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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How Do You Deal With a Dying Culture?

Superheroes are the modern versions of classical mythology. They offer answers to philosophical questions about morality, what it means to be human, our responsibilities to each other, and more. Most importantly, they reveal our culture’s inner values. Put simply, they are a legitimate part of our cultural heritage, but in recent years superhero movies and other types of childhood franchises have undergone increasingly intellectually shallow, plot-less and violent remakes.

For example, few modern myths are more ingrained in American culture than Superman. The most recent film grossed nearly $650 million worldwide, almost half of which was in the United States. In the film, Superman defeats his rival, Zod, by snapping his neck, meanwhile, tens of thousands have presumably died around him. It’s a bit more blunt than Superman II (1980), in which Zod and his minions are tricked into losing their powers.

The shallowness of our entertainment media continues to descend further into the abyss at a frightening pace. Take the second film in the incomprehensible Transformers franchise, Revenge of the Fallen (2009), which garnered $402 million in the United States. A writer’s strike delayed the creation of a script, so producers instead concentrated on creating digital effects to be matched up with a plot to be written later. Apparently no one noticed or cared.

The escapist aspects of the entertainment industry, especially in the form of ludicrous superhero movies, has grown to be an entire industry unto itself, and with glee, most of our youth have openly embraced fanboyism in eager anticipation of the next Star Wars trilogy or a Superman/Batman crossover.

Criticizing the shallow taste of Americans is not the point of this article, but we should consider how we got here. Ask anyone why people “flock to schlock” and you will inevitably hear answers like “Americans are stupid,” or “they have no concept of quality.” You will also be told that as the economy weakens and traditional forms of emotional and psychological support fail, people will seek increasingly absurd forms of sedation and pleasure. Compelling as these arguments are, perhaps there is another explanation. To understand it, we have to understand what cultural death is first. Read More »

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Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander (Book, 1978)

Humanist and environmental activist Jerry Mander is nearing 80-years-old, but you wouldn’t know it to hear him. In recent years he has spoken on the dangerous, unsustainable and “obsolete” system of global capitalism, but his earliest and probably most influential public work is his manifesto warning about the many dangers of television.

Here in his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, the author uses his experience in media to explain the broad effects that television has had on our society. There are not actually four arguments; rather, there are hundreds of small arguments fitting around four broad categories.

Unfortunately, as he is quick to point out, these ideas are not quickly or easily explained. Many ideas are admittedly based on anecdotal evidence, complicated by a lack of scientific study at the time of its publication, but Mander’s observations are apparent to any TV watcher. For the purpose of this review, we’ll analyze just a few of the ideas he presents.  Read More »

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Corporations Seek the Ultimate Power in the Universe: The Power to Print Money

Geopolitics since World War II has increasingly been defined by global trade and by extension, multinational corporations. As they have escaped national boundaries, governments have become acquiescent to their desires with “Free” trade agreements, favorable regulations and protective laws. More recently, the arrogance of these institutions has been to take on the role of government itself. Corporations make their own laws, hire their own armies, declare war, prosecute criminals, and generally do whatever they want in pursuit of their never ending goal of more.

There is however one power that has remained uniquely a function of government — the creation and management of currencies. It is the government’s most safeguarded and powerful tool, even more so than military power, because it affects all transactions within an economy. Granted, companies already try to influence monetary policy by promoting a cheap dollar, but they lack direct control over the issuance of currency. It is naive to think that companies will allow governments to keep control over the currency without attempting to privatize this power. We are already seeing corporations attempt to gain control over the money in circulation by encouraging consumers to use their alternatives.  Read More »

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The Earth-Shattering Whistleblower You Haven’t Heard About

While many in the nation are concerned with Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) leaker who helped to spread the word about the agency’s spying and data collection within the US, the extent of that spying still remains clouded. Are our calls actually being recorded? Can that information be recalled at a later date? Gen. Kieth Alexander, the director of the NSA says no, but one whistleblower you haven’t heard of not only says yes, but insists its far worse than that.

NSA Whistleblower Russell Tice was the man responsible for leaking the original story about NSA spying to the NYT, held until after the 2004 election and eventually published in 2005. Tice notes in a recent interview that the NSA had been tapping the phones of major political figures — confirming the belief among some that the NSA spying scandal has more to do with political maneuvering than terrorism.  Read More »

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A Tale of Two Cities & Its Lessons (Novel, 1859)

I recently finished reading the Charles Dickens’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities, a story of sacrifice and revenge before and during revolutionary France. Dickens was partially inspired to write the novel to to develop some of the themes he had addressed in previous novels, namely poverty. He insisted that if things did not change, violent revolution in England, similar to the French Revolution, was possible. He was wrong then, but the French Revolution is not a lesson easily ignored in our age, where men and women are forced to beg for work, and enslave themselves to keep it.

