Category Archives: movies

Get Bent, Ayn Rand, or How Sharknado Saved My Sanity

Note from Localista: The best part of social media, including blogging, is for me the exchange of ideas. Here is a counterpoint to my ATLAS SHRUGGED blog post. Kirstie is a funny and astute writer. Enjoy!

A World Without Borders Bookstores

My Bookshelves

Dear Reader:

I am taking a break from Outside the Box in D.C. to comment on the news about Borders. Remember when the big-box bookstore rolled into town? Independent bookstores weakened and died. Patrons mourned, but they ended up shopping at Borders anyway because, let’s face it, Borders carried just about everything you ever wanted to read and more . . . plus you could have some great coffee and feel chic and intellectual sitting at a cafe table, sipping lattes and reading your Philip Roth, your Stephen King, or your Candace Bushnell.

Image from IMDb website.

Movies were made. Who can forget Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, in YOU’VE GOT MAIL? She tried so hard and loved her store so much, and it just about broke your heart when her authors jumped ship for bigger booksignings at the megastore “around the corner.” The movie ended with this feeling of inevitability. Little guys will lose. Big guys will win. End of story.

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com website.

And what is bigger than a big-box brick and mortar bookstore like Borders? An internet retailer. The virtual shelves of an internet bookstore are endless. End-less. Was the closing of Borders inevitable?

Probably. First, the rising tide of online shopping ate away at the retail giant’s sunny shores. According to some analysts, Borders did not adapt quickly enough with their online platform. Annie Lowrey wrote an article for Slate magazine slamming the bookseller for outsourcing their internet sales to Amazon early on. Then the tsunami of electronic books & magazines rocked the publishing world.

Some of us (read: older) readers love our hardcovers and paperbacks and glossy print magazines. We like the smell of books. We like the feel of turning the pages. We like dust-jackets. But as time goes on, I see more and more people reading on their Kindles and Nooks, and if we haven’t already reached a tipping point there, the time is fast approaching. In fact, I’m wondering how much longer we will have any new printed materials at all.

I still have certain reservation about e-publishing, namely: what happens if the power goes out? In a low-energy world where we’ve used up all the easily-available oil, where a non-renewable resource–coal–continues to power the electric grid of large cities, where that grid infrastructure is vulnerable to decay and terrorist activities, where we haven’t yet ramped up our alternative, sustainable options such as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy technologies . . . in a world like that will electronic readers, tablets, laptops, and smartphones really be a reliable platform for information storage?

How will we make sure that the least affluent in our democratic society still have access to information? Will the rich and middle-classes be willing to buy e-readers for the poor via library programs, education initiatives, or flat-out charitable donations?

Will “somebody” be printing out at least a few hundred copies of the most important works, storing them in a secure location just in case? The thought of losing our collective knowledge gives me the willies! We will need all the information–scientific, sociological, historical, psychological, anthropological, etc–if, indeed, the fit hits the shan.

More of my library

Which is why we need to keep some of this (see pic above) even as we move into a new bookselling era.

The role of independent, brick and mortar bookstores will become increasingly important, I believe, in the coming years. For those of us who love “real” books, these stores will be suppliers for our fixes. They will also be micro-conservators of information, as will those of us who keep home libraries. Locally-owned bookstores will continue to provide spaces for book-lovers to meet, to talk about literature and the issues that literature explores.

Will we survive in a world without Borders? Sure thing. Click on the Indie Store Finder and check out a local, independent bookstore near you. Shop there. Buy something. Build a family library. Be picky. Go to a used book store and find some unusual books on subjects most interesting to you. Become an "information saver." If your bookshelves are already full, go through your collection and weed out the books you'll never want to read again and make room for some classics. Donate your old books to library book sales, swap groups at a community center or transfer station, or bring the best of them in to used bookstores to trade for some credit.

And, yeah. Go ahead and buy a Kindle or Nook or other e-reader if you want to. It's the wave of the future . . . the near future, anyway.

