Walk on By

 A meditation on narcotics in Orange County

There is world here in Southern California that exists under the radar of most people. In a land of wealth and privilege and hope there is a dark underside that we choose to ignore.

It starts in grade schools that fail to meet the needs of their students. Sometimes it is the school’s failing, or the student’s or their families. It can be the latch-key kid or the rich kid with too much time on their hands or the one with troubles fitting in or even some darker, more evil demons. For these demons are very real.

A weak moment. A desire to make the hurt go away. A desire to just get high and not deal with it.

Back when I was running the streets of New York, it was, as Grandmaster Flash said, “fun, baby”. But we learned damned fast that that wasn’t true. If you climb onto the dragon’s back, the dragon always wins. That was thirty years ago and kids are still making the same mistakes and nothing has changed.

When you talk to some of these kids, the story slowly comes out. The reasons for using come out. And what they are using today is far more dangerous than even a generation ago. The drugs are purer and more addictive and more damaging than ever. It seems that every week a kid in Orange County ends up in the morgue from an overdose.

In a time when alcohol is readily available and pot is virtually legal and incredibly powerful, the slide down into madness and death is easy with just a little bit of grease. This is not figurative. It is real as a heart attack.

The price of heroin is at an all-time low and it is easy to find. Just ask any of these kids if you need a hookup. Afghanistan, which supplies 95%+ of the world’s heroin, sees production grow every year. The poppy fields stop at the edges of our firebases. There are rumors that some of the heroin arrives at Camp Pendleton or transits Pendleton because there is less scrutiny. Sort of like the bad old days of the Vietnam War. 100 miles south of here the cartels are bringing it over in truck and boatloads. A Coast Guardsman died last week in a drug bust off of Santa Cruz Island, 100 miles north of here. The War on Drugs has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and is an utter failure.

The shrapnel from the drug trade is all over Orange County and no one pays attention. From the grave of the millionaire kid who “had a car accident” and whose family could have the records altered to a family at Holy Sepulcher grieving a 20 year old kid who OD’d “popping” something way too powerful for them to the kid with the melted synapses at the sheriff’s Theo Lacey facility, it pervades our culture.

Orange County has the highest density of sober living homes in the country. These are the ones who are trying to kick it. With AA meetings and NA meetings and help from their friends they’re doing the best they can. But the temptation can be right there sometimes. A quick hit that no one may notice that may or may not be the hot shot that kills them.

And they fall down and try to get back up again.

And most of us walk on by.

Enabling does no one any favors. Legalizing pot simply indulges stoners for the most part. One of the few growth industries in California in the past several years has been pot clinics. The drug companies legally produce enough oxycontin pills annually to overdose every man, woman, and child in China or more. “Pill Mills” and doctors writing sometimes hundreds of prescriptions for drug dealers and abusers are page 3 or page 4 news.

The fact is that our leaders don’t care or are profiting from our collective addiction. The entire trend of our society has been away from “right conduct”. And yet the people who are trying the hardest to help these souls are faced with indifferent families and indifferent leaders and a moral compass that has been purposely ripped from its moorings.

Funding is nonexistent and rehabilitation has at times been a for-profit industry.

Evil exists, and nowhere more so than in the world of narcotics. In our nonjudgmental world today some might say it is a matter of personal choices. But once that monkey is on their backs, it is no longer a choice. It is a cold hand slowly strangling the life out of them.

And most of us will walk on by.

Bush vs. Obama – Disaster Edition

There is another strange disconnect just before this election. As some New Yorkers dumpster dive and many Jerseyites spend another cold night without basic services, the president has been bouncing across the map like a pinball trying to shore up his election chances. What is more strange is how the press have given him a hall pass for doing so.

In 2005 in the aftermath of Katrina, the media made it its mission to blame Bush for every hiccup in the relief efforts. Whether it was the response of the National Guard or the New Orleans Police or FEMA, it was “Bush’s Fault”. On the other side of the Mississippi though, Governor Haley Barbour and his team quietly went about rebuilding his equally damaged state and never was the breakdown in leadership in Louisiana mentioned.

In New Jersey this week non-union power crews were shunned and went to Pennsylvania instead. 1,000,000 homes and businesses are without power in New Jersey. Rescuers are still finding new victims as of this morning.

400,000 homes and businesses on Long Island are without power with temperatures in the 30’s and 30,000+ are homeless in New York City. There are few if any television cameras. The election is sucking up all the air time.

The President on the other hand left the White House this morning for stops today in New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio and Colorado. He will not be back in Washington until Tuesday night. How can he have time to deal with the crisis if he is spending all of his time campaigning?

