The Dominoes Are Starting To Fall

In previous posts, I have written about the desultory state of the American economy and the misery that it is inflicting on greater and greater numbers of Americans.  And although the life styles of most Americans have a reassuring constancy, they are being played out against a background of growing darkness and despair unlike anything seen by the majority of Americans alive.  It seems to be rapidly becoming a black or white scenario for people, either they are doing fine or they have fallen by the wayside and have little to look forward to.

One quick reality check would be to call the homeless shelters in your area and see how many of them have beds available.  This is a good way to gauge your local community’s economic health from a viewpoint that you do not normally experience.  Here in Vermont, there are currently no beds available on a state-wide basis (although a sparse handful come and go every other day or so), with the average stay in a shelter increasing to well over a month’s duration.  This crisis in homelessness is only going to worsen in the next few years, and, so far, no one is doing anything about it.  Shelters are not being constructed to absorb the growing number of families and individuals who need them.  A recent visit by a UN investigator found the situation shameful, saying, “The housing crisis is invisible for many in the US. I learned through this visit that real affordable housing and poverty is something that hasn’t been dealt with as an issue. Even if we talk about the financial crisis and government stepping in in order to promote economic recovery, there is no such help for the homeless.”

And it is not simply the impact of homelessness which may be utilized as a measuring rod against which to gauge the dilemma, but rather the viability of the job market as a whole and its ability to lift the homeless back into mainstream society.  The Pew Center on the States has recently examined the current situation and has found that 9 states, in addition to California, face extremely difficult fiscal problems.  In Florida, for example, the state has run out of unemployment money, and as of the first of the year will increase the rate at which businesses contribute to the unemployment fund by over 1,000%.  The obvious impact of this will be that businesses, especially smaller businesses in Florida, will be hiring as few employees as possible.  This will not stimulate the economy or lead to economic growth.  In New Jersey, the incoming Republican administration is trying to slow down current spending to alleviate an anticipated $8 billion dollar shortfall.  With these, and other, bellwethers visible on the horizon, it should be clear that 2010 in America is going to be a year of suffering for an increasing percentage of the populace.

Behind these specifics, there is the growing specter of hunger in America.  Although long considered unthinkable, there are more and more Americans going hungry already.  Food Stamp benefits are at record levels, but even so, some go hungry in this nation.  And as the economic crisis deepens, we are in danger of becoming a nation of “haves” and “have nots,” much like any third world country.  And again, nothing is being done to prepare for the obvious.  Food pantries are begging for donations; soup kitchens, having limited monies available, are having to cut back on the quality of their meals in order to feed the growing number of hungry people that are attending the meals.  In the world at large, 1 in 6 goes hungry at some time during the year.  And last year in America (in 2008), the same number, 1 in 6, went hungry at some point, and a third of these are children.

And behind these unsettling facts, is the erosion of the US currency.  With the vast amount of dollars created to fund the banking system, the growing imbalance of the trade deficit, and the deepening budget deficit, has come the awareness by foreign governments that the dollar may be ending its role as the dominant international currency.  Since so much of the American economy is pure consumerism and we are already importing so much more than we export, the weakening of the dollar holds significant peril for the average American consumer.  With the states in crisis, common citizens falling into homelessness and hunger, and the Federal government unable to stem the tide of need which is beginning to embrace America, the outlook for 2010 looks grim indeed.

And let’s not even discuss 2011.

The Early Dark

I haven’t been writing lately, even though there’s much going on in the world and in my life.  Times have been hard.  Personally, my living situation has gotten precarious, and I have lost my bed at the shelter.  I am now on an ‘overflow’ mattress on the locker room floor.  I’ve been at the shelter for almost a half-year now, and they want me gone.  This is reasonable, it’s just difficult in that I am close to a permanent resolution about my housing situation.  It’s a typical ‘Murphy’s law’ type of situation .. the closer you get to a solution, the more unexpected problems crop up to get in your way.  This, more than anything else, has kept me from writing, but it is better to face a hard truth than to avoid it, so … back to it.

With Halloween’s passing this year, we also had the setting of the clocks back to standard time.  Oftentimes, at sunset, I have been going up to Hubbard Park and watching the day turn into night over Montpelier, and so I have to do this an hour earlier.  Hubbard Park is an undeveloped wooded hill which is right in Montpelier and overlooks the city.  I now do this between 4 and 5 PM rather than 5 and 6 PM.  The flow of traffic is different and not quite as heavy which takes away some of the visual splendor of the moments, but it is still a peaceful and pleasant thing to do.  And, also noticeable, is that the air temperature at sunset passes into a chillier ambiance than was present during September and October.  Soon, it will not be warm enough at sunset to continue doing, but for the moment, it provides a perspective that is elusive for many; the drama of the the cityscape laid out before one with, at the same time, the majesty of surrounding woodland.