Day 15: Rubbish, Raindrops, & Restaurants

My D.C. Book Pile

Dear Reader:

Friday was housekeeping day (because Monday was a holiday), and because thunder storms and rain were predicted, we spent the day at home. I lazed about it bed in the morning, drinking my coffee, reading, and writing my daily blog post.

After finishing the writing, I sweated for an hour on the elliptical while watching a Charlie Rose episode on the local PBS station about the debt ceiling negotiations. Since coming to D.C. I’ve been trying to stay more up-to-date on the news by scanning the Washington Post online. I’m usually interrupted by one thing or another after only reading one or two articles, so I have a long way to go. People here are news/political junkies. I’m afraid if I ever do manage to get into a conversation with anyone here in my building, I’ll come across as an ignorant rube. New goal: Read the POST and watch at least one news program every day. At least on the elliptical machine I can accomplish two things at once.

After my workout, I cleaned the apartment. Rather than driving to the town dump as I would at home, simply I put the trash down a chute in a tiny room just beyond the elevator. I assume it lands in a compactor. I also took the elevator down to the recycling bay and put the cardboard boxes and empty water bottles (no returnables here) in their respective bins. I’m happy that this kind of recycling is encouraged in the city, but a deposit on bottles would probably stimulate even more recycling of plastic and glass.

Thinking we might try to go out into the city Friday night, I clicked onto the Post page again to see if there was anything of interest going on inside somewhere. The free jazz concert over at the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden was out of the question–outside the sliding glass doors to our balcony the sky was dark and heavy with rain clouds. I couldn’t even see the sharp spires of the United States Air Force Memorial which usually look like three legs of a giant spider about to crawl over the top of the apartment building in front of it.

In the entertainment section of the online paper, I came across a review of Larry’s Ice Cream, a shop as well-known for its owner, “the Scoop Nazi” (remember the soup guy in SEINFELD?), as it is for the quality and variety of its ice cream. We will definitely hunt down this shop in the future, but by then the rain was falling in earnest. Hubby, the Teen, and I ended up making a meal at home (chicken, rice, stir-fried veggies) and watching Leonardo DiCaprio in SHUTTER ISLAND on Netflix.

While searching up info on Larry’s Ice Cream, I stumbled across a cute blog about living and eating in D.C. Check out Two DC: A New Couple Exploring A New City on Blogspot. The blog focuses on restaurants, and I’m beginning to understand that eating well is a popular hobby around here. Hubby says, “Well, I guess we fit right in!” It’s true. We’ve always enjoyed going out to eat.

Our favorite restaurant in D.C. so far has been The Austin Grill which served up some excellent Tex-Mex over in Penn Square. Hubby ordered an Original Austin Burger which he said was the best burger he’s had yet here in the city. I went with the Chalupa Taco Salad with chicken. It was served in a fried tortilla bowl, the ingredients were indeed fresh-tasting, and it went down well with a classic margarita, cold and made with real lime–not a mix. The food was good, the server was really friendly, and we loved sitting outside at the cafe table as people young and old walked through the neighborhood on a sultry summer evening.

(I was appalled to watch a well-groomed, blond family of six sitting at a table in front of us where everyone except the dad–mom, teenage and preteen daughters and a boy of about eight–tapped away on their cell phones/hand-held microcomputers throughout their entire meal while Dad sucked down four or five frozen margaritas. Is this really what we’ve become, America?)

The next week we tried out the Sine Irish Pub in our neighborhood square. Hubby had a burger (sensing a theme? I need to ask him if he’s trying to ascertain the best burger in the metropolitan area), and I thoroughly enjoyed the Reuben Sandwich.

