Friday, December 25, 2009

Looking for Ideas to Expand the Blog

I'm really looking for ideas to improve the blog, and also to market it to more people. At the moment, the extent of raising awareness of the blog is limited to putting links to new blog posts on Facebook. And I'm not happy with that, a lot of the "friends" I have on Facebook are people I went to high school with. Therefore, much of the posts I read from others are just naval-gazing (for example, spouting pointless details of their day, putting pictures of their families, or their progress in Farmville or something like that). Don't get me wrong, I'm not above this occasionally, I don't mean to criticize it, I just wish I had more "friends" who were interested in the kind of stuff that I'm writing about.

More Predictions for 2010 (and the years to come)

I, myself, am allergic to making predictions. Not just out of the fear of being proven incorrect, but also because I don't know nearly enough about the way this world works to feel anywhere near confident in making any kinds of predictions, on any subject, especially not a worsening society being brought down by a series of factors (economics, energy depletion, etc.) that could potentially lead to the end of industrialized civilization. By the way, people are as asleep as ever. It is Christmas day, I am at my sister's, and my other sister (who is visiting with her financee from Connecticut) saw a book I was reading, "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It". She opened her mouth in disbelief and exclaimed, "Oh, come on!" As I don't make predictions, I also can't be fully confident in my beliefs about our state of affairs, but I really fail to see why reading this kind of book could meet with such disbelief. Is it so unfathomable that things could really go to shit in any society, even ours?

Anyway, I am digressing again; it's an unfortunate habit I've acquired in the course of writing these long blogs, and I am unlikely to give it up. I just hope that you find it interesting enough to read while I'm in the process of writing what I had intended to write in the first place.

I read another website that made several predictions about this upcoming year, as part of a sample of a quarterly publication called the Trends Journal. It seems to be geared to people interested in finance, but it looks like something many more of us can understand, especially this portion. It is predicted that things will continue to collapse, in spite of the heroic efforts that governments around the world have taken to prop up our financial institutions, and that seems like a no-brainer to me. On the other hand, there are some surprising predictions that, while I can't see them happening in the short-term, could definitely be possible as more and more of us realize that the "good times" are not coming back.

One element is the possibility of increased acts of terrorism as more people are becoming alienated at what has happened to them and their families as a result of our incursions into Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Pakistan. Some of the attacks can well take place from unexpected sources, like the gunman at Fort Hood. But as economic problems and the chances of there being battles over dwindling resources increase, Al-qaeda training camps will be the least of our problems.

Another prediction I can emphasize on, and agree with, is survivalism becoming mainstream. It wouldn't be too long ago that my reaction to someone reading a book like the one I am would be similar to my sister's, but I don't feel that way anymore. My personal circumstances are not worsening (as of this writing) but they're not really getting better either, and I think they would be if times were normal. Along with becoming enlightened of the chances of our demise, my personal experiences have really helped me understand the ability to prepare and acquire new skills for a new economy, and hopefully more people will take on this trend.

Our government has repeatedly justified their bailouts of banks and other financial institutions on the grounds that they are "too big to fail", and while looking at America as a whole, the writer(s) have determined that a lot of America is "too big". Our homes, our vehicles, our debt loads, our state governments, our military, it is all "too big". Like the Trends Journal, I also feel that being "too big" (in other words, living to excess) will become decidedly uncool in the years ahead.

Another trend predicted, and one that I can see on the horizon already, is illegal immigrants and American citizens jostling and competing for the scraps of what little is out there in terms of hard labor. What always bothered me about illegal immigration is the support that it received from people who really should have known better. Some time ago, I was an activist for primarily leftist causes, and I came across great people who were very passionate about many issues, among them being standing up for immigrants, be they legal or not. I understood where they were coming from, but I also couldn't help but see the contradictions playing out amongst these people; namely, claiming to be pro-labor and union but also pro-illegal immigrant. As more illegals joined the work force, they had the effect that any new clump of labor would, in that they depress wages for everybody. They also serve as an effective threat for business owners to use against their employees, as I've learned from people telling me their experiences. So, a fair amount of protest against illegals (both past, present and future) may be based in racism and intolerance, but much of it is also based on economic realities.

A backlash against China is also predicted in the form of "Not Made in China" movements and a press for more products to be made closer to home. While I think this will happen eventually, I think it will be more due to the expense of oil making globalization increasingly unfeasible, rather than any popular backlash. Many of us simply cannot make the connections between outsourcing our manufacturing to China and the dire economic straits of the working class; besides, we enjoy the cheap Chinese products too much. Additionally, we may not have the know-how necessary to build products, even if we gain the desire.

Lastly, a prediction that I really hope happens (not sure if it will) will be the demise of TV/cable due to the Internet Revolution, similar to what happened with newspapers. I think the two (TV and papers) are very different, mainly that the big liability of papers was not being able to report breaking news in an adequate fashion (due to their very structure, it could take up to a day or more for a story to "break" in a paper if that's the reader's main source of information), whereas TV news is much more immediate (about equal to the Internet in terms of breaking a story). Another big difference, and one that will hopefully hurt television, is its true, utter lack of reporting stories that have any value for the majority of the populace. Since most TV news outlets are corporate-owned, and also depend on the advertising dollars of other corporate entities, they specialize in harmless and meaningless fluff that is the mental equivalent of junk food. While this has the edge over the Internet, in that it appeals to morons, the Internet has the advantage of providing many diverse sources of information that will appeal to any person who has the capability and the willingness to learn (and I'm willing to bet that anyone with those traits is likely to make much more money than the morons who exclusively depend on television for what passes as "news" on those outlets).

So, there you are, with more predictions. While I'm not comfortable with asserting that these will come true in 2010 particularly, I am pretty confident that they will happen sometime in the near-future, at least in the next decade for certain. By the way, Merry Christmas. I think that we are at the peak of enjoying our fairly prosperous lifestyles, so we might as well enjoy them to the extent that we can. Eventually, many of us will see a fall in these lifestyles, and they might be quite drastic. Furthermore, it won't be optional.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Predictions for 2010 (And Beyond)

I'm pretty sure that I've mentioned this on the blog previously, but I'll mention it again anyway. One of the better books I've read in recent years, and which is a great companion piece for any "doomer" (someone who believes in peak oil and its economic ramifications) is "Reinventing Collapse" by Dmitry Orlov. An emigre from Soviet Russia, Orlov had the unique perspective of witnessing collapse in that other superpower, the USSR, and strongly feels that the U.S. shares many of the same attributes that led to collapse in the USSR. It's a very informative, humorous, and easy-to-breeze through little tome (around 160 pages, but totally engrossing).

Mr. Orlov has made predictions on the near-future, or more closely, the next decade, in this blog post, which go into further detail on what he had already expounded on in his book. More specifically, the woes of states and municipalities will grow steadily worse in terms of money, and to make up for steadily dipping tax revenues, the authorities will begin to charge outrageous fees for things such as licenses. States will raise and raise taxes, driving more economic transactions into the "black market". Any paper assets will largely lose their value, turning our economy into one based on bartering.

The whole article (which is brief) is worth reading. What I found striking (and this is something he touched on in his book as well) was his assertion that the U.S. will not have the resources to repatriate our troops from around the world when the shit hits the fan. While it's plausible, I think things would have to be really fucked up in order for that to be a possibility. As much as us Americans are willing to take it up the collective ass from the powers that be on a constant basis, I feel that if there were to be a final straw, our troops being stranded overseas would be it.

By the way, this is a presentation from Orlov called "Closing the Collapse Gap: The USSR was Better Prepared for Collapse than the U.S.", which is basically a shorter version of his book, in case you don't have the time or money to read it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Video of How Dependent we are on Oil for our Food

This clip is from a new documentary called "Collapse", which I believe centers around a series of interviews with a man named Michael Ruppert, who published a newsletter called "From the Wilderness" which delved into political coverups, government involvement in drug trafficking, etc. He is also a proponent of Peak Oil. Anyway, this clip (less than 2 minutes) has Ruppert detailing the processes of food production and manufacturing, and how virtually every process in that line is contingent upon oil. It's a very sobering look at how dependent we are on factory farming and the Interstate highway system for how we tend to eat (either going to the supermarket or restaurants).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Young people, economic contraction, and intergenerational "warfare"

In my last blog post, "Surviving Peak Oil on a Budget", I linked to an article in passing about a young, recent college graduate, who graduated "magna cum laude" (top of her class), from George Washington University, who applied to 60 businesses without gaining employment. It was to reflect how bad things were getting out there, and was a kind of "Exhibit A" or "B" or "C" as to why you should educate yourself on the facets of this new economic reality that we're living in, and try to adopt a new paradigm (or, to put it simply, a "plan B") rather than cling to the old one and hope for the best, even while it's becoming more and more obvious that things are taking a big turn for the worst every day.

