"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


On Wisconsin (so go the rest)

It's too bad it takes an internet meme to make us realize - much too late, self-evidently - the real value of teachers and other state employees:
Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:
*South Carolina -50th
*North Carolina -49th
*Georgia -48th
*Texas -47th
*Virginia -44th

Wisconsin is #2 in ACT/SAT scores. Re-post if you think this is important.
Where it starts to get really ugly is when the lies quickly get mixed up with the facts. Indeed the Wisconsin state unions offered concessions with their pensions and benefits as an alternative to losing their collective bargaining power. Indeed Governor Scott Walker ignored those offers of negotiation and is now attempting to legislate their collective bargaining rights out of existence. Indeed, the police and firefighters unions who were spared their right to collectively bargain on the virtue of their previous endorsement of Walker have now rebuked him in support of their brethren.

But, a claim is now also making the rounds that Wisconsin actually had a budget surplus and that Walker has engineered the crisis to pay for his corporate tax-breaks.

It's bullshit.

The figure being cited by Rachael Maddow and her sycophants omits over $200 million owed to state programs ("But ignoring it would have meant turning away eligible Medicaid clients, which was not an option..."), and could be an additional $200 million in the red if additional debts are figured in, pending a court ruling. As well, the hits from the tax breaks won't hit for another two years.

Scott Walker is specifically targeting the collective bargaining rights of state workers because he knows what the people repeating these memes and distortions do not: that the overall financial pie is getting smaller and will continue to do so. Targeting the strength of these workers to negotiate their earnings is the Right Wing's longer-term strategy for holding on to their total volume of resources, versus keeping merely their share, relative to the rest. The growth simply isn't there to support the infrastructure we've built for ourselves over the 20th century without cannibalizing - as in this case - functions deemed "less essential."

The proof is in the "fine print" as the JSO notes with regards to the Medicaid debt. Those arrears were obviously deemed "least essential" by the state, until it was evident they couldn't get out of paying those debts, legally. So, the plan then became: make up the difference by screwing those who can be screwed legally. Only "screwing" isn't exactly a mandate and now we have the present situation in Madison on Capital Hill - mobs of protesters eating in the cafeteria intended for the politicians, who - Democrats anyways - are on the lam to prevent a quorum from being established to vote on the pending bill.

This explanation leaves some bigger questions hanging, and to answer those we need to look at the bigger picture. Why isn't there growth to support the debts being incurred by Wisconsin, and of course other states, including Illinois? This lack of growth is evident globally, in fact. Look at what's going in the Middle East due to fuel and food shortages, as well as the riots in Greece, The UK, and France earlier last year in response to very similar budget tightening measures.

The pie, as I mentioned, has been getting smaller every year since global oil production peaked in 2006 (even the Wall Street Journal acknowledged the premise in 2008, and the IEA declared it so last year.) This is a very...big...problem, and what we are seeing in Wisconsin and world wide is just the beginning of the reprecussions.

At the core of it is the following paradox: a global financial system predicated and fully dependent on constant growth to pay the debts incurred by the creation of wealth, driven by loans, yet fueled by a finite resource. Yes, that growth comes from (came from, sorry) the increasing net energy available to us, through energy production. It's what made us as a society more productive each year.

The industry countered the Peak Oil announcement by saying that there was plenty of oil being discovered all the time, and that we'll always be able to switch to other fossil fuels, such as methane, or to electric cars, not to mention renewables.

Indeed, there's plenty of oil. But the reason why this article is wrong and highly misleading is that it doesn't account for "net energy," ignores the downward curve of global discovery - inexorable since 1964 - and it repeats the economist's mantra - predicated on our financial system requiring growth - that the more energy we consume, the more we produce.

Unaccounted-for net energy and what basically amounts to ignoring the 1st law of thermodynamics were the principle arguments of three prominent "Cornucopians" debunked in Richard Heinberg's 2002 book, "The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies."

Heinberg, and other "Cassandras" as they are known, state that while half of all the oil we've ever discovered may still lie underground, it's the harder-to-get-half. The net return, once the increasing amounts of energy invested in extracting the oil are accounted for, will get lower and lower, resulting in higher and higher prices.

Oil accounts for 40% of the world's total energy needs and simply replacing that energy through other means without considering the effects of the cascading consequences is pure folly. Not the least of which is that all of the infrastructure changes required to make such a shift are still dependent on an oil-based system. And others, such as Bush's "hydrogen economy" are pipe-dreams, net-energy losses.

