Americans now compete/grovel for low wage and shitty jobs

One more sign of how much “better” things are getting while our government laughingly imagines that Americans can’t wait to get bank credit to buy another house and a new car:

LEWISTON, Pa. — The growing ranks of unemployed Americans are turning to the traditional fallbacks — retail, restaurants, customer service — to ride out a rough economy. The bad news is job openings there are growing scarce, too.

Widespread “trading down” is sparking a fight for low-wage jobs that employers once struggled to fill. Mark Hall, 24 years old, of Alexandria, Pa., lost his $12-an-hour gig as a videographer when his employer folded and is now looking for anything to make ends meet.

And as our elected officials prattle about how every American should be able to get a four-year degree, whether they have any brains or not:

“Finding a regular job, not even in my field, is very challenging,” said Mr. Hall. “Even working for Lowe’s, I’d settle for that, and I have a four-year degree.”

…….snip……

Despite what objectives they may have put atop their resumes, when asked to describe the work they really wanted, the job seekers largely had the same goal: “I’ll take anything right now.”

In many cases, that desperation means that even educated workers must trade down to jobs below their potential and with lower pay. That results in painful, long-term effects, from hurting their own career advancement to displacing those with less education or experience.

So basically, it won’t be long  before you need that freshly dumbed down four- year degree just to sell hardware at Lowe’s.

All of this while we anticipate yet another major hike in the cost of heat and light with the Bomb Shelter and Y2K scare of the 21st Century known as Global Warming. But not to worry. Homeless people don’t have to worry about utility bills.

But don’t worry, Comrades. Nancy, Harry,  Tim and Barack are going to fix everything. They are going to fix you  good.

nowheretoturnemplyment

On a “Lighter note”, it does look as though The Onion was right. Promises kept. Thanks for reminding me, DE.

Batchelor via RBO: Unemployment Planet

Cross-Posted from RBO.

*************

Batchelor: Unemployment Planet

John Batchelor writes on his blog:

No End In Sight

California JobsThe April unemployment number fresh on Friday morning will reinforce the trend that is accelerating. We are at an all-time-high of continuing claims of unemployment — going back all the recessions to 1971. The new jobless claims continue to spike, now at mid 600k, and show that there is no strength anywhere. All the bank maneuvers, all the sparring in Congress, all the globe-trotting by POTUS and delicate diplomacy at G20, cannot answer the facts. The loss of jobs is what is ripping down the morale of the country and making all the other challenges more grinding — and the smart guys say that we are a long way from where the unemployment number will end.

The Consumer Is Spooked

1-jobless-chartLast evening I received an email from an online service that sells porcelain dessert plates each year for Christmas season. Each year a different design with a Christmas star somewhere on the top of the illustration. When my daughter was small, I bought one each year for her to have as a collection when she is a grown-up with a home for Christmas. For several years I have forgotten, or was distracted, and I fell behind. From an email, I saw the plates on a severe sale — marked down from $85 and $75 to $39. The whole collection is more than one hundred and twenty years old, and the early plates are several thousand dollars. I checked off three plates and put in the order, with free shipping, for $117. Great deal I told myself.

And then this morning, when I read Calculated Risk, the WSJ headlines on the GM fiasco, and the failure of the G20 to make progress on protectionism, on the American banks, I realized that my return to American consumerism was premature. I wrote the company immediately to cancel the order. The service returned a note an hour later confirming cancellation, with a thanks.

1-jobless-lineThis is why folk are losing their jobs. Because of a spooked, ruminative, even superstitious consumer like me. I am certain they need the business. I am certain that their warehouse is their fortune. I am certain that they reduced those plates to draw me in and do business in a slow season. I responded quickly, demonstrating their correct practice. Yet then — I cancelled my own best idea, my best interest. I rationalized my decision when I saw the headlines on the FASB shenanigans with mark-to-market, as if calling a solid waste site a landfill makes everything safe. (Or as Baseline Scenario argues, “Investors are not idiots.”) My refusal probably means someone’s job, or means hours are reduced for someone. Multiply my anecdote by millions of similar hesitations each hour of the day, and you can see why there is no end in sight.

There Is A New Planet Image

1-planetOn a day of my gloom and irrational fear — scared of Christmas plates — it lightens my heart when I read of the sudden fresh discovery of the image of a new exoplanet at 130 light-years distance around a young star HR 8799. The grand robot Hubble took the photograph 10 years ago of the star. We knew there were three planets there, because of the star wobble, but we could not see them because of the starlight. Using a new image-filtering technique, a Toronto team has identified the outermost exo — seven times Jupiter’s size. There is the thrilling suggestion that it has water vapor in its atmosphere:

    “The planet seems to be only partially cloud covered and we could be detecting the absorption of water vapor in the atmosphere,” says Travis Barman of Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Ariz. “The infrared light measured from the Hubble data is consistent with a spectrum showing a broad water absorption feature (at 1.4-1.49 microns), but the level of absorption seen is lower than it would be if the photosphere were completely devoid of dust. Dust clouds can smooth out many of the spectral features that would otherwise be there–including water absorption bands,” Barman says. “Measuring the water absorption properties will tell us a great deal about the temperatures and pressures in the atmospheres, in addition to the cloud coverage. If we can accurately measure the water absorption features for the outermost planet around HR 8799, we will learn a great deal about their atmospheric properties. Hubble, situated well above the Earth’s atmosphere, is excellently located for such a study.”

In a time of great doubt here on modest, rocky and wet Earth, it is a gift to have a new friend that may have water vapor in its atmosphere. It isn’t quite a Christmas star on a porcelain plate, but it is a joy. The formula remains, where there is heat and liquid water, there are the fundamentals for life in the universe as we know it. And jobs.

Job loss numbers for March are not pretty. So it’s time to buy a car.

unemploymentIn defiance of the  government predictions that job losses would stabilize or improve, 742,000 jobs were lost in March of this year–up from 706,000 in February, which was  originally inaccurately reported at 697,000. This number does not include government jobs. 25,000 of those were lost as well. And for anybody paying property taxes which support the slugs in your city, county and state governments, you already know that this number is not nearly enough.