Now that I've taken the smile off your face, let me continue. Anyway, while I did mention the article in passing, I found the article (upon a 2nd reading) to be of enough substance to merit a blog entry of its own. Between articles on the dire outlook for gainful employment among our young college graduates (including yours truly), and reading forums and message boards, stories like Melissa Meyer's are becoming a dime a dozen. People went to college in droves over this past decade (and got in debt, sometimes financial ruin, thanks to the easy loans provided by our government, but that's a whole other can o'worms for another blog entry), with high expectations that a well-paying job would await them soon after graduation. Between the rapid outsourcing of many white-collar jobs and the (now) clear widespread error that there could be close to enough office jobs for a massive flow of college grads (good economy or not), these expectations have been dashed in a big way. While college enrollment is currently surging, it is my prediction that as it becomes clearer and clearer to many that the good times are gone and never to return, it will also become clear that the value of a college degree has become wildly inflated. When a halfway smart person calculates the future value of a degree (in other words, what the degree will give them in wages and benefits vs. the perceived value of a degree based on tuition, interest, and all the other visible and invisible costs of a degree) and determines that it simply is not worth the investment, the college system (for lack of a better term, forgive me, I'm sleep-deprived) as we know it will collapse. In this, I am not even considering the earth-shaking event I have blogged about many times known as Peak Oil (PO) and its impact on the college system.

So, as we can already tell based on present stories that we are reading about, economic reality does not care if you graduated "magna cum laude" from GWU, or graduated with a 2.0 GPA from Bumfuck U., your circumstances probably will not be that different. But I have talked about this before, albeit not to this length, I believe. What I have not talked about, and what I found interesting towards the end of this article, and what it strongly hinted at as a glimpse into many households, is the possibility of intergenerational conflict. I don't mean literal battles between our elders and our fellow whipper-snappers, in which the former try to beat the latter unruly mobs off with their canes and walkers. I am talking about something much more intricate, and that shows itself in a family like Melissa Meyer's. In the near-future, I believe that with our steady economic contraction, the dream of the average twentysomething to leave home and pull up roots of his or her own will become steadily more difficult to do. Obviously, if well-paying employment becomes scarce and harder to obtain, it'll be harder to buy a home or rent an apartment. So, it's quite possible that multigenerational living will become more common than it has been. It actually was quite common in the U.S. until the post World War II period. (From anacedotal knowledge, I believe it's actually common in most other parts of the world, or at least, living home with the folks doesn't carry the stigma it does here in the States).

Anyway, I'm digressing, big-time. I feel that as more and more children move back home due to the staggering costs of living, or never leave home at all, tensions will run more rampant among the old and the younger of the households. Older people will feel a resentment towards their children for dashing their own dreams of retirement, and sharing an "empty nest" without their kids. They will be financially pulling the load for what they perceive to be their useless brethren, and will not respect them while wondering, "why couldn't they achieve the dream like we did?", while not realizing that they are living in a time warp and in that the world they are living in is one in which traditional notions of economic growth will no longer be possible.

In turn, younger people will resent their parents for this reason, along with a heavy amount of self-loathing that their standard of living is much, much lower than their parent's was. They will spend a long time blaming themselves, as well as each other, while it's really neither of their faults.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Preparing for Peak Oil on a Budget

Since I found out about Peak Oil, and its implications for virtually every facet of our lives, around a year and a half ago, I have been wondering how to prepare. After traversing many message boards and reading the accounts and experiences of people who have solar panels installed on their homes, own generators, have investments in gold and other metals, etc., it made me very discouraged because with my limited resources, what could I possibly do to prepare?

Than I found this article on LATOC from a former U.S. Army Ranger that makes some very sensible, and very affordable, points on how to face life after collapse. One of his most important points is that most of the preprepation for peak oil will be done mentally. It won't be like preparing for a weather event, like a hurricane, in which you buy a few essentials for a temporary crisis. Preparing for peak oil will be akin to preparing for a permanent change in the state of life in which you live, and in which you will have to get by with less, possibly much less.

He then goes on to give 7 things in which to prepare, and goes in depth. I will just give you the list; you can go over to LATOC to read the article in depth (which I, of course, highly recommend):

(1) develop the right attitude;

(2) stay healthy;

(3) get out of debt;

(4) decide where you're going to live (build your shelter);

(5) buy a good sleeping bag;

(6) have a month of food on hand;

(7) get good peers.

I am preparing on (5) and (6), in particular, or at least starting to. I bought a sleeping bag last week (it wasn't $400, though) and bought a few jars of peanut butter, which Chris Lisle called the "best all-around survival food". I also bought a Swiss Army Knife. I am not one to make New Year's Resolutions, but this year, I am thinking of making an exception. I really want to teach myself some survival skills, and possibly develop a skill that can actually be of some use in this new economy that is upon us. After sending out resumes with no feedback, I have concluded that the economy is Fucked (with a capital "F", yes) and want to think outside the box rather than rely on a B.A. and certification that is obsolete. If you think I'm crazy, read this article about a student at George Washington University who graduated magna cum laude, has sent out 60 resumes, and is at home living with her parents because businesses aren't hiring. Five or ten years ago, this girl could have probably had her pick of employers without so much as an interview.

BTW, really want to try to blog more, it's truly a joy of mine. Will try to make an effort, and hope you enjoy the posts I do make. Happy holidays if I don't post beforehand.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dubai Meets Its Reckoning

Eh, Dubai. I have read several fantastic articles about the state, which is the most populous of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. It has become known as an aspiring prime financial city and as a tourist destination. It has spawned many extravagences, including the world's tallest building, the Palm Islands, where people like David Beckham own small plots of land, and an underwater hotel. It has also become known for its decidedly unfriendly environmental practices; the average person in Dubai has a larger carbon footprint than that of any other on Earth, including your average American. They also are unsympathetic towards debtors; people are regularly jailed for not paying their bills or bouncing a check. This applies to foreigners, by the way. (I re-discovered this excellent article here)

Anyway, Dubai has been hurt pretty badly by the imploding economy. So much so, that they have asked for a standstill on all of their debts, which total $80 billion. Please don't take this as a snide commentary on the state of affairs in Dubai; our nation has far greater financial problems than Dubai, or any other country, actually. Not really exciting news; I've just always been fascinated by the internal machnications of Dubai.

And, BTW, this is an excellent link to a slide show on the Business Week website about Dubai's buildings. Some of them are beautiful, and awe-inspiring, but the energy it took to build these (as well as the emissions that they spew) must have been awesome. They look like something out of the video game "Final Fantasy VII".

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Unsinkable U.S. Economy

This is a good post from a blog a few months ago on the likeness of our economy to the ill-fated RMS Titanic. I don't have a lot of knowledge of the events of the night where the Titanic sunk (I only saw the Cameron film but once), but according to an earlier Titanic film (1951), many people on board the super-liner had no idea it was sinking. When it becomes clear to them that there is a problem, they are assured that there are around lifeboats for everyone aboard, and anyone skeptical of this is frowned upon. When the truth begins to come to light, a band is deployed to play and mellow people out as the ship is slowly submerging into the ocean. Of course, it is long since too late, and the ship sinks into the Atlantic, and many people perish.

Now, I don't want to paraphrase and rip off this blogger too much, but he closes by stating that, like a liner sinking, this collapse of the broader U.S. economy will last a very long time, and will occur in spurts. At the moment, many of us probably feel there are plenty of lifeboats (I guess "lifeboat" would be a synonom for "recovery"), as I get glazed-over eyes when I tell people about economic collapse or peak oil (which, interestingly, is becoming the "cherry on top" of this shitstorm). However, this is likely to change, as more become aware. The question is, will there be enough bands (in the form of commercial media distractions) to keep the masses occupied?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why I Voted No

I promised myself that I would make an effort not to blog anymore on the health care debacle, since I felt that what I had said already pretty much sufficed. However, a very progressive congressman, Dennis Kucinich, has voted "no" on the bill and it has made a little noise. This is a very good article by the congressman on why exactly he did vote no, and it echoed some of the reasons that I also felt this bill is a disgrace and a betrayal of everyone who initially supported (and possibly voted for) Obama on this issue.

