Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A rant for the sake of ranting

Just when I thought it was safe to apply the brakes and let the engine's idle move the car forward at its own good pace, I find myself wanting now more than ever to straddle that line – as perilously as I can – between inexorability and infirmity.

If you have been to my Website recently or are among my social media contacts, then you are aware of my wife Marcy's recent leukemia diagnosis. As a result, I have found myself looking at how I can set aside politics as much as I can for the time being until her battle with Cancer is won – all without losing the momentum that has been built by the members of the Allen County Libertarian Party here in its inaugural year.

Very simply, it's a matter of priorities.

But then, this morning, I had my Howard Beale moment. I now can say, without hesitation or equivocation, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

On my way home from work, I made a brief grocery stop for principally the staples – as well as one or two other items. I went to the checkout lane with what would amount to two armfuls of groceries – thinking nothing of it beyond it being a typical jaunt to the store that ought to cost less than average.

And then the cashier read aloud the final tally. It is rare for me to feel the need to catch my breath. It takes a lot to shock me and even more to offend me. But, at that moment, I not only reflexively drew-in a short breath and held it I also had rapidly overcome the urge to absent-mindedly blurt-out an expletive relating to the waste product of domesticated, horn-bearing livestock.

Two months ago, a load of groceries such as what I purchased this morning would have run under $40.

My total on this day was more than $61.

And, this sticker shock moment was brought to you by Save-A-Lot, Inc.

During the strolls up and down the aisles I had two or three moments that prompted me to silently observe, "Wow, that went up in price."

But, I was there with a pretty brief list and deviated from it only by picking up cheese, two frozen family-size entrees, two cans of soup, and some canned fruit. It was the same kind of abbreviated shopping run at a discount, no-name-brand grocery store that I have been making for years.

After paying the charge I more aggressively in my head began itemizing the prices I saw this morning and comparing them to what I had been used to paying: with some items having been purchased just six or even three weeks prior.

My lunch meat and granola bars had not changed in price. These items I buy because it is much more cost effective to pack a lunch to work than buy it at the engine plant’s cafeteria. However, the same six-pack of pop – out of which I take one with me to work to defray the cost of buying the same quantity from the vending machines in the break areas – I had been able to buy there near the end of April had gone up 66 cents – from $3.33 to $3.99, a 20% jump in price.

At the beginning of last month, as part of a larger effort to fully stock our pantry, I remember the cans of evaporated milk ran less than 80 cents. This is an item that comes in handy every so often for cooking anything calling for milk, such as instant potatoes or fluffing your scrambled eggs. Today the exact same store brand evaporated milk cost 99 cents – another 20% leap in price.

The two cans of mandarin oranges I bought – in an effort to snack healthier and make subtle, incremental choices toward that all-important healthy lifestyle – were 65 cents each: up from the 59 cents I remember paying for them at the beginning of April. That is a jump of 10% for the price of an 11-ounce canned good.

A dozen large eggs cost $1.49.

A year ago at this time, a 48-ounce bag of rice and a 16-ounce tube of frozen ground turkey – two items I have been buying with great regularity for years – were just being bumped-up in price from 99 cents to $1.19. Today, the same ground turkey is $1.59 and the rice has ballooned in price to $1.79.

And there remain other examples from my receipt that are just as astonishing.

Mind you, all this retail apprehension took place at a discount supermarket (i.e., Aldi and Save-A-Lot), where people just looking to stretch their dollars go so they can feed themselves and their families without breaking the bank.

I shudder to think what has been happening price-wise at other locations.

All this background and all this build-up are meant to angle this diatribe toward one, seminal thought: when do we finally decide as a society that enough is enough?!

Now, I have no doubt there will be two or three people who will read this and reach the conclusion "the government should step in and do something about this."

If that is where your thought processes are taking you, then you have buried your head deep enough into the sand to crack your forehead against the bedrock beneath it. "Government stepping in and doing something" is precisely why America is poised to begin pricing itself out of existence.

And, all this is being driven most heavily by two factors: the price of gasoline and the rapidly descending value of the U.S. dollar.

