16 July 2005

What kind of country destroys the job market for its own citizens?

The United States, where firms have job listings that purposefully seek foreigners on non-immigrant visas as a employment prerequisite.
Gentle reader, when you read allegations that there is a shortage of engineers in America, necessitating the importation of foreigners to do the work, you are reading a bald faced lie. If there were a shortage of American engineers, employers would not word their job listings to read that no American need apply and that they are offering jobs only to foreigners holding work visas.

What kind of country gives preference to foreigners over its own engineering graduates?

Paul Craig Roberts notes the depressing job numbers contained in the June payroll jobs report in the top portion of the article.

12 July 2005

Maybe it's time we paid attention

I don't understand why the Arizona Republic features as one of its offical bloggers, someone so bellicose and shrill as Greg Patterson. His recent rant on 'The Republic's' Paul Krugman, regarding a insightful column by Jon Talton on the impending global oil crisis, is another vivid example where logic and reason elude him, and instead, Patterson prefers to wade in a tide of irrational rhetoric and label lobbing. Now, I've taken Talton to task recently for a wishy washy piece on a topic that I am intimately experienced with, and furthermore, I dissected his text, point by point, and countered with empirical data. But Patterson simply tars Talton as "leftist ranter".

As this cited text clearly reveals, Patterson really needs to reread Talton's article, as he missed the gist of it.

Critics say that the war in Iraq has been a costly distraction from hunting down the terrorists, and it even may have become a recruiting center. But Iraq was never primarily about terror. It was about oil, although not the way conspiracy theorists believe.

That's straight out of the Michael Moore/Daily Kos playbook. What's it doing on the business pages?

What drew Patterson's ire? Perhaps it was the suggestion that the war in Iraq might have a little to do with securing a critical non-renewable resource that many authoritative experts believe will soon be in short supply and/or much more expensive to obtain.

That America is completely unprepared for what comes after the age of abundant, cheap oil is another subject. In the meantime, we will see an unprecedented worldwide competition for the remaining crude. The bid of China's CNOOC Ltd. for Unocal is only the opening volley. If the situation gets more desperate, the battles won't just be in the boardrooms.

Only in this context can we understand the Bush/Cheney plan to invade Iraq. Even if democracy and stability there were far-off possibilities, the United States could secure the lifeline of the modern world. As James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, puts it, "Iraq was supposed to be our police station in a strategically vital bad neighborhood."

See, it really has nothing to do with being a "leftie" or a "rightie", it's an acknowledgement of factors regarding supply and demand over a non-renewable resource. And I would put forth the proposition that demand for oil is highly inelastic.

Coincidentally, I also just completed reading James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency. It is a gripping read, and Kunstler sketches out the impending crisis in wake of the global oil production peak, which many notable authorities have pegged at some point between 2000 and 2008. This is the point at which we will have extracted half the oil that ever existed in the world.

Some factual tidbits:

  • Americans consume 20 million barrels of oil a day, which represents nearly a quarter of the world's 85 million barrel daily usage.
  • Worldwide oil discovery peaked in 1964.
  • Rate of worldwide oil use has run parallel to global population growth.
  • More than 60% of the remaining global oil endowment lies under the Middle East.
  • The U.S. passed peak oil in 1970, where annual production was over 10 million barrels a day — now it is at 5 million.
  • Ratio of energy expended in getting the oil out of the ground to the energy produced by that oil in the U.S. has fallen from 28:1 in 1916 to 2:1 in 2004 and will continue falling.

The oil scares of the seventies were offset by Alaskan and North Sea fields that came online just in time to grant an illusory reprieve. They were the last great strikes of the oil age. And worse, they permitted a complacency to settle in, and Americans blame energy woes on greedy oil companies, blithely unaware of the impending doom that lies ahead. President Carter warned Americans, but he was ridiculed. George "Poppy" Bush and Dick Cheny have both stated how the American way of life is non-negotiable.

Kunstler argues that alternative fuel solutions won't rescue us, that none offer the same energy invested to energy returned ratio as has been the case in our past one hundred years of cheap oil. And half of our 20 million barrel daily consumption in the U.S. is devoted to gasoline for our vehicles. Nuclear and coal may provide electricity but replacing our network of gasoline distribution and voluminous pool of cars and trucks is simply not feasible, at least by any technology presently in existence. More important, and a realization that took me aback, is that just about all of our economy is constructed on the precipice of affordable petroleum. We've built our homes in the suburbs and exurbs, and drive great distances to work and recreation points. Even much of the alternative fuel hoopla discounts the truth that it's even dependent upon cheap oil to manufacture the new parts.

Everything in our economy revolves around petroleum products. Our food is delivered in trucks across great distances. Farming is the province of factory style operations, with petroleum a part of every phase, from fertilizers to pesticides to powering of tools and implements to process and distribute food. Wal-Mart is filled to the brim with products made of cheap plastic, all made possible by the presence of abundant petroleum. As it costs more to obtain oil, the ripple effects through the economy will be ghastly. Our march to globalism is fueled by affordable oil, and as demand escalates over a diminishing supply (or more costly), things can unravel quickly.

The final two chapters are Kunstler's weakest, where he plots out how life will be in the "Long Emergency". Corporate entites will go the route of the dinosaur, while local based food production and commerce must emerge. Certain regions of the country will have better prospects than others. The desert west and Sunbelt are tagged as problematic, due to inherent environmental problems (i.e., growing food in a desert) and by the chronological truth of taking root in the post automobile era, unlike cities in the Northeast that were built on rivers or in proximity to productive farmland. Kunstler dips dangerously into generalizations and stereotypes on the Sunbelt — where he cites the "Cracker culture", fundamentalist haven, and abundance of firearms in the South. All signs that may lead to resurfacing of racial strife. Worse, it is speculated that nation rulers may employ biological mass murder by designer diseases to deal with population masses unsupportable by a post-oil paradigm.

I must confess that reading this book really startled me, and I don't even completely buy into Kunstler's assessment. Still, his portrayal of how blinded we are and how we don't wish to embrace reality, preferring to believe the best, no matter the truth, is spot on. He holds particular scorn for our automobile-centric society that in his view, has crushed the soul and spirit of communities. It cuts off the young and old, relegates many to unhealthy sedentary lifestyles, imposes a wasteful mode of consumption and disconnects our citizens from civic life. Kunstler is a remarkable writer — I've gazed at paragraphs he's produced, in marvel of the manner he constructed the written words. Even if I totally disagreed with his premise, I would still eagerly read his polemic.

If you'd like a little taste of Kunstler's writing, here's an article adapted from The Long Emergency. And you can keep up to date with his latest rants on his blog.
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