• Face-First Into the Abyss: Bankruptcies, Austerity, 'Small Government' And You.

    The New York Times has a rather thorough article on the Jefferson County, Alabama bankruptcy and the sewer debacle that started it all. I covered this in a previous blog post, which also contains a link to the even more detailed Rolling Stone article authored months ago. I guess since the NYT had its content ripped by those bastards over at Fortune, they had to make up for lost eyeballs with a quick rehash of old news.

    Meanwhile, governments all over the globe are responding to economic crises with resounding cries of Austerity™. In a quaint three-bedroom villa on the outskirts of the European Union suburbs, Daddy Germany and Momma France want Greece and its fellow PIIGS siblings (Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain) to eat a piping hot, value-sized portion of Austerity™ for dinner, on the auspices of it being healthy for them. Greece set itself on fire at the kitchen table in protest, while the rest of the PIIGS went to their rooms without supper. But seriously, Greece is hurting in a bad way. Deep in debt, with no way of practicing their traditional solution of currency devaluation (because Euro) and with tax evasion a national pastime, the Greek government is busy cutting whatever scraps of fat they can find to stay afloat, even with Germany secretly wanting the country to emancipate itself declare bankruptcy and get the hell out of the house Euro.

    Austerity™, according to conservative fixtures who fancy themselves as being learned in economic matters, supposedly works by drastically cutting worker pay and benefits, social services deemed unnecessary and even essential services to the bone, not to mention helpful programs that are considered "entitlements" by the conservative set. Spending is drastically lowered, while taxes are also lowered or at least held at the same rates. In other words, it's the government pretending to budget like an ordinary household of five.

    In the case of the United States, it's a household of five where the hubby only spends his money on guns and countless rounds of drinks for his wealthy buddies from the office. Apparently, if he shows he can flash a little cash and kisses enough wealthy buddy ass, he thinks they'll let him in the country club and they'll all be BFFs 4eva. Meanwhile, the wife works, but nearly every single dime she makes winds up in hubby's hands. They barely have enough for the necessities and niceties like new clothes for the kids or a decent night out for the wife are deemed "entitlements." The family trucks no handouts and despite scraping by on the thinnest margins, sincerely believes that if it just cuts back on the food and the utility usage, they'll be able to put back enough money to get themselves back on track again, despite hubby getting his paycheck cut once again and all of their savings going towards more guns for hubby's collection and more rounds of drinks for the wealthy boys back at the pub.

    So what does Austerity™ have to do with a county that's knee-deep in debt accrued from what turned out to be a massive fraudulent subprime loan?

    Well, when you think about it, the later stages of Austerity™ involve the family selling off the prized family silver and jewelry. For countries, those jewels are public infrastructure, already built and just waiting to be sold to creditors and private interests for literally pennies on the dollar. In other words, Austerity™ eventually turns a country into a glorified estate sale.

    For Jefferson County, that may involve selling off portions or even the entirety of the Jefferson County sewer system. Now there's a public asset that a private company can use to make money hand over fist. And that's the whole point - a private entity taking hold of a formerly public asset that features a built-in captive consumer base and a license to literally print money. It's Comcast (or AT&T) sipping a steroid/crack smoothie infused with meth crystals for added punch.

    Conservatives are happy about how this shit is well on its way to hitting the proverbial fan, as it supposedly validates the continuing cries for "small government," which, if you're reading the news these days, turns out to be a government that funds moral busybodyism (banning abortion and gay marriage), wealth worship (more tax cuts to wealthy individuals and corporations, with looser or nonexistent regulations) and unbridled aggression (see our military funding sometime) while condemning and defunding things that actually help people (national healthcare, social programs, etc). It's a government run on the Just World fallacy with Dickensian logic. Many of the suburban and rural collapse fetishists are banking on the county keeling over (and the city of Birmingham along with it*) just for the validation of their world view such an event would bring - "the county was a liberal shit pool that blew up because it wouldn't follow the hallowed way of conservative 'small government'."

    Welcome to Small Government, USA!

    The Reagan dream of the City on the Hill is coming true, folks. The only problem is that the City is bankrupt, 25% of the inhabitants live below the absurdly high Federal poverty threshold, no civil services worth a hoot are being produced and the only growth sector is in illiteracy.

    The above comes from Youssef of Skaraborg, Sweden. He's almost there, but not quite.

    Conservatives are up in arms about paying for things they don't want, which often includes things like public libraries, urban schools, parks, alternative forms of transportation, etc, basically anything that doesn't directly benefit them. So the future lies in not just "trimming the fat" until cities find themselves shaving bone, but by throwing the entire turkey out altogether. That means...wait for it..."privatization!"

    Essentially anything that conservatives feel can't "sustain themselves" gets thrown out the door and replaced with a privatized entity that "responds to the demands of the free market." In Jefferson County's case, that could mean a buyout of the heavily indebted sewer system by a private corporation, one that will undoubtedly send user rates into stratospheric territory. But that's OK because they're part of the private sector.

