#100Days100Nights – Gang Warfare in Los Angeles

Los Angeles Gangs Are Aiming To Kill 100 People In 100 Days, Even Have Own Hashtag

So in Los Angeles “100 Days and 100 Nights” is going on, a challenge issued by a set of Crips to kill 100 people in the course of 100 days.   There’s all kinds of warnings going around social media with the hashtag #100Days100Nights to steer clear of parts of Los Angeles during these next four months.   It kind of sounds like a “don’t flash your headlights” urban legend, but there has been an uptick in murders in LA to correspond with it.

Most of us probably live in decent enough places, but I suppose this is a reminder that the people of the abyss aren’t as far away from us as we imagine sometimes.  There are places nearby that are lawless and violence isn’t a “what if” but a hard reality.

Anyways, the thing that this story has me wondering is whatever really happened to the Bloods and the Crips?   I know they still exist, but I don’t see anywhere near the same amount of activity as I remember from when I was a kid.   During the 90’s I remember seeing Crip, Vice Lord and BGD graffiti pretty often and whenever you would go to the mall or something you’d always see the scary looking guys in blue or red.    I didn’t exactly live in the “hood” either, just a pretty normal neighborhood that ran the gauntlet from lower middle class all the way up to….middle class in a modest sized city.   If you would go to a mall that was closer to more, uh, “urban” neighborhoods you would see a lot more of the scary guys in blue or red.

I know MS-13 has made a name for themselves since then, but who really “runs the streets” these days?   Are the Bloods and Crips still the largest and most active or now is it mostly local unaffiliated gangs that rule their roost these days?    Whenever I see the list of locally active gangs that the police put out I’ll recognize about a quarter of the names and then there will be a bunch of silly-sounding gangs that I’ve never heard of.

I really have no idea of who’s who anymore, like who the significant gangs are and what their deal is, who their rivals are, etc.   This kind of thing has always fascinated me, but it’s also good at a practical level to know these things in order to better understand where you are, even if most gang violence is kept within the gang world.

I know that the kind of criminality associated with these kinds of gangs is down since the crack epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s, but did these guys kind of wane with the crack epidemic and everything associated with it?   I suspect that gangs today are a little more localized and loose in self-definition today, like you might have a bunch of guys in a certain neighborhood that act like a gang and have some kind of mutually identifying style (or ethnicity) but might not have a name for themselves.   I could be wrong and there could still be a shit ton of national-level gang activity.  I guess I’m really not sure.

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | Leave a comment

RT Trolls US Government….Again

Russia Today (RT), a state-owned Russian international news channel is one of my favorite sources of news… They seem to cover the kinds of topics I’m interested in and they usually have a little more bite to their editorial content compared to the milquetoast to passive-aggressive and bland western media.   You have to take everything with a grain of salt due to who’s signing the checks over there, for sure.    Not only a they a good news source, sometimes they’re really funny and good at trolling US and western governments.

Yesterday they broke an article about a new type of diamond discovered in the Kamchatka peninsula (Russian Far East on the Pacific…lots of plants come from here, but that’s a different story) and on their facebook post they said:   The new diamonds were formed by volcanic gases under pressure and are a result of crystallization under the influence of electrical discharges of lightning. Democracy coming soon to volcanoes across the globe.

Ha ha.    Nice one, guys.

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | Leave a comment

How A Wind Turbine Is Made…With A Lot of Resources

My local power company posted a video of a start to finish erection (ha ha) of a wind turbine, it’s pretty cool:

In my part of the world there are a ton of these windmills out in the countryside and anytime you get on I-80 you see “wide load” semis with windmill parts cruising down the rode.  It’s amazing how big just one blade is.    Iowa is one of the leading states in wind energy…we get a lot of wind, we have a lot of flat land with nothing happening on it except row crops and we have the population centers to use the energy produced.   I think they even started putting these windmills on state logos.    It’s a big business here.

The video is put out by MidAmerican, who of course is really into wind energy.   I know there’s hangups about killing birds and noise, but the thing that really jumps out at me after watching this is how energy-intensive these things really are to make.   I’ve read things before about how wind energy is doomed because of the initial investment in resources/capital required, but this video really puts it into perspective.

There’s about 50 tons of steel rebar, 54 truckloads of concrete, each blade weighs 23,000lbs, the base tower is about 100,000 lbs, the midtower is 115,000lbs and then there’s some other odds and ends.   Plus you need a decent sized crew and a shitload of equipment (trucks, excavators and cranes…like the really, really big ones).   I’ve also heard that there’s a notable amount of rare earth metals up in there and silver.    Definitely nothing to scoff at.   I’m not exactly sure what the energy return is on one of those, but I imagine it takes a while to break even (if it all?).

