THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Revisiting Top National, International, State & Local Topics
16th December, 2021 0
In the deeply divided world of politics, 2021 was the year where one person’s conspiracy theory stood firm as another person’s truth, leaving little room for common conversation, and demonstrating that as we move into the new year Americans desperately need a conspiracy theory they can all agree upon.
There have been actual conspiracies in history. There was a conspiracy to murder Caesar. And to murder Anwar Sadat. The Bolsheviks did conspire to take power and so did Guy Fawkes. Sometimes they succeeded – often surprising the conspirators – and sometimes they didn’t. Back in 1976 the House Select Committee on Assassinations re-examined the Kennedy Assassination and determined (in a divided opinion) that most likely more than one gunman was involved, proving that when it comes to conspiracy theories there are acceptable and un-acceptable ones.
One thing we do know for certain is that In 2021, the laws, customs, and habits of the heart that had defined the American republic since the 18th century became things of the past. Government disarticulated society by penalizing ordinary social intercourse and precluding the rise of spontaneous opinion. Together with corporate America, it continues to suffocate minds with relentless, pervasive, identical, and ever-evolving directives. In that way, as the arbiters of truth, they become entitled and obliged to censor whoever disagrees with them. Today’s rulers don’t try to convince. They cherry-pick the science and demand compliance. Within this Dystopian tapestry, let’s take a look back at a few of the topics and issues that caught our attention in 2021.
The Supply Chain. The national and international supply chain crisis caused by the pandemic’s impact on worksites and transportation resulted from increased consumer demand, clogged ports, and inefficient deployment of a reduced number of long-haul truckers. Since the United States is the main destination for most products, and since the government is subsidizing money with borrowed money, demand is up just when supply is interrupted.
This reflects on the sustainability of U.S. import over-dependence and supply chain infrastructure overall. All of this is to the advantage of Chinese expansion efforts. The world is largely dependent on China for computer chips. China has aggressively developed new and bigger ports in recent years. The solution lies in logistic and engineering workarounds to reconfigure designs with available components, and in assuring trade partners that the US as a partner affords far greater supply chain visibility, predictability and control than other counties like China.
Keystone Pipeline. Candidate Biden promised to revoke the Keystone XL cross-border permit if elected president, and he did so on his first day in office. Keystone XL already faced numerous legal challenges, declining oil prices, worsening climate impacts, and a growing movement of opposition groups along the pipeline’s route and around the world. Biden’s actions took the wind out of their sails, and in June 2021, TC Energy abandoned its plans for building the pipeline, which would have run from Canada south to Mexico.
Enbridge Line 5 – litigation and resolution. Toward the end of 2020 Governor Whitmer sued Enbridge in Ingham Circuit Court to revoke the permit for the Line 5 pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinaw. Enbridge sued her back at the start of 2021 and removed her lawsuit from a friendly Lansing forum to the federal court, where she has no political influence. In the meantime, thousands of activists have littered their yards with “End Line 5” yard signs.
Last month U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff declined Governor Whitmer's request to return the lawsuit to the Ingham County Circuit Court, which meant the obvious international issues would ensure a victory for energy transmission. The judge ruled that "substantial-federal-question jurisdictions" over the issues and with Canada's invocation of the 1977 Treaty, "the federal issues in this case are under consideration at the highest levels of this country's government." At that point the governor dismissed the suit without comment or explanation, but she likely will not take this defeat without retaliation. Stay tuned, as it is premature to say “game over.”
Russian pipeline and reassertion. Now that it is clear what the future implications of a Russian Pipeline through Europe would have, after European countries enjoy a few warm and cozy winters only to have Russia squeeze the EU and NATO for financial and political concessions, international leaders are sounding the alarm. The pipeline was legally built and completed already but is waiting for permits to use it. Ultimately short term economics has and will continue to drive this strategic Russian pipeline as Russia continues to reassert itself in the international order, notable by amassing troops symbolically along the Ukrainian border. This will give them something to trade when the nitty meets the gritty over the pipeline permits.