The main point that Kucinich makes is that this is not the much needed health care reform that we were promised. Due to the intensive lobbying and dealmaking that takes place behind every bill, in addition to fears (whether genuine or not) by so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats of losing in the next election cycle to GOP candidates endorsed by the "teabaggers", the bill has been watered down pretty significantly from what was supposedly intended to be a real stab at reform. Kucinich feels that this bill is meaningless because we are still operating within the paradigm of the same system that we have always been under, one in which private insurance companies hold sway and make tremendous amounts of money for not providing care. Even worse, this bill would require at least 20 million Americans to buy insurance coverage from these same privatized HMOs. Again, as I've said, this is comparable to the ancient practice of "tribute", in which small towns would give money or other resources to the ruling kingdom. Only now, the "kingdoms" are these huge moneymaking health insurance corporations.

Another thing about Kucinich. I think he's one of the few good guys in Congress, and when I was active in politics, c0-directed the Suffolk leg of his campaign. Yeah, it was on the margins, but it was still a very good time and I met a lot of nice people. I also took shit from my family for backing a "loser", someone who had no chance at winning. And my family knew absolutely nothing about his positions, all they knew about him was his physical appearance and that he wasn't married. I got to see a good documentary this week called "Poliwood". It was advertised as a documentary about the intersection between politics and Hollywood, but it was about a good deal more than that. In one part, the director Barry Levinson (whose documentary this was) talks about television, and how while it has had some great benefits from a creative standpoint, it could also be looked upon as a very destructive force.

He put this in the context of how this has influenced our elections, and the choices we make between candidates. Anyone who has taken a class on politics or history might know of the debate between JFK and Richard Nixon in 1960, when both men were running for President. It was the first time in which the debates were televised. Anyone watching television saw that Nixon, just out of the hospital, looked pale, tired, and had stubble. As a result, according to polls, most people watching the debate on television thought that Kennedy had won. On the other hand, many people who listened to the debate on radio thought that Nixon had won. Anyway, Levinson talks about this, and also brings up other presidents throughout our history. Would John Adams have won an election if television had existed back in the late 18th century? How about the heavy William Taft? Or the disabled Franklin D. Roosevelt? Or, as the most striking example, Abraham Lincoln, the president who preserved the union? All of these presidents, along with others throughout history, weren't especially telegenic.

So, maybe in another time, Kucinich might have been looked on much differently than he is today, and his positions on issues would be given greater credence than his height or his face. However, this is now, and the effects of media on people like him, Ron Paul, and others, which is to drive them to the margins, has had an incredibly damaging effect on society, IMO.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The End of the Line

The International Energy Agency, a worldwide organization that is utilized by many governments to help guide their energy and climate policies, has knowingly overstated global oil reserves in order to prevent an economic panic. According to this Guardian article, two whistleblowers have come forward and claimed that the U.S. has pressured the IEA to understate the declining rates of existing oil fields and to exaggerate finds of new sources of oil. If true, the ramifications of this are simply huge. Our assumption of continual, neverending growth (based on ever-expanding rates of oil being pumped out of the ground) for the global economy is wrong. Our assumption that we can simply transition to fantastical so-called "alternative" renewable sources of fuel (and hence, neat inventions like cars that run on hydrogen or electricity) is wrong.

The one source says that we are already in the "peak oil zone". If this is true, and we are about to see declining rates of oil production, it could truly well be the end of the line for industrial civilization.

*Something interesting I happened upon on giving the article a second glance, and after I finished writing the intial blog post: in the IEA's World Energy Outlook, which many countries use to set their energy policies, the estimation of barrels per day in the year 2030 has steadily declined. In 2005, it was 120 million barrels a day. Then, it was 116 million. Last year, it was 105. There are strong feelings that even revising them further downward (to around 90 to 95 million barrels a day) is too optimistic at this point, but even this is not being contemplated due to worries of panic inflicting the financial markets.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Maine and Gay Marriage

On Tuesday, there was a statewide referendum in Maine on the legalization of same-sex marriage, that was defeated by 53 percent of the populace. This gay marriage thing is a perfect example of why civil rights issues shouldn't be decided by the general voting public. In times past, can you imagine if the issue of slavery, or desegregation of the schools were decided upon by the Joe Six-Packs in the South?

Another thing. What is with these states like Maine and California, and the loony systems they have? In the case of Maine, the law permitting gay marriage was approved by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor. Don't these acts cost valuable time and money? What is the point, if the law is going to be put to a direct vote in front of the public, which again, is a huge allocation of time of money? Once a governor signs a bill into law, that should be that. If the public doesn't approve of it, they could express their disapproval when that politician who voted "yes" or signed the bill into law runs for re-election. This is why California is in the fiscal mess that it's in right now. Voters can vote for basically everything in that state, including tax increases and social programs. If you leave it up to the average person, of course they are going to want expensive government programs along with no new taxes, or tax cuts. Of course, this is a losing policy every time.

Oh, and guess which organization was at the forefront of Stand For Marriage Maine, the group formed to help repeal the law. Why, the Catholic Church. Score one against the separation of church and state.

Why the Current Crisis Isn't Going Away

The title of this blog post is borrowed from another article that I am going to link to, but it echoes exactly how I feel. I spoke to a friend recently, in which I shared my pessimism that things would return to normal as we had come to know them. By "normal", I mean a functioning economy with relatively decent jobs, provided that you have the education to qualify for them. She told me that things will get better, as they always do, since just as the economy falters, it goes on to "recover". I'm aware that getting to the belief system I am currently residing at requires the discovery of certain facets of information, and a willingness to undertake a mental and spiritual paradigm shift, in which things as you have come to know them go "kaboom", and are replaced by growing levels of uncertainty and anxiety. I came by this phase (which will be permanent) through discovering the concept of peak oil, but now that platform is shared by our dying economy.

Anyway, a man named Mike Whitney makes some good points in this article, and borrows from some good sources. One of these sources is from within Morgan Stanley, and he wrote that the total debt for the financial sector in the 2nd quarter of this year was $16.5 trillion, while last year it was $16.6 trillion. All that money funneled to our financial sector, courtesy of the taxpayer, and a decline of around $100 billion in the financial sector's debt. From what I have been able to gather from this (again, I'm no financial or economic expert), all this means is that now there is more money in the system (I'm assuming that's what "expanded equity capital base" means), rather than that money being used to helped deleverage (or reduce debt) in the system.

Whitney then goes on to point out that our government's lending institutions weren't set up so much to rescue our financial system from ruin, but to keep asset prices high so that these institutions could continue to maximize their profits on the risky investments that brought them to the brink before. A poll from Bloomberg is then cited that states that less than a third of investors throughout the world see investment opportunities, with 50 percent of American investors stating that they are hunkering down and are not budging.

Further, Goldman Sachs reports with this query: "How much of the rebound in real GDP (GDP was raised by 3.5 percent last week, meaning a "recovery") was due to the fiscal stimulus?" So, it's a fair assumption that this economic bump that is being talked about in the media was largely due to the increase in government spending (with the bailouts, the stimulus plans, and the like). Consumer spending and credit is still on a steep downturn. Unemployment continues to rise, and wages are staying stagnant. A bull market on Wall Street does not equal a recovery and more jobs on Main Street.

Friday, October 30, 2009

TARP On Steroids

Congressman Bred Sherman is pointing out that a proposal from the White House to bailout banks directly (without going to Congress) would come with an unlimited dollar amount and would be a permanent grant of power to the Executive Branch. TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) was a horrible idea, and a stab in the back to the American taxpayer, but at least it had a spending cap, an expiration date, Congressional oversight (for what little good it does) and some pay limits for executives at the firms requesting the funds. This bailout authority from the Executive Branch would have none of those provisions.

When Sherman asked Treasury Secretary/bank flunky Geithner whether he would accept a $1 trillion limit on the new bailout authority (if the White House wants more, they would have to come to Congress and ask for it), Geithner refused this and insisted that the White House should not have to ask Congress for permission to bail out more banks.

