Student Loan Default a Growing Trend?

student loan debt

By John Lawrence

With over a trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, young college graduates are being forced to take jobs they hate in order to pay them back. Their futures consist of debt peonage for as far as the eye can see. Some are opting out of a lifetime of death-in-debtorhood and choosing instead to start over living the life that they foresaw when they enrolled in college in the first place. Such a one is Lee Siegle whose June 6 opinion piece in the New York Times laid out his rational for defaulting on his student loan.

His decision was made based on choosing life over death …   [Read more…]

Why Don’t Corporations Contribute to Charity Instead of Hitting Up Their Customers?

petco charity 1

By John Lawrence

Do you find it annoying to be hit up for a donation every time you make a purchase? You’re out buying groceries or cat food or mouthwash and you get asked to make a donation to some charity. “Would you like to contribute a dollar to help homeless dogs?”, the check out person asks. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you reduce my total by $1.00 and contribute that to charity? Do you think Walgreen’s or Petco could afford that? Give me a dollar off my freakin’ bill. I just scraped enough money together to make sure our cat is adequately fed and doesn’t go homeless.

I really think I am capable of making my own decisions about what charities I want to donate to. I don’t want to be prompted every time I buy something. And is Walgreen’s CEO who made over $13 million in 2013 contributing anything in this campaign? Heck no, and neither are the Board of Directors who make tons of money in stock grants for attending a few meetings per year.   [Read more…]

Qualcomm Exec Gets Jail Time for Insider Trading

Qualcomm1

By John Lawrence

Some guys just can’t resist the temptation to score an extra couple of hundred thousand bucks by using their position inside a company such as Qualcomm and the information they are privileged to know in order to buy and sell stock before the public has access to that information. Such a guy was Derek Montague Cohen, who knew about Qualcomm’s plans to buy Atheros Communications in 2011.

He knew that Atheros’ stock value would go up after it was publicly announced that Qualcomm would buy them. So he bought Atheros stock before it was announced publicly and before the stock price went up. After the announcement and the resultant surge in Atheros’ stock value, he sold the stock making a tidy $200,000 profit. But he was not the only one. Several other Qualcomm employees did the same thing.

Now Cohen faces jail time, something that rarely happens in white collar crimes.   [Read more…]

Getting Money Out of Politics in San Diego City Elections

Patrick Gensel/Flickr

By John Lawrence

Wouldn’t it be nice if money didn’t influence who gets elected and what they do after they get elected? The Clean Elections Initiative aims to get money out of politics so that one vote will truly equal one vote like it’s supposed to in a democracy. Right now money controls elections and lobbyists have too much influence over elected officials which are in turn dependent on rich donors for their campaign funds.

The San Diego Clean Elections Initiative is being sponsored by Neighborhoods for Clean Elections, a grass roots coalition that is aiming to place the Clean Elections Initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative, which is also supported by Common Cause, will provide public funding for candidates for mayor and City Council who agree to a Clean Elections Pledge: The pledge requires that they refrain from soliciting any campaign contributions from private sources and that they further agree to refrain from spending any of their own money for their campaign.

Voters in Maine, Arizona, Connecticut and Albuquerque, NM already have Clean Elections. Why not here in San Diego?   [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Watch: May 2016 – It’s Either Global Warming or a Flood of Biblical Proportions

weather5

Torrential Rain, Floods in Texas, Oklahoma

The Blanco River overran its banks sweeping houses and people in its course. At least 41 people have died in the severe weather over the past several days, from either tornadoes or flooding brought on by epic rainfall. Those deaths include 29 in Texas and Oklahoma. Eleven people have been missing for a week. In Mexico at least 13 people died in a tornado that hit the border city of Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. At least 200 homes were destroyed.

I’ll bet you one thing: no one in the media will mention the words: GLOBAL WARMING. But what else can you say when 11 inches of rain fall in six hours? With that much rain in such a short time, any river is subject to flash flooding?   [Read more…]

The Greek Tragedy: A Labyrinth of Debt

Photo by quapan

By John Lawrence

How to figure out the ongoing crisis that is Greece? What exactly is going on there? As per usual it’s another chapter in the strange saga that involves Wall Street’s stranglehold over the world economy.

What happened to Greece is similar to what happened to American mortgage holders after they were encouraged to go in over their collective heads borrowing more money than they could reasonably expect to be in a position to pay back. Greece did the same.   [Read more…]

Going Homeless to Pay For College

WSUV

My daughter was entering the freshman class at UCSD in 1992 and the plan was for me to move out of our condo where we had lived for 18 years and in with my girlfriend. Renting out the condo would bring in $1000. a month and let me pay for a good share of my daughter’s college expenses. After about a year when the relationship didn’t work out, I decided that rather than rent an apartment which would cost me what I needed to pay my daughter’s expenses, I would go homeless instead.