And although such bucolic interludes are pleasant for me, I have not failed to notice the worsening of life in America as we move ever deeper into a financial morass which is not likely to have a benign resolution.  Foreclosures on housing continue to mount, with the third quarter of this year being the worst yet.  California slides further and further into a situation of no return.  And California, with its huge deficit, is just the tip of the iceberg as all the states are trapped in a similar situation due to the lessening of taxes on devalued properties and a lessening of taxes on sales of items at the retail and wholesale level.  And ironic symbols are beginning to pop up which demonstrate the folly of the philosophy behind the bailout, such as the number of bankruptcies in America is now similar to the number of divorces in America, and the growing number of families relying on food stamps to get by.

And, just for the record, let me say that a “jobless recovery” is a contradiction in terms.  Without people able to work permanent and full-time jobs, there is no mechanism to sustain any aspect of this so-called recovery.  With the U3 unemployment rate (receiving benefits while seeking a new job) over 10% now, and the U6 unemployment rate (total number of unemployed) estimated at 20 to 22% of the workforce, and with 6 applicants now available for each available job, it is clear that our beloved nation is quickly sinking into a third world country scenario.  It is a downward spiral with nothing in place to change its direction.

If the money (estimated in the trillions to the tens of trillions) which has been given to Wall Street and the banks “too big to fail” had been given directly to the taxpayers (and, after all, it is THEIR money being spent here), mortgages would have been brought current, credit card debt would have been brought current, and people would still have savings left over to fuel the banks’ need for cash.  And although this would have been completely unjust and unfair to those who had been frugal, it would have had the benefit of at least addressing the problem.  Clearly, all the steps which have been taken so far have not as yet had the slightest influence on the root cause of the problem, which is an employed citizenry with some discretionary spending at their disposal.

Peaks and Troughs

The principle peak is the Autumn foliage, which is resplendent now, or would be if the rain would stop for long enough to get more than a glimpse of the wondrous colors all around us.  It’s a bit earlier than usual, and the rain will make it a short passage to bare trees, but each year has its own nature and flavor to it.  The weather remains relatively pleasant as well, with temperatures still averaging in the mid-50’s, and the sun feels warm and good on the few occasions where it has shown itself.

The principle trough would be the worsening economic situation.  It’s at this time of year that the pundits and analysts attempt to figure out whether it will be a good or bad Christmas season, and the majority of reports that I have seen seem to imply that they haven’t got anything good to say, so they are saying the season will be ‘flat.’  Since this is optimism at its best, I think Christmas this year will not be good for the retailers, which means that fewer people will be added to the seasonal work force.

Behind the rather shallow news of the impact of the Holiday season, economic indicators seem to be worsening in a steady and consistent fashion.  Several bloggers are now moving from ‘things are bad’ to ‘OMG!, things are terrible.’  One such blogger, Ed Harrison, at Seekingalpha.com elucidates a lot of evidence that the recession is over, the depression has just begun.  The thrust of his article is that the debt situation has not eased, but has only been massaged to the point where it doesn’t look so bad at a national level, but the severe impact on the states continues.  It remains to be seen if California will be the first state to fiscally default on its obligations.

Another blogger, Jim Willie at GoldenJackass.com, sees systemic failure approaching.  He foresees “a failed US banking system (as in seizure) and a USTreasury Bond default (as in coerced restructure).”  Many of his themes have been echoed by bloggers around the net for a few years now, and his post is a concise summary of both the pathos of the situation as well as the personal anger that it can create in a thoughtful person.  The tone of his post is revealed in his characterization of the American people: The last people on the globe to comprehend the American condition of failure, corruption, and military aggression seem to be the Americans themselves, who live within the USDome of Perception. They suffer from perhaps the worst education levels in the industrialized world, coupled with a co-opted national news media network, clouded by the grandest drugstore medication in history.

I must confess to sharing many of these views: that America is rapidly approaching some form of economic collapse; that unemployment, underemployment, and ultimately, hunger, will grow at a rate currently deemed impossible for this nation; that the military will be utilized to maintain control of the populace as things begin to break down; and that prison camps will be utilized to control the ‘dissidents,’ who will finally find their voice too late and attempt to bring ‘American frontier justice’ to a failed country, which they themselves helped create.

Although these views seem severe, if not lunatic, it should be remembered that we have been, and still are, rapidly sliding down that slope of economic morass.  The bailouts, which were started by the Bush Administration, have continued and even grown under the Obama Administration.  These handouts to private industry from the American taxpayers are measured in the trillions of dollars.  We toss the term ‘trillion dollars’ around as if we really know what it meant, but we don’t.  To help understand, here is a simple pictorial representation of what a trillion dollars is, if we start with a single $100 bill.  This representation is a critical piece of knowledge which should be seen by every taxpayer.