Covid delta variant reignites pandemic spread. This summer the so-called Delta Variant developed in the far east and made its way to America, where it has completely dominated the vast increased new cases caused by the variant’s increased communicability. This variant has reversed much to the progress made by a pandemic-weary public, which seems no longer willing to commit to mask, distancing, isolation, and vaccination strategies.
Treatment options. Hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin treatments are popular treatments, along with Monoclonal Antibody treatments.
Omicron Variant. Now a new Omicron Variant has been detected in at least 12 U.S. States – this variant appears to be much more contagious than even the Delta variant, but it also appears to be a mild form of the novel corona virus. Prior to our going to press, the CDC published data showing that only one out of every 43 patients confirmed to be infected with omicron have been hospitalized. What's more, over three-quarters of those who have been confirmed to have caught omicron were vaccinated. And one-third had received a booster. So far, no deaths due to omicron have been reported. Perhaps this is how the pandemic ends – with herd immunity achieved by mass exposure to the virus under survivable conditions.
Vaccination Mandates. The president used OSHA and CMS mandates to try to force the private sector into bullying its employees to get vaccinated, and that seems to have backfired in court and in Congress. Federal employees responded to a vax mandate by getting at least the first shot before the deadline, but when they took this approach to the private sector, companies fought back and now the vax and mask mandates seem to be history.
School districts across the country have “debated” requiring children to get vaccinated, wear masks, and have considered separating the star bellied sneetches from other vaccinated children, and this has understandably created more and better opportunities for people to be intolerant of one another.
COVID Fact Check • ICU’s Are Filled with the Unvaccinated. Despite claims that 90% of people in hospitals are unvaccinated, as of December 10th a report on bed statistics issued by the National Health Services showed that in England there were 4330 available critical care beds, of which 894 (21%) are being used by Covid patients, 2608 (60%) non-Covid patients and 828 (19%) were empty. According to the UK’s Health Security Agency data 6639 patients were admitted to hospital “with Covid” in the weeks 44-47 of this year. Of those 6639, 2355 were unvaccinated - or 35.4%
Data Breaches. The best form of encryption is still big words in long sentences.
SolarWinds Hack - malware embedded within SolarWinds’ widely used Orion network monitoring software allowed hackers to invade many businesses and government agencies – including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Department of Justice – as well as some 100 private sector companies including Microsoft and other leading IT vendors. The LockBit Ransomware hacks added to the problem – ransomware attacks have been increasing over the last several years with attacks against IT systems operated by hospitals and county and local governments. The hack of colonial pipeline caused gas shortages this year, and everyone’s data seems at risk in this connected world of free-flowing information exchange.
Spread of Recreational Cannabis Towns. The rise of the Adult Use cannabis market in Michigan resulted in the first payout to local governments for their share of the 10% excise tax on gross marijuana sales. Municipalities and counties both get a share - 15% of the excise tax revenue goes to each municipality, which amounted to $28,500 per municipality per shop in 2021. Each county where retail shops are open also got $28,500.
This revenue sharing is having the desired effect – townships and cities are trying to get in on the revenue train; the City of Saginaw has finally authorized Adult Use facilities, and the first 3 shops are open in the city and in Buena Vista (Releaf Center is the newest at 3054 East Holland Road in BV at 989-401-9010 – conveniently close to McDonalds).
Recall recalled. In November the MRA (Marijuana Regulatory Agency) surprised everyone with a vast recall of all marijuana products tested by two testing labs over a 3-month period – not for complaints of illness or contamination, but because they decided the testing company was not keeping proper temperature logs for the samples.
This recall required over 400 marijuana shops to pull their inventory off the shelves overnight and sent the whole industry into a tailspin. The testing company sued in court to stop the recall and won a partial victory when the court stopped the recall for one location (where there was not even any re-testing of the suspect samples), but the court allowed the recall of the Lansing-tested products out of an abundance of caution for consumers.
