Sunday, October 29, 2006

The squeeze is on

Median household income in America has declined an average of 6% nationwide, from 1999 to 2005:

In Olathe, Kansas, the average price for a new home has doubled in the past five years, while median household income in Kansas has dropped 9.8%. Rents are now climbing as well.

Compounding this dismal picture, the value of a dollar declined by 15% from 1999 to 2005.

But there is another aspect to this financial woe being faced by so many, and that is: China. Already, major construction projects are facing delays and cost overruns, because they are now competing with China for concrete and steel. In less than two years, from June 2003 to April 2005, the price of steel doubled. Prices for copper, gypsum, plywood, and lumber are also significantly higher, and lead times for material delivery has jumped to eight months (from three).

It is obvious that this creates havoc with the construction industry, but we might want to think about what’s next: in our much-vaunted globalized economy, how long will it be until the “Chinese competition” story will instead be about food?

China’s game plan is obvious to anyone willing to exercise some foresight. They have already bought America, lock, stock, and barrel; the only question is when they will choose to call in their paper debt, money that will be used to outcompete us in every conceivable market until we are, for all intents and purposes, a third world nation, exporting only raw materials to the rest of the world, and scrabbling around to feed our populace (or not).

Already we are a nation that has forgotten how to manufacture goods. We have destroyed our own factories, and sold all our machine tool knowledge to others, with the mistaken belief that we can ride on our wealthy laurels from here on out. What will happen if we suddenly need to amp up production of warships, as we did in WWII? We don’t even have the steelmaking capacity for the enterprise.

But the real tragedy is our loss of manufacturing skill, our abandonment of the apprenticeship system of teaching the trades to the next generation. We have made the assumption that we can buy our way into prosperity, but then we turned around and sold our future to the highest bidder, and that bidder was, mostly China. We “purchased” $243.5 billion of goods from China in 2005, and sold them just $41.9 billion, sending them a net of $201.5 billion in just one year.

China is not the biggest holder of America’s indebtedness - Japan is - but China presently holds about $323.5 billion of our total $1.886 trillion debt, or about 17.2% of the total. “At the end of 2004, foreign holdings of Treasury debt were $1.886 trillion, which was 44% of the total debt” and that number has continued to climb. We are in hock up to our ears, but what we are ignoring is the effect that this will have on prices, and our personal ability to purchase both essentials and luxuries when we can so easily be outcompeted by other, non-debtor, nations.

And just to top off this tale of woe, consider the fact that in this country it is perfectly legal for foreign nationals to buy any and all real property of their choosing. This is not the case in most countries, but in the U.S., American citizens who are facing the economic squeeze caused by corporate and governmental monetary policies are also having to compete with wealthy investors who are citizens of those countries where we are sending all of our nation’s money. It doesn’t take a doctorate in economic theory to comprehend the price pressures that result from these policies, and their impact on real estate prices here.

In fact, I think that the possession of an economics doctorate might just hinder one’s comprehension of the big picture of what is being done to our country by policies that favor corporate interests, which are defined by law to be entirely self-serving of the corporation without a second glance to what is good for the citizens or the country, and by policies that favor successful investment over any kind of productive enterprise.

All we are watching are the results of several decades of globalization policy coming home to roost. We really should be paying attention, because what use to us are liberty or freedom (what’s left to us following Bush’s gutting of the Constitution, that is) when we can’t take care of our basic physical needs of food and shelter?

Sorry? Nah.

David Safavian was convicted and has now been sentenced.

He’s the fellow who was Chief of Staff of the General Services Administration, enabling him to provide inside information about government land transactions to his old bud, Jack Abramoff.

Sentenced to an 18-month prison term, Safavian wept.
“ ‘I shouldn’t have given Jack Abramoff any information about the agency, no matter how innocuous it seemed,’ ”
he said, showing his level of contrition, i.e., none.

What remains unclear is why Judge Friedman, who said that Safavian was guilty of a “classic case of abuse of the public’s trust,” sentenced him to just 18 months instead of the 3 years requested by the prosecutor for the four of five counts for which he was found guilty.

Judicial leniency is usually reserved for defendants who at the very least show some regret for their crimes (and not just for their sentencing), and such abuse of the public trust should be one of the instances that results in far more than a slap on the wrist. The “public trust” is really the only thing that stands between the public and those who would steal from us, and deserves a far stronger defense.