It wasn’t that I was desperate; I could have rented an apartment. I just decided I’d rather collect rent than pay it, and not only would I be saving $1000. a month in rent, I wouldn’t have a cable bill, an internet bill or an SDG&E bill either. Such a prospect appealed to the Scotsman in me.   [Read more…]

Gov. Brown on Climate Change: “We’re dealing with it and it’s damn serious.”

Photo by USACE HQ

Then Why Haven’t You Put Any Restrictions on Big Oil and Big Ag?

Governor Jerry Brown is leading the nation and perhaps even the world in his efforts to do something about climate change and global warming which is causing epic drought conditions in California.

He has mandated that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to 40 percent below 1990 levels over the next 15 years. Brown called this the most aggressive benchmark enacted by a government in North America. All well and good.

But the Governor, formerly known as Governor Moonbeam, has done little to refrain Big Oil and Big Ag from using most of the water in the state.   [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Watch: April 2015 – Tornadoes, Floods Devastate the South

weather5

April Showers Turn Violent

As April drew to a close, drenching rain expanded across the Southeast states, bringing the threat of flooding and travel delays. Strong thunderstorms were also a concern for Florida.

April has been a particularly wet month across the Southeast due to several slow-moving storms that soaked the region over the past several weeks. Mobile, Alabama, has been one of the wettest cities in the entire country last month from a series of storms – recording over 13 inches of rain.   [Read more…]

Fined by China, Qualcomm Losing Chip Business as CEO Departs

Qualcomm Sucks Up To China

By John Lawrence

Qualcomm has been fined almost a billion dollars by China for violating its anti-monopoly law. China has the world’s most internet users and the largest smartphone market so Qualcomm has to tread gingerly with the authorities there since it doesn’t want to be booted out of the world’s most lucrative market. The fine will knock 58 cents a share off Qualcomm’s earnings for the year. Qualcomm CEO Steven M. Mollenkopf thinks paying the fine will make Qualcomm better positioned to cash in in the future.

This could be another front in the brewing economic conflicts between China and the US. To sweeten the pot Qualcomm has offered China deep discounts on licensing its patents for certain systems and agreed to partner with Chinese companies. But all this could be construed as a bribe in order to get access to the Chinese market.   [Read more…]

Public Banking Advocate Ellen Brown Speaks at San Diego State

By John Lawrence

On Thursday April 16, there was a panel discussion at San Diego State with the title: Crisis in American Democracy: Answers Beyond the Two Party System.

There were three people on the panel representing three political parties. The Socialist Equality Party was represented by Mr. John Burton. Dr. Matt Zwolinski spoke for the Libertarians, and the Green Party was represented by Dr. Ellen Brown.

The promo said: “The content of the event will be a debate about their solutions to the problems facing American Democracy today.” The event allowed 15 minutes per person for initial discussion. After the initial discussion, the event was open for public comment and questions. Then there was time for closing statements and rebuttals from each speaker.   [Read more…]

Green Capitalism: A Contradiction in Terms?

Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe – Part 6

By John Lawrence – This is the sixth and final part of this series. Part 5 can be found here.

Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, debunks the idea that all we have to do is to cooperate with the extractive industries and urge them to get greener. We do not have to go to extremes, but can phase in renewable sources of energy gradually. The gradualist approach is the essence of green capitalism. This will not work Klein says:

[The] bottom line is … our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.   [Read more…]

Buy Now Pay Later: How San Diego School Districts Were Hoodwinked by Wall Street

By John Lawrence

In 2009 then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 1388 which eliminated prudent controls over how much debt school districts could enter into. Wall Street bankers then swarmed all over the state promoting Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs), the equivalent of payday loans for school districts.

One fantastic advantage of these loans was the “buy now, pay later” aspect. School districts could get their money now and not have to raise taxes on current residents. Easy money. There would not have to be any payments made for 20 years. Current residents would be off the hook. But their children and grandchildren would enter an era of crushing debt when the bill became due.

And Wall Street is patient, very patient.
  [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Watch: March 2015

By John Lawrence

Vanuatu is a small island in the Pacific that was effectively wiped out by a Category 5 cyclone. It is emblematic of the plight of small islands at the mercy of global warming. On March 17, Cyclone Pam swept through the Pacific island nation, an archipelago of over 200 islands located in the South Pacific and home to approximately 270,000 people. Packing winds of up to 155 miles per hour, the cyclone caused widespread devastation.

Around 75,000 people were left in need of emergency shelter, and 96 per cent of food crops were destroyed. Since most of Vanuatu’s food comes from subsistence farming, there is a disastrous food shortage in the wake of the storm. 95% of homes were destroyed. Tens of thousands of people were left homeless. There is little or no drinking water and people are drinking sea water to stay alive.