Many products have already been destroyed, and others must be retested twice to be put back on the shelves. The MRA has had its reputation diminished by its apparent heavy-handed approach, and the testing company will likely not survive the affair.
The take home message is that strict marijuana testing rules that have been cited by big-marijuana business interests as separating licensed marijuana from untested “caregiver” marijuana, are not so reliable after all.
It is likely the legislature, which was considering whether to gut the unlicensed “caregiver” market will no longer have any reason to exalt licensed growers of tested marijuana over the thousands of home growers who have supplied the market with cheaper high quality marijuana for decades.
Tax Dollars at Work. The U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced on Dec. 9th that it had "successfully" modernized the first B61 nuclear gravity bomb to increase the nation's air-delivered nuclear deterrent capability amid threats of war with Russia in Ukraine and China in the South China Sea and or in the Taiwan Strait.
Over the years, the NNSA's has spent $12 billion to modify aging B61 thermonuclear gravity bombs for the modern battlefield. The weapons first entered service in the late 1960s and needed upgrades to be more effective and increase lifespan by another two decades. The first B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb paves the way for an estimated 480 bombs. NNSA expects full-scale production to begin in May 2022 and last through 2026.
America's Public Education System Collapsing. America helped pioneer the idea of public education. But a growing number of teachers and parents are wondering if the pandemic has finally broken America's system of public education, as a growing number of school districts close schools for days or weeks, sometimes without the option of going remote.
Schools in Detroit, a city that supposedly made a strong rebound after filing for bankruptcy protection back in 2013, will close its schools on December 10th for the rest of the school year. Remote classes will be conducted online on Fridays. Parents were outraged by the announcement, but a few days later, Detroit schools stated schools would be closed for the entire week of Thanksgiving. Typically, kids are in school Monday and Tuesday, with a half-day on Wednesday.
Of course, Detroit's schools aren't the only ones making these cutbacks. At least six other school districts in Michigan extended Thanksgiving break, and three districts in Washington State, including Seattle Public Schools, unexpectedly closed on Nov. 12, the day after Veterans Day. In Florida, Brevard Public Schools used leftover "hurricane days" to close schools for the entire week of Thanksgiving.
Parents aren't only worried about logistical problems like child care and supervising remote learning: they're starting to worry that the drastic cutbacks to educational services during the pandemic will leave their children permanently behind. Keep in mind, in China, students are spending more time in school, not less.
And it's not just the mask requirements that are getting to teachers. This last year has seen a surge in school violence, sometime gang-related, as students lash out. Teachers are exhausted from COVID, and from other issues like the battle over teaching CRT in classrooms. Remote learning is simply too much for most parents, especially single parents. If it becomes permanent, then pretty soon it won't just be teachers abandoning public schools - parents might move students to private schools or charter schools.
Household Net Worth Hits Record $145 Trillion, Up $34 Trillion Since COVID. The Fed's latest Flow of Funds report showed the latest snapshot of the US "household" sector as of Sept 30 2021, which confirmed that one year after the biggest drop in household net worth on record when $8 trillion was wiped out, the net worth of US households soared by another $2.362 trillion (a slowdown from the $6.140 trillion in Q2), or 1.7%, rising to a new all-time high of $144.7 trillion.
As has traditionally been the case, real estate ($36.8 trillion) and directly and indirectly held corporate equities ($46.7 trillion) were the largest components of household net worth. Meanwhile, household debt was $17.6 trillion.
This means that over the past 12 months, US household net worth has increased by a grand total of $34 trillion. And since the bulk of this wealth goes to a fraction of the wealthiest 1%, it means that the Covid pandemic has been the biggest wealth transfer in history, making America's richest even richer!
Saginaw Animal Control. The new complex will be built in Kochville Township, to be paid for with the huge animal control millage that county voters passed in 2018. It will feature kennels and runs for dogs and cats, feeding areas, support spaces, a community education center, and even low cost spay and neuter services (socialized medicine for pets). The new building, 3 times the size of the current animal control building, was itself a pet project, originally conceived by the former director, who resigned in disgrace after hiring irregularities in her background came out. The building was slated to be right in the heart of the city, where the need is greatest, but now will become more of a suburban amenity located right near SVSU.