The big drop foreshadows a huge decline in the non-farm payroll reading in the government’s employment report that will be released on Friday, some analysts said.

“It’s a terrible number. It is almost a loss of three quarters of a million jobs which is possibly the highest we have seen so far over the length of this crisis,” said Matt Esteve, foreign exchange trader with Tempus Consulting in Washington.

U.S. stock futures and the dollar fell after news of the bigger-than-expected job losses, while U.S. Treasury bonds regained some of their lost ground.

I guess our President has not kept this particular promise,  reported as only The Onion can.

I am not sure why the media such as CNN are reporting these numbers under headlines such as  “Employment Records Show Mixed Picture,” with quotes such as this telling the tale:

Joel Prakken, an ADP spokesman and chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, LLC, said he expects to see “sizeable declines” in payrolls for “several more months.”

“We don’t see anything in the data that we examined that suggests a glimmer of hope,” Prakken told reporters in a conference call.

That doesn’t sound like a “mixed picture” to me. CNN’s “mixed picture” rationale? This:

The good news is that job cuts appear to be stabilizing in the financial sector,” John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, other sectors are seeing an increase in cuts as the recession works its way through the economy. State and local governments across the country are struggling with falling tax revenues as more and more people lose their jobs and homes,” he said.

Well of course  the financial sector has fewer job cuts. They are enjoying hundreds of billions of taxpayer money.

hummer-h371But take heart.

If you buy a new gas guzzler you can’t afford, using your unemployment checks as income reference, President Obama will guarantee your warranty and you will be a Patriot. This should simply drive everyone to the nearest GM/ Hummer dealer.  As we all know,  Hummers are just one more product of GM’s  ongoing promise for the past 30 years  to do their part and produce more fuel efficient vehicles.

One more thing: If you anticipate losing your job, you should buy a nice gas-guzzling Hummer ASAP, whether you need it or not, because if you get laid off, GM will be  making your payments for you for nearly a year while you look for another job. Of course, they will do this with taxpayer money, but hey, it’s not like we didn’t see that coming either.

Don’t be afraid! Buy a car even if everybody around you has been laid off and escorted out of your office and you can now hear an echo in there! And please bear in mind that the President has stated very clearly that he has  no intention of running GM.  That would be Socialism! He would never do that! Don’t let the fact that he fired the CEO and is in the process of replacing the Board of Directors make you in the least bit suspicious. Get that thought right out of your mind. Because even if you aren’t working any longer, you can rest assured that your warranty will be guaranteed by the same people who bring you  Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Post Office and AMTRAK. Buy now and get a free ipod just like  the one the President gave to the Queen!

Whatever you do, if you are still employed, buy a GM car Right Now so that next month’s unemployment numbers won’t be as high, even if you are one of them–and do NOT save any money.  Saving money is so under-rated and sooooooo unpatriotic! Be patriotic. Go into further debt. Don’t be a money saving unpatriotic scumball.  You are screwing up the works. K? Thx!

So who are the fiscally responsible Democrats in the Senate?

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post entitled Blue Dogs resist Cap and Trade, so Harry is looking for a sneaky way to do it anyhow.

A better question is: Who are the Democrats in the Senate who understand that cap and trade, as written, will be a huge financial burden on anyone who pays a light or heating bill or buys food and other necessities–since the price of simply everything will go up as producers will pass on that whopping utility bill right to the consumer.

These are Senators who, along with the Blue Dogs in the House, also comprehend that you can’t just print money or borrow money in an endless pattern and never expect that somebody is going to pay for it. That somebody is You. And after you are gone, that Somebody is your kids, their kids, their kids and their kids’ kids. Continuing on in this pattern will result in several of the poorest generations America will ever know. They just don’t know it yet because they are preoccupied with American Idol, Bright Shiny Objects and worshipping The One. In truth, that’s the idea. What they don’t know won’t hurt them — for now.

Even Bayh’s Senate committee includes the following Senators:

Joining Bayh as co-leaders are Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who caucuses with the Democrats, also joined the group. The other Senate Democrats signing on were Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

Using adjectives like “centrist,” “pragmatic,” “practical,” “constructive,” and “fiscally responsible,” the new group this week proclaimed they just want to help Congress get things done without losing control of the government’s purse strings.

“We have a wonderful opportunity to break gridlock in Washington and accomplish big things for the American people, but we also have a responsibility to pursue sensible solutions that will work,” says Bayh.

“Centrist”. “Pragmatic”. “Practical”. “Constructive”. “Fiscally Reponsible”. How awful!

All the door knocking and smarmy “obstructionist” TV ads in the world aren’t going to turn these people into far far far left cliff neo liberal socialists.  That’s because many of them represent areas of the country where the word Practical actually still means something, and where Moderation still makes sense.

It is an absolute SHAME that in America, these people have to tolerate neo liberal fascist threats for representing Good Sense.  Caught in their own irony, the “New Democrats” have become everything they purported to revile in the Neo Conservatives.

Note the video title. They will probably be dropping like flies ala Super Delegate…..

Thanks to Imustprotest for the links!

Blue Dogs resist cap and trade, so Harry is looking for a sneaky way to do it anyhow

The smarm on Capitol Hill and  their disregard for the people of the USA is just never-ending. The People no longer have any say whatsoever. They are prisoners now.

At this very moment, Harry Reid is considering passing the budget with the cap and trade intact using “Reconciliation”.

Reconciliation is basically a sneaky way to get something passed when you don’t have enough votes, even if you are the majority.  Harry is looking to pass this mess using a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote. In other words, The People be damned and Screw The Whole Lot of You. You can all just eat shit and die as far as Harry is concerned. And you probably will when these people get done with you.

Congress is rumored to be considering passing a cap-and-trade plan through budget reconciliation, which is a process that is only completed if there are special instructions passed in the budget resolution and requires a simple majority, rather than a 2/3rds vote to pass the Senate.

Unfortunately, this action sets a very low bar for a high-cost, big-government bill such as cap-and-trade, but fortunately the Blue Dogs, a group of fifty-one fiscally conservative House Democrats, have warned that the reconciliation strategy is a bad idea.