There was very little loss of life considering the magnitude of the destruction. That was because buildings there are made of natural materials and not construction grade masonry. Chunks of falling masonry are what actually kills people.   [Read more…]

Lena Horne: A Great Lady Who Broke the Color Line

Lena Horne was the first black woman to get a contract with a major Hollywood Studio

By John Lawrence

Born into a black bourgeoisie family in 1917, Lena Horne was signed up in the NAACP by her grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, a college graduate, at the age of two. The Hornes owned a four-story residence in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn.

The distinguished Horne family included teachers, activists and a Harlem Renaissance poet. Lena’s uncle became dean of a black college. According to James Gavin’s biography of Lena, Stormy Weather, the black bourgeoisie were descendants of favored slaves “privileged blacks who, by virtue of their brains or their sexual allure to their masters, had worked in the house, not in the field. During the decade-long heyday of Reconstruction, they’d used their cachet to start businesses and gain social standing.”

Lena’s grandmother drilled into her respectability at all costs. She was to use proper diction, no dialect allowed, and always present herself as a lady. Cora was a determined fighter for black causes, and, despite her disdain for whites, she married a white man. According to Gavin, Cora’s cafe au lait skin, thin lips and delicate nose betrayed generations of intermingling with whites. Her maiden name, Calhoun, came from her father’s slavemaster in Georgia, Dr. Andrew Bonaparte Calhoun. His uncle was Senator John C Calhoun who championed slavery as God’s will.   [Read more…]

HSBC: A Criminal Enterprise Too Big To Jail

Attorney General Eric Holder will leave office with a perfect record of not having busted a single senior banker

By John Lawrence

The bank, HSBC, has been involved in criminal enterprises from dealing with terrorists and drug dealers to advising clients how to escape paying taxes. Yet no HSBC banker has gone to jail.

Dealing with drug dealers is nothing new for HSBC, also known as the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. They have always been associated with drugs. Founded in 1865, HSBC became the major commercial bank in colonial China after the conclusion of the Second Opium War. That’s the war in which European powers forced the Chinese to legalize the drug trade.

If you or I got caught with a few stems or seeds of marijuana, we would go to jail. HSBC laundered money for the Sinaloa drug cartel, but yet they had to pay only a small fine and got off the hook. The fine, $1.9 billion, is about five weeks of income for the bank. Their executives had to partially defer their bonuses as well.   [Read more…]

Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe – Part 5

By Frank Thomas and John Lawrence

Capitalism and Climate Change

In a title not usually expected at a scientific conference, University of California San Diego geophysicist Dr. Brad Werner presented a paper entitled Is the Earth Fucked? at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in December 2012. Dr. Werner explained that the title represented the expression of depression by scientists working in the field of the public’s inability to respond to what scientists are telling them about global warming.

Climatologists and other scientists are now speaking out about climate change becoming a clear and present danger to human civilization. Most of them are more comfortable gathering data and working in their labs than doing political advocacy, but the situation calls for them to risk losing tenure and even arrest in order to tell the rest of us about the situation we are now facing.   [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Watch: February 2015 Sets Records for Snow and Cold

By John Lawrence

Many records for snowfall and extreme cold were set in February. Some might think this is a sign of the nonexistence of global warming, but they would be wrong. Maybe the terminology should be more appropriately “climate change,” but global warming still holds if the average surface air temperature sets records as it did in 2014 despite extreme cold in the northeast US. It remains to be seen if extreme heat elsewhere in the world will make up for the extreme cold over much of the eastern half of the US in 2015.

Amid the extreme cold and snowfall records in the eastern half of the US, February also set a record for carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. For the first time in February the earth’s average carbon dioxide level was above 400 ppm. Last year, the monthly average didn’t go above that level until April, which was the first month in human history with carbon dioxide levels that high. Levels stayed that high for three months, and they are likely to stay that high for many more this year. In a few years they will be that high permanently   [Read more…]

Oil Trains: Death and Destruction on the Rails

Department of Transportation Predicts Oil Train Derailments Will Become Increasingly Common

By John Lawrence

On Monday Feb 16, 2015 an oil train carrying millions of pounds of crude oil derailed in Boomer, West Virginia. The accident was the latest in a spate of fiery derailments in Canada and the U.S. as vast quantities of oil are being moved across these nations through sensitive environments and large population centers.

A couple days earlier on Feb. 14, there was a crude oil train derailment south of Timmins, Ontario. It took almost a week in subzero temperatures for the fires to burn out. Both the West Virginia accident and the oil train derailment and fire in Ontario involved recently built tank cars that were supposed to be an improvement over a decades-old model in wide use that has proven susceptible to spills, fires and explosions – the Dot-111.