And with every day that goes by, the number of those taxpayers is lessening.  Since December, 2007, the American economy has shed over seven million jobs.  That averages out to be a loss of 11,000 jobs a day for almost two years now.  Remember the Economic Stimulus legislation?  That was 3/4 of a trillion dollars spent to help the economy recover.  And yet where is this recovery?  Unemployment inexorably continues to rise, standing now at close to 10%.  The housing market continues to flounder, and all indicators point to bigger problems with the reset dates of Alt-A and option-ARM loans now coming into play.  The states, with no ability to print money like the national government and heavily impacted by the loss of revenues from property taxes and income taxes, are already drastically cutting back on all forms of social and educational services to the people, with a direct and dramatic impact on the poor.  And while the banking CEOs smile with their taxpayer-funded bonuses, more and more people, especially in California, the former land of opportunity, are living in their cars, or have become completely homeless.  They cannot find a job, with 6 applicants for every available position.  And a darkening future awaits not only them, but us all.

But, at least the Autumnal leaves are pretty.

9/11 – Eighth Anniversary

Today marks the eighth anniversary of 9/11, an event that “changed everything.”  And although, for the vast majority of Americans, little has changed, enough time has gone by so that we have had a change in the Federal government, seemingly to no effect, as well as a financial collapse, which is not yet over by far.

The financial collapse centered around the real-estate market, with sub-prime loans being targeted as the cause of the collapse.  And there is much truth to this but it is not the whole story, for the real-estate market was making broad loans across the entire spectra of American consumers.  Aside from the sub-prime loans, there was also a wide distribution of Alt-A loans and option ARMS loans (Adjustable Rate Mortgages).  These two classes of loans both had a much longer ‘grace period’ before they began to reset, and thus, until recently, they have mostly been ignored.  However, the reset date (when the interest rate goes up) is now fast approaching for many of these loans, and analysts, concerned that the ‘recovery’ is still mired down in high unemployment and slow consumer spending, are beginning to put out the word that greater hard times still lie ahead of us.  A recent report on the CBS show “60 Minutes” which has been posted to Youtube.com details this: A second wave of mortgage defaults is about to come.

Note the graph shown about halfway through this report, which details the next several years.  It is clear that a large amount of compost is about to hit the windmill.   With unemployment already high (averaging 6 applicants for every available position), it is doubtful that the American consumer engine, which drives the economy, will be able to pass through this period with impunity.  In fact, it is hard to imagine the consequences of a further turn-down in the national economy, as most State governments are already nearly broke and are cutting back on all forms of social services and income compensation to the needy.

Behind all of this economic pain is the specter of 9/11, which thrust most of our financial reserves and economic strength into the promulgated “War on Terror.”  That 9/11 was an ‘inside job’ has been repeatedly stated by many scientists, bloggers, and websites, and there has been a slow growth among the number of Americans who have come to believe that point of view.  Unfortunately, this has not been reflected in the policies of the American government, who are still wasting American lives in futile Asian wars, and vesting the Defense Department with a budget that reckons the doom of America as a free nation.

The evidence has been slowly mounting that the collapses of the World Trade Center buildings was an engineered feat, and not the result of a terrorist action.  The collapse of WTC 7 was not explained until 2008, seven years after the events, long after all the rubble was destroyed. NIST claims WTC 7 collapsed due to “normal office fires” which created a “new phenomenon” in high-rise catastrophes: collapse caused by thermal expansion of beams. NIST claims this caused the failure of a single column,  the rest just followed.  For a relatively recent summary of the evidence see: Richard Gage article on 9/11 WTC contolled demolitions appears in WorldArchitectureNews.com.

In November of 2008, New Footage of WTC 7 and North Tower Collapse  surfaced on the file-sharing network Veoh.com.  This footage has since been posted on youTube.com.  Of note in the footage is the simultaneous vertical explosions occurring on the right side of the north face of WTC 7.  Also of note in the footage is the sight of the interior structural beams of the North Tower, which are clearly visible after the collapse of the infrastructure around them.  The origin of this footage remains unclear, but it is a valuable addition to the evidence.  A good comprehensive summary of the multiple strands of the evidence involving the many aspects of the conspiracy remains at Michael Rivero’s 9/11 Basic Questions page at What Really Happened. Another recent and noteworthy site is Fire Fighters for 9/11 Truth.

As of March 24, 2008, the U.S. Death Toll due to the conflict in Iraq hit 4,000 and still the deaths mount.  Now, there are plans to increase the number of deployed servicemen in Afghanistan as well.  These Imperialist wars will bring no lasting benefit to America,  and serve only to increase the hatred of Asian peoples toward us.  It is not inconceivable that the rich natural gas resources in Turkmenistan are being strategically considered and may contribute to the basis for the sustained conflict, but with both Russia and China exhibiting strong spheres of influence in this area of the world, this seems to be very ill-considered.

The shadow of 9/11, which, ultimately, has caused a world economic crisis which is not yet over, engendered two wars which cannot be won, and has destroyed the Constitutional liberties of the citizenry of the United States, has stretched very far indeed.