When it comes to alternative energy, I think a lot of people think that all it takes is the right people to get on board and the government to sign some checks and then voila! we’ll have all the “green” energy we’ll ever need and keep rolling on.   If we ever came to a point where the whole fossil fuels thing wasn’t cutting it anymore, we would have a hell of a time coming up with the energy to ramp up production on these things.   If we were hurting for energy, our economy would tank and we would also have a hard time getting the capital together for these kinds of projects.   If energy were scarce, simply mining or even recycling the raw materials to come up with what was needed would be a tall order too…

The initial investment is so high on these things that it almost seems like they can’t sustain themselves past the first generation or so.   What I mean by that is that I don’t think we can get the kind of energy (in the right places) off of wind and other renewables in order to mine the resources, transport them, fabricate them and assemble them like we can with fossil fuels.   The rare earths are another story.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem like it’s possible to make these happen without the kind of energy access we have now.

It’s not that I hate renewable energy or anything, but I have a hard time putting faith into the idea that we’ll be able to carry on the way we do now on windmills, solar panels, African girls pissing into a machine they made, etc.

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | Leave a comment

Making Friends With The ‘Axis of Evil’

This week there has been two big developments in the world:  The nuclear deal with Iran and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.   I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Barry O’s presidency, but I would give him a pat on the back for both of these things so I have to give him/them some credit for this.

Let’s talk Cuba first…  I have a feeling this one has been on the shelf for a while so I don’t really view it as a “breakthrough” but rather a decision to flip a switch.   Cuba certainly has qualms about the United States, but they’ve always been open to dealing with us in various manners.   For instance, if an American citizen goes to Cuba they’re completely cool with it but the US State Department isn’t.   I think establishing relations with Cuba was something we kept in our pocket until we needed a good public relations victory in the world because virtually nobody was on board with the embargo and we lost a lot of face in Latin America because of it.

I’m glad they did flip the switch on this one simply because it’s just the right thing to do.   Yeah, Cuba isn’t perfect but I’m sure we have great relations with at least a dozen other countries that are more odious than this one.  I won’t name any names though….    Anyways, it’s hard to pretend that Cuba is any kind of existential threat.    I think they’re going to benefit economically from increased ties with the yankees and I think we have a lot we can learn from the Cubans on getting by on less (see The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil).  Plus I’d really love to visit Havana, looks like an amazing city.

I don’t know if burying the hatchet with Cuba will change anyone’s opinion on us, but it will give them one less grievance.   It sure isn’t going to hurt anything and I don’t think anyone will be harmed by relations with Cuba.

Now on to Iran….    A lot of people have been freaking out about this one and about how “you can’t trust those towelheads!”.    I’m sure if you look back throughout history, you could come to the conclusion that treaties are meant to be broken and they haven’t really stopped a state from doing something they really wanted to do.   But for everyone worked up about the Iranians, let’s recap some of the things we’ve done to them:

-During WWII the Soviets and British invaded them.   We (the US) had a policy where we said we were out to stop aggression in the world and get people to stop invading everyone else.  The Iranians called us and said “Hey, your dudes are in our country and you said you wouldn’t stand for this kind of thing” and Roosevelt of course didn’t see it fit to keep his word.   Many Iranians died in a famine caused by the invasion.

– In 1953 they tried to nationalize their oil supplies.   No dice.   The CIA and MI5 put in the Shah, who was a real asshole to keep the multinationals happy.   This isn’t conspiracy theory, it’s out in the open.    See: Operation Ajax.    Iran loses a popular democratic government and gets a tyrant.

–  Sometime in the 80’s we shot down a passenger plane and killed something like 250.  That didn’t sit well and it didn’t sound like a legit accident.

–  We supported both Iraq and Iran during the war between the two states, causing the conflict to go on for almost a decade.  Both sides paid dearly, especially Iran.   When I was in Iraq there were lots of cripples from the war.   Definitely an ugly conflict that we facilitated.

–   Being behind killing a few scientists here and there.

So yeah, they have reasons to not trust us either.    Keep that in mind…

Anyways, the treaty isn’t going to magically stop war but it’s a great start and something that the US and Iran can build on, unless the Republicans and Jews, er, uh, Israeli lobby get their way.    I believe they are rational actors (note that they haven’t done anything to anyone in a long time) and I believe that deep down the Obama admin doesn’t want to have a war for whatever reason now – and in the recent past there has been a lot of saber rattling from our camp to the point where I figured this was the biggest threat to our stability and that war with Iran was pretty much certain.