The budget reconciliation “is utilized when Congress issues directives to legislate policy changes in mandatory spending (entitlements) or revenue programs (tax laws) to achieve the goals in spending and revenue contemplated by the budget resolution.”

harry-reid-fingerThis is no longer “rumored” or a “consideration”.

It’s real.

Harry is manipulating the system in the Senate right now as you read this. It’s happening today.

Cap and Trade will be a financially devastating thing to every American who turns on a light switch. The taxes and fees attached to energy use and, in some cases, even the purchase of something that requires energy to make it, will be outrageous. This will not only affect whether or not you can afford to be warm or live with light. It will affect the cost of food and other necessities.

The Bald-faced Lie of No Taxes for the middle class will ring hollow when people see what this is going to cost them every single day. They aim to get it out of your hide another way. This is a financially crippling thing to do to people who are already struggling just to pay their energy bills. The Global Warming fanatics are going to make it so that people can no longer afford to stay alive if this kind of thought process keeps up and goes unchecked.

It all reminds me of the bomb shelter scare, the Y2K bullshit and Chicken Little all rolled into one. It’s very profitable for certain people though, including and especially Al Gore, who incidentally left a number of his own house lights on during Earth Hour, while expecting the rest of the world to go dark. Trust me, he can afford the cap and trade costs attached to his utility bill.

As you are reading this, the Reconciliation threat is unfolding in the Senate. You should tune into CSPAN and take a look at your senate leader trying to shove it up your nose while his hand is in your wallet.

In the meantime, the Blue Dogs are not pleased and are meeting right now.

One concern surrounds cap and trade, which the Blue Dogs contend pits regions of the country that have plentiful renewable resources against regions that produce traditional energy resources, such as coal. He said Blue Dogs oppose using reconciliation for cap-and-trade to ensure fairness. House and Senate Democratic leaders and the White House this week said it remains an option.

Moderates in both parties have voiced doubts about the cost of the program. Democrats from industrial and coal-producing states hit hard by the recession, such as Michigan and Ohio, fear that a cap-and-trade bill will fail to include provisions to keep new, green jobs at home.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has gathered a group of 16 industrial and Rust Belt state Democrats to try to limit any potential economic damage the proposal could wreak on their states.

The Republicans actually stopped worrying about how everybody else lives long enough to join in as well.

Republicans, meanwhile, have questioned the revenue projections included in the budget for the proposal.

Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who last year supported climate change legislation sponsored by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), voiced concerns about Obama’s proposal.

“President Obama promised a middle-class tax cut, but what he didn’t tell us was that he would pay for it with a climate tax,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. “This is a major sleight of hand.”

Keep your eye on Harry, folks. He’s getting very creative about circumventing Democracy. This is going to cost you big time if he pulls the ultimate nose-thumbing trick of Reconciliation on the American people. If you think your heat and electric bills are high now, you haven’t seen anything yet until Harry finishes your off.

Out of control.

Out. Of. Control.

Are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico ‘failed states’? If so, then what?

So many Americans are preoccupied and weary with concerns about their jobs, paying the bills, losing their homes and watching their life savings tank, that it’s easy not notice what else is going on–particularly with respect to other countries.

2009 is truly the year of Chaos, both at home and around us, and of course the USA is in the middle of the Chaos. It also seems that America is being blamed for everything unto this earth, except for cavities. And that’s only So Far.  It’s only March 31 and I can honestly say that in my not so short life, I have never seen my country in such horrible chaos and emotional disrepair, both at home and via its interactions with other countries.

So much of what is happening beyond our shores and our interaction with these countries have an impact on us, if not now, then in the near future.  Our friends RBO and Pundita put a great deal of time and ongoing effort into watching what is going on so that we might be informed of those things we rarely see covered by the lightweights in the MSM.

I am cross-posting an excellent piece from RBO.

*******************

Are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico ‘failed states’? If so, then what?

Foreign Policy’s 2005 Failed States Index
failed-states-2008
The March 29 posts A Mexican Standoff with Reality by Zenpundit, Mark Safranski, and Washington continues to play ostrich about Mexico by Pundita raised an infrequently discussed and not clearly understood issue — failed states.

In particular there is recent debate as to whether Mexico is/is not a failed state. If it is, then we ask whether its “failed” status is on a par with such other failed states as Pakistan and Afghanistan? — Even though there are those who do not subscribe to the notion that either of them is a failed state.

As always, let’s start at the beginning. What is a failed state?

In the simplest of definitions, a failed state is one that has a “shattered social and political structure.”

1-thuererWriting December 1999 for the International Review of the Red Cross, Daniel Thürer, J.D. (right), Professor of International Law, European Law, Constitutional Law and Administrative Law at the University of Zurich, said

    Failing States are invariably the product of a collapse of the power structures providing political support for law and order, a process generally triggered and accompanied by ”anarchic” forms of internal violence.

Dr. Thürer wrote that former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, described this situation in the following way (emphasis added):

    A feature of such conflicts is the collapse of state institutions, especially the police and judiciary, with resulting paralysis of governance, a breakdown of law and order, and general banditry and chaos. Not only are the functions of government suspended, but its assets are destroyed or looted and experienced officials are killed or flee the country. This is rarely the case in inter-state wars. It means that international intervention must extend beyond military and humanitarian tasks and must include the promotion of international reconciliation and the re-establishment of effective government.States in which institutions and law and order have totally or partially collapsed under the pressure and amidst the confusion of erupting violence, yet which subsist as a ghostly presence on the world map, are now commonly referred to as “failed States” or “Etats sans gouvernement”.

Failed State Index 2008

The 2008 Foreign Policy Failed State Index lists “failed states” rated on several criteria. Aghanistan ranked at number 7 and Pakistan at number 9.

Pakistan

1-pakistanIn August 2001 a Foreign Policy Association publication described Pakistan as having “failed to achieve political stability, sustained economic growth or a clear sense of national identity.”

Of deeper concern is the observation by Javed Amir, writing November 24, 2002, in Dawn, that Pakistan is a failed state in possession of nuclear weapons.

In June 2005 Amir Mir wrote in Asia Times Online that the “sectarian war between Pakistan’s Shi’ites and Sunnis is bloody and deadly.”

