Alabama’s Historic Economic Prize!

Along with this state’s recent headline grabbing immigration policies rearing its ugly head the most populous county in Alabama is destined for the record books as well, in a story of greed and corruption.

Jefferson County, Alabama has filed for Bankruptcy and if the case is allowed to go ahead it will be the Largest Municipal bankruptcy filing in United States History.

When combined the water and sewage rates in this county of 658,466 residents the rates for these must have services has increased 329% over the last 15 years.

As with most of the gut wrenching economic hardships of our recent recession the poor are the unwarranted recipients of most if not all of the consequences. They are now being forced to bathe in bottled water and use portable toilets as they have been cut-off from these basic necessities through no fault of their own.

While disturbing it’s not surprising that local government officials and Wall Street financiers have been implicated again in another case of financial wrongdoing.

All of this stems from the debt the county took on to finance a new sewer system for Jefferson County residents. Initially the cost was to be $300 million dollars however that initial projection soared to $3.1 Billion dollars and the county is drowning in debt.

JP Morgan Securities along with two of its prior directors have already been fined as they were accused of offering bribes to local politicians to guarantee they would win business financing the project. Six former members of Jefferson County’s commissioners have also been found guilty of corruption as well as fifteen other government officials for accepting bribes.

The new local county commission has seen no other alternative other than to file for chapter nine bankruptcy protections in November as the only way to try to bring the county out of this current financial hole.

However the banks and bondholders who stand to lose $4.5 million dollars per month in repayment charges are fighting the commission’s decision and a bankruptcy judge will give the last word on whether the Jefferson County commission can proceed.

The local residents have absorbed rate hikes of 8.2% a year to attempt to deal with repaying the escalating debt. According to John S. Young the court appointed receiver the rates are projected to be 10% per year up to a whopping 25% for the cash poor citizens of the county in the future.

Along with the prospect of bankruptcy filing for the sewage project the country is also projected to have an extra $40 million dollar budget shortfall.

As five hundred county workers were recently laid off and are living off of unemployment insurance the county’s ability to finance local services is further called into question as tax revenues will most certainly fall.

Tony Petelos the new county manager believes it will be years before the county might be able to turn the tide. He stated, “The public has lost confidence in Jefferson County over the last decade and a half, because of the mismanagement, because of the corruption. We have got to rebuild that confidence” and that there is, “light at the end of the tunnel”.

However in regards to any relief the citizens might realize in their water and sewer rates he was quoted as saying, “When you look at the amount of debt, and you  look at the revenue that is produced from the rate payers, there is no way it is going to come down,”.

Mr. Petelos who was the former mayor of Hoover city, Alabama recalls a Wall Street presentation about the same type of bonds that were used to finance the Jefferson County sewage project. After the presentation he recalls talking with his finance director in dismay and how they were both in agreement that they did not want to have anything to do with the type of financing that was presented.

One resident has found it is cheaper for him to pay a portable sanitation company $14 dollars a month to deal with his household sewage. His previous sewer and water bills sometimes reached $300 dollars per month this in a county whose citizens average income was $19,724 dollars per year according to the most recent census figures.

As most of the citizens of Jefferson County live off of meager Social Security income in this predominately poor community it is abundantly clear they cannot afford to pay these rate increases brought upon them by greed and corruption.

As the current Republican mindset in Washington is to gut most if not all of our governments regulation or oversight of the financial sector or corporations. This current situation in Alabama is the poster child for why we Do Need Regulation of banks and corporations that cannot be trusted to conduct themselves in a responsible honest fashion.

The meteoric rise of the debt from $300 million to $3.1 billion has been tied to construction issues and a series of bad bond and derivative deals that went sour during the 2008 financial debacle which has landed us in our current economic recession.

While for now as Jefferson county may be filing the largest Municipal bankruptcy in the history of our country. How many other cities and counties across the country are also reaching the breaking point remains to be seen.

Again Wall Street is being implicated in more financial crimes with few if any of the perpetrators being brought to justice. However as is usually the case the poorest citizens of the U.S. are being asked to suffer the brunt of the damage.

When will the poor citizens of the United States catch a break or at least be treated in a fair and equitable fashion and when if ever will the financial sector be held accountable?

Tea Party Success; Mother Shoots Children Commits Suicide After Food Stamp Denial

While the Tea-Party, Fox News, Grover Norquist, Republican legislators and the Republican presidential candidates among many will not lose any sleep over it, a 38yr old female shot her two children and then committed suicide herself in a Texas food stamp office on Tuesday.

