar in the Huffington Post about a “Gang of Eight” Republican Senators who have issued their own set of rules for passing legislation in the Senate.  They’ve developed a series of six litmus tests that must be met or they’ll filibuster the bill and effectively kill it. 

The “Gang of Eight” are Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John McCain of Arizona, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Ensign of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Here are a few of their demands.

• Any proposal to increase spending or create a new government agency must include corresponding spending cuts somewhere else in the federal establishment.

This demand does not make sense because it does not accommodate any increases in income that the Federal government might take in, or necessary growth of government spending due to changing circumstances such as an increase in populations, disasters, wars, etc.  I mean really, if (when actually) Canada attacks us are we going to cut social security to pay for moose camo to defend our northern border, come on!

• Any bill creating a new government agency must have a “sunset” date when the agency will die unless Congress acts to extend it.

I kind of like this one.  I’d like a sunset date on the Senate. We pay a hell of a lot for them too, they seem to forget that.

• The text of every bill and a formal estimate of its cost must be available to the public for three full days before the legislation is passed.

Good, done, do it, should be 14 days before, but if three are all you can do because you need time to negotiate pork attachments to it, then fine.  I like bacon.

• Any bill creating a new program that “replicates” an existing government function must consolidate the new and existing functions or eliminate the existing programs.

This is such a nuclear-sized DUH, I can’t believe that the “Gang of Eight” are floating it as high ground.  Is – for example – John McCain who was elected to the House of Representatives all the way back in 1982 saying that he has been passing legislation to duplicate existing services for 29 years and NOW, just NOW, he has decided that it’s a bad idea so it must be memorialized in a letter to the general Senate?  Really Mr. McCain, just NOW?

• All bills must have a “clear and obvious” connection to the powers delegated to Congress by the Constitution.

Wow, now there’s a good way to bog down the Federal government permenantly.  Can you imagine the semantic gymnastics this little sentence will spark!? Just cut everything but the military and give me my money back.

To quote Paul Newman’s son in “The Road to Perdition” (2002), “It’s all so F–ing hysterical.”

Wisconsin Unions – Are We Asking The Right Questions?

If union collective bargaining is the answer to equalizing wealth in America as Michael Moore asserts, then why are we in economic collapse with deteriorating middle class standards of living?Michael Moore speaks in Wisonsin but did not drive this car over there.

If collective bargaining was the golden ticket to the good life, why are we teetering – one leg dangling – on the edge?

I read an interesting commentary in the Daily Democrat, of Woodland, California that proposed the idea that it was the unequal distribution of wealth in America that caused the Great Depression.  The author asserts that we are reaching comparable levels of inequality today and the fact that such a large amount of the income is earned by people who don’t spend it, we are seeing this economic collapse.

The author sites no sources for these figures but he states that 1% of the population in 1920 was earning 25% of the income and the author asserts that the US is approaching similar levels today.  The most recent data I could find is 2004 in which the top 5% earn 21.8% of the income in the US.  The same report shows that the top 1% hold +34% of the wealth in the country and that the top10% hold >71% of the wealth while the bottom 40% hold <1% of the country’s wealth.

This data is startling to me. The inequality of the distribution of wealth in the country raises a bunch of questions for me. It makes me wonder if Michael Moore and the Unions aren’t asking all the wrong questions, are they making a mistake in using this political movement to merely try to salvage the status quo?  Is there really more at stake for the common man of the middle class?

  1. Freedom – How free are we?  We all know that the government is run by people who are bought and sold by special interests.  We all know that money is what gets things done in our government.  This means that the primary drivers of government policy are the top 10% wealthiest people in the country and nearly half of that influence is wielded by only 1%.  Who are they? What are their positions on issues?  How much are they spending on lobbyists, on non-profits that lobby, on political contributions?
  2. Middle Class– Is the hourglass sand running out on the middle class in this country?  If the middle class was created soley for the purpose of creating a consumer class, has the production of cheap products overseas eliminated the need for a middle class?  Is it possible now to simply have an upper-lower class and achieve the same income levels? Is Walmart forever and always the new model for shoppng for the majority of Americans?
  3. Democracy – Are we really living in a democracy?  Are we?  When Presidential debates are limited to the parties of the established interests, and these established interests are bought and sold by the richest people in the country? Are we reverting back to the European serfdoms that people fled to America to escape?