Friday, October 20, 2006

In good company

For a diversion, I just took the Worldview Quiz, whereupon I was provided with a peek at the (projected) world views of a few famous people. Taking the liberty to incorporate my own result with those (projected) for these others, I have to say that I was not displeased, falling as I do among folks I respect:

(hat tip to PZ Myers at Pharyngula)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

We are “as if in a trance”…

Special Comment from Keith Olbermann, including:
“…if you somehow think habeas corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ — exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not?”

Olbermann - a voice in the wilderness

J. Turley, Professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University:
“The Congress just gave the President despotic powers. […] This is going to go down in history as one of our greatest self-inflicted wounds.”

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A nation’s death throes

Keith Olbermann is here to explain why habeas corpus matters, and how central it is to all rights of all citizens. Its abolishment sounds the death knell for our republic, so it’s remarkable that so few seem to give a damn.

Included is a clip of Senator Patrick Leahy:
Leahy: “The bill before the Senate would not merely suspend the great writ, the great writ of habeas corpus, it would eliminate it permanently.”
And then it was passed by the Senate.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Darkness descending

The torture issue has been a revelation to me. I have been stunned to hear (otherwise apparently) reasonable and ethical people tell me that torture is “sometimes necessary.” And I will never be able to look at them the same way again, will never be able to value their opinions about anything at all.

Torture is one of those moral boundaries that cannot be crossed without consequence, even in the abstract. The invisible line between us is made visible, when I am told that torture can EVER be justified. I am made to grieve that so many fall victim to such a profound ethical fallacy, and I begin to question whether there is any hope left for a humanity that can have as members so many for whom torture is ever a reasonable option. Do I even want to live among these people?

It does not even matter to the torture-defenders that from a purely pragmatic perspective, torture does not accomplish what they say is its intended purpose. They simply refuse to hear the truth of its non-efficacy, and instead put forth all manner of possible scenarios in which the “only” solution is to torture a person into revealing some secret. What part of “torture does not work” do they not understand? Is it merely that they feel utterly helpless and must do SOMETHING, even something that in all likelihood, will not provide a solution?

Or is it some other - darker - impulse, something closer to punishment, or revenge, or simply a way to work out anger and frustration? How is it that anyone could possess the certainty that they have the right to inflict suffering on another—how do they reconcile their brutal acts, and why aren’t they incapacitated by the resulting cognitive dissonance?

Natalie Maines took a lot of heat for saying that she was ashamed that GW Bush is a Texan, but the longer I live, the more I am ashamed to be a human being. Surely the desire to hurt others, for its own sake, is indicative of a deep pathology among others of my kind. When the pretender to the Oval Office makes light of inserting explosives into the cloacae of frogs and blowing them up as a child, when other children conjure up other horrific treatments of animals and other children, and then as adults, our kin work long and hard to create tortures of ever-more-unimaginable pain, I am left to wonder whether we humans even deserve a place on this planet.

There is so much to be disheartened about these days, but the torture “question” has struck me at the core of my being. Once, I was able to view torture as being done by distant “other” less enlightened people, but now it is standard procedure to be done by my own countrymen, and is defended by those I would expect to know better, shattering my comfortable illusions. I feel like I’m having a massive identity crisis, and perhaps I’m just channeling the identify crisis of our species. It is a damnably uncomfortable thing to experience, while meanwhile, life around me goes on as usual.

The only option seems to be to try not to care, but that, too, feels like death. Woe is me.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Stating the OBVIOUS

Who would have thought there would be any need to remind anyone of this truth?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Much has been made of Karl Rove’s upcoming “October Surprise,” but who needs one now that all the media focus has been drawn to the Congressional Page scandal and one pervert who’s now in rehab? The media has all but forgotten Woodward’s latest book and its scathing indictment of the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 behavior; the horrendous situation in Iraq as detailed by the National Intelligence Estimate report; the gutting of the Constitution and our new torture policy; and the tanking middle class economy.

The inevitable spin will grind into gear once more, along the lines of “hate the sin but love the sinner” and the long-running cover-up of the pervert’s behavior will gather the theme of “well they didn’t really understand the scope of his behavior” so run along, it’s been taken care of now. Business as usual.

The timing could not have been more perfect: wait until the last moment before the recess so that his Republican vote can be utilized until the end, and then, more than five ten years after the first evidence of his misbehavior, have him resign in disgrace. All evidence points to this being made a deliberate strategy — the leadership knew the story would come out, so why not get some mileage out of it when it did?

Meanwhile, into the memory hole will go all the vastly more substantive reasons for voting this administration out on a rail. Very elegant, Mr. Rove. That additional teens were victimized in the meanwhile, well they’re just “fungible” assets, as Rumsfeld likes to say about our troops.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Our New Reality

Dungeons for Doofus