What is the Meaning of Life?

How is that for an ambitious question? So what is the meaning of life? Well, if you ask most people from a complex, industrial society, you will get a lot of unsure answers. Occasionally, you will get an answer rooted in religion such as, “The purpose of life is to serve God,” but what that entails is not often explained apart from “do well unto others.” If you ask that society’s renowned scientists what they believe the meaning of life is, the answer becomes even more convoluted, qualified and cautious. The implication is that as intellect increases, certainty decreases.

Ask any native or non-industrial society about the meaning of life and you’re much more likely to get an answer, but you can see they have a certainty that is absent from people living in an industrial society and definitely absent from scientists or other professional thinkers.

The chorus response to this certainty from the peanut gallery of industrialized minds is that since knowledge tends to increase doubt, it is the primitive nature of native societies that prevents them from doubting their understanding of the universe. There is however another possibility — that “educated” scientists are so far removed from natural life that they cannot interpret its most basic concepts.  Read More »

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Five Stunning Facts About America’s Prison System You Haven’t Heard

We’ve done several exposés on the prison system in America, including The Prison System Runs Amok, Expands at Frightening Pace (Sept 6, 2012) and Selling the American Dream is the Biggest Market of All (Sept. 30, 2013), but there’s still much more to be said about this topic. America’s massive prison system is creating a long list of unintended consequences, some of which will effect all of us in the coming years. To help explain just how bad things have gotten, we’ve compiled this list of the most stunning facts and statistics on the America’s prison system today.  Read More »

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Updated Healthcare Spending Graphs Are as Bleak as Ever

In 2012, I created this chart, which mapped out US federal government spending on healthcare from 1960 to the Congressional Budget Office’s projections up to 2022, which was the most recent data they had available at the time.  For a while now, I’ve wanted to update that chart to address some criticisms people had.

First, I wanted to see if there had been any changes in the overall trajectory of the spending.  There is only one direction this graph can ultimately go and that is down, at which point we will have a very serious economic situation, probably one more serious than anybody living has ever witnessed.

The progressive left thinks the CBO has an interest in making the budget look as bad as possible so the government could push for unpopular austerity on the poor and middle class. In addition, they don’t think debt matters. Based on the past spending curve, I believe the governments figures are accurate, and that these numbers are big enough to matter. While it’s too early to say for certain, so far the updated graph shows the situation worsening, just as the CBO has predicted.

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US Government is Partially Responsible for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death

Yesterday, on the eve of the nation’s most celebrated spectacle, the Super Bowl, it was announced that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died from a heroine overdose, reportedly with the needle still in his arm. Of course, Hoffman is responsible for his own actions, especially given that he had numerous opportunities to benefit from rehab and was taking medicine to counteract the addictive nature of the drugs. In short, he had resources many don’t have access to.

However, we will argue here that there is plenty of blame to go around, and much of it at the feet of the world’s only global empire, the United States government, who has continually made available heroin and other drugs increasingly inexpensive, available and at a greater purity than would otherwise be possible for geopolitical gain.  Read More »

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Super-Tech Makes Democracy Impossible

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Director of Google Ideas Jared Cohen recently wrote in their book The New Digital Age that “What Lockheed Martin was to the 20th century, technology and cybersecurity companies will be to the 21st.” Indeed, the transition is already taking place. Google now spends more money lobbying congress than the military industrial giant they seek to replace.  They argue that unlike their violent and destructive predecessors, technology will only help to improve democracy and allow governments to better serve their people.

This is of course an updated spin on the typical propaganda provided by Washington DC: that America is interested in promoting democracy abroad, only now they promise to do so through surveillance technology rather than napalm, white phosphorous, drone strikes, cruise missiles, and of course, the United States Marines.

Cohen is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and before joining Google, he worked in the State Department under Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.  Despite his move to the private sector, Cohen’s focus is still on contributing to US foreign policy, namely managing the activities of foreign populations. In an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine, Cohen says that “Google Ideas do something very similar” to his role at the State Department. “[T]he range of challenges that it may focus on include… counter-terrorism, counter-radicalization, and nonproliferation.”

Cohen’s arguments in support of widespread surveillance technology do consistently warn of the dangers it might present in the hands of autocratic regimes. Cohen and Schmidt admitted in the WSJ last year, “Dictators and autocrats in the years to come will attempt to build all-encompassing surveillance states, and they will have unprecedented technologies with which to do so. But they can never succeed completely.” They seem sincere, but hopelessly naive.  Read More »

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, This is Dark-America

In 20th century science fiction, there is one particular story format that is often employed and is usually a fan favorite — the alternate or parallel universe, where the characters are the same but the roles are switched. In the alternate universe, the good guys are bad and the bad guys are worse. This idea of entering a darker, more sinister reality with no escape has been explored in television series like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, and even comedy sitcoms like Seinfeld for years. It’s an idea most of us are familiar with. As a literary device, it is useful for examining our darker sides. What would we be like under more difficult circumstances?

You don’t need to be a sociologist or an anthropologist to realize that our society has undergone a shift in tone, particularly in the last five years as the disintegration of the economy has accelerated. While many Americans are learning to deal with a stagnant economy, others are struggling to survive and keep from being homeless. This isn’t America. This is Dark-America, our shadowy underside where our more aggressive and perverse instincts are nurtured.

