Friday, July 31, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: July 31, 2015 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

A lot has been going on in the past two weeks, so let us get on with it. This week let's look at some numbers:

  • More kids are living in poverty now in the U.S. than before the Great Recession. How many more you ask? "Twenty-two percent of American children were living in poverty in 2013 compared with 18 percent in 2008, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book, with poverty rates nearly double among African-Americans and American Indians and problems most severe in South and Southwest."  (Story via Equal Voices).
  • Three in five Americans Have Experienced a Year of Poverty. So, how bad is this? According to the study, "Our results indicate that the occurrence of relative poverty is fairly widespread. Between the ages of 25 and 60, 61.8 percent of the population will experience at least one year of poverty, whereas 42.1 percent will experience extreme poverty. Furthermore, 24.9 percent of the population will encounter five or more years of poverty, and 11.4 percent will experience five or more years of extreme poverty.”(Story via Big Think).
  • Meanwhile, home ownership rates are dropping in the U.S. According to Bloomberg, "it was lowest reading since 1967." Why should you care? Well for one, if you are a renter, as I am, it means your rent is liable to go up and so will rents in your areas as more of those people would would have bought a home can't and end up renting too.
  • And in the world of higher education, one in eight Americans are burdened by student loan debt, including 700,000 seniors. It is basically the curse that never really goes away, and in the end dying may well be the only way to discharge an exploitative onerous student loan debt. According to the story, we are talking about 41 million people. (Story via AlterNet).
  • In fact, overall, 80 percent of Americans have some form of debt, and this debt often spans generations from folks who were born before World War II to the Millennials today. (Story via NPR). 
  • There is an article on 7 ways the porn industry is changing. This caught my eye in part because I do enjoy some porn (sometimes even with the Better Half, and yes, we do strive to buy and be ethical about it), but it also does reflect a bit that the economy is bad. Additionally it reflects the industry has changed for reasons ranging from the Internet to changes in tastes, porn becoming more mainstream, so on. However, there are some things that remain the same. For instance, some older folks still order porn from mail order catalogs. The article argues this is because those older folks just don't want to change, though part of me wonders, you know, if you order the old school way, you are not putting your credit card number on the Internet. Hmm, maybe the old folks are onto something. (Story via AlterNet).
  • "For the two-thirds of Americans over 65 who are expected to need some long-term care, the costs are increasingly beyond reach." Elder care is getting more expensive in the United States, and more people are not able to afford it. It's another time bomb waiting to go off. (Story via Equal Voices).
  • Women are having troubles too. According to the Guttmacher Institute, "Twenty million U.S. women were in need of publicly funded family planning services in 2013, an increase of 5%, or 918,000 women, between 2010 and 2013, according to “Contraceptive Needs and Services, 2013 Update” by Jennifer Frost et al."
  • When it comes to providing grant and aid assistance, foundations and other organizations are seriously shortchanging rural areas. How bad is it? According to this piece at Truthout, "USDA economists analyzed grants from 1,400 of the largest foundations from 2005 to 2010 and concluded just 5.5 to 7.5 percent benefit rural counties, even though 19 percent of Americans live there."  
  • The U.S. government and right wingers in the U.S. love to whine about illegal immigration and how you should not hire illegal immigrants. Now, guess who is one of the largest if not outright the largest employer of undocumented immigrants? Yes, the government through the prison industrial complex.  Of course, that means that they can pay them next to nothing in poverty wages. After all, who are they going to complain to? How badly are these captive workers paid? According to the story from NPR, "the pay for an eight hour shift in a detention center is $1 a day, or roughly 13 cents an hour."
  • In fact, the government exploits immates so badly it even charges them in many cases for their own medical care. Many immates as a result forgo getting needed care because they cannot afford it.  According to The Rural Blog, "At least 38 states authorize the collection of fees—typically $20 or less—from a prisoner for medical services received while incarcerated, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline." Yea. Even in prison the dreaded copays follow you. 
  • In other news, due to the weakening of unions and the rise of other forms of exploiting workers, an underground economy where illegal practices of labor abound, is on the rise.  How bad is it? Well, to give one example, according to this report at Truthout, "in California alone, which boasts the largest economy among the states and the eighth largest in the world, the Employment Development Department estimates that the underground economy employs 15-17 percent of the state's labor force and generates $60 to $140 billion per year in economic productivity. This translates to an annual loss to the state of between $8.5 billion and $28 billion in corporate, personal, and sales and use taxes, money that could otherwise fund education, infrastructure maintenance and expansion, and a variety of social programs."
  • Other times, when the economy is bad, you have to get creative to find employment. Now for some, this entrepreneur may not be popular, but this one woman helps students who have been accused of rape or other sexual bad behaviors get back into college and find a second chance. Naturally, she does charge for her services. She may be one, but it is a business with a lot of potential. Article is certainly worth a look by anyone with an interest in higher education. Story via BuzzFeed.
  • Meanwhile, around the world. Let us be blunt, even though many people think things like child slave labor is appalling, they honestly don't give a shit and go right on to buy that bargain shirt made in some slave labor factory. So, let us look at the picture a bit. Here is a United Kingdom example, via The Telegraph, "there are believed to be as many as 13,000 Vietnamese victims of trafficking and slavery in the UK, along with many thousands more from other countries, with some 3,000 Vietnamese children brought to Britain to work in cannabis farms and nail bars, living in appalling conditions."
  • And in a bit of a ridiculous item of the day, one governor's daughter had it rough in the bad economy, so she came back home and set up her trailer on the governor's mansion's lawn. This was in Oklahoma. Now a lot of people gave them shit over it (OMG, she plugged the trailer home to the house to get her electric, so on, holy shit, we taxpayers are outraged, blah blah). But I bet if it was their own children, they'd be happy to do that, be they government officials or not. Story via Addicting Info
  • Now, not everybody is suffering in the bad economy. The Saudi king recently went on holiday, and he took along an entourage of a 1,000 people. Now there is a job creator for you. (Story via The Telegraph).
  • And some big old ranch in Texas is being sold. Asking price? $725 million. Story via Bloomberg.
  • Heck, even dogs get better treatment in the bad economy. JFK airport is building one seriously luxurious pet terminal. That is right, a pet terminal. So while you sit like cattle in their crappy seats waiting for your delayed flight after being humiliated by the TSA, pets get a luxury pet terminal.  So, how much are they spending on this boondoggle? According to New York magazine, "the entire complex will cost $48 million."