And the response from the media? crickets……

A new storm is moving in on New York and New Jersey and temperatures are in the icebox. Hundreds of thousands of people need shelter now. Would that the media might hold the President’s actions up to scrutiny, but we can be certain that isn’t going to happen. They have proven themselves completely partisan.

What will it take to force the media to do their job? How many people will have to die before they shine the spotlight on the limited efforts and engagement of our government?

Senator Coburn’s Government Waste List – The new phone book’s here!

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has come up with his latest Waste Book listing many of the wonderful, bizarre spending projects our federal government funds. The preface points out that since the last budget was passed on April 29, 2009, our government has spent $11.2 trillion and added more than $4.8 trillion to the national debt which is now over $16 Trillion.

One of the first takeaways is that the NFL, and many other sports leagues are classified as non-profits, costing the economy approximately $91 Million/year in tax revenue. Roger Goodell and Jerry Jones have the best of all possible worlds; rapacious ticket prices; stadiums financed by local government; and no taxes on the partnerships that are the major sports leagues. I guess we should have pity on the poor NHL owners, but the PGA is right in there as well. There’s nothing quite like subsidizing professional golfers.

Burger King, KFC, Godfather’s Pizza, and McDonald’s all accept food stamps and while cities and school districts are waging war on soft drinks, over $2 billion in Food Stamp money was spent on these products last year. In Seattle, Starbuck’s is a popular food stamp item.

Parque Alegria, a series of 10 minute telenovelas being broadcast on Spanish language stations at a cost of $3-8 Million, including time buys, instructs viewers on how much healthier the Food Stamp program is, weaning them from El Pollo Loco to Burger King, I guess.

An unused airport in the Senator’s home state comes in for over $750,000 in subsidies over tha past few years. Morroccan pottery classes for $27 Million, Alex! Yep, we funded a series of useless classes in Morocco, where they have a ceramics tradition dating back over 1,000 years. There is also funding for NASA to develop pizza on Mars.

In another project called “Look! Squirrel!”  San Diego State University and UC Davis have developed a robotic squirrel that  “will help perform public outreach, mentor students, and develop the next generation of robot animals.”

For the 1%, the government is also funding marketing programs for American caviar producers.In Alaska, $3.3 Million was spent subsidizing a ferry to nowhere in Alaska. This is not the ferry the bridge to nowhere was supposed to replace.

Senator Coburn also points out that it now costs us $0.02 to produce a penny. And we’re supposed to believe that the Health Care Bill will bring costs down? And yes, there is a program funded by the NSF to test gaydar.

Pepsi got $1.6 million to build a yogurt factory in New York. USC in Los Angeles got $40K to develop a Henry David Thoreau video game. Apparently the user simply contemplates the screen for months at a time. The Army spent $1.5 million last year to develop combat ready beef jerky.

The GSA, that hard partying junketeering fun-loving crowd, spent $24 Million on trophies and awards. Everyone gets a trophy at the GSA!

The list goes on, but during this hard-fought election season, some light reading helps break the tension.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Krugman’s harmonic dissonance on UK economic policy

Paul Krugman today ripped into the British Government’s efforts to get the country’s economy back on track, calling austerity fundamentally mad. As one of the world’s most prominent Keynsians I am not surprised, but as a rational thinker I am deeply disturbed.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has also expressed her reservations regarding deep government cuts. And yet profligate spending policies without corresponding balance have drained government coffers around the world and we are standing on the edge of a deeper crisis than in 2007 based upon exactly the economic policies so strongly advocated by Mr. Krugman. The fundamental rule that at some point governments run out of other peoples money has still not sunk in.

John Maynard Keynes was reacting to the Great Depression when he formulated his policies and they began to be implemented. His work on government stimulus assumed that  structural deficits were acceptable in the short-term but did not address a long-term in some cases running for decades with interest compounding along the way.

The postwar economic boom funded the extension of the social welfare state. Huge and incredibly expensive promises were made that Mr. Keynes would not have comprehended. Keynes argued that nations avoid deflation even at the cost of allowing their currency to depreciate in order to keep internal prices stable.

But now we are faced with core commodity inflation. There simply are not enough resources to go around. There are deep structural changes occurring in the global economy.

Both the ECB and Federal Reserve have been running the printing presses at an accelerating rate which has set off the first salvos of currency wars. Mr. Krugman and respectfully, Ms. Lagarde have also failed to note the results of expansive monetary policy and public spending in their host country. The Yen continued to rise in value from the ¥180/$ level of the early 90’s to ¥78/$ today, making their economy uncompetitive. The massive shift of manufacturing in China partially driven by the currency shift not only in Japan but elsewher has also had a deep impact on the pillars of the global economy.