Where do these idiots think all this money is going to come from? China? The taxpayers (who are already spent due to the previous bailouts)? Or are they trying to crash the U.S. dollar on purpose? Well, I have read that in case of a total collapse of society, toilet paper can be quite useful. I have a few thousand pieces of it in the bank; if I can get to it in time, at least I'll be covered.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gas Prices on the March, as the Economy Heats Up

Within a matter of a few days, a local gas station that I pass by on Route 112 (in Medford, NY) had its prices rise on standard gas from $2.52 to $2.67. This has occurred at a time where the overall economy (barring the rising number of jobless claims) is said to be "recovering" and continuing on a path of growth. This makes my prediction of a few months ago on this blog, and my general feeling on this situation, bear some fruit. That is, that as we see the economy recover, we will also see an increase in oil prices and by extension, rising prices when you fill up your car. This will of course, be a main contributor on dousing a huge stream of cold water on any recovery. Since our economy is dependent on abundant, cheap oil to function as we have come to know it. No new energy = no recovery, and in the long run, no economy as we have come to know it. No growth, little prosperity. Long-running economic concepts like "the market" and the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith will be next-to-meaningless, since these concepts, and the people who devised them and preach them to this day, have failed to account for scarcities of resources that, to this point, we have taken for granted.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Song of the Day

I've been hearing this song on the radio for years, and never discovered its name or who the performer was. I finally tracked it down last night, by doing a Google search on the lyrics. I love it, it's such a sublime song. From the 80s too. The 80s didn't do a lot of things right, but one thing they did do was the music, a lot of it's aged well. The 90s is more recent, but it sounds so generic and mopey in comparsion. Anyway, the song is "Something About You" by Level 42.


Something About You - Level 42

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Public Option

I went to Moveon.org and saw some petition that is being circulated by Senator Harry Reid about a "public option". I signed it, but with some reservations. Here is what I included in my signature:

I am not sure what the "public option" means, and feel that this was a clumsy phrase; as Bill Maher says, it sounds like something you would call a public bathroom. But if it means "universal health care", like other developed nations use, than I am all for it. However, as long as Big Insurance exists, this whole debate is a non-starter. In order for there to be real reform in health care, the profit motive must be removed. As long as the for-profit HMOs are able to exist and rake in profits off the sick and vulnerable, any reform or change that is initiated will be doomed to failure, or watered down as to be meaningless.

With that being said, anything has to be better than what we have, so I am guardedly signing your petition.

Peaks and Valleys

The peak oil issue is like one big onion, in that there are continuous layers to be peeled away, except these layers are representative of the new things and ideas that I often come across when reading about this emerging issue. The latest comes courtesy of Suburban Empire, a relatively new blog. I am used to looking at peak oil in terms of the Hubbert's Peak theory, which follows a Bell-shaped curve. Initially, the curve rises due to new discoveries of oil fields, as well as emerging technologies that can be used to gather more oil out of the ground. Later, however, the curve peaks and then sinks downwards due to resource depletion.



But when you basically turn the peak upside down, you have a valley. And a valley would also be very instructive in helping to understand this issue. In this case, courtesy of Suburban Empire, this valley would be an indicator of human production (work) rather than oil production.






As hydrocarbons are on an upward swing and become more and more plentiful, less and less work is required of the human populace, especially in nations with ready access to oil reserves. This is the power of oil, it's equal to having many "superhumans" (or slaves) doing the hard work for us, allowing us to have desk jobs or jobs in the service industry, which requires relatively little skill. So as long as oil is in a state of robust production, and new sources are being continuously discovered, the work rate that humans do drops. We eventually reach a bottom, or a valley, which can be considered by some as being some beautiful Eden. But as SE notes, we must leave this Eden eventually, and what will push us out of the Eden will be rising oil prices and/or shortages. Leaving the valley will require us to climb upward, meaning that us humans must put in more and more work if we hope to maintain any semblence of civilization.

So, if you can't understand the ramifications of oil reaching peak and our way of life becoming prey to soaring oil prices and scarcities of many amenities and necessities that we take for granted, perhaps you will understand the valley, which we must leave eventually, and then, we will start getting our hands dirty.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rough Terrain Ahead (AKA We're in Deep Shit Now)


This is a must-read article from Robert Fisk of the Independent.
In it, he describes a not-so-covert plan by the Gulf Arab states, the Chinese, Russians, and other nations to switch from using dollar as the international currency in which to buy oil to a "basket" of currencies including the Chinese Yuan, the Euro, and gold.

One of the main reasons why it costs a lot less to fill your gas tank in this country than in others, is that our currency, the dollar, is the currency for oil. Other countries must trade in their currency for ours so that they can buy oil. Hence, they pay more at the pump. Once the dollar is depegged as the world currency for oil, it will cost a lot more for oil and driving fuel in this country. The dollar will dive in value; I think a good investment for the future would be a wheelbarrel.

But hyperinflation could well be the lesser of our problems. The only way we would be able to get access to what's left of Middle Eastern oil is to take it by force. If there is a scenario where WWIII could stand a good chance of happening, this would probably be it. After all, Fisk ends his article by stating last month's news that Iran would sell its oil in Euros rather than Dollars, and what was the last nation ballsy enough to do that? Iraq, which was almost immediately invaded by the U.S.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Health care and the "public option"

This is an article in which one senator is quoted as saying, on the Senate floor, that the "public option" in the health care legislation might be so popular, that it isn't worth doing, since popular demand would turn the "public option" into an institution that is too big to fail. At this point, I find that the piece has entertainment value, if nothing else. This "debate" over health care reform is a non-starter, for one simple reason. In order to have any debate, it must start from the fundamental premise that health care, as we know it, is a human right, and that profit has no place when it comes to making people well. If that day were to come in another initial phase of health care reform, since this one is doomed to fail, that acknowledgment from the mouths of our politicans would be necessary. Otherwise, it would be like this one, as well as the last one (under Clinton) and the ones before that. Think about this: no politician (that takes corporate money) is going to kill a $100 billion-a-year industry by offering a true single-payer system. All this "debate" is serving to do, is to cause another diversionary wedge between the conservatives and the liberals, while the bailout is still taking place, and is being even less scrutinized than before due to the health care ruckus.

Another reason why I have turned against this "reform", is something that was briefly mentioned in the Sun article. Under this plan, it would be mandatory for all Americans to carry health insurance, under penalty of fine. Massachusetts has the same system. This system, in which the beneficaries would be the private insurance companies or the government (provided which service the individual would choose, that is, if the government would even be an option), is akin to the ancient custom of tribute, in which provinces would transfer wealth from their citizens to a kingdom like Babylon or Rome out of allegiance, if not outright coercion. Of course, only in this case, the ones exacting tribute would not be medieval kingdoms, but corporate HMO's.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What a Morning

Today, I am using my new netbook for the first time. It's pretty wild; I've been a desktop guy my entire life (I still have one, a new one I bought along with this thing), and this is my first real experience with a small computer. And it is very small, at the moment, I am holding it in my lap. I first went to Starbucks, and their system is horrendous. You need a Starbucks card to get on (which I do) and it didn't regognize mine, despite that I had just bought a latte. So, after some frustration, I gave up, and I am now in a little alley/park in Port Jefferson. I am at a bench, with this on my lap, since there don't appear to be any tables. I am also shivering since it is a little cold, and I'm in a position that I'm not familar with. But it's actually pretty groovy. It's very quiet, no sounds or visual stimuli of any kind, just me with my netbook in my lap. I just typed up my resume, and am hoping to apply for a few jobs, all with this in my lap, and sitting in an empty alley.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

U.S. Debt Crisis May Cause "Fall of Rome" Scenario

I am far from an economist, but this has made sense to me for awhile. Now, a leading expert says that our budget deficits will continue to increase, until they reach a level that will result in an economic collapse. It's like there's a race going on between our drunken sailor level of spending, and our equally foolish misallocation of natural resources that will soon reach a reckoning (otherwise known as peak oil). No matter which one comes first, we are apparently screwed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Update

Hi, I just got my new desktop and I love it so far. I'm especially impressed with the widescreen monitor. I'm gonna check out the HD features. Will be back to posting soon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The 2000 European Fuel Protest and How It Relates to Our Future

This is a really good piece from LATOC (Life After the Oil Crash) about the fuel shortages that occurred in Great Britain nine years ago (as a result of protests over high fuel prices) and how it can be a pending sneak preview of our future, in America as well as the rest of the industrialized world.

I don't have much time, as I'm about to leave the library (the only place I can post these days, until my new computers arrive). But I am trying to figure out what to do next, as far as PO goes. The "meeting" of the PO Society last week, was a disaster. I was expecting a total of 5 people, including myself, but only 2 showed up. The man who showed up really knew his stuff on PO, and I learned a few things, but the fact that so many people just no-showed really deflated my enthasium. It shouldn't really surprise me. The concept of PO requires such a radical paradigm shift that I think even the most consciousally (SP) active people, including Greens, are in a kind of denial about it. Which is tragic, since I feel the Greens need people who are aware and passionate about mitigating PO, and those were the people who no-showed. So I'm trying to figure out what to do next. I really doubt I'm going to do anything more with it, which saddens me, but it does remind me why I left activism to begin with. Well, time will tell.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Trial of Computers

I might not be posting as much for the next few weeks, only because my computer of five years has finally croaked. Well, not fully. I am still able to access the Internet, but that's literally all that I am able to do. When I started it last night, upon installing iTunes 9 (not sure if that had anything to do with it) all that came up was the wallpaper. No shortcuts, no tabs, nothing. I tried starting "Explorer" (basically the Windows OS) but a tab came up stating that I wasn't allowed access, so it was likely a virus. It wouldn't have been the first time. But like I said, I could access the 'net. I also have my iPod Touch and my PSP, both of which have web browsers.