September 2008 — “a major explosion destroyed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing more than 50 people and injuring more than 250.”
1-pakistan-danger_1123055i1

    In view of the current wave of sectarian violence, it seems that the government has simply failed to curb the activities of the banned jihadi and sectarian groups, despite repeated claims by President General Pervez Musharraf of having adopted strict administrative measures against them. The unfortunate fact remains that most of these groups continue to enjoy a free hand under the very nose of the administration, which is more interested in taking cosmetic steps instead of doing something practical to scotch the evil. [...]The genie of sectarian violence refuses to be bottled, and even as Musharraf exhorts the people of Pakistan to adopt “enlightened moderation”, the country’s tentative quest for a non-discriminatory liberal democracy continues to unravel. Indeed, the ideology of fundamentalist Islam appears to remain at the heart of the Musharraf establishment’s strategy of national political mobilization and consolidation, despite talk of enlightened moderation. Pakistan continues to be caught in the trap of extremist Islamic militancy and terror that its mighty military establishment constructed as part of its Afghan and Kashmir policies. Official support – both explicit and implicit – to Islamist terrorist groups continues, even while the state struggles to cope with the internal fallout of the burgeoning terrorist community.Since the overall direction of Pakistan’s military establishment remains committed to an Islamic ideological state, some of the militant groups that are supported by the regime are often found involved in bloody acts of sectarian violence. The Musharraf administration’s support for the jihadis fighting in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and Afghanistan – and the growing nexus between the jihadi and sectarian outfits – has indirectly promoted sectarian violence in Pakistan. The linkages between militants active in J&K and Afghanistan, on the one hand, and those within Pakistan, on the other, are not surprising, since these jihadis share the same madrassas (seminaries), training camps and, often, operatives. Thus, though the Pakistani military establishment’s support for these groups has kept the Indian army tied down in J&K, it has created a serious “principal-agent” problem on the domestic front. By facilitating the actions of irregulars in J&K, Pakistan actually promotes sectarian jihad and terrorism back home.

The long international boundary shared by Afghanistan and Pakistan — and the proximity of Kabul and Islamabad — speak to the fluidity of movement of terrorists and the ease of sectarian violence between the two countries.

pakistan-2002

Mir clearly identified Pakistan’s status of a “failed state” in 2005 (emphasis added):

    It is significant that, for decades, the country’s Shi’ite and Sunni sects lived side by side without any major problems. The roots of sectarian killing lie not in religious differences, but in political and social developments within Pakistan and the region. They are intimately tied up with the country’s wider problem of militant and extremist Islam. With the passage of time, the largely theological differences between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims of Pakistan have been transformed into a full-fledged political conflict, with broad ramifications for law and order, social cohesion and governmental authority.

But then it depends whom you ask whether or not they agree.

Agence France Presse reported March 2 that analysts believe Pakistan’s “stagnant economy [could make it] even more dependent on U.S. aid and IMF bailouts.”

    Thousands of supporters of Nawaz Sharif have rallied across the nuclear-armed country, with mobs setting cars ablaze and clashing with police in the biggest protests against the rule of President Asif Ali Zardari.Analysts say Pakistan can ill afford a political crisis on top of extremist attacks that have killed more than 1,600 people in under two years, financial crisis and international pressure to prosecute those behind the Mumbai attacks.As soon as the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif last Wednesday, panic selling wiped 5% off the Karachi Stock Exchange in the worst single-day performance in 32 months.”The current political crisis will force us to depend even more on the International Monetary Fund and accept all its conditions,” economist Rauf Nizamani said.Buffeted by nationwide bombings, insurgency and global financial turmoil, Pakistan was hit last year by 25% inflation and saw $10 billion wiped off its international reserves from October 2007 to October 2008.The country’s economic managers had no choice but approach the IMF to stave off a looming balance-of-payments crisis that could have seen the Muslim country of 160 million default on foreign debt.The IMF approved a standby loan of $7.6 billion for cash-starved Pakistan and released its first tranche of $3.1 billion in November.

Are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico ‘failed states’? If so, then what?

Foreign Policy’s 2005 Failed States Index
failed-states-2008
The March 29 posts A Mexican Standoff with Reality by Zenpundit, Mark Safranski, and Washington continues to play ostrich about Mexico by Pundita raised an infrequently discussed and not clearly understood issue — failed states.

In particular there is recent debate as to whether Mexico is/is not a failed state. If it is, then we ask whether its “failed” status is on a par with such other failed states as Pakistan and Afghanistan? — Even though there are those who do not subscribe to the notion that either of them is a failed state.

As always, let’s start at the beginning. What is a failed state?

In the simplest of definitions, a failed state is one that has a “shattered social and political structure.”

1-thuererWriting December 1999 for the International Review of the Red Cross, Daniel Thürer, J.D. (right), Professor of International Law, European Law, Constitutional Law and Administrative Law at the University of Zurich, said

    Failing States are invariably the product of a collapse of the power structures providing political support for law and order, a process generally triggered and accompanied by ”anarchic” forms of internal violence.

Dr. Thürer wrote that former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, described this situation in the following way (emphasis added):

    A feature of such conflicts is the collapse of state institutions, especially the police and judiciary, with resulting paralysis of governance, a breakdown of law and order, and general banditry and chaos. Not only are the functions of government suspended, but its assets are destroyed or looted and experienced officials are killed or flee the country. This is rarely the case in inter-state wars. It means that international intervention must extend beyond military and humanitarian tasks and must include the promotion of international reconciliation and the re-establishment of effective government.States in which institutions and law and order have totally or partially collapsed under the pressure and amidst the confusion of erupting violence, yet which subsist as a ghostly presence on the world map, are now commonly referred to as “failed States” or “Etats sans gouvernement”.

Failed State Index 2008

The 2008 Foreign Policy Failed State Index lists “failed states” rated on several criteria. Aghanistan ranked at number 7 and Pakistan at number 9.

Pakistan

1-pakistanIn August 2001 a Foreign Policy Association publication described Pakistan as having “failed to achieve political stability, sustained economic growth or a clear sense of national identity.”

Of deeper concern is the observation by Javed Amir, writing November 24, 2002, in Dawn, that Pakistan is a failed state in possession of nuclear weapons.