And most basically, the fact that no other fuel comes close to conventional oil's efficiency and convenience. Billions of years of sunlight, locked up in a drivable, flyable, shippable, pipeline-able package, all at our convenience.

Our total net energy available to us has begun decline and it will not stop until it reaches equilibrium. Who knows where that will be? The Earth's population was about 2 billion before the industrial revolution began in earnest around 1850, and now stands at 7 billion.

And that brings me back to Wisconsin and the reason why the Tea Party is growing in popularity, and will continue to grow, to the dismay of the more level-headed among us. They represent unthinking reaction, lashing out at the decline in living standards. They can't accept that those previous standards they took for granted simply aren't possible to such a large portion of the population anymore, hence the disappearing middle class.

And finally the election of Scott Walker, et all. They will deliver scapegoats and the promise of the status quo. Not the painful truth.

It's like a trust fund kid who's money is running out and has to take the bus from now on.

Contraction is coming, in a big way. We've far overshot the natural carrying capacity of our environment - artificially inflated by the energy from fossil fuels, a once-in-a-planetary-lifetime shot, and we've squandered it in little over 200 years.

It's a long way back to equilibrium. Put your head between your knees and hang on. Get a bike. Plant a garden. And get a gun.

This one's gonna be a mother. Let's hope the bidding war launched by the shortages is waged with cash, and not warheads.

Written in 2009:
I know that I have only seen it rain
That never has it stormed within my path
I read the pages, looking at the pain
And heard the ruminations on God's wrath.
I cow'r in fear to dwell upon my fate
That's been foretold by corpses walking past...
They cackle at my slick-skinned naivete
With toothless leers and bony fingers crossed.
Expensive clothes and robes now turned to mold
Rotten, sour agelessness of excess
To be undone by no amount of gold -
Illuminating only scars and sadness.
While great swaths of fire, birthed by lightning,
Clear the remains of every living thing.


Dib this

I can't believe this is my first post since December - "the Don, rest his soul, was slippin'" - but the current situation without my comment is untenable.

Keep your mop bucket in the closet and give your old crutches to Goodwill. Claiming "dibs" on a shoveled out parking space is the most egregious act of self-entitlement since you bought the goddamn car in the first place:

Since when did the public right of way become storage for your private property?

In Andre Gorz's 1973 screed, "The Social Ideology of the Motorcar," he proposes an analogy of private autos to beach houses. The car is still a luxury in a very real sense - like a beach house (or for my purposes here, a time share) - and only makes sense when few people own them. Or when a lot share a few. Cars become more devalued the more people own them.

"The automobile is the paradoxical example of a luxury object that has been devalued by its own spread," says Gorz. I'm not anti-car, I'm anti-car culture. Cars are incredibly useful tools - I have an I-Go membership and use it all the time - but nobody ever thinks about how much space they use until snow takes it away. Space - like energy - is a precious resource that must not be abused or wasted.

So currently, while cars are still an ideological luxury, in reality they've become an addict's fix because we've completely adapted our environment to their use. This in turn breeds a sense of self-entitlement and "fuck everybody else" impatience that turns us all against one another. Yesterday, on my ride to work (throughly enjoying myself on the wide open roadway) I noticed several side streets choked with snow, unplowed. Yet, even then, some asshole had decided he absolutely had to dig out his car RIGHT NOW - even with so many public transit options within less than a quarter mile...then promptly got it stuck, and had to abandon it right in the middle of the street. What then of the other people that have been waiting until a plow came through before digging out?

Fuck 'em.

Well I say, "fuck them." The suburbs, built for cars and with no viable alternative at all, are dead as oil appears to be more or less permanently above $100 a barrel.

But, imagine how much more livable and enjoyable Chicago and other big cities with viable transit and walkable neighborhoods would be if mass-private ownership of cars died. Think of how much more space we'd have; how secure we'd be riding our bikes and crossing streets.

Think of how healthy and relaxed we'd be - how much better we'd treat each other - if "exercise" was no longer such a loaded word because we walked and biked everywhere...if so many weren't dying from diabetes and obesity and depression and stress...and the rest of us weren't rushing to the gym to get our mandated 30 minutes of running in place while staring at a glowing rectangle because we spent the rest of the day driving and sitting on our ass.

Dig yourself out and claim "dibs" by getting rid of your car.