Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RIP Joe Bageant

Joe Bageant was a writer whose main topic was the marginalization of poor white people (in his own words, "rednecks"), but I actually first discovered his blog while reading elsewhere about collapse and peak oil.  He was quite the wordsmith, and I've been meaning to read his book "Dear Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches From the Class War", but have not gotten around to it.  He passed away a few days ago from cancer.  I suggest visiting his blog and reading a few of his pieces, they struck quite a chord with me. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Poll: Most Living American Dream

This article about a survey in which nearly 60 percent of people state that they are living "the American Dream" reminds me of that George Carlin quote, "they call it the American Dream because you'd have to be asleep to believe it".  With home values continuing to drop, millions still out of work or stuck in part-time jobs, and food and energy prices climbing (I just found out the other day, I didn't know this, that our government doesn't count food or oil prices in their inflation statistics.  So, an alien from another planet who happens to read these inflation numbers would have to think that humans don't have to eat or drive cars), how can anyone but the ultra-rich say that they're living the American Dream?  Were those the 60 percent listed in the survey? 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Images From the Nuclear Age

It's funny how when something like the Japan disaster happens, the world as we know it seems to stop spinning. All the many other important events and developments, like the growing unrest in the Middle East, the war on public workers in Wisconsin, as well as other domestic and international problems, seem to take a back seat. This is a good article on NPR that shows images from the 1940s and onward of our nuclear age. Other than this, I don't have much in the way of memories of nuclear occurances. I was 7 when Chernobyl happened, and current events weren't exactly the first thing on my mind when I was that age. As far as pop culture goes, the only show or movie dealing with nuclear warfare or radiation that resonated with me was the show "Jericho". I've really wanted to play the "Fallout" series of games, but have not gotten around to it.

As to whether I think nuclear energy is a viable option for our country moving forward, even after Japan, I have to give a hearty "yes". Out of all the alternatives to using fossil fuels to power electricity, I think that nuclear energy is the only way to keep the lights on once we really start feeling the energy crunch of declining fossil fuel production. I think that wind and solar, as well as other alternatives, are years away from being profitable and being able to show a significant return, as well as being able to be produced on a significant scale.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Probably the Best Source of the Latest Japan News

This is a live, streaming feed from NHK World, the international outlet of the only Japanese public broadcasting station.  So, this is pretty much devoted 24/7 to the effects of the earthquake/tsunami on Japan, as well as the unfolding nuclear situation.  No lifestyle segments or the latest hijinks of Mr. Sheen or Ms. Lohan like you still see in American media.  My cable provider has a temporary free feed of NHK, but that's of the actual Japanese station, so it's not in English.  This has English translation.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Tragedy in Japan

My condolences to the people of Japan following the earthquake and tsunami that hit it the other day.  The footage on the news is staggering, and on top of that, there is the nuclear crisis to contend with.  The latest I've read is that the U.S. military ships sent to Japan are moving away from their coastline to distance themselves from a possible nuclear meltdown.  If the radioactive fallout blows far enough (across the Pacific), it can hit us as well.  This could be far worse than Chernobyl.  Russia could afford to lose a few acres, whereas Japan cannot.  Also, it could affect Tokyo, one of the largest, most busy cities in the world.  Chernobyl was a single-reactor meltdown, whereas in Japan, 3 possible reactors are in states of meltdown.  Eh, it makes me dizzy just to think about it. 

If the footage on television and on the Internet isn't enough to convince you that Japan is in a really bad way, here are aerial photos from NASA satellites.  You can use the slider below to contrast the before/after footage.  It looks like a completely different country. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

High Gas Prices Affecting Restaurant Business

The difference between higher gas prices in America and in say, Europe, is that Europe has an infrastructure that is designed partially around high energy prices.  Gas may cost more there, since it's more heavily taxed, but the tax goes to subsidize forms of public transportation.  Additionally, European cities are much more walkable than what we have here; in some towns, it's almost inpractical to drive since they aren't designed for cars.  So, if you're a car driver in Europe and gas prices go up to a level that you're not comfortable with paying, you can always switch to public transit, or even bike or walk if your job is close enough. 

Not so here.  Since America's infrastructure was centered around the automobile, and public transportation is often neglected (if not outright eliminated in some parts of the nation), and people often live long distances away from where they work, they have no choice but to drive, no matter how high the price of gas goes.  So, since they can't find work-arounds around their driving dilemma, they'll just have less disposable income for other things, like eating out.  This will have a ripple effect on the economy, since it affects consumer spending, which drives most of our economy.  Unless gas prices drop soon, I don't think we have long to wait before a repeat of '08. 