As our Bought & Paid For Republican congressional leaders continue to crawl on their knees’ to Wall-Street and the Tea-Party the life and death of ordinary citizens is of little or no consequence.

The two children a 10-year old boy and 12-year old sister both still in critical condition in a Texas hospital are just insignificant collateral damage. Rachelle Grimmer 38-years is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound her former children will be orphans, that is if they live to see any more of this life.

Rachelle first applied for food stamps in July but was denied as she did not supply enough information. She apparently had applied after relocating to Texas from Ohio the Department of Health and Human Services stated the last previous contact with her had occurred during mid November.

That was until she walked into the building housing HHS in Laredo, Texas on Tuesday. The once living family walked in at 5pm, Grimmer asked to speak with a new case worker and specifically not the one she had worked with in the past. She and her children were taken to a private room and shortly afterwards revealed she had gun and the situation escalated, yet no one knew how badly this would end after the seven-hour standoff.

The police were called and their negotiators were on the phone with Rachelle throughout the evening, however her frustration was self-evident. A supervisor at the Texas Department of Health and Human Services offered himself as a hostage if Rachelle would let the other 25 employees in the building go free, which she did. She also finally let the supervisor leave at 7:45pm while she and her two children remained. Imagine the feeling alone in that room in the building where you had come for help yet no one cared, in such desperation living a life so far off the page past the margins into nowhere. No one will ever know what drove Rachelle to do what she did however I can imagine many of her once fellow Americans feel the same desperation in this day and age.

After the last phone call with authorities at 11:45pm there were 3 shots heard by police and a swat team entered the building finding Grimmer and her two wounded children. At that time the children were in Very Critical condition and unconscious at this time there is no further word on their outcome.

Yet the Tea-Party can check off their box on another win column entry this poor woman is just now another statistic. In the Tea-Party world of social Darwinism just another weak human being has lost the race while the strong have survived, but at what price?

How dispassionate a society we have become as these types of events happen more and more often than not in this country.

Congress is still fighting to cut programs to the poor while giving or extending tax cuts to the rich. The top 1% have seen their income grow 270% while the poor only realized around 18% from 1970-2007. Even though the rich possibly moved by Warren Buffet who asked to be taxed more along with other millionaires and billionaires while their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

There isn’t a Republican presently serving in congress with the backbone to stand up to the Tea-Party, Grover Norquist, Fox News and the rest of the, “I’ve got mine, get your own, oh and by the way I’m not going to give you a chance to get anything”, Neo-Conservatives.

President Obama said today that we are at a defining moment in our time and this country cannot turn its backs on the people of these lands we call America. Let anyone with a conscience hope and pray his words have not fallen upon deaf ears. Pray that this country still has a beating caring heart left for the sake of the people be they rich or poor.

For Rachelle Grimmer 38 and quite possibly her children who may also just become another statistic whether or not this country starts to turn back around will no longer be a possibility.

Wars are fought for no reason, banks are loaned billions of dollars for operating illegally with impunity and in truth Lobbyists are running this country.

What will it take for the United States of America to grow a conscience once again and realize we are all Human Beings worthy of the same opportunities and to begin to show some compassion for the less fortunate once more?

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Marijuana Legalization It’s the Only Smart Move

With the FBI reporting 829,627 arrests for marijuana in the calendar year 2006 and local government’s spending $10.7 billion a year policing, arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning our citizens it might be time to review America’s priorities.

Citizens in the U.S. are using 31,000,000 (31 Million) pounds of marijuana a year which supports a $113 billion dollar a year industry with no end in sight what are we thinking. There is also the loss of $31 Billion dollars per year in lost tax revenue add that to the cost of enforcement the figure goes to almost $42 Billion dollars a year.

There is also the recent phenomenon of nationwide law enforcement agencies not investigating more serious crimes, one to cut their overall crime statistics and two it means they qualify for more government funding for the war on drugs. This is used in concert with drug forfeiture laws which with or without a conviction deprive countless Innocent U.S. citizens of their property, it’s just a win win for law enforcement agencies across the USA and they are cashing in on it.

However this equates to a substandard enforcement of our laws as criminals who commit serious crimes are quite often overlooked. It’s easier to take down a street level marijuana dealer, take their house, car and possessions and sell them at an auction at a profit then to investigate more serious crimes.

 

If legalization were properly implemented tax revenues would increase. Law enforcement could direct their priorities to fighting real crime and their wasted time could be recaptured. The control of the drug trade by powerful Mexican drug cartels could be greatly extinguished and our government could control the importation and added tax revenue that legalized marijuana would bring to our country.