Briefly, lets recall just a few of our current economic problems. Medical bills account for 62 percent of bankruptcies in 2007, up from 48 percent in 2000. Over 78 percent of those individuals actually have health insurance. In an attempt to come up with quick cash, many Americans are selling their burial plots — quite literally digging into their retirement funds. Roughly 20 percent of Americans are currently struggling to afford food, just under the all-time record set back in 2008. A stunning 50 million people are on food stamps. And on and on it goes.  Read More »

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A Return to Capitalism is Impossible, Even if it Were Desirable

Definitions are important. Without correctly defining what the problems are, we can’t offer a workable solution. This is so obvious and yet despite enormous effort, there is no consensus on what kind of economic system we have right now.

Do we have a capitalist system, the bane of the left for as long as there has been a left? They would argue that capitalism in its purest forms descends inevitably into monopoly, despotism, and eventually wealth inequality. They say our current system is just capitalism doing what it always does. No mystery about it. Or are we in a form of socialism, like the libertarians would argue? They would say that pooling resources and risk inevitably leads to abuse from centralized power and the same kind of tyranny. Maybe we’re way past those definitions and our current system is merely a form of corporatism where corporations have ultimate power; then again, maybe it’s fascism and the government shares power with its partners in private industry. Maybe it’s all of these things or perhaps none of them. The point is, our definitions define the arguments and the solutions for ideologically inclined individuals.

In the 1970s, industrial capitalism faced ever increasing pressure from increasing energy costs and increasingly firm limits on consumption. As a result, controlling interest concentrated on generating wealth in the form of “financial capitalism,” which by its nature, produces nothing and is parasitic. Through this financial trickery, gains have been transfered to the financial capitalist increasingly at the expense of industrial capitalism.  Read More »

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Selling the American Dream is the Biggest Market of All

In America, people believe that a house is who you are, while a car is who you want other people to think you are. If you have no house and you have no car, by extension you are nothing, and you want to be nothing. Many have modeled their lives around this belief, taking on enormous amounts of debt to get the right house, the right car and the right job.

In the novel Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk calls it the “IKEA nesting instinct,” the hoarding and management of material goods in an attempt to reach some form of self-actualization. Karl Marx called this inability to properly value goods as “commodity fetishism.” The social environment of the commodity system serves to obfuscate the real value of those goods. Marx theorizes that fetishism is inseparable from the production of commodities. The mere existence of a product creates its own market.

Owning a home is the one commodity everyone has been told they must achieve, preferably while still young and the bigger, the better. Consumerism in its minor forms is ruinous, but at the housing level, is is the gestalt of all self worth. Politicians and economists have based our entire economy around housing, a kind of super-metric of wealth, health, and spiritual satisfaction. If we find ourselves without the means to “buy” a house, we “buy” a car (all of which can be taken away should we refuse to pay our national rent, also known as taxes). A car at least creates the illusion of prosperity. And if you can’t afford that, well then you’re not worth much to America, unless of course you’re generating income as a prisoner in the country’s ever growing private prison system.

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Seven Reasons Bernanke’s Failure to Taper Portends Doom

Yesterday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke announced that the government would not slow its bond purchasing (money printing) because the economy had not yet improved sufficiently. The magnitude of this decision is still being absorbed, but may have negative effects on the entire world in the coming years.

How exactly? This might be a bit wonky, but we’ll try to keep it light. Lets establish a few facts and we’ll see where it takes us.

1) Bernanke could have tapered, but decided he couldn’t afford even the modest rise in interest rates. This reveals how weak the government and the economy has become.

Consider that tapering of QE4 was priced in to the stock market, but it would have forced bond yields to rise significantly. Before Bernanke’s announcement, the 10-year was resting just below 3 percent, a unprecedented low level, but one that has been rising over the last 6-months. If the Fed slowed its money printing, the cost of government borrowing would have risen significantly and suddenly — adding perhaps as much as $170 billion a year to the debt. That the US government could not absorb this minor instability shows how week the government and its currency have become.

2) Despite propaganda to the contrary, the Fed’s manipulation of interest rates doesn’t save money, it takes it from everyone else and gives it to connected elites.

It should have been clear the day before the announcement that the Fed had no intention of tapering because the newspapers were filled with articles talking about how great QE was for American companies. Take this “news story” from BloombergRead More »

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Poland Confiscates Retirement Accounts and Yes, It’s Coming Here

Poland recently announced that it was nationalizing the country’s private retirement accounts, their equivallent of 401(k)s. While residents will continue to have access to the funds just as they normally would, the move places private assets on the country’s public balance sheet. While this maneuver was in the works for sometime, of course, the devil is in the details.

Reuters writes:

The Polish pension funds’ organisation said the changes may be unconstitutional because the government is taking private assets away from them without offering any compensation…

Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski said the changes will reduce public debt by about eight percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The real reason Poland has worked to seize private assets is to make their debt to GDP ratio lower, causing their bond yields to fall and allowing them to borrow more money. Reuters reports that this “would allow the lowering of two thresholds that deter the government from allowing debt to raise over 50 percent.”  Read More »

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