31 July 2006

We're at one of those turning points where the future's looking so ugly nobody wants to face it

This excellent in-depth Chicago Tribune series on America's oil addiction is a must-read. Definitely, a piece of journalism work not in the spirit of sound bite journalism. You might need to knock off from work to complete reading it…

Here's a snippet from Part 1:

By now, most Americans realize that something is profoundly awry in the global oil patch.

For the majority of motorists, like the "swipe and go" customers at the South Elgin Marathon, the evidence is painfully obvious: record-high fuel costs that have surpassed last year's infamous price spikes following Hurricane Katrina.

Yet to truly grasp the scope of the crisis looming before them, Americans must retrace their seemingly ordinary tankful of gasoline back to its shadowy sources. This is, in effect, a journey into the heart of America's vast and troubled oil dependency. And what it exposes is a globe-spanning energy network that today is so fragile, so beholden to hostile powers and so clearly unsustainable, that our car-centered lifestyle seems more at risk than ever.

Some other factoids in the article series:

  • In 1940, the United States was the Saudi Arabia of the world. It produced 63 percent of the planet's oil. Today, after years of frenzied pumping, it generates 8 percent.

  • The United States gulps a quarter of the crude pumped on the planet, industry critics point out, yet it sits atop just 3 percent of the globe's reserves. No amount of new drilling will change this. The awesome and costly platforms that stride ever-deeper into gulf waters are symbols of a junkie's desperation, they say, not hope.

  • In its 2005 annual report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says that 58 percent of all the petroleum burned in the United States now comes from abroad. That stark dependency on outsiders, analysts say, will grow even if the last pockets of oil in America are drilled.

  • By 2015, oil experts say, African states will supply a quarter of all U.S. imports, up from 15 percent today.

  • According to the World Bank, 80 percent of Nigeria's staggering $340 billion in oil revenue has been pocketed by 1 percent of the population--a cast of thugs who include the world's most venal politicians and generals.

  • The actual cost of gasoline refined from imported oil — eight dollars a gallon, isolated to the hidden costs of Middle Eastern crude in particular, the price jumps to $11. Consumers don't dodge the bill for all these masked expenditures. Instead, they pay for them indirectly, through higher taxes, or by saddling their children and grandchildren with a ballooning national debt--one that's increasingly financed by foreigners.

  • Iraqi output still sags far below prewar levels despite a recent allocation of $1.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer money to patch up Iraq's decrepit oil fields. The interfactional fighting over oil is getting worse, not better.

  • Roughly half of Venezeula's government budget is funded by sales to the U.S.

Meanwhile, oil companies are enjoying record profits.

Remember, our way of life unravels when trucks don't move and computers cannot function.

17 July 2006

An average CEO earns more before lunchtime on the very first day of work in the year than a minimum-wage worker earns all year

An average CEO makes 821 times as much as minimum wage worker, who earns a mere $5.15 per hour in America 2006. The time is long overdue for a hike in the minimum wage — it has not been increased in nearly 10 years and it's at its lowest level, measured in real dollars, in 50 years.

Of course, some will argue that a minimum wage law is unnecessary and bad economic policy. Using the same arguments deployed to defend slavery, they justify paying less than poverty wages as if the affected workers were animals or animatronic creations to be treated in inhumane fashion. Them that argue this maintain a rigidity oblivious to the fact that what exists in today's world of economics is a complex framework, where corporate entities are provided a plethora of socialized risk (i.e., the public, er taxpayers, finance loan subsidies, loan guarantees, etc.…) along with an abundance of financial handout goodies. So why shouldn't workers on the lowest rung be tossed a little coin to ensure that anybody putting forth an honest days work can beat poverty?

But workers toiling at the present minimum wage are not the only benefactors of a rise — there would be a ripple effect for workers earning "just above" the line too.

If you work, you shouldn't be poor.