COVID Mad Money. Saginaw city schools and local government indeed will be receiving windfalls of federal funding aid in the name of Covid-19 relief. Packages of $67 million for the Board of Education and $52 million for City Hall exceed the annual all-purpose general fund budgets of both entities.
Suburbs and outlying areas also are in line for shares of the federal kitty, but their sums are far lower because as a whole they are middle-to-upper income. Saginaw Township, for example, stands to gain $5.9 million for schools and $3.8 million for local government, even though its 42,000 population now nearly matches the city’s. Bridgeport, $10.7 million for schools and $970,000 local government, Carrollton, $3.1 million for schools and $557,000 government.
These may stand as the largest urban infusions in history for Saginaw and other cities across the nation, ranking up there with the War on Poverty that took root during the 1960s. The question remains: how will it be spent? Will it be used to grant beleaguered taxpayers relief on the astronomical millages that passed in 2020 for building new schools? This is one we’ll be keeping a close eye on in 2022.
Educational Oligarchy. Post-secondary education increased fourfold, from 9 percent of Americans holding four-year degrees in 1965 to 36 percent in 2015. College towns became islands of wealth and political power. From them came endless “studies” that purported to be arbiters of truth and wisdom, as well as a growing class of graduates increasingly less educated, but ever so much more socio-politically uniform.
In the lower grades, per-pupil expenditure (in constant dollars) went from $3,200 in 1960 to $13,400 in 2015. That money fueled an even more vast and powerful complex—one that includes book publishers, administrators, and labor unions and that has monopolized the minds of at least two generations.
As it grew, the education establishment also detached itself from the voters’ control: In the 1950s, there were some 83,000 public school districts in America. By 2015, only around 13,000 remained for a population twice as large. Today’s parents have many times less influence over their children’s education than did their grandparents.
Redistricting. Michigan's redistricting is now done by an “independent” commission instead of lawmakers, due to a ballot measure that was approved by voters in 2018. The commission is composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five Independents. The citizen’s commission was the brainchild of partisan operatives who used the public disgust for gerrymandering to get into place a system that looks non-partisan but puts the process squarely under the influence of political technocrats all controlled by the Secretary of State.
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) has explored so-called “equity redistricting” and ways to make elections more competitive to improve the representation of communities of interest and increase population equality across districts. In every respect this is old-fashioned gerrymandering in sheep’s clothing, despite the stated criteria for district composition:
• Districts shall be of equal population as mandated by the United States constitution and shall comply with the VRA and other federal laws.
• Districts shall be geographically contiguous.
• Districts shall reflect the state’s diverse population and communities of interest.
• Districts shall not provide a disproportionate advantage to any political party.
• Districts shall not favor or disfavor an incumbent elected official or a candidate.
• Districts shall reflect consideration of county, city, and township boundaries.
• Districts shall be reasonably compact.
The commission has produced a variety of proposed maps. In order for one of the proposed maps to be approved, the commission must first put the maps up for a vote, needing a majority vote of at least two Republicans, two Democrats and three independents. If no consensus is reached, the commission will rank maps for final approval. If the Commission can’t agree upon a ranking, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson will randomly select final maps forwarded by the commission.
This as the intended result – to allow a partisan official to end up with unilateral power to gerrymander the districts and put the fix in on future elections. When the district lines go into effect in 2022 they will affect elections for the next 10 years, and as usual the courts will step in long before that happens and go back to the drawing board.
In fact, media outlets have just sued the commission for holding a closed meeting to discuss the Voting Rights Act and the history of voting-related discrimination in Michigan, in violation of the open meetings act.
So much for transparency, too.
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Picnic in the Park Concert Series
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Fridays at the Fall
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The Commons Live Music Series
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Tennessee River - A Tribute to Alabama
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Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Strokes & Thundercat
The Beach Boys
Alice in Chains & Breaking Benjamin
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)