Thursday, June 21, 2018

Food insecurity: food prices in the United States are a lot higher than in Germany

Comparing consumer prices between countries is not easy and often seriously flawed, especially if done through casual observation by an individual.

But your favorite blogster is not casual and uses backup information from the web, for example, the cost of living comparison site numbeo.

So the confirmation of recent observations, condensed into joyful "food is fucking expensive here", is borne out by the numbeo figures. They say that groceries are over 26% more expensive in the US than in Germany.

The blogster regards the overall 26% as being on the low side and estimated basic grocery needs often are closer to 100% more expensive around here. If they are affordable, they can often require long trips to a less pricey store. The most extreme manifestation of this phenomenon is called a food desert and even recognized by the Centers for Disease Control as having potential adverse health effects.

Stating the cost of living is obviously not helpful without a look at the purchasing power or disposable income of the population.

And this is where is gets outright frightening: according to numbeo, local purchasing power in the United States is about 4.5% higher than in Germany.

This means, the higher grocery costs take - pardon the pun - a big bite out of Americans' income, explaining in part why food insecurity, in other words hunger, is a huge issue in this country.
Despite a booming economy, this article in The Nation from October 2017 gives the number of people affected as 41 million.

While going to a US food bank for help does not come with the still significant stigma attached to visiting their most prevalent German counterpart Die Tafel, American food prices remain, in the eyes of the blogster, an under reported and odd phenomenon. Even more so
because American farmers export huge amounts of grain and other foodstuffs.

But hey, you can shop 24 hours a day.

[Update 6/22/2018] The conservatives just passed a bill discussed for months with the effect that existing work requirements for "able bodied adults" under 49 years will be extended to those under 59 years of age.
Government estimates say that this change would kick another 1.2 million recipients off the list of those eligible for SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

When is the public "f*****ed"? When the owner of German tabloid Bild & intellectualoid Welt call new public broadcasting agreement an 'everybody wins' deal

Regarding funding, Germany's public broadcasters have an easy life - they get about 20 dollars per household as a mandatory fee. On top of that, every business has to pay in accordance with the number of employees. Nothing says watching television or listening to the radio at work like the many environments where hearing protection is needed or where enjoying moving or still images will get you fired on the spot, even in a place where the laws require some form of cause for layoffs.

Germany's public broadcasters currently take in around 8 billion Euros a year in fees and hundreds of millions more in ad revenue and revenue from other services.

And they have web sites.


It's a big deal because the sites come with their own 'media libraries'. The proper sounding name hides the fact that the stations are allowed under current agreements to only keep archived broadcasts available for seven days on the website after the first airing the radio or TV episode.

This hard limit will soon go away.

That's the win for the broadcasters if you will.

The win for the traditional print media, represented in the blog title and the press comments on the agreement by none other than the chief of the company that owns one of the country's truly awful tabloids is this:

Internet presence of German public broadcasters to focus on moving image and audio.

Criticism by the powerful, largely 'conservative' media industry group representing the paper based sector against the public broadcasters has recently targeted the broadcaster's use of the written word on their websites.

Writing something that vaguely resembles an article is decried as unfair competition and will now be officially banned. What this means is a loss of accessibility because the provision can easily be read as prohibiting full text publication of interviews and commentary.

The egregious bit is that no such prohibition exists for forays of the paper folks into audio and video. Not only does DER SPIEGEL, for example, boast a TV like site called spiegeltv but the Axel Springer group of incendiary tabloid BILD fame owns real TV station N-TV and proudly features its content on 'print' sites, such as Welt.

In short, the German public is, well, read the blog title again. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The old man and the hills

Out here in the American West, men like him blend into the fabric of the landscape. When he goes into town, he puts on freshly washed clothes and looks like any other retiree from one of the small single family houses or an apartment complex in the sprawling former agricultural population center.

But he is not. His home up in the mountains, an hour or more outside of town - depending on the weather - has none of the amenities even modern Americans out West have become used to.

He has no running water, no other electricity than from his small Japanese made generator, which he runs just two or three hours a day, and no structure in the shape of a house. It is probably better not to describe the physical details of the man's home and surroundings in too much detail. The county building inspectors and the zoning board discovered Google Maps and Google Earth a few years ago. With their newfound technical skills, zoning boards all over the American West went on an enforcement binge.

This did not affect the man in the hills because his only structure is an outhouse with a luxurious square footage double that of a traditional outhouse. What did affect him was the spike in real estate prices, driven up by unlimited speculation and mortgage tricks, made worse by increasing demand for marijuana, before the Great Depression of 2007/2008.
Chainsaws and industrial size generators moved in next door and throughout the patchwork of valleys in the region.

With denser population and - he and others believe - climate change, he spent more time away from the home in the hills in recent years fighting fires across the West. It means good money and maybe a chance at retirement.

The story of the man's life is yet another one of those that really should have been made into a book or a movie.

A good title would be "The kind American".