Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ever Wonder Why Your Banker's Laughing So Hard? Look At Your Interest Rate

If you want to get a real handle on what keeps the financial industry afloat in greenback gravy, while millions of people remain mired in economic misery, the following example should serve as an illustration, and also, a warning.

In this case, the source material comes from a financial management course that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court requires of its petitioners, passed on by someone who's undergone the process.  The reader is asked to ponder two hypothetical case studies, affected by different credit histories:

Credit Score: 750
Interest Rate: 4.5%
Loan Amount: $175,000
Insurance: $500 annually
Property Taxes: $4,000 annually
Monthly Payment : $1,262
Total amount to be repaid: $319,211 

Credit Score :620
Interest Rate: 7.75%
Loan Amount: $175,000
Insurance: $500 annually
Property Taxes: $4,000 annually
Monthly Payment: $1,629
Total amount to be repaid: $451,341

Although Kelly's credit score will give her a hypothetically less bumpy ride in life, the reader should notice the repayment amounts, which are highlighted in bold, for your convenience. In Kelly's case, she's still going to pay back almost twice the loan, while poor Lisa will cough up slightly more than three times the original amount. Ever wonder why your banker's laughing so hard?

The impact of interest also plays a role in the debate about the impending student loan debt bubble, which -- amid all the ink being expended on the current Fiscal Cliff Debate -- has received precious little attention, but certainly should. Ever wonder why your banker's laughing so hard?

Last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) put out a call for student loan horror stories on its website. This example, courtesy of Yahoo News, is an example of rapacious laissez-faire capitalism at its most harrowing:

Socialworkmary: Paid $350+ per month on her loans for 14 years to no avail

"I admit I did not understand capitalized interest until recently. I consolidated my loans in 1997 when the interest rate was 8 percent. My student loan office at Tulane University led me to believe that I 'had' to consolidate and Sallie Mae was the only option offered to me.

I have repaid them over $61,000 (over 14 years). I think I should be done now, but according to Sallie Mae I still owe $25,000. A Sallie Mae employee directed me to write the legal department and ask to have my loan written off and to appeal if they denied. They denied, stating that federal government regulation prevents them from writing off the balance of the loan.

When I talked to the Sallie Mae employee and said I was confused about why on most months more of my payment goes to interest than principal... she chuckled and said 'We certainly don't go out of our way to put that in big bright red letters across the front page'." 

You can read the original CFPB press release on the subject here:


And, if you want to take a truly depressive bath during this most difficult of holidays for folks living on the margins, this "Business Insider" story should do the trick:

Just cut, paste and then...shake your head.

Ever wonder why your banker's laughing so hard?  It's safe to say that 99 percent of us know all toll well, but sometimes, we need a healthy reminder (or two) of why the picture doesn't look so pretty for those of us caught in the grip of such schemes...and, also, why those who continue to champion the status quo need to be held accountable for promoting them.  --The Reckoner

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Symbiotic Relationship

This graphic will get you to think....about the symbiotic relationship that is way too often ignored.

This one illustrates it in a different way....

---The Squawker

Friday, November 30, 2012

Life's Little Injustices (Take I): I Didn't Get My Powerball

Whilst going out and about Wednesday night, I suddenly realized that it was time to replenish our beverage supplies...this was around 10:30 p.m.

I was waiting in line to pay, when a gentleman rushed into the establishment, huffing and puffing, with only one pressing question on his mind: "Is it too late?"

The clerk flashed the interloper a quizzical stare.  "What do you mean?"

"You know, for the $550 million..."

"Oh, no," the clerk said, looking at the clock.  "You're too late.  You can't buy any tickets after 9:58 p.m."

The chap's expression collapsed. "That sonofabitch lied to me."  He shook his head.  "That sonofabitch lied to me."

I didn't stick around to hear the rest.

However, I could just imagine the thoughts running through his mind, as I drove off to go home: I coulda been a contender...I coulda told 'em all to kiss my ass tomorrow...I've gotta spend another decade at this shit job...the bills are always gonna pile up...why weren't those numbers mine?

This is what life comes down to, after three decades of flat wages, booming income inequality, and lack of political will to address any of these things...the average folk wait for a multi-billion-dollar payout, such as Wednesday's record $580 million drawing, and hope that the price of courting Ludy Luck outweighs the benefit of paying the "Stupidity Tax" (as commentators often refer to the lottery).

On the other hand...a million-dollar payout works just as well, as this news item suggests:

MADISON - The winning Powerball player in Wisconsin who tried her luck on a record $580 million jackpot is stepping forward.
Mary Retterath purchased her $1 million ticket at Speedway, 9130 W. Oklahoma Avenue in West Allis.
Retterath and her husband, Dennis, brought their ticket to the Wisconsin Lottery's Madison headquarters where it was validated as the winner.
After taxes, Retterath received $672,500.
The quick pick ticket Retterath purchased matched all five regular winning numbers, though not the Powerball, in Wednesday's historic drawing.
Wednesday night's winning numbers were 05, 16, 22, 23 and 29, with a Powerball of 06.

Retterath and her husband have agreed to talk about their good fortune at a news conference Monday, December 3 at 10:30 a.m. at West Allis City Hall.
Just how imagine how many people will try to find her phone number! --The Reckoner

Monday, November 26, 2012

This Just In: Mitt Romney Needed The 47 Percent, After All

Poetic Justice Dept.: Honestly, you couldn't make up this kind of stuff, if you tried...now that the dust has long settled on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential defeat, we're being inundated with The Irony To End All Ironies: contrary to what he told his fundraisers earlier in the proceedings, the Mittmeister will end up with...47 percent of the popular vote.

As of last Friday, according to Yahoo News, Romney netted 60,221,746 votes, versus 64,430,488 for President Obama. Expressed in percentage terms, those totals amount to 50.8 percent for Obama, and 47.5 percent for Romney, respectively, though once the numbers from Democratic strongholds like California and New York are figured into the equation, Romney's final tally is likely to end up at...47 percent.

Presidential post-mortems are heavy on self-justification and spin; after all, that's how most of the consultants, pollsters and other characters of nebulous job descriptions make their money while a campaign is hot...and, conversely, seek to cover their rear ends when their predictions go south.

We've already covered this subject in our last post ("Why Mitt Romney Lost: Now Let The Circular Fingerpointing Begin"), so there's no need to retread that ground anew, but it's worth reflecting on these various spins can be rolled out.  On one hand, Mitt Romney fared marginally better than his last rival, John McCain, who garnered 
59,948,323 votes during his 2008 losing campaign. That's a 273,423-vote uptick -- small, but enough to say, "Well, I guess I did better than that dude, at least...whew."

On the other hand, as the old sports cliche goes, the game wasn't quite as close as the score would indicate. Obama bested his Massachusetts rival by about 4.2 million votes -- hardly the stuff of a landslide, to be sure, but in the grand scheme of things...a clear-cut enough verdict of some kind.

Romney failed to win any of the so-called "battleground" states -- including Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia and Ohio, where Obama led throughout the year...and the GOP standard-bearer singlarly failed to get off the ground. The Electoral College count fell to Obama, 332-206 -- again, not a blowout, but not exactly a cliffhanger, either, unless you're comparing the 2008 result (which swung Obama's way, 365-173).