This week we sampled a couple dishes at Champps, a sports bar & grill next door to Sine. (See previous post). Relaxed and happy after a good meal and a couple of drinks, we made a plan to try every restaurant along the perimeter of the square before the end of the summer. I’d also like to find some more out-of-the-way eateries, unique places owned by local restauranteurs rather than chains or franchises. I heard about one locally-owned coffee shop somewhere in Arlington that has focused on reducing energy use. Must find out more about that one.

As much as we enjoy eating our way around metropolitan D.C., we enjoyed simply hanging out at home watching a movie on Friday night. The weather promises to be nicer on Saturday, and we’re heading out of the city to visit friends in West Virginia, about an hour and a half southwest of here in Charles Town, just up the road from Harper’s Ferry. It will be fantastic to see this couple we knew from Portsmouth a few years ago. I’m anxious to see some suburban communities outside the city, to find out what it’s like to commute in on a train every day, to check out a typical West Virginia town.

Day 2: Flying Through the Air & Space Museum

Mural of WWII Figher Plane

Dear Reader:

Day Two of OUTSIDE THE BOX IN D.C.

Because it was Saturday, we slept in late, had a couple cups of coffee, sat on our balcony overlooking Nordstroms at the mall, and looked through tourist guides to figure out what we wanted to do with our day. We thought we might go over to the National Mall for a taste of BBQ at the Safeway National Capitol Barbecue Battle XIX. This is a benefit festival/contest to raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington and has raised over 1.2 million dollars for the organization! However, we got such a late start, we decided to save the ribs for Sunday and flew over to the Air & Space Museum instead.

Here’s the funny thing: I’ve been to D.C. four times including this trip. I’ve been to the Air & Space Museum three times now . . . and I don’t even really care about airplanes! Craig wanted to see a couple of IMAX movies showing there, and it is close to our “favorite” L’Enfant Square Metro stop. We did enjoy reading about the Red Baron, WWI and the beginning of airplane warfare, looking at the WWII pilot uniforms and the colorful names and decorations painted on the planes, and learning about Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh in the Pioneers of Flight gallery.

1783 Balloon at 1/4 Scale

I thought this was pretty. It is a quarter-scale model of the first balloon flight in 1783.

The most compelling moments of the day for me were watching the two IMAX 3-D shows–RESCUE 3D and HUBBLE 3D. The RESCUE 3D movie featured rescue workers who all ended up helping in the Haiti disaster. Seeing the shots of the Haiti and the devastation and the people trying to survive in the aftermath of the earthquake was sobering. Seeing it, you can’t quite imagine how anyone could have survived or how they can rebuild.

HUBBLE 3D took us off planet Earth and into space. Our planet is incredibly beautiful viewed from space. The juxtaposition between the incredible amounts of energy expended on our space program (watching lift-off, you can’t help but be awed by the blast of fire propelling that shuttle out of the atmosphere) and the miracle of a blue planet covered in water and green and brown land and wisps of clouds. I was hit by the irony that in order to “see” our planet and appreciate how precious and vulnerable it is, we had to develop technology to this level, putting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere that may or may not be raising the temperature of the planet and putting natural systems in jeopardy.

http://www.earth-policy.org/indicators/C51 Earth Policy Institute “2010 Hits Top of Temperature Chart”
http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/features/200711_temptracker/ NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies “Earth’s Temperature Tracker” by David Herring

Can we continue to afford to burn that much fuel in order to explore space?

We are looking for an alternate planet out there that could support human life. The Hubble telescope has taken pictures of millions of solar systems, some with their own planets. That’s hundreds of millions of planets (or billions?) Nebulae are out there “birthing” new stars all the time, nascent solar systems that one day may cool and form even more planets. It’s more than my mind can comprehend.

The law of averages would suggest there would be at least one other planet out there that could support human life, but I do have to wonder: Instead of looking for a new Earth, shouldn’t we try to maintain the one we already have?

Tomorrow: I’ll hopefully be posting about today’s BBQ consumption and a bike ride along the Potomac.

