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.