Even as the last votes are counted, and the last chips are left to fall, it's fascinating to see how many people -- particularly those on the far-right side of the coin -- continue denying what's in front of them.  We've been hearing these voices making the political talk show rounds -- you know, those Sunday morning mausoleums where failed consultants, failed pundits and failed politicians who haven't pulled down a real job in eons can reach the opposite verdict from the one that the voters rendered.

If you haven't heard the various clarion calls for a kinder, gentler GOP, chances are that you've heard the dominant riff: "We need a better ground game, do a better job of getting our troops out, that's all."  In truth, however, the best ground game in the world couldn't have helped Mitt Romney, particularly after his infamous video dismissal of the 47 percent -- you know, the ones he heaped contempt on, saying that they'd never vote for him, anyway, because they liked being dependent on government -- became public fodder.

Perhaps the simplest takeaway from the whole business is that, if you run a toxic candidate -- or an inept candidate, or a bad candidate, of which Uncle Mitt was all of the above, and then some -- your chances of winning any office, from County Dog Catcher, to President -- are virtually nil.  That may be an inconvenient truth for proponents of voter suppression theories, and similar airy-fairy-grams, but certainly closer to reality. In our opinion, this comment from Newsweek ("From Mitt To Moot: Mitt Romney's Quick, Quiet Fade") offers the best epitaph for Romney's 2012 campaign:

"All along, with the brief exception of the first debate, the GOP candidate seemed to hesitate and waffle.  He changed his positions so often, we had trouble knowing who the man who was -- even when he was right in front of us, there was a curious emptiness to his image.  Now he's gone, leaving behind the modest totems of hair pomade and the number 47."

That's as good as an epitaph as any, we suspect. -- The Reckoner

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Walmart Strikes

I was sad to read this:

Scattered Walmart strikes don't dent Black Friday bottom line

You think that enough Americans would care about their fellow Americans to know that Wal-mart's minimum wages are forcing too many of their fellow Americans to be on welfare. I guess all the "deals" and "greed" count for far more. I don't blame someone in a rural county who is stuck with Walmart, because to get a pair of underwear or a trashcan even necessitates a two hour round trip, but wow, at least stay home, while the workers are standing up for themselves. There's plenty of other days in the week. Don't be a shopper "scab"!

"Scattered strikes and protests by Walmart workers and their supporters in at least nine states may have scored symbolic points Friday by taking on the retail giant head-on, but apparently they did little to keep shoppers away as the company quickly claimed its best Black Friday ever. The company said in a statement Friday morning that its stores rang up almost 10 million transactions from the time doors opened for Black Friday shoppers at 8 p.m. Thursday until midnight, or about 5,000 items per second."

The striking Walmart workers have legitimate complaints. Course if no one cared when Wal-mart nationwide closed and destroyed multitudes of small businesses in small towns--we saw the result of this in our last town, I suppose those same people do not care about the people who work at Wal-mart for poverty wages.--The Squawker

Black Friday Nonsense

The Squawker noticed this time the stores selling overpriced junk imported from China were opening at 8pm on Thanksgiving night.  This is a new trend and an offensive one as well. So people can't just relax with their families or friends, they have to race to go shopping?

Is nothing sacred anymore? I haven't shopped on a Black Friday in years, and why do they call it that anyway? Because it is a day celebrating greed, avarice and destruction of the American economy? That sounds about right.

Who has money to shop at the END of the month anyway? In the poor and working class world, most of us are busted out by the third week of the month, with any extra dollars being pared out for food and gas to get through the last week of the month. That said, I find myself wondering how many are digging a hole deeper into the pit via credit cards--well the few left that have not gone bankrupt YET for the holidays.

It looks like the chaos of previous years is intact this year as well and the world is noticing and probably thinks that America has gone further into stupidity:

Black Friday chaos already underway as bargain-hungry shoppers scuffle for early deals after queuing for days

Some other headlines listed in that article:

"Kmart opened its doors at 6am - and already fights have been reported Police in Los Angeles will deploy helicopters and horses to tackle trouble

Strike by Wal-Mart workers on Friday expected to add to chaos

Employees unhappy that the holiday has been claimed by stores"

From the Midwest:

 Black Friday: Long Lines, Sales and Fights

Isn't this pathetic? Fighting over each other to buy cheap junk that will not last and more screens and "toys" that really do not change one's life but just add to the distraction, probably with most of it made in China.

One isn't shopping local at the over priced malls and department stores. One thing in our household we buy a lot of items used, and from thrift due to necessity but they do seem to last longer.

Granted one cannot buy electronic items this way, but even there, one can get far better deals online or even getting used things from ebay then entering a throng of people whose greed has them in an uproar.

The elites probably watch this stuff, and laugh all the way to the bank as the economy collapses. To be frank, I am still in shock that so many have the means to go blow their money on hundreds of dollars of electronic equipment and other doo-dads, but that day probably is drawing to a close.--The Squawker

The Republicans and/or Democrats Won't Save You

There Is Not Going To Be A Solution To Our Economic Problems On The National Level

One thing about both parties is they have both abandoned the average guy.

This guy gets it right.

The Reckoner has a friendlier view of the Democrat party then I do, the Squawker was done with both of them long ago knowing that globalism ran their show and kowtowing to the multi-national mega corporations who gave up having any loyalty to the average America long ago. With their new markets to conquer worldwide, Americans were put on the back burners long ago and the bought and sold politicians are part of that picture.

The reason Obama won? People are broke, and just making it on those social programs whether you agree with them or not that the Republicans threaten to strip away and replace with NOTHING! Most folks then voted for the "king" they were already familiar with instead of any more unknowns. I think this was cinched with the selection of Romney who came off as elitist. Another patsy to guarantee an Obama win? One can tell there is nothing being done about serious economic problems.--The Squawker

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why Mitt Romney Lost: Now Let The Circular Fingerpointing Begin

The dust has hardly settled from Election Day, but the post-silly season fingerpointing has already begun...and it's seldom a pretty sight. Candidates who crisscrossed the country, convinced that they had the winning combination to win the voters' hearts and minds, are crushed: oh, my God...how could they elect that other idiot?  But I won those debates!  I worked my @$# off!  I slept badly in Holiday Inns for 24-plus months, for...for...THIS?  J#s@s H. Judas Mother-o'-Mary F#ershluggin' you-know-what Kee-rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-ist!

The handlers aren't far behind: you shoulda done this, you shoulda done that...if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas...should coulda woulda tacked center, if we'd had the chance, blah-blah-blah...the media were out to nail us, yada-yada-yada...and Mitt Romney's inner circle is no exception.  How could formerly moderate Mitt possibly lose to an incumbent struggling to overcome the toxic fumes of an 8 percent unemployment rate, a cranky electorate, and a lousy economy?

