Posts Tagged ‘politics’

A Rather Scathing Post So Prepare To Be Offended

I had been under the impression, given what I was seeing on the web and the protests in the streets, that an anti-consumerism movement was building in our country. I was seeing petitions sent around to encourage Target to rethink its Thanksgiving night opening. I was seeing backlash against the box store race to see who could open the earliest on Thanksgiving. I was reading commitments everywhere to shop locally and avoid the stores on Black Friday.

I think we are a county of Big Talk and No Action.

We can talk ourselves blue in the face about the horrible commercials (Crazy Target Lady, anyone?), the insane opening hours, the burden put on employees forced to work overnight (meaning they have to be sleeping during the holiday so they can be up all night), and the fact that stores are having to hire off-duty police officers to work as security, but our actions speak far louder than our words.

Given that Black Friday set a sales record this year, and the fact that 14 million MORE people participated than in 2010, I would say all of that anti-consumerism rhetoric was worthless.

I know it is the tradition of some families to shop together the day after Thanksgiving. But what was once a quaint and friendly experience has spiraled into some sort of macabre race to the bottom of civilization.

I withheld my dollars on Friday. I didn’t spend a dime. According to one Salon.com columnist, that makes me “nutty” as I was willfully damaging our economy (while out of the other side of his mouth, he bashes the same consumerism, but that is the advantage of being a hypocrite, I suppose), but even though I was antsy and a little cabin-fevered, I was not going out to engage in ANY commercial enterprises. It was a protest of my own.

Saturday was Shop Small Business day (coined a couple of years ago by American Express so consider that for a moment!). The sentiment is better, but it is still a celebration of crushing consumerism. My family did venture out on Saturday and we engaged in the most local activities we could think of. We visited Maymont Park in the heart of Richmond, and gave a tiny bit of money to the foundation there, while engaging in a very family friendly and physically active activity. From there, we ate lunch at a local non-profit restaurant called Positive Vibe Café. The restaurant works to train people with disabilities in the food service industry to help them find meaningful employment. The rest of the afternoon was spent with friends, celebrating the 4th birthday of one cute little guy named Noah.

Don’t get the idea that I am opposed to spending money or giving generous gifts at Christmas. I am opposed to indebting myself at a 15% interest rate to create a mirage of wealth and prosperity when that is not the case. I am not opposed to getting gifts from a big box store, I am opposed to huddling in the cold dark, waiting for the magic moment the doors open and rushing in for a smash and grab style of shopping, hoping not to get injured in the press of bodies. I am especially violently opposed to the one-upsmanship you see among some families over who can give the most expensive gifts.

I recently saw an article that said giving handmade gifts for Christmas is a tremendous faux pas and a horrible embarrassment to both the giver and receiver. I was so disgusted with the article that I didn’t go beyond the opening paragraph to see what gifts the writer felt were not embarrassing, but I would bet they recommend things like fancy jewelry or electronic gadgets.

Here’s my feeling on the matter. If I give a handmade gift to a family member who is too embarrassed by it to be gracious about it, then maybe we have a fundamental problem in the foundation of our relationship. I can spend $10 on a ball of sock yarn and make a unique and beautiful pair of warm and comfortable socks, or I can spend $10 on some random, plastic tchotchke. Which one is really more valuable? What has been hard on my pride is the deluge of gifts we have received from our families while in turn, we hand over a pair of socks, or a pillow, or a shawl, and a gift card, and while opening a bag with an $80 comforter or $40 curtains in return. So yes, I can understand the embarrassment factor in that.

For me, though, it has become an embarrassment I have to accept because I am unwilling to swipe a credit card so we can do a little better at Christmas by our families. When we committed a couple of years ago to get out from under our credit card debt and not live on credit anymore, it put quite a crimp in our Christmas gifting style, unsurprisingly. We turned to handmade gifts and smaller things like gift cards to restaurants to give our families, all of which have been well-received, and I believe they understand our effort to be self-sufficient and not debt-burdened, even at the expense of nicer Christmas gifts.

The comment made at the Salon.com article I cited above by Mr. Leonard about not shopping really set me off this morning (as you can probably tell from this rant).

The full quote is as follows:
Let me be clear. I am not opposed to vigorous sprees of retail spending. For the sake of the U.S. economy, I would love to see a robust Christmas shopping season and I plan to do my part. I find the notion that we should “occupy Black Friday” and withhold our consumer dollars as a way of hitting back at the 1 percent just nutty. Voluntarily subtracting demand from the economy hurts us. A general consumer strike would result in more layoffs and pay cuts and bankruptcies and foreclosures. Sure, Wal-Mart would take a hit, but so would Wal-Mart employees.
(First, I am so over the tired little phrase “Let me be clear.” Thanks a lot for that one, President Obama!)

Unemployment is still very high, incomes are much lower than they were several years ago, and the economy IS teetering right now, leaving many people to wonder if they will still have jobs in 2012, so for many people, the only way to have a “vigorous spree[] of retail spending” would be to do so with a credit card. One of the many things (and there ARE many things) that got us into the Great Recession in the first place was people spending more than they could really afford, and kicking their debt can down the road in hopes that their incomes would rise over time. (See subprime mortgages for more detail.)

When I say Occupy Christmas, I don’t have any specific demands or a legislative action plan or anything. What I mean is I want people to spend within their means, don’t allow pressure from marketers, media, and peers to force you into a “Keeping Up With The Joneses” situation. I don’t want to tell anyone what or how to give Christmas gifts. What I want is to see all of us take a deep breath and step back from the insanity we saw across America last Friday. Think. Don’t let commercials and marketing whip you into a frenzy.

Christmas shopping should not require bringing along a homemade pepper spray neutralizer or wearing a Kevlar vest.

I guess we can at least say no one died this Black Friday, right?

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Occupy Christmas

(Oh yes, I went there.)

Here’s an Occupy Thought:

The holidays are coming, specifically Christmas, the biggest gift giving holiday of the year. Regardless of religious beliefs, the vast majority of people give gifts to family and friends on Christmas.

If you are pissed off at Corporate Greed, then vote with your dollars this Christmas season, and don’t buy gifts from Corporate Giants. You know all those Black Friday deals at Wal-mart? You know the $6 coffee pots, the $10 DVD players, and whatnot? You know why they are so cheap? They are made with essentially slave labor, by a company so large as to be able to leverage the entire market down, keeping wages and benefits at those same “rock-bottom” levels as their much celebrated prices.

Buy gifts from local artisans, craftspeople, and producers. Or, try non-local sources like Etsy, or Artfire for beautiful handmade gifts.

Or, try making your own gifts. Baked goods, canned/jarred preserves, jams, and jellies, baking “kits” (all the dry ingredients necessary for a special recipe, like cookies, layered prettily into a Mason Jar with the recipe and instructions printed on the side), are wonderful, inexpensive options. More extravagant options could be buying someone a share at a local CSA. If you have a knitter or crocheter in your family, another extravagant option would be a subscription to an independent dyer’s “sock club” or “fiber club.” I am sure there are similar options for Quilters and other needle artists out there.

Do you have a family member who has everything they could possibly need, and cannot think of anything they truly want? Make a donation in their name to a charity foundation you know they would approve of, and make a beautiful card or letter telling them of your donation.

If you have a friend or family member who has jumped on the growing Do It Yourself movement, and they have interest in making some of their own foods from scratch, consider getting them a home cheesemaking kit, or a nice book on artisan bread making.

Are these things much more expensive than the $6 coffee pot at Wal-Mart? Absolutely. But just because you can get more stuff to show your love, does not necessarily make the gifts more loved or more meaningful.

This Christmas, vote with your dollars. Make your gifts count in the way your conscience dictates.

Let Thy Medicine Be Thy Food

Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
Hippocrates

As I have gone down the rabbit hole of food freedom and the “real” food debate, I have come to realize I have opened Pandora’s box.

I started out just being outraged by the heavy handed prosecutions of small farmers selling whole foods, but the more I delve into the topic of food in the U.S., the more I see how deeply corporations are intertwined with governing bodies, and how the two come together to form an unholy alliance in relation to our diets.

The FDA specifically says foods cannot be marketed to have positive health effects, otherwise, they are considered a drug, and therefore fall under a whole different set of regulations and oversights. Sounds good, in theory, right? I absolutely want our drugs to be safe.

But what if you are talking about a distributer of nuts who claims their walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (which they are) and how omega-3 fatty acids are good for you? Does that count as marketing a “drug”? The FDA says absolutely. The link is to a warning letter sent to Diamond Food from the FDA. In pertinent part, it says:

The following are examples of the claims made on your firm’s website under the heading of a web page stating “OMEGA-3s … Every time you munch a few walnuts, you’re doing your body a big favor.”:
• “Studies indicate that the omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts may help lower cholesterol; protect against heart disease, stroke and some cancers; ease arthritis and other inflammatory diseases; and even fight depression and other mental illnesses.”
• “[O]mega-3 fatty acids inhibit the tumor growth that is promoted by the acids found in other fats … ”
• “[I]n treating major depression, for example, omega-3s seem to work by making it easier for brain cell receptors to process mood-related signals from neighboring neurons.”
• “The omega-3s found in fish oil are thought to be responsible for the significantly lower incidence of breast cancer in Japanese women as compared to women in the United States.”

Because of these intended uses, your walnut products are drugs within the meaning of section 201 (g)(1)(B) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(B)]. Your walnut products are also new drugs under section 201(p) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(p)] because they are not generally recognized as safe and effective for the above referenced conditions. Therefore, under section 505(a) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 355(a)], they may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application.

(emphasis mine)

Seriously? Walnuts are drugs? Would any sane person argue that eating a whole food rich in nutrients, protein, and fatty acids is the same thing as ingesting a drug? The FDA says yes.

I was set off this morning by a Yahoo Shine article that discussed “food label red flags” and the very first “red flag” was any food advertising itself as a “drug” and their target food was the humble Cheerio. The article says to watch out for foods that make health claims:
“Are Cheerios a substitute for cholesterol-lowering drugs? The FDA doesn’t think so. Foods are not authorized to treat diseases. Be suspicious of any food label that claims to be the next wonder drug.” (emphasis mine)
Cheerios are heavily processed and full of enrichments and preservatives, so I am not going out of my way to defend them specifically, but I am emphasizing the focus on the FDA not “authorizing” food to treat diseases.

Maybe if people were eating more whole grain cereals for breakfast than sausage biscuits from McDonalds, fewer people would need an “authorized” drug like Lipitor.

So the FDA’s stance is that foods cannot be marketed to make any sort of health claims. So would someone please explain to me how a cereal such as Cocoa Crispies CAN advertise itself to say “Now helps support your child’s IMMUNITY” as the box shown on the link does?
(Foods marketed directly to children and parents is a WHOLE post of its own.)

So the question you have to ask is who benefits from these regulations? Really, the short answer is pharmaceutical companies. It would seem that the FDA would rather you go to your doctor and get on a statin drug to lower your cholesterol than try and eat a diet with whole grains and natural fiber.

Studies are frequently coming out that suggest our brains are what is making us fat. Here is the latest such study I have seen.
He said larger studies are needed to confirm the findings, but the study does suggest that obese people may be less able to shut off parts of the brain that drive food cravings. That probably contributes to their obesity.
It all sounds very straightforward, from the article, but the sample group was all of 14 people and there is no consideration given to how the foods that contribute to our obesity epidemic affect hormones and brain function.

If being obese is all about our cerebral cortex, then the answer must be to take more brain altering drugs, right? Who wins again?

The culture of the United States is the exact opposite of the quote from Hippocrates that I began this post with. We have programmed our minds to chose to take medicine to undo the damage we do to ourselves with our diet.

If we were choosing better foods, maybe we would not be forced to keep reaching for those amber-colored bottles. However, then the many-billions of dollars pharmaceutical industry might see its profit margins decrease, and no one wants to see that, least of all the FDA.

How do you trust an agency like the FDA that forbids a company from marketing walnuts as a healthy food but allows Cocoa Crispies to say it boosts a child’s immunities?

I don’t personally think you can, which is why I encourage you to go read about food, read about where it comes from, what is going into it, why we eat what we do, and more than anything else, read between the lines of ANYTHING you see advertised about food, both good and bad.

And I want to end with a modern quote about food:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Michael Pollan

Give Me Food and Give Me Freedom

As is no secret to this blog, I underwent gastric bypass surgery in January of 2010, as an option of last resort to help me get my life and my weight back under control. Going through the process of it, I had to do a lot of learning about nutrition, macro- and micro-nutrients, and what really counts as food (hint: large swaths of the typical American diet don’t count). Ten years ago, as a college sophomore, my diet consisted mainly of Mountain Dew, E-Z Mac and Cheese, Ramen noodles, Lucky Charms from the Dining Hall (verboten in my childhood, and now I understand why), and a pack of cigarettes a day.

Is it any wonder that I underwent a life altering surgery before I was 30?

We have a serious disconnect in our country with food. It is a basic necessity. A common factor between all humans. We all have to eat. How and what we eat is an individual choice for each of us. But we also have emotional factors relating to our food. Sometimes we use it as a treat: “I will treat myself to some ice cream after this bad day at work.” Or we punish ourselves with it: “I promise starting Monday, I will give up the McDonald’s drive through and eat oatmeal every day until these last 10 pounds are off.”

In a country with a severe obesity epidemic, with a First Lady who is on a mission to help prevent obesity in our nation’s children, you would think that our top priority would be finding ways to make it easier to get fresh, whole, healthy, and natural foods to more Americans.

You would think.

But our Country is run by money. And big agriculture and big pharmaceuticals have the money. And they have the ear of our government. And you and I don’t.

Our Country allows things like Olestra (a fake fat that also serves as an industrial lubricant and paint additive, aside from a cooking oil for “lite” potato chips) to be legal for human consumption, and despite well documented gastrointestinal side effects, it can be used without a warning label. But heaven help you if you choose to consume raw, unpasteurized milk, which is outright criminal in some states, forbidden to be transported over state lines, and is the target of SWAT-like raids and regular undercover operations.

Seriously.

People have lost their farms, their homes, their incomes, and more for daring to sell or distribute raw milk or cheese products. Here is a new example today of a woman facing felony charges over her raw milk. If she is convicted, Californian tax payers will be footing her “3 squares a day” in some penitentiary. I mean, really, is it worth it to the State of California to incarcerate her?

When was the last time a huge scandal erupted because a lot of people got sick eating a small farm’s meat, dairy, or produce? If you know one, I would be interested to hear about it. I can show you a few cases of individuals with documented illnesses related to raw foods, but only a few.

When was the last time a huge scandal erupted because a lot of people got sick eating meat, dairy, or produce from a large Big Ag company? Well, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey on August 3, only 3 weeks ago, due to salmonella contamination that resulted in one death and at least 76 reported illnesses. Jennie-O recalled turkey burgers for salmonella contamination in March and April. Last year, 2000 people reported illnesses related to the massive 500 million eggs recalled for salmonella.

Anyone else remember when fresh spinach was impossible to find because it killed 3 people and sickened almost 200 in 2006?

You can check Wikipedia for a list of some of the more egregious examples.

How many of those big operations saw people go to jail I wonder? Oh, I am sure a few heads rolled, but did any SWAT teams break doors down and bust in like it was a cocaine raid? I would be sure they did not. And people died in some of those cases.

I am not saying that eating raw foods like milk or cheese doesn’t come with an inherent risk; sure it does. But so does eating food produced and processed by those big corporations, and you don’t see them getting the same treatment — raids, busts, jail time, etc., for the same risks.

My source of frustration is the criminalization of any food, the FDA’s heavy handedness with small farmers selling to people who are 100% aware of the potentials with their purchases, and the FDA’s willingness to overlook “unfoods” like Olestra, HVP (can you imagine any food being boiled in hydrochloric acid being edible?), cheese “analogues”, and so many other things, while demonizing whole, fresh foods, consumed the way humans have been consuming them for hundreds or even thousands of years.

In the intervening 10 years since my “college diet” that I described above, I have learned what really counts as food, and what does not, and while I have room in my diet for some “unfoods,” I believe we as a Country would be much better served if we worked harder to make whole, fresh, raw, and nutrient dense food more accessible, more palatable, and less threatening. We should be able to choose and we should be able to make informed decisions with honest information, not industry-funded studies designed to sway your opinion towards the industry in question. We should not allow foods like sugary and nutritionally devoid cereals to be marketed to children and parents as “part of a balanced breakfast.”

I also support the right of people to eat those sugary cereals if they want them, in the same way I will defend the rights of a smoker to smoke, even if I don’t smoke anymore myself. If someone wants to eat cheetos and a 32 ounce cup of cola for breakfast every morning, they should be free to make that choice, and they must assume the risks of eating such things (diabetes, hypertension, etc.). If I want to eat a slice of raw milk cheese on home baked bread, I should be able to, while assuming the risk of something like listeriosis. (At least the listeriosis would be temporary.) If a vegan wants to eat cheese analogue that should be their right. If I want to eat a chicken raised and processed on someone’s farm that might risk campylobacter or salmonella, I should be able to, and I should be responsible enough to cook it thoroughly, just as I would a bird from Tyson or any other Big Ag farm operation (because, guess what, those Big Ag birds come with exactly the same risk!).

My whole feeling on the matter is that I should be able to choose foods I feel to be healthful and nutritious without worrying that the person selling it to me might be risking jail to do so, or I might find someone knocking on my own door if I committed the crime of sharing such food with my friends. I simply do not trust the people who promise that Olestra is safe to consume to tell me what is not safe to eat.

If the freedom to choose you food and its source matters to you, I encourage you to look more into this issue. Get educated on all the risks and benefits of raw milk, and other raw, organic, and seemingly “risky” foods. In a perfect world, everyone would know where their food came from, what is in it, and what the associated risks are.

If you think the government might be going a little overboard in its prosecution of small family farms serving and feeding their local community, I encourage you to check out Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund to get frequent updates on legal actions.

Whichever side of the matter you find yourself on, I encourage everyone to educate themselves, though. Learn the facts (both sides), and make informed decisions about the food you eat and the reasons you eat it. Try new foods. Try fresh foods. Find new and interesting flavors and textures. But do not let fear mongering by the government and the food and pharmaceutical industry (or supposed miracle cures from the other side either) pigeonhole you into one side or the other.

And every once in a while, enjoy a bowl of Lucky Charms or a Pop-tart, or some other thing that hardly counts as food, because that won’t kill you either. That is what freedom should be.

Sharing My Addiction

A quick addendum to yesterday’s rant, then I am going to move on. My husband noted that it was hysterical that both parties did what government is supposed to do, which is come to the table, hammer out details, and reach a compromise that is most beneficial to their constituents, only to come out on the other side and find NO ONE is happy. It is true and it is sad. I think the point I really wanted to make yesterday and wasn’t able to because I ran away with my writing was that I believe our government, and I mean both sides, has painted itself into a corner that there is no getting out of without some serious pain. Pain now or pain later is the only question. I am not yet either for or against this plan, I just see the reality of it will mean. President Obama’s deal is designed to bring the pain later. And honestly, the largest part of me is totally okay with that. I don’t want my taxes to rise. I don’t want the long term unemployed to lose their only remaining safety net. So, for now, kicking the can down the road is the most attractive option. It just means pain later. My prayer is that we will get smart thinkers who can get us out of the hole we have dug for ourselves between now and when the chickens come home to roost. And on that note, I am moving on.
Coffee!
That is a homemade latte. Actually, I confess it is more cappuccino-esque than a latte, but I’m working on that.

I have gotten addicted to large, sugar free, non-fat caramel lattes from Shockoe Espresso, and will fall back on Starbucks’ Skinny Caramel Macchiato when not in Downtown Richmond. There are all kinds of good reasons to down a latte post-gastric bypass – they are high in protein. For every ounce of milk in your drink, you score a gram of protein. A 20 ounce latte usually has about 16 ounces of milk, so, call it 15 grams of protein (I tend to round down protein estimates to fall on the safe side). When sugar free and non-fat, they are not terrible sources of calories and really, they are very worthy calories; skim milk is generally 10 calories per ounce; so 160 calories for the milk, a few more for the sugar free syrup – that’s not so bad. Milk is of course a great source of calcium and other vitamins and minerals that are good for you. If cow’s milk isn’t your thing, they have soy milk too. The caffeine is a good thing as far as I am concerned; your mileage may vary based on your surgeon’s requirements. There is decaf too. The large size can be so filling that I often treat it as a meal.

There is one major downside. Whether they come from Shockoe Espresso or Starbucks, my favorite drinks run right about $5 a hit. There was a point when I was buying 2 or 3 a week. A WEEK. I am trying to dial it back down to 1 a week now, but it is still taking a toll on our budget, so that is where the homemade version came in.

I don’t have an espresso machine, so I have to do the best I can with what I have. Here’s my recipe for the drink above.

– 3 shot glasses of water
– 3 rounded teaspoons of instant espresso powder
-16 ounces of milk
– 3/4 shot of sugar free caramel coffee syrup
-Smuckers Sugar Free Caramel Sauce (for drizzling on top to make it divine)

I start with putting the milk into a sauce pan on the stove and get it heating on medium heat. Then I measure the three shots of water into a larger glass and put it in the microwave for a little over 60 seconds, until I can see it boiling. I pour the syrup into the Very Large Mug (VLM). With a wire whisk, I whisk the milk briskly to produce a large quantity of foam. Once the water is heated, I add in the three teaspoons of instant espresso, stir very gently, and pour it into the bottom of my VLM and go back to whisking the milk. I keep whisking until I am content with the temperature of the milk and the amount of foam. I don’t heat the milk too much, maybe on the high end of warm, but short of really hot because the espresso is quite hot and there is no reason to make the drink too scalding. Once the milk is ready, I add it to the VLM and use the whisk to reserve the foam for the top. Then I drizzle the caramel sauce over the foam, ala Starbucks Caramel Macchiato.

I worked as a barista for a hot minute at a Joe Muggs Cafe inside a Books a Million. I warned them when I started at Books a Million that I did not want to work the coffee bar, but within a week they put me behind the bar, which I ran for a few days, and then they decided I should manage the bar (with no pay increase, though). I promptly gave my notice and got the hell out of retail. However, I have never forgotten my exposure to the coffee bar, and that all came in handy when I decided to try and save myself from the dreaded $5 drink.

Obviously, the strength of the espresso, the flavor of the syrup, and everything else about it is to your taste. My first drink was not nearly strong enough. My second one could have doubled as paint thinner. I am finally getting the flavor right; now I just need to get the consistency of the milk better. I am not a fan of the foamy cappuccino style drink. I prefer the creaminess of the steamed milk latte with just a light, smooth foam on top, but I haven’t yet been able to achieve a foam that is creamy enough for my taste, but sturdy enough to support a little caramel drizzle on top. I do like playing mad scientist in the kitchen though, and if I figure it out (without a milk steamer) I will certainly let you know.

With Apologies, But I Am Off On A Tear

In which I go off on an economic and political tear.

So, post news cycle, last evening, it was announced that President Obama has reached a “compromise” with the GOP over tax cut extensions for the wealthy. The compromise is tax cuts for the wealthy will be extended for another year, along with a 2% reduction in payroll taxes across the board (payroll taxes help fund social security and Medicaid, by the way), and in return, the GOP will approve the extension of unemployment benefits for an additional 13 months. Everyone gets what they want and no one really gives up anything, which is exactly what compromise means in Washington.

And all this is paid for how? Adding $900 billion to the national debt over the next two years.
The New York Times says:

The package would cost about $900 billion over the next two years, to be financed entirely by adding to the national debt, at a time when both parties are professing a desire to begin addressing long-term fiscal imbalances.

Here’s what bothers me about it all. All those Republicans and Tea Partiers who got elected last month did so on the premise of cutting government spending and curbing the reach of government. But that all went out the window the minute they were elected. The proof is in the pudding; all their rants about out-of-control government spending and the national debt was just an act, all part of the election circus.

What does this mean for you and me? For John Q. Public and Jane C. Doe? Well, the tax cuts we have been enjoying the past couple of years will continue. For the so-called “Nintey-Niners,” those unfortunates who have been unemployed for 99 weeks or more, their benefits are turned back on and they are kept, hopefully, off the streets for 13 more months. All great news, right?

Sure. Yes. Absolutely it is good news that fewer people will lose their extensions and lifelines. Absolutely it is good news that everyone will get a little extra breathing room in their budgets next year.

But remember that another almost trillion dollars (why not round up, right?) added to the debt means another almost trillion dollars we will owe someone else, that has to be paid at some point, and paid with interest. Some would argue that that is not a big deal. The US dollar is the world’s reserve currency, very low risk, and we have great interest rates on our debt. What’s a little more debt on top of our piles of debt if it saves us some pain right now? Well, ask Greece. Ask Ireland. Ask Portugal and Spain how it feels to be constantly in the news for their crushing debt and increasing spreads on their bonds. The higher our debt rises, the greater the risk that there will come a day when we cannot pay our debts, and the greater that risk, the more interest our debtors are going to want for taking the risk on us. Rising interest rates combined with a reduction in value of our currency equals economic pain and austerity for you and me. In fact, the ONLY thing saving us from European-esque austerity measures is the fact that Europe is struggling more than we are at the moment, increasing the value of US dollars over the Euro.

So maybe we will see an extra thousand dollars in our net income next year, but if inflation continues to rise on energy and food prices (not included in the flat CPI figure that Ben Bernanke goes on about) because of weakness in the US dollar or speculation by nervous investors, then what good will that $1,000 be? In case you aren’t in the group that believes that commodity prices are rising, I offer you this site that gives you a nice visual of how prices are moving. Prices are going up. Gold and silver are at record highs. Investors buy precious metals when they have lost faith in fiat currencies; it is telling when investors are shedding dollars and euros, and putting their money into metals that tend to hold value but will not earn them interest.

Perhaps the most important thing about this compromise between President Obama and the GOP is it exposes the deep running hypocrisy of both parties. Republicans sold out in a minute to make sure those people making $250,000 and more in a year do not face higher taxes. And President Obama did too to make sure those people who have been unemployed for a year and a half or more don’t lose their lifelines, but neither do they have any extra incentive to take whatever work they can get. Neither side addressed the budget deficit that everyone in Washington was so rabid about all year leading up to November. Sure, they have made some rattling about cutting spending. Federal employees are not getting raises anytime soon, as if that makes a huge dent in the deficit, but Congress will. It must take a serious pair of brass ones to vote to approve a pay freeze for the people who work for you, and vote yourself a “cost of living” increase, too.

Oh, and one more thing. Unemployment is expected to remain around 9% throughout 2011, which is terrible. And this latest extension of unemployment benefits are scheduled to expire when, now? Thirteen months after this is approved, so what, January or February of 2012? What’s special about that time period? The 2012 presidential election cycle kicks into high gear at the same point. If in December 2011, unemployment is still 9.1% (just an example), and a massive number of people are on federal extended unemployment benefits, what politician facing re-election in the coming months will vote against extending unemployment again? Likewise, if unemployment is still high and the economy is still anemic, what politician is going to vote against extending the tax cuts even further?

How far are we going to kick this debt can down the road?

And how can I face another election cycle of politicians on both sides declaring incessantly that things will be different when they are elected, when we all know, and have perfect proof that nothing ever changes?

Edited to add that Mike Shedlock has hit the nail on the head this morning and does a great job summing this all up while expressing the same frustrations I was.