Just as the U.S. enforces pedophile laws and other offenses against children legislation could be written that would in Fact deter citizens from selling marijuana to those not able to legally have it.

By taking control of the marijuana trade with regulation, import quotas and sales mechanisms our country and its citizens would be better served. This would also in essence put almost $42 billion dollars a year into our nations bank account or $420 billion or almost half a Trillion dollars in a decade.

 

Prison overcrowding with its associated costs is a problem that states across the nation are grappling with every year. California may have to release 20% of its prison inmates to comply with judicial rulings which address the overcrowding issue.  In 2009 the FBI reported 858,408 prosecutions for marijuana or 97.5 arrests per hour. In 1992 the figure was 33 per hour and in 1965 it was 2 per hour but that was before forfeiture laws became such a cash cow.

80% of the property confiscated using this law is from persons never charged with a crime no wonder police departments have changed their priorities. Rather than investigate serious crimes why not go on a shopping spree on the street where you don’t have to pay for anything and even if the property owner gets a lawyer their chance is nil of getting back their property. Even reports of serious crimes are not even being written or never entered into official records to keep crime statistics artificially low, while citizens are being arrested at alarming rates for a spoonful of marijuana, some departments even have marijuana arrest quotas.

When will American citizens see the light and legalize tax and introduce legislation to decriminalize this drug. Yes $7 billion dollars have been generated since 1985 using forfeiture laws but that does not offset all the associated annual costs we are incurring now.

By legalizing marijuana our DEA agents and local law enforcement agencies could redirect their resources to investigating more serious crimes including our Prescription Drug Abuse epidemic. This epidemic is entirely centered in the U.S. as they are legal drugs that are being diverted for illegal sale and destroying lives in the aftermath including many children and teenagers.

I for one would rather have my tax dollars not wasted enforcing marijuana laws and imprisoning those who use it. In my lifetime I have seen that alcohol is a much more destructive drug with devastating consequences attached to its use.

Reading publications across this country there are numerous stories every day on death, assaults and robberies along with other crimes tied to alcohol abuse. In my over than fifty years living in this country I just cannot remember a marijuana user committing these or any other types of crimes because of its use.

Already across the country local governmental agencies are decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana as a cost cutting measures as well as then allowing the local police department to concentrate on more serious crimes. In California along with 15 other states marijuana use is being allowed for certain medical conditions where this use is being taxed and law enforcement time is not being wasted on these marijuana users.

Especially in our current economic state the USA could put our tax dollars to better use. Not spending over $10 billion dollars a year on prosecuting these people would make good economic sense. Realizing $31 billion dollars in tax revenue per year while at the same time taking control over the importation of this drug from Mexican drug cartels, this would also be an excellent road to travel for our country.

Let’s consider readjusting our priorities by legalizing marijuana along with controlling importation and realizing an economic benefit from the tax revenue it would produce. Incorporated into the legalization I cannot imagine anyone who could argue against harsh laws with accompanying imprisonment of anyone who would attempt to sell marijuana to those not of legal age.

Our youth can be protected by strict comprehensive laws while our law enforcement agencies could go back to investigating and prosecuting serious crimes. The national deficit which is at an all time high thanks to the Bush administration could breathe a little easier. American citizens who were really never big time criminals could be released from incarceration which would reduce prison overcrowding. Then those existing prisons could house serious criminals and our courts would also get relief not having to take the time to prosecute those who use marijuana.

Allowing police to investigate serious crime, not imprisoning non-criminals, reducing the federal deficit and giving overall economic relief to all the states in this country, now that is a smart policy move that Americans could get behind.

Sounds like legalizing marijuana is the smartest move the United States could take and all of us would better served both economically, legally and we could also protect our children.

U.S. Obesity and the Destruction of the Family Unit or a Different Ending

Recent data from the CDC 1985-2010 on obesity is a cause for concern by all Americans. As of 2010 there were approximately 33.8% adults classified as obese and 17% or 12.5 million of our youth ages 2-19 that fell into this classification. In showing that this is a national issue no state in the union had an obesity rate below 20% and 36 states had obesity rates higher than 25% also 12 states had a rate of 30% or more.

In 1990 the statistics were quite different when 10 states who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System reported obesity prevalence at <10%. Also no state reported a rate higher than or equal to 15%.

Jump to the year 2000 where no state had an obesity prevalence lower than 10%. While 23 states reported 20-24% and no state reported a rate over 25%.