As a public service, we at Ramen Noodle Nation present an economy tour of what the GOP's top movers and shakers have been telling the Fourth Estate, as the smoky plumes drift over the Charles River,  past the crumbling ruins of Uncle Mitt's second (and presumably final) failure to win the White House...just so you don't have to read it all, OK? All right, here we go, then... --The Reckoner

1.  Forget The Buck, It's The Crazy Truck That Stops Here: "Rick Santorum rejected the separation of church and state. Newt Gingrich challenged the notion of judicial supremacy. Michele Bachmann claimed the government had been infiltrated by radical Muslims. Donald Trump refused to recognize the validity of Obama’s birth certificate. Rick Perry wanted to take down more parts of the federal government than he could successfully name. In the debates, the country saw the GOP talking to itself and sounding like a bizarre fringe party, not a responsible governing one." (Slate, "Why Romney Lost," 11/07/12)

2. Hmm, Maybe We Really WERE Better Off Shooting This Particular Messenger:  "One top Romney bundler offered this blunt analysis to Politico's Maggie Haberman yesterday, 'We had no message and we gave it to the worst communicator in the world.'" (ABC News: "GOP Asks: What Went Wrong For Romney?", 11/08/12)

3. It's  The Welfare Brats' Revenge, Stupid: "Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is responding to President Obama's re-election by saying that Americans "voted for economic & spiritual suicide" because Obama will "destroy America." He also referred to Obama's supporters as "subhuman varmint[s]" and "Pimps whores & welfare brats & their soulless supporters." (Media Matters For America: Ted Nugent's Post-Election Freakout: "Subhuman Varmint[s]" Re-Elect Obama To 'Destroy America,'" 11/07/12)

4. Left At The Altar On Cinco De Mayo Day, We Presume?: "Kelly Romney, a distant relative of Mitt Romney's, believes that he could've stopped Romney from damaging his own campaign. 'It's just a real tragedy. I think that he did not connect with us where we could've helped him. I really think it would've made a difference in the election,' Kelly told ABC/Univision as he watched election coverage on Fox News." (ABC News: "Romney's Cousin Says Mitt Failed to Court Latinos," 11/08/12)

5. Maybe He Should Have Reached Under The Couch For Some Spare Change: "But in the eyes of top aides in both campaigns, that early summer period when Mr. Romney was busy fundraising was perhaps the biggest single reason he lost the election. The Obama campaign spent heavily while Mr. Romney couldn't, launched a range of effective attacks on the Republican nominee and drove up voters' negative perceptions of Mr. Romney.

The problem: Mr. Romney had burned through much of his money raised for the primaries, and by law, he couldn't begin spending his general-election funds until he accepted the GOP nomination late in the summer." (The Wall Street Journal, "How The Race Slipped Away From Romney," 11/08/12)

6. Ohhhh, OK, We Got It: Too Many CH-CH-CH-Changes (INNA David Bowie-Stylee): "His vexing negativity goes hand in hand with an unwillingness to stick with any bedrock beliefs. The Washington Post ran an excellent editorial denouncing Romney's 'contempt' for voters, and his changing his positions radically over the course of his career. As the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy declared of Romney back in 1994: 'I am pro-choice ... My opponent is multiple-choice.' The line brought down the house in Boston."  (The Daily Beast, "Mitt Romney's Personality Problem," 11/05/12)

7. Premature Preparations (Why Denial Ain't Just A River In Egypt) Dept., Take I.: "Another unnamed senior adviser explained that as returns came in and battleground states went into President Barack Obama's Electoral College column, they felt their paths to potential victory narrowing. CBS reports that the campaign was unprepared for this in part because it had ignored polling that showed the races favoring Obama. Instead, it turned to its own internal 'unskewed' polls, which it believed more accurately reflected the situation on the ground. They didn't."

Take II: "...As evidence of the Romney campaign's sincere belief that the former Massachusetts governor would emerge victorious on Tuesday night, the Boston Globe reported Thursday that it had planned to fete Romney's election with an eight-minute display of fireworks over Boston Harbor."

'It was not an intense, grand finale-type of display for eight minutes, but it certainly was a fast-paced show to cap off the evening, if it were necessary,'" Steve Pelkey, the CEO of Atlas Professional Fireworks Displays, told the Globe.

And, Once More (With Feeling), Take III: "
Romney also told reporters on his campaign plane earlier this week that while he had written a victory speech, he hadn't prepared concession remarks." (The Huffington Post, "Mitt Romney 'Shellshocked' After Lost Election, Adviser Says"

8. The Incredible Shrinking White Man: "Exit polls showed that Mr. Romney won handily among white Americans—almost six in 10 of them—but lost by breathtaking margins among the nation's increasingly important ethnic groups: By almost 40 percentage points among Hispanics, by almost 50 points among Asians, and by more than 80 points among African-Americans."  (The Wall Street Journal, "Tough Loss Leaves GOP At A Crossroads": 11/07/12)

9.  This Just In: If You Didn't Support Uncle Mitt, It's Because You (Ahem) Wanted Something, Like, Uh...STUFF: "'Half the country wants free stuff,' O'Reilly said. What is that half like? First he hinted: Latinos, blacks, and maybe women would vote for Obama. Then he got reeeal explicit: 'Obama wins because it's not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things.'" (The Atlantic Wire, "The Sad Faces of Fox News on Election Night," 11/06/12)

10. Uhhh...Maybe That Secret Underwear Was Notched A Shade Too Tight: "It's also worth noting that Romney's peers—men who have vied with him on political stages—can't stand him. I mean, it's more than the usual give-and-take, spirited conflict between rivals. Kennedy, famous for having friends and allies on the other side of the aisle, found Romney hard work on a personal level. Sens. John Kerry, Harry Reid, and John McCain—two Democrats and a Republican—are three other senators known to loathe Romney." (The Daily Beast, "Mitt Romney's Personality Problem," 11/06/12)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tin-Eared, Teary-Eyed And Tone-Deaf, Richard Mourdock Exits The Indiana Stage

Losing doesn't mean having to say that you're sorry -- apparently, that's what Republican Richard Mourdock sees as his biggest takeaway from his loss on Tuesday to Democrat Joe Donnelly. But candidates reveal as much about themselves in defeat as they do in victory, and Mourdock's sour-noted concession speech proved to be no exception, as this nugget suggests:

"I will look back knowing I was attacked for standing on my principles, for coming into this public process with the idea that you ought to put forward something to offer the public so that they can make a clear choice."

Hoosier voters certainly had no trouble making a clear choice after the third debate, when Mourdock sealed his electoral doom with the now oft-quoted, infamous jaw-dropper: "‘I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen." 

As bizarre and ugly as that statement reads, and sounds, it also wasn't the first time that Mourdock gave the whiff of someobody who'd just stumbled off the crazy truck, as this May 2011 MSNBC soundbite suggests:

“Bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view. We entered this campaign wanting to be a voice and hoping to give more of a national voice to the idea that Republicans -- and more specifically conservatives -- would be in the majority of the United States Senate, and the House, and hopefully that we have a Republican in the White House. If we do that, bipartisanship means they have to come our way.”

And, of course, let's not forget this delightful bit of Mourdock backyard folk wisdom from a May 2012 MSNBC interview: “To me, the highlight of politics frankly is to inflict my opinion on someone else on the microphone or in front of a camera, to win them over to my point of view.”

Anyone who paid more than a shred of attention to this race, of course, would have heard the latter soundbite -- one that Donnelly's campaign gleefully highlighted and echoed into infinity during their TV ads.