Mammogrammatical

Branches in Birdseed Bag

Dear Reader:

I’m scheduled for my bi-annual mammogram today. I can’t say I am exactly looking forward to having my breasts x-rayed, but there is some comfort and joy knowing I am doing something positive and pro-active regarding my health.

I had my first mammogram the year I turned 40, which made me feel about as dried up and past-my-prime as bare branches on the beech trees in my front yard in November. No more the youthful sap of spring. No more the lush verdure of summer. It’ll be all dried and wrinkly leaves clinging to gnarled, cold gray branches from here on out. “Yup,” I thought. “I’ve reached that age where I’m expected to submit to tortuous medical screenings on a regular basis. Mammogram today . . . colonoscopy tomorrow.” Big sigh.

Two years ago, in my mammogravirginity, I innocently put on a happy face and, like Queen Victoria, thought of (New) England. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie_back_and_think_of_England

Yeah, right.

Did that actually work for those Victorian era brides? Because, really, when your boobs are being squished between two panels until they feel as if they are going to be torn right off your chest, it’s pretty hard to think of God and Country or anything else. When it was all over, I met a friend at my favorite coffee shop and sucked down a soy chai latte as my just reward. It was May, the sun was shining, and I’d sailed through this particular rite of passage without too much trauma.

That was then, this is now. Two years later, I’m back at the hospital. It’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten the details of the procedure. They’ve moved the registration desk, but I find it easily enough and give the receptionist my name and date of birth. Three times today I’ll tell people my date of birth. What’s up with that? Do they think I’m lying? Believe me, if I wanted to lie, I’d say I was twenty-seven or something, not forty-two and 11/12ths!

Anyway, I’m put into the elevator and taken down to the lower level where the torture devices, er, x-ray machinery is kept. The receptionist behind the protective plexi-glass sliding window (name and birth date #2) leads me into a changing area, and I’m given two garments and two packets of wipes and told to strip from the waist up, swab my underarms and breasts to get rid of any clinging clothing-fuzz (did I mention that you aren’t allowed to wear deodorant the day of your mammogram?), and put on a “gown” and the “robe.”

Let me just say, that the gown and robe have nothing to do with silk dresses and ermine cloaks. I only think of this because lately I’ve been reading Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels, as well as watching Showtime’s THE TUDORS series on DVD. The books are wonderful, first-person narratives of a fascinating era in history. The television show rivals movie-quality cinematography, in my opinion, with its lush settings, luxurious costumes, and period detail. I recommend it for anyone 18 or older, or for teenagers whose parents are comfortable with their history-nut teens viewing some sexuality, some medieval torture, and, yes, some breasts.

Hmmm. Is anyone else seeing some parallels here?

I robe-up and step into the “woman’s waiting area” where I no sooner crack open the book I’d tucked into my purse than the door opens and it’s showtime. I’m led into the mammography room. The technician is very nice. She asks some questions (name and birth date #3. Are they kidding me?) regarding my personal medical history, my family medical history and whatnot, and I keep thinking if I could only say the right thing I wouldn’t have to submit to the machine. No luck. I’m asked to bare one breast and step right on up.

The machine is kinda like a vice-grip tipped on its side. The technician places my breast on the bottom tray, I’m told to put my hand on my hip, and then I watch the top tray descend, pressing me between the two plates like a grape in a wine press. A little more. A little more. A little . . . okay, OUCH.

Then I’m told to hold my breath. Huh. I can barely GET a breath, let alone hold it. Somehow I manage. We repeat the process on the other side. Two down, two to go.

The next set is to get some nice pictures of my muscle and lymph nodes. This time I have to put my arm around the machine and hold onto a bar. Now I’m embracing the thing? Again with the squish, squish, ouch on both sides.

“Okay, you can slip your gown and robe on while I check to make sure the images are clear,” the tech says. I sit and read about how to lose 50 pounds like “Ashley” did in an article in a worn copy of Women’s World magazine. I’m about finished, when the tech comes back in and says I can get dressed, the doctors will take a look at the x-rays, and my personal physician will be given the results. Now I look at her. Is her voice quavering? Is there anything troubled about her facial expression? Has she seen something suspicious but can’t let on?

