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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fiscal Prudence -- October 13, 2013

For weeks, the news media has inundated the public with doomsday scenarios if there is no agreement on a spending bill in Washington. First there was the government shutdown where federal workers would be furloughed causing widespread havoc and upheaval. Beginning on October 1st, national parks were closed, war memorials, and even tours of the White House ceased. There were slowdowns at a few airports, the bureau of labor statistics could not release their obscure job report numbers, and the FDA was unable to trace the source of some tainted beef. If this was not enough to horrify the masses, later this week bloated government will not be able to pay all its bills. The U.S. will actually have to live within its means and cease piling up trillions of debt. The idea is so terrifying that many people cannot fathom political leaders remaining in gridlock. The doomsday clock is ticking down and there is enormous pressure on Republicans to just give the president a blank check. Even from my prison cell, however, I can see through the delirium of economic apocalypse. America could use a lot less hysterics and more fiscal prudence.

Monday morning, prisoners were excited after an announcement was made for men to get ready for commissary. The cell house has not been allowed to shop in months and many were eager to spend their money on candy, cakes, coffee, and an assortment of other goods. The noise was unpleasant to me and I put my headphones on until a guard opened up my cell door. At the store building, I refused to splurge with the money sent to me and was very frugal in my purchases. I bought food to substitute or supplement prison meals and items which were being sold at a discount. When I was told the $3.75 clearance sweatpants were unavailable, I refused to buy the much more expensive counterpart. I knew very well the sweatpants were being saved for friends of commissary workers. Unlike the government, I keep to a budget and do not have a printing press.

One of my primary purposes in buying commissary food was to avoid the chow hall. I despise the crowds of obnoxious convicts, disruptions to my routines, and oppressive security. The Orange Crush continues to be present during movement lines, although only intermittently and they are not being as aggressive. Another reason to avoid the chow hall is simply because the food is often distasteful or paltry. Monday evening, despite stocking up on supplies, I went out for dinner. Four by six inch rectangles of pizza were being served. It was definitely not enough to fill my hunger and I put the thin slice of pizza in my back pocket to eat later. In my cell, I added sardines as a topping while I watched the TV show "Blacklist." Sardines are sold at the commissary in 3.5 oz. packages for 85 cents. They are not the tastiest food, but they are cheap and nutritious. Unfortunately many Americans have not learned how to shop more prudently and live off handouts by the government.

Before the television show came on, I read a newspaper article about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program otherwise known as SNAP. SNAP has grown to unprecedented levels during the administration of Barack Obama. Incredibly, nearly one out of every six Americans, or 50 million, is given food stamps. The statistics are extremely ironic when considering 1/3 of Americans are considered obese, the second highest in the world. These people are not starving, but lazy and taking advantage of the president's socialist programs. When I was growing up, I was taught if you do not work, you do not eat, yet today there is little work ethic. Despite how taxpayers are being forced to pay billions for other people's sloth or inability to shop wisely, there was an outcry when in budgetary talks it was said the program may be slightly diminished.

The Illinois Department of Corrections is increasingly using donated food to save money. The pizza on Monday, I believe, was purchased in bulk from a supplier. However, various other foods, snacks, and drinks are being sent to the penitentiary as tax write-offs. This week, prisoners have been served Chiquita strawberry/banana smoothies for both lunch and dinner. From what I am told, a large delivery of over 100 boxes of the self-serve juice drinks came in last week and is being stored in one of the kitchen's walk-in coolers. Incarcerated men greatly appreciate the donated food, but I think the cost savings are perpetuating bad policy within the IDOC. Money saved feeding, clothing, or meeting the health care needs of prisoners is money that can be spent for superfluous and oppressive security.

Tuesday morning, I went out to one of the penitentiary's two small yards. I rarely ever go to these, but I wanted to see what new equipment and weights had been placed on them. Each yard had two iron bars with welded weights of 50 and 200 pounds along with one bench. These things were not actually new but brought out of storage or from another yard. Too many prisoners crowded around the weights and I walked over to the basketball court. After my cellmate accepted a challenge of a one on one game, I was dismayed to pick up a ball that was lopsided. Nearly all of the workout equipment in the prison is either broken, bent, or in very poor condition. At the minimum I thought the prison could pay for new basketballs. Fortunately, there was another ball which was well worn but bounced straight.

While in the middle of our game, a Mexican asked if he could play. I told him he must find another player. He searched for a long time before returning to the court with a goofy and probably retarded bald black man. I call the man Fester after the character Uncle Fester in the Adams Family, however, others call him Kojak. Initially, I told Gordo he had to find someone else. I did not like this kook. Plus, he was not competitive and the game would be as lopsided as the other basketball. He did not care, however, and Anthony and I nearly shut them out in two consecutive games. Fester left flustered and delirious. Somehow I had collided with him head on and I was accused of a "helmet to helmet" NFL foul. Little Man took his place momentarily until my cellmate almost accidentally tore out his dialysis implant. With health care at Stateville so poor, he did not want to risk any problems.

After I returned to the cell, I bathed and then washed clothes out of my toilet while listening to President Barack Obama address the nation. His speech was filled with much deception and scaremongering. He attempted to lay blame on Republicans and justify his refusal to negotiate. The Affordable Health Care Act was law and was declared Constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The fact it was passed without the normal required votes and not a single Republican was mentioned. Nor did the president mention how it only narrowly won in the nation's highest court with a controversial interpretation that it was a tax and not a mandate to buy insurance. Regardless, it is a terrible socialist program which will add to other entitlement burdens of the country. While the president sought to frighten Americans about a looming default if Republicans did not give him a blank check, there is actually no threat and the real danger is the massive debt the U.S. continues to accumulate.