It's hard to think of a national candidate who did as much recently to harm his own cause as Mourdock -- whose poll standings cratered by a full seven points overnight, after the smoke cleared. In fact, had he made his infamous rape comment a month or so ago, we'd have happily nominated him to Ramen Noodle Nation's Cognitive Dissonance Hall Of Fame -- right next to his Missouri counterpart, Todd Akin (he of the equally infamous, and odious, "legitimate rape" statement).

Back on the losing podium, though, such thoughts were far away from Mourdock's mind, as he offered this glimmer of insight into his gaffe-plagued, Not Ready For Prime Time Players-style candidacy: "I’ve said many times over the last few months this race wasn’t so much about Richard Mourdock versus Joe Donnelly or even Republican versus Democrat but about the direction of our nation as a whole."

Indeed, it was -- just not the direction that voters desired, apparently, which might explain why Tea Party faves like the now-former Congressman Allen West, of Florida -- whose own Bizarro World quotes deserve a post unto themselves -- will have plenty of time to finish those word search puzzles laying around his campaign office.

Lest anyone think that Mourdock made a mistake, he reasured his supporters that no such admissions would ever be forthcoming:

"To all of you who are Republicans of longstanding, I hope you appreciate that I always tried to stand for conservative values.

"For those of you who came to this process and God bless you – especially from the Tea Party who [sic] have never involved before, I hope you know that I stood and stand for the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States.

"And last but not least – and last but not least – though I was attacked for it as well – make no mistake, I stand that all life is precious in the eyes of God."

All in all, these closing words make amazing reading -- if not quite on the level of Richard Nixon's oft-quoted vow of 1962 ("You won't have to Dick Nixon to kick around anymore").  What's striking is the blind pettiness, the flinty-eyed petulance, and sheer scope of self-delusion that's on display. For someone whose background required him to deal with facts and figures on a regular basis, Indiana's chief bean counter seems to have an awfully slippery grasp of reality.

After all those long months on the campaign trail, all those days and nights spent shaking hands, sipping stale coffee and spouting platitudes aplenty, Richard Mourdock wants the world to believe that he lost because, well...there was some kind of conspiracy against him, doggone it, and all them "reveooners" and slick big city reporters and women's libbers just had it in for him.

It's a school of reasoning that owes more to "The Dukes Of Hazzard" than what really happened Tuesday night...and, certainly, a view that only Mr. Mourdock's hardcore cheering section may feel inclined to accept -- even as they wind up reaching for the comfort of a gas mask and a stomach pump. --The Reckoner

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Grown Up and Dependent on Parents

Why Are So Many Adults Moving Back in With Their Parents?
When I was 21, I had to move back home for a year, unable to make ends meet, doing student teaching which took up seven to eight hours of my day and didn't pay a dime...plus my side job, which actually gave me a day that went from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. [an insane schedule, by any standard] just didn't pay enough. I ended up moving home, I had to have some spending money, so the insane schedule had no letup, but I got to eat and had a room to sleep in. I think about young people today, and wonder, "How on earth are they going to make it? "

My health was not helped via lack of medical insurance -- not to mention hours and hours of part-time, pieced-together jobs -- but I managed (even with my college degree) to pick up a few jobs that paid in the $10-14 dollar per hour range...keep in mind, this was the early 90s...and at least I wasn't just stuck with minimum wage. I could get the rented room, plus stacks of milk crates and keep an old car going most of the time. What are today's young people to do now, when prices are higher, and wages really have not gone up much?

I have relatives in their mid-20s who still live at home and stuck with a life that hasn't really begun, due to lack of meaningful employment.  In their case this situation has meant no dating, few hobbies and being stuck in a small room with other unemployed twentysomething siblings.  One has a college degree but has not found a job to go with it. The article is right, in that the education system does not prepare them for the real world. I wasn't told how hard it was to make a living and majored in education -- right before a wave of layoffs that began happening, just as I came out of college in the 1990s.  As they say..."Timing is everything." --The Squawker

Peanut butter, anyone? Surely that graphic makes you hungry.
Never could stand the stuff, myself, because it seemed like such a College Student Cliche 101-type of thing...but I digress.

Reading the Squawker's entry on this subject reminds me of a saying that my father often brought up whenever anything college-related crossed the TV screen: "The trouble with this place here is that everybody graduates." 

I'd crack up, because a) it meant that I wouldn't be on the receiving end of dear old Dad's trademark sarcasm, and b) it wasn't hard to see the truth of that expression, even during the '90s, when all those nasty old bubble markets seemed eons way.

Ironically, my problem differed from most of my peers -- I found a job in my degreed field (journalism) without a lot of difficulty, but it didn't pay enough to support my own place, let alone all the other expenses that I was carrying at the time (car payment, college loans, credit cards).

Even then, however, it wasn't hard to see the storm clouds gathering.  Eventually, I quit my newspaper job and moved to Chicago, where I wasn't able to find any journalism-related day gigs...so I worked in an office, and wrote at night. 

However, I was too poor to afford a computer -- that wouldn't become a given until the late '90s, when I made it back to Michigan -- so I'd have to trek over from Rogers Park to a friend's house in the middle of the city.  We'd graduated from the same college, so it was OK to use his computer, as long as I wrapped up by 10 or 11 p.m.

My friend lived with four or five other people, who were all either recent graduates or future graduate school customers. None of them owned a car, nor other presumed symbols of the hipster good life that were already being touted on such megahit sitcoms as "Friends."

Sure, my friend and his pals were skinny, white and wisecracking, but that's as far as the similarities to the world of "Friends" went. I don't remember any designer hairdos or clothes among this crowd.  As far as I could tell, nobody ate out, and 90 percent of the meals were vegetarian...as much out of budget, I suspect, as conviction.

Sometimes, you only need to look around, and your eyes will latch onto a symbol that confirms your true status in a flash.  At my first paper, I only had to glance across the parking lot, where the general manager -- who often lectured the rest of us lot on the gospel of businesses operating "lean and mean" -- drove an enormous, battleship-sized SUV that dwarfed just about everybody else's ride.

For my friend and his housemates, you could sum up their status through the stacks and stacks of used books and CDs they'd acquired during their travels -- the symbols of a media consumer's life that became positively quaint once the Internet era took hold for good.

I'm still in touch with my friend, but have no idea what happened to anybody else in that house, or if they found anything resembling their chosen career specialty. But nobody was paying much attention, anyhow.  And if you doubted what your gut told you, well, there was always the big screen for some temporary relief, sending up the twentysomething "slacker" stereotype in movies like Reality Bites...

...so nobody felt particularly compelled to pay any attention.  These days, however, the joke doesn't seem so funny anywhere, when an estimated one in three jobs doesn't need a college degree (see the link below)...only nobody's making a movie about that deal. --The ReckonerThe Wall Street Journal: Do Too Many Young People Go To College?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's Eight O'Clock...Do You Know Where Your Local Realtors Are?

Long ago, when Your Humble Narrator toiled in the mass media trenches, he was assigned to write a feature on a husband and wife realty team.  They'd been a fixture in town for years, were considered progressive employers, and had a good reputation. "Not a problem," Your Humble Narrator replied. "Sounds like a piece of cake."

My 45 minutes with the Dynamic Duo of Realty passed pleasantly enough, covering all the usual bases of what they thought it took to succeed in the housing marketplace.