I know a lot of people like to think that Iran is a sand-infested nation of goat-fucking terrorists, but it’s actually a pretty civilized and advanced place.   They do good work in the way of science & technology and have a beautiful culture with rich literature, music and even cinema.   Although they are very devout, they have a moderately progressive society where minorities (including Jews and Christians) get adequate representation in government and society and even women, despite the burka thing.    It’s really not the hellhole that people make it out to be.   Other nations have been dragging their feet on the sanctions thing, but are eager to do business with Iran…and the world economy could use a fully-integrated Iran for new markets, new ideas and resources.   It’s just good business.

At the end of the day, I have a hard time believing that Iran is all that evil and out to destroy the world.  I know they’re not exactly angels but neither are we.    I think we can reach a real equilibrium with these guys and coexist peacefully on the planet if we really want to.   Same with Cuba, of course.

So yeah, I think these are two positive developments that will help deescalate tensions in the world, even if it’s only the first step.    Good work to everyone who helped make it happen…

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | Leave a comment

Visiting The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

A couple weeks ago I went on my first “family vacation” with two women, three kids and one infant in a rented mini-van to the Black Hills of South Dakota.   When I saw that there was the Minuteman Missile museum on our way, I knew we had to stop.   As a Cold War History aficionado, I can’t just drive past something like that.

After several hours of driving, the familiar Midwestern cornbelt gave way to the vastness of the Great Plains and ultimately into the unglaciated steppes west of the Missouri River and ultimately to the unearthly Badlands of South Dakota.  Although there’s a certain charm to the Great Plains, they’re not exactly the most hospitable places to live due to the weather, resource availability and subsequent desolation.    If you look at one of those maps of the US at night where you can see the lights, you won’t really see shit except a trickle along major highways in a space that covers the western 2/3 of the Dakotas down into Oklahoma.   The isolation of this area made it a great place to keep a good share of the American nuclear missile arsenal, away from industrial and population centers.   There are silos scattered across the Dakotas, Nebraska and Wyoming.

I didn’t get a chance to tour the silos due to time constraints but the visitor center had all kinds of cool stuff from the era about civil defense and nuclear missiles, like the instruction manual for shooting a missile, manuals on digging bomb shelters, infographics on dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear war, pictures of equipment and descriptions of how the nuclear arsenal works…and stuff from the Soviet Union as well, which was cool to see.   They also had displays of some of the high/low/interesting points of the Cold War.

The thing that got me though was that pretty much everything was just taped to the wall.   Yeah, it’s like they went to Kinko’s and had them print something off at poster size and then used painter’s tape to affix it to the wall.    You would think that with all the money the feds usually throw at things like this they could get some display cases or something to dress it up a bit.   It was a little bizarre that something like this was so chinsy.

The recent attack on four Marines in Tennessee has maybe made some people think that technically we live on a battleground, but that hasn’t really been reality for a while.   It’s hard to think that during the Cold War pretty much everywhere in the US had a Soviet (or Chinese) ICBM with their name on it.   Some of the stuff at the museum made a good point on pointing this out that they were on the “front lines of the Cold War” right in the geographic center of North America (it’s really close, actually).   Although being a missile bubba in the USAF isn’t the sexiest job in the world, I’m sure those dudes came up with some pretty good gallows/sardonic humor knowing that if shit ever got hot, they had the lives of millions in the USSR at their fingertips and the USSR probably had several nukes pointed right at them.   It probably was a nerve wracking job on a lot of levels.

I’m never really one for gift shops, but this one was actually really interesting to me.   They had an awesome library of Cold War books and I even bought a t-shirt, which is something I normally don’t do.   It has a missile on it blasting through the USSR’s flag and apparently it looks a lot like a penis.   Even my mom thought so.    It’s still a sweet shirt though.

Anyways, I think this is worth the stop if you’re in the area (it’s right off I-94 at the Badlands) and into Cold War history at all.   I think I could’ve spent a little longer there than I did, but I was kind of drained after 8 hours on the road and little sleep the night before plus having the kids in tow.    As a big Red Dawn fan, it was also kind of nice to put a place to the “missile silos in the Dakotas” which were of course taken out in the preliminary hours in that fictional depiction of the Third World War.