I’ve thought a lot about the gathering in Madison, Wisconsin where Michael Moore gave his speech.  It had a smack of revolution in it with talk about the “Mubaraks” of America (i.e. the top 1%). Have the monied people of this country overplayed their hand in Wisconsin the way that Moore asserts in his speech? Are we going to see this unrest spread across the country?

I don’t know how a definition of “treating workers fairly” is determined if the changes have to come from the grassroots of America, that being the 40% who own less than 1% of the wealth in the county.  I think so far it’s going to be determined by the wealthy, not by the bottom 40%.

I suspect that these decisions will be made by the wealthiest people then enacted by the government leadership they’ve bought.  Perhaps that’s what is really going on in Wisconsin. How does the government ensure that the middle class survives if the purpose of government is to serve the wealthiest Americans well, and further if the best interests of the wealthiest Americans is no longer a middle class consumer?

Photo Credit – Michal Zacharzewski

Michael Moore’s Speech in Madison, Wisconsin

Michael Moore went to Wisconsin to give a speech to the Union workers who are protesting the Republican Governor Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining.

Moore gave a long speech and he made some interesting claims in it about rich people running the country.  I’m not sure why he needed to go all the way to Wisconsin to say that rich people run the country, they always have.

For me the big issue is this:

Where is the balance point at which a government becomes too expensive?  Michael Moore and his fans do not seem to want to address this point at all.  He’s so fixated on the Robin Hood syndrome that he refuses to address the reasonableness of the argument for cutting the budget.  He simply says take from the rich and everyone else gets to keep their salaries.  The problem is he’s talking about government salaries which the rest of us have to be taxed to pay for.

At what point do people who are not part of the government become slaves to support the government? 

I think we’re at that point now.  Government employee salaries and benefits are bankrupting our state due to the economic collapse and the resulting loss in tax revenue.  Our government has promised Union members all kinds of expensive benefits and salaries that we can no longer afford. 

Those of us who do not work for the government didn’t mind providing those benefits to the unions while there was money to do so.  But now the money is gone and collective bargaining threatens the ability of the government to cut costs.  So the only option left to the government is to raise taxes on the rest of us.

Michael Moore spoke to the crowd in Madison as if he were speaking to all Americans.  But he wasn’t.  He was speaking to Americans who work for the government and who are in a union. We aren’t all government employees in unions –  at least not yet.  I do not fall into either category and I don’t want to pay more taxes to secure unfunded contract provisions given to unions in good times. 

These are not good times. Michael Moore says we aren’t broke, HELLO, the hell we aren’t.  What he really means is that if the rich would just give their money to the government, problem solved. 

Really?  Is that what we want?  Sounds like Marx, not Moore.

Signs of the Apocolypse

cranky signs of the apocolypseHere are the signs I witnessed myself:

1. Gas cost me 3.73 per gallon this morning and yesterday afternoon I saw it for $3.59

2. On my walk I saw a sign posted at the entrance to a shopping center parking lot that read, “Auto Title Loans” with a right-facing arrow in red lettering on a white field.  That’s desperate even for a loan shark, kind of a reverse car loan.

3. On my travels today, I witnessed a fight over a baseball hat, numerous homeless people pushing shopping carts, and various people wandering aimlessly.  Now this may sound like a subjective observation and to a degree you would be correct; however, I have been taking the same walk over the same two miles for two years and the change in the landscape of my walk over those two years is dramatic.  There are lots of people today walking along the street who look homeless, disenfranchised, or dangerous. This was not the case two years ago.  I’m not sure if there’s a shift in the homeless population or if the population is simply booming, but along the route of my walk through the middle of town, the scene has changed dramatically.

4. A friend of mine owned a cabin in Lake Tahoe where the big fire happened in 2007.  Her cabin burned to the ground.  Some of her neighbors sold their property after the fire.  A neighbor sold her property for $179,000.  My friend recently had her lot reappraised and it’s now worth $44,000, less than 25% of the value immediately after the fire in 2007.

Photo Credit – Jakub Sopicki