On July 6, 2013 a train was left on the tracks near Lac Megantic, Quebec, with the engines running while the lone engineer and employee on the train checked into a nearby hotel. During the night the brakes failed and the train rolled downhill and derailed. Much of downtown Lac Megantic was destroyed by a raging fire. Several train cars exploded and 40 buildings were leveled. 47 people died – incinerated and vaporized. No remains were found for five of them.   [Read more…]

Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe – Part 4

By Frank Thomas and John Lawrence

While many positive advances in renewables are being made, rising coal, natural gas and energy demand outweigh any reductions from recent strong growth in renewables in a few countries. Renewables and hydro are still a TINY 9% of primary energy consumption today They are forecast to be a TINY 20% of energy consumption in 2030 and no more than 25% in 2040.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts the same weak growth in renewable electrical generation shares reaching a miniscule 22% in 2015 and 25% in 2040.These weak shares explain why EIA and others expect CO2 emissions to soar ahead from 36 billion tons today to over 50 billion tons in 2050.

This week (Part 4) we address how FAR we have to go to reach a hydro-renewables mix of 70% of global energy consumption by 2050. Cataclysmic global warming can only be stemmed by considerably speeding up practical community-based and disruptive technically-based solutions for sustainable fuels, energy efficiency and lifestyle adaptations (that reduce energy demand) like Scandinavia, Germany, and California are remarkably doing in their own way – without disturbing economic growth.

Part 3 can be found here   [Read more…]

Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe – Part 3

By Frank Thomas and John Lawrence

Renewable Solutions Are Here Now and Technically Feasible Today

It is now clear, at least from a technical perspective, that we could eliminate fossil fuels over a period of 20 to 40 years. That’s if we went full steam ahead without being blocked by fossil fuel corporations, the politicians beholden to them and various other vested interests who stand to profit from the status quo.

In 2009 Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and Mark Delucchi, a research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, came up with a detailed, groundbreaking road map for just how this could be accomplished. Their study showed how 100% of the world’s energy could be supplied by wind, water and solar (WWS) resources by as early as 2030. Their paper, which appeared in Scientific American, is called “A Plan for a Sustainable Future by 2030.”   [Read more…]

San Diego Group Gets Award to Expand Solar Power Use at Condos and Apartments

By John Lawrence

Everywhere in San Diego you see solar panels being installed atop single family homes and large businesses. But hardly anywhere do you see them going in on the large number of local apartment buildings and condos.

Now the Department of Energy SunShot initiative has made a $712,000. grant to San Diego’s Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) to study the reasons and do a pilot project to implement solar in such projects.

Condos and apartment buildings represent a huge amount of rooftop real estate which could be gathering in the sun’s rays to provide energy to the occupants within.   [Read more…]

Jazz Pianist Josh Nelson at Croce’s Park West

By John Lawrence

A rare night out on the town took Judy and me to San Diego’s premier jazz supper club, Croce’s Park West, at 2760 5th Avenue, to hear Los Angeles pianist Josh Nelson and his trio for a tribute to the great American composers – Cole Porter, Harold Arlen and the Gershwins.

Arriving there we decided to use the valet parking since Judy is ambulatorily challenged. For $5 it was cheaper than a lot and within 10 steps of the door. What a deal! Croce’s has a music room separate from the noisiness of the bar area, full of comfortable seating, warm ambiance and great sight lines. The non-amplified music was gentle on our ears.

Josh was running a little late having had a harrowing day. His car carrying himself and drummer Dan Schnelle had broken down in Long Beach. Fortunately for him and for us, there was a rental agency nearby. It was a miracle that he made the gig at all.   [Read more…]

Apple Corporation Sitting on a Pile of Cash It Has No Use For

By John Lawrence

Apple Corporation is sitting on $178 billion in cash, and it literally doesn’t know what to do with it. But it knows one thing: it doesn’t want to give any of it to Uncle Sam or any other taxing jurisdictions around the world. That much is clear.

If it divided that money up, Apple could give $550 to every man, woman and child in the US. It’s enough money to buy Ford, General Motors and Tesla combined and still have $41 billion left over.

They could even buy a couple of small countries, but it doesn’t want to do that. Why bother? It’s literally an embarrassment of riches.   [Read more…]

Water Main Breaks Cause Major Problems in San Diego and Nationwide

By John Lawrence

In the best of all possible worlds water main breaks would not happen. Local government would replace old water mains with new ones on a regular basis. That means that money for this and other infrastructure needs would be allocated systematically and appropriately.

If we had our priorities straight, money for infrastructure would take precedence over money for football stadiums and convention centers. But in San Diego and in fact throughout the US this rational approach is to be seen rarely if at all.

The Romans gave their citizens bread and circuses to keep them in line. Here in fact only circuses seem to be necessary.   [Read more…]