On another note, I thought the rest of the trip in the Black Hills was really cool.   I didn’t realize how mountainy it really is there.   I just expected some rocky hills.   The scenery was beautiful and we saw all kinds of critters like bison, antelope, pronghorn deer, etc. out and about.    I loved driving through the windy mountain roads….although everyone else got carsick.  Definitely a part of the country that should’ve been on my radar a long time ago.    Check out the scenery:

 

11713865_10153449302851170_8838816339329926728_o

Check out the sweet painter’s tape:

11403138_10153449299511170_6396135273357524908_n

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | Leave a comment

The Chickens’ First Egg!

 

Yesterday before work I stopped in to check on my chickens and give them food and water before leaving.   I figured they were a couple weeks off from laying but on a whim I checked their nesting box….and found the first egg.  My eyes got as wide as saucers as I filled with boyish amazement and ran inside to show Mary this egg, which is about twice the size of a robin’s egg.   I have to admit, I was kind of giddy about it and told a few people at work.  There’s a feeling of achievement to it – congratulations on not getting these birds killed, here’s a tiny egg!

Mary is great at chronicling our lives via photo (I’m not) so she put this up on Facebook and Instagram:
11232220_10204815302367035_1842640426102205212_n

We’ll keep feeding them well and letting them free range for several hours a day and the eggs should start trickling in to the point where we’re getting some steady production from them.

So yeah, we did it.   Good job, us.

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | Leave a comment

A Few Thoughts As The Confederate Flag “Issue” Winds Down….

franklygif

So everyone went bat-shit crazy about the Confederate flag recently and it appears as if we’re ready as a society to move on to the next hot button issue.    Although I usually ignore this kind of thing, I actually thought this one was more interesting than some of the other ones we’ve had lately:   vaccinating kids (booooooring!), Kaitlyn Jenner, the slew of police shootings and gay bakeries.   The “debate” was full of the usual things you’d expect like accusations of racism and meaningless bullshit lines like “that flag stands for racism and ignorance!” and then the other side trying to prove that they’re not racist through various means (my favorite is the “look, here’s a youtube video of a black guy that agrees with me!”)

Personally, I respect the Confederate flag.   Aesthetically it’s kind of cool and I get what it represents.   The St. Andrew’s cross represents the overwhelming Scots-Irish heritage of the South, the stars represent the states.   It represents the geography and shared culture of the South.  It’s a flag that just makes sense for the people/place it represents.    I don’t really have any cultural ties to the South (although I do have some Scots-Irish heritage…some of my people wandered out of the Appalachians eventually landing in Iowa), I appreciate the strong sense of regionalism and the things that make them distinct.

Is it racist?   I don’t know.   I believe it has an ethnic component to it but I could understand a black person in Mississippi identifying with it as a regional thing.   In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Confederate flags on Southern rap albums, like Lil’ Jon, as a way to differentiate themselves from say, New York or LA.    If we want to demonizing it for being the flag that flew over legalized slavery, well, Ol’ Glory flew over slavery for about 100 years and that can’t be ignored.   The flag is used a symbol of Southern pride but yeah, it is also used to push buttons or to flat out intimidate at times.

One trend I’ve noticed every time this subject or secession comes up, a common response is something along the lines of talking about these “rednecks”, “hillbillies”, “inbred”, “white trash”, “trailer trash”, “crackers”, etc. then acting indignant that these people are unsatisfied with the current state of the Union or making some claim about how “we’re all one big happy family in the United States”.   Reading the comments on these kinds of stories makes me really understand why the South would want to leave.   It’s a little disturbing that it’s socially acceptable to completely shit all over these people because it’s all done in the name of peace, love and equality.    We live in a society where people get raked across the coals for saying things deemed insensitive to other groups but it’s completely ok to call someone who lives in a trailer park “trailer trash” or white people below a certain socioeconomic threshold in the wrong locations “white trash”.    There’s no consistency and often it’s the people who howl the loudest when people make comments about other groups that are the first in line to take jabs at Southerners.

At the national level I always get a little nervous when Southerners, “red states” and/or rural people are in the hot seat because being from “flyover country” in Iowa because we’re probably the next in line.   We get a lot of condescending attitudes from people on the coasts and/or major cities as well, just not anywhere near the same extent as the rural South gets.    I guess there’s a little bit of “places no one cares about” solidarity there.