In June 2005 Amir Mir wrote in Asia Times Online that the “sectarian war between Pakistan’s Shi’ites and Sunnis is bloody and deadly.”

September 2008 — “a major explosion destroyed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing more than 50 people and injuring more than 250.”
1-pakistan-danger_1123055i1

    In view of the current wave of sectarian violence, it seems that the government has simply failed to curb the activities of the banned jihadi and sectarian groups, despite repeated claims by President General Pervez Musharraf of having adopted strict administrative measures against them. The unfortunate fact remains that most of these groups continue to enjoy a free hand under the very nose of the administration, which is more interested in taking cosmetic steps instead of doing something practical to scotch the evil. [...]The genie of sectarian violence refuses to be bottled, and even as Musharraf exhorts the people of Pakistan to adopt “enlightened moderation”, the country’s tentative quest for a non-discriminatory liberal democracy continues to unravel. Indeed, the ideology of fundamentalist Islam appears to remain at the heart of the Musharraf establishment’s strategy of national political mobilization and consolidation, despite talk of enlightened moderation. Pakistan continues to be caught in the trap of extremist Islamic militancy and terror that its mighty military establishment constructed as part of its Afghan and Kashmir policies. Official support – both explicit and implicit – to Islamist terrorist groups continues, even while the state struggles to cope with the internal fallout of the burgeoning terrorist community.Since the overall direction of Pakistan’s military establishment remains committed to an Islamic ideological state, some of the militant groups that are supported by the regime are often found involved in bloody acts of sectarian violence. The Musharraf administration’s support for the jihadis fighting in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and Afghanistan – and the growing nexus between the jihadi and sectarian outfits – has indirectly promoted sectarian violence in Pakistan. The linkages between militants active in J&K and Afghanistan, on the one hand, and those within Pakistan, on the other, are not surprising, since these jihadis share the same madrassas (seminaries), training camps and, often, operatives. Thus, though the Pakistani military establishment’s support for these groups has kept the Indian army tied down in J&K, it has created a serious “principal-agent” problem on the domestic front. By facilitating the actions of irregulars in J&K, Pakistan actually promotes sectarian jihad and terrorism back home.

The long international boundary shared by Afghanistan and Pakistan — and the proximity of Kabul and Islamabad — speak to the fluidity of movement of terrorists and the ease of sectarian violence between the two countries.

pakistan-2002

Mir clearly identified Pakistan’s status of a “failed state” in 2005 (emphasis added):

    It is significant that, for decades, the country’s Shi’ite and Sunni sects lived side by side without any major problems. The roots of sectarian killing lie not in religious differences, but in political and social developments within Pakistan and the region. They are intimately tied up with the country’s wider problem of militant and extremist Islam. With the passage of time, the largely theological differences between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims of Pakistan have been transformed into a full-fledged political conflict, with broad ramifications for law and order, social cohesion and governmental authority.

But then it depends whom you ask whether or not they agree.

Agence France Presse reported March 2 that analysts believe Pakistan’s “stagnant economy [could make it] even more dependent on U.S. aid and IMF bailouts.”

    Thousands of supporters of Nawaz Sharif have rallied across the nuclear-armed country, with mobs setting cars ablaze and clashing with police in the biggest protests against the rule of President Asif Ali Zardari.Analysts say Pakistan can ill afford a political crisis on top of extremist attacks that have killed more than 1,600 people in under two years, financial crisis and international pressure to prosecute those behind the Mumbai attacks.As soon as the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif last Wednesday, panic selling wiped 5% off the Karachi Stock Exchange in the worst single-day performance in 32 months.”The current political crisis will force us to depend even more on the International Monetary Fund and accept all its conditions,” economist Rauf Nizamani said.Buffeted by nationwide bombings, insurgency and global financial turmoil, Pakistan was hit last year by 25% inflation and saw $10 billion wiped off its international reserves from October 2007 to October 2008.The country’s economic managers had no choice but approach the IMF to stave off a looming balance-of-payments crisis that could have seen the Muslim country of 160 million default on foreign debt.The IMF approved a standby loan of $7.6 billion for cash-starved Pakistan and released its first tranche of $3.1 billion in November.

 

This year’s fiscal deficit target is 5.5% of gross domestic product, compared to last year’s 7.4%.
Pakistan’s current account deficit was 8.4% of GDP last year, which the authorities are trying to get down to 5.5% under IMF targets.
The authorities also aim to get inflation down to 20% by the end of this fiscal year in July.Arif Rafiq of Long March asked March 15 at PakistanPolicy.com — “What Failed State?”
    Pakistan’s state machinery is working fine.1-long-marchIslamabad has implemented one of the most severe blockages of public movement in the country’s history. [Update: It didn't work too well in Lahore.] Remember, this is a country of 165 million.Major national highways and city roads are off limits. Shipping containers have been laid out on the roads by the Zardari-dominated Gilani government to prevent a sizable assembly of Long March protesters. [Good luck to exporters with shipping deadlines to meet!]The Pakistan Army is deployed in Islamabad in full force to prevent public assembly. [It's unclear as to whether they are just following orders to let Zardari self-destruct completely or whether Army Chief Kayani is in on the draconian measures against Pakistan's citizenry.]The provincial police services and national intelligence agencies – including, some lawyers movement activists claim, plainclothes ISI officers — have detained dozens of major civil society and political leaders. They have also arrested hundreds of lawyers and party activists.The most watched news channel is blocked in much of the country. Even dorm residents at Islamabad’s Quaid-e Azam University were booted out of their housing facilities — many or most with no place to go. SMS service has been blocked in Islamabad. This could extend to the rest of the country. [...]1-long-march-2Granted, it is facing a non-violent opposition. It is easy to suppress the peaceful and unarmed. Fighting cannibalistic terrorists is another matter. Rehman Malik, now de-facto interior minister, ran away to Zardari House in Islamabad after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, despite being in charge of her security.

Proclamations of the demise of the Pakistani state are always premature as long as the state is able to function at will. The will, tragically, is generally demonstrated for the sake of self-preservation or aggrandizement.

