Friday, May 23, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad: May 23, 2014 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. 

I missed a couple of weeks there due to real life happening, but we are back just in time for the holiday weekend. Yes, it's Memorial Day once more, the day that, if advertising is to be believed, is to be spent buying cars and mattresses after you are done with your backyard or beach barbecue. Hell, if you know where to look, odds are good you can find a Memorial Day sale someplace. Sure, the economy is bad, but Americans can be counted on to do their patriotic duty and go shopping over the holiday. Now, if you are actually not spending tons of money (probably because you don't have it. I sure as hell don't, but at least I get Monday off) and doing a "staycation" (if you are lucky. In our case, the Better Half has to work, so I am relaxing at home on Monday), here is some stuff to read while you relax over the weekends.

Before we go on to the small, subtle signs that the economy is bad, let's start with the big sign of the week:

We may as well be blunt. Here is the big sign the economy is bad for this week: for the U.S., between the bad economy, the corruption, the oligarchs, and the overall falling behind in things like education, it's starting to look like a third world around here. Via Truthout, here are some numbers. Food insecurity? Got that with 14.% of U.S. households identified as food insecure? Poverty? Oh, we got that down pat with 1.5 million households struggling with extreme poverty. Middle class? Sorry, other nations are getting ahead in that regard. Hell, "estimates suggest that the Chinese middle-class is now larger than the entire population of the U.S." It's not looking good, and unless significant change and reform happen, it will get worse before it gets better.

So, that was the big sign. That's the one that most people with some common sense and somewhat paying attention should notice. However, here at The Itinerant Librarian, we seek out those oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. This week, we feature the following:

  • The plight of college students chained down by obscene forms of predatory debt continues to be a theme here. It is one I will continue to denounce and speak on until the day something serious is actually done (which means I will keep talking and writing about it for a while, so I hope you hang on with me for that ride). Anyhow, it was recently revealed that the college graduating class of 2014 is the most indebted one in history. One place you can read more about it is at this piece from Salon. And by the way, when you get some asshole boomer claiming that if they got it done without debt, so you can you, remind them of how good they actually had it and how bad they have screwed things for the rest of us with their selfishness. Remind them that "neither your parents nor your grandparents were required to take on this kind of burden in order to go to college. Neither are the people of your own generation in France and Germany and Argentina and Mexico." The rest of the piece is worth a look. 
  • Oh, and the raw deal for college graduates who took on predatory loans to get an education gets worse. If you have a family member co-sign your loan(s), and they go bankrupt or die, the bank can decide they want you to make some exorbitant sudden payment or right out call in the loan. Why? Because fuck you, that's why. This is thanks to another one of those unethical and immoral practices banks can get away with for private loans known as the "auto-default," which according to this piece from Truthout is "when banks immediately say that private student loan debts are in default after the death or bankruptcy of a cosigner." Because in this country, making exorbitant profits on the backs of college graduates is more of a priority than investing in graduates who, once they get a fair shake and start in life, might actually make things better.  Your dad who cosigned your loan passed away? The bank says, "fuck you, pay me." At least with the mob, (YouTube video clip link) in an extreme, you might be able to "torch the place." 
  • Now things are also bad at the public school levels. Since funding for public schools keeps getting cut back, and many locals often whine they don't want to pay taxes to support their local schools (especially the ones who send their kids to private schools and the childless because, "hey, I've got mine Jack"), schools have to find ways to make ends meet with things like the "ever popular" fundraiser. This school decided to do some bake sales to fund a trip or two for their kids. But baking cupcakes and cookies only gets you so far. So, what can they do? Have a raffle. What are they raffling? Oh, nothing much, just a Glock 9mm handgun. You want people to give you money, you have to get creative these days. Story via WBBJ News.
  • As it is commonly known, good jobs are not exactly abundant in the bad economy. So, if the only thing you can find is working a McJob in fast food, things may not look good. In spite of workers in some locations rising and protesting for better wages, the fine folks at the National Restaurant Association are doing what upstanding corporate citizens do: their best to keep their workers down, and they do so by deploying vast amounts of cash to send their lobbyists to Washington to make sure the legislators keep the rules in their favor. Yes, folks like the National Restaurant Association are spending vast amounts of money to make sure they do not have to pay their workers anything more than flophouse living wages. According to this highlight story via Common Dreams, " according to an analysis by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROCUnited), the $683 billion industry's trade association itself has poured $12.6 million directly into federal politicians' campaign coffers since 1989. NRA member organizations have chipped-in around $51 million more: McDonald's, for example, has given $5.8 million to federal politicians, Darden (parent company of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Capitol Grille) $5.6 million, and Wendy's $2.3 million. The biggest spender is NRA member Walt Disney; the creator of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck disclosed $14.1 million in contributions since 1989." Note the link to the ROCUnited report is included so you can actually read the numbers and the context yourself. When we talk about corruption in the United States, this is the kind of thing we talk about. 
  • By the way, the American Hotel Association, another notorious group who likes to employ very low wage workers, does not like competition neither.They have decided to use their resources and instead of paying their workers decent wages are going after Airbnb. "While Airbnb has shown it can peacefully coexist with hotels, the hotel industry has made it clear that it cannot envision the same." Story via BetaBeat
  • Meanwhile, poverty continues. The upper classes, including members of the barely alive middle class, love to mock and blame the poor for their condition, as if it somehow it's all their fault. Reality is far different, and you can find all sorts of issues and reasons from poor wages, subsidizing of corporations paying those poor wages so their workers have to go on public assistance, and so on. Hell, even Walmart recently admitted that their profits depend on poverty. As I heard a wise man once say, "there but for (insert your deity of choice here), go I." So it can be really hard when someone used to having a good job and a relatively good living loses it all, has to swallow their pride, and go ask for public assistance. This is a scenario what is becoming more and more common in the U.S. Here is one man's experience navigating the bureaucracy to get some help. Story via AlterNet
  • As I mentioned, those who are fortunate enough to have more (often a lot more) make it their past time to mock the poor and right out vilify them. A favorite sport of the Right Wing wealthy elites is the eternal whine of "how can that poor woman on welfare have a cell phone? The horror. She must be a thief and a cheat." Well, turns out that the truth is vastly different. Often, the poor can have some nice things (what, you are one of those assholes who think only the rich deserve some nice things?), they just can't get out of poverty per se. Why? Bottom line is that things like an education, child care, and health care costs have skyrocketed to obscene levels. You try working a low wage job and finding affordable child care, and you can probably forget about any decent insurance for health, and see how far you get. Meanwhile, the "nice" things you wealthy baron with no empathy begrudge the poor have actually become cheaper over time. Things like cellphones, computers, and televisions have actually gotten cheaper, and guess what, given even the poor buy them, it seems the whole capitalist idea of buy and buy is working fine. Besides, haven't you folks heard of things like "used" merchandise? Story via Poor as Folk. Honestly, get a clue. I concur with that blogger on this point: " I think some of that poor judging  is really the fearful panic of that person trying to figure out if it could be them someday." It's either that, or some of those judgmental people are just cold biddies and and assholes.
  • People who engage in the poor judging game often say that poor people who still have a car should sell it. Yea, that will really work. Sell the one thing that still offers some mobility, transportation to work, and if you are homeless, may well be your only shelter. If you are poor, and you still have your car, good for you. Do your best to take care of it. In fact, you are not alone. A lot of Americans are striving to make their cars last longer. While automobile manufactures keep churning out new models year and after year, models that many of them will remain unsold (and odds are good end up in some dump lot someplace), the reality is the average age of U.S. vehicles has increased in the period between 2008 and 2012 according to reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Plus to make it worth, even with the weak "recovery" in the economy, if you can call it that, people are not exactly rushing out to buy new cars neither. I know we are not. We are down to one vehicle now after the second one finally went to the great junkyard in the sky, and we are keeping that one and doing our best to care for it as long as possible. Good thing that, for now at least, I can walk to work. Meanwhile, to give you an idea how bad things are in the topic of U.S. folks keeping cars longer, according to the report from BLS, "The average age of households’ cars, vans, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and trucks increased from 10.1 years in 2007 to just over 11.3 years in 2012."
  • For the poor, and those of us who are not quite poor but a bit closer to it that we would like, small details can be a big deal. Even trying to socialize can be an issue.  Even your finances, or lack of them, can affect your friendships. As this piece via World Crunch states, "When people with money are friends with people of modest means the disparities don’t typically end with the bank accounts. One person in the friendship often feels less comfortable than the other, and it tends to be the one with less money — the friend who can’t afford to join the group at the restaurant or go on the weekend trip, the one whose share may be paid for by the others."
  • Now, rich folks don't have to worry about the small details in life, and that often includes taking care of their children. Sure, a rich woman may give birth to a baby, but more often than not after spitting out the brat, she hires a nanny to take care of the child. Odds are good that nanny (usually a woman) may be an undocumented worker the rich family likely pays "under the table." Does anyone ever ask who takes care of the nanny's children? What? You thought nannies were just single women looking for some extra cash doing a part time job? You thought they were fancy, pretty ladies like Mary Poppins? Try again, and then read the linked piece from The Nation to learn about the global care chain, a chain that "works by separating wage earners from their dependents." 
  • OK, so maybe you need to think outside of the box a bit in your search for a job. If you are willing to go a bit of the extra mile and do some unconventional thinking, maybe one of these jobs might be good for you: 
    • You could work for the FBI. Maybe you happen to be a talented young (or not so young) individual when it comes to computers. Maybe you even have talents to be a "white hat" hacker. If so, the FBI may be very interested in offering you a job. What? You have smoked a little pot in the past or like to indulge Mary Jane a little now and then? Not a problem. It turns out the FBI is relaxing its rules when it comes to hiring cyber-security experts. According to this article from the International Business Times, the "FBI has admitted that it is considering relaxing its strict rules against drug taking, in a bid to try to encourage more hackers to work for them in the ongoing war against cybercrime."
    • Alright, so computers not your thing? Are you an attractive young lady? Maybe you would consider snuggling and cuddling with men for pay? Apparently there is work if you want to be a "professional snuggler" for lonely men. Story via BetaBeat. By the way, this is the company in question.
    • Or you could go all "Breaking Bad" and become a drug lord. OK, this is where I tell readers I am jesting here and not actually advocating in any way you do anything illegal. Now that we got that out of the way, the deal is that heroin is making a comeback in the United States, especially in rural areas. Where is it coming from? Well, according to this piece from The Washington Post, a lot of if is coming from Mexico. Why Mexico? It turns out their illegal marijuana business is down (Colorado, anyone?), and they are turning to heroin. Also, heroin is gaining popularity as the U.S. is taking steps to crack down on things like prescription drug abuse. In a nutshell, "with the wholesale price of marijuana falling — driven in part by decriminalization in sections of the United States — Mexican drug farmers are turning away from cannabis and filling their fields with opium poppies."
Now, as often is the case, the uber rich do have it good even in the bad economy. As I mentioned earlier, they usually don't have to worry about the small details. Let's see how good things have been in the upper crusts:

  •  Are you an uber rich person seeking a new residence? Do you have $110 million dollars sitting around? Do you want some serious privacy, but "without total isolation"? Down in the Florida Keys, there is a private island for sale. It even has a full marina so you can park you big yacht and a helipad for the helicopter. Story via BuzzFeed.
  • Parenting is hard. As we pointed out previously, it can be very hard on moms who are nannies up north and have to leave their kids back home down south to make ends meet. However, the families hiring the nannies usually do not worry about such small details. Hell, they often barely worry about their own kids. It's why they hired the nanny in the first place. Now, let's say they want to give Juanita some free time this summer to go see her kids back in Mexico or Central America. It's summer. It's the perfect time to send the kids off to summer camp. Oh, Juanita left already, and she did not pack the travel bags for the kids to go to summer camp? Damn, that is a lot of work for a parent. What's a rich mom busy with Pilates, wine parties, and catty gossip to do? (Don't ask about dad. We all know he is off "working" at whatever high finance job or foundation he has smoking cigars lit with $100 bills). Well, if you got the money, you can now hire a professional summer camp packer for the bargain rate of $250-an-hour to do that tedious chore for you. Yes, you can pay for "assistance in getting rid of your kids for an extended period of time." Now, you may be asking if you are getting value for your money? I am glad you asked. Here is a bit of what you get when you hire a professional summer camp packer: "It takes three to four hours to pack for clients who demand that she fit all of the comforts of home in the luggage, including delicate touches like French-milled soaps and scented candles." And starting at $250 an hour, they will make sure your kid feels like he or she never left home. Story via New York Magazine.
  • And finally, we have another case of affluenza. This time it afflicts a "poor" wealthy businessman from Washington State who was busted for his 7th DUI. That is right. He has been caught drinking while under the influence SEVEN times, and since he has been pretty much let go every time before, why would this time make a difference? So why did the judge let him off the hook even though the guy "reached speeds of 100 mph and had a passenger with him, who ultimately leaped from the moving vehicle on the account of fearing for his life," and he then proceeded to crash into a parked car and a house? Well, as the judge tells it, "he’s an important businessman in the community, and it wouldn’t be fair for him (and) his employees would suffer if he went to real jail. .  ." As for the people who could have suffered from him killing or wounding them, well, who cares? They are not rich and with influence as this guy. And before anyone out there says, "but if he can't run his business, his employees suffer," I say that's what jail visiting hours can be for, and he can hire a damned manager to run his business. Once again, there is justice and there is justice.

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