By 2010 there were no states who reported an obesity prevalence below 20%. Thirty-six states were now reporting rates of 25% (equal to or greater).

The statistics were only reporting what society was already witnessing in their everyday lives. As these statistics grow so does our concern for our children, society and the economic impacts being found in hospitals and clinics nationwide.

In the U.S. Obesity is now estimated to cost $147 bill per year. Approximately 9% medical spending can be tied to this phenomenon. It is also estimated that the obese American spends $1500 more than the average or 41% more than what is considered the average medical cost of everyday U.S. citizens (Note approximately 2009 data).

Future Dire Consequences for the Human Race

In a study done by the Endocrine Society published March 23, 2011 it was found that the hormone Ghrelin is found to be low in obese females. The study while done on mice found that lower levels of this hormone reduced the fertility of the test subjects. While Ghrelin’s specifically cannot be tied to fertility of humans it does fall into the family of hormones involved in regulating reproductive functions in humans and animals.

The lead author of the report Hugh Taylor MD. of the Yale University School of Medicine stated, “While our study involved mice we believe our findings have significant implications for women. Our results suggest that low ghrelin levels could program the development of the uterus in the female children of obese women. These women may then be less fertile as adults”.

A recent study performed by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) recommends that young people should participate in physical activity of at least moderate intensity for 30 to 60 minutes each day. It is estimated that 300,000 Americans die annually as a result of a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits. This is more deaths than that from the result from infectious disease, firearms, motor vehicles, and illicit drug use combined

In some regions school age children receive gym classes only once every two weeks or once a month, when a holiday or a school assembly interferes. Prior to cost cutting measures being instituted only around 33% of students were considered obese this has now climbed to over 50% as standardized educational testing has taken on as the program of more importance versus physical education.

While the lack of physical activity is now being classified as a Major Health Risk little if anything is being done to address the issue. Yes bills are being brought forth across the country however they are gaining no traction and never reach fruition.

Sedentary lifestyles are predisposing Americans for diseases such as stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, various cancers, diabetes, depression, obesity, and much more.

American males watch on average 2 hours of television per day versus 2.4 hours for females. On top of this there is an average of 2 hours per day using computers, gaming and other social media.

Children and teenagers report on average spends 2.2 hr each day watching television, 1.9 hr each day reading or doing homework, 1.4 hr daily on the computer/Internet, 1.2 hr playing video games, and 1.1 hr daily talking on the telephone.

However the above stated data is self-reported and as with other studies of this type the figures are extremely questionable and have a higher propensity for underreporting by the study participants.

For instance another study reported found that time spent watching television, videos, DVDs, and movies averaged slightly over three hours per day among children 8 to 18 years old.

As our recent history shows we are an overly materialistic nation with to much emphasis being placed upon social status and conspicuous consumption. With two working parent households and also a 50% divorce rate all of this must be factored into the matter, however it does not point to a strong and engaged family household. Each and every day this is placing more and more responsibility on America’s children to raise themselves.

Our government via subsides and the like, reduces the overall costs for what are unhealthy foods while fruits and vegetables see none of these government incentives. We as a people want instant gratification and fast food with super-size proportions having their establishments on every street corner are not helping matters.

Can parents be expected to become more engaged in their children’s lives including proper diet and exercise, it doesn’t look promising.

How can parents restrict or control their child’s dietary intake, television viewing habits, computer, video games etc, when they are almost never around the children. Can they become involved in their children’s PTA or other school activities when their jobs will not allow for such involvement as they consume more and more of their time?

Is there any way to improve our lives and those of our children

Maybe American society can consider modifying their lifestyles from todays present mindset. If our children are one of the most important facets in parents lives as is so often spoken of possibly if this is in fact true there may be a sliver of hope.

Is it possible a more expensive or larger home, car, electronic gadget, clothing and high paying or all-time consuming jobs could be of less importance in our lives in the future. Could the family unit again become just that, where parents are actually engaged in all facets of their child’s life. If a little less income where brought into the family household could the parents then lead by example on diet and exercise among many activities, as they might then have the time.

Americans are given one shot on this planet will wealth and materialism be their legacy. Or maybe the legacy could be that of an engaged human being living life to the fullest even though one’s bank account or house might not be as large or they drive a cheaper car? Could two or even (Gasp) only 1 child that could receive more of a parent’s time and love than 2 or more be a consideration?

One can only hope and I only hope the best for all Americans and God bless all of the parents ( of which I am one) on this planet your job is more difficult than any CEO. Sometimes ideas may be unrealistic however in this case can we afford not to take some chances?

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