The state performs well when it wants to, when the major elements of the state work in concert with one another.Afghanistan

A September 10, 2002, CNN article by Joe Havely reported that Afghanistan, “after more than two decades of constant warfare,” was a “nation in ruins.” Towns and cities had become “reduced to rubble” and its social and political structure had become “torn apart by years of bitter conflict.” Additionally, according to Western leaders, it was this failed state that allowed Afghanistan to become a home to terrorists and, in turn, “pav[ed] the way” for the events of September 11, 2001.

The UN News Centre reported November 22, 2006, that Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Ashima, the head of the prior week’s Security Council mission to Afghanistan, painted “a grim picture of increased Taliban violence, growing illegal drug production and fragile State institutions in Afghanistan,” and said “it faced becoming a failed State unless the international community fully supports the Afghan recovery effort.” Oshima said:

    Over the course of 2006… and this is a worrying development, the rise in the Taliban-led insurgency and the other social ills, including the upsurge in illegal drug production and trafficking, against the backdrop of still too weak, fragile State and provincial institutions… and the accompanying endemic corruption and impunity.At the same time, it is abundantly clear that Afghanistan needs additional and sustained support and assistance from the international community, both for quick gains and for sustained progress over the long term, [warning that] without such support, there is no guarantee that Afghanistan… will not slide back into conflict and a failed State again.

Afghanistan Foreign Office website (fco.gov.uk) strongly advises against all but essential travel to Kabul, adding that “no part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts”.
1-afghan-danger

The Guardian (UK) reported January 31 on the Afghanistan Study Group, created by the Center for the Study of the Presidency, which also created the Iraq Study Group.

The Group is co-chaired by Gen. James L. Jones, USMC (Ret.) and Thomas R. Pickering. Jones, now Obama’s National Security Adviser, previously served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander of the U.S. European Command before working as a lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Pickering is a former Ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, Nigeria, Jordan, and El Salvador.

The Final Report, released January 30, includes a letter from the co-chairs with an overview of the Group’s recommendations.

    Afghanistan stands today at a crossroads. The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country. The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy to fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans.[...] Although the obstacles there remain substantial, the strategic consequences of failure in Afghanistan would be severe for long-term U.S. interests in the region and for security at home. Allowing the Taliban to re-establish its influence in Afghanistan, as well as failure to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state, would not only undermine the development of the country, it would constitute a major victory for al-Qaeda and its global efforts to spread violence and extremism.

A key phrase jumps out: “It is time to re-vitalize and re-double our efforts toward stabilizing Afghanistan and re-think our economic and military strategies to ensure that the level of our commitment is commensurate with the threat posed by possible failure in Afghanistan.”

Did you catch the key words? — “stabilizing” and “threat posed by possible failure”.

The letter continues:

    Additionally, recent events in Pakistan further emphasize that there can be no successful outcome for Afghanistan if its neighbors, especially Pakistan, are not part of the solution.

Hence, this is an AFPAK package of duo-failed states.

… and continues:

    [...] the most critical problems facing the country: insecurity, weak governance, widespread corruption, a poor economy and unemployment.

Major Fail.

We have the Group’s list of “six critical issues to revitalize the U.S. and international effort in Afghanistan”:

  • international coordination
  • security
  • governance and rule of law
  • counter-narcotics
  • economic development and reconstruction
  • Afghanistan and its neighbors

Just taking a close look at the map of Afghanistan provides insight into the vastness of the tasks — and understanding as why the Soviet Union failed.

1-afghan1

The Guardian added that SecDef Robert Gates “had a more upbeat assessment. ‘I would say the security situation is good. We want to make sure it gets better, and I think there’s still a need to coordinate civil reconstruction, the economic development side of it.’”

RBO: Someone needs to hand Gates a detailed map and a history book.

Mexico

mexico

Without going any further we can point to factors Mexico shares with both Pakistan and Afghanistan — vast borders (4,353 km) and coastline (9,330 km):

  • A long permeable border with the U.S. (3,141 km) on the north
  • An unregulated border with Guatemala (962 km) and Belize (250 km) on the south
  • Access via the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico
  • Access via the North Pacific
  • Security issues on both sides of the northern border

Add to this both domestic violence and insurgent international terrorism, out-of-control narco-terrorism, and serious social and economic problems.

On the latter, the CIA World Factbook reports for Mexico:

    scarcity of hazardous waste disposal facilities; rural to urban migration; natural fresh water resources scarce and polluted in north, inaccessible and poor quality in center and extreme southeast; raw sewage and industrial effluents polluting rivers in urban areas; deforestation; widespread erosion; desertification; deteriorating agricultural lands; serious air and water pollution in the national capital and urban centers along US-Mexico border; land subsidence in Valley of Mexico caused by groundwater depletion

Additionally, the Mexican government “considers the lack of clean water and deforestation national security issues.” Although there has been “abundant rainfall in recent years along much of the Mexico-US border region [which] has ameliorated periodically strained water-sharing arrangements,” the possibility of a border water war is ever present.

Need to know more?

On the matter of spiraling violence bloggers Aaron and Alaine at A Political Season wrote May 13, 2008:

mexico-violence

    Violence along the U.S.-Mexican border has been intensifying for several years, and there have been attacks in Mexico City. But last week was noteworthy not so much for the body count, but for the type of people being killed. Very senior government police officials in Mexico City were killed along with senior Sinaloa cartel operatives in Sinaloa state. In other words, the killings are extending from low-level operatives to higher-ranking ones, and the attacks are reaching into enemy territory, so to speak. Mexican government officials are being killed in Mexico City, Sinaloan operatives in Sinaloa. The conflict is becoming more intense and placing senior officials at risk.