At some point, the male half had to take a call, and his wife weighed in with a pungent observation of her own: "When we interview anybody who wants to come here, we require them to have at least three months of savings."

"And you require that, because..." I asked.

"Well, look at this way: you might take a year to sell your first house," she responded.  "That's how it was for me.  You've still got to pay your bills, what else are you going to live on?"

"Fair point," I agreed.  "So it's not just about showing houses, and taking 'em on tours, eh?"

"Not quite, no." She pursed her lips, paused briefly, and went on. "A lot of people come through here, thinking, 'This sounds like such a nice job, showing people houses, and making money doing it.'  Well, it's not like that."

She pursed her lips yet again. "You're working nights, you're working weekends, you're working Sundays, and all this time, you're showing a house that may not sell. It's a tough business."

I remember hearing those comments around 2001-02, a good six or seven years before the Housing Bubble burst, and your local realtor had ample grounds for slitting their wrists.

Judging by a couple of articles that The Reckoner has come across,  the profession hasn't gotten much more fun, such as this cheery observation from "Business Insider" ("The 19 Jobs Where You're Most Likely To Kill Yourself"): http://www.businessinsider.com/most-suicidal-occupations-2011-10#10-real-estate-sellers-are-138-times-more-likely-to-commit-suicide-than-average-10
According to the National Association of Realtors, members' incomes have decreased from $52,200 in 2002, to $34,100 in 2010, although the association stated that realtors' median incomes rose slightly, by $800, from 2010 to 2011.

Obviously, your prospects depend greatly on where you're plying your trade, as this article about the "6 Most Stressful American Citieis" in Realtor magazine suggests:

Notice something missing?  All three states profiled (Florida, Michigan and Nevada) continue to struggle with high foreclosure rates, as this "CNN Money" article makes clear:

You'd think that foreclosure would amount to a major stressor by itself -- what's scarier, being put in that situation, or reading a trade publication that doesn't even acknowledge the problem?

At any rate, while the "CNN Money" article suggests that there's some improvement on the horizon, nobody should feel ready to break out the marshmallows quite yet.  For realtors, there's definitely a lot of hard work ahead in most markets before anybody can say that the worst is over.

Even without the backdrop of foreclosure rates and other social issues to consider there's still the reality of living on commission. As my interviewees noted so long ago, you don't get a dime until the sale goes through -- if it goes through.

And that's before we raise those nettlesome issues of health and retirement benefits, which is a "YP" (Your Problem), not an "MP" (My Problem), at least from Uncle Sam's point of view. Nowadays, you might be waiting six months for that first paycheck, as this gent from the Seymour Herald suggests: http://www.seymourherald.com/blog/2012/08/21/the-reality-of-realty/

I did some checking online recently, and it seems that my interviewees are still active in the business.  Having seen the toxic trends that we've all witnessed over the last five years, I'd love to go back and get their reflections now...and, while I'm unsure how candidly they'd speak, one bet seems certain...

...I suspect that they'd probably require more than three months' savings for any new realtor coming aboard. --The Reckoner

Monday, October 15, 2012

Exile In Waltonville (Buy Local: Bring Community Back)

Life in Waltonville seems to be getting stressful these days...after all, when you're tagged as "The Merchant Of Death," it "rather casts a pall of gloom on the whole evening," as our friends in Monty Python would say.

That's before we get to the box office, where Wal-Mart has struggled to reverse profits that have hovered southward for much of the past three years. With the proles having less and less discretionary income to unload on cheap T-shirts, plastic flip-flops and fuzzy dice made in Bangladesh, it's hardly surprising that Wal-Mart reinstated layaways with a proverbial bang, after ditching the practice in 2006.

As if that news wasn't bad enough, those pesky wannabe unions are threatening to organize walkouts on Black Friday -- which falls on the day after Thanksgiving, and is considered the year's biggest money-spinner for retailers (at least, the ones that didn't expire when Walton & Co. gate-crashed their town).  For all the gory details, read here: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/walmart-worker-protests-spread/story?id=17445295#.UHbYQJI08ed

What do these workers want? The same rights that Wal-Mart begrudgingly bestows to their peers around the world -- such as flexible schedules, higher wages, and some sort of say in how things run. Ironically, Chinese law requires Wal-Mart to recognize union membership -- how galling is that, its overlords must wonder, when we busted our asses to expand over there? -- a figure that rises to 40 percent in Argentina. 

You can read the rest here: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/06/08/239411/walmart-unions-other-countries/?mobile=nc

In South Africa, Wal-Mart actually struck a deal with the government to finalize its acquisition of the local Massmart chain there -- including a promise to avoid layoffs, honor existing contracts, and use local suppliers whenever possible. It'll be interesting to see how the Black Friday campaign that's being promised by Our WalMart, and Making Change At Walmart, moves along. So what's the cure, exactly, other than taking up residence in Buenos Aires, or Beijing?

In our community, The Squawker and I have seen several boots-to-the-ground thrift shops and resale stores spring up.  None of these places are particularly fancy, either. For example, one thrift store happens to inhabit the lower level of a bygone business whose owner made precious little progress rehabbing (hence, the exposed roof that tasted the wrecking ball, however briefly). 

Then there's the boxlike resale shop that we visited a couple weeks ago -- ironically, located onlya mere parking lot-and-a-half away from Wal-Mart -- where we scored a discarded office chair for $3, and for me, a mint condition copy of the Replacements oral bio (All Over But The Shouting), which set me back only a buck. I'll have to check and see if those stacks of locally-pressed Christian music albums are remotely sellable, but that'll probably wait for another trip.

The point is, when you spend money at these places -- or any other locally-owned business, for that matter -- you know whom you're supporting, where your money's going, and (more critically) where it's likely to stay. Everything's within grabbing distance, sparing the experience of trudging across the antiseptic big box tundra...which feels (to yours truly) like touring an aircraft carrier. You can talk, hang out and rummage to your heart's content. Even if you don't buy a bloomin' thing, you'll probably feel better about where you burned up your time.

Obviously, not every local business carries whatever their big box brethren feel obliged to make you acquire by the truckload (der, how else will you score that everyday low price, eh?), but it's not hard to figure out what experience is more appealing...and worth supporting, as well, with your dollars and sense (pun intended: ba-boomp).

In our area, we're still amazed at hearing oldtimers' tales about the '50s and '60s...when our neighbor across the river could actually support four shoe stores in its long-faded downtown district! Surely, if we keep this habit up long enough, something's bound to get better, right? Whatever the Black Friday campaign accomplishes, "shop local" sounds a whole lot better than punching a plane ticket to Buenos Aires (too hot) or Beijing (too crowded, too frenzied, and too polluted).  --The Reckoner

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Those Who Simply Do Not Want To Know

One thing about the economic problems overtaking America, is the reality that most people out there are taking the news for granted, so instead of looking around them and seeing the abandoned store fronts, they believe Obama when he tells them the economy is improving. Endless pundits tell us the economy is improving over and over. What world do they live in? Then Romney does even the same, basically insulting half of America, blaming them for dependence on the government.