I decide to think about it later. Not now. Tomorrow. Or whenever the results are sent to me.

Back in the changing room, I struggle for a bit with the locker, and slip back into my street clothes. The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes. I walk out past the waiting room, press the button for the elevator, stride right by the reception desk. Nobody stops me. I’m free.

Driving home, I stop for a soy chai latte to sip at home while reading about poor Anne of Cleaves and Katherine Howard (divorced and beheaded respectively by Henry VIII). Overall, I think, the mammogram experience wasn’t quite so terrible. I’m lucky to live in a time when early detection of breast cancer can save my life. What are a few minutes of embarrassment and slight pain compared to a late diagnosis and radical treatments?

I encourage each of my readers to schedule the mammograms your doctor suggests. Remind your mothers, sisters, and friends to go ahead and do self-exams every month. For more information about mammograms, check out http://womenshealth.gov/faq/mammograms.cfm. Consider donating to the American Cancer Society. Close your eyes and think . . . of courageous, strong, determined women who are battling breast cancer. Send out a prayer or request to the universe for them today.

Of Pests and Powdery Mildew

Apple leaves all Eaten

Dear Reader:

When I talked about summer vacation, you probably didn’t think I meant a vacation from writing all summer. Well, neither did I! However, that is exactly what happened. When we weren’t at the beach, my daughter and I were hitting the clubhouse pool. When we weren’t at the pool, we were shopping for school clothes, or watching the latest “Twilight” movie, or hanging out with friends, or preparing for camping, or recuperating from camping, or indulging in a marathon session of Buffy the Vampire slayer episodes via instant Netflix plays. The whole family went boating. Our truck “climbed Mt. Washington.” There was a family reunion, 4th of July up north with my parents, and a leisurely canoe trip down the Saco River with friends, followed by an impromptu lobster feed. We had sleepovers. We had company. We had BBQ’s up the wazoo.

Did I mention Buffy?

I’m going to save my diatribe about Twilight’s Bella the Girl Who Can’t Do Anything for Herself Possibly not even Tie her Own Shoes versus Buffy the Vampire Slayer who totally kicks butt for later. While we had to suffer through some rather overt teenage sexual antics on Buffy, the Skinny Blond Chic With the Wooden Stake Fetish, I’d still take that over Bella, the Girl Who Jumps Off Cliffs In Order to Hallucinate About Her Equally Miserable and Whiny Vampire Boyfriend Who Dumped her For Her Own Good and Sent Her Into A Spiral of Self-destructive Behavior Because She Couldn’t Possibly Live Without Her Man. (What are we, back in the days of the trashy 1970’s bodice-ripper novels, people? Eye-roll.)

Gardening this summer, I could so relate to Buffy. She had pests. I had pests. She slaughtered. I slaughtered. So, maybe Buffy’s pests were a little different from mine. She had vampires and the occasional freaky demon from Hades to deal with. Nothing a little stake through the heart can’t fix. I, however, had that evil spawn Powdery Mildew with which to contend. Buffy had evil hordes descending on her? I had (paranoid glance and a whisper) Popillia Japonica aka Japanese Beetles. You see what the little demons did to my crab apple leaves in the photo above? Every day I’d go out and they’d be well, you know, making like the teenagers at the Bronze if you know what I mean. Replicating.

(For those of you who do not get these Buffy references, here is a link to get you started on Wikipedia.)

They dwell among us!

According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Japanese beetle is a scarab beetle. They are shiny red and green, and actually quite pretty if you didn’t know what you were looking at, which is a member of a plant-chomping, invasive horde. Basically they eat, mate, and lay eggs in the turf which hatch into white grubs. They go deeper into the ground during the cold months, emerge in the spring to eat more turf, and then pupate into beetles to start all over again.