The other thing that I think has been bizarre about this issue is how often I’ve seen/heard things like “traitors” and “unamerican” about Confederate flag supporters and the gloating over defeating/conquering the South from the kinds of people that you normally wouldn’t expect that kind of talk from.   You have center-leftists out there sounding like Joe McCarthy or the kind of blood-and-guts flagwavers of the post 9/11 era.   “Why would you support the flag that fired on American troops at Fort Sumter?!?!?”.   It’s just strange to get so worked up over the “bad guys” in a war that’s been over for 150 years.    There’s a bumper sticker that’s been around for a while with a crossed out Confederate flag that says “you lost, get over it”.   Well, United States of America, you won, get over it.    We’re still buying into 150 year old war propaganda about the people 400 miles away and how evil they are.

The “how dare you go against the Federal government” attitude is a little alarming.    After my own experiences in Iraq and looking into some of the shady things the US government has pulled, I don’t buy the narrative that the US government is always in the right and the official story is the truth.   Yeah, slavery was bad and the South shouldn’t have had them, but I have a really hard time accepting the idea that the Civil War was good against evil.   Hell, there were slaves in some Union states that didn’t get freed until after the war.    I think I have a different view on the South’s motives than the average Northerner would.   Maybe that’s part of it?

The other thing I think is interesting is the fact that the people who fly the Confederate flag as a sign of Southern pride AND the people who fly it just to push buttons really don’t give a fuck what a bunch of people in New York and Minnesota think about it.  In a way this issue is kind of one-sided and although some politicians are caving on having the flag on government property, no one is going to lose any sentimental feelings for the flag or be convinced of anything different.   If anything, I think this little flair-up will just add to the “rebel” mystique of it.   It’s unacceptable to a bunch of liberals up in Boston?  Good!

The cultural antagonism between the North and South goes back a long time, some have even made the case that it goes back to clashes between the lowland Scots (ancestors of the South) and the English (the ancestors of the Puritans that settled the Northeast and ran For more on that subject I highly recommend James Webb’s Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America , which is one of the best popular history books I’ve ever read and it made me feel proud to be (partially) descended from “the wrong kind of white people”, as the “Things White People Like” blog describes them.

Although the “debate” is kind of one-sided, there are a lot of people coming to the “rescue” of the Confederate flag.   I think this has more to do with feeling like their group (whites, Southerners, conservatives, Christians, rural folks, etc.) being attacked rather than defending the actions of a defunct Confederate government.

Oh, one last thing…  The idea that banning a flag or sweeping it under the rug is going to stop things like the Charleston shooting or is in any way a meaningful response to that tragedy is completely fucking stupid.   Only in America would we believe that a bullshit gesture like that will keep all the bad things away from us.   I understand not liking the flag, not wanting to see it or viewing it as a sign of institutional racism on our continent but I guarantee you the guy that did it wasn’t inspired at all by the flag flying over the South Carolina courthouse or “General Lee” on Dukes of Hazard.   It almost seems like a cop-out to avoid having a difficult conversation about race relations in the United States.   We like to do things like this instead of focusing on the real, underlying issues that can be uncomfortable to talk about.

 

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | 2 Comments

Puerto Rico is in Deep Shit Now

In 1898 the United States snatched the island of Puerto Rico, along with some other choice real estate away from a withering Spanish empire.   Strategically the island was important as a gateway into the Caribbean and Latin America, which we affectionately dubbed our “backyard”.   Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, was also capable of producing tons of sugar – a commodity that the mainland United States demanded and couldn’t grow enough to keep up.

Since the end of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico has had a bizarre relationship with the United States.   She’s a territory of the United States.   Puerto Ricans are US Citizens, but within Puerto Rico they do not have political representation in Washington.   The tax laws are different, they serve in the US military and the administration of the Island works a little differently than a US State.   Culturally there’s a big gap between “middle America” and Puerto Rico but we recognize the Puerto Rican contribution to cities like New York and Chicago as well as South Florida.  Oh yeah, everyone loves J-Lo and the slew of MLB players from there.

Based on the upstart imperial mindset of the United States at the time and the tangible gains adding an island like Puerto Rico could add to our portfolio, the arrangement made sense.   Today the arrangement is maybe a little more complicated.   I’ve heard from more than one Puerto Rican mouth that they believe that the corporations in the United States benefit from Puerto Rico by being able to tap into cheaper labor sources…and Puerto Rico benefits by being able to send their riff-raff up north to find menial jobs in the mainland USA.

The island is something of a cash cow for American corporations and investors, or at least it was.   In addition to discounted prices on labor, profits made in Puerto Rico were tax-free up until recently.  This included interest on bank deposits.  Due to maritime restrictions placed by the federal government, foreign ships could not unload goods in Puerto Rican ports and continue on to the US – only American ships can carry cargo between two points in the US (the Jones Act).   Due to Puerto Rico being a relatively small market, it doesn’t pay for foreign cargo vessels to make a special trip to the island.   This shipping SNAFU makes everything more expensive on the ground and makes American goods more competitive.