Since the early 1990’s after the Japanese banking collapse, that government has engaged in a Keynsian stimulus program aimed at reviving the economy. The Great Tohoku Earthquake was in many ways another Keynsian  economic event, but the result has still been deeply damaging economically. Imports are cheap, but there are no jobs and the debt burden of the Japanese government is growing, not shrinking.

Japanese national debt as a percentage of GDP is the highest in the world with the United States and the UK right behind. This is financed primarily by Japanese savings, which mitigates the damage somewhat, but the reality is that the government is still teetering on the edge of its own abyss, but simply owed to its rapidly aging citizens, who are now putting an even greater strain on retirement funds.

The horrific debt of the United States was one of the other primary topics of the IMF meeting.

While Keynes argued for government spending to even out the depths of financial crises, the constant reliance by modern governments on public debt not only creates the environment in which we find ourselves, but sucks the oxygen from private capital markets where the real engines of growth reside.

Krugman has been hectoring world leaders for more stimulus for the past year just as he has ignored the economic realities staring him right in the face. The bill must eventually be settled and government does not create value; it simply redistributes and regulates economic activity.

He has gotten the stimulus he sought in the world’s two largest economies; Europe and America. But he seems to have forgotten the study of history. Massive stimulus is a very limited weapon with unintended consequences.

The news out of this weekend’s Tokyo meeting is not good. There are many brushfires in the global economy and the tinder for a major economic event is very dry. Every night I pray for some answer, for if we do not find new answers, we are doomed to repeat the past.

 

Twitiots threaten riots if Obama loses

The media has begun to pick up stories of thousands of Twitter tweets threatening riots and mayhem should Barack Obama lose the upcoming election. Among them are:

“If obama dont get re-elected & romney wins .. on life every white persons getting pistol whipped and im startin a riot.” (SOURCE)

“If Obama don’t win lets start a riot so Romney know what he’s getting himself into.” (SOURCE)

“You know you ain’t shit if you gotta “MAKE” Mafukas vote for ROMNEY ! …. Mannnn OBAMA better get back in office . Or BLACK FOLKS will riot.” (SOURCE)

“If Romney wins im goin on a rampage.” (SOURCE)

“If Mitt Romney wins the election I think its our duties as Black folks to riot and fuck shit up.” (SOURCE)

“If every action IS met with an equal and opposite reaction ..what should workers do to employers if Romney’s elected? #Riot in the streets!!” (SOURCE)

“If Romney becomes president let’s all start a riot.” (SOURCE)

“I Heard Mitt Romney , Tryna Take Away Food Stamps , If He Do .”IMA START A RIOT , IMA START A RIOT.” (SOURCE)

“If romney wins, imma start a mf’n riot! Rns.” (SOURCE)

If Romney wins I’m Starting a Riot….Who’s WIT ME???”

“I Hope The USA Is Well Aware That If In The Event This Character Romney Wins The Election, The People Will Start A Country Wide Riot! #Power”

“If Romney is elected president, its gon be a riot its gon be a riot.”

“If ROMNEY GETS IN THE WHITE HOUSE …U MIGHT AS WELL KILL ME NOW …..CAUSE ITS GONNA BE A ************ RIOT !!!”

“If Romney became President and took away welfare Downtown Cincinnati would become a riot”

“If Romney takes away food stamps 2 Chainzz in this bit IMMA START A RIOT”

“If Romney wins. (which i highly doubt) THERE WILL BE A RIOT—”

In this age of instant communication there is no mute button for the most inane comment, much less insane. In this age of Homeland Security where a huge surveillance network is now in place and hundreds of millions of rounds of small arms ammunition have been purchased recently by government agencies ranging from Homeland Security to the Weather Service and police departments around the country are better armed than the Belgian Army, it is foolish to say the least to make such comments.

Having experienced Watts first hand and the Rodney King riots from nearby, mob violence is a terrible thing and hurts those communities most which can least afford it.

The only solution is for leaders in the communities affected take to the internet and the media to condemn such action forcefully now.  Such idiocy needs to be nipped in the bud. We are all Americans. We are all Americans together and want the best for our country.

We face difficult times and tough choices, but we can only succeed if we work together in our mutual self interests. The language of division and demagoguery have already taken a toll on civil society. It is time to grow up and get back on track.

 

A Disengaged President

There has been a strange turn in the last few weeks as we have learned more about what gos on in the White House and the political and personal isolation the President has created. In Bob Woodward’s latest book, “The Price of Politics”, the Woodward describes a president antagonistic to his opponents to a toxic degree and who has distanced himself even from his own party leadership. Woodwards describes a “monumental communications gap” between the President and House Majority Leader John Boehner at the critical moment in the 2010 budget negotiations.