But the good news is that I just bought a new desktop and a netbook, both off Dell. This last computer was a Dell, and it's lasted longer than any other desktop I had previously owned. What is even better, is that I paid for my netbook using my Paypal account, which had nearly 400 dollars on it from my selling things on Ebay. So it wasn't that bad. This will be my first notebook computer. I think I will always own a desktop (this one I ordered is HD, with a 21" monitor) but one of the things I don't like about owning just a desktop is that I feel chained to my desk. There is a beautiful park in my town that even has free wi-fi, so I am really looking forward to taking my netbook there and doing things. Right now, updating my resume and job hunting are my top priorities, although blogging and a possible sojourn into story writing are also near the top of my list.

So, I will try to post often, but I might not be able to. I swore I wouldn't make any major purchases this year, but best laid plans...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Insurance Companies: The Real Death Panels

Sarah Palin coined a term, "death panels", that refers to some fictional body that, under Obamacare, would determine if old people get the care that they need under nationalized health care, of if they would die. But the real "death panels" are the HMOs. In California, more than one in every five patients are rejected for treatment by their insurance company. This has resulted in a very lucrative business, in $15.9 billion in profits reported in 2008 alone. This is a press release that describes, in addition to the denial rates of the individual insurance companies, several tragic stories in which people were initially denied for care by the insurance company, then in the wake of protest, the insurance company would reverse the decision, but by then it was too late.

This speech by Obama tonight is a joke. The media is talking about what he has to say in order to gain lost ground, but the ground should never have been lost to begin with. As a President with a wide margin of victory, and control of both houses of Congress (with a filibuster-proof Senate, no less), this debate should have been contained from the beginning. But as the Democrats always tend to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, they let the wingnuts set the agenda and the tone, and it might well be impossible to take back the reins now.

Once Upon a Time...

I am spending some time reading previous blog posts by James Howard Kunstler, the suburban sprawl critic who I have mentioned many times on this blog. Kunstler does a great job in tying our lifestyle to the depletion of energy that is going to be a major predicament for us in the future, if it isn't already here (I could definitely see the ripple effects). It isn't only a treat to read his past blogs (these are from 2005), but the quality of the comments left behind are truly outstanding, and a far cry from the comments being left there today.

I am posting one of those comments. Mind you, it's from 2005, but it's still fresh and the person who left the comment (a fellow named Mike Harrington, might not be his real name) really nails it dead-on on how tragic our lifestyle really is, and how it wasn't always this way:

It's okay to talk about better vehicle mileage, but until the need to drive everywhere is reduced, meaningful energy savings are going to be elusive.

How many times have you heard, "you have to have a car to survive?" Or something to that effect. Well, sixty years ago, that wasn't true. In 1945, there were over 5 people for every auto in the US. Now there are about 1.5 people for every car. Sixty years is a long time in an individual's life, but it's a pretty short time even in US history.

Here's a typical example of how screwed up the US has become. In 1945, if your kids wanted to go to the movies, they either walked to the neighborhood theater or paid a nickel for the streetcar or bus to take them downtown. Now, since we no longer have mixed-use development and public transit has practically disappeared, you have to load them up in your Ford Explorer, drive 5 miles to the nearest freeway, drive another 10 miles on the freeway, and dump them off at the cineplex. And when the movie's over, repeat the whole process. Or take them to sports events, or concerts, or shopping, or to visit friends and family members. People were able to do these things less than a human lifetime ago without using anywhere close to 25 barrels of oil a year per person in the process.

Letting the urban cores and mass transit systems go down the tubes was a pretty dumb thing to do. It was done intentionally to sell more cars, more gas, more tires, more concrete, etc. It's just a scam. The quality of life isn't any better, nor is intellectual achievement. Because we're slaves to our cars (Read: Elephant in the Bedroom), our quality of life has deteriorated. Now we have to work harder just to be able to do the same things that people just three generations ago were able to do for practically nothing by today's standards.

The second largest expenditure of households in the US is for their automobiles. The largest is for housing, which has always been the highest cost for people. But people pay more to keep their cars running than they do for food, clothing, education, and entertainment. Here in the Houston area the tab for the family cars came $9,996 per year in 2000. Middle and lower class people are already so overextended by this drive-everywhere lifestyle that household budgets simply can't tolerate much increase in the cost of driving.

And this is a "social and intellectual advance?" It sounds more like just a scheme to get people to pay a lot more for something they already had. Kunstler's absolutely correct when he says it is the greatest misallocation of resources in history.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NFL Attendance Down (Or Yet Another Reason why the Economy is not in Recovery)

As the NFL approaches this season in the midst of an economic downturn, teams are failing to sell out their games. So as a result, television blackouts are looming. A blackout, in NFL terms, happens when a home team fails to sell out their game 72 hours beforehand. As a result, their own hometown fans cannot see the game unless they are actually in the stadium.

This in no way affects me, as I have never followed football (and haven't followed any professional sport in general for many years), but do find it interesting in that football is one of those American institutions that the average person just goes nuts over. It says something when a lot of people are unable or unwilling to fork over their diminished reserves of money to attend a game.

Here is an interesting discussion from the LATOC forum on the future of professional sports after PO. I think the major organizations (MLB, NFL, etc.) will probably survive, but not in the same form. You will have much smaller stadiums, the players will be making much less, games might have to be played in the daytime, etc. In other words, a contraction back to how sports was at the beginning of the past century, which is not entirely a bad thing. If that were to happen, I'd gladly go back into the fold.

Meeting on Thursday & Observation on life post-peak oil

Just a reminder, that the inaugrual Meetup of the Peak Oil Society will be taking place on this Thursday, 6 PM, at the Medford Starbucks on Route 112. So if, by chance, anyone who reads this blog lives in the local area, you are more than welcome to come out.

I read an obversation on the post peak oil world that was very interesting, and thought that I would share it. I forgot where I read it, it was probably Kunstler's blog. Anyway, what the poster said was that our younger generations (especially born in the 1980s and later; I was born in '79, so it's close enough) especially, throughout their lives, have been exposed to constant, continous visual stimuli. By that, he meant the television, cell phone, iPod, the video game console, the computer, etc. He then wondered, what would happen post-peak oil, where presumably, there would be a lot less visual stimuli, as modern techonology would be greatly compromised, that is, if it were operational at all. The reaction, this person and others chimed in, would be the relative equal of a drug addict denied his or her fix. There'd be anger, rage, depression, even acts of psychosis. I found this very interesting. In a PO world, fundamental elements of survival, such as food, heat, shelter, would be front and center in our minds, but at least initially, many of us would be dealing with the withdrawal of not having the visual stimuli that we are used to experiencing daily.

A few days before I read this debate, my cable modem was down for 6 to 7 hours. Although I found other things to do, I still kept looking at the modem to see if it got back online. So the non-presence of the Internet, even if only for a few hours, was still at the back of my mind. What kinds of effects would I experience if it were longer than that? A good remedy that was suggested, was for a period of time, say once a week for a day or so, try to go without technology. Go to a park or a place of nature and spend some time alone with your mind. You might be surprised at what you find in there.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Republicans decrying "socialized medicine" go to govt. hospital for surgeries

Yet more of the "it's good for us, but not for you" hypocrisy from the right-wing on the health care issue. Many Republican politicians who insist that a government-run health care system is bad for Americans, themselves go to government-run hospitals in Bethesda and the Walter Reed Army Hospital for surgeries and checkups. They often receive top-of-the-line care in comfortable, private settings. This contrasts greatly with the majority of Americans, who have to persevere in waiting room limbo and hope that their treatments are approved by their HMOs, assuming that they have one.