BTW, although I usually dismiss speculation as a large part of our soaring energy prices (and I might be wrong to do so), I do think it is playing a big part in why our energy prices are rising right now.  Long-term, I think we face a dire situation when it comes to energy, but this current situation is being driven by speculation that there will be further unrest in other oil-exporting countries, specifically the largest, Saudi Arabia.  There doesn't seem to be a shortfall in production, and demand seems to be being met.  As one peak oil proponent has put it, this time in history won't be defined by continually rising energy prices, but voliatile prices, in which they will continually either rise or drop, and often dramatically. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Law School Lament

This is a raging screed from a law school graduate that I found on a peak oil forum that I visit.  While I can somewhat relate to what he is talking about (I graduated from a paralegal program nearly 2 years ago and cannot find a job in that field; not even a return call for an interview), he is in a far worse hole than me.  While I do owe significant amounts in student loans, it is not in the six figures, thankfully.  I am very thankful that I did not go to law school, despite being recommended to by a relative and a few people in my program, including a professor/lawyer.  However, my family is starting to give me a hard time (I have been working at a big-box store for three years, and my brother is starting to ask me, "do you want to work in ------ for the rest of your life?").  Like this man, I have no illusions about the value of my Bachelor's Degree and my paralegal certificate.  They are worthless.  A lot of people still think that this American economy is viable in the long-term.  I don't.  I talk to people about it, and they think that the economy will be coming back, albeit a while, like 10 or even 20 years.  Never mind that a recovery (I mean, a real recovery, not the bullshit, jobless "recovery" that the media keeps talking about) in 10 or 20 years will be far too late for many people, including yours truly, but what new industries will grow in that time, that would enable the employment of large masses of people?  I don't see any on the horizon. 

Warning:  the following post contains very strong language. 

I am sick to fucking death hearing that idiotic "only 4% of college grads are unemployed" hogwash spouted by buffoons like Thomas Friedmen & others in bed with the education racket. Sure they may be employed: in dead end temp jobs sans health bennies, in retail, waiting tables, etc. Hell, why wouldn't the temp agencies want college grads when you can get 'em for $9 an hour?

Of course, the college grads have to deduct 4 years of lost earnings AND student loans from the shitpay they're making, so in reality most are doing far worse than their uneducated counterparts. I hold what's supposed to be one of the most "elite" degrees out there and got an email alert this morning for a WHOPPING $25 an hour temp job (of course with no benefits) and also no overtime since lawyers are exempt from the overtime regs. Think about that: 4 years of college, the LSAT, the late nights studying until your eyes bleed, the expensive books, the bar exam, and 120 K in debt all to get offered jobs at a rate most high school dropouts would be ashamed to earn in their mid-30s. And from that $25 an hour I have to pay (with after tax income mind you) $865 a month in student loans. After taxes are deducted, I'd have to work 50 hours at $25/hr just to pay my loans. Think about that: 50 fucking hours in a grungy, windowless basement staring at corporate legal docs until my eyes bleed JUST TO HAND IT ALL TO THE BANKERS! Pathetic, isn't it? Hence my name: Lawis4Losers.

Most everyone in my family who recently graduated college is/are working shitjobs at restaurants or temping in cubicle farms for $9 an hour. I inquired about a job as an SAT tutor yesterday and was told the pay is $20 an hour non-negotiable. And feature this: one needs a score in the 90% percentile to even be eligible for the job! That's well south of what a waiter, truck driver or garbageman makes. How anyone can argue for education's "benefits" with a straight face anymore is beyond me. Unlike most, I'm not in denial that my degrees are valuable or that they serve any purpose whatsoever, and I'm the first to admit I was a giant sucker and loser for falling prey to the edu-scam. Sad to say that I'd be in 1000% better shape right now if I'd quit high school in 9th grade. Student loans are not dischargable in bankruptcy, not subject to fair debt laws, usury laws, or any laws whatsoever. It's a lifelong death sentence unless (as me & my lady are now working hard at) you plan to say bon voyage forever to the open sewer called the United States.

