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Saturday, October 15, 2011

They're not Occupiers; they're Squatters!

There is a large group of angry people who are gathering together and refusing to obey the law of the land. They call their group: "Occupy Wall Street." At some point though, after settling down in the park and erecting a variety of tents and other makeshift shelters, after assigning sanitation duties and communal kitchen duties, they stopped being a protest group and started being an illegal squatter settlement.
A squatter settlement is a residential area in an urban locality inhabited by the very poor who have no access to tenured land of their own, and hence "squat" on vacant land, either private or public.
These people have been around for many years. While they may have attracted some "new blood" by cynically manipulating the jealousy of twenty-somethings who've never been forced to grow up, they're the same old group that used to camp in the parking lots at Grateful Dead concerts, or in nearby public parks. Whether you call them Deadheads or the Rainbow Family, the parallels between the Wall Street event and events like Woodstock and the Rainbow Gatherings and Lollapalooza are evident. While they may claim that they're there to raise awareness for some cause, what they're actually doing is just having a big party, getting high, trashing the place, and pretending that their decisions have no consequences. John Lennon, who perhaps best exemplifies the paradigm that is quintessential hippyness, famously asked us to Imagine.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
I can imagine no possessions. In my mind I see a naked five year old boy. His belly is distended from malnutrition, and you can clearly see every bone in his emaciated body. He's digging in hardened clay and sand for a bug of some kind to eat. His stomach is filled with indigestible leaves and bark and dirt. He's almost certain to die. In a different world with different parents he might have become an Einstein, a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, but not in this world. So, yes I can imagine no possessions.

Well, what if the whole world just stopped working? If we all just decided to become children and camp in the park and trip LSD while passing around a doobie and periodically burping up some wurble of gas that we consider profound thought, then very soon our world would become the world of the possessionless five year old I just described. Is that what you really want?

These hippies on Wall Street aren't helping anyone. Millions of people are starving to death every year. Millions more are dying because of vitamin deficiencies. It doesn't have to be this way. If these guys camping on Wall Street really wanted to help their fellow man, they'd be at work right now, earning a paycheck and chipping in a few bucks every month to fund one of the thousands of charity organizations that are working in areas where they don't have Wall Street, where they don't have public parks, where they don't have clean water or even soap.

I'll tell you the truth. I'm filled with disgust. I'm filled with indignation! I'm truly outraged at the selfish self-centered hypocrisy and willful self-delusion of these egomaniacal hippy squatters with their incessant eructations of imbecilic absurdity, exacerbated by the Lame Stream Media who constantly assault our senses with this circus of vagrants and losers.

Hope and Change, Imagine, Brotherhood of Man, Right on! Down with the Man! OKAY! I get it! You media guys can stop it now. I get it already! This is your Obama 2012 campaign, and these are your volunteer campaigners, these drug-crazed hippies who all smell like a month's worth of unwashed ass. Good luck with that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Corruption in the foodstamp program?

Neva is a young white mother who works as a receptionist at a limousine company. She is unmarried and while her hourly wage isn't too bad, it is not nearly enough to live on at only forty hours per week. She married poorly and her deadbeat ex-husband is unemployed and looks to continue being unemployed for the foreseeable future. Daycare expenses, rent, utilities, she's really struggling. There's no way she can work another job since babysitters are even more expensive than daycares are. Having no other recourse she went down to the social security office to apply for food stamps.
I was the only white girl there. It was like that old trope where the white person walks into a bar filled with black people, laughing, dancing, and drinking, when suddenly—with a screech of needle across vinyl—the music stops and everyone is staring at the person who just doesn't belong. I didn't belong, and I felt that immediately. Heads turned and whispered into ears while eyes stared with disapproval. I saw a room filled with black woman. They all had weaves.
In case you don't know, a weave is real or synthetic hair which is tied onto existing hair. It must be redone at least monthly and while the cost varies, it's usually more than one-hundred dollars and can go as high as three-hundred.
Some were texting on their cellphones, some were watching videos on their i-phones, most were staring at me. I took a number and sat down to wait. I noticed immediately that many of these women had brought their children with them. The women and the children were wearing namebrand clothing, there was Nike and Reebok and Tommy Hilfiger on display everywhere I looked. There were expensive looking manicures, expensive weaves. It was strange. These women were obviously doing well for themselves and by listening to conversations it was obvious that I was the only one who was there for the first time. Everyone else was there to requalify.
To make a long story short, Neva was turned down. She was told she made too much money to qualify for any assistance at all. Barely making ends meet, bringing her kids to work on Saturday—she had a really easy-going boss—and steadily going deeper into debt, was not sufficient to qualify.

It makes me wonder. I wonder how well the Social Security Office checks out their applicants? I wonder how many of the millions of unwed mothers receiving benefits are actually living with the fathers of their children in the same household? I wonder how many applicants disclose the fact that they have several wage earners living in the same household? I wonder how people who are so poor that they don't even make minimum wage can afford manicures and weaves and cigarettes and i-phones?