Personally, as far as health care reform goes, I think it's a goner. It'll be like the "credit card reform" that was passed a few months ago. Yeah, you'll have little remnants of the original proposal, and minor fixes, but no significant changes, let alone an overhaul, to the system. Obama just let the Republicans and the fruitcakes set the aganda, and dictate the terms. This is further proof that if you were looking for "change" in the past election, you're going to be very disappointed by the time O runs for re-election. Here the Democrats are, Democratic president, full control of both houses of Congress, and they let the losers dictate to them that there won't be any reform. Many will say, as Bill Moyers did on Real Time last week, that it's a case of the Democrats needing to find their spines, but people have been saying that forever. I just think it's a matter of Democrats being controlled by Big Money, and as a result, they're not able to drift too far off the reservation, as much as they would like to. This means that they will always fight with one hand behind their back, and that they will always lose.

A Reluctance to Retire Means Fewer Openings

This article in the Times highlights one of the problems in the economy that isn't getting much attention: that on top of the primary reasons companies just aren't hiring (tight credit, drops in consumer spending, financial losses for businesses), people also aren't retiring. In many cases, this is due to the losses incurred by hopeful retirees in the stock market over the past few years. The story gives a brief but informative reason behind why this is: mainly, that 401(k)s have replaced the traditional corporate pension as the main retirement vehicle of workers. As the 401(k) is more closely tied to the fortunes (or misfortunes) of the stock market, this is a much more riskier proposition for working-class Americans. The Times contrasts our system with that of other societies, like Denmark, where workers are able to retire with a much more genorous package. Not to say that these systems don't come with their own sets of risk, but on the whole, they're much more idealized to people who don't want to work their entire lives. But the article ends with the American penchant of self-reliance remaining strong, even if a growing number of retirees end up losing everything. They'd rather work till they drop, then look to their community (including the big, bad "gubmint") for a hand. How sad.

Well, I forgot the point of my post. That is, that more of the potential retirees staying put in their jobs means fewer job opportunities for the emerging generation of Americans who are entering the workforce, many with freshly minted degrees. Part of the reason why I decided to forego a lengthier, more expensive education was that I'd read a really good book, "Generation Debt", and one of the stories was about a man with a Master's in Library Science (a field I came close to going into) who could not find a job because the older librarians were staying around longer, presumably to either make up for 401k losses or to add more to their nest eggs (I think it was the latter, since libraries are state jobs). This is yet another layer of this emerging story on how a growing number of educated young people with degrees (or "generation debt") cannot find work.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Fed Told to Open Its Books by Federal Court

This is a development that can have pretty big implications. Last year, in the midst of the collapse of Wall Street, the Federal Reserve embarked on a series of programs to help prop up the big banks with $1.5 trillion in loans. A few months later, the Bloomberg news organization (majority owner being Michael Bloomberg, NYC's mayor) filed a lawsuit against the Federal Reserve in order to force the Fed to disclose which banks were getting the $1.5 trillion, as well as find out what assets the banks were putting up as collateral in exchange for the loans.

Cut to the present. The U.S. District Court of Manhattan ruled against the Fed, stating that the Fed must now identify the companies that they gave money (our money, mind) to. This can have quite stark implications, including the destruction of our world's financial system (according to Daily Kos). From what I can gather (I actually read about this stuff a lot, but I'm still nearly illiterate on these financial matters), the reason why the Fed and the banks don't want this information revealed is that it will highlight the true financial shape of the banks. If they are insolvent, this can cause a run on the banks by nervous stakeholders. It makes sense for people who are even outside the system to want to maintain status quo, and not have our judges or Bloomberg rock the boat too hard. But if there isn't full disclosure sooner or later, we will be going through a repeat of this in a few years' time, if not before, except only on a larger scale, with bigger bailouts, bigger bonuses to Wall Street executives, etc.

Anyway, here is a good video I found on Youtube, breaking down the situation in a way that most everyone can understand. BTW, this news source isn't an American one. I don't watch television news, but I wonder if this is being discussed at all, even on financial news outlets such as CNBC. I wouldn't bet on it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools

This is a good article from The Times on an increasing trend of law firms cutting back, in some cases quite severely, on the number of new hires of lawyers fresh from law school. This is relevant to me because I had seriously considered law school not too long ago, and settled on a one-year program at a community college in paralegal studies. My job search hasn't exactly been firing on all cylinders; I have a full-time job so it makes it difficult to look for another job (although this job is at a box store, so I know I can't have that as my primary source of income), I am trying to get an organization off the ground (I have a Meetup on forming a transition society from a fossil fuel based society to a localized society, scheduled for Sep. 10), and articles like this tend to make me not want to look.

But it does make me kind of happy that I didn't go down the law school path. I think that we are in a time where there are radical, ever-lasting changes being made in the economy, and not the temporary "recession" that everyone else seems to think that we're in. There is going to be a contracting number of jobs in particular job markets because the demand just isn't going to be there, and I think that law is one of those areas. This has affected me, as I had sent my resume to my county DA for an internship (unpaid, mind you) and I received a letter back stating that my application could not be reviewed due to the "unprecedented" amount of inquiries made.

Well, better to be a failed paralegal with around 2 grand invested (not counting the student loans for my B.A., BTW) then a failed lawyer with 200 grand in student loans. Ouch.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Right-Wing Turncoat Gives the Scoop on Why Conservatives are Rampaging Town Halls

This is a quite insightful article by a reformed Christian right-winger on why the right-wingers are working so dilligently to sabotage these town hall meetings and undermine health-care reform (or "Obamacare", as it's nicknamed by these people). One of the prominent organizers of these efforts is a group called Freedomworks, which is an organization formed by one-time House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) and also is a paid shill for the insurance industry and Big Pharma. The article also tells us of a leaked excerpt from Freedomworks on strategies to people attending these town halls; amongst them are "be disruptive" and "try to rattle him".

Also, although it's entirely coincedential, Frank Schaeffer also points out the GOP's "scorched earth policy", which basically echoes what I blogged about earlier. That is, that the Republican Revolution led by white guys is dead with the election of Obama. Due to demographic and political changes within the United States, it is quite possible that the GOP (and conservative white people in general) are facing a reckoning. Sonia Sotomayer's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court has just been another blow, and a health care victory for Obama (one that has eluded several presidents before him) might be the final, deciding factor into sending the Republicans into permanent irrelevance. So, when you see footage of people going bonkers at the town hall meetings, they're likely not going bonkers over health care, but that their power is slipping through their fingers.

Finally, the article has a sentence about my congressional representative, Tim Bishop (who I actually got to meet at a town hall meeting, many years ago, a very nice and informed guy), who was surrounded by one of these mobs after a town hall meeting and who had to be escorted to his car by police. So, the brownshirts aren't limited to the red hotspots like Florida and Michigan.

Further Thoughts on Our Health Care Predicament

I still have only been following our so-called health care "debate" from a considerable distance, but I was still able to glean a few insights from the newspaper and the television news. Much of this centers around the now notorious "town halls" that have been held by our politicians across the country to give their constituents a venue to discuss this. Or more appropriately, yell really loud and pound their fists about it.

The Republicans have sent their "brownshirt" supporters out in force to gather around this issue, and they have been raised in a fanatic stupor by the likes of Rush Limgaugh and Glenn Beck, who have supplied them with plentiful amounts of misinformation about the various reform proposals out there. Among other things, they have been led to believe that the bills permit illegal immigrants to receive free health care as well (which is not true) and that health care will be tightly rationed (I'm not sure if this is true; but don't our private health care companies already do this? Between denying treatments, keeping the patient contained within a "network" of doctors and specialists, and denying health coverage to millions based on a "pre-existing condition", the HMOs are notroious for rationing health care). So, in the end, any message from the right-wing brownshirts who gather at these halls should be taken as "we don't want to get anally raped by the gub'mint, but we're willing to get anally raped by private, non-accountable HMOs".

It's also upsetting me by how our so-called news media (especially television) frame this story. All you have been seeing and hearing about are these wild-eyed lunatics raising hell at the town halls, but it's been shown (via polls and the like) that a majority of Americans crave health care reform. At the height of the Vietnam War, President Nixon coined a famous term, "the silent majority". This alluded to a large majority of people who did not express their views publicly, or in that instance, Americans who supported the war. Despite how wrong-headed they were, this was indeed the case. But if you lived in that time and watched the evening news, you'd think that anti-war protestors represented the majority view of America. But alas, and unfortunately, they did not.

I also think there is a "silent majority" in support of health care reform, and this time, they are on the right side of history, but once again, the media is downplaying this.

Lastly, and this hasn't been said by too many people (either pro-or-con), but I think there is a strong racial component at work here. Notice how many of these backwoods extremists yelling at the town halls are typically poor, uneducated, and white. This was the same crowd that many people saw at the McCain-Palin rallies at the height of the last election.