The post about the H1-B visa serfs is exactly right. Whatever decent professional jobs can't be outsourced will be filled by immigrant visa slaves.I've seen this in law for years- the temp jobs are packed with Nigerians, Indians, and anyone else who will work for peanuts and not "rock the boat." I'm forever blacklisted from working in law thanks to my blogging and rabble rousing, and couldn't care less. Our legal system is the laughingstock of the world and I feel sorry for anyone who spends their life pushing bales of makework, nonsensical cut n' pasted shitpaper across a table as a lifelong career. Like Bartleby the Screivener, I simply "prefer not to."

Worst of all is the humiliation of being educated yet earning a shitty non-living that would embarrass a fucking homeless person. Knowing that nearly every miserable dime you earn goes to the bankster pigs who loan-sharked the $$$ for this scam. Don't even get me started on the lavish salaries of the deans, admins and other pigs who feast at the bottomless troughs of student loan cash. Some of these pricks earn north of 7 figures. I had the pleasure of exposing my law school dean as the lowlife scumbag he is on the front page of NJ's flagship newspaper. The edu-scammers grin and lie thru their teeth telling the lemmings how "precious an education is" and "how lucky you all are to be here" blah blah etc. Education was yesterday's tomorrow, folks. The idea of Dad leaving for work in a suit & tie, owning a home, having a family: all of that is long past. Understand that a "global economy" like that of which Tom Friedman praises drags us down to 3rd world standards. It guts our country, lowers our wages, and enriches a select few while royally screwing everyone else. Outsourcing and H1-B are the NAFTA of the professional class. Really, how dare anyone with an advanced degree ask for health benefits, a permanent job, and a penny over $25 an hour! Funniest of all is how "education" was the cure for NAFTA: the brown people would do the factory work while we all got "educated" and pushed shitpaper around all day with our degrees. Now those jobs too are being sucked offshore never to return. Hell, I dated a girl a few months ago who graduated with honors from Georgetown Law (a top school) and was/is working as a paralegal for $17 an hour & no benefits. Never in history have the youth of a country been buried alive before their lives even begin. It's truly unprecedented. There's no escape and no "do-overs": the debts are NEVER going away, and penalties and interest accrue FOREVER. Those who try to better themselves literally get their teeth kicked down their throat and then handed a few bones to gnaw on.

As George Carlin said, they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. Again, if anyone on this board has teenage kids, please BEG them not to go to college. Once you sign that loan paperwork you may as well stick a gun in your mouth or start packing your bags for the expat life. Thankfully I have re-united with a college GF and we are gonna stick together and get the FUCK out of the US as soon as possible. Her family are insane and she has nothing holding her here either, so we might start a cafe/restaurant in some other land. She's even willing to work as a stripper if need be to get us the $$$ to get the hell outta the US. More & more friends I talk to feel the same way- there is no incentive to remain in country that literally has no future. To wake up each day with the jackboot of debt on your throat, slaving away to pay back these lowlife loan sharks. It just ain't worth it. Sadder still is that it is the educated who are being driven out the door, so the future of the US will be one of an even more violent & ignorant populace (if that's possible LOL). Perhaps some other country will actually appreciate our skills, contributions, and talents because God knows this ruthless banker-cartel shithole never will.

edit: It sounds like you're signing (or already signed) the loans for your daughter's vet school Grower. I really wish we could've talked you out of it. I hope you don't end up like my folks stuck with a fucking embarrassment of a child who can't earn anything close to a decent living and is now going to give them the surprise of their life when I vanish overseas and stick them with the bill for my education mistake. As the others on here have said, I have no choice. Either all 3 of us go down or one of us leaves the country (me) and tries to rebuild their life elsewhere. There simply are no other options besides suicide. Those loans are NEVER going away. Ever. I hope you don't find this out the hard way, but it seems likely you will. Kiss your home, your preps, and everything else you've worked for goodbye once your name's on those Sallie Mae and Access Group loans. You made a deal with the devil, and the devil always wins.

Don't think it can't happen to you. If anyone told me when I was 19 years old how bad my life would've turned out, I would've laughed in their face. When I think about law school graduation, walking down the aisle and how proud everyone was.....all to end up piss broke, structurally unemployed, and stuck with "bills that no honest man can pay." It makes me physically fucking sick.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Slam of the Media From an Unexpected Source

This is what someone recently said about the international media outlet Al-Jazeera:

“You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."

Who said this?  None other than former First Lady/one-time Senator/former front-running presidential candidate/current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  According to her, we are losing an international "information war" to outlets like Al-Jazeera.  I have heard a lot of the same criticisms of American media over the years, I have voiced those same criticisms, but never has one come from such a powerful, high-ranking source in the government. 