Investment and trade with the mainland helped Puerto Rico become the most advanced economy in Latin America, with a per capita GDP slightly higher than Uruguay and Chile and ranking higher on the HDI than any other Latin American nation.  Although at the top of the pack south of the border, Puerto Rico is notably poorer than Mississippi, the poorest state in the Union.

Puerto Rico also benefited from profits on their government issued bonds being tax free at the federal, state and local level.   Due to the tax benefits and promises of high returns on top of that, many American bond funds eagerly gobbled up Puerto Rico’s debt.    The high demand for Puerto Rican debt gave the Puerto Rican authorities the incentive to, well, issue more of it.   Today Puerto Rico is $72 billion in debt.

$72 billion is pretty hefty sum.  Puerto Rico has a population of about 3.5 million and a GDP around $100 billion.   That makes the math simple enough, Puerto Rico has a debt to GDP ratio of around 72%.    To put it into perspective, my native state of Iowa has a similar population, a GDP of about $176 billion and a debt of $21.5 billion.   If Puerto Rico were a state, her GDP and per capita income would be well below that of Mississippi, our perennial economic basement dweller.   Puerto Rico’s debt figure of $72 billion is similar to the state of Virginia’s $74 billion – with a population over twice as large and a GDP over four times as large.

Maybe Puerto Rico can grow out of this debt?   No, that doesn’t look promising.   Section 936 of the US Tax Code, the one that allowed US corporations to take profits tax-free in Puerto Rico expired, taking away one of the big incentives for businesses to operate in Puerto Rico.   Local employment laws are by some accounts restrictive.    Energy, the oft-overlooked driving factor of economic growth is considerably more expensive down there, making the cost of everything go up.    The workforce of Puerto Rico is getting older and stagnating.  Brain drain and “drain” in general to the mainland is still an issue.    There just aren’t any promising signs of a big Puerto Rican recovery.   A significant portion of the population relies on government transfers (social security, welfare, medicaid, food stamps, etc.) and as it looks now, it’ll probably stay that way.

It’s important to note that the public corporations like the Puerto Rican Power Authority and the Government Development Bank owe about $25 billion in total.   This debt is basically on the backs of the Puerto Rican people as well, just on a different accounting ledger.  Cutbacks in infrastructure will exasperate the problem and keep Puerto Rico from developing a competitive environment.

The Puerto Rican government has been raising already high local taxes (there’s no federal taxes so there’s more blood from the turnip to squeeze) and cutting back benefits at a time when people need the money the most.  It’s causing a lot of resentment towards the government, as they’re the ones who squandered the money away and racked up the debt.  One difference between Puerto Rico and Greece is that in Greece there’s a widely-enough held sentiment that the Greek people benefited from racking up the debt through lucrative government jobs and exorbitant pensions, whereas no one is saying that about Puerto Rico.  It really does seem like a case of politicians simply pissing away borrowed money for so many years.

I’m not sure exactly how this will play out, but I think it will cause some little tremors in the US stock market and probably capture some mainstream attention once everyone has settled down about the Confederate flag or whatever the hot button issue is today.    I don’t think there’s a lot of resentment towards the US federal government in the sense that they’ll be pointing the fingers at us for causing their problems, but I think more than anything it’ll be the other way around – Mainland Americans will be looking down their noses as Puerto Rico.  Maybe Donald Trump will suggest booting them out of the …… uh…..little thing we have going on and a segment of the population will agree.    More level-headed people will give Puerto Rico the Ward Clever speech about responsibility and then a few will ask Ward if he was too hard on the Beaver.

Here’s the other thing:   While we’re talking down to the Puerto Ricans, we’re actually in worse shape than they are.   We will compare the Puerto Rican debt to that of individual states and maybe smaller sovereign nations, but in Puerto Rico they only have local and territorial debt.    On the mainland we have local and state debt, but we also have federal debt which Puerto Rico doesn’t have (at least not to the same extent).    Sure comparable sized states have a quarter of the debt of Puerto Rico, but we all also have our share of the $17 trillion dollar US Federal debt.    So we might want to choose our words and actions carefully when it comes to dealing with the Puerto Rican debt crisis.