The killings pose a strategic problem for the Mexican government. The bulk of its effective troops are deployed along the U.S. border, attempting to suppress violence and smuggling among the grunts along the border, as well as the well-known smuggling routes elsewhere in the country. The attacks in Mexico raise the question of whether forces should be shifted from these assignments to Mexico City to protect officials and break up the infrastructure of the Sinaloa and other cartels there. The government also faces the secondary task of suppressing violence between cartels. The Sinaloa cartel struck in Mexico City not only to kill troublesome officials and intimidate others, but also to pose a problem for the Mexican government by increasing areas requiring forces, thereby requiring the government to consider splitting its forces — thus reducing the government presence along the border. It was a strategically smart move by Sinaloa, but no one has accused the cartels of being stupid.There is also organized crime, they add:

    Mexico now faces a classic problem. Multiple, well-armed organized groups have emerged. They are fighting among themselves while simultaneously fighting the government. The groups are fueled by vast amounts of money earned via drug smuggling to the United States. The amount of money involved — estimated at some $40 billion a year — is sufficient to increase tension between these criminal groups and give them the resources to conduct wars against each other. It also provides them with resources to bribe and intimidate government officials. The resources they deploy in some ways are superior to the resources the government employs.

1-gruposenmexico1

    Given the amount of money they have, the organized criminal groups can be very effective in bribing government officials at all levels, from squad leaders patrolling the border to high-ranking state and federal officials. Given the resources they have, they can reach out and kill government officials at all levels as well. Government officials are human; and faced with the carrot of bribes and the stick of death, even the most incorruptible is going to be cautious in executing operations against the cartels.

“Toward a Failed State?” they ask:

1-drug-squad

    There comes a moment when the imbalance in resources reverses the relationship between government and cartels. Government officials, seeing the futility of resistance, effectively become tools of the cartels. Since there are multiple cartels, the area of competition ceases to be solely the border towns, shifting to the corridors of power in Mexico City. Government officials begin giving their primary loyalty not to the government but to one of the cartels. The government thus becomes both an arena for competition among the cartels and an instrument used by one cartel against another. That is the prescription for what is called a “failed state” — a state that no longer can function as a state. [...]

It is important to point out that we are not speaking here of corruption, which exists in all governments everywhere. Instead, we are talking about a systematic breakdown of the state, in which government is not simply influenced by criminals, but becomes an instrument of criminals — either simply an arena for battling among groups or under the control of a particular group. The state no longer can carry out its primary function of imposing peace, and it becomes helpless, or itself a direct perpetrator of crime.Writing in May 2008, Aaron and Alaine did not believe Mexico was a failed state — yet:

    The killing of senior state police officials causes other officials to recalculate their attitudes. The state is no longer seen as a competent protector, and being a state official is seen as a liability — potentially a fatal liability — unless protection is sought from a cartel, a protection that can be very lucrative indeed for the protector. The killing of senior cartel members intensifies conflict among cartels, making it even more difficult for the government to control the situation and intensifying the movement toward failure.

It is important to remember that Mexico has a tradition of failed governments, particularly in the 19th and early 20th century. In those periods, Mexico City became an arena for struggle among army officers and regional groups straddling the line between criminal and political. The Mexican army became an instrument in this struggle and its control a prize. The one thing missing was the vast amounts of money at stake. So there is a tradition of state failure in Mexico, and there are higher stakes today than before.Joel Kurtzman wrote January 16 in the Wall Street Journal “Mexico’s Instability is a Real Problem”:

    Mexico is now in the midst of a vicious drug war. Police officers are being bribed and, especially near the United States border, gunned down. Kidnappings and extortion are common place. And, most alarming of all, a new Pentagon study concludes that Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state. Defense planners liken the situation to that of Pakistan, where wholesale collapse of civil government is possible. [...] It may only be a matter of time before the drug war spills across the border and into the U.S.

Kurtzman backs up Aaron and Alaine’s May 2008 report on the spiraling violence and the problems the Mexican government has in attempting to deal with it:

    The problem is that in Mexico’s latest eruption of violence, it’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Mexico’s antidrug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano was recently charged with accepting $450,000 from drug lords he was supposed to be hunting down. This was the second time in recent years that one of Mexico’s antidrug chiefs was arrested for taking possible payoffs from drug kingpins. Suspicions that police chiefs, mayors and members of the military are also on the take are rampant.

Kurtzman also points out the real economic loss due to all the illegal activity and violence:

    The result is that drug traffickers are getting rich, while Mexico pays a heavy price in lost human lives and in economic activity that might otherwise bring a modicum of prosperity to the country.

In 2008, Mexico ranked 31st out of 60 countries studied in the Milken Institute/Kurtzman Group Opacity Index. The cost to ordinary Mexicans from poorly functioning institutions has been huge. My colleague, Glenn Yago, and I calculate that if Mexico were to reduce corruption and bring its legal, economic, accounting and regulatory standards up to U.S. levels (the U.S. ranks 13th and Finland ranks first), Mexico’s nominal per capital GDP would increase by about $18,000 to roughly $28,000 a year. And it would also receive a lot more direct foreign investment that would create jobs.

And this impacts the U.S. Thanks to Mexico’s retarded economic growth, millions of Mexicans have illegally moved to the U.S. to find work. Unless the violence can be reversed, the U.S. can anticipate that the flow across the border will continue.Gordon G. Chang wrote January 22 at Commentary Magazine:

Mexico US Guns

    The Pentagon’s assessment sounds about right. The Mexican government is fighting a brutal war with drug barons, who are also fighting each other. Last year 5,300 Mexicans were killed in the various struggles, some shot in public, many beheaded or mutilated. Tijuana, the sprawling city opposite tranquil San Diego, and Juarez, across El Paso, are littered with bodies each morning. President Felipe Calderon, to his credit, deployed the army in the battle in 2006, but he has nonetheless been losing ground to the cartels, which now control large parts of the country. Earlier this month Stephen Hadley, then national security adviser, stated that the violence even threatened Mexico’s democracy. [...]

Drug violence has already spilled over the almost 2,000-mile border, the world’s most frequently crossed international boundary. “There is a wave of barbarity that is heading toward the U.S.” said one Mexican.On February 2 Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported Mexican President Felipe Calderon “dismissed claims by the US that Mexico could become a failed state because of ongoing drug-related violence in the Latin American country. He says the US must do more to help stem the flow of weapons across the border and assist with Mexico’s economic problems.”

RFI cited the U.S. Joint Forces Command report which stated “An unstable Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States.”

Zenpundit, Mark Safranski, also quoted from the report:

    In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

….The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.Ewen MacAskill reported March 25 in the Guardian (UK) that things are getting way out of hand along the US-Mexico border:

    The White House yesterday revealed plans for a crime-fighting operation targeting Mexican drug cartels on a scale not seen since the battles against the US mafia.