I have never said this before, but prior to the last election, I was mulling over whether to vote third-party or stay home, and I was leaning toward the latter. But I listened to a radio program, in which snippets of people at one of these McCain rallies were broadcast. Among the remarks I heard were "if Obama gets in, the blacks will take over", "he looks at us like we're trash", "we can't let a nigger get in the White House", and so on. As cynical as I was of Obama, and continue to be, I just could not accept a McCain White House, and the supporters that he would represent. Listening to these people was blood-curdling. So, yeah, I voted for Obama out of fear of the same people who are going to ridculous lengths to make their voices heard at these meetings.

These people are frantic because they fear being a permanent minority in America, both demographically and politically. This is a do-or-die battle for the Republicans. If they lose, they will be a minority party, perhaps permanently. If they win, and Obama fails at health care reform (like Clinton and others before him), this will be "his Waterloo", as one senator said. This is what is really at the heart of this battle, in my opinion. Health care itself has little to do with it. And the same people raising hell (white, uneducated, probably poor) at these meetings, ironically, are the ones most likely to benefit from health care reform, while paying the least amount of money.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Welcome to the Post Cheap Oil Era

I really wanted to take a moment to hopefully turn you onto the name of James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler is a journalist and writer who I'd discovered last year. I talked about this before, but I feel how I discovered him is a somewhat interesting story. Last year, when gas was over 4 dollars a gallon and people were really starting to become anxious, I was milling around at the library and found a Canadian magazine, Maclean's, with a man pointing a gas pump at his head, as if it were a gun. The cover story was about the increasing price of oil. As I was trying to make sense of this myself, I read the article and was very interested in the perspective it took, and in particular, at what Mr. Kunstler had to say. A book of his was referenced, The Long Emergency (which my library thankfully had), and I took it out.

At the time, I was highly anxious, and had way too much time on my hands (I was unemployed). And honestly, The Long Emergency only made it worse. If there is a work that turned the world that I knew completely upside down, this was it. Up to that point, I thought the rising oil prices were merely Exxon, the other oil companies, and Bush playing games with us. But Mr. Kunstler had a radically different take on it. To put it short, he introduced me to the concept of peak oil; that is, as oil is a finite, non-renewable resource, upon discovery of a field, the oil first comes out in a huge gusher, then a steady stream, and then it peaks. After it peaks, less and less of it comes out of the ground, and what remains is harder to get, as it's deeper down into the earth, therefore requiring more energy to extract. I know this is an extremely simple explanation of what peak oil is, but hopefully you understand the gist of what I'm trying to get at.

The implications of this are enormous, particularly since no significant finds of new oil fields have been discovered in many years; if I recall correctly, the last field with vast sums of oil discovered was one in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. And demand for oil rises, as the world population grows, and production is reaching its peak, assuming that it isn't already here. As our society (in fact, the entire world, but our nation more than virtually any other place on Earth) is heavily dependent on oil being cheap and abundant, this is a very ominous development.

I found this great video on Youtube featuring Kunstler. This is an 8 minute interview that aired on Canadian television, and is a short but very concise story on what the implications of Peak Oil will likely be. If you want to know more, please visit his website, or listen to his outstanding weekly podcast (I listen to it when I work at night, it beats the hell out of commercial radio).

Oh, and one last thing. I am planning a possible organization, the Peak Oil Society of Long Island, based on the interest of other people in this topic. Which, I concede, might not be very many. I think if you were to take a tally of people on the street who would know about Peak Oil, it'd be likely close to 1 in every 100. I have scheduled a Meetup, tentatively for Thursday, September 10, but this could change. Outside of a possible screening of a documentary (probably "The End of Suburbia"), I don't intend for this to be an activist group (by this, I mean conducting outreach and raising awareness of PO), but rather, a group of likeminded people who are already aware of the issue and who can work together to formulate survival strategies and possibly embark on joint ventures (such as a community garden, for example). I'll have more information in the weeks ahead.

I would say enjoy the video, but I doubt you will. You do need to hear its message, though:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Lost Generation

This is a good article from Reuters that sheds some much-needed light on one of the especially problematic areas of this economic crisis/collapse: young college graduates, usually with significant amounts of debt, unable to find a well-paying job. This has many repurcussions, just from what I've gathered off the top of my head. For one, it seriously undermines the university/college system, one of the few industries that are still making money thanks to record enrollments of people looking to advance or update their skills. Yeah, now things are looking hunky-dory, but what about further down the road, when the general, job-seeking populace finally realizes that a college degree is far from a guarantee that they'll get something, and choose to put their money elsewhere? Another problem is the social and political fallout. Although I am a college graduate, and have debt, I am an optimist and feel that I've learned a lot, and continue to learn thanks to the tools that I was provided with. Things could be better, but I am making an effort to make them so (I took my state notary exam yesterday, since it's almost a requirement for the field I'm going into; I'm fairly optimistic that I did very well). But I'm sure there are a lot of people who don't share my outlook. They just see that they busted their keister for four or more years, and put themselves into debt that they will probably carry for life, with the expectation that a well-paying job would be waiting for them once they got out. And they haven't. What will they do when they come to the realization that they've been, for lack of a better term, fleeced?

This also highlights a dilemma in a whole other realm, that of Social Security. The Social Security system is dependent on a flood of new workers that will pay for the Baby Boomers, who in the best of times, were expected to pose great challenges to the SS system. But the new workers aren't there, and what's worse, due to the stock market and the likes of Bernie Madoff sinking the retirement dreams of many Boomers, they will end up working at their jobs longer, meaning another lost opportunity for a young college graduate to pick up a job.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Canadian Doctor Diagnoses U.S. Healthcare

Now, I have tried to research our healthcare system here in the U.S. I have read books, seen documentaries (such as "Sicko"), etc. and for whatever reason, can't seem to grasp it. I just find it that confusing. That doesn't sound like a good thing. But this article from the L.A. Times is one of the better, more informative ones. A Canadian doctor "diagnoses" U.S. healthcare, and compares it to the Canadian version. His viewpoint isn't all peaches and cream with his own system; he is critical of it, and points out some flaws that show that it isn't necessairly an ideal system in contrast to ours. But it is still better.

I think that health care is one of those issues that I have just given up on. I do feel that it needs to be improved, if not totally scrapped and replaced with something more steamlined, efficient, and centered on the health of our citizens rather than profits. But there are too many vested interests intent on maintaining what has been the status quo, and those interests are entrenched in the corridors of power, so whatever reform we see, if any, will be tepid and won't have much of an effect. Also, our commercial media (telvision and, to a smaller degree, newspapers) dumbs down the discussion to a level where a coherent debate on health care is impossible. Health care is a complex issue that can't be boiled down into a sound bite, except by the status quo who maintain it's "socialist". I have talked to people, who dare I say would be in their interst to call for much-needed reforms in the health care system, who maintain that we cannot change it due to what they heard on Fox News or CNN, without realizing that the person who they heard railing against Canada's health care is likely a lobbyist or some other representative of an HMO or some other body devoted to not seeing change realized.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The New Economic Reality

I have been looking for specific information and projections on how the legal field (or industry) will fare in a post peak-oil America. The closest I have been able to find is a passage from Dmitri Orlov's book "Reinventing Collapse", which I had the pleasure to read recently. I highly recommend it. Orlov is a Russian native who spent time there during the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the book examines the similarities and differences between the USSR at the time of its collapse and the United States today, where a collapse seems to be getting more and more likely.

My interest in how the legal field will be impacted stems from the fact that I enrolled in a paralegal studies program after getting my B.A. I have now finished the program, and will probably have to take at least one unpaid internship before getting something that pays, assuming there is something out there. In his book "The Long Emergency" (which I am currently re-reading, and the work that introduced me to our pending crisis), James Kunstler says that "hard" jobs (agriculture, farming, carpentry) will be in demand after our "fossil fuel fiesta" (his term) ends, while "soft" jobs (like in real estate, public relations, and yes, law) will be increasingly scarce, as they will cease to carry the relevance that they have had in society as we know it. And in case you're wondering, I discovered peak oil more than halfway through the paralegal program. I very well might not have taken it if I had found out about it earlier.

Anyway, I found this message board entry while searching on Lifeaftertheoilcrash.net:

"Because I live and work in the still-relatively properous national capital region, I don't often experience the drastic effects of the economic downturn. Today was a rare exception.

