Monday, January 26, 2015

Rah Rah, Vote for Hillary

I watched the state of the union and found that yeah, there's lots of typical war mongering, the US is the greatest BS.  Obama is about "responsible" droning.  Give me a break.  But on the flip side there were a few bones tossed to the progressive wing, maybe more than usual.  Here are a few statements I'm summarizing that jumped out at me:
Are we going to embrace an economy that helps all over the next 15 years?  Or one that helps only the wealthy few?

Are we going to let the powers that be sort us into factions that are turned against one another?

We must treat child care like a national economic priority.  It needs to be more available and more affordable.

Paid sick and maternity leave is something all modern countries provide, except ours.  I'm going to take steps to make it available.  "Send me a bill that allows workers 7 days of paid sick leave."

Employees should get the OT they earned.

We need a higher minimum wage.

We need laws that strengthen unions.

Make community college free.

Make student debt easier to deal with.

Old trade deals haven't lived up to the hype.

We need a free an open internet.

The tax code is rigged to help rich corporations. (Should be uncontroversial, but Republicans don't clap at this line.)

We should tax accumulated wealth.

End the embargo on Cuba and have better relations with them (once again a no brainer that Boehner doesn't like).

Don't pass another round of sanctions on Iran, he will veto it.

He's outraged about potential hacker invasions of privacy, like that of our kids?

"It's time to close Gitmo."

Global warming is happening and must be addressed.

Equal rights for GLBT.

Well, that's all great.  But the cynic in me wonders, where was all this talk when Obama had an actual chance of achieving any of it?  He had both houses of Congress.  Now he has neither.  Are the Republicans going to embrace an economy that serves all?  Fix the tax code to reign in corporations?  Increase the minimum wage?  Deal with global warming?

Let's remember, it was Obama's FBI that worked with local law enforcement to crush Occupy, designating them a "terrorist organization". Obama represents wealth and power. He didn't oppose them when he had a chance of doing it successfully, so why the rhetoric now? I assume it's to deliver a good performance for the Democratic party in 2016. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't vote for the D's. But I think we are being played.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Slacker Revolutionaries - Free Travel

For me I want radical change in society, but I'm not real keen on getting my skull cracked by cops for expressing that view.  If you're like me, consider other means of enacting change.  Starve the profit beast.  Learn to get what you want without spending money.

One thing that appeals to me is backing off on travel.  Do you know big the travel industry is?  $7 trillion freaking dollars.  Per year.  For perspective, the coffee industry is $8 billion.  So travel is out of hand.  We're spending crazy money on it.

The best solution is to just stop it.  Stay home on vacation.  But then the real world interferes.  Maybe your wife isn't as crazy as you are and wants to be somewhat normal.  Kids aren't buying off.  Maybe there's a wedding across the country and you are going one way or another.

My solution is to plan ahead and do it free.  Nobody profits from your travel.  Sure, airline workers have to do the work that gets you there, but they are paid wages, not profit.  Same for hotel staff.

Here's how it's done, and I'm telling you I literally do this, and have been doing it for years.  Take as just one example an American Airlines credit card.  They always have a promotion going that is something like this.  Spend $3K within 3 months and you get 50K miles.  That's two tickets in the continental US.  Right now you could also get a US Airways card that gives you 50K miles after a single purchase, though in this case there is an annual fee of $89 the first year.  Since AA and US Airways are merging this year you could have 100K miles in short order.  That's 4 free plane tickets in the continental US.

As I said, this is how I travel, but I haven't used a US Airways card to this point.  I just sign up for an AA card, get the bonus miles, cancel the card, wait a bit, then do it again for more miles.  It's easy.

What you might be thinking at this point is "Jon, I thought you wanted us to spend less.  Now you're telling me to spend $3K.  Which is it?"  Not to worry.  You don't actually have to spend the money.  You can employ some tricks that credit card manipulators use, which we call "manufactured spend."

A terrific way is with something called the Target Red Card (the prepaid version).  This is basically a reloadable debit card, but you can go online with your card and pay any bill.  Like your mortgage, your car payment, etc.  And yes, you can pay your credit card bill.

So suppose you want to reach a $3K minimum spend on an AA card.  You go to Target with your Red Card and tell the cashier you want to load $2500 (that's the daily limit, monthly limit is $5K).  Do it again some time later in the month.  Now you've performed the purchase on your AA card that met your minimum spend requirement.  You have a $5K balance on your AA card.  When your bill comes due, log in on the Target Red Card page and pay the bill.  You haven't spent a penny.  And now you fly free.

So you can get your plane tickets from Detroit to LA, but now what?  You're going to need a car, and car rental isn't free.  Is it?  Well of course it is.  Get a Barclay Arrival travel card.  After you hit the $3K minimum spend you'll have over $400 worth of travel credit you can redeem.  Renting cars is one way to spend that credit, and there are other ways.

Hotels?  Get a Hyatt card for 2 free nights (I did this the last time I went to New York).  Or get an IHG card.  Or a Marriot card.  Or all of them so you're ready in the future.

Remember also that if you're married your wife can get a card of her own.  Double the bonus.

While I'm at it why don't I just mention that there's one airline that offers points redeemable for things like amazon gift cards.  Southwest Airlines.  This is pretty much how I paid for Christmas this year.  Other cards are very similar.  For instance I anticipated some restaurant expenses, so I got a Citi Thank You card, with points redeemable for restaurants that we tend to visit.  Those visits for me are free.  Citi gave me $500 worth of points which I used to acquire various cards (though there is a $99 annual fee that was not waived).

And there are so many other possibilities with credit card rewards.  Take advantage, travel free, get gift cards.  Starve the beast.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Inner Che

Readers know I'm not a fan of the system I'm a part of.  The capitalist system that I benefit from.  This is the root of the major problems facing the world.  This drive for profit is what drives the wars, the environmental devastation, and so many other individual problems.

But what am I really doing about it?  This is about as radical as I'm prepared to be.

What can I say?  Life is just too damn easy.  Got a good job and work with people I like.  I'm white, which, as Louis CK points out, thank God for that shit.  Got a nice house, go on nice vacations.  Company has 401k and all that crap.  We can go skiing, send kids off to piano lessons and what not.

And you know what else?  Fighting seems futile.  Everyone knows about the militarization of the police.  It's crazy.  And in case you don't know, law enforcement was not developed to keep you safe, it was to control people and prevent them from threatening the wealth of the wealthy.  You know what?  They're good at it, and they're getting better by the day.  And they can be brutal.  With impunity.  Watch this video of various cops just savaging defenseless people.

I'm not saying we should stop organizing, but it's an uphill battle.  Look at Occupy.  For a long time it was ignored by the mainstream.  When it got so big that it couldn't be ignored it was ridiculed by the corporate controlled media.  Bunch of urine smelling hippies, clueless, etc.  Despite that it continued, and that's when the muscle came in, with beatings and assaults coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, local police, and the FBI, which designated Occupy a "terrorist threat".  I think the establishment felt even that was too out of hand, too much of a threat, and so militarization of police has accelerated since then.

Not to mention the NSA, the CIA, the military.  They have so much power.  Forget the second amendment.  You just can't match their ability to use force.

But does that mean there is nothing you can do?  No.  I think that you can not only do something, you can do a lot.  You really could destroy the system and strip the exploiters of their power.

What's the root of the problem?  In my opinion it's what I mentioned at the beginning.  The drive for profit.  What if in my own life I just stopped giving them money that led to profit?  And then what if more and more people did this to where the rich were no longer able to sustain themselves based on capitalist exploitation?

You might think it's impossible.  You rely on other businesses to meet your basic needs.  But I think that's partly conditioning.  We've been conditioned to think we can't provide for ourselves.  We have to sell our labor and use the proceeds to acquire the things we need.  But why believe that?  Ancients could provide what they needed for themselves.  Heck, animals do it.  We have tools they didn't and don't have.

We live in an amazing time, with so many technological advancements.  There have been many improvements and developments in energy creation and food creation.  Have you heard of aquaponics?  You can grow a lot of healthy vegetables and fish, and after a little setup time it requires minimal work.  Advances in solar power continue at an exponential pace.  You can provide the bulk of your electric needs right now in a way that separates you from the need to rely on a power company.

Of course it will help to keep your energy needs down, and one way to do that is to live in a house that is small and well insulated.  Maybe something like this.  The owner apparently built that for around $55K.  Not super cheap on a per sq ft basis, but my point is that the energy needs should be low, which means solar power could be enough to keep it running.

What if you manage to locate that house in a walkable/bikable location or a location with good public transportation?  Now your car and gasoline needs come down.

Shelter, food, and transportation are the big ticket items.  If you can get yourself to a near sustainable path on that then you can start working smaller details that can lead to further improvement.  For example 3D printers can be had for as little as $100 and can be used to make all kinds of things a person might need.  Check out this solar oven.  The sun can cook your food.  This cool composting toilet can reduce your energy needs further.

I was inspired in my thinking on this by looking at my budget from last year.  For the first time I tracked my expenses very carefully, and you know what I learned?  I spend a lot of money.  And when I do it I feed the very system I oppose.  I just don't see how force can be used to produce the changes our world needs, but maybe we could starve the system.  If half our population lived in a way where their consumptive needs were radically reduced in this way the system would crumble.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I Am Der Stürmer

 The Nazi publication Der Sturmer, edited by Julius Streicher, was notorious for its obscene anti-Semitic caricatures.

Imagine if a pair of Jewish brothers, distraught at the death and destruction that had befallen the Jewish people, barged into the newspaper’s offices and murdered members of its staff.

Would we hold up as martyrs and heroes those who chose to mock the deeply held beliefs of a suffering and despised people; to degrade, demean, insult and humiliate Jews in their hour of trial, when the world they had known was disintegrating around them?

Imagine if a million Berliners turned out to mourn the political pornographers.

Would we applaud this display of solidarity?

Streicher was sentenced to death in the Nuremberg Trial.

It is not reported that many in the enlightened West shed tears.

The above is a question posed by Norman Finkelstein which I have copied here because his link seems sporadic.