Puerto Rico Special Feature This Week

Cartoon from the Chicago Tribune republished in Marshall Everett, ed., Exciting Experiences in Our Wars with Spain and the Filipinos (Chicago: Book Publishers Union, 1899), p. 326. Cartoon shows Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines knocking at the door of the U.S. Found at LearnNC (

Puerto Rico's financial woes have been in the news (gee, sure took the gringos a while to notice the woes in their colony):

Booknote: MPH

Mark Millar, MPH. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781632152657.

From the book's description:

"Growing up in Detroit, Roscoe and his friends know all about hard luck. But their fates take a different turn when they stumble upon a street drug called MPH — little pills that give them the power of super speed, and the opportunity of a lifetime. Now holding the perfect Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card, Roscoe leads Rosa, Chevy, and Baseball on a lightning-fast crime spree across the nation. But as a good guy dealt a tough hand, that's not enough for Roscoe. Before long, he and his friends are taking the fat cats for all they're worth, and sharing their take with the masses. But zooming through their riches at super-speed has a downside. The pills are running out, the Feds are cracking down, and a mysterious figure named Mr. Springfield is teaming up with the authorities, claiming to know more about the speedsters than they know about themselves. When time is your only asset, what happens when the clock runs out?" 

Roscoe and his friends are having a rough, hard life in present day Detroit. When Roscoe, by a stroke of chance, gets an MPH pill from a prison drug dealer, he realizes he is able to use his new power of super speed to his advantage. Initially, they set out to taking the rich bastards that screwed over Detroit for all their worth, and they become Robin Hood figures, but soon his group splinters as Chevy gets greedy, and Baseball takes an overdose of MPH that causes his speed to increase so much he seemingly vanishes. It seems the good times are not meant to last, or are they?