Although I don’t think Uncle Sam will get the lion’s share of the blame for this on the island, I think it will increase left wing populist sentiments that are all so common in Latin America.   It’ll also increase sappy patriotic sentiments towards the US down there as some of their leaders will try to play up the attachment to butter up to their favorite uncle for a little loan…and honestly, they will have some real, tangible things to say.   Like I said earlier, Puerto Ricans are a big part of some of our biggest cities, they serve in our military at high rates and everyone loves “Jenny from the block”.    The cultural dynamics will be interesting…

At the end of the day, I don’t know how they will solve this or if we’ll see a complete breakdown in Puerto Rico – our outer fringe.   I hope the people down there find a way to make it work….

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | Leave a comment

Red Army by Gabe Polsky

I did a review of Red Army, the documentary about Soviet Hockey for another website and figured I’d throw it up here as well.     Enjoy.

Red Army is a documentary by Gabe Polsky that follows Soviet hockey legend Slava Fetisov and a small core of players through the rise and fall of the Soviet Union’s world-dominating hockey program and into the present day. It was released to a handful of theaters around the country in February and was released for streaming last week. So far it’s gotten a ton of good reviews and some awards from various film festivals and I’m going to have to add myself to the list of people who give it a thumbs up.
As a hockey player and a Cold War history aficionado, I figured this would be something that would interest me. A lot of what happened behind the iron curtain is still shrouded in a little bit of mystery and Red Army shines some light on the day-to-day life of the players, the characters involved and the bureaucracy of the system they played for.
Russia is kind of synonymous with hockey these days. There’s a shitload of players in the NHL from Russia and they’re always a force to be reckoned with in the Olympics. The Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League only plays second fiddle to the NHL in the world. Hell, Russian President Vladimir Putin plays hockey (and even recently scored eight goals in one game!) and is a huge advocate for participation in the sport.
Although they’ve taken the sport and ran with it, hockey is relatively young in Russia when compared to North America and Europe. The sport was introduced in the 1920’s by the Soviet government and then put on a bit of a hiatus due to some other events, like wars, five year plans and purges. Hockey was picked back up with a vengeance once the dust settled and in no time at all they were dominating the world of international hockey. As the legend goes, they just had a mile-high idea of what hockey was supposed to be like and someone acquired an international rulebook and the Soviets filled in the gaps in isolation and came up with a system of hockey that valued teamwork, creativity and finesse.    Red Army picks up the story from here, focusing on Slava Fetisov’s experiences during the rise of the Soviet hockey program then the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

They didn’t exactly have professional hockey as we know it today, but they did have teams that were representative of factions of the government and worker’s collectives. Even today some of the names of the teams in the KHL carry this legacy – Spartak, Lokomotiv, SKA St Petersburg, CSKA Moscow, etc. The focus of the documentary is CSKA (Central Sporting Club of the Army) Moscow, which was the team that represented the Red Army and was made up of soldiers. Here’s the catch: In a country with forced conscription, the best hockey players were inducted into the Army and put on the team. So not only did CSKA Moscow get first crack at talent, they were able to keep them within the system and develop chemistry between the players at levels beyond that of Western teams where the individual players have a lot of mobility and the makeup of teams can change drastically from year to year. Because CSKA wasn’t technically a professional team, the players were allowed to compete in the Olympics and the Soviet Olympic roster was overwhelmingly comprised of CSKA Moscow players.
Fetisov, charmingly combative and gruff with the interviewer, takes the viewer back to his early childhood days of hockey in the 1950’s. They had plenty of ice in the Soviet Union, but everything else was at a premium. His parents had to save and shrewdly acquire gear for young Slava off the black market but he showed enough talent to eventually get accepted into a youth program sponsored by CSKA Moscow that groomed young players for the possibility of landing a spot on the team.
The documentary ties the rise of the Soviet team with the rise of the Soviet Union on the world stage. They built atom bombs, put a man into space, socialism began to spread in the world, they controlled an empire that stretched from deep into Central Europe all the way to a few miles off the coast of Alaska….and started racking up medals in hockey. They felt pretty good about themselves in the decades following World War II and they definitely counted their meteoric rise in the world of hockey as a feather in their ushanka. There’s even a clip where an exasperated Wayne Gretzky, representing Team Canada, throws his hands up and says “we just can’t compete with these guys”.    It must’ve been very unnerving for Canadian (and American, for that matter) hockey fans to see “the Great One” make a statement like that.
Although their success seemed unshakable, the documentary focuses on the cost that the individual players paid for it. Notorious CSKA Moscow/USSR Olympic coach Viktor Tikhonov is by all accounts painted as a complete asshole by his players that demanded of them strenuous training eleven months of the year and a highly regimented life in a military-style barracks. They knew of the disparity in standard of living between the Soviet Union and the West due to visits. At one point in the documentary they ask Fetisov about the differences between the players that comprised the core of CSKA Moscow. He kept insisting that “we’re all the same”. By that he meant that these guys weren’t able to pursue much else besides hockey and just about everything they ever did was done collectively. There wasn’t any room for anything else.