Let's start with gas.

We have a braintrust in Washington, D.C., that is preaching supposed energy independence yet insists upon stonewalling all petroleum drilling efforts within the United States. All the while, every subsequent geological survey that has been published within the last few years has determined we have more oil under our ground than previously believed.

In fact, within our borders and territorial waters, there is enough untapped petroleum beneath the land and ocean floors that American oil producers can potentially outpace the production all of the Middle Eastern nations combined.

Instead, we are spoon-fed a fairy tale of alternative energy sources that will take years (if not decades) to perfect to a point where these industries can make any measurable impact on the costs of energy in America.

The previous administration in the White House bought into the green lie enough to enact (with the blessing of Congress) a ban on the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs. Once this ban goes into effect in this coming January, consumers will be able to choose between compact fluorescent light bulbs which contain toxic levels of mercury or the forthcoming LED light bulbs which will cost approximately $50 each once they hit the market.

Since the food we wish to buy can't get to our nearby stores without the transportation industry trucking it all hither-and-yon for our convenience, when the price of gas skyrockets like it has over the last year the cost of keeping all those Kenworths (et al) rolling down the highways inevitably finds its way into those pesky barcodes on our Cheerios and Weetabix.

The other major factor making our lives too expensive to live-out anymore is the all-out assault of stupidity on the U.S. currency. Between the Bush Administration's T.A.R.P. debacle, the Obama Administration's stimulus lie, and our ongoing projected deficit of roughly $1.6 trillion for this fiscal year, the dollar is being driven to the brink of worthlessness and being abandoned wholesale in the international currency markets.

All three of the preceding examples have required the United States Treasury to borrow more than $3 trillion over the past 2 1/2 years – and that doesn’t even include the debt which had to be incurred to cover the deficits for fiscal years 2008, 2009, and 2010 over the same period of time.

What too many people are not realizing is in all of these instances, in order for the government to pay out all these waste obligations, more currency than previously existed must be printed so that all the transactions associated with these federal appropriations can actually see money changing hands. The spike in the money supply invariably means the value of each and every U.S. dollar out there in the world retains that much less value.

To break it down into terms most people ought to be able to understand, when a number of items or goods are deemed to be a "collector's item" – whether it's a Mario Lemieux rookie card, first edition Barbie Doll, or original print Elvis Presley record – the fewer there are of these particular mementos the greater the value each one retains.

This exact same principle applies directly to our currency.

This isn't even the proverbial Economics 101: we are talking about basic, indisputable mathematics.

As companies in any and all industries here in America see their revenue streams gouged due to the drop in value of the money they presently have, in order to stay afloat they must adjust their prices to cover that shortfall in revenues.

That means their prices must go up – hence inflation.

And when you have the flood of money hit the markets across the world at the pace we have seen since autumn 2008, the analogous effect is best illustrated by the floods coming down the Mississippi River these past few days. The devastation is eerily similar as we witness people's lives and livelihoods washed away with the rising floodwaters.

And the truly insidious part lies in this all-important question: for what?

What is it we had to do that required jeopardizing the viability of the U.S. economy?

If the spigot enabling the flow of money that is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Obama's Stimulus) can be shut off before the rest of its allocations can be spent, then it truly will be said that T.A.R.P. will go down in history as the single largest fiscal fraud ever perpetrated upon American taxpayers.

Very little of the $700 billion poured into the Wall Street entities which received them actually went into circulation with the U.S. The most egregious example of this was AIG, which received roughly $180 billion from Uncle Sam and then immediately paid the majority of that money to various financial institutions across Europe to which AIG was indebted.

Massive chunks of T.A.R.P. money – which Bush and leaders in both major parties insisted was necessary to save the financial sector and the economy – will never find its way into circulation within our own borders. Bankers and other financial corporate titans in Europe continue to reap the riches of a cash cow that will leave us all paying-off the interest out of our hard-earned tax dollars for decades to come.

The other major component of Bush's and Obama's combined fraud was the notion the federal government could more wisely pick-and-choose how to distribute and award a combined $1.5 trillion than the people of the United States of America.