Then, the New York Times ran an article regarding the President’s response to the Arab Spring in which he is described as having distanced himself from Arab and Middle eastern rulers and leaders, engaging them through intermediaries and minimal direct contact. This is especially strange in view of his attempt to engage the Islamic world when he spoke at Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2009.

That he did not consult with any of those leaders prior to pulling the rug out from under Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011 sent our relations in the Gulf into the freezer.

We were told early on in the Obama Administration that the President had surrounded himself with a highly loyal cadre, and at the same time we have seen an unprecedented number of czars reporting directly to the President and subverting the normal communications channels.

His complete disengagement with the loyal opposition in Congress is also an established fact. But when you are not talking to your own people, that becomes a real problem. This includes his various and sundry Cabinet members and advisers as well. His truancy at national security meetings is legendary.

Last night in the first debate we once again saw a disengaged president. He was ill prepared, disjointed, and quite obviously off of his game. Prior to the debate, the party spinners were out in force reducing expectations, but it is generally agreed that the first debate was a disaster for the President.

The President is more comfortable, it seems, campaigning and schmoozing. Neither requires real engagement and speaking to worshipful audiences roaring their approval is a great salve to the ego.

The country has at different times had a number of presidents who have for reasons of health been unable to completely fulfill their obligations. Wilson after his stroke and Ronald Reagan in the latter half of his second term come to mind. At a critical time in his administration, Wilson was unable to campaign for his greatest program, the League of Nations and for a less onerous treaty with Germany after World War I.

But President Obama is a man in the full flower of life at an age when his achievements could have been herculean. Instead as Mr. Romney pointed out last night he instead placed all of his prestige and wasted his political capital on a highly unpopular health care bill that was one of the most imperfect pieces of legislation in our history.

The one thing a president has is access to the most remarkable set of advisers and data in the history of our planet. And yet with all of these tools at his disposal, he has made a conscious decision to be remote and to go it alone.

Mr. Obama himself argued for the Lincolnian “team of rivals” when he formed his own cabinet and yet has done more end runs around his Cabinet than any of his predecessors.

The Presidency is the loneliest job in the world. It all comes down to one man’s decision. But to isolate oneself as the President has done is to create an echo chamber where decisions are made in a vacuum. As this is a very dangerous thing. Consensus and consent are critical to any major decision, and while the President’s party has marched in lockstep, very little has been accomplished because of the polarization that originates at the top.

It’s not just about policy. It is also about the ability to do the job effectively, and in this, the president has failed.

The Best Post Debate Quotes

“Did the president send out his body double tonight?”  – Time Magazine

“Mitt Romney came in with a chainsaw. ” – James Carville

“If Romney keeps this up…Obama is going to vote for him!” – Michael Moore re-tweet

“This is what happens when u pick John Kerry as your debate coach.” – Michael Moore

“Romney was able to ‘out-Obama’ Obama. On the connection piece, on the authenticity piece, on the being able to tell the story.” – Van Jones

“This is a rolling calamity for Obama. He’s boring, abstract, and less human-seeming than Romney!” – Andrew Sullivan

“He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight.” – Andrew Sullivan

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter.” – Bill Maher

“When I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney,”  – Barack Obama

“When you go to 5,000 feet and you only have a few hours to adjust — I don’t know, maybe”… – Al Gore

“But here’s the great news for Republicans: We have a candidate who is going to do extraordinarily well on Wednesday night, the first time he has the opportunity to stand on the same stage as the President of the United States.” – Chris Christie – September 30

“The debate was a wipeout.” – Chris Christie – October 3

“Where did the favourite go?” – Le Figaro

“I don’t think anyone has spoken to him like that in four years. He lost, It was a surprise to us all.”
– David Gergen
“Obama could barely look at Mitt Romney” – Gloria Berger
“Last night, I watched Barack Obama morph into Adlai Stevenson, I had the particular advantage of seeing the debate in a bar in my fair state of Ohio, at a “watch party” organized by the local Democratic Party.  I heard two to three faint cheers during the debate and then silence and private conversations as the hour and half proceeded. Obama lost most of that local audience that he should have energized.” – Kevin Mattson
“We have our knives out! We go after the people and the facts! What was [Obama] doing tonight — he went in there disarmed!” – Chris Matthews
“I personally do not know who won this debate.” This means . . . yeah, Mitt won. He beat the hell out of Obama.” – Rachel Maddow
“OK, so Obama did a terrible job in the debate, and Romney did well” – Paul Krugman

Obama “created a problem for himself on Social Security tonight. He agrees with Mitt Romney.” “I was absolutely stunned tonight.” – Ed Schultz

“Obama came across like a man who would rather have been watching basketball on TV at the White House or even authorizing new drone attacks.” – Der Spiegel