The American viewer will probably go into this documentary with the 1980 Olympics in mind, that event isn’t dwelt upon in Red Army but it is acknowledged that it was a low point for them. Speaking of low points, this was approximately the time when Fetisov and company really started questioning if the personal sacrifices were worth it and cynicism and apathy crept into their ranks, although they continued to be a powerhouse right through the collapse of the Soviet Union and beyond.
I thought the most interesting thing about this documentary and their story is that Fetisov and company were always missing something throughout their hockey career. The irony that they had the most creative system of hockey within the most oppressive system off the ice has been pointed out many times. They enjoyed professional success and favor beyond that of the typical Soviet citizen, but they paid dearly for it by being pushed to their limits eleven months out of the year – the simple life of the average Soviet citizen would’ve looked pretty damn appealing at times. When they finally obtained freedom and riches beyond their wildest dreams by signing NHL contracts, they found it difficult to adjust to the individualistic and physical North American style of play and socially shunned.   While they didn’t miss the Soviet bureaucracy, they missed their native Russia.  They had developed into such a cohesive unit throughout their trials and tribulations in CSKA Moscow and the USSR Olympic team that it was hard for them to function as individuals without each other.
Style-wise, there’s nothing to complain about. They picked some good people to interview, found some good stock footage of the players training, playing and even a bit of “letting their hair down” during offtime. I got a chuckle out of the way Fetisov bulldogs the interviewer throughout the documentary and I thought it was cool when they would show a name they would throw it up in Cyrillic first then it would fade to English. I would’ve liked for them to spend a little bit more time on the history of hockey in the USSR and the system they created, but they did show some great examples of the results – the plays these guys could make were mind boggling. It’s definitely worth checking out.

 

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | Leave a comment

Rising Egg Prices, Bird Flu and the Chicken Holocaust

So today I heard that eggs at the grocery store pretty much doubled in price in response to a significant portion of the commercial laying flock being “liquidated” due to the bird flu outbreak.   I figured the prices would go up, but not quite THAT drastic.   Most reports I’ve seen are saying that they expect prices to remain high for another couple of years before the losses are replaced.    My guess is that prices will remain high right now while it’s in the forefront and then find an equilibrium slightly higher than the price of say, a month ago within the next couple months.

I’ve read that some restaurants/food service vendors have had trouble sourcing eggs and some grocery stores have been limiting purchases to three dozen per person or something along those lines.    The price of liquid eggs that would be used in large commercial operations went from about 75 cents a pound to about $1.50 a pound….and that cost will get passed on to you, dear consumer.

Deep in America’s hinterland, in large parts of the state of Iowa, not much really happens except these large commercial farming operations.  I believe we’re the largest producer of eggs in the nation (at least we were as of recent) and this has hit the area pretty hard.   Throughout the spring you would hear reports on the radio of rural counties declaring an emergency due to the presence or real threat of the disease spreading through their flocks….and there’s not much you can do except kill the chickens before it spreads.    A few weeks ago my dad, who is a truck driver, had to spend a Saturday driving to a remote part of the state to deliver nitrous oxide to gas a million chickens at one operation.   Hearing about these things is hard to stomach, but I suppose that’s the reality of the industrial farming system we have.    I’m sure that if we were a state of smaller farms with more locally scaled and diverse flocks, this bird flu thing would play out much differently.

I think this is the first time in my life that I can remember where something pretty much used every day was really in short supply.     If there’s a bad citrus harvest or something one year, the consumer usually just buys something else.   There really aren’t substitutes for eggs and they’re in almost everything.   Yes, I’m aware of baking with potato starch, flax, ect. instead of eggs, but it’s not like you can make a potato starch omelet or McMuffin.   Although I don’t think this is going to be as big of a deal as they say, I hope this temporary surge causes people to think a little bit about limits on resources and resiliency…and maybe make some people think about keeping their own chickens?   Looks like I got in on that just in time…

We feed the dogs eggs daily.   Might have to switch to cheap hotdogs or something instead until this passes over.   They’ll probably like that better anyways.

Posted in Economics / Personal Finance | Leave a comment