This was several years ago. Times have gotten harder for everyone since then. I don't know where Neva is these days, though I hope she's doing better. Recently, benefits have been cut across the country as the government struggles to cut costs. They've been looking more closely at who is receiving benefits and finding ways to eliminate some of them from the roles. For instance, many states are now drug-testing food-stamp recipients. Naturally there is outrage. People want what they want and don't want to have to choose between two things that they want, like free money and illegal pharmaceuticals for instance.
In Florida, people receiving cash assistance through welfare have had to pay for their own drug tests since July, and enrollment has shrunk to its lowest levels since the start of the recession.The law, the most far-reaching in the nation, provoked a lawsuit last month from the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing that the requirement represents an unreasonable search and seizure.
The unreasonable search and seizure argument has grown so weak in recent years that police are now allowed to break down a door and storm into a private residence without possessing a search warrant. At airlines, TSA security officers are allowed to use X-Rays to thoroughly inspect your genitalia in enhanced and lurid detail. A refusal to allow this x-ray peep show will result in the humiliating manipulation and invasive fondling of your crotch. So, I think I can safely say that we're far beyond worrying whether a drug test might be an unreasonable search.

One thing seems certain: the ones on the welfare and foodstamp roles right now will move Heaven and Earth to stay there, and if that means that new applicants have a much harder road in qualifying, or even that no more new applications will ever even be accepted then so what? I'm sure those who already have that EBT card in their purse will not be losing any sleep over it. They lied and cheated the system. They were taught how to do this by their own mothers and for generations this has been the status quo.

The problem with this status quo is that it is unsustainable. This whole house of cards is due to come crashing down and the only training these welfare mothers have, is the ability to fraudulently fill out a welfare or food stamp application. What will they do when that fails? Drugs and prostitution are a possibility. Prison seems a likelihood as well. All these new restrictions on receipt of public assistance will result in millions of children flooding into orphanages and foster homes, resulting in child abuse, sexual abuse, fraudulent receipt or use of foster care expense money...but that's another story.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Unintended Consequences and our Current Economic Crisis

The following post is just a few random thoughts about our society and how its economic situation was caused by mostly good intentions that went wrong. By the way, I just finished reading The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. By Michael Lewis. My knowledge and my opinion are therefore strongly influenced by this book―which I recommend.

If you never fed the dog begging under the table, table-scraps, the dog wouldn't beg under the table. If no one gave money to beggars, there would be no more beggars. This sounds cruel to you I suppose. So, instead, you just give some money to the beggar insuring that he'll continue to beg. Every homeless vagrant panhandling with his absurd sad story, hat in hand, is doing what he does because soft-hearted misguided chumps worry. What do they worry about? Maybe they worry that the panhandler will go hungry. Maybe they worry that other people watching might see them as some kind of stingy Scrooge type. Maybe they're trying to impress their date. Regardless of the reason, the action―giving money to the beggar―just makes sure he never does anything else.

Plenty of people are poor―more than there should be. Why are they poor? I think the root cause is gambling, and I'm not talking about casino gambling, although that has certainly caused its share of poverty. The gambling I'm talking about—the gambling that has caused more poverty than anything else—happens on Wall-Street and on the penthouse floors of skyscrapers in our biggest cities. The price of gasoline that everyone complains about is caused by gambling. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Before most people were even aware there was an economic crisis, investment managers abandoned failing mortgage-backed securities and looked for other lucrative investments. What they settled on was oil futures.

An oil future is simply a contract between a buyer and seller, where the buyer agrees to purchase a certain amount of a commodity―in this case oil―at a fixed price.
The housing bubble that is the central cause of the current economic crisis was caused by speculation. That this is true is the subject of much debate. However, what can't be denied is that the almost inconceivable speculation in the housing market would not have been possible were it not for a bill that President Clinton signed into law. It made it possible for banks and insurance companies to bundle and reclassify mortgages into CDO tranches. These investment "products" were an unfathomable melting pot of structured asset-backed securities, debt obligations including bonds and loans. They are composed of a portfolio of fixed-income underlying assets, as well as of bits and pieces of other CDOs. The purpose of this mortgage backed three-card-monty was to fool the rating agencies: Moody's and Standard & Poors. These agencies had little understanding of the financial instrument they were grading; very few people had any understanding of these massively complex bundles of crap. This was how a bundle of subprime mortgages could through dishonest financial shenanigans be transformed into a triple-A rated security, suitable for retirement funds to invest in.

We know what the end result has been, a massive bailout costing many billions, and along with this has been economic destruction with millions of foreclosures. The law that deregulated the financial institutions and allowed them to engage in this insanely perilous speculation was passed by William J. Clinton.
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act overturned much of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. Gramm-Leach-Bliley effectively eliminated barriers between investment banks, commercial banks and insurance companies. The idea behind keeping these institutions separate was to prevent conflicts of interest when evaluating risk. The lack of these barriers is blamed for some of the rampant speculation in the housing market.
The cause of everything bad, our current economic crisis, every social ill, from the unwinnable drug war to the hundreds of thousands of homeless people, all of it can be laid at the feet of an unending series of horrible unintended consequences. Looking back it's easy to see that nobody understood that once we started down the quick and easy path it would forever dominate America's destiny, and would doom us to eventual and ineluctable oblivion as each temporary problem was patched up with a jerry-rigged fix, creating the permanent problem of crumbling patches holding together our corroding society.

If you can, for just a second, picture a country grandma from the Ozark Mountains or an eight-year-old from the projects suddenly placed behind the wheel of a 747, with no training and no friendly advice from a nearby tower, then you begin to understand why we're now where we are and in the condition that we're in. Nobody had the slightest idea of what the hell they were doing. We put an idiot in the cockpit and he's just grinning away, pushing buttons, turning knobs and flippling levers. Buckle your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen. Put your tray-tables in their upright positions. This landing might be a little bumpy.