Looking back on classic literature like Dickens, I’m stunned at the relevancy of it all. The introduction begins with one of the most recognizable openings in all of English literature.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

The contrast between two sets of characteristics shows a society crumbling at the foundations, while illusions and arrogance are common elsewhere among the elite class. Here, Dickens states that pre-revolutionary France 80 or 90 years prior was not so different than England in his time. The people were suffering; the politicians, out of touch and believing they were secure, were content to wallow in the excesses of profound luxury.  As Dickens says, it was “like the present period.”  Read More »

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The Collapse of American Optimism and the Rise of Apocalyptica

Ask any American older than 30 what the country was like when they were growing up and with few exceptions, the answer will be uniformly positive, and certainly more positive than its perceived to be today. Indeed, even young adults in their 20s recognize that the tone of the nation has changed in recent years. This is not merely a case of viewing the past with “rose tinted glasses.” Examining the nearly unanimous optimism of past decades, particularly the 1950s and 1960s, can be downright staggering by today’s standards, where expectations get lower every year. Only a few (mostly older folks) still maintain that improvements are even possible.

One need only examine the writings of the past to see how true this is. Take for example this article in Time Magazine from February 1966 called “The Future: Looking Toward A.D. 2000.” In it, the author describes a plethora of imaginative predictions about what it will be like to live in the future. They say the next 30 years will include underwater farms, a fully automated society run by robots where only ten percent of the population is employed and planes that can carry up to 1,000 people, which by the end of the millennium “will of course be old hat.” In general, they are the usual predictions you’d expect to read from such a periodical, but the consulted “experts” go further still.

In a Rand Corporation study, “82 scientists agreed that a permanent lunar base will have been established long before A.D. 2000 and that men will have flown past Venus and landed on Mars.” The article also predicts flying hover cars and the casual use of drugs to help avoid “a wife or husband [that] seems to be unusually grouchy.”  Read More »

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Five Months After Hurricane Sandy

It’s been almost 5 months since Hurricane Sandy devastated several towns and knocked out power to more than 8 million people across the east coast. The storm resulted in 72 deaths and thousands of destroyed homes and businesses. At $75 billion, it was the 2nd costliest hurricane in US history.

The lives of those directly in the path of the storm were immediately altered, placing even well prepared families at the mercy of government agencies. Tragic as it was for the thousands who lost their homes, it isn’t uncommon for a hurricane to do that kind of damage to coastal towns. More unusual, is that the storm displaced or otherwise affected millions of people with long term power outages and disrupted commerce in an area not used to “roughing it.”

At first, as is the case with such life altering situations, these people try to act as if nothing had happened for the first few days, but when things don’t go back to normal, the psychological pressure builds. Eventually you can no longer deny that things have changed, that substantive changes to your lifestyle are going to have to happen in order to survive. They go through various degrees of the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Most of us exposed to the storm only had to deal with the first or second stages before power was restored and life returned to normal, but even that was instructive. We got a good look at our own dependencies, our addictions we never knew we had.  Read More »

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US, UK, and Canada Have Plan To Allow Banks to Seize Depositor Accounts

In our last story, we noted how government backed loans in the housing market encourages rising home and rent prices throughout the nation, a transfer of wealth from almost every single American to various establishment organizations. Now we have another example of banks transferring risk to the taxpayer.

The term “Too Big To Fail” should have the addendum NEVER EVER added to it, because, as we have seen with Cyprus, the establishment will do anything to ensure the banks do not fail and prevent the world from plunging into some kind of Mad Max hellscape. To this end, we know the government has claimed the authority to seize bank accounts, and indeed all other forms of private property should it be deemed necessary by whoever, but now we’re getting some specifics thanks to a recent FDIC report called “Resolving Globally Active, Systemically Important, Financial Institutions.”

In this report, they lay out plans to seize private bank accounts (including insured deposits under $250,000) Cyprus style in the event the bank is about to go under and previous methods of bailing them out are unpalatable by congress weary to approve TARP II: Revenge of the BankstersRead More »

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Government Pushes For a New Housing Bubble; Backs Subprime Loans With Taxpayer Dollars

The divide between what the majority of people want verses what the establishment wants is never greater than it is when discussing property values. Those who have assets want them to rise in price, while the poor and those just starting out want lower prices they can afford. Of course, they have no political power. The result over the last 40 years has been bubble after bubble, with additional government intervention to keep the party going at all cost.

Listening to CNBC or any business publication, you’d think the economy was nothing but buying and building houses. A recovery in housing is a sign that the renter is being fleeced once again at higher and higher levels. That real wealth creation has collapsed and wages all over the nation are stagnant makes no difference to them. The easy money is in financialization and speculation on these assets.  Read More »

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