Romney Calls Half of Americans Hopeless Losers

What are we all supposed to do go in the street and starve? No one questions how much everything costs, but supposedly without jobs, we are all supposed to be "self reliant", how does that one manage that off the land without benefitting from the full fruits of one's labors when one can be laid off on a whim? In the old days, disabled people could be taken care of with one income coming into the household, the bills were paid, food and medical care was affordable, and so was life. One could start a small business and make it, and also more people had communities, close by families where there was mutual help and support. So what is Romney's solution? "Go die!, poor people!" And if you think Obama cares about the poor, he doesn't, he just keeps lying about the economy improving to make himself look better. They've been cooking the numbers for years.

So the condemnation comes full force, and perhaps Romney was seeking to win over all those "blame the poor" types who turn a blind eye to the endless trillions given to the banks and wars. Hey even Obama promised more cash for Indonesia. What was that 1 billion? 2 billion? Ah they will just print more money! While America goes broke, Obama has been passing our money out like he is on a Friday night bender.

See of them complaining about QE3 which is basically more bail-outs for bankers and more cash in their pockets? I sure don't. It's easier to blame the poor. Also all the nonsense about personal responsibility, sure there are poor people who have substance abuse problems  but they use this to paper over the failing economy, basically saying "Let them eat cake" and "It's your fault"  to every person who is poor.

Sometimes I wonder if Romney is throwing the election to Obama on purpose, you know another John McCain, or John Kerry, The Reckoner may not agree with me on this, but I believe they already got their man chosen before the two party dance show is put on stage.

One historical fact I would LOVE to find out, is when the first depression was going on, did people admit it? Could the poor speak openly of what was happening or where they silenced by those around them? Sometimes when frogs get cooked in pots on low, the process is so gradual, they can lead people to believe that things were always like this, but there seems to be a process going on way beyond that.

I was on a social website group, talking about an old town I lived in and one guy admitted that the abandoned and foreclosed house rate was astronomical. The rate was something like 30% county-wide! He got this rate off a mainstream government website. While living in that town 6 years ago, I once counted multiple empty houses in my own neck of the woods, and I did not live on the "bad side of town".  It was strange seeing those houses with shuttered windows and more falling into disrepair and depressing as well.  Many people got angry, that conversation was shut down. They were horrified that such thing would even be discussed. As the conversation went on, a very brainwashed woman came on and told us, that no president should be criticized, Obama or Romney should he win, and she included Bush. Those are the types that led us down this road to begin with. She also should be given an retroactive "F" in government class for failing the once cherished standards of American citizenship. She added "Nothing is wrong with the economy in ______, we are doing just fine ourselves!"

With those kind of attitudes, well truth and reality are being pushed aside quite easily by the powers that be. They have succeeded in getting Americans to embrace their own demise, so when Medicare, welfare and unions are no more, and we have people starving in the streets, or living on 2 dollars an hour, after all welfare amounts to modern soup lines, then things will get very interesting. It probably won't stop them from handing more billions of dollars overseas countries that hate us, or more wars--Obama has led most of the liberals of today to love war, see any war protesting lately? or stopping the cash flow to the bankers.

If I recall even in that old small town, there was even one editor who was fired for saying, "hey there are serious economic problems".Sure one doesn't want a place to get a bad reputation, it was a very nice small town but what happens to a place when the powers that be or those who still have money in their pockets are invested in the whole NOTHING TO SEE HERE mantra. It makes you wonder when that happens to an entire country.They do want to make you voiceless, inconsequential and they want to advance the plan to strip all the safety nets but for all the talk of personal responsibility they are coming up with, they desire to strip away as much freedom as possible as well. Sure maybe things were better before everyone became dependent, the IDEAL definitely would be otherwise, but something inside me almost tells me it's like they put the carrots on the stick, ripped down the system and are ripping it all away by plan, what else explains the lust for outsourcing?  If there are no jobs, no growing your own food, no jobs, no money, how do they expect people to survive? My conclusion they don't care. And in this whole picture, they don't want you to care either, and the ones who are awake will be silenced with cries of "You are wrong!", "How dare you!", "How dare you criticize politician #1 and #2" or the simply the now dominant.... "It's not happening!" and the hatred of the poor which has served the elite so well, will be advanced, while they clean the till out.

Oh one thing, Romney is a liar, even the poorest person in the land, everytime they buy food, gas or anything else, pays SOME TAXES. --The Squawker

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Peter Tosh: A Lifetime Of Trick Language

Twenty-five years ago today, Peter Tosh (born Winston Hubert McIntosh, on October 19, 1944) died in mysterious circumstances, after enduring hours of brutal extortion and torture at the hands of three armed men. Depending on which account you read, Tosh's murder was either a robbery attempt that went horribly wrong, or a conspiracy orchestrated at higher levels (stemming from his intention to bid for control of Jamaica's national radio broadcasting network, an angle explored in the documentary Stepping Razor: Red X).

Frequently forgotten, amid all this morbid speculation, is Tosh's keen lyrical wit, and satirical inversions of the English tongue, which he often called “trick language.” I first came across his sensibility in the summer of '81, at a used record store, on the Ball State University campus (Muncie, IN). I was in town for three weeks of journalism and forensic speaking camps, and had a fair bitt of free time on my hands – which meant seeking out the fellow record collectors that I met in my workshops, and making the pilgrimage with them, in quest of those obscure, untamed sounds.

And there, in this hole-in-the-wall shop, is where I picked up Equal Rights (1977), which most commentators have saluted for its re-working of the Wailers' standard, “Get Up, Stand Up” – the only one  to be recorded separately by the group's featured vocalists, Tosh, Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer – and “Stepping Razor.”

However, being an aspiring lyricist myself, I picked up on “Downpressor Man” – versus what you'd normally expect, “Oppressor Man” (“DOWN-pressor” versus “UP”-pressor, right?), and the title track, which is one of Tosh's most enduring anthems (“I don't want no peace/I want equal rights, and justice”). That's an important distinction: what's the point of pacifism, I hear him saying, if you can't speak freely, and get the same treatment as everybody else?

Having discovered reggae that summer – and, honestly, driving my parents, classmates and anybody else in shouting distance crazy, by playing LPs like Babylon By Bus for countless hours – Equal Rights spent a lot of serious needle time on my turntable, as I tried to decode those squiggly rhythms on this horrible cheap bass guitar and amp that I'd only just bought, inspired by the likes of Paul Simonon, Jah Wobble, and the Wailers' Aston Barrett...it made for a lot of frustrating afternoons and evenings, as I asked myself, just how DO they make those sounds, anyhow? Having a soundtrack like Equal Rights didn't seem like a bad start, in my eyes.

Snce Tosh's death, writers have tended to focus on the bad boy image – an easy option, given the photos of this towering dreadlocked rebel, who often played a guitar shaped like an M-16 rifle. It's not hard to easy why any discussion of Tosh's music often seems to begin – and end – with “Legalize It,” his pro-marijuana anthem, or the urban bad boy declarations of “Steppin' Razor” (“If you wanna live, you better treat me good”).