This was a very good read from Mark Millar, also known for works such as Wanted, Kick-Ass, and various works for Marvel Comics. His works often contain a layer of contemporary social commentary, and MPH is no exception. The protagonists are portrayed as very sympathetic, and given present day events where economic equality is a fact of life and so many struggle to make ends meet, you cannot help but root for Roscoe and his friends. The story draws you in, and you end up reading it at a fast pace as well. You get draw into the lives of the characters, and you want to find out if they end up OK or not. In addition, if you like elements of science fiction with a little time travel thrown in, then this is a book for you as well. The book may be reminiscent of some stories about thieves where the thieves think big money is a great thrill, until they find out it is not all it's cracked up to be.

I have to say this one of Millar's good works. Fans of the author will likely want to pick this volume  up. If you have not read Millar's works before (can't imagine why), then this is a good one to pick up. It has a good story with characters that many people can relate to. It has some action and adventure with some social commentary, but that commentary is just part of the story; it's not heavy handed at all. The art is also very good on this one. This is definitely a good selection for libraries that collect graphic novel collections. If you have already collected Millar's other works, you need to have this one as well. This is one I will purchase for my library, and it is one I would purchase for my personal collection as well.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Booknote: Batgirl, Volume 1

Cameron Stewart,, Batgirl, Volume 1: The Batgirl of Burnside.  New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401257989.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes, new adult fiction
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review 

From the book's description:

"It’s a reinvention of Batgirl from the boots up, focusing on Barbara Gordon’s amazing eidetic memory and how she balances her dual lives—one as a masked hero and the other as a grad student."

This is a new series with a new look for Batgirl. Barbara Gordon leaves home to strike out on her own as a graduate student. She moves into the very desirable and hip neighborhood of Burnside. However, not all is well as she soon has her computer stolen, the one that had all her work for graduate school. As if things could not get worse, a fake Batgirl is ruining Barbara's crime fighting reputation. And in all this, she has to maintain her identity as a hip, young woman.

This is a comic that will appeal to young readers, late teens and perhaps college age students. While clearly for all readers, it seems a bit more geared for a female reader appeal, what is often known as the new adult reader. It works to capture the feel of the age group with various contemporary references to actual celebrities, social media, and pop culture.  The stories are light and entertaining, and they are fast moving. We get to see Barbara deal with her dual role as hero and young adult out in the world; we get a bit of light humor and a good amount of action along the way. In addition, the art is very colorful on this one. I think the artist did a very good job with the art, especially with Barbara's Batgirl look. It is a new look that seems to suit her well. I think readers who enjoy this genre will enjoy this new Batgirl series.

This was a light and fun read. For me, it was a nice contrast to some of the darker DC Batman titles I read now and then. Very colorful and well done art, and the stories have a good amount of action and slice of life of young adults in college and the dating scene.

This will make a good choice for libraries with graphic novel collections. It will likely appeal to new adult readers, specially female readers who also read comics and want something lighter than some of DC's darker offerings. I really liked it, mostly for the good art and new look.

For those of you who keep track, this collects issues #35 to #40 of  Batgirl and a story from Secret Origins, #10.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Book Reading Challenges:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Booknote: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Volume 2

Tom Taylor,, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Volume 2. New York: DC Comics,  2014. ISBN: 978-1-4012-4601-3.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: video games, superheroes
Format: hardback
Source: My local public library

My local library got this one in. Since I read the first volume, I figured I would read the rest. I liked the previous one, but I was not thrilled with it. So I kept my expectations in check. Some issues from the previous volume remained in this one, but some things did get better.

Superman continues to be the big tyrant. He now has Lex Luthor, who survived the disaster in Metropolis, as an advisor of sorts. Batman and his team are all that stand to oppose him, and it is Batman here who points out just how low Superman has fallen. Superman even resorts to torture to get his way. On a side note, this comic was written before the recent revelations from the CIA Torture Report, but in light of that, Superman's behavior (the guy who for many stands for truth, justice, and the American Way) just seems much worse. Wonder Woman, who is fully in Superman's camp, is not that much better. Her scene in an African village is a bit disturbing. Another somewhat shocking moment is the scene towards the end with Superman confronting Batman; this scene seems more taken from another comic to add shock value to this one. I know this is the mechanism to set up the rivalries in the video game, but still most of the heroes on Superman's side are nothing more than outright bullies and tyrants, which for me was a bit of a turn off. Fans of the game may have different views.