This is a very hard problem to fix.  A long time ago (around 1950s to the 1970s), the businesses that ran the major networks looked at the news as a "loss leader".  What that basically means, is that they looked to their programs (like Beverly Hillbillies, All in the Family, etc.) to provide the profits, while the news was allowed to run at a loss.  This allowed our news programs to report on more issues of genuine importance, even if people didn't find them especially entertaining. 

Somewhere along the way, media companies started to believe that their news organizations should start to carry their weight, and become profit centers as well.  So, "hard news" (foreign affairs, politics, etc.) started to become deemphasized, and "soft news" (lifestyle, Hollywood celebrities, beauty and health, etc.) saw more and more time on the news.  It has steadily gotten worse and worse over time, to the point where the average American TV watcher is almost zombie-like, and has a terribly poor grasp of the issues. 

I know people, some of whom I care about, whose sole outlet of news and information is the nightly news on television, or cable news like CNN and Fox.  Those same people, are usually the most ignorant that you will ever meet.  For example, we are all afraid nowadays with the rising oil prices, the resultant inflation of essential goods, etc.  The news on television does talk about these things, but it usually only gives us the most cursory glance, with no significant time being devoted to discussion or trying to explain to the people the nitty-gritty behind resource extraction or monetary policy.  So, maybe a couple of minutes or so is devoted to an issue like that, which affects virtually everybody, but yet, significant parts of time are devoted to celebrities like Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan or Lady Gaga, and their "problems".  This results in people who are informed about the most trivial, inconsequential things, while at the same time, being scared shitless and having an acute grasp that something is terribly wrong, but not being able to articulate what that is, let alone possessing the tools to actually try to do something about it. 

I just saw that Sirius XM (which I subscribe to) has just launched a 24-hour channel devoted to keeping track of Charlie Sheen and his every movement.  This is an example (perhaps the most extreme one) of the insanity that I am talking about. 

As for me, I have not watched a newscast, in full, in many years, or read a magazine devoted to current events.  The Internet really is a beautiful thing, the outlets of information here, there is just no comparsion between this and the old media.  However, I haven't watched Al-Jazeera since the early days of the Iraq war.  In order for America to turn the tide and have a respectable reputation in the global news industry again, our media must be willing to have their news centers become "loss leaders" again and be willing to let them report "hard news", even if it means that their zombie viewers tune out.  But this is highly unlikely to happen, as corporations have gotten larger and larger, and profit has become even more key. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On-the-ground account of doom

I spend a lot of time online on websites like LATOC (now defunct), and a few new ones like The Oil Age and Hubbert's Arms.  These are forums where people discuss peak oil, economic collapse, inflation v. deflation, cheery stuff like that.  I also post a lot on those kinds of topics, as visitors (if there are any among you, hopefully), know.  But there is nothing quite like seeing an example with your own eyes, and which affects you personally. 

I saw one yesterday.  There is a restaurant in my town, that has been in business for 30 years.  We've been going there for years, I go at least once a week.  Anyway, yesterday, the owner was complaining to a customer, quite vocally, about the rising costs of business.  Lettuce is now at $60 or so a head, and the food distributors who deliver the food to businesses want to add a fuel surcharge due to the rising fuel prices (this was done 3 years ago as well, the last time gas was at $4 a gallon).  He has also been advertising in local papers and circulars, with no noticeable uptick in business.  "Everyone is staying home", were his words. 

I've never owned a business, but in my eyes at least, I don't think a business owner would want to let customers know that his business is suffering.  Unless, he knows that he's hitting rock bottom and that going out of business is only a matter of time, anyway.  I don't want to believe that, this place has been here as long as I have.  But if it closes its doors at the end of the year, I would not be surprised. 

I also wanted to share a video link with you.  I didn't see the video myself, but I did read the transcript.  It's a series by The Nation with a few luminaries talking about peak oil.  This is the one of Dimitry Orlov, author of "Reinventing Collapse".  This is an excerpt I especially liked:

"The way collapse unfolds is actually very interesting, because a lot of it has to do with people’s faith in the status quo. As long as people think that there’s something in it for them, they will cooperate. As soon as they decide that there is nothing in it for them, they will cease to cooperate and the system starts to crumble, cave in on itself. So what we saw in the Soviet Union was political dysfunction where basically the communist regime was so endemically corrupt, and so out to steal as much as they could at the very end, that they really didn’t even bother paying attention to whether they kept the system going. The system was basically on autopilot until it crashed."