I thought about buying one of those yellow Japanese Beetle catchers, but I’d read somewhere that doing so might only manage to attract more pests. Instead I got a glass jar, poured in some bleach and water, and tried to knock as many bugs off the leaves and into the jar of doom as I could. This would help for a few days, and then they’d be back and I’d have to do it all over again. Eventually, the poor leaves were so brown and lacy I just didn’t bother anymore. Next summer, I’ll get on top of it early and mercilessly. I’ll be the star of my own show, Shelley The Beetle Burner. Ack, who am I kidding. In my own head, I’m ALWAYS the star of my own show (and so are you in yours, be honest.)

Ewwww--Mildewwww

Not only did I have insectae to deal with this summer, I was also invaded by Erysiphe cichoracearum, powdery mildew. The Extension was helpful for information once again with a dry little summary entitled, “Powdery Mildew of Cucurbits.” Cucurbits are, if you can’t guess by the spelling, the family from which cucumbers sprout. Cucumbers, melons, squashes, pumpkins. Powdery mildew also affects ornamentals like the flower leaves in the picture.

I oh-so-innocently planted eight or so of my precious garden-box squares with cucurbits this summer. I had zucchini and yellow squash and buttercup squash and cukes, both pickling and eating. Everything was going fine and dandy through July. The sun was shining (but hot and humid), and the leaves of my plants were getting full and green. Bees crawled in and out of the large, yellow and orange blossoms, pollinating. Tiny yellow summer squash began to form . . .

Right about the end of July I began to notice some suspicious grayish spots on the larger leaves. Soon the mold spread. I tried cutting off the affected parts, but it was no use. The few fruits that managed to form grew only about four inches long before beginning to soften and dry up on the end. I picked a few of these small squashes and threw them into stir-fries before pulling up most of the squash plants and recycling them into the compost bin. A couple of summer squash plants at the front of the flower bed continue to produce one small fruit at a time, so I’ve allowed them to live out their life cycle in peace.

Round Cucumber in Planter

Though the eating cucumbers haven’t produced anything edible yet, the pickling cukes gave me enough for eating and salads, if not for actual pickling.

I’ve decided once again that the problem here is the canopy of trees surrounding my yard. Even though we had plenty of sun, the trees prevent air from circulating. When the humidity is high, as it was this summer, the fungus eats up the moisture and multiplies all over my poor plants. As a science experiment, this is all very interesting. From a food production standpoint, it stinks.

My garden wasn’t a complete flop, however, despite my pests and powders. The greens–lettuces, kale, arugula, mache–all were amazing. Little, bright red chili peppers thrived in the summer heat. I will need to put up some of that blueberry-chili pepper jam I made last year and then experiment with the more typical apple-based pepper jelly. I could also see about stringing them up to dry for winter-time use. We ate succulent green beans from the garden for a week or two, picking a handful or so a day. The tomatoes, bless them, offered up 68 fruits–about 63 more than last year! We ate them in salads, mostly.

A wonderful farm stand opened in the town next door, and I’m beginning to see that I’d do best to grow what thrives here–greens and beans and a few chili peppers–and buy the rest from someone with wide open spaces and ten to twelve hours of sun per day. I will become a salad and cooking-greens specialist. There are wonderful varieties out there, and I intend to try all of them in the summers ahead. Oh, and one more experiment this year.

Since we are getting on toward autumn, now would be the time to think about finally planting some garlic. I’ve heard it grows well, even in partial sun, and I enjoy the flavor in many different dishes.

Plus, you know, it discourages the vampires . . . Buffy would approve.

How did your garden do this summer? What are you eating now, in this the most bounteous of seasons? Drop me a line . . . Outside the Box.