Let's say for the sake of argument I agreed with the Washington braintrust that T.A.R.P. and the so-called Stimulus were absolutely necessary to prevent economic armageddon two-and-a-half years ago. If it were up to me, I would have taken that $1.5 trillion and evenly disbursed it to every household which was under mortgage at that time. Based on my research for this statistic, in the late months of 2008 that would be (very) roughly 50 million homes. So, with my plan, almost 50 million households would have received a U.S. Department of Treasury check for approximately $30,000 each.

Common sense dictates that in light of the urgent nature of the situation for both the U.S. economy and the international market, the vast majority of those recipients would have done the right thing with that money and paid enough to their respective lenders to at least get current with their mortgages. Most, I’m inclined to believe, would have used enough sense to even pay-off several additional months’-worth of mortgage payments – which would have helped those homeowners knock-down the principle of those debts, thus significantly reducing their monthly due amounts.

For some, $30,000 would be enough to pay the remaining balance in full and rid themselves of that form of debt.

At the very least, this activity would have led to a flood of about $1 trillion into the American financial sector as the people at-large began feverishly making payments to save their homes.

These speculations leave about half-a-trillion dollars still to be used, which (again) common sense dictates many of the recipients would have opted to buy a new car – thus eliminating the need for the automotive bailouts. Unspent portions beyond that would have led to a surge of cash flow in domestic retail markets and created a genuine recovery from the nightmare.

A small percentage, of course, would have gone into savings and other retirement/"rainy day" accounts. But even that option would have had positive benefits as still just $10-to-20 billion (just… *sigh*) out of all that would have shored-up the liquidity of banks nationwide and boosted confidence in financial markets.

And then, there is the largely unexamined positive consequence of tackling the 2008 crisis in the manner described above.

Over the course of 2008 through 2010 a total of roughly 8 million homes were foreclosed-upon (that doesn’t include the 1.3 million in 2007, when the housing bubble began to burst). For the purpose of simpler math (and due to the absence of the hard data on this) let's assume more than half of those mortgages had two (or even more) signatures (spouses, co-signing parents, etc.) on them.

Now, by bypassing the homeowners and lending $700 billion directly to the banks and other financial sector entities in the manner the Bush Administration did, nearly 15 million people since then now have a foreclosure hanging like an albatross over their credit histories. If you believe in a borrow-and-spend-on-credit economy much like so many politicians advocate today, this means there are now as many as 15 million adults who have been completely taken out of that portion of the economy. Their credit ratings are far too deep in disrepair for any of them to be able to establish credit again for the remainder of this decade.

This is the ongoing complication to the American economic picture that will play as significant of a role in preventing recovery as any other factor.

And no one is talking about this.

But, had anyone in the capitol actually taken a moment to think things through in the waning months of 2008 and handled the bailout intelligently – as opposed to the money carrousel that played-out – it would have served, unfortunately, to only cement in the minds of the general public this misguided notion that all the solutions to society's ills can be found in government action.

They're all experts, don’t you know.

Here in 2011, despite growing public sentiment against further expansion of government, to push to do just that continues to gain steam among our elected so-called leadership.

The push is on for greater control of our energy sources.

The push is on for greater control of the financial sector.

The push is on for greater control of our food supplies.

The push is on for micromanagement of the health care industry.

The push is on for unprecedented control over the Internet.

And so on…

So, let me get this straight, the same government that has:

Given us the compassion of the IRS;
Given us the efficiency of the U.S. Postal Service;
Given us the effectiveness of the Katrina response;
Given us the promptness of the Gulf oil spill response;
Executed a "War on Drugs" that has cost $1 trillion over 40 years and accomplished squat;
And has managed our children's education for the past 40 years…

This same government somehow can be counted-on to manage our health care, our financial sector, our nutritional needs, our energy supplies, and automotive companies?


What will it take? When are we going to finally come together as a nation and say, "Enough is enough?!"

And why, you may ask, do I want to see this take shape?

Because I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

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