    Private transportation (much like Birmingham and Montgomery had pre-1960s), privatized utilities, privatized  schools (charter schools are working on that as I type), privatized road works and a completely privatized health system that does away with things like Medicare/Medicaid, especially as the Boomers who benefited from Medicare die off. Even services like fire and rescue can be privatized, although many people won't like the results. Police services, too, but I doubt conservatives would go that far (unless they get sick of paying police officers decent wages). Securitas, Wackenhut and Pinkerton will make out big from private police contracts. Sure, you might find them working hand-and-hand with CCA and others to bump up the intake and housing rates of privatized prisons, but hey, you'll be saving tons of money. Or so you think.

    Too bad these privatized services won't do much for the rural areas unless they pay up. The nice thing about public services was the ability to spread out funding in order to subsidize libraries, roads and infrastructure in Bumfucktown and other distant rural locales. To corporations, service to far-flung rural areas represents a sea of red ink. These companies want to stay in the black as much as possible, especially when the quarterly stock figures depend on it, so no more subsidized services for Bumfucktown unless they're willing to pay an arm and a leg for it.

    This is the future of the U.S.A. under the GOP idea of "Small Government," in a nutshell: a place where those who can afford to pay privatized entities for basic functions formerly handled by government can do so. Taxes are low, thanks to the general lack of government services and "entitlements" (aside from possible roadwork, police funding, and of course, legislative salaries) but you unknowingly pay more for privatized versions of the same (or more than likely, inferior) level of service. You can bask in the Fuck You, Got Mine philosophy until you wind up Losing Yours.

    Meanwhile, those who can't pay are fucked, unless citizens band together and cobble up their own meager services or pool the town monies together to pay. If that doesn't work, most downtown areas will dry up and blow away like those along Route 66, bypassed by the proverbial interstates of privatization. If you happen to live in these areas, you should probably go shopping for a decent sized generator, dig your own well and get to work on that outhouse, as the indoor plumbing most likely won't work for shit in this new day and age. At least you can live proudly like the hardscrabble folks over in eastern Kentucky, but they have the added advantage of electrification - you folks probably won't be able to afford the bill anyways. Those who already live "off-the-grid" won't have too much to worry about. Hopefully.

    As for my fellow black and Latino Americans? Well, you guys are fucked, too. With conservative fervor to have most of the so-called "thugs" and "urban criminals" safety locked away at a crescendo, you folks can expect to get collared on a wide range of charges. Peonage and convict leasing will make a big comeback, especially as private police forces start colluding with private prisons to shuffle as many of the underclass into their private facilities as possible, for use as dollar amounts on the accounting ledger, examples of further federal funding and grants needed for private prisons and a convenient source of labor that could possibly be lent out in a creative fashion to other corporations for pennies on the dollar. Forget the poor kids working second shift as janitors in their own schools, you can have good ol' fashioned prison labor putting in work for damn-near free. For black Americans, things will be the same as it ever was, only more fierce.

    Actually, slavery continued 80 years after the Civil War. A “new” form of slavery occurred under peonage systems or involuntary servitude. Prisoners were charged with fines that they couldn’t pay or charges were trumped up to fill prison camps with “legal” free convict labor. The Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company was a large convict leasing client for coal mining labor in Birmingham, Alabama following Reconstruction. The company merged with its principal rival, the U.S. Steel then owned by J.P. Morgan in 1907. Convicts leasing swelled after U.S. Steel acquired it. Southern states were the primary benefactors until December 12, 1941 (five days after Pearl Harbor) when FDR stopped it with Circ. No. 3591 by overturning unwritten law allowing federal complicity. FDR feared the dirty little secret would be used by foreign enemies. The Depression accentuated the poverty in the South. Between 1910 and 1930, thousands of African Americans fled north to escape forced labor. To compete with Northern industry, the South began offering lucrative subsidies to recruit industry to the South. Then, the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act was passed. No unions, no regulations, no local jurisdiction. Thus, deindustrialization of the North begins coinciding with 1970s country-wide stagnating wages. The southern and mid-west safety net dependency in last Sunday’s NY Times is telling. Inequality has been institutionalized by the above policies. Alabama was last to end involuntary servitude.

    That was from WNYPlanner from Buffalo, N.Y. If you want to know more about the above, watch Slavery by Another Name. That second steroid/crack smoothie is half-finished, with a third order coming right up.

    Will things ever get that far? Who knows? America has this knack for swimming away from the deep end of complete stupidity at the last moment, but the country continues to edge closer and closer every time it hops in the pool.

    For conservatives reading this, you'll get to see that Shining City on the Hill, just as your dear sainted Ronaldus Maximus promised. Too bad you won't be able to afford the admission. And just like the hubby in the Austerity™ household, no amount of drinks or guns will get you smuggled in.

    *One thing to look for on the AL.com forums and story comments is how many commentators innocently confuse Jefferson County's fiscal troubles for those of the city of Birmingham. The city has a relatively healthy financial outlook. But that doesn't stop the collapse fetishists from shitting on both city and county. Perhaps now is not a good time to advocate for a city/county consolidation.