Money Talks

Handknit Felted Purse

Dear Reader:

I thought it was about time to talk a little bit about money. With the holiday shopping season upon us, it might be good to remind ourselves that money doesn’t a)grow on trees b)come cheap or c)come with no strings attached. In order to get money, you either have to earn it or borrow it. If you borrow it, you have to pay it back within a certain period of time and you have to pay extra in the form of interest. A basic rule of economics is that unless you like those nasty strings and expensive interest, you shouldn’t spend more than you earn. We Americans have trouble with that concept apparently, both at the personal and the national level. It’s no secret. We are in serious debt.

The National Debt
When Bill Clinton left office in January 2000, we had managed to balance the federal budget. Oh, we still had debt, but we were no longer adding to that debt. After 9/11, however, our spending increased as we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, our revenues in the form of taxes were decreased–three tax cuts were initiated even as we were increasing our military and other spending. This fiscal policy greatly increased our debt. According to the Department of Treasury, Bureau of Public Debt, on January 1, 2000 the national debt was 5.7 trillion dollars. By 2008 it had ballooned to 9.2 trillion dollars. This was during the “reign” of a supposed fiscal conservative!

Personal Debt
It’s hard to point fingers at our leaders when we are just as guilty when it comes to our own fiscal responsibility. According to Credit.com, Americans now have a revolving debt balance total of $972,494,000. While some statistics put the average credit card holder in debt of upwards of $8,000, this particular website claims that the median balance is $2,200 which really doesn’t sound all that bad. What it tells me is that if we simply bought less stuff, we could easily pay off our credit cards debt and then–gasp–maybe even begin to save some money. If we don’t begin to be fiscally responsible individually AND as a country, we are going to be in big trouble in the coming decades. Let’s talk about why.

An Informative Documentary
This morning, I watched a documentary film called I.O.U.S.A. Slanted neither to the left or right politically, this excellent film directed by Patrick Creadon explained how our country’s budgets have changed over time, the amount of debt we have taken on and when, what a balanced budget really means, how federal debt relates to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), why and how so much of our debt is owned by foreign countries (Japan, China, etc.), how the trade deficit impacts the monetary supply, the difference between fiscal policy and monetary policy, how much debt we really are in (when you count in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits we will begin paying out as the Baby Boomers reach retirement age), and more. Click HERE to go the the I.O.U.S.A. website where you can view a 30-minute version of the film and find stats and other information of interest.

So, how did we get into this fiscal mess? Looking back at history, it seems that most of our debt has been incurred during times of war. Wars cost money. Lots of money. The War for Independence put our fledgling nation into debt right off the bat. We managed to pay down that debt. Then the Civil War plunged us into debt. We paid that down, too. World Wars I and II were huge money-suckers. The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing us hundreds of billions of dollars.

Wars are not the only debt-producers, however. In the 1930’s we spent our way out of the Great Depression by instituting social programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Until now, these programs have actually brought in more revenue than we’ve spent, making the fiscal deficit appear smaller than it really is. According to a treasury website, today’s debt is $11,991,506,876,413.07. But this figure does not include the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid dollars we actually used to help balance the budget rather than saved for when the Baby Boomers retire. According to the writers of I.O.U.S.A. if we added in the entire debt owed in 2008, the amount would be $53,000,000,000!

Stop Paying for . . . what?
Some of us believe that simply ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will allow us to balance our budget, but the war is only 4.7% of our budget spending. Some of us believe that getting rid of earmarks and “pork-barrel” spending will solve the problem, but that only accounts for 1.27% of the budget. To see a pie chart of the 2009 budget, click here.

According to this chart, much of our budget is taken up by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment/welfare, and interest on the national debt. If you are my age (forty-ish) or younger, you probably don’t expect to ever see Social Security or Medicare benefits, but the generations ahead of us certainly do expect to keep on getting their benefits. Unemployment benefits have been pretty important for Americans who have lost their jobs to outsourcing and the scaling back of businesses due to the housing bubble in our economy. The interest owed on our debt in probably non-negotiable. Every year as our deficit increases, our debt increases, and that pesky interest obligation will take up a bigger chunk of our pie. And just imagine what the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid portions will look like when the Boomers start retiring in earnest.

What about revenues, you ask? We must be bringing something in. Yes, you are right. Revenues come in to the federal budget through taxation–and don’t we all just love taxes? But even with what some consider a huge tax burden, the expenditures in our budget outweigh the revenues by billions of dollars. Revenues for 2009 were estimated at 2.7 trillion while expenditures were estimated at 3.1 trillion, according to stats provided by the U.S. Government printing office and posted on Wikipedia. (click here for the site.)

An Informative Book
So, if expenditures are so much greater than revenue, where does the government get the funds to cover the costs? By borrowing. The government sells bonds–more and more often to foreign governments like China–or exchanges bonds for money to be issued by the Federal Reserve. I’ve been reading about the latter in a very compelling book entitled THE WEB OF DEBT researched and written by Ellen Hodgson Brown, J.D. Click HERE to read an excerpt and learn more about the book.

Did you know the Federal Reserve Bank is not owned by the U.S. Government? I didn’t. The Fed is an independent privately-owned corporation which creates and issues money at the government’s request. The government does the printing, but the bank issues the money on credit–with interest that must be paid back. There are twelve regional Federal Reserve banks which are owned by a bunch of commercial banks. Each of these twelve regional banks own a percentage of stock in the Federal Reserve System. At the time of the books printing, New York was the largest of these and held 53%–the commercial banks that owned this New York Fed Reserve bank were Chase Manhattan, JP Morgan, and Citibank. (WEB OF DEBT, page 127.)

In any case, the U.S. government (hence, we taxpayers) asks the Federal Reserve Bank to create money that will enter the economy. The creation of money is regulated by the Fed, not the government. The government does appoint the chairperson (for many years this was Alan Greenspan) whose job it is to run the Federal Reserve System and to set the interest rates. The money the U.S. government borrows, is to be paid back, with interest, to the Federal Reserve Bank. The commercial banks who own stocks in the Fed, profit. The stockholders of the commercial banks as well as the executives of these banks, profit in the form of stock increases and bonuses. Wealth, in the form of interest, thus flows from the taxpayer to the banks to the investors in those banks. Your taxes are funneled toward rich investors via national borrowing. When those investors are foreign countries–say, China–our taxes help enrich a foreign nation whose political system may be in direct opposition to our own. This is to say nothing about our trade deficit with said countries. Isn’t this interesting?

(I’m thinking that at least with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Unemployment, and Welfare at least the money goes back to Americans. If we’d just buy American-made goods, we’d keep our money right here at home where it belongs. But that’s just my opinion.)

I am only about a third of the way into this book. As I learn more, I will pass along the information, but you don’t need to take it from me. Read the book yourself. Watch the movie. Search our other sources of information. A bi-partisan group called the Concord Coalition fights hard for fiscal responsibility. Check out their website HERE.

Stop Fighting Each Other
One thing I am taking away from all this research is that all of us–liberal and conservative alike–are being used by big money, big government, and big business. I believe we are being played against one another, like pit bulls put into a ring to fight it out while the handlers profit. A pit bull only wants to eat and sleep and live his doggy life. He is forced into a fight because someone else controls him, someone who is attempting to profit off him. The “enemy” pit bull wants the same things and is put into the same position. In the end, neither the progressive nor the conservative dog wins. Each comes away bruised, ripped, and bleeding . . . or dead. Meanwhile, the handlers collect the wagers and go home smiling.

By pitting “Libertarians” against “Progressives”, the big money interests can wheel-and-deal in the shadows while we are focused on ripping and tearing into each other. We fight about government regulation, income taxes, welfare, healthcare reform, the wars on terror, drugs, and illegal immigration while all the while the bankers and the power-mongers quietly gather vast amounts of money and influence. At least, that’s how I’m beginning to see things here . . . Outside the Box.