Washington is dispatching more federal agents and equipment to its south-western border with Mexico to target the cartels. Among them are a newly formed FBI unit, to deal with the ringleaders, and treasury officials who will track drug money. An extra 100 customs officers are to be sent to the border within the next 45 days. [...]

The moves reflect growing concern in Washington that the carnage in Mexico involving the cartels is in danger of spilling over the border. [...]

PD*26282369Calderón has dispatched more than 45,000 Mexican troops to combat the cartels, which responded with thousands of kidnappings and murders, including beheadings. Despite a string of arrests and drug busts – last week, soldiers captured two drug bosses – a record 6,300 drug-related killings occurred last year.

Other measures announced by the White House yesterday included dispatching more mobile x-ray units to the US side of the border to screen vehicles involved in gun trafficking. Napolitano said that over the last week, the US had stopped 997 firearms en route to Mexico. Absent from the announced plans were high-visibility moves such as deployment of the National Guard or expansion of the border fence started under George Bush. But the Obama administration argues that these are not necessarily effective.

David Ogden, the deputy attorney general, said that the best way to fight the cartels was through intelligence-based operations, “the same approach as we took towards the Cosa Nostra”.

The Obama administration view is that the strategy pursued against the Cosa Nostra, tracking the money with a view to locking up the leaders, is better than piecemeal arrests.Whether, by now, you believe Mexico is a failed state, Barackistan HQ’s Director of Intelligence, Dennis Blair, said March 26 that it will not become one.

    The top U.S. intelligence officer says Mexico remains stable, despite the recent surge in violence spawned by the illegal drug trade. [...]

Blair downplayed the notion that drug violence has brought Mexico to the brink of collapse. Rather, Blair says the escalating violence is a testament to the Mexican government’s efforts to pressure the illegal drug cartels.

“Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state. [Let me] repeat that. Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state. The violence we see now is the result of Mexico taking action against the drug cartels. So it is in fact the result of positive moves, which the Mexican government has taken to break the baneful influence that many of these cartels have had on many aspects of Mexican government and Mexican life,” Blair said.hezbollah-recruits-in-venezuela-1Add to all this Pundita’s post in which she reported on the presence of Hezbollah in Mexico (right, Hezbollah recruits in Venezuela):

    The U.S. government is playing down the threat from large numbers of Hezbollah members slipping into the U.S. from Mexico. But you have to be born yesterday to keep telling yourself that Hezbollah is simply expanding their piece of the illicit Mexican drug business into the USA.

The increasing level of sophistication shown by the Mexican assassins has been matched by the increasing sophistication and preponderance of tunneling into the United States from Mexico.

Hezbollah (and Hamas) are tunnelin’ fools. They love to tunnel. And just as in Lebanon and Gaza, take out one tunnel and they build another as soon as your back is turned. And, of course, both organizations are trained by the Iranian military.

So somebody tell me again that there’s nothing to be alarmed about at this time. Whaddya want? Las Vegas captured and wired with a nuke before you’ll start worrying about Hezbollah in the USA?

And actually, there’s a silver lining to Hezbollah pussyfooting around on our border, and we should take advantage of it, instead of ignoring it. Hezbollah solves the sticky diplomatic problem of dealing with Mexicans who’re huffy about U.S. fence-building:

‘Oh, it’s not you we’re worried about; it’s them damn Islamic terrorists.’Bottom line

In all honesty, whether or not Pakistan, Afghanistan and/or Mexico qualify as a “failed state” in terms acceptable to Barackistan HQ, it is unclear how the United States can manage the problems associated with stabilizing any of them while we are still committed in Iraq and swirling down the money drain with the global economy in the state it is clearly in and the sort of plans and endlessly expensive programs Dear Leader expects to carry out — at American taxpayers expense.

Let’s leave this be for now. More to come, as always.

Update: Mark Safranski, Zenpundit, crossposted an excerpt along with two other perspectives from full time national security people, Jay Fraser, who writes with Mark at Threatswatch.org, and the “semi-legendary David Ronfeldt of RAND.” Please go read.
 

Grocery auctions: A sign of just how things are “improving”

As we listen to people who are doing very well for themselves on taxpayer money say that things are improving and the “Plan,” whatever it is, seems to be working,  America’s economy that is being “fixed”  has now reached a new level of “Improvement”.

DALLAS, Pa. (AP) — Out of toilet paper? Need to pick up a few things for dinner? Take a number and start bidding.

Many bargain hunters these days are trading supermarket aisles for the auction circuit in search of deep discounts on everything from cereal to spare ribs. Past the sell-by date? Bidders are happy to ignore that detail if they’re getting a good deal.

HoboSoupYessir, things are getting better all the time, aren’t they? How many trillions in “help”  are we up to now? Just wondering. A trillion here……a trillion there….

As consumers seek relief from the recession and spiraling food prices, grocery auctions are gaining in popularity as an easy way to cut costs. The sales operate like regular auctions, but with bidders vying for dry goods and frozen foods instead of antiques and collectibles. Some auctioneers even accept food stamps.

….snip…

The popularity of the auctions — which sell leftover or damaged goods from supermarkets, distribution centers and restaurant suppliers — comes at a time when people are stretching their grocery budgets by using more coupons, buying inferior cuts of meat, and choosing store brands over national brands.

The economic downturn, paired with the worst food inflation in nearly 20 years (grocery prices spiked in 2008 before easing in January and February), has caused a “seismic shift” in consumer behavior, said Brian Todd, president of The Food Institute, an industry information service.

“Food is one area where they can save,” he said.

So basically, while Congress, Tim Geithner and Barack Obama are trying to figure out which pal to throw their next trillion at and whether or not  they ordered enough Wagyu beef for the next cocktail party, people are buying damaged and expired food at  scratch and dent auctions.

Now that’s progress.

Ironically, one of the auctioneers’ business is called the “Banana Box”. I think that’s a great business name  that fits in well with our  future Banana Republic.

I can’t wait till the next trillion is spent. Then maybe everybody will be able to bid on a whole chicken. Okay, there might be a limb missing, but that’s why it will be up for bid to begin with.