On the positive, the story gains more depth in this volume. The path to an ultimate confrontation is coming, and a new element will even the odds for Batman's side. We also see more characters in this volume. Harley Quinn makes an appearance, quite amusing as she can be. There is a bit more substance to the story overall, and there are some more side stories that may be of interest.

The art remains very good in this volume, and it is certainly a good reason to pick up this book. In the end, this series is just a prequel to set up a fighting video game, and the story is leading to that set up. I ended up liking the volume, but not really liking it. I am sure in the end many game fans are likely to pick it up. For other comic book readers, I'd say this is optional.

3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Booknote: Grayson, Volume 1

Tim Seeley,, Grayson, Volume 1: Agents of Spyral. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401252342.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes, espionage and secret agents
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Dick Grayson has undergone quite a life journey: circus acrobat, sidekick to Batman, a superhero on his own, a martyr presumably dead after being unmasked by the Crime Syndicate, and now double agent. DC is starting a new series featuring Dick Grayson, and it looks like a good start.

This series has quite a bit of intrigue and mystery. Who really are the bosses in Spyral? We can't see the overseer's face. What exactly are they doing? As we read and Dick goes on new missions for them, we wonder what is Spyral up to? What are they after? The suspense is also there as we wonder whether Dick will be exposed as a mole inside Spyral or not. The series is just starting out, so much of this volume is setting him up within Spyral, an organization that deals in espionage, brainwashing, manipulation, and misdirection. Dick is infiltrating them on Batman's behalf, but how long can he go given how much Spyral keeps tabs on him? Not to mention that Spyral has put implants and post-hypnotic commands in Dick's mind, so he has that to contend with as well. There is a lot going on in this series.

The series is a fast paced read. We get into the story right away, and we go deeper and deeper as we read. Fans of Dick Grayson since his early days will certainly appreciate these new stories. However, you do not need to have read previous volumes in order to enjoy this series. You get a quick recap at the beginning, and there are enough references throughout the comics to get the sense of how the storylines have progressed.

For libraries that collect graphic novels and comics, if you collect Batman and other Bat Family titles, you will want to add this to your collections. Also readers who like works of espionage, secret agents, and intrigue may feel moved to try this one as well.

I really liked this one, and I will look for the next one. It looks like a good start, but we will see if they can keep up the pace.

According to the description, the volume collects issues 1-4 of the Grayson comic, the Grayson Annual, Volume 1, and a story from Secret Origins, #8.  However, I will note the galley I received was incomplete as it seems I only got the first four comic issues, and one of those issues was packed in the galley twice (which was a bit of an annoyance, but a small issue).

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Booknote: Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 6

Francis Manapul and Brian Bucellato, Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 6: Icarus. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401254421.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes, murder mystery
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

After reading a few Batman titles that varied in quality, this was a nice return to a good Batman story where Batman works as the detective. A new drug, Icarus, is hitting Gotham once again. Detective Bullock of the GCPD had a hand in getting the drug off the streets years ago, so when the drug returns, it becomes a personal issue for him. Now Bullock and Batman are both trying to find where the drug is coming from and stop its distribution while trying to solve the murder of a wealthy activist who was planning on revitalizing a bad part of the city in partnership with Bruce Wayne.

After reading a few comics with big events for Batman, and as I mentioned of varying quality (some were better than others), I felt this was a refreshing return to a more classic Batman. What we have here is a crime procedural with a good amount of action and intrigue. It is a gritty almost noir story, and the art style reflects that. The art captures the essence of the corrupt city quite well. The portrayal of Detective Bullock is a bit more charitable in this comic series when compared to other works. He comes across as a bit more sympathetic, and he even has a humane moment or two. In addition, Batman is still reeling from losing Damian, so we get to see him cope with the loss still.

I say that if you want a Batman story that is solid without too much flash or big events, then this may be a good book for you. For libraries with graphic novel collections, if you already collect Batman titles, this is one you need to add to your collection. I am very likely to get it for our library here. It is a title that I really liked for its fast pace, good story, the detective and mystery elements, and overall a good read.

For those of you who keep track, this collection includes issues 30-34 of Batman: Detective Comics and the Detective Comics Annual #3. I will admit that I did not care as much about the annual, but it does add a bit more value to the set. 

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Book Reading Challenges: