The Beginning Of The End
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How Will The Economy Improve In 2014 If Almost Everyone Has Less Money To Spend?

Piggybank - Photo by Damian O'SullivanIs the U.S. consumer tapped out?  If so, how in the world will the U.S. economy possibly improve in 2014?  Most Americans know that the U.S. economy is heavily dependent on consumer spending.  If average Americans are not out there spending money, the economy tends not to do very well.  Unfortunately, retail sales during the holiday season appear to be quite disappointing and the middle class continues to deeply struggle.  And for a whole bunch of reasons things are likely going to be even tougher in 2014.  Families are going to have less money in their pockets to spend thanks to much higher health insurance premiums under Obamacare, a wide variety of tax increases, higher interest rates on debt, and cuts in government welfare programs.  The short-lived bubble of false prosperity that we have been enjoying for the last couple of years is rapidly coming to an end, and 2014 certainly promises to be a very “interesting year”.

Obamacare Rate Shock

Most middle class families are just scraping by from month to month these days.

Unfortunately for them, millions of those families are now being hit with massive health insurance rate increases.

In a previous article, I discussed how one study found that health insurance premiums for men are going to go up by an average of 99 percent under Obamacare and health insurance premiums for women are going to go up by an average of 62 percent under Obamacare.

Most middle class families simply cannot afford that.

Earlier today, I got an email from a reader that was paying $478 a month for health insurance for his family but has now received a letter informing him that his rate is going up to $1,150 a month.

Millions of families are receiving letters just like that.  And to say that these rate increases are a “surprise” to most people would be a massive understatement.  Even people that work in the financial industry are shocked at how high these premiums are turning out to be…

“The real big surprise was how much out-of-pocket would be required for our family,” said David Winebrenner, 46, a financial adviser in Lebanon, Ky., whose deductible topped $12,000 for a family of six for a silver plan he was considering. The monthly premium: $1,400.

Since Americans are going to have to pay much more for health insurance, that is going to remove a huge amount of discretionary spending from the economy, and that will not be good news for retailers.

Get Ready For Higher Taxes

When you raise taxes, you reduce the amount of money that people have in their pockets to spend.

Sadly, that is exactly what is happening.

Congress is allowing a whopping 55 tax breaks to expire at the end of this year, and when you add that to the 13 major tax increases that hit American families in 2013, it isn’t a pretty picture.

This tax season, millions of families are going to find out that they have much higher tax bills than they had anticipated.

And all of this comes at a time when incomes in America have been steadily declining.  In fact, real median household income has declined by a total of 8 percent since 2008.

If you are a worker, you might want to check out the chart that I have posted below to see where you stack up.  In America today, most workers are low income workers.  These numbers come from a recent Huffington Post article

-If you make more than $10,000, you earn more than 24.2% of Americans, or 37 million people.

-If you make more than $15,000 (roughly the annual salary of a minimum-wage employee working 40 hours per week), you earn more than 32.2% of Americans.

-If you make more than $30,000, you earn more than 53.2% of Americans.

-If you make more than $50,000, you earn more than 73.4% of Americans.

-If you make more than $100,000, you earn more than 92.6% of Americans.

-You are officially in the top 1% of American wage earners if you earn more than $250,000.

-The 894 people that earn more than $20 million make more than 99.99989% of Americans, and are compensated a cumulative $37,009,979,568 per year.

It is important to keep in mind that those numbers are for the employment income of individuals not households.  Most households have more than one member working, so overall household incomes are significantly higher than these numbers.

Higher Interest Rates Mean Larger Debt Payments

On Tuesday, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries rose to 3.03 percent.  I warned that this would happen once the taper started, and this is just the beginning.  Interest rates are likely to steadily rise throughout 2014.

The reason why the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is such a critical number is because mortgage rates and thousands of other interest rates throughout our economy are heavily influenced by that number.

So big changes are on the way.  As a recent CNBC article declared, the era of low mortgage rates is officially over…

The days of the 3.5% 30-year fixed are over. Rates are already up well over a full percentage point from a year ago, and as the Federal Reserve begins its much anticipated exit from the bond-buying business, I believe rates will inevitably go higher.

Needless to say, this is going to deeply affect the real estate market.  As Mac Slavo recently noted, numbers are already starting to drop precipitously…

The National Association of Realtors reported that the month of September saw its single largest drop in signed home sales in 40 months. And that wasn’t just a one-off event. This month mortgage applications collapsed a shocking 66%, hitting a 13-year low.

And U.S. consumers can expect interest rates on all kinds of loans to start rising.  That is going to mean higher debt payments, and therefore less money for consumers to spend into the economy.

Government Benefit Cuts

Well, if the middle class is going to have less money to spend, perhaps other Americans can pick up the slack.

Or maybe not.

You certainly can’t expect the poor to stimulate the economy.  As I mentioned yesterday, it is being projected that up to 5 million unemployed Americans could lose their unemployment benefits by the end of 2014, and 47 million Americans recently had their food stamp benefits reduced.

So the poor will also have less money to spend in 2014.

The Wealthy Save The Day?

Perhaps the stock market will continue to soar in 2014 and the wealthy will spend so much that it will make up for all the rest of us.

You can believe that if you want, but the truth is that there are a whole host of signs that the days of this irrational stock market bubble are numbered.  The following is an excerpt from one of my recent articles entitled “The Stock Market Has Officially Entered Crazytown Territory“…

The median price-to-earnings ratio on the S&P 500 has reached an all-time record high, and margin debt at the New York Stock Exchange has reached a level that we have never seen before.  In other words, stocks are massively overpriced and people have been borrowing huge amounts of money to buy stocks.  These are behaviors that we also saw just before the last two stock market bubbles burst.

If the stock market bubble does burst, the wealthy will also have less money to spend into the economy in 2014.

For the moment, the stock market has been rallying.  This is typical for the month of December.  You see, the truth is that investors generally don’t want to sell stocks in December because they want to put off paying taxes on the profits.

If stocks are sold before the end of the year, the profits go on the 2013 tax return.

If stocks are sold a few days from now, the profits go on the 2014 tax return.

It is only human nature to want to delay pain for as long as possible.

Expect to see some selling in January.  Many investors are very eager to start taking profits, but they wanted to wait until the holidays were over to do so.

So what do you think is coming up in 2014?  Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below…

Piggybank - Photo by Damian O'Sullivan

About 40 Percent Of All Food In The United States Is Thrown In The Garbage

LandfillCould that headline actually be true?  Do Americans waste about 40 percent of all the food that we produce?  That sounds like an absolutely crazy number, but it is actually quite accurate according to a study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council.  What the NRDC discovered is that approximately 40 percent of our total food supply is either thrown into dumpsters by grocery stores, is discarded by restaurants, never gets harvested on our farms, or is thrown into the garbage by consumers in their homes.  Even though 47 million Americans are on food stamps and millions of children go to bed hungry in this country every single night, we continue to waste approximately 263 million pounds of food every single day of the year.  One day people will look back and regard us as probably the most wasteful society in the history of the planet.

So where does all of that food go?

Well, according to a recent Seattle Times article, “food waste” takes up more space in our landfills than anything else does…

Last year, the NRDC found that Americans throw out as much as 40 percent of the country’s food supply each year, adding up to $165 billion in losses.

Food waste makes up the largest portion of solid trash in landfills, according to researchers.

Some $900 million of expired food is dumped from the supply chain annually, much of it a result of confusion. Misinterpreted date labels cause the average American household of four to lose as much as $455 a year on squandered food, according to researchers.

The expired food that gets wasted is one of my personal pet peeves.

I don’t do this a lot, but today I am going to share a personal story with you.

Earlier today I was out running errands and I decided that I wanted to pick up some mini-cupcakes from Safeway that I just love.  I do try to eat a healthy diet, but I do also like a treat from time to time.  So I got over to Safeway, and I noticed that the only mini-cupcakes that they had out were ones with chocolate frosting, but I wanted ones with vanilla frosting.

So I went up to the bakery counter and there was nobody there, but behind the counter I saw a stack of several containers of vanilla cupcakes.  I waited until the bakery lady got back and I asked her if I could have them.

I was astounded when she very firmly told me that I could not buy them.

She said that it was against regulations.

I implored her to sell them to me.  I explained that I had come over to Safeway just to buy them and I didn’t care if they were a little old.

Again she very firmly told me that I could not buy them.

I could not understand this.  I knew that the cupcakes were just going to be thrown out, so I asked to speak to her manager.

After a few moments her manager came over and I was once again told very firmly that under no circumstances would I be able to buy the cupcakes.

So needless to say, I left the store with a sad look on my face and without any cupcakes.

Now of course I probably didn’t need the cupcakes anyway.  They are not healthy for me.  But big chains such as Safeway throw away massive amounts of very good food as well.  The level of the waste that goes on is absolutely astounding.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans that are dealing with hunger and malnutrition grows with each passing day.  I want to share with you an excerpt from a recent article authored by Jason Ford entitled “I Work On The Breadline“…

I work as a cashier at a nationally known discount store. I sell clothing, cleaning products, house wares and food. The people I sell to are people of all colors, races, ages and sex, but most of them have one thing in common; EBT cards. I would say about half of every transaction I do is paid for with an EBT card. Sometimes people will use three different methods of payment. They will use whatever is left on their EBT card, then use whatever is left on their debit card, and then scrape their purse to find the remaining balance, and sometimes they still don’t have enough.

Another common trait of the people I serve besides the poverty is the poor health. The food I sell is not healthy, by any stretch. I sell potato chips, candy bars, bread, canned food, ice cream, soda, packaged meat, cigarettes and alcohol. I noticed quickly that a common ingredient of most of the foods is sugar and grains. Sugar and grains are easy to grow and produce cheaply and are used as fillers in processed food to cut cost and mask the taste of other questionable ingredients. Grains work in conjunction with sugars to inflame the body and compromise the immune system. Grains and sugars also have no nutritional value besides calories, so on top of inflaming the body; they do not provide the sustenance the body needs to survive. As the functions of the body require these nutrients the diet lacks, the body sucks these minerals from the bones, teeth and brain. Bone loss, and tooth decay and decreased brain function are the unfortunate symptoms of malnutrition. The poorest of the customers I serve are also the sickest. I have witnessed toothless mouths in the young and old. Mental retardation is also a common trait among many of them. I have even witnessed one unfortunate woman whose skin was a pale green color. These people are dying a slow starvation and they don’t even know it.

Doesn’t that just break your heart?

People are living like that, and yet America discards 263 million pounds of food every single day.

Something is fundamentally wrong with the way our system works.

So what is society going to do as the number of hungry people continues to grow in this country and around the world?

Well, according to ABC News, some scientists plan to feed them with flour made out of bugs…

A team of MBA students were the recipients of the 2013 Hult Prize earlier this week, providing them with $1 million in seed money to produce an insect-based, protein-rich flour for feeding malnourished populations in other countries. The product is called Power Flour.

“It’s a huge deal because we had a very ambitious but highly executable five-year plan in place,” said team captain Mohammed Ashour, whose team hails from McGill University in Montreal. “So winning this prize is a great step in that direction.”

Ashour, along with teammates Shobhita Soor, Jesse Pearlstein, Zev Thompson and Gabe Mott, will be immediately working with an advisory board to recruit farmers and workers in Mexico, where a population of roughly 4 million live in slum conditions with widespread malnutrition.

“We will be starting with grasshoppers,” Ashour said.

Are you ready for a “protein-rich flour” made out of grasshoppers?

I know that I am not.

And in Japan, scientists have actually been working on a way to create meat out of poop.  You can read more about that right here.

Perhaps if we just quit wasting so much food we would be able to feed everybody without resorting to such craziness.

These days, an increasing number of Americans are fighting back against the colossal waste that they see all around them.  Some have even chosen to take advantage of the waste by regularly going “dumpster diving”.  The following is how I described “dumpster diving” in one of my previous articles

Have you ever thought about getting your food out of a trash can?  Don’t laugh.  Dumpster diving has become a hot new trend in America.  In fact, dumpster divers even have a trendy new name.  They call themselves “freegans”, and as the economy crumbles their numbers are multiplying.  Many freegans consider dumpster diving to be a great way to save money on groceries.  Others do it because they want to live more simply.  Freegans that are concerned about the environment view dumpster diving as a great way to “recycle” and other politically-minded freegans consider dumpster diving to be a form of political protest.  But whatever you want to call it, the reality is that thousands upon thousands of Americans will break out their boots, rubber gloves and flashlights and will be jumping into dumpsters looking for food once again tonight.

Who knows – perhaps some enterprising young dumpster diver will end up fishing the vanilla cupcakes that I wanted out of Safeway’s dumpsters this evening.

It is amazing what some of these dumpster divers are able to recover from “the trash”.  In North Carolina, one man even takes his son dumpster diving with him

A programmer by day, Todd takes to the streets of North Carolina by night, digging through Dumpsters at drug stores and grocery stores all around his rural neighborhood.

“You would be simply amazed at what businesses throw out,” he said. “I’ve only had to buy two loaves of bread all year. … Last week I had a trunk full of cereal, cookies, chips and ramen noodles.”

Todd slinks in and out of smelly places with low-light flashlights to evade rent-a-cops who will shoo him away.  Most nights, his 14-year-old son comes along.

Unfortunately, dumpster diving is not as easy as it used to be.

As dumpster diving has soared in popularity, some grocery stores have responded by putting locks on their dumpsters.

And in some areas of the country, police have even started regularly arresting dumpster divers.

But in the end, dumpster diving was not going to be a permanent solution anyway.

A permanent solution would be to quit wasting so much food.

I applaud the grocery store chains that choose to donate their expired food to homeless shelters and food banks.

We need to see a lot more of that going on.

And in our own homes we need to find ways to give more food away and waste less of it.

All of this needless wasting of food does not have to happen.  Let’s work together to find some solutions.

Consumer Spending Drought: 16 Signs That The Middle Class Is Running Out Of Money

Drought - Photo by Bert KaufmannIs “discretionary income” rapidly becoming a thing of the past for most American families?  Right now, there are a lot of signs that we are on the verge of a nightmarish consumer spending drought.  Incomes are down, taxes are up, many large retail chains are deeply struggling because of the lack of customers, and at this point nearly a quarter of all Americans have more credit card debt than money in the bank.  Considering the fact that consumer spending is such a large percentage of the U.S. economy, that is very bad news.  How will we ever have a sustained economic recovery if consumers don’t have much money to spend?  Well, the truth is that we aren’t ever going to have a sustained economic recovery.  In fact, this debt-fueled bubble of false hope that we are experiencing right now is as good as things are going to get.  Things are going to go downhill from here, and if you think that consumer spending is bad now, just wait until you see what happens over the next several years.

Even though the Dow is surging toward a record high right now, everyone knows that things are not good for the middle class.  A recent quote from CPA Howard Dvorkin kind of summarizes our current state of affairs very nicely…

“The fact of the matter is that America is broke — whether it’s mortgages, student loans or credit cards, we are broke. The old rule of thumb is that people should have six months’ of savings,” Dvorkin says.”If you talk to people, most don’t have two pennies.”

These days most Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck, and thanks to rising prices and rising taxes, those paychecks are getting squeezed tighter and tighter.  Many families have had to cut back on unnecessary expenses, and some families no longer have any discretionary income at all.

The following are 16 signs that the middle class is rapidly running out of money…

#1 According to one brand new survey, 24 percent of all Americans have more credit card debt than money in the bank.

#2 J.C. Penney was once an unstoppable retail powerhouse, but now J.C. Penney has just posted its lowest annual retail sales in more than 20 years

J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) slid the most in more than three decades after the department-store chain lost $4.3 billion in sales in the first year of Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson’s turnaround plan.

The shares fell 18 percent to $17.40 at 11:28 a.m. in New York after earlier declining 22 percent, the biggest intraday drop since at least 1980, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. J.C. Penney yesterday said its net loss in the quarter ended Feb. 2 widened to $552 million from $87 million a year earlier. The Plano, Texas-based retailer’s annual revenue slid 25 percent to $13 billion, the lowest since at least 1987.

How much worse can things get?  At this point the decline has become so steep for J.C. Penney that Jim Cramer of CNBC is declaring that they are in “a true tailspin“.

#3 In the United States today, a new car has become out of reach for most middle class Americans according to the 2013 Car Affordability Study

Looking to buy a new car, truck or crossover? You may find it more difficult to stretch the household budget than you expected, according to a new study that finds median-income families in only one major U.S. city actually can afford the typical new vehicle.

The typical new vehicle is now more expensive than ever, averaging $30,500 in 2012, according to TrueCar.com data, and heading up again as makers curb the incentives that helped make their products more affordable during the recession when they were desperate for sales. According to the 2013 Car Affordability Study by Interest.com, only in Washington could the typical household swing the payments, the median income there running $86,680 a year.

#4 The founder of Subway Restaurants, Fred Deluca, says that the recent tax increases are having a noticeable impact on his business…

“The payroll tax is affecting sales. It’s causing sales declines,” he said, estimating a decline of about 2 percentage points off sales at his restaurants. “There are a lot of pressures on consumers,” Deluca said, adding “I think this is on the permanent side, but I think business will adjust to it.”

#5 Many other large restaurant chains are also struggling in this tough economic environment…

Darden Restaurants, which owns the casual dining chains Oliver Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster, said blended same-store sales at its three eateries would be 4.5 percent lower during its fiscal third quarter.

Clarence Otis, Darden’s chairman and chief executive, said that “while results midway through the third quarter were encouraging, there were difficult macro-economic headwinds during the last month of the quarter.”

“Two of the most prominent were increased payroll taxes and rising gasoline prices, which together put meaningful pressure on the discretionary purchasing power of our guests,” he added.

#6 The CFO of Family Dollar recently admitted to CNBC that this is a “challenging time” because of reduced consumer spending…

At Family Dollar where the average customer makes less than $40,000 a year, the combination of a two-percent hike in the payroll tax, rising gas prices and delayed tax refunds has created a “challenging time and an uncertain time for the consumer right now,” said Mary Winston, the company’s chief financial officer.

“In our case, anything that takes money out of our customer’s wallet gives them less money to spend in our stores,” she told CNBC. “So I think all of those things create nervousness for the consumer, and I think there are sometimes political dynamics going on that they might not even fully understand the details, but they know it’s not good.”

#7 Even Wal-Mart is really struggling right now.  According to a recent Bloomberg article, Wal-Mart is struggling “to restock store shelves as U.S. sales slump“…

Evelin Cruz, a department manager at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pico Rivera, California, said Simon’s comments from the officers’ meeting were “dead on.”

“There are gaps where merchandise is missing,” Cruz said in a telephone interview. “We are not talking about a couple of empty shelves. This is throughout the store in every store. Some places look like they’re going out of business.”

This all comes on the heels of an internal Wal-Mart memo that was leaked to the press earlier this month that described February sales as a “total disaster”.

#8 Electronics retailer Best Buy continues to struggle mightily.  Best Buy just announced that it will be eliminating 400 jobs at its headquarters in Richfield, Minnesota.

#9 It is being projected that many of the largest retail chains in America, including Best Buy, will close down hundreds of stores during 2013.  The following is a list of projected store closings for 2013 that I included in a previous article

Best Buy

Forecast store closings: 200 to 250

Sears Holding Corp.

Forecast store closings: Kmart 175 to 225, Sears 100 to 125

J.C. Penney

Forecast store closings: 300 to 350

Office Depot

Forecast store closings: 125 to 150

Barnes & Noble

Forecast store closings: 190 to 240, per company comments

Gamestop

Forecast store closings: 500 to 600

OfficeMax

Forecast store closings: 150 to 175

RadioShack

Forecast store closings: 450 to 550

#10 Another sign that consumer spending is slowing down is the fact that less stuff is being moved around in our economy.   As I have mentioned previously, freight shipment volumes have hit their lowest level in two years, and freight expenditures have gone negative for the first time since the last recession.

#11 Many young adults have no discretionary income to spend because they are absolutely drowning in student loan debt.  According to the New York Federal Reserve, student loan debt nearly tripled between 2004 and 2012.

#12 The student loan delinquency rate in the United States is now at an all-time high.  It is only a matter of time before the student loan debt bubble bursts.

#13 Due to a lack of jobs and high levels of debt, poverty among young adults in America is absolutely exploding.  Today, U.S. families that have a head of household that is under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

#14 According to one recent survey, 62 percent of all middle class Americans say that they have had to reduce household spending over the past year.

#15 Median household income in the United States has fallen for four consecutive years.  Overall, it has declined by more than $4000 during that time span.

#16 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is currently taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.

Are you starting to get the picture?

Retailers are desperate for sales, but you can’t squeeze blood out of a rock.

For much more on how the middle class is absolutely drowning in debt, please see this article: “Money Is A Form Of Social Control And Most Americans Are Debt Slaves“.

But if you listen to the mainstream media, they would have you believe that happy days are here again.

Right now, everyone seems to be quite giddy about the fact that the Dow is marching toward an all-time high.  And I actually do believe that the Dow will blow right past it.  In fact, it is even possible that we could see the Dow hit 15,000 before everything starts falling apart.

But at some point, the financial markets will catch up with economic reality.  It is just a matter of time.

In the meanwhile, those that are wise are taking advantage of these times of plenty to prepare for the great economic drought that is coming.

Don’t be caught living paycheck to paycheck and totally unprepared when the next wave of the economic collapse strikes.  Anyone that believes that this debt-fueled bubble of false hope can last indefinitely is just being delusional.

During The Years Of Plenty, Prepare For The Years Of Drought - Photo Taken By Tomas Castelazo

Black Friday Violence Worse Than Ever As American Consumers Fight Over Deals Like Crazed Animals

We all knew that this was coming, didn’t we?  Each year Black Friday violence just seems to get worse and worse.  What does it say about American consumers when they are willing to fight like crazed animals just to save a few bucks on cheap plastic crap made in China?  Not that retailers are innocent in any of this.  It certainly seems as though many of them purposely create wild situations on Black Friday where customers will rush like crazy people into their stores and nearly riot as they fight over discounted merchandise.  The more Black Friday madness there is, the more of an “event” it becomes, and the higher the profits of the retailers go.  This year there was more Black Friday hype than ever and there was also more Black Friday violence than ever.  It is being projected that this year a record-setting 152 million Americans will go shopping between Thanksgiving and Sunday night.  That may be good news for the big corporate retailers, but the shocking lack of character being displayed by American consumers all over the country this weekend is very bad news for the future of this nation.

Most Americans would agree that there is a tremendous amount of selfishness and greed on Wall Street, but as the videos posted below demonstrate, there is also a tremendous amount of selfishness and greed on “Main Street” as well.

This year, Black Friday violence included robberies, gunfire and shootings, but the most shocking incidents actually happened inside the big retail stores.

For example, as merchandise was being unveiled on Black Friday night at a Wal-Mart in the Los Angeles area, one woman actualy pulled out pepper spray and sprayed it at other customers that were gathered around her.

Did she do this because she felt threatened?

No, according to the Los Angeles Times, authorities say that the woman was just seeking a “competitive” edge.

It is being reported that at least 20 people were affected by the pepper spray.

The pepper spray incident just added to the wild and frenzied atmosphere inside that Wal-Mart last night.

The following is how the Los Angeles Times described the scene….

Employees attempted to hold back the scrum of shoppers and pick up merchandise even as customers trampled the video games and DVDs strewn on the floor.

“It was absolutely crazy,” he said.

Another customer said screams erupted after about 100 people waiting in line to snag Xbox gaming consoles and Wii video games got into a shoving match.

Alejandra Seminario, 24, said she was waiting in line to grab some toys at the store around 9:55 p.m. when people the next aisle over started shouting and ripping at the plastic wrap encasing gaming consoles, which was supposed to be opened at 10 p.m.

“People started screaming, pulling and pushing each other, and then the whole area filled up with pepper spray,” the Sylmar resident said.

Pepper spray was used at a Wal-Mart on the other side of the country as well.  Over in Kinston, North Carolina an off-duty police officer used pepper spray as an unruly shopper was being subdued.  Approximately 20 people (including some children) were affected by the pepper spray.

Most Americans are not really concerned over the fact that this country is rapidly heading into the toilet, but they sure will get worked up into a frenzy over some good deals.  Just check out the following video that was filmed in California.  In the video, a huge crowd can be seen storming the entrance of Urban Outfitters in the Thousand Oaks Mall on Black Friday night….

There are lots of other crazy videos of Black Friday madness on YouTube today as well.  Just check out some of the following examples….

*In Fresno, California law enforcement authorities were barely able to keep a stampede at the entrance of one store from turning into a riot.

*In this next video, you can see people going absolutely crazy over memory cards at about the 1:20 mark.

*On Black Friday night, American consumers will riot over just about anything.  For example, there was a huge panic over Tupperware at one Wall-Mart last night.

*Of course electronics is probably the hottest category in most stores on Black Friday night.  In some areas, the fighting over video games became incredibly intense.

*Some of the worst Black Friday rioting goes on inside Wal-Marts.  Just check out this shocking video of what happens inside a Wal-Mart on Black Friday night.

*Also, what happened last night at a Wal-mart Supercenter in Greenville, North Carolina, was nothing short of idiotic.

If this is how the American people will act just to save a few bucks on cheap plastic crap made in foreign countries, how are they going to act when the economy collapses?

If Americans will literally fight each other over saving 20 bucks, what is going to happen someday when millions of them don’t know where their next meal is going to come from?

Thankfully the economy is still in good enough shape that most Americans can participate in these orgies of consumerism.  But the reality is that the global financial system is in a massive amount of trouble, and it looks like we could be on the verge of another global financial collapse.

Do the American people have enough character to be able to deal with a full-blown economic depression?

In a recent article entitled “22 Signs That The Thin Veneer Of Civilization That We All Take For Granted Is Starting To Disappear“, I commented on the declining character of the American people….

Instead of teaching our children to love and care for one another, we have taught them to be incredibly self-involved.  Today, way too many Americans deeply love themselves, deeply love money and are deeply addicted to entertainment.  Each new generation seems to be even more prideful, even more arrogant and even more violent.  As a nation, we are losing our empathy for others, our compassion for the needy and our respect for the elderly.  Our family units are breaking down and thousands of our communities are being transformed into hellholes.

Over the past several decades, the biggest debt bubble in the history of the world has enabled us to enjoy unprecedented prosperity.  But it has been a “false prosperity”, and it is frightening to think about what America is going to look like when the good times finally end.

The other thing that is really disturbing about Black Friday is the fact that the vast majority of the products that Americans are fighting over are made overseas.

As I pointed out recently, 23 manufacturing facilities were shut down every single day in the United States last year.

Since 2001, the U.S. has lost a total of more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities.

This country is bleeding jobs, bleeding businesses and bleeding wealth at a pace that is nearly impossible to fully grasp.

We are becoming poorer as a nation every single day, and yet Americans are seemingly more enamored with consumerism than ever before.

Most Americans could not care less about where something was made.  The only thing that matters to them is how cheap it is.

It doesn’t matter to them that a record-setting 2.6 million Americans slipped into poverty last year or that there are 10 percent fewer middle class jobs in America today than there were a decade ago.

We have become a nation that is so self-centered that it is hard to find the words to describe it.

Rather than caring about what is good for America, most of us only care about what is good for ourselves.

The madness that we see every Black Friday is just one more sign that our society is coming apart at the seams.

America has become a nation that is absolutely saturated with greed.  Unfortunately, all of that greed is going to make the hard economic times that are coming much, much more painful.

Federal Bureaucrats: Get Your Dirty Hands Off Of Our Light Bulbs

In the United States today, thousands upon thousands of ridiculous federal regulations tightly control almost every area of our lives.  One example of this is that starting on January 1st, we are no longer going to be able to buy certain kinds of light bulbs in the United States.  Back in 2007, President George W. Bush signed a law that mandates the following: “Manufacturers will no longer be able to make the 100-watt Thomas Edison bulb after Jan. 1, 2012, followed by the 75-watt version in Jan. 2013, and the the 60- and 40-watt bulbs in Jan. 2014.”  Yes, you read that correctly.  Federal bureaucrats are running wild and the nanny state has decided that you are simply not going to have the choice to buy traditional light bulbs anymore.  So why the change?  Incandescent light bulbs have not been proven to be unsafe and consumers still want to buy them.  The new CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) light bulbs are more expensive and are actually worse for the environment.  So why was this law passed?  The feds passed it because they decided that existing light bulbs use too much energy and have too large of a “carbon footprint”.  Instead of giving us choices and attempting to persuade us to change, the federal government is ramming their will down our throats.  Well, it is about time that we told the federal bureaucrats that are trying to take our freedoms away that we want them to get their dirty hands off of our light bulbs.

Thankfully there are some members of the House and Senate that are seeking to repeal this law, but right now it looks extremely doubtful that a repeal would ever be signed into law by Barack Obama.

Some people may not think that light bulbs are a big deal, but the truth is that the fact that the government tells us what kind of light bulbs to buy is just another sign of how rapidly liberty and freedom are dying in this country.

The founding fathers intended for this nation to have a very limited central government and lots of room for liberty and freedom.

But today we are “fenced in” by thousands and thousands and thousands of government regulations.  We only get to enjoy very small amounts of  “liberty” and “freedom” within the very-tightly defined boundaries that the federal government has set up for us.

Unfortunately, this “control grid” has been developing for decades.  The elite that make up America’s ruling class are raised and educated to believe that they know better than the rest of us how things should be done.  They are taught all through school that it is their “responsibility” to impose their vision of “a better life” on all the rest of us.  To the ruling elite, we are all just a bunch of sheep that do not even understand what is best for us.

If it seems like the people running this country are a bunch of “control freaks”, that is because that is exactly what they are.  They are smug, arrogant and convinced that they are better than you are.  They believe that democracy needs to be “directed” and that all of us need to be told what to do and what to believe.

But it is not just politicians that have these attitudes.  The elites that own and operate the mainstream news have these attitudes as well.

Do you ever get the impression that television news is “talking down” to you?

Well, that is because that is exactly what is happening.

The people that own and deliver the news come from wealth and privilege.  They have been “educated” at schools like Yale, Harvard and Stanford.  They live in cities like New York and Los Angeles and they mingle with the ultra-wealthy and the very famous.  They feel like they are making the world a better place by not only delivering the news but also by telling you what you should think about it.

So when the “establishment” passes a law that bans you from buying certain kinds of light bulbs, most of those in the “establishment” media are going to back them up on it.

The establishment has decided that the rest of us are not smart enough to want “the green agenda” on our own, so they are just going to start imposing it on all of us.

So what is so great about the new light bulbs?

Well, the new light bulbs that they are trying to push on us use less energy and therefore leave less of a “carbon footprint”.

But instead of giving us a choice and trying to make their case, they are just banning the old light bulbs that we have been using for decades.

What kind of “freedom of choice” is that?

In addition, these new light bulbs are actually worse for the environment and they have been known to cause health problems.

The following are just a few of the known issues with CFL bulbs….

*When a CFL light bulb is broken it releases high levels of mercury into the air.

*The quality of light produced by CFL bulbs is poorer.

*CFL bulbs are dimmer.

*CFL bulbs tend to flicker and this causes some people to become dizzy or ill.

*CFL bulbs have been associated with migraine headaches and sleep abnormalities.

*CFL bulbs are so toxic that they require special disposal.

*The mercury in CFL bulbs is particularly harmful to fetuses and children.

*The amount of mercury in a CFL bulb is enough to make 1,000 gallons of water unsafe for human consumption.

So what do you do if you break one of these toxic little bulbs in your home?

Well, you better have a few hours to set aside.  The following are some of the guidelines from Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection on how to properly clean up a broken CFL bulb….

What if I accidentally break a fluorescent lamp in my house?

The lamp contains a small amount of mercury, but you can clean this up yourself if you do the following:

* Do not use a vacuum cleaner to clean up the breakage. This will spread the mercury vapor and dust throughout the area and could potentially contaminate the vacuum.

* Keep people and pets away from the breakage area until the cleanup is complete.

* Ventilate the area by opening windows, and leave the area for 15 minutes before returning to begin the cleanup. Mercury vapor levels will be lower by then.

* For maximum protection and if you have them, wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the sharp glass.

* Carefully remove the larger pieces and place them in a secure closed container, preferably a glass container with a metal screw top lid and seal like a canning jar. A glass jar with a good seal works best to contain any mercury vapors inside.

* Next, begin collecting the smaller pieces and dust. You can use two stiff pieces of paper such as index cards or playing cards to scoop up pieces.

* Pat the area with the sticky side of duct tape, packing tape or masking tape to pick up fine particles. Wipe the area with a wet wipe or damp paper towel to pick up even finer particles.

* Put all waste and materials into the glass container, including all material used in the cleanup that may have been contaminated with mercury. Label the container as “Universal Waste – broken lamp.”

* Remove the container with the breakage and cleanup materials from your home. This is particularly important if you do not have a glass container.

* Continue ventilating the room for several hours.

* Wash your hands and face.

* Take the glass container with the waste material to a facility that accepts “universal waste” for recycling.

Have you got all that?

You might want to be very careful not to drop any light bulbs in the future.  As you can see, cleaning one up in a huge pain.

But all in the name of conforming to the “green agenda” of the ruling elite, eh?

You know what one of the saddest things about all of this is?

This freedom-killing regulation was signed into law by George W. Bush.  Millions of Republicans went along with it because they were just blindly following whatever Bush did.

Well, you know what?

Bush was an absolutely horrible president and if Republicans want to have any credibility they need to start admitting that.

The elitist Bush passed lots of freedom killing laws like this one, and now the elitist Obama is cramming them down all of our throats.

The sad truth is that Bush and Obama are much more alike than they are different.

Fortunately, there are still a few members of the U.S. government that have some common sense.

For example, have you seen the recent video of U.S. Senator Rand Paul questioning Kathleen Hogan, the deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the Energy Department?

During a recent hearing in the Senate, Rand Paul told Paul told Hogan “my toilets don’t work in my house. And I blame you and people like you who want to tell me what I can install in my house.”

Video of this exchange is posted below….

U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann has also come out against these ridiculous regulations.  She recently had the following to say about her new bill to repeal the light bulb ban….

“The government has no business telling an individual what kind of light bulb to buy.”

She is right about that.

Federal bureaucrats should quit trying to be little “gods”.  They are supposed to be “public servants”.  Americans are fully capable of getting along just fine without the federal government micromanaging every single little detail of our lives.

How can we claim that we are still living in a country that cherishes liberty and freedom if things have progressed this far?

Sadly, every new crop of federal bureaucrats just seems to be worse than the one before it and the U.S. government just continues to grow in size.  There are thousands upon thousands of control freaks that sit in their offices all day thinking of new ways to tighten the “Big Brother” control grid that is being constructed all around us.

Do you feel like you are being suffocated by all of this government control sometimes?

Well, you are not alone.

The truth is that there are millions of Americans that are absolutely sick of it.

It is time for the federal government to get off our backs.

We don’t need some sick, twisted control freaks in Washington D.C. telling us what light bulbs we can or cannot buy.

We are Americans, and our forefathers bled and died so that we could enjoy liberty and freedom in this land.  They did not sacrifice so much so that a bunch of elitists could impose a nanny state on all of us and micromanage all of our lives.

We just want the basic liberties and freedoms that we were taught about as we grew up.

Is that too much to ask?

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