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

"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.