My office is has an opening for one administrative position that involves taking complaints. Because of the specific nature of the work, the opening is only advertised among people in our field. I am the person who will be making the selction. There is no possibility that the job will lead to career advancement. It is what it is, a glorified clerical position.

Today, a guy from another office asked me to take a look at the resume of his nephew. I couldn't believe it. Kid earned his Bachelor's Degree in 2005 at a major university with a 3.67 GPA. He went on to law school where he was an honor society student for all three years and finished with an internship at the DA's office in Philadelphia. He graduated in 2008, and has passed two different bar exams.

Since then? Nothing. His uncle told me that at this point he's desperate for ANY kind of job. The worst part is that I had to tell the uncle that even though his nephew is way overqualified for the position, because he has never been employed in our field our HR rules will not allow us to hire him.

Welcome to the new economic relatity in America."


This is probably a situation that a lot of us twenty-and-thirtysomethings can relate to. Overeducated, overqualified, and underemployed, or unemployed. My only solace is that I had initially planned to either take a Master's in Library Science or go to law school; both of these options would have been dangerously expensive, with law school running at least 100K. I chose to go into this Paralegal Studies program because it was touted as a growing field (who knows if that is still the case) and also for its much lower cost and time allocation. In the course of a little over a year, I was done with the program and racked up around 2K in loan debt (I was able to pay for some of it myself). I would not have even been able to start law school until this fall. So, if worse comes to worse, it was only a year of my life and some change. I couldn't picture how I would feel if I went to law school, overachieved like this poor kid, and not been able to find a job.

I apologize for this post running off the rails, but I read an article in Newsday last week about the community college crunch, and how a weak economy has prompted more and more people to go into the classroom. As inexpensive as community college is compared to a 4-year university or graduate school, I think any foray into higher education at this time, is little more than a waste. There are more and more people chasing fewer and fewer jobs, and the workforce is oversaturated with B.A's and Master's Degrees. We are putting ourselves in a lifetime of debt, owing five and six-figure amounts to loan companies which often charge userious rates, for what amounts to a nice looking piece of paper to frame on our wall. And the way our economy is structured, there are very few jobs which are either recession-proof, or outsource-proof. Many people are going to colleges because their original jobs disappeared, and they have to learn a new skill. Who's to say that that new skill won't be outsourced to? What can they do then, go back to school again? We're like the proverbial mouse running on the wheel.

But I understand that making yourself more qualified for a job is only one reason you should go to college. Another, very important reason is to enrich your mind and be able to look at the world from different perspectives. From that view, I can't say that I regret going to college, despite the burden it's imposed on me financially. But with that being said, we are in the Information Age. If we want to learn anything, on virtually any subject or topic, it's literally at our fingertips. Or, if you don't have a computer, it's as close as a walk or a drive to your local library. You can learn virtually anything you desire, and it will be from your best teacher, yourself. The paradox is that I had to go to college to learn this. My hope is that someone else, fresh out of high school, who is uncertain about his or her future, and about going to college, reads this and takes my advice.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bernanke: Why are We Still Listening to This Guy?



LOL, my favorite is when Bernanke chides the CNBC reporter for suggesting a widespread collapse in the housing market, since that had never happened before.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Could You Survive Without Money? Meet the Guy Who Does

This is a good, short article from Details about a modern-day caveman in Utah who has lived with no job (hence, no money) for nearly a decade. A few years ago, most people would think he was crazy, and there are doubtlessly many who still would. But in light of the economic collapse, his perspective sounds like a very interesting one.

Say what you will, but judging from this article, this man is a tough son of a bitch. A relative of mine, last I checked, was homeless, but held down a job, shopped at stores all the time, bought things, and he thought he was being counter-cultural. But he was nothing like this guy. It also serves as a reminder of what is to come, and our future reckoning in the form of energy shortages, our ballooning deficit, among other things, as our standard of living stands a very real chance of declining, perhaps substantially. Perhaps not to the rate of living in a cave or culling watercress, but decline it likely will. And to survive it and come out the other side, we might have to start listening to people like Daniel Suelo.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Has Economic Twilight Come to the Sun Belt?

This article is nearly two months old, but it's still a good read on the economic woes of the Sun Belt, which is usually considered to lie in the south-to-southwest region of the United States (Arizona, Nevada, Florida, etc.). A main culprit, according to the article, is that all these areas had was their prosperity during the housing bubble. When the bubble popped, so did the prosperity. There was no underlying, sustainable economy that could be built on over the long term. This article delves into that pretty well. But what is just as important, in my opinion, and what is only briefly touched on, is the area's general lack of resources. The Sun Belt has been a prime beneficary of cheap energy, as far back as post-World War II. But it's becoming more and more apparent that this is coming to an end, as I've discussed in the past, and where you can go elsewhere for information. In addition, these areas are running out of water, at the same time that the population is rising. So, in the future, there can be a lack of water, and the high cost of energy can put an end to the widespread use of air conditioners, as well as personal vehicles. Also, I'm no expert on agriculture, but this region would seem like a problematic spot to grow food. So, assuming this happens (and I'd put money on it, if I were a betting man), this relatively rough time might seem like a downright cheerful one for the Sun Belt, as it can be close to unlivable in the future.

The 2009 Emmys--No Nominations for The Shield

I'm usually not one to comment on these awards shows, but reading the nomination list for the 2009 Emmy Awards really got me steamed. FYI, I never watch awards shows, I find the nomination process very political and the festivities themselves are just a kiss-ass fest for Hollywood. But that still doesn't keep me from looking at the nominations. What really got me ticked was that my favorite show of all time, The Shield, was virtually shut out of the nominations, in its final season, no less. I believe that The Shield will be the only series in my lifetime that did not limp to the finish line in its final season. It really delivered, and went out with, what to me, was a very satisfying conclusion. Not to mention solid performances from the cast, especially Michael Chikilis, Walton Goggins (should have been a definite Best Supporting Actor nom for him), and C.C.H. Pounder. But that didn't matter. The Shield received zilch, nada, from the Academy.

Another aspect that made my eyes pop was 30 Rock getting a record 22 nominations. Now, I like 30 Rock, but 22 nominations? And in its weakest season, no less. It was too reliant on stunt casting (I found the ones with the big stars, like Oprah and Jen Aniston, were the weakest episodes) and didn't seem to spend enough time with the staff of TJS (where the show really shines, IMO).

Also, Simon Baker being nominated for Best Actor for "The Mentalist". Again, another show I like. And he does a fine job. But Best Actor? Ridculous, especially when you had Chikilis, who really acted his ass off and truly deserved it.

Seven Amazing Holes of the World

These are some beautiful pictures of several huge holes (both natural and man-made) throughout the world. The scale of the holes is breathtaking, especially the man-made ones when you take a moment and consider the manpower that must have went into making those things. For a bonus, scroll down to see, quite literally, the biggest hole in the world. It's even filled with money!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Aftereffects of a Meth Lab

This is a really screwed up story that was published in the New York Times, but hopefully this will put pressure on our public officials to do something about it. Several families that were interviewed for this article (and there are likely many more across the country) bought houses that were previously used to make methamphetamine. This has resulted in people, particularly small children, suffering from health aliments, resulting in trips to the emergency room. And what's worse, in many states, the buyer of the poisonous home is held responsible for the cost of cleaning up the home.

First off, I'm a huge fan of the show "Breaking Bad", but that aside, meth dealers and users are serious scum (at least Walter White has the decency to make meth in an RV). This is just a failure on the part of all parties (and I'm including the buyers too) to do proper due dilligence on these contaminated homes. The real estate companies selling these homes should have conducted the proper testing, especially if the home is in a rural part of the country, where meth is most prevalent. The police, being as they would be the most informed of any party as to the origins of a meth home, should have made that information available to the general public. But as one person said on the comments page, they just rolled up their crime tape and went back to the station. The homeowners, although I feel terribly for them, might have been able to do some digging and come up with the conclusion that they were moving into a toxic money pit.

But the party with the biggest responsibility is our federal and state governments. Our federal government is waiting on the Environmental Protection Agency to issue guidelines for cleanup, but the report was due last year. While over a third of states have issued legislation requiring meth contamination cleanup, nearly all of them hold the current homeowner responsible for the costs of cleaning up the property. Only Colorado allocates federal money to help innocent homeowners with the tab.

This is yet more irrefutable proof that our political system is broken and that no one in power is willing to step up and do the right thing. In the meantime, these families are facing financial ruin. A good first step would be to make any mortgage that was used to buy a dangerous, infected property, null and void. Another step would be to make the history of any home on the market more transparent, or probably better yet, just destroying any home that was used as a meth lab.