However, there's a wealth of material to be uncovered, for those who want to dig a little deeper – such as on “The Day The Dollar Die,” which finds Tosh at his most impassioned, and eloquent: “I see Johnny with his head hanging down/Wondering how many shillings left in that pound/Cost of living is rising so high/Dollar see that, had a heart attack and die/Bills and budgets awaiting/Finance Minister is anticipating/Unemployment is rising/And I hear my people, they're crying”). Another of my personal favorites -- and one that hardly anybody mentions these days -- is "Fools Die," which is making the Youtube rounds as we speak: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDbicVxyzBY

That's only one example, and that's before we get to Tosh's interviews, which were always a feast for Trick Language Aficionados everywhere – whether in referring to “Boo York Shitty” (New York City), “Chris Whitteworse” (Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell, whom Tosh saw as too eager to promoting Bob Marley as Wailer-in-charge), “Christopher Come-Rob-Us” (Christopher Columbus), “Crime Ministers” (prime ministers), “Damagers” (managers), “Lucifer Son Of Devil” (LSD, not a favored drug in Rasta circles, then or now) “Reducers” (producers), “Shitstem” (system), and many, many more – all evidence of a vivid creative imagination, one that reviewers often (wrongly) dismissed as strident, or overwrought.

Then again, if people didn't get the message, that's understandable. Unlike many of his cohorts, Tosh was unwilling to back off – a posture that nearly cost him his life in 1978, at the hands of a beating from Jamaican police. Compromise adds zeroes to paychecks, especially in the music business, though Tosh's signing to Rolling Stones Records apparently did little to help him reach quite the same superstar heights as Bob Marley.

That being said, Tosh's strange death coincided with one of those mysterious comeback cycles that the Music Biz Gods love to serve up – his final effort, No Nuclear War, would win a Grammy for Best Reggae Album of 1987. If he was watching from a cloudbank somewhere, Tosh would surely have enjoyed the irony – especially after reworking the Chuck Berry standard, “Johnny B. Goode,” to gain airplay for Mama Africa (1983), the last album to appear during his lifetime.

And what would he make of the same Jamaican government that he often roundly condemned as deaf to poor peoples' concerns making plans to award him its Order of Merit?  Time has also apparently caught up with the critics, as well, following the re-issue of Equal Rights and his first solo album, Legalize It (1975), in special deluxe Columbia Records editions. Also in the pipeline is a Tosh bio-pic, directed by his friend, Lee Jaffe, and Oscar-winning director Kevin MacDaniel.

All these developments appear to confirm the wisdom of Tosh's most oft-quoted remarks about songwriting: “Words are not things that should be taken the way they are pronounced, so be careful of the words that you use. Try to define them spiritually within yourself before you use them.” In a time when pop musicians seem to have less and less to say, does this mean that we'll see a new generation of “Intelligent Diplomats,” brandishing an equally militant sensibility? Time will tell. – The Reckoner

Jamaica Observer: Young Tosh Reflects On Father's Work


Jamaica Observer: Finding Tosh's M-16

Peter Tosh Dictionary

This Piece of History (M16 Guitar) Should Be In A Museum - Copeland Forbes

Sunday, September 9, 2012

CTA Kicks Workers To The Curb With Rules Crackdown

Remember high school, when just being five minutes late for class earned a black mark from the teacher?  Evidently, there must be a lot of angry former teachers running the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), which is cracking down on absenteeism and lateness...even if it's only five minutes past the appointed hour, as the Chicago Tribune reports.

According to the Tribune's September 3 report, CTA President Forrest Claypool has begun a "zero-tolerance" policy on rules violations, such as those for absenteeism and tardiness. The flipside is that managers no longer have discretion in how to discipline workers.

Sixty-three bus and rail workers have been fired for repeated lateness, as of August 20, versus nine for all of 2011. Twenty-two bus and rail workers have also been let go for excessive absences during the same period. According to the newspaper, the latter figure amounted to about three discharges per month, versus one per month during 2011.

Naturally, Mr. Claypool claims only the most benevolent motives. In the Tribune article, he throws around buzzwords like "consistency" and "fairness," saying that the agency lost too many grievances from rules that weren't applied across the board:

"The consequences of employees not showing up for work or reporting late has a cascading effect on the quality of our service in terms of buses bunching up, schedules being out of whack and millions of dollars wasted on inefficiencies."

So far, however, this newfound consistency seems to be yielding a lot of skewed results, as part-time driver Paris Cooper told the Tribune: "I had no accidents on my record, I was a good employee, but I was like five minutes late for work." 

Cooper -- who plans to challenge his dismissal -- was fired on June 30, after showing up late a fourth time.  He stated that his tardiness related to being diagnosed with diabetes, and suffering from low blood sugar attacks in the morning. 

Other drivers voice fears about being disciplined for things that aren't their fault, such as bumping against a cab driver who happens to open his door while the bus rolls up to its stop: "In the past, you weren't charged for that, because how could you have avoided it?"

In classic "oh, by the way" style, the Tribune notes these acceelerated firings coincide with a drive to get by with part-timers and temps!  As of Auust 13, the CTA hired 147 part-time temporary bus employees, versus none in the past two years, the Tribune stated.

On the rail side, the CTA has hired 138 full-time temporary workers, about the same number as in 2011 (146) and 2010 (136). The agency has also hosted job fairs to add about 400 part-time bus operators. This link from Alderman Jason C. Ervin's Facebook page should give a fair idea of that particular drift:


So how do these elements add up in the big picture?  On one hand, it sounds like a case of union-busting: the old contract expired in December, and negotations toward a new one are apparently going slow. When you face an estimated $277 million shortfall, using part-timers and temps sounds pretty appealing. Why else would you change -- virtually overnight, with little or no warning -- the ground rules for how everybody's expected to operate? 

Even if the clampdown isn't a union-busting maneuver, its long-term effect remains to be seen. On the surface, it's hard to see anything positive coming out of the deal. Where you had some measure of discretion, you'll now have a Third World-style management culture, based on control, fear and paranoia -- and one that will hardly make the case for recruiters, if (and when) the economy ever turns around.

For a better snapshot of how the troops on the ground feel, I'll turn it over to this (excerpted) posting from a gentleman on WTTW's message board:

"How come he [Claypool] never states how much money is being saved on part time bus operators? No paid holidays, no paid vacation, no dental insurance, no time off with pay ever!!! A lot of us have been part time for five or more years! That should have put a dent in The budget deficit by now!!

Suffice to say, Mr. Claypool will probably be a no-show for the CTA union's Christmas party this year...and it's doubtful that either side will be swapping cards, even if they finally strike that elusive new contract. --The Reckoner

UPDATE (10/14/14): Evidently, things havn't gotten much better at the Claypool Corral, judging by this article from the Chicago Tribune ("CTA Employee Dismissals Soar Under Claypool's Watch," 10/13/14) seems to suggest:


In true punk rock Socratic tradition, we won't regurgitate the entire contents for you. From your humble narrator's standpoint, however, the most interesting portion concern the fate of the CTA's Customer Service Assistants, who are supposed to answer questions, help riders with disabilities, and report equipment breakdowns and failures. 