According to the Treasury Department, the debt ceiling will be reached this Wednesday. The law prohibits the government from borrowing any additional money. This is far from the end of times. The government will continue to rake in billions of dollars, plenty of money to pay for most bills. The maturity of Treasury bonds are not until the end of the month. This is an ample amount of time to reroute funds to pay all holders of debt and avoid default. America has more than enough cash without raising debt to remain solvent and keep its stellar triple A credit rating. Despite the doomsday clock on CNN, America will not implode, go through any economic catastrophe, or any other apocalyptic scenario. However, it will have to prioritize spending and make responsible cuts. These cuts, despite causing a hangover, will be good in the long term. The reckless spending of government cannot be sustained.

Currently, the U.S. debt is a staggering $16.7 trillion. This figure is well over the country's GDP, although government bean counters like to leave out money it owes itself. Democrats also like to point out that yearly deficits are trending downward. From $1.5 trillion in 2009, the Treasury Department predicts it will only be $400 billion in 2015. However, this is still an enormous sum and is only temporary. There will be a surge in the second half of the decade as baby boomers retire. In ten years, yearly deficits will be back to a trillion and the total national debt will have accumulated to $22 trillion dollars. As the working age population is projected to decline in numbers but also in skills and innovation, America faces enormous challenges. Entitlement spending must be reduced and not increased by other federal government programs like Obamacare. Despite the name "Affordable Health Care Act," it will not be affordable for many businesses, people, or the nation which will be subsidizing much of it.

Tuesday evening, I listened to the Sean Hannity and Mark Levine talk shows on WLS AM radio. I wanted to hear their perspectives of the impasse in Washington as well as any economic consequences of a failure to raise the debt ceiling. Television is largely dominated by liberal and sensationalistic news shows. As I listened to them talk I studied various stocks. The Dow Jones had not surprisingly dropped over 100 points for a second straight day. The fear of investors was beginning to show with the scary talk of the president and TV news media. I knew spending cuts would dampen the economy, however, the Federal Reserve Bank is most important. The printing of $85 billion a month to buy securities will continue to fuel the market despite what Washington does or does not do. At the table near my prison bars, I found stocks that would be good to own if they went on sale.

The following morning I awakened very cold despite sleeping under two blankets. Temperatures are regularly dropping into the low 40's at night and the prison has yet to turn on any heat. I warmed up quickly, though, after I began my cell workout. I was feeling fine until I went to wash up and noticed the water was ice cold. The hot water has been turned off 3 days this month. Apparently, a boiler is not working properly and maintenance has been unsuccessful in fixing it. The water has been tepid to cold for nearly a month and it was a complaint of many prisoners when the warden walked through earlier today. Amusingly, I overheard my neighbor complain not about the cold water, lack of heat, poor medical care, or other substantive issues but DVDs. The LTS supervisor is not playing any movies for prisoners.

The assistant warden while passing by my cell asked me if the mail has improved. I told him it was now only a couple of weeks behind rather than a month. He said he put more guards in the mail room to read mail, but under union contract they could not be forced to process mail. This was an odd peculiarity I thought but not altogether surprising. Correctional officers have a very powerful union which is able to negotiate favorable terms. Security personnel has been increased at the prison to the point of absurd levels, but other staff has not and spending is lacking.

The Orange Crush continues to monitor and pat down more men and lines, although it seems the prison has reduced its vigilance to Def Con 2. While on the large South Yard Thursday, I noticed a group of SORT on the walk leading into the chow hall tunnel. This was close to the spot where there was a fight in early September. Men returning from chapel services and elsewhere were loomed over and occasionally frisked. The extra security presence probably served to deter any prisoners from even considering any misbehavior. The SORT has mostly avoided C House inmates, but on Friday I saw them for both lunch and dinner. Strangely enough, despite all the new guards and security the following day did not begin until late due to a purported lack of staff. It is difficult to believe there were not enough guards to go around. Unemployment levels remain high nationally, but not for correctional officers in the State of Illinois.

On some liberal television news program, I heard complaints early in the month about the government shutdown preventing the Bureau of Labor Statistics from releasing their jobs report. This report, although widely broadcast since the recession, serves little function except for traders who gamble on the numbers to make a quick buck. It is like betting on the over and under on a football game. People fail to realize these reports can be off by 90,000 and are always adjusted repeatedly. Missing one report is meaningless. What is important is the big picture and long term trends. The unemployment figure is made up of only those who are seeking work and cannot find it. The percentage publicized does not factor in all those who have dropped out of the workforce or what type of jobs people are getting as well as their salaries. The employment rate is a stunningly low 58% and it is not likely to improve with so many people retiring. Furthermore, those people gaining jobs are increasingly having to accept lower wages and fewer hours. Barack Obama's emphasis on wealth redistribution is not creating the jobs or growth needed. His policies are only increasing debt burdens on future generations.

From watching Sunday morning political newscasts, it seems Republicans are on the verge of capitulating. The masses are terrified by the Chicken Little's who claim the sky is falling and conservatives are being blamed. RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only, do not want to hold the line with the likes of the Tea Party movement. It is unfortunate because they are the only ones who steadfastly oppose runaway government. Without a unified opposition party, Washington will be a lot like Springfield. In Illinois, Democrats control the legislature and executive branches. Debt continues to pile up and spending cuts are only made at the margins where the public does not notice or have an interest. Thus, why prisoners are not provided adequate health care, clothing, and are fed poorly or with donated food, yet the guards union is catered to lavishly. Fiscal prudence requires responsible and strong leadership. Both seem to be missing at the federal and state level.