Apparently, the body count under the Claypool regime is notably higher (percentage-wise) than the so-called regular employees: 

"The CTA hired 700 of these CSAs last year, but fired 90 from January 2013 through June 2014.
"'It's a low-paying job. You get all sorts of candidates,' said one CTA official.
"The highest rate of firings was in entry-level rail car servicer apprentice positions, which are designed to offer a second chance to felons. The work entails picking up trash and debris in rail cars, mopping floors and scrubbing seats, and it pays $9.50 an hour. It does not come with benefits." 
In other words...depending where you're perched on the CTA totem pole, your ride could place you on the fast track to the No-Wage, No-Benefits Ghetto...and leave you there stuck forever.  Is it any wonder that the underground economy continues to grow leap and bounds? --The Reckoner

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ramen Noodle Nation Presents: The Cognitive Dissonance Hall Of Fame

Greetings, one and all, this is The Reckoner speaking.  Today's subject is one that my friend, The Squawker, has periodically addressed: cognitive dissonance, a term that psychologists coined during the 1950s to describe people who hold conflicting opinions that make them uncomfortable. This is the opposite of doublethink, George Orwell's famous term for the ability to accept contradictory opinions as mutually correct.

Psychologists suggest that people try to reduce their own levels of dissonance by changing existing beliefs, ideas, or values; adding new thoughts to create a consistent belief sysstem; or reducing one of the dissonant items, in importance. As an example, Wikipedia's entry cites the smoker who feels torn between enjoying their habit, and awareness of its health consequences.

To compensate, smokers may "change their feelings about the odds that they will actually suffer the consequences," or decide that the short-term enjoyment outweighs the long-term harm. (Now you see why the psychedelic era's promises didn't quite pan out: "I won't break your euphoria, maaan, if you won't break mine..."). 

Even then, the believer isn't home free, as Wikipedia's entry observes: "The need to avoid cognitive dissonance may bias one towards a certain decision even though other factors favour an alternative." With so many wonderful examples to choose from, Ramen Noodle Nation presents its first nominees for the Cognitive Dissonance Hall Of Fame, in no particular order...brown paper bags are optional.

1. Paul Ryan
He comes straight out of Washington Central Casting: a young, telegenic Republican whose favorite bands are Nirvana, and Rage Against The Machine...even though he can't wait to turn Medicare into a glorified voucher program, and has no problem giving those bloody 1 percenters a $200,000-plus tax cut, versus a $1,700-plus increase for the bottom 80 percent of American wage earners...at least, if his proposd federal budget had seen the light of day.

Small wonder that Rage's guitarist, Tom Morello, doesn't feel like returning the love, as he made clear in a special Rolling Stone op-ed piece rcently: "Ryan claims that he likes Rage's sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don't care for Paul Ryan's sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage."

It's easy to imagine a twentysomething Ryan cheerfully moshing away to Rage's churning rap-metal riddims, giddily oblivious to the lyrics of songs like "Take The Power Back" ("Bam! Here's the plan/Motherfuck Uncle Sam/Step back, I know who I am"), or "Bulls On Parade" ("Weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes, not need, just feed the war cannibal animal")...did he vow under his breath, "Just you wait, kids...I'm gonna be running the government some day"? 

Still, there's probably at least one perverse upside for Republicans: getting tagged as the Party Of Peter Buck beats the hell out of getting tagged as The Party Of Pat Boone...too bad that growing pains are such a bitch.

2. Julian Assange (WikiLeaks Supremo)
3. Rafael Correa (Ecuadoran President): TIE
Rod Serling couldn't have scripted this one better if he tried: the irony of a man who's hung his hat on leaking diplomatic cables seeking refuge in a country known for its bareknuckled repression of press freedom, and basic expression, needs no flogging here. We recognize that beggars can't be choosers in these situations, since Assange hasn't had much luck persauding the Swedish legal machine that he shouldn't get a one-way ticket back to Stockholm.

Still, if Julian Assange is serious about upping sticks to Quito, he'll have to overlook an awful lot.  Like many South American autocrats, President Rafael Correa takes exception to the Fourth Estate cramping his style. He may not constantly lecture the nation Jim Jones-style, as his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, loves to do on his "Alo Presidente" TV program...but he's no less shy about doing whatever it takes to silence his critics into submission.

Tactics like using defamation lawsuits to bankrupt newspapers are standard operating procedure for Correa, who won a $40 million US judgment against the El Universo newspaper. According to details posted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the verdict followed a column that referrd to the president as a "dictator." You can read about the goings-on here:


Three executives and the op-ed piece's author, Emilio Palacio, also receivd three-year prison terms --only to be pardond by Correa, in typical expansive megalomaniacal style...presumably having made his point.  (Palacio eventually fled to the US; hopefully, he got the same asylum privilges that Ecuador extended to Assange.) 

Given his conspicuous silence about the subjct, we can only just imagine how Assange might conduct himself at a state press conference: "El Presidente, can you share one of your most closely guarded secrets with us?  Tell me, Your Excellency -- what is your favorite color?"

Cut to a shot of Correa at the podium, stroking his chin with great solemnity: "Why, it is blue, Mr. Assange -- blue as the sky that shins above all of us Ecuadorans. Thanks for the question!"

4. Todd Akin (Missouri Republican Senate Candidate)

Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin seemed to be having a field day against hapless Demcoratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, who planned on skipping her party's national convention -- just one of many ways that she's been straining to prove her conservative bona fides in the Show Me State. Akin was undoubtedly having fun contemplating the size and color of the drapes for his new office...

...until he sounded off to KTVI-TV about why rape victims needed no access to legal abortions, and all hell broke loose: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy after rape] is really rare," Akin said. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."  And if a rape victim did get pregnant?  Akin offered this helpful nugget: "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."

Akin, of course, has rushed to backtrack after the resulting firestorm blew up in his face. Pehaps his campaign manager has suggsted that such sentiments are political box office poison, though Akin has contented himslf with claiming that he "misspoke," and leaving it there. But something darker and uglier is probably at work.

As critics have since pointed out, in January 2012, Akin and Paul Ryan -- the Republican in the mosh pit, remember? -- co-sponsored a bill stating that only "forcible rape" would allow a woman to get an abortion.

The language eventually got droppd, but Akin might do well to contemplate how "Saturday Night Live"'s first star, Chevy Chase, got called out by co-star Jane Curtin for not mentioning castmates' names during interviews. After claiming that he'd gotten "misquoted," Curtin yelled: "You don't get misquoted twice!"

5. The Texas Department Of Criminal Justice
America is a nation that feeds on paradoxes, and nowhere does this seem more obvious than in the Lone Star State: the place that gave us Joe Ely, Roky Erickson and Kinky Friedman remains notorious for its assembly line pace of executions -- which peaked at 40 in 2000, and has since zigzagged up and down the scale (with 24, 17 and 13 inmates being put to death, respectively, for 2009-11). This year's pace seems equally brisk, with seven offenders executed by lethal injection through August 7, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

However, a fast food pace also leads to fast food justice. The latest inmate to die, Marvin Lee Wilson, was the focus of a debate over his mental capacity (an IQ of 61), which seemed to fall well below the state's minimum threshold (70)...the same one that the U.S. Supreme Court carved out in 2002, in banning the execution of mentally retarded persons.  To read how the state got around that prohibition, visit this link from Salon.com: http://www.salon.com/2012/08/02/would_texas_execute_a_child/.

Nine inmates have a date with the needle coming up between September 20 and December 12 of this year. Assuming that all these dates stick, the men with the gurney will stay reasonably busy...because  even during a terrible economy, the prison industrial complex never stops humming.  --The Reckoner